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.

01/15/15

Case Files of a Death Witch Detective — the Skull

When you’ve been working with a manuscript on and off for years, you develop quite a collection of files. The folder for Mallory Mors, a death witch who works for the Baton Rouge Police Department, and her partner, Detective Danny Gallagher, has grown to include dozens of short stories. These little side plots were meant to move things along while Mallory waited for evidence to be processed. Instead I’m going to share a few with you while I work on getting Mallory’s (and my) first novel, Under a Blood Moon, ready for the editor.

Monday morning started with a banana. Sure, I wouldn’t have bought it on my own but when fruit was in front of me I liked it. I ate on my way to the train thinking about how good my weekend had been. It lightened my step and made me think everything in life would go my way. I took that confidence right to my desk and started to sit down.

“No so fast, we’ve got a vandalism that might be connected to a hex,” Danny began without even saying good morning.

“Seriously?” I groaned, my eyes turned toward the coffee pot.

“A murder doesn’t mean we stop getting other cases, Mal, you know that.”

“Okay, fine, no lectures, just let me get some coffee before we go.”

 

By ten o’clock we stood outside the Way of the Ancient Ones shop. Inside the display windows artfully arranged crystals, geodes, various rocks and jewelry promised to heal, help, and keep safe from harm. I thought the alliteration was a bit much, but I liked the way the purple quartz crystals looked. On the drive over I’d talked about Jakob. Like a good partner, Danny hadn’t told me how annoying it was. Now that we were here I realized I knew nothing about the case.

“Uh, so what’s the deal?” I stepped out of the car. The strip mall that held the shop was anchored by a 7-11 on one end and a liquor store on the other. I wasn’t too impressed.

“Problems started a couple of weeks back. The owner would drive by and see the lights on. He’d park, get out of the car, get to the door and the lights would go off.”

“Annoying.”

“Yeah, but not a real problem. The real problem was when they found the snake outside of its tank in the morning or the-”

“Wait a minute, the snake?”

“The shop appeals to various faiths, some of them claim snakes can speak truths. Hence, the store keeps a snake.”

“Okay, sorry to interrupt go on.”

“The snake out of its tank, displays knocked over, the cash drawer open but nothing taken, that’s the sort of thing we’re dealing with.”

“No one’s caught the pranksters?”

Danny leaned over the car and looked at me. “No pranksters. They installed motion detectors and an antitheft system. There are no people inside, things just fall over or fly around.”

“Someone with telekinesis?”

“Maybe, or maybe a hex, let’s go see.”

He gestured toward the door where a sleepy employee was just opening up. The kid looked about nineteen and I wondered why the owner hadn’t come himself.

“Hey,” he called to us. His braces made his mouth move funny, I tried my best not to stare. “Doug’ll be here, like really soon, until then you can look around.”

We nodded and headed inside. The store was narrow and long, neatly made wooden shelves held books in one aisle, herbs in another, farther back a curtained off room held secrets. I wandered through the shelves, hearing a whispering noise, something quiet. I glanced back at Danny but if he heard it he didn’t give any sign.

“The shop sells mostly mass produced stuff?” Danny asked the kid.

“Well yeah, I guess, the herbs come from a local woman, but the rest of it comes in via UPS.”

“What’s behind the curtain?” I asked as I walked toward it. The whispering got louder with every step. In a horror movie I’d draw back that curtain and find someone with a large knife ready to spring at me. I felt along my hip for my service weapon, just in case.

“Oh, that’s the occult stuff.”

“Occult stuff?”

“The really dark magic stuff,” the kid answered before he went back to opening the cash drawer for the night. Danny glanced at me and I pulled back the curtain. The display sat on a low wooden hutch, scared wood with mismatched door pulls on six drawers.

“Can I go through this?” I called back up to the front.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” the reply came back to me like I’d stepped into another building, not another room. When I put my hands on the wood, the whispering got louder. The dead whisper to us, but I didn’t expect to find them in a cabinet. I was wrong.

The top of the hutch held feathers and beads, little statues I didn’t recognize. Inside the drawers were skulls, lots of skulls. A wide bottom drawer held a steer, its long horns gracefully curved up. A smaller side drawer contained at least five tiny skulls, maybe they were birds. None of those whispered at me.

I swung the middle doors open to reveal not drawers but a shelf. In the center a perfect human skull grinned at me. I wanted to touch it, but I knew I shouldn’t.

“Hey Danny,” I called, knowing it needed to be tagged for evidence. Then somehow, without even thinking, I held the fragile bone in my hands, surprised by the weight of it. The round cap filled my palm and then some, the jaw hinge worked with an empty mechanical creak. Touching it made the whisper turn into a wind, the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, a thousand bad sounds all at once. The room swirled a little around me, but I couldn’t put it down. The skull wanted me to know something.

Danny said something to the clerk, but I couldn’t hear him. I was someplace else, someplace where there were only two of us, the skull and me.

The wide open eye sockets looked up at me, and I focused all my concentration on the face that had once been there. For a minute nothing changed and then I started to see it, hair, spilling over my hand, curling around my fingers. Deep brown hair, and when I looked back there were eyes looking at me in the same shade of brown. I froze with terror, watching as more of the face came into view. Full red lips and high cheekbones, she looked at me and I didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, you the cops?” I jumped. A guy with long hair and an scraggly beard appeared in the back doorway. When I looked away from him the face had turned back into a skull again. “I’m Doug.”

I heard Danny and the kid walking toward us, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t know what I was waiting for, the skull to grow her face back again, or maybe to speak to me? Nothing happened. In another second I found my voice, and then without putting the skull down I confronted the man.

“Where do you get these skulls?”

“Most of them come from hunters or hikers. I buy them off people.” He gave me the brush off. “The rest are fake. That one’s from a medical catalog.”

“No, it’s not. It’s real,” I insisted.

“No way, completely fake,” the owner denied it again.

I turned to the kid, ignoring his boss. “Did he lose someone in his life, lately? Have someone die or leave him?”

The teenager swallowed hard and bobbed his head.

“Tell me who she was.”

“His girlfriend, Jessie, she left for some guy in Texas.” The kid looked guiltily at his employer.

“Exactly she left. Check my place, all of her stuff is gone, her car, she’s gone.” Doug jumped into the conversation. “The skull is a fake.”

“Then why does it have filings?” Danny asked.

 

We were joined at the scene by a forensics crew, then a group of uniformed cops. Eventually the whole shop was filled with people and I waited on a ratty love seat in the back holding on to Jessie’s skull. Someone in a white lab coat asked me for it, for her or what was left of her. I didn’t want to let her go, but I knew it was the right thing.

“Be careful with that.” Danny instructed them. “It’s got a pretty angry ghost attached to it.”

“She’ll be okay now,” I said, without realizing it.

“How’d you know it was a woman?”

I shrugged, there was no easy way to explain being a death witch.

He nodded. “I thought maybe a child with how small it was, but the kid up front says the missing girlfriend was small.”

“What’ll happen next?”

“Someone else will build a case, see if there are other fake things that aren’t, that sort of thing.” He shook his head as he watched the skull disappear into an evidence bag. “And we’ll do paperwork.”

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.

10/1/14

Words on the Web – Authors and Social Media

There’s a drama unfolding that you probably missed if you don’t write or read romance novels.  The story so far:

  • Authors who work for a smaller but very well known publisher began to have problems getting their checks.
  • The publisher went through public troubles with money, laying off staff.
  • A romance blog wrote about it, linking to the authors’ blog posts.
  • The publisher filed a defamation suit again the romance blog demanding the names of those who commented on the blog as well as those that were quoted.

What will happen to the folks who commented? Is it dangerous for authors to talk about their publishers? No one knows, stay tuned for details.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the publisher’s name. I had a contract offer from them once. My agent advised against it, and got me another deal. When that deal fell through I kicked myself for not taking the first offer. That publisher was the first professional contact I had in the writing world. The encounter was short, 5 minutes in the chaos of DragonCon, and took place well before I had a finished novel. Still those 5 minutes fueled me for a long time. But it isn’t out of gratitude that I don’t name them…

As an aspiring author I walk a fine line with social media. I’m encouraged by agents and editors to ‘build a social media platform’ and told that I need to ‘promote my brand’.  My brand should reflect who I am, but never be offensive. For example, I should have a GoodReads account, but not give negative reviews. Apparently, the publishing world is filled with people who will remember and seek vengeance.

Basically I have to sell myself to sell my writing. I’ve never been very comfortable with that idea. When I have to sell a sanitized version of myself, Iget very uncomfortable. I am (among other things) a feminist fan girl, who works in IT, owns a rabbit, and hates whiny female characters. All of those things are going to offend someone.

Thus I have a mix of social media. There’s a secret Tumblr account where I talk about growing up on food stamps and congratulate transwomen on their amazing hair. I link to pretty corset pictures and document every single book I read. Some of those books are amazing, but around 30% of them are ‘did not finish’. I’m honest about when I  couldn’t stand the characters, got bored, or felt the author was misogynistic.  That’s the sort of thing I could never put on my author Facebook account, which holds my nightly word count and a few innocuous comments. My Author Facebook account is populated almost exclusively with posts from my Twitter account, with several of them deleted. I try to keep it on target – something that helps build my platform. I also have a day job Facebook account – which is linked to people from my day job and includes bits about my personal life. Both things I’ve been told to avoid posting on the web, as they’ll ‘water down’ my brand.

Frankly, it’s all exhausting and takes away far too much time from writing. I’ve been considering deleting my Facebook accounts for a few months now. Unfortunately, there are people that I only interact with on Facebook. They stop me from clicking the delete button. But if I had to pick a social media site to maintain, it would be this blog (where it might not be a smart idea to say everything I feel, but at least I maintain control over everything), Twitter (I love chatting with folks over 140 character), and Tumblr (I need my fandom fix).

Meanwhile, I worry that there’s too much of me shared with the world. I like my privacy. And there are more than a few nights where the only people I want to talk to are the ones that live in my head. Those are the nights when I get my best writing done.  Strangely enough, they happen to be the nights when I’m not posting on social media.

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.

08/4/13

What I’m writing these days

I must apologize, profusely, for ignoring my blog in July. I’m about 45K words into a manuscript I started back in September of 2011. About then the business side of writing took up all my attention for a while. When that was done, the story escaped me. It was less than six thousand words, making me think that (like so many things that start off well) it wasn’t going to go anywhere.  But then…

I finished the mermaid manuscript in the beginning of April.  I took up something else, but it never set me on fire. I found myself reading old manuscripts to see if anything sparked, and this one did.

To make up for my long absence (sorry again) here’s an excerpt from the story. A few things to know about the world: it’s a steampunk setting, influenced by English society in the 1890s. There’s some technology but it’s not available to everyone. Like English society there are class levels. Andra works in a Manor House as a servant. While she has the ability to purify anything, from a ghost to a cup of water, with just the touch of her hand, she’s a servant and fairly low in the social structure. Still, she’s above Chatham, a bar owner from the very rough town the Manor House overlooks. This piece is their first meeting, written two years ago, and the thing that sparked my interest enough to start me writing on it again.

—————-

 

Ginger slid up to the bar with a grin on her face, like a cat that found a mouse to play with. Chatham expected she’d found a willing man for the night.

“Need something?”

Her smiled got half an inch wider. “There’s a girl in back, in a fine purple skirt and a lacey white shirt.”

“And?”

“Shirt only goes to her elbows.” Chatham’s head shot up, the glass he’d been polishing forgotten. “Says she’d like a glass of water, and wants to know if anyone here has work for a Purity.”

Chatham’s hand was already opening the piece of the bar, stepping outside it. Not this, not in his bar. Behind him Ginger laughed but Matthew just shook his head. He found the girl in a back booth, her body pressed up against the wall, her eyes wide. She sat wrong, with one arm pressed into the wood of the booth and the other on the table. Sure, it was safer, but that’s not how people sat in a booth. The wrongness of it stopped him for a moment, but then he noticed her arms. Slim, delicate wrists, soft looking light tan skin going up to the curl of her elbow, his eyes dragged themselves away from that female flesh and back to her face.

“Can I help you?” He demanded. Ginger might let her dress slip from her shoulders, and a few girls wore outgrown dresses that showed an inch or two of wrist, but this woman, her arms were bare from elbow to fingertip. Even a pair of gloves wouldn’t hide all that flesh. It should have been shameful, but Chatham found it tantalizing. It made him mad.

“I… I was… that is, I hoped I could help you,” the girl stammered. He put her at fifteen, maybe sixteen. Though she could be twenty and passing for younger to help with her con.

“As a Purity?”

“Yes, exactly, you see I lately worked for the Manor House but my employment has come to an end. I’m seeking a new a position, but until I find one- I’m given to understand you have rooms to let, with sturdy locks?” She raised her eyebrows. “Safety is my first concern.”

Chatham laughed so hard he grabbed the edge of the table. “If safety is your first concern, why are you in Downriver?”

“That’s none of your business,” she responded curtly. “I’m able to barter my work for the room. A bar like this must go through gallons of water. I’m sure that costs you a pretty penny, no doubt enough to cover my room and board until I make other arrangements.”

He finished laughing and snorted at the thought, no one in Downriver could afford purified water. They all used cleansed water. It tasted like chemicals but no one got sick or died from it.

“So you’re a Purity?”

“Yes, yes I am.” Andra leveled him with a firm gaze. He looked unscrupulous and beaten. She saw bruises rising along his face. This man, this bar, and these people, were all harsher than anything she’d dealt with in her life. She wished for the safety of the Manor House, the strict regiments of rules and order that protected her there. Not that they’d helped tonight, a small shudder ran through her at the memory and she forced herself to consider the present. Get someplace safe to sleep, some food, and then think about your dismal prospects for the future. “I’m happy to prove my abilities to you.”

“That so?” He whistled between his teeth. “Come with me then.”

She took a minute trying to get out of the booth, finally turning so her face was toward him but the rest of her toward the front. It was an awkward way to sit, and she wished she’d felt secure enough to put her back to the bar. She hurried to catch up with the bartender, his red vest a spot of bright color in the bar. The other patrons wore browns, dirty whites, and the occasional blacks, blended together somehow in a uniform color she would call worn-out or washed out. The women even looked that way, their dressed faded to pale yellows, dusty blues, and watery pinks. Andra kept her eyes on the man, his dark brown hair and lanky frame just a head of her until he opened a back door of the bar and disappeared.

Two steps outside she found him again, standing just beside the opened door. The light from the bar fell on a concave gutter. It ran down the alleyway with a rapid current, two feet wide and deep. Litter swirled as it moved past. A dead rat collided with the side of a broken jar then eventually moved farther down, into the darkness.

“It comes from the river, see.” He pointed down the dark alleyway but Andra couldn’t see. She just nodded. “We keep it running but there’s the piss from the street and blood from the butchers.” He jerked his thumb to the two buildings next door. “Of course, the river’s not clean to start with. You ever been outdoors?”

Andra shook her head.

“Sure, you haven’t.” His voice sounded like he didn’t believe her. “We get plenty of false Puritys around here. They know a little slight of hand, think a bit of bleach or a sanitizer packet slipped in where we can’t see it will make us believe them. Some people are gullible. They tend to die real quick though. The ones that make it through the sickness, they swear they won’t get taken in again.”

“I am a Purity,” Andra insisted.

“It’s the sleeves I guess,” the bartender went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “We got all kinds of whores, but they wear respectable dresses, even if they are lifting them in the alley. The sleeves are distracting.”

“You want me to Purify, this?” She pointed to the gutter water and squatted beside it. Closer to it, she saw it wasn’t so deep, maybe two feet, maybe one.

“I want you to stay out my bar.” She heard the hate in his voice before she felt his boot on her back. It wasn’t a kick, just a shove. She lost her balance immediately, and went head deep into the water. She wanted to shout but stopped herself, clamping her mouth shut against the filthy water even as rage boiled up inside her. She heard the door to the bar slam closed as she put one arm in the water and propped herself up. Her hair had gotten the worst of it. Her shirt was wet but thankfully not soaking. Her skirt just splashed, but filthy with grime where it’d hit the street. How dare he! She offered a reasonable business agreement and he treated her like a criminal.

The door behind her opened quietly, and the red haired girl stepped out, a glass in her hand. Andra thought for a second it was a peace offering, but no. The girl tipped the glass out, adding half a pint of beer to the mess of Andra’s hair. Pushed beyond her limits, Andra’s hand shot out and grabbed the girl tightly by the wrist.

“Owe! Let go of me!”

“Gladly.” Her other hand took the pint glass, then she dropped the girl’s hand. She reached and filled it with the toxic mess, catching some of the grit at the bottom.  She pushed the girl aside and stormed back into the bar.

 

Every eye was on her, every conversation stopped, but Andra didn’t stop to notice it. She kept her eyes locked on the target of her hate.

“You!” She slammed the glass of black-colored water down on the bar. He opened his mouth to protest, but she spoke before he got a word out. “Watch!” She put her fingers into the glass and let the purifying begin. The process ended almost as soon as it started. She was used to gallons, not pints, to high cisterns and vats of soup, not one beer glass. Still, a collective gasp went up from the bar as the water swirled around her fingers. She moved them in a circle, creating a current to catch the flakes of chemicals and sediment. In the center of that swirl the sediment looked first dark black, darker than the rest of the water, and then white, as more and more of the foreign matter got trapped the swirl became bright white, and the rest of the water clean.

“I am not a charlatan. You owe me an apology.” She drew herself up as high as her slight frame would allow.

The man behind the bar took a deep breath and looked at the water. “You drink it and I’ll give you one.”

Andra didn’t bother to roll her eyes, she grabbed the glass and put it to her lips, draining it until the last inch. When she saw the white sludge at the bottom coming toward her she dropped it back to the bar. The room exploded in cheers.

“I’m sorry,” the bar man mouthed over the sound.

“I need a room and work to pay for it.” She shouted to make herself heard.

“Done.” He nodded at her then gestured with both hands, bringing down the sounds of the bar. “You all heard her. She’s staying here. She needs work.”

“Like they can afford it.” Ginger’s sarcasm cut through the triumphant atmosphere. Andra felt the mood of the crowd shift.

“I’m…” She stopped, thinking about how the admission would change the way they viewed her. It was a chance she had to take. “I’m outdoors, and I’m not proud. I’ll barter or take whatever I can get for honest work.”