Social distancing check-in: How you doin’?

kittenThe best part of writing from home is that I don’t have to do my hair or put on my eyelashes. Or is that not supposed to be a good thing? Did I even brush my teeth today?

My day job is non-essential (but not according to my clients, whose nails and feet are going to need some TLC when this is finally over), so like most people, I’ve been cooped up at home for weeks. The kids and I were set to go to San Francisco in March for the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention, where I was going to have an author’s booth and sign copies of Cobalt. And get all dressed up for the first time in years! Seriously, I had a new corset and everything. But sadly, everything got shut down a week before the event and now we’ve all been on an endless spring break…

The last few weeks have been an introvert’s dream come true, although even my hermitlike tendencies have their limits. My heart goes out to everyone whose jobs and families have been affected by this virus. Hopefully it won’t be long before this entire challenging time is a weird memory and we can all start moving on with our lives.

An Online Book Fair

Now I have a big ol box of Cobalt in my bedroom that I’m trying to keep my cat out of! Kidding, the box is still closed. But to help recoup the costs of buying a bunch of books for an event (hint: it isn’t cheap!), some of the authors in this awesome writing group I belong to are holding a book fair on Facebook next week! We’ll be posting about our work and playing games all day on Friday, April 17, and holding Q&A sessions on Saturday. My hour-long slot for Friday is 4:00 pm Mountain Time, and my Saturday Q&A is at 12:30. Click on the graphic below to join the group or get more information.

lockdown2

And hopefully next year, I’ll have a couple more books to showcase in person at Clockwork Alchemy – as well as some exciting (secret but not for long) merch I’ve been working on!

What things have you and your family been doing to stay entertained and keep from biting each other’s heads off when you’re stuck in the house together?

Teaser Tuesday! Cobalt’s prologue

I can’t believe Cobalt’s release date is already so close! The time seemed to drag on, and now all of a sudden it’s right upon me, and I feel like I’m doing this all wrong. But like another indie author advised in a video I was watching on releasing your first book, this is a learning curve, so hopefully I don’t screw it up too badly.

So! Info on my book release first and some giveaways! I’m planning to release Cobalt on Cyber Monday, just in time for Christmas shopping–all you wonderful people who like to give books to their loved ones for the holidays, I’m looking at you. I think Cobalt would be a great gift with some pajamas, a pair of fuzzy sockies, and hot cocoa mix in a mug! Both the e-book and paperback will be on sale for a special price for 24 hours, and of course I’ll post ordering info as soon as it’s available.

Also, everyone who shares the link to this blog post via my Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts will get entered into a drawing for a free copy of Cobalt, their choice of e-book or paperback. I’m also working on some swag related to Cobalt, like handmade pendants, bookmarks, and other fun stuff that I’ll add to the drawing if I’m able to get them done in time. If not, I’m planning on attending a super amazing steampunk con this March and have the goodies available online and in person by then!

Okay, now sit back, put your goggles on, and take a look at Cobalt’s prologue:

cog“Stay close, darling. This is no place to play.” Katerina’s mother drew her daughter close to her side. Wide-eyed, the little girl’s gaze traveled up the steel walls of the multi-storied factory, framed from behind by gnarled branches that twisted gently in the air, despite there being no wind. Katerina pressed her hands to her ears. The staccato thock, thock of the woodcutters’ axes, always a constant sound in the distance, had never sounded this close or loud. Why were there always so many trees if the woodcutters stayed so busy?

The factory backed up against the encroaching Forest, the high timber wall that surrounded their town reaching out from either side like embracing arms. From somewhere far away on the other side of that wall, something howled.

“What’s out there, Mama?” the child asked. Although she could see the wall from her bedroom window, she had never been allowed to venture near it.

“Nothing that belongs in here with us. But also nothing to fear, for the wall keeps us safe.” Anna tightened her hand around her daughter’s and hurried them between the building’s thick iron doors.

Spotting them in the entrance, a worker waved. “Lebel!” he shouted. Josef looked up from a giant logbook at the table against the far wall, then walked over to meet the newcomers.

“Anna, dear, why did you bring Kate?” he inquired, giving the woman a peck on the cheek. “What if she runs off?”

In answer, Anna raised her arm to show Katerina’s hand enclosed in her own, and smiled. “She is getting old enough to see where her father works, don’t you think? And we’ll only be a few minutes. I just received a message at the house. It appears your latest shipment destined for the port was ambushed by pirates and everything was lost. The shipper wishes to contact you immediately.”

Josef swore. Then, at a sharp look from his wife, he gave a small smile and patted Katerina’s auburn curls. “Might not be a bad idea to hire guards who know how to keep an eye on the skies and not just down at the trees. I’ll need to ensure this is done before sending out a replacement.”

“We’re visiting the market next, if you have any messages for me to relay,” Anna offered.

“As a matter of fact…” Josef held up a finger and returned to his desk, where he rummaged through a sheaf of paperwork.

This was Katerina’s first visit to the factory. The place was a hive of mechanical and human noise, brass and steel, constant movement. She stared in awe at the honeycombs of shelves brimming with orbs of all sizes, some a dull glassy gray, others glowing deep blue. Balconies and lofts separated spiral metal stairways along the walls, where men called out directions to each other as they ran to and fro. A complicated network of iron cables webbed across the ceiling, along which huge buckets were trolleyed up and down the levels. Do the men get to ride inside those? she thought.

She opened her mouth to ask her mother whether they might let her have a ride, when her question was drowned out by a screeching noise from above. A man cried out something Katerina didn’t understand, and workers started scurrying along the factory floor like ants whose nest had been disturbed. A bucket above them started to sag on its chains. Then, as slowly as an airship docking, it sank toward the floor as the links securing it separated and broke loose. The container tipped, revealing the shimmering contents inside its iron-lined interior.

“Anna!” she heard her father yell from the other end of the room. Her mother stood like a frozen statue, tightly gripping Katerina’s hand, entranced by the sight of the blue liquid starting to spill from the bucket.

A worker slammed into them, knocking them to the ground, but something else hit Katerina from behind—a splash of liquid, cold as well water for an instant, then turning fiery hot. Anna’s arms muffled Katerina’s scream.

Then the pain was gone, except that of her mother’s weight pressing her into the rough floor. She heard loud, panicked voices all around, the clomping of dozens of boots, but everything seemed distant and muted. Like trying to hear someone from the other side of a thick glass window. She struggled out from her mother’s protective embrace, gasping for air.

“I’m all right, Mama,” she whimpered, brushing off a skinned knee and looking around. Why was Mama still on the ground? And those workers? She counted six, seven, all of them sprawled on the concrete floor like broken dolls. She didn’t understand. The bucket hadn’t even fallen; it dangled lopsided far above, a few unbroken chains still securing it on one side. All the men, and her mother too, had splotches of glowing blue goo on their arms and faces.

Katerina looked down at herself. The same blue stuff that had spilled out of the bucket covered her own arms, and she reached up to wipe it away from her eyes. It tingled, shimmering with sparks and flashes of white lightning before sinking into her skin, leaving it clean and dry.

“Mama?” She knelt down and shook her mother’s arm.

But Anna didn’t answer.

Her father, Josef, ran over and yanked Katerina away, sobbing and crying out the word “Cobalt!” over and over.

About freaking time!

Wow, what a year for things to anticipate and obsess over! And cry about. First it was Stranger Things 3, which punched me in the gut and left me a shocked, bawling mess even though soon I was over it and way on board in the Hopper is totally the American in the cell camp. Then it was The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–how can puppets make me ugly cry so hard? And oh yeah, my beautiful daughter got married and somehow I didn’t cry my strip eyelashes off, but it was a close one.

emily & noah

I knew I’d cry when I saw Cobalt’s cover, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was envisioning–but fortunately, it was! It was like the artist got inside my head and saw the book I’d been dreaming about since I put down the first words, except he did things with the background and title font that were even better. And yes, I ugly cried all over the place.

Before I reveal, I want to get a little long-winded about why it hit me so hard. I started writing Cobalt over 8 years ago when I lived in a dark place that felt inescapable. There were some evil people in my life who actively tried to discourage and tear me down. They said I’d never get my books published, I was a loser and crazy, and writing was a waste of time.

I almost gave up so many times. I stopped writing during the final months of my marriage and didn’t pick it up again until some time after my divorce, when Emily, who had hated reading until she discovered Artemis Fowl, found the manuscript on my laptop and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t finish it before Christmas. For those who don’t know Emily, she can be scary. I finished the book.

I had more discouraging and overwhelming challenges that almost made me quit again, so many times. I put Cobalt on the shelf and decided maybe I was okay just knowing I’d written it, and it didn’t need to get out to the world.

I found my “muchness” again a while later when the characters wouldn’t stop bugging me to tell their story. So I wrote Cobalt’s sequel and plotted the third novel, then started writing Seawood while figuring out how to self-publish.

I was so blessed to have three of my sweet kids by my side when I opened the email containing Cobalt’s cover image (they actually kicked me off my laptop and made me watch from the back), and we all freaked out together. Seeing your book cover for the first time might not seem like such a big deal to some, but I’m sure many of us appreciate how emotional and personal the whole ordeal of birthing a book really is.

It’s not just the specialness of seeing a long-awaited cover for the first time. It’s the culmination of years of struggle, despair, hope, and finally triumph over the ones who tried to put out my spark. When I finally got to see what my book was really going to look like, I felt like I was on fire!

All right, I’ll shut up now and reveal the cover

Cobalt cover

Who the heck did this, because it sure wasn’t me! The talented people at 100 Covers made my dreams come true! They’ll also be formatting the paperback and e-book for me, because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m shooting for a release date near the beginning of December! And in the meantime, I’ll be posting snippets on my Facebook page and Twitter and working on some giveaways.

Thanks to everyone who has been so patient with me and still believed in Cobalt during the times I didn’t. I hope this is just the beginning of many more stories.

Nighttime ramblings about muchness…

impossibleIt’s so funny that this boy-crazy girl ended up alone. I spent all my life growing up dreaming hopeless romantic dreams and molding myself into the kind of person I thought would be perfect for someone else. My mistake was thinking all men who paid me any attention would be doing the same. My mom always used to tell me I attracted the wrong type, and it took me years to understand what she meant.

When I started getting tired of the abuse and living in fear of angering my now ex, or worse, my kids angering him and getting a taste of his wrath, I rediscovered myself and found some new things to cling to and give me a sense of “muchness” and enjoyment of life, since my marriage was making me wish I was dead. I found steampunk and pirates, and remembered that I used to love music, writing, and art. I involved the kids in all of this and probably drove them crazy most of the time, but we had a lot of fun in an otherwise dark existence.

After I left, it still took me a while to learn how to be happy on my own. I’m a lone pirate (I still love pirates and steampunk, obviously), and I imagine myself still being alone when the kids are gone–except maybe having a dog for companionship and protection.

I’m not seeking a co-captain of my ship, but I’m not ruling it out either. I still consider my best traits to be the ones I developed when I was trying to be the ideal person for someone else: love, loyalty, passion, kindness, compassion, empathy, humor. Only now, he has to be worthy of all that and to have the same traits himself.

In realizing I’m a pretty damn awesome solo pirate captain of my own ship, with a fiercely loyal and amazing crew, I think I’ve finally learned that the best way to be ready to let someone else into your life is to not only be okay with–but to love the idea of–being alone and being the kind of person you always wanted to be. For yourself.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned

rejectionAlmost four years ago, I got my long-dreamed-for acceptance letter and had one of the happiest days of my life. Lots of events happened between then and now–things for another post. Sadly, work on my book stalled for unknown reasons, and my publisher and I have parted ways. I still think they’re a good publisher that has produced some exciting speculative, steampunk, and horror books, but it wasn’t meant to be.

When one door closes another opens, blah blah blah… Yes, I think I’m being guided down a different path. Where that path will take me, I don’t yet know. But I’m actively pursuing publication again. For now, I’m querying agents, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility of going indie. One day at a time, one baby step at a time. For those who still care, I’ll keep you posted. For anyone just finding out your weird socially awkward friend writes books, stay tuned! You’ll want to read them. 🙂

Cover Reveal!

No, it’s not for Cobalt, but now that I have your attention, today I’m spotlighting another Xchyler author, Ben Ireland – who is apparently not Irish, but Australian and lives in Texas. Awesome. So Ben’s exciting news is that his second book with the X, Kingdom City: Revolt, is going to release in a couple months, and all of us at the X are freaking out about his new cover today, the best day of the year.

I’m just going to get straight to the candy first (ahaha, candy, Halloween, you see what I did there?) and let y’all geek out a little over the book trailer:

I love the dark, edgy art theme for this series. In case you missed it, here’s the cover spread, including the back cover copy:

KCRevolt-full-spread-750px

About Ben Ireland:

Ben Ireland 200x240Ben churns out his prose from his home in Southeast Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children, and works in IT. When he isn’t writing, he’s either thinking about writing, or he’s driving his wife insane talking about his novel ideas. His work has appeared in two X-anthologies: “Kissed a Snake” in A Dash of Madness: a Thriller Anthology (July 2013), and “Fairykin” in Moments in Millennia: a Fantasy Anthology(January 2014). His first novel, Kingdom City: Resurrection was published in February 2014.

Find Ben on Facebook, Twitter, and his website Ben Ireland Books.

KCR_200x274Take a look at Xchyler’s other books here. Oooh, can you see why I can’t freaking wait to see what they come up with for Cobalt??

And now I’m off to get into my kids’ candy stashes have a lovely Halloween with my family!

halloween

C5B0BCA4D5305AE4B6628B2A5CCD51D2

Arachnophobia 2: Terror at the Library

Wolf-Spider-5
He’s probably hunting for bookworms.

I don’t know if you’d call this arachnophobia or something else. I’m at the library so I can work on some procrastination while the kids play on their computers. Suddenly this giant wolf spider appears from beneath the armchair next to me. I don’t freak out or scream – this is a library after all (the same couldn’t be said for my daughter Emily).

I also decide not to stomp on the spider. Even though I’ve been known to drop everything and rip my shirt off screaming if I even think a spider’s on my clothes, I don’t just kill them for no reason. I’ll put them in jars with lids and leave them on the kitchen counter for the kids to discover when they get home. Then I’ll throw them in the backyard.

So this hairy little horrifying thing stops just two feet shy of my sandals and is clearly considering climbing up my leg, and I can’t scoot any farther away without crawling onto the arm of my seat. We’re at a stalemate. I can’t concentrate on my law blogs, because I have to keep one eye on the spider. I consider moving, but I’d have to unplug my laptop from the outlet on the floor and that not only risks getting my hands close to the spider, but I will win this fight, dammit. I’m not that much of a wimp.

I pull out a library receipt and use it to flick the spider away. He’s having none of it. He turns around as if to charge, and I quickly find out that my feet fit quite nicely onto the end table next to my chair.

Losing interest (and probably thinking he’s won), the spider turns around and makes for the nearest table of computers. Still uncomfortably within range in case he’s deciding to wait it out and catch me by surprise again.

Let me just mention that some of the people who sit on the computers at the library are – interesting people – and I’m all too aware that with my feet up off the floor while nervously glancing around every few seconds, I definitely fall into this category.

The spider is currently hiding out under the computer chair nearest me, but I can’t keep an eye on him without leaning over to the side and peering around the chair leg. I realize it looks as if I’m acutely interested in the feet of the man in the next chair over, who looks to be having a lot of fun on Twitter and keeps swearing under his breath.

The productive library session I’d planned is, as usual, not very productive at all. And now I’ve lost sight of the spider. Definitely time to go home.

C5B0BCA4D5305AE4B6628B2A5CCD51D2

About as good as it gets for free

yay
I didn’t know what else to put here.

Since apparently I can’t have a sleek new skinny body for 2015 (at least not overnight), I settled on the next best thing and gave my blog a makeover and even turned it into a website! It’s not exactly what I have in mind for a final draft, but until I can shell out some money for a really professional banner and background, this is what it’s gonna be.

And it’s not too shabby, IMHO. Although I was ready to hang it all up after a couple hours messing around with WordPress and go back to Blogger, but I finally figured out the basics. I thought I knew how to work with WordPress and all, having posted to blogs with my job, but actually setting one up is a whole new can of crazy.

Anyway, go have a look at my other pages and all, and feel free to offer some constructive feedback. I know it’s nothing special yet, but it’s just the change I think it needed, after a few years with the old blog.

C5B0BCA4D5305AE4B6628B2A5CCD51D2

The Weirdest Book Acceptance Story Ever

This is not a dignified tale. I wish I could say I acted professional and composed after getting my acceptance letter, or that I even had a little celebration dance, or ran outside and bugged the neighbors with a few whoops and hollers, as I’d always imagined it would go down. I certainly didn’t anticipate the explosive reaction that a lifetime of waiting, hoping, praying, and repeated disappointment would elicit in me. And I don’t know if anyone ever shared the long-awaited news of their publishing acceptance with other travelers at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.

We were driving home at the end of our vacation in the Rocky Mountains a couple weeks ago. I had crappy cell service most of the way through Wyoming, but I got a faint signal while we ate at a rest stop out in the prairies. Just enough for some emails and texts to come in while I sat in the car waiting for Lia and Emily to finish up in the restroom. The first email I saw was the one from the publisher I’d wanted for Cobalt since the beginning: Xchyler Publishing. I would have psyched myself up for the feeling of crushing disappointment I’d grown accustomed to when I was sending out The Moongate, except I saw the email header: Welcome to the X!
I sat uncomprehending for a second, then launched out of the car shrieking. Eva thought there was a bee or something in the car (we had wasp and bee problems at the resort, including one wasp that was NOT happy that I rolled over on it in bed), so Eva ran out right behind me and didn’t realize what was going on until she heard me screaming at my mom through her car window. My poor mom, she was so stressed over the problem of finding a motel for our last night on the road; she caught on but stared at me kind of shocked, until I turned and ran flapping and yelling up the trail toward the restrooms, Eva hot on my heels and screaming even louder.
People stared. I didn’t care.
Emily said she and Lia heard us coming and wondered if we were just on our way to tell them to hurry up because we needed to go, but they didn’t know why we were screaming. I burst into the restroom and found a confused Emily standing near the sinks. The exchange went kind of like this:
Me: *UNINTELLIGIBLE SCREAMING COBALT UNINTELLIGIBLE SCREAMING*
Emily: “Wait. Cobalt got accepted?!”
Me: *SCREAM GIGGLE SHRIEK BOUNCE*
Emily: “OH MY GOSH I COULD JUST KISS YOU!!”
Emily, Eva, and me: *SCREAM TACKLE HUG JUMP UP AND DOWN SCREAM*
Lia (from the stall at the end): “What is happening out there?”
And that’s the story of how I celebrated the acceptance email from my dream publisher with my kids and strangers inside a rest stop bathroom.

Our Vacation: Dying Cars and Frisky Wasps

The story is even more awesome to me considered what we went through at the beginning of the Most Stressful Vacation Ever. I won’t say Vacation From Hell, because it turned out really nice in the end, but boy did it have more than a few glitches.
We caravanned out from Boise with the intention to stay overnight in the mountains in Utah, then continue on to our family reunion at the Winding River Resort in Colorado. Just after making it into the beehive state, my step-dad’s car broke down. After attempting for hours to urge the disabled car out of the wilderness at least (big costly mistake), the girls and I went on ahead and got a room at a scary motel in downtown Ogden. My parents finally got their car towed to a mechanic and they got a room at another (and nicer) place, since ours was now fully booked.
The next day we were supposed to have arrived at the resort, but we spent the day at a public park, many of us in tears, as we tried unsuccessfully ALL DAY to find a rental car to continue the trip. My mom was resigned to staying behind with my step-dad in Ogden while the rest of us drove up to the resort, but we didn’t want to go without her. She’d planned this trip for over five months, and my brother’s girls were so looking forward to seeing their grandma. Meanwhile, my step-dad’s car needed a new engine, and as of this moment is still at the shop in Utah waiting to be repaired. Defeated, we got another hotel room that night and went to bed not knowing what we were going to do, but pretty much certain our vacation was ruined.

The next morning, my mom made a few last calls and found a rental. Once again on the road, we made it to the resort that night. We had a wonderful time with family we don’t get to see very often, and I got some pictures like these:

A wild Lia. Sneaking in for a closer picture might have been dangerous.

The adorable cabin I stayed in with three of the girls
Partyin’ around the campfire
My brother and Lia jamming

Emily and my mom 😉

A rustic writer’s setup (I didn’t get any writing done)

Inspirations for Creepy

I love creepy. The spookier the better. In trying to figure out what to write next, I decided to give the Cobalt world a break and work on something dark and eerie (like Cobalt wasn’t?). I’m still working out the details, and trying to decide between two different story ideas that are taking shape.

Like many people, I’m inspired by other stories, music, and imagery. The following are a few of my favorite spooky inspirations. For some reason, I find myself really looking forward to Halloween now.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is just like an old-fashioned ghost story complete with nightmarish illustrations. The movie didn’t disappoint either. Would have scared the crap out of me as a kid.

I just finished reading this one. The Ocean at the End of the Lane had its creepy moments, but was, overall, a beautiful story written by an amazing author.

I read this book as an adult and had nightmares. I can’t see the upcoming movie being as creepy as the stories in this book and its sequels, but maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Stolen Babies knows how to do creepy when it comes to music and costumes. Heavily influenced by Oingo Boingo and Tim Burton, this band brings graveyards or nightmare carnivals to mind. Grubbery is about a couple of hillbilly cannibals who get a dose of karma when they find out their dinner doesn’t like being dug out of their graves. 🙂

One of my friends on Facebook posted this great link on a gorgeous photo project that brings Grimms’ fairy tales to life, and provides more than enough inspiration for surreal settings and spooky forests.

And then…

Like her sister before her, this creepy 8-year-old left a bunch of scary photos on my phone that she edited herself.

She also touched up this one of her sister, which is creepy in a different way.

Do you have any other spooky or disturbing books, movies, or pictures to add to my list?

Meanwhile, Cobalt is on an editor’s desk awaiting approval or rejection and my fingers are cramping up from weeks of crossing them. Cross some of yours for me too, please!