Hey Guess What!

I’m still out here. No real excuses for the lack of updates of late. I realize it’s almost been a month since the last blog post and I think things might be ready to ramp up soon.

You see, I’ve been busy writing a book. Imagine that! Okay, well, the book is written, but I’ve been honing the shit out of it with the critique group and my front-line editor. I’m giving a wild-ass guess of mid-to-late October release for Pathways of the Dead, but that could slip a few weeks depending on how quickly my beta readers and the editor get things back to me. I’m about 70% through with my self-edit pass at the moment, after which the beta readers get unleashed to feast upon the words, along with the front line editor. Mix and match their suggestions and changes with a few more of my own changes and ship it off to my final editor. Can we get that all done in 8-10 weeks? I guess we’ll see, but I’m not going to rush it.

For those handful who care, I actually think it’s a decent book and I’m my own harshest critic when it comes to these things. As with any book, there will be issues in the final version, no doubt, but for the first time I feel like I have a command view of what’s going on and how to steer it correctly. I guess I could still steer things into an iceberg, but I’m not about to sit here worrying over it.

Along with all of this loveliness I’m also wrapping up the revisions for a Corridors of the Dead re-release that fixes some of the most egregious problems with the prose. That’s right, I’ll admit it, two years on and I’m not satisfied with the book. I love it for what it represents, but it needs some TLC to get the rest of the way there. That one should be around the first week of September, and it includes the first chapter of Pathways along with a new forward to entice you into taking the plunge. For those folks who purchased the original edition on Kindle, I’m going to ping Amazon about sending the updates, but rest assured that nothing too major has changed. I’ll have a more detailed post ready to go about those changes as we approach launch.

Last, I just want to say that I appreciate the folks who have stuck with me for the last few months. This book has been nowhere near as difficult as Room 3, but it’s had its challenges. That’s why I’ve been MIA for so long.

I’m going to try my best to keep you guys updated. At the very least, a book is surely coming.

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Progress Quest: A Busy Week

Hi again everybody, hope you had a happy and healthy week. Things have been busy as ever over here at Qwendellonia HQ. First, the stats to match up with last week:

  • I am roughly 39% into the first revision of Pathways, up from 30% last week. I’m in the middle of editing Chapter 11 and expect to have “Book 1” (aka the first section) finished this week.
  • Corridors re-release is now 75% finished.
  • Still waiting on the covers, but we had some cash flow problems that slowed the process on that end. These things happen. Still on track for a cover reveal next month, I think.

And, of course, Room 3 made an appearance on Kindle Nation Daily last week. Particularly proud of that one, as it received a great write-up and sold pretty well. You can definitely expect more of that going forward.

Things have been crazy. Pathways is really eating up most of my time, to the point that I dream about the story and characters. Speaking of which, I want to give you guys a write-up on the new characters very soon, along with information on where the old familiar characters are at the beginning of this novel.

Things are in motion.

Let’s Catch Up

So obviously it’s been quite some time since my last update; unfortunately, this may be the new normal for awhile. Biggest problem is that I realized how many cycles ended up spent on blog posts rather than actual fiction. One or the other had to give, and the fiction won out. I’d love to be able to give you weekly updates on status, though, and will try to do better on that front.

This is the opposite of bleak news, however; it means that not only have I been deep in the grind on my next few novels, but that the overall quality of the series will be higher. So what have I been up to? Quick update:

  • After my first revision (incorporating notes from my critique group along with some of my own changes), the first three chapters and prologue of Pathways of the Dead were handed over to my front-line editor, who will be examining structure, internal consistency, and plotting. Once she’s done, it’s updates again then off to the beta readers.
  • I am roughly 30% into my first revision now, which translates to wrapping up Chapter 6 yesterday. Some threads have been removed for future novels, while others are being pumped up. The work is always slower at this point, but the future for the novel is very exciting and I really believe in this one.
  • I have been reviewing Corridors of the Dead not only to ensure consistency between the series but also for an upcoming revised edition. Mea culpa, the book is not exactly what I would have wanted. The story is not changing, but some of the words most certainly are, as it’s not up to my current standards. For those folks who have already read the book or have a copy, you’re not missing out on anything new. Promise.
  • City of the Dead is well under way. A good portion of the plot is set in stone and I’m already deep into Chapter Two on the first draft.
  • Notes have begun for Portal of the Dead. I can’t say too much more about that one since it’s still very fluid at this stage, but the key elements remain what they always have been.
  • The cover for City of the Dead eBook is ready; the artist is working on the Pathways cover for both eBook and print, along with print versions of Corridors and City. Once the Pathways cover is ready, we’ll be setting up a tour for the cover reveal, which sort of kicks off this phase of pre-release marketing.
  • Speaking of pre-release marketing, expect to see a WHOLE lot more about Pathways on this blog in the ramp-up to release. Previews, snippets, cut scenes, character profiles, and more. As with last time, this world is a joy to play in and I’ve grown to like it more and more throughout the drafting process. So much to share with you.

I’m still a little hazy on release date for Pathways, but if I had to pin it down, I would say early-to-mid October at this point. Just about a year after Room 3’s release. If nothing else, my release dates seem to consistently hit in the Autumn. Wish I could get you guys more than one book a year, but for at least the next three books this seems to be my lot in life. I guess I can either do quality or quantity, not both, as some writers manage. I’ll take quality.

Catch you soon.

It’s Been a Long Time…New Cover, Winners, and Other Matters

Welcome back, folks. Apologies once again for the delay in posting, but real life has been pulling me away not only from the blog but writing in general. Never fear, though, City of the Dead is practically writing itself (already it’s at 10,000 words and I can see the clear path from Point A to Point Z) and Pathways is entering the editing phase just as soon as I can shake the funk of just finishing a project. That’s an odd thing when you’re a writer, you often just want to get away from a project for awhile – let the subconscious kind of work on the next steps, you know?

So yeah, as I said, in the meantime City of the Dead (book 3 of the series) is roaring along. Things end at a very interesting place in Pathways, and the beginning of City is turning out to be an intriguing, dreamlike experience. Even knowing exactly where everything fits and how it plays out, I’m still fascinated with pushing it forward, which makes Pathways feel a little dull at the moment. That’s the natural course of things for me, anyway. Doesn’t make Pathways inferior or fated to be inferior. It just means that I need time. Besides, I like the idea of having book 3 very close to ready when book 2 launches. This may mean that I leave some space between Room 3 and the Pathways release, but in the end I believe it will be worth it. Honest!

I also have some exciting news to share with you: we have a winner! Well, several of them, actually. The last few weeks have been the tour for Room 3, courtesy of Dark World Book Tours, and we’ve had quite a response.  Lots of entries, but only a handful of winners. I won’t name all the winners here out of respect to their privacy, but congrats to all of you folks. Expect your prizes very soon!

One more bit of news before I check out to work on other things: the covers are coming.

Oh yes, they are coming.

For those eagle-eyed folks who know me on Facebook, they may have seen the latest (and, truly, final) cover of Corridors of the Dead cross in a special sneak peek. Here it is for all you regular readers!

corridors_cover_1800x2700Pretty slick, huh? There’s a coded symbolism at work on this cover, one of a woman who resists the entreaties to turn herself into a weapon and finds herself in the midst of a crumbling world. And here’s the thing: the reason that I’m fairly confident this will be the last cover is that we’re working on the remaining covers in the series and they all align with the themes on this cover. So yes, a City of the Dead cover exists, and Pathways is coming along. Expect a reveal tour sometime in August as things begin to ramp up for Pathways.

In the meantime, thanks for all the support. Hope I can communicate more with folks as things go forward. Just hope for a quieter Summer than the one I’ve had so far.

 

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My Next Novel? Yeah, That’s Finished.

Had a long weekend out of town so this is my first chance to share with you, the reader, but Thursday evening I nailed down the first draft of the second book in the Among the Dead series, Pathways of the Dead. Even now I can scarcely believe that it’s happened; I began what would become known as Pathways last summer and pushed through it even during the Room 3 publication process. I had anticipated the finished first draft in March or April. May is acceptable enough, but it had begun to feel like it just wasn’t going to happen.

Of course, this is far from the finish line. The book is still working its way through the various layers of critiques and editors (TWO editors on this one in addition to the critique group and beta readers). The next stage of the voyage begins on the 24th, when I send a first draft that’s been altered with critique comments to my content editor. She’ll sanity-check the thing and make sure that I haven’t somehow put a character’s pants on his head, that sort of thing. Common errors. From there I incorporate her changes and get it out to my lovely, dedicated beta readers. All of this goes on while the critique group continues to read through the evolving drafts until they reach the end. Once ALL of that’s done, it goes to my final editor for final say.

This is a change. While the editing process on the last two books have not been solely on my shoulders, there have been phases that were nothing but my own changes. If all goes well, this book will see nothing like that. I’ll make my own changes in tandem with suggestions from other authors, readers, and editors, making for a far more polished reading experience.

In the meantime, you can expect to see a new cover for Corridors to accompany a revised edition (no major cheats, just some cleaning-up of the text) that feeds right into Pathways. Pathways cover reveal will be done about a month prior to release, so watch this space for more information.

In the meantime, a quick FAQ for folks who read the first book. This will evolve over time and sit on the Among the Dead page.

1. What is this Pathways nonsense? I thought the sequel was called City of the Dead. I wanted that to be so, but the version of City that I had crafted would have been north of 200K+ words. A thematic split also became apparent during the drafting process, and so it only felt natural to split the two books. City of the Dead is still coming, it’s just book 3.

2. What do you mean by a thematic split? Among the Dead is a series that incorporates elements of many different genres. Book 1, Corridors of the Dead, was an urban fantasy-cum-coming-of-age tale. Pathways is more of an action film with some mystery elements. Book 3, City of the Dead, is a cross between a fantasy and a mystery with some elements of a metaphysical journey. Book 4, Portal of the Dead, is a fantasy thriller. Now imagine trying to maintain some thematic consistency between an action film and a slower mystery novel and you see why City had to be split.

3. Is it still a trilogy? No. Among the Dead is now four books.

4. Are you going to be one of those authors who just keeps going and going with the series? Given the ultimate ending of this series, it would be pretty difficult to keep going. I do have a few ideas for prequels under my vest, but those would be far, far off and only for a good reason. I do think that some of the characters introduced over the course of the series would constitute that good reason, such as Omarosa and Anushka.

5. Omarosa? Isn’t she that woman from the Apprentice? The name Omarosa is actually Babylonian; it referred to a mistress of the universe, probably meaning “the sea.” The name is highly appropriate for the character devoid of any popular connections. Besides, I like the name. We’re taking it back.

6. Who are some of the new characters? Well, you know about Omarosa. I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ll meet the creator of the robot, Jazshael, from Corridors of the Dead (and oh boy will you meet him). He’s a very interesting, complex character who will pop up again and again through the rest of the series. The original founder of the Acolytes, Alma, will appear. Two characters from Room 3 make appearances as well – see if you can spot them. Both have prominent roles, though one is a younger version of himself.

7. How many characters die this time? Will your blood lust ever be satisfied? ALL OF THE CHARACTERS. ALL OF THEM. AND NEVER.

8. Where does Room 3 fit into all of this? Room 3 is a side-story to the series. You wouldn’t need to read it to understand what happens in Among the Dead, but some of the issues that pop up make a whole lot more sense when you understand just what the Watchers were up to in London in the late aughts. In time, I’ll fill in the gaps for folks who might have missed these connections.

9. Are you going to write about magick and fantasy all your life? No, sheesh, MOM. I actually have three literary books in the pipeline and am toying with the idea of using the whole Labor Day Rush method to write one of them. Crazy? Oh, probably, but it’s the best way I can think of to give myself the breathing room necessary to get one of those books out.

10. Okay, I’m interested. When can I buy it? Patience. Good work takes time…I’ll let you know as soon as I can.

Bottom line? STAY TUNED….

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The Trail of Bread Crumbs

Hey everybody, just a few quick things that I wanted to write about this morning, some general thoughts that have been banging around inside my skull. The first is just how strange it is to go back and re-read something that you wrote two years ago. I think this is generally an issue, though a pleasant one, for every writer; each work should make you stretch and learn new things. That process makes you into a different writer, and going back to read earlier works can be like returning to a childhood home. It all feels familiar, but without the original context it leaves you feeling kind of weird and empty. Sometimes the words don’t feel like ones that I even wrote.

I’m talking about this because, as Pathways of the Dead draws to a close, I’m going back through and reading Corridors to ensure that Pathways answers the most important questions from that novel. So far I’m pleasantly surprised. The original plan covered the broadest questions, and those are all either answered or advanced in Pathways. Sure, there are a few “color” details that are missing from the first draft of Pathways, such as certain nicknames, but it’s actually pretty interesting to see how well my plan worked out, especially when it came to unforeseen eventualities like the death of a certain character.

And that brings me to the topic that’s really on my mind: the trail of bread crumbs. When you build a series like this, with so many intricate, interlocking parts, you have to go into the thing aware of how it plays out on a general scale – the largest A to B to C points. I’ve known the ending of the series from the beginning, and I had a vague idea of the large beats that got to that point. I also built a series bible of sorts that lays out the different groups involved, their motivations, and major players from those groups. During the creation of Corridors, I kept a running list of major questions that were posed and the answers to those questions. Not all had to be answered in that book (in fact, three major dangling questions are very important to the books that follow), but they needed to at least be acknowledged.

So why talk about all this? Well, first, I firmly believe that this is all you really need to create a successful series, but I also think this is the best way to build a world with lasting appeal. Even as the author, I’m finding a lot of interesting little tidbits in Book 1 that foreshadow events in Book 2. One character, for example, causes signature events in the world whenever he appears. A reader who has finished the series and understands the whole thing could then go back and find the hints hidden in Book 1 regarding the nature of that character. They’re not necessary to understanding the story overall, but it adds a secondary layer to the story once the bigger picture is understood.

The early seasons of Lost did this very well, but I think they may have overreached by the end. It’s part of what built the sense of mystery and kept it going; even now the series is eminently rewatchable just to catch those little moments. That is the “trail of breadcrumbs” of which I speak – the little nods to the readers who know what’s going on, to show them a larger story on the second go-through. Fun stuff, and I hope that someone catches these one day.

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Marketing, Marketing, Marketing…

The subject can make you tear your hair out, especially when you’re already in a somewhat tough spot with your writing. I mean, let’s face it, it’s not especially easy to market what I’m writing, at least, not yet. I do feel that it will eventually become easier, but for now I’m kind of taking my lumps as part of paying my dues. That’s how it goes, you know. Anyway, I say all this because after last week’s announcement, I’m in the process of commissioning a few covers, each for different purposes, at least for now. Here is the final outcome of my work with Silyvia Yordanova:

Real Full SizThe idea, of course, being to represent a more “realistic” approach to the work and give readers a face to associate with Matty. I think the cover fits in with a lot of what I’ve seen out there and will be easier to sell in personal appearances, so this may be the final print cover; not certain just yet because I’ve also hired an illustrator to create a fully illustrated cover that will better bring the vision of the original cover to fruition. I mean this one:

The Corridors of the DeadThe current concept is to take this one and more fully realize it, with a cross between the art of movies like Metropolis and Alien. With both in hand, it should be easier to decide which path is the more viable one moving forward with the series.

Let me just say that City of the Dead has been on an arduous path from the outset; it’s easily rivaled Room 3 in complexity, even with a pre-planned plot set out before it. The concept is just as tricky and there are far more characters and moving parts within the story. That said, I’m confident that it will be finished and work as intended – I just don’t plan to fail, period.

It’s probably natural that the cover art for City has followed the same tortured path as its creation. There have already been two abortive attempts at covers, which is why I want to take the time to get this right by first perfecting the cover to Corridors and having the theme to carry through the series. This is already a very difficult series to sell, and it’s important to get the tone and approach just right.

Let’s just hope that Portal of the Dead is much easier. This trilogy may well kill me.

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400: This is not my beautiful house!

400

Welcome to post #400! While it’s great to reach a milestone, I also have to keep my wits about me. Shaggin the Muse is, surprisingly, not the longest-lived blog that I’ve ever created. It’s certainly getting up there, but I’ve had a few that lasted a year or so longer. That said, I didn’t have any doubt that it would reach this point; what, was I just going to give up on my writing? Hardly. Still, I can recognize my own happiness at having enough ideas to get this far. Ideas are always the toughest part of writing a blog, and so far I’ve had a few slow downs but no major roadblocks.

This has certainly been a strange journey, though, one that’s encompassed two novels (both of which received total rewrites), more than a dozen short stories, an anthology appearance, and even a novelette.  I’m saving some of the navel-gazing for post #500, assuming I get that far, but 400 is still a nice round number to look back and take stock.

Shaggin the Muse opened its doors on February 25, 2011, right around the time that I wrapped up the fourth draft of what would eventually become The Corridors of the Dead. At that time, I referred to it as the Torat series rather than Among the Dead, and the first book would be Torat: Initiation. The series still consisted of three books and had a similar game plan, but featured some key differences, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

This blog exists simply because I felt it had to, as a means of publicity and not much else. My rather unfortunate first post reflects my feelings on the process at the time:

Intend to turn this into an official blog for my works, however, I am currently head-down in trying to get this novel ready for submission to a contest. Will eventually update on progress and thoughts.

dat sum

That’s it. The entire substance of the post. The damned thing is that I had plenty of blog experience at that point. By my count, I’d had something like seven blogs prior to this site and have been blogging in one form or another since early 2005, so it’s not like my reticence had been borne of fear. Truth is, I had few ideas on what I wanted from this site  other than including updates on my works-in-progress, and even then I felt something of a grudging “requirement” to offer those updates.

You see, it’s always been easy  to talk about other people and their ideas, but not so easy to focus on myself and my ideas, especially when it came to writing. Oh, sure, I could blog about emotional issues in my life with very little trouble (at a base level fiction is already pretty much this), but writing about my actual works? Just way too personal, and running too much of a risk that no one cares. I know, I know. It makes little sense to me now, too. I can only surmise that the process of creating fiction showed even more of my soft underbelly than some of those deeply personal things that I talked about over the years.

Today I’m the exact opposite. I’ve gotten so used to sharing my fiction and baring that part of myself that it seems odd that it ever worried me. At the same time I’ve gone back and removed a good portion of those older blogs because they cut too close to the bone. My fiction is still highly personal and incorporates much of my emotional landscape (I think good fiction should do this), but it’s different now – overt talk about emotional issues just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Two years in the trenches of the publishing wars will do that to a person, that’s for sure. I certainly know that public appearances with my fiction felt unthinkable back then and here I am gearing up for public readings and sales with some anticipation.

Now, to talk about my relevant work on February 25th, 2011. Torat: Initiation would turn out to be a very different book from Corridors of the Dead. Oh, both books shared a majority of characters, save for an angel named Mora (AKA Uriel, the angel of death), a down-on-her-luck diner owner in Vegas. I miss her, but some of her lives on in the character of Omarosa, introduced in The Station and taking a much larger role in City of the Dead.

For comparison’s sake, here is the original opening of Torat: Initiation:

Working as the night porter for the motel really was the best and worst of both worlds. Matty loved having the extended alone time; the quiet time, the time when she could just sit with her charcoals and inks and do whatever came to mind. She hated that stretch between 3 and 6, when the entire world came to a dead stop and the spectre of sleep hung on her bones like a shroud, fended off with regular shots of Red Bull and Mountain Dew.

She dreaded it, but it also produced some of her more surreal works of art, and so she tried to be ready to seize that dragon and ride it all the way to some great art. This night she was working on a charcoal drawing of her lover, transforming her from a pretty blonde with curved, nordic features to a sneering warrior.

She looked up when the door chimed and sat Kristy aside, stepping through the doorway to find a small, hunched old woman who greeted her with kind eyes. “Good to see someone’s still awake.”

Matty rubbed her eyes and smiled. “Yeah, kinda my job.”

“Still admirable. Could just as easily sleep back there, you know.”

Matty lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the register and shook it. “The magic of caffeine.”

It’s a testament to my growth that I can read that and immediately see why the book struggled to place with an agent; I hadn’t done much real work done to build a connection with Matty. I don’t blame myself, though, as I had very little idea of how to do such a thing. Thankfully, that’s changed over the last two years, and I know that I could do a fairly effective job of connecting the reader with that incarnation. Continue reading

Room 3 Launch Winners, Holiday Crush, and Planning a Tour. Whew!

Evening, readers. First of all, congrats to Cinta García de la Rosa for winning the $25 Amazon gift card in the Room 3 launch. If you missed this one, don’t worry – we’ll have a tour in early December for the rest of you folks. I’ll talk about that one shortly.

In the meantime, of course it’s a holiday week, and I’ve decided to take this week off from my day job. We’re heading out of town on Thursday to visit my parents and spend time with friends, so I don’t know how much I’ll be updating the site. Hopefully “enough” will do the trick? I don’t know. I’m focusing especially hard on City of the Dead right now, in hopes that I can get the first draft of that completed before the end of the year. Can it be done? I don’t know. I’m about halfway through, but it’s flowing out in a fairly steady stream, and it seems pretty good so far.

Fans of the series (all five of you) should enjoy it, based on how things stand now, and it’s far from having the early problems that I experienced with Room 3. The new characters are a lot of fun, and I’m enjoying spending some time with them. I’ll talk about them sometime in the future, but for now…a slight teaser: I think that the cover weapon (as it was a pistol for Corridors of the Dead and a sword for The Station) will be a scythe. Consider what that one might mean. Continue reading

Deleted: Corridors of the Dead Part 1

I’ve heard that readers are interested in deleted scenes, so I thought I might share the version of Corridors of the Dead that got sent out to agents back in early 2011; at least, a portion of Chapter 1, to give you an idea of what this thing could have been. This version was last updated in June 2011, so it actually comes a few months after that submission period, when I was trying to nail down the new feel for the novel. Within a month I would shift to Matty’s perspective, and the story would tell itself.

In this scene, we see Matty more intent on her art and working the graveyard shift at a Ramada in Eureka. There are some slight variations to her voice, and Delilah McKinley, as mentioned in my Bookcast interview, is a very different character.

Prologue

Matty’s favorite human feature was the curve of the eyebrow; she enjoyed the way that her charcoals brushed and angled together as she tried to depict them, black angles and strokes coming together to create something that was more recognizable than the sum of its parts. She liked to think that, in some way, it represented her own life, a sum of small choices that added up to something more than those minute details. At least, she hoped.

Her yuppie parents had named her Madeline, Madeline DiCamillo, thank you very much, after the children’s character, of course. She blamed her mother, who had always harbored a streak of Euro-jealousy so thick that it had eventually driven her to Paris and the waiting arms of her online lover, Jacques. Both natural redheads, Matty’s parents had expected her to be born much the same, so Madeline just made the most sense, right? Imagine her father’s surprise when Matty was born with a thick head of black hair and dark brown eyes. Imagine how much more quickly it hastened the demise of their marriage, leaving little Madeline with only her mother at the tender age of 5, head full of confusion and a tousled mass of black hair that she despised.

She despised late nights too, so she was aware of the irony inherent in not just spending her working hours on Ramada’s graveyard shift but enjoying those hours. The damned thing was that, while her social life had withered and decayed, her artwork had blossomed and flourished thanks to having the extended alone time she had craved. Her moments had come together to present the vision of a burgeoning artist.

She both loved and hated the town that had become her hometown. Eureka, California, was the seat of Humboldt county, home to a thriving port, and prison for her soul, in her more dramatic moments. Her mother had dragged her there shortly after the divorce, making her first career transition from Bay Area ad exec to hospital administrator, ensuring that Matty would forever despise both the corporate world and the world of health-care. Quite an achievement, that.

Matty savored the “In Between Hours” of late nights, when the outside world, with its demands, pressures, and expectations, came to a slow halt and the spectre of sleep hung on her bones, a comfortable shroud ready to drain her life force. Her only weapons against that particular encroaching darkness were the Holy Trinity: Monster energy drink, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew Code Red.

She once told a friend that she suspected those hours offered a hint of what an inter-dimensional traveler might feel, and that journey showed in her work; her charcoals and inks often turned to the surreal during those hours, opening gates to other worlds, Lovecraftian beasts, strange faces in the murk of the charcoal.

Her mother had never been able to understand the inner world of Matty DiCamillo, and as she aged from misfit kid to rebellious, punker teenager, the posters on her walls going from Barbie and Hello Kitty to the Misfits, the Damned, and Green Day, their relationship had deteriorated from strained to outright antagonism. At last, at age 16, she had divorced her mother as well, getting herself emancipated (much to her mother’s delight) and taking up a studio in Arcata.

That particular night her charcoals had sung to her, transforming her lover, Kristy, from a meek blond pagan into a sneering Nordic warrior brandishing a bodiless head. She sat in the motel’s back office, head bent over her notebook as the eyebrow emerged from her hand. It reminded her of how much she missed the girl and wanted to jump her bones the moment she saw her again. It had been way too long.

College had never interested her. She always asked herself, why would she want to follow the same damn path her useless parents had followed? It was only in the dark of night, in those moments when she couldn’t fall asleep, that she wondered if she was choosing the easiest path because – well – it was the easiest path, wasn’t it?

She’ll love this, she thought as she leaned back from the rickety wooden desk, surveying her progress. She glanced at her tackle box full of chalks and pencils on the table beside her, idly wondering which of its contents might provide some spice to the composition.

That was the moment that the lobby’s front door chimed, and she heard the woosh of incoming air.

She rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock on the desk. Weird. She strained, but she couldn’t remember the last time someone had checked in at 3:30. She sat Kristy aside and rose with a sigh.

An old woman stood in the center of the shabby lobby, hunched over, gazing at the godawful Kinkade paintings lining the walls, the mediocre pap that the manager had insisted upon, despite Matty’s protests. It took the woman a moment to register that Matty had emerged, but when she did, she gave a start.

“Morning, ma’am, what can I do for you?” Matty asked.

Recovered from her shock, the old woman greeted her with kind eyes, shuffling toward the imposing front desk. “Well, obviously I’ll need a room.”

Matty forced a smile in return. “I figured.” She touched the computer’s keyboard, waiting for the filth-encrusted CRT monitor (both the computer and monitor had seen better days during the Clinton Administration) to blink to life.

“I’m so glad to see someone’s still awake,” the old woman said.

“It’s kinda my job,” she mumbled. She wanted to be nice to the old broad; she hadn’t done anything wrong or caused her any trouble, but she was picking up a real weird vibe off of her. It made Matty itch all over, eager to get away. At last, the monitor responded with a pop.

“Well, it’s still nice to see. Could just as easily sleep back there, you know,” she replied, jabbing her finger toward the dim cave of the back room.

“Don’t I know it? But,” she said, and lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the monitor, “the magic of caffeine prevails.”

“Mmm, is that safe?”

“I guess. Whatever gets the job done, you know?“

“I suppose.” She glanced at the monitor. “Do you have a room available? Ground floor?”

Matty pounded the keys, waiting for the creaky hard drive to grind to its resolution. “Yep, right by the pool.”

“Oh, dear. Is that a haul? I have a sore hip…”

“Not really. Just around the corner from here. Smoking or non?”

“I’m afraid I gave up the magic of nicotine years ago,” she replied, and winked.

“Touche, Ms…?”

“McKinley. Delilah McKinley, at your service.”

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