Writing

The Niggling Urge to Rewrite

I’m not referring to a work in progress here. Rewrites are standard procedure for new pieces of writing.

I’m talking about rewriting a published novel.

Have you ever read one of your own books years after it was published and thought how much better you would write it now? Have you ever agreed with a critical review pointing out fixable flaws in one of your books?

Have you ever thought about such a rewrite? Either tightening up the prose or stripping the book down to its basic concepts and embodying them in new words?

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Soon it will be ten years since I published my first novel, The Friendship of Mortals. Twenty years since I started writing it. It was inspired by, and mostly based on, a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

Every now and then, I think about how I would write that book if I were starting fresh right now. I even have an opening scene sketched out in my mind.

Rewritten, the book would be shorter and edgier. Herbert would be more gritty and less charming. Charles would be less willing to go along with Herbert’s schemes and would need to be persuaded by something harsher than friendship. Alma would take a more active role and not get sidelined to the edge of the plot. A clash of motives would produce more conflict and tension.

I’d have to do a sh*tload of research into the criminal world of Boston and environs in the 1910s, and the way people talked and behaved at that time. (The trouble with being realistic is you have to find out what was real at the time and in the place in question. You can’t just make stuff up and hope it passes the plausibility test.)

Or I could ditch the early 20th century setting and make it a contemporary story, dragging in technology and present-day problems and issues. Except that doesn’t excite me at all. Plus I’d have to do a different sh*tload of research — about medical schools and biochemistry, among other things. Tedious, heavy, and full of opportunities to screw up.

If I did the work and did it well, I think I would produce a better book than the existing one. But do I want to? And what if Version 2 wasn’t any better than The Original? Most likely it wouldn’t be Version 2 at all, but an entirely different work.

There definitely would be no sequel, never mind a four-book series, because the ending would be quite different. In fact, the ending would be really interesting.

I’ve always said all I need to write a story or even a full length novel is a good beginning and a good (as in satisfying) ending. Hmm…

Fellow writers, have you ever rewritten one of your books, or at least thought about it? Do you think it’s better to perfect improve an existing book or to keep creating new ones?

By the way, The Friendship of Mortals is available for free at Smashwords during the Authors Give Back event until April 20, 2020. Description and details HERE.

Toy horses, hobbyhorses

Are You a Hobby Writer?

And if you are, do you admit it? The word “hobby,” after all, derives from a word for a fake little horse used as a children’s toy. Wikipedia has quite an interesting article about hobbies.

Honestly, it’s that word — “hobby” — that’s the problem. It conjures up the petty and the trivial. Hobbies are pointless pastimes for people who lack the talent or the passion for more worthwhile pursuits.

Hobbies include collecting things like postage stamps, beer cans, or pretty pebbles. Or activities such as knitting, embroidery, or making birdhouses. Then there’s gardening (uh-oh). Some even consider reading a hobby.

Hobbies can be picked up and abandoned on a whim. Serious writers don’t do that with their writing, do they?

Hobbies don’t make money or bring fame. Successful writers are rich and famous, aren’t they?

In fact, if you consider writing a hobby, can you even call yourself a writer?

What words other than “hobby” might modify “writer”? Most of the options have an uncomplimentary slant. Dilettante (frivolous), amateur (incompetent), non-professional (unprofessional), independent (disconnected; and “indie author” to many suggests one who aspires to financial success).

The visual arts have a number of terms for artists who follow unconventional paths. Folk art, naive art, and outsider art. I don’t think any of these help us much. For one thing, they are generally applied posthumously by critics or historians. I doubt that Grandma Moses called herself a “folk artist,” or that Henri Rousseau said he was a “naive artist.” The term “outsider writer” does have a certain defiant appeal, but would require explanation every time it was used.

What used to be called amateur theater has become “community theater.” That suits an activity involving a group of people, but calling yourself a “community writer” sounds peculiar. My public library has a collection of works by “emerging authors” and another by “local authors.” There’s some overlap between the two. Let’s face it, though — many of us will remain “emerging” forever, peeking shyly out of our home burrows. And “local” isn’t a word of distinction either.

Let’s return to the word “amateur” for a moment. Its root meaning is “lover of” (sort of like “dilettante,” actually). Wikipedia offers this definition: “a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income.” Perfect, but for writers, there’s a catch. It’s okay to be an amateur runner or painter, but an amateur writer is automatically a failure because most people think there is only one way of being successful: get traditionally published, sell a million copies and/or win a major award. Anything else is failure, especially self-publishing.

In the end, I don’t think we need a special term for a writer who writes and publishes for the joy of it. Anyone who writes with serious intention may call themselves a writer. And those of us who publish our own works may even call themselves publishers.

This post by A.R. Allen presents a helpful view of the issue.

Are you a hobby writer or a professional (actual or aspiring)? Does the word “hobby” bug you? Can you think of a better term for writers with priorities other than fame or fortune?

Featured image by Manuel de la Fuente from Pixabay

Notebook, tomato, tape measure, diet

Why Writing Is Like Dieting

Writing and editing have been compared to cooking. Here’s another analogy (from my contrarian side).

Two approaches to diet: forbid yourself all foods high in calories, carbohydrates, and/or fat, OR eat a variety of foods (including ones you like), limiting those highest in fats and carbs.

Which one are you most likely to adopt as a way of life?

Two approaches to writing: follow all the rules and make sure you don’t use forbidden words, OR use whatever goddamn words you like, as long as they bring your story to life in the reader’s mind.

Which one will you regard with zest and enthusiasm?

Eating a variety of healthy, palate-pleasing foods from the entire range of available edibles is a better approach than restrictive regimes that label certain foods as forbidden. Of course, it helps to learn something about nutrition, and what “moderate” really means.

We writers have the entire panoply of words available to us. Words are the writer’s tools. Learning to write is learning how to use them well, all of them. Some words — cliches, maybe? — are analogous to processed foods. Flat, boring prose may be likened to vegetables boiled into a khaki-coloured mush. Well-chosen words skillfully assembled are like magical combinations of juice and crunch and richly blended flavours. A dialogue tag other than “said,” or the occasional adverb, are like touches of spice or a few hot peppers.

I’m not a fan of advice that labels certain words as weak words, crutch words, or filter words. The implication is that if you avoid those words or replace them with other, better, words, your writing will be good. But it’s not really about using some words and avoiding others. Writers must develop the ability to embody their imaginings in words that engage, delight, intrigue, or appall readers and keep them reading to the end.

If it was simply a matter of avoiding adjectives and not using “was,” writing would be a snap. It isn’t.

In writing, as in diet, it’s all about good choices and optimal combinations. Experimentation, mistakes and failures, adjustments, and fresh attempts are part of the process. Too much focus on rules can result in paralysis. Ignorance and total disregard of good writing practices can result in bloated or crippled prose.

When the writer embarks on a journey of creation, the rules should be in the luggage and the editor in the back seat. When the writer’s inspiration and intention have been given shape in the form of words, they may be unpacked and summoned to do their parts.

Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

Advice, Advertising, and Anxiety

Blogs are full of advice for writers and self-publishers. How to start a novel. How to finish your novel. How to make your novel great. How to publish, promote, and market your novel. Etc.

No, this isn’t another rule-quibbling post. (Well, actually it is.) This one is about the advice contained in these posts. Or not contained, when the post is written by a service provider of some sort. After outlining a topic crucial to the success of writing and publishing efforts, the post proceeds to describe how that topic is addressed in a course or book. The real objective, of course, is to sell said course or book.

We writers and indie authors are a huge market for services. Editors, book doctors, writing coaches, and publicists are eager to tap into this market. That’s totally legitimate, but let’s not forget that we aren’t just a bunch of dewy-eyed airheads desperate for advice on creating and selling products (our books). We are a market, and should select paid services judiciously.

OK, most of us authors-who-blog are promoting our books (often to one another). But the relationships among authors are different from those between authors and those from whom they purchase services. We’re like a big, happy family sitting around socializing. “How’re the kids books?” “Oh, here’s a picture of the latest.” “Ooh, so cute gorgeous!” Etc. Then the doorbell rings and it’s a sales representative peddling a product. Do we invite that individual in and offer them a drink? Maybe. Do we automatically sign up for that gym membership they’re peddling? Maybe not.

I pay WordPress not to display ads on my site. I spend time and trouble to make my posts look good, so why would I want them uglified by ads for fungal nail cures or how scantily-clad women can make mega-bucks “without working”? That was the last straw. I forked over cash (well, credit) to be ad-free. And I willingly donate to the Wikimedia Foundation to keep Wikipedia and their other sites ad-free.

Ads, however upbeat, are designed to induce anxiety. Your life isn’t good enough, you’re not having enough fun, your writing won’t be its best if you don’t take my course, read my how-to book, or pay for my expert services. There’s enough anxiety in the world without adding to it by exposure to ads.

Fellow writers, how do you feel about ads? Do you create or purchase ads for your books? What do you think of the ads that come with the free blogging option?

Image from Pexels

mind movie image

Reader Brain and Critic Brain

The writer’s brain has two parts — the Imaginer and the Editor. Similar to these are two different parts of the reading brain: the Listener and the Critic.

Both writing and reading are complex activities. There’s more to writing than following rules and more to reading than seeing words on a page or screen.

It may be that the only thing a piece of fiction needs to do in order to be a success is engage the Listener in the reader’s brain. Like a kid by the campfire, all it wants is a good story. Once the Listener is engaged, details that bother the Critic — lapses in grammar, spelling mistakes, or typos — don’t matter. Not even plodding prose, cardboard characters, or warmed-over plots. As long as the Listener part of the reading brain wants to know what happens next and how the story ends, the reader will keep on reading.

This may explain some of those five star rave reviews for what discerning, critical readers believe to be mediocre books.

Editors, agents, reviewers, beta readers, and critique group members must perforce read in Critic mode. People who aren’t writers and are simply looking for entertainment, amusement, or diversion read in Listener mode.

This is why many (maybe most) writers are unable to read purely for fun. Poor things, they’re stuck in Critic mode. Typos, errors, and lazy writing habits irritate them and break the reading experience. Even when reading a stellar piece of work, they end up comparing what they’re reading to their own writing, rather than allowing themselves to be swept along by the story.

This may also be why many readers don’t write reviews. If you’ve sailed through a book in Listener mode, it’s hard to marshal your thoughts about it to the point of expressing them in prose.

Most beta readers are also writers, and feel obligated to read critically. Perhaps another category (“alpha readers”) is needed — folks who read purely for entertainment but are willing to comment on their experience of a specific book.

Anything an alpha reader notes as problematic would need the writer’s urgent attention. Niggly details noted by the beta readers can be dealt with later. There’s no point in polishing your prose if no one cares where your story is going or what happens at the end.

Maybe all this applies mainly to genre fiction — stories with inciting incidents, arcs and climaxes, and chapters with cliffhanger endings. Literary fiction, with its emphasis on artful prose, symbolism, and underlying themes, is a different matter. Even so, literary writers may want to consider recruiting one or two alpha readers from among their acquaintances.

So, fellow writers, do any of you seek out alpha readers? Are you able to read uncritically, purely for enjoyment?

Three Books, Three Thoughts

I’m trying a new style of book review that may be less intimidating than the dreaded “book report” essay many readers are reluctant to write. Three thoughts about three books.

I read almost 50 books in 2019. These three were my favourites:

  1. The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head: Volume 1, The War of the Stolen Mother / Lorinda J. Taylor
  2. Eternity Began Tomorrow / Kevin Brennan
  3. Annals of the Former World / John McPhee

The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head: Volume 1, The War of the Stolen Mother / Lorinda J. Taylor

…the Champion Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head and the Remembrancer Di’fa’kro’mi set out on an epic quest to reach the sea. In the Champion’s home fortress we learn that Ki’shto’ba has a twin and that he may have been sired by the Sky-King. Later, the Companions visit a fortress that has been at war for nine years with its neighbors

Book description at Smashwords
  • The Characters. Yes, they’re termites. Giant termites living on a distant planet. Their personalities, thought processes, and emotions are similar to those of humans, which makes them relatable. But their anatomy and physiology are true to type, which is fascinating.
  • The Plot. It’s an epic quest adventure, full of unexpected hazards and tests of courage and ingenuity. Recognizing similarities to legends of the human world woven into the plot offers the reader happy surprises.
  • The Language. I’m referring to the termite language devised by the author. It’s more than a random collection of made-up words. This is a constructed language (conlang), with a structure and internal logic whose patterns are relatively easy for the reader to discern. It’s interesting in itself and enriches the fictional world and its cultures.

Eternity Began Tomorrow: a novel / Kevin Brennan

When Molly “Blazes” Bolan, a young hotshot reporter for an online news outlet, is assigned the biggest story of her career, she’s eager to run with it. Her subject, John Truthing, has built a cultish organization called “Eternity Began Tomorrow” to fight climate change, and it’s starting to snowball big time. As Blazes digs in, she’s both impressed and disturbed by Truthing, a charismatic eco-warrior with revolutionary ideas. Disturbed because his followers are mainly millennials, all hooked on a drug called Chillax and so devoted they would jump off a cliff if he asked it of them. … Blazes knows that the final story in her EBT series could destroy his movement, but she’s torn. The cause is worthy. The stakes are high. And the election of 2020 could decide the fate of life on earth.

Book description at Amazon.com
  • The Protagonist. Molly “Blazes” Bolan, journalist. She’s smart, funny, and irreverent, but vulnerable. And man, can she tell a story.
  • The Relevance. The story is happening right now. Climate change, social media, the power of charisma to change the world.
  • The Ending. You think you know where the story is going when — wham! — it takes off into unthought-of territory and punches you in the gut. And the heart.

Annals of the Former World / John McPhee

The Pulitzer Prize-winning view of the continent, across the fortieth parallel and down through 4.6 billion years. … Like the terrain it covers, Annals of the Former World tells a multilayered tale, and the reader may choose one of many paths through it. As clearly and succinctly written as it is profoundly informed, this is our finest popular survey of geology and a masterpiece of modern nonfiction.

Book description at Amazon.com
  • The Subject. Geology and geologists. McPhee travels east to west across the US along Interstate 80 in the company of geologists, relaying their expertise to the reader in a way that opens the eye and the mind.
  • The Scope. No less than several billion years, but the focus zooms in and out to human as well as geological time, covering matters such as frontier life, academic life, the oil business, the California gold rush, how geologists think, and a minute-by-minute account of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
  • The Writing. It’s vivid, precise, lapidary. McPhee doesn’t avoid or dumb down the language of geology, but incorporates it into his narrative in a way that that both informs and delights. Writers should read this book; even if they don’t give a damn about geology they’ll learn something about writing.

Well, fellow writers — what do you think of this attempt at giving impressions of books? Did any of these mini-reviews spark your interest?
All my reviews may be found on Goodreads.

pocket watch and book

The True Price of a Book

Self-published authors often see advice about pricing their books — not too cheap, not too expensive, as though there’s a Goldilocks price for an ebook. I’ve seen 2.99 to 4.99 recommended as ebook pricing “sweet spots.”

Authors sometimes wonder how potential buyers can be so reluctant to part with the few bucks they charge for their ebooks. It’s only $2.99! You can’t buy a cup of coffee for that. What’s the problem?

I suspect the amount of currency isn’t the real problem. The problem is that paying for a book commits one to reading it. Reading takes time. And time is priceless.

The real price of a book is the reader’s time.

We all know the process a potential book buyer goes through — Hmm, nice cover. Cool title. What’s it about? Sounds kinda interesting, but… Do I really want to read this? I already have 20 books waiting… Only 2.99. Well, maybe… someday.

“Someday,” meaning never. Another sale gets away.

Free books, on the other hand, are snapped up eagerly. Because they don’t involve a financial transaction, maybe they don’t register as time commitments? Some say free books are rarely read. But what about when the “price” is your email address? Are totally free books read more or less than those exchanged for contact info? Has anyone compared the two?

Recently, I read that a potential customer needs to be alerted to a product many times before they feel a need for it, as though an inherent resistance needs to be worn down. I don’t know about that — if a book’s cover, title, and description don’t appeal to me, repeated sights of it are irritating rather than inviting.

Maybe when a potential buyer is teetering on the brink, the sight of one more promo of the book creates the “Oh all right, I’ll buy it!” moment.

Advertising is a huge business, involving clever people with backgrounds in psychology and brain science. Some indie authors may decide to pay attention to these fields, but it’s unlikely that many have the resources to make practical use of such research.

So what’s an author to do?

If the reader’s time is the real price, one answer may be to write books that go down easy — quick reads with lots of action and stripped-down prose. Fifty thousand words priced at 0.99 may be more appealing than 100K words at any price. Especially if a glance at the first few pages shows multi-syllabic words woven into long, elaborate sentences.

I should have written this post before I wrote my books.

SWCF 2019

Nevertheless, all those long books are available for FREE. Only until 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on January 1st, 2020. And only at the Smashwords store. Click HERE.

Image by Tentes from Pixabay

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Christmas Short Stories – Winter Solstice In the House of the Phoenix by Audrey Driscoll

December 21st was the Winter Solstice, so I was grateful to see these two short pieces as part of Sally’s Christmas Short Stories feature.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Stories have always played a part in Christmas celebrations and over the next few weeks I would like to share your festive tales… and you can find details of how to participate at the end of the post.

Today author Audrey Driscoll shares two festive excerpts from her action and adventure novel  Book 4 of the Herbert West Series – Hunting the Phoenix.

Winter Solstice In the House of the Phoenix

(An Alchemical Allusion)

Summoned at last, I go, wrapped in my cloak of midnight velvet. I bring gifts for the household, and a gift for the chance-met stranger, honouring the ancient law. For the keeper of the door, a distillation of rainbows in a fiery spirit; for his goodwife, the song of a bird caught in crystal. For the stranger, the warmth of my hearth fire in a vessel of amber. For the alchemist, a book of secret wisdom…

View original post 1,604 more words

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Word Count Anxiety

Many of you have been concerned with word counts the past few weeks. I didn’t officially do NaNoWriMo, but I have been cranking out a fresh piece of writing. And as always, I’m haunted by the conviction that it’s too short.

Thing is, I’m not usually short of words. My first four novels are all well over 100,000 words. In fact, the second and third were once a 235,000-word monster that I clove into two smaller monsters.

And yet, when I set out to write something more ambitious than a blog post or flash fiction piece, there’s an imp on my shoulder whispering, “It’s too short! It won’t have enough depth. Come on, flesh out that paragraph a bit. How about some dialogue? They can talk about alchemy again, can’t they?”

I write my first drafts by hand, with pen on paper, so at that stage I never have an exact word count. But I know that 15 pages of my scribble adds up to about 7,500 words, so I’m always counting pages. When I hit ten and still have several key scenes to complete the story or a chapter, I smile and relax. Once the manuscript plumps up, I know I’ll have enough material to work with.

Because when it comes to editing and rewriting, I like having too many words. Cutting stuff is easier than crafting new material from scratch and figuring out where to wedge it in. In my finished scenes, however imperfect, sentences and paragraphs fit tightly to those preceding and following. Writing is sort of like making a piece of furniture or a garment, where skimpiness is bad news. Adding new material means having to disassemble the work, unpicking the seams or prying apart tightly-fitted joints — a painful process.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t have a problem moving things around. Words, sentences, paragraphs, even entire scenes. Once they’re finished, they acquire an integrity that helps them survive my whims.

type

What about you, fellow word-crafters (and NaNoWriMo survivors) — do you agonize over word counts? Do you end up with too many words or too few?

The Herbert West Series blog header, blue, purple, and pink with Mercurius symbol

November Novel #4

In November 2000, I started writing the first novel of what would become the Herbert West Series. This November, I have set myself a goal to finish writing a collection of stories I intend to publish in 2020. Call it my own version of NaNoWriMo. So, I’ve scheduled posts for the next four weeks featuring each of the four books of the series. Oh, and November 7th was Herbert West’s 133rd birthday!

The final book in the series is Hunting the Phoenix.

Journalist Alma Halsey chases the story of a lifetime to Providence, Rhode Island and finds more than she expected – an old lover, Charles Milburn, and an old adversary, renegade physician Herbert West, living under the name Francis Dexter. Fire throws her into proximity with them both, rekindling romance and completing a great transformation.

In writing The Friendship of Mortals, I wasn’t sure what to do with Charles Milburn’s girlfriend, Alma. I sent her off to be an ambulance driver in the Great War, after which she became a journalist in Boston and New York City. To compensate, I decided she would be the narrator of Hunting the Phoenix, in which Herbert West/Francis Dexter’s story ends. Before that, Alma rediscovers her poetic talents as well as shocking things about Charles, Herbert, and herself.
In this final book, the theme of alchemy as a symbol of transformation is evident, both in the titles of the five parts and in the narrative itself.

This scene is from the section titled “Calcination.” It’s followed by one of Alma’s poems.


I woke up so suddenly that the dream I was dreaming came with me. I had to save my brother Danforth from taking off in his homemade flying machine and falling to his death. To do that, I had to figure out the plans for it that he’d left in his room. I had to read them aloud to the wind, so the wind would know how to help him. There were so many papers! They kept re-shuffling themselves as I scrabbled through them. I would catch a glimpse of the drawing I needed – the machine drawn in blue ink and Dan’s neat block capitals labelling the parts. My fingers grasped it as it flipped past, and I began to slide it out from the other papers. But to my horror, the ink was crumbling, shifting into other shapes that meant nothing. If I couldn’t preserve it, I couldn’t read it, and Dan would die. I strained my eyes. “Aileron,” I stammered. “Flange. Wing control lever. Strut.”

“Strut,” I muttered, coming awake. The word hung in the air as the urgency of the dream faded, to be replaced with the beginnings of relief. But instead of sliding back into sleep, I came fully awake, slowly becoming aware that something was different. Something was wrong.

There was a smell of smoke. Sometimes Jim Priddy would light a wood fire in one of the fireplaces, as a treat on a cold evening. But he hadn’t done that tonight. “No damn wood left,” he’d said. Donna Maria burned garbage in a metal drum in the back yard every few weeks. But never at night.

There was a flicker of orange light under my door. I thought I heard people shouting, far away.

I scrambled out of bed and ran to the door. The doorknob was warm and the floor was warm too, pleasantly warm to my feet. And smoke was thick around me.

Panicked, I pulled open the door. As though they had been waiting for my summons, flames leaped and rushed into my room from the inferno of the stairwell. Closing the door was impossible. I jumped back, but not quickly enough, heard an intense crackling and smelled my own hair burning. Heat enveloped me. I beat at the flames with my hands and arms. Fire seared my skin, pain shrieked through my body. The window! The window!

Rushing over to it, I fumbled with the catch. It was stuck. No use. Break the glass! Grabbing a shoe from the floor, I pounded the glass with the heel. A star of cracks appeared, but it held. Frantically, I pounded harder. The glass shattered and my hand came down on a jagged shard. Hot blood steamed in the icy air that blasted in, whirling snowflakes over my desk. The shoe fell from my hand, teetered for a second on the outside ledge, was gone. I grabbed a towel from the back of a chair, wrapped my bleeding hand in it and thumped out the remaining shards from the frame.

Behind me flames capered, feeding joyously on the fresh air. Time to go, Alma! Thought fragments whipped through my brain like bullets. Bathrobe? No time. Coat? No time. Slippers? No time. Shoe gone. My notes? My notes! They’re in several piles, all over my desk. I start to gather them up.

Stupid Alma! Stupid!

But I’ve got to –

Go, you fool! Go!

The room is full of fire. There’s no more room for me. Too late – the hem of my nightgown is on fire. Monstrous pain screams up my legs. Clawing frantically at the garment, I tear it off and scramble naked over the desk, scattering papers to the flames. My hand catches on something solid and I clutch it as I push myself through the window, feeling a long tear on my left thigh from an up-pointing glass fragment. The house has teeth, it’s fighting back. But it should bite the fire, not me!

Now I’m on the edge, on the ledge, the very edge, a tiny balcony, just wide enough for me to crouch on. I’m still burning; soon I’ll be a torch. There’s no fire escape. (“Oh, there was a ladder once,” Donna Maria had said, “but it got rotten. I’ll get Jim to make another one in the spring.” Yes, Maria, but I need it now). It’s a long way down, to black and white studded with faces looking up. Their mouths move, yelling things I can’t hear. A siren wails and wails. I know, I know it’s burning! You don’t have to make all that noise!

The fire is done with my room. Now it’s coming for me. No more time, Alma.

I stand up. What a Juliet I am! There’s no Romeo here and this isn’t a nightingale night. Snowflakes swirl around me, turning orange from the flames. Or maybe they’re sparks. Orange flowers in the air. The wind howls. The mouths below me howl. The fire talks to itself, smacking its lips as it eats the house. I’m alone. This is no place to be. I clutch my hands around the only thing I’m taking with me – square, smooth, hard. Is that Charles down there? His face is like a flesh-coloured flower. I can’t hear what he’s saying, but I see his lips moving.

Closer to you soon, Charles.

The fire gives me one last shove and I’m in the air, snowflakes all around me, swirling themselves into a net, holding me up. So this is what it’s like inside the star globe! But where’s my unicorn?

A long rush, a hard thud. Then nothing.


Once I built with wood,
Stone, steel, bricks, cement–
Heavy, straight, squared off and carefully measured.
A life for a lifetime, solid and strong
And all my own.
My house of life.

I did not think it could be so easily destroyed,
Corroded by resentment,
Weakened by desires deferred, ambitions unrealized,
Split by ambivalence
And burned, burned, burned.

Rebuild now?
I have no materials,
My tools are gone to rust,
Mud, air, the water of my tears,
The sulfur of solitude,
And the salt of sorrow.

These are my matter,
But I have no formula,
No vessel except myself.
I need a catalyst.
I need magic, a secret fire.

Is there a magician in this house of night?


What readers have said:

double quotation mark open
  • “… the culmination of the final book is exactly what it should be: tragic, but beautiful. I wish there was more, the story was brilliant.”
  • “I absolutely loved this series. Beautifully written and unpredictable. At times both heart pounding and heart breaking.”
  • “I really wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants /more/.”
  • “A noteworthy aspect of this book is the author’s skill in evocative description. She really knows how to set a scene and create a mood; furthermore characters appear, take shape, and are molded in front of your very eyes.”

Hunting the Phoenix is available from:

Amazon: US UK CA AU DE

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

This is the last of four posts about the Herbert West novels. Here are links to the first three: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Header image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. Book cover image by Damonza.