Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Belated Weekend Report with Pictures

I meant to post this on Monday, but, well, MONDAY.

This was my weekend:

I did some spring cleaning, including moving the Minerva altar from the living room to the bedroom (I have altar shelves in both rooms, and the living room one tends to be focused on whatever is going on right now--often whichever book I'm working on--and I thought that since Minerva spent most of her time in the bedroom, she'd rather be there) and changing the comforter cover from the winter one to the spring one. This was actually a pretty emotional endeavor, because it meant washing the last of Minerva's fur and smell off of the other comforter cover. On the other hand, it really needed washing, because the last weeks of her life she had been spitting medicine all over it. (She was NOT happy about taking meds.)
Here's the altar now--that little wooden box with her picture on top of it has her ashes in it. A lovely sympathy card from my friend Karen Rose Smith is to the left.

Here is the gorgeous spring comforter (which was made especially for me, along with the wall hanging above it, by one of the artists at The Artisans' Guild)

The same bed, with cats a few hours later. If you look closely at Angus, the yellow cat, you can see that he is holding his right eye partially closed. He has something going on with it--probably viral, and returned from an occurrence a month ago--and I have to put antibiotic ointment in it twice a day. You can imagine how well THAT'S going.

Lest you think these guys are the only ones getting attention, I also spent some time playing with Luna. I need to do a post about her soon--did you realize I've had her for over a year?

I know the pictures are a little blurry...she rarely stops moving!


On Sunday, my friends Ellen and Chris and I had a small birthday celebration for Jo, my step-daughter's mom. Some of you may be aware that Jo, as well as being sort-of family, came to Blue Moon Circle rituals for a couple of years before she had a massive heart attack a little more than a year ago. To be honest, no one expected her to be celebrating this birthday (she's since had another smaller heart attack, open-heart bypass surgery, and is in her 11th year of dialysis), but she's tougher than she looks. Or more stubborn. Either way, we broke her out of the nursing home for a few hours so we could celebrate her turning 54. She had a great time.

Chris made these great cupcakes

Jo asked for pizza, so that's what we had.

Blowing out the candle

Opening gifts

Of course, in with all of the cleaning and partying, I also did a lot of writing. Here's a picture from Saturday evening of Magic helping me.

The Red Writing Chair

So tell me, what did you do last weekend? Anything interesting planned for the one ahead?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guest Author & Giveaway: Toni McGee Causey

I have a confession to make right off the bat: I never intended to read Toni McGee Causey's (aka T. M. Causey) book, THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND. Not because I didn't expect it to be good--I'd read a number of Toni's earlier humorous cozy mysteries and liked them a lot, and the book has been getting amazing buzz. But because it was the kind of book I don't read. Way darker than I am normally comfortable with, and with a lot of topics I avoid like the plague, including serial killers, abused women, and dead children. But I wanted to host Toni here on the blog, so I thought I'd at least read the first few pages, so I could talk about it with some knowledge.

But then I ran into an unexpected problem. The book isn't just good--it's GREAT. So great that I couldn't stop reading it, even when it pushed me well past my comfort zones. Toni's earlier books were lovely; light, frothy, amusing entertainment. This? This is a damned masterpiece. (And no, she didn't pay me to say so.) The writing was stellar, the characters enthralling, the story so intense that I had to keep reading to find out what happened. And while I'm going to warn y'all that there are definitely some trigger warnings for this book, it is also well worth reading. I am giving it my highest possible recommendation. She calls this book "Southern Gothic Suspense." I call it one of the best books I have ever read in my life.

I love this cover too--and Toni did that as well!
I asked Toni to come post a guest blog, and here it is. She'll be giving away a signed copy of the book (or an e-copy, if the winner prefers) plus a $25 gift card to the bookstore of the winner's choice (she'll do international as long as the card can be purchased there electronically) to one lucky commenter this Friday, the first of April. Take it away, Toni, and thanks for stopping by!

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

One of the most dreaded questions a writer can field is the 'Where do you get your ideas' question, especially with regard to longer fiction. It's the kind of query that has a million answers, and often the author has no real clue how they put this idea with that one, stowing them somewhere in the crannies of their minds where the random ideas may bump and roll around until they become so entangled, they form a completely new idea. Or mess. It can work both ways. What makes this one better than that one? What makes this one the thing you knew you would use for a book, when there were a thousand other notions that seemed just as viable shunted off to the side, where hoarders even feared to tread.
This is the one time I feel like the kid at the back of the class who finally has an answer, who raises her hand with an "oh oh oh PICK ME PICK ME, I KNOW!" squeal. 

THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND is the story of a woman, Avery Broussard, who sees lost things. Glimpses, like photo snapshots, of anything (or anyone) someone has lost bombard her as she moves through life and interacts with anyone. Lost keys, a phone, cameras, money, love. A child. Imagine having that ability to know the condition that lost thing is in, and see it, but not always be correct. She can see something lost in a wheat field, but may not know which wheat field.

Now imagine... you have that skill and you're trying to find a lost child... before a killer can finish his task... and you fail. One of your rare failures. 

Avery fails... and runs... and the story starts with just what happens when you cannot outrun your own abilities, or the vengeance someone will take for your mistakes.

So, where did that idea come from? Two odd-but-true events that took place probably fifty years apart. The first happened to my dad. The second, to me.

My dad told me his story... and he's not one to believe in anything extra-sensory. He swears it's true. He and my Paw Paw had been hunting. My dad’s family were very poor, and if  they didn’t hunt, they didn’t eat. This was back in the days of the Great Depression, and my Paw Paw’s three hunting dogs were prized because they helped most of the hunts be successful.  

 On one such trip, two of the hunting dogs returned, but the best one did not. My Paw Paw and Dad searched everywhere, and couldn’t find her. Dad was about ten years old at the time, and after they’d been searching futilely for a while, Paw Paw told him to get in the truck. They drove for about an hour (once they were out of the woods), far south of the property they’d been hunting on, and my Paw Paw pulled up to a very old house where an even older black man sat on a rocker on his front porch. His eyes were milky-white, the cataracts were so thick, he could not have seen who it was who'd driven up, and he had no phone. When Paw Paw got out of the truck, Dad was surprised that the old man started talking first—and knew who they were. Without anyone having said a thing yet.
“You lost a dog a ways back,” the old man said by way of intro, and Dad said his hair stood straight up on his head.  
“Yep,” Paw Paw said, but didn’t elaborate as the old man turned his head and sort of stared out into the trees. Trees he couldn't see.
He hummed to himself for a few minutes, kinda nodded as if figuring something out, and then said to my Paw Paw, “You know that river where you were hunting?” 
“Well, about two miles west of where you were, the river forks. You know it?”
“Take the right fork, and go on down a ways, ‘bout a mile or so, and your dog’s hung up there in the barbwire fence.”
Paw Paw thanked him, promised him some food from the hunt, and he and Dad climbed back in the truck, heading the almost hour drive back to where they’d been hunting.
My dad’s not the kind of person who believes in woo-woo stuff, especially something like this, so he indicated he thought it was all a waste of time, but they found the fork in the river, veered to the right, and about a mile from the fork, the dog was hung up in the barbwire fence. 

I probably would have dismissed the entire thing as completely far-fetched, except that it was my dad telling the story, he was sincere in his disbelief-until-he-saw-the-proof aspect, and I’d had enough oddball experiences finding things that other people had lost that I knew there could potentially be more at work than someone simply telling a tall tale. 

For many years, I’d get flashes of where something was that I was looking for... I’d “see” it, and then sure enough, that’s where it was. I’d never thought much about it other than assuming I had simply probably memorized its location as I walked through a room—maybe something akin to a photographic memory—but I never assumed it was anything extraordinary beyond just memory, until one day, a friend was telling me about her mother’s lost high-heeled red stiletto shoe (her telling me was for a story reason), and as she talked about it, I “saw” the shoe underneath a very specific kind of porch.
I asked, "Does she live in a house that's raised off the ground?"
My friend was a little surprised, and said yes.
I asked, "Is it a little higher off the ground than maybe normal... it has steps in the center of the front porch that lead up to the front door, and no railings?"
My friend was getting a little weirded out, because her mother lived in Nova Scotia, and I'd just completely described her home... Even though we both knew we'd never talked about where her mother lived, and I'd never been to Nova Scotia or to her mother's.
Then I said, "Well, I have this weird image of that red shoe. If she faces the stairs and goes to the left, behind the third pylon, there's a depression in the dirt. The shoe is lying there. But it's been chewed on by a dog.
My friend laughed, because her mother didn't have a dog, but she said she'd ask her to look anyway.
She called me right back. The shoe was where I described it, exactly. In the condition I described it.
How does that even happen? I have not a single clue.
That freaked me out. Plenty.  

Not long after, a different friend, Julie, who lived in Arizona (and I lived in Baton Rouge at the time), was desperately looking for another friend, K, who’d left a suicide note. Many mutual friends had gone out searching, but K couldn't be found. When Julie called me and told me what was happening, as she talked, I could see K... she was sitting by a large tree, eyes closed, having already died. Her white car (I didn’t know she had a white car) was parked nearby. I could sense water, but not see it, which was odd and I could also see a woman with a backpack leaning over K, not yet realizing that K had died.
I told Julie all of this. She was noticeably disappointed when she sighed and said, “Unfortunately, where we live, it's a desert. There are no trees like that, and no water.” 
And I completely understood--she was hoping for that magical solution, and I honestly couldn't give it to her. It bothered me terribly to be so wrong, but it was a long shot anyway. I told Julie, “Ignore it then, it’s just an odd image.”
She called back four hours later, devastated. They’d found our K... two hundred miles north of where she lived, sitting on the bank of a dried river bed, leaning against a giant cottonwood tree. Her white car was parked nearby. A woman with a backpack who’d been hiking with friends had found her.
She'd only died about an hour earlier (Julie believed), based on a ticket she'd paid to enter the park. Witnesses would later confirm sightings of her when she'd parked and then gone and sat by the tree.
Aside from the shock and grief for the mutual friend, the entire conversation and ensuing discovery stunned me and if it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not believing it. What was worse, I didn't know what to do about it. Help people? How?
Not long after, I told a couple of people, and the first thing they did was ask me about something they’d lost. It was a near-instant reaction on their part, and sometimes it was something important, but sometimes it was something that had just eluded them and they were tired of being thwarted. Every time, I 'got' an 'image' that popped in my head. And I was almost always wrong about my guesses. I think my ratio of correct “images” to questions was so low, it probably needed multiple zeroes after a decimal point. 

I didn’t mind being constantly wrong. It was a relief, actually, because the hope that people have when they are asking about something lost is palpable, and dashing those hopes, or seeing their disappointment, was equally brutal.  

Which lead me to wondering... What if? What if you could do this for real... But you're human, you're not perfect, and you make mistakes? Would you go to the police? Would you volunteer? Where do you draw the line?
What if everyone wants your help? How do you have a life? Do you hide your ability?
What if a child's life depends on it?
What if your own life does? Or someone you love?
Years after losing K, Avery was born, and I think she’d probably been there all along, from the first time I found something... or maybe even as far back as when my dad told me that story about the hunting dog.
And those what ifs kept piling up, pressing forward, begging to be answered until I could ignore the questions no longer.
THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND is not for the faint of heart. It's a dark book, and it may break your heart, but it may also give you hope.
For me, it's finally given me peace.

Tell us if you have ever had any sort of experience with finding lost things, or other weird paranormal oddities. And be sure to go find Toni here: (for giveaways and contests) (more of the sillier stuff in life)

And get the book here:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tarot Cards and Coloring Books and Giveaways, OH MY

As most of you know, I have been working on a fabulous tarot deck for Llewellyn with illustrator Elisabeth Alba, who is as sweet as she is talented (so pretty damned sweet). When we finished, Elisabeth kindly offered to gift me with one of the original paintings--my choice. I debated back and forth for ages, since I loved them all so much, but finally narrowed it down to the one I thought I'd most like to have hanging on my wall. (I also intend to buy a few of the prints when she puts them up for sale, but an original is different, a real treasure.)

Yesterday, I got THIS in the mail.

I particularly love this one because it gives me a wonderful peaceful feeling to look at it, but also because if you look at the kitty, you'll notice that it is a calico. Elisabeth was working on the Cups, her final suit, when my beloved cat Samhain died, and I asked her if she could possibly make one or two of the kitties in that suit calicos, in Samhain's honor. As you can see, she did. I told you she was sweet, didn't I.

If you like the cards in this deck, then you are going to LOVE the new LLEWELLYN WITCH'S COLORING BOOK. This cool new addition to the adult coloring book craze features a number of different artists, including Elisabeth and also Mickie Mueller, who did the cover for my ebook version of Circle, Coven & Grove, as well as a number of the illustrations in The Witch's Broom

Check it out:

My painting isn't *quite* as good as Elisabeth's original...
 Aren't these cool? There are lots of other gorgeous pictures to draw too. I had to get one of these as soon as I found out our pictures were in there. And I've found using it to be surprisingly therapeutic. Naturally, I ordered an extra one to give away! Why should I have all the fun?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When the Book Fights Back

People often ask me what my writing process is—do I outline first (yes, usually), what time of day do I write (evenings almost every day, and often a morning shift on the days I don’t work the day job), and how long it takes me to write a novel from start to finish. That last one is tougher to answer.

In general, it takes me about three or four weeks to play with the initial idea, do enough research to get started, and write the outline and character studies, all of which has to happen before I begin to do the actual writing. Then it takes me about four months to write the polished first draft (I start each day’s writing by editing the words from the day before, so in theory each first draft had already had one edit by the time it is done). Then it goes off to my agent Elaine, who sends me her very helpful revision notes, which take me about two weeks to complete. Then it goes off to my editor, who will eventually send me her own notes. Somewhere in that process, bits and pieces and sometimes the whole thing are also read and commented on by my First Readers, who are various folks who I trust to give me honest but not brutal feedback. [Each book has different First Readers—some people have worked on almost every book…thank, Mom…and some only one or two.]

You’ll note those important two works: in general. If you ask any writer, they will tell you that no two books are the same. Some are easier to write than others. And every once in a while, you get one that fights back.

Take it from me—this is Not a Good Thing.

Dangerously Charming, the first book in the Riders series, tried to kill me. No, really. This one fought back. Unlike Wickedly Dangerous, the first Baba Yaga book, it was not fun to write. Did I mention it tried to kill me?

I thought about not doing this blog post. After all, it would be kind of nice for y’all to have the illusion that I sit here with my laptop and my cat and merrily type away while bluebirds fly overhead, singing happy songs, and then, POOF, the book appears.

Yeah, not so much. Not even for the books that cooperate. (Although there is a laptop, and often a cat or two. But no bluebirds. The cat would eat them. And then the feathers would get into the keyboard, and I’d have to explain that to the tech guys, and well, nevermind.)

But I also thought that maybe it would be interesting for you to get a peek into the reality of the writer’s world, and really, the only way to give you a good look was to be honest. Which means admitting that not only is writing not always (or ever) easy, sometimes it is downright tough. The next time you read a book by one of your favorite authors, maybe you’ll wonder…was this one that fought back? And appreciate the fact that the book exists even more.

So what happened? A couple of things. It probably started with my signing a contract with back to back to back deadlines that were too close together, and getting a little burned out. It happens. Plus, it was more difficult than I expected to switch from writing about the Baba Yagas to writing about the Riders. But then the outline wouldn’t allow me to write it. I got about a third of the way into the story, and couldn’t get any further. Only had a basic idea of what happened next. Still, the book had to be started, and I’d written books without outlines before, so I just sat down and began writing, and hoped that I’d figure it out as I went along.

Nope. I got about 34,000 words in (on a book that would end up being about 90,000 words) and I had a feeling something just wasn’t right. So I sent it to Elaine, and she made some suggestions, and I rewrote the first bit. But it still wasn’t right, so I asked my then-editor, Leis, to take a look, and she called me up and basically confirmed my worst fears: the story wasn’t working, in part because there were serious problems with the two main characters, Mikhail Day (the Rider, who my readers had already met in the three Baba Yaga books) and his love interest, Jenna.

So I figured out the problems, and where the story had started to go wrong. Unfortunately, that was at about the 8,000 word mark. Yes, you can see my problem here. I was going to have to throw out almost everything I’d written (when I was already running late on my deadline) and start over practically from scratch. Did I mention that this book tried to kill me?

Thankfully, I was actually able to save more than I expected, although much of the old stuff had to be changed, rewritten, or thrown out completely. Once I’d identified the problems with the story, I was able to go back to the outline and finish it, which made writing the rest of the book a lot easier. And then there was my pal Sierra, who not only acted as First Reader, and my trusty paid researcher, but helped me brainstorm a lot of the story when I got stuck. So basically, she saved my butt. (This was a fairy tale story, and that’s kind of her area of expertise. Thank goodness.) As did my friend Kari, who brainstormed and did one-day turnarounds during that horrible last month. But holy crap, this was a tough one.

Eventually, the story got finished, two months past its deadline. (I’ve never been late on a deadline before. There was some serious twitching.) Which, of course, meant I was already two months behind on the current novel. Let’s hope that one doesn’t fight back too. The important thing, though, was that in the end, I had a book I was proud of, and happy to eventually be able to share with you all. As an author, the end result is a lot more important than the struggle it takes to get there.

You know, as long as most of the books don’t try to kill you.

So tell me, have you ever had a creative endeavor that fought back? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Spring Equinox Ritual: Creating a Charm Bag for Energy, Creativity, and Abundance

A friend asked me to make her a charm to increase her physical and creative energy, and I thought, "Man, I need one of those too." And then I thought, "And the Spring Equinox is the prefect time to tap into that kind of energy," so I made it part of Blue Moon Circle's ritual, which we did earlier today.

Then it occurred to me that some other folks might find this useful too, so here it is. As always, if you don't have some (or even most) of the supplies, you can substitute things you do have that feel right to you, or just do without. The reason I threw in SO many ingredients, more than I usually do, is because I needed this to be uber-powerful. And it was.

Happy Ostara, folks!

Spring Equinox Ritual
Energy, Creativity & Prosperity Charm Bag

Supplies: Quarter candles, god/goddess candles, small containers of salt & water & small bowl, sage smudge stick, cakes & ale, matches
Plus: [one each for each person taking part]
Medium sized bag—mesh, silk, leather, fabric, or whatever suits your fancy
GEMSTONES – Amber (good fortune, strength, healing, heightens magical work), Amethyst (healing, happiness, de-stressor/lifts spirits, sharpens the mind), Aventurine (healing, prosperity, creativity), Tiger-eye (prosperity, strength, confidence). Use as many as desired.
HERBS – Cinnamon (stick form is easiest, energy, creativity, success, healing), Rosemary (energy, healing, sharpens the mind), Sage (protection, wisdom, lends power to wishes)
A piece of paper & a pen – I like to use pastel colors for spring, and if you can find them, paper imbedded with seeds (I found a wrapping paper in pastel colors with seeds in it, to plant later)
Optional, to represent the powers of the elements – a feather (air, also creativity), salt (I like to use chunks of sea salt, earth, grounding, purification), shell (water, potential), a tiny candle (I used a small purple beeswax rolled candle; beeswax for prosperity and energy, purple for creativity and spirit)
Optional – magical oil (I used a homemade energy/strength oil made from cinnamon, ginger, lemon, and orange—but any oil for energy or creativity or prosperity will do)

Pass sage, salt and water to purify circle.
Call quarters. Invoke god and goddess:
“Great Brigid, Bright Lady, we gather at your cauldron for wisdom and bounty, in celebration of the joyous spring. Be with us now and send us your gifts of creativity, energy, and growth. So mote it be!”
“Great Herne, Lord of the Beasts, we welcome back your creatures to the greening world, and rejoice at your return. Send us your gifts of strength, prosperity, and abundance. So mote it be!”

Today is the beginning of spring and the time for new growth is upon us. May the start of the light half of the year bring inspiration to our spirits and hearts. Today is also a day of balance between light and dark, when we release winter's frozen immobility in favor of growth and new energy.
This makes it the perfect time to recharge our physical and spiritual bodies, which are often left drained by the cold and dark of winter, as well as the never-ending hustle and bustle of our own busy lives. We will tap into the energy of spring, full of abundance and growth, and use that potential to create a charm bag that will increase our spiritual, physical, and creative energies, while also bringing prosperity and abundance in positive and helpful ways.

On the paper, write your desires for the seasons to come—start with energy, creativity, and prosperity, if those are your goals, and then add anything else you want. Into the bag, place the gemstone(s) and herbs, focusing on their properties as you work. If using the extras to represent the elements, add those, speaking their names and powers out loud if you wish. Tuck the paper inside and anoint with magical oil, if using. Consecrate the charm bag by holding it over each element’s candle (away from the flame) and say, “I consecrate this magical charm for energy, creativity, and prosperity (or your goals) with the power of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.” Then hold it over the god/goddess candles and say, “I consecrate this magical charm with the power of the god and goddess, for the good of all, and according to the free will of all. May it work for my benefit from this day forward. So mote it be.”

If desired, raise energy and direct it toward your magical working by chanting or drumming.
Blue Moon Circle used this simple chant: “Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath, and Fire my spirit.” Then say the following spell:
Spring energy flies through the air on the wings of the birds and the freshening breeze
And flows up from the ground with the blooming flowers and greening grass
May this energy be mine. May this power for creation be mine. May this abundance be mine.
So mote it be.

Cakes and ale:"I ask you now Shining Deities, to give of your many blessings. I call forth your gifts into these cakes. May your energy infuse this food, and thus infuse me with your magic."
"Make sacred the liquid within this chalice. Put into it your light and love. Into it pour your blessings to me. Within me may your gifts shine bright!" 
Pass speaking stick. Dismiss the quarters. Thank the gods.
I thank the lovely Shining Ones for their gifts and many blessings. Herne and Brigit, I thank you again and again. To the ancestors and spirits of nature who have also joined us this day, I thank you! And I thank as well the Earth Mother, Gaia, for this land, your bounty, and my body, the vehicle through which I am able to give you honor.
Place your charm bag on your altar, or wherever it will be safe and nearby.