Monday, December 21, 2009

The Blesser on Sniplits

My paranormal short story, The Blesser, is live as a podcast on Sniplits. Here's the link:

The reader is great, I'm listening to it right now. It costs $1.08--a bargain for a story that goes on for 34 minutes and has dozens and dozens of swear words.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Home from Nepal

The trip to Nepal was awesome, life-changing. Life-threatening, actually. We returned to Christmas in full swing, and it is a struggle to remember what's important. Well, that's a good question. What is important? I lean toward these words: authenticity, risk, commitment. Considering the lives of others in a third world country is a multi-layered knot—what's best for them, what's best for me, who gets to decide? In the end, I appreciate those who can answer questions with thoughtfulness and compassion because I can barely address them in my own life. What kind of life do I make for myself now? If I could do one thing, let it be done with authenticity, risk and commitment. I'm trying to do this with my writing, which is like breaking open lines of text to release the intention.

The Nepal trip was so much about reflection and finding one's true…path, rhythm, beliefs. Those words that sum up what we are, inside and out. The next time I go, it really will be all about dancing. Swear.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The meme of Evan Lewis

I have no idea what memed is, Evan Lewis, you sneaky reprobate. Memed can't be a word one would toss onto a Scrabble board. But there it is and here I am.

So what have I been doing until the moment Dave, er, Evan, memed me? I haven't been posting here, so I must have been doing something, right?

1) Basically, I've been dodging the whole Facebook question for the last month. A lot of people have tried to friend me and I've belayed their friendliness until I come up with a position statement about Facebook. As in, How Facebook Fits into My Life.

2) I went to a party where there was dancing. Much fun was had by me. In fact it was an awesome, sweaty, inebriated time, the likes of which I haven't had in at least three years.

3) Going to Nepal in November. Much planning and salting away of funds. I bought a pair of very lovely Asolo boots for the adventure. And I hope to experience more awesome, sweaty, inebriated times while wearing these pretty little things.

4) Research on Civil War-era gunshot wounds.

5) Dealing with pets, dealing with ringworm and pets, dealing with the skin and fur of several mammal species including humans, all of whom had various itchy things afflicting them. Dealing with pet therapy, pet accomodations, pet birth control, pet loss, pet gain. Talking to the Humane Society about Cat #701.

In a nutshell, that's what I've been doing until this meming thing happened to me. Why, Evan, why?

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
Saltines in bed. Or saltines in the bath when reading critique partners' work.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I hate reading my old comments later, like my college text of Aeschylus. As if I had an opinion at eighteen. Or more likely, as if I could have a better opinion now. In addition, I'm unlikely to do volunteer proofreading; I do enough of that already for my critique partners.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
Dog-ear, baby. I want the book to know I'm there.

Laying the book flat open?
I have two library books lying just so right now. I know it's bad. In library materials, however, an unmolested book is an unloved book. I like opening a book that has a hint of an old lady's perfume clinging to the pages. Once I checked out a copy of Dracula that had tiny smears of bitter chocolate in the margins of the pages. Children's book should be battered from repeated readings, pages bleary, the spines utterly broken. I can't imagine a greater compliment to an author than to autograph a well-loved, much read book. For my own materials, I have reader copies and shelf copies. I'm not to be trusted with a book I like.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
There's a difference?

Hard copy or audiobooks?
All of it. In both ears and the eyes as well.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I have to stop on a dime. I have kids and cats.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
There are no unfamiliar words. I've heard them all.

What are you currently reading?
House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam (excellent first novel), Muddy Tracks by some new age guy (not recommending this much), Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller (awesomeness, complete brilliance). On tape: Kate Wilhelm. I have a Tanith Lee at the top of the pile but the premise reminds me of a particular first season episode of Star Trek TNG. My life will be more pleasant if I never have to see the episode again, or think those thoughts. So maybe not this Tanith Lee.

What is the last book you bought?
I think it was a cookbook by Ferran Adria. Obviously not for me.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
Usually two by the bed, an audio book at work and another in the kitchen. Don't want to miss anything.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I love to read in bed and sadly that means nighttime reading. If I could, I'd be there all day long.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Geez, don't get me started. I mean it, don't ask me about series books. I might give my opinion about the waste of paper and breath and time and all those dead trees and why no one edits anymore and the hours I'll never get back trying to remember what happened in volume three and the erosion of my intellect when I realize how many brain cells got burned when I read volume four. If you can't say it one book, why, god, why write sixteen? The only exception is Dorothy L. Sayers. Rebus. That chick in the UK.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
They are ALL beautiful to me. Jane Eyre, The Things They Carried, Sherlock Holmes (series, K. Shut up!), Jane Austen, The Haunting of Hill House, Snowcrash, Red Square and Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith, The Day of the Triffids, Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale, anything Ron Carlson. Howl's Moving Castle, Harry Potter, LOTR, Dracula. All James M. Cain, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Michael Chabon, David Mitchell. Don't forget Joss Whedon, Francis Ford Coppola. Pick it up, read it, pass it on.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
They are alpha by author right now (not my idea). I used to have them by color.

Happy now, Dave, er, Evan? I need a new box of saltines and a chapter of Davy, please.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend at The Burrow

Here's what I did this weekend. Dumped the Yolas for an outing with family, including ex, only to have ex bail at the last minute, followed by number two child. That left me and number one, who was happy to go see District 9, making it the first movie I've seen since HP Last. And what a fine little parable it was too. Really liked the aliens and the dude, and they both started out so unlikeable. I went home clutching my skull because there was so much I'd never seen before. I watched Johnny Mnemmmowwinc (sic) the night before and was hypersensitive to how much useless junk I've stuffed in the old mental closet over the years. Some of it is leaking. Anyway District 9. Of course it's too much. I love too much. Cloverfield—I loved that too.

Next, a pound of beeswax for $10. This, you non-wax people, is a good deal. The craft store I frequent to my great shame gives out a 40% off coupon with each purchase. It keeps me going back every week for another pound of wax. Also bought a Krupps thermos at Value Village (next to the Sausage Kitchen, home of the best, the only, the driest, the least sweet pepperoni in the world, bar none) for number two child who (accidentally) exploded my Melitta divorce settlement ceramic coffee pot that I loved almost more than life itself. I forgive because I'm the one who broke a Fiestaware chocolate pot from the 1940's. Knocked it right off the counter, the radioactive glaze breaking into a thousand guilty pieces. The thing was worth more than the current value of my car.

Sunday I prepped boards and wrote Madison and watched Angel. Yes, it's not over. Netflix has had to ship disks to me from Hawaii because some other middle aged woman in Oregon is sitting on Season Five. I'm administering the last episodes like laudanum, one drop at a time. After a load of really inferior episodes early in the season, these final five are worth the wait. I blanked on what the bad episodes were about and the only one that came to mind was a reprise of the stupid werewolf. I don't know why werewolves have to exist in the same universe as vampires. Is it in the contract?

A fabulous weekend, with time at the end to sweep the floor, run a load of wash and have a glass of wine while R grilled.

Oh, I just got an update from the MFA program where I got my entirely useless terminal degree, so I'll try to blog later about the shivers of ickiness I feel when one of these drops into my inbox. Brrr.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Passionate and Dangerous

Whaddaweekend here at Madison World. First, I'm going to pass over Saturday completely, except to say I had a glass of wine at the Big Pond with R and that made everything all right again. Finally finished book two in the wasted space trilogy. It's a blessing I can't remember dude's name or where he lives because oh my god, one volume would have been enough already! How many trees, dude? How many hours will I never get back—at my age, they are numbered and I have to be careful with them. But that's Saturday again and I said I wasn't going to talk about Saturday. Started an encyclopedic compendium of vampire literature wherein I learn that Madame Blavatsky was a better writer than John Polidori. Despite this injustice, one might wish that Madame had died at age twenty-six and John gone on to an illustrious career of table-rapping. I have a little thing for the passionate deaths of the tumble-locked boys of the Romantic pen. Check out the death section of Shelley's bio in Wikipedia. They say John offed himself with prussic acid, which Wiki tells me is the shmancy name for hydrogen cyanide. That would have looked good on Madame.

So I don't know if I'm going to get through the vampire bookie thingie. I used to love the undead creatures of the night, back in the day when they were the maligned and forgotten denizens of late night television, i.e. The Night Stalker. They are just too too everywhere you want to be right now, and little girls want to play with them, and we're back to dangerous and forbidden sex—what is this, the 1950's? As a mom, I am all about dangerous sex. As a lady of mature years (and by mature, I mean fit, nowhere near fifty, and popping with new ideas) I am even more all about dangerous sex. That is, one might say (by one I mean I) the motto of my life. But still, guys, you think the glittery-skinned, vegetarian saltpeter Tweelight is actually going to tamp those unruly passions? See death of Shelley above.

I've got the Dennis Lehane historical going on the cd player. (Almost said "toaster" but that term is dead to me now.) The reader does good accents, but he has a kind of happy, storybook voice that makes the book sound like a bible story. Note to Lehane: don't DO that. Speaking of audio, what about that Jonathan Davis? He read Snowcrash and mmmm, I like to visit the audiobook once a year or so just to hear him say "Hiro Protagonist". He may also have done the voice mail system for DHL. What would you call a woman who sent all her old toner cartridges back to Xerox via DHL just to hear that guy's voice? Target audience.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

OC Arch Bridge etc

Yola is blogging this week, which sucks the will to live from her love slaves. No postie from me here at Madison world, but then I decided to drop in to mention that five or six pieces sold out of the show. I arrive at Winestock with my hand over my eyes—"the light, the light!" It's so weird. I still think all the pieces are too dark, except for the new one above the bar which is too colorful. But the lovely small one with heavy wax texture sold. Think I know who bought it, John.

What am I reading? Book Two in the whatsit trilogy by what's his name. Honestly, people, do you want me to talk about why trilogies AGAIN? That's five names I can't remember: The trilogy's name, the names of each separate volume and because I'm pissed, the author's.

I finished The City and The City. Liked it a lot, though not for the reasons China Mieville probably expected. He's done a fine job of world building. It was absolutely fascinating, dreamlike, believable. Where he lost me was the plot, though it's one of those rare books that finished better than it started. But I read the whole thing and here I am, still wondering if it's possible to have two interlaced cities existing in the same location. It reminded me of Toni Morrison—her description of a black city and a white city, both recognizable to their inhabitants but invisible to the others. And he did this very well.

A photo of the lovely Oregon City Arch Bridge that I ride my bike over once or twice a day depending on, well, stuff, okay? Sometimes it's cold in the morning. The Oregon Department of Transportation is considering closing the bridge for repairs for two years. It's enough to make a rational woman come to blows with one of those non-biking, tie-wearing government bureaucrats. Riding this bridge is the best part of my day. Some very good people including OC mayor Alice Norris and our own bike-riding commissioner Lynn Peterson are working toward a compromise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Art Update

How weird is this, people? Or person, since I'm pretty sure no one is reading this blog but me (and that's my fault, okay? I'm shy). In six days, I made twenty times more money off art than I ever have off writing. Two pieces have sold out of my show. All right, yes, my dad bought one—but it was real small and he was going to buy something anyway. The other one sold to—I think—friends, though they haven't 'fessed up.

On the one hand, I'm completely charmed. It's like magic. Melt some wax and smear it on a board and I've discovered this thing called encaustic. Who knew there was an actual name for it? And that it was 2000 years old? Though I worked hard and addressed a ton of technical issues in my rush to hang a show in a month, I never lost my sense of joyful disaster. It was not fun exactly, but it was completely absorbing. I still think about it all the time.

On the other hand, I have an MFA in writing, I've published several short stories. I have a novel I'm in the middle of rewriting. I write, that's my identity. So WTF? Let me repeat that: WTF?

Here's the thing. My brother, Jason and I, were constantly drawing, sculpting in clay and sometimes steel, and making vitrified porcelain enamel panels and tiles. Other projects as needed, though not so much painting. Jason was two years younger and his work always looked so precise and contained. To my eye, it looked really good. My work was wobbly and all over. I drew a lot of castles and horses. Our parents seemed to praise his work more than mine, and I eventually stopped doing art stuff. So years later, my brother is gone (a long story, for another time) and I'm having a glass of wine with the parents. By then I've been to Reed and pretty much set myself on the path that will eventually lead to my making $25 per story (whoo). One of the parents asks, inevitably, "why writing?" I reply, "Jason was so gifted visually. He was the one who had the talent." Their mouths drop open in unison. After stuttering, one of them says, "No, K, you were the one with the talent."

Note to other parents out there: Tell your kid before they become English majors at rigorous private colleges.

As I write the above story, I realize that I am still a kid, living in the world where if one kid has something it automatically means the other kid doesn't. Why couldn't both artists' kids have talent? As a child I couldn't fathom such a thing. It was an either/or. So I chose writing, which meant never doing visual art again.

Is everyone like this? Or have I been wrong-headed all my life?

Anyway, I still want to sell my book. I thought of this cool way to up-tension the whole thing. More about that later. In the meantime, someone I know just sold to Ellery Queen. No cheap rag there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Revision/Rewritten image

Here's a scan of a draft work on paper, where I was testing the materials and playing with my handwriting. There is only a small amount of wax on this. Mostly it is chalk and oil-based pencil, written, erased, rewritten and erased. The paint is black board paint. It has a velvety texture and very quickly isn't black anymore if you use chalk on it.

The text itself is a section from a short story called Lucky .003. During the course of the project, I tried all kinds of text. E-mails from friends and my replies, pieces of the current novel. Casual writing wasn't nearly as interesting as it was when I first opened the e-mail. The novel was way too stressful to play with. But the short stories had very condensed sentences with many nouns, and that worked best. This piece, for instance, is a list of stuff the story's protagonist finds in the desert sand. The word cat jumps out at me right now, which is much too specific.

I couldn't use dialogue, especially dialogue that was supposed to be funny. It all became a sad jumble of botched intentions. My favorite text was something I found on the last day, an unfinished description of my grandmother's house and neighborhood. I only did one piece with that text but I learned that using what I had visually rather than textually may solve some of the problems I had with the story idea.

This scan probably looks like a hot mess to most people. To me, it's a process piece and looks okay.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Returning to the true gen

I've been busy this last three weeks trying to avoid my public profile. Why?

  • Ringworm—my daughter has it. Imagine a bi-polar artistic type on a 108 degree day with a spot of ringworm on her posterior—Welcome to Hell.
  • The heat—I like it and I don't like it. I only rode the bike twice last week. I'll ride today, and hope the vehicular insanity sharing the road with me has cooled down. Car drivers are nuts in the heat. Last night I saw a guy in a Suburban towing a boat (I don't know for boats, but this looked like the kind that eight people could have cocktails on comfortably) driving up and down our country road, making U-turns whenever and going really fast. I'm sure inside his a/c splendor he couldn't smell his frying brake pads. Garth Brooks was probably involved.
  • Art. The show opened on Saturday, another really hot day. I've been using beeswax on the panels which has the melting point of a friendly kiss. I'm concerned the panels will melt, run down the walls and become, if possible, even uglier than they are in their pristine state. I'm probably not the best judge of this work. To anyone who asks I declare that I'm not an artist. But my parents are/were both artists, which is like getting a jump start on what's cool, especially if you happen to like abstract art. Which I do. So there are some formal conventions that I can manage. Think monkey playing dress-up. But color is a complete mystery. I kept reaching for the tube of dark, dark blue because it was so dang pretty. Anyways, the show is up and live. Demonstrating yet again that I've wasted my life tilting at windmills, I spent Sunday reworking two more panels only to have R tell me he liked the original versions better. After that I took my paints and gave them to my daughter. No mo' visuals. One of the pieces I worked on Sunday was "Boat" which is based on e-mails between John F and Cheryl M. And I really do like it better now, so take that.
  • Met with the Yolas on Saturday and I'm happy to report they are all well, despite the fact that we haven't met as a group in about 500 years. The domain name has to be renewed--big $7. Is it worth it? No one seems to have the time to maintain a web presence (other than Dave who is so fiendish it really is like making a devil's pact—doubt me, check out the Yola Blog). The week I blog is different, of course.
  • Angel Season 5—have pity on me. I don't have television, right? I'm sure I've mentioned this. Years after Buffy finished I decided to watch. Now Angel. I've endured two dismal seasons, two pretty good seasons and here I am, finally, season 5. Spike. Need I say more? And Netflix, bless their little cotton socks, has a long wait notice on Disk 2. Started Dollhouse Season 1. I'm finally liking Eliza Dushku. She's older, her round face looks vulnerable, maybe a little worn.
  • What else? I got scammed by a fourteen year old wanker from the UK through my Paypal account. I haven't come up with suitable retribution yet. Maybe he'll be struck by lightening while I think of something.
  • Not writing. It isn't just blog silence for the last three weeks. It's been a complete blackout for all the literary arts. I didn't realize until this week that my twitchy, jumpy, skin crawlies was not-writing-related. Visual art doesn't sub for writing, though it has some trance-like qualities. The good drugs come from the keyboard.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A few little words

Here's a quick update because I'm not inspired enough to write an entire paranoid, Toaster-Oven inspired post today. So I'm logging in with three things: Yola is posting this week on Yolawriters' blog. This version of the old gal is the one whose ring requires kissing. Her boots might want a little attention too.

My story is live on On The Premises, featuring a miracle of editing by Tarl. Thanks to those guys, especially the prompt payment!

In getting Madison ready for some submission or other, my old critique guru Dave Lewis completely re-designed page one. This is an example of the kind of thinking you just can't do for yourself:

Our farm workers came from all over, wherever the wind blew them. Refugee camps, other farms, places where everyone had died but them. They'd all had jobs Before—stockbrokers, salesmen and housewives. Once we even had an airline pilot. They came and went, blown away by the same vague wind after a day, a week, a month. I got used to not remembering their names.

Except for Tierney. He was first one I ever saw with a book.
I was working during lunch, going from worker to worker and ladling water into their bowls. When Dad wasn't looking, I carried the bucket to Tierney and pretended I hadn't already brought him water that day. "Do you know how to read?"

Other than the book, he was just another stranger who'd come to the valley to work for Dad. But I liked his eyes when he glanced at me. Blue. He closed the book. "Do you?"

Dad came back from the barn. "Madison!"

"I learned how. What's the book called?"

He held it up. "It's a dictionary."
--------------------------------- end

Dave is that good. Check out earlier weeks of Yola for his fine hand.

And finally, I've had some new Madison ideas lately. Yes, I realize the novel is finished, but there continue to be issues that I know aren't resolved. Maybe I've been a little fearful. If I go into sequel mode (just pretend I didn't say that word, sequel. Sequel, sequel, sequel) I'd be an idiot to ride into that sunset as blind as I rode into this one.

Oh, right, the art show. Let's just be quiet about that for now. I'm shopping at Art Media today. That right, not Office Depot where they have beautiful, cheap paper and printer supplies. No, an art store where they have gesso, acrylic medium and rabbit glue. Who knows what this stuff is? Why is it so expensive? Everything about this project screams of pain.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why I'm not a Visual Artist

A big BTW, On The Premises is the magazine which picked up The Moon Dreams of Water and lauded it with an Honorable Mention. They pay real money and do real editing and best of all, they are a writer's dream of promptness. Highly recommend.

So, I was hanging out with my dad at Winestock last night. He's a sculptor with an amazing work ethic. Visit Lee's artwork here, if you are so inclined. We often discuss the differences between our two art forms—me with text, him with visual.

We talked about an artist's crisis of self confidence. Since it's daily life for me, I always thought it had to do with how little exposure I've had. The theory being that the more you publish the easier it is to have people read and judge your work, and the more objective you can be about it. No published writers have self confidence problems, right?

I'd never heard my dad talk about a crisis of confidence before. He's a mature artist and sells work all the time. I assumed it didn't happen to him.

Anyways, we discussed two issues. The first was how do you cope during a crisis of confidence. The second, more nebulous, what does it feel like when you can't cope? What saves you?

Unlike writers who can shut off the computer and stuff manuscripts out of sight in a drawer, visual artists can't always escape their work. My dad, for instance, has huge sculptures all around the place. And from every era of his life too. But even during dark times, he lives with the art. I think he has a mechanism, rather like my being able to read Stephanie Myers or watch Vin Diesel movies. He turns off critical functioning and simply stops looking.

Here's an example. Fortunately he doesn't read blogs, so I'm safe telling this story. For months he kept matches in a Christmas cookie tin with a really ugly Santa on it. I wondered if it had sentimental value or there was some sophisticated design element that I simply wasn't getting. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and asked him why he kept it. Didn't it bother him as an artist? He looked me like I was insane and said it didn't have a design on it at all. Imagery like that, ugly and mass produced, isn't really art so he doesn't see it. It's just a tin holding his matches.

Okay, that's part one of the conversation, how to cope. Part two is more complicated and I'm just going to lay out the problem. What happens when you can't cope with your own work? When you can't stop judging yourself and every piece of your work looks cowardly, needy, unfinished, and amateurish? When those little flaws you thought supported or balanced your PERFECT idea have taken over the piece like some kind of virulent mold? When you can't even see your idea in that rancid stew, and very possibly your first draft dashed off on a napkin was the only thing worth keeping?

Imagine if you will, taking these deformed tadpole ideas and hanging them on a white wall, in front of big windows, where women in $400 shoes walk by and peer in, and couples in beige enter with their wallets aglow? Sometimes there are openings where hundreds of these people and all their critical friends troop past your work and say…nothing at all. What are they thinking? Are they comparing it to last year's show? Do they see that spot where the paint dripped? Oh, God, I can't fix it.

The idea of exposing yourself to the world in this frame of mind makes me weak, nauseous, hollow, panicked, and crazy. Hell on earth, people! And that's why I'm not a visual artist.

I do not know how Lee copes. He says he continues to see something of interest in his work during these times. And we both agreed that no matter how bad it gets, being an artist is the most interesting and absorbing thing anyone can do. I'd call it a career, but writing/making art really isn't a career. It's an occasionally profitable entry in the DSM.

I think—don't quote me on this since you know I'm not overly exposed in the word game—hypnotism might come in handy as a coping mechanism. Or a monstrous ego. Or extremely developed marketing skills. Lee says that falling back on training and craft and skill doesn't hurt either.

Or chocolate and television.

The secret reason for this post is that in August guess what? I'll be making visual art and hanging it on walls in a public place where people not related to me will see it. In a wine-soaked moment, my evil bad self volunteered for this torture. Winestock in OC starting August 1.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Atmosphere Is Not Plot

Things have been quiet in the mailbox lately which has given me a lot of time to ponder. I heard back on one contest, where I received an honorable mention and the story will get published. Nice. My Duotrope stats can crawl out of the basement. AND I doubled my writing income for 2009. I was so worried I wouldn't be able to afford a Mocha Frappuccino this summer.

I'm almost done with my AA short story. I have a theory that everyone has to write about rehab/AA, the apocalypse and time travel once in their lives. I really like my AA story, but I can tell you right now I've invested too much time in the voice at the expense of pacing. Why do I do it? Because I'm so f-ing in love with my own powers of creation. My lead character is Ronnie, a down on her luck real estate agent who meets a guy who reminds her of her dead ex-boyfriend. I suppose dead means ex, right? Dead boyfriend.

Characters as big and brassy as Ronnie chafe in the short story format. The page count goes up to accommodate the snappy dialogue and huge sections of plot are buried to keep the page count down. It's happened before. In another story, about this lonely slacker dude, I focused the first draft almost exclusively on his slacker voice. I massively rewrote to achieve a balance but other readers still felt I'd undersold the plot. I didn't actually care what other readers thought. In the end, however, I caved and it didn't take much to make it work. There was only one tiny change I wouldn't have made.

Here's where I could go off on a rant about the sanctity of the author's intent, how it really was my story and no one edited Jack Kerouac like that. Yes, all true. I had put some serious hours into the slacker dude story and I had also let it rest for five or six months. That's enough time for me to be objective again. But it got rejected twice in its finished form and when it was finally picked up, I was happy to make the suggested revisions because I could see the reward at the end of the tunnel. Fame and fortune, here I am.

But this experience, and the fact that I will have the same experience again with Ronnie, has caused me to ponder. What have I really learned about myself? How can I write faster, edit more effectively, and let go of cuteness sooner?

Stop me if you've heard this before:

  1. Planning the plot ahead of time REALLY helps. If I know I have to hit certain marks at certain times, I can maintain a reasonable pace.
  2. Know the goal. If my goal is to create a character sketch with dialogue, stick with that goal. In other words, know what shape I want the piece to take. This has more to do with voice and tone than plot.
  3. Atmosphere is not plot. It really isn't. No, no, no.

More about atmosphere, in which I return inevitably to Lovecraft: In his short stories, atmosphere is what the plot grows out of. It's never a sunny day in Lovecraft. He asks a question in the beginning of each story, a question which is inevitably bound to the setting and atmosphere. One of the benefits of writing the same story over and over again until you DIE is that you eventually get this right.

Cuteness. I really don't have a solution to cuteness or to my shameless love of my own creative awesomeness except surgery or amnesia. Maybe both. Cut out my brain and make me forget I ever wrote that story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Long Do Tires Last?

Here's a question that came up recently in a Madison rewrite and reminded me of a similar question in Earth Abides. How long do rubber tires take to decompose? How long are they usable?

Naturally, these are two different questions.
1. How long does rubber exist as a discrete compound?
2. How long do rubber tires hold air and maintain their integrity?

The guys at Tire Tech Information present findings from several manufacturers. To quote:

"How many years will tires last before aging out? Unfortunately it's impossible to predict when tires should be replaced based on their calendar age alone."

Many things contribute to the wear of tires including usage, environmental conditions, sunlight and pollution. For instance, going at top speed may wear out the tires, but not using them at all may also damage them. Living near the ocean is bad for tires, but so is living in places with lots of air pollution. I would guess that driving or parking near industrial areas would be bad for tires. You should see the cars driven by paper mill employees in my town. Hardly a lick of paint is left on the hoods of these cars. Imagine what it does to the rest of the vehicle.

The British Rubber Manufacturers' recommendations as quoted by Tire Tech:

"Environmental conditions like exposure to sunlight and coastal climates, as well as poor storage and infrequent use, accelerate the aging process. In ideal conditions, a tyre may have a life expectancy that exceeds ten years from its date of manufacture. However, such conditions are rare."

In Madison, usable tires are hard to find but still available. This is Oregon, one of the sweetest climates for automobiles. No salt on the roads, no excessive heat. Very little sunshine (not today, thank goodness). So I push for the upper end of tire usability—ten years and a little after.

Since bicycle tires aren't as heavily bonded to other materials, are easier to maintain, and their use isn't as extreme, I would guess they last more than ten years.

Rubber itself lasts a very long time. In fact, we don't know exactly how long it lasts or when it decomposes, since we've only been throwing it in our landfills for a little over a hundred years. This is a good reminder when visualizing what's left in the PA world. Evidently, tires will be breeding mosquitoes in ditches and junkyards forever. Think about the reefs that were supposedly "stabilized" with old tires. The stupid things are still there after decades, grinding away all life. Go here to read what recyclers say about tires.

I had a very kind and thoughtful rejection from an agent today—timely too, if anyone's paying attention. It's given me a lot to think about, and I may have more to say such things later. In the meantime, Yola is holding forth on her blog, cracking the whip and being generally disgraceful. Go kiss the ring and debase yourself in whatever way you think she'd like.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Revision or Why I Keep So Many Drafts

Everyone has ideas, but good ones…oh, they come from the source. Like most writers, I have ideas that exist in all their platonic beauty on the upper shelf, where I can't quite reach them. We love to talk about where ideas come from, but it's harder to talk about how and why the final object comes out looking so plain when the idea is still sitting on the shelf glowing. I have short stories that take years to complete. Maybe I'm waiting for the moment the idea loses its power over me so that I can focus on what's good enough about the story.

Anyway, we're not going to talk about the idea triumvirate—getting them, keeping them, letting them go. What I'd like to resolve for myself is how revision can support a good idea or kill it. Also known as Why I Keep So Many Drafts.

I'm going to use the first paragraphs of Madison as an example. As I've said before, I wrote this novel in a white heat last summer. It shows.

From June 28, 2008:
Cooksey wasn't memorable except for the fact he could read. The first time I noticed him we were all on lunch break and he had a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire open on his lap.

I walked over. "Do you think it's an apt comparison?"

He looked up at me, one more stringy-haired, beat stranger who'd come to the valley to work for my dad. "Have you read it?"

"Saw the movie."

"Madison!" yelled Dad. He never liked us talking to the migrants.

What did I know, as the author that you can't see in the text? This is a PA world and there are no movies. Madison is the most popular baby name for 2008. Madison is a girl. At this point I didn't know who Cooksey was or why Dad was so grouchy about migrants. What was the most important thing about this for me? Madison is curious, mouthy, a little rebellious. I was working on her voice.

From September 1, 2008, the first time my critique group saw it:

In a world with no television, people ought to be reading. That was my opinion. Yet I never saw anyone do it until a migrant named Tierney pulled out a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and started to read it during lunch break.

I carried the water bucket over to him. "Do you think it's an apt comparison?"

He looked up, one more stringy-haired, beat stranger who'd come to the valley to work for Dad. "Have you read it?"

"Saw the movie."

"Madison!" yelled Dad. He never liked us talking to the migrants.

The lead male has a new name. I use Cooksey for another character in the book so it's not lost. Still love the name. And honestly? Even now I'm not sure I like Tierney. It has an ambiguous pronunciation and it's Irish which seems like overkill since my last name is too. I just don't know.

I'm still married to the book in this version. What did I like about it? I had in mind an old Everyman edition, cloth cover, red, with gold lettering. Foxed pages. In my childhood home the Everymans were on the highest, dustiest shelf. It would probably be among the last books you'd burn if you were freezing to death. Also, it reminded me of my father, a little personal Easter egg for him so he'd know I'd been paying attention as a child.

The movie thing—well, I knew it was going to be a joke later on when readers understood there hadn't been a film industry in ten years. What I liked about it was Madison's punchy, ironic yet juvenile response. That was the essence I wanted when I wrote the line and the reason I kept it through two drafts (that or laziness).

Beat is still here, beat in the original beatnik sense, which I imagined might make a comeback in a PA world. And if it didn't, I was going to make it come back by using it 500 times throughout the novel. I was riding that dead horse but good.

What's good? "I carried the water bucket over to him." This action raises a lot of questions. It's the first tool we see in the book. And M. is doing something besides running her mouth.

What's bad? "That was my opinion." If there's one thing you don't need in a first person narrative, that would be it. But I'm still voice building so I forgive myself. Notice I kept the equally pedantic line about an apt comparison. I'm in love with my PA world and I'm writing too much. But M's smart and that's important to me—and her. The line is a place-holder for the perfect smart question that will arrive as if by magic from my crit partners.

From January 31, 2009:

The first time I saw anyone read a book on the farm was when a man named Tierney pulled out a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire during lunch break.

When Dad wasn't looking, I carried the water bucket over to him. "Do you know how to read?"

He wasn't much, just one more stringy-haired stranger who'd come to the valley looking for work. "Do you?"

"Madison!" yelled Dad. He never liked me talking to men.

"I learned." I ladled water into Tierney's bowl and went to the next person.

This is very close to a final version. I've still got the Everyman in the first para, but I've removed the preachy opening line, the movie reference, and beat. I feel like M is responding to something she might actually see in her life—a guy a reading—and she's asking a question she might really want to know the answer to.

By now, I have finished writing the novel and I don't feel like I have to prove anything on the first page. Just tell the story.

Also, I switched out the word migrant. I hit that word hard in the next para, so I don't care about making a point here. What's important to me is M's tiny act of rebellion—she says something to Tierney after dad calls her off.


From April or May 2009:

The first time I saw anyone read on the farm was when a man named Tierney pulled a book from his back pocket during lunch break.

When Dad wasn't looking, I carried the water bucket over to him. "Do you know how to read?"

He wasn't much to look at, another stranger who'd come to the valley looking for work. But I liked his eyes. Blue. "Do you?"

Dad came back from the barn. "Madison!" He didn't like me talking to the help, especially men.

"I learned how." I ladled water into Tierney's bowl. "What's the book called?"

He uncurled the paper cover. "It's a dictionary."

"Madison, what does it take?" yelled Dad. "An engraved invitation?"

Dictionary. I carried the bucket to the next person. I'd never seen one of those.

The Everyman is gone. No one cares but me anyway. Even my father probably won't care—he'll be too busy wondering why Dad in my book is such a loudmouth.

Blue eyes, no stringy hair. He's the romantic lead, okay? Other people have to fall in love with him too, especially the author. When I made this change, I built up the romance in the rest of the book. Maybe I was swallowing a bitter pill, but there have to be BIG motivations for these people.

Now we see that Dad was away and has just come back—when the cat's away the mice will play. Tierney has a bowl for his water, not a cup. What kind of place is this? And the big change—a dictionary. I still may be a little enamored of this idea so don't be surprised if I cut it later. Books are rare in this world, reading isn't taught. For an educated man like Tierney, a dictionary might be a precious object. Words themselves might be precious. And how many times have we all tossed aside some battered paperback Websters in this world? Think about paperbacks and plastic water bottles and Styrofoam takeout containers. Might they have value in a PA world?

And over all, this little scene has two more lines of dialogue. It's more of a conversation now and it lasts a tiny bit longer. I am trusting these people to do and say what they want to advance the story.

Have I preserved the idea through all these rewrites? Yes and no. Madison is not exactly a mouthy smartass in this last iteration. I haven't rung any PA bells. Instead, I've established a few key elements that I hope will grow in the rest of the story:
  • There is something off about this reality.
  • Tierney is attractive.
  • Madison is curious and bold.
  • Dad gets angry a little too quickly.
  • It's a farm.

One idea is started and completed: That's a book. Do you read? Yes, I learned how.

Lesson over. What am I reading? I finished The Sparrow. What a book! I highly recommend it. I'm now reading the third Moe Prager. It's just, yeah. I love Reed Farrell Coleman. I love the idea of RFC. I adore Moe. But, hmm.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

HP Lovecraft, Spatial Explicity

Here's something I never thought I'd do in public: discuss HP Lovecraft.

I was driven to do this because I just finished The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It is a big, attractive hardcover release about vampires. These are your worm-like, Klaus Kinski / 'Salem's Lot vampires. Klaus is insanely beautiful AND does a good Nosferatu. Not everyone can do that.

(CUT long para describing the three species of vampires and their complete literary history)

The Strain is another telling of the Bram Stoker classic. Think of it as CSI Dracula. I couldn't put it down until, oh, about half way through when it turns into Hot Zone Dracula. One infection after another. No surprise that the vampires are going to get ahead of the silly humans, right? Still, there are some nice touches in the book.

What does this have to do with Lovecraft? The evil nemesis is named Eldritch. By using this fine old Lovecraft word, I believe the authors were trying to summon the idea of The Old Ones, and apply it to their equally old master vampire. But by starting with the Dracula story I, the reader, could not shake my preconceptions of previous vampire masters from other novels and movies. In this I was not disappointed. The new boss was the same as the old.

So this got me thinking about why the Lovecraft reference didn't work in this context, and I came up with two conclusions. The first is the most obvious: By giving the vampire master in The Strain so many walk-ons, he was scary but he certainly wasn't mysterious or unknown. The second observation is that Lovecraft fiction is always spatially explicit. More about that in a minute.

How do you know when you're reading Lovecraft?
Others can summarize far better, but I recognize HPL when I read about the existence of a horror from beyond that influences and feeds upon human society, yet remains mostly hidden until some bright guy follows a thread that leads to ultimate knowledge. This knowledge includes the futility and meaningless of human life in the face of this indestructible force. After the revelation, our bright guy is insane.

(CUT self-serving para about how serial killer porn is a form of HPL.)

In the viral model of vampire lit, vampires quickly overwhelm their host community, they're lurking on every threshold and chaos reigns but vampires are for the most part visible and easy to kill. Even the master can be killed. A call to arms results in a final cleansing, and even if some survive, we still have the refuge of daylight. It's essentially hopeful, and so is The Strain (despite the fact the authors are promising two more of these books). I would not say that Lovecraft is hopeful, except for the notion that knowledge of the true nature of the world is always better than ignorance.

Let's look at this spatial, geographical issue. In Lovecraft there is another world, an unsafe world, cocooned within ours. Maybe it's underground, in sub-basements. Maybe it's in some twisted streets in a bad part of town that you could swear weren't there yesterday. Maybe it's Antarctica—inaccessible to most but very much a part of our world. But in each story, it's a real place and the evil inhabits it.

A modern author who owns the Lovecraft geography is Peter Straub. Sometimes it is just a scent, while in other novels he dives in. But it is always present, a delicate awareness of place that exists outside our daily awareness. Straub is probably the only author who's given me dreams. Note I didn't say bad dreams. Just dreams… because I want to find those places too.

Anne Rice does good geography and atmosphere, but it is not hidden or unknown. Like her vampires, the places are normal because the vampires make them normal. The Strain attempts to define territory by using the subway system under the ruins of the World Trade Center, and making a point about how vampires are drawn to places of tragedy and evil. But the geography was predictable. Nasty, but not inhuman. The chance the authors had to inculcate that place with powerful evil was lost, even though they had modern tragedy at their finger tips.

Another guy who does great spatial evil is Mikal Gilmore in Shot in the Heart. Every place he talks about has a dreamy, Lovecraftian sense of disorientation. I'm familiar with many of the Oregon locations. They are truly haunted for me now, as if the tragedy had been present all along and I just hadn't seen it.

From a writer's point of view, setting does half the work of characterization. Say the words Derry, Carpathia, Crouch End. You know where you are. The Eldritch name set me up to expect perilous dis-location, when The Strain is a more traditional vampire story.

Who is my favorite vampire of all time? The terrifying and dangerously sexy Gary Oldman. Every girl needs a guy like that to lure her away from hearth and home.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Done and Doneness

Another week of checking the inbox 50 times a day. I'm beginning to train myself off the blogs and back to the NYT site. Yesterday I scrolled through the book section and read the BEA article. Small steps, right?

I added another five submissions to the seven that were already out. Since they were all on my list, not spontaneous screams in the wilderness, I feel a restful sense of accomplishment. I've gotten three rejections, two extremely timely and the other within the limits posted on the web site.

In re: Madison. Don't get me wrong, I may be temporarily finished with revision but it still needs attention. Because I'm so invested in it, the world, the characters, the direction of the novel, I find that revision is like peeling an onion. The more I revise, the more is revealed. I had a moment when I realized something I wrote six months ago is a great idea that could—without much tweaking—change the entire novel into exactly what I wanted it to be. It's so cool. Since I can't remember what I thought I was saying when I originally wrote it, I don't know if I was trying for this, or if my subconscious snuck one in.

Met with the Yolas on Saturday and they pointed out some motivational issues. Now that's the kind of thing I should have caught before I decided the novel was done! Madison is not complicated structurally, but it does seem like a hydra. Or Whac-a-Mole. Nail one thing down, another pops up. Put like this I don't know if it will ever be done done.

So let's talk about doneness.

Every writing/editing/agenting site rails on about not submitting until a project is done. Although this is very good advice, and not always easy to follow, I struggle with the definition:

Done is what, exactly? Is it two complete drafts and a polish? After the last read, the novel stands? Okay, I know the answer to this question, but it's important to note that done is a relative thing, shifting its definition from day to day. Even a first draft can be a done thing when it demonstrates the scope and depth of an idea. Not a done novel, but certainly a done idea.

Then there are times when everything looks like crap and the concept of a finished product is as alien as fish on the moon.

Finally there's trust. You simply have to get up one morning and decide that the only person you are going to trust with the big stuff is yourself. Am I a good enough writer? Does this novel do what I want? You are the only one who can—or should—answer these questions. Done is when you say it's done.

I can go back and forth about it. Because writers need readers. Too much critiquing from your worthy writing partners can suck the life out of almost anything. If it can be killed, they'll kill it. Maybe someone suggests you have zombies on the first page which is not a bad idea, all books should. Just not YOUR book. Maybe you see the confusion on their little faces and realize you have been writing in Sanskrit this whole time. But a good group will engage at both the idea level and the grammatical level. Hence the notes about Madison and motivation, a kickable offense but not one that's hard to fix.

So, is Madison done? Two drafts, a polish and a read by others would indicate that by most standards it's sort of done. But I still have an uneasy feeling about it, like I left the stove on. Maybe because I did a very (for me) risky thing. I left a lot of questions unanswered. I didn't hang an HEA on it. Not that the characters haven't earned it. Maybe it's the unfinished nature of the world, or the fact that so many people die. I just don't think an HEA is a fair summation of the experience. For me or them. (By the way, I'm not saying the main characters don't get what they want in the end. They do, all of them.)

Still, I don't entirely trust my judgment about the ending. Maybe I will someday. This is where I say Madison is done as far as everyone else is concerned, but not for me. Not yet.

What am I reading? I made it to page 160 of The Sparrow. It's the kind of book where a lot is happening but when I look at the page number, I realize I've barely cracked it. Maybe I'm getting a little crush on Emilio Sandoz. He's real cute. Love is a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dispatches from the Toaster-Oven

The plasma shield is firmly in place over my inbox again. Who keeps doing this to me? I have seven story submissions out in the world. Two are contests. I never do contests, and here's why:
  • Contests cost money.
  • Stay-at-home-moms always win.
  • I was never good at standardized tests.
  • Waiting for the results is so much fun.
These contests were at least free, which is how I got suckered into it. It's not like I haven't won contests in the past. Winning, sadly, gave me an inflated sense of my own accomplishment that was inversely equal to the sense of failure I got from losing other contests. I quit contests about the time I stopped financing a certain high tone literary 'zine with my contest submissions. Reading fee, anyone?

Another submission out right now is just like a contest, as there is only one slot in the issue. Did I know it was a last man standing sort of thing? Probably. But I sent it during one of those times that seem to creep up on me when I realized, idiot, you don't have anything out there in the world. Better send something somewhere RIGHT NOW. I wonder if this happens to other writers, this brown-colored boredom with one's Duotrope stats that can suddenly erupt into a full-blown career emergency.

And you'd think, with such a casual beginning, the submission would maintain a kind of easy impact on the psyche. "Did I submit this old thing to that old magazine? I forgot all about it! Now you're sending this little ol' check to moi?"

That never happens to me. I'm much more likely to have the submission grow in the dark like a mushroom until it is the only thing I can think about, night or day. While my friend is discussing supreme court justices over dinner, I've got a frozen smile fixed in place and I'm thinking, "Why won't he shut up and realize I'm waiting for an e-mail? The contest is over in FIVE DAYS and if I can't check my mail RIGHT NOW I'm going to DIE."

One might be tempted to suggest that the Toaster-Oven People have completely taken over at this point.

Anyway, what am I reading? Just finished The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. Lest you think I hate all science fiction trilogies (starting with the concept of trilogies) let me tell you, this is a good, readable piece of popular literature. The tone is William Gibson lite: quiet, observant, meticulous. The ideas are easy to grasp but complex and resonant. I liked both Gabriel and Michael as characters. I saw their motivation, understood their goals. Maya, who is a very engaging construct, seemed in some ways the least developed. She had a life before she was drawn back into the role of a harlequin. She seemed to switch over too easily. I wondered what impacts her normal life had on her harlequin life. Just my opinion. Maybe the story is more about Gabriel anyway. The fact that I have to ask who the main character is. . . well, anyhow, I really liked it.

Now I'm starting The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. No comments yet, though something tells me there might be religious overtones.

This has been fun but I really need to check my e-mail.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Food Supply after the Apocalypse

I did a little trolling last night for food references. My daughter, while eating sliced pepperoni out of a bag, said that she didn't worry about not having pepperoni after the apocalypse because, "This packaged s**t will last forever." Maybe she's right; we know from Lost that Saltines last at least fifteen years, and everyone has heard that Twinkies are indestructible.

But what do we really know about our food supply? The following are some references I gleaned from various places. Warning: this is a long post.

Let's start with canned goods.

From an undisclosed web site:
"Canned food has a shelf life of at least two years from the date of processing. Canned food retains its safety and nutritional value well beyond two years, but it may have some variation in quality, such as a change of color and texture. Canning is a high-heat process that renders the food commercially sterile. Food safety is not an issue in products kept on the shelf or in the pantry for long periods of time. In fact, canned food has an almost indefinite shelf life at moderate temperatures (75° F and below). Canned food as old as 100 years has been found in sunken ships and it is still microbiologically safe! We don't recommend keeping canned food for 100 years, but if the can is intact, not dented or bulging, it is edible."

Of course I don't know about the can of creamed corn I found in a rural cabin when I was nine. That was pure evil.

Here's the link to whole article:

If the food in cans is still good, how about the way we eat now? How do our current eating habits prepare us for the PA world? This from

"Americans are more likely to recognize food products than the specific ingredients in the seemingly endless array of products on supermarket shelves (some supermarkets stock over forty thousand different items). Fast-food outlets—a McDonald's, Taco Bell, or a Subway sandwich shop—are more recognizable than a steer, hog, chicken, or a bushel of wheat.

"By the end of the twentieth century, the U.S. was unable to visualize the source of its food supply from an agricultural perspective, that is, in terms of basic food groups, because a majority no longer live on farms. Instead, food had become an endless array of food products typically found on supermarket shelves, especially those that stock over forty thousand individual items. Most such foods are processed and packaged, and few are sold in bulk as was common sixty years ago. Nearly all were shipped from distant places, packaged in large containers, transported to huge warehouse storage facilities close to cities and metropolises, and trucked from there to be unpacked and displayed on supermarket shelves.

"Consumers were working more, earning more, and willing to pay more for convenience and for appliances like the microwave, which made convenience foods more convenient. By the end of the twentieth century, only one in three U.S. consumers said their food budget was a primary consideration in food purchases, while the other two said service and convenience topped their list."

Only one in three. Here's a link to the whole article:

Wikipedia article on food supply systems:
"However, conventional food systems are largely based on the availability of inexpensive fossil fuels, which is necessary for mechanized agriculture, the manufacture or collection of chemical fertilizers, the processing of food products, and the packaging of the foods. Industrialized agriculture, due to its reliance on economies of scale to reduce production costs, often leads to the compromising of local, regional, or even global ecosystems through fertilizer runoff, nonpoint source pollution, and greenhouse gas emission. Also, the need to reduce production costs in an increasingly global market can cause production of foods to be moved to areas where economic costs (labor, taxes, etc.) are lower or environmental regulations are more lax, which are usually further from consumer markets."

More stats for the curious: Who goes hungry in the U.S. now?

From Bread for the World:
  • 35.5 million people—including 12.6 million children—live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten households in the United States (10.9 percent).
  • 4.0 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 11.1 million people, including 430 thousand children, live in these homes.
  • 6.9 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 24.4 million people, including 12.2 million children, live in these homes.

Wikipedia article on the food supply. Read the section on dictatorships and kleptocracies for the political causes of food insecurity and links to poverty.

What does it mean?
In my PA world (this is fiction, you know), in the absence of devastating nuclear or other global catastrophes, the capacity to grow food still exists, much as it did before. We are faced with a diminished human population which, in the near term, means that the existing food supply—canned and dry goods—are enough for a while. I don't know how long. Because all distribution networks have been interrupted, the food re-supply stops. In every community, especially in rural areas where some form of agriculture used to exist, people will attempt to grow food again almost immediately. With varying results. Old fossil-fuel-based farming methods no longer exist, so there would be a return to animal and human-based methods. This limits field size, but may increase diversity of crops. I don't know how long it would take for a community to be able to grow enough food to support itself—maybe three to five years, in temperate locations with decent rainfall. Maybe not in Scottsdale or Nome, Alaska. With intact communities who develop some farming success, I would guess that trade opportunities would grow as well. And with farming success and trade opportunities come the many ways other people can exploit and control the food source.

This where Madison, After begins. Ten years after the apocalypse, in a rural setting.

What I haven't been able to source is how long the US's existing food supply would last for our current population, if all distribution suddenly stopped. Two weeks? Three weeks? Longer? I'm not sure it can be calculated, given the different decay rates of perishables. If someone knows, please drop me a note.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dentistry PA

This is a quick update from the rewrite wars. Madison is well, though she enters a dark place. As I go more deeply into this draft, I've noticed two important changes I am compelled to make.

  1. I am emphasizing certain themes that seemed too trivial or obvious during earlier drafts. The example I'm thinking of is the role of women in the PA world. The other is Madison's attitude toward marriage. I understood both internally, but I felt if I hit the themes too hard in the beginning, I would be preaching. And there were other things about Madison and her world that I did not know and needed to explore. But going back to it, I can seed these issues lightly.

  2. Madison is dealing with more difficult situations. Sometimes it's tighter, more confrontational dialogue. Because I know more about the whole story, I can point conflict in the right direction. In the example I mentioned earlier, it is to have Madison do something almost unforgiveable, for which she feels no remorse. The scene has always been in the novel, but now I'm shaving away the soft parts and letting it stand as it is. I want to show that she has given up her humanity in order to save her family. I love the scene and I hope it works.

Anyway, I'm heading into the home stretch. It's as good as I've ever seen it.

While I slave away, here are some notes from my dental appointment yesterday! I know, who cares, right? Except the whole teeth-in-the-PA-world thing bothers me a great deal. Most writers don't address it. Why would they? Unless you're writing Marathon Man 2050, you don't want to go there. Harry Turtledove is almost the only guy who mentions teeth, and he said something about dental health not being good in the primitive alternates. Is he right? I asked my hygienist. Disclaimer: these are my notes and whatever I got wrong is not the fault of my wonderful and intelligent dental health professional. I spent most of my time shuddering and climbing the walls during the appointment.

PA Dentistry

In a world without soda and fruit juice and very little, if any, sugar, teeth would have much less decay. People who had a lot of fillings and dental work Pre-A would still be vulnerable to splits and breaks in their teeth. Fillings can weaken the teeth because tooth is extracted and refilled, thus compromising tooth integrity. Fillings, bridge work and crowns could also fall out. People born PA would not have the exposure to soda and juice and their teeth would be much stronger with very little, if any, decay. There would be fewer breaks, almost no cavities. I forgot to ask about wisdom teeth.

On the other hand, periodontal issues are much more dependent on a person's genetics. Perio disease (gingivitis, periodontitis, both chronic and aggressive) is plaque growing and spreading below the gum line. A person's genetic predisposition would not be helped or altered by the environment. As plaque grows and spreads under the gum line, it causes inflammation, swelling and bleeding and inflammatory response, where the body turns on itself, and the issues that support teeth are destroyed. Bone and tooth loss results.

Also of interest, your gums are extremely sensitive to stress and hormonal changes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bye to Harry

Work has taken over more of my life than usual. I'm thinking about it at home which cuts into my Madison time. Advancement of the week: I realized two characters needed to be combined into one. It made me consider the way support characters help the lead characters achieve their goals. This is not always obvious during early drafts. Sometimes you need six months and a glass of wine to see it. More in a minute.

Firstly, though, Harry. This week I read a book about addiction, called, what else, Addiction, One Patient, One Doctor, One Year. It was pretty good, though the guy is in love with his profession and not nearly curious enough about his patients. After that, I read an Earl Emerson single title which deserves a post of its own. I'm a big EE fan, especially the genre stuff. I've never met EE but the worst thing that could happen is that EE might find out a fan, me, doesn't like his most recent. Let's just say he's not being well-served by his career choices. When all this was done and I'd hurled Earl, there was Harry Turtledove. I finished it. Here are a couple of observations:

Weapons in a PA world. He is very thorough in his research, painstaking about the function and use of guns. I appreciate this.

Visualization. He's got a very good eye for buildings, rubble, and vehicles. So much of PA is imagining what these things look like after 1, 20, 130 years. The other part is imagining how people adapt and rebuild. He's good at this.

Bored out of my mind. Yet. . . everything is spelled out in big letters in this story. There is no real conflict, I was never afraid for these characters. Then there is the small matter of an over-determined father-daughter relationship. Could almost be a little creepy.

Uninformed reader. I was looking for a photo of Harry so I could stick pins in it. There's no photo on the jacket. That's when I discovered the words "Young Adult" in the blurb. It explains so much—the dull conversation, the weird focus on muskets, the way he hammered every point as if there might be a test later. I get it, he was writing down. I take back all the nasty things I said about the guy. It's a fine YA novel. It's funny, it presents some good ideas. It's not Cormac McCarthy scary.

Why does knowing it is a YA novel suddenly make all my earlier complaints meaningless? YA could be something else. It could be Snowcrash. Any age, any speed, any gender.

Had I the world enough and time, I'd demonstrate my new trick, courtesy of Edittorrent. It's really cool.

Friday, April 24, 2009

7. Madison and her plot

What am I reading? Mary Robeson, One DOA, One on the Way. Calling this woman the queen of snark is only half the truth. She's also an amazing short story writer. When she writes a novel, look out. The world is on fire.

The trouble with Harry. Harry Turtledove is still sitting on the floor next to my bed, under Sherlock Holmes, volumes one and two, next to the complete Lovecraft. No, I haven't finished it yet!

Madison. Grrr. While my life is grinding to a halt around Madison and her perils of Pauline existence, let me show this photo of my daily load. The pale yellow one wards off the toaster oven people, but all the rest are to keep me vibrating at a lower level. And believe me, Madison and I really need it.

I'm editing ahead of this blog, probably as far as page 250. At page 200, I had a Big Plot Reveal. I was sweating the rewrites because the entire novel hangs on the BPR. If it didn't work, nothing was going to work. Genre fiction isn't given to unpredictability and this BPR is bughouse nuts. Readers were going to love it or hate it. No middle ground.

The BPR seemed to work! My critique group, Yolawriters, didn't offer to rip up the pages and light them on fire. I was bemused, becalmed, behooved. And okay, a little bewitched by my own awesome plotting ability. It's a gift. Some people are just born with it.

So, being awesome, I pushed off other plot problems to a later time. You know, like page 250? That's where I am today, stuck in a vortex of indecision, having rewritten the Big Romantic Reveal every day this week. When I write it the new way, the BRR is a knife plunged in the heart. It's operatic. It's staggering and heartbreaking. When I rewrite it the old way, it works okay, kinda slow but okay, and the rest of the novel follows the outline like well-trained soldiers. But the novel feels. . . joyless. There, I said it, yeah people. When I follow the outline, the novel is a joyless, post-apocalyptic wasteland.

While I start a massive rewrite of the last 50 pages, let's remember Madison from a simpler time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

6.2 The action scene I was afraid of

Finally, the rest of the chapter. I was caught in a vortex of web issues while my critique partners and I got Yola Writers on line. It's not finished, though my page is at least representational.

What am I reading? Something wretched and ooky. I'm ashamed to admit it. Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain. I picked it up because it's set in Portland and. . . well, the Lives of the Artists had bummed me out so badly I needed this. Isn't there more than one woman in the entire world who is worthy of consideration, Calvin? Though Sweetheart hits the thriller marks like clockwork, there is something interesting about Archie. It may help that I haven't read the first one in the series, and I can invest extra time imagining what happened during the ten days he was the captive of the serial killer. If I'm going to read a thriller, it's usually Nicci French.

Rejections. Yes, I finally got one from Strange Horizons. It was personalized and brief, but I savored the sting. This will bring my Duotrope stats down to average. Sadly.

I was afraid of posting this chapter, all right? It's the action scene. I feel it and I love it, but I know I'm not adding anything new to the world of action. Moving people around on paper is hard enough--how many times can you say "he stood up" or "she got in the car" without wanting to switch to poetry? It's text filler that readers don't really see and yet adds to the feeling of things happening in a real-life sort of way. It's important to do it right. Then imagine accelerating it in a car chase or a life and death situation where every word matters and people are dying out there. There are writers who do this incredibly well. I spent a week thinking I was not one of those writers and then I re-read this bit and found myself tearing through it without editing. It got a little tense for me.


Tierney emptied the cardboard boxes of cans and one by one slid the cans between the seat and the back wall of the truck cab. The last dozen or so he returned to a box and loaded in the back of the truck. He tucked the ammo under the driver's seat, the two hand guns in the glove box, and threw our extra clothes on top of the hidden cans.

"It won't stand up to a real search," he said. "But it might buy us a little time."

"Search by who? I haven't seen a checkpoint in days."

"People live away from the cities."

"Well, I hope they're more talkative than you."

We left the dead city behind us. The weather stayed cold and rain beaded on the windshield, only to be dispersed by windshield wipers scraping across the glass. Tierney turned on the heat and a warm, dusty breeze blew over my feet. For a while I was happy. Other than the occasional downed tree or snarl of branches and mud, there was very little garbage in the road.

At noon, Tierney slowed down as a checkpoint came into view. It was the usual (ubiquitous, Madison) collection of cars piled on top of one another. Two moss-encrusted trailers were squatting to one side, smoke curling from the top of one. When we stopped the truck I smelled sewage.

"Gross. No outhouse."

"Stay in the truck."

"I know the drill. I got it, okay?" I slumped in my seat.

A man stepped out of the trailer. He wore buckskin trousers and shoes carved out of wood. He had a beard and a shot gun.

"Got business here?" he yelled.

"Passing through." Tierney climbed out and slammed the door. He stretched his arms and rolled his neck, as though driving up to a strange checkpoint was something he did everyday. I don't know, maybe he did. But by now I knew him well enough to see the faint tension in his shoulders, the way he kept his back angled toward the truck.

The man walked through the mud toward us. Another bearded guy came out of the trailer wearing the same wooden shoes and buckskin clothing. He carried a short, blunt truncheon.

"Well, now," said the first one. "No vee-hickles been this way in. . . what would you say, Joe?"

"Three years, Moon. Three years." The second man had something wrong with his face under his beard.

"That's right. I remember an old Chevy with the power winch. Whatever happened to that guy?"

"Expect he was just passing through too." This appeared to be a matter of some amusement. The two weird beards broke up laughing and scuffed the dirt with their matching shoes.

Tierney put his hands in jeans pockets, still casual. "I have some barter for our passage through your checkpoint. What's the country like up ahead?"

Barter seemed to put them all on an even footing. The first guy leaned his shot gun against a car and started gesturing. Tierney nodded. My feet were cold and I wondered how to turn on the truck so I could have heat again. And that's when I noticed weird beard number two standing next to my door making a roll-down-your-window-please motion with his index finger.

"You speak?" he asked.

I rolled down my window part way. "What kind of question is that? Do I look mute to you?"

The man cracked a smile and his beard split around an open wound on his jaw. It was red and pulsing with crazy, cauliflower growth. Not a wound, a disease. The discharge oozed into his hair and dried in a matted icicle.

"Fiesty little thing, aint you?"

I started to roll up the window, but he jammed his truncheon between the glass and the frame. "Hey, buddy, this your woman?"

Tierney glanced back. "Yes. Not for trade."

He slowly removed the truncheon. "Got everything you need then, don't you?"

"Joe, get the cargo," said the first one. They took the extra cans and jugs of water. The lifted the tarp off the mounted gun and talked about it for a long time. --The gun was useless without ammo. --No one was making ammo like that anymore. --All the munitions depots had been emptied years ago. --This thing was one big collector's item.

But they decided to take it any. "All it's good for is scaring a body," said the guy with the wound.

"You would know," I said under my breath.

Tierney got back in the truck. "I told you not to talk to anyone."

"Oh, please. He talked first."

The beards waved us through the barricade. Tierney adjusted his rear view window and tapped the fuel gauge. "Easy does it, sugar pie."

"I know you aren't talking to me."

"Always give your ride a name." He shifted up "First rule of auto mechanics."

"That must be why none of them run anymore." I rubbed my feet together under the steady stream of heat. The road opened up on the other side of the checkpoint, clear and for the most part smooth. It curved around natural stone pillars on the right which formed a great cliff that rose in perfectly carved blocks. On the left was an enormous river, easily twice as wide as the Willamette.

"Did you see that one guy's face?" I asked.

"Cancer. We used to be able to treat it."

I didn't answer. It was easier for me to accept than it was for people who had been adults Before. I grew up knowing you didn't survive cancer and any injury could be fatal. We had to put down horses and cows all the time. There were no veterinarians. Hell, I'd only met one doctor in my entire life and I'd never eaten a pill. For Dad it had been a constant source of hope and disappointment. Who could we trade with for penicillin? A friend of a friend heard a guy had three pills for barter. Someone heard about a cache of pills in an old house—were the pills any good after ten years? On it went, endlessly grubbing after the old life. Tierney was closer to Jayden's age than Dad's, but I bet he'd trade the truck and everything in it for aspirin pills.

The landscape was beautiful but I couldn't stop thinking about the checkpoint. Something wasn't right. The weird beards had good leather clothes and wooden shoes, evidence that they were capable independents. Tanning and sewing hides were common skills where I came from. Everyone sewed, but only a few people made shoes. Being a shoemaker was like being an electrician or an iron monger—you could call yourself god and name your price. While I could see the weird beards stitching together deer hides, I just couldn't imagine them carving wooden shoes.

"Tierney, did that checkpoint seem odd to you?"

He cut a glance at me and I saw the watchful look was still very present in his face. Every nerve seemed taut. "Check the hand guns, Madison."

There were five shots left in Dad's gun and one left in the gun Tierney took off the dead family. We had no extra ammo except for the large gauge belt Tierney had taken from the mounted gun. I thought longingly of Dad's workbench in the garage where he made bullets. I'd never bothered to pay any attention.

"They need to be cleaned," I said.

Tierney nodded. "Just be ready. It's probably nothing."

We didn't have long to wait. We rounded a corner and came upon a pile of boulders blocking the road. Tierney braked and we went skidding and sliding into the rocks, coming to a stop in a cloud of dust and burning grease. He'd managed to bank the truck into the rocks sideways, crunching my door but not damaging the front of the truck. I sucked my tongue and tasted blood but was otherwise okay.

Tierney cut the engine. "Stay here."

"Because that worked so well last time."

Tierney opened the glove box and slid the smaller gun across the seat to me while he stuffed Dad's gun into his jacket. I took the gun and sighed. "You might be surprised what a good shot I am, Tierney."

"All you need is one bullet, right?"

Right. The new boots were still wet. I put on the wingtips and slipped out Tierney's side. It was quiet except for birdsong and wind in the trees. Tierney climbed the nearest boulders and tried to make his way around the blockage. I went to the cliff and looked down. A graveyard of vehicles lay below. The oldest were rusted out hulks, but the newest seemed to be wagons that were nothing but kindling, recognizable only by their long wooden yokes. No bones. How did wagons go over without taking draft animals with them? I wondered which of the wrecks below had been the old Chevy with the electric winch.

Tierney came back, frowning. "We might be able to get by if we hold very close to the edge."

"People don't seem to have much luck with that." I showed him the wrecks below. "Maybe we should go back and find another way."

Small stones trickled over the boulders. We looked up. A child of about ten stood on top of a rock, thin and straight. She wore a buckskin dress over bare legs, her feet in a pair of neat wooden clogs. Her mouth was twisted around a red cauliflower tumor like the guy at the checkpoint.

"Oh, my god," I said aloud.

Tierney touched my arm. Another one, a woman this time, same tumor. Except—

"Her teeth," I whispered. They had been pushed out of her cheek by the growth of the tumor. I couldn't imagine how she still lived.

Like a game of hide and seek after It yells Olly-Olly-Oxen-Free, they came out of the rocks, one at a time. Women and children mostly, but a few men as well. Not all of them had the tumor, but so many did. They watched us, dumb and hungry, as though under some kind enchantment.

The pressure on my arm increased. "Get in the truck."

"We have to help them," I said.

"Not enough bullets." He pulled my arm. As I stepped backwards, the spell broke and the tumor people began clattering down the rocks. Some yelled, others made a gurgling ululation that was horrible to hear.

I climbed in the driver's door. Teirney followed and slammed the door as the first of the creatures swarmed over the truck. He started Sugar Pie and she leapt forward.

"Good girl," I said.

Most of them fell away to clatter over the rocks again. I knew what they did now. The cars tried to get by the boulders and fell off the cliff. Or were pushed. It was a horrible trap.

"Seat belt and tray tables, Madison!"

He aimed the truck at a narrow piece of blue sky that hovered between the boulders and the edge of the cliff. We bounced and grinded our way over the rocks, metal screaming.

On my side I saw people pouring down the hillside toward us. Dozens of them. The children's tumors were damp red fists on their faces, nothing compared to the women's full-blown cauliflowers. The men at least had beards.

The first group hurled themselves against Sweetie Pie, gurgling and howling. We lurched to the left, and I saw the bottom of the cliff outside Tierney's window. Fiercely reefing the wheel, Tierney tried to keep us on the ledge, but a man had thrown himself on the hood of the truck, spread-eagled, and smeared his tumor against the windshield. Then another man. I heard wooden shoes clattering in the bed of the truck.

The truck ground to a stop and the lurching started again—they were pushing against us, trying to tip us over.

Tierney slid Dad's gun across the seat to me. "Not until you have to."

A woman with half her jaw consumed scraped her fingers down my window, her eyes crazy. I could send a bullet through the glass and into the roof of her mouth, but that would bring all the rest of them in through the broken window.

Tierney threw the truck into reverse and we flew backwards, the people in the truck bed went sprawling. One went over the cliff. The first guy on the hood fishtailed off but the other guy stayed on by his fingernails.

"We can't go back!" I yelled.

"Got a better idea?"

He stopped, shifted up and started forward again. The people were swarming again, the guy on the hood had a rock in his hand and had started to lift it. Tierney reefed the wheel right and Sweetie Pie flew into the boulders. I closed my eyes for impact. But apart from screeching metal and bone-jarring bouncing, Sweetie Pie took to the rocks. Tierney had found a way.

A sharp turn on the wheel sent the guy with the rock sliding off. The people in the back began to jump. My last look in the rearview mirror showed them scrambling over the rocks, still coming. We bounced free moments later. Tierney guided the truck back to the old road, which was now mostly clear.

I eased my finger off the trigger and tried to calm my breathing, but I couldn't take my eyes off the smears on the windshield.

The road lead through a village of trailers and cooking fires. Tierney kept his foot on the gas and we bulled past. I never got more than an impression of laundry hanging out to dry, a bent and rusty children's swing set, a garden, and a fenced pasture with horses and cows. A few people looked up from their work, pointing their fingers. They'd probably never seen anyone get through the trap before.

In a moment, we were beyond the village and climbing around another cliff. The road was chucked and crumbled, but Tierney kept his foot on the floor.

"What were they going to do to us?" I asked.

"Probably looking for a doctor," he said. "Medical supplies. Barter."

I wasn't sure. Lots of people had died on the edge of that cliff, I was sure of it. These people didn't trade. I wondered how the weird beards at the checkpoint had notified the rest of the village without telephones. Then I remembered their eerie vocalization. It was probably audible for quite a distance.

"We were lucky," I said.

Tierney tapped the gas gauge. "That was skill, sweetheart. Luck will be finding gas sometime in the next twenty miles."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nothing yet, but planning to send

Just a quick post to say that I've been in the dark place where it gets hard to breathe. Yes, work. There will be more Madison. What am I reading? Lives of the Artists by Calvin Tomkins. Oh, don't get me started! I made it through Hirst and Schnabel without choking anyone. Next up: Koons. Can she do it. . . survive the trifecta of overheated egos, the Everest of excess? Still sawing away at the Turtledove too. It's not bad. There's nothing offensive in it. But I forget that I'm reading it. That's a bad sign for one of us, me or Harry.

The plasma shield is still firmly in place over my inbox--no incoming rejections. I have one coming from an actual publisher, submitted on actual paper. Those rejections are worst somehow. Maybe it's the object quality.

I wish I had more to blather about today. Until I get those rejections or read a book I really like. I've almost forgotten what that feels like.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

6. Madison in Portland

What am I reading? It Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies. Almost as compelling as the reviews said it w be. I knew it was a marriage meltdown book and expected a sack of confession, but have been surprised at how engaging the story really is. I find the narrator, who identifies herself as a WASP and natters on for pages about Maine, china patterns and William Morris wallpaper, so personally irritating that she's become an almost perfect anti-heroine. I am at the point, heavily foreshadowed, where the poet husband is about to dump her for the French chick. Also need to mention The Chysalids by John Wyndham-where has this guy been all my life? Next week, a Harry Turtledove novel. My first. I'm notorious for not finishing bad science fiction (don't ask me how much PKD I've read). I have hope for the Turtledove-great premise and fantastic cover.

I haven't posted any Madison for two weeks thanks to a wave of paranoia about intellectual property on a couple of writers' sites. Yes, the paranoid ones have a point. No, I'm not going to change my methods. Why? I received two more agent rejections last week. One was from TriadaUSA that arrived two hours after submission. The other was from The Writers House. Both were very polite and I have to say, their promptness places them well ahead of the curve.

Anyway a couple of "good" rejections reminds me that I can't guard my work from the world. My critique group, Yola writers, met yesterday to show their usual fine work. They kicked my ass over chapter twelve. My new marketing scheme is to glide along on their coattails.

Below is part of chapter six. It ends when they reach a check point manned by some ZZ Top-looking dudes. It needs some work from my other persona, editor me. I'll post the rest as I feel it.
Chapter Six

Tierney seemed to know, if not the layout of this exclusionary unit, at least what was likely to be found in one. He drove to a loading area in another building and backed the truck into the dock. Inside was a black cave with ceilings that rose the entire height of the building. Tierney scuffled off into the darkness while I stood in the last square of light peering after him.

"What if there are more dead in there?"

"Then don't come in."

"What if there are more crazy people?"

"Use your staple remover."

I heard dragging sounds on the cement floor and the tuneless sound of Tierney whistling. A minute later he came back with a cardboard box and dropped it.

"There are, I think, two more of these. Load this in the truck while I get them."

I peeled back the soft, dusty cardboard. Inside were cans and cans of food. Pears, beans, corn. All ten years old. "We're can't eat this stuff. It's poison."

He came back with another box. "This is how your friend managed to survive for so long."

"I don't think that's all she ate."

"I know how to check cans, Madison. We'll be okay." We loaded the boxes in the back of the truck and drew a tarp over everything. By then it was late afternoon, the light slanting from the west. I didn't want to camp anywhere near the exclusionary unit, so I was relieved when Tierney started the truck.

We drove for another hour, mostly on roads that ran close to the highway until wrecks and trees forced us back to the highway again.

"We'll be going east from here," said Tierney. First words he'd spoken since Canterbury.

"I thought we were going to Portland."

"We're in Portland."

He drove onto an overpass. Since the bridge in Oregon City, he'd avoided them. We'd seen so many collapsed and broken spans since then, roads that went nowhere. I braced my feet on the floor, expecting at any second to have the pavement drop out from under to me. To my surprise, Tierney pulled over and parked between a three-car pile up and a jack-knifed truck, at the highest point in the overpass.

I got out and walked to the railing. The wind was sharp and metal groaned all around us. I saw five deer wandering along a parking lot across the concrete canyon, nibbling on new grass that swelled out of the buckled pavement. Old buildings peeked out of vine-covered mounds.

"I could use some firewood."

"Up here?" I sighed. There was grass and a few weeds growing in the cracks of the overpass, but all the trees were down there, on the ground. I hoped he didn't want to burn bones.

Tierney was hauling stuff out of the truck. He seemed unconcerned that I would try to run off again, and about that he was correct. I kicked a piece of plastic as I walked, part of some car I couldn't identify, and wondered why I didn't try harder to get away.

I went toward the far end of the overpass, following the decline to a greater concentration of wrecked cars. As the road turned west, I realized the overpass fed into a second highway below. I leaned over the railing and looked down. Below me was another car canyon, choked and congested with wrecks, stretching into the sunset. In the fading light, everything I saw looked black and every vehicle appeared to be partially sunk in the asphalt. Their bumpers floated on the road surface and their car doors hung open like oars in still, black water. To my right, a black train had tumbled off its tracks to hang above the highway on a concrete guard rail. Beyond that, canyon walls of burnt tree snags poked through a fury of new growth. Further down the canyon, great buildings crumbled and gaped, birds flying in and out of their broken windows.

This had to be Portland, or what was left of it.

I walked back to camp empty-handed to find Tierney bent over a wisp of flame he had coaxed from a pile of twigs and dried grass. He added a chair leg.

"What happened to the city?" I asked.

"Fire-bombed." Tierney put another leg on the fire. I wondered where he'd gotten chair parts, and why the wood hadn't burned along with everything else.

"Who did it?"

"We did." He sat on an old tire and opened a tin of beans. I was hungry in spite of the fact that the food was half my age and probably chock full of poison. He nestled the tin in the fire. "It used to be a beautiful place."

"I don't know who you mean by we. I had nothing to do with that."

No response from Tierney. He opened another tin.

"So, where are we going?"

"East for a while."

"Any place specific, or are we just wandering aimlessly?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"That's because you don't say anything." I got up and walked to the trailer of the jack-knifed truck. Inside I saw a jumble of dark shapes. As my eyes adjusted, I realized it was furniture. Okay good, one mystery solved. I climbed up on the deck, sucked in my breath and walked into the darkness far enough to grab a couple of chairs. I threw them off the back where they splintered on impact.

I gathered the pieces and carried them back to the fire.

"Thanks." Tierney added a leg and went back to stirring the first can of beans with the lone spoon we'd taken from the farm house days ago.

I sat down on the nearest tire. "What were you Before, Tierney?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Are you kidding me? Can't I know something about you?" I felt a stray raindrop on my forehead and looked up. The clouds had come almost within touching distance. Another drop splatted on my head. "I can't eat in the rain!"

I stomped off to a car that I'd picked out earlier-no bodies or bones-and locked myself in. By the time I was hungry enough to eat poisoned canned food, the rain was coming down in buckets and Tierney had taken the cans into the truck. I spent the night huddled under coats in the back seat, hungry, listening to the rain and smelling mouse piss. I hoped I wasn't lying in a puddle of it, although I wondered if on some level it wasn't justice for my bad temper. Tierney wasn't a bad guy and he didn't ask to be saddled with the kid who shot Pinkus.

Toward dawn, the rain slacked off and I remembered I'd left my new boots in the back of the truck. They'd be soaked. I almost felt like crying.

When it was fully light, I put on my coats and got out of the car. The pavement was wet with oily rainbows. The ubiquitous (a word worth remembering) odor of burning rubber seemed to be stronger today. Probably from the city.

Tierney had built up the fire with more chair parts and sat next to it reading a book. He grunted something at me and handed me a can of pears, barely looking up from his reading. I sat on a wet tire and watched his eyes flicking across the page. The grizzle on his cheeks never seemed to grow, and he never shaved. I pondered the problem of men's facial hair. All the men of a certain age had full beards, but not this guy. Maybe it was a product of his beat life, where there were no frills, not even a decent beard.

"What is that?"

"A book." He unrolled the pages he held, holding the soft cover up for me to read. Mickey Spillane. A man in a hat held a flaming gun on a woman in a skin tight red dress. She had notably big boobs. Not likely I would have come across a big boob book like that in Dad's library, but it didn't surprise me that Tierney had one.

"I thought you read smart books."

"This is a smart book. You should try it."

"It's good you're improving your mind, Tierney. Maybe you won't have to be a migrant all your life."

"So I can be a useless know-it-all like you?"

"I'm not. . ." I paused to consider. "A know it all."

"You're a migrant too. Don't kid yourself. There's nothing else out here."

He went back to his book. After eating, I went to find a place to pee. Micturate, I reminded myself, micturate. I might be the only person for a hundred miles who knew the word so I better use it. After that, I took my new boots from the back of the truck, shucked out the laces and propped them before the fire with their tongues hanging out to dry.

When he finished reading, Tierney hauled all the stuff out of the truck. He filled the gas tank from the bottles of fuel he found yesterday, unbolted the gun from the mount and removed the ammo. He laid the gun on its side in the back of the truck, wrapped in a blue plastic tarp.