CONSUMPTION

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I know, I know. I disappeared again. Apologies.

I would explain it if I could, but the truth is, for a while I just had nothing to say. And there’s no point in posting a blank page.

Many of you recall that four years ago, I lost my sister after a short and brutal battle with lung cancer. It was a long struggle for me to climb back from the desperation that followed that loss. In September of this year, my brother, my only remaining sibling, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Small cell. Very aggressive. The day he was diagnosed, he made me promise to take him and his son on the trip they had been planning for my nephew’s 22nd birthday. They had wanted to go to Nashville and see the Grand Ole Opry. In very short order, we had thrown together a benefit dinner, raised the money for the trip, took days off work, and we left October 13th, headed for Nashville. It was a beautiful trip but difficult, and I’m not going to get too much into that right now (maybe later, in another post, after I’ve done some processing), but suffice to say, I’m so thankful we were able to go on that trip. My brother passed October 31st.

My brain has been a hot mess. Grief is a hard thing, and it feels like we’ve lost so much of our family in just a few years. To have something to focus my mind on, I’ve been working on putting together a collection of short horror stories. My lovely editor and cover artist made time in her busy schedule for me, and CONSUMPTION released last night. I haven’t done any pre-release promo. I haven’t contacted any bloggers. This is quieter than a soft release. It’s little more than a whisper.

But it’s been a good project for me, and it’s got some of my favorite (and disgusting) short horror  stories in it.

If you happen to read CONSUMPTION, stop back by and let me know what you thought. I’d love to hear from you. http://tinyurl.com/y8hywela

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The First Step is Worth It

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I started this blog, I think, four years ago. It began as a way to practice writing, as a way to organize my thoughts. There are times I’m blogging weekly and times I go months without a post, and that’s fine. This is my own space to do with what I wish, but the joy I found in writing regularly is part of what led to me think I could publish a book in the first place.

Now, at the time, I had written a book that I was doing nothing with, other than occasional tweaks. But after my sister’s death in 2013, I had this overwhelming desire to see my work in print. Because death is a hard thing, and it often forces us to look at our own lives and what we are doing (or not doing) with them. In my case, it struck me hard that, Oh my God, I really could die without doing this thing I had wanted to do since junior high.

Write and publish a book.

And this desire gave me courage, and I put the things in motion that would help me get my book out there. My first book will never hit a bestsellers list. It is not The Greatest Book in the World. But it is a book, and people buy it and read it and like it, and if I had never taken that first plunge, I wouldn’t be on the brink of releasing my fourth book.

As far as publishing goes, there are a lot of things I have done wrong. I still have no website or newsletter. I don’t publish books on a regular schedule and I don’t write within one genre. My books are weird and not everyone likes that.

But that’s okay. They don’t have to, because I like them. I’m satisfied with the stories I write, and I know I don’t cave to expectation or do what’s considered the current trendy thing. Every book I write is true to the vision in my mind, and that is what is important to me.

And I have this little band of followers who buy my books and read and review them, and one who sends me fan art (which is awesome). There are people who send me messages to tell me they enjoyed what I’ve written.

The point here is, none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the first step. If I had never started this blog, I don’t think I would have gained enough confidence to publish my words in a book. If I had never published my imperfect first book, I wouldn’t be getting ready to publish my fourth.

These dreams are inside us for a reason. We’re meant to take those first steps. Sure, we’ll stumble and sometimes fall along the way. We’ll end up with bruises and scrapes.  The first attempt won’t be easy or probably very pretty. But we need those first steps. We learn from them.

They give us the courage to keep walking.

My fourth book, In the Presence of Knowing, will be available this spring.

Indie Pride Day

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Here we are once again, celebrating indie authors on the day set aside to blow up social media feeds with pictures of ourselves with indie books we’ve written or read. This is the third year I’ve been involved with the movement, and it’s pretty cool, seeing all the support that we give to one another.

Being an indie author is a neat thing. I’m proud of the work I put out, and while I realize the weird stuff I write is not for everyone, there are those who do enjoy it and reach out to tell me that my work had an impact on them, or how much they enjoyed it. That means a lot to me, to my heart. My books might seem a bit odd to some, but they are real and true to my vision of the story, and that’s the part of being indie I love. I don’t have anyone telling me what I need to add or take out of my story to make it more mainstream. There is plenty of mainstream work out there. Don’t get me wrong, I like to read mainstream books as well… I just also like having the option of writing and reading books that have more unusual plots and characters.

I also love being part of the indie community, of the other authors who lift one another up with post shares, book buying, and being there for one another on difficult days when writing is hard. Cover designers, editors, formatters, and book bloggers also make up part of this community, and have proven to be some of the neatest people I’ve ever met online.

I’m proud of myself for taking the leap to start writing books, and I’m proud of my indie friends for doing the same. It’s a scary thing, putting your art out there for people to see. They might love it, or hate it, or completely ignore it. Sometimes we get nasty messages or emails about our work from people who seem utterly miserable with life. Sometimes we get beautiful reviews. Sometimes we can’t get a solitary share on a link about our writing, and we feel invisible. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but still one I’m glad I buckled myself into. The ride itself has been worth it.

That’s the thing to remember, I think. It’s easy enough to get caught up in the idea of where we are going; where our ranking might be next year at this time, or if we hit a bestseller list, or if we get picked up by some big publication. But the journey is the part to enjoy. We’ve made this art, and it is ours. Our vision, our heart and soul, our own unique ideas written out that we can hold in our hands, and share with others. That’s not something everyone can say they’ve done. It’s the writing itself that’s important. It’s the Doing of the Thing. It’s this moment, right now, where we are working toward a goal that means the world to us. That is the success.

These pictures are just some of my favorite indie authors. Many indie books I own are ebooks on my phone, so I can’t take photos with them.

Help us celebrate Indie Pride Day. Tell me some of your favorite indie authors.

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Things that go Bump in the Dark

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One thing I resolve to do more of each year are things that frighten me. I worry (I’m an excellent worrier, really, I could win trophies) about letting scary things hold me back in life, so I tend to force myself through them whether I enjoy them or not. I just like to know I’ve done the thing, whatever the thing might be.

This year so far, I’ve done a few scary things. I’ve given a talk in front of a room full of highschoolers, I’ve been accepted to do a podcast this summer on a horror show, I’ve had a couple of short stories I wrote that pushed me way out of my comfort zone accepted into anthologies. And there are more scary things on the horizon.

I was doing a book signing at a book store in Flint ( yes, THAT Flint, the one with the water) a couple of months ago, and during a lull in traffic I was wandering the store, checking out the shelves. Came across a shelf chock full of Stephen King novels. Now, I read horror, sure, and I’m a great lover of weird Tim Burton films. I write horror and dark fiction, and readers often feel comfortable telling me my brain is twisted and bizarre. I can’t disagree. But there are some lines even I can’t cross, and one of them has always been the Tommyknockers.

I picked it up that day in the bookstore and stared at the cover for a minute. Then I bought it. Hey, it’s important to do the things that frighten you, right?

I first tried to read the Tommyknockers when I was about fifteen. I remember reading the poem at the beginning, somehow immediately memorizing it, and then taking it back to the library. The poem, just that tiny little poem at the front of the book made me sick with terror, and I can’t even express why it did. The lines just ran through my mind on a loop, infesting my waking hours with things better left to the night. Over the years, I have thought about trying to read it again, but even decades later, I’ve never forgotten that poem. Something about it just makes my spine shiver.

Late last night and the night before

Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers,

Knocking at the door.

I want to go out, don’t know if I can

‘Cause I’m so afraid

Of the Tommyknocker man.

Honestly, I can look at the words of the poem and see there is nothing even inherently scary in them. That doesn’t make me feel less scared, though. It’s not something I can explain. But I’m all grown up now, nearing up on forty-one and with adult children of my own. I’ve braved my way through marriage, parenting, family deaths, chronic illness, job losses, appliances breaking, bill money shortages, and one night this year I let my husband drag me to a wild game dinner where I ate a piece of kangaroo. I decided this was the year I would go back to that old fear and smack it in the face. So I bought the book, brought it home and shoved it up on one of my many (many, many, many) bookshelves, and there it sat. Laughing at me. Mocking me. For more than a month. I read a couple of the other books I’d picked up that day at the bookstore first, Dreamcatcher and Bag of Bones. And then, despite my lingering reservations, I picked up the Tommyknockers.

I’m a pretty heavy reader, truth be told, and generally a fairly fast one at that. But this book has taken me about a month to read, and I’m not certain why. Adult responsibilities are one thing, I suppose. With a daughter nearing the end of her senior year, there’s been prom, graduation, and the open house to get ready for, and that’s time consuming. There have been deadlines for the anthologies I’ve agreed to be part of, and all the other things that go along with being a parent. Dishes, laundry, bills, work, chauffeuring, etc. But those things are always there, and I usually read about a book a week. This one just took me longer. I like King’s style, and I liked the book. It’s not my most favorite book of all time, but still a good read.

The weird thing is, I’ve always thought this book was about men in a mine. I don’t know why. I’ve read so many books in my life, it must have just gotten mixed up in my head with something else I’d read. But it’s not about that at all. And it isn’t that scary of a book, really. At least to me. All this time, I’ve been afraid of it, but I was much more terrified reading The Things that Keep us Here by Carla Buckley. So the book, itself, is just not the giant terrifying thing I have always believed it to be.

It’s just the damn poem.

I would read it for a bit at night before going to bed, and then lie there in the darkness, with the words again repeating on loop around my brain. An insistent train on a neverending track. Over and over and over. I’d try counting backward from 100, or focusing on the new book I’m writing, or planning costumes to sew for Ren Faire, but the words of the poem simply echoed louder and louder until that was all I could hear.

I finished the Tommyknockers last night. FINALLY. I picked up The Night Manager from the library yesterday and was itching to start reading it. But I had to finish the Tommyknockers first. So I did. It felt a little anti-climactic, like everyone should notice I’ve done a BIG SCARY THING and applaud me, but I didn’t even feel that excited about it myself.

Life is that way sometimes, I guess. These frightening things we make up in our minds just keep getting bigger and bigger and eventually become a mountain so enormous it seems impossible to ever climb. And then we are left with a choice: either we let the mountain of fear continue to grow, or we summon our courage and decide to start climbing only to find it was really just a little hill, after all.

So I’ve conquered the Tommyknocker hill. Now I’m on to the next mountain.

The Spaghetti Principle

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The truth about mistakes is, I make a lot of them.

Especially when it comes to this writing gig. I can look back over the last few years since I’ve been writing seriously and want to just kick myself in the face, but I can’t because I’m forty and my hips don’t swivel the way they used to.

The truth is, I often feel as though I’m just flinging spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Sometimes, the pasta that stuck stays there a couple of weeks, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes I think the way it stuck there at first was nothing but pure luck, and I should just scrub the wall and start all over again, new pot, new spaghetti, new wall.

Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes I probably made was working backward.

I started this blog, and then I went forward from there. So I’ve got this blog with a decent amount of followers and I love that you guys stop in and read and leave me comments and all, but I should have started with a website.

I started the blog, and then I wrote books, and then I made a website which I later deleted, because it was frustrating to have it separate from the blog. And the blog name is not my name, so it doesn’t always come up in searches. Now I seriously need a website, and I’d like to set it up so that this blog is attached to it, and eventually since I’ve got more books out now, start a mailing list. But I suck at techy type stuff, and I can’t even seem to get my gravatar on the blog to change, even though I’ve changed it six million times, so the thought of starting a website on my own is intimidating. (side note: anyone willing to help me do this, I would love you forever and gift you ecopies of all three of my books).

I wish that I had saved every interview I’ve ever done about writing, but I didn’t, because organizational skills are a thing that I’ve always lacked. I wish I had been more organized about the things I did save, instead of saving things randomly in weird places, because now when I try to find them sometimes I cry a little.

I wish, I wish, I wish…

I wish I was a more linear thinker, but I’m not. I’m a creative thinker, and my thoughts are usually everywhere at once, and this doesn’t seem to be anything I can change. I cannot force myself to write only in one genre, though that’s what all the marketing articles stress I should do. My brain is impulsive and always has been, and science has come pretty far in recent years but not far enough that I can swap my mind out for another. I cannot go backward and undo this blog, though even if I could, I probably wouldn’t, because I’ve met so many cool people through it.

I wish I could get back every article I’ve given away my rights to, especially the ones I didn’t get paid for. What was I thinking?

That’s just life, I guess. You try things and learn and cringe about your ignorance, and try more things and learn.

I’m not certain what forward looks like from here. I don’t think I’ll delete this blog. I do want to get a website up and running. I am going to delete my ello account, because it does nothing but make me feel stressed that I’m not paying enough attention to it.

I will eventually set up a mailing list. In the interim, I’ve started a reader’s group on Facebook. You are welcome to come on in and join Valarie’s Voracious Readers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/931457066949510/

I wish, I wish, I wish…

That all the spaghetti would stick.

Helping Indie Authors Without Having to put on Pants

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(this is my indie friends book shelf)

Ways you can help support your favorite authors without washing your hair or wearing pants:

1. If you read their books, leave a review. I know, I know. You keep hearing this. But it is truly such an important thing. And I think sometimes people feel intimidated, as if they maybe don’t know the “right” way to review a book, so they just don’t. But you don’t have to take a How to Write a Book Review class in order to do this. Just go to Goodreads or Amazon, and where it says, “Would you like to leave a review?” click it. Click how many stars you would give the book. If you thought it was a two star book, that is fine. Be honest. Now write two sentences. They don’t have to be long. “I liked this book. It made me laugh.” is a sufficient review. The best part about leaving a review is, you don’t have to put on pants to do it. Nope. If you have read my books, please leave me a review. It would mean so much.

2. Add their books to your “Want to read” shelf on Goodreads.

3. Like reviews of their books on Goodreads or Amazon.

4. Share reviews of their books on social media.

5. Take pictures of their books when you get them and post them. Of course you can. You take pictures of your sleeping dog and your Chinese takeout dinner. You can also take pictures of books!

6. Read their books in public. This one may actually require pants. Sorry.

7. Talk about them. “I read this great book by So and So, I think you’d love it!”

8. Buy their books as birthday and Christmas gifts for your bibliophile friends and family. Books make great gifts, and they are already rectangular so you don’t have to put them in a box to wrap them.

9. Show up at their book signings. Depending on how close you are with the local police department, this one may also require pants.

10. Leave reviews on multiple sites. This does not mean you need to keep rewriting reviews. Just copy and paste. Ten seconds of time.

11. Send a message to your favorite author and tell them they inspire you. Or that they made you mad. Or laugh. Or cry. Tell them their work has touched you somehow. That might just be the day they were thinking about giving up and throwing their laptop out the window.

When writing is like prom dress shopping.

Maybe this has been on my mind because my youngest daughter is a senior in high school this year, and we have started discussing what style prom dress she wants.

Maybe it’s because I just released a new book. Probably both, I guess.

But I’ve been thinking about when I was in high school, and the way it felt to find that perfect dress. And I’ve been thinking about writing, because I’m always thinking about writing. Eventually these two ideas have mashed together, so let me see if I can be clear about what I’m thinking.

My First Book:

Just Hold On is something I wrote just to write it. The work of it kept me going in the midst of deep grief, and I found a lot of joy in learning I could do this thing, I could write an entire novel. I know I’ve said this before, but I published my first book after my sister died and I was caught up in this terrible thought of “what if I die before I do it?”

So I did it. And I’m proud of it. It’s a good book, and it gets good reviews, mostly. It seems to touch a chord with people. I’m happy about that.

When you are prom dress shopping, and you find a dress that’s a good price and it’s pretty, and you try it on and look in the mirror and you think, “Man. This dress is so pretty.” But in your heart you think the style of it might look a little better on someone else, someone with less curves or more curves or longer legs or different hair. Still, you can find no fault with the dress, and if you buy it and take it home, you’ll likely be happy with it. Just Hold On is like that dress, to me. It’s a good book, though I’m not certain I will ever write anything like it again.

My Second Book:

Slither was great fun to write. So gross. And the snakes! Absolutely delightful. I mean that. It started out as a short story that just kept growing, and I kept writing it because it was so much fun. I had no idea how much fun writing horror could be until I delved into the misery of Slither. Some days I had to quit writing because my fingers had gone numb, but my brain wouldn’t shut up with ideas for it.

It’s a great dress, really. Slither hugs the curves where it should, and has some nice ruching to cover up those weird areas. It’s not on sale, but it’s in the budget. The size is right, the color is right, and you know you’ll look fine on the dance floor if this is what you wear to the big night. You start to fantasize about which shoes and hair style you want to go with this dress. I love this book. I worked hard on it and was so proud when it came out. It’s also a creepy book, and not everyone likes snakes, so not everyone loves it. But that’s okay. It’s still pretty killer. (<<haha. A killer horror book. See what I did there.)

My Third Book:

Heckled just came out, but I wrote it early last year. It’s different from anything else I’ve ever done, and it’s hard to explain how I felt when I was writing this book. Fevered, maybe. I could not write fast enough. Like lightning from my brain to my fingers. I felt fearless, strong, and…somehow, as if I’d just come home. This book feels like it is MINE, like it is truth, at least, my truth, the way I saw the story unfolding in my head. It’s my heart, raw on the page, ready for criticism but knowing I could not have written it any other way.

It’s the dress you try on and look in the mirror and suddenly you stand up perfectly straight. Tall. You meet your mom’s eyes and smile. You know it’s a little over budget but you’re confident you can talk her in to paying for it. You’re confident about everything. This dress needs no seamstress, no tucks or hems. You cringe at the thought of taking it off and putting on your street clothes, because you know in this dress, you can do anything. You’re powerful. You know this is the dress you’re going to wear to prom, but you think you might also wear it out for a casual dinner one night, or next time you go to the movies, because damn, you know you look that good.