The May Queen Murders

THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS took over 18 months to write the  books, much of the time lapses caused by bouts of severe vertigo where looking at the computer screen and typing made me physically ill (now under control) and having two of my three children fighting serious but different illnesses (better now), leaving me overstressed, fearful, and trying to grab a few coherent words in hospital rooms or when my brain didn’t make the world tilt. It was the book with a story I HAD to tell, a book of my heart so to speak. That first major falling out with your closest female friend and how can you cope. First love. First revelations about yourself and all that you thought you knew. And murder, horror, and old Ozarks folklore. It’s Southern/Midwestern Gothic and creepy and all the things I love.

Ivy is half-Mexican like many of my cousins, her father having gone to Mexico and come back with his wife like my uncle did 50+ years ago. She is a shy thing compared to her cousin, Heather, who seems to draw all the attention. But they are best friends. I think every teenager, especially girls, can relate to having that one friend they love to pieces and envy. It was also inspired, in part, by the murder of a friend who was the cousin of my best friend growing up. It was incredibly hard to not be able to say goodbye. And of course, there are woods with scary things, first love, first deep grief.

October 28, 2014, was special. This was the day Miriam told me an editor loved THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS and was taking it to her editorial director.

Things began to happen. Quickly.

November 10. My niece’s birthday. My daughter had a dentist appointment, and afterward, we were going into Target. While walking through the parking lot on a blustery afternoon with my daughter and Little B in tow, my phone rings and my cartoon picture of Miriam popped up. Oh, my God. I answered and told Miriam I was walking into the store and could barely hear here because of wind. Little B and I sat in the food court while my daughter announced quite loudly, “I gotta pee!” Off to the restroom, she goes. I’m watching the door and shaking. B is getting squirrely. Miriam says, “We have an offer.” Happy panic ensues. A woman asks if I’m okay because I’m beet-red. I call my husband and my sister. My phone battery dies. At home, I start calling my close group of writer friends and my mother-in-law.

I don’t remember much of the next few days until we accepted Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s offer to publish THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS. The phenomenal Julie Tibbott will be my editor. Look for it in spring 2016.

From Publisher's Marketplace

From Publisher’s Marketplace


Yeah, I can’t read that squinty, little writing either so:

January 21, 2015
Young Adult
Sarah Jude’s THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS, when a sixteen-year-old’s cousin is murdered by a legendary madman in the woods, she uncovers truths she never suspected about her cousin, the Ozarks commune where she lives, and herself all while trying not to become the next victim, to Julie Tibbott at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, by Miriam Kriss at the Irene Goodman Agency (World English).

I feel really damn lucky.

Getting into the swing of 2015

Let’s just say the last month of 2014 was hell.

There were some very good things about 2014, but it was a particularly brutal year to endure. 2004 was like that. I suppose I should start dreading 2024.

2015 brings with it hope. That things will indeed improve. I became ill at the end of 2014 and was told by my doctor to expect a full year to recovery back to manageable baseline. I am taking each day in stride, making time for my family, my writing, and myself. My friends are pretty awesome, too.

I have been working toward an inner calm and trying to find peace that has eluded me for an entire year. Probably longer, if I’m honest with myself. I even got the word CALM tattooed on my wrist.

What I found in stepping back and making time is that I’ve become more productive. In less than a week, I’ve written 10,000 words in FATHOM. This is huge. I don’t write fast. My writing tends to be grabbed in that pre-dawn time before the littles come down to wreak havoc on the day or in the time when the littlest is away at preschool. I’m protective of my writing time. I need to be. But these past few days have been a flurry of words and story.

It’s been what I needed.

Stay tuned. On Monday, I have news.

It’s Cold Outside

Autumn fading into winter is my favorite time of year when the blue hour of morning comes late, dusk comes early.

It is also the saddest time of the year. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. I use candles and essential oils to beat back the sorrow that seems to spring from nowhere. I have no qualms talking about obsessive anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They are better managed now than at any time in my past.

I love the chill in the wind, the hesitancy of my dogs going outside in the morning, the crackle of wood in a fire. We had snow yesterday in Missouri. The last time it snowed so early was ten years ago, while my sister’s family was traveling to visit us for Thanksgiving. A six-hour drive turned into a hellish thirteen. It was the year my mother died. The first holiday without her.

November means I can’t help but miss those I’ve lost. Mother. Father. Brother. Grandparents and friends. Tomorrow marks two years since I lost my little dog Josephine. My husband found her collar this weekend. We looked at each other and grew teary-eyed. But this Friday marks two years since I rescued my girl Bella from Animal Control,  a twenty-five dollar dog that gives priceless love.

November is sorrow, sometimes, but it’s also hope. Because good things do happen in this month of changes.


The Sound of Silence

It was always one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkle songs. It makes me think of my mother, who loved their music.

Ten years ago yesterday, my mother passed away after a short, furious battle with cancer. The Friday before she died, she spoke of not being ready to give up the fight. She wanted to live. But the cancer ravaged her body and brain, giving her symptoms of psychosis and dementia. She was gone the following Wednesday. I got to see her before she passed. My husband and I made the five hour drive from St. Louis to Rockford, IL, in about three hours and forty-five minutes. I have a lead foot indeed, and I do think God spirited me along.

Grief is a tangible thing at times, something we hold in our hands and the lines in our faces.

That tenth anniversary was a milestone anniversary. So much has changed. I don’t know that Mom would recognize my life now. And the tenth anniversary of her death is marked by unprecedented chaos in my city. St. Louis didn’t really feel like home to me until last year. Last year, I realized that I have friends, a community, a church family, and a comfortability I can’t recreate elsewhere. It is home. My home is rocked by the death of Mike Brown, the violence of looters, the protesters begging to have their voices heard. It is rocked by police tear gassing crowds, a media firestorm, and children who cannot yet begin their school year because it is simply too dangerous.

St. Louis has so much more to offer than media pictures of militarized police throwing tear gas into crowds, pictures of fire-scorched businesses and Holocaust survivors taken into custody for caring. But that is all that is seen right now. There are calls for peace from the people of Ferguson. There are people coming in from out of state who taking advantage of our discord and causing more. I wish I could explain everything I know about St. Louis from what I learned while pursuing my criminology studies and the social-political-psychological constructs that allowed this to happen here. Giving those explanations though doesn’t excuse what happened and may diminish the passion of the message, which is simply, if we hurt each other, more hurt spreads. If we are good to each other, more good spreads.

I do feel that good will eventually come of this chaos, but for now, the wound is still open and bleeding.

Six month in a vacuum…sort of

Honestly, I didn’t expect to disappear for over six months.

And I really didn’t.

The last time I blogged was right before my daughter wound up in the hospital. She had a total of three surgeries. The last was for hemorrhaging. You would think that, as a horror writer and someone who has dealt with blood and guts in the past, I could be prepared for such a thing. No. Nothing at all ever prepares you for the sight of your child with blood pouring from her mouth and into the bowl you just happen to grab from the kitchen while on the phone with 911. She was homeschooled through Christmas break. She is fine now, but she was quite sick for a time and Mama Sarah was very shaken up.

Severely shaken up. On New Year’s Eve, when everyone else was partying up, my struggle with panic attacks renewed itself. I don’t have panic attacks or depression while in the midst of a personal crisis. They wait until the crisis has passed. My body is addicted to the tension, so it creates its own. See something scary on the news? BOOM! Panic.

It starts as an insidious niggle that chills the back of my head and spreads down through my arms to my fingers. I can’t move. All I can do is rotate that obsessive fear through my brain over and over.

I know my history and symptoms well enough that I got help in February.

I was able to finish THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS and turned it into my agent Miriam, and I was very heartened that she enjoyed the story. It took a long time to write due to struggles with vertigo and the health problems with my daughter. It also took a while due to excitement with my other pen name. Good things, yes, but time consuming on that side. But once MQM was in Miriam’s hands, I noticed that my anxiety and panic tripped up again. I started having panic attacks not just three or four times a week, but three or four times a day. It wasn’t any way to function. You can’t function in a fear state. So I’ve taken control and have gotten more help, and I’m doing better. The only side effect is a bizarre shakiness in my hands I can’t control. I can live with that.

I am working on an untitled Gothic YA at the moment, and the project has me very excited. YA Scream Queens has something dark and delicious up our sleeves. Just wait and see.

Until next time,


What’s Up

Things are busy this November! I’m neck deep in a manuscript that I adore. I don’t do NaNoWriMo because I believe that you should be writing every day. Part of writing is editing and revising. So even if you’re not actively putting words on paper, you’re still engaged with your story and characters if you’re plotting and daydreaming of them. I draft my novels slowly, but they are often in good form by the time I turn them in to my agent. With this book, I’ve had it in my head for eighteen months, so now it’s coming out. There’s a lot of murder and love and chaos and terrible things in this book, and it’s hard to talk about it without giving too much away. So I just won’t.

It’s gotten very cold and damp in Missouri. It’s that time of year where I start looking at my fireplace and thinking, “Maybe tonight, we’ll burn things.” Those are the best nights for writing.

Make sure you check out YA Scream Queens! I’ve just posted an article about Ed & Lorraine Warren. They were the inspiration of The Conjuring, and their lives are a fascinating subject.

Saving the Unsaveable

Things are moving along. Yesterday, I spoke with my agent. I’ve been with her for several years now, but I’ve never had her pushing me to finish a project with quite the encouragement as she is this one.

It’s a tricky balance. This WiP is very close to me. Not that all of my word gremlins aren’t close to me, but this one touches a certain nerve. If you can’t save someone, then you try to find justice for her even if it means risking your life.

I have tried to save friends. The results have varied. At least once, the person did not want to be saved, and we no longer speak. It would be nice if when you try to offer support while showing someone that her actions may be harming her, that the shields would fall from her eyes and she’d say, “You’re right. I need help.” But more often, trying to save someone will hurt a relationship because people don’t want to be saved. We are too damn stubborn to ask for help, even when we know we’re floundering. Even when we know we’re struggling and really out to go easy on ourselves. We just don’t want to look weak or like we can’t handle it. Sometimes the hands are outstretched but we refuse to grab on.

Two years ago, my youngest child was extremely sick. He was born healthy but through bad luck and a worse immune system, he became very ill. I was falling apart inside and out. I have an anxiety disorder. When it is bad, it gets very bad and very ugly quickly. I become agoraphobic, which pulls me even further inside of myself and away from those offering to help. I was having panic attacks. My patience was shot. I was losing hair and losing weight because I simply stopped eating altogether. I was shutting down. It took a friend, someone I actually didn’t know all that well at the time, to say, “Sarah, you’re falling apart, and it’s obvious. Let me bring dinner to your family.” And I sat and cried and, after a while, nodded. I felt sick letting go of my pride, but I also felt relief. I’d hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t accepted that save from her.

This current WiP has brought me back to that time and the times where I’ve tried to save friends from harming themselves, and with each memory, I ask, “Why would someone be so arrogant as to think they could make someone else’s life change course?” It’s not arrogance but compassion. Because we want others to just be okay. To be more than in survival mode because survival mode in unsustainable.

There are places to go if you need help. Ask for it. Take hands that are reached out to you.

A little note of things to come…October 14th, 2013: the launch of the YA Scream Queens’ blog!

Spooktober is coming!

I can’t believe it’s the last day of September already, and that means October is coming.

October is that glorious month of gray skies, crows, and pumpkins on all the doorsteps. I was supposed to be born in October and came early, but every year, October was the month I looked forward to most.

The decorations are up. The kids have decided their costumes this year (Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Iron Man, and Scooby Doo). The mornings are drenched with fog and chilly. I send my little monsters off to school and promptly begin planning the horror of my characters. Not a bad way to spend the day.

And this year, October also means the advent of the YA Scream Queens. Ten YA horror writers to watch. One blog. All spooky, all the time. You’ve been warned…