I wish grief worked like it worked on television. You go through a few months of sadness, but in the end a hot guy is waiting for you to remind you to live again. You can even go to commercial or press pause if it gets to be too much. Grief doesn’t work that way. Grief – real grief – is a constant that lives just below the surface of everything we do. I talk to my friends and I go to work and I even laugh. I live my life however sad it may be.

I recently started writing a book and a script. I actually managed to finish the first chapter of the book. It’s a small accomplishment, but I was proud of myself because I haven’t been able to finish anything is so long. I have anxiety disorder. I stressed over every word and worried that I simply wasn’t good enough. But I finished this silly chapter about a silly family who discover they’re dragons. It was a good moment. Like all good moments in my life, I really wanted to tell my mom. Two years later and I still instinctively want to pick up the phone and tell her about some silly part of my day. Remembering that it’s not possible is the worst moment.

It’s that moment that leads to me crying on a bus on a Saturday afternoon. That moment forces me to remember how to breathe to keep the anxiety attack from consuming me in public. That moment makes me want to pause my life. Not suicide, but pause it. If my life is in pause then she won’t miss any more moments. She won’t miss me having children or getting married. She won’t miss a screenplay I finally sell because I remember her always-encouraging words: “Look at this shit on television. You’re way better than this.”

But that’s not how life works. There’s no pause button. You can’t put grief on hold. So I don’t. I have good moments. I have shitty ones. I remember to breathe. I accept that I’ll grieve. I repeat it all over again.

In short, I live my life.

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Dragon Fire – Excerpt

I made a deal with my niece that I would write a book about dragons and she could illustrate it if she would bring up her grades in school. She held up her end of the bargain. That means that I’m writing a short novel for 10-14 year olds about dragons. It’s a dark story, but Alyssa’s a dark kid. She decided to be Vampire Snow White when she was four because she decided Snow White must be a vampire since she rose from the dead. I am not a natural novelist. My screenwriter brain keeps telling me that I’m saying too much. This is a good exercise for me and it gives her the chance to practice something she loves over the summer. As an added bonus, I get to write a fantasy book where black children are the protagonists. Here’s a bit of my choppy writing.

—— Continue reading

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Watching Austen

Hugh Thompson

Image ©Hugh Thompson

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a literary property that has fallen into public domain, must be in want of an adaptation.

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, the author’s most famous work, has received several. Pride & Prejudice holds a special place in my heart. I read the book when I was thirteen and realized that no boyfriend would compare to Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is a sad fact that has stuck with me for 20 years. As an awkward high school senior, I bonded with my English teacher over my love for the book and the BBC adaptation. This did not help me build friendships in my South DeKalb County high school, but it did make me want to work in film.

If you managed to hack in my Netflix account, you will notice that I watch two genres: scifi and fantasy and romantic comedies. Both genres are completely unrealistic and force the viewer to buy into a world so unlike the one they know. Pride and Prejudice is the golden standard for romantic comedies and greatly influences the genre. Austen was the original chick-lit author.

I have watched numerous adaptations of the work. They range from brilliant to complete mess. This upcoming weekend sees the release of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I will be there opening night.

In anticipation for the film, I have decided to spend the week watching and reviewing adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.

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Random Nonsense

The burning is the worst part. That is what everyone told me before I volunteered. It feels like someone takes every piece of your skin and lights it on fire with 20,000 different cigarettes. Each burn is distinct. Each feels like the flesh is slowing peeling away one tiny circle at a time. Even when my eyes open and I am completely intact, my skin burns. It doesn’t stop for hours. I bite a hole through my tongue in attempt to refocus the pain.

Time travel is not the giant ball of kicks our ancestors imagined it would be. There aren’t any old autos or giant circles to protect us. There’s just our bodies being ripped apart and coming back together one cigarette burn at a time.

The screams almost overtake me once I arrive. I let out a long, loud yelp that pierces almost as much as my skin. Opening my eyes is difficult. We lived in darkness for so long. The sun died long before man did. We are apparently more like roaches than we cared to admit.

I feel around for my clothes. I look down and see the leather jacket and black pants that survived the trip, but only just barely. The pants are tattered.

Breathing is easier. I never knew noticed how hard it was to breathe before. You don’t notice what’s been there your entire life.

“Scanner?” I whisper to myself.

“Yes, Samira,” the voice is my head answers

I exhale and try to stand. “Shade my eyes.”

The contacts in my eyes immediately go dim. The glare of the sun is taken down to the level of dim blue artificially light I am more accustomed to. I pick myself out of the alley. I take out the pain pen that has made the trip and jab it into my neck. The burning numbs to a sharp pricks. It still hurts like hell, but at least I can move with feeling like my flesh will fall off at any moment.

I walk out of the alley and towards a street. The sound of laughter grows louder as I approach the street. I step out into glaring daylight and I am met with children running around in a park. I walk into the street.

“Scanner, ple—“

And that was the last thing I remembered before waking up in a white room surrounded by—I think they’re doctors. I am slow to open my eyes.

“She’s waking up,” the voice sounds distant.

“Miss—Do you know your name?”

I try to sit up but am forced back down onto the table.

“Samira Riley. It’s 2016. I am 19.”

©Yvonne McDowell

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Another Scene

At this point, I’m just writing random scenes as they pop into my head. I should probably try looking at my outline for a change. So if you were wondering if this young adult novel had a love story, this scene spoils it for you.


Callie is still asleep in the bed. Her hair spread out along the pillow. She looks younger in her sleep. She’s not the woman who kills people with very little regret. The anger about the death of her father is gone. It is a constant presence when she is awake. Every smile or laugh feels muted because it just masks this rage. She stirs in the bed and briefly opens her eyes to look at me. She smiles briefly and rolls over.

She groans, “Lieutenant, you’re staring.”

“Now you choose to recognize my rank,” I sigh crawling back into the bed.

“You finally gave me a reason to.”

She raises a cheeky eyebrow in my direction before hiding her face in a pillow.

“I can’t believe the fearless Callie Diaz is hiding her face.” I brush her hair away from her face. She still smells like strawberries. I notice the jagged scar left from her implant. I lie down on the pillow facing her.

We rarely get to wake up with the sun beaming through the windows. The tunnels did a decent job of protecting us from the outside, but it did a better job of keeping us away from the few things that were good about.

“I have to cut out your tracker.” There’s no need for build up or trying to sugarcoat it. “Disabling it only works for long. It’ll reboot eventually.”

“Your pillow talk is amazing. Really? Can’t believe I waited this—“

“It is going to hurt. A lot.”

“Who will take yours out?” She looks behind my ear and sees the bloody bandage covering the cut I gave myself earlier. “Amaya—“

I smile at her. I cringe. The pain from the cut is worse when I smile, but I try not to let on. “I had to make sure I knew what I was doing. Your face is prettier than mine.”

“I don’t think so, Lieutenant.”

“Captain.” I thread my fingers with hers and look down. Her eyes question me

“All of our commanding officers are burned to a crisp. I felt a promotion was in order.”

She laughs at that. Of course she would laugh at that.

(c) Yvonne McDowell

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Untitled Book Excerpt

Chapter 3 – Amaya
Securing a perimeter is the most basic of all our duties. It was the original purpose of all military recruits. The fall of the traditional military ultimately led to recruits becoming the sole military defense and our objectives changed. We could become officers. We still have no real freedom, but at least I’m a lieutenant. Lt. Bitch’s Bitch. It has a certain ring to it. The only real choice they give debtors is to choose how to pay it off and even that is based on how well you score on the exam.

My mother was a companion. My grandmother was a governess. Only those who tested highest were invited to work in service. That’s what they called it: service. My mother was a whore and my grandmother a nanny, but that was the height of achievement for a debtor. My family members were educators before the war. They were professors and doctors. Now we are companions and governesses. I’ll take my gun any day.

Military recruits are trained to handle jagger attacks. They apparently used to be human. I guess they still are somewhere in there. They go for the necks first. Their nails rip at the flesh. I stare down at the three bodies. The arties pulled from their necks, but that’s not even the worst part.

“Why do they smell like that?”

Stevens kneels to check the wound. It is the same soldier from the video at the bunker. His eye sockets were left open after they gauged them out. I can see one of the second year recruits fighting back the urge to vomit. I stare her down willing her to get it together. She does and manages to keep it in.

“They piss on them,” Stevens answers pulling his arm over his face. “It marks it as their kill.”

(c) Yvonne McDowell

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It should not matter that Michael Brown was enrolling in college. It shouldn’t matter that his pants sagged or what neighborhood her was from. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. It always does. Society places no value on the lives … Continue reading

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