‘Tis the Season…

The next few days in the Kennedy house will officially be spent turning this pile of lovely possibility:

Christmasinto seven cheesecakes (some drenched in homemade caramel and/or dark chocolate ganache) and at least five batches of the most scrumptious chocolate chip cookies in the universe, to be given as gifts to friends and family.

As my children have gotten older, baking has become our unexpected holiday tradition–unexpected because for years I wasn’t very good at it.  Once, I set our oven on fire while baking Pilsbury slice and bake sugar cookies, which take a stupendous lack of talent to ruin, let me tell you.  Our children, however, all have a knack for baking, so we spend hours on end, for at least two days leading up to Christmas Eve, cooking our little hearts out and delivering joy to those who have brought us joy throughout the year.  Even though it is work (hard work–have you ever made a cheese cake), it is easily my favorite part of the holidays.

Since I can’t give all of you a slice of cheesecake, I thought I would share the recipes we use so you can try your hand at making your own and impressing your own friends and family–my gift you you! These are not our recipes, though I couldn’t tell you who they belong to, but they have seen us through many Christmases and school projects, birthday parties and team dinners, some have requested we make them as gifts for them to give to others and we get special requests throughout the year.  And of course we love them enough to eat them as well, even after we have stood for two days straight slaving over them for others, so they are proven recipes.  We hope you enjoy!


Note: All ingredients should be room temperature.

5 packages of cream cheese (8 oz)

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup heavy cream


• Preheat oven to 325°, position rack in the middle of the oven.  Meanwhile, set a pot of water to boil on the stove.

• In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt until smooth.  Set mixer to low, and add yolks and eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Finally, add vanilla and cream.

• Grease a 9 inch cake pan or spring form pan and line bottom with parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan.  Place cake pan into large roasting or broiling pan.  Fill the roasting pan with boiling water to halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Our recipe calls for 35 to 45 minutes in the oven, but we always end up baking them 1 hour, which is a testament to each oven being different.  Start checking every 5-10 minutes at 35 minutes and bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on the top.

• Remove cheesecake from water bath and cool to room temperature.  Add crust (see below), turn onto plate, if adding chocolate or caramel (see below) now is the time, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Make sure to use plenty of wrap, as cheesecake tend to take on refrigerator smells.

Cheesecake Crust

1/2 cup real salted butter

1 package graham crackers (not the whole box!)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar


• In a plastic bag, crush graham crackers to smithereens (this part’s fun).

• Melt butter and brown sugar in a heavy sauce pan, just until sugar is melted.

• Add the crushed graham crackers to the butter and sugar mixture, stirring.

• Allow to cool to the touch before adding in an even layer to the top of the cheesecake, pressing in gently.

Chocolate Ganache

8 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

1/8th tsp coarse salt


• Place chopped chocolate in heat-proof bowl.

• In a sauce pan, bring cream just to a boil over medium-high heat.

• Pour heated cream over the chocolate, adding coarse salt and making certain all of the chocolate is submerged–do not stir.

• Allow to stand for ten minutes before whisking smooth.  Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.

Caramel Sauce

2 cups sugar

12 tbsp unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste


• In a heavy saucepan, heat sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as it melts.  Stop whisking when melted.

• Cook sugar to a deep amber color (reddish brown with a slightly toasted aroma and just a tiny bit of smoke) to 350°.

• Add butter all at once BUT CAREFULLY, whisking until melted.

• Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream (again carefully).  Whisk until all of the cream is incorporated and sauce is smooth, then add salt as desired.

• Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.  Remainder may be refrigerated for up to two weeks and reheated prior to use–we recommend caramel sundaes!


May you be blessed with Peace, Love and Joy this holiday season!


Merry Christmas!



Drawing Lessons: Lesson Three: Oh! The Perils

For once, I have a story about my adventures in sketching characters that doesn’t involve bad art–at least not in the traditional sense.

This is Peril, or Alistair Godfrey, as his parents called him.


It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated the character pages because of Peril, which is strange because from the beginning I believed he would be one of the easier characters to present.  Instead he’s proven the most difficult so far.  Even worse than Ash, which is saying a lot.

Book one of The Eleventh Age has been completed for some time now, and while I’ve been going through the usual rigamaroo as a new author trying to gain notice in the publishing world, just one more unknown in a sea of countless unknowns, all looking to be discovered, I’ve also been hard at work on book two, which naturally means that in my mind the characters are all different people than who they were at the beginning of their story, or even at end of book one.  In building this site, I have had to be very careful not to allow the changes the characters experience through the course of the writing to taint how I present them to the world.  This sweet-faced boy was a massive challenge for me in that respect, because he is one of the characters who is most changed from book one to book two, and as I drew him (repeatedly), those changes were visible in his eyes, in the hardness of his lips.  I had to put him down, go back and remember who he was before, so that I could show you the Peril Elli meets on her sixteenth birthday.

Heraclitus is quoted by many a philosopher as having pointed out the inevitability of change as a constant, the river’s flow being an apt metaphor for the universal flux we experience not just from day to day but from moment to moment.  On this Plutarch writes:

“It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state.”

This is a beautiful truth that is so easy to miss, as we are only privileged enough to experience the changes within ourselves as we meander through this life.  Too often we fail to realize that anything we see of other people, even those we love and hold most dear, is just a small glimpse of who those people are at one bend along their stream.  Like a river, every person is always flowing with new waters gained by their own experiences. Each of us is polishing our own boulders into smooth pebbles and cutting our channels deeper as we go.

To live is to change.

Peril will never again be the sweet-faced boy in this picture.

A Fate More than Metaphors and Rhyming Schemes

Oftentimes when prophecy plays a role in a story, it is static and unbending in nature.  Fate proves to be merely what is fated, a concrete idea of a predetermined purpose, and there is little to be done about it once set in motion, try as one might, and even less to explain why such a purpose is necessary, except that without it there would be no story.  An author may employ metaphors or plays on words in order to make prophecies appear to have multiple meanings, so that it is only in the end that one can see the symbolism interwoven throughout the tale all along, hinting at deeper truths, if only the protagonist could have seen.  More commonly, stories involve self-fulfilling prophecies, in which belief in a prophecy is required for it to come to fruition, a character’s own attempts to avoid the certain outcome proving to be the very cause.  And of course, prophecies are generally vague, leaving plenty of room for doubt, and providing a decent excuse when an interpretation turns out to be completely wrong–just ask Nostradamus.

In The Eleventh Age, things aren’t so simple.  Early on in my writing, I began to explore the idea that in order for there to be any sort of prophecy in the first place, Fate actually had to have a purpose in mind, which meant Fate was at least quasi-sentient.  This realization marked the birth of Fate as a living, ever-changing character, a character that interacts with the other characters in the story on a continuous basis, rather than being relegated to a stagnant existence as just another fortuneteller spouting pretty prose. But as such, Fate’s role and the nature of prophecy could not just be to provide convenient plot twists that keep the “real” characters on their toes.  Fate in The Eleventh Age requires goals, desires, intentions, and otherwise serious character flaws, and trust me when I say that thinking about Fate this way has not been easy.

While Elli Foote, the hero of the story, is told at the beginning of book one that her predestined worst enemy is Roviello Tofal, the evil wizard who has survived more than ten thousand years for the sole purpose of being her arch nemesis, by the end of the book, it is fairly clear that what she has been told and what is reality can be very different things, especially where prophecies are concerned, and she begins to understand that Fate is her enemy as well, a decidedly worse enemy than Roviello Tofal in many ways.  This is not to say that Tofal is not particularly evil, or that he will not prove himself to be a spectacular adversary (oh,he is, and he will), but Fate’s role as progenitor of tragedy for Elli throughout the series is certain, as is Elli’s role of seeing Fate as her personal universal foe, even though most people would think the idea of Fate having it out for one person in particular is pretty silly–but what teenager hasn’t thought that the world is out to get them?  In this case, she might just happen to be right.

Discover why Fate has a dark side…  Read The Eleventh Age.


How To Avoid Spoiler Alerts

I know it isn’t the most intellectually stimulating entertainment to be had, at least not on the surface, but I have to admit that I actually enjoy the continuous tragedy that is The Walking Dead. Believe it or not, I find the show to be an interesting examination of the nature of evil. As one might expect, the primal cause for all of the characters on the show is avoiding becoming lunch for some dead guy, yet inevitably the greatest source of disaster for the temporary survivors of the slow extinction of the human race is other people just trying to survive. The characters, good and bad, are constantly forced to choose between evils, which leaves the audience with a perpetual knot of repulsion tangled up in awkward commiseration sitting hard in their bellies.

At the end of this Sunday’s Walking Dead, when _____ was ____ in the _____ by that _____ from the _______, my sixteen year old daughter burst into convulsive tears, howling in agony, like ____ was one of her best friends (neurologically speaking, she was a good friend, but this is not another Theory of Mind post). My daughter’s was the titanic sort of meltdown that teenagers are especially prone to when something terrible happens to their favorite character, the kind of meltdown that had her questioning all of humanity and making deals with the universe. She just could not believe ___ was ___, and she wanted someone—anyone— to take it back, to undo “all the feels,” as she muttered through the synthetic fluff of her pillow. For the record, I cried too, but not nearly as hard or as long as she did, though to be fair my own upheaval for ____’s sake was interrupted by a minor internal drama of my own, as I listened to my daughter carrying on about deaths in movies and television shows and books, because as I consoled her I was reminded of my biggest fear as a writer (well, it’s actually my second biggest fear, but my first biggest fear is beside the point… try to stay on point here, people). My (second) biggest fear is that I will fail as an author to make my readers fall apart the way my daughter fell apart Sunday night—completely, and without shame.

As she sobbed over ____ _____, I quietly considered my own duty to provide that visceral explosion within my own audience on a regular basis. It is a duty. No matter the genre of choice, we read to experience a full range of emotions, to live vicariously through the heroes of our imaginations, so a writer who fails to incite chemical riots in the mind and bodies of the masses has no room to call himself a writer. As a writer, I must make certain readers of The Eleventh Age ____ ___ ____ as ____ and ____ ___ ____ ____ by penning small betrayals of their trust along the way. If I want a part of you to ____ when ____ _____, then I must first build every reason for you to believe that can never happen, while at the same time leaving you continuously afraid it will.   And in order for you to feel ______ when you figure out that ____ ____ is a _____ and is ___ ____ _____, I have to lie to you and then make you hate me a little when you discover the truth. It is my job to paint those screaming, crying, throw-the-book-across-the-room-in-rage (but a good rage, not a “What the heck do you mean by it was all a dream!!?!” rage) moments that cause your heart to break right in the middle of soaring. I have to make you laugh and cry and fall madly in love and just as madly in hate, and it scares the_____ ____ out of me that I might miss the mark.   This fear is irrational, along the lines of worrying obsessively over the potential for losing one’s keys. But the reality is I’m writing to young adults, and every year I get a little, er, less young and more likely to lose my keys.

For the record, my daughter is presently telling me all about the Slated trilogy, by Teri Terry (a good review), which is why this post wound up named “How To Avoid Spoiler Alerts”.  The answer is to write MadLib-style blog posts.


Last week, when I promised that I would post yesterday, I didn’t know just how chaotic my house would be after the musical, so instead of writing, I did the responsible thing and cleaned, which was a good thing because by late afternoon the house started filling up with friends and family.  It is Thanksgiving day here in the states, the day which serves as a gentle reminder to all of us to consider the things we are grateful for in our lives while engorging ourselves on Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and chocolate pie and (if we’re lucky) playing games all day with our families and friends, which is why this post must be short and sweet.

I am truly grateful for my loving husband, who is my best friend, our three patient, kind and compassionate children, who remind me every day to be thankful, our friends who share their lives with us and love us just as family, our menagerie of goofball animals that keep me laughing, and the story that has been a blessing to me.

May you all be blessed with Peace, Love and Joy.

In an Alternate Universe I’m a Costume Designer

We’re less than a week away from showtime for the local high school musical, and as usual, I’m up to my eyeballs in something or other and loving every minute of it. This year the kids are performing The Music Man, and my older daughter and I will primarily be concerning ourselves with hair–tons of big, Titanic Period hair– along with Native headdresses for the Pick-a-Little Ladies (learn how to make them here), various hats, and the construction of an honest-to-goodness Iowa picnic dress for one young woman, who couldn’t find anything within her budget to wear (and then her engine on her car blew, so my diligent work, which included learning last minute pattern grading, has become charity, which I don’t mind because I have to get into heaven somehow).  If everything runs smoothly backstage at dress rehearsal, I may actually get to see my youngest daughter in her all-school production debut as that bit part kid who sings the line “In March I got a grey mackinaw” in The Wells Fargo Wagon on opening night, but I’m not holding my breath, even though I don’t have any beards to glue on this year and no one has to be spontaneously painted green in the last three minutes of each show.  There is plenty of big hair to be maintained through costume changes.  Needless to say, I’m being kept fairly busy and having great fun in the process.

With all of this happening, this past week I haven’t had any time to write, let alone to think about what I could possibly post on the old blog that would have meaning to potential readers or be relevant to my work.  I mean, Sunday rolled around and it was snowing and the house was still covered in feathers.  Someone decided it would be great fun to pretend it was Christmas already and created a caroling station on Pandora, so we were dancing and singing, between gluing headdresses together.  Monday was a snow day, and the girls went sledding instead of to school, play practice was cancelled, so I made an enormous pot of potato soup (recipe), finished everything but the sleeves and the darts on the dress, and spent the evening doing something I hadn’t done in days–sat still, unbothered, and just relaxed.

Other people’s blogs have been particularly helpful to me this past week, but this morning, faced with a self-imposed every-Tuesday-or-else deadline on my own blog, I thought what the heck is there to write about?  I haven’t actually written a single sentence since last Wednesday, and until close of curtain next Tuesday night, I am fairly certain my whole world is going to revolve around that stage and whatever meals can be thrown together in one pot and left to their own devices while I play theater mom.  As a rule, this site is meant to be about The Eleventh Age and my journey as an author, so I thought that I would just post a picture of all the feathers and a note that I would be back next Wednesday with something insightful and purposeful to say, but when I sat down at the computer, it occurred to me that there is something so important to write that I am actually going to write it twice:

Sunday rolled around and it was snowing and the house was still covered in feathers.

There is so much joy in that one sentence.  I love musical season.  I’ll be back next Wednesday.

Eureka! Where Inspiration Comes From

My husband woke me up early Sunday morning to show me an article about, of all things, clouds.  An ordinary girl would be annoyed, being awoken in the wee hours by a man waving a blindingly bright phone in her face, insisting a bit too loudly, “Wake up!  You have to read this!”  Not me.  Believe it or not I am perfectly content squinting though the darkness, trying to make sense of the colorful blurs before my mind has completely stopped dreaming (some of my best eureka moments happen in this state, after all).  Of course, my husband usually figures out I can’t exactly see what he’s trying to show me and takes pity, reading the intended passage aloud, before I fall quickly back to sleep, happy–legitimately happy, not just because I get to go back to sleep, although that is nice too, but because the man just gets me.

This is actually a fairly common occurrence in our house, and it isn’t just a middle-of-the-night attempt by my husband to make me suffer his insomnia with him.  He often calls during the day just to tell me about some amazing fact he happened across or hurries home after work to show me a picture of some place he thinks will be a great setting for a battle because he totally supports my need to include as much reality in my fantasy as there is fiction in my fantasy.  I am grateful for all of the ideas my husband has come up with through the years, even the ideas I won’t ever use, and for the fact that my oftentimes begrudging nature as a writer never seems to get in the way of his enthusiasm, which I have to admit makes him my favorite person in the entire world.  I love that he gets just as excited as I do about the prospect of inspiring wonder in people by showing them the magic that exists right here in the real world, no fiction required.

Sunday morning the wonder was fallstreak hole clouds, which apparently received some media attention after residents of Wonthaggi, Australia captured images of the rare occurrence last week.  I’m not certain my husband realized that I actually have a fairly extensive file on atmospheric conditions already, which includes what I believed was every description of cloud known to man, until Sunday when my darling Official First Reader woke me up excitedly explaining that elves could in fact make these hole punch clouds when they fly–he had even thought of the fuzzy science to back it up (which made me laugh, in a good way, as I went back to sleep).  I don’t know that I will ever write about a fallstreak hole in the way he envisioned them, however he will be happy to know that I have added it to the large list of anomalies witnessed in the Veils of Fate, and while I don’t know exactly what this veil will mean yet, I do know that it will be featured as part of a prophecy seen by Elijah.

Me and my muse–weren’t we adorable? I don’t know how he’s managed it, but somehow this guy has put up with my nonsense for twenty-one years this week.

The truth is eureka moments, sudden sparks of genius, don’t happen often.  Most people don’t have phone-wielding insomniac muses hanging around to be the light bulb that shines over their head on a regular basis, even in their sleep, so they have to work for inspiration.  Not that I don’t work for inspiration as well–last week’s post on research hinted at just how much effort goes into finding the small hints of insight that fit within the puzzle I’m building by cutting out random shapes from reality and cobbling them together to make a picture that isn’t completely clear, even to me because my personal journey is about learning.

For the most part, great ideas are born out of this slow building of understanding.  It is this slow building that allowed the image of a young Kazakh sayatshy girl to stick with me for months, until one day she became just a small facet of a character who makes her debut in book two of the series.  This is how Stavanger, a city in Norway I’ve only visited through the miracle of the internet, became the place where years ago someone important to my characters died, though this man will only ever be mentioned as a ghost that walks through a conversation.  Sometimes the slow building lasts for years, as in is the case with the history of fairies in New Zealand.  In book two, I incorporate some of the traditional Maori tales into my own.  And occasionally the fragile threads of a dozen other ideas come together as an actual spark of genius, to answer questions I’ve had for a very long time and been unable to find the answer just by searching, as is the case with Namcha Barwa, a mountain in Tibet also known as the Breast of Vajrayogini.

A lot of truly great stories, both real and imaginary, have inspired my work.  I hope that one day people look back on the stories I write and find inspiration as well.

The Tale of Eliot Dodge

In honor of my favorite holiday, Halloween, I give you a spooky story by yours truly.  Happy Haunting!

The Tale of Eliot Dodge

By Luthien T. Kennedy


“You gotta be kiddin’ me!” I laughed. “Are you dim or what?”

“Hey, you can piss off, Mikey. Everyone knows the cemetery’s haunted,” Austin shouted.   “I ain’t goin’ in there!”

“We’ve still got two good hours of daylight left,” Jordan grinned, rubbing his thigh nervously.

“IT’S FULL OF DEAD PEOPLE! You two wanna go in there, go right ahead, but I’m stayin’ out here where it’s safe,” Austin answered, clutching tight to his bike handles, his foot on the pedal, ready to ride at the first hint of anything even remotely creepy.

“Nobody actually died there, Austin,” I answered, annoyed. “Ghosts aren’t real, and if they were real, they’d leave their ghosts where they died or haunt their own houses, not come hang out at a boring old cemetery for the rest of eternity. Jeez.”

“Never mind the ghosts, what about zombies?”

“Oh my God, Austin, if they were going to turn into zombies, they’d have done it by now!” I laughed.

“Well, if Austin’s not goin’ in, I’m not goin’ in,” Jordan chuckled, looking slightly relieved that he wasn’t the first one to cave.

“This is bull,” I answered. “What did we come out here for if both of you were just going to chicken out?”

“I said back at your house I’d ride out here with you, but I wasn’t going in, didn’t I, Jordan?” Austin answered.

“He did.”

“What a bunch of babies! I’ll go in by myself then, and you two can stay out here, have a cuddle and pray I come out safe,” I said, hopping off my bike, tugging my backpack up on my shoulders and heading for the entrance. I didn’t believe in ghosts, but that didn’t stop my palms from sweating or the lump from growing in my throat.

“You don’t have to, Mike,” Jordan said. “Let’s just go back and look it up on the internet like everyone else.”

“I’m going in there to get the answer, and I’m going to prove to you losers that there’s nothing scary about a stinkin’ cemetery.”

I’d been to a cemetery before, but not quite like this one. My grandpa Ed died two years ago, and my mom didn’t want to leave me with my dad because she didn’t trust him to remember to pick me up from school. Besides she said she thought it was important that I understand death, like somehow I had gotten to the age of ten, watching the Disney Channel every day, without ever realizing that people died in the end. “Death is just a part of life, Mikey,” she told me. “It’s the one thing we all have in common,” which was pretty smart, I thought now that I was twelve and headed into Ridgefield’s cemetery alone. What had I learned at Grandpa Ed’s funeral that would help me now? I learned that funeral homes smelled funny and dead people generally look weird, not gross, but not like themselves. I also learned why they call dead guys stiffs. While nobody was looking, I touched Grandpa Ed’s hand. He didn’t even feel like he had ever been real.

The place where Grandpa was buried was newer than Ridgefield’s cemetery, and all the headstones were set in neat rows and there were hardly any trees, except up by the little building where my mom said they held non-religious services for families. Ridgefield’s cemetery was older than old and overgrown with trees so that even during the day the ground was dark with shadows. The newer parts, up over the hill, looked a lot like where Grandpa was buried, straight and orderly, but the parts closer to town, down in the valley where there were graves more than two hundred years old, the plots were haphazard, almost as though the grave diggers had just fit people in wherever they could get them. There was every kind of grave there, with tombstones shaped like crosses and with gargoyles sitting atop them and statues of angels standing watch, crypts covered in moss and great, molding mausoleums where whole families had been laid to rest.

“You need anything, Mikey, you text me,” Jordan said as I headed off toward the darkness of the oldest part of the cemetery, off to find out for myself who the first person buried at Ridgefield’s cemetery was and what year they were buried there. Our history teacher, Mr. Sparks, had set the assignment. He told us we could go to the library or even use the internet for help, but for the more adventurous among us, he had drawn out a map leading the way right to our morbidly buried treasure.

“Like your wimpy butt’s going to come in after me,” I mumbled under my breath as I left.

“Bet you five bucks he gets scared and comes back with some story about how he couldn’t find it,” I heard Austin say.

“Maybe we shouldn’t let him go alone,” Jordan answered. “What if something happens to him?”

“Yeah, like he stumbles across an axe murderer who’s using the cemetery as a secret hideout and he kills him and eats his kidneys. Oh, or one of those big tombstones falls on him and crushes his head! Squelch! Wonder what his brains look like all squished?” Austin laughed.

“If he’s not back in half an hour, we’re going in after him,” Jordan chuckled.

“Correction: you’re going in after him.”

“But then the axe murderer would get you, and we’d come back and all we’d find is your right shoe and your bike.”

“Piss off, Jordy!”

“You piss off,” he laughed. “Why do you always have to tell people to piss off?”

“My dad says it all the time, and it makes my mom mad,” Austin answered seriously.

I listened to their voices as I hurried along the outer path, the dates on the gravestones growing older and their voices growing fainter with every step, until I couldn’t hear them anymore. Anything might have happened in that place, and no one would know about it for all the trees, I thought, which was a mistake, because my heart started to echo in my ears and I wondered if twelve year olds could die of heart attacks. The only thing that kept me going was the idea of rubbing Austin’s nose in finding the grave, and refusing to let him cheat when I knew the answers for Mr. Sparks’ assignment and he didn’t.

I turned up the dirt road that led to the abandoned church at the top of the hill, where I’d have to pull out Mr. Sparks’ map in order to find the right grave. Being a history teacher, Mr. Sparks had a thing for local lore, as he called it. He said no one had attended Ridgefield’s original church there in the middle of the city cemetery in more than a hundred years, and from what I could see of the place as I started toward it, it looked like no one, including me, would ever want to go there. As Sparks told it, the year the church closed its doors, the cemetery had run out of room for new plots and the city needed to purchase more land. Unfortunately, none of the farmers with land surrounding the place were willing to sell, which meant the only option was for the church to give up its churchyard at the top of the hill, where parishioners and members of the community had held picnics under the shade of the giant oak every Sunday in the spring since Ridgefield was barely more than a settlement. The dispute between the pastor and the mayor of Ridgefield was big news at the time, and it was a few months of heated negotiation before the city was able to purchase the church and its land for enough money to build a bigger and better church in town, which was built that same year a hundred years ago, at the corner of East Fletcher Road and 21st Street.

The old church was supposed to have been demolished to make room for even more plots, but a woman from the congregation asked if she could buy the building and help tend the graveyard. She didn’t have much money, her husband having died several years before, but she believed that the dead needed God to watch over them, and she said that it was a sacrilege to tear down a house of worship, which I assumed meant something pretty bad would happen, probably involving demons and exorcisms. She had been married in that church twenty-six years before. Her son, who had died only a few years before, had been baptized there. That church was her family, and even though they were building a new church, the idea of losing the old one, where so much of her life had been spent in happiness and sadness, was too much to bear. After all that argument with the pastor, the mayor agreed to sell the church building to the woman for a dollar, on the condition she helped tend the graveyard, and she apparently lived there for several years and was known for planting flowers at every grave each spring, until she died many years later and was buried in a plot right under the giant oak. After her death, the old church house was left standing, in her honor, Sparks told us.

Left to ruin, I thought as I came up to the front porch and looked up at the old building, gray and crumbling. Even though it was in a terrible state, there was an eerie sort of calm there, like God and that old flower lady were both looking on, watching me as I scanned the building. The steps leading up to the porch were all termite-eaten and broken to pieces. The front doors were chained shut with rusting chains and a padlock that was so old it only had a keyhole and no knob for putting in a combination. The stained glass windows were missing pieces, and boards had fallen off of the building so that one could see right inside to the pews, if a person was brave enough to look, which I wasn’t. But the grounds were strangely well-kept, like that old lady had stuck around for a hundred years, still making the flowers grow, likely sad that her church, bought for a dollar, had been allowed to decay after her death. The thought gave me shivers.

“You one of Sparks’ kids?” came a voice from behind me.

I nearly peed my pants as I jumped around, yelling, holding my hands out in front of me like I knew judo or something. The young man, maybe twenty, wore a blue work suit stained with dirt and sweat. He had a small shovel in one hand and held the other hand on his hip like he was tired and couldn’t wait for the day to end and didn’t have much time for kids in his cemetery. His skin was pasty white, I thought.

“Sparks’ kids, yeah, yeah,” I said, breathless. He must have been a groundskeeper, and I must have looked pretty spooked being out there all alone, because he laughed at me, as he wiped his dirty sleeve across his forehead.

“You got your map then?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, dropping my pack off my shoulders and kneeling down to unzip the bag. I didn’t know why I kept repeating myself. It was just a guy in a blue jumpsuit, with a shovel, in the middle of a cemetery. There wasn’t anything strange about that, was there? “Anybody else been out here yet?” I asked, trying not to sound too nervous.

“Not that I’ve seen, but they rarely come. We get maybe one a year, and any more than that always come in groups, though they usually do more to frighten each other than they would do coming alone. Kids tend to work each other up.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed, then frowned at myself for sounding stupid again. “My friends are waiting for me at the gates.” I may have said this because it was true and on topic, since my friends had managed to give me the creeps even though I left them back at the entrance, or I might have said this because I didn’t want the man to think I was there alone.

“Lily-livered?” he chuckled.

“Yellow,” I nodded, pulling out the map and unfolding it. “Right, so from here it looks like I go… that way,” I said, pointing to the southeast, down the hill into the valley.

“I’ll show you the way, if you want.”

I don’t know why, but my guts told me I should just let the man get back to his work. I didn’t know anything at all about him, except that he worked at the cemetery, and what sort of person worked at a cemetery anyway? “Um… I’m pretty sure I can find it on my own,” I answered. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Eliot Dodge,” he smiled. “I don’t blame you, not wanting a stranger’s company, and in a cemetery no less. Tell you what, kid, I’ll be up here working, if you need anything, but I doubt you will. You’re certainly not like most kids.”


“The ones that make it this far usually just ask me for the answer and leave as fast as possible,” he laughed.

“Yeah, I guess I’m not like most kids,” I grinned, proudly. “Thanks for the offer, Mr. Dodge.”

“You’re welcome. You tell Sparks I said hello,” he smiled, and turned away, to head off around the side of the church where the old oak stood, leaving me very much alone.

As he disappeared around the corner, I gave a pretty big sigh of relief. “Axe murderers,” I whispered, pulling out my phone to check the time and make sure I had bars. I snapped a selfie with the old church behind me before grabbing up my backpack and heading off, using the map as my guide.

A few minutes later, after winding my way down a path into the valley, turning left at a statue of an angel with its wings stretched six feet wide, then right at the grave of Nelson and Millie Grover, I found myself stood in front of the oldest grave in the cemetery, with my hands on my hips, feeling a bit let down, because I guess a part of me thought it would be more eventful than it was. The bones of Julian Parsons were buried there, or at least I figured there was likely only bones left of the man after so long—there had likely been little more to him than bones when Parsons died in 1723 at the ripe old age of 96, which was incredibly old, I had to admit, especially for so long ago. While we were studying the colonies, Mr. Sparks told us that back then an “elderly person” usually didn’t live past 40, so Julian Parsons had more than doubled his life, likely outliving his own children and even most of his grandchildren, if he had any. I wondered if this was what Mr. Sparks had really sent us to find out as my phone buzzed in my pocket.   It had been almost a half hour and Austin wanted to know if I was officially the first person to die in the cemetery. I messaged him “OFFICIALLY NO!” and took a picture of myself in front of Julian Parson’s grave, to prove I’d been the only one brave enough to use the map.

But when I turned back toward the hill to leave, my stomach clenched and my palms began to sweat again. I took a few steps forward, but something was telling me I really didn’t want to go back by way of the old church. I looked off across the cemetery grounds, toward the road back to town hidden behind so many trees. It was already six and getting dark down in that valley, and I would have had to walk through hundreds of graves if I didn’t stick to the map. I was tempted to yell for Mr. Dodge or to call Jordan and have him talk me through getting back to the gate, but I thought that was something only a chicken like Austin would do (even though Jordan wouldn’t have held it against me, I would have held it against me, and Austin definitely would have held it against me).

Every step back along the path through the graves toward the church on the hill was deliberate so that I could be as soundless as possible. Even the birds had gone silent, as though they didn’t want to be heard returning to the churchyard any more than I did. From this view, the church looked even more ominous sitting up there in all its deteriorating glory, presiding over thousands of dead Ridgefielders, a rotting corpse hardly more than bones herself.   I didn’t know what I was so afraid of or what I thought would happen when I got back to the church, but I knew I didn’t really want to make it up to the top of that hill. I kept imagining horrible things, like Jordan laying on the ground in front of the church steps with Dodge’s shovel sticking out of his eye socket and that little old lady up there in her church, watching me through a hole in a stained glass window, angry that I had let her home go to ruins, though I knew I was only twelve, and it didn’t make any sense that if ghosts existed, the old lady would hold what had happened to her church against me when there were thousands of other people, both living and dead, she could hold it against. Surely all old ladies had a soft spot for boys, even dead ones?

When I was close enough to the top of the hill to feel comfortable, I cut the corner rather than going up past the church, darting between graves to get to the dirt road. It felt like what that old lady would have called a sacrilege to be stepping over those graves the way I did, but all I wanted to do was get to the road and make a mad run back to my friends, to my bike, to my mom and the comfort of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a big glass of milk, and some happy Disney Channel movie with absolutely no dead people and no cemeteries and none of Mr. Sparks’ idea of adventure. But as I was almost to the road, still a few graves to go, hurrying between the foot of one grave and the headstone marking the next, I heard a sound in the distance, like a tree creaking. It sounded strangely like my old rope swing sounded now that I weighed ninety pounds, but this heavier, like someone too big had decided to have a slow ride, and was stressing the rope and the branch, as they swung.

I was tempted just to dash right over the last few graves, but I stood there listening for at least a minute, frozen in fear as my heart pounded furiously in my chest, but slow, like the beating of a war drum. “Mr. Dodge?” I called out, my voice cracking as I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed Jordan’s number. The sound came again, creaking dangerously, and I looked up at the church, thinking it must just be settling into its death.

I put the phone to my ear and heard Jordan’s voice, a welcome sound now that my hair was standing on end. “What’s up? You find the grave?”

“Just a minute,” I whispered, still standing there surrounded by the dead, frozen in my tracks. Maybe Mr. Dodge was messing with me? But what if something had happened to him and he needed help?

“What’s wrong, man?”

“Is he dead?” Austin laughed in the background.

“Mr. Dodge, are you all right?” I called out, stepping right on top of Nancy Dowdy and James Fisher as I turned toward the church.

“Who’s Mr. Dodge? Don’t play games, Mikey. Come on, I’m not scared,” Jordan said, though he sounded like he was. I wished he and Austin were there with me. I’d even hold their hands, I thought as I took a few careful steps toward the old building.

“Did you say Dodge?” Austin asked, his voice high-pitched. “What the heck, Mikey, stop kiddin’ around!”

“Shut up, Austin,” Jordan said. “Mikey, what’s going on?”

“I’m up at the old church,” I whispered, moving slowly toward it. “There’s a man here, a groundskeeper, named Eliot Dodge. I heard something. I don’t know what it was, but he won’t answer. He’s probably just trying to scare me.” As I walked toward the far side of the churchyard, the sound of the old tree creaking grew louder. I could see lots of its twisted branches, its leaves turning red as fall took hold. “Mr. Dodge?” I called again, pausing as I came to the corner, trying to get up my nerve to look. The old lady was buried under that tree, I thought. She’s buried under that tree. All that’s over there is more graves. But Dodge had gone around there.

“You get out of there now, Mikey,” Jordan said.

Austin started spitting curses, yelling at Jordan to give him the phone, yelling at me to run as Jordan could be heard trying shove him away, yelling at him to shut up, Austin arguing with him that he had to tell me something, saying something about Dodge, but it was Austin, I thought. He had an overactive imagination, and I knew he wanted me to be just as afraid as he had been. He didn’t have to worry about that though. I was so scared by that point my whole body was freezing and my teeth had started to chatter even though the sweat poured off of me in buckets.

“Mikey, what’s happening?” Jordan asked, Austin saying, “Oh, God! Oh, No! Mikey, come on, get outta there, man!” in the background.

“Mr. Dodge?” I called out again, hesitating at the corner, arms out, ready to do some old movie kung fu on Dodge, sure he was waiting for me to come around that corner so he could jump out and scare me.

All I heard was the sound of that rope swing making the tree creak and Austin repeating, “God, oh God, oh God, “ sounding like he was pacing circles.

“Mikey, Austin’s having a nuclear meltdown out here. Stop messing around and come on,” Jordan said in my ear.

“All right, Jordan, I’m on my way out now,” I said loudly. “Tell your mom I’m sorry I made you late for dinner again.” And then I did the stupidest thing I’ve ever done—I darted around the corner yelling, “Aha!” like I thought I was going to scare Eliot Dodge before he could scare me. Boy, was I wrong.

As I came around the corner, the end of my word of surprise caught in my throat, turning to a long scream of terror that didn’t sound like it came from my body. I wanted to run, but my feet were stuck there to the hallowed ground and Jordan was yelling in my ear, “Mikey, what’s wrong? Mikey, stop screaming!” He swore loudly, yelling at Austin to come back, yelling at me to run, telling me he was coming in for me, but I just kept screaming, panic overwhelming me, heart racing a million miles a minute.

There was Mr. Eliot Dodge, swinging by the neck from the old oak, hanging right over the old woman’s grave, overgrown with flowers. His work jumper had been ripped, and the skin on his face, neck and chest had been eaten away, picked at by crows and bugs, like he had been hanging there for several days, not a few minutes.

I took a gasping breath and finally my feet came loose from the earth and I turned to run as fast as I could, screaming louder, back down dirt road, back down the hill, Jordan still yelling, “I’m coming, Mikey! I’m coming!” I must have been running faster than I’d ever run in my life, because Jordan had hardly made it twenty yards up the path when I met him, the shriek still pouring out of me, and the look on his face when he saw me was just as frightened as I felt as he grabbed my arm and we hurried out the gate together, jumped our bikes and rode away. It wasn’t until the cemetery was good and behind us and I had gotten winded, pedaling as hard as I could, that I finally stopped screaming.

“What did you see?” Jordan shouted. “Mikey, man, you’re really cryin’? What the heck? We gotta call the police or something?”

I didn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell anyone what I saw. No one would believe me. I didn’t believe me.

I didn’t have to tell anyone.

By the time Austin and Jordan got done with school the next day (I had faked being sick to avoid it, but I regretted being at home alone all day), they made sure everyone knew I’d been to the cemetery alone and had an epic breakdown. My mom didn’t know about any of it, I’d told her we were just riding to the store, so she was surprised when Mr. Sparks rang the doorbell that evening and asked to speak with me.

“Hello, Mikey. So I heard you saw Mr. Dodge at the cemetery? Are you sure you didn’t just look up the cemetery on the internet and decide you’d try and pull a prank to get out of school or something?” Mr. Sparks chuckled as he sat down across from me in the living room.

“You went to the cemetery?” my mom said, sounding pretty angry with me.

A chill washed over me, and all I could think about was the sound of that tree creaking and my feet beating against the ground as I ran. “It was for an assignment. I just wanted to be able to say I did it, Mom,” I whispered anxiously. “And I can prove I was there, Mr. Sparks,” I added, pulling out my phone and turning it on. I’d left it off so I didn’t have to face Austin and Jordan. I didn’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t believe in zombies or paranormal experiences. Death didn’t scare me, after all I had touched a dead man’s hand when I was ten. But I couldn’t get the image of Dodge hanging there over that grave out of my mind.

“You’re trying to tell me you think you really saw the ghost of Eliot Dodge?” Mr. Sparks laughed.

“Mikey, what’s he talking about?” my mom said, rubbing her hand over my hair, looking worried.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Peterson,” Mr. Sparks said. “Every year I assign a bit of investigative work to my history students. Their goal is to see if they can find out who the first person to be buried in Ridgefield’s cemetery was and what year they died. It’s meant to be a fun project, leading into the Halloween season, not meant to scare them so bad they start skipping school. For the braver ones, I’ve drawn out a map to the site—no research, just pure exploration. I hear all sorts of things about kids’ trips to the cemetery. They like to pretend they’ve seen the ghost of a young man who died there more than a hundred years ago, up by the abandoned church. It adds a bit more excitement to the experience.”

“A hundred years ago?” I asked, feeling my eyes grow wide. “I saw him! I talked to him, Mr. Sparks! He told me to tell you he said hello! He was as real as you and me, standing there in front of me, and then I came back, and he was—he was—“ I felt the little bit of cherry jello I had managed to eat since Mom got home rise dangerously in my stomach. Mr. Sparks looked concerned, and leaned forward, expecting me to continue. “I saw him,” I whispered. “Hanging from the old tree. The meat had been picked off of him. ”

“You saw him hanging over his mother’s grave?” Mr. Sparks answered.

“Are you two making this up, or have you been planning all of this to scare me?” my mom said loudly, causing us both to jump.

Mr. Sparks cleared his throat and chuckled, though the grave look in his eyes didn’t change. “You caught us. Just a little joke, Mrs. Peterson,” he lied. “I just wanted to check in on Mikey, bring him his make-up work and make sure he would be at school tomorrow. There’s another assignment I don’t want him to miss. Not quite as exciting, and no more cemeteries, I swear.”

My mother made the noise she always makes when I’m being difficult and shook her head at him, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’ve got to finish making dinner,” she said impatiently. “Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Sparks. I look forward to seeing you again at Parent-Teacher conference in a few weeks.”

“Mikey might need some help with the math lesson from Mrs. Pruitt,” he answered quickly. “Mind if I take a moment to explain it before I go? Mikey can see me out.”

“Of course,” she answered and hurried off to the kitchen as Mr. Sparks pulled a small stack of papers from his bag, watching her back as she left the room.

“You really saw him?” he whispered, handing me my homework.

“I really saw him,” I answered, shuddering at the idea.

“Mikey, Dodge had been missing for five days before the pastor of the church found him hanging there, half eaten. They never found out if he hung himself or if someone strung him up there, but there weren’t any news articles about the state they found him in. It was a different time. People might have talked, but they all expected to be treated with dignity, when it came to the news, like they didn’t want to know too much. The only record that mentioned how he was discovered, hanging from that tree where his mother was later buried, was in the police reports, so how did you find out about this?”

“I saw him,” I whispered.

“Can I see the picture you took, just to make sure you’re telling the truth about being there? I mean, maybe you’re an excellent sleuth and managed to dig something up on the internet.”

“I was there, Mr. Sparks. There are two pictures,” I said, opening the gallery on my phone and scrolling down to the end, while Mr. Sparks looked on expectantly.

But it turned out I had taken three pictures by mistake. One was of me grinning dumbly in front of the old church. One was of me, again grinning dumbly, in front of Julian Parsons’ headstone. The third was blurry, because I had taken it by accident while I was running away, and my finger blocked most of the view, but there in the corner of the picture hanging from the old oak by the church, dead more than a hundred years, was Eliot Dodge’s ghost.

Mr. Sparks said the image was too blurry to know for certain what it was he was seeing, and before he left that night, he decided that me and my friends could have gone up there to rig the shot, proof of all the rumors of Eliot Dodge’s mysterious death. He didn’t want to believe it, even though I know he could tell I was telling the truth. I can’t blame him.  I didn’t want to believe it either.


Happy Halloween, from my family to yours!



Drawing 101: Lesson Two: Never Draw a Changeling… Just Never.

Before I get too far into this week’s post, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Indie Reader for recognizing The Eleventh Age in their October 15, 2014 “Alike But Indie” column “If You Liked The Magician’s Land, You’ll Love…”  It can be difficult being an author in a time when the industry is experiencing so much change.  One doesn’t always know the right steps to take to get the work noticed, so it means even more when it comes unexpectedly, as this did.  Thank you so much, Indie Reader!  You seriously made my week!

Speaking of last week, I forgot to update the Character Tidbits page in all my excitement.  To make up for my absentmindedness, this week I’ve posted two new pages–Phileas Foote and  Ash (Aisling O’Toole), who is one of my favorite characters and happens to be the subject of this week’s Drawing Lesson, which I’m considering making a regular category, but we’ll see.  So, without further adieu…

Never Draw a Changeling… Just Never.

In The Eleventh Age Elli’s best friend is the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and beautiful Aisling O’Toole, who happens to be a halfling–half nymph and half goddess–which makes her a metamorph or shapeshifter. As I mentioned in a previous Drawing Lesson, Ash’s character sketch has given me enormous problems, so much so that I had to quit trying and come back to her with fresh eyes more than once.  Since I finally managed to get her right, in honor of Ash’s metamorphic ways, I thought I would share her remarkable transformation.

When I’m drawing a character, I try to find people who look similar to the people I see in my head and work from there, changing them as I see fit.  For the most part this is easy enough, and usually I can get a character down within the first three sketches.  The girl I originally selected as the basis for Ash was gorgeous.  I knew she wasn’t a perfect Ash when I selected her, no one was going to be, but I liked the shape of her features, especially her eyes, which were big but still pixyish and looked very much like the real Ash’s amber eyes.  If I had known how difficult she would be, I would have chosen someone else from the start, though that probably wouldn’t have helped me much in the end.  You’ll see why.

bad ash 1For the record, this was my third attempt with the original model with the perfect eyes.  Even though the drawing is awful (by this point you can see my frustration coming out in the graphite), I am glad I didn’t throw it away like the previous two attempts because it’s nice looking back, to see just how much I’ve improved as an artist.  (There’s a lesson in here about practicing, I’m sure, but who needs practical drawing lessons? If you’ve come to me for that, you’re in big trouble, but I digress.)

With every attempt at drawing this girl, I only seemed to get worse, and my younger daughter kept coming along, looking at my work, telling me her chin was too short or her nose was misaligned or her face didn’t fall in the right point on her head. She was a very patient critic, my Bird, even though I became more convinced that I was just a terrible artist with each sketch of not-Ash I drew.  Bird is a teenager, so she might have just laughed at my struggles, rolled her eyes and gone about her business.  Instead she kept repeating in her very best voice of reason, “It’s better than I could do, Mom.  You’ll get it.  Keep trying,” which I did, until about a month ago, when I decided I just couldn’t draw a person in profile and I turned to the great and powerful internet for help.

bad ash 2After watching some how-to videos on drawing, I came back to the original model recharged, drawing her several more times, altering hair and even the shape of her eyes, which was one of the things that I liked most about model 1 in the first place, but still I couldn’t get her right. I thought that if I just kept changing things, eventually she would look like the girl I saw in my head, and I wasn’t willing to give up… that is, until I was about half way through this drawing–the last drawing of model 1 ever made.

It is far better than the other drawing, as you can see, however even before I started her ridiculous hair (which I drew several ways before quitting, though the evidence didn’t come out in the picture), I had already figured out it wasn’t really that I couldn’t draw Ash, or even that some small thing about the model needed to be altered and if I could just find whatever it was and fix it, she would be the perfect Ash.  The trouble was that the girl I was drawing repeatedly and requiring still more brief art lessons/therapy sessions with my fourteen year old for, was just not Ash, not at all, and I was too stubborn to recognize it.  I don’t know who model 1 was, but she wasn’t who I thought she was.

This weeks-long endeavor at redrawing the same girl fifty different ways is how my hidden character inspiration board on Pinterest became full of dozens of potential Ash Wannabes, all of them beautiful, but most of them not at all Ash-like.  Here are the other girls I drew in my search for the real Ash:

None of them were good enough, which is why it probably wouldn’t have done me any good to start with a different model, because I was just bound to go through this process, but at least I made some serious strides in my ability to draw a person the right way in one attempt, which is exactly how many times it took me to draw the fifth model, who turned out to be the one.


Ash, the changeling
Ash, the changeling

I’m not certain why I had such a difficult time finding her to begin with, in fact, when I started drawing model 5, I thought she would likely end up in the Not-Ash pile as well.  But now that she is finished, with her coy eyes and her lips that hint of a thousand secrets and her wild hair that gives away just enough of who she really is at heart to satisfy that she does not take herself too seriously, I’ve decided that maybe the reason this has been such a difficult journey has something to do with the nature of Ash’s character as a shapeshifter.

Needless to say, if you are going to start drawing people, whether for your work or as a hobby, I highly recommend you steer clear of all changelings, because they have a nasty habit of changing on you when you least expect it. Beyond that, remember that just because a person might be a changeling doesn’t mean they want to be changed by you.  I suppose you could say that I have learned not to keep sketching the same person, hoping somehow she would magically turn into someone she was not for my sake.

Yup, that’s a metaphor.   Happy Drawing!

A Series by Luthien T. Kennedy