Saturday, December 26, 2009

On piracy and free fiction

I've recently read a few blogs and articles by authors complaining about the fact that fiction is being pirated online in much the same way that music and movies have been being pirated (wow, that's a crappy sentence construction. And I call myself a writer. Yuck.) for the past few years.

Today, while working on some stuff for the science fiction book I'm trying to write (fingers crossed, people. I'm REALLY excited about this one, which means I won't say anything else about it. This writer's block has been KILLING me.) I stumbled across a google books result for Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. After reading the excerpt, I determined that the book was pretty sound and that I'd like to read the whole thing. Of course, child of the 21st century that I am, I wanted to read it NOW, not in a week. So I checked out Amazon--no Kindle edition. I just downloaded Kindle for PC, and I dig it. Saddened, but still not willing to order the book and wait for it to ship to me, I googled the title and ebook. About five search results in, I was directed to megaupload.

And there it was. The whole book. For free. Just waiting for me to wait 45 seconds and then click the download button.

What did I do? Did I say to myself, "Now Valerie, if you download this book, you'll be cheating poor Mr. Card out of his $.45 royalty. Don't do it!"

Um, of course I didn't. (And I also know that had I actually bought the print book, I would have bought it used, so Mr. Card would never have actually gotten his royalty anyway.) This, of course, begs the question, how would I feel if I knew that readers were downloading my stuff for free and not paying me.

On some levels, this is kind of silly. After all, Breathless and Tortured are available for free online. Trembling and Mischief aren't, but they will both eventually be available for free. Since I do provide free content, I can't get too bent out of shape when it's offered for free somewhere else.

In fact, Breathless's pdf versions have been uploaded to both scribd and wattpad. In neither case was I asked before the versions appeared, nor has the person who did it contacted me. Furthermore, if I google my name, I run into someone who's asked on yahoo answers where to download Trembling for free.

Overall, this does not bother me. It makes me feel pretty excited, actually. The scribd business is further exposure for my book. More people get to read it. Yay! The business about someone trying to "steal" Trembling just makes me feel like I've arrived. I look at it this way. There are people out there who are so into my work that they are making it available on alternate sources or looking for it. Either way, these people are investing time in my product. Time is valuable, like money. A person who invests time in my product is a fan. I can use as many fans as I can get.

(That's not to say that I don't wish the scribd stuff would link back to my page. I do.)

The way I figure it, if a person is going to take the time and effort to figure out how to download your book for free, that person wasn't ever going to spend money on you anyway. At least this way, I get a reader.

Furthermore, in the case of indie authors like myself, I doubt that many people even KNOW WHO I AM. Let alone try to "steal" my books. The more people "stealing," I figure, the more people buying.

Overall, you can't fight this kind of technology. You HAVE to embrace it. If you don't, you become Lars from Metallica, who I used to find really attractive. Oddly enough now, I really, really don't.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The year in self-publishing

It's been a little over sixth months since I decided to give this indie publishing model a go. What have I learned?

A-When people tell you that self-publishing fiction doesn't make you any money, BELIEVE THEM. Seriously. :)

B-Writing for an audience is about seventy zillion times more rewarding than writing stuff to send to agents and then shelve indefinitely. Rejection letters don't prompt you to get words on a page. Myspace comments exclaiming that your novel is better than best-selling novels do. :)

C-Serial fiction may be the current model that everybody and his brother is going for, but it doesn't work for me.

A (expanded)--Here's my money earned from my books this year. Okay, first, the expenses: $275 for a block of ten ISBNs from Bowker. $40 for the Pro Plan from Creatspace x 4 = $160. $20 for registering my domain name and for web hosting service for the year. For a total of: $455. Darned cheap, if I do say so myself. :)

Earnings: Createspace & Amazon (print books): $273.62. Kindle earnings: $56.54. Smashwords earnings: $307.32. For a total of: $637.48.

Meaning that my total net profit is.... $182.48.

Do I have to mention the $1.50 I've earned in ad revenue from Project Wonderful?

There you have it kids. Writing doesn't pay bills. :P

C (expanded)--I've decided not to post my books as serials anymore. There are two reason for this. The first is that my books are not serials. I never wrote them to be broken up into chapters and posted piecemeal on the internet. I wrote them to be read all at once. (In one sitting, if you've got the time. I certainly aim to make them as page-turny as possible.) Breaking them up into episodes, I think, only serves to stunt the forward motion of the plot, and does next to nothing for the experience of the book.

The second reason is that posting serials is a little tiring. Updating twice a week may not seem like a big deal, and honestly, most of the time, it isn't, but it does mean that I'm constantly trying to think about the book that I'm updating. It divides my mind between the book that I'm marketing and the one that I'm writing. (Well, okay, I haven't written a book since Tortured, but, still, theoretically...) Anyway, I feel like if I weren't constantly trying to update my website, I could spend more time writing, which is important, because that's the whole reason I have a website in the first place.

So...what to do? I'm going to play with some ideas, but what I'd like to be able to do is this: Keep all the J&A books up for free on the site. Post 50% previews of Mischief, Death Girl, and Brighter. Leave the website like that for...months. So, if you like the new books, you can buy them. If someone new stumbles across the site, they've got three free books to read. As I get some new stuff written, I'll transition the preview books to free books.

I'll be starting an email list for those people who'd like to receive updates from me. That way, once you've read everything I've posted, you can go on your merry way until I send you an email, telling you that a new book is up.

On the marketing front, I'm toying with the idea of allowing my readers to help me market. Some people, I understand, don't have the money to buy new fiction. So, if you'll instead plug my stuff--write blogs, facebook notes, reviews on Amazon and smashwords, etc--then I'll send you free ebooks. I haven't worked out the details on that yet, but it will be coming soon.

So, that's it. The year in self-pubbing. It's been an adventure guys. 2010 is going to be even cooler.

Friday, December 18, 2009

OMG--Chuck Bass as Heathcliff (I think I can die happy)

So...I'm really behind the news here. (This broke in May apparently), but check it out:


Okay, remember the scene last season when Chuck was completely drunk and had all this facial hair growth and he was standing on the edge of a building and Blair was all like, "Chuck, I love you," and Chuck was all angsty and gorgeous?

Okay, yeah. Channel that. Now put Chuck (Okay Ed Westwick) in Victorian clothing, transport him to the moors, and if that doesn't leave you salivating...then I just can't find it in myself to understand you.

Wuthering Heights movie with Ed Westwick?? Hell, yeah. Count me in!!

(And wait till I tell my AP students about this. They know how much I love Gossip Girl, and I just subjected them to three weeks of Wuthering Heights.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Website Issues-Episode 12

I'm having off and on issues with the website. Don't know why. I think it's Dream Host.

Anyway, here's episode 12:

episode twelve

Chapter Twelve

September 5, 1990

Arabella Hoyt has opened my eyes. In the time we spent with her, I have realized that I have been completely wrong about everything I thought about Ted. He has used me. He destroyed me. And the thing that may be growing inside me is not a force of good. It is a force of pure evil. I have been deceived. I must do what I can to end this horridness.

Jason sat up straight in bed. "Did you hear that?"

I was up too. It was midmorning. The sun was up. Streams of light came in through the narrow windows, drawing bright rectangles on the floor.

Jason was on his feet, shrugging into a shirt and checking to make sure his gun was loaded. I followed suit. I wished my hair was longer. I would have liked to pull it back into a ponytail. Instead, I just shoved it behind my ears. Our guns drawn, we crept to our door. Jason kept me behind him as he opened the door. The hallway outside our room was silent. We listened again.

"I heard shooting," Jason said to me.

"So did I," I said, peering around him.

We listened. There wasn't any noise now, but it wasn't dead silent. We could hear the sounds of the streets coming from behind us. Cars beeping. People chattering in Italian as they passed by. But within the monastery, we heard nothing. Jason pulled the door shut.

"What do we do?" I asked.

"Maybe nothing's wrong," said Jason. "Maybe it was a firework or a car backfiring or something."

"Maybe," I said.

Another gunshot. A scream.

"No," I said. "That was a gun."

"Yeah," said Jason. He took a deep breath. "Okay, then. Say goodbye to your clothes."

I glared at him. "Are we going to try to go out the front door?"

"Don't see why not," he said.

I grabbed a bag and shoved some clothes and one of the laptops into it. "Let's just try to take some stuff with us, okay?"

"Whatever," said Jason. "Let's go."

He opened the door again and we eased out of the room. Our backs against the wall (well, my stuffed-full bag against the wall, anyway), we crept down the hall, holding our guns. We didn't see anyone.

Our room was relatively close to the entrance. We only had to go down one hall, make a left, and then we'd be right at the door. We moved quickly but cautiously, glancing around for danger. At the end of the hallway, Jason stopped me. He peered around, gun out.

We heard another gunshot, much closer now.

Jason snapped back around the corner. "The Sons," he reported.

"You can see them?" I asked.

"They're at the entrance," he said. "They shot a bunch of monks."

"Oh my God," I breathed. "I thought we were safe here. I thought this whole city was sanctuary."

"They attacked us in a church before," said Jason. "I don't think sanctuary much matters where we're concerned."

"How many?" I asked.

"I don't know," said Jason. "But a lot. Maybe twenty. And who knows if they don't have reinforcements waiting somewhere."

"Should we kiss and try to drive them crazy?" I asked, trying to make a joke.

Jason grabbed me by the neck and kissed me fiercely. "No," he said, pulling back. "I think we should look for a back door."

He grabbed my hand, and we fled back down the hall. It had been a while since Jason and I had lived in this monastery. Still, we knew our way around pretty well. I didn't remember there being a back door, though. "What back door are you talking about?" I asked Jason.

He shot a look over his shoulder as we ran. "The kitchen," he said. "There's a door in the kitchen."

"Well, we're going the wrong way!" I said.

Jason yanked me to the right, hard, and we emerged in the cloister. The cloister was a covered walkway that surrounded a square courtyard. I pointed across the courtyard to the other side of the monastery. "The kitchen is over there," I said.

"Yeah," said Jason. "We're going across the courtyard." And he pulled me along with him.

More gunshots echoed from inside the monastery. Jason and I scurried across the courtyard and back inside the monastery. We emerged in a small hallway. The door to the kitchen was right in front of us. We could hear the sound of screams from the main entrance. Jason threw the door open, and we rushed inside.

We were greeted by the sight of several ex-members of the Council cowering in front of the sink. At the sight of us, they immediately bowed their heads. Geez. They were in fear for their lives, and they were still doing the bowing thing?

Jason pulled me forward. "Ignore them," he said. We headed for the door.

"Don't!" said one of the ex-Council members.

"They've sealed off all the exits," said another.

Jason stopped short as we saw that there was body in front of our exit. Immediately, he pulled me away from it. We clattered into the stove. He addressed the ex-Council members. "They're outside the door?" he asked.

They nodded. "Briggs tried to get out. They shot him."

"This is sanctuary," said Jason. "What is Hoyt thinking?"

"We think they're going to go through every room and just shoot everyone," said another ex-Council member. "It's Hoyt's way of showing us what he'll do if we stand up to him."

"They're looking for us, though, right?" I said.

They nodded.

"Jason, we've just got to go engage," I said.

"What?" he said.

"They're killing all these people because of us. We can't just let them die."

"No, it is an honor to give our lives in your service," said one of the ex-Council members.

"Maybe for you," I conceded. These guys were messed up in the head. "But not for the monks here. They don't want to die for us."

"It's screwed up," said Jason. "We should have gone to freaking Africa!"

"Jason, we can't let them shoot monks!"

"There are twenty of them at the main entrance. Who knows how many of them are surrounding the monastery," said Jason. "We go out there shooting, we could maybe take down half of them. But not all of them. They'll kill us."

I sighed. He was right. But it was sickening the amount of people who had been killed in the crossfire of this hunt for Jason and me. At the Sol Solis School, it was one thing. At least those men had been Brothers, trained to fight and prepared for dangerous situations. These monks, however, were peaceful. They'd offered us a place to stay. They'd hidden us. I leaned against the stove, scratching at the bandage on my arm. It was still itchy.

That reminded me that the bandage hadn't been changed recently. I planned to do it this morning. I hoped it wasn't getting infected. I tried to examine my wound through the bandage.

"Don't play with that," Jason said.

I dropped my arm, studying the gun in my hand. I'd already been shot once by the Sons. I didn't think I wanted to be gunned down, even if it meant that they stopped shooting monks. I was lucky they hadn't killed me at the prom—

Lucky. "Jason," I said. "How likely is it that one of the Sons would miss a shot? You know how the Brothers are trained. If you meant to shoot someone in the head, would you miss and shoot them in the arm?"

Jason looked at me like I was crazy. "If I shoot someone in the arm, it's because I meant to shoot them in the arm," he said.

I held up my arm. "Why didn't they kill me? I was standing in the open. I was an easy target."

Jason's eyes narrowed. "That is weird," he admitted. "I was so glad you were alive, I never thought to question it."

"Maybe they're not trying to kill us," I said. "It's only hearsay that they are."

"So then, what are they doing?" Jason said. "Why are they here with guns, shooting everything in sight?"

I didn’t know. I had no idea.

"Even if they don't want us dead," said Jason, "they aren't trying to do anything nice to us."

No. I guessed they weren't. I sighed. "So, I guess we try to get out of here."

"There was another plan?"

No. It was just that I had wanted to minimize the violence, somehow. Keep people alive. I turned to the ex-Council members. "How many of them do you think are at the door?"

They shrugged. They didn’t know.

Were there more at the entrance than at this door?

They thought so. Probably.

"So," said Jason, seeing where I was going with this. "You think we should just try to shoot ourselves out of this door?"

I shrugged. "Unless you have a better idea."

We surveyed the door. It opened into the kitchen, which wasn't great. If it had opened out onto the street, we might have been able to use it as a shield. Maybe. It was a wooden door, after all. It wasn't exactly impervious to bullets. We decided to stay low. We figured the Sons outside would assume that whoever was opening the door was standing. So we would lie flat, our guns out. Jason would reach up and open the door a few inches, just enough so that we could see what we were dealing with. From there, we'd just have to see what happened.

First we had to drag Briggs' body away from the door. His wound left a smear of blood on the floor. We were going to have to lie on the blood smear. Gross.

Jason and I got in position. He reached up for the knob and eased the door open. Almost immediately, there was a volley of gunfire, but it went over our heads. So far, so good.

I was watching through the opening of the door as Jason pulled it open. Quickly, I assessed the situation. There were seven members of the Sons in the street. I shot as soon as I had a clear view. Carefully aiming, and remembering to breathe, I squeezed off three shots. They hit home perfectly. Three head shots. The men I'd hit crumpled to the ground. Jason was with me. He shot the other four.

Well. That had been easy.

We scrambled to our feet and out the door. Jason pulled it shut behind us.

"It's them! It's them!" yelled a voice.

And Jason and I were immediately swarmed by at least ten more members of the Sons. We opened fire.

They were everywhere, coming from all sides of the building. Some had been hiding behind cars. Others had been on the roof of the monastery. I got off several good shots. Jason got off even more than me. We took down at least five more of them. But there were so many.

Then someone kicked the gun out of my hand and someone else tackled me from behind. I went down on the ground, my chin skidding against stone. I bit my tongue and tasted blood in my mouth. I cried out.

They were on my back, handcuffing my arms and feet.

I twisted, looking for Jason. He was fighting with a group of men who were on him, slinging punches everywhere. "Azazel!" he yelled to me.

"Jason!" I screamed.

The Sons who had me hoisted me into the air. Two men had my feet and another three held my head and upper torso. They were taking me away. "Jason!" I screamed again.

The last image I saw of him was the Sons finally overpowering him and forcing him to the ground. He was struggling and yelling my name. I strained at the handcuffs. I tried to wrench my head so that I could bite at the hands of the men who held me. But I was trapped. We rounded a corner. I couldn't see him anymore.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What is Web Fiction?

Jan Oda tries to tackle this crazy subject:

Check out the link:

And, honestly, if you're into reading on the web, you owe yourself to subscribe to this new e-zine she's put together. :)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Serial or not to Serial??

Today has been a particularly refreshing day. Thanks to the wisdom of Victoria Nelson's On Writer's Block, I think I may be making some headway in my block.

Nelson's thesis is that a block is actually a message from your subconscious telling you that you need to change something about the way you are working. In my case, I think that I'd been using writing as a place to run away from the rest of my problems for a long time. Maybe years. So I couldn't control my job, relationship, (or lack of relationship at certain points) or social life. I could sure as heck control my novel, darn it.

It was only recently that my subconscious put up a block. "No," it said. "I'm not doing this anymore. Go face your other problems. I can't play in this much pain." And so, this morning, I actually spent some time facing what was going on in my life. And after looking at it head on and crying a good bit, I suddenly felt waaay better. Like better than I have felt in a really long time. I've spent the whole day actually feeling comfortable in my skin. I cannot tell you how relieving that is.

Anyway, one of the things that I think my subconscious is trying to tell me about my writing is that my subconscious does not want to write serials. Jason and Azazel were not written as a serial. They were written as books--a trilogy. I've chopped them into chapters and put them up piecemeal, mostly because I thought that was how internet publication was done.

I'm starting to think that's not the best idea for me. For one thing, I'm not sure that I particularly like the format. I don't particularly like to write about the same characters for a really long time, and I don't write indefinite story lines. I'm much more comfortable in a novel format. Furthermore, I don't like to READ serials. When I like a book, I want to get into it--read the whole thing in a few sittings. that end, I'm thinking about experimenting with various kinds of publication models.

One thing I want to try is posting an entire book online for free, and having it available on Smashwords as a free download for ebook devices. I'll see if I can get donations for that. Even if not, I think the free book will serve as an advertisement for other stuff that you have to pay for.

Another thing I may do is to post half of a book for free on my site and then tell people to buy it if they want the rest.

A model for something like this might consist of two new books a year, which is a pace I THINK I can live with but am not sure. Certainly, the pressure of trying to get Poisonlands together was really getting to me. Whether this was because it was a format I really didn't like or whether it was because I was pressured by the idea of deadlines, I'm not sure.

What not serializing would do is free me up to concentrate on marketing, blogging, etc. I need to find a real niche for this blog, so that it can kind of function as its own entity and bring in some revenue as well.

What are your thoughts? Do you like serials? How do you like to read books?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I have finished the first episode of Poisonlands.

I have never been so proud of myself for writing something in my life.


(Does this mean my writer's block is cured?? Please God, say yes.)

So, a little about the idea behind Poisonlands. It's really intended to be a web serial, in the truest sense of the world. It revolves around about eleven beats or episodes, all of which are broken into four parts. Posting two parts a week, it will take two weeks to get through one episode.

This means that the first "season" of Poisonlands should run for about 22 weeks or 5 1/2 months. MUCH longer than the books in the J & A trilogy, which are currently running about two months to completely serialize.

Probably, I will sell the episodes individually, for .99 a pop. This may not work--after all, it didn't for Stephen King. So, I'm toying with how to make the entire season available. I don't plan to publish it in print, and I'm not sure if people would pay like $9 for an ebook???

If it takes off, and if I can conceivably play about in this world long enough, there will be more seasons.

Anyway, yay me. I plan to reward myself in some fashion, probably by using food. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I've been interviewed!!

Check it out:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Time to Dance with the One that Brung Ya?

I'm not making any promises (not even to myself), but I did spend last night working on a new outline for (of all things) Poisonlands. That's right, the web serial that I had about as much interest in working on as my lesson plans. :P

I don't know. I think if I can actually get my butt in gear, it could be cool. I've just finished reading Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty, and holy strawberries, Batman! That was a great book!! Heck, it was too cool to really write about. Suffice it say, there is no real plot to speak of, but I was somehow glued to the page. I kind of really want to dive into the sequel, but it's about 9:00 now, and I need to go to bed soon, so I think I'm going to do a little work of some kind on Poisonlands. (Don't know if I'm ready for drafting quite yet...still, this planning leads to outline block, so...) Maybe an hour. Then I'll curl up with the sequel in my bed.

Wishing you all sweet dreams. And don't forget to check out episode six tomorrow. Jude's back, but for how long??

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay, let's call a spade a spade

Well, boys and girls, it's official. I have writer's block. Yup, the bad kind. Not the if-I-just-do-a-few-writing-exercises-everything-will-be-fine kind. I am a bit of a mess lately, as was evidenced when last night, the discussion of the latest idea I had sent me into a fit of tears and left me angry with my boyfriend for reasons that are not his fault.

Why is all this happening? Well, the sad fact of the matter is, this is happening because of my job. I haven't talked about this online, because this is a public blog, and I was concerned that any initial reaction on my part to it could create further problems for me at work. But the dust seems to have settled a bit, so I feel okay about writing.

Some parents of my students went poking around on my website and seemed to get a little worried about the mention of Satanism in my bio, the pentagram on the front of Breathless, and the fact that like the third word of the manuscript is crotch. They called the school board. My principal discussed it with me and we decided the best course of action was to not discuss the website with students, refer them to the school website instead of mine, and I made a decision that while students can read outside books for extra credit, they could not read mine, because that would be unethical.

The thing about teaching is that it's a delicate balance. I've always tried to keep my personal life as separate from teaching as possible. After all, I've always been intensely worried about being able to control a classroom if they knew I drank an occasional beer in bar in town on the weekends. They'd never listen to me again!!

And now, with students coming up to me in the hallways and saying things like, "So I hear you're a Satanist," I'm beginning to feel like that thin line that is keeping everyone in line is about to snap. I hate it.

On the one hand, I don't want to not write what I write. But every time I have an idea, I keep thinking, "I can't post that on the internet. If they read that, they might think this about me."

What I need to do is somehow reconcile myself with my job. After all, writing is my hobby. It doesn't pay the bills. I need to continue teaching. It's a good job, and on most days I like it. But I've got to figure out how to be an effective teacher and keep writing. I can't be dodging questions like, "Do you think underage drinking is okay?" on a daily basis.

Anyway, until the paranoia fades, I can't promise I'll have anything new in the spring. I will be serializing Mischief in January. (with big warning signs saying that the book is intended for people 18 and older.)

As a final note, if you are a parent of one of my students and you're reading this blog, please believe that there is no part of me that in any way ever has wanted to damage your child. I only want my students to succeed. And I want them to learn to think. I think the only way they can do this is by being exposed to lots and lots of different ideas. Your child really can't be hurt by an idea. Or some words on a page. I swear. The actions your children take will be their own responsibility. And no book or website or teacher will ever force them to do something wrong. But the only way they're going to be able to determine right from wrong is if we teach them to think for themselves.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Idea Block '09 Continues!!

In the past three weeks, I have toyed with (and discarded) several ideas. One was about a girl who knew this boy, who it turned out was actually a prince in another dimension where they had three-foot insects and creepy frog characters. (Okay, it was cooler than it sounds. I swear.)

One was to write a whole bunch of short stories retelling various fairy tales. Sleeping Beauty was going to be a heroin addict and Cinderella a teenage runaway.

One was to do something like Twin Peaks, with a soap-opera kind of mystery story in a small town.

One was to do something set in college.

As you can see, my ideas have gotten less and less filled in as time goes on.


I've never experienced this before. I've had writer's block before. That's when I sit down and stare at a blank screen, and I can't put words together. This is not writer's block. It is idea block.

And it's not going away.

The worst thing that could happen is that I can't get anything finished to start serializing after Mischief goes up in early '10. Then I'll probably lose my audience and disappear into internet obscurity, my chance at making it as a writer ruined.

Okay, well, I'm being melodramatic, I guess. I just for the life of me can't figure out what I want to write about. Why don't I know this? And what's worse, I really, really want to be writing. I really do. But I can't. I can't. I can't. Ah, the curse of being creative.

You know, we writers are not quite as whimsical and superstitious a breed as some other groups of creative people--like painters or musicians. We're not exactly the type who sits around waiting for the muse to strike. We set page goals. We keep graphs. We're organized people, able to balance our left and right brains. So when something this utterly right brained happens to me, I really have no idea what to do with myself.

Say a prayer to whatever deity you worship for me. And if you don't worship a deity, then just concentrate on sending some positive energy my way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tortured is a cursed book!!

It's like Macbeth, which a cursed play.

Anything that can go wrong while working on this book will!!!

First of all, it was hell to draft. Then when I was getting ready to submit my files to createspace, there was an enormous debacle with lost files which happened because of my computer turning off suddenly. GRR.

Then--I get the files to createspace and order a proof. The proof doesn't come. So I call createspace, and they're like, "Hmm... It seems like there's a problem on our side." They work on it, and I finally get a proof today. Which would be bad enough, considering the book is slated to be published November 2nd.


So, I get the proof and it looks really, really, really awful. I think I've got to pick a new cover image for the book. Which means I've got to change the cover image for kindle and my website. ARGH!!!!

It's days like this that self-publishing seems like the stupidest decision I ever made.

Right now I'm listening to the Beatles,and trying to calm down. I'm going to try to get as productive as I can between now and bedtime. I'll get what I can done, and I'll do my best to publish the book by 11/2. If worst comes to worse, the first episode will go live and the whole book won't be available for another week.

Sooo frustrated currently.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Wow. I really liked this book and then I hated it.

I should say that I went into it with very little in the way of what it was going to be about. So I was completely surprised when it turned out to be a book about a girl who was a cheerleader--but hated it, and began dating a guy who had dreadlocks and smoked pot as her escape. Their romance was sweet and engaging, and I was shocked. This book was edgy and out there and really, really amazing.

Then, out of the blue, her dreadlocked boyfriend starting hitting her.

Yeah. Really. Out of the blue.

I told myself yesterday as I was reading it that I was pissed off because a guy with dreadlocks was automatically abusive. How revoltingly stereotypical. And yes, cheerleading was the better option. Gah.

Then I told myself it was because she had it all wrong. Guys didn't actually start abusing girls out of the blue. It was a careful, selective process that began when they met you. They sized you up, figured out your weaknesses, probed them, and then began assaulting them in their attempt to control you. They were geniuses that way and I knew all about it. And it's true that Dessen has clearly never been in an abusive relationship. She simply doesn't get it. She maybe couldn't get it if it had never happened to her. And I have never been physically abused, so maybe I don't understand it either.

But I realized that it wasn't about either of those things. That wasn't the reason I hated the book. I hated the book because of a silly, structural, story-telling kind of thing. I hated it because the main character is rescued by an outside force. There was a deus ex machina in the form of her parents finding the guy hitting her. Afterwards, she was carted off to a recovery center. And then pages and pages of boring info later... The End.

No. Stories shouldn't work this way. The protagonist always has to save herself. If someone else saves her, it doesn't work.

(Which frankly makes me a bit nervous about Breathless, considering the end of that story could easily be considered a deus ex machina as well. Cringe.)

Someone might argue that a battered girlfriend can't save herself--that outside influence has to help. I would disagree. A battered girlfriend is the only one who can save herself.

An abusive guy twists your mind until you believe two things: 1) Whenever he hurts you, it is your fault. 2) You cannot survive without him.

See, he tells you you're flawed. He tells you that you need him to help correct those flaws. And once that stuff is ingrained in your head, you could be dragged away by wild horses and you'd still go back to him. No, something within you has to wake up, somehow. You have to somehow realize that what he's told you isn't true. And then you have to take yourself back, one piece at a time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just remembered this story I was kicking around in June

So I looked up my notes on it. Here's what I've got.

Rick didn't talk. Rick and Rose weren't friends. How were you supposed to be friends with someone who didn't talk?

Being burned alive
Having something happen that would hurt someone you love and having to watch
Impending loss of a limb

Dude. I have no idea what I was going for there...

But I think it does convey a bit of a mood if nothing else.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What do I do next?

Sigh. Well, Tortured is off being bound and printed, and hopefully a proof will arrive in my post office box Monday or Tuesday. Looks like I just have a few more ducks to herd into rows before The Jason and Azazel Trilogy officially needs very little of my time anymore besides popping a new chapter up on the screen every Monday and Thursday.

Which means it's time to figure out what to do next.

I've got an outline and the first ten pages of Poisonlands, my intended next project, a serial that's intended to function like a serial, with twelve episodes (published in biweekly in four 10-page chunks). The plan with Poisonlands is to post the first part of the episode and then allow people to "read it first" by paying .99 for the whole thing (about 40 pages-ish of text) via smashwords or kindle. Of course, it will be free for the reading for everyone who doesn't mind waiting.

This seems like a good plan. Only problem is that I've got about as much interest in writing Poisonlands as I have in writing lesson plans, which is to say, not much. I'm not sure why. I dig the idea, which is a kind of remix of Matheson's I Am Legend with some teen romance thrown in for fun and a dollop of Lost Boys atmosphere.

Truth is, I don't know if I still want to be writing young adult fiction. I like young adult fiction, but I'm not sure how many times I can write about some different character losing her virginity before I start parodying myself. On top of that, I was just starting to kind of get good at writing sex scenes, and I'd like to write one again at some point. One with actual of-age people who aren't having awkward, weird sex.

On the one hand, I know that my current audience is made up of a lot of teenagers. So I feel a little bad about suddenly dropping something else on them. I'm afraid of losing them. On the other hand, I'm afraid of writing young adult fiction forever because I'm afraid that I'll never get any adult readers. And, let's face it, teenagers grow out of the books they read when they were teenagers. And maybe the authors too...

The truth of the matter is, all that's bunk. Really, I wouldn't care what I was posting as long it was something that I was really enjoying writing. If I love it, then I believe in it, hands down. And I don't know what to write about. I want an idea that makes my fingers itch to be typing it. And I don't have one.

So the current plan is to serialize Mischief, starting in 2010. Hopefully, that will buy me enough time to figure out what to do next. Plus, it will get some more people to buy Mischief, and hopefully sell some copies. I think Mischief has sold like 5 copies all told.

Not that it really matters, because you can't write for other people, you have to write for yourself, but what do you want to read? If I could write something just for you, what would it be? You never know, maybe it'll spark something.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vampire Diaries Season 1 Episode 4

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something pretty surprising. The Vampire Diaries is good. And I'm not just talking good-for-teen-vampire-show-on-the-CW good, but actually, really good.

This last episode had a lot of nice stuff going on in it. One thing that I think the show is doing right--and not getting credit for--is actually being creepy. There's a lot of talk lately about how much it sucks that vampires aren't scary anymore. I may address this topic later in another blog, when I can give it the attention it deserves, but for now I'll just say that's probably because everything a vampire represents (dangerous sexuality, basically) isn't exactly timely. We don't live in a sexually repressed society. Sex isn't as scary as it used to be. (I'm thinking about writing a book in the opposite direction, actually. An adult horror novel about monsters who steal sexual appetite. I think it might resonate with people. I know it's something that scares me.)

But back to the show. The episode starts off nicely, with a bit of humor. Williamson throws in several glib references to popular culture in a very Scream-like fashion. Damon is lying in bed reading one of the Twilight books and criticizing Edward for being whipped. If I know Williamson, this almost surely means that Damon will be "whipped" in the episodes to come. His characters always criticize fictional characters and then find themselves in similar situations. It's smart, and I don't care who thinks the show is dumb. That was a witty, smart moment.

We're still giggling, and the show immediately switches to an uncomfortable creep-factor moment. Damon pins Caroline to the bed and begins tenderly kissing her. In a little-girl voice, she asks, "Are you going to kill me?" Damon smiles. "Yes," he tells her sweetly. "But not yet." Caroline giggles.

Augh. Just tell me that doesn't give you the chills?

The episode moves at a nice pace plotwise, twisting the existence of each of the characters a little bit. We start to learn that Caroline has a mother who she's trying to shock, that the jerk-wad Tyler might have a little depth after all, considering his mom's a rich bitch, and we see Elena begin to notice that there's something really weird going on with both Stefan and Damon. Furthermore, Bonnie's witch powers are growing. In an unsettling scene, she accidentally lights all the candles in the room with her mind.

But maybe the best thing the show has going for it is the final scene reveal--there are a group of vampire hunters in town. And they know that something's up!

I'm also still really enjoying the fact that Stefan is weakened by the fact he doesn't drink human blood. I think it's a nice plot twist. It raises the stakes that much higher.

Honestly, this show is really good. I didn't think it would be. At all. But I like it. I actually really, really like it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sticking with the CW on Thursdays

Well, I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised with the way things are shaping up on both The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. Despite relatively rocky starts, the shows are into their third episodes, and I'm definitely entertained.

First up, The VD. Oh. That's not a good abbreviation, is it? Well, as I said earlier, the best part of this show really is Damon Salvatore, the evil vampire brother of Stefan. But I have to admit, I'm finding Paul Wesley more attractive as the series goes on. When he's not brooding, he's actually pretty hot. He has a nice smile. I'm digging it.

The show certainly isn't going for any original story lines here, but it's tough to resist a familiar story if it's done well. Damon is so deliciously bad, it's lovely. Actually, he reminds me a bit of the character from Williamson's short-lived Hidden Palms named Cliff Wiatt, who was easily the best thing about that show too. Unfortunately, Williamson couldn't figure out how to keep that show on track. Plus, it got pushed into the summer by some show about the Pussycat Dolls, and I'm sure that didn't help matters much.

Anyway, here's hoping that this time around, Williamson can keep his bad boy in the spotlight. Damon is devious. He's sucking blood from one of Elena's best friends and hypnotizing her into forgetting it. He's trying to sabotage Elena's relationship with Stefan, and because he's so good at what he does, part of you is rooting for him. You want Elena to give into Damon, even though you know he's so, so bad. Ooh. That's awesome, and it gives me chills.

If the show can keep up that delicate balance of tension, I won't be able to stop watching it for anything.

Supernatural isn't in a bad place either. Dean and Sam are separated, which I like. It's a good twist, and it builds on what has happened to them in earlier seasons. I didn't realize this is where the show was going when I complained about Dean capping on Sam in the first episode, I wouldn't have complained. Dean and Sam fighting all the time is old hat. Dean and Sam going their separate ways is new.

Also, I was right!

Sam was supposed to be the vessel of Lucifer. So that little story arc I laid out a few weeks ago in the blog could still happen. I feel smart.

I'm not sure how I feel about the addict metaphor for Sam's dance with the dark side. I mean, every show has done it, from Forever Knight to Buffy. But--it's a good metaphor. And there's something compelling about Sam fighting something within himself.

Dollhouse premiered last Friday, and I've still got to watch it. If there's anything worth typing about, I certainly will.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gossip Girl: The College Years

We're two episodes into the new season of Gossip Girl, and I'm still watching it, so that's saying something, right? ;)

There's no claiming that Gossip Girl is excellent television. It's fluff, and I know it. We all need some fluff though, right? Guilty pleasures?

With a sudden (but handy) shift for Serena--who's suddenly into finding her father (who knew she cared?) and Connor Baisden--the show has cleanly been able to keep all its principles in New York. Serena's not going to Brown. She's taking a year to "find herself." Dan, Vanessa, and Blair are at NYU. Chuck's running around town trying to buy restaurants (and having business meetings with old guys even though he's, what, 18? I suspend my disbelief for this show, but come on!). And Nate? Well, God knows what Nate was doing because I was distracted by this scene where he wasn't wearing his shirt, and...well, my thoughts about all of that are a little...personal.

At least they didn't send them to Cal U, where both the kids from 90210 and Saved By the Bell went. Incidentally, I don't think it even exists.

If the silliness of thinking that a group of high school pals would actually stay close through college can be overlooked (which it must should the show survive), it's an okay set up for the season.

Last spring, I was complaining because I felt Blair's character had changed too much. She had grown and become mature and was in love with Chuck, and I whined about missing bitchy Blair. Someone must have read my post in the writer's room at GG, but they decided to just throw all that character development from last season out the window and turn Blair into a clueless bitch who does ridiculously juvenile things like hand out gift bags in her dorm. What? Blair would never do that.

See, here's the thing that people writing television shows don't understand. It's good for your characters to grow and change. It's excellent, actually. But when you make your characters grow and change, you can't make them change into something that's going to make there be less conflict. All changes must create more conflict, different conflict, and worse conflict. If you make a change that doesn't create conflict, but rather resolves it, you end up doing stupid things like pretending the change didn't happen. Which makes your viewers scratch their heads and feel confused, because they were following all that character development and now it all seems like it never happened. It's like using RetCons. All the time.

Shows that have done it right: The Logan-Veronica arc of Veronica Mars. Watch: Logan hates Veronica and Veronica hates Logan. Logan, however, needs Veronica's detecting expertise several times. They become close. They start dating (and breaking up and dating and wasn't there some other guy in there who's name started with a D--whatev--none of that's important). As their relationship deepens, Logan begins to resent the very thing that drew him close to Veronica in the first place--her detecting expertise. Conflicts blooms like mushroom clouds. And I am glued to the screen for every second of it.

I don't know what I'd do in this case. How about something more like this? Blair and Chuck begin to get closer and closer in their relationship. Suddenly, Blair realizes that her relationship with Chuck is getting in the way of her ability to be a socialite bitch. (Tons of ways this could happen--especially with Georgina in the mix.) Then, at this point, I would move her into the dorms, her reasoning being she and Chuck need space. Then we could have double conflicts--resentment from Chuck coupled with Blair's inability to be a socialite bitch anymore, having lost her touch when she grew up and fell in love with Chuck. This thing could go on at least until Christmas, when I would then have Georgina roofie Chuck and frame him for cheating on Blair. Blair would then be convinced this had happened (and Chuck would too, since he'd have no memory of the evening), but instead of dumping Chuck, decide she needed to get revenge by cheating with someone else. She'd get really close to doing it, but would find out Georgina's scam, (this would take until about March), and could then spend the rest of the season having revenge on Georgina.

See--there's the Blair-Chuck arc for the entire season. And I guarantee you my version is better than whatever they're going to throw at us.

Well. Maybe.

Anywho, till next time. You know you love me. :P

Friday, September 11, 2009

Last night's CW Premiere Night

The Vampire Diaries: I had high hopes for this, mainly because of Kevin Williamson's involvement. I am a big fan of Scream and early Dawson's Creek. So, I thought that if anyone could take the hella awful source material (sorry L. J. , but how DID you get published? Yecch.) and spin it into gold, it would be him.

I'll be tuning in next week just to see if I'm wrong, but so far, no dice, Kev.

Elena is sympathetic, but she's boring. I hated Elena in the book because she was a stuck-up B-I-T-C-H who didn't seem to really care about her dead parents--just making sure she nabbed Stefan. She treated him more like a notch on her belt, too, not like a real love interest. I hated her. But this sobby, I'm-saving-my-druggy-brother, brown-haired, doe-eyed, sugary-sweet Elena is kind of making me want to wretch.

Course, I'm not so big on Stefan either, who is the pansy-est pansy who ever lived. At least they're sticking to the book's guns and keeping it so that not drinking human blood makes him weak. I like that.

No, as I guess I predicted, the only bright spot of the show is Ian Somerhaulder, who plays the bad guy--a smouldering hot, smirking bad guy who I would just love to try to win to the light side. Mmmm.

Since that's unlikely to happen, I'm giving this show four episodes. If I don't love it by then (or if I can at least stand it), I'll keep watching. If not...I'm not going to bother.

Supernatural: This really wasn't great either. Honestly, I thought the show was going somewhere daring at the end of last season. I thought that they were really going to toy with the idea of using evil to fight evil. My prediction was that Sam was Lucifer, and that this season would be an interesting battle within Sam--perhaps with Sam's humanity infecting Lucifer and changing him. That's a story arc I would have tuned in for.

I'm tuning in for this one too, don't get me wrong. I'm pretty sure this will be the last season of Supernatural, and that's a good thing, because it's losing its focus and morphing into something strange.

I'm just sick of Dean being so self-righteous. Cut Sam a break, okay? You treat him like your dumb kid brother, and he doesn't deserve that. This whole, "I can't trust you anymore" crap was annoying.

Plus, what the heck was up with Castiel basically implying that God had brought him back to life and transported Sam and Dean onto the plane? God? Really?

You know, what I used to like about this show was the fact that there was evil, and that was that. There was no duality. (Kind of like the Buffyverse, actually.) Why can't people leave a good thing alone? I mean Whedon had to go all, powers that be on us in Angel. And now, Supernatural is talking about interference from God?! Really?!


All I can say is this: The True Blood finale had better not suck.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Contest Updates

Getting tons of beta reader requests, but don't forget to design Azazel's prom dress as well.

Here's the contest page link: contests!! Scroll down to read about the prom dress contest!! I haven't gotten a single entry yet, so the competition is not at all stiff. :)

In regards to the beta thing, I realized that I've grown close to some of you through the world of the interwebs, and I didn't want the nice things you've said to me to color my judgment. Therefore, I've got Aaron helping me scan the beta readers entries. He'll take off the names and just let me read the info. That way I can make a fair decision based on qualifications and not how flattering you guys are. :)

Thanks everyone for everything!! Trembling has sold a total of 31 copies at last count, just in the last ten days. You guys rock!!!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Be a Tortured Beta Reader!

This contest idea comes from Melinda, over at the forum.

Many of you guys have been helpful in pointing out typos, mistakes, etc. in my stuff as it's posted. Unfortunately, this is usually too late, considering that by that time, the book has already gone to the printer and is being sold with the mistakes in it.

Melinda suggested I utilize you guys as first readers to help correct errors. So…five lucky readers will get to read a draft of Tortured first, before anyone else…as long as you commit to helping me fix my errors.

How to Enter
1) Send an email to jasonandazazel (at) with the subject line: Beta Reader
2) Include your name and why you think you're the most qualified to help me fix my novel. (Are you a writer? Do you make awesome grades in English? Do you work in copyediting? Etc.)
3) Send the email before 09/17. I'll have the book email out to the winners by 9/19, and will need your replies by 10/3.

Design Azazel's Prom Dress!

In Tortured, Azazel's going to prom. The only problem is that I have no idea what her prom dress looks like.

Help me out by designing Azazel's dress. Your entry can take the form of a written description, a drawing of the dress, a representation of the dress in photoshop, etc.

Please only submit your own work. If you find a really awesome picture of the dress, do not simply send me a link to the photograph. I want your own designs, not something that someone else created.

Three finalists will have their designs voted on by the Jason and Azazel reading audience. The readers will pick the winner, who will receive:
-her (or his) dress featured in Tortured
-a page on my website about the designer.
-copies of all three books in the trilogy

How to Enter

1) Send your design as an attachment to jasonandazazel (at) or snail mail it to: V. J. Chambers, P.O. Box 1747, Shepherdstown, WV 25443.
2) Include a brief bio and an explanation of where your design inspiration came from.
3) Entries must arrive by 9/30.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Full text of Trembling available for purchase!!

Dying to find out what happens?

Two options as of now. One: createspace--

Two: smashwords--

Kindle is being stupid. It usually takes a few hours to get a book up there once I upload the files, but I just uploaded it and it said that they were now reviewing the books and it would take 5 business days for it to be available on the store. Believe me, if I had known this, I would have started the process earlier. I'll let you know as soon as the kindle sales are available.

Thanks everyone!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Help my boyfriend fix his bus!!

If you haven't seen the Breathless trailer, you can watch it on the Breathless main page:

The music on the trailer was created by my very awesome boyfriend, Aaron.

Recently, Aaron bought the coolest VW bus ever. It's a '73, and he's been working on it like crazy. There are some technical difficulties with the bus, however, and the long and the short of it is that he needs $50 to get the thing running again.

Please consider buying some of his music if you like what you hear:

The CDs range in price from $3-$5. They are absolutely awesome stuff, very melodic, very beautiful. He's super talented.

Thanks so much!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hmm...I think I've got it.

Okay, so after ditching the army idea, I latched onto this:

Yeah, well, I guess the fake ad is kind of stealing from Resident Evil, but I'm sure they stole it from someone else.

Why are all the good explanations for zombies taken???

I just spent several hours doing a large amount of research on the brain, which was leading me to formulate a possible explanation for my zombie/vampire creatures (in the forthcoming, as-of-yet-named web serial I'm working on). I was going to create some kind of virus that damaged and/or mutated certain aspects of the frontal lobes (which conveniently are still growing and changing during adolescence, providing a perfect explanation for a different effect of the virus on teenagers, should I choose to go that route), causing aggressive behavior, a loss of personality traits including speech and various other symptoms.

It was PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!

And, of course, I just discovered that Resident Evil already did it. Furthermore, they had it disseminated in exactly the way I would have--as an accidental leak for a biological weapon or research in the creation of a super soldier.

I didn't think my idea was original exactly. I knew it had elements in common with other zombie/vampire explanations. But I really thought the frontal lobe stuff was a fairly original twist. Nope.


Scott Westerfeld's already taken the parasite angle.

I'm really tempted to throw up my hands and do the whole, "No one knows why this happened!" thing, since most of my characters probably wouldn't. Or maybe I just do the frontal lobe thing anyway. But if I do, I don't think I can use a virus, and I don't think it's going to come from the army.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Killer Giraffes

Since my little "about me" section claims that I sometimes blog about killer giraffes, and I never have, I thought I shouldn't turn myself into a liar. Seeing as I am slightly buzzed from a lovely evening with my bf Chelsea, I decided right now was the perfect time to write a blog about killer giraffes.

Here goes.

Kay, well, I don't even remember why I wrote this into my "about me" section. I know it has something to do with a toy giraffe that my boyfriend Aaron owns which he hides in different places in our apartment. Sometimes the giraffe stays there for months before I notice it, but when I do, it's always a source of much hilarity. One time, he lived on top of a window for a long time. More recently, he was hiding on top of one of our cabinets. I currently have no clue where that giraffe is. I must ask Aaron about it when he gets home.

In a broader sense, I do think it would be absolutely terrifying if there was a killer giraffe on the loose. Giraffes are quite large, and they also have black tongues (something I learned from Nickelodeon's Salute Your Shorts). Both of these things would make a killer giraffe quite frightening, especially if he trampled you to death.


I think the scariest kind of killer giraffe would be the one who wandered around in the woods with a chainsaw or something.

God. I'm going to wake up tomorrow, remember that I posted this blog, and be horribly embarrassed. Read it while it's hot, kids. I can't guarantee I'm not going to take this thing down. :P

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Just finished reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, the first honest-to-goodness YA zombie apocalypse novel I've ever heard of. There are some other zombie YA books like You Are So Undead To Me, which I've not read. They seem to be more on the comic end of the spectrum. Zombies can be pretty funny, after all.

Seeing as I really, really love zombie flicks, I had to check this out right away. Apparently, it just got optioned as a movie (like The Hunger Games) and may be out as soon as 2011. I'm not sure what's up with this sudden flood of turning YA books into movies. I guess Twilight was a cash cow and everyone's looking for the next thing that way.

What's not going to make either or these two books easy to turn into movies is that I just don't know how they're going to get a PG-13 rating. And with an R, they're effectively restricting the target audiences of the books. So... We'll see. Both books are visceral and have some pretty gory violence. I wouldn't want this toned down, per se, but it is true that a book leaves the imagery up to your imagination. That can sometimes be way scarier, but violence on screen can be pretty horrific too...

Okay...on to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. So, the story is this. The zombie outbreak happened generations ago. So long ago that all Mary has ever known is the small village in the woods, surrounded by a chainlink fence where the Unconsecrated (undead, flesh-eating zombies!!) wander, moaning and pawing at the fence constantly. (Seriously. They "moan and paw" every time we see them. Now, I think it's a sin to over-thesaurus your writing to death, but like once in a while it might have been good if the zombies whined or screeched.) Mary life like totally sucks. She's in love with Travis, but his big brother Harry is in love with her. Likewise, Travis is courting her best friend Cass. On top of that, her brother hates her and she has to go live with the Sisterhood, a group of creepy nun-like totalitarian rulers, who keep secrets like not telling everyone there's a fenced in path out of the village to God knows where (Mary hopes it's the ocean, which she's heard stories of, but everybody else tells her that the ocean is a myth). And then Mary finds out someone's come in from the outside. But the Sisters don't tell anyone. And the outsider disappears. It goes downhill from there.

With every page I turned in this novel, things got worse and worse. Lots of people died, even people I really liked. There are a thousand things that don't make sense. How did people build this elaborate system of fences while the zombies were attacking them? What does the Sisterhood know about the zombies that they aren't telling? Why is one of the zombies faster than all of the others?

Luckily, there's a sequel, which will hopefully help clear some of this mess up. If there weren't a sequel, I would be extremely mad at this book. Sure, most zombie stories are real downers. After all, society's been destroyed by legions of hungry undead. But this book is really, really, really depressing.

Everything gets worse on every page, but I couldn't stop reading it. It was very compelling and quite fast-paced. There's also a kind of miserable elegance to the book. I really did feel a gut-wrenching sense of despair pretty much the entire time. I'd hoped that Mary would be able to overcome that despair and find some peace. In the end, she kind of does, but it's also hollow, because it's come with such a high price tag.

I'd definitely recommend this book. It's different than any YA book I've read. Certainly, I'd put it in the same vein as The Hunger Games, but it's on a different level in terms of intensity.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Boy did I just read the most interesting thing about Cassandra Clare...

I'm working my way through pretty much every supernatural YA book published recently, and I just happened to come across The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare. Now, I haven't actually read any of the books. I got about six pages into City of Bones, and got a funny taste in my mouth.

For one thing, there was a hugely blatant as-you-know-bob, which just got under my skin. If you aren't aware with the term, an as-you-know-bob is when an author sloppily decides that she is going to be lazy with describing what the heck is actually going on in her book, so she then makes one of her characters describe it to another character, when that character WOULD NEVER do that, because it happens every day. A good example is something like, in a sci fi novel: "As you know Bob, every day we have to get up in the morning and clean out the continuum transverter core, because if we weren't to do that, the entire space station would blow up!"

Or (from City of Bones)":

"I don't know what you're talking about." The blue-haired boy's tone was pained but surly.
"He means other demons," said the dark-haired boy, speaking for the first time. "You do know what a demon is, don't you?"
The boy tied to the pillar turned his face away, his mouth working.
"Demons," drawled the blond boy, tracing the word on the air with his finger. "Religiously defined as hell's denizens, the servants of Satan, but understood here, for the purposes of the Clave, to be any malevolent spirit whose origin is outside our own home dimension—"
"That's enough, Jace," said the girl.
"Isabelle's right," agreed the taller boy. "Nobody here needs a lesson in semantics—or demonology."

(Quick disclaimer: No agent nor editor has ever said my stuff was good enough to make money, and I haven't actually recouped my initial self-publishing investment. Therefore, I may have absolutely no room to talk.)

Aggh..the as-you-know-bob is gallingly pointed out by one of the characters as unneeded. "No one needs a lesson." 'Kay, then. Great. Why'd you use a shortcut and have one of your characters say it?

One other thing sort of bothered me about the book. The writing was...uneven. Well, for one thing, I felt that everything was overly described. I like my descriptions to evoke my own image of the scene, not to completely take it over. But, that's personal preference. The thing that I really didn't like, though, was the way that certain phrases just seemed kind of out of place in the narrative flow.

In one paragraph, the point-of-view character says: "Of course, he could probably have gotten by without all that trouble, but it was part of the fun—fooling the mundies, doing it all out in the open right in front of them, getting off on the blank looks on their sheeplike faces."

Two paragraphs later, he pulls out this gem: "They didn't know how lucky they were. They didn't know what it was like to eke out life in a dead world, where the sun hung limp in the sky like a burned cinder."


Okay, do people who think "eke" really also think the phrase "getting off"?

And furthermore, that whole overwrought simile completely draws me out of the story and forces me to look at the WRITING. I was like, "Oh this is one of those, 'Look at my pretty words' writers." (Okay, I've fallen into this trap too. Luckily, I've got a best friend who tells me that writing, "the blood blossomed like a rose in a time-delayed photograph," is actually a little too over the top.) I prefer to read fiction for the story--especially genre fiction. Or, if you're going to show me your pretty words, you'd better be damned good at it--like Caitlin R. Kiernan, whose prose is beautiful but disturbing.

Right. So whatever. It's not great writing, but, hell, it's not any worse than like L. J. Smith or something. (It's actually mite bit better, quite honestly.)

Anyway, I thought, "Why waste more time on this if it's bad? Let me get a second opinion." So I googled "Cassandra Clare reviews." And what did I run across but this:

At which point, I lost about three hours of my life to reading the entire thing, (and I will never get those three hours back, drat the interwebs!) which basically proves that Cassandra Clare originally wrote HP fanfiction, which she cobbled together with some pretty obvious quotes and references to published stuff and with some...well, not so obvious ones. Essentially, she's a damned plagiarist!!

And people have been talking about this for years and years and years on the web. Dude.

Anyway, I don't think City of Bones is plagiarized, but I do think the six pages that I read were overwritten and had an as-you-know-bob. In short, they read like fanfiction. ('Course, someone over at thinks my book reads like Twilight fanfic. So, well, what I think is only my opinion. If you like Ms. Clare--and I read that some people really, really, really like her--please don't flame me. :P)

Will I be reading the rest of this book? Dunno. I think I might give Richelle Mead a whirl next. I remember kind of digging the first few pages of that Vamp Academy book on the look-inside feature on Amazon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Uglies and The Hunger Games: GRRL power sci fi

It's no secret that girls read more than boys these days. The amount of effort it takes me to get my girl students to read a novel of their own choosing: 10% The amount of effort it takes me to get guys reading: 170%

Why is this? Well, that's a topic for another blog and a completely different discussion entirely.

If you're writing teen books these days then, it's pretty obvious that you're going to try to write something that appeals to girls. In fact, it almost seems that there are no boy books written these days. There are definitely girl books. And there are books which we could safely say appeal to both genders.

As an author of science fiction, traditionally a "boy's genre," what are you to do?

It seems the hot idea these days is to write a book that would traditionally be marketed to boys--but make the main character female, and throw in a dash of romance. What do I think about this? Frankly, I think it effing rocks.

I've always been a fan of science fiction, mostly because I'm a fan of any kind of storytelling that puts characters in life-threatening situations. Characters behave so differently in life-threatening situations. :) And science fiction is an excellent avenue for that. But usually there's never enough dialogue, romance, emotion in science fiction stories. It's there, but a lot of times it gets overshadowed by the big action scenes. I love a good action scene, when it's crucial to the plot and when I feel locked into the characters and I truly, truly care about them. But there can easily be too many action scenes. Too many.

So two of my favorite books that I've read this year have been the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (okay, so technically that's five books, but whatev). I think these two series have started what I think is a new kind of subgenre of YA science fiction.

GRRL-power science fiction.

And also, both are writing what I would call, um, speculative sci-fi with a hard look at human nature and our current society. They recall the kind of science fiction that Ray Bradbury and George Orwell wrote.

And they're doing it for teenage girls!!

About fricking time!

The series take on some pretty heavy themes. Uglies takes on the emphasis of beauty in our culture, the imprint we're making on the environment, the ability of humanity to live in harmony, and (in Extras) the currency of popularity via the internet. The Hunger Games deals with totalitarian governments, the impact we're making on the environment, the gap between the rich and the poor, the inability of the wealthy to grasp the humanity of those less fortunate than them, the appetite for violence within humanity, and the disconnect between actual violence, onscreen violence, and violence as entertainment. Heady, heady stuff. (Enough to make the English teacher within me leap for joy.)

Unfortunately the world doesn't seem to be taking enough notice of this stuff. The books are ignored because they're YA, and furthermore, somewhat dismissed by some as rip-offs. Collins' book in particular is often accused of ripping off Battle Royale and The Running Man. Which, well, it does.

There are similarities between Uglies and an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Number 12 Looks Just Like You," (here, read the wikipedia article:

I could get pretty postmodern here and talk about how all ideas are reused and that the current form of art is pastiche and maybe even bring up Derrida, but--

I think the very truly original thing about these works is their packaging. Sure, these science fiction themes and ideas have been used before and sure, the stories aren't new. But they're being done in a completely new and exciting way. The books feature female protagonists, they have hot guys (both seem to also feature a love triangle, now that I think about it), and the girl protagonists kick ass. :)

None of what is brilliant about the sci fi genre is sacrificed. There's still action. There's still heavy themes. There's still cool technology and crazy fight scenes. It's just that now teenage girls are reading these books and seeing how cool all of that stuff is in addition to hot guys and love triangles. God, it's brilliant.

Plus, with both of these books currently being optioned as movies, we're going to see a new trend in the science fiction genre in general. I think the audience is going to expand from being mostly guys to including girls. And I think we're going to see less and less stupid action-glutted sci fi with no real characters. Yay!!

I want in on the action, myself. I mentioned in my post about the webfic serial that I would never write a story about vampires, because everything had been done before.

Well, I think I'm about to eat my words. Because I have a vampire story I'd like to repackage for teenage girls.

He he. I present to you the garbled version of I Am Legend--now with a love triangle.

Yeah, okay, well, I'm still working out the details, but I really like the original theme of that book (no the Will Smith movie doesn't count), which was prejudice. It's a theme worth writing about, and it's a fun way to do it. Plus, I think Richard Matheson was just fleshing this idea out. There are levels and levels to traverse here.

I'm excited. Who's with me?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The WebFic Serial

After I'm finished serializing Breathless and its sequels, I think what I might want to do is a real, honest-to-goodness series, approached kind of like a television show. I want to outline in detail about five or six seasons and then post two updates per week of about ten pages. I'm thinking of making every four updates encompass an "episode" or a story arc, which would amount to about the same number of pages one might write for an hour-long TV show, which usually averages between 40-45 minutes (after you take out the commercials.)

The question, though, is what will it be about???

I know I want it be teen-oriented. I know I want it to be a bit on the angsty side. I think I want it to be supernatural.

I really feel like in a long serial story like this, the plot is a little throw-away-y. What I mean is that I didn't watch Buffy for seven years because it had vampires. I started watching it because it had vampires. I came back because of the characters and themes, which were stellar. that end, it's not entirely important what I pick, exactly, but I do need something cool.

I will NEVER write ANYTHING about vampires. EVER. (Unless I come up with something really, really, really cool that has never been done before, and I really feel like everything cool has been done.)

My current thoughts:
Mystery stories/teen detective

Any of the following at a boarding school

Any of the following involving really rich people

I'm somewhat partial to the idea of werewolves. I think werewolves get short shrift these days, usually playing second fiddle in vampire stories. It might be fun to write something about standalone werewolves. But...i dunno. Werewolves tend to get a little messy, what with the going nuts at a full moon and hurting people. Plus, it's annoying--unless you mess with the mythology--because they're only werewolves during the full moon, and that really limits the way you set up your story.

Other than that, nothing's really standing out to me. I know I'm just going to have to let this marinate, but it's annoying, because I have tons of energy right now. I'm really excited about the project. I really want to work on it. But I need an idea first!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

On self-publishing, goals, and dreams

My whole life, my dream has been to be a writer. The reason I publish under my initials is that I decided when I was four or five that I would do that in order to be like C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. There hasn't been a point in my life when I thought that I could ever do anything else.

I picked my career in high school because I wanted to have a day job that wouldn't interfere with writing. (Of course, from a high-schooler's perspective, teaching looks easy. It's not, but. Well.) I always assumed that I would write while working for a few years and that (probably sometime in my midtwenties), I would be discovered. Then I'd quit my day job and spend my days like Stephen King, writing ten pages a day. What a life, I thought.

This is still my dream. I still would love to write full-time. But the problem is that somewhere between really getting serious about writing novels (around 23) and now, I unfortunately let writing full time become my goal and not my dream.

There's a difference between goals and dreams. Dreams are something that you long for. That you, well, dream of. Hope for. Aspire to. Wish for. Goals are things in which you believe that you can achieve, if you just follow all the right steps and work hard enough.

The thing about goals is that you should never make goals about things in which you can't control the outcome. Say I wanted to make a goal of exercising 20 minutes a day or going to California. That's fine. Because I can do those things. California is there. The steps I need to take are to find the finances, arrange the transportation, and go. I can do that. Me. All by myself.

But writing full time isn't like that, because I need people to help me achieve that goal. Basically, I need people to give me money. And I can't force people to do that. I have felt like a failure for a long time, because I felt like I was working so hard to reach my goal, and I just wasn't getting anywhere.

I think that's why I decided to self-publish. Getting myspace feedback for the first scene of my book was electrifying. I just put it out there, asked people to look at it, and they did. It seemed so easy. Emboldened, I thought that this was the way I would finally be able to achieve my goal. After all, I was actually interacting with people, not just getting form-letter rejections. This was it!

But it wasn't. It's sincerely hard to get people to read fiction, even for free. Of my 5000 myspace friends, I estimate that only about 250 of them actually read my story. And of those readers, only seven have purchased my book. And here's the thing. To come out of nowhere, start posting a webfic, and have 250 readers is a pretty awesome thing. And to sell seven copies of a self-published novel in a day is no mean feat either. Shannon Yarbrough, author of Stealing Wishes and one of the few self-pubbers willing to actually tell his sales numbers, only sold 29 books in a whole year!! (His Kindle sales were much higher, however.) So, really, I should be feeling pretty proud of myself right now.

And if that weren't enough, I can't open my myspace without finding kind comments from one of my readers, who say things to me like, "The days you post your book are my favorite days!" How sweet is that, honestly?

But, you know what, this morning, I still felt like a failure. And that's because, in terms of making a living writing, I've done absolutely nothing. And since I viewed that as a goal, I felt like crap.

Making money from writing should not be my goal. It should be my dream.

My goals should be attainable things--things that actually can control. Things like delivering a reliable and entertaining serial novel. Things like writing the best books I can.

I think, that maybe I'm going to be a whole lot happier if I stop treating writing like a career and start treating it like a hobby. I'm never going to stop writing. It wouldn't matter if no one ever read a single word that I wrote. I'd still be doing it. So why am I trying to force myself to work towards a goal that I don't have control over?

Here's what I'd like to do in the future. I'd like to finish posting the Jason and Azazel trilogy on the web. I'd like to self-publish the novels I have that made the rounds with agents and got rejected. I'd like to keep trying to submit to the big houses with my new books, but know that if they get rejected, I've got a place to publish them and a small, but growing, number of readers. Overall, right now, for a hobbyist, I'm really damned successful. And I think I'd like to stay that way. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shouting it from the Rooftops

Breathless is available in print!!!

And not only that, in the five hours it's been available for sale, I've already sold five copies. ;) That's one copy an hour. Totally awesome. Thanks everyone.

If you'd like a copy of Breathless of your very own, you can buy it here:

Not only does the book contain the full text of the novel, but also the following extras: Behind the Pen: the Making of Breathless (an essay), a chapter-by-chapter author commentary on the book, a Jason character sketch, an interview with Jason, and the first scene of the sequel, Trembling.

episode ten

episode ten

by v.j. chambers

Chapter Ten

I don't usually share my visions in this forum, considering I feel that visions are a personal experience, generated mostly for my own spiritual growth and edification. However, since there has been so much talk about the vision I received years ago, especially recently, I want to detail it here.

In my vision, I saw a teenage boy who had been raised by the agents of Order to take over the world. I saw this boy rise to power. I saw him take away the rights of choice and decision from countless numbers of people. Then I saw a girl, filled with the spirit of Azazel, come from the depths of the woods. She carried with her a spear of fire. And she smote the agent of order, and Chaos reigned again in the world.

(c) Michaela Weem,

Trees streamed by outside the window of Toby's truck as I struggled against the rope he'd tied my hands with. Toby drove recklessly fast, his mask still on. I didn't think he could see with it over his eyes. I strained, yanking my wrists away from each other as hard as I could. But the rope held. I wasn't doing anything except giving myself rug burn.

I glared at Toby. "Where are we going?" I asked. Was this some kind of practical joke? If it was, it wasn't funny. I really wasn't enjoying it.

Toby just laughed from behind his mask. He didn't answer.

"What are you doing with Jason?" I asked.

Nothing from Toby.

I was flabbergasted when Toby pulled his truck into my driveway. He was taking me to my house? Why were we here? Toby got out of the truck and came around to my side. Roughly, he pulled me out. I stumbled as I tried to keep my balance while he yanked me forward. Behind us, I could see the car that Jason was in. He was getting similar treatment. The football players, still wearing their masks, were dragging Jason along with them.

"Toby, what is going on?" I demanded.

Toby cocked his head at me. From behind the mask, he looked so blank. "Oh, come on, Zaza," he said. "We're going to consummate our relationship. Isn't that what you've wanted all this time?"

I winced at the ugliness of his voice. And what the hell was he talking about? If Toby thought I still wanted to have sex with him after what had happened, he was a mental patient. I didn't want to look at Toby ever again, let alone touch him.

He dug his fingers into my arm and tugged me forward. I had to go with him. If I resisted, I'd just fall down.

The lights in my house were all off, but the kitchen door was open. We all went inside. Toby led the group of masked madmen through my dining room and living room, to the door to the basement. He opened it.

The soft light of candles greeted us. Our basement wasn't much. It wasn't finished. It was just a concrete hole in the ground. It always smelled musty down there, and no one went into it except to get our washer and dryer.

But someone had been in the basement recently. A tea light candle blazed on each step of the stairs leading down into its depths. Toby forced me onto the first step. I tried to resist, but he was strong. Carefully, we descended into the gaping mouth of the basement, one step at a time. As I got lower and lower, I could see that the entire basement was covered in candles. They were clustered in every corner. They sat on tables, which surrounded the room. Each table was covered in a black velvet tablecloth. The washer and dryer had been similarly covered in black velvet, and candles of various heights and widths placed on them.

All of the candles were black.

On one of the tables, many silver chalices sat next to a decanter of wine. There was also a loaf of bread next to them. It sat on a silver platter. In the center of the basement, there was a bed. It was covered in black silk sheets. From the steps to the bed was a trail of black rose petals.

I nearly gagged. What was this? What had Toby planned? It was like an inversion of everything he'd ever said to me. Black rose petals? A bed with silk sheets? Me tied up? Half of the football team?

I was started to feel very, very frightened.

"We're a little early," said Toby to the rest of them. He pulled some rope from his pocket and tossed it to his friends. "Tie Jason to that pole," he ordered, gesturing with his head.

The football players dragged Jason to the pole and began lashing him to it. His arms. His feet. His neck. Jason caught my eyes. I looked back at him. I could tell he was trying to figure out a way out of this.

"I'll get Azazel ready," said Toby, his voice cruel and determined.

Toby took me to the bed. He made me sit down. I realized that not everything silk on the bed was a sheet. There were also two black silk hooded robes sitting next to us. They looked like something off the cover of a death metal album. What was this? What was going on? My heart beat in my chest loudly. It pumped blood against my temple. I was freaking out.

I tried to smile at Toby. "Okay," I said. "This was funny. I'm laughing. You can stop now, though. Really."

Toby sighed. "It wasn't supposed to be like this Azazel. I didn't want to have to tie you up. But after you heard Lilith and me, I didn't know what else to do. The ritual has to go on as scheduled, whether you're willing or not."

Ritual? What ritual? I was terrified.

"I'm going to have to untie you for a minute," said Toby. "But you can't try to run away or anything, or else I'm going to have to get some of the guys over here to hold you down. And I really don't want to do that."

Okay. Maybe I wouldn't run.

Toby fumbled in his back pocket for a pocketknife. I shied away from it as he opened the blade. But he just cut the rope holding my wrists together.

Toby surveyed the marks on my wrists that I'd made trying to get free from the rope. He touched them almost tenderly. "You shouldn't have struggled," he said. "You're just hurting yourself." He looked into my eyes. "This is really an honor, you know. You're going to become so powerful."

Powerful? Honor? Hadn't Toby said something about an honor in the restroom earlier? Oh God. There was more to everything than just Toby and Lilith having sex. They'd said all kinds of weird things. And they both had said things about not being allowed. This was connected to that, somehow. Somehow.

But how?

Toby reached around me and put his hands on the zipper of my dress. He started to unzip it. He was going to take my dress off?! In front of everyone?!

"No!" I said. I put both of my hands on his chest and pushed him as hard as I could. He grabbed my wrists, irritated.

"Don't struggle," he said. "I'm just trying to put the robe on you."

"Toby, don't," I begged suddenly. "Don't." I looked deep into his eyes, and shook my head, trying to find some piece of the boy I thought I knew in there.

"Don't look at me like that," he yelled. He dropped my hands and took a step back, disgust all over his face.

I pressed my advantage. "Toby, you can let me go," I said. "You can just let me go. I won't tell anyone. I'll just walk away, and I'll—"

"It's not supposed to be like this," he said.

"Please Toby," I said.

He reached over and balled up one of the robes in his hands. He shoved it at me. "Put on the robe," he said, his voice shaking. "Just take everything off and put on the robe."

A little sound escaped my mouth. Take everything off? I didn't want to—I couldn't think about what was going to happen to me.

Jason looked at me from where he was tied to the pole. His face was unreadable.

"Do it!" Toby screamed.

I couldn't. I couldn't just take off my clothes.

Toby turned around. He glanced over his shoulder. "Don't try to run," he warned me.

The other guys on the football team were standing around Jason, watching Toby and I.

"Turn around," Toby ordered them.

Silently, they did.

"And Jason," said Toby. "Close your eyes."

Jason closed his eyes.

But I couldn't move. I looked at the crumpled robe in my lap, and I couldn't move.

"Hurry up," growled Toby.

And because I didn't know what else to do, I did it. I unzipped my dress. It fell off me, pooled around my feet. There I was in the lingerie I had put on for Toby to see. I nearly gagged in revulsion. But I took it off. And I put on the robe. It buttoned up, and I buttoned every button, but I still felt very, very exposed.

"I'm done," I whispered.

Toby turned around. He looked me up and down. "Good," he said. Then he tied my hands again. He walked me over to the football players, threw me into one of their arms. "Hold her," he said. "I'll be back with the rest of the coven to do the Invocation."

Toby swept up the stairs. One of the football players had me in a bear hug. There was nothing between my skin and his body except the stupid, flimsy robe. I started to think about what was happening to me, to speculate about the near future. Then I decided it was a bad idea, and so I stopped. I just concentrated on breathing.

In a few minutes, the door at the top of the steps opened and a long line of people in black robes like mine came down the steps. Their hoods were over their heads and they stared at the floor. I couldn't see their faces in the scant candlelight.

They formed a circle. One of them came for me, pulled me into the center of the circle.

Now that he was close, I could see it was Toby.

"Why are her hands tied?" asked one of the hooded people. The voice sounded familiar, but I was sick of identifying voices tonight. I knew who it was, but I didn't want to know, so I just tried not to.

"Complication," said Toby. "Let's just get on with it."

"Untie her," ordered another hooded person. I knew that voice too.

No. No. No.


I struggled for other thoughts, and there was only one. No.

Toby fumbled with the knot at my wrist. I had started to shake. My teeth were chattering. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I couldn't believe it. Maybe, if I tried hard enough, I'd just faint. Couldn't I just faint? Couldn't I just make this not real, somehow?

One of the hooded people advanced to help Toby. I could tell from her hands that she was a woman as she deftly untied the knot at my wrist. I purposefully didn't look at her face. I tried so hard not to, but...

She cupped my chin in her hands. "Zaza, it's okay," she said.

And then I lost it. I started sobbing. And I said the only word I knew to identify the woman with. The only thing that sprang to mind. My voice broke with the betrayal of it. "Mommy," I sobbed.

My mother gathered me into her arms. "Why are you crying, sweetie?" she asked me.

Why was I crying? Was she insane? My own parents had set me up to be in some sort of cult ritual where my boyfriend...raped me, and she wanted to know why I was crying?

Still, I clung to her as my body was wracked with sobs that I thought would tear me apart. She was the only ghost of comfort left in a world that had been completely and utterly turned upside down, ripped apart, ruined.

My mother clutched me, stroking my hair. She turned to another hooded person. "Daniel, I told you she wasn't ready," she said.

My father lowered his hood. He looked at us sympathetically. "It has to be tonight," he said helplessly. "The next night of power isn't until the solstice. We can't wait that long."

My mother nodded. She turned back to me, wiping at my tears, brushing my hair out of my face. "Okay, then, Zaza," she said. "You're just going to have to be strong, okay? Can you do that for me? Can you be my strong girl?"

No, I couldn't be strong! What did she want from me? I just shook my head violently, back and forth. I couldn't do this. I couldn't do this.

Around me, all of the hooded people were lowering their hoods. Lilith. Sheriff Damon. His wife. The principal of my high school. Mrs. Clem, the dean of students. Mrs. Zimmerman, my French teacher. Sherry Astor. My older brothers, Noah and Gordon. I knew them all. I gazed around the circle, and I saw the pillars of society in our town. I saw people from my high school. They were all part of this. Whatever this was. I didn't know. And I didn't think I wanted to know.

"This is all going wrong," said Sheriff Damon. "What did you do, Toby?"

Lilith stepped forward. "It’s not Toby's fault, it's mine," she said. "Let me talk to her." She walked up to me and took my hand. "Upstairs, Zaza," she said.

Confused, I let Lilith drag me upstairs.

Once through the basement door, she shut it after us. She looked down at herself. "God, these robes are so unflattering," she said. "You'd think they'd at least let you wear a bra under them, you know? But it's all, 'The host has be defiled through sexuality, blah, blah, blah.'"

What was she talking about?

"You're probably wondering what's going on," she said.

That was an understatement.

"It's weird, I know," she said. "When it happened to me, I was totally freaked out, too."

"This happened to you?" I asked in a small voice.

"Well, sort of," she said. "It's supposed to happen on your eighteenth birthday, and there's supposed to be a little more lead up to the whole thing, like a couple hints and a test."

"A test?"

"Not like on paper, but someone from the coven like grills you on choice and chaos and junk. You didn't get that because you've been chosen from birth to be the vessel or whatever, and they had to rush the whole thing, because Jason showed up, so they have to do the Invocation and the Entering of the Circle all on one night. Which incidentally is almost over. We've got like fifteen minutes until midnight, so I've got to talk fast."

"What?" I said. But I was starting to calm down. Sort of. At least Lilith seemed like herself still.

"We're Satanists, Azazel," said Lilith.

Satanists?! I considered bolting for the door right then. But I was only wearing a flimsy black robe, and practically everyone I knew and would ask for help was already in my basement. Besides I couldn't leave Jason down there with them.

"I mean, kind of," said Lilith. "We worship Azazel. The demon you're named after."

"Oh God," I moaned.

"Yeah, don't say that. That's like blasphemy," she said. "Okay, so, see Azazel is an incarnation of what most people would identify with Satan. But we worship Satan, or Azazel, because he symbolizes the ability of people to have free will and to be individuals. We worship Chaos because it isn't stifling, and it doesn't assume that people need order enforced upon them to function properly in society."

She sounded like she was reciting something.

"So we reject the incarnations of order, including Christianity and other organized religions, because they impose a set of rules and values onto people which is...stifling. You following me?"

"Kind of," I said.

"Okay, so, when you're eighteen, you Enter the Circle by participating in a Black Mass. Which is like a perversion of a traditional Mass. So we take the host—or communion or whatever—and then everybody has sex."

"Eew," I said.

"Not in front of each other. And usually with their husbands or wives or boyfriends. Usually. And the initiate—in this case you—has sex with someone in the room with it all set up like it is."

"Why?" I said.

"It's just a ritual. I don't know. I think because everyone in town is horny," she said.

"And the initiate is a virgin?" I asked.

"Not usually. I mean, I wasn't. Most eighteen-year-olds have gotten it on, you know what I mean. But you like had to be, because you're the vessel. And so, they made Toby date you and not have sex with you, so that you'd be pure."

"But you said that you and Toby started dating after eighth grade," I said. "I thought you didn't find out about this stuff until you were eighteen."

"Our parents bribed us," said Lilith. "They gave Toby that truck so he'd date you. And my parents gave me my computer. It was important that you didn't have sex."

"This is gross," I said.

"When you think about it, it's not really that much grosser than thinking communion wafers turn into someone's body in your mouth," she said.

That was gross. "But what do mean, I'm the vessel?" I asked.

"Oh," she said. "That. Well, see this other Satanist chick who runs this online forum or something had a vision of Jason, like seventeen years ago, before he was born. And in her vision, a girl filled with the power of Azazel vanquished him. I'm not sure how they know this, but she confirmed that was you, after you were conceived. So, they're gonna do an invocation to Azazel, and the spirit of Azazel will fill your body, and'll kill Jason."

"What?!" the words exploded out of me.

"I know," said Lilith. "I mean, I'm kind of on board with the whole let's-be-free-and-have-lots-of-sex thing. And the black robes aren't even all that bad. But this is kind of...I don't know. I mean, they say that Jason really isn't a person, because he's an agent of Order or whatever, and he's destined to like enslave the entire human race, but...I mean, didn't they say that about Jews during the Holocaust or black people when they were lynching them?" She looked very thoughtful. "I don't want to go against the coven, but I just kind of feel like it would be...wrong to kill someone."

I covered my face with my hands. Lilith was stupid, I realized. I had no idea how we'd been friends for as long as we had. Had I never noticed what an idiot she was? But I had to get Jason and me out of here. Somehow. Because there was no way I was killing him. "So," I said, "what order is this going to happen in? I mean, Invocation first or Entering the Circle first?"

"Invocation," she said. "We have to. It's practically midnight. So, I figure, they'll invoke Azazel, then everybody will get it on, and then we'll all get back together so that you can kill Jason."

"Okay," I said. I could work with that. So they were going to invoke the spirit of Azazel into my body, huh? I could handle that. Especially since I didn't believe Azazel existed. While they were doing that, I was going to have to come up with a plan that didn't involve my getting it on with anyone and also involved my getting both Jason and I out of here alive. "Let's get this over with."

"Really?" said Lilith. "I didn't think you'd want to kill Jason."

I shrugged. "I'm the vessel," I said. "I guess some part of me's always known this is what I was born to do."

Lilith shrugged back. "Cool." She smiled. "That didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would." She paused. "Oh, and Zaza, I'm really sorry about sleeping with Toby. I really am."

"Save it," I snapped. "We'll talk about that later." If I'd actually been planning to stick around, I would never have forgiven her for that.

Lilith led me back down the steps triumphantly.

"I'm ready," I said.

My mother put her hand to her chest and breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh thank Chaos," she said. "I was so guilty, Zaza. I really didn't want to push this on you."

"It's fine, Mom," I said. I'd think about the fact that my mom was a demon worshipper later. Right now, I had to save Jason.

He was still tied to the pole. Hoping no one would notice, I winked at him. If Jason saw, he didn't acknowledge it with his face.

I rejoined Toby in the center of the circle. They all raised their hoods again, so I did too. Toby took my hand. Oh yuck. I did not want to hold Toby's hand. But I had to play along, at least for a little while.

Suddenly, everyone in the circle began intoning some kind of chant in a language I didn't understand. I peered out from under the edge of my hood. Weird. Creepy.

My father stepped forward. He approached me and lifted his hands up to the ceiling. "Great God of Chaos, Azazel, I invoke thee," his voice rang out, echoing off the walls.

He nodded at me. "Repeat that," he said.

Sure, whatever. I raised my hands questioningly. My dad nodded. "Great God of Chaos, Azazel, I invoke thee," I said and really hoped my voice didn't sound sarcastic.

My mother approached, holding an ornate silver chalice. She handed it to my father. He held it in front of me. "Fill your vessel as this liquid fills her body." His voice still had that ringing quality. It was kind of scary.

My father handed me the chalice. I took it. "Repeat," he said.

I hesitated for a second. What if I was wrong, and Azazel really was real? What if I really did get filled with the spirit of a demon?

I chewed on my lip, undecided.

No. There was no way that demons were real.

"Fill this vessel, as this liquid fills my body," I said. This time, there was definitely a cocky edge to my voice.

"Drink," said my father.

I put the chalice to my lips. I drank.

"Finish it," said my dad.

I didn't really know what I was drinking. It tasted alcoholic, but it wasn't beer. Was it wine? I chugged it, grimacing from the taste.


Well. Nothing was happening. Maybe they'd done it wrong.

But everyone seemed satisfied. A hooded person, I couldn't tell whom, was gathering the less ornate silver chalices I'd seen on the way in and handing them to each person. Behind them, another robed person offered them the loaf of bread. Each person silently ripped off a hunk of bread. Once they had bread and wine, they started up the steps in pairs. I guess this was the defiling of the host part of the Black Mass. All in all, I was finding it pretty anti-climactic.

Finally, there was no one left but Toby and me. We were each handed a wine glass, and we each took our bread. Then the people who'd given it to us also went up the steps. Toby and I were alone, except for Jason, who was still tied to the pole.

Toby stuffed the bread into his mouth and chewed. I did the same thing. Then he drank his wine in one gulp. I drank mine too. That was definitely not the same stuff that had been in the chalice. What had I drunk? I desperately hoped it wasn't something disgusting like animal blood.

Now, here was the problem. We'd done the Invocation, and were somewhere in the middle of the Entering the Circle, and I still hadn't come up with a plan to save Jason.

Toby advanced on me.

Great. What was I going to do? What was I going to do? I glanced around the basement, hoping for inspiration. All I saw were candles and Jason.

I made a face at Toby. "Do we have to do this with him watching?" I asked.

Toby looked over at Jason.

I didn't think. I just acted. I grabbed onto Toby's shoulders and kneed him as hard as I could in the crotch.

Toby howled, doubling over in pain.

I ran to Jason, fumbling with the knots behind his hands. I couldn't get them undone! What was I going to do?

Toby was still bent over, moaning.

I dashed over to the washer and dryer and grabbed a candle. Back behind Jason, I used the flame to burn the rope.

Jason made a noise when I burned him.

"Sorry," I said.

But he snapped the rope that held his hands.

Toby was gagging on the other side of the basement.

"My neck," said Jason. "Get the one at my neck!"

I held the candle higher. Jason held the rope away from his skin so that it was easier for me to burn it. The smell of burning rope filled the room. Jason pulled at the rope. It snapped too.

Toby was getting up and lumbering towards us. Apparently, he'd recovered from the kick I'd given his balls.

Panicking, I knelt down to get the rope at Jason's feet.

Toby advanced.

Jason knelt down too, holding the rope in the same manner as he had before.

Toby came closer. He reached for Jason.

Jason balled up a fist and punched up into Toby, catching him in the stomach.

Toby stumbled backwards.

Jason yanked hard on the rope at his feet, and it broke as well. He was free.

But Toby was on his feet again and coming for Jason.

Like the time in the alcove, Jason moved fast. He punched Toby's face twice, hard—one-two. Toby's nose started to bleed, but he kept coming. He threw a punch at Jason, which Jason easily sidestepped.

Toby's punch left his midsection open. Jason's fists collided with Toby's stomach again. Toby fell back again, and tried to grab at Jason, use his momentum to topple both of them.

Instead, Jason kicked Toby's feet out from under him. Toby hit the floor hard. Jason didn't stop, even though Toby was down. He kicked him in the face. Once. Twice. Three times. He kicked until Toby stopped moving.

Then he looked at me. "You're okay?" he asked.

I nodded. "Mostly," I said. "You?"

"Never better," he said tightly. He looked around the basement. "Where'd the others go?"

"They're busy," I said. I didn't even want to think about it. Yuck. "Come on," I said, reaching for his hand.

I pulled us up the steps and out into the living room. There were robed people lying horizontal on the couch. I didn't look. I didn't want to know who it was.

We raced through the dining room. There were robed people on the dining room table. Oh, gross, gross, gross!

They noticed us flying past. "Hey," said a male voice.

We darted through the kitchen and outside. We ran up the driveway. Then I realized the hole in my plan. How were we going to get away? And where were we going to go?

I stopped, but Jason dragged me forward. There were tons of cars in the driveway, all belonging to people who were inside, I guessed. Jason started trying door handles. They were locked.

"Help me," he said.

I went to the first car I saw and yanked on the door handle. Locked. Second car next to it. Locked.

"Got one!" Jason called. I looked up. He was several cars down from me, standing next to the open door of a glossy black Nissan. I ran to him, opening the passenger's side door.

"You know how hotwire a car?" I asked.

"I do," he said, "but lucky us, the keys are in the ignition." And he started the car.

As Jason backed the car out of the driveway, robed people began filtering out of the house, running towards their cars.

We pulled onto the road, and Jason sped away from my house, going as fast as he could around the curves. I reached for my seatbelt. I hoped we weren't going to die in a car wreck. "They're going to follow us," I said to him.

"Yep," he said. "And that's not our only problem."

"What?" I said.

"I'm still wearing the goddamned ankle monitor," he said.

"Fuck!" I exclaimed.