Evolution: Book 2 of Mermaid Underground now Live!

Evolution cover

James Hamrick’s life is derailed when he discovers his mother is a mermaid. He thinks she is safe in the water, but now he has a choice to make: save himself, or go straight into the dangerous, watery territory of his enemy to save his mother and sister.

In this second installment of the Mermaid Underground series, Li, Jim’s devoted friend, is evolving rapidly into a dangerous, fiery creature…and he’ll need her more than ever by the end!

I have to admit, this one was tougher to get done than my first novella in the series: Devolution. Part of the difficulty was pressure; I knew I had to drive the story (so it would be good!), I had to get it done and e-published, both to promote my first book and platform and so the story wouldn’t stagnate.

It’s hard with kids. Many writers with young kids read other blog posts about stay-at-home parents who merrily balance a kid on their laps as they type away, timing their breaks from the keyboard with snacks and a quick diaper change. Then it’s back to click-clacking away, tipping a wink at the cherubic little bundle while they entertain themselves happily.

Here’s reality: the glow of the computer screen attracts kids like the promise of artificially flavored sugar treats. They start out in the other room. I ignore the occasional clunk or minor crash. They’re just playing, right? No harm done. Or, any harm done can be yelled about later, when my character has resolved this pending inner conflict. Then…they’re in the living room, feet away, and the growling-teasing-squealing escalates to screaming and the “Mom, she just crashed the car into my head!”

Then it’s “Mom, pay attention to me,” and “Mom, I need food to sustain my life,” and “Mom, I just pooped and smeared it on the sheets you just changed ten minutes ago.”

If you are a writer, and if you have kids (God knows we love ’em) then here’s to you: I raise my invisible stein and take a drink. No alcohol yet; it’s 7 in the morning. And I’m not that kind of mom. Yet.

Click here to see Evolution on Amazon, for $0.99.

Devolution will be promoted for the low price of **free** on July 1 and 2, 2016 (that’s this weekend, folks!) If you haven’t read it, this is your chance!

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Poor Valley Witch: Further on Down the Road

This latest installment of Poor Valley Witch is a little late. Please forgive me; I’ve been revising my manuscript for Evolution: Book 2 of Mermaid Underground. It’s set for publication sometime in the next week or so!

For part one, click here. For part two, click here.

Here it is, Part III of Poor Valley Witch:

old blacktop

Landon blinked, and realized he was driving down a gravel road, a side-spur off the main, pitted asphalt track. Weird, he thought. He didn’t remember turning the wheel. Didn’t even remember seeing this road before turning onto it. As a kid, Landon had thought Poor Valley was always eager to spit him out again, but today…today it seemed like the Valley wanted to keep him a while. He shivered at the thought.

Ahead was a place that had a house trailer at its core, a little rectangular metal seed that had sprouted additions and porches until it resembled a forgotten treasure chest in the sea crusted over with years of barnacles. He stopped, vaguely wondering why, and got out of the car. He left it there, in the middle of the road, door wide open.

By now Landon had forgotten Sheila and her self-righteous warnings. He had even forgotten his grandmother, who might know he’d driven down here by now…some of her church allies would probably call, if they hadn’t already. If he had thought about it, it might have comforted him to think there had been witnesses to his departure into Poor Valley. As it was, all he could think about was the trailer house in front of him.

He made his way to what he thought was the front door: a homemade plywood contraption with a hole crudely cut where a doorknob would be. He lifted his fist, hesitated…then knocked. A muffled tock-clunk sounded with the action; the loose plywood bumped against its frame. The noise faded into the rest of the place, then seemed to rebound, reverberating louder and louder until he yelped and pushed his hands against his ears.

Come in. The whisper came at the heels of the deafening, echoing knock. He could not. He couldn’t do it; he turned around and scrambled up the bank to where his car stood, engine running, door wide open. He backed down the gravel road, which was much longer than it should have been. He didn’t see a place to turn around. How long was I out? he wondered. How long had he been entranced, driving under the influence of something or someone else … maybe whoever had whispered from behind the plywood door?

Almost to the asphalt once more, at the place where the road bent around to head toward town, a girl stood in the road behind him. She jumped into the grass, out of the way, looking terrified in his rear view mirror. Landon slammed on the brakes, fishtailing  before stopping in a little shower of gravel. He opened the door, heart pounding.

“You ok!?” he called to the girl, who was standing at the edge of the road in ankle-high grass. It was good he’d stopped. She didn’t have much room to go anywhere; the bank sloped steeply down to a barbed-wire fence before leveling off to a gentle pasture beyond. The foot of the mountain came down right to the road on the other side, shedding little bits of shale and clay in protest of the road’s encroachment.

The girl nodded, edging down the grass to come around his car, wanting to get out of his way.

“Going a little fast, mister,” she said. She wasn’t a girl, he saw as she came close and then went around him. He pushed up against his car to give her room. She was in her mid-twenties, a young woman. Her hair was braided, but working on an escape; a little cloud of baby-fine tendrils waved gently in the air around her face every time she moved. She smelled sweet, like freshly cut hay and the odd grape Kool-Aid odor of kudzu flowers. She stopped at his front bumper, feeling secure that he wouldn’t mow her down in reverse.

“Visiting?” she inquired. He shrugged, unsure of how to answer her.

“I thought I might, but to be honest, I got a little spooked.” He cocked his head toward the ramshackle house behind the girl. He could just see a corner of its roof, peeking at them…goosebumps raised on his arms when he looked that way. The girl threw back her head and laughed aloud.

“You…you didn’t even go in!” she cawed. “I thought you were brave, Landon. Out to fly in the faces of all those righteous folks up-Valley!” Her laughter had a curious effect on him. She was pretty, lovely when she smiled, and he felt shame creeping over his face in a blush.

“Well, it was loud, and then there was a whisper, and…” he stopped, absolutely unsure of how to continue.

“You go on home, now. Put your brave on. Come back and visit when you feel…up to it.” The girl smiled and turned away. Almost as an afterthought, she turned back and said, “Tell your Mamaw I said ‘hi.'” She turned away and walked on down the road, toward the house that seemed to watch them like a little kid peeking over the windowsill of the grassy bank.

***

Click here for Part IV of Poor Valley Witch.

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Poor Valley Witch: Dead Dog

This is part of a serialized story I am writing and posting weekly. For the first installment, click here.

Second Installment

Many plots of land in the rural Mountain South had once been part of a big family farm, divided and doled out to daughters as they married off. Then, as factory work took over from farming as the prime occupation in these parts, landowners sold off little parcels just big enough for a house and a kitchen garden. It was a slow, organic process, marking the movements of each new generation with houses built and left, sometimes abandoned as children all moved away from the old homestead.

Nothing so wholesome had happened down in Poor Valley. Landon drove further away from the healthy artery of the state highway, moving people back and forth as they commuted to work, school, grocery store. Most of the houses down here, set on a flat patch next to the faded asphalt or further in: perched like vultures on a craggy ledge of the steep hill, most of these had never had so noble a beginning as something inherited or gifted, or peeled away from a grander estate that raised anything so honorable as livestock or food.

No, people had crept in here like feral dogs, squatting and furtively building mean homes, scrounging for ginseng, paw paws and other wild things to live on. For a brief time there had been a moonshiner king down in the holler. It was the closest thing to organized work these folk had ever done, tending the copper tubes and boiling corn liquor. Never a tribe to worry much over the safety of a limb or eye, many a Poor Valley shiner hobbled around boneyards of broken mason jars and buckets of mash less one of these.

Not that Landon had seen any of these apparitions himself; Mamaw told him stories of what she remembered from her girlhood. She was special, Landon’s grandmother; she had an unwritten diplomatic pass to every corner of Chuckey County. It was her legacy. Her mother before her had never shied away from folks others called unrespectable. They never did charity, these ladies, but Mamaw went into Poor Valley as a young girl at the skirts of her mother to trade for wild roots and herbs, things mountain people always had the knack for finding.

“You’ll get respect where you give it,” Mamaw always told Landon. “My Mama taught me that, and I’m teaching you. Remember it.”

Landon had no idea where he was going. He’d driven down here before, though never with his Mamaw…curious. She’d always deftly changed the subject when he’d asked to come here with her. In high school Landon had taken a drive or two through Poor Valley. The road looped back around between a tall ridge and a shorter one, eventually spitting the traveler back out in town, behind the only gas station there. It was as though the Valley didn’t want you to stay too long.

He was thinking on these things when the car lurched and his front right tire ran over something with a meaty crunch. What the fu…? he thought. He sat for a moment, brake pedal mashed down, both hands on the wheel, white-knuckled. He’d bounced a bit to the side of the road, enough that another car could get by if it wanted. He took his hands off the wheel and sighed. Guess I’ll get out.

He had to walk around the hood of the car to inspect what it was he’d run over. Even then it was hard to see; it had been knocked under the car. He stooped down to peer into the shadow, and had just caught a glimpse of a dog’s brown hind leg and tail when an old woman’s voice drawled from behind.

“You done run over my dog,” she said, then spit a stream of brown tobacco juice to the side. He straightened quickly, hands out as though to catch his balance.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t even see it!” he cried, his earlier bravado vanished. She watched him impassively. Two boys, wiry and grubby, darted out from the trailer house just behind the old woman. They came running up to the car, circling around Landon. He couldn’t tell their age. Eight, maybe? Twelve, if they were short for their age. One of them darted partway under the car and grabbed the brown, furry leg Landon had seen. He started to tug. The other boy piled in to help. They pulled the sad creature out from under the chassis. He was too amazed to help, or protest, or doing anything but gape.

The dog came with a smear of black, maggots tumbling from under its rotted hide. Its mouth was frozen in a grimace, its eyes long since picked away. Landon looked sharply at the old woman, who might have been accused of smiling, around the corners of her eyes. Her mouth remained stern.

“Dog’s been hard to play with for a while, now. T’won’t run, or nothing,” she said. Landon grinned uncertainly.

“Once they get the maggots like that, they ain’t useful for much,” he offered. He was rewarded with a gruesome grin, brown-stained teeth and tongue that snaked out briefly when she let out a short guffaw.

“Ain’t that the truth!” she said.

“Well, ma’am,” said Landon, “I’ll be going on.” She nodded, still grinning slightly. The boys scampered back behind her, whooping and running of behind the trailer house on the hill.

Landon got back in the car, moving like a man who was learning how. It was by far the spookiest thing to happen to him in years, since…well, since the last time he went down Poor Valley, now that he thought about it. He was unsettled by his maggot joke, too; it was unlike him. It was that joke as much as anything that made him realize, then, that he was not at home here. He drove on down the shadowed road, leaving the decaying dog and the old woman with her half-feral urchins behind.

***

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment below. I’ll endeavor to answer each one. Stay tuned next week for the third installment.

Update: click here for Part III of Poor Valley Witch.

Devolution for 99 Cents!

In anticipation of Book 2 in the Mermaid Underground Series releasing later this month (or around the first of July!) I have decided to lower the price of Book 1: Devolution to 99 cents. Click on the fancy widget to the right to go to the book on Amazon.

Here’s an updated book description. It would normally appear on the inside of the dust jacket, but…no jacket, so my blog will have to do!

devolution image for sp

James Hamrick’s world in rural Florida is rapidly devolving. After quitting college (again) and coming back to the childhood home built on bad memories and failed expectations, he has to put his own troubles aside because his family has much bigger problems.

Is his mother losing her mind? Or is she becoming something he can barely understand?

He doesn’t know who is more ominous, his estranged father or the man’s sinister business associate, but right now, Jim and his sister, Ally, have to get their mother out of their father’s clutches and into the water…it’s the only choice they have left!

Here’s the cover for Evolution: Book 2:

Evolution cover

Stay tuned for release updates! Thanks for reading!

Self Actualization: Top O’ the Pyramid

Yesterday, I had a rousing debate (mostly with myself) about my life’s endeavors, specifically writing. This pursuit of ethereal worlds and people has brought me genuine pleasure and immense pain-truly-but it’s also something I can’t lay down on the path beside me and walk on away from.

I opened my email account this morning to a new blog post from Mr. Money Mustache. He’s a personal hero of mine, and his practical application of money intelligence  can only be matched by his full-powered, machismo-fueled philosophy on life…and how excess of material crap only weighs you down, mind and soul.

Here’s an excerpt from this excellent money/life guru’s latest post, regarding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

If you have basic security, you are finally happy enough seek out family, intimacy, and friendship. From there, you move up to confidence, and earning and cherishing the respect of others. If you are lucky enough to have all of that going on, you get to roam around in the exotic land of self actualization, being creative and moral and working on personal growth.

That’s what writing is all about, really: self actualization. So for me to pursue this occupation is really saying ‘no’ to fancy, material things and saying ‘yes’ to the pursuit of happiness.

Read the rest of Mr. Money Mustache’s blog here.

Poor Valley Witch: Getting Started

This is a long post. Bear with me; I’m trying something new.

I’m going to serialize a story I started years ago, when I was an exhausted new mother with only one baby at home, and I thought I’d never feel rested again in my life…but I digress.

Years and another baby have come along, (and still not enough sleep!) and I recently dug out this story about a little backwoods southern Appalachian witch. I wrote more to it, but I don’t think it was very good. So I’ve decided to do something special with this scrap of it, like a quilt square that has survived, tucked away at the bottom of a hope chest. It hasn’t been placed and pressed and bound to any other squares, yet.

So I’m posting the beginning of this story, Poor Valley Witch, and I’m going to write a little more on it here, on my blog, each week.

There will be mistakes, contradictions, plot holes and the like. I welcome your comments telling me where they are, asking me about characters, suggesting things. I welcome you to read on!

So, here it is, the beginning of Poor Valley Witch:

Landon was unsure why he found himself crossing the state highway onto Leesdale Road. He hadn’t intended on going to Poor Valley today. Leesdale wasn’t much of a road, anyway…a faded gray patch of asphalt that gave a halfhearted shrug up the little hill by the cemetery, and then fell down the other side and kept going on momentum and a “why not?” The average commuter passing by toward Knoxville could blink and miss it.

He hadn’t planned on driving his car down this used up country road today, but here he was. Sheila pushed him to it.

Landon hadn’t grown up in Chuckey County. He’d gone to private school in Knoxville, college in Maryland. But he’d spent every summer here, at his grandmother’s farm. The farm which, incidentally, was on the other side of the highway from Poor Valley. He’d always be in-between, not quite country and not quite city, and it gave him the unique perspective that came with being an outsider no matter what. It made him aloof.

He’d driven straight to church this morning from Knoxville, the first time in a while. He thought his Mamaw would be there, as she was most Sundays, but not this time. He’d stayed for services, anyway; he was too conspicuous in this tiny community to slip away unnoticed. Baptists were funny that way, at least around here: suspicious of any outsider, unwilling to bring people into the fold, yet constantly expecting you to try. Growing up Landon had witnessed a few outsiders—transplants from other places, usually New York—brought into the church, at first delighted at the hospitality of their new community. People around here were fierce about their church, proud that their Papaw’s Papaw had been a member there. The outsiders—for that’s what they stayed, until they left—felt welcome at first.

church window

Then they slowly began to realize that what seemed polite was really condescension, and that this church had pulled them in to make them feel their own foreignness. The preacher railed against Catholics (idol worshipers) and Jews (Christ killers.) He lumped any other sect with nonbelievers–which really meant Satan worshipers, after all…it was both a farce and exhausting to Landon. Other places, outside places with different terrain and weather and ways, were Babylon. Florida was Sodom and Gomorrah.

Landon was accepted, mostly, because his grandmother lived here and went to church here. His father had grown up here, too, although he rarely visited anymore. Landon suspected it was because he went into the world and found Chuckey County lacking. Sometimes he wasn’t even sure why he came back…but he loved his grandmother. She was the best family he had.

Sheila added a new level of bigotry this morning after services. The preacher had been cryptic, warning against sin by association and that God-loving folks could still go to Hell by way of doing nothing in the face of evil. I’ve missed something, thought Landon. It was in the vague nature of the sermon. Usually there was a clear theme, a stated enemy. This morning’s service left him uneasy.

He had planned to go straight to his grandmother’s house after church, but Sheila caught him at his car. She had a baby balanced on one hip. Her bleach blonde hair and heavy makeup grated him; he had little taste for small town debutantes. Probably because of Sheila, actually; they had dated his seventeenth summer. She’d been spoiled and small-minded then, as she was now. She married her equal, the son of the town’s used car dealer. She’d done well enough for the local hierarchy.

“Here to see Mamaw?” she asked him, bouncing the baby and smiling up at Landon. It irritated him, how she called his own grandmother that; it sounded derogatory out of her mouth. He nodded noncommittally.

“She ain’t been to church in a month of Sundays,” said Sheila. “I guess we ain’t good enough for her.” That was a new one on Landon. His grandmother had always been a regular at church. She had enough local-blood status here that she could miss a Sunday or two with no ridicule, as she did, but she still came. She didn’t get into the anti-outsider fervor, but she knew all the people here and liked some of them outside church, so she came. Sometimes she made a coffee cake for after services.

“Why would you say that, Sheila?” asked Landon. He tried to keep the scorn from his voice, but people here were quick to pick up on it—especially Sheila. She’d felt slighted when he’d broken up with her, and apparently held a grudge ten years later.

“On account of how she stood up in church and insulted our preacher. For no reason. Because he was doing his Godly duty, warning us of that witch down in Poor Valley.” Landon thought she was using the word—witch—as an insult, a way of cursing in front of the baby.

Then Sheila said this:  “You tell your Mamaw, that old…old…meddler, to stay away from the witch. Bad things is going to happen Landon, to that witch and anyone associated.” Landon was slower to anger than Sheila, but of course she hit his sore spot. As she’d meant to.

Landon was a river that ran deep, as his mother said. He was not loud, he was not overly demonstrative, and he was not dramatic. What he was, though, was loyal. And now, what he was was angry. And so, instead of shaking his finger in her heavily made-up face, instead of blustering on about small-minded assholes in this miserable stop-through that was a town; town, hell; it was a trailer park with medieval attitudes…instead of saying these things, he said, thoughtfully,

“There’s a witch in Poor Valley, huh? I think I know just who you mean. I’ve been meaning to pay her a visit.” And he opened his car door, got inside, shut the door on Sheila’s powdered, surprised face, and backed out of the gravel parking lot.

And that was how he’d come to decide that his grandmother could wait. He was going to drive to Poor Valley. He wouldn’t necessarily go to find anyone in particular. It was enough that the church members milling about the parking lot could see him pulling on to the road that paralleled Sycamore Street, where they all stood, staring at him. It was creepy, even for this community, knots of people suddenly silent, stilled in mid-conversation to mark his path. They could see his car pass behind a row of tall pines, beyond which was the state highway and then Leesdale Road. They did not see him pass back out of the pines to turn toward his grandmother’s farm. They all knew where he’d gone.

***

For Part II of Poor Valley Witch, click here.

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Evolution: Off to the Editor!

I sent my second book in the Mermaid Underground series off to my editor today! It’s rough–rougher than I would have liked, but sometimes you just need to take your eyes away from something and let someone else pore over it for a while.

The story took a turn I didn’t expect…which I kind of love. I take an organic approach to writing, and though I attempt to keep running tabs on characters and their doings, I don’t map it all out ahead of time. It leads to magical feelings toward my writing, which is nice (for me) and it also leads to some tangled up problems (not as nice for me.)

In any event, expect to see Devolution (book 1 in the series) on sale for *free* in about a month while I am promoting Evolution (book 2) on Kindle. I’ll be experimenting more with different digital sales platforms, I think. Enrolling in KDP Select hasn’t done much for me, so I don’t see the appeal in sticking with just Kindle.

What about my other indie writers and self publishers out there? What’s your opinion on KDP Select? What’s your writing style? Drop a comment and start a conversation.