Deadly Ever After

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The Zen of Kicking Ass with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: I took Juan Valdez’s donkey and I just squeezed.

By Julie

I missed you guys.

Blogging for me was a business strategy. Kristen and I wanted to make it as writers and knew we needed a platform. I had no idea that blogging would bring out a new side of me as a writer, one that connected to a community sometimes with my ugliest side(s).

So stepping away from blogging for so long, when I had been meticulous with the schedule was very, very difficult. But I couldn’t do it all anymore. I couldn’t blog once or twice a week, write a book–no, two books!–no, three books! I CAN WRITE A HUNDRED BOOKS AT ONCE!, edit for clients (which is the same amount of energy as writing a book), run the Scholastic book fair, be Most Involved Mom Ever and survive. I had a nervous breakdown, which I did a post about. My last post, actually.

But guys, things are better. Not just better–they’re GOOD. I see a therapist now, just for ME. Not for my marriage, not for my child, but for me. I realized that not blogging would not end time as I know it. I wouldn’t lose anyone. I missed deadlines. For interviews, editing, my own for writing…. And everyone was like, “yeah, that’s okay, just be better.” I thought for sure I would be screwing up; everyone’s lives. I gave myself a goddamn break. And everything is better because of it.

Even my books are fine. They’re still there, waiting for me to finish up all in good time. I don’t need to produce at the fastest rate humanly possible. I NEED to enjoy the process. I can be tired to write. I wrote all of RUNNING HOME and half of RUNNING AWAY after 10 hour shifts in retail, after being awake since the crack of dawn with an infant. But I can’t write well when I’m spent. I shouldn’t say I can’t write well–I do, I do write well, but I don’t write at my best, even when I think I am. THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS is a good damn book, one I’m uber proud of and was so sure was ready for an agent. A lot of agents thought so, too. Amazing agents, including my dream agent read the full manuscript, and all were torn, but all of them just found something MISSING.

One would think this would be heartbreaking for me, and sure, the dream agent passing on the book was. But I got over it, and I’m revising the book–based on what I think it should be better at–and I realized that the book was the best I was capable of AT THE TIME, which is still goddamn good, but I was spread too thin. It’s difficult when your best work isn’t your best but still damn good because you can’t recognize the troubles within. It’s the A+ student who suddenly gets a B and has a heart attack–still good, but not good enough. It breaks you for a minute, but you take the next test. Because you have to. Because being that good is a commitment.

Totally off the subject–I get to do that because this is the first blog I’ve written in months–yeah, I just said a few times that I’m a good writer. I am. IT’S NOT JUST OKAY BUT ACTUALLY RECOMMENDED TO CHAMPION YOURSELF. Being your own worst critic is fine or whatever–I prefer to be my own best friend. I wouldn’t be nasty to a friend about their writing, and I won’t do it to myself. Not for that or anything else.

ANYWAY. I’ve felt really well-balanced for two weeks today. I count it like someone sobering up would. Two weeks where I didn’t feel like I was hanging on by a thread. Where I woke up happy instead of feeling like I was fighting against my life from the second I opened my eyes. I’m starting to feel like I can do anything again–a dangerous feeling if I didn’t learn a lesson so well.

So, you’ll be seeing more of me ’round these parts. Talking about writing, dropping wisdom and stuff, telling you my dark and uglies. You know, I never got the appeal of Howard Stern until I started working at becoming a public figure. He HAS to be himself, let the ugliest sides of himself show and highlight them like it’s the best fucking thing ever. I kind of get it now. I mean, he’s still a pig? But he refuses to be ashamed of anything about himself, and that’s awesome. I think of him sometimes when I talk about my raging hormones, my crippling anxiety (which is doing much better), being the poster girl for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, mistakes I’ve made, the weird crap I like. This is me. I like myself a whole lot, and I do what I want to do. I can apologize for mistakes I’ve made, but I won’t apologize for who I am. Who I am is pretty goddamn fantastic, dark and uglies and all.

Thanks for sticking around, folks. I look forward to kicking some ass for you on the regular.





NOT TODAY: The Benefits of My Nervous Breakdown by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Crème Brulee. It may taste nothing like crème brulee, I would not know

By Julie

I had a nervous breakdown.

In retrospect, it had been coming for a while. I slowed down editing, writing was getting harder, and I was surviving tragedy after minor tragedy left and right in addition to the eighty million things I manage to fit into my days. I couldn’t even blog and claimed it was a “holiday vacation” when it was really that I was burnt, but still burning. I knew I should have seen it coming because I’d been waiting every time I went out in public for the time I would be alone so I could cry for no real reason. I’d been reaching out to crisis lines, unable to enjoy anything I normally did.

One day the week before school vacation, it just hit me. I couldn’t handle any noise whatsoever. I was holed up in my bedroom’s silence; a bird flew by outside, and cawed. It sent me into a convulsive jump and I couldn’t stop shaking for hours. Doing ANYTHING made me cry–getting a glass of juice for the kids, the steps to get in and out of the car, listening to the dog whine for scraps…. I had nightmares that wouldn’t quit. My panic attacks immobilized me but for the need to stay in one place and bounce my leg or rock back and forth. I’d shake for hours afterwards. I woke up shaking and wouldn’t be able to even hold a drink without spilling it until after 5 at night. I bit my cuticles until they were bloody, a really lovely complement to the bleeding psoriasis that cropped up all over my palms. I was gritting my teeth so consistently that my jaw ached.

And I had to STOP. Everything. I sat on the couch and watched Shark Tank because it required zero emotional investment. I read in short spurts. I got off all social media. I couldn’t let the kids watch cartoons while I was in the room. I stopped everything.  And I admitted to my doctor and to a therapist’s office that I was indeed having a nervous breakdown and needed immediate help. I didn’t minimize it, saying I was having a rough patch. I said what I knew in my heart was happening.

What followed was a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt for a long time.

Finally, I hit my limit. It was freeing to finally say, “Well. That’s that. I finally found my limit.” And then I had to stop. I had to let the machine rest and clear the smoke.

I’ve always been told YOU CAN DO IT, JULIE.

The trouble with that is that I KNOW. I won’t stop until the thing I want to accomplish is achieved. I won’t say no to someone who needs my help. I multitask to a fault, and boy are those days over. I always could do it.

Nobody was telling me I didn’t have to. I need that, so much.

When the breakdown hit, there was no denying that I was out of commission. My husband was absolutely incredible, just letting me be, confirming that I didn’t have to do everything, that I needed to be first. Not just first, but only. Just for a while.

It’s now been a couple of weeks, and I am back to editing at a less grueling pace. I’m taking control of my environment in that when I say I CAN’T HANDLE THIS, I don’t. I DON’T. If I can’t handle the noise or brightness, I leave. If I can’t handle any more thinking, I stop. I don’t force myself through it. I had my panic meds increased, am getting therapy, and I’m cutting back on social media a lot. I read more, I’m writing longhand the way I did when writing RUNNING HOME. I’m meditating and going back to my roots. I even put a sticky note on the back of my phone that says NOT TODAY: meaning no social media, primarily, but also extending to not adding to my manageable to-do list. It doesn’t all have to be done today. I use that post it note a couple of times a week.

Having a panic disorder is rough. Not giving myself the space I need to cope with that and dealing with the number of responsibilities and pressures and need for taking charge that I have is a disaster waiting to happen. Well, the disaster happened, and now I can move forward. And I’m really okay. I really am. More than I have been in quite some time.

What I’ve learned overall is that I CAN do it, but I don’t HAVE to do it unless I WANT to. No matter what I tell myself, apart from the fires that I put out being the parent of children that require a lot of investment from me, there is not a goddamn thing that I HAVE to do. It’s all choice. And I’m smiling as I say that having choices is something I LIKE again.

Thank you all for your support. And speaking of support, if YOU have anything, anything at all weighing on your mind, there’s an amazing text support that I go to, and they are so helpful. Text SUPPORT to 741-741 and a trained counselor will listen.

Take care of yourselves, readers. Take care of each other.

In Which You Learn About ALL SMOKE RISES by Mark Matthews and He Gushes About Me But I Didn’t Ask Him To.

TODAY’S BREW: Blizzard Brew by New England Coffee and it is STRONG.

By Julie

As an editor, I get to play with books before anyone else, and sometimes I feel like I’m finding treasure. ALL SMOKE RISES by Mark Matthews, a long-time friend published alongside me at Books of the Dead Press, is one of those glinting jewels. Visceral, beautiful, horrible, speaking of the human condition and of what it could be for both good and bad, frightening and hopeful and destitute. In this post that I SWEAR he asked me to put up, I didn’t as HIM to put up, he raves until I’m in tears about how awesome I am as an editor, but let me tell you that Matthews has a style and unique perspective on his subject matter and in his craft that gleams like a shiny apple. Not to mention that I got to spend time with him at a convention once and it was awesome. He’s just the most genuine, thoughtful and hilarious guy, and it shows in this book.



All Smoke Rises releases this week, a follow up to my last novella, Milk-Blood. While it takes place just weeks after Milk-Blood ends, it also serves as a stand-alone read. *Hi, this is Julie. It totally stands alone. It will beg you to read MILK-BLOOD, though.* The book tackles drug addiction, urban decay, mental illness, and a host of other real-life horrors.


Even though it’s a story, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The material is not fiction. It’s happening, right now. Addicts are roaming the streets, craving heroin the way a vampire craves blood. Children are living in urban squalor, with poverty so deep their best meals of the day come when they go to school. As Kealan Patrick Burke so generously wrote in the introduction, “All Smoke Rises perfectly encapsulates horror as a reflection of real life.”


The inspiration for writing All Smoke Rises came from my own work as a substance abuse therapist. For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of addicts from the Detroit area, many of them indigent. Before this time, I spent years in my own addiction. I woke up each day and my daily efforts were how to get high and get by. I now have 23 years clean and sober, and will never forget the immense power addiction has over the human soul.


All Smoke Rises is a book I’m damn proud of, but certainly did not create it on my own. I’ve got a long list of beta-readers and an incredible editor. Julie Hutchings. The most demure woman in the twitterverse. *It’s true, I am.*

I should point out, before I go on, that it was my idea, not hers, to guest blog and thank her for what a great job she did in editing my manuscript.


Readers would thank her, too, if they could, for the book they would have read would have been a much lesser piece had not Ms. Hutchings poured her own heart into the story.


Nuts and bolts were tightened. Extra parts were thrown away as needed. Paragraphs were reshaped, certain sentences were turned into stand-alone paragraphs, others were ended on a different note to keep the plot flowing. Overused phrases and words were smashed over my head until I saw stars. Rewording these descriptors made me work harder as a writer and created a better product.


If you’ve ever had a word document edited, you’ve come to know those little comment bubbles on the side. Well, Julie’s comments were different. They came alive. They spoke to me, made me laugh, or reached out from the screen and gave me nugies. If a nugie wasn’t enough, they grabbed me by the neck and squeezed until I heard my own esophagus crack. All of this to challenge me to be the best version of myself, and I responded in kind best as I could.


I’m so incredibly excited for this book. The producer of Monkey Knuckle Films is reading it now, and I hope some of the plot-line will be included into the movie adaptation of Milk-Blood. John F.D. Taff said, “All Smoke Rises makes Milk-Blood look like a freshman writing assignment.” Kealan Patrick Burke agreed to do the introduction after giving it a read, and seeing what he wrote was a highlight of my writing career.


But I did not write it alone, so thank you, Julie, for your invaluable contributions. Worth adding that, if you are only a digital friend of Julie, she is exactly as you would think in real life. I spent just a few hours hanging with Hutchings at a convention, and it was like swimming in a pool full of her tweets. She’s genuine good people, with genuine editing skills that I’d recommend to anyone who listens.





Ten year old Lilly is the victim of a terrible house fire and a wretched family. Her father is an addict with mental illness, her mother was murdered and then buried across the street, and her uncle got her addicted to heroin. Lilly’s tragic story has been told in the book ALL SMOKE RISES, and it may be true, for the author has broken into your house, and placed Lilly’s body on your kitchen counter. He demands you read the manuscript, before cutting his own wrists and bleeding out on your floor. Now you have decisions to make, for Lilly’s body may not be dead, and her family is coming for her.


“Make no mistake, when it comes to citations of true horror, you will be hard pressed to find a deeper and more challenging example than you will here. Matthews knows the heartbreak and tragedy of his subject. By the time you are done reading this, you will too.” ~KEALAN PATRICK BURKE, Bram Stoker Award winning author of KIN and Sour Candy



ADVANCE PRAISE “Heartbreakingly sad, overwhelmingly disturbing, creepy, violent and poignant. Highly recommended.” ~JOHN FD TAFF Bram Stoker Finalist “Filled with such dread and depravity that even the most desensitized among us will feel the pain. Matthews’s prose vividly shows the viciousness and hopelessness of drug addiction, and the beautifully horrifying images will stay with you long after the final page is digested.” ~JON BASSOFF, author of Corrosion, winner of the Darkfuse Reader’s Choice Award “True reality horror, with supernatural elements that only serve to make it more believable.” ~MICHAEL BRADFORD, Executive Producer, Monkey Knuckle Films.


Check out ALL SMOKE RISES on Amazon. Just $2.99 for kindle

When Compromise is Fear by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Mint now and forever

By Julie

So last time we talked, I was feeling pretty grim. Looking at a reality where I might not be able to write for a living, looking at an end date when I would finally have to admit I couldn’t live off of what I love. It looked like facing reality but what it was really something else.


Fear that once I had MORE time to write, with both kids in school full-time, that even then I wouldn’t be able to call it a job and be able to pay a bill with it.

Fear of going back to a job where I can’t be me all of the time. Every single second of the time.

Fear of not being able to give my kids THINGS, giant things because explaining to them that are better gifts than things feels like failure.

Fear of not being able to write another book.

Fear of changing my jump in with both feet approach to writing into a next-stage serious commitment to make it work no matter what.

Fear of being selfish.

I’ve always prided myself on being flexible, on being able to not look at one choice as the only choice. Being able to compromise and not let it feel like defeat, it’s part of what makes me a leader and a person that people look to when they feel despair.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not prone to despair, too. But no matter how grim things can get in my mind, I face them. Expressing my fear, my desperation and hopelessness, but still staying the course is my strength. Looking at that in times of difficulty as beating a dead horse rather than seeing it as unwavering dedication is okay–I’m human. And being human, vulnerable, is what makes me a good mom, a good leader, a good writer.

So it’s in this knowledge that I say there is a time when being flexible isn’t an option. As a leader, it is my job to see the forest for the trees, and to look up from the rocks at my feet and climb over the boulder in front of me. As a mom it’s my job to show my kids that having a bottom line that is absolutely solid and unquestionable is courageous. It’s okay for me to say, “No. This is what I need for me. My self-care is crucial for me to keep being the me that you need, and the absolute pinnacle of my self-care is knowing that there iare some things that I not only can’t give up, I won’t give up.”

Writing and being the person to challenge ideas and rules and make my own is at the core of my being. It is who I am, not just part of who I am. Everything else stems from those things.

The idea of sacrificing those things was me internally saying I would die for my family’s betterment. Because stopping this passion to go back to an environment that stripped me of myself is a death sentence–it physically nearly killed me before, more than once, and mentally I still survived. Emotionally I bottomed out, long-term, and yet I still managed to write. I couldn’t stop.

I actually thought in my head and gave in for a few days there, that I would just work myself to death because I gave it a go, and writing didn’t work. But I was wrong to think that a dream has an expiration date. I refuse to allow it to. I’m Wolverine when he faces the torrent of wounds that Dark Phoenix throws at him, and still he trudges forward, knowing there is no other way. No compromise. I’m some historical general that drove his soldiers to near extinction and utter hatred of him, and still stayed the course. Fanatical, maybe. Driven. Determined.



When the Dream Is Still a Dream by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Dunkin Donuts White Peppermint Something or Other

By Julie

I’m lucky enough to hear often that I inspire people. To hear that makes me stronger, and I’m already pretty strong. But I feel weak often, and that’s okay too.

For all the wonderful people that tell me how much my optimism in times of difficulty is inspirational, know that there are many times I don’t want to go on.

Know that there are many times I get impatient with waiting for an agent to love my book.

Know that there are days I spend more time crying than not crying.

The worst of this is that I truly do not get saddened by rejections from literary agents. I write what I need to write, and I’m not looking for approval. Same goes for my occasional bad review. That stuff is par for the course, and I love the course! The hardest part of being a writer for a living is that it’s not always a living. It’s like any self-employed person goes through, of course. You don’t turn a profit for a while. I’M okay with that. Seeing what it does to my family because we aren’t financially stable is what hurts. Knowing that I can’t throw the big birthday party for my kids  partly because I’m working for the greater good, but partly because I’m selfish and afraid NOT to write for a living. The idea of going back to work is absolutely terrifying to me. I’ve only recently seen my nightmares subside about working. So when seeing that my husband works more because I can’t, it hurts. When I don’t run things fantastically well at home all the time, I feel horribly guilty and wonder who I’m helping by being at home with the kids. Not being able to have enough money in the bank to see my husband be able to breathe a sigh of relief is partly my fault, and at one point I will need to remedy it–get a full-time job and stop writing–because I cannot do both and pay proper attention to my family–or make writing work.

When it’s impossible to see what MORE I can possibly do to make my writing career succeed, it hurts to acknowledge that there has to be a time when I say it’s affecting my family the wrong way. That quitting my job to live the dream would have been nice if the dream came true. That I tried. God, I hate TRYING. Do or do not, there is no try. And I don’t want to stop, but it looms overhead that someday I may need to. I hate that with more fire inside me than you can imagine.

The moral of the story is, writers’ lives aren’t easy. Sure, it can be rough to get rejections and bad reviews, but quite honestly I love all of it! I love that stuff because it means I’m making a mark, and that I’m progressing. I’m meeting my quota, getting my initiation. I would be perfectly happy having my cult following forever, never getting a huge book deal if my family didn’t suffer for it. I don’t write to be rich, but I do need to contribute. It’s a sad feeling, but sadder is that contribution has to be monetary no matter how much work you put in that has no price on it.

So writers, and all of you who have a bigger plan out there, I understand. I see the guilt, I feel the heartbreak of not having great news for your loved ones, I see the sacrifices. And yes, keep trying. I’ll not stop until I absolutely must. All parts of my fight won’t be pretty ones. But it’s my fight and until it starts falling to my family’s responsibility, I will be happy to wear my armor.

My Fight

TODAY’S BREW: Starbucks with Kristen

“I’m so sick of having something wrong with me. I don’t even want to talk to anyone, I feel like it’s all they see.”

This was my text to Kristen this morning, and the real reason why I haven’t been blogging. Yes, a vacation to enjoy the holidays with my family–which I did, I really, really did. Despite All The Things Wrong With Me.

You don’t see it here much. And I try not to talk about it much, because even though every woman on the planet has a period, I still feel like it’s something we hide. And of course we feel that way, but that’s another blog post.

This one is about how I forever have some weird goddamn thing wrong with me, often related, sometimes not, nobody knows and it keeps getting worse. And now it’s just plain crippling. Let’s give you the December Weirdness which brought it to a whole new level.

The week before Christmas I had a hairy-feeling throat. Like someone had waxed their legs and somehow that wax strip ended up in my throat and I had the sniffles. Didn’t hurt, I could swallow, eat, but my tongue was white and it felt like Chewbacca throat. Weird enough that I went to the clinic, afraid it was a thing I could give to my kids. My throat was all red, but my tonsils were good, I didn’t have strep, no fever, was hydrated, taking allllllll my vitamins (of which there are many), and had a good temp and blood pressure.  That lasted for two days. Then gone, like none of it ever happened. Throat all better, nose clear.

The next two days I had such physical soreness on both sides that I couldn’t be touched. The kids couldn’t hug me, it hurt to wear clothes. I had the occasional stabbing pain in my left side. Figuring kidney infection? Though I had none of the other symptoms at all, I called the doctor who insisted I go to urgent care. The lovely, wonderful doctor there (who said something to me I’m not likely to forget: “you’re minimizing your pain. Don’t minimize your pain.”), tried so hard to figure out what was wrong. I had the best blood pressure I’ve ever had, no temp, no other pain, same as before. But because of my shortness of breath the two days earlier, he ordered me to immediately go to the hospital and get a chest x-ray, bloodwork, and a kidney ultrasound. Made me an appointment for an hour after, and boy that was fun, getting the kids from school and finding someone to watch them through that. By the time I got to the hospital the stabbing pains in my side had me crying out in pain while waiting for my stuff to get done.

And guess what? Everything was normal. Yaaaaaaay, right?

Then I figure out that it all happened with the timing of when I usually suffer PMDD. This is a Feels Like It’s Made Up premenstrual disorder that I am the absolute poster girl for, right down to the occasional thoughts of suicide coinciding with my period.

My symptoms generally start about 10 days before my period and disappear like magic after it. But this? Pain that lands me in the hospital for 5 hours the day before Christmas eve? And this time, the emotional symptoms didn’t go away, when surprise, two days after they started, the kidney thing did go away.

Every month like clockwork I suffer debilitating anxiety and depression for two days at the start of my period or the two days before. It causes me to villainize the people I love most for the most minor thing, which then convinces me they don’t love me, and then I tell them to go away and find someone better to spend their time with. Often this leads to suicidal thoughts, it always leads to utter hopelessness, where everything contributes to my sadness from the washing machine leaking to getting a rejection letter. All of it adds up to not having a life worth living except for that people depend on me. It’s not how I feel any other time of the month generally, and even though I see it coming, I can do nothing to stop it. I guess that happens when you have “an unhealthy amount of bleeding” monthly that just plain comes with having a fibroid in your uterus that nobody wants to remove.

If it seems like I’m rambling, it’s because the anxiety still has not dissipated and I can’t focus on anything at all. Making me more anxious. Usually getting out of the house helps, but this month it made me a disaster. I was twitchy, nervous, kept dropping things, couldn’t concentrate. Still feel that way. I had an actual dream of dropping the peanut butter jar and woke myself jumping up to grab it. I can’t slow my head down. And to this minute I’m taking the 800mg ibuprofen prescribed to me for the kidney pain to deal with the breast tenderness that is worse than the kidney pain was.

This all can be attributed to my hormones, maybe? But then I start thinking of the extensive list of other things that have gone wrong with me that have doctors rubbing their hands with experimental delight when I enter the office. Things I’ve never gotten answers to. High prolactin levels that had me getting brain scans and taking tumor shrinking meds–when I didn’t have a tumor. The sudden appearance of an uber rare fibroid tumor that had to be removed immediately. A sickening burning pain under my ribs that we inspected with tubes in every part of my body, to find nothing. Rectocoele, which happens during childbirth, not to be discovered often for months or years later–except I had my kids by C-section.

Emotionally, this has left me feeling like The Girl Who Never Shuts Up, The Girl Who Never Has Good News, The Girl Who Cries Medical Problem, and The Girl Who Feels Really, Really Happy Just Being Who I Am, But Is Constantly Kicked In The Lady Parts.

I’m finally now getting to a point where the illness is my life, not just part of it. I’ve always been very proud that I can smile through sickness, of which I’ve had plenty not even listed here, and that it doesn’t stop me. Now, it’s stopping me. Stopping me from feeling like a worthwhile human. Stopping me from being unstoppable. I can deal with any amount of pain if I can see the end in sight, if I know it’s being solved. Now, I just wait to see what will happen next. It’s making me a sad person. I get sad, like all people do, but I’ve never been a sad person. I don’t want to be.

There’s no uplifting message to this blog, guys. There’s not a moral or a joke at the end. I’m feeling defeated, and the only thing holding me down is that I don’t want to live like a wounded person. I want to be strong. And I can’t. Hopefully for the next year on this blog you’ll see that disappear and see the old Julie come back. But fighting is something we all have to do, and this is my fight.



Introducing: Julie Hutchings

I love talking about myself.

Amazing book & Authors

Happy Tuesday all!! I want you all to meet the awesome Julie Hutchings! I have gotten to know her through twitter, bought her books and they are waiting to be read. She is such an exciting person! So sit back and get to know her with me.

Julie Hutchings Julie Hutchings

About the Author Julie Hutchings:

Julie’s debut novel, Running Home, gives you vampires with a Japanese mythology pants kicking is available through Books of the Dead Press. Julie revels in all things Buffy, has a sick need for exotic reptiles, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie’s a black belt with an almost inappropriate love for martial arts and pizza like some turtles we know. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband and two magnificent boys.




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Julie Gets Sappy About Living the Dream

TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Cappuccino Something or Other

By Julie

Work/Life Balance is this unicorn everyone is always chasing, correct?

I finally have it.

I almost said I “think” I finally have it, but no. I do. I have it. At least for now. I might lose it again, but looking for it is fun, too. Trying to achieve is never a bad feeling. Exhausting, sure. But not bad.

Last night a book club in my neighborhood that’s been meeting for twelve years brought me to dinner (lobster ravioli and harvest sangria), and these wonderful women not only read RUNNING HOME, but loved it. We talked books, and the neighborhood, and kids, and I talked shop about being an author and that it’s what I’ve always wanted to do my entire life, and that I went to school for it, and that I had a great job and I got rid of it and we laughed and I was so happy. So grateful.

It’s one thing to be recognized in the world of publishing as a solid author. It’s another thing when your neighbors and the community you live in recognize that this is YOU.

Yesterday afternoon after school one of Bennett’s classmates came up to me and said, “I learned today that you’re a writer and you’re coming to talk to my class.” My heart stopped as it does every time one of these kids finds this out.

Friday I get to go to Bennett’s class and talk for an hour about drafting. They came home with packets about how a particular author they’re reading developed her novel through five drafts. I get to show these incredible kids and their incredible teacher that there’s not just one way to write the story you want to write. Everyone has their own process, everyone finds it on their own by trying. That getting it “wrong” in the first draft is an illusion–that the first draft is telling yourself the story, and every draft after that is about making it what you want it to be. Drafting, editing, revising–it isn’t about fixing what’s wrong. It’s about knowing what you want it to be and shaping it to be that. By your standards and nobody else’s.

I do a lot in a day. It’s not always easy, but greatness rarely is. Greatness by my standard–no one else’s. I get to bring my babies to school every day and bring them home. I got to carve pumpkins with Sam’s class on Friday, and host a giant trick or treating parade Saturday night. I learned that a novel I edited was nominated for the Bath Novel Award. I made scrapbooks with my kids and watched movies all weekend and write in short spurts, making every word count. Every single day we go to the park after school and my kids and their little troupe leave the swings behind and play in the woods, and their parents and I have made these amazing friendships while our kids play together. And while I worry about Christmas money and car inspections and new tires and rent, I remember that amazing literary agents are reading my latest novel, one that I believe strongly in, and growth comes with growing pains. And I remember that living the dream is exactly that–living it. Not getting it. But getting there. I want all these things: the bonding, the creativity, the time, the comfort. I’ve worked for it, I’ll work to keep it, and I’ll work to make it better all the time. Success for me comes in succeeding, and in all the steps it takes to get there. Feeling all the rocks underfoot in the road and smiling at the potholes. The potholes are deep, but my strength runs deeper.

Work/Life Balance isn’t just about time for me. It’s about meaning. Doing something meaningful myself, showing my family and community that they’re a part of that every step of the way. Seeing all the parts form the whole. The whole is my standard, and no one else’s.

Addictions of the Eternal–The Saving

Today’s Brew: Pumpkin Spice

Today we have a special guest. JC Stockli is a fellow member of NECRWA and she writes dark and twisty paranormal. Right up everyone’s alley around here.  Check out her new release, The Saving, and if you haven’t read The Nothingness yet, well, what are you waiting for? *stares at you awkwardly*

The Saving (digital cover)9.30.15

“Have you found the light, or have you fallen?”

Evie’s life can never be the same as long as the Sempiternal continue to call out from the depths. She’s in limbo, too ignorant and afraid of the future Lucca has planned with her. She’s left Fallhaven, set adrift in a new city, and fighting more than withdrawal. Evan has become her constant companion, committed to assimilating Evie to a clean, mortal life, but at what cost?

Though he fights to help her conquer her demons, still she struggles with her cravings for Lucca’s nothingness. How can she move on when there can be no light to her days without the darkness of his nights?

Buy Links:
Amazon (Kindle):

About JC Stockli:
Choose your poison: Paranormal Fantasy • Romantic Horror • Dark Fantasy With A Twist

J.C. Stockli is inspired by music, the past, and possibilities. Happily Ever Afters are only achieved through the cost of some blood, guts, or a soul or two… if at all.

Also an established full-time professional with her MBA, over the years she’s moonlighted as a magician’s assistant, a roadie for a heavy metal band, a dance fitness instructor. She’s even dressed up as a promotional character at public events. She’s a current member of RWA’s Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal (FF&P) and New England (NECRWA) chapters, loves to dabble in cover design, and feels passionately about the power of authors supporting other authors.

She lives along the Massachusetts coast with her husband and two children. You’ll likely find them dancing around the house, tearing up the dirt, or out on the water soaking in the sun and breathing in the sea salt air.

Follow Links:
Twitter: @JCStockli (



Check out Under the Sugar Sun by Jennifer Hallock

Today’s brew: French Vanilla

by Kristen

Jen Hallock was one of the first people I met at my local RWA chapter meetings, and we became fast friends even though we wrote vastly different things.

One of the things that drew me to Jen? She’s a bad ass. She’s one of those people who very easily knows everyone. I love that. Also, she coaches football, and this book actually hit Amazon while she was on the field with her team! Bad. Ass.  She wrote an extremely unique historical romance set in the Philippines. Not only did she live there, but she’s history teacher and a scholar of the region.

I haven’t had a chance to read Under the Sugar Sun yet, but I’m so looking forward to it. I love unusual historicals, set in the far reaches of the world that we as Americans hadn’t had a chance to explore at that time. Australia, Asia, India at the turn of the last century? Sign me up.

Keep reading for an excerpt from the book!

Front Cover USS

A schoolmarm, a sugar baron, and a soldier…

It is 1902 and Georgina Potter has followed her fiancé to the Philippines, the most remote outpost of America’s fledgling empire. But Georgina has a purpose in mind beyond marriage: her real mission is to find her brother Ben, who has disappeared into the abyss of the Philippine-American War.
To navigate the Islands’ troubled waters, Georgina enlists the aid of local sugar baron Javier Altarejos. But nothing is as it seems, and the price of Javier’s help may be more than Georgina can bear.

Under the Sugar Sun is available on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited!

First Encounter


Georgie was not lucky—never had been—but even she could not believe her poor timing. The growing fire was only a few streets away. In this city made almost entirely of wood, the buildings separating her from the fire were a mere appetizer when compared to the towering three-story Hotel de Oriente, where she was now standing. If the Oriente burned down, it would kill scores of Americans who chose this very hotel to protect them from the dangers of the city. None of this was part of Georgie’s plan: she had come to the Philippines to start a new life, not end the one she had.

She blew out the candles, pinched the wicks between her fingers to be safe, and fled the room. She ran down two flights of polished wood stairs, almost flattening a bell-hopper in the empty lobby as she charged the door. Where were the other guests, and why was no one evacuating the hotel?

Once in the street, Georgie took a moment to get her bearings. She’d had a clear view from above, but now the eastern horizon of the plaza was blocked by the La Insular cigar factory. The dull light of petroleum lamps did not help much either. She ran toward the open square in front of Binondo Church to get a better look and then followed the glow of flames down a dirt road. She had just arrived in this city, but she could still guess that tall, redheaded white women should not race through the streets of Manila at night.

She wound her way down to the canal where the fire was digesting rows of native houseboats. Families stood on shore and watched helplessly as their homes burned. Women comforted children and men cradled prize roosters as houseboat after houseboat disappeared into the flame. A dozen Filipino firemen in khaki uniforms and British-style pith helmets stood idly, their shiny engine from Sta. Cruz Fire Brigade Station No. 2 sitting unused, too far from the water line to do any good. Judging by the men resting casually against the cool iron, no one had lit the pump’s boiler yet.

Georgie had read that the natives here were natural fatalists—a long-suffering, impassive people—but this was just ridiculous. She approached the firemen.

“Put water there,” she demanded, pointing to boats that had so far escaped the flames. If doused heavily enough they might only smoke a bit. She struggled to remember the word for water she had learned earlier that day. “Tabog, tabog,” she said.

The men looked at her blankly. She tried again, working out the mnemonic device in her head: the Philippines were islands too big in the sea…too big…tubig.

“Tubig,” she said, pointing. “Tubig, tubig.”

They shrugged but kept staring at her, more interested in the novelty of a hysterical Americana than in the fire. Looking for help elsewhere, Georgie slipped around the front of the engine to find two men arguing loudly in English.

“I’ve warned you before not to interfere with the quarantine, señor. I’ll not explain myself again, especially to the likes of you.”

The speaker, a squat American policeman, had comically bushy eyebrows that did not match his humorless tone. No doubt he had been interrupted from his evening revelry to carry out this duty, and he planned to finish the job quickly and get back to the saloon. Georgie had grown up around men of his stripe, their ruddy noses betraying a greater exposure to alcohol than sun.

She did not have a good view of the man the policeman was speaking to, but she heard the fellow give a short cluck before responding. “There’s nothing in your law to prevent me from standing here, and I’ll do it all night if I have to.” His British accent amplified his condescension.

“You’re interfering with a direct order of the Bureau of Health,” said the policeman, “and that could cost you five thousand dollars—gold, mind you—and ten years in Bilibid.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“That’s the law—need I translate it into goo-goo for you?”

Sensing she was missing something, Georgie edged forward to get a better look at the Brit and discovered that he was not a Brit at all. His angular face bragged of Spanish blood, but the blackness of his hair and eyes revealed a more complicated ancestry. She had heard about these mixed-blood Filipinos, many of them wealthy and powerful, but she had not expected to meet one shirtless on the shore of the canal.

“I read law in London,” the Mestizo said. “I need no lectures on the King’s English from a blooming Yank.”

Proud words from a naked man. Well, not naked exactly, but the black silk pajama bottoms—Chinese-style, embroidered with white stitching—did not hide much. He was the tallest man in the crowd by half a head, and his powerful torso betrayed some familiarity with labor, yet he spoke to the policeman with the studied patience of a man used to commanding those around him.

“Put out this inferno,” he continued. “If you don’t, there’ll be nothing left to disinfect. The entire city will burn.”

“That’s hardly likely. We’re protected by water.” The American waved his fat hand toward the walled-in core of Manila and the bay settlements beyond, the places where the colonial regime was headquartered and most foreigners lived. The wide Pasig River in between would buffer the elite from the “sanitation” of this canal.

A tall flame bit noisily into the woven roof of a houseboat, devouring the dry grass in seconds. Georgie followed the Mestizo’s gaze from the grass to the bamboo-pile pier, nipa huts, and market stalls. Wood, wood, and more wood—it was all bona fide fire fuel straight up the street to the Oriente, the hotel that contained all her possessions in this hemisphere.

The Mestizo turned back to the policeman and tilted his head toward this path of destruction. “I’m sure you’ve considered every possibility,” he said acidly.

“I don’t have to listen to this.” The American stalked away, still eyeing his adversary, and nearly collided with Georgie. In something close to relief, he directed his frustration at her, a new and easier target. “Miss, this is no place for a woman. What are you doing here?”

Georgie wondered the same thing—though her concern had little to do with her gender and more to do with the fact that, in the thirty hours she had spent in Manila so far, she had been temporarily abandoned by her fiancé, maybe permanently abandoned by her missing brother, and now threatened by a fire that her own countrymen would not even bother to put out. That last part bothered her the most right now.

“Why aren’t the wagons being used?” she asked. “You have enough equipment to douse the flames.”

“The fire’s a necessary precaution, I assure you,” the policeman said.

Georgie frowned. “A precaution?”

“I have orders from the Commissioner to sweep this district—”

A loud crack interrupted him as another boat frame split under the strain of falling debris.

“You set this blaze?” she asked, still not sure she was getting it right.

The policeman looked quickly at the fire and then back at her. “We did what we had to do. After we burn out the spirilla in this nest, the entire area can be disinfected with carbolic acid and lime.”

Georgie knew from experience that fire was a risky ally. She had grown up near the tenements of South Boston, twelve acres of which burnt down in the Roxbury Conflagration. “Isn’t that a rough way to go about it?”

Her skepticism exasperated the policeman. Clearly, he had not anticipated this challenge from a fellow American.

“Rough?” he cried. “People should be thanking us for our help. For months we’ve been distributing distilled water all over the city for free. We’ve built new encampments and staffed them with doctors and nurses to treat the stricken. We’ve even reimbursed people for the loss of their filthy, worthless shacks. Are these efforts appreciated? Instead, savages like him”—he crooked his thumb at the Mestizo—“stir up trouble, talking of tyranny.”

The dark-eyed man in question did not respond, but crossed his arms across his bare chest. When he caught her looking at him, she turned away, embarrassed by the impropriety: his in dress and hers in curiosity.

“And what’s the natives’ answer to the cholera?” the policeman continued. “Candles? A few prayers? Carting some wooden saints around?”

Georgie thought he had a point, albeit one badly made. It took no more than an hour in the city to realize that Manila had no sewage system, making it ripe for plague. Nowhere that she had wandered today had been out of olfactory range of the Pasig River, its estuaries, or the Spanish moat. Using the same water for drink and toilet did not make for a pleasant bouquet, never mind good health. That thought gave her some sympathy for the beleaguered Insular official. This morning’s Manila Times had reported that cholera deaths were down to a quarter of their July high, so something must be working.

“Maybe he’s right,” she said hopefully to the angry man. “They’re killing the germs, after all.”

The Mestizo ran a large hand through his short hair and sighed. “His plan would’ve been better if he hadn’t chased off the infected people who used to live here, spreading the disease farther. That’s not just stupid, it’s bad policy. Do you know what the people will say tomorrow? ‘The Americans are burning the poor out of their homes to make room for new mansions.’”

“That’s absurd!” she said.

The policeman did not deny it, though. “These brownies are like children, always looking to blame someone else. I can’t control what they think, nor would I deign to try.”

The Mestizo clenched his fists at his side, unconsciously tugging at the silk pajamas. Georgie wished he would not do that, especially since it was clear he was not wearing anything underneath. She turned away to watch the flames.

A piece of fiery thatch floated through the air near her head. A fresh gust of wind blew it up and over the street toward a cluster of neighboring homes whose occupants were still in the process of pulling out their belongings. The fireball rose and fell, dancing through the dark sky in slow motion, until it landed on the grass roof of one of the huts, igniting in seconds.

Everyone, including the firemen, rushed to warn those inside, but somehow Georgie got there first. She climbed the ladder into the hut and found a small boy holding a baby. He looked at Georgie with wide eyes as if she, not the fire, was the monster devouring his home. She inched forward, hoping her exaggerated smile would bridge the language gulf. She motioned him forward, her hand outstretched, palm up, fingers beckoning—but to no avail. The boy backed farther into the bamboo wall, acting like he had never seen such a gesture before.

Georgie looked up and saw that the whole roof was in flames. How had the fire grown so quickly? “Please!” she shouted, even though she knew her English was worthless. “You have to climb down with me.” She waved her arms furiously, only adding to the boy’s terror. She couldn’t will herself to crawl more deeply into the hut, though. That would be suicide.

“Ven acá,” a deep voice said. She turned to see the Mestizo behind her on the ladder. “Dito.” He motioned with this hand, too, but his palm faced down, brushing his fingers under like a broom. It seemed a dismissive gesture to Georgie, but the boy responded right away and crawled toward them.

The man handed the baby to Georgie before scooping up the boy. “Now go!”

The Mestizo swung back on the ladder to let Georgie down first. Just then the fire surged out of the hut, raking the big man’s back. Grunting in pain, he shoved everyone the rest of the way down and pushed them all to the ground. He fell last on top of the human pile, providing cover as the platform of the house gave way in a single explosion. The flames reached out to claw at them one last time before retreating. The Mestizo pulled Georgie and the boy onto their feet and dragged them farther from the burning hut, just to be safe.

After a few moments Georgie started to breathe again, devouring air in large gulps. She could feel the heavy sobs of the boy wedged into her side, but she did not have a free hand to comfort him. The baby, on the other hand, made not a sound. Georgie looked down at the little one, wondering what kind of life the infant had led so far if tonight’s episode was not even worthy of a good bawl.

A single beat of peace passed before a throng of excited Filipinos descended on them. A young woman swooped down to grab the two children, leaving Georgie alone in the Mestizo’s arms. He continued to hold her close, brushing the ash and dirt off her ruined white shirtwaist. It was a useless attempt, but she didn’t stop him.

“Are you all right?” he asked. He was still sweating—a musky, sweet scent that distracted her from the smoke. When she looked up at his face, she noticed details she had missed before: the dimple in his chin, prominent among his dark stubble; his full bottom lip, swollen a little from an accidental elbow in the face by the boy; and his low, dark eyebrows that framed his strong, straight nose. He was handsome but unrefined—too urbane to be a blackguard but too unruly to be a gentleman.

“Are you okay?” he asked again, shaking her lightly. “Can you hear me?”

She was embarrassed to be caught staring. “Yes,” she answered. “I’m sorry. I’m fine.”

“Not hurt?”

“No, I’m okay now. I’ve just…I’ve never felt so useless. The boy couldn’t understand me.”

The Mestizo shrugged. “Believe me, had you spoken his language, he would have been more scared.”

Georgie laughed, surprised at her ease. “I don’t know how your heart isn’t racing.”

The man paused, his smile not softening the look in his eyes. “Who says it isn’t?”

So he might be a bit of a blackguard after all, she thought.

Georgie noticed that the natives had stopped watching the fire and instead were watching her. She glanced over to the American policeman. The man did not need to speak to communicate the extent of his disgust. No self-respecting American woman would allow herself to be held this way by a half-naked Filipino. Upper-crust accent, Spanish features, and English law degree notwithstanding, he was still a “brownie.”

Georgie tried to loosen the Mestizo’s grip by twisting away. When that didn’t work she gently nudged him with her elbow, but he didn’t take that hint either. A seed of panic bloomed in her stomach. If they did not separate, there was liable to be more trouble for them both. She planted both palms on his chest and pressed lightly, but no one on the outside could see her resistance. All they saw was a suggestive caress.

The policeman’s eyes darkened. A small man like him—diminutive in both stature and intelligence—would no doubt resort to the power of his office to reestablish authority. Dash it, he had said as much even before the Mestizo had gotten his hands on a white woman.

Georgie summoned her strength and shoved the Mestizo away, hard. His heel caught on a rock and he fell, grimacing as he landed flat on his injured back.

A few bystanders laughed. Some would have laughed at anyone’s misfortune, but others relished the embarrassment of a proud man. Not surprisingly, the policeman’s guffaw was the loudest.

The Mestizo’s cheeks flushed red, but fury trumped pride. He got up immediately, rising in a single fluid motion while glaring at Georgie. She wanted to say something to defuse the situation—to explain, apologize, something—but the moment passed before she got up the courage. The man pivoted on his heel and walked away, not bothering to brush the gravel from his burned, torn flesh.

Georgie sighed in regret. Her first full day in Manila had not been a success by any measure. Unfortunately, it was too late to turn around now.


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