Pretty

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black beetle in macro photography

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I had a lot of fun writing this one, because it made me giggle and it doesn’t go the direction you think it will.

PRETTY

Do you think I’m pretty?
I don’t trust a mirror to tell me the truth
Do you think I’m pretty?
I don’t trust mirrors, but I’ll trust you.

My hair gleams so glossy
I scrubbed my skin till it shines
They’re both blacker than onyx
You’ll find no onyx stone finer than mine.

Do you think I’m pretty?
When I ask others, they all run
Do you think I’m pretty?
With the others gone, call me your only one.

I can smile for days
You’ll never find sharper teeth whiter than mine
I smile at you from ear to ear
To the back of my head, to the back of my spine.

Do you think I’m pretty?
My heart rests on your reply
Do you think I’m pretty?
If you don’t love me, someone will have to die.

Maybe me… Maybe you…

Have you ever seen a body like this?
Where others are lines, I’m all curves
Segmented, hard, and perfectly formed
Open your mouth and I’ll open mine. Dinner is served.

Do you think I’m pretty?
I cannot control the hand I’m dealt
Do you think I’m pretty?
My heart breaks the same as everyone else.

Do you think I’m pretty? (4x, deeper and growlier each time)

Resolute (2)

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On a personal level, not much happened to me in 2019. I gained a lot more responsibility at my job with changes at the company. And the biggest life event was the death of our sixteen-year-old cat, Sasha, whom I loved very much and continue to miss. Her death wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

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We are now a catless household, and our lives are poorer for it, but we have an unpredictable dog, so I’m not sure whether cats are in the foreseeable future. You’d think that would be enough for me to move into an apartment, but I’m prohibitively resistant to change.

Sharing what you’ve accomplished during the year is less fun when you haven’t met a lot of the goals that you set for yourself. It’s okay that I didn’t, because writing takes up most of my time, and what isn’t taken up by that, I added regular cardio workouts, which take good chunks out of most of my week. Any hope I had to do much more creatively than writing died with my attempts to improve my blood test numbers. And I did. Some with the help of medication, but my triglycerides went way down on the last blood test, which was all me. So go me on that. So I need to adjust my expectations, as long as I continue to prioritize writing and my health. Good priorities to have, generally.

I did lose a significant amount of weight from the addition of exercise, but despite that, it didn’t make a significant change in my wardrobe, which kind of sucks, so it’s a good thing I’m doing it for my heart health and not my reflection – although it would be nice if my reflection could improve. I’m hoping that if I can’t improve my reflection in the coming year, at least I can lessen or eliminate one of my prescription medications.

I was supposed to reboot my jewelry-making, but that’s simply not going to happen until 2021 at the earliest, because this year’s writing schedule is really tight. And unfortunately, horror movie reviewing didn’t go very far at all, because last year’s writing schedule was so tight. I’m going to try again to do a dozen reviews in 2020. I’ve written several in my head. Just haven’t had a good moment to sit down and get them out.

I wrote ten original song lyrics, which is two short of my goal, but I also wrote three for one of my novels, so that balances it out and then some.

“All Thumbs”
“House of Windows”
“Trouble”
“How to Love”
“Dead Ends”
“The Smiling Man”
“What Are You Wearing to the End of the World?”
“The Long Walk”
“Pretty”
“Storm the Castle”

As far as my writing goes, I’m behind on my schedule by about a half a month to a month, and I didn’t get to rewrite WAR HOUSE, but I did finish three novels of quite varying lengths.

DEEP DOWN (pure horror): 60,480 words in about a month
DRIFT (modern gothic folk tale): 88,918 words in a little over a month
PUPPETEER (fairy tale remix, Thorns Series 4): a staggering 222,215 words in a little more than two and a half months (I started mid-September, but there was a two-week break in October when I had to proofread and prepare ROSE RED). I wrote 102,119 words in November for NaNoWriMo. It’s my longest first draft ever, and I’m going to have to cut at least 50K of it over the course of the next five rounds of edits, but I finished it before Christmas, so at least I got it done.

All of that for a total of 371,613 words this year. Technically, about 10K of DEEP DOWN was written in 2018, but I didn’t count it last year, and those handwritten words were transcribed this year, so let’s just go with it.

Rose Red E CoverIn addition, I went through all the motions to publish the second book in the Thorns series, ROSE RED. I’m not sure whether anyone but a handful of people I know actually read my books, which brings up the question of whether the sheer time and expense of publishing is worth it. But since I can’t stop writing, I might as well continue the vanity publishing and support the indie publishing industry while I’m at it, especially since I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to justify it.

Definitely going to be supporting the industry this coming year, since I hope to self-publish DEEP DOWN, DRIFT, and BLUEBIRDS (Thorns 3), which is…ambitious with the intensive process I’ve given myself. I finished the last personal edit for DEEP DOWN last night, so, pending my beta reader’s suggestions, it’s ready to send to my editors. I was also really pleased with the first draft of DRIFT, so I don’t anticipate tremendous changes during the double-edit.

Unfortunately, my last read of BLUEBIRDS felt…off. I think it’s a pacing and conviction issue. So I’ll need to give it another intensive edit before attempting the last double-edit and sending it to my editors. I’m also really not sure about PUPPETEER. It’s one of those things where it’s either quite good or quite terrible, and I just can’t tell. I’d send it to my alpha reader (she reads my stuff before I edit to make sure I edit in the right direction), but I don’t want to hand her such a bloated manuscript.

In addition to all the edits needed to publish – and the time required to accomplish them, especially for BLUEBIRDS – I’ve scheduled the re-write of WAR HOUSE, a few short stories, and two additional novels, including CROOKED HOUSE (Thorns 5). I’m guessing that if I don’t have the time, the short stories and WAR HOUSE might be pushed into 2021. My priorities are the publications, CROOKED HOUSE (T5), and the zombie novel I have planned for next NaNoWriMo. 2020 is going to be plenty busy, but it’s worth noting that 2021 isn’t going to be nearly as full, so I can afford to push WAR HOUSE off another year if I have to.

So that’s it – 2019 in the rearview, 2020 through the windshield. Here’s hoping that this year can be just as personally productive, even if I don’t accomplish much else.

ROSE RED Playlist

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Rose Red E CoverOne of my personal little joys is moving music I love into playlists for the books I’m working on. It helps me focus my themes and feel all the feels that music can make a person feel more effortlessly than words on their own. My experience of books, mine and other people’s, is very cinematic, and soundtracks help supplement that experience for me, and I love sharing that playlist with anyone else, if they want to feel the feels with me.

There’s more metal in this than the pop/singer-songwriter vibe of the THORNS playlist (although we still have some of that), because things get darker and much more dramatic, hence the white-gothic aesthetic of the cover, which is my jam.

The rules: No more than two songs by each artist, and no song specially written or covered for a movie.

“Mad Girl” – Emilie Autumn
“Not a Virgin” – Poe
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Bonnie Raitt
“Swansong for a Raven” – Cradle of Filth
“Snow-White” – Xandria
“Out of my Cage” – UNSECRET feat. Alaina Cross
“Where is the Blood?” – Delain
“Promised Land” – Lily Kershaw
“Ravenlight” – Kamelot
“Madness” – Ruelle
“Control” – Poe
“Hate Me” – Eurielle
“Darkest White” – Tristania
“Vendetta” – UNSECRET feat. Krigare
“I Want My Innocence Back” – Emilie Autumn
“What Have You Done” – Within Temptation
“Nietzche’s Eyes” – Paula Cole
“Hate it When You See Me Cry” – Halestorm
“Manhattan” – Sara Bareilles
“Love and War” – Fleurie
“Let Her Go” – Passenger

ROSE RED now available

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I’m very late, but everything is now available!

Hair as black as night, skin as white as bone, lips as red as blood… Just because the princess wakes up doesn’t mean she’s saved.
 
The second book in the modern fairy tale mash-up Thorns series is now available in ebook and print.
 
Universal link to all other vendors: https://books2read.com/u/meBMBl
 
And start from the beginning with Thorns: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KQFSNWP

Rose Red E Cover

Storm the Castle

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low angle photograph of concrete tower

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I’m not sure where this comes from except a series of images in my head, perhaps inspired by the heavy hand with cinematic pop I’ve been consuming lately. It’s forceful and lots of melodramatic, but that’s how I like it.

STORM THE CASTLE

Barren land from cliff to shore
Smoke and stone, chained dragon fire
You think you’re a king
You deserve so much more
But you’re wearing the crown of a thief and a liar.

You call me princess, but man, I’m a queen
You call me child but I am a warrior of the wild
You think you’re the king
And though my crown remains unseen
I am your end, destruction reviled.

The armies stand, but not for you
The earth, it turns and will turn without you
Your people call for a different name
How long did you think they’d endure you?

Doors won’t keep me out
Raise your sword
I’ll charge the gate
I give my word.

I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle.

Where once was green, you turn to gray
Not even wolves still roam our woods
Your eyes are green, what once were gray
Your daughters weep, wraiths in black hoods.

You call them trophies, you touch them gold
Cold metal under gold hands, no warmth in your skin
You call us playthings, silk skirts to be sold
You lock your walls against me, but I’m coming in.

Empires rise, empires fall
You have gained and lost it all
You’ve done as any tyrant does
You beg to me to be deposed.

Open the door, false king, false friend
Let coins pour into the streets like grain
All false kings come to ignoble ends
I’m shaking off the dust, shaking off the chains.

You call me a woman
Better were I a man
You call me a girl
But I am the dragon.

I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle
I’ll storm the castle.

The Long Walk

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It’s been a hot minute since I wrote a song, but now I have three. They usually happen in clusters like this. I’m overworded from NaNoWriMo, so I’m not sure how much anything works, and mood-wise I’m a wreck, but I’ll take what I can get right now.

Another in my personal ‘paralysis’ subgenre, aka ‘poor you, please get over yourself,’ but it’s bound to happen now and then.

THE LONG WALK

When I was young, I was ready to fight
But now I lie down with fire dying inside
Watching everyone else taking sides
And still wishing that I could fight
I’m tired
I thought I’d have so much more I could do
But now it takes everything just to get through
I’m tired.

Not a day goes by
That I don’t think of dropping everything
And walking away
I don’t even know where I’d be walking to
Just away.
Away.

And I’d see all the things I don’t see on my screen
And I’d talk to the people who say what they mean
Or maybe I wouldn’t talk at all, to anyone or anything.
I’d just go till the rubber wore off my shoes
Until the world grew much bigger than squares of bad news
Until the road cut out at the end of the views.
I’d go until my soles were bloody and red
Until all of the madness flew out of my head
Deep down I know it would end when I’m dead.
But at least I’d know it was real.
Because if I have to be tired,
Do I have to be too tired to feel?

The course of my life, it moves chair to chair
And the truth of it is that I end up nowhere
Back where I start, ambition fades in midair
As I move back the goal posts as far as I dare
I’m tired
Once I dreamed much farther than this
And those dreams couldn’t fit on an end-of-life list
I’m tired.

Not a day goes by
That I don’t think of dropping everything
And walking away
I don’t even know where I’d be walking to
Just away.
Away.

Leaving isn’t the answer, but I don’t know how long I can stay
At night I’m too tired from the fires of the day
But I can’t go to sleep, knowing that it all starts again
And that I’ll never be what I thought I’d be then
Because we’ll never be what we couldn’t have been
So should I just throw it all away anyway?

I’d see all the things I don’t see on my screen
And I’d talk to the people who say what they mean
Or maybe I wouldn’t talk at all, to anyone or anything.
I’d just go till the rubber wore off my shoes
Until the world grew much bigger than squares of bad news
Until the road cut out at the end of the views.
I’d go until my soles were bloody and red
Until all of the madness flew out of my head
Deep down I know it would end when I’m dead.
But at least I’d know it was real.
Because if I have to be tired,
Do I have to be too tired to feel?

ROSE RED blurb reveal

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Rose Red E CoverI don’t think I’ll ever like a blurb as much as I like the one for Thorns. I initially didn’t like the one I’d put together for Rose Red, but after some back-and-forth with my alpha reader, I sat on it for a while, then turned it into something that works.

Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as the first few versions of Nocturne‘s blurb. I fixed that one seriously last minute. Rose Red‘s is last minute, too, but at least most of it was already  in place. Just had to rework the first main paragraph.

 

 

Hair as black as night, skin as white as bone, lips as red as blood…

Just because the princess wakes up doesn’t mean she’s saved.

After Sylvaine and the Sleeping Kingdom awaken from their enchantments, the Hunter Brotherhood struggles to help the cursed population adjust to life in the modern world.

But when Sylvaine turns up in New York City with no explanation, then goes missing, the search leads Olivia, Griffin, and companions old and new deeper into even darker stories, grim tales with more endings that haven’t gone as planned.

From giant rats to stolen hearts, it turns out saving princesses isn’t as simple as a kiss.

ROSE RED Cover Reveal

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I know it’s been a while since I last updated. I had computer troubles and needed to send it out for repairs. It took a lot longer than I thought it was going to, because I just told myself I’d wait until I got it back before doing any blogging. Joke’s on me, I guess.

So we can start with the soft reveal of ROSE RED. I think it’ll be a bit late coming out–mid to late November instead of end of October. I’m just starting on the proofreading, and then it’s got to be formatted and I need to get a proof sent to me before I publish.

Until then, whet your appetite on the gorgeous, white-gothic cover of ROSE RED, the second book in the Thorns series, a custom by Covers by Combs. The fairy/folk tale inspirations for this one are Beauty and the Beast (of course), Snow White (but oddly enough, not Snow White and Rose Red, which is a Bearskin tale–just borrowed the name), and the Nutcracker.

Rose Red E Cover

What Are You Wearing to the End of the World?

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blue and yellow flame painting

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If I keep going like this, I could have a whole album of apocalypse songs.

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TO THE END OF THE WORLD?

Everything falling to pieces around you
The core of the apple has gone to the worms
The surface is cracked but the planet still turns
The Earth will do just fine without us.

But what will we decimate into our chaos?
How else to sully our decadent names?
Arsenic apple pie and murdering games
In prosperity and in plastic we trust.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling, the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

Leather and lace go with shame and disgrace
The meteor falls in red fire silk
Volcanoes are flowing with honey and milk
But the milk is laced with sweet poison

Stilettos in pockets and the heels of our shoes
Pistols spin in pistoning security machines
Bad boys go worse and the good girls go mean
Here’s the handbasket to hearse into hell in.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling and the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

They’re serving a feast speared with silver-lined spoons
The glazes look fine but taste of ash and of dust
The golden-gild cages are tarnished in rust
But we cannot break open any of our locks.

Dressed to the nines and down to the wire
The fur is all fake, blood-mined diamonds and stones
We’re dancing on shoes worn down to the bone
The servants keep turning back all of the clocks.

Bridge:
The masque of the red death holds sway over all
When the apocalypse hits, we head for the mall
The Beast has a number and our number’s come up
There are debts to be paid. On your knees, ante up
Hell is just empty and the devils all here
Amputated hands steer a carnival wheel.
We know what we’ve done, no more acts of contrition.
Lay back in the earth and think on your sin.

Chorus:
On this day of our Lord, I ask only one thing
The chains are all rattling and the pendulum swings
The roses are dying and thorns are unfurled
What are you wearing to the end of the world?

Cape May: An Introspective

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blacklistThere are a number of things that went into the creation of DEEP DOWN, the undeniably bleak horror novel that I finished last March and that should come out sometime next year. The main inspiration was my own depression, and that desire—I’m sure there’s a German word for it—to just stop one’s life and get off.

For me, I wanted to go into my closet, shut off the light, close the door, and never come out. For others, it might be to climb into bed, pull the sheets over your head, and never wake up. Sometimes, I want to just step out the door and start walking. Not to any place in particular, and with very few possessions. I’d be picked by crows in a week, I’m sure. The point is escape, but I’m not sure it’s escape with the intent to survive.

That was the premise of DEEP DOWN, the concept, but it didn’t really turn into an idea for a while. Not until the first time I saw an episode in Season 3 of THE BLACKLIST, “Cape May.”

Strangely, very little of “Cape May” actually relates to my novel at all. The flint spark comes, I think, not from the story but from James Spader’s performance in the episode. It gave me a rope to hold in the dark. From there, I went my own way, of course. But I recently resumed my effort to get through Season 3 of BLACKLIST by way of starting the whole series over again, so I was able to revisit “Cape May.”

I have trouble with serial dramas. It has to do with my emotional energy in the evenings, and the emotional requirements necessary to follow television drama. It’s why I generally don’t binge-watch shows; it’s why I prefer standard procedurals and one-off reality shows most evenings; and it’s why I sometimes get stuck in a viewing loop, because rewatches take much less energy than new viewings. I’ve yet to get through Season 2 of SUPERNATURAL, and not because I don’t like the show, whereas I’ve watched CSI:NY multiple times over. Similarly, I’ve had trouble getting past a certain point in BLACKLIST, despite my enchantment with Spader’s Raymond Reddington. It’s the two-part episodes that do it. That’s not just a 45-minute commitment. That’s a movie-length commitment, and I just can’t take the suspense.

I’m exaggerating–because this personal failing sometimes amuses me–but not by much.

I was looking forward to re-watching “Cape May” again, though, so I soldiered on to get there.

I love episodes like “Cape May.” You know the kind. The one that deviates from all other episodes of the series, one where the writers and the actors really get to stretch their legs in another direction. An experimental, genre-bending episode. All the other episodes are names of Red’s blacklisters, but “Cape May” is simply a place. It’s a moment out of time, out of sequence, and it has nothing to do with Red’s list or the task force’s actions. It has none of the carefully curated music that I’ve loved about BLACKLIST from the beginning, so much that I’ve made a playlist. It stands out in a series that is essentially an action-thriller conspiracy procedural, albeit with season-long story arcs to tie them all together.

We open to Reddington quite unlike the vibrant, larger-than-life figure who can anecdote his way through every encounter. His eyes have no life, his face shows his age, his uniform is rumpled. He is a man in pain, a man dead with grief that is not mere sadness.

In that grief, he leaves everything behind and breaks into an abandoned seaside hotel that’s fallen into disrepair. There’s not a soul to be seen except for the old man with a metal detector searching the sand, then the woman at the edge of the ocean who removes her coat, her necklace, then walks straight in.

For those familiar with the BLACKLIST background, the notes of this story immediately ring a bell, but here Redddington dives into the water and drags the woman from the sea, bringing her into the parlor to warm up by the fire, his arms around her. The woman is almost catatonic, murmuring about someone with whom she spoke harsh words before his implied death. Reddington has briefly been given a purpose, but she already looks dead.

What I love most about this episode is that it is, at its heart, a ghost story. The abandoned hotel is the perfect haunted house, American gothic to the driftwood; Red is a haunted man. And ghost stories, when done right, are about human hearts, human grief, not specters and spirits, which is part of what I loved so much about THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Netflix series. Ghost stories are so difficult to do well, but I’ve always wanted to write a good haunting.

BLACKLIST is not a supernatural show. When it feels like it treads the line of supernatural, that’s just science reaching the level of science fiction, a sense of ‘this is the future now.’ But ghosts don’t have to be supernatural fixtures. Like I said, the hotel feels like a haunted house, but in the end, it’s Red who’s haunted, his heart and mind that creates the ghosts.

The entire episode’s dialogue is spare, as is the setting—more like a play than a television show. Red and the woman speak in parallels, the exact meaning intentionally vague—Are Red and the woman talking about Red and Elizabeth or about Red and the woman herself? The answer is always yes, because history repeats itself. History haunts. Red tells so many stories of the people and places he’s encountered, outlandish experiences, but it’s the stories he doesn’t want to tell that haunt him. He is a killer, a principled sociopath. The woman is a killer, even less scrupulous, but with enough room in her killer’s heart for a daughter. They speak as killers speak to each other, ships passing in the night, a nod to each other in their respective, unique pain—the only deaths that have caused this pain, when they themselves are reapers.

Even the episode’s action sequence plays very differently than the usual BLACKLIST operations. These are people who work best alone but who ally themselves for the moment. They aren’t self-righteously blustering and bombastic like the FBI, and Red is in no state for theatrics. It’s just Red and the woman, quiet killers, quiet reapers. There’s minimal dialogue in the sequence, no headsets and walkie-talkies, no music except in the survivalist set-up. Everyone moves in silence and shadows, as though the house and the killers themselves are ghosts haunting the encroaching mercenaries, a sense enhanced by all the white-sheet-covered furniture between which they stalk each other.

Was the woman ghost or grief? Just because something isn’t there doesn’t mean it isn’t real. There was no rescue, no fight, no woman. Red was alone, yet he experienced them; they were real enough. His internal haunting remains unresolved, but there is, ultimately, catharsis—an exorcism, in acknowledging what truths he spoke to himself in the darkness.

“Cape May,” like a good haunting, lingers, depending on James Spader’s charisma even when Red is at his least flashy and most human—a fallen Icarus, crushed by the weight of his failure. Red himself, in shedding his previous life and living a shiftless criminal life, is a kind of a ghost himself, for all that he seems so lifelike. It is when Red stops, when the plummeting of his restless momentum reaches its inevitable, abrupt end, that Spader’s performance transcends an already brilliant role. No tricks. No gimmicks. No slick talk or stories. Just a man who can’t wrap enough layers of charm, class, and ruthlessness to protect himself from his own fallibility.

In pulling “Cape May” out of the BLACKLIST formula, stripping it down to the grain, we get something that’s not just good but might actually be great.

And we get a hell of a good ghost story.