Monday, December 30, 2013

The Coveted Dr. Woo

I've been wanting to get a tattoo for a while of a compass. After I left college, my life has felt like such an abyss of uncertainty that it's hard to know where I'm heading and if it's even the right direction, so I felt like a compass would remind me that even when I feel the most lost, I'm still following my own path, even if I can't see where I'm headed at the moment. In my head, it's reminiscent of the great Jack Sparrow with his compass that doesn't point North, it instead points to his heart's desire. Who doesn't want a crazy pirate as a role model?

So with this in mind, I began trolling Pinterest for ideas. I wanted something abstract, not just a chunky, comic-like compass rendering. I stumbled across this guy Dr. Woo at Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Social Club in LA (If you're One Direction nut, you'll remember the boys recently visited this exact parlor). I instantly fell in love with this style he seems to have created on his own.

It must be noted that these aren't just "cool looking tattoos." These are a compilation of the most difficult elements of tattoo art to master. 1) Perfect circles. I can't draw these on a flat surface, imagine how hard it would be on elastic skin. 2) Shading. I don't even know how someone does this with tattoo needles. Magic maybe. 3) Straight lines. I went with my boyfriend to get his first tattoo and the artist actually paled when he saw all the straight lines. May be the hardest thing for an artist to master.

Dr. Woo's work is so intricate and beautiful, it's not wonder he's booked months out. When I called for my appointment yesterday, his first opening was in April. Needless to say it's worth the wait for the perfect tattoo. If I'm putting something on my body forever, I want it to be a work of art, unique and inspiring every time I look at it. I feel like Dr. Woo's designs could appear in a modern art show, and I want to be one of his walking canvases.

Here's a few examples of the particular style he's invented. I'm not sure if he has a name for them, but guessing from his Instagram I think he's calling them "vibes."

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's real!

Possibly a real life Lechuza? Presumably found in Texas.

 When I was originally writing Spelled, I was researching Texas/Mexican mythology and I happened to stumble across a forum post from someone who claimed they had a run-in with an actual Lechuza. I became intrigued with the idea, and scoured the internet for more accounts. I found this man, who wrote a very telling article about the extensive mythology of the witch-bird.


by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
At night in South Texas, especially under a big moon, things start moving.

Deer begin grazing, coarse-haired feral hogs emerge from the brush to steal corn from game feeders on the big ranches, five-foot rattlesnakes slide from their lair, the sensors on their arrowhead-shaped heads looking for warm meat. And sometimes, an owl spreads its wide wings and flies from its roost looking for prey.

But some people along the border believe that owls are more than big-eyed night feeders. Among that group are three Zavala County women who vividly remember an experience they had one night on their way home from a shopping trip to San Antonio.

Just outside Batesville on State Highway 57, a large, dark and menacing bird suddenly appeared in the headlights of their car. The bird flew ahead of them faster than the vehicle, swinging back and forth and bobbing up and down.

The woman behind the wheel pressed her foot on the gas to outdistance the bird, which at one point circled back to fly right outside the driver's window. The bird seemed to be mocking the women, but this was no mockingbird.

That's when the car went dead. The lights went dark and the vehicle stalled, slowly losing speed. The driver managed to get the car off the roadway but could not restart it. The women locked themselves in the car, stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The bird, meanwhile, had disappeared.

As mysteriously as it had died, the car eventually restarted. Sure, it could have been a loose battery wire, or any number of easy-explainable mechanical things. But as far as these three women were concerned, the answer could be articulated in one word: lechuza.

Since Spanish colonial times, generations of children in South Texasand across the river in Mexico have grown up hearing stories of lechuzas. Despite that, an internet search shows that the tradition is mostly oral.

"A lot of people believe in lechuza," says Zavala County historian and newspaper columnist Richard G. Santos. Fascinated by stories like the one told by the three women whose shopping trip ended scarily, Santos has been collecting them for several years.

A couple who for obvious reasons did not want to be named told theCrystal City writer this story:

They were on State Highway 191, headed toward Eagle Pass, when their vehicle's windshield wipers suddenly came on.

"It must be a lechuza," said the woman's husband, who reached over and turned off the wipers.

As he did that, the headlights of their vehicle illuminated a big bird sitting on a telephone pole.

"It was big and it watched us as we drove by," one of them told Santos. "It was scary."

Indeed, lechuzas have been scaring people in Mexico and South Texas for a long time.

According to Santos, lechuzas are witches - brujas - who transform themselves into birds. In most stories, the bird is an owl, but sometimes a bruja will turn into an eagle.

Another school of thought holds that not all lechuzas are brujas. Some are merely the spirits of women annoyed for a specific reason, a faithless husband or a widower who has remarried.

Those frightened by the appearances of a lechuza can fall back on four basic remedies: Prayer, tying seven knots in a string or rope, engaging the services of a curandera or blasting the bird with a shotgun or rifle.

One man told Santos he had heard as a boy about a lechuza being shot. No one could find the dead bird, but the next morning, someone discovered the body of a very unattractive, mature woman hanging across a tree branch. Needless to say, many saw a connection between the killing of the lechuza and the corpse.

Santos, a serious historian who moved to Crystal City from San Antonio to care for his elderly parents, says he does not believe in ghosts or witches. But he definitely believes in stories of ghosts and witches.

He has found that lechuzas are particularly active in Zavala County.

A lechuza can appear at any time, but these feathery witches seem particularly prone to spread their wings and terrorize those who have popped a top or two or three. Cars moving down lonely highways also seem a favorite target of lechuzas.

Fortunately, as they say on the border, "Las lechuzas, por regular, no son peligrosas." They are not dangerous. Normally.

First Chapter SPELLED (Amethyst, book 1)

A preview of the first chapter of book one of Spelled. Here's a quick synopsis:

Misfortune seems to follow the Sayers family. Georgia has tried endlessly to
reestablish normality since her mother died, and she's no closer from escaping her strange past
when a mysterious fire destroys the only other high school in her tiny Texas town. Georgia is
thrown into the company of Luke, a cryptic senior who brings her face to face with the truth about
her heritage. Her loving, perfect mother created her family for the singular purpose of birthing five
of the most powerful witches in the world, capable of terrifying magic. While they may be just
discovering their past, many others have known about them for a long time, and are targeting
them for their own purposes. Now that she knows the truth, can Georgia keep her siblings safe?
Who is behind the dark cult that's after her family? And does Luke know more about her powers

than even she does?

  Hope you like it!


“I need to tell you about the Sagestone fire,” he says, his voice rasping like each word is being scraped out of him.  “I need you to know how this started.” 
My eyelids are too heavy to open.  I try but it’s like two thumbs are resting on top of them, holding them down.  I can’t do anything but lie there and see the hallway of the old high school emerge from the fog in my mind’s eye.  It surrounds me, makes me feel like I’m standing there, two months ago exactly.  I shiver when he tells me Keir chose the place because he knew it’d be empty, and he knew how to get in.
“The boy, Matthew Townsend,” he goes on, “was dead when I got there.” 
Every word adds a brushstroke to the scene until it’s as clear as my own memory.  It’s the spell that’s doing it. I can feel it crouching in the back of my brain like a gargoyle, watching the vision unfold while I’m powerless to do anything to stop it, change it, making it real.
I can see the hallway of the old school, everything washed in the grey darkness of nighttime. His feet, my feet, send echoes circling off the walls as I follow the faint smell of smoke down the hall.  When I stop outside of French room 2B, my hands reach out and open the door. 
            The fire Keir started is on the floor, singeing the slip-resistant linoleum in the middle of a black casting circle.  Desks sit circled around it.  Matthew’s body is slung across the long table in the corner. Seeing him there, so rigid and still, makes my throat close until I almost can’t breathe.
            The door shuts behind me, drawing Keir’s attention away from the embers. 
            What took you so long? he says.  He snatches a knife off the floor and tosses it at me, hilt first.  My hands barely manage to snag the handle. 
            Get his blood, Keir says, sliding a ceramic bowl across the floor until it knocks into my shoe.  We’ll do you first. 
            My body draws near to Matthew, and I want so badly to open my eyes, break through this nightmare.  I can only watch my hand guide the knife to Matthew’s grey-blue skin and split it in a line.  There’s fingerprint-shaped bruises darkening along his neck. 
            “Keir strangled him before I got there,” he says.  “Just before.”
He’s dead, but Matthew’s eyes don’t seem vacant yet, like some part of him is digging his nails in, refusing to be torn out.
            The ceramic bowl in my hands catches the blood that flows down Matthew’s elbow. 
            His voice shakes when he says, “Lifeblood had to come from an artery.  Keir taught me that.  The heart was best, but I just couldn’t put the knife between Matthew’s ribs, dead or not.”
            My hands hold out the bowl to Keir and he takes it, mixing a fistful of ashes into it.  He holds the concotion over the fire, speaking in guttural words that don’t sound like any language I’ve heard before.  The darkness deepens in the room, as if it’s being called, clustering in the corners like silent observers. 
            Keir digs in his backpack and pulls out a pen, just a regular ballpoint that’s been emptied out of its ink, but it has a needle on its end.  I sit in front of him, horrified as I gather my shirt up at the back of my neck.  Keir goes to work, dipping into the rust-colored paste and piercing a stinging pattern into my back.
“I knew how wrong it was,” he says.  “I knew I was breaking a part of myself that I’d never fix again.  It’s hard to explain.  Each puncture kind of felt like there was a wholeness  filling me.  Like all my life I’d been half empty, you know?  I couldn’t keep going like that.  I’d rather be someone else, and let this other side take over, than deal with being an unfinished person.  I never really thought of stopping.  Not even once.”
In the room, Keir works the makeshift needle down to my lower back.
Almost done, Keir says, his voice strained with the effort of keeping his hand steady.  The last mark is tricky.
As soon as he’s done saying it, the fire in the middle of the room bursts like a mushroom cloud, stretching up in fury up to the speckled white ceiling.  The Mineral fiber tiles take up the flames like gasoline, and the whole room looses its breath and starts to choke. 
“I knew it was Matthew,” he says, “driving the fire with all the hatred and anger for us that was too strong to move on, leave the place where his life had been stolen.”
The pen drops from Keir’s hand, skittering across the floor.  We’re both on our feet, running for the door.  The handle is jammed, swollen with the heat.  We try the windows, but the metal burns our hands.
“Matthew trapped us,” he says.  “His final revenge.”
I grab a chair and break it across a window, chipping out a hole in the glass the size of a dime.  It takes six more tries to smash a gap big enough to fit us.  I scrape my body through as shards tear at my elbows.  When I’m almost out, still hanging on the windowsill, I turn back to Keir, but he’s not behind me.  He’s running to the body, refusing to leave it.
As soon as Keir touches Matthew’s skin, the fire retaliates, eating up every molecule of air left in the room before exploding out the windows.  Heat surges into my nose and mouth, burning down my throat, as I hurl myself to the grass outside.  After that, I drag my body across the parking lot, collapsing behind an electrical box.
“Sagestone High,” he tells me, “was gone before the fire trucks even got there.  I didn’t think there was any way Keir could’ve gotten out.  All the evidence was wiped away by the fire.  I thought it was some kind of gift.  A second chance almost.  I walked away after that.  To this day, I’ve never once looked at my tattoos on my back.”
That’s what he says, anyway. I feel the spell loosing its hold on me. My vision clears, like a gentle wind sweeping the fog away, and I open my eyes. 
It’s just me now, in my own body, still stuck in my hospital bed, and him in the chair beside me.  He leans forward, pressing the heels of his hands into his eye sockets like it hurts him too much to see me.
Something’s just been lost between us. I can feel our innocence draining from the room, a dark weight settling in its place. 
            “If you’d told me one day ago,” I say, “we might have been able to save you.” 

Friday, December 6, 2013

An article by my mother

This was my mother's latest article in the Williamson County Sun, recounting our Thanksgiving. I brought my boyfriend and two close friends, those are the "young men" she's referring to.

A Lazybone’s Thanksgiving
On the vagaries of ordering out for a family feast

 Due to a renewed need for my presence at the Sun this fall, I decided to forego cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year.
I would make a nice Italian stew, or a pot of chili.
Daughter Kate nixed that notion.
It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey and dressing, she argued, and I agree, but since Luby’s abandoned Georgetown, there didn’t seem to be an easy shortcut.
Then one evening I opened Neiman-Marcus’s holiday food catalogue.
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner — turkey and dressing and all manner of sides — could be delivered to your doorstep the day before the big day.
It looked like a lot of food, plenty to feed the band of five I was expecting. The meal included a boned roasted turkey breast, gravy, traditional cornbread dressing, “loaded” mashed potatoes, sweet potato soufflé, broccoli slathered with sour cream and topped with cheese, and bread pudding topped with caramel sauce. Everything was fully cooked; it just needed heating up. The catalogue said it would feed six to eight.
All that was lacking was cranberry sauce, and we buy ours at H-E-B, in the can, because that’s our family preference.
The N-M feast was surprisingly reasonably priced — especially when you factored in the many, many hours of labor involved in producing a proper family Thanksgiving dinner. Plus, there would be Lots of Leftovers, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.
I didn’t hesitate. I ordered the meal.
Then, remarkably, we suddenly had 11 coming. We ordered more food.
I wondered: Would it all arrive on time? Would it be tasty? Would I be able to heat everything up so that all the dishes would all arrive at the table hot?
The question I didn’t ask was: Would the dressing arrive?
Wednesday afternoon, I was sifting through a bonanza of frozen packages, ticking off which ones needed to be thawed in the fridge overnight and which ones popped straight from the freezer into a hot oven. An odd dish met my eyes — crayfish cornbread with étouffée. I didn’t remember ordering crayfish cornbread with étouffée; it never would have occurred to me to order such a thing.
Suddenly suspicious, I started hunting for my traditional cornbread dressing. Negative. No cornbread dressing.
Disaster. My family loves dressing. I love my own cornbread dressing. Would family and friends even show up for a dressing-less Thanksgiving dinner? For some in our family, the dressing is the main course, not the turkey.
Thursday morning dawned bright, sunny and cool. I spent about an hour and a half over coffee writing up my battle plan — which of the 16 dishes, or packages, that constituted parts of Thanksgiving dinner went into which oven at what time, when they came out, how to juggle the entire circus into a meal.
Kate and I went to work. For two hours, it was nonstop preheating, popping dishes into two separate ovens in two separate houses (we own one next door to our main home), noting start times and end times, zooming back and forth between houses, changing temperatures, altering end cooking times. Thank goodness for Kate; the meal would never have come together without her.
Just in case, we cooked the crayfish cornbread with étoufée sauce.
Finally, we sat down to eat.
I pause for a moment, remembering my Mom, Clara Stearns Scarbrough, whose last meal on earth was Thanksgiving dinner. It was at St. David’s Round Rock Hospital where she was in intensive care battling pneumonia. She didn’t feel like eating, but when she saw a slice of pumpkin pie, she perked up and ate it all. That night, she lapsed into a coma from which she never emerged, dying early the next morning.
Clark’s Mom, Martha Thurmond, could not join us, either. She is at the Wesleyan at Scenic Drive because she has several severe conditions that require constant monitoring and skilled nursing. But her delightful mind and social abilities have not left her; she leaves people laughing at her wry comments, as sick as she is. Clark sees her nearly every day, but she misses her old life. Mentally I salute her courage and constant love.
At the same time, I inwardly welcome three young men who had come to share Thanksgiving’s bounty with us. They are strangers to Clark and me, though not to Kate, with whom they are good friends. They freshen and gave new life to the gathering — along with nine-month-old Auburn Pyka, the darling bouncing son of Grace and Jared Pyka (my first grand-nephew).
The food was great. The surprise hit of the meal was the crayfish cornbread with étouffée. “Amazing,” the young men enthused as they gobbled it up. Everyone especially appreciated the étouffée sauce with the cornbread.
“The traditional stuffing was not missed,” pronounced Mike D’Amelio, my sister Donna’s long-time friend. He was right; it was a mountain of a meal with oodles of tasty dishes and wonderful meat.
The bread pudding with caramel sauce was excellent, too, but though we searched hard, we could never find the second caramel sauce packet.
The guests departed; cleanup time arrived. Kate washed dishes. I opened the fridge and stared at a packet lying on a rack. Silhouetted against a heavy transparent plastic bag, a crayfish appeared.
“Kate,” I said. “Come look at this.”
She did.
We burst out laughing. It was étouffé sauce, still in the bag. I had served caramel sauce with the crayfish cornbread, and everyone had loved it.
Sometimes, things just work out.
As they should for everyone on Thanksgiving Day.