Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Wizards and the Haunted House"

(Image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Halloween was never my favorite holiday. Yeah, I'm fourteen. I shouldn't be creeped out by these things, right?

Yeah, well, I am. So there.

So I don't typically like doing the whole dress-up and go door to door like a salesman and ask for candy thing. I'm told I used to love it. There are pictures to prove it, too. And I'm sure when I was a kid I did love it. What kid didn't? Free candy! What could be better?

Whether or not I loved it then, I don't now. Yes, I get kind of creeped out by the skeletons and ghouls people set up in their yards. No, I don't sleep with a night-light, let us make that very clear.

So what do my new friends and next door neighbors rope me into? Helping them out with their full-blown haunted house. Yes. They're turning their already wacky house into a haunted house for the Halloween season.

Already wacky, you ask? Yeah. My next door neighbors are weird. They're kind of cool people too, but they're the weirdest cool people on the planet.

That's because they're wizards.

Yeah, wizards, you heard right. Legit wizards. The Alisters moved in a few weeks before the end of summer, but I didn't know they were wizards at first. Nobody did. They still don't. But even if I didn't know it they were still really weird. But that's another story entirely and not the one I'm telling you today. Suffice to say that if they ever come over and ask you for help locating their poison dart frog supply that broke loose in the house a day before the ambassador of wizards from London comes over…

Well, it might be best to just say no and get the grown-ups to help.

Mr. and Mrs. Alister have three kids. The twins, Leo and Delilah, are my friends. But Delilah goes by Lyla. Only Mrs. Alister calls her Delilah when she's angry. Their oldest, Walter, is in college. He's pretty cool too.

They also had a crazy old great-granddad. But I… may have accidentally made him explode into butterflies.

It was a weird day, okay?

Anyways, the Alisters have been thought weird by everybody in the neighborhood, so Mr. Alister thought it would be good to break the ice with the other neighbors with this haunted house for us teens and kids. They're still kind of learning how to look normal. Leo told me Mrs. Alister had tried to use the toaster to cook their burgers once because she saw Mrs. Bell down the street making toast.

They are getting better, I swear. I've been trying to help. My mom and dad like that I'm friends with the twins. Only they still don't know Leo and Lyla are wizards. But it's a kind of fun secret.

So at school a few days earlier Leo and Lyla announced to our science class (which they're pretty much acing, by the way, and tutoring me because I suck at science) that their house was gonna be a haunted mansion on Halloween night for anyone who wanted to come. Not a lot of our classmates looked interested, but we got a few takers. Even the bullies who liked to pick on Leo looked excited, but they tried not to.

This was news to me, but Leo invited me over after school on Thursday to help decorate for Friday, since I apparently knew what would be good for a "normal" house. Of course Mrs. Alister would be adding her own wizardy touches, but that was okay. Nobody would suspect a thing.

I turned the corner on my bike down the sidewalk to my house, Leo and Lyla on skateboards ahead of me.

"I'll be right over," I told them. "I'm gonna drop off my books and tell Mom."

"See you!" Leo called back. "Tell Marcy she can come too!"

"'Kay!" I brought my bike to a stop and dismounted before walking it into the garage.

Marcy was my cousin, on my dad's side. She's been staying with us while her parents are in Europe on business. I was able to keep the secret about the Alisters from her for a total of a day before she found out. She was there that wacky day, too.

Also, Leo probably has a crush on her. She's pretty, sure, but I didn't think she was that pretty. Not like Lyla. Lyla was kinda pretty.

"Mom!" I called. "I'm home!"

"How was school, sweetheart?" Mom asked from the living room, where she was on the floor with a bunch of shorts stacks of papers around her, a red pen tucked behind her ear. My mom is a writer, and she was working on her newest novel. She's pretty much my favorite author ever. I even got Leo and Lyla hooked too.

"Fine." I plopped on the sofa. "Marcy home?"

"Not yet," Mom said absently, scanning a page.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Mmh." she shrugged. "Editing."

I nodded. Editing was a nightmare. "I'm gonna go over to Leo's and help him and his family decorate their house for Halloween. They're turning it into a haunted house."

"Ooh, are they?" Mom looked up this time. "That'll be fun. How much homework do you have?"

"I did most of it during lunch and on the bus," I replied. "I just have to read another two chapters of Huck Finn."

Mom smiled. I did too. I always did when she smiled like that, when something she liked came up in conversation. "Yes, we can read it together."

"Good boy." she grinned. "Alright, go have fun. I'll tell Marcy you're over there when she comes home."

"Thanks Mom!" I clambered up and ran to my room to put my books away. I changed into a more casual T-shirt and grabbed my jacket before darting off.

"Hey!" Mom called. I wheeled around and trotted back and gave her cheek a kiss. She kissed my head and ruffled my hair. "Be back by six for dinner, unless Leo has you stay for that too. Then tell me if he does."

"Yes ma'am." I ducked away from her with a grin and dashed away, running down the sidewalk to the big house next door. It was brown on the outside, but it was decorated nice and fairly normal. Except for the five-layer birdbath that made the water look red. That was weird.

"Hi Randy," I greeted the Komodo dragon sunbathing in the grass by the porch. Randy blinked at me before dozing off again. I knocked on the door and Leo answered with a wide grin.

"Garrett, awesome, you're here! We need your help." Leo pulled me inside, shutting the door behind me. I kicked off my sneakers and hung my jacket on the coat tree that reached out a branch to take it for me. The decorating was already underway. It didn't look very scary, with fluff spiraling around the stair rails, and silvery floss spider webs everywhere.

"Help with what?" I followed him through to the kitchen. "Hi Mrs. Alister."

"Hello dear!" Mrs. Alister looked up from the dining table, upon which was a plastic skeleton in the process of being assembled. She brushed back a strand of her seaweed green-colored hair. "The pumpkin cookies in the oven are almost done, then we can get started."

"Leo said somebody needed help?"

"Ah, yes." Mrs. Alister straightened. "We will be having a zombie as part of the event and we'll be having it dripping something green. Does silly putty work? I found green putty that looks lovely!"

"Um, silly putty can stick to things really easy and not come out easy," I replied as Leo poured us glasses of homemade apple cider. "You might wanna use like goo or something. That can be washed out."

Mrs. Alister looked a little disappointed, but she nodded. I jumped when the egg-timer went off, sounding like a sick goat (always has). Leo scooted aside as Mrs. Alister hurried to the oven.

"We get to decorate our bedrooms," Leo said, shaking his two-colored hair from his eyes. His hair was both brown and orange, like tie-dye. "It'll be like an adventure when it's all done. People will start downstairs at the back door and search the house, finding little boxes with marbles in different colors, and then at the front door Dad'll be like a Grim Reaper and make sure they all have the marbles they need before they can exit with bags of candy."

I grinned. "Your dad? Won't the neon green hair kind of detract from the scare-factor?"

"He'll change it to black." Leo shrugged. "Mom's gonna be a vampire."

I looked at Mrs. Alister. She gave us a sinister look that made me very glad she wasn't an actual vampire. "Do we get to dress up too?"

"Sure," Leo said. "I am, but I don't know what yet. Lyla wants to be a gypsy."

When the cookies, shaped like pumpkins and flavored like pumpkins, were cool, we ate. Lyla, with her usual bouncy purple curls, joined us.

"Alright!" A booming voice made us all jump, and I lost a wedge of cookie to my milk. I turned to see Mr. Alister enter the room, neon green hair tied back in a man bun as he loosened his work tie. "I see one too many shoes in the foyer--" he looked at the skeleton. "Evelynn, what have I told you about doing this to guests?"

"I couldn't help myself." Mrs. Alister kissed her husband. Mr. Alister grinned and winked at me.

"We have a lot to do!" He said. "Boys, you will be working on Leo's room. I will be installing the fog along the walls, and your mother will be doing the decorating." He winked at the three of us. "And only we know some of the tricks we have in store."

"Garrett, is Marcy coming?" Lyla asked.

"Probably. School's not out for her yet."

Mrs. Alister returned to her skeleton. "Then she can help Lyla in her room when she gets here. Mr. Alister will be painting red on the basement door to keep people from going down, and in general making it scary."

Mr. Alister looked way too excited for that project.

Decorating began. We made Leo's room look a little messy, and we stuck a prosthetic arm halfway under his bed. With a bit of magic Leo enchanted the ceiling to go dark, making occasional bat sounds. It was always fun to watch Leo do magic. Usually he had to use his wand, since he hadn't learned yet how to do it without one, but it was always an adventure to see it happen. We grabbed more fluff and laid it around while Mr. Alister came in and stuck a few tiny discs to each wall before leaving again, not making a sound but looking incredibly focused, like he was defusing a bomb.

Marcy arrived later on, and she and Lyla disappeared into Lyla's bedroom. Leo and I helped Mrs. Alister decorate more of the house. It was mostly a bunch of rubber props from the store. Spiders taped to the wall under the floss-webs, more fluff, a few skulls, a handful of speakers where evil laughter and other sounds could be played from. I wasn't seeing how this could be creepy, even at night.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

The next day, Friday, was the day of the haunted house. After school I hurried home to work on my costume, and Marcy was already there. She would be going as a fortune teller, complete with the plastic metallic necklaces and a bracelet with a small crystal ball. My costume was a wizard, which Leo thought was hilarious. I had full black robes with a red and gold badge on it and a wand from Barnes & Noble. And the many pockets Mom sewed on the inside could hold any number of things if I needed them.

I had only felt this epic once before when I managed to avoid getting roasted alive by the Alisters' oven, when it had one of its fits.

Marcy and I were the first ones there. Signs directed us to the back of the house, where Mrs. Alister stood in all red – and with deep red hair – complete with cape. I tried not to stare at her two pointy teeth. They were not plastic.

"Velcome to ze haunted house!" She gave us all a playfully malicious look. I glanced at Marcy, but she was already busy gushing over Lyla's costume.

"Oh wow you look incredible Lyla that's amazing!"

I'm pretty sure my cousin never stops to breathe when she talks.

Lyla did look pretty nice though. She had on a sparkly pink skirt and a matching tank top cut short, showing the little purple belly button ring. Her purple hair had beads braided into it, and some beads dangled from colored string.

I will admit. She did look pretty.


I nearly screamed like a little girl. Twisting around, I saw Leo standing behind me, dressed like a cowboy. He laughed. "Your face is white as paper, man! Chill!"

I tried to compose myself and cleared my throat. "I'm not big on Halloween."

"Why? I think it's great." Leo grinned. "I can be myself outside the house and nobody really notices."

Kids started filtering in, greeted by Mrs. Alister each time. Pretty soon we had a fair-sized group, including the bullies. They hadn't dressed up, but they looked like gangsters. Which was normal.

"Enter ze house of horrors!" Mrs. Alister instructed. "Inside you vill find small boxes, each containing a trinket you must collect. Zhere are six in all, and in order to win ze prize, you must present all of zem to ze Grim Reaper at the end. Or else--"

Lyla quickly shook her head at her mom from the back of the group. Mrs. Alister bared her fangs, letting the unfinished threat fade and hang in the air, and stepped aside, letting the kids through. I followed behind with Leo, but I stopped just inside and stared.

We were in the kitchen, but it no longer looked like a kitchen. It was dim, rolling fog covered us nearly to the knees. Something red dripped from the freezer, and the same red was splattered over the cabinets. Where I remembered fluff being was not fluff now. It was more fog, pouring over the edges of counters and the tops of cabinets.

On the kitchen table was a literal bloody mess. I looked away uneasily as some of the girls cried out with "eww!" before we slowly spread out to find the boxes. I stuck with Leo. No way was I gonna be alone in this place. Wandering around here alone on a normal day could be risky. Tonight felt even worse.

I picked a cabinet and peeked inside. A hand sprang out at me, grabbing for my face. I yelled and scrambled back. The bullies laughed. I blushed and pushed to my feet with Leo's help.

"Mom and Dad put some scary tricks and things everywhere." he grinned. "Isn't it cool?"

"Oh yeah," I muttered. "Thrilling."

We slowly split up into smaller groups. The fog spread through the whole house, rolling down continually from wherever there had been fluff. I had found four boxes so far, and began to search the living room.

From the corner of my eye I caught movement. I turned, seeing only the rubber spider under its floss web. I turned away, but the movement came again. I turned. Had it moved? It didn't look like it.

But what if it had?

My throat constricted. I stared at it, and sometimes it looked like it moved only until I focused on the leg that seemed to twitch.

"Leo," I whispered hoarsely.

No answer.

"Leo?" I risked turning around.

Leo was gone.

Everyone was gone.

Something thudded behind me. I whirled. The spider was gone. Disappeared. I looked at the recliner it must have dropped behind. The tape must have come loose was all--

An ear-piercing scream slammed into me from the side. I jolted back and twisted, but saw nothing. The scream came again, from the direction of the foyer. I ran that direction.

A hand grabbed my ankle. I yelled and twisted, falling over. Rising out of the fog was a zombie, dripping green goo and looking disturbingly like the Alisters' butler. I stared, fear freezing everything while instinct told me to escape.

The zombie stared at me and made a low, rattling groan. I jerked my foot free and scrambled to run to the foyer. The zombie didn't follow.

More movement. I twisted again. Another moving yet unmoving spider. I hurried away into the entry. The door to the basement, the Alisters' potion room, held a huge padlock, and painted in red were the words "NO ESCAPE." Something scritch-scratched on the door from the other side and made the moaning and hissing sounds that Randy made when he was angry. I eased away from it and turned.

Sitting by the door was a cloaked figure, slumped over and unmoving while holding a tall scythe. Across from it was a locked cabinet that shook on occasion.

"M-Mr. Alister?" I hated how my voice shook.

Slowly, the figure raised its head. But under the hood was only blackness. My heart stopped and I inched away to the stairs. I backed up them, and the hooded figure lowered its head and remained still.

Another scream from behind me. I nearly fell down the stairs and groped for the rail. Hands from behind grabbed me. I yelled and turned again, falling on my butt on a step.

"It's just me!" Leo held up his hands. He looked down at me. "You alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah, fine." I stood. "Never better. Where'd you go?"

"Explored the bathroom," Leo said. "No box there, though."

"Oh." I took a slow breath. "There's a zombie in the living room."

"Zombie? I didn't see any."

"It's hiding in the fog." I stood up as something groaned at the bottom of the stairs. Leo slowly turned, and I glimpsed an oozing hand.

"Run, run!" I shouted, scrabbling up the steps. Leo bolted up the stairs behind me. The zombie was clawing its way up, groaning and dripping.

A few girls screamed at the top of the stairs as we reached it. I whirled around, but the zombie was gone. The Grim Reaper remained ever motionless.

The hand clamped around my ankle again.

This time I screamed like a little girl.

Leo slammed his foot into the zombie hand while a girl dressed as a veterinarian chucked her plastic pet cage at the zombie's head, the zombie clattered down the stairs, the thumping followed by the clatter of the pet cage.

"What. The. Crap." I stared at Leo.

Leo looked as pale as me. One girl was crying. "Alright," he said. "We won't panic. It's down for now. Let's just search the upstairs for the boxes.

"I want out," a girl whispered. Leo tried to give her an encouraging smile.

"You're safe here. My parents wouldn't make anything that would hurt you."

"That zombie grabbed his leg."

"He didn't hurt me." I glimpsed Leo's look. Don't scare these girls further, it said. "Look, we'll just stick together. Where have you girls checked already?"

"We just got up here," the vet girl said. "We heard screaming--"

Another scream made us all jump. But this one sounded more human. More real. I stared at Leo. He glanced down the stairs.

"Let's just search up here."

I followed behind Leo as we carefully picked our way through the foggy floor. Something squished under our feet, but no one was willing to reach down to figure out what it was.

"Was this supposed to be this creepy?" I whispered to Leo as we eased into Lyla's room, decorated like a spider-webbed cave.

"I don't know," Leo whispered back. "It's supposed to be scary, but I didn't expect it to be this scary."

"There's a box." Vet girl whispered, pointing to the bookshelf, where we could see the top edges of the black box. I crept toward it and looked inside.

"Aagh!" A rush of screaming air blasted my face. I flinched back. The girls screamed, and we were joined by a scream elsewhere in the hall.

Leo darted forward and jerked the box toward us. He grabbed two little red marbles and handed one to me while the girls grabbed theirs.

"Okay." Leo took a slow, even breath. "We all just need to remember that this is just pretend. It's a haunted house, it's supposed to be scary. We won't get hurt--"

Another scream, but this one sounded familiar.

"Marcy!" I scrambled up and raced out.

"Garrett!" Marcy was at the top of the stairs with Lyla and another boy. "There's a flipping zombie!!!"

"I know, it tried to grab me." I went over. "There's a box in Lyla's room."

"My parents did a lot more work when they sent us out to the store." Lyla looked around. "I think those spiders move."

I tried not to shudder. Leo and the girls joined us, and we crept into his room while Marcy and Lyla got the marbles from Lyla's room. We heard terrified yells and saw the three bullies scramble up the stairs, the zombie again making its way up.

I looked at Leo. He swallowed and kept going. I instantly regretted encouraging making the bedroom look as creepy as possible. Everything no longer looked fake.

"There," Leo whispered. I looked and saw the box on his bed, seemingly unguarded. Leo started for it, but then I remembered. My blood ran cold.

"Leo," I hissed. "That arm."

He froze.

"What arm?" Vet girl whimpered.

"A plastic one," Leo said. "Nothing to worry about, it'll probably just--"

Leo screamed. I stared in horror as I watched the arm try to climb up Leo's pant leg, rising up from the fog.

Vet girl fainted.

I was so, so, so done. Screw the candy. We needed to get out of there.

Leo tried to pull the arm off while I grabbed for his skateboard.

"Leo, hold still!"

"What's going on?!" Marcy and Lyla appeared just as I swung the skateboard into the prosthetic arm. They screamed, it fell off, and Leo lunged onto the bed.

Then I heard the groan. Then the three bullies crammed into the bedroom and closed the door. Vet girl in the hall.

"Open the door!" I shouted in horror. "She's still out there!"

"Not a chance!" The biggest of the three shook his head. "That zombie's out there."

"Well so is Riley!" Lyla yelped. Marcy shrieked.

"It's got me!"

I swung the skateboard again and kicked the arm under the bed.

Then the closet rattled.

"Um, Leo." I stared. "Do you remember ever seeing your mom's skeleton anywhere?"

Leo paled. "No…"

"Everyone out!" I jammed my shoulder into the closet door.

"Not without the box!" The smallest bully protested.

Leo grabbed enough green marbles for us all and the bullies opened the door. The zombie was crawling in. They kicked it away and bolted. Riley was just coming to, and Marcy helped her up. I waited until everybody was out and then ran, jumping over the zombie while the closet door opened and something clacked and clattered out.

I didn't look back.

"Down the stairs down the stairs!" Leo was shouting. I followed them down, but I tripped and tumbled into Leo. He nearly fell, but caught himself and me. The marbles went clattering down the steps. The zombie groaned at the top. I could just see it coming down.

"Give us the candy, Reaper!" One of the bullies shouted. The Grim Reaper lifted its head.

"Do you have all of the necessary items?" It rasped.


"No!" Leo shouted, feeling around the floor. "The green marbles! I dropped them!"

"You what?!" Lyla shrieked. I dropped to my knees and helped search, and something skittered over my fog-hidden hand. I jerked back and glimpsed someone in the hallway.

Mrs. Alister loomed there, looking sinister and eager. And hungry.

Like a vampire.

"Hurry!" I shouted. She came closer. I felt around and winced as the zombie thudded down the steps again. The wobbly clacking came closer from upstairs.

I grabbed a marble, and soon we were all feeling around as Mrs. Alister stalked closer. Sometimes there were screams from one of us when the zombie found them, and a scuffle that followed, and sometimes there were screams elsewhere in the house. I didn't know how many people were in this house anymore.

Finally we thought we found enough. We made sure everybody had one before letting the girls deliver their marbles first. I pushed away the zombie and scooted backward as Mrs. Alister came closer.

"Garrett!" Leo yelled from outside on the porch. I whirled around and shoved my pouch of marbles into the Grim Reaper's hands. He slowly pulled out each one. The zombie had disappeared, but Mrs. Alister was still coming. I ducked around her, backing up.


Ducked again.

Red. Black.

Jumped sideways. Bumped into the shaking cabinet.

Blue. Purple.

Nearly get grabbed. The clacking plastic was trying to descend the stairs.

No green.

"Leo! I don't have a green!" I screamed. I could see the zombie moving again. Mrs. Alister laughed. It sounded far too evil for a nice lady like her.

"I thought you did-- no!"

The door was closing. I lunged for it and my foot kicked something small and round. I dropped and grabbed it. My hand closed around the marble just as the zombie grabbed my ankle again.

"Here!" I shoved the marble at the Grim Reaper. I tried to yank away from the zombie. The Grim Reaper put it in the sack and opened the cabinet. The zombie let go and disappeared, and Mrs. Alister stepped away, her laugh fading away. The skeleton broke apart and clattered down the steps. The Grim Reaper handed me a small brown sack. I grabbed it and bolted outside, tripping down the porch steps and tumbling into the grass. The fountain burbled and glowed red as the door closed.

I gasped and collapsed in the cool grass as we all fell silent. Nobody said a word for a long time.

Leo sat beside me. "You alright?"

"Your mom scares me."

"Welcome to my world."

The lights flicked on in the house. A girl screamed. We all looked up as the porch light turned on and the front door opened. Mr. and Mrs. Alister stepped out with friendly smiles on their faces. Mr. Alister's hair was indeed changed from neon green to greasy black.

"Congratulations, dears!" Mrs. Alister said cheerily. "That was an excellent show!"

"That was creepy!" One of the bullies said.

"It was supposed to be." Mr. Alister winked. "But it was all in good fun. No one got hurt."

I took a minute to catch my breath, then slowly nodded. Nobody was hurt.

"Come back inside for some cookies." Mrs. Alister beckoned us in. "I promise there's nothing scary anymore."

I peered inside. It was bright and fog-free.

Slowly, we all filed back inside. The fluff was back, the spiders looked as rubbery as ever. The basement door was still padlocked, but the paint was gone. It just looked like normal Halloween party decorations. The kitchen was as clean and inviting as ever. Plates with different kinds of cookies were laid out, as well as orange-colored milk, accompanied by paper plates and napkins and plastic cups. The Alisters' butler stood by the wall, ready to help as always and no hint at all of being a zombie and beaten black and blue by terrified teenagers.

"How'd you get it all cleaned up so fast?" The biggest bully looked suspicious.

"Fear can make time seem to fly," Mr. Alister informed him. "Dig in! Your parents will come by to fetch you."

The Halloween party was great. The cookies were devoured, and the milk drained. It took a little while, but no one looked very scared anymore. Vet girl was fine, even though she fainted. I think Mrs. Alister secretly put a potion in her milk so she'd feel better. The color came back to her face after she drank it.

We played a few card games before the grown-ups came, and Marcy and I were the last to go home. Dad came to walk us back because it was too dark to walk back alone.

As we left, something behind us screamed. I screamed too, and so did Marcy. We twisted around to see Leo and Lyla in an upstairs window, laughing. I scowled at Leo.

"That's not funny, man!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Beautiful Books Linkup: Introducing Clockwork Apprentice

Hallo my people (you are my people now, yes)! I thought I would drop by with a fun thing I thought I'd try. Some may know, others not, but Cait and Sky do a Beautiful People linkup, where they have a set of questions about the darling characters we write and love and force to suffer, and other people can answer them and link back to their blog posts. I've seen it around often, but I will admit I have not kept up with it. But this month, the questions revolve around a novel as a whole, as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo) looms just days away.

This year will be my first go NaNo, and I'm both excited and nervous. I'm committing to writing a full-blown novel in one month, all. One. Month. One. Novel. I'm sure at some point I'll be trying to find the exit door. But I have a friend doing it with me! So I'm not alone in this insanity! B)

But anyways! I'm doing NaNo this year. I saw Cait and Sky's linkup on Aimee Meester's blog. Her NaNo novel this year sounds absolutely hilarious, and you must go and read about it on her blog. For now, I thought I'd finally try one of these linkups, as it's my first go at this month of craziness and writing.

How did you come up with the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
I'm not sure how long I've had the idea, but I came up with it by poking at a character I've had for a while. He has a short story I wrote for a college assignment, and I loved it. It was my first steampunk, and the MC was my darling boy and he makes me emotional (ya'll should know by now my characters can do that to me). Later on, I wanted to do something more with him. I started one, but it spluttered off amidst other writing projects. So after struggling to decide what novel I'd write for NaNo (the struggle was real, people), I decided to try again with this one. This time, it's a little more fleshed out.

Why are you excited to write this novel?
Because steampunk. And clockwork toys. And the man who makes the toys is my darling and I love him. And drama, and feels. And a glass armonica. And a quite insane villainess. And all the things. It's gonna be madness, but hopefully there will be some semblance of order at some point. I'm excited to just dive in and develop him and the POV character (not sure yet who is the main character, though). And some foreshadowing. I might try that too. I'm excited for the feels I know will come. The climax, all. The climax will be amazing, I am sure. In all its first-drafty-ness, but still.

What is your novel about, and what is the title?
My novel, Clockwork Apprentice, is about a young lady named Mariel, who becomes apprenticed to clockwork toymaker Liam Killian, a man with a tragic past he won't speak of. But Mariel isn't the only one after his expertise, and one of the handsome darlings of society is being attacked by clockwork machines. But Mariel's concern lies more in coaxing her mentor out of his shell, determined to remedy his dormant love life.

Or something like that. ;)
(Images courtesy of Pinterest)

Sum up your characters in one word each. (Feel free to add pictures!)
Just one word? >_>

Liam: Devoted
(Image courtesy of Pinterest)

Mariel: Eager
(Image courtesy of Pinterest. And also here, for original source.)

Angeline: Insane
(Image courtesy of Pinterest)

Which character(s) do you think will be your favourite to write? Tell us about them!
Ooh… Liam, I think. There will be some scenes from his POV, and he's so much fun to explore and write. He was fun to write in his short story, and it will be fun to watch him and Mariel interact, and watch her adjust to his ways and personality. Liam's life has taken dark turns, and it's taken him a while to recover. I've loved his quiet heart, but also how it's a caring one too. Writing him both from Mariel's POV and his own will be fun.

What is your protagonist’s goal, and what stands in the way?
I suppose that depends on which of the two is the protagonist. Mariel's goal is to apprentice under Liam for a project over the summer, but she takes on a new goal of finding Liam a lady friend. Standing in her way is Liam's frustrating indifference. Liam's goal is to simply go on with life, making commissioned clockwork toys and making children smile with them. Mariel's coming into his life makes it a little harder when she's trying to get him to do the thing called socializing.

Where is your novel set? (Show us pictures if you have them!)
Uhh, I'm going the usual Victorian London? This is my first go at a full steampunk story, and I feel most familiar in that setting, I suppose. It's set more in the lower class areas of the city, which is where Liam lives.

It was as close to a steampunk clock tower as I found at the time. (Image courtesy of Pinterest)

Feels inspired by a gorgeous instrumental cover of The Music of the Night go down in here. (Image courtesy of Pinterest)

More feels here too. (Image courtesy of Pinterest)

What is the most important relationship your character has?
Mmm. I'd say it's Mariel and her uncle. He's also Liam's best friend, and he has more or less raised Mariel and also helped Liam through his things. That man has been a support, I think, in both of their lives. He's a darling, too.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
Mariel learns to listen, to be more aware of other people and their needs. Liam learns to open up a little, and not close himself off to the world. But to appreciate the things in life outside of his work and interests.

What themes are in your book? How do you want your readers to feel when the story is over?
I'm not sure yet of the themes. Perhaps similar to the things my protagonists learn, but I haven't set any specific themes. When it's over, I hope my readers will feel hopeful. Satisfied and content that everything will be okay. Or something like that. :)

BONUS! Tell us your 3 best pieces of advice for others trying to write a book in a month.
I don't know if I have any advice, since this is my first time through. But here's a few things to keep in mind, whether you're writing a novel in a month or not:

1. Don't worry if it looks like garbage, or if it's too wordy. Pretty sure words are your friends during NaNo, so you need them. And outside of NaNo, first drafts are allowed to be wordy. Too many words gives you plenty to edit out, instead of having to come up with more because you wrote too little before.

2. Relax. Step away from the words for a bit every now and then. Cool off if things become too frustrating. It's not the end of the world. Things will get figured out. Do chores or chill with family and a movie. Don't stress.

3. Be prepared. My friend gave me this advice, and it's probably what's gonna save me. Worldbuild and develop as much as you can before you launch into NaNo. Even if you like to write by the seat of your pants, indulge yourself in at least a couple paragraphs of outline. It doesn't have to be extensive, just something to run with so you don't run into a wall midway through. Develop and plan. I like spontaneous writing, letting my characters do what they want (sometimes), but I also like to have a fair idea of where I'm going. Especially now, when I have only a month to write this.

What about you? Who out there is taking in this crazy challenge of NaNoWriMo? Is this your first go or are you a seasoned NaNoer? Tell me all! :D

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why Writer Friends are Awesome

As I was writing up an outline of all the reasons I love writing and being a writer, I listed having writing friends as one of the perks. But then that category got some of its own subpoints, and I figured writer friends ought to have their own post. Rest assured as a writer having writerly friends is awesome, but I think they deserve mention in their own post. Because they are awesome and amazing and I love them all. Writer friends can fangirl over your darling characters as much as you do (sometimes more) and they're there to listen to you fangirl and squeal over the characters. And they're also there to offer advice when your stuck, and in turn you're there to help them too.

See what I mean? Fellow writer friends are amazing. So here's lots of reasons exactly why they're so awesome.

Character role-plays. I want to first explain that this is not like role-playing you might read from a book and play with a pair of dice. This kind of role-play is not that kind, let us be clear. This kind is where you write, like a collaborated novel, with a friend and let your characters from your own novels explore this new situation they've been thrust into. All that's required is the written word and an imagination going back and forth. Kind of like those old text-based adventures, a little.

I probably do these as much I do actual writing. These are awesome fun, and if you haven't tried one you should. Grab your writer friend and throw your characters together into wacky scenarios. For example, one friend and I role-played the entirety of the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera with our characters, songs and all. We added a touch of our own characters' personalities mixed with their role-played roles. It was awesome and there were feels. The characters even had an after-party. But we don't talk about the "Notes?/Prima Donna" track.

Just... just no.

But character role-plays are also useful to a writer, because we can explore our characters beyond the novels. Situations might make new reactions arose, and we learn more about our characters and their personalities, interests, or weaknesses.

Related to character role-plays are the fun alternate universes (or AUs). These can be awesome and sometimes hilarious. One of the AUs I've done with a friend includes her novel's villain, and the sister of my novel's villain. He is a power-hungry demon, and she is a seductive elf. They have wed and now have two children, twins, and it's terrifying and awesome. The children have not fallen far from the tree. 

Sending characters all over the timelines of another character in character role-plays can get chaotic. It can get as timey-wimey as Doctor Who and never makes sense a lot of the time, but it's still really fun and you're able to explore your created world a little more, even meeting characters that populate it outside of the novel. Meeting those character fleshes out your world more when you know you have other named characters living in it even though they don't make any appearances in your story.

It's also fun to simply discuss alternate universe possibilities. One friend and I mused over what might have happened if the older brother of one of her characters had arrived in my fantasy world, instead of that character. What would have happened then? How would things have gone? You get to explore your character's ways of reacting to these life-changing events and get a better understanding of them.

And sometimes AUs can even become actual canon, no longer just an alternate universe. One of my friends (the one mentioned above) has a character that, originally, wasn't going to live. But then we learned that her character and mine had a mutual interest. But it has quickly blossom into a full relationship. We worked out portal kinks and magic and all that and got those two together, since my friend originally had no future use for this character. Now, her character makes an appearance in my novel, and we have planned out her entire future with my character. It's been really fun, planning their lives together, complete with the number of children they'll have and pet names they have for each other.

Writerly discussions. These are great and really insightful. You and your writer friends can discuss and explore characters, and you can glean from their minds different writing techniques. Having lots of different writer minds gives you lots of different aspects of writing. Some people might specialize in worldbuilding, others in characters, and still others in plot arcs or themes. You can learn new things from them all and get better in your own writing. And you also never know what you'll learn next. It can be really random with us writers sometimes.

Writer friends also make excellent critique groups. It's great to be able to have friends you can go to for critiques and advice on your stories who will look at it as both writer and reader. They'll give you their honest opinions (hopefully) and point out what parts could use improvement, or what places were well done. Even the praise helps you learn, knowing what was done well so you have an idea of how it could done the next time.

I had a few of my friends read a short story aloud, as a school assignment, and then critique it. Two girls read the dialogue for the two characters, and the third girl narrated. It was productive for me, learning what worked and what needed improvement. It was also hilarious, as the two characters were a boy and girl in a dating relationship. Nothing could be read with a straight face at many points of the story.

You can have the weirdest, yet "informative" discussions that would concern other people. Writers can go from discussing the possibility of breaking a person's ear to wondering what sounds a person with no tongue can make.

Yes, it's weird. But don't be alarmed or worried for our sanity. We writers are weird, but we've embraced it. It's best to just nod and smile.

Writers taunt each other with spoilers. It can be agonizing to not know something about a friend's novel but know that something is gonna happen. Something will happen to your favorites, and it's probably something bad. I was beta reading a novel for a friend, and the climax was a mystery to me and I had no idea how the characters would be affected (only that most likely they would be traumatized or injured in some way). When this occurs between writers, we might haves texts that go like this:

Friend: *writes* …I'm so, so sorry. >:}

And, in vain, we demand:


And that is how you can antagonize your writerly friends and make their hearts worry for their favorite characters. It's fun, but also that little tinge of genuine worry and suspicion.

There is truth in this. >_>

You can bounce ideas and plans for your novel off of them. When I was writing my novel's first draft, I went to one of my friends often to essentially fangirl over what had just happened in the story. But I also went to her on occasion needing to know the consequences of a certain scenario I had in mind. A fresh pair of objective eyes on plans like this can help pinpoints issues you might not have seen. She offered suggestions and prompts to get me thinking. She's been amazing at that, and it's helped me make sense of events and characters.

They keep you focused. When you're discouraged or frustrated with your work, especially a first draft, they can keep you focused. My friend reminded me a lot that it's only a first draft. While I still whined, she still reminded me. It helped. She taught me that it's okay if your first draft looks like a pile of messy chaos.

So writer friends are awesome. They can be supportive, and in turn they receive your support. They're also people you can be weird with and know all these weird things other people would be concerned that we know. We learn from each other, in discussion or in play, or even with the weird things. But it's awesome, and I love it.
Images courtesy of Pinterest.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why I Love Being a Writer

I am a writer. I manipulate words to spin tall tales of adventure and magic, love and betrayal, tears and giggles. I can communicate what I want to say better with a written word, but telling stories is what I love. I love the characters, the settings, the worlds where everything happens. I love connecting plot events and seeing it all fall into place. I've written a lot of stories. Most of them don't really go anywhere, others I might be saving to publish later, most will probably never see the light of day. Those would be from the writing days of old. Those are scary.

So today, I thought I would ramble-- I mean share with you just why I love being a writer. All of the little things that makes me happy to write stories and meet the quirky characters roaming in my mind and following them through their worlds. It's awesome fun, and if you ever read what I write, I truly hope you have as much fun as I did. :3

First off, characters. I love creating them. I love naming them, deciding what they look like, how they behave (often they'll throw me off track here, but they mean well). I love the realness they take on. In my novel, I am not an unbiased mother with my dear characters. I love them all, but I have favorites. These favorites and the others have all grown in ways I didn't expect, but getting to know them, writing them, they've become a part of me. I've experienced their joys with them, and I've seen them through their grief and fears (yes, I give them those, but that's another story).

My darling, yet conflicted assassin. :3

They have become dear to me, even the villains, and I love how real and how complex they are. Sometimes I see parts of myself in them. I see the need to be nearly always doing something with my fingers when sitting in one character, or I see my love of animals in a character who can also be quiet like me. And there's the character that's basically me if I were a social butterfly.

Sometimes they will confuse you, or sometimes they'll do things you don't expect or plan. That's another part of writing that I love. The unexpected. I don't plan or outline, at least not very much. I have a general structure, but then I jump right in. And then I'll encounter unexpected twists. Characters show an unexpected moment of fear, or a fight scene took a turn and while a character wins, he's now got a broken arm. It's part of what makes them real. They tend to develop minds of their own, and I love it.

Sometimes we have little control. It happens.

One part of characters that I enjoy is giving them names. Character names seem to come easy for me most of the time. For normal human names, I have a lot of my favorites (my siblings would say the names I like are odd, but pffth). For Earth characters, I like to pick a favorite name, especially if it's a main character, but sometimes other names fit better. It probably depends on my mood or the character's personality.

For fantasy (and science fiction when I dip my toes in it), I think my naming process is literally slapping together vowels and consonants and voila! I have a name. But I still love it. I love the sound it makes, the way it feels right with the character, like a nice-fitting shirt. Recently-ish I've enjoyed coupling name meanings to fantasy names. I went on a name meaning spree last year for my novel, and one of my favorites is "bane of fear." It fits him well, because he's always on the lookout for adventure. Danger doesn't scare him away from something new very easily.

Usually, I tend to not have a theme or moral set for a story. They usually appear and develop on their own. One particular theme that crops up quite often in my stories without my conscious developing of them is the concept of family, both family by blood and the family you make from friends. It's everywhere in almost any of my stories, and it plays a big part in my novel. And I've loved seeing it play out in so many different ways, sometimes I never even planned for it to happen in some ways.

But the best part – the exciting part – is that I did very little to make it show up. It just came as I wrote, as I let the character do their thing. And that is exciting when it comes naturally in my writing.

As any fantasy or sci-fi writer knows, worldbuilding is crucial to a story. Worldbuilding is crucial even to historical or contemporary stories, but especially to fantasy and sci-fi. I love creating worlds and entire cultures by mixing or modifying real cultures and traditions from our own world, or just spinning them up on their own. It's fun creating new cultures, even if parts don't appear in the story, knowing about them gives the setting and the people another layer of complexity. Again, being the biased writer I am, I have loved developing my race of half-elves. They've turned into a resilient people, with adoption and lack of last names playing a big role in how they live their lives (again, the aspect of family). I love them dearly, and they're one of my favorite peoples I've created.

One part of writing I most love is when I see things fall into place. They just click and make sense. Whether it's a crucial character development point or something random like a character's birthday. It feels right inside, like it's always been this way and I've only just now learned about it. I love that feeling. It gets me so excited, even if no one else will know, or care. I know it, and I care. It's what makes my characters special to me, that spontaneous receiving of information about them. It's the same with the plot, when events come together smoothly. It's a satisfying feeling.

Nearly every writer loves to make their readers go into deep anxiety over the characters. Giving the readers "feels" is fun, because we get to see them writhe and want to know what happens to their favorites, or shake their fists at us for killing the darlings off. I have done both. As writer I've received these reactions, and as reader I've done these. But while giving readers these feels is fun, I like giving them to myself. When my characters get hurt or are sad, I partly revel in it and partly feel like the world's worst person ever. I both liked and disliked the way my throat got tight while I wrote the first death in my novel. But, it's for the good of the story. It has to happen, even if I feel like I'm a horrid person.

I know, I already used this. But it still works.

I get attached to characters (it's not that weird sounding if you're a writer. Bear with me), and I feel for them when I make them suffer, or die. But, I do hope that because I feel these things, my readers will too. I loved hearing when readers of my Fence Jumpers serial story gasped in surprise or shed a tear or two. It means I've done my job well, and I love that I have. Plus reader feels. They are excellent. B) Because I feel for the characters, it makes developing them even more enjoyable too.

I also love using words to create vivid scenes and images. It's fun when I finally get to put in words the "film" I see play out in my head, choosing just the right words to describe what I see. I get to see it take to words on paper or a computer document, putting "film" to paper.

Similarly, it's fascinating to learn fun new words to try to use when writing. For example, scuttlebutt is a really fun word. Scutter is a real word, and I love it too. Words are fascinating, fun, and sometimes hilarious. It makes writing colorful, and I feel clever using them.

I enjoy looking for soundtracks, mood music, and songs with lyrics for my writing, for scenes, themes, or (especially) characters. I enjoy writing to music that fits the mood of a scene, like a death scene. It gets me in the mood to write that scene, and I get more invested in it. I love finding songs that fit the personalities of my characters, too. There's a lot, and the characters seem to come even more alive when I listen to those songs. It's like a theme song, only more feelsy most of the time.

Lookit me being so fancy with video in posts. B) This is kind of the theme for my novel's two protagonists.

Story ideas abound. Everywhere. At all times. Random ideas and random times (often – bless that muse – at night before sleep). Any situation, any phrase, and any person has the potential to strike a chord for a story with me. That waiter at P.F. Chang's? That snatch of conversation about flash cards between college girls? That crazy-expensive prom dress or those Goodwill butterfly-embroidered jeans? All story material for me. I usually don't know where it goes in a story, but it just has that aura of story about it.

I can learn from watching TV shows and movies. It be considered research, or I can learn how good character arcs or relationships are done. Also what not to do. That can also be learned.

I also really enjoy casting real actors and actresses as my characters. If my novel would become a movie, I like to pick out which actors to play them. Unfortunately the cost would be huge, but hey, it's dreamcasting. Dreaming doesn't have a budget. ;)

For example, I have cast Richard Armitage as my emperor villain.

I don't (entirely) feel weird about the majority of my reading habits being YA and, especially, middle grade novels. Young adults and middle graders are the audiences my writing might appeal to, so I learn from both categories. I learn what aspects I love about them, and what don't sit well with me or what doesn't seem to work. I learn what makes a YA romance so appealing (the land of love triangles, it seems), or what makes middle grade so exciting and engaging. Yes, I, a twenty-three year-old adult, find middle grade novels more appealing than YA. There's more adventure and danger to be found there than in teenaged angst and romantic subplots (not saying all YA has this, just from my personal forays into YA). Classics and middle grade novels are often favorites.

I like to pick out what seems to work for a story and what doesn't, and I think doing this stores up knowledge for my own writing. What makes that villain so deliciously creepy to me? How do the flaws and vulnerabilities makes this protagonist so appealing? Why doesn't this seem to work well in my mind? When I do this, I learn how to advance my own writing skills. How I can make my villains creepy, or how I can give my protagonist flaws. They're fun to read as a whole, and, like film and TV, can teach.

Everyone should read this series. Just saying.

I might seem weird sometimes. As a writer, I know things people who know me personally probably wouldn't expect. For example, I know how to make someone swallow (my brother doesn't believe me, but it's true!), or how to get the fastest results with a sedative. I'm still learning to be comfortable with this, being sometimes random or feeling weird that I know these things, but it's also kind of fun. It's useful too. You never know when a character needs that knowledge. >_> Like I said earlier, they can make unexpected detours in the plot and that information could be handy.

So these are the reasons I love being a writer, why I love writing. I believe God has given me this gift of the written word, and I've loved it ever since I started, years ago. With stories that will never be spoken of. Ever. >_> But I have gotten better and the newer stories are more audience-worthy. ^_^

Points to those of you who stuck with me this far and reading why I love writing so much. :3 Some of you probably knew I loved it, others didn't. To those who didn't, now you do. And to those who did, now you probably know more than you wanted. ;)

Image courtesy of Pinterest.
Video is not mine.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: Rise of the Fallen (Chuck Black)

Validus is the last angel God creates, and being last he sometimes wonders if he's meant to do anything great, though his heart yearns to be a warrior for Elohim. In present day Earth, Validus has risen through the ranks. The war with the Fallen – angels who have followed Apollyon, or Lucifer – is tense, and things aren't exactly looking good. Validus is struggling to keep things together when he receives orders to join up with a guardian, an angel assigned to protecting people under the age of reason, to protect a fully grown man, Drew Carter.

We follow Validus from this point onward, seeing some of book one through the eyes of Validus. But we also get flashbacks, starting all the way before Creation. We see Validus struggle to understand God's purposes in both timelines, but always trusting his Lord.

The story essentially gives us a bigger look into the realm of angels and demons, and we get a look into Validus, named Wallace by Drew in book one. We see that Drew might have a bigger role in God's design than we perhaps expected, and it's crucial Validus ensures his safety. In the flashbacks, we see Validus' character grow, becoming more sure of himself, and growing stronger in his confidence of Elohim's ultimate Plan.

The worldbuilding, based on Biblical truths and speculation, is a fascinating mix. In the first book, I loved the idea of a second realm in our world, where angels and demons fought. In Rise of the Fallen, we get to see it in full, with ranks and rules for both sides. It was done well, pulling from Biblical truths as well as speculation (and even then speculation seems inspired by some portions of the Bible). In the story, some text is in bold, to indicate it's taken from the Bible. I like how Chuck Black makes this very clear.

Some aspects of angels and heaven I'm not sure I quite agree with, but I was glad to see how Mr. Black portrayed God. Not only is He a loving and forgiving God, but He's also just and powerful and fierce. He is in control of everything, including what Apollyon and his demons can do. Apollyon must receive permission from Elohim in order to outfit his Fallen with swords to fight against God's angels, and the demons can only directly kill a human by God's express permission. I like that Mr. Black chose to show these traits alongside the ones of love and mercy.

Violence/gore: There is a lot of fighting between angels and the Fallen, and both sides lose soldiers. It's not gory, but there is a lot of violence and war. Some wounds bleed, but again it's not at all grossly described. When it rains, it causes pain to the Fallen (and any body of water). For angels, it can heal, but it's very painful. We see a couple scenes during this process, and the angels being healed scream (which might unsettle some readers).

Profanity: Referenced swearing.

Sexual content: References to sexual perversion among the humans.

Other: A gang in Present Day tries to get two teens to try illegal drugs.
Have you read Rise of the Fallen? What did you think? Did you like or dislike it? Why? What do you think about Chuck Black's portrayals of God and His holy angels?