Out Now: “The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales”

I’m happy to announce that The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

the crow's gift and other tales by sonora taylor
Cover Art by Doug Puller

The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales features four stories of connections and their consequences. It includes “The Crow’s Gift,” “I Love Your Work,” “I Never Knew Your Name,” and “All the Pieces Coming Together” (note — you can still read “All the Pieces Coming Together” for free on the blog).

The collection came together with a lot of help. It features gorgeous artwork from Doug Puller, who drew the cover, title page illustration, and page breaks. The stories were also edited by Evelyn Duffy, who did an excellent job to help complete the stories with her edits, notes, and work. I thank them both for their amazing work.

I’m very excited to share this collection with you. You can purchase the collection on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook). I hope you enjoy it, and I also hope you’ll leave a review once you’ve finished it. Thank you all for reading!

Progress Report: Various Scribbles

My day-to-day writing is a bit more scattered than it’s been in months — not in terms of getting things written, but in all the different things I’m working on. As I wait to revisit Please Give, I’ve picked up projects that were waiting in the eaves, and started a few new ones.

I’ve worked the most on a new short story. Right now, it’s called Wither. It’s an end-of-days tale with a focus on nature, told from the perspective of a young girl named Katie who forages for food the way her parents taught her. As she looks for food, she remembers her parents bringing her to the woods to live, and everything they taught her about the earth sustaining those who sustain it (or her, as Katie’s parents would adamantly say). Her parents’ extremities reveal themselves in time with the earth’s shifting health, and Katie remains trapped in the middle.

It’s a shift from both Please Give and my usual chillers in terms of tone, but that’s made it all the more interesting to write. In its current form, the past and present are broken up by a poem; so both my fiction and poetry sides are at play. I’m a better fiction writer than poet, but I do enjoy writing verses every now and then.

I’m approaching the final third of Wither, and trying not to get distracted by the next short story I plan to start once Wither is done. Currently titled We Really Shouldn’t, it details a reunion between two lovers with conflicting ideas on whether or not they should do what they do when they meet. It is a romance, but in the way I would write a romance, which in my short stories at least, isn’t always so romantic. I’ve outlined the story to help scratch the itch I have to start writing it, as I have trouble writing two or more pieces in tandem and want to at least complete a first draft of Wither before moving on.

I’m also putting together pieces for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. Once Please Give is with my editor, I plan to focus my time on getting the collection … well, collected; and ready for self-publishing as an ebook. I’m excited to get ever-closer to sharing these four tales, especially since I’ve talked about them so much over the past several weeks. I also look forward to hearing what you all think of them.

Finito

It’s done. The first full draft of Please Give is done.

It’s not complete. I’m going to let it sit for a few weeks, so I can approach it with fresh eyes as I read it through from beginning to end and polish it into a second draft.

But for now, there are no bracket notes. No gaping holes in the narrative. No fixes prickling my fingertips and bringing me back to my keyboard. No missing characters, no characters I need to remove, no questions stirring over and over in my head, nothing. Nothing but a finished first draft. A finished first draft of a book.

It feels good.

And because I’ve written so many words over the past several months, I leave you with the following to express my feelings on the first draft’s completion.

hot-rod

annie-dance

work-hard

shoulder.gif

kimmy-hands

oshie-stick

The Final Countdown

275 pages. 124,000+ words. Thus far.

This, my friends, is the final countdown.

I’m chugging along on Please Give, and feeling both scared and excited with each bracket note erased and each page added. It’s close to done. This may actually get done! WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

Being done with a full draft won’t mean being completely done, of course. Once I have a finished draft, I plan to do a quick formatting edit, then leave it be for at least two weeks. That may seem like a short amount of time, and it’s certainly shorter than the six weeks that Stephen King recommends in On Writing (which I just finished). But, considering how much a part of my life this book has been, leaving it for two to three weeks will already require a great deal of discipline. Working on this every day for the past seven months hasn’t happened because I’ve felt like I had to. This book has been fun to work on.

But even fun needs to wait, and so do stories. During those two to three weeks, I’m going to work on things that have nothing to do with Please Give — though they’ll bring their own fun to the table. I have a few projects in mind. One is revising The Campus Coffee Shop. This was originally scheduled to appear in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. However, my editor and I both agreed that it not only needed more revisions, but that it needed a different collection to call home. So, that story is still in progress, and will appear at a later date.

I also have a couple ideas for my next novel, and plan to spend the next two to three weeks getting one started. I plan to start small, in the form of notes, an outline, character lists, and the like. I may also start writing if I feel so compelled, perhaps in short bursts, as I did with Please Give. I’ve already done this, truth be told, with two different novels I’ve had swimming in my head over the past few months.

Finally, the timing of completing a first draft of Please Give is coinciding nicely with a writing contest I may enter. The 30 Day Collective will present a theme on April 21st, and participants in the contest must write a story that fits that theme within 30 days. Regardless of when I complete a first draft of Please Give, I plan to wait until at least May 16th to pick it back up and read from beginning to end. That’s almost 30 days from April 21st. A happy coincidence, and one that seems too good to ignore.

It’s an exciting time for writing, and I look forward to working on all of these projects in the days to come — and even more so, I look forward to sharing it all with you.

A Few More Crows

I’ve talked a lot about my novel in my past several posts, because that’s what I’ve been working on every day. My short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, has not been forgotten. I’ve revised all of the stories which will appear in the collection, and once my novel is with my editor, I’m going to focus my attention on getting the collection formatted and published. This will likely happen over the summer, and while I’m happily swimming in Please Give, I look forward to diving back into The Crow’s Gift.

My friends have not forgotten The Crow’s Gift either. Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a couple more asides on crows, which I wanted to share with you all. One aside was too cute to not share:

My friend sent me the adorable tweet above with the following: “Gonna send you all the crow things now. #sorrynotsorry.” Never be sorry, and please send me all the crow things.

Another friend of mine said she thought of my story when she had her own gift exchange with a crow:

[I] thought of your crow story the other day when I went to check the mail and there was a crow on top of my mailbox with something and when I got closer, he flew to a tree close by and I saw it was red blow pop he was working on, so got my mail and left it there for him and it was gone when I looked later. I kept imagining a very happy crow flying off with this red lollipop clutched in his claws or beak. My mailbox is weird, it’s a big square rock thing with a stone top and the actual box is bolted on the side, so he had a table top up there to enjoy his treat and I’m thinking about leaving some little treats up there to see if they take them. I’ll let you know if they do. 🙂

I hope she will. I also wonder if leaving gifts for her crow will have the same results Tabitha finds when she leaves gifts for Timothy.

The final aside isn’t quite an aside. It’s from my friend, artist and illustrator Doug Puller:

timothy-cropped

It’s a beautiful portrait of a crow. But not just a crow – it’s a portrait of Timothy. One he drew when I asked him to draw the cover for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.

Stay tuned for more.

Snow Day: Weather and Novel Excerpt

It’s March 14th. It’s also a snow day. Our cherry tree is surrounded by sleet, our superintendent is shoveling the walk, and my husband and I are working remotely — all after the start of Daylight Savings Time.

March has brought unexpected winter weather for the past few years, but I thought we’d escape that trend this year, given we barely had a winter. One dusting, a couple bone-cold days that made my jeans freeze to my legs, but overall, nothing remarkable — and many days where I was fine with a light jacket.

Today’s snow is the equivalent of someone who blew you off when you tried to ask them out, then called you the minute you moved on to someone else. “Hey, remember me?” “I’d rather not.” “Well, I’m calling you anyway. Surprise!”

I do enjoy snow days (though I enjoy them more in their proper season). One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to bury myself sides-deep in snow, stare at the sky, and listen to my breath. Snow has a muting effect, one that’s very useful for a brain that moves in a thousand directions at most given moments.

A snowstorm makes an appearance in Please Give, albeit in January, when one would expect it. Below is a quick excerpt of Beth enjoying the snow with a very close friend. Enjoy, and afterward, enjoy your day, whichever season it’s encapsulating.

I fell asleep looking out his balcony door, the sky overcast but not yet open. When I awoke the next morning, the view outside was completely white. Several inches of snow were piled against the window, and I could see flakes swirling rapidly in the air. All the buildings in view had neat layers of snow on top of them.

It looked lovely. And even better, it meant that the office wasn’t open. I grabbed my phone, and saw that it was still way too early to be awake for a remote day. I guess my internal alarm didn’t get the memo that it was a snow day.

Neither did his. I felt him stirring next to me, and turned to face him. He opened his eyes and smiled at me. An actual smile, not one that was hiding something. I felt better.

“Look outside,” I said, scooting back so he could see.

His eyes widened, and he sat upright. “Wow, it’s really coming down.”

We watched the snow for a while. “I love snow,” I said, placing my hands over my knees and my chin over my hands. “It’s so peaceful. It just washes everything away, makes everything quiet and new. It’s soothing.”

I felt his hand begin to stroke my back. I turned back to him, and saw him looking at me kindly. “I’m glad you’re sharing it with me.”

I gave a small smile. “Me too.”

Letting Your Characters Fail

One of the hardest parts of writing is knowing when you have to let your characters fail. I’ve been working on Please Give, the novel I detailed on Tuesday, for several months. These months have flown by because it includes characters I really like. I like all of my stories’ protagonists, to an extent; even the ones that are less savory. I like them enough to tell their story, yet also think they deserve exactly what happens to them.

What’s more difficult, though, is writing situations where I know they’re getting what they deserve, and yet it breaks my heart that it has to be that way. As I mentioned on Tuesday, the protagonist of Please Give, Beth, has trouble opening up to people. She worries that if she opens up, she’ll say the wrong thing — and many times, she does. She often has such high aspirations that she either gets overly proud, or else places so many expectations on herself, that she falls hard when she thinks they haven’t been met or acknowledged. Her worst tendency, though, is her tendency to close up even when those around her want to know what she’s thinking, or want to be there for her. All of these things lead to various conflicts throughout the book, especially with the people she loves.

I care about her, and as such, I find myself getting in the trap of trying to fix her mistakes for her after I’ve written them. I’ll read something, and see what more she could have said to make the situation turn out better, and I’ll add it in. Sometimes it’s a necessary revision, as it removes unnecessary conflict, or is genuinely something I forgot to include. Usually, though, I force myself to take it back out. It’s the story that’s there, and while I have the power to change that, it’s not a power that should be abused. It’s my job as the author to tell her story, not to fix it for her so that she’ll never fail. Sometimes she has to, and usually, she needs to.

As I’ve written and revised, I have to remind myself repeatedly that a story where no mistakes are made isn’t a story at all. It’s difficult watching my characters stumble, and admittedly, I’ve helped myself move past that by writing down notes or even passages where the conflict is later resolved, just to assure myself and the characters that things will turn out okay. There are other conflicts, though, that don’t see a happy resolution. They’re mistakes, and they’re mistakes that my character feels guilty about; but they exist, and sometimes they don’t disappear with a magic wand, just like in real life. Real life, though, goes on, even without a swift conflict resolution or an author going back and pressing “Delete.” It moves on, as does the story, and as should I.

Upcoming Project: “Please Give”

I’d been writing short stories for several months when a small idea popped up in my head. It wasn’t an idea so much as it was a title.

I work for a nonprofit, and for every aspect that’s rewarding, there are others that are stressful, aggravating, and mind-boggling. One of my coworkers and I had a running joke that we’d start our own nonprofit, but for people who worked at them. We called it Recovering Nonprofit Workers, shortened to RNW (pronounced “Renew”); and it would work tirelessly to save nonprofit workers from the crazier aspects of the nonprofit office life.

The joke ran its course, but earlier last summer, I found myself reflecting on it as an idea for a story. I created a folder called RNW, as a reminder to consider it. I considered it while I wrote other pieces, but had a hard time coming up with the story.

To have a story, one must have characters; and I finally got one. Her name is Beth. Working in service is her dream — a dream she’s happy to see take root in a full-time job, albeit in an office that tests her patience. She has a lot of trouble opening up to people — myself included. As such, she and her story simply flickered in and out of my mind as I worked on other things.

However, she kept showing up — and so did another character. He wavered in and out of the flashes of the story I’d have in my mind. He was obviously important, but I wasn’t sure why. Finally, in September, as I took a walk around the National Mall and daydreamed about my stories, Beth told me: “I’m sleeping with him.”

I didn’t believe her at first, because it seemed so out there, given what I knew about him. But, she assured me it was true. I believed her. And, I went home and wrote both their first date and the first time he opened up to her about something in his past.

That was in September. It is March. I’ve created 30 characters (including major and periphery), devised each major plot point, and written over 120,000 words (it will be edited). It’s gone through many changes, and will go through many more. All of them, though, follow the same premise: what is it like to be someone who works in service, yet can’t open up and allow others to help her? That premise is currently under the title of Please Give. It’s the first novel I’ve ever come close to completing, and I’m excited to see how it — both the story, and the process of writing it — ends.

I’ll share more of the plot, thoughts on writing I’ve developed during the process, and perhaps some passages over the next several weeks. I am very excited for this project, as I like the characters and really enjoy their interactions. It’s taken up a lot of my thoughts since that fateful walk in September, and I look forward to sharing some of those thoughts with you — once, like Beth, I am ready to do so.

Thirst

I enjoy beer, and I enjoy writing. I combine both at Stouts and Stilettos, a women’s beer blog. I normally stick with beer reviews, beercation travel guides, and ruminations on beer. For Valentine’s Day, though, I had a little fun, and wrote a short love story about a woman finding just what she needed after a break-up. That story, which originally appeared here, is available below. Enjoy!

Thirst

Marissa walked alone on the cobbled streets of Old Town, sighing as her shoes scratched the damp surfaces of the bricks beneath her feet. Winter that year had been particularly cold, with wind chills of ten made all the worse by her boyfriend, Aaron, moving on from her as swiftly as the breeze. “It’s not you,” he’d said. It never was. It always was. And sadly, Marissa discovered that the warmth of a winter coat could not overcome the chill of a broken heart.

No matter. Aaron didn’t matter. All that mattered was getting out of the cold. This mattered more as the gentle drizzle Marissa walked through grew into steady rain. Marissa ducked under an awning, cursing herself for leaving her umbrella at home. She turned around, and saw a window attached to the awning. Through the window, she saw something that dashed all thoughts of Aaron, and all thoughts of loneliness, from her mind. All that filled her thoughts instead was desire.

Marissa walked inside and headed towards a table, where her object of desire lay waiting. Surely it was fate that brought her in, a thought only affirmed by the view outside being washed away by fresh turrets of rain. “What would you like?” a man asked, smiling in her direction.

“That,” she said, pointing. The object of her desire came within reach. She studied its long neck, its wide mouth, a mouth laying open as it begged to meet her lips. The scent of smoke and roasted coffee danced in her nose, and she wished for that dance to move to her tongue.

She gently lay her fingers upon it, wiping away a bead of sweat that rolled down its neck. Her object of desire was cold to the touch, matching her own hand. Both, however, began to warm upon contact. She lifted it to her lips, closing her eyes as she brought its mouth to hers. Smoke and coffee touched her lips, her tongue, and gently coursed through her as she took a long and grateful sip. The coldness, the loneliness, everything around her evaporated, fading into a warmth that spread throughout her body. She slowly pulled her mouth from her desire’s grasp, and an audible sigh escaped from her lips.

“Is it good?” the other man asked.

Marissa smiled. “Yes,” she replied. “Very.”

“Great.” He smiled back. “That’ll be $8 for the beer.”

~February 2017