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A Thanksgiving Love Letter to Writers…and the Indie Revolution

thanksgiving 3My blog posts are usually for readers, not writers, but in the light of the coming Thanksgiving holiday I thought I’d make a bit of an exception. That’s not to say that I don’t think readers will find my “love letter” interesting – you will, swear! And I’m so grateful for each and every one of you who take time out once a week to read my musings, buy my books and browse through the quirky photographs I like to post.

It’s just that I want to take this time to say a very big thank you to all of my writer friends and colleagues who have been so supportive to me over the years.

I also want to thank the Indie Publishing Revolution, which I believe has done great things for all writers and readers alike – breathing life into publishing, allowing readers their say, and giving aspiring storytellers a real chance to either sink or swim.

To quote Carly Simon, “These are the good ole days.”

Given how hard we writers are all working and how quickly publishing is changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis – I also thought I’d take a moment to write a brief retrospective on what I’ve seen at the Indie Revolution and why I believe it has made us writers better people.

And what an amazing journey it has been so far.

abandon

A little over a year ago, one of my fiction writer colleagues was feeling so down in the dumps that he quit all of his writer groups and left social media altogether. He said that ultimately, he just felt a diminishing return. Here’s a guy who had always worked really hard to help his fellow authors, but when it came time to promote his debut novel, he felt other writers’ efforts fell short.

He was probably right. I think a lot of authors silently agreed when he stated his reasons for leaving the virtual watercooler. He basically said – no hard feelings, but I’m just not getting enough out of this to stick around.

But then something happened.

A long thread of conversation erupted that not only urged this colleague to reconsider, but let loose a flow of good will and a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that outlined what is for me the main reason to participate in writer groups and spend some of my precious marketing time on others: it’s the support and camaraderie of other writers.

This, I realized, was a significant change for me.

I’ve been writing in one form or another for a long time. It took me what felt like forever to build my network and fortify my reputation. In the days before social media, I did it the old fashioned way. I drank with people, had lunch, wrote college essays for people’s kids, picked brains, had my brain picked, and shmoozed at every kind of event where someone might need the services of a really good writer. And that worked well for the kind of writing I was doing.

But then – like many of you – I set my sights on fiction.

This was only a few, short years ago, but it was also before the days of indie writers and social media, so it feels like the Paleolithic Era.

And what a different era it was.

I was living in San Francisco at the time, and one of my friends invited me to a wine and cheese gathering for what was (and maybe still is) THE writing group in that city. She said she’d introduce me around and that I should mingle with some of the other fiction writers there – many of whom were beyond aspiring and had actually arrived. I gave her a resounding “yes!” and tagged along on the strength of her considerable credentials.

But while I had a great time sipping wine, cracking jokes, and ogling people with star agents and lucrative publishing deals, the whole thing left me a bit cold. I started out in theater, which has an extremely supportive culture; I then migrated into teaching seminars and more business-centered writing, where people frequently help each other out. Yet, when I entered the world of published (with a capital “P”) book writers – I was surprised to find a circle of otherwise thoughtful and talented people who appeared to subscribe to Gore Vidal’s notion that “It’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.”

I listened as a memoirist and newspaper columnist savaged a man who they both agreed was a good friend of theirs. What did this guy do to deserve it? He got an hour – yes, a full hour on Oprah. Shouldn’t that be cause for a party? But no, the conversation went something like this:

“It was a perfect venue for him,” said the columnist. “He’s always been a little light on content.”
Ouch!
“Did you read his book?” the memoirist asked.
“No, but Laurel said it was thin.”
“Oh, she read it?”
“No, but I think one of her friends did.”

This was by no means an isolated incident. In one conversation after another, I listened as writers slapped-down, disparaged, damned with faint praise and otherwise insulted the work of their colleagues.

bullet-proof vest

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about all writers. I’m a writer and some of my very best would-scratch-the-eyes-out-of-anyone-who-looked-at-me-sideways friends are writers, too. They have been there for me like no one else – scraping me up off the floor after a devastating rejection letter, pouring me an expensive whiskey at the mere sight of a potential victory, introducing me to people who could help me in my quest.

What I’m talking about is the prevailing culture of book writers – fiction and non-fiction alike. Even the adorable Anne Lamott, celebrated novelist and memoirist, admitted that when one of her friends got a bad review it “felt like Christmas.”

But that culture has changed dramatically in recent times. And we have the Indie Publishing Revolution to thank.

In defense of the writers of yesteryear (as in, only a couple of years ago, really), our previous system felt like a zero sum game. After all, there were only a few seats at the big table and nearly every writer had to run a gauntlet to get there. And after they had busted their buns making it through several unpublished manuscripts, piles of letters that begin with sentences like “While this writer has talent, unfortunately…” and actually got a publishing contract, they then had to sell books right out of the gate or – buzzzzzzz – get disqualified.

Now that the barriers to entry have been largely removed and even Big 5 authors have to learn the marketing game, we writers have finally been given permission to act like colleagues instead of rivals. We can share best practices, share readerships within our genres, share both victories and disappointments without feeling unduly exposed.

In my San Francisco days, I would have never asked a mere colleague to promote my work. A friend – yes – but a colleague? Uh-uh. Not only would they have probably found an artful way to decline, but I would have had to make peace with the knowledge that they were going to rip me to shreds to all of their friends. Whether they’d read my work or not.

Fast forward and here we scribes are, day after day, baring our writerly souls to virtual strangers in our various online support groups without a second thought.

What happens when you get a troll? You take it to the group, and a swarm of whoever is available on that day will negate, report, counter-review, comfort and basically do whatever they can to help. For non-writers out there, a troll is basically a stalker who has usually not read your work, but is intent on taking you down with bad reviews and basic bad-mouthing just for the sport of it, I guess. Did you make it into the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest? You can count on people who have probably never even met you to read your excerpt and write a killer review.

Does everyone always pull their weight? Well, no. Is everyone supportive? To be honest, most trolls are usually other writers who are out to torpedo the efforts of a colleague. Trolls, however, are in the minority and I pity the troll that gets outed. They will be virtually eaten alive for their shameful behavior.

The painting SATURN by the Spanish artist GOYA.

Do feelings still get hurt and petty arguments flare up from time to time? Of course. We’re human.

But in a profession where it can take twenty years to become an overnight success, it sure is nice to spend that time with people who aren’t hoping you never get there. On the contrary, there’s a feeling that your success – to some small degree – is theirs; a belief that if one of us can make a real living at this, maybe we all can.

So, in that spirit, Thank you, fellow writers, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, readers, for giving new writers a chance and for taking the time to write reviews once you’ve read our work. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your efforts. And thank you, Amazon – you’ve not only turned publishing on its ear, but have almost single-handedly delivered to me a hugely supportive group of friends and colleagues. People who have flown across oceans and borders to attend a reading of my novel, who have invited me on their blogs and into their homes. People who have shared with me and let me into their lives. That has been the greatest blessing of all.

me, Christoph and Catalina

P.S. THE BONE CHURCH will be on sale for $2.99 on Amazon starting Black Friday (Nov. 28th) and ending on December 2nd. Get it while it’s Cold!

On Making a Man

Velvet Revolution b & wThis is a year of milestones for my family. My husband and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Velvet Revolution just marked its 25th anniversary, and our oldest child, a son, will be turning thirteen.

For those of you who may be a bit fuzzy about the Velvet Revolution, I’ll give you a refresher course: The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent series of demonstrations in Czechoslovakia that culminated in an end to 41 years of communist rule, followed by a peaceful conversion to a parliamentary republic. It was truly one of democracy’s great days and one I can’t look back upon without getting all verklempt. Not a single shot was fired.

As for the other two milestones, I think a fifteen-year wedding anniversary is pretty self-explanatory. But for those of you who don’t have kids, I’ll enlighten you a little bit about what it’s like when the first one turns thirteen.

I’m sure you’ve heard, but thirteen is when all the fun begins.

boys smoking

Or not.

Given all that is at stake, it’s crucial to me that we start the teen years off on the right track, and I decided that a mother-son trip back to the old country was in order. The country that I only narrowly escaped being born in – which I like to remind my children would have disqualified me from ever being President here in the US of A. That little civics lesson is an added bonus.

I was a bit apprehensive about spending a week alone with my son on a tour that didn’t involve any of the usual activities that he values in a vacation. You know – beaches, fishing, and a lot of lounging around.

A trip to the Czech Republic is a very adult vacation. One filled with history and family. And in this case, one even infused with work. My son not only got to watch me perform a reading of my novel, The Bone Church, at a Prague bookstore, but listen in as I furnished a lengthy interview to Prague Radio that included a good deal of rather delicate family information he’d never heard before.

I knew our week would be jam-packed, exhausting and utterly alien to him. My hope was that my son could walk away from our week in Prague with something of his mother to take with him through his more challenging years. During a time when he’ll be breaking away from my loving embrace – as he should, taking his own council or the advice of his friends over mine – as he also should from time to time, and springing, swelling, sometimes snowballing into the man he will become.

I’ve given a lot of consideration to what kind of mother I want to be to my son. To the kind of man I want to raise and unleash on this world. I’ve thought about everything from discipline – I’m a fan, to independence – a necessity in my point of view, and character – absolutely essential. My husband and I once disqualified an excellent private school for our children when we learned about an incident where a bus driver had refused to drive an inch until an overly exuberant teen was able to control himself and sit down.

We would’ve shaken the man’s hand, but the school gave the driver a pink slip after the disruptive and disrespectful student’s parents complained.

becoming a man 3

I just want so much more for my children than a culture of entitlement and a single-minded obsession with self-esteem. Especially when I’ve seen how in my own life, my sense of worth has come far more from opportunities to exercise morals and principals, and an ability to acquire skills and sharpen talents, than even a thousand you go, girls. The fact that my husband and I love our kids beyond reason is table stakes. It’s the other stuff that can be more challenging in an age when parents are terrified of not providing the perfect environment for their children’s future success.

I suppose we’re no different in that regard. We just go about things a little bit differently.

Believe me, we are not the kind of parents who fetishize the “good ole days” of child-rearing. We don’t want to bring back the wooden spoon and tell our kids they’ll go blind if they masturbate. But we also don’t want them to grow into adults who believe the world will accommodate their every grievance. Or conversely, for obedience to be their defining characteristic because they’ve never been allowed to fail. We strive to create an environment where our children are allowed the critical landmarks of growth that come from making mistakes and getting into danger every once in a while. The kind of danger that comes from being permitted to ride their bikes unsupervised or watch a horror movie or settle a dispute without adult intervention. We don’t always succeed.

becoming a man 4

In my own, crazy Cold War family, I saw how vital it was to address important, scary, complex and adult issues. To not shield children from the existence of death, evil and all manner of barbarity. These were talked about in great detail at my dinner table when I was coming of age, and those tales – far from scarring me – did nothing but deepen my empathy and enrich my understanding of humanity. Even if they did disturb me. Keep me up at night sometimes. Make me cry.

The world is a beautiful mess and my parents never tried to clean it up too much for me. Nor did they ever clean my room for me. That’s been a positive force in my life.

So, back to our trip to Prague. I viewed it as a launching pad for my son’s young manhood and a vehicle for our relationship to make the adjustment from “mommy and me” (ok, he hasn’t called me mommy for a pretty long time now), to just “me and mom.”

Our relentless, almost psychedelic trip to Prague came on with gale force wind – beginning with catching a Czech film about the Prague Spring as it was being shot. A lucky break, we ran into a film crew as we strolled around Vinohrady, where we were staying, and got to pose for pictures in front of vintage cars, tanks, actors costumed in late 1960s groovery and fog machines.

We walked until our feet ached, trolled the castle dungeon and its accompanying torture museum, and shopped for souvenirs on the Charles Bridge. I let my son ask me anything he wished about marriage and sex; about our friends who had gotten divorced and why. He even got the opportunity to hear his grandfather tell the story of his and my mother’s defection. How, like in the movies, my father found himself crawling in the grass only to come nose to toe with a pair of boots, then look up into the eyes of a border guard and the barrel of a gun. It was a first for me, too, as I’d only heard the story from my mother’s point of view.

I took him to my mother’s village to stay with family friends – warm, kind people who treated us like one of their own, and strolled with him around our family farm, which had recently been sold to a brewer. Sprawling and once stately, it had been in our care since before the American Revolution. And now, it was gone.

Klobuky

At home, my son dresses like his friends – terribly. I mean truly – with unkempt, unwashed hair, pants that are either too big or too small, t-shirts and dirty underwear. He’s a sartorial disgrace and he knows it.

“Part of the herd, mom,” he says.

But in Prague, he allowed himself to look great. His hair was washed and finger-styled. His clothes were neat and masculine. He even let my friend Beth dress him in a vintage coat and tails with a tie pin for a night on the town. He stared at himself in the mirror and saw the man he will one day be.

“Wow,” he said. “I look good.”

becoming a man 6

And on our last night, I took him to an authentic, French burlesque show.

Along with my two equally middle-aged girlfriends, Nancy and Beth, we dressed him up, teased him, let him take a ceremonial sip of beer, and educated him about the style of theater he was viewing. And don’t worry moms and dads, it was all tastefully done. He’s seen more skin on his friend’s moms at our local pool than he did at this very chic and sophisticated burlesque show. He just loved that while he was the youngest one there, he still wasn’t treated like a kid.

96P

The next morning, as our plane began its taxi down the runway, my son looked out the window and said, “Come on, mom. On the count of three – goodbye, Prague! We’ll miss you.”

I swear, my heart skipped a beat.

I’m hoping that our son’s passage from boyhood to manhood will be as peaceful as the Velvet Revolution. I would like the inevitable transition of power to go without bloodshed, police intervention, or too many tears. But I don’t want it to be easy for him either. Or easy for us. We don’t grow that way. Or at least don’t grow enough. Sometimes we need the trouble of a rough and tumble journey in order to become anyone worthwhile. A guy a girl can depend on, a friend can respect, and a child look up to. You don’t become that man without having to defend yourself or others, breaking a heart, or having a heart broken for that matter. And it’s a journey that for the most part, a boy has to make on his own terms.

becoming a man 7

Chaos, John Dolan, and One Helluva Scavenger Hunt

chaos 4John Dolan is back in the Cold and I couldn’t be more delighted. And this time he brings with him a co-conspirator, the illustrious Fiona Quinn, with whom he has written a brand-spanking new thriller: CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

‘CHAOS’ is a psychological suspense, a mystery, and a love story – loaded with irreverent humor, and viewed through the lens of obsession.

WARNING: This book contains references to Judas Iscariot, a dwarf and a performing monkey. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

What is here or there is that I’m about half-way through the book and having just a raucous of a good time. It takes a lot of cojones to write a book with someone you’ve never met and I admire Fiona and John for taking the leap. I admit I would be admiring them less if the book was terrible, but since they’re pulling it off, I say, Mazel Tov!

Here’s the elevator pitch:

Sean hears voices in his head.
Travis snorts cocaine.
Teagan thinks she’s the next Lady Gaga.
Avery has the boss from Hell and a mother with dementia.
And Goose thinks he can catch a serial killer.

As vivid a pitch as this is, I wanted more. So, I decided to send John on a scavenger hunt. Are you ready, John? Here goes!

1. Go to YouTube and find something that will illuminate readers about the voices Sean hears in his head. This can be a movie clip, song, comedy skit, anything.

John: Easy!

2. In reference to “Travis snorts cocaine” – I would like a tasteless photograph that will tell us a little bit more about this Travis fellow and a brief explanation of the photo and how it pertains to “Chaos.”

John: Here’s a photograph I took of a pile of white powder. Of course, it’s not cocaine. Where would I get that from? If I knew a red-bearded dwarf – like the one in ‘Chaos’ – of course it might be a different story.

Chaos 2

3. Find me a song that would play in the opening credits of “Chaos” were made into a movie.

John: Theme tune to ‘Chaos’ – ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult. I did think about ‘The Birdie Song’ because of the Twitter connection. But no. No, no, no. Hell, no.

4. Get Fiona to write a short, 4 line poem about Hell.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here,”
From the Tempest we were warned.
But thwarted efforts to endear,
True Hell is the fury of a woman scorned.

John: Yeah. She’s every bit as pretentious as me :)

5. I’d like an image of your favorite serial killer and brief statement about how he or she has inspired both you, personally, and your work.

John: This is my favourite cereal killer. Those nuts will do for anyone with the relevant allergy. How has it inspired me? Hmm. Well, it inspires me to stay regular.

chaos 3

Links for Chaos Launch

John Dolan
Twitter @JohnDolanAuthor https://twitter.com/JohnDolanAuthor
Website http://johndaviddolan.wix.com/johndolanauthor

John Dolan

Fiona Quinn
Twitter @FionaQuinnBooks https://twitter.com/FionaQuinnBooks
Website http://www.fionaquinnbooks.com/

chaos Fiona

Buy Links on Amazon
USA http://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Come-Again-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B00OSP0AGW/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415588084&sr=8-1&keywords=chaos+is+come+again

UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chaos-Come-Again-John-Dolan-ebook/dp/B00OSP0AGW/ref=sr_1_1_twi_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415588208&sr=1-1&keywords=chaos+is+come+again

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Get it before the voices in your head turn just plain mean!

Featured Artist: Thierry Noir

berlin wall pieceFeatured Artist: Thierry Noir.

Twenty-five years ago – almost to the day – the Berlin Wall came down. It was a blessed day. One that my family had waited for, prayed for, never gave up hope would come.

Before my next post, I’d like to take a brief time to honor that day, and to honor the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. My late father-in-law was a World War II Marine Corps veteran of the Pacific theater. Our dear friend General David Bellon USMC is a four time veteran who spent the greater part of the last dozen years in Iraq and Afghanistan. God Bless the USMC, God Bless all Veterans, God Bless America and God Bless us all.

Kate Brauning Has Fallen into the Cold…But She’s Got Hot Cocoa

www.jenniophotography.comMeet Kate Brauning.

YA author extraordinaire and a damn fine editor, too.

In her debut novel, How We Fall, Kate drives us through the scenic routes of a small town, focusing her keen eye on its passions, its friendships and the secrets that could burn it to the ground. She sees the subtleties that the rest of us often miss; the gradations of emotional color that can be so elusive to writer and reader alike. And she gets on a gut level the swollen, hammering hearts of the young, because her own heart continues to beat with the same relentlessness.

And given Kate’s background, it’s no wonder.

Kate Brauning grew up in the 2nd poorest county in Missouri; the same region in which How We Fall is set. A homeschooled pastor’s daughter, and one of five kids, her young life was lived in the tempest of a big, crazy household.

For her, real life happened as much in the books she borrowed from the library as it did on the twenty acres where her family raised purebred Siberian Huskies and German Shepherds. She loved YA books, primarily. Those stories lived in tandem with movie nights at the Brauning house – the bonzai optimism of 1950s musicals and broken-mirror storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock.

Her mother believed that no good movies were made after 1960, so Kate and her siblings didn’t watch them.

Grown-up Kate Brauning could spend all day at a zoo or a good aquarium and come back the next. She loves making three-tiered cakes and has a serious weakness for pie.

She’s wanted to be a writer since she was twelve years-old, and that dream, or rather, destiny, has come to pass.

But instead of giving you a synopsis of How We Fall (which I will do, but way down there) and bragging to you about what Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal has said about her work (which I’ll also do), I thought I’d present Cold readers with a chance to experience Kate in her own words, thinking on her feet.

I asked her to select three images that evoke the mood or storyline of How We Fall and then asked if she would write to those images. And if you don’t want to order her novel after taking a look at what she’s got to offer us here, then I’m afraid your heart is no longer young. You need to go carve your initials into a tree, write a love letter, make a cup of Kate’s hot cocoa (recipe below), and come back and try again, for Pete’s sake.

HOW WE FALL

    How We Fall

    This image says so much about How We Fall, to me. The story is very much a best friends romance, and there’s something terrifying and wonderful about falling for someone you never wanted or expect to love. The teens here are close, comfortable with each other—it’s clear just from their body language. They’re not even doing anything particularly romantic, but you can see their relationship anyway. I love writing stories like that, because the romance tests the friendship. The more invested the people are in the friendship, the higher the stakes are when things start to change.

    How We Fall 2

    Bravery is a major theme in the story. The difference between bravery and recklessness, especially. Even though she’s a bit of a brash character, Jackie’s afraid of the social stigma and potential consequences of being with her cousin. When someone consumes you, the freefall of that relationship can change everything—and not always in positive ways. Bravery was a struggle for me as a teen, and I think a lot of young people struggle with it, too. I wanted to be bold and confident, but so many little—and some bigger—fears held me back. I think a lot of it comes down to what we’re willing to fight for, and how hard we’re willing to fight.

    How We Fall 3

    Jackie’s missing friend, Ellie, becomes a catalyst in her relationship with Marcus. Obsession becomes a factor in both conflicts—not being able to see past someone is a dangerous place to be. I particularly love writing teens into these situations. So many teens are hitting these serious adult issues for the first time, but they’re having to go through those issues without the experience and often without the resources of older adults. Most teens don’t have easy, black-and-white lives, and How We Fall explores some of those darker struggles. I saw and experienced a lot of dark things myself as a teen, and a lot of it would leave me floundering and having to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. It’s a tough, challenging stage in life with a lot of heartache and a lot of battles. Because of those heartaches and battles, though, there’s also a lot of persistence and vibrancy and truth.

    Kate B How we Fall

    HOW WE FALL By Kate Brauning

    Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much-and with her own cousin, Marcus.
    Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus-and deepens Jackie’s despair.
    Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

    A Note from the author:

    The hot chocolate Marcus makes in How We Fall is significant to me. I’ve always had a minor war going on with cocoa mixes. They’re always too sweet and not dark enough for me, and I don’t like marshmallows (please don’t hate me). I started altering mixes, adding more cocoa, but soon gave that up and just figured out how to make my own. I make it strong, dark, and bittersweet– and nothing tastes more like fall to me. Marcus teaches Jackie how to make it and I want to teach Cold readers, too. Everyone deserves a great cup of cocoa, after all. – Love, Kate

    Marcus’s Hot Chocolate:
    Warm 1 ½ cups milk in a sauce pan on medium-high heat. (Use 2% or whole milk for richer hot chocolate.) When the milk starts to steam, whisk in 2 tablespoons dark cocoa and 1 tablespoon sugar. Turn the heat down to medium so the milk doesn’t scorch, and whisk constantly for about three minutes, until it looks smooth and not silty on a spoon. Makes 1 serving.

    hot chocolate

    Kate’s bio:
    Kate is an author of young adult fiction. As a child, she spent a lot of time in her local library, wandering the shelves and discovering all kinds of stories about all kinds of people. She grew up in the hills of Missouri on twenty acres with a big pear tree, cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, and bottle calves. An incurable love for seeing real life through the pages of a book drew her to writing fiction, and at fifteen she decided she wanted someone to find her own books by searching through the shelves of a library. She’s been writing ever since, and she’s not going to stop until she can no longer put one word after another.
    Kate has taught high school English and fiction workshops at her library, and has worked with both a literary agency and publishing houses. She loves attending writing conferences and book fairs, and is an associate editor at Entangled Publishing, where she works with young adult fiction. She’s also an advocate for domestic abuse victims and poverty eradication, and she volunteers with a grassroots nonprofit, One Body One Hope, which creates community-to-community relationships in Monrovia, Liberia, for infrastructure redevelopment and education.
    Currently Kate lives in Iowa with her husband and their Siberian husky. They do a lot of traveling to visit her husband’s family in the Dominican Republic, and to visit Kate’s family and friends, which against her advice, scattered all over the U.S. In her spare time, she makes three-tier cakes, hunts down new music, and reads just about everything.
    Kate loves unusual people, good whiskey, dark chocolate, everything about autumn, bright colors, red maple trees, superstitions, ghost stories, anything Harry Potter, night skies, pie, and talking about books. She’s working hard on her next few novels, and if you see her, say hello, because she’d love to take you out for coffee and ask you what you’re reading.

    Reviews:
    Kirkus Reviews: “Debut novelist Brauning tells a touching story of young, star-crossed lovers caught in a drama they have tried hard to avoid…. A sweetly written mix of mystery and romantic turmoil.”
    School Library Journal: “Heartbreaking and well-paced, this mystery novel challenges readers to look past preconceptions and get to the know characters, rather than focus on an uncomfortable taboo. Brauning’s characters are well developed and their story engrossing. An intriguing thriller… this title will raise eyebrows and capture the interest of teens.”

    How We Fall is available through:
    Barnes & Noble Indie Bound Walmart.com Book-A-Million Book
    Depository Powell’s
    Amazon.com Amazon.ca Amazon.co.uk

    Social Media Links:
    Website: http://www.katebrauning.com
    Blog: http://www.katebrauning.wordpress.com
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/KateBrauning
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateBrauningAuthor
    Tumblr: http://katebrauning.tumblr.com/
    Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7964607.Kate_Brauning
    Linked-In https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kate-brauning/32/537/133
    Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/katebrauning/
    BookLikes: http://katebrauning.booklikes.com/

Life in a Haunted House

haunted house kids trick or treatWe never get any trick-or-treaters. I can tell myself that it’s because we’re the only house on a dead-end street and surely, being off the beaten path is part of the problem. But if I’m to be completely honest, it’s because I know that little kids are afraid of our home.

Yes, we live in THAT house.

It’s the one we all dared each other to visit on Halloween. The one that got the occasional egging from only the bravest, most rebellious teens. The one that made toddlers cry.

In the neighborhood I grew up in outside of Chicago, there was a dark, recessed house that looked like a Turkish prison. It definitely stuck out, as the rest of the homes in our neighborhood had been built in the early 1960s and had a decidedly family-friendly feel to them. Swing sets in the back yard, goofy Halloween decorations and middle class tastes made them look safe, even when the masters of those homes appeared grumpy and mean, and the mistresses depressed, lonely and on the edge.

At the Turkish prison house, me and my friend Laura would get about as far as ringing the doorbell, but ultimately, we’d chicken out and run away. I don’t think we ever got candy from those people, and if we had, we would’ve probably stuffed it in their mailbox before high-tailing it out of there. Afraid that any loot we might’ve scored was laced with arsenic, battery acid or just plain old bad juju.

haunted-house

I recognize now that the unfortunate, in all likelihood sweet-as-heck folks who lived in that house waited in vain every Halloween for someone – anyone – to come by and put a dent in that bag of Hershey’s Minis they felt obligated to buy every year…just in case.

I know that’s what we do.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Aw, come on. It can’t be that bad. You seem nice enough – I’m sure there’s a very good reason why no one will trick-or-treat at your house.”

And there is.

Our house is haunted.

haunted house ghost and man

It’s no surprise, as our house is really, really old and has had a lot of traffic. She was built while Thomas Jefferson was still among us and living across town for heaven’s sake, cross-breeding heirloom vegetables and writing letters that now sit in the Smithsonian. She’s been a general store, grain depot, bar, theater, voting place, boarding house, student ghetto, and a musician’s flophouse (we’ve been told Art Garfunkel partied at our home in the 1960s – scary, right?), until finally, over the course of two owners, she morphed into a single-family home.

I think our basement is the crux of the problem. An old-fashioned wet basement, it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It is populated by numerous snakes and spiders that we welcome as part of the delicate ecosystem of our house, as those critters keep the mouse and insect population in check. But that’s not why I mention it, and it’s not why little kids who don’t know us do the fifty yard dash past our property line.

It’s that our basement was also once used as a (gulp!) Civil War morgue.

So maybe that’s where all of the cling-clangs, footsteps, apparitions and ghostly murmurs come from!

gettyimages_3170621

Case in point, in our most recent paranormal encounter, I got up in the middle of the night to fetch myself some water. When I returned to our bed, I distinctly heard a man’s whisper and turned to my husband.

“Did you say something, honey?” I said.

My husband told me that he had not.

“But I heard it, too,” he said. “Let’s talk about it in the morning.” Which we did, but without the drama and hullabaloo you might imagine.

We’re not afraid anymore. We’ve been living here long enough to know that these odd occurrences are just our home’s way of saying hello every once in a while.

downstairs

And that’s what I’m getting at.

As spooky as our house may seem to outsiders, we know she loves and protects us.

Like a loyal, old crone, she objects loudly and emphatically to people who annoy, interfere or in any way attempt to cause mischief in our lives.

When my grandmother got ornery and meddling in the years before she died, our house would actually respond to her visits – keeping her up at night with grating, intermittent noises that tormented my Baba’s sleep like Chinese water-torture. The plumbing wouldn’t behave for her, temperature controls would go haywire and the guest room TV screen might simply go on strike.

I don’t have to tell you that all of these petty annoyances would vanish the moment Baba pulled out of our driveway, Rush Limbaugh blasting from her radio and a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing out of the passenger side window.

Now, I loved my grandmother – even at her worst. But my house? Not so much. She always preferred the company of my more cheerful mom, who accompanied my grandmother on her visits, but would remain curiously unbothered by the woo-woo goings on.

monster mash

And I love that our house is strong – clad in history’s armor. Thick-walled and made of brick. She barely shakes when the trains go by, standing broad-chested and chivalrous; a black, Southern grandmother. She has been a friend and safe haven throughout violent weather, illness and economic catastrophe. Even when we’ve scowled at her and bristled at the tyranny of caring for her scratches, bruises and idiosyncrasies.

But we have never let her down either, and she knows it.

My husband and I have fought her and fought for her, fixing her face-paint, finding the right doctors for her Edison-era wiring, buying her a brand new roof that sits on her head like a Sunday hat. No more piles of cold, young men, whooping cowboys, tired merchants, transients, or naked hippies. Our children have filled her life with laughter. They’ve hidden their secrets in her many nooks and crannies and papered her walls with their dreams.

We have given her a happy family.

So, please, consider coming by this Halloween. We have all the good kinds of candy and you’re sure to get a big handful instead of the usual one piece allotment that more popular homes dispense.

coven

MCV Egan’s Long Journey to Prague

letter from homeThis, for me, is the week of the re-blog, but I just can’t resist. On Monday, I posted Christoph Fischer’s lovely piece about his trip to Prague and now I’m posting MCV Egan’s. But don’t for a minute think you’re just getting more of the same. MCV’s post is powerful and meaningful – drawing not only on her observations from her recent trip to my favorite city, but on family stories and tragedies in her own home country of Mexico.

Please have a read. Then go have a cry.

My Long Journey to Prague
By MCV Egan

Just a week ago, on Monday October 6th I got up early in Prague to catch the first train to Kutná Hora . My friends and I wanted to see for ourselves The Bone Church in Victoria Dougherty’s phenomenal novel.

BoneChurch_border

My one hour train ride that morning was with two Europeans with very different youths and perspectives of train rides in Europe. The gentle motion of the train and the even sounds as it moved made our Danish companion state that she had forgotten how relaxing these old trains and their sounds were. The images that flashed through my mind’s eye were full of many memories of my own train rides in the 70s, 80s and as late as 1993.

I was born in Mexico City, Mexico and until ten years ago I traveled under a Mexican passport. As such I chose my train trips with great care and only visiting countries that to me seemed ‘safe’; I did have my share of incidents in the ‘safe countries’ including being held at knife point on one train in France, but that we can save for another story.

The ‘un-safe’ countries I regrettably chose not to visit then, were countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia; all of which I had ample opportunity to visit, in the years I lived in France and Sweden; especially Poland.

My fears and feelings of peril in the then Eastern Bloc Countries stemmed from being a bearer of a Mexican passport; as such I felt that the country it represented would not be able to protect me if I came to any harm in foreign lands. The other reason I chose not to visit Eastern Bloc Countries was the ingrained dread of communist evil. This was a fear well fed by my education in the U.S.A. as well as by my father.

In 1957, my dad in a daze of admiration for the beauty of Russian Architecture managed to separate from the group he was traveling with. He was detained for a few hours by the KGB while it could be confirmed that he was just a young Mexican architect attending the UIA (Union Internationale des Architectes) meeting being hosted by Russia that year. He never really described what happened but for decades he woke up from nightmares in which he was ‘running away from the Russians’.

As the rhythmic sound of the train carried us to Kutná Hora my European companions described their experiences as young European travelers; these were all happy with the feeling of safety the passports of their native lands granted them.

I felt safe that day on that train carrying the passport of the country I have chosen as my own; a country that for all its flaws does grant me the feeling of security the country of my birth did not.

As the famous quote below expresses the scenery in the window and even The Bone Church as seen by our very different experiences in life was interpreted in such different ways.

bone church chandelier

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.” John Lubbock

I so wish I could tell you that the fears of my youth were absolutely absurd, but as much as I tried not to watch the news during my trip which on October 3rd were full of the sad and horrible reports of Alan Henning’s beheading.

That very day; October 6th going to Kutna Hora anyone with any ties to Mexico was surely haunted by the report of the mass grave found in the state of Guerrero that seemed to be the missing students.

bones and more bones

I avoided the news but they danced around my mind as I visited the bones so carefully displayed as an odd collage sculpture. I looked at the bones and remembered the fabulous book that gave one set of bones a story; albeit a fictional one, and I wondered how many of those souls died in peace and naturally and how many like the Mexican students and Alan Henning died in brutal unnecessary violence.

My traveling companion Christoph Fischer had a vested and interesting family connection to the region, which he explored in fiction as well in the fantastic book The Luck of the Weissensteiners and shared with us in our journey.

Luck of the Wassersteins

That evening as Victoria Dougherty presented her novel at the English bookstore THE GLOBE ; she gave us a detailed perspective on her family history explaining how war and Russian occupation had affected her family and the psychological scars that remain.
Her eloquent manner and the choice of reading material kept me very in tune with the moment, it wasn’t until later looking at the photographs we took that night with the Mexican Día de Muertos skull I brought her as a gift on the table in front of us, that I really identified how much each one of us is so shaped by so much; our parents fears and experiences, where we come from and what surrounds us.

me, Christoph and Catalina

On October 9th as I waited to board my plane back to Miami at Heathrow a man next to me was reading a Newspaper in Spanish; the large headline stated that two men had confessed to the murder of the students, I asked him in Spanish if he really thought it was simply two men. In a neutral beautiful Spanish he answered that two had confessed and stated his views; (which I won’t repeat as I have not had the heart to read enough on the sad subject, but which made me very sad). A few minutes later the man’s phone rang and he had a conversation in Perfect French, when it ended I said to him “ Vous Parlez très bien L’espagnol pour un Français.” He smiled and answered “Non, pas pour un Français, pour un Italien.”

In the past few days since I came back state side, I have not heard one person mention the student massacre in Mexico; except for my Mexican contacts in Cyberspace. These tragic deaths should not go un-noticed.

Cat and Christoph at Bone Church

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