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Manic Monday: State of the (Writing) Union Address

Guys, I’m having a moment, and it’s not pretty.

So I found myself wandering through the digital racks of Amazon this morning, perusing the freebies in the hopes that I might find a fun new author (like I really need ANOTHER book to read) or discover interesting new concepts not yet apparent to this world. Unfortunately, the farther I wandered, the more disheartening and, quite frankly, disgusting, it became.

People are giving away their blood, sweat, tears, and time for chump change. Books are releasing and within a month have hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews – none of which come from verified purchases, mind you. From my research, the majority of the verified purchases appear to give these “masterpieces” one star and generally tell prospective readers the equivalent of don’t freaking bother.

All the goodies are hanging out there, cheap and/or free, in the hopes someone might stumble by and happen to snatch that particular piece of low-hanging fruit.

Now we all know I’m not the world’s best or most prolific author. At this point in my game, if I’m completely honest with myself and y’all, I’m still struggling to attain mid-list mediocrity. My own fault, yes, but that’s another rant for another day.

I bust my butt to produce quality work and I take pride in the finished product. I’m not out there schlock-hocking, writing to a formula or a trend for the sake of making a buck. I don’t just slather words on a page and slap a pair of half-naked people on it to throw up on Amazon for free just to get attention. I’m doing my best to do this the right way.

[Pause: I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t the right way because (1) I’ve done that too, and (2) there is no right way to go about publishing… what I’m saying is I make sure my work meets a certain standard in editing, artwork, and overall production, which is what readers deserve.]

The problem I have is this:

I just find myself dumbfounded time and again at the low quality and lack of concern people have for literature. Everyone and her best friend seems to be thinking these days, “Oh, I need to make a quick buck. I’ll just go write a book and be a bestseller!” And you know what, kids? Goshdarnit, it just don’t work that way.

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the world is cut out to be an author. You might have the best, most original idea ever conceived, but I have a pretty strict policy around here – if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of grammar, punctuation, and dialogue, you are not a writer. And you’re dragging down the quality of something I love, so step off.

Writing truly is a dying art. And that cold, sad fact makes me want to sit down and cry fat, ugly tears. This rise in I-can-do-it-myself-ness has made a complete mockery of what we as professional authors do.

Guys, we can’t let this stand. We have to take back our craft, to rise above the masses of people scrabbling for the petty change at the bottom of the basket. It’s going to take some work, but we can do it if we stick together and demand that change.

Screw that… we’re not going to demand change and wait for it to happen. We’re going to make the change.

Well, yes…but how?

I’m so very glad you asked! It appears the problems with our market boil down to five simple rules, and we’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we’ve lost track of what’s important.

1. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE GOODS.

no-freebies-480_thumbMy mother is a voracious reader. So am I. So are the people by whom I’m surrounded. Yes, we do troll the bargain bins from time to time, but that isn’t where we spend the majority of our lives.

We, as respectable authors, need to step out of the cheap-trap. If our work is truly worth its salt, then we need to recognize and respect it by not giving it away. Promotions are one thing – go ahead and have a freebie week to gain interest. Give a short story away as a teaser. But don’t fork over a three-novel set for $.99 because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. By giving away your best work, your readers will come to expect it of you. Now that’s not to say a short story can’t live at that $.99 mark for it’s entire life. But you don’t want to take that kind of horrible cut on a novel. You’ll never get anywhere like that.

Price your books accordingly. Let the tramps have their pennies. Eventually the readers will tire of wasting good money on subpar writing and start looking back toward the more reasonably-priced works, where you’ll be hanging out in the henhouse with us.

2. DON’T FALL INTO THE NICHE TRAP.

Let’s face it…by the time we recognize a trend, we’re already behind it. Unless you’re writing ten of everything out there right now in the hopes the market will circle back around to your favorite type of critter, you’re never going to be that guy who writes that book and becomes the next Stephenie Meyer. Writing to the market may make a few people marginally successful for a month or two, but it’s never going to sustain a career for anyone. Rather than doing what’s already been done, we should be focusing our strength and energy on creating the next thing. We should be writing the books which will define the new trends, not follow in the footsteps of someone else. Sure, werepenguins are the hot thing right now, but that doesn’t mean the wereskunk will follow.

Be original. Write your own story, and let the trendy schlockfest continue without your participation. Make yourself that new and different thing everyone wants to read.

3. HIRE SOME OUTSIDE HELP.

You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

I repeat: You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

Should I say it again? Because I will. And here’s why you need those things:

Because if you’re fighting the good fight, you want to put your best foot forward. A reader is not going to want to pay fair market value for an unreadable turd, which is why a professional product is the bet thing we can ask for at the end. Yes, sometimes it’s a pretty hefty outlay of cash on the front end, particularly for good editing, but it’s worth it in the end [this is where the credit publishers never get comes into play…they pay all of this for you so you don’t have to]. A professional product will go the distance and will likely suffer less returns than an unpolished hunk of words.

I learned to format out of necessity. I had a background in digital artwork so I was ahead of the curve with covers. I got lucky in that one of my good friends has a Master’s degree in English and will cut me a break. I also offer these services to other authors for reasonable rates because I want others to succeed. I can’t fix your technical ability, but I can make your book pretty.

Your readers deserve quality, so give it to them.

4. DO NOT PURCHASE REVIEWS. EVER.

Product_review1.jpgThe Perfect Review DOES NOT EXIST.

You might think you’re doing yourself a favor and putting yourself ahead of the game, but YOU AREN’T. Trust me on this… if you’re going to shell out huge chunks of cash for something, see Step 3. A review from a verified purchase is going to go much farther than some nobody giving you the digital equivalent of a tongue bath. Because the dirty little secret is this: 300 good reviews from a questionable origin will not hold a candle to that one verified critical review. Readers who consider reviews are going to read those low ratings first because those are the ones which tell the truth.

Now that’s not to say you can’t offer your book to reviewers for an honest review. I’ve done that. Yeah, it’s bitten me in the butt a time or two, but you know what? I’d rather have an honest opinion than a “OMGILOVEITSOOOOOOOMUCH” review any day. You know why? Because honest reviews keep me honest, and show me my mistakes so I can learn from them.

Expend your resources elsewhere, kids. You owe it to yourself to be honest.

5. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.

I believe this, above all others, is the most important rule. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, how can anyone else enjoy reading it? Writing on autopilot reads on autopilot. Believe me, I’ve read enough poorly-executed, trend-trailing garbage to know the difference between a story with heart and a kc-readstory for cash. I love reading as much as I love writing, and I often find myself disappointed by what I’m reading because it doesn’t share the love I feel for the craft. Emotion plays heavily into writing. I want to feel what the characters feel and see what they do. I don’t want to go through the motions of being in love because this chick is supposed to fall for this half-vampire werepanther. If she’s going to be in love with something so sensational, I want to suspend my disbelief and be in love with her. Likewise, if a psycho clown is on a killing spree in my bedroom, damn it I want to feel like I’m next.

We’re readers, not statistics. We aren’t dollar signs. And if we aren’t willing to pick up what we’ve written and read it, then we’re writing the wrong thing. As I said, it’s time to take it back, to do what we love for the sake of the craft. This…this is how we’re going to do it. We have to rise above, to band together and stay strong.

Yes, the market sucks at the moment. But with persistence and forcing quality back into our products, we can turn that around. Who’s with me?

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

At 3:30 this morning, I dared to go on the internet for the first time in a week, and I cried.

I cried for the loss of a man I’d never met, yet feel like I’ve known my whole life. I’ve never in my life cried over the death of a celebrity, but this morning I couldn’t stop myself. When I saw the news of David Bowie’s passing, I immediately took to the Google, praying it was yet another horrid hoax. I wanted to believe it was, then more and more news sites began reporting it and I knew it was real. And my heart shattered.

Like many of my friends, the man had a huge impact on my life. From my first coherent experience with Bowie as the Goblin King all the way through to Blackstar, the man has been one of the few constants in my musical and emotional education. His voice, antics, and showmanship have been a beacon, not only to me but to all the other weirdos like me. Ziggy Stardust made it okay to be different. His songs gave us permission to push the envelope.

In short, without him, I wouldn’t be me because I very likely wouldn’t know I was allowed to.

It appears nobody knew of his illness…and I suspect that was by design. God knows if it were me, I wouldn’t want the entire world on death watch. While it came as a great shock, I suppose it was for the best. This morning is the first time in years (literally years) where my Facebook feed has been nothing but an outpouring of love and support. It’s the first time in a long time I wasn’t inundated by hatred and bigotry. That fact did little to ease the pain my chest.

On July 28, 2002, a carload of us headed up to Manassas, VA for the Area2 festival with the sole purpose of witnessing the spectacle that was David Bowie. It’s the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had… it was magical, the culmination of so many years of searching and questioning. Watching him made all the pieces fall into place, and it happened with some of my best friends by my side.

Now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling. Grief, certainly. But this deeply profound sense of loss… I thought this was meant to be saved for family and close friends. But then again, he’s about the closest friend I’ve ever had even though we never met. He brought me friends, was by my side as I lost others, and has always had just the right words for whatever situations I faced.

This makes no sense, I know. Grief and loss don’t make sense. They aren’t supposed to.

The words aren’t there, but my love is.

NaNoWriMo: A Writer’s Perspective

It’s November 15th. Yes, I know… thank you, Captain Obvious… but I say that for a reason: It’s November. We’re nearly half-way into that lovely Writing Nightmare known as NaNoWriMo. Don’t know what it is? Click the link back there and the website will tell you all about the organization that hosts it, the event, the philosophy, and the craziness surrounding it. Want the Reader’s Digest version? It’s an event sponsored by a non-profit organization that encourages people to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for five consecutive years. I even “won” two of them. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo which ultimately stems from my published work.

There are pros and cons to this.

Let’s start with the pros. I polled my writer friends on Facebook awhile back, and I got some fabulous answers. Here are a few of the positive opinions I received:

Rie Sheridan Rose: “I love it because it gives me a deadline to stick to. I don’t always finish, but I have three finished novels and a first draft from NaNo, two of those finished ones published. I try every year since I started in 2003, but I don’t feel pressured to make 50k words if something happens in November. I think it is a great tool, and a good discipline builder, even if I’m not particularly disciplined.”

Lucy Blue: “I have to say, it’s a powerful motivator. I’m a very lazy writer; my usual pace is about a chapter a week. So far with NaNo, I’m averaging about a chapter a day.”

Vicki Locey: “I love it. It teaches discipline big time. Once you`re disciplined it`s amazing how much writing you can get done.”

Chris Garrison: “I love it for the deadline to keep me focused, and the focus to keep the novel in my head every day. That momentum is what makes it possible, and lends a breathless intensity to the resulting books. I love the reckless abandon of writing now, knowing I’ll have time to fix it later.”

Amber Kallyn: “I think it’s great to get people in the habit of writing, which can be used the rest of the year. Plus, it’s a fun community writing event.”

Helen Davis: “I’m just having fun with it. And joining the National Bandwagon means that my family and friends actually respect the time I spend on it. “I didn’t mop the floor because it was a NaNo catchup day flies a lot better than the truth “I was lazy and just wanted to play.””

Ali Justice: “You know I fully support NaNo, I have been doing NaNo for 3 years now, the first year I failed misarably the second I wrote the 50,000 words and loved every minute of it. It’s not all about Winning and losing though. Its about getting to know other writers, newer people finding out that they love writing, it’s about coming together as a writing community and thriving. It doesn’t matter if you write 50,000 words or 10 words. It’s just an outlet and I think it’s a great one!”

Now, my positive opinion:  The idea of NaNo is a great way for fledgling writers to learn the process of writing a book. It teaches consistency and determination. It gives new authors a support system and a feeling of belonging. It comes with its own cheering section and forums to discuss the process among like-minded people.

The key here is discipline. Any self-respecting writer knows consistency and discipline are what we need to get to the end of a manuscript.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to write 1,000 words a day. To accomplish NaNo at a reasonable pace, one must only write 1,667 words a day. There isn’t a big difference between the numbers, but in terms of writing a book, that additional 670 words is enough to cause serious damage. On a good day, I can write as much as 5,000 words. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.

Unfortunately, now that I’m an actual working writer, that’s where my love affair with NaNo stops.

The last few years have been hell on wheels for me in a personal sense. I know that doesn’t have f***-all to do with my professional front and the need to push out word counts and secure book contracts. It’s an excuse, but unfortunately it’s an unavoidable one. The majority of 2015 has been spent staring at a blank page, unable to think of a single interesting thing to write. This year, I have finished two short stories. That’s it. Two. We’re talking about less than 20,000 words of marketable material. And the idea of subjecting myself to the breakneck pace of NaNo for the sake of winning a badge to display on my Facebook wall makes me physically ill. I’m talking serious panic attack material here.

The pressure to finish can be constricting. For someone as competitive as me, it’s crippling. I’m the type who typically doesn’t want to start something I know I won’t finish, and the idea of strapping on a hefty word count every single day knowing my personal state of mind scares the Bejesus out of me.

You see, I don’t believe in writing for quantity. I believe in making each word committed to paper count. That’s not to say I don’t go back and delete whole sentences or paragraphs or sometimes even chapters. What that means is I don’t believe in writing words simply for the sake of padding a word count. When I write, I edit as I go. I think about what I’m writing. As an author, I’ve learned to self-edit as I go and make sure I’m really saying what I want to say as I put words on paper. I’m a relatively slow writer, but I’m okay with that. I’m writing for the love of the words, not the length of the book.

I even considered trying NaNo again this year just to get myself back into the habit of writing all the time, but the idea of physically signing up and showing the world that I’m doomed to failure made me stop dead in my tracks and walk away. I do, after all, have a newborn child and a three-year-old to contend with, and getting any sort of legitimate word count with my little girls around ain’t easy, folks.

So when it comes down to it… if you’re a NaNo fan and participant, great show and I wish you the best of luck for the remaining 15 days of this nutty month. For those of you like me… look me up and let’s talk. Perhaps we can find a better way to motivate ourselves and each other without fear of psychiatric committal.

Angie’s Story

No woman should live in fear. No woman should be subjected to unnecessary torture, be it from a parent, sibling, spouse, or even a stranger. She is human, and she has the right to be free, to be happy, and most importantly, to live.

To Live.

But those rights are stripped from countless women every day. They are isolated, threatened, abused, and murdered by the ones they should be able to trust. A marriage is only a marriage if both parties are willing. Otherwise, it becomes a prison sentence, and one that often ends too soon and much too tragically.

Crimes of Passion, they’re called.

But there is no passion. When one person kills another in a heated moment of lovers’ turmoil, it’s still murder. It’s a solitary act of desperation. There is no love; only selfishness. It is not a mercy, but theft. And those left in the wake of the tragedy are without direction, without answers. They first suffer the immediate effects of the trauma, but then are left to question and to grieve. Only on occasion is the entire story known.

I know this story. The one I’m about to tell ended a year ago today. It took me a long time to get this down, to work through the anger and the anguish and get to a point where I could tell this story. I had to. Someone needed to do it, because it needs to be heard. A year later my heart is still broken, and probably will be for the rest of my life.

stop domestic violence


AngieOn November 6, 2014, I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She was a co-worker, a confidant, a friend. A sister. Angie was an angel come to Earth, with a big heart and a gentle soul. It never mattered how bad things were in her life or how sick she was; if someone needed her, she was there. Unconditionally. When I lost my father, she was there. When I lost my baby the week of her birthday, she was by my side the entire time. When anyone needed a helping hand or a friendly ear, they went to Angie. She was a ray of sunshine in our lives, and she made us better people for her presence.

But at 3:15 pm on a cold Thursday, she was ripped away from us in a selfish moment of stupidity. As the newspapers reported, yes, her estranged husband did shoot her in the back of the head then take his own life. But that’s the end of the story.

It started three years ago, when I met Angie the first time.

On November 7, 2011, Angie came to work for us as the new bookkeeper. She was the first hire in a long reorganization, and we were friends from the minute she walked in the door. We just clicked. I was seven months pregnant, and it gave us a starting point. From there, we learned everything there was to learn about each other.

After my daughter was born, she was there to help. She reassured me that I wasn’t going to irreparably damage my child, and provided relief in the form of lightheartedness and comedy. She was an understanding shoulder to cry on when I lost my father since she’d been through the same thing only a few years prior. A former hairstylist, she did my step-daughter’s hair for prom. Twice. There was a point where we were going to eat Japanese food for lunch every day and staying up late into the night texting about nonsense.

It was during one of these lunch sessions that she began to confide in me about the real status of her home life. Angie told me her husband had changed since her father passed away, and not for the better. She was estranged from her family since her father’s passing, and her husband had become cold and vindictive. He’d isolated her from her friends and family. He called a dozen times a day and texted even more. He constantly checked up on her and demanded she be where he wanted at all times. He’d begun to call her names and accuse her of being selfish. I started to learn about the violence and the psychological abuse, not just of her but of their children as well. When I asked her why she didn’t go to the police, she gave me a good reason.

Both of her husband’s brothers and one of his nephews are active police officers in the town where they lived. She knew any attempt at protection would immediately be reported back and his rage would be so much worse for it. Her husband’s family knew the situation; she’d gone to their houses and had countless conversations with them about the things he’d said and done.

We were sitting at lunch one day, discussing options for her leaving when she stopped and just stared at me. After a long silence, she said, “you know he’ll try to kill me if I leave, right?” I knew she was serious, and I believed her. I’d yet to meet the man at this point, but from the descriptions of the things he’d done to her and her two teenage sons, I knew we were dealing with an unstable man capable of unspeakable horrors.

Coincidentally, I absolutely hate myself for being so right about that.

About a month after that conversation took place, I met him for the first time. He showed up at our office on his motorcycle as we were leaving. I didn’t know at the time (and neither did she) that he’d just been put on suspension from work; we just thought he was there for a visit. Or to check up on her. His first and only statement to me in person was, “Hi, how are ya. We should all get together sometime for a three-way.”

I wish I was joking about that. I was immediately disgusted, and I know I hurt his feelings by laughing in his face, but I couldn’t help it. It was either that or tell him the truth about himself. For one, no. I’m a happily married woman with a family. Second, no. I’m not into any sort of alternate sexual preferences (sorry to burst any imagination bubbles with that one, but it’s just not me, kids). Third, what the hell was that dead animal doing on his face? He was bald as a cue ball, but had a goatee which, were it brushed, would have been about eight inches long at the time. Because he’d been on a motorcycle it was blown back in all sorts of directions and looked like it might have been alive at one time in the distant past.

It became a running joke between Angie and me. She went to him the next evening and told him I’d consider his proposition if he’d shave his goatee. He immediately refused, which only made it funnier to us. Plus it reinforced to me exactly what was wrong with him. I’d never seen such a case of egocentricity in my life.

His misbehavior escalated, and in early 2013, Angie developed a problem with migraines. I’ve never seen a person function with a migraine as severe as the ones she faced on a daily basis. We considered every option as she went for doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her husband spent his time calling her a hypochondriac and a liar, even as she ended up in the emergency room week after week. When her doctor referred her to a neurologist, we began to worry. Angie was convinced it was a rapidly growing brain tumor and she was going to die. I tried to reassure her, but I wasn’t exactly convinced myself.

The tests all came back clear. There was nothing physiologically wrong with her. Three specialists, five different drug combinations, and a year later, she started to see a little relief. Between the drug regimen and the dietary restrictions, she finally started to see some change.

More than once as she worked up the courage to leave, she came to me and told me sometimes she thought it would be easier to die than to live the way she did. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this wouldn’t end well the day she stood at my desk and told me she almost wished he’d just go ahead and kill her so the struggle would end. I did my best to talk her down, to reassure her he wouldn’t do such a thing even though I very well knew he was capable of it.

Three weeks prior to Angie’s death, she finally walked out. On the evening of October 15th, she came to me and told me she wasn’t going to be at work the next day because she was leaving. I offered my services and a truck, as I’d done a hundred times before, but as always she refused. She said she was going to get only what she needed and get out, then she’d go back and get the rest of her things later after he cooled down. At lunchtime on October 16th, she called me and said it was done. Then she started to cry. Angie had convinced herself her children would believe she was abandoning them, that he would put the idea in their heads and without a stable place to take them, his bullshit would stick. It took a good bit of convincing, but I finally got her to understand that the boys would understand when they saw her happy.

She left two letters – one for her husband detailing why she’d left and that their relationship was, in fact, over, and the other for her boys to explain that she’d left their father, not them. She told her boys she loved them, and she was only a phone call away if they needed her for anything. I know what was in the letters because she read them to me. Yes, word for word. She was walking out the door to go stay with a friend her husband didn’t know about as she did so, and at that point I was one of four people who knew exactly where she was. I always knew where she was.

Her biggest fear in all of this remained that her boys would hate her for it. She loved those kids more than anything else in this world, and she dreaded the day either of them came to her and told her they didn’t need her anymore. It didn’t matter that she’d taken physical and emotional abuse for years… those boys were what kept her in that unhealthy relationship because she couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from them.

That Friday, October 17th was her 41st birthday. She was free and happy, happier than I’d ever seen her, and I regret not getting to make her goodies for her birthday (as I’d done the previous two years) since I was both physically and emotionally sick in the aftermath of a miscarriage. The important part was that she was free. Of course the husband had started blowing up her phone the previous evening with calls and texts and couldn’t understand why she would leave. His mood would shift between inconsolable hysteria and blind rage. He loved her and hated her in the same breath.

On October 18th, my husband and I were up in Gastonia doing some shopping to try and clear my head, and she called me at about 1:30. I could hear in her voice something was wrong. She told me her husband had just called and their house was on fire. In the background I heard the engine in her car rev and I knew she was on the way back to that house. I was ready to drop everything and go to her, but she said no, that she’d call me back when she got there and found out more.

I spoke to her three more times that evening in between the hundred or so texts. Her husband was the only one home. The house was a total loss, and the asshole couldn’t even be bothered to get her cat out before the fire got her. The most disturbing part of the entire scenario was what she told me after she’d gotten home that night; that he’d turned to her as the house was blazing and said, “there, I’ve lost everything. Aren’t you going to come home now?”

But there was nothing to come home to. After nearly a week of investigation, telephone calls, and various other irritating nonsense, we discovered the fire had been intentionally started in her youngest son’s room. It was intended, we think, to look like the dryer vent started it, which is what he told her to get her there. Turns out the washer and dryer, on the other side of the wall, weren’t as damaged as they should have been for that to be the case. The flashpoint was on the floor behind the dresser outside the closet where the vent was located.

More than once I went into our front office and told the girls that if he showed up looking for her, don’t engage him. Don’t let him in. Just hit the panic button and get out. I told them so many times because I knew something was going to happen.

In the following weeks, the anger and cruelty escalated. He laid out of work, claiming he was too distraught to focus. He laid around his father’s house and spent money he didn’t have, sent threatening text messages, stalked her on Facebook to the point where she shut her account down to avoid him.

On Halloween, she received two dozen red roses from him. This was the second round. He’d already sent one set right after she left.

On November 2nd, I got a text message from Angie that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. She’d gone to dinner and the movies with a friend of hers from her oldest son’s band days. It was the first time she’d been out with someone that wasn’t either me or our mutual friend Erin in…well, ever. He knew she was out. He’d called more than once wanting to know where she was so they could meet. He resorted to threats. Then about 10:00 he sent her a text message to the effect that he’d gotten a Facebook message telling him she was out with another man. Her retelling of the conversation Monday morning was hilarious because he completely mispronounced the name. He claimed the message came from “Siobhan Kinkade.”

My romance pen name.

A name who does not have a Facebook account. Even my personal profile wasn’t friends with him. When she called him on it, he backtracked and announced that it was my husband who sent him the message. That frightened both of us. She’d never told him my husband’s name, which meant he’d begun to stalk me on Facebook looking for information.

On Tuesday he went to see a therapist. The therapist called Angie to get some information and immediately told her to stay away from him, that he was unstable and dangerous. The doctor told her not to be alone with him for any reason.

On Wednesday, she played back a voicemail she’d gotten from him. He was still swearing he loved her but he knew she was cheating on him. He cried and pleaded, then made threats in the same breath. He threatened to kill himself. He accused her of lying to him, that this was only supposed to be temporary and she was torturing him. On Wednesday afternoon, I went back into the front office and told the girls not to let him in if he came to the building.

Thursday morning she came in happier than I’d ever seen her. She’d just gotten her hair done (got it did, as we say in these parts) the night before. She looked fantastic, she felt good, and she was excited because she had big plans for the weekend.

She was late going to lunch that day because of all manner of work-related nonsense. When she came back from lunch at 2:30, she was beyond angry. She relayed the conversation from her lunch break. He’d been laid off because he’d missed too much work in the introductory period and his supervisors felt he had too many personal issues to be reliable. He’d immediately called and cried, looking for her sympathy.

Angie told him she wanted a divorce.

He’d flown into another rage and she hung up on him. When he called back, he left the most vicious, scathing message I’ve ever heard. My blood ran cold and I could see the fear in her eyes behind the angry bravado.

At 2:45, she was back at my desk and the expression on her face reminded me more than a little of The Joker from the old Batman movies. She’d taken the vase of roses out back and thrown it into the dumpster so hard it shattered and sent crushed roses flying out of the top of the bin. She’d finally accepted that she wasn’t going back and made her wishes known. She passed by my desk one more time and made the statement that when she got off work, she was going to get a restraining order.

That was the last thing she said to me.

Then at 3:15, time stopped. I remember every single second of that afternoon with startling clarity.

I was standing in the conference room with a coworker discussing board games and being generally nerdy when an unusual sound filled the air. We looked at each other and at the same time asked “what was that?”

At first I thought one of the filing racks in the billing office had come down and one of our cashiers might have fallen (she was a bit accident prone). But in the space of a breath, the time it took me to get from the conference room to the hallway, that office became pandemonium. It wasn’t a filing cabinet. That…that was the sound of five gunshots.

One of the cashiers came down the hall screaming “Someone call 911! He shot her! Oh my god he shot her!” I grabbed her by the shoulders as she got to me.

“Who?” I asked. It took her a beat to focus, to realize I’d asked her a question.

Then she said, “Angie.”

A breath later my finance manager came barreling through the doorway screaming that the office was on lockdown and to get to the break room. While he went into the front office, I immediately went around the other side of the building to clear people out, to make sure everyone else was okay. The windows were open and I could see him lying on the ground, his hands and feet still twitching. I couldn’t see her. In retrospect, I’m glad of that, because that’s an image I don’t think I could stand to live with.

I grabbed everyone I could and got them toward the back, then as I came around toward my desk, my Engineer was coming out of the front with one of the cashiers, who was not only hysterical, but had hurt herself in the evacuation process. And taking care of her is exactly how I made it through.

Within five minutes, Alexandra Christian called me. She works down the street from me and they heard the gunshots at the courthouse. I told her I was fine. I didn’t know what was going on. It was Angie. I didn’t know if she was alive or not.

I bandaged wounds and spoke to police. I ran interference with telephone lines, talked to our attorney, reassured people that this would be okay even though I didn’t believe it myself. I was numb.

I was doing HR at the time since our HR Manager was out on medical leave, so I was the one to pull her personnel file for the coroner. I was the one to give the statement on how this crazy murder/suicide had come to pass. I was the one who knew the whole story.

In the end, he put four bullets in the back of her head, a cruelly ironic end for someone who suffered so severely from migraines, then put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The one saving grace is that for Angie, it was fast. She was gone before she hit the ground, never knowing what happened.

He didn’t die instantly, and some small, twisted part of my psyche still wishes he’d lingered longer, that he’d felt that pain without the ability to do a thing about it. Every now and then the anger flares; that uncontrollable urge to just hurt him.

I know there’s a special place in hell for people like him. I know he’s suffering. But I also know he ruined the lives of two wonderful young men, made them orphans in a matter of seconds. His selfish egotism took him from abuser to murderer.

He could have been stopped had someone with real power listened to her cries for help. She would still be here if she’d been given a chance to tell her story herself.

This story needs to be told. Not just for Angie, but for every abuse victim. For every person who lives under oppression by the one person they should be able to trust the most. If her death can save even one life, then maybe, just maybe, she didn’t die in vain.

Every single day I miss her. I still love her, and I always will.


there is a way out

SC S.T.O.P. Domestic Abuse Program

Rock Hill Area Safe Passage

Safe Harbor Domestic Abuse Center

When Does This Party Start Already? (or, Hooray, I’m Not Pregnant Anymore!)

It’s 4:00 AM on Halloween, and the husband and I have already started the party. We’re in our costumes…have been for nearly 48 hours now. I don’t know about his, but mine is pretty gruesome. It comes with bags under the eyes, several ratty hospital bands, ugly socks, and localized yet still distracting numbness. The crowning jewel of my costume happens to be that really itchy incision in the worst possible place. Or maybe it’s that incessant need to pee every fifteen minutes.

We’re going as new parents for Halloween.

Granted this party consists of three people in one tiny hospital room and not much else. At least the food is decent. Right now he’s on the couch (or what passes for one, though I have to say it’s much more comfortable than this meat tray I’m on) passed out and half snoring while holding a very opinionated (and mostly fussy but thankfully sleeping) infant.

I’m the one on the internet. It turns out the after-effects of being pregnant this time around aren’t that much different than the symptoms. I still can’t walk, I still can’t sleep, I still spend most of my life in the bathroom, and the little one insists on keeping me awake as much as humanly possible.

For those not in the know (which is pretty much the entire world not connected to my Facebook feed), my second daughter was born at 8:05 AM yesterday morning by scheduled cesarean section. At 9 pounds, 6 ounces, it was certainly warranted, even if I wasn’t happy about it. See, the doctor didn’t give me a choice when I went in for my last checkup on Tuesday. They threatened macrosomia (in other words…hey y’all, she gon’ be big!) due to this fictional case of gestational diabetes (long story…don’t ask unless you ply me with alcohol first) and told me to show up at the hospital 5:30 Thursday morning (ugh.).

They tell you every pregnancy is different, and I will now be the first one to tell you that statement could not possibly be truer. With my first daughter, it was easy. I slept like a rock, aced every test, got to be all the right people in all the right places, and had that general glow of a new, expectant mother. I went into labor on my own and didn’t really have any major pain. There were no complications and she was born perfectly happy and healthy. And really, really, REALLY tiny. 6-15 was her initial weigh-in. She’s almost four now and all set for world domination once she learns to read. Smart as a whip, that one, and it scares the hell out of me.

This time? Hell no. I couldn’t sleep even though I wanted to, got pegged as a gestational diabetic, apparently did everything wrong, and ended up with a rather large baby and eighteen stitches across my pelvis. We won’t even talk about the panic attack on the operating table or the two days of angry grumbling prior to it. We aren’t going to discuss the shaving and the bleeding and the gas pain and the general feeling of ohfortheloveofgodsomeonejustkillmenow that has been present up until the last 10 hours. And while yes, I’ll concede that in a lot of ways a c-section is a much easier process, it isn’t particularly pleasant. I can admit now that I was terrified of the whole concept. I didn’t want to go through with it because it was major surgery, because my recovery time will be longer, and if we’re completely honest (and why not be in the wee hours of the morning?), because the last time I was present for a major surgical procedure, I lost my father. Granted that wasn’t due to the surgery, but his own long-standing stubborn refusal to take better care of himself. I’m still mad at him for that, by the way. But more than anything, I was absolutely terrified of the spinal block. I don’t like the concept of someone messing around back there, and I don’t like being out of control. And both happened in rapid succession. They shoved that needle into the space between vertebrae and set me on fire. Then they pumped me full of anesthetic that created the most bizarre sensations of my life (ever been acutely aware of the presence of your feet yet have no control over them?). Then I had a full-blown panic attack that resulted in a pretty heavy-duty sedative being added to my IV while the lower half of my body was split open and jerked from pillar to post. I write horror and I have a pretty strong stomach, but the meaty, squishing sound as the doctor shoved his hand inside me and pulled Miss L. free is way up there with Most Disgusting Things Ever. And DUDE… THAT SHIT CAME FROM ME!

But I’m fine. She’s fine. We’re all fine here. She’s healthy and happy and has excellent lung capacity. The two of us in costume are exhausted little zombies, but hey… this ain’t our first rodeo and we’re going to be okay. Now, I say she’s large, but she’s exactly the same length the first one was. Both of them were 21.5” long at birth. Miss L. here isn’t large…she’s just solid. You don’t expect her to weigh as much as she does until you take off her blankets and look at her squishy arms and chunky legs. She’s mostly long enough to accommodate them, though. Poor thing looks like me, right down to inheriting the monkey-like feet of my father’s people. We all have these really long toes and this inhuman gap between the first two on each foot. It’s sort of like having an extra set of thumbs, really. Regardless of the self-deprecating humor, she’s a perfectly healthy, beautiful little bundle of joy and I couldn’t be happier she’s here.

We go home Sunday. Maybe then I can start getting things done again. In the last two weeks I’ve had two anthologies go live to which I was a contributor. I have about 10 blog posts written which need to be scheduled announcing these things and more, but the constant back-and-forth to the doctor, the aches and pains, and the panic attacks have sufficiently kept me from being human. With any luck, that’s going to change really soon.

But first, Miss L. is hungry. Looks like she’s singing my song.

A Writer Without Words

Writer's BlockThere comes a point in every writer’s life when he or she has that moment. You know what I’m talking about…that second of sheer terror when a rogue thought appears and begins planting seeds of doubt.

“What if I can’t write anymore?”

It’s a very real, very common fear among us literary types. In Bag of Bones, Stephen King addressed it. His main character had been attempting to publish stockpiled manuscripts for years only to find none of them were any good. Each of us has a moment where we look at our in-progress folders and wonder what’s going to come of the things we’ve started but have yet to finish. We wonder if the legacies we’ve created to date will be enough to sustain us (and in most cases, we know they’re not). But most of all, we wonder about the reality which could accompany that hypothetical loss of words.

Let me tell you what it feels like.

Witer's BlockI have twenty-three unfinished works in my In-Progress folder. Twenty-three of these little monsters are things with mostly- or fully-formed plots in varying stages of completion. Some are short and some are long. They could be something one day. If we expand that to all of the unfinished things I’ve started over the years, we jump to somewhere above eighty. Granted not all of these are marketable things. Many of them are bits and pieces of things that have come and gone and will likely never see the light of day. Some of them are stream-of-consciousness writing, or scenes from dreams… things which could one day be used to fill in gaps in a plot somewhere. My point is, there’s a lot of stuff just hanging out there in the bowels of the cloud, waiting for a day in the sun.

It used to be I could write 6,000 words or more every day. I could rip through a short story in a day or two, a novella in a week. I used to have that writing stamina. Case in point – I wrote my paranormal romance novella, Blood Doll, in four days sitting in my grandmother’s hospital room in September 2011. It was what I did to keep my mind off the fact that she was sicker than we realized and would ultimately land in a nursing home for the last three years of her life. But back then I could do that, and the words coming out of me were good.

But the last four years have seen me on a steady decline word-wise. It really began in April 2012 with the crippling depression following my father’s death. Losing him changed me, and not for the better. I got very, very lost, and if we’re being perfectly honest, I’m still doing a little bit of searching. Not to find who I was, mind you…but who I am now without him in my life.

From April 2012 to December 2014, I completed and published two novels, a co-authored novella, and five short stories, each with longer lead times in between. Also during that time, I had the rights to four works returned to me, which on top of the nightmare that was my life for those few years, was a blow to my writerly ego. They were doing pretty well, but my publisher chose to go in a different direction, and I had no control over the fate of my beloved books. Couple that with the multiple times I’ve been burned by independent presses, it sort of put me off the idea of submitting anything. Frustration and heartbreak suck, y’all.

Since January 1, 2015, I have completed two short stories. Only one has been contracted. I have two publishers waiting on novels which aren’t written. I have two blogs languishing by the wayside while I sit here paralyzed by my own self-doubt. I have ideas, sure. Lots of them. I even have notebooks full of outlines and scribbled notes for various plots and scenes, but I can’t find the words to properly execute what’s in my head.

There’s real, physical pain associated with this type of writer’s block. Anxiety hurts, and the tension it causes in my body brings headaches, muscle pain, and all sorts of other aches and itches. The Pavlovian response to those negative stimuli is enough to break any writer of the habit. The thought that doing something I love will come with that sort of physical pain has put me off even trying lately. I know, I know…that’s a stupid way to look at things and I’m only hurting myself in the end. Logically, I get that.

Emotionally…that’s another story. So rather than sitting down at my computer or with my tablet and actually doing the writing, I find all manner of things to fill up my time. Yes, it’s a bad habit, but it’s one I’m trying to break. I know better than to let it get the best of me, but sometimes I can’t help it.

Having attended multiple conventions since my “professional” writing career started five years ago, I’ve heard every argument imaginable both for and against the concept of writer’s block. Some people say it doesn’t exist and is an excuse to procrastinate. Some say it’s real and is deadly. Others waffle between the two extremes. Personally, I believe it can be some of both. Having survived nearly a year of it, I can say it’s certainly not always an excuse. Has it been in the past? Yes. But right now, it’s not, and it’s horrible.

Stephen-King-quote

That man is my literary hero, in case you didn’t already know. It’s those very words above which have kept me plodding along all these months, adding words here and there to the various and sundry things in my collection. As a matter of fact, yesterday was the first day in months I actually made some sort of headway. Two-thousand words in one day is nothing short of a miracle for me right now and while I’m very happy with yesterday’s session and the outcome, I still find myself worrying about what today and tomorrow will bring. Can I do that again? Can I top it? What happens if I never finish that story?

The next time I sit down at a keyboard, there’s a good chance I’ll not get out but 100 words. Maybe even less. I can’t control the output these days. At least, not with any real consistency. I’m self-doubting and second-guessing. It sucks. It’s hard. But it’s also life.

My point here is that we aren’t always procrastinating. Sometimes we really are stuck. But it’s a phase, and this phase, like any other, will eventually pass. I’ll find my words again one day. And if you’re stuck like me, you will too.

Things Which Shouldn’t be Things That Actually Are Things

As the title of this post suggests, I’ve had a new inner mantra these days.

“Jeebus…why is that even a thing?”

screaming girl

I find myself constantly amazed, annoyed, disgusted… in Gordon Ramsay’s words, Gobsmacked, by the world around me. Things keep happening on all fronts, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around these goings-on and still function properly.

[Warning: angry speech and profanity ahead. Continue at your own risk.]

I’ve been pretty silent lately (okay, completely silent), but as I’ve said in the past, my mother always taught me to keep my trap shut if I couldn’t be nice. Seeing as how she’s been living with me these last few months while we were having the work finished on her new house, I’d probably do well to abide by her suggestions since she can do things to me in my sleep now.

[When she reads this, she’s going to laugh and yell at me for it, but that’s okay.]

This post will probably offend everyone at one time because, well, that’s just how I roll lately. Most of these things probably shouldn’t be a thing, but they are, and they annoy me. And this is my blog. And before we get started, watch this. It’s kinda true:

[Disclaimer: I’m not actually a mean person. I am, however, VERY pregnant and highly annoyed. I’m tired of everyone feeling so entitled to change everyone else’s worlds just because something hurts their feelings, like it’s going to make a bit of freaking difference in the long run. Everyone has a right to be offended, but the people doing the offending also have a right to their opinions. So everyone really just needs to suck it up and sit the hell down. And for the love of Pete, get over it already!]

So now that everyone is properly pissed off, let’s begin, shall we?

5 THINGS THAT SHOULDN’T BE THINGS

1. The Confederate Flag Debate: Seriously. I’m glad people finally had the good sense to take the flag down. I hate that 9 good people had to lose their lives senselessly for it to happen though. This should have happened 60 years ago. Contrary to the redneck mentality (and yes I can say that because I am the daughter of a card-carrying redneck southern boy, God rest his poor soul), it is an offensive and highly inappropriate symbol of a horrible time in this country’s bloody history. Do I think all Confederate monuments, graves, and paraphernalia should be wiped clean from the books? Hell no. By trying to erase the past, future generations won’t learn from it. Put the damned flag in a museum and shut up about it already.

Side Rant: You see, Charleston is my home. In my previous life as an employee of the Diocese of Charleston and a student at the College of Charleston, I had the pleasure of meeting the Reverend-Senator more than once. He was a good man and neither he nor his congregation deserved the things that happened to them. The dumbass who did it shouldn’t be hailed as a hero or a martyr or a poster-child for any racist faction. He’s a dumb kid who was taught to hate people for no reason. He’s a criminal and should be treated as such. End. of. Discussion. No, he doesn’t need to be lynched in the street. No, he doesn’t need to be set on fire. He needs to pass through the system just as every other criminal should, be tried, convicted, and sentenced. Reverend Pinckney would likely have been appalled by the threats of vigilante violence against the kid. If memory serves, he was one who campaigned against violence in the first place.

2. Kindle Unlimited: Okay, so Amazon sucks giant, hairy donkey balls. We know this. We have known it for awhile. Amazon is almost single-handledly responsible for the destruction of the literary market because their platform allows anyone to publish anything at any time for any reason without guidelines or regulations in place to keep the work at a minimum standard. I’m a writer; I’ve studied this market. And yeah, it sucks. So, in a maneuver to combat the shitstorm they started, Amazon is looking for new and improved ways to boost their sales while simultaneously trying to bork the authors out of their royalties. WE SAW THIS COMING, PEOPLE. So now that a bunch of people bought into Amazon’s hype and allowed the consumerist hydra to grow yet another head, we all want to be hurt, horrified, and offended by their dickheadedness. Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the literary market always been about the publisher making the money while stealing shamelessly from the artist? You want to stop the insanity? Opt out of KU and move on with your life. Createspace ain’t the only print-publishing platform out there.

HOWEVER, let me play Devil’s Advocate here: I’ve talked to several authors who are in the KU program. The deal here is KU pays the author based on number of pages read. So yeah, if you’re churning out crap for the sake of doing it thinking you’re gonna make a buck, then no you probably won’t make money. If people go into the book, read two pages, and walk away because they’re bored or irritate or, heaven forbid, the writing is so atrocious they can’t read it, then you get paid for two pages read, not the other fifty. Though if you take your time and write something good, chances are the readers will be hooked and your whole book will be read. This is happening to quite a few people I know, and the preliminary research shows the KU rates for a completed book are actually better than standard KDP rates.

3. Rape Culture: Yep, I’m going there. RAPE CULTURE IS NOT A THING, PEOPLE. It’s a tag placed on a horrible reality by a bunch of entitled assholes who don’t want to admit that the things they’re doing are wrong. Rape is not a culture. It’s a crime. And I’m so terribly effing sorry, but looking at women and saying “Oh, well just don’t get raped” ain’t gonna fix the problem. Yer gonna have to teach the people doing the raping that why yes, it is actually A BAD THING. There shouldn’t be questions of consent. There shouldn’t be blurred lines. Victims shouldn’t be villainized. Rape is rape is rape is rape is rape. It’s illegal. It’s bad. It’s traumatic. It’s horrible. And rapists deserve all the punishment this world has yet to conceive of. I don’t give a flying f*** how much money you have, who you are, or how pretty you might be. You take away another person’s right to choose to have sex with you, then you’re a rapist. End of story. You have no goddamned argument anymore, so STFU and go to freaking jail, you prick.

I’m just gonna put this out there: Bill Cosby, funny as his comedy may be, is a rapist. Was I sorry to see the truth come out? A little, because I grew up watching The Cosby Show and a tiny part of my childhood died that day. But the fact remains, he drugged women, thereby removing their ability to consent to sex, which means *gasp* HE’S A GODDAMNED RAPIST. Don’t sugar-coat that shit just because he’s famous or old. Apples are still apples, no matter how you paint them, folks.

4. Race & Gender as Factors in Writing Ability: So this one really tweaks my ass. Hard. And let me be perfectly clear up front – this has NOTHING to do with racial or gender bias. I’m a woman, damn it. I know what discrimination is because I do write in the speculative fiction realm. Yes, I go play in the boys’ sandbox, and you know what? I’m pretty damned good at it. I know I am. I don’t need validation or vindication. But what I do need is for all the trolls out there to sit down and shut the hell up because ninety-five percent of them don’t have a freaking clue what the hell they’re talking about. It pisses me off that this has to be a thing because it shouldn’t. Who or what someone may be should have absolutely no bearing on his or her ability to do anything. Everyone talks about how this country has swung so far into PC-land that everyone is afraid to talk about certain things.

That’s sooooooo not true.

It appears race and gender are the two things everyone is hellbent on screaming the loudest about, and both topics, to be perfectly honest, should be non-issues.

So here’s my actual gripe: It doesn’t matter what gender or race you are…unless you’re an A-list author with a rabid following writing for a large press and have been doing so for years, you are not making money as a speculative fiction author. The market sucks. It does. It just really and truly sucks for all of us. We’re all struggling. People just don’t read anymore unless it’s some half-assed young adult romance or badly written pseudo-mainstream BDSM. I think Stephen King might actually be the only non-romance genre writer still making money today.

Am I a woman? Yes.
Am I ashamed of that? No.
Do I advertise it widely? Not really.
Why? Because it isn’t necessary.

A good book is a good book, and I personally don’t care what the author looks like. Coincidentally, one of the best genre writers I know is an African-American woman. She’s a beautiful person inside and out with talent coming out of her ears. When she’s finally “discovered”, this world will never be the same. [But don’t take my word for it…go see for yourself.]

Lexxx and I had this conversation the other day because we have so many friends caught in this trap. It really upsets me to think these people who are so talented aren’t allowed to believe in themselves due to this stupid social bias. I get angry every time I think about it.

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice to every non-white-male speculative fiction author: Presenting your specific race or gender as a marketing tool shouldn’t be necessary. Promote your work as your work and let it shine. Don’t pigeonhole yourself to prove a point that most of the population is going to just ignore anyway. Oh, and one more thing… if you’re concerned about a person buying a book based on your photo, chances are that’s not the type of reader you want in the first place.

5. Gay Marriage: LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

Before you come after me with the torches and pitchforks, shut up and listen for a minute. This is probably the thing that should be the least of a thing there is right now. Why? Because we’re talking about BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. The ability of two people, regardless of who or what they are, to engage in a civil union, shouldn’t even be open for discussion. The supreme court said it’s a constitutional right, so LET IT GO ALREADY. And all the religious nutbags out there screaming that their constitutional rights are at stake (1) clearly don’t understand those rights and (2) are dumb as hell. Just because the supreme court ruled that gay couples can’t be denied a marriage license doesn’t mean they’re forcing the clergy to perform those ceremonies. Besides, the officiant is more scenery than substance at a wedding anyway. As soon as you have the marriage license in hand, you’re married. You don’t need a preacher. You just need a notary public. That’s just how it is. All they’re saying is that the government can’t discriminate when it comes to the issuance of a marriage license. Because let’s face it, it may not involve skin color, but it’s still effing discrimination. Might I remind everyone that Separation of Church and State was implemented in the founding of this country FOR A REASON? Seriously. Feds don’t control churches. Likewise, churches can’t control the feds. Nor should they think they’re important enough to try (Yes, I’m looking at you, Texas.).

Oh, and if you can’t tell, I completely support gay marriage. Some of my best friends and favorite colleagues are of “alternate lifestyles” and I love them all like family. If they want to get married and be as miserable as the rest of us married schmucks, more power to them. Oh, and once my Notary application is finished processing and my license is issued, yes, I’ll be more than happy to officiate.

So there you have it. None of these things should be things, but they are because common sense seems to be lost among the trolls. And now that everyone is sufficiently offended, I’m going to go do something constructive.

Big Bad II – Available Now!

Here at last for your reading pleasure… Big Bad II, now with bigger, badder villains! Gorgeous cover, beautifully disturbing stories, and a nice, healthy dose of WTF. John Hartness & Emily Leverett have really outdone themselves this time, folks. This is a serious cast list author-wise, and I’m honored to be included among such talented people. The very idea of an anthology filled with stories about bad guys makes me happy.

This book… and all of us in it… we are the reason why YOU should be afraid of the dark.

HORROR

Publication Date: February 24, 2015 Dark Oak Press

Everybody loves the bad guys, and this second edition of The Big Bad brings you more to love! A collection of best-selling fantasy and horror writers brings you twenty-four all-new tales of vampires, demons, ghosts, zombies, and the most terrifying monsters of all – humans. Crack open the pages, if you dare, and explore two dozen tales of humor and horror by some of the brightest names in the business!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | B&N Hardcover

The list of authors includes:

John Glover                 John Hartness
Selah Janel                  Gail Martin

Jason Corner               S.H. Roddey
Kasidy Mansico           James R. Tuck
Sara Taylor Woods      Eden Royce
Sarah Adams              Jay Requard

Riley Miller                  Edmund Schubert
Stuart Jaffe
                 Emily Leverett
Bobby Nash                Nicole Kurtz
Lindsey Lewis             Eric Guy
Matthew Saunders      Neal Litherland
Misty Massey              M. B. Weston
David B. Coe

My contribution is called “Skippin’ Stones”, and here’s the first part of it:


Skippin’ stones down by the crick…

That was where any momma could find her little boy on a Saturday afternoon in Rock Mountain, Tennessee. We would line up, one by one in even spaces all up and down the loamy crick-bed, searchin’ for the best, shiniest river-rocks to thump across the surface of that little offshoot of the Tennessee River. Sometimes we would all huddle up together and compare stones before havin’ a contest to see who could skip the farthest, or who could drag the most jumps outta our rocks. There weren’t no television or nothin’ like that, so us kids had to entertain ourselves. Skippin’ stones meant we got to throw things without getting’ in trouble.

Me, I always liked the little, flat ones. Perfectly round, and light-colored. Sometimes I picked up ones with veins of dark sumthin-or-other runnin’ through ‘em, but most of the time I went for the white or light gray ones. Call it superstition, but those light colors always did me good. I still believe it, too, ‘cause the day I met the Devil, I was skippin’ rocks with dark streaks in ‘em.

Me an’ Jimmy Tanner was out by the crick one afternoon when we was six and Jimmy’s momma came lookin’ for him, mad as a wet hen and armed with her favorite whippin’ stick.

“Get yo’self back to that house right his minute, Jimmy-boy!” she screeched, wavin’ her hands around like her tail was on fire. That skinny little stick wobbled around in the air, but we knowed better than to think it would break. Them green wood switches she picked would bend into all sortsa knots before they’d up and break. “Yo’ daddy is gonna ring yo’ neck for what you done gone and did!” The boy took off runnin’ like his tail was gonna be on fire…and it prob’ly was, too, cause his momma really liked her whippin’ sticks. She caught me ‘cross the knees one time for smartin’ off to her. I never did it again, I tell you what.

After Jimmy run off and left me standin’ knee-deep in the cool water with my shoes up on a sunny rock, I bent down and picked up somethin’ outta the water. It was a stone; the flattest, shiniest one I ever seen. It was bright white, but it had a streak of sparkly black runnin’ right down its middle.

I’m gonna have your soul, Mickey.

I felt the voice, like a cold chill of goosebumps up my back and my arms. It sounded like the wind, like nature had found her voice and wasn’t too happy with me.

You can’t run, and you can’t hide, Mickey. I’m gonna take your soul straight to Hell.

“Who’s there?” I called out. Now, don’t get me wrong…I was scared. So scared I didn’t notice the warm trickle down the inside of my right leg ‘til long after I’d gone screamin’ home and crawled up cryin’ in my momma’s arms.

You know who I am, Mickey. Don’t play dumb.

“Now you listen to me, you dirty ol’ Devil!” I screamed. I know I sound a lot braver than I was, but when you’re eight years old, you ain’t got the good sense God gave a wet paper bag. “You gonna turn right back around and you is gonna go straight back to Heck!” I couldn’t say Hell yet. Momma woulda washed my mouth out for sure. It didn’t matter. The Devil knew what I was talking about.

Tell me, Mickey… what’s it like to be afraid of something you can’t see?

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