The Horror of Motherly Love

This Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day. Sadly, my mom lives several hours away in North Carolina; but we chat every Sunday and I always send her a gift (though it’ll be late this year — sorry Mom).

Ahead of the holiday, I found myself reflecting on how most of my love stories fall into two categories: romantic (however twisted it may be), or familial between a mother and her daughter. The titular stories in my two collections, “The Crow’s Gift” and “Wither,” both focus on relationships between the main female protagonist and her mother. “Wither” goes one step further and includes Mother Nature — and the destructive relationship that can occur between her and her children.

sharp objects
Left to right: Amma, Camille, and Adora from Sharp Objects.

Without Condition is my first story to examine both motherly love and romantic love. While the focus is largely on Cara and her boyfriend, my first inkling of the story was rooted in the relationship between Cara and her mother. It was her mother’s unconditional love for her, even in the face of horrendous activities, that helped me think of the rest of the plot (not to mention the title).

I once read a study that claimed the bond between a mother and her daughter is the strongest possible bond between any parent-child pairing. While I can’t say that for sure, there is certainly something special about the way a woman is bonded to her mother in ways we don’t see with her father, or don’t see between a mother and her son. It’s something special to witness when it’s good, and something terrify to witness when it’s broken or abusive.

Carrie touched on this perfectly. The terror doesn’t lie in Carrie’s powers, nor just in the way she’s bullied; but in the power and influence Margaret White has over her daughter. As evil and tormented as she is, you still see their bond and the fact that Mrs. White truly worries about her. I think of in the movie, when Carrie shatters the mirror; and Margaret stops playing the piano and says in her most normal, concerned voice, “Carrie?” She’s worried her daughter is hurt, even as she calls her sinful. It almost makes it all the scarier when Margaret comes for Carrie with a knife in the climax.

margaret white
Also, this scene is just creepy AF.

I also think that the TV show Riverdale has done an excellent exploration of mothers and daughters in the fraught connection between Betty and Alice. Season 3 has been a little uneven, but the show has quietly shown how hard it is for a daughter to sever a tie with her mother, and how that tie — even when dangerous — may be the least dangerous option she has. Alice has joined a cult called The Farm, a group that Betty wants no part of; even if it means losing a connection to her mom. Out of desperation, Betty turns to her jailed serial killer father instead of her cult-worshiping mother, but when her father is (purportedly) free, he comes for her and tries to kill her (this post was written on May 7, and it’s possible revelations in later episodes may dispute these facts, because that’s what Riverdale does and that’s one of the reasons I love it in all its messy glory). Betty gives in to her mother for safety, and she’s embraced. She may still be in danger, but she’s with her mother; and with her mother, the feeling of safety is stronger and perhaps more real. This could be to Betty’s advantage or her detriment — only time will tell.

A final story that delved into this in spectacularly creepy fashion is Sharp Objects (which I also wrote about when the HBO adaptation aired last summer). Here, you have three female bonds: mother, daughter, and sister; none of whom can abandon the other completely despite the misdeeds of each. It also shows the darker side of a mother’s desire to feel needed, and how her daughter will nearly die to fill that need.

Betty and Alice Cooper
Betty and Alice Cooper.

The bond between a mother and daughter can make for excellent dark fiction when done well. I’m less interested in “crazy mom/rebel daughter” narratives, and more the stories of daughters who can’t leave their mothers behind, or vice versa; despite their dark deeds. The bond is strong, even when it’s frayed — maybe even the strongest of all. But that isn’t always a good thing.

I hope that those of you with good bonds, though, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And, I want to wish the happiest of Mother’s Days to my mom. Thanks for reading my work, supporting me, and being an all-around gem.

Out Now: “Wither and Other Stories”

I’m proud to announce that “Wither and Other Stories” is now available!

wither and other stories
Cover Art by Doug Puller.

Should we or shouldn’t we? It’s a question many ask themselves each day. Should we or shouldn’t we wither in a wooded paradise instead of a broken city? Leave our home when the news warns us of what’s outside? Join in a circle of nighttime delights? Be with someone who awakens our sins?

“Wither and Other Stories” tells four tales of the choice to partake. In the end, the choice may not need to be made. For when we ask ourselves, “Should we or shouldn’t we,” the answer is always yes.

The collection features four brand new short stories: “Wither,” “Nesting,” “Smoke Circles,” and “We Really Shouldn’t.” It’s available in ebook and paperback.

Pick up your copy today — and once you’ve read it, please leave a review. I’d love to hear what you think!

Thanks for reading, everyone.

P.S. Be sure to also pick up a copy of Quoth the Raven — which features my Poe-inspired short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes'” — if you haven’t already!

Two (!) New Releases Next Week

Happy October, everyone! The second week is a busy one on my end, but in an awesome way. I’ll have two books — one a collection of my own, and one an anthology I’m included in — available to purchase next week.

The first is the anthology: Quoth the Raven, a collection of contemporary re-imaginings of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, from Camden Park Press. My story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,'” is one of many stories and poems to appear in the collection, which is edited by Lyn Worthen. It’s a modern take on “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one of my favorite Poe stories. The anthology is available for pre-order now, and will be available on October 7, 2018.

quoth the raven
From Camden Park Press

Pre-order Quoth the Raven: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Nook | Other ebook outlets

The second is my next short story collection, Wither and Other Stories. It will feature four new stories: “Wither,” “Nesting,” “Smoke Circles,” and “We Really Shouldn’t.” It will be available in ebook and paperback on October 9, 2018.

wither and other stories
Cover Art by Doug Puller.

Read more about “Wither and Other Stories.”

I hope you enjoy these stories. Both books will be excellent, fast reads for the Halloween season.

I also have a few other projects in the works, which I’ll share more about in the coming weeks.

Summer Reading: Memoirs and Whiskey

My manuscript for Without Condition is with Evelyn for editing. I’m writing a short story, doing a final revision on Wither, and outlining ideas for future projects as I wait to get the manuscript back. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading.

This summer, I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by memoirs. I like memoirs, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised about liking them; but I was surprised at how much I liked two in particular that I read recently.

The first is Educated by Tara Westover. Westover talks about growing up with her religious family in rural Idaho. She was home-schooled until the age of 17, when she enrolled at Brigham Young; then later went to graduate school to earn her PhD. While her school trajectory is remarkable, what’s most remarkable is that trajectory in the full context of her home life: her family were Mormon extremists, with a patriarch who was convinced that the end of the world was coming and that the government was coming for them.

Westover’s experiences were harrowing. However, she narrates almost every traumatic event with the same calm demeanor as she describes school, being in plays, and spending (less tumultuous) time with her family. I found this remarkable not only in how it still worked to convey horror, but added the extra layer of such horrors being a part of her every day, and thus, narrated as such. It also drives home the idea that it’s harder to talk of such horrors as horrific when they’re normalized by being a part of your family, the first connections you develop and, often, the ones that are hardest to break.

I found a similar narrative voice in another memoir: Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Khakpour reflects on her life leading up to her career as a writer, all in the context of Lyme disease and her struggles with chronic illness. Khakpour leaves nothing out when it comes to doctor’s visits, relapses, hospital stays, emergency room visits, prescriptions, homeopathy, and more. If you were exhausted reading that sentence, imagine what she herself has gone through and continues to go through every day. (Khakpour has a GoFundMe for her treatment, if you’d like to give)

Khakpour creates that connection to her illness with beautiful prose throughout. Sick is an elegant piece, one that weaves her experiences in and out of places she’s lived with ease. Just like Educated, it was hard to put down even with such difficult subject matter.

While memoirs have led the way in my favorite summer reads, I’m also reading a lot of good fiction. I recently finished Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It tells the story of a recently-widowed woman, her brother-in-law, and during the time he’s alive, her husband. The story weaves in and out of points in time, and the order in which it reveals key things about each character is exceptional. It’s not easy to do that well, and Cross-Smith does it almost perfectly.

The story itself is also melancholy and sweet, good for an August day in particular. I was immediately drawn into the narrative, and was sad to see it end. I plan to read it again to see how it feels knowing what lies ahead.

What have you been reading this summer?

Cover: Wither and Other Stories

This fall, I’ll be releasing another small collection of short stories called Wither and Other Stories. While I have some finishing touches to do on the collection itself, I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover with all of you:

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller.

The cover features excellent artwork from my frequent collaborator and friend, Doug Puller. He is hard at work illustrating Volume 1 of Wretched Heroes, the graphic novel which I co-wrote with him; and I’m glad he had time to bring his talents to this collection.

The collection will be available in ebook and paperback form. Below is the full cover that will appear on the paperback, minus the description and author bio (two of the pieces that need finishing touches):

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller

I anticipate publishing this collection in October, just in time for Halloween. It will feature four short stories: Wither, Nesting, Smoke Circles, and We Really Shouldn’t. It will also have the first chapter of my next book as a bonus. I can’t wait to share all of them with you this fall.

If you just can’t wait that long, I do have another collection of short stories available now: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, available in ebook and paperback form. If you’ve already purchased or read it, I’d appreciate it if you left an honest review on Amazon — or, if you’d rather write a review on your own blog or website, please send me a link. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Finally, please add Wither and Other Stories to your shelves on Goodreads if you’d like to read it.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

(Still miss you, Tom)

I finished the first draft of my second book a little over two weeks ago. I’m making myself wait to do my readthrough from beginning to end. It’s been pretty hard. I haven’t felt huge urges to write, but I find myself daydreaming about the story and thinking about whether or not certain passages work. Normal, but I also want a month of a clean break, so I can return to it with the freshest eyes possible.

In the interim, I’ve been occupying myself with other projects. Proving that time is a flat circle, I’m revising the short story that I first wrote during my interim period between drafting and revising Please Give.

I received Wither back from my editor earlier this winter, but left it alone while I worked on Without Condition. I’ve been using the waiting period to go through the revisions a little at a time. The story originally started with a broken timeline, divided by stanzas of a poem and the occasional asterisk. The universal feedback I received, from my editor to my writers group, was that this was confusing as all hell. They liked the plot and saw the story’s potential, but no one knew what was happening or when.

This is why it’s so important to not only get feedback before you publish or submit, but a wide range of feedback. If everyone’s saying the same thing, then it’s a thing that needs to be fixed. So, I’m fixing it — and I’m really pleased with how the story is coming together now. It still amazes me how a story can change for the better with even the smallest of fixes, like a reordered paragraph.

In addition to revising Wither, I’ve been keeping the pump primed by casually writing a new story. I haven’t decided if it will be a short story or a novel, or even if I’ll continue working on it after I’ve sent Without Condition to my editor. It’s a story that crept up on me after a dream I had, one that asked for my attention in place of the short story prompts I’d set aside for this resting period (sorry, other stories — soon, I promise). I’ll see where it takes me. For now, it’s begun where my past two novels began to take shape: when my protagonist meets a man. The working title is Someone to Share My Nightmares.

I’ll be picking up Without Condition in two weeks. Until then, I’ll be waiting — and with a couple new projects under my belt, maybe it won’t be so hard after all.


Last year, I was a little less patient during my waiting period between drafting and revising Please Give. I developed the 5 Stages of Feelings about being done with one’s draft. This mostly still applies, even if I’m calmer about it.

I first mentioned Wither in May of 2017. I also mention We Really Shouldn’t for the first time. Both stories, along with two flash pieces, will be in my next short story collection, Wither and Other Stories.

I also had quite a few coals in the fire around this time last summer. The novel-in-progress I mention there is tabled, and will likely remain that way. There may be life yet, though, for Gods into Demons, even though I haven’t worked on that in months.

Progress Report: Readying “Please Give”

It’s almost here — publication day! Please Give is in its final stages. It’s with a beta reader, and will soon be with Doug Puller for formatting (you’ll recall that he designed the cover). I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited. I anticipate publishing on Dec. 19. I can’t wait to share it with all of you, especially after talking about it on here for almost a year.

As I put the finishing touches on Please Give, I’m taking some time to write my next pieces. I’m slowly working on my next book — yet another piece I’ve started, but this is one where I have a clear arc in mind. I’m still keeping my unfinished pieces on the table, and adding to them as inspiration comes to me; but I’ve also been trying to focus on this new(er) one so I can get going on it. Even if I write a bare-bones framework that’s more novella length than a novel, I want to get something written down, and something substantial. Please Give took a while to get going too, but it’s easy for me to forget that when, once it took hold, it wouldn’t let me go — and to an extent, it hasn’t yet. But I feel its fingers loosening with each step closer that it gets to publication.

I am also getting ready to submit some short stories to Evelyn, my editor. I’m hoping to put out another collection by mid to late 2018, depending on how edits go. I have five finished pieces of varying length. As of now, their titles are Wither, We Really Shouldn’t, Do Something, Nesting, and Smoke Circles. I may add a sixth story if I can finish another between now and next spring. I’ve created an entry for the collection on Goodreads if you’d like to shelve/follow it.

Thanks for following the blog, and stay tuned for the publication of Please Give!