Saturday, March 4, 2017

Little Things

Going from writing novels to writing a collection of flash fiction and micro-essays is a bit of a transition, but I have to say, it's one I'm thoroughly enjoying.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still stewing on The Man in Question.  I have little bits of ideas floating around in my brain for it and every now and then one of them gets dressed up enough to be tangible and gets written down.  But it's fun to work on little things for a change, to pare everything down to its bones – because they're still stories, complete little microcosms...they just deal a lot less in the exact dimensions of things and what people eat for breakfast.  And writing them makes you think very hard about what is important (as in, absolutely indispensable) about the story you're telling, as well as about how to make people see things without necessarily talking about them.  It's also scary, because it's much harder to hide incompetence when you only have a line or a paragraph to do it in.  If you flub one line in every twenty pages of a three hundred page novel, most people will forgive you, but if you flub one word in a flash fiction story it's like getting a giant zit on your face on the day of a photo shoot.  So it's a challenge, which makes it scary and stressful...but it also makes it fun.

It also feels much more like a collaboration, between me and the illustrator, of course (more about her later, because she's awesome!) but also between me and the reader.  One of the greatest beauties of creative work, in my opinion, whether it's written or painted or danced or played, is the power it has to call up different images, different emotions, depending on who the audience is, what time of life they are in, what their mood is at that moment.  Books that meant one thing to me as a child mean an entirely different thing now.  I sympathize with different characters, or I understand things at a different level, or in a different way.  I'm not the first person to point this out, but in that way a story is never really finished until it has been read, and as a writer you have to learn to relinquish control at a certain point, you have to realize that nobody is going to see exactly what you see, and that that's okay, that it's even beautiful.  Writing flash fiction, I feel that loss of control is expanded as the word count shrinks, and the stories start to work merely as little triggers to the imagination, or at least I hope they do.

Among the little things I'm including a smattering of fairy tales of sorts.  In my mind I think of them as little episodes of Fairy Tale Characters Thinking Outside the Box, which, now that I think about it, would make a great television series (I see it as a weird sort of unreality show, but with the surreality and humor of the fantastic Gaiman/McKean/Henson collaborative film Mirrormask – "I shall slip unnoticed through the darkness... like a dark, unnoticeable slippy thing.")...  Anyway, I get to play with aspects of classic fairy tales that always bothered me, which is fun, and I have to do it in very few words, which is hard.

I also get to work with the ridiculously talented Traci Manley, who is doing the illustrations.  When I decided to do a book I thought of Traci's style was the only thing I could see to go with it.  I'm so glad she's agreed.  I've only seen a couple sketches so far, but I eagerly anticipate the rest.


Once, on a chilly night, a poor boy rubbed a magic lamp – and out popped a Jinn.
“You must be cold without a shirt,” said the boy, and he gave the Jinn his ragged jacket.
Now they travel the world together, granting wishes and telling stories.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The World Spins Madly On

Yes, I'm still here.  You were wondering, weren't you?  I'm also still writing, though you couldn't tell by looking on this blog.  Currently I have two projects in the works: a novel, still in the very early stages, tentatively titled The Man in Question, and a collection of very short things (some flash fiction, micro-essays, etc) that I'm calling A Phantasmagoria, partly just because I like that word, and partly because its definition (a sequence of brief, dreamlike images) is particularly apt.  

Writing with a toddler is weird.  All those who have done it successfully have my unwavering and eternal respect.  I mostly write while Griffin naps, which is more conducive to short pieces than the long arc of a novel (thus, the Phantasmagoria) but is infinitely better than nothing.  However, I am occasionally able as he gets older to write while he's awake.  For instance, this evening I am updating this blog while we watch Chicken Run.  He likes chickens, and airplanes.  I write well with white noise.  We get a companionable evening.  Everyone wins!

While it may not exactly qualify as writing, I did recently revamp all my covers, and have officially switched to using my full name (it's now Melanie Rose Huff, thank you very much). This was for multiple reasons.  Anyway, the books with the new covers can be found here, and the website has been least mostly.

I also opened a cultural center in my hometown last year in memory of my husband, fulfilling a dream we had together of opening a quality facility for arts instruction and performance.  The Aaron Huff Memorial Cultural Center (or the Cult, as I usually shorten it...Aaron would have approved) is on Main Street in Chewelah.  I rent the space to dance and music teachers, and have events there periodically, the most recent being the local farmers' market's Christmas Faire.  During the week there are lessons in ballet, piano, Irish dance, voice, clogging, yoga, and more.  I take class there myself three days a week.  There's still more I want to do, but it's coming along.

So that's the last two years in, if not a nutshell, possibly a banana peel.  I still miss Aaron so much.  I miss our weird little inside jokes.  I wish I could see the look on his face as he watches his son.  Yet I am fortunate, and Griffin is fortunate, that we have his music.  Griffin will grow up knowing the sound of his daddy's voice, and I'm learning what a blessing that is.  And Griffin is more like Aaron every day.

And things go on.  I try not to be too much of a hermit crab, and Griffin helps a lot with that, as he's a pretty social midget.  He also has good taste in literature, but that's a post for another day.

There are long icicles hanging from the vines outside my windows.  The moon is just past full, and very bright.  Outside it is extremely cold, but inside it is warm and cozy and the lights on my Christmas tree are bright spots of color twinkling at me from the corner.  Chicken Run has been done for some time and Griffin is asleep upstairs. Our dog is asleep on his blanket in the corner.  I should not be awake right now, but it's quiet and peaceful.  I have hope for tomorrow.  One thing I've learned: optimism is incurable.

This has gotten far too long and rambling, so I'll leave it here, with a bonus in the form of one of my favorite bits of poetry for this time of year, by Susan Cooper:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Saturday, January 24, 2015


On this day one year ago I saw my husband for the last time.  I didn't lose him, like a pair of sunglasses or the spare house key.  He didn't leave me, for there was no abandonment.  We said goodbye that morning like any other, but more carelessly.  It was a Friday, a short workday for him.  He would be home in a few hours.  But he wasn't.

I never saw him again, in life, that is.  I see him often, though not often enough, in dreams.  I never had a last goodbye.  There was a viewing, but I was in the hospital, in labor with our son.  I still don't know if that was a blessing or a curse.  I never got the finality of farewell.  But I can also always keep my final image of him the way he looked that last morning: living and bright and whole...himself.

At the funeral home, put yourself there: they ask you all sorts of horrible questions.  It's not their fault, I suppose, just their job, but the questions are horrible, little needle-jabs of mundane detail.  Your world is dead.  The colors have drained from everything around you...and they ask you whether you like the black or the green better for the urn.  The undertaker holds your hand and gives you a look of obsequious sympathy, but his hands are white and pasty and clammy and all you want to do is take the stupid urn and break it over his head.  But you don't.  You sit there and force yourself to make calm replies.  You try to think clearly.  He asks you questions for the obituary.  You feel like you should write it yourself, but you can't, so you come up with lame little details in response to his prompting.  He loved his family.  Duh.   He was excited to be a daddy.  Yes.  He was active in his community and his church.  Sappy, worn cliches like cardboard cutouts of the truth.  You met at a coffeehouse open mic night.

The obituary, when it's finished, reads like a Nicholas Sparks novel.  He would have hated it.  They say they'll send you a copy to go over before it prints, but they don't, probably because you were in the hospital having a baby.  You see it in the paper.  "Mic" is misspelled.  You wonder who this "Mike" is, and why he was so open that night.

So, this is the obituary he should have had: his requiem.  Sit back, because this could get long.


Centuries ago, Aaron Gabriel Huff would have been a bard.  He would have sat in the corner of some noble's hall and spun stories to the music of a harp or a lyre.  A peaceful man in a hall of warriors.

He was a perfectionist, particularly in his art.  He never took the easy rhyme, and lazy songwriting always bothered him in others because he was so ruthless with himself about it.  He would agonize for days over one line.  We were a good fit that way.

He had deeply held convictions, both spiritually and politically, but he never forced them on anyone else.

He worked hard.  He laughed often.  He had no poker face whatsoever.

E.M. Forster said:

"We cast a shadow wherever we stand... Choose a place where you won't do harm -- yes choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."

That was him.  He wanted so much to never cause harm, to brighten rather than shadow the lives around him.  He spent his life standing fast in the sunshine.

He was an idealist with a veneer of cynicism.  He was a romantic with a shell of bravado.  He was a swirling whorl of humanity with a flame at its heart and a cool exterior.

We were both avid fans of the British detective, in books and film.  He was a sincere devotee of Sherlock, but he wanted to be Lord Peter Wimsey...and in many ways he was.  That reference will register with only a few of the people reading this...but he would have liked that too.

He loved to make people laugh, and was not at all hesitant to tell stories that made himself look ridiculous in order to do it.

He was more than just excited to be a daddy.  He was elated.

If he was here, he would be so proud of his son.  He would play music for him, carry him around on his shoulders, teach him to play baseball and cheer on the Yankees.  He would tell him about all the best comic book plot-lines, read to him from Shakespeare and Tolkien, teach him to call Justin Bieber "Poor Meatbag".  He would have been an amazing father.

He was an amazing husband.

We had our difficulties, our bad moments, our financial woes, our misunderstandings.  What young couple doesn't?  But we were happy...happier than most, and our last year together was as close to perfect as you get.  I'm holding on to that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Hand it around first, and cut it after."

Happy New Year!  I admit to having rather high hopes for 2014.  First of all, for those who are still unaware, my husband and I are expecting a baby sometime around the end of January.  And yes, in spite of my less-than-pleased reactions to unwanted belly-touching and overly personal questions from near-strangers, i am extremely excited about this.  Secondly, yesterday evening I completed the manuscript for By Water and Blood!  Huzzah!  Now on to the editing, formatting, etc.  My goal was at least to have the story finished before the baby arrived.  Writing pregnant is a weird experience for various reasons, mostly involving concentration, but I fancy writing with a brand new mini-person might be even trickier...just a guess.

So one of the major issues I'm confronting now is the question of genre.  It may seem backward, but I never start out writing a book saying, "I'm going to write a fantasy novel" or, "I'm going to write a mystery" and I try to avoid the words "chick-lit" and "paranormal erotica" altogether.  Nothing against the people who write those things, they're just not so much my things.  Silly or not, I feel more freedom in my writing if I don't categorize it from the beginning but give it the freedom to become what it is going to be in its own time.

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice is put in charge of cutting the cake after the fight between the lion and the unicorn.  She tries to cut it into slices, but the slices always join on again.  This, we find out, is because the cake is looking-glass cake, and therefore backwards.  When she hands the cake around first and cuts it after, it works like a charm, dividing itself into the perfect number of pieces, although Alice is left with the empty platter and no cake for herself.  I always feel that is how the genre thing ought to work.  As the story unfolds it should show you what it is, rather than you calling it something first and then checking the boxes as you go to make sure it fits the requirements.  Also, it's my birthday today, so apparently I have cake-brain.

Of course, the downside to this method is that I then end up with a finished piece of work that I have no idea how to categorize.  Ashford and Violet Shadows, as clearly historical works, were fairly simple in that respect.  By Water and Blood, however, is a different matter entirely, and refuses to fit nicely in any box I try to put it in, thus resulting in strange dilemmas, for I must call it something.  It has elements of mystery, but it is not a "mystery novel".  It involves the paranormal, but is not populated with an endless string of vampires or werewolves or demi-gods as one might expect of a "paranormal" novel.  It has its romantic moments, but is certainly not a "romance" and it goes to some (for me at least) very dark places, but certainly would not qualify as "horror" or "thriller".  The closest I can come to an apt description is to call it "contemporary fiction with paranormal elements," but...there really isn't a genre for that.

So...we'll see what happens.

Wishing you all an amazing 2014!

Oh, and P.S...or the blogging equivalent:  January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.  Among the other elements listed above as being part of By Water and Blood, I also delved into human trafficking as part of my research, and it has become a truly important issue to me.  A portion of the proceeds from my launch week for By Water and Blood will be donated to an organization called Shared Hope International, based in Vancouver, Washington.  Their mission is to end human trafficking, particularly the sex trafficking of minors, in the US and around the world.  They provide safe housing and job training for victims, and they work on raising awareness and educating communities to recognize the signs of trafficking.  Go look them up.  I command it.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Warning: Rant Ahead

I have something to say...obviously.

Our local paper prints a weekly column by nationally syndicated humor columnist Tom Purcell.  I admit, I usually don't read it at all, and I really don't know why I read it yesterday...but I did.  It's an older article, originally printed in 2006 I believe.

Mr. Purcell (in 2006) has a are starting to carry "man bags" and he fears the imminent destruction of masculinity and all it stands for.

"The Man Bag is a high-style satchel – a purse, though its creators hate when you call it that. It’s designed to hold the modern man’s wallet, keys, sunglasses, iPod, cell phone, body spray, hair goop, diary and whatever other junk he totes around these days...

...Modern fellows don’t want to be like their dads – masculine fellows who defined themselves by their actions, not their high style. Fellows like my father.

My father has long known that if a thing doesn’t fit into a man’s pockets he shouldn’t be carrying it. He carries his keys in his right front pocket. He carries his change in both pockets, so he can dangle it with both hands while shooting the bull with the butcher, the mechanic and anybody else he encounters in daily life.

My father’s wallet is what a real man’s wallet should be – thick, fat and worn. It holds only the basic items a man needs to get through life: license, money and a yellowed photo of my mother from 1953. He keeps his wallet in his right rear pocket.

Nobody taught my dad to carry his keys, change and wallet this way. Nobody taught me, either. It’s hard-wired into male DNA. It is what men have always done because it is what we’re supposed to do."

I'm sorry to hear, Mr. Purcell, that your masculinity is such a fragile thing that it can be threatened by a few men carrying sorry as I am to hear that your knowledge of history seems to be limited to the last century.

Long before the most manly wallet as we know it was carried their money in purses.

"The governor on this asked him if he had any money in silver about him; he said he had about twenty ducats in a leather purse in his bosom."  -Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote
"I took a gold watch, with a silk purse of gold, his fine full-bottom periwig and silver-fringed gloves, his sword and fine snuff-box, and gently opening the coach door, stood ready to jump out while the coach was going on; but the coach stopped in the narrow street beyond Temple Bar to let another coach pass, I got softly out, fastened the door again, and gave my gentleman and the coach the slip both together, and never heard more of them."  -Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
"Then Robin Hood plucked the purse from his girdle, and quoth he, "Here in this purse are six marks."  -Howard Pyle, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
"With that he put his money into his purse, and set out, roaming over hill and valley."  -The Brothers Grimm, The Miser in the Bush

I doubt if Mr. Purcell would be comforted by the knowledge that Robin Hood wore a girdle.

Also, this illustration clearly depicts an Egyptian man, carrying...a purse.

My point in all this carrying bags is not a new thing, not a phenomenon, and certainly not the knell of doom for masculinity.  When history books are written about our time, I very much doubt that there will be even a paragraph dedicated to the, "sudden and inexplicable epidemic of the man-bag."

Mr. Purcell's closing argument begins as follows:

"I’m not certain how the American male has evolved to such a sissified state, but I have a hunch. The reason dates back 40 years or more, when the feminist movement kicked into high gear."

Yes, ladies, our secret is out.  Who cares about equal pay and an end to centuries of being objectified as sex toys?  We've convinced a few men to carry bags.  Success is ours.

"Yes, feminism brought us many good things. Women deserved equal opportunity and they’re doing well. But some feminists weren’t content with just that. They wanted to destroy the enemy – the American male."

I like men.  I do.  I cannot speak for all women, only for myself, but for me, destruction of masculinity has nothing to do with it.  Of course, I also don't think masculinity is defined by accessories or the lack thereof.  Masculinity, as femininity, is inward...and I heartily detest all stereotypes concerning the outward appearance of either.

I can change a tire.  I split firewood.  I cheer for the Yankees...and sometimes I wear a tutu while barefoot in the kitchen.

My husband washes the dishes and appreciates ballet.  He also likes using power tools and watching baseball.

The other day, I was walking down Main St. in Chewelah, and I saw a grey-bearded mountain man in one of the beauty shops getting a manicure.  The juxtaposition had me smiling for hours.

May I also point out that in the 16th century, when women were still married for money and treated as property, King Henry VIII wore this...
...and showed off his legs to the Venetian ambassador.  Male vanity has been around since there have been men, and in the same way that some women's fashion trends are clearly worn to impress other women, so Henry's elaborate and highly padded codpiece existed to impress and intimidate the men around him.

To Mr. Purcell: what weakens masculinity (or femininity for that matter) is the perception that something so trivial as a bag can bring down an entire gender.  We are who we are, not what we wear or what we carry.  We will always be defined by our actions, purse or no purse.  Henry dressed like that ^.  He was, at the time, the pinnacle of masculinity, and he cut off the heads of two of his wives.

Be a your own definition.  I'll be a woman by mine.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"By Water and Blood" teaser!

So here it is: a little taste of By Water and Blood, for the curious.


       Five years ago, Sophie Durrant surprised herself and her friends by dropping out of college and taking a job as a bartender on a tiny island at the end of the world, knowing only that for once in her life she felt that she was home.

Now, a cryptic note in her mother's handwriting leads Sophie to delve into the mystery of her past, a mystery which points to the old legend of the Selkies: the seals who could set aside their skins and walk on land as men and women.

Her heritage calls to her, by water and blood.

...but there are other secrets, darker than any legend, and their keepers are not forgiving.


As a bonus, my very talented mother, whose illustrations some of you might recognize from our children's book, An Amazing Alphabetic Anthology, has agreed to tackle the cover illustration, as well as pencil sketches for the chapter headings.  As a sampling, here is a puffin!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Some Tasty News!

Violet Shadows has been chosen as the novella category winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards!  There, I blurted out my big news right at the beginning of the post and now have nothing more to say...but I will say it anyway.

I received the email last week.  I saw who it was from, clicked on it with trepidation, and there it was: I am writing with some fabulous news! Your book has been named the Winner in the Novella category of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.  Congratulations!

After I realized that my mouth was hanging open at an alarming angle, I got up, bolted around the house a couple of times, and sat down again...then sent several gleeful text messages to various friends and family members.

Anyway, the winners will all be listed on the Indie Book Awards website by the end of May, and meanwhile I get to revel in the nice, cozy lap of validation for a while...there's also a nice little check coming in the mail, and a gold medal, which I'm guessing is not really "gold" so much as "gold-colored" but which I shall treasure nonetheless.

So I'm sending out a huge thank you to the lovely judges and everyone else involved with the Indie Book Awards.  You made my year.

In other news, By Water and Blood is on the home stretch.  I'm hoping to finish the first draft by July sometime.  Then on to editing, rewriting, formatting, and, if all goes well, publishing in the fall.  My fabulous mother (those of you who have read our children's book, An Amazing Alphabetic Anthology, will be familiar with her work) has agreed to do the cover illustration, as well as sketches for the chapter headings.  I am really enjoying the prospect of working with her again.  I hope to release a bit of a teaser for By Water and Blood within the next several weeks, so be looking for that.

That's all I have time for now, but I will try to post more regularly...and yes, I know I've said that before.