What? No shoe-buckles?

It’s November, and we’re supposed to write about gratitude.

If I were a virtuous author, I’d be writing about how thankful I am for something related to TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD. (Which would make an excellent Christmas present.) (Available wherever books are sold.) *Angry Marketing God subsides.*


A pair of actors at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, in 2007 or so. (A very cool place, by the way.)

Being an evil and lazy author who happens to be immersed in 17th century New England for a book in progress, I’m going to write about the first Thanksgiving. This will be upsetting in many ways. For example, the Pilgrims weren’t called that. They did not have black clothing or silver shoe-buckles. They had never heard of cranberry sauce or mashed potato.

Herewith, a series of disappointments:

1. If the English refugees who arrived in southeastern Massachusetts in 1620 called themselves anything, it would have been the Godly, to distinguish themselves from followers of the Church of England, which they considered corrupt and ungodly. After a hard winter and a slightly better growing season, in the fall of 1621 William Bradford, the Plimoth Colony’s governor, sent four men out to shoot various fowl for a harvest celebration.  The neighboring Wampanoags heard about the party and offered some freshly killed deer. The English invited their neighbors to join them, and there ensued three days (some say a week) of feasting and game-playing.

2. We can be grateful this was a harvest feast, not a “thanksgiving.” That would have been a religious observance, probably involving a fast. Bummer.

3. Relations between the English and the Wampanoags were friendly at the time, but they eventually decayed, bigtime. When drafting paragraph number 1, I mistakenly typed “invaded their neighbors” rather than “invited.” This is what’s known as a Freudian Slip. Modern-day Wampanoags tend not to celebrate Thanksgiving.

3. In addition to the venison, the menu probably included ducks, geese and swans. There may have been turkey, but not necessarily. The cranberry was used more as a tart addition to some other dish—cranberry sauce came into being about 50 years later, when sugar was more readily available. Sweet and white potatoes, meanwhile, had only made it to Europe from the Andes decades before—if the Plimoth folks knew about them at all, they would have been a rich man’s food. The English would have had parsnips, carrots, and turnips for root vegetables, while the Wampanoags would have cooked Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, sweet flag, Indian turnip, and water lily.

4. Pumpkins were around in some form, but there was no pie because nobody had crust ingredients. Later on, when butter and wheat flour were available, English cooks would have cut up the pumpkins like apples, and fried them before putting them in crust. (Apples are not native to the Americas, by the way—Europeans brought them later in the century.)

5. Instead of football, there probably was Blind Man’s Bluff and the Pin Game, a Wampanoag invention like horseshoes.

No word on who got stuck with the dishes.

Oh gee thanks, J.K. Rowling

Our challenge this month is flash fiction based on the first Google image called up by the last noun of the first sentence of a book we’re reading. I’m reading THE CUCKOO’S CALLING  by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling). I’m sorry to say that my word is “flies.” (“The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.”) I’ve shown you the image.

I heard the buzzing before I fitted the key into the lock—louder than the highway across the fields behind me, overpowering even the waves fifty yards beyond the house. For a second, I thought it was cicadas, although they never started this early in the season.flies

I wanted it to be a good sound, a comforting memory of childhood summers.

The key wouldn’t turn in the lock. I rattled it, metal on metal, twisted it, willing the rust to give way and let me in. It wouldn’t let go. I’d oiled the lock before I left the house last fall, I was sure of it.

It struck me that the lock didn’t want to let me in. “Jerk,” I said. “That’s the road food talking.”

I shook the door on its hinges, even though I knew a broken door would be no good solution. But I was sweaty and exhausted, sustained for the last 100 miles by the thought of that first drink of frigid well water, the pure joy of a well-hammocked screen porch.

I wasn’t rational anymore, rattling, twisting, shaking. Man, that lock was stubborn.

The buzzing swelled, and I realized it was coming from inside the house. It was angry—riled up, I thought, by all my noise and tremors. Maybe the lock was right. Maybe I shouldn’t go in there.

I gritted my teeth. “Never. Let. The inanimate. Object. Win.”

A last fury of shaking and aha!—the key made a retching sound and turned. The door burst open.

The smell hit me.

These were not cicadas.

Interview with Ellen Booraem about her latest release Texting the Underworld

Hi, all,

I’m here today with our own Ellen Booraem to chat with her about her new book Texting the Underworld.

But first, here’s a bit about Ellen and her book:

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem

Texting the Underworld
A fantasy for ages 10 and older
Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers

Texting the Underworld

Conor O’Neill always thought spiders—and his little sister, Glennie—were the worst kind of monsters life had in store. That was before an inexperienced young banshee named Ashling showed up in his bedroom.

The arrival of a banshee, as Conor soon learns, means only one thing: Someone in his family is going to die. Not only will Ashling not tell him who it is, it turns out that she’s so fascinated by the world above that she insists on going to middle school with him.

The more Ashling gets involved in his life, the harder it becomes to keep her identity a secret from his friends and teachers—and the more Conor worries about his family. If he wants to keep them safe, he’s going to have to do the scariest thing he’s ever done: Pay a visit to the underworld.

If only there were an app for that.

booraem--author pic Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld, a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat South Boston boy and a determined young banshee, hit bookstores in August (Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers). Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (Penguin/DBYR, 2011) and THE UNNAMEABLES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008). A Massachusetts native and former weekly newspaper editor and reporter, she lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She’s online at ellenbooraem.com, and also blogs at The Enchanted Inkpot (enchantedinkpot.com) and Scene13 (scene13ers.wordpress.com).

If you were headed into the Underworld for, say, a week, what three things would you want to have along?

  • The head of a jackal (so everyone would think I was the Egyptian death god Anubis and let me in without a hassle). (Anubis might catch on, though.)
  • A sweater (it gets cold underground).
  • My cell phone (in case they get a signal).

What’s your favorite scene?

The one that was the most fun to write was when Conor, his sister Glennie, and the young banshee Ashling sneak Grump (Conor’s grandfather) out of the hospital. Ashling and all the humans are invisible, but Grump’s wheelchair is not. Confusion ensues.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The one with the biggest oog factor for me involves a bunch of spiders, including a tarantula that climbs onto Conor’s hand and moves up his arm. I hate spiders. My skin was crawling the whole time I was writing, and I kept checking to make sure nothing was creeping up my back.

LENA (shivering): My skin would be crawling too! 🙂 Thanks for chatting with me today, Ellen! Texting the Underworld sounds amazing and fun. (Thanks in advance for the spidery nightmares. ;))

What’s your favorite cupcake?

My favorite cupcake is devil’s food with fudge frosting and sprinkles.

LENA: Mmmmmmm…. Sounds Yummy. Sending one your way! Also, I found this one, which looks perfect for texting:

iPhone cupcake

iPhone cupcake (photo courtesy of clevercupcakes @ Flickr Commons)

A question to part with: Besides spiders, what creepy and/or underworldly things (or books) keep you guys up at night? 🙂

Boy meets banshee

texting the underworldThe countdown is starting for TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, which comes out officially August 15. The local launch party was Thursday, and the blog tour starts Monday.

Lots of people are unfamiliar with banshees, the Irish ancestral spirits who wail when a family member is about to die. There are many varieties of banshee: Weeping old ladies, hideous specters, and my version, a maiden who died too young. To celebrate TEXTING’s pub month, I figured I’d show you my vision of a banshee.

Here’s the scene in which our hero, Conor, meets the banshee who wailed outside his bedroom window when he was about to kill a spider. 

The girl wafted in over the window seat, solidifying as she went. By the time she’d seated herself in his beanbag chair, she was as solid as a middle school principal except for her right foot, which remained translucent. As he watched, the foot floated up as if she were sitting in a swimming pool.

“Look at you, now,” she said to the foot. “Why ever would you be doing that?” She used both hands to press her leg down and trapped the wayward foot with her other one. “There. All fixed.” She looked brightly at Conor. He lay there on the carpet, organizing his thoughts.

She couldn’t have floated in the window, he decided. There must be a ladder out there. It was nighttime and his room wasn’t lit very well and he hadn’t seen her right.

“Who are you?” He sat up, so he’d look like he was taking charge.

“Oh good, you speak the Tongue. I was afraid we’d not understand one another.”

“What tongue?”

She frowned. “Our own, of course.”


“I never heard it called such as that. Is that what you call it?”

“It’s what it is.” Conor stood up, wobbled, and sat down on his bed, forgetting to check for the location of the spider. It could be crawling up his back for all he knew. “Who are you?” he asked again.

“I beg your pardon, you asked that already, didn’t you? I am the daughter of Maedoc, called Ashling, I don’t know how many years dead.” She pointed at his cell phone. “That is a little computer, is it not? I was watching you from outside. What are the little creatures that jump?”

“It’s a video game.” Conor’s mouth said, although his brain whispered, DEAD? She thinks she’s DEAD?

“Vid. Ee. Oh.” Ashling tasted the word, rolled it in her mouth. “Vid-ee-oh game.” She surveyed the room.  “This is strange and lovely. So clean! Is it that you’re noble, or is it that everyone lives in such a way?”

“We’re not noble.”

Concern flickered across Ashling’s face. “Not a son of the Ee Nay-ill?” Or that’s what it sounded like, anyway.

 “My father’s name is Brian. Brian O’Neill.”

Ashling’s face brightened. “A son of the Ee Nay-ill, then. Descendent of kings.”

Grump talked about O’Neills being kings, back in the dawn of Ireland. “There are a million O’Neills,” Conor said, feeling he should apologize. “I don’t think we’re noble anymore.”

Ashling stuck her pointy little nose in the air. “The Ee Nay-ill,” she said, “are always noble.”

Conor thought of Uncle Ralph drinking Budweiser and belching the national anthem.

Ashling stood up and walked around his room. She was wearing a green ankle-length wool tunic with a thin leather belt, a red wool cloak open in front, rough leather shoes on her feet. Her red hair hung to her waist in a thick braid, a green ribbon woven through it.

She floated up for a closer view of the solar system map on his ceiling. Her shoes were three feet above the floor, yet the beanbag chair was dented where she’d sat in it. She seemed real—sturdy and solid and muscular. But she was totally floating.

 “What are you?” Conor asked. Why wasn’t he freaking out? He should be running out the door.

The girl landed in front of him. This time her hand stayed in the air, raised over her head as if she were the brainy kid in class. “Did you see that? How I floated?  And, mark you, I just learned this…” She faded invisible, then unfaded back into view, except for her left foot. “An amazing thing, yes? Yes?”

Conor’s rear end seemed to have become part of his mattress. “What are you?” he whispered again.

Although he was beginning to think he knew.

“Not supposed to tell what I am.” She wasn’t very tall—Glennie’s size. She could stare straight into his eyes as he sat on his bed. Hers were a merry blue—O’Neill Blue, but with an odd wedge of gray at the bottom of each iris that for some reason lifted his heart. She smelled of woodsmoke and a chilly night. “But I don’t see why I cannot tell one person. Promise not to distress yourself?”

“I…I don’t know.” He thought he might be distressing himself already.

Ashling startled him with a wide grin, gleaming except for one brown tooth on the side. “I am a banshee, of course. Your family’s banshee. Sent by the Lady to…to… ach, you will distress yourself, will you not?”

Sent to…what?

To keen—like mega-weeping.

Before a death in the family.

Conor’s nerves woke up with another mighty twang. “Am I going to die?”

“You are distressed. I knew it.” Ashling patted his shoulder. “Calm yourself. It’s not so bad. I died once upon a time, and now here I am, all new clothes with a ribbon in my hair.” She gazed earnestly into his eyes. “Anyway, it might not be you. I’ve no idea what Death I’m sent for, see—I’ll feel it when it’s about to happen.  At least, I hope I will. In the meantime, I’m compelled to keen for any death that happens near you, the Ee Nay-ill. It’s part of my training.” She frowned. “At least, I think it is.”

“You haven’t always been a banshee?”

“Of course not. This may be my one and only time. But I shall be very, very good at it. They’ll talk about me after, they’ll say ‘Ach, if only she’d stayed, what a wonder she—’”

“I was about to kill a spider before.”

“I know it, that’s why I keened. And a marvelous keen it was, worthy of—”

“The spider didn’t die.”

“I know it. That was odd.”

She’s a screwup as a banshee, Conor thought. No matter how great she says she is.

August Preview!

We’ve got some great releases coming up this month!

First up, Immortals (Runes #2) by Ednah Walters – Releases August 5
Immortal_couple_Huge_with_logoNothing can stop Raine Cooper when she wants something
Raine finally knows that her gorgeous neighbor, Torin St. James, is a legend straight out of Norse mythology, and that her feelings for him are strong. Torin is crazy about Raine too, breaking the one rule he lives by: Never fall for a mortal. The problem is he no longer remembers her, his memories erased by Norns—Norse destiny deities—to punish her for defying them.

So Raine comes up with a plan…

She will make Torin forget his one rule a second time and fall in love with her all over again. But she quickly learns that well-laid plans do not work when dealing with deities and supernatural beings. Desperate, Raine makes choices that could not only tear her and Torin further apart, but
lead to the destruction of everything and everyone she loves.

Robyn DeHart’s A Little Bit Scandalous – Releases from Entangled’s Scandalous August 12
A Little Bit ScandalousA woman in search of a gamble…

Mathematics prodigy, Caroline Jellico, plans to support herself by winning big in the gaming hells of London—while dressed as a boy. She’s tired of waiting for the elusive Roe to notice her. She’ll marry him or no man.

A gambler in need of redemption…

Monroe Grisham, Duke of Chanceworth, needs to marry off his beautiful young ward and ensure she attaches herself to the right man, not an irresponsible cad like him. But all grown up now, Caroline’s presence is an utter distraction. One he can neither act on nor deny.

A game of seduction…

But when Roe and Caroline meet across the gaming table, all bets are off. Seduction is in the cards and the winner will take all…or lose everything.

Kelly Hashway’s Stalked by Death – Releases from Spencer Hill Press August 13

Jodi knows that any slip-ups made by the Ophi–a special group of necromancers born under the 13th sign of the zodiac–will fall on her shoulders… and that Hades is just waiting for them to screw up so he can wipe out the Ophi line.

Unfortunately, Jodi has only convinced one Ophi to join her school: A hot guy named Chase who jeopardizes her relationship with Alex. Jodi loves Alex, but Chase can enhance her powers with just a touch—making her stronger than any Ophi has ever been.

Her mixed emotions send her powers surging out of control, and the dead start rising without her conscious summoning—exactly what Hades doesn’t want! If she chooses Alex over Chase, she may lose the battle to Hades, leading the Ophi race to extinction. If she chooses Chase, she might be able to stop Hades for good… but lose everything else.

Jodi needs to figure things out fast–because death is stalking her at every turn.

Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld – Releases from Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers August 15

texting the underworldPerpetual scaredy-cat Conor O’Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is—as all banshees are—a harbinger of death, and she’s sure someone in Conor’s family is about to require her services. But she’s new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school.

Even as Conor desperately tries to hide her identity from his classmates and teachers, he realizes there’s no way to avoid paying a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

Fortunately, he has a cell phone, and his computer-geek friend, Javier, will be holding down the home front.

“Got your cell?”

“Yeah . . . Don’t see what good it’ll do me.”

“I’ll text you if anything happens that you should know.”

“Text me? Javier, we’ll be in the afterlife.”

“You never know. Maybe they get a signal.”

Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem’s work “utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical . . . smart, earthy and thoughtful.”

Dominus by Christine Fonseca – Releases August 31
(Cover Tease)

DOMINUS teaser bookcover
Sometimes death is the only way to save a life.

Nesy knows who she is now, knows what she’s lost. Determined to save Aydan from his fate, she confronts the only one she blames for everything – Azza. But how can she fight the devil when she is nothing more than human.

The fate of Celestium, Infernum and humanity rests in Nesy’s hands. Can she find the strength to confront demons she’s never imagined, face fears she’s never voiced, and release the one things that has held her world together – her love for Aydan. Some sacrifices should never be made…even for love.

Author’s Note:
Each character’s decisions, each twist of fate has led to this – a time when confusion reigns supreme, when up is down and down is up. And when the fate of humanity rests in the balance. In this final installment, the decisions of the past have come back to haunt the future, and the fates of Nesy and Aydan, Zane and Cass, Celestium and Infernum, hang in the balance. The only question is, who will survive?

This story is filled with anguish and betrayal, love and sacrifice, as I bring the series to an end. It’s a story that has been part of my life for many years. Saying “goodbye” to these characters will be a profound experience for me. I hope all of you have enjoyed their stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them.


Another exciting month coming up for the Scene 13ers!

This month’s posting theme is a free choice, so each author will post whatever crosses their fancy 🙂

Be sure to check out our Blog Tours tab for ongoing blog tour links!

Transitions: A Series of Continuous Loops

graduationOther than birth and death, there’s no bigger transition than graduation. Here in coastal Maine, June is full of them—eighth graders even get one. For those of us left behind (I’ve been a writing coach at my local elementary school for nine years), it can feel a bit like a continuous loop, sixth graders turning into seventh graders, then eighth graders, then graduates, year after year.

This month, one of my early students is graduating from high school as valedictorian. In the fall he’ll be off to Middlebury to major in drama and writing. I’m terribly proud of him, but I have to acknowledge that I didn’t do much more for him than hold his coat while he got down to business. He was a writer from the get-go—all he needed was a chair, a keyboard, and maybe somebody saying “Wow. Cool idea.”

Here’s the thing: In a small, rural community like ours, everybody’s a coat-holder at some point or another, and we wear a lot of different coats, whether we’re organizing a benefit supper for a cancer patient or planning the Fourth of July parade. My valedictorian’s parents are farmers, and last time I worked with him on an independent study project he kept showing up with eggs and maple syrup. His mother spent years on the school board, and she’s a guiding light of the school garden that my pet organization, the Brooklin Youth Corps, tends and harvests for sale in the summer. His father, a forester and amateur playwright, cut down the dying spruces at my house for a pittance, and a few weeks later my partner and I read his wonderful play aloud during a car trip and gave him a critique when we got home.  It’s another continuous loop.

From the day I entered it in 2004, I’ve found the writing community to be a similar loop of coat-holders. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in several group blogs: this one, of course, but also the Class of 2k8 and The Enchanted Inkpot. One of the best aspects of each has been the Yahoo listserve we’ve used to keep things organized. Yes, a lot of the time we’re talking about who’s doing what when. But also we share our successes and heartbreaks, and support one another through the sometimes harrowing publication process. I would have gone mad long ago without these amazing colleagues propping me up.

Also, there are a bazillion kind and generous souls out there on the web, eager to share what they know and ease the transition from dreamer to published writer. (I just typed “published writher” by mistake, which also is true.) The great-grandmama of kidlit message boards, of course is Verla Kay’s, which covers everything from research to syntax to finding other web sites. But also there’s Elana Johnson on query letters, and Holly Lisle and Darcy Pattison on just about all aspects of the craft.

Don’t forget Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write, Literary Rambles, AgentQuery, and QueryTracker when you’re looking for agent and/or publisher.

And then get ready to hold someone else’s coat. In the meantime, tell us: Who’s held yours?

Fear and Loathing at the Keyboard

writers blockBy nature, most writers are procrastinators. This has a lot to do with fear: What if today’s the day we stare at the screen and nothing happens? Best to do one more on-line jigsaw puzzle and avoid the moment of truth.

This month’s theme—Mayday! Mayday!—is about obstacles and unseen dangers. There is no more potent one than fear masquerading as procrastination.

When I quit my day job to write novels, I was lucky enough to have a shining example and shaming device close at hand. His name is Rob Shillady and he’s a painter. Over the past 33 years, I’ve watched him treat his studio like a bank office.  He cranks up the wood stove around 7 a.m., and is hard at work by 7:30. He goes out for coffee and to collect the mail at 10. At 1:30, he comes up for lunch and to walk the dog. Then he’s back at it until 4 or 5, depending on his energy level.

His larger paintings are painstakingly detailed, and take forever to do. Some days he paints the same thing over and over again before he gets it right. The next day, he’s quite likely to paint  that same thing all over again. We once lived through four months when he couldn’t achieve the exact cloud color that says “the first winter storm is coming.” He was frustrated and anxious every single day. And yet he kept applying butt to chair.

The key for him, and for me, is the schedule: Regardless of dread and self-hatred, his feet take him to his studio because that’s where they go at 7 a.m.

I love first chapters, last chapters, and revision. Unfortunately there are a good 20 chapters in between first and last, and drafting them can become a torment and a terror if I let it happen.  So I try to follow Rob’s example, more or less. My feet find their way to my office at 9 a.m. every day. I’m not allowed to eat lunch until I have a thousand words, and then I’m allowed to do something else (teaching, research, reading, appointments, sometimes kayaking or skiing) in the afternoon.

I keep Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird on my desk, and periodically re-read the chapter that begins: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” I remind myself that nobody has to see this draft except me, and my thousand words don’t have to be good ones. They just have to exist so I can rework them later, singing happy revision songs to myself.

So what do you do to keep procrastination at bay? Does chocolate actually work?