Sharon L. Clark, Author

Tag: writing journey Page 1 of 7

Writing Process: Which Came First?

A friend asked recently how I go about writing my stories. Do I create characters and build the story around them? Or is the plot first, building the characters to fit into the situation?

Every author I know goes about writing differently. One friend starts with a rough idea, builds a music playlist, and then lets it inspire the direction of the plot. Another uses Scrivener and works out each character and scene before she writes a sentence. A couple others create their outlines in a linear order, another uses a snowflake type of format, spiraling out from one point, building on each idea and connecting from one to another.

And they are all perfect, valid ways to write a story.

My upcoming novel, I’ll Call You Mine, started from people-watching and letting my imagination form personalities for various folks who passed by me. One such person kept catching my attention, and I was curious about how he might behave in certain situations.

Another of my stories started from a wandering thought I had as I struggled to fall asleep; how would I react if I were to hear the closet door slide open in a house I knew to be haunted, when I was absolutely not in the mood for any nonsense?

So, a little bit of both for me, it seems.

All of my stories sort of spiral out from a first point, sometimes character-driven, sometimes plot-diven. When you have an inquisitive imagination in overdrive, the stories will be told, no matter how they start. If the character comes first, I need to know what led to them being who they are. If the plot is the initial point, how would different people behave in that situation?

Then I just sit back and go along for the ride. And that is the most fun.

Do you have a formula for story building? How do your ideas manifest for you? Leave a comment or send me an email and let’s talk!

 

Have You Met…Sharon Clark, Author

Okay friends, you’ve signed up to follow me and maybe to receive my newsletter, too. The time has come for you to learn just what you’ve gotten yourselves into.

First of all, thank you for being here. It’s always so surprising to me that anyone would want to read what I write, whether it’s a silly blog post, a short story, or one of my novels. People not only liking something I’ve written but coming back for MORE, well…that’s kind of the dream, isn’t it?

Stay with me a little longer and I’ll tell you a bit about myself, about my writing, and about my upcoming novel. Then I want you to ask me the questions you’re burning to know.

So buckle up and let’s dive in.

Me, In a Nutshell

Image courtesy of www.maggiegphoto.com

I grew up smack-dab in the middle of five girls, two older and two younger, and we got along great. For the most part. As I’m sure you can imagine, things got loud, or eerily silent, and there was always some type of psychological warfare under way.

Report cards bore good grades coupled with phrases like, “Talks too much” or “Needs to apply herself” pretty much throughout my school career. I played the flute, was in show choir and in theater, was a cheerleader and a member of the dance team. What? I got bored easily.

College and I didn’t get along as famously as I’d hoped we would. Don’t get me wrong; I had a GREAT time. I just didn’t get a degree and left, chastened, after only four semesters. When I came home, I floundered a bit before meeting the man who has been my husband for the last thirty years and with whom I have raised three amazing humans. I’m just glad I remembered to feed them, and that they all turned out only slightly damaged.

My Writing Journey

Growing up, I always loved to write. I know that’s how most authors start their origin stories, but I was honestly spinning tales for my sisters and kids I babysat before I was in high school. Mine was a life lived vicariously through the characters in my favorite horror, romance, and adventure novels. An overactive imagination inside the mind of a major drama queen inevitably couldn’t just finish a story. What happens next? Do they really live happily ever after? Does the bad guy get punished? How would this end if I was the author?

Of course, the next logical step was to write out what I wanted to see happen. I took creative writing courses in high school and college, and loved every challenge thrown at me. But as so often happens, life takes precedence and writing became something I did only sporadically and just for fun. When my children were older and had their own lives, I joined a local writing group on a whim, and that changed the trajectory of my life.

It sounds dramatic, but I swear it’s the truth.

Every member of that group was welcoming, encouraging, and willing to share their knowledge freely. Through their friendship and generosity, I learned world building and plotting techniques, I read about and practiced writing, joined critique circles and took their comments to heart. I’m still constantly learning and I hope that my skill continues to grow and change with me, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be looking toward having my first novel published in the next year without the help I received along the way.

Three Things You’ll Find in My Book, Call You Mine

  1. Charming, small-town vibes
    The story takes place in a fictional city in central Iowa, full of tree-lined streets, a local pub where everyone knows your name, and a helping hand from your neighbors when you need it most.
  2. Steamy, butterflies-in-the-stomach romance
    Katie literally runs into charming Ben her first night back in town, and sparks fly instantly. Sure, it’s partially from the impact of butting heads, but the electrical charge Katie gets being near Ben proves to be hard to ignore.
  3. Terrifying, heart racing danger
    Katie came home for a reason: to escape a mysterious admirer who had evolved from love letters to desperate, delusional ravings. But her stalker won’t be thwarted by mere distance. He’s followed her to her hometown and comes after her harder than ever, putting everyone she cares about in the crosshairs.

Which Author Would I LOVE to Blurb My Book?

There are many options, of course: Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Brown, Simone St James, Jeneva Rose, Riley Sager. But for me, the ultimate dream would be the Queen of Romantic Suspense herself, Nora Roberts. I’ve always loved her writing, found it to be so rich and sensual. Having her read my work and like it enough to write a blurb for it would probably go along way toward making me spontaneously combust. No, seriously. Literal flames.

My Favorite Compliment

Hm, that’s kind of a tough one. I gobble up every kind word and adore them all, hoarding them like a dragon with its cache of jewels and gold. But the one review that sticks out in my mind came from an editor we submitted my manuscript to earlier this year. She confessed to her boss that she knew she was only supposed to read a couple of chapters, but couldn’t stop at the designated point because she needed to know what happened hext. I heard that and floated away on a dreamy cloud, feeding off that praise for weeks. Favorite compliment ever.

Still with me?

So there’s a little snapshot of who I am, how I got to this point, and what you can expect from me moving forward. The year ahead holds some exciting things for me and my writing career, and I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Now it’s your turn to ask me questions or to tell me what’s on your mind. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me on my social media channels.

Let’s chat!

How to Build a Whole (Fictional) Human

Think about your favorite books, the stories you’ve read over and over again, that have stayed with you long after you’ve finished them. What is it about them that pulls you in? Why do you keep turning the pages?

Sure, sometimes it’s nothing more than morbid curiosity, a need to just get to the end at all costs. Maybe it’s the setting, somewhere exotic or fantastical that takes you to a different world. Any of those may play a part, but for me, it’s all about one thing:

The characters.

Creating imaginary people that the reader truly cares about is a challenge and a whole lot of fun. The reader has to want the good guys to win, to be happy, to get the thing they want most. The villain also has to have you rooting for them: either to get their comeuppance, or to defeat the protagonist. Building a villain is almost as much fun for me as writing the cinnamon-roll men and strong women in my stories. Plus, it’s a great way to exorcise any personal demons by living vicariously through the bad guy on the page.

Not that I do that.

Every author has their own system that works for them, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. My personal process is honestly far less organized and rational than it should be (think Jeremy Bearimy). It probably doesn’t even qualify as a ‘process’, but it works for me.

  • Not gonna lie – I usually start with an imaginary conversation I’ve had inside my head. Whether it’s from a real-life encounter or a ‘what-if’ scenario, what the people say to each other is my first step in building the lives I want to be part of. (And then ultimately destroy, before giving them a happily-ever-after.)
  • Once I have the basic, superficial idea, I dive deeper. Why do they do what they do, want what they want? What do they believe in? There are some fantastic templates out there that help build the backstory. I have the best of intentions when I start one of these character sheets, but I never finish them. Partially because I don’t know the characters very well before the story is written. But mostly because I’m just far too impatient.
  • Creating a villain is one of my favorite things and I frequently cackle maniacally while I breathe life into him or her. This is where my True Crime obsession finally pays off; I start with what the villain does and then work backwards, like a BAU team does. Are they villains because they use unreasonable tactics to do what they think is ‘the right thing’? Is it because they want revenge, love, money? Or are they just sociopaths?

    There are so many delicious possibilities.

Some authors will keep a diary from a character’s point of view, create a vision board, build a playlist, or design a wardrobe. I will search for the picture of an actor, musician, or model who most resembles how I see the character in my mind. ALL of these ways are valid, and brilliant, and useful, and will contribute to the creation of an entire sort-of person.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your process is wrong. Who decides that, anyway? I can pretty much guarantee that no two authors create their characters using the same tools. Find what works for you and stick with it!

What is your process? Do you know everything about your characters before you start or, like me, do you let them tell you about themselves along the way?

Comment below or send me an email and lets talk about it!

 

A humanoid robot artist paints a picture in an art workshop.

Artificial Intelligence in Creativity: Blessing or Curse?

Does anyone else miss the days when artificial intelligence was used strictly for goofing around? Those ridiculous scripts created by feeding 100 hours of romcoms into a system definitely cracked me up, and my son generated some serious fever-dream images by inputting weird phrases into a different program. It was all fun and games, right?

Then the programs started ‘learning’.

I do not claim to know much of anything about AI other than it’s an atomic topic. From my understanding, programs pull bits and pieces of existing works of art or literature or academia to create something ‘new’ and shiny. Do I use it? No. Do I think it can be helpful? Sure.

Do I think it’s a dangerous, slippery slope? One hundred percent yes.

On one hand, work created by other people is being copied and used without permission or acknowledgement in something cobbled together by another person who then takes credit and possibly gets paid for the result. Maybe the people using it don’t realize that’s what’s happening, or they have no idea how to find the author/artist to give credit. No matter what, it’s already a difficult world for artists of any kind, where talent isn’t appreciated or rewarded.

‘Starving artist’ is a well-known phrase for a reason.

On another hand, artificial intelligence can be a useful tool for lightning-fast research and putting a concept into visual form. Programs like ChatGPT will find the information you ask for quickly, and will even build something with the word count and topic emphasis you want. Or if you have a rough idea of the image you want for a book cover but can’t draw to save your life or feel like the artist may not understand what you want, an AI image generator can build your idea visually. People who need to output a lot of content would find this gadget to be a lifesaver.

With a few caveats, of course.

There are limits to what a computer can do, even when using the most advanced AI. Using ChatGPT as an example again, it is limited to only what is available through the internet and will never know everything that humans know. Because it has access to only what has been digitally catalogued, the information generated may be outdated and incorrect. AI doesn’t have common sense or emotional intelligence, and can’t decipher sarcasm or humor. It will draw in ‘facts’ from anything and everything available on the internet – and I mean EVERYTHING. We know how reliable that can be. It doesn’t have the capability to differentiate between an article from The Onion or NPR or some delusional manifesto-writing lunatic.

Is it that helpful if you still have to vet every source? You may as well do your own research from the start.

There are a lot of opinions about using AI, and this is only one, only mine, and only that: an opinion. I can’t say whether we are heading toward humanity’s future as depicted in Disney’s Wall-E or in the Terminator franchise; that remains to be seen. What I can say is that I am going to continue creating the best way I know how and hope that it continues to make me happy.

What do you think about Artificial Intelligence? Is it a god-send or a device from hell? Will it make creating easier or render humans obsolete? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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!

My Favorite Reads of 2021 – So Far

At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to read more, so I got a membership to the Book of the Month Club, joined a book discussion group, and signed up for two different reading challenges.

It has been a formidable task. But also amazing.

I have read – and loved – several books that I normally wouldn’t have given a second glance, including Matthew McConaughey’s autobiography, the first book in the Bridgertons series, a collection of essays on Basquiat’s Defacement, and the haunting The Death of Vivek Oji.

To say my selections have been eclectic is putting it mildly.

Of the twenty-three books I’ve read so far in 2021, these are only a few of my favorites:

  • Rewinder by Brett Battles
    This is an interesting take on time travel and I loved the moral dilemmas the characters faced. In an alternate reality, the United States doesn’t exist, but is still part of the British Empire. With caste systems and a lack of modern technology, the world the main character, Denny, lives in is somewhat bleak. Instead of working in the factory with his father as his place in society dictates, Denny’s intelligence earns him an invitation to become a Rewinder for the Upjohn Institute where he will verify personal histories. But instead of getting stuck in a library with dusty tomes, he is tasked with observing history. In person. As you can guess, decisions made create some fascinating challenges.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
    This trilogy is considered Young Adult, but I have always been a sucker for a good fantasy adventure. I devoured this one in a weekend. Orphaned as an infant when her kingdom of Winter was conquered, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, training to be a warrior. She’s desperately in love with her best friend and future king, Mather, and will do anything to help them return to their home. When she learns that the key to restoring their magic is within reach, she goes after it herself – but the mission doesn’t go as planned. The Winterians are forced to beg for help from another kingdom where she meets the charming Theron. Yes, it’s a teenaged love triangle, and yes, I have a favorite, and NO, I’m not ashamed of that. My only 5 star review this year.
  • Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
    This was a pick of my book club and I loved it. I could see it as a movie as I read, and I would love to see it made! Growing up with a single mother who struggled to keep them afloat through various cons, Nina has plans to leave that life behind with a fancy art history degree. But when her mother gets sick, she starts stealing from rich, spoiled, L.A. brats with her boyfriend, Lachlan. At the same time, heiress Vanessa’s life is thrown off course by family tragedy and she ends up becoming an internet influencer – a life she realizes is shallow and lonely. After a failed engagement, she retreats to her family’s mountain estate, Stonehaven. Nina, Vanessa, and Lachlan’s paths collide here, and the result is a delightfully twisty tale of lies, love, and revenge.
  • The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
    I consumed these three novels via audiobook, and I’m so glad I did. The incomparable Soneela Nankani narrated all three novels, The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, and The Empire of Gold, and she was amazing! The story starts in Cairo, with our heroine Nahri, an orphan with no memory of her past who uses her unsurpassed talents as a con artist just to survive. When she accidentally summons an ancient djinn warrior during one of her cons, she is drawn into a world of magic, danger, and mystery. The warrior brings her to the enchanted city of Daevabad, full of strange creatures, dangerous politics – and a love she can’t have. I adored the characters and my heart broke for the horrible choices each one had to face throughout the three novels. I was satisfied with the ending, but if there’s a spin off following Darayavahoush I wouldn’t be mad…

What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of the books mentioned here? Please leave a comment or send me a message – I’d love to discuss them with you!

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!

Within (Part 4)

I’ve been working on the same novel, making revisions, for such a long time that I needed a little break to stretch my writing ‘legs’, so to speak. There will be a total of 4 installments and I will release a new section each Wednesday. “Within” was a quick short that I thoroughly enjoyed writing – and that I hope you enjoy reading!

~~~~~

With a jolt, I’m back inside my own aching body, the cold of the cinder-block wall I’m propped against seeping into me.  My cheeks are wet, my head is throbbing with every heartbeat, and I feel excruciating pain in parts of my body I’d forgotten still existed. A musty, damp smell seeps into my nostrils, the soft whoosh from the vent the only sound. There’s very little light here, filtering through a grimy plate-glass window on the other side of the room. The walls are painted a dingy white, orange rust stains dripping down from the ceiling. What is this place? Where the hell am I?

I bet Kyle’s out there, on the other side of the glass, waiting for me to scream and cry and throw myself against the walls trying to escape. The energy has been sapped from my body, even moving my head is like trying to shift a boulder.

What the hell did he do to me? Every incident leaves me depleted and weak, but never like this. So, what’s different? He injected me with something. What the hell could do this to me, to Them? God knows I tried to tamp it down, hold the power at bay with anything and everything. Alcohol never worked. Not even ketamine. Whatever this is…I need more.

A creak catches my attention and my eyes focus just as Kyle steps into the room.

“Hello, Desiree.” He shuffles around the edges of the room. “How are you feeling?”

My mouth opens, but I can’t force out any sound. I can’t lift my hand, can’t speak, can’t wiggle a foot; and that knowledge seizes my heart in my chest. But that’s nothing compared to the chill that skitters down my spine at the cruel grin that slithers across his face.

“Very good. Excellent. You’ve been kept on a steady diet of succinylcholine and a lead derivative—my own little concoction—to keep you under control without killing you. It seems to be working very well, indeed. You can see me and hear me and register what’s happening to you, but powerless to do anything about it.” He closes the space between us and is suddenly kneeling in front of me. “Because there are plans for you, Des. Important plans.”

I cast my eyes around the room, anywhere but into his cold eyes, hoping to stave off the tears that are trying to spill out. Just kill me! I want to scream. I know he wants to, I know it as surely as I know I deserve it, and yet here we are. The tips of my fingers start to tingle, a shadow of feeling returning, and my breathing quickens. Kyle sneers.

“Yes, you should be afraid. You see, we don’t just need to know how you do what you do. No, you’re far more useful than that. We’re going to figure out how to harness your mutant power to use against our enemies. I can’t guarantee it won’t hurt…” He pauses to trail a finger along my cheek, then throws his head back and guffaws. “Who the fuck am I kidding? It’s going to hurt. A lot, Desiree. You are going to feel every ounce of pain you deserve and more. And I’m going to enjoy watching all of it.”

His laughter rings off the walls as the pale, violet glow seeps from my skin…

END

Within (Part 3)

I’ve been working on the same novel, making revisions, for such a long time that I needed a little break to stretch my writing ‘legs’, so to speak. There will be a total of 4 installments and I will release a new section each Wednesday. “Within” was a quick short that I thoroughly enjoyed writing – and that I hope you enjoy reading!

~~~~~

“Mama, mama, watch me!”

My heart lurches. Her eyes are bright and she’s smiling as she pumps her little legs to make the swing rise higher and higher. My Lily, my darling girl. I glance around at the park, the bright summer sun, the other families enjoying the playground. How is this happening? The bench I’m sitting on is solid and warm, my hair is even waving in the breeze. Am I dreaming? Or is this yet another way my ‘gift’ manifests?

“Lily, be careful! Don’t go so high!” I jump up from the bench, ready to scoop her off the swing and hug her tiny body in my arms. But a voice over my shoulder stops me cold.

“Just let her be a kid, Desiree. Jesus, you can’t control everything.” Kyle frowns at me as he sits with his hands folded in his lap. “And you can’t keep avoiding me. We have to talk about this and we have to talk now.”

A chill shoots through me from head to toe. I remember this day, and I don’t want to see it again. Please, please, God or whoever—whatever—is doing this to me, don’t make me live through this again. Maybe I’m in Hell. Maybe, by some miracle, I finally died and this is how my eternal torment is going to play out.

Turning to Kyle, I keep one eye on my little Lily-pad, wanting to absorb the details of her, to replace the memory that haunts every second of my existence. “She’s my daughter and you have no right to take her away from me.” The squeak of the rusted chains on the swing provide a sinister soundtrack to the conversation.

“I have every right.” He bares his teeth as he snarls at me. “You’re not well, Des. I don’t know if it’s drugs or schizophrenia or if you’re just fucking around because you hate me and want to torture me, but Lily is seven years old and shouldn’t have to deal with your lunatic ravings.”

Spying his new wife lurking on the edge of the park, a fire builds in my chest and I wrench my arm free. “I’m not crazy, you asshole. Something is happening to me, if you’d just listen—”

“Mommy, Daddy, look at me now! I’m touching the sky!”

“Wow! Look at you go!” Kyle beams the brightest, most charming smile at our daughter before he turns his attention back to me, his face twisting. How does he do that so quickly? I can feel the hatred wafting off him. “She deserves stability. She shouldn’t have to grow up scared of what you might do to her. Just let her go, for her own good. Jenna and I can give her everything she needs, and you know it.”

“Except her mother. She needs me, Kyle.”

He steps back and crosses his arms. “No, she doesn’t. Jenna will love her better and more than you are even capable of right now.” The smile that spreads over his handsome features chills me to the bone. “Besides, it’s already done. The judge signed the paperwork this morning, based on your own psychiatrist’s recommendations and my tear-filled testimony. That’s why I’m here. Lily is coming home with us, and your parental rights have been terminated, effective immediately.”

My hands start to tingle, then tremble, the vibrations running up my arms. “No…you can’t do this to me, Kyle, you can’t do this to Lily!” My breathing becomes erratic, blood rushing to my head as I struggle to remain in control.

No! Don’t do it! Stop it, fight it, don’t let this happen! I scream into the memory, but everything is unfolding exactly as it did that day. I’m as powerless now as I was then.

Pushing past me, Kyle calls to our daughter in a bright voice. “Hey, Lily-pad! It’s time to go! Jenna and I are going to take you home with us and we’ll order pizza for dinner and watch a movie. How does that sound?”

I snatch at his arm, trying to hold him back. “No. No, Kyle, please. I’ll do anything! Just don’t take her away from me!” My whole body is shuddering and Kyle knows it. He slaps my hand away and rounds on me with a sneer.

“Get a grip, Des, and keep your fucking theatrics to yourself. No one here is buying it.”

“Kyle, no, it’s real!” I shove my hands in my pockets to quell the electricity that’s building in them, the purple glow that’s pooling in my palms. I call them nightmares, but I’ve seen what I can do in my waking hours. “It’s not me. I have no control over Them, I swear on my life! You can’t take her, you just can’t!”

Clouds are swirling into view, obscuring the sun as a frigid wind picks up. I can’t hold Them back anymore and They tear through the thin material of my hoodie, writhing in the air. Kyle stumbles backwards, his upper lip curled back, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“Mama! Are you watching? Look how high I’m going!”

The purple tentacles burst out of my hands and straight toward Kyle, but he ducks, just in time. They shoot over his head and straight into Jenna’s mouth, her jaw dropped low.

“No!” Kyle rushes toward his young wife, heedless of the waving death as it retreats from her body, but we both know it’s too late. He rounds on me, a guttural scream ripping from his throat, and he charges.

I can’t move, take a step, get out of his path. He leaps at me, arm outstretched, and the first I see the blade is when it plunges into my shoulder, inches away from ending me. But no sooner does the weapon find purchase, then a massive shockwave emanates from me, catapulting Kyle a hundred yards away.

I block out the searing pain in my shoulder and cry a warning to Lily, screaming at her to run. The clouds chase each other in the darkening sky and I can feel the pressure building. I watch, helpless, as my Lily clutches at her throat, gasping for air, and tumbles off the swing to the mound of woodchips below.

I scream. Every fiber of my being is screaming for my daughter, begging for her to be spared, seconds before her fragile little body is torn to shreds.

Page 1 of 7