The late evening sun sank lower, barely peering through the treeline as I sat next to the pile of recently overturned earth, careful not to fall into the carefully dug hole. Eventually, some likely underpaid caretaker would replace the sod that had been cut away and plant grass seed when the sod didn’t grow uniformly, but it was too early for that. It was too early for a headstone, too.
I froze slightly as I heard the scuffling of feet behind me and then relaxed as I recognized the shuffling, limping gait. “You should be resting,” I murmured as he sat down beside me.
“And you shouldn’t?”
I glanced at him, his cuts and bruises looking more pronounced, more ominous in the twilight blanketing the cemetery. Though, I was sure I didn’t look any better. That thought was confirmed as he reached out to touch my face then let his hand fall away.
“Your mom made supper,” he said, as if trying to bridge the growing distance between us.
“I’m not hungry.”
“When’s the last time you ate anything?”
I shrugged and stared into the darkening hole.
He reached for me. “Cass–”
“No!” I stumbled to my feet. “Don’t! They’re putting our baby in a hole tomorrow. This hole. I don’t fucking care about food. I don’t care about any one of the well-meaning lasagnas stuffed into the freezer by our well-meaning friends. I don’t care if I starve because at least I won’t be here without her.”
His battered face crumpled and he sagged as if someone had opened a valve and let all of the air out of him. “I’m so sorry. I tried to get us out of the way. I tried,” he murmured. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or me. But then he looked up at me, utterly stricken. “I tried to take the impact on my side of the car, but I couldn’t get it to turn in time. I couldn’t get it to turn.”
My heart pounded, practically thrashing its way out of my chest as the sounds of crunching metal and breaking glass filled my head, replacing the harsh gasping breaths of my husband, and over it all, I heard the tiny gurgle of sound that would be the last noise our little girl would ever make.
I sank down into the cool grass behind him and wrapped my arms around him and gave in to the sobs building in my throat.
“I promised I’d always be there to protect her.”
I tightened my grip around him despite the pain I knew we were both feeling, and he covered my hands with his. He’d done the best he could. I knew he had.
“I know I failed you both, but please don’t let go. I can’t lose you, too.”
I shook my head, unable to form words as the growing darkness swallowed us. I’d hold on to him. I’d hold on forever.
Prompt: “Just call the police. No one has time for your Nancy Drew shenanigans.”
It was only day one of an entire month with my Uncle Joe, Aunt Tami. Hell, I hadn’t even seen my cousins, Joey and Tiffany yet, and I already wanted to scream. I understood that my mom wanted me to have the same kind of close relationship she’d had with her cousins growing up. In theory, it was a great idea. However, reality left much to be desired.
Maybe her aunts and uncles had made better choices than my mom’s only brother had. Even seeing my Aunt Tami for the occasional family dinner made me want to grind my teeth, but an entire month? I hoped my mom was prepared for the dental bills. Or to pay bail money when Aunt Tami had me arrested for throat punching her obnoxious children. I wondered if I’d still be allowed to start tenth grade if I had a record.
We pulled into the drive of their summer home. It was nice enough. And big enough that I had my own room when I was here. And I did like being on the lake. Though, I’d like it better if I didn’t have to constantly babysit Tiffany. She was awfully whiny for an 11-year-old.
We got out of the car and I followed Tami and Tiffany into the house, stopping short when my aunt gasped. It was trashed. There was broken glass and red plastic cups everywhere. Not to mention puke and the occasional candy wrapper and passed out teenager. In fact, Joey was lying on the couch, clutching a mostly empty bottle of booze.
“We’ve been robbed!”
I looked at Aunt Tami, and my mouth hung open for a second or two. “I don’t think so.”
“There’s broken glass everywhere and the whole place has been ransacked!”
I glanced around the room. “There’s empty bottles and puke everywhere. It looks like Joey had a party.”
She glared at me. “He would never!”
Shrugging, I said, “The red plastic cups and and the fact that he’s sleeping with a bottle of whiskey would suggest otherwise.”
“If he’s drunk, it’s because the robbers made him drink it.”
“Just call the police. No one has time for your Nancy Drew shenanigans.”
I pulled out my phone and stifled a smile. No cop in their right mind would believe the house had been robbed and Joey was a victim. This month of forced family togetherness just got a lot more interesting.
How do I procrastinate…let me count the ways.
10.) Clean. If I need to do something I really don’t want to do, cleaning is a great procrastination technique. Granted, I’m just exchanging one hated thing for another, but that’s usually when my house ends up being the cleanest.
9.) Surfing stock art sites. I’m embarrassed to admit how much time I actually spend looking for future character models for cover art.
8.) Menu planning. It’s a necessary evil because it makes our life run smoother, but it takes forever to do (because I loathe cooking and shopping) but sometimes I use it as an avoidance technique.
7.) Twitter surfing. I use Twitter like a normal person, and then sometimes I fall into the hole of no return–especially during heavy news days. But then, aren’t they all heavy news days lately?
6.) Tumblr. Dear god…I love Tumblr, but I know that whenever I get on, I’m not getting off anytime soon.
5.) Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Please see above.
4.) Reading. I love stories. All kinds of stories and diving into a particularly good book is a fab way to avoid doing other stuff. I like to call it market research.
3.) Words with Friends. Despite my children actively lobbying for me to join them in the land of video games, I’ve resisted…except for Words with Friends, though, they’ve informed me this doesn’t count as a video game. But I still probably spend too much time playing it.
2.) Netflix. Though, to be fair, I usually only watch it while I’m doing something else–usually something crafty because I’m incapable of just sitting and watching something. Like it’s a biological impossibility. I just can’t do it. I’m annoying as fuck to go to the movies with, because I’m a foot jiggler. I jiggle my foot because apparently movie theaters frown on people using their phone for a flashlight to check their stitches while watching movies. Whatever.
1.) All the crafting ever. Sewing, knitting, cross stitching, pottery–I love being crafty, and if there’s something I’m looking to avoid, getting my craft on is the way to do it. I’m not actively trying to avoid anything at the moment, but I am making a wedding dress and a flower girl dress. For a July 1st wedding. Because I’m stupid.
You know…sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s procrastination or just poor time management skills…
Tansy’s cell phone vibrated, and she pulled it out of her pocket. After reading the text, adjusted the countdown clock.
This was it.
It was really happening.
They were going to do it.
Nervous excitement built in her stomach making her feeling vaguely nauseated as she laid out her supplies in the middle of her living room floor. Salt, crystals, candles, herbs, and her athame.
She glanced at at the countdown clock again. In three minutes and thirty-three seconds, they’d attempt something that had never been tried. Witches from every country–covens, solitary practitioners, would join together with a single purpose–saving the world.
When her alarm chimed, she took a deep breath and moved to the center of the room and lit the candles. Gripping the hilt of her blade tightly, she cast the circle, calling to the four quarters and raising the energy she’d need to complete the spell. As soon as she felt the power surging through her, she closed her eyes and focused on the subject of her spell, visualizing him clearly while reciting the words she’d spent the last three days memorizing.
As she held an image of him in her mind, the power swelled as it spread and joined with that of every other witch in the world. The magical current raced along her limbs, leaping from nerve ending to nerve ending, raising hair and goosebumps over her entire body as her heartbeat fell into rhythm and joining her consciousness with the rest of the spellcasters. And still the energy gathered and grew. When it was too vast to be contained, they all released it at once—sending it hurtling toward their target.
Tansy collapsed, breathless to the floor, pressing her palms to the old wooden floorboards as the lingering remnants of magic dissipated. After she’d caught her breath, she closed the circle and extinguished the candles. Before she’d even gotten her supplies put away, her best friend, Diana, had begun texting.
OMG – that was amazing. Did you feel it? Are you as pumped as I am right now?
Yawning, Tansy responded: I’m exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open. When do you think we’ll know if it worked?
Diana texted back almost immediately. No clue, but you sleep. I’ll call you if there’s any kind of movement.
Tansy thanked her and curled up on the couch. When she opened her eyes a few hours later, pinky-gray lighted filtered through the window and her phone was vibrating and and ringing loudly, Diana’s name flashing on the screen.
“We did it! Turn on the news! Hurry!”
Tansy rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “What channel?”
“It doesn’t matter!” her friend crowed. “It’s on all of them!”
Fumbling for the remote, Tansy turned on the TV and squinted at the news anchor. “In a historically unprecedented move, the United States has thrown itself on the mercy of Canada, granting Prime Minister Trudeau governing responsibilities until the results of the 2020 election are in.”
The camera cut to a smiling Justin Trudeau. “Okay, healthcare’s been sorted. Now, let’s see what we can do about that climate agreement.”
Any time a politician betrays the ideals of our nation, (points if you heard that in Daveed Diggs’ voice) the app updates with one of those annoying little red numbers. In order to make the number go away, you have to open the app and hit the eject button. This jettisons the greedy, self-serving, treasonous assholes deep into into space where they’ll get exactly what they deserve.
I am so done with it, and I don’t even know where it all went. Much of it has been lost to stress, anxiety, and depression. This does not make for good goal fulfillment.
Let’s take a look at the goals I set for May, shall we?
Revise and re-release at least one of my stories that I have the rights back on. (Nope. But I did get an utterly gorgeous new cover that I can’t wait to share.)
Progress on RP. (Yes.)
Progress on TFAD (If we can count progress as I have more of an idea for this thing than I did last month, we can call it yes.)
Complete 7 client edits. (4 down, 3 to go – but I still have a few days left.)
Complete all May blog posts. (Yep.)
Progress on 4 client websites. (3 out of 4.)
Complete the 7 sewing projects I owe people. (1 out of 7, but I still have a few days.)
Begin deconstructing and reconstructing wedding dress. (Dress is deconstructed and is in the process of being reconstructed.)
Read some more. (Yep. Holy shit, Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell is bizarre but delightful.
Okay, for June I’m going to:
Do all the June blog posts.
Finish the wedding dress and make a flower girl dress.
Progress on RP
Progress on TFAD
Revise and re-release at least one of my stories that I have the rights back on.
Go on our annual writers retreat and laugh myself stupid and write all the words.
Write a wedding ceremony.
Advice is a lot like music. Or styles of underwear. Use what works for you, and leave the rest behind.
Obviously, I can’t tell you what’ll work for you, I can only share what’s worked for me, but look around. You might find something you like. Try it on. See how it fits. If you like it, it’s yours.
So, these are my favorite bits of writing advice.
Emotional Meat Grinder – The first book I ever finished had zero conflict, and my very wise forever-friend, Alex Kourvo told me that it doesn’t matter how much I love my characters, I still have to grab them by the back of the head and shove them face-first into an emotional meat grinder and make their lives hell. Then, when it’s really bad, I need to make it worse.
Write What You Love – There are some people who advocate writing whatever’s popular in hopes of riding genre coattails to fame and fortune. Here’s the thing about that. If it’s not a genre or subgenre you truly enjoy, it’ll show. I saw it often in when I edited for small presses, and I still see it now with my editing business. If you’re writing something in hopes of a paycheck instead of writing it because you love whatever it is, it’ll never be as good or satisfying for you or the reader than if you’d written something you were passionate about.
Who Has the Most to Lose? – Someone in a long ago and far away critique group had some brilliant advice about POV (point of view) that’s stuck with me to this day. When you’re writing a story with multiple narrative POVs, you’ll have to decide whose POV each scene should be in. Ask yourself who has the most to lose. Who has the most to lose physically? Who has the most to lose emotionally? (Especially emotionally.) Nine times out of ten, the character with the most at stake (in the moment) is the POV you’re going to want to write that scene from.
If You Want to be a Writer, You Need to Make Writing a Priority. – (Full disclosure: I can’t remember who said this to me–in reality, lots of people–but I have to remind myself of it on the regular. Sometimes daily. Sometimes all day long.) This isn’t to say that life–the busyness that comes from living and interacting with other people, a day job, and the world at large–can just be ignored. But if you’re finding it hard making time to write, you may have to take a long hard look at how you’re spending your time and decide where you can cut back to make room for more writing time. Also, make use of whatever tiny pockets of time you have.
Please note, I’m not including depression or other illnesses in the list of busyness. Those are a whole n’other ballgame. But as someone with multiple mental and physical health bullshit going on, I’m reminding you to be gentle with yourself. Constantly beating yourself up isn’t going to suddenly make you more productive. Trust me…I know intimately of which I speak. Be gentle with yourself. Accept help when it’s offered. Ask for help when you need it.
Trust the Story. – Background to this. It’s a paraphrased Neil Gaiman quote. More backstory. Jess Jarman, Kris Norris and I have had a three way text chat going on for almost four years, now. It’s incredibly rare that a day passes that we don’t text each other. I came across this Gaiman quote: “Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.” and shared it with them because I loved it so much.
While we were all working on newer to us genres and sort of stepping into the literary unknown (for us anyway) of self-publishing, we were having a lot of of doubt. Certainly, self-doubt, but also story doubt. We’re all mostly pantsers as opposed to plotters, and we’d often find ourselves second-guessing where the characters and the plots were heading because it wasn’t where we’d thought they’d be going. When that happened (and still, today, when it happens) we always tell each other, “Trust the story.”
Thus far, trusting the story and going with my gut has worked beautifully, and it’s brought me to places I hadn’t had any intention of going, but the books are better for it. I’m sure that one day, it might backfire and I’ll end up with a mass of revisions, but so far, this works for me, and I’m going to keep doing it.
It’s time for another Musical Musings, and this month, the subject is songs that remind me of my parents, my sibling(s), and my childhood. This should be fun! Also, I’m guessing it’ll be long. Because music. And family. You’ve been warned.
We’ll start with my dad. When my parents split, there were the weekend visits with my dad, and that meant car rides with the radio tuned to one of three things. Lions football, Tigers baseball, or country music. He’s a big country music fan–but you know, only “real country–not this new horse shit they have nowadays”. (Random thought alert: having spent many of my formative years surrounded by cow shit, I always wondered why he seemed to consider horse shit so much worse. I’m gonna have to ask him one of these days.)
And while there are a ton of songs that remind me of him the biggest are probably The Gambler by Kenny Rogers and Ring of Fire and I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash. They always make me smile. Oh! And Delta Dawn – the Tanya Tucker version. I bet I can still sing that. Not gonna try, though.
There are so many songs that remind me of my mom, I don’t even know where to start, after all, she’s the reigning queen of Wildly Inappropriate Bedtime Songs. For instance, we got a lot of protest songs as lullabies well as other songs you wouldn’t normally sing kids like Brandy or The Eagles’ Take it Easy, Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, The Beatles’ Lady Madonna and Eleanor Rigby, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, pretty much all of John Denver, Carole King, and Simon and Garfunkel, but especially Cecelia. My brother, Tim, loooooooooved that song. But the two songs that probably most remind me of my mom are the Peter, Paul, and Mary covers of Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Blowin’ in the Wind and Don Mclean’s American Pie. You know…for those feel good bedtime vibes – lol. But, I think I get my love of sad songs from all of our Wildly Inappropriate Lullabies. And you know what? I’m good with that.
I have four siblings, so buckle up.
My brother, Tim, is closest to me in age, and when we were younger, we fought. A lot. But when we got along, we had some music in common. Like, I bet if pressed, we could both still sing the entire libretto of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Random side note: Probably the best birthday present I ever got [even better than the signed Brian Froud print] was when Tim surprised me with tickets to a really great touring production of JCS in the early 90s.) But without fail, the song(s) that always make me think of Tim, without fail, is the entire Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction album.
When it first came out, I loathed it–probably just to be contrary because he loved it so much. Fast forward to me moving 500 miles away, shortly after getting married. My husband was finishing up his final year of college, and one night, we were at the bar where he was on a pool league. Some bastard started playing Mr. Brownstone on the jukebox, and I was suddenly so homesick and missing my brother so much, I went into the bathroom and cried.
I’m gonna wait here a sec while that sinks in.
I sobbed overfucking Mr. Brownstone. In a super dodgy bar bathroom. In the U.P.
After that, I may have gotten my own copy of Appetite for Destruction. I am nothing if not nostalgic. You guys oughta know that by now.
I’m happy to report that Tim and I still have some music in common–like Hamilton. We went to go see it in Chicago with our kids (and our sister) a couple months ago. And in theory, we’re going to see Les Miz this year, too!
Next up is my brother, Martin. Now, Tim and I are a bit older than our younger siblings, so sometimes, when our mom was teaching night classes, we’d be on deck for singing Wildly Inappropriate Lullabies at bedtime.
I’ve got several songs that remind me of Martin. Puff the Magic Dragon is a big one. One night when mom was singing it to him, he started wailing. Sobbing like he’d lost his best friend. He realized at that point that Puff is a fucking depressing song. He started sobbing for my mom to fix it. So she had to make up a new, happier verse to finish the song with. Poor Cait was in high school before she realized that no one outside our family knew there was fourth verse. My kids think there’s a fourth verse, too.
All the Mumford and Sons songs remind me of Martin because he’s the one who introduced me to them. (Yay, Martin!) But the song that always makes me smile and think of him is Turn Down for What. The year that song came out, he was constantly in my face shouting, “Turn Down for What!” He’d begin or end phone calls that way. It was constant. And annoying. But like most things, Martin, it made me laugh.
Fast forward to that summer, he and he’s awesome fiancée were getting married and asked me to officiate the ceremony. So, I got my internet minister’s license (like you do when your brother asks you for a favor) and helped plan the wedding. His wife didn’t know what music to pick for the recessional, so I said, “We could always do, Turn Down for What.” Because she’s awesome, she thought it was hysterical, she also wanted to keep it a secret from Martin. So we surprised him with it at the end of the ceremony. The look on his face was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. He recovered nicely, though, and danced his way back up the aisle.
Then, there’s Andrew. When he was little, he looked and acted so much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes that I bought him a stuffed tiger. He had asthma and had to have nightly nebulizer treatments–so many, that he burned out a nebulizer. And like all junk in our house, it ended up in the garage where he cracked the casing off it and attached jumper cables to it and a car engine and jump started it. He was that kid.
I have a couple songs that remind me of him. One is John Denver’s Country Roads. He loved that song and wanted mom to sing it to him every night. Or me. Or Tim. When he got married a few years ago, he surprised my mom by having the DJ play it for their mother-son dance. It was the greatest thing ever–even though I suspect most of the guests were confused. Especially, when the rest of us got up and sang along. Then, he also had the DJ play Carole King’s Tapestry so we could dance to it. If I was putting him to bed, he always asked me to sing that to him. And yes, I cried my eyes out when he wanted to dance with me to that song. Incidentally, I now sing it for his daughter when I babysit her.
That brings us to Cait (of Texts from Cait fame). Trying to narrow Cait down to a song or two is going to be next to impossible, but I’ll give it a go. Meatloaf’s Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad will always remind me of Cait. And Tim. Because when it was his turn to put the kids to bed, he’d rock Cait to sleep, and I’d hear him singing Two Out of Three to her. And it was honestly the cutest thing ever. And it was just as damn cute when he sang it to his own kids.
But there are so many songs that remind me of Cait, like Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid, because she thought the line bright young women, sick of swimming was pregnant women, sick of swimming for years. And sometimes we still sing it that way. And nobody karaokes Janis Joplin like my baby sister. Cait’s Piece of My Heart is amazing. Then, there’s the entirety of Fleetwood Mac musical catalogue. Not to mention all the 60s girl groups. And literally everything Cher ever sang. Also, Cait does a brilliant Cher impression. Jess Jarman was treated to this phenomenon once upon a road trip. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her love of Bowie. But I think I have to go with ABBA’s Dancing Queen for Cait. She adores all the ABBA, but Dancing Queen is her go-to song forever. It cheers her up when she’s in a bad mood. It makes her even happier when she’s in a good mood. And whenever I hear it, I think of Cait.
Okay, the last topic is childhood–which is tough since, with the exception of Part of Your World, all of the songs here remind me of my childhood. But…if I had to pick just one, it would be Sonny and Cher’s Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves. I know – wildly inappropriate on so many levels, but when I was little, it was my very favorite song ever. And also, I wanted to be Cher. Never was a little pudgy blonde girl so disappointed.
I realize this was probably far more than you bargained for when you started reading, so…sorry? But anyway, if you’re still with me, what songs remind you of your fam and childhood? Share!
I stood in the middle of the living room and stared at her. She was playing with the dog. It was always the fucking dog. I didn’t have anything against dogs–even small, yappy ones like that–but the dog had become her way of brushing me off. Any time I brought up something she didn’t want to discuss–or even hear–she’d start playing with the terrier. Like now.
“Does Bella want a treat? Does she? Does mommy’s baby want a treat?”
Predictably, Bella began dancing and yapping at Shellie’s feet, drowning out everything else in the room, and our conversation would be conveniently forgotten. I turned and went into the bedroom. I knew when I’d been dismissed.
I used to think we’d get back to our discussions–that she’d get a handle on her distractibility. Instead, Shellie would navigate around whatever we’d been talking about in the first place, avoiding it like it was quicksand. Then, she’d just act like nothing had ever happened and expect me to play along. I eventually realized that this wasn’t markedly different than the rest of our relationship. Bella had just made it easier for Shellie avoid stuff she didn’t want to deal with and made it more obvious to me. I supposed that little mutt had done me a favor.
I unzipped my backpack and started packing. It wasn’t like I had a lot there. One drawer in the dresser and half a shelf in the medicine cabinet. Unplugging my laptop and phone I shoved them in my computer case and grabbed both bags.
Shellie looked up at me as stepped into the living room, and her brow furrowed. “Where are you going?”
“I thought we were going to watch a movie.”
I grabbed the bag of dog treats off the end table and shook it. Bella danced around my feet, putting her little paws on my thighs. “Does Bella want a treat? Does she?”
“Karen? What are you doing?”
“I’m giving Bella a treat,” I said, keeping my gaze fixed on the dog. “Aren’t I, girl. Yes, I am. I’m giving the puppy a treat.”
I gave her two. I figured owed her for being instrumental in figuring shit out. Tossing the bag back on the table, I pulled open the front door.
“When are you coming back?”
The dog darted for the open door, but I gently nudged her back. “Who’s a good girl? That’s right, Bella is,” I crooned to her in that same annoying voice Shellie insisted on using.
From the corner of my eye, I could see that she’d stood. “Karen?
“Bye, Bella.” I shut the door and walked down the front steps.
I could breathe again.