Good Grief

angel-art-black-and-white-96127I know I’m late, y’all, sorry. My dad is in the hospital. He fell again, and even though we’re still very hopeful that he’s going to be absolutely okay, it’s a whole big thing. Anybody who’s ever had a sick parent knows what I mean. Anybody who’s ever had a sick parent who is former military and a graduate of The Citadel REALLY knows what I mean.

I’m usually a pretty roll-with-the-punches kind of girl, but this has really thrown me off my game. And I know it’s because it’s taken me straight back to when my mom died. Unlike Dad, who has been in near-perfect health my whole life, Mama was in and out of the hospital from the time I was eight years old until she died eleven years ago. One of the underlying themes of my entire life and the lives of my sisters was Mama being sick, and the last few weeks when we knew that this time she wasn’t getting better is as close to hell as I ever want to see. Dad’s situation isn’t nearly as dire, but just being in that setting brings it all back.

At that time, I had just finished up my last contract with Pocket Books and just decided I wasn’t interested in writing what they were interested in publishing next from me. My sister was publishing with Ellora’s Cave at the time and looking to write something a little less sexy. Right after the funeral, she found a submissions call for angel romances, and she shared it with me. I needed a distraction, so I decided to give it a try. And I ended up writing the book that eventually became Misguided Angel. (The title is borrowed from a really lovely Cowboy Junkies song you can listen to here.) And y’all, I’ll be honest. It’s crazy.

The heroine is an artist who has just lost her husband to cancer. Her mother was a suicide who Kelsey believes was delusional because she had visions of angels. Kelsey is seriously considering suicide herself, so her dead husband sends Tristan, the angel who guards souls as they transition from one life to the next, to comfort her and stop her. So Tristan, bless him, tries, and in the process, he falls in love with her. But of course when he tells her the truth about himself, she thinks she’s going crazy, too. Lucifer is the big bad–he wants to use Kelsey as leverage to make Tristan fall.

And some of this book is the best stuff I’ve ever written. And a whole lot of this book is just cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. It’s been finished for a while, and I’ve always been conflicted about publishing it just because it’s so raw and weird and so different from everything else I’ve ever done. When I first heard the narrator’s audition for the audiobook version, I bawled my eyes out all over again. Even though it has a sort of happy ending, it’s a sad, sad book. It might well even be a triggering book; there’s a trigger warning on the Amazon page for it. I have often considered asking my publisher to pull it.

But every time I think I will, the same strange thing happens. Some reader will come up to me at a signing or a convention and ask me if I’m the Lucy Blue who wrote Misguided Angel. And when I say I am, they will tell me how my wackadoodle romance novel comforted them when they were completely shattered with grief. I’ve had people tell me my version of faith speaks to them. I’ve had people say it helped just watching my heroine go through the same kind of pain they were feeling and coming out the other side.

For whatever reason, my crazy baby of a book spoke to them in a way that made things better for them in the same way that writing it made things better for me. So while I doubt it will ever sell a lot of copies, I will always consider it a success.

Free E-Books, No Stealing!

adult-blur-bracelets-1324859Everybody loves free stuff. Some readers love it so much, they’re bankrupting writers by supporting pirate sites. The crazy thing is, it is perfectly possible to get all kinds of great free fiction without bending the rules or pissing off your favorite author. Sites like Prolific Works have shiny, well-produced, absolutely-bug-free E-books from every genre available for download—short stories, excerpts, even full-length novels.

For example, I have an excerpt listed from my latest full-length novel, American Starlet. It’s not a sample; it’s a short-story-sized chunk with a beginning, middle and end. And it should give you a good idea of what the book is like (snarky and steamy and just a little bit over-the-top) for the ever-popular bargain price of absolutely nothing:

https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/Y8XyPWW2…

Patrick Dugan, author of the Darkest Storm science fiction series (including Storm Forged, winner of the 2019 Imadjinn Award for Best Science Fiction) has an extremely nifty steampunk adventure up—and did I mention it’s free?

https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/DPYANcbB

Science fiction/urban fantasy authors Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin and their M/M romance-writing alter ego, Morgan Brice, have all kinds of great stuff listed. And they’ve tied them in with multiple group giveaways so you can get access to all kinds of great stuff with one easy click:

139 FREE fantasy & paranormal 2019 Reading Giveaway @Prolific_Works with my full Restless Nights @MorganBriceBook story & excerpt from Spells Salt & Steel @GailZMartin Ends 11/4 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/td69kKw8e6DiegzGQp1n

17 FREE fantasy & scifi reads in Good Omens giveaway @Prolific_Works giveaway w excerpt from Sons of Darkness Ends 11/10 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/2WydAYcc1ft3a4z41HZb

9 FREE scifi reads in Electric Dreams giveaway @Prolific_Works w excerpt from Salvage Rat @LNMartinAuthor Ends 11/10 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/NHINlDscEUuqpFKYbu5y

17 FREE paranormal reads in Something Wicked giveaway @Prolific_Works w excerpts from Spells Salt & Steel and Sons of Darkness Ends 11/10 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/7zZmgq0kpCiVkVlkTGNs

106 FREE sci-fi/fantasy reads in Discover New Series giveaway @Prolific_Works w full Reconciling Memory and The Last Mile stories + excerpt from Salvage Rat Ends 12/31 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/LXvGYAaAlhqYVuDmiBaH

155 FREE sci-fi/fantasy reads in Fantastical SF giveaway @Prolific_Works w full The Last Mile story + excerpt from Salvage Rat Ends 12/31 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/NzQXkP23yQLrLYlM62dA

77 FREE sci-fi reads in Discover New SF giveaway @Prolific_Works w excerpt from Salvage Rat Ends 12/31 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/MtsrZbfglhUGB5jprvnD

50 FREE paranormal/horror books in Things That Go Bite in the Night giveaway @Prolific_Works w excerpt from Sons of Darkness @GailZMartin Ends 11/1 https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/ulH61YGooVnHnQIlPRd8

Some of these are ending soon, so check’em out now! Happy Halloween!!!

 

Lucy’s Halloween Bedtime Story: Dead-Sperado

Guess what, kittens? I’m on the YouTubes! My Evil Genius hubby and my publisher rallied around and helped me do a recording of myself reading “Dead-Sperado,” the first story from my comic weird western romance collection, Bury Me Not. In it, saloon dove Daisy means to seduce and detain the dreaded outlaw Elbert Cade until the posse shows up. But he turns out to be a damned fine seducer himself. She’s starting to feel a real fondness for him just as the zombies attack.

No One Cares What I Think About the new Star Wars

And that’s hard for me to accept.

The last trailer for the final installment of what they’re calling “The Skywalker Saga” dropped this week during Monday Night Football. Have you seen it?

Yeah, me too. And I don’t really know how I feel about it.

I am very much a Star Wars over Star Trek girl. I will always choose the archetypal emotional fantasy over the big ideas political allegory. (And yes, Star Trek has great archetypes and Star Wars has its own politics, and no, I don’t want to talk about it.) The very first movie, which we knew as Star Wars, not Episode Anything, came out when I was 13 years old. I became best friends with the woman who is still my best friend because of a shared love of Star Wars. We watched it literally all day every day for weeks in the summer of 1977, the only two patrons most days at the Cinema Twin in our tiny, sci-fi resistant hometown. By the time I was a senior in high school and finding my first real nerd tribe, I could boast that I had seen it more than 100 times. The Empire Strikes Back was and is my absolute favorite of the series. Return of the Jedi was and is not, but I still loved it because it wrapped up my story, MY story, the Skywalker saga in which I was invested in a way that felt satisfying and complete. Even with the ewoks.

When The Phantom Menace came out, I was about to turn 35, an adult with a job and a home and responsibilities–I was already being paid to write fantasies of my own. I didn’t like the movie much at all, but it didn’t upset me. It hurt my feelings more that I didn’t care. The fact that I felt completely disconnected from it felt like another symptom of my mid-thirties malaise. “It’s for kids,” I thought, wincing at the pod race. “Maybe Star Wars always was.” I saw each of the second trilogy movies the week they came out, and I did more than my fair share of ranting and raving about Jarjar Binks and the infantalization of the Anakin/Padme relationship and any number of other details that pissed me right off. But it was abstract fury, lit-crit passion. They didn’t hurt my heart.

Then Disney bought Star Wars, and these new movies started coming out. I had hope going in; I really did. I was old enough by then that I had made peace with not being that nerdy teen-ager any more. I was a nerdy middle-aged woman, and I was okay with that. I owned the first six movies on DVD and watched most of them pretty regularly. (I think my copy of The Phantom Menace has been out of the box precisely once, when we showed it to my niece for the first time.) The people making the new movies had made other stuff I liked, and I was very enthused at the idea of a few more central characters who weren’t white guys.

Then I saw The Force Awakens. (It’s very telling that I just had to look up its actual title.) And while I liked a whole lot of stuff about it, the overall effect kinda made me sick to my stomach. Because the whole premise was that the first saga, the original saga, MY saga, hadn’t mattered in the slightest. These characters that I loved were right back in the same soup they had been in when Episode IV started. Some of the names had changed; the universe was a lot more complicated; archetypes had given way to angst-ridden individuals that seemed layered to me in the way that characters on night-time soapies are layered. And I was just shattered. My husband (who’s 19 years younger than me and an avid gamer, cartoon watcher, and comic book nerd) loved them and tried to explain to me that they referenced and incorporated soooo much canon that I knew nothing about. Which did NOT make me feel better. I saw Force Awakens a couple of times, but it didn’t really stick with me. My one abiding memory from it is Han Solo dying for no good reason as far as I was concerned. I’ve seen The Last Jedi once in the theater and once on Blu-Ray, and though I am usually the girl who can remember the plot to every episode of every sitcom she ever watched while doing her nails and reading a magazine, I couldn’t begin to tell you much about happens in it. I remember Luke Skywalker drinking that blue milk and a lot of interpersonal astral projection that wouldn’t make sense in an episode of Legion, much less a Star Wars movie. Mostly the new trilogy so far has left me bitter and disinterested and cold. And that’s pretty much where I am watching this new trailer.

But …

But …

But …

It’s not for me.

That 13-year-old in 1977 believed that good was good and bad was bad and any notion of morality or truth being subjective was just the higher thinking of inscrutable, immaterial gurus bathed in mysterious light. Even the 13-year-olds of today know that isn’t so. (I know this to be true; my niece is 13.) Teenage me wanted a faceless villain in a mask that acted like a purely evil machine right up to his moment of redemption when being a good dad triumphed over all. I know now that neither villainy nor redemption work that way; those concepts just aren’t that clean. People younger than me, the people the  new movies were made for, have known that truth all along. The world they’ve always lived in has made it impossible for them not to know it. I might not want that truth in my story, but without it, their story can’t work.

And Star Wars is now their story. Not mine.

I want my sagas to end in absolute, permanent triumph. I want good to vanquish evil for all time. I want happily ever after. Not in every story, of course, but in my fantasy? Hell yes! But that kind of story doesn’t work for people who have come of age in the world we live in now even as a fantasy. For them, that kind of story is too . . . dare I say it? Disney. Hell, even Disney fairy stories don’t trust that arc any more–have you seen Maleficent? Or Brave? People my husband’s age and my niece’s age know, like Roland of Gilead (since we’re talking about sagas), that ka is a wheel. That nothing lasts forever, good or bad. That it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination. Kids these days know everything dies in a way I didn’t really learn until grad school. I hate that for them; I grieve for the innocence that was my privilege. But my grieving doesn’t bring it back, not for me and not for them.

So I will try to shut up and let people enjoy this new, inclusive, shadowy story where even the brightest light is edged in darkness. I’ll celebrate the diversity of the cast and try not to take the heavy-handed nostalgia beats too personally. I’ll cry for Leia and feel jerked around while I do it the same way I cried for Han and Luke. And the possibility is strong that I won’t love it. I might even hate it.

But that will be okay.

How to Cook a Pot Roast

So a couple of weeks ago, my 81-year-old dad fell down. He’s fine; he didn’t break anything; we were very lucky. But suddenly the guy who was extremely independent and a regular at every greasy spoon in town was shaky on his feet and not willing to leave the house. He’s getting around okay with a walker, but he’s still really awkward with it. (And I don’t think he wants his favorite waitresses to see him using a walker, but that’s a whole other issue.) The upshot is, my sisters and I and our darling husbands have been taking turns being Dad’s own personal Meals on Wheels, which means that some nights when me and the Evil Genius would make do with a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips, I’m having to produce an actual dinner. And for a Writer Girl, that can be challenging.

But I have a slow cooker, and this ain’t my first dance. And some of the homiest, Sunday-dinner-at-Granny’s-house-iest meals are actually dead easy to pull together, and Cracker Barrel can suck it. Pot roast, for example. If you look it up on the Food Network or an actual foodie blog, you’ll read about bundles of fresh thyme and peeling potatoes and words like “sear” and “braise” and “pan juices.” And those recipes are awesome; I use them when I have the time. But for a Wednesday night supper when I’ve got a gothic romance to write, I do it like this.

Ingredients:

1 2-pound chuck roast

1 stick of butter

2 beef bouillon cubes

2 tablespoons of minced onion or one onion peeled and cut into wedges

Freshly cracked pepper (don’t panic; they sell it in disposable pepper mills at the Wal-Mart these days)

A generous slosh of worcestershire sauce (maybe 2 tablespoons)

1/2 cup water

2 cans of beef consommé

1/4 cup all purpose flour

Another 1/2 stick of butter

Another tablespoon of worcestershire sauce

3 cups of cooked rice (or a plastic tub of plain microwave mashed potatoes if you’re a Yankee)

1 can of peas or green beans

Directions:

Before you  leave for work (or as late as on your lunch hour if you’re like I was yesterday and forget before work), put the chuck roast in the slow cooker. No, you do not have to flour and sear it first. Just stick the hunk of meat in the Crock Pot. Break your first stick of butter in half and drop it on top of the roast. Unwrap the bouillon cubes and drop them in, too. Season with pepper. (You do NOT need more salt if you’re using two bouillon cubes, trust me.) Slosh on the worcestershire sauce and the half cup of water. Sprinkle or drop in the onions. Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on low, walk away. (If you’re doing this on your lunch hour, turn it on high for half an hour, then turn it down to low.) Leave it for the next 6 hours.

30-45 minutes before you want to eat, start your rice. (If you’re eating Yankee potatoes instead, wait until you finish everything else to nuke them in the microwave.) 30 minutes before supper, turn the slow cooker down to warm and ladle out some of the juice into a measuring cup. If you have one of those groovy cups that skims off the fat, by all means use that; otherwise, skim off as much as you can with a tablespoon. Open your can of peas or green beans, pour them in a pot, heat them over medium-low heat. (For peas, I just pour them in; for green beans, I drain them, replace the liquid with tap water, and season with a tablespoon of the juice from the slow cooker.)

Melt the half stick of butter in a saucepan or small skillet on medium-high heat, whisk in the flour, cook and whisk for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste, add the two cans of consommé and beef juices, whisk as it thickens into gravy. I usually do this a little at a time to get the consistency I want. If it’s too thick, you can add hot water. If it’s too thin, you can add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce.

Put your roast on a platter, chunk it up with a serrated knife. (It will be too tender to actually slice.) Slather the meat and the rice or potatoes with gravy, serve the green veggie on the side. Flip off the Cracker Barrel the next time you drive past because trust me, you make way, way better pot roast.

Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry everybody is and whether or not you have dessert.

 

Ways to Keep Writing When You Can’t

american starlet

This fat-ass novel started life as a free-write I did when I couldn’t find the groove writing vampires. 

Sometimes real life gets in the way. Sometimes there’s just no physical way to walk away from the house fire that is your mundane domestic life and get to your desk or your laptop or Starbucks or the picnic table behind the Circle K or wherever it is you do your writing. I’m not talking about that; in that case, take care of your business and get back to it when you can. You officially have my permission as a fully-vested badge-carrying member of the Writer Police.

I’m talking about the times when you’re staring at the blank page or screen with an outline or an idea already in mind and the time and will to make stuff up, but the words just don’t want to come. Writer’s block, yes, but that’s too big a word for it and way too scary. Writer’s block is something novelists in novels get that makes them hear voices and axe murder the neighbor’s cat. Say it with me: I do not have writer’s block. What you have is a momentary numbness of the crazy brain. It’s not gone for good; don’t panic. It happens to everybody. It happens to me all the time. And when it does, these are some of the ways I’ve found to deal with it.

1 – Write Shit Anyway

Just keep writing or typing down words even if you know they suck, even if they make no sense, even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with your work in progress. Even if they don’t belong to you. Many is the time I’ve resorted to transcribing song lyrics I remember from high school—I can write out the entirety of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album if you ever require that service.* And sometimes just the physical act of writing words wakes up that sense memory and makes my own story float back to the top. (FYI, writing fan fiction totally works.)

Think about it this way. Writing is an art and a calling and a mystic practice, but it’s also a job. And when you have a job, you do it because you’ve promised to do it whether you feel like you’re doing it well or not. If you owned a doughnut shop, you’d go in every morning and make the doughnuts. You’d follow the recipe, go through the motions, and at the end of the process, you’d have doughnuts. They wouldn’t always be the best doughnuts, but you’d have something to sell. Writing is different; the personal stakes for the individual product are higher, and the recipe is always changing. But sometimes just going through the motions is enough to put you back on track.  Just remember, just because you write it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. And many, many times, you have to write your way through that shit draft to find the golden one behind it.

2 – Absorb Somebody Else’s Art

If I’ve been banging away at #1 for a while and still nothing’s clicking, I stop trying to be a creator and give myself permission to be the audience. I spend the time I would have spent writing reading somebody else’s book or watching a movie or a TV show or listening to music. I give it my full attention, guilt free, because I know sometimes this is as much a part of my process as the actual writing. Sometimes I try to find something that’s sort of in line with what I’m trying to do, something specifically inspiring. But honestly, what usually works best for me is to dive into something completely different that has nothing whatsoever to do with my story’s genre or action or mood. I will say, reading or watching other fiction works better than something like the Food Network if I’m trying to jumpstart my brain. But I will totally jump-start a gothic romance by watching Rick & Morty. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories almost always get me rocking and rolling again, regardless of what I’m working on. But sometimes I do better with something completely new.

One very important note: My hubs the gamer gets this kind of juice playing RPGs with complex stories, but Candy Crush won’t work. That’s not stimulating your brain, that’s sedating it. I love phone games, too, but if what you’re after is a brain that makes story, they won’t ever get you there.

3 – Give Up And Play Candy Crush

Some days, it just ain’t gonna happen. And that’s okay. No, really, it is; I swear it is. If I’ve tried and tried and still feel like every word on the page is a drudgery that I’m just going to have to throw out, I give up. I give myself permission to give the f*ck up. Because I know it’s temporary. I know that story is still perking away in my subconscious; I know it won’t ever let me go completely until I get it told. But sometimes it needs to grow and evolve without me watching it. I know that sounds crazy. (I promise my neighbor’s cat is safe.) But almost every time I throw up my hands and just let myself not be a writer for a day, by the next day whatever story problem I was having solves itself. That plot knot comes undone. That character snaps into focus. Because I’ve been writing for a really  long time and because I do try to write something pretty much every day, I know when I can’t, there’s a reason. I know it’s going to be okay.

So say it with me, kittens. It’s going to be okay.

*The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves./Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

bell-book-candle-black-backless-evening-gownThe Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t the only Christmas/Halloween crossover movie ever made. There’s also Bell, Book and Candle, a smart and surprisingly twisted romantic comedy starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. It opened on Christmas Day 1958 and takes place at Christmas–the climax happens at midnight on Christmas Eve. And while one big plot point gives me serious indigestion, it’s one of my absolute favorites.

Kim Novak is Gillian Holroyd, a witch who runs an art gallery in New York–this is one of those New York movies where all the people, sets, and costumes are gloriously glamorous. James Stewart is Shepherd Henderson, a publisher who lives in the apartment upstairs.  (We know he’s a classy guy because he’s got two last names.) Our girl Gillian isn’t looking for romance, far from it. She’s very happy living single with her familiar, a gorgeous Siamese cat named Pyewacket. Besides, any witch who falls in love for real risks losing all her powers. (That’s the part that makes my stomach gurgle just a bit.) She’s much too sensible and kind-hearted to vamp some poor sap with her supernatural charms (including but not limited to looking just Kim Novak) for the sake of a cheap thrill. But Shep’s just asking for it. First he annoys her Aunt Queenie, another witch played by Elsa Lancaster of Bride of Frankenstein fame. Then he has the audacity to be engaged to the bullying pill who tortured Gillian in college. How could any witch resist?

The whole “a witch can’t love and still do magic” thing sticks in my craw, of course, along with Gillian’s many lamentations about wanting to be “normal.” But watching Novak and Stewart banter and succumb is worth the allowances to be made. These are the same two who had steamed up the screen earlier that year as the doomed lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and it’s lovely to see them in something with laughs. And while the paranormal angle is a little watered-down by modern urban fantasy standards, it still has a pretty delicious bite, particularly for 1958.

Turner Classic Movies is showing Bell, Book and Candle at 8 pm EDT on Thursday, October 3, 2019 (today if you’re reading this on posting day), and I highly recommend it. And if you want six versions of my own take on witchy girls in love, check out Eat the Peach: And Other Wicked Tales, available now from Falstaff Crush.

eat the peach