Is That a Tub Full of Babies? (And Other Notes on my Writing Residency)

 

Last week I traveled to a mythical place, which might as well have been Narnia. I lived in Austin for four years during college, and I never knew this lot of land existed. Now, The Writing Barn is a property where writers can retreat, learn, hold staring contests with deer, squirrels and more.

writing space.jpgI attended A Week in Residency with … Nova Ren Suma. If you haven’t read “The Walls Around Us” yet, then what the hell are you doing? Stop reading this and get thee to a bookstore. Do not pass go.

Nova is an absolute delight to have as a teacher. I had many surreal moments when I realized she’s here and she cares about my work and me.

But let’s just mention a few memories I made.

We were eating at a nice Italian market when two ladies walked in with two clear, plastic tubs full of babies. They were of various ethnicities and so lifelike I stopped talking midsentence and had to stare. After a moment, I realized they were dolls. But I’ll never forget that moment of panic, before someone followed with exercise balls and pillows and I realized it was for a Lamaze class. So, if you’re going to carry around a tub full of babies, I advise you to get a solid-color plastic tub.

We had an impromptu ghost story telling around an LED candle. I was absolutely terrified, because apparently talented writers are great at scaring the crap out of you. But we ended with a funny/embarrassing story that had us in tears. And I finished off with a dramatic reading from a highly inappropriate and amusing e-book on Amazon.

reading

Suzanne Young (left) and Nova Ren Suma (right)

I attended a book signing and reading with Nova and Suzanne Young (who by the way, is hilarious.) Throughout the workshops and my one-on-one conference with Nova, I discovered many things about my current work in progress. That equates to a ton of work on my part, but one day, I do think this novel will be great.

Just like the whole cast of new friends I met during this rewarding experience.

 

 

Creepy Flash Fiction I Wrote at a Week With Nova (I’m Still Sane, Right?)

It was foggy the day I left my cabin and ventured to the Forest – superstitions be damned. I wasn’t afraid of a ghost story, but still, the fog didn’t  help anything. The crows ca-cawed above like some ominous Edgar Allen Poe tale. The branches cracked beneath my worn riding boots, and they sunk into the damp earth. Mud caked along the edges of the trail, which had only been forged by wanderers who had never returned from the Forest’s grasp.

I walked until the treetops hid the sunlight, and a veil of darkness washed over the Forest, turning it into a whole new nightmare. I realized how foolish I’d been. Psychiatrists love to say you should face your fears, but what if facing them ends up with you being dead and buried… or just buried alive?

As I ventured into the heart of the forest, my breath came short and stuttered, the cold wrapping its talons around my bare skin and giving me eternal shivers – my bones chattering. Save me, save me. I thought. But who would save me now? I probably couldn’t even find my way out, and some twisted part of me still wanted to keep walking, still wanted to keep exploring and figure out –

Oh.

I wasn’t alone. He stood there, hunched over a lump in the leafy base of the forest, beneath willow trees and creepy crawly things skittering about. A howl crescendoed behind me, but I didn’t jump. I couldn’t look away.

He would have been charming if he didn’t have blood stains on his teeth. If it were a woman, it could pass as smeared lipstick. But his feral eyes didn’t match the hooded expression of passion, just a few minutes before making a bad mistake – or a great one.

I knew he could rip me to shreds, perhaps devour me in unimaginable ways. He was the furthest thing from safe and, in that moment, human. But it didn’t matter. That’s what the Forest does to people. I knew he’d end up being my killer, and yet I still fell in love.

A Childhood Affliction: A Case of Being Perpetually Sick of Reality

I used to dream that I opened up a bookcase in my game room and found a dazzling, rainbow-colored star that gave me magical powers. I’d swing from ropes and blast light out of my hands and generally just kick a lot of ass.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 11.27.55 AMYou’re probably thinking, well Dani, I’m sure glad you grew out of that. But you’re wrong. Now I just put those dreams into my stories. My first novel attempt? My main character could shoot a magical beam. My second? My characters could summon electricity from lightning. Third? She radiated sacred magic. And now? I’m literally writing a book about the magic of color.

The thing is, I was always sick as a child. I was sick of sitting still in class and learning about reality when all I wanted to do was live in a dream world. I just wanted to leave class in high school and camp out at Barnes and Noble. I wanted to learn about publishing and jump ahead in life to the part where I got to do what I love — live in a story world.

Don’t get me wrong. My childhood was great. I was very loved and blessed. But really, that love is what started this whole fascination with the unreality. My parents used to read me stories, from Rudyard Kipling to Beatrix Potter. Mrs. Spider’s Tea Party, The Rainbow Fish, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Doctor Seuss, Roald Dahl. At some point I decided I wanted to go Matilda on the world and just read my way to success.

I jokingly call it my childhood affliction, the point in my life when I planted one foot in reality and one foot in the story world, never to cross the threshold one way or another. It’s difficult to commit to the story world when you know you have stuff to do — fold the laundry, feed that cat, show people you love them and haven’t abandoned them for a world where you can literally rearrange matter based on color magic. Ahem.

It’s also hard to cross over into reality when you know you have fictional stuff to do — rescue your hero from emotional self-destruction, rearrange your scenes into a breathtaking story arc, give the heroine enough self-confidence to kick ass and save the day.

I’m sure most creative types can agree with me. We live in two worlds, and both tug at us with the words “duty,” “responsibility,” “love,” and success. I don’t know the answer to balance. I just know one thing.

Ignore reality and live in fiction, and you’ll live a lie.

Ignore fiction and live in a reality, well, that’s a lie too.

Haunting Books That Will Scare You an Acceptable Amount

It’s 2 a.m. You’re reading that creepy book you can’t put down. The blinds rustle, but you know it’s just the cat. You turn the page.

file8371319651521And then you realize the cat isn’t in your bedroom.

And the door is shut.

And whatever rattled the blinds is most certainly a) a ghost and b) going to kill you.

This is what reading horror does to a person, and while I’ve never understood the appeal of voluntarily letting someone scare you out of your wits, I’ve finally found a few books that are just the right level of creepy.

Creepy enough to keep you turning the page.

Not creepy enough to destroy your ability to leave your house or talk to humans.

I’ve had “Anna Dressed in Blood” by Kendare Blake on my Kindle for a while, and I finally sat down to read it last weekend. Holy cow, I’m so glad I did. Let’s start with the protagonist: Cas. He’s a seriously cool dude. He kills ghosts for a living. He’s like the James Bond of the ghost-killing world except younger, less rich, and less Pierce Brosnan. His mom is a witch of sorts, and she just melts your heart. It’s such a cool family dynamic.

And then you have Anna.

Oh, Anna. I can’t really talk about her too much without giving it away, but she has depth. This ghost has depth. And you don’t know how to feel about her throughout the whole book, until the end. And then you feel a lot of things.

I finished this one in two days and it was the perfect read to gear up for Halloween.

Another haunting read is one I finished last year: “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by April Genevieve Tucholke. I read that one in a few days as well, and it is mega creepy. The gothic style and setting is so captivating. The main characters are twisted and the plot is unexpected. It’s a wild, creepy, terrifying ride I only halfway wanted to get off of.

So, if you’re looking for some good YA to freak you out a decent amount, but not traumatize you for life, I’d go with these books. They also have sequels if you want more when you finish (which you will.)

What’s your favorite Halloween read? Comment for 4.5 fangirl/fanboy points!

Zen Garden of Environmental Nirvana (As It Pertains to Readers)

readingThere’s a sacred spot at my office. It has chairs. It has tables. It has the soothing sound of a manmade waterfall fountain. Really, it’s like nature is with me there, well, sort of.

What’s that? The perfect place to read during lunch? My, I do agree.

Except for another thing it has. PEOPLE. People who sit down and take a phone call. People who TALK to each other. People who are loud. People with coughs. People who breathe.

How dare they disturb my reading time in this public space? Do they not understand the moral code of finding someone with a nose in their book? Leave them alone. Maybe hand them a pastry and a bookmark. But for God’s sake, don’t talk to them.

It occurred to me that not everyone knows this code, and also, that nowhere is safe. You could be in the last chapter of the last Harry Potter book and thunder could strike, or a bulldozer could take out a wall (there are only four!), or the Loch Ness monster could climb out of the sea and rampage in or around your reading area. NOWHERE IS SAFE.

What about the library? Are you kidding? That place attracts rebels. Teens who want to be shushed as many times as possible. Kids who cry because they want both the Thomas the Train book and the Elmo book. (For the love of God, check them both out. They are free!)

We readers — we fight a noble fight. We venture on a semi-sacred journey to seek inner and outer peace. We will find our Zen gardens one day, our environmental nirvana. But until that day, if you see a reader, try to keep it down.

Five Reasons You Should Meet Leigh Bardugo (or Else Continue Being Lame)

Meeting Leigh at the North Texas Teen Book Festival.

Meeting Leigh at the North Texas Teen Book Festival.

If you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy, well, what the heck are you doing with your life? Work, you say? Paying bills, doing laundry? Let me ask you one question; does any of that involve a rich Russian-inspired fantasy world with characters that simultaneously make you want to swoon and Hulk smash ALL THE THINGS?

I didn’t think so.

I read Shadow and Bone about four years ago and fell in love. The world is dark and light, and so are all of the characters. No one is purely good or purely evil, which is so refreshing in a world like the one Bardugo creates.

The second book, Siege and Storm, introduces an adorably arrogant privateer/prince that you wouldn’t mind hunting mythological animals with (if you know what I mean. Wait, what do I mean?)

And the third book, Ruin and Rising … is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read! I know, I know. But I had to reread Siege and Storm because it’s been a few years (and a few beers.)

So who is this mystical author of the Grisha trilogy? Why, her name is Leigh Bardugo, and I met her in March at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. We had tea and became the best of friends, and by that I mean she signed my book and I gushed about being a writer and other nonsensical things.

Here are five reasons you should also meet Leigh, and also gush about nonsensical things:

1.) She’s hilarious. Between her and Sarah Rees Brennan, these ladies stole the show at NTTBF panels. She talked about how tripped up boys get in fantasy worlds when strong girls enter the scene. Let’s just say, there was talk about hips and curves and some definite swaying.

2.) She’ll ask you who your favorite character is and you’ll be like, Alina, NO Mal, NO the DARKLING! Oh my god what’s wrong with me? Why do I like the villain so much? I’m going to start blasting shadow demons out of my fingers, aren’t I?

3.) Her books are damn beautiful. Ever looked in the mirror before a date or dance or something and thought, wow I don’t think I could look more awesome than this? That rare and fleeting moment that you never quite grasp again? That’s how looking at her books feels. The covers = amazing. The inside map = drooooooool. And hey, the writing is beautiful too! I know it’s not all about beauty, but it is definitely about art. And this my fangirls/boys, is art that is so arty that it’s like, beyond art.

4.) She works with other authors you freaking love. She contributed to the anthology Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, along with authors you just MIGHT have heard of like: Marie Lu, April Tucholke, Nova Ren Suma, Kendare Blake, A.G. Howard and more. Awesome times awesome to the power of awesome.

5.) She ain’t finished yet. Six of Crows, set in the Grishaverse, is releasing on Sept 29, but you can get the book early in Irving! The Magic and Mayhem Tour is coming to DFW (among other lesser cities), and you’ll get that chance to gush and go crazy just like I did. I’ll be at the Irving event. Will you?

Comment below to earn THREE fangirl/fanboy points.

The Darkest Part of the Wee Hours of Morning

So I picked up an ebook from the library. Well, not literally. But I DID pick up my Kindle, which had the ebook, which was from the library.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 11.40.15 PMI digress.

I looked at the cover and was all like, “Ohh plants. I wonder if it’s like The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. Drug-addled prison ghosts? Well, probably not.” Nope, this one was about faeries.

And here’s a confession.

I’m not always a believer. I don’t mean that in a religious way (by the by, have you been to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption yet?) What I mean is, when Twilight came out and was ALL THE RAGE, my cousin was like, “Hey, omg, you have to read this,” and I was like, “Why?” and she was like, “It’s about vampires and it’s great.”

Vampires?

So I read the book with a scoff and a pinky-out air of snobbery … and finished that shit in two days. While I’m not going to discuss the merit of that piece of literary … work, I will discuss another fad I wasn’t entirely sold on at first. Faeries.

Then I read A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, and it was pretty damn intense. Faeries aren’t Tinkerbells — they’re more like loins-a-burnin’ tricksters.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black makes you feel all the feels, and I was actually surprised by the big twist. The writing style is different, with flashbacks and unreliable narration and, “Oh, did I mention reader, this very important fact I’ve been omitting for mystery and tension?”

I stayed up late reading this sucker. My favorite character was Ben, because he’s such a dreamer. Such a lover. I rooted all the roots for him, though Severin was my least favorite character ever. You don’t just kiss people when you wake up because you’re a faerie prince.

I digress.

Actually, that’s about it. 4/5 stars, and I’ve been wrestling with the fifth star, but I feel like I’m a bit star-happy on Goodreads these days.

+1 Fangirl/Fanboy Point: Leave a comment to claim it! You might just win a drawing one day.