The Reanimator's Heart

The Reanimator’s Heart Preview 2

It is officially less than a month until The Reanimator’s Heart (The Reanimator Mysteries #1) releases in ebook and paperback form (October 25th!). You can read the prologue and chapter 1 in a previous blog post. Today, I wanted to share with you chapter two. Do you need to have read the prologue and chapter 1? No. You can definitely read this one independently. Hopefully this will whet your appetite until it releases in a month.

I’m also super excited because so far the reviews that have come from early readers have been very positive. If you’re interested, you can preorder it here at your favorite ebook retailer. Paperbacks will be available closer to launch day.


Chapter Two: Masks

Felipe stared out the window of his apartment at the back of the Paranormal Society, though he wasn’t truly looking. He had been back for nearly three days, and while he slept through most of the first day, he should have unpacked his bags by now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had used this apartment as a landing ground between trips and investigations for years, yet it never truly felt like home. At the other hotels and safehouses, he never unpacked. Why should he here? But it was his. His name was on the door, his extra clothing hung in the wardrobe, his daughter’s picture and their family portrait sat on the dresser. Putting the teacup of sherry he had been nursing on the windowsill, Felipe snatched up the last picture they had taken as a family.

It had only been taken two years ago, but he looked so much younger to his eyes. There was no stripe of grey near his temples to mar the sweep of walnut brown. Louisa had told him it made him look distinguished, but his father was sixty and had less grey and it made him feel old. Now, he had dark circles and more lines at the corners of his eyes. Beside him in the photograph was his daughter. Teresa had been seventeen when they had had their picture taken. Where there once was an unsure girl, Teresa had now grown into a woman with plenty of ideas and opinions and a whole future unfolding before her. She was studying at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women now. One day, she would go on to study design in Europe and have her work in the best department stores, he was sure of it. While he was in town, he should take the train to visit her.

He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He should visit Louisa, too. She and her partner, Agatha, always knew how to snap him out of these grey moods. Vibrant, clever Louisa who never seemed to change in all the years they had known each other. She had, of course, but it always was in ways that made her more herself. Louisa grew out and up like a tree, stronger and better, while he felt the years creep over him like a fungus. With Teresa out of the house, Louisa had taken up new causes and spent more time at the gallery with Agatha. Felipe was happy for Louisa and Agatha finally having more alone time together. After all, his and Louisa’s reciprocal proclivities had drawn them together into their marriage of convenience in the first place, but it had been a long time since he had that sort of steady companionship.

Even without all the women in his life, he should be happy to be back in Manhattan. The city had everything he could possibly want: a wealth of entertainment, food he couldn’t find anywhere else in the country, the best tailors and department stores, a community of men who shared his tastes, yet he still felt hollow and alone. So unbearably alone.

At the solid rap of a knuckle on the door to his rooms, Felipe pulled himself together and put on his usual devil-may-care expression. The look fell off his face when he came eye-to-eye with Oliver Barlow. When he told Miss Jones he was looking for Barlow, he had never expected him to actually come. Barlow rarely came up to the society’s main rooms, except to eat, and almost never paid visits. Hell, he barely opened the door of his lab. In previous trips, Felipe had knocked but received no answer despite hearing the other man moving around inside. It wasn’t the worst outcome as Oliver Barlow had the worst effect on him, yet the other man didn’t seem to notice. Barlow wasn’t beautiful in the way most men were, but he was arresting. His skin was deathly pale, to the point that Felipe had thought him ill when they first met, which was only compounded by his severe black hair and grey eyes. He reminded Felipe of a drawing done in charcoal, all hues of black and white, which carried to his clothing, as he always wore the same nearly black suit and grey tie. The most color came from Barlow’s shapely mouth, which hung agape for a brief second before it snapped shut and the solemn, stiff man he presented to the world reappeared.

Behind him, Gwen Jones stood watching them with interest. Felipe often wondered if Miss Jones had taken to Barlow for the contrast alone. He was all stillness while she was all motion. She was full of warmth with her copper skin and vibrantly patterned dresses while Barlow exuded a sepulchral air befitting his job. She flashed Barlow a grin before slipping down the hall. He stared at her longingly as she mouthed, “You’ll be fine,” before he turned back to meet Felipe’s gaze.

“Gwen— Miss Jones said you wanted to speak to me.”

“Yes, please, come in.”

Barlow hovered in the doorway a moment too long, and for a second, Felipe thought he might book until he seemed to force himself to dart inside as if he didn’t trust himself to slow down. Closing the door behind them, Felipe turned to the tea service he had forgotten on the sideboard. Beneath the garish cozy, the pot remained warm. As he poured some tea into his remaining sherry, he watched Barlow from the corner of his eye. He stood in the center of the room with his hands clasped behind his back, but his gaze slipped over the furniture and hearth, lingering on the closed door on the far side of the room. Felipe thought Barlow lived at the Paranormal Society as well, though he could never figure out which room was his.

“Would you like some tea?”

Barlow hesitated again. “Yes, thank you.” He added in clipped tones, “One sugar and a finger of cream, please.”

“A finger? You don’t hear that often with tea. I have sherry if you’d prefer it.”

Crinkling his nose, he shook his head. “No, thank you. Tea is fine.”

Felipe poured him a cup, careful to follow Barlow’s specifications with the man’s grey eyes boring into him. He must have done it correctly as a ghost of a smile appeared when Barlow saw the color of his drink.

“Please have a seat.”

Trepidation flickered over the medical examiner’s face, disappearing as quickly as it came. Taking the chair across from Felipe, Oliver Barlow sat ramrod straight with his ankles crossed and looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but in Felipe’s sitting room. Better to get it over with.

“You probably know I recently returned from a trip out west with Inspector Monroe. While we were in California, we were asked to visit the estate of an anatomist of some renown who recently passed. The old man was into some esoteric things, but I came across a few specimens I thought you might be interested in.” Felipe’s lips quirked into a smile at the flash of interest that stole across Barlow’s features. “I have no idea if they’re what his records say they are, but I thought they might be of interest to you. I wanted to let you have a look before one of the junior archivists gets their hands on it and it disappears. You know how the archivists are.”

From behind the armchair, Felipe carefully hefted the crate and placed it between them. Barlow’s eyes widened as he abandoned his tea on the armrest. He stared at the box with a reverence that belied the grossness of its contents.

As Barlow reached for the nearest jar, he snatched his hand back. “I should probably look at these later, downstairs.”

“You can look now if you want. I brought them back with you in mind.”

“You thought of me?” Barlow asked, his gaze solely on the specimens, but Felipe swallowed hard at the way he said it. The way Barlow’s voice became huskier, softer, when his attention was focused on things he liked went straight to his groin. The voice he used when prattling with Miss Jones was so different from what he used with the rest of them, but in the quiet of the sitting room with a box of specimens before him, Felipe thought he glimpsed the man underneath all the irreproachable tidiness and polite austerity.

Of course I thought of you, Felipe wanted to say, but instead, he sat in the armchair across from him and watched Barlow slip from the chair to kneel before the box. “As I mentioned, the man who owned the house had passed and his family wanted the Paranormal Society to collect anything they thought might be dangerous or useful. It isn’t all paranormal, but I figured you might know what they are and do something with them. Dissect them, maybe? Or add notes for the archives? They probably would have been thrown out otherwise. His daughter wasn’t particularly thrilled by the collection.”

Inside sat nearly a dozen specimens pickled in unknown fluid or alcohol. A few boasted disembodied tissue, limbs, or whole organs while the rest were from animals or sea creatures. A wax model of a werewolf in mid transformation laid at the bottom beside a pile of notebooks filled with anatomical and life drawings. Or that’s what Felipe could surmise from his quick perusal. Looking at the more realistic drawings turned his stomach. He had seen enough things during investigations for his mind to fill in the horrific blanks.

“Some of these are new to me, but I already have a few of the more typical specimens. That isn’t a problem, though. You can’t have too many preserved hearts,” Barlow said, holding up a jar where a crusty, fist-sized heart sat serenely in cloudy, amber liquid.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“I have a few in my personal collection already, but they’re all different. They usually look the same from the outside, but inside they might be thicker or scarred or clogged with oil. You wouldn’t always know that by looking at them. When you’ve seen one heart, you really haven’t seen them all.”

“And this is why you’re good at your job. You’re always willing to look beyond the obvious.”

Barlow’s ears and cheeks pinkened. Dropping the notebook he held in his other hand, he sat back on his heels and looked up at Felipe as if for the first time. “I never even asked how your trip was. That was incredibly rude of me.”

“It’s fine.” Felipe batted the thought away with a wave of his hand. “Honestly, I’m tired of talking about it. Everyone just wants to hear a good story, not the truth. I’ve retold the story at least five times. It’s hard to remember all the embellishments I added to make it interesting at this point.”

“You could tell me. The true version, that is.”

Staring at him for a long moment, Felipe nearly did. Oliver Barlow, strange as he was, wouldn’t ask for more than Felipe could give. He had never asked him to regale him with tales of monsters and saving the day. Barlow knew what the monsters looked like when he and the other investigators finished with them and what they could do to an unsuspecting victim. Felipe shook his head. The sherry must be loosening his tongue.

Instead, he put on his most affable smile and took another long sip of sherry-laced tea. “No one wants to hear about paperwork and estate sales. Tell me about your work instead. What have you been up to?”

“Nothing too arcane.” It didn’t seem like Barlow was going to elaborate, but when Felipe gave him a pointed look, he continued, “An investigator brought in a man they thought was mauled by a werewolf today. It turned out that his pet tigers tried to eat him.”

Gaping at him, Felipe laughed. “Is this a normal day for you?”

“Not really. Why?”

“Because you said it so casually, ‘Oh, he was eaten by his tigers,’ like it’s completely normal for that to happen.”

Oliver flipped through the leather tome in his lap without raising his gaze as he replied, “Stranger things have happened. Werewolf prejudice is all too common when, in reality, foolishness is the most common killer.”

“How did you figure out it was a tiger?”

Slowly putting the book and jars back in the crate, Barlow shifted back on his heels. Felipe watched as the other man seemed to slowly stiffen. The warm interest in his features had been replaced by something tight and bland. A lock falling tightly into place.

When Barlow spoke again, his voice had taken on a clipped, clinical quality. “The claw and teeth marks didn’t match a wolf. And the man owned two pet tigers, so that was the logical conclusion. I should really let you get back to whatever you were doing. I have a report to write about Mr. Henderson.”

Standing, Barlow returned his nearly full teacup to the tray and hefted the box into his arms as if it were nothing. Felipe wanted to say something. He wanted to ask him to stay and to tell him more about his cases, but there was a purposefulness and finality to Barlow’s movements that made that feel futile. Instead, he opened the door for him.

“Thank you for bringing these back for me, Inspector Galvan. I’ll make sure they make their way to the archives when I’m done with them.”

With a final nod of goodbye, Barlow briskly took off down the hall. Felipe stood watching his retreating back until he disappeared around the corner. Returning to the empty apartment, Felipe wished he knew what he said to make him leave.

***

Unlocking the laboratory door with the box balanced on his knee, Oliver barreled inside before he could drop it. The moment he put it down, he sank to his knees with his back pressed against the hard wall. His breath came in a panicked rush. Why did Galvan have to ask about how he knew? It had been going so well. “Well” being a very relative term, but Oliver had had many conversations go catastrophically wrong, and that certainly wasn’t one of them. But Galvan had to ask about the one thing he couldn’t discuss. When Oliver turned up at the New York Paranormal Society after being dismissed from Howard Hospital, they had been hesitant to take him on. On one hand, a doctor with extensive dissection experience and a tie to the paranormal meant they would have someone who could do forensic investigations without running out of the building screaming. Taking on a necromancer, on the other hand, was far less attractive.

From a young age, he had made certain his abilities were only a footnote on his record. The few who knew when he was hired worried they had made a mistake putting a necromancer in charge of a room full of dead bodies. Imagine the havoc he could have caused, but he made sure to downplay his abilities. After all, he could barely make a bone dance. Mostly because he didn’t try hard in front of them, but they didn’t need to know that. The less he said, the better. They couldn’t know that his methods were often as scientific as they were direct. His employers liked results and little mess, and as long as he gave them both, they rarely asked for specifics. But Galvan asked questions. Friendly questions any normal person would ask, but Oliver couldn’t answer like a normal person. If Galvan knew he could wake the dead, he would never think of him the same way again. He wouldn’t trust him, he wouldn’t bring him specimens from far-flung assignments, and he certainly wouldn’t take tea with him in his rooms.

Oliver pressed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Why couldn’t he have been born with telekinesis like Gwen? Hell, if he had been born a werewolf, his life would have been easier. People were afraid of them, but that fear faded. The fear of someone who could manipulate the dead, potentially manipulate them one day, always remained. He could never forget that. Releasing a tremulous breath, Oliver shook out his hands and rubbed his face. Keeping Galvan at arm’s length was the most sensible solution. He had done it for years, and he would keep doing it. At least Galvan would probably be heading out on another mission soon, so all he had to do was hide away in the lab for a few more days, a fortnight at most, until he was gone.

Picking up the box of specimens, Oliver had gotten as far as the supply closet when a heavy knock sounded on the lab door. “Just a minute!”

At least no one but Gwen would barge in. Oliver smoothed his hair and the front of his clothing before making sure his face was set. He cast his gaze over the laboratory tables and floor one more time for anything he missed with Mr. Henderson and opened the door. Head Inspector Williams stood on the other side, his military bearing obvious even after years on land. Despite being past sixty and having a wooden leg, he was always the one to come all the way down to the basement to fetch Oliver when he needed something. Sometimes Oliver wondered if that was because Head Inspector Williams liked to stay active or because those under him refused to venture to the morgue.

“Mr. Barlow,” he said by way of greeting as he walked past Oliver into the laboratory’s anteroom. Once Oliver shut the door, he continued, “Have you gotten the chance to take a look at Hezekiah Henderson’s body yet?”

“Yes, sir. I don’t believe the cause of death to be paranormal. The bites look to have come from a wild cat, not a wolf or demon, as far as I can tell. They don’t appear to have human influence in terms of placement, so I would rule out a shifter.”

The older man nodded thoughtfully as he walked toward the shelf where Oliver kept his medical texts. Oliver tried not to flinch as the head inspector picked up a wax model of an eye and twirled the wooden stand between his hands. “I expect your report will be ready soon, so I can pass it on to the investigators.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” When he put the model back with a thunk, Oliver’s shoulders relaxed a fraction. “Now, I need you to go out to the Corpus Christi Monastery in the West Bronx. A nun died, and the sisters suspect foul play— of the magical kind.”

Oliver frowned; it wasn’t often he was called out to the scene of a crime. “Why isn’t the body coming here?”

“The sisters aren’t comfortable with one of their own being brought to the Paranormal Society. They’re already going against their better judgement calling us in to take a look just in case.”

“Do you know why they suspect it’s something paranormal?”

“No idea, but you know how those types are, a superstitious lot.” As Oliver opened his mouth again, the head inspector held up his hand. “Save the rest of your questions for the nuns, Barlow.”

“Then, I’ll get my bags and leave within the hour, sir.”

 “As much as I appreciate your expediency, Mr. Barlow, you might want to wait for your companions. That way you only have to take one steamer.”

“Companions?”

“I’m sending you out with Newman and Galvan. They’re Catholic and less,” he made a vague gesture at Oliver’s person, “so they’ll smooth things over for you. It’s for the best that they go in first. The nuns are already jumpy.”

And you’ll make it worse. Oliver clenched his fist behind his back even as he nodded in agreement. “Yes, sir. I’ll meet them upstairs shortly, then.”

“Good. I knew you would be reasonable.” Head Inspector Williams took a step toward the door to leave but turned and said, “If you could clear this matter up quickly, I’d appreciate it. No dog and pony show if it isn’t necessary. Not everyone needs to be sliced and diced, you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied tightly.

When the head inspector left, Oliver stood very still watching the shut door. For his entire life, he had heard the same thing: too brusque, too to the point, too honest, too you, too much. He could make himself as small as possible and they would still say it; they still did. Sighing silently, he gathered all the things he would need into a gladstone bag and prepared himself mentally for the ride to the West Bronx. His hopes of avoiding Galvan were dashed, but luckily, the man would probably not want to talk to him anyway after how he bolted. Locking the laboratory door behind him, Oliver eyed the plaque that read, Oliver Barlow, Medical Examiner. It should have read, Oliver Barlow, unsuitable, as always.


If you’re excited to read The Reanimator’s Heart, you can preorder your ebook copy at all major retailers by clicking this link.

Kinship and Kindness

The Kinship and Kindness Audiobook is Live!

the audiobook cover for Kinship and Kindness by Kara Jorgensen

I’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled scrolling because the audiobook of Kinship and Kindness is live! This book is one of my absolute favorites with a stress-baking werewolf leading a delegation in his father’s place and a fox shifter trying to get support for his shifter union back in NYC. The book came out in 2020, but I was really hoping to find a trans narrator since my main character, Bennett, is a trans man and I did! Jack R R Evans did an amazing job bringing Bennett, Theo, and everyone else to life. While proofing the audiobook, I was completely enraptured, and I am not the best at focusing while listening to audiobooks, but I was hooked.

Currently, Kinship and Kindness is available on Audible and Amazon, but it will be coming to iTunes as well. In the beginning of 2023, I’m also hoping to take it wide, so we will see.

For now, you can grab a copy at Audible or Amazon.

Writing

On Writing For Your Best Reader

So I saw this screenshot on Twitter from an interview with Melissa Febos and it made me think a lot about what a lot of writers grapple with, especially writers that haven’t been publishing for very long. You can read it below.

There is a fundamental difference between not wanting to accidentally include something that is racist or -phobic (aka being a conscientious writer) and constantly worrying about what someone might say about your work. The former is being responsible. The latter is setting yourself up for failure.

Someone will always interpret your work in the worst way possible. Someone who doesn’t like you or started off your work on a bad foot will read it wrong. They will purposefully skew things and misinterpret them, just as they would something you said online or in real life. It is an inevitability. I’ve had reviews of my books where the reader thought I was referencing something I had never heard of or media I’ve never actually interacted with/watched. It’s going to happen, but the best thing to do is say, “This book isn’t for you.”

My book isn’t for that reader. My writing, my characters, my genres, my inner voice isn’t meant for that reader.

There’s a push online for universality of work. That things should be sanitized for everyone’s palates. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t be “offensive.” Offensive doesn’t even mean racist or -phobic in this sense. It’s just don’t upset other people, which is, frankly, ridiculous. My mere existence as a nonbinary, queer, neurodivergent person upsets some people. Should I stop? Should I sanitize myself to placate others?

In the same vein, we can’t neutralize fiction to avoid things that could upset people simply because you don’t want to see a bad review or have someone be rude to you on Twitter. We put up trigger or content warnings as a heads-up to keep from ruining someone’s day. That’s enough. You’ve given people warning. They have time to opt out before they get too deep or brace themselves knowing it’s coming. If they continue on or don’t read the warning, that is on them.

I used to get upset when I would get homophobic reviews on my books. I still do when I see my second book get returned on Amazon. That means someone read book 1, totally missed the heavy pro-queer message and got upset when book 2 focused on a gay couple. Those people aren’t my readers. A part of me relishes that they were offended. Good. Be mad. I did my job.

After eight books, I know who I write for. I write for other queer people who want to see themselves in stories set in the past, to know that they could have had a happy ending. That the world can be messy and cruel but there will be people who love and support you. You just have to find them or carve a place for yourself regardless of what others think. I write for the people who want that, and I market my books while highlighting those things.

New/young writers, I am begging you to write for yourself first and write for the people who would love your books second. Do not be under the illusion that everyone will love your books or that you need to write for the largest swathe of people possible. Yes, that will help with marketability, but is it fulfilling? Are you happy writing stories for people who wouldn’t appreciate you as a person? People who would read your book and enjoy it but not support you as a person are not your audience, or at least, I don’t think they are. I will happily take money from cis straight people who enjoy my work, but I’m not writing for them.

Being an author or creative in general means making yourself vulnerable. You’re flaying yourself open in your art for people to see the bits of you beneath the surface: the dreamer, the darkness, the sadness, the hope, the traumas we’ve maybe not spoken of aloud but permeate our work. Locking those things away to avoid scrutiny will leave your work flat. You can’t present yourself as the perfect person or your work as the paragon of goodness and still make something worth reading. People are messy. Characters are messy and should be. As creatives, I think we often need to have a long hard look at purity culture and remember that it upholds white supremacy and its values. Would you rather have someone misinterpret your characters in bad faith or uphold white supremacist values by sanitizing yourself and your work?

The answer feels pretty clear cut to me. Any time someone tells you to take things that aren’t truly offensive (aka not ableist, racist, -phobic) out of your book/work, ask yourself why? What standard is this upholding? If it has anything to do with goodness or purity, I’d think long and hard before changing it.

Personal Life

Quiet, Useful Objects

Something I’ve been longing to do but haven’t due to the pandemic is go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum looms largely in my mind because it’s one of the places I feel most peaceful, which is odd because the journey to and from the museum stresses me out and takes at least a day to recover from, but the museum itself is one of the few places where my head doesn’t feel like it’s constantly buzzing.

Photo by Charles Parker on Pexels.com

Part of that peace is that I’ve been there more than I’ve probably been to any location that isn’t a local store. For years, I made yearly birthday pilgrimages to the Met to visit my favorite pieces of art or walk along its stone halls and balconies hoping to see that one exhibit that always seems to be under renovation. When talking to friends, I’ve realized that my ideal trip to the Met is a little different than most.

When you first enter the Met, you can choose to go left to Rome and Greece or right to Egypt or straight ahead to the Byzantine/early Medieval galleries (this one being the least chosen path or only used as a way to reach the massive knee-breaking steps to the European painting galleries upstairs). I like to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crush of children and visitors in the summer, but even at the opening, Egypt is mobbed, and the galleries off the main room are a labyrinth. Instead, I make a break through the center galleries and head straight for the European Decorative Arts galleries. There’s the thrill of the chase to escape the bustle of the more popular exhibits, and the drop of blood pressure when the ceilings rise to reveal the two facades of the museum in the sculpture court, a gap where you can see that the museum was added onto in the early 1900s.

This is where I visit old friends. Winter by Houdon being the first sculpture I acknowledge upon arrival. Marble and bronze sculptures line the walls and break up the long courtyard, which ends in a glass wall where you can see Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. Standing in that gallery feels like standing in the intersection of time. Each wall is a different style, the art is a mix of classical and modern (for their time), and an Ancient Egyptian obelisk presides over it all while I stand watch in jeans and a t-shirt.

Surrounding this gallery are rooms that are filled with personal objects and antiques. These are far more modern than other parts of the museum, think 1600s and newer, but they are my favorite. My face is glued to cabinets full of miniature portraits of people whose names have no context but were loved enough to kept close. Desks inlaid with mother of pearl stars and stained with errant ink or painted fans carried to operas or balls steal my attention. I love detail. The pieces in the European Decorative Arts galleries are most certainly objects of the well-to-do, but they spark my imagination. There are few things that fascinate me more than a clever object that was as useful as it was beautiful. I try to imagine the world the object resided in before it came to the museum. What did it see sitting on a shelf in the parlor or at the edge of a desk? Best of all are the period rooms where the walls and furniture from a real place continents away have been installed in the museum. My back straightens and the world quiets as I stand in these rooms, the parquet floor whining under my soft steps. Who lived here and how did it feel long ago?

On the other side of the last few galleries is the American Wing, which is typically my last stop before lunch. One cannot journey back in time on an empty stomach. These galleries are much the same with lots of Federalist furniture pieces, window dressings on your historical drama. I try to picture Austen-like tales set against the backdrop of bright American wallpapers and sculpted pewter cups. There’s a strange section in this gallery that appears almost like an antique store. It’s row upon row upon row of glass cases filled with bedraggled furniture. A labyrinth to dead objects. All at once, I find it unsettling and comforting after seeing so much beauty. Chair legs chewed by a dog, seats that need restringing, a bed set stacked up without its mattress. The museum’s attic on full display.

The upper stories of the American Wing are lovely but unfortunately trigger my fear of heights. I creep away from the railing or cling to my partner in what I hope looks like casual affection but is bone-deep terror of crashing headfirst to the stone floor below. But I’ll do it to see intricate glass and metalwork done by artisans now nameless and faceless, skilled hands lost to time like the builders of pyramids. A sampler done by a child catches my eye, though I don’t know if she survived to adulthood. Embroideries, quilts, gloves covered in tiny stitches, women’s work taken for granted. That’s truly what catches my eye, the details taken for granted. The things we eat off and drink from, the decoration that sits on our desk for years, the handsome legs of a chair never noticed until put in isolation.

Quiet objects.

Perhaps that’s why I’m no longer called to Egypt or Rome or even the galleries of paintings. There is no quiet. Their grandiosity smothers me, and it’s too much. I’d rather spend my day studying the curves of a teapot than a tempest tossed sea or a ruler slaying the conquered in stone. Even in Egypt and Rome, I find myself gravitating to the broken pots, chunks of fabric, and unstrung jewelry. Disappointment washes over me when I read the tiny placard and know no more of how it was accomplished, how hands long ago weaved or carved or glazed to make a quiet, useful thing, a thing taken for granted for its normality. Still taken for granted today.

Monthly Review

August 2022 Wrap-Up Post

Somehow August was simultaneously the longest and shortest month. This was probably due to teaching a summer class that went at a breakneck pace while trying to finish up my book launch prep.

  • Stay on top of my summer class stuff (that runs from the beginning to the middle of August)
  • Set up the Blackboards for my fall classes (*quiet sobbing because I hate doing it*)
  • Edit the majority of The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Continue working on the newsletter freebie story
  • More graphics for TRH
  • Set up Google form for ARC copies of TRH
  • Read 8 books

Books

My goal was to read 8 books in August, and I read 10 books.

  1. Cafe con Lychee by Emery Lee- 4 stars, two teens who don’t get along band together to save their parents’ businesses
  2. Her Unexpected Roommate (#5) by Jackie Lau- 4 stars, absolutely loved these two, high anxiety MC meets human golden retriever MC is always a good combo
  3. Empty Smiles (#4) by Katherine Arden- 4 stars, a decent wrap up of this MG horror series
  4. The City of Brass (#1) by S. A. Chakraborty- 5 stars, I finished reading it and sat back like wtf and immediately looked for the sequel on my shelf
  5. Second Spear (#2) by Kerstin Hall- 4 stars, such good world-building in this book. A creepy world with a maze and a Cheshire Cat grin, yes please
  6. Fence: Rise (#5) by C.S. Pacat and Joanna the Mad- 4 stars, another bridge volume but I liked seeing the two MCs getting closer (though this is the slowest of burns ever)
  7. The Governess Affair (#0.5) by Courtney Milan- 4 stars, a vengeful accountant/”fixer” bringing down a duke because he hurt the woman he’s falling for is chef kiss
  8. The Duchess War (#1) by Courtney Milan- 4 stars, a historical romance between a duke trying to level the playing field for society by destroying the upper class from the inside out
  9. Saga (#7) by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 5 stars, reading in preparation for volume 10 coming out in October
  10. A Kiss for Midwinter (#1.5) by Courtney Milan- 4 stars, the ending sort of saved this book for me as I found the dynamic of the two MCs grating at times

Admin/Behind-the-scenes Author Stuff

  • Did round 1 of edits on The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Did round 2 of [micro] edits on The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Sent out ARCs of The Reanimator’s Heart to reviewers and peers
  • Incorporated beta reader feedback
  • Proof-read The Reanimator’s Heart and did all those edits (*laugh sob* should have done that BEFORE sending ARCs out)
  • Asked a few people to potentially blurb The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Formatted the paperback and ordered a proof copy, which looks awesome
  • Formatted the Kindle/Epub editions of the book (final, hopefully)
  • Set up all my pre-fall semester stuff for my classes (syllabi and Blackboard accounts- also realized I could clone Blackboards from previous semester, so yay time savings)
  • Taught my 3 week summer class and survived, lol
  • Made multiple book graphics

Blogs Posted


Writing

So there isn’t much to talk about here since I finished The Reanimator’s Heart in July. What I did do is plot part of my newsletter freebie “Flowers and Flourishing,” which I hope will not grow into a giant novel. *whispers* Please stay a novella or smaller; I am begging you.

This will follow characters you’ll meet in The Reanimator’s Heart but follows the format of Kinship and Kindness by being a queer romance featuring a shifter and a trans character, so it’s a sort of bridge between both series as they both involve the NYC Paranormal Society. In this case, it’s F/F romance with a lesbian jaguar shifter and a bi trans woman. The former is in a lavender marriage with one of the main characters in The Reanimator’s Heart.

PS- you can preorder The Reanimator’s Heart here.


Hopes for September

  • Maintain my mental health and a decent work-life balance while grading/teaching
  • Make my goals for quarter 4
  • Writing goal of 10k/12k/14k of “Flowers and Flourishing”
  • Deal with any last minute book BS that comes up for The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Blog weekly and put out my monthly newsletter
  • Maybe make another book trailer/Tiktok for The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Read 8 books
Personal Life · The Reanimator's Heart · Writing

The Fear of Success

This isn’t actually the post I had planned to put up this week, so bear with me if this seems off the cuff because it is.

Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying to get my shit together, especially in regard to my writing life. I ended up taking both of Sarra Canon’s classes, HB90 (a planning/goal setting system) and Publish and Thrive (a course on indie publishing), because I felt like I was spaghetti flinging hoping what I was doing would work. I’ve been sort of methodically moving forward trying to set and hit goals in order to move toward what I want. That goal is having more time for creative pursuits, leaning more into my writing, and only teaching at the university that gives me better opportunities and is better for my mental health but pays less. I have a chunk of savings as a cushion and have been trying to strategize how I can go about doing this in a way that doesn’t totally kick my butt and doesn’t depend on my partner landing a much better job as we cannot control that.

The Reanimator’s Heart has sort of been step one in that goal. It’s the project I’ve been working on since I started trying to get my shit together, and things have been going well. I do well with structure and goals, so I have surprised myself by actually getting a lot done. After taking Publish and Thrive, I was also able to brush up on what is working in indie publishing right now, and from watching various indie authors on Youtube, I’ve been working on my publishing strategy for this book. In the past, I’ve sort of just haphazardly launched things. I would let them rip as soon as I finished or not send them to any bloggers/ARC readers. I’ve certainly done things to tank my own success because I was more excited about people reading my work than doing a good job with the launch. This time, I’ve purposely slowed myself down, made lists, made a half-formed plan for releasing this book.

The problem is that I’m scared because it’s working.

Yes, I raised my eyebrow at myself too at the realization, but as reviews have been rolling in and people are enjoying the book, I’m panicking more. The cover is beautiful (thank you, Crowglass Design), the characters are lovable messes, and the pacing and such is solid. Between this book and Kinship and Kindness, I think my skills leveled up in certain areas, and that sort of rise and recognition of that rise is scaring me.

What if this is the best book I ever put out? What if everything after this is a disappointment?

Thus far, I haven’t gotten too far into my own head, but the panicked thoughts are seeping through more and more. The pitiful thing is that this isn’t like super viral panic-worthy success. This is “I’m doing better than my previous launch” success.

After everything that’s happened these past two years and my own issues with confidence as a creative person, I am always waiting for the shoe to drop and things to go wrong. It is an absolutely shitty way to look at life, but part of me feels like I should be bracing for impact instead of celebrating that things are going well. It’s possible to do both; I wildly vacillate between “Omg, look at my preorder numbers” and nail-biting panic.

Part of this, I think, has to do with also reaching outside my comfort zone with this launch. I set up my book with a review service, and I’ve reached out to a few authors I love and respect for potential blurbs, which I’ve never been brave enough to do. Pointing eyes to my work is something that could pan out for me, but also could potentially magnify the imperfections. Logically, I know not everyone will like my book. Certain people will absolutely hate Oliver and Felipe, which is fine. It really isn’t bad reviews that are bothering me (trust me, I’ve seen enough homophobia on The Gentleman Devil‘s reviews to cure me worrying about them). It’s a fear of success.

What if this book does really well? What if more people start reading my books? What if they’re disappointed when they go through my backlist and the rest of my books aren’t as good? What if nothing I write after this is as good as The Reanimator’s Heart? Or what if someone outside my usual circle sees it and sends the 1 star mob after me due to homophobia or whatever other assholery they can come up with?

Living in the age of the internet means constantly worrying about the wrong kind of attention for your creative projects, especially if you’re a queer author writing queer characters or in this case, a neurodivergent author writing neurodivergent characters. Will someone flag Oliver as “the wrong kind” of autistic and rip me and him to shreds? I could come up with a myriad of what-ifs at this point, all of which get more illogical and self-destructive.

On the flip side, I’m constantly trying to remind myself that people preordering and/or enjoying The Reanimator’s Heart is a good thing. It means I’ve done a decent job planning this launch, and that its success might move me a step closer to my goal of having more of an income from writing. This success isn’t random is something I have to remind myself. It means that I took the things I learned and applied them in a way that worked. Like I said earlier, this isn’t a runaway, gone viral, wtf happened kind of success. This is a building upon past success with previous books to make this launch even better. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I put in the work, and by doing so, things feel less out of my control.

I’m sure I’ll still have several absolute oh-shit panic moments between now and October 25th, but I’ll just reread this post and stare at all my past to-do lists to remind myself that months of work went into this launch and I should be proud of what I’ve done instead of scared.

If you’d like to help out while simultaneously adding to my panic, you can preorder The Reanimator’s Heart here. Paperbacks will be available closer to release day.

Personal Life

How Being Nonbinary Helped My Dysphoria

For most of my life, I have had a complicated relationship with my body.

The first thing to keep in mind is that I had severe eczema over most of my body until about 2 years ago when I started taking a biologic and the eczema was beaten back to nearly nothing. I mention the eczema in a post about being nonbinary because I want to be clear that a lot of my covering up with hoodies and long pants was because people are weird about rashes. They will give you dirty looks, stare at open sores, and generally be rude. On top of that, eczema burns like a bitch when it’s exposed to the air or the skin touches other skin, so covering the folds of my arms and legs helped to mitigate that constant pain. Due to the eczema, I covered up most of my body, and people often took that for being uncomfortable with my body. I was but not in the way they thought.

My build is what some people would call sturdy. I have muscle on my calves and straight, strong shoulders. Neither fat nor thin, just in the middle but sturdy enough and tall enough (though still average) that I am certainly not petite or slight. My chest is disproportionately large, but I’m not really curvy either. Before I realized I was nonbinary, I didn’t always like my body. A lot of this has to do with growing up in the late 90s and early 00s when the in look for women was thin, almost prepubescent in terms of build, and wearing 85 layers of tight clothing. The alternative was big boobed bimbo. No shade to the bimbos of the world, I love Dolly and Elvira, but the thought of people seeing me that way because my genes decided to grace me with a disproportionate amount of fat on my chest was alarming to say the least.

At that age, I couldn’t articulate how I felt, but the fact that I couldn’t control how people perceived me terrified me. I hate that people saw me as a woman and sexualized me the moment I wore feminine clothing. I already didn’t like feminine clothing. That had been an ongoing war with my mother since I was in late elementary school. I hated dresses, hated skirts, and only wore them when my mom insisted I had to dress up. Around 10, I discovered anime tshirts and cargo shorts in the boys section of Target and let out a sigh of relief. There were other options than the booty shorts or feminine capris the girls section had to offer. T-shirts and cargo shorts hid the things that made me uncomfortable. Puberty had been a special sort of hell as a neurodivergent person and as someone who, unbeknownst to them, was experiencing dysphoria.

By the time I got to high school, the thought of putting on feminine clothing filled me with a special kind of dread. Every time I had to wear something feminine for a school event or a holiday, it felt like I was wearing an incredibly ugly costume. You know the scene in Beauty and the Beast when Beast is in the tub and they give him that ridiculous haircut and he just deadpan says that he looks stupid? That’s how I felt. This was compounded upon by the ease of my cousins’ transition into adolescence where they (seemed) to happily wear makeup, feminine clothing, played with their hair. I constantly felt like I was doing a really bad job pretending to be a woman. The label chafed and sagged, like I filled out all the wrong places. At some point, I stopped caring. I was bad at womanhood, so be it. I kept my hair pulled back, wore t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies/pullovers while giving zero shits, but the fact that people still perceived me as a woman nagged at me.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school (so around 24-ish?), I stumbled upon the term nonbinary, and it was like everything clicked. In the past, I had debated if I was a trans man. I saw Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars when I was in college, and while I felt not-feminine, I didn’t think I felt that masculine. I was caught in a weird middle ground between masculine and feminine, none of which particularly appealed to me. When I finally understood what nonbinary people were and that they existed, it was like oh, so there’s a word for all these feelings I’ve had for years. All those moments of panic and revulsion made sense. They were dysphoria. It also helped explain why some things that were seen as feminine by others didn’t bother me.

I didn’t hate my body, per se. I hate how others perceived my body. That it was simultaneously seen as feminine yet not feminine enough because I wasn’t petite, because I had strong shoulders and legs, because I didn’t like to wear makeup or wear dresses. None of these things are inherently masculine or feminine, but society arbitrarily ascribes gender to them (aka don’t @ me for this, you know what I mean). Suddenly, my body felt less wrong. I was never a woman. I have always been nonbinary but didn’t have the word for the feelings. My strong body mixed with my long hair, chest, and generally, neutral clothing felt right.

This mix of hard and soft feels right to me and has settled the war between my body and mind substantially. I still panic at the thought of clothing that is too gendered in either direction (or what my brain deems gendered), but my dysphoria has subsided. The freedom to buy clothes I want and to say, “F it, I’m buying from the men’s department,” without caring about other people’s judgment feels right. The more I branch out, the happier I am, and it’s been nice to see my partner exploring more feminine options (often my cast-offs) and loving how he looks.

Writing

Indie Book Covers on a Budget

A few weeks ago, I talked about the process of having a professional cover artist create my covers. For me, this is the biggest expense I have when publishing my books, but covers matter and I know I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to cover creation, hence why I’m willing to save up and pay. My first covers were done by my partner who has a degree in art, but eventually, I felt I needed to update them to stay competitive. A lot of authors starting out don’t have that sort of budget, so today, I wanted to talk about ways to do this on a budget.

$200 or less

If you have a small budget for your book cover, I might suggest checking someplace like Fiverr to see if there are any good budget cover artists out there, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s a scam and what’s legit or how much the added fees will be once you get your cover made. There are also plenty of new cover designers who have fairly low pricing since they’re just starting out. Once again, the problem is that you are taking a chance that it may not be what you hoped or expected.

Something that can be very useful to new authors is premade covers. A lot of cover artists make “for fun” covers or extra covers that they sell on their websites as is. You basically plug in your title and author name, and it’s ready to go. Most of these are $150 or less with the vast majority on premade cover websites under $100. These covers are typically ebook only, and it will cost extra should you want the cover to be altered into a paperback cover (which is why I made the budget in this section this high). If you write cozy mystery, YA, SFF, and romance, you typically have a lot to choose from. There are plenty of websites that sell these, but one I particularly like is The Cover Collection. They seem to have a nice mix, and the cozy mystery covers are graphic and gorgeous.

The downside to a premade is that it may not be exactly right for your book and you can’t change it. The other issue arises if your book is part of a series. You can’t brand the books perfectly if different people made the covers, which means you may end up with disparate styles between books in the same series. Some people try to buy covers together at the same time or buy a premade and reinvest their book 1 money on a cover for book 2 that is made to match. You might also consider rebranding in the future when you have more money and just using the premade as a temporary cover.

No Budget

This always has me sort of tense up because I have seen some BAD do-it-yourself covers. I would suggest that if you aren’t halfway decent at Photoshop/CSP/other art or editing software, don’t try this yourself. Your cover is something people are going to see first online, and if it looks like a hot mess, they aren’t going to buy your book because they will [wrongly] assume the inside looks like a hot mess. If you have no budget, I might suggest bartering with a friend who has better graphic design skills than you. Please do not read this as go pester your artist friend. Most of them don’t make a whole lot of money either, so unless you’re willing to do something decently large for them (clean their gutters, watch their kids for a week, edit their manuscript, etc.), do not be upset if they say no. A simple but clean cover is far better than something that looks like someone did a bad job in Paint. Know yourself.

If you are going to forge ahead doing it yourself, I do have a few suggestions.

1) Look at covers within your genre on Amazon and other distributors. See what is often represented on those covers, the colors used, the styles of fonts, etc. Even if your cover isn’t perfect, you can at least sort of blend in. You don’t want to stand out in a bad way. It might also give you direction on what stock photos to look for, which leads me to point 2.

2) Look for stock photos. You cannot grab any old picture off Google and use in a book cover. Someone owns the rights to it, but using Shutter Stock or Pexels will give you tons of photos and vector art that is royalty free, meaning anyone can use it. You may need to alter them with editing software, but the photos are there for you to work with.

3) If you decide to go the Penguin Classics route and use an old painting, make sure you can use that painting on a cover. There’s a small issue with copyright when it comes to works of art. Museums and galleries have the rights to the images for many of them, so you may not be able to slap that picture on a book cover. A lot of museums, galleries, etc. do have websites where you can browse their pictures and see which ones are for commercial use. It’s a pain in the butt, but I’d rather not deal with copyright issues.

4) Show your finished product to other people to get their opinions before putting it on your ebook. Think of this like getting a tattoo. You want someone else to look at their artist’s portfolio with you in case they notice the flaws while you are enamored with the art. Your book cover will be out for everyone to see, so it’s better to catch a weird line or unreadable font now before it’s all over the internet. Be willing to take feedback from people because they will be your customers. The Courtney Project on Youtube has a great playlist of book cover critiques, which may be helpful in showing you what you should look for when making a book cover.

Final Thoughts

Your book cover is an investment in your brand and in your book. If I was going to spend money on one thing, it would be the book cover, BUT I am pretty sound with grammar and editing. If you aren’t great with those things, then, your money is better spent on editing.

At the same time, premade covers can be a great way to get a cool looking cover without breaking the bank. If you have no budget and want to make your own cover, I would definitely be realistic regarding your art/editing skills and make sure to follow the genre conventions for books within your genre in order to make something that will appeal to readers of your genre. Once you finish it, make sure to get feedback from others as you may not readily see the flaws in your cover design.

The Reanimator's Heart

A Preview of The Reanimator’s Heart

As a little treat and to whet your appetites for The Reanimator’s Heart, I thought I would share the first two chapters of the story. Keep in mind, it is still undergoing editing, so there may be a typo or two. The Reanimator’s Heart is the first in a new queer paranormal fantasy series and is an off-shoot of Kinship and Kindness as both take place around the New York Paranormal Society.

If you like what you read, you can preorder an ebook copy of The Reanimator’s Heart at all major retailers here:


Prologue

The Hand of St. Catherine

God only granted Sister Mary Agnes glimpses of the sublime on Thursday nights when the moon rose high enough to peek through the tallest windows of the monastery. Despite praying with the other sisters five times a day and spending hours in solitary prayer and study, she only received visions in secret. Stealing across the courtyard to the chapel, Sister Mary Agnes paused to gaze up at the darkened windows of their sleeping quarters to make certain she hadn’t awoken the other sisters. So far, she had been lucky in that no one had noticed her leaving in the night. Perhaps they thought it merely insomnia cured by meditative prayer. The Mother Superior might tolerate that, but would she put a stop to it if she knew that one of the sisters had lied by omission about having visions for years?

As she pushed open the chapel’s oaken doors, a beam of moonlight broke through the stained glass windows floating high above the altar, casting the faces of Christ and the Virgin in stark relief. Motes danced before the crucifix as Sister Mary Agnes fell to her knees, relishing the way the cold stone burned through the layers of her habit. She reached deep into her pocket until her fingers found the rosary her mother’s family had carried all the way from Bohemia. This wasn’t the plain rosary she used in daily prayers or when she prayed beside the sick. It was beautiful and far too fine for her. Its lush mahogany and gold medallions smacked of the decadence she had forsworn at her vows. She couldn’t flaunt the piece in public for obvious reasons, but she also couldn’t trust that it wouldn’t suddenly reveal her secret during the day. The timing of the holy visions had been consistent, but she wasn’t ready to tell the world yet. At the tug of the spirit within her, she pressed her forehead to the ground.

She should know better. If God wanted her to lose control, it was his divine will, and she had to trust him. She let the wooden beads slip between her fingers in time with the movement of her lips. With each prayer, her mind cleared until she brushed against the center pendant representing the First Mystery. Her heart slowed, then hastened as every muscle in her body seemed to tighten and go slack all at once. Sister Mary Agnes should have been afraid, and she had been when her mother presented her with the rosary of some long forgotten cloistered great-aunt and the visions began. At thirteen, she knew she was destined for sainthood. For who saw visions of the Almighty and the Holy Mother but saints?

Sister Mary Agnes’s lips parted and her eyes rolled back in her head at the wave of toe-curling ecstasy overloading every synapse in her body until she could sense nothing but her soul pulling through time to meet the soft brown eyes of the Blessed Mother. Today, she wore the guise of a weary woman about her mother’s age, her face lined with age, silver threads weaving through her ebony hair. For one tender moment, she held Sister Mary Agnes’s face in her gnarled, olive hands. Light flooded the nun’s vision. Love purer than any human could know bore down upon her, terrible and beautiful as the woman holding her. Blood dripped from the corner of the Virgin’s eye, and Sister Mary Agnes knew. She knew, and she wasn’t afraid. She would be returning to the Lord.

Her sisters would find her papers, and they would know. The friend she had been writing to for years about her visions would help publish her writings. He would see things through. She could die in the Blessed Mother’s arms knowing her last vision would go unrecorded as long as the others would live on. With a sear of light, Sister Mary Agnes left this world.

***

Sister Mary Agnes’s body slumped forward, limbs akimbo before the altar. The shadow in the nave waited, watching the nun’s still back to confirm she was truly dead. He would end up in hell, of that, he was sure. If all the other things he had done hadn’t put him firmly there already, this sealed it. Standing over her body, he knelt and carefully rolled her onto her back. Her eyes were half-closed and her lips lax, but even in her habit, he recognized her face. It was the same face he seen and loved throughout his boyhood when she was still called Maggie. They had both gotten out of the tenement and made something of themselves but only one could survive. As he closed her eyes with the lightest brush of his fingertips, he winced at the blooming pinpricks of blood left behind by what he had done. He wasn’t sure he regretted it, but he was sorry it had come to this.

Sitting back on his heels, he checked her empty palms and invaded her pockets only to find paper and a medal. He couldn’t risk lighting a candle and drawing the attention of anyone who could see the chapel windows, but he had to find it. If the sisters got their hands on it, he would never see it again and killing her would have been for nothing. Prostrating himself before the altar, a flash of gold glinted from beneath the nearest pew. The moon still hung high in the night, so he wrapped his handkerchief around his hand and carefully pulled the rosary out by the chain. In the faint light, he could scarcely make out the miniatures engraved in the softness of the gold medallions, but even without seeing it, he could sense the relic humming within the crucifix.

Peeling the fabric back, he stared down into the face of Christ, barely more than an impression of features. Unlike most crucifixes, this Christ’s arms were not attached to his body, but that wasn’t obvious unless you knew that once upon a time, the thin form of Christ had been the bone from a saint’s palm. Saint Catherine’s visionary magic and the belief of her followers had permeated her very bones. While most of her body resided in Siena in pieces under glass, someone had the forethought to keep a fragment of her hidden away in the most unassuming reliquary. There were few things he appreciated about those who came before him, but the people of the Middle Ages knew how to sense magic and grab onto it with both hands. For centuries, there had been rumors that someone had the hand of St. Catherine somewhere in Europe, but it had been lost for over a two hundred years. It wasn’t until his friend had doodled on the margin of a letter that he realized what she had. She never knew. Maybe that was his one regret, but perhaps it was better she died thinking the visions had been a blessing and not a fluke of fate.

Wrapping the rosary up tightly, he stowed it in his pocket and turned his attention to Sister Mary Agnes. He could leave her to be discovered in the chapel, her body looked whole enough, but the nuns would surely sense something was amiss. Pleasure and pain warred in her ecstatic expression, beatific as St. Teresa. The eyes would give him away. Lifting her into his arms, he backed out the way he came through the darkened halls to the kitchen and the snowy trees beyond the cloister. Sister Mary Agnes’s head lolled against his chest, but he pretended she had fallen asleep and he was carrying her home. This was why he had volunteered to do this himself. It wasn’t cruelty, it was mercy. None of the others would have been as gentle in the face of such awesome power.

Graves of past sisters and the local faithful broke through the ground like gentle hands reaching for her. Beside them stood a lifesize statue of the Virgin on a pedestal of rough stone. This was where he would leave her, safe among the people she had longed to be. The others had said to burn her or bury her or drop her in the nearest river. He couldn’t. He would just have to leave her here and trust the sisters would think she had frozen outside. Laying her before the statue of Mary, he carefully arranged her body to look as if she had fallen asleep on her side.

“Good night, Mags,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her temple. As he walked toward the tree line, he stopped at the sensation of eyes boring into his back, but when he turned, all he found was the Blessed Mother’s all-knowing gaze.

Chapter One

Foolish Choices

Dead people had been at the center of Oliver Barlow’s world for as long as he could remember, but that didn’t mean he liked them. On one hand, they were the optimal patient. They were quiet, they could be put away when he was tired of dealing with them, they didn’t hide things they would have in life, and they truly couldn’t help any weird noises or smells they made. Unfortunately for Oliver, they rarely stayed so innocuous in his care. Taking one last long swig of coffee, Oliver steeled himself for what he was about to do.

Mr. Hezekiah Henderson had come all the way from the Pennsylvania countryside sealed in a lead-lined casket laden with preservation spells. That should have kept him, but as Oliver well knew, it didn’t always work. He had read the man’s file three times to better understand what may have happened to him before his death and to put off his least favorite activity. Mr. Henderson had been found disemboweled in the woods outside his home. Oliver sighed. Preservation spells could only do so much. With a final breath of uncontaminated air, he cautiously freed the latch and opened the casket.

Inside, Mr. Henderson rested with his sightless eyes staring ponderously at the morgue’s ceiling and his mouth agape. The man inside still looked like a wealthy businessman with his well-groomed, albeit now askew, mustache, uncalloused hands, and what remained of an expensive pinstripe suit. A suit that had now soaked up a considerable amount of blood and offal, but that was unavoidable as his chest and neck had been flayed opened by what looked like claws and teeth. According to their report, the investigators thought it could be a werewolf attack or something far more esoteric from beyond the veil. Craning his neck and pushing up with his knee on the table, Oliver measured his hand against the claw marks. They were large, but werewolf attacks tended to be far less messy than this. Wrinkling his nose at the familiar metallic, meaty tang of innards, he carefully tidied Mr. Henderson’s remaining entrails into his abdomen and buttoned his jacket over it. At least Mr. Henderson wasn’t too far gone yet.

After washing his hands and double checking that all sharp instruments were out of reach, except for the scalpel tucked into his pocket, Oliver leaned into the coffin and laid his hand over Henderson’s forehead. He closed his eyes and focused on the faint glimmer of life still clinging stubbornly to the man’s body. The microscopic organisms crawling through his intestines, the muscles that fought to clench and unclench as his life slipped away, the minor storm still cascading through his brain. Oliver’s breath hitched as the hook caught and Mr. Henderson took a shuddering breath. The tether burrowed deeper between them, sending Oliver’s heart sputtering until the other man blinked his still dead eyes and sat up in his coffin without seeming to notice the holes in his chest.

“Who are you?” Henderson rasped, his voice whistling through the tear in his throat.

Oliver straightened and schooled his features against the familiar discomfort. “Oliver Barlow, sir. Now, this may be alarming to you, but you are dead. You have died and are at the New York Paranormal Society in my lab. I just want to ask you a few questions.”

“Dead! I’ll have you know—”

Like clockwork with the older men, but at least the less than freshly dead were easily distracted. “Mr. Henderson, what is the last thing you remember? Did you summon anything from beyond the veil recently?”

Henderson recoiled like he had been slapped. “Summon anything! What do you take me for? I have never summoned anything in my life. My gift is speaking to beasts. If I had summoned a demon—”

“Sir, what is the last thing you remember?” Oliver stood with his arms crossed and resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. These people were infuriating.

“I was petting my cat, Shiva.”

Oliver looked from his hand to the deep scratches across the man’s body. “Shiva is a Hindu god, isn’t he?”

The dead man’s eyes lit up, though Oliver could feel his hold slipping. Mr. Henderson would soon realize he could step out of the coffin and that would only led to problems. “Why yes. I named him after the deity. His sister is Durga.”

“And how long have you had Durga and Shiva?”

“Since they were cubs.”

And there it was. “Durga and Shiva are tigers, aren’t they?”

“Of course, they are, but—”

“Thank you, Mr. Henderson, you have been most helpful. Have a good rest.”

Before the man could say another word, Oliver snapped the tether. Mr. Henderson fell back into the coffin with a squelch as Oliver wretched at the horrid sensation of being covered in bugs. He hated the awful feeling of every hair standing on end when he cut the tether and the remaining energy raced across his skin. He rubbed his palms on his trousers and gagged again. It never got easier, and the longer he let them prattle on, the longer the feeling lasted. Shaking out his hands and taking slow, deep breaths at least helped. After a long moment, he steadied his breathing long enough to slam the lid shut and lock Mr. Henderson in for good. Oliver hurried over to the sink and washed his hands again. He winced as the water burned his chapped flesh, but it was worth it to be rid of any traces of Mr. Henderson and his energy.

“And all for death by pet tiger,” he murmured under his breath with a derisive sigh. He would have to take measurements and do sketches to confirm his findings, but at least there wasn’t something supernatural wreaking havoc in their world. Death by foolish choices was a far too common cause of death for Oliver’s liking. Half the people the Paranormal Society brought to him died by their own thoughtless hands and not on purpose. A spell gone wrong, thinking they could persuade a lesser demon should submit to their will, a box haunted by a spirit that they just had to open. While the cause of death didn’t say it, death came because they lacked a healthy respect for their own gifts or the otherworldly creatures that lived among them.

The one good thing to come out of his job was a healthy fear of his own abilities. For most of his life, Oliver Barlow hated being a necromancer. People weren’t keen on those who could raise the dead, and when you factored in his “unsuitable” temperament, he felt like a pariah at the best of times. But he highly doubted his ability to raise the dead would get him killed. He had too many fail-safes and rules to ensure that didn’t happen.

Rolling the worktable over to the storage drawers, he shoved the bespelled casket out of sight. He would deal with the particulars of Mr. Henderson’s case later. Now, he would write up his report for the head inspector. Hopefully the tigers hadn’t gotten too far. As he put pen to paper, he paused at the sound of a slow click behind him. He focused on his chest, but the tether had broken. Certainly, it couldn’t be— He had only half-risen when the laboratory door flew open and slammed into the wall. Oliver jumped, whacking his leg into the desk and knocking over the stool. Biting back a murderous look, he was relieved to find Gwen Jones standing on the landing, admiring her handiwork.

“Apologies, Ol. I don’t know my own strength sometimes,” she said between wheezes. “The door and wall are all right, though.”

Tripping over the fallen chair, Oliver rushed to her side. Her usually rich brown skin was startlingly pale and flushed with sweat that flattened the tight curls framing her face. He slipped an arm around her elbows and quickly steered her into the room’s only other chair. She rolled her dark brown eyes but didn’t stop him.

“I’m fine.”

“Forgive me, but you don’t sound fine.”

Oliver darted over to the bench under the window and grabbed one of his personal mugs. Decanting a cup of syrupy, overcooked coffee, he winced at the astringent smell of burnt grounds. It would have to do.

“Here, inhale the steam for a bit, and then, drink it. The heat should help.”

“If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were trying to poison me.” Gwen took a slow sip and grimaced. “That is disgusting. Please tell me you don’t drink it like this normally.”

“I got involved with,” his eyes drifted to the preservation cabinet, “something.”

“I’m sure I don’t want to know, though that would explain the smell.”

“Try not to talk until you can breathe, please.”

“Yes, Doctor Barlow,” she rasped sarcastically but without malice.

Taking another cautious sip, she watched Oliver from over the cup. She knew he was practically vibrating on the inside. He had given up practicing medicine as a doctor almost as soon as he started, yet old habits died hard, especially when it came to Gwen. As she drank, he listened for the echoing wheeze of her breath, but after refilling the cup a second time, the crackle had mostly disappeared. Asthma could kill as swiftly as tigers. The thought of that made his chest tighten as he sat stock-still on his stool.

Sensing his mounting anxiety, Gwen released a sigh and lightly patted his arm. “I’m fine. Seriously, Ol. I’m fine now. The drink helped.”

“Good. So, what was so important that you had to risk your life to visit or were you running from someone?”

“Ugh, I think it was John Marsh’s godawful cologne that set me off. I walked into a cloud of it, and it took my breath away. I wasn’t even close to him!”

“And you came running to warn me to stay away to avoid a cologne headache? Or do you have more corpse-related questions for your research.”

“You wish. Unless you’ve had vampires in here, you are of no help to me.”

“There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“So says you.” A sly smile graced her lips when she added, “Actually, I came to get you because a certain Inspector Galvan is back in town, and he would like to speak to you.”

Oliver’s cheeks flushed all the way to the tips of his ears. Quickly averting his gaze, he emptied the remaining coffee into the sink. “Any idea what he wants? I was about to write out my report about—”

“Oliver!” Shaking her head, she gave him that sad, barely piteous look. It was mostly exasperated amusement, but he still felt that minor sting of pity. That he must have no idea he was self-sabotaging when he full-well knew he was and couldn’t help himself. “The dead can wait. Go talk to Galvan.”

He opened his mouth to speak, to refute the urgency of reporting a tiger attack, only to deflate. “Will you come with me?”

A grin shot across her lips as she moved to catch his arm and haul him up the stairs. “Of course, now let’s go before you lose your nerve.”

He sniffed and froze. “No, wait.”

“Oliver.”

“Two minutes outside first, that’s all. Don’t give me that look. It’s important. I don’t want to smell like a corpse.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Two minutes.”

“Two minutes.”

With a fleeting glance over his shoulder at the morgue, Oliver slipped out the door to the loading bay and pressed his back against the cold brick. A flurry of snow swirled across the pavement and over the black leather of Oliver’s boots, but it did little to cool his nerves. No one was around, so he shook out his hands and paced in time with his breath. How could he want something so badly, yet dread the very thought of it? Panic coursed through his veins as he sank to the ground in a tight ball. He would just be very still. As long as he was still, he couldn’t say anything foolish or weird. Counting to forty, he braced himself and went back inside before Gwen could fetch him.


If you enjoyed this snippet of The Reanimator’s Heart, I hope you will preorder it by clicking the button below. Liking and sharing this post on social media also would help me immensely and is free ❤

Monthly Review

July 2022 Wrap-Up Post

July was a weird month for me, mainly because it’s my birthday month and I ended up having to last minute prep for a summer class I wasn’t sure if I would be teaching. Surprise, I’m teaching it, and I found out like last week that it was a-go. If you aren’t in academia, everything depends on enrollment, and in this case, I was not privy to how many students had signed up until the admins told me. If it looks like I did A LOT in the admin section, I have been panic working in case I did end up teaching that class. Anywho, here were my goals for July:

  • Finish Writing The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Start Editing the beginning of The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Figure out what to do with old room furniture/prep for reno
  • Start drafting newsletter freebie, at least a little bit
  • Do the cover reveal
  • Start making release graphics
  • Read 8 books
  • Crochet something?? Or do some other art project??

I can already tell you, the last bit did not happen. I didn’t crochet or do any art projects at all this past month, but I did play some video games.


Books

I aimed for 8, nearly failed, but I did read 8 books this month. Thank god for graphic novels.

  1. The Unmatchmakers by Jackie Lau- 4 stars, parents with baggage try to break their adult children’s budding romance and create havoc in the process (Kobo only)
  2. The Facemaker by Lindsey Fitzharris- 4 stars, fascinating read about the man who became the leading plastic surgeon during WWI and the people who influenced him
  3. A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall- 5 stars, I LOVED this book, a Regency story featuring a trans woman who falls for her ex-best friend. It is just so emotional and lovely.
  4. Saga volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 5 stars, rereading for volume 10
  5. A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske- 4 stars, an Edwardian MM story where a civil servant stumbles into the world of magic
  6. Lore Olympus volume 2 by Rachel Smythe- 4 stars, I love watching Hades and Persephone get closer, letting their walls down while also dealing with less than savory characters
  7. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Stephen Brusatte- 4 stars, highly interesting read about the evolution of dinosaurs from their origins to their extinction
  8. Saga vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples- 4 stars, rereading for volume 10

Admin/Behind the Scenes Author Stuff

  • Finished throwing out all the trash from my room/office reno. Everything is empty at this point and ready to go, but now, that room is hot and hard to work in. The reno is now on haitus until September because I’m not sweating to death and having paint peel off the walls from the high temperatures.
  • FINISHED WRITING The Reanimator’s Heart! The main draft of it is DONE. I AM FREE.
  • Made lots of promo graphics for TRH
  • Made a book trailer for TRH
  • Finished beta reading a book for a friend and send them their feedback
  • Prepared for that summer class that was semi sprung on me by creating a Blackboard, tweaking the syllabus, setting up my virtual workspace in the basement (I look like I’m in a hostage video, but it’s better than the 100 degree office)
  • Made the syllabi for my fall classes
  • Got all my cover stuff squared away for TRH
  • Had the cover reveal for TRH and launched the preorders (see blog post below for links)
  • Set up the preorder for TRH at all major retailers
  • Started working on a freebie story for my newsletter subscribers (won’t be out for a while)
  • Edited some bits of TRH that I had on my list that were in need of tweaking (larger things like resplicing a chapter)

Blogs Posted


Writing

I feel like I spent a good chunk of July feeling behind, panicking, catching up, falling behind, repeat. Luckily, I managed to pull ahead and finish The Reanimator’s Heart at 97,680 words (pre-edits). This total is also not counting work I’ve done on the newsletter freebie story during the last week of the month.

  • Week 1- wrote 3/3 days, 1,000 words total, 333 words/day
  • Week 2- wrote 6/7 days, 3,200 words total, 533 words/day
  • Week 3- wrote 5/7 days, 2,700 words total, 540 words/day
  • Week 4- wrote 5/7 days, 4,100 words total, 820 words/day
  • Week 5- wrote 4/7 days, 3,680 words total, 920 words/day (finished the book on Thursday)

I am very proud of the work I’ve done on The Reanimator’s Heart, so I’m really hoping you all will like it too when it comes out in October. As you can see, once I got toward the end, I sort of hurtled through the last few weeks. I’m finding it interesting to track the speed and fluidity of my writing at different stages in the story. Act I takes forever, Act II part 2 takes a long time, but Act III seems to flow so well once I get going.


Hopes for August

  • Stay on top of my summer class stuff (that runs from the beginning to the middle of August)
  • Set up the Blackboards for my fall classes (*quiet sobbing because I hate doing it*)
  • Edit the majority of The Reanimator’s Heart
  • Continue working on the newsletter freebie story
  • More graphics for TRH
  • Set up Google form for ARC copies of TRH
  • Read 8 books