Writing with Anxiety

It has taken me over twenty five hours to finally write this post. The beginning of 2020 has been quite stressful for my household, especially after we thought this month, this new year, was going to be the start of a better year. We were confident that we were going to start this year feeling good, more secure, like the ground under our feet was going to stop shifting. Turns out, we were wrong. I think everything is going to be okay, but this past week has been particularly hard for us. Lots of surprises we weren’t prepared for and we had to make some difficult adjustments to make things work. Plans had to change. Things aren’t starting off how we wanted.

So yesterday, when I sat down to write this post, things hadn’t yet resolved themselves and I was actually shaking with anxiety. My body felt like I was vibrating. I was sitting through my own personal earthquake and the ground wouldn’t settle.

Monday I’d started the day off feeling pretty secure. Those surprises hadn’t hit yet. So I was feeling pretty good about getting back to the novel I’d started during NaNo. I’d taken the holidays off and given myself time to think about the book and where it was going. I’d written to the end of the outline I’d had done and knew I couldn’t move forward until I finished the outline or, at least, gotten a few more chapters outlined. I finished reading the first 50k words and felt a lot better about how the book was shaping up, realizing it wasn’t as meandering and stretched out as I thought. Tuesdays morning I outlined two chapters.

I know two chapters doesn’t sound like a lot, but I outline in long form, by hand.

See? That takes a toll on my hands nowadays. I don’t know how I used to outline five chapters in a day without my hand killing me. But anyway. I was really happy with my new progress. I thought, hell, if I can outline two chapters a day, in five days I’ll have ten chapters ready to write!

Then new surprises exploded in our email and what we thought was going to be a calm month turned into panic and uncertainty. My stomach knotted up and I couldn’t focus on work anymore. I’d have to be okay with those two chapters while I tried to deal with new issues. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t really focus on anything. I couldn’t calm down. I looked calm. Oh, I can look calm like the best of them. But inside? My heart is palpating. My breath isn’t smooth. My arms feel like they’re shaking. It’s like I’m really fucking cold and can’t stop shivering. But you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I can go through the motions like a champ.

I knew things wouldn’t be settled until late morning Wednesday. And, until that happened, my anxiety brain would not calm down. Anxiety is like having nervous cat living inside you. You can try to calm it, give it warmth, sustenance, a place to curl up and relax, but any small movement, any unfamiliar noise, and you set it off and its claws are in the curtains and it is spitting and hissing without warning.

I had work to do though, work I couldn’t ignore. I had a client in the morning and I needed to get this post written. Having someone face-to-face was helpful because I had to deal with them and couldn’t dwell, waiting for news that the ground wasn’t moving anymore. But as soon as they were gone, I was left in the quiet and that cat was shaking and growling low.

Write my post. That’ll help. But no. I sat at my desk and stared, my arms still trembling and feeling like I was sitting in a freezer. Just waiting for a phone call that would tell me if things were gonna be semi okay and not just all out terrible. We were hoping the month was going to be good and now I was praying for semi okay.

I couldn’t write my post. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I actually wanted to post about NaNo and what to do now, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted to say. I looked at my outline and wanted to get the next chapter done. I couldn’t. The characters couldn’t be heard over the growling cat. I was stuck in an anxiety trap. My mind wasn’t racing like it will when I try to go to sleep. I wasn’t thinking of all the disastrous things that could and might happen—though any time something showed up in my email I assumed the worst. I wasn’t crying or balled into a corner. I was just sitting here, right where I am now, and trembling. Waiting.

Anxiety is a monster that can do many things. It can steal your energy. It can steal your happiness. It can make you angry or sad or panicked. Anxiety demands attention like a bank robber with a gun. And even if your rational brain is telling you things are going to be okay and you work things out in your head, anxiety can hold on, claws sunk so deep there’s no pulling them out until the cat is ready to retract.

But now, here I am, nearly 1000 words into this post, and no longer shaking. Things are different than what I hoped and expected in the beginning of the month, but we’re semi okay and I can suddenly move my fingers on the keys and think about this post. And my outline is waiting for me and my characters are still there, ready when I am.

I used to be a write every day kind of person, only taking one or two days off on the weekends. I was terrified of losing momentum once I started writing a book. If I took too much time off, I was scared I’d struggle to start again. And you know what? I was right. It is very, very hard to start back up. And shit like this week happens that totally derails me and I think, if only I’d been working I’d be further along than where I am and wouldn’t feel so shitty about being derailed. But it’s okay. The words will always be there when you’re ready and able to come back. It took me a long, long time to reconcile that in my head. The write like you’re afraid you’ll die before you finish served me really well these last few years, but now, things have changed and so have I. My anxiety is actually a lot worse than it used to be and I’m having to always learn how to listen to it, deal with it, and adjust for it.

If you need the break because you don’t have a choice because that cat’s claws are sunk so deep you’ll just shred yourself trying to remove them, just wait. Let the cat calm down and retract the claws. Your characters, your words, your abilities will still be there when you come back. Not everyone can work in chaos and despair, not everyone’s art flourishes in the dark, and that’s okay. Wait for the sun.

And, if you suffer from anxiety, and reading this post triggered you, let me leave with you a picture of adorable sleeping pups, using the same pillow to try to calm you back down. I highly recommend a cuddly pet if you have anxiety, btw.

On Curse Words and Book Covers

I read an article a few weeks ago–I think it was in Publisher’s Weekly, but of course now I can’t find it–bemoaning the use of curse words on book covers as a new trend. Here’s a similar one. That got me to thinking of the use of curse words in our society in general. Language, for all its shared value for its speakers, is a very personal and subjective thing. Fair warning: I will likely contradict myself a few times in this post because I have mixed feelings on the subject.

First of all – yes, I am a frequent user of curse words in real life. I have a mouth like a sailor. My good friend Lee finally helped me embrace the F word a few years ago. And thanks to Chuck Wendig (a damn fine writer, I must say – he has a book Called Damn Fine Book, so it’s a joke, see what I did there?) I am a much more creative cusser. (If you can handle profanity, check out his blog. He is awesome – and his books really are great.)

To me, at this point in my life, curse words are words like any other, not good or bad, right or wrong, just with a little more color and emphasis than others — like an adjective or other modifier. I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of creativity or vocabulary; I have both in spades. For me, some of it is habit and some of it might be laziness, but other times it is spice. Like I want to add a little extra emphasis to what I am saying. But also I curse without really thinking. I can, however, hold myself back at work, in professional writer settings, and when there are kids present (if I realize they are there, of course).

Funny thing is, I try not to curse online. (Except for the occasional FFS, which I don’t spell out. If you know what it means, that’s fine. If you don’t, you wouldn’t even know I was cussing.) It’s just not part of my brand. (It is for Chuck and he incorporates it well.) I don’t want to alienate people or look unprofessional, either. I guess my brand might be a little more straight-laced than I really am outside of book world.

But yet, there is cussing in my one contemporary book, and sometimes historical curse words in my historicals. Go figure. Why? It feels more authentic to me, to my experience of life. Obviously if I was writing a Christian or clean book/romance I wouldn’t use it because it’s not what the reader expects to see. But outside of those markets, I think people are pretty immune to it in daily conversation, especially since you see it on TV now. (I will admit that even I had to get used to the number of F bombs when I was watching Entourage. About those contradictions?)

Do I think it belongs on book covers? In rare instances, yes. I mean Go the F*** to Sleep is a perfect title. I’m not even a parent and I know that–because it’s how you feel. But I don’t suddenly want to start seeing it all over the place. For one, it’s mostly done for shock value and to get people talking, which is disingenuous. It’s like being a Shock Jock was in the 80s and 90s. Do it to get attention and seem cool.

For another, you don’t know who is seeing that title and as I mentioned, some people get offended by cussing and/or don’t want their little ones exposed to it. Sometimes it seems like being yelled at, and God knows we have enough of that in our world already.

And there are levels to swearing, too. In general, a D or S word is less offensive than an F word, which is still better than calling a woman the C word. But that is my system. What if yours isn’t the same? Who says what is acceptable and what isn’t? How far is too far?

But I also think society in general isn’t ready for it. A lot of people still have a Victorian mindset to cussing and would find it rude at best and downright vulgar at worst. I bought a book on feminism in the 90s a while back called 90s Bitch and I was a little uncomfortable with the title, even though I know it is a nod to third wave feminism, which took place in the 90s/early 2000s and partially focused on reclaiming words like “bitch” and “slut.” So the title had meaning, but it still wasn’t necessary to me.

Maybe that’s my point. When the word is necessary–like in Go the F*** to Sleep, somehow Go the Hell/Heck to Sleep just doesn’t have the same punch–then I think it is fine. But when it is just there because they can (like many examples in the article I linked to above), it still feels crass.

I know, I know, why is it okay for me to cuss with impunity, but yet I get offended by it in a book title? I told you I would contradict myself.

I think some of it is also a matter of choice. I have made the choice to cuss. But I will try not to do it around you if I know you don’t like it. However, when it is in a book title, I have no choice in the matter; it is just there. And often THERE because the publisher/author is trying to make a point, even if it is only “look how subversive I am.” And that is just stupid.

Quite frankly, most cussing isn’t used in a very nice way either. Here I am differentiating between when you cuss out of emphasis–like when you stub your toe or  say “s***, man” to something bad someone just revealed–and when you cuss to call someone a name or really to be mean. Our world has so much negativity already (which is behind a lot of the aforementioned yelling) why would you needlessly put more out there, much less broadcast it on the cover of a book?

I know, you could say I contribute to the negativity in the world by choosing to cuss in my daily life, and maybe I do. I never said I was f***ing perfect or that I have all the answers.

Obligatory #NaNoWriMo Post – 2019 Edition

Welp, here we are: the first week of Nano! Tomorrow is obviously the first full week, but we post on Thursdays so deal with it.

So. How’s it going, boo boo?

At this point, this morning, to be on par you should have hit that all-important 10k word milestone yesterday, looking at hitting 11,669 by the end of the day. But if you haven’t, don’t despair; there is still time. And, honestly, as long as you’re writing, it doesn’t matter if you hit par or if you “win” at the end of the month.

Nano doesn’t work for everyone, but I personally love it. I’ve been participating in Nano or Camp Nano since 2012 when I wrote my first Matilda Kavanagh novel that month, well, the first half of it anyway.

And that’s one of the reasons I love Nano, I love the jump start it gives me on a project. I’ve used it many a time for the push I needed to get into writing.

Take this year for example: I took most of the year off from writing, since about February, and was terrified I wouldn’t get back into the groove of writing again and be back at square one. But the pressure of Nano mounted for me in October and I managed to get thirteen chapters outlined before November first so I had something to start with when the big day came. And, so far, I am slightly over par.

“I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” – Duke Ellington. I feel you man. This is so me.

I like to write more than I need if I can on a given day so when I come up on days like today yesterday, and I can’t quite write the 1633 words I need, I’m still okay on the overall word count.

How do I do it, you ask? Well, henny, sit back and Auntie Shauna will give you a few tips and tricks that work for me.

As I mentioned above, I love an outline. When I was a baby writer, I didn’t outline and that led to meandering, massive manuscripts (say that three times fast) that needed 4-5 rounds edits before they were decent. With an outline I have a map I’m following to help me focus and leads to much cleaner and tighter manuscripts at the end. Yes, I deviate, and that’s okay, but the next page in the outline helps me remember where to pull back on course. Like, this story for example? My MC was giving me serious Carrie in the Library vibes as I was writing, but not when I was outlining. So, it’s in the story now and I’ll adjust as I go along. You can add things that weren’t in the outline to begin with, it’s fun to discover things you hadn’t thought of. So don’t look at an outline as set in stone, look at it as Google Maps that keeps “recalculating” as you turn down this road and that to see different attractions or get a coffee.

I also need a soundtrack.

I like to curate a playlist for every book/story, but I also have a playlist that is just soundtrack scores if I need that kind of big, fast energy without lyrics. It helps me tune everything out and zone in on the writing. Some people need silence and that’s hard to come by, so maybe just put your headphones in but with nothing playing and the soft electronic buzz might help.

Now to get the word counts. I’ve written quite a few books, so the idea of getting 1633 words a day isn’t particularly daunting, but I do NOT sit down and think, “Okay, I’m going to type until I hit 1600 words before I stop.” Nope. That’s a recipe for failure for me. Now, I just might get that many in a sprint/session, but I’m not doing it intentionally. I like to break it into pieces. I’ll tell myself I’m gonna get 500 words and then take a break—which might net more like 600 words. Or I’ll see that I have 20 mins before I have to go do something, so I’ll just get what I get in that 20 and it just might be a full 1k words. You decide if word goals or timed sessions work better for you.

Day-to-day, outside of Nano I may not go for multiple writing sessions. If I have time in the morning and over the course of an hour or two, if I get 1500-3000 words, I’ll call that good for the day and not come back in the afternoon or evening. But during Nano? No. If I have time to get a second session in, I will. Even if it is less than 30 mins. That’s how I stay over par. That’s how you get 2-3k words a day when you don’t have a couple of hours in the morning to do it all.

That’s also you hit par. If you get in your head that you HAVE to get those 1633 words all at once, you may be creating a creative blockage in your system. The anxiety, the pressure, that just steals the fun of this.

You’re writing with literally millions of other people. You’re writing with me. You might be writing with your favorite author. Even if you’re not sprinting actively with friends, if you’re doing this on your own, we’re all doing this with you! It’s a fun, friendly competition where we all want to win, but we’re excited to see you winning too! Nano is like the writer community Great British Bake Off! We’re all clapping for you and saying “Well done!” So don’t work yourself up thinking it all has to happen in one sitting.

I mean, look at this:

See that graph? So I “only” wrote 1334 today yesterday. And I did that in 2 sessions, not one. But I was just so tired and felt kinda grumpy all day; I didn’t have those 300 extra words in me. But I was already over par because of how many words I got the day before. Ups and downs are normal and there is always time to catch up. Do not kill yourself doing this. It’s meant to be encouraging and fun so try to keep that in mind.

You’re doing great. I promise!

One other thing I make sure I do is not end right after a climax. If I wrote a particularly exciting scene, maybe a fight or something intense and there’s a natural end to that scene, and I’ve hit my goal for the day, I will still make sure I start the first couple hundred words or so of the next scene. There’s something about starting a new chapter at the very beginning that kind of feels like starting at the very beginning again and you have to sort of find your momentum again and it can be a little hard. It may eat some of your writing time figuring out how you meant to start the next scene. But if you flow right into it and get a couple of paragraphs, you’re setting yourself up to get right into it the next day. If you haven’t done this before, try it, see if it helps.

One last piece of advice from Auntie Shauna. BACK UP YOUR WORK! Seriously. Email your manuscript to yourself every damn day. Do it after every session if you want—even if that means you have 3 or 4 emails in one day—I don’t care. JUST EMAIL IT. BACK IT UP. DO IT! DO IT NOW!

Of Vampires and Other Things

Back in 2015 – yikes! I’ve been blogging here for along time – I made a post called Ten Good Vampire Books. At some point along the way, that post got caught up in Google’s SEO magic algorithms and it’s had more views in 2019 than it had the year it was published.

Go me?

At any rate, when I sat down to write this post, I planned to make an updated version of the old post, except almost immediately I ran into a problem. I haven’t been keeping up on the vampire literature.

In part, that’s because I have a vampire of my own. Thaddeus Dupont is 100 years old, and he was a monk before he was turned back in 1925. He and his boyfriend Sarasija Mishra appear in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. (Jump HERE to learn more about Vespers, book 1 in the series.)

Some of you have seen me post about the Hours of the Night and Thaddeus Dupont before, so maybe this won’t be news, but bear with me for a bit. There were a couple compelling reasons I chose to write a vampire character – above and beyond Irene telling me I needed to write another vampire. (She can be very persistent.)

First off, I’ve always loved stories about vampires. Whether it’s trad vamps like Dracula or naughty vamps like Bill & Eric from the Southern Vampire Mysteries (the books that inspired True Blood), I’m a fan. For a while, I made something of a study of vampire fiction, reading as much as I could get my hands on.

Did you know George RR Martin wrote a vampire novel? I couldn’t finish it.

When Irene and I first started working on Vespers, I had a good knowledge of what was out there in the world of vampire literature and some ideas about the kind of character I wanted to create. The popularity of vampire fiction rises and falls, following some unspoken cultural zeitgeist.

Victorian vampires addressed the cultural fear of death. Later in the ’80s and early ’90s, the themes were blood and infection, likely a response to the AIDS crisis. Then in the ’90s to early ’00s, vampires explored our ideas about eternal youth and sexiness.

At the risk of taking myself too seriously, when I write Thaddeus, there’s a similar theme at play. See, I’m the elderScribe, a good 10-20 years older than the rest of the gang who blogs here, and Thaddeus Dupont is my attempt to express my sometimes bewildering experience dealing with the modern world.

Thaddeus was born in 1900 and grew up in the bayou, speaking a patios of English and French, in a time and place before most of the modern accouterments we take for granted. His mildly confused response to his 21st century boyfriend is an echo of my own feelings. I try to keep up, but kids these days….damn….

There’s another, more personal reason for Thaddeus Dupont’s creation, specifically, why I gave him a strong Catholic orientation. I’m a cradle Catholic, and while my relationship to the Church has waxed and waned over the last 50-odd years, it’s currently on indefinite hiatus. The dissonance between Thaddeus’s relationship to the church and the love he has for Sara give me a place to work out my own feelings – in a hopefully-entertaining way.

Irene and I are currently working on Spooked, book 2 in our spin-off Haunts & Hoaxes series. The first book, Haunted, was written for a freebie giveaway, but readers liked the characters so we turned it into a series. I made the first cover (b/c freebie), but we recently unveiled a much-improved version that brands the series.

Isn’t it pretty?!

Haunts & Hoaxes is a mash-up of Supernatural + The X Files with naughty bits thrown in, and we’re hoping to release Spooked sometime in early 2020. Keep your eye out for it!

This post turned into kind of a ramble, but in summary, I probably know more about vampires than is good for me, I hadn’t kept up with vampire fiction b/c I don’t want it to color my own vampire, I have several reasons for how Thaddeus Dupont took shape, Irene and I are headed in a slightly different direction but will come back to HotN soon, and this is one of the longest sentences I’ve ever written.

Happy Halloween!

Oh, and…uh… I have a couple gift codes for a free copy of Vespers. Leave me a comment and I’ll hook you up. (In the off chance that I get more comments than I have codes, I’ll draw names or something.)

Halloween Tarot, Books, and Editing Special! Oh My!

(Originally posted on my website, shaunagranger.com)

tl:dr I’m offering 3 Tarot Reading specials, a discount on MS Critiques or Content Edits, and I have books for sale that I’ll sign for you! Scroll to the bottom for details and how to go about giving me your monies! Erm. I mean, how to get these deals!

If you follow me anywhere, you probably know that I read tarot. It’s a tradition passed to me by my mother and something that I’ve come to love once again.

I enjoy reading tarot and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Obviously not everything is going to be spot on and sometimes the messages can be vague, but for the most part, my interpretation of the messages have been accurate for the client in front of me.

If you follow my blog you know that I offer readings to those who seek them out. But now I’m tossing my proverbial hat on the corner and setting up a table to ask for clients. I’m trying to raise a little extra money because I need to do something about my office. It has become a mess and not the most comfortable place to work in.

office mess

Crazy right? We live in a tiny house that is nearly one hundred years old, which means it wasn’t designed with modern tastes in mind (in fact my office was added on to the original house in the 70s or 80s and you have to go through one room to get to it. It’s weird). There are no open floor plans or high ceilings here; everything is compartmentalized and a bit small. Which also means there’s not a lot of room to spread out.

As I run my business from home, so does my husband. So he has clients here six days a week, which means I’m often closed off in my office to work. Which is totally fine! But if it could been better organized with a little more comfort for the times when I’m researching, outlining, or editing, that would be amazing. When I’m just writing, my desk works for me, if not the ancient chair that I slouch in (heh), but it is often the catch-all for all things paper and business related. Which means it’s not the best place to edit, critique, or outline.

So, I find myself in other parts of the house, only to scurry out of the way when clients come through. Nothing less professional than a harried writer in her pajama bottoms just hanging out with pens in her hair and papers spread everywhere.

Now to the fundraising. If you’ve read this far, I am hoping to raise between $500 and $1,500 total (low end, I just get to  make this a little more comfortable to do all my work in one room, high end I can also replace my desk and be more organized).

The first thing I’m offering is tarot card readings. Three levels.

The first level is a One Card Draw. This is $5 and suitable to basic questions, usually yes or no answers.

1 card

The second level is the Three Card Spread. This is $10 and suitable to slightly more complicated questions, nothing too life-changing but bigger than a simple yes or no.

3 card

The third level is the Five Card Spread. This is $20 and suitable to complicated questions. It can help you with pros and cons of a situation.

5 card

All you need to do is email me at shaunagranger82@gmail.com with your question and any details you think are pertinent if you’re going with one of the two larger spreads and which spread you’re looking for. If your question is time-sensitive, definitely let me know and I’ll do my best to get back to you as quickly as possible.

And, secondly, I am offering to sign and sell personalized books! I have a few copies of my books, which make excellent holiday gifts! Books are so easy to wrap you know.

thumbnail (7).jpg

I have 10 copies each of Earth, Book One in the Elemental Series, World of Ash the first in the Ash and Ruin Trilogy, and Wytchcraft the first Matilda Kavanagh Novel. And 5 copies of Dandelions and Blackbird. They are $10 each with $3 shipping–signed and personalized to who you’d like.

And I have 5 full sets of the Ash of Ruin Trilogy for $25 and $7 shipping. And just 2 full sets left of The Elemental Series for $45 and $9 shipping. Again, just email me at shaunagranger82@gmail.com with your order and what name you’d like inscribed (see below for payment options).

Thirdly if you need a manuscript critique, check out the price page for that and see what you’re looking for, reach out to me and mention the Office Fundraiser and get 15% off the regular price!

Supernatural, prophet, Chuck

And, finally, if you need a content edit, check out the price page for that, reach out to me and mention the Office Fundraiser and get 20% off the regular price!

Please review this page to see which service, critique or content edit, is more what you’re looking for.

I am planning on doing this through the end of the month, but I think I will accept requests for these prices through November since October is already half-gone.

I accept Venmo (preferred), bank-to-bank supported by Zelle (preferred), and PayPal (least preferred).

Venmo: https://venmo.com/Shauna-Granger

Bank-to-bank supported by Zelle: shaunagranger82@gmail.com

Paypal: paypal.me/thegrangers

Competing Demands

When I’m here on the Spellbound Scribes, I try to write about either a craft question that’s been bothering me (see my post on characters-as-verbs) or some quasi-philosophical musings that are rattling around in the ol’ brain.

This month, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming release of my book Lost & Found!

L&F is a gay romance set in 1920 Paris. It’s my first release in over a year, and tbh I feel like I’m one of those jugglers with spinning hats on every stick.

Couldn’t find a gif with spinning plates, but this dude juggling his head is close enough.

There are so many moving pieces to a self-publishing project. Review queries and organizing paid promo and formatting and uploading and updating and blog posts and omg omg omg

I can’t think about it too hard, or my head will pop off. (See gif ^^^)

(If you’d like a taste for how all the pieces of self publishing fit together, check out Nicole’s post from July, where she spells out how she made the USA Today best seller list.)

So…yeah. In the interest of getting back at it, I’m going to close here with the blurb for Lost & Found, along with an excerpt and a link to where you can find it. The preorder price is $2.99 (regular $4.99) so it’s a bit of a bargain right now. Thanks….

Blurb

A dancer who cannot dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to love.

History books will call it The Great War, but for Benjamin Holm, that is a misnomer. The war is a disaster, a calamity, and it leaves Benjamin profoundly wounded, his mind and memory shattered. A year after Armistice, still struggling to regain his mental faculties, he returns to Paris in search of his closest friend, Elias.

Benjamin meets Louis Donadieu, a striking and mysterious dance master. Though Louis is a difficult man to know, he offers to help Benjamin. Together they search the cabarets, salons, and art exhibits in the newly revitalized city on the brink of les années folles (the Crazy Years). Almost despite himself, Benjamin breaches Louis’s defenses, and the two men discover an unexpected passion.

As his memory slowly returns, Benjamin will need every ounce of courage he possesses to recover Elias’s story. He and Louis will need even more than that to lay claim to the love – and the future – they deserve.

Excerpt
In which our heroes, Benjamin and Louis, make their acquaintance…

The table on the other side of me was empty, at least until I’d poured myself a second glass of wine. Then, crossing the room in a familiar halting rhythm, my neighbor, the man from the café on the Place du Tertre, took a seat.

I raised my glass in a toast of alcohol-fueled enthusiasm. “It’s nice to see you.”

He blinked as if surprised by my words. “I’m not sure I know you.”

His gaze suggested otherwise. “A while ago, you were at L’Oiseau Bleu.” I swirled the wine in my cup. “Are you following me?”

“I had a taste for fish.” Hooking his cane over the edge of his table, he shrugged again. “And I have better things to do than observe the habits of a drunk American.”

We were interrupted by the arrival of my dinner. There might have been humor in his tone, but still, the sting of his words quashed the impulse to invite him to join me.

Turning to the waiter, slick black hair gleaming, he placed his own order. When the waiter brought his wine, I took the opportunity to raise my glass a second time. “Cheers.” I deliberately did not smile. “Comment allez-vous?How are you, using the formal “vous,” not the more intimate “tu.

Tu. In all my time in France, I’d never regularly used the personal form of address. To be honest, if English had an equivalent construction, I could have said the same about my friends and family at home.

Bien. I am well.”

His tone, and the slight tremor of his fingers on his glass of wine, hinted otherwise. He turned as if to shield himself from my appraisal. I couldn’t help myself. It was my nature to observe. Assess. Diagnose. “I’m Benjamin Holm.” The distance between us was too great to bridge with a handshake.

He raised his glass. “Louis Donadieu.”

I forced my fork through the crisp crust of fish. Juices ran free, and my mouth watered. I ate, hunger keeping my attention fixed on the food on my plate. Though it had been almost two years since I’d last sat at an army canteen, I still attacked each meal as if someone might steal it away.

At my last bite, I glanced at Louis. He watched me, a pool of stillness amidst the confusion around us. “Did you even taste it?”

“Yes.” Swirling my fork through the drippings on my plate, I fought the urge to smile, unsure of the rules for the game he played.

He sniffed. “Bien.” Shifting in his seat, he poured himself more wine. As long as he wasn’t looking, I continued my assessment. He held his right leg extended, as if he was unable to bend it at the knee, but was otherwise quite vigorous, virile even.

I finished my peas and potatoes, bemused by my strange dinner companion. After a week in Paris, I’d had no luck with my main goal, and this conversation, though tentative, intrigued me.

“Were you injured?” I gestured at his feet with my wine.

“What?”

“In the war. Your leg.” His narrowed gaze suggested I’d transgressed. So, no questions about his health. “Pardon. I did not mean to—”

“No, I was unable to participate in the grand conflict.”

He turned his attention away, leaving me confused. This was less a game than a jousting contest. Rather than bring another helping of rudeness on my head, I swallowed the rest of my wine and prepared to leave.

“What are you doing?”

I paused in the act of reaching for my wallet. “I’m finished. I need to be going.” Though I had no real destination beyond the poor comfort of my solitary rooms. Instead of my wallet, I fished out the photograph. “Here.” I stood, leaning over his table and offering him the picture of Elias. “I’m looking for my friend Elias. Have you seen him?”

Always the same words, bringing the same blank response.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found.” He tapped the white edge of the photograph, and I snatched it away.

“He’s my friend.”

“So?”

His acid tone burned through my good humor. Who is this man to follow and then abuse me? “Have a good evening.”

“Good evening, though if you give up so easily, you must not really want to find him.”

Surprise kept me planted by his table. “Do you know where he is?”

He tipped his glass in my direction, the corner of his lips curling in what could not truly be called a smile. Though it wasn’t a scowl either. “No, but if I do see him, I will send him to the heavy-footed American man who lives on the floor above me.”

Tired of being the target of his sport, I straightened, falling into the habitual pose of a military officer. “Again, good evening.” Annoyed beyond what the situation called for, I departed.

Click HERE to find Lost & Found on Amazon and most every other retailer!

Happy reading!!!

Writing prompts and inspiration

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.

“Mrrrow!”

“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!”

“Mrow?”

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.