The house was perfect. The stately Victorian sat on a hill, the long driveway curving up through the tree, exposing the house only after the last turn. The Virginia countryside surrounded the house, slowly giving way to the growing town only a mile or so from the ten acres where the beautiful building dwelled.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the yard in front was a lush green lawn and stands of trees, but the back of the house contained a fall of patios, bringing the path from the house down the hill and each patio contained deep thick gardens. Upon seeing the layers of bright flowers and vines, Sandy Martinez knew this was the home for her. Her green thumb twitched in anticipation as she placed her offer with the realtor, and the urge to tend the gardens and plant new ones. The urge grew more insistent when the old couple that owned the house accepted her ridiculously low first offer.
On moving day, Sandy stood in the driveway while the moving company began unloading her belongings and dropping them throughout various rooms of the house. Her twelve-year-old son Freddy and his dog Muzzy ran circles in the yard, happy to be free from the car after the long drive from Wilmington. Sandy soaked in every inch of the façade of the house. The pale peach shutters locked tight against the soft gray siding, the deep copper of the multi-tiered roof tiles, and the bright flowers planted in deep boxes along the front of the house.
The front room would be perfect to display the flower arrangements Sandy planned to sell as part of relocating her party decorating business. The tiny town was only about an hour from Richmond, and Sandy already made some good contacts with party planners to get her foot in the door. Life was good.
A year later, Sandy’s business was thriving, mostly due to the beautiful flowers grown in her gardens that adorned the arrangements she created. There was only one spot three feet wide and about five feet long in the third tier down that refused to sprout anything. The ground remained barren despite the specialized fertilizers and tender care she lavished. Among all of the bright colors and greenery, the one lone spot looked out of place and lacking.
One day, she tended the flowers in the front boxes when her neighbor, Mrs. Bixley came to visit. The old widow was a pest, constantly nagging about Muzzy barking or Freddy’s baseball landing on her lawn. Sandy saw her coming out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t bother to stop digging with her trowel until Mrs. Bixley stalked right up to her and blocked the sun.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Bixley,” Sandy faked cheer at seeing her neighbor. “How are you today?”
“Working on your flowers again I see. That’s all the last man who lived here did. His wife sat in the house all day while he was out here digging in the dirt. I must say though, before he moved in, nothing would grow out here. At least you aren’t letting the property values decline by letting it go to seed.”
Sandy smiled as she looked up to see her neighbor. Maybe this visit would let them be friends. “Well, I’m glad you like the flowers. I will cut some and bring them over to you.”
“Hmph. Flowers are a silly waste of time. You should just put in plastic ones like I did.” The old lady eyed Sandy up and down before gesturing down the driveway with her cane. “Anyway, I didn’t come over here to socialize. That boy of yours and that hoodlum across the lane were taking apples from the tree in my yard this morning. I’m calling that school and telling them to move the bus stop from in front of my house.”
Sandy stood and stretched, using the back of her gardening glove to wipe the perspiration from her brow.
“I do apologize for the boys’ behavior, Mrs. Bixley. I will talk to Freddy and tell him not to touch the apples or come into your yard. I will talk to Jeff’s mom too.”
The old lady didn’t seem pleased by her answer. “Like that will do any good. I’ve had to come over here with my bad knee aching too many times now. If you can’t control that little terror of yours, then I will call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!”
Sandy smiled through her gritted teeth. “That really won’t be necessary Mrs. Bixley.”
“I’ll decide what’s necessary. You just keep that boy under control.”
With one last shake of her cane, Mrs. Bixley toddled back across the lawn and through the shrubs to her adjoining property.
Sandy finished in the front box, but her anger didn’t subside. She decided to work through it and returned to the empty spot in the third tier. With relish, she dug along the edge of the patch, only realizing she dug too deep when she saw the roots of the flowers.
“Damn,” she muttered. “I hope I didn’t hurt those roots.” She put her hand down to feel how deep the roots went and how damaged they might be. Her fingers brushed something hard under the tips of the roots. The confrontation with Mrs. Bixley shoved to the back of her mind, Sandy dug around a little deeper and pulled on the object. It didn’t readily come free from the hold of the earth. She used the trowel to dig around and under the rounded mass in the dirt under the flowers. Enough dirt was finally scraped away for the mystery in the ground to begin to wiggle. Sandy used her hands and moved the soft soil from under it until it came loose. With a satisfied smile, she pulled it free from the ground and looked at her discovery.
It looked back.
Eye sockets with meat still clinging to it stared at her, the teeth giving a ghoulish eternal grin. The skull slipped from her shaking hands as she shot to her feet. She scanned the tiers of gardens and her eyes came back to rest on the bare patch under her feet. She had dug deeply in this spot many times trying to get things to grow. Ignoring the skull, she took her shovel to the hole under the roots where she made her discovery and she started digging. She dug all along the edge and then around each tier. After she had carefully dug under the roots of her wonderful flowers in the backyard, she moved around to the boxes in the front.
Like every layer of the back tiers, the front flower boxes contained bodies. The ones in the front were nothing more than skeletons. They seemed to be the oldest. The first tier in the back contained the next round of bodies and the bottom tier leading into the woods held the most recent bodies. Many of those flower beds contained forms that looked remarkably like people. Exhausted, Sandy returned to the bare patch, her shovel in one hand and her sun hat in the other. She smoothed loose strands of hair back from her face and surveyed the garden. It was so beautiful, the source of her success. She needed to call the police. She cringed when she thought of all of those people trampling through her gardens.
She brought the back of her gloved hand to her mouth to stifle her sob as she realized they would have to dig all of them up. Her entire garden would be ruined along with her income. She would lose not only the gardens, but her home. She sunk to her knees, the original skull she uncovered glared at her accusingly.
She rolled it back into the hole from where it came. The thought occurred to her that the bodies acted as a natural fertilizer to get the flowers to grow. There was no body under the section where she sat. That’s why nothing would grow there. She had about three hours before Freddy came home from school. There was plenty of time.
Sandy set to work covering all of the exposed bodies, glad that Muzzy stayed clear of the garden. Within an hour, all of the bodies were safely covered, the remains continuing to feed the thriving flowers. Satisfied that her business would not be forced to close, Sandy leaned on her shovel and looked around the garden. It was beautiful again. The momentary pang of guilt passed quickly, after all, the people were already dead, and she didn’t kill them. She could pretend she never knew they were there.
Back where she started in the barren plot, she shifted the dirt with the toe of her sneaker. Nothing would grow there. The rest of the gardens fed off the natural fertilizer provided by the prior owner of the property. The old man was the murderer, not her. Nothing would grow there.
Another thought occurred to her. Maybe something would grow if it had the right nutrients.
She hefted the shovel onto her shoulder and walked around to the front of the house and across the yard between the shrubs to the neighboring property.
A year later, Sandy was still successful. Her business was booming and the demand for her flowers was at maximum capacity for what she could produce. Her gardens were lush and full with no bare spots. She planned to clear a patch at the bottom of the tiers and add more gardens. All she needed was the right fertilizer.
I thought a fun way to introduce the authors of Second Wind Publishing, LLC (or at least the ones who wanted to be introduced) would be to have them answer three simple questions so you can see how different authors perceive themselves and their writing. The questions:
1. What is writing like for you?
2. What is the most thrilling thing about getting published?
3. What is the most humbling thing about getting published?
Nancy A. Niles, author of Vendetta:
1. Writing is something that I can’t not do. It’s my best friend, sometimes a pain in the neck, but most times just something that I need to do for my own peace of mind.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the encouragement it has given me to keep writing and keep allowing myself to express more freely and deeper. I think all those rejection slips had an effect on me and now being published is having a strengthening and very positive effect on my writing.
3. The most humbling thing about getting published is knowing that for a few hours the people who read my novel will be taken away from their problems and be in my world. It humbles me to know that for just a short time I can give them a little escape from their troubles. It is quite a blessing.
Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard:
1. Writing is like exercise. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get up at 4:00 in the morning to begin writing…the warm covers are oh so snuggly. Other times, the adrenalin rush about an aspect of the story-in-process surging through me has me up at 3:00, sitting still for three hours, and then reluctantly stopping so I can prepare myself and family for the work/school day ahead. Like exercise, it has to be done nearly every day to accomplish anything close to completion.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is reading reviews from unknown readers – and seeing that they really loved my story.
3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing typos after publication of what I thought was an error-free book.
Nichole R. Bennett, author of Ghost Mountain:
1. Writing is in my blood. I don’t mean that I come from a long line of authors, because I don’t. But I have to write. I have to get those words out of my body and onto paper. Some days those words flow and there is no stopping them. Other days I struggle over each and every letter. Either way, writing is something I have to do. Just like eating or breathing.
1. I haven’t found anything that provides the level of satisfaction writing provides me—the highs of crafting a perfect sentence, of self-discovery and exploring the universal themes of love and loss, dying and death, salvation, redemption, and keeping my parents alive and making them proud.
2. As writers, I think we all believe our work is the greatest since Hemingway, and seeing our work in print is affirmation, a thrill, that our work has merit—even if it isn’t really as good as Hemingway.
3. I find nothing humbling about getting published (I write with publication in mind), save for the process. By the time I receive my first proof copy, I’ve gone over my manuscript a dozen times or more and have probably a half-dozen drafts. An editor has gone over it, found several typos I’ve missed, and made suggestions for changes—some with which I agree, but most I discard. So I find it maddening and, yes, humbling, when I start reading my proof copy and find ways to improve the narrative, to rewrite a passage and, worst of all, I find a typo! I’m a perfectionist, so, yes, it’s humbling to learn I still can improve upon the process.
1. Writing is lonely and tiring. Even writing as a part of a team like I do with Jennifer is still lonesome. We live on opposite coasts and only communicate through email. I never show anything to anyone for critique. Never let early drafts out to the public. So having her around is also an act of real trust. We show each other our naked first drafts and still expect that we’ll respect each other in the morning.
2. I find that it is too easy to only hear from a friendly audience of family and friends so the biggest thrill for me is when a total stranger says or writes something good about my writing. I know it is genuine. Being published lets that person have exposure to my work and find something in it that resonates or entertains. That’s why we’re here, right?
3. Oh, brother, what hasn’t been? I’ve had signings at book stores I respect (and where I shop) I’ve been in panel discussions alongside authors I admire. I’ve met writers as an equal – a fellow published author, not just a fan. All that has made me feel grateful beyond words.
1. A few years ago I came back to writing fiction after a self-imposed twelve-year period during which I did not write, and found about twenty ideas of books rattling around in my head. My first official act was to get a notebook and list the novels, outlining them to the degree they had “marinated” in my imagination. For me, writing is getting out of the way and allowing those stories that germinated so long ago to take root, flower and bear fruit.
2. The thrill comes from somebody you don’t personally know buying a book, or seeking you out intentionally at a book signing. It’s also thrilling when someone asks you a question about your story in such a way that you know they have read it with comprehension.
3. A couple things strike me right away. First is the praise I often get from my colleagues. When another writer whose work I admire compliments my work in a way that reveals I’ve accomplished precisely what I set out to do in the story—that is humble. The second thing is when people I know hunt me down and pester me until I get them a copy of one of my books. And sign it to them personally. I’m not accustomed to adulation.
Lucy Balch, author of Love Trumps Logic:
1. Writing is like I’m in a time machine. I can work for hours on a story and it always feels like much less time.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the knowledge that, finally, I’ll have something to show for the five years I’ve put into this obsession. Maybe I haven’t been selfishly squandering huge amounts of time?!
3.The most humbling thing about getting published is the realization that so many good writers have not yet been given the opportunity to publish. Is my book worthy of the privilege? As an unpublished author, I can always tell myself that my book will be well received when given the chance. The reality might be different. I hope not, but it’s a possibility, and once a book bombs there is no going back to the fantasy of it doing well.
Juliet Waldron, author of Hand-Me-Down Bride:
1. I write historicals, so writing for me is like entering a time portal—or, sometimes, like stepping out of Dr. Who’s callbox after accidentally pushing the wrong button. I have an idea of what may be there when I first look around, but I often find the world I’ve entered to be surprisingly different from my preconceptions.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting/being published is having someone you don’t know leave a message or write a review that totally “gets” the book. Shows I wasn’t as off-base as I sometimes—in those dark 3 a.m. moments—imagined.
3) The most humbling thing about getting/being published is that we have so much competition, and that there is a great deal of good writing out there. After publication there is the (IMO) far less agreeable marketing to do. The playful creation is now complete.
1. For me, writing is a journey. I don’t always know the final destination until I start traveling, but it’s always a rewarding trip.
2. The most thrilling thing about being published is when people read what I’ve written and they like it. I write for myself because writing is almost a compulsion for me. Readers enjoying my writing is a bonus.
3. The most humbling thing? All of the work it takes to get the books out and maintain a normal life while still trying to write. I realized pretty quick that I wasn’t superwoman. I’m still trying, but someone keeps standing on my cape.
Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies:
1. For me, writing is like being in that space just after you woke up from a dream but you only remember half of the dream and you spend all your waking moments trying to flesh it out.
2. I had some stories to tell and now I feel like they’ll be heard. And it really is thrilling. I feel like I’m white water rafting and I don’t need a boat!
3. I’ll be awed that anyone would take the time to read what I’ve written when they could be doing something more valuable with their time.
1. I am an entertainer. I don’t write for a cause or to pose my own thoughts or impressions on issues. My only function is to provide a suspense-filled, exciting ride the reader won’t want to stop until they reach the very last word.
2. The most thrilling thing about being published is seeing the words I’ve worked so diligently to craft actually in print. If what I present happens to be worthy enough for readers to tell others about Staccato, that’s all I could ask for.
3. Everything about being published is humbling to me. That readers would seek out Staccato, then take the time to escape from their lives for a while, makes me more grateful than anyone could possibly know.
1. For me, writing is like a dream vacation – a chance to escape the realities of my everyday life and travel to some faraway world where I can see the sights and meet new people.
2. For years, I wrote and wrote, wondering if anyone would ever read my words. What a wonderful feeling to be writing for readers who are eagerly awaiting my next release!
3. Every time I think I have a perfect draft, I find more errors glaring out from the pages of my proof. Very humbling . . .
Norm Brown, author of The Carpet Ride:
1. As a retired computer programmer, I see a lot of similarities between writing a novel and creating a complex software program. Both processes require an enormous attention to detail. All the little parts have to tie together in a logical way and a good flow is critical. And it’s hard work to get all the “bugs” out of a book, too.
2. The most thrilling thing for me was pulling the first copy of my book out of the box and holding it in my hands. It was exciting to see something that I actually created.
3. The most humbling thing for me about being published was discovering how much I have to learn about promoting my book. I’m still learning.
Jerrica Knight-Catania, author of A Gentleman Never Tells:
1. Writing for me depends on the day. Some days it’s the most wonderful romp through my dream land and other days it’s like getting a root canal.
2. Knowing that someone else believes in your work enough to put it in print is just about the most thrilling feeling. It’s great to hear friends and family say how much they enjoyed my work, but to have it validated by professionals is a whole ‘nother ball game!
3. I’m not sure I’ve been humbled at all! Haha! But I’ve never really had unrealistic expectations of myself or my work. . . . I’m prepared to correct mistakes and make cuts/edits as needed. I’m just grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve been given.
1. Writing is like a discovery process. I start with a beginning line, an idea or even just a character’s name and watch as the characters lead me where they want me to go.
2. I loved the fact that I finally was validated. Someone did think I was worth publishing and I wasn’t just “Wasting time with all that writing.”
3. Humbling? Wow, I think the most humbling – perhaps humiliating – step in the publishing process is all the rejection you get until someone finally says “Yes, we want you!”
Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora’s Soul:
1. For me, writing is like creating a baby. There is the conception (what a wonderful idea!), the writing/rewriting period (gestation, anyone?) and the birth (I can’t believe it’s finally here!). And then you nurture it for the next couple of years as you slowly introduce it to the public – and hope they don’t think it’s an ugly baby.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the sense of accomplishment when you see it in print for the first time and you discover that people actually like it!
3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing the book in print for the first time and realizing that all of those years of struggling, writing, rewriting, submitting – all boil down to this one little book that you can hold in the palm of your hand.
1. Writing is multi-faceted for me. It is a joy, but also pretty hard work at times. I do much of my writing in my mind and when I finally sit down to get it on paper, it often comes out differently. I spend more time mentally forming plots and picturing scenes than I do writing them. I love having a whole day here and there to sit at my computer and concentrate on writing. If I have problems with a scene, I skip ahead to the next one so I don’t get frustrated.
2. The most thrilling thing about being published is getting my books out of my house and into readers’ hands–hoping people get some enjoyment reading them.
3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing mistakes and typos in what I thought was an error-free manuscript!
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is seeing my name on a book cover.
3. The most humbling thing about getting published is finding out how supportive and happy my friends and family really are for me.
Mairead Walpole, author of A Love Out of Time:
1. In some ways, writing is a form of therapy. Not from a “work out my issues” standpoint, but rather it allows me to escape from the day to day stresses of the world. I can let the creative, sometimes a little off-beat, imaginative part of my soul off the leash and let it run. Some of my very early writing did dip into the realm of “working out my issues” and those stories will never see the light of day!
2. Can I channel my inner Sallie Fields and run around saying, “They liked it, they really liked it…”? No? Darn. Seriously, I think it is the whole – I did this – aspect. Someone read the book and thought it was worth publishing. That is pretty cool no matter how you cut it.
3. Opening yourself up to criticism, being vulnerable. Sure, you know that not everyone is going to love your book, and intellectually you know that some people will hate it and think you are a hack, but when someone actually expresses that to you it is a whole new experience. It can be very humbling.
1. I’m like a humming bird on too much caffine. I write in waves. When the wave hits I can put out several thousand words in an unbelievably small amount of time. Then when I’m not in humming bird mode I edit.
2. The most thrilling is probably the fact that there are people out there that I don’t know that have read my book and liked it. I had the pleasure a few times of meeting them and there is some twinkle in their eye that is amazing.
3. My son is always humbling. I recieved my proofs in the mail and my then seven year old son didn’t fully understand what it meant that I’d written a book. He flips through the pages looking for hand-writting. “I get in trouble when I write in books.”
1. Writing is like being in a triathlon for me. I power write for days or weeks at a time, then crash for awhile with the help of Tylenol and chocolate. Writing is a scary, exciting roller-coaster. It is exhilarating and draining, and Iwouldn’t do it any other way.
2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the very act of being published! Something I wrote is out there, available for anyone to read. Holding the hard copy of my book in my hands gives me the good shivers. The other thrill is the pride in my family’s voices when they introduce me as “The Writer.”
3. The most humbling thing is feeling responsible for the places I take my readers. During the time they’re walking with and living the lives of the characters in my book, my readers are taking the same roller-coaster ride I took to write the
1. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions.
2. Someday perhaps, I will find the thrill of being published, but to be honest it was anti-climatic. I am more thrilled at the thought of what the future might bring now that my books have been published.
3. I had no intention of answering these questions. After all, I was the one who collated all these mini interviews, but a fellow author said, “This is your party, too. People will tune in because of you. They want to know more about YOU. Don’t cheat your fans and followers.” Now that’s humbling.
Click here to read the first chapters of all Second Wind novels: The Exciting Worlds of Second Wind Books
A couple of years ago when I was nearing the reality of being published, I had to make a decision about what name I would be published under. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to publish under my own name. I had a corporate identity and a family to think of. My real world and the fantasy world around my writing didn’t mesh. I borrowed from my maternal great grandmother Tereasa Clair (who I was named after) and her husband Guy Collins and I created Claire Collins.
As Claire Collins, I… she… we (?) wrote Images of Betrayal, and Fate and Destiny. We started Seeds of September and planned to finish it last summer but then that whole real world stepped back in and I took a hiatus from writing.
Somewhere along the way, I had stepped back from writing so far that I decided I would never finish my third novel, not to mention the six other novels jostling for position behind it. Along the way, my fantasy writing world became my real world when I gave up my corporate job and 9 to 5 employee life, packed up my house and family, and moved to North Carolina to manage Barnhill’s Bookstore. We hit our grand opening last weekend and now I’m settling into this whole new life. I think part of this new life includes Second Wind Publishing and Seeds of September, but if I do, I’m going to write under my own name instead of my alias.
I woke up this morning with a tattoo. It’s a fluid , graceful horse head sitting delicately on my right ankle. It’s lovely.
It wasn’t there when I went to bed and I don’t remember going out and getting drunk. If I did go out and get drunk, I would remember some of it – wouldn’t I?
I stumbled out of my room blurry-eyed and headed for the coffee pot. At least my new body art didn’t hurt. Or maybe I was really really drunk. As caffeine coursed through my blood, I became aware of giggling coming from the living room.
There sat my eight year old son and seven year old daughter.
Or at least I think it was them.
It was hard to tell through the tattoos covering them from head to foot, but the giggles sounded familiar. My husband reclined on the couch, his right arm tattooed clear down to the hand holding the remote. I guess I should consider myself lucky that only my foot and ankle were accessible to the tatoo bandits giggling on the living room floor.
When they saw me watching, the little tribal covered beings chased after me , each with a sponge in one hand and slips of plastic coated paper gripped in the other. I barely escaped into my bathroom with my coffee before the sponge slapped wetly against the door and the giggling fiends went in search of another victim.
I think I heard a cat yowl.
Should I tell them I don’t have any rubbing alcohol to remove their decorations?
No more sleeping in for me if it means my husband has to take the kids to the store with him. Who knows what they will come home with next.
Knowing my luck, my husband will decide to let them play doctor and I will wake up strapped to the bed by bandages. And with my luck, the tattooed cat will be in there with me.