By Heather Hambel Curley (Guest Blogger)
If the experts are right, and we’re supposed to write what we know, I really should be writing the dull saga of a mid-thirties mother, who is still obsessed with boy bands, wears too much eyeliner, and stays in the house most of the time. Not like, sexy housewife stays in the house all day, but more like working a day job, doing laundry, and picking up a bizarre amount of sweaty, stinky socks draped around the house by two children. And never getting to use the bathroom alone.
Relatable. But not exciting.
When I started writing I was in fourth grade. My best friend Sara and I wrote stories about girls exactly like us—except way more popular—who ate lunch together in the cafeteria, liked grape kool-aid, and watched VCR tapes together after school. Shortly after that, when I was far more sophisticated and worldly, in fifth grade, I started writing ‘scary’ stories about four friends who were abandoned by a creepy school bus driver in the woods and start exploring a haunted house: falling through floors, kissing boys, and solving mysteries. All without one single cell phone!
Once I figured out that I was taking this ‘writing what you know’ thing way more literally than was good for my writing, I started to write about what I wanted. I wrote about women with lots of tattoos and piercings; of teenage girls who battle ghosts during the Civil War; of drug addicted survivors and of brooding, long haired men. I wrote the stories that I wanted to read—awkward women like me, but with better paying jobs from college degrees they actually use and adventures that leave me breathless. Is it always what I know? Not exactly. But, I mean, I know how to be female. So, that’s a start. And I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can get it: I once wrote a novel after being inspired by a zombie video game my husband was playing. The novel had nothing to do with zombies: it was the setting; the Wild West and a long haired, brooding male character. Yee haw!
That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes stumble upon my own adventure. I’m a mom, for pete’s sake, there’s nothing more terrifying than two boys who have been quiet for way too long, followed by, “Hey, Mom….come see what we did!” I’ve ridden the Hot Mess Highway since my first son was born in 2010. But I’ve also done a wee bit of traveling: I’ve stood on top of Mayan ruins in Mexico. I’ve been drunk in a speeding taxi in Bulgaria. I’ve petted a rhinoceros. I’ve run a half-marathon. And from those experiences, comes reality in writing: the eerie silence and smooth stones in temple ruins; the thrill of a car chase; the heart-pounding panic of being next to a giant, wild creature (except I was at the zoo and it was in a holding space….not like, me on some kind of safari with a jaunty hat and khaki shorts).
My most recent release, Claimed, has absolutely nothing to do with anything I know. But it’s definitely something I’d want to read:
The first time the world ended, she went into hiding.
The second time, she became a fugitive.
When war breaks out between two American political coalitions, witch Wren Richards is forced into hiding. She and her family conceal themselves and their power, living on only what they can grow and create with their own hard work. But then there is a break in the doldrums of normalcy: Wren is sent to fetch supplies in town.
And then the atomic bomb hits. Everything changes. Now Wren isn’t just a witch: she’s a survivor. A slave. A water seeker. A murderer. She and her sister are kidnapped and dragged to another dimension. As witches, they’ll fetch a higher dollar at auction. Because as witches, energy can be sourced from their souls. The only person who can save Wren is herself.
And she’s just been sold to the highest bidder.
Maybe Wren is a throwback to those kids on the school bus I wrote about in fifth grade. She’s on the run, acting on instinct and gut feeling. There’s no cell phones, no one to help her. And then, just when she thinks it can’t get any worse….the world ends. Again. In the end, though, she’s just as awkward and unimpressed as the rest of us:
When the Age of Man was balanced on a crumbling precipice, the covens shattered and we returned to the woods.
We’d fled to the forest a week before my nineteenth birthday and now, a
year later, we were still here. My mother’s precognition abilities were first rate, but even she had to admit her visions had changed. The End was less certain now. There was still a finality to everything—to man, to Earth, to the stagnant lives we lived—but she couldn’t tell us how it was going to happen.
I flexed my arms, forcing my body weight down on the mortar to grind the corn into a fine powder. When we’d left our house in the city, my father insisted we retreat as far from civilization as we could. That meant felling our own trees and building our homestead by hand; we harvested our own food and sought out clean water. Clean was turning out to be a relative term. When my parents weren’t looking, my younger sister would cast a purification spell and we lugged the buckets back to the lodge.
I dragged my wrist across my forehead, blotting away beads of sweat. A year. We’d been tucked in the hills for over a year and still weren’t allowed to use our powers. No magic. No spells or telekinesis. Before the war, we’d kept our abilities to ourselves—unless under Coven sanction—but now? We were alone. There was no one to panic that we were writhing with the devil or causing all the world’s problems with our abilities. No one to grit their teeth and spit at us. Witch. Their fear of the unknown, the things they didn’t understand, always spewed out as hate.
Leaning back against my heels, I arched my back in an attempt to ease the searing pain from my spine. War was everywhere. You can’t rely on power alone, my parents drilled it into our heads like there was a chance we might forget, you need to take what you have and survive. Thrive.
I crouched over the corn again, slamming the pestle against the kernels. I wouldn’t call this thriving. This was hard work: this was waking up early and going to bed as soon as the sun set. This was the shit I’d read about in history class when I’d been in school. It was no way to live.
“I’m so tired of cornbread.” My sister, Soleil, set a large bucket on the ground and settled down next to it, reaching in and pulling out the skeleton of a basket. Pushing her sleeves up, she started weaving the reeds together. “For once, I’d love one of those yeast rolls Nana Gumm used to make when we were kids. Remember?”
“Well. Find me yeast, flour that doesn’t turn rancid in this godawful heat, and bring Nana Gumm back from the dead.” I threw my back into the grinding, trying to force the kernels to break up on my sheer will alone. “Then you can have yeast rolls.”
“With melted butter? Remember?” She grinned, her smile punctuated by her dimples. “That was always the best part of dinner. I could have eaten a dozen on my own.”
“She’s been dead almost thirteen years. I’m surprised you remember.”
“I remember everything.”
She was right. Soleil was only sixteen, but it seemed like she’d honed in on her abilities far better than I ever had. Part of me hated her for it: her abilities to commune with nature, to properly and efficiently cast a healing spell or circle spell. She couldn’t master divination and her telekinetic abilities were almost nonexistent. At least I had that over her.
To read the rest of Wren’s story, you can grab it in paperback or as an ebook: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06ZXSLK93/
About the Author
Heather Hambel Curley is a thirty-something year old fake red head from the city of Pittsburgh. She has a growing collection of tattoos, a love for the Caribbean, and an obsession for running (like a T-Rex, she has strong legs and feeble arms). Currently, she lives in central Pennsylvania with her patient husband and two, rowdy sons.