The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Wild Child: Raised by Dogs; A Charmed Life

I will be the first to admit we had no idea how to raise a child, so we let the dogs help. Unlike myself, they seemed to immediately understand the meaning behind each squeak or cry made by you. At that time we lived on a large farm and more often than not it was just the four of us: you, the two dogs, and me. Your father departed each morning to work at our photo lab and I stayed home at first because I was trying to be a good mother, which means I was following a lot of confusing advice from a variety of child-rearing books. It was much harder than I had anticipated, having you all to myself; this small bundle that was entirely dependent on me alone. I was full of self-doubt. Out of sheer desperation, I allowed Greta and Fox to become your nannies/sitters/play companions.

To be raised by dogs is not as bad or as farfetched as one may believe. They were quite capable guardians and were a great help to me from the onset. When you needed changing, they informed me. When you were tired and cranky, they provided a soft warm cushion to curl up with that I didn’t have to wash. When you spit up, they’d lick you clean. When you began to crawl, they traveled over miles of carpet with you, keeping you entertained when I could not see the delight nor the point in traversing repeatedly up and down the short hallway or circling incessantly around the coffee table in our double-wide. They ignored your pulling of hair and drool. When you began to walk, they provided support and encouragement by hesitantly walking forward, but never leaving you too far behind, else you become frustrated. And when you were older and steadier on your pudgy legs, they explored the farm with you securely gripping their nylon collars. You became adept at maneuvering under the lowest of fence boards with your hand clutching Fox, as well as taking your first frantic running steps next to his massive body as he trotted from the barn down the grassy hillside toward home.

As sweet a picture as my memory has painted, I will now confess the disaster that arose from trusting those dogs. I misplaced you. More than once, but let’s not focus on that fact. If you recall, I was at one point in charge of a horse breeding and training operation. This is where we lived during your first eight years of childhood. I will refer to it as simply ‘the farm’. It was a beautiful setting and the land was full of its own magick. The fact that this happy place became a dark quagmire is another story. Suffice to say, it has no bearing on this memory.

Where was I? Yes, the farm and the training/breeding operation. Please understand this dream of mine took a lot of my time and energy. I was a professional horseman, or woman, and worked long hours for the owners. So while I rode, or mucked stalls, or groomed, you were in the capable care of Greta and Fox. This arrangement worked well for us and for quite some length of time, but then Fox taught you to run and that’s when the problems began to occur.

I panicked the first time I lost you. I am not proud of that weakness of character. I always imagined myself made of sterner stuff, the type of person you’d want to have next to you in a crisis. But, I am not entirely level headed where you are concerned. Yes, I panicked, and I don’t mean a sudden short-lived fear soon replaced by logic and action. I mean a pervasive terror followed quickly by mindless screaming and decidedly fatalistic imaginings.

I had been exercising a two-year-old mare, Grace, on the lounge-line and had just put her away in her stall when I scanned the grassy barn lot to find you and the dogs were gone. I swear my heart stopped beating. I then began screaming for the dogs and Greta dutifully reappeared. But there was no answer from Fox.

Remember, we were alone on the farm. It wasn’t like a stranger had kidnapped you. No, I had trusted Fox with your welfare, and he had absconded with you or worse — he left you alone somewhere on the three hundred acres we were charged with managing.

I searched the immediate area: the barn, stalls, tack room, the rusty horse trailer, and the well-house — though the door was locked and you couldn’t possibly have gained entry. Finally, I headed to the house to call for reinforcements knowing the first few hours after a kidnapping are the most crucial. I had to get your father home to help me search the woods and possibly your grandparents to make up the initial rescue taskforce before I called in the sheriff’s department.

As I approached our double-wide at a half run and scanned the tree-line, I spotted the evildoer lying on the porch. He was alone and napping. I bore down on Fox. I was so angry I thought myself capable of separating his spotted pelt from his body. But as I drew near, I spied you playing in the dirt of the flower garden. You were happily oblivious to my terror or Fox’s future as an exotic rug. With your sudden reappearance, my heart began beating anew and I sank to the ground, my legs too weak to hold me.

You saw me then; giggled and scampered over to throw your toddler arms around my neck. I, of course, hugged you too tightly and you squirmed until I let go. Too distracted by the hidden joys of mulch and the bugs living just underfoot, you didn’t notice my tears.

And though I thought your guardian to be asleep, he had not stopped watching your every movement. I learned several hard lessons that day. Firstly, as a mother, I have the awesome power to exist after my heart stops beating in order to avenge you. And secondly, that despite my shoddy parenting skills or maybe because of it, the universe was going to keep you safe for me —atleast  for the time being.

After that day, I caged you in a portable playpen while working in the barn. I also never told your father that I had momentarily misplaced you. And as a precaution, I bribed Fox with extra rations that night for keeping my secret. By your startled face, I can see he was true to his word.

If there is a lesson here, I’m not sure it was for you to learn. It was mine. Yet one more reminder that your mother, the mediocre witch, has led a charmed life. I can only hope that yours, son, will be just as magickal.

Oh, and don’t always trust the dog.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

Making Chalkboard Lists

There are 10 hard lessons you’ll learn when you decide to publish a book.

  1. There’ll be many people who will congratulate you but never read your book.
  2. There will be the occasional bad review.
  3. You should never reply to a bad review. If you do, you’ll regret it.
  4. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay.
  5. Someone close to you will think your writing time is the perfect time to talk.
  6. You won’t become famous or rich because of your book.
  7. You will have to pay for promotion; nothing is free.
  8. You will give more books away than you’d planned on.
  9. There will be mistakes in your book despite everyone’s best efforts.
  10. You will have to speak in public about your book.

And there are 10 perks to being an author.

  1. You’ll get to talk about your book everywhere you go.
  2. Friends will enjoy introducing you as a published author.
  3. You’ll be allowed to be moody and uncommunicative for hours at a time while in the company of others.
  4. Authors drink coffee in the morning hours, and wine in the evening hours. It’s a rule.
  5. Some people will actually read your book!
  6. And occasionally, you will get a glowing review.
  7. You’ll be the subject of an interview or blog.
  8. You have the option of working in your pajamas all day on the couch, as long as the laptop is open.
  9. Daydreaming is still writing time. So is watching movies and reading books that are not your own.
  10. You’ll be asked to sign your book.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Chemicals in the Kitchen; Taking Risks

If you don’t mind, son, I would like to point out few threads I discovered as I mapped out this series of essays. The first trend I reveal to you must be laid at your father’s feet. From your earliest memory, you have heard him accuse me of painting in a ball gown and boots, but here I will set the record straight and tell you that I learned how to be possessed by an idea to the point of insanity from him. He was the initiator; I simply followed his example. My first exposure to this all-consuming phenomenon was chemicals in the kitchen.

If you recall, your father owned a small café on Main Street named the Horse and Hound. He was the chef and me, one of the waitresses. We had a loyal following and did a decent business; enough to pay our paltry bills. At that time, I had no idea how quickly your juggernaut father could switch directions. So, when he and I began developing black and white photographs in the kitchen after hours as a hobby, I had no inkling it would lead to the hastily conceived photo lab.

As I recall, your father was snap-happy for two solid weeks. This coincided with the Atlanta Olympic Games where he burned through fifty rolls of film in just two days of dressage competition. We didn’t have the option of using a digital camera back then. They were cost prohibitive and the technology still too new for the masses. We also didn’t own a cell phone, but that’s another story.

As a trusted member of the newly forged team we had become, I helped him set-up the equipment, select negatives, pour chemicals, crop, and time the developing prints. The chemicals were corrosive at best and the fumes were intense. We slept very little during those frenzied days. And to my memory, he lived and breathed photography for no more than three weeks before he showed me an ad for a minilab. Two weeks later, we bought Bertha, rented an old gas station, and set ourselves up in business.

Bertha, the photo processor, was two generations removed from the latest technology. She required constant care and your father rebuilt her more than once. No one in his or her right mind would attempt to turn a hobby into a business overnight, but we were riding high on his enthusiasm and persuasive talent, and I was too blissfully happy and high on developer fumes to think to suggest caution.

Saddled now with two businesses, we worked Fotoworks during the day and the café at night. Our only concern at the time was that I had become pregnant with you. Your father’s cousins had been raised during the years Aunt Pat owned and ran a restaurant on St. Simons and your father didn’t think his cousins had turned out for the better for the experience. So, when my pregnancy became pronounced, he wanted to avoid his Aunt’s past mistakes. Nearly overnight your father abandoned his culinary skills as a source of income and closed the café. Fotowerks would have to sink or swim. And for a time, it did manage to float precariously.

As I said, this was just the beginning. Your father has moved us through many interests and businesses since. Each was successful on some level and each built on an idea or flight of fancy that possessed him. After Fotowerks, I learned to pay attention to his fascinations so as not to be surprised by the business plan that ultimately developed. By following your father’s example, I have learned to commit completely to my chosen interest and trust that the future will take care of itself.

You will note snidely that such a life has not done my retirement fund any favors. But, my only lesson to you is that you will never fly as high as your dreams if you are always aware of how painful the fall can be. Your parents have lived many lifetimes. We have risen and crashed and risen again. Each reinvention of ourselves was sparked by an idea that we invested in and nurtured until it possessed us. In this state of grace, there is no room for fear. You must race and leap forward and reach toward dreams yet to be realized.

Do this and you will avoid a life of regrets — a life of what if’s.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

A Quick Review, No Chaser

Left on Main

Crystal Jackson’s novel, Left on Main, is a contemporary romance set in a small Southern town. If you are looking for a sex-filled romp, this is not the book for you. If, however, you like a character-driven story that develops slowly and has honest emotional depth, then this is a novel you need to explore.

Left on Main is a book in which the town itself plays a role. For a Southern reader who is used to a storyteller taking his/her time, I appreciate the effort that the author took to describe the town and the supporting cast. There is something very familiar in a mother’s matchmaking, a sister’s overprotectiveness, and a best friend who just doesn’t always get it. And as in any small town, there’s the, “your dating who?” office gossip and that awkward moment when you realize everyone knows your business.

The author would be the first to tell you that this book deals with the emotional aftermath of divorce. The inability to trust someone again after a bad divorce is the primary obstacle that Libby faces. Crystal Jackson points out the theme of trust in her interview with Literary Titan. (Follow the link to read it.) Seth, the good-looking antique store owner, also has trust issues resulting from a past relationship. So how do two individuals with trust issues and this much baggage learn to love again? This is where the supporting characters step in to lend a helping hand.

My only negative takeaway, which I lay at the feet of Sands Press, is this…there are moments where the book’s pacing lags and the prose could have been tightened. An editor should have addressed those issues, but on the whole, this book is a fine debut novel and I am looking forward to the next from the Heart of Madison Series.

I would highly recommend Left on Main as your next book club choice, or for that cozy fall read. The book can be easily read in a single weekend and give you plenty to mull over while you’re having that glass of wine with your girlfriends.

*** ***

Left on Main can be purchased on Amazon. Crystal Jackson has several local events that she will be making appearances with her book. To learn more follow the link to her website.

The Unfinished Pile

Dear Reader,
Welcome to the unfinished pile. The following is one of many essays I wrote for a working manuscript titled, My Mother the Mediocre Witch. The collection was originally aimed at my son, a random assortment of stories and lessons – something he might refer back to when speaking with his future therapist. Most of the essays are very short, just a brief glance at an unusual life. I’ve plugged away at this project for years with no clear idea of what to do with it. Periodically, I’ll share a bit of it here on my blog. –Tarrant

Sweeping Chickens off the Porch; Gratitude

A hen pecks near the base of the washing machine, one of two sitting at the edge of our driveway. Both, along with a single two-decade-old dryer, stand like rusting white sentinels at their ill-chosen post. If I am going to be totally honest here, I must confess that the trio irritates the hell out of me, as does the chicken poop dotting the walkway, the steps, and the worn porch. But somehow the discarded machines lined up in the driveway bother me the most. Occasionally, I’ve deposited bags of household trash on top of each washer, a not so subtle hint to your father that the entire lot should be carted off to the dump. Yet the washers remain where he left them. The bags are gone, as are the boxes of collected household recycling. It baffles me that he can’t see it.

I watch the hen for a few more moments. She seems happy in her foraging, her contentment a sharp contrast to my present mood. I stalk back into the house.

Our house. Where do I start? And where are you in this essay? I think at this point, son, you are in middle school and are just now beginning to compare your family’s net worth to other families who homes you visit.

Once grand and with bones that are still sound, the aged Antebellum landmark we reside in is known to everyone who has lived in this area. But appearances are always deceiving. What they don’t know is that we don’t own this grand old house. We rent it. And the rent is cheap for a reason.

The windows rattle on windy days, there’s a good bit of water damage, the wiring is hodge-podge and highly questionable, most of the plumbing in the house is backward, there is little to no insulation, and mysterious critters have now laid claim to the second floor. Thankfully, there is a line of demarcation and it ends at the top of the stairs. The first floor is ours. The entire house is of course too expensive to heat and air-condition, so we have always closed portions of it off. We have learned to ignore the things we don’t have the money to fix. We live shabby chic. It’s a thing. Some people pay big bucks to attain what we have stumbled upon by necessity. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is about the fact that the proof of the crumbling insides of our house has taken up residence in the driveway. My life does not feel magickal at this moment. I feel like I’ve become the person with the ratty porch couch. You know the ones. The same place that has the rusted car half-overgrown with weeds. Oh yeah, we’ve got one of those too. It was a project that never got finished. Lack of money, if I recall.

Lack of money. Poor to some, but I prefer the term broke. You see poor is a condition and de-moralizing, but broke can be fixed. Broke has hope. Of course, it helps if you can see the world as a Buddhist might, or as a witch might if a Buddhist isn’t around. Did I mention that my husband is one? A Buddhist that is. Which is why the discarded washers and dryer doesn’t bother him. He knows there residence in the driveway is only temporary, for all things are temporary. Perhaps the hen knows this as well. One day the white sentinels will be gone, and the bugs the chickens’ hunt will have to find another place to take refuge.

I think I feel better. I sometimes forget that many years ago I stepped off the path that most would consider normal; college, career, home ownership, and debt. I confess I sometimes lose my gratitude for the things I do have; family, friends, love, humor, health, and fresh eggs.

One day son, you will look back on this big drafty house and smile with gratitude. Or at least I hope so.

*** ***

To explore more sides of my writing, check out Beyond the Books where I share some of my older Medium posts.

Sprucing up for a Book Release

With The Fate of Wolves hitting the market this month, I find myself spending a lot of time in the design chair as I dust off and breathe new life into my brand image. It happens every time I release a new book, and honestly, I look forward to it. Social media banners are redesigned. New book signing posters are made. New posters and advertisements are crafted.

Facebook page banner
tabletop display for signings

I try to stick to one theme or image to describe the book. For The Fate of Wolves, it’s this wonderful bluish moon I found.

You’ll begin to notice it cropping up everywhere: Facebook banner, FB ads, Twitter banner, and on this website. Unfortunately, I ran across this fantastic image after I’d created my poster. I’m considering the idea of redesigning it. I know that the most impactful advertising message is one that is concise and unified. And this pale-blue moon image references the werewolves in the second book, but it also speaks to the nature of the universe of the Pale itself. So, the solution might be to use it again for the entire Legends of the Pale Series when The Dreams of Demons is released in 2020.

Facebook Ad

Of course, my redesign time isn’t entirely relegated to the new series. I also have a previous series to market and keep fresh. When I was writing the Darkly Series, I never considered the interesting problem of how to handle the promotion of my back catalog of books. I’ve only recently discovered the hidden cost of having seven different books at each book signing. My next event at the end of this month in my home town of Madison, Georgia will be the first big test. How many books from the Darkly Series should I bring? I’m not sure, but it’s a fun problem to have. I never thought I’d get this far actually. There was a point a few years ago that my writing took a backseat to everything else going on in my life. I’m writing full-time now and my life is all about my books and publishing. It’s amazing how quickly life can change.

Read. Write. And stay Grateful.

That was going to be the end…

But I couldn’t help myself. I have moon fever. Here are the new posters for The Fate of Wolves and the Legends of the Pale Series of books. I’ve also given the Legends books and the Darkly books their own individual pages on the website’s menu.

Legends of the Pale Series

A Day in the Life of an Author

“The learning curve is a bitch, my dear.”

I spent most of last weekend supporting others. I do that from time to time to remind myself that it’s not all about me and my books. And because I strive to be a good friend. My social skills are, at times, limited —so occasional practice helps.

Anyway, one friend had scheduled a yard sale and another was having her first-ever book signing. Both events were just ripe with opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and talk to strangers.

Over the two days of selling nick-knacks for five or less dollars, I just happened to meet a fellow writer who was new to our town and going through the querying phase. I loved commiserating with him. As it turns out, he’d gotten several requests for partial manuscripts. Of course, I told him to pounce on them immediately! I know that the publishing industry can be a fickle siren. What’s in-demand now probably won’t be in a year’s time. After I’d offered him my encouragement and good wishes, we moved on to the subject of self-publishing. I was pro for obvious reasons, and I got the feeling he was firmly in the con column. The misconception he and many other yet-to-be-published authors hold tight to is that the traditionally published book will be heavily promoted by the publisher. And somehow, he will be magically left alone to write. Because, after all, writers are creative beings who love nothing more than a good cup of coffee and seclusion. “Please don’t make me talk to people!”

I informed him that the industry has changed. If he gets picked up, he’ll have to actively and heavily promote his book. That means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and perhaps blogging. I’ve seen that face of disbelief before and I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. “I’ve done that learning curve. Now it’s your turn.”

What you do get with the traditionally published route is distribution. Some bookstores and book faires are still built into the system. But not all and promotion isn’t usually apart of the debut author experience.

My friend, with the book signing this past weekend, was traditionally published. It is a small but growing publisher and she was very excited to sign the contract with them. She was also under the misconception that she’d sit back and write while her publisher pushed her books. She’s currently learning that the majority of the promotion load is hers to handle. She’s having to contact bookstores. She’s having to promote across social media. She’s having to set up events that she wants to participate in.

Neither road is an easy one, traditional or indie. And neither is made for the socially awkward creature called writers. Entry into the publishing world is a painful lesson for a lot of first-time authors, especially those over the age of fifty. I truly hope my new writer friend lands the deal he dreams of and makes a name for himself. In the meantime, I’ll be over here selling my books one at a time and talking about myself until you and I are both uncomfortable.

By the way, I sold two books and gave one away this weekend. “Totally awesome!”