Following Nicole’s awesome post from last week is not an easy task, but I’m gonna try. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read it now. I’ll wait.
When Nicole brought up the resurgence of witches in the late 90’s, it got me to reminiscing about me and my friends being swept up in that New Age renaissance, which would eventually lead to inspiring my very first book, Earth: Book One in the Elemental Series.
And that led me into thinking about inspiration and what has worked for me to think of story ideas. Since we’re talking about witches, I’m gonna stick with those stories right now.
Like I said above, my first book was inspired by my friends and I discovering witchcraft and Wicca in high school and finally feeling something like normal and empowered. Obviously, the story evolved into the fictional story that you can read now, but it was very much about wanting to have those awesome, magical abilities and what would have happened if we did. We were obsessed with The Craft and Hocus Pocus and those types of witches.
My next witch story came to me thanks to none other than Chuck Wendig. I know what you’re thinking, wait? That bearded weirdo? Doesn’t he write Star Wars stuff? How did he inspire a witch story?
So Chuck is a pretty cool dude and has a lot of writing advice if you ever feel yourself stuck, go check out his blog.
He used to have Flash Fiction Fridays. I didn’t always participate, but occasionally he’d have a prompt that would spark an idea in my mind that I couldn’t ignore. There were two that helped me start the very first Matilda Kavanagh Novel: Wytchcraft.
Chuck likes profanity. No. Sorry. Chuck LOVES profanity. He’s a master at it. A life-long love affair has made him an expert at creating new and exciting profane words and phrases you might never think of. That love made him give it as a prompt one week. That was it: a 1,000 word story focusing on profanity.
Of course the key word there was “story.” Couldn’t just be a character spewing filth for the fun of it.
A spunky, dark-haired woman burst through a door in my mind, angry and vengeful and full of biting profanity.
“Dirty little numb nut bastard!” I threw my keys into the bowl on the table by the front door, slamming the door shut with a kick. “Goddamn fucking gremlin thinks he can cheat me!” I screamed at the ceiling.
“Ugh,” I sighed. “Hello baby,” I bent down and scooped up my cat, Artemis, before I tripped over him. He purred loudly in my arms becoming boneless as I buried my face in his fur, stepping out of my wet shoes, kicking them away.
“Alright, Artemis, it’s time for Mama to perform a little payback for that shit-faced dick weasel,” I whispered, feeling a sense of giddiness come over me as I walked into the kitchen. I set Artemis on the counter and poured him some cream from the fridge so he’d let me work in peace.
“So he asks me to make him a fucking spell. I make the fucking spell. I gave him the fucking spell. And what does that stupid mother fucker do?” I asked the cat as I slammed my spell pot on the stove top. “He stiffs me!” Sparks erupted from my fingertips in blue and white in my anger.
“Says he doesn’t need the spell anymore. Says I took too long to brew it. I told that maggoty piece of dog shit that it would take a week to brew! A whole fucking week of my life out the goddamn window!” I snatched a wooden spoon from the utensil holder on the counter, spinning it in my hand. “Well this is one bitchy witch he shouldn’t have fucked with!”
And thus, Matilda Kavanagh was born.
A second writing prompt he gave, for a quick 500 word flash fiction, was to pick the name of a cocktail and let it be your inspiration. Luckily, I have a few cocktail recipe books so I grabbed one and had a look and found “Irish Gold.”
I don’t remember why it stood out to me, but thanks to that, the race of Royal Fae came to me, another building block to Mattie’s world and I had the opening of her first story. A troll had stolen a Fae’s clover to blackmail her into giving him riches, but you know what they say, Never trust the Fae. And the troll’s greed would get him into a world of trouble and he would drag Mattie into it.
Thanks to these two totally unrelated writing prompts, I’d thought of a brand new main character and started world building around her and would eventually have eight novels worth of her adventures.
It’s been a long time since I’ve used a writing prompt to help me think of a story, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, it might be something that helps turn the key in your lock.
Look at a picture you didn’t take and try to think of a story unfolding on the canvas.
Listen to a song, something obscure, and unspool the lyrics into a novel. Or even just the title.
Wonder, what would happen if you found a door in the middle of nowhere, open it, where does it lead?
Sometimes all you need to build an entire world is the first stone in a wall, whether you’re placing it or pulling it out to make it all come falling down.
I’m going out to left field today. This post relates to a book I’d love to write, but really isn’t about books or writing. Every so often I need to write about something else.
This morning I felt the first cool kiss of autumn in the air. My favorite season is here. This is the time of year I am happier, more energetic and more productive than any other.
Plus, we’re entering the season of the witch. I’m not a skull and bones kind of Halloween girl. I’m a witches and black cats and spells, kind of girl.
But that’s not the only reason I’ve had witches on the brain lately. A few days ago I saw an ad on Facebook asking “Are you struggling with witchcraft?” *cue eye roll* It was trying to get you to sign up for some kind of online coven. (I have a whole other rant about opportunists and religion but that’s for another day.) That made me realize something else: witchcraft is back in vogue!
And there’s a reason for that–it’s linked to feminism. Go with me on this.
I came of age in the mid-to-late 90s when all things witchy were cool:
Pop Culture– Goth fashion, long black or velvet dresses. People began wearing pentacles in public (I am not a fan of that symbol, but no worries if you are. I prefer the triquetra.) New Age stores were everywhere.
TV – Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Movies – The Craft, Hocus Pocus, The Crucible (with Winona Ryder), Practical Magic
Books – This was heaven. Borders had a whole section on Wicca. Hundreds of books. It was amazing. I probably owned at least 50 myself during this time.
That was during the third wave of feminism, when Girl Power and Lilith Fair was all the rage. Women were fighting for reproductive rights, LGBT rights (there was no QIA at that point), intersectional recognition in feminism, against gender violence and more.
Then things quieted down in the 2000s as both witchcraft and feminism began to be viewed as passe. Women began saying feminism was no longer needed and maybe even dead.
But suddenly a few years ago (long about 2015 or 2016) witchcraft began to creep back into pop culture, right along with a fourth wave of feminism that I would argue began with the 2016 presidential election (I really, really want to write a book about that!)
Suddenly you have a repeat of the 90s (sometimes way too literally):
Pop Culture– “Basic Witch,” a really commercial version of witchcraft that uses its trappings (crystals, sage, “spells”- all packaged in book or a monthly subscription box!) to appeal to the yoga moms and millennials. (This is so NOT real witchcraft.) And most New Age stores have moved online.
TV/Streaming – Reboots of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), American Horror Story: Coven
Books – The oldies but goodies written by Starhawk, Doreen Valentine, Silver RavenWolf, Raven Grimassi and others are still around. But now you also have Basic Witch, 5-Minute Magic for Modern Wiccans and other books looking to “modernize” the craft.
It’s interesting that now most of this is darker, especially the reboots. But so is our culture, with its hatred and bigotry (exactly the opposite of what most witchcraft is about, at least the kinds that call themselves white or green). And frankly, women have a lot more to fight for this time around: our reproductive rights are being threatened more than ever and we’re taken even less seriously on issues of sexual violence – just look at the appointment of Judge Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the high profile rape cases like Brock Turner, and the police who got probation a few days ago for raping a woman they had drugged and detained. Women’s rights are sliding backwards again and the patriarchy is trying to reassert itself. And at the same time we find a rise in the popularity of witchcraft.
All of this makes sense, if you think about it. Witches, or at least the women accused of witchcraft in the US and Europe, have always been the resistance. They often lived alone, which in itself was bucking the system because it kept them out of the control of men. They had power in their independence and in the healing arts (herbs, midwifery, etc.) that they provided the community. People feared their magic and spells, regardless of whether or not any were ever cast. They were the original “nasty” women.
One could argue that the Spiritualism trend of the 1800s and early 1900s, which gave women to the ability to speak in public for the first time and tangentially led to the suffrage movement, was the witchcraft of the first wave of feminism. (God I want to write a book about this!)
After centuries of being “forced” underground, modern Wicca (one of the most well-known forms of witchcraft in the US) was founded in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, who claimed it was an unbroken continuation of the ancient forbidden practices. (Believe what you will about that. I think it is BS.) It grew in popularity over the next twenty years and had it’s first public heyday in the late 70s and 80s. (Think Stevie Nicks in the music world, The Mists of Avalon for a literary example and Teen Witch for a movie example.)
Not coincidentally, this was during the second wave of feminism, when women were beginning to enter the workforce for the first time and demand their rights (abortion legalization, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment, etc.) equal to their male counterparts.
We saw this pattern repeat in the 90s and its happening again now. So it seems that in times of resistance, we as women naturally seek to copy our fore-mothers and seek solace and power in witchcraft, which grants us equality with (and in some forms of Wicca, dominance over) men.
Now, of course, not all women are witches, by far. Christianity is still far more popular. (Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, whatever they may be.) And there is still a great fear and hatred of anything pagan by many people. I just think the correlation is interesting.
And since this is a blog about books and writing, here’s a list of my favorite fictional witchy books:
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Kathrine Howe
Kim Harrison’s whole Hallows series.
And our own Spellbound Scribe Shauna Granger has her Elemental series and Melinda Kavanaugh series. Happy witchy reading!
Please don’t ask about my personal beliefs. Those are my business and honestly a very, very long and complex answer. I’ve studied witchcraft for years from a scholarly perspective, so my true beliefs may not be what you expect. But then again they may. 😉
Sometimes I feel like I’m the Queen of Getting Stuck in a Rut, which, as far as royalty goes, isn’t very glamorous. (And when I say “rut” I don’t mean a routine, either, because one of my ancillary kingdoms is the Duchy of Procrastination, neighbored by the Earldom of Wasting Time). For me, when I’m focused on a project I develop a strange fixation with having all of my “active” work rhythms–journaling, reading, listening to music, plus of course writing–be in service of the project I’m working on. Which means that when it comes to leisure activities–when I know I should be refilling the well in an intentional way–I don’t have the mental capacity left for anything of substance and turn to fluff. Bad movies, Regency romance novels, Candy Crush Saga. Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff! But (wo)man cannot live on fluff alone.
And then the next day I feel guilty for failing to refill the creative well, and I buckle down even harder on what I’m allowed to read and write during active work time.
Rinse, repeat. Binge, purge.
Sigh. Like I said, Queen of Ruts.
A few weeks ago, I bought a ticket to the pre-Broadway world premier of Moulin Rouge: the Musical. Now, even though I love musicals, I almost never see them live. First, there’s the price, which is always steep, especially if you don’t want to use binoculars to see the actors’ faces. Second, there are the crowds, which make me nervous on a good day and can induce panic on a bad one. And third, there’s the husband who hates musicals, which is usually an easy excuse to let myself talk myself out of going based on the first two reasons.
But this time was different. I kept staring at the glamorous poster and thinking about the extravagant movie and its bohemian ideals: Freedom, Beauty, Truth & Love. I knew I needed this. So–gnashing my teeth at the price–I booked a ticket before I could change my mind.
I’m SO GLAD I did!
The venue–the historic Emerson Colonial Theater–was stunning, frescoed and gilded in true Fin de Siecle glory. And the show was magnificent! From the very first number I was completely swept away, transported to Paris and the Moulin Rouge. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I clapped along to a seriously dizzying array of elaborate pop-culture inspired songs and dances. I think I barely blinked for three whole hours, enraptured in the sensation of being a spectator to someone else’s art. And when the curtain finally fell and I walked out into the night, I felt full. I felt inspired, with stories and songs and images dancing in the darkened set of my mind, just waiting for the spotlight to shine on them.
So maybe the choice isn’t between gruel and fluff; rigorous work and mindless fluff. Going forward, I’m going to try and challenge myself to participate in other forms of art that will challenge, excite, and inspire me. My own art can only grow in leaving it behind for an hour or two.
Author’s Note: The original title was changed after a dear friend pointed out a problematic element that I had failed to register. I offer sincere apologies to anyone who may have been offended and I will seek to be better in the future.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter (or anywhere, really) you’ve probably heard me gush about ElfQuest at some point or another. While I’m not quite a super-fan, Wendy and Richard Pini’s cult graphic novel series ElfQuest was my first fandom, and in some ways has been my most enduring. So when I realized that 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the long-running series (just last week, in fact!) I knew I had to write a post about the impact it’s had on my life, and all the love I still carry for Cutter Kinseeker’s epic journey.
Created by Wendy and Richard Pini in the late ’70’s, the basic story goes like this:
Scattered across the primitive World of Two Moons, a race of telepathic elves struggle to survive and coexist. When the Wolfriders–a tribe of hunter-gatherer elves sharing a unique bond with wolves and led by a young chieftain named Cutter–are driven from their forest Holt by hostile humans, they set off to find a new home. But instead, they stumble upon a village of elves known as the Sun Folk, a peaceful, agrarian tribe who tell of the mythical High Ones, the powerful ancestors of all elves. Determined to reunite all the scattered elf tribes, Cutter sets off across the World of Two Moons in search of the legendary Palace of the High Ones.
I came across the series when I was very young–6 years old, maybe 7. My mom got the first volume out of the library for my teenaged brother, who took one look at the lush illustrations and fantastical setting and pronounced it “girly stuff.” Even though I couldn’t read or comprehend much of the dialogue, I spent hours looking at the art and piecing together the story. Later, I obsessively read and reread the graphic novels. My paperback copies of the Original Quest became tattered from over-use, the bindings breaking and the pages falling out. And when I wasn’t reading ElfQuest, I was playing ElfQuest. My younger siblings and I used to stick butter knives in our belts and spend hours climbing trees, pretending to be Wolfriders.
So what makes the series so great? I’m so glad you asked! *clears throat* *pats seat*
First of all, the artwork is incredible. Sometimes delicate and fey, other times brutal and blood-soaked, Wendy Pini’s art is always entrancing. It’s not perfect, of course–the first volume starts out a little rocky art-wise (hey, that’s what first books are for!) and in the latter volumes it took on some questionable ’80’s aesthetic flair, but that just means it’s never static. Fluid but not fickle, the artwork evolves with the elves’ epic journey and reflects the changes the characters themselves undergo.
Moreover, ElfQuest was diverse before it was cool. The series features an incredibly racially varied cast of male, female and arguably non-binary characters, and even though the graphic novels nominally follow Cutter, a male elf chieftain, there is an undeniable thread of feminism threading through the story. Although each of the elf tribes has different social mores, for the most part the female elves are free to be whomever they choose and do whatever they choose. Some are fierce warriors, like Go-Back chief Kahvi, or agile hunters, like Nightfall. Others are peaceful spiritualists, like ancient Savah, or gentle healers, like powerful and beautiful Leetah. They are both vivacious lovers and dedicated mothers; female sexuality is considered a natural and beautiful part of elfin life, never something to be ashamed of.
And finally, ElfQuest explores perhaps its most powerful theme, and one that is so very important in this day and age: racial prejudice and the arbitrary boundaries separating otherwise similar groups. When the elves first arrive on the World of Two Moons, they are labeled as demons by the native humans and savagely persecuted. Due to this treatment, elves deeply mistrust and hate humans. Similarly, a race of earth-dwelling trolls resent the elves for what they see as elitist and arrogant attitudes. But throughout the series the Pinis show us that the things that bind these disparate races as well as the divisions within the races are greater than the things separating them. And ultimately, the greatest evil and threat to the elves arises from within their own ranks, in the form of the corrupting influence of the wicked Winnowill.
The final volume of the Final Quest comes out this year to mark the end of an incredible 40 year journey! Will you be reading the end to Cutter’s quest? I know I will.
One of my favorite thing about the holidays is so many authors release novels or novellas to celebrate the season. It’s a little ironic, because generally I don’t have as much time to read as I normally do, but I find myself adding to my TBR pile anyway. With that in mind, I thought I’d come up with a list of holiday reads…because this is the season for my favorite things, right?
(If you received my newsletter yesterday, you’ll have already seen most of these, but there are a few new ones. And if you’re not on my newsletter list, go HERE to fix that!)
I’m starting with Blessing & Light by my friend Kasia. She writes romantic high fantasy (think naughty elves!) and packs a whole lot of story in just a few pages. This one is FREE for the month of December!
It’s the Night of Winter Lights.
Heedless of the holiday, the Commander of the H’Aren fortress, Captain Torýn Torhdhar, seems to find his satisfaction in work.
Such occurrence hardly surprises his Orderly, Sæbastyn Hyago, even though the young Lieutenant has spent a silent, aching decade wishing his superior officer would pursue pleasure elsewhere—specifically in his arms. But as the evening continues, nothing about it meets Sæbastyn’s expectations. Will the Lieutenant see his secret desires realised, or his heart shattered?
I read Yuletide Truce last week, and it gave me the best book hangover! If you like Victorian stories, definitely grab this one.
It’s December, Alan “Aigee” Garmond’s favorite time of the year, when the window display of the small bookshop where he works fills up with crimson Christmas books and sprays of holly. Everything could be perfect — if it weren’t for handsome Christopher Foreman, the brilliant writer for the fashionable magazine About Town, who has taken an inexplicable and public dislike to Aigee’s book reviews.
But why would a man such as Foreman choose to target reviews published in a small bookshop’s magazine? Aigee is determined to find out. And not, he tells himself, just because he finds Foreman so intriguing.
Aigee’s quest leads him from smoke-filled ale-houses into the dark, dingy alleys of one of London’s most notorious rookeries. And then, finally, to Foreman. Will Aigee be able to wrangle a Yuletide truce from his nemesis?
Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins was my favorite holiday read last year, and 20% of the proceeds benefit The Trevor Project!
Eddie Rodrigues doesn’t stay in one place long enough to get attached. The only time he broke that rule, things went south fast. Now he’s on the road again, with barely enough cash in his pocket to hop a bus to Texas after his (sort-of-stolen) car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Midwest, USA.
He’s fine. He’ll manage. Until he watches that girl get hit by a car and left to die.
Local shop owner Grayson Croft isn’t in the habit of doing people any favors. But even a recluse can’t avoid everyone in a town as small as Clear Lake. And when the cop who played Juliet to your Romeo in the high school play asks you to put up her key witness for the night, you say yes.
Now Gray’s got a grouchy glass artist stomping around his big, empty house, and it turns out that he . . . maybe . . . kind of . . . likes the company.
But Eddie Rodrigues never sticks around.
Unless a Christmas shop owner who hates the season can show an orphan what it means to have family for the holidays.
Merry & Bright is a new holiday collection from Joanna Chambers. I read all three of these stories when they were first released, and honestly Rest and Be Thankful is one of my all-time favorites. They’re all really good, and it’s so nice to have them all in one place!
Quin Flint is unimpressed when his gorgeous colleague, Rob Paget, asks for extra time off at Christmas. As far as Quin is concerned, Christmas is a giant waste of time. Quin’s on the fast track to partnership, and the season of goodwill is just getting in the way of his next big project. But when Quin’s boss, Marley, confiscates his phone and makes him take an unscheduled day off, Quin finds himself being forced to confront his regrets, past and present, and think about the sort of future he really wants…and who he wants it with.
Mr Perfect’s Christmas
Sam Warren’s new job hasn’t been going so well so the last thing he’s in the mood for is the obligatory office Christmas party, particularly since Nick Foster’s going to be there. Nick–the guy whose shoes Sam has been trying to fill–seems to take very opportunity to point out where Sam’s going wrong. But when Sam receives an unexpected Secret Santa gift at the party, he’s forced to question his assumptions about his rival. Could it be that he’s been misinterpreting Nick’s actions all along? And is it possible that his reluctant attraction to Nick is reciprocated?
Rest and Be Thankful
Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast. Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.
This is the book I’m reading now, and while I’m not finished, it’s getting rave reviews. The characters celebrate Hanukkah, too, which sets it a little bit apart from most holiday stories and 20% of the proceeds will benefit The Russian LGBT Network.
Last month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders.
Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.
When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.
I love Cat Sebastian’s books and was *so* excited to see this one land on my kindle!!
Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre
After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.
Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity
Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.
In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.
Kris Ripper’s annual New Years book has become one of my favorite things about the holidays. There are a bunch of books in this series, so some of the character relationships will be richer if you’ve read at least some of the others. Also, the Scientific Method series is AMAZING, so you should read them just for that.
It’s the holidays. Basically: everything is awful. As usual.
It’s been three years since Davey saw their ex-boyfriend Will. The thing is…Will’s sort of the one who got away. And he’s also the one Davey calls when they’re super depressed, and it’s the holidays, and they just want a hug.
What they get is an invitation to Will’s boyfriends’ beach house for New Year’s. Yeah. Boyfriends. Plural.
In ten days Davey finds a kitten, wears a mermaid dress, and crushes on a beautiful man. Welcome to New Year’s at the beach house.
You’re probably going to laugh at me, but I’m rounding out the list with three of my own holiday reads. Two are short stories, and one’s a novella from the Hours of the Night series I write with Irene Preston…
Silent night, holy hell.
Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.
When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.
I was frustrated with yesterday’s newsletter, because the link to this short story was broken, so I had to give it a shout-out here…
Things aren’t always what they seem, and this shopping mall Santa has a secret that only true love can reveal.
Mackenzie’s an out-of-work actress who takes a job as a shopping mall Santa to pay the rent. She fools everyone with her Santa drag, until the day Joe McBride walks into the mall. Joseph Timothy McBride – the real-life, got a soap opera gig and you saw him in Scream II actor. The only guy she ever really loved. Can Mack stay in character, or is it time to strip off the red coat and peel off the beard for good?
Black trees swathed in cloaks of red and gold sway in a sudden chilly breeze. Lit pumpkins leer from stoops and porches. A distant fluttering, like the wings of bats or the shaking hands of some dead thing. Disembodied footsteps just outside the door. Who’s there?
Aaaand that’s about as creepy as I can stand, folks. I am a total wuss when it comes to scary things. I think I can safely blame a babysitter I had when I was about 7 or 8. Somehow, she hadn’t been briefed on my parents’ blanket ban on all things violent, scary, or in anyway gory, and proceeded to tell me every murder story, ghostly tale, and urban legend she could think of. Suffice it to say, I was traumatized. I spent the next few years utterly convinced that I would be violently murdered in my bed by any number of supernatural or banal intruders, and even after growing up and gaining a little perspective, I’ve still never been a fan of horror movies or scary books.
But it’s Hallowe’en. And that means even I can be convinced to push my boundaries a little bit. And since we all know where to find Stephen King, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the shelves, here are some new ideas for eerie reads. So lock the doors, pull the covers tight, and let one of these spooky-ish books stand your hair on end.
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Even though this book is classed as a middle grade novel, I found it to be delightfully dark and unexpectedly unsettling: in other words, classic Neil Gaiman. When Coraline Jones goes through a door that shouldn’t be there, she discovers another apartment in another house that seems exactly like her own, but with better food and cooler toys. But then she meets the other mother and other father, and they don’t want to let her go home.
Quote: “She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”
This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab
In a world where evil deeds and violence breed actual monsters, sometimes we fail to recognize the monsters within. A thrilling page turner, tense with terror in the darkness and chilling rhymes and unexpected betrayals.
Quote: “Violence breeds.Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”
Slade House, by David Mitchell
While this is technically a companion to The Bone Clocks, it stands perfectly well on its own. If you know where to look, Slade House can be found down a nondescript alley in a working-class neighborhood in London. Sometimes. Saying too much about this book amounts to a spoiler, but I’ll admit it gave me nightmares.
Quote: “Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever.”
Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo
A collection of short stories set in the Grisha-verse, this book isn’t strictly scary, although a few verge on creepy. But these haunting vignettes live where all proper fairy-tales do–on the edge of the woods, where the dark trees whisper secrets and we fear what humans have always feared: if we go in, will we ever come out? And is what’s lurking in the darkness worse than what’s lurking in our hearts?
Quote: “This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”
Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Mary has been taught her whole life that there’s nothing beyond the village, only the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the relentless Unconsecrated. But when the fence is breached, Mary has to choose between the village, life, and love in this heart-pounding twist on a zombie novel.
Quote: “There is a child – a baby – who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn’t old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food. For flesh.”
Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
Still wearing the blood-stained dress she was brutally murdered in, ghostly Anna kills everyone who sets foot in the deserted Victorian house she once called home. Full of spooky atmosphere with a compelling protagonist and just enough cheeky humor, this book sucked me in and didn’t completelyturn my hair white.
Quote: “I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.”
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
Full disclosure: I couldn’t finish this one. It was just too sinister and gory for me. (I told you I was a lightweight!) That said, I’ve heard only fantastic reviews from people braver than me, so if you enjoy historical paranormal fantasy featuring a diverse cast and elements of horror, then this might be for you.
Quote: “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”
Have you read any of these, or do you have any favorite Hallowe’en books of your own? Share yours in the comment section below!
I got married in 2007 and, with a determination I wasn’t sure I had, in the year leading up to our wedding, I saved enough money to get us a two week honeymoon in Paris.
It was magical and fun and beautiful and funny and exhausting, like most long trips tend to be. But any frustrating or disappointing moments in the trip have, over time, turned into the funny stories we tell at parties.
I promised myself that we would do something just as awesome and fun every five years for our anniversary because we both love to travel and see new places so much. And five years is a long enough time to save up for trips by doing it slowly.
Unfortunately in 2011 we both were laid off from our jobs within a week of each other. Any fun, overseas trip in the following year immediately vanished. Fortunately I had an idea the lay offs were coming and that’s why I started self-publishing in 2011–hoping to create a passive income that would help us. It took a long time for that plan to come to fruition, but eventually it did. But not in time for our five year anniversary, only in time to help carry us as my husband also built his business, which helps me run this one during the lean times.
So, you know, giving up a trip on our five-year-anniversary was worth it since we got to become our own bosses and work from home. But one does miss Paid Time Off and a boss telling you, “take your vacation days or we’re going to cancel them.”
But last year, just after our nine-year-anniversary we started talking about how long it had been since we’d taken more than a long weekend for ourselves. The more we talked about it the more desperate we were to make it happen. Our ten-year was one year away. I’d done it once before (of course then we both had corporate jobs with steady, reliable incomes and PTO), maybe I could do it again and get us somewhere for that big 1-0.
It took saving every dollar we got from Christmas gifts and birthdays (specifically telling family not to buy us “things” unless they were from our travel wish-list) and scraping every penny we could spare from income, giving up going out, shopping, and often saying “no, not this time/year” to friends many, many times. But as we saved up enough for plane tickets and accommodations and the lost income from taking time off, we knew it was worth the cabin fever.
And last month, we went to Ireland for two weeks.
Now, this wasn’t just a vacation. I’ve been struggling for a while to think of a new story, to find new characters and new settings for a long while. I have my open series that I work on, but I want something new. Something witchy. Something darker. Something magical.
I know, Celtic influence and Ireland especially isn’t breaking any molds, but I wanted to go to the land of (some) of my ancestors and touch the ground they walked on, touch the stones they prayed on, breathe the air they once breathed. I wanted it to inspire me. To fill my well.
We kept a travel journal along the way, taking time every evening to detail everything that happened each day. When I had access to WiFi, I posted updates with photos so I could recall everything that I loved so the exhaustion and jet lag (and sinus infection whomp-whomp) we would undoubtedly suffer wouldn’t muddle our memories or make me forget anything important.
I got to touch those magic stones and walk through the portals. I got to pick acorns from Druid trees and eat wild blackberries growing around stone circles. I got to climb hills to stand at the seat of kings. I withstood gale force winds to walk the ancient Celtic settlements. I braved the edge of the world as my fear of falling knotted the muscles in my back. I dipped my hands in holy wells, letting the water cling to my fingers.
I won’t lie, some things did break my heart. Seeing the misappropriation of Celtic goddesses, them turned into Catholic nuns, hurt. Seeing their holy places over-run, twisted and diminished hurt. But who knows, maybe that will help me in my story.
I’m still not sure what the story is going to be. I am torn by the idea of creating a new world or sending a character into a strange world or what. But my mind is starting to race with possibilities and possibilities are exciting. I’m actually looking forward to brainstorming as I go back over the travel log and photos and see what speaks to me.
And I really hope it won’t be another ten years before we get to do something like this again.
I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.
Well. Guess what?
Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”
But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.
All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.
When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.
That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.
It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!
I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.
I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.
The other day a reader asked me if I ever wrote in long hand, much like Neil Gaiman is known to do. I do not–never. I hate the idea of writing something by hand knowing I’ll just have to type it again later, creating twice the work for me. But, I conceded, I do hand write my outlines, always. I tried to type one once because I always end up adding asides and run out of space on my papers, and I thought it would be nice to be able to just add in a line when I needed to but there was no magic in a typed outline.
So, always type a story, always hand write the outline.
But it got me thinking about the rituals of writing. Any art, really, but writing is my magic, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.
Any professional artist will tell you that you can’t wait for the Muses to speak to you, otherwise you’ll (almost) never get any work done. You have to make your Muses speak on days you just don’t feel like it. On days where you only have an hour, or less, to get the words done. You have to force the magic to make the art.
And there are ways to do this. There are ingredients to every spell and if you manage to figure them out, you can create the magic potion to get the art done even under the worst situations. A few years ago, I was stuck at jury duty for the full 8 hours. I got so much writing done that day, it must’ve been a record, all because I have my ritual to make the magic.
First, I outline. Now, if you’re a pantser, this part doesn’t apply to you. But for me, I allow myself at least a week to complete an outline before I ever start a new manuscript. You’ll have to figure out how detailed or loose your outline needs to be, that in of itself is its own magic spell. If too loose you leave yourself sitting at the keys, trying to figure out how to get from point D to point M. Too detailed you might feel like you’ve already written the story and lose your excitement to actually write it.
Secondly, if this is the start of a brand new book, not part of a series, I allow myself a day to start to curate a soundtrack for the book/main character. I know, this seems like one of those “I’m an artiste! I need my special music to write!” kinda things, but it’s not. For many, both reading and writing a book plays out like a movie in our heads and what is a movie without a soundtrack? You need the creepy notes that warn you the monster is coming. You need the pounding base to choreograph a fight and get your heart moving. You need the sweet strings of a romantic moment. But, I think, most importantly, it gives you the feel of the book or main character. This, for me, is what helps me get into the right headspace for a book, no matter where I am or what mood I am in. And with each book in a series, I add more and more songs to the list until it’s hours and hours long.
I also have a few universal playlists to help me with certain types of scenes. If I’m in the middle of fights or battles, I have strong lyric-less soundtracks from movies or video games to help me. If I’m trying to get into the head of a strong, angry female, I have a playlist of what I call “angry power” songs, only sung by strong female vocals.
You could be trapped in the middle seat of coach, on a full flight, but you put your headphones on and turn on the soundtrack of your book, and bam! Watch the words flow. I won NaNo last year in that exact situation because I had my music.
This also helps if you’re working on more than one project at a time. For example, I’m working on a witch book in my Matilda Kavanagh series and I’m working on a piece of flash fiction that is a spin off from my post-apocalyptic Ash & Ruin series. Neither MC is the same and both worlds are totally different. So, they have their own soundtracks to help me switch my brain depending on which one I want to write in.
Third, I always have something to drink. Usually it’s coffee, but sometimes just water. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. It adds to the level of comfort as you stare into that bright screen and create indents on your wrists as you pound away.
There are other things, like I try to write in the mornings, but if I miss that window, I don’t skip on writing unless it’s One Of Those Days. It’s always easy to make excuses to get out of writing, but unless you’re under a contractual deadline, you’re just letting yourself down by putting it off or treating it like a chore. I mean, some days, it does feel like a chore but when it’s done, damn that’s a good feeling.
Figuring out your rituals to help you get shit done is important. It’s not being a fussy artiste, it’s creating magic. Allow yourself the special combo of ingredients that will allow you to create art no matter what the situation. Make no excuses for doing what you need to get it done and give yourself no excuses to avoid it.
Speaking of… I have some words that need writing before dinner.
The other day there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter. I know, quelle surprise!
A very successful writer was asked for a bit of advice from a young fan as a new English Major.
The writer’s response? English Major = “Do you want fries with that?”
She told the fan to get a degree in something that would get them a lucrative job and write on the side.
Yeah. Sure. Some people totally do that. But to completely belittle the fan’s already chosen path while also tearing down the service industry? REALLY?
You won’t be surprised to find out that I, myself, was an English Major. I have a loverly BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing. A major I created myself because it didn’t exist at my school at the time. I was very lucky that my adviser was also the department chair at the time so getting it approved wasn’t quite the battle it could have been.
I am damn proud of my degree. I have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Believe me, getting dyslexia under control has been much easier than my dsycalculia–there was no way I was going to be a math or science or business major. But guess what? As a self-published writer, I am running my own business. My husband also runs his own business, but I also help with that. I run the office for both of us. And my degree helped me, believe it or not.
English degrees teach you critical thinking, creative solutions, and so much more.
Now, do you need an English Degree to be a writer? Of course not. I know many writers who are also something else. Writing isn’t paying the bills just yet for them. But it might some day.
Did I need an English Degree to be a writer? To be a good one, yes.
I can say with a little confidence that I had “raw talent” when I was younger. When I got to be creative with my English assignments, I always did well. I actually remember my senior English AP teacher writing “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” on a paper I turned in. It was an amazing feeling. I really thought I could write. I thought I was a good story teller.
Then I went to college.
I had professors who were published novelists and playwrights and poets.
And they let me know raw talent wasn’t enough then and it wouldn’t be enough in the future. They tore my papers apart. I had one professor (the aforementioned adviser) who knew I was turning in the first drafts of papers and would automatically deduct a full letter grade because of it. I went to him, demanding to know why I kept getting B’s on my papers and he told me. He told me even if the paper was an A on the first try, that just told him the second try would be that much better.
My poetry was ridiculous. It was flowery and vague, like I didn’t want my reader to know what I was talking about. My professor shredded my poems until I learned to paint a damn picture that he could see.
I am the writer I am today because of the lessons those professors gave me. It was well worth the time and money. Maybe I would have gotten to that point as an English Minor, or just taking a couple of classes for fun, who knows? But I know being an English Major changed my life and I am damn grateful for it.
Do you need to be an English Major to be a successful writer? Of course not. Or maybe you do. None of us are the same. Some of us need the instruction, some of us don’t. Some of us will write a NYT bestseller in our 20s and others will do so in their golden years. You are special and different and need to decide what is right for you. Don’t let some random person–even if they are a NYT bestseller themselves–tell you what is the right path for you.
Oh, by the way, I was a waitress all through college. It was the most thankless, degrading job I’ve ever had and I worked in insurance after college. Never tear down the service industry. Customers are assholes and service industry people are overworked and treated like shit every day. Everyone should have to wait tables on Mother’s day, or run a cashier over the holidays. People would be far, far nicer and learn some damn manners.
Now. Thanks to that English degree, I’m putting out my 16th novel (under this name), and it is up for pre-order now! If you were a fan of my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this is a companion novel, maybe you’d like to take a peek?