Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Little Drummer Boy and the Carol of the Coyotes

This cold, wet night is better suited for October than December; Halloween instead of Christmas.
But there can be no doubt. This is Christmas Eve, incontrovertibly the night when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the foundation stone of their entire belief system.

Perhaps that is why people like me find ourselves so baffled on December 24th. Christmas is a holiday rooted deeply in belief, both individual and cultural.

As a child, I believed. 

Christmas was a time of magic and wonder, and Christmas Eve was the night when all the small magics of childhood come together in a breathless kind of anticipation. Will Santa come? Will I get that doll/game/book/toy I asked for? Or does he know about the time I locked my three-year-old brother in the bathroom with the tub running. I’m sure Mom told him about that. She never forgets anything. As a result, Santa Claus doesn’t either.

Was there anything ever so delicious as slipping in between cool sheets with the heaviness of blankets and comforter, determined to stay awake so you could hear the hooves of the reindeer as Santa landed on the roof? How one moment, you were straining to hear Santa’s arrival and the next you were opening your eyes and finding that somehow, incredibly, it was Christmas morning?

But those are the happenings of childhood, when everything was possible.

As adults, that magic is lost.

For a decade, I didn’t have Christmases with my family. Any of my family. I created Christmas for my friends whose families had disowned them. The gay community was at its craziest, most frenzied pace during the 1990s. Especially around the holidays. We drank and danced and dared each other to think longingly of the Christmases of our childhood, and tried to create our own magic without the fallacy of Santa Claus and the unforgiving families we'd left behind. I wasn’t gay, but they didn’t care. I invited them all to my table—young and old, well and sick, forgotten and forbidden, and we created our own family.

A family for a day.

But that family, like the first, has fallen into the past.

Now I stand alone on the back deck, while behind me my family sleeps. My husband, secure in the home of his parents, sleeps soundly in our bed. But I can’t. My father is eight hours to the south; my oldest daughter eight hours to the east; my youngest daughter half an hour and a world of anger away. My children now have children, and they already sleep—seven little souls worn out with their own effort to stay awake for Santa. Seven little souls secure in the belief that on Christmas Eve, magic happens. My daughters are busily being Santa, arranging gifts under the tree and anticipating the morning madness.

The simple drama of Christmas, enacted by players who know their roles in the world of that personal and distinctly unique thrill of the holiday. 

And yet...

I once again find myself alone on Christmas Eve, but I don’t mind this aloneness as once I did.

The night is wild and wet, the wind whistling through branches stripped bare from a sudden and violent slide into autumn, and now face the winter with stoic desperation. The air stings against my skin, softly singing a susurrus of sovereign solitude. But I hear another song, a song I've rarely witnessed. I hurry to the rail of the deck in the corner nearest the forest, and I wait in silence for the song to begin once more. 

And it does.

Not too far from here, in the ravine near the spring, coyotes are singing as well. Their song isn’t lonely, but proud and autonomous. Not the Christmas carols we all sing, but just as sacred and far more rare.

You know, even as an adult I find that some Christmas carols bring tears to my eyes. The Little Drummer Boy always gets me. The imagery on its own is so perfectly expressed.

Little baby
I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give our King
Shall I play for you
On my drum

Mary nodded
The ox and lamb kept time
I played my drum for Him
I played my best for Him
Then He smiled at me
Me and my drum

Think of a child who has nothing but a drum—no parents, no friends, no school. His drum is the only thing that stands between him and starvation, and his ability to play that drum is the only company the child has. So when he finds himself standing beside the manger where the newborn Christ lies on his bedding of straw, he feels compelled to give the infant a gift. He can’t compete with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh the three wise men bring. He gives the baby the only thing he can—he shares his talent. Playing the drum is his gift, and the Christ child smiled.

I’ve never been able to sing the whole song through. Every Christmas I try, and every Christmas I fail. For anyone who is both blessed and burdened with a creative talent, the imagery hits too close to home. Anytime you share your talent, it’s a breathless, terrifying sort of gift. Not everyone can understand what you’re giving them. Not everyone values it. But then you reach that one person, a total stranger, who experiences your gift and is grateful that you gave it.

And for that one, paralyzing moment, you are no longer alone.

Like me, now, standing in the dark, cold corner of the back deck. It no longer matters that my family is scattered over four states. It no longer matters that I, alone, am awake and welcoming the midnight’s ominous silence. For I am not alone. Instead, I listen to the coyotes caroling deep in the ravine, and as their voices rise into the heavens the clouds break apart and reveal an arctic
night’s sky. The stars are icy, their light static and brittle. The moon is still hiding her argent face from the field and woods beneath her.
And I? I am breathless with the wonder of the moment. This moment is a gift. I don’t know who gives such a thing to me. Maybe I’m fool enough to think it something significant instead of just a completely random jumble of occurrences. But for now, it’s mine and mine alone. No one else is experiencing this, so it must be meant for me.
A gift…and a lesson. I am not alone. I have never been alone. I have chosen before to keep myself aloof—apart—and therefore safe in my isolation. I have been the coyote singing a wild song to the aurora borealis…not because I saw the northern lights, but because I believed they was there.
Now the clock chimes midnight, and it is Christmas Day. The coyotes have fallen silent, and the skies have clouded back over. A rain that’s more solid than liquid has driven me back into the warm silence of the house. The kittens are curled up in their basket, and my husband still sleeps.
Leaving me to ponder the gift of knowledge Christmas gave me, and the strange gratitude I have for the perfect serendipity that led me outside, hurting and alone, so that some providence could remind me of the true miracle of Christmas.

I am never alone.
Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Post-Op Thoughts: Creativity Vanquishes Pain

I have three-quarters of a million dollars invested into my spine, but that's not the most expensive aspect of the injury that started me on this road to disaster.

Chronic pain in general and chronic back pain in particular are so all-encompassing. Every aspect of your life is impacted--mostly by taking things away. When I was in the car wreck that blew up my spine fourteen years ago, I had an extremely active lifestyle. Swimming, scuba, hiking, off-trail hiking, rock climbing, bicycling...all activities I loved. All gone now. I would walk 1-2 miles a day. The furthest I've been able to walk for the past four years is a block.

Half a block for the past year or more.

I do all my shopping online so it can be delivered. I haven't been in a brick and mortar store shopping in two years at least--mostly because even though I can't walk in WalMart, I don't think it's right for me to take the little carts away from people who "really" need them. And then I get pissed when I see people who don't really need them zipping through the aisles like it's a NASCAR race.

I can't pick up anything heavier than a gallon of milk. Been that way since 2012. And, of course, I ignore that rule when there are grandbabies or cats involved.

Or my laptop.

As a writer and editor, I spend the majority of my time on the computer. But I cannot sit up for longer than half an hour at a time, so I have learned how to awkwardly write with the laptop perched too high on my abdomen.

Basic life activities are gone--driving a car, for example. If I slipped behind the wheel of my PT Cruiser now, I'd automatically be guilty of an OMVI because of the medications I'm on. Housework is out save for a few easy chores and the ones I've figured out how to do by sliding around the house on my butt. As you can imagine, my baseboards are immaculate. The crown molding, not so much. I can fold laundry, as long as the basket is brought to me. For the rest, I've learned some life hacks but my house makes me fussy because it's not the way I like it to be or feel.

Now I am six days out of another major back surgery, and once again lying on my mother-in-law's couch while I fret and worry and wonder for the umpteenth time: "Will this one actually work? Will I get that life back I enjoyed so much? Or will this be just another patch-up job that raises my hopes and then destroys them, leaving me to fight out of the depression that came after the last four-five-six surgeries?"

There's no way to answer that. With the type of bizarre condition in my spine, the success or failure of this procedure won't be known for months--six months before it's official according to my spinal surgeon. But I'll know sooner.

I know--you're sitting there, reading this and thinking that I'm whining. And you're right; I am whining. Hard not to, if I'm being honest. But my whining doesn't lead to me lying in bed, feebly asking my mother-in-law for cups of coffee or just one more cupcake. (She knows me too well. That's why the cupcakes are here.) When I'm told to walk a half hour every day, I walk an hour. When I'm assigned exercises to do in bed every four hours, I do them every three hours. I push myself, always, to supersede my doctor's expectations.

For example, in order to get released from the orthopedic hospital I was in, patients had to walk 150 feet. I went 125 feet two hours after I got into my room post-surgery. Just like an athlete striving to improve their strength or agility, I know that for every extra foot, every additional effort, the healing will be faster and more thorough. I never do too much, but I never settle for just enough either.

My lot in life has been bizarre, and is certainly not helped by the piece of broken hardware in my spine that if it shifts can either kill or paralyze me without warning. No one could have anticipated the butcher job that took place during my first back surgery in 2006--when a surgeon put the wrong sized artificial disc into my lumbar spine, had to pry it out, and in the process of hammering the correct size prosthesis into place with a sledge hammer broke it and started this fourteen year spiral of doom. No one believed me for six years when my pain worsened instead of improved. I was treated as if I was a drug addict, looking for a bigger fix. Not until I got an infection at that same level did anyone finally diagnose the real problem--and in the process reveal that the artificial disc had been shredding my spinal column and could not be removed. The prosthetic was inserted from the front, and was now insinuated between arteries on the front and my spinal cord on the back. The subsequent fusions weren't done to 'fix' my spine, but to keep that artificial disc from killing me.

And after the gazillionth back procedure in four years, it turned out that the fusion intended to secure that broken artificial disc was also broken.

It's hard for anyone to look ahead at their life and accept that regardless of what they do, regardless if they do exactly what the doctor tells them, all the parts of their life they particularly loved are a permanent thing of the past. But there's an aspect of healing I possess that many of my disabled peers do not. An outlet.

Creativity is both a blessing and a curse. It's a curse because your parents were right. "You can't earn a living writing stories. That's just a pipe dream."

And for most people, it is. A debut author's first book is released, and when it doesn't sell they give up. Mentally, they've made the transition from "anyone can write a book" to "I am a failure as a writer" and they don't try again.

But creativity is also a blessing. For one thing, you're running around with your characters in your mind, watching their story unfold and finding a way to share it with your readers. For another, people with the right personality traits (for me it's being damn stubborn) are taught not to give up. Ever. Sure, the odds of me being able to walk much more than a block for the rest of my life are pretty much non-existent, but I have made the choice not to let that define who I am. I live vicariously through my words, and create new worlds that both intrigue and challenge not only my characters but myself.

And all of this led me down a path that once was closed to me, and brought me to Charlie Burris and the Orange & White Report--writing articles and features about college football when I was told during college that there was no place for women journalists in sports--unless they covered ice skating or gymnastics. Plus every Saturday, I get to interact with the other O&W writers and argue or theorize or analyze football games while they're ongoing. That transforms me from a woman old enough to be their mother lying in a huge back brace in Ohio to a sports journalist, and fulfills a long-ago dream of mine in the process.

In the end, then, my overriding thought after my fourth major back surgery in ten years would have been applicable whether I regain the life I missed or continue in the life I've had.

1. My spine cannot restrict my mind.
2. My world is much, much more than the four walls that I am usually trapped within.
3. My life is not over; it's richer and rewarding beyond my expectations thanks to the people I interact with every day online.
4. Never give up on your dreams and ambitions.
5. It's 11:14 am and Florida still sucks.

So don't feel sorry for me; I don't feel sorry for myself. And as you look at your life and the things you wanted but didn't get, don't think those things are past you either. Life or circumstance don't dictate your destiny--you do.

Even with failed hardware in your spine.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

LiveSciFi Zozo Investigation Day Two Live Blog

So here's what sucks about falling asleep. You miss stuff. 

I was up early yesterday, had a conference with my literary agent, then wrote my column, and all that fun stuff. On top of that, considering the pain level a chronic pain sufferer deals with, the medications totally knock you out. Unthinkingly, I took my meds at the regular time last night. So by the time we started hitting 3:30 - 4 am, I was pretty much done for the night. 

I kept waking up when things would happen, but then dozed back off. My own fault. Should never have said, "I'll just lie down for a while." 

So now I'm hours behind, and will have to watch catch-up footage here in a bit when it's posted. My own fault. 

That being said, though, right now the house is empty and for the past hour it's been echoing with bangs and snaps and clicks on a fairly constant basis. To me this is compelling because there is literally no one there. 

10:56 HUGE bang in an empty house. Something feel somewhere.

11:12 Another huge bang followed by what sounded like a cough.

11:30 in the past half hour, we witnessed extensive tampering with the camera system in an empty house. IR lights going off and on, cams switching from day to night vision, and all accompanied by significant noises. This house isn't just haunted at night. It's haunted by day.

11:49 One of the things that makes a live streamed investigation interesting is the simultaneous chat. Even when the investigators aren't in the house, there are hundreds of people still monitoring the equipment. This serves a couple of purposes. First off, it keeps people engaged in the event. It also leads to an ongoing dialogue about what's happening. Sure you get your kooks talking about orbs or claiming to have seen stuff that isn't there. Middle school kids need hobbies too and for the most part that seems to be annoying grownups. But if something significant happens, like a loud noise, the chat rooms dissect it the same way investigators do. But second, those transcripts provide time stamps to evidence. The team can go back later and match up the video with the log the chat room creates, and that can lead to evidence they might otherwise have missed.

Although probably not in this house. No way to miss what's going on now.

12:36 If you talk on speaker phone during a live stream, the entire world hears your conversation. And nothing else. That is all.

1:03 If the tornado siren test is going on, it's probably not the best time to do an EVP session. Mostly because you can't hear anything. Just sayin', Darren.

1:47 Okay, I'm going to be a little stern here because I'm seeing things I do not like. First off, the only reason a paranormal investigation has any validity at all is through the strict adherence to protocols and running a controlled experiment. You eliminate as many external influences as possible. You turn off your phone. You create a control. You document any changes you observe, like something falling over. You use your own equipment. You handle other people's equipment with care. If a session is disrupted by outside sources, you end the session and discount any potential evidence.

For almost an hour and a half, I and the rest of the chat have watched in horror as all of the above strictures have been ignored. YOU DON'T HANDLE SOMEONE ELSE'S PERSONAL EQUIPMENT OR POSSESSIONS CARELESSLY, like holding an antique doll by the head or so roughly a limb falls off. You don't try to use someone's personal technology.

How do I know this? Because I did my first investigation in the late 1980s and multiple ones since. Pretty much the last two hours and counting can be tossed out the window because someone who doesn't know what he is doing is destroying the validity of the investigation with every step and decision he makes.

It's a damn shame.

2:27 And the torture continues, unabated. Talk about a room of pissed off viewers. Good lord.

The thing I've always liked about LSF is the interactive nature of their live streamed investigations. Evidence captured in a totally silent house while the investigators are asleep or out. All of that has been destroyed. We went from a morning of continuous activity, to an afternoon of absolute bullshit. What makes that even worse is that the LSF team isn't there and all this destruction is coming at the hands of a guest to the investigation who is trying to force activity when he didn't need to.

Paranormal investigation is about creating a situation in which activity can happen, not bombarding the place in the middle of the afternoon with frantic trigger object shifting and blaring music and constant movement. One of these dolls could get up, walk down the stairs, and dance a jig in the middle of the living room floor and it couldn't be construed as evidence because of what's going on around it.

3:45 and all's well. Torture has stopped--mercifully--for the time being. I'll be glad when the investigators get back and turn this back into a serious attempt to capture paranormal activity.


Friday, October 21, 2016

LiveSciFi Zozo Investigation Night One--Live Blog

October 21, 2016 (7:00 pm EST) So what am I doing, you ask? 

Tonight at 10 pm EST, the LiveSciFi paranormal investigators will kick off a three-day ghost hunt at a residence in Oklahoma City that is purported to be haunted AND oppressed by a demonic entity known as Zozo. Now, if you read my last blog post, you know that I did a lot of research and wrote a few articles ahead of this upcoming investigation...and that the nasty critter set off a chain reaction of paranormal activity around my house and particularly around my computer. 

Ergo...I figure this is a safer and more fun way to take notes during the investigation. Blogger will automatically back my stuff up, and I can jot down observations, opinions, and instant reactions to what happens during the lockdown. So take that, Zozo! 

And here's the kicker. Although I enjoy paranormal investigations, I am also seriously skeptical. I don't put much stock into orbs, or creaky noises, or random lights. If I see something that might be paranormal, I'll jot down what I saw and an approximate time so I can go back once that block of video is done and go through it. 

But if I think something is out and out hokey horseshit, I'll jot that down too. Sorry kids--just the way I roll. At the end of the weekend, I'll put it all together in a followup article and we'll see what we've got. See something you think I should look at? Leave me a comment (time stamp or approximate time place) and I'll take a look at it. Sound good? 

Lay in the snacks, kids. Going to be a long night.

8:35 pm --dangit, isn't this thing started yet? Viewers are starting to show up on the LSF website chat and the YouTube chat. Seems to be more anticipation for this investigation than I've seen in quite some time.

9:00 The normal plethora of trolls and spammers are showing up now. Guess there's not a middle school in America that has homework over the weekend anymore.

10:03 So far, my "live feed will start 5 minutes late" bet is still alive.

10:04 still alive

10:05 c'mon man! It's ten bucks!

10:20 Time is money, guys. Time is money.

10:38 So yeah. I totally lost the start time betting pool.

Okay so it's 11:00 and time for the first Ouija session. Why you ask? Because Zozo is the Ouija board demon, and that's how the entity selects its victims and stalks them.  That whole thing about opening a door? Yep. Ouija. Spiritual door opener.

11:10 So the Ouija session has kicked off pretty darn quick. If nothing else, Zozo is predictable. According to what's coming through, it seems pretty happy to have company. Especially this company since it's spelling out H-A-H-A-H-A

11:14 Zozo just claimed it was a friend. Not sure to what, but there you have it.

11:19 Well, Zozo at least can tell a bad joke. "Saint Zozo" smfh

11:25 Zozo just said it would make a noise/create a disturbance at 1:34. I will be watching, and if that doesn't go down, I will totally call it out as a liar. I ain't playing.

11:28 Sure would have been nice to get the answer to Nicole's question about the possessed woman in SF who went after Tim, but Darren decided to pull the focus instead of letting that line of questioning proceed for some reason.

11:29 Doesn't take Zozo long to get back into its MO. All the laughing and joking aside now, and we're to gloating over a dead cat and threatening to kill Tim.

11:40 End of the first hour-ish. I think the strongest takeaway I have at this moment is that the Ouija session was moving much faster than normal. Also, getting the loud growl on the EVP session fits entirely with Zozo's recent interactions with Tim on the Ouija board. And that's disconcerting. For that EVP to have occurred so early in the live stream can only mean bad things are ahead in the next two night. Craziness.

11:46 Tim's first scratches of the weekend and it's not even midnight yet.

See, here's the deal. Coming up on ten years of dealing with the Zozo entity for Tim, and thirty-five years of dealing with the entity for Darren. This is like an all-you-can-eat spiritual buffet for it. When you're working in this field and you already have a paranormal attachment or you're sensitive to paranormal events, in a charged location and with another person present who suffers the same thing the entity is pulled in like a magnet to iron fillings.

11:51 For a guy who didn't want to say the word "Zozo" an hour ago, he sure is saying it a lot now.

11:53 So Darren is wearing a shirt with a skull on it, is looking into a scrying mirror and he sees...a skull. Wow, dude--really?

11:56 All right--let's talk research. The "14th century source" Darren Evans cites for the Zozo entity being known as a demon isn't a 14th century source. It comes from an 1876 issue of the Catholic Review, and it's referring to a sermon St. Bernardino preached regarding gambling with dice. The term " commune omnium daemonum" is a generic term of the medieval church. And if you want to check out that source, head here and look for yourself. I asked Darren for the original 14th century source when he questioned me not citing that story as fact in my articles. He did not provide me with that source. That does not mean the source doesn't exist. The Catholic Review has access to Vatican documents and this article could very well have been taken from such a legitimate source. But you cannot call a 19th century source a 14th century one just because it refers to something that happened then, and particularly with a church document from that time because all that stuff was edited heavily to fall into political lines of necessity.

That's not how source citation works. That would be like me saying I know JFK was killed as the result of aliens because I read somewhere once that's what really happened. Without that source, I could be referring to the National Enquirer for all you know.

In proper research, the word Zozo being mentioned like that five hundred years later is secondhand--kind of like hearsay. This isn't a reliable or valid source citation, so much as it is forcing something totally unrelated and MAKING it sound like a source. Want to convince me? Show me a literal, physical source from the 14th century, not an article from a journal 400 years later.

And then, too, the source isn't about a demon named Zozo. It's about a sermon preached by a saint where he substitutes gambling terms for the items used in a Catholic Mass. It's about how to take a sermon and relate it to your audience in terms they understand and relate to--a sermon used as an example of how to create an effective Catholic Mass during the season of Lent. It has nothing to do with demonology, and it doesn't chronicle or identify a demonic entity. It's an allegorical tale, created by a priest to demonstrate the evils of gambling. (BTW St. Bernardino didn't like much of anything. Even hear the phrase "bonfire of the vanities"? That's where people take the things they enjoy or that give them pleasure out into the street and throw them on a fire. This guy is the one who started all that crap)

The earliest source this Latin, Greek, and French-reading writer with mad Google-fu skillsfound in my research is the 1818 Dictionairre Infernal, regarding an event in France two years earlier. And THAT source can be found here. At the end, I have to question this as being presented as fact, because it's not. And it bugs me that it was presented as such.

12:03 So Darren refuses to touch the Ouija board, but he'll confront the entity, and look in scrying mirrors for it, and scribble things on paper in an attempt to summon it? I am confused. And that Z-word he didn't want to say is now being used every other word. I long will it take him to touch the Ouija board? Hmm... Earlier he said it had to do with intent, right? So here's my question--what's so different about intent in why he wouldn't say Zozo early on in the investigation, but will now?

12:13 Hard to do an EVP session in the house when someone is in the other room bellowing like a drill sergeant.

12:35 EVP session not in your skill set man. Ask a question, give them 30 seconds to answer. then ask another question. Don't tell it stories.

12:38 we are now winding down the second hour of this investigation. The last 40 minutes has been the Darren and Zozo show. Unfortunately, even Zozo appears to be dozing off.

12:52 Getting creeped out off a letter--rare.
Just turning on the Ovilus for the first time and it says "Z" when you're investigating the Zozo house? --priceless

1:04 Okay the voice that Ovilus generated is uber-creepy. Also find it interesting that it said "birds" considering the connection that's come up with birds before in both Tim's and Darren's history with the entity. And yes, the South Park version of R. Kelly's In The Closet is now stuck in my head. Travolta and all.

1:10 'abort' 'sharp' and 'cross over' rapid fire on the Ovilus. Again...interesting.

1:14 setting up for a Ganzfeld experiment--whenever sensory deprivation is involved, the paranormal activity seems to get more intense. Also, keep in mind Zozo's promise of activity at 1:34

1:34 Since this moment occurred during the Ganzfeld experiment, it's hard to say if Zozo kept his promise. Did I notice paranormal activity? No. Did Tim act totally bizarre all of a sudden? Yes. But was it what Zozo said it would be? No. So yeah==> so totally unimpressed Zozo. A demon should do better.

1:36 Things not to do on an investigation 101--never rip ping pong balls taped over your co-investigator's face. Be gentle and kind to his eyes.

1:36 "DO YOU HAVE A HEADACHE" is probably not the thing to
yell into someone's face if you think they have a headache. Just sayin'.

1:45 The third hour is in the books and we have a couple of good EVPs. Not bad, but not exactly burning down the house here, either.

6:30 AM, October 22-- I'm not sure what to make of this place. That there's paranormal activity seems completely undoubted. As the night went on the activity increased and even when the house is empty, there's nearly constant noise. I personally don't trust my eyes after being up all night, so I'll wait until I can go back and see the footage for myself after some sleep but--this is beyond creepy. That being said, this place is loud.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Zozo Investigation and that Demonic Haunting Story I Never Told You

So you guys know I'm normally keeping myself pretty busy, and especially at this time of year. Not only is football season in full swing, which means writing for the Orange & White Report and my weekly Fact or Fanatic column, but I'm in the middle of publishing eight novels (two more to go in digital; six more in print). And because I just cannot be too busy, this month is also October which means my mind turns none-too-gently to the paranormal world. 

We spent October of 2015 shredding the abysmal A&E television show Cursed: The Bell Witch and the absolutely execrable Destination America Exorcist Live! and putting together my blog series The Real Bell Witch, all of which you can see by going to the Paranormal, Bell Witch, & Zozo page tab at the top of the blog. noticed the extra name, didn't you? Well, that's because this year, I'm trying something different. 

I've been working with Tim Wood out at LiveSciFi on a series of articles about an investigation they're doing this weekend in Oklahoma City--an investigation into an entity known as Zozo or the Ouija board demon. If you've never heard of that name, do a quick Google search. You'll turn up over 34 million results. 289,000 of those results are YouTube videos. And Tim is the king of paranormal on YouTube with over 400,000 subscribers and 68 million views--and counting. This weekend, LSF is working with a guest investigator, Zozo expert Darren Evans. 

Let's link everything up real quick so that you can go see my articles, the Blogcritics interview, the LiveSciFi site, and Darren's blog and new book, just released in May, about the entity. That's my formal work. But this is my blog, so here I get to tell you about some of the crap that's gone on since I started doing interviews and crafting articles last week--and that leads me to a story I've hinted about, but never told before.

It's your lucky day.

Last Thursday, the three of us talked on a three-way call just as a preliminary. and you know me--I was taking serious notes. First off, I find paranormal things pretty fascinating, but primarily I was noticing similarities in Tim and Darren's stories. Not the 'they talked ahead of time' similarities, but elements that popped up in both their experiences that have also popped up, frighteningly, in mine.  One of the articles I did, Ouija Board Demon Zozo--Connecting The Dots outlined those similarities. What I neglect to include in the story was how I shared many of those characteristics, and they stem from my adolescence and two hauntings. One, of course, is the Bell Witch haunting in Adams, TN. You guys have heard all about that. The other was the demonic oppression of a friend of mine in college--an oppression that manifested in activity right before my eyes that absolutely could not be explained.

This is the story of that incident--an incident I referred to last year but did not tell. Seems appropriate to do so now. All the names, naturally, have been changed, and bear with me: by the end of this post, it'll all make sense.

My friend's oppression began after the death of his younger brother in a mysterious car wreck. The brother had been involved in a high school "coven" with nine friends. Of those ten kids, eight died: four in the same car accident, two by suicide, one murdered, and the last of some totally bizarre infection. I have no idea what happened to the other two. After his brother's funeral, the entity hopped to my friend, Jeno. 

Jeno was a smart, good-looking boy--football player and brain, infectious grin, and a sweet personality. I'd known him since high school, when he'd been in the same class I was. His family was Mormon and in every aspect he was just a normal, happy guy. But after his younger brother's death when we were both in college, everything suddenly went wrong. He literally started to almost wither into nothingness. Within a month, he looked gaunt and uptight. Our mutual friend Rob, Jeno, and I would hang out some nights. We usually would go to this bizarre park in the middle of Clarksville right off Crossland Avenue down this crazy steep hill. That park was basically some fifty year old swings and a parking lot, but behind it were a few trails and a creek. We liked it there. People rarely went there during the day, much less the night. 

On one of those nights that fall of my sophomore year in college, we went to that park. It was September, and still warm. Despite that, Jeno was wearing a turtleneck sweater. And as we sat in our usual spot in a clearing tucked out of sight of the road, Jeno told us what was happening. 

His house was haunted, he said, since his brother's death a few months earlier. He would wake up in the middle of the night, fighting with an unseen force pummeling him in the bed. Things would fly off his wall. Drawers would open and crash into the opposite side of the room. Voices would suddenly issue in an empty room, and terrible smells would emanate from his younger brother's closed and unused room.

I was fresh off my first investigation of the Bell Witch Cave and the Edens farm, where I'd experienced things much like what Jeno was talking about. In fact, I'd stood outside on the front porch of Bims Eden's empty house and listened as the living room furniture was rearranged--things that neither Rob nor Jeno knew about. So I was able to take Jeno's story at face value.

But what I didn't expect was the condition of his body. 

The first time he lifted his shirt and showed the massive bruising on his torso, I was startled--and I couldn't help but be slightly skeptical as well. What I couldn't figure out was a trio of scratches that started on the right side of his neck and continued in an unbroken, continuous diagonal across his chest and finally terminated on his left hip. It was like someone had taken one of those little three-pronged gardening forks down his body, but the cuts were too deep and sharp-edged for that. They had scabbed over, and even the scabs were precise and identical.

For a few days after, I tried to figure out if there was some way to do that to oneself. It was so weird because the scratches were the same depth, the same width, and completely seamless. On top of that, Jeno was right-handed. There was no way he could have done that to himself in such a perfect symmetry. But I didn't say anything to him about it at the time. When you're nineteen and a good-looking guy is telling you he's being attacked by a ghost his dead brother's coven conjured up, you figure it's probably not a good idea to comment but just to be supportive. 

A few weeks later, we were hanging out in the same park. It was October--my birthday weekend, in fact--and it was one of those perfect, crisp autumnal evenings you get in Tennessee when the season is changing. We weren't even talking about the haunting at the time; we were planning a road trip as I recollect. Jeno didn't drink, I couldn't drink, and Rob...was Rob. He was drinking, smartalec thing that he was. At any rate, we were laughing one minute and the next minute, Jeno screamed and fell backwards, landing basically on my lap. Instinctively, I grabbed his shoulders and his body was so hot (temperature) that I could feel the heat baking through his jacket and sweater.

The next thing I knew, three burns came up on the side of his throat. Each burn was as wide as my thumb. Rob pulled off Jeno's shirt and those burns followed the exact same path as the scratches had. 

I saw those burns pop up. If you're a woman and have ever burned the side of your neck with a curling iron, that's exactly what it looked like. Except Jeno was six feet tall and those burns crossed his body like a sash and disappeared into the waistband of his jeans while he was wearing a thick cable-knit sweater and a Member's Only jacket. (dated myself there) And these weren't surface burns either; they were second degree burns. We took him to the ER--I don't even remember the BS story we told to try to spin the whole mess. That night after he was released, we took him back to Rob's place, figuring he might be able to rest there. Jeno pretty much passed out as soon as we tucked him up on the couch, exhausted as he was and full of pain meds, while Rob and I sat across the room trying to figure out what in the hell we'd just seen. 

I had been at the Bell Witch cave just a few days before, and had gotten several EVPs (my first ones, actually) before the cave suddenly went spook-monster on me and drove me out. Ultimately I had been dive-bombed by crows on my way back up the cliffside trail. Creepy birds and animals tried to get hit by my car the whole twelve miles home--which has happened to me more than once on that winding country road between Adams and Clarksville. There is a strong voodoo element in the Bell Witch legend due to the fact the Bells owned slaves. The story is full of strange-looking black animals, blackbirds, dead men's lanterns, and "witchballs"--a kind of fetish the slaves made to protect themselves from the entity. So I was already a tad...jumpy and Rob knew this. But as we sat there trying to rationalize what had happened, the lightbulb in the hanging lamp over his kitchen table exploded. like--literally exploded, glass shattering, sparks in the wiring, sounding like a pop gun kind of exploded. 

Rob and I just stared at each other over all that glass, and Jeno said suddenly from the couch, "It followed me here." 

My first thought at the moment was uncharitable to say the least. Thank you so fucking much for bringing your pet ghost, Jeno isn't the best retort in such a moment. But Jeno's voice was hard to describe--terrified and quiet all at the same time--and it made such an impact on me that I couldn't say a word. Rob, bless him, instantly popped up with, "Man, we need to take you to a church." 

That's when we found out that the Mormon church in town had excommunicated Jeno. He'd gone to them for help when all the manifestations began after his brother's death, and they had literally shunned him. 

Rob and I were both Catholic. Clarksville is a military town. Rob's mother was Spanish; mine was French. 

So we loaded  Jeno into the back seat of my Bug (yes, I was a vintage VW kind of punk girl back in the day--a 1972 Superbeetle, Tennessee orange of course) and took him to the rectory next to the church both our families attended. Our parish priest was a great guy--a chain-smoking, Scotch-drinking, honest-to-God Irish lean whip of a man who had baptized, christened, and First Communion-ed me. The trip over lasted maybe five minutes, and it was the longest five minutes of my life. After what we'd already seen happen that night, and the knowledge of how Jeno's brother had died, a VW Bug didn't seem like the safest place in the world to be. On top of that, it was three o'clock in the morning, and we were going to wake up a priest. 

It's a testament to who Father Mike was that we didn't even hesitate to go to him though. This was the same priest I argued reproductive rights with, the same one who always told his congregation that if they were in spiritual trouble to come to him. I figured this would qualify, and all I wanted to do was to get Jeno to someone who knew what to do. 

The rectory is a sold-looking Victorian building next to the original Church of the Immaculate Conception in Clarksville. Rob, who was quite a bit smaller than Jeno, was literally hauling him up the front porch steps while I banged on the door and rang the doorbell. The porch light snapped on and Father Mike peered out when he opened the door. He took one look at me, then on to Rob and Jeno, and immediately pulled us all into the house.

And what happened from that point on is something I don't talk about. There were further occasions when Jeno was attacked in front of me--the worst happened one night after he'd been kicked out of his parents' home and was living in a small apartment right off-campus.Jeno had two couches in his shabby living room. I was asleep on one and he was on the other when suddenly he screamed. I jumped up like a scalded cat and he was fighting for his life against something that was only visible because it was under the blanket with him, like some huge freaking guy had crept up on that couch with him and crawled under the quilt to strangle him. I hauled Jeno off the couch into the floor, the blanket went flat, and the attack stopped.

We sat up the rest of the night in the floor with every light in the house on and my rosary beads around his neck.

But there was nothing else I could do. I couldn't help him and organized religion wouldn't. The response of both the Mormon and Catholic Churches to Jeno's situation made me angry--angry enough to forego religion for a long, long time.

As in decades. Father Mike protested on Jeno's behalf, and was moved to another parish within six months.  Before he left, he told me that it was dangerous to spend so much time with Jeno trying to help him and told Rob the same thing. But being know-it-all twenty year-olds, we ignored him. Unfortunately, Rob told Jeno what the priest had said.

Six weeks after that, Jeno left Clarksville and I never heard from him again.

So how does this all tie back to the Zozo investigation? 

Several elements of my story--French background, involvement with slavery, voodoo, blackbirds/crows, creepy-acting animals, death in a suspicious car accident, demonic oppression of friends or associates, Ouija boards, and paranormal activity--line up exactly with the similarities between Tim Wood and Darren Evans as I outlined in that Connecting the Dots article. 

All that is history. Let's talk the present.

Since last Thursday after I hung up the phone and began to research and write the articles surrounding this weekend's upcoming investigation of the Zozo house, I've been getting poked paranormally in my house. The notes I took that night and Darren's phone number mysteriously disappeared from my computer, even though I had saved my work (being a writer makes you autosave-suspicious) and turned off the computer that night. A pair of lights in my living room blew within three minutes of each other. One lamp fell from the end table for no reason--I watched it fall and there wasn't a cat near it or under it. My mother's rosary beads disappeared from my closed jewelry box in the bedroom. (found it under the living room couch)  Had a few random bangs on the front door and one from inside the linen closet in the hallway. (I live in a century-old house). I spent three days looking at the TV or computer screen with one hand over my eye due to an almost incapacitating migraine that wouldn't respond to any kind of migraine medicines. And one of our cats, a perfectly healthy eight-year old with no health issues, died for no apparent reason. Despite all this, I managed to get four articles and three press releases done on top of my normal, everyday workload.

Here's the thing. I know there are no coincidences when it comes to paranormal activity. For decades, authors working on the Bell Witch have reported losing their entire manuscripts. I know a writer who lost their entire book--back when writing a book required a typewriter and lots of Liquid Paper. Film crews would find their equipment malfunctioning inside the Bell Witch cave or the landing outside it--but it all worked perfectly on top of the cliff. This happened famously during the late 1980's when the show Unsolved Mysteries tried to film there. Also, when you're writing about the Bell Witch your source materials and research--particularly the Ingram book--disappear. So I know the history involved with writing about paranormal entities and resultant paranormal activity that interferes with that.

For the same thing to happen here makes me suspicious.

This weekend, Tim and his team along with Darren are investigating the house now infamously known as the Zozo house in Oklahoma City. Starting Friday night at 10 pm, they're going to live stream the investigation for the whole 72 hours. If you read my other articles, you'll see the history both Tim and Darren have with this entity. The chances of the entity not showing up for this investigation are practically non-existent. And it's fairly obvious to me that for some reason, I am being discouraged from writing about all this.

That never works.

So, I intend to live blog the investigation while it's ongoing with my thoughts, my observations, and how what occurs ties into the history I've uncovered and the theories currently percolating in my head. As you'll know from my blogs last October with those two aforementioned hokey 'reality' shows, my opinions will be unvarnished and blunt. If I think something is horseshit, I'll say so. If I think it's intriguing, I'll admit that too. And in the process, I'm hoping to create a unique narrative to accompany the investigation.

Plus I'm going to do a follow-up article to the interview piece I sent to Blogcritics.

I have to admit. This Zozo thing has me intrigued. Not in a "I want to play with a Ouija board!" kind of way, but in a "this history and entity makes me want to learn more" kind of way. So we'll see what happens. Check it out starting Friday night at 10 EST/9 CST, and join in what should be one of the craziest paranormal investigation events of the year. I'll be interested to hear what you think as well.

Author's note: Just as I hit send on the Twitter link to this post, Voodoo by Godsmack came on the radio. Think something's sending me a message? Timing is everything, isn't it?

ZoZo Ouija Demon House LIVE 72 Hour Broadcast

Monday, October 10, 2016

If the Southeastern Conference Won't Act, Then Fans Need To

Let’s be frank: the SEC has totally dropped the ball and exhibits no interest in the fact that multiple schools just got screwed over by Florida.

I have no problem with Florida-LSU not being played in Gainesville. Let’s be honest, the weather in Gainesville wasn’t the issue. It doesn’t matter if it was 90 and sunny on Saturday afternoon. What does matter is that there are disaster areas close to Gainesville, the millions of people and businesses without power, the potential for not having drinkable water, the police and first responders needed elsewhere, and a highway system that will be packed with refugees returning to find out if they have a home left. 

That’s why the game wasn’t played. 

What the rest of the SEC should be taking objection to is the way that Florida pulled a fast one over on both LSU and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. 

Outgoing athletic director Jeremy Foley coordinated an obfuscation ploy that completely blindsided the SEC, and made Sankey look like a short-sighted girl who got jilted by her prom date. Not because an act of God made the game into a logistical nightmare, but because Florida is giggling all the way to Atlanta if they pull this off and the cards fall right. 

Florida CB Jalen Tabor was certainly aware of it, judging from his tweets during the Tennessee-Texas A&M game. CBS interviewed Sankey during the UT game, where he admitted the game “has to be played” and that Florida and LSU “need to come together” and make that game happen.

Then he disappeared faster than Where’s Waldo in Tokyo.

All of football knows that Florida was staring down the barrel of a potential beating at the hands of a re-invigorated LSU this weekend. That loss would have sealed Florida’s fate in the SEC East and given LSU a desperately needed SEC win — something Tigers fans know will be essential in the talent-stacked West. But Florida doesn’t want to face LSU’s offense right now (it set a school record for yards in a game against Missouri last week) and certainly not later, when Leonard Fournette rejoins the mix. 

But if this game isn’t played at all? Think of the ramifications. Florida could back-door its way into the SEC Championship game, and LSU could jump one of four current candidates for Atlanta in the West. 

Fact of the matter is that everyone knew for a week that Florida was the likely target zone for Hurricane Matthew. This game could have been moved to a neutral site days ago — Georgia Dome comes to mind — and the proceeds could have remained as they would have for a Gators home game. Or, conversely, as late as Wednesday night the game could have moved to Baton Rouge — where LSU had offered Florida their planes, their buses, lodging, and meals. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva basically begged Florida to come to Baton Rouge and Foley refused. Last year, LSU pulled the same feat off for South Carolina during the catastrophic flooding in Columbia— and gave the Gamecocks the gate. 

Is there a more generous and understanding athletic department than LSU’s? 

Certainly not in Gainesville. 

But by hemming and hawing and stuttering through the first half of the week, Florida made those options impossible, thereby conveniently nullifying both the potential LSU loss and potentially the Vols’ victory over Florida in Neyland two weeks ago. 

All that being said, if Vols fans are irate? Think about what’s going on in Tuscaloosa right now. Or College Station. Or Little Rock. The SEC East might not be as important to Sankey and his flunkies but the West certainly is. No one wants to annoy the seismic temper of the league’s primary cash cow, and Nick Saban is one hundred percent guaranteed to blow his top if this game isn’t played. 

Right now, the rest of the SEC and its fans should be outraged — not because the game ‘could have been played’ in Gainesville, but because that game can be played on November 19 if either LSU or Florida is willing to make the concessions necessary to make that happen. South Alabama and Presbyterian can be paid off and meet each other instead, while LSU and Florida meet in Gainesville. 

And the SEC needs to foot half those payouts, to compensate for the league being hoodwinked by Foley and a cagey Florida, giggling like Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius right before Roadrunner drops a boulder on his head.

So, time to drop the boulder.

There’s no need to be upset that the game wasn’t played yesterday. There’s every need to be upset that the SEC is letting Florida get away with such a transparent ploy to avoid the consequences for SEC losses. It doesn’t matter that UT has the tiebreaker. It doesn’t matter that Florida is almost guaranteed to lose 1–2 more games. What matters is that the SEC and Sankey were standing by silently while all this went down with fingers up their rears instead of exercising their authority over the situation and ensuring fair play for all SEC schools.

Today, there are allegedly negotiations ongoing between LSU and Florida and the SEC to schedule a make up date. I sincerely hope that's true, but in the end it doesn't matter. Greg Sankey has proved himself inept as SEC Commissioner in this matter from day one. Moving forward throughout the athletic year, that's not a good thing.

For ANY school.

So it seems only fair after a week of not hearing from Sankey and the Southeastern Conference about this situation to turn things around and let them hear from us.

If the Southeastern Conference wants fair and equitable treatment for all SEC schools, now’s the time to prove it. And if they don’t want to? They deserve to be inundated with the outrage of fans from every single other school.

SEC Offices (205) 458–3000
Greg Sankey Twitter @GregSankey
SEC Network Twitter @SECNetwork
SEC Twitter @SEC

Pass those on to all your friends, from every SEC fan base. Express your displeasure. It doesn’t matter that the point will be moot in the end. What matters is that Florida disrespects the SEC and its opponents so much that they think they can get away with it.

Let’s make sure they don’t.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Excerpt--Prisoner of Death coming October 1

When Tamsen wakes up in an unfamiliar place with no idea of who she is, something warns her to be cautious. So she plays a game with the man who claims to be her husband, and pays attention to what is going on around her. The physician her husband calls to tend to her after her accident makes her uncomfortable with his strange allure and odd style of speech. Nothing around her seems as it should be.

While Tamsen tries to regain her lost memory, Brial Ka'breona is tearing across the continent in an enraged hunt for his lost wife and Queen. But now the gods are forbidden to walk the mortal realm, and not even the Virgin Huntress can help them. In order for Tamsen and Brial to come together again, terrible sacrifices must be made--by mortals and immortals both. When a strange new ally presents itself, Tamsen must determine if the sacrifice she must make is ultimately worth the cost.

But sometimes, it doesn't matter what the price is. When the continued existence of the mortal realms is at stake, there may not be a price too high to pay.

* * *

I AWAKENED slowly.

My eyelids fluttered open, and I squinted against the bright light that turned my sight red for a moment. Hands that did not look familiar at all came up to shade them from the glare. Even that small movement made my head swim with a sharp, piercing pain penetrating behind my left ear, but I forced myself to sit up and look around me. 

The room was completely white: the walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture were all pristine, sharply white. The one window that let long cruel rays of light fall upon the snowy bed upon which I lay was shrouded in white, filmy fabric, flowing in a scarcely-felt breeze. 

What is all this? 

I lifted my hands once more, staring at the long, slender fingers and slim wrists in amazement, noting the extreme pallor of the skin stretched over the delicate bones. Are these my hands? Those hands went to my face, and the fingers felt oddly rough against my cheek, the fingers and thumb callused. 

Cautiously, I set my hands on either side of my body in the bed, scooting myself to the edge and swinging my feet to the floor. Then, I stopped again, fascinated and confused by the sight of my legs clad in long fitted leather trousers tucked into scarred high-topped leather boots. I looked down at my body. 

The leather tunic was fitted to me over a tan-colored shirt that stretched over the bones of my wrists. An intricate sash of leather belted both garments around a slender waist. No frills or furbelows about these clothes, and their tight fit didn’t disguise the feminine shape beneath them. 

I got to my feet, swaying as I rose to my full height. A sudden motion caught my eye as a very long silver-white plait swung against the top of my right thigh. Amazed, I lifted it in my hands, noting the fine silky texture of it. 

Is this my hair? 

I tugged on it and was rewarded with another vicious twinge of pain behind my left ear. I examined my head with cautious fingers and located a tender swelling on my temple. I moved as if I’d been asleep for a long time and stiffly made my way to the ewer standing on a white washstand nearby. I splashed water onto my face, hoping it would jar some memory loose. 

Everything about me was strangely familiar, yet I didn’t recognize anything. The clothes and hair were obviously mine, but why didn’t I… 

The water in the bowl stilled into a flat reflective sheet. I stared in absolute confusion at the reflection. The young woman with the puzzled frown, was that me? My mouth opened slightly, as did hers, and I realized I had no idea who I was. 
Faces, images flew past my inner eye, yet I found myself unable to grasp them. Too many discrepancies. I grasped the edges of the washstand with blanching fingers. 

Hands pale and slender, but callused. A young woman’s face, but the hair of an elder. Everything seemed like it should have been familiar, but wasn’t. I half-fell half-staggered back to the snowy bed and collapsed against the deep softness of the blankets and pillows. 

Who am I? 

I closed my eyes. Hopefully, when I woke up, I could put all of these pieces together. Hopefully, I would know who I was. 

* * *  

“TIME FER ye to be wakin’ up, milady.” 

My eyes flew open. A corpulent woman with a broad face peered down at me. 

“Are ye feelin’ all right, milady?” 

`“I—I’m not sure,” I stammered, sitting up. A wave  of nausea and dizziness overwhelmed me. Instantly, my companion’s strong, beefy arms came around me, lowering me back to the pillows. 

“Well, now, ye don’t want to be doin’ that, milady,” she chided me good-naturedly. “’Tis quite a knock on the head ye took, and that’s a fact. Jest lay there, and I’ll mix ye sommat to make ye feel better, all right?” 

“Who are you?” 

She placed a cool, damp cloth across my brow. “Ye don’t remember me?” 

“I don’t remember me,” I replied with a hint of dryness in my voice. 

“Gods above—the master said ye’d taken a hard knock, but I never thought it was that bad. I’m Graisen, yer maid, an’ ye’re the Lady Solange de Spesialle.” 

“Spesialle?” I asked blankly, disliking the name for some reason. “What is that?” 

The woman clucked her tongue. “It’s yer husband’s dukedom, milady. Yer the Duchess of Spesialle and married to Lord Gabril these past ten years or more. Don’t ye remember him?” 

A fleeting image of long golden hair and flashing black eyes raced across my mind and then vanished into the clouds that fogged my mind. 

“Is he blond?” I asked, trying to regain the sight. 

“Aye,” she replied, with a note of relief. “Lord Gabril’s as blond as they come, milady. Ye’re a right striking couple, ’im with ’is blond hair and handsome face, and ye, milady, as perty as a picture with yer silver hair and eyes and sech a tiny little figger. The Duke’s been right worried about ye, milady, and ’e won’t like it atall that yer memory’s been taken. Shall I tell ’im to come in and see ye?” 

I hesitated. Obviously, this woman knew me, which meant I was probably this Solange person, but I felt that it wasn’t quite right, somehow. Another name was just beyond the borders of my consciousness, hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Finally, I nodded, and the big woman bustled across the room to the door. 

“Ye kin come in, milord,” Griasen said. 

I lifted the cloth from my brow as a man entered the room. He was tall and fair, but his eyes were a piercing light blue instead of black. He came immediately to my bedside and took my hand in his. 

“How do you feel, my dear?” he asked. 

“You aren’t the face I remember,” I murmured, screwing up my eyes in an effort to recognize him. “I don’t remember you at all.” 

“It’s all right, Solange.” He brought my hand to his lips. “That was quite a fall you took. The physicians warned me that this might affect your memory but assured me your memory would return in time. Griasen and I are going to take good care of you, my sweet, until you’re all better.” 

 “How did I fall?” 

“Your horse threw you,” Gabril replied, a worried frown creasing his brow. “You hit your head on the garden wall.” 

“It hurts.” I withdrew my hand and closed my eyes. I didn’t remember this man, and I wanted to be left alone with my troubled blank thoughts. 

“Of course. I’ll come back later, my love, when you’re feeling better.” 

He rose with seeming reluctance and went to leave. Once at the door, he murmured in a low voice, “Clean her up, get her into something more comfortable, and then let her sleep. It’s the best thing for her.” 

Did I imagine the smug satisfaction in his voice? If Griasen was right, this man was my husband. Why would he be satisfied with an injury to his wife? Before I could think about it, Griasen was back at my bedside. 

“Come now, milady,” she coaxed me. “I’ve rung fer a bath, and I’ll wager that once ye’re washed up and in clean clothes ye’ll feel worlds better!” 

“Griasen.” I opened my eyes to look at her. “I do not remember the Duke as my husband.” 

“Don’t worry, milady,” she said, her eyes glistening. “Ye will…in time.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Big Day for The Reckoning of Asphodel

Today has been a banner day--and there's not even a football game on. The first novel in The Asphodel Cycle--The Reckoning of Asphodel--is back on the bestseller list in its genre, which is always a good thing. 

But to make matters better, Reckoning is now available in paperback! Each month, as I release new digital books in The Black Dream on the 1st, I'll also roll out a paperback of an Asphodel Cycle novel. 

You can grab your paperback of The Reckoning of Asphodel here

Self-publishing and doing it the right way is not only difficult, but expensive. I approached this experience the same way  I approached the hundreds of books we published at Musa. Each book is professionally edited, copyread, formatted, and designed. Each book cover is original art, designed by a professional cover artist. Each book is produced in multiple formats. These aren't just word files slapped into a pdf. There's more to creating a good book than that technically. 

As soon as the craziness slows down around here, I'll blog about the entire process--most likely in tedious detail. But for today? 


Friday, September 09, 2016



Whether AM or PM 12:34 has been a time of day that for some reason I always seem to notice. I'll look up from writing.


I'll wake up for some reason, disturbed from the three or four hours of sleep I'm getting in this incredibly busy year and glance at the clock.


Through the years, that time of day had held an almost magical fascination for me. For a long time, a song was associated with it. I could be driving down one of the long, boring stretches of I-70 between Ohio and Tennessee, and Steve Winwood's While You See A Chance would come on. I'd look at my watch. 


Don't you know by now
No one gives you anything?
And don't you wonder how you keep on moving?
One more day your way
And that old gray wind is blowing
And there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because it's on you...

The song and the time have a special significance to me--a conversation shared long ago between a girl who didn't know what she wanted but knew she didn't have it and a young man who knew exactly what he wanted but didn't know how to share it. Both were lonely, with many friends and few confidantes, and looked far beyond their familiar worlds and yearned for new horizons. Many nights, in the car, Winwood would come on the radio and we'd look at the clock. 


A moment we shared, exclusively. Just ours.

That was thirty years ago. Twenty-three years ago, we parted ways. But in all the years after, that one, specific time continued its significance. For some reason, every once in a while, I'd glance at a clock--a bank clock downtown, the clock in the car, the time stamp on a document, the time when my cell phone rang. 


Yesterday was a long, hard day. I've spent the past few days working on a story that ended up going viral, keeping me at the computer for long hours making sure the story kept its legs. Not my normal wheelhouse; not a fantasy novel. A human interest story based in college football, about a wonderful young athlete and the brave and joyful six year-old who inspires him. But other things came up today--personal things that have made it difficult to stay focused. 

I shut the computer down around ten, and resolved to leave it that way and try to get an actual good night's sleep. I took a long bath, went to bed, and (naturally) couldn't go to sleep. So I finally gave up. Something was bothering me. I figured I'd write a blog since I was awake. When my desktop fired up, I glanced at the time. 


That time means even more to me today than usual. You know, when I first began to recognize 12:34 as a significant moment in time, it was associated with a person. A young man with whom I laughed and dreamed and dared to hope for escape from all that weighed me down. 

It's been almost exactly twelve hours since I got a phone from my oldest daughter--a phone call that came not at 12:34, but at 12:45. I didn't think about the significance of the time when we spoke. It wasn't until tonight, as I lay in bed unable to sleep, that I thought to check my cell phone to see what time she'd called. 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of my favorite poets, and there's a passage in her masterpiece Aurora Leigh that came to my mind this afternoon and stayed there all day:

For tis not in mere death that men die most, 
And, after our first girding of the loins 
In youth’s fine linen and fair broidery 
To run up hill and meet the rising sun,  
We are apt to sit tired, patient as a fool,  
While others gird us with the violent bands 
Of social figments, feints, and formalisms,  
Reversing our straight nature, lifting up 
Our base needs, keeping down our lofty thoughts,  
Head downward on the cross-sticks of the world. 
For a long time, 12:34 meant so many different things to me--love, commitment, fulfillment, maternity, dreams, art, brilliance, joy, disappointment, self-loathing, anger, loneliness, wistfulness, longing, youth, laughter, failure--all the words that encompass the beauty and terror one faces as a young adult. 

But it won't anymore. 

Now, as I glance at the clock, it's 1:14. 12:34 AM on this day is gone and past, blown away from me like a skirl of  October wind will blow the autumnal leaves from the hundred-year-old oak in my front yard. In the dry rustle of those leaves whispering across my lawn, 12:34 will also be gathered and dispensed with, to make way for winter's bitter grip on the Ohio landscape. And when the snows finally blanket the world, will I look out my window and think regretfully of 12:34? 

No. 12:34 will always be with me, locked into my heart and my memories whether smothered under January snows, drenched in April rains, June storms, and August's stubborn grasp upon the seasonal heat. And when my October comes to meet me at last, I would not be at all surprised if I succumb to its insistent call at 12:34. 

That call, when it comes, is unavoidable. 

And that old gray wind is blowing 
And there's nothing left worth knowing 
And it's time you should be going--

It's 1:34 now. Our last hour is done. Requiescat in pacem.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Excerpt-- The Black Dream Book One: Servant of Dis

After the Ilian War, Tamsen Ka’antira settled into ruling the Elven Realm with her husband, Brial at her side. But when a diplomatic crisis occurs between Ansienne and Hippolytos, Tamsen and Brial are lured out of Leselle into the treacherous currents of human politics.

Tamsen realizes these escalating events are driven by something inimical—something determined to bring the Elven Queen from behind the magical barrier that protects her realm. Whispers of new sorcerers and upheaval among the gods soon coalesce into a single frightening truth. The peace the gods had granted to Tamsen is over, and the rising threat will turn erstwhile enemies into allies.

Only the greatest danger could persuade the Elven Queen to serve the god that once threatened the existence of her entire race. If Tamsen becomes the servant of Dis, the peril overshadows not just the mortal realm, but the realms of the gods.


“Your Majesty?”
I looked up from the pile of parchment that had been baffling me for hours. Bryse hovered in the doorway.
“Yes? What is it?”
“The scouts have sent word that a visitor is approaching Leselle,” she said.
“Who is it?”
“They didn’t say. They said that whoever it is, he is human and riding his horse hard for the city.”
“That can’t be good.” I sighed. “Are the children in bed?”
“Barely,” she replied, her eyes twinkling.
I grimaced. Although the twins were reasonably obedient for eight-year-old boys, Tamarisk was a handful.
“I’d best go down and see who it is.” I stood from my mother’s writing desk and reaching for my cloak.
“Of course.” Bryse curtseyed.
I pulled the hood over my head as I descended the stairs from my little study to the warm central room of our house. As I donned my gloves, I passed the nursery where our children slept, the telltale sounds of regular breathing reassured me that they were truly asleep. I laid a hand on the guardians who warded our home. Instantly, they slid aside, rearranging the disguising trunk of the colossal tree, and I ducked outside into the swirling whiteness of the storm.
The streets of Leselle were silent and empty, due not only to the lateness of the hour but also to the bitter wind that accompanied this early winter storm. I kept my head low as I negotiated the broad snow-covered branches that served as streets in this ancient city. Only in the Elven forest could trees grow to such a size as to support an entire city.
Leselle was built within the protective limbs of six towering oaks, trees so ancient their origins were lost in the dim beginnings of myth. Once, this lovely city had been leveled—razed by Elven mages to prevent its despoiling by my so-not-mourned uncle, the Duke de Spesialle. At my crowning, the Virgin Huntress had resurrected Leselle to stand as the jewel of the Elven Realm once more.
The only bad thing about it was trying to descend icy tree branches at night.
I slid the final few feet to the city gates where Malvern, one of our most experienced scouts, saluted. Behind him, a shadowed form stood next to a steaming horse whose head was lowered.
“What is it?” A tingle of premonition suddenly raced across my mouth.
The cloaked man lifted his head. I looked into the tired face of Mylan de Phoclydies. Although we were nearly the same age, his face had aged. He wasn’t much older than thirty-five, but deep creases lined his stern face, creases, I knew, that were placed there by the death of Anner de Ceolliune on the Ilian flood plain over a decade earlier.
“Mylan!” I rushed forward to embrace my old friend. I threw my arms around his neck and hugged him hard. He was smiling when I pulled back, but shadows lingered behind his eyes.
“We’ll go up to the house,” I said quietly. “Malvern, find Prince Ka’breona and my uncle. I think they’re down here somewhere. Send them up immediately.”
“At once, your Majesty.”
I linked my arm through Mylan’s, and we began the climb through the thoroughfares of Leselle. “It’s good to see you, old friend,” I said.
The young scouts behind us led Mylan’s exhausted horse to the stables Brial had built on the lower outskirts of the city.
“What in the world possessed you to come to Leselle in this weather, and nearly riding a horse to death in the process?”
“We’ll wait,” he said.
His voice was much deeper and more resonant than I remembered. I hadn’t seen Mylan for three years, not since the funeral of Hyagrem de Silenos in Geochon.
We hurried through the snowy streets, and I opened the guardians to escort my guest into the warmth of our home.
We preferred to live simply in Leselle. Nothing really indicated that this home was the residence of the royal family, save perhaps the shelves full of books that few Elves would own. I removed Mylan’s heavy fur cloak and pushed him onto a couch before the heaped Elfstones glowing on the hearth. I added cinnamon and nutmeg to a tankard of wine and heated it with a thought. One of our servitors appeared with a tray of cheese, bread, and fruit as I handed the hot drink to him. I dismissed her for the evening and served the Earl myself.
His green eyes were dulled with fatigue as he thanked me. I sat on the couch opposite after pouring myself a glass of wine. The guardians slid aside, and Brial strode into the room. A wide grin split his face as he walked toward his friend, arms outstretched. Mylan rose and the two men embraced, Brial almost dwarfed by the greater bulk of the human knight. Behind them, Wilden Ka’antira, my uncle and the last male of the Ka’antira line, smiled. When Brial pulled away with a hearty slap on Mylan’s back, Wilden stepped in and clapped Mylan’s shoulder.
Brial came to my side, and his smile faded as he looked into my face. “What is it, cariad?”
“I’m waiting for Mylan to tell us.” I turned my attention back to the man who had fallen back into the cushions of the couch.
“I came to fetch you two,” Mylan said gruffly. “You are needed in Geochon.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“There’s trouble over the Spesialle succession.”
“Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us, then?” I asked, puzzled.
“Mariol sent me to you. Dantel de Tizand is doing everything he possibly can, but—” Mylan spread his hands. “There are complications. If Dantel knew I was here, he’d probably throw me into a dungeon. The Council is divided.” Mylan’s voice hoarsened. “I have come, not for the Elven Queen, but for the Countess of Asphodel. Dantel needs friends, and you are probably the only two that can help.”
“Naturally, we’ll come,” I said. “But what could be the problem with the Spesialle succession? Rontil has held the duchy for over ten years.”
“Rontil has finally chosen a wife.” Mylan spoke carefully, as he always had when he was concerned about my reaction.
Of all the dear friends I’d made while on the Huntress’s game, he was the one whose good humor and high spirits had remained intact. Whatever he’d come to tell me, he was worried about how I’d take it.
“Well, that’s good isn’t it?”
“Not necessarily,” he said. “The wife he’s chosen is Alcmene, the sister of Queen Antiope.”
I sat back in my seat, thinking quickly. Thirteen years ago, Alcmene and her sister, Admete, had been sweet-faced little girls. They would be fully-grown warriors now who stood in line to the Hippolyte crown behind their older sister, Antiope. Antiope was still without an heir; the only child she’d borne was the posthumous son of Anner de Ceolliune who could not inherit the throne of a fabled race of female warriors. The political ramifications were obvious—and threatening to those who didn’t understand the terms of the Geochon accords as well as I did.
Brial let out a long whistle. “That’s an awfully big army for an Ansienne Prince to lay claim to. At least, that’s what the courtiers probably think, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got it,” Mylan said. “It doesn’t matter how many times we tell them that men are just a convenience to Hippolytes, the stupid Council doesn’t listen. All they can think of is Rontil sitting in Spesialle and his wife’s sister controlling the legendary legions of Hippolytos and what a huge military power that alliance forges.”
“How did they meet?” I asked.
“They met when Antiope paid a visit to her son,” Mylan wrapped his big hands around the tankard, as if he was trying to warm himself. “She and Mariol agreed to meet in Spesialle, so Mariol took Anteros down to Rontil’s palace. Antiope brought her sisters along and, well, you know Rontil. One thing led to another, and the two became betrothed.”
“How did Antiope take it?” Brial asked.
“She seemed to be all for it at first, but when word of the Council’s uproar reached her, I guess she forbade the whole thing. As a result, the girl took off and now is lodged firmly in Geochon while the whole thing plays out.”
That premonition was back again. I rubbed the back of my newly tense neck. “Where?”
I was afraid I already knew the answer.
“Alcmene is staying with your cousin,” Mylan said blandly. “For some reason, Cetenne thinks this whole thing is funny.”
So without my knowledge, Cetenne has involved the Elven Realm. No wonder Mylan is being so cautious.
I rolled my eyes to the heavens and let out a long-drawn sigh. “By the gods! Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us sooner? We could have headed this whole thing off weeks ago.”
Mylan’s expression darkened. “Mariol couldn’t come, Tamsen. He’s dying.”