Cover art by Amanda Ostwald.

In a small town we meet Oz, an 800-year-old soul ripper quietly going about the business of removing souls from their bodies around the time of their death. Souls are beyond just good and evil; they’re a sticky misty mass of energy that survives beyond the life of the physical body, though sometimes the biochemistry can twist and warp a soul during its stay. The choices a person makes and the pure intention behind those choices alters the quality of a soul, sometimes irreparably so. The how and when of a soul being ripped from the body makes a difference in how it fares in its next journey. The energy exchange is always hanging somewhere in the balance.

Oz has been doing this without fail and without questioning what lies beyond the two planes of existence he currently works within since he died of the Black Plague. He’s never asked where souls go once the Reapers enter the picture, partially out of fear. He rips the souls when he thinks they are ready based on centuries of experience and moves on to his next big event. Rarely does he ponder how they’ll do Beyond or reentering their next body. That’s all above his paygrade.

Oz likes his ripping territory. Sure, it’s a small Midwestern town with little in the way of excitement, but that predictability is what he craves. He knows his Tuesdays watching John Stout will never fail him. And Wednesdays are movie nights at the Holt’s house. He has the people he watches, the deaths he facilitates, and Dalila, a physical therapist adjusting to her new life. And then there’s her Yorkie with whom Oz has a special connection. All is as it should be.

But then the reapers start to behave oddly. They interfere with when souls are ripped, a dangerous business that can leave a soul damaged beyond repair. And Oz isn’t sure of it but he would swear that he made eye contact with Dalila, something that should not, and indeed can not, happen between planes of existence. The reapers even come to him with an ultimatum: peacefully accept his own reaping or be forced into it, something he knows is a fate worse than, well, any regular death.

The Delicate Art of Soulripping is the product of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month season. This is a story that wrote itself more than any other novel I’ve written.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the written word to help people on their journeys. Oz’s story came to me while I was starting my journey as a social worker so it almost became a sounding board for all of the different topics and concepts bouncing around in my head. By day, I’m a social worker. I regularly use writing in my therapeutic practice, including in a group setting with the teenagers I work with in the juvenile justice system.

By night and weekend I’m a writer, cosplayer, and dog lover. Also a political junkie. I regularly suffer from imposter syndrome, especially when talking about The Delicate Art of Soulripping because it really does belong to Oz. The words flowed in a way that kind of freaked me out at times.