New Shadow World Extra: Even in the Rain

At long last, time for a new Shadow World Extra.  

This story is the first of a planned series of Extras that will delve into the 20-year period between the end of SHADOW RISING and the beginning of Book 8.  

“Even in the Rain,” in fact, takes place about four years after the climax of SHADOW RISING.  The Tetrad’s world has changed since that terrible night, and though some have found peace in the aftermath, others have found only a waking nightmare that never seems to end.  Can they find a way through together before the war claims another casualty?

Fair warning…to quote one of my beloved Beta readers, “You owe me a box of Kleenex.”

Content warning:  Discussions of sexual assault, trauma, and post-traumatic stress.

You can download the story (pdf) here.  

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Sucky Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Time for another embarrassing confession.

I can’t say 2017 was entirely wasted.  I did learn a couple of very important things about myself that I’m still working to process.

I already talked about one of them:  The realization that I had spent pretty much the entire year in a state of passive suicidal ideation.  But when trying to work out how to move forward with that knowledge, I hit a road block that I realized is kind of a cornerstone of the big brick shithouse that is my lifetime’s worth of issues.

It’s something that I understand is really quite common, but as you know I am a special one-of-a-kind magical manatee whose issues have never been seen by humanity before, so it was a wild revelation for me.  

Basically:  I don’t know how to suck at things.

Hear me out.  I’m not saying I don’t suck at things.  I suck at plenty. 

I’m saying I never learned how to learn.

When I was a child I was in the “gifted” class.  Even in the higher level and honors courses in public school, I barely had to lift a finger to make As.  My hardest classes in high school, Calculus II and Chemistry, were “impossible” for me because they required occasionally cracking a book.  I sailed through elementary, junior high, and high school like some kind of child genius.

I am not a genius, however, and nowhere was that more apparent than college.

After all those years of being bored and unchallenged in school, I went to a university (on a National Merit Scholarship no less) where my freshman class was literally larger than my entire hometown.  I wasn’t just a little fish in a big pool, I was an ameba.  

And I had NO IDEA how to study.  I knew how to memorize, but I didn’t understand how to assimilate information in a way that would be useful later.  

Combine that with my depression finally having the opportunity to run riot in my brain, and my first real relationship with a boy (which was terrible, but I thought it was my only shot at “love”), and the result was predictable:  I failed.   Things started out okay, but went downhill fast.  The whole experience netted me student loan debt and my first suicidal episodes and not much else.  College was a humiliating experience I vowed not to repeat.    

The takeaway is that after that, I never got any better at being a beginner.  When I’d try something, if it didn’t come easily, I’d just quit.  I was denying myself a very important life lesson:

Sucking is important. 

Sucking is the first step toward awesomeness.  

I never took writing courses because I didn’t want anyone telling me how to write.  I already knew I was good and refused to be told otherwise.  In fact the one time I was told I was terrible, I up and quit writing for several years.  By the time I started again, my years of depression and hard-won emotional maturity helped made up for a lack of practice.  I’ve gotten better over time, but not because I’ve worked specifically to become better; it’s happened organically as I’ve kept writing and matured.  

Another problem:  Nothing pisses me off like being treated like I’m dumb or don’t know what I’m doing.  When I entered the Pagan community I found that’s exactly how people treated “newbie” Witches – like they were cute little idiots who couldn’t possibly know anything Llewellyn didn’t tell them.

As you can imagine I didn’t take well to that.  I was determined to be taken seriously, so much so that when established organizations dismissed me, I told them to fuck off and started my own.  

Meanwhile, I had yet another issue:  Whenever I get into something, I operate on the assumption that I’ll write about it.  Even from my earliest Pagan days I was asking myself, “How would I write about this?  What could I contribute?” 

That’s how I ended up writing a book on creating your own spiritual practice at age 26 – I barely had a practice of my own, but by Goddess I had THINGS TO SAY on the subject.  

At no point did I wonder if I was qualified or experienced enough to do this.  I just assumed – and I still find myself assuming – that if I’m interested in something, I’m going to write about it, and what I write will be useful and meaningful to people.  If I love it, if it matters to me, give me 200 pages and it’ll matter to you too. 

It’s not bullshitting – I honestly care, very intensely, about what I’m writing, and I believe strongly in what I’m saying.  It’s just that I tend to jump over the part where I personally learn to do what I’m writing about.  I want everyone else to know about it; I want them to try out my ideas and hopefully use what works and come up with their own as well.  I want the ideas and information to move through me to where it’s needed.  It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve always wanted to inspire people, whether through fiction or non.  

I wrote The Circle Within in what felt like a state of Divine inspiration; it flowed through my fingers like water and I never questioned it.   I was a conduit above all.  I had so much to share, but I kept none of it for myself.  

I’m laughing at how fakey-noble that statement sounds.  It wasn’t some sense of martyrdom at play so much as impostor syndrome gone bananas.  I’d taught myself to fly without learning to walk, which is all well and good until you need to land.

I have yet to manage to stay vegan for more than six months at a stretch, but I have SO MUCH TO SAY about veganism and spirituality and so many IDEAS…practices and poetry and food for the conscience and soul.  Never mind that I haven’t done any of them; never mind that there’s still something blocking me in my own practice.  I can’t think about that right now, I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE!

*pats herself on the head*  Oh my sweet summer child.

I’ve always considered myself a transformation junkie.  I collect self-help methods and spiritual practices and philosophies and ways to change one’s life the way some people collect comic books or ex-lovers.  Like most people I’ve tried a great many ways to “better” myself, most of which have petered out if they even got off the ground.  But also like most people I just figured that was because I was lazy and self-loathing rather than actually examining what might be keeping me stuck.

There are multiple factors (laziness and self-loathing cannot be fully dismissed), but a significant one is fear of sucking…fear of being a beginner.

Basics are boring.  There’s no glory in gradual.  Step by step just takes so damn long!

But if you ignore that part, if you plunge ahead assuming you know everything, you might inspire others, but what does that leave you, when it’s you alone at the end of the day?

It leaves me with a house built on a hollow foundation of matchsticks, and the only way forward is to burn the whole thing down and rebuild.

At least striking a match is something I know how to do.


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The Oracle Will See You Now, part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve taken up the cards again, both to bring some sense of the mystical back into my life and to help me make sense of where my life and brain are at these days.

I thought I’d share a bit on the decks I’m working with at the moment as well as how I’m studying them; in a future post I’ll talk more about what the cards actually are to me, and how the whole idea of “fortune telling” is basically a load of crap but divination most certainly is not.

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Check it Out, a Planner Friday! Favorite Themes of 2017

A bit late, true, but it took a bit of time to get all of the pics I’d taken of my planner last year and somewhat-organize them.  

I made SO MANY STICKERS last year!  I absolutely loved some of my themes – especially, it seems, the color-palette ones, which account for a large percentage of my favorites.  By the end of the year, however, I’d gotten pretty burnt out on sticker-making; I had been doing it almost every week for two years, after all.  I decided 2018 was time to try something different, which I’ll talk about in a later post; but it’s entirely likely I’ll end up back to my old habits in a few months, as those lovely colorful spreads are tough to beat.

It’s really interesting to me, going back through all my spreads for the year, seeing the evolution of what I tried, what worked, what didn’t, and what came back.  I tried out meal planning for a couple of months and various forms of mood tracking, but eventually what stayed was a sidebar tracker for daily habits and the “this week” sticker above it for items that needed doing but weren’t dependent on a particular day.  Also in September my work week shifted from the typical M-F to Sunday-Thurs, so I had to adjust how I looked at the week.

At any rate, here are my ten favorite weekly spreads of 2017, in chronological order, I think.   I’m putting a “read more” here in case all the images clog up your reader or browser.

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Sylvan Points at Stuff – 10 Things That Weren’t Absolute Crap in 2017

Let’s be honest here:  2017 sucked.  If your year was awesome, well, chances are you’re either a millionaire, you are oblivious to the outside world, or you are Taylor Swift (which means you are a millionaire and oblivious to the outside world).  

This is not to say nothing good happened.  Of course it did!  Through the smoke of the gigantic dumpster fire of 2017 you could catch glimpses of beauty and truth.  I hope that your personal life involved at least a few lovely things, and that here at the tail end of the year you’re able to look back and see those lovely things no matter how much of the world’s bullshit wound up burning in a bag on your porch.  Let those be the things that warm you as we head into what is likely to be another difficult year for those of us with a social conscience and a lot to lose.

As for me, I feel an immense relief that the year is over even though I have no real reason to imagine 2018 will be less of a turd souffl√©.  And rather than analyze it all to death, I’m just going to bury it in the litter box and try to be done with it – I need my strength for the year ahead.  

But here are ten small-to-medium things about 2017 that I did love, in no particular order.

1 – I did kind of publish another book.  That’s pretty cool.  

Incidentally it’d be really awesome if you read Shadow Rising and would be kind enough to leave a review or rating on Amazon.  I don’t read reviews (no, not even good ones) because they’re bad for my mental health, but every writer needs them to help encourage people to try out their work.  

2 – Wonder Woman. 

Even though DC has misfired dreadfully on 90% of its superhero movies, this one was like a breath of fresh air and optimism in an unrelentingly dreary year.  At long last a movie with a female superhero character who wasn’t constantly framed for the male gaze – no long shots down her cleavage, no posing with her butt positioned toward the camera in defiance of anatomy and logic.  Was it a perfect movie?  Oh gods no.  It turned into a giant CGI brainless brawl at the end, and I still can’t get past Ares’ porn stache, but if you didn’t see a bit of yourself – of our collective soul and sanity – in the No Man’s Land scene, standing up and resisting, refusing to be moved – well, you should probably watch it again:

3 – Hamilton.

Late to the party as usual, but listening to the soundtrack on a whim one night led to my falling head over heels in love with this weird hip-hop retelling of the founding of America and, by extension, its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I think might be an actual unicorn.  If you want someone on your Twitter feed who’s positive, hilarious, and full of heart (and who writes sonnets on a whim just to say good morning), follow him, you won’t regret it.  I think when the purge of horrible men in Hollywood is done it’ll be just him, Chris Evans, and Patrick Stewart left standing.  I’m totally okay with that.

Enjoy, here, the Tony Awards performance of Hamilton’s original cast, introduced by the Obamas.  Notice that the “battle” involves no guns – the props were removed for the performance because that was the day of the mass shooting in Orlando.  

4 – Lucifer.

And now for something completely different.  I don’t quite remember what made me start watching Lucifer, or what inspired me to slog past the first few ridiculous episodes, but by the time the first season was halfway over I was HOOKED.  Aside from the gorgeous and talented cast, the show is way better than it has any right to be – the characters, especially Lucifer, Amenadiel, Mazikeen, Doctor Linda, Chloe, and the Goddess of Creation, are so emotionally compelling.  Based on the characters from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of graphic novels, basically the idea is that the devil leaves hell to live in Los Angeles, run a night club, and eventually fight crime.  Yeah, it’s as dumb as it sounds, but it’s also amazing, due in no small part to Tom Ellis’s performance as Luci.  

I tried to find a clip to show you, but the really good stuff depends on context, so just take my word for it and go watch the show.  

5 –  My new Tarot deck.

After a long, long dry spell in the mystical department, I’ve gotten back into Tarot.  Rather than trying to work with oracles that aren’t really talking to me anymore, I decided to try something brand new, and have embarked on learning actual Tarot (my preferred oracles have been, as you may know, the Runes of the Elder Futhark and the Brian Froud Faeries Oracle).  Inspired by YouTubers like Katey Flowers, and the fact that I’ve always been a sucker for a beautiful deck, I re-bought the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, and am currently studying it along with a more traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck and my Shadowscapes deck by Stephanie Law.  

And lord, does the Hidden Realm deck talk to me!  For the moment I’m concentrating on using the cards for myself, but I’ll probably start reading for other people once I’m more comfortable with them.  I have something of a divinatory spark, and it always wants to catch others on fire.

I’ll have a full post about my Tarot explorations soon.

6 – My Funko Pops! collection.

My desk at my day job is like a toy store at this point, and my Funko Pops! are the stars.  My favorites so far are General Leia and Bob Ross, who are front and center (along with a vastly amused black cat figurine):

My other favorite, of course, is Dorothy Zbornak, a gift from m’bestie; here she is having none of Stephen Strange’s nonsense, while Patty from Ghostbusters stands guard nearby.

7 – Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl”

I wasn’t as thrilled with Ed’s newest album as I was with the last one, but it does have some great songs, and the two that are Irish-inspired are probably my favorites.  This one for some reason just always makes me smile and bounce.  Smiles and bounces are important.

8 – Contouring 101.

If you haven’t seen this video…I don’t even know how to describe it to you.  It’s…a parody?  It’s bizarre and hilarious and I’m STILL laughing about it.  My roommate and I quote it constantly, specifically “…NOSTRILS” and “IF THE MEN FIND OUT WE CAN SHAPESHIFT, THEY’RE GOING TO TELL THE CHURCH.”

9 – Coffee.

Life continues to bamboozle and explode.  Coffee is always there for us.  Coffee understands.  My drink of 2017 was a raspberry soy mocha.  Trust me, the combination of flavors is exquisite.  I even had my birthday cake, which was DELICIOUS and gorgeous and made by local vegan bakery Capital City Bakery, made in mocha and raspberry.  

Actually my 40th birthday party should be on this list anyway, as it was a fabulous time with some of my favorite people, and I got delightfully squiffy on Moscow Mules (my favorite form of squiff-ening beverage).

10 –  My new pendant.

Speaking of my birthday, I had my eye on this piece for an entire year before I finally ordered it.  I’ve long worn a pewter compass that says “Trust Your Journey,” but as my 40th loomed I felt it was time for a new “me” necklace.  The pendant below bears the calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my all-time favorite spiritual writers and a true inspiration; it’s one of several pieces in the series, and is a sentiment I try to be mindful of every day:  No mud, no lotus.


11 – (Special Bonus Round!)  All of you.

I know, it’s cheesy, but all my readers and Patrons and friends and Twitter followers and Facebook peeps helped immeasurably to keep 2017 from being a total misery-orgy.  I’ve never been good at communicating with actual people – I’m awful at returning emails and comments, not because I don’t read them or want to reply, but because…I don’t know, exactly.  It might be the same thing that makes it so impossible for me to make phone calls.  I absolutely blow at reaching out.  But I know you’re there, and i adore every one of you.  I hope that my infrequent blog posts, occasional novels, and sporadic attendance at my own social media are at least worth sticking around for.  I hope to have a new book for you this year – probably not Book 8 (although who knows?), but something new (I hope I hope I hope), and I really want to offer more Shadow World Extras and, gods willing, more of the Agency.  But none of this would be possible without all of you staying with me through my silly seasons and sad storms, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let’s all have a solidly good 2018.  It seems a bit laughable to ask for awesome, given the state of the world, but let’s all do what we can to make it better – for ourselves, for each other, for everyone.

Everyone hold hands…take a breath…and…jump!

I’ll be back soon with posts on my new bullet journal/planner situation, a wrap-up of last year’s favorite planner spreads, some musings on divination, and my goals for 2018.

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