Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ghost

She kept her head down. That was the first thing I noticed about her. It was like she didn’t want anyone noticing her. Like she wanted to sink into the floor. To be a ghost. I was surrounded by my friends the day she first appeared at school. When we saw her—short, ruddy, with fat cheeks and a bulging stomach, a skinny little red pigtail protruding from her big head—we immediately labeled her unpopular. She was carrying a brightly colored lunchbox adorned with a cartoon unicorn and rainbow. Something about her flashed like an emergency beacon to the rest of us seventh graders. Like an unspoken agreement, everyone, from the popular children to the oft-bullied science nerds, knew that hanging out with this infestation would result in swift punishment and removal from the social pyramid forever. And what better way to cement this amendment to the constitution of Red Valley Middle School than a quick trip down bully lane?
Tiffany Gilligan, Queen of the Populars, pointed with her perfectly manicured right hand, expensive bracelets jangling, at the outcast. “What is this worm?” she said in her flawless actress voice, pursing her lips in her practiced, faultless fashion. “I didn’t realize we had a bug infestation.” Her tinkly little laugh, reminiscent of a fragile china doll, was the cue for the rest of us to break into peals of giggles. “Shall we call the exterminator? What is that thing?” Not who. What. As if the girl-who-wanted-to-be-a-ghost wasn’t a person. Didn’t deserve a who.
One of the girls offered a drum roll. I barked, “You, insect, do you know who you are speaking to?”
That sealed it. She was not only short, squat, and fat as a beetle, but she stuttered, and her lower lip wobbled when she spoke. Her scared little “n-no” was the basis of our disgust.
“You are speaking to Tiffany Gilligan, Queen of Red Valley Middle School. With a snap of her fingers, she can make everyone here love you or hate you forever. Make your choice.” We knew what would happen next. Tiffany would give some outrageous command and, when the poor girl couldn’t fulfill the dare, bang. Instant social annihilation.
Ghost-girl’s dull brown eyes blinked slowly. She clutched her unicorn lunchbox and waddled over to our table. The popular table. There was an open seat—Victoria Baker was absent—and ghost-girl thought it was proper to sit there. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. Jelly-bellied ghost-girl was sitting next to Tiffany herself.
“Hey, girl,” chirped Tiffany brightly, patting her perfect hairdo. I cringed. We all could tell what was coming. Tiffany was going to kill her. “I love your outfit. Where’d you buy it?” Ghost-girl’s girly-girl pink sweater vest, decorated with a childish cartoon character, clashed with her neon green shorts and plastic-flower-covered pink sandals.
“Uh-mm-mm,” said ghost-girl. “G-gran-mm-mm.”
Tiffany cast me a “can-you-believe-this-retard” glance. “Your grandma?” she pieced together, batting her long, mascara-brushed eyelashes.
Tiffany gushed, “It looks so, like, beautiful on you! Do you, um, like unicorns?” She tossed her blonde hair casually.
“M-mm ff-avv-w-wit nn-mm-ll.”
“Your favorite animal?”
Ghost-girl nodded dumbly. “W-waatch nn-mm?”
“What’s my name?” Tiffany giggled. “I’m Tiffany Gilligan. But you can call me QT. Short for Queen Tiffany.”
Ghost-girl’s lips twitched in what kind of formed a smile. But only kind of. “Y-you l-loff nni-k-konns?”
“I do love unicorns!” Tiffany twittered. “In fact, I love them so much, I want your lunchbox. For keeps. And then I’ll be your bestest friend forever!”
“B-b-b gran-mm g-giff mm.”
Tiffany shook her head in sympathy. “Your grandma gave it to you? Well! Then it’s even more of a friendship show. Give me that lunchbox and I’ll be your friend forever.”
Ghost-girl blinked slowly. “N-no.”
“Really, I mean it.” She tugged on the lunchbox.
“N-no,” answered ghost-girl. “M-nn.” She set it on the table and opened it.
Tiffany gave me another glance. “Do it, Veronica.”
I sighed. The one I hated about being Tiffany’s right-hand girl was the bullying. Tiffany and I quietly switched seats. I took a look at ghost-girl and smirked.
Her carrot sticks? All over the floor. Her juice carton? Spilled onto her shirt. Her bag of chips? Crushed into her hair. And her homemade chocolate-chip cookies? Tiffany thought they were delicious.
Ghost-girl ran crying.
Sure, I got in trouble for bullying. But Tiffany made it all better with a few new accessories. Now that ghost-girl was afraid of us, we could do mental bullying instead of physical.
Although she sputtered like an old car engine—the teachers said she had a “speech impairment”—ghost-girl started the year off in advanced classes.
And then we started.
Typed notes stuck in her locker that called her everything from a baby brat to things much worse.
Anonymous emails and phone calls, letting her know just how we felt.
Complaints to the teacher about how she was cheating off our tests and stealing our homework.
Stolen backpacks and textbooks, taken when she wasn’t looking.
And isolation. Above all, isolation.
Tiffany had taken ghost-girl as her personal pet project. “My goal,” she said, “is to turn ghost-girl into a pile of crumbs. Tee-hee.” Cue her flawless movie-star giggle.
Ghost-girl started to avoid us. She would sit in the bathroom stalls until homeroom started and come in late every day. She dropped out of the advanced class so she wouldn’t have to be in the same classroom. She spent her lunch period in the library. She changed her email address. But to no avail. Tiffany was the Queen of the Populars, and also the Queen of Torture. QT didn’t just stand for Queen Tiffany.
The bullying continued. Ghost-girl got in the orchestra? No problem. We hid her violin every day, so she had to search for it for hours. And the teacher didn’t seem to care, besides yelling at ghost-girl for being late all the time. We spread a rumor of how ghost-girl picked her nose and wet her bed. If you listened to the grapevine of Red Valley, you’d think she carried a disease. Nerd-germs, we called it. If you got touched with nerd-germs, you had to pass it on to someone quick or you’d be a nerd forever.
It was QT and PV at the helm. Queen Tiffany and Princess Veronica. My best friend and me.
A few months on, ghost-girl began skipping school days. At first, it was just once a week. Then every few days. Then every other day. It came to the point where she was gone for most of the month. If she came to school at all, it was a miracle.
It was May. The stress of finals. All that pent-up worry had to be taken care of. And what better way than ghost-girl?
The first day we could catch hold of her, just before finals, she was in the girl’s bathroom. No teachers, no cameras. Perfect. We grabbed her backpack. Stomped on it. Tore apart all of her notes. Ripped her lunchbox in half. Tossed her textbooks into the garbage. Used her lip balm to write on the walls. Left her to run away, crying and sniveling, snot running down her fat lips.
We felt great.
But we never saw her again.
The next few days were a whirl of rumors. Murder. Abduction. The body of a young girl, found in the river.
The school called an assembly. On bullying and suicide. They didn’t say who. But we all knew.
We killed ghost-girl.
The sweet little ghost who stuttered. So vulnerable. Asking for help. What did we give? Hurt. We killed ghost-girl, and we didn’t even know her name.
Tiffany didn’t care. “It deserved it, that little insect,” she spat. Not she. It. As if the girl-who-wanted-to-be-a-ghost wasn’t a person. Didn’t deserve a she.
But after that, no one listened to her anymore. She became the social reject. It echoed in our minds:
We killed ghost-girl.
Her memory became a real ghost. “This is where I stole her math book,” we would think. “This is where I whispered, ‘Freak.’”
I did wrong. If only we had banded together to protect her against Tiffany—anyone could have; why not me?—we would have saved her life.
Summer came, summer left. The sun never warmed us. We were frozen forever in a sea of hate. Endless winter wrapped us in her nightmarish embrace. The night spun infinitely, each constellation a gasping grimace of ghost-girl.
September crept up on us. Mindlessly, we stumbled into the hollow halls. We were the ghosts now, pale wraiths drifting, insides turbulently twisting as each flickering shadow forced memories to surface like the drowned bodies of young girls along rivers, their voices still echoing faintly in the gale winds . . .
She came.
She kept her head down. That was the first thing I noticed about her. It was like she didn’t want anyone noticing her. Like she wanted to sink into the floor. To be a ghost. We were hidden in our sorrows the day she first appeared at school.
Tiffany Gilligan, Queen of the Populars, pointed with her sloppily manicured right hand, cheap bracelets jangling, at the little lost fawn-girl. “What is this worm?” she said in her flawed actress voice, pursing her lips in her out-of-practice, faulty fashion. “I didn’t realize we had a bug infestation.” Her husky low laugh, reminiscent of a great tank crushing the innocent, was the cue for the rest of us to break into peals of giggles.
But we didn’t.
“Shall we call the exterminator? What is that thing?” Not who. What. As if the girl-who-wanted-to-be-a-ghost wasn’t a person. Didn’t deserve a who.
But she did.
We stood. “Leave.”
She gaped at us. “No.”
“I won’t.”
“Leave, Tiffany. You can’t control us anymore.”
We turned back to ghost-girl, her spirit echoing. “Welcome to Red Valley High School. We hope you’ll like it here in the eighth grade. Come sit over here. What’s your name, little gho—we mean girl?”
“Mein-ya za-vut . . .” She blinked. Her accent was thick. “I . . . am . . .”
“Don’t worry, take your time. We’re listening.”
She swallowed. “I . . . am . . . I . . . am . . . Vee-rah-nee-kah.”
She nodded.
“Are you from America? Where are you from?”
“Ya eez . . .” Slow blink. “I . . . am . . . of . . . Ra-se-ya.”
“Dah.” She swallowed again. “Y-yes.”
“We can help.”
“Try to say your name.”
“I . . . am . . . am . . .”
I spoke up. “Nikki, my name’s Veronica, too. You can call me Ronnie—Veronica—and I’ll call you Nikki—Veronica.”
She smiled. A wide smile. Only a bit of a wobble. She spoke slowly, much more slowly than ghost-girl. But carefully. “I . . . am . . . Nee-kee.”
I looked at the others. They smiled softly.
At her.
At me.
At us.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Interview with Douglas Brown

This week, on Novelwatch . . .

Author of The Light of Epertaste, a new fantasy trilogy that absolutely bowled me over with its brilliant writing, intriguing twists, and astonishing story, Douglas R. Brown has certainly won me over with his awe-inducing talent—at both writing fantasy and taking interviews. Enjoy these masterful responses from the man beyond Legends Reborn, an epic of, well, fantastic proportions.

Nicole: When did you start writing? Has writing always been a big part of your life? Will it continue to be? What inspired you to begin writing?

Douglas: I enjoyed writing as a teenager. When I decided to become a firefighter, writing mostly went by the wayside. It wasn't until I responded to an emergency call that broke my heart 4 years ago that I dove back into telling stories. At first, writing was a cathartic way to deal with how I felt. After writing the story of my fire department life, I rediscovered my enjoyment in the craft. I plan to continue writing as there are too many stories stuck in my head for me to stop now.

N: The illustration on your book is gorgeous. Who did them? How?

D: The artist's name is Steve Murphy. He is a phenomenal artist and I'm excited to announce that Rhemalda will be using him for Book two of Epertase. A funny side note is that my next door neighbor is actually the model for Rasi. I'm not an artist by any means but this is how I understand it. Steve used both digital painting and a bit of photo manipulation to create the cover. I had an idea of what I wanted to portray and gave Steve the freedom to create the cover with his vision. I couldn't be happier.

N: Name your favorite book-to-movie adaptation. What is it about it you like?

D: Unfortunately, I have to give the usual fantasy answer. I'd say "The Lord of the Rings." I know, I know, a completely unoriginal answer, but when it's true, it's true. When watching the trilogy, you can't help but feel like Peter Jackson got it right. If I had to pick a single trilogy to explain the word epic, that would be it.
I'd also add a few graphic novels. "Sin City," "The Watchmen," and "The Crow" because I loved those graphic novels and was impressed with how the directors recreated the feel and style of those books.

N: Tell us about your favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your favorite?

D: My favorite character has to be my main character, Rasi. I created him with every trait I have always wanted to see in a fictional character. He will fight for what is right regardless of what happens to him as a result. He wants nothing more than a family, yet the world seems to work against him at every turn. He believes in love and honor and, yes, killing if he believes that is what is needed. In fact, I created the entire world of Epertase for him as a way to share him with others.

N: Tell us about your least favorite (of your characters). What are his/her motives? Why is s/he your least favorite?

D:  I didn't like Rasi's best friend, Terik, for most of my early edits, and I couldn't figure out why. I made him a good friend to Rasi, tried to make him personable, and even changed his name, thinking his earlier name was too blah. Since he was such an important character, I couldn't just get rid of him so I had to work out the problem. I think I did in the end and I like him now, but something about him gave me fits. I'd be curious to hear how other readers feel about him once they finish. (You, too, Nicole.)

N: Okay . . . random question time. Pirate or ninja? Which one would you rather be, and about which one would you rather write? Why?

D: Great questions with two different answers. I'd rather be a ninja but I'd rather write about pirates. Ninjas are the ultimate bad-asses. Their legend makes them nearly invincible. As a child, I pretended to be a ninja a lot, more often than being a pirate. The idea of an unbeatable assassin was way cooler for a kid than pirates when I was growing up. But that was before "Pirates of the Caribbean," so maybe pirates are cooler now. On the other hand, if I were to start a new book right now about either of them, I would write about pirates. I think I would enjoy creating the story, motives, and style of a pirate story more than the tired one-dimensional idea of ninjas. Now, ninjas versus zombies on the other hand

N: If you could become one of your characters, who would it be and why? What would you do differently in your story?

D: Well I'd like to be Rasi because of the things I talked about earlier. He's honorable, tough as nails, and only seeking to do what is right. Though, I wouldn't want to go through what he went through. But saying that, I think Rasi could have handled things a little differently that might have made his life a bit easier. If I was Rasi, I may have accepted help when it was offered. I may not have been so stubborn when I had a chance to better the quality of my life even if it came with a blow to my ego.

N: How do you write? Do you have a special place, do you listen to music, how much do you write a day, etc.?

D: I write in my living room at a desk. I like the open curtains and the outside world. It can be distracting sometimes, but no more distracting than having the Internet at my fingertips. When I get focused, I get into what I'm writing. People walking by my front window, music playing in the background, or the Internet calling to me-- none of that matters. When I'm not at work and my wife and son are at work and school, I will spend 4-6 hours doing something with writing. I say something because I count editing, promoting, or anything else that needs done in my writing world.

N: What has been your great success in writing? How did you feel?

D: I love this question but I wish the question was "...five great successes in writing" because I have a hard time narrowing it down to just one. I've been fortunate in my writing career so far. I'm not going to use the typical signing-of-my-first-contract answer, though that moment does set near the top of my rankings. Instead, I'd like to share a moment that was very special for me in another way. Though Epertase wasn't the first book I had written, it was the book I had always wanted to write. I had created the lead character, Rasi, when I was a teenager (at the time, he was intended to be a comic book character). Writing his story now on such an epic scale took quite a bit of work. As I reached the final pages, I was in that writer's euphoria where everything was coming together and I couldn't stop writing even if I wanted to. Then I wrote the last couple of lines. Typing the word "END" at the bottom of the last page was magical. I felt overwhelmed with pride and accomplishment. I stared at the last few paragraphs, reading them over and over again, until I could pull myself away. I actually called a few people as if I was about to give them cigars and say, "It's a boy."
That's how I measure success. Not fame or fortune, but in accomplishing something I never thought would be finished. I was and still am highly proud of how it turned out and I remember that moment fondly.

N: If you could go back five (or ten or twenty) years in time, what writing advice would you give yourself?

D: To keep writing. I'm not going to say whether it would be 5, 10, or 20 years ago, but I would go back to when I was a teenager. OK, 20, but that's all I'm saying. I enjoyed writing back then but after I decided to be a firefighter, I lost a little of the desire and, pretty soon, stopped writing altogether. As I think back, I imagine how much further in my writing career (not to mention how much better at it) I would be.
You can find out more about The Light of Epertase: Legends Reborn at or learn about Douglas R. Brown at Check out for more information on how to buy Legends Reborn.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Interview with Richard Ragle

This week, on Novelwatch . . .

Dr. Richard Ragle, author of The First Law, a look into science and spirituality, is here for another breathtaking interview. A self-proclaimed “physician by profession, artist by passion”, he, in addition to being a medical doctor, creates dazzlingly unique sculptures. After reviewing his work, I can honestly say that you should check it out; it’s amazing, gorgeous, and definitely thought-provoking.

Nicole: When did you start writing? Will it continue to be? What inspired you to begin writing?

Richard: I'm not sure I've started yet :)    Life will determine if my writing career continues. My inspiration was a dream I had when I was 19yrs. old. It was an incredible dream and since then I thought the story needed to be told.

N: Name your favorite book-to-movie adaptation. What is it about it you like?

R: Lord of the Rings. An amazing movie that used some creative license when making the movie, but I think followed the spirit of Tolkien vision.

N: Your book has a lot to do with God. What is God for you?

R: For me, the word of God comes in different forms. It is the quiet, often intuitive voice I hear when in pray or meditation -- if I am listening. If I'm being self centered and willful, I don't hear the quiet voice. Often I hear God's word from others--which is why I surround myself with people also on a spiritual path. Last I hear the voice in written word. I believe God is the energy binding every atom and sub-atomic particle in the universe. It is conscious,,, thus can be "everywhere at the same time." Quantum physics/mechanics is proving this...
N: One of the themes in your work is heart vs. brain. Do you think that our heart or our brain controls who we are?

R: I believe the two are so intertwined it is impossible to separate. I believe we are conditioned from childhood to live out what we were "PROGRAMED" with by our parents, teachers, world, etc. We learn what we saw growing up, and then live out as adults what we learned. We either do the same thing we were taught,,,or rebel and do just the opposite. Both are dysfunctional.

N: So I heard that you’re also a doctor and a sculptor, in addition to being a writer. How did you choose?

R: I believe we show our priorities by where we spend our time. So my passion is sculpture/ making objects de art, then medicine, then writing. (Probably not a great answer for a writing forum  :)

N: How do you juggle your menagerie of talents?

R: It's nice to have a balance of Rt. brain and Lt. brain activities.  To be able to use intellectual skills, then balance it with creativity is wonderful. I juggle to whatever I need at the time...

N: If you could become one of your characters, who would it be and why? What would you do differently in your story?

R: Leydon in "The First Law."  He feels unconditional love for others and behaves as such.

N: Name your most annoying thing about the writing process. Coming up with a story? Editing? Cover art?

R: Editing! I'm not good with spelling, grammar, syntax,,, having a degree of dyslexia makes this process interesting :)    Thank God there's editors like Michelle Izmaylov that help with this step.

N: What has been your great success in writing? How did you feel?

R: Finishing The First Law, which is a story from a dream I had 30 years ago. So it's been a long time in the making.

N: If you could go back five (or ten or twenty) years in time, what writing advice would you give yourself?

R: Pay attention in English class...

You can find out more about Richard at, or check out for more on The First Law.