Top 5 Finalist in YARN Halloween Contest

Happy Samhain-All-Hallow’s-Eve-Halloween! Costumes ready? tBpaYak3

The family is taking it to Oz tonight: I’ll be Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, the hubs the Tin Woodman, daughter Glinda the Good, and son Cowardly Lion (though it sounds more like curfew lion the way he says it).

Last week YA Review Network announced their Top 5 finalists for their 2017 Halloween contest. Horror-writer Rin Chupeco, author of the Bone Witch series, (which is on my TBR list as it looks like the only book of hers that I can read without losing sleep for a week) judged. Adoring Halloween, I submitted my short story “The Séance” and did a happy dance for a full five minutes with my four-year-old when I got the email saying I was a finalist and won a super insightful critique from Ms. Chupeco. YARN published the winning entry, “The Survey” here so be sure to check it out if you dare. Super creepy and I definitely won’t be accepting cookies from anyone anytime soon.

As I had a few people ask to read my entry, I thought I’d share it here. It’s a short story from my YA novel that’s being shopped around now, THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL. Feedback urged for more mystery and less magical realism, so this chapter was cut out and reformed around the jaggedy edges to make it a stand-alone. Well, a bit more stand-alone-ish as the rough loose ends were mentioned in my critique-prize.

Hope you enjoy!

 

"The Seance" By Candice Marley Conner

 

The Séance

“Brought the stuff for tonight,” Honey says as she drags her bag closer to me
I perch on a stool, watching a yellow jacket discover a blot of dried sweet tea on the counter of the concession stand. Its tiny body hums with pleasure, even when I put a clear cup over it. It doesn’t notice, as if the cup doesn’t exist to it.
“Brown candles, for finding lost things and illumination. We’ll need to pick some flowers right before—fresh is best. And,” she pulls sheets of computer paper from the bag and waves them at me. “Instructions so we don’t mess up and let loose demons upon the earth.”

I can’t help but smile at her dramatics. I can always count on her to bring me out of whatever funk I’m in, however deep, and since my brother’s sudden disappearance and my parents’ refusal to acknowledge it, she’s definitely earned her best friend status. The trench in my head is sometimes as unscalable as the Mariana and just as full of deep sea freaks like goblin sharks and anglerfish. “Or evil ghosts.”
“Or the undead.” Honey shudders. “Eww, what if we had a zombie following us around? Fall Break would suck.”
“Nah, it’d suck if we invoked vampires.”
She laughs, almost rocking herself off the stool.
It’s Honey’s idea to have a séance on All Hallow’s Eve. Because it’s probably nothing but my overactive imagination reacting to closed off parents and fear for whatever happened to Jim. But what if the darkness in my head never leaves? With the end of the year fast approaching, my summer has disappeared, and with it, myself. I know I’m not crazy, but maybe I’m going there and I want at least one person to know where I’m headed.
Of course, with Honey planning a séance, she might be headed to Crazy with me. Which is fine because I like her company. Maybe we can get discounts on travel arrangements if we bring a buddy. Or more likely, she simply sees it as something exciting to do on a quiet night in a small town in lower Alabama. We’re too old to trick-or-treat, have too strict of parents to party like trolls under the bridge with the seniors.
Jim’s bedroom door stays closed though I’ve seen my mom rub the door handle like it might be a genie lamp and all three of her wishes would be: let me open that door and my son be asleep, or open sesame so my son comes out to eat one last meal with us (it would be fried pickles on top of bbq-smothered hotdogs, Jim’s fave), or even, why Jim? Why not take Bea Pearl? Yeah, I’ve heard her whisper that when she didn’t know I was on the other side of the door, movements frozen in an irrational fear of being caught. Caught at what? Being a tiny bit closer to Jim in a room of still unmade sheets and a rubbery smell of basketballs, looking for anything that could tell me where he is now.
We’re waiting for the dock to clear out, for night to fall heavy around us. A moth chases off the yellow jacket, as hungry for our light as the wasp was for our sugar. Bats chase the birds that ruled the day, slurping up their mosquito snacks midair. I turn off the lights, leaving only the faint glow from a streetlight. We walk down to the lake.
“Why the dock?” I whisper. It feels right to whisper as our feet leave land and echo hollowly on the weathered boards.
“Water. It’s an in-between place, from what I read on the ten million websites I found. That’s important to spirits, so I figured we’d have better luck.”
The moon is almost full. With it shining down, and its reflection on the water shining up, it’s easy enough to see.
Honey smoothes out a website print-out, reading it over again before lighting the candle. She hands me an orangey-pink rose and pulls petals off her own to throw into the water. “Water spirits are attracted to beauty. Toss these in the lake so they know we’re friendly.”
Silliness and nervousness run circles in my stomach, causing goose bumps to pop up on my arms. This is a game, but it’s not. Especially if it works. The seriousness of the occasion combined with sweet smelling, freshly torn rose petals makes me peer expectantly into the dark, still water.
Honey sits down on the dock and places the candle between us so we are facing each other. “We’re supposed to put our legs in the water to communicate better.”
“Fat chance,” I say. “There might be water sprites in here but there are without a doubt alligators that are accustomed to being fed from this dock.”
She smiles, looking relieved. “That’s what I was thinking too. Ready?” She holds my hands, one each side of the flame and closes her eyes. I’m too tense to shut mine, so I watch the flame flicker. “Water Sprites, please accept our gift of rose petals. We ask for your help in return. Since water travels in rain and fog, from lakes to creeks to rivers to oceans, in all your travels, have you seen Bea Pearl’s brother?”
“His name is Jim,” I whisper to whatever is listening.
“Please give us a sign you hear us.” Honey opens one eye. “Please give us a sign you’ve seen Jim.”
We hold our breath. Cicadas saw away in the pines, canoes bob gently against the dock. I strain to hear anything out of place in the night. Then, a fish splashes.
“Was that a sign?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Maybe? Look, there are rings around the petals.”
“That’s what water does,” I remind her.
“A website says the rings are water spirits.”
I roll my eyes. “More like surface tension.”
She sticks out her tongue. Then: “Did it just get darker?” she whispers.
I look up. “There’s a cloud covering the moon.”
The candle’s flame sputters and goes out.
“Why’d you blow it out?” she asks sharply.
“I didn’t.”
The cicada’s buzzing grows louder. Another fish splashes and it sounds closer, bigger. “I’m not so sure this was a good idea,” I whisper, goose bumps now on my legs. I want to itch them, but I’m not letting go of Honey’s hands.
“Me neither. What if some evil thing has Jim? And now it’s coming for us. Olive Mangled Ghouls, did we open a gateway to Hell?”
“You had to say that out loud?” I tighten my grip, her ring cutting into my fingers. Way back when we were in elementary school, we swore we’d never be one of those O.M.G girls: the annoying ones with beads crocheted on the socks, white Ked’s that never got dirty, the gum-smackers, the ones who laughed the loudest when you came back from the bathroom with your skirt tucked into your panties or toilet paper stuck to your shoe. So instead we used the acronym to inspire the randomest words on the tip of our brains. Back then we thought we were progressive. Now the habit’s ingrained into our friendship, probably for forever.
Something moves in the water.
We lean toward it, unaware ‘til after the fact that we’re mimicking each other, a mirror and a reflection, still clenching each other’s hands.
Something huge and dark rises and we shriek loud enough to wake the dead. We don’t wait around to see what happens next. Honey lets go and grabs her bag. I snatch up the hot candle and in that second of looking down, I hear a low snarling, snicking noise I can’t place, Honey’s cutoff scream, and a splash.
The dock is empty except for me and the dark candle in my hand. I blow my bangs out of my eyes but they’re stuck to my forehead with cold sweat. Again! my brain screeches at me, you’re letting this happen again! “Honey?” My voice is hoarse as if I screamed, but the only sound that reaches my ears is a whisper. No, no, no. She’s the only friend I have left.
I can’t let her disappear too.
Then moonlight reflects off churning water and a hand shoots out of the darkness, followed by Honey’s head. I drop to my stomach onto the dock, the air whooshing out painfully, and reach out to her. “Grab my hand. What’s got you?”
“My leg!” Honey finds my hand and I pull her toward me. She spits out water. “Something’s got my foot.” Her voice is pinched with panic. She belly crawls onto the dock but in the cloud-covered light, I can’t make out what covers Honey’s leg. “What is it? Get it off!”
I fumble for matches or a lighter in Honey’s bag that she somehow never let go of. I find a flashlight instead and switch it on, my hands trembling. A hysteric sort of giggle bubbles up through my insides. I startle both of us as I let out a sharp laugh.
“What’s wrong with you?” Honey demands, and then gives her ankle a closer look. “Oh snap. Is that a fish net?”
I nod, laughing too hard to answer.
“Get it off!” She shakes her leg at me. “It’s probably covered in fish poop.”
I kneel down and untangle her. “We must not have noticed it when we came down here. You know, thinking we’d see water spirits, not get caught in fish nets.”
“Whatever, make fun. Is my flip flop in there?”
“Nope.” I hold up a sun-dried bluegill. “Just this guy.”
She grimaces. “So this is a bust.”
“Did you really think it would work?” My voice wobbles. I get to my feet and help her up. I don’t know what I think, or what I expected. “You didn’t happen to see anything while you were down there?” I’m kidding, I know we wouldn’t see Jim’s ghost because he’s not dead. But a little spiritual help finding him would’ve been nice.
She shivers. I’m sure the October air is chillier to her wet skin than mine. My goose bumps borne of fear have pretty much disappeared. “I think he drowned.”
My head jerks at the sharpness of her words. They hang in the moonlit air like a watchful spirit. It is Halloween. The veil that I don’t know for sure if it exists might be thin enough that demons dangle from hateful words. “Because you tripped over a cast net and fell into a pond?”
At her widened eyes, that scathing demon might dangle from my mouth instead. I think she’s going to respond, but instead she shakes her head the tiniest bit. “I need a shower.”
She walks off. I don’t stop her. There’s no way Jim drowned. There’s no way she had that little epiphany in the seconds she was underwater. She knows something and won’t tell me.
***
I go back after my own shower, too worked up to sleep, and realize what we saw was probably a canoe bobbing. But we were both sure the thing in the water rose level with the dock and Lake George doesn’t get swells. So even if it was just a canoe, someone or something would have had to lift it. A ghost? A demonic water sprite? An alligator? More believable, but just as scary. The goblin I think I see hunkered in a black corner of the little bait lean-to at the beginning of the dock is more likely a bag of catfish food. But I don’t know for sure. Ghosts and water sprites and goblins haven’t been proven to not exist.
I sit, my back against the dock step and watch fog raise up from the warm water to the cooler air. A light breeze pushes it along so ghostly bodies waltz along the slick, black surface, disappearing when the moonlight touches them.
Why is everyone so adamant that my brother never existed? What happened to him?
With anglerfish, the male is absorbed into the body of the much larger female. She’s the one with the light.
He’s only a mouth, a toothy maw that bites, latches,
and then disappears.

So what do y’all think? Unsettling without being in-your-face-scary? Does it make you want to read more?

Enjoy your treating and tricking tonight!

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Susanna Hill’s 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest

Have I mentioned yet that Halloween is my favorite holiday? The weather’s sometimes cooler, you don’t have to clean cobwebs out of ceiling corners, and if you don’t feel like brushing your hair, a green wig is perfectly acceptable.

And the candy…peanut butter cups are a balanced breakfast, right?

I also love contests. So when I heard about children’s author Susanna Hill and her Halloweensie Contest, I couldn’t wait to write my entry.

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The rules: Entry must have a 100 word count or less, and contain the words candy corn (counts as one word here), monster, and shadow. And be for little ghouls and goblins.

Here’s my entry at exactly one hundred words (that’s harder than it sounds, people!):

The Candy Corn Craft Monster

Bean’s best friend Jilly said he was a monster when it came to crafts. A complete mess. He’d get glitter up his nose. He’d glue his fingers together.

So Bean hid in the shadowiest corner.

Miss Ann found him. “Halloween’s tonight! Come make spooky art.”

“I’ll just make a mess.” Bean hung his head.

Miss Ann led him next to Jilly. “That’s okay. Messes mean you’re being creative and learning.”

Bean looked at the candy corn and had an idea. He got to work.

Jilly squealed, then giggled. “It’s Bean the Candy Corn Monster!”

He grinned as he gnashed his candy corn fangs.

 

A Stroller-Ride, a Squirrel, & a Story

Around five years ago, my daughter (then about a year old) and I took a stroller-ride around our neighborhood. We sang our ABCs, hearty renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and mainly just enjoyed the shade of oak trees over the road, the distant, muted swishing of traffic, birdsong, and each others’ company.

Then a squirrel scampered down, looked at us, grabbed an acorn with its tiny paws, and scampered back up the nearest tree.

“Did you see it’s tail? I’ve never seen one so scrawny!”

“Gggggh-mmftph” (Because she’s one and probably chewing on something)

Looking at things with a different perspective is a value I’ve tried to instill in my children since birth, so the rest of the stroll was all about that little squirrel with the bristly tail:

  • Squirrels use their tails to communicate, so do other squirrels have a hard time reading the tail-flicks?
  • They use their tails for balance, so does this one fall a lot?
  • Do squirrels even care? Is it a thing? Do they spend extra time grooming their tails?
  • How many toes do squirrels have?
  • mmmmffftpphhh (probably imagining what a squirrel tail tastes like)

By the time we got back home, an entire story about a squirrel with a tail as bristly as a chewed-up pine cone was born.

But like all things that are born, it has to grow. Learn new things like formatting picture book manuscripts, brevity (picture books are notoriously low on the word count), and because of this: which words paint the clearest picture, which is the most concise way to get this info across in a way both children and the parents that read this to them will enjoy, when to show and when to tell.

And so, it’s with great delight that I can now announce that the picture book manuscript tentatively titled Sassafras and Her Teeny, Tiny Tail is now under contract with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Here’s her potential Back of Book content:

Sometimes your differences make you a hero.

With her stubby, bristly tail, Sassafras is the laughingstock of the oak tree. But when danger strikes, the thing that makes her different might just save the day.

She still has some growing to do once I receive edits from my new editor, but one day this little squirrel will have her story.

(And squirrels have four toes on their front paws, and five on their hind legs, for those curious.)

The Magic of Mardi Gras

Dinner is a rushed affair of sloppy joes and not enough vegetables. Shoes are sensible and closed-toed for the streets will get messy. Downtown is more packed than the kids have ever seen but we manage to squeeze into a parking spot not far from Royal Street. As soon as we get out of the truck, jazz music swells up in our toes and it’s impossible not to walk in rhythm to the horns.

We find a spot against a barricade and the crowd swells. Both kids gasp. My three year old grabs my hand in his.

Always try to see things a little differently--that's real magic. Check out this blog post to experience a tiny but of #mobilemardigras

The magic of Mardi Gras

A train, the Conde Express, massive, gloriously green, purple, and gold steams toward us.

“Hands in the air!” I instruct the kids as beads and stuffed animals and moonpies rain down.

“Hey Mister! Throw something to me!” My daughter, at six, is a pro at this now.

A mermaid, as tall as the oaks, swims by shortly. Then Darth Vader. Gorgon Medusa. By the end of Carnival season, the kids will see a smoke-billowing dragon slither down streets that look normal in the daytime. But at night, and on Fat Tuesday, something magical happens that allows one to see the world a little differently. The fantastical comes to life. mardigrase7fda6b782fc781940e46900ceca9174

Mobile, AL is the birthplace of Mardi Gras. New Orleans may do it louder, bigger, and raunchier, but the magical event that is Mardi Gras was born right here in 1703 when Mobile was the first capital of French Louisiana.

Even just being present, being part of a tradition that’s been around for centuries is magic unto itself though, for the most part, the two-tiered, gilded floats have come a long way from the very first parade: sixteen men of the Boeuf Gras Society pushing a cart with a papier-mâché cow head.

1923316_506931169223_353_n The secrecy of the masks and mystic societies make ordinary people seem larger than themselves. An anything-is-possible thrum in the air that connects us, that makes adults beg for plastic beads and cups, but then hand everything over once the parade passes to little children with wide-eyes and chocolate-smeared mouths.

15439702_10101325313189053_7928266597404588128_nAnd all that will remain once Lent arrives are beads draped like Spanish moss from the live oaks. A tiny reminder to see the world on different terms.

Have you had a chance to experience the magic of a Mardi Gras celebration? I’d love to know how it helped change your perspective of things.

 

Writing Goals: A Look Back on 2016

I began the year with a goal. setting-goals-tony-robbins-quoteBeing on submission was nerve-wracking and I needed smaller creative outlets so I wouldn’t drive myself (or my agent, critique partners, and beta readers) crazy. So I challenged myself to get published at least once a month for the entire year. It’s tricky as a goal, because as a former Mobile Writers’ Guild president once cautioned us, a goal should be something YOU can control. But I could control the opening up to inspiration, the butt-to-chair writing time, the search for publications, and the strength and confidence to put myself and my words out there. I did better than I thought I would, although rejection never got any easier and was sometimes hard to bounce back from.

I submitted fifteen poems, six short stories, and eleven personal essays. On the first day of the new year I received an e-mail that my personal essay, The Fairy House, would be published online by Mothers Always Write.

Setting writing goals is how I coped with being on submission. Check out my blog post to see what is working for me, maybe it can inspire you too!

I was ecstatic. It was the first personal essay I had ever written, and I found the challenge cathartic. I felt like it would make me a better writer and a better mother. More truthful with myself.

Then in February, Mothers Always Write wanted to publish my poem, Lake Geneva. The Fairy House fit their acceptance theme slated for March and was published then. In April, I was beyond excited when Mamalode published my Top Ten Reasons Why Playgroup Moms Make Awesome Friends. Babybug Magazine printed my poem, Gardening, that I had actually signed the contract with back in 2013. Then, I–or really my secret identity, the Saltwater Scribe–was invited to be a part of the author/illustrator group, The Inscribables, and they published my post, Being Creative is as Awesome as Surfing on Dolphins.

Mothers Always Write published another one of my essays, Earless Bunnies in May, and The Good Mother Project allowed me to share my Mother’s Day gift to my mom with their readers when they published my poem, Dear Momma.

Short stories are hard for me to write so I was giddy when the Scarlet Leaf Review published Weak in June. Then Haiku Journal published a haiku of mine mentioned in this previous blog post.

In July, I had my first reprint when The Good Mother Project asked to republish Earless Bunnies, and then again when they republished my Top Ten list in August. In September, they published my poem to my daughter, You Walked Away from Me, as I struggled to be okay with the fact that she was now all growny in kindergarten.

I had a YA short story accepted for publication in October, but the editor decided to push the publication date back. So I’m still hopeful, though I couldn’t make my goal. November was full of rejections, but more positively–revisions on my YA manuscript that’s out on R&R (an editor-requested revise and resubmission). I also have a poem and short story accepted for publication later on next year and a personal essay that’s made it to a final round selection that I’m extremely hopeful for.

I read twenty-two books this year, critiqued four manuscripts, and beta read too many to keep count. I met some awesome authors at book signings. I was part of a 4-H Authors and Illustrator’s Panel, a facilitator at a Young Author’s Writers Conference, a writing contest mentor for FicFest, completed my fourth manuscript, a middle grade magical realism, revised (and revised again) my YA mystery, began my fifth novel, a YA Southern Gothic named Amalee, and am co-writing an adult psychological thriller with two other creative mamas. So throughout the rejections, I’d say a lot of awesome things happened writing-wise for me in 2016.

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What positive things happened to you writing-wise this year? Did you read a book that changed your perspective? Did you write the book that will change your life?

 

 

Faith, Trust, & Pollen Dust

The kiddos and I are eating breakfast one morning when my daughter sighs deeply into her Cheerios. “Magic’s not real, is it, Mommy?”

I drop my biscuit. Gosh, that hope rests so tremulous in her little girl voice. I’ve worked hard at instilling wonder and believing in possibilities that I have no idea where this is stemming from; did someone in her preschool class tell her Santa didn’t exist? This innocence is so important to me that I don’t want to say the wrong thing. So I take a big swig of coffee. Choke a little bit. Realize I need more information (Something I recently discovered to do when I don’t know how to respond, like when they asked where babies come from. Never answer a kid’s question at face value, I’ve learned.)

“What do you mean?”

She shifts in her booster seat. “Well, princesses aren’t real.”

Nervous, I launch into a monologue about the differences between our democracy and a monarchy, and by the time her eyes glaze over, something catches my attention out the window behind her. A Gulf fritillary deposits eggs on the passionflower vines that climb up the posts on our back patio.

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I point it out to her. “That’s kind of magical, isn’t it? That butterfly is laying a teeny, tiny egg, and we’ll get to watch the caterpillars hatch and grow, then harden into chrysalises that look like dried leaves curled into question marks. And then a butterfly comes out!”

She looks doubtful, but nods. “What about pixie dust? There’s nothing like that in this world.”

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By now, I know how to answer her, how to answer this question of faith, and believing, and growing up but holding onto possibility. “Look at the patio table outside. What’s on it?”

My son yells, “Pollen!” He’s happy to be able to contribute to such a serious discussion. And poor thing, he knows all about pollen because every time something new blooms he gets congested.

I nod. “And what does pollen do?”

“Turns your car yellow!”

“Gets in my nose and makes boogers!”

I laugh. “What do bees and butterflies do with pollen?”

“Takes it to all the flowers. Bees make honey, too.”

“And isn’t that what Tinker Bell and all her friends do with pixie dust? Use it to help things grow? It turns seeds into flowers, and acorns into oak trees?”

She nods, the smile on her face showing me she’s satisfied with my explanation. We’re both happy that she can see the magic now. Because really, it’s all at how you look at things. As Roald Dahl wrote:

thDahl magic meme

This breakfast exchange got me thinking of how nice it would be to have these little reminders of all the magic constantly around us, though maybe we’re too tired, or too busy, or too in ‘our world’ as my daughter called it, to see. So I’m going to start a hashtag on my author page and twitter called #everydaymagic.

And I’d really love it if you’d play along too. Seeing from someone else’s perspective is a magic unto itself.