07/15/17

My Vampires are Cursed

I started writing the Death Witch books just weeks after a brain hemorrhage, when I had no idea if I would survive to turn thirty. I’m not embarrassed to admit I choose a vampire for a hero because of the very attractive idea of immortality. As I struggled to recovery, I knew vampirism (eternal life with eternal youth? Never getting sick? Sign me up!) wasn’t much of a ‘curse’ anymore.

Because while I can appreciate the tension in knowing everyone around you will grow old and die while you stay young, it never felt like a terrible problem to have for me. How could I make the ‘curse of a vampire’ into something more than the “all my friends are dead” trope? How could I make a vampire, creatures long associated with sex and sensuality, into something deeper?

I decided in my world, the curse wasn’t eternal life with eternal youth, but an inability to change as society around you does. My vampires don’t age physically, but they also struggle to change their morals and beliefs. While they can come to accept changes in technology, the values and beliefs they held as mortals stick, even when everyone else has moved on. They may be pretty and powerful, but the vampires always end up as the odd one out – the person who doesn’t quite fit in, who sees the world as generally wrong.

For Jakob, an illiterate peasant from the late 1300s, anything other than the truths his church taught him seemed shocking. When Mallory meets him he’s over six-hundred years old but he hasn’t shifted his basic life views: a good man strives to protect his community from outsiders and the immoral. The point of a relationship is to one day marry and have children. As someone who lost family in two great famines, Jakob will always believe the greatest luxury a man can have is abundant food and exotic fruits. It’s taken him years to learn how to read, but he’s not sure reading for pleasure isn’t a sinful indulgence.

Meanwhile, Mark, raised in the courts of Elizabeth I of England, is used to have plenty to eat, plenty of amusements, and the constant threat of political destruction. Mark remains suspicious and distrustful, even four hundred years after he loses all his political power. Mark becomes a vampire to avenge his family, who were slaughtered by werewolves. No longer Prince Woldemar Anton Ludwig Hohenzollern, Mark leaves behind his name and his position, but can’t shake the ideas that came with it: life is a series of manipulations, love isn’t an option for him, and a stray word can destroy lives.

Then there’s Amadeus, who joined the story in the last book, Fire in Her Blood. As I finish editing the third Death Witch book and start plotting out the fourth, he’s the character I’m really sinking my teeth into. Both Jakob and Mark are generally good people. Jakob is overly religious, his flaws fall along those lines – he’s overly protective, conservative, and uncomfortable with a lot of modern values. Mark is impolite, rudely pushing people away because he thinks he’ll be rejected (after all he has nothing to offer politically, so why would anyone want him?).

But Amadeus…He’s white trash from a romanticized era. He grew up poor in the antebellum south, a musician struggling to make ends meet. Amadeus is turned when he’s just sixteen years old, with all of the head-strong nature of a sixteen-year-old and all of the emotional turmoil of a civil war solider. He sees people as tools to help him achieve his goals. His maker taught him to exploit witches most of all, and he quickly learned to use his good looks to get women to do things for him. He could learn to be better, but he doesn’t have a reason too. The way things are going for him in this next book, he might not live long enough.

Hopefully, all of them will learn to overcome the prejudices and false beliefs they held as humans. Their curse makes it hard to free themselves from outdated ideas, but even if you can’t stop thinking something, you recognize it’s wrong and to minimize its influence. Anyone can overcome an ingrained idea if they work hard enough.

03/1/17

Timelines and the Next Mallory Story

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

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

The jaguar cards from Dad’s tarot card set.

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

Which left me written into a corner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/1/16

New Cover Art for Under a Blood Moon

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:

underabloodmoon_w9453_750

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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04/1/16

Editing myself out

Editing a novel involves a lot of back and forth with your editor. While you may burn the midnight oil to ensure that your email is waiting promptly when she gets into work it turns out that valiant lady of letters is working with other authors. Not only is she working with them, but sometimes she puts them before you.

Shocking.

Thankfully, a career as an author requires you to have multiple irons in the fire, or manuscripts on your desk as it might be. While I was waiting for the next round of edits for the Mermaid and the Murders, I was also editing Fire in Her Blood, the sequel to Under a Blood Moon. Flipping back and forth between the two books made me realize that editing is a bit like traveling back in time to talk to the person I used to be.

Manuscripts, like wine, must age before they can become books. Fire in Her Blood was drafted back in 2009. That was the year my beloved mother-in-law ended her twenty-eight year battle breast cancer. The manuscript was in its first revisions a year later when I buried my best girlfriend after a drunk driver took her life. It’s probably not surprising that the first draft was fairly obsessed with religion. Coming in at just over 160K words, in between tracking a serial arsonist my character visits a number of churches, arranges for her vampire boyfriend to attend a Catholic mass, argues with another cop about the difference between conservative and regular Southern Baptist congregations, and debates with her own partner about the Catholic belief in transubstantiation. She also ends up at a pair of pagan churches, one for the Fire Goddess, and one for the Air God.

None of the scenes were bad, but from a distance of seven years it’s clear that my own struggle with faith bleed out on to the page. I removed most of the religious overtones as I edited, taking the manuscript down to a much more reasonable 110K words. Then it went back to my editor, in hopes that she’ll like it enough to champion it for publication.

Meanwhile, she returned The Mermaid and the Murders back to me. Reading her notes I realized when I wrote it the balance of a personal desires over family needs was at the forefront of my mind. Danika, the mermaid of the title, wants to live her own life, away from her pod. It’s a choice her mother doesn’t agree with and they fight constantly. Through the course of the story Danika comes to realize that constantly having the same fight isn’t working. Instead she stands up for herself, weathers the consequences, and when the battle is over, finds peace with her choice. I’m not sure I’ve gotten to that part, but I know I sympathize with the way she feels pulled in both directions.

Early on in my career, I attended a great lecture at the RWA national conference. An award winning author told us all that putting your own emotions on the page gave the story depth and a realism that couldn’t be duplicated any other way. That’s a great idea, but I want to be sure I’m telling my characters’ story and not my own. I’m grateful to my editor for helping me pull back and lend my own experiences without over shadowing the story.

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.

07/15/15

Mallory arrives in Baton Rouge

Under a Blood Moon is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and the Wild Rose Press website! To celebrate, here’s the scene where Mallory, the detective heroine in Under a Blood Moon, first arrives in Baton Rouge. It’s set several months before the beginning of Blood Moon and won’t be published anywhere else. 

I couldn’t deal with the memory of waking up wrapped in the arms of a zombie that looked like my husband. I got in the car and started to drive. The hum of the engine and my own mental exhaustion lulled me into a sleep-like state, still awake, but not thinking. I woke up at the counter of Sunshine’s Coffee Shop with a cinnamon roll that lapped over the edges of its plate and a cup of café au lait in front of me. I sipped the coffee and ripped pieces off the giant roll wondering how long I would keep driving.

I felt someone brush up against me and looked up to see a tall blond woman. I hadn’t paid attention to the other customers so I didn’t know if the she was coming or going.

“Excuse me,” I mumbled into my coffee cup, reluctant to establish any kind of contact with anyone. I felt something else then, something like a breeze only not across my skin. Can you feel a breeze across your heart? That’s what it felt like, cool wind blowing through my soul. The woman turned to look at me.

“We need to talk.” .

“I’m sorry?” I asked, fiddling with my coffee cup. The phantom wind had died down but I wasn’t anxious to talk with her at all.

“You need to talk to someone, and I’ve got time. Let’s grab the couch.” She gestured to the back of the shop where three old living room sets had been crammed together.

“Uh, no thanks.” I leaned over the counter and called out to the emptiness. “Can I get my check please?”

“I’m Phoebe, and we really should grab the couch.” She touched my arm and the breeze blew through me again. “Driving won’t help, you’ll still be a death witch wherever you end up.”

She was the first person to say it out loud. I jumped back, trying to get away from her, dumping my chair on ground. The barista,a bald man covered in tattoos raised, came over with a frown but Phoebe stopped him. “It’s okay, Max, she’s new and shaky; we’re going to grab the couch.”

He nodded and I realized she was a regular. What kind of a coffee shop was this? Confused, I let her led me to the most hideous couch I had ever seen. Every inch of it shimmered with inky graffiti. Completely coated with signs and symbols, the ugly fabric barely showed. It was comfortable though, sitting there I couldn’t feel the weird psychic breeze she gave off or the panic that had been hiding in my chest since I found out.

“Better?” She asked.

“Yes, much, thanks.” I paused trying to think of a graceful way out of the conversation and the coffee shop.

“That’s good, then it won’t bother you that the couch is charmed.” My eyes got wide; the calm feeling was a spell. Damn, it had been the best I’d felt in a while. “How’d you find out?”

I tried to think of a way to tell her about Greg’s death and his reanimation, about the cemetery, my desperation, and how it all turned into witchcraft.

“Guess it was pretty bad?”

It was, but sitting on that wonderful, ugly yellow couch I didn’t care any more so I only nodded in reply.

“Maybe you should sip your coffee for a little while, and just listen, ok?” She took a deep breath, focused her gaze far away. She pushed her ropy hair behind her ear and started to speak. “When I was young my parents had this friend, he was like a favorite uncle to me. One day we went out for slushies and he put his hand over mine to steady the cup. Suddenly, I saw that he was thinking of me naked. It was like I turned on a tap and couldn’t stop it, the gross images in his head just kept pouring into mine. I started screaming. When no one could get me to stop, they called the cops.”

She stopped, shook herself a little and took a sip of coffee before she started again.

“There was this cop, a black guy with a bushy mustache. He used his handkerchief to dry my tears. The minute he did, I went calm, like you are on that couch. He stopped the pictures from coming into my head.But they didn’t stop forever. I’m a spirit witch. Nothing’s going to make it stop, not for me and not for you.”

“How old were you?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Nine. How about you?”

“It was last month.”

“I’m incredibly jealous; you got to grow up normal.” She shook her head again, thinking about some schoolyard trauma I’d never had to endure. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“I have no idea. I’ve got enough money to get by for a while, but if I can’t hide this, how can I hold a job? Which isn’t really my biggest problem, I can’t go back to where it happened. Where am I going to live?”

“I was serious before, you should stay here. There’s a good coffee shop and you already have a friend.”

This time I shook my head. “That’s sweet but you’re not a friend. You’re a helpful stranger in a coffee shop.”

“Nope. I’m a friend. You know how I know? Because I’m going to get you a job where you don’t have to hide who you are, and you don’t recommend a stranger for a job.” She took a business card out of her bag. “Here, spend a couple of hours working on the place to live problem, then call this guy.”

I looked down at the card; one side was embossed with the dome of the capital building, and the other read Special Lieutenant French.

06/1/15

Cover Art Reveal!

I’m delighted to reveal the cover art for Under a Blood Moon, coming soon from Wild Rose Press:

Under a Blood Moon cover

And there it is.

When I started writing, I had no idea cover art wasn’t designed by the author. I imagined myself meeting with an artist, making rough sketches on the back of a napkin, and then finally going to a studio with soaring ceilings and paint splotches everywhere. I’d stand before an easel and perfection! My book cover revealed.

Except that it turns out most covers don’t start as paintings. The artists work with digital editing software, not paint brushes. When my book was contracted for publication I was sent to an online form, not a meeting in a café. After dutifully filing in the blanks with a description of my heroine, hero, and the location, I had nothing to do but wait anxiously.

Why the anxiety? Authors don’t get approval rights over their covers. People judge books by their covers and most authors aren’t experts at marketing and selling books. Publishers are. It makes sense to let them make the decisions. If an author sees something they don’t like they can mention it, but the publisher isn’t obligated to act on it. It’s easy to daydream about perfect covers that exactly capture your book, but fears creep into your mind at the same time.

The internet is happy to share the details of covers gone wrong. There’s the painful, hilarious Kindle Cover Disasters blog and the more harrowing accounts of white washing and blond-ing of covers. The latter comes from the perception that sales are higher for blond heroes in romance and white girls in young adult. Covers reflect that to market the book, even when it’s not what’s inside. Authors post angry recriminations or apologetic notes, but that’s all they can do. The publisher gets final say.

I’m grateful my publisher doesn’t play those games. The design above is actually the third cover for Under a Blood Moon. My suggestions for the cover art were accepted and implemented quickly. One cover had a very marketable petite blond woman, but my brunette heroine wears a size large. The publisher was fine to remove the skinny blond, even though she might have generated more sales.

I’m happy with the spooky image we ended up with; it communicates the atmosphere of the book without putting ideas in the reader’s head about who does what inside the pages. Even better it reminds me of all those wonderful pulp horror novels I devoured as a teen. I’ll be making the cover art into a quilt later, and I can’t wait to see it in person.

04/15/15

Reenactments as Research

I love the juxtaposition of historic values and modern settings. One of the reasons I write with vampires is the unique chance they give me to explore cultural shifts and changing social roles. In my book, Under a Blood Moon, I have two vampires, Jakob, born around 1360 and, Mark, born 1574. Jakob, a devout Catholic, values family and faith. Mark is more calloused and cynical. That’s probably enough to start writing but to really flesh out a character you need more. When you dig into the history you learn that most men in Jakob’s time couldn’t read. They knew famine personally and would have lost family members to starvation. Their church offered not only solace but also support and safety. Knowing that about him improves my writing. There’s no way around it, to really understand how historic characters think you need to do research.

While I enjoy the usual kinds of research, like reading academic articles and history books, my favorite kind of research is more hands on. I talk with and interview historic reenactors. Most people are familiar with Civil War reenactors. Many Southern states hold large scale battles and encampments in the summer. But there’s more than just the Civil War out there. In St. Augustine, where I went to college, encampments from the 16th century were common. I spent more than one summer night awkwardly pressed in a crowd of women and children forced into the old fort while cannons fired around me, trying to beat back English forces as if it was still 1586. For years I interacted with people who slept, ate, and dressed in that time period. It’s no surprise that I based Mark on what I learned. His favorite breakfast is the one I saw being eaten in the camps, his political views are shaped by the discussions I had with the reenactors while they ate.

I was recently lucky enough to find an event that focused not on one battle or time period, but brought them all together. Military through the Ages showcased encampments from a Roman Legion (64 A.D.) to the current Virginia Army National Guard. While it was hard to pull myself away from the Fenvald Vikings, the good people of La Belle Compagnie who reenact the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337 to 1453) were my best resource of the day. I learned about cooking, cleaning, women’s roles vs. men’s roles, and how fighting really worked in the time period. Reading about swords is good, holding the sword and talking to someone who uses period techniques to make swords is even better.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

The event included a lot of hands on demonstrations, some of them given by people who aren’t just reenacting, but remembering. This lovely woman was a member of British Women’s Land Army during WWII.

The Women’s Land Army took on the jobs left empty by soldiers. They planted and harvested crops, milked cows, and ran the home front. Despite all this, I’d never heard of them. I folded their story into the background of Margaret, Jakob’s love from the 1940s and the grandmother of his adopted son. Not far from the encampment, one of the wonderful women offered to pin my hair up. While Margaret and I don’t have the same hair, I know the way the bobby pins scraped across my scalp will end up in a book somewhere.

The seated woman was a member of the Women's Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

The seated woman was a member of the Women’s Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

To me history is a dying solider on a battlefield telling you his story. Reenactments give us a chance to talk to those soldiers, and ask them about the little things we might not be able to read about so easily. When you’re lucky you get a chance to feel a piece of history (or something pretty close) for yourself.

 

 

 

02/17/15
An hourglass filled with purple sand, rests in the snow

Editing and the Hourglass

I’ve been editing Under a Blood Moon this month. It’s become the main focus of my life. Luckily, I ended a 15 month volunteer commitment in January. All my other hobbies suffer greatly, no weight lifting, barely any running. My quilting sits neglected the antique sewing machine silent. Why this all consuming obsession?

I have always believed that editing is reduction. To quote Stephen King the formula is “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”. I can’t count the number of drafts Blood Moon has undergone. I have documents labeled ‘maybe final’, ‘final’, and ‘really final’. Somewhere along the way I cut too much. My editor advised me to add back-story, to flesh out the characters. She pointed out readers will feel blindsided by a vampire mentioning his son for the first time on page 200. I’ve lived with these characters so long it never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t think 600 year old vampire, 36 year old son, kid must be adopted and move on.

My secret weapon is an hourglass:

An hourglass filled with purple sand, rests in the snow

Not even snow can freeze time. My Haunted Mansion hourglass.

I bought it as décor. It doesn’t keep time very well. I suspect most of my hours are actually a bit longer than that. I’m learning to adjust to longer lengths though, to let things develop on their own. I sit down at my writing desk, a rickety combination of silver steel and glass that looks better than it functions, and I flip the hourglass over. For that time I do nothing but edit. If I think I need to fact check something on the internet, I note it for later. The door to my office is shut and email turned off. If I absolutely must take a break, I lay the hour glass on its side, stopping the flow of time and sand.

I wish I could tell you that I often find myself working past the end of the hourglass. Instead, I find myself shaking it, wondering if something got stuck. Putting words back into a work leaves a lump. I go back time after time, smoothing it down with both hands like making a bed, hoping some future reader won’t see the bulge.

We’ve had a bad winter storm, leaving me alone in the house with my words. I’ll write three sentences of dialog, short little lines. The hour glass finishes. Liberated, I move on to something else. But an hour later, my mind is still on those sentences. Two hours later I rewrite them, saving the first ones just in case they were better. Then, five hours later, lying in bed, the perfect set of replacement sentences comes to me. I repeat them over to myself, twenty words chanted like a mantra while the lap top boots up. Finally, they rest beside their kin, perfect, exactly what I wanted, twenty words out of the five or ten thousand I swore to myself I’d add by February 28.

I promised one short story a month on the blog, but lately that’s become ‘a custom more honored in the breach than the observance’. There’s no room in my head for other stories, for matching clothes, or preparing meals. I’m sure I bore people; the long road to publication (8 years!) can’t be thrilling to anyone but me. Someone mocked me because I have no social life. I’m not sure I need one. After all, I have a book. It makes me happy, angry, frustrated, excited, and tired but mostly happy.

02/1/15

Feelings about Football, love and hate

Somewhere, right now, an athlete warms up, stretches, and mentally reviews his form, preparing for the big game. Americans everywhere do the same, following their rituals for things like icing beer or making onion dip from soup mix. The Superbowl begins in hours and it’s got football on my mind.

My high school’s team ranked number one in the state for five years, earning the boys a 1.2 million dollar stadium. I walked past it on my way to English and Latin, classes held in permanently parked trailers euphemistically called ‘portables’. In Florida football is not a pastime but a religion. I have been greeted at 7am, in my bathrobe standing over a newspaper, by the shouts of a never-met neighbor who needed to know right away who won in overtime last night.

I couldn’t tell him. Despite efforts by every member of my family I don’t care about the Giants or the Gators. Somewhere around age 13 they decided I didn’t like football because I didn’t understand it, and weekly lessons began. I sat on the couch absorbing knowledge of first downs, flags, and offensive lines wishing I could go read a book. It came as no surprise when I picked a college without a football team. My family gave up, sure that I hated the game.

I agreed with them long enough that I made Mallory, the main character in my novel, a football fan. I didn’t want anyone to think she was a Mary Sue, a main character that is a stand in for the author, so I made a list of traits we wouldn’t share. She drinks Dr. Pepper, I drink Coke. She loves the heat, I loath it. So when it came to football, of course, she had special game day plates and favorite snacks.The sport was part of her life, something she shared with friends, and it brought her great joy.

Oddly, the more I wrote about her and her team (the New Orleans Saints) the less I hated the sport. Mallory’s love of football was wrapped around her love for her father, who had been out of her life for years. Wearing his jersey, routing for his team, and watching the plays he’d taught kept her close to him.  Somewhere along the way, researching those players and picking those traditions changed my own views about the sport.

I still don’t have a favorite team. You won’t find me at a sports bar and I’ve never been to a Superbowl party, but I won’t joke about rabid fans, or belittle them for being excited. While I may not be interested in the sport, I’ve come to respect the relationships it creates and the happiness it brings. I won’t be watching today’s game for the plays, but I do want to see if Derrick Coleman  invites those two little girls to the game again.