Book Review – Bleakwood Lore, the Little Book That Happened

I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.

I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith.  I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order.  My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”

A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.

After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.

…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…

During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.

Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.

So, what is Bleakwood Lore?

Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.

Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.

Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…

Review:

“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”

– Amazon Reviewer

I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.

  1. (1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
  2. I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
  3. In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
  4. FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
  5. A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
  6. SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
  7. We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
  8. No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
  9. THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
  10. OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.

See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.

I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.

I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.

Find the Blacksmith Legacy here on Ben Ireland’s Amazon page and website: benirelandbooks.com

Let’s Be Authors – 6 Reasons Authors Struggle With Blogging

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So….. I haven’t blogged in a while

…and I’m pretty sure the world is still turning. The sun still creeps in my room every morning, reminding me of all the things that I have to do that are not “Blogging.” But before I get into my list of excuses, let me deeply say that I’m sorry if you have been anxiously awaiting my return. I have missed you too. I labeled this generally with “why authors struggle,” but it’s personal reasons, more “why I haven’t blogged.”

1. Little Things Become Big Things:

What is an author’s job? That’s right, writing. So, one would think that the first thing that keeps them from blogging would be writing, but it’s not. It’s all the other things that take over their time. When you are in, what I call, “WRITER MODE,” words are what you should be concentrating on. But Writer Mode is a small part of the big job of being an author. There are several “Modes” a writer can get into, much like wearing hats:

  • Editor
  • Publisher
  • Typographer
  • Publicist
  • Marketing Director
  • Plummer
  • Electrician
  • Cruise Director

I haven’t had a chance to actually BE in Writer Mode, because of all these other hats I have had to wear. It’s the little decisions that I have had to make involving being my own publisher. From design to logo to price to distribution to everything else – every decision is important. With my series slowly trickling out, I have been in Publicist and Marketing Director mode. The re-release of Vivatera happened on February. 22, with Conjectrix following on March 19th. Everstar will be released April 19th at Salt Lake’s FanX Conference. And preparing for all of that has also been challenging.

But saying all that, I don’t regret the releases, it’s been a focus, and I’m very proud with what is happening and the direction the books are heading. This experience has opened my eyes and is preparing me for the adventure ahead of me.

2. Learning Is Hard

I always wanted to be a writer, but when I was in college, it was a pipe dream, not a real career. And I tried a few different things, but the addiction to writing was not going away. It IS not going away. So, sometimes the dreams that you had when you were young do come true. And I feel very blessed with this very cool avenue of life that has opened up.

So, I decided to go back to school. I’ve been wanting to for a while, but the circumstances have never been right. The day job field is not writing based, but science based, and as much as I love the work I do… I don’t. It’s not the dream. I’m not a traditional student with my busy home and work life, so even though I work AT a university, the environment is not right for what I want to specialize in and how I need to learn more about the craft of writing.

So, I looked into online options and found one that I was very impressed with and it’s at UC San Diego. I’m working toward a Creative Writing and Copy Editing Certification. And so far, I think it’s fantastic. This will not only help my confidence as a writer, understanding my craft and helping teach more to others, It will help my editing business as well.

3. An Accidental Project

As many of you know, but not everyone, I took an editing job a few years ago called “Billy Blacksmith” written by my friend Ben Ireland. This is a series I absolutely love and have had a great time working on it. I figured my time was over with Billy, since book three came out in September and that closes Act 1. But Ben asked me to just beta-read a collection of Billy-based short stories called “Bleakwood Lore.” I jumped up and down at this invitation.

Beta-reading is no pressure, and I became super excited about this. If you don’t know much about Billy, the series has a deep mythological lore, with complicated characters that each bring a new level to the storytelling. What Bleakwood is about is eleven side stories about characters to help lay a platform for Act 2.

I had a great time doing this. As I suggested things or saw things in the stories, my tiny encouragements made a big impact, to the end that Ben is looking at a quick release date of May 2nd, 2019. The book just came together in the funnest way possible. There are also secrets, reveals, and really fun illustrations to elevate your experience. I can’t claim this as an edit, but I did have a great time helping.

4. Life-ing and Loss-ing

The year didn’t start well. I had a dear cousin pass from this world at the end of 2018 and I started this year wearing black. Since that chilly January burial, I have had three more people pass from my life. With each death, I have become more acutely aware of how fast things can happen. And though this selection doesn’t have much elaboration to it, because I think we have all felt the same emptiness to our own extent, it has affected my life, my drive and motivation, and mostly my creativity. It’s hard to be creative when you’re depressed. Everyone could agree with that.

5. Goodies

I am not one to claim housewifery. In fact, I may be the LAST person to claim any domestic inclination. But, when it got closer to my book release, I decided I really wanted to do something special for those that came to my book signing.

I don’t like spotlight. I don’t do well with reading. And though I have always liked parties, when it comes to the private nature of something I’ve created, like a book, I don’t exactly know how to party. This being a re-release was a special occasion. A lot of these people have supported me over and over. It’s like I am pulling a George Lucas and repackaging something that they already own and believe in. So, I really wanted to make sure they understood how much I appreciated them and their support over the years.

How else, but cookies. I don’t know why, but I thought maybe I would try to make sugar cookies that looked like stars. I have never made a good sugar cookie. I always burn them or make them too thin. And I needed an easy cookie to do, as well. It had to be super simple because I don’t want to cut a hundred or so cookies.

I stumbled upon a recipe from my own collection and tried it. And I’ve never been so in love with a recipe. It did need some tweaking, because I have never seen an extra large egg, so I add an egg and a half. 🙂 I used a sandwich cutter with a cute fox, bear, kitty, and heart, so I cut it way faster than regular cookies and sugar dusted it before jt bakes. And oh my freak! They are amazing. I’m so impressed with my non-domestic self. I have craved these nearly every day since. So, yes, this has kept me from blogging. 🙂

6. Finishing What You Start

And through all of this, there is still light in writing. I came up with an idea about five years ago about two people who meet in dreams. Dreams have always meant a lot to me. They are a fascination I will never get over. My sub-conscious is vivid and wild, and sometimes uses the dream time to connect the dots of my creative thinking. Several writing ideas came from dreams, and to have a book that has dreaming as its central point, has intrigued me.

I started to dabble in the characters last summer and they really came to life. In my quiet hours, I have let them tell me how to tell their story. This is a little different from my other books, it is written differently, using different voicing with the characters and the dream sequences. I find the telling clever and unique, and I am very, very intrigued with how this will be received.

I am minutes away from finishing it. The only thing stopping me is blogging to you all now. The book has yet to have a title, and I have yet to know exactly what to do with it. It would make an excellent screenplay, and I may look at adapting it. But as for now, I think I will just plan on finishing it and then editing as my usual habits. I haven’t finished a novel in two and a half years, so I am so proud of my efforts.

I wish I had better excuses for not blogging more but I hope this will give you a little depth in to how my real life and creative life are constantly butting heads. There’s still a life that goes on beyond words. And though you may not see it, it’s still here, heart beating, living and breathing. It may be some comfort that I carry my crafts with me always. I’m always ready to write at a moment’s notice. I hope with the spring I will get a chance to blog more, that is as long as I have something interesting to say. I hope you’ll be there with me.

Big, BIG news: My Series Gets a Fresh, New Start

I’ve been keeping this one a secret for a while, but it’s finally time to share…

To those fans of Vivatera, my series is finding a new home. After five and a half years with Xchyler Publishing, I have decided to ask for my rights and take my series in a different direction. There was no serious break up or squabbling over rights, our parting is understood and friendly. It wasn’t an easy decision, it actually scared (scares) me. But, gentle, honest truth – my rights were up. My publisher looked at the contract as an investment, it was like investment stock, and I had vested five years with the company. They taught me a lot about the business of writing, and what a difference a good editor makes. 

But what I also learned these past five years were the limitations of a small press and specifically, my contract. I want to continue writing in my Parbraven world, a world my publisher had rights to, and with how contracts are written, I might not have the permission to do so, even if my publisher loved it. Legal stuff hurts my brain, so getting my rights was the smart thing for me to do as a creator.

I’ve worked really hard at this author gig, and what an author really needs to do to get books into the hands of readers. And folks, it isn’t easy. Everything I learned about marketing, promotion, and making a foothold in the business I learned myself. All my publisher could do was supply me books. After five years I realized, I outgrew them. 

Everything I Learned Was Through Experiments…

I’m a scientist by trade and breaking through as an author came down to trying different experiments. If I heard of something I tried it, if I read about it, maybe I’ll try that next. There is a plethora of ways to become successful, some worked, most didn’t, but I learned and had to learn for myself what worked. 

Let me back up to 2010. I decided to self-publish Vivatera, because I couldn’t get an agent to look at it. I understand why now, through several rookie mistakes, but it taught me a lot. At that time in my life, I lacked self-confidence in writing. I didn’t have the avenues in which to know if what I was doing was any good. I didn’t know what my story needed, but it needed direction and that was something a publisher could provide. I knew, absolutely, that if a publisher would read it, they would want it, but I couldn’t get anyone to even look at the manuscript. So, I self-published it, and after a failed year, I shelved it. My self-publishing was a big mistake, I released it too early and I learned a LOT from doing that. I’ve shared my experience before and won’t hash it here, but it educated me on the fundamentals of the indie market and setting a foundation for later experiments in indie press. 

Xchyler picked me up in 2012 and Vivatera was published in 2013. There was a turning of hands right before my book was published, and I had to sign a new contract, this one including my series of three. The second one was written already, so I agreed. They wanted all three books. Huzzah! I was so excited that they believed in me. I signed and they were good to their word. I loved the support they provided, they gave me range and included me in decisions. 

In 2016, I decided to self-pub a book called Vampire-ish: A Hypochondriac’s Tale. This is a book that I found fun and refreshing, and totally unsellable to agents and publishers – for the fact that it is a Vampire book. No one was even interested, so self-publishing was logical, and I felt after so many years being published, I thought I could do it myself.

Some fun (not so fun) facts…

I was finishing my third book in the series with my publisher when I decided to publish Vampire-ish, so I rushed this one to print. I had a goal to get this book ready for the Portland Book Festival, which was six weeks away at the time.  Through my years in the writing business, I have met and made some incredible friends, so I asked for recommendations on cover design, editing, and typography. Through connections, I started a partnership with Ampersands Book Design, whom I contracted for the cover. I have since worked with on the covers for Of Snow and Moonlight and Wandering Beautiful (and the newest Vivatera releases).

The typography though, I had a friend’s neighbor do it, a young thing that was super cheap, doing it as a way to earn a few bucks for college. This was another lesson – she somehow erased all my spaces between words, and made this strange replaced EWE error, which unfortunately, I didn’t catch in the first printing (ooh, you lucky people that have that copy – please, burn it. I’ll give you a new one for free!). I spent so may hours trying to make my deadline. I fixed the formatting and straightened out the quotes, and did everything I could to have a printed book in time. I made it, but yes, the EWE problem didn’t get fixed until later. 

I later got the ebook out, as well as audio. I used Vampire-ish as an experiment, in different avenues and directions, with marketing and distribution. I really enjoy this book, it’s fun and harmless, and something I can control completely. I can set sales when I want, control the price, the bookbub, the blurbs, everything. This has been very different from my publisher that I had to run every sale I ever wanted to do by them and get permission. Buying my own books to sell wasn’t scandalously priced either. I went through Createspace (now KDP) and could buy my own books for $4 instead of $7-8 after Amazon and my publisher’s cut. 

When I started editing, I also started learning Typography…

Freelance editing just landed in my lap when my series was wrapping up. It became a bit of an escape from the day, and felt good to runaway into someone else’s world and someone else’s problems for a while. 

Typography was something I started experimenting with, taking what I learned from my awful experience fixing my book, and seeing what I could do to make a book gorgeous. I learned that I actually have a pleasing knack for it. Ebook formatting is NOT my favorite, and though I learned how to do it, I am still looking for a better way TO do it. 

So, then my rights become available…

This was not a light decision either. My first thought was trying to find an agent to take on my series. Talking with more of my writing friends, and also with industry professionals, I learned that it is hard to get an agent to look at your already published work. Only after you present something new to them within a genre they represent and that proves to be worth their investment, will they consider your other works. 

But taking my books and my rights would mean dead books and starting from scratch. I never considered quitting, ever, but having my books be with Xchyler felt like keeping the kitties kenneled in the shelter, when you knew you could provide a good home for them. My series was still under publication limitations, and someone else was making the money. 

And I didn’t just want to self-pub, I wanted to Indie pub…

I can hear you ask, “What’s the difference?” I’m using it as my personal statement, the vinyl lettering on my writer’s wall. The way I look at it, self-pub is what I did when I was too inexperienced to understand the market I was launching into. For me, it felt like a desperation move, since I couldn’t get anyone to read it. Indie pub is me, willingly going away from mass production and using my savvy, my knowledge of every experiment I made in this industry, to better my craft, my product, and share it with others. It’s an division of the same art form, but personalized. 

This was a very big decision, because I liked the title “Traditionally Published.”

There is a stigma that exists in the writing world. And though I can pretend it away, I still feel it a little. I am finding the “Indie Published” hat fits better on my little head. I’m no longer worried about my self-confidence or my product not being the quality standard that Traditionally is named to be. In fact, I think Indie is more quality, because of formulaic stitching that happens when weaving a beautiful story into something someone will love. There is more heart, there is more of me in these books. People are reading and enjoying a piece of my heart. 

And, the thing that I love most of all, I am in charge of everything.

So, if I fail, I can’t blame anyone else. I think blame has absolutely no value in life at all. One of the things I learned from my laboratory life is integrity. When there is a problem, it needs to be fixed because peoples’ lives are depending on it. Books shouldn’t be so different, no one’s life is dangling in the balance, but your product has a lifeline of its own, and your readers are the lifeblood, the oxygen. They will decide if your book lives or dies, so doing your very best shows.

After making this decision to go Indie, I have studied, because I want to do things right and make the best decisions with the biggest impact. I’m trying to learn as much as I can, so I can also help others with this process.  I joined IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) and SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) in order to learn everything I could. I even flew to Austin, by myself, to attend their conference, by myself, and immersed myself in this Indie world, making darn certain I knew what I was doing. And after I had created my plan and worked on my budget, I set up the task of starting my own Indie Press, something that would incorporate my editing services, audio studio, as well as publishing and typography. And then, I had do the hardest thing and I contacted Xchyler, the company that made me an author, and told them I would be taking my rights as of the first of the year. 

Vivatera will be released in hardback February 22nd, 2019…

…with Conjectrix following March 22nd and Everstar April 19th. These are the collector’s edition, since I’ve always wanted to do hardcovers. Ebooks will release the same day, newly formatted and edited. A 0.5 companion piece is in the works as well as new novel. Paperbacks and book club editions will come soon, but not for a good while.

Click here for a link to Everywhere!

The ebook will soon be available for all your favorite devices. I’m going to focus a lot more on other locations, not just the US. So much experimenting, so hopefully other places will like the series too. I own my audio rights, so the audio versions will continue to be available during the transition.

This is going to be a beautiful year…

A challenging year, but one without regrets. I will be experimenting like before, but I now have the ability to play more with my own stories and tell them the way I want. I hope to see you on the journey.

I will miss being part of the Xchlyer family. I know that I will always be a part of them, since my short story Hawkweed will still be part of their anthology. I have met a few of my very favorite people through this company, fellow authors that speak the same language of art, and have expanding my belief in my talents and abilities as a writer. I know, without the support of my writing community, I would never be where I am now, confident and tenacious with such a drive to succeed it’s feverish.

Pre-order the Hardbacks here…

…and am in love with my new covers. Hard covers are more expensive, but you can grab them now at a good deal before the price goes up. Also, Everstar will be released at SLC’s FanX Comic Convention, so if you are in the area, come by and see me.

Thank you for sticking with me.

2018 Review – Three Things 2018 Taught Me

Vivatera made the Wall of Awesome in 2018

I don’t often do end-of-year posts…

I’m not a big resolution person, because I know myself really well. I have zero discipline when it comes to likes and dislikes. In my daily thoughts about how to sum up the year, I just started to complain. Well, my favorite glasses just broke and are super-glued together, the optometrist suggested bifocals, my cat died, I haven’t been writing much, we unexpectedly bought a business and now are painfully in debt, I’m gained five whole pounds over the holidays… I KNOW. So much to complain about. But Saturday, the LAST Saturday of 2018, something happened and has shaken me awake, and for the past few days I have been deep-thinking and contemplative, and this thinking has led me to typing out thoughts about what this year REALLY has done for me.

1. Portugal and My Own Insignificance

This June and July I spent two weeks traveling Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, and the tip of Africa. Before you think I am terribly spoiled, I had never traveled anywhere. I’m very content in my cottage. I’d never even been out of the country until June. I had to get a passport. So, spending two weeks traveling without my daily comforts or routine made me very nervous and completely overwhelmed. This trip was THEE trip, the one we had been planning for always. And I wanted to make it before I could no longer climb up mountains or castles or walk miles a day, and while I still looked good in a swimsuit. 🙂

I am a wide-eyed child when traveling. I became curious and observant of the little things. I took a little journal with me where I pressed flowers and wrote poetry. Several of my poems from my trip got thrown into my Wandering Beautiful, released in September 2018. The places we visited were so deep in history that I felt overwhelmed by time itself. My current little spot on the world was built in 1974, and before that it was a farm, and before that it was wilderness, and before that the dinosaurs were around. I know that history. So, here I was, walking on roads Romans built, or trudging up castles the Moors built, or seeing the End of the World and where Columbus sailed, ALL OF THIS made me feel so insignificant. My world perspective changed, and a strange sense of being human, really human, came over me. Tastes are different. Languages are different. But eating, drinking, walking, working, finding a way through, wherever you are on the planet, is the same. The first thing I witnessed when I got off the plane was a crying kid pestering his mother for attention. I turned to my husband and quipped, ” I guess kids get sad in Europe too.” We are sharing a planet and experiencing at the same time. I found a profound gratitude in Europe that I would never have learned if I hadn’t had visited. It was made of magic

2. Ironsoul – A Book Can Change You

Book love

The year started with a new editing job – Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul. I know author Ben Ireland well. I had worked with him on the other Billys, so I understood his writing style, and thought I had a good idea about the series. The first book, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, is the perfect introduction to a fun, imaginative world of this overweight teenage boy, who with his friends and help of his demonblood, attempt to save his school from gigantic, demonic spiders. The second book, Billy Blacksmith: The Hellforged, was a thrill ride, just the funnest adventure I’ve had in a book in a very long time.

So, when Ben sent me Ironsoul, I had no clue what to predict for it, but I thought it would be similar to the others. I’ve blogged about it here, and don’t need to reword the post, so please read it when you can.

Ironsoul was a very big surprise. The book brought me back to a place I never expected to be – facing my own teenage demons, the ones that question your worth, your value, your likability, your comeliness. Not that I re-felt all those sad emotions, but rather, the familiarity of them hovered around each page. I could tell it was a tough book to write, I could feel the punch of emotion surrounding these characters. The bad guy, Mr. Fingers, is a demon that feeds on human emotion. The build to the climax of the book was a frightening reality of real emotion, well-blocked into a well-crafted fight scene.

I bring up Ironsoul because I have a 15 yo daughter, who started high school this year. She’s a feather of a thing, and attending a huge high school was daunting. She’s unique and quirky, loves anime and writing songs, and she is a walking, talking version of Pidge from Voltron, and has been a Billy fan from the start (check out her YouTube Billy Fan Video here).

Ironsoul came out in September. Ben, being the awesome guy he is, gave her a Proof copy to read before anyone else. She started, but then school started, and quickly felt swallowed by high school. I would gently prod her to read, but I made an agreement with Ben not to bug her, to let her read it on her own. She’s a savorer and takes her time with things, so sometimes it was absolutely driving me crazy. But we had several good discussions about it.

When she finished, she turned to me and said, “I should have read this book sooner.” I knew this, but told her I couldn’t interfere. We had a big discussion about the core concept of the book – What does it mean to have an Ironsoul?

In the book, an Ironsoul is someone that is so convicted in what they believe in that they could not be persuaded otherwise. It’s such a powerful message and something my daughter needed in the moment. Teen years are about finding yourself and defining who you want to be. This book lifted her on its shoulders when she needed it. Teens need more books that do this very thing. They need strong literature that encourages bravery, and teaches them that what they are feeling is important and normal, and true friends empower you and believe in you no matter what.

I can’t tell you how important this book is to me, not only on a professional level (being so proud that I got a chance to work on it), but on a personal level. To have a book change my daughter so deeply, is the best feeling. Books can change people, better people, without doing anything but taking you on a ride. Words amaze me.

3. The Other Candice

The third thing is what happened on Saturday. I know, since it happened near the end of the year, does it really count? But I think this is the culmination of everything I have been feeling this year.

My dear friend Candice, the other Candice in the Candace club ( though she spelled her name wrong), the one that married one of my favorite cousins, one of the funniest people I had ever met, and the one that I’ve loved since the moment I met her, passed away Saturday night from a three year fight with breast cancer.

Words to paint a picture of my friend are skittles scattered with sunshine. She was fun. Her laugh lit up the room, and was infectious. She was always happy, and positive. I never saw her have a bad day. She loved her family fiercely and always thought of others. And she was so, so very funny. Her sharp wit fit so well into our zany family.

It had been years since I had last saw her. We chatted a few times on Facebook. We followed each other on Instagram. Our kids are the same age. We were connected, sort of. But we were both busy living, doing our thing. Candice and her family live fifteen minutes away from me. And so many times I had thought about visiting them. So many times I thought about calling and inviting her to come with us to a geeky movie or to come hang out and play games. But, she was sick, and I thought she wouldn’t want me bugging her.

These thoughts are plaguing me. Haunting me. I knew she had gotten worse, and several times I had a nagging tapping of my shoulder telling me I should go see her. I should reach out, if not just to talk. Maybe she just needs talk. And every time I dismissed it.

If this isn’t my lesson, I don’t know what is. I’m so upset with myself that I didn’t take the opportunity when I should have, that this headache that I have created for myself has not gone away.

How many times do we get before people are gone from our lives? I don’t think that there are as many as we wished. I’ve had other friends in my life pass away, and the last moments with them run around like an endless carousel. I feel like I’ve been wasting my time with the trivial instead of making precious memories. I’d rather have the last time I saw Candice be one of joy and laughter, where I acted on those nudges and brought her cookies.

I’m not good with resolutions, so I won’t make this a resolution. But what I will do, and what I will continue to do, is be the friend that is there. I don’t want to regret those last moments. I want to spend time and not waste it. There is always a ticking clock. It never stops. And I just don’t ever want to miss my chance to influence and help others if I can. Because you just never know who needs to hear it, or needs the hug, or just needs the cookies. I’m sure I’m driven with grief right now, but I don’t see this going away. This is something that has always been there, it’s just my willingness to act on it that increases its value to me. I don’t want to lose one more second.

Cherish your time here. Spend it well.

Experience it. Feel it. Taste it. Love it.

That’s my year. I’ve learned a lot. I don’t really value the significance of the ending of a year. I actually bothers me because I will have to start documenting “19” on everything. But, I have very high hopes for 2019. I never imagined I would be where I am now. And I’m excited to take charge and face the ticking clock.

My Fifth Chamber: A Kitty Tribute To My Best Friend Marduk

Monday, November 12th, I had to put my cat to sleep.

I know. You are all thinking I’m that crazy cat lady that is making a post about her dead kitties, much like my cat-loving librarian character I created in Vampire-ish. I do feel that might be me someday, but this week has been more a week of contemplation about the healing of a pet’s love and devotion.

Marduk (mar-duck) found me on a cold January 2009. I was with my daughter, who was five years old at the time, and we were running to the craft store for nothing particular. Right next to it was a PetSmart. I thought for kicks we would run in and see the fish, because she’s five and might really enjoy that.

It was a Saturday and they were having a pet adoption. All was well and good, I wasn’t about to take home a puppy, but my daughter wanted to see the animals. Sure, why not, so we walked over to see them.

And I heard a meow, (the same meow I heard for ten years), and went to see who was talking to me. Inside this cage was a black and white kitten. He saw me and started talking. Meow this and meow that. I said, “Hi, kitty” and he just started purring like crazy. I read the description on the cage: male, half tabby/half manx, 7 months old, owner allergic. He had some ordinary name I don’t remember. I talked to him again and he always had something to say back. Our repore was immediate. I put my finger in the cage and he was just purring like crazy, and that was when I noticed he didn’t have a tail.

“No one is going to adopt this kitty,” I said to my girl. “He doesn’t have a tail.”

I tend to fall for the misfits, things with personality or imperfections, the ones that don’t fit the typical mold, because that’s me – I don’t fit a mold. My heart just cracked open at that moment and a flood of overwhelming emotion came in.

And now I’m faced with a problem – Dad. We had a cat whom we took in after a neighbor family couldn’t keep him. Captain Murphy (named after the captain on Sealab 2021) was an outdoor cat. He was stinky and old, but we fed him and he entertained us. Growing up, I had a cat we lovingly named Satan, because she was temperamental, selective, and generally didn’t like people. Cap’n Murphy and Satan were my only good experiences with cats. I have battle scars after I tried to nice a stray as a child, and hadn’t felt friendly toward them. The trauma was still with me. If I got this kitten, what do I do? I want him in the house, he’s just a kitten. How in the world was I going to convince my husband, the man with a heart of stone, crafted carefully out of will and determination, to let me keep this cat?

“I think this kitty needs to be with us,” I told my girl, who jumped up and down at the idea. “Do you really want him?”

“Yes, momma,” she squealed with delight.

“Then I need you to call Daddy.”

So, I coached her a little and had her practice what to say. Then I dialed the number and heard, “Hey daddy. Can we get a kitty?” I listened for a few back and forths with them as I softly stroked the kitten and listened to his thrumming heart purr like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Eventually, I knew my girl would hand me the phone. I explained and told him that no one could love a cat without a tail. He looked like half a cat. I didn’t know what Manx meant at the time. But the kitten didn’t care. He had never known a tail, why would he want something so ridiculous? What I heard on the other end, “If you really want the cat, you can get it.”

We adopted him and named him Marduk, son of Ea, slayer of Teamat, again after an episode of SeaLab 2021. I just really wanted a cat named Duck, but I never called him that. It was either Marty or Kitty or Meow Meow. We quickly learned that he had no love for other cats, especially Captain Murphy. He rose in ranks among the cats in the neighborhood. Captain Murphy passed not long after that and Marduk never mourned.

This kitty trained us. He didn’t like drinking from a bowl, that was primitive. He had to have fresh water right from the bathroom sink. He sometimes sleep in there, so when I got up in the morning it was the first thing that happened. He was always there during my morning rituals – brushing teeth and washing my face, he was there begging for a drink.

He talked with me every morning, I had to walk him to his dish. He was a very codependent eater. It was a social activity. The moment I walked away he could say “Hey, where did you go? I need the big bits. My bowl doesn’t have the big bits in it. Refreshen my bowl with big bits.” I would walk over and check. He has plenty of big bits to eat, but would top it off again to make him happy.

Marduk was very social. He liked to be around the conversation. Whenever there were people there, he was right in the middle of the conversation, lying on the floor. And if you were new, he would come and introduce himself by jumping on you and talking, usually complaining about how he gets spoiled and loved too much. He claimed his spot on the top of the stairs, and I thought it was because he liked to be in the center of the house, where he could be the center of everything. I didn’t know until years later that the bulb in the basement heats that specific spot and it was warm.

Marduk, we later discovered, was anemic and had a hard time staying warm, so he was always needing the soft blankets and cuddles. He started sleeping next to me pretty early on. My husband would travel a lot and it was nice to have a warm body next to me. In the last few years, he’s been crawling under the covers and spooning with me. We really had a very special bond, one I still can’t adequately describe. He and I were best friends, the kind that communicate using nothing but instinct and love. And from the first day that he called my name at that pet adoption, he had always been my cat.

Around the same time that we adopted Marduk, I started writing seriously. Whenever I was with my laptop, Marduk was so jealous, because it was on my lap. He would snuggle next to me wherever he could. When I would write outside, he would come and lounge next to me, or near me. Writing became our time together. He supported me the whole way. He knew I needed the emotional support, and I don’t really know how he knew, but it was that level that people reach with their animals, communication emotion to emotion, to help combat whatever is happening internally.

After I became published and started increasing my media presence, I included my kitty in several posts, and included him in my bio. Several of my fans grew to feel like they knew Marduk through my posts, like there was a commonality in silly animals loving unconditionally the people they have pledged their devotion to.

I posted on Facebook: “Pets create a fifth chamber in your heart, woven with the fibers of loyalty and unconditional love. They understand you on a level that no one else can reach without saying a word.” There is some magic our animals have, a charm about them that communicates heart to heart. There is healing within their touch, their nuzzles, the purr and yap and attention in whatever form specifically for you. And somehow, when we get around them, well… when I get around them, I turn into a fourteen year old girl talking to a baby.

When I received the devastating call that my cat’s kidneys were failing and he didn’t have much time, I left work as fast as I could and drove half-blind with tears in my eyes, the half hour to the vet. When he saw me and heard my voice, he immediately complained about his current situation. All he wanted to do was cuddle with me, and I think that was the hardest part for me. Our eyes met and we knew. Marduk picked me, he was meant for me, and we again communicated heart to heart, without saying a word.

I have cried a lot about this. I have had phantom meows surrounding me all week. I am deeply wounded, and that part of me that makes fun of people that mourn their pets, feels the deep stab of emotional loss that comes from just being faithful, loyal and loved. I feel so shamed. Marduk was my first pet, my own. We had a dog and cat growing up, but they were never mine, never cared specifically for me in the way Marduk did. Everyone in my family is sad that the cat is gone, but more, they are concerned for me, because of the bond we had. At this time, I don’t know how to recover. It’s a different pain than other loss I have felt. I can see how people go out and get a new pet right away, because the fifth chamber is empty. My kitty well is empty. And I find it a struggle to do the little things, like brush my teeth, since that was something we did together. My house is so quiet without the continual chatter of a proactively opinionated cat, until I again hear the phantom meows in the background.

I don’t know how to thank Marduk for meowing at me that day, he knew I needed him from that first encounter. I learned and grew a lot from knowing him. He trained me to be softer and gentler, and how to communicate without saying a word.

Sweet dreams, Marduk. You picked me, and I will always love you for it.