I fully admit this is one of those books that I splurged on the hardback edition because the cover is so beautiful. More than that, I’m also endlessly fascinated by Slavic and Russian folklore and history, and the tale of Baba Yaga. This is “The Witch and the Tsar” by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, a very prescient historical fantasy by an ethnic Russian American author and lawyer.
I really enjoyed this one, mostly how the author was able to deftly weave the stories of the old pagan religion of Russia in with myths of witches and magic and the encroachment of the Orthodox Christian Church. This is told as the real story of Yaga, a half-goddess, half-mortal vedma, or witch, who prefers to think of herself as a healer who communes with animals, and her connection with Anastasia, the tsarina and wife of the tsar who would become Ivan the Terrible. But Ivan the Terrible is manipulated not by court politics but by forces older than any of the new Russia can possibly understand.
Even though this was fiction, I found it endlessly fascinating how even in the 1500s, Russia’s history was dark, dystopian and dominated by bloodthirsty autocrats, carrying echoes of today. I liked how the author described Yaga’s magic; she described the old gods in a unique, non-tropey way, as if they are only real if you believe in them, and the belief and the memory of the people is fading. I liked how this was a woman-led fantasy in which the women were the ones in the story who really had the power and influence behind the scenes, while wrestling with their own demons.
I did not like how some of the narrative felt like a forced sequential rush of events instead of being present and immersed in Yaga’s world. It felt a bit like the author was stampeding to get from one phase of her life to the next, but there were some wonderful descriptions of gods and a conflicted love for Russia and the old ways that kept me riveted till the end.
I don’t know what got into me but I way surpassed my weekly target goal this last week. I am feeling a really odd mixture of excitement, trepidation and nerves as I near the end of my first draft of my paranormal romance crime thriller. I think I was feeling inspired by getting so close and pushed through, and I kept getting good ideas and had to run with them.
My WIP is now up to 98,586 words. I have one more chapter left to write, the marriage proposal chapter (I don’t mind telling you that my paranormal romance has a Happily For Now ending. Happily For Now since this is only Book One of a trilogy!) I for one appreciate HEAs and HFNs (Happily Ever After and Happily For Now endings) so I don’t mind spoiling you on that.
I was going to push through and finish today but I think I’ll stretch it out over the next week and really take my time with it. I didn’t manage to write a short story, but there will be time for that tonight when I was going to plug away at my novel some more. I did, however, write a blog post. I usually write my short stories to submit on Sundays because I have all day and I can work on them in 20-minute chunks of time between doing other chores, and my emotional headspace is cleared from the weekday triggers of the day job.
After that I’m planning on taking a month off from working on the paranormal romance. I’m still too close to it so I don’t think I could dive straight into editing with the proper brutal touch. My characters Mal and Noah have become like living, breathing beings to me and it feels like introducing my children into the world. Being a novelist is kind of like playing God.
I will spend that month working on short stories and Bablyon 5 slash fanfiction under a pen name. If you follow me on Twitter I’ll whisper my pen name on there if you’re interested in that sort of thing. I also plan to catch up on my enormous backlog of reading and write some book reviews and maybe some Medium articles. These are all a different kind of writing mentality than producing a novel, and I don’t want to take a break from writing completely to lose my momentum.
Then I’ll be able to detach myself from my darlings and approach editing my first draft with the proper brutality. I’m looking forward to the revising process. I plan to spend two-three months on it.
I’m finally feeling better from my cold as well, so my other goal is to get back into my exercise routine. I need to go to the gym and pool at least three times a week.
Feeling very excited that I will finish my first draft this week. I started working on this project on December 5, 2021 according to my Scrivener writing history. Now I’m nearing the end, and I’m an odd mix of chaos, panic and reverence.
I thought I’d talk a little bit about how my werewolf universe came to be in my manuscript, CRY WOLF. I’m going to be changing this title, but it’s the working title for now.
I fully admit I picked paranormal romance because originally I was going to publish this as a serialized story to Kindle Vella. I looked at what sells and trending categories on Vella and paranormal romance sells. Considering I’d struggled to complete manuscripts in the grimdark fantasy and horror genres I’d dabbled in previously, I thought, why not. Because I like to be difficult, I decided to make it a romance between queer guys. I am queer and even though straight romance sells better I want to see more queer romance; besides, it’s more fun to write.
Paranormal romance usually involves supernatural beings like vampires, witches and werewolves. Vampires are so popular, even getting their own mainstream soapy TV shows on the CW and bestselling movies. But werewolves don’t get enough love, so I picked werewolves. I am a big fan of forbidden love as a trope, so I made my romantic leads a werewolf and a human.
Because I’m a pantser, and I wanted to make my werewolves fresh and unrecognizable from pop culture or any tabletop gaming systems, I made up my werewolf mythology as I went along.
In my universe, there are all kinds of creatures – werewolves, vampires, witches, demons. Creatures came to being in ancient Europe when the early church was experimenting with demon possession. Eventually demon DNA mixed with human DNA and the first creatures were created. These creatures branched off into werewolves and vampires and et cetera. Witches have the most powerful source of magic but other creatures can do limited magic.
This brings up the problem of halfbreeds. When werewolves breed with humans they produce a halfbreed werewolf. This becomes a thing later on in my story and attracts the interest of the FBI, which enters into a covenant with the werewolf clans. In my story werewolves operate in a clan structure, similar to indigenous tribes, and they have their own jurisdiction. They don’t exactly shout about their presence but the U.S. government officially recognizes them even though most humans think they are just a myth.
I decided to portray the werewolves similar to dissociative identity disorder; not an exact replica, but similar. When Mal, my main character (MC) shifts into wolf form, he takes on a different name, Etienne, and has a different personality. He is a wolf with some abilities that wolves in the wild don’t possess. Mal doesn’t remember what happens to him when he’s Etienne and doesn’t have any control over Etienne, but their consciousnesses are still linked even though they can’t directly talk to each other. They more convey communication through emotions.
When werewolves mate, they mark someone as their mate. This can be conscious or subconscious as long as there is a strong desire on the part of the people involved. Mates can be polyamorous or exclusive although most mate for life. Creatures can smell desire thanks to a finely tuned ability to detect pheromones.
I’m sure the number one question I will get asked is why with four queer guys with sexual tension, did I not make them polyamorous?
I thought about a Mal/Noah/Eamon story for a time, in fact. But I decided this was too easy. I wanted to show queerplatonic, lovers-to-friends relationships, which you see rarely in fiction. Not every queer person is polyamorous. Polyamory needs more attention in fiction too, but I decided lovers-to-friends would provide more drama. Mal probably would have been okay with it but Noah wanted to be monogamous. He struggles with jealousy and insecurity and has a possessive personality. He wanted Mal all to himself.
Mates then can choose to get married. Divorces are frowned upon and will get you a lot of judgment but they happen; they’re more common among human-werewolf pairings. Marriages are usually arranged within the clan to keep their secrets and keep everyone in line. But romantic relationships happen. When a human and a werewolf want to get married, they need to get the permission of the werewolf council.
Leadership in my werewolf clan is run by the alpha, Donovan, who is also a father figure to Mal, whose parents died when he was young. But it is also a democracy, with a council that makes decisions. A halfbreed council meets when the clan needs impartiality, such as appointing defense attorneys for lone wolves who have mental health holds. The werewolf clans run a mental health institution for wayward wolves.
Werewolves can shift at the full moon or any time they wish, but they need rituals and spells to be able to shift. The clan has a tradition of a hunt and celebration at the full moon, when creatures also swear the oath if they wish. Halfbreeds cannot swear the oath, so that’s why they can be impartial members of their own council.
I think that about covers the main highlights without giving too many spoilers. I could go on about my werewolves for hours; I only think about them all day, every day after all.
Wow. The thrilling conclusion to the miraculous Green Bone Saga left me breathless till the very end, not wanting it to end and to find myself torn asunder from this incredible universe. Typically I am wary of fantasy series and have a bit of a stigma about trilogies; so often they are publishing’s way to make a commercial success of an idea that only has the stamina for one book. This was thankfully not the case with Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, the third and final book of this gripping and adventure-filled Asian-inspired fantasy series.
In this book, a 713-page whopper, we are once again thrust into the fortunes, tragedies and loves of the Kaul family, the leaders of the No Peak clan as it seeks to assert itself in the geopolitical tides beyond Kekon’s borders. A now familiar and well-loved cast of characters has become as familiar as a family we’ve grown up with, watching with awe as they earn our trust, respect and loyalty. Make no mistake, I’m a Green Bone loyalist. I am a complete and total nerd for this series. I’m not even a big fan of martial arts flicks or gangster movies and books, but this series is so much more than that. This series won my heart and makes me want to be green in the soul.
In the third book we watch Anden find love, become a doctor, use his influence with the clan as a way to win international respect for jade medicine, and soar to even greater heights, all without using jade to become the killer he had once feared he’d become at age 18. We follow Shae as she finds love with her longtime advisor, gives birth to a daughter, and realizes that what makes jade special is not the gemstones themselves and their unique power, but the integrity of the warriors who wear them. We also see her grow the Weather Man’s office into a complex, powerful international enterprise. And finally there is Hilo, who started out as a hotheaded, reckless young Pillar and has since evolved into a compassionate leader who commands respect even from his enemies.
That’s the core part of this family but then it has grown, to include Lan’s son Niko, Hilo’s children, and others. One of the things I really love about this series is its ability to make you care about even minor, unlikeable characters who have done despicable things. We meet Bero, for example, the jade-addicted youngster eager to throw his weight around, in the opening scene of the first book, and that thread is carried through to the final scene, but not in the way you would expect. Even cruel baruken gangsters (half-blood jade-wearing mobsters) spill the beans to protect their secret families.
In this new world the clans must contend with geopolitical forces and encroaching modernity, like the radical terrorists of the Clanless Future Movement, who see the clans and the Green Bone way of life as obsolete. You see not only characters evolve, with the stakes raised ever higher until you’re clinging to the story with a torrent of emotions, but the clans themselves.
Infusing an impressive cast of characters with such warmth takes great skill and sophistication. Then there is the Green Bone way of life itself. Foreigners see it as barbaric and outdated, but when you become immersed in it, when you follow everyone’s story arcs and the bold, immutable dignity with which they lead their lives, you realize that this is a way of life that is noble, and one worth preserving even as the irrepressible tide of modernity seeks to crush it. Like Shae, you realize that what makes No Peak rise above its enemies and secure its place on the world stage is not any special advantage other than family. It is a family filled with unconditional love for its disparate, unwanted, cast-aside parts, and these parts fit into a puzzle that propels No Peak, and jade itself, into a place of destiny.
The clan is my blood, and the Pillar is its master, as the oath goes. I swear allegiance as a reader and a fan.
I’ve published a weird gothic short story on my Ko-fi: The Vicious Sky This one’s free but tips are appreciated.
I’ve also published Episode Six of CRY WOLF, my werewolf crime drama with a dash of queer romance (with a love triangle forthcoming!) exclusively for $3 a month Patreon supporters. In another month or two I hope to start releasing it on Kindle Vella.
Jonas shouldered his way through the press of the crowd. It was February 20, 1939 in Manhattan, and the chill pricked his bones. His fur-lined leather jacket felt flimsy and weak. But that was suitable armor for someone who felt weak, inside. Jonas Weber, a member of the German American Bund youth corps, Brooklyn chapter, fingered the unassuming ball of clay in his pocket that he had stolen from Rabbi Feldberg a month earlier.
The marquee of Madison Square Garden was lit with the words “Pro American Rally.” There were people everywhere; bright-eyed youth waiting to get in, and anti-Nazi demonstrators yelling and carrying signs outside the gates. Police officers stood in a line in front of the stadium. Chaos thrummed in Jonas’s veins.
As Jonas moved through the crowd, he joined the flood of brown shirts inside the arena. His breath was stolen in the swarm of people. It was George Washington’s birthday today, and his portrait was displayed in radiant grandiosity. Jonas wanted to be here when Fritz Kuhn gave his speech. He had never met Fritz Kuhn. But Fritz Kuhn would find his ball of clay useful.
The German American Bund had a plan for America, and America would pay attention after this rally. America was right to not enter the war effort. They were right to exercise caution. Even at 20 years old, Jonas knew this. Germany would win in the end. This ball of clay would help them.
His neck prickled with shame as he thought of what he had to do to get it. He had befriended Rabbi Feldberg. He had given the old man information about the German American Bund movement, names of prominent leaders. He made the rabbi believe Jonas was a sympathizer, a turncoat. Jonas recalled their long conversations, the old man’s fears, his stories of his childhood in Germany. He listened and drank warm green tea and ate Chinese food with him. Then one night he figured out where Rabbi Feldberg kept the golem and he stole it.
But Jonas did not join the crowd of 20,000 finding their seats as music played in the background, Wagner, he noted. He was not here to watch. Instead, he pushed his way to the front of the crowd, near the stage, and a set of guards that flanked the gates to the backstage area. Momentarily, he saw the giant portrait of George Washington surrounded by stripes and swastikas, and his head swam with awe and something else – a sense that he couldn’t quite place, and did not want to name.
“Boy,” one of the guards said, his blonde hair shaved in the German style. “This is a private area. Go find your seat.”
Jonas flashed his Bund membership card and fought a cascade of nerves. “I’m here to see Fritz Kuhn. I have information that could help the war effort.”
The guards laughed, their mocking sounds dissipating in the crowd noise. When they settled down, the same guard cleared his throat.
“This is a private area,” the guard said. “VIPs only.”
“Please,” Jonas persisted, growing desperate now. “It’s a matter of life or death.”
He saw his youth leader behind the line of guards, and waved at the man. “Tom!” The forty-year-old dentist met his young protege’s eyes.
“He’s fine,” Tom said. “Let him through.”
The guards grumbled, but did as they were told. Once behind the gate, Tom put his hand on Jonas’s shoulder, in a paternal way.
“What’s this now, Jonas?”
“I have information. Critical information. I need to see Fritz Kuhn right away.”
“You can’t tell me about it?”
“No,” Jonas insisted. “I need to see Mr. Kuhn.”
“Very well then,” Tom said. “I can’t say I don’t appreciate your enthusiasm. Your timing, as ever, isn’t perfect, though.”
Despite his hesitation, Tom led Jonas through the crowded backstage area and down a corridor of rooms. On other days these were changing rooms for circus and theater production crews. Jonas led him to a room marked “5A,” and said, “Go on,” and Jonas pushed open the door. Fritz Kuhn stood at a table, smoking a cigarette with a group of other men, studying paperwork piled on the table. For a moment, Jonas was frozen with fear. Maybe this really was terrible timing. He had not quite thought this through.
Fritz Kuhn looked up, his clean-shaven, craggy face looking like that of a war admiral. “Boy, I don’t know how you got in here, but I’m not signing autographs now.”
Tom guided him forward. “He has information that could help the war effort, Fritz.”
The door closed behind them. At that moment Jonas felt the cloying pressure of his 20 years of age as the heady smell of tobacco filled his nostrils. Jonas choked down his nerves and placed the ball of clay on the table.
Fritz Kuhn laughed, and the others followed suit. “You come to me with clay, boy?”
“I stole it from a rabbi,” Jonas said. “A mystic. This is not just ordinary clay. It is a golem. A terrifying creature that could become super-human soldiers of a powerful German army.”
Kuhn’s eyes narrowed into slits. He shook his head. “The Germans are intrigued by mysticism and the supernatural,” he said. “So don’t take my laughter the wrong way. What the Germans want above all else is power, and they don’t care how they get it. Show me this Jew’s tricks. I am interested.”
Jonas started whispering the words that the rabbi had taught him, the words from the book that came in the same drawer that secreted the clay. He whispered the spell over and over again. Nothing happened. His blood started to boil. The men were growing impatient. The clay just sat on the table. Ordinary, brown, moist clay. Useless clay.
Kuhn blew smoke into the stale air. “I am sorry, boy. I am afraid to tell you that the Jews are also tricksters. It would seem you have been duped. I am sorry to hear it, too, because it was a promising story. Send him away now, please. I must prepare for my speech.”
Jonas took his ball of clay and put it back in his pocket, his eyes smarting. Tom put his hand on his back. In the corridor with the door closed, he spoke to him gently. “Don’t talk to Jews again without our approval. Will we see you next week?”
“Yes,” Jonas said, his voice barely a whisper.
“Good,” Tom said. “Now go. Enjoy the rally and forget this foolishness. We’ll talk about this later.”
But Jonas didn’t go to the rally. He left the crush of the arena and wandered the streets of Manhattan for awhile. He bought a hot dog and a soda at a food truck and ate it in a sloppy hurry, licking fried onions from his fingers. He felt defeated and embarrassed. He wasn’t sure he could show his face at the youth meeting next week. They would just laugh at him like Kuhn did.
The hour grew later and later. He didn’t want to go back home to his one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with the neighbors who had loud sex every night and the neighbors below who rehearsed with a garage band. He didn’t have a girlfriend. His parents were dead, killed in a car wreck when he was 18. His sister had stopped talking to him after he joined the Bund. Now he didn’t know if he could go back to the Bund. He was alone.
He stopped at a street corner, the light from a street lamp blinding his eyes. The pulse of the city throbbed around him. New York was never quiet, not even at this hour. He knew he had to worry about thieves at this time of night, but he could take them. He was not worried. He was young and strong, even if he was foolish.
Jonas took the ball of clay out of his pocket, and stared at it in his hands. He began to shape it and form it in his fingers, the wet substance oily on his skin. He said the words of the spell over and over, and he started to cry. He really was a fool.
Then a bright flash blinded him as nausea roiled in his belly. He thought the street lamp had gone out. Instead, when he came to, a giant man, perhaps eight feet tall, stood in front of him. The man had a mustache and glasses and looked vaguely like Rabbi Feldberg. His body was fiercely unnatural, lumps of clay dripping with water and streaked with street dust.
Jonas stepped backward and almost fell over. “You!” he hollered at the creature. He looked around him through his tears. New York continued around them, as if they didn’t even notice the behemoth in the darkness. “Why didn’t you show yourself at the Garden? You were in the lion’s den! You could have destroyed all those Nazis!”
“Oh, boy,” the golem said. “You do not understand, do you? The golem does not seek to destroy. The golem seeks to change hearts and minds. The golem changes hearts and minds one at a time, in the dark, when the golem can take their pain away.”
“You can’t change my mind,” Jonas said bitterly.
Then he froze as something seemed to enter his mind and tear through the membrane of his memories. The streets of Manhattan melted away. He was 18 again. He was in the backseat of his parents’ 1937 Packard 120. They were speeding on the highway outside Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents were arguing. It was dark.
“I don’t want to see this,” Jonas whispered.
“But you must.”
It had been a drunk driver. Jonas’s dad ran a red light. Farms passed by them in the shroud of the night. The drunk driver hit them head on. Metal fragments flew everywhere. The crush of screams and pain and blood roared in Jonas’s mind. The ambulance, later. Jonas was thinking about his chemistry final before the crash. Wishing his parents would just be like all the other parents and get along with each other.
Now they were dead, and he was alone, and it was all his fault.
Jonas was angry. Angry at everything. He wanted to punch the flashing red lights, the twisted metal of the Packard, the world. He was angry, and he was alone, and it was all his fault.
Then a voice started whispering in his ear. “It’s not your fault.”
It was his fault.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
The anger fell away, and was replaced by bitterness. The bitterness met emptiness. The emptiness felt hollow and dead inside. Then it overwhelmed him. The darkness stole his breath from his throat. He doubled over in pain, refusing to cry again, refusing to be weak.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
He was six, then, listening to his parents shout, holding his stuffed tiger in his arms in his bed, his sister weeping next to him. He heard a crash of a beer bottle.
“It’s not your fault.”
Then he felt arms around him, squeezing him, holding him tight, crushing him with dripping clay. The embrace spread warmth through the hollowness, and he succumbed to it. He still did not cry, but he accepted the Golem. He didn’t even know what he was doing. But he felt different. His head felt clearer, his thoughts sharper.
The street shuddered back into focus, the noise of the city pulsing around him, horns blaring, people talking in the distance.
On the ground he saw a streak of clay and blood. He tried to pick it off the pavement, gather it into a ball again, desperate to claim it for his own again. But it started raining. Cold, sloppy droplets poured down his skin and washed the clay into the gutter. He hissed in frustration.
But then Jonas stopped, shaken by the change in him. He realized he wasn’t going to go to the youth meeting next week. Not because he was embarrassed.
This was a story that got rejected, but I didn’t feel like looking at it again so I’m self publishing it on my blog. Enjoy!
By Denise Ruttan
Suzi did not think of herself as a strong woman.
When people talked about strong women, she didn’t know what they meant. Was that like calling a woman bossy, or feisty, because she expressed an opinion? Suzi didn’t express her opinions often, unless it was to say that she found it gloomy when it rained. She didn’t like confrontation. She hated to argue. She was, in fact, what they used to call “mousy,” back in the old days. She thought of herself as a pushover. Maybe she really was “petite” and “feminine.” That was what her mother called her. Those words did not sound strong.
She had, in fact, just left her house, and she was going for a walk to let off some steam. It was dark out, but not quite pitch black; it was that time of twilight when the light almost seemed blue and fragile. The clouds amassed in the sky, and it smelled like it was going to rain. Her husband, Brad, was a mean drunk. He had just wrapped up his latest tirade, crunching his fifth can of Natty Ice in his fist and glaring at her. “You’ll never be a registered nurse,” he said, his eyes glowering. “You’re not even smart. You never graduated high school. What are you doing up late studying, when you should be cleaning the house? Look at what a mess this place is. I don’t have the time to do it. I’m the one who should be providing for our family.”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him, “But you’re not.” She would have done so, if she was a strong woman, maybe. She would have told him that he couldn’t hold down a job because of his drinking problem. She would have told him about the bills that kept piling up on the kitchen table. She would have told him that they could have more than beans and rice, if he could stay sober at work. She would have told him that she would gladly stay home and clean, if he could hold down a job. But all those things would have really made him mad, so she held her tongue. She said, “You’re right, Brad. I was stupid to ever think about it.”
“That’s right, woman,” he’d said, and that’s when she’d grabbed her coat and hat and umbrella, and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her as he hollered after her to get him more beer. She ignored him. But strong women would not just go for a walk to escape the fight. Strong women would leave a man like Brad.
Suzi didn’t know how she was feeling. She thought she was angry, but she was too tired for rage. Anger was for strong women. She didn’t have the strength to keep it simmering. Anger ate her from the inside out, hollowed out her core, frayed her edges. She was, in truth, exhausted. Her bones were tired. She didn’t know what she was doing either, going back to school to become a registered nurse. She first had to get her GED, so that was why she was studying. Then she would have to go to college for four years. She was 40. She worked as a janitor, cleaning the hallways of the hospital where she dreamed bigger dreams than making the floor gleam. She watched the nurses doing their work, rushing from patient to patient with purpose and light in their eyes, drawing blood. She wanted to do that. She wanted to help people.
But maybe it was too late. Maybe it was too late for someone like her. Maybe she wasn’t smart enough.
She sighed, and kept walking. They lived in an apartment complex in a suburb, and in the dim light she saw everyone’s manicured lawns and their houses painted to HOA specifications and heard the sprinklers running. She thought of the families who lived there whom she’d never meet. Maybe the husband was a doctor and the wife was a lawyer and because they were both busy people they made sure to sit down with their two children every night for supper. She wondered what it was like to fulfill your dreams.
She kept walking. There was nobody on the road. It was strangely quiet. She could not even hear birds or the wind. The sky did look threatening, though. And she really did not like rain. But she did not want to go back to Brad yet. The thought filled her with dread. She couldn’t, either, just walk away, go to a shelter, like some women did. She couldn’t do that. She needed money. She relied on Brad. He really wasn’t that bad of a guy, actually. He never hit her. He was not violent. He was just an alcoholic with no ambition who put her down all the time. That was what guys were like, wasn’t it? That was what her father was like.
Lost in thought, she crossed the street at a crosswalk. She didn’t even look both ways. She didn’t see the car coming. Suddenly, she heard the whine of insects buzzing. Her eyes filmed over with mist and midnight. She held her hand in front of her face and it became a stranger’s hand, translucent in the crepuscular light.
The car kept going. It never stopped. Maybe the driver was drunk. Maybe the driver just didn’t care.
No one emerged from their beautiful middle-class houses to help Suzi. But she stood up. Her bones and the sinews of her muscles stretched with heat. She wiggled her fingers and toes. She was not hurt. Miraculously, she was not hurt, other than a shot of pain in her neck.
She curled her hand into a fist. Her heart pumped blood through her veins. Iron blood. Her eyes blazed fire. She straightened her shoulders and stood up tall. Her skin felt hard. No longer soft flesh, feminine curves.