Darkness Within—My Debut Novel


Darkness Within—My Debut Novel

Merry Christmas to me—and to you! My debut novel was made available on Amazon today! You can buy it in either ebook or print version…It will be coming soon to Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay and Kobo, as well.

Self Publishing is Hard and My Head Hurts


I have to admit, I am a bit short on things to blog about tonight. I just finished uploading and formatting my book on copious online retailers as well as Lulu and Createspace for print editions. I had to change the release date to December 31, 2013 because every distributor told me I had to. Now that I’m done, my brain hurts…self publishing is A LOT of work. I love it though and I’m excited to see how my work is received.

At any rate, I made a promise to myself that I would post a blog post everyday so I’ve decided to post the first chapter of Darkness Within, my debut novel. I hope you enjoy and if you like what you see, you can find me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Chapter 1

August 30, 2013

“In the springtime sun, I glisten and glow. The sunshine glistens throughout my pores and everybody knows my name. I am Awen, descendant of Celtic deity.” I scribble on the paper before making it into a ball and depositing it with the collection of beginnings I had written today. I am 17, a senior in high school, and ready to embark upon the most anticipated journey of a person’s life: college.

My GPA is well above average, I have participated in enough extra-curricular activities to occupy a small army and I am active in charity. I can fill up the pages of an Admission’s Application with ease. Despite these facts, I had yet to complete one single admissions essay.

I am already accepted into local colleges which require no essay but I am not satisfied with that. The college of my dreams is Harvard University. I want to stand among the elite Ivy League student body and be counted as part of the selected few. My father is a professor of the arts there but I have asked him no favors in the admissions process. I want to know that I have been granted access to the prestigious University based on my own merit.

The application has been completed for a couple of months now but I have had no success with the Admission’s essay. Two simple words kicked the edges of my pounding head: “Define Yourself”. As far as Admission’s essays were considered, it should be an easy task. I’m sure the University is looking for the ability to look inward and describe what you see.

It should be simple to define myself. For all intents and purposes, I appear to be a normal teenage girl. Aside from my bright red hair and stark Grey eyes, which set me apart physically, I am a normal looking teenager. I am captain of the cheer leading squad and president of my school’s Key Club. I take delight in charity work (at the urging of my father) and have a decent size group of friends. I am in between boyfriends but I have dated in the past. I love clothes, shoes and technology. I watch videos on-line and update my status whenever I go to the bathroom.

However, these things do not define me. They are merely products of my age and culture. They do not begin to touch the inner depths of my soul or explain my purpose on this earth. These things will not help me gain entrance into Harvard University. Writing an essay about these things would paint me as shallow and be off-putting to Harvard’s Admissions Board. Painting myself as a normal teenage girl will not help me stand out as Ivy League material.

The problem isn’t knowing myself. I know I am not shallow. I have spent a fair amount of time searching the depths of my soul and I am certain that I know myself, and those around me, a lot better than a large majority of my fellow seniors. In fact, I’m certain that I know myself better than most adults. The problem is not peering into the depths of my soul; the problem is that the things that lie there should never be spoken.

Firstly, my mother died as I was being born. This has left me with a mental list of questions about myself, and my heritage, that I feel will never be answered. My dad does not talk about her often and I don’t even know her own parent’s names. Before she died, she named me Awen but I have never been given indication as to why she chose the name. Sometimes I imagine that she took one look at me and simply decided that Awen is the name suited me best or that there is some tie to my heritage hidden in the choice. These are just guesses and the aching feeling of not knowing takes hold of me every time I try to discover her motivation for choosing the name.

I know that I share in her love for studying humankind and (like her); I plan to study Anthropology at Harvard University. Looking through her notes one afternoon, I found a study she had begun about Celtic Druids. The Druids define Awen as ‘flowing spirit’, explain it in the same manner that Christian’s explain The Holy Spirit, and use it at a chant to end their prayers (much like Amen is used in our society). She has given me the gift of an unique name and whenever I introduce myself to people, it often becomes the subject of prying questions. Embarrassed that I cannot offer a complete explanation, I simply define it as the “hand of god”.

Although I may have simplified the explanation of my name, the sad truth is that I am left unknowing why it was chosen in the first place. The notes on the Druids were the last notes entered into my mother’s logbook before going to the hospital to give birth. As I sat in the foyer reading her words, I was left with a numbing feeling that my naming was an accident. She was dying, was that simply the last thought that had wondered into her head?

If it were not an accident, I ponder, that would explain a lot.

My life had been unusual to say the least and some of the best parts of me are locked inside a box and hidden carefully within myself. While my most private truths set me apart from the average, how do I explain to the Harvard Admission’s Board that I hear whispers in the wind? The Awen that the world knows is a carefully constructed ruse that I play out day after day. I have quilted together all the best pieces of myself and I wear it around like a coat of many colors.

I see hints of the same thing in people around me every day. I am privet to the truth behind the stranger’s lie. Whenever I ask a friend how she’s feeling and she responds with an “I’m fine”, sometimes I see a crack around the edges. In those moments, I know the truth. I know that the “I’m fine” is her ruse. I see deeper into her words and realize that what she means is “I’m tired of fighting. I am working day and night on college applications but I don’t even know what I want to be yet.” Why must we construct simple lies for the complicated truth?

My truth is far more frightening than the uncertainty and fear which most people lie to cover. I hear things. I see things…I can do things which are terrifying.

When I was 13, Alecster Jones and his brothers were teasing Cleary McQuintock in my front yard. Cleary was a kind hearted boy with two different color eyes but he was always targeted by bullies for his differences. I was in the back yard, using my powers to manipulate the snow when I heard them teasing him. I ran around front in his defense and punched Alecster Jones. In that moment, I had wished something bad would happen to him. As he fell backward, he stumbled into oncoming traffic and in the front of a moving vehicle.

When I was 15, my stepmother and I had gotten into an argument. My dad sat in the living room , pledging not to get involved. She stood in the kitchen, preparing dinner. As our voices rose, I felt a heat rushing through me. I’m not certain whose anger was the greatest but when the two came together, in one quaking moment, the pot rack began to rumble. One by one, the dishes began to fall and we stood in silent awe. We have never spoken of the event.

In fact, we have never spoken of anything really substantial. My stepmother plays out one of the most carefully constructed ruses I have ever seen. Most of the time, she is completely ruled by fear. She is afraid to be judged. Most of all, she is afraid to be known. She focuses most greatly on her outward appearance, because she doesn’t want anybody to peer inside. She doesn’t want anybody to see the pieces of her soul that she folds up and tucks in the corner. I could gather up all her simple lies and fill the Grand Canyon.

The majority of incidents that have occurred are much less terrifying, though. I discovered, at a tender age, that I simply see things differently than the whole of society. The first fall breeze, for instance, may signify the need for a jacket for most. For me, it signifies a change in energy; in power. It is a telling sign of a great wheel of nature which is ever churning.

Society teaches me that these things are to be feared and mocked. “Anything which cannot be understood is to be hated and feared.” This is the zeitgeist of our time. So, instead of moving against the current, I ebb along. I flow through my life, blending into the societal fabric around me.

There are times when I dream of changing everything. I imagine myself standing on top of a building in the public square, completely exposed for everything that I am. I watch the crowds in the streets cheering me. They accept me for who I am and feel comfortable to shed their own simple lies for complicated truths.

Unfortunately, I do not do this. I trudge forward, carrying half of myself around at a time. I compartmentalize. At this current moment, it’s college applications and quiet reflections. Later, it’s pizza and movies with my best friend Lacy. For these tasks, I adorn different masks and play different roles.

Later tonight, I will shed my skin and travel to an unseen land. I will face real terror and darkness. I will confront it and I will change it. In these moments, I feel more complete than at any other point in the day. Although I am not concrete in knowing whether my nighttime ambitions are based in fiction or reality, I feel more real in those moments than any others in my life.

Maybe I should put that in my Harvard essay:

Awen Murdock: Travels the realms and hunts shadows. Hears whispers from the divine in the wind. Loves pizza and romance novels…

I scoff at the idea as I gather my books, change clothes and head out to meet Lacy.

Why I’m Glad That I’m Poor…


For those of you who know me, this will come as no surprise but I just realized I am extremely poor. I’m not talking middle class America poor, either. I feed a family of 6 on $28 a day. That’s $4 per person. I can’t remember the last time I actually bought an item of clothing and it’s a miracle every month just to get the bills paid. I’m not sure, yet, why this is noteworthy enough for my blog but its what is weighing on my mind right now so I’ve decided to write about it.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a feel sorry for me, sob and give me pity post. I know how I got into this situation and I blame nobody else for it by my own self. I also want you to know that it’s not because I’m too lazy to work, either. My husband works…he’s gone most of the time, leaving me here at the house with 4 children (ages: 11, 4, 3 & 3). We are not a dual income family because daycare for my youngest three (who will all start school next year) is somewhere around $450 dollars a week. So, I stay home with them and we make it solely off his income.

It’s one of those things that doesn’t usually plague me, either. I suppose the reason is because I have spent most of my life being poor. I grew up poor and my dad busted his tail working for promotion after promotion until he raised us out of poverty. Maybe this is the reason why my financial standing isn’t even a present thought in my mind, most of the time.

It isn’t until I’m reminded how poor I am that it occurs to me. Usually, its when a friend asks me to meet her for lunch or go out to dinner. Then, my brain begins to calculate and I decide that I would have to go without toilet paper for a few weeks before I could actually afford to attend. Those are the moments that I actually feel poor.

Still, I decline by saying I don’t have a baby sitter or some other socially acceptable excuse. It’s not that I don’t want to admit to her that I don’t have the money, it’s just that people don’t like to hear how poor somebody else is. I mean, seriously, are you going to enjoy your $20 steak if you know a friend of yours is scraping change to buy toothpaste?

I’m telling you now that I genuinely don’t care that I’m poor. Money just isn’t that important to me. Not having teaches you not to want and so I don’t yearn for new things or worship shiny objects. In fact, there are a lot of reasons why I’m thankful for my poverty.

  • I can’t buy people’s respect, I actually have to earn it. For this, I have to be a genuinely good person.
  • I can’t buy my children’s love and I can’t spoil them. So, I know we will have a strong bond and they will learn to appreciate the things they have.
  • I can’t spoil myself, which helps keep me grounded and I find myself more satisfied with the things that I have
  • I will never forget where I came from because every time I can’t sign my kids up for a sport or activity, I imagine the look in my mother’s eyes when she couldn’t do the same.
  • Because of this, I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for me.

Out of all the reasons why I’m glad to be poor, the most profound is the way it makes me view the world. I recognize need in others. Not just in a financial sense but in a soul-aching manner as well. In fact, I see more need in those with money than those without.

I truly feel that poverty is a soul building exercise. Poor people have to connect with people, not things. So when I see somebody decked out in designer clothes and diamonds, I peer beyond the outer layer and most of the time, (but not always), I see something missing within that person.

Like I said in the beginning, I didn’t really know where I was going with this. I hope you’ve gotten something out of reading it. Hell, I just hope you actually read it all. I will leave you with one final note. When somebody asks why I write, I hope I never tell them it’s for the money. That is why I am releasing the ebook version of my novel for under $5 in January. I write for my soul; because I feel the need to share stories. I write to be heard and I write because it’s the only thing that I’ve ever wanted to do.


Yule Blessings and Celebrating Endings…


I’ve decided not to post a long Yule post. There’s a lot of that out there and my mind is so focused on my novel that I’m not sure if I can unravel it at this moment. I’ve borrowed this lovely video from Youtube to send out Yule blessings to all my friends and followers who will be celebrating today.

So to you all, I say: Happy Yule! May the Light of the Winter warm your heart and lead you to peace in the coming year. As we move through the darkest day of the year, we are reminded that light will return and nourish us all. Blessings to all beings.

With that, I will also note that the last day in Darkness Within is December 21st, 2013. As the darkness of the year impedes upon us in reality, the first chapter in Awen’s story is ending. It’s bittersweet, to reach the end of a novel. It’s satisfying and terrifying at the same time.

I miss my characters, my plots, my conflicts and resolutions…but I’m proud that it’s complete. It’s more than a string of thoughts and events. It’s profound in story and resolution. It’s a benchmark in my life as I move forward with my career as a writer but the true test is in how readers react to it.

I’m excited about publishing, while being terrified about how it will be received. Still, I move forward with hope and joy. I close one chapter of Awen’s life and open another. I feel the kindling of excitement and joy as I begin to write Light Without, the story of the light half of the year.

I always see the Winter Solstice as more than just the shortest day of the year. Afterwards, the days begin lengthening and I begin to find hope in the return of the sun. It is my wish that this is echoed in my journey as an author and in moving forward, I will fill myself with the light of Spring. As I celebrate Yule, I also celebrate the ending of Darkness Within…may both endings be filled with the promise of hope.

If you want to know more about Darkness Within, visit my “Books” page or visit my Goodreads page. It will be available to buy on January 1st. I will post links later as to where and how you can do this.

Writing my Soul


I did a lot of re-writing on my ending last night. At 2 am, I finished, closed Scrivener and my computer and nestled myself into my cozy bed. At 3 am, the youngest of my 3 year old twins woke up from a nightmare. We laid together and soothed each other to sleep…and I slept very well. 

When I woke up this morning, however, my body was aching and exhaustion had settled in my brain. What you need to understand, at this point, is that staying up late is part of my normal routine. Therefore, I know the exhaustion is not the product of a late night and early morning. 

It is not even a physical ache or exhaustion. It an emotional one, and the product of my writing process. Sometimes, we write things because we have an interesting story to tell. We open our brains and allow it to flow onto the pages of the novel. This is not the case with me, and Darkness Within

The story I’m writing (and about to publish), doesn’t come from my brain. Of course, the logical processes of planning and editing occur in the brain but the story itself, comes from the soul. I know it sounds improbable that storytelling occur outside the logical processes of the brain. Especially if one doesn’t accept the soul to be an organic part of the human. 

Obviously, I do and so the characters I have created awaken and walk around within me. They whisper to me, telling me how they want their stories to unfold. They tell me their secrets and I become the guardian of them. They become much more than a notion in my brain. They are part of me and putting their stories on paper is like peeling back my own layers and placing my own spirit between the front and back matter. 

This is why writing this particular novel, for me, is extremely physical. I write with everything I am, rather than just my brain. When I really get to the crux of the story and begin poking at my character’s most closely guarded secrets, my body will begin to ache and my mind will grow tired. The problem is that Awen Murdock, my main character, has a lot of closely guarded secrets.

I have enjoyed unraveling her through this first book and laying her secrets out for my readers, one by one. I have enjoyed giving her a back story and moving her through the dark half of the year of her destiny. Right now, my story seems very complete to me and I’m shooting for publishing on January 1, 2013. I chose this date for a few reasons, the most notably being my own superstitions.

As I begin to work on the second book in the series, Light Without, I find myself excited at the prospects before me. While the first book has been character driven, the second promises to be action driven. The characters are developed and the path is set. Now, all I need to do is walk it with them. 

A Little About my Pseudonym (Pen Name)


Yesterday, I posted a post about author branding and how I wasn’t sure how many other authors use logos. Today, I want to explain a little about my logo and the choice for my pseudonym. I sort of wanted to tie it all together (for the dozens of you who are undoubtedly reading this).

Pen names can be fun. I remember writing in my high school English class under the pseudonym “Lady Liberty”. It was freeing to know there would be a separation between my personal identity and my written one. That is not why I chose to use a pen name for my books.

Initially, it was considered after a Google search of “Ashley Willis Author” revealed to me that another writer shared my name. I didn’t want to compete for the SEO space so I decided to think of a pen name to use with my writings. My husband suggested I use AC Willis.

The reason for “AC” is simple. My maiden name is Crowe so the A stands for Ashley and the C stands for Crowe. My maiden name is extremely important to my personal identity. In fact, most people who knew me for some time referred to me only as “Crowe”. I used to waitress and wore a pentacle to work so when I would walk up to a table full of little old ladies and introduce myself as “Crowe”, I was often greeted with looks of shock and dismay….good times…

When I got married, I decided not to hyphenate but only because I wanted to have the same last name as my children. Some people still call me “Crowe” and that’s fine with me because, really, that’s who I am. So, when my husband suggested I pay homage to my maiden name in my pen name, it seemed like the perfect fit and I became AC Willis.

So, if you look at my logo and see the bird beside my pen name, it all comes together. I’m not using a pen name to separate my work from myself but to separate myself from others. It’s all a part of marketing. As I look into the future, I can envision myself explaining the meaning behind my pen name and giving the world a much more complete version of myself. A lot of women give up their names when they get married, I suppose AC Willis is a way for me to get it back.

Nanowrimo 2013 Winner!!!!


Nanowrimo 2013 Winner!!!!

Let me share with you a story. It is one of a young lady who always dreamed of writing a novel. This lady had always shown a natural inclination to the written word but she was lazy and listless in her work, hardly completing anything substantial. One day, this young lady grew into a woman, bore children and thus became a mother.

That mother looked back at herself and saw that something was missing. She felt sad at the thought that she had never pursued a writing career and lived the unfulfilled dream, only in her head. She moved through the motions of her adult life, creating stories and scenarios which revolved around writing and her fruitless dream. Until one day, this woman came across a challenge.

The challenge was to write 50,000 words in one month. Unsure of herself, she dove into it with trepidation. She sacrificed her nights, dedicating them to meeting her daily word goals and thought of little outside her character’s world. It was a daily challenge for her, as she had never forced herself to face the dream daily and she struggled with her own ability to finish what she had started. She battled the flu, the beckoning call of Facebook apps, and a Thanksgiving turkey along the way but she met the goal early and stood in delight of it.

Celebrating her victory, this woman realizes that with the challenge met, the novel is still incomplete but she has taken the dream and formed it into 50,000+ words of an unedited manuscript. Although the call of literary agents and publishing companies are a distant reality, they are closer than they were yesterday and she has done something difficult and valuable with the month of November.

She has gone from a dreaming mother to a 2013 Nanowrimo winner. The completeness of the work does not matter. She has written daily for a month and she now realizes that she can write daily for the rest of her life. She realizes that she is capable of more than dreaming and hopes that one day, her children will see this, too.

Sprinting across the finish line!



I haven’t updated on my Nanowrimo progress for a few days because there hasn’t been enough progress to comment on. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday, I had written little and began, for the first time this month, to fall behind my goals. I never thought I wouldn’t complete the challenge, but I knew I would be cutting it a lot more close than I wanted to. With that being said, I managed to write 5,549 words today making my total word count….drum roll please…50,168 words!!!!

Yes, I did help my mom cook, and consume a Thanksgiving dinner today. However, I forewent the Black Friday shopping. Instead of standing in a line at a department store, I decided to catch up with my novel. The results were the completing of the challenge and moving toward a lifelong goal of mine—actually completing a novel! 

I still have a lot of re-work to do as I realize the story I have told so far needs some more detail to feel complete. I also realized that I am going to have to break my story into 2 novels to allow time to tell the entire story that I had originally planned. At the point that I left off, I haven’t even begun to tell the other half of the story, yet it feels complete. My MC comes to terms with the conflict she experiences in the beginning of the book and she ends with quiet reflection of the things which have occurred within her life so far. 

While there are loose ends that will need addressing, the immediate problem is solved and I already have the second and half of the third book planned on paper. I move from the writing to the editing phase with jubilation and trepidation. I will miss the pressing of my writing goals to move me forward and I may decide to begin book two while editing. Since this is my first novel, I’m not sure if this is wise but for now, it’s my plan. 

I would like to take a moment to delight in completed goals and dreams which were once on the horizon moving within reach. Whether it’s writing a novel in a month, or snagging a great deal the day after Thanksgiving, let us all stand proud for our own accomplishments and rejoice in met goals!!

Going own the Nano Rabbit Hole


Yesterday’s writing began slowly. In the past few days, the feeling that I was being propelled forward has shifted. Now, I feel as if I’m simply trudging along. Having only written 900 words the day before, I sat at my computer and stared at my screen (probably looking for my muse).

My character started by pondering the aspirations and motivations of a light bulb! :0 I never, ever thought I would be writing about the inner dialogue of a light bulb…Now I have and I’m surprised because it actually worked! As my character postulates that she must be going crazy, so do I!!!!

That scene came surprising easy to me and worked very well within the story. As I created the header for chapter 25, my mind becomes stagnant again. I stare at the white screen for a while before deciding to do something that is almost forbidden in NaNoWriMo land…I went back to the beginning and re-read my entire story!!!

I ended up completely re-odering my story. I moved six chapters of my story to the middle and wrote an additional 4,000 words to tie it all together nicely (at least I hope). I understand, now, the dangers of going back and editing when you are on such a tight deadline. I can’t really feel like I wasted a night’s worth of work because I wrote 4x the total word count for the previous day, in addition to the changes I made.

I know that we’re not technically supposed to “edit” but it was necessary to build suspense and mystery and to moving forward with the story line. I will have plenty more editing to do in December as I get ready for the release of the book (hopefully before Christmas). I may be a rebel but I don’t regret it! It’s just another insane leap down the Nanowrimo rabbit hole!


***Word count update: 23,892.

You can check out my novel, which is now published (preliminary copy) at LeanPub: https://leanpub.com/darknesswithin