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.

In 2014, I challenged myself to track my reading, then last year I upped the difficulty and challenged myself to read more diverse books. I wanted to find great stories with characters who weren’t all white, able-bodied, heterosexuals. Half way through 2016, I realized hunting for books had started to take more of my time than reading books. Worse, in a tumultuous year, instead of being an escape, reading became a source of frustration.

Eager to get back to the way it had been, I let my goals go and started to read whatever struck me. I found some real gems, but also abandoned many, many books along the way. I’ve become addicted to the Kindle sample, a free selection from the beginning of a Kindle book, usually about three chapters long. If the book hooks me in those three chapters, I’m happy to buy a copy. If I have no idea where the story is going, or I’m already finding things to pick at, I move on.

Which explains why my reading is at an all time low this year: only 31 novels finished. (I also moved three times, started a new job, and dealt with some serious health stuff, but I’m blaming the samples). I did find a few things I loved though, and here’s my top five:

I devoured the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series over a few months this spring. They seem to come out fairly regularly, twice a year. I was delighted to pick up the story again with the eighth book, The Keeper, in December. There’s an undercurrent of family drama in this one, and a couple of powerful scary ghosts, along with some heartbreak for our heroine. As always, the minute I finish one of these books I want to read another.

Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao, was a random Amazon suggestion that turned out to be a fun mystery. Set in New England around 1898, the author didn’t flinch from portraying the good and the bad of the time period. The main character is intriguing as well, a young woman gifted with spiritualist powers, but raised by her con-artist father. The mystery takes place in a beach side hotel filled with mediums, spiritualists, tarot card readers, and more. The turn of the century is one of my favorite time periods, so I’m hoping the author follows up with more.

Stumptown Spirits (Legend Tripping #1) by E.J. Russell was my first full length male-male romance. I’m kicking myself for not crossing the aisles and reading gay romance before. The story was amazing. The characters were complex. The ghosts were unique. This book was everything I wanted in a paranormal romance. I bought the second book in the series and finished it less than 24 hours after I closed the first one.

The Uninvited by Cat Winters was the spookiest, creepiest book I read this year, with a curve-ball I completely didn’t see coming. The heroine has always seen ghosts, but over the course of the story her gift forces her to confront the monsters in her family and the town she loves. Strong plot elements of rampant patriotism and citizens being killed for being the wrong type of people (in this case Germans in 1918) echoed the events around me, making it even scarier. It’s a YA novel, so there wasn’t any gore, just ideas and actions that made me wince.

I searched for most of May and June for a book with a cowboy, some thrills, and a touch of romance. I finally found it in December with  Love on the Sweet Side by Mariah Ankenman. This book kept my interest even without ghosts, witches, or vampires! The romance stayed sweet and didn’t turn into a cliché. The crimes and dramatic moments weren’t forced, they made sense for the story.  It’s the kind of book I’d give to a friend getting over a break up – fun, well written, and with enough tension to keep things interesting. It helped that the heroine ran a bakery and talked about her amazing cupcakes throughout the story. Yum! I wish the author had included recipes.

I’ve been invited to join a number of reading challenges this year. I’ve expanded my social network and the new geek girls in my life all read amazing things. I’m not sure what I’ll pick, but I suspect my numbers will go up in 2017. At least, I hope they will.

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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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!

Tiger, the love of my life, tells me that I have a… ‘process’ for writing. It goes something like this:

0 to 15,000 words: Utter elation. I walk around saying ‘this is the best story ever’.

20,000 to 25,000 words: Dejection. I fret that the story is going nowhere and is utter garbage.

25,000 to 35,000 words: General happiness. I’m figuring things out, changing things, and generally enjoying writing.

35,000 to 60,000 words: Obsession. I won’t stop to eat, drink, or sleep. All I want to do is write. I’m completely in love with it.

60,000 words to the end: Boredom. Having figured out all the major scenes, I no longer see the point in writing. I’m thinking about my next idea. I will stall like a child who doesn’t want to go to bed to avoid my nightly writing session.

The current manuscript is at 62,000 words. Please send Tiger vibes of serenity and patience.

Nearing the end of any novel there’s a point where all that matters is writing that novel.  Blogging, tweeting, cleaning house, preparing meals, even eating meals all become unimportant. I’d be ashamed of the amount of takeout food I’ve eaten or how much I’ve neglected my housekeeping, but I’m too damn proud of how this manuscript is coming together for that.

The manuscript is about a teenage mermaid hunting down a serial killer who happens to be a sea monster, while having sex for the first time with another supernatural sea creature. So I’ve got the ocean and mermaids on the mind. As someone who swims rather often (fitness swimming, not having fun in the pool swimming) I’m amazed I’ve never stumbled onto mermaid tails before. Now I want one.

Photo from EPBOT.com one of the coolest blogs I know.

A while back (before the mermaid knew who the killer was but way after her love life got hot and heavy) I went to a quilt show. Despite quilting for 20 years, I’d never been to one outside of the county fair. I was more than stunned by the level of artistry. Quilting is a wonderfully woman centric art form. I’m glad that I’m giving it more time in my life. This quilt is my new wallpaper. The skulls juxtaposed with the bright colors just slay me.

Life Everlasting by Ann Horton, click to enlarge.

The holidays always challenge me. It’s hard to balance the peaceful solace needed for writing and the boisterous chaos of the holidays. While I’m off doing things that stop me from providing you with two fresh stories a month please enjoy some of my short stories:

 

Romance:

Into the Snow

Night Cobbler

 

Family:

Morning Coffee

The Secret Life of Dogs

House Haunting

No One’s Fault

 

Scary Stuff:

The Creek People

It wouldn’t have killed you…

Want a Taste?

White Noise

It’s been 15 months since I last moved. My feet itch. The clever north wind whispers to me of towns yet to be seen, friends yet to be made,  battles yet to be fought…

I’m looking for the next place, the new home. Because I’ve begun to catch myself feeling  like this:

No story left to tell ~ Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, SC

There’s something attractive about the anonymity of hotel rooms. The way you shut the door and no one can find you. The new place, safe from everyone who knows you. The place where you can say you’ve always hated something and no one will remember when you loved it.  A place to reinvent yourself. A place where, when trouble comes to you, you sit under the branches of a tree and feel connected to everyone else who has done the same.

300 year old oak tree, Magnolia Graveyard

Because sometimes you find it’s time to close one door and knock on another one.

Lion Head Door ~ Meeting St. Charleston

 

Forgive my self-aggrandizing but I’ve recently received word that my proposal for the Romance Writers of America Conference was accepted. I’ll be teaching a one hour session entitled “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!).” Along with Jami Gold, a social media maven, I’ll cover creating a free website, setting up a blog, and various hosting options.

I started writing in HTML back in 1997. I worked for a defense firm, taking care of passel of wonderfully geeky mechanical and software engineers. They wanted a website. I had the most free time. The solution was obvious to them: I would learn HTML. I surprised myself by doing just that. Back then the language was rather intuitive, paragraphs were indicated with a p, if you wanted to make something bold, you labeled it ‘bold’, italics were indicated with an I, underline with a u and so on.
The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, the Powers That Be when it comes to the web) ushered in a new changes and rules. HTML expanded to include XML and XHTML. It spun off the sections about format (fonts, color, text size) to a separate language called CSS. Databases driven websites came along, and ASP made them work. But the basic 10 pieces of my HTML vocabulary from that first website still work and I remain convinced that HTML is the simplest language in the world to learn. I’m a bit of an HTML zealot. I firmly believe that just about anyone can create & maintain a website. I’ve taught 63 year old Grandmothers and 40 year old technophobes.

 

I still design web pages in my day job, in fact, it’s the best part of my day. Web design is dependable like math, two plus two always equals four. I like the clean lines of code and how I can know that it will work. I love the intellectual puzzle of making the code do what I want. I can’t wait to introduce a roomful of writers to that fun. Until then, if anyone needs help with a tricky webpage drop me a note. I’m happy to play with it.

 

 

I used to think I was a fast writer, now I know I’m a faster drafter. I can crank out a first draft in no time, but the editing process takes ages. Worse, the more editing I do the less I like my work. My vision for the characters gets muddy, the plot gets sloppy, and I find myself wondering why I ever wrote this nonsense. Obviously that’s not how editing is supposed to go, but despite an internet full of advice on how to write there’s precious little out there on how to edit. (Someone please prove me wrong.)

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Experiencing a death in the family just before the holidays completely changes everything. At this time of year my life fills with joyful celebrations, wonderful holiday baking, and the magic of the season but this year long naps, quiet afternoons, and phone calls to friends have replaced all of that. Oddly, I don’t find myself missing the noise and the busyness.  Perhaps I’m growing older, perhaps it’s the loss, but a quiet holiday feels just right.

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Shopping for the Christmas Angel I took from the giving tree brought me more joy than anything I’ve done this holiday season. On Christmas morning my Angel will unwrap a new winter coat, soft fleecy pajamas, a huggable doll (with at least one hug from me stored inside), an art set with pastels and crayons, and six books (2 science, 2 fantasy, 2 biographies of strong women). I wish I could have included a letter telling her how much it meant for me to be able to help her, and reminding her that poor girls change the world just as often as rich girls.

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I won a baking competition using this recipe. On the same day I received an award from my gym for being the ‘biggest participant’. I’m trying not to see the irony.

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My rabbit editor removed his page from Facebook this week. The constant demand for more pictures, more status updates and more Facebook-ing in general got to be too much for him. Thankfully, he doesn’t mind the fame so I can leave you with this photo:

(The demonic glow in his eyes is not photoshopped.)