My head hurts. It’s another migraine, one on the epic scale that I’d hoped were gone forever. It’s been a couple of years since I had one last this long–three days now–and longer still since I’ve had one I couldn’t force myself to function through.
If you’ve had one like this, you’ll know what I’m talking about. All you want to do is lie in bed in a dark room with silent tears streaking down your cheeks because any noise is like an ice pick through your eye.
But Moms can’t simply go to bed for days, nor can people with mortgages and car payments, students with classes, or really any human with responsibilities beyond themselves. I have horses, dogs, cats, kids, and deadlines, so I swallow pills, chug colas for the caffeine, and try to deal. The family sees the squint in my eyes and the frown lines across my brow. The white pursed lips are another giveaway. They mostly try to walk softly and leave me alone.
Through the fog I think of bed, that soft, billowy haven of cool sheets and darkness. I imagine lying in the comfort of fabric softener and down pillows and try to ignore the vise crushing my head, the pulsing of a brain that feels too big for my skull. I try to write, to fold laundry, to plan meals, but I’m not really here.
I know my triggers. I try to avoid them, but sometimes they sneak up on me like the Roadrunner does the Coyote. The Coyote plans and plots, but the Roadrunner is always ten steps ahead with an elaborate ruse to trick the Coyote. Dynamite and falling anvils, the Coyote always gets it in the end.
Being the Coyote sucks.
I know the stages. In a couple of hours if the pain doesn’t ease, I’ll be unable to do much of anything, too tired to move, but unable to sleep. Then the mental howling will begin. For me migraines are the body’s way of telling me that I’ve been living in crisis mode for too long. Things buried, pushed aside, and ignored in the moment of triage are now clamoring for attention. It’s when things are safe, when there’s time to pause and examine that the past comes to haunt me.
I wish I knew how to exercise my demons once and for all. Until then, I will count the hours until my next pain medication and try not to whimper.
Johnny Worthen recently released his newest novel, The Brand Demand. An eclectic writer whose work spans many genres and ages, The Brand Demand is an adult eco-political thriller set in Utah and published by Cherokee McGhee. It’s available as a trade paperback and eBook.
In celebration of his fourth novel, Johnny’s dropping by his old blog tour haunts and sharing his thoughts.
Some authors take the time to plot the entire story and create extensive character backgrounds before they write, others sit down and wing it. What’s your writing process like and how do you balance planning with spur of the moment creativity?
Allow me to ramble: Every book is different, but I’m getting something of a system now that tells me that too much pre-writing will take the energy out of the work, if not the fun. My prewriting process usually consists of pages of notes, character lists with minimum descriptions and waypoints. A waypoint is a place I want to get to. They’re like plot points, but more general. I think of them as scenes I want to have, not just for the plot but for the theme. Theme is huge. It’s the biggest pre-writing concern I have. I need to know what the book is going to be about before I can write a thing. Waypoints are how I’ll to navigate the theme to get to the end that may or may not be plot dependent. “Galen meets with Carson,” “compare rich and powerful vs. invisible and powerful.” “Galen confesses to Bonnie. “Ideology softens” “Show the city in winter.” This kind of thing.
My original idea for THE BRAND DEMAND came from a vision of the ending. I saw the climactic moment in my mind and felt goosebumps. I then worked backward from that, inventing the characters that would get that ending, developing the theme to justify and explain it. I developed waypoints and outlined – only outlined – the characters. I then let their voices come out and gently guided the action to the end.
Many authors say they write because they cannot not write. If you couldn’t tell stories with words, what artistic medium would you choose?
I’m a modeler. That’s the archaic hobby of glueing plastic together and painting little men and spaceships. It’s a lonely outlet, but an art and I really enjoy it. It is however ridiculously frivolous and the finished models pile up with no place to display them. Sometimes you can build game pieces and theoretically have a use for them, but truth is I’m the only person I know who does this and games are few and far between. One day, maybe, I’ll get back to my collection and lose myself in little men and spaceships again.
Successful authors are more than writers; they are public speakers, educators, marketers, and business owners. As you’ve grown in your career which things have surprised you? Which aspects of being an author delight you and which horrify you?
I’m not sure what makes a successful author. There are no rules. We all just make it all up as we go along. It’s so much a matter of luck that if one were to think logically before embarking on this career they’d never do it. The odds are frightening, – horrifying, to use your word. Rejection is constant and unrelenting. You never get used to it. I thought I would, but I haven’t. They don’t sting as much as they used to, but they still bite.
The delights are when even against these odds, something gets through. Better still is the wonder that people read your work. And beyond belief is when they get it and appreciate it. It’s a drug I can only liken to the experience of finishing a book in the first place. It’s wonderful.
With such stiff competition and long odds, you’d think that writers would be a mean and bitter bunch, but they’re not. I’ve met so many wonderful people doing this. Helpful, encouraging, nice people who, like me, labor under the idea that the best way – the only way, to achieve one’s dreams is by helping other people achieve theirs. There’s a solidarity and friendship among the authors I’ve come to know. Of course there are few outliers who don’t get it, but I’ve been surprised at how warm the community generally is – so welcoming and supportive. It’s been a wonderful discovery of friends in arms.
Twitter: Twitter @JohnnyWorthen
When I was five we lived in a house on the beach at Kihei Lagoon. I remember getting up as dawn was just a shell-pink hint in the sky and running barefoot down the grass and onto the cool damp sand. It was rare, very rare to walk along the water’s edge and find a miracle: a small glass ball that had broken free from a Japanese fisherman’s net to float through miles of open Pacific Ocean to land at my feet. I only found two—one faint green and the other amber, but I remember marveling at the slightly misshapen glass spheres melted and shaped from discarded liquor bottles. It was the kind of thing that would hold a mermaid’s wish or a message from a sea star, and I never forgot the sense of magic and wonder they brought.
It was the distance, I think. How could something travel so far?
Now as I wander along beaches it’s not quaint glass balls or even shells that I find. It’s plastic. Bent, broken, sun-bleached discards from Asia, America, Australia. Bits of bins, bags, and ephemeral stuff too travel-worn and trashed to identify properly. It’s everywhere with more coming ashore on each tide.
I admit I’m a casual recycler. I understand reduce, reuse, and recycle, and I do my part to live lightly on the earth as long as it’s simple, practical, and fairly painless. Compared to true eco-warriors I’m a poser.
But seeing the pervasive plastics in our oceans and along our beaches have made me more concerned than all the weeping Indians, earth-warming alarmists, and give a hoot owls combined. When I see the damage to our reefs from abandoned fishing nets that drag along fragile coral, when there are more white bags than white sand, and when the levels of toxicity in our fish make them unsafe to eat I have to ask how do we stop? We can’t strain the ocean and pull every bit of trash out—where would we even put it? This is not a California-Hong Kong-Sydney problem. It’s a world problem.
I have the glass balls to prove it.
We rushed into a pew and quickly lifted a hymn book from the rack just as the congregation starting singing. Suddenly, my daughter poked me in the ribs. “Mom!” she hissed. “You forgot to put on your make-up!”
I thought back. Yep. Morning routine interrupted. I showered, brushed my teeth, put on moisturizer and deodorant, and then got called to help with some family non-emergency. Later when I rushed back to the bathroom, I did my hair by braille. Grabbing my glasses was the last thing I did before we flew out of the house. No time or thought for a mirror check.
My daughter scrambled in her bag and handed me colored Chapstick. “I only carry mascara in my gym bag.”
“Really?” I asked. “Is it really that bad?”
She gave me the look that said are you really asking me that?
I heaved a sigh and swiped a couple of strokes across my lips. “Better?”
The sideways tilt of her head and frown said it all.
“What? Should I go home and come back? Am I that hideous?”
She patted my arm. “Well, think of it this way. At least you’re not one of those moms who can’t leave the house without a ton of make-up on.”
Fudge. Maybe I should see if I can find a bag to put over my head.
And then I squared my shoulders. It’s not a photo op. It’s not like anybody else is even going to notice. God sees me without make-up all the time.
So I stayed through the service and went on to teach teenage Sunday School. They wouldn’t have noticed if I sprouted wings or grew a third arm. They’re teens. No matter what I say or do, I’m uncool and beneath their notice.
However, I did sneak out a side door before I had to talk to grown-ups. It’s okay for God to see the imperfections—the wrinkles and dark circles and spots; I know He’ll overlook them in His grace. But I really didn’t want a bevy of casseroles showing up from concerned neighbors who might think I was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
After all, if you’re wearing a dress, heels, and hairspray how do you explain forgetting to put on your make-up without sounding like someone who needs a casserole and a good house cleaning?
Hmmm. On second thought…
When Maddie’s father catches her with a boy, he hauls her into town in a pig wagon and finds her a husband. But Peter’s cabin in the woods promises something very different than Maddie’s happily ever after.
Pretty Things, a retelling of “The Robber Bridegroom,” is the first novella in the Grimm Chronicles series. Warning: not your granny’s fairytales!
In the heat of the desert, Detective Cody Oliver inadvertently stumbles upon a strange garden adorned with exotic flowers. Upon closer inspection, he finds the garden is but a cover for the scores of bodies buried below. Soon, the small town of Mt. Dessicate plunges into chaos as journalists, reporters, and cameramen from across the nation descend upon the tiny, desert town to get a piece of the action.
Along with the media, a mysterious woman appears—she may be the only person who has come face to face with the killer, dubbed the Botanist, and lived to tell the tale. If Cody can’t piece together a timeline of the land the crime scene is located on, decipher how the woman’s mysterious past is connected to the killer, and bring the Botanist to justice, he may lose the people he values most.
When a young location scout from Hollywood dashes into a local Hawaiian bar, she bites off a little more than she can chew. Set in Hawaii with a hint of ancient mythology, Tourists is a companion story to the Niuhi Shark Saga and is intended for adults. Like the woman in the story, there’s no long-term commitment here. Tourists is a quick coffee break and dessert read.
Available in eBook from Amazon.
This is an article I wrote for Tales From Pasifika. Also my first ever selfie. I don’t think my arms are long enough!
I was walking through Dick’s Sporting Goods in Salt Lake City, Utah, when I saw it hanging on the back wall: a ski jacket with the same bird of paradise print my tutu had on her couch cushions in the ‘70s. Like a teri beef plate lunch special it called to me. My daughter was appalled. “You are NOT wearing that, Mom. No way!”
“It’s reversible, right?” my son asked.
My husband shrugged. “At least we’ll be able to find you in a crowd.”
I bought it.
And I wore it. For about a week it clashed with everything and everyone, as out of place as an aloha shirt at—well, a ski slope. When you’re an ex-pat Hawaiian living near world-class winter sporting grounds it can be hard to find the aloha spirit in the middle of January.
I tried not to care. I ignored the stares and snickers and carried my childhood wrapped around me like a blanket. But one day I caved and reversed it.
“What’s up with your coat?” my son asked.
“It’s like me. I’m wearing my Hawaiian on my inside.”
He tilted his head. “Yeah, but unlike your coat you’re not even brown on the outside.”
Through a genetic quirk my youngest sister and I inherited our mother’s super fair northern European coloring while my other sister and brother have our father’s mixed Hawaiian heritage of medium brown hair, eyes, and skin.
I’m not going to lie to you. As the only blond, blue-eyed kid in the entire school district in Kahului, Maui it was rough. Unlike every other Hawaiian family I’ve known, my dad was an only child from a family of only children—and from Oahu. I didn’t have a huge ohana of cousins calabash or otherwise on Maui to vouch for me. It was easy to be the target from the teachers and principal on down.
No lie. People go to jail now for what they did to me in elementary school. But Maui was a different time and place back then. At least I like to think so.
There’s a disconnect that happens in your head when you’re beaten for being an outsider by kids who are descendants of sugarcane and pineapple workers from Asia when your ancestors farmed taro in those same fields for hundreds of years. But on the playground nobody cares about those kinds of distinctions. It’s all about freckles and the need for sunscreen.
For a year or two after school while waiting for my mom to get off work, I went to a house where the father carved traditional ki‘i—tiki statues—and the grandmother spoke beautiful Hawaiian with her friends under the shade of mango trees. They were patient with me—the gangly haole girl who watched with big eyes and listen to the melodious voices rolling like water over her head. Sometimes they would tell me stories about Hawaiian history, culture, legends, and traditions. I soaked them up like a sponge.
After my family moved back to Oahu, I was accepted into The Kamehameha Schools and that changed my life. I didn’t have to fight so hard to belong because everyone knew I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. At Kamehameha I learned more about what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and like my classmates, promised to perpetuate our culture in positive ways. Our princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop had given us the precious gift of an education; we therefore have an obligation to be her hands and pass aloha along.
I write the Niuhi Shark Saga and other stories for island kids who never see themselves or their families in popular literature. So much about Hawaii has been rewritten by Hollywood and that’s tragic. There is a need for authentic Pasifika voices to tell our stories, and I hope to add to the conversation in my small way.
When people read the words, they hear a Hawaiian voice. But when I show up at a book signing or appearance that disconnect happens again. “You’re Lehua? From The Kamehameha Schools? No way!” I don’t think anyone ever gets used to being called a liar within the first few minutes of meeting a stranger, but I smile and roll with it. I’ve thought about putting my dark-haired sister’s photo on the back of my books and sending her to out into the world as Lehua, but I know that wouldn’t be pono. And for a Hawaiian, living a life that’s pono—a life in harmony with what is good, noble, and true in thought, action, and deed—is our deepest aspiration.
Like many of my classmates, I went to the mainland for college and stayed to raise a family—a family of towheads like me with looooong Hawaiian middle names. And I worry about that.
Every year I grind my teeth when the local grocery store hosts its Hawaiian days with samba music from Brazil, masks from Papua New Guinea, paper flowers from India, and calls anything with pineapple Hawaiian. In the summer neighbors are keen to throw luaus where they wear cellophane grass skirts, fake coconut bras, and serve Hawaiian haystacks—a truly vile concoction of shredded chicken, raw veggies, coconut chips, long-grained rice, and Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. About the time they bring out the limbo stick and form a conga line is when I sneak home. I know I should be more gracious, but it’s hard.
I insist my kids call flip-flops slippahs, snow cones shave ice, and understand that true aloha is colorblind. I wonder if I’m going to be the last generation in my family that remembers how Maui captured the sun, when the makahiki season starts, and why haloa is the staff of life. But then I hear about how my son called out his AP World Geography teacher about comments he found derogatory and inappropriate about Polynesians—and insisted on an apology. When the teacher balked and called him a poser, my son told his teacher to look at his middle name and offered to have his mother come in and explain real Hawaiian history to the class.
Maybe I won’t be the last after all.
Anthologies are the ultimate pupu platter, a delightful cornucopia of unconventional flavors and textures served in bite-sized morsels. Meant to be shared, they are the perfect literary tray from which to sample new writers and new voices, to explore new worlds, to boldly go where no reader has gone before—no, wait a minute; that’s Star Trek. But the principle’s the same.
Like all origin myths, the humble beginnings of the Secret Door Society and the creation of its first anthology, Secrets & Doors, began with a ragtag group of over-caffeinated sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasts who saw through the shimmer of a transporter’s beam and the sheen of an elven blade the barest glimmer of a true storyteller’s power to change the world.
Don’t believe me? Consider the impact of the daily news, advertising, history, religion, movies, novels, and art in all its forms. Do you deserve a break today? Notice that backpack unattended on the subway and get a little nervous? What about the homeless man over there lying on the bench or the stranger stranded with a flat tire along the side of the road?
All of these scenarios trigger stories within us, stories about enjoying a burger instead of cooking, the dangers of terrorism, and even what it means to have charity. We internalize these stories until they literally and figuratively shape our perceptions of the world—and perceptions determine behavior.
From our earliest memories it is through stories that we learn to see the world clearly, both the grittiness of reality and a hint of the possible other. In stories our imaginations are engaged, and we begin to dream of a different sort of reality, a reality where space travel is practical, where fairies grant wishes, and people celebrate diversity instead of squashing it.
When enough people hold the same dream, that dream can transform the world. The end of slavery. The right to vote. The right to worship or not worship according to the dictates of one’s heart. The right of a child to be raised in love and not anger. The list is endless, but each begins with a vision of a different future. No wonder John wrote, “In the beginning there was the Word.”
That motley crew of writers meeting at Barnes & Nobles and Starbucks were soon joined by editors, publishers, and illustrators in a clandestine cabal and thus the Secret Door Society was formed. Together they realized that through the power of words not only could people be entertained, but a greater good could be served.
That’s why the proceeds of their first anthology, Secrets & Doors, benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The JDRF is dedicated to eradicating Type 1 Diabetes, a terrible medical condition that currently has no cure. T1D kids face a lifetime of insulin injections and blood test monitoring along with increased health risks that can lead to blindness, amputation, and early death. 100% of the net profits from the sale of Secrets & Doors in both eBook and paperback go toward the fight against juvenile diabetes.
The power of words can change the world.
As Captain Picard says, engage.
Secrets & Doors is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories by the Secret Door Society, a philanthropic organization of amazing people who also happen to be authors, editors, illustrators, and publishers. All of the proceeds from this book are going to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in their quest to cure Type One Diabetes (T1D).
The cover was designed by Faun Jackson, a fine arts photographer who moonlights as a librarian. Published by Crimson Edge Publishing, Secrets & Doors is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon.
From the back of the book:
Open the door and unlock the secrets in eleven short stories from The Secret Door Society, an organization of fantasy and science fiction authors dedicated to charitable work. All proceeds from this anthology benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in their quest to cure Type One Diabetes (T1D).
In these pages you’ll discover a modern woman trapped in an old fashioned dreamscape, a futuristic temp worker who fights against her programming, a beautiful vampire’s secret mission disrupted by betrayal, a sorcerer’s epic battle against a water dragon, the source of magical mirrors—and more. There are tales for every science fiction and fantasy taste, including new works from award-winning authors Johnny Worthen, Lehua Parker, Christine Haggerty, and Adrienne Monson.
Join us in the fight against T1D as you peek into a world of magical and mysterious doorways—if you dare.
Quick note: while all proceeds benefit children, this one’s for adult readers of science fiction and fantasy.