Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shake, Rattle, & Writing or Why I Hate Snakes and Earthquakes

I am not a fan of earthquakes. I lived in California for a while and I remember two quakes when I was a child and another when I was an adult. The first quake I can remember hit when I was about five years old. All the dishes in the kitchen began to rattle and glasses fell off the counter. My grandmother told me to get under a table and I did and more stuff fell off the wall.

It was the most terrifying--and longest sixty seconds of my life. The second quake happened a few months later and I took shelter in a doorway--no where near as much broken stuff, but I remember the stomach sinking sensation and the pounding of my heart. We moved away from the area the year I turned seven and I never looked back again until I was in my twenties.

Oddly enough, my second greatest terror occurred later the same year when I was out riding a bike in my neighborhood and a couple of the local bullies thought it would be funny to throw a rubber snake at me. I had lived in the area long enough to have learned that some of the snakes were poisonous--but more than that, they creeped me out. I will never forget the image of that snake flying at my face. I had no idea it was rubber, I came off the bike backwards, skinned both elbows, my leg and cut my head (no I wasn't wearing a helmet, we didn't even have bike helmets).

Fear is a Powerful Motivator

The bullies laughed and laughed and laughed at my predicament and my bike was broken at the same time. Infuriated, I beat one of them up. Yeah, I know, we're not supposed to admit that, but I was a mean little kid when I got scared. It was only my second fight ever (the first happened when I was six and one of the mean boys who lived on the other side of the alley from my house was throwing a kitten up in the air and trying to catch it--he kept dropping it and the cat cried piteously--I blacked his eye and bloodied his nose and took the cat home. Tiddles was my buddy for the next ten years) but that's neither here nor there.

The snake incident stuck with me forever, I could never not react to seeing a snake again. I'd break out in a cold sweat, my heart would hammer and I'd flee. Yep, a full fledged phobia. I've only ever managed to handle being anywhere near a snake again when my kid was around--but even then I'm ready to run like hell if it makes one false move. Let's just say that if I'd been Dudley in the first Harry Potter book, I'd never have bothered Harry again--I'd have died of fear on the spot.

Flash forward a few years and I lived in California again for a few months in my early twenties and my third quake happened while I bunked at a friend's apartment in a high rise.

The effing building swayed.


And I had the exact same reaction to the land shaking that I had to snakes--utter terror.

Confronting Fears

I don't believe in letting fear control me, no matter how motivating, so I put both in the book Plan Witch From Out of Town.  There is a scene in the book where a snake slithers onto Chance that creeped me out while I wrote it and every gut churning, heart pounding, mind numbing earthquake that happened--I reacted to those viscerally. My heart would race, I'd start to sweat and I could feel the bile rising in my throat.

This book remains one of my favorites because I love Chance so much and because writing it presented an opportunity to confront some of my own fears. Has it helped me to put them out of my mind? Not at all--I still screamed like a girl when a snake slithered over my foot a few months ago and when the earth shakes...yeah, not my favorite things.

And for the record...yes, Virginia has earthquakes. I felt the earth tremble when I lived there and you'd be amazed by the number of seismic activities recorded there over the years. Sure it's not California, but the thing about an earthquake is where do you go to get away from one?

Yes, I am sweating just thinking about it!

Plan Witch from Out of Town is available now. It is book 2 of the Chance Monroe series.

All Romance eBooks | Amazon


Life should be getting back to normal…

Chance survived a serial killer returning from the grave and said yes to a date with her ex-lover Jack. But survivor’s guilt eats away at her and her world turns upside down when earthquakes begin to rattle the landscape and devastate the region she calls home.

Madness becomes her…

Terrified that she is the source of earthquakes devastating the land, she tries to shut down her connection to the Earth. But when enemies aware of how to shatter her bond to the earth kidnap her, Chance faces her most desperate hour,

When the earth shakes, the witch bleeds…

Staring into the face of madness, she must learn to trust her allies or risk losing everything—and everyone she loves.

Read an Excerpt

I liked three a.m.

I saw it often enough from first planting to final harvest when the land needed me.

I liked three a.m.

I sensed it often where I traveled, when the balance must be restored.

I liked three a.m.

Except when the cat's claws stabbed into my late autumn's lazy sleep, kneading frantically into my leg. His normally throaty purr, a low, moaning cry. An irritation to an otherwise pleasant, passing acquaintance with three a.m.

I shifted on my oversized four-poster bed, burrowing into the thick, blue jersey cotton sheets and heavy pile of hand-stitched quilts. Romeo protested being disturbed, but the long, lean black cat settled back against my hip.

There, all made up.

I fluffed my pillow and settled onto its softness. Drifts of sleep carried me until the first jolt hit. I bolted up. My gaze darted around the room, eyes struggling to focus in the dark. My stomach lurched, threatening to bring dinner up as disorientation struggled with vertigo.

I’m a Hedge Witch, dedicated to the protection and preservation of the earth. Maintaining nature's balance and bounty is my legacy. The land provides my family’s bounty, but its balance is our responsibility. A lineage of Hedge Witches assured my connection, and my ancestors intermarrying with the people of this land assured the charge.

Did the earth shake?

Seconds or maybe minutes later, a second jolt flung me out of bed with hip-bruising force. The land screamed for me. Screamed for help. Romeo squawked and vanished in a puff of black hair.

Crap! That wasn’t my imagination!

Skin vibrating like two bells struck together, I fumbled to engage my mental and spiritual coupling with the land as a third jolt shuddered through the two hundred-year-old plantation house. The whistling wind whipped against the second-story windows, rattling them in their frames. Tremors rolled the landscape, physically and spiritually. Quaking, the earth shivered under the foundation jostling my stomach, muscles cramping in sympathetic response. The old elm floorboards creaked. The bucking land echoed in my brain, my blood and my bones.

Pools of heat raced through my skull as the pressure of a dozen small fissures deep within the earth swelled, pulling at me, demanding. My body echoed the earth’s pain-choked plea for release. Without another channel for the pressure to escape, the mass would gridlock, swell and explode.

My chest constricted under the crushing force of the hot spots. Sweat collided with tears and dripped off the tip of my nose. The earth’s kinetic energy pressed to the bursting point. My heart shuddered.

Must release the pain.

Must release the power.

Must release the pressure.

I struggled against the inexorable force, nudging at the edge of a swollen channel. In Reston, a creek-bed rumbled, thrusting a rock upstream. In Washington D.C., a sinkhole opened draining off the heat. In Manassas, a spout of earth exploded, shooting fifteen feet into the sky.

Muscles cramped, joints froze, organs pounded. I was overwhelmed with icy hot drips trickling away the force of the quakes. Soaking the land with tremors of pent-up emotion.

Too slow. The rivulets clogged with urgency, eyes burning, tears falling, fists clenching. My will collided against the blocked channel of pressure.

Pressing. Pushing. Pulsing.

Boulders cracked and crumbled. The pressure whistled out, wailing and reverberating with wanton force, buckling the Wilson Bridge that connected Alexandria, Virginia to Oxon Hill Maryland. The steel cable snapped.

The Earth wheezed a sigh and another jolt rocked the region.

Time fell away.

When a new fissure screamed for release, I lanced the boil of relentless tension, draining it away to new channels. Energy-swollen rivers spilled into the rocky hills, forests, creeks, the tributaries and the wetlands, leaving debris strewn in the wake of its force…surface damage, containable, controllable, correctible.

Two hours later, I drooped against the side of the bed, too spent to pull myself off the floor into its haven. Drained. Fragile. Spent.

Romeo returned from his vanishing act and rubbed his head against my arm. I rolled to the side, using the bed for support. “A little more warning next time, okay Romeo?” A smile was too much effort for my face.

He purred and leapt on the bed.

Mocking me.

The cat was pushing ten years old. While not extremely old by cat standards, he was no spring kitten. I only hope I am that agile when I stretch the rubber band around middle age.

I groaned. The clock read five-thirty, now. Three a.m. might be a pleasant repose, but five-thirty made me downright cranky.

Crap! Get up. Get up. Get up.
Go check on Betty!
My bruised hip complained as I grabbed a fistful of quilt and hauled myself up. Wobbling, I pulled on some Eeyore pajamas and stumbled in the half-light toward the door.

The knock sounded three heartbeats before I got to the door.

“Are you all right, Betty?” I yanked open the door. Betty Sullivan, the elderly woman, an old family friend, served as both my landlady and surrogate grandmother. She was a stout, seventy-five year old with blue-gray hair. This morning it was set in sponge rollers. She wore a familiar soft blue caftan. That she was knocking on my door rather than the other way around spoke volumes. Guilt slunk through me.

“I’m fine. I was asleep when it started and then just stayed put.” She gazed at me, curiosity and concern wrinkling her cheeks. “Are you all right Chance? That was an awful long time for the tremors to continue. I kept thinking they would stop or you would come down. You look terrible.”

I can only imagine how wild I looked, sweaty, exhausted, and my brown hair sticking up in places. My typically blue-grey eyes burned and were probably smudged with shadows, announcing that beauty sleep was a necessity in my world. My bones throbbed. Sore, aching and bruised from nature's punishment.

“I think so.” The words lacked power. They did not offer comfort. They did not offer conviction. They did not offer confidence. I caught Betty's hand, squeezing it, ignoring the throbbing in my hand and tried to inject emotions I didn't have the energy to feel. “It’s been a long time since tremors that strong shook this area—a very long time in fact.”

“But one this bad, Chance? I don’t remember any this fierce in your lifetime.” Betty’s concern wrapped around me like a warm shawl.

“No, but I usually wake up while they are still tremors and can offset the force. Having it toss me out of bed was pretty unexpected. It’s okay now. I’ll be fine.” The mild understatement wasn’t exactly a lie, but I didn’t want Betty worrying either.

“Are you sure?” She still didn't look convinced.

I straightened, sifting through the dross of my depleted reserves and smiled. “I'm positive. A shower and some coffee and I'll be as right as the garden after a spring rain.”

“Hmm, maybe you should go back to bed. For a little a while at least.” The tension in her tone tugged at my heart.

“You know, that's not a bad idea, but I'm up. You're up. Let's have coffee and maybe a cinnamon roll or three?” Baking was the panacea of all things topsy-turvy in the world. In Betty's house, baking and extra pounds often followed calamity and crisis.

“All right. Take your shower. Then we can watch the news to find out what they are saying. I am sure those geologists will have something to say.” I loved the emphasis that Betty gave to those geologists. She’d known my grandmother and me for so long she didn’t believe the scientists could possibly know more than we did.

I laughed. In comforting me, Betty would be comforted. Asking for the cinnamon rolls was the right call.

Despite how spry Betty appeared, I lingered at the door until she’d made the last step. Every muscle in my body hurt. The wood floor seemed to slap at the bottoms of my feet despite my sliding shuffle toward the bathroom, exhaustion trailing my steps. The last thing I wanted was cinnamon rolls, conversation, or CNN, but if I didn't go downstairs, Betty would worry more.

No rest for the heroic—or Hedge Witches, for that matter.

Romeo paused mid-preen to give me an owlish look from the center of the bed.

“I’m not going to disturb you. I don’t get to take a long leisurely nap.” I wrinkled my nose at him.

He considered me for a moment before returning to his personal grooming.

Dismissed by the cat.

I turned on the water in the shower and sagged against the closed bathroom door, exhaustion leaving my muscles loose and rubbery. I focused my attention on the familiar clanks and complaints of the pipes rather than my wound-too-tight-to-tick insides. It would take exactly two-point-four minutes before the freezing cold well water heated up to something tolerable to human flesh.

I shoved away from the door, stumbled the half step to the sink. I went through the motions of brushing my teeth, washing my face, brushing my hair. Mechanical, methodical, mundane it helped me get a grip on the worms of worry niggling their way through my brain. I dropped the pajamas on the floor and slid under the heated water, hissing as it pounded against my flesh.

Everything was too sensitive. Despite what I’d said to Betty, I was in worse shape than I’d imagined. Unfortunately¾or maybe fortunately, considering the water stung like nettles drawn across my skin¾my water heater wasn’t up for more than fifteen to twenty minutes of shower time.

The shower helped, despite the aches. I settled for loose sweatpants and an oversized shirt, the weight of which sat heavy on my throbbing bones. I skipped shoes and makeup, unwilling to inflict more pain than necessary. Romeo darted ahead of me to the door.

I let him out and he took the stairs in three leaps.

Yeah, what I wouldn’t give to be that agile. I followed behind at painfully sedate pace, one step at a time, hand firm on the railing.

In Betty’s living room, an on-scene reporter¾one I vaguely recognized from a major network¾reviewed the damage reports coming in related to the earthquake. Morning stubble and tie askew, he probably wasn’t ready to be up this early, either. I paused, feigning interest so I could take a break.

“The U.S. Geological Survey Hazards Commission and FEMA are reporting that the earthquake, felt throughout the region in the pre-dawn hours this morning, measured five-point-two on the Richter scale. Damage in the District appears to be limited to a few areas around the Capitol Mall…” The camera panned from the heavy-lidded reporter to show cracks in the National World War II Memorial fountain. Water trickled from the cracks. Heavy benches lay strewn on their sides, toppled as though made of plastic rather than cement.

“Sinkholes have closed intersections near K and Seventeenth and Constitution at Fourteenth. Engineers are inspecting the White House and other landmarks. We expect to have more information on these later. Meanwhile, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge remains closed until further notice.”

The scene segued to the Channel Four air-cam bobbing from a helicopter over the bridge. Snapped cables dropped like a weeping willow branches toward the water below.

Well, that can’t be good.

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