12/16/15

Apologies

When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

That’s the best piece of advice I got in college. It came from my favorite professor, a man who happily called himself a wizened old gnome. He did research in Chernobyl half the year and spent the rest of the time relaxing. To a tiny cult-like group of followers he was everything, to the other students he was a weird prof to be avoided.

This post is a day late, and my Dec 20th post may also be late. I’ve made some decisions lately – large, personal life decisions – that I’m not sure about. Sometimes it takes years to see you made a mistake or months to congratulate yourself for having avoided disaster. In writing I deal with heavy topics, life and death situations, dangerous choices, and loaded guns. In real life the distinctions between a great decision and one that leaves you filled with regret are much more subtle. I’m trying to see that subtle difference, and it’s taking a lot of my time.

In the middle of all that, my editing goes on and, as usual, takes more effort than creating a wildly rough first draft of a story. I always miss writing when I’m editing, but I also see the way it makes my work better. So while I don’t always know where I’m going, I can see progress as I move down the road. For that I am grateful.

I am deeply sorry to for the delays in blogging, reading,  and writing new drafts. I promise to get back on schedule soon.

11/2/15

Pagan New Year’s Resolutions

Happy Pagan New Year! Among Wiccans and Pagans the year ends at Harvest (Samhain) and enters a period of rest and restoration. The dark winter months are for sleeping, getting stronger, and boosting the ties between family and friends.

I’m not completely Pagan. I grew up mixed.  Dad told stories from every Pagan God he knew, while Mom dutifully took us to an Irish Catholic Church each Sunday.  Neither religion stuck very hard, but Halloween-time always feels like a giant end-of-the-year bash. That’s why my blog gets a new look each November – the New Year means a new format, new colors. And, of course, I make a few resolutions:

Edit less, write more
Last year I published my first novel. I never expected there to be so much editing. Rounds and rounds of edits, each perfecting the story just a tiny bit more. Editing is largely a process of subtracting for me, taking away overused words (apparently I’m addicted to ‘just’) and removing stray ideas that don’t really contribute to the plot. I tend to think of editing as the opposite of writing, an act of ‘uncreating’. It makes my work better so I would never want to stop editing all together, but once you start looking for things to get rid of you find more and more of them. Last year was the first year since I began writing in 2006 that I didn’t complete a new manuscript. I edited several. This year I’m looking to balance my editing with creating.

Blog more
My blog schedule evolved from ‘when I think of things’ to ‘worry about it twice a month, get it done whenever’ to the lovely 1st and 15th schedule I put in place in 2014. I don’t always hit the exact date (spoiler alert: I’m writing this on the 2nd), but having a fixed time on the calendar helps me plan for better posts. I toyed with the idea of going to a 1st, 10th, and 20th schedule, but I don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Instead, I’m going to add a third blog post around the 20th of the month.

Share what I read
That new monthly blog post will be about books. I read three books a week, but I tend to keep it to myself. Selfishly, I hope sharing what I read will bring me more recommendations and help me find new authors to love. Authors are warned never to give a bad review and be cautious about saying anything about anyone in the industry, so you’ll only hear about the books I like.

Play with new ideas more
Like the Queen of Wonderland sometimes I believe six impossible things before breakfast. A jumble of characters, scenes, and ideas rattles around my head but I stop them from getting out by worrying about the details. Will the story be interesting enough? What is the heroine going to do with her time? Where’s the bad guy? I’ve long lamented the 20,000 word mark, where good stories seem to die. All those 20,000 word pieces feel like a thing left unfinished, a black mark on my to-do list that can never be crossed off. This year I want to look at those pieces differently. I want to see them as an exploration, one that doesn’t have to result in 90,000 polished, published words. I write in two lengths: 600 word blog posts and 100,000 word novels. (The first draft of the sequel to Under a Blood Moon came in at 150,000 words.) I don’t know when writing became a one-or-the-other thing for me, and I don’t like it. I’m giving myself permission to write shorter, write weirder, write sweeter, etc. etc. etc. Play with the ideas and see where they go, instead of locking them away because they might not work.

I have a lot of great plans for the next year. I’ve started a new contract with Wild Rose Press (more on that when it’s official) and there’s a long list of fun writing projects that need attention. A second not-much-shorter list of life projects needs attention too. As we say goodbye to the bright autumn sunlight and prepare for the long, dark days of winter I’m excited about the things ahead. I hope you are too. From my hearth to yours, best wishes and bright blessings for the New Year.

09/15/15

Things We Keep — Under a Blood Moon First to Final

How important is preserving the past? And which version of the past do we keep?

When the paperback copies of Under a Blood Moon arrived I quickly snapped a photo of one on top of the original draft. Under a Blood moon first draft to final copyPrinted in March 2007 that draft only roughly matches the story in the finished novel. I intended to shred it the next day, not out of anger or malice, but because I didn’t need it any more. I mused about leaving the past to the past, and focusing on the future. But then I hesitated.

A story will change with the telling, altered as people apply their own point of view. It changes more when the author writes a sequel or explains things in other works. One of my favorite series began with the heroine being saved from a pair of attackers by the (eventual) hero. In the first book she was alone and desperate. Later in the series we learn another person was watching the shadows. By the end of the series some seven people were there and only the hero moved to help. Critics were quick to point out the inconsistency, but does it really matter?

I’m editing the second Mallory novel now. The third is ‘proofing’ and my mind is chewing on what will happen in the fourth. I’m tempted to re-read every word I’ve written, from beginning to end, before I start on that fourth story. It would give me a more consistent, more ‘correct’ version of the story but I want to write what’s in my mind now rather than trying to recapture what I felt then.

One of my first readers of Under a Blood Moon is a friend who I met at my day job. After reading the book she asked me an interesting question – would it bother me if Mallory was Black? There’s nothing in the text that specifically makes her White, and a reader might imagine her as a Black. I told her it wouldn’t almost instantly, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I want readers to imagine Mallory as Black, Latina, Asian, or whatever she looks like inside their mind. I want them to read my story and make my characters real.

Which is why I finally shredded those first manuscripts. A story isn’t just words on a page, but an evolving idea. I don’t want to look back at what I might have meant but instead move forward toward what my stories can become. I want that more than I want to remember what the story once was. Holding on to the past leaves your hands too full to reach for the good things to come.

03/15/15

Writing and Quilting: Editing my Stash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/1/15

Under a Blood Moon contracted to Wild Rose Press

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.

10/15/14

Back Cover Copy

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.

 

06/1/14

Jerusalem Markets, Cultural appropriation, and what I’m writing now…

My current manuscript is set in 1973. Writing in an historic setting is new to me, and it’s been quite a challenge. In an effort to get things ‘right’ I’ve interviewed people who were the same age as my main character and spent time in the library reading the magazines and news reports of the era. I’m listening to the hit songs, and checking out the fashions online. Still, there are things that worry me.

Normally I write about paranormal worlds, so far no vampires or fairies have been upset by me appropriating their culture. I don’t want to take the same license with the Civil Rights Movement, women’s liberation, or the gay power movement. I’m going to write about those things through the eyes of a white girl, which is something I know, but I want her friends, black, gay, or whatever they are, to be a realistic, fully faceted portrayal.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job until this weekend, when I was invited to a Jerusalem Market. Having never heard of such a thing, I went more out of curiosity than anything else. A sign at the front made it clear that while the event took place during Passover in the time period of Jesus’ life, it would not be historically accurate. I’ve been to a few Renfests, so that didn’t bother me.

The Wailing Wall did.

IMG_0888

The Western Wall is one of the most sacred locations for the Jewish Culture. At the Jerusalem Market, it was a wall where children were encouraged to write prayers in chalk. I assume this was a nod to the practice of slipping slips of paper with prayers written on them into the cracks of the real Western Wall. I assumed because no one explained the wall, why it was there, or what made it important. I’m struggling to come up with an equivalent for the Western Wall, something sacred and yet public, a part of everyday life. If I could find something as important to my culture as the Wall is to many religions, I think I could decide if this model was offensive.

The Market was clearly not meant to be offensive. Most of the booths talked about some aspect of Jewish culture during Jesus’ life. Roman centurions wandered the grounds. One man was dressed as a Rabbi. A booth held samples of the herbs used at the time, explaining what each one was used for. Another let children experiment making clay pots. There was a puppet show about Jesus, and a chance to listen to an actor dressed as Jesus teach lessons under the trees.

At the matzo baking station I began to doubt that the intention was what mattered. I’ve heard stories of Passover from Jewish friends. I know just a little bit about the deep cleaning a house goes through and how not even a crumb of leavened bread can be left behind. I didn’t learn anything like that while I mixed my flour and water. The only discussion of why Jews don’t eat leavened bread during Passover was “they were running away from Pharaoh, so they didn’t have time for the bread to rise.” When the matzo was finished we were offered a mixture of apples and walnuts to spread on it. “It’s supposed to look like the mortar in the wall,” the volunteer told me. She didn’t remember what it was called, but encouraged me to try it anyway.

As a member of the majority, I can’t decide what offends the minority. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t get a say in what is and isn’t okay to be a children’s activity. Still, to me, taking a part of another culture and turning it into a learning activity for kids might not be bad. Taking a part of another culture, not bothering to learn what it is or the meaning behind it, and making it a fun activity for kids crosses the line to me. Then again, when I posted about it on Facebook a Jewish friend wasn’t offended, saying that at least learning was going on.

So if everyone isn’t offended by the same thing, and I can’t decide what is and isn’t offensive, how do I know what’s okay to write? My plan going forward is to tell the story, making the characters as real as possible. I’m going to stay away from stereotypes and base my characters on the people I interview, not the common idea of what someone of that race, gender, or minority should be. I’m also hoping to find some beta readers from the cultures I’m writing about, people who can tell me if I’ve missed something important.

I don’t know if that’ll be enough, but hopefully it’s a good start.

02/15/14

How a story starts…

Some of my stories start with a synopsis, all the important details written down in a fury of typing, or back cover copy, two paragraphs that are meant to hook people. Example:

###

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 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 might explain her patient’s sudden shift in personality and behavior. And if she can explain it, she can fix it. Before she can gather more data she finds herself targeted by shadowy organization, a group willing to kill to keep the remnants as they are.

###

It’s sad to say but stories that come to me like that, where I know who the players are and what’s going to happen in the end, rarely get finished. It’s the stories that appear as tiny germs of an idea, with one or two crystal-clear scenes, that catch my interest enough to keep me writing for 100,000 words. Here’s one that popped up a few days ago, I wicked curious to see what it becomes.

###

Seventeen year old Katie has spent her life happily living in her sister’s shadow. Karen is the pretty one who learns magic with ease. She’s the one their Mom loves, the one who will fight this generation’s battle with demonic forces without any trouble. Karen’s going to continue the family legacy that started hundreds of years ago. Except that Karen and her Mom die in a car accident. Now Katie, the one who can never concentrate, the awkward, gangly one, has to fight the forces of evil, and she’s only got a couple of months to figure out how to do it. On top of that she’s moved to a new town, has to make new friends, and oh yeah, try to graduate from high school if she can live long enough.

The bell rings behind me, the noise almost hidden by the high bushes. I came here looking for a little peace and instead I find Katrina, or a statue of her. She posed on a broomstick, like she’s ready to jet off into the night. Cheesy, and incorrect, it’s not the pose that gets me, it’s her face. Because Katrina’s face is Karen’s face, and I’m back in my bedroom again, looking at my big sister, talking to her, laughing with her. Except none of that will ever happen again.

Katrina. It’s Katrina. I repeat it over and over again. Katrina your great-great-great-whatever-grandmother, but you’ll tell everyone she’s you Aunt. I can hear Dad’s voice repeating the rules in my head. When they notice the resemblance you tell them Aunt, not grandmother. Except there isn’t any resemblance.

Karen looked like Katrina. Mom looked like Katrina. I look like Dad. My nose is too big and my ears aren’t exactly level, and somewhere a sculpture caught Karen’s expression, that exasperated-my-god-I-can’t-believe-you’re-my-sister expression as if she sat in front of him. It’s Karen looking down at me, and any minute now I’m going to cry. The statue is ringed with benches, and I sit down, hugging my knees to my chest. I used to sit this way on your bed, I think the words at the statue. I used to sit this way when you told me about college and how great it was.

Someone comes up the path, but I’m too sad to move. Maybe if I sit here, just like this, they’ll feel awkward and walk away.

“Oh hi. It’s Katie, right?”

So much for walking away. I glance up at the voice and see that it’s the Adonis from the parking lot. He swapped his football for a backpack, slung over one shoulder, but he looks just as good.

I nod. “Have I met you?”

“Will.” He offers his hand and I have to uncurl to shake it. “I think we’ve got some classes together.”

“English?”

He laughs, because we should both be there now. “Yeah. I just, I needed someplace quiet to think.”

I know all about that so I just nod. He takes the bench not far from me and for a few minutes that’s all it is, two people in the same space, just sitting, looking at a statue of the town’s most famous witch. I want to ask him what he sees when he looks at it. I want to tell him what I see but Dad’s voice is in my head again, lecturing me to keep to myself until we know what’s what.

“Are you going to the bonfire?”

The question comes out of nowhere and I’m completely lost. “The bonfire?”

“I guess no one told you. We have huge bonfire each year. It’s a big deal. Always held on the day they burned Katrina at the stake.” He gestures up toward the familiar face.

“She was my Aunt.” The minute I say it his expression changes. A second ago he was maybe asking me on a date, now he thinks I’m crazy. I shouldn’t have said it but I was thinking about Karen. I’m an idiot. “I mean like, my great-great-great Aunt, a thousand times removed probably.”

“Oh.” The ‘she’s crazy look’ has gotten a little better, but he’s not talking, so I do, trying to fill the silence.

“My sister was named after her, sort of.” And then I stop myself, curling my hands into fists, the nails cutting into my palm. The pain is important, it stops me from talking. If it wasn’t there I’d tell him about everything Karen knew, about the books she studied and the spells she could do. I’d finally tell someone about me, how I’m the replacement-Karen and I’ll never be as good as she was.

“Does your sister go here?”

“She and my Mom died in a car accident.” I continue my streak of saying the absolute worst things ever. “That’s why we moved back here. Dad thought if I grew up in Mom’s hometown, went to her high school, I’d have some sort of a connection with her. So I’ll probably end up at the bonfire, if I can find it.”

“I could take you.” He smiles, and I fall in love. It’s not enough that he’s this big jock of a guy with perfect hair, he’s got a killer smile.

“That’d be great.” And I finally say something right.

###

The clouds look like dirty cotton, fluffy and gray, while the rain comes down like mist. It’s not a good day for a parade but the whole town has turned out. Dad gives me a push toward the bleachers.

“All the teenagers sit over there. The floats throw candy but the kids are too cool to dive for it. When you sit there the candy comes right at you so…”

“All the teenagers, huh? It’s something you and Mom did, isn’t it?”

He nods at me, and I can see him blinking as if he’s going to cry. As much as I don’t want to bond with my peers, watching Dad cry would suck more.

“I’ll be at the bleachers.” I offer him a cheerful grin as I bounce away.

When I finally find a spot it’s between Trina, the blond girl who helped me in math, and Raven, the one who’s trying so hard to convince everyone she’s goth. Trina and I talk a little about the parade, but Raven just gives me the cold shoulder.

“You don’t have a bag?” Trina seems genuinely concerned.

“Just my purse, why?”

“For candy, silly.” She pulls a folded up plastic bag out of her pocket. “Don’t worry, I brought two, just in case.”

Raven rolls her eyes and snorts at this. She’s got a thing against candy, or she’s just generally a bitch. Whatever. I thank Trina just before the band goes by. There’s Jeremy and the other kids I saw at lunch. They can’t wave but I notice a wink that might be directed at me. Then the floats start, all of them Halloweeny but not scary. A haunted house with little kids dancing for ghosts, followed by a smoking cauldron sponsored by the local bakery, it only takes a few floats before I’m snatching candy out of the air and laughing. For a second it feels good, it feels normal, and then a float turns the corner and I see them.

Demons. Real ones, with glowing green eyes. Two of them in the center of a float with people I’ve seen in town beside them. They make the same motions as the people around them, ahdns dipping into bags of candy. Except the demons don’t thrown mini-chocolate bars, they’re throwing handfuls of blood. No one else reacts. None of them can see it. Then the blood splatters on to the bench in front of me and I lose it, screaming.

“Chill,” Raven hisses at me. Her condescension cuts off my fear. “I’ve got it.” She reaches over to the spot and cups her hands. A second later there’s a spark of magic going from one palm to the other. Her magic is purple, like electrical sparks. When it hits the puddle the blood sizzles and then evaporates.

“Are you really doing that in public?” Trina asks, wide-eyed with disbelief. Her voice gets louder as her incredulousness grows. “Today? At the parade?”

“Well I wouldn’t of, but the new girl was freaking out.” Raven tells her, when I know it wasn’t about me at all, it was about showing off.

I’ve never been any good with being treated like some weaker, kid sister. Not even when my amazing big sister was doing it. “It’s no big deal, anyone can do that.”

The spark I build between my hands starts out bright white, but sizzles into a black core. Karen’s magic stayed white. Mom said it was because she focused better. My magic always went through all the shades, white, white-purple, purple, purple-black, and then black, crackling black. I’m thinking about Karen and Mom, the way they would shake their head at my attempts and finally send me to some other room so they could practice. I never minded being sent away. It didn’t matter if I missed half the lesson. It wouldn’t have ever mattered if it wasn’t for the old lady in her Buick.

“You’re one of us?” Trina asks me, her voice barely a whisper.

The last float is coming by, no demons here. It’s sponsored by the church. They’ve put some girl in the center of a fake bonfire, some girl who doesn’t look at all like Karen or Katrina.

“I’m one of her descendents.” I’m supposed to say her niece. Because everyone in town knows Katrina burned at the stake when she was twenty. But everyone in town is wrong. Katrina was too strong to burn, she left and swore to come back every twenty years when the demons rose. When she died her daughters started doing it. It’s what Mom did, it’s what Karen was going to do. Now I’m here and-

“Cool.” Raven breaks into my thoughts to give her approval. “We’ve never had a descendent in the coven.”

“You have a coven?” Now it’s my turn to be shocked.

“Sure.” Raven tips her backpack to me, it’s filled with new age books and moleskin grimoires. “Witches have been coming here for years to keep things safe like Katrina did.”

Mom never told me about that.

“We meet in my basement.” Trina is texting furiously on her phone, and I feel my own vibrate with the message. “You should come over tonight, get to know everybody.”

###

 

12/1/13

Where I’m at – Year in Review 2013 edition

My year ends on Halloween. I still feel the need to make resolutions and observe the normal New Year’s Day, but the space between November and January always feels like a time to take stock and think about what’s ahead. The planning time of year.

First, where I was. Two big things happened in 2012, my family moved from Washington DC and I spent the year dealing with the business of writing. The two combined to mean that outside of blog posts, I didn’t write. Oh I started a few things here and there, but nothing went anywhere.

So in January of 2013, I realized that I had a slew of manuscripts with 20K words on them. If I started forcing myself to write again, right then, I’d have one finished by the end of February. I started writing and… it didn’t quite work out that way. I wrote from the end of January until April 11. The piece was my YA UF, the mermaid story, and in January it had only 6,979 words (from about two days in August of 2012).

Success tasted sweet. I hadn’t realized how much taking a year off from writing shook my confidence. I had rationalized that I was still writing – blogposts, starts of things, little two or three paragraph ideas. But all those short things didn’t add up to the feeling of confidence that comes when you write every day or even five days a week on a single idea. In April, I was fired up to keep that feeling going.

And then I was hospitalized for three days. Despite what you’d think, heavy psychoactive drugs kill your momentum a bit. When I got my health together I was ready to write again, but it took a few weeks for something to catch me. I made 23K words of progress on an idea I’d toyed with in 2012 – a man who sells his childhood to the devil but doesn’t know about that, Brimestone meets Memento. I put down 7K on a Gone Girl meets The Snow Queen – which I still hope to get back to.

It wasn’t until I picked up a YA steampunk manuscript from 2011, that the spark became a flame. I wrote on that 5K word seed of an idea from 6/6 until 11/6. June 6 has been important to me since 2006, when I had a life changing stroke on that day. I don’t even remember thinking of the significance of the date when I started writing but I delighted that it worked out that way.

70, 513 words of mermaids and murder from January until April
92,682 words of steampunk  from June until November

That was my writing year. Other things that happened: in April I found out my job would be ending due to government budget cuts. In June I started a new position, which has turned out to be the best job of my life. There was the hospitalization in May, but I’ve been focused on my running and have made great strides (if you’ll pardon the pun) in my fitness. Like writing, it turns out running requires almost religious devotion.

Mindful of that devotion, I’ll spend the rest of the year working on edits. I love creating something new, it’s the best part of writing for me, but first drafts don’t get published. My new day job gives me three days off at Thanksgiving and an unreal 10 days off over the winter holidays. I’m looking forward to that time for editing. My plans for January are to get back to that Snow Queen-evil fairy-kidnapped child grown up – idea, hoping the cold of the landscape will help it grab me. Of course, like most writers some days I have six impossible thoughts before breakfast.  Looking ahead at 2014, I can’t wait to see what happens.

10/3/13

Write for yourself – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Popcorn Bucket Story

As a Dis Geek, very few things in life make me as happy as dissecting the minutia of a trip to Disney World. Need to argue over the best touring strategy or the best snacks near Pirates of the Caribbean? I’m your girl. And since most people don’t need that kind of detail in their life, I’m a member of a Disney discussion board.

Not too long ago a mother posted a plea. Her family wouldn’t make it to Disney World this fall. Meaning her daughter’s souvenir popcorn bucket collection would be incomplete. Not important to you and me, but to a seven year old with six popcorn buckets, well, she’s been collecting them her whole life! The buckets were going for $35 on eBay, more than the Mom could afford. As it happened, I knew someone who was going to Disney World. I fronted the $12 and received the popcorn bucket.

But, of course, I’m an author. I couldn’t just send the bucket. It needed a story, a backstory, internal motivation, the whole thing. This particular popcorn bucket is in the shape of Mickey dressed as a Hitchhiking ghost from the Haunt

The popcorn bucket visits the St. George Tucker House, site of the first Christmas tree in America.

ed Mansion, so I made him a hitchhiker (duh) and gave him a love of history (because I live in a pretty historic place). I set up some internal conflict – popcorn buckets are assembled to go home with families, but this one also wanted to see historic sites.

The story was for a seven-year-old, not my usual demographic, and one that I figured would be more impressed with pictures. Tiger indulged me in an afternoon photo session, toting Mickey around to various historic sites. My first draft involved pirates, but while the pirate re-enactors were willing the final photos came out too scary. A golden retriever stepped in to be the villain who gave the popcorn bucket the push he needed to realize his days as hitchhiker were over.

I was excited about the story. I wanted to see it come together. I imagined that little girl reading it, following the links to the buildings.  My story could provide the spark that started a life long love of history or the kindness that made a tough time better.

I mailed the popcorn bucket on Tuesday. I received back a very grateful thank you note from the mother. I posted the story on Wednesday and heard back…. Nothing yet. I expected to wake up to comments on my story, corrections, criticism, but it was viewed 105 without a peep.

I realized my mistake this morning. To me the most important part of the whole experience was the story. What could I write with a popcorn bucket as a prompt and the nearby region as a setting. How could I make something assembled in a factory and devoid of life into a character? Because I’m who I am, I wanted to teach as well, reading is more fun when you learn something new. But my audience wouldn’t want to read something dry so I’d need to-

Yeah. The story is the most important thing for me and yet, not for the other people involved. I realized this morning that it sums up the beginning of every writer’s career. You have fun writing something, creating it from nothing. That has to be enough, because in the beginning no one else cares. Maybe someday you’ll find people who agree with you, people who think the story is the best part, but you can’t count on that. If you do, you’ll be sunk before you start. You can’t write for the market or write to the trend. You have to write for yourself.