A little horror flash fiction to sink into your skin

On Deacon Street, two or three of the older buildings had been knocked down and vacant lots with tufts of weeds sat between the struggling dollar store and Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings. The tattoo place had been there for years, even before the structures demolished last spring were built, and it looked it: pits and peeling wood showed in the sign, despite the layer of fresh paint applied to it every year, and the stonework on the corners of the walls had been smoothed by generations of tough guys and sassy girls leaning against them. The sidewalk in front of the parlour was permanently stained by countless cigarette butts, the ends of cigars, and spatterings of chewing tobacco, dropped or mashed or spit in displays of careless nonchalance, studied flirting, or seconds of fury. The original owner of the building had installed a fancy stained glass window over the picture glass, and to the business and patrons’ credit, no-one had ever destroyed it. Bill’s Tattoos and Piercings might have been exposed to all kinds of other abuse when drunks fought or breakups happened, but the window stayed. And so did the business.

They’d taken in a new artist in the past week, Tanya knew — the advertising was all over social media. A specialist in portraitures and three-dimensional skin art. His name was Brown Chimes (she still shook her head at the thought of parents who’d curse their child like that), and he wasn’t from the area. But for what she had in mind, he was perfect, even if the price was a little high. 

Memorialize your loved ones or pets with Brown Chimes’ expertise in lifelike portraits, in colour, sepia, or black and white! Sessions by appointment only — $500 minimum.

Tanya cracked her knuckles as she passed the vacant lots, checking her phone again for the time. It wasn’t the pain of the tattoo that she was worried about, or being late; for once in her life, she was actually early, and this was far from her first visit to Bill’s. It was the risk she was taking, having seen other people’s work. A portrait had to be done with care or else it would look as awful as that time someone had tried to fix Jesus’s picture in that church overseas. If she ended up with something ugly and exaggerated inked into her skin . . . Well, the worst that could happen would be a cover-up, but that would have to wait until the first one healed, and the new one would depend on the size and details of the old. It was all very risky. 

But she had a mission. It had been on her mind ever since Eddie’s funeral. She had her boyfriend’s pictures still, lots of selfies they’d taken together and a nice formal shot from prom. He had been the love of her life, Tanya just knew it. She’d thought about following him into the dark after he’d been killed in his car, hit by a drunk driver, but she’d also known how he would have felt about that. He’d want her to move on. Eventually, she knew she would; she’d date again, maybe even get married, although it still hurt her deeply that it wouldn’t be to him. One day the photos might fade, or be lost in a fire, or deleted if she forgot her Facebook password and couldn’t get to her account, but a tattoo — that was forever. Just like their love would have been. And if she did fall for someone else and get married, he would still be with her. 

The tarnished old bell jingled as she opened the door and stepped inside. Classic rock was playing at a reasonable volume on Bill’s stereo, and one or two young people were lounging on the black leather couch in the centre of the room, mocking their friend as he was getting inked on his back. Tanya approached the counter where a red-haired woman in her twenties was focused on finishing a design by hand.

“Hi! I’m here for–”

“You’re Tanya,” a quiet voice said. She jumped, startled, and turned to her left. 

A tall, gangly man with startlingly pale skin and a brown beanie was smiling at her. He had exotic tattoos covering every inch of the right side of his body, neatly dividing his face down the centre of his slightly crooked nose, over the centre of his Adam’s apple, and descending through his collarbone into the neckline of his tank top. Tanya didn’t usually stare at people with body art, knowing it was rude, but this — she’d never seen anything quite like it. It was as though someone had started in a colouring book and folded the page over to keep half of the picture untouched. 

“I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it?” He beckoned to her, turning as he walked away. He kept talking, despite not looking back to see if she was following him. She liked his faint British accent. “It’s a work in progress. I’m always adding small things as I go. I move around a lot, so I get a fresh tattoo to remind me of every place I’ve visited and everyone I’ve met.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why he’d chosen to keep the one side of his body pure, but it wasn’t her business. Tattoos were personal choices. 

He led her into one of the back rooms, but left the door open. “Bad Moon Rising” drifted in on their wake. 

“Did you bring the picture that you wanted to use?” 

Suddenly, Tanya’s mouth was dry. She nodded, fishing around in her purse for the snapshot of Eddie half-turned away, his lips partly open at the start of a laugh. She held the photo tightly, tears gathering in her eyes and blurring her vision. 

“It’s so hard to let them go, isn’t it?” Brown said. He sat on a padded stool and scooted it close to her to see. He patted her hand kindly. “Don’t worry. I’ll give you what you want. It’s my personal guarantee.”

The first session would be the sketching, he told her, and that would take about two hours. She’d let that heal for a week or two, then return for the shading (if she wanted it). Tanya considered again where she wanted the tattoo: it had to be a place where she could see it, but not too visible all the time. Private. Personal. 

“Let’s do it on my upper thigh,” she decided. “If my future husband doesn’t like it, screw him. Eddie was my soul mate.”

Brown nodded. “I’ll give you a cloth to cover your lower half, then, and we will begin.”

He gave her a few moments of privacy to remove her jeans and arrange herself on the table, and then cleaned his hands and put on black protective gloves. She watched as he picked up the needle, and sat up, alarmed. “Aren’t you going to make a stencil first?”

“I always go freehand, love,” he told her. “I’ve never had a dissatisfied customer. And if you don’t get what you want, I’ll do a cover-up for free. Oh, and do you mind if I sing while I work? It helps me to concentrate. And I’ve been told I have a pleasant voice.”

Mollified, she relaxed and nodded, and let him begin.

* * *

“Look, Eddie,” she whispered to the stone. “Isn’t it great? I’m going back on the 17th to have it coloured in.” 

As soon as Brown had finished up and put the bandages in place, Tanya had paid him in cash and headed straight for the graveyard. Peeling back the surgical tape was about as annoying as the needle had been, and she knew she was risking infection by exposing it to the air so soon, but she had to show him. Plus, she was glad to see that the forget-me-nots she’d planted a few days earlier were still alive on his plot, and thriving. 

“Baby, I miss you so much it hurts,” she told Eddie’s stone. “But this is helping. It’s helping a lot.” 

She replaced the bandages, patting them carefully into place, and leaned over to kiss the top of his grave marker. The tattoo twinged as she moved, and for a second it felt as though her skin was crawling where the fresh ink was settling in. Tanya slapped her leg with the flat of her hand to kill the itch. 

* * *

“The skin tones and highlights are almost done,” Brown told her at the end of her second session. “But I’m afraid you’re going to have to come back one more time for the final details.”

“How much more is that going to cost me?” Tanya asked. She tried to hide her dismay, mentally calculating what she had left in her bank account.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. It’s included.” He soothed her, smearing a layer of clear jelly over the portrait. “Two more weeks, and you’ll have your Eddie forever.”

Tanya smiled, though she didn’t feel very assured — it was hard to see the face on her thigh without a mirror, and he was working so fast to cover it with a fresh bandage that she hadn’t gotten a good look. She paid the second half of the deposit, her mind already steps ahead and in the graveyard. 

As she approached Eddie’s grave, she sighed with annoyance. The forget-me-nots were rampant, no longer a pretty sprinkling over the grass: they threatened to overgrow the stone and spread to the neighbouring plots. Would that bother the mourners who came to the other graves? Tanya hated to do it, but she spent the time on her knees pulling and trimming the flowers back. Kneeling pulled uncomfortably on the skin of her thigh, but she’d left her hand sanitizer at home. No showing Eddie his portrait tattoo today. “I love you,” she whispered, kissing her grass- and dirt-stained fingers to his stone. 

The tattoo itched and crawled, burning under the bandage. 

It bothered her so much, she barely slept that night. After-care rules were generally to keep the tattoo covered up and dry for twenty-four hours, but after tossing and turning until three am, she had to see what was going on. 

“Please, don’t be infected,” she begged, standing in the bathroom with her leg propped up on the toilet. 

To her relieved surprise, when she peeled back the tape and lifted the gauze, everything looked normal. Perhaps a bit more swollen than she was used to — Eddie’s face appeared to have contours and hollows, but she reflected that Brown Chimes did have talent in depicting the third dimension in art. She picked up a hand mirror to look at it from another angle, and dropped it promptly when the eyes in the tattoo flicked and looked back at her. 

“Shit!” she cried. “Seven year’s bad luck!” 

Tanya’s hands were shaking. She told herself it was because of the noise of the shattering glass. She knew she should tiptoe over and around the shards to get the broom and dustpan, but she didn’t dare take her eyes off her thigh. 

On the counter, in her makeup case, was a small travel-size compact. She rummaged for it until she found it, and then, not breathing, held it over the portrait.

It was fine. Nothing moved. Just her imagination, then. A trick of her eyes. 

Tanya laughed to her herself. The air felt good on it, so she ripped the rest of the tape off to let the tattoo breathe, and went to get the broom.

* * *

“Listen to me! There’s something wrong with my boyfriend’s grave!” Tanya pounded on the door to the groundskeeper’s office. “Maybe there’s a broken pipe or something, making a sinkhole. It’s disrespectful! If you don’t fix it, I’m going to report you! Are you even in there?”

Furious, she turned on one foot and stalked away, back toward Eddie’s plot. The forget-me-nots were as wild as ever, but they looked as though they were crawling up out of a ditch: for some reason, every time she’d come to visit over the last weeks, his grave looked for all the world like it was sinking. If the flowers hadn’t been there, she’d have sworn that someone was stealing dirt by lifting the sod and putting it back, but the plants were undisturbed. 

“Don’t worry, Eddie,” Tanya promised. “I’ll look after it.”

And now she was late for her last appointment at Bill’s. Tanya ran the last few blocks, pissed off with herself for wasting time at the graveyard again, and arrived just as the red-haired clerk was fitting her key into the lock of the front door. 

“Wait! I’ve got an appointment with Brown!” 

“We’re closing early today,” the woman said, looking her up and down. “It’s a holiday weekend. You should have been on time.”

A hand appeared in the glass door front. Brown knocked on the window, smiling down at them, and he pushed the door open. “It’s all right,” he said. “I was just cleaning up, and I was waiting for you, Tanya. I knew you’d be here.”

Gratefully, Tanya slipped through the small opening he offered. She didn’t bother to look as he shut the door tightly, heading straight for his back room. The little jingle and the slide of the lock into place echoed through the empty ground floor. 

“So, how does your tattoo feel? Healing well?” He entered the room noiselessly, making Tanya jump. “This last session will be painful, but it will be worth it. It will truly bring your portrait to life.” He gestured widely, grinning.

Tanya’s heart beat faster. Her skin felt cold and sweat broke out on her forehead. “How much more needs to be done?” she stammered. “I mean, it looks pretty good to me.”

“Small details, sweetheart,” he reassured her. “Just get comfortable.”

“Are you going to sing again?” 

“Of course!” He showed her all his teeth. “It’s what I do!”

He was right about it hurting more. Over and over, Tanya gritted her teeth and gripped the vinyl mattress on the table. Her sweaty palms wore away the thin paper covering that was meant for sanitation. Brown worked steadily without a break, grinding lines into her skin with a needle that felt like a razor blade, singing all the while. 

And then came a sharp clap of pain she hadn’t expected at all, a streak of lightning in her skin that seared to the bone. She flinched, crying out, and the next thing she knew, he was dabbing her face with a cool, wet cloth. 

“Is it over?” she asked. Her throat was dry. “Are we done?”

“Yes, my dear, you have what you wanted. Eddie is with you forever, in portrait as well as in spirit.” He helped her to sit up, handing her a plastic cup of water. “Would you like to see before I wrap it up?”

Tanya actually wanted to be sick. “No, it’s okay. I believe you. I just want to go home.”

He shook his head, understanding. 

At the door, she paused, and then took his hand. “Thank you for this. I’m sorry I was such a whiner. I really do appreciate your time and your talent.”

“It is my pleasure.” Brown said, covering her hand with his own. “I’m honoured to be able to do this for you. Find me if you are at all dissatisfied, and the cover-up is free.”

Uncomfortable, Tanya ducked her head, and clumsily opened the lock to let herself out. 

Her thigh burned and leapt under the bandage as much as it had after her second session. More, even, by the time she had reached the graveyard. Limping, she made her way over to Eddie’s stone, where the depression in the earth had gotten so deep, she couldn’t see the forget-me-nots anymore. Moaning, she stumbled over to the plot and looked down to the bottom. 

Dead and withered flowers and their stalks lay twisted over a layer of brown grass. The brass fittings of Eddie’s coffin were visible around the edges of the pit, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight filtering into the shadow of the grave. 

Weeping, Tanya fell to her knees, and once more, the skin on her thigh pulled. It throbbed, actually. She laid a hand over the bandage, feeling the muscle of her leg twitching and jumping. It was turning her stomach. Nails scratching her own flesh, she tore away the tape and gauze, and then she shrieked as the portrait’s nose flared in the fresh air. She crawled back, trying to get away from her own leg, while Eddie’s tattooed eyes blinked and strained to look up at her. His upside-down grin looked like a monster’s grimace. She hit another gravestone and was trapped.

“Hey, babe,” said Eddie’s tattoo. “What’s shaking?”

Crystal and Wand: Malcolm de Sade’s Backstory

One of the most difficult things a writer must do is accept that not every piece of the draft will make it to the final product. Something has to be cut, or multiple somethings, unless there is a very good reason for that section of dialogue or narrative to be kept. In Crystal and Wand, at my editor’s excellent suggestion, I plucked out a longish bit on the life history of my malicious and cunning Big Bad, the centuries-old vampire Malcolm de Sade. And it was difficult, because (without giving anything away) I know that part of that backstory gives some answers as to why he is capable of certain things that he does. But the tale of the most significant relationship of his un-life didn’t really serve the novel, in the end. Much like film editors must take away that which detracts from the movement and flow of a film, writers have to delete scenes, too.

I really think, though, that watching the deleted scenes (and the bloopers) are as enjoyable as looking at the final product.

So, dear readers, I thought I’d give you a peek into my head vampire’s secret past right here, by sharing with you this particular deleted scene. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Malcolm’s world in advance of the release of the final installment of the Talbot Trilogy — the release date will be announced soon!

First, my inspiration for the character of Malcolm de Sade, the remarkable, handsome, and sexy Goran Visnjic:

And now, the story . . .

After a near-miss with destruction and losing track of his witches, Malcolm has returned to the home he has taken as his own from Andrea Renaud, the first member of his ill-fated coven. He takes stock of his situation, contemplating some of the choices he has made both in the past and the present. 

He had felt the pressing isolation of his kind profoundly, more than once. After Seingalt was staked, of course, as they had been turned together and had been brothers of a sort. And again, fifty-odd years later, when he’d encountered a talented young artist with the power to move his black heart as it had not been moved since his human days.

Malcolm rolled onto his side, losing himself in the memory so deeply that he almost returned to his day-sleep.

Aleksander Sokolov had been a student in St. Petersburg, on his way to becoming a brilliant painter. They had met at a midnight salon where de Sade had introduced himself as Sergei Davydov. While still a pupil, he had been commissioned for a portrait of a moderate official, an opportunity that opened doors and set him on a path that many of his peers envied as much as they did his looks. With a shock of soft, curling black hair falling over his smooth fair skin, features rounded almost like a woman’s, he was as fetching to regard as his oils on the canvas. Conversation had revealed that his background was similar to Seingalt’s—Aleksander had been sent to boarding school at age six, expected to join the clergy or obtain a degree in law, but had found himself pulled into the world of composition and beauty and accepted at the Imperial Academy of Arts.

A walk in the fresh air had revealed that his predilection was not for women.

Their passionate friendship had filled de Sade’s evenings through the long Russian winter, and he liked to think he had inspired some of his lover’s finest work. Sokolov had a way of using light, shadow, line, and colour to reveal his subjects’ deepest emotions and earnest desires. A young man’s arrogance and flair in one portrait would be followed by a matron’s steely gaze and knowing smirk in another. He could make an ugly princess into a delicate flower, and reduce a generous merchant to a scurrilous miser, all with seemingly careless strokes of his brush. He embodied the spirit of the Romantic Movement, and while it saddened Malcolm that he could only ever watch his artist work in the very early hours or the very late, he could not bring himself to grant the lad a gift that would steal from him the very sunlight that fed Aleksander’s soul.

It was a bitter sunrise that shone on Sokolov’s face the morning after he died of consumption, a scant eight months after their relationship had begun.

Would his art have been any less without his humanity? Or would the world have been granted a magnificent boon, had Malcolm changed him at that last moment? For hours, every breath had seemed to be his last. Held by his beloved Sergei—those were the very words he had used to describe his lover—he had wept a little to leave the world without having painted everything he’d wanted. So much beauty, so many faces, and he’d not even made the time to commit Davydov to a canvas.

“What work you have done, be assured I will never see it discarded, nor burnt, nor torn,” Malcolm promised him.

“In another lifetime, your portrait should have been the highest example of my efforts,” Aleksander whispered. He fingered the ruffles on de Sade’s sleeve. “Sergei, I am a little afraid to die.”

Malcolm sighed. “And if you could live, would you want to live for always? To never age? To never sicken, waste away, or perish?” He felt his mouth tingle and hoped that his lover’s answer would be yes. “We are not meant to last forever. That is why we paint.” Even with the shadow of death hovering about his eyes and mouth, Aleksander Sokolov had the strength and audacity to reprimand his elder. “You might as well ask me to give up my hands, my eyes, or my capacity to feel, if I lost the fragility that lets me portray life in…”

In what, Malcolm never knew. That was the moment his artist’s heart finally chose to end its struggle.

Before Aleksander, his purpose had been in acquiring knowledge he could use against others, both for pleasure and in manipulation of the soul. He had buried his loneliness, refusing to admit that it even existed, focusing on his games. And then into his world of darkness, this young man had exploded like a dying star. His very being was so pure, Malcolm had never even told him of his true self. His lover went to his grave without knowing that Sergei Davydov would never join him in eternal sleep.

He had believed himself inured to this kind of loss, immune to emotional pain, entirely free from the failings of humanity. Alek proved all of that wrong, but until this evening’s pairing with Damon Sabre it had not been clear to him just how much he remained vulnerable, or how deeply he had buried himself.

Not that Malcolm was some sorrowful shadow, or had ever been. After losing his artist, he neither lost himself in misery nor indulged in long fits of melancholy, bemoaning his situation. Instead, he carried on as he expected to, always: moving to a new place, finding someone to bed and on whom to feed, leaving the past behind. What was the point of mourning? Death was simply part of a mortal’s existence. If anything, Aleksander Sokolov had been luckier than most of his era, leaving his work behind as evidence that he had once walked the earth. When Malcolm felt the need to remind himself that their encounter had been more than a dream, he only needed to return to St. Petersburg, later Petrograd, and view the paintings on display.

Perhaps paintings on display were what had drawn him to Damon in the first place.

Malcolm turned onto his other side in Andrea’s soft flannel sheets, disturbed at the turn of his thoughts. Damon was so similar to Aleksander, in so many ways. They were of the same age, though Damon was taller than Alek had been, and in this time, the former was still considered by some to be a babe of the world—though the country’s government conferred on him most of the rights of adulthood—while Alek had been considered fully a man. There was that reservation in his manner, retiring in unfamiliar company, but unrestrainedly humourous among friends. True, the lad had not been completely honest with him about his sexuality when Malcolm had first broached the subject, that night at the hunters’ cabin, but it was to be expected in this era when it was growing nigh impossible to keep one’s secrets out of others’ hands. De Sade had seen this for himself, exploring the Internet, reading personal conversations posted for all to see and judgment cast upon those who challenged the perceived status quo.

Another reminder why the flawed human race needed creatures with greater perspective and experience to rule them.

Even though he himself enjoyed wringing secrets out of people, it was not his business to spread them. He collected their confessions and recorded them in journals, sometimes using code, to cherish as his own private treasure. After all, if there was anything he’d learned from Seingalt’s experience, advertising himself was dangerous. It was far better to avoid conflict and confrontation by staying hidden, even if that meant falling further and further from the comforts of society.

He frowned. Of course, eventually that had brought him to feeding on the homeless and indigent of society, living in filth no better than a rat. But that pattern had so swiftly come to an end. And it hadn’t been because of a handsome young man catching his eye—it had been the sight of an attractive witch, both powerful and fertile. Charlotte Fanning, now Mahonen, cursed be that name, had changed the course of his existence. It should not matter how much potential Damon Sabre could express with brush and paint. He had not seen the young man indulge his talent in many weeks, though; not since before he had become part of Malcolm’s coven. Perhaps that gift had already vanished, drained away with his life’s blood, replaced with cynicism and thirst. After all, an artist had to have a beating heart, able to feel both love and pain, and a soul that yearned for beauty in order to return it to the world. It was impossible for a vampire, the living dead sustained by carnage and ugliness, to come close to creating anything aesthetic that was also original. Witness Seingalt, who collected precious artwork and hired decorators to surround him with beauty, but made none of his own. And Malcolm himself had taken possession of this comfortable home but could claim none of it as his own design.

Whatever Damon Sabre had been, as his human self, it was gone, and there was no retrieving it. This was the reason Malcolm had given him a new, last, name. But if all this were true, why was he so determined to make a baby? To combine his seed and spirit with that of a witch? Many humans called infants beautiful, and each were original creatures, unique unto themselves.

Restless, he rose from the bed and paced the length of the bedroom. This was why he no longer enjoyed time alone. His thoughts took him to uncomfortable places, questioning reality in unacceptable ways.


SOON TO BE RELEASED! Read the Prequel: Mist and Midnight, Book One: Wind and Shadow, and Book Two: Blood and Fire, available through Melange Books.

The value of research and feedback while writing: don’t be afraid to ask!

I’m at 8,158 words in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, the Snowmobiling Story for young adults / reluctant readers. A bit shy of the count I want to have for today, so I’ll try to keep this post short in order to attempt to squeeze a few more paragraphs in before midnight. (I had to take an Outlander break, Sassenach!)

I found myself stymied a few times this weekend, in this project, because I’m so out of my depth. I’m not into mechanics or engines or anything technical, so I’m dependent on research and interviews to give me the details I need. The problem is that half the time what I’m reading is still completely over my head, thanks to the jargon and colloquialisms in use by the people in the know.

So last night I started bugging individuals in my circle (and in their circles) for answers. I proposed situations and sought their opinions on what would happen next, with fantastic results. And then, when I sent my work (so far) to one of my usual beta readers to get her take on a scene that didn’t have anything to do with mechanical stuff, I ended up getting more feedback on the technicalities — really helpful stuff that I’m going to fix right away.

See, the thing is, when you’re working on a first draft, it’s important to just keep ploughing ahead and never mind the edits, or else the damned thing will never get done. Go back and fix the little things later. But with this — I don’t mind jumping back here and there to make sure my descriptions and plot points are accurate, because that means I’ll be more likely to get them right when I refer to that stuff again later on.

Some writers also don’t like showing their unfinished drafts to others because — well, hey, we’re a sensitive lot, sometimes, and we don’t want to be told that what we’re writing sucks. It’s a leap of faith in all respects to get the words on the page and then to ask someone what he/she thinks. I find it depends on what I’m doing, and how secure I’m feeling with it, and my own emotional connection to the piece. With this one, I know I’m bound to make errors because I’m writing about something pretty foreign to my experience. The more feedback I can get on it, the better I’ll be.

One problem that I can foresee, though, is the subjectivity of the experience. Some snowmobilers up here call the handlebars “risers”, while others call them simply “handlebars”. If I write something that is closely related to this region, I risk others not enjoying it as much because they’re not in the vernacular loop that people up here are. Then again, it’s edifying to read about experiences in other places, so maybe it won’t really matter.

I think, too, that for this one I’ll be seeking a Canadian publisher, just to really drive it home to my students that they’re awesome. Maybe that’s counting my chickens before they’re hatched, though.

Keep writing!


Spring? What spring? Sproing, maybe. Oh, those novel-edits blues . . .

Some things are just going to keep passing me by. That beautiful display of the aurora borealis? Yeah, that was too far north to see from here, by a matter of hours. The eclipse of the moon? Wrong hemisphere. First day of spring? We still have two feet of snow on the ground, it’s cold enough that any meltwater from the most recent warm day is currently sheer ice, and a thick cloud cover kept the sunshine away. This is very grumpy-making, as is month number six of having cold feet. Not even slippers are helping with the feet.

In my next house, I’m having heated floors installed.

Edits are proceeding apace. I’ve encountered some challenges — it’s been suggested that some parts could be trimmed down, and it’s always painful to kill my darlings, to use Stephen King’s term for cutting. I’m going to finish the little bits of clarification and accepting / rejecting changes through the rest of the manuscript before I tackle the trimming. Gives me time to contemplate what to keep and what to jettison. See, it’s tricky, because I see everything as important but I get that too much of a good thing can interfere with flow. On the other hand, some parts are meant to become significant later, as part of character development. If I trim the wrong thing, will a character’s momentum or revelation have less meaning or depth?

In the end, I get to make the choice. And no matter what I decide, there will be those who dislike it. I mean, a lot of people complained about the big section in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione wander about the woods for weeks, trying to suss out their next move. But it didn’t bother me, because it was true to form for the characters, and necessary to build to the next big discovery. I liked her choice in doing that. I’ve also seen it done in the Clan of the Cave Bear series, with long sections on setting or travel, and I will admit to sometimes skimming them — and then going back to reread when it became evident that important facts or descriptions were in the information dump.

Maybe — and I’m just throwing it out here — I write my environment. Like this spring, for example. In some places, the transition from winter to spring is quick and has already happened. Crocuses are pushing up through the last layers of snow. Brown stretches of grass showing baby green shoots. But here, where I’ve lived for sixteen years of my life (counting childhood), there’s a long middling period of waiting and contemplation. The excitement of winter activities has died off, worn down by day after day of bitter skies and colourless landscapes. You get used to being in a holding pattern, observing the signs and being able to say, when the warm weather does arrive and the next round of activities is rising, that we knew it was coming. Or that the long winter had us so fooled, spring really took us by surprise.

Do we write our environments? Are writers influenced by the physical world in which they’re living? In a way, it makes sense, if we’re writing what we know. I wonder if anyone’s ever made a study of literature written in different places and compared the flow and pace of each book. There are places in the world where I picture events and activity moving at a breakneck pace, with little relief — New York City, maybe, or Los Angeles, or London. And then there are places that move a little slower, where characters have the luxury of time and setting in which to mull their next move, and events coming up out of nowhere have that much more impact. Like in Salem’s Lot, for example, or Anne of Green Gables, or The Sentimentalists.

Or is there a difference between the flow and pace of Canadian and American novels? Is one (perceived as) more ________ than the other? Is there a socio-economic voice that writers come from or into that affects the style and tone of their work?

I do hope, by the way, that you’re not seeing this as me getting defensive. I’m just trying to work out what the right thing is to do for my work, and where the decision is going to come from, and the elements affecting it. Even the most slap-dash manuscripts are composed of words chosen with care and purpose. Thank heaven for the editor who is kind and wise enough to point out where something may not be working! It’s good to know these things. Better is knowing exactly what to do about them.

I’m as wishy-washy as this so-called “spring” weather. As back and forth as the temperature outside. I have chilly, pebbly slush in my metaphorical writing boots. My head is wrapped in layers of thick sleety cloud. I’m on page 152 of 260 and I have to stop for the night.

Any other writers out there feeling my pain?

If I could harness my subconscious to do my will . . . plus problems with writing from imagination vs experience

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re not sure if it was real the next day? I get that once in a while. Last night I had another.

I had taken a summer job working in an office, doing some kind of bookkeeping, and several of my colleagues were there — mostly women, though, including friends of mine named Kam, Colette, Kim, Monica, and maybe Golda. I wasn’t happy about the job, but I needed the money. My daughter was hanging around and I could see that my boss disapproved, so I had to send her home. In addition to feeling badly about that, there was a big meeting and the managers announced that everyone was expected to participate in some kind of super-high-efficiency diet involving seeds, alfalfa, kale, and other nutritious but gross-tasting foods. We weren’t allowed to bring anything processed or fatty or sugary to work for lunch or snack breaks.

I was really pissed off at this point. I refused to play along, declining to accept the starter-pack that was being given out and throwing the stink-eye at the smelly tea that Kam was trying to drink down, and I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, I was sent out on a professional call, so I determined to bring back some real food to save my friends’ tastebuds.

Right before I left, one of the other employees — a petite blonde — tried to give me a ring that kept turning to a gummy in my hand. She looked at me desperately, and I realized that if I concentrated, the ring would keep its form. Once that happened, I knew that what was really going on was some kind of trap, prison, or spell: each of my employees was really a fairy-tale heroine, locked away from their own worlds in this sterile office and forced to eat crappy raw grains and seaweed. It would be my job to help them remember who they were and break free. (At this point, I realized that I was combining Parks and Recreation with Once Upon a Time, but I wanted to help my friends, so I kept it going.)

So I left the office with its maze of partitions and cubicles and meeting rooms and drove down a block of closely-constructed townhouses. There was a railway crossing and I was having a hard time stopping the car. I hit the brakes, and I’m right on the line, so I start to reverse. A school bus (empty) pulls around me and tried to get over the tracks but got hit by the oncoming train. I was thankful that we hadn’t been smucked, but then I see in my rearview mirror that a police officer is waving me over, having video-taped the whole event.

After getting a ticket, I went back to the office and went in preparing to do battle. To my surprise, everyone was eating pizza. Real pizza! So I looked closely at the boss, and there was a glint in her eye, something that suggested manipulation . . .

And then I woke up. I really wanted to go back in and continue the story, see if I could free Snow White, etc. from the web of lies and deception, but I’ll never find out how it ended. See, I can’t just pick up a dream the next night from where it left off. I can think about it as I’m relaxing into sleep, but then my subconscious will just take over and do whatever it wants. Most annoying are the times when I’m walking along endless highways, or the thing where I realize I’m driving a car from the passenger seat or backseat and I have to try to slide into the proper part of the vehicle.

Tomorrow night, the 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge starts. I have some registrations but I have the feeling that a few students might join up at the last minute. I’ve never done something like this before, so it’s going to be a learning experience, hopefully with a steep curve. And lots of coffee. We’re not staying up all night, but still, I’m going to need it, I think. Then Saturday will be the all-day part, with rehearsal and whatnot — definitely going to be a coffee day. I feel like I should be more stressed about it than I am presently, but it’s going to hit me tomorrow with full force anyway.

I’ve also promised some struggling students in my grade 11 english class that I’ll write them a story involving snowmobiles, because that’s what their main interest is and it may help them connect to reading. The only trouble is that I don’t do snowmobiling: my experience is limited to three incidents:

— I was around 9 or 10 and taken for a brief ride on the back of a parental friend’s snow machine. It was loud and stinky.

— My brother tried to take our dad’s new-to-him snowmobile for a quick run around the yard (without permission) and got it stuck in the deep snow where the yard sloped. My friend Karen and I had to help him get it out before Dad came home. I think we did it — I have no recollection of any yelling or other upset from that night.

— I went ice fishing two or three years ago, as part of a staff social event, and got to ride in a sledge pulled by a snowmobile. It was, again, loud and stinky.

So I’ve told my students that they’re going to have to help me with the story. I mentioned this idea to my vice-principal, that I’d write a story and have the students decide where it will go or what the details are, and he didn’t seem overly thrilled with the concept. His thought was that we need to give the students “more agency” and encourage them to do these things on their own. That’s all fine and dandy, I agree with that very much, but when you’re working with kids who get antsy after being surrounded by four walls for half an hour, who aren’t into writing or reading beyond the absolute necessity, why not work together on something creative so they can get the feel of it? It’s still part of that “gradual release of responsibility” concept. And one student in particular, B, is excited that I’m going to write something for him, that he will get a say in but not have to tackle on his own.

I need to get going on this project. I’ve set the goal, a high-interest, medium-vocabulary read about snowmobiling, with a word count of 20,000 – 30,000, at least. The problem now for me is the plot. I talked it up with some of my lunchtime crew yesterday, gathering some ideas. I could do a story about a poker run — never done that — or getting lost or stuck on the trails, or breaking through the ice (have heard a firsthand experience from a friend). I have a vague idea about having to win the poker run in order to gain the cash prize that will allow the protagonist to achieve something important, like money for a sibling’s class trip to Toronto or something else that kids up here would recognize as having value. But beyond that . . . I’m at a complete loss. My head is blank. I can have these freaky dreams about crap from TV shows and stuff, yet I can’t put together a simple plot about a kid with a snowmobile?

I keep coming up with concepts, and that’s as far as I get. And they all feel so cheesy:

  • A kid who has built his own snow machine from scrap parts and discarded pieces in a junkyard races against kids with brand-new, top-of-the-line Skidoos, with the prize being a next-year model. Your typical underdog story, in which he learns the value of hard work, appreciating what he has, blah blah blah . . . (not feeling it, can you tell?)
  • A teenager who has witnessed a crime and escapes into the woods on his snowmobile, only to realize he’s being followed by the criminals. His only recourse to get away is to use the maze of the trails, but night is falling / blizzard comes up / warm weather has weakened the ice on the lake, so his dilemma worsens . . . (maybe this one, I could get excited with this)
  • When a girl takes her boyfriend (who’s just moved up from a southern town/city and has little experience with the snow/cold) for a run and their machine goes through the ice, she has to give him a crash course in winter survival as they trek back to the closest house / store for help . . . (after all, it’s not just for boys, right?)

Maybe I’ll just throw these suggestions at my students and see which one they like the most. Take it from there.

And I should probably get someone to take me snowmobiling at some point, so I have that experience for the writing.


A bit about Book Three of the Talbot Trilogy, and success in writing

Okay, I promise I will try not to harp on about the continuing Arctic levels of cold we’re experiencing in Northeastern Ontario, or the state of my house (surprisingly still relatively clean after a week!) or any of the usual.

Let’s talk about my upcoming book, Crystal and Wand: Book Three of the Talbot Trilogy.

It’s been a while in coming, but edits are happening at the moment and I’ve given my blessing to a cover layout currently being finalized. I’m hoping it will be released sometime in the spring, the culmination of something like nine years of (off-and-on) effort. Hubby and some friends and readers have suggested repeatedly that there could be more to it than these three books (Wind and ShadowBlood and Fire, and Crystal and Wand, plus the prequel novella Mist and Midnight), but since it was never meant to be anything more than a trilogy, I’m 99.9% sure that the story will end with this book.

So far, the feedback has been good. The handful of beta readers who have gone through Crystal and Wand have been pleased with the ending.

But the other question is this: am happy with it? Have I written something that makes me feel happy and satisfied?

It’s a good question.

I’m not entirely sure I know the answer. There were so many ways the story could have gone, options that could have been taken, and places where I was surprised by directions I didn’t see the plot or characters taking. That happened with the first and second books, too. But — without too many spoilers — the characters ended up where I had wanted them to be in the end, happy and moving forward in their lives. Well, most of them, anyway.

In my Writer’s Craft class the other day, we moved from writing flash fiction to looking at audience awareness, and I segued by briefly talking about measures of success. I offered them for comparison what I’ve read about the way markets measure success in bookselling and authors’ achievements — x number of books sold in a day, the attainment of Bestseller status in bookseller lists — and what authors like Stephen King have had to say about the meaning of being a successful writer, which is mainly loving what you do and continuing to do it. By the first measure, I haven’t even come close to the nadir (unsurprising given a variety of factors, including that I’ve only been selling my work for four years-ish, I’m an indie author with zero budget for advertising beyond what I redirect from my own family accounts, and all of the challenges that accompany that reality), yet by the second measure, I’m there. I keep writing, trying to keep from having any real expectation of attaining bestseller so I don’t end up feeling disappointed. Of course I harbour the hope that my books will reach some kind of popularity because I love knowing that someone out there is reading and enjoying my stories. I always love hearing that, and I’m grateful for the reviews I’ve had so far. I find it hard to pump my work sometimes because I don’t want to feel like a pest or a braggart. Yet I know the only way to find readers is to let people know that I’ve written a book and suggest they take a look at it. it’s a hard place to be in, but it’s the only place.

Crystal and Wand wraps up the first set of novels I’ve done, and that alone feels great. I like telling people about that, because speaking the words reminds me that I’m capable of achieving more than I believe I can, especially when depression and anxiety are starting to circle. The gratification also leads me to think about my next projects. I’m going to be working on a short story or novella for my grade 11 College English students who like snowmobiling — I’ve asked them to help me with the details, ensuring I get them right, because I’m not into snowmobiling but I really want to give them something to read that they’ll be into reading. One of several works that I’m considering, and having trouble deciding on . . .

After all, if writing is a journey, the first step is picking the direction in which to go. I need a compass. I’m good with requests, shorts, and challenging pieces. There’s one book in particular that I’ve been thinking about for two years, waiting on attempting until my trilogy was complete, but I already believe it’s going to take a monumental effort and I’ll have to work on it every day for months or years to shape it the way I see it in my head. But knowing that . . . having felt the wave of good feeling that comes from having completed a book on my own, writing a story from start to finish, it’s a goal I know I can meet if I put the time and thought into it.

Anyway . . . at the moment, I’m knee-deep in marking for this semester (already). My daughter is watching The Princess Diaries once again, while my son games upstairs in his room with varying degrees of noisiness. Doing laundry and putting the electric heater on has helped the furnace to warm the house to a sufficient degree of comfort. Hubby had to work at 4 am this morning so he’s been asleep since around 6 pm, and he’s working tomorrow morning at 5. No Valentine’s Day supper or anything, and that’s all right. He gave me a little blue French horn keyring earlier this week. We have our romance, whenever we need it or want it. Writing a fresh book is on my mind, in a bit of a backseat, creeping closer. In a few months, I hope, I’ll be holding a freshly printed copy of the final work in my trilogy, rounding off the set on my bookshelf, and embarking on the all of extras required in spreading the word. Hope you’re still with me when that happens — I’ll try to make it a hell of a ride!

Guest Blogging on Unwritten!

Join me with Mysti Parker and have a scientifical look at vampires and witches and their potential for breeding. You could win a beautiful handmade beaded necklace with pendant by HMC. Here’s the link: http://mystiparker.blogspot.ca/2015/02/lets-get-scientifical-10-when-witch.html

Story Time! In which I have some science-fictiony fun with microbiology and Mennonites

A few months ago, in the course of a class discussion, I had a hard time saying “nanobots”. Eventually for some reason, I ended up blurting out something so ridiculous that it just had to be written down. I promised them a story. I shall now attempt to produce a piece of flash fiction worthy of sharing with my grade 11 College English kids.

“Killer Mennonobots”

The microscopic ‘bots worked exactly as Greg had expected them, and why not? He’d engineered them, after all. He was no under-appreciated genius — the rows of awards and framed certificates were proof that plenty of his peers recognized his achievements in the field — but this, his most personal challenge and longest project, this was satisfaction made tangible.

He bent to the microscope and gazed again at his creation, Debussy playing softly on the battered old CD player in the background.

To the naked eye, the small glass dish appeared to hold only a smear of viscous green fluid. But through the refracted light and lenses, Greg was able to admire the perfection of his tiny world.

They might have been as small as Who’s, and certainly, they were as industrious. Bipedal, four-limbed, straight spines, their inner workings covered with flexible dark membranes microns thin. He’d laboured for over a decade to get the forms right, staying late hours in the laboratory after his normal work day had been finished. The programming had been relatively simple, once the working parts had been finessed. They were self-replicating, but only after achieving what he amusedly called “experience points”, limiting their numbers exponentially: as each generation produced their clones, the algorithm dictated a corresponding change in the program requiring an increase in “experience” before the next replication could begin.

Greg had even managed to build in a randomization plot: each replication had a 50-50 chance of appearing male or female. The males’ limbs were individually coated, resembling trousers, and the females’ membranes flowed in a spreading mesh like a long dress.

His nanos weren’t scuttling insects or bulbous jellyfish. They marched stolidly and gracefully through their environment, as direct and unassuming as Mennonite farmers in the field.

Itty-bitty, smaller-than-a-blood-cell Mennonites.


And as quickly as their human counterparts could raise a barn or piece a quilt, his microscopic dolls could construct anything he ordered, the required codes typed with precision into the computer. For this test, in the sample of grass fibre he’d provided, they’d already maneuvered slender fragments into a square frame. He smiled, humming softly while a hundred or so Mennonobots arranged themselves into straight lines, moving in tandem to select the next length of Golgi apparatus appropriate for their needs.

The microwave in the far corner of the lab beeped impatiently. Greg’s neck was sore, needing the hot grain bag inside, but he couldn’t bear to look away. It was simply too fascinating.

While Generation 9.9 completed erection of a shelter, Generation 9.10 was herding floating mitochondrion together like so many cattle. Gens 1.1 through 9.7 had been disappointing failures, the last several operational but only capable of meandering hopelessly through leaking cytoplasm and saline. In Gen 9.8, though, he’d had his breakthrough. The latter group was isolated now, cooling their itsy-bitsy heels in the refrigeration unit to prevent another replication until he’d completed his tests.

“How would you fare against your children and grand-children?” he murmured, stepping back from the eyepiece. “Gen Eight moved in formation, but I didn’t have them try what you’re doing.”

Greg straightened with a groan, and on the way to the fridge, nabbed his heat pack from the microwave. He slapped it on the back of his neck, exhaling in relief as the heat penetrated his stiff muscles. The fridge door squeaked slightly when he pulled it open. He stepped into the impersonal white light of the interior, ignoring the slightly stale odour until it occurred to him that the equipment was missing its usual antiseptic scent.

And cold.

The fridge was warm.

His heart raced in panic. If Gen 9.8 had been damaged or left to replicate unmonitored, he would have to contain his current experiment rapidly or risk disaster.

Coughing on a catch in his throat, Greg wavered between dashing back to the sample and checking what remained of his precious work on the sterile metal shelving. Visually, the seals were intact, but if they’d been exposed to air, or an abrasive chemical . . .

He leaned closer. The seal wasn’t intact. A series of almost imperceptible holes — invisible to anyone not familiar to the lab’s procedure, or Greg’s own practice — cut through the plastic film where it met the solid wall of the container. It almost looked as though a fine needle had been slipped through the material, but when Greg held the box closer to his eyes, the tiny ragged edges jutted outward, not inward.

His eyes watered from the strain of peering at the damage. He pivoted and carried the box over to his work station. Sweat beaded his forehead. He peeled back the top of the container, prepared a sample, and then set his eyes to the microscope to first check on the progress Gen 9.9 and 9.10 had made.

Greg’s heart faltered, beating unsteadily in his chest. He gaped impotently, unable to breathe for a moment.

Where one simple building had been under construction, two more were now being framed. Tracts of material were furrowed and squared, tended by rows of tiny Mennonobot women behind strange mobile blobs.

In another heartbeat, he’d identified the blobs by their waving flagella.

They’d harnessed bacteria.

And — oh God — if they could do that, then could his babies control viruses, too?

His hands trembling, Greg fumbled the Gen 8 sample into place. He contemplated not looking. After all, no-one knew what he’d been doing after he’d clocked out. This was his life’s true work, but hadn’t God also destroyed His creation when it had corrupted itself? Did he even dare to see what had happened in his own invisible world?

The scientist in him needed to know. The engineer that he was needed to see what had happened. The human wanted to burn it all and forget that he’d ever attempted Frankenstein’s feat of mastering life.

Greg was already burning. He ripped away his lab coat and loosened his tie, aware that sweat was soaking through the fabric of his shirt. Then he put his eye to the microscope, gripping the table while his head swam.

Within the solution, a community of humanoid beings scrambled around toppled structures. They reminded him of ants when their glass farm had been shaken and their tunnels had collapsed. He increased the magnification, his pounding head intrigued by a minor change in the males’ physical appearance. And magnified it more.

“My God,” he said aloud. “They’ve built — but how? With what material could they make tools?”

His fevered brain threw him images of sugar crystals, salt, a variety of minerals and fibres, but the wave of dizziness that blurred his vision wouldn’t allow him to focus.

The last thing he saw before his legs crumpled beneath him was a cluster of elongated, spider-like shapes. Bulbous heads connected to legs made of rods, the figures of the Mennonobots astride the slender, spring-like bodies. Riding them. Directing them.

He tried to recall specifically which viruses they’d kept in that refrigerator. The question circled in his brain, a needle on a broken record. A cluster of soggy alphabet cereal pieces caught in sink water, going round and round the drain. No, that was the ceiling whirling above him. The little perforations seemed to grow bigger, morphing into cloned Mennonite farmers and their mutated livestock, the stuff of imagination. Unbelievable that they could ever exist. Inconceivable that something too small to be seen could be . . . could do . . .

Book Review: Lightpoints


After a near-death experience, you find yourself suddenly able to sense the energies of other people around you. Not only that but you’re able to manipulate it, draining and giving energy at will. What do you do with this power?

Peter Kassan explores this idea with a great deal of insight and detail in Lightpoints. He draws on different religious and cultural perspectives to explore and explain the “special sauce”, how it affects relationships, and how it can be a corruptive influence on those without conscience.

I liked reading this. I found it had a very formal style in both narrative and dialogue that occasionally had me feeling as though I were reading an essay. I liked it when the terminology about the psychic ability changed as different perspectives and experiences were brought in — new vocabulary relieved the repetitiveness of certain terms. It’s a slow boil, quietly ominous, the plot points disturbing and menacing even with the moments of brightness when the focus was on Amanda — the sense of foreboding created by Kassan overshadowed even that clarity found by the protagonist. The final confrontation between good and evil was incredible, but it was over too quickly. I would have liked to have seen, somehow, an effort by different groups of sensitives to connect, somehow. Like the prayer group making an impact on the psychiatric patients through their collective good intentions…if that phenomenon was in the news, it would have been excellent to see Amanda and Lisa and their friends journey to visit and share their knowledge with them. But maybe that’s part of the point — that the faculty of sensitive awareness is too dangerous when in the wrong hands, in a large group of people.

Even though this is fiction, it reads realistically. It’s believable, both in character development and plot. I could see the visuals clearly, and I was disappointed when it ended.

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Lightpoints-ebook/dp/B00CDGHA5C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382808508&sr=8-1&keywords=lightpoints