2014: Mission Productivity

So.  New year, new resolutions, new goals.  This year’s goal is to write 6 short stories, polish 4 of them and submit 2 of them.  I’m actually on track so far: I’ve written one short story (well, actually 2 versions of it, even!), I’m in process of revising it, and I wrote it for a specific call, so once it’s polished and submitted, that will be one checkmark in each column.  Pretty cool.

I’m also very tempted to apply to Viable Paradise with the first chapter or three of The Red Box.  Even if I don’t get accepted, I’ll have revised those chapters at least, which will be more than I’ve done with the whole novel due to brain games/self-sabotage.  So truthfully I should just do it, as it’s a win-win either way. 

The short story I just wrote is a side story/prequel of sorts to the events in The Red Box so that’s got me even more fired up to work on it.  I’ve also heard that Chaperon Rouge: Art of Fairytales, an illustrated fairytale collection I contributed to about a year ago, is finally on track to be published.  So that’s exciting too.  I did some art and a retelling of The Little Mermaid.

I’m thoroughly tempted to do Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Friday Challenge; only time is in my way.  I rolled a twelve, which made me laugh, because that’s my favorite genre. I’m waffling between retelling The Snow Queen or The Twelve Swans.  My short story Lump from Re-Vamp is actually inspired by The Snow Queen, so maybe I should try The Twelve Swans. Hmmmm…

At any rate: hopefully January is a good indicator of how 2014 might go, goal- and project-wise, and not just a flare up before the fire sputters out!  Onward, ho!

Another year, another goal.

That probably sounds rather “ho-hum, another day another dollar” but I mean it positively.  Last year was a pool of quicksand. I’m not sure where time or energy went.  My goal for this year is to not let that happen again.  I have given myself a task of writing 6 short stories over the course of the year.  They may be as short as flash fiction or as long as the story needs, but they must have a beginning, middle, and end.  Three of them must be completely revised; two must be submitted to markets. 

Truthfully these feel like cowardly, small goals, but seeing as last year I did almost nothing, I think baby steps are better to get me into the game. 

Ideally, I would also like to revise The Ambassador and submit it, and revise The Red Box, but I’ll consider those bonus goals.

My other goal: get in at least 7 hours of writing a week.  Ideally, writing one hour a night at least.  But if it turns out 6 hours on the weekend and one at night, that’s fine by me.  Right now I write spottily, nothing for a time and then little spurts of collaborative/RP writing, and the only short stories I wrote were for The Midnight Carnival anthology, two of which were collaborations. 

This week, so far, I’ve started a new short story (today, actually) and written 700 words so far in about 3 hours.  Which is terrible compared to my old pace but fuckitall, we aren’t going to compare, we’re gonna go ahead.

Down but not defeated

I always have a rough time near the end of the year. I don’t know why. I suppose because I’m goal-oriented and inevitably I have not met my (loftly, often ridiculous) targets for myself.  This year the things I failed to achieve were Grown Up Life related: family, house, stability, career happiness. I am most frustrated with myself for being upset over the lack of those things because I’ve always felt I’d given up on them in my twenties. But for some reason about midway through this year they became, mentally, a Big Deal.

What the heck does that have to do with writing?  Well, long story short I got really low in the past week and I did nothing useful, other than force myself to keep social appointments (which was good, getting out of the house and seeing friends actually does cheer me, introverted or not), and I totally missed part 4 of the Chuck Wendig 200 Words at a Time challenge.  But it’s pretty typical for me to come out of these funks determined to Do Something, and throughout the funk I’ve had a Red Box short story struggling to come together in my head, so now I’m determined to write it.

I’m also determined to do something for Part 5 of the challenge, especially because writing endings is really difficult for me.  Practice is good.

I’ve also come out of the funk being a bit fired up about a post I saw on Tumblr.  It was a writer’s response to an Ask about what to do about writer’s block.  The writer in question suggested first that the person asking must not be a writer if they’re writer’s blocked; and then suggested, simply, that the answer was to write.  That wasn’t the part that really bugged me, though. It was the responses, including one very vehement one, about how much that writer’s blocked person was NOT a writer because clearly they were sitting around waiting to be Inspired and not actively trying to write; True Writers wrote compulsively all the time because that is the defining characteristic of a Writer, after all.

First, writer’s block, at least as I’ve understood it and according to the definition on Wikipedia, does not mean you are not trying to write. In fact you are probably trying really damn hard, and/or, too hard–you’ve basically psyched yourself out.  You may well be putting down words.  But (if you’re like me, who considers themselves to have been blocked for the better part of 3 years) most likely every word you put down feels like death, feels wrong and ugly and makes you feel worse.  Every idea you have dies in the cradle; at no point do you find that sweet spot where you break through and ride the story out.  Yes, as this person adamantly insisted, writing is indeed a craft that must be sought out and pursued and worked for. This person asking about how to break out of their writer’s block never suggested it wasn’t. As I see it, they were actually asking for help with that craft–asking for techniques to work around a problem they could not sort out.  If a person building a desk can’t figure out how to hammer nails in properly, you don’t tell them “just keep hammering, you’re clearly not hammering enough.”  You try to figure out if they’re swinging the hammer wrong or not holding the nails properly. 

My writer’s block has a very clear source: lack of confidence. At some point, I lost my faith in my writing skills. This is a gigantic problem for a writer, believe me.  You can’t revise if you don’t trust yourself and your writing instincts.  Telling me to “keep writing” is next to worthless, because I’ve definitely been writing. I’ve just hated everything I’ve produced, been halfway to furious with the results and been cowardly and hesitant when revising.  Nothing has the passion and assertiveness I had 3 years ago, and I can tell.  And the more I feel that way, the more difficult it is to get even a sentence out.  The block gets bigger and I’ve yet to find a way around it.

So before folks get up in arms about those sincerely asking what to do about writer’s block, let me suggest that probably most of us who are blocked aren’t waiting for “magic feathers” and “inspiration” with our thumbs up our asses.  Probably many of us are fighting through and desperate for someone to suggest techniques that might help us find a different approach or techniques to help figure out how to restore our lost confidence.  If you have never suffered through a period of time where your doubt and fear and insecurity cripples your very ability to put down a sentence, lucky for you. But please don’t suggest that suffering from this mental malady means I’m not a writer. I do write. I am a writer.  I’m just really at a disadvantage, right now, and could use a hand up instead of anger and accusations. 

200 Words at a Time: Part Three

This week I’m continuing the story started by MWebster76 and continued by Michael D Woods!  Once again, this is for Chuck Wendig’s 200 Words at a Time challenge!  I kind of went over (240 words), oops…

Making Merry

Merry took a last, long drag on her cigarette before flicking it out the window. The butt skittered across the pavement, throwing a shower of sparks across the street. Nash always nagged her to quit, but Merry had always been more afraid of living than she was of dying. Her breath hung in the chill night air over the steering wheel. She pulled a wad of Starbucks napkins from the center console and wiped the fog from inside the windshield so she could get a better look at the neat suburban ranch.

It was a duplicate of every other house on the block. If she was drunk, she might have gone to the wrong house. But she wasn’t and besides, she knew this house. She knew the dormant lilac bush that shouldn’t have been planted so close to the front door. She knew each straw covered rose bush by name.

Merry had left the envelope with the bail money under her sister’s pillow early that morning before leaving for work. She hoped Melody wouldn’t find it and spend it, not realizing what it was for.

The porch light flicked on. It switched off, then on again. Once. Twice. Thrice. It was time.

* * *

Merry switched the headlights off and drove slowly past the house. The streetlamps along this stretch of road were busted and anyone standing near a window would have to look hard to catch a glimpse of the vehicle as it cruised by. Forty dollars well spent, contributing to the delinquency of rock-throwing teens be damned.

After parallel parking between a Saab and a BMW, Merry slouched deeper into the seat, reached to adjust the rear-view mirror and watched the house. Within minutes of the flickering porch light, three men climbed from nearby cars and walked up the sidewalk toward the front door. Merry edged forward, staring hard into the mirror. Was the fourth man already inside? It didn’t matter. If everything went as planned, come morning she would either be in jail or dead.

She slipped back down into the seat, pulled a pack of Winstons and a lighter from her purse. Merry lipped a cigarette from the pack and lit up. She took a deep pull, certain it would be her last, and held it briefly before exhaling a thick plume of smoke out the window. Only minutes to go.

“So good to see you,” said Nash, aiming a pistol at Merry’s head.

* * *

Merry barely blinked as she glanced at Nash’s face, all teeth in the narrow stripe of the rearview mirror.  She turned to face the gun, looking down the black hole of the barrel with a strange blankness.  She’d halfway hoped to feel something when this time came.  Some sort of fear of death. 

“Hey, lover,” she said.  She sucked in another mouthful of smoke.  “Thought I might see you.  Not alive, necessarily, but that’s nice too.”

Nash’s self-satisfied grin inched towards a sneer.  “Call them back, Merry.  I’m not kidding.”

“Nah.”  She shrugged, lazily, winking at the black eye of the gun.  She let the smoke escape through her teeth, watched Nash’s nostrils flare and his throat hitch as the white cloud enveloped him.  “They’re going to get back what you wouldn’t give me.  You could have made this easy on yourself, you know.  A whole lot easier.”

“It was five hundred bucks, Merry.  Jesus fucking Christ. Get over it.”

“Isn’t about the money.”  She leaned forward, inhaling, feeling the warmth of smoke down her throat, holding it in her lungs like some kind of dragon. 

“Then what?” Nash insisted.  He pressed the gun closer to her, until it was nearly touching her nose.  “Fucking pride?” 

That wasn’t really the answer, but she smiled and let out the lungful of smoke straight into his face as she said, “Yes.”  Then she found the knife in her pocket and slashed at him in the dark.

Guest Post: An Interview with T.J. Wooldridge

The Kelpie CoverToday I’m very excited to host T.J. Wooldridge, author of The Kelpie and president of Broad Universe.  Welcome, T.J.! 

Thank you so much for having me, LC! 🙂 I’m happy to be here. 

So first, the quick and dirty!  Tell us a little about yourself and your book! 

I’ve been writing all my life; I’ve loved horses all my life. Folklore and faery tales have always intrigued me for as long as I can remember–particularly equine ones: unicorns, pegasus (pegasi?), hippocampus… The kelpie myth of Scotland is a dark, evil horse who lures children into the water, drowns them, and eats them. Some of my scariest moments and worst injuries have actually come from working at a horse rescue. Horses are herbivores and not predators, and they are quite terrifying! Imagine that kind of beast as a predator…how much damage that huge body, those heavy hooves can do–and make it worse with additional weapons like nasty teeth and fur that can entrap you. That…covers a lot about me and the book together.

Of course, despite all my equine-related injuries, I still love the animals dearly. And I am donating a percentage of all my royalties to the Bay State Equine Rescue, to continue to help horses who have been abused, neglected, and abandoned.

I was glad to see that The Kelpie stars a young girl who steps up to protect the other children in the area!   The more female leads in our fiction, especially YA, the better, in my opinion!  Did you make a conscious choice regarding the gender of your protagonist, or was it just the story you wanted to tell?

My characters always tend to come to me. It’s not a conscious choice, but many of them end up being precocious girls; that’s the type of character my head attracts. And they’re all quite demanding in that I tell their story as honestly as possible.  Which means it’s not even necessarily the story I want to tell.  I had an entirely different ending in mind for Heather and the kelpie…but that ending was never to be and I had to go with the ending that would affect every other thing I would write in Heather’s world.

Can you tell us a little about your hero?  Is she someone to admire? What are her flaws?  What are some of the challenges she has to face as she deals with the kelpie?

Heather Marie MacArthur is definitely someone I admire. She has a strong set of ethics and morals; she truly cares about and wants to help other people. Her flaws, which she doesn’t see, is a certain level of vanity and pride that she totally can handle and fix every problem that comes her way. Granted, this comes in handy when dealing with the fey, who are more than a little vain and proud themselves, but it’s an awful lot for an eleven-year-old to handle.

On top of dealing with the direct threat of the kelpie, Heather also has a lot of other issues in her life. She’s picked on at school because she doesn’t fit into any group. Her father is bipolar and is currently suffering the depression side of that–aggravated, unfortunately, by the presence of the kelpie.  And Heather blames herself for that, too, because she’s afraid that the kelpie is attacking worse now because she accidentally angered it even worse.  Heather’s best friend, Prince Joseph, also brings another set of problems to the mix by being of royal blood, the issues that go with that (press conferences, having to keep up appearances), and the fact that his family–like just about every family, has their own set of issues. And, of course, Heather wants to take care of her best friend, too.

I’ll admit–it’s been a long time since I’ve read YA fiction outside of say, Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.  What’s the landscape like out there for female heroes?  How do you think speculative fiction YA compares to adult SFF fiction?  What’s it like for female authors in the genre?

Spencer Hill Press, the company who is publishing The Kelpie, is primarily comprised of female YA authors, most of whom write female lead characters. In the YA realm, I think there is a good collection of strong women writers and strong–in many ways–female lead characters. There are also varying levels of romance in most of these books, too; very few flat out adventures.

That said, The Kelpie is more in the “middle grade” realm, with a target audience of 11-14 (YA tends to be 14+.)–like the first few Harry Potter titles.  And there are some significant differences between YA and Middle Grade in how they are treated and reviewed. In the middle grade demographic, women and female characters are definitely less represented.  Of the middle grade books SHP is putting out, we actually have more male authors sending us stories, more stories that feature male protagonists (even if they are written by women), and more pitches are sent in from agents offering one of the sales points of the book as being a “boy book” or a “boys adventure.” 

When I’ve gone to convention and conference panels that discuss middle grade books, the majority still have male protagonists because “boys don’t read girl books, and we need more boys reading” while it’s a given that girls who are readers will read just about anything. And there are clearer gender lines between books. Take a look at Diary of a Wimpy Kid versus Dork Diaries. Can you tell who the target gender demographic is for each book just by looking at them? Which one has a clearer target gender? Now…which do you think sells more?

You’ll also find more women writing under their initials, as I do, because a boy wouldn’t necessarily read a book with a particularly feminine author name.  You’ll notice on my cover that I’ve got both Heather and Joe, and it’s teal green…boys won’t pick up a book if it’s just about a girl or remotely looks girly.  Now, how much of that is parents and teachers perpetuating this, I can’t say. But, I did make a conscious choice to use my initials and make my book appear as non-gender-specific as possible in hopes that more boys might take a chance and find that girl stories aren’t nearly as scary as they think or have been led to think.

Broad Universe has a great mission and offers a community to women writing SFF and horror.  How has the community has helped you, influenced or inspired you as you wrote and published The Kelpie?  

In one word, immensely!  I met Kate, owner of Spencer Hill Press, and my editor, Vikki, through being active in Broad Universe tables and panels at conventions. I’ve got some really good presales on the book in places I’ve never been…and I believe it’s from the Broads I’ve made friends with requesting it at bookstores. I posted to the Broad Universe list for my blog tour and got so many people willing to support and help me out, I was blown away.  I tried to answer everyone, and there were more people than slots in my blog tour!  And I’ll have an excerpt from The Kelpie on the December Broad Pod. And my publicists, Kendra and now Jenn, are also a Broads. Kendra made sure that I got my cover reveal scavenger hunt accomplished back in March. When Kendra had to leave, Jenn stepped up and helped me do just about everything social media wise. She set up my blog tour and had her husband make the awesome trailer.  The art in the trailer is done by Kendra’s sister! Oh! And my awesome writers group who critiqued the crap out of my drafts are all Broads, too.  The whole project has been Broad-touched since before I even signed the contract.

Ok back to your book! The kelpie is not a monster you see a lot of–what drew you to it? Is the kelpie in your story very traditional, or have you put your own spin on it?  Did you have to do a lot of research into kelpie mythology?

As I mentioned above, there’s the equine aspect that automatically draws me in. I don’t remember when I’d first heard the kelpie myth, but it’s not one you hear often.  I have definitely put my own spin on it, but there is an awful lot that I drew from the traditional Scottish folklore…down to people “sticking” to the fur while they get dragged into the water. I have the fur like tiny tentacles that hold you like Velcro–which, I also learned, was invented in Scotland! The story of the bridle one must use to capture the kelpie…and the demise of its various owners… also comes from traditional folk tales.

There isn’t a lot of information on the kelpie myth out there, and in a lot of my research, the story was rehashed almost word for word.  What did take a lot of research was trying to be true to the Scottish culture and the land. My husband and I actually traveled out to the area in Scotland where I set the story…and that was a rather magickal experience itself! In short, though, I hiked the land Heather hiked, wandered around actual lochs, and chatted with the locals about what might happen if local children started going missing. (And then immediately assuring them, “I swear, I’m writing fiction!”)

What were some of the challenges (if any!) you had during the writing of The Kelpie?  Was there a particularly tough plot twist, or anything you agonized over during revisions?  Anything that just flowed as if it were inspired?

Lots. My general writing style is to write BIG. The rough draft word count was just about 100k words, which is far too long for a debut middle grade novel.  And…honestly, I just had too much in there.  In the drafting, I really did have a very different ending in mind, but it just wouldn’t work for Heather. It wouldn’t be real for her.  So I had to work that out.  And then I had to cut an awful lot of her family’s backstory, which was also hard. We’re all informed by our families, and the stress of our families has an immediate effect on us all the time. But I had to leave a lot to suggestion or cut it out and focus on the most immediate effects.

What just flowed was whenever Heather and Joe were on the screen together. The two have a great friendship chemistry and they work well together. Joe has a different kind of pride and vanity than Heather, being a prince and all, and Heather keeps him in check. Joe, on the other hand, is always giving Heather a reality check that not everything can be easily fixed…and sometimes you need a little help to deal with things. 

If it isn’t spoilery, what’s your favorite part of the story? As a reader? As a writer?

I have a few favorite parts. Probably my favorite of favorites is Chapter 14, when Heather and Joe run into the castle ghost who is trying to help…or would, if Heather wasn’t so freaking terrified of her. Not that the ghost is particularly friendly, either. And Joe has to mediate.

I also love writing the scenes with the various fey. Tom, the cat fey, is, well, in his own words, “I’m a cat.” One of my other editors, Laura, is particularly fond of Chapter 6, entitled, “Because research always needs snarky talking cats.” And that sums up Tom. Lady Fana and Lord Cadmus are the ruling daoine síth of the region who Heather has to deal with to get some help protecting one of the children targeted by the kelpie.  And then, when the kelpie gets “on screen,” well…he is the book title after all.

Who was your favorite character to write in the story? Was anyone your least favorite to write?  Did ease of writing equate to liking or disliking the character?

It’s all written in Heather’s point of view, so everything is seen through her eyes. Fortunately, I made her half-American, which gave me a little cushion in dealing with Scottish culture…and particularly in trying to write a royal family and the whole idea of what nobility and peerage is–something truly foreign to an American. So, all the scenes with Joe’s family, particularly when his grandmother, the Queen, shows up, were especially difficult to write because I was constantly double checking all my etiquette and trying to be respectful to actual people who have these titles. 

That said, there were two characters who I truly disliked, and are pretty much meant to be disliked for certain. One is Joe’s uncle. While he is a vile person, part of the dislike in writing him came from trying to not have that necessarily cast a negative light on royalty or peerage as a whole group and culture.  The other is Jessica, who is the mother of Heather’s half-sister, Lily. And I don’t have the same excuse for not liking her as I do Joe’s uncle; she just came to me as a particularly nasty character.

Sometimes writing isn’t the hardest part–what did you find toughest about bringing The Kelpie from manuscript to published book?

Gack, social media everything!! Let me just put another shout-out to Jenn, my publicist, who made me a Goodreads page, reminds me to do stuff, and is extremely patient and holds my hand while I try to navigate doing crap online.  I hate it; I really do!  I love interacting with people and writing, so you’d think I’d enjoy it. But no. I’ve done a particularly crap job on my own blog and my webmistress is always reminding me to actually send her information to update on my website.

I’m glad Jenn organized the blog tour! I love writing articles and doing interviews…but I wouldn’t know how to tie them all together, run a giveaway, or anything else cool like that.

Last but not least: how are you feeling, now that your book is out?  Spill!  We want to share in the thrill of it :).

So, when I got my first printed proof, it never left my purse or tote bag. Ever.  I carried it all over–and I do a lot of traveling!  I showed it off to my chiropractors, my favorite coffee shop, my dentist…I brought it to the barn and showed my riding instructor (who helped with a lot of the other equestrian parts of the novel) and all the Future Trainers–teens who are learning to train horses.  I took it to visit my mom, I showed it off to my brother (to whom the book is dedicated), and I carried it to every single convention and event.  It’s quite beat up now, but I still hug it. 😉

Besides that, just wow! I’m much better at thinking up words to describe evil child-eating faery horses than myself… so I’m sorry I can’t be more descriptive. Squeee!!

Thanks so much, T.J.!

TJ WooldridgeT. J. Wooldridge is a professional writing geek who adores research into myth, folklore, legend, and the English language. Before delving full-time into wordsmithing, she has been a tutor, a teacher, an educational course designer, a video game proofreader, a financial customer service representative, a wine salesperson, a food reviewer, an editing consultant, a retail sales manager, and a nanny. While infrequent, there are times she does occasionally not research, write, or help others write. During those rare moments, she enjoys the following activities: spending time with her Husband-of-Awesome, a silly tabby cat, and two Giant Baby Bunnies in their Massachusetts home hidden in a pocket of woods in the middle of suburbia, reading, riding her horse in the nearby country stables and trails (not very well), reading Tarot (very well), drawing (also not very well), making jewelry (pretty well), making lists, and adding parenthetical commentary during random conversations. She also enjoys dressing up as fey creatures, zombies, or other such nonsense at science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions.

You can learn more about The Kelpie and T.J. Wooldridge over at her blog, A Novel Friend.

The Kelpie
978-1-937053-78-9

200 Words at a Time: Continued

Part 2– of someone else’s story.  Murgatroid98’s, to be exact!  Part 1 is theirs. See the original here. For Chuck Wendig’s 200 Words at a Time 5 week challenge! For those of you interested in how the story I started turned out, has continued it here!

(1)

The Jacksons, Ed and Marnie, had been away for two months and no one in the neighborhood had heard from them. Everyone assumed they were still traveling across the country to celebrate Marnie’s retirement. Lena held her breath as she approached the driveway. She had noticed the stench during her morning walk. Something dead. An animal perhaps, a large one by the smell. Plenty of feral cats lived and died in the area. Coyotes, too. Burying the poor thing, whatever it was, seemed kinder than leaving it to rot and stink.

A glistening wetness oozed from under the door as the odor became almost tangible. She gagged. Maggots. Her stomach roiled as she backed away, stumbling onto the lawn. She bent over and heaved onto the grass, gasping for an untainted breath. As she stood back up, she noticed that the front door was slightly ajar.

Lena moved slowly to the door to peek through the crack and listen. Dim light filtered through the curtains into the living room. She pushed the door open and froze, stench and maggots forgotten. Horror and relief fought for dominance, because what lay on the carpeted floor was not one of the Jacksons.

(2)

It was a dog.  A huge dog, a

(wolf)

husky, maybe, in such a state of decay Lena guessed it must have died around the time the Jacksons had disappeared.  Lena strained to remember if the Jacksons had ever had a dog.  She didn’t think she’d ever seen one; but she’d never been very close to the Jacksons.  They could have kept a dog inside, or in the backyard.  Maybe it was—had been—a good dog.  A quiet dog.

Lena knew moving closer was a bad idea, but her curiosity refused to take no for an answer.  She leaned towards the corpse and immediately had to fight the hot acid rise at the back of her throat.  The dog’s belly had been torn open.  The ragged wound gaped blackly, more black slime pooling from the wound.  Farther back in the dark wound, there was the hint of movement.  More maggots.

Staggering back towards the door, Lena sucked in great breaths of fresh air.

She glanced back over her shoulder and immediately regretted it.  From the dark interior of the house, the yellowed fangs of the dog smiled back at her, lips drawn back by rot and dehydration.

200 Words At A Time, Part One: Nails

I’m a big fan of Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, and the in-your-face writing advice he dispenses.  So how could I resist his 200 Words at a Time challenge?  The idea: each Friday over the next 5 Fridays, participants write 200 words of a 1000 word story.  But each section must continue someone else’s story, not the author’s own. Here are my first 200 words!  To whomever picks this up–hope you have fun with it!  

#

Lee’s seen a lot of terrible things in her day, but this is the worst.  She can’t exactly put a finger on why it’s the worst; she’s seen more gory, more brutal, more degrading.  But this one makes her knees weak and her gorge rise and the skin on her face crawl.  This one just about sends her vomiting in a corner like the rookie who just dashed outside. 

It’s the nails.  Long nails, their round, waffle-patterned heads out of balance with the length of their bodies.  A number of them are drowning in the pool of spilled blood like teeth knocked loose in a fight.  More tumble out of upended boxes near the corpse. And fifty-six of them are buried in the corpse itself.  Some deeper than others. Some are reduced to dark circles on his skin, weird birthmarks; others turn him into the world’s biggest voodoo doll.  No part of him has been spared.  Lee shudders.  There are signs of struggle, but mostly in the immediate area around the body.  Like someone sat on him and just started hammering.  Patiently, carefully, nail after nail. 

“Officer.”

Lee’s almost glad to see that Charlie’s as pale as she is.

 

All the projects in their drawers

It’s been… nearly three years since I finished the first draft of The Red Box.  That’s a little horrifying to me.  I’d meant to have a revised version by the end of 2011, but, well.  We all see how well that went!  That said.  I’ve been having the itch again to pick it up.

It’s funny to note how few of my old in-progress novel ideas are still appealing to me.  I’ve changed a lot; my opinions on various issues and what I think are storytelling priorities have changed a lot.  I still adore the world of King of Salem, for instance, but I wonder if the story I started to tell would still be the story I’d tell about that world.  I still love the idea of the male witch, but I also wonder about how changing the gender of the persecuted magic user changes how that person is regarded and what reactions people have towards them.  Is it skirting the issue to make a witch male and not deal with the sexism behind the persecution of “witches” in our history?  There were few female characters in that story; only one with agency.  What, for instance, would change if the Jack character–the witch hunter–were female? What would change if Tony–a very influential royal–were female. 

One reason I still want to return to the Red Box is that I feel like it tackles, even if not as deeply as I would now, issues that I want my fiction to keep in mind.  There are a lot of women in that story who make a difference, even if the lead is still male; Frankie is super important and she doesn’t get shelved or victimized or anything like that.  The whole world is mixed race, so the “racism” is more classism, but the faces in that world are far more diverse than the blond-and-blue-eyes of Jack or red-headed, clearly caucasian Tony. 

My actual, main worry with Red Box is that the plot still makes any sense, so I’ll have to reread.  And I might have to rewrite from the beginning.  But even if I do, I think it would be worth it. 

I’ve shied away from revising for so long. I hope that I can do it.

(On the other hand, writing The Motley Star could still be so fun… augh. Discipline!  What is that?!)

Halloween Blog Tour Bash & Book Launch Party!

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Hey everyone!  It’s Halloween, which means it’s the last day of the Wicked, Weird and Whimsical Words Halloween Blog tour, and also the launch date for The Midnight Carnival: One Night Only!  If you’d like to win a copy of One Night Only plus a bunch of other cool prizes, be sure to comment to this or any other blog post on the tour!

Now, I love Halloween but my family didn’t technically celebrate it.  My dad passed out candy, but my mom was religious and didn’t believe in Halloween, so we never got to go trick-or-treating.  We got to pass out candy sometimes and see kids in cool costumes, and we got to eat the leftover candy and chips in the weeks after, but that was it. 

So, Halloween has never been much about getting treats for me.  It’s about seeing other people in costumes, and spooky stories and movies (which you couldn’t avoid), and black cat, pumpkin and bat decorations.  Sometimes it’s about giving treats, too (like I mentioned over on Justine’s blog, I utterly adore the new All Hallows Read tradition).

A couple of years ago the Halloween treat was launching Re-Vamp, which was a total thrill.  I’m still proud of that collection and our wonderful authors have given us permission to keep the book available for the foreseeable future.  This year’s treat is releasing One Night Onlyand I hope people enjoy it as much as they’ve seemed to enjoy Re-Vamp.  Based on a shared world/RP, One Night Only explores the misadventures, mishaps, and mischief of a carnival full of monsters and stranger things.  If you’re a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Being Human” you’ll probably enjoy One Night Only, with its mix of horror, humor, and quirky characters.  It’s a very playful book,and we had a lot of fun writing it, which I think shows.

What Halloween treats are you looking forward to this year?

Halloween Guest Blog: Justine Graykin

Guest author Justine Graykin

Guest author Justine Graykin

My earliest influences were October writers like Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and H.P. Lovecraft.  I read Harlan Ellison and collected horror anthologies.  I was into dark and dystopian, quoting Nietzsche and planning for the apocalypse.  How in blazes did I wind up the author of Archimedes Nesselrode, which has been described as an exquisite raspberry sorbet with which to cleanse the pallet in between weighty, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, literary best-sellers and Oprah books?

Because I also grew up with Star Trek, and in the end, Star Trek won.

As a part of growing up we all need to deal with the dark side.  Halloween is a metaphor for that phase of our lives when we confront Death, try on masks as a way to figure out who we are, laugh uneasily at the shadows lurking around us as we watch summer chill into the season of hardship.

I lost my mother unpleasantly, to cancer, when I was twelve.  That’s when my Halloween came.  My way of dealing was to walk right into the shadows and plumb the depths.  Heavy metal music, drugs and nihilism, much to the consternation of my grieving father, who had no idea what to do with me.  Poor man.

But after a few years of rebellion, of punk and snark and pissing off authority, I got tired of wearing black.  Nihilism is fine for the young, whose instinctive sense of immortality keeps them just one defiant shout ahead of despair.  But nihilism is exhausting.  There had to be something beyond wearing masks, of every day being Halloween.

I went back and reread Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked.  Like a spider web breaking across my face, invisible and delicate, I realized I was alive.  I realized what an amazing, ephemeral miracle that was.  Happy New Year.

So what began to interest me, almost obsessively, was understanding what it meant to be alive, particularly how to be alive in a world where there is death and suffering, stupidity and cruelty.  And that’s the direction my writing went.  Finding meaning in the darkness, the warm orange glow of the grinning jack o’lantern.

That’s why I write with humor, with optimism, with delight.  Not because I’m avoiding or ignoring the horrors of the world, but exactly because I acknowledge they are there.  I am staring the hag of despair in the face and disempowering her with laughter, with joy, with hugs and gentleness and compassion.

Come, smile with me, and believe in hope, in the goodness lurking in people’s hearts and the beauty that can be found in the world.  Come, have a bit of fun!

ANcoverLarrythumbJustine Graykin is a writer and free-lance philosopher sustained by her deep, abiding faith in Science, Humanity and the belief that humor is the best anti-gravity device. Author of Archimedes Nesselrode, a book written for adults who are weary of adult books, she is producer of the BroadPod podcast.   She lives, writes and putters around her home in rural New Hampshire, occasionally disappearing into the White Mountains with a backpack.  Find her on her website at JustineGraykin.com.

The Wicked, Weird and Whimsical Words Halloween Blog Tour runs every other day October 23-October 31.  Join us all five days for Halloween fun!  Be sure to say hello on any post to be entered in a giveaway at the end of the tour!