BadAss Writers Don’t Quit. They Persevere.

“Own your vision. Be unrelenting in its creation. Control the nuance while allowing for malleability.” – Bucho Rodenberger

 

This morning I got fired up (Lately, I’ve been feeling on fire) when I read these words. A quote from a colleague of mine, a fellow writer who, like me, chips away at his craft daily with fervor and passion and perseverance because to create is to persevere. And sometimes it becomes tiresome, and doubt creeps in as compensation and praise are not instantaneous (you don’t write for your ego, you write because you must), and in those times it is easy to curl into a ball, turn on some sort of distraction, and wallow. BUT – we must be unrelenting.

I love this.

After the PNWA Writer’s Conference at the end of July, I went into wallow-mode. Not because the conference wasn’t fruitful – it was – but because there is still so much work to be done, and my expectations shifted.

I learned about the business of publishing. I was daunted as most of the conference’s workshops were geared toward self-publishing, not traditional (Most authors, I learned, are self-published). And I’m not ruling out self-publishing. Especially after learning that publishing houses don’t have the budget that they used to, and that they are frugal with that budget, saving it for established authors, rarely taking a chance on a debut author. And if they do take a chance on a debut author, the odds that the book will be a literary novel is slim. The houses want genre novels, genres they know will sell.

In a nutshell (pardon the cliché), publishing houses are wary of risk. And that’s understandable. But I’m a risk-taker.

Traditional publishing is my first choice. And only once I have been rejected, rejected by every single agent and editor in the business (I’ll take a page out of JK Rowling’s book on that one), will I consider next steps. Next steps being self-publishing.

So…this will take patience. Traditional publishing is all about patience. Waiting to find an agent who believes in my work, wading through their revision notes, implementing those notes, and then waiting as editors read. And if I’m lucky enough to get an editor, then taking their revision notes and implementing those. This is where part of that quote resonates – control the nuance while allowing for malleability.

Writers must be malleable. But we also need to own our visions. Which is why I was in wallow-mode. I have another draft before my novel is ready, a draft where I own my vision, where my intention is like a laser so that when I do get those revision notes (because I will – no way around that), an agent will be able to hone the manuscript and make it better alongside of me instead of changing it completely.

I must be clear.

So the conference forced me to think like a businesswoman, and not just a creative. It forced me to define my novel further than Upmarket Women’s Fiction. This is too broad of a genre. I have a literary novel. So I must shape it as such.

This is what I know – damn the odds. This is my personality – taking on the highest risk of rejection and saying, “Watch me now.”

Well, watch me now. I will be published. I am a debut author. And I have written a literary novel. And I say this with pride.

And when this next draft is finished, I will begin book two. Because it could take a year or more before this book will even be looked at closely. So in the meantime, while I wait, I write.

A Note On Grief.

Today is for acknowledging fear, darkness, and the shadows that live within us. It is for honesty and self-love. Vulnerability.

I am open. I am speaking. Please listen.

Today I had a polarity therapy session with my massage therapist, and about an hour into the session, she laid her hands over my chest. I imagined the healing energy radiating through my limbs and this is what I told myself: Do not have fear; there is no reason to fear; let go of your fear, you beautiful soul. Tightness in my throat, my chest, burst. I said, “Whatever you just did, I can’t stop crying.” And she said, “I’m working on your fear. One way to release fear is through tears.”

I am fearful of this post. I am fearful of being honest, sharing my honesty, and upsetting someone else through my release. I am fearful of backlash. I am fearful of judgment.

But here’s the thing: I have been suffering in secret. And by stilling my voice, quieting my pain, I have allowed my pain to linger.

I heal through words, through a creative outlet. I write to understand my feelings. It is the way I process life. And I would be a hypocrite to encourage openness and honesty in those around me, and not to share my own. We are all on a journey. This is part of mine.

My grandfather passed away almost two years ago, and when he passed, he left each grandchild a Bible. I was told that my Bible had special messages written inside of it, passages highlighted and underlined – my grandfather speaking to me through verse. I felt special. And after his funeral, after a trying, emotional visit back home, I opened the Bible up to read those messages and instead found judgment. I was stunned. Stilled. And by the time we made it back to California, off of the plane, out of the cab, and into the apartment, I was curled in the fetal position on the floor, shocked with grief and loss and pain and judgment. I have not found my way back from this loss.

I have been struggling through this grieving process. Because to grieve would be to acknowledge my pain, and to acknowledge my pain would be to accept the Bible as truth, as a reality, and to accept this parting gift as a reality would be to accept that my grandfather did not approve of my life, and to accept that he did not approve of my life, would mean acknowledging that I was blind.

I was blindsided.

My therapist says the best way through grief is straight through it. And instead, I’ve been cradling this hurt, hiding the pain, and by doing so have become a rabid dog – hungry, needy, scared. Ready to bite. Shamed and undeserving of love. I have become a prickly exterior, the Iron Gate slammed shut around a vulnerable, fragile heart.

So today I decided to strap on my jumbo jet packs and go – straight through this thing we call grief. And this is what I learned. I need to forgive myself (I forgave my grandfather long ago) for being someone my grandfather didn’t approve of. I need to accept that I am not responsible for other people’s judgments. He said that I have a vile, serpent tongue, and my tongue has been quieted since. Two years of stillness. So much quiet that I now breathe through my nose most of the time. But I am unsealing my lips. I am accepting that I allowed his judgments to quiet me. It is my responsibility to flip this thing, to accept his judgment, but to be proud that I have a voice and the ability to speak because that voice has defended in the midst of abuse, and that voice is strong.

Hear me.

These judgments, these highlighted verses and text ran through my mind today during my polarity session, and as they did, I forced myself to accept and appreciate those parts of me that offended. I began to accept the dark pieces of me – the pain and anger and vindication – as I accepted the light – my love and forgiveness and compassion. And this is what I realized – every one of us is a mixture of gray for we cannot have the light without the dark.

I envisioned myself in a shroud of gray, a cape of storms billowing forth; I embraced my shadows.

Here is a shadow: I threw the Bible in the garbage at the Detroit airport not because I no longer loved my grandfather, but because I couldn’t hold on to something that hurt me so much. I have been shamed for doing so, but this is my journey, my actions, my life, and I own them all.

And here’s the thing about grief and pain, about holding onto emotions without acknowledging or releasing them – they trickle into other areas of your life. They bleed through. And this pain has made me overly protective to the point where simple intimacies are strained. I do not know how to accept or receive love and affection any longer. (But could it be perhaps that I don’t know that I can trust love or affection when it is given?)

So this is what I hope. I hope that by sharing my pain, my journey, I can help others face theirs. I hope that by speaking out, my throat will loosen and I will find my voice again. I hope by finally grieving, my heart will reopen. I hope I will be able to be intimate again with those that I love and trust them with my heart. I hope to find peace with my grandfather’s passing. I hope to be able to receive love and compassion. And I hope to accept that I deserve it.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Let us be open. Let us be honest. Let us be heard.

Facebook is my Answering Machine

Do you remember the days when we had answering machines? When cell phones didn’t exist and you couldn’t be reached ALL the time? When others didn’t expect you to be reached all the time? And do you remember coming home, and feeling that little flitter of excitement because the red light on your answering machine was flickering and someone had left you a message?

I miss those days.

I miss the excitement of knowing someone had called and took the time to leave a message. And I heard their voice. And I had no idea if I had other missed calls because a regular phone didn’t tell me that. Now it is assumed that if you call someone, they will see you called, and call you back. No more voice messages. Or you a send a quick, blasé text message – thinking about you! But are you? Really? Or is it easier than investing the time in calling someone?

We’ve gotten lazy. Or, at least, I have. I don’t even like to listen to my voicemails anymore. I prefer you don’t leave me a message unless it is extremely important. And this is why – it is because I have become inundated with social media. Sometimes I feel like I want to hide in a corner and unplug, be unreachable for a good few days, but then I would have to do the damage control and explain to others why I didn’t call back, or text, or respond to their Facebook.

I miss the simpler days.

So I took Facebook off of my cell phone (It was draining my battery). But you know what happened? Facebook became my answering machine. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with notifications and getting annoyed with my “friends” who are “liking” things, or commenting, or sending me a message (which I don’t want to do – I don’t want to be annoyed with my friends) – annoyed that someone wants something from me and I want to be left alone or I’m busy doing something else and the little buzz on my cell phone is interrupting me – now I look forward to these notifications. Now I look forward to responding to comments, liking other people’s posts (and truly liking them, taking the time to read them because now I’m allotting the time to do so).

Facebook has become a sporadic treat. No longer an every day, all day social media assault.

And I find that I’m less stressed, and anxious, and overwhelmed. My fuse is longer and I’m less apt to snap at someone who posts something offensive on Facebook (because they probably want a reaction anyway). And I’m more thoughtful, less hurried.

This is something I’m working on anyway – balance (the elusive minx, balance). I’m working on slowing down.

So friends – I welcome your notifications and comments – I now look forward to them and appreciate them. But if I don’t respond right away, don’t worry – I will. I’ve just unplugged for a bit.

Query Letters & Pizza Hut & Alcohol: lessons from PNWA Writer’s Conference 2016

 

So many emotions inside of this body. So many questions, doubts, and fears. Will my book ever be ready? Will an agent want me? Will my book be published? Will I amount to anything? All of these questions as I order Pizza Hut (a childhood staple) and sooth myself with old episodes of The OC.

So what’s got me in a funk? Well, I’m processing. I’m processing information received this past weekend at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, and the idea that, perhaps, my manuscript is not yet ready to query. And, perhaps, the way I have been querying has been wrong.

There was much to learn at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, and my ears were open and my eyes wide, soaking it all in, gleaning all that I could from each conversation and workshop. So what did I learn? I will be posting several “lessons” from this conference, but for now –

Lesson One: Query Letters.

I began querying in mid-June after years of digging and digging, whittling away at my novel until I believed it was ready. My calling card would be the query letter. Some agents (most) only want to see your query letter, and this is what they use to determine whether or not they’d like to take a look at your manuscript, whether it is a partial look (five pages, ten pages, three chapters), or a full request. For those of you who don’t know what a query letter is, the writer sums up their project with its title, genre, word count, a brief synopsis (as concise and engaging as it can be within 1-2 paragraphs), comparable titles, and a bio – all of this in only one page.

To say query letters are important is an understatement so I took great care while constructing mine. Made sure that it was professional yet also held the voice of my protagonist, showcased my style. When I was finished with it, I thought my QL was the shit, so proud to send that baby out to agents, and it was – is – it is the shit, but I realized that my calling card has been wrong.

Sure, I’ve gotten traction with agents. I’ve had 5 agents request my full manuscript after reading partials, after first reading my query letter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all five of these agents rejected me. Because this is what I did and what I didn’t do…

In my query letter, I stressed the excitement of a revenge novel, but I didn’t showcase the personal journey of self-exploration my protagonist, Maddy, goes on. I used comparable titles that sizzle with revenge like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train because, like these books, my novel has a complex female character (but I added this bit – who takes the reader on a journey of unfiltered, unbridled revenge). And while this is true, this is all true – that’s not all that happens. It is not all about revenge. My book is literary in nature. It is not a genre novel. It is thoughtful. It is a slow burn, like Tampa or I Smile Back, with an unlikeable female protagonist because unlikeable female protagonists are my jam. And this was my desire: to crack Maddy’s skull open for the reader and expose her secret heart, her secret desires because once exposed, it doesn’t matter if you like her at all. It matters if you care about what happens to her, that you are invested in her story, and she has become relatable to her readers through her imperfections.

So what should have I done differently? I should have taken more care before submitting to agents, really thought about what type of book I have written. Because, really, your query letter is teaching the agent how to read your book, setting expectations for the reader. And the expectations that I have been setting are wrong.

Agents will read my book with Gone Girl in mind. They will expect the fast-paced thrill. They will expect the thrill of revenge. But perhaps they won’t appreciate the slower moments, the moments where we sink into Maddy’s mind and the only action is that of her brain ticking and clicking.

This conference forced me to think about my book as a product, and not a creative endeavor. It forced me to understand the business side of this artistic world. And I am a business woman. So I have tweaked my query letter. Gone is Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. Replaced by Tampa and Fates and Furies.

And, oh yeah, another tidbit – at the editor’s forum, an editor from a Big Five publishing house said, “I don’t want anything like Gone Girl or Girl on a Train – the market is saturated with them. I won’t even look at them.” Interesting. This business. And perhaps this is the very reason why some agents have rejected me based solely on my query letter. And little did I know (did they know), my comparable titles were off. I didn’t give it enough thought. Too eager to throw my baby out into the world.

Writing has taught me patience. Traditional publishing, even more. And the thing that’s got me eating Pizza Hut and watching television shows from the early 2000’s? The fact that my manuscript is not ready. It needs one more draft. (Sigh. Tears. Give me alcohol.) Because now I need to make sure that my intention within my novel is clear. I need to think about it as a product. Make sure my product is shaped to my liking, to my genre’s liking. As a debut author, I must think of these things. I must not give an agent any reason to reject me. I must give them every reason to take a risk on me. Because I have done the work.

So other writers out there – make sure you take care with your baby. Make sure your allegiance lies with the writing, not your ego. Make sure your query letter best represents your novel. Take a breath. Exercise patience. And I will be doing this with you. Over and over and over again. And we will wait and hope our baby lands in the right hands.

 

**Lesson Two will be on revisions. Stay tuned, friends.**

I said “No Comment”, but here is my comment. In regards to Profiles Theater and the Chicago Reader article.

My name is Emily. I’m the actress in the Chicago Reader article (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/profiles-theatre-theater-abuse-investigation/Content?oid=22415861), the article that exposes the professional and sexual abuse, and predatory nature of Profiles Theater, who threatened to leave a production (Kid Sister). I originally declined comment when the journalist approached me, but had I known that the article would be such a thoughtful, eloquent display of journalism, I would have opened my voice. Now I am.

I did not want the article to be a smear campaign. And I felt that my battle with Darrell Cox and Profiles Theater was won, so why would I add to the list of victims? Why should I take attention away from their plight? But I should have added to the list because while I fought my battle, there was still a battle to fight, and there shouldn’t have been. This article was no smear campaign. I can attest to many of these stories. I lived it with these men and women.

But here’s the thing. A tricky thing. I was so proud of the work that I did on that stage. I still am. And I feel uneasy, a bit ashamed, that I have this pride for performing on a stage that was used for predatory purposes. And that stills my voice a little bit. That makes me be quiet because I was compliant, wasn’t I? I mean, I was, a little bit. Even though I talked with these women, even though behind the scenes we would build each other up, give each other strength to walk away from this “family”, yes, that’s what we called each other, and strength to say – “No. This is not OK.” Still, I complied. Because I saw the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  And yet, I used this wolf and this theatre to build my resume, to do good theatre – yes, we did good theatre because I thought, “I can handle this man. I’m aware of this man. My eyes are wide open.”

But there are other theatres. Other good theatres. Theatres who will not abuse your time or your talent or your body or your mind.

And we do not have to sacrifice, not like this, for our passion.

When I moved to Chicago, I was told Profiles Theater was THE BEST non-union theatre and the only way to be “seen” by them was to take the Advanced Scene Study Class. I vowed that I would take the class, and I would be seen, and I would work my ass off to get on their stage because their stage was a springboard to theatres such as Steppenwolf and The Goodman, and that was my dream, so I took the class. And I quickly realized how charming Darrell Cox was, how special he made you feel when he turned his gaze on you. Because he was so unaffected, right? (But really, so deeply affected and insecure – but you ignored those things because he was THE DARRELL COX.) And he didn’t give his attention to just anyone. He didn’t bother. So when he looked at you, spoke to you, you perked up a bit, you craved his respect, the thrill of the unattainable.

I’m pretty sure he fucked one of the other girls in the class in the wee hours of the morning in the dressing room while we, the students, were all partying at the theatre, drinking and dancing onstage, because I heard them through the thin walls grunting and moaning, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure I heard what I heard, but my ears are sharp, and my intuition like a knife. I was friendly with Darrell, but aware. Kept a bit of a personal distance. My first show with Profiles Theater was Graceland, where I stepped in for Somer Benson as she went on to another production. I was then cast as the understudy for Somer Benson, as Sharla, in Killer Joe.

It was inferred to me that Somer was jealous of me and despised me so I kept my distance. And it was inferred to her that I felt that same. Already, women were pitted against each other. Distance settled in. Distance that allowed abuse to be quieted. Little did I know (I would find out later), that the violence onstage was real as Darrell choked and ignored Somer’s safety word, that she was abused (because she was). Meanwhile, I was told by others in the company that she was protective of her role and would never allow me to play the role of Sharla in front of an audience. It annoyed me, angered me that she would be so intimidated by her understudy.

But really, she was protecting me. In my opinion, she was protecting me. Because if I’d been put on that stage, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what was to happen because no one taught me the fight choreography.

Darrell caught wind that I wasn’t comfortable performing and he belittled me, looked at me as though I were a disappointment and said something along the lines of, “What do you mean you wouldn’t be able to perform?” And I was incredulous. Of course I couldn’t. This show had so much violence. I needed rehearsals. And so then we had understudy rehearsals. We were taught the fight choreography. But had I not spoken up – I would have just slipped right in unprepared.

I was cast in their next show, Kid Sister. The relationship between Darrell and Allie was uncomfortable, the tension thick, and I just knew, knew, there was more simmering beneath the surface, that there were secrets here. Darrell would complain about Allie to me, once again pitting females against each other, complaining that she was the reason he was tense and angry because she wasn’t being “honest” on stage.

Honesty is a huge deal at Profiles.

One night, days before opening, I asked Joe Jahraus (the director) a question about my notes. Darrell was lurking, listening, and misconstrued my question. He thought I was placing blame on him and flew into a rage, screaming at me, telling me it was all my fault because I wasn’t giving him anything real to work with onstage, I wasn’t being honest. But the tirade didn’t end. I found myself sitting in a chair being abused for hours. I remember thinking, “Listen, breathe, rebuttal.” And so that is what I did. I would listen to his abuse, take a breath, and refute it. I threw his teachings in his face. I didn’t back down. I had no idea I possessed this much strength. And that is a beautiful thing to realize, to recognize one’s own power. But the abuse should have been stopped. Joe, the director, this was his job. But he sat idle, compliant.

I went to the bar down the street when we called a “break” and took a shot of vodka. Met a good friend there, a theatre friend, who said, “You’ve got some balls.” (To stand up to Darrell Cox – that’s a career-breaker.) In fact, during the abuse, I threatened to quit and Darrell said something like, “You would quit? After everything we’ve given you?” And I remember saying, “You didn’t give me anything. I earned it.” But that was their mentality, it seemed. We’ve given you art, theatre, and we can take it away, too.

Around 2 am Joe called me back to the theatre. I walked in and Darrell sat on the couch, arms slung out on the backs of the couch, cocky, so self-assured, with this arrogant look on his face like, “This is my theatre.” There was one lone chair in the center of the stage, presumably for me, while the rest of the company sat in the audience, watching. I sat down in the chair and said, “Round two? Bring it.” And he brought it. And I fought. And no one stopped it. And it wasn’t until I began to cry where he was like, “Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And I won. (But did I? Really? Because it doesn’t seem like a win. Not any longer. Not as I write this.)

This was clear: Darrell got off on it, the power, the tears, and afterwards he took me in his arms and whispered apologies and called me, “Baby”, and said it had nothing to do with me, that he was pissed at Allie for messing up and he took it out on me.

Bullshit.

After that altercation, certain friendships within the theatre dissolved, while others flourished. Somer, Allie, Claire – these women, each one stepping forward saying, “This wasn’t right.” Wasn’t it? All of us whispering to each other, sharing our stories, becoming closer and closer. At first there was hesitation and unease as we were conditioned to be quiet, to doubt ourselves, manipulated into silence. I could go on and on about a hand grazing my ass, barely, just barely, like a feather, so that I would question if it really happened. Or dancing in the middle of the night on the stage for fun, just for fun, and Darrell murmuring, “That’s sexy, Baby.” Or Darrell trying to mind-fuck me into breaking up with men I was seeing because he was jealous. All of us – his actresses – we were his. Tucked carefully away into boxes away from each other so that we wouldn’t speak, our stories wouldn’t come out, secrets wouldn’t surface. And he was good at it. But secrets have a way of coming out. And now, those boxes have blown wide open.

And I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t afraid of posting this, of throwing this out into the universe, or that I didn’t fear his wrath and disapproval because I do. Still, I want to please him. Still, part of me seeks his acceptance. This, folks, is honesty.

There has been some criticism within the Chicago theatre community on how long it took for people to speak up, but I spoke up, and what did that get me? Behavior did not change. Sometimes it takes time for change to be enacted. Sometimes it takes patience, and research, and a flawlessly constructed article to reach not just a handful of people, but millions.

I should have shared my story when called for comment. I should have publicly stood behind my friends and colleagues – Somer Benson, Claire Wellin, Corey Weinberg, Darcy McGill, Cheryl Graeff, Allie – this is truth – I hear you, I see you, and I stand behind you all.

*These are my interpretations, and my experience.*

Poo on you, Fear. You suck.

Last year I drowned in fear – fear of my voice, of other people’s voices, fear of finishing my novel, of not finishing my novel, fear that I am a burden on my husband financially and emotionally. So much freaking fear that it won, it crippled me, and I became depressed. I put on weight. I didn’t finish my novel. I quickly collapsed under the pressure to be successful and incredible and perfect. And you know what Fear did? She laughed.

What a bitch. A crafty, manipulative bitch. She snuck up on me and took over and soon her voice became louder than my own, so loud, in fact, that my voice teacher took one look at me, heard one note of my voice, and said, “Don’t be afraid,” and I was stunned. Had she really just read my mind? Looked inside my soul? Was I that transparent? That fearful? And what did she think of me – of this simpering, sniveling mess of a woman standing in front of her?

She told me to shake it off, to grasp my pointer finger (a pressure point of fear) and squeeze each time I felt fearful. And so when she began to play the piano, when I opened my mouth to sing, I squeezed my finger and in my mind I said, “Fuck you, Fear.” Because I was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t hit the correct notes, or that my voice wouldn’t be perfect because I haven’t worked it in ten years; afraid that she would hear the gift that I have, that I’ve let dwindle in remission and judge me, pity me.

Shut. Up. Fear. Just shut up.

Fear has clung to my body in the form of fifteen heavy pounds. I look in the mirror and cringe, pinch my excess skin, close my eyes so that I don’t have to see this body that I’ve begun to despise glaring back at me.

This body is a result of a year of being Fear’s bitch. A year where getting out of bed in the morning was a personal feat, where leaving the apartment seemed just too much, where sitting in front of the computer to write was nearly impossible and, gripped with self-loathing, I turned my eyes to the television instead.

My body looks and feels foreign, just as my mind does because Fear crept in and took root. But you know what my voice teacher said? She said, “Fear is false evidence presenting itself as truth.”

Bam!

Take that, Fear. You are a lie. False evidence. And you know what we do with lies? We refute them. We expose them for what they are: fabrications of truth. Because the truth is that I am responsible for my own fate. I am responsible for my mind, my body, and it is within my power to change, so change I will.

I’m running again, and biking, and each mile I log is a mile further away from Fear. I am giving Fear the middle finger. I am imagining Fear falling off of me the way water glides off of a swan’s feathers, swift and effortless. I am a crab being lightly lifted out of a net. Weightless. Fearless. And each time I feel Fear snaking her way into my brain (because she will, I know she will, she’s a tenacious one), I will clutch my pointer finger and squeeze it tight and say, “Shut up, Fear. Just shut up.” And I will force myself to look in the mirror, to stifle the self-loathing and turn it into love because the pounds will fall away as Fear falls away. In time. One day at a time. One win at a time. Until my voice is louder than Fear’s.

And I’m feeling pretty loud.

Because I think there is strength in admitting your weaknesses. 2014 was a struggle. A mess. The lowest I’ve ever been. And to write that, to throw it into cyber space for anyone to see – my failure staring back at me – is scary, but I’m doing it. Because I see my “friends” on Facebook paint their lives to be perfect: happy smiling faces; promotions; pictures of sunsets and margaritas; photo-shopped pictures of themselves in bikinis because they can’t stand for anyone to see a picture of them that isn’t absolute perfection. And is this real? Is this what we’ve become? Fearful of being human?

No one is perfect. I’m not. And to admit that is a challenge, but I’m admitting it because it is a truth. And if you are out there and you are fearful or sad or lonely please know that you are not alone. I’ve been there. Am there. And if you want to, you can tell fear to shut up, too. We can even say it together. In fact, with our voices combined, we are sure to be much louder than Fear.

The Adventures of Mason Malloy – Ghost Hunter. Part One: Ghost Hunter, Wait – Who, Me?

As I stated in my last post, I am a writer. And I am currently working on finishing my first novel. For all of you fellow writers out there you probably know how difficult a task this is – probably the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life – and you probably also know how maddening being in the world you have created with the characters you have created can become, especially if they aren’t behaving as you’d like them to. So in order to stay my insanity (and also to share my love of the written word with my nephew Mason) I decided to write for fun (not to say writing my novel isn’t fun, but it is also painful at times), to let loose a little and see what happens, and so I have created:

The Adventures of Mason Malloy – Ghost Hunter

I hope you enjoy Mason’s first spooky adventure!  

Part One:

Ghost Hunter

Wait – Who, Me?

            Mason Malloy had just turned eleven on Saturday November 19th when something interesting happened; the clock struck ten, the hour of his birth, and with that clanging of the clock Mason Malloy became a ghost hunter. It was as if the black sky of night parted and within that sliver of a moon was released an inordinate amount of power. Power Mason would soon put to use. Because there were spirits lurking in the shadows, hiding in the darkness of Mason’s footsteps, biding their time, waiting for the right moment to strike, to make Mason disappear. Because if Mason disappeared, then he would never have the chance to vanquish those spirits. So there in Mason’s shadow they waited.

But Mason didn’t know any of this yet. Not yet. In fact, he had no idea he held so much power in the mere tip of his finger than most people would know in their entire lifetime. No. Mason was too busy blasting soldiers into oblivion with his new birthday present – a Sony PS4.

“Take that,” he shouted. “Die! Eat metal, jerks!”

“Mason,” his mother said. “Don’t talk like that in front of your sister.”

Mason rolled his eyes. What was his sister doing awake anyways? It was ten o’clock at night. Shouldn’t she be asleep by now? In fact, when Mason was four he had been in bed by nine. At the latest. So why did Rachel get to stay up?

“Fine,” Mason grumbled. “It’s my birthday.”

His mother lifted an eyebrow as if to say DON’T TALK BACK. So Mason didn’t. He happily ignored his little sister and went back to his game. Bang! Bang, bang, bang!

The front door opened and his father walked in.

“Daddy!”

Rachel ran to him and he scooped her into his arms. Mason barely glanced up, too busy blasting those soldiers, he’d make it to the next level before bed.

“Happy Birthday, bud.” His father patted Mason on the shoulder. “Pause that. Give me a hug.”

Mason did as his father requested, noting the purple bags underneath his father’s eyes – he worked too much. Mason didn’t want to work too much when he was older. He wanted to be a musician, like Bob Dylan, that’s who his mother listened to, or else he wanted to be a veterinarian. Or he could always be a cop, blasting the bad guys and all, just like in his games. Or…

“What’s that?” Mason asked.

He’d noticed the present peeking out of his father’s bag.

“It’s yours.”

Mason yanked the present from the bag and ripped into it with glee. What was it? It looked like a Nerf gun but it wasn’t. It looked like someone had made it themselves. All wood. Handcrafted. But what in the world was it?

“Cool,” Mason said. “Thanks, Dad.”

“It’s a gun.

“I know.”

But Mason didn’t know that because he didn’t yet know how to use it. A yawn slipped from his lips. He’d figure it out in the morning.

“Don’t think that I didn’t see that,” his mother said, her eyes always eagle sharp. “Time for bed, birthday boy.”

After brushing his teeth and washing his face, making sure to wash behind his ears like his mother told him to, Mason cozied up underneath the covers of his bed.

The house settled. Floorboards creaked. The heat kicked on. Mason closed his eyes and went to sleep dreaming he was in his video game shooting the bad guys. His eyes opened when he thought he heard a noise, Rachel talking to someone in her bedroom across the hall, but she couldn’t have been talking to anyone because everyone was in bed. Right? Right. It must be a dream. He must be dreaming. Mason slipped back into sleep.

***

Mason hated mornings and liked to sleep right through them. This morning was no different. He woke close to ten and found his little sister in the living room dancing along to Dora the Explorer. She ran to him and hugged his leg.

“Morning, Mason.”

He ruffled her hair. “Morning, Rachel.”

Sometimes he couldn’t help it – she looked so cute with her cherub dimples and curly locks of strawberry hair. Had Mason looked like that when he’d been young? He was tall now, and lean as a racehorse. And pale. Jeez, he was pale. Skin almost translucent, as if you could see to the other side of existence where the ghosts and goblins lived by looking through his skin. Little did he know, he could – he could see into that world and he would be seeing into that world soon enough.

“I’m hungry,” Rachel said, eyes bright and blue and wide.

“Mom,” Mason yelled into the kitchen. “Rachel’s hungry!”

His mother’s movements were fast and furious as she poured Lucky Charms and some milk into a bowl. Pushed it across the counter where Rachel was now sitting at the corner.

“What about me?” Mason asked.

Lucky Charms was his favorite. He liked to pick out all the blue and green marshmallows and eat those first. He saved the actual cereal part for last, for when it was drenched in sugary milk.

“You’re old enough to make it yourself. I’ve got to run. Got called into work.”

His mother was a nurse and with her kind dark eyes her patients trusted her. A healer, that’s what she was.

“I won’t be long,” she said. “Watch your sister for a few hours.”

“But – “

“Don’t argue. Your father’s at work and you’re old enough to babysit.”

Mason closed his mouth. Slammed a bowl onto the counter and poured his own cereal, clanking the spoon against the bowl as loudly as he could, slurping up the milk like a barbarian.

His mother paused and ruffled his thick blond hair, the curls at the end a reminder of the little boy he had been. He was beginning to look like a man now and before she knew it he would be graduating high school and leaving home.

“If you watch your sister I’ll up your allowance by ten dollars.”

Mason paused and considered. “Done.” He mostly agreed because he knew he didn’t have a choice.

His mother gave him a kiss, gave Rachel a kiss, and was out the door.

Rachel cried. Of course she cried. She always cried when mom left so Mason turned up Dora the Explore and said, “Look, Rachel. It’s Dora.”

It worked, as it always did, and Rachel became distracted, her tears drying up on her red blotchy face.

What would Mason do with Rachel? He’d wanted to go explore the house at the end of their neighborhood, the one that looked all run-down, that looked like a mansion, like it was from another era where there were butlers and grand rooms such as a library or a ballroom, a house like you saw in the movies. Some kids at school had said it was haunted, but Mason didn’t believe in things such as that. You couldn’t fool him. Ghosts didn’t exist. There was reality and there was fiction and ghosts belonged strictly in the fiction category. But still, his curiosity was getting the better of him.

That and the fact that his best friend Carter had bet him ten dollars he wouldn’t go inside. Mason wasn’t a sissy. Mason was going to go inside that decrepit, “haunted” mansion.

“Let’s go for a walk, Rachel,” Mason said and helped her with her shoes. Slid her coat over her shoulders and helped her button it up.

Rachel was a little Princess but she was also a tom-boy and that was what Mason liked about her the most – she wasn’t afraid to get dirty. In fact, sometimes she got dirtier than Mason and she was the one to get scolded and not him. He liked when that happened.

They grabbed their cute little pup Harley and hooked on his leash and off the three of them went.

Mason patted his backpack – he’d made sure to bring snacks and water and the gun his father had given him for his birthday. He still had no idea how to use it.

Carter met up with them at the corner of the street – a shorter boy than Mason and not as quick-witted, but he was funny and that was what Mason liked about him.

“Are you ready to see some ghosts?” Carter jabbed Mason in the arm.

Rachel’s eyes went wide. “Ghosts?”

Mason sighed. “Great,” he said to Carter. “You’re gonna’ scare her.”

“I’m not scared,” Rachel said.

“She’s not scared,” Carter repeated.

Harley simply barked in agreement.

Mason had to laugh. “Okay. Yeah. I’m ready to see some ghosts.”

The air had a brisk bite to it, but snow had yet to fall, an odd occurrence for Michigan in late November. But that was fine because the trees still held some colored leaves, the red and orange and yellow clung to the waning branches with desperation. If you looked close enough at some of the branches, the ones that had been stripped bare of their leaves, they looked like fingers, fingers that were reaching out for you, eager to snap you into their grasp.

At least that’s the way the big tree in front of the abandoned mansion looked.

“Wow,” Carter breathed. “It looks even scarier close up.”

All of the kids in the neighborhood had avoided this block, scared to get too close to the house. There had been a rumor that a little boy had gone inside and was never to be seen again.

Mason thought it was a load of crap. Stories told to scare you. That was all.

But wait, Harley was barking at the house.

It was hard for Harley to look viscous being the size of your arm and all and probably just about the cutest thing you’d ever seen, but there he was, barking away, looking viscous, lips pulled back, teeth bared, barking, growling – as if he could sense someone or something’s presence inside the house.

“Dude,” Carter said. “Your dog’s going crazy.”

“It’s okay,” Mason said, dropping to his knees. “It’s okay, Harley.”

Harley licked his face and Mason laughed.

“That’s better, boy.”

Harley stopped barking, but still seemed wary, never taking his tiny black eyes off the house.

“Who’s that?” Rachel asked, pointing at an upstairs window in the mansion.

The boys followed the direction of her finger but didn’t see anyone in the window.

“What do you see, Rachel?” Mason asked.

“A girl.” Rachel giggled and waved. “She’s waving hi.”

Mason shivered. What was Rachel talking about? She was too young to try and scare them so who did she see?

“I’m creeped out,” Carter said.

Mason puffed up his chest. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

But as the words slipped from his mouth and into the air he heard someone whisper, Come inside.

“Did you hear that?” Mason asked.

“Hear what?” said Carter.

“I heard it,” Rachel said. “Let’s go inside.”

Rachel sounded excited, eager to play with whoever was inside the house, whoever was calling to them, but the voice that Mason heard wasn’t a playful one. There was a sinister edge in the tone.

Mason didn’t want to go inside, but to not go inside would be to admit that he was scared and that ghosts could quite possibly be real. So Mason took one step forward. Harley dug his paws into the ground. It looked as though he shook his cute puppy head “no”.

“Okay,” Mason said. “You wait here.”

He tied Harley up to the run-down fence in front of the mansion.

Rachel put her hand in Mason’s and her hand was small and warm – a comfort. Together, they walked.

Carter dragged behind. “I don’t know, guys.”

“What?” Mason sneered. “You scared?”

So Carter followed.

The front door creaked open with barely a push. Mason thought he heard a voice, We’ve been waiting for you.

“Hello?” he called. His voice echoed off of the walls of the empty house.

They stepped inside. One step. Two. The door slammed shut behind them and Carter yelped in fear.

“Who did that?”

Mason didn’t know. “Probably the wind.”

Was he trying to convince himself or Carter?

“Yeah.” Carter nodded. “The wind.”

They looked around. Even though the sun had been bright outside it didn’t bring any of its warmth or light into the house. The windows were boarded up. Everything was dark.

“Got a flashlight?” Mason asked Carter.

Wait. Carter? Where was Carter?

The front door opened and closed and Mason heard Carter’s footsteps retreating from the mansion.

What a scaredy cat. He’d probably peed his pants, too. Mason would have to razz him about this for the rest of his life. He’d never let Carter live this down. But that also meant that Mason had to succeed with his mission and his mission was to go deeper inside of the house.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness and one of the boards had fallen from a window when Carter had left so that a ray of sunshine peeked through.

The floors looked marble. And there was a chandelier that hung from the tall open ceiling.

A chill passed over Mason’s neck, quick and fast – it felt like ice.

“I’m cold,” Rachel said. “What is that?”

“I don’t know.”

Mason gripped her hand and led her toward the spiral staircase. “Hang on tight.”

“Okay,” she said.

Halfway up the wooden staircase Rachel’s foot broke straight through the wood.

“Mason!” she screamed.

Mason dropped to his knees and held his sister. “I got you.” He carefully pulled her back up through the broken stair and felt her leg to see if there were any cuts. “Does this hurt?”

She sniffled but shook her head.

See? Rachel was a tom-boy. She wasn’t a sissy either.

They kept moving forward. Feeling their way in the dark. Until suddenly Mason felt a hand on his back give him a small forceful shove forward.

“Come on, Carter.”

Mason whipped around but Carter wasn’t behind him.

“Carter?”

He heard giggling, a girl’s, but it wasn’t Rachel’s.

This place was giving him the creeps. Maybe they should turn back around.

Yes. The responsible thing to do would be to go back home and make lunch for him and Rachel. Put Dora the Explorer back on television. Take a look at her leg more carefully and make sure she was okay. Yes. This was exactly what they would do.

“Let’s go, Rachel.”

“But she wants us to play.”

Mason felt that cold chill again. “Who does?”

“Her.”

Mason couldn’t see anything or anyone and he had no idea what Rachel was talking about so he dragged her back down the stairs, careful to avoid the broken step, and back into the main room where there had been a tiny sliver of light before. But the window was boarded up again. Who had done that? He needed to see the door. Get to the door. Get them out of there. Into the fresh air. The street. Back to Harley and Carter and then they would run, run home as fast as they could and never come back.

Wait. Where did Rachel go? Her little hand wasn’t in his hand anymore.

“Rachel?” His voice was tinged with panic. “Rachel. Where are you?”

“She wants to play.”

Rachel’s voice was further away as if she were across the room.

“Don’t go anywhere, Rachel. Don’t go with anyone. It isn’t safe.”

If only he had light. He needed light. He needed to see Rachel, get to her, save her. But from what? Suddenly, his fingertips began to glow. Light shot forth. As if he were a star, a supernova, a comet torpedoing for Earth.

“Mason, you glow.”

Rachel! He could see her now. In fact, he could see the entire room. Mason was the light.

And there – right there behind Rachel – a little girl. But she didn’t look like a little girl. Not any little girl Mason had ever known. Her face vibrated so that you couldn’t make out her features and she hovered above the ground. Getting closer and closer to Rachel, arms stretched outwards, fingernails like knives, arms stripped of skin, only bare bones. Her mouth opened wide. She wanted to eat Rachel. Consume her. Become her.

Mason didn’t think, only reacted. He reached into his backpack, pulled out the “gun” his father had given him, and in his glowing hands the gun glowed, too. He aimed the gun at the little girl – the ghost – yes, Mason now believed in ghosts, and pulled the trigger.

A piercing shriek filled the air as the ghost was sucked upwards and forward, flying fast, fast toward Mason, and then into the gun where a gooey green liquid became trapped inside.

Suddenly, all of the boards on the windows dropped to the ground. The front door flew open. Light filled the dark and Mason stopped glowing. The gun went from neon green back to boring old wood, and the gooey liquid inside the gun disappeared.

“Cool,” Rachel said.

Mason let out a shaky breath. “Cool.”

***

Back home Mason didn’t know what to think or how to react to everything that had happened. He hadn’t told Carter and neither had Rachel, but now Rachel looked up at Mason as if he were a hero.

He was quiet the the rest of the evening, and later, in his bedroom, he looked at his hands half-expecting them to glow.

What had happened? How had he done that? And what had been behind Rachel?

A ghost. It had to have been. And he had been the ghost hunter.

Cool.

He closed his eyes and instead of being scared at what was in store, if there were more ghosts to come, he felt excited. Revved up. Special.

Because he was.

He ran through the events of the day in his head and tried to memorize every single detail.

Rachel. Rachel had heard the ghosts as well. Was she special, too?

Then Rachel giggled and Mason’s eyes flew open. He wasn’t dreaming. He knew he wasn’t dreaming this time. Who was Rachel talking to?

He tiptoed out of bed, out of his bedroom, across the hall and peered inside her bedroom.

Rachel sat on the floor in the middle of her bedroom. She had her tea set out, but hadn’t sat any of her dolls or stuffed animals to tea.

“Who are you talking to Rachel?” Mason whispered.

Rachel looked at the corner of her room as if somebody was there and then looked at Mason. “No one,” Rachel said. “You scared him away.”

“Him?”

“Henry.”

“Who’s Henry, Rachel?”  Or, rather, what was Henry?

Rachel looked up and smiled. “My new friend.”

 

Stay tuned for Mason’s next adventure!