Excerpt From Out of the Dark

Several hours before, after a wayward Escalade had totaled his ambulance in the night, Shane Harris had found himself walking along a back road in one of Michigan’s many small towns. He’d been on call around ten the night before, when everything had started. He was one of three EMTs that had been in the ambulance when it crashed. The driver had died instantly, and his two co-workers had suffered some shared madness, both devolving into murderous freaks in the blink of an eye. Shane had escaped the wreck, and the other EMTs had gone at each other. All Shane had needed to see was the splash of blood against the cracked back window to convince him to hightail it the hell away from there.

     He’d walked through the trees as often as he could. Being a country boy, he knew his way around a forest, and he’d known he didn’t want to be on the roads. He’d figured correctly that his chances had been good he wouldn’t encounter any other people if he stuck to the trees, and avoiding human-or what currently passed for human-contact had seemed like a good idea to him at the time.

     When dawn had broken, he’d come upon a big, two-story house tucked back in the woods. The driveway was long and winding, and the home was surrounded on all sides by thick copses of trees. It was a nice place, and Shane had decided it would be the first home he would venture into in order to attempt to reinstate human contact. He was a helper at heart, and if something bad was happening, he’d known he couldn’t go too long without offering his assistance.

     As he’d walked through the backyard towards the large house, Shane had seen a young woman leave the house through the open garage door. Though it was an incredibly chilly winter morning, the plump but pretty brunette had been barefoot, dressed in a short-sleeved pajama set. She was holding something in her arms, but Shane hadn’t been close enough to identify what it was at first.

     She hadn’t noticed him at all, so Shane had discreetly followed the woman all the way down the driveway, cringing at the thought of how cold she must have been. Just as he was about to call out to her, to offer her his jacket or to escort her back up to the house, she had reached the culvert at the end of the driveway.

     The culvert was wide and tall, nearly eight feet from where the young woman stood to the icy water that flowed sluggishly from the cement tunnel. There were rocks and old pieces of concrete in the ditch, and Shane had imagined that in the summer, the water rose high and had all sorts of fish, frogs and crawfish in residence within it.

     As he’d pondered these things, the bundle in the woman’s arms had begun to stir, and issued a tiny cry. It was an infant. She’d held it out for the space of a few seconds, and then had dropped it into the icy water.

     Shane had been frozen by pure shock for all of three seconds. As the woman let herself drop into the ditch, facedown, after the baby, Shane had raced to the edge and plunged into the water. It had been maybe two and a half feet of arctic chill, but Shane had hardly felt it as he went for the baby.

     Luckily, the infant had missed any of the rocks or concrete that could have easily killed it from that high of a drop. Even more luckily, Shane had reacted with speed and experience, pulling the child from the freezing water and wrapping it in his coat, against the heat of his body.

     The woman Shane presumed was the baby’s mother had not been so lucky; blood had already begun to blossom in a frozen flower around her outspread brown hair. She had landed on one of the pieces of concrete, and definitely had a head injury. Thinking only of how he would always react in such a situation, Shane had turned her over so she wouldn’t drown, then had taken hold of her by the back of her neck and dragged her up. The school of thought to not move someone who’d suffered a head injury had to bend a little when the injured party was scantily clad in below zero water.

     Once they were on the ground away from the ditch, Shane had placed the woman on her side, hoping she would last long enough for him to administer care to the infant, who was Shane’s primary concern at the time. He’d pulled the tiny creature from beneath his coat, handling her gingerly as he slipped his coat off, spread it on the ground and placed the baby atop it. Shane had decided upon seeing the infant that she was either a girl or the world’s prettiest boy, and she’d been breathing, having immediately spat up any water she’d swallowed. She’d begun shivering violently, though; little arms trembling forcefully and tiny fists clenching in apparent pain. Her lips had quickly begun turning blue.

     Shane had decided he would attempt CPR on the mother, and then get them both back up to the house as quickly as possible. He’d intended to leave the woman there first, covering her with his coat as he got the baby to a warmer environment.  

     Course of action decided, Shane had turned back to the woman on the ground. What he’d seen would give him nightmares the next time he was able to sleep, and every time after that.

     Small, slithery creatures had been worming their way from the crack in the woman’s head, sliding down her cheeks like grotesque living tears. Her teeth had broken or vanished, and in their places were bloody, oozing holes from which seeped some viscous black fluid. Her stomach had from one minute to the next become grossly distended, bloated like the belly of a many days dead corpse, but Shane knew the woman had been alive-was still alive?-not three minutes before. With insane certainty, Shane had known the woman’s stomach was going to burst and creatures much worse than those on her face would spew forth towards him.

     What he’d predicted hadn’t happen, because a weak ray of morning sunlight had lit upon the woman, sending her up in gouts of flame and smoke. She had squealed and screamed while she burned, and Shane had watched in horrified silence, clutching the baby protectively to his chest as her mother burned.

     When she was ash on the ground, Shane had crossed himself, sent a word of thanks to the man upstairs, and bolted up the long driveway. The world had gone insane, but Shane had still had a job to do.

Advice For Authors Just Starting Out

Hi again, everyone. 🙂 Instead of some of my work on this post, I’d like to share some of my experiences.

I have now been involved in writing and publishing over a decade. I’ve seen and done a lot, and made a TON of mistakes that I’d like to address here so that some of you who haven’t done much yet might learn from me.

First and foremost, I have to insist that whoever you are submitting to-an agent, a publisher, an editor, etc-that you read EVERY SINGLE THING they include in their preferences and submission guidelines. Read interviews they’ve done, check out the other books and authors they represent and don’t hesitate to look up something you don’t know. A good example: if you don’t know what a cover page is, look it up online or ask advice from someone you think might know. If they aren’t absolutely certain, ask someone else. I desperately wish I had a copy of the first ever cover letter I sent (and I’ll address making copies of everything at a later point) so I could show you have laughably ridiculous it was! I was fifteen and not only was the company not going to accept my query because of my age, I bet that cover page got passed around and chortled at over and over again-if it wasn’t trashed immediately like the abomination it was. I put pictures on it and wrote it in blue. BLUE! The font was something ridiculous and I didn’t even include all the information the company had requested. I insist: read guidelines again and again and again. Print them out and check off every piece of information whomever you’re submitting to want that you’ve included in your query.

Now back to that previous point about keeping a copy of everything for yourself. I had a full novel finished when I was twelve. It was my crowning achievement at the time and (though I’m sure none of you younger authors will remember the glory of these…) it was saved on four different floppy disks. Yes, floppy disks. And yes, only one copy…of my entire first novel. You know how this ends: somehow, the disks got wiped. I was lucky enough to have a tech friend who could recover parts of it for me, but it was like the parts I lost were what made the novel great. Now, I have every single piece of work saved on four different flash drives and two computers. I save every query I submit and print off paper copies for myself to store in my filing cabinet for the really important stuff. Multiple copies will ensure that the novel or poem or screenplay you worked so hard to complete doesn’t disappear into the bleak oblivion of every author’s nightmare.

Writing is a chore, a job, an obsession and chances are likely you won’t get paid to do it for a long time unless you’re incredibly lucky, determined, good or the perfect combination of all three. You need to make time to do what you love, because you’re only going to improve with practice. If you want to be able to get a novel out there, you have to write it first. Make it a priority in every day to do something that benefits your craft. Even if it’s thinking about your storyline and working out a conflict in your head while you’re exercising, DO SOMETHING for your writing. I promise, not only will it make you feel more confident about the amount of time and effort you put into your craft, your work will benefit from the constant attention. When it becomes a necessary part of your day, you’re going to have an easier time making it shine and making yourself better.

Have fun with your writing. Seriously, have fun. You know how when you’re young and writing is an escape from school, your parents, the annoyance of the teenage years? Keep that feeling. When you think of your writing as a reward, you end up with the best thing in the world: working without it feeling like work. You’re just doing what you love and you want to know a secret there? That makes the writing shine more brightly, too. When you turn it into deadlines and strict outlines and let go of the fun and escapism, you lose the best thing about working as an author.

While on that topic, um, actually do set deadlines and do outlines. I preached for years that I was a ‘free writer.’ I just did what came and didn’t bother with a story outline or a ‘three chapters per week minimum’ goal or anything else. I was very unstructured and it damaged my output. Originally, it was fine to work without an outline because when I was younger, I only had four novels I was working on. Now, I have over thirty projects. It took me a long time to realize it, but I finally came to the conclusion that structure will not make your writing less free and creative. It will simply make you more productive. You don’t have to stick to the structure of an outline faithfully. That’s for school projects and college papers. With a book, let it be structured AND organic. Give it a stable base, and then let it build as it desires. Organization and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Your desk and thoughts don’t need to be a mess in order for the projects you want to nurture to bloom the way you desire.

Finally, I want to illustrate one point that I don’t think many people really think about or mention. Simply, you’re going to annoy people. Some of those around you, even family, don’t want to listen to your ideas or the new character you came up with or that awesome dream that will make a fantastic movie. Find one or two people who will never turn you down and make sure you go to them first. Chances are, these people will be authors, as well. I have three, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have them. I know my family loves and supports me, but I literally have something I want to talk about concerning my stories at least once per day. And that’s a low estimate. Don’t stop talking about your stuff because people get annoyed by it-and don’t lie, you know exactly who is annoyed and the glazed look they get when they just don’t care anymore. Just find those people who will never turn down a new plot twist, choosing between names for your characters or the new plot you came up with in your sleep. Besides structure, doing things for your writing every day and doing research (which I will have a whole other blog about) these people will be your most important way to cultivate your craft and turn you into a great author instead of a good writer.

Drop me a line to let me know if you find any of this advice useful! Also, I’m open to questions about the publishing process, writing or whatever else you want to talk about. Please contact me at ashleihawley@yahoo.com with questions or anything else you want to say. Thanks for reading!

Because I Want To Post Often….

I’ll admit this right now: I don’t know how to blog, nor did I ever intend to have one. But because I want a way for my stuff to be out there, I have set this up thanks to the advice of a helpful friend. I don’t have another short story to post yet (though I might have my newest one finished tonight) but I do have 30 or something projects in the works and I can write the synopses for them here. The fun part of that is I don’t have to crisp and clean it up like I have to in a query letter. By the way-can you imagine how incredibly difficult it is to get a 300+ page manuscript down into a nice and neat couple of pages overview? It’s a necessary evil that I hate. Writing the query is harder than writing the novel for me! But what I like to do is tell a story. When I do that, I ramble and I deviate from the main points and I segue from random to random. I backtrack and add excitedly at least fifteen times, ‘oh, and I almost forgot….’

I want people to be as stoked for my work as I am, and that’s a big reason I don’t fear someone stealing my work. I mean, I DO fear it, but that doesn’t stop me from spilling the storyline of any novel I have going to anyone who’ll listen. It’s worth it to get feedback, even in the idea stage. And on that point, oh, I almost forgot…..  😉

My first two horror novels are titled Out of the Dark and Into the Dark. Before these concepts came to me, I would not have classified myself as a horror writer. Now, though, I’m hooked. My new and passionate love of writing horror, much like a marriage in the honeymoon stage, is vibrant and nearly overwhelming. It renewed my love of my craft in a way I didn’t even know I needed.

My newest horror novel is titled Every Man a Beast. It follows the worldwide disaster that results from the actions of a group of magical women, the Erinyes.  On the night of a rare galactic alignment of planets and stars, the Erinyes place a curse on all of mankind. With their spell, every man over the age of 18 is transformed into a Beast. Those who can’t tolerate the change: the old, the infirm and the weak, die after the spell transforms them. Their deformed corpses litter a world changed as much as the vast majority of its male inhabitants. Those with the ability to counteract what the Erinyes have wrought are chosen, the ancient knowledge of magic, which was burned from the minds of their ancestors, awakened in the descendents. The five men closest to the Erinyes are given a mission to destroy the women and reverse their spell. Bringing their unaffected but able to become infected wives, young sons and daughters with them, the five join together in order to complete their mission. A man named Reece leads them through a darkened land, facing off against the Beasts, traps set by the Erinyes and betrayal within his own group. Who will survive to do battlee against the Erinyes, and will they be able to destroy the powerful witches and reverse their spell before every heart is tainted with the darkness of the Beast?

 

Lost In a Moment

How many stories start out with, “my name is…”? I think about it because my name is all I have left and it becomes more important to me with every breath, every blink, every thought. Erica, Erica, Erica. I can’t forget it because if I do, I’ll have nothing left. Worse, there’ll  be  nothing left of me…

It was a perfect moment; the kind you want to capture as a keepsake and be able to take out and experience in the face of every bad thing that happens, every bad day you have.

I was taking a bubble bath: steaming hot and smelling of lavender. I was relaxed; body, mind and soul. I thought if my responsibilities and activities could end, that was where I’d want to stay forever. To languish eternally in a sweetly-scented tub, no house-keeping to attend to, no job to hate, no college to stress over, no baby demanding my attention, no relationship falling down around me. Nothing except the feeling of being calm and clean as my skin began to turn pink.

I thought it-wished it, I suppose. I’ve heard the worst punishment anyone can receive is having a wish granted. It’s certainly true for me. Can you imagine the agony I’ve endured-of timelessness, of a life and world unchanging? How could something like this happen, anyway?

I look out the doorway of the bathroom. It remains open, as I can’t change anything about how the world was around me in that moment. I wish as fervently as ever that my husband would walk by. I want it so much more dearly than I wanted one seemingly perfect moment forever.

Even more than my husband-who was losing love for me or I for him, I fear I’ll never know-I want to see my baby. I want him to crawl by and catch my eye and just sit there giggling because he’s happy to see me. I want to see his face again so I’ll know it. Perhaps then I’ll remember his name.

I stopped trying to gauge time when I realized it didn’t ever intend to move forward again. That could have been a hundred years ago, or even a thousand. How much time do you think it would take until all that was left of you was your name and a few memories without recognition or surety attached to them? Did I have a son? Why can’t I at least remember his face?

The lavender scent is cloying now. It sticks on my tongue and in my throat and I hate it. The water is still so hot that steam rises around me, but my skin has not suffered. I do not thirst, nor do I hunger. I mourn that even these things have been taken from me. 

I decide it suddenly, with no real thought process to take me from the formation of the idea to the acceptance of it. Before I lose the last of me, I will try to escape this hell. Screaming has never worked, nor beating the walls, the tub or the parts of the ceiling I can reach. 

I decide this moment-which never stood a chance of being the perfect eternity-will be the moment of my death. 

Erica, Erica, Erica. I am still me. I am still something that I know and it is enough. 

I slide beneath the hot water, closing my eyes as I do so. The scent of lavender is inescapable: it fills my nose before the water does and I’m trapped with it inside of me as I become submerged. I don’t care. Soon I’ll never have to smell it again.

However long this solitude has lasted, it has forged within me a calm and unyielding will. I breathe deeply. Now decided, I will take this plan to fruition. Nothing that comes after can be worse than this.

The water fills my mouth, my throat, my lungs. I suddenly remember I used to fear death by drowning most of all. No longer. The escape offered by death is a welcome relief, no matter its form. 

I keep my eyes closed and silently repeat my name to myself as I die. I will not relinquish the last of me until the rest of me is gone.

Erica, Erica, Erica, Erica, Erica, Erica…

I’m awake. I’m not hot; I’m freezing cold. I’m not in my tub. I’m in a room I’m unfamiliar with. I can hear people speaking in hushed voices all around me. I remember drowning, but not the drowning in the tub. I fell under ice. Deep water. Cold water. Water so cold, it felt burning hot. But now I’m awake.

My husband brings our son over, and I weep when I recognize his face. A doctor joins them and quietly explains that my prognosis was never fair. I should be dead, but I’m alive.

I’m alive, and when the doctor asks my name to begin testing my how my mental capacity has faired after being under the ice for ninety minutes I am able to answer, “my name is Erica.”

 

 

 

Starting Out

I’d like to post a quick note to let you know what you’ll find here: short stories, book samples, synopses and random ramblings will be the most likely contents. Please, enjoy and stay a while.