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 Learn About Sandy Reay Follow The Sinister Umbrella Share Your Stories You Are the Road, a Memoir 



The Sinister Umbrella: a black umbrella with bat wings and face


The Sinister Umbrella

by Sandy Reay

An 19-year-old girl, recovering from serious injuries, tries to remake her life in this developing novella/novel.


See posts about inspiration for this story


Pikes Peak Writers critique of heavily-revised first page.

Good voice/tone to start out and set the scene

We need a little more grounding: time period, location

"I died in the fire." Great.

One twist is good, two is ambitious, three too many

Not sure whether to take this at face value or she's being ironic

"You look like a fashion model." Keep this line. Helps grounding.

"Other than natural blonde hair, big blue eyes, long thick lashes, high cheek bones, pert nose, pouty lips, a toned body with a few curves, and a rich daddy, what did I have going for me?" Nice + smiley face

Feedback on chapters 1 - 11.

You are so awesome!! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this! I am now reading it for a second time. I can't wait to read more! I didn't really see anything I would change. The only little thing I would say is that I forgot who Rita was when she was mentioned again. Thanks for sharing this with me!

Feedback on chapters 6 & 7.

This is good stuff. It's like you upped your game overnight.

I am enjoying the ongoing adventure of Zee and her friends. I especially like that she is facing a new and unexpected challenges with how to deal with her parents. Now we have a thrilling motive and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Feedback on the first 7 chapters

I liked it and wanted to read more—that's a good sign. I like how you are slowly showing some melting of Z's armor. I kinda like the suspense and wonder how it's going to play out. Hopefully seeing some of my thoughts help you know what suspense you are building with your readers.

Feedback on the first 5 chapters using the new voice

Work? Having read three chapters, so far definitely does work as YA humor. Horror not so much.
Chapter 3. This is when I remember it's supposed to be a horror story.

Wow! Very cool.
I am loving this new point of view! The overall story was fluid and kept my interest. Excellent structure. I love the new snarky voice of Zizanie and how you’ve created a new level of tension with this accident and trip to the hospital.
I am enjoying the story and appreciate the chance to read it! Looking forward to the next installment.
Keep on writing!

This piece has real heart.

Looks good so far

Dang.......A real page turner ... and you patiently fleshed it out with lots of details to make it seem real. Good work. Still waiting on why it's called "The Sinister Umbrella' and wondering if you yourself the author know how it's going to pan out.
—Tom C

Chapter 1 Version 1 vs. Version 2

You do a good job starting with the little girl’s dream world this little girl doesn’t want. I like the way you handled the tragedy better this time around. Enough to totally change her life and the tone of the story, but it doesn’t drag on this time, rolling right in to interaction with Terrence.

Pretty fine writing......I'm hooked so hopefully you'll send the series in attachments. Gotta see how this turns out.  Some of the subtle humor throughout cracks me up. I prefer the V2. The first person narrative (I think you call it) seems to be more intimate and compelling.  Keep up the good work
—Tom C

[Version 2] works for me. We can debate what pigeon-hole this goes in. Thus far, I don't think of it as horror "story type" as discussed in a recent webinar I attended. It looks to me more like black comedy for young adults. But it's fun. Go with it.

I liked different parts of both versions but I thought Sinister Umbrella V1 flowed better. 3rd person is easier and more interesting to me to read and I like the omnipotence of being able to fill in and intersperse action between dialogue. I can get the picture better. ... Anyway, I enjoyed reading both drafts. Thanks for including me.


November 19, 2023

I have done no "real" writing in The Sinister Umbrella since the last time I wrote. I revised another chapter and got it critiqued. One night, as I was falling asleep (after I submitted the chapter for critique, I got a great idea about a change for that chapter.

I forgot it. Of course.

But, before I fell asleep, I wrote the idea in an email and sent it to myself. Then I got another idea, and sent a smaller email.

I want to read a bunch of the material about building a character arc. I want to focus on Zezanie's choices and the two paths that open up for her. At some point, she's going to have to choose which path to take.

Which means I have to choose how the story ends. Unless I want to write two different endings and ask my alpha readers which one I should use. Or, maybe, publish the book with two different endings, and let the readers choose which ending they want to keep.

Ah, the arrogance to think I'll have more than one reader.

I want to rush through this part of the process so I can wallow in my memories and rewrite my memoir. I think it's going to heal me. No, I know it will help heal me. It's done a lot for me already. I probably won't ever be completely healed. But the work I've done so far, has helped me make peace with my past.

And, since I relate to Zezanie's daddy issues, I might need to resolve my own before I can resolve hers.

October 15, 2023

It's a miracle. The newsletter went out today. On the target date.

I planned to spend every Monday and Friday in the recording studio, finishing the work on about 11 songs. That didn't happen.

I've been using FB memes to prompt me to write more, deeper content. I can experiment in my journal, where I know I can write anything. Then I copy it to docs in the "proposed changes" folder under my memoir folder. I'm going to use them. Version 11 is out of date. V12, here I come.

And, I reached the point where I need to work on the plot and character arcs. The story evolves when I write, and I get a lot of help from my critique group, which means a lot of revisions.

Since I have a lot to learn about writing novels, I signed up for a flood of helpful PDFs and emails about how to write, edit, plot, plan, analyze characters, and promote my far-from-finished newest novel. The Sinister Umbrella has become an active character in the book. Of course, no one can see it but Zizanie.

One email derailed me. It was about a 4-day free online workshop about writing memoir and healing. Of course I signed up. The first session I watched was fabulous. The instructor talked about point of view. 1st person: I, me. 2nd person: you. 3rd person: she, he, they.

Changing from 3rd person to 1st person gave me Zizanie and her snarky personality. I got this stuff. And my memoir was definitely 1st person.

So, when she said, write a single memory from all three points of view, I immediately followed her instructions.


The deepest, hardest-to-write chapter in my memoir was about physical abuse and trauma. But it starts with a description of me, as a toddler, wearing my father's giant shoes, and laughing.

I have no memory of that photo or laughing when I was a child. So, I wrote that part of the intro to the chapter in third person. Yes, I know it's a picture of me. Not the person I am now. The younger, happy child that I used to be: "She laughed and loved her daddy." I left the abuse and trauma in 1st person. That happened to me. I remember it. And, the end of the chapter? I wrote that in 2nd person, to my father. "You did this to me."

That was the trick/key/inspiration to write Version 12 of my memoir. Bye bye V11.

I stuck around for a large number of sessions, and downloaded more free PDFs, but the impact was session 1. This woman mentors people who write memoirs and helps them get published. She also does workshops where I can learn more techniques.

And, maybe, as I dive deep into Zizanie's character arc, I can dive deeper into mine, too. I know why and how my personal story is in hers. I can explore her desire to exact revenge without needing to, or being able to, do it myself. And that's another way for me to heal.

I've been remiss about posting helpful and positive feedback on this page. I'll add the 2 pages of comments I got from a session in a 3-day conference last April. I got 3 pages, but the writing on one is illegible.

If you're interested, you can read more about my memoir, You Are the Road.

September 22, 2023

I think the months of bad luck might be coming to an end, but I don't want to tempt Fate. So, I'm not making plans. When I do, the Universe points and laughs.

I've been catching up on things that got neglected this summer while I was dealing with crises.

Sometimes, doing chores frees my mind. And my subconscious mind (also known as the characters who live in my head) gave me a great idea, something to add to the 3 chapters that will be critiqued in the next few months.

But, I can't grasp the idea. It's teasing me. I think I have it, and when I try to write it down, it wanders away. Wait a minute! I got it. I'm going to write it down now!

August 25, 2023

"Well, that didn't go the way I planned." I should write my theme song with that hook. Sigh. The new refrigerator didn't fit through the doorway into the kitchen, so the delivery people installed it in the dining room. And Best Handyman Ever (BHE) was on vacation. For two weeks. But, I had a working fridge again.

BHE took off the doors to the fridge, wheeled the pretty new fridge into my kitchen, and put the doors back on. We finished demolishing the old dishwasher and loaded the old car. I took metal to the recycling place, and, since I was way down south, I took usable ceramic tiles to places where they could be reused. I bought Indian food from my favorite restaurant on the way home and prepared myself for two weeks of writing.

The second of my room fans, the one that still oscillates, stopped working on what was the second hottest day of the year so far. And the errand I tried to run in June (when the brakes on the car seized up) rushed to the top of my to-do list. My portable and quiet oxygen machine had stopped working in May. I tried to take it back to my repair guy in June and July, but he wasn't there. Other repairs took priority.

This week, the Blue Behemoth (the large, loud, heavy oxygen machine) screamed at me in the middle of the night. I could not wrangle it down the stairs and into either of my cars. Fortunately is was early in the morning, so I got up and loaded the portable machine into the car. Again, the universe pointed and laughed.

After rush hour and a shower, I drove 50 miles to my repair guy. Once again, the (insert profanity here) machine worked for him and he told me what to try (the cheap and easy fix). But, I needed a machine I could count on that night. He had a new machine to replace the Blue Behemoth, for less money than repair work would cost me. It's smaller, lighter, quieter, and a lovely shade of gray that goes with my new car, dishwasher, and fridge. Color-coordination is important. So is sleep. I'm sleeping through the night again.

This month, I got more feedback on my rewrites of chapters, 1, 10, 11, and 12. I have a number of things to fix. I have one more chapter written and no idea what I'm going to write after that. But, I'm finally introducing the The Sinister Umbrella. I have a very bad (or good) feeling that what I've written so far has been backstory, and the real story starts now. And my mentor/critique partner said that I might need to change the title, because it might give away the horror part of the story

Yeah, I could have built a plot-character arc first, but problems would still have popped up. I think writing the story down first is more creative. It's important to get to know the characters and let them come alive so they can tell their own stories. It's more fun than writing outlines. It leaves room for change, for surprises, for plot holes, for late nights full of frustration and fantasy.

I'd rip my hair out, but I don't have enough to spare. I better let the yard work go and spend this weekend writing. Wish me luck.

July 24, 2023

I managed to get the house in shape in time for a concert and songwriting workshop by Dan Navarro in June, and a songwriting workshop by Buddy Mondlock in July. Two days before Buddy's concert, my bad luck from May and June returned. When I make plans, the universe points and laughs.

Fortunately, a friend had volunteered to host the concert, so I spent three days dealing with a crumbling 26-year-old dishwasher. Best Handyman Ever (BHE) and I agreed that the floor demo at the local box store was a great deal. He said he could handle the installation himself. Wahoo!

Several trips to and from the local box store for two days and voilá! I had a stainless steel new dishwasher. And a screaming 24-year-old refrigerator with a bunch of warming food.

Back to the box store. I ordered a new refrigerator: silver and black, like the new dishwasher. I put temperature-sensitive supplements in a cooler with an ice pack, cooked whatever usable food was in the refrigerator and put it in the still-working freezer compartment. BHE left for California.

I unplugged the refrigerator so it wouldn't set fire to the house and made it to Buddy's concert. When I got home, I plugged in the refrigerator. It made no noise. By morning, the food in the freezer was starting to be a tiny bit pliable. I cleaned and replaced items in the cabinet under the sink (emptied so BHE could hook up the new dishwasher) and took a nap. When I woke up, the old refrigerator was humming a note (Bb, I think), and the food in the freezer was solid again.

The carcass of the old dishwasher is in my garage. I had this *brilliant* idea to take the dishwasher apart so the metal could be recycled. The new refrigerator is due in three days. A crew will take away the old one and put in the new one.

Buddy's songwriting workshop and a Zoom with my newphew inspired me to make a few changes to three songs. One of these days, I will get back to writing prose again. Thanks for your patience with me.

FYI (if you're keeping track):
1) I still haven't run the errand I tried to do when the brakes on car #2 locked up.
2) I gave up trying to fix the electrical problems with car #1 (17 years old), sold it to some great guys who want to restore it, and bought a new car (my first since 1987). And a new phone that will communicate with the car.
3) Car #2 is living outside until I finish taking apart the old dishwasher.

crossed fingers

June Newsletter: Why I Didn't Get My Homework Done (The Short Version)

1. We'd had a torrential rain Wednesday, but I'd gotten the errands run in between storms. When I carried the first load of laundry down to the basement, on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I stepped barefoot into a cold puddle of sour-smelling water.
2. The sump pump failed, and the basement flooded. Again. My rebuild design after the 2015 flood was 95% effective. My handyman replaced the pump, and it emptied in a matter of a few minutes. We inspected the rest of the room (minor damage to two MDF shelves and the contents of a trunk), and found the water heater leaking. The on-call plumber came out Saturday. I spent the rest of the weekend hauling flood-destroyed stuff to the trash can, emptying shelves so the MDF would dry, and not doing laundry.
3. The new water heater came Tuesday. Car #1 wouldn't start (again). We jumped it to clear the path for the water heaters to come out and go in. I let it run while the plumbers worked, and put car #1back. Three days later, it was dead again. I booked an appointment for it at the shop the next week.
4. I took car #2 to meet a friend and run an errand. It made a bad noise, so I detoured to the shop. By the time they decided that the caliper in the right rear brake seized and set me up with a loaner car, it was too late to run my errand. They ordered all parts for both rear wheels. I made up for missing the errand by getting my hair cut. My time-worn motto: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
5. The next day, the building inspector failed the installation of the new water heater. The plumbers came out again, a few days later.
6. I cleaned the grout in my shower, and my handyman dug out the front garden to get rid of the gophers. I went to the store to buy plants. When I got home, my handyman was gone. I found a note from the plumbing inspector informing me that I'd missed his appointment. I checked with the plumbing company: they made no phone call or appointment. I planted the front garden. It hailed again that night.
7. The plumbing inspector came back after a phone call telling me he was on his way. The water heater passed.
8. I ordered water sensors for the two sump pumps in the basement (the other pump is for the washer), and three negative-ion generators (two for the basement and one for my bedroom—they're good for pollen allergies, too.). The sensors will warn me about sump pump failures by screaming loudly.
9. I squeezed in an afternoon at a recording studio: a great friend played drums on six songs.
10. I jumped car #1 from car #2 to take it in for a diagnosis of the electrical system. They found nothing wrong with that, but car #2 need brakes, too (all four wheels). I got another loaner car. Four days later, car #1 came home. Three days later, it was dead again.
11. Another torrential hail and rain storm. My front yard became a lake. Water overflowed my driveway, and hailstones piled like a snowdrift on the deck. But the hail didn't hurt the plantings in the front garden. And the gophers haven't come back. Yet.
12. I still haven't run the errand that I tried to do at the beginning of the month. I haven't done any writing, not even my journal. But I gave up trying to clean the grout and re-grouted the shower.
13. I had company here Saturday and Sunday. Somehow I managed to clean the house and go shopping for food.
14. I spent Monday in bed.

May 7 2023

I got complements and helpful suggestions for Sinister Umbrella at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference critique session last week. I learned that not all critique givers agree. And not all have legible handwriting. Recording the critique wasn't allowed, but, I handwrote notes, and those helped me decipher their notes. I'm looking forward to rewriting Chapter 1.

This week's critique group was postponed to next week due to illness. So, I'm going to wait until I get feedback from that to start rewriting.

And, I found 2 different solutions to the plot hole I found 10 days ago. I need to decide which to use. 1 requires minor changes to most preceding chapters and is plausible. 1 requires fewer changes, but is not as plausible, even though I know that it was actually done.

My critique group missed the plot hole. I might tell them and ask them which way they think I should go.

Yesterday, I went to a book signing at a library about 15 miles from my house. I wanted to get books signed by 3 authors, and talk with two: a former critique partner, and the woman who conducted the horror/humor writing workshop last fall—the workshop that inspired me to try writing in the first-person snarky point of view that my critique partners and alpha readers like.

I used to teach computer classes at a college in Denver. I didn't have to guess if my students understood the material. Tests told me who got it and who didn't.

When someone volunteers to teach a technique in a single workshop, that volunteer doesn't get feedback. I wanted to thank her, let her know that her workshop made a major positive difference in my writing.

Sometimes, I take things for granted. But, feedback (positive and helpful) might make all the difference in a struggling writer's (or any artist's) work. One critique partner said, "You have to find 3 positive things to say." I try to do that in every critique I give. When I get critiques back from my alpha readers, I highlight the lines they liked. I want to keep those lines.

If you're not part of a critique group, and want to say nice things about a book, you can go on Amazon, or other book sources, and leave a book review. It only takes a few minutes, and it might mean the world to a writer.

Apr 27 2023

I probably spent more time rethinking, editing, rewriting, and polishing the first 16 lines of Sinister Umbrella than the other 13 chapters combined. And I did a lot of work on the other chapters.

Late at night, my inner critic woke me up to tell me I have a plot hole. I grabbed my phone, sent myself an email, and went back to sleep. Sigh.

Finding them is the easy part. Fixing them? Not so much.

Plot Holes memes crossed fingers

I get to spend the next three days at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. My critique session is tomorrow afternoon. Wish me luck.

I decided to get all the to-do items done before tomorrow. Yesterday I cleaned out my backlog of emails and found my note about the plot hole.

It will have to wait. I'll probably have a lot more to fix after my critique session tomorrow.

Apr 3 2023

I have an opportunity to have the first sixteen lines of a work read and critiqued by agents and published writers. I planned to use my memoir, but I doubt I can get it done in time. So, I reworked the first sixteen lines of Sinister Umbrella.

And I liked what I wrote. Really liked what I wrote.

Now I get to rewrite the first chapter. No good deed goes unpublished. I meant to write "unpunished," but my subconscious mind (the one that yells random words at 3 AM) took over my fingers. I'm gonna call it a Freudian slipper and go to bed now. Would that make it a Freudian bedroom slipper?

Thanks to Nadia for the latest comment on all 11 chapters. I'm sorry it took so long to put it up here. It's comments like yours that keep me going when it would be so easy to quit.

Mar 20 2023

My alpha readers and critique partners gave me great helpful feedback and some complements, too. They found out about the Sinister Umbrella experiment from my monthly newsletter and signed up.

After writing the first draft of Chapter 11, I made a chapter/scene spreadsheet which listed the purpose of each scene, it's setting and characters, with backstory and foreshadowing. I also made a comprehensive name (people and places) list on another spreadsheet, just to have a quick reference.

Status report: I have 7 chapters critiqued and edited and 5 more written/to be critiqued. At 8 pages per critique, it's going to take another year to finish the edited first draft.

Last month, I cheated and sent 9.3 pages. It's good that the group is small and didn't mind. I spent a week going through all my not-yet-filed critiques and notes, making sure I'd considered everything. That caused me to edit all the previous chapters and inspired me to write another chapter. As I write new chapters, I draw on the critiques I've gotten—not so much "Let's don't make that mistake again!" as "I need to do this."

My revised chapters are 10-11 manuscript pages. I managed to get chapters 8 and 9 down to 8 pages each for the critique by sliding 3-ish pages into the start of the next chapter. Now I have Chapter 9a with 7 pages of overflow. Chapter 10 has to start where it is, but I can renumber it.

The deadline for the next month's critique submission is this coming Friday. I'm looking forward to hearing their suggestions for Chapters 8 (next week) and 9 (in May). After that, I hope I'll figure out what to do with Chapter 9a. I'd keep my fingers crossed, but it's hard to type that way.

Jan 23 2023

Apparently a date with 3 in it triggers my urge to write. At first I thought I had nothing to say about the progress of this book, but I do. I had to cut 5 pages out of Chapter 5 for my critique group. When I prepped the next 8 pages (note: 8-5=+3), I fixed what I thought were plot holes and before I knew it, I had a new Chapter 6, and I just kept writing.

The events in Chapter 6 led to a new character, a necessary character. But, not a throwaway character. No, someone who would help and complicate the Main Character's life. So, I kept writing. Two more chapters. And found minor ways to complicate her life, while the new complicator appears to be the best ally she ever had.

And, maybe the minor character is a great ally. But she's not perfect. Every character has to have their own wants and needs. And backstory. This one's backstory is a doozy.

I feel like an evil character in a cartoon. I know what's going to go wrong, and I'm rubbing my hands together and grinning. And, part of me wants to cry for the MC.

This is what I like about being a pantser for the first draft. I like to come up with a character and let it tell me it's story, bit by bit. It takes time, and that gives my imagination time to play with ideas. I'm not stuck with a choice between A and B. There are 24 more letters and an infinite number of numbers to choose from.

I'm taking online classes and watching how-to-write lectures. One lecture included advice to add layers into fiction. It isn't always sufficient to have one goal, one story line to follow, with it's ups and downs. More layers reveal more about the characters, with mini-plot arcs and minor ups and downs. Minor problems can be dealt with, giving the reader a chance to take a breath and relax before the next major disaster occurs.

An alpha reader wondered why it's called "The Sinister Umbrella." I'd been wondering if I waited too long to introduce the umbrella. I asked my critique group. They said, "No."

Jan 3 2023

I've written the first drafts of other novels/novellas. I usually start with the main character's name. That tells me about her likes and dislikes. This novel started with a story line. The main character's name was fluid until I read something on Facebook which led me to a French word. I liked the juxtaposition of characters in the word, and the meaning was an inside joke.

I had so much fun rewriting the first 5 chapters into snarky first person, I sent out a document with revisions to Chapters 1-5 to some alpha readers. 2 readers responded almost immediately and liked it. I stopped writing in third-person. Chapters 6 and 7 have only one version: snarky first person.

The night after the 5-chapter doc went out, I realized I'd introduced plot holes. Argh! The next night, I figured out how to fix the plot holes, which led to more plot layers and complexities. The new name led to a new character and startling revelation for the main character.

I'm a pantser with my first drafts. I let the story tell itself to me. I can't wait to see where it goes. But, I know where it ends up, so I know I'm going in the right direction.

Dec 24, 2022

I started writing this story in the Spring. I'm using "story" to refer to the idea, not the specific literary form. This may turn out to be a novella or a full-length novel.

My goal: a coming of age story for a young woman whose life was ruined and the obstacles she has to overcome to create a new life. I knew how she got hurt and had a general idea of her family. It took me a while to realize I was writing a modern-day Rapunzel story. With a twist.

At that time, I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In it, he refers to a "sinister umbrella." I pictured it as a bat. Later I changed it to an old umbrella with holes, and lights shining through it at night. It becomes more than part of the scenery in her new home—it becomes a talisman that helps her discover her power.

At some point, I realized I was writing a horror story. I'm not a fan of horror stories. I am a fan of humor, and I have no clue how to write a humorous story. In October, I signed up for a comedy-horror writers workshop for the humor and discovered I was writing a horror story. I was, um, horrified. I couldn't see any way to make it funny.

The moderator of my critique group told me that humor would NOT work in my story. Of course I took that as a challenge and wrote version 2 of Chapter 1. The moderator changed his mind. He "like[d] the new version better."

Now, I have 3 chapters with 2 versions, and will do the same with Chapter 4 once I finish the revisions based on my critique group's comments. It seems to be easier to write the first draft to get the details, then come back and add the humor.