Social Media Distancing

So, you all know what’s happening out there.

Actually, some of you don’t because you are listening to politicians rather than scientists. Whatever. More planet for the rest of us.

While everything is going bananas, I’ve quickly realized that daily social media contact is unbearable. It’s hard enough reading the news and getting the city emergency alerts. But watching the constant deluge of the exact same scary announcements over and over and over, with the same memes over and over and over, and the same (understandable) screams of frustration at blue-check randos and our so-called leaders over and over and over and over…

It’s exhausting.

Like a lot of writers, I struggle at times with depression and anxiety. I was already barely coping with my economic situation when imminent global economic collapse came along. The prospect of losing everything is too much for me to handle — and that’s where my mind goes, to despair and bankruptcy, when I’m in that online mudslide of panic and rage.

(Except for Instagram. It seems to be fireproof. Go figure.)

I’m block captain in my neighborhood. I should check on my elderly neighbors. See if they need anything. Be involved in my community while I still have one. And I do have business clients. I need to take care of them, too.

I keep thinking back to 9/11. Those were dark times, too. However, I think many of us got through them because we didn’t have social media. In fact, I’m convinced that’s why. Can you imagine having all those cuckoo conspiracy theories shoved in your face? Every troll in creation having his or her outrageous, weak-ass “take” elevated by people with huge platforms? I remember taking a shower that morning of the attack and my hair falling out. It was already intense, to say the least.

The economy tanked, but I had a job. I kept that job for another year or more. And then when they laid us off, I got another right away. In the airline lull immediately following the attack, I bought super-cheap tickets to Chicago and flew there just before Thanksgiving. There was light in the darkness.

It’s very different now. Much bleaker in many ways. I’ve got to stop disasterbating, right-size my problems, and deal with things only as they come. I wish I could stay online the same way while I did that.

I’ll still be promoting Snowblind when the time comes. And that time will come. If anything else happens, I’ll announce that, too. I’ll also be posting to Instagram, with the occasional check in everywhere else. I’m on Messenger if you need me.

So, you all know what’s happening.

As for the rest of you…

…whatever, dude. I just hope somehow you stay safe.

Peace, out.

Musings on Being Snowblinded

I can’t wait for you guys to read this last book in the trilogy. Here’s the blurb:

In this final chapter of roller coaster suspense, Charity and her friends must help Aidan defend the fortress against a militia led by Aidan’s “disenfranchised” half-human half-siblings who want only one thing: the power of the Klaas. Everything is on the line as Charity must venture into a terrifying world called The Withering to find Perchta, their last hope for help. But will Charity survive the strange creatures and even more shocking truth that awaits her?

Cover art by Daniele Serra.

I’m also incredibly sad to leave this series. Charity Jones is unlike any character I’ve ever created, and the thought of no longer writing about her is difficult. This whole series has been about doing the right thing even when it hurts, and that includes ending a story when one should. And in this last book, Charity has to look at herself in a whole new way despite the pain of her circumstances to make that choice. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is safer and seems like it’ll be less painful, when it’s not.

Don’t worry! It’s not a sad ending, but we’ve been coming up on the consequences of Charity’s relationship with Aidan for awhile. There’s always a reckoning between reason and faith.

I plan on writing the prequel about Aidan’s parents. I feel the need for that more keenly than ever. And by popular demand — because I listen to my fans! — part of this last book is from the POV of Michael Allured. I hope you guys enjoy it. And given what happens to Michael in this last book, maybe the adventures don’t have to end. Maybe they’re just beginning…

Sister, Redacted: The Other True Story

10/23/1989

I’m 22 years old. I live in South Sacramento with a roommate. I left school a year ago and moved out of the family home because of my father’s violence. You, my little sister, helped me pack, and swore at Dad on my behalf, calling him an “asshole.” I like to write, to make roleplaying games, but being a writer isn’t even a dream. I have no dreams. Not anymore. I haven’t even graduated from college. I just returned to school full-time because my mother is secretly paying for my education. Life is looking up.

I call the family doctor this afternoon to get the results of my sinus x-rays. The receptionist is confused when she hears my voice. Haven’t you heard? she asks. Has no one told you?

No one has called. There are no messages on the machine. She says you, my little sister, have been in a life-threatening accident and are now in a coma. You’ve been flown from Marshall Hospital to U.C. Davis Medical Center.

The floor disappears beneath me. I plunge into a boiling void of grief.

The receptionist says I should get someone to drive me. I don’t know who to call, nor do I know how to ask for help. I don’t have friends nearby. I’m not even entirely sure what a friend is or does because Mom has always said that “friends are snakes.” And even if they’re not a snake, you can’t ask for help from someone you like because they might stop liking you. Or think you’re weak. My roommate is at work. My boyfriend lives two hours away. I don’t call anyone. In the same dangerous rains that slickened the asphalt under your boyfriend’s car, I drive myself. When I arrive at the hospital, I have no idea how I got there.

Our parents are in the ICU lobby. Mom prays with church people. Dad stands apart, hunched over, his dark face wrinkled with rage and despair. They don’t acknowledge me at first. Eventually Dad tells me tearfully what happened, his voice trailing off into a squeak. Your head took the brunt of the impact. You have a severe brain injury and the surgeons have been operating. When the ICU doors open, I brace myself for what will surely be a horrific sight. But the nurse says I can’t see you. Parents only. Despite my intense religious beliefs, I have never felt so helpless. So alone.

When they finally let me see you a week later, you are incredibly fragile, like a sparrow with the feathers plucked from its head. Thick bloody stitches criss-cross your shaved scalp, your scrawny naked wings tethered to massive machines. A thousand years of sleep encrust your eyelids. You are also like a princess in a fairy tale, but you kiss the plastic breathing tube instead of a prince. The neurosurgeon says that in a year, you’ll be more or less the same girl. This news infuses us with hope. Eventually, it will prove entirely, devastatingly wrong.

I can’t stop crying. Or praying.

Take me, not her.

I cancel my Halloween plans. Later, I hear that the people I was to see said I need to “get over” what’s happened and get back to my life. So this is what Mom meant. Their callousness drives a railroad spike in my already agonizing heart.

My boyfriend is kind. He tries to distract me with silly movies. When that doesn’t work, he prays with me. But the truth is I want to die. The pain thrashes inside me, chewing and clawing its way out. I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. Yet I refuse to let it debilitate me. I stay in school. I write stories, poetry. A respected professor in filmmaking reads my work and invites me to take her graduate-level screenwriting course. I’m starting to taste who I am.

For eight months, you’re in a coma. It’s not like it is in the movies, where you wake up suddenly. Day by day, you slowly regain consciousness. Opening your eyes but not seeing. Grasping my hand but not holding it. Agitation strikes without warning at times like a cymbal crash, sending you into hellish gyrations. The doctors move you to a hospital in Pacifica where you are in a room with another Greek girl. She’s a “vegetable” from her head injury. She doesn’t speak or acknowledge others. Her family visits once a month. The rest of the time she stares at the wall. No light in her eyes. Just darkness.

As you eventually awaken, a changeling emerges. A creature who looks like you but who has halting, garbled speech and twisted memories. Childlike. Unable to walk or relate to others. Wild temper tantrums strike you like earthquakes. Whoever this is, it’s not you.

The truth is this: you died. But no one says it. I alone know, but I’m not allowed to speak. Not allowed to feel. Your tragedy is so big that there’s no room for my feelings. Shame presses its foot on my throat. I’m okay. I don’t have a severe head injury. I’m not disabled. I don’t have problems or needs. It’s true, true. Not compared to you. I understand. That’s just how it is.

I assume that someday I will be responsible for you. I decide not to have children. Not that I have any desire for them now.

Nine months after your accident, I get married. The doctor said it would give you something to look forward to. To encourage you to wake up. I have not finished school. On my wedding day, Mom orders me to take care of you in your wheelchair while she sets up everything. Can’t Aunt Velda do it? I ask. I have to get dressed. Do my hair, makeup, eat. I’m getting married, I remind her.

I’m getting married. And I feel so alone.

After the wedding, I move to the Bay Area. I do not see you as often. I finish school. I graduate. I even start working as the Editor-in-Chief of a magazine at Intel. I start making new friends. Friends I can call if something happens. Say, if I need a ride to the hospital because my sister is dying. But I don’t need them for that, thank goodness. Mom and Dad never visit. They come to the Bay Area with you, but they never tell us when they are here.

I don’t talk about your accident. If I do, people ask how you are. I never know how to answer. When I say the truth, the only thing they know about me is your tragedy. They don’t see me anymore. The first thing they ask is if you can walk. I say yes, and then they exclaim, “Oh, that’s good!” As if walking meant you were okay. I want to explain that you died, but that I’m the ghost. They wouldn’t understand. Obviously, you are alive. Even if it isn’t you. And so am I, even if I have no feelings. Or needs.

I realize early on that Mom and Dad shouldn’t be taking care of you. The burden is overwhelming. Mom gets sick with breast cancer but doesn’t tell me until after treatment is over. They say they don’t need help, but in reality they distrust authority figures. Government services. Doctors. Nurses. Mom and Dad keep you isolated. And angry. They tell you things that aren’t true about the people who want to help you.

My grief stretches into years. Mom talks excitedly on the phone about your progress, but when I see you, the changes seem small. You are still dead. I visit your neuropsychologist. He says my feelings are normal. If I were living with you as our parents do, I would be able to accept your condition. But I can’t. I’m still in the Bay Area and now going through a divorce. My life — my God, my life — is in extreme turmoil, but not from the divorce. Not from you, or anyone in the family. My religious beliefs have joyfully, rapturously fled in the wake of real miracles. Someday the world will know the powerful tale of what happened.

But that story is for another time.

During my turmoil, Mom and Dad decide to marry you off to a sweet, disabled man who cannot speak because the plastic breathing tube atrophied his vocal chords. He uses sign language and writes little notes. And he’s very wealthy from his accident settlement. Mom tells me on the phone that he’s the answer to your problems. I ask to speak to you. My heart riots as you tell me you don’t love this man. Mom says you are confused. The wedding happens in the Greek Orthodox church. I refuse to look the priest in the eye.

A couple of months later, I am waiting for a scheduled phone call from Clive Barker — yes, that Clive Barker — when the phone rings. It’s the caregivers assigned to you and your new husband. They beg me to tell them where you are. I can’t. I have no idea what’s happened.

Mom and Dad have kidnapped you, I soon learn. Unable to get control of your husband’s money, Dad abducts you, lies to you about your husband, and forces you to divorce him. I imagine your husband howling mutely with anguish when he realizes you’re never coming home, and I’m enraged. I am not there, they tell me high-handedly. I don’t know what’s going on…

I have no right to speak.

Less than a year passes. I’m disabled myself, in chronic pain. I live in Los Angeles. Alone. And I’m scared for my life. My future looks bleak. Mom calls multiple times a week. Will you be your sister’s caregiver if something were to happen to us? she asks. We need to put it in the will. I’m disabled, I explain. I can’t even take care of myself right now. I promise her that I would make sure you have the best care. This angers her. She calls. And she calls. Over and over. The same question.

No one asks if I’m okay. If I need anything. I’m not a ghost, goddammit.

I stop answering.

10/23/2019

Thirty years have passed since that catastrophic day. Mom and Dad are both dead. Your life is far better than I could have ever hoped. Thanks to your disability benefits, you will never go hungry. You will always have care. The house, which is in a special needs trust, is well maintained. You see doctors on a regular basis. A very special woman cares for you 24/7 with a team of other special women. I didn’t stay away that whole time. I went into therapy to learn how I could deal with Mom and Dad so that I could stay as close to you as possible. Because you wouldn’t understand why I left. And you needed me, especially after Mom died.

When Dad died, I was disabled yet again, awaiting my surgery date. I came to stay with you that first chaotic week until the government agencies could step in. Dad had made no plans for you. He and Mom had lied on legal forms so that you would fall off the grid. He told you that you were not disabled. So, you lashed out whenever anyone mentioned those agencies. (You still do.) You were taught they’re evil, but they saved your life. The weight of Dad’s denial nearly crushed me that week. In three days, I was so exhausted I didn’t know what day it was. I awoke at night shivering, not from cold but from extreme stress.

I jokingly called the house “Indiana Jones and the Costco of Doom.” Dad and Mom were hoarding guns, food, and money. Lots of money. One day, I found $70,000 in cash. I could have tossed it into my car trunk in a burlap grocery bag. No one would have known. But I didn’t. Instead, I turned it over to your trustee. Legally, you can only spend the money you inherited that’s in the special needs trust on vacations and gifts. You rarely buy either.

I did the right thing, but I worry it was a mistake.

Dad wrote me out of the will because I was a “traitor.” I spoke to the authorities when another family member reported him for refusing to take you or Mom to the doctor. I wrote to the court when he abused and neglected you. I called the police when he took you out of state against court orders. (I later learned that, after Mom died, he was seen in public kissing you on the mouth. I’d suspected he was doing much worse in private. I wanted to dig him up and murder him a thousand times.) He wrote such terrible words about me in the will that, when my boyfriend found it in the mountain of dining room paperwork, he wouldn’t let me read that part. I already knew Dad had poisoned his side of the family against me for watching over you. Consequently, he wasn’t the only one to disinherit me.

The painful irony is that you’ll never understand my heartbreak. The significant damage to your cerebral cortex means you can’t feel compassion. It’s not your fault. That’s just the way it is. Yet I have found a way to build a relationship with the new you. It’s not nearly the relationship we could have had or even what we had, but it’s what we have now.

The truth is this: thirty years ago, I lost all three of you. I’ve stumbled along in a daze for decades, stitching my wounds with ink and binding them with silences. The therapy and self-help groups helped, but the healing truly grew as I gathered to my heart our family members on Mom’s side. They see me, love me, appreciate me, as I do them. They remind me of what family should be.

And I have friends. Real friends. The kind that find you when you’ve crawled off and drawn the drapes to hide the bleeding. That hold you when you’re splintering apart. That help when you can’t do something on your own. That call, listen, and make you laugh. I’m even lucky enough to have a loving husband now who is all of this and much more. His family is everything.

I’ve lost so much. The financial and emotional impact of what’s happened has been beyond devastating. My life isn’t perfect by far. But I do have love. And my art. Hopefully others who have suffered losses like mine will read this and realize that they aren’t ghosts, either, but people with feelings and problems and needs.

Not needs like some, true, true, but still incredibly, extraordinarily important.

French Horror: 3 Great TV Shows You’ve Got to Watch

I’ve been falling out of love with cinematic horror for some time, as I find most American horror uninspired, badly written, or too dependent on gore and jumpscares. (Often all of the above.) If being grossed out is your thing, more power to you. But for me, I need something a lot more sophisticated.

Fortunately, Netflix has been delivering some incredible horror TV from foreign markets, especially France. These three French shows are some of the best horror I’ve ever seen.

1. Les Revenants (The Returned)

That kid is the creepiest part of the series.

This show was originally released in 2012, but was new to me in 2014. It was even made into a completely inferior American version. While I wasn’t enchanted by Season 2, the first season of this utterly original “zombie” story was breathtaking.

People who have been dead for years — in some cases decades — start returning home, utterly unaware that they died in the first place. Most in fact died under violent circumstances. And that’s just before the story goes truly bonkers. The powerful emotions this show evokes deepen the dread of this paranormal tale in a way that one rarely ever finds in horror. For me, that’s what makes this show one of my all-time favorites.

2. Black Spot (Zone Blanche)

I’m completely wild about this show because hits three sweet spots for me:

  1. It’s a bloody police procedural with a new mystery in every episode and an overarching mystery each season.
  2. It’s unexpectedly hilarious at times with wonderful characters like the gay policeman named Teddy Bear and the hyperallergic, ultra-awkward detective Siriani.
  3. It’s pagan AF. Set in the mountainous, isolated Villefranche, which has an insanely high murder rate and a monster that resembles Cernunnos, the story blends France’s Celtic history with horror in a very satisfying way.

I also adore the main character, Major Laurène Weiss, chief of police. The women are all tough, complicated, and secretive — she more than anyone. While I was initially puzzled by her relationship with Bertrandt, the story behind their bond was eventually revealed. And, wow — c’est fou, y’all.

Season 3 is rumored to be headed to Netflix in June 2020. I can’t wait!

3. Marianne

With Marianne, writer and showrunner Samuel Bodin has created something as intoxicating and frightening as The Ring. This outstanding original horror series is about a famous female horror author, Emma Larsimon, who is lured back to her hometown to do battle with the evil spirit that has been terrorizing her dreams and that is now killing her loved ones. Every episode starts with a literary quote. You know shit’s about to get more than real when Lovecraft opens an episode.

Victoire Du Bois (Call Me By Your Name) plays the arrogant, alcoholic Emma to perfection, especially as Marianne’s bloodshed brings Emma to her knees. But as the layers are peeled back on the characters and the horror they face, it’s forgiveness and the strength of female friendship that entwine to become the twin heartbeats of this tale.

So, what are you waiting for? Dépêche-toi!

Ashes of Angels: Writing an Historical YA Fantasy Based on the Real La Maupin

La Maupin, L’Heroine
Cover page of the French magazine “Le Matin,” 1910s

Today, after three and a half years of research, writing and rewriting, I’ve finally typed “la fin” on my historical YA fantasy based on the real-life 17th-century French duelist (and later opera star) known as Julie d’Aubigny aka La Maupin. The story starts when she’s 16 years old in 1689, just when she’s about to discover that she’s both bisexual and badass as she becomes entangled in a necromantic plot to bring the world to its knees.

This has been the writing challenge of my life.

How the Love Affair Began

As many of you know, I’ve been studying swordplay of one form or another since 2001. I truly fell in love with the European smallsword when I was taking private smallsword lessons from sword master and stuntman TJ Rotolo. The European smallsword is the weapon that La Maupin and other duelists used in her day. I loved how it fit my hand, its small movements almost came instinctively to me.

French smallsword

But I didn’t fall in love with La Maupin — maiden name Julie d’Aubigny — until 2006 when I was living in France. I found a website dedicated to her that completely captured my imagination. I considered writing a book about her, but I wasn’t ready and wouldn’t be so for years. I couldn’t believe how much I related to her with my historical crossdressing, my love of swordplay, my singing, and passion for life.

Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Beardsley. Picture: Alamy Source:Alamy

A More Troubled Me

She seemed like a lost me from the past, albeit far more emotionally troubled: she was well known for her excessive promiscuity and threats of self-violence when her romantic affairs soured. Then again, she was a bisexual, gender-queer person living in an age when that was condemned. Her mental health was probably always at risk, as are youths today who are rejected by their families for being LGBTQ+.

As it turns out, there’s an even stronger reason for the promiscuity and threats of self-harm.

The Comte d’Armagnac

Louis de Lorraine, the Comte d’Armagnac

You see, one of the things I’ve wanted to reframe is the narrative around her childhood relationship to the Louis de Lorraine aka the Comte d’Armagnac, the Grand Écuyer or Master of the Horse. The patriarchal story around her has always been that at the age of 14 years, she became the Comte’s “mistress.” The Comte was more than 30 years her senior. He was also Monsieur d’Aubigny’s boss, who taught the king’s pages to fence; that fell squarely under the Master of the Horse’s purview. So, the Comte had total control over her father’s position and fortunes both at Versailles and beyond. Using a modern American lens, the Comte’s relationship with Julie would look a lot more like rape, wouldn’t it?

That’s because it was rape.

Source: Parfaict’s Dictionnaire & Anecdotes

For starters, I don’t for a minute believe his interest in her started at 14. I think it was earlier. Without laboring through a long discussion of the oft misunderstood statistics of life expectancy and marriage practices throughout the UK and Europe — not to mention the obvious power dynamics at play — I think the proof of the nature of the relationship is in how Julie reacted. Soon after she became the Comte’s “mistress,” he married her off to a gentleman named Sieur de Maupin who was in turn shipped off to a position in the south of France. The Comte arranged all of this to cover and legitimize any pregnancies because the Comte kept Julie with himself in Versailles.

But not for long. Julie then immediately ran away with a hot young fencing master. “Ran away” being the operative phrase.

Had the Comte been a young man a lot closer to her age, the voluntary nature of the relationship suggested by male historians would have been a tad more believable. It’s my personal belief that she was sexually abused by this much older man of authority until she found an opportunity — and help — to get as far away as possible.

Anyway, Ashes of Angels has helped me reframe this story from a female perspective. And it’s powerful.

Research

Just a few of the books I read as research.
Many more are somewhere here at home, back in the library or on my Kindle.

I read a lot of books. On France. French history. Dueling. Magic. Swords. Fencing. Louis XIV. France in the 17th century. Teens discovering their sexuality. Teens coming out as bisexual. And much more. Fiction such as The Three Muskateers (which I loved) and Scaramouche (which was meh).

In the middle of writing the book, I started suffering severe insomnia. The sleep doctor told me I had to get out of bed at night if I woke and couldn’t go back to sleep. She recommended reading in another room in dim light. That’s how I read a few books, during stolen minutes and hours when my body refused to cooperate.

But that’s only half of the research. So much of it was scrutinizing old maps. Researching villages. Old prisons. Torture methods. Transportation. (My equestrian-TV writer friend Erin Maher got asked a lot of questions about horses.) Food. Cooking. Clothing. Theatre. Music. (Loads of music.) Scouring blogs of other historical fiction writers to learn tips and tricks. Merci bien to Susanna Calkins, especially.

And then I chose bits and pieces of everything as I weaved it all together.

The Diva’s Voice

“Mademoiselle Maupin de l’Opéra”.
Anonymous print, ca. 1700

While that was a lot to mentally coordinate, the absolute hardest part of all this was creating Julie’s voice. In fact, I shied away from it so much that when my husband read the first draft (he’s often my first reader, especially for my YA fiction), he gave me a big note that made me realize voice was a huge problem.

I’d obviously focused so much on everything else that I hadn’t addressed my fears about giving an authentic voice to this very real teenager. You’d think that, since she was someone I’d vibed with, it would be easy, but it was the opposite. I’d never done anything like this before. My characters are 100% fictional (except for in one story). I went back to the basics of character development. Experiences. Beliefs. Wants. Dreams. Needs.

And then I pulled the ripcord on a page-one rewrite. It was painful but worth it.

Magic in France? Mais Non!

As many people would agree, historical YA is a tough sell without magic. But here’s the thing: France is culturally very anti-magic. At the time that Julie was alive, magic was illegal. While some may argue, “Hey, it’s fiction! Do what you want!” I don’t want to violate both historical AND cultural fact, especially not about a country that took me in and embraced me for a year. We talk a good game about diversity and sensitivity, but we don’t even bother half the time. We should practice sensitivity in our writing with all foreign cultures.

(Incidentally, one of my readers is a good friend of mine in France who also used to be a competitive fencer for many years. Her feedback was amazing.)

Anyway, when I was living there in 2006-2007, I tried to meet fellow pagans. It was really difficult. I eventually earned the trust of a young woman working at a goth bar called L’Elfike, who in turn then reached out to a couple of pagans she knew. Only one was willing to speak to me. The occult and witchcraft are frowned upon so much even to this day that these young people were afraid of being outed and suffering the consequences. From an American perspective, even though the French are 30% atheist, they’re still culturally 100% Catholic.

The had fantastic cocktails.

What about the popularity of Harry Potter? The French love those books, right? The French are fine with Englishmen casting spells and doing other silly Anglo-Saxon things. For example, they believe Halloween (a pagan holiday) is strictly an Anglo-Saxon holiday celebrated in the UK. The French shun it in favor of All Souls Day, the Catholic holiday. I don’t know how French readers felt when they read about the Beauxbatons, but I suspect they didn’t care because HP isn’t set in France.

Welcome to the Real Beauxbatons

Ashes of Angels, however, is set in France. Completely and utterly. So, as a savvy YA author, how did I deal with this dilemma? Extra difficulty level: as a writer, I don’t do Judeo-Christian mythology.

I can’t give anything away, but I found a way to be true to French culture, even though I had to bend my own writing rules. Because that’s the thing about becoming bicultural: it’s not that you give up who you are. Instead, you develop an empathy for the other culture and let it open you up to other ways of thinking.

Please wish me and Julie luck as we move to the next phase.

The Reasons Might Surprise You: A Follow Up

Planetary Symbol for Saturn

A lot of people are reading an old post of mine called, “I’m Leaving Astrology. The Reasons Might Surprise You.” In that post, I talked about why I’d decided to stop using astrology for awhile, something that had always been a superpower for me. I’d noticed some challenging Saturn transits were coming, which were pumping me full of dread. I couldn’t think of or see anything but negative events passing or coming up. To my credit, I realized that, for my emotional well being, I had to stop looking at the future and start living in the present.

I’ve noticed that a number of people are finding that article via Google searches related to ways to convince other people not to believe in astrology. Honestly, like I said in the previous post, I could care less if people studied astrology or not. I’ve found it to be reliable and (mostly) reassuring for my own purposes.

This post is for those who are curious about what ensued after the blog post of August 15, 2013, as life took a tragic turn two days after I stopped looking at my chart. I want to share with people an idea of how I dealt with those events.

First, Saturn Kinda Sucks

Let’s first talk a little more about Saturn itself. Most people would say that Saturn transits really pretty much suck Donkey Kong. Let’s look at what Saturn transits can mean:

  • Limitations
  • Cutting back (“winnowing”)
  • Delays
  • Death (and other endings)
  • Discipline
  • Responsibility/commitments
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Maturity
  • Solitude

You can see why this is the Debbie Downer planet, and why I’d be afraid of what it could do. In fact, it had twice accompanied devastating injuries. I figured it could happen again.

“Physical Dangers”

So, what about the “physical danger” transits I saw? Turns out, I had a scheduled surgery that September, but soon learned that another surgery I needed had been denied. It would be another year before I’d finally receive that approval. Everything eventually worked out, but at the time, it was tremendously frustrating. The two surgeries were connected. Delaying the second one played havoc with my life.

But there was little I could do about it at the time except take care of my health as best I could. I actually lost about 15 pounds working with a nutritionist, as well as beginning an exercise regime. Saturn’s hard work, discipline and “cutting back” all helped me improve my health while I was waiting for Surgery #2.

Deaths

Two days after I published that blog post, my father died. I wrote about it on September 1, 2013.

Gustave Doré’s illustration of Ludovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”
The King of Shadows is dead.

Up until then, my dad had been sorta-kinda caring for Danielle, my severely disabled sister. My dad actually hadn’t been able to properly care for her since my mother died, and both of them had lied to keep her off the grid, as it were. Thanks to my dad’s epic lack of planning, we all suffered a lot of stress over the next few months until she’d been set up with the proper agencies.

As it turned out, my father’s death was a blessing to my sister. Before he died, she was virtually a shut-in except for when my dad would take her to the Senior Citizen Center. (She’s not a senior citizen, by the way.) She’s now living the life of Reilly, going to the movies, on excursions, to concerts, and more with her head caregiver. And at last she’s been getting proper medical attention (hallelujah). Also, with him gone, I was finally able to write about her injury and life. The piece that was a huge benefit to family, friends and others because many people were in the dark about what had happened to her after her injury.

Losing a parent like my dad was very difficult to process. The fallout of his death had many implications for me that unfolded over the next few months. His death has been echoing in my writing, in both short stories and books. But it definitely hit me hardest during those transits I’d seen.

In December 2013, during the time of the worst transits, my friend Christa Faust lost her father, George, who was my Dad #2. I felt George’s passing more keenly than my own father’s in many ways. A good man left this world when he died. I’ll never forget him and his great big heart. I still miss him, although not nearly as much as Christa does, for sure.

The “Disappearing” Goodness

Remember the “good” transits that I could no longer see? They were there, all right, with events that corresponded appropriately.

Winner of the 2014 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel

To start, I sold my debut novel, Mr. Wicker, to Raw Dog Screaming Press that fall. That book was my entrance into the realm of being a professional novelist, and it would be a beautiful entrance at that.

And then during Thanksgiving Weekend, my blog post “Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords” went viral. I even got a mention on The Mary Sue. It was a super crazy, exhilarating period. I was stressed out about my sister’s well being, but I was able to draw upon the good things happening for strength.

I look back on the “uplifting” transits at that time, and they’re super obvious. Why didn’t I see them coming? And why wasn’t I seeing anything positive happening when they did?

Depression, The Old Devil

So, yeah. I’d struggled with depression for awhile before 2013 without even realizing it. My view of everything was dimming fast. The bully in my head had a bullhorn. And the fatigue I felt was epic. It wasn’t until I started to get a handle on it in the last few years that I could identify what had been happening back then.

And here’s the thing about living with both depression and anxiety: focusing on the future — via astrology or any other means — makes both conditions worse. It’s too easy to start disasterbating. So, when disasterbating starts, it’s best to step back and focus on the moment.

Looking Inward Instead of Upward

9 of Wands

I’m in another phase of my life where I’m not paying as much attention to my transits because I feel information overload. Twitter, Facebook, sometimes even email…all of these platforms are a constant mudslide of anger about how we’re living in The Upside Down. These are far darker times than 2013 without even considering life’s usual slings and arrows. The onslaught of political horrors from the Idiocracy and unchecked corruption is no joke. (Well, maybe sometimes.) And I want to focus on parts of my life that need attention.

So, I don’t really need to look to the stars right now for hope. I need to look inside, to reckon with my personal demons, to enjoy the people in my life, to maintain my health, and to continue my calling as a writer and storyteller. This is the only way I’ll have the strength to be a good ally, responsible citizen, and resilient fighter for what’s right.

That, and snuggling. And I’ll end this post with a visual lesson.

My mantra: Snuggle often.

My LA Times Festival of Books Schedule

It’s that time of year again! Here’s where I’ll be tomorrow and Sunday.

Saturday

10:00am to 12:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

1:00pm to 2:00pm
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Booth 821

2:00pm to 4:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

4:00pm to 5:00pm
Mystery Writers of America
376

Sunday

10:00am to 12:00pm
Horror Writers Association
Booth 826

On both days I’ll have copies of my latest from Cemetery Dance Publications — 12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True, as well as the first two books of my award-winning YA Bloodline of Yule trilogy, Snowed and Snowbound. I’ll have copies of my award-winning Mr. Wicker on Sunday.

The Lies — and Truth — are Loose!

12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True is out and generating some rave reviews!

“Maria is a highly recommended top writer. Do yourself a big favor,  snag this collection and every other piece of her writing you can find.”
—Gene O’Neill, The White Plague Chronicles

“…a 6 out of 5-star review; this collection seriously rocks!”
—A.E. Siraki, librarian and book reviewer

“…wildly glorious.”
—Goodreads review

“…visceral and heartfelt.”
—Eric Guinard, That Which Grows Wild

“A great collection of dark stories with bite.”
—Yvonne Navarro, Afterage

Get your copy today!

COMING SOON: Cemetery Dance to Publish 12 Tales Lie | 1 Tells True

Coming out March 5, 2019
from Cemetery Dance Publications

WARNING: This is not your typical short story collection.

While twelve of the tales are fictitious, one is a creepy true story sure to amuse and alarm even die-hard horror fans. Guessing which one is half the skin-crawling fun. Is it the man who resurrects his abusive father for revenge that goes awry? The woman who brings home a birthday balloon inflated with hellion instead of helium? Or the couple that accidentally buys a home sitting at The Crossroads, where the “H” in “HOA” has a whole new meaning…? 

Read and decide for yourself!

Pre-Order Now


Bandersnatched: How Charlie Brooker Got the Last Laugh

If you’re one of the many people who were glued to Netflix this last week exploring the tentacled storytelling of “Bandersnatch,” you were probably either deeply disappointed or riveted by the bizarre way this “choose your own adventure” controlled your options.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

I was feeling under the weather after Christmas, which meant I had some serious couch time to devote to this show and to scanning Twitter for reactions. As someone who was a pioneer in interactive experiences back in the 1990s, I had some guesses about the show that proved correct. I was able to fairly quickly find the best possible ending, although I also messed around to see numerous iterations. Of course, the “best” ending wasn’t a “happy” one. In fact, I found it hilarious that folk on Twitter were lamenting they couldn’t get a “happy” ending. Do they know this is Black Mirror? A happy ending in this series is like when the guy in “I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream” gets his mouth back so he can scream.

Kill Dad

But just as interesting were the many people who complained bitterly about the lack of choice, that eventually the experience forced you to “Kill Dad.” (As you can see in this Visio flowchart someone on Reddit* created, your choices converge to killing dad if you want to survive.) It sounded like some viewers might have been too deep in the decision-making process, unaware of the bigger, more brilliant idea behind this show and the way it’s constructed.

The Bigger, More Brilliant Idea

And the idea is this: WE are the Program and Control Study. Brooker is controlling us, the people making choices in “Bandersnatch.” He’s PAX/P.A.C.S./the Thief of Destiny. (Incidentally, PAX is one of the biggest video gaming festivals of the year.) The “mirrors” Colin refers to that allow you to go back in time and change your decisions are “Black Mirror.” And every “ending” leads you to an all-too-familiar conclusion: that even if we were able to go back and make different choices in life, we don’t really have that many choices to start with. “It’s not a happy game. It’s a fucking nightmare world,” Colin says. A perfect Black Mirror message.

Humorist and horror lover, Charlie Brooker, got the last laugh. And I love him for it.

Five out of five stars.

Footnote

*Notice how whoever created this damned flowchart went to great pains to record every pathway, but couldn’t be fucking arsed to actually name the female game programmer, Pearl Ritman? As Stefan says when we make him chop up his father, “Seriously?”