A second look at In the Dark

It’s been one week since my paranormal fantasy novel, In the Dark, was published. The first chapter is available on the book’s page here on my blog and also as a preview on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Nook. So I thought I’d give you guys the chance to read chapter two.

If, after reading, you realize this is the best thing since sliced bread and you simply have to purchase the rest of the book immediately lest you spontaneously combust, there will be links at the end of the post. Thanks for reading!

 


 

Chapter Two

Considering the tornado cellar was a place a family would come to for safety in a catastrophe, there wasn’t anything useful. Avery found a few thin blankets, a rotting wooden table and chair, an old oil lamp, and a few bottles of water.

He cheerfully distributed the water. “Good to know our kidnappers don’t plan to kill us by dehydration.”

Lindsay propped the unconscious woman’s head up with a folded blanket and wrapped her up in another, hoping to make her more comfortable on the earthy floor. The woman stirred a little at being moved but otherwise remained unconscious. After the oil lamp had been lit by Avery’s handy lighter, the hostages emptied out their pockets and piled the contents before the light.

“These guys haven’t come to check up on us,” Bailey muttered, throwing a reproachful look up at the ceiling. “Either they’re too busy to make sure we’re still alive, or they don’t care if we all starve.”

Kyle’s stomach growled when he caught sight of the smashed Baby Ruth bar Bailey had added to their pile of supplies. Avery swore he had a stomachache from all the junk he’d eaten before being captured and Lindsay promised she wasn’t hungry, so Bailey and Kyle shared it.

“All right,” Avery said when the kids finished eating their meager midnight snack.
“Let’s see what we’ve got. Three cell phones—one dead, one broken and one having
no signal whatsoever—fifty bucks and forty-three cents, two pieces of squished gum,
a receipt for the Baby Ruth bar that has already been eaten, a small box of matches,
a pack of cigarettes. . .” He gave Lindsay a sideways smirk. “Now, Jules, really. A nursing student should know better.”

“Those are yours,” Lindsay said with a flat look.

Avery tried to smother a smile that was both adorable and infuriating. “You can’t prove that.”

“I’ve never smoked a day in my life and you know it.” Lindsay batted her brother’s hand away from the switchblade in their midst. “Don’t touch that.”

“But I’ve always wanted one of these.” Kyle sent a worshipful look Avery’s way. “Where’d you get it?”

“Now, that’s just stereotypical, little man. Not all BMX bikers carry switchblades. That could be Bailey’s for all we know.”

“Is everything a joke to you?” Bailey asked, her mouth twisting in annoyance.

“Pretty much.”

“What else do we have?” Lindsay asked, trying to be patient.

“We’ve got a comb and a piece of string, an MP3 player, two empty wallets, a driver’s license, and a note from a secret admirer.” Avery opened up the folded piece of paper. “Bailey, this is so junior high. How old are the people you hang out with?”

Bailey huffed. “Wrong again, biker boy. That MP3 player, the receipt, the comb, and the pieces of gum are the only things that I had in my pockets when I was taken.”

Avery turned to Kyle. “Sandy wants to know if you ‘heart’ her and asks you to circle yes or no.”

Kyle snatched the note and shoved it into his pocket. “I wasn’t going to circle anything. I didn’t even know I still had it.”

“Uh-huh,” Avery said. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pooped.”

“How can you think about sleeping at a time like this?” Bailey asked. “We could’ve been snatched by sex traffickers!”

Kyle shuddered and wrapped his arms around his knees.

Avery threw the boy a worried glance before he cleared his throat and summoned a lazy smile. “Believe whatever you want, Bails, but don’t go spreading your fear around. It’ll only make things worse.”

“Everyone else is thinking it,” Bailey said, crossing her arms.

“We don’t know that for sure.” Lindsay scooted closer to her brother and wrapped an arm around him. “They could just be desperate lowlifes looking for a pay
day.”

Kyle was too quick to smile. “Yeah. I’m sure you’re right.”

“Kind of gullible, aren’t you?” Bailey muttered.

The boy flushed.

“Let’s not turn on each other now,” Lindsay said, wrestling with her motherly indignation. What’s this girl’s problem? Why pick on Kyle?

Bailey snatched the MP3 player before crawling away. “Whatever.”

“Well, that was dramatic.” Avery stood. “I’m going to find a quiet corner to sleep. Peace out, homies.”

Lindsay rolled her eyes at him and pulled her brother closer to her side. “I’m sorry you have to be here, munchkin.”

“I’m sorry you have to be here with him,” Kyle said, scowling at Avery’s retreating back.

“I’m an adult, hon. I’m perfectly capable of handling my ex.”

“Does it hurt a lot?” Kyle asked. “Seeing him again?”

“A little.” She fidgeted with a loose string on her frayed jean shorts. “But I expected that. I didn’t expect to. . .miss him, though. Not like this.”

“Did you love him?”

Lindsay watched Avery’s silhouette settle back into the adjacent corner of the room. “I did once.”

“Is that why you came back home? Because it was too painful to stay in Laguna?”

Lindsay sighed. “Yes and no. You deserved to know why I ran away to nursing school so suddenly, why I didn’t visit, why I hardly ever called.”

“It was Dad’s cheating, wasn’t it?”

Lindsay gave him an incredulous look. “You knew?”

Her little brother shrugged, staring intently at the dancing flame. “Not right away. After you left, Mom and Dad started arguing a lot. They stopped whenever I walked into the room, but I listened at the door once and heard everything.”

“I caught him having lunch with the other woman,” Lindsay said. “I saw the way he smiled at her. I knew they weren’t coworkers or friends. I confronted him about it later that day, told him to break it off or I’d tell Mom. He begged me to keep his secret. He wanted me to lie to you guys and I just couldn’t do that.”

Kyle nodded. “I understand.”

Her grip around him tightened momentarily. “You okay?”

He scoffed. “Our parents are going to get divorced. Are you okay?”

“No. . .but I’m glad it’s out in the open. Maybe I’ll be able to stay with you and Mom once this is all over.”

If this is ever over,” Kyle said miserably.

“Hey, don’t say that. Mom and Dad will pay the ransom. We’ll be out of here in no time.”
I hope. 
When she woke up, there was light in the cellar and not just the glow from the lamp.

Two men with masks crouched by the fifth hostage, murmuring to each other as they wrapped a clean bandage around her knee and gave her some medicine. A third man stood directly below the opened trap door in the ceiling, guarding the rope ladder. A fourth man stocked a small cooler with ice not too far away from the corner Avery had retreated to. A fifth man tossed a few rolled up sleeping bags onto the floor and eyed Bailey, who slept in another corner. A sixth man pointed the barrel of a gun at Lindsay’s face.

She went cross-eyed looking at it. Then her gaze slid up to meet the bright blue eyes barely visible through the holes in the mask. The heat of anger spread down the length of Lindsay’s body. The beast within reacted. It wanted to kill this man, to tear him apart with its teeth.

The stranger put a finger to his lips and gestured to the gun.

“We could use some hot food and a couple of pillows,” she said. “A little light would be nice too. I get it; you’re trying to scare us senseless by having us wake up to darkness. You’ve accomplished your goal already. Now let’s be adults.”

“Shut up! This isn’t a hotel service,” the man said with only a hint of an accent. He turned to his lackeys. “Hurry the hell up.”

They rushed to do as they were told.

“Leave some extra bandages and painkillers. I’ll make sure your injured hostage doesn’t get an infection and die before her family pays the ransom,” Lindsay said. “I’m a nurse.”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” He hit her across the face with the butt of his gun.

Her head jerked to the side, her neck popping painfully and her whole face throbbing. She slowly turned to look at him, pulling her lips back to expose her fangs. A growl filled the space between them, low and menacing.

The man stepped back. “Holy shit.”

“Jules?” Avery murmured groggily.

Lindsay reined in her anger and shut her mouth, willing the beast to retreat. It wasn’t easy. She was one day closer to the full moon. Pretty soon, she would have no control over it whatsoever. The thought made her stomach clench in fear. I have to get out of here!

Avery sat up, going from sleepy to nonchalant. “Morning, gents.”

The men pulled out their weapons.

Avery held his hands up. “Whoa, calm down.”

Kyle woke with a start and huddled closer to Lindsay. She gripped his hand, heart skipping in her chest. Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.

“You just scared us, that’s all,” Avery said.

None of the men in masks said a word. They backed away from their hostages, guns raised. It wasn’t until all the men had climbed up the ladder and had closed the trap door behind them that Bailey started crying. Lindsay hadn’t noticed the teen had awakened until Bailey sucked in a long ragged breath and sobbed.

Lindsay reached up to wipe the fresh blood from her face.

“Lindsay, you’re hurt!” Kyle gasped.

Avery scrambled to his feet and ran to her. “Those bastards!” When he was close enough, he reached out to tentatively touch the cut across her cheekbone. There was nowhere else to look but at his face, not crinkled in amusement, not lazy and indifferent, but open and vulnerable and real. It was like turning back the clock to four months ago, when they were still together, when she believed he’d never do anything to hurt her. Pressure built around her throat. The world blurred around his face and then tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Avery whispered.

She could almost believe he wasn’t talking about her cheek. From the way he was looking at her, he could’ve been reading her mind and apologizing for breaking her heart. She turned away and hurriedly dabbed at her tears.

Avery let his hand fall back to his side, adopting a hollow expression. Before anyone could say a word, the unconscious hostage sat up and screamed. Avery dashed over to her. Bailey yelped. Kyle jumped with a girlish shriek. Lindsay stumbled to her feet, ignoring the pain that raced up her shin. It wasn’t sharp enough to send her sprawling but it did slow her down.

“Calm down. It’s okay, it’s okay,” Avery said soothingly.

Her face was frantic with pain. “My knee! Oh, God, my knee! Wait a sec…” She looked around, short hair bouncing. “Where’s Dev? Who are you? What’s going on?”

“D-Dev as in Deveron Bo, the actor?” Bailey raced over to join them. “You’re his girlfriend, aren’t you? Cordelia Ridge.”

“Whoa, Cordi Ridge the model? It’s very nice to meet you!” Avery said.

“Yeah, I’m Cordi. Who the hell are you?” She moved her hands as if to grip her knee, but then paused. Her teary eyes widened. “Oh, God, my knee’s killing me.”

“Just take it easy,” Lindsay said, kneeling beside her and holding out placating hands. “We’re not going to hurt you. Kyle, can you get me some ice?”

Her brother raced to the cooler to obey.

“I want you to breathe deeply and listen very carefully to what I’m going to tell you, okay?” Lindsay said.

The grimacing woman nodded and leaned back against the wall, biting her lip.

“My name is Lindsay Whittaker. I’m a nurse. I’m going to take care of you. We’re pretty sure we’re being held for ransom. Thanks, Kyle.” She took the ice cubes and placed them on the thin blanket lying next to Cordelia. “We should be all right if we keep our heads. Once the kidnappers have what they want, they’ll let us go. I’m willing to bet we’ll be home by tomorrow night at the latest.” Lindsay tore out the section of the blanket around the ice cubes and twisted the ends together. “Hold still. This might hurt.”

Cordelia recoiled from the ice. “Are you sure that’ll help?”

“It’ll make the swelling go down. I promise. ” Lindsay applied little pressure but kept the ice over the model’s knee. “Can you remember anything that happened before you were taken?”

Cordelia nodded. “I was with Dev. We had lunch and then he drove me home. Men in masks jumped out of the bushes as soon as he drove away. They. . .They grabbed me.” Tears streamed down her face. “I struggled. A neighbor tried to intervene, but they shot my knee and threw me over their shoulders before he could reach us. They shoved me into the backseat of a van, where a guy was waiting with a syringe. Whatever they gave me knocked me out and. . .well, now I’m here. What kind of monsters would—?” She noticed the kids and made a strange little sound of outrage. “You poor things! What’re you doing here?”

“Paying for our rich parents’ success, apparently,” Bailey said with an odd chuckle.

“But you’re. . .Kelly Dune’s daughter, right? How did you get kidnapped? Don’t you have your own security guards?”

Bailey sighed. “I have a boyfriend. My mom doesn’t know and neither do the guards. I go to Zumba three times a week and sneak away from the guards before the class is over to visit him. I was leaving his house when those guys with masks took me.” She scowled at her fellow hostages, suddenly defensive. “I wouldn’t have had to sneak around if my mom would trust me more.”

“Parents. They think they know what’s best, but just end up choking the life out of you.” Avery must’ve seen the questions on their faces because he adopted a tired smile. “Not a story you would want to hear.”

“Were your parents abusive?” Kyle asked, serious and curious all at once.

“Not unless you consider abandonment abuse.”

Kyle lowered his gaze. “Oh. Sorry. . .”

Avery forced a smile and stood. “Don’t sweat it, little man. It’s not a big deal. I’m going to go see what’s in the ice chest. Anybody want anything?”

Kyle and Bailey jumped at the opportunity to get some food.

“Bring something for me and Cordi, won’t you?” Lindsay asked, gently rubbing her shin.

Kyle nodded and jogged after Bailey.

Cordelia threw Lindsay a quizzical look. “Why do you think he’s here? I mean, if he doesn’t have a rich family. . .”

Lindsay had no answer for her.


 

To prevent spontaneous combustion:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077XYDGKS/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=tirgeapubli09-20&linkId=cb1f31cb67d0f46d8068e258f8860c5c

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077XYDGKS/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=kemberleeshor-21&linkId=2ddb60b7420ede928c9322fd1d39b5b6

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/764629

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/in-the-dark/id1321654138?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/in-the-dark-94

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-the-dark-daniel-fox/1123728398?ean=2940154642689

Faith, love, and hope remain

“All attempts have failed
All my heads are tails
She’s got teary eyes
I’ve got reasons why

I’m losing ground and gaining speed
I’ve lost myself or most of me
I’m headed for the final precipice

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

These days pass me by
I dream with open eyes
Nightmares haunt my days
Visions blur my nights

I’m so confused
What’s true or false?
What’s fact or fiction after all?
I feel like I’m an apparition’s pet

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll run until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break your heart
It isn’t love
No, if it doesn’t break your heart
It’s not enough
It’s when you’re breaking down
With your insides coming out
That’s when you find out what your heart is made of

And you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet
Cause you haven’t lost me yet.”

-Yet by Switchfoot

(Thank you, AZLyrics.com)

I heard this song numerous times growing up, but I never truly understood what it meant. I assumed the writer was talking about a relationship of his, maybe a difficult time he and his girlfriend were having. Despite the sad tune, the words are hopeful. He sounds as if he’s reassuring his girl that no matter what happens, she’s not going to lose him. It should make me feel happy, right? Somehow, that’s not what I felt when I heard this song, and it’s still not what I feel when I hear it today. Because the words I tend to focus on are, “If it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t love.”

Boys have broken my heart in the past and I’ve come to realize what I had with them wasn’t real love. My husband, my true love, has made mistakes and has hurt me before. But I can honestly say he’s never broken my heart. So maybe this isn’t the kind of love the song is talking about. Now that I’m older, going through a difficult time with my sister, I’m thinking I might understand what kind of love this song is talking about. (I might be totally wrong. I don’t know the artist so, obviously, I can’t confirm it with him. But the more I think about this song, the more it applies to my situation.)

No matter how much we talk, neither seems to truly understand the other. No matter how desperately we might want to fix our situation, we do more harm to each other than good. What one perceives as help or enlightenment, the other perceives as an attack on one’s character. But because we’re friends and, more importantly, family…we still love each other. We still want a relationship. And I think that’s why I can finally understand the song writer’s struggle. I can see him searching for ways to fix his situation. I can see him being so burdened by what he’s going through, so depressed because there seems to be no solution. But he knows he can’t give up hope.

I looked up the meaning of this song, and found a quote by the writer, Jon Foreman:

“The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass…Hope is a “holding on” of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There’s a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone, you breathe in your first real breath. When you’re no longer pretending to be something you’re not, you’re left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, [but] “Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love.””

(See full quote here.)

I love that Mr. Foreman tacked on that quote at the end. It’s from one of the most famous passages in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, titled the Love Chapter. It’s funny; this passage is often read at weddings and quoted to people who are in a relationship. Originally, this chapter was written by Paul to the Corinthian church, which had several different issues, the chief of them being selfishness. Paul was reminding the church that without love, none of their great works was worth anything. Because talent, skill, words, and actions can fade away in time but things like faith, hope, and love never will.

This conflict between me and my sister has gone on for a little over two years. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it will ever come to a peaceful resolution. I feel as if I’ve tried everything. People keep saying our story isn’t over, God’s work isn’t finished, and so long as the two of us keep trying to understand one another, eventually we’ll find peace. I’m sure they’re right. It’s times like these, after failing to bridge the gap yet again, that I can’t help but wonder, “Is this what it’s going to be like for the rest of our days?”

I’m tired, I’m breaking down, I feel like my insides are coming out…again. But my faith, my love, my hope, will remain.

The blank screen

So I’ve made it. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in January of 2018 by Tirgearr Publishing. Hooray! Now, I’m waiting. My newly appointed editor is supposed to go through the manuscript with me and give me some feedback. I then have to work on revisions, turn the new manuscript in by no later than October, approve a front cover design, wait for the launch party, and promote the finished product like crazy. None of which can happen until I hear back from my editor.

What am I supposed to do in the mean time?

“Work on one of your other stories,” you might say.

Well, here’s the situation: In the Dark, as you know, is waiting to be reviewed by my new editor. I can’t touch it. Asta and the Barbarians (I submitted it to Tigearr Publishing some time ago without even realizing it) is also being considered for publication. I can’t touch it until a decision is made. I Dare You to Love Me is being considered by someone from Filles Vertes Publishing. Guess what. I can’t touch that one either.

“What about The Sentinel?” you ask.

Ah, The Sentinel. The one story I can’t seem to get right, but the one story I can’t seem to give up on. This is the story that started it all.

I was in the fourth grade, my sister in sixth. She was tough, out-going, smart, and pretty and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Only problem was…she didn’t like me very much. Who could blame her? I was the kid sister she had to tote around wherever she went, take care of, and share all of her things with. She finally complained enough times to my parents and they decided it was time for her to have some privacy. She moved into the guest room and I suddenly had an entire room to myself. It was a hard time for me; despite her wild temper and all the “mean” things she said to me, I still looked up to her and thought of her as my closest friend. I hated that locked door between us, a constant reminder that there was nothing I could do to make her like me as much as I liked her.

I don’t remember how or when it happened exactly but, one day, that door was unlocked. One day, she let me in on a big secret: she was writing a story. Her love of Tolkien’s Middle Earth combined with the drama that she and her friends were going through at school created a fantasy adventure unlike any other. The novel came with hand drawn maps, dress designs, banners and family insignias, and strange new creatures that my artistic sister had come up with herself. And she shared all of it with me! She wanted to hear my opinion! Over countless hours spent sprawled on her bed, listening to her read and discussing ideas, we bonded. And she inspired me to write a story of my own.

Before then, the longest story I’d ever written had been four to six pages. Each page had a few lines of story and an illustration courtesy of my sister (when she had been in the mood to play nice). This was probably why she thought of me when she needed a second opinion on her story. She knew I could be creative and she knew I loved The Lord of the Rings so I would enjoy her fantasy world. I didn’t want to copy her story. I just knew I wanted to write. So I picked out a composition notebook from the stack my mom had and put pencil to paper. The plot didn’t flow well. The villains were pathetically two dimensional and cliche. The main character was too perfect. But it didn’t matter. I was creating something and I loved it.

When I was caught up on my sister’s story or when she was having  writer’s block, I would read to her from my story and we’d work on improvements together. We still share stories and story ideas to this day, across the miles and miles that separate us. I do more of the writing and she does more of the advising now, but we’ll always have this in common; the love of fantasy. We both want to see my first story published, despite the many, many changes it has gone through over the years.

But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to tell the story right. I’ve written up draft after draft, shared it with two beta readers other than my sister, tried to listen to everybody’s counsel, set it aside for months at a time only to pick it up again and make more changes. Each time I finish, I think I might’ve finally gotten it. I send it out to my sister and my beta readers with confidence. Then they give it back with more red marks than ever. I manage to improve some things only to make other things more unbelievable or dramatic or flat or whatever. I love these characters. I love this story. I love this world I’ve created. Why can’t I weave the plot correctly? Why can’t I tell it in a way that’s…whole and real and not cliche?

Thinking and writing about it now, I want to try again. But I know the moment I open up the document and stare at that blank page, it’ll all come swarming back to me; the problems, the criticisms, the questions that still need answering. The very long story that still hasn’t been told. And…

“…the blank piece of paper wins.”

Uuuugh.

There are three other works in progress I could focus on. I could write a sequel to In the Dark or Asta and the Barbarians, things I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time and just haven’t gotten around to. I’m sure I could pass the time until I hear back from my new editor. But The Sentinel keeps calling. Can I muster the strength to answer the call? Can I bear to face that blank screen again?

I’m not on a diet

I’m the only person I know who isn’t on a diet. (This doesn’t apply to women anymore. My brothers-in-law have been on special diets since the day I met them.) I’ve heard it said that people have always been like this, but I feel that it’s gotten worse in the last five years. I’ve overheard more conversations about Weight Watchers, calories, sugars, carbs, and work out routines now than I ever did in high school. I’m finding it increasingly harder not to care about these things, but I think it’s important that I continue to not care.

Let me explain.

As I went through high school, I suffered from low self-esteem and body image issues. (Big deal, some of you are thinking, Name a girl that hasn’t. Exactly my point! I’ll get to it in a bit). Mine is the kind of body type that doesn’t change. I’ve gone up 10 pounds and lost 10 pounds over and over again since I was thirteen years old. I tried my best in PE, I tried doing 30 minute workouts on my own, I cut my portion sizes (not by much but still, I made an effort), and I never seemed to weigh more or less than 10 pounds from my last recorded weight. It was very frustrating. Here was my older sister, all 130 pounds, 5 feet 9 inches of her, fitting into the cute pants and blouses without even trying. She could even pull off tight clothing without getting reprimanded by my parents because she had little to no curves. Man, I was jealous!

My parents would take one good look at me in the morning, point to my bedroom door, and say, “Change,” eight times out of ten. I didn’t dress provocatively or in an attention-seeking way. Half of the time, my clothes weren’t as tight as my sister’s. But because I had curves, I had to dress differently than she did. Now I don’t blame my parents. I know now that they were just trying to protect me, keep my body a mystery to everyone and teach me to dress conservatively. But it was hard enough finding something that I felt good while wearing, and to have them force me to change all those times, just made things worse.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I had an epiphany and realized that there was nothing wrong with me. My hair was curly and never seemed to fall straight. That was okay. I knew enough girls with straight hair by then to realize that most of them wished they had my hair. I had curves. That was okay, too. I learned that my sister was jealous of my body type and sometimes wished she could fill a pair of jeans the way I did! Slowly but surely, I put all the pieces together and came to the conclusion that God had intentionally made me this way. If I had turned out differently, I wouldn’t be me. (I’m pretty sure God also made me the way that He did so that I would be attractive to my husband. Just saying.) Finally, it seemed, I was starting to like myself.

So you can probably understand now why thinking about diets, work out routines, and scales is a negative thing for me. It’s just too easy to go back to that dark place, to looking at the things I don’t like about my body and feeling ugly. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about being healthy, because I do. My husband and I are running together twice a week. I don’t drink coffee or soda very often and I never have energy drinks. Water is my favorite. I still try to watch my portion sizes, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. My husband and I eat mostly chicken and lean beef, with shrimp and salmon dishes scattered in between. So I am trying; I’m just not working toward the goal of looking a particular way. My body looks like it belongs in a Renaissance painting instead of on the cover of Vogue, and that’s okay. I’m healthy. I’m happy. My husband thinks I’m hot. And I think that’s all that really matters. I’m not claiming that this attitude is easy. There are still times I glance at myself in the mirror and do a double take, eyes narrowing at that little bit of belly fat clinging to my hips and abdomen. But I can’t stay there. I know that now.

I wish there was some way I could spread this feeling, this certainty and confidence, to people all around the world. It’s not just single men and women or slightly larger men and women who suffer from this self-deprecating mentality. I know several married people, whose spouses love their bodies and tell them so, who still hate the way they look. There are smaller, thinner women I know who wish they could fill out their clothes a little more and just can’t gain weight. And I’m sure the taller, thinner men out there would love thick muscles and abs. Why? Where does this wishing-to-look-like-someone-else come from? What causes us to latch onto the lie that we’re ugly or not as attractive as so-and-so? When did looking-this-way become more important than being healthy? Who gave beautiful a definition, a body type? It’s 2017, the year of acceptance. Why is it still so hard to accept our own bodies?

It starts within us. No matter how many times my parents and family members told me I was beautiful, I just couldn’t believe it. (They loved me. They had to tell me that.) It took time and God’s gentle prodding to make me see myself the way He did; priceless, gorgeous, made on purpose. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror and obsessing about all the things you don’t like. Look for things you do like, accept the compliments people give you, try to see yourself through their eyes. Write notes to yourself, find inspirational quotes, encourage other people who are in the same boat you’re in. Continue eating the right foods and exercising, but be intentional about changing this negative mentality. It’s not good for you. Nothing can be gained by it, nothing except more internal criticism, dissatisfaction, and depression.

Remember…”You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful, it’s true!”

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.