Monday, December 19, 2016

When Vivvie Met Bryant

This is a scene I wrote last month during NaNo, knowing that it would never belong in the final book. It might be the best bit I wrote....

This is my spot. Midway between two guard towers. Which means moms and dads and babysitters shy away from it. They want to be near the guardians.

I don’t.

I want my own spot on the sand. A place that I can pretend is my own private island. Me. Sun. Sand. Crashing waves.

No voices.

No chaos.

Someone is in my spot.

Well, not exactly in it. But close. Close enough that I feel crowded as I toss out my blanket, settle onto my back. Not close enough to touch. But close to hear.

He is humming. Nothing that I recognize.

I try to close my eyes and imagine that the humming is a radio. But he keeps getting distracted by what his hands are doing. He pauses, slows down, speeds up. It ruins my illusion.

I give up and roll onto my side and watch him.

He is closer to the water than I am, down where the sand is saturated. He is using the soggy sand to build something.

Like the song he hums, I can’t identify it.

I stare at his hands. Browned by the sun. Strong. Long. Agile. They sculpt and smooth the sand in a way that makes me wish I were a fragment of silicon.

I shake my head and make myself look away from his hands. The rest of him is just as troublesome. He is shirtless. Which lets me see that he is all sun-kissed. All strong. All long. All agile. His whole body moves, following the lead set by his fingers. His whole being is invested in using the sand to create.

A sea shell emerges to his touch. A giant, open clam shell.

I expect to see a pearl appear.

Instead, he begins to sculpt two long legs.

His hands form every line of those legs. I imagine them running over legs made of flesh instead of sand.

I force myself away from his hands again. This time my eyes land on his face. The look there is magic. He is a god creating the woman of his dreams. I can’t imagine his face would be any more intense, more expressive, if he were gazing at a real woman. I suppose to him, she is real. She is his.

I am lost. Not the way I intended to be when I came to the beach today. Instead of being isolated, alone, and calm, I am lost in the world this man is creating before me.

The man never looks away from his creation. I don’t think he knows I am watching him. I hope he doesn’t know how intently I am staring.

Then his gaze pulls away. I follow his line of sight. A wave touches his bare calf. Tide is coming in.

I suck in a desperate breath. He’s going to lose it all.

He begins to move faster, sketching in the bits that remain. The torso remains armless, reminding me of David. But he adds enough detail for me to finally figure out what he has created. Venus. On the half shell. She is missing the arm that protected one breast from view, so both are bared.

But only for a moment.

A wave crashes into the man, tipping him into his sculpture. He is soaked. Venus is crushed.

I scream.

He is laughing.

He lays sprawled in the remains of his goddess, laughing up at the sky. Then he rolls in my direction.

He catches me with my hand raised to my mouth as if it can push back the scream that already burst free. He is still laughing as he looks at me.

I know that he knows I’ve been watching him. I know that part of this is a show for me. But there is no way that laugh is fake. It comes straight from his soul and bubbles out into the air.

I finally get a clear look at his face. Hazel eyes surrounded by laugh lines. A heavy layer of scruff lines his jaw. His hair is dark, lightened by the sun where it tops his head. But the hair on his face is dark, almost black.

My hand wants to touch, feel the scrape of it along my palm.

I look away.

I swallow hard.

His laugh follows me. I will hear it in my dreams tonight. Maybe until the end of time.

“Hi.”

I lift my eyes and he is standing in front of me.

“My name’s Bryant.” He is holding out a hand to me.

“Viv,” I say. I lift my hand to his, thinking he wants to shake it.

He wraps his fingers around mine and I know how Venus felt. He leans over, rests his lips against my knuckles.

I have never had a man kiss my hand.

I am surprised to find that I like it. At least when it’s this man. I feel the touch of his hand, his lips all the way to my toes. It makes my heart tremble in my chest, makes my breath flutter a little too fast.

“Sorry about your sculpture. She was beautiful.” I gather just enough oxygen to make the words.

“Not as beautiful as you.”

Heat pours over me.

He is warmer than the sun.

He might be more embarrassed by his words than I am. He drops my hand and looks away, brushing his hands over his shoulders and chest to wipe away the bits of Venus that are still clinging to his skin.

I follow his hands, looking at the skin he touches. There is a web of tattoos draped over his left arm. I can pick out some individual pieces. A cupcake. A cigar. A hair dryer. The images are tied together by vines.

He must look back at me and see my stare. “These are the things I love,” Bryant says. “Well, the people I love. They are my family.”

“A cupcake?” I ask.

“My mom. She likes to bake. She makes these amazingly complicated desserts for  the restaurant.”

“The hair dryer is your sister?” Please, don’t let it be a girlfriend.

“My brother. Benedict. He’s a stylist in Miami.”

I feel myself blush yet again. “Oh.”

“My sisters are back here.” He turns, shows me his back. A pair of dice and Spiderman are etched on his shoulder blade.

I raise an eyebrow. I have no idea what that means.

“They own a comic book shop together. Their lives are full of role playing games and superheroes.”

“Oh.”

That seems to be all I can say. I can’t imagine being surrounded by a family this rich.

Bryant drops to the sand beside me, pivoting as he sinks to look out at the ocean. Waves are still crawling in, inching closer to us. The last of Venus has been washed away. It’s as if he never built a thing. So easily erased.

“What about your family?” he asks.

“I don’t have any tattoos,” I answer.

He laughs. “That’s not what I meant.”

His eyes trail over every inch of my exposed skin as if he is looking for ink that isn’t there.

More blushing.

“Any brothers I should know about?” Bryant tries again.

“Nope. No siblings. Just me.”

“A dad with a shotgun?”

I smile. “A dad in Pennsylvania. Too far to shoot you. You’re safe.” I look away from him again when I realize those words sounded like an invitation.

He takes them as one.

“Are you hungry? It’s just a couple of blocks to this dive that has the best crab cakes.”

I should tell him no. I should tell him I need to get home. I need to study, to get a good night’s sleep. I need to be sharp tomorrow.

Instead I look into his eyes. I see the laughter etched around them. I see the heart bubbling inside.

I say yes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November and The Light Fantastic

In November, I only read six books:

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb
The Complete Short Stories by Saki
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King (reread)
Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

I say only, because that is a much smaller number than normal for me. But as I look at that short list, I realize most of those book are big, big books (500+ pages). So maybe not so bad.

Plus, I wrote the entire first draft of a novel in November, but that’s a different post.

Probably my favorite read of these was The Girl on the Train. I have seen this book compared to Gone Girl. A lot. It is so, so, so much better than Gone Girl. This is how to make an unreliable narrator work. Paula Hawkins managed to write a character that is deeply flawed, and unable to give us the whole story for the majority of the book. I still like her. She has good qualities to balance out her flaws. I was very much rooting for her to get her act together, to survive the story and find the truth.

A close runner up was Beware the Wild. This is a southern gothic recommended to me by Ashley Hearn. This book was deliciously creepy in all the right ways and felt a little bit like coming home.

I currently have a whole slew of southern gothics on my to-be-read list and am toying with the idea of writing my own…

In other news, in September, I read and wrote a review for The Light Fantastic. It has been published! You can find it here: The Light Fantastic

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Five Things I Learned While (Accidentally) Winning #NaNoWriMo

"I did not win NaNoWriMo this year. I failed to write 50,000 words in 30 days."

Those were the words I wrote on Day 27 of NaNo. And then I accidentally ended up winning. (I’ll explain below, I promise)

This is how the month of November went:

















I was on track until the last week of November, and then things started to slide. Rapidly. Downhill into a mucky pile of slop.

Here are the highlights of what I learned this month:

My voice is young

I don’t mean that I need to grow up, or that my writing needs more time to mature. (Though I certainly grow as a writer with every story I write) What I mean here is that my voice itself is better suited to young adult novels than it is to adult novels.

This year I wrote an adult psychological thriller. My previous novels have been young adult novels with some sort of fantasy or paranormal element.

It was a struggle. I couldn’t find the right tone for this story. Every time I would look back over my words, it felt wrong. Like my main character was trying to revert to her high school self. It was my voice as a writer that was the trouble.

This is pretty important. Figuring out what I should be focusing my energy on as a writer is a big deal. I may come back to this story at some point, but for now, adult novels are not my thing.

I should trust my instincts

Before I started really outlining this story, I thought the captive was my main character.

*Backs up, realizing that sentence makes no sense, as you haven’t read the novel*

The story I wrote this month is about the relationship between two women. One who was taken and held captive by a serial killer. The other woman is the psychiatrist that ends up working with her after her rescue.

Initially, I wanted to tell this story from the point of view of the captive. But I realized she had some big secrets that I didn’t want the reader to have access to until late in the story. So I wrote the story from the perspective of the psychiatrist.

This made the secrets work, but only added to the voice issues I already mentioned. The captive is twenty-one. The psychiatrist is twenty-nine. Not a monstrous age difference, but the experience and maturity levels are vastly different.

Around the 40,000 word mark, I realized I would have been far more successful telling this story from the captive’s point of view. There were ways to work around the secrets. Unreliable narrator, anyone?

Families are time-consuming

The week of Thanksgiving was my downfall. Time was stolen. Partly by my job, but more by family invading my house and setting up camp.

It’s very hard to justify sneaking away and writing when there are guests in your house that you only see a few times a year.

I may be able to take off my pants

That sounds incredibly wrong.

I’m okay with it.

I am a pantser. If you are not familiar with that term, it is one of the two main camps of writers. Plotters plan out their novels before they begin to write, sometimes have outlines that are dozens (!) of pages long. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They may have nothing more than a nugget of an idea, or a single character when they begin writing.

I pantsed my previous novels. I had a beginning in mind, and a shadow of what the ending would be. I wrote. (The endings were not what I imagined they would be when I started)

For this novel, I actually plotted. Not dozens of pages. But I had sketches of the big blocks of my novel. I knew how the novel would end. (Surprise- it still changed as I wrote- clearly I will never see the ending coming until I get there)

The sketches I had were very loose. They gave me a hint of what was coming next, but still left me lots of room for my characters to make choices and nudge the story in directions I didn’t see coming.

I am actually excited to jump into my next project and start plotting. GASP!!

It’s okay to walk away from a project

This is a big one. I am a finisher. I commit to something, I start it, I see it through to the end.

Stopping a project after investing 30 days and over 40,000 words makes me a little bit nauseated. But it won’t kill me.

I have limited writing hours. I am committed to making this a career, to being published. That means I have to choose my writing battles. I need to devote my time to projects that are going to move me forward.

Right now, this novel is not moving me forward. I learned from it. I may come back to it later. But right now, it is not the book for me.

(This is #6, I know- but this is the explainy bit) Internal editors are sneaky

At the start of Day 27, I was under 40,000 words. I was around five thousand words below the the taunting target line of NaNo. I knew this book was not “the one.” I had learned important stuff.

I knew my writing time for those last four days was limited, and that there was really no way I was going to get to 50K. This novel was not pouring out of me at anything close to a rapid pace.

So I quit. I decided I was done with NaNo for this year. I wrote the first five sections of this blog post. I was ready to move on.

Then I thought, eh, I’ll keep going with this story for the next few days, just until the end of the month. I’m not really sure how it ends. (yes, I had the ending I plotted, but I didn’t think that was really what the characters were going to do) I was curious. Who kills who in the end? (By the way, the person I thought was dead at the end was indeed dead. But the killer was not who I thought)

I wrote over seven thousand words in two days. Suddenly I was back up at the line. It was no longer lingering tauntingly on a horizon I would never reach.

I thought I had good control of my internal editor. I have learned to let her have her say (I simply switch over to bold and let her spew right there in the manuscript- it still counts as words, and I have any valid points she might make to work with later). But apparently there was still some bit of me that was judging what I wrote, holding me back.

The simple act of saying “I am done with this project, none of these words matter” freed me in a way I didn’t expect.

Now to figure out how to harness that mental freedom while writing a book that I still love and have hopes for…. Off to my next project!

Monday, November 21, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week 3 AKA The Pit of Despair

Hello, my name is Susan. It is the end of week 3 of NaNoWriMo and I hate my novel.

Okay, that’s not really true. I don’t HATE it. But we are in the super awkward, I don’t want to write you anymore, but I committed to you, so I am forced to spend time with you, phase.

I am mostly sure this novel is going to be buried in a trunk of despair on December 1st. I will take that trunk to a lake and drop it in, even if it means drilling through a layer of ice to get to the water.

*Takes a deep breath. Blows it out. Regroups.*

This is my battle every day at this point. I want to quit. But I don’t quit easily. I am convinced this novel is one I will not revise. But I can’t actually know for sure until I finish the dang thing and give it at least a month away from my brain to rest.

So I plod on.

I remind myself that even if this novel goes nowhere, I have learned a lot about my writing process and how to make it better. (I’ll talk about that stuff next week, hopefully after I have hit 50,000 words).

While my ranty bits here probably make it sound like I am far behind, I actually am not. I am still running roughly right on track to get to 50,000 by the end of the month:

 




Psst. Sometimes art is hard. Do it anyway.

Monday, November 14, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week 2

It is the end of week 2 of NaNoWriMo! I am still alive. It has been a rough week.

I had a lot of words here about the events of the week and how they have impacted me. But I realized that is not what this post wants to be. So read these words by Chuck Wendig if you are so inclined. Then go forth and ART HARDER!

So the week in writing:

















I am roughly on track.

I am struggling with my perceived level of craptitude of what I’m writing. I fear it may be garbage. I keep writing anyway.

Here’s the thing. This is the third novel I have written. The first two were YA with fantasy/ paranormal elements. This novel is adult. It is grounded firmly in reality. It is a thriller.

And it’s quiet. Perhaps too quiet. I realized that most of the story I have written so far (and most of what I have outlined to write in future days) is dialogue heavy. There is not a lot of action in my story. No big car chases, fist fights, or the like. The story is really about a relationship and how it changes one of my characters.

I thought this was a huge problem. Then this weekend I read The Girl on the Train. And while I don’t think my novel is amazing, I do feel better. The Girl on the Train is also very quiet. It is focused on the thoughts and relationships of a woman (three, actually). Until the last tenth-ish of the novel, it is dialogue and internal monologue heavy. Then the shit hits the fan.

I am still concerned about the overall tone and style of my current project, though. While my writing this month is different than when I write YA, I am worried that it isn’t adult enough (whatever that means). I may learn that I am better suited to writing YA than I am to writing adult.

That was one of the reasons I chose this project for NaNo. While I have moved past questioning if I should be a writer, I am still not sure if I am writing the right thing.

This project will help me figure that out.

Monday, November 7, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week One

It is Day 7 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)! It has been a bit of an odd week, with me dragging behind the target word count until today.

In the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s my progress so far:




















Look at that, my bar is juuuuust touching the line!

It’s the part before that I want to talk about. The part of the graph where my bars were well below the line. The part where I was not doing well at all.

Yes, it’s just a few days. But they were painful days. Days where I had to force myself to sit and grind out just a little bit so that I could say I was making progress.

I didn’t like it. I wasn’t particularly enjoying writing my story (an adult thriller). Drafting is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be discovery. Instead, it was drudgery.

And then I figured out why. Glancing back over the bits that I had forced out, there was no voice. I was writing in third person. And I was nowhere near the thoughts of my main character. I was watching her from the outside and reporting on her physical movements, on the words she spoke.

It was dull.

You see that big jump on my graph? That is the point where I switched to writing in first person. Once I climbed inside the head of my character and let her talk, let her tell the story, the words began to move. The story had voice. It had life.

It may still be first draft garbage. I won’t know that until I get to the end.

All that matters is that at this moment, I want to write the story again. I want to sit down and listen to Viv tell me her story. I want to see what she does next. I want to throw obstacles in her way and watch her find a way over or around them.

I want to write the story.

Are you playing in NaNo? If so, let me know how it’s gone for you so far!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Books and NaNoWriMo

In October, I was a super overachiever and read 14 books:

Cell by Stephen King (reread)
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige
Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (reread)
The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels
Cane River by Lalita Tademy
Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
Envy by Anna Godbersen
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Personal Injuries by Scott Turow

Why so many? Partly because some of these books were shorter than my usual fare (No Place Like Oz, for example, is a novella). But maybe mostly because I was on a mission to cram in all the words this month.

Next month (tomorrow!) is the month of spitting out all the words. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins in roughly 14 hours!

I will still be reading during November, because, really, I can’t not read. But I will probably read fewer than my average of ten books a month.

At this moment, I have three characters sketched in pages of words, an unknown serial killer lurking in the shadows, and the barest skeleton of a plot. This doesn’t sound like nearly enough to sit down and start writing a novel tomorrow.

But it is more than I have ever had before beginning to write. I have never had a character sketch written. I have never had more of the plot than the inciting incident, first plot point, and maybe the midpoint.

I am still terrified that I am woefully under-prepared.

November’s project: an adult thriller. I have never written an adult novel (though some of my short bits have wandered in that territory). I have never written a thriller (again, some of my short bits have wandered there).

This is going to be an adventure.

P.S. My favorite book this month was probably Shiver. I still desperately want to be Maggie Stiefvater when I grow up. Sigh.

P.P.S. Like last year, I plan to post weekly updates regarding my NaNo progress (probably on Mondays).

Monday, October 17, 2016

Cut Scene from SIGHTED

Today's bit of fiction is a snippet of a scene that didn't make it into my current work in progress. SIGHTED (the title I FINALLY decided on) is a modern-day young adult retelling of the Cassandra myth. This scene takes place after Kassandra's 17th birthday party. The two characters are Julie (Kass's best friend) and Joel (best friend of Kass's twin brother, Nik).

By the time Joel got the moped out of the parking lot and onto the road, Julie was sure she was going to make it home alive. She continued the squeals, though, because she could feel the muscle in Joel’s belly tighten in laughter every time she did it. 

She never would have guessed those muscles were even there. He was tall. And looked almost painfully thin. Baggy T-shirts over skinny jeans enhanced the bean pole image. What else was he hiding?


The motor of the scooter combined with the noise of moving air to keep them from talking. All Julie could do was feel him. His stomach with her hands. His sides with her arms. His legs with her own. The muscles there tensed and pulled to keep the moped in balance. Julie thought about leaning, throwing them off balance just to make those muscles dance. 


The ride wasn’t long enough. Ten minutes of talking, muscle to muscle.


Joel guided the moped to a halt at the curb in front of Julie’s house and cut the engine.


Julie was slow to slide her hands from his waist and up to the helmet on her head. She pulled off the helmet, but didn’t get off the scooter. She wanted that contact to last. 


This was Joel. The goofy, odd guy she had known since the dawn of forever ago. The best friend of the guy she had imagined herself in love with her whole life. Why did she want to touch him?


Joel pulled off his own helmet and turned his upper body to quirk an eyebrow at her.


Julie bit her lip and swung off the moped to stand beside him. She held out the helmet. “Thanks for the ride.” Her tone was all business. Where was the joking that always bounced between them?


He took the helmet and tucked it into one of the bags attached to the side of his scooter. “No problem.” He turned back to her and stared.


“What?” Julie asked and ran a hand self-consciously over her hair. 


Joel tipped his head and looked at her as if he was piecing together the last bits of a puzzle. “What are you doing tomorrow?”


“I might go to Kass’s practice. I still need to write two papers that are due Monday.”


“Dinner?” he blurted.


“What?”


Joel took a deep breath and shook the hair back from his face. “Do you want to go to dinner?” An awkward pause descended. “With me.”


“Like a date?” Julie felt her heart pick up in her chest. She was excited at the idea of a date with Joel. This was odd, unexpected. Nik. She was in love with Nik. Right?


“Like a date. You. Me. Dinner.” Joel’s eyes bounced between Julie’s face and the toes of her shoes. 


Julie smiled. A light blush crept up over her deeply tan skin. “Yeah. I think that could be fun.”


Joel’s eyes finally settled on hers. “Yeah?”


“Yeah.” Julie bit her lip again. “I should get inside before my dad comes out to see what’s happening. He’s a little overprotective.”


Joel nodded and moved to start his scooter.


Julie leaned forward and kissed his cheek, barely missing his mouth, before he could get too far away. “Pick me up at six?”


Joel nodded, his mouth too dry for words. He slid his helmet back on and watched Julie walk up the sidewalk to her front door. 


She turned with her hand on the doorknob and waved to him. He lifted his hand in return. “Sweet.” Joel nodded to himself.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Chuck Wendig Made Me Write My Ghost Story

Chuck Wendig asked the interwebs (as least the part that reads his blog) to write a bit of non-fiction this week. He asked for true stories of the scary, the weird, the supernatural.

This one’s for you, Chuck.

Taos, New Mexico. Located in the midst of The Land of Enchantment. If you’ve ever been there, you might have noticed the whole state has a little something extra. A buzz. A vibe.

This is a piece of land that is older than it is. Fuller than it is.

Strange things happen here.

Summer. 1997. Not-yet-twenty-year-old-me.

I drove from Dallas to Taos for a month-long Shakespeare intensive at the SMU campus. I got lost on the way, which meant I was the last of our group to arrive. This meant I didn’t get to choose my bed, I got the leftovers.

Girls were housed in one large cabin, guys in another. Each cabin had a tiny kitchenette, a slightly larger living room, a multi-person bathroom and one huge bunk room. The bunk room in the girls cabin had twelve sets of bunk beds. And one lonely single bed.

You might expect that the single bed was the first one claimed. But, no. It was the only one left when I arrived.

This single bed was right next to the doorway of the bunk room. The doorway that had no door. I was basically sleeping in the hallway.

I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to sleep. I was there to swing a quarter-staff, run in the mountains, practice tai chi, and maybe work on some Shakespeare.

Plus, the location of my bed was handy when I had to pee in the middle of the night.

And we arrive at my tale of the supernatural.

It is the darkest part of the night. I have run to the bathroom, a mere fifteen steps from my bed. I step out of the bathroom, headed back to bed. From my right, I hear the long, low, creak of a door swinging.

I turn my head and catch the door to the furnace-room as it finishes closing.

I am the only one awake.

I have never seen the furnace door open.

I run.

Middle-of-the-night-scary-sound-logic tells me to jump on my bed and pull the covers over my head. I obey. I know that a sheet and thin blanket will not really protect me from anything. I know that it’s all I have.

I wait. I hear nothing.

Now I need to SEE. Is there someone in the room with me? Something?

I lower the covers and peek over the edge.

There is no one there. Nothing there.

Until there is.

I feel the mattress sink under the weight of someone sitting on the bed next to my knee. In the dim light of the night-light, I see the covers dent as someone settles next to me.

There is no breath. I am ice.

A weight settles on my leg. A warm hand.

I can breathe again. The touch is comforting. Soothing.

The bed shifts again, this time with weight leaving the mattress. She stands. I can feel her there, looking down on me, for just a moment. Even though I can’t see her, I know she is a she.

I am able to follow her movement once she leaves my bed. I see a dent on one bed, then another, as she moves around the room. She visits every sleeping girl.

She checks on us.

This was the only night I caught her in the act.

I don’t believe it is the only night she visited.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Rose Society (September Reads)

I read 11 books in September:

The Laws of Our Fathers by Scott Turow
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
The Rose Society by Marie Lu
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
World After by Susan Ee
The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs (reviewed for The Washington Independent Review of Books- post coming soon!)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Hooked by Les Edgerton

I received The Rose Society through a GoodReads Giveaway. I then realized I hadn’t yet read the first book in the series (The Young Elites).

(Insert long pause while I obtain and read first book.)

Since I read these two books back to back, it’s going to be difficult for me to talk only about The Rose Society, especially since my main comment applies to both.

These books are good. And I had a very hard time reading them. Yes, I know that sounds contradictory.

The thing is, any review or commentary on a book is as much about the reader of the book as it is about the book. We bring all of our life experience with us when we sit down to read. That colors the story in a way that the writer can never begin to imagine when they write it.

Marie Lu is a great writer. She has crafted a compelling plot, with developed characters. But I found that I was unable to get lost in the story.

My problem is Adelina, the main character.

She is not a good guy. She wants the crown. Not to help her country. Not to help her family and friends. She just wants the crown. On her head.

That does not make her unlikeable. People want what they want.

There are always reasons.

In this series, there are definitely reasons for Adelina’s behavior and choices. One of the reasons is mentioned throughout the books. Her alignment. She aligns with ambition. She wants power. For the sake of having power.

The books present this as something inherent to her nature. It’s just how she is. She was born this way.

I can go with that. To a point. For me, though, the story is richer if I then see the character CHOOSE to follow her nature. I want to see a character decide that they are going to do the bad thing, even though they know it is the bad thing.

As I was reading these books, I missed those choices. I read the story as Adelina being driven by something she didn’t have control over.

After I finished, I started to question my reading. Adelina does make choices. She makes those choices even though they hurt her, rip her to shreds.

I overlooked them as I read. Which made me dig around inside my own head a bit.

What I realized is that I am not like Adelina. I am not driven by ambition. I do not want power. Please, no. That made it hard for me to see her choices for what they were. Because I would not make the choices she makes. I would not sacrifice what she sacrifices.

That does not make her choices wrong. That does not make her a poorly written character. That does not make this book less than great.

I will read the rest of the series. I will try harder to lose myself in Adelina’s world, in her choices when I do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reader Baggage

Usually in the middle of the month, I post a bit of fiction. This month, I have something a little different. There is something my brain has been obsessively chewing on, and I feel the need to put my thoughts out into the world. Hold on, this might be a bit rambly.

I am a reader. I am also a writer.

That means that when I read something, I am reading on two levels. Part of me is reading for the pure enjoyment of reading. I love to get lost in the world of a story, meet new characters, learn things about the world through fiction.

Part of me reads as a writer. When I do get lost in a story, fall in love with a character, or have an aha moment I think about it for days. I try to pull it apart and figure out what the author did that made me love it so much.

I do the same thing when I don’t love a story, when a character just doesn’t click for me.

My goal is to learn the “tricks of the trade.” If I can figure out what an author did well, or not so well, I can imitate the great and avoid the not-so-great.

Here’s the catch. About 98% of the time, I realize that my love (or less than love) is not really about what the author did. A huge portion of it is what I bring with me to the story.

Every reader brings their entire life experience with them to the page. It colors how they see the characters, if they buy into the choices the characters make, if they see the world of the story as real.

Authors have zero control over what their readers bring to the page.

This is huge to realize and tuck away as a writer. This industry (yes, it’s an industry) is completely subjective. One agent/ editor will love your work. Another will think it is trash. A smidgen of this is about your skill as a writer. The bulk is about the interaction between the reader and your words.

A lot of thoughts followed from this.

There is no way to write a story that every reader will like. This is a huge weight off my shoulders as a writer. My job is to sit down and write the best story that I can. My job is tell the truth for this character, in this situation. I should write without the reader in mind. I can’t control anyone’s response to what I write.

But there is a huge catch buried in there. Did you see it?

The truth.

That is the catch.

The truth is a tricky, slippery thing. The truth is unique to the person that holds that truth. It is built over a lifetime of experiences, of interaction with the world around them.

My truth is not the same as yours.

This makes the writer’s job complicated. You can only write one truth at a time. If you try to include everyone’s truth in the same story, you will end up with a jumbled mess that no one can appreciate (or possibly understand).

You could choose to stick to your own truth.

This is okay. It is an honest way to write. You can say, this is who I am. These are the stories I choose to tell.

But I think my responsibility as a writer is to push past my own truth. My job, every day, is to take in the world around me. To interact with, and listen to, the voices of people around me. To listen closely to their truths.

My job is to feed my truth, let it grow. See where it intersects the truths of others. Where it lies in opposition.

And then, when I sit down to write, let it all go. At least consciously. When I write, my job is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and tell the truth. The biggest truth that I can. The truth that acknowledges the multitude of truths in the world.

I have to trust that the truth I put in my story will mesh with the truths of some of my readers. Or push against their truths in a way that gives them an aha moment.

Monday, September 5, 2016

August Reads- The Birth House

In August, I read 9 books:

Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going
Double Feature by Owen King
Rumors by Anna Godbersen
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (reread)
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Writing Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson

The honest truth is that my favorite read of the month was probably The Winner’s Curse. But since it’s a reread for me (I am rereading the first two books in the series before I read the final book), it feels like cheating to talk about it again.

A very close second was The Birth House. I wish I could remember how this book ended up on my TBR list, but I have no idea.

From the description on the book flap, I was expecting a nice, chick lit story about a midwife. Those elements were in the book, for sure. But those elements do not sum up the experience of reading this story.

This is really a story about the power of women and all the forms that power takes. There is wisdom, violence, sex, manipulation, love, honesty, and strength.

The men in the story have a difficult time dealing with the power of women. They see hysteria, witches, and evil.

It should surprise no one that the women win in the end.

And yet it will.

It does in the story. It does in real life. Everyday.

We continue to allow ourselves to be surprised when women are strong. Powerful. Fierce. When they stand up for themselves and what they believe.

When they do not bow to the wishes of the men around them.

I have wandered. That is the power of the story. There is a massive point tucked into this entertaining tale of one woman and her quest to help other women bring babies into the world in the way they know is best.

Read it. Enjoy it. Let it stew.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Duality

He is dark where I am light.

This is what everyone sees.

My hair golden blond. His jet black. My eyes blue. His the deepest of browns. My skin pale, unmarked by a single freckle. His a rich olivey tan.

They see the white and gold of my cheer tunic against the black of his T-shirt, the slate gray of his hoodie. My smile bright next to his dark mask. My laughter echoes against his solid silence.

No one sees under the facade. Alone, together, we are more than our shells.

Dimitri sits stretched on my bedroom floor, my bed bracing his back. He laughs as I silently move about my room, making a token attempt to straighten the clutter.

The movement makes me warm. Too warm to stay sheltered in the long-sleeve sweater that hides my skin.

I peel away the prickly layer. Underneath, a black camisole hides the worst of me.

His laughter stops as the sweater skims over my head.

I think it is appreciation of my almost perfect form. Then I look down.

The cami has not protected me. It slid up my torso, drawn in the tracks of my sweater. My stomach is bare.

I toss the sweater aside and lock eyes with Dimitri as I tug the traitorous cami back into place. I will him not to acknowledge what I don’t want to talk about.

That’s why it is the way it is. I don’t want to talk about it.

The pressure of not talking builds. I am always worried that I will rupture, spill out into the world. My mess will infest everyone and everything around me.

A quick slip of a blade across my skin lets a little out at a time. It dribbles down the drain, washed away by running water.

It’s not cutting. It’s pressure management.

Dimitri stretches out a hand. Catches my fingers in his own. Pulls me down onto the floor beside him.

“Tell me, Tess.”

His words are a command. They pull the excess out of me.

This is what no one sees.

He is light where I am dark.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Angelfall and Others

In July, I read ten books:

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Pleading Guilty by Scott Turow
Blaze by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Angelfall by Susan Ee

Okay. My favorite read of the month was The Raven King (of course). But I squeed excessively about this book series last month, so I will refrain from doing it again. (One note: if you haven’t read the raven cycle yet, you really, really should!!)

Instead, I want to talk a little about the book that surprised me. Angelfall. This was the Book Club Pick for the YA WordNerds in July. So I read it, even though I probably would not have picked this up on my own.

I’m not usually a fan of books about angels. Not even when they fall from the sky and interact with humans. So I didn’t think I was really going to like this book. I expected it to be okay.

But it was more than okay. I think the reason I like it is that it is more than a fallen angel book. The main character (Penryn) is fighting to rescue her wheelchair-bound little sister. Who might have been put in that wheelchair by their schizophrenic mother.

That mother pops in and out of Penryn’s journey, sometimes helping, sometimes not.

The angels, as a whole, are a hot mess. In a fantastic way.

There is a spectacular, horrific scene that I can’t tell you about, because spoilers. Watch out for the scorpion-things.

This book is a blend of fantasy, horror, and contemporary that just works.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Help me name my book!

Usually in the middle of the month, I post a bit of fiction for you.

This month I need your help instead.

I am about to enter my novel in PitchWars (see my previous post for more info) and have realized I need a different title for my book.

My story is a modern-day young adult retelling of the Greek Cassandra myth. That's the problem. Initially, I titled my book KASSANDRA. Since then, I have realized that not many people are familiar with the myth. So the title is doing nothing for me. It is just the name of a girl.

A bit of backstory: When Kassandra was two, a snake bit her arm. To save her life, doctors removed the damaged arm and stopped the spread of the venom. The snake also licked her ear, giving her the gift of foresight. She sees disaster and danger before it happens, and can change the course of fate.

Now she is seventeen. Apollo, who sent the snake (and the gift it carried), appears and wants compensation for his gift. When Kassandra refuses, he talks her into a single kiss. That kiss carries a curse. No one believes Kassandra's warnings. She can no longer change the things she sees.

Word thoughts:
Based on the story, I came up with a list of words that are relevant.
Pierced
Cursed
Gift
Blessed
Foresight
Vision
Fate
Kiss
Ability
Legacy
Doomed
Favor
Perception
Sense

Then I spent way too much time with a thesaurus.

Here are some contenders for my new title:
DOOMSAYER
FAVORED
PERCEPTION
DOOMED PERCEPTION
DOOMSAYER'S CURSE

And now for your help.
Do you like any of these?
Do they all suck?
Do you have any other suggestions?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

My June Reads

In June, I finished 8 books (this brings my total for the year to 61):

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
The Last Song of Dusk by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
McSweeney’s Massive Treasury of Thrilling Tales by Michael Chabon (ed.)
The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow
In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
4 A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Thief of Lies by Brenda Drake

My favorite read of the month was my first. If you have not read The Raven Boys series, I command you to start doing so. Go. Right now. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that we’re on the same page, amazing, right?

Reading this series has made me a little crazy. When I read these books, I waver between wanting to light everything I have ever written on fire, because it is utterly in consequential by comparison and wanting to make my current work in progress this good.

I have tried to figure out why I love these books so much, why they hit me so hard. I realized it is the voice, the tone. The wit that sneaks up on you from behind and gently nudges your spine.

This month I had an epiphany regarding my own writing and Maggie Steifvater’s series. Part of my love for her books is that the voice and tone are in the same vein as my own natural voice and tone. Not identical, mind you. But on the same family tree.

I also realized that I haven’t seen this particular voice in a lot of novels. And that I’ve been suppressing it in my own work, at least a little. I have been tamping it down, making things more orderly. Reading The Raven Boys triggered a huge change in my current round of revisions. I have been given permission to let my voice go, stop trying to corral it.

Sometimes books are a PSA telling you it’s okay to be yourself.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

#PitchWars 2016 (Potential) Mentee Bio ( #pimpmybio )

If you are familiar with #PitchWars, a word of warning. This post is gif-less. Not that I dislike gifs. I appreciate all the gifs that other writers have to offer. I just choose to abstain, myself.

If you are not familiar with #PitchWars, a different word of warning. You may find this blog post confusing. Or incredibly fascinating. The purpose of this post is to introduce myself to other writers entering #PitchWars and to the mentors that will be working (potentially) with us.

#PitchWars is a contest for writers with a finished, polished novel manuscript. We submit a query, and a writing sample to a handful of mentors (I wish we could submit to them all!). Each mentor chooses a mentee to work with. These amazing mentors guide us newbies through revisions and an agent round. The goals? Connect with other writers, make my novel the best it can be, and maybe have an agent fall madly in love with it!

Some stuff about me:
I have called Colorado home for the bulk of my adult life (previous homes were in California, Kansas, Florida, and Texas). I am married and have three human boy children, and two feline boy children.

I will hold a tarantula in my hand and be perfectly fine. Show me a tiny, dainty little spider, however, and I will lose my mind.

I attended a high school of the performing arts (theatre major, woot!). I started college as a double major in theatre and premed (yep, I am that crazy). I then dropped premed to focus on theatre (I am also sometimes indecisive). A year later, I transferred schools and changed my major to wildlife biology (This is how you take six years to get a bachelors degree).

I also have a masters in cell and molecular biology, which is what I use to pay the bills. I work as a food safety microbiologist during the day (Salmonella, Listeria, and E coli are my co-workers), and write slightly off-kilter stories at night.

My #PitchWars manuscript:
My manuscript is a modern-day, young adult retelling of the Greek Cassandra myth. If you aren’t familiar with that one, Cassandra is a mortal given the gift of foresight by Apollo. She doesn’t cooperate with Apollo’s advances, so he adds a curse- no one believes her warnings. Gods can be jerks.

Want to stalk, I mean, meet the other contestants? Click here.
Want to stalk me on Twitter? @sumomcgrath

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Side Effects May Vary

When I wrote this, I thought it was the beginning of a story. I stopped writing and walked away for a bit. When I came back to work on the story, I decided it was actually finished. A story in less than fifty words.

What do you think?

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU. The smiling girl in the ad looked so carefree. I wanted the fresh start she represented. I wanted her happiness.

I ordered.

Thirty minutes after I swallowed the pill hunger hit hard. A very specific craving. Brains.

I should have read the fine print.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

May was meh (What I Read)

In May, I finished 13 books (that makes me 4 ahead on my GoodReads reading challenge):

Feverborn by Karen Marie Moning
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Song of Susannah by Stephen King
Beware the Little White Rabbit by Shannon Delany and Judith Graves (eds.)
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Saga Volume One by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
This Side of Home by Renee Watson
Map of Fates by Maggie Hall
The Practice of Deceit by Elizabeth Benedict
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

This was an odd reading month for me. I read a lot, but there is nothing on this list that I am madly in love with. There isn’t even anything here that I have a lot to say about. I feel very meh about this list. That makes me sad.

Reading should take you somewhere, put you in a world or a situation that differs from your everyday life. It should be an amazing vacation.

I’m not sure why nothing on this list really did it for me this month. Maybe it was just the luck of the book-draw.

Maybe I myself am meh. It is possible that all of these books are beyond amazing and if I had read them at a different time I would be raving about them right now. (Is that the readers version of “It’s not you, it’s me?”)

All I can do is read on. I know that another book will come along and hit me at the right time to knock my socks off.

Does this ever happen to you? Have you read a book that you know you would/should love, but you just didn't love it right now?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Limitations (or, Why I am Not Finishing StoryADayMay)

I’m a quitter.

That is hard for me to say. I don’t give up on things that I commit to do. I don’t change my mind, back out, give my regrets and walk away. I finish what I start.

But not this time. This time I quit. And it makes me feel better to say so.

Last September I participated in StoryADay September. I wrote twenty-five short stories over the course of thirty days. It was amazing. It was fun. I loved the challenge of birthing a fresh idea every day. I loved the feeling of having a bottomless well of possible stories waiting for me. I was excited for StoryADay May.

What I have learned: May is not September. For me, the timing of this particular challenge matters. Way more than I ever thought it would.

May is a transition month. School is wrapping up. That means all of the usual: get the kids in bed, out of bed, fed, homework finished. Plus all of the end of year activities: concerts, field trips, graduation ceremonies. May is also the start of baseball season. Add in at least two practices a week to all of the above. It makes for a busy month.

Now, let’s add the kicker. In September I wasn’t working. Now I am working full-time.

The end result is that I truly do not have enough time to generate a new idea every day, develop that nugget of an idea into a story that is ready for me to play with, and write it. Yes, I have time to write (almost) every day. I can squeeze in a little bit of work on whatever project needs me. But I just can’t crank out a short story every day.

I fought this truth for a while.

Then the nightmares came.

I was waking up in the middle of the night, in a panic because I was worried about a story that I hadn’t written or a story that I needed to write the next the day. I was tired. I was stressed.

It wasn’t fun.

Trying to cram in something that wouldn’t fit was threatening to shatter my relationship with writing. I had to let it go.

I am writing every day. I am working on a couple of short stories, a narrative nonfiction piece, and revisions to my novel. I am not a slacker. I am not a failure. I am recognizing my limitations and moving forward.

Damn, it’s hard being a grown-up.

When have you been a quitter? In retrospect, was it the right call for you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Moondance

Day 11 of StoryADay May.
The Prompt: Write a story in which the setting is key.

Our life has been full of things left unsaid. For some people, silence happens because they are afraid to speak, afraid for someone else to know what lies in their truest of hearts. For us, silence was the ultimate expression of truth.

Mom always told me that words were empty, hollow. You can say anything. What’s really hard, what really shows who and what you are is your actions. We were women of silent action.

I never heard my mom tell me that she loved me. She never said it, because she didn’t need to. Everything she did showed me that she loved me, that I was the piece that her heart couldn’t live without.

I miss her. I want to feel that essential again. So I am here. I am looking for her in the place we shared. Our beach.

With my eyes closed, the murmur of the waves against the sand almost sounds like her voice. I know I already said she wasn’t a woman that believed in words. But that didn’t mean we didn’t talk. We would sit here, planted in the sand, our toes tucked under the warm, gritty upper layer. I would wiggle my toes deep, burrow into the colder sand below, just water-logged enough to feel like silk. I would tell her about school, about boys. She would listen. She would give me advice. But the her-ness of the moment was always in the touch of her hand. On my arm, smoothing my hair, rubbing my back while I cried.

I open my eyes now, almost expecting to see her settled next to me. She is not. Instead I get the flickering silver of moonlight dancing with the frolicking ocean. Waves hit the beach, sending splinters into the air. Sparklers.

I lick my lips. I taste of salt. I can’t tell if it from the sea or my own tears.

And then I laugh. The last time we were here together, I asked my mom why this was the spot was ours. What was it that drew us here?

She told me this is where we started. I had no idea what she meant, and I kind of wish I hadn’t asked for clarification. She laughed. She had had three beers while we sat and watched the sun send orange shards that melted into pink sherbet across the surface of the water. That might have been two beers too many. I don’t think she would have told me what she did without the malty taste of beer in her mouth.

This spot was were I was conceived. Not literally where I sit now. I don’t think I could park myself on the sand knowing that that had happened here. But behind me, near the swaying stalks of beach grass. Nestled between two dunes.

This has always been our spot. Always.

I am crying again. I want her here so that I can say goodbye. That’s why I’m here. To replace a moment that I didn’t get to share with her. She was gone hours before I even got the call. I didn’t get to tell her goodbye. More importantly, I didn’t get to show her goodbye, hug her into the beyond, my hug a promise that all would be well, I would see her again.

I want to give us that moment now.

My hand falls to the box at my side. Carved from drifted beach wood, polished smooth by the motion of waves and teeth of sand. Gray like her eyes.

I lift the box to my chest and hug it tight. We stand. I carry us forward, into the water. It is still sun-warm. The waves wrap around me. When the water reaches my waist, I lift her above my head. I don’t want the waves to pull her from before I am ready. Before I have given her goodbye.

The water at my chest, I lower the box and hold it at the water’s surface. I slip off the lid and set it on a passing wavelet. It drifts away from me. I watch until it is gone.

I let the box follow, what is left of Mom resting inside. Tendrils of her are teased into the air by the gentle breeze. She glistens in the moonlight as she rises. I watch her drift in the air for a moment, then turn my attention to the rest of her in the box. She is leaving me again. But this time, I have sent her off.

I have shown her goodbye.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Not All Horns Belong to Unicorns

Day 9 of StoryADay May.
The Prompt: Write a story based on the ugly duckling structure, with a life-changing moment or realization or event that comes in the middle.

Once upon a time there was a girl who found herself in a bit of a predicament. That girl was me.

Like many girls who found themselves in such a predicament, I went to the boy who helped me get myself into the predicament in the first place. I imagined that he would sweep me up, carry me away, love me forever. Instead he said “That’s too bad. Good luck with that,” and walked away.

I went to stay with my Aunt Trudy. A solid back-up plan for a fair number of girls, I’ve been told. The idea was that I would bear my predicament, then give away the fruits of my labor. I would be free to return home, return to my life, as fresh and clean as I was before I got into this mess.

Nine months is a long time. I had no friends, no school, no distractions. It was me and the tiny little life that I was growing from scratch. How could I not love him? How could I bear to give him away? He was mine. He is mine.

When the time came, Aunt Trudy called her friend Liza. Together, they helped me bring Salvador into the world. Liza brought extra blankets and a bassinet. She planned to tuck him in, take him away. I didn’t let her. I convinced Aunt Trudy to let me and Salvador stay with her. Here I could be a widow. There would be no avoiding the shame and ridicule if I returned home.

He was beautiful. Sleepy brown eyes. Dark brown hair that swirled over his pink scalp. A perfect pink pucker for a mouth. Aunt Trudy was worried about his head, though. “Childbirth is hard,” I told her, “even for the baby.” She was worried about the peak on his brow. The shape his skull had taken on to be able to fit through the birth canal. I wasn’t worried. I knew it would take care of itself.

At two weeks of age, Salvador still had his peaked head. Aunt Trudy made me take him to the doctor just to get checked out. The doctor was even more concerned than Aunt Trudy. He called it a “bony protuberance.” He wanted to schedule surgery. He wanted to remove it.

I said no. It is part of Salvador, part of what I grew inside me. It makes him special. There was no way to tell what might happen if we removed it. Or what he might become if we let his life take it’s natural course. That was what I wanted to see. What he would become.

When Salvador was five, Aunt Trudy brought me paperwork to enroll Salvador in kindergarten. I thought it was a terrible idea. Salvador was an incredibly quiet boy. He would spend hours sitting silently in a chair, staring into the air in front of him. I had no idea what he saw there, what he was thinking. He never told me. I knew that other children wouldn’t understand. I worried that teachers might not understand, that they would punish him for not meeting their limited expectations.

Aunt Trudy was persistent. Pushy. I finally caved and agreed that Salvador could leave me every weekday morning for three and a half hours.

The mornings were long. I missed him.

But I only had to make it through three of them. On the third day, the principal called me to a meeting. Salvador was waiting for me in his office. I pulled my boy onto my lap, kissed his growing forehead. The principal described the morning’s events. The teasing, taunting, name-calling that my Salvador had listened to in silence. He is such a good boy. He did not fight back, just turned the other cheek.

The principal thought that perhaps Salvador would be more comfortable staying at home with me. He wasn’t like the other kids, the principal said, he didn’t quite fit in with them. I smiled. I knew my boy.

Salvador and I had lessons at home for the next ten years. I would bring him books and other things. I would read to him, explain what I saw in the world and on the news. He listened, soaking it all in.

Aunt Trudy found it somewhat disturbing that Salvador never spoke to her. Despite my assurances that he was fine, that he would speak up if he had something important to say, Aunt Trudy brought in another “professional.” A cute little speech therapist. She claimed that she would have Salvador talking within three months. I was willing to give it a try.

For two weeks she came to the farm and took Salvador out into the fields for therapy. She said that she was trying to get him connected to the earth, to nature. He was nature, I thought to myself. I didn’t understand how he could be any more connected.

I followed them once. I watched the cute little thing settle Salvador onto the grass, criss-cross applesauce. I watched her settle herself in front of him. I watched her take his hand in hers. She spoke softly, looking directly into his eyes.

She was trying to take him away from me. Steal his tender heart from me. I couldn’t have that. I fired her. We were better off alone.

My once little boy was now a teenager. Hormones brought on all the changes you would expect in a young man. For Salvador, there was an added bonus. His peak began to grow. The change was subtle, but I saw it. It became pointier, taller. Like a horn. A single horn. My boy was magic. He was going to become a unicorn.

I watched him. I waited. I couldn’t wait for the day that he became what he was always meant to be.

Today he turned thirty. He has not grown in ten years. He has not changed. He is frozen. Stuck. A silent boy in his own little world with a lump on his head. Apparently not every ugly duckling grows up to be a swan. But he is still my ugly duckling. My boy.

Tonight I took him on a special birthday tour. We have made only two stops so far, but it has been a magnificent journey.

The first stop was at the home of a small country doctor. I cut off that doctor’s bony protuberance (you know what I mean) while Salvador watched. I swear I saw him smile.

We then visited the home of a cute little speech pathologist. I held Salvador’s hand. I guided it and the knife, helped him to cut out her tongue.

Now we are headed for home. The home we share with Aunt Trudy. Salvador wants her to be put on display. He doesn’t have to say the words out loud, I know this is what he needs. He wants her imperfections, her misunderstood and unique traits to be put on display. He wants to watch as this small community gathers round to tease, taunt, and name-call.

He is my special boy. Of course I will give him what he wants.

Aunt Trudy’s flaws are on the inside, though. We will have to open her up for all the world to see.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Coffee

Day 8 of StoryADay May.
The Prompt: Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment.

I roll over and have a stare-down with the clock. I blink before the numbers blink over. I lose.

5:32. In the awful early morning.

I am wide awake. I am antsy. I need… something.

I need to go back to sleep, but that is not happening. I am on. I know that I won’t shut down again until at least eleven tonight. Out of bed it is. I definitely lose.

Halfway to the door, I figure out what I need. I need coffee.

Kurt must hear the gentle slap of my bare feet hitting the wooden floor. He is in the kitchen when I get there.

“What are you doing up this early?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Might as well start the day, right?”

“Sure?”

He doesn’t look like he is buying my peppiness. I’m not buying it, so why should he?

“I need coffee,” I say. I pull a mug down from the cabinet. My favorite mug. Plain white on the outside. It looks boring, innocent. But when you tip the mug and look inside ‘You’ve been poisoned’ is scrawled in black across the bottom of the mug. I smile at the end of every cup.

“You don’t drink coffee,” Kurt says. “Only tea.”

He’s right. I have never had coffee. I drink tea. Black tea, green tea, herbal tea, it doesn’t matter what kind, I’ll drink it.

But today I need coffee.

“I know. But today I want coffee.”

“I didn’t make any this morning. I’m having a breakfast meeting with Jared. I was just going to have coffee then.”

I sigh. It figures. On the morning I want it, he doesn’t make it. “I’ll make it,” I say.

I move across the kitchen to the coffee maker. In the cabinet above, I find filters and coffee. I feel Kurt’s eyes on my back as I put a filter in the basket and scoop in some grounds.

“That’s probably too much,” he offers. He must immediately turn and leave the room. I hear the heavy soles of his brown dressy shoes clip down the hall.

“That’s not too much,” I mumble under my breath. I pull the carafe free from the coffee maker and step toward the sink. The glass carafe slips from my hand and falls to the floor, missing my toes by an inch. Of course it shatters. Why wouldn’t it?

“Dammit!” I yell.

“You okay?” Kurt calls. I don’t hear his feet move. He wants me to say yes, that everything is fine, under control. He wants to move on with his day.

I give him what he wants.

“I’m fine,” I call back. I stay frozen in place until I hear the front door open and close.

I am surrounded by chunks and shards of glittering broken glass. My feet are bare. I hate the sight of blood.

I lean along the counter, stretch my arm as far as I can. I manage to snag the edge of the towel hanging from the front of the stove between two of my fingers and pull it to me. I fold it in half and bunch the ends in my hand. I bend to the floor and use my make-shift broom to clear a path to the door.

I walk back to the bedroom and get dressed. Jacket, keys, purse, and I am out the door. Kurt can deal with the glass when he gets home.

I need coffee.

I drive only four blocks before I park my car and get out. This is the largest shopping center in my small town. A string of ten whole stores linked together. Parking for about a hundred cars. It’s massive. For here.

I walk toward the shop on the end of the string. ‘Two Brews’ blinks in blue neon in the front window. I feel like there is a story behind the name, one I’ve heard before, one I should know. It’s a tiny town. I’ve heard all the stories, right?

Right now I don’t care about the name. I only care that this is the only coffee shop in town. At the door, I slip my hand around the wooden door handle and pull. Instead of swinging open, the door pulls me forward. I stop just short of thunking my head on the slab of wood. That’s when I notice the sign hanging directly in front of my face. ‘Closed for remodeling. Grand reopening May 29th.’ Today is May 27th.

“Shit.” I turn and look out at the parking lot. My car looks lonely, sad. There are no other cars at this end of the lot. At the far end is a cluster of four cars. Even my car seems to not belong.

This morning is so off that I can’t even remember the other nine stores in this strip. So I walk. I look. I am hoping to find coffee.

At the farthest end, close to the cluster of cars I find what I need.

‘Titus Travel. When you just need to get away from it all.’

I forget about coffee and open the door.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Debris

Day 7 of StoryADay May.
The Prompt: Write a story containing only dialogue.

F: Uggghh. It’s hot.
M: I don’t think it’s that bad. We’ve got some shade from the tree. Maybe you’re running a fever?
F: Why would I have a fever?
M: Your leg.
F: Huh? It’s broken. Why would that give me a fever?
M: Infection.
F: With what?
M: The bone broke through the skin. Look at it. Anything could in there. Start multiplying.
F: Ew.
M: Even if you don’t have a fever and infection now, I bet it’s just a matter of time.
F: Really?
M: Yep.
F: How do we fix it?
M: Standard treatment is antibiotics.
F: Do you have that?
M: No. I’m on vacation. And I’m a plumber. Why would I carry antibiotics?
F: I don’t know.
M: Nah.
F: What?
M: I just had a thought. Probably a bad one.
F: Something to fix my leg?
M: Kind of.
F: What?
M: I don’t think you’re going to like it.
F: Tell me. I’ll do anything. I don’t want it to get infected.
M: We could cut it off.
F: Cut it off?!
M: Just a thought. I told you you wouldn’t like it.
F: How would that fix anything?
M: If you don’t have the leg, it can’t get infected.
F: But it’s my leg.
M: You won’t need it if it gets infected. The infection would eventually get into your blood. You’d die.
F: How could we even cut it off?
M: I’m sure I could find a sharp piece of metal in the pile of debris. I could make something work.
F: Wait. If you cut my leg off, I’d bleed. A lot. I would bleed to death.
M: I could use my belt as a tourniquet. It would slow the bleeding. Maybe enough to keep you alive.
F: Maybe??
M: Maybe. I can’t say for sure how it would go. I just know it might be your only chance.
F: I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Silence.

F: Hey. Do you have anything to eat?
M: I had some jerky in my bag.
F: Can I have some?
M: My bag flew out of the plane when it ripped open.
F: Damn. I’m hungry.
M: So am I.
F: How long can people survive without food?
M: I’m not sure. A few weeks I think. On average. But you, you’re fighting an infection, trying to heal a broken leg. I don’t know if you’ll last that long.

Silence.

M: I really think we should cut off your leg.
F: I told you, I don’t think it’s a good idea.
M: Listen. It’s a liability right now. An opening for infection. If I cut it off, and you survive, you lose that liability. You have a better chance. Plus, we could roast the meat.
F: What meat?
M: Your leg. Human legs have tons of muscle. Protein.
F: You want to eat my leg?
M: If it keeps me alive? Sure.
F: What do you think it tastes like?
M: You specifically?
F: No. Human “meat.”
M: Probably like jerky.
F: Would you share it with me?
M: If you survive.
F: I wish we had some salt.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mediocrity

Day 6 of StoryADay May.
Prompt: Write the Real You

(Disclaimer from Susan: Like everything I write, this piece contains me. It also contains not-me. I leave it up to you to decide which bits are which.)

I am not a failure.

Most people would say that I am a success. But there would be the slightest moment of hesitation, the tiniest of pauses. I hear it every time someone praises my accomplishments.

I am never the winner of the big prize. I am never best in show, at the top of my class.

I am firmly rooted in the upper echelon of mediocrity. Before you say “Oo, but you’re good with words,” let me confess that I stole that phrase from an Indigo Girls song.

I was on the short list for the FBI, but not offered a position as an agent.

I was runner-up for Miss Teen Florida.

I was the puppeteer inside Audrey II instead of playing the part of Audrey.

This is my life. Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride. Never the best, but I’ll do in a pinch.

I keep moving. I keep trying on new roles, new skills. I am okay to good at everything that I set out to do. But never amazing. I haven’t found my thing. I am a Jack of all trades and master of none (again with the word-thievery).

Yet again, I am trying something new. An unexpected opportunity has fallen into my lap. The pay is good. The job demands a certain skill set. Cunning, planning, secrecy, bravery, determination. I have those things. The question, as always, is do I have enough to be great.

The job is simply explained. Kill Durrant Sarna. Make it look like a natural death.

I am tired of being almost the best. I will make myself the best at this thing.

Or die trying.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Butterscotch

Day 4 of StoryADay May
The Prompt
Write a story in the first person

I hate bananas.

My roommate quickly peeled hers and shoved a huge bite into her mouth. She looked like she enjoyed it, like it tasted good.

The skin was a bright unblemished yellow. It looked friendly, pleasant. So I followed her lead. I peeled the thick skin off the fruit and took a bite.

It was awful.

Smushy. Grainy. Slimy. A combination of all the wrong textures.

I gagged. But I choked the bite down. I didn’t want to insult my roommate.

Then the smell hit me. Moist. Heavy. Food gone past its prime. Overripe. I gagged again.

I hate bananas.

I add this to my short list of things I know about myself.

My pinky fingers are double-jointed.
I prefer green jello to red.
I can only fall asleep lying on my right side with my hands tucked between my knees.
I was born yesterday.

That’s how it feels anyway. My memory begins yesterday at 2:16 pm. I woke in this bed, in this room, in this gown.

Nothing happened before that moment.

They say I have a head injury. Total amnesia.

They say I was attacked yesterday morning. Someone hit me hard enough to erase me. But not hard enough to kill me.

They say I’ll remember who I am eventually.

They hope.

I don’t know if I hope or not. That really depends on who I was. I don’t know yet if I am someone I want to know. Or someone I’m better off forgetting.

Apparently I made someone angry enough to want to crush my skull. I don’t think that makes me optimistic to know me.

Maybe this is my chance to start over. I can make myself into anything. Anyone.

I close my eyes to let myself imagine. Brainstorm who I want to be. I take in a deep breath.

Butterscotch.

I smell the candies he always carries in his pockets. The candy he always has in his mouth. The warm malty caramel smell that washed over me just before the bat swung.

I remember.

And he is here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hunger

Day 3 of StoryADay May.
The Prompt:
Take the last line from your favorite book or choose one from the list below. Now write a short piece that ends with that line.

1. No one has claimed them yet.
2. “Let me tell you about it.”
3. Everything must go.
4. “Make me pretty.”
5. And it was still hot.


I am hungry.

Hungry enough that I have considered breaking off a sugary shingle, shoving it into my mouth, swallowing it whole. But I know the sugar wouldn’t fill me for long. In an hour, or less, I would be ravenous again.

I need protein.

And fat.

I have it. Tucked into the corner. Nestled in two cages. My protein trembles. But I can’t eat it.

This year, I am smart. I have a plan. A better plan. I have always lured lost children with my sweet treat cottage. I have trapped them in cages, fattened them up, threatened them with fire. In previous years I have made the threat reality. I have roasted them. Snacked on their succulent young flesh.

But they are small. This year I have a bigger plan.

I will wait for their families to come looking. I will trap them all. Roast them all. The bounty of fresh meat will let me sleep soundly through the long winter.

The hunger gnaws. I grow impatient.

I have turned on my oven. When it’s hot I will roast.

No one has claimed them yet.

Monday, May 2, 2016

What Happens in Vegas

Day 2 of StoryADay May
The Prompt
Write a story containing all of these words from a fourth grade spelling list.

Blame
State
Frame
Holiday
Relay
Waist
Pail
Gain
Raise
Mayor
Airplane
Remain

I blame Joel. It wasn’t his idea, but this is still his fault. I was joking when I said we should go to Vegas for the weekend. He jumped on the idea. Laughed. Said we should get married while we’re there.

I didn’t laugh.

I didn’t look at him, either. I focused on the frayed edge of my thumbnail. “Do you want to?” I asked.

He dropped down on his knees in front of me, waited for me to meet his eyes. Then he nodded.

I pushed out a short laugh. It was a proposal run in reverse.

So we did it. For the first time in my life, I left the state of New Mexico. I was nervous. I was scared. Shit. I was terrified. But I was with Joel.

He drove us through the night.

I bounced my gaze back and forth. First I watched Joel. He watched only the road ahead, looked for rabbits bounding into his path. Then I turned my eyes to the desert around us.

The window rolled down, I let the cool night air wash in and over me. I leaned my head against the frame of the window and closed my eyes. I held out my hand, let it fly in the wind we created as we passed through the night. I drifted.

A hand touched my shoulder. My eyes flew open and my arms bolted up, pushed away.

“Leigh. We’re here.”

I nudged my mouth into a shape sort of like a smile. “Sorry.” Before he could tell me again that it was alright, I turned and looked out the window again.

“Holiday Shores?” I asked.

“It was the only place off the strip I saw with a vacancy sign.”

“Where is the shore?”

Joel pointed over his shoulder. “Several hundred miles that way, I think.”

I grabbed his shirt and pulled him close. Dropped a kiss that said far too little on his lips. “You are a dork.”

“Yeah. But you like it.”

I shoved him away and climbed out of the car.

The sun was barely over the horizon but the air was already full and heavy with heat. I pulled what little hair was still held in my hair tie free and rearranged the wind blown strands into a bun. Mmmm. Cinnamon bun. I was hungry.

“I’m starved,” I said. “This shuttle didn’t provide meal service.” I thunked the hood of Joel’s car.

“I’ll relay your complaint to the tour director,” Joel said. “Let’s see if the stunning shores contain a restaurant.”

He moved beside me and slipped his arm around my waist, pulled me tight to his side. “Ready?” he asked.

I twitched my head up. As close to a nod as I could give him. I locked my thumb tight into his belt loop and pushed at the base of his spine. He took the cue and started walking, pulling us toward the Holiday Shores.

We walked up the steps and stopped at the front door. Fifteen panes of dusty fingerprints obscured our view of what waited inside. I reached out for the faux brass handle and pulled. The door swung open, revealing peace and chaos. Audio silence. Visual cacophony.

I tuned out the bright clutter, the fake flower leis and brittle plastic toys. I kept my eyes locked on the front desk. I Joel staring at the side of my face. I didn’t give him anything to see. I pulled us to the front desk.

Benji stood behind the desk. At least, that’s what his nametag said his name was. He looked like a Benji. Scruffy. Sandy brown hair. Deep brown eyes. A bright smile. Too sincerely friendly to be working in what appeared to be a fifth-string Vegas hotel.

I couldn’t deal with the chit-chat. I let Joel talk to Benji. I scanned the countertop. A display of dollar-a-pack collector cards caught my eye. Garbage Pail Kids. I hadn’t seen those since I was tiny. I pulled a pack from the display and held them out to Benji. “Can I charge these to our room or do I need to pay you for them?”

Maybe I interrupted some deep-guy conversation. Both Benji and Joel stared at me for a moment before Benji spoke. “I’ll add them to your bill.” Benji looked to Joel. They exchanged ‘the look.’ The ‘is she crazy- no, at least I don’t think so’ look.

“Sorry. I haven’t seen these in a while. I thought they were hilarious when I was little.”

Benji just smiled and slid a key across the counter.

Joel reached for the key and slipped it in his pocket before I could read the room number. Fine by me. I had no intention of touching it.

“Breakfast?” Joel turned to face the doorway behind us. Bright purple letters screamed ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET.

I raised an eyebrow and wrinkled my nose.

“It’s food,” Joel said.

I wasn’t convinced.

“What’ve you got to lose?” he asked.

“What have you got to gain?” I shot back. “Dysentery?”

“It’ll be fine.” Joel slid his hand down my spine, nestled it into the hollow at the base where it belonged. “Look, no corpses,” he said when we stepped into the restaurant.

I looked around. “No live bodies either.” A dozen or so empty tables were scattered across the floor between us and the silver train of steam tables. Not a waitress or cook in sight.

“Hello?” Joel called in an effort to raise the staff from wherever they were hiding.

Benji popped up at Joel’s elbow. “Oh. It’s seat yourself. Grab what you want. I’ll add it to your room charge.”

He disappeared again.

“Weird,” I said.

“A little,” Joel agreed.

“A little? What would make it big weird to you?”

He thought for a minute. “If the mayor were here.”

“The Mayor?”

“Yeah. Frank Sinatra. Old blue eyes.”

“He wasn’t the mayor, I don’t think.”

“That was his nickname.” Joel scrunched his brow and looked at me. “Right?”

I shook my head. “Uhm, no. I think it was Chairman of the Board.”

“Oh. But that would still be big weird. Frank Sinatra. Here. Now.”

I laughed and wrapped my arms around Joel’s neck. “I’m gonna marry you someday,” I whispered into his ear.

“I’m still hoping for today.” His breath fluttered against my ear. I still didn’t know if I was hoping for today or not. We were in Vegas. Quick weddings were half of why Vegas existed in the first place, right?

This is where I am. Held in Joel’s arms. About to eat from what might be the buffet to end all buffets via food poisoning. Trying to decide if today is my wedding day.

This is the moment when we are joined by Elvis. He walks through the door in his sparkly white suit, dark shades blocking my view of his eyes and half of his face. His dark hair is slicked back, an ebony reflection of the harsh fluorescents overhead.

Joel and I separate enough to stare. I am surprisingly unsurprised. It is Vegas, after all. But there is one detail that catches my attention. Elvis has a parachute strapped to his back.

I cut my eyes to Joel. He is already turning my way. “Where is his airplane?” Joel whispers.

“I heard that,” Elvis says. He moves straight toward us. “You two gettin’ hitched or what?”

Joel’s hand finds mine. His fingers interweave, gripping me, holding me here. With him.

“Mayyyybeee,” Joel stretches the word out, gives me a chance to cut him off.

“Yes,” I say. “We just needed an Elvis.”

I lift Joel’s hand in mine and kiss his knuckles. I will vanquish myself here, in Vegas, with Elvis. What will remain is Joel and I. Us.




Sunday, May 1, 2016

Touch

It's the first day of StoryADay May!!
Prompt:
Write a story in 30 minutes.
Choose a character. Back them into a corner where they must do the thing they would never do.

Touch

I swore I would never touch her.

We all did. That was the first thing we had to pledge. Before Lady Elira would relax the charms that guarded the massive wooden door, let us into her haven, her world.

I didn’t understand fully what I was pledging at the time. But it didn’t matter. I would do anything Lady Elira asked. She saved me. She saved us all, I imagine. Not that we talk about it. We’d all like to forget our weakest moments.

In the interest of disclosure, I’ll give you the gist of my moment. Bear. Huge black bear. My sword knocked away by a clawed paw along with two fingers. Moments from being dinner, Lady Elira blew the bear away. Vaporized it.

Then she returned my fingers, tucked me into her chariot and brought me to her home.

She offered me sanctuary. Safety. All she asked in return was that I not touch the maiden in ice.

I’d love to touch her.

I’d love to shatter the ice that surrounds her. It is so clear, so perfectly formed, that it looks like a thin pane of glass. I’d love to punch through it, lay my hands on the delicate beauty it encases.

Lady Elira says that a single crack in the ice would kill the maiden within. The ice keeps her, preserves her somehow. Without it, she will die.

So I don’t touch.

I can look at her, though. And I do. All the time. I watch her face. I imagine she listens to our conversations. I see flickers of amusement crinkle the corners of her eyes, tweak the tips of her lips.

I see the fire burning in her eyes. I imagine that it burns for me.

I watch her now. My dusty boots thrown up on the table, a mug of cider clasped in my hand. The chatter of Lady Elira’s men surrounds me. I am not part of it. I am in my silent bubble, my eyes locked on the maiden’s.

A crack of thunder peels at the door. The huge slab of wood splits down the middle, then crumbles into a shower of splinters.

My boots hit the floor. My sword swings free, ready to slice the intruder, protect the maiden.

The doorway frames the empty night.

The men and I look at each other. We shift, uneasy on our feet. It’s hard to fight what you can’t see. Harder when you don’t know if anything is even there.

I move. Ten steps take me to the foot of the maiden, put me between the empty doorway and her frozen form. I will die for her.

Benley steps to the doorway, tips his head around the frame, looking for the unseen enemy. He is greeted with a blast of fire. He is gone.

Fire.

It will destroy her.

I have to get her out of this room, away from the flames that reach like tentacles now into the room.

I turn to face her. I have to move her. I have to touch her.

I spread my hands wide, tenderly brush my finger tips against the surface of her shield.

Her eyes light. I know I don’t imagine the burst of brilliance this time.

The ice shatters, falls at my feet. I open my mouth, a wail of despair already bursting from my throat as my eyes lift from the glittering ground to take in her face one last time.

Her hand snakes around my wrist. “The lady lies,” the maiden says as she spins and pulls me with her through the remnants of flames and into the night.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

My April Reads, The Weight of Zero, and Waiting for Mania

In April, I finished 9 books:

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
New Millenium Writings 2011 by Don Williams ed.
The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Structuring Your Novel Workbook by K.M. Weiland
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

I posted a review of The Weight of Zero on Goodreads (If you already saw that review, keep reading. I have added more thoughts below):

Honesty time: I was very reluctant to read this book.

Let me explain why, and why I ended up loving it.

I went to see Sara Megibow give a talk to members of SCBWI. (The talk was great, but that’s not the point.) At the end of her talk, Sara gave away a pile of books. I ended up with an advanced reader’s copy of THE WEIGHT OF ZERO. The back cover copy describes a story of a girl who is dealing (poorly) with bipolar disorder. Possibly interesting, I thought. The book went into my massive “to be read” pile.

A few weeks later I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest post looking at successful queries. This one was Sara Megibow talking about the query letter she received from Karen Fortunati. Something in the way Sara described the book made me pause. This was starting to sound like a book that had an agenda. My experience with books that have an agenda is that the story is usually lacking. Maybe I wasn’t interested in reading this book, after all.

THE WEIGHT OF ZERO made its way to the top of my pile. I opened the book to find a letter from the editor at Delacorte Press. She talked about the importance of this book, both to her personally, and the world as a whole. She laid out the message of the book in black and white. Oh boy. Definitely a book with an agenda.

I started reading. And I kept reading. I read about half of the book in one sitting. Yes, this is a book with an agenda. More importantly, it is a great, well-told STORY.

Catherine knows that she has bipolar disorder. She has experienced both the crippling depression (she has named it Zero) and the euphoria and boundless energy of mania. She has tried to commit suicide while in the grasp of Zero before, and has a clear plan to succeed the next time Zero grabs her and crushes her under its weight. But she has one thing she wants to do before she dies. One thing. It’s a thing that would be on the bucket list of many teenagers if they made one.

Catherine goes after this one thing, the only thing she thinks she wants to do before she dies. Along the way she begins to accumulate other things. Things that are given to her that she didn’t know she wanted, things she didn’t know she needed.

Yes, there is a message to this story, an agenda. Hope is sneaky. Even when you refuse to acknowledge it, it can find a way in. Also this- you are not your disease. And this- you can live.

And I loved it. This is just a great story of a girl on mission. It just so happens that she is dragging THE WEIGHT OF ZERO on that mission with her.

Here’s the part I didn’t share on Goodreads. This is the personal stuff.

I’m familiar with Zero. I have felt his weight. He has sprawled on me in the middle of the night, on the brightest of sunny days. He has convinced me to make a plan. Not once, but twice. Once I followed through on my plan. Luckily, I was too young to know what I needed to know to succeed.

My visits from Zero were largely prompted by medical issues. As a teenager, I was told I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was twenty. Dead by the time I turned thirty. Couple that prognosis with extraordinary pain and it’s easy to see how Zero found me that time. His second visit occurred just after I had my second child. Swirling in post-partem hormones. Diagnosed with cancer. Circumstances opened the door and welcomed him in.

I made it through both of my battles with Zero. But I was waiting. Waiting for the rest.

My dad had bipolar disorder. So did his mother. It was possible that I carried that same genetic code. Most people with bipolar disorder are diagnosed before they turn thirty-four. I watched that birthday creep up on me. I waited for mania. With two major bouts of depression in my past, a single go-round with mania would probably be enough to give me the diagnosis I hoped to avoid.

Thirty-four happened several years ago. (Don’t ask how many. That’s not polite. :) ) Statistics tells me I should be in the clear. But I don’t trust statistics. Someone has to be in the 1%.

Now I don’t watch just me. I watch my kids. I watch the ADHD and impulsive behaviors. Studies have suggested a genetic link between ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It’s possible that I may have passed the genetic code onto my kids without expressing those genes myself.

So I watch. And I wait. I’m ready. For Zero and whatever friends he brings to play.