20 Years Ago, When the World Turned Upside Down

So, January 15 marks the 20th anniversary of a profound, life-changing event. It was one of a series of extraordinary synchronistic events that dramatically changed my life. But it wasn’t until March 26, 1996, that the universe truly dropped me head first down a rabbit hole from which I have never fully emerged. While I can say my life has vastly changed for the better, I still sometimes struggle to understand the course my life has taken since, having expected it to have been different in some ways.

I’ve shared “The Story,” as I call it, with some folk over the last twenty years. It’s never been easy, especially with the people I love most. I usually make good judgments about who to tell, but not always. I’ve tried to keep it to a need-to-know or need-to-tell basis. That said, I know in my heart that the story can’t stay hidden forever.

Memories of those events are making me incredibly sad today. Not because the events themselves hold sway over me, but because I’ve had certain ideas about where I’d be and what would be happening at this point in my life that haven’t happened yet.

I know some of you are thinking, “What the hell is wrong with you? You won a Bram Stoker Award! Your book got a Starred Review in Library Journal! You’ve published tons of stories and poetry, and you’ve made terrific progress for someone who wasn’t a fiction writer to someone who is, despite two long bouts of hand disability — lemons, by the way, you turned into fucking Lemon Drop Martinis.”

I agree. It’s ridiculous. Part of it is because, as of today, this new book isn’t where I’d like it to be. It’s been hard reading emails from editors who say they love the book and couldn’t put it down, only to ultimately reject it for marketing reasons. Of course, writers never know exactly why an editor passes on a book. It could be for lots of unspoken reasons. No one has to say they admire something when they don’t, though. Not like what I’ve read.

During the submission process, I’ve been following a parody account called “Brooding YA Hero” and laughing my ass off at the sarcastic posts.


Reading this account, it’s clear I’ve broken a lot of “rules” (or rather stereotypes) of YA fiction. I was  starting to wonder if I’d broken too many “rules.” (I think if I had, my wonderful agent would have said something. He’s great like that.) It’s possible that what I think teens want and what the industry believes teens want might differ.

After she reviewed Inversion, the sequel to Snowed, I asked one of my 16-year-old beta readers if I’d broken a lot of “rules.” She replied, “Well, yeah. But it’s awesome!”

So, there’s that.

There are still editors reviewing the book. One or more of them might love it enough to take it home to Mom. We’ll see. Once Mercury goes direct on January 26, communication in general will start to clear. But I’ve got two more important milestone dates staring at me: February 20 and March 26.

How on earth will I handle those milestones?

I guess the only way anyone can: one day at a time.

Dear JJ Abrams: Star Wars Was a “Girls Thing,” Too. Ya Twit.

In an interview on Good Morning, America, JJ Abrams, director of the newest Star Wars installment, said, “Star Wars was always a boys thing and a movie that dads took their sons to.” He went on to spew, “and though that’s still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers take their daughters to as well.”

Mr. Abrams, if you really think that it “was always a boys thing,” you’re a total fucking maroon. You’ve never talked to a female Star Wars fan, or any woman, really. And that’s pathetic. Because if you had, you’d realize that Star Wars wasn’t a “boys thing” or a “girls thing” — it was everybody’s thing.

If you knew me, you’d have probably already read my essay, “Dogma, Darth Vader and My Sexual Awakening,” which describes how much I loved Darth Vader growing up. But I wasn’t just a Darth Vader fan. I was a fan of all things Star Wars from the first movie onward. (I admit my enthusiasm waned with the barfy prequels.) My little sister Danielle, too, loved the films. However, she was five years younger, and no film captures a toddler’s imagination the same way it does a precocious pre-tween. Still, we both begged our parents to see the first movie. My father resisted. “For Christ’s sake!” he’d say. “Lines are around the block!” We’d just moved to Simi Valley, which was not in Los Angeles proper. Still, the film was as insanely popular there as anywhere else. Danielle and I begged him to take us until he relented.

The whole family went and stood in those long lines because it was an everybody film. And everyone in my family loved it. That’s why it’s a classic, JJ. I hate to break it to you, but if everybody didn’t love Star Wars, it wouldn’t have been the phenomenon that it was. So please stop congratulating your Y chromosome for something it couldn’t have done on its own.

Me? I was obsessed. My parents bought Danielle and I light sabers for the following Christmas, as well as the board game. (I still have that light saber. The handle broke years later, so I replaced it with a yellow flashlight.) One of my good friends in sixth grade, Julie Byram, gave me the original Star Wars poster because I was slightly more obsessed than she was. (I’m pissed because my ex-husband absconded with it. IT’S MINE, DAMMIT.) Every girl and boy I knew loved that movie. I loved the film more, in fact, than any of my male friends. And I had plenty, as I was the only girl in my junior high school who played Dungeons & Dragons.

When I was in high school, I joined the Official Star Wars Fan Club with the help of Mom. (Mom, not Dad.) I thought I’d absolutely die of suspense waiting for the second film as I read rumors about the plot and saw photos of my heroes in the snows of Hoth. I had Star Wars dreams. I bought — but couldn’t bear to use — Star Wars notebooks, which sat in a drawer untouched with my beloved comic books. I drew pictures of Darth Vader and other characters. I wrote Star Wars stories in my head. I counted down the days until The Empire Strikes Back opened. I even recorded the cheesy radio series off of NPR, The New Hope. Talk about a geek!

And as I watched the film with my family, I blissed out. The sequel was possibly the best movie I’d ever seen. When you’re sixteen, that’s not a great feat, I admit. But it remained the best movie I’d ever seen until maybe… I don’t know. Amadeus? Blade Runner? Apocalypse Now? Silence of the Lambs? Last time I checked, those were “everybody” movies, too. (Well, maybe for grownups.)

Star Wars Fan Club Memorabilia

Remnants of a Girl’s Childhood

The revelation that Darth Vader (Dark Father) was Luke’s dad remains to this day one of the greatest movie revelations of all time. If you’ve ever read my story, “The King of Shadows,” you’d see how deeply I identified with the themes in Star Wars — specifically The Empire Strikes Back. I’m sure I’m not the only child who did, either, male or female.

I spent weekends at my friend Linda’s house. Whenever her parents stepped out, Linda and I listened to their copy of the Star Wars soundtrack. Thankfully she stayed my friend even though I asked her to replay the Imperial Death Star Theme about a thousand times.

In all the films, Princess Leia was a powerful role model. She saves Luke, Han and Chewie when they’re supposed to be rescuing her. She leads the Rebel Alliance. She saves Han again. She…fucking…ROCKS. I could not have asked for a stronger female role model. Yes, I loved my “bad boy” Darth Vader. But Leia was The Ass-Kicking Princess and Senator of Alderaan. And I loved her, too. Why? Because I saw myself in her.

Look, JJ. I don’t know what possessed you to yammer on like such an ignorant twit to Good Morning, America. One might well ask what planet are you from. Because even on Hoth they know Star Wars was beloved by both boys and girls, and that dads never, ever had a monopoly on the franchise as a bonding experience with their sons. At best, you were probably trying to make the movie sound like it has wide appeal. Instead, your comments came off ridiculous and condescending. “Oh, see? This used to be for men. But now we’re doing something for the ladies, too.”

Seriously, dude? Go fuck yourself. I have a plastic lightsaber you can use. Glad I hung onto it.


The Accidental Terrorist: How Mormonism Made a Felon and More

I first met Bill Shunn last year at World Fantasy 2014 in Washington D.C. when I had dinner with him, his agent Barry Goldblatt and my friend Scott Edelman. As we savored the cocktails and curries of Rasika, Bill relayed his experience as a Mormon missionary and how it led to him accidentally committing a terrorist act in order to keep one of his fellow missionaries — sometimes known as a “companion” — from fleeing his two-year mission. He explained that publishers seemed reluctant to put out the memoir he’d written about it because of the “T” word, which I could totally believe.

Luckily for us, he self-published the memoir, The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, and it’s simply fabulous. I’m not going to spoil the climax of this page-turner, but I will say that it’s the perfect “companion” (see what I did there?) to Deborah Laake’s terrific Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman’s Intimate Diary of Marriage and Beyond, which I’d read some time ago during my own deconversion from Christianity. And like Laake’s book, I could relate strongly to much of The Accidental Terrorist, even though my family had only been Mormon for a few months. Religious insanity, it turns out, is alarmingly similar among both orthodox and heterodox sects. Who knew? (I did, that’s for damned sure.) All I know is that, as I read, I found myself wishing I’d seduced some Mormon missionaries in my younger days.

For those who don’t know, every 19-year-old young man in Mormonism is pretty much forced to leave school and go on a two-year mission. The Church chooses where they’re sent, with no input from the missionary or his family. The consequences for bailing on this expectation are enormous in Mormon culture, affecting everything from future career potential and church stature to marriage options and reputation.

A budding science fiction writer and silent doubter, Bill was destined to suffer as he tried to carry out this expectation. In TAT, he gives both a hilarious and painfully honest description of his struggle under the threatening heel of both his abusive father and his church community. I especially loved that he weaves into his personal narrative an engaging retelling of the history of the Mormon Church. As a former, two-minute Mormon myself, I recognized much of that story, between what the missionaries that had taught us at our house and the heretical books I’d devoured in my post-Moroni years. Bill even draws some subtle and ironic parallels between his own crisis and the days before Joseph Smith’s death.

Bill takes unflinching responsibility for the nearly 30-year-old incident that permanently banned him from Canada. But as he so aptly quips, “it takes a village” to bake the crisis he created, and it’s so fucking true. The unrealistic expectations of the Church, crushing conformity and relentless spiritual expectations coalesced with his immaturity to cripple Young Elder Shunn’s decision-making skills to make a disaster where there should have been no more than a shrug.

As I tore through this book, an old friendship haunted me. Back at CSU Sacramento, I had a friend and ally in my Creative Writing class whom I called Mike the Mormon. (I could never remember his last name.) Like Young Elder Shunn, Mike was a super-talented science fiction writer. When the class read my first horror story, “Presents,” the professor and students mostly didn’t get it. Told from the cat’s perspective, “Presents” was about a cat who, like normal cats, left dead presents for its humans on the doorstep. When the humans would inevitably reject the gift, the cat would raise the small animal from the dead to play with some more. When the cat’s female human died, the cat used its abilities to make its male human feel better with predictably catastrophic results.

As I mentioned, most of the class didn’t get it. But when the professor started bashing it, Mike leaped to his feet and announced the story was “freaking awesome,” that “any pulp horror magazine currently in print would publish it.” (The class thought the cat in the story wasn’t really raising its prey from the dead, just dreaming. Fucking morons.) It turned out a few other students — also horror lovers — understood and enjoyed the story. My professor apologized profusely and even let me teach a class one day in fiction writing.

I adored Mike the Mormon. We had a fantastic talk one day on campus where we hashed out our respective religious perspectives. And when I finally got to read his work, I was totally blown away. He’d blushed as he admitted he was a fan of Poul Anderson and felt like he was simply imitating that legend’s work. Even if he was to some extent, Mike was clearly a ridiculously talented guy.

Which made it particularly soul-crushing when he told me his family was forcing him to quit school, marry his girlfriend, and get a job (or two) to support his new family. After reading TAT, I now realize that, unlike Elder Shunn, Mike had managed to get out of his mission so he could write and marry his “Katrina.” But it still didn’t go the way he’d hoped. Not by a long shot.

I remember him breaking the news to me, the light in his eyes dim and distant. Strangled by panic, I totally lost it. “You can’t do that!” I’d argued. “You have to stay in school! You have to write!

His family had already won that argument. I vaguely recall that Mike’s fiancee was still living at home, and that her own abusive father had taken away her piano — the one thing she loved in this life besides Mike — to punish her for some disobedience. When Mike had told me that story, I was devastated for her. I was no stranger to physical and emotional abuse of that magnitude myself, and was currently lying to my parents about my major. They didn’t want me to study English composition, much less major in it, and would have kicked me out if they’d known.

Mike disappeared from campus right after that. A few years later, I ran into his gaunt, haggard figure on campus. I’d have recognized that blue windbreaker anywhere except now it was wrinkled and faded, and he wore no backpack. He looked like a vagrant who’d wandered onto campus by mistake, staring at a magazine rack outside the student union like it was the burned remains of his family home. My heart broke all over again when I saw him. I waved and shouted to him, but he said nothing. He just lifted his hand in greeting with an air of defeat and crept away.

That last memory of him, his face a blur of depression, has haunted me my entire adult life.

I really appreciated Bill’s description of how he wriggled out of the grip of religiosity. My own doubts swelled and surged at times when I was an evangelical. The closer I came to my true self and sexuality, the harder it was to stay in the fold. I ultimately broke free not because I was tired of dealing with Christianity’s myriad contradictions. (Believe me, there are shit-tons.) Rather, I escaped after a miracle happened — a series of miracles, in fact, that contradicted the Bible outright and everything I’d ever learned.

That’s when I decided it was saner to drop the entire Christian mindset, which had never served me anyway, and build my own worldview based on the powerful spiritual events I was experiencing. For the first time in my life, I felt alive and entirely at peace. “No Jesus, Know Peace.” That would have been my bumper sticker. Hell, man, that’s still my bumper sticker.

My marriage ended (for reasons that had almost nothing to do with this) and I was ostracized by people I’d called friends, yet my family remained oblivious and I had plenty of real friends who supported me no matter what. (All pagans and atheists, as it turns out.) So, I didn’t suffer nearly what a Mormon would have if he or she had committed apostasy. For that I’m truly grateful.

Anyway, go out buy Bill’s memoir pronto. And after you read it, go rent Orgazmo or see The Book of Mormon if you haven’t already. You’ll thank me later.

Mr. Wicker: One Year Later

On September 14, 2014, Mr. Wicker was released by Raw Dog Screaming Press. A year has passed, and what a wild journey it’s been…

Suicide Prevention Month

When we chose to publish the book in September, I had no clue it was Suicide Prevention Month. Mr. Wicker opens with Alicia committing suicide and succeeding, however briefly. As a result, some who have struggled with suicidal thoughts have had a hard time reading the book. It vividly portrays someone acting out that intention.

Alicia’s frame of mind had been validated for me in the worst possible way when a friend committed suicide in 2009. Her suicide note bitterly echoed Alicia’s pre-death rants in the first chapter, as well as her post-death lashings out. They say depression is frozen rage, but I’d say it’s more like rage turned inward. I knew Alicia and her obliterating rage wouldn’t be immediately likable, although anyone who’d experienced this kind of pain would instantly recognize it.

And then just days before the book trailer was released, Robin Williams took his life. Suicide was burning up the news headlines, which was awful because I didn’t want to profit from the Zeitgeist of despair.

Besides, Mr. Wicker isn’t a “suicide story.” It’s a reclaiming story. How do we make ourselves whole? That was the question I was facing when the inspiration for the tale came to me in all its gothic glory.

Critical Acclaim

The critical acclaim for the book was strong from the start, with a Starred Review from Library Journal, which also named it Debut of the Month, and a really lovely review from Publishers Weekly, not to mention the many glowing reviews from genre magazines and individuals. I had almost no time to celebrate my success as I was in the publicity crush of countless guest blog posts, interviews and signings thanks to my wonderful publicist, Beverly Bambury. (And thank the gods I had both plenty of spare time and my voice technology to write everything because I suffered a hand disability at the time.)

I even attended three conventions in November 2014 to promote Mr. Wicker: BoucherCon, the World Fantasy Convention (official launch) and LosCon. Crazy, right? I don’t recommend that, by the way. But I do recommend the International Thriller Writers Debut Author Program. They supported me in a major way as I struggled to figure out the publishing terrain. I made some lasting friendships in that program, as they were all like midwives to my child.


Me and Gil Roth in my home recording the Virtual Memories Podcast.

Some of the interviews were especially perceptive, like the one with G.G. Silverman, who’d picked up on the subtle yet powerful feminist themes in the book. Gil Roth’s interview for the Virtual Memories Podcast was a real highlight for me, too, as he asked a lot of intriguing questions, weaving in my knowledge of swords. The Storyforward Podcast with Steve Peters cut to the chase and asked me to tell everyone how I really felt about that dumbass lightsaber. And in my interview with old friend Adam Campbell for Anywhere But Hollywood, the story came full circle as Adam had read the original Nicholl Fellowship screenplay and as well as the novel. (It felt like the best interview I’d ever given, although that might be nostalgia talking.)

Almost everywhere I went, the book sold out of copies. I loved interacting with readers, particularly book clubs. I discovered that people have rich imaginations and that your story is never your own once it’s out in the hands of the reading public. Reading is a deeply collaborative process; new ideas grow when your words mingle with other people’s thoughts. I had been publishing short stories for years, many to acclaim, and I’d never experienced this as I did with readers of Mr. Wicker. It was kind of magical.

The Award

When Mr. Wicker was nominated for the 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, I was thrilled. That was about the time I signed with Alex Slater at Trident Media Group for a Young Adult horror novel I’d written. I’d long had my eye on Trident, and Alex had come on board as a regular agent after handling foreign rights for many years just as I was finishing up Snowed. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, actually winning the award in Atlanta at the World Horror Convention was cathartic. For a story that survived so many incarnations to achieve so much was a “reclaiming” all its own.

The Aftermath

After the award, a number of negative reviews hit the novel on Goodreads. Before, there were certainly readers who didn’t like the book for whatever reason. That happens. I honestly wondered if some folk had bought the book without reading the synopsis, because they clearly had expected something more like Stephen King rather than the Gaiman-esque story they got, which annoyed them. Regardless, I appreciated those reviews as much as the positive ones because people gave a damn, one way or the other. That’s awesome!

However, some of these subsequent reviews were not only negative but they featured a whole new “unfiltered” flavor of nasty. One reviewer in particular sounded like she’d stayed up all night grinding glass to mix into my breakfast yogurt. I started calling the site GoodBleeds because it was like getting paper cuts every time I went there.


At that point, I decided to stop reading reviews. It just wasn’t productive. Instead, I bathed my Stoker award with my tears.

Prophetic Advice

Before I’d even won the award, the renowned science fiction writer David Gerrold had quite prophetically advised me at dinner one night, “Maria, remember that fame is like being the tallest tree in the forest. You’ll be hit by the strongest winds, but you’ll also get the most sunlight.”

I’ll always cherish this advice, David. You have no idea how much it’s helped.

So, Thank You


A massive, tremendous, stupendous THANK YOU to everyone who bought the book, reviewed it (yes, even you, glass-at-the-bottom yogurt lady), spent time interviewing me, published my guest posts, helped me with the book trailer, voted for the book, and everything else. Special thanks to Steven Barnes, Lisa Morton and Jonathan Maberry for their pre-publication blurbs. Domo arigato!

The biggest thanks of all go to John and Jennifer at Raw Dog Screaming Press. I’m so proud to be part of the Raw Dog family. You guys are the best!

What’s Next?

cranberry-clipart-SnowFlakes39_1_2Scarlet_RedAs I mentioned, my agent is shopping my YA horror novel, Snowed, the first in a trilogy. At this moment, I’m almost done with the first draft of the sequel. No matter what happens, Snowed and its sequels are getting out there. I’m extremely proud of this story and its characters, especially my main character, Charity Jones, the teenage skeptic and engineering prodigy. Between the teen beta readers and their moms, as well as my film industry friends who’ve read it, the response has been spectacular. (And we all know that teenagers don’t like anything, right? Except maybe Harry Potter.)

Plus, it’s clear from multiple sources that Snowed is hitting a new Zeitgeist, one that’s just coming to America from lands foreign and invading our storytelling. Fingers crossed that one of the houses that currently has it falls truly-madly-deeply in love with it tout de suite.

I think you will, too.

Gone Boy: When My Boyfriend Was Kidnapped on My Birthday and How I Got Him Back

Girl Loses Boy

The Minute Of

“GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” he screamed in the living room.

And then the door slammed.

I was peeing when it happened. Literally. It was August 23, my birthday, and Bret, my boyfriend, had been fretting all day about how he’d not chosen a place yet for my birthday dinner. We’d spent the afternoon at the Japanese American National Museum, viewing their Samurai weapon and armor exhibit before venturing into Little Tokyo for a spell. Once we returned home and rested, he announced that he’d picked a place. “Get ready! Wear something nice.”

I was partially dressed and just, you know, taking care of personal business (ahem) when I heard him scream.

I opened the bathroom door. My cat Robespierre (aka Robie, aka Robie Wan Kenobi, aka Mr. Cuckoo Banana Pants) wandered inside and head-butted my leg. “Your kitten daddy is being overly dramatic. Again,” I said, scritching his ears.

“Honey? What’s wrong?”

No answer. I explored the apartment.

He was gone.

Gone Two Minutes

My laptop sat open on the living room coffee table. A video was up with a face that looked familiar but with terrible hair and a silly mustache. I played it:

When I finished laughing, I clicked “Show More” below the video, copied the code, and pasted it into a YouTube URL.

It didn’t work.

Wait. It looked like the code to a YouTube URL, but I’d never seen one before with two dashes. Maybe it was missing two letters? Was I supposed to find the two letters? Or maybe I’m supposed to ROT13 (or ROT-N) the letters to get a different code? I proceeded to rack my brain for another 20 minutes as I tried to figure out what I needed to do with that sequence to make it work, testing every option. I even opened my boyfriend’s suitcase and dug in there for a clue. Nothing.

Saphron says, “Bellehs not gonna feed themselves!”

Now both Robie and Saphron were circling and meowing. It was about 5:30 p.m. Dinner time! Why you not feed us, The Mama?

Still, stuck is stuck. I took a break to feed the fur babies before I returned to the task at hand. In desperation, I simply copied and pasted the code again into the YouTube URL.

I must have accidentally deleted something the first time because this time — Eureka! It worked!

Gone Sixty Minutes

The cat-shaped clock sitting on my kitchen pass through said it was getting close to 6:00 p.m. I had zero ideas as to how I was supposed to get his email address as demanded in the video. Aucune idée, as the French say. (And I should have known. I bet you, gentle reader, can guess how to find his email address.) The real cats were finished eating. They sprawled on the couches, taking baths and generally looking unimpressed with me trying to loosen the mental knots.

After staring at the screen for far too long, I noted that my laptop battery was getting low. Better plug this thing in.

As I hefted the machine, a piece of paper that had been folded in two and taped to the bottom flopped loose.

I gingerly removed the paper, plugged my computer in the office, and examined my find.

A crossword puzzle. Of sorts.

Cryptic Crossword

The boxes, of course, had not yet been filled in. But soon they were.

Certain boxes were colored in, but none of them were numbered. The clues below were organized by how many letters the answers were. And they only gave the first name of the funny person.

When I saw the answer to the clue “Paula” (ROT-13 FTW!) was 10 letters, I knew immediately how to solve the puzzle.

Paula Poundstone. One of my all-time favorite female comedians. The rest of the answers came easily, as they were not just any comedians, but my personal favorites. (He forgot Emo, but I’ll let it slide.) It was the sort of puzzle that Amy in Gone Girl would have loved.

In less than five minutes, I solved the puzzle. The colored boxes spelled out:

Starship Titanic.

I ran to the bookcase, aware that I was on some kind of deadline but unaware of how dangerously close I was to blowing it. All I knew was that I had to solve the next clue quickly. In the pages of this Douglas Adams novel was tucked a piece of paper that read:

Jesus A. Goethe!

(Go straight there. No texting or calling her, cheater!)

This had to be an anagram that sent me to a friend’s house. I fed the larger letters into various online anagram solvers and eventually came up with:

Jeeta G’s House

My upstairs neighbor is Jeeda and her last name starts with G. Could he have misspelled her name? He isn’t one to make errors, my sweetheart. He is quite the perfectionist.

I went upstairs and knocked on Jeeda’s door. No answer. I knocked again. Still no answer. Discouraged, I returned to my place, wondering what to try next. No, it had to be correct. I went back up again. This time I rang the doorbell and Jeeda answered.

The look of bafflement on her face as I asked, “Are you supposed to give me something from Bret?” told me everything I needed to know. I returned to my widening puddle of confusion downstairs.

I sat on the couch, staring hopelessly at the stupid flyer. “Jesus Christ,” I muttered. Christ. Christ A. Goethe…The Damnation of Faust.

Christa Faust.

It was now 6:15 p.m. I still wasn’t totally dressed and my hair was a mess.

Fuck it. I’m doing my damned hair.

Gone Eighty @#$@#$# Minutes

And so I sort of finished getting ready for whatever. Rushed, I threw on a pair of shoes that didn’t really match my shawl, which itself was ill-considered, and took off around 6:25 p.m.

I arrived around 6:45 p.m. Christa was waiting for me. After birthday hugs and kisses were exchanged, Christa sat me down at her laptop on the dining table.

“Bret’s twin wanted you to hear this,” she explained. It looked like a short sound file attached to an email. She clicked the “play” arrow.

Good Twin Bert spoke: “If your friends Dee and Edward came together to open a confectionery, what would they call it?”

I blinked. “John Kelly Chocolates.”

Christa raised her fist in triumph. “It’s in the bread box.”

In the kitchen bread box, I found a tower of John Kelly Chocolates — the best chocolates in the world, mind — with another clue.


This wasn’t as easy as the “Funny People” puzzle, as it required a bit of Internet confirmation, but it came along quickly enough. (In the background, Christa’s phone was going bonkers with texts. She uses the same “Noir” ring tone that I do, no surprise.)

The address was incomplete. Was it North or South Grand Avenue? Putting the address into Google Maps didn’t tell me what was there. But when I pasted it into Google itself, I got the answer:

Water Grill, a chic seafood restaurant on South Grand Avenue.

Bret had often talked about going to Water Grill. I’d always put him off of it, fearing it was too expensive. But lately his employment and finances had been pretty great. Clearly now was the time.

Reservations were at 7:30 p.m. It was now 7:00 p.m.

I had 30 minutes to go 26 miles to reach a Downtown destination. In Los Angeles traffic.


I jumped in the car, Christa waving to me from the doorway, and I voice activated my iPhone’s GPS. Laws might have been broken as I sailed over the 118 to the 5 highway, but SIRI guided me so that I never had to check Apple Maps. I was going to cut it really close…

The GPS brought me to the right place, but I missed the parking structure entirely, thinking that there’d be a valet stand in front of the restaurant. Nope! The valet was inside the parking structure I accidentally passed. Grinding my teeth at this time-wasting development, with mere minutes to spare, I parked at Pershing Square and scurried a couple of blocks past many a questionable fellow. As I approached my destination, I realized that I’d never sent Bert that email he’d asked for. Ah! Christa had gotten an email from him. She’d know. I texted her:

Very important. What is Bert’s email address? I need it for one more puzzle to solve everything.

Christa responded with the email address. Just as I reached Water Grill, I sent Bert the email he requested, hoping that that was the end of it.

Girl Meets Boy

7:31 p.m.

For some reason, I’d channeled all my puzzle-solving angst into the lack of a sidewalk valet and I was ready to go full Samurai on the first person I encountered in the restaurant. The genteel atmosphere and friendly hosts convinced me to keep my verbal katana in its saya.

“Hi. Is there a reservation under the name Bret Shefter?” I asked.

One of the hosts looked at the screen and frowned. “I’m afraid not,” he said.


“Wait,” he said, “Are you Maria Alexander? I have a table for one.”*

Relieved, I followed the host into the restaurant.

My incredibly handsome sweetheart was standing beside the table, wearing a fabulous suit and a mischievous grin.

We kissed and kissed. (The restaurant staff later said we were the cutest couple.) And then the katana slipped out a bit. (Mine, not his.)

“It was amazing! Until the end,” I said, still fuming for some reason about the dopey valet.

“What about the end?” he replied, gesturing to the table.


A dozen red roses filled the table vase.



Everything turned out beautifully, but remember that email I was supposed to send Bert early on?

I was supposed to have figured out from the YouTube account what the email address was and send the email. Upon receipt, Bret was then supposed to send me a clue to another series of puzzles — two hours ago. The last of those puzzles revealed that the Starship Titanic puzzle was taped under the laptop. And since I hadn’t emailed Bert, not only did I not get the next series of puzzles, Bret had no idea what was going on or how far along I was in the process. He sweated for almost two hours until he texted Christa while I was there. Fortunately, I’d found the Starship Titanic clue independently. I would have never made it otherwise.

So, I crushed the puzzle trail in more ways than one (oops).

Still… Best. Birthday present. EVER. Thank you, honey! I love you!

* This dialog was totally improvised by the host. All he knew was that it was some kind of surprise and made up a response to throw me off. How great is that?

Kira, That Dopey Belt, and the Sword Girl Ghetto

Mostly I’m loving Teen Wolf‘s Season 5 with the Dread Doctors. (MANY SPOILERS AHEAD.) They are legit creepy-ass mofos and the “operations” they perform are frightening. I also adore the idea of a book that changes your reality after you read it. It’s a wonderful metaphor for what writers try to achieve, and bonus that it’s super spooky.


This is what steampunk should look like.

But while the main storyline is tearing up viewer veins with adrenaline, my favorite character, Kira, is suffering some incredibly crap storytelling and treatment. Not totally surprising because she’s a female wielding a sword.


The Belt

Jesus, this thing is stupid. I get it. She needed a way to carry the sword that wouldn’t bring attention to it. But think about it: how many inches around the belt line is Arden Cho? 26 inches? 30? Do you know how long the sword would therefore be? Your arm. Not much longer than your dad’s favorite bread knife. Compare that to my iaito, an actual albeit unsharpened katana, which is 40 inches. I mean, there’s dope, and then there’s dopey. This is the latter.

But whatever. Let’s just pretend this isn’t ludicrous. I mean, idiotic weapons seem to be the norm in film and TV these days. If they want to turn Teen Wolf into Batman Lite, fine. There are more serious problems with the character this season that reflect the typical biases against women with swords.

The Sword Girl Ghetto

Speaking as an experienced swordswoman, I’ve written before about how Kira is portrayed as a fancypants sword juggler that can’t hit the broadside of a barn when she should be the most powerful character on the show. (If you haven’t read my previous Kira article, you should before commenting on this one.) With so many fantastic, competent female fighters in the series, this seems strange. Why does she have this problem? I’ll answer that question in a minute.

In Season 5, before Kira arrives, Stiles and Scott discuss how Scott has hardly heard from her all summer. Despite the glut of life-threatening horrors they face on an ongoing basis, he isn’t worried? At all? Not even that she might have met someone else? The extreme implausibility of this boggles the mind. Sure, they haven’t been attacked in six months. But it doesn’t logically follow that Kira, too, experienced nothing on the East Coast.

She later reunites with Scott under the bridge before they head to the Senior Scribe event in the library. A creature battle ensues. She whips out this crazy sword belt thing and no one bats an eyelash. Who made it? How? And why does this thing not slice the living shit out of her belt loops? There is zero discussion of where the sword came from or who she was with in New York that could have made it. Maybe it will come out later, but so far her story’s gotten short shrift.

The worst part is that it’s clear during their fight with the creature under the bridge that she hasn’t learned a damned thing about how to use her sword over the summer. Unlike Scott and Theo, she doesn’t get in a single real blow. She makes two dinks as the bad guy brushes away her blade. No cuts. She then lies on the ground for the rest of the fight. While every other character on the show has grown, she still sucks.

Hold On There Little Miss

Thankfully, when they’re battling Tracy the Kanima, Kira’s sword finally makes effective contact with something. She cuts off the kanima’s tail.

This is the second time in three seasons that they let her actually hit something, and finally she did it on her own merit. Compare that, however, to Malia. Or Kate. Or, hell, ANYONE AT ALL. They’ve reigned in Kira so tightly, either it doesn’t matter that she’s there or it’s a disaster (e.g., their visit to Eichen House).

Then, just after she shows a glimmer of competence, she’s turns evil. She suddenly becomes this Kitsune Flambé that almost delivers a killing strike to Tracy. Scott stops her because it’s not okay in his book to kill the kids who’ve been operated on by the Dread Doctors. We don’t kill the victims. Fair enough.

But the message is clear: a woman with a blade must either be incompetent or straight up evil. There is no in-between. That’s consistent with the messages we get in most photos, drawings, TV and film dealing with women wielding swords. It’s getting a wee bit better in TV, but Kira is one of the weakest portrayals.

More to Come

Granted, it’s only a third of the way through the season. And believe me when I say how much I love the Dread Doctors storyline so far. They are fantastic villains, beautifully conceived and created by the writers and designers. I’m also enjoying Liam’s growth and the inclusion of his friend Mason. The actors are all very talented and fun to watch.

The show’s been accused of whitewashing its characters, and there is definitely some truth to that. However, I could totally relate to Kira complaining that she’s both Japanese and Korean yet she can’t speak either language. I experienced something similar growing up. My father was fluent in both Greek and English, yet never taught my sister and I a single word. The only connection I had to my heritage — besides, you know, relentless misogyny — was the food. We see the food thing in Kira’s family, too.

Still, I’d like to see her develop in a way that’s not framed by her relationship to Scott without demonizing her. They’ve been able to do this with Allison, Malia, Lydia — pretty much every other female teen on the show. Why not the girl with a sword?

I probably won’t get my wish, given the plot telegraphing, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed until the end.

Eden Underground: Alessandro Manzetti’s Devil is in the Details

I had really enjoyed Venus Intervention, the haunting, award-nominated poetry collection written by the Italian poet Alessandro Manzetti with the sublime Corrine de Winter. So, when the review request came for Alessandro’s solo collection, Eden Underground, I was happy to take a look.

edenAnd, oh, is it a long, dark look into an abyss of nightmarish images. I was not disappointed. Alessandro has enough imagination to fuel a carnival of depravity ten years long.

I guess the first surprise in this collection is just how colorful Hell — or rather Eden — can be. The first poem, “The Last Prey,” opens as such:

Eva has a snake tattooed on her arm
and a blue orchid in her hair;
fossil ovaries
are carved on the buckle
of her chain mail belt;
her hands are full of blood.

Vibrant hues erupt from the surreal landscape peopled by hookers, caged men, angel snipers, drug addicts, gravediggers and many more going about the business of the cursed. At times, the surrealism is intense to the point of breakdown, such as in “Lacrimosa.” But even when I was not sure what was happening, I didn’t care because the language painted such imaginative, aching portraits.

The girl’s face is streaked by black lines,
They are her faded thoughts, watered down,
drawing the lines of a requiem,
a white pentagram
on a black background.

As beautiful as the poems are that come before, “The Cockroach King” starts a run of truly memorable, wickedly delightful pieces. “Dames de Voyage” might be my favorite with its twist on the scary doll theme. Do skip “Electric Monkeys” if you’re sensitive to images of animal testing, but it should disturb you. Alessandro clearly chooses each image with the care of a mad uncle building his most beloved niece a dollhouse of the damned. The devil is in the details, indeed.

As dazzling as this collection is, truth be told, by the time I reached “The Pawn Shop,” the number of hookers and whores in the poetry felt excessive. In the collection’s defense, we are talking about Eden, which is where humanity’s innocence was corrupted. So, it makes sense that madonnas are thin on the page. Still, there are plenty of ways for young women to lose their innocence. Eve’s dark side has knives with unexplored edges.

Maybe next time. Eden and its rotting garden will always be there.

Goodbye, Roger Rees: I’d Know Your Face in Ten Thousand

I heard the news that Roger Rees had passed away while I was in New York on Saturday. It was like a mule kick to the gut.

The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby

Back in 1982, my parents patiently indulged me, their wide-eyed child, as I watched The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby, which had been broken up over four nights in a row. This was astonishing for many reasons, mostly because my dad’s soul mate was Archie Bunker, and he prefered movies like Friday the 13th and Bo Derek’s 10. (He once took me and my sister to see Bo Derek’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, which was straight up child abuse.) So, it was a huge deal that they sat with me through all eight-and-a-half hours of PBS as it aired Trevor Nunn’s production.

Roger Rees’s Tony and Olivier Awards-winning performance as Nicholas made me a lifelong fan. I don’t know if he ever landed another role that used his unique talents quite so well, but I continued to follow his work, ever hopeful. In 1999, I decided to create a fan website for him. It was crude by today’s standards, but it adequately reflected my devotion. I even started a Yahoo group so I could meet other fans. That’s where I met Jolande Hibels, who had this incredible collection of playbills for every stage production in which Roger had ever appeared. I linked to her astonishing Roger Rees gallery on my feeble website.

(I still recall the bitter outcry of the women on the Yahoo group many years ago when I informed them that Roger was gay. I suppose I should have broken the news more gently.)

Mrs. Winchester

As I wrote Mrs. Winchester in 1998, Roger was my muse. Mrs. Winchester is about a rich woman’s obsession with the dead and a poor man’s ill-fated love for her. I pictured him as Carl, the bewildered foreman who comes to work for Sarah Winchester as she builds her “bizarre yet beautiful” mansion, yet winds up falling in love with her.


The script was a quarterfinalist in the Austin Film Festival competition the next year (I think), but nothing came of it. It has since been optioned twice and placed in other competitions, most recently as a Finalist in the 2012 Shriekfest Screenwriting Competition. Everyone who reads it raves about it. I think Roger’s spark brings the story to life.

(Haven’t read it? Don’t worry. I’ll probably adapt it to novel as I did Mr. Wicker. Then maybe someone will realize what a brilliant fucking role Mrs. Winchester is for a late-50s actress. We desperately need that.)

When I First Met Roger

It was after an L.A. Theatre Works production of Lady Windemere’s Fan in 1999 that I made my way into the lobby to meet him. At first, I wasn’t going to do it because the theatre people very coincidentally had sat me right under Roger’s microphone in the front row, which made me feel profoundly uncomfortable. But afterward, as I chatted with a friend in the parking lot, I decided I’d be damned if I was going to let this opportunity slip away due to embarrassment. That just wasn’t my style.

On my way back to where I’d hoped to encounter Roger, I had a delightful, flirty encounter with Eric Stoltz in the elevator, which helped me relax a bit. I sat on a bench, waiting until he appeared. As he approached, I stood and introduced myself, explaining that I’d built him a fan website.

Eyes cast downward shyly, he asked, “Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?”

I replied, “Well, you’ve given many people like myself so much joy. I just wanted to do a little something to give back to you.”

He melted before my eyes, making all kinds of utterly charming and sweet declarations that I no longer recall. All I remember is that he signed my program and I left, walking on clouds. I didn’t even sleep that night, I was so pleased.


RogerandMeTwo years later, he appeared in a production of 1776 that opened on September 4, 2001, here in Los Angeles with my friend Mark Ryan.

It was so much fun seeing Mark and Roger on the same stage. I’d asked Mark to vouch for me, to tell him I’m not one of those fans.

After the show, I waited in the courtyard and, to my terror, Roger emerged before Mark did. He recognized me immediately and was incredibly darling. He kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and kept telling me how wonderful it was to see me, asking how I was doing, etc.  I managed to wrangle a friend of his (Rick?) into taking a couple pictures of us with my camera. The poor guy, bless his sweet heart, had a lot of trouble with my camera. As he messed with the settings, the whole time Roger kept turning to me, still just as lively and happy, asking questions as to get to know me better.

For a long time, I was unhappy that it was more of a Roger photo than a Roger-and-fan photo, but you can see by my expression that I was delighted beyond words to be standing next to him.

(I should note that national disaster had struck the day before I was originally supposed to see this performance. They moved the show out to the following weekend. That night in the courtyard before Mark and Roger emerged, I met a young man who was friends with Mark’s agent. He’d lost two friends in the Towers, including one who had proudly just hired a staff of 45 people… He broke down. I hugged him, a total stranger, whispering to him my sympathies as he wept. What a terrible time that was. But what a perfect time to see 1776. Roger announced to the audience that they were selling signed posters of the show and that proceeds were going to the NYC Fireman’s Relief Fund. I bought one, naturally.)

Bad Fan! No Biscuit!

Years passed. Work and writing displaced the time I’d previously spent doing fannish things. I neglected the website, but I never entirely lost track of Roger’s career. I didn’t see everything he was in, but I tried. I was bitterly disappointed by Going Under, even though it had seemed as though someone had made a movie just for me, as BDSM and Roger Rees were two of my favorite topics. I was not remotely disappointed by his appearances in CheersThe West Wing, Robin Hood: Men in TightsThe Prestige and Frida. But to be honest, there is so much that I’ve missed, it’s ridiculous. I’d probably love his work in shows like Oz, Warehouse 13 and Boston Common. And so much more. He was a prolific performer, not just on stage, TV and film, but even in audio books.

His directing talents were formidable, as well. Bret and I saw Peter and the Starcatcher, which was written by Roger’s partner, Rick Elice, and directed by Roger on Broadway. The show had won a number of Tony awards. Unfortunately, the production we saw on tour in Los Angeles wasn’t quite our cuppa. (I vaguely recall it had something to do with the lead actress.) Still, it was entertaining (“Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!”) and I’m glad we saw it.


I didn’t know that Roger was ill. He hadn’t been ill for long, apparently. In fact, he’d just been the lead in a Broadway production called The Visit when his sickness forced him to leave.

On Saturday when the news came out, I’d just been part of the Thrillerfest Debut Author breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan, where I’d gotten the chance to introduce myself and talk about my award-winning debut book, Mr. Wicker.

There I was in the midst of some of the most famous novelists of our time: Lee Child, Heather Graham, Sandra Brown, Charlaine Harris, and many, many more. The conference so far had been tremendous.

But later that day after breakfast, as I was sitting in the lobby between panels, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a photo that Mark had posted of himself and Roger in 1776 with the news of Roger’s death.


Even though Roger was 71, it felt much too soon for him to leave. My heart broke even more deeply as I thought about Rick and his grief. They’d been together for over 30 years and married for four.

I’m glad I didn’t hear of it before breakfast. As the reality of Roger’s passing soaked into me, I could think of little else. Words cannot express the sadness I felt as the day wore on, knowing that such a special presence would no longer shine on the stage.

“I’d know that face in ten thousand,” Nicholas says. And it’s true. It’s a face — a voice, a person of eminent grace, humility, kindness and talent — that I will never forget.

Some Hilarious Additions to the Women with Swords Wall of Shame

Just when I thought things had died down, a Russian blogger recently discovered my well-disseminated post about why I hate most photos and drawings of women with swords. In that article, I give many examples of how photos and drawings tend to depict women (unlike men) as grossly incompetent with bladed weapons, far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. Anyway, as website activity has been crazier than usual around the article, it made me realize that it’s been two years since I posted that rant. I love that it still resonates with people.

Examples have only proliferated since then. Like this:

“Men go to battle. Women wage war – ON THEMSELVES.”


Seriously?!? This isn’t waging war, people. This is cutting the shit out of your own hand so that you can’t even wield a sword. Starz marketing really fucked this up.

I guess at least she isn’t poised to slit her own throat like in this one:

(Oh, honey, let me help you with that.)

Or trying to use the sword as a… chin-up bar? Oh, fuck. I have no idea what is going on here. Do you?

Look at my bloody sword that has the blood on it!

The crap I posted two years ago was good compared to this. Although, I should note that, in German and Scottish longsword fighting techniques, it was legit to hold the grip with one hand while simultaneously holding the blade somewhere up toward the tip as you fought. If I understand my sources correctly (and perhaps I don’t), the part of the blade where you held it was a bit duller. Regardless, you usually held the blade with a heavily gloved hand.

And then there is this.


::drops microphone::

::walks offstage::

::returns, picks up microphone::

HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO THIS AND NOT REALIZE IT’S EVERY SHADE OF STUPID? LIKE, EVEN ULTRAVIOLET, INFRARED AND X-RAY STUPID? Did they not notice she is slicing open her scalp? She’s parting her hair. Permanently.

This unbelievably bad photo originally appeared on the “What Do Nerds Like?” website. I guess what they’re saying is that nerds like to humiliate women? I doubt that’s what they meant to say, but that’s what came across to me. To be honest, I was also like JJ:


Just so you know, it’s not just swords. Take this photo for example, which is supposed to be marketing a corset:


Arrow drawn and pointed at foot? Check!

Right hand upside down? Check!

Left arm on wrong side of bow string? Check!

Can you even see the damned corset? Nope!

There is no reason to pose this model with a weapon, especially if neither she nor the photographer know how to use it. Undoubtedly, somebody thought this would look “sexy.”

They were wrong.

Mind you, people send me loads of this stuff now. They almost never realize how bad it is. In fact, they often think it’s good. For example, when this interview with a “deadly” martial artist went viral, many people sent it my way. It was clear from her website that, while she claims to be a martial artist, she is certainly a model who poses in all kinds of appalling, dangerous (to herself) ways with her weapons.

In her interview, she talks about how women have to be tough, and this is how she poses — like a pre-1970 Disney princess who has never held a weapon in her life. (A sensei of mine especially condemned her website photos.) Some of her interview poses are so poorly formed, she would tear the tendons of her arms if she actually tried to attack. Even the way she holds a bo stick — more like a pool cue than a staff — she would break her fingers. Why not pose correctly? With strength? Was she afraid of looking too “angry”?

(If your martial art is what tells you to hold a bo stick that way, you need to find a new discipline. Stat.)

We have to be honest when we’re buying into the game of appealing to the male gaze at the expense of our power. We who know better — that is, female martial artists — have to do better than this.

(And, boy, am I going to get hate mail for that last critique. Hoo!)

I now leave you with this wonderful longsword duel between Bénédicte Robitaille and Amy Graham at the Montreal Winter Tournament 2015.

Bénédicte went on to take the gold at the 2015 Medieval Combat World Championships.

Kick ass, ladies!

On Mr. Wicker Winning the Bram Stoker Award


I’m so incredibly honored that the Horror Writers Association chose to recognize my book, Mr. Wicker, for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. As I said in my speech, my heartfelt thanks goes to each and every member who voted for my book. It had very tough competition, especially from film director David Cronenberg’s Consumed and Josh Malerman’s Birdbox. Truly, all the books were excellent. I enjoyed the heck out of meeting Josh, as well as the other nominees, Michael Knost and JD Barker. I felt honored just getting to hang out with such a terrific group of people. I was already in the Winner’s Circle with these talented folk.


But when they called my name, I was reeling. Truth be told, I was well into into my cups and enjoying the hilarious antics of poet Mike Arnzen at our table. Raw Dog Screaming Press should probably be called Raw Dog Laughing Press, as we were the most raucous lot in the room. We already had two Stokers sitting on our table as Lucy Snyder had won twice — once for Non-Fiction and then again for Short Fiction Collection. (I know, right?!?) Anyway, I managed to stand up with the help of my table mates. My shaky, tearful walk up to the podium was then supported by many hugs, handshakes and kisses from friends and colleagues along the way. If it weren’t for my friend Joe McKinney and the awesome Dacre Stoker who were giving out the award, I don’t know if I could have stayed on my feet. Thank you, both.

That Crazy Speech

If you couldn’t tell, the speech I gave was totally unprepared. My friend, the great science fiction writer David Gerrold who won his first Stoker last year, had told me to prepare something, but I didn’t. Maybe because the buzz was so strong about the other books, I lost heart. I don’t know. I do know that, from now I on, I will always listen to David because I forgot to thank Lisa Morton for her support, feedback and friendship all these years. (When someone on the Shocklines forum asked members in 2009 what their the top ten book choices were of the last decade, Lisa responded, “Unfortunately the best book I read in 2009 has yet to be published (MR. WICKER by Maria Alexander).”) I also forgot to thank the Dark Delicacies writing group for their support. Oy! Mea culpa for the lack of preparation doused in Manhattans.

Then again, as people congratulated me after the ceremony, some said it was the most heartfelt speech they had ever heard.

All A-Twitter

At any rate, I immediately texted my boyfriend. Next, I took a photo of the award and tweeted to my agent, the wonderful Alex Slater at Trident Media Group:

And finally, I sent Neil Gaiman a direct message on Twitter, to which he responded, “Well done!!!!!!!!!” Jonathan Maberry (who won that night for Best Graphic Novel) pointed to my Stoker and told me with the biggest smile, “That was an easy win.” Honestly, I’m surrounded by amazing people. I’m pretty sure I eventually stopped hugging him. I left a trail of lipstick marks on cheeks across the conference, that’s for sure.

You All Rock

What a fantastic weekend and unforgettable night. I so loved finally meeting in person JG Faherty, Angel Leigh McCoy, Stephanie Wytovich and Alethea Kontis. I feel like I’ve known and admired Angel forever. Bless her because, as she is also the HWA webmistress, she already knew I’d won while we were on the Horror in Gaming panel, and managed not to give away anything. Of course, Lisa Morton knew for almost two months. She is Fort Freakin’ Knox, man. At Los Angeles chapter meetings, she let nary an inkling slip past the usual mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She’s amazing, y’all.

I’m sure there are others that my jetlagged brain has temporarily submerged in the fog; I loved meeting you all.

Thanks again to everyone, but especially publishers Jennifer Barnes and John Lawson at Raw Dog. Heart you guys big time. And so does Mr. BBQ Butt.