Thursday, December 18, 2014

NEW FREE SHORT STORY!

Happy holidays! Just wanted to let you I put out a new short story yesterday. Better Off Red is a light-hearted YA that started with the question "What if Red Riding Hood took place in my 'hood?"
Here's the blurb:

"Scarlet Church is your typical teenage girl, just kickin' it in the city and helping out with the family business. Of course, when your mama is the best witch in Minneapolis, that's not exactly business as usual! So when Mama asks her to take a potion to her grandma, Scarlet has to be ready for anything. Can she avoid a run-in with a werewolf—or worse, with handsome werewolf hunter Cisco Jones? A modern Red Riding Hood keeps a dangerous family secret in this delicious YA twist on a classic."

Better Off Red is free on Smashwords for Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader and related devices. Hopefully, it will be free for kindle on Amazon soon. (It's currently .99 on Amazon, but I hope they will price-match Smashwords and make it free soon. I'll let you know when they do!) Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Creature Feature: The Hitchog!

(I will be posting occasional Creature Features on this blog, highlighting the unusual creatures found at the Ozwald Heidegger School for the Cursed, the setting of my next YA novel, Touched.)


There are so many animals on the grounds of The Ozwald Heidegger School for the Cursed: mischievous jump-monkeys and adorable knuks, sweet-smelling stinky toads and dangerous mimicats, but the cutest of them all is the hitchog. In its natural form, this tiny creature resembles a hedgehog, with a spiky, spherical body, bright black eyes, and stubby little legs.
The hitchog, however, doesn't spend much time in its natural form. Its tiny legs aren't well suited to getting around, so when the hitchog wants to get somewhere, to find fresh foraging grounds, escape a predator, or even warm up on a cold winter's day, it relies on its ability to shape-shift so it can hitch a ride with a human being. The hitchog can take the form of any small, useful object it has seen: a pen knife, a coin, a bottle opener, even a bright earring or an interesting-looking rock. When a human comes along, the hitchog uses a mild charm spell (similar to the Look At Me charm) to attract the person's attention and make itself look desirable. Unless the human is on guard against charm spells, he will have the urge to scoop the object up, thinking he might have a use for it or planning to find its owner.

            
Once the hitchog is in the person's pocket, it uses a mild forget charm (similar to Out of Sight, Out of Mind) to make the person forget its there at all. When it arrives at a new location, the hitchog transforms back into its hedgehog form and leaps out, eager to explore. Often, the human is none the wiser for having given the hitchog a lift, but sometimes the hitchog's transformation can come as a shock. The person reaches into her pocket for that key, only to find a spiny little animal instead! Classes at Ozwald Heidegger are sometimes interrupted by a student yelping when something starts to move around in his backpack. Other times, students may drop the object before it has a chance to transform back into its hedgehog shape, never knowing what they carried. Student Miguel Arroyos reports "I once went to get my Creature Creation textbook out of the lost and found box and there were three baby hitchogs stuck in there! People had thought they were lost mittens or something. I just dumped them out in the garden. Startled the heck out of me."
           
 But other than surprising the occasional student, hitchogs are really quite harmless. They forage for bugs, nuts and berries and generally keep to themselves, building little nests in the gaps of stone walls and the holes at the base of trees. They can even make themselves useful: If a student raises a hitchog as a pet, or if she has a particular talent for animal charming, she may be able to train the hitchog to shift forms on command. Student Suzanne Schwartzenberg says, "My hitchog Penny is the Swiss army knife of pets. I used to lock myself out of my dorm room every time I forgot my Knock Lock spell. Now Penny just takes her skeleton key form and I let myself right in. She's even working on a comb form, for those days when my hair won't behave. But don't use a hitchie as a toothbrush. I hear they taste like dirt."
           
Need to know if the object you've found is really a hitchog? Look for these tell-tale signs!

1) Temperature. Hitchogs run hot. Is the coin you picked up warm, even on a cold day? It may be a hitchog who transformed as you approached.

2) Details. Not all hitchogs are expert mimics. Unless they have seen an object often and up close, they may not get the details right. Does the face on that dollar look "off"? Is the logo on that wallet not quite right? It might be a knock-off - or it might be a hitchog.

3) Function. Hitchogs can imitate form, but they can't do complex functions. If that cell phone won't call, it might be out of power, or it might be a spiny little animal.


4) Sudden Disappearance. You often don't know an object is a hitchog until it disappears. If you swear you picked up that pretty rock but now it's not in your pocket, it may be a hitchog who bailed. One sure sign? A hole in your pocket. You may assume the rock just fell out, but in reality it was a hitchog who chewed her way out of your pants. Take a look around and you just may spot this clever little hitchhiker of the wild!

Think you may have picked up a hitchog? Wish you had one as a pet? Leave me a comment! I'd love to hear about it!



Photo credits: Baby hedgehog credit to: photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khl/71470910/">Last Human Gateway</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>


 Skeleton key: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/muuficom/6088233793/">muufi</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Small objects: photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29964571@N07/4073342611/">pamplemoussen</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

           

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rental Ferret

I love reading the pet ads on Craig's List - especially the strange ones! This morning I ran across and ad with the headline "Can I Rent Your Ferret for a Day?" I thought it was funny, so I tweeted it and Hamline MFAC (the "unofficial twitter of Hamline U's low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults") retweeted it as a "writing prompt of the day," so I decided to free-write on it and the following scene was the result. This is totally committing unpremeditated fiction, you guys - completely off the cuff.  I'd love to hear what you come up with, too! If you write about ferret rental, comment or tweet me the link @LauraBRede!          


            "Can I rent your ferret for a day?" the young man in the top hat asked.
            "Not likely," I said. "The ferret is mine - my own personal animal, see? You want a rental, you're gonna have to go with a rat. Maybe a rabbit. You can get them by the week."
            "By the week? No, no. I won't be here that long." The man wrinkled his nose, as if the thought of staying in Crotsdam made him ill. "And the rats and rabbits aren't as effective, are they? I really need a ferret, and only for the day. Or, more importantly, the night. I'll give you...How much for a rabbit?"
            "Ten duppins a week."
            "I'll give you ten for the ferret, from now til dawn."
            I paused, the soapy rag poised over the rat cage. I didn't want to let him see it, but I was tempted. An extra ten duppins for just one night? I thought of my own little stash, hidden under the woodstove. Ten duppins was a big step closer to getting out.
            But I only had one ferret. Renting her out meant a night unprotected. I could bring the rabbits and the rats into my room, but the man was right, it wasn't the same thing. What good was ten duppins if a Stalker got me? I swabbed at the rat cage. Think.
            "Well, now," I said slowly, "How do I know you can handle a ferret? You ever fought with one before?"
            He sighed, exasperated. "Where would I have learned that? There are no Stalkers in the city!"
            "Exactly! I rent you my ferret and you handle her improper and what's going to happen? You get her killed by a Stalker and I'm out one beast. Clairvoyant animals aren't cheap, you know, never mind ones trained to fight."
            "Fifteen duppins, then. And I'll put down a deposit. The whole cost of the beast."
            "You're desperate, aren't you?" I narrowed my eyes. "Where did you say you were staying?"
            He looked away, scowling. "That's none of your concern."
            "Where," I said, "Or no deal."
            He took a deep breath. "Graymore Place."
            My eyebrows went up a notch. "But I heard Earl Graymore -"
            "Passed away. Yes."
            I almost laughed. That seemed a very gentle term for what happened to the old man. "So you're the nephew? The new owner?"
            "I'm the nephew all right, but I have no interest in owning it. Not now that I've seen it. I'm only here until the train leaves tomorrow." He was wringing his gloves in his hands. The look in his eyes was so haunted, I almost felt sorry for him. Crotsdam can be tough on a city boy.
            But I'd be a fool to get involved with this one. The thought of Graymore Place made my spine go cold.  He'd never make it through the night. And good riddance, part of me thought. What's another arrogant city boy, more or less?
            But part of me felt sorry for him. What happened to the Earl shouldn't happen to anyone. And it wasn't far off from what happened to my own folks - what could happen to me, if I didn't get out of Crotsdam soon.
            And that was the point, wasn't it? Me earning money to get out? "The ferret doesn't go anywhere without a handler. It's twenty for her for the night, and an extra ten for me."
            I expected him to balk. Thirty duppins was a lot of cash. Instead, a look of relief washed over his face. "You'll...you'll stay with me?"
            "I'll stay with the ferret."
            "Yes." He blushed. "Yes, of course. I didn't mean...a gentleman staying alone with a lady..."

            "Oh, I doubt we'll be alone." I scooped up my ferret in one hand and my crossbow in the other. "Not with all the Stalkers around. And if you ever call me a lady again, this ferret's gonna take you down."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Villains and Antagonists in YA

On Saturday I had the pleasure of co-teaching a workshop with YA author Carrie Mesrobian. It was a ton of fun, mainly because we had a good turn out people, all seriously into geeking out about YA. It was also fun because I like hanging out with Carrie. She is a gifted writer and a very cool and funny person, and she is also, as of last week, winner of the Minnesota Book Award for her novel Sex and Violence. (Yay Carrie!) She and I met a few years ago when I took a class about Twilight which she taught at the Loft Literary Center, here in Minneapolis. She kindly invited me to help her lead a one-day workshop on popular YA called Harry, Bella, Percy and Katniss, which uses popular series to illustrate techniques for writing YA, and to talk about what YA is (and isn't) and what makes popular books tick. We've taught the workshop together four times now and always enjoy it, but there's SO much to say, we always wind up having to leave a few things out. This time, we were forced to skip over villains, antagonists, and foils, so I told the folks in the class I would post my notes on the subject here, for anyone who's interested in villainy.

But first, I promised I would  post the link to the Pinterest board I keep of self-publishing resources, for those students who were considering going indie. This board has everything from freelance editors and cover designers to links to interviews with indie authors. For those just beginning their indie journey, I recommend you start with these FAQ's about self publishing from authors Tracey Garvis Graves and this blog post by Elizabeth Hunter, as well as this one by Allison Winn Scotch. They will help you sort out the work involved in self publishing, along with the rewards, so you can get a better sense of whether it's for you.

And now, on to the villainy! Remember, these are just my notes for the workshop, but I hope you can follow them. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer!

Villains and Antagonists!

 Definitions:

Antagonist: can be anything that blocks or works against a protagonist's goals. Doesn't have to be doing it consciously - may not even be aware of the protagonist. Could be an animal, a force of nature, or just someone with an incompatible agenda.

Villain: This time it's personal! Consciously and directly opposes the protag.'s goals.

Important to know how your villain views herself. In very good vs. evil stories, like a high fantasy or super hero story, the villain may be aware that she is the villain and think of herself as evil, but in most cases villains view themselves as the heroes of their own stories.

Your story shouldn't be like a stage set that only looks real from one angle. You should be able to look at your story from the villain's point of view and still have it work. Your villain shouldn't exist only to block the hero's efforts. They should have their own set of conflicting goals that they are trying to achieve.
--What is your villain's heart's desire?
-- How is your hero standing in the way of her achieving that?
-- Was there a pivotal moment that made him what he is?
--Is there a love or weakness that makes her more human?

You should know your villain's backstory, but make careful choices about how much you share with the reader. More back story often makes a villain more sympathetic, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how you intend to deal with your villain in the end. Villains who grow and change (or who are revealed to not be the villains we thought they were) are often redeemed, those who don't are defeated somehow. Is your villain a Draco Malfoy, for whom we will ultimately have some empathy, or a Voldemort who is irredeemable?

There are essentially three levels of villains in YA: I think of them as villainous nesting dolls.

Personal villains: (peers, on the same level as the protagonist. Mean girls and bullies, etc. Draco Malfoy, Clarice from the Ares cabin, other tributes in Hunger Games.)

Authority figures: Teachers, parents, Snape, Umbridge, the games makers.

Big Bad: Sometimes a powerful being, (The Titan Kronos, Voldemort) but often an abstract concept, a system of oppression, an evil organization. Often the protag has to confront something in himself in order to defeat the Big Bad. The transition to fighting the Big Bad rather than fighting lower level villains is often a "This is bigger than all of us" moment - for example, that moment in Catching Fire when Haymitch tells Katniss to remember who her enemy is. That's the shift between fighting the personal villains (the other tributes) and understanding that the real villain is the bigger system.)

Many series work through the three levels of villains, having the hero graduate to a new weight class of villains with each book: First book's main conflict may be with peers, book two takes on a higher authority, book three confronts a larger system, a super powerful villain, or something abstract within the hero herself. Obviously, you don't have to follow that pattern, but it helps in terms of upping the stakes. The Big Bad is almost always defeated, or there is a strong implication that it will be. Lower level villains are often redeemed and even become allies (Clarice in the Percy Jackson books). Some of the most interesting heroes are former villains! (And note that we're seeing a trend of villains as main characters - everything from Wicked to Maleficent.)

Something else to keep in mind:

Does your villain serve as a foil for your hero?

A foil is a character who has traits that are opposite those of another character. The contrast between the two points up qualities of each of them.

Foils don't have to be antagonistic to each other. Best friend can often be foils (Jessica's social nature is meant to be contrasted to Bella's shyness.)  In an opposite-attract type romance, a couple may serve as foils for each other. In a classic love triangle, the girl is choosing between two very different guys - Jacob as a foil for Edward - who represent different options or futures - stay human, or become a vampire. Parents make natural foils (Bella's responsible nature contrasted with her mom's flakiness.) Siblings are natural foils - think Katniss and Prim. Ron's family acts as a foil to the Dursley's - we wouldn't fully appreciate the cold, unloving nature of  Privet Drive if we couldn't contrast it with The Burrow.

When creating foils, don't just think in terms of how they are opposite, but also look at how they are the same because it's that commonality that invites readers to compare them. Katniss and Prim are foils, but the fact that they are sisters, and even the subtle fact that they are both named after plants, puts them in the same box in the reader's mind and invites them to compare. Four and Erik in Divergent are both trainers for Dauntless, but with radically different approaches. Harry and Voldemort are foils, but J.K. Rowling gives them a ton in common: both orphans, Harry speaks parcel tongue, the sorting hat almost put Harry in Slytherin, etc. She uses their similarities to point up the important theme of free will. There is the feeling that Harry could have been Voldemort, if he had made different choices.

One last thing re: villains and antagonists: parents are often antagonists in YA. (That's often a difference between YA and middle grade). They might actively be villains, but more likely they are antagonists by virtue of being authority figures who set limits on your hero. This can be a huge advantage in some stories, if it gives your protag something to work against, but it can sometimes hobble your protag too much.

Or, conversely, helpful grown-ups can make things too easy. There's no plot if Dumbledore solves all the problems and Harry goes home to Sirius every summer. Powerful grown-ups take too much out of the characters' hands.

Four Ways to Kill the Grown-Ups!

1) Actually kill them. YA is full of orphans.
2) Set your story away from home. (Camp Half-Blood, Hogwarts, the Hunger Games)
3) Give the grown-ups issues.  Make them workaholics, self involved, immature or estranged. Give them mental health issues. (Katniss and Bella flip the roles and take care of their moms. Percy's powerful parent is a god who doesn't intervene.)
4) Abduct the grown-ups. (This is usually a middle grade move, but Cassandra Clare abducts Clary's mom. Percy's mom in the first book is sort of abducted and killed at the same time.)

There's a moment in the Deathly Hallows movie when the kids first arrive at Sirius' house. Hermione casts a spell to make anyone who is there reveal themselves. When no one does, she says "We're alone" and it's a weighted moment because there's a deeper meaning. The powerful moments in YA are often the moments when we realize "We're all in this together" and when we realize "We're in this alone."




WRITING EXERCISE  Write a letter from the point of view of the villain in your story. Choose someone specific to address it to - the hero, an authority figure, etc. Explain why you do the things you do in the story. If you don't have a wip, choose a book you know or a fairy tale, etc.

 Have fun with it!




Friday, February 14, 2014

Heart-Shaped Lock (A Kissing Midnight Valentine's Short Story)

            

*SPOILER ALERT*! This story takes place AFTER Kissing Midnight, so please read Kissing Midnight first, or you'll spoil the ending for yourself! (KM buy links are in the side bar of this blog.) Thank you!

JESSE

Getting out of Saintly’s bed never feels like a good idea, but leaving her on Valentine’s Day? That feels downright unnatural.
            So I stall. I snuggle in under the flowered comforter and watch her sleep. She looks so beautiful with her long, dark hair tangled against her pillow, her face peaceful. No nightmares at all last night. She says she sleeps better, now that she sleeps with me, but I know the nightmares still come. It has only been seven weeks since New Year’s Eve, after all – seven weeks since we destroyed Devereaux Renard and sent the midnight girls into the light – and they have been a good seven weeks, the best seven weeks of my life so far, but I know it will take longer than that to really put the pain of the past behind us and (as Dr. Sterling would say) “get closure”.
            And that’s what today is all about: closure. I kiss Saintly softly on the cheek. She smiles in her sleep but doesn’t stir, which is good because, if she knew what I was doing, she would definitely try to talk me out of it – or worse, insist on going with me. Usually there’s nothing I like better than spending time with Saint – Delia gives us crap all the time about being joined at the hip – but this time I don’t want her along. This time I need to go it alone.
            I manage to sneak out of bed without waking her (not easy when you’re sharing a skinny little dorm room bed!) and pull on my clothes. The jeans still feel too stiff – one of the disadvantages of only having been a living human being for the last seven weeks is all my clothes are too new – but the boots make my feel like I could kick some ass, which is a good way to feel today, and the Fitzgarren sweatshirt from the campus gift shop goes a long way towards making me blend in. I start to grab my winter coat, too, but think better of it and pull on my old denim jacket instead, the one I wore for twenty years as a ghost. Then I push aside the sheet Saintly tacked up between our side of the room and Delia’s, and I tiptoe out.
            I’m shocked to see Delia is already awake, sitting up in bed with her knees pulled up to her chest, her fuzzy bunny slippers sticking out from under her nightgown. “Hey,” I whisper, “Since when do you get up before the sun? On a Saturday, no less!”
            Her blue eyes are full of worry. “I don’t know about this, Jess. What if something’s whack?”
            I sit down on the bed beside her. “You’re a good friend, Deals.” It’s true. Some people might freak if their best friend came out bisexual and fell in love with a ghost, but Delia has really rolled with it. And she has been super understanding about me sharing their little dorm room until the three of us can find an apartment together this summer. So I hate to stress her out, but this is something I have to do. “I think it will put Saintly’s mind at ease.”
            “And yours, right?” She twists one frayed blond pigtail around her fingers, studying me. “This is important to you, isn’t it?”
            I look away. “Sure.” I don’t want to admit how much.
            She nods seriously. “Okay then. You have to do what you have to do.” She forces a smile. “It is V-day, after all. Good day to take risks for love.”
            “Too true.” I glance back at the sheet behind me. I can just make out Saintly’s silhouette on the bed. She won’t stay asleep much longer. “So, did you get it?”
            “I said I would, didn’t I?” She reaches under her bed and pulls out a hacksaw. It’s an old one, and simple – just a curve of blue metal on one side and a long row of rusty teeth on the other. It has THEATER DEPARTMENT written on it in sharpie.
            “Perfect.”
            She hands it over. “You can feel the weather now, remember? You’ll freeze in that jacket.”
            I flip up the collar like we used to in the 80’s. “It’s for good luck.”
            “And the cray-cray hair? Is that for luck?”
            I reach up and feel my short blond hair. It’s sticking up in ten directions. I always forget I have to comb it, now that people can see me.
            I grab a striped beanie from the hook by the door and stuff it on my head. “Problem solved.”
            Delia rolls her eyes. “Just promise you’ll be careful, okay?”
            I give her what I hope is a confident smile. “No worries. Just take care of Saint while I’m gone.”
            She smiles. “When will you two be over the honeymoon stage?”
            “Well…” I pretend to think. “Considering it took me twenty years to find her, I’d say…never?”
            Delia sighs. “Well at least someone is lucky in love.”
            I hold up the hacksaw like it’s Cupid’s bow and pretend to shoot Delia on my way to the door. “Happy V-day, Deals.”
            “Open the door this time,” she whispers.
            “Hey! I only walked into it once! This being physical takes getting used to, you know?”
            She gives a sly glance in Saintly’s direction. “And yet, you seem to enjoy it.”
            I flash her a grin as I slip out the door, shutting it carefully behind me. Then I turn – and nearly walk right into some guy. He has dark, curly hair and black rimmed glasses, and his button-down shirt is buttoned all the way up.
            “Oh, hey,” I say, “Henry, right? From the theatre department?” I feel awkward. I’m still not used to people being able to see me.
            The guy seems equally uncomfortable. “Yeah. Jesse, right? Delia’s room mate?”
            “Yeah,” I mumble, “Something like that.” I remember the hacksaw and shift it behind my back.
            He moves something behind his back, too, but I still catch a glimpse: flowers.
            I smile. One of Delia’s many admirers. “Have a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
            He blushes. “Well, I hope to.”
            I head off down the hall. It’s quiet. Most people are still asleep – which is a good thing, because there’s an RA on this floor who has already started giving me suspicious looks, and seeing me walking around with a random hacksaw might not help. Since I’m not actually a Fitzgarren student, I’m not exactly supposed to live in the dorms – ironic, I know, since I’ve been here on this campus since before that RA was born, but whatever. Sometimes being visible sucks.
            But no one sees me on my way out and Dr. Sterling’s car is right where he said he’d leave it, the keys tucked under the floor mat. Good old Dr. Sterling. He understood right away that this was a good idea, for Saintly’s mental health. Which, you know, it is.
            It’s also the only Valentine’s present I can think of. I mean, I’ve thought of a lot of them, but all the usual stuff just doesn’t seem like enough. What am I supposed to say? “Happy Valentine’s Day to the girl who brought me back to life! Here, have a box of chocolates”?    
            Nope. Just not gonna cut it.
            But at the same time, all the big stuff seems too – well, too Dev. You might not think a supernatural serial killer would be a tough act to follow, but, in the romance department, Dev actually is. My girlfriend is coming off a relationship with a dude who liked dinner at fancy restaurants and picnics under the stars – and killing people. Which makes the big romantic gestures seem a little weird.
            So, I’m left with this.
            And, if I don’t pull it off, I’m left with nothing.
            On that cheery note, I start to drive.
            At first it’s kind of fun. Dr. Sterling’s sensible sedan isn’t exactly a sports car, and I can’t risk driving fast enough to get pulled over (considering the fact that my driver’s license is a tad bit out of date) but driving itself is still a thrill. I can turn the wheel! Better yet, I can turn the radio dial! No more waiting for someone else to change the crappy station. I put it on the “golden oldies” and crank up the Melissa Etheridge. Heck, I even turn the windshield wipers on, just because I can.
            But the farther into Maine I get, the more worried I start to feel. The country outside my window is now mostly woods. This would be a crappy place to break down. It’s not like my friends could come and rescue me, considering the fact that they don’t even have a car. And what if I can’t find the place? I only have Saintly’s descriptions to go on, after all, and she didn’t exactly know she was giving me directions. What if I never get there?
            And what if I do? Delia was right to worry. After all, Saintly said Antoinette was a shape-shifting demon. What good would I be against something like that?
            And right now I have demons of my own to fight – the type that live inside my mind. Retracing Saintly’s steps like this, I can’t help imagining her driving these same roads with Dev. Did they sing along with the radio? Did he tell her a certain song reminded him of her? Did she reach up and kiss him at this stoplight? Did they stop at this scenic overlook to snap a picture of themselves with the view?
            And when they got where they were going, what did they do then? Saintly has spared me the details, but I’m sure they slept together. Just the thought of it makes me grip the steering wheel so hard my knuckles turn white.
            I’m being ridiculous, of course. Sure, Saintly thought she loved him, but that was before she unmasked him for what he really was. Besides, Dev is dead and gone, right? Still, I can’t help feeling jealous, not only of the stuff that went on between them, but of the fact that Dev could just whisk her away for a romantic overnight like that, when I can barely take her out to Starbucks. I mean, I’m alive now, but that’s about all I got. No money, no job, no car, no place…The last time I relied on a girlfriend when I had nothing, the girl broke it off.
            And we all know how that ended.
            Don’t think about it.
             I suddenly wish I had never left Saintly this morning. I want to be near her, to see the reassurance in her smile. This whole thing was a fool’s errand, anyhow, and being out in the sticks is making me sweat. The road has dwindled to just two lanes and the trees are pressing in on either side, like they want to narrow it even more. After twenty years confined to the college campus, the outside world feels threatening. It would be just like me to miraculously survive my own death, only to run out of gas and get queer-bushed in some little town.
            Does stuff like that still happen?
            Maybe it doesn’t any more.
            But maybe it does.
            I start to scan the road ahead for somewhere to turn around.
            What I see instead is an old lady in a bright red knit hat, walking a dachshund in a matching red sweater.
            Well, I think, she looks safe enough.
            Cautiously, I pull over and roll down the window. “Excuse me, ma’am, but I’m looking for a restaurant called Por Toujours.” I feel ridiculous saying it. This doesn’t exactly seem like the place for five-star French cuisine.
            “Por Toujours?” The woman’s thick Maine accent warps the words. “Canadian folk?”
            “It’s French food, ma’am, and a bed and breakfast.”
            The woman laughs good naturedly. “There’s a place in town sells French toast, if that’s what you’re after, but no B&Bs around here.” Her accent turns “here” to “he-ah.”
            I’m tempted to just drop it, but I’ve come so far. “It’s a big white Victorian house by a river. People put locks on the bridge –”
            “Oh! The bridge!” Her watery blue eyes light with recognition. “Goodness yes. I should have figured, what with it being St. Valentine’s Day and all. But there’s no place to eat around there.”
            Well, maybe the woman is confused, but I don’t want to keep her any longer. Her little dog has started to shiver in his cute red coat. I ask her for directions and she launches into them, pointing the way with a red mittened hand. At least the place she’s describing sounds close, so I’ll know if it’s right soon enough.
            “Thank you for your help.”
            She gives me a toothless smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day! And good luck to you, young man!”
            I don’t bother to correct her. I just wave as I pull out.
            The roads are convoluted, but the old woman’s directions are true. Just ten minutes later I find myself turning down a long driveway that’s just like Saintly described, but the house at the end…
            Well, it’s a big white Victorian, alright, but it has clearly been abandoned for years. The tower lilts drunkenly. The floorboards of the veranda are so warped they ripple. The white paint is scabbing off in patches, revealing worn gray wood underneath. The whole place makes me think of an elaborate wedding cake left to mold. This can’t be the place Saintly meant, and yet…
            Stranger things have happened.
            To me.
            Recently.
            I get out of the car. There’s an odd feeling about the place, a feeling that makes the hairs on the back of my head stand at attention. Yes, it’s partly the wind (and Delia was right, I should have worn a real coat) but this cold goes deeper than the February chill. It may seem weird for me to say I’m afraid of ghosts, but let’s just say I’ve seen some ghosts worth being afraid of, and it suddenly seems like a bad idea to have come here without Saintly. If I run into anything dead, I can’t exactly send it into the light. A sensible voice at the back of my mind says get back in the car.
            And yet…Somewhere nearby I can hear the steady rush of running water. In the breast pocket of my jean jacket, just over my heart, Saintly’s Valentine’s present feels heavy, like a promise. I’ve already come this far. Am I really going to turn back now?
            I grab the hacksaw from the car. Holding it like a hunter’s bow, I trot past the house. Through the cracked windows, I catch glimpses of the rooms inside. A skeletal chandelier hangs above a dusty table. A grand piano hulks in the corner, its back buckled, its keys splayed like broken teeth. A cold fireplace yawns like a dungeon door.
            I force myself to ignore it all and focus on the woods. Behind the house I spot a gap in the trees that leads to a narrow path. The wind hisses through the boney branches, getting stronger every minute.
            But the sound of the water is growing stronger, too, and now it’s mingled with another sound: the tinkle of metal on metal, like wind chimes. I round a corner in the path and it comes into view: a narrow bridge, arched like the back of a cat over a dark, rushing river. As I get closer, I can see the railings of the bridge are made of ornate wrought iron, but they sparkle with silver and gold and bronze. Locks of every shape and size tremble in the wind, chattering like teeth.
            Well, this must be the place. But how am I supposed to find the right lock?
            There’s nothing to do but start looking. I flip over locks at random, searching for DR + MS. There are a bunch of DRs and I wonder how many of them are Deveraux Renard. All of them, probably, and every girl whose initials are linked with his is already dead.
            Every girl but one. My fingers light on the little bronze lock carved with Saintly’s initials. The wind makes the locks around me shudder and I shudder with them. I’m not prepared for the revulsion that rises in me when I see that lock. Oh, it’s going to feel good to cut this down.
            Good, but not easy. In fact, cutting a tiny lock with a big hacksaw is almost impossible. I have to brace it just right against the railing, and even then the lock keeps slipping. I try to hold it still, but it’s a wonder I don’t chop my thumb off in the process. Not that I’d feel it, my fingers are so numb. My gloves were too clumsy, so I took them off, and now the cold metal burns my skin, making my hands shake. At first, I wanted to cut down every lock with Dev’s initials. Now I think it will be a miracle if I get just this one.
            But finally I manage to wear partway through the bronze. Wedging the lock against the railing, I twist it –
            And it snaps.
            The lock comes free in my hand.
            Holy crap! I did it! I do a little dork-dance on the bridge, pumping my hacksaw in the air. I did it! I actually did it!
            “What are you doing?”
            I spin around.
            There’s a woman standing on the path. She’s tall and slim and I can tell she should be beautiful, but she looks like she’s been sick. Her skin is pale, her blond hair lank. There are shadows under her sharp green eyes. Even so, I know exactly who she is.
            Antoinette studies me. “I said what are you doing on my bridge?”
            I’m torn between holding the hacksaw like a weapon and hiding it behind my back. “Nothing.”
            “Nothing?” She stalks a step closer. “It looks to me like you’re defacing my property.” She spots the little gap where the lock used to be and her eyes widen. She flies at me with superhuman speed. “What have you done with Deveraux’s lock? Do you know where he is? Tell me!”
            Gripping the lapels of my jacket, she slams my back into the railing so hard the locks around me clatter and I almost go over backwards, into the rushing river. I manage to stay upright, but just barely. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? One of the ghost girls he was so afraid of?” Her French accent is cultured but her look is feral. Dangerous.
            I force myself to look her in the eye. “Do I feel like a ghost to you?”
            “No…” She studies me. Keeping a tight hold on my collar with one hand, she frisks my jacket with the other, searching for something to ID me. Instead, her hand lands on the lump in my jacket pocket. Tugging the pocket open, she pulls out Saintly’s present and holds it up to the light.
            The little heart-shaped lock glints in the sun. I can clearly see the initials I scratched into the metal: MS+JH.
            “Mariana Santos?” She stares at it in confusion. “That was his last girl, n’est pas? But who is this JH?”
            “Jesse Hayden,” I say, “That would be me. Mariana’s girlfriend.”
            Her eyes widen. “But if Mariana Santos is alive –”
            “Deveraux Renard is dead.”
            She takes a step back like I’ve slapped her, dropping the lock at her feet. “It can’t be true.”
            “Oh, but it is.” I know I should keep my mouth shut, for my protection and Saintly’s, and I know I should run now, while I have the chance, but my anger is making me bold. This woman – no, this demon – was his accomplice. Who knows how many girls she helped trick into loving him?
            And watching her, I can tell she loved him too, if demons can love. She looks stricken at the news of his death. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for her.
            Almost, but not quite.  I keep my voice quiet and calm. “I saw him die. His body turned to ash and we sent the midnight girls into the light. It’s over, Antoinette.”
            “No!” The word is half human, half animal screech. She changes, her body shifting through forms too quickly for me to see them, woman to cat to snake to raven, nails becoming claws, fangs becoming beak, so quickly it all blurs. For a second she stands in front of me, a huge black wolf, and then she lunges for my throat.
            I bring the hacksaw up without a second to spare. Her jaws close on the blade and she yelps, pulling back enough to let me turn and scramble up the railing, my feet slipping on the locks. Just as I reach the top, her jaws snap again, snatching the back of my jacket in her teeth. I teeter. Below me, the black river races, chunks of ice dancing in the current. The demon’s teeth are the only thing keeping me from falling. She starts to pull me back.
            But I’m not going back. Twisting my body, I wrench free. There’s a loud ripping noise as my jacket tears, and I jump.
            The river comes up and slaps me, knocking the breath right out of me. I hit the icy surface and go under, the dark water closing over my head. The cold is like needles. The current grabs me, but I fight it, pushing up until my head breaks the surface again I gasp in a lungful of air. For a split second I’m elated. I’m breathing!
            Then the wolf hits me. She must have been waiting for me to surface, so she could see where I was. Now she’s on top of me, her wet weight forcing me under. The freezing water fills my lungs, my ears, my eyes. I fight wildly, gripping fistfuls of dense, wet fur, trying to throw her off, but she is all scrabbling paws, forcing me down.
            I’m going to drown.
            And I’m going to take her with me.
            In a second I go from trying to shove her off me to trying to hold her down. Wrapping my arms and legs around her furry body, I let myself go limp, dragging us both towards the rocky bottom.
            The demon begins to thrash. Her claws rake my chest, beat against my legs, but I hold on tight. Either she’ll surface and drag me up with her, or we’ll both die.
            But the demon has a third option: She shifts. The dog shrinks in my arms, hair sucking back into its body as she turns into a cat, then a snake. I try to hold on, but my grip is weak. My lungs burn with the need to breathe. She shifts again and for a second I’m wrapped around Antoinette in her woman form. Then, with one strong hand she pries herself out of my grip, shoves me away, and beats towards the surface.
            I follow. We break through at the same time, Antoinette exploding out of the water in her raven form, her wet black feathers gleaming. Cawing angrily, she takes off into the woods, her wings sending down a rain of icy droplets. In an instant, she disappears.
            But I have another enemy to fight. The current drags at me on all sides and my arms are too tired to resist it. Desperately I cast around for something to grab on to, to keep myself from being swept down stream.
            My fingers close around the nearest thing and I instantly wish they hadn’t. It’s my hacksaw. The rusty metal teeth bite into my palm, but I force myself to hang on. The hacksaw is looped around an outcropping of rock, and if I can just keep hold of it, I might be able to pull myself up and climb to shore.
            But I can’t. The current is too strong and my body feels like dead weight. My palm is bleeding, long strands of blood unspooling in the current around me, but I can barely feel it, my hand is so numb with the cold.
            My brain is numb, too, my thoughts sloshing like the water in my ears. As the current forces me under again, all I can think about is Saintly. I wanted to do something to prove I love her, and now I’ll never see her again. I’m sorry, Saint, I think. I’m a dumbass. The last thing you needed was to lose someone else.  
            But maybe she doesn’t have to lose me completely. Maybe I can will myself to stay here as a ghost again, just a little longer, just long enough to tell her I love her. I hold the image of Saintly in my mind, so strongly I can almost see her shadowy form rippling above me, almost hear her voice call my name. I try to tether my spirit to her world, to hook it like a saw around a rock, but I can already feel my spirit rising, being drawn up towards the light as if a strong hand is pulling me…
            Wait. A strong hand is pulling me. Two strong hands, actually. They have hold of my jean jacket and are hauling me up out of the water and dragging me onto the shore and into the cold February sunlight.
            I would laugh if I could, but I’m too busy coughing up ice. When I’ve spit out half the river, I manage to open my eyes and find myself looking into Saintly’s terrified face.  “Jesse! Oh my God, please tell me you’re okay!”
            “I’m okay,” I croak. “What are you doing here?”
            “What am I doing here?” Now that she can see I’m alive, Saintly is livid. “What are you doing here? Jesse, I could have lost you! Why in God’s name would you come here?”
            “V-v-valentine’s Day?” I struggle up into sitting position, but I’m shaking uncontrollably. I’m soaked to the bone and my clothes are starting to stiffen in the frigid air. The wind cuts through my jacket like a knife.
            “Valentine’s Day?” Saintly stares at me, completely at a loss. “You came here for Valentine’s Day?”
            I nod, but I’m shaking too hard to explain.
            She pulls off her puffy blue jacket and puts it around my shoulders. “We have to get you to the car.”
            “What c-c-car? You don’t have a car.” I manage a shaky grin. “Please don’t tell me you stole one.”
            Saintly glares at me. “Borrowed. With permission.” She nods behind me and I turn to see Delia rushing over the bridge towards us, her face tight with worry. Behind her is a Henry, the guy I saw in the hall this morning. His eyes are huge and he looks like he’s in shock.
            “I’m sorry, Jesse,” Delia pants as they reach us, “I didn’t want to ruin the surprise, but I had to tell her. She woke up and freaked out completely when you weren’t there.”
            “How many times do I have to tell you people?” Saintly yells, “I don’t like surprises!”
            “But you love me, right?” I give her what I hope is my most loveable look.
            Her face softens. “I love you so much, I don’t want you to die.”
            “But I didn’t die!”
            “Yet.” She says. “But you will, if we don’t get you somewhere warm.”
            She’s right. Not only that, but we’ll all die if Antoinette comes back. If she sees Saintly, there’s no telling what she’ll do. “Let’s go.”
            Clutching Saintly’s jacket around me, I let Deals and Henry help me to my feet. Then they run ahead to start the car as Saintly helps me struggle up the rocky bank. We’re on the far side of the river now, so we have to cross the bridge to get back to the path. On our way over, I see Saintly’s eyes scan the railing.
            She’s looking for the lock.
            “It isn’t there,” I say. “I cut it down.”
            “You what?” Her eyes widen. “That’s why you came out here? To cut the lock?”
            “I was going to put this in its place.” With shaking fingers, I reach down and pick up the little heart-shaped lock, still lying where the demon dropped it. I hand it to Saintly.
            She turns it over in her hand, staring at our initials scratched into the metal. She looks like she might cry, but I can’t tell if they’re good tears or bad.
            “I was going to put it up and take a picture for you on my…” I groan. “My phone. Which I’m guessing is dead now.”
            “It’s okay,” she says quietly, “We’ll get you a new one.”
            “We could still put the lock up,” I say hopefully. “We could do it together.”
            “No.”
            She says it so quickly, so firmly, it cuts me – worse than the cold wind slicing through my wet jeans, worse than the rusty blade that bit my hand. “No? Just no?”
            “Jesse.” She takes both of my freezing hands in hers, turning me to face her. “I thought you understood.”
            My heart is sinking. I’m having so much trouble breathing, it’s like I’m back under the water again.  “Understood what?”
            “That we don’t need that stuff – big gestures and symbols and things to tie us together – we don’t need that. What we have is deeper than that.”
            “But…” I struggle to understand. “I thought you thought those things were romantic.”
            She smiles at me gently. “Romantic is great. It has its place. But what I want now is real.”
            Real. It’s like my heart is coming up for air. I get what she is saying: Our lives are already locked together, in all the ways that count.
             “Okay then.” I raise my arm, ready to fling the little lock into the river.
            “No.” She grabs my arm to stop me. “I still want it.”
            “In that case,” I say, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I hand over the lock. Saintly takes it, smiling shyly, and attaches it to her bracelet, so the heart-shaped lock hangs next to the little black heart tattoo on her wrist.
            “Thank you.” She reaches up and kisses me softly on the lips. For a long second I hold her there, then she pulls away. “Dios mio, your lips are freezing!”
            “Are they?” I don’t feel cold at all. In fact, I feel warm all over.
            “Yes!” Saintly grabs my hand and hurries me up the path to the cars.
            When we get there, Delia and Henry are waiting. Delia looks nervous. “You guys,” she whispers, “Henry saw the demon shift. He wants an explanation.”
            “Damn straight he does.” Henry narrows his eyes at all of us. “I’m not driving anybody back to campus until you guys tell me what’s going on.”
            Saintly sighs. “In the car, then. But I’ve got to warn you, it’s a long story.”
            I smile as I climb into the warm back seat beside her. It is a long story. But it’s also a love story.
            And it isn’t over yet.
           
           
           
           


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kissing Midnight Blog Tour and Giveaway!

I was so thrilled a few months ago when my friend Kelly Moorhouse wrote to me offering to organize a blog tour for Kissing Midnight. Kelly and I have never met in person (in fact, we don't even live on the same continent!) but I know she is an avid reader and a huge supporter of indie authors and a truly lovely person. She quickly rounded up an excellent group of bloggers to review Kissing Midnight and host excerpts, interviews and giveaways, and on Monday we kicked things off with a post from one of my favorite people, Fred LeBaron, at one of my favorite blogs, Still Seeking Allies. The quote I loved? "Laura's writing has several awesome elements: her amazing, fully-fleshed characters (and fully-fleshed ain't always easy when some of them aren't even human, strictly speaking!), manically creative twisty plots. and beautifully evocative language." Thank you, Fred, for making my day with that one!

On Tuesday, Kissing Midnight was featured on Here is Some of What I Read. They shared an excerpt from the book and chose one of my very favorites. (Take a peek and let me know if it's one of yours!) Big thanks to Rachel for all her support!

Today and for the rest of the week I'm looking forward to posts from a number of other awesome blogs, and I'll be posting links here and tweeting and posting them on facebook, too. I hope you'll check them out! In the meantime, you can visit either of the blogs above to enter the giveaway! We're giving away a signed paperback of Kissing Midnight, a $10 Amazon gift card, and two ebook sets that include Kissing Midnight and both of the Darkride Chronicles books! Wow! And while you're there, please be sure to follow these awesome blog to thank them for supporting me and other indie authors! And again, massive thanks to the awesome Kelly Moorhouse for putting this together!