Deadly Ever After

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Zombieland and Writing: Pretty Much the Same Thing

YEEEESSSSS.

A Measure of Strangeness

Nothing says “Thanksgiving” like zombies. Or maybe that’s Easter. Anyway, a week ago, I was taking Andrea Judy and this happened: zombieland I’m not sure how/why the conversation started, but as NaNoWriMo winds down, I think this Zombieland/writing simile is pretty accurate and applicable to all writing. So, I present to you (with gifs!)…

THE RULES:

Rule No. 1: Cardio

Writing is tough sometimes! Know what helps? Word sprints. It’s like brain cardio. Find some Twitter friends or MSN buddies and challenge each other to a sprint, whether it’s 1k in 1 hour or just to see how many words you can toss out in 15 minutes.

 

Rule No. 2: Double Tap

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. It’s a first draft. Kill characters. Fuck shit up. Make an endless trail of misery and sorrow for you MC to fight his/her way out of it. You’re not killing…

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Flash Fiction Friday: THE CHILDREN METHOD by S.K. Sophia

TODAY’S BREW: Eggnog! It’s Thanksgiving weekend, fools! Oh, who am I kidding, it’s beer.

By Julie

FLASH FICTION BLACK FRIDAY! MWAHAHAHAHA! I’ll force you to stand in horrendously long lines and read a short story you could have read tomorrow anyway!

No, seriously, though. I’m so pleased. My sweet, not so sweet friend Destructo Girl wrote this masterpiece for us. I can tell you in all sincerity, that just like her, this story is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Read first, then visit http://www.crowdrise.com/thrivegulu/fundraiser/dearsaima to donate to the rehabilitation of war children so they can get better physically and mentally and move on.

She rules for that link. And for so many other things. Follow S.K. Sophia on Twitter @sk_sophia) and visit her kick ass blog at http://t.co/FO0weuF9cd.

The Children Method

by S.K. Sophia

 

Tipu Maleng, the Holy Spirit, guided me. He revealed people’s bad intentions. He was my protector as much as he was my commander. That’s why I survived, and that’s why he’s in hiding.

“Diallo? Pst. Are you awake?” A frail hand touched my shoulder.

I turned to the small boy and frowned. “Don’tchu touch me, Chacha. If you touch me, I will hit you.”

“But I’m afraid,” his lips trembled. “I hear gunshots.”

“You hear gunshots every night.” But nobody ever came. “Now, leave me be.”

“But Diallo, what if he returns?” Chacha whispered.

I froze. Breathing was no longer worth the effort of expanding my lungs. My heart shriveled into a prune-like object; blood burned through my veins like acid. I rose to my feet, cold certainty fuelling my physical strength.

“What are you plotting?” The words escaped.

Chacha scrambled to his feet, terrified. “Nothing!”

“Lies,” I growled, grabbing the boy by his collar, lifting his feet off the ground. “You think you can walk away from me? Do you know what we do to traitors? We hack them with machetes and hang their bodies for everyone to see. You will be mocked for being such a weak fighter.”

Chacha struggled until I let go and ran straight for the door. I followed, my gaze piercing every surface it touched. I was consumed by an active thrill. My therapist called it ‘appetitive aggression,’ a side effect of a war criminal’s spiraling paranoia. What did he know? He wasn’t a fighter like me. He wasn’t chosen.

“Diallo,” a female voice projected, expertly radiating authority. Strong. Steady. Sure.

“Charlotte,” I said, reflecting her vocal attributes.

“You should be in bed.” She smiled as if I would obey like a powerless slave.

She would die first. “Of course, ma’am. Goodnight.”

I doubled-back whilst listening to the dying footsteps of my nurse. Once she was at an appropriate distance, I turned and sprinted along the corridor, entering the hall where the younger children slept. Chacha went pale when he saw me.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said, pulling his duvet up to his cheeks.

“Wake the others,” I ordered. Time was of the essence.

Chacha shook his head, his wide-eyes filling with a tearful innocence I once had; a pathetic sight. I slipped my arm around the back of my shorts to pull out a Buck Mark pistol.

“Disobeying orders violates our army code,” I said, pointing the gun at his face. “Wake them. Quietly.”

He rushed around the room, shaking each child gently. They stirred and sat up, not afraid like children should be.

“Play is over. You are not children. You are soldiers.” I scanned the room, taking in each blank expression. These children did not scare easily. “Nobody will accept you. They want children back, but you will return as men.” I walked through the middle of the hall, turned on my heel and walked back to the front. “We will resume our mission. Overthrow Museveni’s rule. Once we do, you will all be rewarded with power and wealth. You will be high rank soldiers.”

The lights flickered on. Charlotte walked in. She looked at the doe-eyed children, and then she spotted the gun and fell back a few steps, eyes wide with terror.

“What are you doing with a gun? Where did you get that?” She trembled like a puppy in rain.

I turned to point it at her, eyes fixed on her pale expression. She held up her trembling hands in defense. The children watched in silence.

“It’s a shame. Men would pay top Sudanese pounds for you.”

“Diallo, put the gun down. These children have seen enough violence.”

“Bek!” I screamed. Fury bubbled under my skin, turning my bones to ash. “I killed my parents. We all did. What makes you think I will not kill you?”

“Because he’s not telling you to,” she said. “He can’t control you anymore. You’re mentally sick, Diallo. Let me help you.”

I straightened my back and furrowed my brow. “I answer to the code. This,” I nodded to the gun, “violates the army code if I don’t use it. You are nothing but a goffel.” I turned to Chacha who was watching through his fingers. “Kill this goffel for me.”

“I can’t,” he whimpered.

I glared at his tear-stricken face. “Are you not one of us? Please come forward and kill,” I said, holding the gun out to him.

The fragile boy approached me, watching the others as he passed. He took the gun into his shivering hands and pointed it at Charlotte.

“Chacha, don’t listen to him,” her voice shook. “He’s psychotic. Put the gun on the ground and kick it to me.”

I leaned down so my mouth was just inches from his ear. “The Holy Spirit told me she has bad intentions. Kill her or I will kill you, then I will kill her myself. Either way, she is going to die.”

Chacha’s grip tightened. He let out a blood-curdling scream and pulled the trigger, hitting Charlotte in the chest. Her back crashed into the wall behind with a loud thud and she collapsed into a heap on the floor, blood seeping from her wound. I pried the gun out of Chacha’s clutch and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it to comfort him.

“You are a strong fighter,” I said, and turned to the rest of the children who were now huddled together, hugging and holding hands like a family. “We can make a difference once we overthrow the government. Power. Wealth. It will all be ours. They think of us as children, but the Holy Spirit chose us, just like he chose him. Let us escape this prison they call a haven and slaughter all evil.” I pointed the gun to the ceiling, my finger on the trigger. “Let us finish what Kony started.”

 

Interview and giveaway: Julie Hutchings, author of ‘Running Home’

Interview and giveaway: Julie Hutchings, author of ‘Running Home’.

Not A Thankfulness Blog

TODAY’S BREW: Eggnog. Yeah, I drink eggnog.

By Julie

I don’t read most of those thankfulness posts. I’ll put that right out there. I love Thanksgiving for a lot of reasons, but I am a huge proponent of being thankful every damn day.

Did you know that if you write down one thing you’re thankful for every night before you go to sleep you not only sleep better, but you live longer? I KNOW, RIGHT?

And I think it’s never too early to start asking your kids what they’re thankful for. I do this every night with Bennett, and it’s one of our favorite things to do. Sam, the three year old, is a little more apt to be thankful for say, “I want cheese crackers!” but I like to have the language kicking around, you know?

But I’m not here to be preachy. I AM HERE TO LIST SEVERAL THINGS THAT PLEASE ME ABOUT TURKEY DAY.

  1. TURKEY. So much of it. All the dark meat. I will hiss at anyone who comes near the dark meat.
  2. THE MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE. If you didn’t watch this growing up, you are not ‘Murican.
  3. MIMOSAS. They start at dawn and finish around BLAHAHAHA REMEMBER THAT TIME MR. BELVEDERE FELL DOWN THE STAIRS OH MY GOD WHAT DAY IS THIS?!
  4. PAJAMAS. Never gonna stop.
  5. KIDS AND HUSBAND IN PAJAMAS. Because it is best enjoyed together.
  6. PIE.
  7. THERE IS NOWHERE ELSE YOU COULD POSSIBLY HAVE TO BE, I.E. WORK ON THIS DAY OF ALL DAYS.
  8. TURKEY SANDWICHES.
  9. WATCHING YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY MAKE A MESS. NOT AT YOUR HOUSE. Whatever, if you say, “but Julie, your house is already a mess.” You don’t know me!
  10. LITTLE KID THANKSGIVING PILGRIM AND INDIAN OUTFITS AND HAND TURKEYS. You’re not human if you don’t love that shit.

I look greatly forward, also to another Hutchings Family Event. There are a couple this year, but the one I look forward to most is at Tim’s Uncle Mike’s house. Things that you may see at one of these events include:

  1. A SPONGE HOLDER CERAMIC FROG SMOKING A CIGAR.
  2. BLOOD ON THE SUGAR CONTAINER. None of us knows why.
  3. SAID UNCLE IN A THREE PIECE SUIT WITH A POCKET WATCH.
  4. MORE BEER THAN FOOD, BUT PROBABLY NOT.
  5. THE POSSIBLE ABANDONMENT OF ANY HUSBAND BY THEIR WIVES IN THE WEE HOURS. This happens. I have not done it, but we’ve only been married 12 years.

There will also be incredible smells, and great amounts of laughs and kids playing, and hugging and it makes me the happiest ever.

 

Tell me, folks, tell me not what you are thankful for, but tell me what you’re looking forward to this Thanksgiving. I look forward to my husband having a forced day off. Now, you. GO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

I’m a Hack

Today’s brew: back to peppermint mocha! And it’s sugar free!

by Kristen

A writer friend close to me slipped and used the term “self-published hack” in front of me. I can’t get it out of my mind.

I won’t lie. It pissed me off.

Of course, you’re thinking Kristen, that doesn’t mean YOU.

Then who does it mean? I don’t know one self-published writer who has cackled as they hit publish on a deliberate steaming word pile of dog poo, thinking to themselves they’ve snowed us all with this one, because their next step after forcing us to buy their horrible ebook is world domination.

No. Self-published authors are still authors. They put their soul and spirit on the paper and then make it the best version of their story they can. They pay out of pocket for editing, formatting, cover design, and promotion. They are one man bands, micro publishers doing it all.

Because my book wasn’t published by a major corporation, does that make me less of an author? I don’t work for MAC, so does that mean I don’t know how to do makeup? Is a mechanic a hack because he has his own garage and doesn’t work for Midas or even better, the Walmart Auto Center?

Owning your own business is the American dream. You are the boss, you make the rules. So why is it celebrated in other professions, even considered a step up, but still looked down upon in publishing?

Joe Hart Tells Us Stuff & An Excerpt From THE WAITING.

TODAY’S BREW: Columbian Something On Sale

By Julie

I’m a big Joe Hart fan. I’m a fan of him, personally, as exemplified by our status as roommates on Twitter. I’m as big a fan of his work. (He just tweeted this line from his new work in progress: “He lived a life of seldoms, of almosts, and mostly nevers.” UGH. I want this on a tombstone, but not mine.) The man can write horror the way I want it; classic, all but gore-free, and scaring me to the bone with its chilling implications, imagery and language. More The Shining than Nightmare on Elm Street, you know? His flash fiction is the best in the business, if you ask me, and so when he offered up THE WAITING, his latest novel, for me to read, I put on my little winged shoes and flew to his side of the apartment and grabbed it, slobbering and clawing when he tried to pull it away saying I could only have it if I said please.

Follow Joe’s blog where you can read his brilliant work. http://authorjoehart.blogspot.com/

I asked Joe to tell me where he comes up with this stuff. And he just goes on and on  and on. I had to slap him to get him to stop, but it was the funny kind of slap, not the insulting kind.

HERE’S WHAT HE SAID.

I get asked a lot of the time, ‘where do you come up with this stuff?’ or ‘how did you think of that?’ Sometimes people ask with wonder, and others tentatively, like I might leap toward them and bite their face off if they say something wrong. (Note to self: Quit wearing Hannibal Lecter mask when speaking to readers.)

Ahem.

Anyways, it’s the most common question authors get asked, and sometimes the most infuriating.

What do you mean, ‘where do I come up with this stuff?’ It’s just there, all right? Okay?! Now leave me alone! Jeez!

 

I’m kidding, of course, but I do think these questions test us as writers because it points the mirror at us and forces introspection about creativity in general. Personally I love getting asked those questions because it makes me really slow down and figure out exactly where the ideas do come from.

I guess the simple answer is, I think about things. A lot. I’m always telling a story to myself in my head, always wondering, asking questions- what if? Or, what would this character do? Out of the questions come answers. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes not so good, but that seems to be the process.

In my case, I make up creepy things. And since my genre is the one designed to scare people, my ideas can actually be tracked in a fairly clear way.

I ask myself, what am I afraid of?

This works pretty well because I’m somewhat jaded when it comes to horror. I watched Predator when I was six. I started reading King and Koontz when I was eleven. I used to dare my cousin and get dared in return to walk out in the middle of the night and do a lap around our old barn.

It takes quite a bit to scare me. So if an idea comes to my mind that does give me a shiver, I write it down and make a scene out of it. Sometimes I collect these scenes for months without knowing how they’re going to fit together, or if there’s a story at all. But usually if they start stacking up, I can arrange them in a narrative. Joe Hill once said to start small and write one good scene, then another after that, and just keep going. My process is close to the same. If I can scare myself silly by playing out a scene in my head, I run with it and weave it into the story. I did this several times in my latest novel, The Waiting, which in my opinion is the creepiest thing I’ve written to date.

But even before you can scare readers, you have to make them care. There is no fear if a person has nothing to lose. I’ve asked myself this question over the years: who is the most dangerous person, someone who has nothing to lose, or everything? I would have to side with everything, and for me this correlates directly with a reader’s engagement. A reader has to care about the characters. They have to care about the plot. They have to be emotionally involved in the story, and then you can flip the lights off on them and scream at the top of your lungs. If they don’t care, you can sling blood and guts at them continuously and they won’t move, except to shut the cover.

HEY THERE, IT’S ME, JULIE AND I DECIDED YOU DESERVED AN EXCERPT FROM THE WAITING. I love this because it takes place in a creepy ass basement. I love the idea of finding weird shit in basements, and bet you do, too. So, read:

Evan searched blindly until his fingers met a switch box. Knowing full well if this switch produced no light he would retreat up the stairs, he flipped it up. Three dim bulbsblinked on in a line across the basement, casting everything in a sick glow. He was about
to step onto the basement floor when he looked down—
—and saw a small child standing less than a foot away.
Evan’s feet tried to backpedal, and a strangled moan fell from his mouth as he tripped and landed hard on the stairs behind him. The treads bit into his ass and lower back, but he barely noticed, his gaping eyes locked on the child facing away from him.
Just as he was about to spin and flee up the stairs, already forming a plan to grab Shaun from the couch and haul him to the pontoon, Evan realized that the child hadn’t moved.
He waited, his breath too large for his lungs. His eyes traveled down the back of a little girl with dark hair wearing a purple dress, except something was wrong. Several dark slits were cut into the back of her knees.
Evan sighed and placed his sweating face into one palm.
A doll.
“Shit.”
His voice sounded hollow, but speaking gave him the strength to stand and wince at the throbbing ache settling into his back. Evan moved down the last two treads, his heart returning into the realm of normality as the doll’s face came into view. Its eyes stared across the basement, its mouth covered in duct tape.
The bubbling dread within his stomach that had receded only moments ago began to build again, the hairs rising on the back of his neck. Evan didn’t move any farther into the basement, his eyes fixed on the doll’s face. Visions of its head slowly turning toward him corkscrewed through his mind. If that happened, he wouldn’t just cry out, he would become a scream embodied.
Trying to shove aside the blaring fear within, he bent and grasped the doll’s miniature arm. Its plastic flesh felt cold to the touch, as if it had been soaking in ice water. Evan shuddered, waiting for the frigid limb to writhe in his palm. Even as the rational part of his mind tried to quell the stampeding fear, Evan noticed his hands shaking. He turned the doll over once, studying it. It didn’t look very old or used. In fact, it appeared almost new. When he flipped it over again, he started as its bright blue eyes blinked shut, but realized it was designed to do that when lying flat. He studied the gray tape covering the doll’s mouth, it chubby cheeks visible above its gag. Evan set the doll on the floor beside a stack of cardboard boxes, giving it another sidelong glance before stepping fully into the room.
The basement ran the full length and width of the house, and even with its low ceiling, it felt like a cavernous space. To his right he saw what must have been Jason’s grandmother’s sewing area; a dust-covered sewing machine sat amidst a field of threaded bobbins atop a desk. Beside it, several baskets of yarn lay in bundles, their wrapping sealed and new.
Evan moved forward, running his hand along a workbench that ran along the wall.
A pegboard of hanging tools glinted in the soft light, and numerous drawers lined the front of the bench. A few support beams studded the floor in random places, furthering the feeling of being in a cave.
As he approached the opposite end of the room, Evan saw a wide worktable covered with a white sheet and littered with several stacks of papers held down by oblong brass paperweights. A few sprockets and thin chains were coiled within trails of oil.
Beyond the table stood a massive shape partially concealed by another sheet, this one dark and splotched.
Evan moved closer to the hidden shape, noting the electrical panel in one corner as well as a hulking furnace and water heater. Several cobwebs danced in the rafters above, and gradually the silhouette beneath the makeshift tarp became apparent.
A grandfather clock.
But it was the biggest Evan had ever seen. Rounding the table, he tugged once at the sheet covering its bulk. It fell to the floor, and he stepped back.
The clock didn’t have a single pendulum encasement, but three. The two towers to either side of the center lacked actual pendulums and sat lower, like the shoulders of a crouching giant. The wood frame was dark, stained a deep obsidian, with elaborate molding that swirled and curved on the outside of the frame. Three glass doors covered the pendulum encasements, their handles and hinges cast iron, with the center door being the widest, almost big enough for a man to walk through comfortably. The clock’s shining face was the size of a large dinner plate and had four separate sets of timing hands. Instead of numbers around the outer edges, bunches of delicate, curving lines were etched into the silver plating. The slicing brink of a moon dial peeked over the top of the clock’s face; the crescent moon carved into the steel bore an uncanny malevolent smile, with two empty sockets for eyes. Above the face, the molding came together in two pointed horns that nearly met in the middle.
That’s the scariest fucking clock I’ve ever seen.
Evan frowned. How could a timepiece be scary? He chided himself but couldn’t deny the aura the clock gave off. It hadn’t been engineered to be beautiful. As far as he could see, it was quite the opposite.
Evan’s hip bumped the worktable, and one of the paperweights rolled off the pile it held down. He reached out and stopped it before it plummeted to the floor, marveling at its weight. Only after lifting it close to his face did he realize that’s exactly what it was—
a weight for the clock. Its brass casing shone beneath the light, and a small pulley grew from its top.
Evan spun the little wheel a few times before placing the weight back on the table.
A diagram on one of the pieces of paper drew his attention. Evan picked the paper up and spent a few seconds squinting before realizing it was an inner illustration of the clock’s face, “the bonnet,” as it was apparently called.
“On it like a bonnet,” Evan said to the empty room, as he placed the paper back on the pile. He turned toward the clock, wondering whether or not he should replace the sheet. The soulless eyes of the moon at the clock’s peak gazed at him, almost imploring
him to come closer.
“No thanks,” Evan said, and crossed the basement to the stairway, shooting only a cursory glance at the doll as he passed.
He paused at the light switch, running through different options before sighing and flipping off the power to the lights. The basement plunged into darkness, and with all the restraint he held in his body, he managed not to pelt up the stairs into the welcoming light of the kitchen.

I KNOW, RIGHT?? Go buy THE WAITING right this second. http://t.co/P3IvkebeMa

Gender Inequality in YA and NA

Chynna takes on slut shaming and wins.

Chynna-Blue Ink

Last night I wrote a scene in my manuscript wherein one of my female characters has sex.

Not because she’s in love. Not because she’s met her one true soul mate and she can now cast off her chastity belt and have at it. She has sex because she wants the guy, she has feelings for him, and because, well, because she just wants to. (My book is YA, by the way.)

I immediately considered taking the scene out. Will this make people think my character is a slut? And then I thought, if my character were a guy, and he’d done it for the same reasons – because he wanted to feel close to someone, because he’d lost everything – would people call HIM a slut? No? I didn’t think so.

I’m tired of this attitude in books for younger adults that a girl has to be chaste to…

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Flash Fiction Friday: IN A PINCH by Jered Meyer

TODAY’S BREW: This peppermint mocha just might happen today.

By Julie

IT’S FLASH FICTION FRIDAY! Today’s author, Jered Meyer, is best known on Twitter for his rogueish handsomeness and his ability to say what we’re all thinking during his live tweets of Dora the Explorer. Underneath the hilarity is an introspective, thoughtful and complex, romantic guy that knows a thing or two about writing. His novel, WAYPOINT is in my filthy little clutches, and in honor of his alcoholism, so is a beer. NOW GO GET ONE OF HIS BOOKS YOUR DAMN SELF, SUPPORT AN AUTHOR. http://t.co/JV6f7EswK1. And follow him on Twitter because you can’t even picture how funny he is. @The_KJM.

Now, enjoy his first dive into horror! I GOT HIM TO DO IT.

IN A PINCH

 

His left hand gripped the edge of the porcelain sink, thumb tracing under the lip of the basin. His right wiped at the bathroom mirror. None of the spots disappeared. Pale pink drops of dried toothpaste that stood in stark contrast to the brown-red rust creeping along the metal frame. He should clean it soon. Would clean it soon, as soon as he got to it, another home project for the list that he never had enough time to attack.

He never had time for anything anymore, it seemed. Not even family.

His son had been asleep by the time he’d gotten home from work, worn out on chocolate milk and cartoon marathons about fantastic monsters and talking animals up to no good. After kissing him and making sure his blankets were tucked in tight around him, he had gone downstairs and paid Kimberly her hourly rate plus a few extra bucks for babysitting on such short notice.

She was a sweet thing. Eighteen, dark hair. Watching kids to help save for her upcoming freshman year of college. Filling out still, blossoming into a beautiful young woman. Maybe in a year or two, he could-

Tight. His eyes closed tight and he frowned hard enough to make the bridge of his nose throb. He never would have thought of Kim that way before Anna divorced him. She didn’t deserve to be considered like that. He made a note not to hire her again.

From the bathroom to the bedroom he went, closing both doors behind him. Tie loosened, hung from the rack he had next to the door. Dress shirt unbuttoned, tossed onto the closet floor. Slacks undone, dropped into a puddle by the nightstand. Socks…who knows where they went, thrown haphazardly as he climbed into the comfort of bed. The satin sheets were slick and cool under his skin. The matching pillowcase soothed his headache.

In moments, he was asleep.

Something pinched the back of his neck. His eyes fluttered open and he looked around blearily. He sat up, pulling the blankets around his hips and rubbed at the base of his skull.

A sliver of light crept into his room and he realized with a start that his door was cracked open. He had closed it, hadn’t he? He had. He always did. A cursory glance around his chambers revealed him to be alone. But then…

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. His fingers scratched at his stomach as a yawn escaped him, and then he journeyed out into the hallway.

Save for the two bulbs in the hall, the lights in the house were extinguished. No noises drifted from the darkness of the building. It seemed almost normal. Almost.

“Skyler?” he called out as he neared his son’s room. The boy’s bedroom door was closed. There were no sounds of stirring. No response to his voice. “Hey, buddy? You okay?”

His fingers touched the doorknob and a shock of cold caused him to jerk his hand back. He looked around, bemused. The rest of the house was warm, almost uncomfortably so. The thermostat was always set at a decent enough sixty degrees, but tonight it seemed closer to seventy.

He gripped the doorknob again, prepared this time for the chill. It never came. The metal in his palm felt perfectly normal. Slowly, he turned it and pushed the door in.

“Skyler?” he called again. “Are you awake?”

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and when they did, he found they could only take in one piece at a time. The room was quiet. The twin bed in the right corner was empty, the sheets made neatly. The thin curtains on the window were only partially drawn and a pale light shone through, casting a light blue patch to glow on the floor.

A chair was in the corner opposite the bed. A chair? He had never put a chair in the room. There had been no reason to. His gut filled with lead. A slender figure sat in the seat, holding his son. A woman. She had light hair that hung down to her shoulders with no direction.

“Anna,” he whispered. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night. You’re not supposed to pick Skyler up until this weekend.”

The woman didn’t respond. She sat, still, clutching the young boy to her chest.

He moved closer, concerned and more than a little angry. It was presumptuous of her to just show up in his home. It would confuse their son and it had scared the shit out of him. Five steps took him directly before her.

“Give him to me, Anna. Let me put Skyler back to bed.”

She looked up at him without a word. The noise that burst from his throat was technically a moan, but it registered at a decibel generally reserved for screams. Her face was no face at all, but a veiny,yellow slab of flesh. There was no protrusion that resembled a nose. Where her eyes and mouth should have been were instead perfectly round holes. The meat around them throbbed and they oozed some thick mixture of pus and blood.

With urgency, he yanked his son from the arms of the monster. He stepped quickly back, towards the center of the room. The creature in the chair stayed seated, silent, exhibiting no signs of distress at having the boy stolen from her.

He held his boy out from him, just enough to look him in the eyes and assure him they would be okay, that they were leaving, escaping the house. The eyes, sky blue, looked back and forth into his own, animated, meaty and with no sense of worry. The rest of the child was made from a material not unlike the porcelain of the bathroom sink. More durable. Lacquered wood, perhaps. It hung limply in his hands.

An anguished wail ripped through the room and he tossed the thing aside. It hit the floor near the bed, the doll-creature’s neck slapping against the frame holding the mattress in place. The head fumbled away and black ichor sprayed from the neck stump over his son’s bed and and the wall behind it.

Mind scrambling, he turned away from the whirlwind of evil that had consumed his child’s room. He darted for the door and slammed face-first into the wall. Frantically, he searched for the exit, but the same wallpaper – light green with wide-eyed Japanese cartoon characters plastered on it in repeating patterns – extended unbroken all around him.

He screamed in frustration and beat at the wall, the barrier separating him from the peace he had felt only moments before. He begged for an escape.

Something pinched his neck.

With a long, desperate gasp of air, his head raised from the bed. His eyes were open so wide it almost hurt. He looked both ways, chest pounding, searching and finding nothing. The walls were clean, soft and white. The floor was the same, but linoleum instead of wood. The door, closed, set at the foot of his bed. Normal. Perfectly normal.

His wrists were wet. He looked down and saw that he had rubbed them so raw against the restraints that a small amount of blood had begun to stream through. It stung, but it was not an unfamiliar occurrence.

He laid back on the sterile, rolling bed they had assigned to him and closed his eyes. His heart-beat began to even out. There would be someone to take care of him come morning.

Thank God, he thought. Just a nightmare.

The Things That Matter: And Kicking Ass

TODAY’S BREW: Peppermint mocha! Well, that’s what I wish it was.

By Julie

The other day I wrote a post about how I really thought for the first time, my gig was up. This writing thing was the wrong choice, I can’t give my kids a huge fantastical Christmas, possibly, though if I know us, we will anyway, one way or another.

Today, it dawned on me.

The six year old, Bennett, had a half day yesterday and got out at 1:00. Every time he has a half day, I like to do something special with him. This time, as luck would have it, the Budweiser Clydesdales were in town for the Thanksgiving parade this weekend, and we got to go and visit them! (I am not a horse person, but I frigging LOVE Clydesdales. I also only like huge cats and very small dogs. Or totally giant dogs. I like extremes, apparently.) Then we went to play at this really cool toy store we love, and look at the Christmas decorations at the local craft store. Got McDonald’s. Stuff like that. It was great.

And if I still worked retail, I would have been working a 10 hour day and thinking about it the other 14 hours. How can I maximize my Black Friday sales? I have 5 shifts unfilled, what am I going to do? I would have spent hours making floor plans, figuring out what I needed to sell every 15 minutes ( I kid you not), in order to beat my previous year’s numbers. I just plain wouldn’t have been there with my son, even if I was there.

I’ve realized that before. Physically and mentally, I’m more present and just plain MYSELF since I write full time. And I do write full time. I don’t treat it like a hobby, and rarely take a day off. I give it my all every single time I sit down to it, and carry a notebook with me at all times. There are scraps of paper everywhere with ideas written on them, and dialogue, edits….

What was different about this time that I got to spend time with my boy was that it was a little celebration. Earlier this week I got a phone call from his teacher.

OH NO, WHAT DO YOU WANT, WOMAN? WHAT DID HE DO? WHAT DID SOMEONE DO TO HIM?

No, none of that. She called to tell me that not all kids do, but Bennett works hard at everything he does, all day long. He tries and succeeds at everything he does. And he’s a role model every day.

Of course, I gushed and teared up, and bought prizes and made special lunchbox notes and all that stuff. Because we make sure we support our kids’ efforts. And it’s even better when those efforts pay off.

But another thing she said was,”I’m sure this isn’t a surprise to you.”

And you know what? It wasn’t. Not just because he’s a great kid, but because I help make him a great kid. Not just because we say we support him, we’re there to do it. We pick him up at school, I’m home with him every afternoon. I make his breakfast every day, I read to him every day, I do his homework with him every night, and I let him vegge out for as long as he needs to. I know what he’s eating, I know what friends he plays with, I put him to bed every night and get to ask him what he’s thankful for, and you know what he says?

Me. He’s thankful for me.

Here come the waterworks.

I know that if I spent an hour and  a half every night of the 3 hours I would get to see him bitching to my husband (if we weren’t working opposite shifts) about my goddamn job and how I didn’t even get to pee that day (actual thing that happened to me every day), that Bennett would probably not be as glad to have me. My children know that they are the most important part of our lives. They know because we show them. Tim works his tail off, and manages to spend really special time with them every single day. He picks Ben up at school, and is lucky enough to work a job where he can leave at the drop of a hat and drive the 5 minutes home if we want him. Or if he wants us.

But the other thing that makes me remember that being home with my kids is the most important thing in the world is that Bennett loves to see me writing. He draws pictures of me at his computer, and knows more about writing than a lot of grownups. And just like I said, we celebrate his efforts, and love when they’re successful, it applies to me.

Writing and publishing and making book sales is effort. Sometimes it’s successful. I’ve been very successful in a lot of ways. Not selling as much as I want to is not a failure, it’s a smaller success. The outpouring of reviews and welcoming arms RUNNING HOME has received warms my heart in a way nothing ever has before. The friends who support me, even in just my last blog post and in twitter comments, make me feel like a queen. And no matter what, I FUCKING DID IT. I fucking published the book I started 6 years ago and poured my self-worth into. And people love it. What difference does it make if the money won’t ever support us? It’s only money. We’ll always need more. What’s important is right here, in this house. In our pajamas, with coffee and cartoons, and kisses, and movies, and wedding photos that offer all the promise in the world and deliver it. And what matters is that we know it fucking matters.

Success is never one dimensional, and you know what? If efforts don’t pay off, the effort itself is a success. If it’s true for my kids, it’s true for me. It’s true for our family. Something tells me it’s true for you guys, too.

I love writing, and I love what it’s doing for my family. And I love every goddamn one of you out there who encourages me, and who busts their asses to make their work something that matters. I love you guys for being great parents and siblings and friends, and great inspirations, and for fucking up and for telling us about it. I love you for being flawed, and yourselves, strong, and vulnerable, and imperfectly beautiful. I love you for speaking your mind, and for disagreeing, and agreeing, and trying to understand things. And I love my kids and my husband for a lot of these things, too.

When I didn’t commit myself to writing, these things weren’t always the most important things in my day. Now they are. And I have people like all of you to thank for it. Keep plugging at all of the things that matter to you.

Finding Hidden Gems

Today’s Brew: Sarsaparilla Soda.  I haven’t had it since I was a kid and it was way sweeter than I remembered it.

by Kristen

Today I worked on a TV show about restaurants that are considered hidden gems. Those mouth watering neighborhood institutions that look like nothing special from the outside, that you have to either live close enough to walk to or you need to have a friend introduce you to the place. We shot in a lobster restaurant nestled in a residential neighborhood, basically in someone’s garage. There’s only 3 or 4 things on the menu. They’ve been voted the best lobster sandwich in Boston.

This job, combined with Julie’s post yesterday, as well as agent Rachelle Gardner’s recent post, got me thinking.  These restaurants that we’ve visited this week have limited menus. They’re small. But what they do, they kick ass at. They’re specialists. And people rave about about their talents and want to introduce their friends to the goodness.

Julie lamented about sales in her last post, while Rachelle Gardner says that fiction writers should concentrate on writing, not platform. Julie’s got a decent platform and a good book.

So how do you get your wares out into the world? This doesn’t necessarily apply to just books. If no one knows about you, how can you enjoy word of mouth referrals?  Word of mouth and customer satisfaction are the strongest advertising money can’t buy.

I don’t think it’s enough to just put your product out in the world and hope people find it.  You need to advertise, you need to make people know what you are good at.

You can’t sell to people. You have to make them want what you’ve got.

When I started out as a makeup artist, I answered every ad looking for my services I could find. But I built my career by being a good makeup artist and business woman. I don’t claim to do everything well.  I’m a beauty artist. I can make crazy ass scary monsters, I can do hair, I can do nails, but I’m best at making people look naturally beautiful. I get repeat business because people like working with me. It’s the experience.

I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going with this blog post, but now I think I’ve got it. Create an experience. You might not be better than everyone in your field, but you’re different. You’re you. Make them want you.

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