The Not PC Halloween


Costume-in-a-box circa 1970s

As a child of the 70s, I have to giggle at my youngest daughter who began planning and creating her Halloween costume back in September. It’s one of the striking differences between her generation and mine. Back then, we asked, begged and cajoled our mom to take us to the grocery store to pick out our costume in a box. It consisted of a mask with two tiny air holes in the sort-of nose position and a cheap drape thing that we threw on over our normal clothes.

Our planning was null back then, except for coordinating costumes with the kids that would be trick-or-treating with us. Or maybe we were innovators, I don’t know. But, for two amazing years in a row, my brother and I went as the Peanuts gang with the Gurwell children. I was Lucy, for obvious reasons – bossy, mouth, and cruel to Charlie Brown, especially when it came to football. Then two people would go as Woodstock and Snoopy and my big brother would be either Charlie Brown (snicker) or Linus. To see a preview of the classic Peanuts’ Halloween special click here.

In subsequent years, our not so PC costumes included hobo with a runaway satchel and bum (similar to hobo – but no satchel and extra soot rubbed across the face). We didn’t have fancy schmancy treat buckets, either. Instead, we used the pillowcases from our beds. It was fortunate that my older brother had Peanuts sheets the years we went as the coordinated gang. He nailed the whole look. Dang.

The treats were not too much unlike today’s treats, except no one bothered trying to be healthy. Sure, you’d come across the occasional dentist’s home, and get a toothbrush. But, after the razor-blade-in-an-apple scares, even fruit went by the wayside. But, the one year that I will never forget, regretfully the last year I was allowed to trick-or-treat, I ended up with half a pillowcase full of Pal bubblegum. It was new on the market, and clearly sold at a low – low – low price, because every other house gave it away that year.

e0ab1f286c4b0c49b2f2f0f38cde8bf1Pal bubblegum is in fact the ugly kid sister of Bazooka Gum. Pal, if you can work up enough saliva in your mouth, is good for three, maybe four chews TOPS and then it becomes a flavorless lump. Terrible. Terrible stuff. That year, my chocolate bars felt all the more important, and I was careful to make my haul last by eating only two pieces a day. I nearly got to Thanksgiving before I’d worked down to the Almond Joys.

So, tonight when I open the door for the kids, I plan to give them a handful of chocolate, not organic or nut free or gluten free, no. They’ll have tromped up and down rainy Seattle hills, and I intend on giving them a true treat when they knock on my door.

Speaking of treats, I’ve got one for all of you. Amazon is offering my first book for FREE this weekend to Kindle Unlimited users. For your Halloween treat, download Four Rubbings and start following the mysteries in real time. :)

Happy Halloween, all.


Jenn's Bumper Sticker

Don’t make me do it. One more bad drive and I’m printing this and taping it on my rear window!

The last few weeks while driving my kids to school, I’ve been shocked by the things I’ve witnessed behind the wheel. Am I showing my age? Probably. But, the things I’ve watched other drivers do reminds me of the way I drive when I play Super MARIOKART with my daughters on our Xbox.


Notice that there is no sub-head that says: A Driving Instruction Tool

After another white-knuckle drive home yesterday in which I avoided two near collisions, I designed a bumper sticker. Yes, so help me God, I did. And if my afternoon commute doesn’t go any smoother, I’m going to print it and tape it to rear window of my car.

So let’s look at the key ways the game differs from real life:

  • There are no seatbelts in MARIOKART, so safety isn’t really a priority. In real life, safety matters
  • In the game, we get an infinite amount of lives. If you happen to “die” you’re promptly parachuted back onto the road. And in real life we just die
  • In the game, reading and obeying signs is optional at best. In real life, signs reminds us of the rules. If we don’t obey them, we get pulled over by a police officer
  • There are no speed laws in MARIOKART
  • There are no blinkers on MARIOKART vehicles. There are in real life – but drivers are increasingly forgetting to use them (flibberty, flibberty)
  • In the game, the goal is to finish first. In real life, the goal is to get to a place alive
  • In MARIOKART, fire is a minor inconvenience, as is driving off the road onto the surrounding landscape – both slow you down for a short time. We all know what happens in real life if you drive off the road
  • There’s no gas or electric-charging needed to run the vehicles in MARIOKART, but in real life, we need fuel. Is this why I’ve noticed so many young people walking down the highway with a red gasoline can in their hands?
  • In the game, lanes don’t matter, and lane lines are a mere suggestion. In real life, staying within the lane makes all the difference
  • In the game, we pass quick and close to cause another driver to spin off the course. In real life, we’re supposed to give each other some space so we stay safe when we pass
  • When we play MARIOKART, we laugh and scream and cheer.  In real life, crazy maneuvers  lead to road rage, permanent nail marks in steering wheels and chronic TMJ in other drivers

Where are the seatbelts? And what the heck is Luigi holding? Does this look safe?

So, younglings, the next time you hit the road, and I’m talking about actual asphalt – not pixels, remember what you learned in driver’s ed. Obey the law, be courteous to other drivers and make it your goal to get to your destination in one piece. Leave the crazy antics for the gaming, okay?


Why Parakeets Are Better Left Dead

Mount St. Helens killed my brother’s budgie parakeet. But an obsession with Egyptians only made matters worse.

the budgie trioMy brother wanted a pet goat, but they weren’t allowed in an apartment. So, Garth moved on, visited the local pet store and brought home a budgie parakeet. He named the bird, Woodstock, after the little bird in Charles Schultz’s famous comic strip, Peanuts, Snoopy’s best friend.

Schultz’s Woodstock flew with an awkward mix of klutz and peril. He smacked into trees, fluttered upside down, spun wildly and landed on the ground with stars and spirals drawn around his head. Garth’s bird was either an avid follower of Peanuts or suffered brain damage as a chick in the egg, because he flew exactly the same way. That is, when he got the chance to spread his wings, which wasn’t very often.

Yes, because a dirty little secret about bird ownership is that it comes with a hefty side dish of guilt. When you purchase a wild animal with survival skills long ago stripped from the DNA, you’ve made a lifelong commitment to keep your pet from doing the main thing he was born to do, fly. He’ll live in a cage. With clipped wings. So he will never get away. Never. Because, the truth is, you haven’t purchased a bird, no, more like your own feathered prisoner. And that makes you his warden.

Ninety-nine percent of Woodstock’s life was lived in a tiny cage. His sole companionship came from a mirror attached to the wall. The reflected Woodstock made the real bird bob his head up and down in a somewhat pornographic way. Besides eating and bobbing, Woodstock’s entertainment consisted of sharpening his beak across a large cuttle bone, sitting on a wooden perch, and crapping on newspaper. Not an excellent way to spend a life, in my opinion.

jenn's version copy

My drawing of the budgie trio. Pen and watercolor.

I think Garth sensed the emptiness of Woodstock’s life immediately, but I’ve always been slow on the uptake. On Saturday mornings, after ingesting a bowl of sugar-coated cereal and watching a few hours of Looney Tunes, I was happy. Something about the afterglow of Tweety cartoons and the crash from the sugar made me keenly aware of Woodstock’s imprisonment. I found myself begging Garth, “Open the cage. Let Woodstock fly.”

It didn’t take much to encourage Garth, I suspect because he was already chanting the same thing in his head. He’d open the door and Woodstock remained on the perch. Garth would call his name, and Woodstock stayed on the perch. Finally, Garth would reach in and gently pry Woodstock’s curled nails from around the perch and release him into the room.

I always hoped that Woodstock would circle above our heads in graceful loops to our cheers and whistles. Nope. Woodstock’s flying, if one could call it that, resembled the inky up and down readouts of the old fashioned EKG machines. It was all quick drops and high bursts. The bird sputtered up and down in the air, almost hitting the ceiling, nearly smacking the floor, creating spastic Vs in my mind until, wham! He slammed into a window or wall, lost a handful of feathers and then crawled up the drapes where his long nails got caught in the fabric. He jerked and bobbed frantically, losing more feathers, until he was freed by Garth’s gentle hands. It was unnerving, heartbreaking and horrifying. And somehow, within minutes of nestling Woodstock into his cage again, I forgot the cruelty of letting him fly.

Well, I liked Woodstock, and because he was Garth’s, I assume Garth loved him. When we moved into our house, Woodstock came with us. He had a place of honor on the corner of Garth’s desk, next to a stack of books about Egypt, my brother’s latest fixation.

Then, on May 18th, 1980, Mount St. Helens blew. I don’t remember any house-shaking booms, but the sky outside became pocked with ash sacs. And poor Woodstock died of a little birdy heart attack during the eruption. We found him dead in his cage and left Garth to bury or flush him however he saw fit. I was sad, but not sad enough to miss Bobbie McPherson’s birthday party at Farrell’s, a restaurant that offered, “magical fun for everyone” in their ads. Her mother, God love her, ordered the most expensive item on the menu for us, the volcano ice cream sundae.


Farrell’s volcano ice cream sundae

May. Woodstock died in May. I don’t remember Garth mentioning the bird again, and then summer came. We went to California to stay with our family there. Before we left, Garth, who’d gotten heavy into Egyptians, made an immaculate black pyramid and set it in the bare spot on his desk that Woodstock’s cage once occupied. I thought maybe he’d put it there as a sort of memorial to his first pet. After that, I didn’t give another thought to the bird, his death, or Garth’s grieving.

The summer sped by, but at the end of August, it was time to return home to Mom and school. Before we arrived, Mom changed bedding, vacuumed and dusted our rooms. In order to clean Garth’s desk, she had to move the black pyramid. And when she lifted it up, she found a petrified Woodstock. Woodstock. If anything could bring the bird back to life it would be a few months sitting underneath a pyramid, right? That’s what the Egyptians believed would happen, resurrection, new life.

Maybe Garth’s calculations were right, and Woodstock did rise from the dead. But, with no birdseed and water and mirror and cuttle bone and Garth after waking, maybe Woodstock decided that death was an improvement.

In death, Woodstock could soar like an eagle, avoid any obstacle and hold onto his feathers at last.

Jennifer Hotes is author of YA thriller/suspense novel, Four Rubbings.

Wow! That was easy.

This afternoon in my art loft, I spent a few hours catching up on all the emails I’ve ignored this week in order to help put on the Providence Hospice of Seattle Foundation fundraiser. Over a glass of  iced tea, I read and responded to emails, wrote to-do lists and tackled a few smaller projects. This is what happened out my window as I worked:


As I began my emails, over a bowl of soup…

After responding to emails, checking social media and refilling my water cup...

After responding to emails, checking social media and refilling my water cup…

In less than an hour, a house that stood on the corner of my neighborhood for over three decades was demolished. How long did it take to build that house? A year, maybe? And now it’s gone.

After taking pictures from my roof deck, I went back to writing book two, the follow up to Four Rubbings. The novel’s sketched out in two notebooks, but I’m working in earnest to finish the manuscript before the first of the year. The hours I’ve put into it are already countless. I’ve done research, collected images, fact checked, not to mention the time I’ve invested in creating my cast of characters in the first place. In fact, I usually talk about the teens in my book as though they’re my own children, my four kids that live on paper. The actual writing of the story will go quickly, but I’ve no doubt it will consume me in the months to come. Why? Because I get inside their heads, set them in a situation and watch where they go and how they react. I quietly take notes, or write what you would call a first-draft.

I’m not unique, nor is my process. The fermentation of the story and characters, the editing, the proofing and finally the publication, it’s how a book is born. Even for the most prolific authors, like bestselling author, Tess Thompson, who writes 2-3 books a year, the process takes time.

And like that house across the street from me, the final product can be torn down in a blink: one reviewer, one bad blog post, one incensed reader and what took months to build can crumble down. Amazon’s been criticized for taking a day or more to post five-star reviews, but posting one-star reviews immediately. That needs to change.

I’m not asking you to stop reviewing books honestly, but be fair. If you hate romances, downloaded the book by accident, and didn’t read past the first chapter, then don’t post a review. Please. Don’t tear down a book that wasn’t written for you. Be mindful of the time, process and people behind the book, and act accordingly. Then, when you sit behind that desk and write your own novel, we’ll grant you the same kindness and consideration. We will.

Special Book Release News from Mary Rowen—LIVING BY EAR

mike_lbeLiving by Ear, a women’s novel by Booktrope author Mary Rowen, is being released today, September 16, 2014!

Living by Ear is the story of a forty-six year old Boston musician named Christine Daley, who took a “short” break from music sixteen years ago, in order to marry and raise a family. Now, however, she’s rethinking everything. Chris adores her two teenage children, but her marriage has become a sham, and she longs to perform again.

So after filing for divorce, she does her best to reestablish her own rhythms—both in music and love—but quickly discovers she’s up against much more than she’d anticipated. Her kids seem to need her more than ever, and her soon-to-be-ex-husband is throwing every obstacle he can find into her way. Adding to the dilemma is the astounding progress in technology, which has made huge changes in both the music industry and the dating world. Is there room in the mix for Chris?

This is what one five-star reviewer had to say about the novel, “I took this book with me on vacation, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The descriptions of the Boston locations were spot on. Christine, a middle aged mom who is trying to reconnect with her true self, is a great character. Her struggles and triumphs ring true. Once I started the book, I didn’t want to put it down.”


headshot--smallerMary Rowen is a Boston area mom with a wonderful family that allows her time to write almost every day. She grew up in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley and is a graduate of Providence College. She has worked as a teacher, writer, salesperson, and political canvasser. Her two music-inspired novels, Leaving the Beach and Living by Ear, are both available on Amazon,, and other places where books are sold.

Please visit Mary online at:


Twitter: @maryjrowen


A Shift in Perspective Makes All the Difference


Zoetrope watercolor with film distortion by Jennifer Hotes

If you follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my blog, you might characterize me as a sunny, Pollyanna-type. If pressed further, you might speculate that I’m only this happy because I’ve never faced anything jarringly sad or unfortunate.

At the same time, if you’ve read my first novel, Four Rubbings, you might have a hard time accepting the dark images I stir up, the complicated characters, the terrifying revelations. Yes, this is part of me, too. I have darkness as well as light inside. But, both the blogging and the suspense writing are socially-acceptable ways for me to express all of myself.

So, yes. Bad things have happened to me, as to you, I suspect, because we weren’t raised in a bubble. Awful events. Sad. Tragic. And raw, even, if I choose to dwell on the memories. But, I don’t. I can’t, actually. Not if I’m going to be a good mother to my kids, a supportive best friend to my husband, an enthusiastic volunteer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying the bad stuff happened, I just force myself to take a different perspective on it, is all.

Perspective. That’s why I painted you the zoetrope above. It’s a simple machine, but it depends on perspective to work correctly. You thread a strip of paper into the middle of the drum, spin it, and the series of drawings rotate in a perpetual loop, like a crude movie. It’s like Vine, without the hashtags and comments.

When viewed from above, the pictures blur together, becoming the fuzzy outline of a never-ending mountain range. But, lower yourself. Look inside the drum, nose nearly touching the mechanism, and the drawings jerk to life. Then, pull back a foot or so, and the strip of paper becomes a smooth loop of action. Just a slight adjustment in perspective makes a dramatic different.

cd58f2a98f5576653ddc432beefec0d1It takes effort to shift perspective. And now that I’m active in social media, it’s exhausting. As a student of the media, a communications major at the University of Washington, I learned the statistics. Mainstream news loves negative stories, the ones that strike fear, evoke raw emotion, and oftentimes pit you against me, us against them. Fear is their money-maker. And anger is it’s red-lipped whore. I remember reading one study that said people who rely on mainstream media for the bulk of their information have a skewed perspective on how much violence occurs, and the result is that they live in fear. And guess who consumes the most mainstream media? Seniors.

Yes, bad things happen in the world. Sometimes they occur in the apartment next door, other times it’s half a globe away. We will care deeply. But, if we feel we can’t do anything to exact change or help out, then we’re left feeling hopeless. Studies have confirmed this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to hide your head in a hole and pretend that world events don’t matter, they do. People will always matter. I’m simply challenging you to shift your perspective after consuming the hard stuff. If it really hurts you, research ways to help, donate, promote a worthy cause. But, if you can’t do anything about it, then maybe you can help the world best by putting something positive out there, a cyber-hug of sorts. Even if it’s to publicly thank your lucky stars that you have your health, a roof over your head and food in your cupboards. Your perspective may be the thing that encourages someone else to keep trying, keep living, and make their own peace with the darkness.

Feelin’ Mudgy

mudge /muj/ (n) a persistent feeling of weariness, sloppiness or general discontent. (v) to deposit drool, usually from the jowls, onto someone or something. The dog drank from his water bowl, then mudged my pants.

mudgy /mujee/ (adj) (mudgier, mudgiest), weary or foul-tempered, sulky, sludgy disposition

Yeah, that's me getting mudgy behind the b-day girl - must be after nine

Yeah, that’s me getting mudgy behind the b-day girl – must be after nine

I’m not a night person. In fact, I savor bedtime to an unnatural degree. After six at night, I’m checking the clock and assessing who is home, weighing whether or not it’d be acceptable to change into pajamas. If I lived alone, I’d be in pjs right after Judge Judy, but before pouring my first glass of wine.

These days though, in order to stay connected with my mostly nocturnal sixteen-year-old, I’m choosing to stay awake well past midnight on a regular basis. My daughter and I watch tv while she works on homework and I edit text well into the night. We stream good tv, bad tv and movies. Sometimes we don’t speak for chunks of time, sitting side by side in quiet with work in our laps, the television droning in the background. Other times, we set aside our work and watch, heads together, laughing in all the same places. And each and every night, I count my blessings that she lets me share space with her, tolerates my company and allows us to connect.

Uh oh, the sun's going down

Uh oh, the sun’s going down

But, the thing is, I’m an early riser. I rise at 5:30am to enjoy a few productive and contemplative hours before the whole house wakes, demanding my care and keeping. So that’s partly why I’m yawning by seven.

But, time with my daughter is more important than sleep. And as happy as I am inside to share some time with her, on the outside I’m droopy, often frowning and quiet; or what Ellie calls being mudgy. “Mom. You seem mudgy. Are you sure you shouldn’t go to bed?” she’ll ask. This, from the gal that brought the words finkie and yarden to our family:

finkie: (n), the smallest finger, often called the pinkie

yarden: (n), a lush and unpretentious garden that provides a perfect playground for kids

Mudgy, mudge, mudged. It’s become a phrase the entire family has embraced. And, if someone’s accused of being mudgy, or is asked why they are feeling mudgy, there’s no tension or defensiveness. The use of this silly term defuses all that like magic.

Cooper feeling mudgy

That’s Cooper feeling mudgy

Even the puppy, Cooper, has gotten in on the action. After taking a long drink from his water bowl, he’ll rush over to greet someone leaving a slime trail across the floor and our clothing. He mudges stuff. His nickname (well, one of many) is Mr. Mudgy.

A silly term, yes. But, it perfectly describes something for which the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has no apt term. So, in the days to come when you’re hit with a situation that leaves you gritting your teeth or shaking your head, remember this silly term. And just maybe, when you see it as mudge, you’ll find your smile a little quicker than normal.



But, who would play Harry Potter?

Recently, I tried explaining how my publisher, Booktrope, is so refreshingly different from the heavy-hitting legacy publishers, and all I could think about was the magical world of Harry Potter. It’s not too far off the mark to compare them. Both contain a magic, and I’m not speaking of the wand-wielding variety, I’m talking about people, the quirky, brilliant folks that make book magic happen, and then this happened:

Albus-Dumbledore-Wallpaper-hogwarts-professors-32796356-1024-768Ken Shear, Booktrope founder is no doubt our resident, Albus Dumbledore. Shear, like Dumbledore has heart for every person at Booktrope. He’s wise and caring.

Professor-McGonagall-professor-mcgonagall-32973617-640-960You know how Professor McGonagall is so damn clever? She runs Hogwarts when Dumbledore is out and about. She is fair-minded, generous with her talents and sharp. At Booktrope, we call her Katherine Sears, Founder/CMO of Booktrope Publishing.  Sears has a marketing magic that is undeniable, and she is generous with her knowledge. She knows Booktrope inside and out, so of course I’d cast her as McGonagall. Don’t let the looks fool you, the real-life Sears is a doll. But, as far as I know, she can’t turn herself into a cat.

HagridpedrasYou know Hagrid as the Keeper of Keys and Caretaker of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts. At Booktrope, the magic is the people, the authors, designers, and marketers that create award-winning books. Our Hagrid is Jesse James Freeman. And, yes. Freeman is a supertall man with the heart of a teddy bear. An author in his own right, Jesse knows how to keep this wild bunch smiling with his tweets and posts, all the while building a community for Booktrope in cyberspace.

She’s the cleverest witch at Hogwarts, half-Muggle, Hermione Granger. She makes everything look easy and has a loving heart to boot, making everything she touches that much better. At Booktrope, her name is Emily Clanton.

Hermione-Granger-Photoshoot-OOTP-hermione-granger-1354667-1919-2560He’s an unlikely hero, Severus Snape. He’s aligned with the dark, but works for the light. Misunderstood, brilliant, and yet, loved in the end, we’ve got an author at Booktrope that reminds me of Snape, Steven Luna. His novel, Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing, is the best thing I’ve read this year. He’s been called a renaissance man by other Booktropers for his multitude of talents.

Let’s turn to love interests, shall we?It took a special girl to become Harry’s first love interest, and that was Cho Chang, of course. She reminds me of our own sizzlin’ hot author, Marni Mann. As Harry grew, his heart turned to another girl, his steadfast friend, Ginny Weasley. She’s smart, independent, but romantic at heart. Who else thinks romance author, Tess Thompson is the perfect Ginny?

Ginny_Weasley_1He’s a capable dark arts professor, maybe because he understands the subject matter so intimately. He’s got one fatal flaw though, Professor Lupin is a werewolf. I can’t think of a more appropriate Lupin than our own horror author, Alex Kimmell, can you? Author of A Chorus of Wolves and The Key to Everything, Kimmell’s writing is redefining the horror genre. And like an encounter with Lupin under a full moon, you’ll be left sleeping with the lights on.

Luna Lovegood is my favorite character in the Harry Potter series. Maybe it’s because I relate to her best. She’s a true friend, upbeat, smart and quirky. I’ll cast myself as Lovegood, but only if Wattpad rockstar and author, February Grace, will share the role with me. Like Lovegood, February is the most loving and kind soul you will ever come across.

So, readers. I need a Professor Trelawney. And, for God’s sake, who is our Harry Potter? What character do you fancy yourself as and why? And what would this list look like if the insiders at Scholastic filled the roles? :) I’m turning the microphone your way now. Comment and I’ll enrich this blog post.

Ah, there we go. Mischief managed.



Update! Editor, Toddie Downs has requested that she be cast as Moaning Myrtle. But, I feel she’s more suitable in the role of Mrs. Weasley, because Downs knows how to multi-task projects, manage difficult personalities with success (me) and is fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She’s a top shelf kind of gal.

Book manager, Jennifer Gilbert would make an excellent Lily Potter. Her family comes first, she has beautiful eyes (like infamous Lily) and does everything on a level that sets the bar high for those that follow in her wake.


The Devil’s Chair – a Josie story -

Dad yelled down the hall to me, “Get some sleep, Josie!”

Yeah, right, I thought.

My blood pumped something fierce as I indulged in my favorite secret activity. I made an effort to type softly though, and even dimmed my computer screen, then searched online for an image of my mother’s grave. It wouldn’t take Dad long to fall asleep to the white noise of a late night talk show. I turned back to my Google Earth search. I was staring at the bird’s eye view of Seattle’s oldest cemetery, Lakefront. It looked like a park from this distance, but as I clicked the plus sign, gray stones, white marble tombs and stone benches made it apparent what the land’s real purpose was, not to entertain or refresh, no. It was a place of rest.

I oriented myself by finding the caretaker’s cottage first, then right clicked until Chief Seattle’s grave came into the screen. My eyes blurred, and I was surprised to find the clock blinking, 11:11. “Make a wish,” I whispered to Shadow, who slept in a ball at the end of my bed. I pushed back the thought of joining my cat, I was so close. There were only twenty-or-so-feet between this grave and my mother’s. I fought a yawn, and clicked the right arrow, once, twice. Expecting to see the black angel holding the heart with my mother’s name, Sarah Jameson, etched across the face, the computer screen was filled with the image of a tombstone shaped like a stone chair. I zoomed in to read the epitaph. But, because this was real life, not some corny police show, I couldn’t make out the words.

A marker that some call devil's chair

A marker that some call devil’s chair

I opened a new tab and typed, “stone chair grave,” then scrolled through the top hits. My phone vibrated, and a quick glance told me that Seth was up late, too. My father’s rule was no texting after ten, but whatever. I read Seth’s message, he was researching the symbols carved into the grave I rubbed last week. In the text, he asked if the swirls in the middle of my rubbing could be an octopus. Octopus?

I started typing an answer, but two words on my computer screen stopped me cold, “devil’s chair.” I shivered at the search findings. I clicked on the ‘image’ button and stared into twenty-something versions of the tombstone I had discovered near my mother’s grave, same chair, different materials; iron, stone, wood and brick. Some were decayed to the point of falling apart. I texted Seth to ask if he’d ever heard of the devil’s chair, and my finger hesitated over the ‘send’ button. No. I didn’t need him to be involved with this. I deleted the message, then clicked a link to a story titled, “Sitting on the Devil’s Chair,” and I skimmed one man’s account.

On a Halloween night eight years ago, the man snuck into a central Florida cemetery in hopes of finding the devil’s chair. As he waited for midnight to come, he drank half the bottle of rum he planned to give the devil in exchange for a granted wish. As the witching hour approached, the man fell asleep, waking to a cloud of sulphur. Through the yellowish light, the devil, shiny black, not red, appeared, and with shaking hands, the man offered over the remains of the rum. Scared, tired and drunk, the man was going to run away, but the devil dropped back his head and laughed. And then he asked the man what he wanted most. Fighting to keep his words straight, he asked the devil to make him a famous actor, land him a role that would bring him a tidy bundle of stereotypes; money, women, fame.

Behind the computer screen, I stifled a laugh. What a loser. Out of curiosity, I scrolled to the bottom of the post and read the author’s name, Jason Danning. As in the Jason Danning, the man made famous by his portrayal of a specter on Broadway, literally overnight. No frigging way! I reread the part about his wish and shook with excitement.

My heart raced and I pushed back from my desk, paced the room, and stripped off my sweatshirt, suddenly flushed with purpose. Something like hope, and fear, and possibility burned beneath my skin. It couldn’t be true, could it?

What were the odds that a devil’s chair would be so close to my mother’s grave? That had to be more than chance. Maybe it was fate. My mind wandered to the wish I’d make, it didn’t even take a blink to find the answer. I needed to hear my mother’s voice again, spend a few minutes with her, let her hold me and tell me that I’d done okay without her. Tears streaked down my face. And as the drops dried on my skin, I decided that I must try. I would evoke the devil and ask for a favor.

At what price? The words whispered, not in my voice, but Seth’s, dear, sensible Seth. I crumpled the thought, throwing it into a dark corner of my mind and set about preparing. The clock read 11:23. I had thirty-seven minutes left.


This is the first part of the story, folks. Get in on the fun. Leave me a comment and tell me what should happen next. Share it with whoever you like and have them join the fun. And if this is the first you’ve heard of Josie, the protagonist of my first novel, Four Rubbings, well, for heaven’s sake, download it. Order it. Request it at your local library.

Today’s a Fresh Start

A photograph, taken and colorized by my father, Gary Riley in the early 70s

A photograph, taken and colorized by my father, Gary Riley, in the early 70s

Today is a fresh start. You can either do better, worse, or the same with your life and all its intricate components. Approach the day with the mindset that you will add to, not take away from, all that you touch. Then, would you let me know how that works out?

Wishing you a lovely day,