Making Sense of the Mess

I keep trying – and failing – to write this silly book. I’ve never written a sequel before, so it’s new territory for me. Exciting, yes, but also daunting. The glorious rush of discovery as I flesh out the basics of the world and my main characters isn’t here. Instead, I’m faced with adding to the existing world, deepening character backgrounds, and complicating relationships. It’s…weird. Not bad…just…different. These are untried muscles I must learn to use on the fly.kimd of like being thrown out of a comfy nest and facing the on-rushing ground…

I finally managed to sit down and force myself to get the basic flow of the plot down. It looks like this: 


Still kind of a mess. The middle green section there is pretty much a lot of placeholders for actual scenes. Full of vagueries like “Rejects Summer” and “Fights magic with magic.” This was a problem with the first one, too. One of these days, I need to learn to nail down my scenes at this stage. But this is not that day! Then again, if I knew what magic she was going to do….well, that would just spoil the surprise for myself, wouldn’t it? And then where would the fun be?

NaNoWriMo Sneak Peek

I would say I’ve been hard at work on Reluctant Godmother #2, but that would be a lie. I’ve had too much crowding my brain this month to get much of anything done. But a little progress is still progress, so to celebrate crossing the 1/4 mark (please let it be the 1/4 mark…), here’s a (raw and unedited) sneak peek of what Tessa’s getting herself into this time!


   Forests are dangerous places.

With one hand on my cameras and the other stabilizing my bag, I quick-timed it as fast as I dared back up the deer path.

I was just crossing a clearing, my eyes focused straight ahead, when something tall caught my eye off to my right, at the long end of the clearing. Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.

I looked.

It took me several seconds to make sense of what I was seeing. Partially because a blustery gust of approaching winter dried out my eyes, forcing me to blink to moisten and warm them. When I could see clearly, the rest of my confusion came from the incongruity of it all. It wasn’t a snake; it was a dress. And not just any dress. A ball gown. The puffy kind with tulle and chiffon and a breast-supporting bodice that hugged a slender, perfect hourglass figure. The woman’s skin seemed to glow with life, and I could feel the intensity of her blue eyes from thirty feet away. She lifted one delicate, petite hand and waved.

Alarm bells rang inside my head as my own hand rose to return the gesture of its own accord. My feet had stopped moving. My heart rate slowed. I could feel my whole body relax around me, even while my brain worked furiously to understand what was happening.

“Help me,” she called, though there was no urgency in her voice. “Please help me.”

Hell no! said my brain. Be right there! said my feet.

She moved toward me with a slow grace that made me feel like I was watching a Japanese horror flick. Strike that; that I was starring in a Japanese horror flick. People back home would be shouting at me to stop being an idiot, and I didn’t blame them. I was shouting at myself as fear rolled up my gullet like smoke signals from my stomach gremlin. Stop! Desist! Resist!

And just like that, I did.

My camera bag fell off my shoulder, landing on a rock with a metallic crunch. I winced and crouched beside it, gathering it up and prepping to bolt.

“Wait,” the woman-thing said, the creepy, dream-like quality in her voice vanishing. “You’re a woman?”

The pressure on my body, that dragging, drawing feeling that made me feel like I was a boat in a current with no sail or paddle, fell away. I peered at her cautiously, tilting my head in case she had a face like death. I needn’t have worried. She wasn’t horror walking. Nor was she as beautiful as she had seemed from afar. Up close, she was just…a woman. Like me.

Before I could move or say anything, she added, “In that coat I thought you were a burly lumberjack or something.” She crossed her arms over her bodice, her perfect figure now too-thin, her ribcage knobby beneath the stays.

I looked down at myself and muttered, “Oh. Awesome.”

She sniffed at me, her nose scenting the air like a hungry puppy. “You even smell like a man. Why is that?”

“Uh…beats me…” I slung my bag over my shoulder again and stood. “Who are you?” I wanted to ask what she was, but I felt like that might be unnecessarily rude and it seemed better not to piss off a woman who could make herself simultaneously angelic and creepy.

“Who, me?” She batted her eyelashes at me and tossed her hair. The movement showed me how limp the blonde locks really were. “I am Rohana, youth’s mistress. Lover of men and bringer of beauty. Who are you that look so mundane and yet can resist my call?”

“Tess,” I answered, dropping the ‘a’ for no definable reason. “Photographer.”

Her blue eyes – pale and watery now – widened as she clapped her knobbly hands together. “Ooh, is that one of those, those digitalis cameras? I love those! Mundanes are so clever. Here, this is my best side.” She fluffed her hair, placed her hand behind her head, and blew a kiss at me.

At the same moment, Mueller’s voice echoed through the trees. “Tessa? Where the hell are you?”

“Ooh!” Rohana squealed. “That’s why you smell like a man! You brought me one.” She sniffed at the air as the wind gusted again, leaving us downwind of where I thought Mueller’s voice originated. A sensual shiver coursed through her. “And he’s a virile one.

A second shiver. “You really shouldn’t have. It’s not even my birthday. Be a dear and call him here?” She giggled, and just like that, she was a fair maiden again, ready to head to a ball.

She began to glide across the clearing again. Apparently mannish thing that I was, I had no such facade to maintain. I surged to my feet, pressing my gear to my body tightly to enable me to run as fast as I dared on uneven ground. “Mueller!” I shouted, hearing my voice echo across the clearing. “Run!”

“Run to me, Mueller!” the echo shouted back. Except it wasn’t the echo. It was Rohana. With my voice. “Help me!”

I heard him crashing through the trees. Though I had no idea what sort of magical creature this woman was, I knew enough about fairytales to know a woman who could make herself beautiful at will gliding through the forest in a fancy dress was dangerous. I threw myself into her path, putting myself between her and my approaching friend.

“Wait!” I yelped. My hands fumbled with my cameras, selecting one at random. I lifted it to my eye just as she snarled, “No, not that one! The other one.”

Through the viewer of the antique camera, Rohana wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t horrific, either. She was just…old. Like, insanely old. Like, walking, talking mummified princess old. The skin of her face was a mass of wrinkles held in place by what I could only guess were cobwebs. The skull beneath was well-defined, her high cheekbones protruding beneath sunken eyes and eyelids that drooped. Her mouth gaped, dark and terrifying, in a death smile. Beneath the tattered, dirty, ancient gown, her skeleton was just as obvious. She glided merely because her muscles could barely function.

Click went my camera.

The clearing erupted in a blood-curdling scream from that terrible mouth. “I said, not that one! Now I will have to kill you. Quickly, before your man gets here.” She advanced on me, her bones shaking precariously. “But don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll use your vitality to make sure he’s happy as he dies.” A tongue like a desiccated worm ran over her shriveled lips. “He’ll die of love. You, on the other hand…”

Her mouth formed an ‘o’ as she advanced on me. I retreated a step. Then another, lowering the camera with the slowness of shock and dread coursing through my own muscles. The plush, berry-red lips were open, her eyes locked on my mouth as she extended her delicate hands, reaching for me. To kiss me. To suck the life out of me.

 

 

Release Day: One Good Wand!

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
It’s live!

I was going to write a big post about its challenges and rewards, but I’ll save that for another day. Right now, I’m too excited to do more than celebrate. I mean, this book was only 3.5 months later than anticipated–I’m getting better! ;D

2016-461-ebook-holly-henrikson-one-good-wand-book1

 

Tessa Hargitay’s life has all the makings of a perfect fairytale: A woman out of hope and out of luck; a perfect, blood-red rose; the return of a childhood crush as a handsome, charming prince-of-a-man.

Except for Tessa, it’s not your run-of-the-mill happily ever after. In fact, it’s not a fairytale ending at all. With one unwary signature, she finds herself caught up on the other side of the tale–the side full of responsibility and dire consequences, and none of the rewards.

Tricked into becoming a fairy godmother, she has one shot to save the people of Denver (and her mom) from a coma-inducing sleeping curse. Unfortunately, her mentor has vanished, the Fairy Folk are too wrapped up in red tape to be of use, and her only ally is a growly machine tech who’s as human as she is. With no training and only vague sayings to guide her, it’s a prickly briar path Tessa isn’t entirely sure she wants to take.

But then, if there’s anyone who could get Cinderella to Comic Con on time, it’s gotta be a geek with a magic wand, right?

(Available from Amazon. Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers!)

End-of-Summer Update!

Whew! Summer blew by like a motorcycle driver really needing to pee. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t consider summer done yet. I mean, it’s only August 2nd, right? But my kiddo starts school really soon and that means one thing: I get my writing time back! (Okay, two things…I will also be depressed and miss him for the first week, and then get sick the second or third. So three things… Ah, parenthood – the art of one thing leading to another…) I’m trying hard to settle back into a normal routine, one that gives me ample time to percolate, but it’s tricky.

I attempted to release the first book in my new Reluctant Godmother series back at the beginning of July. And then for pretty much the whole of July. :/ I just wasn’t ready to finish it. Or maybe I should say the book wasn’t ready… One of the two! Now that I’m back home and able to think with my professional brain instead of Summer Brain (“Let’s go to the beach! No, the park! Or just veg! Let’s do NOTHING! Wheeeeeee!”), I am better equipped to figure out the changes I wanted to make. Especially since I got back to my outline for the sequel. summerize

Summer Brain is clearly not a solid decision-maker, ’cause it was really a no-brainer.

So now I have to finish up the major editing pass of the second half, figure out what to put where the removed subplot was, and then do a clean-up pass. It’s not common for me to change character names in my stories – for me, their names are part of who they are. But I changed…four? I think. Four names in this book. So now I have to do the resulting work to make sure there aren’t residual nicknames and such. (Speaking of which, I know I saw a wayward “Em” in there while reading to my sister on our cross-country trip to move her from the East Coast to the Rockies…there. Better.) This is the absolute messiest book I’ve ever written. No contest.

Anyway, point being that I have some work left (that I made more of for myself…), but the actual release date is close at hand! Maybe as soon as this weekend, if I stay motivated and don’t get weighed down by the insanity of living in a small three bedroom house with five other adults and two (soon to be three) kids 6 and under. Fun stuff.

I will update as soon as it goes live. I’m so excited!! Wheeeee! (Apparently Summer Brain hasn’t gone back into hibernation yet… 😀 )

December 2015 Update

I keep making a plan to update my website more frequently…or at the very least, more regularly. Somehow, it never quite comes together. Maybe in 2016…

Right now, I’m thrilled to be coming out of my first NaNoWriMo win. The first time I tried was about ten years ago, and I’ve signed up almost every year since then with the same outcome: Somewhere in week 2, I forgot I was doing it. This is my problem with many, many things in life, as I’m guessing it is for a lot of people. After all, they say it takes upwards of three weeks to make something a habit. Getting to three weeks, then, has to be pretty tough or there wouldn’t be a zillion books and blogs and professionals out there designed to help us build strong habits.

For me, November was the third month in a row of appreciably increasing my monthly word count, so 50k was bound to happen eventually. Still, it felt like tripping over a threshold. Yes, I’ve hit 50k in a month previously. Last December when I was writing the first half of Eternally Born, I know I hit it even though I didn’t keep track. But last month, I was keeping track. And for some reason that feels like it made all the difference. It feels like I’m going to do something with it this time.

It’s now been a year since I started publishing The Eternals, too, and two since I published my first novella, One For All. I have yet to make either of those go where I’d planned – my serial is only half done, still waiting for the first arc to be completed, and 13 Colonies is patiently awaiting the next novella in the series. Part of me…okay, all of me…really wishes I could have done more with that time. But I also realize that life happens, plans fall apart, and what matters is that I’m still writing, still planning, still moving forward. It’s not the most successful career yet, but dang if I don’t get a gold star for perseverance!

I gave myself three months to focus solely on writing. I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped, but I’m going to close out the year with over 200,000 words. That’s its own milestone – there may have been a year I wrote 150k when I was first trying to get published, but that was a long time ago. So I’m pretty excited about that, too! If I’d been working on other projects or focusing on completing them, that would be two full novels, more or less. As it is, it’s half a serial and three-quarters of two novels. Oops.

Now that I’ve had those three months, though, I have other things that need my attention. As we turn over into 2016, I’m trying to do better than I did those last two years. Rather than trying to work harder, I’m working smarter. The last two years proved to me that January and February are bad months for my creativity. They’re usually bad months for me in general, full of bad mojo, illness, and anxiety. They tend to be the worst months of the year, in fact. So much so that I have an ironclad prohibition against making major decisions between Christmas and the second week of March. This year, instead of trying to power through it, I’m going to back off and let myself coast. I’ll be hitting the gym to build up some nice, anxiety-busting endorphins. Still writing, but on a smaller scale with simpler goals.

So, that said, I’m trying hard to finish at least one of my current projects before the year is out. I was really hoping to get my serial finished this month, too, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day. 😦

The one that makes me happiest is first on the docket, a contemporary fantasy filled with awkwardness and laughter. I’ve never made myself laugh so much while writing. In fact, I might even go so far as to call this book funny, which heretofore I never believed I could do. It’s a creativity-stretcher for that reason, but it’s also a lot of fun. Tentatively, I’m calling it “Wand For Hire.” It’s the story of a thirty-something who, completely out of luck, takes a temp job that lands her in the middle of a corporate war in the magic world…and finds that she’s signed herself into becoming a fairy godmother. It’s full of sexual innuendo, thanks to her gutter-brained sidekick, and I’ve never done silly like this. It’s fun!

The other is the first in a series that was supposed to walk the line between romantica and solid fantasy. It was supposed to be romantic, each book about a woman who falls in love with a dragon, and together they will all go save the world. Straight-forward, simple. Except those two concepts are not generally synonymous with the way I write. 😛 I knew somewhere around the second sentence out of my fingers that it was going to be something different. The writing was lyrical epic fantasy, the kind of book I loved so very much as a teenager. You know, back before grimdark turned everything all twisted and despairing. And the more I wrote, the more I discovered that the relationships that mattered most were not the women and their dragons – though those are definitely important – but the women and their sisters, their mothers, their families. It took me a good 70,000 words before I realized I was writing a lovely blend of women’s fiction and epic fantasy (and that I had inadvertently written two books into one, and lost 20k from my first book word count to book 2. I have a real problem with that…). It got hard to keep writing after that. One, because I suddenly needed to find the book’s plot without the subplot that was actually the central plot of book 2. And two, because it suddenly carried weight it hadn’t as a simple romance. It meant something. I needed to come at it from a different perspective, and that…well, it wasn’t difficult to do as much as it was to accept. Sometimes, I’m awfully stubborn…

So, those are my current projects. I’m hoping to finish both of them by the end of January, but all my plans fall apart in January so I don’t expect to get anything done until March. Ideally, I would like to release a new 13 Colonies novella for Valentine’s Day, too, and then release every two or three months until I have the room in my schedule to write the novels. Perseverance, baby. It’s all about perseverance. 🙂

To Fun or Not to Fun

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of indie authors touting the notion that writing should be fun…and if it’s not, get out, because you’re in the wrong business.

Every time I hear it, it’s like a fairy falling lifeless to the ground when someone doesn’t believe. Before I go any further, let me say this:

If you want to be a writer, never let anyone tell you to stop.

I majored in Anthropology in college with the intent of becoming an archaeologist. I had my whole life mapped out around that core career. And then junior year, I had a professor advise us all to get out and find something new to do because technology was going to make us obsolete within ten years. I trusted his experience, relied on his authority in the field, and took his advice. It’s been eleven years, and archaeologists still exist. They still dig, still study, still catalogue. The field didn’t fail because of technology, it diversified. Had I gotten into it back then, I’d have been ahead of the curve. As it was, I left school for a while to figure out what else to do with my life and didn’t get my degree for another six years. I gave up my chance to do what I loved because I listened to someone who was supposed to know what he was talking about, and I kick myself every time I see a new archaeological discovery in the news. Because there are things I can’t do at 35 nearly as well as I could have done them at 25, not least because I have a family to care for.

If you want something for yourself, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t doubt that you can do it, that you have the right personality or interest base. Make it work for you. Find what you bring to it and diversify. Because what they’re really saying is, “You can’t do what I think you want to do/what I do.” But chances are pretty good that you don’t want to do whatever it is they see ahead of you; you probably want to do what YOU see, and that’s almost never the same thing. That goes doubly for creative pursuits.

Okay. Important message out of the way.

This particular bit of bad advice has been driving me crazy for months, largely because I’m not the kind of author who always has fun when she’s writing. ‘Cause you know what? I don’t write a lot of “fun” stories. The first novel I started with the intent to finish, back in high school, was about a half-elf who lost his family and became reliant upon a strong mentor figure who was secretly using him for his own dark ends. The first novel I actually finished was about a teenager whose siblings essentially sold her to a sadist to finance a revolution. Heck, the book I’m working on right now is amazingly fun to write, full of awkward moments and sexual innuendo, but it still has painful elements that have made writing it an emotionally unfun experience.

Writing doesn’t have to be fun. Even fun books don’t have to be fun all the time.

At least once during every book I’ve ever written, I get so angry at it that I want to tear it into tiny bits with my bare hands, chuck it in a fire to watch it sizzle and burn, and then gather up the ashes to craft something else I can destroy. It’s part of my writing process. I used to follow a traditionally published author who said whenever she hit that moment, her family would respond with, “So you’re on the right track, then!” Because it was also part of her process, and she only ever hit it when the book was coming together well.

Personally, the best fun I have with a story is if it’s challenging. If it makes me work, makes me question how I’m writing it or why I’m writing it; if it makes me realize something about myself or the ideas I want to convey; if it’s hard, that’s when I love it most. I think a lot of writers equate “fun” with “easy,” like it can only be fun if you’re blowing through scenes like Bonnie and Clyde blew through banks and emerging from most sessions with an adrenaline high. Frankly, if that’s the only part of writing you experience, I think you’re missing out. But that’s just me; I’m in it because it’s who I am, not just what I do. YMMV (and should).

Basically, it all boils down to this: All writers are different. All books are different. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Find your niche, find your passion, find your process, and then cheer on everyone else.

And if you’re the one giving advice, don’t be the reason someone looks back ten years from now and regrets the choices they made. Uplift each other. Change up your perspective.

Diversify!

Poll Time!

I’m currently in the process of plotting my next otherworld fantasy series (woohoo!), but I need your help!

The series has to do with gradually worsening natural disasters. I’m a big disaster movie buff, so I have my favorites…but I have too many favorites. Help me choose what to include!

Unfortunately for you (and excitingly for me – sorry), the project is going to remain top secret until it’s published. So you can ask all the questions you’d like, but there probably won’t be any answers forth-coming.

Thanks in advance for your input! It’s super helpful. 🙂

The Art of Writing a Serial (Or: A Lesson in Surviving Hurdles)

Before embarking on the long adventure known as the serial story, I made sure to do my homework. I read everything I could from people who’d already done it. I scoured blogs and how-to ebooks and kboards (Amazon’s kindle boards, where you can find all kinds of awesome people living the dream…and ten times more trying to get there). I had my plan ready to go – I knew the size of each installment (15-20k), the frequency of release (every 2 weeks), and my intended pricing scheme. I knew I wanted to write it as I went, rather than writing it all up front, and was prepared to keep to the schedule. I created my pen name, had the basics of my brand, and launched my platform on my chosen social media outlets. My prep work was good.

I released the first book on a wave of self-accomplishment. I did it! I crowed to myself (and to my husband, though he wasn’t quite as excited). A new pen name, new world, new experiment, all begun and set to do great things. Best yet, I’d only spent $15 to do it. And I was flexing my very rusty Photoshop skills to create decent covers. (Admittedly, they’re not fantastic. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call them good; but for 15 bucks, I’m happy with them!) I swore to myself I wouldn’t tell anyone I was writing them until after Christmas (the first one went live just before Thanksgiving). Which became “nobody but my sister and my brother, who are now my beta readers.” And then I was so chuffed about my cover, I showed it off to the rest of the family over Christmas.

That was mistake #1. (Okay, noticeable mistake #1. I probably made plenty of others I don’t have enough experience to see yet.) There are gobs of professionals (and memes; so many memes!) who will tell you to keep your dreams to yourself. You know what? They’re totally right. Eventually, people will find out. But you really want something you can be proud of out in the world already before you invite the criticism of those you know (and love). My dad was bummed – “A pen name? Already?” he asked, clearly lamenting that I had cast off the family name. “What about my sci-fi?!” my cousin demanded. Even though I stood strong and didn’t really feel the need to defend my choice, there entered the seed of doubt. By the time I reached my “after Christmas” date, the damage was already done. I “went public” to everyone, and the pressure set in.

Pressure, apparently, makes writing a lot harder. Who knew? 😛

Mistake #2 came a few short weeks later when, instead of having a week all to myself when my husband and son were out of town, I came down with the flu. The horrible, awful, kill-me-now sort of flu. I was sick the entire week. One setback, though, wasn’t going to stop me. I have perseverance! I cried (inwardly, in a properly introverted fashion). Except then my yoga ball, which I used as my desk chair, exploded while I was sitting on it (thinking back still makes me giggle hysterically – if you can’t save your pride, you might as well laugh, right?), which also broke my desk. No matter how I tried to cobble together a better situation, I couldn’t get comfy enough to write. But no problem – I still had my laptop. Right? Wrong. My 8-year-old MacBook finally gave up the ghost the same week. I managed to save my covers, which weren’t in Dropbox, and called it a blessed bit of luck. (Mistake #2 was not writing long-hand and continuing the habit. I wouldn’t have written as quickly and I’d have used a ton of paper, but I’d have gotten it done sooner, and not lost momentum.)

So I had to wait. And wait. And wait…until our tax return came in. Because we’re broke. Like, beyond broke. So broke, in fact, that we moved in with my in-laws in May because we couldn’t support ourselves with the skyrocketing rental prices in Denver. Our pediatric office just broke up with us because we couldn’t pay our bills. I bought a new laptop, one of the new HP Streams that’s designed to function mostly online. So pretty! So perfect (and perfectly in my price range). I finished up the rough draft of Issue #5 and shifted gears to the publishing side of things. And that’s when I realized: I no longer have access to Photoshop. I had to actually pay for it. Which meant I couldn’t create a cover for a bundle of the first five issues like I had planned.

That was Mistake #3 – I let my disappointment (and, honestly, financially-rooted depression) get the better of me. I didn’t research Photoshop options or alternatives. I just sat and stewed. Which, given that we were down to the wire in deciding what to do with our lives by that point, I don’t really begrudge myself. I had more important things requiring my time. But if I had done a little idle research, I’d have discovered the 30-day free trial of Photoshop CC and gotten to de-stress playing with covers.

The fifth issue of Eternally Born was five months late. I’ve accepted my failures and determined to do better in future. Namely, I will focus on the habit instead of the output, have backups to my backups (not just files but also writing situations and implements), and maybe bring in a couple new cheerleaders to keep my spirits up when stuff falls apart. Because I don’t have a lot of experience in indie publishing yet, but what little I do has shown me how easily things do fall apart. To misquote Jurassic Park, “We have all the problems of a traditional publishing house and a moody creative professional, and the money’s not even coming in yet.”

Yes, a serial is quite difficult as an entry into self-publishing – it’s an insanely slow build, and there’s not really a good way to market it until you’re quite a ways in. (Despite being in KU with everything but #1, I’ve only ever had 3 borrows. I’ve given away several hundred copies of #1, but only had maybe the same number of sell-throughs.) With 4 issues on the market, I haven’t yet broken even on that initial $15. It’s a long, hard haul and something of a slog. Choosing to write one at a time means I have to be okay working on the same thing every month (month after month after month). That can be tough when my creativity wants to try something new, or doesn’t want to break from the other project I’m working on to come back to the serial. And I have a sneaking suspicion the majority of people who might be interesting in reading the serial are waiting for me to finish the whole thing before they read. Which is fair and completely understandable…but it’s not a big boost to the old ego, either. Nor is knowing ahead of time that I’m not going to sell any of the new issues when they’re released.

All of that said, however, I don’t regret choosing to write one issue at a time. I don’t regret any of my actual publishing choices.This is the way this story needed to be told. It’s the way I needed to work on it. It reinforces the process, keeps me in the short-term (I have a real problem with that), and keeps me writing. Doing the covers myself keeps me excited, because even if nobody reads the words inside, they will see the cover. It keeps me learning, keeps me trying new things, and uses my brain in ways that novels don’t (especially because it’s non-linear, but that’s a different topic). By the time I’m done with this arc, I will have a lot of basic experience under my belt. I’ll have 10 issues on the market with 3 bundles. I’ve been keeping an eye on my category the whole time, and how sales and borrows affect my ranks. And, more than that, it’s set my expectations low. They already were – I didn’t start this up expecting to sell any – but once I’m done, I’ll know that I can stick with my choices no matter what happens; that I can finish what I start even when there is pretty much zero positive reinforcement or enticement to continue.

Essentially, this is the part where I stamp down the dirt until it’s hard-packed and capable of supporting bigger goals for the long-term. I may feel like a giant failure because all I have is dirt, but I will have the confidence to know failure won’t kill me. And that’s nothing to sneeze at!

The Celluloid Files: 6

(Click the link at the top of the page to read earlier segments!)

Right there, smack in center justification and black and white print was a picture of me.  I was exiting S. O. Teric’s, glaring at the sidewalk, my hands in tight fists.  Of course, I looked that way because I wanted to wring Ivy’s neck, but the casual observer wouldn’t know that.

“Eccentric’s Heir Brings Stormy Weather,” the headline read.  According to the article, I was the worst thing to strike the pavement since the tornado of ’73.  A herald of dispossession.  A lone rider of the Apocalypse.  In those exact words.

For a minute or two I stood there – really, it could have been half an hour, I lost all perception of time – trying to force the words to make sense.  My name, my picture.  A horsewoman of the Apocalypse?  The absurdity made me laugh.  I heard a note of hysteria in it and forced myself to calm down.  The grief, the exhausting trip, the blustery way my first foray had gone, all swirled together in a maelstrom of barely controlled emotion.  This addition didn’t help.

How in the world had someone snapped my picture without my noticing, anyway?  What did this A. Archer possibly know about me?  I gave no interview.  The only thing I had said about the store was that I didn’t know what I was going to do with it.  Certainly nothing close to, “…intends to blow this bit of our beloved town into the wind like a child with a hapless dandelion.”  The falsehood galled me, but the underlying condescension?  That just pissed me off.  The reporter intimated I was nothing more than a child who didn’t know any better.  Without ever meeting me.  Without as much as a hello between us.  Who was this reporter to judge me on first sight?

Standing there in my aunt’s front yard, the grass tickling my bare ankles, I snarled.  An odd sight for the woman jogging by on the sidewalk, surely, but I couldn’t help it.  My only course of action was to march down to the newspaper office and A) set the record straight, B) demand a retraction, and then C) punch A. Archer square in the nose.  Maybe a knee to the crotch.  I’d have to wait and discover the demands of the situation before I decided, but that didn’t stop me from playing it out in my head over and over again.

Armed with the re-rolled newspaper, I stalked to my car, jumped in, and roared out of the driveway.  Well, maybe not roared.  Automatics don’t usually roar.  But I know in its mechanical heart, the vehicle was right there with me.

I stopped by Goldilocks to ask for more directions.  It being lunch time, the salon was empty except for the tall spindle of a woman.  She chatted just as much as she had the day before, but I could tell she was more than a little afraid of me.  Her eyes kept darting to something on the high, glossy counter that housed the register.  It had to be a copy of the Goode County Gazette.

With her directions scorched into my brain, my sympathetic SUV and I tore out of town at ten over the speed limit.  No doubt the drive between Meadowhaven and the nearby college town of Goodeward was lovely.  There were likely towering pines, shuddering aspens, and various woodland creatures that could have caught my eye.  I didn’t see any of it.  In fact, I wasn’t really sure how long the drive took or whether I had followed the directions properly until I found myself beside a large sign welcoming visitors to Goodeward College.  The real trick would be finding my way home, but that would wait until justice had been served.

The Goode County Gazette resided in a low building in red brick with black steeples for a roof.  It looked entirely out of place providing a backdrop to college kids smoking on the street corner, their textbook-laden bags making them all slightly stoop-shouldered.  A shirtless guy on a bike nearly ran me over as I got out of my car, throwing me a dirty look over his shoulder as he darted away.  It only added tinder to the fire of my anger.

As much as I wanted to become the storm the article accused me of being, I’ve always had a spiteful streak.  It comes with the family.  I put it to underhanded use as a kid, and I didn’t shirk from the dubious duty now.  Rather than rage up the cobbled walkway, I shook my hair out over my shoulders, made sure my dress fell straight and tight in all the right places, grabbed the offensive rag labeled a newspaper, and strode to the front door with a little extra sway.

Just as my fingers touched the polished black handle, the door swung out at me, nearly clocking me in the nose before I got out of the way. My quick backpedal landed my thin heel on a seam in the cement and I felt my ankle twist. Down I went, as ladylike as I possibly could. I managed to not flash anybody (at least, that was what I told myself), but my left hand landed in a muddy bit of grass while my right scraped hard on the walkway. I felt the bite of the concrete on my knuckles and then my elbow.

“Criminy! That was a spill for the record books. You okay?”

I hopped up to my feet with equally record speed, determined to keep my dignity intact. “Yeah,” I said, making sure my dress was where it was supposed to be. “Or I will be once I find a bathroom.”

The guy before me looked like a London Fog commercial in Toon Town – the trench coat on his skinny frame hung a little too loosely, the brightly colored bowtie looked ready to start spinning the second he cracked a joke, and the short-brimmed fedora perched atop his head was only missing a press pass tucked into the band. He reached out to help me, but I was on my feet too fast. A long, awkward moment passed between us before he chuckled at himself. “Hey, I’m really sorry. I keep trying to convince the bossman to change out the doors. Like wearing sunglasses on a cloudy night while wielding a glass riot shield.” He opened the door again, holding it wide for me. “The lady’s room is just…”

He trailed off, and it didn’t take one of Aunt Nora’s psychics to see what drew his attention. A crowd had appeared at the end of the street, picket signs raised as they marched along the pavement toward us.

Stop the spread!

Just say no to MVR!

For a moment, I thought there must be a new std I’d never heard of taking over the campus. Then I heard the chant accompanying the signs, and my interest climbed: “Pull out the stops, we won’t shop!”

I tried to shake the mud off my hand as I glanced at Daffy Duck, Ace Reporter. “Are they protesting shopping?”

“Sort of. It’s a Tolkien-esque tale, really.”

“Full of orcs and singing and second breakfasts?” I asked, gauging that my nerdiness would land well before I opened my mouth.

He chuckled again, this time giving me a shy sort of smile. “I meant that it’s long and full of small folk who will win the day.” A dreamy sort of look entered his eyes as the college crowd assembled on the green across from the news office. “A story worth the telling…”

My elbow and hand throbbed and stung. Worse, I couldn’t do anything about it with all the mud on my other hand. Five minutes before, I had wanted nothing so much as to yell at someone and Daffy Duck had given me plenty to shout over. Yet I heard myself say encouragingly, “So go tell it.”

The dreaminess vanished, replaced by a look like he’d run over my brand new puppy. “I should really help–”

I cut him off and hobbled through the door he still held. “I’m okay. You go, I can clean myself up just fine.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I am.” I gave him an assured smile, even if I didn’t feel it. “Go get your story, newsman.”

“Oh, it’s Cagney,” he said, extending his hand before he realized I wasn’t going to be able to shake back. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his trench and grimaced. “Cagney Keaton.”

“Annika,” I said, moving toward the lady’s room in the front hall.

He let the door fall closed, but a glance over my shoulder caught a look of surprised indecision on Cagney’s youthful open-book face.

I smiled to myself as I slipped into the bathroom. Apparently, I was a big enough story to warrant…well, a story. That thought brought back my whole purpose here in one big, fell swoop. I’d been so surprised by getting dumped on my ass that I had lost all my righteous wrath and momentum, leaving me cold and deflated.

My reflection, at least, still looked decent. That is, assuming a person ignored my scraped hand, the elbow it took five minutes and two wet, clammy paper towels to get to stop oozing, and the mud I couldn’t seem to get out from under my fingernails. The altercation with the door had at least given my blue eyes a wide, softly surprised look that I could use to my advantage. Well, assuming A. Archer had a taste for soft blondes with a damsel-in-distress vibe.

That was a lot of assuming, and nowhere near the sort of woman I wanted to be when I confronted my slanderer, besides.

“We live to battle another day,” I said to my reflection. We shared a beleaguered smile before I did a quick check of my dress again. Then, shoulders squared to pretend a length of dignity was still at my command, I stepped out of the bathroom.

Which, of course, was when I finally realized my ankle didn’t much care for being twisted. Add to that a slight lip between the bathroom tile and the wooden flooring of the hall, and I proved my capacity for self-destructive behavior by tripping, flailing, and falling.

This time, rather than land unceremoniously on the ground, a pair of strong male arms caught me. The smell of expensive cologne stole what little I had left of a brain and I blinked up into a face full of grinning charisma.

“I’ve been meaning to get that fixed,” he said, pausing just a little before setting me back on my feet. To my surprise, my heels put me about an inch taller than his frame, which was possessed of that handsome sort of stockiness that was a matter of build instead of weight.

“B-being in the right place at the right time?” I asked, a little breathless. From my near-fall, of course.

He crossed his arms over his chest, straining his suit jacket in that sexy way suits do when they’re properly tailored. That was when I noticed my beat-up fingers had been halfway petting the delicious, expensive fabric of that same suit. The bottom dropped out of my stomach as I snatched my hand back.

“What can I do for you, Miss Ambray?” the man asked, the steel of business underpinning his tone.

“I’m looking for…” I blinked. “You know who I am?”

“The goings-on around Meadowhaven are my business.” He extended a short-fingered, possibly manicured hand to me. “Thomas Goode, editor of the Gazette.”

My hand was already in his, appreciating the strength of his grip when my brain caught up. “Goode? As in Goode County?”

“And Goodeward, complete with university. My family founded the town.”

“Ah,” I said, full of intellect. That explained the money that seemed to roll off the man in waves.

After a few moments wherein I mentally kicked myself for being the biggest idiot around, he said, “Looks like you’ve been in a bit of a fracas.”

“What?” I was desperately trying to pull my brains back together, and failing miserably.

He lifted my hand, still in his, with its cement-scraped knuckles. The warmth in my face heated to incendiary proportions. I pulled my hand away and used it to smooth my dress in a fit of nerves.

“Oh, I, um, twisted my ankle on the way in. Nothing big.”

“On newspaper property? That’s unfortunate. Why don’t we go up to my office? We can discuss whatever it is you’re here to discuss, and you can get off that ankle.” He gestured further into the building, indicating I should go first.

I glanced from his hand to the hallway beyond, but couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye. “It’s really nothing,” I mumbled.

“What brought you here is, or the fall?”

“Neither. Both. Um…” I let out a laughing breath.

That grin never faltered. It was getting to be a little unnerving, a little too practiced. “Please, Miss Ambray. You came all the way out here. The least I can do is provide a chair while we discuss the particulars of why.”

If my ankle had been its usual self, I might have run. After two falls, scraped and bruised and feeling like an idiot, the last thing I wanted to do was have a conversation with a man who probably spent the equivalent of my inheritance every year. One whose great-great-however-many-grandparents founded a whole town. And whose suspenders so nicely defined his chest beneath the kind of suit I wanted to…

I shook my head to clear it, tucked a lock my hair behind my ear, and stuttered, “A-all right.”

“We’ll take the elevator,” he said. “It’s an antique, but it gets the job done.”

I simply smiled and stared at the floor, because the thought in my head was not one I wanted to come out of my mouth.

When the brass grate closed in front of us, I closed my eyes and wished for the elevator to collapse beneath us and put me out of my misery. Except that made it all worse, because it brought one image to the forefront of my mind’s eye – tomorrow’s headline in big, bold letters:

Doomsaying Irrelevant – Eccentric’s Heir Too Mindless To Matter

My second day in town, and I was already in over my head.

Double 13s: Eternally Born Giveaway!

The other night as I was tucking my preschooler into bed, he told me about the kids in his room. Now, he’s linguistically delayed so it wasn’t the most coherent conversation, but what I got from it was this: He expected there to be kids (and a baby) playing in his room while he was sleeping. They weren’t there while I was tucking him in, but they would be later. One of them, he told me, climbed way up high to the top of something and fell and hurt himself.

Creepy enough on its own, but maybe he was just telling me a story. Relating something he read or saw or heard in a new way. Kids do that.

But I just remembered. A few months after we moved into our current apartment, he started refusing to play in his room. Even now, he won’t do it unless someone is with him. We had a long, sleep-deprived summer because he woke up scared so often. I blamed it on the move, new surroundings, new sounds – all things that came make little lives scarier. And then one night, I sat with him while he fell asleep. Except he wasn’t falling asleep. Nope. He was staring at the corner of his room, shaking. After a full minute, he finally shouted, “No!” then rolled over, pulled the covers up close to his chin, and gripped my hand lest he lose me. Then he fell asleep.

When I was his age, I remember waking up one night from a nightmare. The house was eerily quiet, but my parents always left the hall light on for easy mid-night bathroom runs. Their room was directly across from mine. After weighing the risk of staying in my scary, quiet room against the risk of possibly being grabbed by whatever lurked between my bed and my door, I made my choice. I leapt out of my bed, threw my door open, and dashed the loooooong way to my parents’ bed. I flung myself in between them, snuggled under the covers, then looked up back at the door. A man’s dark silhouette lurked in the doorway between me and the hall light. I remember thinking my dad must have gotten up for a drink of water, and was coming back to bed. Except when I looked next to me, there he was, sound asleep. I pulled the covers up over my head and snuggled against his back before falling asleep. (We really don’t give kids enough credit for their bravery in the face of fear!)

These kinds of stories have fascinated me since I was young. My family is rife with “sensitives,” people who know or experience special things, so I grew up hearing about all kinds of paranormal weirdness. I suppose it isn’t surprising that I’m writing paranormal young adult stories!

So, to honor the spooky in our real lives, I’m giving my readers the chance to win the entire first arc of The Eternals Serial, Eternally Born! Yep. The whole thing! And what better time to do it than when we have two Friday the 13ths in back-to-back months?

All you have to do is share your scariest, weirdest, spookiest, or most other-worldly true story on this thread (anywhere else will be considered unofficial – sorry!). Ghosts, angels, haunted or just downright creepy places; dreams that came true, astral travel, knowing things you shouldn’t know; auras, reincarnation, near-death experiences; if it fits under the “paranormal” vibe, I want to hear it!

Short or long, you decide. Just make sure it’s a true story that happened to YOU.

You have between today, Friday, February 13th and Friday, March 13th to reply here.

On March 14th, I’ll pick two winners – one at random from all entrants, and one with the best true story! Then, as soon as I’ve finished writing the last few issues, I’ll bundle them all together as a full set of Eternally Born and send the winners their free copy before the bundle goes on sale. (And maaaaybe even before the last couple of issues are available to the general public!)

Go ahead: Give me the willies. I dare ya!