This vlog is very short. But hey, I'm back!
Have you seen the remake? What did you think about it?
This vlog is very short. But hey, I'm back!
Have you seen the remake? What did you think about it?
The date is June 14, 2015. A young woman diagnosed with over a dozen serious medical condition goes missing after the violent, unexpected death of her mother, and an explicit Facebook status. As police and media scramble to figure out what went wrong, reports come flooding in—the girl is safe… but nothing here is as it seems. The girl is much older than her mother claimed, she does not suffer from any of the ailments listed on her records, and she can walk without assistance. What’s more, as the lies unfold, police suspect she may have more to do with the murder than they first thought.
The story of Claudinnea “Dee Dee” and Gypsy Rose Blancharde is one of the most shocking true-crime events in recent memory. I first learned of the murder in a Sword & Scale episode (if you’re not listening to this podcast, you should be). In a classic yet severe case of “Munchausen by Proxy” Syndrome, perpetuated by a narcissist, Dee Dee lied about Gypsy’s health, inventing chronic and sometimes terminal illnesses to garner sympathy, attention, and monetary gifts. Gypsy’s “conditions” also allowed the family to receive complimentary trips to Disney World, free flights all over the country, and a no-strings-attached Habitat for Humanity house. The rabbit hole goes much further down, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll end it there. If you want a more in-depth exploration, I recommend you listen to the podcast episode or watch the documentary, which I thought was excellent.
The film garnered some criticism for its “late-night investigation expose” approach, but I’m not sure that’s warranted. On the whole, I thought the documentary did an excellent job not only illustrating the systematic abuse that led Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend to commit murder, but also reporting on the extent of the crime and how it has affected the lives of the people involved. Though the film did paint Gypsy in a sympathetic light at times, it never excused or condoned her actions.
If you’re interested in true crime, and especially the Gypsy Rose Blancharde case, this is one documentary worth streaming this weekend. Want even more spooky things in your life? Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, writing, and unsolved mystery posts.
Mommy Dead and Dearest is available on HBO Go and HBO Now.
What do you think about this case? What are your favorite crime documentaries?
When it comes to horror movies, I have discerning tastes. I'm not a huge fan of slasher films, and I prefer suspense, slow builds, and overall eerie atmosphere to gore and jump scares. Horror is one of my favorite genres to consume, in all its various forms. That said, I do have my favorites. Here are seven (fairly) recent horror films that scared the pants off me.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Directed by Oren Peli
After a young, middle class couple moves into a suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.
What got me most: I have a soft spot for found footage, and this one scared my pants off. I had to fall asleep watching cartoons.
Last Shift (2014)
Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
From director Anthony DiBlasi comes a Manson inspired horror film centering around a transitioning police station. Officer Jessica Loren has been assigned to wait for a Hazmat team to pick up bio-hazardous waste from the station's armory. But unbeknownst to Jessica, cult Leader John Michael Paymon has haunted the department ever since he and two of this followers committed suicide a year ago to date. And now, Jessica is about to find out how dangerous they can be when she's left alone on this Last Shift.
What got me most: I wasn't expecting this movie to scare me. I also don't remember any movie scaring me as badly as this one did. I'm not sure what happened, but I think you should watch it. With the lights off. By yourself.
The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan
In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Perron move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farm house and soon strange things start happening around it with escalating nightmarish terror. In desperation, Carolyn contacts the noted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to examine the house. What the Warrens discover is a whole area steeped in a satanic haunting that is now targeting the Perron family wherever they go. To stop this evil, the Warrens will have to call upon all their skills and spiritual strength to defeat this spectral menace at its source that threatens to destroy everyone involved.
What got me most: "Based on a true story." No. Thank. You.
Three film students travel to Maryland to make a student film about a local urban legend... The Blair Witch. The three went into the woods on a two day hike to find the Blair Witch, and never came back. One year later, the students film and video were found in the woods. The footage was compiled and made into a movie. The Blair Witch Project.
What got me most: Arguably the most iconic found-footage horror film ever, this movie scared the pants off me because it felt so real. Kids running scared in the middle of the woods? Yeah, that kind of thing could happen. No thanks.
Directed by Scott Derrickson
True-crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves himself and his family into a house where a horrific crime took place earlier, but his family doesn't know. He begins researching the crime so that he can write a new book about it to help his flailing career. He uses some "snuff" film footage he finds in the house to help him in his research, but he soon finds more than he bargained for. There is a figure in each of the films but who or what is it? As a result, his family start to suffer (as does he) and things take a turn for the worse. Will they survive?
What got me most: Scott Derrickson can fight me. Home videos? Lawn mower? Nope and nope.
The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by J. A. Bayona
A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.
What got me most: Creepy little children. And that ending? What the hell? Pro tip: watch it in Spanish with English subtitles. So much better than the dubbed version.
It Follows (2014)
Directed by David Robert Mitchell
For nineteen-year-old Jay, Autumn should be about school, boys and week-ends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her friends must find a way to escape the horrors, that seem to be only a few steps behind.
What got me most: It can be anyone. Anywhere. And it moves so slowly, but it's terrifying.
If you're looking for a fierce, frightening flick, check out one of my picks. Want even more spooky things in your life? Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, and unsolved mystery posts.
Tell me, what are some of your favorite horror films?
October is coming, and that's pretty neat, because it's my favorite month for a number of reasons. I love the way the air feels and smells in October, the crispness and crunch of autumn leaves under your feet. I love the way the light falls and the hum of people in pumpkin patches. Most of all, though, I love the widespread renewed enthusiasm for forgotten spooky things. Since one of my favorite things to do is read, especially scary books, I thought I'd compile a list of books I'm most excited to read by Halloween.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.
To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts' plight. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.
Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.
What sold me: The Master of Horror's own recommendation.
The Stand by Stephen King
This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.
And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
What sold me: The fifteen(!) people who told me I had to read this book if I really loved Stephen King.
Final Girls by Riley Sager
Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.
What sold me: Blurb by Stephen King!
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.
The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours—the entire scope of the novel—she keeps on running.
Joan’s intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself—the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines—is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.
What sold me: The cover, if I'm being honest.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
#1 internationally bestselling author Karin Slaughter returns with a sophisticated and chilling psychological thriller of dangerous secrets, cold vengeance, and unexpected absolution, in which two estranged sisters must come together to find truth about two harrowing tragedies, twenty years apart, that devastate their lives.
Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.
More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia's teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that's cruelly ripped open when Claire's husband is killed.
The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.
Powerful, poignant, and utterly gripping, packed with indelible characters and unforgettable twists, Pretty Girls is a masterful thriller from one of the finest suspense writers working today.
What sold me: The reviews.
These are just a few of the scary books that are on my to-be-read list. Sign up for my newsletter for writing progress updates, and check back on the blog each week for more horror, true crime, and unsolved mystery posts.
What if you disappeared today, on your way home from work or school? It's something none of us want to think about happening, but it's entirely possible. It happens every year—millions of people all over the world go missing, never to be seen or heard from again. Throughout history, we've heard strange accounts of unexplained disappearances, people vanishing without a trace, strange and gruesome murders, and other unsolved mysteries. What keeps us coming back to them? I'll tell you, along with sharing some of my top three favorite cases that have yet to be concluded—cases I might one day write novels about.
When was the last time that you were really, truly terrified? For most people, it can take several minutes to remember. In the modern world, we often like to think we're exempt from primal fears—exempt from tragedy. But even with all our security systems, technology, and so-called wisdom, we can never be one-hundred-percent safe from what lurks in the darkness just behind our houses.
We love unsolved mysteries because they remind us of the darker, deadlier parts of humanity—while lulling us into thinking it could never happen to us. Scary stories give us all the adrenaline with none of the risk. Therein lies their appeal.
Scary stories give us all the adrenaline with none of the risk. (Tweet this)
The Dyatlov Pass Incident. After watching the movie Devil's Pass (2013), I became much more interested in this bizarre event. In the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1959, the bodies of nine hikers were discovered in the snow, having tore open their tents and sprinted into the cold for no apparent reason. As the investigation progressed, it was determined that six of the group members died from hypothermia, with the remaining three having succumbed to fatal injuries. Possible explanations for the hikers' deaths include an avalanche, infrasound, military tests, paradoxical undressing, a cryptozoological/extraterrestrial encounter, and more. All investigators could conclude was that the hikers died as the result of an "unknown compelling force." The case was closed in the 1970s, but a group of people are currently trying to convince the government to reopen it.
The East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer. I learned about this killer only recently, but I'm pretty sure my next manuscript is going to be about him. Throughout the mid-1970s, this man committed fifty rapes in Northern California. Between 1979 and 1986, he murdered twelve people in Southern California. It took investigators a long time to realize the rapes and murders were connected. The Unresolved Podcast did a couple of great episodes on this killer, as did Casefile, if you'd like to learn more. The Original Night Stalker has never been apprehended, and could very well still be alive. As of 2016, the FBI is spearheading a nationwide push to expose the perpetrator, offering a $50,000 reward for his capture.
I could have included so many more unsolved mysteries—it was hard to limit myself! What do you think of these? Did your favorite make the list? Subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my writing progress, and stay tuned for more articles on horror, true crime, unsolved mysteries, and the unknown.
I've been on Wattpad for several years now, but I've only recently begun participating in the community and uploading my books. As of this post, I'm a self-published author, which means I retain the rights to my work. Therefore, I can distribute my novels however I see fit—I can even offer them to readers for free on Wattpad. If you haven't heard of Wattpad, it's one of the most popular mobile publishing platforms worldwide, and it's making a big splash in the book-reading and -writing world.
Imagine a world in which anyone could write a book, upload it, and get instant feedback and engagement from mobile readers. Sound too good to be true? It's not.
Recently, I listened to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast titled "Mobile, Multimedia, And An Audience Of Voracious Readers." In it, professional author and speaker Joanna Penn interviews Ashleigh Gardner, head of partnerships on Wattpad, about the merits of the digital platform, as well as how it serves to boost authors' sales and exposure. While I recommend you listen to the entire episode, one comment in particular stuck out to me:
You build your audience, you build your fan base and you're able to sell them different things in different ways...we have launched something called Wattpad Futures. It's not open to all users, it's really targeted at the top 5% of writers on the platform. It lets them make money by people who are reading their stories. They have new premium ads that go into those stories that every time someone watches it, similar to YouTube's model for their creators, that they're getting paid for that usage. There are some authors that are making upwards of 10,000 in a certain, like within a quarter just based on that reading time.
Gardner also had this to say about the platform:
People are spending over 15 billion minutes reading every month so it's a huge audience. (Tweet this)
That got me thinking: Why am I not doing more publishing on Wattpad?
With that said, I'm thrilled to announce that my latest novel, Reflections, is now available to read in full—for free—on Wattpad. I have my other novel, Blood and Water, available to read there as well. It's the release/new edition, so if you read the first edition, definitely check this one out. (I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the changes I've made. You can also read Touch: A One-Act Play and my short story "Teacher's Pet." If you do read, please consider voting, sharing, and leaving a comment or review. All the works on my profile have been completed.
Many writers on Wattpad choose to publish chapters as they write them, but that causes too much anxiety for me. I'm not sure I'll ever convert to that model. At any rate, I hope to use Wattpad more in the forseeable future. Follow me there, and stay tuned for more updates on my writing.
The hot dressing room made Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan sweat, but not because of the temperature.
She and her best friend Myra Hare had been at the mall for hours. Myra had a dozen outfits stuffed into bags on her arm, but Rama hadn’t found a single thing she liked.
She never found anything she liked anymore.
The department-store dressing room pushed on Rama from all sides. Why was it so small? Either the air conditioning had broken, or she’d lost her coping skills. Sweat slicked her face, ran down her neck, and kissed the contour of her spine. She scowled at herself.
Standing in front of the dressing-room mirror, Rama hated her reflection. The too-tight, too-low, too-short dress dug into her thighs.
As she studied her reflection, her stomach clenched. If only the ground would swallow her before Myra asked what was wrong.
There were too many questions. Rama didn’t have the answers.
Myra rapped against the door. “Can I come in?”
“Hang on a second.” Rama smoothed the dress over her stomach. Every bulge resisted the fabric. She’d never ask Myra for the next size up. “I’m changing back into my clothes. Not getting this one either.”
“Rama,” Myra said, “that’s like, the eighteenth outfit.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. Give me a minute to change back.”
Guilt gnawed at Rama. Myra had proposed the shopping trip. They didn’t see much of each other. Myra did cheerleading, and Rama had three AP courses. She seldom left the house. Helping her parents with the restaurant kept her busy most nights. Social life? Forget it.
To make matters worse, so many teenage girls had been murdered in the past year that the mayor of Aldale, West Virginia, established a curfew for minors. No other mayor had ever imposed a curfew, but Mayor Paulson said it was necessary.
Aldale had three stoplights. An hour away Morgantown boasted shops and restaurants and West Virginia University, where Rama hoped to attend medical school someday. Two years ago, at fourteen, she’d joined other gifted students auditing lectures and shadowing residents. She’d pressed her face against the glass above an operating theater, breathless as a surgeon held a heart in his hands.
In that moment, she’d decided to become a surgeon too.
Though it wasn’t far from Morgantown, Aldale might as well have been centuries away. Morgantown wasn’t huge, but it had chain restaurants. It had a mall, a real one, and a Walmart.
Aldale didn’t have anything like that. Their mall didn’t count. If Rama or her parents needed anything, they had to go down to the drugstore. John Lewis Finster had opened Finster’s Drug Shoppe in the 1950s. It housed a dusty, decrepit soda fountain with a lunch counter and everything in the center of the store. If anyone had ever eaten there, Rama didn’t believe it.
Like everything else in town, it had seen better days.
Everyone went to Finster’s to get almost anything—prescriptions, toiletries, gifts, condoms. Once, Rama had seen Jessica Spurlock in the family planning aisle. Jessica hadn’t taken anything, and even if she had, who would believe it?
Jessica epitomized the small-town “good girl” ideal. Imagine if someone caught her buying condoms when she was “waiting for marriage.”
Somehow, she convinced her parents to let her spend nights with her boyfriend.
She got to stay out all night, even with the curfew. Even though girls like Jessica were murdered without explanation.
The dead girls had been Rama’s age, classmates and friends. Girls she saw in town, flitting from store to store, laughing in the park, sitting in her family’s restaurant. Smiling, shining faces. Smooth skin and bright eyes and white, even teeth.
They had been girls Rama envied, ones she would have given anything to look like. All her life, she’d assumed the world was easier for pretty people. All her life, she’d been wrong.
Even in Aldale, violence could happen.
Rama knew better than anyone else.
Myra’s parents didn’t buy it. Danger lurked everywhere. Their children were smart. Sure, they should be careful, but the mayor had gone too far. Nothing like this had ever happened in Aldale. Myra’s parents thumbed their noses at the rules and let their daughter roam. They preferred a lax parenting style, and sent Myra to the mall alone, armed with their credit card. They never asked questions.
“Let’s go to the mall today,” Myra had said after class. “You need to get out.”
For some reason, Rama went along with the plan. Myra was right.
Myra knew best. That truth underscored their whole friendship. Since childhood, she’d “helped” Rama, telling her what to wear, where to shop, and who to spend time with. Myra had more social clout, so Rama trusted her.
Besides, Myra loved her. She wanted the best for Rama—even if Rama didn’t know what that was herself.
In the dressing room then, Rama wasn’t convinced. Myra was wrong. The dress scratched her skin, exposed the scar below her collarbone, and clung to her hips.
She was a pig.
Rama’s fingers brushed her scar. Myra had seen it. Nobody else. They’d never talked about it. Rama hoped they never would.
Months ago, Myra asked Rama why she’d cut her hair. Rama hadn’t said a word. It was past her shoulders now, but still shorter than it had ever been. When she stopped wearing jewelry, Myra said nothing. And when she showed up sans makeup on the first day of school, Myra kept silent.
If she had suspicions, she didn’t say so.
Rama’s parents weren’t so thoughtful.
“Why can’t you dress like you used to?” her mother had asked. “Myra dresses well. Let her take you shopping.”
“Your mother’s right,” her father said. “You should spend more time with Myra.”
In the present, Rama swallowed the lump in her throat. The walls of the dressing room closed in around her—what if the ceiling caved in? She would be crushed or suffocate in the nation’s smallest mall.
No one would miss her—not even Myra, who’d pressured her to go in the first place.
“You all right?” Myra asked.
“Fine,” Rama lied. “I’m hungry is all.”
“It’s making you cranky.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. Look, can we go?” She tugged the hem of the dress. “I don’t want this.”
Myra sighed again. “You said you needed new clothes. We can’t leave until you find some.”
“I hate everything I try on.” Rama pulled the dress off and tossed it on the chair. A plastic hanger clattered to the ground. Rama stooped to pick it up. Her hair fell in her face. “No point staying here if I don’t want to get a dress.”
“I’ll find you something else then. Let me try, okay?”
Rama studied herself in the mirror again. Stretch marks pulled across her hips and thighs, dipping into her ragged waistband. How long had she had those panties? The underwire of her bra poked out on one side. Her hair, disheveled, dull, and tangled, elicited a frown.
If only she could have been anyone else.
Anyone who wasn’t her or anybody like her.
Myra returned with an armful of clothing. She knocked on the door, and Rama paused a minute before opening it. Myra shoved the clothing in. Rama dropped the pile of clothes on the chair. From what she could tell, they all fit too tight, showed too much skin, drew too much attention. What was Myra thinking?
“Well?” Myra asked.
“Close the door.” Rama would never wear any of it. Myra didn’t understand.
No one did.
“Something’s wrong,” Myra said.
“It’s nothing,” Rama answered.
“I wish you’d tell me what’s bothering you.”
“It’s not about the clothes,” Myra said.
“No, it’s not.” Rama squeezed her eyes shut, willed away tears. In her mind’s eye, he loomed—the man with the mustache. Chicken tikka masala. Fear unfurled like a banner.
She opened her eyes.
Myra smiled. “If you don’t love your body, there’s no way you can be happy.”
Myra’s legs and curves were the stuff of magazines. She’d never had a pimple.
Rama sniffed and covered her scar. She could never tell Myra what had happened that day.
Myra took the clothes from Rama. “You win, all right? We’ll go.”
“I appreciate your help.”
“It’s nothing,” Myra said. “We’ll get milkshakes on the way. Grab your bike. I’ll drive you.”
That morning, Rama had biked to school. Myra drove them to the mall.
Rama wanted to be alone.
“I’m biking home. I need the fresh air.”
“It’s all right.”
“With the murders?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Rama exhaled. “I’m going straight home, no stops on the way. It’s not dark yet. I need to think. Just let me take my bike.”
Myra didn’t press her. “Suit yourself. Let’s go, girl.”
After Myra and Rama separated, Rama rode her bicycle through the forest behind the mall. She’d chosen the long way home—a half-hour trek—but that was good. She needed to think. Once she got home, she wouldn’t have the time or the silence for that.
Her father had asked her to help with dinner service. She and Myra had spent too much time at the mall—she might not get home before sunset.
At one point in her life, the dark had been scary. But the most dangerous monsters hid in plain sight, attacked in broad daylight. The shadows and the light they worked against were equal threats.
Trees shaded the straight, smooth path through the woods. Soon, they’d drop their colored leaves for Rama to crunch beneath her tires. The air was warm for October, but it was still autumn. Winter wasn’t far off.
Rama liked winter. She could cover up her body without looking out of place. When the temperature dropped, everyone covered up.
If winter never ended, she might not be so miserable.
At one time, she’d appreciated her body. It was nice, as far as bodies went. She could undress and look in the mirror without cringing.
Then he came into the restaurant and took all that away. Now thoughts of summer made her sick. When school let out next May—
Ramachandra. Stop it.
Rama’s bicycle jerked. Shocked, she hit the brakes and skidded to a stop. The bicycle wobbled. She struggled to keep her balance.
What had she run over?
There were no roots on the path.
The bicycle swerved. Rama’s tire ran over something else. She toppled from the seat, handlebars slipping out of her grasp.
Rama landed hard on her knees. The bicycle smacked against the ground.
She’d run over a rock. She’d have to check her tires.
That’s what you get for not paying attention.
Rama scrambled to a seated position. She braced herself against a tree to see what she’d run over—
There was a body on the path.
Rama shook herself.
No. She’d seen it wrong. She scooted forward on her butt, grinding dirt and leaves beneath her shoes. A twig snapped at her heel. Its broken edges scraped her ankle.
She had to get a closer look.
There was a body on the path.
The girl was Rama’s age. She lay on her side, facing Rama, blue eyes glazed. Unseeing. Dirt coated her long blonde hair and blood poured from her caved-in skull.
Drenched in sweat and shaking, Rama fell on all fours and threw up on the ground, retching until her ribs ached.
Her parents lived in town. Rama had ridden her bike past their house.
They’d gone to school together.
She wasn’t coming back.
Emboldened by shock, Rama lifted her gaze—and saw the man beside the body.
She’d missed him at first—his clothes camouflaged him. Blood spattered his green flannel shirt, khaki pants, and brown boots. He held a bloodstained rock. Blood marked his face too.
A flash of recognition.
The man from the restaurant. He lived in town.
Her father’s friend.
The Smiling Man.
Rama heaved again, but there was nothing in her stomach.
She looked once more. It couldn’t be. Her eyes had tricked her.
But what if they hadn’t?
When she scooted closer, he looked up from the body.
He locked eyes with her.
Rama took off running. She couldn’t run before. He’d blocked the door behind him. He was twice her size. The knife—
Pounding heart. Aching thighs. Screaming shins.
She kept running.
If she stopped, he’d catch her. If he caught her, he’d hurt her.
He’d hurt her once before. She couldn’t take her chances.
Her mind shut down. The mustache threatened. The sharp tang of chicken tikka masala—
Rama spun around.
No one there. He hadn’t followed her.
She stopped to catch her breath.
For the moment, she was safe.
What was he doing in the forest? How had he found her again?
Rama hadn’t told anyone about what happened. The less she dwelled on him, the easier it was to pretend it was a nightmare. When she spoke of him, she gave him power.
He was already powerful.
The Smiling Man was her father’s friend. Someone from town. No one to be afraid of. Before the attack, she’d believed he was nice. But what he’d done to her, and how he’d spoken, how he’d touched—
No time for that. Stay present, or he’s going to track you down.
Rama gulped air and focused. What was there, besides the man?
Jessica Spurlock. Seventeen. Pretty, thin, and popular.
Murdered with a rock.
Why had Jessica been in the forest? Why had the man been there too? Above all else, why had the man stood next to the body with a rock, like he’d done it?
And that smile.
Rama shuddered so hard she pulled a muscle in her neck. Wincing at the pain, she processed what she’d seen. If the Smiling Man had killed her, what had he done to her first?
She covered her mouth. She wanted to scream. The man would come after her, given she could testify against him. But could she testify, if she had to? Every time she imagined admitting what had happened, she came close to passing out. Add stumbling upon a crime scene and she wouldn’t make a great witness. Besides, she had no evidence.
Rama took another breath.
Behind her, a branch snapped.
She jumped back against a tree. There was someone on the path, but it wasn’t her attacker.
Whole and unblemished and alive. No signs of assault.
Rama couldn’t breathe. “How did you—?”
“It’s okay. You fell off your bike. You hit your head. Remember?” Jessica touched her hair. “I tried to help. You ran away.”
She spoke like they were friends, but they seldom talked at school.
“Your head,” Jessica repeated.
Rama pressed a hand against her throbbing temple. How long had it done that? She didn’t remember hitting it, only falling off the bicycle, seeing Jessica’s dead body and the Smiling Man.
Jessica’s brow furrowed as she took a step toward Rama.
Rama stepped away but there was nowhere to go. Her back was still against the tree. The bark scratched her elbows. Dizziness swept over her—but was it from a fall, an injury? She touched her temple. No blood. She probed her face. Nothing.
Could she still have hit her head hard enough to hallucinate?
Jessica fiddled with her pendant. In the fading light, Rama couldn’t tell what it was. Dead Jessica hadn’t been wearing a necklace.
But the body on the path might not have been real.
“I don’t know,” Rama said. The air crackled like a storm was coming, and ozone filled her nostrils. The hair rose on the nape of her neck. Jessica unnerved her. If Rama looked at her for too long, Jessica’s form flickered—for a second, and no longer.
“You’re all right?” Rama asked.
“Of course,” Jessica said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Rama’s tongue refused to move.
She’d fallen off her bicycle and hit her head. That induced hallucinations. The Jessica standing in front of her was alive and well and real. She was expressing her concern.
Rama’s fingers jumped to her temple again and searched her hairline. Normal.
Maybe she’d just bumped her brain, like a football player. Didn’t some of them end up in hospitals? Her parents didn’t watch football. Her father preferred soccer, what he called football, like in India. No wonder those players wore helmets.
She should have worn a helmet.
She should have gone with Myra.
“You were dead,” Rama said. “You were lying in the road.”
Jessica’s expression stayed the same. “Come on now. Let’s walk you back and get you on your way.”
She could ask Jessica to check her head, but Jessica wasn’t a doctor, and wasn’t that weird? Other questions nagged her, but she wouldn’t get the answers.
Jessica led her to her bike. Rama struggled to slow her heartbeat. Jessica’s words hadn’t reassured her. They’d made things worse instead. None of it made sense. Her head felt fine. Had she hit it, or did it hurt because Jessica said it should?
Rama stooped beside the bike and ran her hands over the frame. Cold metal. Real.
She checked the ground.
No Smiling Man.
Jessica raised her eyebrows, tapping her foot.
She looked nothing like dead Jessica.
“You’re all right,” Rama said again.
Without speaking, Jessica squatted down. She peered into Rama’s eyes. Rama looked away.
Jessica sighed. “Whatever you think happened—what you think you saw . . . I’m okay. Everything is fine.”
“Everything is fine.” In saying it, Rama hoped to convince herself it was true. Still, there was something amiss.
What if she’d seen neither Jessica’s body nor the Smiling Man?
But what if she’d seen both?
Maybe her detour through the woods had done more harm than good.
Jessica’s fingers brushed Rama’s cheek and Rama jerked away. What the hell was Jessica thinking? Rama hated physical touch.
Jessica recoiled too, and frowned.
“I have to get home,” Rama said. “It’s getting dark. I promised I’d be back by now.” Why had she added that part? When Jessica didn’t respond right away, Rama’s anxiety made her continue. “I shouldn’t have gone this way. I never go this way coming back from the mall—I cut through town. But I don’t ever see anyone going this way and I thought—”
“Sweetheart, it’s okay,” Jessica said.
Sweetheart? That was different.
Rama swallowed. “I’ll see you in Spanish tomorrow. Take it easy.”
“Yeah, I will.” Jessica stood and brushed herself off. “Same to you, all right?”
Rama righted the bicycle and climbed aboard. The whole way home, her stomach churned. When she got back to the restaurant, she still couldn’t get the woods out of her mind. No matter how many times she went through Jessica’s explanation, it didn’t satisfy her.
Rama’s head didn’t hurt. She couldn’t have fallen and hit it, let alone hallucinated. What could she have run over, if not Jessica’s body? No roots on the path. No obstacles.
She thought of the Smiling Man’s teeth, the dread in her stomach. Jessica’s hands on the end of her necklace.
Whatever the pendant was, it must have been important.
So why had Rama never seen her wearing it before?
Once, I had all my books available for free on Wattpad. Then, when I thought about querying Reflections, I was worried for some reason that having my work up there would hurt my chances of getting representation (no idea where that thought came from).
Since I'm self-published, I have complete control of my work. I want to make it available for as many people—and potential readers—as possible. And since I write YA, teenagers are my audience. The majority of Wattpad users are teenagers. So putting my writing on Wattpad seems like a great idea—why didn't I think of it sooner?
Anyway, if you want to read Blood and Water, it's now available in full—for free—on Wattpad. If you do read it there, please leave votes, comments, reviews, etc. and you'll probably make my whole year.
The release date for my YA urban fantasy novel Reflections—a murder mystery with shapeshifters—is only a little over a month away, and I am so excited. I can't remember being this excited about something I've written before. I could probably release sooner, but I want the book to be good, so I'm taking more time than usual. Reflections goes live on June 10 in paperback and ebook form, and if you're eager, you can now preorder it (paperback link, ebook link)! Also, feel free to add the book on Goodreads!
I'm planning to give away about ten ARC copies to readers, bloggers, and reviewers. If you're a diverse book blogger, you take precedence—especially if you're Indian (since my girl Rama is Indian). Please contact me if you're interested in receiving a copy in exchange for an honest review! I'll let you all know when there are no copies remaining.
I'm releasing Reflections a week before my birthday so I can tell people what I want as a present (book orders and reviews, y'all). I cannot wait to share Rama's world and journey with you! Be on the lookout for a few sample chapters on Wattpad sometime soon.
Totally wanted to do this post as some kind of link-up thing, but I was at 221B Con all weekend and therefore did not plan anything (though I did have a great time). ANYWAY, without further ado, here's the beautiful cover for my novel Reflections, releasing this June!
ISN'T IT GORGEOUS?!
As usual, this cover brought to you by the talented Taylor Carney, who also designed my Blood and Water cover.
And here's the blurb!
"Rama would trade almost anything for the chance to become someone else, even for a little while."
In the small, rural town of Aldale, West Virginia, Ramachandra “Rama” Ganeshan wants nothing more than to avoid dressing rooms for the rest of her life. After a brutal assault destroys her confidence and self-esteem, she yearns to be someone else . . . someone pretty, popular, and loved—until multiple girls in town are found murdered.
After stumbling across her beautiful classmate’s body and a terrifyingly familiar face in the murderer, Rama encounters a group of shapeshifters who know more of the killings than they let on.
Only by earning the shapeshifters’ trust and becoming one of them will Rama be able to help serve justice.
But first, she must learn to love herself and confront her painful past—and find the courage to investigate the violence.
One of the hardest things about being a writer is keeping up the motivation to see a project through. With traditional publishing especially, it can take a long time to get a book out into the world. From first draft to second to third to querying and going on submission and more—it seems like the cycle will never end. It can be difficult to stay focused and encouraged through the process.
I’ve managed to find some techniques that have helped me stay focused while working on drafts and edits and diving into the querying process. Although these tips and tricks may not work for you, I recommend giving them a shot. Here’s what helps me keep an eye on the prize and keep my excitement level up when working on a project.
Publishing is an industry that requires grit, determination, persistence, and patience. Armed with these tips, you should be able to stay on track with your WIP, meet your deadlines, and get your book out in the world.
Holy wow. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been hard at work on the edits for Reflections and cannot wait to share it with the world. After I’m satisfied with the manuscript, I intend to launch myself into querying… which I’m dreading a little bit.
I’ve queried before, even with this manuscript in some earlier stages (when I thought it was ready), but this time, I’m serious. This time, it’s real.
Since my debut novel is self-published, as well as my one-act play, I’ve gotten questions about seeking traditional publication. Why am I making the switch?
First, I don’t have as much time as I used to. As much as I enjoyed managing the details of my first book launch myself, it was a little overwhelming. The only reason I could put the book out when I did was that I was self-employed, working full time from home. All the marketing, planning, promoting—I got to do all that myself. Now that I have a full-time job (not working for myself), it just isn’t feasible.
I feel like I need the support of an agent and a publishing team behind me. Don’t get me wrong—I know authors still do a lot of their own marketing, but it would be nice to have a couple people by my side as I go through that whole process.
Traditional publishing would also give me a much wider distribution than self-pub, and a great deal more exposure. While I’m not in writing books to make any money, I do want as many people to read my books as possible. Traditional publishing makes that much more likely than self-pub.
I’m still happy with my decision to self-publish Blood and Water and Touch. Self-publishing has taught me a great deal about releasing books as well as offered me several opportunities I might not have gotten otherwise. Still, given where I am at this point in my life, I’m leaning toward going traditional.
I've been working on this rerelease for quite some time now. Since debuting in 2015, I've learned a lot about the writing, editing, and self-publication process. Naturally, that means I've grown and learned from my mistakes. I've developed higher standards.
When I first published Blood and Water, I was going through a difficult time. I was alone in Florida, working at a job I hated, depressed and suicidal. Finishing that novel was one of the only things that kept me going. I was determined to put my work out into the world—to let it spread its wings and fly when I myself was trapped.
At that time, I was more concerned with getting it published than getting it right. If I could just get it out there, everything would be okay. So maybe I rushed (I totally did). I put something out I wasn't totally satisfied with. And that truth has been driving me crazy ever since.
As I think more on the importance of legacy, I've realized how much I wanted to ensure the best product possible goes out into the world. That's my biggest reason for deciding to rerelease. Now, I have the time, and I'm publishing the book I wanted to in the first place.
The revised edition of Blood and Water is now available in ebook form. You will also be able to purchase it in paperback, hopefully soon. This new edition contains some new scenes, a few hints toward the sequel, and so much more. Thank you all for being so patient with me. I promise this book will be well worth the wait.
I’m not sure I’ve ever done a political post before, and if you don’t want to read a political post, feel free to click out. But I can’t sit by in silence and watch people suffer. I can’t watch my sisters fighting hard to maintain our rights without participating. Feminism is something near and dear to my heart, and now more than ever, I need it—every day.
I’ve had many people tell me lately that “Feminism is men hating” or “You’ll never get a man to love you if you’re a feminist.” I’ve had people say they wouldn’t be my friend unless I stopped being a feminist. Other people have told me they’re not comfortable with my opinions.
You know what? That doesn’t stop me. Your discomfort doesn’t take precedence over someone’s rights. I understand that many people are miseducated regarding feminism, and still others have been taught all their lives that women are naturally inferior and should never be equal with men. You may belong to one of these groups. You may even feel that, as a woman, I have no right to complain about a system in which I can vote, start a business, and enjoy most of the same privileges as American men.
However, nothing you can say to me will make me turn away from feminism. I fully acknowledge my privilege as a straight, white, cisgender woman. I understand that I have it better than many of my transgender, queer, or POC sisters. I’m not denying that. I wish things were different. Although I benefit to some extent from the current system, I am by no means content with it. Now more than ever, I need feminism. Now more than ever, I want to be heard.
The new administration—President He Who Shall Not Be Named—has me terrified to live here. I am now a citizen of a country in which our leader is sexist, misogynist, xenophobic, racist, and a slew of other unpleasant “ists.” Every morning I wake up and wonder how it happened. How did we as a people ignore so many red flags? How did we assume it would get better, that he might back down, that maybe just maybe everything would be okay?
If you don’t see a problem with the new president, go ahead and click out of here. Unfollow me or block me or whatever you like. For me, it’s not a matter of debate. We now have a president who has openly and on record berated, belittled, and objectified women across the board. The following quote sums it up pretty well:
I did try and f*** her . . . I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping . . . She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look . . . I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.
The man who said that is now the president of the United States. Let that really sink in for a minute. Although he's not my president—I refuse to add that title to his name—he's in power now, despite so many warnings and red flags and concentrated efforts by concerned citizens to try and stop him. And for the first time in my life that I can remember, I am genuinely, truly terrified about the future.
Last weekend, when news of the Muslim Ban broke, I tweeted about it. Here:
That was all. I didn't say supporters of the ban were stupid, deserved to die, or anything like that. But that didn't stop a horde of trolls and malicious Trump supporters from descending on me with death threats, wishes that I would be raped, and even a Live Leak video of a Muslim woman being simultaneously beheaded and raped in the street—which ultimately led to me having two panic attacks, logging off Twitter, and locking my account for the weekend.
Never in my life prior to this administration have I gotten death threats. Never have I had anyone say, "I hope you get raped." But it's a whole new world now, with new rules, and no one is safe. And that's why I keep fighting. I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through just for expressing an opinion. I thought we lived in a country that welcomed free speech and encouraged understanding between different groups of people. I guess I was wrong.
No matter what happens now, I'm going to keep fighting. I hope you'll be there with me. It will be a long four years, but as long as we're together, we stand a fighting chance.
Stay safe out there, peeps. I love you. Come to me if you ever need to vent or anything, and above all else, remember—you are not alone.
One of the biggest challenges in being an author and an editor is turning off the editor brain. After spending all day proofreading and editing, it's hard to come home and write or settle in with a book. Especially when I'm writing a first draft, it's crucial to turn off my inner editor.
Lately, that's been much easier said than done. And it's not limited to my work. I read at least a chapter before I go to bed, and most of the time, I can't help skimming the pages for grammatical errors.
In some ways, this is good. It allows me to analyze literature, dissect a piece to figure out what works, and emulate it in my own writing. But it also detracts from my enjoyment of the piece.
The same goes for my writing. How am I supposed to finish a draft if I edit it to death? Instead of moving forward, I'm trapped in a hell of my own making (the road to which is paved with adverbs—thank you, Stephen King). Falling into this never-ending editing nightmare is a good way to guarantee I never finish a book.
As writers, it's normal to want to edit your fiction. You may even enjoy editing someone else's work. Even if you're a writer and a freelance editor, you should do your best to keep the two realms separate. Let your writing time be writing time, sacred and non-negotiable. The same goes for your editing time.
For me, I've found that it's best to stick to one project at a time (I'm only just now getting that!) unless I'm first-drafting one and editing another. It's too much stress on my brain, and I'm trying to be kinder to it. I suggest you do the same—we need our brains for building books!
I've learned to turn off my editor brain easier than I used to, but I still have some way to go. What about you? Do you struggle to keep from editing when you're supposed to be writing? Tell me about it in the comments below! I'll see you all back here next week.
How is it already 2017? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to watch 2016 die. I think we can all agree it was, on the whole, a pretty crappy year. With that said, let's leave the past in the past, and focus on the future.
This past year was a productive one for me. I published my one-act play TOUCH (which was also performed in a one-act competition!), drafted and revised REFLECTIONS, started a short story that deals loosely with ghosts, and wrote 12K of the BLOOD AND WATER sequel, WATER AND LIGHT. Writing-wise, 2016 was good, but I want this year to be even better. Here are my writing resolutions for 2017, in order of priority:
This year is going to be a big one for me in terms on my writing career, I can feel it. I'm so excited to see what all the future has in store. Happy new year, and may it be your most productive one to date!