Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Encaustic Blog

I'm posting over at The Hive Encaustic--my blog for visual art, some writing, massive jitters and general twinges. See my studio, read about my cat and wish me luck in the treacherous waters of encaustic art. If you don't know what encaustic art is, here's your chance.

The Hive Encaustic

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Off Course the Novel

Maybe it's time for another post… But you know, sometimes, how you just get tired of your own voice? Like that.

Off Course
I started a new novel which I am stoked about. It's called Off Course. It's about a magical device that transports people out of this world in a big flash of light. The device has fallen into the hands of a brother-sister team of criminals who have been disappearing wealthy men with the device for years. But now a quasi-governmental agency has learned about the device and believes it is a powerful weapon. They recruit a retired former agent to get close to the sister and steal the device. When the sister uses it on the agent and accidentally transports herself with him, the two of them find themselves not dead but in another world. Unfortunately, the device doesn't work in the reverse. They can't get back unless they learn the secret of the device and the reason it came to be in the girl's possession. Cue living rocks, shifting landscape, tribes of people with mysterious secret powers. Oh, and all the men she sent there earlier, many of whom would like to wring her neck.

If you think it sounds like fun, let me tell you. It is painless. Fun will be if it writes as well as it has through the first nine chapters and the rewrites aren't some bitchly epic that takes years to complete. That would be fun.

What am I liking right now? Mmm, I like Robert Crais and Jennifer Wiener (she's so cool). I like the show True Blood and want to watch it all the time. The books, not so much but maybe that's just me. I like Swiss cheese. I like recording my dreams in the morning and reading them later when they're like dreams someone else had. I like getting my heart rate up into the 140's especially since it's not recommended for my age…but then the Professor just does it for me like that sometimes. And Zinfandel. Like that too.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Notes on Rejection

Thought for the day: Rejection. Oh god not that again. Thought I'd write this while I'm still thrilled with my story live on Spinetingler. What, you haven't heard? Go here now and read it. The Professor, a discerning reader who very often has a pained look on his face when he is forced to read my light and airy para-whatsit stories, said he spent an enjoyable lunch time reading The Red Tent. And thanked me.* Special note: He did not wonder aloud in my hearing why I don't write more things like that. Good man.

Full disclosure: Before I start this thoughtful teaching moment (note sarcasm) let me say that The Red Tent had very few rejections. It was worse. The magazine that accepted it first went belly-up, became a Dead Market, was not sleeping, a few weeks before TRT's publication date. I was crushed and did not send the story out again for years. I thought I had personally killed the magazine with my haunted tale of ice and snow (the fact that it is an homage to a certain Raymond Carver story might have been bad juju. But yes, I meant to do it. Why the hell not? I can't think of another sport that is more consumed with pride, desire and self-interest than mountain climbing. And So Much Water So Close To Home is a nearly perfect story, as the several movie adaptations demonstrate. It felt like there was enough water in that pool for my characters to swim too). When I sent it out again to the beautiful people at Spinetingler, I heard back in about 24 hours. You can imagine how I felt. I had probably just received non-interest for the umpteenth time from the literary 'zine I love to hate the most (…and still submit to every year, why?).

Why. Because anger/embarrassment/humiliation/disappointment/self-doubt/self-loathing is so much fun? Those are the good points! At the core of each rejection is my Secret Voice reminding me yet again that I'm not any good and never been any good and, at my age, never will be any good.

Some days that is certainly true.

Other days I write like an angel, decide to quit my day job and babble crazy-ass plot twists to the Professor or anyone else who happens to be around.

But most days what I do is decide it doesn't matter how old I am, what editors say, what new expression of boredom crosses my family members' faces. Fuck 'em all.

That's the mantra, the answer, the word. And as a result I am occasionally blessed with those days when writing is easy and the universe touches me on the crown of the head with all good things on the page.

Someone please remind me of this when I hear back from two places that have my stuff!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beadie and The Blesser

My house blesser, Nick Fortunato, was asleep. His earbuds hung out of his ears and Sweet Dreams by the Eurhythmics escaped like little balloon squeaks from his collar.

"The topic today is…" Happy Hour's leader, Robert, stared around the room trying to decide if we were worthy. "Your higher power."

At that moment the coffee house door flew open. Wind and rain blew into the room, followed by a long-legged redhead in a blue dress. She hesitated in the doorway with damp leaves sweeping past her. Skinny. Four inch heels.

"Someone get the door," said Robert.

Happy Hour met at Palio Cafe after it had closed for the night. The hours were clearly posted. It was no accident that Beadie Watts just happened to wander off the street on this bitch of a night. The only question was why.

Well, hell. I stood up. "My name is Veronica and I'm an alcoholic."

A chorus of hi, Veronica.

"And all I want to say is that some of us don't have a higher power. I'm not a believer. I'm Veronica."

Someone in the back yelled, "He believes in you!"

I sat down.

"Nice, Ronnie." Beadie perched on the edge of my table and crossed a slithery leg. "I heard you were on the wagon."

"I heard you weren't," I said.

Beadie shrugged. "I could stop drinking this minute."

"Still in the biz?" The last I heard, she was into custom built homes. River rock, gold-plated faucets. When the market was hot, she moved a lot of bricks. But it had been two years since anything in this town had been hot, including the men. It was a down market.

Custom homes used to be like printing money. Everyone wanted a new house if they could afford it. No ghoulies or ghosties, cold spots or bad smells. In fact, a blessing certificate by a licensed and bonded house blesser wasn't even required.

It's a loophole in the law. Supposedly, new homes don't have bad spirits and evil presences. But anyone who's seen a plumber's ass knows that bad spirits arrive from just about anywhere.

Or so I've heard. I don't feel the spirits myself. But since my market is REO properties and foreclosures, my listings have that lived-in look. State law says each one has to be blessed by a guy like Nick. At my expense.

"Is that Fortunato?" asked Beadie, surprised. "My, my, my. You and him?"

"There's no me and him." Unfortunately. "We work together."

"Wish I'd known."

I glanced at Nick, slumped against the nearest wall in a doughnut coma. Dark, lean, pale and, so help me god, beautiful. He'd been sober a month. Because these sensitive types are always going into rehab or quitting the business, a good one can be hard to find. Nick was very good.

Beadie popped open her clutch, removed a business card and wrote something on the back. "Do me one for old times? Take Fortunato and go here. He'll know what to do, and you can have the listing when he's done."

I took the card. Ravensview Drive. "If it's new, why do you need a blesser?"

But she was headed for the door.

Fortunato woke up as the meeting ended. He looked at me and sighed. "Better give me the card."

I fished Beadie's card from my pocket and handed it over. I stopped asking how he knew these things. He just did.

The place on Ravensview was cherry. High end. Three million. My teeth ached as we pulled into the circular drive and parked. "Tennis courts. Riding stable. I'm going to kill that bitch."

"Underwater." Nick made a choking sound and climbed out of the car.

"Probably. Are you sick?"

"It's bad. I can't go in there." He disappeared into the shrubbery and began to retch. He did that around dead bodies.

"Could you not find a corpse for once?" I headed for the front entrance. "Third time this month. Fuck head."

"Master bath," he called after me. "Underwater."

That's where I found her. Beadie was a shadow of blue tinged flesh sunk deep in the marble tub. Her kit rested on the floor next to her purse—rubber tubing, a spoon, gold lighter and a used syringe. Her dress hung from a towel rack. Heated towel rack. Nice fixtures, except for the dead junkie real estate agent floating in the bath.

"Oh, Beadie." I'd never hated her that much. I took a seat on the brushed steel bidet and called 911.

Nick sat on the curb, a pile of mashed butts on the pavement between his boots. "You okay?"

The cops were loading the body bag into the van.

"She came to Happy Hour tonight. She looked good— I can't believe it. The detective said she'd been dead since yesterday."

"You had a ghostly visitation." Nick got to his feet. "Not being able to tell the quick from the dead is pretty bad, Ronnie. Maybe you should take a class or something."

"She used us."

"She was looking for something."

He headed into the house. Now that Beadie was gone, he felt fine. In the foyer, he struck a match off his boot, lit a cigarette, and pulled a fir branch from his back pocket. I made to follow him but he held up his hand.

"Let me do my job. That's how she wanted it."

It didn't take long. Never does. I felt a breeze scented with Opium (like that wasn't a clue) and all the windows in the great room rattled. She was gone.

Nick came down the hall, whistling. He'd lost the green tinge to his skin.

"What happened to you?"

"Nothing." He blushed. "Nice lady. Friendly."

"I can't believe it. You had sex with a ghost."

"Some of them want to use me." He shrugged and headed for the door. "She said to say thanks."

"Fuck head." I followed Nick outside.
Thanks to Pattie Abbott

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Human Trials, Part Four

First of all, the cat is all right. Let's get that said immediately. Marzi, my little ten month old orange and white male kitten is all right. He lived.

I have some cats. Cats being what they are, you only see three or four of them at a time. So that's how many cats I have. Three or four. Marzi, Andy, Spot and Edie and their mother Dru (oops, five) joined Achilles, Naomi and Cloudy last summer (is that eight?). I blame the idiots who do not neuter their cats and then ABANDON THEM IN OUR DRIVEWAY. Thanks to economic downturn, we couldn't off the strays—the shelters were full. So, here we are. All of us.

For anyone who thinks this is excessive, you are so correct! But we are four (semi) adults who live in the country and the cats are indoor/outdoor varietals. It only gets really hairy around feeding time. I have my bee suit and whip. We make it work.

Andy is a puffy-haired gray male with a lolloping walk and a whisker for trouble. He is a well-known hooligan. If I have an appliance—oven, Cuisinart, coffee grinder, washing machine, electric toothbrush—the cat is all over it, in it or eating it. Many's the time Andy has hopped into the clothes dryer when my back is turned. I scoop him out and shut the door.

Not so last night. I threw in my wet socks and workout clothes, turned to look for Andy who was clamoring for half-and-half in the kitchen. I turned back, shut the door, started the dryer and left the room.

There was a clumping sound, like shoes in the dryer. I don't want to say how long I ignored it before going back to check. It was a, hmmm, I don't remember putting shoes in there feeling. I opened the door and saw Marzi's limp body fall to the bottom of the dryer. Not moving.

I'm not proud. I screamed and ran. The Professor didn't understand what I was screaming about, as if "Marzi! Dead! Dryer! Omigod! Omigod! Marzi! Dead! Dryer!" didn't make complete sense. By the time he got to the dryer, the cat was up and wobbling away. They tell me he was fluffier than usual.

I didn't think it was possible, but after a couple of hours hiding under the coffee table and trying to get as close to the gravitational center of the earth as possible, I was all right. And Marzi is fine. No broken bones or anything. I said his nose looked too pink this morning and the Professor, bless his little cotton socks, offered to roll me up in a rug and take me to the psychiatrist.

To celebrate having lived another day without becoming a cat murderer, here is Part Four of Human Trials. People are different; killing them in fiction doesn't seem so bad.

Human Trials, Part Four


The beauty of the drug was that Richard only had to find one perfect girl.

Sal explained it over beers one night, months earlier. Time distortion was still theoretical at that point and no one knew if the drug would actually create the effect. Everyone at the lab joked about Dr. Mack. Who gave funding to such a whack job?

But Sal believed it might work. Or maybe he just saw future opportunities. Of a financial nature.

"Ever wanted to relive the best fuck of your life?" asked Sal. "Think about it."

"Like virtual reality?"

"Virtual nothing! It's the real deal, Richard. You are there."

Richard paused for a sip of beer, gathering his thoughts. Already, there was a girl. "Does it affect other people?"

Sal shook his head. "Unknown. It's supposed to create a distortion envelope around the subject's body. Like it's Thursday in the world, but Wednesday for you. But we've talked about making it a bigger event with a higher dosage."

"Make it Wednesday in a whole room?"

"Make the whole planet Wednesday, Richard. Or any day you like."

The last time Richard saw Sal in the hall before he died he was too busy to talk. "Gotta run, Rich. Remember that thing we talked about? It's going very well. Know what I'm saying? You won't fucking believe it."

"Wednesday?" Richard asked.

Sal laughed, already moving down the hall. "Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday."

Richard wondered what day it had been when Sal had injected a planet-sized dose into his arm and blown the top of his head off.

In the confusion before the cops arrived, Richard stepped into the booth and grabbed a handful of vials from a cooler. Two empty vials were next to a syringe on the table and Sal's remains were on the floor. Hard to associate the guy with whom he'd shared a few beers to the thing on the floor with a lower jaw and not much more above the collar.

Two empty vials; that was Sal's mistake. All Richard wanted was to replay the events of one night in one crappy little neighborhood. Make it Friday again. You didn't need to mainline a gallon of the stuff to do that.

And he already had the girl.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Human Trials, Part Three

Here's another section of Connie. It's back story. As a standalone blog post, there isn't much depth. But as part of the story, it works as a quiet section. More Richard tomorrow.
The idea for X came to me complete and fully formed after watching all three Back to the Future movies. I was nine months pregnant, the weather was hot and dry, and the sunset was a burning pyre in the kitchen window through which I could make out the shadowy outlines of Portland's tallest buildings. I could no longer eat or drink or sleep.

It materialized like a constellation of stars. I knew instantly what it was and why it would work, although I couldn't explain where it had come from. One moment it wasn't there and the next it was. I sketched the equation as my water broke and the salty aquarium inside me flooded the kitchen floor.

I spent the next eight years writing grants and more grants, most of which passed me by. All I needed was one. I suffered through part-time jobs and academic appointments, pointless research for other scientists and countless students with their own petty agendas.

Each day I dropped Jennifer at a little pink house and retrieved her each night. In between those time posts, I wasn't a mother or a wife. I was a needle carrying an invisible thread, raising stitch after stitch until someone, somewhere, could see what I saw.

My marriage dwindled to two separate trenches in our futon mattress. My husband found a girlfriend. As he packed his bags, I calculated the impact of losing him. No loss, really. To my work. That was the week I made the first cut for the National Research Foundation's two-year grant. A month later, I had the money in hand and hired Sal. I don't recall thinking about Jim after that except on weekends, when he had Jennifer.

So X was worth, approximately, eight years of time, one marriage, my academic credibility, the lives of 2,548 white mice, and now Sal.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Human Trials, Part Two

I meant to post this yesterday, but I got distracted by White-nose syndrome, a disease that is devastating bat populations. It is slowly spreading west from it's first reported location in New York. Now they say it is in Missouri. Bat mortality rates are 80 to 100%. Speculation is that if the disease isn't controlled it could extirpate whole bat species. Want to learn more, go to Bat Conservation International. I'll post some photos when I can.

For now, here is part two of Human Trials. New point of view character is Richard.

Monday: God does it this way too.

Richard drove to work on Monday, his normal route taking him within a block of the girl's crappy apartment complex. The bus stop where he picked her up on Friday was in front of the Minit Mart where he bought a cup of coffee every morning. It would be wrong if he didn't stop today.

Richard hadn't been careful, picking up a neighborhood girl. If he'd planned ahead instead of acting on impulse he wouldn't be so damned jumpy. But he always acted on impulse.

Across the street was the Pizza Hut where he occasionally stopped for take-out. Two blocks up was the Thriftway where they had both shopped, maybe even passing one another in the aisles, she with tampons and orange juice in her cart, he with frozen dinners. He'd seen the receipts in her wallet and almost crapped his pants. Local.

How stupid could you get?

When he arrived at work, Richard logged in and checked his e-mail. His boss wasn't in her cubicle, although he saw her jacket slung over the back of her chair. A meeting. There had been a lot of meetings since Sal Preciado died in the observation booth last week. The worst of the blood spatter was still there, fused like black glue to the safety glass. Maintenance would need razor blades to get it off.

The official story was that Sal shot himself. Most of the office drones believed it. Old Sal eating his gun was the worst thing they could imagine.

But Richard had been first on the scene after Connie Mack started screaming, and he never bought the suicide story. Her grinding, mechanical shrieks had wafted into his office through the cold air return. Richard went downstairs to the lab level to investigate and found Connie screaming into the safety glass while Sal's brains dribbled to the floor.

Sal and Connie had been working on a vaccine for several years. Richard didn't understand the chemistry behind it, but he processed the invoices and he understood that a great deal of money had been thrown at this project.

"Did you hear?" Jill from HR stopped at his desk. She was a cheerful, tuna-sandwich-and-cookies sort of woman with a pear-shaped bottom that Richard found inoffensive. "She-boss has been called upstairs."

"Are we in trouble?"

"Someone is." Jill wrinkled her nose. "One of the experiments is missing."

"Missing how?" He cracked his knuckles. "The mice got out? The computers crashed?"

"No, the stuff. The drug. The vaccine. It's gone. They're pretty sure Sal took it before he died, but Dr. Mack is convinced someone in the building took it. I heard She-boss and Mack having it out. Pretty nasty stuff."

Richard minimized his e-mail and rolled his shoulders. "It had to be Sal. No one else around here knew what they were doing in the lab."

"Did you know what they were doing, Richard? I bet you didn't know anymore than the rest of us." Jill giggled, a sound he hated. He visualized squeezing her spongy middle until the giggles wheezed out of her. Oblivious, Jill made a few other conversational gambits but he turned away and she finally took the hint.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Human Trials

This week I'm going to serialize an old short story called Human Trials. I love this piece because it's ambitious, not particularly literary, and the idea itself was electrifying back in 2003 when I first wrote it. I was emerging from the long incubation of motherhood about this time, and the piece is full of constant parenting touchstones. Needless to say, my worst years as a mother were yet to come...I just didn't know it yet. This is one of two pieces that convinced me I needed to get my MFA. Not because the writing is particularly good, but because I was so passionate about the story. It was my olive branch, proof of dry land.

I'll post it in sections this week.

Human Trials: Part One

10cc administered at 8 a.m.

Trials of X on animal subjects are a joke. Half the mice continued their minuscule, unplanned existences, while the other half went into convulsions and died. I was surprised at the death rate, but we couldn't be sure of dosages. My assistant, Sal, macerated their tiny brains and we went on.

Our grant funds included a full range of animal testing, including rhesus monkey trials. Dogs if we want them. Three years ago, we were throwing everything into the work plan, including animals. But it doesn't work if they can't tell you what time they think it is. Or what day.

Sal and I took my daughter, Jennifer, to the zoo and watched the various monkey breeds in their cages. I couldn't see any sign the animals could differentiate between now and then, past and present, today and yesterday. My eight-year-old daughter exhibits a more finely developed sense of the linear nature of time than a monkey, but I couldn't test her.

Yet it had to be a human trial. When Jennifer went to her father's for the summer and I was free for two months, I decided to self-inject a low dose of X.

I'd been thinking a great deal about time and memory and how some memories seem to be written deeply into the brain, while others evaporate like mist, leaving only that tip-of-the-tongue feeling.

One memory stood out for me. Not long after Jennifer was born, I remember putting her down for a nap. It was high summer. The sheer white curtains puffed over the bassinet on a breeze scented with jasmine and barbecue. That's all. An insignificant memory, yet so vivid I could almost close my eyes and feel hot wind on my skin, or reach out and touch my daughter's newly wrought skull.

I think, in essence, that memory is what X is all about.

The day I planned to start the trial, I walked into the lab to find Sal locked in the booth. It's a glass-enclosed observation booth where we keep monitoring equipment, take private calls and eat our lunch. Its chief virtue is that it's soundproof and can be locked from the inside.

"The effects are localized, Connie," he said. His voice came out of the speaker system, rattled with electronic distortion. "But I'm experiencing…something."

"When did you do it? And how much?" I went to the door and tried the handle. Locked. I walked around to the front of the booth. Sal sat at the table, splay-legged, his arms flopped on the table. His color was more pasty than usual and his eyes had a loose, liquid quality I couldn't identify.

A blood streaked syringe sat on the tray next to his elbow.

"Ten cc's an hour ago. I've created the effect twice. I think it works, Connie."

"Unlock the door, Sal."

"Can't do it. I said the effect is localized, but it's strong. I'm not sure I can control it."

"Of course you can control it. Control your thoughts."

He laughed and shook his head. "It turns out I was never very good at that."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Five

Working title: Rapid Onset

This one features the real secret of time travel, a loving tribute to Back to the Future and one badass serial killer. I started it ages ago, before grad school. I shelved it because there's no "genre" in grad school, silly woman. It occurred to me this thing would scorch the horror zines with its undeniable coolness. Reason to believe, people!

But it feels so extreme. The serial killer is horrible. The scientist lady and her Tom Sizemore-like assistant are dull until the assistant's head explodes. It's out of control as though I never once said no to death and destruction. Someone's going to read all the mayhem and say this woman is not a lyrical novelist.

The thing is I am, a little, tiny, itty bitty bit, still trying to suck up to lyrical novelists. You know who I mean—the ones with working wives. (I did not say that! Bad!) See, I'm still angry about it. Four years after grad school. If I were a lyrical novelist writing about horses and rivers and other western things (not cowboy western, I mean western like a sad trailer house filled with vodka and waitresses) true mayhem would out me as a secret genre infiltrator. And I couldn't go to the reunions.

And yet…mayhem is fun. Lowdown, booglerizing fun. The kind of fun you don't want people to remind you of too often. Or when they do, they say, "Girl, those shoes. You could kill a zombie six different ways with those." And you feel okay.

Monday, April 5, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Four

Working title: Sgt Fury and the Zombie in the Bathroom.

Catchy title, eh? The source for this idea was a story I wrote for a zombie anthology last year which got swiftly kicked back to me because A) It was told from a middle-aged woman's pov and who wants that; B) The rag was in the UK, holy ground for SF, and the editor didn't mind reminding me of this at length. So anyhoo, I saw a way to refit the story: a teenage boy takes a job at a diner because he sees this beautiful chick on roller skates who looks exactly like ValkYra, a girl he and his best friend have created in their graphic novel. The girl has no interest in him or his friend, but they don't mind being worshipful. Based on son Cheech's best friend from second grade (and maybe some Cheech too).

One afternoon at the diner, a customer makes some very disturbing noises in the locked stall of the public loo. He's just been infected with a prion disease that turns people into zombies. It's more like full-blown dementia but you can't blame people for freaking the hell out because it happens so fast. Mayhem results, trashing the diner. What's the boy's name, you may ask? Brendan Tierney. And the girl? Keisha. Those of you who know (about three actual living people) will recognize these names as characters in MA.

Here's an image of Sgt. Fury, since I'm not sure how he's going to fit into the story yet:
And here's a later reincarnation, Nick Fury, who looks like he's feeling a post apocalyptic world:
I have a lot of this story in the can, thanks to the earlier version and I've been happy to reconnect with my character, Tierney, as a young pup. His mom calls him "BrenDAN!". I'm not going to say this story has the most interest for me, especially since I started seeing my Killer cop from Story 3 as Johnny Depp from The Ninth Gate. Imagine him tramping through The Canyon, trying to remember what he did during those long-ago college days that would catch him up now, as a grown man. But Tierney as a kid, fighting zombies...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Three

Story Three
Working title: Assassin's Guild

Reading Philip K. Dick biographies (because I can't read the novels, all right? I just can't) put me in mind of the ultimate Reed College paranoia game that seemed to flourish during spring terms on campus. If you haven't been there, you just don't know. The Professor and I can still drive on, say, any east-west street in southeast Portland at a certain time of year, and during a lull in the conversation, I know we're both back at Reed. It's not the fall we remember with the pretty weather and the optimistic new classes, but spring when renewal and flowers and baby birds seem like a joke next to incompletes and finals and hangovers.

In the spring, it's not sunny but it's not cold, nobody is thrilled to see you anymore, the drug of choice is some anti-social speed derivative, half the people in your dorm never leave their rooms, at least one had an abortion (you hear her crying), another is taking LSD every day (you hear him crying), and the rest are playing D & D. All they serve is sheet cake in the Commons; you go and sit for hours in the infirmary because something hurts, you're just not sure what, and your boyfriend's thesis on Walter Pater (for which he will receive the coveted AA) is making the sophomore biology major down the hall look very, very, very delicious. And you haven't gone to French class in a month.

Okay, the story's not about that. It's about a paranoid game called Assassin. Who knew everyone in every college plays Assassin? Called Killer at Reed, all I ever knew about it was one skinny, terrified math major who found himself walking alone to the mail room. "Just walk with me, okay? If I'm not alone, they can't kill me." "Who's going to kill you?" "I don't know."

This article in Wikipedia will tell you everything you want to know about Killer, but make special note of where they talk about umps and cops.

So picture this, a dead body killed with Nerf darts. Our heroine, a detective on the case, has no clues except a phone number in the cell phone. It belongs to a man who has been a cop in Killer games for twenty years. Down on his luck, seen it all, probably has cats. He doesn't know who the killer is but he can guess. How do you catch a Killer killer gone rogue? With a clothes pin.

Friday, April 2, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story Two

Story Two
Working Title: That Story I Always Wanted to Write About Pod People and School Shootings.

Except what if it's the teacher who does the shooting? And what if the adults act crazy but aren't? And it's really the evil children? Admit it, haven't you always wanted to write about this? Think Ghost Story meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I've read Ghost Story many times. After I saw the movie, I couldn't picture Ricky Hawthorne as anyone but Fred Astaire. The author, Peter Straub, internalized the lessons of HP Lovecraft in such a delicate yet persistent way: the surface comforts and predictability of the regular world is only a thin and rather fragile veneer over the rotten secrets of the past. And the past is an engine of destruction that these old men have been avoiding for years.

The best part of all is when the evil thing is trapped in the body of the child and the younger guy (okay, been a few years since I read it and I don't remember the dude's name) drives cross country with the child bound and gagged in the back seat. It was an innocent time.

And then there are pod people stories ("That's not my mother! It killed my mother!"). As a parent, it's not so hard to believe. I once called daughter Chichi a vampire whore when I was at the absolute limit of my ability to understand her. She looked at me with empty eyes, an utterly alien creature with no human feelings. Brrr! She blames me for that now, BTW.

So the story would be a kind of Children of the Corn homage, except the Dad suspects it's his wife who is crazy. Until the end.

I have about four pages and an image of the husband and wife staring into one another's eyes and seeing nothing. I suspect this story will devolve into mayhem at the end, and I will feel unclean. Or stupid. Or possibly both.

I don't know about this one. Am I feeling it?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MyNoReMo: Story 1

Working title: Little Man

A Mormon lady discovers an actual horny little gnome dogging her steps. Is it a homunculus created by her erring husband? Is it her imagination? Or is it… real? Inspiration for this comes from an amazing 1973 Kim Darby movie called "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." I'd barely learned to sleep without a nightlight in 1973, so I was very, very afraid. Tiny wicked little people torment a slightly crackers wife, and no one else can see them but her. A later and less inspired variant featured an evil voodoo doll which ended when the woman threw the doll into a microwave. After it dings, she opens the door and the evil spirit jumps into her.

What is it about dolls that come to life? My kids Cheech and Chichi (not their real names) had a stuffed panda bear they attacked with scissors because it was EVIL. They also had two identical Linnea dolls, one who was good and one they set on fire. In this photo Linnea has no face and that might have been part of the problem.

As a kid I was tormented by the China Doll story, which second grade girls probably still whisper to one another on the school bus. Late at night, in the dark, I would wonder why no adults knew about the very real dangers posed by dolls. I became a writer firstly to add to the wealth of knowledge about King Arthur, but secondly to warn everyone about those crazy, flesh shredding dolls.

The version I heard as a kid:

Here's the adult version:

I have an early story idea about the REAL China doll, but after the initial shock value, there wasn't any place to go with the idea. It waits for another doll-fueled moment of terror in my life.

Little Man celebrates this neighbor of mine who is all about kicking some serious homunculous ass. I have five pages done, and some ideas for making Barbara the homunculous queen at the end.

Good idea?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Accept the challenge and weep. While some people are revising their nearly perfect novels in April—revision being another word for reading more dusty old books about historic personages—some people will be forging ahead into the unknown. Yes, creativity, the piquant soup of the empty screen, the doubt, the wretchedness, the glory….

I've spent the last twenty years in dystopic dyspepsia, using my own blood for red ink. But now Madison, After is finished. Done. All 290 pages of zombies, flying saucers, teen sex, and cold canned chili. One last flogging by my critique partners on Saturday (and entering their tiny changes on Sunday) and I will be relieved. Then I boot the novel out the door to collect rejections from people who refuse to see the good in a can of ten-year old pears. It's in there, baby, it's in there.

(Note to agents: the revision took exactly seven months, during which time I was in Nepal for three weeks. It's not like I spent twenty Earth years on MA, though my crit group may measure time differently. BTW it's an awesome book and you really should request it.)

Anyways, here's what I'm doing in April—all new crap no one has ever seen before.

My plan is to post notes on each of my six exciting new story ideas, choose three to work on by the end of the week, and…finish them in April. By finish, I don't mean submission-ready, because that's not realistic for a distracted and distracting dame like myself. Clash of the Titans is coming out and there might be popcorn. Or someone nice (aka The Professor) could cook meatloaf one of these days. And a friend is going to A Dangerous Place in April and there might be some candle light vigils to attend when the guy is clapped in chains and thrown in a tiger cage. At the very least, some CNN interviews. Here's his picture:

Bye, friend!
PS. This was sent out on your birthday party invitation and people still showed up, why?)

That's the plan for the fiendish sport of MyNoReMo, or in my case MyStoReMo.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cats, a lot of cats

Reason to Switzerland. From Lou Reed to 149 cats in one article, check out this link and say meow. I am well on my way to needing my own attorney, but as I like to say: I only have three cats at a time. The rest are outside or under the couch.

Not being a cat person by nature, I've watched my disintegration into a multi-cat housing authority with amazement and disbelief. Their main attractions are the softness of their fur and the satisfying architecture of their forms. And they purr. And they have those vacant eyes, like the blonde girls at the gym who only show up for the tanning beds. Dogs have a certain self-serving cunning that makes them about like your average four year old (I have a black lab and a border collie, both genius dogs). Cats just aren't like that. We have one, Marzi, who wakes up every morning like it's the first day of the rest of his life. I see him sometimes, wandering outside, completely lost. A fluffy white and orange cat on the edge of forever.

I could go on, but I really shouldn't. If you want to do some real good in the world, give to no-kill cat shelters and make it possible for those shelters to accommodate more cats, especially those who get dumped by the side of the road (and make their way to my house). Please. And vote in a health care plan that has psychiatric counseling for people who talk baby-talk to their cats. Ban the word "cute" from the English language. Limit cat condo furniture--that stuff is awful. And send me some aspirin.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Madison, chapter 1a

I really hope the improvements are recognizable....

Chapter One, part one

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 wind after a day, a week, a month. I wasn't supposed to know their names.

Except for one. He was called Tierney and he had a book.

"Do you know how to read?" I asked during lunch one day when Dad wasn't looking. It was my job to carry drinking water to all the migrants, and as I ladled water into his bowl I tried to catch the title.

He closed the book. "Do you?"

Tierney was like any stranger who came to the valley to work for Dad. Thin and threadbare. But I liked his eyes when he looked at me. Blue.

Dad came out of the barn and stopped in his tracks when he saw me talking to Tierney. "Madison!"

I turned my back on Dad, ignoring him. "I learned how. What's the book called?"

Tierney held it up. "It's a dictionary."

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

Whatever that was. Sighing, I carried the bucket to the next person. The next day, Tierney had another book, a battered old thing, curved from being carried in his back pocket. The rest of the crew played cards or napped but Tierney opened his book and turned the pages at regular intervals. His eyes tracked back and forth across the pages. Reading.

Dad saw me watching him and scowled. Tierney reading a book was bad enough. But the fact that I'd talked to him about the book was probably enough to get him fired. Dad didn't trust migrants and he hated books, even though he had once been a lawyer and you had to be able to read for that. He especially hated the idea that I might consort with a migrant.

Dad called the end of lunch and everyone headed back to the fields. He turned to me, hands on hips. "You're done here. Go help your mother."


"Mother." Dad humphed and stomped away.

"That woman is not my mother!" I yelled after him.

He hitched a step but kept walking. A year ago he might have marched back and slapped me for that, but now that I was seventeen, he had to watch himself. I was worth something now; I was marriageable.

Dad wasn't always a bad guy. It was June, a time of intense worry for all of us, but especially for him. The new plants were up but the weather was cool and rainy. Maybe too rainy. A lot of people depended on Dad for growing food and keeping our community on the good side of the local warlord, Pinkus. When Dad was a lawyer and there was still a government, he got Pinkus's brother out of jail. No one ever forgot a good turn, but Dad said there was a time limit on returned favors.

I'd noticed there was no time limit on bad turns. Dad reminded me of that every day.

My stepmother, Margo, waited for me in the kitchen as I carried the lunch things inside. Like a vulture, she cocked a beady eye at me as though she hoped I'd die so she could peck out my intestines.

"Were you talking to that migrant again?" she asked. "You know how your father feels."

"Why don't you tell me how he feels, Margo, since you know everything."

"Does someone have too much free time on her hands?" She grabbed my ear and gave it a fierce twist. The woman knew how to not leave a mark.

I grabbed her wrist and squeezed until she squeaked. "Touch me again and I'll break your arm."

She rubbed her wrist, two spots of bright color in her cheeks. "Be careful, girl, or you'll end up demented like your mother. I'll see to it personally."

She gathered her work basket and headed out the door.

As soon as she was gone, I sat down and put my hand to my ear. It was hot and ached deeply, as though all the little swirls and bones inside had been shaken loose. I wished the nasty old bitch hadn't mentioned my mother.

Mom hadn't been anything like Margo. I never got how Dad could marry that woman only weeks after Mom died. It was like, what, Mom was so pretty and smart that he couldn't wait to shack up with a mean old toad like Margo?

For instance, Mom used to post my stories and pictures on the kitchen wall when I was kid, and she always reminded me I could do anything I wanted. I loved books about Ancient Egypt and wanted to be an archaeologist. Do it, she would say. The end of the world was no barrier if it was what I really wanted.

Right before the thing happened and she died, she encouraged me to organize a dig at the old Chandler house with some of the other valley kids. The house had been vacant for ten years and no one cared what happened to it. Most of the furniture, dishes and useful stuff had been taken by other people years ago, but there was still a lot of interesting stuff like shopping receipts, medicine bottles, toys.

I assembled my crew. We worked in grids, collecting artifacts. Mom helped us set up a sifter to catch pottery shards and she gave us a notebook so we could record our finds. We dated our collection by strata. The top layer was leaves, dirt and animal droppings, and it was by far the deepest layer. The next was detritus of furniture, dishes and clothes, stuff that had gotten broken and left behind when people first cleaned out the house. Below that we got to items the Chandler family had used. My friend Andrew found a diamond earring.

We did this for almost a week before Dad found out about it. Well, there was more to it than that. Dad was tracking a demented person, a Dim, up our road. It headed for the Chandler house as if it knew exactly where it was going. Before Dad could stop it, the Dim came through the front door, naked, bloody, and mostly starved. It had been almost a year since we'd had any demented in the valley. Dims are not dangerous unless you touch their blood, so what does Dad do? Shot it through the head, right in front of us. The blood flew everywhere. Mom was helping us that day and she got most of it on her face when Dad opened fire. That's how it happened to her.

The valley council had a big meeting and decided to burn the Chandler place. All of us kids were grounded to our home farms, but I got it the worst. Dad made it very plain that I wasn't going anywhere, ever. He gave my bike to my brothers, Chris and Riley. Everyone watched me after that. I couldn't walk to the end of the driveway without some neighbor asking what I thought I was doing, did my father know where I was?

I asked Dad, after everything was over, Mom's funeral and all, why the Dim had gone directly to the Chandler house, almost as though it had purpose. It didn't fit what we knew about the infection. Dad got angry and lectured me for three hours about my responsibility to the family, especially now that Mom was gone. Code for Look What You Did to Your Mother.

But I thought about it for a long time. The demented don't eat, care for themselves, or communicate. They don't appear to think or have any memories. They don't seek shelter. They stumble around until they starve to death, or some jerk like Dad shoots them. But this one came directly to the Chandler house and walked right through the front door. He may have even turned the door knob. I thought about that a lot, actually. The way the knob shook and slowly turned.

I had two theories on the subject. One was that the guy wasn't demented; he was just an ordinary crazy human being. Plenty of crazy around here. The other theory was that some Dims have a shred of memory left in their destroyed brains. Maybe a tiny thought had guided him to this particular house, out of all the others. Could he have been Mr. Chandler, returning home?

In either case, the creature should not have been shot. I vowed not to kill any demented unless I had to, and to protect them from people like Dad. Like I should have protected Mom before he shot her too.

Cat-born Parasites

Hey, been a while. I have fifteen minutes before I go to my new doctor, perfect time to post something. My old and revered doctor left suddenly and with no forwarding address. It must have been the scabies and ringworm from last summer's invasion of the alien skin-sucking cat-born hell parasites. He probably thought it would only get worse, and he was right about that. So I'm entertaining a fearless new doctor today.

But with Jupiter and some other heavenly body conjuncting, this is supposed to be an awesome month for me. New short stories are cooking in the brain pan, Madison is out toddling into the mailboxes of busy, busy agents. Question: I always hear other writers in the forums at Absolute Write talk about how they get these nearly instantaneous responses to their e-mail queries. What gives? I am haunting the inbox a little obsessively as I wait.

Rewrites on the novel were very consuming. I spent nearly all my free time napping with a pillow over my head trying to avoid opening the file. Once I got going, I only had one rule: rip the stupid out. I'll post a revised first chapter later and you can see whether I succeeded. There are still issues with the manuscript, as of course there will be until the end of time, but I am reasonably confident that it is as done as three long years can make it.

This week's short story stats:
0 submissions / 0 responses / 2 submissions out there
2 stories accepted but not live / 8 accepted and live

1 not done yet--biographical essay
2 short story starts
2 short story rewrites in progress
3 ideas for new novel (whoa, Nellie!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More rewrites. And more and more

Here it is, January already, and the calendar has ticked over, reminding me to create a new folder and start dropping my weekly Madison rewrites into a sector that has a new year. Shall we call it draft three?

This is what I like about my rewrites:
-- Ctrl X all those dumb bits that make me cringe.
-- Ctrl V all those wait-a-minute bits from earlier drafts that made a lot more sense than I remembered.

This is what I dislike:
-- My life, novel writing for the ages.
-- Will it never end, dear god?
-- I've lost track.
-- I'm slashing plot points now.
-- Yoo hoo! Mr. Scrap Man! Want a novel?

From 310 pages, I'm down to 283. As diets go, I'm not going to impress anyone with an 8% loss. But there is a lot of clutter gone, all the junk I threw in the sink and hid in the closets. I thought I might need those old thrift store golf clubs and a third coffee grinder with a cracked lid. Turns out it was just there to make me cringe.

You know how with short stories, you write everything like a crow gathering shiny bits. Then you reread it and pick your battle. It's a short story, dude, not opera. Once the excess is gone, you might (sometimes in a blue moon, doesn't happen often) see that the 100 words left behind really do represent everything you meant to say back when you were using 1000 words to say it.

On a bloated, ocean liner scale, novel rewrites might function the same way. I've just never spent so long rewriting a novel before. Heavenly days, it's been a long time.

In the furthermore department, it isn't raining. At the moment. I'm off my bike for…I'm not sure how long. Until I miss it again. I love the bike. Her name is Argenta, she's two years old. I bought her with the proceeds of an ill-advised art sale, a very nice abstract painting from 1958, one of Lee's I rescued from the dustbin of history. I shouldn't have parted with it. But the bike has been nice.

Except I'm a bored with biking. It has all the stress of driving and none of the mindlessness of walking. Fall down, you break something, get hit, you die. Also, I never have any sense of improving on the hills. Someone passed me on the Linn Avenue hill once going oh, eight miles an hour, and she said, "It never gets any easier, you just go faster." Now that's a real philosophical statement, one that gives a girl pause. It NEVER gets any easier? Who cares about going faster? That's what downhill is for.

So I'm walking again.