Ashes to Ashes

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Here’s the latest in my short stories collection that re-imagines the childhood of Dr. H.H. Holmes–Chicago’s (allegedly) first serial killer. If you enjoy it, you may like the others! Click here to read them.

Henry Webster sat at the top of the steps, just outside his attic bedroom. He was supposed to be getting ready for bed, but he learned much from his nightly eavesdropping. The New York Tribune, filched from the kitchen table after breakfast, lay neatly folded next to him. The headline for September 30, 1874, screamed from the page: “Little Charley Ross still missing!”

“I agree, it is quite disturbing and unsettling for a small child to go missing.” The voice of Henry’s father floated up the stairs. Henry heard the familiar clink of a tea cup being set down.

“It is more than unsettling, Levi. It’s more than disturbing. Between this poor four year old–” That was his mother, before his father interrupted her.

“Charley Ross went missing from Philadelphia, Theodora. That’s quite different from our little Gilmanton.”

A tea cup–Henry presumed it was his mother’s, given the force with which it was put down–clattered against a saucer. “Our little Gilmanton doesn’t know who bludgeoned Nancy Robertson, and I don’t think Ellen should go to work any longer.”

“Mother,” Henry’s sister, Ellen, began. “I understand your concern, but that was months ago, and Nancy was only twelve. Nothing has happened since then. Besides, her body was found past the woods near the creek. I walk the main road from our home to Dr. White’s office. No one is going to crack me over the head–”

“Ellen, do not speak so flippantly of that poor girl’s demise,” her mother interjected with a tone familiar to all of the Webster children.

“No one is going to murder me–”

“Ellen,” her father said. “I think that’s enough talk of murder. Your mother and I will discuss this further.”

A chair scraped against the wood floor. Henry could picture Ellen standing up and placing a hand on their father’s shoulder. She always did when she wanted her way.

“Father, Mother, please just remember that working for Dr. White is the only way I’ll be able to go to Oberlin. I’m saving all of my money–all of it–to pay for my schooling.”

More tea cup clinking. A squeaking floorboard indicated Ellen was in front of her bedroom door. The door shut.

His parents resumed their conversation.

“She’s right, Theodora,” Henry’s father said. “We’ve had several bad years in a row on the farm now. Not that I thought my daughter would want to go to college and my youngest son would want to be a doctor. Thank the Lord Arthur wanted to follow in my footsteps.”

“Levi, a young girl was just…just murdered in our town. I don’t want Ellen anywhere alone. It’s not safe.”

“Thea.” 

Henry recognized the change of his father’s voice. The tone, coupled with his father using her name’s diminutive, meant Levi Mudgett was about to use his skills of persuasion. 

“Dr. White said that he would be willing to close up shop and take her with him if he were called out. That way she would never be alone.” Henry imagined his father taking a well-timed sip of tea. Clink. Henry smiled. He was right. “Our daughter is bright. And times are changing. If you’d had the opportunity to further your schooling…”

There it is, Henry thought, smirking. The last nail in the conversational coffin. His father was nothing if not persuasive, and appealing to his mother’s wistfulness about school, well, there was a reason Ellen and Henry usually got their way–at least outside of the house. Their father was a master of manipulation, and he taught them well.

Some people didn’t like the Websters because of that family trait. They thought them untrustworthy. Henry saw it differently: he felt most people in Gilmanton were easily led.

His sister was just as intelligent, but she was honest to a fault. She didn’t believe in convincing people cunningly; she just wanted to put it all out there and let people make their own decisions. Of course, if it meant getting a new hair ribbon or going to Philadelphia with her friend, Elizabeth Dean, when her family went there for a whole week, Ellen was not above using manipulation.

Henry thought that letting people make their own decisions was stupid. That was fine at the Webster dinner table. They were all smart, and for as long as Henry could remember, his parents engaged their children in philosophical debates daily. But not everyone was smart. School showed him that. And those people needed to be led to the right conclusions, not left to their own free will. 

Henry stood slowly and entered his room, carefully shutting the door behind him. The missing boy and dead girl didn’t cross his mind. Instead, his thoughts turned to college. He, too, would have to find a way to pay for it. He knew that once Ellen left for Oberlin, he’d be able to take her place at Dr. White’s office, but that was still a year away. He smiled at the thought. He was already at the physician’s office on a near-daily basis, gleaning whatever bits of information he could from the doctor. To get paid for something he enjoyed so much seemed too good to be true. But it was true. And Dr. White said he’d write him a reference for any medical school he wanted to go to. The challenge would be affording it.

Henry’s parents were comfortable, but not well off. Raising four children was not a cheap endeavor, and though Levi Webster inherited his farm and house from his own father, Henry noticed the pursestrings had closed tighter the past few years. Many nights he overheard his parents discussing the failed crops, the sale of more land, and the question of going to the bank. Inheriting the farmstead meant they lived in a large home, but not the largest home in Gilmanton. They had nice clothes, but not the nicest. They had one servant, but not four like the Dean family. They certainly didn’t take week-long trips to big cities.

Henry vowed his life would be different. He’d have the biggest home, the nicest clothes, and as many servants as he wanted. He’d remind Gilmanton who the Websters really were: one of the founding families of the town. Over time, they’d lost their power and clout to others, but Henry would get it back. Being a doctor was just the beginning of his plan to restore his family’s legacy. 

#

“That’s terrible about Marshall Oberhund.” Henry’s mother was serving oatmeal from the glowing wood-burning stove. 

“Miss Oberhund’s brother?” Henry asked. He took a seat next to his father, across from the window where the sun created its own stained glass in the mornings. Ellen was primping in her bedroom. Their brother Arthur was already in the field.

“Yes,” his father said. “He broke his back and won’t be able to help James Collins with his stove business.”

Henry’s eyes crinkled. 

His mother put a plate of warm bread on the table. “That’s going to put him in a bad spot.” 

“I imagine so. He does a fair turn of business here, but he also travels all the way up to Lake Winnipesaukee.”

“And with winter coming up,” Henry’s mother said, sitting down at the table with a sigh. 

Henry took a slice of the steaming bread. 

“Father, do you think I could help Mr. Collins? You’ve taught me all about our stove.” 

“I thought you were going to work for Dr. White, Henry?” his mother asked.

“I will take Ellen’s place, but that’s still a ways off.” Henry carefully let his spoon rest against his oatmeal bowl. “I think I need to start now to save for school.”

The unfamiliar spread of a smile crossed his father’s face. 

“I can’t say I’ve ever seen someone so young with such big plans for himself, Henry.” He sat back in his chair, looking over his youngest son. “On one condition. You’ll come back here to be the town’s doctor–and use that brain of yours to help your brother run this farm.”

Henry proudly returned the smile. “Yes, sir!”

“I’ll speak with Mr. Collins today, after I walk your sister to town.” 

#

Within three months, James Collins allowed Henry to answer calls on his own. He had an uncanny ability to remember facts and figures, so his knowledge of proper ash disposal and the various ignition temperatures of wood paralleled that of his employer. It was a dirty job, different from the type of dirty Henry got when dissecting or helping Dr. White put more samples in jars. But he was making nice deposits into his savings account each week, even now that school had started.

One day, Henry had a call to go to the Lintons’ house. The Lintons were becoming a near-weekly occurrence. Mrs. Linton didn’t want to have to empty ash and still, in spite of Henry’s attempts to educate her, had no concept of what the flue and dampers were for. As a result, there was often smoke billowing into her kitchen. 

Henry knocked on the door. 

“Oh, Henry. I’m so glad to see you. I just don’t know what the problem could be this time.” Mrs. Linton rubbed her hands on her blackened apron. Henry dutifully lugged in the ash bin and his brushes. A baby squalled from the upstairs. Mrs. Linton’s face pained.

“Little Malachi is awake. I’ll leave you to this, Henry, if you don’t mind I tend to the baby?”

“Of course, Mrs. Linton.” He smiled.

The kitchen was indeed smoky, and soot had settled on every still surface. Henry opened up the stove’s door. His eyes widened in disbelief. Shoving more fuel in is not going to make a fire, Mrs. Linton. He shook his head and put on the thick gloves Mr. Collins had given him. Placing the ash bin below the door, he pulled out pieces of wood. Then he turned his attention to the massive amount of ash. 

After a thorough cleaning, Henry added some small pieces of wood–chips, really–for tinder, and then added small logs on top of those. He lit it, waiting for it to catch. Staring into the dancing flames, Henry’s eyes snapped open. He looked down into the ash bin, recalling a conversation he’d had recently with Dr. White.

Fire destroys everything. It all turns to ash. Nothing left behind. An otherworldly smile crept onto Henry’s face. 

“Mrs. Linton,” he called out. “I’m all finished here.”

“Thank you, Henry. I don’t know where I’d be without you.” She tried to smile, but her eyes were rimmed with darkness, and not just from the soot that settled in the crevices of her face. “Here you are.”

Henry wrote her a receipt for the two dollars, thanked her, and left.

#

A gust of cold air ran its icy fingers through Henry’s hair. He crossed the yard of dormant grass and followed the creek to his father’s barn. As he poked past a mound of hay, his heart skipped a beat. He saw exactly what he’d hoped for: a dead mouse lying in the trap. 

Time to test his theory. 

It was unusual for Henry to have the house to himself, but today his parents were in town for a church meeting, and Ellen was working at Dr. White’s. He brought his barn-find into the kitchen and stoked the stove’s fire. Waiting until the flames licked the top of the stove’s firebox, Henry stared at the dead mouse. 

The fire burning at a rate sufficient to Henry, he quickly yet gently put the mouse on the grate and closed the small door. Fifteen minutes passed before he opened it again. The mouse was gone. He scooped the ash to be sure, sifting it side to side. Part of a minute skull, charred and misshapen, remained.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

#

A week later, Henry sat in his usual chair in Dr. White’s private office, inspecting the articulated skeleton. Ellen was compounding the doctor’s “Soothing Syrup for Babies and Toddlers” at the apothecary counter.

The doctor’s voice shook Henry from his thoughts. “Hello, Henry. Interesting news from Philadelphia today.” 

Dr. White’s outstretched hand held the Philadelphia Inquirer. A small headline read, “Sir Henry Thompson and British Cremation Society Cremate First Body.” Henry’s eyes widened. He snatched the newspaper. 

“Sir Henry Thompson, backed by the British Cremation Society and Queen Victoria herself, cremated the first body in England on December 6. Citing cremation as a more hygienic and efficient option for dealing with remains than burial, the Cremation Society still has a large number of adversaries against this questionable treatment of the human body.”

Henry sat back. Silence permeated the small room. 

“Dr. White,” Henry began. “What is the ignition temperature of the human body?” 

Such a conversation was forbidden at home. The Methodists, which included Henry’s parents, still saw cremation as desecration of the human body, and thought it to be against God’s will. But Henry knew that he could talk about these things with Dr. White. The two of them understood that decaying, diseased bodies at funerals could cause illness for the mourners. British research also questioned what happened to the water supply when human remains were buried near streams, rivers, and lakes. 

“Roughly 700 degrees for ignition. Sir Thompson’s crematory registered over 1,000 degrees on his thermometer during the cremation.” 

Henry cocked his head, his brain calculating. “Depending on the type, it takes between 300 and 700 degrees for wood to burn completely.” 

“The crematory is specially built for the increased heat–and to maintain it within.”

Henry looked back at the newspaper and read.

“All that remains is ash and bits of bone.”

“Isn’t science incredible, Henry?” The doctor sat down at his desk. “I told you we were on the cusp of a new world.”

#

Henry didn’t eavesdrop from the top of the stairs that night. Instead, he shut himself in his room, continuing to marvel over Sir Thomas’ crematory. Pulling the small box from beneath his bed, he opened it and touched the marble and button. He stroked the white leather glove, the strip of leather from a toy, and the butter-yellow thread. Then, he caught sight of the mouse’s skull. Henry’s eyes narrowed. His mouth formed a sneer. Another piece of his plan fell in place.

H. H. Holmes & Keanu Reeves: Confirmed!

Getty Images photo of Keanu Reeves

It’s official! Several news outlets have confirmed that Hulu is producing a 2024 series based on Erik Larson’s novel, Devil in the White City, and said series will star Keanu Reeves as Daniel Burnham. Burnham was a well-known and legendary architect in Chicago who was also a force behind the World’s Fair there in 1893, and Larson’s book travels back and forth between a Burnham/World’s Fair storyline and an H. H. Holmes storyline. (Thus began my obsession with Holmes! I had never heard of him (or his exploits) prior to reading Larson.)

Variety’s August 4, 2022, article says that Rick Yorn, Jennifer Davisson, Stacey Sher, Sam Shaw, and Mark Lafferty are all serving as executive producers–alongside Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. I am still holding out hope that DeCaprio will be cast as Holmes because I feel he could so capture the smooth-talking criminal that Holmes was.

As I’ve mentioned before (and before that), DiCaprio purchased the film rights to Larson’s bestseller back in 2010. Hulu announced in 2019 it was in talks with DiCaprio and Scorsese, but, like with so many other things, COVID probably got in the way and caused further delays. Regardless, this girl is BEYOND stoked to see this finally coming to fruition!

H. H. Holmes + Keanu Reeves?

The Legend of Keanu Reeves – GQ

The rumors behind a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio film adaptation of Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City have been around for literally years now. (Read more on my blog post about this very thing.) DiCaprio purchased the film rights back in 2010, and it sounds like it’ll be a Hulu mini-series instead of a full feature-length movie. The latest news/gossip is that Keanu Reeves is in talks to star in the movie. I’m not sure if I’d prefer Reeves or DiCaprio as the villain, personally. After years of watching DiCaprio in Romeo and Juliet thanks to teaching high school English, I couldn’t imagine him as Holmes, but when I saw him in Shutter Island, I changed my mind. However, Reeves definitely has the tall, dark, and handsome looks that H. H. Holmes is repeatedly described as having. What do you think? Who would be the better H. H. Holmes?

H. H. Holmes + Leonardo DiCaprio?

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Back in February of 2019, Hulu announced that it would be teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese to introduce the world to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, the book that brought H. H. Holmes back into the limelight, via a television series. Back in 2003, DiCaprio bought the rights to make it into a movie, and he and Scorsese had been at some level of the production since 2015. I have to admit, I’d rather have a television series that I can enjoy than one single movie, but then I’m a smidge obsessed with Holmes.

Apparently, Tom Cruise was originally the first Hollywood hot shot to be interest, but that fell through, and within a year, DiCaprio picked it up. When he and Scorsese were planning the film version, the plan was for DiCaprio to play Holmes–and wouldn’t he be amazing in that role? His gentlemanly manner and charming smile certainly remind me of Holmes. However, now that Hulu is involved, it’s likely that they’ll come up with a different lead, but Hulu is not releasing any details. (And I’d looooove some details!)

Don’t forget, Larson’s book was not solely about Holmes. It has a broad appeal to non-fiction lovers since Holmes’ story is spliced into that of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. If you’re a history buff, a lover of architecture, or enamored with life in the late 19th century, there will be something for you in the book and the television series.

Sign up for my email list today! I have the H. H. Holmes Handbook coming out soon, and my subscribers will not only get a first look but get it for free!

An H. H. Holmes Haunting?

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Though we don’t have H. H. Holmes’ “murder castle” to check out anymore (it sat where today’s Englewood post office sits), there are other locations that Holmes is connected to. Some are simply connections by way of the 1893 World’s Fair, like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, but some are more, well, gruesome. One of those locations is a house in Irvington, Indiana, featured on this season’s first episode of Ghost Hunters. For you paranormal lovers, you can watch that here!

On October 5, 1894, Holmes rented the cute little cottage from J.C. Wands. He was seen on the premises with Howard Pitezel, the son of his right-hand man, Benjamin–whom he had already killed. Eventually, once Holmes’ number was up, Detective Frank Geyer investigated the Irvington house and discovered bones belonging to Howard Pitezel. Howard was just a child, and Howard seems to be one of the spirits haunting the house.

Read a first-hand (and beautifully-written) account of what living in the house is like by former resident Pepper Partin. Here’s an excerpt: “When America’s first serial killer, Dr. H.H. Holmes, turned the key to the rental house nestled on the outskirts of a beautiful little town six miles east of Indianapolis, did the threshold buckle with the weight of what would happen here? The trees, it seems, aren’t talking. But the lingering spirits share evocative vignettes.”

What do you think? Does little Howard Pitezel pine for a transition to the other side? Or is he destined to haunt his last home?

Sign up for my email list today! I have the H. H. Holmes Handbook coming out soon, and my subscribers will not only get a first look but get it for free!

 

H. H. Holmes Hits the Headlines

Holmes

Imagine my surprise when I saw a link pop up in my Facebook feed with this headline: River North hotel invites guests to spend a killer night in H.H. Holmes pop-up suite

Yep. You read that correctly.

If you’ve followed by blog for any length of time, you know that my novel is based on the murders of H.H. Holmes. He’s received some cult-level popularity via Erik Larsen’s book, The Devil in the White City, the recent History channel American Ripper docuseries, and even American Horror Story. And now, for a limited time, the Acme Hotel Company in River North is converting a hotel suite into a Holmes-lover’s dream. Or is that nightmare?

Decor included in your scare stay: old newspaper clippings, surgical tools, and Holmes’ mug staring at you. All. Night. Long.

Acme Hotel, this Holmes fanatic thinks you’ve landed on a spectacular idea.

Attached in the same Tribune article? A link to an interactive “walking tour” of the 1893 World’s Fair. Incredibly cool, and not just for a writer’s research either! 

The Murderous Mystery Tour…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Murderous Mystery Tour is coming to take you away… (My apologies to Paul and John. I couldn’t help myself.)

If you’re simultaneously creeped out and fascinated by the likes of H.H. Holmes, take a trip to Chicago for two well-done tours of the good, er, bad doctor’s stomping grounds.

Weird Chicago’s bus tour takes you “on a journey back in time to not only the places where Holmes sought out and dispatched his victims, but also to take a look at the remnants of the spectacular fair” of 1893. I went on this tour in the summer of 2017, and it was phenomenal–and one of the reasons I began writing The Devil Inside Me. The tour guide was super animated and knowledgeable about all things Holmes. At the time I’m writing this, tickets are $35. Weird Chicago has other tours as well, including the Roaring 20s Speakeasy Tour (21 and up only!) and the Blood, Guns, and Valentine’s Tour.

Adam Selzer, author of H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, runs a walking tour in the Windy City. Selzer’s tour differs from Weird Chicago’s in that he focuses on the not-so-known locations that Holmes would have visited. I took this tour in the fall of 2017, and it too was phenomenal. Selzer is not theatrical as the other tour’s guide was; rather, he provides the details of Holmes’ life that often get lost in the legend–and he distinguishes fact from the fiction that history tends to create. Tickets are currently $20 (for his other tours as well). Selzer runs the Mysterious Chicago podcast and website, and he was a consulting producer on the History channel’s series about Holmes, American Ripper.

If you’re in the Windy City, you don’t want to miss these tours. Let me know what your experiences are!

Yes! You Can Be a Writer!

jjfletcherbooks.com

Who can be a writer? YOU can be a writer!

The first thing I learned from that half-done, now-shelved novel I mentioned earlier this week? 

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE–and don’t be afraid to do it. Stop asking yourself “am I good enough to be a writer?” You’ll never know until you try, and, chances are, you’re already exhibiting signs. Not sure? Scott Kuttner discusses 12 of them. 

Everyone has probably heard the write-what-you-know mantra, but I’m talking about what books you love. Not just the relatable characters or the author’s unique voice, but the genre. From my ancient, well-loved Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon, genre is “a kind, a literary type, or class. The major classical genres were epic, tragedy, lyric, comedy and satire, to which would now be added novel and short story.”

Today, we can further break “novel” down: horror, upmarket women’s fiction, dystopian, steampunk, psychological thriller, historical fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, cozy mystery…I could go on and on and on…  

I was terrified to start writing in the genre that has always fascinated me: mystery. Why? I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I mean, when your favorite authors are P.D. James, Dennis Lehane, and Agatha Christie–those are some serious, red-herring-throwing heavy hitters. I’m lucky if I can beat my husband at a game of Clue. I love Sherlock Holmes, but could I even begin to think like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

And then it happened. The stars aligned and the concept for my current project nestled in my brain. I couldn’t dislodge it. I wished that Dennis Lehane would cross my path, so I could pitch him the idea and beg him to run with it.

Alas, Mr. Lehane never showed up in my rural Midwestern town. So I gave myself permission. Permission to try. Permission to acknowledge that while I may never be Agatha Christie, what harm could there by in trying to write a mystery?

What happened next was mind-blowing. I was much more invested in this idea than I ever was with my last project. I started plotting and researching and pantsing (more on this later) on some days. I was excited to write or research in some fashion every single day, despite having a demanding full-time job. It inspired me to finish my author website, to begin this blog, to reach out to others who are not yet published so that we can share our successes and our challenges, to reach out to future readers who would (gulp!) give me feedback.

Essentially, I gave myself permission to believe in myself.

Incredibly successful blogger and writer Jeff Goins pointed out that our hesitations may actually be because “we’re insecure, we don’t believe we have anything to offer, we think we’ll fail.” He also added that “no one’s going to give you permission to be yourself.”

And that’s the point: Give yourself permission. Permission to try. Permission to fail. Permission to succeed. (Need an extra kick in the pants? Read Elissa Altman’s guest post at Krista Tippett’s site, On Being.) 

Readers AND writers, have you ever had to go through this permission-giving process with yourselves, whether about writing or general life-events? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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The Journey Begins

As my grandma used to say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so, since I’m certain no one has experienced death-by-blogging, here goes.

Like many of you, I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can recall. When I was a child, my punishment was to go in my room to think upon my misdeeds. I loved my punishment–because it meant I could read! I’d lie down on my floor turning pages until my mom came in with her have-you-thought-about-what-you’ve-done look.

A love of reading is often a companion to writing. Story ideas have always popped up in my head, even in grade school, when a ballerina-turned-astronaut who gave dance recitals for space aliens was a concept I thought would be fascinating (I had a lot of career ideas tumbling in my third-grade head). I was applying the concept of asking “what if” before I even knew it was a thing. (Ever wonder where authors get their ideas? Here’s what Stephen King had to say about it.)

My problem was I never went much beyond the initial ideas in my head. Sometimes I would start writing, but I most certainly never finished. Finally, many years removed from those dancing space explorers, I had what I thought was a compelling-enough idea to sit down and write.  And write I did–60,000 words’ worth, until I finally admitted I didn’t know where it was headed. I couldn’t believe that I was going to do what I had scoffed at others for doing: I was shelving that novel. (AvaJae, author of the young adult series Beyond the Red, discusses this very concept on her writability blog.) It wasn’t me. It wasn’t right. 

But it wasn’t a waste.

I learned so much from that writing experience, and that is just part of what I intend to share here with you, dear readers. Along with dishing about my quest for publication (and all the wicked and wonderful rejections), my goal is two-fold: to provide something for both avid readers and aspiring writers.

Readers, I can’t wait to share with you the backstory and sneak-peeks of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I would be thrilled and honored to have you all along for this ride. If you are a lover of mysteries and crime novels, if you are a lover of fiction that has some historical basis or connection, then subscribe today to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox! 

For writers, I hope to give you some of the inspiration and encouragement we can all use along this path, especially if you, like me, are an as-of-yet unpublished writer who has a hard time saying you’re a writer. Give yourself permission. My first piece of advice I want to share comes from writing/editing/publishing guru Jane Friedman’s blog post “What It Means to Be a Writer–and to Emerge as a Writer.” She says, “I like to define writer as someone who writes, not someone who is published for their writing per se. Let me qualify that a little: A writer is someone who writes regularly and consistently, someone who engages in the process. If you give yourself to that process, if you do the work, if you write regularly and consistently, then you are not emerging as a writer—you are already engaged, you are already a practicing writer.”  Brilliance.

So, welcome. I’d love to have you along for the ride, this journey of reading and writing and publication.

Follow my blog online, or sign up for my email list to get free snippets of my current novel, backstory on characters and setting, and writing guides!

Please comment and introduce yourselves! Are you a reader? What are your favorite genres and authors? What do you love in a book?

Are you a writer? What have your personal experiences been with writing and publishing? What struggles have you experienced along the way?