Help me choose which books to finish first

Here’s some covers for books I’m currently working on. I will publish at least two of these before the end of 2020, possibly with these covers or possibly with some design I like better and didn’t make on my phone while watching DS9.

First two: The two poetry books I’m the closest to perfecting at the moment. First is love poems written by a self-declared villain, for a hero, and the second is autobiographical and about being a queer townie during all this bullshit.

Second two: Gothic ghost stories set in the Pacific Northwest. In the first, a college student arrives for a summer internship at a museum in a small town on the Columbia River only to find that the curator selected her for a nefarious purpose. In the second, a woman takes shelter from a corrupt small-town sheriff in the ruins of an extremely haunted mansion.

Last two: Paranormal historical romance with queer characters. I give you: a witch in an arranged marriage to the reluctant heir of a vampire line, and a mermaid fleeing from sexy ghost pirates.

If you tell me which you’d most like to read, it may influence what I’m ready to publish first. But no promises, as I’m terrible at staying on task.

Last week’s snippets

Last week I wrote a few poems, a few meditations, and a whole lot of a self-indulgent gothic romance. Here are a few of my favorite snippets.

A mask I’m working on. It’s currently made entirely of glue from a hot glue gun.

A. You can want for nothing and still be unwanted. This was a thought that had crossed Evangeline’s mind at least once a week since her sixteenth birthday. Before that, she had small chance of noticing anything wrong with her little world. She’d had a caring nurse in Mrs. Fisher, then a kind governess in Miss Tulle. What had it mattered that her father rarely glanced her way? Why would she care if her mother seldom came back from town?

B. write about it

that moment you edge around

as if tracing the outline

can color the void

C. I want my house to tell you what you won’t learn from my lips. From the mask on the front door grinning with pride, spells spilling from his eyes, to the smell of rot emulsifying in the stomachs of my worms. Maybe you’ll spot the Venus fly traps, or maybe you’ll see a few flies and wonder what kind of mess you’ve befriended.

Tell me which intrigues you the most- a, b, or c. It may influence what I choose to continue.

The Art Monster Tires Of Their Manic Pixie Dream Girl Skin

I am not here for you to learn a lesson. I am not here so you can be a better man, or a more clever man, or a more interesting man. I am here to tell stories. Maybe you’ll be one of them.

Darling, that’s a threat.

I don’t care if you like my stories. I don’t care if they make you better or worse, or if they display the virtues you want. I don’t care if my characters are too female for your empathy, or too unfeminine for your comprehension.

Nothing I am is for you. You should worship me for that. You should hate me. You should want to be me. You should want to kill me. Envy me and only me.

Shut up now. I’m talking.

I was never going to be your muse, darling, but you can be my mine, if you work at being pretty the way I want you to be. Show me those cut lines, baby, show me your spine. I’ll write all night about the fragility of mankind.

There are still claw marks inside my skull from all the time I wasted trying to stay quiet and nice. There are still tremors in my voice when I disagree. I do my chores before I write, I put my shit away. That’s all old learning I’m capable of shedding.

I know you want me to stay that way, not to get ugly, obsessive, productive, and mean. In the game of greatness, I’m the one who is supposed to be a casualty. For that alone, I’m going to take everything.

I’m done with nice and good. I’m done with pretty and clean.

This is a power trip. This is a rallying cry. The art monsters are rising out of soft skin and rainbow hair. They’re talons and teeth and wrinkles. They’re lightning and fat and snarl. They’re not interested in hearing about your film. They’re not going to see your band. You’ll want them because they do not care. You’ll hate them for making the art you’ve always claimed.

Consume me and I will destroy you from the inside out.

Inspired by Lindsay Lynch’s Women Don’t Get to Be Asshole Geniuses and Jenny Offill’s Magic and Dread.

I wrote a book about muses and monsters in the Pacific Northwest woods. Find it here.

Pilgrimage to Villa Diodati

We took Quai Gustave-Ador out of Geneva proper, walking along Lake Leman until the winter tourist crowds subsided. I insisted on walking, despite the cold which had migrated to my lungs. I knew it wouldn’t be the same by bus. If I didn’t walk, it wouldn’t feel to me like I’d really arrived at Villa Diodati, the place where Frankenstein was born.

Why was visiting Villa Diodati so important to me? After all, books can be written anywhere, and while I enjoyed Frankenstein, I probably wouldn’t rank it in my top ten favorite books. Looking around my library, I can’t even say for certain that I still have a copy.

I suppose it’s not the book itself, which was mostly written later anyway. It’s the idea of the book, and the story behind the idea of the book. In that regard, Villa Diodati matters.

So we climbed, taking the narrow, moss-lined road up to Cologny, past all manner of wealthy homes and embassies, their driveways gated and guarded by expensive surveillance equipment. A few cars passed us, and two joggers in slick work-out gear, but otherwise we were alone, the codeine in my system not quite enough to keep me from coughing fits as we walked.

The hillside town of Cologny

Already, my expectations were shattering. I hadn’t really been expecting a climb. Both my favorite Byronic horror film, Gothic, and the somewhat more historical Rowing with the Wind depicted Villa Diodati as close to the water. Additionally, as a fellow open-water swimmer, I’d always imagined Byron choosing a closeness to water, ready to rid himself of the shackles of his hated club foot by diving in at every possible moment.

Of course, the summer of 1816 wouldn’t have lent itself to swimming. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tamboro covered Europe in a bleakness known as “the year without a summer,” creating an ideal breeding ground for gothic ghost stories. The weather for our walk was mild, for January, one of those bright grey winter days without a hint of rain. It crossed my mind that perhaps our weather was similar to what Mary Shelley experienced.

We approach the property

Passing through Cologny, we saw few people. It was Sunday, our last day in Switzerland, and a single bakery, tantalizingly open, almost delayed us. We could still see the Jet d’Eau from certain points while walking through town, but it didn’t feel like we were in the city anymore. It must have felt infinitely more remote in 1816.

My fascination with Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and even John Polidori started during a college course called The English Romantics. Lord George Byron seemed the kind of art monster who’s fun to read, but would be hell to encounter in a bar or at a party. I found Percy Shelley best when he embraced brevity, and dreaded reading Frankenstein, because I’d never liked any of the movies.

I should have had more faith in the teenage girl who wrote it. I’d yet to learn of Mary Shelley’s Original Goth Flavor, but the moment I started Frankenstein, my opinion of the novel changed. I saw how Brian Aldiss could argue for its place as the first true science fiction novel. More importantly, I recognized in it one of my favorite tropes, the fallen angel hellbent on destroying his creator.

Here, at last, was a story I could get behind. I was more offended than ever by the brain-dead movie monster Frankenstein. The best villains are full of brains, spite, and insecurities.

Villa Diodati from the street

Taking a side street slightly downhill, we arrived at Villa Diodati. Although I’d seen pictures online, preparing myself for finding this privately owned property, I still almost missed it. I was suddenly glad we’d come in winter: we’d barely have been able to see the villa from the street with summer foliage.

Although beautiful, Villa Diodati was less grand than I expected. I’d imagined something sprawling, not an ornate cube on a steep hillside. I paced the garden wall, taking dozens of selfies, glad we were the only people anywhere to be seen.

The only clue that this was the famed house where literary giants once vacationed was a sign on what must have once been the carriage house, indicating that Lord Byron once stayed there. From a sign at the nearby Park Cologny I learned the Shelleys had rented a house slightly closer to the lake: another fact the movies twisted for narrative expediency.

Discovering how wrong I’d been was the opposite of disappointment. I’d traveled there to understand an aspect of a story I loved: four unconventionals, stuck in a villa on a stormy summer night, telling ghost stories. The youngest, a teenage girl who’d run away from England with a rock star poet, gets an equally unconventional idea: What if a scientist could harness power previously thought to belong only to God? How would his creation feel? This germ of a story would outlive all the rest of the rebellious group’s infamy, spawning thousands more stories, each audaciously asking “what if?”

Of course the villa matters, and the turbulent weather, and the view from the villa, and the lake below. That’s what I walked to Villa Diodati to learn, and that’s what I discovered:

The scope of it.

Pacific Northwest Gothic: A Template


  1. We start with fear and end with the fantasy. First, there is a corpse on a riverbank. Later, she dances on a stage with red velvet curtains.
  2. The North decays just as well as the South, but in deceptive ways. You won’t smell the body rot coming from the forest over the scent of pine and rain. You won’t be able to tell if the seal is resting on the beach, or has washed up with eyes already eaten out. You won’t see our poverty under our technological gleam, but everything rusts in the rain.
  3. There is no difference between a monster and a predator besides literary conceit. A man need not be overly clever to kill hundreds, if no one is watching. A demon is a man until he is a demon. Until he cannot be explained. Until we do not want to explain him.
  4. You cannot trust the light. It will leave.
  5. Fantasy is a false denouement. The fantasy is the mouth of an ouroboros: a snare to bring you back to the fear. A predator can be caught, or killed, or imprisoned. A monster cannot. A monster lives where mirror meets glass, where mind meets sleep.
  6. Like monsters, we can survive only in the liminal. Horror we can handle, as long as the macabre is fantastic as well. Like the bullied children we once were, we dream up magic to glorify our wounds.

The Visionary

Her fingernails snip the stems of daisies and dandelions as she dreams of rings. Another flower crown, another fairy ring, another circle of friends, another playground game. “What if we were a spaceship?” she asks the other kids. “I saw in a show they can make them this way. We could spin through space.” The grass isn’t green, but these flowers are hardy things. If they can survive the playground, surely they could survive space.

Her parents watch early morning shows. More murders, more police killing children. The suburbs are vast and strangers are frightening, so they drive her to school every morning. In class she practices hiding in case of a mass shooting. Under her desk some former student drew a flower. Another drew a rocket. She traces over them with her own pencil carefully.

What if I could grow spaceships? she thinks. While the teacher talks about closing blinds and escape routes, she draws a tree around the rocket, making it into something living. “What do bullets do to trees?” she asks, hand raised. “If we had school in trees would we be safe? What if we wore trees, if they grew around us like clothing? Could trees be spacesuits?”

She loves what thrives despite everything. Not her momma’s orchids and lilies, but weeds growing unwanted in the driveway. She makes a chain of dandelions grown entirely from concrete. She isn’t sure what it means, but wears them as a crown above her pigtails long after they fade. They are a force field, unlike her age. She feels, even this early, the weight of history. An inheritance of violence and greed, already turning against her. She knows, in her soft child way, that evil things loom heavy over her family, but her dandelions weave golden armor around her, and she walks through a world capable of healing.

Everywhere, growing things.

“What if?” she asks. She wants to know what space is. What it’s made of. What grows there. If it might be safer than here. Sometimes teachers know the answers. Sometimes they just want her to stop questioning.

She doesn’t. She asks librarians, asks her phone, asks everyone she meets. The dandelions taught her all about thriving. About wiggling into places no one wants you to be, or dreaming up schemes no one wants you to think. Eventually, like them, she’ll get what she needs.

“A torus spaceship is like a somersault,” she tells her friends. “The outside is moving, but inside you feel safe.” They tumble down a grassy hill and into space.

How to be a successful manic pixie dream girl

Forget whatever you might know of your origins. Forget what you love, and especially forget what you hate. Shrink into toddlerhood – make sure your waist shrinks too. No one over 110 pounds could possibly be eccentric.

Fall in love eternally. Love the carpet, the table, the dogshit on the street. Don’t admit to loving any one person. Love everyone, but not faithfully. Your fickleness is your most charming feature. Kiss strangers. Ignore any flickering doubts of inappropriateness or unease.  Do somersaults in dangerous neighborhoods. Never feel alarmed. No one can be more eccentric than you, so no one could possibly cross your boundaries. Ignore financial, political, and civil rights concerns. Who needs rights when you have imagination?

Develop a unique giggle. Be sure to laugh more than you speak. Dye your hair, or at least cut it short. Only eat adorable food. Pickles. Popcorn. Cupcakes. Don’t shy away from adorning yourself in vegetables, trash, or clothing you find in the children’s section of Goodwill (you should be small enough to fit children’s clothes by now).

Remember, you have no boundaries, no needs, no past, no future. You are the moment. You have no concerns, and your only love is transformation. Take delight in your imaginings, but never write them down. That’s too permanent, too serious. You need to become a creature of light, as insubstantial as a cloud. Allow your insignificance to grow until you become significant though it. Walk down the street like it doesn’t exist. Only the moment exists, and you are the moment.

You’re almost ready! Go into the world with the sole intent of finding sad chaps and making them happy. Find the most mundane schmuck possible. Approach him unforgettably. Remember, your charm depends entirely on your ability to slink out of reality. Leave. Leave and don’t come back. You’re not a person. You’re an experience. Don’t be easy to find again. Never pursue. Introduce, enchant, and fall back. Let the world’s saddest schmucks come to you.

Steal their wallets, their cars, and their bank accounts. After all, your fickleness is your most charming feature.