Tag: novel writing Page 1 of 4

Sharon L. Clark author, touchpoint press, book deal

On to the Next Adventure in Writing!

Guys. You guys. I have exciting news, and I’m having a hard time believing that this is real life.

I’m going to be a published author!

You read that right! My first novel, tentatively titled I’ll Call You Mine, is slated for release in the fall of 2022 through TouchPoint Press, thanks to my brilliant agent, Katie Salvo. I will hold a physical, printed copy of a story I wrote, where I can pet it and smell it and hug it, in less than 18 months. I’ve seen videos of other authors opening the box containing copies of their new book and choking up the first time they get to hold it.

I already know I will sob like a baby.

I’ve had some friends congratulate me with, ‘It’s been a long time coming!’ But, to be honest, in my case it really hasn’t. Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was probably twelve years old. But the idea of trying to get published didn’t take seed until 2018. I joined my local NaNoWriMo group the year before as a challenge to myself to meet people and maybe make some friends. I had no plans beyond reaching the 50,00-word goal. I kept my head down and had a hard time speaking out loud to give my word-count update when asked. I was shy and quiet.

The people who currently know me are probably scoffing at ‘shy’.

While I’m no wallflower now, that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about what comes next. This is all uncharted territory for me. I have a rough idea: I’ll get an editor, we’ll make changes, a book cover will be designed, and BAM! We’ll have a book baby. Of course, I know a lot more goes into this process. There is so much I’ll have the opportunity to learn, and I am chomping at the bit to get started!

I want to share this new adventure with you all.

I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into a warm group of creatives who were more than generous with their knowledge about writing and querying, and I want to pay it forward. As we dive into next steps please don’t be shy about asking questions, and I will answer everything I can. I wouldn’t have this opportunity without the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from all of you.

Thank you.

Make sure you don’t miss any future posts! Subscribe HERE so you’ll be one of the first to read any new announcements, including everything about my upcoming novel release. And, as always, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email!

waiting is fun

Waiting Is Fun

How has it been six months since my last post?

Where has the time gone? It seems that with every year I am on this spinning rock, the days fly past with increasing speed and decreasing recollection of what, exactly, I’ve been doing. But I have been doing stuff – I swear! Mostly waiting. It’s been difficult to move solidly forward with new things when the old things haven’t quite landed yet.

There’s a good chance I’m not the only one who’s still a bit anxious and uncertain about what comes next – what to DO next – after the unpredictability of last year. I’ve had a hard time fully re-engaging with life and plans and all of that. I think Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham expressed this state of mind best:

I wouldn’t dig in there if I was you. Next one might be at your head. I don’t know where it’s gonna go. Swear to God!”

My little baby novel is still on the hunt for its perfect home. I knew when I started that this process would be a lengthy one, and that I would need to be patient. But doggone it I am not very good at being patient! If I’m honest, I don’t know which is worse: getting all the ‘no thank you’ replies or hearing nothing at all. Recently, I was convinced that this whole writing thing had been a silly little diversion; that it had been fun to play around and learn new things, but the time had come to walk away.

I think my agent would have been less than thrilled with that idea.

So, instead, I’m working on the third or fourth iteration of a romance novel that I’ve been toying with for what seems like forever. I’ve joined a small critique group and, once a month, we share part of what we’re working on and give each other feedback. This has been invaluable as the echo chamber inside my own head can get pretty ugly. On top of that, I’m in a book club that has led me to read some amazing novels that I wouldn’t have picked off the shelf on my own. The club leader spins a wheel to select that month’s genre and then another wheel for a title within that genre. Then we meet to share treats and to “talk about the book.”

Yes, the quotations are intentional. Don’t judge.

But I think my favorite thing is that my writing group has started to cautiously meet in person again. Over the past year, we kept in touch through weekly video conferencing, but there is nothing like being in the same room with some of your favorite creative people. I swear that when we’re all together, the air is different and we seem to gain strength from one another.

Coffee and muffins help, too.

All of these things have helped to fuel my creativity and push me to get back to what I love doing: creating stories. Although it may falter at times, I still believe this is the right path for me and, when everything falls into place with the right story, the right editor, the right publishing house, and the right planetary alignment (you think I’m kidding) my sweet little book baby will venture out into the world and into the hands of people who will love her like I do.

So, I wait.

How is 2021 is treating you? Drop a comment or send me an email and fill me in on your last six months, what’s different, how you’re feeling about, well, everything! I’d love the chance to start a conversation!

Happy New year 2021 large greeting card illustration

2020 in Review: What the Heck Just Happened?!

So. That was fun, right?

There is no way anyone filled a BINGO card this year. If they did, I would look askance at them as potentially masterminding some of this nonsense. Reviewing the things that happened in 2020, I find it difficult to believe that was all in the past twelve months. If you’ve been on TikTok, you’ve undoubtedly seen one of the many videos of a misunderstanding between God and an angel regarding a decade of disasters in one year. Watch it here – some language near the end.

I’m not so sure that isn’t what happened.

Here’s a quick rundown of the 2020 events I can recall:

  • Australia caught on fire.
  • Tiger King was everywhere.
  • COVID-19 made its debut, and refuses to leave.
  • Murder hornets crashed the party in the U.S. and a plague of locusts devastated East Africa.
  • Racial injustice was given a much-needed global stage.
  • California, Oregon, and Washington caught on fire.
  • Iowa endured a rare ‘land hurricane’ and now everyone knows what a derecho is.
  • We lost a multitude of actors, musicians, authors, politicians, athletes, scientists, and cultural icons including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eddie Van Halen, Chadwick Bosemen, Kobe Bryant, Grant Imihara, John Lewis, and Alex Trebek.
  • Presidential Election. ‘Nuff said.

My family and I have been beyond fortunate, and we’ve even seen some shining lights in this year’s darkness. Our youngest moved to Chicago for college, our middle earned a prestigious academic opportunity, our oldest got engaged, and I signed with a literary agent. (Those last two events happened the same weekend in March, at the same time the world fell apart.) The summer was spent planning a small wedding and editing my first novel, and I can’t say there weren’t tears during both. In January, we’ll watch our daughter marry her best friend, then my novel will be sent into the world to find a publisher who will love it as much as I do.

Not such a boring start to the new year for the old Clark Clan.

Tomorrow is January 1, 2021. I hope against hope that the new year will be different. That it—and we—will be better. Perhaps all the trials we’ve been through were stepping stones or growing pains or lessons to be collectively learned. This year, I plan to take what the universe has to offer and make the best damn lemonade the world has ever seen.

My wish for you is that you’ll be able to take a deep breath, hold your loved ones close, and snuggle under a blanket of health, safety, and peace in 2021.

Happy New Year!

‘What the Hell Am I Doing?’ and Other Anxiety Gems

There are ten days left in November and I am sitting pretty at just over 45,000 words on my current project. I feel fairly confident that I’ll tip over 50k this weekend and win my 4th NaNoWriMo.

Yay!

But I had a bit of a ‘day’ earlier this week. I woke up Sunday wondering what gave me the audacity to think I could be an author? There are millions of writers out there that are way more talented than I, have degrees in creative writing and literature, and have meaningful stories to tell. Who did I think I was?

Imposter syndrome, am I right?

I have struggled with this NaNo for a few reasons, I think. First, and foremost, 2020. There is so much going on, so much to worry about, that I get overwhelmed. It’s so chaotic and hopeless sometimes, that writing feels frivolous. Second, I signed with an agent, and even without having a publisher, I feel tremendous pressure to write something GOOD. It’s all imagined pressure, of course, but it makes me second-guess every line of dialogue and every plot point. Thanks to these mounting stressors, my scenes stalled, the action wasn’t moving forward, the dialogue was stilted and unnatural and pointless.

Then I remembered why I write.

I don’t yearn to author the Next Great American Novel. I don’t even write to be published – although that would be pretty sweet. Writing is something I love, something that’s a part of who I am. I can’t envision my life without it anymore. If I write with love of the craft and continue to learn and improve as an author, what more do I need?

So, I retraced my steps. I wrote an outline, fleshed out the characters, started and restarted this story multiple times before finding the right path. After removing my self-imposed and outlandish expectations, it’s flowing better and I feel good about what I’m creating.

In the end, isn’t that what matters?

Why do you write? What are your goals as an author? Leave me a message, send an email: Let’s talk!

NaNoWriMo 2020 in the Face of Unfamiliar Territory

We’re heading into the last week of October of an insane year. Let’s take a look at just a few things we’re all dealing with: January tornadoes, earthquakes, civil unrest, a derecho, wildfires, hurricanes, 9 inches of October snow, COVID-19, and murder hornets.

It’s kind of a lot.

Everyone is having to learn a new reality and make adjustments. From finding creative ways to work, to teaching kids safely, to trying to salvage any form of live entertainment, we’ve had to spitball new procedures and change the way things are done – sometimes at the drop of a hat. It’s slow and tedious because not everyone is on the same page quite yet, but we will get there.

Growing pains, am I right?

October is one of my favorite months because of fall colors and cooler temperatures, Halloween, and my birthday. But this last week is leading into another favorite of mine:

National Novel Writing Month.

If you’re new to my website, you may not know that NaNoWriMo has changed my life and I will sing its virtues any chance I get. For the 30 days of November each year, anyone and everyone is challenged to write an original 50,000-word novel. It doesn’t have to be complete, beginning to end. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be good, as evidenced by a couple of my previous projects.

But we’re facing an unfamiliar landscape this year.

My NaNo experience has been colored by the wonderful people of the Central Iowa Authors group who welcomed me and encouraged me from day one. This year, due to COVID, we aren’t able to meet at our favorite restaurants and coffee shops to share our love of writing and – let’s be honest – brunch. I’m tearing up just writing this, thinking of all the things I’ll miss.

Then I take a deep breath and I get excited all over again.

No, NaNoWriMo 2020 isn’t going to look like anything we’ve seen before. But it’s still NaNo. And we live in a world where we can interact, face to face, in real time, from the safety and comfort of our own homes. Virtual hugs will have to do. We can still chat and share words of encouragement without having to brave frigid temps and slick roads. And I get to write, something that brings me so much joy.

So, what’s stopping you?

This whack-a-doo year is the perfect time to dip your toe in the NaNoWriMo pool! It’s a year of firsts – I mean, who the heck ever heard of a derecho?! – so why not write your first novel? Whether you hope to publish or just want to explore some wild ideas and see where they take you, NaNoWriMo is the perfect jumping-off point.

Drop a comment and ask anything you want to know about National Novel Writing Month! Check out the Website, take a look at the Virtual Write-in Calendar, visit Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, then come join me!

And if you like what you see, don’t forget to hit that subscribe button!

The End Is In Sight! Maybe. Probably Not…

I haven’t given an editing update on my novel for nearly a year and boy, has a lot happened since then! The last time I checked in, I was still trying to cut thousands of words and put together a sample query letter for a writers’ conference I was attending in March.

That’s a story for another time. Let’s fast forward.

To July. Yep, it took me that much longer to get my novel to a point that made me comfortable. I whittled my story down to roughly 94,000 words and had decided to go a step further and hire an editor. She was suggested to me by someone I admire and was an excellent fit for me. In my naive, sometimes conceited mind, I expected to be told that my manuscript was ready and I should compile my list of agents to query. (Think Ralphie’s daydream about his Red Rider theme paper.) Seriously, I thought I could send the story to the editor in early July and be querying agents by the end of August.

Ha.

Every developmental suggestion from the editor made sense to the point that I was embarrassed I hadn’t seen the need for the changes myself. Her suggestions made the story stronger and more believable, but it took me another several months to get through the changes and rewrites. After shaving an additional 20,000 words, my novel is back in the same editor’s hands for another round of suggestions and probable rewrites.

And I’m perfectly all right with that.

This process is tedious and sometimes disheartening, but I know the end product will be the best version possible. Not only that, but I’m learning so much about my writing and how to improve on it that my next novel(s) can only benefit from the mistakes I’ve made. I love my adverbs and weak, passive verbs, but that’s what editing is for and I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Two more novels are waiting patiently for me to complete them so they can be edited with the same love. I also have a file of story ideas trying to woo me with their shiny new plots and characters. Acting as a critical beta reader for friends, challenging myself with writing prompts, attempting to make a dent in my massive To Be Read pile; all of these things add to my toolbox that will build me up as a writer and I love it.

What surprises you about the process of writing a book? Feel free to ask about anything I’ve shared here by commenting below or reaching out through my email – I’d love to chat with you!

 

Return To Me: Part 7

Too terrified to move, Emma could only stare, mouth agape. She couldn’t make out any facial features, hair color, or clothing, but the outline of a man was evident. The shape didn’t move or make a sound, just sat perfectly still at the head of the table.

Where Justin always sat.

The exhilaration that coursed through her veins was unlike anything Emma had felt before. It had worked. Justin was here.

A sob escaped her before she could stop it. This was everything she had wanted, her most fervent wish come true! Her knees were suddenly soft and threatened to give out on her, putting her at risk of falling to the floor in a blubbering heap.

“Justin!” She called his name in a breathy laugh and took a step forward, ready to rush through the night into his arms.

As she watched, the figure silently began to stand. That wasn’t quite right, she thought. The motion more closely resembled a mist rising from the floor than anything a human body could do. There was no rustling of clothing, no squeak of the chair on the floor, nothing to indicate actual movement.

A small whisper of air blew past Emma, lifting the strands of hair that lay against her damp cheek. Her muscles tensed and she found herself holding her breath.

There was a palpable difference in the room. The air felt charged with electricity, crackling with latent power about to explode. Emma’s heart was racing but the pounding in her ears drowned out everything else. It was as though the whole world was holding its breath along with her.

Her stomach in knots, Emma took in a shaky breath and whispered, “Justin?”

She looked more closely at the shadow and realized something was wrong. Very, very wrong. The street lights were bright enough that the rest of the room was lit up, the furniture illuminated in stark relief. But somehow the light didn’t touch the figure. All the brightness seemed to be swallowed as soon as it touched the shape, like being sucked into a black hole. It wasn’t just that she couldn’t make out any features – there weren’t any.

A terrifying realization fell over Emma. Whatever this thing was, it was NOT her husband. It was shaped like Justin, as though his shadow was being cast into the room, but that was the only similarity. This was so much more than a mere shadow. It pulsed and breathed and moved in a way that was wholly unnatural and set her nerves jangling in alarm. Where her husband had been sunshine and love, this emanated darkness. All the warmth in the room was overrun by a chilling sense of dread.

She had been tricked.

The cold understanding of the manipulation took her breath. All the dreams had been visitations, there was no doubt. But the truth of who – or what – had been visiting her in her sleep was chilling.

Emma took an involuntary step backward and watched in horror as the shape stepped – no, not stepped: floated? drifted? – through the dining room table, advancing on her at a languid, relentless pace. All the air was suddenly sucked out of the room, the pressure in her ears making her wince.

What had started out as a desperate prayer for happiness had turned into a living nightmare. Every second brought the menacing figure closer and closer, the sense of impending danger growing. Emma cast her eyes around her, looking for an escape or a weapon or something to rescue her from the situation, but she was pressed against the wall at the end of the hallway. In a panic, she dodged to the side, intending to dive back into her bedroom. But before she had taken more than a step, the door slammed shut, nearly catching her hand in the process. Ice water filled her veins and she turned her gaze back to the entity’s imminent progression.

Her brain was a jumble of static and fear and she was no longer able to make sense of what she was witnessing. The shadow continued to glide through the space between them, insistent and unhurried. Emma wanted desperately to run, to try to dash through or around this dark figure and escape into the night outside but her limbs refused to obey her. On the verge of collapsing physically and mentally, a memory poked at the wall of fear surrounding her brain, begging to be seen.

YES. That Emma had prepared for exactly this scenario was a fact that had been forgotten in her state of pure terror. The cautions from the old crone at the shop prompted Emma to do a little research. She had come across numerous warnings about meddling with the afterlife, about the unpredictability of the spirit world and the likelihood of inviting in something unwholesome and possibly evil. While she had trusted Dream Justin, she hadn’t been entirely convinced the conjuring incantation was going to work in the first place. But she reasoned that it couldn’t hurt to have an idea of how to protect herself. Just in case.

Her hands flew to her hips looking for pockets that weren’t there. Patting down her backside and her stomach and her chest, Emma was somehow shocked to realize she was barely dressed. She was in her pajamas, the handwritten spell discarded somewhere else, out of reach.

Clutching at her hair, pushing down the scream that gurgled in the back of her throat, Emma racked her brain in an attempt to draw out the words she needed. The dark entity proceeded inexorably forward, but its substance had changed. Where it had started out as only a shadow, it appeared to have gained some substance, a roiling mass. There was depth to it now, like a billow of black smoke, writhing and twisting in on itself. The shape was swirling faster and faster as Emma watched, almost as though its excitement at overtaking her was manifesting in movement.

Words flashed into Emma’s mind, jumbled together randomly, nonsensical. She floundered, her overwhelming anxiety making it impossible to snatch anything useful from the whirlwind in her head. The darkness was closer now, churning and reeling, licks of shadow bursting forward, just feet from Emma. She pressed herself against the wall. There was nowhere for her to go, and watching the determined progression pulled a scream from deep inside her.

She raised her hands in a futile attempt to ward off the evil now close enough she could hear the swishing and buzzing its rolling motion created. With a burst of reckless urgency, she shouted the first words that rose to the front of her internal maelstrom.

“You are not welcome here, you have no power to cause me harm! I call upon all the powers of light and love to drag you far from me, back to the depths where you belong!”

The shadow stopped its forward movement, shaking and gyrating with more speed, getting louder and louder, a high-pitched keening adding to the noise. It began to expand, filling the hallway and blocking all light seeping through the windows. Emma clamped her hands over her ears, shouting the words over and over again, battling the roar of what could only be the entity’s rage.

“YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE! YOU HAVE NO POWER TO CAUSE ME HARM!” A fierce wind blew through the hallway, making it hard for her to breathe, but she persisted. “I CALL UPON ALL THE POWERS OF LIGHT AND LOVE TO DRAG YOU FAR FROM ME, BACK TO THE DEPTHS WHERE YOU BELONG!”

Emma flailed one hand at the wall next to her, searching for something, anything, to save her. Her hand landed on a light switch, the incantation continuing to flow from her lungs with her last breath. The malevolent phantom redoubled its growth, raising the cacophony to unbearable levels, freezing air now whipping all around Emma. Certain that her death was upon her, she forced herself to face the attack with eyes wide open, knowing that the last thing she would ever see would be the sudden burst of forward movement just before the darkness swallowed her, body and soul.

She flipped the switch under her palm by instinct, shrieking from every cell of her being. As light flooded the space around her, she was hit with an ice cold explosion of air followed by a deafening silence.

Emma stood in the bright hallway, chilled to the bone, but unharmed.

And completely alone.

Return To Me: Part 6

The rest of the day was spent poring over the summoning book, looking for just the right words and symbols necessary for what she was about to attempt. Many variations of the incantation were written and discarded. Eventually, she ended up with a chant that she felt was powerful and to-the-point. She practiced drawing the sigil Justin had told her to use, finding it in the book. She drew it over and over until it was perfect. She cleared off the dining room table, placing a dark purple cloth at the head and smoothing the sigil drawing on top of it. She traced the shape on the paper with the powdered elderberry, her hands surprisingly steady. Settling the candle at the top of the cloth, she stood back and surveyed her work. Perfect.

Once the table was ready, Emma poured herself a glass of wine before turning off the lights throughout the house. She perched on the edge of Justin’s favorite armchair and gazed out the large bay window into the quiet night. All the trick-or-treaters had come and gone, leaving the street empty.

Next to the chair stood the end table that held the reframed photo of the two of them on their wedding day. Justin’s warm brown eyes smiled out at her, sparkling with mischief. She picked up the photo and gazed at her husband’s face. He looked so alive in this picture, so vibrant and warm it was disorienting. How could he be dead?  Justin had been larger than life and brought light into every room he entered. You could feel the kindness and joy radiating off him any time you were within ten feet. Emma wasn’t the only one who felt it. But she was sure she was the only one who experienced the absence of that sunshine so acutely. His recent nighttime visitations had only served to dig that emptiness bigger and deeper and more painful. It didn’t matter if they were real or merely wishful dreaming. Justin was still gone.

Trailing her finger along the shape of his cheek, she kissed the glass and set the frame back on the table. She finished her wine, rinsed the glass and took her place at the end of the table in front of the makeshift altar.

It was time.

Pulling a small folded piece of paper out of her pocket, Emma lit the candle. She smoothed the paper on the table, so she could read the words, and held her hands out, palms up, in front of her. She cleared her throat and closed her eyes, taking a bracing breath.

“You who lived yesterday, I call you from my mind to yours. Come back from the shadows into the light.” She glanced at the paper before cupping her hands and wafting the candle smoke over her face. “I feel the warmth of your body, the warmth of your spirit. This sigil of summoning calls you to me and I hold you in my arms, my heart, and my soul. I bid you return to me.”

She choked back a sob, overcome with the desperation she felt for this to work. “Please,” she whispered, dropping her hands, clenching and unclenching them at her sides. “Oh god, please return to me, Justin. Please.”

Repeating the incantation three times – for good measure – Emma let the candle burn and stood perfectly still. She closed her eyes and tried to relax her body and mind, listening to every creak and sigh the house made around her. How would she know if it had worked? Would the air in the room feel different? Would he appear in front of her, fully formed, flesh and bone, like in her dreams?

She stood quietly for what felt like an eternity, waiting. Hoping. One silent tear after another fell from her closed eyes. It was foolish of her to have believed this would work. The dreams were just that – dreams. Wishful thinking, a manifestation of her broken heart. Justin was dead. Period.

Tonight, All Hallows Eve with the house silent and dark, she understood how people believed in things like this. If they felt even a fraction of the pain Emma felt right now – had felt for the better part of the last year – they would be nothing short of desperate to believe their late loves were somehow still with them.

Swallowing the sob that bubbled up in her throat, Emma pictured Justin’s face in her mind, heard his laugh in the deep quiet of the room. Ten years. Ten short years of the purest happiness Emma had ever known. He had been her rock and her guiding light. Without that beacon of love in her life she had been floundering in the world and didn’t know if she’d ever find her way again. That’s why she’d been so lost without him. Why she’d let her dream self be convinced this absurdity could bring him back.

Disappointed tears now dry on her face, Emma let her shoulders slump in defeat. Nothing had happened. She didn’t know if she honestly thought something would, but if this nonsense was ever going to work then it would take the one night when the veil to the spirit world was thinnest to breathe it to life.

Opening her eyes and letting them adjust to the near-darkness in the house, she smoothed out the incantation on the table, over and over again. A passing car cast shadows that danced and bounced off the walls. It was silent and still and empty in the house, just as it had been every night since the end of her world. Justin was gone. That was the reality Emma had to live with now. Heaving a defeated sigh, Emma snuffed out the candle and trudged to her bedroom. Perhaps she would dream of him again. Perhaps not, now that she knew it had all been in her head.

Emma drifted in and out of a restless sleep. She was too hot, she was too cold, it was too quiet, she couldn’t get comfortable. She was beyond exhausted and she should have fallen into a deep sleep, but it eluded her, keeping her always just outside the circle of peacefulness. She even had taken 3 full sleeping pills, for good measure, but she still tossed and turned.

With a jolt, Emma sat straight up in bed, suddenly wide awake, any hint of fatigue long gone. Her breathing was ragged and shallow and she was covered with a sheen of sweat, as though she had been running. Sitting motionless, she tried to recall what had woken her. She glanced around the bedroom looking for an explanation, but nothing stood out to her.

The one thing clear in her mind was that she needed to go out to the dining room. She knew it as surely as she knew her own name. In the pit of her stomach she felt a knot, the pull of a thread drawing her out of her bed and toward the door.

Her feet hit the cold floor and she paused. Through the crack of the partially-opened door Emma saw only darkness. Something was calling to her. Nothing audible, nothing she could hear, but a call that she could feel in the middle of her chest. She rubbed her wet palms on the legs of her pajamas and licked her lips, trying to get the courage to move.

On shaky legs, she rose and took a few tentative steps across the room. Cloaked in a sensation of unreality, everything around her seemed to glow and pulsate. Was she dreaming again? This was nothing like the lucid dreams of Justin she had been experiencing. Instead, there was a menacing nightmare quality in the air. Only the rough boards beneath her feet and the manic pounding in her chest grounded her in the certainty of wakefulness.

She watched her hand tremble reaching for the door. The ominous squeaking of the hinges made goosebumps break out over every inch of her and she came close to turning back. The urge to slam the door and dive under her covers until the sun came up nearly overtook her and she hesitated in the open doorway. But the invisible thread drawing her out was stronger than her apprehension and she leaned into the hallway.

All the air in her lungs turned to sludge and she was unable to take a breath. Her eyes had to be playing tricks on her, the remnant of whatever nightmare had woken her so forcefully a moment ago. She blinked over and over, trying to clear her vision but nothing changed. Stepping fully into the hall, the hair on the back of her neck stood on end as the realization of what she was seeing fully formed.

A silhouette was visible at the dining room table, backlit by the street lights through the window.

Return To Me: Part 5

There had been other dreams about Justin, especially right after his death. But this one…this one was different. Real. So real, in fact, that Emma woke up expecting to find him waiting in the kitchen for her, holding out a steaming cup of fresh coffee.

In the dream, she had rolled over to see him sleeping next to her. She shot upright, had nearly fallen out of bed, and startled him awake. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and smiled at her.

“Expecting someone else?”

When she only managed to clap a hand over her mouth, failing to stifle a sob, he had gathered her to his chest and smoothed her hair.

“I’m here, Em. Shh, shh. I’m really and truly here.”

Emma had clung to him, a thousand questions in her mind, but unable to make her voice work. After several minutes, she pulled back just enough to look at him, and nearly fell apart again at the bright smile on his face.

“Justin…” she murmured. He leaned into her and feathered his lips against hers. “Oh my god, Justin…I thought – how are you here? You can’t be here.” Tentatively, Emma stroked his cheek. “I thought I would never get to see you again. How is this possible?”

Laying back in the bed and propping himself on his elbow, the smile never left Justin’s face as he patted the space next to him.

“I don’t know,” he answered cheerfully. “I just am. God, you’re so beautiful, Em. I could stare at you for the rest of eternity and see something new every day.”

When he ran his fingertips along her cheek, wiping away the tears, Emma melted into his touch. “Can you stay? Are you here for good?” A thought suddenly occurred to her and she sat up, her eyes wide. “Am I dead?!”

Justin threw his head back and laughed. “No, babe, you’re still very much alive. You are, however, asleep, and I won’t be here when you wake up. Come here.” He pulled her to him, laying her head on his chest.

Lulled by the impossible sound of his heart beating, Emma closed her eyes and snuggled tighter against him. It felt so good to hold him again, even if it was just a dream. He was warm, and comfortable and here. That was all that mattered.

The next time she opened her eyes the sun was streaming through her curtains and she was alone. Even though it had been a year since he passed away, Emma could never bring herself to take up the whole bed. Every night, she left his side tucked in and neat. And this morning it looked no different than it had for the last 365 mornings.

He visited her in similar dreams every night for the next week. Sometimes the two of them got up and went into the living room, sitting across from each other like they used to do, telling stories and laughing. Other nights they only laid in bed and gazed at each other, not needing words to communicate what they were feeling. But morning always came, and Justin wasn’t there.

On the tenth night after these dream dates started, Emma eagerly climbed into bed, nestling down under the covers. This had become her favorite time of the day. Her excitement was making it harder and harder for her to fall asleep, however, so she had started taking sleeping pills. It was a half a pill for the first couple of nights, then a whole one. But it was taking longer and longer for her to drift off, so she was up to two and a half pills at this point. She knew she was pushing the threshold of safety, but to her it was worth it.

Once sleep overtook her, Emma rolled over in bed and opened her eyes with a smile, expecting to see her husband grinning back at her. But on this night, the pillow next to her was empty. Sitting up abruptly, Emma scanned the dark room.

“Justin?” When there was no response, she slid out of bed and started looking for him. “Justin? Are you here?”

As she reached the dining table at the end of the hallway, movement from the living room made her jump. Justin was sitting in his favorite armchair by the window, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped in front of him. Relief coursed through Emma and she skipped toward him.

“There you are! You had me worried.” The nervous tightening in her stomach only worsened when Justin didn’t look up as she approached. “Babe? Is everything okay?”

When he finally looked up at her, Emma was shocked at the sadness on his face. His sunny smile was turned down and his bright eyes were dim and full of distress. She rushed to him, dropping to her knees and taking his hands in hers.

Shaking his head, Justin sighed. “I can’t stay, Em. This will be my last visit to you.”

Emma’s stomach dropped and a cold wave washed over her. She stroked his cheek and said, “No. No, it can’t be. I just got you back! You can’t go away again. You can’t!”

Justin grasped her shoulders and pushed her back from him before standing and pacing to the fireplace. He leaned against the mantle, refusing to look at Emma.

“It’s not my decision, Em. It’s out of my hands.”

Standing defiantly in the middle of the room, her hands on her hips, Emma asked, “Well, whose decision is it then? If there’s someone to make the decision, there must be someone to talk to, some way to change their mind. I’m not letting you go. I won’t.” She chewed her lip to keep it from trembling. “I can’t.”

Justin whirled around and was suddenly in front of Emma, her hands gripped in his. “There is something you can do, Emma. There is a way I can stay with you…if you want me to.”

“Anything!” Emma’s heart began beating so fast she was sure it was going to burst out of her chest. “You know I will do anything to bring you back to me. Tell me what to do.”

Brushing her hair back off her forehead, Justin flashed Emma his most charming smile. He kissed her tenderly then pulled her close and whispered his instructions in her ear.

When Emma opened her eyes to the bright sun once again, she felt lighter and more hopeful than she had in more than a year. She had a plan. She had a goal. Something to do, to work for.

Something that meant everything to her.

She showered and made some breakfast, taking her coffee in a travel mug as she bounded out the door. There was research to be done, a couple of items to buy, certain arrangements to make and there was no time to waste. It was Halloween and Justin had been adamant everything had to be done tonight, or it wouldn’t work.

And it had to work.

After driving an hour outside of town, Emma pulled up outside a ramshackle shop. The sign read Wayward Cosmos and the website said she could find everything from books and candles to talismans and crystals. She had never been in a shop like this before and something about walking through the door set her nerves on edge.

It was dark and a little musty, the shelves close and full of odds and ends. The space had looked much larger from the outside and claustrophobia began to set in for Emma. She had to turn sideways to walk between tables. One wall was full of bookshelves overflowing with tomes of varying size. The opposite wall’s shelves were covered in crystal balls, statues of dragons and fairies, and lots of charms and totems that Emma had never seen before. The tables scattered throughout the shop held makeshift Wiccan altars, vials of different substances with names like mugwort and poke root. There was a giant pentagram painted on the floor and a large glass case full of animal skulls in different sizes.

The store was hushed, no sounds of an air conditioner, a fan, a radio. The lights were on and the door was unlocked, so Emma felt fairly confident that the shop was open, but the stillness around her was eerie and had her checking over her shoulder frequently.

She made her way to the bookshelf, looking for something that might help with the task at hand. Justin had told her what kind of book to look for, but no exact title. All he could tell her was that she’d know it when she found it. She perused such titles as The Green Witch, Wicca Book of Spells, The Complete Book of Witchcraft, The Crystal Bible. Letting her fingers trail over the spines, Emma felt a quickening in her stomach. There had to be a book to help her. If not here, where?

Her eyes fell on a title that caught her attention: The Magical Art of Summoning Spirits. Pulling it off the shelf, she knew immediately this was what she had been looking for. Her hand smoothed over the words etched on the cover and she felt an electric tingle run up her arm. Clutching it to her chest she turned and was shocked to find an old woman standing directly behind her.

“Oh!” She was so surprised, she stepped back and stumbled against the bookshelf. “I – I didn’t hear you! Jesus, you scared me!”

The figure stood perfectly still, saying nothing. Emma took in the old woman’s long, flowing gown and bare feet, noting the sound of the sparkling bracelets piled on both of her wrists. Her hair was pure white, curling almost to her waist, framing a wrinkled face with bright green eyes. Brow furrowed, she stared at Emma long and hard, freezing her in place. The eyes…there was something about her eyes that made goosebumps rise on Emma’s skin. Intelligent, calculating, and regarding Emma as though she was reading every thought in her mind – and didn’t like what she saw there.

After what felt like several minutes of being scrutinized, Emma cleared her throat and tried on a feeble smile.

“Uh…is this your shop? I – I was looking for a couple of items. Maybe you could help me?”

The old woman leaned closer as though to say something, but instead drew in a sharp breath. Then her eyes fell on the book clasped in Emma’s hands and her eyes darkened.

“Your intentions are good, but your methods are dangerous,” the woman croaked. “That book should not be read lightly.”

Emma swallowed and tried to smile. “Oh, uh, thank you. It’s actually for a friend. He does this stuff all the time and knows what he’s doing.” She slid sideways, trying to extract herself from the closeness of this encounter. “Do you sell candles, too? There was a specific one he wanted.”

With a grunt, the old woman spun away toward the back of the store, making Emma rush to catch up to her. Her speed and agility didn’t match her appearance at all.

“Do you also have some powdered elderberry?”

At this question, the old woman pulled up short and cast a suspicious look over her shoulder. “Elderberry, eh? And what candle did your…friend…ask for specifically?”

“Uh…purple? Dark purple, to be exact.”

The woman snorted and shook her head. “Your friend is meddling in things…he…shouldn’t. This is powerful magic and can have very unexpected repercussions.”

Chewing on her lip, Emma held the book closer against her chest. “You do have the items, though, right? I mean, you have them here, today, that you can sell to me?”

A shiny black cat that Emma hadn’t noticed before leapt onto the counter and sat protectively in front of the crone. Absently stroking the cat, she watched Emma closely. Without looking away, she reached under the countertop and produced a fat amethyst-colored candle, setting it down with a thud. Emma could feel a bead of sweat trickling down the back of her neck and she had to wipe her sweaty palms on her jeans over and over while the shopkeeper glared at her.

Finally breaking away from the uncomfortable eye contact, the old woman turned to a drawer set in the shelving behind her and pulled out an old apothecary bottle. She removed the cork stopper and shook a measure of dark powder into a small baggie. When she returned her attention to Emma, the look on her face was kinder, her forehead wrinkled not in anger but concern. She rang up Emma’s items on an ornate old cash register and captured Emma’s hand between both of her gnarled ones when handing back the change.

“Use caution, my dear. This is unpredictable magic you’re meddling with here. You may get far more than you bargained for if you follow through with this rash plan.”

Emma grimaced, startled by the strength of the old woman’s grip. She pulled her hand away and picked up her items.

“Um, okay, I will – I’ll be careful. I, uh, I know what I’m doing – I mean my friend knows what he’s doing – but I thank you for your concern. Have a nice day!” She turned and made a hasty retreat to the door.

Have You Met…Jo McMillen

In a previous post, I asked for advice on deciding which project to focus on for NaNoWriMo and I’m thrilled with my decision. Finishing my work on Bradford Mansion has been a lot of fun so I’d like to introduce you to my heroine!

Have you met…Jo McMillen?

Hilarie Burton is exactly how I picture Jo!

Growing up, Jo found her calling in woodworking and home renovation, but struggled to fit in. None of her girlfriends were interested in getting dirty in wood shop and none of the boys knew how to talk to her, much less date her. Now thirty years old and independent, she’s grown to be a level-headed and stubborn woman who’s fought her way to the top of her industry. So when she comes across a dream opportunity to purchase and restore a local mansion, she doesn’t think twice.

It doesn’t take long for her to realize her rash decision may have been a huge mistake.

Strange things happen on her first night in Bradford Mansion, but she refuses to be scared away. In fact, the bizarre occurrences only make her more determined to stay put. She is forced to confront the mischievous ghost of the estate’s long-dead heir, Nathan Bradford, and the two immediately clash. He can’t reconcile his old-fashioned ideas in her, and she’s done trying to fit anyone’s mold. Both want solitude, both claim ownership of the mansion, but neither will give an inch. Instead, they fall into a rocky friendship that gives them strength to face challenges that could destroy them.

I adore writing this character and putting her in some pretty strange situations. While it sounds insane, I’m always surprised to find out how Jo reacts to the things I throw at her!

Bradford Mansion has been so entertaining to write. I can’t wait to finish this novel so I can share Jo, Nathan, and all the other players with you!

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this story, feel free to comment below or send me an email.

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