When my review copy of In The Blood arrived, I was a little overwhelmed by holding it in my hand and seeing it in person, feeling the weight of it, breathing in the new book smell of paper and ink.
Those of you who know me and have followed me for a while know that I was devastated last fall by the loss of my former teacher, Nicki Alexopoulos. I had already intended to mention her in the dedication to one of my novels, but I knew it had to be this one after the events of last year. I hope to present a signed copy to her daughter, and I do hope that she would be proud to see the work I’ve put in to make this book happen.
I started writing the book back in 2012, and in the spring of 2013, I made a first attempt to self publish it. After meeting with an editor at the World Horror Convention, however, I was convinced to take it down and do some major revision. He was right. The book was pretty good, but it wasn’t fully ready to be out there yet. Over the four years since then, I reworked the manuscript and spent time learning about the business side of being an author. I took some online classes, went to some writer’s retreats, and even took a course in forensics so I could bring that knowledge to bear in the novel as well. I also quit my job as a library supervisor and adjunct English professor in order to focus on my writing full time.
Though I could have gone the traditional route with an agent, there are very few who are willing to take a risk on a first time author who approaches them with a series rather than a standalone novel. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be interested in submitting a manuscript that way, but for this series, starting my own publishing house and doing the work myself was a better choice.
Book Two, Out for Blood, will come out sometime next winter. The book is written and is in the process of being edited. Book Three, Trial by Blood will come out in 2018. I don’t want to make people wait too long for sequels. Those three books finish a story-arch. However, I have ideas and outlines for several more books beyond that, so if this series takes off, then I’ll definitely be working on those stories for a long time to come.
There isn’t room in the book to list everyone who’s helped me along on my journey. I’d like to list a few of them here, though the list is by no means complete.
- My coworkers at Smiley Library – Cindy, Leasa, Carrie, Crystal, and John – who put up with six years of me talking about what I wanted to do and who were supportive throughout the process. They were inspiring, helpful, encouraging, and understanding, and they never made me feel that I was making a mistake when I decided to go pursue my dream. Thank you.
- Crystal appears as a character in my novel, and I mention her in the afterward of the book. She asked to be in the book, and after I made the character and gave her life, it turned out she has some pretty tragic things happen to her. Sorry Crystal! I swear, the characters made me! And I promise, this won’t be the only time she’s mentioned. What happens to her will have a ripple effect in later books.
- The students who became like my children were also a great inspiration and encouragement. John, Stazhia, Cameron, Denise, DaSean, Kelsey, Brenna, Cortney, Thomas, Jordan, Kayla, Jessica, Geofrey, Lindsey, Kelly Jo, Eldar, Megan, Tyler, Bailey, Cecilia, Mariah, Roger, Aubrey, Ginney, Wynter, Dani, Danielle, Shamika, Marco, Vin, Drew, Angelica, Darrell, Jane, Adam, as well as my fabulous student intern assistant Miranda….THANK YOU! I love you all dearly.
- Keith Abernathy taught my forensics course and never failed to come by my desk just to chat and invite me to things. He passed away last month, and I miss him very much. He was so encouraging and helpful and such an inspiration to all his students. I intend to dedicate Book Two to him. I will be forever grateful for the things I learned from him.
- My online friends are completely amazing. Those I met because of True Blood or through writing amazing characters together are truly some of the best people in the world. Thank you to Julie, Jenny, Louise, Emily, Susy, Shanda, Melissa, Mayra, Shawna, Shyanne, Suzanne, Cassy, Sharon, Joie, Jyoti, Michaela, Elizabeth, Sha, Latoya, Catherine, Tammy, Geena, Anitra, Kristie, Frank, Missy, Kim, Cyndi, Dawndela, Holly, Maxine, Misty, Rima, Rachael, Mimi, Sara, Tiffany, Renee, Dawn, Kira, Sarah, CeCe, Jennie, and especially Wendy and Andrea who are gone far too soon and I miss horribly. These are only a few. There are many more on Twitter, but I think they know I adore them. I try to tell them as often as I can.
- My muse and favorite writing partner Bekah who makes me shine and feel inspired all the time, thank you for putting up with me, for supporting me, and for being so completely amazing. You make me look forward to every day.
- My writing friends through conferences, retreats, and FB and Twitter groups, I thank you. You’ve taught me about craft, and you’ve been a constant source of help, inspiration, and encouragement. My writing buddies from Room 217, THANK YOU. I love you guys. You are all completely amazing. And thank you to the Horror Writers Association for being such a great organization. I’ve learned so much from all of you, and I couldn’t have finished this project without the connections I’ve made there.
- My friends Erin and Anthony at Vamped and The Vampirologist, who have known me now for over five years, have been fantastically supportive throughout this journey. Thank you for the laughs, the research material, the help, and the friendship.
- To the friends and family who have known me in the years before the internet and who have backed me up as I tried new things, THANK YOU! Your support means everything.
- And to my parents for whom there are not enough words of thanks. I have been truly lucky in my life to have parents who understood and believed in my dreams. Thank you.
And with that, I’d like to thank you. If you’re reading this, you’re part of my journey too. Even if your name doesn’t appear above, I am no less grateful for you.
If you’re reading it, I’d love to know! Find me on Goodreads!
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Yesterday, I received some shocking news that a woman, Nicki Alexopoulos, who had been teacher, mentor, and friend to me was shot and killed by her own son who then shot another family friend (now in hospital recovering from multiple gunshots) who’d been visiting before turning the gun on himself.
There is not a word for how horrific this information was to me and to everyone who ever knew her.
As Anne Lamott said so eloquently, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
No one embodied that better than Nicki.
She was in the process of writing about her own pain and heartbreak as a survivor of domestic violence, and in telling her story, she was breathtakingly honest.
But when I think of Nicki, I have nothing but warmth in the memory. I know I am not alone in that.
I’m a writer now, and I believe she is in large part responsible for my willingness to follow that dream.
In English class, she taught me the importance of research and citation. She taught me to think critically. She trained me to look at literature with empathy and to try to understand the actions of people who are nothing like myself. She had high standards and made us all accountable. Yet she was one of the most understanding and kindhearted people I’ve ever known.
Nicki’s lessons weren’t solely about the subject, however. Just as literature itself is an examination of the human condition, her lessons often gave me just as much information about how to be a strong independent human being as they did about the work we were studying.
She taught me to listen to my own voice, to question everything, not to flinch in the face of things that are painful or hard to examine, to speak my truth even if other people didn’t agree, to be discerning and thoughtful and honest in my writing and in my life. She taught me that it’s okay to be different. In fact, difference is strength.
I think she also knew that I had a strong drive for perfection, one that could be detrimental if I let it control me. She showed me the importance of celebrating my accomplishments, but also celebrating every step that lead to it.
This afternoon as I contemplated the enormity of the impact she had on my life, I came upon this video by happenstance, and it really spoke to me in relation to her as well.
These words struck me hardest.
“The whole point of dancing is the dance…We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. And the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” – Alan Watts
Truly, while the tragedy of her death…the way she died…is shocking in the extreme, I was reminded that her life wasn’t about how she died. It was about how she LIVED.
Nicki’s life was a dance, and she invited everyone to get up and take part.
The best way that I can see to process the loss of her is to celebrate what she gave to so many people, year after year.
And so, Nicki, I’m going to dance.
I’m going to do the things I told you I was going to do back when I was a dorky thirteen year old afraid of my own voice. I’m going to be the person you showed me was possible. And in doing so, I celebrate you and the gifts you gave me. I’m going to live a life I think you would be proud of helping shape.
I am so grateful I had the chance to tell you what you meant to me. I only wish I could tell you all over again. Thank you. The dance you started will continue all my life.