So much for summer love: Flash Fiction

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“Are you sure?” he whispered against the skin of my neck. 

I’d never been more sure of anything. Even if this was my first time. 

“Have you ever—?” 

He shook his head. “Never.”


Our love story occurred in memories; in moments that slipped through my fingers like the sand. 

…It was the swirling air; 

…the salty kisses waist deep in the ocean; 

…glasses of wine snuck from my parents’ basement;

…his fingers tangled in my hair;

…my hands brushing the skin of his sun-kissed back. 

That skin, smooth and tanned, I wish I could leave some sort of mark—to prove I’d been here. I’d loved him. Sometimes I pretended I could. While he read a book in the sand, my fingers would trace my name over his shoulder blades. 

The imaginary lines existed only in my mind. His skin, much like his life, remained untouched by me. 


Meet me behind the mall.


September arrived in name only, as if August might’ve stayed if it held on long enough—if we had held on. If I had held on. 

But I was living in hope. For the hope. 

I kept my phone on late at night, next to the pile of homework that always formed when we went back to school. 

The silence was deafening. His silence, or mine, I couldn’t tell. There were so many times I wanted to pick up the phone and call. But, maybe the wanting was enough. Perhaps this summer was enough. 


This story was inspired by Taylor Swift’s song August! Thanks for reading!

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“Three words, large enough to tip the world. I remember you.”

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Goodreads | Amazon | Indigo

I wanted to like this book so badly and I quite enjoyed the first half. But, unfortunately I can’t join the hype train; as much as I wanted to be one of the ones to be yelling about how amazing this book is. And that’s the worst part. I was so excited about this book.

The premise was solid and Addie was an interesting enough character. The writing was beautiful and lyrical, though considerably repetitive, and I was interested to see what Addie would make of her life when she couldn’t be remembered. But, as I got farther in, the story faltered for me.

Around the half-way mark, little things started to turn me off from the story and from the characters. Two things happened which majorly quenched my enthusiasm for the book:

1) Addie LaRue has anti-feminine sentiments for no reason.

Page 157 from the book with a highlighted line that reads: "even cinched herself into a corset despite her loathing of bone stays."

For most of the book, she’s been this free-spirited, old God worshipping lady, who wants to subvert societal expectations because she wants to fully experience life. And she also hates corsets…

As someone who went through a “I’m not like other girls” phase and rejected all things feminine for a large chunk of my adolescence and who’s now worked through her internal misogyny to reclaim her more “girly” side with pride and power, it’s disheartening to see time and time again this rejection of anything feminine by female characters. On top of that, it’s not historically accurate.

Corsets were not these torture devises meant to keep women from breathing properly or damage their internal organs. No. They provided breast support while also supporting the spine and providing the wearer with the most fashionable silhouette without much effort. Now women go on diets to try and fit the most fashionable size.

But I digress… that’s another tangent for another day.

Addie’s personality flattened as the book continued on. It seemed her only personality traits were being alluring and pretty. And don’t forget the freckles.

I guess when you live for three-hundred years with the shallowest human contact, you don’t really need to have a personality. Or maybe everything about Addie’s personality was brushed over so she could be swept away by Luc every scene she wasn’t with Henry. But, it became increasingly tedious to read.

2) Henry is so boring

Henry, our love interest, is part of the great premise of the book. He remembers Addie. When he was first introduced I was so excited. But, then we got his backstory and a whole section of just him and I completely lost interest.

At first, he’s introduced as this sensitive character, and as a highly sensitive person myself I was all for it. But, I quickly came to realize that he doesn’t actually have a personality either. Depression and anxiety clearly play a role, but it’s hard to read a character who doesn’t want anything or doesn’t seem to do anything but sulk. His self-pitying lack of personality made him an almost non-character. I didn’t see the point of him besides being a foil to Addie.

Reading his chapters was a struggle because there was nothing in his character that made me want to root for him. He lives a life where nothing quite works out for him and people are disappointed him and his girlfriend of two years doesn’t want to marry him. But, all he did was obsess that he wasn’t good enough. His personality doesn’t seem to exist outside of when he meets Addie and they fall in love (instantly if I might add).


Other than those two things, the second half of the book began to drag. As I mentioned before, the writing is so repetitive at times that I wanted to pull my hair out. If I read that Addie has seven freckles spread across her cheeks or about Henry’s black curls one more time… The pretty writing couldn’t save itself from itself.

As we continue to watch Addie’s life in the past and present, we don’t see Addie doing anything. She’s been granted the ability to see the world and all we see is Addie doing basically nothing. There’s so much history in the last 300 years, which Addie could be a fly on the wall to, but Schwab continues to show us small snippets of Addie’s non-existence in France. There’s so much wasted potential and that’s one of my top book pet-peeves.

So much of this book felt painted on or contrived. From Addie’s extremely basic personality, to how she can seduce anyone she wants and everyone seems to want her–even a darkness god thing wants her. The romance between her and Henry was contrived and purely based on how he can remember her and how she’s… pretty? But, of course that connected to [spoilers].

To be fair, the ending was nice. It wasn’t really enough to salvage the entire book, but it redeemed Henry for me a little–though, it did almost the exact opposite for me with Addie. But, I think it was a decent enough ending considering everything that had led up to it.

If instant love and pretty writing do it for you, then you’d probably like this book. But, I’m over it.

Things I’ve Learned in 2020

It’s December 28th and I cannot believe that the end of this godforsaken year is in sight. What a trash fire it’s been. While I’ve been financially privileged enough that I didn’t have to worry too much about whether I could afford to have a roof over my head or food to eat–thank god. But, as with many people, I had my fair share of suffering this year.

It’s also been a year of lessons. I’ve learned so many things about myself and about the world around me I probably couldn’t quantify it all or coherently write it in less than a million words. Still, I’m going to share a handful of what I’ve learned this year.

Warning: I may start ranting a little. And of course, these are my opinions based on my own point of view and understanding… please don’t yell at me if you disagree.

Education is more important than ever

This was the year I discovered that we are living in a “post-truth era,” which basically means that shared standards for objective truths no longer exist. This type of philosophy has gained a tight grip on society with the emergence of emotional-based politics, which uses strong feelings of hatred, pride, and fear to spur on its followers.

Obviously this isn’t something that is unique to this particular year, but this year is when I learned the name and it seemed to come into very harsh focus.

Personal beliefs and individual convenience took precedence over science and health care. Suddenly expert researched topics on the virus and its subsequent vaccine were up to debate by people who had no proper or formal education in the field or had done even a sliver of actual research. Opinions are taken as fact, conspiracy theories that prey on feelings of vulnerability and fear run rampant, and armchair experts preach their doctrines via Youtube or any other social media platforms.

I’ve always been into the idea of education for all. I see it as a right. And I think it’s more important than ever that everyone receives proper and well-rounded education. Of course, this also means that many education systems and curriculums, especially in the Western world, need an overhaul to make them more inclusive of non-white histories and perspectives. But, I think the place to start is making it accessible and affordable to everyone at all walks of life.

It is just one drop in the big pond of problems. But with more individuals taught how to think critically and do their own research into topics that interest them, we might see a decrease in people being manipulated by conspiracy theories.

Individual freedom and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive

If I had a quarter for every time I saw or heard someone going off about their “individual rights and freedoms” I’d have so many quarters. What makes me laugh, in the most bitter and pathetic way, is that these people have replaced “individual freedoms” with some horrifically mutant libertarian philosophy where selfishness is the highest ideal and tough to anyone else.

Humans are social beings instinctually–always have been. We (the human race) has worked together for hundreds of thousands of years to create the world we live in today. It hasn’t been perfect, but the things we’ve accomplished are sometimes downright miraculous. When you are born into humanity, there’s an unwritten contract that you are now part of a community with certain rules (ie. don’t kill your neighbour just because you feel like it) and a sense of social responsibility. You take care of others and others will take care of you.

But, recently, in the face of some somewhat minor inconveniences (like not being able to get BBQ the exact time you want it or not being able to go window shopping at the mall or wearing a cloth mask) the idea of social responsibility goes out the window. Potentially keeping loved ones or even just strangers on the street safe by doing or not doing one thing is too much for some people.

In the face of lockdowns, which would massively decrease the spread of the virus, people start shouting about freedoms and dictatorships–as if these North American white people have ever experienced a real tyrannical dictator. It didn’t matter that hundreds of thousands of people would die (more so than other horrific tragedies like 9/11), because the government is telling people to stay home they’re pissed.

Of course, everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule. Bob down the street might die from COVID but they personally won’t–but only in the imagined fantasy of their minds. A family may think that they’ve been careful for so long, nothing will happen if they break the rules. But, that’s not how the virus works. The virus is not an emotional being, it doesn’t know that you’ve been following protocols for months and only wanted one day to act “normal” or whatever. The virus doesn’t care and will infect you anyway.

This is where the idea of social responsibility comes in. If we ALL work together, and put our individual wants aside, we can make sure that many more people survive.

There is no normal to go back to

I wish politicians would stop saying that once the pandemic is over things will “go back to normal.” After a year like this, there is no normal to go back to. There is only a new normal we can create.

Do we really want to go back to a world where frontline healthcare and retail workers are vastly underpaid and overworked? Where LTC and retirement homes lack proper funding and safety inspections? Where socio-economic divisions exclude marginalized communities from access to healthcare? Where peoples’ productivity is more important than their health and they can’t afford to take time off anyway? Where people are one paycheque away from homelessness?

The pandemic shone a light on all the deep and long-ignored cracks in our society. So, why go back when we can go forward and do better for ourselves and for our communities?

The normal of 2019 only worked for those who had the privilege to ignore these glaring issues. The normal of 2019 had the Ontario government scaling back LCT inspections and cutting funding to healthcare and education.

COVID isn’t going to be eradicated any time soon, so that’s another thing we will need to move forward to deal with.

I’d rather not move backwards, but continue on forwards in a direction where vast improvements can be made to society to benefit those who need it most.


Now for some more lighthearted content. Since it’s the end of the year, I figured I’d share some of my favourite things from 2020! These are not necessarily things from 2020, but what I discovered this year or really appreciated.

Books

  • The Seven 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
  • American Primitive by Mary Oliver (poetry)

Movies

  • Little Women (2019/Greta Gerwig)
  • Soul (Pixar)
  • Hamilton

Shows

  • Great Canadian Baking Show/Great British Bake Off
  • Modern Family
  • Hannibal

*Shout out goes to Taylor Swift for 2 amazing albums this year and to Animal Crossing for keeping me zen!

I’ve decided to forego any talk of accomplishments or major goals because I feel like simply getting through the year was accomplishment enough. And I’m not going to jinx it by making any statements about what I’m going to do in the new year… just in case.


Thanks so much for reading! I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday and continue to stay safe and well into the new year.

All You Within This Place: A Ghost Story for Christmas

Part 1

It was December the 24th—Christmas Eve—and at Buckmere Hall, the party was raging; well, as much as a well-conducted group of highly educated people could rage. In fact, the Christmas Eve party at Buckmere Hall was always the event of the year. Every person who had the distinct pleasure of being invited knew they had been smiled upon by some act of good fortune. 

This year’s party was said to be the best one in ages—though, past guests still spoke in awed tones of the 1997 party, which was said to have been the greatest ever. If you asked anyone who’d actually been there, each told a wildly different story. Some even spoke of a live elephant and an incident involving peacocks, a punch bowl, and a pack of cocker spaniels. 

This year, all gold and red and silver and crimson and evergreen was the dazzling hall on that night before Christmas. The lights were dimmed to let the thousand white and red wax candles shine with flickering warm light. An absolutely gigantic fur tree stood in the middle of the room adorned with little metal bobbles, in every colour imaginable, red and gold ribbons, and pine cones and bright candy canes. It all had the effect of some long-ago Christmas—lost to time except in the hearts and dreams of the party-goers. 

It would’ve been an immensely splendid way to spend the evening, especially on a cold, softly snowing, winter’s night, if not for the ghost. 

Of course, the spectre went unnoticed for some time amongst the revelry, feasting, chatter, and dancing. But as the evening wore on, it was undeniable. There was a presence—of the unloving sort. It was abundantly obvious to five such partygoers and they were as follows: 

First, was Jamie Winthrop, a university professor well recognized in his field, who taught classics to gaggles of twenty-somethings for days on end for not enough money. Thus, he felt older—much older, in fact—than he really was. This night, though, he was starting to feel more like himself again. There was nothing like Christmas to wash away all the grime and wear from the previous year. He wore his finest tweed jacket with a festive tie, though amongst the proper suits, he felt significantly under-dressed. 

Second, was the award-winning author, Emelia Pevensie, who hadn’t originally thought she would be able to attend the party—though it was her first time being invited. Instead, she thought her schedule would have her overseas, promoting a new book. However, she found herself at a party on Christmas Eve where everyone knew her and she knew almost no one. Fortunately, she did enjoy any excuse to dress up; and this time she outdid herself, with a surprisingly stunning golden number. She could feel everyone looking at her as she swept around the room, but at least this time she wanted them to look. 

Thirdly, was Dr. Patricia Ferguson, a brain surgeon at a prestigious hospital in the city. She had removed a benign tumour from the head of Lord Buckmere some years ago, thus earning her a permanent spot on the guest list. A kind and soft-spoken woman, she appreciated the gesture, though she wasn’t much of a “party person”; she would rather be at home with a good book. But, she did enjoy the Christmas shindig and always arrived with bells on. 

Our fourth individual was the old Madame Le Pouf—not too old, though, thank you very much. If you were part of the circle which attended these parties, you certainly knew Madame Le Pouf. This wasn’t her real name, of course, but her stage name—known in all corners of the world, at least by civilized folk. She considered herself the best opera singer of the century, and there were plenty who agreed with her. This year, she had decked herself out in furs and jewels—to the disapproval of many animal-friendly party attendees—but she only saw the looks of awe she received from her fans. Her silver hair was decorated with pearls and diamonds, giving her the appearance of royalty. 

Last of all, was Timothy Cowell, someone who was considered a brilliant lawyer by many—including a large number of those in attendance. He had just finished a high-profile trial in the city, which had left him in need of a release—in the form of a drink. And release he did, with many full glasses of whisky. This left him looking rather dishevelled amongst the well-kept and tidy individuals which filled Buckmere Hall, but those who knew the details of his case didn’t hold his appearance against him. 

Thus are the five key players in this haunted tale. None of them knew each other, nor were connected in any way, except the fact they had all been invited to this party. But, why were they being haunted? Perhaps we will find out. 

For now, enjoy the string quartet playing a jaunty tune for the season, and the people dancing about the Christmas tree, and the joyful chatter which can only be heard this time of year. 


Part 2

Jamie Winthrop picked at a plate of hors d’oeuvres by himself near a surprisingly festive wall. He’d barely managed to fit himself in among the boughs of holly. As much as he liked the people here just fine, he didn’t particularly feel like talking trade just now—though these talks usually contained interesting discussions on the topic of his latest paper. Despite the cozy atmosphere and him feeling more like himself, he still felt burnt out by it all, especially since  

“Winthrop, I saw you standing here all by your lonesome and I thought you needed a refill.” The man who spoke was a former colleague—recently retired to travel the world. In his hands were two glasses of something dark and red. The Buckmeres were well known for their wine. 

“Thanks, Williams,” Jamie said as he took one of the glasses and a generous sip. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he was so used to calling the man Williams, he’d forgotten the man’s first name. 

“You look a little exhausted,” Williams said as he assumed a place on the wall beside Jamie, not bothered by the garlands and tinsel. “Everything still going well at the school? It’s not too early to retire, you know.” He was always touting the benefits of retirement and somehow managed to slip it into every conversation he had. 

“It’s been a rough month, but I’m doing okay,” Jamie responded as politely as he could, though one month was a bit of an understatement. “The winter break will do me some…”

That’s when he noticed her; across the room, walking through the crowd with a flute of champagne—much more sophisticated than the beer she usually drank. There was no denying it; he could recognize the curve of her back from a mile away. She turned and there was no mistaking those lips. But, there was absolutely no way she could be here at this party with these people. How could he see her as if she was truly there? 

The sweep of her royal blue gown; the twinkle of the silver starts adorned her dark brown curls. It was all real. The way she smiled as she spotted him across the room was exactly the way she always did. But, just as she took a step towards Jamie, she disappeared, again. 

“Are you sure you’re okay, Winthrop?” Williams asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

“I’m not completely sure I haven’t,” Jamie replied as he put his plate down on a side table beside him and ran a hand over his face. The words felt strange coming out of his mouth because he’d never been one to believe in anything paranormal. 

“Well,” Williams started, unfazed by Jamie’s honesty, “you know, houses like these always have a few ghosts running around.” 

Jamie doubted any spirits around here would take that form, except to specifically torture him. It had to be a trick of the light or he’d drunk too much wine. But, he felt pins and needles up and down his arms. Perhaps a reaction to seeing something not wholly natural. 

He excused himself from the conversation with Williams—whatever his damn name was—and retreated into the hallway, where it was quiet and cool. He could collect his thoughts and maybe sober up a little. The hallway was mostly dark, though a small beam of light leaked from beneath the door to the ballroom. 

“It was just ‘an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato,” he quoted to himself quietly.

But, to be completely honest, he didn’t feel overly drunk. He considered for a moment of walking outside to stand ankle-deep in the snow to clear his head, but it was much too late for any of that. 

The temperature around him began to plummet as if someone had opened a window into the winter’s night. He felt his ears pop as the pressure shifted and closed his eyes almost instinctively. When he opened them again, he sorely wished he had kept them closed. 

A women’s face peered at him out of the darkness of the hallway—the woman. Though, how could anyone see with no eyes? James stared right into the gaping black holes where her eyes should have been and felt himself unable to move or scream. 

He heard her voice, though her mouth remained partially open as if her jaw no longer could hold itself closed: 

The time has come, Jamie, she said—sounding somehow simultaneously far away and nearby—for you to finally be honest. You cannot hide your sins any longer. 

“Who are you, spirit?” he heard himself asking. “Why do you take that form and how do you know me?” 

She didn’t react. Her bone-white face continued to stare at him without eyes. If he had the ability, Jamie would’ve screamed until his throat bled. But, the voice continued. 

Tell the truth, Jamie Winthrop, or else.

“What will happen?” he questioned timidly. He trembled quietly, unable to take his eyes off the yawning holes in her skull. 

He knew exactly what this was about—why the spirit wanted him to be honest. It was the reason he’d been so burnt out; the reason he needed this break. The spectre—however ghastly—had taken the form of one of his students. 

It had all been his responsibility—his fault—he knew, as he should have said no from the beginning. She was all charm and sparkling eyes full of passion and he hadn’t wanted to say no—not at the time. So he did what so many men had done before him and will continue to do after: he cheated on his spouse with someone half his age. She was barely twenty, in fact. 

He’d heard of the affairs of others, how could he not? He had rolled his eyes at the stupidity of it all. How could they be so dense? How could they succumb to their basest natures? But, face-to-face with his own torrid affair, he understood what it was like to be the cliché. 

Over and over he told himself he would end it, every time she left his bed that it was the last time, and over and over he didn’t. Her beguiling ways had a firm hold on him—though that was placing too much blame on her. In his most honest moments with himself, he admitted how much he enjoyed her youthful exuberance and he liked being with a woman. 

Jamie’s husband was the dearest soul in the world, there was no question. He loved his husband with all his heart. Trying to compare his feelings was like trying to compare apples and oranges. But, there was something about her which drew him in, in ways he’d never felt before. 

He finally came to his senses, though, after months of secrets and tiptoeing. Like all things of this kind, ending the affair didn’t go well. She accused him of using her and promised to tell everyone of their affair—ruin his life by ending his job and his marriage in one fell swoop. He managed to talk her down somehow, by promising her better grades, letters of recommendation, anything he could offer. She accepted then, but he knew it was only a matter of time before she came forward. So, he drafted a letter of resignation, which now sat in a drawer in his desk, for when he finally had the nerve to send it. 

You tell them. Tell them all. Or I will. 

With a sneer painted across its face, the ghost looked more sinister. The more Jamie looked—though, he didn’t have much choice—the less it looked like her. The face was shifting and changing into something unrecognizable, distorted, and mutilated. 

He thought of his husband then, who would be at his mum’s like they agreed when Jamie received an invitation to the party. Suddenly there was no place Jamie would rather be, even if it meant losing everything. He couldn’t break Evan’s heart, but he knew he must. There was no escaping it, just as there was no escaping the gaping black gaze of the spirit, whose last semblance of humanity had melted away and was replaced by something Jamie couldn’t begin to describe. 

It rushed at him then, cavernous eyeholes and all, and sent him falling onto the floor with a cry. He hit the back of his head against the wall behind him with a sickening thump. When he looked up to face his doom, there was nothing but an empty hallway. 

The ghost was gone. It had given him his ultimatum, and it was up to him to see it through. 

Jamie sighed and leaned back against the wall, and reassured himself he wasn’t having a heart attack—which he most certainly wasn’t. Eventually, his breathing slowed and his heartbeat stopped pounding in his ears like an ominous drum. He was finally able to stand, though his head throbbed where it made contact with the wall—the wall itself didn’t feel a thing. 

Just as he was starting to feel “normal” again, the screaming began. 


Part 3

Before Jamie Winthrop had his ghostly experience in the hallway and before the mysterious screams echoed through the ballroom, our resident author, Emelia Pevensie, was having quite the time. After feeling proud of herself for creating such a spectacle when she arrived—the golden dress really was a knock-out—she was now having to contend with the consequences. People knew who she was, they knew she was at the party, and they wanted to speak with her about her next book. 

She’d been cornered not more than half-an-hour after she arrived. While she was flattered that these individuals—especially the type who attended this party—were interested in her work, she was terrified of having to disappoint anyone. 

By all accounts, she wasn’t even supposed to be there. It was almost ironic, for if she hadn’t been there, she would’ve had something to talk about with them. But, since she was attending the party, she didn’t. And it was a hellish experience; an awful Catch-22 where the only loser was her. 

She could have called sick, sent her sincerest apologies, but the thought hadn’t occurred to her until she had already been surrounded and inundated with questions. 

“When will the next book be published?”

“What is it going to be about?” 

“Have you been feeling the pressure of having to follow your award-winning debut?”

No. Nothing. And yes, obviously. 

She didn’t say any of this aloud but danced around the questions just as gracefully as she could. One thing she’d learned, especially after attending award ceremonies, as people didn’t often want blunt honesty. They wanted something sweet and palatable to chew on while they talked behind your back about how your book was so pretentious and pseudo-intellectual that they could barely get through it. All while smiling to your face, of course. 

So, she gave them excuses and vague untruths, all of which were received well enough. Emelia knew they all considered themselves writers, despite never having written anything more than a grocery list, and believed themselves understanding of the struggles and hardships of such a life. Though, none of them genuinely knew what it was like to hold the hopes and expectations of millions of readers as they watched and waited for the inevitable next piece of genius. 

The truth of it was she hadn’t written a word since Hapsburg’s Paradise was published—over two years ago. 

She was deftly deflecting questions and the usual, “I could be a writer if I had the time,” when she spotted something strange across the room. It was a figure, which looked sort of man-shaped, at least to her, wearing a hood, which obscured his face from view. He looked familiar—as much as he could when she couldn’t see his face—but she couldn’t pinpoint from where. It was odd to see someone dressed in such a fashion at this lavish party. No one else seemed to notice him as he stood perfectly still amongst the swirling crowd. 

Excusing herself with many smiles and apologies, Emelia snuck away to investigate this mysterious figure. She found the spot where she’d seen him, but realized quickly he was no longer there. 

It didn’t take long, though, before she found herself the centre of attention again. More strangers asking her the same questions in different ways. She couldn’t help but be a little pleased since so many had read and enjoyed her work, but it was more diplomacy than she ever wanted to partake. Especially with people who didn’t know her. It would be another thing entirely if she actually knew them and they actually cared about her thoughts and opinions, but all those standing in front of her had was an idea of her they’d built in their minds. 

He was there again—the hooded figure—in a different location near the Christmas tree in the centre of the room. A little closer than he had been before. She still couldn’t shake the feeling she knew him somehow. 

Again, she attempted to find him in the crowd but was unable. Before anyone had another chance to ambush her, she saw him once more. He grew ever closer, but never close enough to get a look. His identity remained a mystery, though his presence was imposing

“Who are you?” she whispered to herself as she watched him, still unmoving, hooded and dark. 

Unless she could get a closer look, Emelia had no way of knowing who he was. But, was it what she really wanted? As much as she didn’t want to be picked apart by strangers, this dark stalker was something different—a new sort of hell. He was always there, watching, even when she tried to ignore him. She felt his eyes on her. 

“Are you Emelia Pevensie?” 

“Yes,” she answered, sounding more exasperated than she meant. “What can I do for you?”

Emelia turned and found herself looking at a timid young woman, who looked not much younger than herself. This stranger had ash blonde hair and striking blue eyes. 

“I didn’t mean to bother you,” she said shyly. 

Emelia smiled warmly and waved at her dismissively. “You’re not bothering me.” 

“Oh good,” she said, looking vastly relieved. “I just thought I should ask if you were all right. The look on your face made me think you’d seen a ghost.” 

“Oh!” Emelia couldn’t help but laugh—somewhat surprised her emotions were worn so plainly on her face. “I think perhaps I have,” she said, still laughing. 

The young woman looked more intrigued than shocked or concerned. “I’ve always wanted to see a ghost. It would be such an amazing experience—not to mention a great story.”

“Are you a writer?” 

“No. I mean, not like you,” the young woman stammered. “I’ve written a handful of short stories—even had one published—but I could never write a whole novel.” 

Emelia smiled. “You should keep working. You never know, one of those stories could turn into something bigger.” Then quietly she said, “And if you write, you’re a writer. Just like me.” 

The young woman blushed so much, her whole face turned bright red. She thanked Emelia repeatedly before disappearing back into the crowd. As she watched the girl leave, Emelia realized she’d never even asked the girl’s name. But, the conversation was enough to lift her spirits and remind her of when she herself had been a writer just starting. 

Emelia was still feeling gracious, the warmth of an authentic interaction making her glow until she noticed a familiar shadow in her eye line. He was closer now and as ominous as ever. She could now see a horrific smirk under the hood. Again, she felt as if she should know him somehow, but his identity continued to allude her. 

To escape the crowd, her guilt, and the haunting figure, Emelia dashed to the bathroom. Well, it was more a simple powder room but was still adorned with as much Christmas cheer as the ballroom, but in the peace and quiet, it was more a comfort than an overwhelming sensation. She stood at the pedestal sink and took several long deep breaths. Thoughts swirled around her head like a hurricane, but they were slowly losing momentum. 

She leaned over the sink and—very carefully, as to not smudge her makeup—splashed a little cool water on her face, which had the effect of calming her more. 

A hand grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back to standing. The force caused her to stumble back a step. In the mirror, she saw the figure who had been stalking her most of the evening; he was standing behind her so close she could almost feel his breath on her neck. His skin was greyish and discoloured, with bruises and marks from an unknown altercation. He still wore the smirk, which seemed more a sneer this close. She still couldn’t see his eyes, but she could feel them staring at her under the hood. The hairs on her arms stood on end and she let out a shriek. She whirled around and… 

Nothing. He was gone. 

She gasped and looked back at the mirror as if perhaps his reflection would still be there. But it wasn’t. She then realized where she knew him and it made the encounter even more startling. He wasn’t even real

He had been a character in her novel. More importantly, he was a character whom she’d killed off in the final draft. She didn’t want to—he had been a key fixture in the story—but her editor insisted it would “seal the deal” on Hapsburg’s Paradise becoming a classic. Apparently, she had been right. 

Indeed, he was a ghost, but how—why—was he haunting her now? 

It didn’t make sense, but there was no denying what she saw. If only she knew what else was going to take place this evening, her confusion would be even more profound. 


Part 4

Patricia Ferguson—or Dr. Ferguson, if you weren’t well acquainted—never really dreaded these parties at Buckmere Hall, though she’d freely admit she’d rather be doing something else. And she certainly didn’t dread the “Christmas Eve Ball,” as she called it. Truly, she enjoyed it very much, which said more about her love of Christmas than any feelings she had for or against parties. This year was no exception, as stated earlier, she came with bells on. Literally. Her dress, an inky indigo blue, had tiny silver bells attached which jingled cheerfully as she walked. Secretly, she referred to herself as a Christmas fairy. 

It was the first bout of cheer she’d felt in a long time. 

She deserved it as much as anyone at the party—perhaps more. As a brain surgeon, she was plenty privy to the horrors of life. But, as probably one of the best surgeons in the country, she was steady enough to know just as many joys accompanied the pains. This year had been especially kind to her with many many successful surgeries and treatments, all except… 

This was not the night to think of such things. So, she did her best not to and enjoyed socializing with all the “regulars” she recognized. She also noted a number of fresh faces which was a sign of good humour in Lady Buckmere.

This was indeed one of the best “Christmas Balls” that she’d attended. The way the lights and decorations invoked the pure feeling of Christmas; joy and generosity and love and hope. It was like stepping into the most idyllic Charles Dickens novel. The magic in the room was palpable— it seemed to dance through the crowd like a guest itself. It was almost enough to erase the deep woes of Patricia’s heart. 

But even amongst the smiles and laughter and frivolity, a dark shadow hung over the good doctor. No one really noticed, of course, because no one ever does. Patricia knew well everyone was so busy with their own trials, that the trials of others—unless particularly specified—were of no consequence to them. This didn’t mean everyone was selfish, no. But, it’s incredibly hard to live outside one’s reality, isn’t it? 

Patricia found it hard not to live inside other’s sorrows. She would’ve thought years in a hospital would’ve numbed her, but she felt everything still. 

This was not the time, though. 

What was the time, indeed? As much as Patricia loved these Christmas parties, she always found herself checking the clock—not out of any conscious desire to leave, more of the unconscious sort. It was nearly 11:30 pm—which, for sake of keeping track was 20 minutes before Emelia’s encounter and 35 minutes before Jamie is knocked down in the hallway. Patricia was unconsciously disappointed because it was still too early to go home, but late enough that she was starting to feel it. 

However, she could ignore the constant gnawing fatigue if she put her mind to it. And there were certainly plenty of distractions to keep Patricia occupied at least for a couple more hours—when it would be a less awkward time to leave. 

But, Patricia would soon forget all about leaving—whether consciously or not. 

As she helped herself to another plate of food from the immense and almost intimidatingly varied spread of food, something caught her eye at the end of the table. She glanced over and almost dropped her plate on the floor—fortunately for the cleaning staff, she didn’t. At the other end of the buffet was a ghost. 

She knew it was a ghost because she was looking into the face of a young girl who’d passed away six months ago—almost to the day.

“Holly?” Patricia whispered, just loud enough for herself to hear. 

The phantom, looking fairly fresh from the grave with translucent pale skin and dark circles under her glassy eyes, nodded slowly then backed away with a beckoning hand. 

Dr. Ferguson wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow Holly, wherever she was trying to lead her but found her feet moving anyway. She was led to a quiet corner away from the bustle of the festivities. However, the ghost simply stared at her with cloudy dead eyes and mouth slightly agape. 

Perhaps she was waiting for Patricia to speak first. 

“What do you need from me, Holly?” She spoke the ghost’s name slowly as if she was unsure of whether the ghost still used the name. 

“In life,” the ghost began slowly and gravely, “I was Holly. Now, I am charged with purpose on this night.”

“What purpose is that?” 

“A warning. This night is going to be fraught with terrors for a number of those at this party.” 

“Oh dear,” Patricia said softly, though found it a little ironic because this was a sort of terror of her own. “Sounds terrible. What kind of terrors?”

“Each will be haunted by a ghastly creature of their own making. How they react will determine the course of their futures.”

  “But, why tell me this? What can I do?” 

“That, I cannot tell. You will know at the right moment what is needed. I wish I could say more, but my time in this place is almost over.” 

“Wait,” Patricia said firmly. “Tell me one thing.” 

The ghost waited, though the ghastly expression didn’t change. 

“Please tell me if you are at peace.” She would’ve said more, but couldn’t bring herself to speak the words. 

For the first time, and only for a moment, Holly smiled—as much as a dead person could smile. Her lips twitched upwards for a second then fell again, as if the motion was too much for her. Patricia felt the warmth, if only sparingly. 

“You carry guilt on your shoulders,” Holly said, “but it is unnecessary. My death was not your responsibility to bear. I am at peace, for it was my time.” Without another word, Holly disappeared—well, not disappeared so much as she faded slowly, eventually becoming nothing but the wall behind her.  

Patricia turned around, her eyes darting through the crowd as though she could find the ghost and its victims simply by looking. Everything appeared normal—the partygoers were partying, the music still floated around the room. It was all revelry and joy; it was hard to imagine anything terrible or terrifying happening. 

A chill, she didn’t realize had settled on her bones, began to lift and the borderline suffocating warmth of the ballroom crept back up and cocooned her again. It occurred to her momentarily this could’ve all been a hallucination or some sort of mental break. All the guilt must’ve poured out from her deep subconscious and created the image of Holly’s ghost. 

She felt mildly disgusted with herself. What a disrespectful way to remember a patient she had lost. 

Despite the ridiculousness and illogical nature of this paranormal experience, it felt just as real as the people she’d been talking to before. Holly had been there and something was going to happen here. What it could be, she couldn’t tell. She would have to wait and see what was to come if it was indeed coming at all. 


Part 5

If we were keeping a chronology, Madame Le Pouf’s scene would begin now. But, we shall leave it for last. For now, we will visit Timothy Cowell, the lawyer, after Dr. Ferguson had her ghostly encounter. Jamie and Emelia were yet to have theirs. 

Timothy, or Tim—or even Timmy, he didn’t mind either way—was having a surprisingly good time. He had found himself with the attentions of a very attractive woman and had spent a good deal of the evening entertaining and dancing with her. For someone usually so awkward with just about everyone—he was amazed at how easily he could talk to her. If he’d heard her correctly, her name was either Rachel or Rebecca. At this point, he was too embarrassed to ask again. Otherwise, he was having a grand old time. 

They were laughing and joking and prancing about like they were drunk, which they weren’t particularly. At least, they didn’t consider themselves that drunk. 

Tim could almost forget about the moment he’d first arrived, the room buzzed with whisperings of everyone who’d been keeping up with his latest trial. Considering it had been on television, he wasn’t surprised in the least. But, it was enough to send him into an embarrassment spiral until he’d met Rachel—or Rebecca. 

He continued to dance the night away, downing more glasses of whisky than he could keep track of. A dishevelled quality began to appear, unnoticed and unheeded by Tim, though people who did notice paid no mind. They were sympathetic. A man, especially one who’d been through what he had, deserved a chance to relax sometime. And he wasn’t causing any disruption, so they were all willing to look the other way. 

“You want to get out of here?” Rachbecca asked. Her cheeks were flushed with drink and the exertion of dancing, which only added to her allure, and her eyes drooped seductively. 

Who could refuse such an offer? Not Tim, certainly. 

Thus, Tim found himself kissing a beautiful woman out in a hallway—though, a different one than the one Jamie would find himself in later. It was as dark in the hallway as the kissing was sensual, which was to say it was sort of middle-y both ways. Tim wasn’t going to complain one ounce because who wouldn’t want to be kissed, even drunkenly, by such a woman? And the kisses weren’t bad, either. In fact, despite it all, he was enjoying himself immensely. 

Until something caught his eye and he froze. The haze of his intoxicated state evaporated instantly as the ghostly chains dragged across the floor with metallic rattling. 

It took Rachbecca a moment to notice Tim had stopped responding to her affections, but she eventually pulled away with an inquisitive look. 

But Tim was far away—figuratively, at least—and didn’t see her at all. His eyes were firmly fixed on the dim hallway behind her as he beheld the prisoner. Though it was merely a shadow with indistinguishable features, he knew it was a prisoner—jumpsuit, chains, and all. Worst of all, he knew exactly who it was, this prisoner. 

“Dear God,” he whispered, backing away only to find a wall in his path. 

“What’s wrong?” Rachbecca looked around, but, of course, couldn’t see the spectre. 

Tim didn’t respond, or couldn’t more like, but simply took off in a sprint down the hallway and away from the ghoulish figure. As he ran, he could hear the dragging of chains behind him, and a million thoughts spun through his mind. They were all of the trial and the poor soul he’d failed to save. 

He had no one to blame but himself. It had been him, and only him, who had missed a key piece of evidence. And now it was too late. He could petition for an appeal, a retrial, something, but it wouldn’t happen until well into the new year. An innocent man was sitting in prison over the holidays while Timothy had gone to a party. 

How could he forgive himself? 

He burst forth from a door into the frigid night air. It was a clear and crisp evening, with stars shining brightly above. In another life, Tim had wanted to study the celestial bodies and explore the universe, but reality and his parents had other plans. Still, whenever he was under the sky, and it was dark enough to see the galaxy turning above him, he always needed a moment to mourn his lost love. 

Not this night, though. On this deep and cold Christmas Eve, the sky could have been falling in around him and he couldn’t have seen it. His eyes were fixed dead ahead on some ineffable safe place, where he could escape the enormous guilt of his failure. 


Part 6

Madame Le Pouf would probably never notice a ghost even if it came up and poked her on the nose. Usually. 

To establish ourselves in this somewhat convoluted timeline, Madame Le Pouf stayed blissfully ignorant of the presence of any paranormal activity while each of the other players in this tale were having their experiences. The scene which takes place thusly was in the moments before Jame Winthrop’s confrontation in the dark hallway. By this time, Dr. Patricia had been warned and was on the lookout for something—of what she wasn’t completely sure. And poor Timothy Cowel was waist-deep in the snow. 

Madame deserves some credit, to do her justice, as much as she was fairly oblivious, it was to some purpose. This night was the eve of an event—separate from those in this story—which she would very much like to forget. And she was succeeding quite comfortably. There were enough people around her, delectables to eat, and carols to sing. She kept no fewer than four hangers-on around her at once, for the aim of this distraction. 

It worked, for there was jolly laughter and entertaining conversations galore. Not a moment could be spared on anything else. Certainly not anything of the grim and ghoulish variety. No, certainly not. 

Currently, Madame was in the middle of joking with a most outrageous gentleman—a young duke, or something, she couldn’t quite remember. He was ridiculous, for one, because he was of the new way of doing things. It could be said with full confidence that Madame was of the old-fashioned sort, and didn’t often agree with anything young folk had to say. But, this young duke, or whatever, had a good sense of humour, so she took advantage. 

In another life, many moons past, Madame might’ve also found herself flirting with him, but as she was greying—gracefully, thank you very much—she couldn’t even think of such a thing. Even in small fantastical moments. Those types of flights of fancy were behind her. But she could still have a good time, no doubt, and young men still proved fun at her age. 

He was a handsome fellow, certainly, with dark brown, almost black, hair and grey eyes that could be roguish in moments and quite charming in others. His smile was toothy and wide and whenever he laughed, his company couldn’t help but join in. 

In contrast, Madame felt herself quite elegant and subdued, with her matronly silver hair—though, this was her view only as she was more dressed and decked than the Christmas tree itself in the centre of the room. But, this ageing woman imagined herself quite the humble belle of the ball, in spite of her laughter which carried across the room, and wherever she went, she had a small entourage around her. As it stands, she was, in fact, one of the most famous guests in attendance, and people were often enthralled by her presence therefore paid no mind to her conduct. Though it could be said surely,  she conducted herself no worse than anyone—especially certain drunken lawyers. 

“And the pigeon in the tree said, ‘Fruit cake’!” 

The crowd of twelve or so around Madame burst into laughter at the punchline of a joke, which wasn’t that funny, but everyone, having helped themselves to a generous amount of alcohol, found it funny enough. Our lovely Madame beamed with joy and pride at making such a splendid sensation. She knew that everyone not in her party must be seethingly jealous of their good time. 

If only Madame Le Pouf could have stayed in such a jovial state, but then her purpose in this story would be lost. Unfortunately, she was due for a fright. 

She didn’t deserve it, of course. Perhaps less than most. Despite her outward countenance, she was hiding darkness which no one would ever see if she could help it; a tragic history, it haunted her at low levels every single day of the year. Her past acted as a ghost she could never quite shake, but she could hide it away in the deepest recesses of her heart. 

But, there was something else going on this night. If I could explain it in any sort of way, I would. Alas, there is nothing I can do. 

The unfortunate Madame’s spectre appeared to her and caused her to turn white as a sheet. Peering out at her from around the huge Christmas tree was a face and two boney hands. It wasn’t much, for the ghost—whoever it was—didn’t seem sinister, but it was enough. And maybe that’s what made it more horrific. The face gazed at her almost pathetically. Tears looked to be streaming down the sallow cheeks from glazed and foggy eyes. If it came out of hiding, Madame knew, the wound where the knife had cut all the life out of her would be visible. 

“No, no!” Madame cried, almost falling into the arms of the person beside her. 

“Is she okay?” 

“Madame, what happened?” 

“She looks like she’s going to faint.” 

All this was said and more in the commotion as people rushed about to make sure she didn’t collapse or she wasn’t having some sort of health crisis. Madame screamed a little more before being seated in a chair with a glass of brandy to calm her nerves. 

By this time, Jamie had come in from the hallway in search of the source of the screaming. Though, he looked like he needed his own glass of brandy. 

A crowd had begun forming, including Dr. Ferguson and Emelia. Both of whom approached Madame, feeling it in their bones they knew the reason for her fright. They caught each other’s eyes and recognized in each other a certain knowledge only those who’d glimpsed beyond the veil would possess. 

Under the pretence of wanting to give Madame Le Pouf a thorough checking over in a quiet place, Dr. Ferguson, with the help of Emelia and Jamie—who had also noticed the frightened looks of these women and had come to understand their experiences matched his—escorted Madame into a quiet room and set her down on the sofa. 

“Madame,” Dr. Ferguson started slowly, “did you see something upsetting?”

“Yes,” Madame sniffed, her hand holding the glass shaking as she took a sip, “but, how did you know?” 

Patricia looked around at the others standing behind the sofa and wondered how to begin.

 


Part 7

So we find four of our players sitting around the crackling fire of the cozy library of Buckmere Hall. The room—all warm tones and dark wood it was—with its numerous bookshelves and comforting places to sit, seemed to absorb any outside sounds before it could disturb the sensibilities of those inside. The three who’d assisted Madame into this quiet place each told the story of their encounters, beginning with Patricia and the warning from Holly, to Jamie and his shameful confession, to Emelia with her fright in the bathroom. Then Madame told them what she saw. 

“My sister,” the elderly woman said quietly, “was murdered seven years ago this very evening.” 

Emelia brought her hands to her mouth as she gasped, feeling embarrassed at being so frightened by a fictional character. “I’m so sorry,” she managed to say. 

Madame waved away Emelia’s words of consolation. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me, dear. Now that I’ve got a stiff drink and a moment to clear my head, it doesn’t seem so harrowing. I was just startled, is all.” She said all this with a laugh, but Patricia wasn’t sure she believed Madame’s flippancy. 

“But, what does it all mean?” asked Jamie, speaking for the first time since he’d told his story. “What does the ghost want?” 

“I think we all know what the ghost wants from you,” Emelia said bitterly. She had no patience for men and their cliché affairs. 

Jamie sheepishly shrunk back into silence. But, he had a point. There had to be a reason for these paranormal events. What it could be was anyone’s guess at this point. 

The door to the library swung open with a sudden boom, and a snow-covered Tim stood in the doorway. He looked more like an abominable snowman than human, and even in the dim warm light of the fire, his skin had an odd pale colour to it. He said nothing, but moaned quietly and swayed, as he was unsteady on his frozen feet. 

Dr. Ferguson jumped into action immediately, only taking the briefest moment to assess the situation. Somehow, she knew this was what she’d been warned about. 

The group was beckoned around Tim, though no one knew his name yet, and they used their collective body heat to warm him gradually. When he stopped shaking so violently, Dr. Ferguson guided him closer to the fire, where he could continue to warm himself. Jamie dashed out and brought back with him a large mug of steaming coffee. Before long, Tim was sat on a stool by the crackling warmth of the fireplace and cradling and sipping from his mug. 

“What happened to you?” Emelia asked when it finally seemed appropriate. 

His voice was shaky, but he responded, “I was drunk—very drunk—and scared myself.” 

“That must have been some scare,” Patricia said, inspecting his fingers for frostbite. 

“I thought I saw a… well, before I realized it was only a trick of the light, I’d run so far in the snow I was a little lost.” 

The others looked at each other knowingly. He’d also seen something, even if he couldn’t admit it yet. Why the five of them been singled out and what were they supposed to do remained a mystery still. It seemed what connected them was the realization, the reveal of some truth, whether conscious or unconscious. 

But, why had Madame been tormented by the image of her murdered sister? Why did the prisoner appear to Timothy? Neither of them deserved more guilt. 

The only one who knew exactly what his task was, was Jamie—whose ultimatum rang in his head like an ominous bell. But, this left him free to ponder the reasons for others. There had to be something. 

“Madame,” he said timidly as he approached her. After the ordeal of saving Timothy from freezing to death, she’d returned to her place on the sofa. “Your sister, was her murderer ever found?” 

Madame simply shook her head. “Cold to this day.” 

Timothy, though still looking rather bedraggled, perked up. “Are you referring to the 2012 murder in Vienna?” 

“That very one,” Madame said solemnly. 

“I’ve actually been fascinated with the case for years. I mean, I like to study cold cases in my spare time. There is some interesting evidence which was overlooked in the initial investigation.” 

Tim and Madame began talking to each other about his theories, and soon enough, they were in their own little sphere. Like magic, the strangers had become something more. 

The quiet room, made for reading, seemed also made for connecting; with a friendly fire and books to fill hundreds of minds with new ideas. It was close, but not so close. Jamie saw what he’d done and smiled. 

He turned to Patricia and Emelia, who were standing by the bookshelves and watching the scene. Knowing what he had to do, he approached them. 

“Dr. Patricia?” he said, “I’m interested in your encounter with Holly. It seems so different from the rest of ours. Can you tell me about it again?” 

Patricia agreed and told her story again, this time with more detail. As she elaborated, especially about Holly herself, Jamie noticed Emelia listening intently, her eyes lighting up gradually. There was a spark there obvious enough for all to see. 

When the good doctor finished her tale, Emelia said, “Would you mind if I asked you some more questions? This story had weirdly tickled something in me and I finally feel inspired. If you knew me, you’d know how big a deal that is.” 

So Patricia and Emelia retired to another corner of the room, where Emelia could ply Dr. Ferguson with gentle questions about Holly. This room had done its job again and connected two more souls. 

Jamie stood alone, watching the others talk and become part of each other’s stories. Perhaps, he had done his job as well and the purpose of it all was merely connection. Once, they had been individuals, apart from each other in their sorrow, but it was that which had brought them together. 

But, there was still one connection left to make. Without a word, Jamie slipped from the room and made his way down the dimly lit hallway. The joyful sounds of the party were muffled echoes around him as he strode to the front door. He didn’t look, but he was sure a shadowy figure was watching him as he buttoned his wool coat and walked out into the night. 

Behind him, the revellers continued on in their glittering, sparkling, laughing, singing Christmas revelry without any awareness of the strange happenings of the night. Above Buckemere Hall, the stars twinkled in the cold winter sky, silent and calm. 

The only sound which could be heard outside was the crunch of snow beneath Jamie’s shoes as he walked across the snowy walk to his car. His hand shook with nerves as he reached for the door handle. The truth would be painful—horrifically so—but it had to be done. 

For a moment, he looked up at the moon, with its silvery gown of light made especial for this evening, and thought that is smiled on him. Perhaps if he listened hard enough, he could hear it softly singing a song for the coming Christmas day. 

The End

I Won NaNoWriMo and This is Why I’ll Never Do it Again

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, happens every November and participants set a word count goal (usually 50,000 words) and try to reach it in 30 days. 50k words in 30 days doesn’t sound like much, especially to some writers, until you actually go to write it.

I’d made three previous attempts at NaNoWriMo, once in 2013, in 2017, and one last time in 2018, but each time I’d failed to even make it past 15,000 words. I figured I just didn’t have some key writing component in my brain to actually crank out that many words in such a short amount of time. I’d even written about how I was never going to do NaNoWriMo again.

But, something just happened this year. I was feeling stuck on the book I’m revising and needed something to distract me, so I could reignite some writing fuel for that. Plus, I’d had this idea bouncing around in my brain. So, I thought, why not give myself a little challenge and actually beat the NaNo slump.

That’s what I did. I made a fairly detailed outline (though, some parts were more helpful than others) and I girded myself to begin a gigantic writing adventure in November.

Thus, November 30th 2020, I finally hit 50,000 words and finally won at NaNoWriMo. But, I knew by the end of the month that this was my very last NaNo. Here’s why:

I’m a chronic underwriter

Writers seem to fall into two camps; you’re either an overwriter or an underwriter. The labels are fairly self-explanatory, but both have their pros and cons.

Being an underwriter means that my first drafts are basically the skeleton of the story or the foundation. All the main plot points and characters are there, but that’s about it. Through the editing and revising process, the story grows and develops as layers are added on and on. Actually, a lot of my best plot points are developed later into my process.

But, this means that trying to write a very specific amount is difficult for me. My writing is fairly terse and to-the-point as it is, and I’m not one to ramble on. For example, the first draft of the novel I’m revising was under 40,000 words.

Writing a 50,000-word draft in 30 days? Phew.

But, that was part of why I did this. It was supposed to be a challenge; something to get me to practice letting myself ramble a little, especially in the first draft. And I think it did that, but it was also a terrible slog.

Word counts kill my creativity

Most of the time, I was so worried about making sure I hit my daily word count, that I didn’t really have a chance to connect with my characters, the story, and setting the way I’m used to when I really take the time to get into it. By the end, I felt like I had this completely superficial meaningless draft where I felt like I barely knew what was going on anyway. It wasn’t total trash, but I hadn’t connected to it.

My current book, you know, the one I’m in the middle of revising, was written totally by hand and without any tracking of words. And I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Despite the fact that the end result was much shorter than I thought, I felt like I knew my characters and had the right atmosphere. It was a strong draft even if it was short.

Like I just mentioned, I spent so much time just cranking out words, I felt more like a word count robot than a writer. While this did get me to just write without worrying too much about quality (because a written story is better than no story) and to drag a topic out, it started to feel more mechanical than actual creativity.

30 days isn’t enough time for me

It took me just under a year to finish the first draft of my current book, which is a step up from the 2-3 years it took me to write my first book, so I’d like to be able to write a first draft faster. But, I think one month is too quick.

Almost all of my other creative pursuits, project, and hobbies (my painting, the bookstore, reading, and baking) ended up being forgotten while I was trying to write my daily word count.

For reasons previously mentioned, the daily word count was so difficult for me. Since I also have a day job, I don’t have all day to sit and write a certain amount of words. Sometimes, I didn’t have the energy either. There were days when my creative juices were simply drained and I needed a day off, but the farther I fell behind the less I had time to take breaks.

By the end of the 30 days, I’d had enough. I was frustrated with myself and with the draft. I just wanted to be done, which is not what writing should be. If I don’t enjoy the process, I better hang up my laptop right now.

I’m sure as I continue to practice writing faster, I’ll get better. But, for now, I’m going to stay far away from strict time deadlines.


None of this is meant to discount or devalue other’s NaNo experiences, though. Most writers find immense value in participating and it allows them to work on projects they need to get done and adds some outside incentive. And I’m so happy for them and their ability to write so much in so little time.

Of course, I never could’ve written anything as fast as I did without the desire to win. So, there is that.

But I think this has fully confirmed for me that I don’t need to do NaNoWriMo again. I did it, I won, I can move on with my life and write the way I need to in order to fuel my creativity.

Even though it’s not for me, that doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing annual tradition for writers and a non-profit that supports raises money for education and creativity. While I won’t be participating in another NaNo, I will continue to support the organization and my fellow writers who participate. And I will continue to be in awe of anyone who can write 50,000 or more words in 30 days.

My Favourite Part of Writing

Today is November 23 and I’m in the midst of NaNoWriMo chaos. Trying, with questionable success, to write a certain amount of words every day with an end goal of 50k in one whole month has been a daunting task for someone who is very slow and quite sparse with her writing. But, it has put into stark focus my writing process, as I’m working through it at a much faster pace than I usually would.

This flurry of writing, done with especial care not to edit or worry about whether the writing is actually “good,” has shown me the parts I enjoy most about writing. While I question if this format really is one that works for my creativity, this experience has taught me a lot about what I like and don’t like as a writer.

But, my favourite part of my own writing is those little scenes–usually descriptions of nature or seasonal weather–between moments of action, where there is quiet.

a snippet from my NaNo WIP

These few paragraphs that end up sprinkled in and around my work feel the most natural to me as I’m writing. Maybe because it’s what I noticed myself on a daily basis. I spend lots of time admiring the natural world and its tiny details; how the afternoon light hits the trees and filters through leaves like tissue paper; how footprints look in newly fallen snow; the way the air smells after it’s rained all day.

I don’t really have anything profound to say–just wanted to share some joy and passion I have for my writing. I feel like in the past year I’ve been learning and growing so much as a writer as I’ve been challenging myself more.

It’s just motivation to continue.

I hope you are staying safe and well, friends!

Wouldst thou like to live creatively

If you haven’t seen the 2015 film The VVitch, you might not understand the reference of this post’s title. If you have, I’m sure you get it.

Imagine now, it’s nighttime, dark as pitch outside, and a dark figure comes up behind you— the devil in the form of Black Phillip the goat—and, whispering, offers you the chance to live your life how you want. Creatively.

Wouldst though like to live creatively…

I know the price is probably my soul or something. But isn’t that what we pay anyway for the price of living the way we choose? We spend most of our weekdays (and sometimes even weekends) working to make money so that some imagined day sometime in the unknown future we won’t have to work⎯at least for a little while. Certainly that should count as some sort of soul-selling. The reward is this vague notion of some far off time that’s ours.

But, what if I want my time to be mine now?

You may gasp. You may say, “that’s just not how it’s done.” This strange and wonderful and somewhat radical idea only sounds radical because we’ve blindly accepted the horribly flawed logic of capitalism. But, I digress, that’s a different rant for a different time.

The point is: I want to spend my time living a meaningful creative life that’s not constricted by a day job (though, to be honest I have a pretty good one). To spend my time writing and painting and expressing myself and living life to the fullest through creativity is my absolute dream.

But what is the price for this life? What devil do I need to speak to about changing the contract of my existence?

Do I have the strength and the gumption to take the plunge? Because that’s what it would take. A drastic decision to make my life the way I want it, without the fear of failure holding me back.

Failure.

Isn’t that the big bad word? The dreaded end to all?

But is the risk worth the potential rewards? The answer should be a resounding yes. Bravery would dictate that the risk and potential failure aren’t worth losing out on what could be achieved.

Losing out.

Is that what I’m doing by not embracing my calling? It’s calling very loud. It gets louder every day.

But, “real” life is loud too. And life dictates money is the end game. Our mercenary existences are dependant on productivity and our ability to make an income. What’s worse is that society has decided art and writing aren’t worth much–despite the fact that art (all kinds) makes up our entire culture.

So where’s the balance? How do I convince people that my ideas and my creative spirit are worth something?

If I ever find the answer to these questions. I’ll let you know. For now, I continue to pour my heart onto the page.

Where on Earth has Jenna Been?!

Hey.

It’s been a while—I can’t rightly say how long because I didn’t bother to check when my last post was. But, believe me, it’s been a minute.

Of course, as everyone is aware, 2020 has been the trashfire to end all trashfires and thus my work (outside my actual job and survival) has slipped. Well, obviously since I haven’t posted anything on this blog in months and I was planning on updating my website to include a section for my art and open an Etsy shop, etc., etc.

Life has been a little crazy in all the ways it can be; personal crisis, stress, life, death, it’s all shown itself in one way or another. And that has left me feeling a little uninspired, though I’m hopeful that a bounce-back is on the way!

So here’s a little update on my life and what I’m working on now.

Art

I’m still planning to open my Etsy shop and put my artwork on my website, but things take time and at this point I have no idea where time goes anymore.

But, for posterity, I’m hoping to get all that done by the end of the year or, at the latest, early next year.

Hopefully.

Writing

I’m in the midst of re-writing/editing/revising my second novel. If you missed it, The Curious Adventures of Winifred McQuary was shelved and I’ve since written a draft of a new book. This has been a slow process, especially in the last couple months as I was dealing with a personal crisis. So for the time being, I’m focusing on other projects to reignite my writing passions!

Next month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and am hoping to crank out a draft of a completely new novel. Why? Because why not. This novel is something I’ve never done before and am a little scared of. It’s based on a classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit, but with a twist. There’s a vampire and there’s some romance and it takes place at a school that bares a weird resemblance to Oxford. I’m also feeling optimistic that this year will be the year I actually win at NaNo (aka reach 50k words).

The Tellings was also put on hold kind of by accident. The first three chapters are available to read, but I haven’t published anything else. This was also because of personal issues and mental health chaos caused by… everything. But, do not fear, I’m planning to start publishing more chapters in the new year.

Bookstore

If you missed it, back at the end of June (almost 500 years ago now) I opened an online used bookstore. It’s a teeny tiny business that’s been doing much better than I ever imagined within these first few months. The customers and fans are fantastic and the experience has taught me so much.

With everything that happened in the last couple months, I’ve neglected the bookstore a little. It’s gone fairly quiet, but still getting the occasional order. However, the Christmas season is fast approaching and I’m hoping to kick the store into high gear for Christmas shoppers. Keep your fingers crossed for me and check out the store if you haven’t already!


Sooooooo that’s it. I’m planning to be more active on here again, so look out for more blog posts to come before the end of the year.

Thanks for reading!

It’s Been Two Months since I Opened an Online Bookshop: and Here’s What I’ve Learned

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

If you’ve been following me at all, you won’t be unfamiliar with my teeny-tiny online business: The Littlest Online Bookshop.

In case you don’t know, TLOB is a very small independent used bookstore completely online. I ship internationally and am working to connect people everywhere with books. It’s my passion project and something that has basically taken over my life… besides my actual job, that is.

Over the last two months, since the store opened, I’ve learned a lot. Not just about what it’s like running a business, but about me as a person and what I’d like to do with my life.

But also I learned a lot about e-commerce.

I knew going into this that it wasn’t going to be simple or easy. In fact, I’m widely surprised it’s done as well as it has since opening. To be honest, I completely expected to have no business. I didn’t think anyone would be able to find the store, or that anyone would be interested in some random assortment of used books I have in stock. But, somehow, my flailing attempts at marketing have drummed up some business. Weird.

So here a few things I’ve learned in the last two months of relatively successful business ownership…

It might take over your life just a little

I’m sure any small business owner will agree with me. When I’m not actively doing inventory/adding stock to the store, I’m marketing or managing social media or researching more efficient shipping or packing shipments or organizing books or answering customer questions or updating financial spreadsheets or or or…

There are a million and one things for me to be doing at any given moment. Most of them not fatally important but essential for the business to keep running smoothly.

One thing I’m trying to do, especially now when things have gotten eerily quiet in the store, is keeping a balance between when I’m working on bookstore things and when I’m working on other stuff… any other stuff. The bookstore was meant to be a way to make a little more money while I continue to write and work my day job, but so far the bookstore has edged its way into my writing time. Proper time management is key, but that’s easier said than done in my case.

But, as I said, this is something to continue working on. And as I get more comfortable with my business, I’m sure learning what needs to be done right now and what can wait a little will become more obvious.

Shipping in Canada is expensive

Being a completely online business, the only way I can get my books to customers is via shipping (or local delivery). And having never mailed anything more than a postcard or a letter in my life, I was taken aback by how costly it is to ship just about anything.

I have yet to ferret out the reason why considering I’ve researched shipping costs in the U.S.A. and it’s miraculously less down there. The only thing I can think of is that they charge that much because they can.

But, whatever the reason, it makes it so difficult for tiny businesses just starting out to get a leg up. With all the cost of opening the business itself and how much I end up paying for shipping, it’s going to take me years to make any sort of profit. I’ve even lost money on certain orders because the shipping cost ended up being more than the actual order. But, there’s not much I can do because I’ve yet to find a more affordable option.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my customers. It’s been such a pleasure connecting them with books and seeing their delight when they receive their orders (if they send an email or post on Instagram). But, it’s hard to convince people to pay for shipping, especially at the prices Canada Post asks. And I don’t expect them to.

So, I have to basically absorb the difference. It’s easy enough for big companies (*cough cough* Amazon *cough cough*), but for a teeny-tiny business, it’s unaffordable.

Budgeting is complicated

Notice how I didn’t say “hard”? It hasn’t been difficult, per se, especially since the business is moving slow enough for me to keep up with. But, it isn’t simple. Maybe because I’m doing it myself, maybe because it’s spread over multiple spreadsheets.

It is very necessary, though. Keep. Track. Of. Your. Money.

What comes in and what comes out needs to be properly documented. Everything needs to be documented. Every bill or expense or payment.

It’s not difficult, but it’s a lot. Especially as someone who’s expertise lies with words and books and art, not with numbers and money and spreadsheets. I like organizing, but I always live in fear that I’ve forgotten something.

Amazing customers make it all worth it

Amongst all the craziness and the stress and the worry, the customers are the best part of this journey. Obviously, they are what make the shop possible in the most basic way, but the community is just as important. Any time someone lets me know they got their order, or posts a picture on Instagram, or shows any enthusiasm towards my store, it makes it all worth it.

Like there’s nothing more joyful than knowing I connected someone with a new book.

And they’re the reason I opened the store in the first place. I didn’t start an online business to make money, I started it to share my passion for books and create a book-loving community.

The support I’ve received since the store opened has blown me away. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect all the support and enthusiasm. They keep me coming back even when I feel overwhelmed.

So, if you’ve supported my store in anyway–even if that’s just checking it out and telling someone–thank you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU!


There are so many other things I’ve learned that I can’t really put into words. I’m constantly learning something new every day. Whether it’s the inner workings of e-commerce, running a website itself, marketing, shipping, and everything in between.

But this has given me such a new drive and I’m determined to work my ass off to make sure this business thrives and to cultivate a creative and loving book community.

Book Review: A Song Below Water

“We should all speak like sirens. Use our voices to make a difference, because all of them matter.”

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Goodreads | Amazon | Indigo

When I heard of this book and saw the cover I was sold. Mermaids? Check. Sisters/Female friendship? Check. Black girl magic? Check.

This book promised a lot and I was here for it. It felt like the perfect time for this book, in the wake of the ever-growing Black Lives Matter movement. Using the metaphor of the sirens’ oppression to hold a mirror up to the current political and cultural climate.

But the metaphor was layered on top of the actual thing it was trying to explore. And sometimes it was to the detriment of the actual plot.

I wanted to like this book. And I believe I would’ve fully if it had followed up on all its promise. There was so much potential that felt a little wasted at times. There were plenty of moments that felt truly inspired and if the whole book was like that it wouldn’t be a problem. But, unfortunately, the plot often skidded to a halt to go back to thematic musings by the main characters. Obviously, as a white woman, I can’t make judgments. These themes are important, but I often felt like there needed to be less philosophical/political conversations and more magic.

The themes are clear. They’re there in full view, though it seemed we needed to be reminded over and over again. I’m fine reading a political commentary, but when it’s disguised as a fantasy, it turns me off a little. Just be honest with me about what this book really is.

But, the story is chock-full of so many wonderful ideas and premises that I wish had been explored further. Especially the world building.

The magical realism in this book is to titillating. The readers are given this fantastical but fully realistic world that’s packed with mythology and magical creatures. But this amazing world is never fully realized within the confines of this book. A couple hundred pages more to include proper exploration would’ve been the trick, because I just wanted to know more.

Much of my confusion and frustration with this book might have been mitigated by some further world building. I didn’t know where the line was drawn; what was possible and what wasn’t; what mythical creatures were real and which weren’t.

And it’s kind of a pivotal part of the book, but the lack of explaining meant I was more befuddled by what was happened than enthralled.

But I loved Effie and Tavia’s relationship. I’m all about strong female friendships and found families (see: my own writing), and this was my favourite part of the book. All my favourite scenes were them together being each other’s rocks.

But their POV voices lacked distinction and sometimes it felt like they could’ve been the same person.

I liked Effie’s arc a little bit more—dunno why, just did—but I felt like she was under-utilized for the first part of the novel. *Minor Spoilers* I think it was because I was confused half the time as to whether or not she really was a mermaid or if the Ren Faire was more than it was. But this goes back to the lack of proper explaining of the mythology of the world in which Effie and Tavia live. Of course, all is revealed at the end, but I shouldn’t be so confused for 90% of the book.

For me, I wanted Effie to be more active in her own journey. I wanted her to go looking for answers instead of just saying “ah, oh no!” every time something weird happened to her.

The other characters in the book weren’t nearly as well fleshed out. They were interesting, but often were cardboard cutouts to populate the background and worse, sometimes felt like they were only there to be props for the social commentary.

Especially near the end, at the climax. I couldn’t understand the motivations of some of the background characters because they hadn’t been fleshed out properly. It seemed like, “Oh she’s just a hateful and vindictive person because that’s who she is.” And while that’s valid, it wasn’t totally satisfying.

However, I really liked the ending… like the last 20 pages were fantastic. And it finally gave the satisfaction the whole novel had promised. I just wished it could’ve come a little sooner. I don’t know. Maybe.

All in all I did like the book, but I felt like it promised so much without delivering until the very end. There’s a difference between tantalizing and suspenseful and just frustrating. A Song Below Water walked the line between them and would often flip flop. As I said before, I think a lot of the problems I had with it would’ve been solved with letting the reader have more than the sliver of world mythos we experienced. It wouldn’t have left me so frustrated.

But if you’re looking for a book with Black girls being amazing, important social commentary, and a sprinkle-winkle of magic, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.