Did I Mention, Spring is my Favorite Season

A breeze lifted the sweaty hair from my forehead. I faced it and closed my eyes, the scent of cool spring plunging through my sinuses.

“Dig,” he said. 

I frowned and went back to it. Dirt scratched under my nails and smeared my upper lip. Sweat rolled between my shoulder blades, leaked down my spine, and met my belt where it soaked into my waistband. I relished it all. I dug as slow as I thought he’d allow, feeling every moment of ache in my arms, taking a peek at the perfect blue sky when he wasn’t watching.

“Dig,” he said, pointing to the hole. The son of a bitch never stopped watching. I opened my mouth to speak to him but before I spoke he stood, imposing his height on me down in this hole. It was almost done. When he approached the hole with his rebar I tried to make myself as small as possible. He stuck the rebar into the hole and as it met the ground with a flat thud, he dared me with his eyes to try something. 

I mean I had to, right? He was making me dig my own grave. I couldn’t finish it, not on such a gorgeous day.

He pulled the rebar from the hole and finally looked away. I threw the shovel at his face for all I was worth. It opened a gash in his forehead that I swear went to the bone. As blood poured into his eyes, he raised the gun and fired, then fell face first into the hole with me. His neck crunched like a pinecone sounds when you step on it.

Damn that was a satisfying sound. I’m laying here, and he shot me in the side so maybe it’s not fatal but this hole is five feet deep if it’s a day and I’m laying in this pool of blood. But I can’t feel much, so I guess that’s a good thing. Maybe somebody heard the shot? Did I mention how perfect the sky is today? Not a single cloud. You could live your whole life and never get a spring day so perfect.

Pitch Events 2021 — Twitter and Beyond

Hi all and welcome to this year’s list of Twitter pitch events (and beyond!). If you’re looking for how to write them, I’ve created a handy blog post here. If not, let’s move on to pitch events for 2021. Notice a couple BRAND NEW contests for specific, marginalized communities!

On Twitter

January 15-29th, 2021 #10queries (open to all, query and first five pages contest) https://reviseresub.com/mini-events/january-2021-10queries

January 20th, 2021 #IWSGpit (open to all)  http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-twitter-pitch.html?m=1

February 3rd, 2021 #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages) http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

February 11th, 2021 #PBPitch (picture books) http://www.pbpitch.com/

March 4th, 2021 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

March 25th, 2021 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages)  https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

NEW EVENT April 15th, 2021 #LGBTNpit (for queer, trans, and nonbinary authors) https://lgbtnpit.com/

NEW EVENT May 4th, 2021 #APIpit (Asian/Pasifika writers and illustrators) https://apipit.wordpress.com/

May 6th, 2021 (COVID delayed) #KISSpitch (all subgenres of romance) https://allthekissing.com/kisspitch/

May 20th, 2021 #Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages) https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

June 3rd, 2021 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

NEW EVENT June 22nd, 2021 #PitchDis (for disabled authors) https://www.pitchdis.com/

Summer 2021 (date TBD) #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages)  http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

September 2nd, 2021 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

September 30th, 2021 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages)  https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

NEW EVENT Fall 2021 (date TBD) #WMPitch (children’s fiction, PB to YA, all genres) this info is for 2020, it includes the rules https://write-mentor.com/2020/04/19/wmpitch/

NEW EVENT Fall 2021 (date TBD) #LatinxPitch (for creators of kidlit, PB to YA,who belong to the Latinx community) https://latinxpitch.com/

October 2021 (date TBD) #DVpit (two days for marginalized authors and illustrators – day one for kids/YA, day two for Adult, and artists and illustrators)  https://www.dvpit.com/

October 2021 (date TBD) #Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages)  https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

November 2021 (date TBD) #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

December 2nd, 2021 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

OFF TWITTER CONTESTS/PITCH EVENTS

Author Mentor Match; matching authors to mentors in YA and Adult (submissions already closed. They went early this year!) http://authormentormatch.com/

March-June 2021 #REVpit (open to all—more than a pitch contest, see rules) https://reviseresub.com/annual-contest/schedule

  • March 5th—editors announced
  • April 10-11th—submission window
  • April 12-23rd—REVpit #10queries
  • April 26th—Editor picks announced
  • April 27-June 1st—teams work on revisions
  • June25th—showcase

Jan-September 2021 Write Mentor (open to PB, CB, MG, YA for mentoring) https://write-mentor.com/2021-writementor-summer-programme/

  • April 12-14th — Mentor chats on Twitter
  • April 15-16th—Mentee application window
  • April 30th—Mentor-Mentee announcement
  • September 3-10th — Agent showcase

June-September 2021 (dates TBD) Pitch Wars (open to all—more than a pitch contest, see rules) https://pitchwars.org/

February 10-12, 2021 Savvy Authors Sweetheart Pitchfest* (open to all) https://savvyauthors.com/community/classes/2021-sweetheart-pitchfest.1584/

Spring 2021 (dates TBD) PB Party (picture books) http://www.michelle4laughs.com/

Summer 2021 (dates TBD) Savvy Authors Summer Hot Pitchfest* (open to all) 

*Savvy Authors has many pitch events throughout the year. Check their calendar in case I miss some: https://savvyauthors.com/savvyauthors-workshop-calendar/

If you know of any events I might have missed, feel free to let me know in the comments! Happy pitching and good luck this year!

That Person Does Not Exist

I’m a writer, OK? It’s what I do. I write fiction. Fiction. So forgive me if this story is a little…uneven. I didn’t think I’d ever write non-fiction, much less something like this. 

I’m in a few writer’s groups on Facebook and I’ve got a couple group chats on Twitter I absolutely depend on for sanity. Writing can be lonely and it’s almost always done in solitary. Even if you’re not alone in the room, you’re alone with your thoughts all the time when you’re writing. I think that’s why we fill our heads with characters. So we have somebody to talk to. 

The first thing I do when I’m making up all these voices in my head is give them faces. Sometimes, I “cast” Hollywood actors to play them in my head. I mean, they’re all me, but it makes me feel less alone if they have their own faces. It makes them feel more like them and less like me. Sometimes it gets a little old casting actors, and sometimes I’m too lazy to surf the internet for just the right picture. But sometimes, that’s great for procrastinating. Casting my characters, making mood boards, finding a soundtrack, all great for procrastinating. 

One night, about a week ago I guess, I was surfing Facebook instead of writing, as one does, and came across an interesting post. Funny thing, I saw it twice in twenty minutes in two different groups. 

That should have been a clue.

It was a website that gives you faces. All kinds of faces. Young, old, man, woman, all types and colors of skin tones and face shapes. Anything you could want, randomly. It was kinda funny, I thought, refreshing the page, how the A.I. could mash together faces and make someone who didn’t exist. I could use these faces with impunity in my stories. They weren’t real people. They were perfect inspiration. And from time to time, there’d be a face that was all messed up. Like the A.I. had gone a little off the rails, or used two faces that weren’t facing exactly the same direction. Or maybe a face that had melted into the background by accident. Funny little glitches, we’ve all seen a million of them in video games and CG outtakes.

The thing about this website is you can’t really save the faces unless you screenshot them. There’s no way to go forward or backward. You just refresh and get a new face. And so that’s what I was doing when I was supposed to be writing. Mindlessly scrolling through faces with a baking show on in the background. Kinda looking for my new main character, kinda just being fascinated by the tech. And there it was. There she was. My neighbor. I’m pretty sure it was her. I live in a military town, so sometimes it’s hard to get to know my neighbors. They rent a house and then they’re moving before the lease can even run out. My fiance was a military brat and he says making new friends over and over and over again is one of the hardest parts. I think most people don’t even try. So I don’t know it was her. Not for sure.

But it was her.

I often saw her in the mornings on my way to work. She’d be pulling into her driveway, coming back from P.T., as I pulled out of mine. Her bright yellow belt still strapped across her chest, hair up in a bun, sometimes sweat dripping off her browl. We’d wave to each other. 

About the only time I ever talked to her was one morning she’d come back from P.T. and I was going to work, but between the time she left and came back, the wind had knocked her trash can over into the street. One of the bags split and stuff was just everywhere. The city will fine you if your trash is laying all over the place when the trash truck gets there, and it was only two blocks away. Sweat dripping off her face, she knelt with her bare knees in the asphalt and was scooping up trash so fast she had to be scraping a little skin off her hands, too.

I jumped out of my car and helped her scoop it all up before the truck got there. We laughed about the spring wind and how it knocked over the whole can, and she turned red in the face as we picked up her garbage. It’s funny how personal trash can be. Like we’re embarrassed to have other people see what we think is worthy to throw away. The tip of her nose redder than anything else, she almost shook my hand when we were done, stuck it behind her back instead, and apologized that I’d gotten all dirty before heading to work. The corners of her eyes turned up just a bit as she did. She was a nervous smiler. 

Now there she was, on my screen, the corners of her almond eyes turned up. Sure, that’s a common feature. But I also remembered the few freckles on the bridge of her nose, about where glasses would lay. And there they were too, on the face of this person the website claimed “didn’t exist.” 

I guessed maybe I didn’t remember her as well as I thought, and my mind was just using this A.I.-created picture to fill in the blanks. But I could have sworn she had that little line in the tip of her nose. I remembered it going red, especially in that funny little crease. I could see how the program could get one of these features, but all of them? I fell asleep a little after that, phone clunking to the floor and waking me up long enough to plug it in and roll back over.

The next morning, her house was empty. I’d seen the military movers enough times to know they were quick and efficient but it was like she’d moved out in the middle of the night. Just…poof. I went over and peeked in the windows, too startled by the empty house to care if someone saw me. It looked dusty inside and I just knew if I opened a door and went in, it’d smell musty, like it hadn’t been opened up for months. Just stale air and dust motes floating in the rising sun’s rays. Which, wasn’t possible. I waved to her yesterday. Yesterday.

My fiance was still asleep so I just got in my car and went to work. But it nagged at the back of my mind all day. I wish I knew her name so I could like, I don’t know, Facebook stalk her or something. Try to find out if she’d gotten a transfer suddenly. If, maybe, I was just remembering wrong. I’d been working a lot of overtime lately and maybe I got my days confused. Working six days a week will do that to you. Maybe it was a few weeks ago last time I’d seen her.

I asked my fiance about it later. We were almost asleep, my exhaustion from working so much catching up with me. I’m not eighteen anymore, I need more than just beauty sleep at this point. “Hey babe?” I asked him. He grunted, on the edge of sleep too. “Did you see our neighbors moved?” When he nodded and rolled over, I shrugged and did the same, nevermind that I heard him mutter “yeah, months ago.” I wish I’d taken a screenshot of her face on that website. But I didn’t, and it never reappeared. I must have been imagining things, I told myself. 

I couldn’t get it out of my head, though. The next day, I showed one of my coworkers the website. We talk about my books sometimes, so I brought it up as a point of interest, and then we got to talking about the tech involved. “Deepfake is some scary shit,” he said. I didn’t know about that, but I was starting to worry that wasn’t all it was. Especially because I refreshed the page again, looking hopefully for one of those funny glitches, when his face popped up. 

His. Face.

My coworker, standing right in front of me. Header at the top of the page saying “That Person Does Not Exist,” his picture below it. I know now you’re thinking I’m really crazy but I’m telling you, it was his face, right down to his crow’s feet and the tiny mole just over his left eyebrow and his one uneven ear. I’m not shitting you, and I don’t think it was just some trick of throwing faces together so much that the A.I. came up with one that was real, even when they claimed it wasn’t. I tried to show it to him but my finger slipped and closed the browser. When I reopened it, it was another face. 

The next day at work? Empty desk. 

I know what you’re thinking. He quit and didn’t tell me. But I’m telling you now, that’s not possible. I’m his boss. If he quit, he would have had to tell me. Had to. I went to HR and you know what they said? “We’re not allowed to discuss employee files.” As if that makes any sense. 

I stood in front of his desk for an hour after that. It was dusty, like no one had sat there for a while. He’d been hired by our last boss, about two years ago, and the dust looked at least that thick. We’d gone through a rough patch when our boss passed away about a year ago and our little group had grown closer after that. There was no way he’d quit without telling me, move all his stuff out in the middle of the night or before the crack of dawn like one of the other guys had done. No way.

At the company luncheon a few weeks ago I’d met his daughter, so I asked around to see if someone had her number. The worst part of not finding her number and not finding her online was that no one I talked to remembered him. Not just in that vague way people can be like, where they can’t put a face to a name. They didn’t even remember someone sitting there. Some of them would pretend they knew who I was talking about by fake-nodding their heads, but you could see the recognition wasn’t there in their eyes. They were lying to make me feel better but it was as if he’d never existed.

Just like the website said.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I ended up at the kitchen sink, lukewarm glass of water in my hand, chalky taste of antacid tablets on my teeth and in the back of my throat, staring at my disappeared neighbor’s house. In the dark, the shadows shifted over it when the wind blew and the windows looked like they could see me staring at them. Black holes in the face of the house, pouring their emptiness into the street, over the sidewalk, and up the walls of my house. Eventually I closed the blinds to keep the darkness out there, turned on all the lights in the front of the house, and curled up in the corner of the couch with a blanket over my head.

I shouldn’t have gone back to the website.

I had a fiance. I did. We’ve been together for ten years. He’s way younger than me, and when we first started dating he almost broke up with me because he couldn’t stand the taunting his friends gave him for dating a “cougar.” All my friends teased I was robbing the cradle and gave me knowing glances about his youthful physique. We got through all that bullshit because in spite of what seemed like an insurmountable age difference, we were really in love. These things happened.

But the morning after I saw his face on the website, a face I know better than my own, his side of the bed was empty. No note. None of his clothes in the closet, none piled next to the bed in that stupid clean clothes pile that never gets folded, his computer was gone. All of his stuff was gone. I know I’ve been working a lot but there’s no way I missed that. There’s no way. There’s no way. He was there when I went to sleep, snoring away, keeping me awake until I passed out from pure exhaustion. If he’d been leaving me, there would have at least have been an argument or something, wouldn’t there? Ah god, I don’t even know anymore. 

I called his mom. Left her a message. I texted his sister, but she’s left me on read for like twelve hours now. She’s busy with her own family but all I can do is stare at that little “read” on the text message and wonder what she’s thinking. What does she know? Does she even know he exists? If one of them would just answer me.

Now I know, though. I know the secret. “Thatpersondoesnotexist dot com” isn’t A.I. It isn’t deepfake tech or any of that other bullshit. It’s a fucking curse, and it’s erasing my whole life. How many other people has it erased so it can steal their faces? Wearing their faces like its own, culling the population one, by one, by one.

How could I not refresh until I saw my own face? I took a screenshot this time. It’s next to my computer on the desk, my own eyes staring up at me while I type this. If it erases me, I figure it’ll erase this computer too. My own clothes, my furniture, my trash I threw away and don’t want anyone to see. I’m posting this story, I just hope it doesn’t get erased from here too.


Call my mom, somebody. Tell her I was real. Tell her I love her. Show her this picture of her baby. Don’t let her think I didn’t exist.

originally published on reddit

Pitch Events 2020 – Twitter and Beyond!

Hi all and welcome to this year’s list of Twitter pitch events (and beyond!). If you’re looking for how to write them, I’ve created a handy blog post here. If not, let’s move on to pitch events for 2020:

On Twitter

January 15th, 2020 #IWSGpit (open to all) http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-twitter-pitch.html?m=1

January 30th, 2020 #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages) http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

February 14th, 2020 (date TBD, Valentine’s Day likely) #KISSpitch (all subgenres of romance) https://allthekissing.com/kisspitch/

February 20th, 2020 #PBPitch (picture books) http://www.pbpitch.com/

February 2020 (date TBD) #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) *please note the new website: https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

March 5th, 2020 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

April 22/23, 2020 #DVpit (two days for marginalized authors and illustrators – day one for kids/YA, day two for Adult, and artists and illustrators) https://www.dvpit.com/ 

May 21st, 2020 #Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages) https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

June 4th, 2020 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

June 25th 2020 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

July 29th 2020 #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages) http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

September 3rd, 2020 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

October 26/27, 2020 #DVpit (two days for marginalized authors and illustrators – day one for kids/YA, day two for Adult, and artists and illustrators) https://www.dvpit.com/

October 29, 2020 #Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages) https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

November 12th 2020 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://www.faithpitch.com/ 

December 3rd, 2020 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

OFF TWITTER CONTESTS/PITCH EVENTS

Feb 7 open submissions, Author Mentor Match; matching authors to mentors in YA and Adult http://authormentormatch.com/

March 13th-editors announced, April 18-19th submission window #REVpit (open to all – more than a pitch contest, see rules) http://reviseresub.com/

June-September 2020 Pitch Wars

June 22 – Mentor Applications Open
July 8 – Mentor Applications Close
August 10 – Mentors Announced
September 12-26 – Mentor Wishlists Posted
September 27-29 – Submissions Open
November 7 – Mentees Announced
February 10-15 – Agent Showcase

https://pitchwars.org/

February 12-14, 2020 Savvy Authors Sweetheart Pitchfest* https://savvyauthors.com/community/classes/2020-sweetheart-pitchfest.1385/

Spring 2020 (dates TBD) PB Party, information from 2019: http://www.michelle4laughs.com/2019/03/frequently-asked-picture-party-contest.html

May (dates TBD) #QueryKombat (open to all)  CANCELLED IN 2019, WILL MONITOR FOR RETURN IN 2020 ://www.michelle4laughs.com/2018/03/announcing-query-kombat-2018.html

Summer 2020 (dates TBD) Savvy Authors Summer Hot Pitchfest* RULES & GUIDELINES: https://savvyauthors.com/se-pitchrules/

*Savvy Authors has many pitch events throughout the year. Check their calendar in case I miss some: https://savvyauthors.com/savvyauthors-workshop-calendar/

If you know of any events I might have missed, feel free to let me know in the comments! Happy pitching!

Frozen

No one ever talks about the smells. Not the smell of death – everyone knows that one and the human olfactory sense isn’t sensitive enough to pick it up until decomposition is well underway. 

No, I’m talking about the smell of fresh death. Sweat. Lots of it, if they knew it was coming. Just buckets. Piss. Most people die with a full bladder, isn’t that awful? It doesn’t stay that way. Sometimes you defecate when death is sudden enough. Or, you know, if you’re really unlucky.

What you don’t know about death could fill volumes. But what do you care? You won’t be around to see your own.

In most cases.

My case, well, it wasn’t one of those cases. 

The grease on the ball bearings coated the pads of my fingers, the little loop of bearings almost empty. All but a couple had escaped the wheels of my skateboard and rolled across the sidewalk. I heard them – tink, tink, tink – and they were gone. My wheel screeched across the pavement, sending chills through my teeth. 

I hate changing those stupid things.

After five minutes of struggling with them, sweat coating my brow, I took a break to stare at the deep red roses growing in the planter next to me. I inhaled their sweet scent deep into my nostrils, ran a finger over the silky petals. At least that calmed me.

But I’d disturbed a little worker bee, buzz buzz buzzing inside the velvety innards of the rose. Before I even had time to react, he stung me right on the fingertip. 

Like being impaled by a teeny little dagger, the pain shot under my nail. It hurt, sure, but it was just one tiny little sting.

When you’re allergic, the size of the sting doesn’t matter.

I stuck my finger in my mouth, the spot of blood coppery on my tongue, mingling with slick, tasteless bearing grease. My throat started closing almost right away. I tried, I tried to pull a breath in, but I couldn’t. And I’d left my epi pen at home because I hate skating with stuff in my pockets, all clanging against my leg every time I do a kickflip.

The heat of the sidewalk baked into my face as I lay there, wheezing. My head swam. I just needed a breath. Just one breath.

Please, god, let me breathe.

The smell of piss hit me, acrid in my nostrils. I pulled in just enough breath for that to be the last thing I smelled.

Before I woke up here. It’s cold.

I can’t feel my nose. But I can breathe, and the air tastes stale and putrid, like death. Little crystals of ice line the silver box I’m trapped in. 

In the eighteen hundreds, they used to jam sticks under the toenails of the presumed dead so they’d wake if they weren’t really dead. Or they put bells on their toes.

I wish they’d done that to me. My eyes are frozen open.

Only One

“There was only one dead. Thank god.” The women spoke, phones lighting their faces vaguely blue, even with the harsh light of morning streaming through the train windows. They didn’t lean into each other. Just sat there in their seats, asses spread around their hips, talking about my dead wife like it was nothing. Just another news item.

Last night it was chaos. Twitter lit up about 6:42pm with reports of a shooter at the Pines Mall. For the next hour and a half, misinformation after rumor after joke spread across Twitter. It trended at #4. Not #1, not #20. A nice, innocuous, #4. I scrolled past it at least twenty times. Sitting in a train seat just like the one I was sitting in now. Only way I know it wasn’t the same one was I was going the other way.

The women chatted. One scrolled with the tip of her finger, her besparkled nail sticking up over the screen. It, too, bathed in pale blue light and assaulting my eardrums with its clicking as she tapped it on the screen. “Look at this. He tried to kill himself. Missed.”

The other one chuckled. “Couldn’t even do that right. He’s lucky more people didn’t get hurt.”

I sank further into my seat and tried to stare out the window. Watch the city pass.

Probably I didn’t have to ride the train all the way in from Mesa. Lora would have brought me at least halfway. There’s a train stop not three blocks from the school where she teaches.

Shit. Taught.

But I hated putting her out. 

“You’re not putting me out. I like riding with you. As long as you don’t talk to me until after coffee.”

And then she’d wink, and smile, and help me put my hair up. Always mothering me. She’d do my makeup for me if I let her.

You should see my hair today. I can see it in the window of this godforsaken train. Not a single strand stayed in the damn braid. 

Just once I should have gotten off at her stop and met her with her pile of papers to grade as she lugged her wheeled milk crate to the car. Just once. Maybe if I’d met her more, she would have waited more, and whatever it was she wanted at the mall would have been there another day.

“Oh look,” the other woman said, “looks like the little girl who got injured isn’t going to have any permanent damage.” She scrolled. Ghostly blue light shining in her eyes.

“Thank god. That’s a blessing. This could have been so much worse.”

I covered my mouth. Worse? For who? Didn’t they see my face?

The tears splashed off my bare arm. No need for jackets in Phoenix in, well, any month. But I shivered anyway. Lora would have been so glad the little girl was OK. Just out for ice cream.

And what was Lora there for? Who knows. Even I didn’t. There were a thousand and one things she wanted to get. Wanted to have. But living on a teacher’s salary, a thousand and two things she couldn’t have.

Oh god. Her salary.

My heart-rate raced. How was I going to pay the rent without her? 

I sat straight up, wet eyes wide. I couldn’t even make next month’s. If there were ever two women living paycheck to paycheck, it was us. Nothing even in savings.

Chest tight, I leaned forward. Fist balled in my gut and pressing my hot, empty insides. After everything we built together, I was going to lose it in…I pulled out my own phone to check the calendar.

I wish there’d been a time when her face was my lock screen. I’d like to tell you I was all sweet like that. Mine certainly was on hers often enough. I think the last one she set was the one where we did a couples zombie costume. Fake blood, about the only makeup I was ever any good with. That was a fun time.

I unlocked the screen, going for the calendar. But Twitter had a notification. And damned if I didn’t click on it.

It was nothing, of course. Just one of the people I’ve got on notify. A celebrity with a marathon to run. But I was there now, the app open, the news feed scrolling. Trending topics.

The shooting had been relegated to “what’s happening.” Beneath the trending topics. “One dead in Pines Mall shooting.”

Don’t click it.

I clicked it.

They hadn’t plastered her face all over the internet. Not yet. I guess I counted as next of kin but I asked them not to release her name until I called her mom. Not that we’d spoken to each other, my mother-in-law and I, in less than three years. The last time I tried, she made me feel bad for not spending enough money on her daughter. And for being gay. But that was more an undertone than anything. Something she’d been making me feel bad about for close to a decade.

God, close to a decade. Just one dead, and it had to be my Lora.

The slick feeling wormed around my stomach. Those chatty women smelled like that powder people wore. Had a slight after-smell of toilet paper. I could never figure out why they liked it, why they wanted to walk around smelling like a restroom. 

I should have let her drive me in. Then she would have waited to drive me out. We could have ridden together. Maybe she would have taken me to the mall.

Yeah, come to think of it. I wish I’d been with her. I would rather have died with her than be here, feeling this, right now. If I’d been the praying kind, I would have prayed for that. Let us die together.

I kept scrolling the story. Why.

His face popped up. Some stupid scowl on it. They mentioned some kind of manifesto. I didn’t want to read it.

Why I clicked on it and read it you can ask yourself while I don’t tell you what was in it. What does it matter? He took that anger and turned it inside out and shoved it at other people. But he was no good at it, and he only killed one of them. 

Only.

My eyes unfocused, I drifted. Planned to start packing tonight. That nice apartment all for nothing now that I couldn’t afford it. Back to that shithole we used to live in. But without her, it really would be a shithole. At least when Christmas came, she’d put up some cheap bulbs around the window, the three-foot-tall fiber-optic tree beneath them. Make homemade hot cocoa. Force me to pour it into little styrofoam cups for both of us as she drove us around all of Scottsdale, looking at lights on the fancy houses. 

Don’t forget the mini-marshmallows. Those had to go in the top of the little foam cup. Melt into the hot chocolate. Give us both mustaches that glowed green in the dash lights.

Fuck, what fun would Christmas be without her?

There was no way for me to ever know why they were in that mall at the same time. Ever. No one could tell me. She didn’t text me. She didn’t leave a note. She didn’t unpack her papers. Maybe she just wanted a damn Starbucks. It was her favorite kiosk within twenty miles. Despite the fact they couldn’t remember her order, at least it was the closest one with decaf espresso. She loved her decaf and wouldn’t let me or any other caffeinated asshole take it away from her. She said at thirty-seven, she couldn’t drink regular coffee at night anymore. Between never going to bed and getting up to pee she’d get like four hours sleep and that fifth hour was her heaven. 

“Oh, see, the woman who died was thirty-seven.” The phone crept ever-closer to the woman’s scrunched face. The train jostled her, but did she lower her voice when I sobbed into the palm of my hand? No. 

“That sucks. But that’s not too bad, thirty-seven.”

I clenched my phone hard enough to break it, it felt like. What was not too bad about never having another chance to ditch papers for just once and run up to the mountains with your best friend? The one who’d agreed to marry you and everything. What wasn’t too bad about never being able to finish the pile of papers at all? Never being able to see another student shine when you told them how wonderful you thought they were at writing? 

Because she did that. She made them feel special. She taught them about English but she also taught them about themselves. She listened to them, silly teenagers, when no one else would.

And she made me feel special. Like I meant something. My own mom hadn’t talked to me in a lot longer than my mother-in-law. I don’t even think she knew our new address. But Lora thought I was perfect, even though she knew damn well otherwise.

Oh, the life insurance.

My stomach leapt to my throat and stuck. 

The one thing we hadn’t cashed out to cover my student loan. The one thing. I could pay rent with the life insurance for a couple months while I worked on downsizing. 

Downsizing.

What an innocuous word for such an ugly thing. 

The train rolled to its next stop and I hit my head on the window hard enough to bring tears to the corners of my eyes. 

The cursed women spoke again as they stood, dumping their phones in their purses. “He came with so much ammunition. It’s such a blessing only one person died.”

Only one.

Why I Love Horror

How many times a day do you ask yourself why you love the stories you do? I know every time I look at a Supernatural GIF, read about what Molly, AKA the Thing of Evil is doing, or randomly think about what that sneaky little noise was in the corner, I wonder why I love horror. Why I always have. I bet my mom asks the same question. I would ask her, but I’m honestly a little afraid of the answer. Horror in its truest form, what others think of us!

Seriously though, what makes the things that go bump in the night so fascinating? I mean what’s so great about stories in the first place? The world is full of its own horror as it is. All one needs to do is pull up their facebook feed to see that.

Don’t do that. Stay here with me.

Scary stories aren’t always a safe place. At their best, they take our worst nightmares and lay them bare. How do they do that? In the case of Sam and Dean Winchester, they put on pretty, pretty, handsome, swoon worthy faces and prance around for an hour, saving people. OK. Dean prances. Sam grimaces, Castiel cocks his head, Crowley makes a smart remark, and Bob’s your uncle.

It’s the in between, that’s where they get you. Where they fight for their own souls while killing, hosting, and becoming literal demons. In the end they beat them back and kinda do a great job of convincing you that you can beat your own, as well.

Then of course, there’s the master, Stephen King. I am a King junkie. A Constant Reader. I feel no shame in that. When I was thirteen years old, I read my first King novel, “Pet Sematary”. Growing up, we lived in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by farmland of one type or another. It was a gorgeous place, full of light and green and rain.

But at night, it was cold and quiet. Still, dark, open fields on all sides. Behind my bedroom window nothing but wide open space. Plenty of space for whatever might be out in those trees way over there to come creeping up to the window at my back. Scratch its cold and dead nails down the glass, pull me out from under the sill, and be off into the night.

I read that book huddled under the covers. And when Louis stumbled through the swamp, his dead little boy cradled in his arms, I all but wept in fear. Up until that very point, and it’s one of my more vivid memories, I had no idea why you wouldn’t just…stop…reading.

But I knew then, and I know now. You cannot get through the swamp if you stop halfway through. You cannot escape the monster if you leave it, hovering over your shoulder, snarling and wheezing and drooling. No. You must push through. Get to the other side.

Vanquish the monster.

And I think that’s it, right there. The crux of it. Why I love horror, why stories matter, and why I choose to push on, even when I’m terrified. Adrenaline junkie? Sure. You know it. But more than that, stories, horror stories in particular, take the deepest darkest parts of us, shove them out into the light, and then force us to push through. To deal with it. To read on, and come out the other side.

I’ve dealt with my own personal demons. I have more to unearth. So I’ll just get out my little shovel and see what’s under the surface.

Those old burial mounds won’t mind if I just park it here, right?

Pitch Events 2019 – Twitter and beyond

Hi all! For a little over a year now, I’ve been querying my second novel. While I have, I’ve also been participating in every Twitter pitch party I can. I practice them all the time, rewriting new pitches about every quarter. Twitter pitches are about the hardest thing I’ve ever written, so I find practice helps.

At any rate, how to write them is a different post altogether. In this post, I wanted to share the year’s calendar with you, and I promise to update it as dates come available. There is a large variety of Twitter parties. If you have a finished, polished manuscript, come join in on the fun! At the bottom, I’ve also included off-Twitter pitch events. Please feel free to drop info in the comments if there’s any I haven’t listed! I’m doing this list as much for me as anyone else.

January 15, 2019 #IWSGpit (open to all) http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-twitter-pitch.html?m=1

January 30, 2019 #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages) http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

February 14th, 2019 (still to verify) #KISSpitch (all subgenres of romance) https://allthekissing.com/kisspitch/

February 21st, 2019 #PBPitch (picture books) http://www.pbpitch.com/

February 27th, 2019 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://littlelambbooks.com/faithpitch/

March 7th, 2019 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

April 23&24&25 #DVpit (three days for marginalized authors and illustrators – day one for kids/YA, day two for Adult, day three for artists and illustrators) http://dvpit.com/index

May 23 #Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages) https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

June 6th, 2019 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

June 19th, 2019 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://littlelambbooks.com/faithpitch/

July 24th, 2019 #SFFpit (sci-fi and fantasy/all ages) http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

#IWSGpit (open to all-next one not until January 2020) http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-twitter-pitch.html?m=1

September 5th, 2019 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

October 24th, 2019#Pitdark (open to authors of darker genres/all ages) https://jasonhuebinger.com/pitdark/

October 28&29 #DVpit (three days for marginalized authors and illustrators – day one for kids/YA, day two for Adult, also artists and illustrators) http://dvpit.com/index

November 20th, 2019 #FaithPitch (Faith-based fiction and non-fiction/all ages) https://littlelambbooks.com/faithpitch/

December 5th, 2019 #pitmad (open to all) http://pitchwars.org/pitmad/

OFF TWITTER CONTESTS/PITCH EVENTS

April 6th, 2019 #REVpit (open to all – more than a pitch contest, see rules) http://reviseresub.com/

July-September 2019 (wishlists announced September 11, mentee submissions September 25-27) Pitch Wars https://pitchwars.org/

February 13-15, 2019 Savvy Authors Sweetheart Pitchfest* RULES & GUIDELINES: https://savvyauthors.com/se-pitchrules/

May (dates TBD) #QueryKombat (open to all)  CANCELLED FOR THIS YEAR, WILL RETURN IN 2020 ://www.michelle4laughs.com/2018/03/announcing-query-kombat-2018.html

June 12-14 Savvy Authors Summer Hot Pitchfest* RULES & GUIDELINES: https://savvyauthors.com/se-pitchrules/

*Savvy Authors has many pitch events throughout the year. Check their calendar in case I miss some: https://savvyauthors.com/special-events-calendar/

Writing Twitter Pitches

I’ll be the first to admit, writing Twitter pitches makes me more insane than I already am. So I do it a lot. Every pitch event, I try to write a new one or perfect an old one. Even my favorite, the one with the quote, has been changed recently.

With that in mind, let’s do some exercises to get the brain going.

First, who is your book about?

I have dual POV and each POV character (they’re both protagonists) have almost equal screen time. But Adelaide is the MAIN main character, the hero, the one with the most significant character arc.

She’s early twenties and was born after the apocalypse happened. The only world she knows is the post-apocalyptic one. She didn’t grow up in a city, so socializing is a whole new complication. And she’s never sure if she’s doing it right.

reclamation-cover-photo
Second exercise: what is your main character’s goal? This is where we might have to skip ahead.

At the beginning of my book, and probably many, many books, my MC’s goal is to live a normal life. So let’s forget about that. What happens to change that goal? This is your inciting incident OR your first plot point. Or both.

For me, infected people are found within the safe space of her village and when her dad investigates, he’s wrongfully arrested. Inciting incident —> first plot point.

Now her goal is to free him. In one of my sample pitches, I’ve summed it up in this sentence:

“When she has to save her father from a murder plot it’s almost a welcome distraction.”

So it’s not just what happened, but also a taste of character motivation.

writing abstract
Other considerations: what are the stakes? What is stopping them from achieving their goal?

Try to brainstorm about this and think about what needs to be included. Maybe the goal we talked about in the last exercise implies the answer to both of these. Maybe what’s stopping them is interesting and unique. Think about a few punchy words you could use to describe their opposition.

waiting

This is where we tie it all together, and make it irresistible (we hope!).

Conflict.

We talk a lot about making sure our stories have conflict, and our pitches should too. The way I envision this is: I’ve told you who my MC is, what their goal is, and the stakes. Now I take those stakes and turn the screws. Really tell us how you’re trying to keep your protagonist from success. And if it’s personal (without being too spoilery), make the twist personal. The more you can destroy your protagonist’s world in this sentence, the better.


I leave a reader of the pitch with questions they need to have answered. What does Addy discover in the course of saving her father that leads her to believe the Cure might not be so great? I had a better one, but it was a little too spoilery for my taste.

So I’ll leave you with that.

Think about your character, what makes them unique, what they need to overcome, and how you’re keeping them from winning. You don’t have to sum up the whole plot, you’re just trying to hook a reader. Pick your punchiest lines and fit them together in 266 characters or less.

See this post for 2019 pitch events

I Don’t Know What I Did Last Summer

Hey there! I know, I know. I’m behind on all my reviews and it’s been a radio-silent kind of summer (except for this ). Summer is an incredibly busy time for us, it’s the opposite of restful. But I took my little one to San Diego while she still thinks I’m cool. So it was worth the hassle. 

I’ve also been tightening up my query, synopsis, and first pages from the novel Reclamation. Though I hadn’t exactly planned to, I submitted to Pitch Wars. It was a lot of work last year for little return, but I finally figured it was good to work on my query no matter what, and that they couldn’t say yes if I didn’t ask. So I submitted and now I’m awaiting those sweet, sweet requests for more material.

waiting

I’ve been considering the reviews and honestly I’m not sure I’ll continue with them. Unless there’s something new and groundbreaking to say, it’s often the same thing over and over again. There’s sure to be copious amounts of fangirling over Jensen in his new role this season, but if you follow me on Twitter you can watch that happen in real time.

That brings me to the question of what to do for a regular feature. I would love to reach out more often, but I’m not sure what would keep me coming back regularly. Is there something you’d like to see? Something we can turn into a regular thing? Maybe we can talk more in depth about characters, like this essay or this one.

Gish1 18
Or maybe I can explain what lead me to run full-tilt into this wall.

draft 4 cover
I made this cover just for fun. Warning: there’s no ships involved whatsoever.

Maybe I can just give you updates about where I am in writing. As for right now, I’m working some pretty heavy revisions to book 2 in the Reclamation series. While that’s going on, I haven’t been able to focus on anything. I have three books started but I just keep losing steam. Eventually I went back to my very first completed novel and am rewriting it from the ground up. I’m keeping the plot and the characters but there are Point of View issues to fix and a complete lack of true structure that needs quite a bit of help. I am thinking of publishing it online at some point after completion. Watch this space for that update. 

 

The journey to publishing is a long one, and I’m still mulling all the options for my original works. Querying really takes it out of you. I take part in several Twitter pitch events as well, and that’s exhausting on its own level. But I can promise you this – those books will be published. They will. They are my heart and soul and I believe in the story they tell. I won’t give up on the publishing journey.

So that’s where I am right now. Keeping my little fingers busy with the typey-typey while my brain tries to run away with anxiety. I’ll see if I can create a poll about how to continue with a more regular blog. Hop over to my facebook for that. Or comment here if you’ve got suggestions or requests!