Thursday, August 15, 2013

SOOO Worth the Read

Nuts and Bolts: "Thought" Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk

I pulled this essay from another site, link is below.  Read it and be reborn in your writing.  It affected me as much as reading "On Writing" by Stephen King did.

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs.  These include:  Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use. 
The list should also include:  Loves and Hates.
And it should include:  Is and Has, but we’ll get to those, later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write:  Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like:  “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave.  Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them.  Instead of a characterwanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying:  “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”
You’ll have to say:  “Between classes, Gwen was always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it.  She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume.  The combination lock would still be warm from her ass.  And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts.  Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph  (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later)  In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph.  And what follows, illustrates them.
For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline.  Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits.  Her cell phone battery was dead.  At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up.  Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows?  Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others.  Better yet, transplant it and change it to:  Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader:  “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.  Present each piece of evidence.  For example:
“During role call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout: ‘Butt Wipe,” just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone.  Writing, you may be alone.  Reading, your audience may be alone.  But your character should spend very, very little time alone.  Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.  
For example:  Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take..”
A better break-down might be:  “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57.  You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus.  No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap.  The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late.  Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives. 
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember
No more transitions such as:  “Wanda remember how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead:  “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack.  Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.  Get them together and get the action started.  Let their actions and words show their thoughts.  You -- stay out of  their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone.
For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures.  At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it. 
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for:  “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please.  For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use “thought” verbs.  After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Disney Still Works

I had an interesting childhood.  Instead of being a child of the early 80s, it seemed as though I grew up in some sort of Pleasantville, Leave It to Beaver throwback time with a rather traditional Italian Catholic father who lorded over what affected and influenced his daughter like the all-encompassing eye of Big Brother.  That included what was and was not allowed on our old cabinet-embedded tube T.V.  Cartoons and musicals were allowed; everything else was not.

But then as I entered my third and fourth year of life, mastering the human language way too early according to my mother, my parents realized that some of the musicals I watched, might not be appropriate.  I would sing "Sodomy" from HAIR not knowing at all what the words meant, but thinking that pretty blonde boy had a nice voice.

What's Pederasty?

But it was after I walked around in my little pigtails, perfectly annunciating, "Keep your filthy paws off my silky draw's" that my parents had to then censor the musicals.  All that was left was Disney.

The chicks will what??

This engrained in my heart a special place for all things Disney.  I watched The Dumbo Show and Disney music videos while I tearily swallowed down my Cream of Wheat before school every morning.  Disney's movies ran on repeat.  I grew up thinking one day I would be like one of those Disney princesses, singing through a magical forest of friendly little woodland creatures and flittering blue birds.  

I confess all of this because us Hands were discussing writing about movies we love that everyone hates and that made me think of T.V.'s shows of the same.  Yes, I am a thirty-six year old woman who loves to watch Disney's Austin & Ally, but here's why.  This is why Disney has always worked for me.  I love that each episode wraps up so easily at the end.  There's no Lost-esque mystery and wonder at the end.  It's wholesome and, yes, cheesy, but ultimately it's a break from the realities that replace our castles and Prince Charmings.  It's an escape from the dreary world in the most extreme way possible with fun music and dance numbers, outrageous escapades and zany misadventures, complete with requisite Canadian comedian actor (just ignore them after they grow up and leave the Magical Kingdom to "twerk" all over You Tube.) 

No songs about Sodomy here!

 There's not much depth and that's great.  That's what T.V. is sometimes supposed to be--entertainment; good old-fashion, unapologetic entertainment with a poppy song and a happily ever after.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Girl's Proposal for the Hands

(This is a repost from

Last night Sharif and I watched the first half of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA with Gary Oldham, Keanu Reeves, and Winona Ryder.  I had never seen the movie before and also admitted to not having read the book.  It’s on my Kindle, as are a number of many other books I still need to get to.  Sharif was surprised by my admission and asked if I’ve read Frakenstein either.  I haven’t, but I do know the story behind its creation, being the Byron fan I’ve been for so long.  I know that it began on a rainy day in Italy, where the poets and philosophers – Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley – met with friends and babies’ mamas and out of boredom, decided to all write a monster story.  Byron’s Vampyre was tossed in the trash to be later resurrected and published by his physician friend and Mary Shelley’s was turned into FRANKENSTEIN: or The Modern Prometheus.

Anyway, we watched the oddity that was that movie for awhile until Master Chef had recorded long enough to watch without commercials and so we switched over.  It was too late and DRACULA too heavy of a movie for me to commit to on a school night.  But as I was getting ready for bed later that evening, a thought occurred to me.  Wouldn’t it be fun for us Hands to have a rainy day Lake Geneva moment?  If the four of us met in an imaginary lake house in the digital rainy Italian countryside of the Four Hands website and each offered up an original monster short story of our own.  We can set parameters – it must be SHORT, like maybe two pages or so and create a new sort of nightmare or night terror.  We each post on a different day.  We give ourselves time to write, what with writing and reading and life to attend to, and then we share our works with each other.  There would be no competition, just fun and creation and who knows, maybe the next Frankenstein will be raised on a silver lab table again.

Since this was posted on the Hands site, all three male hands agreed so expect some horror stories your way.  Now that I've made this agreement, I have to come up with a new "monster."  So far I've been writing random words and thoughts in a notebook.  This won't stop me from working on the fourth Arethane book, but will afford me a needed break, writing something else.  As Neil Gaiman said, even if you stop to work on something else, keep working, keep writing.  It all leads back.  So stay tuned.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Night With Neil

It took a while to fall asleep afterward, to stop the thoughts and cease the replaying of events in my mind.  The close of a memorable evening gave way to a following morning in which the night had not faded in any way.  Even if the Sharpie writing on my arm had, just a bit.

Friday night Sharif and I made the drive in 107 degree heat (Why the hell did we move to Northern California if it's gonna keep acting like Texas?) across the Bay Bridge where it dropped thirty degrees in a matter of a tunnel.  We arrived one hour before the doors of the Geary Theater opened and two hours before the show started.  There was already a proper line dotting the sidewalk, but it wasn't too bad and we weren't too far down.  It's difficult to be bored waiting while in San Francisco.  The city does not disappoint.  People of all varieties hurry or don't along its up and down sidewalks.  We were entertained by a homeless man who told us cow jokes.  "What is a cow abortion called?  De-calf-inated.  What do you call a cow with no legs?  Ground Beef.  And in honor of the end of DOMA, what do you call a gay cow?  A Dairy Queen, Baby!" complete with rounded over the head snap and all.

People are pretty laid-back in California and even more so in San Francisco.  They are tolerant to a fault.  My Southern ass grew more annoyed as the hippy woman ahead of us in line allowed more and more folks to join her spot, to the point where I finally complained, "What the hell? Did she invite her whole g-damn Ashram?!"  But I was soon saved from having to kick organic ass as the line began to move.

We found seats about seven rows up.  The theater, though grand and gilded, is small and compact.  Neil Gaiman arrived on stage to raucous applause.  As he spoke, you could tell the people there were truly there for him.  They laughed a bit too much at his jokes, awed WAY too much when he spoke of his wife and wore a perma-smile for the entire night.  But as soon as Neil began to read, his voice an accented, hypnotic purr, everyone sort of disappeared and it was just you and Neil.  The reading wasn't long, which was good because I've never much cared for being read to, no matter who does the reading. Then he answered questions and Sharif and I felt that was the best part--Neil sharing with us some of the behind the scenes experiences with the illustrations of SANDMAN and how he writes his stories.  He then read from a new children's book he will be publishing in September and after a bow, the crowd's applause, the stage was set up for the autographing.  And we waited.  And waited.

Going on ten hours of waiting and not eating, Sharif and I assessed that we weren't really cut out for this waiting stuff.  But nothing would have made me leave.

 Through hunger and migraine we pushed until the reward came when we were summoned to stand on stage in line.  People had brought armfuls of books, they brought presents, they brought homemade crafts all seeking Neil's signature on them.  We had the book that brought us to the event, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and ourselves.  In my mind, I had been playing a scenario where I asked Neil to sign my tattoo of Delirium. I knew, from past experiences that if I played this out in my head, there was a good chance I wouldn't make it happen in reality.  But as soon as I stepped up in front of Neil, said "Hello" and he looked up, smiling and saying "Hello" back, I knew I had to go for it.

"Do you think you could write 'Tempus Frangit' on my Delirium tattoo?"  Without looking up from signing my book, he said, "Sure.  Come around."

It all got a little blurry after that.  I was still light-headed from the hunger and migraine.  I thought I would rest my arm on the table, but he had me squat beside him and rest it on his leg.  After saying, "I'm sorry, this is going to be awkward," he repositioned himself and began writing.

While waiting--too nervous to say anything--I remembered Kevin texting me before the event asking to tell him what Neil smelled like.  So I leaned in just a bit and took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn't look over his shoulder and ask, "Did you just smell me?"  He didn't.  And he smelled of Sharpie.

I walked away still shaking and waited while Sharif got his autograph.  I had noticed during my wait that everyone walked away from Neil with a smile on his or her face.  To everyone, it was a personal, magical moment.  I can't imagine it being that way with many authors--not the ones on Neil's level--or many heroes.  Neil stayed until everyone received their moment, until the wee hours of the night.  He said it would be his last book-signing tour ever.  We'll see.  He seemed to love being there as much as we loved having him there.  I imagine that love will nag at him, will draw him back.  And we'll be waiting, clutching our comics and AMERICAN GODS and readying a spot on our tattoos.

Monday, June 24, 2013

All Hands

I think it was a little over a year ago when something ended that, at the time, needed to end and those involved went their separate ways, though never really straying from another.  They continued to email, to Facebook and more frequently, most importantly they texted.  Texted about a movie they were going to see, a T.V. show they had fallen in love with, new songs they heard and sometimes just random "Halloo!" bits.

A little over a year and a half ago I was asked by three college friends who I became closer to once we left our shared campus to join them on a site called Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag where we reviewed movies together.  It has previously been an all-male cast, I added the XY perspective.

Well yesterday we returned, eager to once again share all of our talks on a greater platform than the inches by inches size screens of our phones.  That new site is below.  Check it out, we have interesting talks, we sometimes talk as though no one else is reading and sometimes we say funny things.

I sort of wish I had a photo of the four of us then and now, sort of all Stephen King IT-style, but as I said, we grew closer the further apart.  So I'll just leave you this link.  Enjoy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Halfway There

I passed the 50,000 words mark in book 4.  And yet I feel like I still have SO much more ground to cover.  A lot of that 50k is rewrites; a lot of it is going to get cut.  I have to read through it and see if there's anything I can keep, anything that still applies or just moments I like and want to use.  But I'm sure a lot of it is just going to go.  The story has changed too much.  But what's going into Word now, I think is better.  I hope the reader will feel that way too.

As I sit at my bar writing, Sharif is making dinner - I like this set up.

Just watched that new Miley Cyrus video - I prefer her backyard sessions, but I also don't see what all this fuss is about with this new thing.  I'm kinda indifferent - both the song and the video are just sort of blah.  But I don't think any young-girl-trying-to-be-hardcore display will ever top Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video for me.  That one made me feel like I was watching something I shouldn't be.

Anyway, I'm almost done reading CLOCKWORK PRINCESS by Cassandra Clare.  I'm not sure if this is supposed to be the last of this series; I never really know with Clare's works as she sort of tends to just keep going.  I like her writing a lot, the book is fast-paced even though you look back and realize not much has happened, but she always seems to have something infuriating about her characters that, while in the midst of, you have no idea how she's going to pull them out of it.  Like the whole brother-sister business in The Mortal Instruments and now this love-triangle hoopla in Internal Devices.  I know in writing, you let the story take you were it wants to go and you want to take the reader someplace they haven't already been, but sometimes as you are typing, at least for me, there's a moment of "Is this going too far?  Will I be able to pull this back or pull this off?"  I don't see how Clare can do that with the point in the book I'm at now.  I don't know how I can continue sympathy for the characters or certainly respect.  But we'll see.  She's a great writer and a great storyteller and her books, her characters continue to draw me to them, hang around in my head when I'm away from them and that's what I think all writers hope to achieve.

Okay, back to book 4 of my own.  Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cats, Creeps and Twizzlers

Tonight I realized since Sharif has been in L.A. that I have lived on a diet of pizza and Twizzlers.  I'll probably regret that soon...

I turned Beth onto DOCTOR WHO.  I’ve created a Whovian!  I sort of feel like God only I won’t smite her if she ever decides she no longer likes the show…or maybe I will?  Our earnest telephone conversations have now turned from talk of books to Doctor Who.  I’m not upset by that.  There’s a lot of wit and fantasy and drama and intelligence and mind-bendiness in the canon that Who talk can be very rewarding dialogue.

In other news…I finished the chapters!  The dreaded chapters.  Gods, it's a relief.  The rewrites are complete, that part has been recorded and the story line completed so that now I can work towards laying the ties for the rest.  It’s kinda like building a railway line.  You drop down the ties and lay down the rail, bit by bit until you stand up one day, run the back of your hand across your sweaty forehead and look behind you at the long track you’ve made, curving away into the distant horizon.  Though sometimes I jump ahead.  Like next, I’ll probably write the ending.  So I guess that railroad metaphor is crap.  Sorry about that.  

Anyway, if you haven't read THE CHILD THIEF by Brom (Seriously, that's the dude's name, man is obviously a badass) then you need to.  I drew a lot of inspiration from this book.  It's gritty and dark and goes to places even I don't think I could tread, but it's one of the best retellings of a children's story I've read.  One that doesn't make you wanna gag trying to get it down, one that doesn't completely take the story and TRY to make it dark, try to take it some place else, to make it cool and modern.  This book, it just...well, it's kinda how you see that story actually happening and the fairy tale is the retelling.  Anyway, read it.  It will be worth it.

It did sort of feel like getting beat-up, writing those chapters.  I barreled through them.  Pushed through, sitting straight-backed at my wet bar in a pretty comfy leather stool.  I think it’s my new place to write. 

New spot. See? Bag of Twizzlers - it's an epidemic.

It’s very Roman, very disciplined to sit so straight and proper and tap, tap, tap away at the keys.  I had to roll my shoulders when I was done and try to loosen the rocks that had formed there where I carry all my stress.

MAN OF STEEL opens this weekend.  Somehow I’m talking Sharif into taking me, knowing full well he loathes going to any movie on opening weekend.  But I’ve wanted this movie for so long and have waited for it for it seems so long.  I think I’ll write a review of it, should I get to go, and post it here.  I haven’t done a movie review in a really long time.  I’ve commented my thoughts on movies on other blogs and in texted conversations (like my dislike of SKYFALL and LES MIS—seriously, too much and not enough.  They are the yin and yang of what I don’t want in my movie-watching experience) but it’s been awhile since I’ve done a movie review and certainly not at all on here.  So we’ll see; if it all works out, expect a review.  I’ll be especially hard on Lois Lane.  I have high standards for Lois Lane; I used to want to be her, even got a degree in Journalism.  Kate Bosworth was an awful Lois Lane.

Right now, "Creep" by Radiohead is playing on the Libratone.  I love that song, even if the band themselves hate it.  The dogs are not amused by my singing, though - it could give Anne Hathaway in LES MIS a run for her money in the over-emoting department...

I'll leave you with my cat, Killer.  She got to hang out on the front porch with me tonight.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June Reader Spotlight - Kevin Still, aka Mr. Bristle

This month's Reader Spotlight features a very good friend of mine with whom I share words on as frequent of an occasion as we can devise.  We've actually known each other for over 15 years now.  He's someone who strings together words in a way I envy, in a way that subtly forces you to follow. 

Please welcome Kevin Still!

Age: 35
Hometown/Where you live: 
I'm from El Dorado, Arkansas, home of the haunted Rialto movie theater where my buddy Xon was the manager and got me into free films during high school. Now I live in Bryan, Texas, home of two theaters that charge $4 a matinee ticket. We see a lot of movies.

Welcome to Reader Spotlight!  Share with our blog viewers out there your reading habits: What's your favorite place to read? Favorite time of the day to read?  If you could pick the PERFECT place to escape to with a book, where would that be?
AT HOME: Our living room windows gush loads of natural light. We do not turn on lamps or the overheads until late evening. My ideal reading happens in the mornings, perched on a couch near those windows, coffee on the side table, pen in hand, pug curled up by my side. I start my reading as early as possible due to sinking cognition in the early afternoon and evening hours. I prefer to read or write in the mornings, perform chores and house work in the afternoons, and engage films or neighbors in the evening.
IN PUBLIC: I'm a huge fan of good coffee and tables stuck off in the corner. I don't like those big, coveted comfy chairs. I want a small table with a straight back, uncomfortable chair that keeps me focused. And I want free refills, plenty of foot traffic for people watching, and low overhead music so I can easily eavesdrop. Although I'm a huge proponent of local businesses, I'm on a first name basis with most employees at Panera Bread Co. around the corner. Their iced coffee is perfect.

In order from least to most, what would you say your top three books are?
I'm answering this according to June 6, 2013 standards. Ask me again in six months and you might get a different list. Also, I'm not sure I have a most favorite book. Alright, enough disclaimers, here's three books I loved the shit out of: 1.) Horns by Joe Hill. I'm not sure I've read a finer novel, other than maybe A Prayer For Owen MeanyHorns is quite dark, which makes it difficult to recommend, but it's also impossible to put down, beautifully structured, and haunting as crap. I didn't pick up another book for several weeks just to allow Horns to settle. It's one I hope to re-read this summer. 2.) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It's been awhile, but there was a long season - couple years, actually - when I carried Tinker Creek on my person the way I once carried my Bible. Tinker Creekis gorgeous and breathtaking and chock full of perfect metaphors and sentences. Also, I feel totally awed that Dillard wrote this amazing genuflection on nature while sitting in front of a concrete wall in a library at night. This is a huge testament to the power of the human imagination and the writer's ultimate responsibility with words. 3.) Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk. This is an odd title to put on this list because it's not really a great book. I enjoyed it, but I did not immediately slough off a dozen emails and text messages recommending it to friends. Still, I think about this book more than I think about any other book. And I return to it more often than any other book besides Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird. Palahniuk says things here about writing, reading, community, friendships, and urgency that struck - and continue to strike - a major chord in me. So much so that I keep my copy close by and I use passages of the text in my classes. (You wouldn't believe how many of my college freshmen have never heard of Fight Club: film or book.) Although I would like to have ended my response here with some great classic by Willa Cather or Faulkningway, but I can't fake the funk. I'm also working my way through Palahniuk's canon, and it's a hit-or-miss study of literary structures, character development, and lyrical urgency.

Favorite author?
Flannery O'Connor. But there are a few other people I would read any and everything by: Joe Hill, David Sedaris, Jack Ketchum, George Saunders, Karen Russell, Chuck Palahniuk, John Updike. I always get desperately excited when Stephen King publishes anything new, even if I don't make an attempt to read it.

What do you look for in a main character?  Do you want him/her to be some butt-kicking badass, a level-headed pacifist, a hot-tempered hero?
Heroes are fun, but rarely believable or inspiring. As a die-hard John Hughes fan, I love characters who possess good intentions and great hope but still find themselves plagued by life circumstances or deflated self-esteem. My favorite genre is the "coming-of-age" story where we see the down-and-out kid overcome that one thing holding him or her back. They may not always save the day but they land squarely on promise. I'm not sure you can find anything more heroic than that.

What are your character pet-peeves? 
Two things drive me nuts. One, when a character simply fulfills a paper-thin stereotype, ie. the busty blond, the overly effeminate gay, the butch lesbian, the street-wise token black kid, the dopy obese guy, the prudish mousy girl, the skater pothead, the shallow or overly judgmental believer, the overly handsome blue eyed all American male with perfect abs who excels at everything he sets his bear-size hands to. Do these people exist? Yes. But shatter the stereotype. Two, characters who remain static. If people are not changing or growing or falling apart, I can't be asked to care.

What do you look for by the time you finish a book?  What expectations do you have going into a book?
My primary hope is to follow interesting people through a unique situation via vehicles of beautiful sentences and unique structure. Give me that and you've got my readerly devotion. I'm surprised that's not always easy to find.

What draws you to pick up a book in the first place, or more importantly, lay down some hard earned money on?
Besides a trusted recommendation:
1.) I'll purchase and read anything written or recommended by the authors listed in the "favorites" question.
2.) An author's interesting account of research or writing processes can pique my curiosity.
3.) I sure don't mind a good memoir by a super funny person, ie. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman.

What are you currently reading?
FOR INSPIRATION: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.
FOR LEISURE: The Son by Philipp Meyer. And the current Entertainment Weekly is always folded open on the back of the ol' American Standard.

What kind of story would you love to read, but just can’t seem to find?
I want to read a story that explores a personal crisis of religious faith, particularly at a young age. Christian fiction generally strives to glorify the attainment and bolstering of faith. Mainstream American fiction often battles and degrades faith. I would like to see characters in a story earnestly grappling with faith the way many young people do. They've been raised in a particular faith system. They've seen it fail or they've discovered it's inevitable perversity. And then they strive to make sense of it. That's the story I would like to read, but I've never found it. So I started writing it this summer. 

Thanks so much to Mr. Bristle.  You can read more from Kevin over at his blog:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding the Scene

And there it is.

I have it—that elusive scene that’s been plaguing me for weeks, that I’ve been avoiding like an obnoxious neighbor, that I know needs my attention, but I just can’t commit to mentally or emotionally yet.  It’s a big one. 

Quick aside, I keep calling these chunks of words, these chapters and paragraphs scenes because they play like movies in my mind.  The mental television clicks on and then the scenes unfold so they are scenes to me; sorry if that’s not very literary, but that’s how my books come about.

Anyway, this is a big scene—it’s a major moment, the consequence to prior actions, the come-uppance—and it needs to be grand, it needs to be destructive, it needs to be painful and cathartic on every level: physical, mental, emotional.  It was already written.  I wrote it probably about two years ago.  I hadn’t truly revisited it in over a year.  Everything about the story around it has changed and it’s been sitting on this metaphoric island waiting for me to cup it in my palms and reshape it.  Reading it now, I didn’t like what I had written before.  It involves almost solely a character I hold very dear.  And he deserved so much more than what I had given him.  So I knew I needed to make it better.  I knew that this needed to be a big moment for this character, but I just couldn’t see it.  I have to see it in order to write it.  It wouldn’t play in my head.  When I would pause a moment and focus on nothing, my eyes going hazy and dry—my normal routine to tap into that mental movie and take from it the sap of the story—it was blank.  Nothing appeared.  It was extraordinarily frustrating.  It almost pushed me to shelving the whole damn thing.
And then this morning happened.

There was nothing unique about this morning.  Nothing was different about my routine.  I sat at my desk at work, looking at data and numbers, doling out assignments to my employees, answering emails about boring mortgage guidelines and such and then that T.V. flickered on.  Just a bit.  So I continued on with my day.  And then there were haunting hints in the back of my mind—ghostly images overlapping reality.  A few more flickers.  And then it was there.  An image of a bright white floor with blood pooling on it, the figure looming like a shadow above.  And from there the rest fell into place, like reverse dominos. 
The next step is extracting that scene from my head and converting it to words.  But for now, the hard part, the frustrating part is done.  I was reading on Cassandra Clare’s blog a while back and she has a FAQ section and in that list is the desperate plea of an unknown writer asking what to do to get inspired.  How does Cassandra Clare get unblocked?  Ms. Clare basically said that if you wait around for inspiration, you’re never going to write.  She and other writers live by the AICHOK method: Ass In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.  Stephen King mentions this as well in ON WRITING.  He writes at least 1500 words a day.  Most of it is just crap, filler, dribble, but once he’s amassed enough, he goes back in and cuts a few.  King could also be accused of being a modern day Dickens, meaning you’d think he was getting paid per word, but I see what they are trying to say.  It’s a job and your job is to write, so just write and wade back through the sludge later.

I just can’t operate that way.  Maybe that makes me a bad writer.  Maybe if this were my sole profession and I had publishers and editors and agents waiting on something, anything from me, that I would be all about the toss some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks method of writing.  For now, I have to see it.  And no amount of tapping angrily on the keyboard will bring that image into focus.  As long as it still appears, I don’t care either way.  Because today I’ll be punishing a character, I will be tormenting him and hurting him and finally get it done so he and I can both heal and move on.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Places to Write About and Other Observations

This weekend the husband and I took our first trip to Berkley to see a Mumford & Sons concert with the mother-in-law.  Arriving in California from Texas, you are aware of Berkley, you know it’s a college town, its history, and you know that’s where all of the hippies are.  Berkley didn’t disappoint.

Observations on Berkley:
1. There is a distinct aversion to deodorant.
2. They are allowing toddlers on campus and calling them "college students."
3. Everyone in Berkley has the same walk, a kind of lope.  I would imagine due to all of the drastic inclines and declines. (Seriously, I had to have lost five pounds just from walking.)
4. Despite the need to go natural with the arm pits, it is probably one of the coolest places I've been.

Speaking of places I've been...My junior year of college, I was selected to be part of a group of students to travel around the world with TIME Magazine.  It was a study tour, I earned college credits for it and the point was essentially to meet with the bureau chiefs, reporters, and writers and learn from them about the world of journalism that which we couldn't just read about for ourselves.  We traveled to twelve different cities in seven different countries in thirty-two days.  Mishaps happened, people were lost on the way (me, included!), and one of us dressed up like the pope using a towel, a bandanna, and a toilet bowel brush.  It was an incredible experience, one from which I draw little bits to use in my stories, but I’ve been thinking about using the entire experience for a story.  I see it all starting on a train…

I discovered this weekend that I am not a wine drinker.  Everyone said, “Oh, but the wineries know how to serve you, they’ll cater to your tastes and find you the perfect wine…”  Nuh-uh.  Didn’t happen.  Wine makes my jaw sides hurt.  And I can’t prevent making a bleck! face after each taste which I didn’t think the fancy wine dude appreciated.  The place was pretty in an old-wordly way and the people there were friendly with a hinting undercurrent of pretention and the guy that greeted us at the door burped when describing the place to us, which I suppose I can sort of appreciate given that he’s probably been pounding wine all day.  But at the end of the day, it was verifiably determined that I’m a beer drinker.

Reader Spotlight is to come shortly; with the family in town and traveling all over northern California because of it, RS was a little delayed, but I hope to post it soon and expect it to be a fun one.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Madness and Doubt

I think I am going blind. 

This is probably something I should treat with more gravitas, but the black, blurry spots floating in my vision are silly, little things and until they can muster up some organization and take over the eye entirely, I’ll treat them as such silly little things.  They are a bit annoying, though.

I’m writing again.  I don’t know if you understand how wonderful that feels.  Characters are filling up my brain again, they’re talking again—again, more often in the shower, when I’m wet and naked and can’t do anything about their conversations, like, say write them down!  But they’re beating out the white noise, the random, staccato stream of consciousness that’s not a stream at all as much as a rain storm, hitting random surfaces and dissipating into the great, wide nothingness of it all.  All this thought of daily toils and duties has finally surrendered to the fantasy world of my imagination where stories happen and I can watch them with my eyes closed and write them down with them open.

So with that careful sense of excitement, like one has watching a hummingbird, not making a move, hoping it doesn’t go away too soon I have sat back down in front of my computer and started adding more pieces to this story.  The last of this story.  But this is the emotional rollercoaster that is writing.  You get on a run, you lay out a chapter and that flows into another chapter and then you fill in this part that’s been empty and unconnected for awhile and suddenly you have a whole beginning pieced together with action and words and you think, “Oh my god, I’m going to actually get this thing completed!” and then you look at your word count and eff the monkey you’re not even halfway through your goal.  Then the demons eat at you.  The ones that tell you, you could essentially tell your whole story in about 20 pages, the ones that make you doubt how worthy of a story you’re telling, the ones that nag you’ll never get this book done.

Writing is finding a way to silence some of the voices in your head while listening to the others.  Writing is trying to make sense of your madness and then presenting that crazy as craft.

“There’s an Indigo Girls song called Romeo and Juliet,” he said.  “And it has a lyric that says, ‘Juliet, the dice were loaded from the start.  And I bet, and you exploded into my heart…’  I think of that sometimes when I think of you and me.  I know it can feel like the world conspires against us, like it’s doing its damndest to keep us apart.  But it can’t.  It never will.  We always emerge stronger.” –Jarrad, Queen of Arèthane

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teasers and Twisters

I don't remember exactly how old I was or what grade I was in, but I recall some time in junior high reading "Night of the Twisters" as a required assignment in English class.  That book scared the crap out of me and I was born in Oklahoma, the most dangerous lane in Tornado Alley.  You learn very quickly what the sirens mean and what the drill is.  But something about that story - the frantic urgency, the desperate need to know, the dark night filled with screaming monsters of nature - it embedded itself in my mind and is what I recall every time a tornado touches down.

What happened down in Moore is beyond tragic, it's the worst kind of awful because there is nothing you can do to prevent it - there's not really a step you can take to stop the beast bearing down on you from the skies.  Maybe if you hadn't waited one minute more, maybe if you'd turned right instead of left, a lot of maybes that get lost in the 100-mph winds.  Because those are innocent actions.  This isn't the grand scheme of a people influencing another to take action years later and plant a bomb or fire a gun in vengeance; this is the force of nature and it leaves you feeling helpless and small.

I don't pray, but I am thinking about Oklahoma.

And I am writing again.  That's a really, really good thing.  The story is forcing itself into my mind more and more, invading my showers and drives home.  So we're about halfway through book 4.  I know that's not the progress you hope for, but it's a hell of a lot better than where I was last week, not even bothering to open the word document.

I don't know if I want to post any more teasers.  A reader said he was resisting reading them so as to not spoil anything.  I don't want to spoil anything, either, so if I do tease a bit, they will be few and far between.

Anyway, off to bed for the night.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When We Steal From Ourselves

Back when Return to Arethane was still Glow and Always Me hadn't blossomed yet in my mind, I was working on a vampire/angel story that I tentatively titled then, Falling.  That was sort of the thing back then - vampires and angels - though I dare say the bloodsuckers seem to still be sticking around.  Anyway, I liked the idea of that good vs. evil, demon vs. angel dichotomy and where was the line really between the two.  I like blurring the perception of evil and good, I like good guys who don't always make the right decision and bad guys who might have had a bad rap.  Maybe Wicked is what really highlighted that for me.

Anyway, eventually the concept for Always Me occurred and I found I already had the molds ready for Nicky and Xander and where their story took place.  I stole it from Falling.  I think it speaks volumes how easily Nicky was transformed from a vampire and Xander from an angel.  Since I doubt I'll ever revisit this one, unless I can somehow come up with a way of completely revamping (ha! vamp!) it without losing my original intent for the plot, I've decided to share the first two chapters here.  It's a bit long, so sit back, grab a cup of coffee or tea, snuggle up with a blanket and see if you can point out the similarities.

Chapter One

The rain beat mercilessly against the window as Archbishop Father Saltarelli stood staring out its blurry panes at the soaked city streets outside, turned green and gray in a mixture of asphalt and drooping trees.  His bright red robes were the only shot of color in the otherwise dark and dreary room of the refectory on loan from a very nervous priest of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in a small suburb just outside Philadelphia. 
            The rain had been relentless all week, delaying the Archbishop’s flight here from the Vatican City and darkening his mood everyday since.  Being in the angel’s presence was supposed to help, but instead it only made him anxious.  He did his best to keep his anxieties to himself and portray an image of calm command.  Still, the angel sitting in the dark green armchair in front of him, dressed in faded brown suede pants and a fitted brown leather jacket zipped up to the hollow of his neck, looking more like a biker of hell than a messenger of God, did little to quell his fears.  Especially considering who the angel was, the sword he kept rested across his knees, and most importantly, the reason for the meeting.
            “So this is the plan...,” the angel said.  His voice was deep, but soft, almost as if he spoke to a child; not what you would expect from the Messenger of God.  “Do you concur?”
            Saltarelli nodded, turned from the window and said, “Sì.  Yes.”  He then walked to the desk and picked up the phone, pressed one button and waited.  “Please send him in,” he said to the voice on the other line. 
After returning the phone to its cradle, he nervously flattened the folds of his robe and contemplated whether he should remain standing or if he should sit down at the desk.  As he began to lower himself in the chair, the door opened.  The nervous priest in charge of the church held the handle with a shaky hand while remaining in the doorway, his back pressed against the door jam.  His eyes were cast down or sideways, always averted away from the handsome young man entering the room behind him who shot him a look of smug amusement with one eyebrow raised as he passed. 
What vexed the antsy priest was that the young man was not a man. 
Though the presence of angels was normally something of a calming peace to humans, the presence of this angel was not, and certainly not the presence of the Archangel sitting in the armchair. 
            Saltarelli dismissed the priest with the wave of his hand as he appraised the angel who entered with a swagger and stood before the desk with his hands in fists at his side. 
He looked to be in his early twenties, though he was much, much older.  He was there when Rome fell and a new world was discovered, when Germany dropped their bombs on England, and man landed on the moon.  His eternally preserved youthful appearance successfully belied his age, but his heavenly beauty did little to deny what he was.  His wavy, messy blonde hair shined in the overhead light, creating a halo of its own.  It hung down to his jaw line and fell into the angel’s eyes without him caring enough to push it away.  He wore confidence and arrogance as easily as he wore his lightweight armor—a breastplate and arm shields made of a thin, onyx-looking material that was not anything earth-made.  The armor was strapped over clothes similar to the Archangel’s though instead of brown suede and leather, his was all black leather, worn down soft and dull.
“Daniel,” Saltarelli greeted him with a nod, gesturing to the unoccupied armchair.  “Please have a seat.  Thank you so much for coming.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Daniel said in a deep voice peppered like a minefield with bitter rebellion as he glanced down at the Archangel in the chair beside him.  “It’s not exactly like I had a choice.”
“You design your own path, Daniel,” the Archangel said, his dark brown eyes looking up at Daniel beneath a shading of thick black eyelashes.  Behind his eyes there was infinite kindness.  “I didn’t want to choose this for you.”
Daniel lowered himself into the chair and stretched his long legs out as far as the desk before him would allow.  “Ah, Gabe,” he sighed.  “You almost sound like you’re saying ‘This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you’.” 
“It will.  This is a dangerous task we ask of you, but it may also be good for you.  It may give you the dose of humility you so desperately need.”
Daniel sat up and clenched the arms of the chair with both hands, his knuckles instantly turning white and the veins in his hands protruding through the golden brown skin.  “What happened in Greece—,” he began to say through clenched teeth, his blue eyes lighting up with fierce excitement as he glared at the other angel.
“An angel with an attitude is a poor reflection of the Order,” Gabriel interrupted, his patience diminishing with each word. 
“And the Angel of the Horn is known for his mercy?” Daniel retorted, snorting and slumping back in the chair.
Gabriel was the most patient and controlled of all the Archangels.  You had to be when dealing with the Creator personally.  And yet Daniel had a way of trying his patience daily.  He was famous for it, in fact.
Gabriel opened his mouth to continue arguing but stopped himself, glancing sideways to the Archbishop before sighing and restraining his voice.  “We can discuss this some other time.  Your orders come directly from the Dominions.”
This affected Daniel and he stiffened slightly, his voice more alert.  “Why are they involved?”
“Because of the nature of your mission.  And who it involves,” Gabriel said.  “The Dominions and the Powers have agreed that the duty of demon slaying needs to be concentrated on one area.  The vampire has gained in popularity among the humans.  For…,” Gabriel sighed while rolling his eyes, “whatever reason…the humans have romanticized their image and have even begun to accept them into their culture and society.  I think mostly because so few have ever actually encountered a vampire and lived to tell of it, and so they know not what it is they admire.  If they knew the gruesome and vile lifestyles of these demon pests, if they could see the beast that hides behind the cold beauty, they would rethink their support.  However, that is a discussion for another time.  For this matter, the Second Sphere wants us to begin eradicating the vampires and the best way for us to do that is to start at the top.” 
Gabriel paused a moment, giving Daniel time to ask any questions, and looked at the Archbishop.  The man’s face paled more and more through the course of the conversation as he sat silent.  Gabriel wasn’t sure if it was out of fear of the topic or the fact that the Vatican had yet to accept the vampires’ existence at all. 
When Daniel remained silent, the Archangel continued with a sigh.  “The daughter of the Dragon has been sent away from her coven.  A semi-voluntary exile, if you will.  Her inheritance of the mantel is a threat to the rest of the vampires—how so, we do not yet know.  The Dragon is ten years into his fifty year hibernation period.  I supposed the elders are taking advantage of his absence.  Our informants tell us she was encouraged to go to college while the elders decide what to do with her.  They felt it was the best place to keep her safe.  At least that’s the story we’re getting.  As you know with vampires, the truth seldom plays a part.”
“Daughter?” Daniel asked, finally finding something of interest in the discussion.  “Is that what Vlad is calling his turned now?”
“No,” Gabriel answered, his face giving the slightest hint of expression with a flicker of his eyebrow.  “She is actually of his flesh and blood, so to speak.”
“I didn’t think the bats could reproduce,” Daniel said with unmasked disgust.
“The males can with humans, though the hybrids rarely survive past infancy.  The half breeds are considered an abomination and the vampires typically kill off the newborns immediately if not while still in the mother’s womb.  This is the first we’ve heard of Vlad himself impregnating anyone which is probably why she’s survived.  This makes her special.”
“She is an abomination!” the Archbishop interrupted with sudden passion and pestilence in his voice, his face reddening.   
Gabriel shot him a look that instantly hushed him and the Archangel continued.  “We know very little about the offspring that are half human, half vampire, those that have been allowed to live.  We do not know how much of the vampiric abilities or powers they retain, or how much of their humanity exists, if any at all.  So in this, we are blind and at an immediate disadvantage.”
“Wow,” Daniel said.  He leaned back in this chair and rubbed his neck.  “Can’t wait to hear what I get to do.” 
“You will go undercover,” Gabriel said, ignoring his sarcasm and nodding to the Archbishop who produced a black folder from his briefcase and handed it to Gabriel. 
Gabriel opened the folder on the desk before him, spreading out documents and black and white photographs, and leaned in, as did Daniel.  “Her name is Adrianna.  She is going by Adrianna Tepes while at school.  She is now a freshman at Morgan Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.”
“Morgan Baptist University?” Daniel repeated, his eyebrows raised.
“Yes.” Gabriel smiled.  “It would seem she is not without irony.”
“Or a sense of humor,” Daniel murmured.  “But…how?”
“It is of no harm to her.  The Baptists are not like the Catholics.  There are no crosses other than on top of the chapel and they don’t use Holy Water.  It’s a school, so it’s not hallowed ground but for the chapel and as long as she stays out of there, she should be fine.”
“Serves the heretics right,” the Archbishop seethed.  “If they had never broken from the true faith, they would not have demons among them now.”
            “Father,” Gabriel said, his hands resting on top of the paperwork on the desk.  “We don’t have time for your dogma right now.  As you know, we serve all faiths.  Whether they believe in us or not.” 

Once again, this silenced the Archbishop, but for how long, Gabriel and Daniel did not know.  Daniel pulled out the only colored photo—a young woman with long, light brown hair and big blue eyes—and frowned.  “She’s…pretty, but not what you’d expect a vampire to look like,” he said.
“That’s her mother,” Gabriel replied after glancing quickly at the photo, pushing his black curls away from his pale forehead.
“Oh.  Where is her mother in all of this?” Daniel asked.
“She’s dead.  Adrianna bit her and drained her as soon as she ripped herself free of the womb.”
“Sweet kid,” Daniel smirked.  He studied the picture with a somber expression.  The photo looked like it had been taken in the early 80’s and the woman smiled wide and brightly at the camera, completely unaware of the dark fate that awaited her.  Daniel shrugged and dropped the photo, leafing through the rest of the paperwork.  “Why do you have a photo of her mother?”
“Because we don’t know what Adrianna looks like.  She’s been kept well hidden.  Even from humans.  This will hopefully give us something, if she resembles her mother at all. You should be able to sense her, but with her being half human, we are taking every precaution.”
“She’s not feeding while she’s there?”
“So far, we have no reports,” said Gabriel.  “She might have brought her own supply.  Then again, she could be going elsewhere, outside the town, outside the state.  Shreveport is just a three-hour drive away, she could feed easily and undetected there.”
“So I’m to just go to this school and…what, kill her?” Daniel asked.  “I assume killing her is why you asked me to do the job, but why her?  Why not just take out Vlad himself?”
“That’s part of the plan.  We don’t want you to just go in and kill her, though that will be part of your ultimate goal.  We want you to befriend her.  Gain her trust.  Find out where her coven is.  Where her father is kept while he sleeps.  She may be easily influenced right now.  We’re not really sure why she’s been sent away.  Adrianna has immediate right to take over as head of the coven.  As you know, that position is currently held by Nicolae, who rules in Vlad’s stead, and we don’t believe he is eager to give that up to an eighteen year-old half breed.  We don’t think Vlad has had an active role in his daughter’s life prior to his hibernation.  Nicolae wouldn’t dare kill the Dragon’s daughter but he could postpone her ambitions for a while.  Again, this is all assumption.  Your job is to find out the truth.  Once you get a lockdown on their location, Michael will bring the Army in.  You will take out Adrianna, I will handle Nicolae, and Michael gets Vlad.”
Daniel straightened up at the mention of the other Archangel’s name.  Michael was like a father to him, if angels could have such a thing.  He had trained Daniel personally to become an Avenging Angel and he was the reason Daniel was so angry with the Order.
“I don’t understand,” said Archbishop Saltarelli.  “Why do you need all this strategy?  You are the Light of God.  You are the Army of His Holy Father.  He is the All-Knowing.  Why can’t He just smite them at once and do away with the whole lot?”
“That would be too easy, wouldn’t it?” Gabriel asked, his words biting but not bitter.  “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes,” the Archangel said, quoting Ecclesiastes.
“So that’s it then?” Daniel asked, ignoring the man behind the desk who looked flabbergasted for being reprimanded in theology.  “I just go to college, befriend this girl, get her to trust me and then totally betray her and kill her family?”
“You’re humanizing them,” Gabriel said.  “I’m proud of you.  It’s something you should do with the humans, though, and not the vampires.”  He grinned and the light of Heaven shined through his smile.  “No, that’s not all,” Gabriel continued.  “But I will give you the rest later.  There will be a nun accompanying you.  Her name is Sister Mary Stephena.  She will be your contact with the Vatican.  Now,” he rose from his seat, towering over the man in his full height, intimidating despite his slender build, and sheathed his sword, the blade glowing blue at his touch before placing the papers back into the black folder and holding it under his arm.  Daniel rose as well, almost just as tall, with a broader chest and squared shoulders, putting his own sword away.  “We bid you farewell, Archbishop Saltarelli.  Please inform the Vatican that it has begun and we will contact them routinely with updates.  Peace be with you.” 
Then he bent down and picked up a black backpack Daniel had not noticed sitting beside his chair until then and turned around.  Daniel looked down at the Archbishop, grinned and winked, before turning on his heel and following after. 
“And to you,” Archbishop Saltarelli whispered as the two angels left the room, which became suddenly darker and colder without their presence.

Once Daniel and Gabriel were alone, walking side by side down the middle aisle of the nave of the church, Gabriel handed the backpack to Daniel.  The stained-glass windows cast rainbow colors across the dark wood of the pews, empty on this Friday morning.
“The Vatican would have you turn Adrianna to ashes and be done with her,” Gabriel said, his voice low.  “But with her being part human, we’re not willing to be so cavalier.  We want you to read her the Rites when you kill her.”
“Wait,” Daniel said, stopping.  “You don’t think she could have a soul, do you?”
“We don’t know.  The church, its followers,” he said, sweeping his hand out in front of him, “they see everything in black and white.  We know it’s not that way.  If she has a beating heart, she may have a soul.  And if there’s a chance for a soul, we will save it.”
“Alright,” Daniel said.  Gabriel began walking again with Daniel following.
“Everything you need is in that backpack,” Gabriel said, nodding to it. “Wallet, ID’s, plane ticket, a credit card with no limit—but don’t go crazy.  There’s a cell phone—”
“Cell phone?” Daniel asked.  Angels didn’t need cell phones.  They could just appear to one another, or Gabriel could contact him by simply thinking it and Daniel would hear his words as if they were his own thoughts.
“To appear more authentic,” Gabriel grinned.  “Sister Mary Stephena is already in Arkadelphia, getting settled.  That phone…it’s something called a Black Berry…it’s like an organizer and holds addresses and appointments and such.” 
Daniel grinned at Gabriel’s assumption that all angels shared his limited knowledge of technology.
“Her address is in there,” Gabriel continued.  “She’ll have weapons, should you need any.  Which brings me to the last order of our business…” Gabriel hesitated as they stood outside on the top of the church’s stairs, under the overhang with the rain still coming down in sheets.  A yellow taxi cab waited idling at the curb of the street.  “To avoid any recurrence of Greece, you are to be stripped of some of your powers.”
“What?” Daniel cried, clutching the backpack in one suddenly trembling fist.
“I am sorry, but the Dominions feel its best this way.  They also don’t want to risk your exposure with any involuntary acts of the divine.”
“Some?  Which ones?”

“Your sword.” 
Daniel looked down where his sword should be hanging, but it had disappeared and his body suddenly felt off balance for it.
“You’ll still have your wings, but you can’t fly and you can’t materialize.”
Daniel made his wings appear and stretched them out to their full glory, wanting them to feel like they were more than just accessories now.
“You also won’t have the power of fire or ice or wind, or the gift of song.”
“You wanna take all the box cutters away from me too?” Daniel asked, shrugging the backpack on.
“I know you feel like you’re being punished, but you wouldn’t have been chosen for this task if we all didn’t think you could do it.”
“Uh-huh,” Daniel grumbled.
“You still have the blood of the Divine coursing through your body,” Gabriel continued patiently, ignoring Daniel’s pouts.  “You’re still fast and strong and you have your influence and your connection to man.  But Daniel, please remember.  You are an Elim, but you can still be killed.  Please be careful.”
It was very difficult to kill an angel, but not impossible.  You could keep them in darkness until they withered away to nothing.  You could remove their wings, making them mortal.  Daniel knew what happened to those angels who died.  Some became Cherubim, depending on how or why they died.  Others became part of the Fallen, again, depending on how or why they died.
“Then make me an Archangel,” Daniel said through clenched teeth.  Archangels couldn’t be killed.  “You know I’m more than capable.”
“Michael has told you time and again, that decision is not ours to make.  Only He can decide.”
“Then say something to Him!” Daniel pled.  “You talk to Him on a daily basis.  You’re probably talking to Him right now!”

“Honestly,” Gabriel said, letting his impatience place an edge on his words.  “Michael doesn’t feel you’re ready, and I would have to agree.”
“You’re too impetuous.  You allow your emotions to guide your actions.  That would remind Him of someone else and once He made the decision to not make you an Archangel, He wouldn’t undo it.  So until you can control yourself, until you can do exactly what you are told and not stray from orders, then neither Michael nor I will recommend you.  And Greece is a perfect example of why you are not ready.”
“They were in league with the demons!” Daniel protested, though knowing his efforts were pointless.  This was also one of his weaknesses—he never gave up.

“They were still humans!”  Gabriel hit his breaking point.  His wings extended full and brilliant, gleaming bright gold with red flames licking around the edges.  His hair blew in the rush of wind that suddenly kicked up and his eyes turned completely black.  Daniel cringed slightly, but still stood his ground.  “Those who you are sworn to protect.  Those who you were created to protect.  It is not your place to judge!”
And then just as suddenly as he had whipped up into full angel glory, Gabriel became his calm self again, his wings disappearing and his eyes brown once more.  He handed Daniel the black folder.
“Your class schedule and dorm assignment are in here.”
“Dorm assignment?!” Daniel exclaimed, forgetting how angry he had just made the Archangel who could blow once on his Horn and send all of mankind to Judgment.  Gabriel actually winced with remorse.
“Authenticity.  Sorry.”
Daniel sighed.  “Anything else?”
“Uh, yeah.  You’ll be a junior.  Stephena should have already picked up your text books—yes, you do have to go class.  No protests, it’ll be good for you.  One of your classes is New Testament, you should excel at that—you better excel at that.  That cab will take you to the airport.  There will be another one waiting for you there.  It’s an hour drive from Little Rock to Arkadelphia.  There’s cash in the wallet for the taxi and other incidentals.  Um....another thing." The Archangel actually looked uncomfortable. "With your lack of powers, you’ll find yourself more tempted by the flesh and material of the humans.  Try not to do anything that’s forbidden.”
“How will I know what’s forbidden?”

“If it’s something you think you’ll enjoy, it’s most likely forbidden.”
“Great,” Daniel mumbled.
“Alright, so I think that’s about everything.  Oh, uh…you’ll also have a job—work study at the library.  Your roommate’s name is Mark.  He’s a Theology major and a preacher’s son.  Should be great!  Well, good luck and peace be with you.”
Gabriel disappeared before Daniel could voice any more protests, leaving him alone on the church steps with only his backpack, a waiting cab, and a mission from a heavenly Order that could either make him an Archangel if he succeeded, or toss him wingless and headlong down into hell should he fail.
Chapter Two

            Adrianna tapped her pen and checked her wristwatch for the fifteenth time in the last fifty-two minutes.  She had also counted the beats of twenty-four hearts, the breaths of twenty-four sets of lungs, the steps of seventy-six sets of feet passing by outside in the hall and the uses of the word “Okay” by her Western Thought and Culture professor—which was one hundred and sixty-four. 
            None of this made the sound of the blood rushing through the human veins any less tempting.  It was like the gush of a roaring river to a man who spent a week walking through a desiccated desert and she tried to swallow against her dry throat, sighing as her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. 
She might be acting a little overdramatic.  She was known for the occasional grand reaction.  But she had only been away from home for two months and had already blown through her bagged blood stash.  Distracted from not feeding from a live person, she was ill prepared for the shortage.  She placed the order the day she finished off the last bag.  It would only take three days for the next shipment to arrive but that was yesterday and she was hungry today.
            She reached down into her book bag without taking her eyes off the professor and pulled out her compact.  She opened it and looked at herself in the mirror.  The image was a misty, transparent reflection, more like a ghost than a girl, but she could still see the circles under her eyes darkening and her lips turning purple.  The irises of her eyes were also fading to a pale green instead of their normal hazel.  She was becoming the demon.
            Not that she minded.  She quite relished it really—the feeling of letting go, of letting the animal inside her take over.  She craved the adrenaline rush from running down a prey, the smell of fear on its skin, her fangs breaking the flesh and then the warmth of its blood flooding into her mouth.  Just thinking of it made her fangs descend suddenly, cutting into the inside of her bottom lip. 
She sucked down the blood and put away her compact, forcing her thoughts elsewhere. 
She was only eighteen years-old; a neophyte, a baby.  She was still learning control.  How much longer could she be expected to live among the humans and not feed on any of them?
Nicolae had told her that her father wanted her in school.  Had demanded it, setting strict instructions for her future before he Slumbered, and there were to be no transgressions or indiscretions.  And there was no arguing with or displeasing her father.  The forty years left of his Slumber would pass by in a blink and his rage, should she disobey him, would be acute.  The little time she was able to spend with him before he entered his hibernation, he never gave the impression he was a vampire of compassion.  He certainly didn’t understand the meaning of forgiveness.  He had more wives then she had shoes—and she had a lot of shoes—all dying at his hand when he tired of them.  If she disobeyed a direct order, it would be a stake through her heart for sure.
She would just have to control her hunger.
The professor finally released the class and Adrianna gathered up her books and bag, deliberately slow, to not stand out.  It was constant work to look human. 
Yet she did stand out.  Her hair was long and thick and shined in the light, always
looking like she had just stepped out of the salon.  Her eyelashes were long and she knew how to use them combined with her eyes to lure and seduce.  Her pale skin was flawless.  She was graceful and confident and strong.  And unlike the rest of her kind, she could stand out in the sun and not turn to burning ash. 
Somehow here, though, she wasn’t feared and avoided like she was around any other gathering of humans, the few times she was allowed to be around humans for something other than feeding.  These humans were naïve.  They didn’t believe in vampires and therefore completely denied their existence.  What she was wasn’t even a possibility to them.  And as long as she kept her fangs hidden, she was safe.

That night, she sat in front of her computer monitor in her dorm room in the Mary Mason building.  It was the nicest girls’ dorm on campus with two students to a small apartment, each with their own room, personal bathroom, and a shared living room and kitchen. 
In this school, the girls did not share dorm buildings with the boys.  They weren’t even allowed past the lobby of each other’s dorms.  Coming from her underworld of bloodbath orgies and encouraged sexcapades, this place was a veritable nunnery.
Adrianna chuckled at the thought of her being in a nunnery.  She couldn’t even step foot on the lawn of any holy place.  She couldn’t even speak the word holy, or God, or heaven.  Think it yes, but speak it no.  Any attempt was like choking.  Which was going to make taking the required New and Old Testament courses difficult, but those classes were also held in the college’s chapel, which made her attendance out of the question anyway.  She would have to hold off and hope her father allowed her to come back home or she would end up a professional college student.
Adrianna looked down from her computer screen and pressed her palms into her eyes.  The light from the screen was too bright and burned.  Too much light took its toll on her eyes and being outside all day, combined with the artificial digital light before her now, was too much to take.  Her roommate was also talking very loudly, planted on the sofa in their living room; her thick Arkansan accent penetrating through Adrianna’s closed door and raking her nerves.  She had to get out of there.  She could do her research just as easily from the library and that way she wouldn’t be tempted to use her roommate to quench her thirst.
It was a short walk to the large brick building, even at human speed.  She climbed the stone steps and pulled open the glass doors, the warm air inside hitting her hard after being outside in the cool night.
She wandered up and down the aisles, up and down the different floors, searching for the book on Mayans she needed for her paper.  She found where it should be, but it wasn’t there.  Sighing, she walked back down to the main floor, toward the help desk tucked in between several shelves of books on the left and stopped a few feet from it. 
The guy sitting behind the counter had no business being there. 
He leaned back in his chair with his legs propped up on the desk.  His wavy blonde hair shimmered in the light, messy and falling in his face.  His gray t-shirt strained and stretched against his broad chest and shoulder muscles and he had it raised up on his torso, mindlessly scratching his toned, golden abs, while he held up a piece of paper, studying it with a frown. 
He should be sculpted in marble by an Italian artist, Adrianna thought, or tied up in my playroom, feeding me bottles of blood.  Again she felt her fangs pierce her lip, bringing her back from her deviating thoughts.  
Control, she told herself.  Don’t get involved with any of them—it will only lead to complications. 
She took in a deep breath and held it.  She could hold it for the rest of the day, if it was necessary and judging by how good he smelled when she inhaled, she may have to.
Daniel was frustrated.  He had been in school for two weeks and still couldn’t find Adrianna.  He had studied her mother’s picture everyday, just as he studied it now.  No one fit the bill.  He couldn’t track her down and he grew more impatient every day.  To make the situation worse, the daily diatribes of his fake human life were driving him insane. 
Mark, his roommate, was annoying.  He felt the need to Witness to him every chance he got and on more than one occasion, he tried to “save” him.  He also snored very loudly, ate cereal just before bed, and his friends were disturbing at best. 
Stephena lived up to her reputation as a nun, requiring Daniel to attend Mass on Wednesday and Sunday at the only Catholic church in town and eat dinner with her every Sunday night. 
Not for the last time did he think on his last conversation with Gabriel.  About his need for control.  About his mistake in Greece. 
He had lost his temper then.  He was to take out the demons and leave the humans, allow the Creator to judge them when death came for them in due time.  But these humans had long lost their humanity.  They did the bidding of the demons.  They had free will and they chose the darkness.  He had compassion for humans.  He cared deeply for mankind.  That was why he had spent centuries protecting them.  One little slip in judgment should not keep him from his rightful place.
“Hello,” a soft, female voice purred.  “I need help.”
Daniel lowered the photo and looked up, stopping instantly with his mouth falling open. 
He couldn’t decide which feature he loved more—her big, bright green eyes with flecks of reddish-brown around the irises, her Mona Lisa smile, or the little crease in her milky white brow as she looked at him with confused amusement.
“You’re beautiful,” Daniel whispered, unthinking and unblinking. 
Her smile turned to a grin. 
She had a dimple, too!  Daniel suppressed a groan.
“Uh, thanks,” she said.  “I need to find a book, though.  Do you know where The Mayan Code is?  It’s not where it should be.”

“Hmm,” he said, standing up and placing the paper he had been studying on the desk.  He looked down at her with a bright smile and she thought he might be what Heaven looked like. 
He’s tall, too, Adrianna thought.  Definitely a plus.
“Let’s see what I can do to you—I mean, for you,” he said, blushing as he walked around the counter.  Adrianna fought a smile.  She was used to come-ons.  She attracted both human genders, and normally this would have no affect on her, but coming from him, she actually felt her stomach tighten. 
Daniel placed a hand on Adrianna’s back, leading her upstairs.  “Sometimes people put books back based on a phonetic alphabet, rather than by the actual letter.  Or they file based on the word ‘the’.”
He walked to the second row and looked on one of the shelves, pulling out a book.  “And here it is.” 
He looked at the cover and grinned.  “I’m surprised this hasn’t been tossed on a burning pile of unacceptable books.  These Baptists don’t seem to be fans of anything that contradicts their spiritual accounts of religious history.”
“You’re not a Baptist?” Adrianna asked and then noticed the crucifix he wore on a thin, silver chain around his neck.  She inched away from him slightly.
“No,” he said, seemingly unaware of her shrinking from him.  “You?”
Her smile spread like carefully drawn curtains and she shook her head slowly. 
“We’re a minority then,” he whispered, leaning in.  She could smell him again: a liberating scent of the woods and flying, mixed with the musk of sandalwood and honey and her head began to swim. 
“They haven’t tried saving you with that around your neck?” she asked, nodding at his necklace but watching it as though it was a coiled snake.
“Every day, actually,” Daniel chuckled and put an arm out, leaning against the shelf and folding the book in his elbow with the other arm.  “If they’re not trying to save me, they’re telling me I’m going to hell.”

“Hell may not be so bad,” she smiled.  “Compared to an eternity with Baptists.  Though I hear it’s pretty hot there.”
They stood a moment in silence, held in each other’s gaze, both sensing something different about the other.  Daniel felt the mortal urges calling to him and decided it best to break the silence.
“Well, here you go.”  He reached out with the book. 

Adrianna looked at his veins protruding from his arm muscles, the blood pulsing strongly within.  She wondered how easy it would be to drink him here.  Would anyone notice with them removed from the most trafficked parts of the library? 
But then an odd feeling stirred within her.  Nothing she had ever felt before and the thought of drinking from him made her nervous, scared.  She didn’t fear frightening him, she feared…disappointing him.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the book.
“You’re welcome.  I’m Daniel,” he said, stretching his hand out. 
She hesitated a moment, surreptitiously rubbing her hand on her thigh in an attempt to make if feel less cold before taking his hand.  “I’m Adrianna.  Adrianna Tepes.” 
She saw the faintest flinch in his eyes.  Yes, her hand is cold, she thought.  If not a tell-tale sign, then definitely a red flag.  But he recovered quickly and smiled again.

Green eyes, not blue, Daniel thought.  Dark brown hair, not light brown.  No real resemblance to the mother, she must take after her father…Vlad Tepes. 
Vald Draculea. 
This was the daughter of the Dragon?  She had the face of an angel.  Her smile was like the sunrise.  Her eyes as deep as the most magical forest.  But her hand was cold.  Deathly cold.  She was not just a child of the night; she was the child of the night.
“Daniel,” she said repeating his name and he felt his heart flutter at the sound.  “Your name is Hebrew for judged by…,” she stopped with her mouth still open, blinking and unable to continue, as if someone stole the word from her tongue.
“God,” Daniel said, finishing for her. 
She can’t say the word, he thought.  She can’t say the Creator’s name.  She is a demon.  There is no soul to save.  The thought made him sad, which also made him confused.
He noticed the dark circles under her eyes and he wanted to reach out and brush the thin, pale skin with his fingertips.  She hasn’t been feeding, he thought.  He wondered why. 

All Adrianna could hear now was the pounding of his heart and the rush of his blood.  She wondered if he would taste as good as he smelled; if she would be able to control herself from draining him.  For the third time today, her fangs descended and she threw up a hand to cover her mouth.
“I have to go,” she mumbled behind her hand, turning around.  “Thanks for the help.”
And at almost too fast of a speed, she rushed out of the library, ditching her books and bags in the bushes and transforming, taking a new shape.  Not in the form of a bat—that’s too clichéd—but as a hawk. 
Beating her wings and rising high into the night sky, she circled and soared south, in search of release for the rush of emotions making her head swim and her heart pound, in search of prey.  The wind picked up with a gust and she smelled it—life.  Human life.  Human blood. 
She shrieked once before diving into the shadows below.