The best books I’ve read so far in 2022

It’s almost July, which is crazy for two reasons. I can’t believe the year is almost over. I also can’t believe we’re still here as a species. 

While this year so far has been a struggle, at least my reading game’s been on point. So let’s take a moment to check out the top ten books I’ve read in 2022, so far. These are done in ascending order, but every single book on here is a must-read as far as I’m concerned. 

Shattered Bonds

By Dorothy Roberts

I read this book, and man was I in tears over it. It’s about our current situation as a country with Children Services. In particular, it’s about how Children Services seems to be specifically designed to rip apart families of color and poor families. 

It’s not an easy read. But it’s such an important one. Honestly, the only reason it’s number ten on the list is that it’s not what I’d call an enjoyable read. I didn’t have fun reading it. I did kill two highlighters making angry notes in the margins. 

City Magic

By Christopher Penczak

Since the launch of Quiet Apocalypse, I’ve been a bit more open about this specific aspect of myself. And, I think I’ve always been pretty clear that I’m only really happy living in an urban environment. This book was a must-read for me.

It’s a bit outdated, especially the parts about technology. But the vast majority was super useful and incredibly uplifting. If you have even a passing interest in witchcraft and city living, read this book. 

(Side note, do you guys want me to talk more about my witchcraft journey? Let me know if you do.)

How to be a Christian Witch

By Valerie Love

The whole concept of being a witch and still loving Jesus might seem weird until you start looking into it. Then it’s the most natural thing in the world and you start to realize that no one is more witchy than an old Catholic grandma. (Don’t say that to her, though, she’ll hit you with her broom.)

Reading this book was like getting a hug and having tea with Valerie. And I adored every moment. 

Again, if you have even a passing interest in witchcraft and also happen to be a Christian, consider checking this out.

End of Watch

By Stephen King

This was the final book in the trilogy that started with Mr. Mercedes. And it was, let me tell you, awesome. The epic story of a retired detective and a psycho with a grudge was just spectacular. It was for sure an example of a book being too short, even though it was a brick-sized hardcover. 

The Lottery

By Shirley Jackson

I finally got the nerve to read the whole short story collection that contained Jackson’s epic short, The Lottery. And I have to tell you, it was an experience.

If you want to be just soaked in 50’s vibes, while occasionally getting the shit scared out of you, you’ll love every second of this book. I spent most of my time reading this interrupting whatever the darling husband was reading because I just had to share passages with him.

I was expecting a collection of spooky little tales. I got a whole lot more. 

Savage Bounty

By Matt Wallace

Normally trilogies suffer from a book two slump. I sometimes refer to this as a bridge book. You need to read it to get to book three, but it’s not super thrilling.

Wallace managed to avoid that. 

This is the sequel to Savage Legion, which made it onto my list last year. It continues the story of a group of people, fighting a battle for the soul of their country. And let me tell you, I loved every page. 

Days of Blood and Starlight

By Laini Taylor

This is another book two in a trilogy. And I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a slouch compared to book one.

But only if we’re comparing it to book one. 

I’m going to talk more about this series since book one is the next one on the list, so let me just say that this is an epic fantasy set in modern times. And it is such a surprising and lovable journey.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

By Laini Taylor

Book one in the series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of a girl between worlds. Raised by demons, living in the world of men, loved by an angel. She’s a part of a war she doesn’t know anything about. Until she gets pulled in. Then, she’s a real big part of it. 

I have yet to pick up a Laini Taylor book that I didn’t dive into. And the saga of Karou is no different. 

This is How You Lose the Time War

By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

If you haven’t read this, you need to right now. 

It’s the story of two time travelers, each trying to change the timeline for the good of their side. As they go through history, making small and big changes, they start leaving each other notes.

Enemies to lovers are nothing new. But the writing, storytelling, and just overall vibe of this book are.

The notes are teasing, at first. Then they become something more. 

The next person who tells me genre fiction can’t be literary, I’m throwing a copy of this book at them. 

Hard. 

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

If there ever comes a day when I don’t include a Gaiman book either I’ve run out of them or been body-snatched.

The Graveyard Book is technically a children’s book, but you won’t catch me giving a damn. It’s the story of a boy named Bode (short for Nobody) who’s raised by a collection of spirits in a graveyard. As he grows, he discovers that he’s being hunted by a mysterious cabal of men who call themselves Jack.

It was such a good read. And the illustrations were amazing. I loved every second of it. 

So that’s it for my list. Will any of these books still be on my end-of-year list? It’s certainly possible. Or maybe my second half of the year will blow everything out of the water. We’ll have to see. 

What about you? What are the best books you’ve read so far? Let us know in the comments so we can all share in the reading goodness. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you would like to support this site, you can do so on Ko-fi.

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The world needs us to write

This post is later than normal, sorry about that. I’ve found it hard recently to sit down and write. And trust me, it’s got nothing to do with the weather. I’m not really a Summer kind of gal. 

Rather, I’m having trouble focusing on my writing with the current state of the country. Women fighting for the rights to our bodies. Families living hand to mouth. Basic supplies are gone from our store shelves. Children were slaughtered in their classrooms. Veterans dying in the street. Yellowstone is being ripped apart by floods caused by climate change. Police still killing black people with little to no repercussions. Trans children and gay teachers are treated like predators and pedophiles.

Oh, and Flint Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. 

If Aaron Burr was watching the afterbirth of a nation, we’re watching it have a head-on collision where the airbags failed. 

And through all of this, we’re all dealing with our own struggles. 

So what in the fuck am I doing writing stories? What the fuck do I think I’m doing, talking about American Horror Story, writing about true crime stories and ghost hunters? It doesn’t matter, none of this matters! 

I’m pretty sure it was Matt Wallace on Ditch Diggers who said that it felt like he was standing outside a burning house, yelling at the people coming out, “Hey, you want to buy a book?” 

Never in my life have I felt farther from my dream of being a full-time writer. The economy has a huge impact on creative fields, it always has. And it’s a one-two punch. People don’t have the money to buy as many books, so there’s less money coming in. And everything is more expensive, so the dollars we do get aren’t going half so far. 

It’s always been hard to be a writer, but now it’s even worse. 

And now is when we need writers the most. 

Not just writers. We need musicians, visual artists, and creators of every kind. We need art more than ever in times like this. 

We need artists to talk about what they’re seeing. To give different perspectives. To show the true horrors and not let any of us forget. We need to document the horrors, write down the names, and remember those who have been lost to us. Like those who have come before us, we can hold the feckless politicians accountable. We can use words and music and paint and photos to inspire people. We can let people know they’re not going through this alone. We can be the hand on the shoulder of someone who feels isolated. 

Artists are the eyes upon those in power. 

Artists hold the names of the lost in our collective memory.

Artists give words to the grief and boiling fury of a nation. 

Like the receiver of memories, we have to suffer through the horrors and indulge in the joys of our past to guide people into a better future. 

Some of us aren’t going to be able to do that. I can’t fight this fight all day, every day. I’ll never make it. So I’m also going to create silly things. The stories and podcasts and poems that have nothing to do with the horrors we’re facing. And I hope you do, too.

Because as much as we need the record keepers and fighters, we need the stories too. 

We need things that distract us. That makes us laugh and smile and just forget about everything wrong for a bit. While I’m not one to turn off the news, I am one to take a break from the news and watch the latest Are You Scared. (Shane, Ryan and Stephen started a company in the middle of a pandemic. Clearly, they’re not scared of anything.) 

I’ve carried books to ER waiting rooms. Played video games when I was having an anxiety attack. Watched my favorite movies when I’ve felt alone. Listened to music when there was no other way I could find my way out of the darkness. 

I thought that was great on the last season of Stranger Things, by the way. Metaphorically, we’ve all been where Max was, lost in a dark place where no one can reach us, only to have music light our way back.

Which brings me to my final point. 

My favorite stories include ordinary people finding that they have extraordinary strength within them. A strength that allows them to defeat the bad guys, save their loved ones and find peace in their world. While not everything turns out perfect, things get better. There’s a happy ending.

The Baudelaire find their safe place. 

The House Next Door comes down.

The Owens sisters break the curse. 

Coraline saves her parents. 

And in reading their stories, we fight with them. We learn that we can lose but then win again. 

So please, don’t stop creating. If you’ve always wanted to create but haven’t started yet, start now. 

We have so much work to do.

Why we all know the names Ed and Lorraine Warren

If you have even a passing interest in the occult, the horror genre, or even popular culture, you know the names Ed and Lorraine Warren. Ed was a demonologist and ordained exorcist by the Catholic church. Lorraine was a psychic medium. Together, they worked on countless paranormal investigations and founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. 

Their work inspired some of the most popular horror movies of my lifetime. They investigated the Amityville House, Annabelle, the Perron family, and countless others. 

Throughout their lives, they faced plenty of backlash. They were called frauds, of course they were. And I’m not here to say that the work they did is real. I’m also not here to say it’s not real. What I can say is this. Some questions are unanswered either way you see things. But I’ve seen too much in my own life to discount that there might be at least a grain of truth.

As I said though, that’s not the point. The point is that we cannot stop talking about them. And I’m here to talk about why.

It would be easy to say it’s the popular films based on their work that have put the Warrens firmly in our pop culture. But that doesn’t answer the base question. Why are these films so popular to start with? Well, for the same reason the Warrens themselves are.

To start with, Ed and Lorraine are attainable heroes. They’re not superpowered. They’re not sharpshooters or assassins trained from childhood to kill. While you could argue that Lorraine is a medium, lots of people consider that a skill you can learn. So while we might have a hard time seeing ourselves in Black Widow or Captain America, we can easily see ourselves in Ed and Lorraine. 

And we want to see ourselves there, too. Because the stories they tell are inspiring. The family in Amityville survived a living hell, as did the Perrons. The nurse who owned Annabelle was freed of her. The Warrens went up against the forces of Hell itself, and more often than not, they won.

Finally, The Warrens continue to be popular because they were fighting against fears we all have. 

I’m not saying that we all fear having a demonic presence in our home. But we’re all a little afraid of something coming into our home that might hurt us. We’re afraid of a good deal, often. The house that seems too cheap is often cursed with a bad foundation or a leaking roof. The lovely doll we got at a second-hand store is carrying lice or its stitching is falling apart. 

To a lesser extent, I think we’re all afraid of mental illness. And demonic possession can be seen as a metaphor for mental illness. 

There are those among us who want to do horrible things. They want to poison aspirin, shoot up elementary schools, lure people into dark places and slaughter them. All of this points to a broken, sad mind. And often we don’t get satisfying answers to why these people did what they did.

It’s really hard to see the humanity in the hands of the man holding the gun. And yet often, so often, we hear from friends and family members. They say that these monsters in man’s form were not monsters. Of course, they weren’t. We hear the same thing about most serial killers. They were nice people, good people.

Until they weren’t.

It’s easy to see how someone might suspect a demonic force at play. Maybe, it’s even better that way. Who wants to think a human being could do something like that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into Ed and Lorraine Warren. And I want to hear what you think about them? Do you love them, hate them? Let us know in the comments.

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7 things I learned publishing 10 books

Quiet Apocalypse came out last month, and I’m maybe more excited about it than any other launch I’ve ever had. Except maybe the first one.

Why was this so exciting?

Because Quiet Apocalypse is my tenth published book.

That’s not even including the three short story collections I put out. Or the first season of my radio drama, AA.

I’m a firm believer that the best way to learn is by doing. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot doing this job for as long as I have. So today I want to share this hard-won wisdom I have earned. (Yes, I’m still obsessed with Hamilton.) Here then are <?> things I’ve learned after writing ten books. 

A writing career is a long game. 

With so much content out, you might imagine I’ve quit my day job and am writing full time. Unless you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I still have a more than full-time job. I also write for Haunted MTL. 

What I’m saying is, you’re not going to get rich quick writing books. You’re probably not going to get rich at all. I mean, it’s possible. But just not likely.

I think that I’ll be able to go full-time eventually. It’s just going to take more work than what I’ve done so far.

Writing is 75% of the battle

Most of what I do as a writer is, well, writing. Blog posts, novels, short stories, podcast scripts. Quirky little micro-fiction pieces and snarky social media posts also count as far as I’m concerned. 

Then, there’s all the other stuff I do. I submit stories, and plan and act out marketing. I run ad campaigns and do market research. I’m also exploring whether or not I could produce my own audiobooks. (Would you guys like audio versions of my books? Let me know in the comments.) I make book covers for my indie books. I schedule for them to be edited. I pay for them to be edited. There is so much involved in writing that isn’t writing.

So much.

Indie and Trad publishing have a lot more in common than I thought. 

I had a lot of assumptions going into publishing with a company instead of on my own. And maybe if you’re working with one of the bigger companies, some of my assumptions might be true. But working with an indie publisher, well it’s a lot like self-publishing your work. What my publisher did for me was to make a cover and do editing. The bulk of marketing still fell on my shoulders.

That’s the biggest surprise I had. No one is going to market your book for you but you. You’ve got to get the word out on social media. You’ve got to send out press releases, and schedule author meetups. You’ve got to let the world know your book is out and why they should give a damn. Because literally, no one else is going to do it.

Social media doesn’t count for as much as you think it does. 

I like social media (because I’m real fast with that block button.) I like talking on Twitter and sharing pictures on Instagram. And these are some ways to let people know your book is available.

But they’re not the most reliable ways. You can never be sure that anyone is seeing what you’re posting. And even if they are, they’re not going to be as compelled to buy your book as you want them to be. 

I’ve seen a steady increase over the years of social media followers and readership of PBW. And I love that! I am so happy that you’re all here. 

But my sales numbers have not gone up with those social media numbers. And that’s fine, I’m not complaining. I am saying that worrying over your Instagram followers isn’t going to do you as much good as you think it will.

The cover counts for so, so much. 

I have made my covers for my indie books in the past. Quiet Apocalypse will likely be the last book I do a cover for. Because having a professional cover counts for so much. People scrolling through books online are going to notice covers first. Then they’ll slow down and read your descriptions. But it’s the cover that’s going to sell your book first. So invest in a good one.

You will never, ever stop learning. 

I’m a pretty good writer, but I hope I’m always striving to be a better writer. I’ve got a ton to learn about marketing still if I’m being honest. And I’ll always, always have more to learn.

There’s always a convention to go to, a new book to read, a new writing practice to try. There’s always a better way to pitch, to write a fight scene, to tell people about your book. There’s always more to learn about the market and trends. There are always ways to be a better writer. And so long as you have that sort of mindset, you’ll keep getting better.

It’s still worth it. 

After all this time, after publishing ten books and still needing a full-time job, I still love it.

I still love writing. I still love sharing my work with other people. Writing Quiet Apocalypse was so much fun, and writing my current WIP (AA season two if you’re wondering) is even more fun than that. I said a long time ago that I’d still want to write if I never made a dime. And that is still the case.

I’m so proud of my books. And I fully expect to reach number twenty someday. 

And then I’ll just keep going. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you’d like to support us, you can do so on Ko-fi.

My first time at Nebula Con

This past week I attended Nebula Con for the first time. This was my first writing con ever. And it was, let me tell you, an experience. So I thought it would be fun to tell you all about it today, including some lessons I’ll be keeping in mind for next year.

The con was entirely virtual this year. Which for sure had its pros and cons. I’ve never been to a live con before, so I can’t compare the experiences.

I can tell you that it seems like it would have been a lot harder to get to panels if I’d been there in person. Many times the panels are double up, so some serious decisions would have had to be made if I couldn’t watch the replay later. 

And there was just so much! There were a ton of panels about writing, marketing, and time management. You know, all my favorite things. There were Q&A sessions, meet and greets, and office hours with successful authors and agents. And of course, there was the Nebula Awards ceremony. Oh, such an inspirational vibe! If you can watch that and not get inspired to write some potentially award-winning words, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

If you’ve never been to a con, or are considering going to an online con, here are some things to keep in mind.

It’s exhausting, even if it’s virtual

I was expecting Nebula con to take a lot. Panels were often scheduled from nine in the morning until midnight, my time. And I wanted to get to as many of the panels as I could. I paid money for this con, I was going to squeeze every last bit out of it as I could. I bought energy drinks and planned to order in all three days. (Good thing, too. Because on the first day my kitchen sink exploded. Mercury Retrograde at its finest.)

Even with these preparations, I was just done. I’d taken vacation time from the day job, and I was so thankful I’d taken the Monday after off as well. My plan originally was to watch the panels I’d missed and go through my notes in more detail. What I did instead was sleep and read This is How You Lose the Time War. Then sleep some more. So if you can, plan on taking a recoup day after any convention, even if it’s virtual.

Prepare to take a ton of notes

This one I was ready for. I bought a specific con notebook and everything. And let me tell you, I needed it. 

Not only were there some amazing writing and marketing tips, but I was also getting story ideas left and right. I was also having realizations about my WIP. I was also learning about books I need to read, websites I need to lurk on, and opportunities I need to seek out. There wasn’t a time my pen wasn’t going during a panel. So, be prepared.

Your tbr list will explode

Oh, the books I learned about. So many of the panelists had great books they were talking up. So many of my fellow con attendees had great books, too. That isn’t even including all the writing must-reads that I learned about. And I was just writing them all down. Not like I already didn’t have a massive tbr list. But I learned about so many indie or small press authors because I was cracking jokes with them in the comment section. And what did the conversation always turn to? Of course, our books.

Take office hours if they’re offered, and prepare for them

I had the opportunity to talk to DongWon Song during the convention, and I was just star-struck. I knew I was going to get tongue-tied taking to them, so I wrote a list of questions I wanted to ask in advance.

I didn’t think of enough questions. 

Getting some professional advice from someone I admire was amazing. If you get a chance for office hours at a con, take them. And write down questions beforehand. Write twice as many questions as you think you have time for, and ask them in order of priority. Because I didn’t write nearly enough, and my social anxiety kicked in too hard for me to think of any more at the moment.

Meeting new writers is the best part of the con

I met so many cool writers during the con. We all followed each other on social media, made jokes, and gave each other advice in the comment section. We made plans to meet up like kids at sleep-away camp. It was awesome.

Having fellow writers around to keep you accountable and commiserate is amazing. They understand what it’s like to juggle day jobs with writing and marketing books, while maybe catching a few hours of sleep. So I was overjoyed to make some new writing buddies.

Nothing you learn there is going to do you any good if you don’t act on it!

Finally, it’s important to note that my Nebula con experience isn’t done yet. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got a stack of notes. I also have some panels left to watch. I have websites to check out, writing exercises to try, and books to read. Because I can go to every con, read every book, watch every Youtube video, and it won’t do me a damn bit of good if I don’t act on what I’ve learned.

It might take me three months, but damn it I’m going to do it. 

After all of this, I think it’s clear that I’ll be going back next year. Hopefully, I’ll see you there. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you got something of value from this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

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It’s Quiet Apocalypse Launch Day!

Happy Friday the 13th, everybody.

And happy launch day. Quiet Apocalypse has now made its way into the world. If you haven’t yet, you can get your very own virtual copy on Amazon or Smashwords.

I’ll be documenting my whole day on Instagram if you want to follow along on my launch day adventures.

The end of the world began with a winter storm.

Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit.

But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world.

Not with screams, but with silence.

Some early reviews for Quiet Apocalypse

Here’s some early reviews from some amazing people for Quiet Apocalypse.

Nicole C. Luttrell’s *A Quiet Apocalypse *is a haunting tale about the horrors that lurk within what we think are our safest spaces. Her visceral imagery, witty dialogue and eloquent prose bring the story to life. We are sucked into a world we won’t, can’t look away from. It is a terrifying, exciting story that will haunt you and leave you yearning for more.

-Court Court

Nicole Luttrell’s story of a witch, a house, and a storm carries the primal nature, fury, and bone chilling fear of circumstances beyond the control of humanity and the horrific depths we may all very well succumb to when confronted by them.

-David Davis

From the very first page, “Quiet Apocalypse” weaves a subtly sinister spell, drawing the reader into its many-layered mystery. Fans of atmospheric horror will enjoy the way the tension builds until all hell breaks loose, and the real terror begins.

Kristen Cleaves

You can preorder Quiet Apocalypse now on Amazon and Smashwords!

Quiet Apocalypse, Chapter One

Quiet Apocalypse come out tomorrow! But for now, here’s the prologue and chapter one.

The end of the world started on a dark winter night.

Trees circled the apartment building at 437 Oakmont. They weren’t old trees, nor were they tall. Yet to look at them, one would think them ancient. They were twisted and gnarled. Every gust of wind found them, even when no other tree moved. The cold of winter clung in their branches, no matter the weather. Passersby didn’t like to dawdle along the sidewalk. The trees made them feel unwelcome. Children especially felt this, but of course, children always feel these things most keenly.

 But we weren’t talking about children. We’ll come back to them. For now, we’re discussing the trees. 

They’d been groaning and moaning for most of their lives. Sometimes you couldn’t hear them unless you were listening carefully. Other times the inhabitants of the apartment had to turn their TVs up to drown the trees out. But on one dark night in February, the sounds were unrelenting. There was a winter storm. The wind was hellacious, cutting through the town like a vengeful spirit. It took out hanging signs for stores on Main Street, brought down the old pine next to the library, and crashed Mr. Wallback’s patio table into his sliding glass window. Ashley Homestead regretted leaving her potted pine tree out for the night. It was thrown against the house from the back porch with such force that the pot shattered.

Leslie Richard’s trampoline, covered over with a tarp for the season, was lifted and thrown into the yard of his next-door neighbor.

The wind rattled windows, pushed its way through cracks in the walls and around doors. Heaters couldn’t keep up with the sharp, blistering cold. The families in the apartment building were kept awake by it, huddled under blankets to keep warm.

The storm built up steam as it headed for Oakmont. It was as though those trees in a circle were its target, and it meant to have them. The storm came to a head at almost four in the morning. One of the trees, exhausted from a night’s battle, couldn’t hold on any longer. It came down, crashing into the roof and jutting sharp, dark branches into the attic apartment.

The wind died away almost at once. Gentle snow replaced it, covering the ice. The next morning this would cause several accidents.

The trees that remained continued to scream, as though mourning their fallen brother.

Chapter One

Sadie sat in the doorway of her ruined apartment. Her eyes were itchy, there were rivets of tears dried to her face. She had cried herself out the night before. Now she only wanted a shower and a good long rest. But, as a tree had crashed through the roof of her apartment, neither of those things could happen. 

She knew she ought to be grateful. She’d been in the kitchen with Sage, her creamy colored lab mix when the tree came down. Branches seared through the exterior wall, crashing through her living room and bedroom. One had pierced right through her bed. It was still there, jammed right in the center of the quilt. If Sadie’d been asleep, she wouldn’t have survived. All she’d lost were things. She should be thankful for that.

When she was done mourning her things she would be. Her mother had made her that quilt. The crystals on the altar in her living room were all buried in the rubble. Her whole living room was a loss. What wasn’t destroyed in the crash or buried under the roof was damaged by the snow that had flooded in.

And her books! Her family had given her irreplaceable books. Thank the Green Man Himself that her grandmother’s grimoire was at Aunt Helen’s place. But Sadie had her mother’s grimoire. And now it was destroyed.

She looked at the cardboard box that contained everything she now owned. There was her teapot, gray with a design of cherry blossoms. The cups that matched it had shaken loose from their shelf and shattered.

There was her grimoire, a battered old sketchbook with a red cover. A french press, some herbs. A truly astounding assortment of tea. A handful of crystals and candles had been on her kitchen windowsill. Sage’s food and water bowl. That was all she had.

They were just things. Things that didn’t mean anything aside from everything. Ties to family members lost. Tools for her magical work and her mundane life. Decades of learning were destroyed in no time.

 The stairs behind her creaked. She looked back. Her landlord, Frank, was coming up slowly to accommodate his bad knee. He didn’t say anything. They’d known each other too long for that. He just stood beside her in the entryway, looking over the damage. 

Sadie thought Frank was the only person who could understand how she felt just then. This apartment was in the attic of a house that Frank’s family built. And now the roof was nothing more than a mess to be carted away and burned. 

 “I guess it could have been worse, but I’m not sure how,” he said. 

 “I could have been asleep,” Sadie said. “I’ll have to go stay with my aunt until you guys get this fixed, I guess.” 

 She said this with a hint of irritation. Helen was a great woman, in small doses. The thought of spending so much time with her was a bit daunting. 

 “There’s an open apartment on the second floor if you want it. It’s not as big as this one, but I’ll give you a break on the rent.”

 He gave her a grin that was something of a comfort. Being a witch, from a long line of witches, she was used to being frowned upon. To being not entirely welcome. But not by Frank’s family.

“That would be really great,” Sadie said. 

 “Here, I’ll get this box and you can grab the others.” Frank bent down and lifted the lone box.

 “Um, there are no others,” Sadie said. 

 “Oh,” Frank said. “Well, I’ll get this one anyway.”

There was no more reason to stay there, sitting on the landing. She stood, dusted the wood chips from her jeans. 

The studio was about the size of Sadie’s living room, but with a stove and fridge wedged into the corner. There was a closet and a bathroom. Two windows overlooked the side of the building, or would if she could see past the snow-covered trees.

Frank sat the box in the middle of the room, leaving Sadie to settle in. 

Sage sniffed over every inch of the place, her active nose trailing over every inch of the floor and what of the wall she could reach. Sadie peeked into the bathroom. There was a clawfoot tub, good sized. Some previous tenant had left behind a cache of monopoly pieces under the sink. The Park Place card and the racecar.

Sadie put her tea and teapot away in a cupboard above the stove. Then she set her crystals on one of the windowsills. After that, there was nothing left to do but call her aunt.

“What’s wrong?” Aunt Helen said, as soon as Sadie said hello.

“One of the big trees outside the apartment came down on the roof,” Sadie said. “My place is totaled.”

“I’ll be right over.”

 Aunt Helen was soon there in her red truck. She looked as she always had, brown hair brushed and pulled into a braid so as not to be a burden through the day. She wore a thick coat that was probably older than Sadie. Helen took care of her things. 

While Sadie and Sage piled into the car, Helen leaned over the wheel to peer at the remains of the tree. “I never thought I’d see that,” she said.

 “It was that awful wind storm last night,” Sadie replied. Helen gave Sage a good scratch before pulling out. 

“I’m surprised it didn’t do as much damage out at your place. You’ve got all those big oaks in the backyard.”

 “Those trees will outlive me,” Helen waved a hand at her niece. “But I don’t even remember hearing the wind last night.” 

 “Well yeah, but aren’t you taking Ambien?” Sadie asked.

“The kind of storm that brought that tree down? I should have heard it in my grave.”

By the end of the shopping trip, Sadie had a second-hand futon, a blanket, a kitchen table, three mismatched chairs and a small stand to use as a new alter.

Everything fit neatly into the back of Aunt Helen’s truck, along with a large paper bag.

“What’s this?” Sadie asked.

“Oh, I was wondering if you’d take a look at that,” Helen said. She held it out to her. Sadie glanced in the sack and whistled. “Where did this come from?”

It was an ouija board, but not the cheap sort found in toy shops made of cardboard and plastic. It was thick oak, smooth with age and use. The letters were highly stylized in a swirling font and deep black. The planchet was in its own little red velvet bag.

“Don’t touch it with your bare hands. Ruby picked it up from that creepy second-hand store downtown. She’s sure there’s something messy hanging around it. She tried to get rid of it, but you know how Ruby is. Soft hand with her kids, her dog and spirits. I’d take care of it myself but just don’t have the time for the full cleansing ritual.”

“Are you sure it’s not a two-person job?” Sadie asked.

 “No, I don’t think it’s anything big. Probably just some spirit hanging onto it. Nothing you can’t handle.”

“I’ll take a swing at it,” she said and set the sack in the back seat.

 “You’d better drive the truck back to your place and leave me with your car for the night,” Helen said. “My back’s been acting up all day. I need to lay down.”

“Sure, no problem,” Sadie said. Though this would mean she’d be carting all the furniture inside by herself, it was better than her aunt ending up in the hospital again.

 Fortunately, she happened to drop the futon frame in the entryway, directly onto the smallest two toes on her right foot. Her swearing fit brought Rina, the woman who lived on the first floor, out to check on her. 

 “Oh, what’s this?” she asked. She was a beautiful woman, with creamy brown skin and the longest hair Sadie had ever seen in real life. It was pulled back in a long braid, hanging down so low she’d have to move it to sit down. 

 “I’m moving into the empty apartment on the second floor while my place is being repaired,” Sadie said. 

 “Are you trying to move all this stuff up those stairs by yourself?” Rina asked. “You can’t do that. Hold on, I’ll grab Ajay and Eli. We’ll give you a hand.” 

 “Oh, I don’t want to put anyone out,” Sadie said. But Rina had already ducked back into her apartment and was calling for someone in Indian. 

A moment later Rina’s husband, Eli, and brother Ajay came to the door. “Get some new furniture?” Eli asked. Ajay, who only spoke a handful of words in English, just smiled at her. Damn, that smile. His dark hair curled over his face, framing his amber-colored eyes.

 “Yeah, pretty much everything I owned was wrecked,” she said, trying to focus on the present. “My aunt took me thrift shopping to get some new stuff.” 

 Eli turned and spoke rapidly in Indian to Ajay, who nodded. “Okay, we’ve decided. That’s far too much work for one person,” Eli said. 

They grabbed the futon frame without waiting for her to agree. Rina picked half of the mattress.

 “Thanks,” Sadie said, giving in. She lifted the other side of the mattress and together they got it up the stairs. 

 It took only three trips to get everything upstairs. Then, as there wasn’t much space to move things around, it took even less time to get everything into place. The futon was set up in the corner. The kitchen table near the stove, with the chairs grouped around it. The end table placed under the window. Sadie looked around the room. It wasn’t great, but it would work. She’d at least have a bed to sleep in. Maybe this wouldn’t be so awful. 

Then she heard someone coming up the stairs. 

 Melody and Andy were home. And they had no idea yet that Sadie would be across the hall.

Melody looked fussy no matter what she was doing. She always had some expensive blouse or sweater. Even in jeans, she looked proper. Perhaps it had something to do with being a librarian. Though she wasn’t like any librarian Sadie had ever known. She wasn’t the friendly sort who liked having kids in the building. She was more the sort to breathe down patron’s necks if they dithered too long.

Maybe that was why her kid was such an insufferable little pain in the ass. Even now, Andy had a sour look on his face at the sight of Sadie. He might have said something nasty to her, but she was the school nurse. He’d been in her office often enough, with scrapes and cuts most other kids would have ignored. Usually, they came about because he’d managed to push another kid into losing their temper with him.

 “What are you all doing out here?” Melody asked. 

 “Helping Sadie move her stuff,” Rina said, rubbing her hands on her jeans. “She’s staying in this apartment while they’re fixing hers.” 

 “Oh,” Melody muttered. She turned and put her keys in her door. “Here I thought you’d be staying somewhere else.” 

Why hadn’t Sadie thought of this? Would staying with Aunt Helen be so bad?

 “Frank offered me this place,” Sadie said. 

 Melody’s cat, Boots, scooted out of the door as soon as it was open. He was a fat old Burmese with a bad temper and a dislike for dogs. Sage, standing in the open doorway of Sadie’s apartment, whined when she saw him. Boots hissed and Sage made for the bathroom. 

 “Do you think you could keep that monster in your apartment?” Sadie snapped. It was an old fight. 

 “I thought witches were supposed to like cats,” Melody said. Her son snickered. 

 Sadie tensed. “I like all animals. What I have a problem with is bullies. And your cat is a bully.” 

 Melody scoffed and went inside, Andy trailing after her. 

 “What a fun time we’re going to have,” Sadie muttered. 

 “Maybe you two will get a chance to mend fences while you’re down here,” Rina chuckled. 

 Sadie snorted. “Not likely. You guys want to order pizza? My treat.”

Sadie was still driving her aunt’s truck the next day, not having had the energy to return it the night before. She pulled into the faculty parking at the school and just sat there a moment.

Sleep had been hard to find. Part of it had been the new location. The futon was a trial as well. They were great when she’d been a teenager, but her thirty-three-year-old back didn’t approve.

Then there were the tree branches scratching on her window. Had that always been there? She couldn’t remember ever hearing it in the attic apartment. But then, maybe the tree didn’t reach up that far. Maybe she just hadn’t noticed it before one of those trees almost killed her.

A cup of coffee and sigil for energy had gotten her dressed and to the school. She wasn’t sure how much farther they would take her. 

She had to go in, though. There wasn’t a substitute school nurse. Sadie took a deep breath and headed inside.

She shared her office with Gene, the principal’s secretary. He grinned at her when she came in. “Well don’t you look happy to be here on this beautiful Monday morning?”

“Be happier if I didn’t almost die over the weekend,” Sadie said. She sat her bag down next to her desk. “A tree came down on the roof of my building, right into my apartment. Right into my bed!”

“Wow, really?” Gene gasped. “Are you okay? What about Sage?”

“Yeah, we were in the kitchen at the time. But everything I own now fits in one little box.”

“My God, that’s terrible. Do you have somewhere to stay?”

“Yeah, Frank had a studio on the second floor he’s letting me use. But it’s right across the hall from you know who. So that’s going to be a fun couple of months until my place can be repaired.”

“I don’t know why you’re still renting in that ancient place to start with. Haven’t you been there since college?”

“Sorry, is working for an elementary school lucrative for you?” Sadie replied. She went to the coffee station in the corner and poured herself a cup. “Ugh, this stuff is the worst.”

“No arguments here,” Gene said, taking a sip out of his mug. “Well, it looks like we won’t have to worry about bad coffee tomorrow. We can all stay home and sleep in.”

“Why?” Sadie said. She walked over to Gene’s desk and looked over his shoulder at the weather report. “Oh, that looks like a nasty storm. We’re going to get hit hard.” 

“Looks like it,” Gene grinned. “Here’s hoping it dumps five feet on us.”

Sadie clicked her coffee mug against his in salute.

A child was coming through the open door. Sadie and Gene looked up, surprised. Classes hadn’t even started yet. 

It was Andy, clutching an envelope in his hand and crying. “I, I need to see Principal, Principal Conner,” he sobbed. 

“Go right in,” Gene said, pointing to the open door. Principal Conner was standing behind her desk, giving Gene a quizzical look. What had the kid done so early in the morning to be sent to the Principal’s office?

Andy went into the office and shut the door behind him. “That kid,” Sadie whispered. 

Before she could say anything else, Stephanie Rogers came in. “Ms. North, I’m not feeling good.”

The girl looked green. Sadie grabbed Gene’s wastebasket and shoved it into her hands. Just in time too, as she puked right into it.

Sadie sighed. “Go lay down on the cot. Is mom or dad home today?”

Stephanie had to be cleaned up, then looked after until her dad arrived. Then there was the crowd of kids who had prescription medication they had to take during the day to be checked in. Once Stephanie was packed away in her dad’s car, Sadie finally had a moment to return to her stone-cold coffee.

Gene was watching her, with a look of disgust on his face.

“What did I do?” Sadie asked.

“Nothing,” Gene said. He slipped over to her desk, and said quietly, “You’re not going to believe what Andy was in here for.”

“I’d believe anything of that little delinquent,” Sadie said. 

“He called Abigail a bitch,” Gene hissed. 

“No,” Sadie replied. Abigail was the second-grade teacher, and probably one of the most patient ladies Sadie had ever known.

“Yes,” Gene said. “They got into an argument over a letter from his dad.”

“He couldn’t have a letter from his dad,” Sadie replied. “Andy’s dad died before he was born. I don’t know if he ever knew Melody was pregnant.”

She thought back to the man in question. He and Melody had moved in around the same time Sadie had. They’d all been college students. Sadie had thought they’d be good friends. But they were distant right from the start. And after Arthur died, Melody’s distance had turned to outright disdain.

“Abigail must know about his dad,” Gene said. “And I’m sure she would have called him out for lying.”

“Yeah, but in the nicest way possible,” Sadie said.

Gene shrugged. “How nice can you be with that? All the kid gloves in the world can’t soften that blow.”

Preorder Quiet Apocalypse now on Amazon and Smashwords.

The creation of Quiet Apocalypse

Quiet Apocalypse comes out on Friday. And, I’ve just got to say, this launch is nothing like any other launch I’ve ever done. That’s because Quiet Apocalypse is nothing like any book I’ve ever written before. So I thought it might be fun to take a look at the journey I went through writing this book. If you’re a writer, I hope you’ll learn something from the trip. If you’re just a fan, you might like a peek into the spaghetti bowl that is my brain. 

Quiet Apocalypse is probably the most indulgent book I’ve ever written. It’s a patchwork of things I wanted to write about all pulled together. 

It started with a short story about an apocalypse brought on when no one was able to have children anymore. I was raised Mormon, and one of the many wacky things they believe is that there’s a finite amount of souls in Heaven waiting to come to Earth. As a child, I interpreted that to mean that someday, people would just stop having babies. 

While I don’t believe this anymore, it’s always lurked around in the back of my brain. So I wanted to write about an apocalypse that came about because people just stopped being able to bear children. 

That short story didn’t pan out. It was rather dull, just a man sitting on a park bench thinking back over the horrors that had ensued since people stopped having kids. Eventually, I gave it up.

Sometime later, I realized I wanted to write something about witchcraft. Specifically, I wanted to write a story with a witch as the main character. I was about a year into my witchcraft journey at the time, and it was consuming much of my life. I also wanted to write a haunted house story. Something that had a similar vibe to The House Next Door or The House on Haunted Hill. Or Goosebumps, The Ghost Next Door.

So that’s where we got the start of Quiet Apocalypse. Sadie, a school nurse from a long line of witches, is given an ouija board by her aunt, and she accidentally lets a ghost loose in her apartment while she’s trying to cleanse it. 

Hilarity and horror were going to ensue.

But this wasn’t enough to fill a whole novella. It was barely a short story, and not a satisfying one. 

But of course, this is why we say no writing is ever wasted. I was muddling around, trying to think of something deeper to do with Sadie and her faithful dog, Sage. I loved her. I loved her quirky little apartment building, with the elderly landlord and his husband. I loved the found family feel the whole building had. 

I turned to my notebooks and found the fragments of my apocalypse story. It wasn’t workable on its own. But maybe I could still use that idea. The thought of a world going silent. A world without babies would then turn into a world without children. 

Then, we’d have a very quiet planet.

All of this blended to create the novella I’ve now brought into the world. And I think it turned out pretty well. See what you think on Friday.

Quiet Apocalypse is coming out on Friday the 13th! You can pre-order your copy now on Amazon or Smashwords

Why I don’t watch ghost hunting shows

I love a good ghost story. Especially a haunted house story. And they’re even better when they’re real. I love going on ghost tours, or just reading about an encounter that cannot be explained. A good local ghost story will get me up to 11 every time. 

What I don’t love is ghost hunting shows. And let me tell you why.

(As a quick aside, I do like Buzzfeed Unsolved. I love Ryan and Shane’s new company, Watcher. None of what I’m about to say applies to them.)

They’re performative

Yes, I understand that these are shows, meant for entertainment. I would expect any show like that to be performative because they are there to, duh, perform. But this is an issue I have with reality tv in general. It’s hard to believe that anything is real when we know the participants are fully aware that the camera is on them.

Too often I’ll see ‘professional ghost hunters’ lose their minds over some small supernatural occurrence. Things that I feel like they’ve seen hundreds of times. So why are they so amazed today? 

Because it plays better. 

There’s often a fair amount of infighting on these shows as well. The ghost hunters often have the sorts of relationships that make you wonder why in the hell they’re working together to start with. Often this has less to do with their bad partner choices and more to do with producers hyping up drama where none exists.

By the way, you can make good tv without that. Mythbusters was on for over a decade without that kind of drama. And, fun fact, Jamie and Adam did not get along. But they were God damned professionals who didn’t act like children. 

And a bad working relationship might not be all these shows are faking.

They probably fake things

Do I know this for sure? No, of course not. Do I want to get sued? Not at all, I have no money. So am I going to say for sure that all ghost hunting shows besides Buzzfeed Unsolved fake footage? No, that would be an unprofessional and ludicrous thing to say without proof. 

What I will say is that they often portray footage that seems suspect. Things that look very convincing, and make you wonder how they could ever fake it. But then you watch a video from Captain Dissolution, and you see how they very much could fake it. 

I will also say that catching actual evidence of ghosts on camera would be amazingly difficult and change how we see the world forever. So maybe if a ghost hunting show is claiming that they do this regularly, that claim should be taken with a grain of salt.

They’re exploitative

This is something I take issue with in all reality tv. Far too often, we see people in their worst moments on this kind of content. 

Especially in the shows that do ‘house calls’, we see people who are confused and scared. We might see them making fools of themselves. We might even just see them saying things and making decisions that they might not otherwise. 

And the producers of these sorts of shows have no problem shoving cameras in the faces of distraught people. It’s sick, honestly. If I were to watch a real person on a show, rather than an actor, I’d like to see the best of humanity.

Not the worst.

Quiet Apocalypse is available now for preorder on Amazon and Smashwords. Premiers Friday, May 13th.

The end of the world began with a winter storm.
Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit.
But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world.
Not with screams, but with silence