Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Sidhe and the Iron Tie: For My Brother


He would have been 50 this month. My brother was just as much of a mischief-maker as I was (am?!). We thrived in it. We met as kids when the first Star Wars film premiered in 1977. When we were teenagers, he tried to “cure” me of my fear of heights by convincing me to jump off a waterfall (thanks for the scar on my chin, you brat). He was a feral creature who climbed to the very tops of the trees and playing with fire was a boring routine. Sure, he’s actually my stepbrother, but he was more family in the true sense of the word than most of my actual blood relatives. Together with our misfit friends, we played Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, and read countless comic books together. (Let’s not talk about those late-night drives where speed limits were derided as we sped along on untold adventures.) He was the artist whose talent took people’s breath away and I was the writer. We had a lifetime of creative projects planned, but he was taken from us just as he was deciding what to do in his final year of school at the age of 23. Despite what people say in times of grief, the pain never lessens. My soul is just as sundered as it was the moment I picked up the phone and heard those awful words, “He always loved you, but he’s gone now.” That day, the whole world was off-kilter. It was oppressively hot and black-outs kept happening around the neighborhood. We shut down work early and as I walked across a park, I picked up a broken toy horse that became the centerpiece of the day because it never left my clutching hand. As I walked home with the broken toy horse, two cars nearly hit me simultaneously as they nearly crashed into each other. It now feels like it was a horrid omen. 

In the days before the funeral, I began to write a novel in a desperate effort to keep him alive. A work of speculative fiction, it tells the story of outcasts fomenting a rebellion in a futuristic society where mining colonies are throughout the solar system. Sumerian society never collapsed, but became a massive, space-age empire that controlled the resources collected from the asteroid belt and beyond. It explores how religions can be used to manipulate people and tells the tale of the goddess Inanna’s sacred journey to the underworld. It’s an odd, niche book that I hold close to my heart. I know he would’ve loved the cover. It took 23 years to make it a readable novel that could be published, and it dwells out there in the spirit of Dia de los Muertos—a work of art that serves as a memorial (the character Mesilim was based on him).

Matthew Korteling and the author

Days before he died in that terrible accident where an arrogant, reckless man decided to take the ultimate risk behind the wheel, my brother revealed to me in a phone call (you know, the old-fashioned kind that was wired to the wall) that he wanted to drop out of school and become a tattoo artist. He was getting a ton of work doing illustrations for Vampire: The Masquerade and other White Wolf productions and to this day, I occasionally see artwork that’s clearly inspired by his style. He was going to break up with his toxic a-hole of a girlfriend. His iguana had just eaten his best friend’s stash and the usually mean-spirited lizard was a docile, blissed-out zombie for days. (One day they crafted a cardboard city for the little reptilian egoist to crush as a real-life Godzilla.) He told me to watch The Crow with Brandon Lee, and I laughed and said I hated sappy love stories. I was wrong and I never got to tell him that. It was a fucking amazing film and it changed me forever. After all these years, it has carried the tragedy not only of Brandon Lee’s death but also my brother’s.

With all of our D&D knowledge and love for all things mythology and folklore, he teased that I was one of the fae/sidhe. To that end, he collected iron ties from an abandoned railroad track from where he and his friends used to hike and wander and would place them around the house to “banish” me because iron repels the fae, according to legend. Because obviously I’m one of the sidhe. The joke’s on him because I kept those iron ties and they enhance my wild, wily sidhe magic rather than hinder it. All because of his memory…his love…and knowing that I’ll carry him in my heart forever. I love you, you little monster, and I’ll be angry forever that you were gone so young. Your strength provided solace when all seemed lost.


In his memory, I’ve decided to offer Lords of Kur free of charge for the month of May for what would have been his fiftieth birthday. You can find the book here on Smashwords:, or here on Amazon (please note, Amazon only allows free books to be promoted a week at a time, so I’ll be periodically updating the promotion on Amazon. If you don’t see if for free, feel free to ping me, or download the Kindle version from the Smashwords site. ðŸ˜Š).

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

I'm Ready to Be Myself

The Muses have fled, or so I thought. Without putting too fine a point on it, 2018 was one of the most difficult years of my life. Let’s set aside the global drama and fractious state of politics (as a wonk, I dread to think how much time I’ve spent simply refreshing my Twitter feed). For me, it’s been a year of coping with an array of family issues and navigating a turbulent career path. My life as an author took the back burner while I spent much of my time getting up to speed in new skills and acclimating to what has amounted to nonstop chaos. Stress ruled the year, and while I found time to start doing research for my fifth novel, the heart of the story has failed to coalesce thus far. Vague impressions about the style and setting of the novel swirl in my mind, and I can list the main characters, but the story won’t actually get anywhere until I start writing.

Writing has been like breathing for years, but with so many dramatic changes in a short period of time, words failed me. I felt lost, like I was failing at what I was most passionate about. I even began to wonder if I was going to ever seriously write again. It was an easy enough conclusion to come to after my fourth novel was published in 2016. After all, I started it in 1994. While not the first novel I set out to write, it was the most cohesive, and didn’t function like a work of fan fiction like my first effort did (the Dragonlance series is effectively what pushed me into the creative sphere in high school. A few handwritten pages still exist, but most of the work has been lost). The fourth novel, Lords of Kur, was a cornerstone that helped me through dark days—it took so many years to cultivate an actual novel out of the concept. But with its publication, I realized something had changed in me as an artist. Understanding how to roll with it and cope was the hard part.

Toward the end of 2018 something took hold. I had become more settled in my job and there was more time to focus. As I looked back on my fractured past it became clear that there was more to it than time management. My voice as an artist changed. I just didn’t catch on. How I present myself has changed a lot too. As I prepare to write novel number five, I find I’m thinking about the narrative differently than I used to. All my stories have focused on extraordinary women who have been marginalized by history. While I’ll never let go of that concept entirely, the next few novels in development forge a new path. Because my focus has been historical fiction, I rely on tons of research in the beginning of each story. This time is no different. But rather than stringently adhere to a historical timeline, the stories are getting more complex with themes and character development.

As much as I appreciate the opportunity to evolve as an artist, the struggle of that evolution can be discouraging. In today’s fast-paced world where content and social media happen at a dizzying pace, it’s hard to remember that some art takes time. I used to beat myself up for not sticking to a schedule—I should be reaching my tenth novel if all had gone according to plan (LOL!), but instead of worrying about running out of time, I’ve learned to embrace patience. Maybe it’s growing older. 
Maybe it’s a new level of maturity as a writer. I’m bolder than I used to be, and I’m finally ready to be myself more openly, rather than trying to be invisible, which was how I spent too much of my time. In any case, I’m happy to be moving forward again, and rediscovering a facet of myself that had been lost in 2018.

Best wishes in all your endeavors for 2019!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Smashwords Summer Sale 2018

One of the things I've loved about Smashwords over the years is their commitment to making the customer experience a good one—their innovation in their self-publishing platform continues to evolve, and as always, I'm delighted to be part of their annual summer sale. For the month of July, my work is available for free on Smashwords. I hope you enjoy them!  

Legend has it that the love of Prince Vlad Dracula’s life committed suicide during a siege when the odds of winning were slim. This is the story of Ecaterina Floari, consort to the Wallachian prince who served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. A ruthless warlord in the fifteenth century, Prince Dracula fought valiantly against those who would control the land of his ancestors. As his consort, Ecaterina accompanied him in the turbulent years of exile and discovered an ancient force influencing their lives. Her devotion to him was eternal, and she followed him into immortality…  

Known as “Granía of the Gamblers,” Granía O’Malley makes a high-stakes bet to buy her freedom and the ability to continue her livelihood as pirate queen on Ireland’s west coast. She enters into a dangerous agreement with Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and soon finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue that is plunging her country, as well as her family, into chaos. At war with a cruel governor while serving as one of Walsingham’s many spies, Granía struggles to maintain stability within her family and fleet and provide an enduring legacy for her heir to the seas. A story full of adventure and passion, Dark Lady of Doona portrays the life of a formidable woman who defied traditions by commanding her own fleet of ships and leading her loyal followers into rebellion.  

A young noblewoman dreams of accompanying her beloved into battle and becoming a legendary heroine. The year is 1588, and King Philip II of Spain sends his armada on a holy war against Queen Elizabeth I. Despite her lover’s warnings, she schemes to join him on the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, flagship of the Andalusian Squadron. She wasn’t prepared for the harsh conditions, fierce storms, and ultimately, crossing paths with the queen’s most formidable privateer, Sir Francis Drake—a man who carries her fate in his pocket. Through an enchanted mirror, a mysterious force from the New World is summoned, and Consuela waits, held captive on a foreign shore, in hope of rescue.   

In the Sumer-Akkad Federation, false oracles cultivate selfish ideologies that lead to widespread corruption and oppression. Neglected gods send emissaries to find true oracles and set a revolution in motion. Two friends become a force for change in the ancient heart of the federation—and both make perilous journeys that shape the course of history.  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Muse Summoner

It’s an alchemical formula: the right playlist, the video game with moody, gorgeous graphics, and the show worth binge-watching. A carefully planned meal that reflects the story’s culture. The various media are played in a certain order throughout the day. Deep into the evening, she reaches for a fountain pen and opens the journal with smooth paper that is meditative when she runs her fingers over the pages. It helps her think. The tip of the fountain pen skims over the surface like a figure-skater, leaving a trail of shiny black words that echo deep below. Abzu, she says—the Sumerian word for the primordial ocean. Her mind, ensorcelled, drifts in the multiverse of inspiration until she creates an original world of her own. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

When Your Writing Life Takes a Back Seat

It’s been a tumultuous year, but I’m grateful for how it worked out. Lords of Kur is published. I made one of the biggest transitions in my career for far, moving from the realm of writing and editing to one of data science. As much as I love working in writing and social media, it’s time to take a deep dive behind the online world and learn everything I can about analytics, big data, and how to optimize the online experience. I joined a marketing agency this fall. I’m thrilled by the opportunity, but it’s a high-intensity role with big goals locked in place for 2018, and the learning curve is daunting. While the current phase of my life feels volatile, I’m gaining invaluable experience that will carry my career to its next phase. Yet it comes at a cost. There will be little time for writing in 2018.

Research for my fifth novel is happening at a slow pace. So is a business plan that I’m working on—but that’s okay. Focusing on data science now will only help my future business. Blogging? Sure, when I can, both here and at my food blog, Savored Words. A couple fiction-streams-via-Twitter accounts are also in development. I have no trouble finding cool things to be involved in, but finding time is a problem.

We’ll see how it goes.

Even though I love this new career track of data science, it does feel weird to be in a job that isn’t based in writing. Journaling before bed keeps the Muses from going stir crazy, but it’s more like therapy than creative writing at this point. In a way, it feels like a necessary sabbatical. Completing and publishing Lords of Kur was a herculean task. There is a ton of research to do before even coming up with a basic character list and plot outline.

For many writers today, pressure mounts to publish all the time. A good deal of it is surely self-imposed. Other times, it’s bad advice from somewhere in a writer’s circle of influence. Tons of well-meaning posts offering up advice and special promotions on Twitter certainly adds to it. Whenever I scroll through my feed at the dazzling array of book covers, blog posts (oh hi…), and author photos, I do wonder how well the social media push works for them. I never seemed to find my groove in marketing my own work. I try to implement new social media and networking plans, but when pressed for time, self-promotion is the first thing to go. Once a novel flies the coop, I’m already grappling with the Muses about which story to focus on next.

There was a time when the idea of not being able to dedicate a major portion of my life to writing would have thrown me into a panic. I have crazy self-imposed deadlines to meet! The list of novels and short stories grows! While my passion for writing has never waned, I’ve mellowed over the years. Not all the projects on my list are even going to be written; I keep them on hand as a reference of where the Muses steered me over the years. There will be time. Until there isn’t. In the meantime, as I navigate my life into unknown waters, it’s all about staying focused and trying to avoid the storms. Wherever this journey brings me, the Muses will always be part of it. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Getting Back on Course

The past few months have been charging ahead at a break-neck pace. Life threw a series of curveballs, and I’ve been scrambling. I hardly celebrated the publication of my fourth novel in June, which took 23 years to complete. Before I knew it, leaves were turning yellow and orange and days have blurred together and are now navigated by meeting schedules. It feels as though everything is in chaos: the cringe-worthy political landscape, revelations that have me re-evaluating my long-term career goals, and the sundry life events that remind you stability is a precious, fleeting thing. 

Keeping up with 3 blogs, marketing myself as an indie author, exploring new territory as I face the latter half of my career, and keeping up with the everyday grist got to be unwieldy. I beat myself up for it. As my husband works a second job some evenings, I pour out my heart in my journal and reiterate lists of things I can’t lose sight of: appointments, to-do lists for my writing life, and notes for recipes. Most of the time I’ve felt like I’m spinning my wheels. I had lengthy time-outs in the world of Skyrim. After downloading the special edition, I gave Skyrim a final play before retiring it. Those sessions were a balm as I struggled to figure out the path forward. 

And finally, just like that, the Muses returned. It was sunny weekend—the last few warm days of the season. I had finally caught up on some reading and prepared the post for Savored Words, my food blog. I’ve been struggling with conceptualizing my fifth novel, which will be set in Down East Maine during the War of 1812. As I gathered history books for research and revived some genealogy research, I longed for that magic moment where I lose myself in worldbuilding. Hours pass and as the sun’s light shifts across my dining room table, I sit there, taking notes and turning pages. It’s been a routine since childhood. I immersed myself so deep in a world that the day would pass and I’d be stirred out of my reverie to have dinner. Today I balance cooking with research—a good excuse to roam the kitchen and stretch every so often. But the spirit of the experience remains the same. There’s a certain euphoria when the Muse arrives, an ancient joy that I look forward to the moment when a story takes shape and in a spark, has a soul. 

I know who the central characters are going to be in the fifth novel. Stark visuals are forming about how they dress and how they speak. I’m only in the early phases of doing research for the novel, and the project is complicated by its external components: a cookbook of family recipes inspired by our heritage in Eastport, Maine, and a short story to connect to the novel from a modern perspective. I hadn’t given much thought to figuring out our family tree, but once we discovered a connection to smuggling, it suddenly became a lot more interesting. I’ve never included much in terms of personal reflection in my other stories. I love finding the extraordinary women who’ve been marginalized by history and give them a voice to tell their tale. That’s always been my gig. I didn’t expect to find myself blending fiction and family history, but here I am. I'm hoping that next month, I can dive in and do a draft zero of this novel for NaNoWriMo. We'll see if time is kind. 

My third and fourth novels were based in deserts. I look forward to going back to the seafaring spirit that drove my novel about Granía O’Malley in Dark Lady of Doona. There’s something about being out on the water that feels like home. It took me a long time to recognize it and embrace it. The closer I get to the past, the more I realize how comforting the sea is. I love the moments when, drifting off to sleep, I still feel the swells and wakes after being on a boat for a few hours. Ultimately, I see myself moving northward—back to Maine for my family, and taking root where the story began. It’s a journey that reveal its secrets over time, and I look forward to gazing out from the same coves as relatives from generations ago who I’m only just beginning to understand. 

Draft Zero

I was having lunch with a writer-friend recently, and she mentioned a great term that helped me put NaNoWriMo into sharper context: Draft Zero.  

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2011. In each case, I’ve cut the majority of the manuscript once November passed. I wrote more than 56,000 words for the initial round of my third novel, Whiskey and Rue, and only 6,000 of those words made it into the final version that was published. Some writers panic at the thought of extensive revisions. I used to as well.  

The value of a 30-day freewriting session became clear while reviewing Whiskey and Rue. Carefully thinking out each scene can be restrictive. Any online writing forum, be it a group on Facebook or Google+ or elsewhere (I miss you, Scribophile—I hope to come back soon!), will have debates between “plotters and pansters,” i.e., those who plot out every detail in their notes and those who just sit down and write. For most of my works, I’ve had detailed notes and chapter outlines. Whiskey and Rue is the first instance in which I didn’t. I attribute it to the wonders of NaNoWriMo.  

During that 30-day frenzy, scenes came to life that I doubt would’ve appeared if I had stuck to my meticulously crafted chapter outline. Some of the inspiration was from my own Muse; some of it came from prompts from the NaNo Sprints Twitter account. Their often funny prompts spawned a handful of quirky ideas that somehow fit right into the novel. A writing challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog provided me with the last three pages of the story. It’s a puzzle that formed in sections. If I ran out of ideas for a chapter, I moved on. I leapt ahead whole chapters to capture a scene that would fit in sooner or later. But the end result of NaNoWriMo—not really a first draft.  

My friend’s concept described it perfectly—you can’t read draft zero through as a complete arc. It’s a series of ideas that eventually coalesce into a real draft. For me, it takes three real drafts before I feel ready to show it to beta readers and editors. Draft zero is shown to no one.  

Draft zero is a mess.  

You pick through the pieces—finding the gems among the dross—and save them.  

It isn’t wasted time. None of the discarded words are. All practice is beneficial, even when you don’t save much of it. It’s the same with sketching for me, though I (regrettably) practice that much less.  

Draft zero can be the source of the best kind of inspiration; it just needs work. Veteran authors implore, admonish, and plead for new writers to be patient and work through several revisions before self-publishing. And I have to admit, when I see the special offers for publishing newly scribbled works right after NaNo is over, I cringe. Better to focus on the special offers for editorial services. A manuscript critique. Something that shows the process of the writing life for real.  

For me, there are always works in various stages of development. There is at least one draft zero to pick up when it’s ready. A manuscript in full form, going through a first deep edit. There’s always something to work on, and it’s great to be able to shift gears and work on another novel when I realize it’s time to give a work a time-out for a while.  

Draft zero may need to live in your desk drawer—okay, old phrase—may need to live in the cloud—for a long time before you can work on it again. Like a barren planet being terraformed, or a peaty single malt scotch (I’m looking at you, Lagavulin!), draft zero needs time to reach the perfect state of being. No matter what, whether you hit that 50K or not at the end of the month, draft zero has the potential to be a winner.  

(Originally published December 2014)