Dipping into my Literary Ragbag: YA, historical, cozy cosmic horror


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I don’t have a better name for it. I probably should. But for better or for worse, my “literary ragbag” is my vast collection of partially written, forgotten, failed, excerpted, or simply not-yet-used writing. These are novels, short stories, essays, movie reviews, blog posts, rants, poems, and everything else.

Most writers I know have a ragbag like this. For every hundred thousand words of finished work, you have at least sixty thousand words of things you’ve cut. And you keep them, because things in the ragbag aren’t useless; they simply don’t have a place right now, so you keep them, just in case. Sometimes a project can come back after being in the ragbag for years. Sometimes a little scrap of something from the ragbag turns out to be the piece you’re missing for a completely different project.

This is the same mentality that makes crafters hoard supplies. Fortunately, words on a hard drive take up a lot less space than fabric or paint.

Today, I’m going to post some scraps from my literary ragbag. One is YA fantasy, one is straightforward historical, and one is a genre I can only call “cozy cosmic horror.” Some of these projects are years old, and some are probably never going to be finished. But I keep them. Just in case. Because you never know when you might get that idea …

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Craft Tutorial: A Tudor Headdress


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I love crafts, especially costume crafts. For as long as I can remember, Halloween has been—in the words of John Zmirak—my high holy day. In pursuit of the perfect Halloween costume, young Catherine ruined a lot of paper, cardboard, and string.

While no expert, I’ve come a long way since the days when I made a Snow Queen tiara out of tinfoil. But while grown-up me has a (small) costume budget and has moved on to full leather armor and thermoplastic builds, I still love a good, cheap, simple costume craft that you can make with stuff you find around the house. With that in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my costume and craft builds here!

Today, I’ll be showing you how I built a very simple Tudor gable hood.

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Live Bait

live bait“What are you, little girl?”


A lone woman trips and twists her ankle. The creature, following, jumps on her and prepares to feed. All according to plan.

It’s high summer in the woods of Wisconsin, and one vampire is about to get a nasty surprise. Take a trip outside with Live Bait.

Radziwill’s Mysterious Mummies: A New Translation


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Almost two years ago, I wrote about Louis Penicher’s 1699 Treatise on Embalming. This book is especially interesting to me because it contains one of the first historical accounts of a cursed mummy.

Penicher included an excerpt from the letters of Mikolaj Radziwill, Polish nobleman and traveler. Radziwill made a famous pilgrimage in the 1580s, covering not only Egypt but Palestine, Greece, Italy, and many other sites of historical interest. It was during this time that Radziwill purchased two Egyptian mummies, and something strange began to happen.

I don’t speak 17th-century French. Fortunately, there are those that do. My mother, Anne Butzen (a talented author in her own right), recently executed a new translation of the key passage from Penicher’s Treatise. Read on!

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City Spirits 2: Customer Disservice


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customer disservice cover“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

Monster hunter John Sawyer is laid up with the shingles, but that’s not going to save him when trouble comes calling. Now, face-to-face with a passel of fairies who have big plans for him and his friends, John will have to get out alive — and figure out just why his mysterious boss sent him there in the first place. The City Spirits series continues with Customer Disservice.

City Spirits 1: The Shrine on Harrison Street



theshrineonharrisonstreet“My God!”

yes. i am.

You never know just who you’re going to meet in a bus station. But until today, even monster-hunter Abby Marquise has never encountered haunted plumbing. Spirits, the power of belief, and practical ways to hide explosives while traveling all come into play in the first installment of City Spirits: The Shrine on Harrison Street.

“So Many Snacks, So Little Time”: Venom and the Art of Pacing


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I’m a big fan of this year’s least expected superhero smash, “Venom.” As you might have expected from somebody who had a staggering human-hearted clay-bleeding golem for a romantic hero, I’m not averse to a little body horror with my genre fiction, and the story of Eddie Brock–a man bonded with an outer-space parasite that wants to eat people–was certainly weird enough to qualify. Critics hated it, but “Venom” scored a surprise hit with audiences worldwide, hitting $822 million worldwide as of late November.

Not bad for a movie whose chief attraction was two hours of Tom Hardy losing his mind.

But there’s more than symbiote antics and acclaimed actors biting the heads off prop lobsters to recommend “Venom.” This humble tale of man and alien has done something that, in my opinion, most big-budget genre movies have failed to do in the last five years. “Venom” understands pacing.

Let’s talk about that. Spoilers follow.

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These Things Happen


Note: Another product of pondering this story and that. In stories, and sometimes in real life, people who put a toe out of line or are in danger of getting caught by the authorities tend to spontaneously lose their will to live. Funny how that works. 

“Yes, the police said it was an accident. He fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.” –Mystery Men


They found her wrapped in bandages, a mummy from a flick

They found the cordite in her hair, the marks from when she’d kick

They found her in a box outside the governor’s estate

“Suicide,” said the coroner, and then they closed the case.


They found the burning papers in the garden of the man

Who was on the lam for decades, playing catch-me-if-you-can

But when the cops caught up, it was his toe they had to tag

“Suicide,” said the coroner, putting pieces in the bag.


They found the dirty money paid out just before the drop

They found the buried files and the body of the cop

Who had asked too many questions of a lady and a gent:

“Suicide,” said the coroner. Man’s got to pay his rent.


They found, and kept on finding, and the question did arise

How a man bound hand and foot could shoot himself between the eyes

How the governor’s wife was always somewhere nearby, close to hand

Her alibi, impeccable. Her silence, iron-clad.


Suicide is painless if already dead when hung.

Suicide is simple when you’ve done what you have done.

And if askers keep on asking, ask the coroner his thought:

“Suicide,” said the coroner, “is easy. Just get caught.”

The Bill



Here’s Brian, the hero. Here’s Johnny, the fool.

Here’s Robert, the bastard, and Jonas, the tool.

Here’s Michael the cats’-paw and Miller the wise

And here’s follower Mary of the big blue eyes.


Here’s Will, the fanatic. Ah, but that one could hate!

Here’s Coll and Bill Starkey–damn me, what a weight!

Here’s Joe, who just wanted a new suit of clothes

And here’s pretty young Susan, who followed her Mose.


Here’s Roger and Roderick. In life and death

Some brothers fight bloodiest, choking for breath

With their knives in their backs and their hands around throats

For a woman–and both of ’em ugly old goats.


Here’s another one coming–I haven’t his name

But here’s old Badger Burley, who so wanted fame.

Here the smell’s growing thicker. Ah, pass me the cloth

And give over Dame Shovel to help see ’em off.


Here’s Mac from the north, who was led by a star

Here’s Amos, who took the wrong turn from the bar.

Here’s Susan’s young Mose–ah, they’re not parted rough.

Put him back by her side, boys, she’s small–room enough.


Here’s a pocket of coins. Well, it won’t feed the dead.

I’d say “Here’s to you,” but you haven’t a head.

Still, I’ll drink to your memory, whatever I will

And thank God it’s not me who is paying the bill.

Kill Your Muse


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Inspiration is like an ex you’re not over yet. You want it, fantasize about it, maybe even structure your life around it … But you can’t rely on it, and when you try, all you end up with is a broken heart and the manuscript equivalent of a drained checking account.

I recently conducted an experiment in killing my muse. I deleted inspiration’s phone number, planted my ass in my chair, and walked another writer through doing the same. Let’s talk about it.

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