A Year in Progress

Friends, I looked at the calendar and still can’t believe it’s already in August.

Waaaaay back in January, when I posted about Louise Gornall’s wonderful book, I didn’t know that two days later I was going to become very, very ill. I hadn’t been feeling well for several months. The later part of 2016 was a slide into my anxiety and panic disorder, all of it compounded by knowing something was wrong and not being sure what that something was.

A gallbladder is something you never think about until you have to. Mine decided it was going to poison me. The surgery to remove it was delayed. I continued to get sick. Once it was gone though, I started to get better.

Sometimes it takes a really painful, frightening moment to make you take stock of things.

Without going into all the details, I have put my health first this year. Mental, physical, spiritual, creative. I made some massive changes, and it’s led to me finding an overall positive headspace. Twenty-five years of anxiety disorders and chronic pain because of a traumatic neck injury and all that comes with living amid those issues don’t go away overnight. But the care I’ve given toward working on them has honestly made a difference. I’m in an upswing.

I’m writing, and I’m having fun while writing. Mysterious things. Murdery things. Witches and folklore and trapdoors and swamps. There are more stories coming. So sit tight and hang on. You’ll hear more soon.

~S

Louise Gornall’s UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES

Hello to all my dark and lovelies! I hope 2017 treats you all well, and let’s start it off with some excitement, yes?

On January 3, 2017, Louise Gornall’s UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES hits store shelves, and if you watch my video below, you’ll find out why this book means so much and why I hope you’ll want to pick up a copy for yourselves.

I live with OCD and panic disorder. There have been times when it’s been such a challenge to even get out of bed and leave the house because the world outside seems so frightening. It can be easy to think you’re the only one going through it, but if you take away nothing else from UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES, I hope it’s that you know you’re not alone. Other people live with these struggles and people love you.

See you all soon,
~S

Things You Do Not See

I have been troubled lately, plagued by thoughts of how people will doubt you or your story because they can only see the surface. They don’t know what you face on the inside. It’s like you have to be credentials to prove you belong, and why is that? Why should that be so important to others? You cannot glean the whole of anyone from the sparse words of their bio, and yet there are those who believe they can.

But there’s the invisible you. The side that isn’t readily seen or tangible. Maybe the side you reserve only for those closest to you.

This is what I’m talking about. My Twitter bio reads very simply:

Episcopalian. Mama. Authoress. Rep: Miriam Kriss. THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS (May 3, 2016, HMH)

Things you know about me from this: my religion, that I have children, that I’m an author, and my skin color (if you see my photo).

Things you don’t know about me: my sexuality, my marital status, my disability status, the cultural heritage I and my family were raised with, any trauma I’ve endured, my education level, my family income, what struggles I have faced as a parent, my political leanings, and much more that I can’t even being to label.

You might get snippets of these things by reading my tweets or my posts. If you’re on my private facebook page, you get more because what I share there is for family and friends. But the fact remains that I am a very private person and anything that is seen of me in public online spaces is only what I allow for that venue.

Anyone who is on any social media has a public life and a private one. And we all make assumptions about other people based on what we see of them.

There is always so much more than what lies on the surface of every other human being.

Be kind. You do not know what people face in their everyday life or what has shaped them into becoming the person they are today.

Friday Free-For-All

Hello!

This will be short because it’s already late and I’m trying to squeeze in this post between feeding my boys dinner, rushing my girl off to violin, and simply staying awake after a hectic week.

*Thank you, thank you, thank you to the bloggers, librarians, teachers, and reviewers who have taken the time read advanced copies of THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS. While I usually don’t read reviews, I am very heartened to know that the book is simply being read.

*Thinking of spring already. I like the spring because it is a season of growth before the intense heat of summer. I grow a good many heirloom vegetables, and this year my dreams are already filled with thoughts of radishes and purple carrots.

*I’m taking a lot more time this year to read for pleasure and to draw. I’ve missed making art . . . and I’m actually looking at doing some things with that soonish. Stay tuned.

*My heart broke this week. I have vivid memories of sneaking into my parents’ bedroom as a child to watch TV. We were some of the earliest to have cable TV, and one of those channels was MTV. “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl,” and “Dancin’ in the Street” by David Bowie are some of the earliest songs I remember. I was instantly drawn to the snaggle-toothed man with a sonorous voice and swagger. I remember when he married Iman. I remember “Jump.” I remember Bowie turning 50 and what a big deal that was when all the heroes of my teens turned out to perform at his birthday celebration. And now I remember his passing, the tears I shed, and my daughter asking if she could learn “Life on Mars” for her music lessons. He made true art, and it is not trite to say there will not be another like him.

* Lastly, guys, I’m really proud to share that THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS is an ALAN January 2016 Pick. There’s a lovely review up on the site that you can find here.

Until next week,
S

Friday Free-For-All

Hello dark and lovelies!

It’s mid-October, and I can FEEL Halloween everywhere I go. The leaves are turning, and the air is brisk, skies are gloomy, and for me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. My husband is not a Halloween person, not like I am. Oh, he enjoys taking the kids trick-or-treating and the bonfire we have with our neighbors each year. It is quite a fun bit of tradition. The kids have their costumes: a fairy, a red Power Ranger, and Vampire Mickey Mouse. I’ve never really been one to dress up the dogs for Halloween, but surely a devil dog and hellhound don’t need costumes, right?

So with Halloween coming, I like to watch scary movies. Scream has a special place in my heart because it mixed horror with comedy, and it’s actually pretty nostalgic for me. It still holds up surprisingly well. But my favorite Halloween film is, of course, the original Halloween directed by John Carpenter. Also, it’s really cool if you can watch The Inside Story about the making of the movie and see what went on to get the film made and all the behind-the-scenes action.

As far as spooky TV shows, I’m a sucker for things like A Haunting, An Amish Haunting, and Celebrity Ghost stories. They’re cheesy as hell but also pretty entertaining. I will sometimes turn them on to watch/listen to while puttering about the house. I do love American Horror Story, and this years version Hotel is pretty gruesome and not for the faint of heart. I do take some issues with some of Murphy’s go-to shock devices, and I’m still working on how to reconcile the parts that really bother me with the storytelling that I tend to enjoy. Sure, horror is designed to create unease in the viewer or reader, but I don’t know how far to take that unease over into repulsion. On the flip side, I was unsure about Scream Queens on Fox. I was underwhelmed by the first two episodes, but somewhere around episode 3, it has appeared to find its stride. It’s campy and corny, which is intentional, and still pretty damn gory for network TV, but it’s not something that’s going to disturb me into staying up all night, which AHS can do at times.

A couple of quick treats about THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS: yesterday it hit number one in Amazon’s New Releases for Teens and YA in LGBT issues, which I was really stunned and happy to learn, and it’s not available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble. Look, I hate hawking my books, but pre-orders are critical, especially for newer authors who are still trying to prove their worth to their publishers. Yes, it’s still a while off before MQM publishes, but even if the pre-order is bought before it’s dropped down in price for sale, a lot of retailers will give you the lowest pre-order price once the book is released.

Also, October has found me doused in black paint (rehabbing an old desk) and wearing a sling as I’ve injured my rotator cuff in my shoulder. It kinda sucks. The nice thing about October is that two of my littles have their birthdays this month, so there has been a surplus of cake in my house, which is always awesome.

Scare you soon,
S

Friday Free-For-All

September hasn’t been much of a kind of month to me, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to come up with a Friday Free-For-All. I’ll start with the hard one first and then things get better from there. I promise.

1.) At the very beginning of this month, I lost my sweet, little pug Hazel. My husband Tim and I got her five weeks after we got married, and she was with us for just over 15 years. We loved her dearly in that time. In her life, she had four doggy sisters, some who left before her and waited for her, two who are still with us. Losing her pretty much gutted me, and I still have my moments where I cry when thinking about her (like now). After we made the decision that it was time to let her go, we had a few days for our family to say goodbye. And it’s been one of the hardest times I’ve experienced as a person, let alone as a mother to three devastated children or animal lover. But I’m glad we had it as it gave me time to ponder how 15 years really is quite a long time, especially for an animal, and yet it wasn’t time enough. I don’t know that any amount could be time enough. She is at rest, and as my friend Father Nathaniel said to me this past Sunday, “She’s waiting for you. All dogs go to Heaven, you know.” I believe him.

2.) A highlight of this week was going to my friend Antony John’s book launch for IMPOSTER. My daughter and I headed down to Left Bank Book’s in St. Louis’s Central West End, and it was a joy getting to show our excitement for Antony’s new book. He’s a tricky fellow to find online, but I do highly recommend checking out his work. He’s written a bit of everything from contemporary to speculative to a thriller. I don’t think there’s anything Antony can’t do. Do check out his books.

3.) ARCs for THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS have arrived! The e-galley is up on Edelweiss for request, and I will soon be putting out a sign-up for a tour of the paper ARC. I love this book. I love the cover. I love the design on the inside. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt really put a lot of love into the packaging of this book. And then there’s the story inside…

So be on the lookout for the sign-up, which should go up sometime hopefully next week.

Friday Free-For-All

This Friday brings me to the end of a week that has left me tired and humbled and heartened. And I have thoughts.

1.) Writers cannot write alone. We need someone to check our work and call us on stupid things. However, I cringe when people claim to be harsh and brutal critique partners. That, to me, sounds like someone getting their jollies by bringing down another author’s works. There are more constructive ways to critique someone rather than saying, “This sucks.” If you have a suggestion for where to improve a critique partner’s work, you can couch in saying, “This is my opinion and this is why I think this adds/takes away from the story.” Things like drawing big red slashes through a critique is not about helping the author in need; it’s you feeding your ego. Don’t be that person. The flipside is that you also don’t want to be the person where every comment is, “YAY, I love this.” That’s great to hear, but it doesn’t help the author know where they need improvement because NO ONE has a golden pen that drips ink harvested from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. NO ONE.

2.) This week marked 11 years since my mother died, and it was a strange passing of time for me. One part grief. One part extremely bitter at the doctors who did not listen to her as their patient, dismissed her pain as imaginary, and ultimately sped up her death. And all this has led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about emotions and personal causes and how so much of the things we champion are because of the emotion we feel. ¬†I try very hard not to be a bitter or angry person. I try very hard not to be negative. I’m not a Sunshine Bunny, but it doesn’t pay to be upset or pissed off all the time. Your body and mind will like you better if you learn acceptance. This is not to say that you shouldn’t bring the fury when it’s warranted. We all have our soapboxes. One of mine is healthcare, mental and physical. Because I’ve seen what it looks like when patients are dimissed. Because I know what it’s like to go to the ER and have the doctor see in my record that I suffer from panic attacks and assume I’m there to get a sedative when in reality I’m in a lot of pain and very scared. If you have the ability to channel your emotions into an outlet that reaches others, use it for good. Do not merely bark into the wind, as my friend Heather Reid calls it. There are better ways of reaching ears through thoughtful dialogue rather than, “You’re wrong. I’m right.” All that’s going to do is turn people away.

3.) A few mornings this week have felt like autumn is coming. And autumn means all of my favorite things like stormy gray skies, pumpkins, orchards, and Halloween. My kids have already picked out their Halloween costumes. My littlest is going to be a vampire Minion this year. Because he’s awesome. For me, autumn is the time of year that I want my books extra creepy, and there are some coming out soon that need some love. THE DEAD HOUSE by Dawn Kurtagich was one of my favorite reads earlier this year and it will hit stores in the US next month. Also, look out for SWEET MADNESS by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie, because who doesn’t want a story about Lizzie Borden? The last book I’m going to recommend is BLOOD AND SALT by Kim Liggett. It’s beautiful and haunting. Do make sure to grab this one up.

That’s all for now!

See you on the dark side.

S

Friday Free-For-All

I’m trying something here. On Fridays, I’m going to mention a few things that are on my mind. Might be books, might be ghosts, you never know.

1.) My crit partner, Heather L. Reid, has a signing at Main Street Books in St. Charles, MO, tomorrow (Saturday, 8/15) from 2-4 pm. The event is called PRETTY DARK SATURDAY, so if you’re near St. Louis, come and see her to get a signed copy of her book PRETTY DARK SACRIFICE!

2.) My dog, Penny, a little black and white puggle, almost died last week. The vet had said that if we hadn’t gotten her to the emergency clinic when we did, we’d have had a very different outcome. I’m still having nightmares about it, but she’s okay.

3.) I’ve got some promo stuff to share. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Sort of. I did an interview with Tanya over at Bookish Babes and shared a little about my writing process and what inspired THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS.

4.) The cicadas are freakin’ loud this year. And their shells are everywhere. Mmm, crunchy bug shells.

5.) If you haven’t picked up a copy of Hillary Monahan’s MARY: THE SUMMONING, you might like to do so. It’s only $10 right now and MARY: UNLEASHED releases next month!

Back to School, Back to Writing

It’s no joke that summer vacation can kill a writer-parent’s productivity.

I have three kids, ranging from four to nine years old. They are hilarious, huggy, and also the reason that every summer I go from being able to work eight hours a day to maybe 2, if I’m lucky. Our sleep schedules are off. There are so many things to do (swimming! The Minion Movie! Trips to get Sno-Cones!), and I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t enjoy the weeks when they are able to go to camp or Vacation Bible School. But I also love the hours in the garden, teaching them about the plants we grow, the tiny frogs that hang out close by, or peering at the nest of baby rabbits.

This summer was a bigger challenge than most because my middle child broke his arm on June 29. That meant all of July and into August he had a massive cast (get the waterproof kind–God send) and that he couldn’t do his favorite activities like climbing, monkeybars, riding his bicycle, or pretty much anything a rambunctious seven-year-old wants to do. Lots of crafts became the norm this year. If it can have sequins, beads, felt, paint, string, we probably did it. A lot. I’m sure parts of me aren’t really made of skin but dried glue.

And then yesterday…they were off for a new school year. My older two got on the bus and disappeared, and I hoped they were adapting well to new teachers, making new friends, have a routine they like. Today, my littlest got on the bus to go to his second year of preschool. He ran up the steps as soon as the door opened and did not look back. I caught a glimpse of a wave. Then he was gone. I have time to write now.

But I miss my little buddies.

I’m that mom that peeks out through the blinds to see if the bus is coming yet to bring home her babies because there are no words for the hugs and happiness they give to my life.

Where I’m At

The flurry of activity surrounding the announcement of THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS has passed, and now it’s time to get to the real work. Editor Julie has some suggestions for augmenting the story and tightening it, making it stronger and staying true to my vision for the book. It’s nothing terribly hard and really is only a matter of shifting things around.

While I waited for edits, I was working on my addiction YA horror. It’s another dark book, a bit bleak, a bit maddening. The main characters has been in my head since 1999, and I could never quite get his story right. It’s right now, but I need to finish the MQM edits before I can return to his world and finish his tale.

Some very hard things happened at the end of last year. While I have dealt with panic attacks for several years, they became severe in September. It started off softly: a few in relation to some work troubles. The day before my birthday, I found myself pacing my house in tears because the inner terror was so great that I couldn’t breathe. Two of my friends dragged my three-year-old and me out for coffee. By the grace of God, I got in to see a brand new psychiatrist the next day and began a new medication routine. Things were OKAY.

They didn’t stay that way.¬†December was a horrible month. It’s usually difficult for me. My late mother’s birthday was in December and she loved Christmas so very much. Last year marked ten years since she passed away, and with that anniversary, I found myself in renewed mourning. Several friends’ parents and other relatives passed away. I helped out with funerals. I believed I could help shoulder their grief, that I was strong enough. But I broke. My mentor, who I’ve had as a family friend for over thirty years, had a stroke. The prognosis wasn’t good. During that time, I flailed. It was ugly. I wrote a short story for the YA Scream Queens that I do not recall writing. I vacillated between alienating friends, panic, grief because I knew the inevitable was coming and soon. A strange thing sometimes occurs when you’re in a panic state. You either dwindle into a very isolated world or you start reaching out for anyone to be a rope. I reached out. It didn’t go well. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I awakened that morning and sensed my mentor was gone. A message from her daughters confirmed it, and it broke my heart. She was a mother-figure to me. She knew my mother and was one of the few tethers I still had to her. Losing her cracked my already fragile self. I had a long talk with my therapist and considered hospitalization. I scared my husband and mother-in-law because I lost my shit. I was ordered to stay home for New Year’s Eve instead of traveling. The stress of any travel was too much.

Grief doesn’t mix well with obsessive anxiety with panic attacks. There were friends who kept me afloat, but it was hard. New medication. Lots of therapy. I learned about meditation and art therapy. I got to the point where I could write again and wrote furiously.

It has been two and a half months since I had a nervous breakdown. It was only through self-care and the attentiveness of others that I managed to not go into the hospital. I love those people who got me through that time. They were strong for me when I was shattered glass.

To be able to edit, you have to be able to rip your book apart and find what it’s assets and weaknesses are. Ultimately, it is restitched into something better, stronger, most cohesive. My nervous breakdown allowed me to edit myself.

I am OKAY again. I hope you are, too.

Until next time,

S