6 Things I *Wish* I Did Before Releasing my First Book!

So as many of you probably know my first book is finally out! And you can get it here! Or here if you like eBooks and/or Prime shipping! Or wherever books are sold, really! As happy and proud as I am about it, there are so many things I *wish* I could have done or known about prior to my release. But instead of brooding about it, I’d like to share those tips with everyone!

 

1.) Build a following early on

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I mean, I kinda did this. I had this blog for a bit, but I admittedly neglected it for a while when I was finishing up college. While I am grateful for the following I do have, had I been more consistent, it could be bigger. My Twitter is also hardly touched, and I’m still figuring out Goodreads. I always thought of having a YouTube channel, but it never really happened. Plus in this day and age, most authors do the bulk of their social media promotion, regardless of how big your publishing company is. In general, the sooner you can pull together followers other than your personal friends, the bigger audience you’ll have once your book is finally released.

2.) Contact reviewers/authors for blurbs before your final draft is finished

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Not having a blurb won’t destroy you, but it can be nice to have validation from other writers in your genre on your book – plus it’s helpful to have for press releases. I didn’t know much about getting blurbs until my book was a month away from being released. Luckily I was able to get one from my editor for my press release, which was nice, but had I known about it sooner, I would have reached out to other authors. It’s important to do this early on in the process to 1.) give your reviewers time to read your book and 2.) make sure you actually get something – just because someone agrees to reading it, doesn’t mean they’ll actually get around to leaving you a blurb.

3.) Be prepared for technology to fight against you

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Maybe I just suck with tech stuff, but uploading my eBook was a nightmare. It took a good 15 tries to get it formatted correctly, stuff wasn’t showing up on the stock page. Most of this resulted in me crying to my editor for help. And most of it was because of stuff I was doing wrong, not the internet. Nevertheless, leave time for fixing funky glitches. Staying up until 2AM to get stuff fixed last minute is not fun.

4.) Print your manuscript to read over before submitting it to your printer

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I think my editor asked me like 7 times if my manuscript was good to go before she submitted it. Yeah, she looked over it several times, but of course I had the guts to change things around at 2AM last-minute. . . which resulted in plenty of icky typos and random extra words. And of course my mom kept saying, “You should print that off to read over before submitting it, it’ll look different on paper than on your screen.” And of course I denied that and got a nasty awakening when I received my proof copy in the mail. Granted, that’s the beauty of proofs, is that you still have time to get things fixed before the final print, but it definitely sets production back when you have over 20 errors to fix. Plus it was really embarrassing for me to send them all to my editor, after insisting everything looked good.

And yes. . . that is my shameful proof. . .

5.) Check out local bookstores/cafes for signings

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OK so my editor told me to do this, like. . . back in December. While I did it a little, I definitely should have done it more. Check out shops, see who carries local books, attend author readings – getting a feel early on will ease your anxiety later on once your book is out. Which leads me to my next point!

6.) Break out of your shell and be outgoing!

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I think a lot of writer folks can admit to being introverts. I personally struggle with talking to adults, especially ones I don’t know. Especially in a professional businessy setting. Even just sending out important e-mails is hard. The stress of releasing a book is already pretty intense to handle, but the anxiety of communicating with others for promotion only made it worse. While typing away on a laptop for hours is great for those who aren’t super social, it’s a lot easier to sell books when you readily throw yourself out there in the world. I’m doing it now, which is great, but it was definitely a struggle to break out of my shell and leave my room.

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Thank you for reading! I hope these tips will be helpful to any new authors reading this. If you have any tips to add, please drop them in the comments!

Like what you see? Feel free to push that blue follow button and/or follow me on Facebook!

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Midnight Waltz: My First Book!

Guess what, everyone? My book is finally available to buy! Just click here! Or if you’d prefer the eBook, click here!

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This beautiful cover is done by my friend Kayge Abendroth – check out his art here!

So what’s this book about? Here’s a short(ish) and (kind of) sweet description:

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At midnight, she awakens. . .
Over one hundred years after Emily Mavro’s gruesome death, the rumors remain strong: her corpse remains youthful and intact, resting in the abandoned Mavro Manor. On the night of the full moon, she rises at midnight from her slumber, in search of a soul to replace the one stolen from her.
After being rejected by his long-term crush, Anthony’s friends drag him along on their adventure to explore Mavro Manor in an attempt to cheer him up. What was supposed to be a night of spooky fun takes an unexpected turn when he finds Emily awake in her room. Charming yet sassy, Emily claims to have taken part of Anthony’s soul and needs his companionship to ensure her survival.
Their awkward, newfound bond attracts the attention of Eden, an eccentric group of demon-fighting paranormal investigators—as well as Lucifer’s Disciples, the cult of dark mages holding Emily’s soul captive for their mysterious schemes. To protect his new friend, Anthony joins Eden to fight against Lucifer’s Disciples’ bloodthirsty demons and save Emily’s soul—but can he save her from the demons of her dark past?
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 Midnight Waltz is my first published work and the first of four books in the Infernal Symphony. If you like urban dark fantasy with a twist of dark humor, please consider giving my book a read!
Thanks for reading this post! Now that my book is out in the world, stay tuned for posts about the plot, themes, characters, and whatever random things about it that I feel are worth sharing~~

Short Story: The Paradise Lake Haunting

 

The Paradise Lake Haunting

            “I heard someone died there.”

The voices of the townspeople, my classmates, and family blend into one as I sit upon the hood of my car, smoking my morning cigarette. Paradise Lake Cemetery stares back at me, tempting me with its gateless entrance, but I know better. I’m not new to Maltby, Washington. As I admire the cemetery from afar, I keep a close watch on the house sharing its property. A heavyset man steps out the backdoor, smoking his own cigarette as he, too, stares out at the graves. We share the same morning routine. I can’t help but wonder what else we have in common, but I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to find out. I toss my cigarette on the gravel road, straighten my black trench coat, and scramble into my car before he sees me – before he has the chance to lump me in with all the other goth teenagers that ogle at his cemetery. I take one last look at the graveyard before driving past the line of abandoned cars on the side of the road, speeding off to school.

By the time I make it to my first period class, my friends Emma and Peter are already huddled together in the back of the room, their jackets almost morphing into a single black blob. I slide my backpack off my shoulders as I take a seat beside them.

“You’re still down for a Halloween movie marathon tonight, right, Danny?” Emma asks me, rotating in her seat to face me.

“Of course. I can’t skip our annual tradition.”

She smiles and I smile back, my cheeks flushing. Even if I didn’t like horror movies, it’d be impossible to say no to that smile.

“So, my mom said she’ll pay for the pizzas,” Emma says. “What movies do you wanna – ”

“Are you seriously planning a movie night on Halloween?” the boy sitting two desks away asks with a smirk. A trio of boys in black surrounds him, like he’s the king of darkness – or at least wannabe goth kids – just as he wants to believe. He folds his arms behind his head and leans back in his chair.

Emma blushes and curls her fists, but she doesn’t respond to him.

“Mind your own business, Jason,” Peter says. “Emma’s not your girlfriend anymore, so why do you care about her plans?”

“I don’t give a shit about Emma,” Jason says with a cold laugh. “It’s posers like you three that piss me off. It’s like you don’t even know what day it is today.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “It’s Halloween, duh.”

“It’s the 30th anniversary of Morgan Shelley’s death,” I say, giving him the stink eye. “We know what day it is. We just have the decency to not talk about it.”

“Morgan Shelley was one of us.” Jason cocks his head at his friends. “What better to do than honor a fellow goth than to follow in her footsteps down the crypt of the Paradise Lake Cemetery?” He turns up his nose. “It would be more than decent. It’d be respectful.”

“Trespassing in a private cemetery is not respectful. It’s literally part of the Doolittle family’s backyard. If they catch you sneaking in, they’ll arrest you.”

“Don’t you mean it’s owned by Satanists?” one of Jason’s friends asks, a goofy smile spread on his chapped lips. “That’s why they built that spooky crypt with the 13 steps leading to hell.”

“Yeah,” another one says. “They say if you make it to the 13th step, you see your soul burning in hell. Everyone who’s made it that far goes insane – or in Morgan’s case, they die.” He wiggles his fingers to emphasize the horrible spookiness of the crypt.

I hold my head in my black gloved palm. “No. The Doolittles aren’t Satanists and the 13 steps don’t exist anymore. They’ve been demolished years ago because of stupid bat kids or whatever the hell you label yourselves vandalizing the cemetery. All that’s left is the dumb rumors about it being haunted. Everyone knows that Morgan died of alcohol poisoning because she, like all the other idiots who snuck into the cemetery, was drunk out of her mind.”

Jason and his friends roar with laughter. Once he catches his breath, Jason says, “If you care so much about your little cemetery, then why don’t you come with us and prove the rumors are fake?”

Emma squeezes my arm. “Don’t listen to him. He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.”

It takes every ounce of willpower in my body to ignore her. The thought of Jason and his friends sneaking into the cemetery, doing God knows what to dig up the steps, is already haunting me, and I know it will keep bugging me all night long unless I am there with him. “Fine. I’ll go with you.”

“Wait, what?” Peter gapes at me with tennis ball eyes bulging through his dark bangs. “You’re ditching movie night?”

I ignore him, too, my focus fixed on Jason. “Meet outside the cemetery at midnight.”

Emma stares at me in disbelief, and the look remains as I give her a ride home from school that afternoon. She leans her head against the inside of the car, dangling her cigarette out the window between black painted fingernails, and she won’t stop staring at me with those stunning blue eyes. “I can’t believe you agreed to it,” she says for the millionth time.

“Well, I can’t believe you dated that asshole Jason for a year.”

She bites her bottom lip. “Our high school has a limited selection of goth guys.”

Wow. I guess Peter and I aren’t good enough for her. I take a deep breath and try to hide my frustration, keeping my gaze on the road ahead of me.

“If you’re trying to prove your gothiness or whatever to Jason – ”

“That’s not what I care about,” I interrupt. I pull up to the side of the road, across the street from the cemetery, holding my cigarette out my window. “This is what I care about.”

She sits up and peers outside, then turns to look at me, her bottle-black hair whipping around her face. “Is this the place?”

I nod. “I sit here every morning, just staring at it.”

She furrows her brow. “Are you like. . .”

“I’m not crazy,” I answer, predicting the rest of her question, “but I’m not stupid. I know our local lore. There’s something weirdly alluring about a haunted cemetery.”

“What, you actually believe in ghosts?” She laughs, but I know she doesn’t think it’s funny.

I stare out at the gravestones, carefully selecting my words. “I want to. I want to believe there’s something else out there. Something bigger, something better. So I come here every morning, waiting for a sign. I know it’s weird, but the thought of life after death is comforting to me.” I can feel her eyes burning through my black jacket. “I lost my dad when I was twelve. Any sign that there’s something out there, that I have a chance at seeing him again. . .” I take another deep breath. “While I want to believe in ghosts, I can’t stand when people like Jason use rumors as an excuse to snoop around graves. If I can prove the rumors aren’t true, maybe people will leave this cemetery alone. The thought of anyone hurting something so important to me is sickening.”

She bows her head, her face hidden behind her bangs. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

Emma doesn’t speak to me as we continue our drive. She doesn’t look at me, either. To break the uncomfortable silence, I turn on the radio. A song by The Cure is playing and it makes her smile, but only for a moment. If I had known showing her the cemetery on the way home would take away her smile, I wouldn’t have done it.

She keeps the conversation between us to a minimum as we watch movies at her house. While I hope we aren’t making Peter feel too awkward, I’m more worried about Emma. I didn’t think she’d be that affected by what I said, but she’s still silent in the car ride to the cemetery, and Peter is still eating pizza in the backseat.

“I seriously think we should’ve just stayed at your place,” he says to Emma. “We could’ve gotten more pizza. This box is almost out.”

“You had like half the pizza,” she mutters.

“That’s because you guys hardly had any. I wasn’t gonna let it go to waste.”

We drive past a line of smashed cars, shoved into trees at the side of the road. Without those landmarks, it’d be impossible to find the cemetery, as it’s tucked away in a forest, hidden from the public eye. I park my car behind Jason’s. He’s already standing outside the cemetery with his three goth cronies.

“You’re late,” he spits.

“It’s twelve o’ one,” I say, rolling my eyes. I glance at the Doolittle house. Not a single window is illuminated by light. “C’mon. Let’s get this over with.”

The second I step foot on the cemetery’s grass, I feel as if I’m crossing through an invisible veil of dread. After months of watching the cemetery, I’m finally across the street, and everything feels off. It’s colder on this side of the road. I’m not supposed to be here and the tombstones know it. It’s like they’re watching me, shouting at the Doolittles to call the police. It doesn’t help that every other tombstone belongs to a Doolittle, though there really aren’t many tombstones period. Only a couple dozen, scattered about the grassy field. From across the street, the cemetery would always appear foreboding and enormous. But now that I stand on the inside, it seems so much smaller, more personal. Too personal. Like I’m not even in a cemetery, just the backyard of the Doolittle family. I’m not sure if I’m relieved there’s nothing spooky here or disappointed.

“C-can we go?” Emma stutters, seizing my arm. “I keep on feeling hands touching my shoulders when no one is near me. It’s freaking me out.”

But before I can say anything, Jason shouts, “Guys! I think I found it!” He stands next to a cement slab tucked away in the tall grass. His fingers wrap around the rusty handle.

My heart drops into my stomach. “It’s gonna be locked,” I say. But to my dismay, he lifts the slab, revealing a staircase leading underground. We all stand around the hole in the ground, our jaws dropped in shock.

There are 13 cement steps.

For about a minute, no one speaks. I’ve always heard the steps were destroyed, but here they are, staring back at us, waiting for someone to make a move.

Jason clears his throat. “Well, Danny. You said you were gonna prove to me that the 13 steps aren’t haunted. So prove it.”

“Don’t do it,” Emma says, her tone firm. “It’s not worth getting hurt over.”

As much as I’d hate to worry her, I know I can’t just stand back. I have to prove that the steps are not haunted, yet at the same time, part of me wants them to be. After staring at the cemetery day after day, waiting for a sign, this could finally be my chance to see for myself if the rumors are true. To see if there really is there really is some sort of life after death, that I will see my father again someday. For his sake and my own, I have to do it. I have to go down there. I look from Emma to Jason, then to the steps. “I won’t get hurt,” I assure her, peering down the staircase. At the bottom is cement floor, nothing else. At least, not that I can see. “I can’t be hurt by something that doesn’t exist.”

I walk onto the first step. Then the second. So far, nothing’s happening. I’m still sane on step three, four, five.

It’s not until step six that I begin to feel lightheaded. It hits me out of nowhere. It’s as if some terrible force sucked all the blood away from my head. I can’t hear anything. I can’t hear the worried whispers of the others, the wind rustling through the trees. I hold onto the cement wall for support as I reach step seven. My stomach churns, violent and angry, hating me for agreeing to come down here. My hands are freezing. My face, the inside of my body is freezing. I struggle to reach step eight, but when I do, I mind is flooded by anxiety. I’m overwhelmed by a sense of dread, terror, and incoming doom. I’m not sure what it is exactly that I’m afraid of, I just know that I am terrified and have every right to be. I can’t breathe. I can’t feel my legs. I feel like I’m dying.

But I can hear.

I cover my ears as my skull is filled with panicked, deafening screams. I can’t take this anymore. I run as fast as my numb legs can take me, back up the stairs. With each step, my symptoms are immediately relieved, but the screaming continues. Once I get to the top of the stairs, I realize the screaming isn’t in my head. It’s Emma, Peter, Jason, and his friends, all in panic.

“Will you keep it down?” I whisper. “We’re gonna get caught! Cops are always circling around this area at night!”

“Y-you disappeared!” Peter cries, clinging onto Emma. “When you made it to the sixth step, you were gone!”

I raise my eyebrow, my eyes widening, but I try to smile and stay calm. “What are you talking about? I was there the whole time.”

“N-no, you weren’t,” Jason stammered. “Admit it, that shit is haunted!”

“It’s not,” I say. I can’t let him know what I felt. If anyone – especially Jason – finds out the steps are in fact haunted, this cemetery will never be left in peace. “You guys were just imagining things.”

“Liar!” Jason shouts. “It’s haunted! It has to be! I saw you disappear! I’ll go down there myself to prove it!”

“No, don’t!” I blurt, but he and his three friends push past me, stomping down the steps.

Emma, Peter, and I all watch in horror as one of the friends disappears on step six, like he never existed.  Jason and the other two make it to the thirteenth step, onto the floor.

And then, they scream.

I want to run, but I can’t. My legs are immobilized by fear. Their screams, a mixture of terror and agony, are beyond anything I have ever heard in any horror movie. They twitch and thrash, like something is attacking them, but all I can see is the three boys fighting against something I invisible. Emma’s hands are clasped over her mouth and she’s crying. Peter drops to his knees in a trembling mess.

“It’s okay, guys,” I say. “They’re just faking to scare us.” But I’m not fooling anyone.

One of the boys collapses to the ground, still as a doll. Jason and his other friend scramble up the stairs, the one that disappeared suddenly reappearing as they pass step six.

“What did you guys see?” Peter asks them.

Jason and his two remaining friends fail to answer. Their bodies shake in a violent frenzy, their faces sickeningly pale, eyes wide and watery.

“Guys, he isn’t moving!” Emma shrieks, pointing to the boy laying at the bottom of the crypt. “I-I think he’s dead!”

“What the hell is going on out here?”

The heavyset man marches to us from across the lawn in his pajamas, his sagging face twisted with anger.

Jason and his friends don’t even look back. They continue screaming as they rush out of the cemetery, into their car. But they don’t make it far. The car swerves as Jason attempts to speed away, crashing full-force into a nearby tree on the side of the road, joining the collection of destroyed cars. With a deafening screech of tearing metal, the tree splits through the middle of the hood. Emma’s sobs grow to a wail as she runs to the car, but her legs give out halfway through the cemetery, and she tumbles into the grass. Burying her face in her arms, she screams and cries Jason’s name.

Three police cars pull up to the cemetery, their flashing lights blinding in the night. Cops pile out of the cars, some surrounding Jason’s accident, the others running into the cemetery. I fall to my knees. Everything around me bleeds into a blur. A nightmare. The heavyset man continues to shout at us, more members of his family rushing out of the house. A firetruck and ambulance arrive at the scene of the crash, removing unrecognizable, bloody corpses from the demolished car. The police drag me and my friends into the back of a car, handcuffing our wrists behind our backs. Emma’s screaming at me, claiming it’s my fault that Jason died since I lied about the steps not being haunted. Tears continue to stream down her face as she threatens to never speak to me again, but I’m unfazed. None of it feels real, but I know it will tomorrow as my mom and stepdad punish me for my arrest, when Jason and his friends don’t return to first period, when I remember how Emma cried over Jason’s death, when she refuses to speak to me, when I don’t return Paradise Lake Cemetery.

When I realize there’s something else out there.

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Thanks for reading my story! While the characters are all fictional, the cemetery is real. I based the plot off stories from people who supposedly did find the steps, or claimed to know something about them. I also found photos of abandoned cars near the cemetery – it’s as if people got lost trying to find it, or maybe had an accident speeding away from something?

These photos are from alesiablogs – check out her full article!

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Thanks again for reading! Like what you see? Click that follow button! Do you have any personal stories about haunted cemeteries? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

5 Tips and Tricks to Finding the Motivation to Write Your Novel!

Finding the motivation to write a full-length novel can be the toughest part of the novel writing process. I’ve compiled a short and sweet list of ways to get that novel going!

1.) Outline, Outline, Outline! (aka storyboard)

So you know a big battle will take place in a castle, and you know the good guys will win. . . but what specifically happens during the fight?

With really anything you want to write (even school essays), outlining is such an overlooked, super important step that makes actually writing something a heck of a lot easier. Outlining – aka storyboarding in terms of fiction writing – for me takes the form of a bulleted list. For each chapter, I have a list of all the big events I want to occur, with little bullets outlining each important detail included. Not only does this help me organize my thoughts before returning to a scary blank page, but it also keeps me from forgetting my ideas!

2. Set easy goals

It’s probably impossible to write an entire novel in one night. Please don’t try it. But it’s sometimes also just as difficult to open a blank Word document and expect to write until you give up. Setting a goal for how much/how long you want to write at a time will not only give you a clear idea of what you need to do, but it will also feel much more rewarding at the end of your little writing session. If you’re really struggling with motivation, set the bar really low. A chapter a day might be too much. A page a day might be too much. Start small – start off with just 15 minutes a day, or maybe a paragraph a day. Whatever is easy and comfortable for you. Gradually bump up your goal.

Many people use NanoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – to motivate them to write their first draft. The goal is 50k words in the month of November. Learn more about it here: https://nanowrimo.org/

3. Write the fun scenes first!

Exposition can be really dry to write, especially in a first draft. It often sucks to be stuck on exposition, especially when you know the next chapter will be an action-packed battle scene that you already have a vivid picture of in your head. Oftentimes in my first drafts, I’ll leave a one to two sentence note about what a scene should be and come back to it later, then go on to writing the stuff I know how it’ll play out. Like with my outlining process, it also keeps me from forgetting a fresh idea. Once you have the stuff you know down, you can go back and find ways to make those duller scenes just as fun.

4. Write about something meaningful to you

It’s simple. If you don’t care about what you’re writing, you’re not going to want to write it. Think of a topic that’s interesting to you: whether it’s something as serious as racial injustice or abuse of any kind, or a funny childhood memory, find a way to tie it into your story. It can be the overarching theme or even just a little plot point or character detail. The more personal a story is to you, the more you will enjoy creating it.

5. Find readers

Having an audience, even if it’s just one or two friends to start, is always a big help for me. Writing for just myself can go pretty slow since I already know in my head how the story goes – I don’t really feel the need to write it down. But when I have a buddy or two excited for my next chapter or short story, I can’t stand to leave them hanging! Plus it’s a great self-esteem booster to know people enjoy your work.

Joining a local writer group or an online group for sharing your work is another great way to keep the wheels moving. Especially when you have specific meeting dates, having a set deadline will automatically push you to prepare a little something. Getting feedback and pointers from people you don’t know too well can also be a big help since their opinions are unbiased.

Most importantly, accept that all first drafts are awkward and clunky.  Behind every best-seller is a mountain of marked-up, crappy drafts. Expecting your first draft to be a masterpiece is both discouraging and unrealistic. It’s okay if your story is rough and bumpy at first – juicy meat needs a skeleton to stick to!

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Thanks for reading my post! Like what you see? Click the pretty blue “follow” button and/or follow my Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariagiakoumatosauthor/

Any tips you’d like to add? Feel free to drop a message in the comments!

 

Short Story: “Lost Time”

Hello, everyone! While my first book finishes going through the publication process, I plan on sharing some of my short stories in between my usual rants. This is one called “Lost Time” that I wrote back in college for a creative writing class. As someone who usually writes silly dark fantasy stories, I decided to step out of my bubble for this assignment and write an intentionally monotonous, repetitive, sci-fi/suspense to try creating an unsettling, paranoid tone. Alien abduction stories have always fascinated me, and I’d love to possibly take a shot at writing another in the future! I hope you enjoy my first attempt at one!

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3:33 AM

The time my husband Charlie died from a heart attack. The time I awaken every Wednesday for the past three months since. The time my daughter Eva waddles into my bedroom, muttering about the same nightmare. I roll over on my side in my spacious bed, the blankets tugging at my torso. Sure enough, Eva’s looming over me, dragging her stuffed bunny along the wood floor.

“I had a bad dream,” she mumbles, squeezing the bunny’s hand.

“The one about the owl?” I ask. It’s always the one about the owl.

She nods, her messy blonde hair flopping about her tiny pale face.

I sigh as I crawl out of bed and steer her back to her own. I tuck her in for the second time that night, reassuring her for the second time this month that the owl is not real. I’m not sure if she believes me, but I know she will not awaken until breakfast time. She never awakens after 3:33AM on Wednesdays.

“It’s perfectly normal for a small child to suffer from nightmares,” her therapist would tell me every week. “Children have wild imaginations.” She has never seen an owl in real life, not outside of her picture books. Charlie’s death has affected her in a strange way.

Tired, I trudge back to my bedroom. I massage my aching shoulder as I sit on my bed. I must have pulled it in my sleep. I pull down my shirt and notice a purple bruise, perfectly circular, in the middle of my right shoulder blade. Last week it was my leg, my neck the week before. Neither me nor Eva have been able to sleep well on Wednesdays since Charlie’s death.

Eva sits at the breakfast next morning, munching on Cheerios and strawberries. I stand at the kitchen counter, packing her lunch for school. I can tell from her droopy eyes that she’s tired. We’re always tired on Thursday mornings now.

“Eva, honey,” I say, “remember what Dr. Richardson told you last week? He told you to stop waking me up when you have the owl dream. He told you it isn’t real, remember?”

“I thought you were awake,” Eva says through a mouthful of cereal.

“Sweetie, mommy goes to bed at eleven. You know that.”

“But the light was on in your room,” she says with conviction. “You were talking to someone.”

“No, honey, it wasn’t,” I assure her. “When you walked into my room, Mommy was sleeping and the lights were off. You must have still been dreaming.”

Our conversation ends there. I help her into the car and drive her to school. I stand outside the van and wave goodbye to her as she runs across the schoolyard with her best friend Jessie. Jessie’s mom Linda walks over to me from her car, wearing an awkward smile on her face wrinkled with sympathy. I’ve been getting that look too often since Charlie’s death.

“Karen?” she says, as if she is unsure it’s me. “How’ve you been?”

I shrug and force a smile on my face. “The same since Charlie died.”

“Did they ever find out what caused the heart attack?”

I shake my head. “He was perfectly healthy. It just happened, out of the blue.”

“Wow, I’m so sorry.” I wince from the pain as she squeezes my bruised shoulder. “Hey, I’m sorry if I upset you last week. I understand that this is a sensitive time for you.”

I raise my brow. “What do you mean?”

“I invited you to go out for lunch last Thursday. You never showed up.”

“Right.” I fail to remember making plans. I can’t even remember what I did last Thursday afternoon. I recall buying groceries at eleven and taking Eva to the therapist after school, but it’s as if time did not exist between the two events. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice two men in black suits watching me from across the schoolyard. I can’t see their eyes behind their sunglasses, but I know they are watching me. I hurry back in my car without saying goodbye to Linda. I don’t feel comfortable around those men. I have to get away from them.

But as I walk Eva into her therapist’s building later that afternoon, I swear I see those same two men watching me from a distance.

I read magazines as I wait for Eva’s appointment to finish. Fashion magazines of smiling women. No one smiles that big. No one covered in bruises with a dead husband and traumatized child. I set the magazines down when Dr. Richardson enters the lobby. Eva rushes to my side, but he beckons me to his office. Eva waits in one of the large brown chairs, dipping her fingers in the mini waterfall on the glass table beside her.

Dr. Richardson hands me a business card before I can even take a seat in his office. He stares at me through his round glasses with concerned eyes. “Call this man. He is a colleague of mine.”

I glance at the card. “Thanks, but I don’t need therapy. I can cope on my own.”

His eyes narrow. “With all due respect, I believe you are scaring your daughter. She tells me she hears you screaming every week, throwing things in your room–”

I laugh and shake my head. “Doctor, you’ve heard all about her crazy nightmares –”

But then he interrupts me. “She told me this week that they aren’t nightmares.”

I cock my head in disbelief. “We live in the city. How can she see an owl?”

“She says it’s not an owl.”

As I march out of his office, seize Eva’s tiny wrist, and drag her to the car, I see the men in black suits across the parking lot watching me. One is speaking on a two-way radio. I speed home, escaping Dr. Richardson’s office, but I still hear his words ringing in my ears.

Next Wednesday, I lie awake in bed at 2:00AM with the lights on. As tired as I am, I will not sleep. I must prove to Linda that I’m not some crazy, depressed widow, to Dr. Richardson that my daughter is having nightmares, that she will come in my room at 3:33AM. I watch the TV across my bed. A woman and a man are arguing on screen as they sit in a restaurant–

3:33AM.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I spring from my bed. My knee gives in and a fall to the wood floor. The lights are off, the room only lit by the blank blue screen of the TV. My left leg seers in agony as I reach for the lamp on my nightstand and turn it on. Nothing in my room has moved, but the picture frame on my nightstand has shattered, a crack between mine and Charlie’s faces. I scream when my eyes fall upon my leg, my voice already horse as if I had already been screaming. My skin has been completely ripped – no, scorched – from my leg, blood and puss dripping down my ankle. My arms are covered in bruises.

Eva is not in my room.

I brave the pain and crawl down the hall to her room. The hallway never felt so long, so exhausting. I see the light on in her room, but when I finally make it, she is not there. I scream her name, but no response. I drag myself to her open window and peer outside, hoping that, by some miracle, I will see her standing in the yard.

But all I see are the two men in black suits, watching me through their sunglasses.

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Thank you for reading! 🙂 Stay tuned for more stories!

Inspiring Art with Art: Kick your Creative Block!

Whether you’re a photographer, writer, painter, musician – all of us artsy types hit some sort of “block” where we struggle to access our creativity. As someone who is primarily a writer, the dreaded writer’s block can last weeks, even months for me.

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When I’m stuck in a rut, I often find inspiration from my other artistic hobbies. Because I’m a writer, this post focuses on overcoming writer’s block, but finding inspiration from other art forms can work for any creative process!

Music

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Playing piano is definitely one of my favorite hobbies! Those who have read my book Midnight Waltz could probably assume that about me, given the references to famous pieces and the main female character’s love for Chopin. Not only is playing piano a great stress reliever for me, it also helps me connect with emotions that I struggle to readily convey in words. Oftentimes when I’m working on an emotional chapter, I’ll play a song that I feel captures the mood I’m aiming for.

 

Drawing

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I am a horrible sketch artist. Horrible. Thus, most of my drawings are for my own eyes to spare the suffering of others. But I do enjoy sketching portraits of my characters, especially when I come up with new ones. Having a tangible visual helps me pick out their most defining features and betters my descriptions. Plus, when I am confident enough to show my friends and test readers, it’s interesting to see if my drawings matched up with the images they conjured from my in-book descriptions.

And yes. . . that is my horrible art.

 

Photography

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“A picture is worth a thousand words,” right? I don’t have much experience in photography, but it is an art form I hope to pursue. Similar to drawing, taking a photo of a setting/landscape or a person can help find the words for descriptions. Plus, getting some fresh air and taking a walk around wherever you want to take photos can help clear your mind. Even if you aren’t a skilled photographer, sometimes snapping a quick photo on your phone of a place that looks like somewhere you’d like to set a story can be a little helpful.

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Thank you for reading my post! I hope it was of some help to my fellow artists! Do you have some of your own artistic ways of overcoming your blocks? Feel free to drop a thought in the comments! 🙂