February 17, 2014

Tips for New Writers

I get asked all the time now what advice I would give to new writers. After some careful consideration I've narrowed it down to four things:

1. Develop a thick skin. Your mom may love your poems. Your spouse may adore your short stories. Your college teacher may tell you that you are the next Hemingway.  But in the real world, outside of our safety bubble, not everyone is going to like everything you write. And that's okay. Its part of the process. From time to time you may experience rejection, criticism, and even downright loathing. You can't let this get to you. There are many great stories that never would have been born if the writer had given up because a few people didn't like it. Stay true to yourself and keep at it.

2. Listen to Criticism. This goes hand in hand with #1. When people are critiquing your work, really listen to what they are saying. They might have insight you just aren't seeing. Use the helpful stuff and throw away the rest. Ultimately it's your work and you need to make it the best you can, but that doesn't mean taking every suggestion someone throws out.

3. Keep a Journal. Keeping a journal and recording my innermost thoughts and feelings helped me develop my voice. It also helped me to write honestly. When I started writing my novels I no longer tried to write like Tolkien or King. I was writing as myself. This was all thanks to the countless hours I spent working on my diary.

4. Read. Most authors I know were inspired to write because of the books they had read. That shouldn't change just because you are now writing and feel strapped for time. In fact, it should be more important. You need to read to see what else is out there, what is relevant, what makes you feel good, what makes you feel nothing. The one thing I caution is to guard against the tendency to write in the style of whoever you are reading. It is okay to be inspired by someones style. It is not okay to copy them.

5. Write Daily. I've heard countless successful authors say that with every writing session their craft improved. I have to agree. At some point things just start to 'click'. I can't say what the trigger is, but there's an aha moment and the words seem to flow out effortlessly. In fact, it almost feels like cheating. To get to that point you need to do three things: Practice. Practice. Practice.

April Aasheim is the author of The Witches of Dark Root http://amzn.com/B00D6OUDDG
and The Universe is a Very Big Place http://amzn.com/B008QSTLQ2

The Magick of Dark Root (Prologue Sneak Peek)

Dark Root, Oregon
Winter Solstice
The Distant Past

Sasha Benbridge ran through the forest, her brown hair tumbling from its pin curls and unfurling down her slender back. Light on her toes and nimble with youth, she rushed towards the spot where she had seen the silver cord of lightning strike the earth just minutes before. Excitement threatened to swallow her up as she raced towards her destination. Her mother had prophesied that she would find her tree today, and Sasha had never known her mother to be wrong, at least in matters of witchcraft.

“Hurry,” she whispered aloud, though her voice was lost to the wind that whipped through the endless forest around her. She quickened her pace, leaping over the debris that shrouded her path. She couldn’t risk losing her tree. At twenty years old she had waited too long already. But today was the day she would take her wand and come into her full power as a witch. She just knew it.

She heard the rush of water and could make out snatches of sunlight ahead of her. She must be near a meadow. Good. Though she was a daughter of the woods she wanted a clear view of her surroundings before she performed the ritual.

To Sasha’s right she glimpsed a large, dark shape crouching among the trees. She could only hope it was a bear. There were more frightening things in this forest than wild animals, and until she had the wand in her hands, she wasn't sure if she could match the worst of them. She touched the amulet that hung around her neck and said a brief spell of protection. The shape slunk backwards and disappeared.

At last the forest opened up into a wide clearing, cut through the middle by a swift-moving river that disappeared into the woods on either end. There were many rivers in and around Dark Root, but the waters here looked deeper and more treacherous than any Sasha had seen before. This one fed on the lesser tributaries of the region, she thought, devouring them whole on its journey towards the ocean.

In the center of the meadow, on the top of a slope just feet from the river, stood a solitary tree: a thirty-foot-tall willow with moonbeam-colored boughs that fell to the earth in smooth, clean arcs like half-formed rainbows. The earth around the tree was wet, and Sasha approached it carefully. One misplaced step and she could slide into the river.

The branches wafted in the wind like long, sinuous fingers beckoning her forward. Sasha lifted several of the lower boughs and ducked into the tree’s canopy. It was darker in this secret chamber but she could still discern the smooth trunk from which the boughs sprang. Sasha crept towards it, one hand gripping her amulet as she reached forward with the other. A witch only gets one wand and she had to be certain. When her hands found the trunk she felt a jolt of electricity, a small jolt that nearly stopped her heart. A wide smile crossed Sasha’s face. Her mother’s prophesy had been correct. This was her tree.

Satisfied, she left the tree’s cover and stood before the willow. The sun had settled behind the mountains to the East but the tree was still aglow, lit up by the soil from which it grew. Being the only willow in the region, Sasha knew it had absorbed all the magic rich nutrients reserved for trees of its kind. Her fingers tingled as she pondered the possibilities.

“Blessed tree,” she began, kneeling before the willow, her arms outstretched. “My name is Sasha Benbridge and I have come to ask your permission to take a bough in order to create my wand. I am pure of heart and will not use its magick to inflict harm to others.”

Sasha waited, watching for a response from the tree. At last the boughs began to bob, as if to say yes. Sasha stood, retrieving the small knife from her garter, concealed beneath her white cotton dress. She displayed the knife to the tree, giving the willow a moment to reconsider. When it did not move, she stepped forward.  

“I'm sorry if this hurts,” she whispered as she carefully sawed off branch the length of her forearm. The tree flinched and she stroked it until it calmed. Finally, the branch fell from the tree. “Thank you,” she said, encircling her palm around its severed limb. Within seconds the warmth of her touch healed the tree.

In her peripheral Sasha noticed a shape emerge from the woods: a tall, lank figure in a scarlet cloak. Sasha turned her head to the figure. “Larinda, were you following me? I suppose you will run to mother and tell on me? Well, she knows I’m here and…”

“Dear cousin,” Larinda interrupted. “You misjudge my intentions. I’m only here because I was worried about you. It is getting dark and I saw you run off into the forest. What possessed you to run off so far into the woods on the night of the Solstice?”
Sasha held out the branch. “At last, I have found my wand.”

Larinda threw back the hood of her cloak, revealing hair as black as the night and skin as pale as the moon. Her thin red lips curled up, somewhere between a snarl and a smile. “You have waited so long, already, dear cousin. What makes this branch so special?”

“It is from a willow. The only of its kind in Dark Root. And,” she said, her eyes sparkling, “it was kissed by lightning. Doubly blessed!”

“A willow? Will you devote your life to the healing arts then?” Larinda’s face could no longer contain her contempt. “Perhaps you will become a nurse, walking the battlefields like Clara Barton.”

“Perhaps,” Sasha answered, her eyes fixing on her wand. “But theres so much more. Don’t you see Larinda, with this wood, and the magic that runs through our blood, I can live forever if I choose!” She raised her face to her cousins, waiting for Larinda to grasp the implications.

“You mean…” Larinda turned her attention on the willow tree.

“Yes. As long as the tree remains alive, so will I.”

“But willows don’t live that long.”

“In Dark Root they do.” Sasha ran her fingers over the sleek wood in her hands. “And I can give it a little help.”

Larinda charged at the tree, yanking at one of it’s limbs. “I want that power. I didn’t know about it. It isn't fair.” But the branches pulled back and Larinda could not touch a one.

“You have your wand,” Sasha said. “And it is a good wand. Illusion is a powerful magic.”

“Nothing is as powerful as the gift of eternal life,” Larinda said. “You get everything and I get nothing.”
Sasha placed her hand on her cousin’s shoulder to comfort her. “You are my blood. I will use the wand on you as well. All of our family. We will be young forever, together. Now, help me protect the tree. We must keep this to ourselves. Promise?”

“If you promise to always take care of me.”
“Yes, my darling. Now we must hurry back. Tonight is the solstice and mother says we need to perform a ceremony to keep out those who wish to use the magic of Dark Root against us. And then, she will pass the circle onto me.”

The two women turned back towards the forest. Larinda gave the tree a final glance. “Sasha. What will we do with eternal youth?”

Sasha smiled, lifting her chin towards the waning sun before entering the darkness of the woods. “I’m going to travel. Become an actress. Have a million lovers. And be famous. Maybe change my name to something more theatrical. After all, what good is magic if you don’t use it?”

February 16, 2014

First Draft Editing for The Magick of Dark Root

Just started editing my first draft for The Magick of Dark Root. Thought I'd give you all a glimpse of the creative process, which is actually less creative and more of a process. Still, its so exciting to get that far along in a project. Hoping this will be out by May 2014. The sequel to The Witches of Dark Root is about life, what it means and why we are here. Oh, and there will be a zombie. Gotta have a zombie.

February 14, 2014

Taking the O out of ROmance

It might be a shocker for those of you who have read my stuff, but Valentine's Day has never held much romantic interest for me. I love love of course. When it's true and from the heart. But setting aside a special day just to commemorate it seems a bit ironic if you ask me.

Not to mention most of my friends growing up have been guys. Most of them never put much stock into Valentine's Day. They either waited until the last minute and grabbed something on the way home, or went all out because it was a new relationship or they had done something REALLY, REALLY bad. And when their girlfriends gave them a card they acted like it was torture to have to read the entire poem printed on the inside and then express back to her just what it meant to him (what it meant was that he wasn't watching the Lakers game for the past 4 minutes). Its no wonder Im a bit of a cynic when it comes to V-Day. As a matter of fact, I just asked my husband for the cash so I could buy my own gift. Of course, gift certificates work too.

Not that we aren't planning on being romantic. We have a few hours set aside today just for us, followed by a couples massage and a dinner out. But he need not get the flowers or the candy or the stuffed bear. Candy makes me fat, flowers wilt, and a stuffed bear will just be used as a body pillow.

Keeping with my not so romantic theme here are a few discussions around my house this week regarding the upcoming V-Day...

Valentine's Gifts Discussion:
Husband: Would you like lingerie for Valentine's Day?
Me: Don't buy a woman lingerie.
Husband: Why?
Me: If its too big its an insult, too small its painful. PLUS, its a gift for you.
Husband: I don't understand.
Me: Think of something I'd never buy myself.
Husband: That's why I said lingerie!

Me: You forgot to give me a card on our anniversary!
Husband: You didn't give me a card either.
Me: I don't have to. Im a woman.

Husband talks romance and valentines day.
"I don't really like romance but I know some people appreciate it so I try and so some stuff." Oh my beating heart.

I talk sex:
Me: "Is it an on night or an off night?"
Husband: "Why do you ask?"
Me: "I'm trying to decide if I should wear cute underwear or grannies to bed."
Husband: "Just wear the grannies. That killed the mood."

Husband: Why is your cat always watching us? It gives me the creeps.

February 12, 2014

Men Buying Cards

Was just in Target in the greeting card section. There were about a dozen of us women all lined up, reading every card, oohing and awing as we opened and closed each one.
One by one we decided on the perfect Valentine and moved on, allowing someone else to fill up our section in the line. On average, it took us each about ten to fifteen minutes.

What struck me was the men who filtered into our group. Many of them saw a card, opened it, scanned it, then put it into their carts without a second glance at another card.
One pair of men (who were obviously friends)struck up this conversation:
Man 1: That card (you are holding) looks perfect for my girlfriend. Can you hand me one too?
Man 2: Sure. We haven't introduced them yet, have we? *laugh*
Man 1: No, dude. Let's wait until after Valentine's Day for that.
Man 2: We done shopping?
Man 1: Yep.

And they say romance is dead.

Excerpt from The Magick of Dark Root (Coming Soon)


There are nights when you question just about everything: who you are, where you've come from, what your purpose is, and how you got to your current place in life.

And then there are nights when you just accept things.

Nights like this, when you stand beneath a bloated yellow moon, digging a shallow grave for the man you murdered -- a man who probably has a wife and children, a job and a mother -- a man who probably wouldn't have tried to molest your kid sister if you weren't out hustling money in the first place and if she hadn't been wearing a perfume meant to turn men into drunken love slaves.

These are the nights you try not to think. Because if you think - about the corpse sitting in the passenger seat of his own car just a dozen feet away, about your inability to determine wrong from right anymore, about the fact that your mother was right, you are a fence sitter just like your father - you just might go mad.

And I couldn't go mad. Not yet anyway. It was Thanksgiving, officially, and I wasn't going to let this little incident ruin the holidays. I had already screwed up and not gotten Merry her organic turkey. One fuck up per holiday was all I could handle.

“No,” I said, hearing myself speak the words as I plunged my shovel into the earth and tossed out another spade full of sand. “I can’t go mad until after the holidays. It’s just five more weeks, if you count New Years.”

“Maggie, you okay?” Merry stopped digging and faced me, her eyes wide with concern. In this lighting, as her golden hair framed her round face, she looked more angelic than ever. “You can take a break if you need to. We’ll be okay.”

“Me? I’m fine, Merry. Thanks for asking.”

I caught my sisters shooting each other knowing looks, looks that said I wasn’t all right, in fact I’d lost my marbles.

“I’m fine,” I repeated, throwing out an extra large helping of dirt and wondering how much deeper we would need to dig. The spell said to encase the subject in a box then bury him under the light of a full moon, but it didn't’ specify how deep the grave needed to be. An unhelpful omission, if you ask me. Since the subject would eventually dig his way out of it, clawing his way through the makeshift coffin and layers of sand over his face, I conjectured we shouldn't dig it too deeply. Just an inch or two above the box should do it.

We had one lucky break, however. We had killed him on a night with a full moon. If I’ve learned anything from this little ordeal it’s that if you are going to commit murder, and have any intention of bringing the deceased back to life, always plan it around a full moon. Lucky break for Maggie!

“I think,” I said, continuing to dig, “that this might be a lucrative business. Bringing people back from the dead. If it works out, we might start charging for it. Gotta bring in more money than that stupid magick store does.”

“Maggie, stop,” Eve said, wiping her forehead with her cashmere gloves, which were now caked in mud.

“I’m just saying…why not? We can call it Zombies R Us. You kill ‘em, we heal ‘em.” I grinned at Ruth Anne, sure she would appreciate my joke. She shook her head and continued digging. “What?” I asked, throwing my shovel onto the ground. “Are we too good for death jokes now?”

Merry pressed her lips together. “Honey, you’ve had a terrible shock and now its setting in. Go sit on the steps and we’ll finish this. We’ll call you when it’s done.”

“No!” The sound that came out of me pierced the night, like the call of a wounded screech owl. I waved at the air with both hands, as if I were being assaulted by an invisible man, tears stinging my eyes. “I won’t sit by while my sisters bury the man I…” I choked, unable to finish the sentence. “Neither hell nor jail is good enough for me.”

I felt someone’s arms wrap around me, and recognized the scent, vanilla and lavender, as Merry’s. I hyperventilated, choking on my own snot, as she cooed me to quiet. “It’s okay, honey,” she said, running her fingers through my matted hair as she worked out the knots. “It will be okay.”

How could I explain to her that she was wrong? Nothing would ever be the same. Even if we did manage to raise him, I was a killer. I had the deathtouch, just like my father. And there was no going back from that.

“What if we can’t do it, Merry?” I sniffed, wiping my nose on her shoulder as I stared at the Christmas tree box we had retrieved from the basement; the box that would soon be a coffin.

“We will,” she said, pulling the hair stuck from tears away from my face. “And everything will be okay. You’ll see.”

“I think this is deep enough,” Ruth Anne announced, tossing her shovel onto the ground as Eve followed suit. “We’d better hurry.”

I took one final sob of self-pity and nodded. Merry grabbed my hand and we marched to the car.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the man as I opened the passenger door. He was still buckled in, staring straight ahead. I leaned over and removed his seat belt, feeling the coldness of his skin as we hefted him out of the car. You hear that dead bodies grow cold, but you don’t know how cold. It’s not the type of cold you’d find in a freezer or in snow. It’s an empty type of cold, like floating in deep space. A coldness without hope.
For the first book in the series click here: The Witches of Dark Root: Book One

February 11, 2014

New Cover. Now Just 99 Cents!

In honor of a new cover for The Witches of Dark Root, I am offering it for just 99 cents to download from Amazon for a limited time. (Note, the free book deal expired Feb 13th. Sorry.)

Four sisters return to their hometown of Dark Root to save a cursed mother and a town that has lost its magic. Will love prevail, or will the darkness take them all?

Meditations on The Shadows of Dark Root

I may have gotten a bit metaphysical during the creation of The Shadows of Dark Root. I always knew I wanted Maggie and her companions to j...