November is a month of book giveaways! First, I’ll be giving away 20 (yes, 20) signed copies of The Sower Comes, book three in my award-winning Solas Beir Trilogy. This is a fantasy series filled with adventure, magic, and romance. Head over to Goodreads by November 21 to enter.
Next, I’m giving away a signed copy of my newest book, Pitcher Plant. This suspense novel is set on the Oregon coast and features murder and restless spirits. It was inspired by a delightfully creepy fixer-upper I almost bought, near the beach in Seaside. To enter the giveaway, like my Facebook author page, or, if you’ve already done that, comment below. This giveaway ends November 28.
Finally, I’m giving away a signed copy of Sunset Empire, which is set in Astoria, Oregon. This novel blends history with fantasy and adds a twist to local monster legends. There’s a ghost in this one too. To enter the giveaway, follow my Twitter account (or, if you’ve already done that, comment below). This giveaway ends November 28 as well.
Best of luck!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Defined by Their Choices — Marked by Fate.
Champions rise, shadows fall, and magic rules in Marked by Fate: A Fantasy and Science Fiction Collection. Battle alongside gods, travel across foreign lands, and fall for handsome heroes in this action-packed young adult collection featuring witches, shifters, angels, cyborgs, and more. Venture to oceans deep with mermaids, fly upon the backs of dragons, or speak with ghosts in this group of 25 coming of age novels from some of the best writers in the industry today, including USA TODAY and NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors.
The friendships are real and the romances are breathtaking. Travel through new galaxies, explore fantastic fairy tales, take down dystopian governments, and escape urban fantasy worlds. Full of time travel mysteries and paranormal lore, Marked by Fate is a box set with a message — that all women, no matter the age, can conquer their fears and heartaches to become the fierce, strong heroines they were always meant to be.
Will you fall in love…save the world…or become the villain? Who will you be?
The set features the following authors:
USA Today bestselling author, Kristin D. Van Risseghem
International bestselling author, Rhonda Sermon
International bestselling author, Kelly St. Clare
Amazon bestselling author, Raye Wagner
USA Today bestselling author, Ednah Walters
New York Times bestselling author, Erin Hayes
USA Today bestselling author, Siobhan Davis
New York Times bestselling author, Jamie Thornton
Award-Winning author, Debra Kristi
Amazon bestselling author, Sarah K. L. Wilson
Amazon bestselling author, Hilary Thompson
Amazon bestselling author, Ingrid Seymour
International bestselling author, Jeanne Bannon
USA Today bestselling author, Melle Amade
USA Today bestselling author, Lena Mae Hill
Award-Winning author, C. J. Anaya
International bestselling author, Jackson Dean Chase
Award-Winning author, D. L. Armillei
USA Today bestselling author, Emily Martha Sorensen
Amazon bestselling author, Amalie Jahn
Amazon bestselling author, Dionne Lister
USA Today bestselling author, J.L. Weil
Amazon bestselling author, Alisha Klapheke
USA Today bestselling author, Angela Fristoe
Amazon bestselling author, Meg Cowley
How many books do you read in a month? One? Ten? 30?! (I wish.) The Marked by Fate box set contains a whopping 25 books! Some of the top young adult fantasy and sci-fi writers in the world have combined to give you the best of the best in this collection. Even better? It is on pre-order sale for 0.99c right now. Don’t miss your chance to discover and devour! Secure your copy today.
To celebrate the pre-release of the Marked by Fate box set — we’re offering you the chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card! You can enter here: https://gleam.io/NA6ON/marked-by-fate-giveaway-3
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The floor is lava. No, really, it is. Yeah, it’s 2,000 years old and relatively safe to walk on, aside from those pesky grooves and holes that make it easy to twist an ankle, but still, it’s LAVA.
I’m stumbling around like one of the living dead today after a weekend full of adventure. Everything aches—arms, legs, and feet, in particular. I’ve got scabs on my knees and shins, and my tailbone is bruised. But it was a crazy fun trip.
Early Saturday morning, my husband, fourteen-year-old twins, and I drove to Maupin, Oregon to go white water rafting on the Deschutes River. We booked our trip through Forward Paddle, who I highly recommend. Our guide, Jim, is the owner, and was wonderful. He kept us entertained with stories, coached us on upcoming hazards, and most importantly, showed us a good time while keeping us safe. (Safety is very important when one, you’re no spring chicken and your limbs don’t bend like they used to, and two, you’re putting your favorite people in an inflatable raft and braving class 4 rapids).
We went through a set of rapids aptly named Devil’s Hole, rushing over a wall of water and submerging in a swirling whirlpool before bobbing up and going on our way. It was quite a ride.
Halfway through the trip, Jim asked how we felt about going over an eight-foot waterfall. This was met with silence as every passenger looked around, wide-eyed, at the others. “You okay with that?” I asked my boys. One was cool with it, though he looked a bit nervous. I’m sure I did too. The other, my adrenaline junkie and rollercoaster enthusiast, was all for careening off a waterfall. “Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
We went through a practice run—row, row, row, and then pull in your oar and stuff your butt in the bottom of the raft as fast as you can. “The most important thing is to stay in the boat,” Jim told us. “You do not want to fall out.” He didn’t care if we lost our oars, hats, or sunglasses—we just had to do whatever we could to hold on. There was a reason for this: the Diaper Wiper. If we fell out, the river would swallow us up, give us an ultimate wedgie, and then spit us out on two large rocks called the Meat Grinder and the Cheese Grater. Not a pretty picture, but an excellent motivator.
We beached the boat to watch another raft in our group go first. I have to say, it did not give me a great deal of confidence to watch them disappear over the edge of the waterfall and then see their guide fly out of the boat. (The guide was fine, by the way. When we caught up to him, he laughed it off—though he did get teased by his fellow guides. All in good fun.)
Then it was our turn. We dug in our oars, rowed furiously, and then tucked in as quick as we could. I grabbed the handle on my bench and hung on tight, which was a very good thing because I felt my body fly up and land on the inflated edge of the raft. Aside from one of us losing an oar and all of us coming up sputtering water, everyone was okay, and we let out a cheer as we zipped past the Cheese Grater. I believe we now have bragging rights for surviving the Diaper Wiper. Maybe I’ll put that on a t-shirt.
So that was Saturday. On Sunday, we headed up to Mount St. Helens, to explore Ape Cave, one of the longest lava tubes in the United States. The lower cave is 1.5 miles round trip, a nice walk down a gentle incline. If you go, take two flashlights in case one goes out.
It’s not terribly dangerous in the lower cave since the tunnel is huge, but you wouldn’t want to trip and fall over a boulder or ridge in the lava floor. There are some cool features—a suspended boulder called a meatball, and ridges that narrow to look like train tracks.
At the end of the cave is a tunnel that grows increasingly narrow. You’ll have to army-crawl if you do it, but it’s not too scary if you’re not claustrophobic.
To illustrate how pleasant a stroll the trail is, here’s a photo of me in the lower cave. See, not breathing hard at all.
The upper cave is an entirely different animal, and I don’t recommend it if you go alone, if you’re in poor health, or if you have small children with you. It’s an amazing, but strenuous, experience. Even though it’s only 1.5 miles long, it takes hours to get through because you have to climb over 27 (yes, 27) piles of boulders, each mound of rocks as big as a house.
Between those, you have to climb up several rock walls, formed by spilling lava. The largest, an eight-foot wall, had few handholds. It was good thing we were with a group, because it took teamwork to scale that one. Here’s a photo of me after surviving that.
It has been five days since we entered the cave. The water has long since run out, and we lost Uncle Archibald to the mutant cannibals who inhabit this God-forsaken place. I fear I shall never see the sun again.
On the bright side, my boys had a fantastic time. It’s an experience they won’t soon forget. (Neither will I. I bruised my tailbone on a rock and have that to remind me.)
We celebrated each obstacle conquered and enjoyed climbing up on rock shelves to shine our lights and look up and down the tunnels. Where the lava tubes narrowed, we could feel gusts of cold wind. The lava flows were different textures—smooth, rolling mounds and hard ridges on the floors, and spiky ripples on the ceilings.
Near the end of the tunnel is a skylight, which was a welcome sight after all that darkness.
Finally, we reached the ladder and emerged from the cave. (The tunnel goes on even further, but we’ll have to come back to explore that part. It was late in the day and we had another 1.3 miles to hike before we made it back to the parking lot.) See the hole in the ground there? Yeah. That’s the exit.
I’m sure we’ll return. Mount St. Helens is huge and there’s much to explore. We hope to head to Lava Canyon for our next adventure. Maybe next time we’ll encounter Sasquatch. I hope he’s not a mutant cannibal.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
I love scary stories. I read them, I write them, and I probably watch more horror than is healthy for the psyche. When I stumble upon a great horror book or film (I’m looking at you, Babadook), I want to shout about it from the rooftops. My poor book club has been bombarded with my suggestions for spooky reads, and I can’t blame them for backing away slowly, reminding me that my tastes run a bit darker than most. Having said that, I completely understand if you’d rather not spend an evening or two with me, talking about the supernatural.
If you’re feeling brave, however, join me on Friday, August 4, at 5pm at Book Warehouse (1111 N. Roosevelt Dr. in Seaside, OR) for a book talk on the paranormal. I’ll tell you some ghost stories (including something crazy that happened to me last week–shudder), and I’ll be signing my novels, Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the north coast of Oregon and feature murder and restless spirits.
Then, on Friday, August 11, at 5pm, come back to Book Warehouse for a workshop on writing spooky and suspenseful scenes. I’ll share my secrets for scaring the socks off readers. You might not sleep that night, but you’ll learn how to write an engaging story.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Much appreciation to everyone who came out to Lucy’s Books last Saturday for the Second Saturday Art Walk! It was fun to chat with so many readers–some of you I’ve known for a long time, and some I met that day. I’m glad you came out to enjoy the sunshine and talk books with me. Many thanks to Lisa Reid for hosting me and being a champion of my work. (Thanks for the wonderful reviews and Lucy’s Books bag too!)
I wanted to share a new excerpt from Sunset Empire with you. I hope you like it.
From high above the forest floor, the hunter watched the girl. She was pretty, but she was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch where she was going. He had to suppress a laugh when she almost stepped on the deer carcass. That would teach her to hang up and walk.
Where had she come from? He glanced down the path—probably from one of the houses on the edge of the forest. The more pressing question, however, was where was she going? He doubted she knew. She seemed to be wandering the path aimlessly, with no idea of the trouble she could get into.
From his perch, he could clearly hear her side of the conversation as her voice echoed among the trees, even though she wasn’t speaking overly loud. With dismay, he realized this was because the forest had gone eerily silent. The wind picked up, and in the breeze he could smell death.
Go back, he thought, as if he could will her to hear him and take his advice. Wherever you came from, go back. She didn’t, of course. She just kept walking, chatting on that stupid phone of hers.
He narrowed his eyes, irritated. What was this girl’s problem? Surely she could sense that something was wrong in this part of the forest. All the birds had flown away. There were no squirrels chattering from the trees, or any other sounds of wildlife. But no, she was too busy talking to notice. She had barely given the dead deer more than a glance.
He checked his weapon. He couldn’t just stand by like last time—not now that he was sure it worked. He was going to have to reveal himself. He was going to have to save her.
Then, something curious happened. The girl stopped and looked around. “I’ll have to call you back,” she said. She hung up her phone and slipped it into her pocket. She turned a slow circle on the path, staring into the forest. Then, she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, starting back the way she had come.
The hunter followed her with his eyes, and then surveyed the forest. The smell of decay was fading. Maybe the creatures weren’t coming after all. Silently, he inched his way down the tree, watching for trouble. Six feet from the bottom, he heard a scream.
He dropped the rest of the way to the ground and ran up the path after her, ducking behind a tree when he saw she had stopped and wasn’t dead. She was staring at a spot on the ground, her delicate features contorted with disgust. Whatever was on the ground was smoking. She shuddered in revulsion and then took off down the path, back to civilization.
When he was sure she wouldn’t see him, the hunter emerged from his hiding place. He approached the blackened thing on the ground cautiously, toeing it with his boot. A banana slug. The only reason he could identify it at all was because he could see the piebald yellow and brown markings on the end of its tail. The rest of the six-inch creepy-crawly had been burnt to a crisp.
Who was this girl?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
One of my favorite spots on the Oregon coast is Lucy’s Books, a jewel box of a bookstore, owned by a lovely friend, Lisa Reid. Lisa has curated an awesome collection of books and makes great recommendations. She’s been incredibly supportive of my work, even letting me include her store in my novel, Sunset Empire.
I knew my characters would be exploring the tunnels under 12th Street, and the windows in Lucy’s provide the perfect vantage point for watching a gang of teens up to no good, sneaking across the street to enter the basement of the fictional Chinook Bar & Grill. I asked Lisa if one of my characters could work in her shop so he could observe the mischief. She said yes, and gave Phantom a job.
That’s why I’m excited to join her on Saturday, July 8, from 5-8pm for the Second Saturday Art Walk in Astoria. I’ll be signing copies of Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the Oregon coast. I’ll also be doing a drawing for a book-themed prize, so stop by and say hello.
Here’s an excerpt from Sunset Empire, an exchange between Phantom and his boss (who may or may not be based on the real life owner of Lucy’s–you’ll have to ask Lisa).
“I know that look, Sean Hughes.”
Phantom turned to see Lucy eyeing him from the cash register. “What look?”
Lucy smiled. “Your girl-trouble look. Who is she?”
Since the professor had lost his mind and Phantom’s mother had fallen into a chronic state of depression after his dad died, Lucy Rose was the one person in town he could count on. As his mother’s best friend, Lucy knew what he’d lost, and she’d looked out for him over the years, making sure his fridge was stocked and giving him a job at her bookstore.
Phantom spared a last look at Chinook’s, but Elyse had disappeared from view. He went back to stocking shelves. “Her name’s Elyse Pthan. She’s new at school.”
“Have you talked to her?” Lucy asked, coming over to tidy the front display.
Phantom smiled. “I bought her dinner.”
“That sounds promising. So what’s the problem?”
“We’re friends. I thought we could be more than friends, but then things got complicated.”
“How so?” Lucy asked.
“She’s a Legacy girl. And the granddaughter of Evangeline Porter, chair of the Sean Hughes Sucks Society,” Phantom said.
“That is a problem,” Lucy said, nodding. “But, you know, as much of a force of nature as Ms. Porter might be, I doubt she controls her granddaughter’s mind. Or her heart.” She reached into the box at Phantom’s feet and pulled out one of the new books. “This one will go in the window, I think.” She rearranged the books in the window to include her latest find. “Does Elyse know about Jenna?”
“I told her about the accusations against me,” Phantom replied. “Didn’t want her hearing it from someone else.”
“That’s wise,” Lucy said. “But does she know how you felt about Jenna?”
Phantom shook his head. “I don’t think I can go there yet, Lucy. Wound’s still fresh.”
Lucy put her hand on his shoulder and gave him a sad smile. “I know, sweetie. Give it time.”
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
I can write anywhere—coffee shops, planes, waiting rooms, standing in line. I usually carry a journal with me in case I’m stuck somewhere, waiting, and then I type what I’ve written later. My preferred place to write, however, is my desk at home. It’s a minimalist, stainless-steel table with a pretty wooden box placed on top to hold office supplies. I’ve set out a few mementos to inspire me: a chunk of amethyst purchased at the gem and mineral show in Tucson, a ceramic owl to hold pens and pencils, a paperweight I created when I took an art glass class with my mom, a vase full of objects found along the seashore—shells, rocks, and a toy elephant. A special place—no, a sacred place—dedicated to creativity.
Over the past year though, my sacred place to write became increasingly cluttered. Papers kept piling up and I kept putting off organizing them. In my defense, I’ve been busy: taking on a new job as a full-time academic advisor, teaching a writing class, completing nine editing projects (two of which were full-length novels), and releasing two books of my own. My place of inspiration became uninspired, which didn’t stoke the urge to create.
Finally, this weekend, I made time to go through the piles, tossing outdated and unnecessary documents and filing important ones. Why did I keep all this stuff? I guess I thought they were important at the time. It’s hard for me to be creative when I’ve got things hanging over my head, whether they are deadlines for other projects or piles of paper begging to be sorted. Purging was good for my soul, and my newly organized space is inspiring me once again.
My characters have been chatty lately, and I’m ready to see where they want to take me as I transcribe their adventures. I’ve got at least two novels in my head that are ready to hatch, and several others are still incubating. Finishing a book is just a matter of writing every chance I get, chipping away until I’ve got 90K words or so—a novel. My goal for this summer is to complete a first draft of one of the books I want to write. We’ll see how far I get.
I’ll have to be stingy with my writing time. I may go on hiatus from the blog from time to time if I’m on a writing stint, but I’ll surface with news about upcoming projects and events. If you’re on the north coast of Oregon and want to talk writing, stop by Lucy’s Books in Astoria for the Second Saturday Art Walk on July 8. I’ll be there from 5-8pm talking about my recent releases. I’ll also be at the Book Warehouse in Seaside in August and Klindt’s Booksellers in The Dalles in October. More news to come about those events.
I hope you have a wonderful summer. Between work and writing, I’ll try to remember to make time for the beach. The ocean is calling, and it can’t hurt to have more inspiration—find some sand dollars, play in the waves with my boys, and build a driftwood fort or two.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
One of my short stories, Just One Smile, was published in Rain Magazine, a literary journal released this week. I was excited to see the journal because it featured artwork from one of my students and stories from several friends. It’s a gorgeous edition, available from booksellers on the north coast of Oregon.
I thought I’d share an excerpt from my story. It’s about a young woman using public transportation who is harassed. I wrote it because it’s a familiar story to a lot of women–many of us could offer our own versions, unfortunately. It’s kind of a horror story, to be honest. No, there’s no ghost in this one, but in writing it, I tried to convey the fear many women experience in these situations. I’m horrified that it’s 2017 and women still have to deal with this stuff. If you’ve experienced this, know that you’re not alone. I hope, if you see something like this happening, you step up and intervene. We’ve got to stand up for each other.
The bus had been full at the beginning of the route, but as passengers got off, Janie noticed the man was still there, sitting at the back of the bus. Then, at Sunset Beach, he moved to the front of the bus—to get off, Janie thought, until he sat back down, close to her. She peered over the top of her book to find him looking at her, and quickly averted her gaze.
“I seen you before. What’s your name?” he asked.
Answering would only encourage him. Janie ignored the man and kept reading—or pretended to. She couldn’t focus on the words with him staring at her with those hungry eyes, as if she were a meal to be consumed.
“I asked you a question,” he said, his tone demanding. “What’s your name?”
Janie looked over at the bus driver. His eyes were on the road as he slowed for the stop at Westlake Lane. There was an open seat near the front of the bus, right behind the driver. Maybe if she sat there, this guy would leave her alone. She closed her book, then shouldered her backpack and changed seats.
It did no good. The man got up and followed her, gripping the metal bar overhead as he walked down the aisle. “What, you’re too good to talk to me? You’re smarter than everybody, reading your college book?”
Janie stared at the back of the bus driver’s head, waiting for him to say something. He remained silent. The bus gained speed as he accelerated, pulling back onto the 101. The windshield wipers swept back and forth, clearing away the rain. The driver probably couldn’t hear what was happening behind him, over the noise of the wipers and the motor. Or maybe he could, and didn’t want to get involved. Janie clenched her paperback in her hands, wishing it were a can of pepper spray instead of pocket Shakespeare.
“Aw, come on, baby,” the meth head said, taking the seat across from her. “That was a joke. Give me a smile.”
Janie turned away and scanned the back of the bus. There were still two other passengers on board—an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. She met the man’s gaze, and he gave her a sympathetic smile. She nodded, comforted someone was aware of what was happening. If the meth head tried anything, surely the older man would intervene.
Then, at the next stop, the man got off, and it was just Janie, the old lady, and the meth head, and the meth head wasn’t leaving any time soon.
“You’d be prettier if you smiled,” the man said, giving her a smile of his own, one that revealed a mouth full of rotten teeth. “Come on, baby, just one smile.”
He was going to follow her home. Janie knew it. Her stop was coming up, and he’d get off with her. Then what? What was he going to do? What was she going to do?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The best thing about playing tour guide is you see things anew through other people’s eyes. My brother had a business trip in Portland this week, so I made the two-hour trek from the coast to meet him for dinner. We drove over to the Pearl district, and as we were paying for parking, I heard the sound of bagpipes.
“The Unipiper!” I said.
“The what?” he asked.
“He’s this dude who rides around Portland on a unicycle, wearing a kilt and a Darth Vader mask, while playing bagpipes that shoot fire,” I explained. And sure enough, as we crossed the street, we ran into the man himself. The Unipiper was gracious, letting me take a photo with him and giving my brother a keychain before pedaling on his merry way. A pretty good ambassador for the city.
“Okay, you’re done,” I told my brother. “You’ve encountered a quintessential PDX icon. You can go home.”
Then we walked into Powell’s City of Books, and I realized we weren’t finished yet. There was much more to see. If you’ve never been to Powell’s, you should remedy that posthaste. It had been too long since my last visit, and I’m glad we went. The first thing we saw was a display dedicated to all things Oregon: t-shirts, magnets, cutting boards, jewelry…whatever your tourist heart could desire. They even had Bigfoot air fresheners. What more could you want, really? Stegosaurus taco socks? Fine, done. They had those too. Along with posters, book bags, and all kinds of geeky accessories that made me want to blow my paycheck.
I managed to resist, and chose one book to bring home, after my brother recommended it. Ready Player One was a book I’d always meant to read, but hadn’t, so it was nice to have a reminder. He asked me for recommendations on books from Oregon authors. I was thrilled to point out books from writers I love: Chelsea Cain, April Henry, Ursula K. LeGuin, and more. It’s such a joy to talk books with someone and find out you adore the same authors. You love Jim Butcher too? No way! Powell’s is so huge we didn’t even make it to the upper floors. When his arms were full of books and my stomach started growling, we walked over to a pub to eat and chat some more.
Living 1,500 miles apart, we don’t see each other often, so it was great to catch up. Of course, I tried to sell him on moving north by gifting him a book on weird places in Oregon as well as a sand dollar from one of my favorite beaches. I stayed later than I meant to, and didn’t get home until one in the morning, but it was worth it to spend time with my brother.
Driving down the Sunset Highway in the middle of the night, surrounded by trees and patches of fog, I kept an eye out for Bigfoot. It seemed a good night for spotting him. There was a full moon and I’d had a fortuitous encounter with the Unipiper earlier, so why not? Alas…no such luck. My air freshener will have to suffice.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Last night I went with my book club to see the new Wonder Woman movie. It was great—really, really, great. Greek mythology, good story line, awesome fight scenes and special effects, and nice chemistry between the actors. I’ve got a bit of a crush on Gal Gadot. She was wonderful. She portrayed Diana as being strong, intelligent, funny, compassionate, fearless, and honorable. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, grows up on an island in paradise full of fierce Amazon women and goes on to fight with a scrappy band of heroes in World War I, where she encounters all kinds of rules about what women are supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to act. What I loved most about the movie is instead of conforming to these societal expectations, staying on the sidelines, she makes things happen. She doesn’t ask for permission. She knows what needs to be done and she takes the lead. She’s not worried about what people think of her or if anyone will follow her. She jumps in and gets it done.
Maybe Wonder Woman is the hero we need right now. She’s a good example of a leader, no matter your gender. We need people to take the lead, to jump in and make things happen.
It’s not been an easy week for many of us. Our president decided to withdraw from the Paris accord, jeopardizing our relationships with other countries and sending the message that America doesn’t care about the fate of our planet. Most of us do care though—we do believe our world is in trouble and we want clean energy. Our leader isn’t listening to us and is not representing our interests. He doesn’t seem to realize that he works for us, not the other way around.
That’s why I participated in the #MarchforTruth. We were a small but mighty group—only about 70 souls in our community attended today, but there are many more of us out there. Not everyone can attend every event, but we are united in our resolve to resist the forces threatening the environment, education, healthcare, equality, and our democracy. I was disappointed and embarrassed by the president’s decision, but heartened by the determination at city and state levels to honor the accord, reducing practices that harm the environment and embracing environmentally-friendly technology.
Similar to Wonder Woman, progressive leaders aren’t asking permission—they are taking charge and moving forward. If we can’t rely on the commander in chief to represent our interests, we’re just going to have to save the world ourselves.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
It’s been a great two weeks since Pitcher Plant launched! I truly appreciate all the good wishes and support, especially from those of you who attended our online release party, made it to a book event, spread the word, left a book review, or bought the book. You may not realize it, but you did a good deed. Not only did you support this indie author, but a portion of proceeds from sales went to support students seeking a college education through the Lives in Transition Program at Clatsop Community College. I can’t thank you enough.
I can, however, share more about Pitcher Plant. Here’s another excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.
Climbing up the back steps of the house, we faced our first sign the house required more fixing than Mr. Peterson indicated. The back porch looked like it had once been enclosed, but was now a shell of two-by-fours containing the battered remains of a powder room. The exposed toilet was covered in rust stains and mold, and a spider web stretched over the bowl of the sink. Large black flies hovered around the bottom of the toilet stool and crawled through a crack between the floorboards.
“Guess we can add bathroom to the list of repairs,” I said, frowning as I snapped a photo.
“Deadbolt and doorknob too,” Mark muttered.
I glanced over to see him dialing in the combination. Sure enough, there was a round hole where the doorknob should’ve been and the deadbolt mechanism was missing. Mark slid the combination lock into his pocket and wrenched the door open with both hands. It squealed on rusted hinges, which looked as though they might crack in two at any moment. The wood on the door looked warped. “Maybe a new door as well,” I added.
Mark scowled at it, and then stepped inside the house. The crease between his eyebrows deepened as he took in the kitchen.
In a word, it was a nightmare. Like the back porch, some of the cabinets were hollow shells, with broken shelves and no doors. One of the upper cabinets listed so badly I was convinced it might fall. I turned in a slow circle, taking photos to document what would need to be repaired. The countertop was splintered plywood. There was a stove, and surprisingly, a dishwasher, but no refrigerator. The floor looked like it’d once been tiled but someone chipped it away, leaving only curving lines of dark mortar. I chanced a look at the sink and immediately wished I hadn’t. The skeletal remains of some rodent lay on the dirty porcelain bottom, surrounded by a halo of wiry brown hair and chunks of decaying flesh. I started to retch, and covered my nose and mouth.
“What?” Mark asked. He’d peaked at the electrical outlets behind the stove, directing the beam from his Maglite between the appliance and the wall.
“Rat,” I managed, and pointed at the sink. I backed away and gulped in air that didn’t hold the stench of death.
Mark crossed the kitchen. “Lovely.” He looked as disgusted as I felt.
“One would think, if you were selling a house, you might at least clean it up,” I said, eyeing the sink from a safe distance.
“One would think,” he agreed. He sauntered over to what looked to be a pantry or broom closet, and yanked open the door. It came off in his hands, leaving him holding the knob and struggling to brace the door before it slipped from his grip. He clucked his tongue and carefully leaned the door against the wall beside the tiny closet. Judging by the look on his face, this house wasn’t winning him over.
It was a look I knew well—he’d give me the same expression of disapproval whenever I suggested we break from our routine and do something novel, like try the new pizzeria in town or drive down to Cannon Beach to check out a new art gallery. Mark wasn’t a fan of change. I thrived on it. I told myself it was just one of those things between people who’d been married a long time. One partner wants to try something new, the other doesn’t understand why things can’t stay the same way they’ve always been. I’d learned long ago when Mark got that look on his face, the best thing to do was to give him space, let him stew awhile. He’d come around.
Leaving the kitchen, I stepped into a large room that seemed to be a combined living room and dining area, and took more photos. Beautiful windows were set into walls paneled in Douglas fir. I remembered the description of the paneling from Mr. Peterson’s ad—he’d described it as a rare feature, and said it added to the beauty of the house. He was right. The paneling gave the room a warm, welcoming feel, which was a nice change from the horrors I’d encountered in the kitchen. I imagined the ramshackle house not as it was, but as it could be—a vintage beach cottage with airy furnishings and maybe even an outdoor shower to wash the sand from our feet.
Along one of the living room walls it looked like there’d once been a fireplace—what if we restored it? I envisioned a hearth made of river rock, and smiled. Maybe the place had potential. The kitchen was a mess, but we could gut it and turn it into exactly what we wanted. It was a blank slate.
I glanced toward the kitchen, where Mark inspected the pipes under the sink. They were rusty and he looked annoyed, muttering under his breath. I sighed. I couldn’t fall in love with this house yet. Not before my husband rendered judgment.
That was another problem with us. I was a glass-half-full kind of girl and he was a perpetual skeptic. He thought I got too swept up by romantic notions, and I wished he’d live a little, and not be so maddeningly practical all the time. Still, he was here, playing along at least. Perhaps this time we’d meet each other halfway. I could stand to be a little more reserved, and maybe he’d get inspired by the house’s potential—maybe.
I returned my gaze to the large living-slash-dining room—the great room, as I’d started calling it in my head. An arched door with dirty glass panels seemed to lead to a hallway, and a set of French doors led to another room. The light fixtures in the ceilings were removed, and scary-looking wires poked willy-nilly from the ceiling. The electrical system in the house definitely seemed to have issues, as Mr. Peterson had mentioned. I walked over to a smaller door next to the one leading to the hallway and opened it.
It was a closet under the stairs, the bottom of the risers draped with cobwebs. Gross. The floor of the closet was worse though. It was covered in junk—trash, discarded clothes, toys, and even a collapsed umbrella stroller for a toddler. I wondered who lived here before, and why Mr. Peterson hadn’t taken the time to throw out this stuff before putting the house up for sale.
A thump startled me. I scanned the trash on the closet floor and spotted droppings. There was probably another rat, a live one this time. Shuddering, I shut the closet door. There was another thump—too heavy to be a rodent. The thumps continued, and I realized they sounded like footsteps.
We weren’t alone in the house.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Release Day for Pitcher Plant is finally here! Come help us celebrate launch day at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win a ton of amazing prizes from Filles Vertes Publishing and yours truly, including signed books, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more. Wondering where to get your copy of Pitcher Plant? Click right here to get it from FVP. It’s also available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.
I have three things to share with you today–a Q&A about the book, an excerpt, and a nifty bookmark that you can print and put into service. Enjoy!
(Tip for printing the bookmark: right click on the image, click “copy image”, and then paste it into a Word document. Tada! Your bookmark is ready to print.)
Q: Pitcher Plant is about a couple who buy a house on the Oregon coast, intending to fix it up, only to find out it is haunted and may be connected to a killer. What inspired the story?
A: It was inspired by a real house I visited when my husband and I were house hunting. It was a cool old house, and as we toured the property, I wondered what had happened to the people who lived there before. Of course, being a horror fan, my mind took a dark turn. It wasn’t much of a leap after seeing the spooky basement and a dead rat in the kitchen sink.
We’ve done renovations on houses before, so it was also easy to imagine a couple restoring the house. What I didn’t know, between house repairs and forensics (like how fast bodies decompose in various environments), I researched. My browser history is pretty scary. I’m not planning on killing anyone, I swear.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Given that there’s a mystery in Pitcher Plant, I had to know who my villains were and plant clues along the way. But it’s also a suspense novel, and writing by the seat of my pants works well for creating unexpected twists, especially those that blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological. When I write, I usually start out with a basic idea of how the story will go, and then let my characters drive the action. I find the stories are more genuine that way, rather than adhering to a strict plot. It also helps to ground a story with realistic details that provide a sense of authenticity.
I also wrote from first-person limited, which is conducive to a suspense novel because readers only know what the main character knows and experiences. The plot unfolds for the protagonist and readers at the same time.
Q: Pitcher Plant is your fifth book. What else have you written?
A: Earlier this year I released Sunset Empire, a young adult fantasy set in Astoria, Oregon, which is close to Seaside, where Pitcher Plant is set. (If you like the Pacific Northwest, these books will certainly give you a tour of the north coast of Oregon.) The book debuted in the best selling Secrets and Shadows boxed set. Sunset Empire blends local lore and history with a paranormal twist. There’s a ghost in that one too, lurking in the tunnels under Astoria’s streets.
The supernatural is definitely a theme in my books. I also wrote The Solas Beir Trilogy, a young adult series which plays on boogeyman myths, combining legends in a contemporary fantasy with magic, old Spanish Colonial mansions, and parallel worlds.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m collaborating with a friend on a novel about a small town on the Oregon coast that comes under siege by an extremist group after a natural disaster. It’s my first time writing fiction with someone, so that’s been a fun challenge. I look forward to focusing on that this summer.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: I just finished reading a great book by Hester Young called The Shimmering Road. It’s the sequel to her Southern Gothic, The Gates of Evangeline. I loved the characters, twists, and supernatural elements. I also like Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Brooks, Kendare Blake, Chelsea Cain, and many other fantasy and horror authors. Stephen King is my absolute favorite. I’ve been reading his work since middle school, and he’s had a tremendous influence on my writing.
I also love horror movies, and they have taught me a lot about pacing and suspense. Some favorites are Pan’s Labyrinth and The Cabin in the Woods. Guillermo del Toro and Joss Whedon are masterful story-tellers.
Q: Horror and ghosts are a theme here. Have you ever seen a ghost?
A: Yup. Several years ago, my husband and I lived in a house where a number of things happened that we couldn’t explain rationally. It was a plain ranch house built in the 80s—not what comes to mind when you think haunted house. One night, I stayed up writing and my husband went to bed. I was sitting at the dining table, working on my laptop. The house had an open floor plan connecting the living room to the dining area, and the combined room and hallway were well-lit—nothing creepy about the interior of the house.
It was late—probably close to midnight—when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man standing in the hallway. At first, I thought my husband had woken up and come out of our bedroom to remind me to go to bed, so I wouldn’t be exhausted for work the next day. I turned my head and saw a black, shadowy figure, with no distinguishing features other than a sense I had that the thing was male and not friendly. We watched each other for a few seconds, and then the shadow man disappeared. I was more shocked than scared, and felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge what I’d just seen, because doing so would give it power. So, I turned back to my laptop and kept writing. I never saw the thing again, but I sometimes had the sense of being watched. I was glad when we moved out of that house.
I do love ghost stories though, and I’m always game for hearing them. And I don’t think all ghosts are malicious—I’ve heard some great stories about benevolent ghosts. My grandma once told me she lived with the ghost of an old woman and the ghost would repair things around the house, like sewing buttons back on to clothing. I don’t know if that’s a true story, but it’s a cool idea.
I think that’s why I’m attracted to writing about the supernatural. I don’t know if ghosts or cryptozoids are real, but I like the idea that they exist, the sense of possibility that even though we’ve discovered so much about our world, there are still mysteries to be solved.
In the middle of the night, I woke to the sound of someone singing. After Mark’s rough day, I didn’t dare disturb him. I got up and quietly pulled the door shut behind me as I left our bedroom. Sara’s bedside lamp was on. I went in her room to find her sitting on the floor next to her doll, singing and coloring. “Sara, honey? What’re you doing?”
She looked up at me. “Playing with Tara.”
I didn’t realize she’d named her doll. “Well, it’s two in the morning. You and Tara need to go back to bed.” I felt grumpy about having to leave the warmth of my bed to tell her that, but I tried to temper my annoyance. “There’s school tomorrow, sweetie.”
She nodded, and started picking up her crayons. I knelt down to help her. The drawing was of her and another little girl, holding hands. The girl had hair in braids. “Aw, were you drawing a picture of you and Sophie?”
Sara shook her head. “No. That’s Tara. She comes to play with me at night.”
A chill ran down my spine, though I wasn’t sure why—not right then. I tucked my daughter and her doll back in bed, and gave Sara a kiss on her forehead.
I moved to turn off the lamp when Sara whispered, “Tara wants a goodnight kiss too.” I smiled and kissed the doll’s forehead. Then Sara said, “No, not the doll, Mom. Tara.”
I stared at her, puzzled. It occurred to me Tara might be the name of an imaginary friend. It wouldn’t be the first time Sara had one. “Okay…where’s Tara?”
“Don’t be silly, Mom. She’s right here.” Sara patted the place next to her—there was a slight indentation on the pillow next to her head. “Can’t you see her?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t.” Sara’s brow furrowed in disappointment, so I added, “How ‘bout I blow her a kiss? Think that would be okay?”
Sara smiled, nodding. I puckered up, kissed my own hand, and blew it at the spot next to my daughter. Then I turned off the light. “Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams, Mama,” Sara said. I couldn’t see her in the dark, but the blankets rustled as she burrowed into them.
It wasn’t until I was back in my own bed that I remembered the photo we’d found before we moved in. The little girl who’d lived here before—Tara.
Thanks for reading!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
It’s cover reveal day for Pitcher Plant!
I love, love, LOVE this gorgeous cover from Filles Vertes Publishing. They are a wonderful publishing team.
a plant (especially family Sarraceniaceae, the pitcher-plant family) with pitcher-shaped leaves in which insects are trapped and digested by means of a fluid secreted by the leaves
Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants and are used throughout the book as a metaphor to represent the idea of being lured into a situation you thought would be good, but is actually a trap. Like buying a charming old house with the idea of renovating it, only to realize it’s a money pit. Or falling in love with the wrong person.
For the cover of Pitcher Plant, we were thinking about Victorian curiosity cabinets, and how they were both sophisticated and macbre in displaying botanicals like carnivorous plants, insects pinned under glass, and taxidermy. That was our guiding vision, and I think we pulled it off with a cover that is both elegant and subtly creepy. I’m proud to work with FVP, and so grateful for their hard work on this book. You can preorder it here.
I hope you’ll celebrate our launch day on May 12 by joining us at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win all kinds of amazing prizes, including a signed copy of Pitcher Plant, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more.
In the meantime, let me whet your appetite with a description and an excerpt from the book.
When Tawny Ellis spots a fixer-upper on the Oregon coast, she and her husband jump at the chance to own a cottage near the beach. But as expensive repairs turn their dream home into a nightmare, their marriage unravels. And worse…the house is not quite vacant. Something in the house’s dark past remains.
Tawny’s daughter has a new imaginary friend, and she bears a striking resemblance to a little girl who squatted in the cottage with her drug-addicted mother. After breaking in and camping out, they vanished, and have been missing for years.
Now the house’s previous owner is enraged with Tawny. As he stalks her family, Tawny suspects she knows what happened to the last people who slept in the house. Her family might be next.
I was falling in love with this fixer-upper, but before we made an offer on the house, I had to check out the basement. I clicked on the light and stepped over the threshold, into darkness. Floating dust motes filled the air, dancing in the flashlight’s beam.
The room before me was expansive, running the length and width of the house. On one end was a wooden stall for firewood, still stacked with logs. They’d come in handy if we restored the fireplace, though I didn’t look forward to cleaning off the cobwebs covering them. The other end of the basement was stacked with junk and garbage, similar to what we’d encountered upstairs.
Everything was blanketed with a thick layer of dust. My nose was stuffy—all the dust triggering my allergies. I made a mental note to take an antihistamine when I got back to the car. Otherwise I’d be paying for this excursion tonight, when my sinuses were too clogged to let me sleep. I just hoped there wasn’t any mold down here. I’d heard horror stories from my neighbor about getting mold removed from her home. The procedure had been costly, and if we got this house, it’d cost us enough as it was.
I ventured a little deeper into the basement, shining my flashlight on the pile of junk. I could make out an old wooden trunk. Did that come with the house? Maybe I’d clean it up and use it for a coffee table.
The beam of my flashlight fell on a tattered ragdoll. The doll’s fabric face and its light brown yarn hair looked dingy. Its flower print dress was dotted with rust colored stains and black flecks. The flecks looked like rodent feces.
There was a rustle to my right, and I startled, swinging my light toward the sound. Given the state of the doll’s dress, I thought it might be a rat.
Suddenly the air was thick with flies. I clamped my mouth shut as they flew toward my face, waving my arms madly to keep them away. They crawled in my hair and buzzed in my ears, and I bit back a shriek. The beam of my flashlight flickered as I used it to swat the flies. I shuddered at the thought of it going out and having to find my way back to the stairs in the dark.
I stumbled back toward the corridor that led to the door of the basement, trying to see through squinted eyes, the cloud of flies, and the dying light of the Maglite. As I reached the passage, the buzzing sound eased, and the flies began to drift back to whatever attracted them to the basement.
I dared one last look, directing my beam to the offending corner of the basement. The dirt floor was carpeted with insects. Flies and other crawling things, though I was too far away to tell what they were. There seemed to be a small lump on the floor that attracted their interest. A dead rat, most likely, but there was no way I was going back to find out.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
My new suspense novel, Pitcher Plant, launches in two short weeks! I’m excited about the May 12 book release, of course, but I’m also happy that the launch will coincide with opportunities to support two very worthy causes in my community.
The first is Write on Seaside, a fundraiser for the Seaside Public Library Foundation. As a reader and a writer, literacy is important to me. Libraries promote literacy and are the heart of our communities, a place where people learn and connect. The Seaside Public Library is a jewel in our small, coastal town, serving youth through early reading programs, after school activities, and summer reading campaigns. It serves adults too, providing a place for community meetings, hosting monthly speakers, and assisting people in finding resources.
Write on Seaside will feature six local authors: Diana Kirk, Brian Ratty, Jim Stewart, Deb Vanasse, Nick Vasilieff, and yours truly. We’ll be writing a story live, and people will have the chance to bid on story elements and plot twists to be included in the novella. There’s a whole cast of crazy characters, so if you want to name a puking seagull after your best friend (or maybe your arch enemy), here’s your chance. There will be a silent auction and books for sale, which we’ll sign and personalize. A portion of proceeds from the auction and book sales will go to support the library foundation. It should be a fun night.
Write on Seaside will be held on Thursday, May 11, at the Seaside Convention Center in Seaside, Oregon. The Author Meet & Greet is at 6:30pm, and the Writing Extravaganza begins at 7:00pm. If you’re local to the northern Oregon coast, I hope you’ll join me.
The other cause I’m supporting is the Lives in Transition Program at Clatsop Community College. The LIT Program promotes a supportive academic environment that assists students in overcoming barriers while achieving their personal and educational goals. It is comprised of two free college classes designed to promote academic success.
With a background in higher education, I understand how critical programs like Lives in Transition are in supporting students. I currently work as an academic advisor, and I’m committed to helping people obtain their education. One way I can do that is by investing in this program, and by encouraging others to do so as well.
For every book sold during release week (May 12-19), including preorders, I will donate $1 (up to $500) to the LIT Program. If you are planning on buying Pitcher Plant, would you consider preordering or purchasing it during release week? You’ll be making a huge difference in the lives of these students. I would appreciate it, and I know the students will too.
Thanks for your support of these wonderful programs, and stay tuned for more news on Pitcher Plant. We’ll be revealing the cover later this week!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
One reason I decided to set Pitcher Plant, my new suspense novel, in Seaside is because I adore this little beach town. The Oregon coast is gorgeous, and Seaside is a city with a lot of charm. It’s no wonder we get an influx of tourists when the sun comes out.
Seaside has almost two miles of beach, starting at the Necanicum Estuary, where wild elk like to forage, and stretching to the Cove, a popular surfing spot. Bordering the beach is the Promenade (or the Prom, as locals call it). You can walk the Prom, rent a surrey to bicycle through town, or cruise the Necanicum River in a paddle boat shaped like a swan.
One of my favorite places on the Prom is the Seaside Aquarium, a spot I mention in the book. The aquarium opened in 1937 and is best known for its seals. For a few dollars, you can purchase a cardboard tray of fish to toss to the seals. It’s quite an event. Each seal has their own way of getting your attention, from slapping their bellies to splashing unsuspecting tourists.
I also love the touch tanks, where you can get a closer look at the organisms in our tidepools—sea stars, crabs, sand dollars, anemone, and sea cucumbers. The aquarium does a great job displaying local wildlife, from wolf eels to small sharks.
My absolute favorite creature is the giant pacific octopus, hanging out in the center of the aquarium. There’s no lid on her tank, so you can have a close encounter, staring into her intelligent eyes. I’ve often wondered, once the tourists leave for the night, does she ever leave the pool and go exploring?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
The launch date for Pitcher Plant is rapidly approaching, and the team at Filles Vertes Publishing has been hard at work behind the scenes. We’ll have a cover soon, and I can’t wait to show you all. We’re currently working on final edits, and it’s been a great experience. I truly believe the book will be stronger for having feedback from an editor and multiple proofreaders.
As a writer, there comes a point in the process of writing and revision where you can no longer see your mistakes. You know the story inside and out, so you can’t see the plot holes or the need for more character development. You can’t even see when whole words are missing. You’ve read the material so much that your mind fills in the missing parts.
It’s so important to get a fresh perspective from someone who is not as familiar with the manuscript, who can spot errors. You can use spellcheck, of course, but it doesn’t catch everything. It’s easy to spell a word correctly and use the wrong word, like there versus their or your versus you’re. Editors help with other grammatical issues too, like lay versus lie. That’s one that trips me up. Whether I’m working as a writer or editor, I always have to look it up to make sure it’s correct.
You need an editor for the big issues too, like plot and the pace of the story. I know what I want to say, but am I communicating clearly? Editors can help develop a story, fleshing out the parts that seem thin, engaging readers emotionally. They can also help you with logic, consistency, and mapping out the physical movements of your characters. A great scene can be spoiled by a mistake that pulls the reader out of the story. An experienced editor looks at a story holistically and also has an eye for detail.
Essentially, an editor helps you make a story as bullet-proof as possible. I’m grateful to have that help with this new book. We release Pitcher Plant in May, and I’m so excited for you to read it. I learned a lot about the craft in the process of writing it, and I’d like to think it’s my best novel yet.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser to support a literacy program. The Libraries ROCC program is a partnership between three of our local libraries. It promotes reading outreach by providing every child in the county with a library card. As a writer, encouraging people to read is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I’m thrilled this program exists.
Libraries are so important to our communities. They foster literacy for beginning readers, give kids a safe place to hang out after school, host speakers on various educational topics, grant space for community groups to meet, and provide internet access for many patrons who don’t have it, like those with low income or who are seeking a job. One of my favorite librarians (and a beloved friend) works at the Seaside Public Library and does an outstanding job working with youth. My own children have benefitted from the wonderful summer reading program she has developed.
Beyond all that, libraries are simply sacred to me. They always have been, from the time I was old enough to have a library card. Stephen King has said that books are uniquely portable magic, and I believe this to be true. I remember visiting the library as a kid and browsing the stacks. I felt a sense of awe at the possibilities as I read the spine of each book, trying to choose just one or two to take home. Nothing has made me prouder as a parent than seeing my children fall in love with books. Seems like we’re at the library every week, feeding our addiction. It’s a pretty great addiction to have, although my to-be-read pile at home suffers every time I get distracted by a shiny new book. My boys tell me I’m only allowed to check out one book at a time. Choosing is still hard.
All these reasons are why it’s an easy decision to pull out my wallet and support programs like Libraries ROCC. It’s even easier when there’s an auction for little free libraries created by local artists. My favorite was the nautical-themed library designed by the talented folks at Vintage Hardware. (Everything Becky Johnson and her staff create is amazing, and they are constantly involved in community projects.)
The other libraries were gorgeous too. One was constructed of cedar and smelled just as wonderful as you think it would. Another was Oregon-themed, complete with a wood cut-out of the state. One had been painted with literary quotes.
I got outbid and didn’t come home with a library, but it was great to see them going for as much as $450 and to know they’d be well-loved and curated by individuals and business owners. The most heart-warming part of the auction involved a barn-themed library. A pair of tween girls feel in love with it and started a bidding war with some of the older attendees. I was worried as the bidding got higher that they’d get in trouble for raising their bid, but the adult with them seemed okay with the amount they pledged. Finally, they got the highest bid, and were so joyful, everyone applauded and cheered. I can’t imagine the library going to a better home than that of two enthusiastic young readers.
I did come home with a few things from the silent auction, one of them a gift certificate to Norma’s, a favorite local restaurant. Anybody want to join me for dinner?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
This week I turned 42. To celebrate, my two thirteen-year-old boys and I seized the day and visited the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington to dive with sharks. I’m a certified diver, so the idea was not terrifying to me. The last time I was in the ocean with a shark, I was diving at Michaelmas Cay in the Great Barrier Reef. I got close to a four-foot black tip reef shark. I absolutely loved that, and couldn’t wait to get in the water with something a little bigger.
My kids weren’t sure about joining me at first. They’re great swimmers, not at all afraid of the water, but sharks? The idea gave them pause. So, I did what any good parent would do—I begged, pleaded, and manipulated them until they said yes. I’m kidding…sort of. We talked about the experience and risks, and I assured them they’d be okay.
When we got to the zoo, we checked out the aquarium so the boys could see the sharks before we got in. They were a little bigger than we expected. The sand tiger shark was over ten-feet-long, and with a mouth full of ragged teeth, he looked intimidating. The boys weren’t scared though. Due to my obsession with sharks and their own love of animals, they knew that sand tigers were docile—more puppies than monsters.
The cage-diving experience at the aquarium is set up to accommodate those with little or no experience diving. We would wear our street clothes under dry suits, so just our heads, hands, and feet would get wet. We wouldn’t have to use tanks. Instead, air would come to us through long hoses. All we had to do was follow directions, kneel at the bottom of the cage, and breathe. We were given a presentation beforehand about what the experience would be like, and what kind of sharks we’d encounter. The aquarium has five species of sharks in their large tank: the sand tiger, nurse sharks, sand bar sharks, a black tip reef shark (just like my Australian friend), and a wobbegong, a kind of shark that lies on the bottom of the ocean. The zoo also has a zebra shark which will be introduced to the big tank in a few years, once she grows bigger. Zebra sharks really are sea puppies—seriously adorable and kinda goofy. They like belly rubs too.
We were told that if we were comfortable, our safety diver would open the cage during our dive, so we could get even closer to the sharks. We were warned, however, that one of the sand bar sharks had a habit of swimming right up to the cage, like she was going to come inside. “She’ll veer off at the last second, though,” our dive instructor said.
We dressed up like aquanauts and donned our masks. After slipping regulators in our mouths, we sank to the bottom of the cage, wide-eyed and excited as we watched the sand tiger and black tip reef shark glide past. During the middle of the experience, the safety diver used hand gestures to ask if we wanted the doors open. We all gave her the okay signal right away. Heck yes, we wanted the cage door open. Let’s do this thing.
Then, across the tank, I saw that sand bar shark coming. My eyes were locked with hers as she swam right up to us, no fear. She got within a foot of one of my sons’ faces before switching directions. I looked over at him and used hand signals to see if he was okay. He nodded, grinning underwater.
After the dive, I asked him if he’d been scared. “Not at all,” he said. He’d felt a rush of adrenaline, and actually wanted to get closer. He had to keep his hands on the bars of the cage to resist reaching out and touching the shark. You and me both, kid. You and me both.
I think we’ll be coming back to this zoo, for another round with the sharks. Maybe next time, all three of us will be certified, and we’ll be able to leave the cage to sit on the bottom of the tank as the sharks swim around our heads. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to know my boys have developed a love for sharks and a new appreciation for nature. This was the best birthday I’ve ever had.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Thank you to everyone who joined me last evening at the Astoria Library! I had a wonderful time talking about character-driven fiction with fellow writers, and it was fun to swap ghost stories during my presentation on Sunset Empire. I hope you enjoy reading about Burning Helen, the ghost in the tunnels under the Liberty Theater. Much appreciation to Ami for all your hard work facilitating this event.
As promised, I sent a short story to everyone who signed up for my newsletter. If you’d like to be on my list and want a free story, comment below or send me an email at solasbeir at gmail dot com.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
On Saturday, March 4, at 4pm, I’ll be at the Astoria Library, offering a free writing workshop on character-driven fiction. I’ll be sharing tools I use in my own writing, and we’ll do several writing exercises on character, setting, and point of view. It’ll be fun. Then, at 6pm, I get to read from Sunset Empire, and I’ll be talking about how Astoria’s history and legends influenced my writing. I’m looking forward to it. As a sneak peek, here’s another excerpt from Sunset Empire. I hope you like it.
Greasy Jim hated the rain. Lucky for him, he’d traded his favorite alley for something drier. He wasn’t the overly friendly type (unless, of course, he happened upon a young woman walking alone down a dark alley—then he was much too friendly), but he’d managed to fall in with a group of squatters who were taking advantage of a recently foreclosed Victorian, butting up against the woods.
One benefit to squatting was the house provided shelter from the autumn storms ravaging the coast. It was also large enough that each of the five middle-aged alcoholics had room to spread out without becoming too much of an annoyance to the others. Two of them had prior arrests for shop-lifting, and Jim would have been nervous about this, had he owned anything worth stealing. As it was, they were pretty good at scoring liquor, so everyone was in good spirits.
The downside to the house was the power and water had been shut off, so Greasy Jim was forced to visit the backyard to take a leak. The house was quiet and dark as he stumbled from his sleeping bag and down the stairs. Glancing out the front window, he could see that the neighbors’ porch lights were out. Probably after midnight, if he had to guess the time.
He trudged through the overgrown grass in the yard and stood at the edge of the trees, peering into the darkness as he prepared to do his business. The older he got, the harder it was to pee. Someone at a bar once told him that drinking was healthy because it reduced the risk of prostate issues. He’d joked that with all he drank, he’d never have a problem. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. He sighed, and closed his eyes.
He heard a slight rustle in the brush in front of him, and suddenly smelled something foul. Skunk. His housemates wouldn’t be too happy if he startled the thing and got sprayed. But, they’d been even less happy if he didn’t deal with the problem and one of them encountered the critter later. His booze privileges could be revoked. He glanced over at the back door. There was a rusty shovel leaning against the wall. He wondered if skunk tasted better than it smelled. Desperate times, desperate measures, he decided.
He zipped up and crossed over to the back door, the tall grass pulling at his legs. Shovel in hand, he made his way back to where he’d smelled the skunk, scanning the undergrowth for a white stripe. He couldn’t see anything in the dark, but the stench was growing stronger. Now it smelled less musky and more like decay. He choked back bile and covered his nose with one hand, gripping the wooden handle of the shovel in the other.
Something massive erupted from the trees. It wrenched the shovel from him, snapping the handle in half. He barely registered the release of pressure in his bladder before something grabbed both his legs, jerking them out from under him. He felt the air leave his lungs as his back hit the ground. As he was dragged into the woods, he found he had just enough breath left to scream.
Thanks for reading!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
I got to spend last evening with some lovely, lovely writers at a book event at the Blue Scorcher Bakery. (I highly recommend the Scorcher’s hot chocolate, by the way. So rich and creamy. Their shortbread and pizza are also amazing.) We had a great group of authors, offering something for every reader: Matt Crichton, Heather Douglas, Kestrel Gates, Andrea Larson Perez, Angela Sidlo, Deb Vanasse, and me. That’s one of the best things about attending these kinds of events—besides talking with readers—hearing from other writers about their lives and writing process.
As I went around saying hello, a couple of conversations stood out. Angela Sidlo, coauthor of the bestselling anthology, The Silver Linings Storybook: Successful Leaders Share Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Stormy Days in Personal and Professional Life, had this sage advice for aspiring writers: “Write every day, even if it’s just a series of random thoughts, and never give up!” Angela and I also talked about developing characters, and how sometimes, when you are immersed in writing, trying to see the world of the story through your character’s eyes, they almost seem to come alive. You start to visualize their universe and hear their words. That probably sounds crazy to non-writers, but in my experience, it’s true. I’ve learned to let go of my preconceived notions about how a scene should go, and let the characters drive the dialogue and action. The story is always stronger and more authentic for doing that.
Another piece of advice that struck me was from Diana Kirk, author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. Diana’s book is a series of essays about feminism, family, travel, owning a business, and embracing sexuality. It is raw, honest, and at times inspiring, heart-breaking, and laugh out loud funny. One thing I love about Diana is she is fearless. Fortune favors the bold, and that is certainly true for her. I’ve seen her take risks in seeking out opportunities, and her courage and confidence have paid off. That’s why I love her advice for would-be authors. “Don’t be afraid of rejection,” she said. You have to put yourself out there and be vulnerable if you want to progress in your writing career. Rejection is part of the job, whether it’s submitting your manuscript to agents and publishers, asking another author to blurb your book, having your book critiqued in a review, or sitting at an event and trying to convince readers to purchase your book. It’s not easy to push fear and self-doubt aside, but you have to do it if you want to keep moving forward. Seize the day, writers.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017