A Nostalgic Post

Remember when I took a poetry class to challenge myself since I’m not so great at writing poems? Well, I was cleaning out my USB stick the other day and happened upon a folder with some old assignments. I felt both pride and embarrassment upon reading through them. Here are two of my favorites:

 


 

A Cat and His Dog 

(Inspired by my pets)

The dog thinks she’s the alpha of the house.

The dog is wrong.

She watches cars and people pass through the window,

Barking at anyone and anything.

Unless they come through the door.

Then they’re friends.

The dog thinks I enjoy playing with her.

The dog is wrong.

When Mom and Dad can’t toss the ball for her

She charges and snaps and barks at me.

The dog is often very sorry for this.

I make her cry and retreat every time.

The dog thinks she’s Mom and Dad’s favorite.

The dog is wrong.

She gets treats and belly rubs and sleeps at Dad’s feet.

I get to sleep on the couch.

Mom doesn’t let the dog sleep on the couch.

Enough said.

The dog thinks we’re friends.

The dog is wrong.

Sure, we share the water bowl sometimes.

When I sneak out through the dog door,

We eat grass together and watch the birds.

And when I’m full and the dog asks very nicely,

I let her finish my milk…

I suppose the dog isn’t always wrong.

 


 

My Salted Pine

(Inspired by my grandfather’s ranch)

Freshly tilled earth squishes between my toes

Releasing memories of water, fertilizer, vegetation

My grandfather works hard to nurture his fields

They reward him with good produce every season

Sunshine weaves through the leaves to meet the top of my head

Bringing memories of summer, play, blackberries

My cousins and I once ran through these fields

Raced up the chicken coop to pick the berries that grew there

The wind whispers across the land

Churning up memories of rain, clouds, thunder

I often sat before the front window of my grandparent’s house

Watching the weather wreak havoc across their land

My tree sways and gestures with its branches

Recounting memories of adventures, epiphanies, dreams

This was my place of solitude, the place I could escape to

The place I came to think

I reach up to press my hand against the creases in the bark

Close my eyes, take a deep breath

And remember being a child

 


 

Don’t worry. I’m not quitting my day job yet. It’s just fun to look back and reminisce. At least, it is for me. Hope you enjoyed them! 😉

My Life

“…This is your life, are you who you want to be?
This is your life, is it everything you’ve dreamed
That it would be when the world was younger,
And you had everything to lose?”
-This is Your Life by Switchfoot

When I was fourteen/fifteen, I listened to this song with hope that one day my life would be everything that I ever dreamed it would be. Because, I don’t know if you remember, but being a teenager isn’t as fun as they make it seem on TV. Your choices are pretty limited. You go to school, go to church, do your chores, do your homework, mind your manners, hang out with your friends, maybe get your driver’s permit, learn a life lesson or two. Sure, you have less responsibility and less to worry about, but that to me always meant being stuck in the same old routine.

I longed for the day when I’d be older because I couldn’t do any of the things I actually wanted to do until then. I figured if I finally finished school, published a book, got married, and started my own family, then I would have “arrived.” I would’ve been done with the farming and gaining XP part of this video game, and be leveled up enough to get to the good stuff. Do you know what has happened the older I’ve gotten? Nothing. I still feel exactly the same, like I’m waiting for the “good” part of my life to start.

Don’t get me wrong; I have A LOT to be thankful for. I have a good-paying job with incredible health insurance. I have a car that works (most of the time). I’m living in a rental house that’s in a good neighborhood. I have a husband that I don’t deserve. We have loving and supporting families, a nurturing church, great friends, and pets that are practically angels (when compared to the animals in all of those shaming memes). I’ve published three books and will be self-publishing a fourth in the next month or two (fingers crossed). I have a bouncing baby boy on the way.

According to the logic of Teenage Me, this should mean that I have “arrived,” right? My days of striving and waiting and working are over. I have everything that I’ve ever wanted, but nothing is at all like I thought it would be. I’ve always known that I’m something of a romantic, that I see life through rose-colored glasses. The truth is I don’t see life at all.

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I thought this meme only pertained to the fantasy worlds I wrote about. I was wrong. This is just how I view everything. Unrealistically. Positively. Naively. I set myself up for disappointment because I’ll always be waiting for my circumstances to align with my view of how things “ought to be” after all my years of “farming.” When in reality, life is hard and is always going to be. People tried to tell me this when I was younger. Sometimes I believed them. Most of the time I didn’t. Now, I think, I’m finally starting to see.

Because–shocker!–the things I’ve been looking forward to? They have their down sides too. For example:

  • I’m done with school (for now); that’s great. But trying to make writing my full time career or trying to get an internship at a publishing company is a drag. There’s always a better writer, a better candidate.
  • I’m published. Again, great! I’m super proud of the fact that I have books out there for people to enjoy! But book promotion and marketing are soul-crushing. There are so many articles and blog posts and YouTube videos chock full of information that has, so far, not helped me very much.
  • I’m married. Woohoo! But…actually, I have no complaints there. Being married to Devo Fox is pretty amazing. Sure, sometimes we confuse and frustrate each other, but we never go to bed angry. He’s still the first person I want to see when I wake up in the morning, the person I can’t wait to get home to. Moving right along…
  • I’m pregnant. Guess what. Feeling nauseous and exhausted all the time sucks. There are things I used to do with ease, things that I can’t do anymore because I literally don’t have the energy. I keep hearing that it’ll get better with time but it hasn’t. I’m thinking I’ll keep feeling sick and tired right up until I pop this kid out.

There is no giant scale where all my hours of farming go in and, after I’ve reached a certain point, I’ll have “earned” an easy-breezy end to my life. I’m always going to have to work for what I want. I’m never going to “arrive,” not until the second coming. If I get a little extra money to travel or purchase something big that I need, it’ll be a blessed miracle. If I ever look around and feel any measure of peace or contentment, I need to cherish that because those moments are so fleeting.

But nobody wants to hear about that, do they? Complainers and downers get nothing but eye-rolls and cricket noises. Plus, I don’t want to stay in this depressingly realistic place either. I want to continue seeing the bright side of things, to continue believing that my circumstances will get easier with time. Because if they don’t, then I might actually give up. What kind of life would that be?

There’s a not-so-subtle theme in The Andromeda Trilogy (cool name pending). It’s something along the lines of “do the best you can with what you have and try to find happiness no matter where you are in life.” It makes me sound wise but, as you can see, I’m still trying to figure out how to put that into practice. How to be content without getting complacent. How to see things as they are without giving in to depression and discouragement. How to explain to my kids the difference between living in the moment and being reckless. Because I can’t wait for the day my unrealistic expectations come true. Not anymore. This is my life. It’s happening right now. There is good and there is bad. There are things I can do and things I can’t. What am I going to do with this knowledge, this new outlook? Time will only tell.

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Bachelor’s or no

I’ve started my summer reading class, the last requirement before I can get my Academic Certificate in Creative Writing from Phoenix College. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s been a long time coming.

I started going to college after I’d been living on my own for a few months, and a whole year after I’d started working my first full time job. Getting the necessary hours to pay bills while balancing nine credits a semester was difficult, but doable. Getting my associates took longer than I care to admit. Like any other college student, I changed my mind about my major a few times while getting my associates. First I wanted to be a translator, become proficient in as many languages as I could. It turned out becoming a linguist was going to take several years. So I narrowed my focus to one of the languages I was curious about; American Sign Language. Phoenix College was the only college in the area that offered an extensive ASL program so, after completing four courses at Glendale Community College, I transferred over to PC.

It wasn’t until I’d already transferred that I realized what a challenge this ASL program was going to be. They offered the required classes in the morning and at night. Once I chose a schedule, I couldn’t change it mid semester. It was either all morning or all night classes. I couldn’t take the morning courses because I worked from 8AM to 5PM, and I couldn’t take the night courses because it would mean sacrificing the few precious hours I could spend with my husband. (He has to be up at 5AM every morning and goes to sleep early as a result. So he would’ve been going to work before I woke up and I would be coming back from my night classes long after he fell asleep.) Finding a new job with mid-afternoon to early evening hours that paid me what my current job was paying proved to be impossible. Any online jobs I found needed experience that I didn’t have. So I had a choice to make: get certified as a Sign Language Interpreter or see my husband on a daily basis.

But then it wasn’t really a choice.

With the ASL program off my options list, I finally allowed myself to consider my dream. See, my dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams but to also consider other, more practical career paths that would help me support myself and eventually my family. In attempting to heed his advice, I’d chosen career paths that I’d been interested in but that were also practical and in high demand where I lived. But I felt that God orchestrated this path for me, the one where life kept “intervening” and changing my plans. Because, with no practical career to follow, I finally started considering a degree in creative writing.

And Phoenix College just so happened to have a Creative Writing Program.

It’s only a certificate but with it I can transfer to a university and eventually earn a Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing or just a BA in Creative Writing. It was while I was taking these courses that I saw the most growth in my writing. It was during this Creative Writing Program that I got my publishing deals. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I’d never felt more sure about my career path, more confident in my schooling choices. For the first time in a long time, I believed I could make it as an author.

I still believe I can make a living off of my writing, but it’s going to take time. During that time, I’d like to keep learning and growing. I’d like to have options if/when I “retire” from authoring. Furthering my education could potentially get me a job at a literary agency or publishing company. Hearing my dad’s voice at the back of my mind, I realize getting a bachelor’s would be the practical thing to. I did some research and, so long as the writing classes from PC transfer to the university I have in mind, I would only need eleven classes in order to get my Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing. Even with the payment program they offer, I could only afford to take two classes a semester. But if I take a class in one of the summer semesters, it would only take me two years and one summer to complete my degree.

If I’m totally honest with myself, the only thing stopping me is my own specific interests. Looking at the restricted electives list for this degree, it’s obvious I’m going to have to read and dissect Shakespeare.  I’m also going to have to “analyze” other “classic literary works” from the 1800s. (Raise your hand if Shakespeare confuses you, frustrates you, and sometimes puts you to sleep. Raise your hand if the only classic literature books you’ve been able to enjoy are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Raise your hand if you feel physically sick when you hear the words literary analysis. You can’t see me, but I’m raising both hands right now. And hopping up and down because I don’t have an third hand to raise.)

I like modern fiction. You know, books that were written in my life time. Now, I’m a good student. I can put in the effort and skate by with a B if I absolutely have to. And the reading class I took last summer proved that there are teachers in this world that can assign an interesting book from the 1800s. But I don’t want to grow to hate reading or writing. That’s my biggest fear.

The other thing that’s holding me back is the fact that 12 credit hours are required to be taken on campus. Which is thirty minutes away. I’m sure I could space out those credit hours so that I don’t have to spend too much time driving per semester, but I’d still be sacrificing time in the evenings with my husband. So that’s something to consider…

Fortunately, I have until the end of January to make up my mind. The university I’m looking at begins accepting portfolios from Creative Writing students in February. If they decide I’m worthy to enter into their bachelor’s program, then I’ll move forward. If not, then I guess my decision has been made for me. And, of course, I have to consult my husband. We were both pretty psyched about not having to pay for school anymore. (This summer class I’m taking now has already been paid for.) We’re still saving up to replace his truck; having a school payment for the next two years will definitely slow that process down. Also, kids might come in the next two years and I don’t want to be in school while I’m raising kids. My mom did that. I could see how hard it was for her to balance it all. I don’t want to have to make the choice between homework and spending time with my babies.

I’m praying God will show me the way, make it absolutely clear whether this is the right thing for me to do or not. He’s done it in the past. For now, I’ll keep waiting and thinking and doing research.

End of the semester reflections

To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Another year…gone.” Only in this case it’s a semester. I took my usual three classes and managed to swing “A”s in all. (Thank God.)

Intermediate Fiction was by far the most challenging because the teacher had us writing a new short story every month. It tested my creativity, forced me to think outside the box. But I’m thankful for this because it yielded some surprisingly good results, with “Entering the Deep” and “To Kill a Vampire” especially. My teacher also had us students giving each other detailed feedback on our stories. There was a form with questions we had to fill out, which made us stop to think about what we just read. I’m not the greatest when it comes to critiquing. I read books for enjoyment, not with the intent to break them down or analyze them. And short stories have never been my cup of tea, mostly because they lack that character development and fluff of a full blown novel (which I love so much). So giving good feedback was also a challenge for me. But, once again, I’m thankful for this. It helped me develop good critiquing skills.

Planning and Structuring the Novel was great. As the title might suggest, we students were given the opportunity to submit excerpts from our current works in progress to receive constructive criticism from classmates and our instructor. This kind of feedback wasn’t as specific as the feedback I received for my short stories, but I was made aware of some important plot issues with “The Andromeda’s Ghost.” (This is a science-fiction novel I’ve been working on. I’ve posted an excerpt or two on the blog in the past.) This novel is my first attempt at science-fiction so it was great to hear that I was doing a good job so far. My instructor’s thoughts especially were helpful. There’s just something about working alongside an impartial adult, who has studied writing and literature, and genuinely likes your work…I’m going to miss discussing my story with that man.

My Portfolio class was filled with more feedback. I basically submitted all of the short stories I was thinking about putting in my portfolio and the teacher, the Director of the Creative Writing Program, gave me his thoughts. In order to get my Certificate of Completion for the Creative Writing Program at Phoenix College, I have to submit a portfolio with 12-15 pages of original work from two different genres, a letter of intent stating my writing goals, and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. I was asked to provide three copies of this, so I can only assume that the director of the program and two mystery people will be reading my work and making the final decision.

Naturally, I agonized over which stories to submit. The three stories I wrote this semester are my favorites out of my little stack of shorts, but they’re all at least 12 pages long, maybe more. I’d only be able to include one. I’ve written a few poems but I didn’t feel confident turning in any of those. (Although, now that I think about it, I could’ve totally turned in my prose poem about public speaking! Dang it! Oh, well…) In the end, I went with a horror story I wrote last semester and the mermaid story I wrote more recently. Combined, they fell within the page limit so it worked out. For better or worse, I’ve mailed it in. Now all I can do is wait.

I’m not technically done with the program yet. I have one more reading class I have to take, but it’s not available until the summer of 2018. I emailed the director of the program, thinking I’d have to wait to turn in my portfolio. He said I didn’t have to wait. He seemed to think I had a shot at that certificate, which was encouraging to hear.

So my schooling is pretty much over. I’ll be going back for that one class in the summer, but then I’ll be done! [insert girlish shriek of excitement here]

I still don’t know if I want to get a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. A part of me thinks I won’t need it. Another part of me is terrified that I’ll totally flop as an author and I’ll need a backup plan. I do okay in school but it’s not something I want to do for the next four to eight years of my life. I want to be focusing on kids and my writing during that time. But life is…well…to quote Forrest Gump, “Life [is] like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.” I could do really good as an author, really bad, or just mediocre. I want to be prepared for all of those outcomes. I want to have a plan. That’s who I am; a planner. So what will I do if, by this time next year, I can’t make a living off my writing? Do I keep at it? Do I get my Bachelor’s and try to get a job at a publishing company? Do I pick another major?

The thing is, I can’t think of anything else I’d want to study. Sure, for a while I thought it would be cool to be an interpreter. I enjoyed learning American Sign Language and all about the deaf community. But when my job conflicted with the scheduling of the interpreter’s program at Phoenix College, I wasn’t devastated that I had to give it up. I would be devastated if I had to give up writing. But I love reading and writing. I feel like getting my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing will make me start to hate these things I love so much…

Uuuuuggggghhhhhh.

It takes effort to trust that everything is going to be fine so long as I do my best. It’s hard for me to be okay with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. It helps that I have a great, merciful God who doesn’t mind repeating that He has everything under control. It also helps that it’s Christmas time and I have family to distract me. Tonight, my husband and I will be flying to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with his mother and brothers. I’m so looking forward to seeing them and having my first white Christmas. Another semester is over. It’s time to celebrate. That’s what I need to be focusing on right now. After the holidays, I’ll be working on book promotion and finishing that science-fiction novel. What comes after that can be decided later.

If I don’t post anything else before the new year, let me just say Merry Christmas to you all. See you in 2018!

My newest “short” story

I might have mentioned this before but I’m taking Intermediate Fiction this semester and having a blast. The class is challenging me to come up with short stories every two weeks, giving me plenty of practice meeting deadlines. My problem now is that I feel like writing a novella or even a whole novel to expand upon this story! I wish I had more time…For now I’m keeping a list of ideas so that I can work on them later.

This story was inspired in part by my novel, Asta and the Barbarians. Like the novel, this story is set in an older time period with gods and goddesses, and the main character is both a woman and a fighter. Who knows? This might become a companion to Asta and the Barbarians. Anyway, I hope you like it. I’ve tentatively called it “A Match Made in the Hollow.”

 

Anwyl’s face twisted as she screamed, marring her otherwise unparalleled beauty. She thrust her arms out before her and the earth shook. Fissures like spider webs erupted over the ground, spreading from her feet and reaching out across the entire hollow. Animated corpses of men, any man who had ever prayed to Anwyl for guidance, clawed their way out.

“Attack!” William Eckersley waved his strange sword in the air before he banged it against his shield. “For your kinsmen, for your families, for your lives!” Then he charged.

The men who had volunteered for this quest shook where they stood, but they drew their weapons and followed Mr. Eckersley’s lead.

Jessa Copeland was frozen with terror. Even from a distance she could smell the putrefaction of the undead, hear their guttural moans, and see the grotesque patches of missing flesh. Her hand grew slick with nervous perspiration; she squeezed the revolver tighter but what good were the weapons of mortals against the minions of a goddess? What good was an amateur to a group of trained men? She could trade in her corset and bonnet for a coat and some trousers, she could rub soot into her skin and tuck all of her blond hair into a man’s riding hatbut she couldn’t hide who she really was: A child who had rushed into something she wasn’t ready for.

Jessa blinked away tears.

 

“You’re mad,” Charles said through the slot in his door.

“Perhaps.” Jessa leaned forward and lowered her voice. “But if I don’t do this, I’ll be Mrs. John Lamberton in six month’s time, and I’ll never be able to work or travel or go to school or —”

“You don’t want to go to school,” her brother said. “It’s boring.”

“I’d like the option! I know John won’t give it to me.” Jessa impatiently brushed the hair out of her eyes. “He’s a good man but he’s so stubborn. He’s already said he expects me to give birth to five children and run his house for him.”

Charles adopted a mocking, wide-eyed look. “You mean he expects you to be a wife once the two of you are married? The nerve of some men!”

Jessa sighed and pressed her forehead against the rough wood. “I’d like to learn more about myself and the world before I’m confined to a single role. Is that so wrong?”

“Have you tried talking to Mother and Father? Perhaps they can call off the wedding.”

Jessa snorted. “Father? Go back on his word? Do you know him?”

Charles shook his head. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Father has disowned you. That makes me the first born. Our law states a first born over the age of eighteen has a right to answer any call-to-arms from any noble family.”

“Yes, but—”

“That quest, once completed, will mark that individual as an independent adult, able to own land, move out of their parents’ home, seek higher education or employment, marry or not.”

“You’re a woman. The Right of the Firstborn doesn’t apply to you.” Charles sighed when his sister scowled. “I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.”

“Will you lend me the swords and the revolver or not?” Jessa hissed.

“I can’t. I’d be sending you to your death.”

“Brother, please, I have to try!” Jessa licked her parched lips and glanced over her shoulder, hoping none of the passersby on the street had overheard. “What was the point in teaching me how to fence and shoot, and the basics of running a business if you never intended me to use any of it?”

 

The ground cracked open to her right and bony fingers reached out from the depths, greedily searching for the light. Jessa shrieked and backed away, heart hammering in her throat. She pointed the pistol with a trembling hand, trying to remember everything her brother taught her. The memories of her training escaped her no matter how hard she tried to hold onto them, like grains of sand slipping through her fingers. All she could think about was the body rising from the earth before her.

His neck was bent at an odd angle; splintered bones stuck out from the gelatinous tendons. Pink veins spread across his wide, unblinking eyes. Chunks of hair were missing from his scalp. There was a hole in his cheek where Jessa could see the bone of his jaw. He gnashed his remaining teeth at her and growled. Then he yanked the sword out of his chest and advanced.

 

“Goddess of travelers watch over you,” Charles said as they embraced. “Try not to die, little sister. I’m awfully fond of you.”

 

Jessa screamed and pulled the trigger. The bullets embedded themselves in the dead man’s throat and chest, but he continued to advance. Jessa shoved the revolver back into the holster at her hip and drew her short swords. She ducked out of the way when the corpse brought his weapon down; then she straightened up and swung both swords over her head. The blades sliced through the flimsy tissue protecting his ribs.

The corpse howled as new blood stained his torn clothes. But he didn’t fall. He used his sword with skill and speed despite his appearance. He blocked every one of Jessa’s blows. They moved back and forth, dancing just out of each other’s reach. Then Jessa’s sword sliced the air, severing whatever tendons were left in the undead man’s neck. The head flew about a yard or so from the force of her swing. The man dropped to the ground at last.

Jessa took a moment to sheath her swords and reload the revolver. Then she aimed for the heads of the corpses fighting her comrades and shot as she walked, pausing only to cut down the occasional animated cadaver in her path.

“The heads!” she heard one of the men shout above the noise of battle. “Aim for the heads!”

She didn’t pause to see if anyone heeded this advice. Her gaze was fixed on the shifting form of William Eckersley, who battled the goddess herself on the other side of the hollow. She could still hear his voice at the back of her mind, see his face thrown into shadow by the fire last night.

 

“Is it true what the men are saying?” she asked, deepening her voice in an effort to sound masculine. “Did you reject the affections of the love goddess?”

Eckersley stoked the logs of the bond fire with his cane, his dark eyes reflecting the flames. “I rejected Anwyl’s twisted will, not her affections.”

“Did she dare ask the most eligible bachelor in the county to choose a wife?”

Eckersley smirked at her. “If it had been as simple as that, I might’ve conceded.”

Jessa blinked in surprise. Every woman in town gossiped about this nobleman. Some sniffed at his pride, called him a pompous prince who thought himself too good for any of the ladies his mother had tried to marry him off to. Others spoke of his good looks, his quiet manner, and his riches in hushed, adoring tones. Could it be that William Eckersley simply hadn’t found the right woman to marry yet?

Eckersley leaned back against a tree, throwing his handsome face into shadow. “Anwyl appeared to me in a dream. She told me she had planned a clever love story for me and she would put it into action very soon. She was quite proud of herself for coming up with the scheme and thought I would be pleased. When I refused to be a pawn in her game, she cursed our city with a mysterious, incurable disease.”

“That’s why so many of our people are dying,” Jessa whispered in horror. “And you think the only way to stop this disease from spreading is to kill the goddess herself? How will you do this?”

 

The gold and copper sword swung down, only to be deflected by a sword of glass. Anwyl smiled and cast Eckersley aside with a mighty shove. He stumbled but didn’t fall. He blew the strands of dark hair out of his face and advanced again, shield and sword at the ready.

Jessa swerved around skirmishes. She ducked to avoid the swings of the undead. She, straightened up and fired a few rounds, and then continued to run. She knew she needed to help Eckersley somehow. He couldn’t finish the goddess on his own.

 

“The place we travel to is called The Lover’s Hollow. One of Anwyl’s altars was built there many years ago; it’s considered to be a sacred place. If we burn incense and pray to her, she’ll have to come. As for how I’ll vanquish the goddess…” Eckersley rose, drew his sword, and held it out over the fire so that Jessa could see.

It was a curious blade; the fuller divided an edge of gold and an edge of copper. The cross guard was slightly uneven, thicker on one side than it was on the other, and it appeared to be made of pale yellow bone.

“I’ve never seen the likes of it before,” Jessa said.

“It was forged on the night of the summer solstice using goblin’s gold, the copper of a poor man who was pure of heart, and the ulna of an expert swordsman.” Eckersley took a few experimental swings. “Sprinkled with the tears of Druce, god of wisdom, it is said to be one of the few weapons on earth that can slay a minor god. They call it—”

“The Sword of the Divine,” Jessa said, recalling the old story. “But…it’s just a legend.”

Eckersley sheathed the sword. “To every myth there is a bit of truth.”

“Yes, but we can’t know which part of the myth is true,” Jessa said, trying to fight her rising panic. “This sword could indeed be made with all the components you described, but it may not have the power to kill a god. Still, you’d risk your life and the lives of these men—”

Eckersley’s brow flattened with determination. “For my city, for my family, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t risk.”

 

Anwyl, despite being clothed in a billowing dress of red and white, moved flawlessly over the uneven ground, twisting, thrusting, blocking, snarling. Her sunshine gold hair miraculously stayed out of her face.

Eckersley, although an excellent swordsman, struggled to break her defense.

Jessa hastily replaced her empty pistol with her second sword as she drew nearer. Holding one sword above her head and the other by her waist, she spun toward Anwyl. The goddess kicked Eckersley in the stomach and jumped out of the way, just in time to deflect Jessa’s blows. Eckersley lost his shield as he rolled in the grass, but he leapt to his feet again, gripping the Sword of the Divine in both hands.

“What are you doing?” he shouted at Jessa.

Anwyl grinned and stepped back, then slowly lowered her sword.

Jessa kept her swords up, confused and out of breathbut ready.

The goddess threw Eckersley a sly look. With her free hand, she blew a kiss Jessa’s way. A blast of cold wind washed over Jessa, pushing her a few paces back. When Jessa regained her footing, her disguise had melted away. Her weapons were cast aside. Her skin was clean and her hair was curled, and flowed over her slim shoulders and down to her lower back. She wore a purple silk gown she’d never seen before. She gaped at herself in horror. Then she turned to Eckersley. He stared with a mixture of shock and wonder.

“William, meet Jessa Copeland,” the goddess said with triumph. “Your perfect match.”

Anwyl waved her sword; the undead bodies collapsed like marionettes whose strings had been cut. The men who remained lowered their swords and rifles, blinking in confusion.

“My work here is done,” Anwyl said.

With a wink, she vanished.

Suddenly I’m…busy?

A quick update on my once boring life:

My classes Planning the Novel and Intermediate Fiction have me writing and reading more than all my past Creative Writing classes combined. The Planning the Novel class includes student workshops so I’ll be submitting some chapters for my classmates to critique in the near future. I’m excited to get feed-back on my novel-in-progress, The Andromeda’s Ghost. I still can’t get over the fact that I get to create fiction (you know, something that I love to do) and turn it in for a grade! I wish I could’ve skipped all the other boring subjects and jumped right into this after I graduated from high school. (No offense to people who actually enjoy History, college Algebra, Biology, and/or Public Speaking classes.) This is what I was meant to do. Despite the overwhelming work load, I’m glad that I’m taking these classes. It’s like how I image most people feel after a good work out: tired but proud of themselves.

Things at work have picked up as we begin Fall Bible studies. More calls, more appointments, more little projects that need help being completed. The quiet summer is officially over.

I just approved a book cover and finished doing a round of copy edits for I Dare You to Love Me. According to my content editor, the manuscript still needs to go through two more rounds of editing before it can be ready to print. It’s always exciting to see my stories taking shape when I’m working on them, but this is a different kind of excitement. I know this book is actually going to be seen and purchased by others. This one is going to make it to the other side, or so to speak. I can’t wait to share it with everyone. In the mean time, I’m getting tons of good advice from my book marketing specialist concerning my social media accounts. After staring at the computer screen with a puzzled/nauseated look on my face for a half hour and clicking on random things to see how this “Professional Facebook account” differs from a personal one, I finally finished my author’s page. I still have to figure out how to make a professional Instagram account and a Goodreads account, so I feel behind.

I saw a sample book cover for In the Dark yesterday and it’s looking great! It just needs a few more tweaks and I think it’ll be ready. Edited to Add: I just heard back from my editor. She’s going to start doing edits on In the Dark this week. Hopefully, I’ll be getting the manuscript back soon!

Bragging about my books and myself is really hard! I’m still struggling to be okay in the spotlight. But I’m taking this one step at a time. Maybe, someday, it’ll come naturally to me. Thanks to all of you faithful readers, retweeters, commentators, followers, friends, and family. You are SO appreciated!

The end of the semester

Final grades have been officially entered. I received A’s in all my classes (Intro to Poetry, Intro to Horror, and Literature and Film).

Intro to Poetry and Into to Horror were challenging, as I knew they would be. Neither come naturally to me but I discovered that I could create both, after much study and practice. I personally think my horror pieces are better than my poems, but I’m still proud of the fact that I can write them now. I feel more rounded as a writer, and I’m really thankful for my teachers. They helped make these classes interesting for me, despite the challenges. They encouraged me, told me where I could improve, gave me good advice, and provided books I could continue learning from even after the classes were over.

Literature and Film was just fun. I got to watch movies and read stories that are considered classics but I’d never willingly read or watch on my own (Jaws, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and it’s adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, The Body by Stephen King and it’s adaption Stand By Me.) I feel more cultured as a movie geek having watched these. For the final project, we were allowed to choose a book and movie adaption to analyze. I chose The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and it’s partial adaptation The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was the easiest, most enjoyable final project I’ve ever had to do.

Despite all the fun and the growth I’ve experienced this semester, I’m relieved to be done. With the completion of Literature and Film, I gained the last few credits I needed in order to be done with my Associates in Arts. After four years and five months of balancing school and work, I can finally say I have a degree. I’ll be getting my diploma in the mail in ten business days. It might not seem like much when compared to other kids my age who stayed home, had the freedom to just go to school, and are now finishing up their bachelor’s degrees. But it’s a big deal to me. I’m done with something I set out to do a long time ago. That feels good.

These last few classes I’m taking in the summer and in the fall are for an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (an associates in Creative Writing.) After that, the sky’s the limit. I could transfer to a university and get a bachelors and/or masters in Creative Writing if I wanted to. I think I’m going to take a break. I haven’t taken a real break since I started college. A part of me is a little nervous. If, for example, a great job within a publishing company is brought to my attention and I’m disqualified because of my lack of education, will I have the strength to go back to school? Will I have the willpower? Or am I shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing higher education now, while I’ve got the momentum? I’m trying not to worry about it, though. Too often I feel as if I choose to do what I think I have to do. In the area of school, I believe it’s time to do what I want to do. Besides, my husband and I are already saddled with his school debt. I don’t think we could handle paying off any more school loans with the jobs we currently have. In the future, who knows?

I’m looking forward to devoting more time to my writing and expanding my contacts in the publishing world. I’m really looking forward to not having to worry about homework!

Here’s to the future and all it’s possibilities!

Two kinds of people

People are frustrating.

They cut you off at the intersection. They slow down on the freeway to stare at the van that’s stranded on the side of the road, creating unnecessary traffic. They tell other people your secrets. They post rude and angry things on their social media sites. They argue about things that aren’t that important. They demean you and your beliefs. They ignore and sometimes brush away your advice, even though you care so deeply about them. They betray you and then come crawling back when they need help. They say hurtful things in a flippant and oblivious manner. They text constantly when they’re supposed to be hanging out with you. They interrupt every event by forcing all those involved to take a picture. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want, even though they’re adults and they’re supposed to be mature. They disrespect people of authority. They ignore their children and complain about their parents. They give into their child’s demands and do everything for them. They give you unwanted and sometimes awkward advice. They poke around your private matters and try to fix things for you…

But people are also really great.

They notice you’re having a rough day and cut you some slack when you snap or make a mistake. They reach out to you with a random, encouraging text even though it’s been ages since you’ve spoken. They force you to go out and have fun when you’re down in the dumps. They chat with you for hours about books and movies and characters who don’t exist. They stay up late to cry and pray with you when your world is falling apart. They hold you when you cry and cheer you on when you’re discouraged and work hard beside you and celebrate your successes with you. They give you flowers and cards and balloons when it’s your birthday, even though you were trying to keep it a secret. They acknowledge your hard work with a smile or a thank-you. They love you unconditionally and make you feel important when you don’t think too highly of yourself.

People are flawed, complicated, unfinished, searching, wielders of unimaginable power; the power to influence. Think before you act. Listen before you speak. What kind of person will you be? How will you influence the lives around you?

A horror story for ya

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m taking an Intro to Horror Writing class this semester. The genre has never really appealed to me but I believe a good author is a well-rounded author, an author who can write several different genres successfully. (I don’t care too much for poetry either, but I’m taking a poetry writing class too. I’m even writing a science-fiction story, just to see where it goes! It’s actually a lot of fun to stretch my mind and leave the comforts of fantasy writing.)

Anyway, we’ve read a few short stories and discussed the elements that make up a good horror story: terror, horror, and the gross-out. As Stephen King said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” So I’ve been challenged to focus on these three elements. For one of our most recent assignments, we were asked to write a short story. Our teacher gave us the opening lines of a few well-known horror stories, asked us to pick one, and roll with it. See where the line would take us. The line I chose was “The door had been nailed shut for a reason.” This is what I came up with:

 

The door had been nailed shut for a reason.

It was only logical. Why would someone waste their time pounding nails into a door if there wasn’t a good reason? Maybe the house was separated into sections and rented out to different families. Maybe the previous owners of the house had a kid who thought nailing his little sister’s door shut would be a hoot. There was a dog-door-like square cut along the bottom of the wood. Maybe there was something sinister lurking in the room on the other side.

Gwen rolled her eyes at her own whacky imagination. Still, there was something strange about that door at the end of the hall, the door everyone else was intent on ignoring. Or maybe she was just the first one to notice it? The music was incredibly loud. So many bodies were pressed together into the living room of this old house. The only sources of light were the spotlights sweeping across the room, the candles lit in the open bedrooms, and the moonlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows. Whatever furniture that might have been there was long gone, having been tossed outside to make room for the party.

Gwen took a swig of her soda and finally tore her gaze away from the door. Why did it matter if the door was nailed shut anyway? Was she just looking for an excuse to leave the crowd? Parties weren’t exactly her idea of fun. She was too shy to talk to girls she didn’t know and the only boys who seemed to notice her were always creeps. But her sister was home from college for the weekend and had guilt-tripped her into coming so she was stuck in this creepy old house until Macy was drunk enough to forget her own name. Which might be sooner rather than later. Macy had made a beeline for the keg as soon as they’d arrived and had been parked there ever since, chatting up all the cute guys who came for refills. Gwen weaved her way through the dancing throng to get to her sister.

“Hey, Mace?”

She turned away from the boy she was flirting with to give Gwen a wide-eyed look. “You’re not here for a beer, are you? I told you; you’re the designated driver tonight.”

Gwen waved the soda can in her sister’s face. “This is all I’ve had tonight. Relax.”

“Okay. So what do you want?”

“What do you think is behind that door?” Gwen asked, gesturing to the door in question.

Macy adjusted the straps of her fairy wings and blew a raspberry. “Don’t know, don’t care. Justin said he found this house abandoned last week and decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. I think he’s only been here, like, twice to decorate and stuff. Go ask him.” Then she tossed her dirty-blond hair over her shoulder and smiled flirtatiously to her toga-clad stranger as if Gwen had already left. The guy gave Gwen the once-over out of the corner of his eyes, making her regret her slutty nurse’s costume immediately. She blushed and looked away, tugging at the hem of her little skirt as if that would suddenly make it longer.

Gwen’s eyes fell on the door again. She hadn’t seen Justin since she and Macy had arrived. He’d paused in his mingling to give them each a one-armed hug and comment on their costumes before he resumed his host duties. That was almost two hours ago. She set her drink aside and marched back across the room, getting a spurt of un-Gwen-like bravery. She didn’t need Justin. She’d unravel this mystery on her own. It wasn’t until she stood directly before the door that she realized she had no way of opening it. She dug around her white satchel (part of the costume she’d decided to use as a purse for the occasion), and pulled out a large nail file. Maybe she could pry the nails out? Doubtful but still willing to try, Gwen came closer to the door.

It was already open. Gwen blinked at the sliver of empty space between the door and the frame, wondering when that had happened. She could’ve sworn it was shut…

She shoved the nail file back into her satchel and gripped the warped door knob. The door opened with a spooky creak that made her shiver. The smell hit her then, the acrid odor of decaying meat. She slapped both hands over her nose, swallowing hard to get rid of the bile. But she couldn’t walk away. Morbid curiosity made her bump the door open wider with her hip and inch into the room. Darkness greeted her. She released her nose with one hand to search for a light switch along the wall. It flickered on a moment later.

Bones and chunks of meat littered the floor. Blood was sprinkled across the faded flowery wall paper. The windows were boarded up from the outside; the glass had been broken ages ago and scrapes cut jaggedly across the wood. As if someone had tried to claw their way out of the room at one point. A single bed mattress was shoved in the corner, covered by a ratty black blanket. A hole in the floor drew her eyes to the center of the room. Her mouth gaped open even wider when she realized its purpose.

This was a prison cell.

But for who and why?

A splash of blue among the meat and bones forced Gwen to look at the carnage again. She grimaced and turned with the full intention of walking away, but she paused. Something about that shade of blue struck a chord of familiarity within her. She took a hesitant step forward. It was a torn shirt made of fake, blue fur she was looking at. And it was smeared with blood. Gwen’s knees gave way. She would have fallen onto the filthy floor had she not locked her legs just in time. Suddenly, she knew where she’d seen that fur before. It had been exactly two hours earlier, when Justin had given her that one-armed hug and said how great she looked in her nurse’s costume. He’d been dressed like an alien from Star Trek. The remains of his mask could be seen on the floor, pressed up against the wall. Hair and brain matter freckled the edges.

Bile climbed up her throat again. The world grew fuzzy at the corners.

The door creaked, causing Gwen to spin around with a squeak. A little girl stood behind the door, pale hand pressed against the wood, pushing it closed. Gwen stepped back, the bile finally winning at the sight of the child. Her short blond hair was matted with grime, her face streaked with dried blood, her wide eyes holding pupils that were permanently dilated. She wore a large, gray sweatshirt with rips and a faded logo, but nothing else. Her feet were bare, exposing torn, black toe nails.

How long had she been imprisoned in that room? Had she eaten Justin? Gwen heaved and groaned until there was nothing left in her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to face the child again. The little girl was smacking her lips and swaying slightly, watching Gwen with wide, unblinking eyes.

Gwen managed to shake her head. “No.”

The girl grinned, exposing blackened teeth.

 

The scream cut through the music. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned toward the door at the end of the hall. The DJ killed the music after being prompted by some of the dancers. Soon there was silence and a low murmur of confused voices. Then there was the unmistakable sound of tearing.

 

I know this is pretty mild for a horror story, but it’s my first one. I’m going to get better. I promise!

Something else I read about in the Book of Horrors textbook we’re using for this class is that, in order to write something that truly terrifies and leaves an impression, we should write about things that scare us. So that’s what I did.

The most memorable (and terrifying) episode from Supernatural for me was the one about the twins living in the walls of a house. An abusive father had impregnated his daughter with twins. The girl gave birth and had died shortly afterward (from her own hand or her father’s hand, I can’t remember). The father didn’t take care of them at all. He locked them up in the basement and fed them through a laundry-shoot-like hole in the wall. The twins had never seen the light of day, had never set foot in the house above them. They wandered the crawl spaces between the walls of that house until the day their father/grandfather became too old and careless. Then they emerged and exacted their revenge.

Nobody in the surrounding area knew how bad things had gotten between father and daughter. Nobody knew about the twins. It was a big mystery to the local law enforcement when they happened upon the old man, or whatever was left of him anyway. They scratched their heads for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders, and cleaned the place up as best they could. Several months later, a new family moved in and started hearing strange noises through the walls.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear. They’re probably just rats. We’ll call the exterminators.”

In come Sam and Dean Winchester in disguise, thinking this family has a ghost problem and they can quickly fix it for them. They do their research and find out about the poor girl and her father. They assume it’s her ghost that’s haunting the place so they get ready to banish a spirit…only to find that the killers are real live people. Naturally, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. The family and the Winchesters want to get out alive, while the twins are hungry for blood. These kids have been abused and in-humanized. Technically, they have a right to be angry and homicidal. But they’re so out of control and beyond reason that Dean and Sam have to kill them.

The end.

No matter how good the CGI was when monsters and evil spirits were introduced on the show, none of that really scared me because I knew it couldn’t be real. But a story about people being treated so badly that they had to resort to creeping through the walls and killing others…That could be real. That terrified me. So I tried to incorporate some of that into this short story. I haven’t gotten my grade yet, so I’m not sure how well I integrated the elements of horror, terror, and the gross-out. But I’m fairly proud of this. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

On the subject of poetry

After acing my Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, I decided to take some more challenging classes. This semester, I’m taking Intro to Writing Poetry and Into to Horror.

I dislike poetry. I can’t say that I hate it because that’s just too strong of a word and I haven’t read nearly enough poetry to be able to say that I hate it. But I do strongly dislike it. I was forced to read and analyze a few poems in my high school English classes and all of them were strange, confusing, and frustrating. My dear older brother gave me a book of poems by a woman whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. She was one of his favorite poets and he knew that I liked to read so he wanted to share this book with me. I was touched by his thoughtfulness and determined to read that book for him. It wasn’t easy; whatever era this woman lived in, the people used odd vocabulary to express themselves and I didn’t feel too confident that I understood what she was trying to tell me. But still, I read. It was a short book. Once I’d reached the halfway mark, I must have decided I’d given it a fair chance and didn’t have to continue because it remains on my shelf to this day with the bookmark sitting right in the middle.

Still, I can remember my mother reading me the short rhymes of Alan Alexander Milne. He’s known for creating Winnie the Pooh but he wrote a few poems about those characters and several other make believe friends. These my mother shared with me and my siblings. I remember she’d use funny voices and read the rhymes in an almost lyrical way, to the point where the poems would get stuck in my head like songs. The Simpsons did a rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” once, which was shared in my AP English class. That’s the only reason why I like that poem and remember Mr. Poe with fondness. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” was used in an episode of Boy Meets World that stuck with me for a while so I have a soft spot for him too. I’ve always known that there was such a thing as good poetry. I’d just come to the conclusion that they were few and far between.

Because of this belief and aversion, I’m not good at writing poems. In taking this class, I hoped to challenge myself and expose myself to better poetry. The instructor for this class is the same one I had for Intro to Creative Writing so I was confident he’d be able to present this dreaded subject with new energy and interest. The “textbook” for the class is about 160 pages long and looks like an average novel. The author is a poet by the name of Ted Kooser. Three pages in and I already liked the guy. He addressed all the reasons why I strongly disliked poetry and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my opinions. He drew conclusions and gave tips that could be applied to any form of writing, not just poetry. He included some of his own poems as examples and I really enjoyed them.

My whole perspective on poetry has changed and I’m only on the third chapter! I’m super encouraged and can’t wait to learn more.

I don’t like scary movies. I’ve never understood the appeal of gore or the “thrill” of being scared out of my skin. I have a very active imagination. When I was younger, it would creep into my dreams and sometimes give me nightmares so I tended to avoid anything that was even remotely scary. (I love Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t watch the scene in The Two Towers where Gollum is sneaking up on the sleeping hobbits until I was about thirteen years old.) Even now that I’m older, I’ve only watched two “scary movies” and they were more suspenseful than scary. I read once that, to write a really good horror story, the writer has to be a little demented. I tried reading a Stephen King novel once and it was really gritty. It was one of the few books I’ve picked up that I didn’t finish. I decided that line about horror authors being a little demented might be true.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing demented about me.

My sister and I tried writing a horror story together just to try something new. Our strengths lie in epic and paranormal fantasy and romance but we thought, hey, with our combined efforts, we can crank out a horror story. We created an outline and some characters, and wrote the first chapter…And that’s as far as our scary story went. Our attempts at bone-chilling horror were laughable. I haven’t tried writing anything scary since.

But in the spirit of bettering myself, I’m starting that horror writing class next month. The instructor for this class taught the Intro to Fiction class that I loved so I’m hoping for a similar experience. More on that later.