About the Author:
Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then. When she's not reading about other writer's worlds, she's creating her own.
Most of her stories are set in the Far Isles where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf human population. Lately, Theodoratus has been setting her stories in an alternate world of Andor where demons stalk humankind.
A sixth grade English assignment started her writing. The teacher assigned a short story. Theodoratus gave her an incomplete, 25-page Nancy Drew pastiche which turned into a full novel by the next summer. She’s been writing happily ever after ever since…for four or five writing careers. Most recently she’s been concentrating of her Andor stories, set in an alternate world where demons and magic plague humans.
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About the Book:
Title: The Ghostcrow: A Tale of Andor
Author: M.K. Theodoratus
Genre: Supernatural Fantasy
Seeing ghosts has plagued Dumdie Swartz since early childhood.
Afraid that ghost guts might stick to her if she stepped through them, thirteen-year-old Dumdie Swartz still cringes when she encounters them.
Her strange attempts to avoid spirits create a lonely life.
Her sisters constantly mock her strange behavior, her parents are clueless, and her social life is zero. Dumdie finds solace working in a shared garden with her elderly neighbor, Mr. Carson. When teens from her high school steal pumpkins from his garden, Mr. Carson is hurt during the theft, and later, dies.
Dumdie’s life takes a dark turn.
She learns there are stranger things than ghosts, when she senses something evil living in Kyle, one of the boys who had raided the pumpkin patch. Kyle bullies Dumdie to scare her into silence. The more Kyle threatens her, the clearer she perceives the evil thing possessing him. Dumdie finds support in an unlikely group of girls who befriend her when she helps them with their costumes for the Pumpkin festival. During the festival, Dumdie’s fears explode when the thing possessing Kyle decides it wants to possess her.
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The Ghostcrow is available at Amazon
Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads
The family car prowled the parking lot of the state park as Herfather searched for an open space. He muttered curses under his breath. Other kids called their male parent “dad” or “pop”, but Dumdie Swartz never could remember doing that. The words had never made any sense to her in reference to the cold man before her. He had been Herfather to her for since forever.
Dumdie clutched her arms tight to her body, holding back a scream when he drove through a group of ghostly soldiers standing at attention, wishing he could see the specters as plain as she did.
Please. Let the ghost guts stay on the outside of the car.
Ghosts turned her blood cold. She didn’t understand them, and she knew no one to ask about them. She was the only person she knew who saw the remains of people floating around or acting like wispy people, who sometimes could grab you if you weren’t careful. She gave up long ago trying to explain why she twitched and cringed when she saw cold misty people no one else could see. The others in Herfamily thought she was crazy or pretending or seeking unwarranted attention.
The sharp scent of pine needles, spicing the air of the state park, entered the open window, giving Dumdie a hint of normalcy. She clenched her fists in her lap and closed her eyes. She couldn’t remember ever being like the other kids at school or anywhere.
More ghosts appeared in the parking lot. Wide-eyed, Dumdie Swartz recoiled against the seat. She’d never seen so many ghosts at one time. Her panic rose like sour bile in her throat. Everything was changing. The specters were becoming sharper and harder to ignore.
The big family sedan darted forward, stopping just inches from the bumper of a car pulling out of a space. Herfather waited patiently as it maneuvered among the people walking towards the reenactment ceremonies. Dumdie huffed for air, waiting for more ghosts to appear in the empty spot. Luckily, this time everyone in the car ignored her in their excitement. Herfather followed the car closely so no other car could steal the space.
How can they like going to strange places?
Sue, her older sister and worst tormenter, pinched her arm. “Don’t you go all weird on us. I saw all sorts of kids I know from school here,” she whispered. “I don’t want them to see me with you drooling like an idiot.”
Pulling her arm away, Dumdie hunkered down as a ghost floated across the hood. The trip was supposed to be fun. Herfather said it would be fun. It wasn’t supposed to be a ghost convention. Dumdie could feel the terror rise in her throat, but knew her male parent wouldn’t help her. I should have stayed home, where I’m safe.
But that morning at breakfast, Hergrandma had coaxed her to join the family outing when Herfather had thrown his hands in the air as she refused to go on the outing.
For once, Herfather’s muttering was clear. “Why can’t we do something like a normal family? Half the town’ll be there.”
“Please, child. Keep peace in the family,” Hergrandma had said.
Hermother, who loved to sew, added, “You might enjoy it. All the enactors’ll be wearing authentic period costumes.”
Hergrandma reached across the kitchen table to pat her hand. “You like history. You’ve read two history books since I’ve been here.”
Dumdie had given in. Now she wished she hadn’t joined Herfamily. I’m going step through one of the cold, clammy things. My own innards’ll freeze. There’s way too many ghosts to avoid all of them, especially if I walk with my family. They always barge right through the ghosts.
The doors of her car popped open as soon as the engine stopped. Sue and Lizzy, her nicer sister, bounded away. To prove her reasoning, Sue and Lizzy plowed through a group of three misty soldiers. Dumdie stopped at the side of the path.
“Dum – dieeeeee!”
Hermother’s shriek rose like an opera singer’s, but Dumdie’s feet refused to move. She wanted Dumdie act normal, like her sisters. Dumdie’s avoidance tics made Hermother nervous. She glanced at her parents as they whispered together and glanced at her.
Words drifted towards her. “Crazy”. “Can’t you control her?” “People are looking at us.”
Dumdie wondered what their reactions would be if she didn’t move from the parking lot. If she just stayed in the car.
I should’ve stayed home. Why wouldn’t Myfather let me stay home?
Her feet shuffled forward but came to a halt at the path to the fort’s grounds and stopped. Ghosts in hooped skirts and military uniforms crowded the path ahead of her. Dumdie’s toes wanted to dig into the ground like roots. Her breath came in sharp gasps. Hermother yanked her arm, but Dumdie didn’t move. More transparent people roamed around the entrance to the enactment. Ghosts infested the parade grounds, chatting in groups or standing alone staring at nothing Dumdie could see.
“Dumdie, get a move on, for goodness sake,” grumbled Herfather. “We’ll miss the re-enactment of Fort Bonnet’s fall to the Tejanos.”
Hermother yanked harder on her arm as Herfather strode ahead of them without looking back. A pat on her shoulder from Hergrandma encouraged Dumdie to lumber forward. She closed her eyes to a slit and stared at the ground immediately at her feet, hoping none of the ghost guts would stick to her.
Shrieks and proddings from Hermother had lost their power to scare her into action long ago. Ghosts were more terrifying than her parents ever could be, and Dumdie’s feet dug deeper into the ground. You never knew when a ghastly specter would reach out with its clammy hands and try to squeeze your heart, like the Stalkerghost back home. Her shoulders wriggled as the memory rose in her mind from where it hid. She shivered, remembering the last time its cold hand dug into her chest before she could escape.
Why are there so many misty people? Panic rose until she could taste it. There’ve never been this many of them before. They’re easier to avoid when there’s just one or two at one time.
Hermother’s pull and Hergrandma’s push prodded Dumdie into motion. Why am I the only one who sees things? Life was so much simpler before, when I was little.
Dumdie had started seeing dim transparent people back when she was practically a baby, in kindergarten. Today they swarmed among the clumps of real people, back in the parking lot and along the path before her. Everywhere Dumdie looked ghosts milled, many going about their business in strange repetitive patterns that never made any sense. Dumdie wished she were three-years-old instead of thirteen so she could jam her thumb into her mouth.
Among the tall trees on either side of the gravel path and in the meadow ahead, the state park crawled with ghosts, parading as if they had come for the reenactment, too. Two groups of real people pushed around Dumdie’s family onto the path to the fort. They passed through the entities without a cringe or shiver. Dumdie had never really seen ghost guts attached to any one, not even herself, but new things were always happening.
Hermother grabbed Dumdie’s arm. “This is not the time to go all goofy, girl. I’m tired of your hysterics. Dumdie, why can’t you be normal for once? We’re in public. Please don’t be strange. Please?”
Clenching her teeth, Dumdie swallowed the saliva slithering down the back of her throat. My name is Dolores. You named me Dolores. Dumdie kept the protest to herself. She’d given up on her name long ago. Teachers might call her Dolores or Dorry, but the kids called her Dumdie.
An unintelligible grumble rolled in Hergrandma’s throat. Hermother’s fingernails dug into her arm. Dumdie’s eyes opened wider. Hermother was pulling her forward to where a group of ghosts stood, two soldiers flirting with a lady in a wide skirt. As Hermother yanked her forward, Dumdie closed her eyes, preparing for the sharp cold to pierce her. Her stomach churned. She swallowed, ready to run to a tree and scrape off ghosts’ guts if she passed through them. Before Hermother could shout at her, Hergrandma grabbed her arm.
“Oh, thank you,” she said. “I could use a little help on this loose gravel, Dumdie.”
Hergrandma limped besides her. When Dumdie’s muscle’s tensed Hergrandma moved in the direction Dumdie wanted to jump. “Come along, child. We’ll miss the enactment if you don’t hurry.” Her grip on Dumdie’s arm was warm and encouraging.
Wishing she could be normal like her sisters, Dumdie willed herself to ignore the ghosts. She closed her eyes. When she opened them, the haunts still milled about.
Dumdie looked at the semi-circle of faces focused on her, making her cringe. Hermother looked exasperated like always. Hergrandma’s face was filled with concern but still frowning. Herfather glanced from side to side to see if anyone was looking at them and their strange daughter. For once, her two older sisters were not in sight. They had run ahead to watch a squad of enactors march across the meadow to the sound of snare drums. The pageant had started. Dumdie dropped her gaze to stare at her toes. As usual a lace was untied, but Her mother gave her no time to tie it. Just jerked her forward.
Her mother’s sharp nails dug into Dumdie’s hand as she yanked both Hergrandma and Dumdie down the path. “Come along. This is not the time to dawdle.” The shoelace caught under her foot, and Dumdie stumbled.
Her father’s bass rumbled. “You’re getting too old to behave like a baby, girl. You’re going into high school this year.”
Closing her eyes, Dumdie did her best to walk normally. Behind her the soft voice of her sister Sue, who had circled around and appeared from the pines, began to chant, “Dum-di-dum-de-dum” over and over again to tease her. Dumdie pulled a hand free and balled it into a fist. She wished she dared smash Sue’s face in. Dumdie’d given up singing to herself long ago. She hunched her shoulders, wishing they could cover her ears.
Shut up. Shut up.
But hitting Sue was stupid. When her sisters decided to tease her, she had to bear it. If she lashed out, her sisters would just find a sneakier way to make her look in the wrong. Herfather would take their side. Not hers.
“The rest of you go ahead,” said Hergrandma. “We will join you when we find you.”
Dumdie stumbled forward, the thumb of her free hand touching each finger in turn, counting her slow steps. One. Two. Three.
Hermother left Dumdie and Hergrandma to find their own way to the parade grounds.
Dumdie scrunched her eyes tighter. She refused to see the cold darkness when she passed through a ghost. She didn’t care if she stumbled over a rock or skinned her knee. The transparent people made the hair on her neck and arms twitch. Dumdie wished they would go away or that she could have stayed home, where wispy nasties didn’t prowl among real people.
Why do ghosts have to torment me? Ten. Eleven. Twelve…
“Come on, slow poke,” smirked Sue, her second oldest, more pudgy sister. “Lizzy’s saving us some of the extra chairs they’re putting out. The ushers let her because of Grandma being old.”
On the meadow parade grounds, the clumps of ghosts grew thicker. The adults pushed forward. Hermother let go of her hand just as she stepped through a misty soldier. Dumdie jumped back from the clammy air. She opened her eyes just wide enough so she could step around it and all the other specters walking on the path to the bleachers. Sue scowled at her as she and Hergrandma wobbled her way to the gate leading into the open-air theatre.
Sue stopped as Hermother and Herfather pressed forward ahead of them. “Oh look, there’s that geekie Brody who used to come over and work on that project last year. He’s with Kyle, my friend from the football team.”
Dumdie glanced up and thought Brody, who lived a few blocks away from Herfamily, looked like a midget next to the other, more massive guy.
“Kyle.” Sue waved as the two teens climbed the bleachers with their family. “Hey, Kyle.”
The two boys ignored Sue like Dumdie wished she could.
“They ignored me.” Sue pinched her before Dumdie could jump out of the way. “If you weren’t so strange, Kyle wouldn’t have given me the cold shoulder.”
“Don’t be silly, Sue,” said Hergrandma. “The boys probably couldn’t hear you over all the noise.”
Lizzy stood and waved from seats near the bleachers. Dumdie let Hergrandma lean on her. She was comfortable to be around. Her hair was light-colored, though darker than Dumdie’s light brown shade, and she moved carefully, unlike the rest of Dumdie’s bouncy, black-haired family. Dumdie wished the rest of her family were as restful. Hergrandma never surprised her by acting in incomprehensible ways. Her family thought Dumdie strange, but most of the time she never understood why the others did the things they did.
I wish she visited more often. And stayed longer.
Attendants were adding rows of folding chairs on either side of the bleachers while people milled around them nervously waiting. Herfamily picked up speed to claim the seats. Sue pushed right through a wispy soldier in a cavalry uniform without slowing down. Dumdie helped Hergrandma sit down and scooted into the chair beside hers.
“Fantastic, you got here before the play actually started.” Lizzy, her older sister, leaned over to pull on Hergrandma’s hand. “People were trying to get me to sit on the ground. I had to fight to save your seat.”
A brief interview with the author:
First, thank you so much for the interview. I
always learn something from answering the question. (Thank you, and you are very welcome, M.K.)
Has writing been something you always did, or was it a discovered talent that came to you at a later point?
My sixth grade teacher was the “enabler” of my addiction. She made the class to write a short story. Everyone wrote one to four pages. The idea of writing my own story was so enthralling that I wrote 25 pages, unfinished, and got a “C”.
Did finish a Nancy Drew pastiche, The Clue of the Clay Cats, by the next summer. Even sold a short story lifted from it to some kids’ religious magazine as a Halloween story. Think the typed manuscript still sits in my file cabinets somewhere.
Do you remember how it felt when you were offered that first contract? What emotions stand out in your memory?
Most of my available stories are self-published because I was building a writer’s platform for a small indie publisher who did offer me a contract for There Be Demons, a novel set in Andor based on a short story I sold to Spectra, a British ezine, though I hadn’t named my alternate world at the time. Unfortunately, the publisher folded. I’m left with a bunch of short stories and novelettes on Kindle, Nook, etc. But now I know so much more about Andor I have to rewrite Demons.
I remember the rush felt sort of like Christmas when I was really small, but editing soon yanked me back into a writer’s reality—drafting’s nice, but you’re always going to spend more time revising.
Is this a first book, part of a series, or the latest in a long line of many?
Don’t think I write connected series with integrated plotlines. Most of the manuscripts I’ve written in both of my alternative worlds are scattered episodes featuring the same main characters. My characters’ problems are the impetus for starting a story.
The Ghostcrow is a prequel to another story, The Ghost in the Closet. I kept wondering what it was like to accept ghosts as part of your life. So, The Ghostcrow about Dumdie’s experiences as a teen just coming into her talent—or curse. My stories seem to jump between geezer lit and young adult.
What is the oddest thing that’s happened to you since you chose to become a professional writer? Will it ever make it into a book, or is that a secret?
First, I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. Didn’t think so even when I was regularly selling short non-fiction articles.
What’s odd? Maybe you might think my characters pop full-blown out of my mind while petting my cat in the mornings odd. I think of it as free-association.
Do you have your next book underway, or other titles in the planning stages?
I’m currently working on another Andor story, On the Run, set in Andor after the Celestial Wars was won by Britt’s discovery in There Be Demons. It features a different main character. I’ve got some notes on a sequel, but Britt’s sort of disappeared from my mind wondering “what if?”.
There’s a whole to-do list, including revising There Be Demons on my docket. But I think I’m going to return to my Far Isle Half-Elven worlds after On the Run. I have a couple beta-read stories in need of completion. They got put aside with my ill-fated contract.
Do you have a favourite genre and why? Is it one you write in, read in, or both?
I’m an eclectic reader, but most of my stuff qualifies as fantasy, mystery, historical or a mixture. Most of my reviews at my blog are fantasy or mystery. Since I don’t think myself qualified to give anyone advice on publishing, I write about what I learn from other authors.
Guess my writing falls into the fantasy and historical genres. I would love to write mysteries, but none of my efforts jelled. To be honest, they stunk.
What, to you, is the most exciting part of the writing process? Does it change from book to book or remain the same?
The discovery process. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. Once I have a character in my head, I write a brief outline, but my first draft is always a voyage into the unknown. Then, I have to go back and turn all those words into a coherent story with a beginning, middle and a climax. I’m a creature of habit, so the process doesn’t change much.
If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would you choose and why? What kind of book do you think would come from the collaboration?
Don’t think anyone would want to collaborate with me. My fiction’s too disorganized. I remember my non-fiction being neat and tidy, seldom having to revise anything once I typed it. Just edited the mistakes and, maybe, added stronger verbs. I’d drive any sane person mad. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Where can readers find you on the web?
The best place is my blog, Lessons from My Reading. After my reviews, I mention my writing efforts—or lack of them. If someone makes I comment, I usually respond unless the commenter is some kind of troll. I also have an author website where readers can find extended excerpts of my stories.
As for social media: Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Google+, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. I visit all regularly, though not every day. Maybe I spend the most time on Pinterest when I want to amuse myself. I’ve got quite a bit of Gorey’s artwork in one of my folders.