Hearts in Jars, and a Lion Named Fluffy

When I was little, I lived in a small house on 700 South Broadway, at the end of a long street of houses, on the edge of a hill overlooking a valley of train tracks.

On the steepest side of this hill, behind all the homes, was a scraggly wood that people used as a local garbage drop. Unwanted stoves, refrigerators, broken toys, found their final resting place here. Poison ivy grew everywhere. Chiggers thrived. So did hornets and bees and dense, thorny plants that cut open skin like a knife in soft butter. I loved this wood. I played there all the time.









Starving strays also lived on this hillside, and I wanted to rescue them all. My mom allowed me to keep one when I was four or five, a calico cat she named Fluffy. Fluffy’s fur was a rainbow, shades of grey mixed with tans. She was a smallish-sized cat, and I met her as a kitten.

Fluffy immediately became the love of my life. She went everywhere with me, even when I learned to ride a bike and pedaled far from home, Fluffy would come along with me, like a dog.

We played in the woods all the time. She knew all my favorite footpaths, my favorite hiding places, my favorite perches for taking in the view. I was King of this Hill, and Fluffy was my First General.

She brought me presents all the time, mostly black garter snakes. Fluffy would catch them alive and bring them to me, twisting and writhing, snared in her little mouth.

Whenever my mom saw this happen, she would scream and scream. Snakes terrified her. They fascinated me.









Fluffy’s gifts always slithered away, as soon as she bequeathed them to me. This was because picking up Fluffy excited me more than grabbing hold of a snake, even though I found serpents so interesting. Fluffy’s body would be hot hot hot, her muscles tensed, coiled, ready to spring, desperate to leap for that snake again, watching its long dark body wriggle away. “Damn it,” I could hear her say in my head. “There it goes.”

“Yes,” I would think to her. “There it goes.” Let it go.

Of the objects I liked to collect from the wood, some of my favorites were rusty spoons, which I used as dissection equipment. And my favorite things to dissect, as a child, were the bodies of birds. Armed with my rusty spoons, I opened up corpses in various states of decay, but I loved to find them in the earlier stages of death, when their bodies ballooned with gases and egg hatchlings, squirming and shifting with maggots.

Fluffy watched my work with intensity. She would sit crouched at my side, staring intently, as I cracked into desiccated muscle and ribs. From beneath the dark feathers and the thin, rotted skin, erupted a thick sea of maggots, shivering as they spilled to the ground like a milky rice pudding.

My younger brothers sometimes attended these dissections, and I taught them the wonders of decayed organs and maggots. Fluffy took great pride in this work, because she viewed all these dead birds as her kills. “Yes, I destroyed that,” she said all the time, in the haughty set of her shoulders and the lethal glint in her eyes. “I killed this bird. And that one. And that one. And that dead turtle you found. And that rabbit. I, Fluffy, killed them all just for you.” She saw herself as Death Incarnate, the Great Lion of Paradise, a vigilant shadow always stalking her prey.









Shortly after I turned nine, my family moved away from 700 South Broadway, to a new town down the road. I no longer lived on a hillside by train tracks, and my new neighbors didn’t like strays. They put out bowls of poison, to kill off unwanted cats, and I didn’t know anything of this danger. Fluffy must have taken a drink from one of these bowls, and she died, and I never found her body, never saw her again.

This was the first time I learned that God can cut open your chest, slice out your heart, and sew you back up again, good as new. The same way I cracked open those maggot-filled birds with my rusty spoons, such a procedure could be done with me.

I called and called and called for Fluffy. I searched for her everywhere, all the time. In the silent hours of night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, I would kneel on the floor in the dark, with my ear pressed to the wall, imagining that the creaks and quiet pops of the house were the sounds Fluffy made, traveling the space between the beams holding drywall.

The Great Lion of Paradise was immortal, you see. My best friend couldn’t die. She roamed with me still, through the walls of the house.

In high school, at age seventeen, I dissected a cat in biology class. Female, and smallish, and thoroughly soaked in formaldehyde, she looked everything and nothing like Fluffy. In the eight years that had passed since I’d lost her, God had harvested my heart several more times, and I meditated over this corpse a great deal, as I wielded my scalpel and ticked off each task on my assignment checklist.

Months prior to enrolling in that biology class, I took a trip to Chicago, and spent a day with college students dissecting human cadavers. I stood without speaking and watched their day’s work, staring intently, and when they finished and zipped up the corpses back into their bags, I walked to the wide metal shelves mounted into the walls. The students filed out, but their professor left a few of the lights on for me.

I studied the glass jars holding various body parts, human fetuses, diseased sections of tissue, and eventually found myself before a large framed portrait of the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, who died in 1890. This information was not attached to his picture, but I already knew who he was, from books I had read. I gazed at him for a time.

Not far from this photo, I found a row of human hearts. I picked up each jar, measuring the weight in my hands. The entire room smelled of rot and formaldehyde, and I took comfort in being alone in this cavernous space, this shadowy lab full of bagged cadavers and jars, swathed in silence.

Beneath the cold glass in my fingertips, floating in that dense chemical, I felt those hearts beating. And maybe they were all mine, and this was where God had stored them, waiting for the day I would find them.

If I pressed an ear to the wall, I knew I would hear Fluffy. Scraping through the gap in the beams, beneath the drywall, letting me know she was there.


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When You Realize You’re Talking to a Misogynist, and Things Just Get Weird

So I ended up having one of those oh-dear-god conversations with a man who is a work acquaintance of my husband. I’ll call this man Fredo, after Michael Corleone’s pathetic brother in The Godfather. The brother Michael arranges to have someone else shoot in the head and dump his body to sleep with the fishes.









Like a lot of fans of The Godfather, I do not think Fredo is a horrible person, though he does make poor decisions, since he is a rather bumbling and pathetic individual, beset by deep feelings of inadequacy and a long list of fears. He is an incredibly human kind of human, flawed and weak and hungry for love. I hate watching him executed and dumped overboard.

I haven’t watched The Godfather movies in more than a decade, but thinking of Fredo’s demise always conjures thoughts of a short-sighted fool who doesn’t deserve to be murdered, a man I pity a great deal.

So. Back to this work acquaintance of my husband’s, who I am calling Fredo for the purposes of this blog post — since I do not want to publicly insult anyone, but I also want to express my displeasure at general assholery and sh*ttiness in the world at large, which is my right as a blogger. (Blogger Power, 101)

Since this conversation took place on Friday, February 10, 2017, Fredo began by expressing his contempt for everyone in the country who opposed the appointment of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education. I was uninterested in debating this with him, since Ms. DeVos is officially the Secretary now and I’m tired of talking about her. Saturday Night Live did the best job of summarizing why so many Americans were upset about her nomination, in the Sean Spicer Press Conference skit (with Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer) that aired on February 4. (If you haven’t seen this yet, you can watch the skit on YouTube at the link here.)







Even though Ms. DeVos stated that she supported guns in schools to protect against possible grizzly attacks, Fredo continued his rant against “special snowflake” Americans by saying that the biggest problem with the U.S. education system is that boys are being taught by female teachers, and that this is why boys have been falling behind in school — because “women don’t understand anything about guns. And boys want to learn about guns.”

“Interesting,” I said. “What makes you think women don’t understand anything about guns?”

“Because women don’t know sh*t about war,” Fredo said. “Women want to sit around on their asses, nursing babies all day. Men are the ones who actually want to get up and DO something. Something important. Women sit around watching that Fifty Shades sh*t about men who beat their girlfriends with riding crops. I mean, that is just f*cking pathetic. Women like this should not be teaching our children. Little boys want to write stories about guns and warfare, but their teachers won’t let them do that in school. Why not? Because women want boys to write about puppies and rainbows and a lot of faggot sh*t like that. Not guns and war and dropping bombs on people. Little boy starts writing a war story in school, someone says he needs medication, and that’s f*cked up. Boys ought to be encouraged to learn about war and write about it. Not that stupid romance sh*t women write.”








I had a strong sense that Fredo was speaking from personal experience. I asked if he thought boys were discouraged from writing “warfare stories” in high school as much as in elementary school.

“Absolutely!” he said. “You bet your damn sh*tter they are. The best thing that could happen in this country, is if we put men back in the classroom again. Our kids ought to be learning useful skills in school, and women don’t know sh*t about anything that really matters in life, so how good a teacher can a woman be?”

I said, “Well, I’ve seen a lot of fine teachers, who know an awful lot of stuff about life, and many of those teachers have been women.” Fredo rolled his eyes and snorted. “And for the record,” I added, “I never wanted to have a baby, even though I do possess a fully-functioning uterus. I also haven’t seen the Fifty Shades movie, I’d probably murder anyone who hit me with a riding crop, and I like to write stories about war.”

Fredo gave me a shocked expression. Then he scowled. “What the hell do YOU know about war?”

I just stood there smiling a moment, not meeting his gaze anymore, but not walking away from him, either.

Which had the effect of pissing him off.

And then dear Fredo stormed off. No doubt cursing me in his head the whole way to his pickup.

Which was for the best, really. Because who knows what would’ve come out of my mouth, at that point. I kind of wanted to reassure him that I only wrote about rainbows and puppies and BDSM. And to make sure he understood that in my books, women want to nurse babies all day and get hit with riding crops, while the men go out and DO stuff, like drop bombs and shoot people. Except — not only would that be a lie, but also cruel, dishing out sarcasm to Fredo. By storming away from me, he made it clear he wasn’t ready to discuss much more than his own feelings of inadequacy and that giant chip on his shoulder. In another context, Fredo could be a KKK member or an ISIS combatant, or pick your fanatical fundamentalist movement, predicated upon strict gender roles, male dominance, and this idea that heterosexual men are inherently violent.

And where did Fredo ever get the idea that Betsy DeVos was in favor of replacing female teachers with male teachers? That was a new one for me.

It does sadden me to know that Fredo probably *did* write a great war story in school, and a female teacher probably *did* tell him he was wrong to want to write about violence, and someone probably *did* put him on medication as a result, and the whole episode probably felt like a punishment. That does not justify Fredo’s beliefs, or his language, but it does provide the reasoning for his views.

Speaking of war stories, this afternoon, I spent some time working on a new opening date for Book II in Mark of the Pterren. I don’t have a working title for this novel yet, I just call it Mark of the Pterren: Book II.

I wrote a first draft of this book a few years ago, which I used to help write the final drafts of Book I. I had originally started Book II a few weeks after Terrence Davin returns home to Mirador, but as I started working on this project again last week, I realized the sequel begins two days after he arrives home.

Which meant I needed to calculate the specific day of the month that would be, so I can print that date in my chapter headings.

According to my calculations, Terrence Davin arrives home in Mirador on April 12, 2415. This is the final full day of Book I.

The novel actually *ends* in the early-morning hours of April 13, 2415.

Immediately after Book I ends, Terrence spends the entire day of April 13 doing a number of administrative things — and Book II begins the following morning, shortly before dawn — on April 14, 2415.

Which made my heart start beating SO HARD with excitement. Because here is something I know as an author, but these facts wouldn’t make any sense to share in the story.

April 14, 1912 — the date the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg, just before midnight. The ship sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

April 14, 1865 — the date John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. Who died on the morning of April 15, 1865.

April 14 is a symbolic date. Mark of the Pterren is a story about civil war, and what happens when things fall apart. (Namely, that people die. Especially poor people. Whether they are infantrymen used as cannon fodder, or passengers riding in steerage. No matter the crisis, the poor always die in the highest numbers.)

(It’s a good thing Fredo is not reading this blog post. Not a nursing fact in sight, anywhere in this post. For shame.)

I haven’t just been working on Mark of the Pterren this week — I also spent some time on my sixth novel, which is a ghost story/murder mystery. My YA fantasy, Kinned to the Sea is scheduled to be turned in on Friday, February 17 to start the process of formatting the ebook.

And Bloodshade of the Goddess is still available as a free ebook on Smashwords! On Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the ebook costs $2.99. A HUGE thank you to everyone who shares a review for this book on Amazon or on Goodreads! And if you download the ebook from Smashwords, please leave a review there — you can post the same review for a book on multiple sites. Reviews are vital to all authors, whether they are traditionally-published or self-published — but for writers who have zero marketing dollars (or zero dollars in general, like moi) reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are the water canteens in the Sahara of life. All water canteens are most appreciated!! Stainless steel canteens decorated with Sailor Moon stickers are preferred.










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Hey Look, There Is a New Pretty Thing in This Blog, Come and See

I seem to have a LOT of writer-news to share lately. Which makes my life feel pretty weird, seeing so many projects come to completion at the same time. This is not my normal at all.

My normal is more like, la la la, I’m drinking coffee and staring at the same page of a Word doc for three hours straight, trying to edit one paragraph, isn’t life awesome, la la la.

As in, I generally feel the opposite of productive.

So here are a few announcements I need to make, because I kind of have a lot going on.

First, the paperback for Mark of the Pterren is now available. I’ve even updated my page for this book — which makes me feel super proud. Nothing like updating my website to make everything feel official.

The paperback book, however, is rather expensive, and I apologize about that. The biggest drawback of publishing a book via print on demand is that customers pay a much bigger premium for the product. It’s a lot cheaper to market a book when a company can have a large print-run of a title. Mark of the Pterren is a big book, with a lot of paper, and paper is super expensive. The price listed for this novel was the lowest CreateSpace allowed me to set, so I wanted my readers to know I didn’t suddenly decide to raise the price of this book through the roof so I could go buy a truckload of cheese. (Mmmm…. cheese.)

My Reading Angel, April Duclos, ordered this book and shared this photograph with me on Facebook, which turned me into a puddle of mushy joy splattered all over the floor —







Yes, that is Totoro sitting beside The Etiquette of Wolves in her lap. Can you tell how much bigger Mark of the Pterren is from my other two books?

Here is another picture April shared, so you can see the dimensions of the new paperback even better —









Totoro is guarding my books on April’s shelf, which makes me super-giggly. I could stare at these two photos forever.

Starting in June and July of 2016, I started waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety, a condition a lot of other people suffer from, so I don’t claim that this makes me special. I end up with insomnia some nights, and as 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, my cure has been to just push myself to stay awake longer and longer, working as far into the night as I can. Some nights, this has meant I go to bed around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. It’s created a lot of stress between me and Greg, as he is not a fan of my new work habits. I don’t know what my problem is, other than the root of it seems to be an irrational fear that I have unpaid bills, triggered by the terror that I haven’t been paying my student loans.

In June of 2016, I paid off the last of my student loans — so I have no more monthly payment to make — and that’s why I say the root of my anxiety is completely irrational. I have the house payments for my mom’s house to oversee, I have the constant threat that my mom is going to lose her home — but I’ve managed that stress for years now. It didn’t suddenly crop up in 2016. But every time my anxiety gets really out of control, and I grapple with it, the root is always, “I forgot to pay my student loans!” And I have to tell myself, over and over, “Remember though, remember, you paid off your student loans, and you’ve logged in to that account two hundred times to make sure, and that’s over now, that bill isn’t there anymore.” But the anxiety just comes right back, waking me up in the middle of the night. “I didn’t pay my student loan bill this month!” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

All I can say is, there is so much pressure, financial strain, on my life all the time, coupled with the overwhelming sense of failure — that I’ve failed my life, that I’m not doing anything “useful,” that I’m wasting my precious time on this earth, that I made the wrong decisions at every point when the stakes were the highest, and that’s why those threatening foreclosure notices keep arriving at my door, provoking my anxiety to attack me —

And then I see Mark of the Pterren sitting on a shelf next to Totoro, and that intense pressure eases a bit, enough that I can breathe, or at least feel a little less miserable as I face the newest pile of foreclosure paperwork on my table. This house hasn’t been lost to the bank for four years now. I’m hoping 2017 is another win against the forces of destruction.

My second big piece of writer-news is that Bloodshade of the Goddess is now available as an ebook!!!

My friend Gus Reyna bought the book for his kindle, and sent me this picture of the cover on his e-reader this morning —









I tried to make this ebook FREE on Amazon, but the site wouldn’t let me. But I WAS able to make this book FREE on Smashwords!! So if you want to download this one for zero monies, you totally can! Here is my page with the links for this book, to find the book on Amazon and Smashwords. I’m hoping to have the ebook available on Barnes & Noble soon, too. I ran into a problem trying to upload the cover image yesterday, because Barnes & Noble changed their file size requirements, so I have to reformat my cover for their site, and then that book will be available there, too.

Bloodshade of the Goddess is urban fantasy — and I know that genre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In my own writer-brain, I think of urban fantasy as “novelized comic books,” because the main characters of urban fantasy are a lot like traditional comic book heroes — versions of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men — and in modern urban fantasy, there’s been a huge push-back from fans of the genre for more diversity in the characters. Instead of white, middle-class, heterosexual characters, readers are asking authors to deliver stories that represent characters with different skin colors, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different sexual orientations and gender expressions, different body sizes, different physical attributes and abilities, and different types of neurodiversity, too.

Bloodshade of the Goddess is a book written for those kinds of readers — fans of urban fantasy who want the genre to be more inclusive of society as a whole. As an author, and as a human being, I keep searching for places where I can push boundaries and expand my own thinking, both in my personal life and in my art. Bloodshade is a book in which I made attempts to push myself. This is a “novelized comic book” that delivers something a bit to the left of the norm.

My third writer-announcement today is that my cover for my fifth novel, Kinned to the Sea, is finished, and here it is making its official debut on my blog —









Friends who saw me share this on Facebook have said it’s my “best cover yet,” and that makes me so happy to hear!! I love all my book covers, but not everyone thinks my covers are as spiffy as I do. We all know that books sell BY their covers — which means, they are also read FOR their covers. And I really hope people read Kinned to the Sea. If this cover is pretty enough to make people look at the first page of this book, then it has achieved the fantastic. There is no greater honor for a piece of cover art than to entice someone to look at page one.

For those of you who might be curious about how the Standing on the Side of Love March went on Saturday, January 21 — it was SPECTACULAR. And covered the front page of the local newspaper, The Durango Herald, the next day. I would share more about that event, but I wanted to get some of this writer-news off my chest, so my readers know that I’ve launched a new ebook they can download for free and enjoy.

I share my thanks in advance to anyone who can leave a review for Bloodshade of the Goddess on Amazon or on Goodreads. (You do not need to purchase the book on Amazon in order to leave a review — just reading the book and leaving an honest opinion is all that’s required.) Please feel free to share the Smashwords link for the ebook with everyone you know who might have an interest in fantasy — I made the ebook available for free to encourage readers to download the book and enjoy it, not because I put any less work into my fourth novel than my other books. Bloodshade was another time-consuming labor of love, though I’m still really grateful that it’s only one-third the length of Mark of the Pterren. Pterren was such a monster to write! ^.^

I hope all my Thought Candy readers have a great weekend! And thanks for staying tuned in to my blog! Happy reading!


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Opinions Flying Around in the Parking Lot, Also Known As Free Advice No One Asked For

Hello, Thought Candy readers! Loyal followers of this sorta-yes-pretty-random author blog.

I have some announcements to make.

(For those of you who follow my author page on Facebook, the first announcement will not be a surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve been remiss in announcing this news on my blog, since I was trying to be more involved with my Facebook page this year. But my favorite place to be is my blog, so I’m really sorry it’s taken me so long to share this in a post!)

My urban fantasy, Bloodshade of the Goddess, now has a cover —









And I’m so excited to have a new book cover! All the symbols on this one play important roles in the story, and I’m thrilled by how sparkly and pretty this cover looks!

I’m in the process of having the ebook for Bloodshade of the Goddess formatted right now, and that work should be done soon.

I’ve decided that when this ebook is finished, I will list this novel for free, in the hope that my fans will let their friends know there’s a super-high-quality urban fantasy they can download for zero monies. The ebook of Bloodshade of the Goddess will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. I will share the links with you all, once I have them.

In other Big Author News: Mark of the Pterren will be available as a paperback book very soon!! Due to the massive time commitment of formatting a book, and my personal financial constraints, there is always a delay between when I can afford to launch an ebook and when I can have the paperback ready. I’m super, super relieved that my work for the paperback edition of Mark of the Pterren is almost finished, because wow the effort required for anything involving Mark of the Pterren is enormous.

For those of you who took a chance on that book, read it, posted a review on Amazon, and shared that book with your friends — I SERIOUSLY. CANNOT THANK YOU. ENOUGH. You are my happy place. You are the people who make me feel proud when other things in my life are not-so-great.

Sometimes the world is such a mean and bitter place, and then I think of my little fan base of readers, and I feel happy again. I’m always grateful that I have a group of fans who might not like the different genres I write in, but they’re willing to keep up with my work even if a particular book isn’t for them. Pterren and Bloodshade are two very different books, which are both very different from The Etiquette of Wolves and Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems. My canon is much like this sorta-yes-pretty-random author blog. Kind of all over the place with the weirdness.

Which brings me to my fifth book, Kinned to the Sea, a Young Adult fantasy set in the ocean, starring mer-people. I’m working on the cover for that book right now, and I’m hoping that I’ll have another new cover to share on my blog before the end of the month. This would be **extremely fantastic** so my fingers are definitely crossed. I’ve poured a lot of hours into all three of these big projects this month — 1. the ebook for Bloodshade, 2. the paperback of Pterren, 3. the cover for Kinned. I’m sooooo thankful that I have readers out there who are looking forward to seeing these projects finished.







Especially since I had a harsh conversation with an acquaintance in town last week, involving my books. Three years ago, this woman attended a few critique meetings with me, and then left the group, saying she had more pressing things to do with her time, like travel to Costa Rica, Italy, and Australia. She did take all those trips, and many others after that, because sometimes she would email me pictures of her adventures. I enjoyed seeing her pictures, and staying loosely connected with her and her life. Last week, when we ran into each other in person again, the woman asked me if I’d given up on “that ridiculous flying-people book,” and I told her no, not only had I not given up on it, but I’d published it. The woman gave me a horrified look, and asked, “Who in the hell would publish THAT?” and I calmly said that I’d self-published the book.

She blinked at me in shock, with her mouth hanging open, and then she rallied to ask, “So is anyone even BUYING that book? How many copies have you sold?”

And I thought about how many bestselling books I have read that I didn’t enjoy, and how often we equate money with quality, especially in the art world. As if nothing can ever be beautiful, or valuable, or good, unless lots and lots of other people say so, and someone can prove it by citing sales figures.

I admitted to this woman that I had some friends who’d read the book, and that they’d shared the book with their friends, and I felt happy that my book had been shared by my friends.

The woman crossed her arms and went into battle-mode. A stance I’ve seen so many times, I just knew I was in for it. Hell hath no fury like a fellow writer who thinks you write crap.

We were standing outside a grocery store, and this woman raised her voice to make sure the passers-by with their boxes of donuts could all hear. “You know what your problem is, Melissa? You know where a period goes, and you think that it matters. You spend all this time spell-checking and worrying about where commas go, and you have no idea how to write. You don’t know what sounds good, or what a good story is. You think fussing around with quotation marks makes any difference, like any reader cares about where quotation marks go. If you were a good writer, you’d realize you should worry about writing something GOOD first, a good story that someone would actually *want* to read, and then hire a copyeditor to fuss with the grammar. But no, you think people care about commas and periods, and that’s why your books are never going to sell.”

So I just stood there looking something like this —






Knowing that it wouldn’t have made any difference to tell this woman that I cannot afford a copyeditor, as I’m sure she would come back with something like, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be writing.”

I understand where she’s coming from, in that grammar problems stand out to me like red flashing signs in the text, the kind of signs that come with a computerized voice that says, “Warning, warning, warning.” One or two errors in a chapter are easy to blow off, but when the errors mount up, with more than 30 grammar problems per page, my concentration gets ruined. I’m suddenly mired in pronoun confusion, or I can’t tell who is speaking, or whether the brown-haired character who is speaking is the same person as the blonde-haired woman on the previous page. I stumble so hard through the words that my comprehension cannot keep up.

This is not always the case, because sometimes I read truly messy stuff and feel swept along by the story. The voice in the prose can do a lot to negate any issues with grammar.

It would be nice to be able to hire a copyeditor. Or any kind of editor, for that matter. It would also be nice to travel to Costa Rica, Italy, and Australia. We do what we can. Some of us are more limited than others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just makes us different. I approach my editing needs in a different way than this woman does. From her point of view, her way is better. And maybe that’s true, or maybe we’re just different, and all roads still lead to Rome.








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I Organized a March, Because I Could

Hello, Thought Candy readers! The New Year has arrived, and I already have all kinds of fun planned!!

Or just general shenanigans of the caffeine-infused. Which would be me — nefarious rodent girl, packing coffee, at your service.








I have organized a march in Durango, Colorado, to take place at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2017.

The march is called the Standing on the Side of Love March. For those of you on Facebook, you can link to the event page here.

Anyone who can share that event on Facebook, and encourage people to RSVP online to this march, has my sincere gratitude.

Here is the pertinent information about this event:

Gather in front of the train station in Durango, Colorado, on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at 11:30 a.m. to help spread a message of love and compassion the day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. We will march north on Main Avenue at 12:00 p.m. and participate in a gathering at Buckley Park. This event is open to anyone to attend, especially anyone who feels scared or threatened right now.

This Standing on the Side of Love March is to promote love and compassion for all people, no matter their political affiliation or personal beliefs. Participants are welcome to carry signs and banners to show their support for different organizations, groups of people, and ideals they believe in. The gathering at Buckley Park will end at 1:20 p.m. so that participants may attend an event called RESPOND. Held at the Smiley building in Durango, RESPOND will feature a full day of free classes pertaining to social, political, and economic justice issues in the Four Corners region.

A lot of people have helped make this march happen. Some donated money. Some donated their time. Some are helping to get the word out in big ways.

I’ve never spent so much time organizing something this large for the benefit of an entire community — a free event, put on for strangers, with no strings attached. Not paid for by the government, or any organization, but a product of individuals who often don’t even know each other, all saying, “Let’s do this!” So, we are doing this.

If you live in the Durango area, I hope you will come! I hope you will march with me to promote love and compassion for all. I’ll be pulling a little wagon behind me, with a portable speaker and mic, chanting love slogans and being a weirdo. Because I really do love this big messy world, and all the different people who inhabit it, and if that means I need to close Main Street in Durango, and drag a wagon behind me yelling stuff like, “2, 4, 6, 8, only love can stop the hate” — to let the world know all my feels, then I will.

My poor husband is worried about me. He knows I want to chant things like, “4, 3, 2, 1, love was made for everyone,” and he worries for me even more, that scary people might show up and do scary things. Which could always happen with anything, no matter what you have planned. So I say, “Don’t worry, Greg, this will be great! All these wonderful people are coming!” And it’s true! There’s a whole tribe of people who want to come walk with each other to promote love for all people — how utterly fabulous!









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Eggnog-holism and Dysfunctional Movie Nights

So, everyone. November 2016. Turned out to be rather intense.

There was the presidential election. And the fallout of the election. I had a lot of family obligations and duties this month, and then more family duties, and work-wise, my life pretty much felt like a train wreck.










Cut off for so many days from my familiar and comforting writing routine, I fell into despair. I chugged a lot of eggnog. I wanted to fall apart good and proper, like Homer on a drunk —








But only managed to make my face break out in mountains of acne, due to all of the sugar-bomb eggnog, and then I obsessively read a bunch of really lame books, so I could have an excuse not to sleep, and then justify chugging more eggnog.

Today, however, I was home alone, a hermit again. I like being home, I like being alone all day, and even though November was pretty difficult for a vast number of reasons, I did something cool on Thanksgiving.

After all of my family duties, and social duties, were finished for the day, I came home to my husband, and we watched the news together, and then I decided to stay on the couch with him for a movie night.

Greg and I haven’t watched a movie together in a loooooooong time. Not at home or in a theater. The movie I chose to put on is one of my favorites, the 2006 Bryan Singer film, Superman Returns.










I watched Superman Returns at least four times in the theater, when I lived in Ouray, because this movie played at the old opera house in town, which was easy to walk to and charged a standard $7.00 for an adult ticket. So I harassed a lot of people to see this film with me on various nights that it played, because I fell in love with this movie, and wanted everyone else to love it as well.

Ten years later, I still love this movie. Having written five novels in those intervening ten years, I can analyze the film in ways I couldn’t at age 26, and there are a few scenes of earthquake-shaking near the end that I would’ve cut. Same with the beginning of the movie. But those are minor, minor things, mere seconds of time within the overall film.

This movie has so much texture and emotion layered into the scenes. Moments of humor and quiet feeling. Lines that still move my heart. If movies could be described as falling into two camps the way novels do — either as literary or genre fiction, highbrow or commercial books — then Superman Returns would be upmarket literary fiction — a movie with carefully subtle details woven into each scene, but with a big melodramatic plot to carry the story along. It’s the kind of movie I can never get enough of, and I remain enchanted and thrilled by this film.










If you haven’t seen Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), then Superman Returns might be kind of weird. Bryan Singer adores both those movies, and you can tell how much he loves them when the story picks up with his 2006 creation. I love all the small and large things Mr. Singer did to update the characters for a 21st century audience — most especially, that Lois Lane is tougher and smarter, but still very human and flawed.

I admit I’m someone who gets misty-eyed when I hear the Superman theme music John Williams composed. Whether as a dorky sixth-grader belting out this music in band class, an awkward teenager watching the Christopher Reeve movies, or a barely-functioning adult swept away in the auditory wonders of the 2006 film, I bought the soundtrack of Superman Returns right after I saw the film, having instantly fallen in love with the updated music as well.






On Thanksgiving Day, after staying up late to re-watch this film, I went online and read Gary D. Engle’s fantastic 1987 essay, What Makes Superman So Darned American? — which you can read here. It’s a spectacular essay, and touches on all the major mythology points Superman fans love so hard — first and foremost, that Superman is an illegal alien, an immigrant raised in the United States. That he is an orphan adopted into a foreign culture by strangers. That he grows up in a small town in Kansas, on a farm, and then moves to the city of Metropolis as an adult. That he navigates the world with dual identities, and embodies in his person the tension between assimilation and history, reinvention and roots, mirroring the struggle of America and its many immigrant families.

But what I love MOST about this essay is its examination of the religious mythology in Superman. Starting with this paragraph —

When Joe Shuster inked the first Superman stories, in the early thirties when he was still a student at Cleveland’s Glenville High School, Superman was strictly beefcake in tights, looking more like a circus acrobat than the ultimate Man of Steel. By June of 1938 when Action Comics no. 1 was issued, the image had been altered to include a cape, ostensibly to make flight easier to render in the pictures. But it wasn’t the cape of Victorian melodrama and adventure fiction, the kind worn with a clasp around the neck. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find any precedent in popular culture for the kind of cape Superman wears. His emerges in a seamless line from either side of the front yoke of his tunic. It is a veritable growth from behind his pectorals and hangs, when he stands at ease, in a line that doesn’t so much drape his shoulders as stand apart from them and echo their curve, like an angel’s wings.

This is the kind of detail that makes me snap to attention, all systems go. I love religious mythology — and religious iconography — of any kind. But the fascination with angel iconography carries a special attraction. I couldn’t write a sci-fi novel about winged warriors if I didn’t feel such excitement over the angels of God, whether warring or falling or guarding that which God has created. Endlessly thrilling. I fangirl all over essays like this.

And this one just gets even better —

In light of this graphic detail, it seems hardly coincidental that Superman’s real, Kryptonic name is Kal-El, an apparent neologism by George Lowther, the author who novelized the comic strip in 1942. In Hebrew, el can be both root and affix. As a root, it is the masculine singular word for God. Angels in Hebrew mythology are called benei Elohim (literally, sons of the Gods), or Elyonim (higher beings). As an affix, el is most often translated as “of God,” as in the plenitude of Old Testament given names: Ishma-el, Dani-el, Ezeki-el, Samu-el, etc. It is also a common form for named angels in most Semitic mythologies: Israf-el, Aza-el, Uri-el, Yo-el, Rapha-el, Gabri-el and–the one perhaps most like Superman– Micha-el, the warrior angel and Satan’s principal adversary.

Any discussion of the Hebrew Bible takes me to my Happy Place, because I can hear my college advisor speaking these terms in Greek, and then Hebrew, in his deep professorial voice, quoting Biblical lines from memory, a result of assiduous academic study as well as personal love. He adored language so much, and when he would laugh, he would light up the whole room, as we turned a critical, historical eye to these words.

I wish everyone could study the Bible with my college advisor. Because while he was always hyper-critical of the text, and bore down on everything with intense scrutiny, he also possessed such a love for the words he examined so closely, so obsessively — and love like that blends into people in powerful ways. I cherish a great many things in this world because someone else taught me how to love them — and with the Bible, hearing my advisor’s love of ancient Hebrew and Greek kept me hooked.

Mr. Engle continues his examination of Superman’s Kryptonic name by saying this —

The morpheme Kal bears a linguistic relation to two Hebrew roots. The first, kal, means “with lightness” or “swiftness” (faster than a speeding bullet in Hebrew?). It also bears a connection to the root hal, where h is the guttural ch of chutzpah. Hal translates roughly as “everything” or “all.” Kal-el, then, can be read as “all that is God,” or perhaps more in the spirit of the myth of Superman, “all that God is.” And while we’re at it, Kent is a form of the Hebrew kala. In its k-n-t form, the word appears in the Bible, meaning “I have found a son.”

Mr. Engle’s insightful and excellent commentary, which leads to his closing analysis that Superman is “like nothing so much as an American boy’s fantasy of a messiah” — definitely informed the movie Superman Returns. In visual scenes and in dialogue, the religious mythology quietly expressed in the comic books is present throughout the film. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the movie so much.

The day after Thanksgiving, the 2013 film Man of Steel was on TV, so I asked Greg if he wanted to have another movie night. Greg gave me a pained look and then growled like a rabid bear, and I decided that we would watch Man of Steel.









For the next two-plus hours, Greg’s savage growling and severe displeasure grew more pronounced. He’d never seen Man of Steel before, and he hated it. I’d seen the movie once before, in the theater, and remembered telling myself, “Never watch that again.” But after reading Mr. Engle’s essay on Thanksgiving, I was curious about the religious symbolism employed in Man of Steel.

Amidst Greg’s constant pronouncements of, “This movie sucks!” and “Why are we watching this??” and loud groans of boredom, I suffered through a joyless, humorless Superman movie, a film that is, as Greg kept proclaiming, “Totally cheesy.” The cheese in the first half of the movie is thick and pungent; every scene set in Smallville feels especially painful to watch. The second half of the movie descends into nonstop action drained of all meaning. So many people die in this film, I go numb. If Superman is the messiah, he’s a goddamn awful one in Man of Steel.

While I do love Russell Crowe, who looks smokin’ hot in this film, his role as Jor-El cannot redeem this grim and ugly cheese-fest of a movie. Gone is the farm-to-city  transition of boy to man. Gone is the weakling cipher reporter, Clark Kent. Gone is the sweetness and innocence of the comic books, as well as the comedic verve of the earlier films. Gone is the subtle religious iconography, replaced with Superman-as-Jesus imagery that is as blatant and heavy as a sledgehammer. 

Greg was so frustrated with me for forcing him to watch this “cheerless and stupid movie,” that I went into the kitchen and chugged more eggnog. Then he said he should never have agreed to watching that horrible film, and I yelled, “No, Greg!” which is my standard comeback for everything, and he growled some more and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” and he told me all I do is make him suffer and I said, “Gahhhhhh!” again but much louder, then I ran out of eggnog and that sucked.

Moral of the story: I’ve been really bad with time-management in November and wasted a lot of time drinking eggnog. However, I regret nothing. Not even making my husband suffer so much. Also, I plan to start researching ninja history soon. I’m excited for this.

In book news: Mark of the Pterren is undergoing its conversion into a paperback book! I’ll keep you updated on that. And my graphic designer might start work on the cover for Bloodshade of the Goddess this week. And my mer novel, Kinned to the Sea, is undergoing a final round of revisions. I’ve finished around 22,000 words of my next project, a murder mystery ghost story. I never thought I’d write a ghost story but so goes my life with the weirdness. Thank you to everyone who left an Amazon review for Pterren!! They are such wonderful reviews and I love how thoughtful they are! I’m really looking forward to writing the sequels — the world of the pterren is never far from my mind.

And now, onward through the rest of December! Another busy, busy month; the eggnog beckons.


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Scary People, Writing News, and This Trip I Made in July

Today is October 22, 2016, and for over a month this fall, my life wasn’t really my own. I was taking care of someone in a scary situation, a young mother with an infant who decided she needed to break up with her boyfriend. The now-ex-boyfriend is the child’s father, and he is a verbally and emotionally abusive individual. He also becomes physically violent, and in order to keep everyone safe, I dealt with the police a lot, spent a long time away from home, and did other things that are frightening and uncomfortable.

So it’s been a strange autumn for me. To occupy a space of constant mental and physical danger does wonky things to the human mind. Perceptions change, and the basic necessities of survival dominate life. I was also scared to fall asleep at night, I woke up one morning to this violent individual trying to kick down the front door, and I was constantly swimming through a heavy sea of emotions, because when a baby is involved, everything becomes so much more harrowing.

In the culture at large, there are a lot of people like this gentleman loose in the world. People who cannot claim responsibility for their own behavior, or their own mental state. They are most fond of statements like this: “YOU made me do this.” “YOU need to obey me, or I will hurt you.” “YOU make me so angry, I have to hurt you.” And the most popular mantra of every abuser I’ve ever known: “This is all YOUR fault.”

This violent individual didn’t appear in my life overnight. And the situation still isn’t resolved. As a writer, I admit that in May, this person caused me such acute pain that a new set of characters came to life in my head, because this is what my mind does with my trauma: it invents a new story to draw the pain out. I think all human minds operate this way, and writers just grow accustomed to the schizophrenic quality of this coping technique. Inside a writer’s skull, the voices we all have in our heads become distinct people, with wishes and minds of their own.









In May, this abusive man hurt someone I love very much, and the extreme pain this caused me flashed to wrath very quickly, a rage I could never express to him. Because this is something else I know of abusers: they want you to throw gasoline on their fire. They name-call and curse and belittle and threaten and spread pain in order to provoke other people to engage in their hell — the Hell they’ve made for themselves inside their own minds.








I do not engage. Even though, in the face of anger, more anger is often seen as strength. But this is also an escalation of violence, and when fighting a fire, throwing gasoline on the flames isn’t helpful.

So my mind invents characters instead, and I channel my wrath into story. All summer, while I finished my YA novel (Kinned to the Sea), my new rage-inspired characters wanted to take over. In September, the moment I finished the third draft of my fifth book, these characters took over my mind, and now I have the problem of too many projects to juggle. But I’m trying to manage. My urban fantasy (Bloodshade of the Goddess) is finished, and I’m moving forward with cover art, so I can format that novel into an ebook. Mark of the Pterren was sent to CreateSpace this week, beginning the process of turning that novel into a print book. And my newest draft of Kinned to the Sea was sent to four new beta-readers this week. Since I only have two willing beta-readers left after these readers are finished, I’ll reach the end of the line — my editing line — on that manuscript soon.

I did send out my first query letter for that book this week, even though it stars mer people, and publishers don’t want anything to do with mermaids right now.







As muddled and dissatisfying as my progress feels, I still wanted to celebrate. To take a moment away from my work to think about something else. So I thought I would distract myself with some pictures this morning. I went on a long car trip in July, out to California and Oregon to visit family with my husband, and I never shared pictures of that trip on my blog. So here are some photographs to share, and a piece of my life that involves no abuse, only whimsy.

On our way from Colorado to California, we drove through Utah, at the same time I was reading Amy Irvine’s memoir, Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. I wrote a review for this book, which you can read here — and we passed through Monticello, Utah, one of the settings for this book. After Amy Irvine moved away, a wind farm was built there. I took a picture —

100_2604 Monticello, Utah







Greg and I stopped for lunch in Moab, Utah, and I took a picture of the gelato display at the Moab Brewery —

100_2605 Moab Brewery







I didn’t purchase any, but the flavors included French Toast, Jack Daniel’s chocolate chip, marshmallow frappuccino, and peach mint lemonade.

Once we arrived in California, I stayed with my youngest brother, Dale, his wife, Jessica, and their daughter, Elana Belle. They live in a town called San Ramon, which is about an hour east of San Francisco. I am so proud of my little brother I pretty much explode with the feels whenever I’m with him.

100_2623 Better picture of Elana









Greg spent a few days with one of his friends, who lives in Tiburon, a pretty place with a view of San Francisco.

I spent time hanging out in and around San Ramon, and checked out the dealership service center where my brother works as a mechanic —










My brother is technically not my child, but I can’t help showing off these pictures of him like he is —








I spent some time playing in the dirt with Elana —










We gathered up this huge pile of seeds, because why not. I brought one of them home with me as a souvenir.








I wanted to buy Elana a Totoro from the Disney store at the mall, but when we went to the mall, the store didn’t have any Studio Ghibli memorabilia. We did, however, find this awesome rosemary bush growing next to the playground at the mall. We played there during sunset, watching a full moon rise over a soft purple sky, and my camera had a hard time capturing this rosemary bush in the dim light —

100_2612 rosemary at the mall







Jessica and I were so enchanted by the smell of this plant, which filled the air with the scents of white pine, sage, and mountain mint. A strong and beautiful odor. I called the smell “Colorado.” I called the smell “home.” Jessica agreed.

I took this picture of Elana on my last night in town, on our way to eat cheeseburgers —

100_2615 Best Elana in the Car Pic









We went outside to play afterward —










My niece is so adorable, this blog post could just explode from the cuteness —










Here is a picture of me with Jessica, and I’m wearing the same Nine Inch Nails shirt I’ve sported almost every day for the past seven years. I’m just awesome with fashion choices like that —









After we left California, my husband and I drove to Portland, Oregon, to visit his daughter, Rachel, and her boyfriend, Tucker. Just look at how cute they are standing in front of this house they were renting —










Cutest hipster couple ever, I think —








Of course, I spent a lot of time in Powell’s Books downtown. I hadn’t been inside the store since their big remodel, and it was ABSOLUTELY THRILLING to be in the new store. I took a picture of Greg and Rachel to commemorate the magnificence of the day —

100_2630 This pic is great, in Powell's Bookstore







Since we couldn’t stay with Rachel and Tucker, I had to Hotwire a room, and we ended up staying at The Heathman Hotel downtown, a block from Pioneer Square. The hotel room was super tiny. I took a picture of the bathroom. Don’t ask me why —










Also, I took this picture of the sink. For such a tiny space, I liked all the design elements on display, especially all the circles. I’ve always loved circular mirrors —










After our first night at The Heathman, we woke up to find out there was an electric car show taking place at Pioneer Square, so Greg and I took a stroll through all the cars with electric engines on display. A lot of the vehicles were older ones with their engines swapped out, but there were also some more futuristic types to be seen —

100_2634 EV car show on Pioneer Square









We went to the restaurant where Rachel works, and had brunch there one morning. Greg ordered this meal of fried chicken on a pancake with spicy maple syrup —








The idea of eating that was so repulsive to me, I took a picture of it. Fried chicken on a pancake isn’t appealing to me at all. Ew.

While in Portland, I took a drive with Greg and Rachel to Lewis and Clark College, because I’d never visited that campus before. Since it was summer, the grounds were pretty quiet, with some kind of fundraising luncheon taking place at the president’s building. Rachel went into the college library with me, and upstairs, I found this stained glass window I liked a lot, so I took a picture —








Later that night, Greg and I decided it was time to try our first bowls of pho, the super-popular Vietnamese dish of broth, rice noodles, herbs, vegetables, and which frequently is made with a variety of meats. We met up with our friend Donny that night, whose father was Greg’s best man at our wedding —








Donny is an aspiring author. I suggested he write a novel like Sweetbitter from the male bartender’s point of view, because Donny is one hell of a good mixologist as well as a great bartender.

The next morning, we left Portland with Rachel, and drove to the Oregon coast. We camped outside Lincoln City, which was packed with tourists —

100_2646 best of these pictures







I walked around barefoot a while, it was nice —

100_2648 Lincoln City







We slept in a tent for two nights, and Rachel stayed in her own tent beside us, but the KOA also had these cute little cabins to rent —

100_2649 cabin at the KOA at Lincoln City







My photograph stream ends here for now, but one of my favorite parts of this trip is yet to come, when I traveled up and down the Oregon coast with Rachel and Greg. In total, we were out of town for two weeks in July, with our first week spent in California, and our second week in Oregon.

I couldn’t even finish typing this post without receiving another phone call concerning the abusive man I’ve been dealing with, the individual who makes my heart race and fills my stomach with acid. My prayers and love go out to everyone else facing a situation like this, whether it’s stalking or physical violence or a verbal and emotional assault. I well know how draining and debilitating abusers are on someone’s mental health, and the physical danger they put people in. There is no other word but horror for this kind of intimate violence, and like everyone else who has been in my shoes, I cling to the hope that one day it will end.

Sunset over mountains








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Attending the RMFW Conference in Denver, and Celebrating the Weird

On Thursday, September 8, my friend Hannah and I drove my favoritest Prius, Queen Elizabeth, across the state of Colorado to Denver. We arrived at the Renaissance Hotel around 11:00 p.m. and proceeded to spend the next three days at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference. Which is a huge event attended by published authors like myself every year, as well as folks so new to writing they’re still scared to call themselves writers.

I’ve never attended the RMFW conference before. I attended this year because an agent pitch session came with the price of admission, and since I’ve been getting nowhere with my query letters (no requests to see material, and I rarely even receive a rejection response), I thought I might have better luck meeting with someone in person.

So in June, I purchased a conference ticket, which was $384.00.

Now that is definitely a lot of money for me — it’s almost the price of a book cover for one of my novels. So I want to point out that while I am a self-publishing author, each one of my books has been queried, and I only self-publish them *after* I’ve exhausted my capacity to deal with rejection. For my first two novels, I queried over a hundred agents for each book. For my third novel, I queried around 35 agents. While querying my fourth novel this spring, I learned my new number is 20 — that’s my limit for how much rejection I can take. For some writers, they can handle the process a lot better. For me, I tell myself I can stop after 20, because the work is painful and horrifying, and makes me feel like I’ve been skinned and thrown off a bridge and run over by logging trucks. And that’s how I feel on a good day of querying agents. On a bad day, I’d just rather be dead.

I feel like I have more hope when I can pitch my book in person, a process which has never felt painful to me. So that’s what led me to Denver this month.

Several meals were included with the price of my ticket, and here is a picture of Hannah and I at the Saturday evening Awards Banquet —








There were hundreds of people seated in the ballroom with us, dining together on fancy food at fancy tables. Everyone hosting this event was super nice and super helpful. This conference is enormous, but not so big that I ever felt like a drone. The volunteer staff and presenters always made sure I felt seen and welcome.

For any budding writers who are considering attending a conference, I say, “Go!” This one in Denver is a great place to start, and there are others like this all over the country. Writers of literary fiction can attend Aspen Summer Words, for instance, which also features agent and editor pitch sessions. While it’s been five years since I pitched to an agent in Aspen, those meetings are even more elaborate than the ones in Denver, since the industry professionals read the first ten pages of your project before you sit down and pitch to them. (Ditto for the writers conference in Taos, New Mexico, each summer.)

In Denver this weekend, I was scheduled to pitch to this agent —









Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

I chose to pitch to Ms. Le because she’s interested in YA fantasy and likes to see strong world-building and diverse characters. Since my YA fantasy is set in the ocean, and one of the main characters is a black teen girl, I thought this agent would be a good fit for my project.

There is a whole lot of work that goes into a good pitch. As an author, you have to know the industry you’re trying to publish in, you have to know the market enough to design a good “log line” (or “elevator pitch”) and have a solid query letter and really good “comps,” or comparison books, for your manuscript. You have to know your material as a salesperson, and be able to speak with brevity on “character arc” and the “dark moment” of the book and the main character’s “personal stakes.”

When you pitch in person, you try to connect with an agent with some charisma, so I didn’t read aloud my query letter. I pitched without referring to any papers.

For Ms. Le, my YA fantasy Kinned to the Sea was a definite “no” for her because publishing houses don’t want anything having to do with mermaids. Her no to my project wasn’t a reflection of a poor pitch, and she never looked at a writing sample to judge the quality of my prose. She knew that the editors she works with want nothing to do with a mer book, which means she’d be wasting her time on my project.

At the conference, I was able to attend three different agent/editor panels, and listen to the industry professionals answer questions and talk shop. At those panels, I learned that the genre “urban fantasy” is also as toxic right now as “mermaids” are. (And that was the term the agents and editors used — “toxic.”) Because some agents still try to pitch urban fantasy to editors, agents have started to use the term “contemporary fantasy” to try to convince an editor to look at a manuscript. In the same way agents instantly reject anything that has the word “mer” in the work, editors will instantly reject anything that has the term “urban fantasy.”

If the editors decide they want mer books, then agents will want mer books. If editors decide they want urban fantasy, agents will want urban fantasy.

But right now, no one wants them, so no matter how well you can pitch them, as a debut author, your chances of convincing an agent to look at your pages is… well, excuse me if I use the word “impossible,” but this feels pretty impossible. The authors publishing “mer books” (or “mer-related” books) are all established voices, not debut authors. Once you have a known readership, editors will take risks on genres that aren’t strong sellers.

As my friend Blair said to me in May, “The world is not a meritocracy,” but we cling to the hope that it is, that it will be, that it can be. That’s why I bought a conference ticket and went to Denver this month — in the hope that I could get around the industry resistance to “a mer book” by pitching in person.

Ms. Le did tell me that her colleague, Jessica Watterson, has expressed an interest in mermaids, and suggested I query her with my book —







And that is information I can put in a query letter to Ms. Watterson — that I met with her colleague, and her colleague recommended me to her. Hope springs eternal, and never more so than in the heart of a writer who dreams of a book contract.

But I will tell you this, dearest Thought Candy readers — I find I never love my books more than when I know they’re unwanted. Something in me hears “mermaids are toxic” and I rub my hands together, anticipating great things. Why? Because I’m a shameless Goodreads addict, and I know there are readers upon readers who crave “a good mermaid book” — and those readers feel like the market hasn’t delivered one yet.

And when I hear “fantasy readers don’t want science in books,” I rub my hands together again, with that same sense of anticipation. I love fantasy, I also love science fiction, and I love when my science-loving brain is respected in fantasy books. I know I’m not the only reader who feels this way. This is another realm in which my shameless addiction to reading book reviews serves me well.

There *are* readers who want both. Readers who love fantasy, readers who appreciate science sprinkled into their fantasy, and readers who want “a good mer book” as well. If “fantasy with science” and “mers” are all toxic to the industry, then this is the point when self-publishing enters the equation, and the solution is simple: put the book out there anyway.

Kinned to the Sea isn’t ready to publish. It needs to be edited again, and it needs more beta-reads before I would take the big step to self-publish. But I have no doubt I can make it what I want it to be, so that by the time my friend Bethany reads the book, to give me her final beta-reading stamp of approval, she can say — as she has for all of my books, “It’s great, Melissa. Go for it.”

Bethany doesn’t call herself a science fiction reader, but she loves my third novel, Mark of the Pterren, and she was really hoping I could sell Bloodshade of the Goddess, my urban fantasy, so I could have the financial ability to write the sequels to Pterren. She isn’t alone — and knowing that is like a wave of confidence I ride when I do things like drive to Denver and pitch a toxic book to an agent.

It also really helps that my husband sent me a text right before my big pitch to say, “Good luck my little Sweety. I believe in you even if I sound like a dick sometimes.” Because Greg just always has my back like that.

I have two unpublished manuscripts that fall into the toxic category, and both of them will be finished this year — Bloodshade of the Goddess and Kinned to the Sea.

I’ve already queried Bloodshade twenty times. I’ll send out twenty queries for Kinned as well. Then I’ll move on. My next book is another murder mystery — it’s set in Colorado, and my opening line came to me last week: “The trouble began on the night of the strawberry moon.” I’m really excited for this novel. With every book I begin, I have this giant surge of hope that says, “This one will make it — this will be the book that gets an agent.”

In the meantime, I bought a whole pile of books at the conference in Denver, since authors were present at tables on Friday night to sign copies of their books —










And one of them, a short story publication by Travis Heermann, I’ve already finished —










“Legs” is a piece of horror erotica, which isn’t a genre I normally read. The author told me this story was around 6,000 words long, which is about the length of one of my own fantasy short stories. Since I’ve been thinking about publishing my own short stories in a collection one day, I bought this copy and had it signed.

I thought the author needed a better editor to catch his word repeats in the first few pages, and I thought the story’s setting should’ve been introduced sooner, but most of this story was well-written, even if it didn’t feature much in the way of horror, or erotica. But it was the ending where “Legs” really failed — the story ended too soon, like the writer accidentally chopped off the last page or two. I read “Legs” aloud to Hannah on our way home from Denver, and Hannah felt the same way. The ending doesn’t leave you with any sense of closure or a sense of what will happen next. After the last sentence, you just feel like, “Wait — what?? That’s the end?? What??”

I hope to share reviews soon for the rest of those books — other than Carol Berg’s work, these are all indie authors (either self-published or published with a small press) who desperately need more reviews (both on Goodreads and on Amazon). As a self-publishing author myself, I never give a book lower than a 3-star review, since those low-star reviews damage sales. A 3-star review doesn’t hurt though — ask anyone in the industry, and those reviews still help. It’s a numbers game, and those 3-star reviews are considered “good reviews” and therefore help bring more sales.

So I’ll give “Legs” 3 stars because of its ending. A lot of people at the conference were shocked by how many books I bought, and I wanted to say, “You think this is a lot? You should see my friend Blair in a bookshop.” But I never said that. One man laughed at me and said, “Well, it looks like you’ve got your reading for the rest of the year!” and I did say to him, “More like a month.” Because I felt pretty annoyed by his comment. I know what kind of books take me a long time to read, and none of these novels qualify. These are all breeze-through reads. Two of them are YA, two are middle grade fiction, one is women’s fiction, and three are sci-fi. Antler Dust might take me the longest to read, since it’s (I believe) a mystery western, and sometimes I take longer with mystery. I also know that the author, Mark Stevens, writes with a more literary flair, probably the biggest factor in slowing me down.

One woman in line, an aspiring author, asked me how I could “justify” spending “so much money on books.” (My pile of novels came to $128.00 — a post-pitch gift from my hubbie Greg.) I told the woman that I know I’m helping these authors by purchasing their work and reviewing their books, that I’m sending the very best karma I can out into the world. I told her that I can spend “seven dollars on two lattes for me and a friend at Starbucks, so why not use that money to help someone in their career?” She asked me which books I bought and why, and after I answered (very enthusiastically), she left the line and bought her own copies of two of those books.

The woman in front of me said, “Wow, you just earned those authors two more sales.” She was amazed, and impressed.

What I think I really did was to help that aspiring author to help herself. I know of no successful author who doesn’t read voraciously and buy books whenever they can, including books that might not be “great reads.” Successful authors take chances. They put their money into the industry that supports their own careers. The married couple who run the book room at the RMFW conference are not rolling in cash, buying a mansion somewhere, driving around flashy cars. They run a bookstore because they love books, and somehow, they survive on a slim margin of profit. They do a tremendous amount of unpaid work promoting indie authors each year, and on special occasions, they provide free soup to everyone in their store, including welcoming in the homeless for a free meal. I’m happy to support those local booksellers, and to support the indie authors standing at their tables, hoping someone will check out their work. Participating in this activity feels as important to me as attending my pitch session, and if I’d had more money, I’d have taken home a book from every table.

My pitch session wasn’t successful, and I write toxic books, and I love books as much as I love breathing, and this is my life. My weird and wonderful life.

Thanks for letting me share it with you, and for reading my work! My Thought Candy readers keep following along on this journey with me, through student loans and secret societies and winged warriors called pterren, and soon you’ll see my vampires and my mermaids too — and one day I’ll have a dragon book, and maybe some war unicorns, and maybe a Viking love story — and you’ll be able to nod your heads and say, “I knew this writer when she only wrote sort-of nutty stuff, before she went full-on weird.” Thank you all for supporting my weird. It means a whole heck of a lot.








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Writers and Scribblers Literary Retreat: Success!!!

On Saturday, August 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., my friend and writer-colleague Blair Runion and I hosted a writers conference.

Named the Writers and Scribblers Literary Retreat, after the authors group I organize here in Durango, Colorado — Writers and Scribblers — this writers conference filled every hope I’d had for a successful event, and well beyond.

Held in two gorgeous historical buildings in Silverton, Colorado — the Silverton Town Hall and the Silverton Public Library — this event drew attendees from all over the Four Corners region, and my only regret is that I didn’t take any photographs of the day.

My sister Laura took a picture though — and shared it on Facebook. Here is an image of Blair and I at the front of the room in Town Hall, speaking to everyone right before lunch —







Here is a picture Blair took of local author Tekla Miller, who presented an afternoon workshop on writing memoir inside the library —








And here is another picture of all the people who attended Tekla’s session —








And here are the words from an email I received the day after the conference from the poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, who was not only one of our featured speakers, but also conducted a poetry workshop as well —

“Hi Blair and Melissa, 
Congratulations, you pulled off a fine event! I was impressed with you as leaders … the care and attention to detail for the conference was superb … from pens and pads to the door prizes … 
And you were both so graceful in your presenting of the speakers … Melissa, I felt so profoundly grateful for your thoughtful words.
Thank you for including me. I would love to come do other events with you anytime.”


And here are the words of another email I received the day after the conference from author Tekla Miller —

“You should be extremely proud of the outcome of the Writers’ Retreat. It was well planned, wonderful venue, great presenters and well attended. Thank you so much for including me.”

Blair and I could never have pulled off this event alone — we received so much help from Blair’s mother, Deborah, and people who stepped in to help when we most needed an extra pair of hands, like my sister. This writers conference had the look and feel of a professional event, hosted by an organization of people, when really, it was just Blair and I and a tiny network of our supporters who pulled off this spectacular, amazing, beautiful and moving literary retreat.

I’m only sharing the words of two of our presenters here, because I had them in email format and it’s easy to copy and paste from an email — but I heard feedback all day long from the people who attended the conference, who enjoyed the lunch we prepared and served, and felt deeply touched by the words of the speakers that day — all the poets and writers who spent a day in Silverton to share their passion for literature — both the spoken word of art, and those recorded on paper and stone, pixels, pop radio hits, bathroom walls, wherever.

This entire event was Blair’s idea — she gets all the blame for making this happen. I just came along for the ride, the back wheel on the bicycle that went for a spin down the road.

The physical labor involved was no small thing. My body was sleep-deprived and my muscles still ache today from setting up, running, and cleaning up after this conference. Much like other big events I’ve organized and run, this one required a huge amount of elbow grease, on top of the mental stamina of thinking through each tiny detail, such as whether to include oxford commas or not on the two-page folded program everyone received at the door. (Answer: YES, Blair and I both believed in using the oxford comma in the program.)

Blair has reserved the Town Hall for our second Literary Retreat in Silverton next year — so if you’d like to join us, mark your calendars for Saturday, August 26, 2017. Our keynote speaker this year, the poet Art Goodtimes, is enthusiastic about hosting a two-hour session on participatory poetry next year. I already can’t wait to experience this, and it’s a full year away!

I have received in abundance many gifts from the universe, and participating in this Literary Retreat was my way of saying thanks — to the world at large and to all those who have helped me — as well as spreading the joy I find in words. In the dense web of networks that compose any one single life, we all throw out sparks in strange and unknowable ways — the Writers and Scribblers Literary Retreat was one such spark.

Thank you to everyone who came, both in physical body as well as in spirit — and to everyone waiting to hear how this event went. It was spectacular. And such a great success that we’re planning to do it again!

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The Oracle in the Parking Lot

A few days ago, this vehicle showed up outside the front door of my townhouse building, right next to my mailbox —








To the best of my knowledge, it’s a 1930 Chevy sedan, and I really wish that I owned it. Here’s a picture of the seats in the vehicle right now —








I just really love this old car. It speaks to me. Sometimes we find things in life that look on the outside the way we feel on the inside, like spirit animals and totems and specific landscapes. In a world that praises youth, scantily clad teens, fashion models — and rarely holds forth on aging as anything more than “the horror” — I find an increasingly resonant space in myself when I’m around old, humble things. Like this gorgeous car.

What a story I’m sure that Chevy could tell, if its front grill became a mouth and spilled words. I often feel the same way about trees I pass by, the giant ones gnarled by time, with so much bark ripped off by weather and animal life it seems a miracle to see the tree thriving, sporting a brilliant canopy of leaves that are bigger and more vibrant than any found on the younger trees growing nearby.

Age can bring frailty and brittleness, but it can also bring a hard-won resilience. I’d argue this Chevy came out on the side of resilience, which is no doubt why this particular car appeals to me. Not as an object that “needs work,” but embodying a simple perfection just as it is. This car is broken and rusty and a beaten hulk of its former self, but it is still an essential whole. There is a working engine in this body, a beating heart that will run this beast down the road.







That kind of narrative — to turn to the world and see a perfect whole reflected back to me — is often quite challenging. It’s not always a story I can recite in my head.

For example.

A friend who recently had a baby was loading some groceries into her car. We were talking together, and a woman who knew my friend came over. She was in her late fifties or early sixties, she wore a light grey pantsuit, a flashy wristwatch, and her hair gave off fragrant wafts of importance. She interrupted our conversation, started addressing my friend, and proceeded to tell her that she looked “pretty horribly fat” now that she’d given birth, that she was “obviously struggling with baby weight” and ought to “eat healthier food” and “start an exercise program right away,” or she might “end up fat and ugly for the rest of her life.” The warning that my friend’s husband would probably develop “a wandering eye” due to her “chubby appearance” was shared more than once, along with the words, “you really need to take care of that.”

I stood there in horrified silence, then I said to this woman, “How about YOU take your own advice and exercise yourself right on out of here.” I really wanted to call her an asshole, but my friend was upset and I didn’t want to make it worse. The woman did leave, and I’m sure she hopes I get run over my a semi-truck or eaten alive by fire ants. Which might end up happening to me one day, who knows.

The moment the Prophesier of Baby Fat Doom was out of sight, my friend burst into tears and sobbed. Hard. I held her till the baby started to cry, at which point I picked up the baby, and we were all a hot sweaty mess in 87-degree heat that felt more like 96 in the shade.

Of course I rebutted what the woman had said, and of course that would never be enough to heal the wounds that had suddenly been exposed. No words of mine could eliminate my friend’s pain — not her self-shame of her body or her sense of self-image. No matter what I or anyone else tell my friend about her incredible beauty, including how proud we are that she is a mother — she has to own those words, believe those words for herself, or they’re just empty sounds in the air.








We live in a world that doesn’t celebrate the great majority of the changes in life that come to a body, unless those changes involve being a super-toned athlete or letting the world see your rib bones. What passes for “glorious transformation” in our society is clearly defined. A baby belly is great. A post-baby-belly is not. The fat tissue a woman accumulates during and after pregnancy is viewed by many as some sort of evil, a failing, when any scientist can tell you it’s a biological imperative rooted in survival. But we relabel this event as a moral shortcoming, then give the change the title of “ugly.”

My challenge in finding perfection, however, doesn’t lie inside my friend’s body. That could never be a challenge because her perfection is automatic for me — she is my friend, and she is beautiful. She was beautiful before she gave birth, and she is even more beautiful now that she’s had a child. I don’t need to compare her to a teen girl in a bikini to know the measure of her infinite loveliness.

What’s profoundly difficult for me in this situation is to see the other woman in this story as an aged and glorious whole. A resilient survivor. To listen to the negative judgments she shared and see the world mirroring back to me a great, damaged beauty, as significantly mutilated as the ravaged bark of old trees and the layers of rust on that Chevy sedan.

What would that woman’s heart say, if her blood became words?

Did her own husband leave her after she gave birth to their children? Did she watch a best friend go through that pain? Did this woman perhaps survive years of struggle as a single mom, bearing the world’s excoriation and shame, while boyfriend after boyfriend announced she was too fat, too ugly, to stay with and love?

Did she have to watch the men she’d pinned all her hopes on walk out the door? Because of her body, because of her post-baby-belly, because the world has specific ideas about beauty and goodness and who is worthy of love?

Was the oracle in the parking lot, with her important hair and aggressively flashy wristwatch — perhaps truly acting in love toward my friend, by sharing her own savage fears? The fear of the loss of attractiveness, the loss of worthiness, the loss of love. Was that the story she would tell in her layers of rust, her knotted bark, in the wisdom she held in her skin. Was she perhaps really telling my friend, “I have suffered. I have been beaten and ruined and left for dead. And this was how I learned to survive. To lose the weight. To exercise. To make sure the next man I loved didn’t walk out the door.”

Conform. That was the word this woman should’ve used. Submit and escape the great terror.

Maybe, if I’d really been listening, I’d have heard the woman say this — “I never learned how to love myself. And there is nothing scarier, nothing more terrifying, than never being able to look in the mirror and tell yourself you are perfect.”








Some philosophers believe all negativity and judgment are rooted in fear. And some people insist that cynicism is the chitinous shell against pain, as vital to aging as cragged tree bark and rust.

I have a hard time believing in absolutes, and I really hope I never adopt cynicism as my armor. Sometimes we do terrible things not because we are cynics, but in a genuine attempt to help those we love. Like perhaps crossing a parking lot to warn a new mother that her post-baby-belly will lead to the end of her marriage unless she “does something about that, and soon.”

We have fears we pass down across generations, as intimate to our bodies as our own DNA. I think the same is true for pain. So much of the time, I see people as pain bodies, as vessels of the peculiar tortures known as conformity, and submission, and the emptiness that comes when you can never measure up.

I wanted to call that woman an asshole because she made my friend cry.

But the unspoken truth is so complicated.

Who knows what that old tree might’ve lived through. That old rusted car. That woman and her ravaged heart.









In writer news, my friend Blair and I are still busy preparing for the writers conference we’ll be hosting in Silverton, Colorado, this summer, on Saturday, August 13. You can find the Facebook page for the Writers and Scribblers Literary Retreat here. If you have a Facebook account, I hope you’ll consider liking this page and sharing it with your friends. I have a fantastic piece of quartz we’ll be using as a mascot, a rock packed with silver and zinc and gold, straight out of the old Sunnyside mine close to Silverton. And we’ll be serving root beer. Plus we have a lot of AMAZING poets and writers presenting and hosting workshops all day. It’ll be a GREAT lit retreat! I hope you’ll come!

My current work in progress, a YA fantasy set in the ocean, now has over 62,000 words that aren’t complete barf. Awesome. All those words have even been alpha-read by my friend April, and some have even been beta-read in critique groups more than once. In the last ten days, I’ve added over 20,000 words to this manuscript. Which is a normal output for Stephen King, but for me, it feels like a lot. I revise and revise as I work, wishing I knew where I was going, but willing to be surprised by the story regardless. My goal word count for this book is 80,000 words, so I’m closing in on the mess that is Trying To End A Book Well. This novel is titled The War in the Sea.

I’ll be working with my graphic designer to make a cover for my almost-finished vampire book, Bloodshade of the Goddess, in August. That novel is just waiting on feedback from a few more beta-readers, and then I’ll make my final revisions and publish.

And I’ll be driving to Denver this fall, September 9-11, to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference. I wanted to have the opportunity to meet with a literary agent in person, something I haven’t done since 2011, so I took the plunge this year and bought a ticket. My friends Adriana and Hannah will be coming with me.

And my sci-fi novel, Mark of the Pterren, now has eight rave reviews on Amazon!! Some friends have reviewed the book on Goodreads as well as Amazon, which is awesome. My second book, Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems, has also had a good year so far. Thanks to a friend from church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship I attend, two local book clubs read the novel this spring, and the book earned five more positive Amazon reviews. Such good news!

I’ve been giving my husband Greg a lot of extra hugs lately. He is my Patron Saint of Noveling. Plus he deals with all the general crazy. Good thing he is tough.

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