Happy June!

Just dropping in for a quick update. First off, phew! *wipes forehead and reaches for the caffeine.* Who knew re-entering civilization after Covid would feel like the world’s to-do lists exploded? Ever since our state opened up, we’ve been slammed with parties, summer camp, event this, event that.

Have you been in Walmart? How many people can fit in one aisle? ALL of them, apparently!

But halleluiah through it all, because hugs and unmasked faces are worth it.

Right now, I’m working on my newest novel (Stars! Young adults! Mystery! A creepy attic!), while planning something different for the blog. It’s quite a challenge juggling it all with the day job and the family while we ask ourselves every day if we should pause the house hunting, or forge ahead (evidently, half the state of California is moving into AZ) while the housing market is ridiculously ridiculous (really, there are no other appropriate words).

In the meantime, Welcome to Velvet, AZ is free on kindle unlimited. If you like creepy, non-violent horror stories with a fantastical twist, this book is for you. Come one, how many Thanksgiving stories are there out there? Get yours here.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about how stories have shaped me–how they’ve changed the way I look at life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve found as much truth in fiction as I’ve found in real life. Fiction might even be a little kinder.

Next month, I’m taking my first flight since Covid to meet the author who changed the way I look at the world. More on that later, but consider the books you’ve read and how they’ve shaped you. Feel free to share in the comments.

Welcome to Velvet, Az.

It’s release day! I’m so excited to bring you a meaningful story that has nothing to do with Covid or politics, or anything else we’ve had an overdose of.
So that you can decide whether or not this story appeals to you, I’ve posted the first chapter of the book below the description (It’s YA fiction, but told through multiple viewpoints, adult included. Everyone, teen and above, will enjoy this story).

For the past eighteen years, the town of Velvet has been under a holiday curse. For them, Thanksgiving is not about turkey and family. It’s about the Nightmares.

Five days before Thanksgiving, the curse arrives early, sending a menagerie of characters on a search for answers. It begins with Boone, a seventeen-year-old who was raised by an ageless eccentric, Nick, a man in the midst of a breakdown, and Toni, a girl who won’t let any man get closer than three feet.

As answers unfold, suspicions arise, and the power behind the curse is a surprise no one could have imagined.

Welcome to Velvet, Az

Boone/Saturday Night

My best friend is no girl next door. She’s a one-person parade sitting against the antiquated phone booth, barely visible in the eight o’clock twilight. Gray hooded coat, blood-red shirt ending in two violent points past her cuffs, trying so hard to look like anything but the china doll inside.
Wait ‘til Toni sees what this town will offer her during the holidays. She’ll think no more of her idle masquerade, poor girl. Unless she follows instructions. But I know she won’t.
Maybe she’ll think more of me. On second thought, I may become the thing of her nightmares. I’m the last person to want to mark her with that kind of fear. Anything but that. I slow my stride, not wanting to startle her.
In a snap, a stream of light catches her. She springs to her feet, her eyes squinting at the approaching headlights. Must be the new guy. He’s early.
One of his tires throws a rock at a lamp post as he pulls to a stop in front of my friend and the red phone booth. Toni’s expression resembles the one she wore the first day she walked into school. She was the new kid: half-emo, half-crafter, trying to present herself as a don’t-mess-with-me fashion statement. But it was the end of summer, and we all looked like Halloween, as we always do. By the time she had taken her third step into the classroom her face reverberated with that of every new kid: a big, hairy slap in the face.
I push my hood back and reach Toni, still caught in the high beams. After an awkward pause, we shuffle outside their glare.
Nice ride. Custom hubcaps, tires made for pavement. He’s not getting out of his car. Toni spots me from the corner of her eye, trying to do it so I don’t notice, fear sliding from her face. She brings out the fists she had stuffed into her pockets, stretches out her fingers and curls them into white-knuckled angry balls.
She doesn’t know that I know. I know more about, well, everyone than they know about me. And what I understand about Toni is that she resents the fact that she has a small frame despite lifting weights five days a week. I know her warrior princess clothes with their blood-red accents, her sharply angled hair and her frequently balled fists are about someone who hurt her before she moved here. The only reason she tolerates me is because I keep a respectable three foot distance from her most of the time.
The car door opens. A Nike shoe, approximately size eleven, touches the ground, gets pulled back up, banged free from its more than likely first taste of loose dirt, then slowly lowers to the ground again: toe, ball, heel. The second foot appears, pressing to the ground like this activity is a grand science experiment, as if there is a formula to contain Arizona dust. This guy’s going to be a fun guest.
My fingers quickly spread inside my coat pocket to make room as I type dirtphobia into my cell and text it to my dad.
A hand grips the top of the car door, and judging by the sketchy lantern light, it looks free of manual labor or wedding ring. His forearm is fairly well-developed. Two things cross my mind: Miss Daniels will be finding excuses to visit the camp now, which reminds me I have a speech to make next week. Crap. I pull two antacids from my pocket and pop them in my mouth, chew them, savor the quenching of the fire in my stomach.
The second thing? Toni had scooted next to me as soon as she saw his size eleven shoes. So it was a guy who hurt her. I figured—it explains things. Maybe he had dirtphobia like this guy. She does something she hasn’t done in the two months I’ve known her and moves deeper into the three-foot safety zone. Is it appropriate to allow myself to smile? I don’t.
She speaks quietly. “Are you expecting a guest tonight?”
“It’s why I couldn’t walk you home from school. I had to get the Marley Cabin ready.”
“Forgiven. But you know it’s me who walks you home, right?”
I bump Toni’s fist with my own and try to keep reality from showing up on my face.
Back to the car. The slowest emergence from a vehicle ever to happen is playing itself out in front of us. His hands look no older than thirty-something. Another body part emerges—his head. Medium brown hair tousled to the side. He stops again. He didn’t request handicapped accommodations, and he said he’s been here before, so it can’t be Velvet’s idiosyncrasies making him nervous. Unless…
I try to imagine myself a guest and scan the town like I didn’t grow up here. I guess the flickering lanterns are unusual, although most say it bridges the gap between the old buildings and the new. Maybe the diner without a name? I lean my head back. A few years ago, a guest told me without any other street lights to dull the night sky, the bright stars can be unnerving if you tend to have a vivid imagination. But I doubt that’s the case with this guy. It’s either the phone booth, or me and Toni.
I take a nauseating step outside of my comfort zone and greet him with a wave, smiling like a 1950s teenager. “Hi. Are you Nick? My name’s Boone—I’m with Velvet Camp Cabins. Our signs were damaged a few nights ago, so the owner asked that I meet you in case you needed help finding your cabin.” He raises his eyebrows at me, which pries the usual explanation from my lips. “My dad’s the caretaker.”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks.” He holds up his phone. “My app quit. It’s been awhile…I don’t exactly remember how to get there.”
I figured. He must have camped here as a kid. He probably won’t make it past November. “Two miles down the road.” I point west where the road disappears into the pines and darkness. “Turn left at the wagon wheel. That road leads directly into the camp.”
Nick rakes me and Toni with his gaze. He stands, crosses his arms and speaks with a don’t-BS- me accent. “Why don’t you ride with me, so I don’t get lost.”
Toni shoves past me. “Fine,” and climbs into the back seat. “Oh, sorry.” She hangs her feet outside the car and bangs her shoes against each other three times. “There’s no place like clean.”
Nick looks at me.
“She’s sympathizing with you.”
“Uh huh.”
His car’s a smooth ride, even when we reach the potholes. No rattles, immaculate interior, smells like cologne. It’ll all be undone within the week. At the first lengthy washboard he slows to a retiree’s pace and swears. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
“You get used to it,” Toni says. “And before long you’ll remember where they are so you can drive around them. Where are you from?”
Nick clears his throat like he’s going to answer, but doesn’t. I warn him about the upcoming pothole he doesn’t have the clearance for and he swears again, swerving.
“Whose responsibility is it to take care of this road?” Goes the second question our more particular guests ask.
“It doesn’t matter. All it takes is one good rainstorm to roughen it up.”
“It’s a vacation destination.” He presses harder into the gas pedal. “They should at least pave it.”
Eager to dump the small talk, I attempt to find the reason behind his visit. It’ll make things easier for when the time comes. “Did you, by any chance, camp here as a child?”
Nick nods. “Good memories.” He glances at me in the rear view mirror, but I see a ghost in his eyes before he zones in on the camp entrance. “Wow.”
We come to a complete stop in front of the welcome arch strung with large bulb lights. Above them, each letter in Velvet Camp Cabins is lined with battery operated tea lights. Two blue bows cascade down either side.
“My dad’s birthday party’s tonight. All guests are invited.”
“Turning a decade older I take it?” Nick chuckles and drives through the arch. The whole town is already here, thirty minutes into the celebration that will last most of the night. He’ll receive more gifts than will fit in our house, most of which will go to the needy throughout the coming week. There’s no one like my dad.
“Not exactly. Why don’t you come down after you get settled and see for yourself?”
He ignores my offer. Nick chose Marley Cabin, the farthest cabin from the others, edging the forest. Probably the one he stayed in as a kid, although it looks nothing like it did after my dad remodeled it. Whimsical man that he is, he added a loft and left all the carved initials in the wooden beams from fifty years of campers.
“Perfect.” Nick drops his backpack on the front step and smiles at us. “You know, I thought you guys were messing with me back there. No uniforms, no name tags.” A pause fills the space between us—one where he tries not to stare. He takes the key I hand him and shoulders his bag again. “I guess small towns live up to the unconventional stereotype, right?”
Good for him he didn’t wait for an honest answer. He walks into his cabin with a “See ya around.”
“How old is your dad anyway?” Toni and I take our spaces outside her three-foot comfort bubble as we walk toward the Parlor—the old mess hall my dad renamed to sound less casual.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure he knows.”
“I would ask how that’s possible, but I suppose you don’t know that either.”
“Dr. Wynn said he’ll tell me soon.”
“Why the mystery? He’s your dad. A bit—”
She takes three whole minutes to say what she’s chewing on as we leave all ten cabins behind and stand outside the Parlor. “I really love your dad, Boone. I hate it when outsiders say stuff about him.”
“It’s nice to hear you feel like one of us now.”
She looks up at me, pushes her hood from her face. “Weirdos together, right?” She unzips her coat and pulls out a fabric-wrapped gift, tied with a blue ribbon. “I made him something. I hope he likes it.” Hard as stone when threatened, sweet as honey when safe.
“I know he will, let’s go.”
I pull open the wooden doors to the people of Velvet.