Cover art is an interesting puzzle. Authors don’t have creative control over their cover art. Before the artist begins we’re asked to supply a few details about what we had in mind, remembering that the details may be ignored completely. If we’re consulted, it’s usually after the cover is created.

There are a few cover art rules about what sells and what doesn’t. You may have never noticed it, but there aren’t very many romance covers featuring men with hairy chests. Similarly, the YA book world seems obsessed with white girls with long, blond hair.

When I worked on my debut cover art, I was more than a little clueless. It was super important to me that the girl on the cover look exactly like the character. Her weight, body shape, hair color, all of it had to be an exact match. When I couldn’t get the match I removed the girl, which explains why I ended up with a spooky, atmospheric landscape cover. It didn’t do a very good job of conveying a sense of my story.

Luckily, when it came time to pick cover art for the sequel, Fire in Her Blood, my publisher agreed to give me another chance. Thus, I can reveal the much improved, amazing cover for Under a Blood Moon:

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The Mallory on the cover is almost exactly as I describe Mallory in the book. Her magic, which shows as lightening, is the perfect highlight. And the moon? The huge blood moon, which inspires a werewolf killing spree in the book, got to stick around. I’m delighted with it!

It feels great to know that both of the books will share a look. I can’t wait to see them on my bookshelf together.

 

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I turned in my final edits on Fire in Her Blood at the beginning of the month and received in return a wonderful email with my cover art. Author wisdom tells you not to release your cover art until you have buy links and a publish date. I usually try to follow that advice, but I’m too in love this time. I mean, come on, just look at the gorgeous cover:

The cover shows a young woman standing in the center of a city. She's surrounded by flames as everything burns.

The perfect cover for my story about arson and fire witches. (Click to enlarge)

Things I love about this book:

  • It’s got a coming out story, where sharing the news is mixed with witchcraft.
  • Thanks to a fun-to-write Samhain party at the end of the book, I got to show the diverse backgrounds of Mallory’s friends and fellow witches. That means Jew-witches and Latinas, but also a chance to mention Poi.
  • The story includes a supernatural brothel filled with sexy mythological creatures, which means I got to show how sex workers live in Mallory’s world. (Hint: better than in our world.)
  • A short subplot contains my favorite friendly ghost, Marcus. The ghost stories Mallory deals with every few days are a joy to write.
  • I got to drop lots of little hints about the next book. (The draft is in the very early stages.)

Here’s the back-cover description:

Death witch and Detective Mallory Mors arrives at the scene of an out-of-control arson called by a victim who desperately wants to die. Using her powers, Mallory battles the strongest fire witch in town to help the woman cross over. When she’s forced to work with the angry fire witch, she discovers their lives are linked in complicated ways. As all the other fire witches in the city mysteriously lose their powers, the heat is on to solve the case. Saddled with a vampire assault at the local supernatural brothel, a missing person who doesn’t want to be found, and a mess of vampire politics, Mallory struggles to put together the pieces before the city burns.

As soon as I have that precious pre-order link I’ll update this page, and also add a general page to my website.

Oh, and my inbox got a bit more good news: The Mermaid and the Murders  ­­was recently named one of  “5 Amazing Underrated Books”.   I’m working on the sequel now, the Siren’s Stalker, and the encouragement of a good review helps. Actually I’m working on the next in the Death Witch series (no name yet), the Siren’s Stalker, and developing the materials to submit a third manuscript. Lots to do, but cover art like this makes it all worth while.

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I recently found myself in the very tiny town of Skagway, Alaska. While there are only about a thousand full time residents, the summer months bring nearly a million tourists (the local paper estimated 900,000 in 2014). To support the tourists a temporary work force comes in each season.

Any quilters or knitters want to run away to Alaska for the summer?

Any quilters or knitters want to run away to Alaska for the summer?

All those people only staying for a few hours, plus nearly a thousand people coming for a few months, in a town that’s only a handful of blocks seems like the perfect recipe for mystery. Within a few hours of touching its gray weathered shores, I knew I wanted to set a novel there. Thick ropy clouds loomed above me while halfway-to-hurricane-force winds tried to knock me over. It was perfect. Thankfully, the town is also filled with ghosts, I learned about them on a “Ghosts and Goodtime Girls” Tour put on by the Red Onion Saloon.

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The Red Onion Saloon built in 1897 when Skagway a lawless town described by police as “little better than a hell on earth”.

Skagway boomed during the Gold Rush in 1896. At the time there were two ways to get it rich: you could mine for gold or work the miners. The town offered all of the illegal indulgences someone could want. Drinking establishments, dance halls, and brothels made up most of the businesses. Skagway never developed a condescending attitude to its sex workers. Most women worked for about two weeks, using an assumed name to allow them to return to their normal lives untainted. It wasn’t unheard of for a brother or a husband to set his wife up in a ‘crib’ and allow her to work in safety.

That’s a pretty surprising idea but my tour guide, a lovely lady named Rosy Peaks, insisted that in the bleak frontier town people were too busy surviving to worry about morals. The town did have a few shocked folks who attempted to curve the sinful ways, but efforts were often meant with sly derision. Sex workers would often advertise themselves by sitting near the windows of their rooms only partially dressed. To stop the practice morality laws decreed all windows had to have curtains. Lace and sheer curtains became all the rage almost immediately.

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My tour guide stands in front of a stored historic “crib” where women would have posed in the large window.

But even an open permissive atmosphere can’t stop ghosts. My tour guide was more than happy to take me to the corridor where phantom footsteps ran away from police more than a hundred years after the brothel was closed down. Local wisdom says the runner is a prostitute named Lydia, who never left her workplace. A block away another girl, who died from tuberculosis, can still be heard coughing through the night. Not all of the town ghosts are former sex-workers though. Mary, who haunts the Golden North Hotel, died of a broken heart when her gold miner fiancée never returned to her. She’s still looking for him today, usually by checking the beds of the hotel guests.

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Coughing still rings through the halls of this building which was been everything from a social house to an orphanage.

I’m sorry that I only got to visit Skagway for a day. After speaking with everyone at the Visitor’s Bureau, the local town historian, and my tour guide, it became obvious that the locals didn’t think there was anything remarkable about their town. I’d love the chance to explore its history more closely, and discover more fantastic stories waiting to be told.

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As a quilter I couldn’t resist a photo of this crazy quilt made up of the girls’ fancy dresses over a hundred years ago. It’s currently on display in the upstairs Brothel Museum at the Red Onion Saloon.

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It’s Halloween Season! That’s the busiest time of the year for me, with a thousand great things to do every weekend and plenty of amazing Halloween shows to watch during the week. On top of that, I’m in copy edits for Fire in Her Blood, the sequel to Under a Blood Moon. Thus, today’s blog is more a photo heavy review of the cool stuff I’ve been doing.

Sunday in the Park at Oakland Cemetery

I’ve talked about the amazing green space/public garden that is Oakland Cemetery before, but I might have failed to mention that they also hold large scale community events. This morning was a 5k race entitled “Run Like Hell”. A couple of weeks back the event was “Sunday in the Park”, which included a picnic, costume contests, tours of the cemetery, a classic car show, along with vendors and community booths.  Here’s a few of my favorite shots:

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One of the many wonderful classic Cadillac cars on display among the tombs.

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Civil War reenactors dancing among the unmarked graves while surrounded by picnic-ers.

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Two local costumers who remind me of the covers from my favorite Steampunk series – Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate.

Atlanta Greek Festival

I’m editing Fire in Her Blood, but I’m drafting The Siren’s Stalker, the sequel to the Mermaid and the Murders.  While I sort of know what happens in the story, I’m still getting to know the characters. Ashley, the queen bee from Mermaid and the Murders is the focus. There’s a lot about her that Danny, the mermaid, never knew. One important thing, Ashley was raised in a conservative Greek-American family. To flesh out the details of her culture, I enjoyed an afternoon touring a Greek Orthodox Cathedral and eating amazing Greek food. Some of the best parts of my day:

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A Greek YiaYia (Grandmother) teaches the crowd how to roll dolmas (stuffed grape leaves)

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Candles lit for prayer intentions

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A mosaic showing the moment on Easter when Jesus either broke down the gates of hell, crushing the devil (according to the tour guide) or went to Hades to free all of the souls trapped there (according to the deacon).

 

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Earlier this week I got an email from Eli that said:

“I googled fairy wings and came across your picture. I love what you did and was wondering if you could share how you made them? I’m asking because some friends of mine are shooting a music video and we wanted to have a fairy in the video. 🙂

Best,

Eli”

Unfortunately, the email address Eli gave me bounced back. After feeling sad that I couldn’t help an aspiring fairy make her wings I realized I have a blog. Now it’s a writing blog, and normally I keep pretty close to the topic, but it’s almost Halloween, so…

fairy wingsFairy Wings!

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Eli probably found a picture of my amazing wings from Enchanted Hearth Designs. More than a decade ago, I bought wings from Deanna at Enchanted Heart on eBay. Now she has a great Etsy shop that produces custom and regular wings. She does amazing work, my wings sparkled brilliantly even after a decade of use. They never tore or ripped despite being worn to the Maryland Fairy Festival and on rides at Disney World. I even wore them to run various Halloween 5ks. (Where I won for best costume, because my wingmaker is just plain amazing).

wings-aloneThe wings are sheer organza surged on the edges with a sleeve that goes over a metal piece which slides between my back and my corset. The metal is a single piece, bent into a square-bottomed u shape. They’re comfortable and travel well in a FedEx triangle box as checked baggage or shipped via ground (they weigh less than 5lbs). A word about cost: wings are not cheap. Enchanted Hearth has wings from $95 to $40. The bigger the wings the higher the price. Mine were around $75.

I also made my DIY Fairy wings using old dry-cleaning hangers and cellophane.

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Simple DIY fairy wings steps:

  1. Pull the flat portion of a drycleaning hanger (cheap wire hanger) until it resembles a hoop, with the hook on one side.
  2. Straighten the hook.
  3. Repeat with 3 other hangers.
  4. Twist the hooks together.
  5. Cover the hooks with duct tape or another soft on the skin tape.
  6. Sandwich the wings between cellophane on a safe working surface (so cellophane, the empty wing frame, then another piece of cellophane).
  7. Use a hair dryer set on very high (or a heat gun if you have one) to melt the cellophane. Be careful not to melt the cellophane, or be ready to artfully melt the cellophane so no one thinks it was an accident.

These wings are worn  by tucking the braid hanger hooks between a sports bra and your skin or by tying a ribbon around the braids to make a harness.

Here are some tutorials with roughly the same steps and pictures:

Simple wing tutorial

Complex wing tutorial

The DIY wings cost less than $15 in materials. They took me about three hours to make three pairs. The first two were epic failures. The photo above is my third set of DIY wings.  If you Google “cellophane fairy wings” you can find some really amazing wings out there. Please remember, you’re not seeing anyone’s first attempt.

Also, bear in mind that cellophane wings aren’t as durable as the cloth wings. I wore these for a day at Disney World. By the end of the day they were destroyed. To contrast, my cloth wings made it through multiple Disney days without a scratch.

A word on wing size: I bought my purple wings in size “oh my yes”. I justified it by saying my wings would have to be twice my height to lift me off the ground. This meant that in large gatherings I had to have a ‘wingman’ walking behind me keeping the tips of my wings from gouging someone’s eyes out. As a smaller than average person (61.75 inches/1.6meters tall) I often forgot to adjust for wing height when it came to doors or openings in the crowd.

I’d recommend starting with wings in a more medium height, one less prone to hurting others or restricting movement. While I love my purple fairy wings with a passion I’ve wished many many times that I got a more neutral color – sparkly white gossamer wings or black veined dragon wings may have been a bit more versatile.

Then again, wings aren’t really about making the sensible choice, are they?

So Eli, and anyone else who decides to become a fairy, I hope that helps. My wings gave me great joy. They became a way to introduce myself and my culture – “I’m the girl who wears 6 ft purple fairy wings on the weekends”). I hope your wings do the same. Good luck!

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One of the things I love about the Halloween season is the way cemeteries open up to the public. While the Victorian cemeteries were parks for playing in, and other cultures gather as a group in cemeteries, most Americans only visit cemeteries when someone dies. That’s a mistake. There’s a huge amount of history and some great stories to be found. As a bonus, cemeteries tend to be a green space even in very urban areas.

That’s definitely the case in Atlanta, where the “in town” neighborhoods with their small parks are nothing compared to the 48 acres of pleasure gardens and trees that comprise Oakland Cemetery. The space is a certified wildlife habitat, with special bird friendly and butterfly friendly designations. On top of that it’s rather people-friendly with benches, level walking spaces, and very well kept gardens.

Not to mention some interesting headstones.

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Rosemary bushes and pomegranate trees heavy with fruit were planted by cemetery volunteers who recreated the Victorian look from the cemetery’s first years. While there are always tours, Halloween season brings a special batch. Careful planning netted me tickets to the sold out Capturing the Spirit tours, but some beautiful weather last weekend meant I took the tour of the day. It happened to be right up my alley: “Murder, Mysteries and Mayhem”.

Some stories were not so mysterious but definitely sad, like the playhouse fire that killed several young performers acting as angels. Their paper wings caused the conflagration, so they remained angels forever.

An angels surrounded by rosemary

An angel surrounded by rosemary

Others lived up to the title, like the grave of a maiden aunt who dreamed she would drown the night before taking a boat tour. She claimed to have written a will in her sleep, but insisted on going out on the boat. There was indeed an accident, and her family buried her dress, the only remains ever found, in Oakland. The promotion seems a little suspect, and finding another dress makes me wonder – the garments of the 1890s weren’t exactly easy to get out of. It’s easy to imagine the aunt running away with a lover under the cover of an elaborate plot.

A less elaborate but equally mysterious burial was an unnamed man found after a tornado hit the cemetery in 2008. While his body was found in an above ground vault filled with members of the Holland family, he wasn’t a Holland. No records existed of him ever being buried, and his clothes were modern. More telling of hasty burial, his shoes were facing west. In Christian cemeteries, bodies are almost always buried facing east so they can rise up on Judgment Day.  The cemetery sexton is still hoping someone will claim the poor fellow.

He was found in the upper right most shelf, in case that helps you remember his name.

He was found in the upper right most shelf, in case that helps you remember his name.

The tour ended with a few short ghost stories. There’s a shadowy visage who haunts the bell tower. Maybe he’s waiting for the bell ring again? In days gone past, cemeteries rang the bell to chase away the sins of the dead. Twelve rings for men, eight for women, and only six for children, who were presumed least sinful of all. Down another path over three thousand unnamed soldiers from the Civil War supposedly rise up to a ghostly roll call each Confederate Memorial day.

I’ll be back to Oakland for another tour or two at least. The 5k “Run like Hell” sounds like fun too. If you get a chance, take a walk through your local cemetery this fall. I’m sure the folks there would love a visit.

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Labor Day weekend means DragonCon for me, at least most years. Other folks expect to bar-be-que or drink some beers. Me? I’m hoping to ride the dragon, literally:

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I’m riding a half-size model of Toothless from How to Tame Your Dragon, displayed to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. Toothless is wearing their band around his leg.

There’s more to the con than costumes, but any Con report would be remiss not to include them. This year some of my favorites included costume designers who envisioned another world. One designer imagined a regency period where British Colonialism didn’t exist and allowed Caribbean and African influences to flourish. Another pair created a gender swapped Avengers set in the Civil War era:

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Civil War Iron Woman and Captain America

There are also costumes with very large props, such as the life-size Luck dragon with the Empress from Never Ending Story.img_1170

But the real beauty of DragonCon for me is the way science becomes fun, and learning difficult new ideas turns into a party game.

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In this panel, three distinguished scientist (geologist, astronomer, and marine biologist) told stories. The audience had to guess which of the three were lying. After six rounds we determine the marine biologist should never play poker and marine mammals do terrible things. Dolphins get high chewing puffer fish; Killer Whales kill sharks and eat their liver for fun; and those adorable cuttlefish are cannibals.

Later in the same room I’d learn about opti-genetics, the emerging science of turning on and off parts of the brain (neurons/nerves) by flashing different types of light. Take a look at what this science can do. Making a mouse run in circles seems a little cruel, but as someone who suffers from seizures I’m very interested in what other things we might be able to control this way.

Across the hall in the Space track room, I learned about the secret town of Oakridge, TN and the young girls who perfected the process to refine uranium there. Hired because they didn’t ask questions, separated from their families, and working under horrible conditions, they made history. The panel discussed the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. Listening made me itch to start writing a historic fiction novel set in the same town.

I adore the Georgia Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra’s presentations on Saturday night. No place else in the world features that many talented musicians playing the familiar songs I love. This year’s set included three Batman themes, the theme song from Firefly (with a live banjo!), songs from Star Wars and Star Trek, and a vocal performance of the Misty Mountains Cold from The Hobbit. I and over 3000 of my new best friends knew the performance was worth the hour and a half wait.

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That wait was indicative of the biggest problem I had at Con this year: crowds. With 77,000 geeks and at least a few thousand locals thrown into the mix on Saturday, the crowds were enormous. Suddenly even simple tasks like drinking water or walking ten feet ahead became a challenge. The dealer’s room, normally a vault of geeky treasures, became an enforced march where you couldn’t stray from the crush of people until it was shut down due to over crowding.

Which at least partially explains why this was the first DragonCon that I didn’t bring home a new corset. I absolutely fell in love with KMK designs. Their corsets were unique, innovative, well made, and surprisingly affordable. My last corset was a generically sized, came wrapped in plastic kind of corset, while KMK is a custom sized with a mock up to ensure perfection. If I’m going to invest in a custom-made couture corset I want to savor every second of its construction, something that isn’t possible in a giant crowd. So while I want one, oh yes I want one, it will have to wait. Thankfully, there were enough great times at Con that I’m not too disappointed about that.

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Hello there!

I strive to keep my blog updated on the 1st and the 15th. Normally you’d be reading a post about wild adventures, cool scary things, or news about my books. Unfortunately for blog consistency, I’m currently off having some wild adventures. I’m researching frontier brothels in Alaska, studying the scenery in Canada, stomping through cemeteries, and attending DragonCon.

Now I could have posted a DragonCon survival guide, but I’ve already done that. Besides, I’d rather delay my blog post a little, and give you a hot-off-the-press DragonCon report in a few days. So I’ll see you in a few days!

“I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter. “ Agent Peggy Carter

That geeky quote served as my mantra for most of June and July when sales for The Mermaid and the Murders were less than wonderful. I knew my second book was a good story. I trusted my editor, publisher, beta readers, and copy editors. One of them, somewhere along the line, would’ve told me if the book was an epic failure. I paid for advertisements. I ran a Goodreads giveaway. Still, silence echoed back at me, as if I released the book into a void.

On August 1st, The Mermaid and the Murders was posted on NetGalley. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, NetGalley is an online service for librarians and book reviewers that allows them to download stories free of charge. I didn’t expect much, and to be honest I haven’t looked at my sales numbers to see if they’ve gone up.  I have  gotten a handful of really great reviews, which is wonderful, but the feeling of awe and wonder at where those reviews have come from blows me away.

Chen Mermaid quote

Chen Argote, called my mermaid amazing, said her town was “scary yet fascinating” and that she “loved my trip there in this reading adventure.” I’ve never met Chen. She lives in Manila, Philippines, a place I’ve only read about in books. But she gave me hours of her life as she read my book. When it was over, she was glad to have given me that time.

That’s incredible to me, in the classic sense of the word. Almost impossible to believe that someone so far away loved a story I put together to drive away their winter gloom.

In Sudbury, Canada, a place I had to look up on the map (and now need to visit) , Chelsie picked up my book and “didnt want to put this book down”. She saw herself in my mermaid, saying “I could relate to her struggles”.  She called my story “entertaining with a wonderful love interest and some great intrigue.”

Image of CharmedChelsie's twitter feed about my book

My first Twitter connection with a reader. Squee!

She connected with my characters even though we have very different lives. Did she love everything? Nope.

 

Sprinkled in my positive reviews have been tiny flecks of criticism; valid, important criticism that I’ll use to make the next book better. I haven’t had a terrible review yet. They’re all four or five stars. I’m grateful, but not arrogant. A terrible review will come. When it does, I hope I remember the wonder and joy I’m feeling right now, because even if someone hates my book, they still read my words. They slipped into my world, explored my ideas, and (hopefully) came away from it with something to think about. I might know my worth, but I never felt my connection with a reader, until now. I’m humbled, awed, in love, grateful, and praying it never goes away.

 

 

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Night vale cosplay

A member of the Night Vale City Council

I’m not sure when I got hooked on the Night Vale Community radio hour, the fictional radio broadcast that serves as entry into the world of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I’m sure I’ve only been listening for a few years. I caught on late, and Welcome to Night Vale didn’t start broadcasting until 2012. Somehow it seems like it’s been around much longer, like I’ve been listening forever.

Things like that happen a lot in Night Vale.

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One of the best Carlos the scientist costumes of the night. His clipboard was filled with actual science!

It’s like any other town, except that there’s a dog park that might be a portal to another dimension, and the secret police have outlawed learning. Or maybe learning is allowed again but wheat isn’t. In either case, the library is a dangerous place and the government keeps track of all middle school secrets. Oh, and there’s a five headed dragon running for mayor. So like any other small town, but not in most of the ways you think.

Narrated by Cecil, a wonderful radio host whose thoughts turn out to be deeper than you’d think, each week’s story is an encapsulated plot broken up by “the weather” – a single song by little known independent groups. It’s an example of the slow pay off of a story so strange it takes a minute for you to realize it. I can never tell how much of an episode is real and how much is story. I’m not alone.

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to see the live show entitled “Ghost stories”. Before the doors opened, fans showed off costumes and argued plot lines. (Is the whole show set in the afterlife?) With all its oddness, Night Vale celebrates scientists, like Carlos, Cecil’s boyfriend, and the group was happy to scientifically pick things apart. When the story started though, all that ended. Enraptured silence fell over the audience.

There are many different types of ghost stories in the world. Welcome to Night Vale’s ghost stories were about the ghosts of who we could have been if we’d done the right thing. Ghosts of people who weren’t addicted, who parented well, and who made good choices paraded across the stage in the final minutes. Those last stories hit somber notes, leaving the audience moved and maybe saddened. Normally I avoid moments like that, life has enough trouble on its own, but after all the joy I’ve found in the off-kilter town of Night Vale, the bittersweet didn’t bother me.

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