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.

02/29/16

My Blue Couch

In 2005, Tiger carried me over the threshold of our first single family home. The rental was small, and at $2450 a month it didn’t leave much for furnishings. We picked up a couch at Ikea, I don’t even remember the name of the style, just that we couldn’t pronounce it.

A little more than a year later I had a stroke on that couch. A few months after that I began writing a novel in the same place. In February of 2007 I wrote “The End” propped up against the couch’s cushions. It became a favorite place of mine. The marshmallow-y blue pillows held my laptop perfectly. Eventually, my rabbit editor learned that treats came more readily when he joined me on the couch. I wrote in the mornings, usually with a warm but unattractive robe over my pjs and the rabbit by my side.

An author and her editor (post breakfast)

We moved. We moved again. We moved again and again. We took the couch with us. When we finally bought a house we splurged on grown-up furniture. It didn’t come from Ikea. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my blue couch. I wrote there, but I found myself back on the blue couch, now regulated to a rarely used room.

The cushions tore, but I was superstitious and kept the couch. Our last move came in the middle of my embrace of minimalism. I got rid of antique family photos, heirlooms, and art. I kept the couch. It went back into the most used room, and I went back to writing on it each morning. But one tear made another, and I knew the couch would fall into piece during the next move, one that would take it several states away.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

I posted it on craigslist, free to a good home, expecting no one would reply. I steeled myself to face facts, cheap couches don’t really last more than a decade. It needed to go to the dump. Instead last week a family came. They recently made America their home, traveling from the war-torn Middle East. They took a table and two chairs, a TV stand, an arm chair, and the blue couch. The torn cushions didn’t bother them, they were happy to cover it with a sheet. They thanked me for helping their family. I welcomed them to our country and wished them the best.

I miss that couch. Not going to lie, I was up at 5:41 this morning and knowing I didn’t have a blue couch with a rabbit sitting on the end made it harder to pull myself in front of the laptop. But the rabbit was there in the living room, happy to sit next to me on the newer, but still not-quite-comfortable, couch. I wrote, because couches aren’t magic, hard work is. But I’ll always smile when I think about the twelve books that came from ten years of good writing on that couch.

11/15/15

Rachel’s NaNoWriMo Anti-rules

Many people will tell you how to win at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They’ll quote best practices and articles, talking about support networks and plotting. All of that is very good advice. But I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t follow any of it, you can still ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo. And by winning I mean end up with a book contract.

The end of 2013 was a hard time for me. My father died, my mother had serious health issues, I was hospitalized, and my heater broke in the middle of a snowstorm. The NaNoWriMo deadline had long since passed, but I realized if I didn’t challenge myself to get writing my creativity would drown under all the stress. I needed a challenge, even though the next NaNoWriMo was months away.

Anti-Rule #1: NaNoWriMo happens when you make it.

If November is a bad time for you, start your novel today or any day. If you like the discussion boards and support of a writing team NaNoWriMo Camp starts in June and August. It brings the same support and fun as NaNoWriMo  in November with none of the holiday obligations pressing down on you. A lot of the teachers in my life prefer NaNoWriMo Camp in June when school is out for the summer. I planned to start my personal NaNoWriMo challenge on 2/1/2014, but got excited and started writing on January 27.

Anti-Rule #2: You can start with something you’ve already worked on

After my life stabilized and  the heat came back on,  I realized I hadn’t written, really written, in months. Starting a new story felt too overwhelming so I grabbed a six-thousand word opening inspired by this image:

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

The story of a teenage mermaid fighting with her mother while tracking down a serial killer took off in my imagination. I saw the piece not just as a YA mystery, but as a platform for talking about feminine power. I repeatedly watched the mermaid scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

The mermaids there were exactly what I wanted – desirable, otherworldly, and deadly. Young women are often admonished against expressing their sexuality and told “good girls don’t do that sort of thing”. I wanted a character who struggled with her own powerful sexuality, who wanted to fit in but was constantly swayed by strong emotions the world didn’t expect her to have.

Her name is Danika. Her friends called her Danny, and for my private NaNoWriMo I thought about her every day. I challenged myself to two thousand words a day for each of February’s twenty-eight days.

Anti-rule #3 Finish your novel when it’s done.

I kept writing through March and into the first weeks of April. (Danny first appeared on the blog in April.) It turned out that I wanted to write more than the NaNoWriMo  prescribed 50K words. I wrote about Key West disguised as Danny’s beach-side town Playa Linda. My Aunt’s house on Stock Island became Danny’s house. My favorite high school books became her favorites. I filled that manuscript with a thousand sunny details of life in a tropical town while the cold winter months passed away.

Anti-rule #4 Edit whenever you want!

NaNoWriMo focuses on getting the words on the page, so the rules tell you not to edit as you go.  That means leaving something in place that doesn’t work and trying to write around that mistake. For me, it became too confusing to write chapter 10 based on what I wanted chapter 8 to be instead of what it was. I’d rather go back and rename a character than keep a list of things to correct when I’m done. I enjoy re-reading my work on Sunday night, planning out what scenes I’ll write for the week and making little changes. I don’t want to give up that ritual.

Anti-rule #5 Don’t stop when the manuscript is finished

People joke that NaNoWriMo should be followed by National Novel Editing Month, and I agree.  When I finished the Mermaid manuscript I let it rest for a month before doing a first edit. Then it was sent it for a beta read. That caused another round of edits, which were followed by two rounds of paid edits, one with a college student for YA voice and one with the amazing editors at Quail School Media. Finally it felt polished enough to send out to editors.

Bonus Conflicting Anti-rules –  

Don’t leave your manuscript in a box. 

Start something else!

While the editors were reading The Mermaid and the Murders (the current working title) I started another manuscript. More than a year after my personal NaNoWriMo finished, the Mermaid and the Murders was out on submission and I did my best to forget about it.

Months passed and I never managed to put the story out of my mind. So this November, I threw in my hat for the real NaNoWriMo focusing on a a cozy mystery about a group of quilters who dabble in magic spells on the side. As my story reached 10,000 words, I got news that meant I would need to bend those NaNoWriMo rules again.

My mermaid book, that rule-breaking not-really- NaNoWriMo manuscript got a contract. Right in the middle of the real NaNoWriMo I recieved my editorial letter. I’m excited to dive back into the world of mermaids and I’m happy that my (personal, not at the right time) NaNoWriMo was a success. If you’re participating right now, I hope you succeed. If you’re not participating, remember that any month can be NaNoWriMo or, if you don’t write, any month can be the one you accomplish your goal.

 

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.

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.

07/1/15

Home to the Haunted Mansion

When I left Florida I swore I would never go back in summer, a season that starts with 90’ temperatures in March and refuses to leave until late September. But I find myself compelled to keep returning to one of the hottest parts of the state – the shade-less ocean of cement known as Disney World. Thankfully, one place stays refreshingly dark and gloomy.

 

Haunted Mansion full view

No matter how many times I go through the Haunted Mansion, there’s always something missing. Even the backstage tour lacked a cohesive story of how the mansion came to be. How did the opera company die in costume? What happened to all those ballroom dancers to keep them twirling into eternity?

The tale I heard as a child centered on a couple on their wedding day. Before the ceremony, they played a game of hide and seek. The bride hid in a trunk in the attack, but became trapped and suffocated. Her body was never found, and her empty hearse waits at the front of the mansion. Deeply depressed, her groom hung himself. His body is revealed during lightening flashes in the first room. The bride’s ghost, with her glowing red beating heart, stood by the trunk in the attic.

water color side door

Not too long ago the ride was restructured and the story changed. The bride is now a serial killer who murders husband after husband. The outside of the ride was themed to include an unrelated murder mystery so subtle you’d need to be trapped in line for more than an hour to realize that’s what you’re seeing. The mystery is solved at the very end of the ride – if you keep a sharp eye out. I’m more in favor of the nods to the old tale, like the dog tracks that lead to the servant’s entrance outside of the cemetery.

sepia side

Those tracks make me think about the caretaker – who was he? What was his dog’s name? Where did they and all of the 999 Happy Haunts come from? That’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, so I’ve started writing it. I’m moving the mansion from Florida to a small seaside town in North Carolina. I’ll be visiting Edenton, NC and a few other cities, trying to find one with the right feel. I’m hoping for a layer of genteel decay, a sense of beautiful bones under an aged face. A place that was golden once, but has gone gray with waiting, abandonment and wood beams, gingerbread work on houses that need a coat of paint.

The story isn’t waiting for research, it’s forming itself in notes and drafts. A woman runs away from tragedy, going to a home she never knew she had. But homes are haunted with the things we could have done, the ghosts of the people we might have been. The poor dear doesn’t know it yet but she’s going home to a haunted mansion.

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.

05/1/15

Apologies and the Rabbit Editor

Due to line edits, copy edits, and galley edits, today’s blog (planned topic: Beltane and Witchcraft in my novels) has been replaced with gratuitous pictures of my rabbit editor. Many apologies.

For those of you who aren’t aware, rabbits are disapproving creatures.

I disapprove

Your shenanigans are not amusing. Get back to writing.

They also enjoy sleeping on large, fluffy piles of shredded paper, if that paper contains your hopes and dreams, er, manuscript, all the better.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

 

These two combine to make a harsh, but adorable editor. For example, when you get a rejection and nothing is working right you see this:

 

keep writing

I’m bored with your complaining. Go back to work.

Then, when you’re ready to give up:

Give up

Enough. I’m done.

And hide your face in shame:

 

I can't face what I've done.

I can’t face what I’ve done.

They offer you a treat. If you’re lucky you won’t fall asleep before you can finish it.

So tired.

So tired.

When you wake up, you’ll see something like this:

so bored

Why aren’t you writing?

04/1/15

Whispers

The first time I swam I was three. My pudgy fingers reached forward in a stroke I barely knew, wrapped in salt water, happier than I had ever been. My parents pulled me from the water hours later but I never really left. Most teenagers slept in, but I went back to the water every day at four in the morning and four in the afternoon. Swim team captain, champion swimmer, the water is my home. It makes the doctor’s words hard to take.swimmer

“No swimming until we take out the tubes.”

Thanks to the ear infections I’ve spent weeks listening to muffled, unclear speech. His words boom into me. I put my hands over my ears, trying to block the sound. “So loud.”

“A side effect of the tubes, everything is two decibels louder. You’ll get used to it.”


I start to hear the whispers in math class. They follow me to history, scratches of sound, like someone talking behind you or in the hall. I haven’t gotten used to the tubes. Chewing blocks out every sound. Running makes my breath as loud as a rock concert. But when I’m not doing that, when I’m sitting or reading the whispers come back. Frustrated, I say what I’d been saying for almost two months.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.” Every time I say it, people speak louder and slower, a look of pity on their face for the seventeen year old who acts like an old man. The whispers stop. A bliss of relative quiet falls over me. I hear the noise of my teeth rubbing together, the sound of locks clicking open on lockers, and a thousand conversations in the hall but I can’t hear any whispers.

They come back. This time I understood them.

You’re useless. Nothing. Nobody.

“No, I’m not.” My response startles my lab partner, who raises an eyebrow before going back to the experiment.

Then who are you? What can you do?

“I’m a swimmer.”

“Yeah, sure you are, dude.” My lab partner smiles. “Best in the state in the 50 meter. Everyone knows that.”

But the whispers say “A swimmer who can’t swim. You’re nothing.”

They’re wrong. It stings anyway. They keep it up all day. I’m nothing, useless, I’ll never get in the water again. They’re wrong and I don’t believe them, but the more I hear, the more I think about it. If I’m not a swimmer, if this thing with my ears doesn’t get better, who am I? When I couldn’t hear the gun, I started from the block just a second after the other swimmers. Not enough to hurt me in meets but enough that I couldn’t get my best time. I haven’t set any records, haven’t seen any improvements since the infection started.

And you’ll never set any records again.

I know the whispers lie, but it’s hard to hear them, over and over again, and not start to wonder if they’re right.


On the third day I can’t take it anymore. Every hallway, every classroom, every where I go in the school I hear them. Over and over again, repeating the same terrible lies. (I’m sure they’re lies. Really. Except what if they’re not?) The whispers have me half convinced. I break my word to my parents and head for the deserted pool. There, with ear plugs and water between us, I don’t hear them. But I can’t swim forever. Two hours in my arms burn. I’ll get caught for cutting class soon. Does it matter? If the whispers are right, nothing matters. I swim another few laps before I get out. The whispers start again in the locker room.

I’m not going crazy and the weekend proves it. Two days away from school, and I don’t hear them. I hear the water in my mouth and the rustle of the newspaper when I fold it. It should be a gift but the only thing I’m grateful for is getting away from the whispers. On Monday-

“Doesn’t matter if you hear us. It’s still the truth. You might as well kill yourself.”

For a second, just a split second, I think about taking that advice. How I might do it, how it would make people feel. Instead I add lying to cutting class and call the doctor’s office. I pretend to be my Dad. The whispers tell me I’ll never be as good as he was, never have it together the way he does. I talk over them, asking the receptionist to change my appointment. She gets me in that afternoon, and when I check in I lie some more about why he isn’t with me. I’m shocked it works. I remember what the whispers said.

There’s a loud pop when the tubes come out, a bright pain that radiates down my jaw. Pop and the world goes quiet.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” The doctor smiles.

“It was wonderful.”

He tells me a lot of things, but I’m focused on how I can’t hear the air coming through the vent anymore. There’s only one class left in the afternoon, and I might as well miss it, but I go back anyway. The whispers are gone. I walk the halls, check the locker room. Nothing. I’m in the auditorium back stage when the drama club starts to file in. I can hear them but nothing else, no lies, no threats.

Are they there, still trying? Still talking to me? Just in case I tell them, “Doesn’t matter if you’re there. I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

A movement behind me makes me jump. I would’ve heard it a few hours ago, but now the girl surprises me. Pale, tired, she looks half dead with dark circles under her eyes. “You hear them? The whispers?”

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.