What happened next…

Author’s note: I have been encouraged to continue my sequel to Labyrinth. Understanding that what I write on my blog comes directly out of the files in my head—and therefore is completely unedited and unpolished—I’ve decided to undertake the challenge this month and post the story, serial-style, right here on my blog. So, direct from my brain’s writing den, here are a few more paragraphs chronicling the adventures of Sarah and her misguided brother Toby. If you missed the first part of the story, you can find it at the end of this post: Writers write…even when they’re not at a computer.

Sarah feverishly stuffed the backpack with all the things she wished she’d taken into the Labyrinth before. Water, protein bars, tissues. Thirteen hours was a long time, and Toby would make sure the Labyrinth didn’t supply any of her needs. Quietly cursing Toby for getting her into this mess in the beginning, she shouldered the backpack and turned.

Stephen stood in the doorway, his expression concerned. “Sweetheart, there’s someone here to see you.”

She forced herself to take a deep breath. She’d already told her husband she didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t want a sedative, didn’t want to rest. Would he never give up? Why wouldn’t he leave her alone to do what she had to do? “I won’t take any drugs.”

“It’s not a doctor.” Her husband squeezed her hand and stepped aside.

Another man entered the room after him. Older, graying, a cloud of worry hanging over his face. He summoned a little smile for her—cautious even now. After all the years that had passed between them, he still looked ready to cringe away from a fight with his daughter.

“Dad.” Sarah nodded. “Hi.” She turned back to her packing. “I’m really sorry I don’t have time to catch up right now. I’m a little busy.” She considered telling him she was going after Toby, but knew it was useless. He hadn’t believed her back when Toby disappeared. He wouldn’t believe her now.

“Sarah.” Her father spoke so gently, she closed her eyes. Why did she still want his approval? Why did it matter anymore?

In spite of herself, she turned. “Dad.”

“Stephen says you think Toby took Davey.”

“I do.” She nodded. “Actually, I don’t just think he took him. I know he did.”

“Honey.” Her father stepped forward and put his hands on her shoulders. “Your brother has been gone a long time. He…he’s probably dead.” His features twisted a little in remembered pain.

Sarah knew her father had accepted Toby’s death long before. Drugs, he thought. A tragedy, losing a son to drugs, but Toby had been withdrawn for a long time before he disappeared.

Only Sarah knew the real reason for that. Only Sarah knew Toby had gone looking for the man who’d kidnapped him as a baby, answering a call he didn’t quite understand until she told him the story of the Goblin King who took him…because she asked him to.

Damn Jareth.

She should say, Toby’s not dead, Dad. And you have to stop blaming yourself. You aren’t to blame. I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who asked the Goblin King to take him and I’m the one who went to get him back. And now he’s looking for revenge. Probably Jareth, too.

Instead, her heart full of remorse and worry and guilt, she gritted her teeth and blamed the only person she could think to blame right then. She shook off her father’s hands. “He’s not dead, Dad. He took Davey, and I’m going to get him back.” She shouldered her backpack and turned to face them. “Spoiled brat always was taking my stuff.”

Stephen caught her hand. “Sweetheart—”

But it wasn’t him who stopped her. Her eyes were caught by a face in the mirror. A face she recognized though she hadn’t seen it in more than two decades. She froze, her heart beating so wildly she couldn’t hear her father or her brother. She couldn’t even hear her own voice though she thought she called out.

Jareth.

And then everything around her went black.

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Writers write…even when they’re not at a computer.

“Are you writing anything new?”

Every writer gets this very excellent question, although many of the askers don’t even realize how appropriate it probably is. Because if you’re talking to a writer, chances are, they’re writing something.

I’m writing all the time. So my answer should always be yes, but sometimes I equivocate. “Yes, when I have time.” “Yes, but not as much as I’d like.” “Well, it’s been busy with the kids and all.”

But that’s not true. I’m writing even when I’m answering the question. In some back room of my brain, I’m scribbling away at an old-fashioned desk…using a feathered quill on parchment, probably. Sunlight streams in through a yellow-paned window and the pages I’ve written litter the floor.

Yeah, that’s why I sometimes stare vaguely at a green light until somebody honks at me.

I didn’t consciously realize this about myself until the other day when I read an article about of all things, a possible remake or sequel to the movie “Labyrinth”. I was still listening exclusively to David Bowie, not really mourning his death, but definitely feeling the loss of it. My immediate, visceral reaction was a total rejection of the idea. How could you remake “Labyrinth” without the Goblin King himself?

Then I left to pick up my kids and while I was in the car, I started to write the sequel to “Labyrinth” myself. By the time I was done, I had the whole story. It even stars Jennifer Connelly. And David Bowie (computer animated?) makes a cameo appearance.

I haven’t written any of it down—not even an outline—because, you know, what are the chances that Hollywood is going to call me and ask me to write Labyrinth II? But it’s all up there in my head, scribbled on yellow parchment and lying in a neat stack in a square of sunshine. And I wrote it while in the carpool lane, while picking up groceries, while chatting with friends and doing laundry.

Am I writing anything new? Yes, I just haven’t decided if I want to share it yet.

Author’s note: The following is just for fun and about as fresh off the press as it’s possible to be (read VERY rough draft). If you are a fan of Labyrinth, you might enjoy it. You might not. It’s really just a bit of fan fic about how I’d like the sequel to start out. 

The horrible feeling that something was very wrong built in Sarah’s chest. So when she rounded the corner and saw the flashing lights, she was barely surprised. When she pushed open the car door and rushed toward the house, she was almost calm.

She saw Davey’s tricycle on its side in the middle of the road, but there were no ambulances. Cassidy sat on the front steps, obviously crying, with a police officer in front of her, writing something on a pad of paper.

“Cassidy.” Sarah spoke sharply. “What have you done?”

The fear on the babysitter’s face echoed in Sarah’s heart. “Mrs. Lawrence, I swear, I barely took my eyes off him. One second he was there and the next…” She swept her arm around the empty yard with its emerald grass and ruby roses and no laughing little boy with sapphire eyes running to greet his mother.

“Mrs. Lawrence, we’re conducting a search. We think your son just wandered off…couldn’t go far…” The voices faded into the background and Sarah closed her eyes.

It’s happening again.

She felt hands on her shoulders. “Mrs. Lawrence? Can we call someone for you? Your husband?”

She shook them off, opening her eyes and facing them. “You can call off the search. I know who has my son. And he’ll only give him back to me.”

“You know where he is?”

“God help me, yes.” Sarah glanced at her watch. How long ago had Davey disappeared? Twenty minutes? Thirty? How much of the thirteen hours was left? “My brother has him.”

She knew how it must sound. Her brother Toby—her only sibling—had disappeared ten years ago at the age of sixteen. Everyone knew about that disappearance. Nobody knew about the one that had happened when he was still a baby. And nobody knew the two were connected.

Except me. And now he’s taken my baby. Her lips curved in a little smile. She already knew the rules, she already knew the way. She knew nothing would be fair and certainly not easy. Toby would do everything he could to keep her from making it through the labyrinth. But Toby had made a mistake Jareth would never have made. Jareth had only taken her brother. Toby had taken her son.

Don’t worry, Davey. Mama’s coming.

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My Elvis died.

supermoon

Another one of my heroes died this week, and it’s left a bigger hole in the world than I’d anticipated. I mean, people die. Even the stars we admire from afar. I’ve got more heroes in heaven than I do on earth at this point. Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Bing Crosby, Steve Jobs… Yet, it just seems so wrong that David Bowie isn’t still here.

Why him more than the others? It’s hard to say, really. I wasn’t the best David Bowie fan. I didn’t love everything he ever put out. I didn’t buy every album. I tended to pick and choose, more of a greatest hits than a B-side fan. I never went to a concert. I own a lot of his music, but I don’t listen to it all the time.

I think he was my Elvis. The one artist that won’t be replaced for me. It’s not just that it’ll be difficult. There won’t be another David Bowie. That incredibly elastic voice and personality can’t be replaced. We won’t see another Major Tom or Ziggy Stardust or Jareth or Thin White Duke. Not again.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. But I’ll never listen to his music again without a sense of loss and the impermanence of life. Which means his music doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did. I can’t just fall in love with his croon and wonder at the hidden meanings to his lyrics. And it’s that loss that I mourn.

So good-bye, Mr. Bowie. I’ll miss you every time I hear your voice.

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New Year: My Love/Hate/Like/Respect Relationship with Social Media

I was first introduced to social media at my 20th high school reunion. “Are you on Facebook?” is the second most important question I remember being asked.

“Are you pregnant?” is the first most important.

I wasn’t.

In fact, my daughter who was just over a year old was with my two boys at my parents’ that night. My father called me about two hours into the event to tell me she was running a fever. Happy to get away from schoolmates I’d never really fit in with but still longed to impress, I fled the scene in the ill-fitting dress that had led to pregnancy question.

The next week I looked up Facebook, started a profile, friended every old Facebook_like_thumbschoolmate I could find and posted a flattering picture of myself, very obviously NOT pregnant. Facebook was a lot of fun!

I’ve had a hilly relationship with social media since then. When I started publishing romance novels, it was useful for getting the word out. Hey, look what I did! But I can’t honestly say it’s resulted in a spike in sales at any point beyond release days. And to be honest, constantly posting and tweeting saps any creative energy I might have, cutting dramatically into my writing time.

I’ve used social media, especially Facebook, to brag about my kids, to post funny pictures, to share articles about politics, education, writing, child-rearing, etc. I’ve been guilty about bragging about the places I travel to, special achievements, and wonderful experiences.

Last October, I read an article about the darker side of social media. People who post the good stuff and leave out the bad. A mother who posted pictures of her beautiful children, loving husband and perfect home–found dead of a drug overdose. Another mother who posted loving comments about her toddler’s accomplishments and growth–discovered disposing of the child’s body. Teens who maintain two profiles. One that shows a perfect life, the other full of angst and worry that they’ll be found out to be much more normal and less…perfect.

Is this what social media turns us into? Is it really just another way of keeping up with—or besting—your friends and neighbors? Since reading these articles, I’ve been more thoughtful about what I post to the point of almost posting nothing. What if something I post makes someone else out there feel unworthy or like a failure? That’s not what I want.

Facebook currently has a feature letting me know what my “memories” are from that date in the past. Sometimes I force myself to look. They are mostly drivel and nine-tenths of the rest are not worth sharing with the world or even good friends. The only truly worthwhile ones are pictures of my kids, and maybe I should never have posted those anyway.

Which has led me to my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to use social media and the Internet in a more thoughtful way. I’ve been going over and over what this means and I’m still not totally clear about it. I know it means to think twice before posting, to consider carefully what the effects of my posts might be. I don’t think I’ll stop using social media, because I do like and enjoy it for the most part, but I will respect it more.

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My Apologies to the Plotters: It Really Does Work

Pantsing vs. Plotting. It’s the never-ending boxers vs. briefs debate between writers. You choose a side and defend it passionately. Over the years I’ve been very outspoken about being a pantser. Why sit around plotting what to write? Just write! It’s more organic that way. More meant-to-be.

Until I took on my latest project, anyway. A three-book romantic fantasy series. Not that I jumped right into it without a real idea of where it was going to go or anything…

Well, not really… Okay, yeah, I kinda did do that. But it worked! At least for the first book. I tore through it NaNo-style in a month and with another month or two of major rewriting and editing had it ready to send off to a publisher.

That’s the way writing is supposed to be. Total joy.

Followed by total frustration. I opened up the new file and started to write, seeking to find that joy in the second book that I’d experienced with the first. It didn’t show up. So I closed the computer and went off to do something else. I organized my office. I cleaned out the kids’ toys. I baked cookies and made three-dimensional snowflakes, stopping to write down ideas from time to time. And I realized I needed a plan.

I had a basic idea of what I wanted the three books to be, but I hadn’t actually outlined what I wanted from each one. So I sat down and wrote out the plot points from the first book (pretty easy since it was already written), then I started on the second and before I knew it I’d begun plotting and in the process immersed myself in a whole mythology I’d created for my characters without even realizing it.

Only then did I go back to pantsing it. Because I have plotted an outline, I can pick and choose which scenes to write and know where they’ll fit in. So I can write the scene I’m inspired to write and know it won’t end up in the garbage. Cue joyful, triumphant music.

Plotting. Who knew, right?

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Emojis and the decline of the English language: A return to illiteracy?

Ha ha! How’s that for a scholarly title? I sound like a I might actually know what I’m talking about, right?

It’s possible.

Stranger things have happened.

For instance, yesterday the Oxford English Dictionary announced its Word of the Year. (Read about it here.) Past words of the year have included “selfie” (2013) and “vape” (2014), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this year, the word of the year isn’t a word at all. It’s an emoji. This emoji:

emoji

Face with tears of joy emoji

Okay, so what does this have to do with illiteracy? Well, think about it. The more we use non-literate symbols to express ourselves, the more likely we are to lose our writing skills. A few years ago, I as a librarian was shocked when the summer reading program at our local library offered kids rewards for reading emails, websites and texts instead of books. What? That’s not reading. Reading is picking up a book (or an e-reader) and reading a story, following a plotline, getting to know characters, or–if you prefer nonfiction–learning something from someone who knows more than you do. None of that is going to happen in emails, texts and even most websites. Sorry.

The new word of the year seems to be following that trend.

But maybe that’s the point. Society seems content to be dumbed down. Why not let it?

Once upon a time, only the top classes of society knew how to read and write. Books were too expensive for lower classes, who were lucky to be able to scrape together food. The advent of the printing press and the wider availability of books made it possible for more people to access the same types of knowledge as the upper classes. So the printed word began to close the gap between classes, leveling the playing field in an unprecedented way.

That Renaissance may be coming to a close, though. Every day I see more signs of the decline of the English language. Misspellings, incorrect grammar and other simple errors that a good copy editor should have corrected appear in ads, newspapers and books. It makes me wonder…if we don’t use the gift of literacy, maybe we will, eventually, lose it…and be left feeling our way through another dark age.

 

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Halloween Special Treat!: An Interview with Author A.J. Brown

Over the course of 2014-15, author A.J. Brown gave away hundreds of short stories in booklet form he called The Brown Bag Stories. Thirteen editions, including a Christmas special. Then, in May 2015, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Brown Bag Stories, A.J. published eight versions of that month’s edition, letting his readers pick which one they received. Unfortunately, this meant they only got to read one of the eight stories.

So, in July 2015, A.J. decided to take the twenty stories he’d written over the course of the year and put them out in book form. As he put it, “No e-book. No online stories. Just me, selling them to those who want them.” He signed each one sold, including a personal note about the writing of one of the stories. Then he packed and mailed it himself. Mine arrived in a brown padded mailing envelope addressed by A.J. and with a personal note thanking me for buying the book.

Imagine in this day and age of massive publishing houses and authors who are part of the machine: an author first giving away his stories, and then selling directly to his readers. Pretty brilliant, don’t you think? After reading the collection myself, I had to seize the opportunity to talk to A.J. about his strategy and the collection that resulted from it.

  1. Tell me a little about how you came up with such a unique marketing plan.

Cate and I had talked about doing something different with my writing, but we weren’t sure what direction to go in. I was frustrated. Things just weren’t working with social media and blogging and trying to get other folks to help spread the word. Then one Saturday we attended the Zombie Walk here in Columbia and met a woman at a comic book booth. After a long discussion she told us to talk to her brother, who ran the comic store the booth was for. That afternoon we went to talk to him. The conversation was much shorter than with his sister, but he made the suggestion to give away some stories, to just pass them out around town. It took a couple of months and a lot of trial and error, but in June of 2014 we finally released the debut issue of The Brown Bag Stories.

I’ll say this: it was a terrifying prospect with passing them out around town and hoping places would let us put them in their establishments. A lot of folks around our hometown didn’t know I wrote stories, and that was just as daunting, telling folks I knew.

  1. Your stories have a wide range of themes, ranging everywhere from despair to isolation to courage and even hope. Was this intentional or do you think writing a different short story every month had an influence on it?

For the most part, each month dictated the story for that month. November has Veteran’s Day so the story for it was centered around a veteran. February has Valentine’s Day, so the story was centered around a romantic theme. Molly’s Story was influenced by the death of a friend of mine, so I wanted to dedicate that issue to her.

For the months that didn’t have a significant day or event in them, I just went with the story that felt right for that particular issue.

  1. You once called The Brown Bag Stories a “labor of love”. You put in a lot of time, effort and resources to these little booklets. Is it a love you’re ready to put to rest now?

No. Part of that labor of love is the creating of the stories. To go with that is I really wanted to give the readers something they would enjoy, some good entertainment. You know how you want to give someone something special, but you don’t want it to be the same old thing? You try and figure out what would make them happy, and then you realize you can actually make it yourself. Then when you’re done creating it you just know the person is going to be happy with it—it was a labor of love. Everything you put into it was done with love. It’s the same thing with The Brown Bag Stories.

The other part is that I want people to read my work, but if they don’t know who I am, then they won’t be able to read the work. So, the actual creating of the booklet is something I tried to take as seriously as I would a full length book. And, Michelle, being a writer, you know how it feels when you see the finished product. Each month I would hold these booklets in my hands and think, ‘they’re going to like this.’ That feeling is warm and awesome and easy to love. You know?

  1. Was there ever a month when you wondered if you’d actually make it to press in time to get the story out?

Yes—in truth, we originally wanted to put these out starting in May of 2014, but we clearly didn’t make that goal! The May, 2015 edition(s) was taxing and there were several times I wondered if I had gotten myself in a little above my head. But most of the other months I was done with about a week or so to spare.

  1. How did you get followers of the stories? I know you used Facebook, but did you use any other methods to get the word out?

Facebook and other social media played a huge hand in getting the word out. I posted in various places that I was going to give away free stories. Truthfully, not a lot of folks took me up on it at first. As a matter of fact, I had several writers contact me and tell me I was an idiot for giving away my hard work, that I was devaluing the work by giving it away. Still, I wanted to do this, so Facebook and social media, and my blog were all places I posted about it. Then we went around town and put some in local coffee shops (for the most part, people were okay with it as long as it didn’t cost them anything).

I was in a few groups on Facebook as well and when people started talking about how they don’t really take chances on unknown writers I started telling them, ‘Hey, I’ll give you these stories for free. Take a chance on me and if you like the work, then buy the books.’ I always tell people, just give me a chance and you won’t regret it. That’s how sure I am of my abilities as a story teller and writer. Cate also posted about them on her social media sites, including Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

All of a sudden, my mailing list began to grow from a handful of people wanting them to quite a few.

  1. Labor of love or not, you made no secret of the fact that The Brown Bag Stories is part of a marketing plan. Has it been effective? How?

Yeah, I think it has. First off, a lot of folks who received The Brown Bag Stories bought Cory’s Way when it came out. It helped in that respect. It also helped by way of the owner of a publishing company was one of the folks I asked to take a chance on my free work. She did. She also let her husband read the stories. They are on my mailing list now and I have a book coming out with them in 2016.

  1. Do you have a favorite story in the collection?

Molly’s Story is one of my favorites, just because of the reason behind why I made it one of The Brown Bag Stories. When my friend, Molly, died I was stunned and at a huge loss. Though we never met in person, we worked on several projects together and became really good friends. Her death hurt and that particular issue was the hardest one for me. Molly’s Story was originally titled Strings—it was her favorite piece that I wrote. I couldn’t think of a better tribute to her.

  1. My personal favorite story was “The Vampire Beneath Jodie’s Bed”. I loved the progression of the little girl heroine in this. Can you tell me a little about what made you write this?

This thought: There was a vampire under my bed. It was made of an old white ball and one of Daddy’s old shirts—one he can no longer wear since he got sick and lost all that weight.

It was bedtime and I had just brushed my teeth and was on the way to the bedroom when that popped into my head.

As the story took shape, I realized the vampire would only be significant in Jodie’s head and that actually seeing the vampire draining the blood of her father wasn’t important. What was important was that Jodie believed that whatever it was under her bed was the reason her father was dying, and what would happen after he was gone? What would the monster feed on then?

More importantly I wanted Jodie to be strong in the end. I wanted her to save her father and her family. I wanted her to be able to overcome her fears. The same thing was in play in Bee’s Screams.

  1. The stories are addictive! Has anyone complained that you’re not doing this on a monthly basis anymore?

Yes! Several folks have mentioned they miss the monthly stories. However, that is being remedied. October marked the beginning of the second year of The Brown Bag Stories. Cate and I discussed this at length one night recently and came to the conclusion that The Brown Bag Stories needed to go on. Besides, I really missed doing them.

  1. Can interested readers still get a copy of the collection? Yes. I do have the compilation of the 20 stories still available, for print only. They can contact me on Facebook or through my blog (Type AJ Negative) or even my e-mail address (ajbrown36@bellsouth.net). How about past editions of The Brown Bag Stories? Past editions will only be available for as long as I have more than one of them. Once I get down to one, then that will be all for the First Edition. I plan on keeping a copy for myself. Currently, the Christmas Special is the only one no longer available to people, other than in the compilation book. How can they be sure they get the next one? Get on my mailing list. That’s the easiest way. To do that, just drop me a line (Facebook and my e-mail is the easiest way to get in touch with me). I’ll say this: it is hard to get all of them. There are the 20 from year one and the first one for year two. But there is also one that comes with the print edition of Cory’s Way, and I’m putting together one for the birthdays of the folks on my mailing list. I also plan on doing one for Dredging Up Memories, my zombie novel (hopefully coming out next year).

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