Thanks for joining me! So I’ve heard it over and over. You need a blog. And, because I am, by nature, reclusive and strange, my response has always been ‘ick, no.’ But, lately I’ve been thinking about my life as a writer. See, my reclusiveness is at odds with my desire to share my stories. I want more readers and this year is set to be one of the biggest in my career, release wise and the blog thing has become almost a chant from every single person I talk to. So here we are. You sitting patiently, waiting for me to be brilliant and me sitting over here like ‘why are you looking at me like that?’
Yeah, blogging has never been my thing. I don’t go to parties, my taste in movies is downright weird, and even when it comes to books my recommendations are often odd. I could spend hours telling you how to write, but every single bit of advice is going to be meaningless once I give you the only thing you will ever really use. Which is: figure out what works for you. I could tell you what I do every single day. And none of it might work for you. One writer will tell you to write every single day and another will tell you they only write when they have a handle on the story. If you are a writer, this is your fight and the only way to be any good at it is to figure out what works for you.
So there I was, with this confusing muddle of ‘what could I possibly have to say’, cringing every single time someone told me to start a site with a blog, trying to figure out another way to find my readers. Then it hit me like a load of bricks (you know, the sort stamped with ‘how did I not think of that before’) dropping right on my head. I don’t teach writing classes and I’m not looking to start. There are so many people out there that are better for that job because my second piece of advice is ‘suck it up, Buttercup, and read the last paragraph’. I’m not the sort to coddle you through writer’s block because I’ve been there a thousand times and have come to know it for exactly what it is. Self pity and avoidance. Something is not right in Wonderland and you need to figure it out for yourself. And sitting online reading a thousand blogs will never, ever help you because it is your muse pouting silently in the corner and, like your last girlfriend, she’s waiting for you to say or do something to make her love you again. Hint: start by turning off your phone and logging off Facebook.
So why would I start a blog giving out my opinion on anything or trying to offer up advice other writers have already given a thousand times over in far kinder ways than I am capable of? I wouldn’t and that was where I so often ran up against a wall when the word ‘blog’ came up. What I would do, however, is tell stories. Because that is pretty much all I want to do, all the time, every single day. Not just my own stories either. See, when I was about ten, I became fascinated with two things. Ghosts and magic. In fact, I became so enamored with both that I read every single thing I could. I have read so much over so many years that I can tell you stories from Celtic Mythology and reel out the names of all the Gods and Goddesses in Greek Mythology just to turn around and give you a lecture on their Roman incarnations. Then I can tell you all about the most famous haunted houses and more than a few nobody else really knows about. Urban legends? Right here, baby. And, yes, I can give you a list of excellent books to read if you are into any of these things. What hit me, my dears, is the simple, inescapable fact that, until now, I’d never thought to attach to the idea of blogging what I practice in my stories. Write what you love.
I was that kid at Halloween that was watching the Garfield Halloween special on one channel and taping Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman on another. I was the kid in high school English that wrote a twenty page paper on the Pantheon of Greek Mythology (true story). I am that crazy person that wishes I’d gotten a letter from Hogwarts and still stubbornly insists that Santa Claus, in some form or another, does exist.
So here’s the deal. I won’t promise to be brilliant. Writing short has never been my strong suit. But I plan on sharing a number of things with you. I am going to be drawing on everything from my vast library of myths and legends, my knowledge of ghost stories, and my own short fiction, some of which will include short stories from my War For Inìsfail series and my own ghost stories. I am going to, on occasion, be lazy and tell you who else you ought to be reading (and that’s a list we’ll never get to the bottom of) and why. And, yes, this is all copyrighted. Please do not steal from me; I bite.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Still for Kat of the Lily Cafe 😀
“Here kitty. Here kitty, kitty.” A hundred. A thousand. More voices than I could count, calling me from the subterranean depths beneath Paris, closing in on us from all sides.
I shivered, miserable, against Hook’s broad chest. Tick, tick, said his mustache. Time is running out and here you are, trapped, while Alice fades and dies.
Hook drew his sword. It made a hiss that snaked through the tunnels, back up into the light where Paris lay silent and dead. “Here kitty, kitty.” There was laughter in the voices. They were coming slow and cruel, taking the time to taunt us, saying plain that even Hook could not win against so many, that his power to frighten them had waned. “Come with us, little puss. We’ll take you same place safe.” Cold, echoing sniggers, like the laughter of boys who set tails alight to see a cat howling, screaming, running into traffic. The sort of boys who might do it to an entire litter while their helpless mother looks on.
“Run,” Hook whispered to me. “When they come, you go. While they are busy with me.”
“I won’t leave you,” I said, trying to sound brave. Like a hero should. But my voice trembled because I was just a riddler playing the wrong part.
“You will,” he snarled. “I have more stories than this. A thousand more. So long as there is a Wendy, there will be a Captain Hook. So what is one death to me if it saves her?” He glared at me until I shrank down, pale fur and dark spots over the painful memory of being one of the Unwritten. One of the Unwanted. Who was he without Wendy? Who was I without Alice. Sometimes the Story calls for blood sacrifice. Those are the rules. They are older than the words which follow them, older than all but the oldest Story ever told.
He stepped close to the wall and tucked me into a niche, just me and the bones in a dark little hole while he stood straight-backed and unafraid; who was he to fear death? Death ought to fear him… and I think it must, else why would he be allowed so many lives? He made me think that it was he who ought to carry the title of hero… if he wasn’t so happy to be the villain.
There are pirates that are thieves, pirates full of fury, pirates full of evil, pirates lusting after gold and women, and pirates held together with dirt and bits of spit. But there is only one pirate king. Only one who knows all the voices of the sea, who loved him so much she gave him a daughter to tell him so. There is only one pirate who would give his daughter a hand, an eye, a leg, whatever her stories might require. Only one that would even give her his life, if it would keep her safe. Hook. Yes he is a villain. But any daughter who loves her father knows that, no matter what the Story says, he is a hero in secret.
They came like a flood of rats, pouring out of the dark in a swarm of bodies that moved like water, swinging cages and lanterns and looking to overcome the legend that was James Hook. For a moment I wondered; he was the devil with a sword and his hook that had all the names written on it glittered and gleamed. He was stacking them up like firewood, new bones for the catacombs, new dead for the grave. But they kept coming and even the devil can run out of energy. One of them had a little knife that flashed and bit and Hook’s crimson coat was soon trailing blood. His periwinkle eyes found mine and he was gasping for air with trickles of red at the corners of his lips. I didn’t wait to see him fall, but fled, claws scraping stone while he still had enough mean left to keep them busy.
For a moment, I thought it had worked. The cost was too high, but I could still find Not-Alice, could finish this business with the collar and the bell. Then I could save my Alice, save Wendy and Dorothy and, by doing so, save Hook for another of his many wicked lives. Then a shadow stepped from its hiding place and caught my soft underside a swift kick that made me howl. Cruel fingers dug into my ruff and lifted me up.
“Now, little brat,” he hissed, breath stinking through rotten teeth. “All over, said and done. It’s into the fires with you and I’m all out of poison, so you’ll just have to go in breathing.”
The others were coming, much fewer, now, most of them injured, missing teeth, eyes, fingers, and arms, all of them marked by a man who’s soul burned red with the wicked fire that lived inside him, but they were also soaked in the singed scent of his blood and grinning wickedly through their pain; to murder Hook was a grand victory. One of them held up a cage and pulled back the latch, pulled the door open to welcome me in.
A bright spark of light flickered past. Everyone paused. Then, down through the miles of dark and bones and forgotten depths, came a sound. A rooster’s proud crow. The sound of a boy caught just at the threshold of becoming a man. The sound of reckless arrogance looking for a battle.
The thing about fairies is they are tiny, but their strength is huge, like a bear condensed down into a single grain of rice. All the size is gone, but the strength remains. And Tinkerbell is – and always has been – a vicious little thing. If you were to take the bitter fury of every scorned woman that ever was, you might be able to match Tinkerbell. But you couldn’t beat her.
The first gray coated man flew back, howling, as if kicked by a horse, and the second flew up and crushed his skull on the low, damp roof. Then everyone was flying, clawing at the air, which laughed maniacally back at them, trying to swat her away while she grabbed hair and coat and nose to throw them, a wasp with hands, bent on stinging every inch of exposed skin until everything was mad chaos, for that is what fairies love best and creating it is their talent.
Peter burst out of the dark riding a ticking, snapping crocodile and, at his back, a green skinned witch with her pale, sister shining like fresh snow. With them came a horde of flying monkeys snapping their sharp teeth and carrying munchkins on their backs. Then, amid all the confusion, a woman came walking serenely out. She wore a simple, white linen loin cloth and chest wrap. Her long, straight hair was the blackest black, her dark eyes were hooded and full of millennia of mystery. Her smile was slow and dangerous, the sort of thing that makes men cower still in her shadow and forget they do not believe in her. The first cat. The first riddler. Goddess, oracle, mother of darkness. The Sphinx.
On her shoulder perched a cat. He was soft enough you might call him fat, but, really, not many ever would for fear of what he might do. You can’t trust someone that smiles like that. He leapt into the air with a too wide grin and hung there, as if gravity had forgotten him.
The woman did not shrink. She merely became something else. Almost a cat, but not, with her black claws and sharp teeth. The man holding me let go, screaming; she is not a thing most can see without paying the price. Their sanity. To look upon the sphinx in her true form is to see the whole universe looking back. Father can bear it, but he was always a little mad anyway. All the best people are.
“Hurry,” Father whispered down at me. “We haven’t got long.”
I didn’t ask him what he meant. I ran into the dark without one word or question. We are riddlers. If he could have taken the time to explain, he still wouldn’t have, not even to me. It’s a matter of principal.
Down, down into endless tunnels, feeling my way, the sounds of battle fading, then lost behind me. I don’t know when Tinkerbell found me, but she came and her tiny, brilliant light stayed with me, like a star at my shoulder.
The tunnel opened up without warning, becoming a huge, round chamber. The skeletons of thousands made a strange, low wall around the middle, as though the bodies had been stacked in a circle before the flesh melted away. They were a circle that held a low altar in the center and, on that altar, another of the dead.
She wasn’t a skeleton. She wasn’t rotted. But her skin was gray and lifeless, the flesh of a corpse that was far too gone for saving. There was a pale, blue dress under her tiny, folded hands and a black, velvet ribbon in a band around her golden hair. And Not or Isn’t, Not-Quite or Never-Was, my heart still twisted with grief and cried out in protest at the sight. Alice.
Past the point of no return
The final threshold
The bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burn
We’ve passed the point of no return
-Andrew Loyd Webber
If you have never seen Phantom of the Opera, you are so deprived. Go listen on Spotify!
The whole point of the Daily Riff is to provide a moment of inspiration, an opening line to a song only you can write. A bit of back story on this habit of mine: When I first started writing, my best friend always had music on. We would snatch a lyric from Jim Morrison, the Eagles, Eminem, or Sara Mclaughlin. It didn’t matter where we got it, just that we found something that echoed in us and pulled us into our own lives. Sometimes we’d read poetry aloud or happen upon a line in a book that rang out and caught us in its flow. We’d read them out loud, swooning over the richness of these words that kept us awake and loving – or hating – our own existence.
Like a true musical riff, the line isn’t a prompt. It is an invitation. Take this line and let it echo through your life, catch it, and, as fast as you can, build a house of words upon it. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. This writing isn’t for anyone but you. Let it flow through you and see what comes up. The whole point is to put you in connection with yourself and strip your writing naked. It is meant to remove all those pesky fears about what sort of writer you are or how you good you are. This isn’t a place for caring about that. I know that a lot of people don’t understand the point of writing practice, so think of it this way. What is basketball practice? What is football practice? Anything you want to do well, you practice at. I used to play the guitar – and I’m trying to get back into it now. I remember hating those endless practices, running up and down chords, trying to learn a new song, playing over and over until my fingers were numb. But. When I had to perform, the music flowed out seamlessly and there was a sense of confidence that came with it; I knew exactly what I was doing. These days, I practice because it is all for me. I love the sound of the strings, just like I love to write until I trip across something that both surprises and delights me.
Writing practice is preparation for the big game. It is preparing for the small games and the halftime shows. It is writing no-one else will ever see because it is all yours. I am currently reading a published version of Anais Nin’s journal. I love how, in the introduction, the author points out that this journal is like seeing what went on behind the stage; here you can catch all the things that made her writing so rich and vivid in their original form, her daily life and thoughts. The daily riff is meant to help you in a way that isn’t a writing prompt; if that line from Nirvana reminds you of your childhood, go on and follow it down, but there is no firm direction here. Like any poetry or music, the meaning is personal to you. Follow that. Embrace it. Being a writer is about looking inside ourselves. Truly good writing – the sort that is naked and unapologetic – comes from within your own life. That is why writers are never really in competition with each other; I can’t write like you because I didn’t have your life and you can’t write like me because you don’t know what goes on in my head. It is a simple concept, but one that you should embrace. Find the things that shake you out of your apathy. Fall in love with who you are and what you’ve been through. When a true hunter brings down an animal, they use every part of the carcass. From the meat to the bones, there is nothing left to waste. Be like that with your life. Leave it all out on the page, use every part of it, right down to the worst thing that ever happened to you. When you get nervous or scared, remember that the best part of writing is that, if you don’t want to share it, you don’t have to.
As much as I love my magnets, they are a bit limiting and limiting is never a good thing in creativity. So, while they might still make appearances, I’m going to be providing other sources from now on.
For our first Riff, I feel it is only fitting to start with my first riff (or the first one I remember).
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need
-The Doors; The End
Write a story. Write poetry. Write about everything you know about Jim Morrison or just write about all the endings in your life. The whole point is to catch the rhythm that speaks to you. Now go! Rap it out, play with the words, figure out what it is that you want to talk about and just do it for ten minutes. Happy Writing!
Hook walked. Long, swinging stride that ate streets in huge, hungry bites. Cobbles gleamed with melted snow, which fell in thick veils that shifted and billowed, turning the gas street lamps into golden, shimmering stars. The rows of buildings that framed the streets could have been walls for all the details I could see.
Hook was unfazed; his sharp eyes were focused ahead, as if he see something in the falling snow to which I – cat or girl – was blind.
The cold wind bit deep, snaking past my heavy fur, which grew damp and heavy as the snow melted upon it. I climbed down into Hook’s crimson coat, only my eyes and nose exposed. I wondered if Hook knew where he was going or if his rage alone carried us through the warren of streets.
All Londons have their churches. St. Pauls and Westminster, though, follow them all. And so I assumed one or the other was our destination. The catacombs beneath either loved the wealthy in this dark and soot stained world. I wondered how we would find a child no-one wanted to remember. But I was tired, heavy with the memory of the undercity, so I curled close to his black heart and blinked sleepily in time with its beating.
When did it change? With the snow and the exhaustion, I cannot say. I only knew when I looked up and saw the ragged, broken tooth walls. The splintered and undone arches of flying buttresses stood sharp against the blowing snow. The famed window was naught but brightly colored shards. Nothing moved among the scattered gray of loose stone. The stunned silence hanging thick around us was the quiet that comes after an ear splitting scream. Or a bomb.
Broken Paris. Silent Paris. Paris Of The Dead.
“Under the church,” I whispered, understanding; not a church that London owned. The church. The only one the whole world – all of them – owned. Notre Dame. And, beneath it, hundreds of snaking miles of labyrinthine dark where the dead hold sway and the rules are all changed.
This is Paris dreaming. Lying empty beneath an ashen sky, silent, still, full of the memory of life, but only the memory. The braided steel tower stands crooked, an icon knocked off balance and forgotten. Loose papers blow through the unwalked streets, frozen on a day that had started out with news of celebration and ended in screams for mercy. This is a city caught in the aftermath, a city that never recovered itself. For Dead Paris, time is frozen. It feels like it exists in an ended world, but who can say? I’ve never seen another city so fully transformed into a tomb.
Hook moved toward the church, once grand, once a symbol of human determination. Two hundred years to build it. Two minutes to break it. And now here it was, lying like a crumpled and mashed can beside the slow, black Seine.
Hook paused, tipped his hat in a gesture that suggested the salute an old sailor gives a well respected captain at his funeral. Sleep well, may you find rest, sorry to see you go.
Then we were stepping down on hidden footholds, into the canal where the rotten water moved slow, thick with something that made my eyes burn and my skin itch. And there was a doorway, of sorts, an opening into the darkness beneath the city.
Hook’s mustache ticked. “Light,” He said, reaching out to take the lantern waiting there on a hook. It still swished with plenty of fuel. He hung it from the gleaming curve of his deadly hook. He lit it with a snap of the flint he slid from a hidden pocket. Then he stepped in.
There was a musty, earthy smell, the scent of mausoleums that house tier upon tier of the dead in coffins that weren’t made well enough to keep the smell in. It was more than a tomb, this place. It was where the living fell and no-one ever came to give them proper rights. There was no-one left to put up headstones or pray.
“They fled here, in the end,” Hook whispered. “Down into the lightless dark with their children and their treasures, but Death was all that lived here.” His boots crunched on the floor. Bones, scattered in mindless jumbles, skulls, jaws unhinged, screaming panic, begging still, even though the flesh had gone and the life they wanted was stolen years and years before. “Those that didn’t die by violence wandered here in the dark, lost, forgotten, starving.” He walked on, unafraid of the tunnels and the endless turnings, unafraid of a death found in the dark after all the light ran out.
At first, there were other openings, glimpses of the world above. Sometimes bright and sunny, full of voices and life, but mostly, they just reflected that sad and broken Paris left silent beneath the dead sky. Even those brief flickers of other Paris’ did not cheer me; it wasn’t real. It was only the memory, not the reality. All those laughing voices would soon be silenced; I could hear the low off throbbing hum of a thousand planes carrying death like birds clutching fish in their claws. It wasn’t a different Paris we saw, just a different when.
Such is the way of the catacombs. They lead you in mystic circles to show you fortunes of future and past. They twine around and around to create that magical window through which you can see all the terrible things you can’t change. We could fly out, into that sunlight, screaming the warnings the sirens would give too late. But they wouldn’t listen. They’d go on drinking their wine and laughing their triumph as they wait for the rain of fire and fury that will tear Notre Dame apart, knock their tower sideways so that it spills the people from it’s top like a glass tipping water on the table, and turn the Louvre into a fire that burns until there is nothing left but shifting ash.
I prefer to see the dead city; at least it is over, when we are there. When we pass the small crack where screams pour down like rain and the air raid sirens howl their high warning, I close my eyes so I don’t have to see the orange-red flicker of fire and I cover my ears so I don’t have to hear them dying, those merry, laughing French who thought it was all over, who believed they were safe.
Finally, it is just us in the dark, Hook’s boots crunching on bone, scraping over loose dirt and stone. “Do you know how to find her?” I ask.
“What we need will find us,” he says.
“We must lose our way.”
I frown. “Madness.” A comment on him or our quest? I don’t know.
“Sometimes getting lost is the only way to be found,” he says in a tone that tells me I’m being purposefully dense. And I am. These are Wonderland rules; what is down must go up because up is really down. I shouldn’t be surprised; I am a Cheshire, a riddler, daughter of the Sphinx and Grinner.
I’ve seen little girls shrink to an inch then grow ten feet tall. I have seen playing card soldiers shuffle themselves and blue caterpillars nine feet long puffing calmly on their hookah. These are the laws when you are down the rabbit hole; no science can calculate, gravity goes often on vacation, and two and two might equal six. Or ninety-eight. Or apple. It’s Wonderland. Madness is our daily routine.
But. Down through the twisting, musty dark which is not Wonderland and which does not love me like my home, there comes a new sound. “Here kitty, kitty.” My muscles clench tight, my whole body a fist squeezing into a knot, ready for flight. “Come, puss, come sweet kitten.” All around, coming from every tunnel, the drone of a hundred gray voices. The grate of a thousand cage doors opening. “Here kitty, kitty.”