Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Fiction Carnival

Welcome to my first Halloween Fiction Carnival!

Not sure what to wear to this shindig? That's okay! We're easy. Just follow these tips from Susan Helene Gottfried's ShapeShifter boys about what not to wear, and you'll be fine.

So let's get started with a little tale of Hoo Doo. Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy tells of a conjure supper and it's eerie aftermath.

And after reading about supper, if you're ready for dessert, Virgina Lee has A Chocolate Tale for you!

Still hungry? So is Ernie on Jeff's blog! Or if what you're really after is more candy, the boys in ShapeShifter have a proven method for getting the Halloween goods without having to knock on any doors!

Do you think you've got the upper hand on the unexplainable? So did my fictional friend Coyote until his Ghost Story took an unexpected turn.

And speaking of the unexpected, a young man finds something he wasn't expecting in Thomma Lyn's The Saddle of Private Lucius Gray

Not scary enough? Vesper has written a darkly evocative piece for the season, A Mother's Gift. And speaking of gifts, Vesper has a poem and a less traditional story rounding out her Halloween Triptych. Thanks for the treats, Vesper!

Or maybe scary stories aren't for you and you'd rather read about real life? Jerry Waxler interviews award winning horror writer, Jonathan Maberry, (Ghost Road Blues) and gets plenty of food for thought about the horror genre and horror in real life. Find out if horror is based on memoir and draw your own conclusions about where the darkness in our world and the darkness in our minds intersect.

At at the end of all this, Kate Boddie wants everyone to be sure they don't have a Halloween Hangover! Scary, indeed!

Happy Halloween, friends!

Ghost Story

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

NOTE: New readers may want to read up on Will and Diana's world before proceeding.

As they rode up to the decaying hacienda, Coyote closed his eyes and sniffed the air. “We’re staying here?”

“Got a problem with it, Great Psychic One?” Boeing sneered.

Coyote squinted at the mansion with its crumbling stairs and gaping windows. “It’s haunted.”

“Better not let Harley hear you say that,” Will said. “He says it’s dangerous to make people nervous when they're carrying guns.”

Coyote worked a shrug into his movements as he dismounted. “He’ll find out soon enough.”

While camp supporters built cooking fires beside the empty swimming pool, Coyote wandered the usable bedrooms with a pensive air. Finally he settled on a spot and started spreading out his blankets.

Sachi stopped weaving feathers in Diana’s braid. “Go away. We were here first.” She pointed to a row of packs and bundles as evidence.

“But this room is farthest from it. I won’t molest you or anything. I just want to be able to sleep tonight.”

By now Tiffany and Ikea had wandered in and looked at Coyote with dismay. “Don’t get weird with us.”

“It’s that thing at the end of the hall that’s weird, not me.” He lay down, using his duffel bag for a pillow. “Wake me when it’s time to eat, okay?”

This would never do. The girls went in search of a place to banish him to. Harley’s room was out of the question. The camp supporters’ room was too small and crowded. The boys’ room was already a rumpled mess. At the sight of the girls looking around the door frame, Boeing scooted over on his bedroll and patted the space beside him. “Come on in, ladies. But no more than two at a time, please.”

Sachi frowned. “Is there enough room in here for Coyote? He wants to sleep in our room, and—”

“I’ll trade.”

The girls walked away in a huff. There was one more room at the end of the hall and Tiffany paused in the doorway. “Looks like something happened here.”

Diana pushed her way past. The few remaining bits of furniture looked like someone had taken an axe to them, and a yellowing sheet on the floor covered a suspicious bulge. She picked up a corner of the sheet, hesitated, then pulled it away in a cloud of plaster dust.

“Well, that shouldn’t scare him,” Sachi said.

Ikea agreed. “I’ve seen him cut rings off dead people, and this is just bones.”

“But where’s the rest of it?” Tiffany asked.

Diana bent to examine the skeleton more closely. “Looks cut up with an axe.”

Sachi nodded wisely. “When you die a violent death, you become a ghost.”

“And the bones aren’t even all here,” Ikea added. “Poor thing can’t rest in peace.”

Diana was about to say something when a scratching on a door at the back of the room drew her attention. The girls fell silent and looked at each other. The scratching grew more insistent.

Tiffany was wearing a knife, so it was she who opened the door. At first they saw nothing but a dusty stairwell. Then the girls noticed the raven.

“Cats bring birds to doorsteps,” Ikea said hopefully.

“But they don’t leave a hatchet stuck in them,” Diana said.

Sachi swore softly in her father’s native Japanese.

“It’s got to be a trick,” Tiffany said.

The girls turned back into the room and were startled to find the sheet drawn back over the skeleton and another raven lying on it, blood spreading beneath it like a new pair of wings.

“Damn you, Coyote!”

The girls ran back to their room.

“Get up!”

“We know you’re not asleep!”

Coyote sat up and blinked. “Is it supper time?”

A flurry of accusations followed, punctuated by Coyote’s protestations of innocence. As their voices grew louder, Boeing wandered to the door with Will close behind.

“Get him out of here,” Ikea said, waving a hand at Coyote.

“What’d he do?”

The girls related his crimes, real and presumed, while Will slipped away. When he came back, he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s some bones in there, but no birds.”

The girls ran down the hall to check, then turned on Will and Boeing, adding them to the list of perpetrators and reciting a litany of complaints and curses before stomping downstairs in disgust.

Supper was a tense affair, with the girls studiously ignoring the boys who tried to act like this was normal. But Coyote’s attempt at dinner conversation was another matter.

“There’s a rancho near Truchas where some people were murdered by their son,” he said. “He smothered them with pillows and now anyone who tries to sleep there—”

“No ghost stories,” Harley said. “You know the rules.”

“Did I say anything about ghosts?” Coyote toyed with his food but didn’t eat. Instead, he looked around. “If I was a ghost, this would be the perfect place. Sickness, suicide, murder. . . this house has seen it all. Yeah, if I was a ghost—”

“Enough!” Harley pointed to the door. “Go relieve Aguilero. I want you at that front gate, no wandering off. Understood?”

Coyote stalked away, mumbling, while the girls exchanged satisfied glances. They returned to their supper, making idle chat about archery practice and piñon harvests. When a dessert of quince and apples was brought around, they all took double portions.

Their satisfaction was short-lived. As they knitted in their room by lantern light, the house settled with odd creaks and sighs. At a tap on their door, they jumped, but found no visitor. Things scraped across the attic in a manner very unlike mice. And footsteps in the hallway seemed always to lead, upon investigation, to no one being there at all.

The girls huddled closer, stitching furiously. But at a sound like pebbles skittering across the ceiling, Diana stood up in exasperation. “It’s got to be him.” She went to the window and peered out. A dark figure paced the watch station at the gate.

“It’s the other boys, then,” Tiffany said. But when she went down the hall, nervously clutching her knife, she found reassuring lumps under the boys' blankets, and Aguilero was snoring loudly.

A sound from the next room, the one with the bones, gave her pause.

“It’s back,” Ikea said.

The scratching grew louder.

“We'll go together,” Diana said.

Sachi picked up the lantern and held it high as Tiffany flung open the door.

Birds. A dozen of them, all dead. The lump under the sheet was gone and behind the stairwell door was that persistent scratching.

Wide-eyed and holding each other for reassurance, they approached the stairwell. Diana reached for the knob and pulled. It wouldn’t open. She pulled again. Still stuck.

“Let me help.” Sachi gave it a mighty jerk, the door flew open and a dark faceless thing lunged at them with a howl.

Shrieking, the girls tripped over each other as they raced for the door. In the hall they collided with Boeing and Aguilero. Aguilero caught Sachi in his arms where she struggled and flailed. It was Ikea who got out the words, “Back there!”

Boeing ran to investigate. After a series of shouts, thumps and curses, he dragged Coyote into the hallway, still holding onto his dark blanket. “Is this your monster, ladies?”

By now Harley had emerged from his room. “Didn’t I put you on watch?”

“I traded with Will.”

“Well, trade back again. And in the morning, you and I are going to have a long talk.”

Coyote made a show of annoyance as he slunk down the stairs, but once outside, he ran to where Will was manning the watch station.

“How’d it go?” Will asked.

“Oh, man—”

Half an hour later, still chuckling, they were joined by Boeing and Aguilero. As always, Aguilero had some whiskey and passed the flask around, offering a toast “to scared little girls."

“May we find other ways to make them scream next time,” Boeing added.

They rehashed the events of the night, snickering. “But the best touch of all,” Aguilero said, “Was those birds. How’d you do it?”

Coyote paused, the flask frozen at his lips. “What birds?”

Boeing gave him a shove. “What birds, my ass. You know. All those dead ravens.”

Coyote sucked down the last of the whiskey and shook his head. “I didn’t do anything with birds. You mean you guys didn’t—”

They looked at Will, who spread his arms wide in innocence. “Don’t look at me. Where the would I get a bunch of dead birds?”

Aguilero snatched the empty flask from Coyote’s hands. “Well, whoever got the birds, they were a great touch. See you at breakfast.” He started toward the house with Will and Boeing trailing behind.

Coyote looked around at the dark and brooding landscape, retreating until his back was against the wall. Suddenly weak, he sank to the ground and pulled his knees close to his chest. He stared intently into the night as if he could will the sun to rise, and shivering, he waited for morning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Blog Fiction Carnival Tomorrow!

I know this is last-minute, but if anyone is planning to post a Halloween-themed story on their own blog tomorrow and would like a shout-out here, just email me the link or leave it in the comments. I'll add you to the roll!

And if you don't have a story of your own, be sure to stop by here anyway for what I hope will be some spooky entertainment. My story features Coyote, so you know it's going to be fun!

UPDATE: Don't worry if your story isn't ready until tomorrow. Send the link, anyway! I'll update the carnival throughout the day, time at work permitting. Just don't tell my boss, okay?

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Story at Flashes of Speculation

Hey, peeps! They posted my story at Flashes of Speculation! Go take a look!

In case anyone is curious, this was the prologue to the first of the novels that resulted in the Will and Diana flash fiction posted here and my POD book, My New-Found Land. All my prologues end up on the cutting room floor, since they're really more for organizing my own headspace than for the reader.

I'm glad this one found a home!


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Madness of Allies

A Will and Diana Adventure

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this piece for the Second AW Flash Fiction Carnival, for which the theme is "madness." I also wrote it in honor of the Halloween season. In this story, Will and Diana find that delivering messages isn't as safe an assignment as they've been led to believe.

Their horses picked their way along the cracked and overgrown road. “I bet that’s it up there,” Diana said, indicating the collapsing concrete façade of a building just visible through the trees.

Will squinted as they drew near, taking in the sullen teenagers armed with a motley assortment of weapons as they leaned against the walls and lounged on broken curbs. “If this is school, I’m glad I never went.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t like this in Auntie’s day.”

“That Kalashkinov over there is what it would’ve taken to keep me in a building like that, learning. . . what is it? Factions?”

“Fractions.” Diana was about to elaborate, but one of the guards had noticed them and was now ambling across the parking lot.

Will and Diana reined in and saluted smartly.

The guard stared, glassy-eyed. “What’d ya want?”

“Message for Leland Brierson,” Will said. “Magister.”

The guard grunted and waved his weapon in desultory fashion. “That door.”

“That door” led to a tiled hallway reeking of trash and urine, the only light from flickering lanterns hung from ceiling supports. The sound of their boots rang on the floor, echoed by tapping and scratching from behind the doors they passed.

“Where are we supposed to go?” Diana asked, scanning the walls as if the half-century old graffiti might hold clues.

The stench grew stronger, the tapping more insistent. Curious, Diana gave a return tap.

A door erupted in a flurry of knocks and a voice rasped, “We’ve got three dead. Take them out. Please.”

Will jerked Diana away. “This is bullshit.” He pulled her down another corridor, darker than the one before, but it didn’t lead to an exit, only to other hallways and past rooms where men beat on the walls and screamed.

They finally emerged into a cavern of a room. There were guards all around but they looked no more alert than the ones outside and one was busy injecting himself with something. At the far end was a stage where a man in black sat surrounded by torches and simpering women who pulled veils across their faces and disappeared into the shadows. The man regarded Will and Diana silently, through heavy-lidded eyes.

Will saluted. “Message from Unitas, sir.”

Magister waved a hand and a guard wandered over to take the piece of paper from Will’s hand. Magister read it and frowned. “But Vanter is my favorite prisoner.”

“New allies. They’re asking for his release.”

Magister spoke to a guard, then lolled back in his upholstered chair and sipped something dark and viscous from a glass. “So where are you kids from? Before the wars?”

Will and Diana exchanged glances. “Valle Redondo.”

This made Magister sit up. “Really? So you’ve made the acquaintance of Strecker.”

“He killed my family!” Diana spat.

Magister’s eyes widened mockingly. “How very sad for you. Come closer and let me see your pretty face.”

Will moved so that his body blocked Magister’s view. “We’ll wait here for Vanter.”

“As you wish.” Magister leaned back again, staring at them without blinking. At the sound of footsteps, though, he sat up with renewed interest. “Bring him up here, Aspergillus.”

The guard dragged a bound and stumbling man up the stairs and forced him to his knees. The prisoner was pale, with patchy rings of fungus on his shaved scalp and skeletal limbs. He trembled from fear and cold.

Magister stood up. “Is this your man?”

“We’ve never seen Vanter, so we can’t say.”

“What a shame.” He took a knife from somewhere among the folds of his black clothes. There was a sudden flailing of waxen limbs, a shriek and flash of blade. Blood pooled across the floor and trickled off the edge of the stage.

Magister wiped the knife on his robe. “You can have him, and you’ll find him much easier to deal with than I did.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Will said softly. He took Diana’s arm and began backing away.

“Don’t go. I’m short a prisoner now.” He looked from Will to Diana. “And a pretty girl would be a welcome addition to my family.”

Will reached for his gun and at the same time the desultory guards raised their own weapons. “Go ahead,” Will told Magister. “Give them the order. I can shoot you faster they can shoot me.”

Diana slipped her gun out of its holster and moved to Will’s side. “They’ll have to kill me, too.”

Magister looked from one to the other of them, then suddenly threw back his head and laughed. He howled like a mad dog and shrieked until tears streaked his cheeks. From the shadows behind his high seat, one of the veiled women emerged with a tray and Magister stopped to breathe something from a vial and chase it with several gulps from a wine glass. Then while the woman scurried away, he began laughing again, finally collapsing in wheezing convulsions.

“Come on,” a guard said, jerking his gun at Will and Diana. When they hesitated, he added, “This’ll probably be the only chance you get.”

They followed the young man through the winding halls, the tapping on the doors echoing after them.

“He’s lost it, you know,” the guard said. “This crazy world would do it to anyone.”

“Didn’t do it to most folks,” Will said. “Our commander said Magister was always a little. . .”

“Unstable.” Diana finished for him.

The guard waved a hand. “He was okay before. But ever since he allied with the drug runners out of Sonora. . .”

Diana blinked as they emerged into daylight. “You want to come with us?”

“This is no place for a sane person,” Will added.

“No,” the guard said. “I’ve got everything I need here, thanks to the Sonora guys.” Without even glancing at the bright blue sky and the aspen leaves shimmering in the crisp afternoon, he added, “I don't think this world has a future.”

Seventy Days of Sweat Update - Week Two

I’m at 7,500 on my new novel and I hate it all. It's hard to remember sometimes that the early chapters are nearly always like this. I haven't found my groove yet and a lot of what I'm writing will be cut in the final version. I don't mind because any writing is good, even if only for practice, and I'm good at taking my unused chapters and doing other things with them. But for now, I'm frustrated with the novel and I’ll be glad when I hit my stride and start liking it.

In other news, I tweaked an old prologue this week (a fun thing to do with those tossed-out early chapters) and made it into a stand-along flash fiction story. I have it out for submission to Flashes of Speculation. I think it's at least as well-written as anything they've got on their site, but tastes differ and it may not be what they're looking for, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also got a new story that I'll probably post later tonight for the next AW flash fiction carnival. The theme for the carnival is "madness," so it's another dark story. But I'm also working on a fun Halloween story featuring Coyote, so be sure to check back on Wednesday for that one!

Here at the end of Week Two of Seventy Days of Sweat, I'm feeling like I'm not as productive as I could be. When I have a novel that's going well, I can turn out 2,000-3,000 words in an evening, no problem. But at least I'm writing new stuff after six months of doing nothing but editing old pieces. My main goal in signing up for this challenge was to force myself to be accountable again and get some new pixels on paper. So far, so good!

Seventy Days of Sweat Tally
Novel: 7,500 words
Short/Flash Fiction: 4,000 words
Edits: 1,000 words
Submissions: 1

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: The Message

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This piece is not one of the "Will and Diana Adventures," and is contemporaneous with the beginning of "My New-Found Land." I've wondered for a long time how Will found out Diana had run away and how he reacted. I finally decided to ask, and this was the answer. Language alert for sensitive readers.

Coyote had spent the day jumping at shadows and scanning the bleak December horizon. When the rider trotted into camp at supper time announcing, “Message for William Channing,” he cursed.

Will had just sat down with a bowl of beans. After casting a worried glance at Coyote, he stood and reached for the note. His reading skills were poor, but he managed the message with unusual speed. The blood drained from his face and he crumpled the note. “Who gave you these lies?”

“Came in on the official line, sir. They wouldn’t have sent it through if it wasn’t legit.”

Harley pushed through the knot of curious soldiers and camp supporters and held out his hand. “Let me see.”

Will threw the balled-up paper at him and lunged at the messenger. “You let her get away!"

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just the messenger.”

Harley made a dismissing motion and the boy wheeled his horse and kicked it hard.

Will turned on Harley, his eyes wild with panic. “What did you do that for? Now how am I going to find her?”

“The boy has nothing to do with it. Maybe you should—”

“Go to hell.” He took off toward the corral. Harley called after him but Will was out the gate in minutes, his horse’s hooves thundering across the desert.

Cursing, Coyote saddled his mare and gave chase. But as he galloped across the scrubland, agitated thoughts intruded, blocking the voices that had warned him this would happen and that might offer clues as to where Will was going. As night fell and the tracks grew dim, he wondered if he would find him or be left wandering the desert.

The sound of gunfire gave Coyote his answer. He came over a sand hill and saw dark forms scattered around a campfire over which a kettle still simmered. A few nervous donkeys tugged at their tethers and somewhere a dog whined. Coyote jumped off his horse and walked toward the only person still standing.

“Killing refugees won’t fix anything.”

Will advanced on him with murder in his eyes. “You fucking son of a bitch. You knew.”

“They don’t let me change the future, Will.”

“Maybe not.” He leveled his pistol. “But I’m sure as hell going to change yours.”

Coyote spread his arms wide. “Go ahead.”

Moments passed. The wind blew a wisp of cloud across the moon and whistled through a patch of tumbleweed.

“I said—”

Coyote felt the bullet whine past his ear and heard the next one drop into the chamber. He closed his eyes.

Instead of firing, Will dropped to his knees. He howled and tore at the earth as if the entire planet had given offense. When the ground made no move to swallow him and no lightning descended from the heavens to take him from this hell, he collapsed into keening sobs.

Coyote walked over and made as if to touch him, but thought better of it and sat down instead. Noticing that Will was bleeding, he shrugged off his jacket and took a knife to the hem of his shirt, tearing it away in a long strip. “How about you let me bandage that arm?”

Getting no answer, he stood and put another branch on the fire. He examined the bodies scattered about, silently cursing whoever thought giving Will this news by messenger was a good idea. Finding no survivors, he returned to the fire and lifted the lid of the kettle. Soup. He ladled some into a cup and took it to where Will lay breathing in ragged gasps.

“Drink some of this.” He held out the cup and fumbled in his pocket. “And here’s a handkerchief. It’s mostly clean.”

Will swiped at his nose. “Go away.”

Coyote sat down, and after setting the cup aside, began bandaging Will’s wounded arm.

Will stared into the darkness beyond the fire’s glow. “Did your voices say where she went?”


“Would you tell me if they did?”

“Probably not.”

“She didn’t go with him, did she?”

“No.” Coyote tied the ends of the bandage in a knot. “I can tell you that for sure.”

Will wiped his face with Coyote’s handkerchief and looked away. “She was my only friend.”

Coyote jumped to his feet. “You fucking ingrate! I let you cuss at me. I let you shoot at me, and I still tried to feed and bandage you after. If you don't think that's friendship, you’re one selfish son of a bitch.” He put a hand on his gun. “Maybe I should be doing the shooting around here.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Coyote kicked a rock, then stomped off to check on the refugees' donkeys. Under one of the carts he found a white dog that whined and lapped his hand when he bent to smooth its matted fur.

The dog followed him back to the fire where Coyote ladled another cup of soup and investigated a rucksack where he found a bottle of murky homebrew. He winced at the taste, but the warmth spreading through his body took the chill off the night. He fished a piece of gristle out of the soup and shared it with the mutt.

After a long while, Will sat down beside him. "I'm sorry, Joseph."

Coyote looked at him, startled. It was the first time Will had ever called him by his given name. When Will wouldn't meet his eyes, he turned back to his cup with a grunt that could've meant anything.

Will poked the fire with a stick. "How's the soup?"

"Just refugee crap."

"And the whiskey?"

"Sucks." Coyote handed him the bottle.

Will examined it in the fire's light and took a long pull. "I promise," he said. "I won't cuss at you or shoot at you ever again."

Coyote took the bottle back. "It's okay if you cuss at me. Just don't shoot any more."

"I missed on purpose, you know."


Will frowned. "Your voices didn't tell you I would?"

Coyote took another drink from the bottle and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "They don't tell me stuff about my own future."

"So you would've let me. . ."

"You gotta do what you gotta do."

Will pondered this in silence, shivering as the stars came out and the cold deepened. “Any more of that soup?” he finally said.

Coyote scooped some into his own cup and handed it over. “Anything for a friend.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Killing Their Own

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

Diana tried not to fidget as she stood lookout by the wall of a crumbling adobe church. In the dark of the new moon, she could make out shadows where her friend Sachi was stationed on the other side of the road. She would’ve liked to have used her flashlight to send a signal, but didn’t want to risk giving away her position, in case a stranger was nearby.

She leaned against the wall, listening to the faint sounds of music and laughter from up the road. What they were attempting tonight could get them all in trouble. If Javier hadn’t incurred the hatred of the townspeople in the brief time their unit had been camped nearby, they would’ve had no hope of getting away with it. If he hadn’t been so hateful overall, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

A veil of clouds passed over the stars and a mouse rustled among the trash at Diana’s feet. Two men left the bar and came down her road singing about their amorcita. She backed deeper into the recesses of the church wall and waited for them to pass. Then she resumed her station, occasionally kicking a pebble or tracing an arc in the dust with the toe of her boot.

Finally she heard it—the sound of angry voices and threats. She couldn’t see what was happening, but other than Javier's, none of the voices sounded like the young men of her unit. That was a good sign. They had obviously succeeded in getting Javier to provoke someone.

Silence. Then a lone shadow moving along the road, silhouetted against the glow from the cantina’s electric lights.

Diana looked around. This was the moment. If there were people around or anything to indicate this was a bad time to do it, now was the time to signal—

She jumped at the crack of the first rifle shot and again at the second. Will and Boeing rarely missed, but to Diana’s shock, Javier was running down the road, heading toward her lookout station. He was limping as if he’d been hit, but was still moving fast. Dammit, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this!

He veered off the road, heading for the open desert. Diana gave chase and they fled across the barren landscape until he stumbled into a clump of Russian thistle. Entangled, he fell onto his wounded leg with a scream.

Diana trained her gun on him. She couldn’t see his face in the darkness and heard only his labored breathing and pleading words.

“Let me go. Tell them you couldn’t see me in the dark.”

She sucked in her breath. She had never killed like this, point-blank, in cold blood. Javier was hostile, divisive, and a danger to their group, but he had never done anything to her personally.

He whimpered as he tried to disentangle himself from the thorns. “Help me get away. I won’t forget it.”

Footsteps behind her. Frantic scrabbling in the dust and weeds in front of her. More footsteps, running to catch up. Diana took aim at where she knew Javier’s chest must be and pulled the trigger.

She was gulping air in great heavy gasps when Will caught up to her.

“Did you get him? Turn on your flashlight.”

She did, but looked away.

“Nice job.” He pulled out his knife and bent over the body. “Just to be sure.”

Diana hoped her light was steady because if she watched, she would surely be sick.

More footsteps as others from their group approached and clustered around, giving Diana the opportunity to move out of the circle of their lights.

“Can’t believe I fucking missed,” Boeing said.

“I told you we should’ve blown him up.”

“Shut up, Coyote.”

Aguilero shone his light in an arc, frowning in disgust. “We’ve got a lot of tracks to try and hide. Some of us have to get back for watch before Harley finds out.”

During the quick conference that followed, Will joined Diana in the shadows. “What’s the matter? We’ve killed people before.”

“But I knew him.”

“He was a jerk.”

“But he was still one of us. It was wrong.”

“Too late now, and there’s no point worrying about what’s done.”

By now Dell and Sachi were scraping in the dirt while Boeing and Aguilero cut switches to dust over their tracks. Will and Diana helped dig and when they were done they dragged the body to the edge of the shallow hole. Before shoving it in and covering it with earth, Dell dabbed her fingers in Javier's blood and streaked some down each of her cheeks. “For getting my girlfriend killed on the Terralinda raid,” she said. She spat into the grave.

Sachi followed suit. “For injuring my favorite horse, and for all those things you said about me.”

Aguilero, Boeing and Will followed, voicing their resentments as they marked themselves. When it was Diana’s turn, she hesitated. Will helped, painting blood on her wrists and the backs of her hands when she shied away from having him mark her face.

Knowing she should voice a resentment, she searched her memory. Although she could recall nothing pleasant, there was nothing she could really hate about Javier, either. “Just because.”

She stepped back from the grave and Aguilero handed her a switch. “Be sure to cover your tracks.”

“Yes." Instead of looking at the ground she looked at the sky. The wispy clouds had moved on and the velvet night was alive with stars.

Will edged closer and whispered in her ear. “What do you see up there?”

There were thousands of little worlds up there, glittering with empty promises.

“Nothing,” she said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Practical Tracking

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

The young people fanned out across the field, parting the sweet-smelling gramma grass with their poles.

“I don’t know why we have to practice this at noon,” Will said. “Can’t get good shadows.”

Diana stooped to peer at a displaced rock. “That’s the point."

“Well, I think this is stupid,” Coyote said from a few feet away. He stopped pretending to look for footprints and swung his pole in an arc. “I can tell you where the tracks are and where they end up.”

“Like you knew where the fish would be biting the other night?” Will said. “Next time I want beans and cactus for supper, I’ll be sure to ask you where to bait my lines.”

“Okay, so sometimes I get it wrong. But today—”

“Found one!” Diana dropped to her knees, laid her pole alongside the boot print and began adjusting the leather rings. “Most likely male. Walking, not running. Might be carrying something.” She angled her pole outward from the track, searching for the next one.

“He’s definitely carrying something,” Coyote said. “Want to know what it is?”

Diana sat back on her heels. “Will you let us figure it out from the tracks, please?”

Will jerked his head in agreement. “Yeah, man. I ain’t missing lunch just so you can practice talking to your imaginary friends.”

“They’re not imaginary, and I don’t—”

“Here it is!” Diana had found the next track. She moved another ring to get the measure of the stride, making mental note of the angle. “Are you guys going to help or argue?”

Will squatted beside her and adjusted the rings on his pole, but noticed Coyote hadn’t moved and was looking around, sniffing the air. “What a weirdo,” he muttered. “How’d we get stuck with him?”

“Just help me find the next track. Aguilero’s team is probably halfway done already.”

For the next few minutes they searched for tracks using their poles to measure where the next one must be. Soon they had a feel for where to look and simply walked, poking and peering at the ground as they went, sometimes stopping to examine a rock or tuft of trampled grass, sometimes using their poles to measure where a missing track should’ve been.

They lost the tracks on a broad flat rock but found them again several feet away. When they lost their trail again in loose gravel, they circled outward from their last known sign, but this time it seemed their quarry had vanished. Diana leaned on her pole and sighed, gazing across the field to where the other teams were still moving forward. “We’re going to lose.”

Coyote, who had been swiping at rocks with his pole to see how far he could hit them, said, “That’s because you won’t let me tell you anything.” He hit another rock and sent it into an ant bed.

“That would be dishonest,” Diana said.

“In real life, any way you get your man is honest. It’s us against them.”

“That’s true,” Will said. “So okay, show us where the trail picks up.”

“But not where it ends,” Diana added.

With a pleased little grin, Coyote began leading them in a completely unexpected direction. When Diana made to question him, he waved a hand for silence and pointed with his pole. There in the dry, sandy earth was the unmistakable print of a shoe.

Diana bent to measure the print against the rings on her pole. “It’s not the right one,” she said. “It’s too small.”

“Just follow them.”

Diana stood up. “Look, I’m glad you’ve got your little voices to tell you things, but these aren’t our tracks. Who knows where they lead? They sure won't take us to Harley's note telling us where to find our lunch."

Will crouched to get a better look at the print in question. "She's right. Even I can tell this isn't the right one. This is someone else."

"So come on," Diana said. "Show us where the real tracks are so we don't embarrass ourselves by finishing last."

Coyote twirled his pole, still with that maddening smile. "Just follow them," he said again. "Don't you trust me?"

"Not on your life," Will said, but he jerked his head at Diana, indicating they should follow the tracks for now.

Diana scowled at Coyote from under the brim of her hat. "This better be good."

"It is." He followed with poorly concealed excitement as Diana picked up the trail.

"Whoever it is, they were running."

"Yes," Coyote said.

"And carrying something." Diana marked the depth of a print with her pole.

"Yes, you've got it now!" Coyote thrust his canteen into Will's hands. "Give her this when you find her. I'll go get the donkey cart."

Before they could ask what he was talking about, Coyote was gone, dashing through the waving grasses.

"I'm telling Harley not to put me on a team with crazy people any more," Will said.

"But you're the only guy who doesn't harass him."

"Maybe I should start."

They returned to the trail and followed the tracks toward an arroyo. The signs were easy to spot now, stones displaced and grasses trampled. At the edge of the arroyo they paused where a skid of displaced earth and rocks led into the ditch. At the bottom lay a young woman, motionless and clutching something to her chest.

Cursing, Will bounded into the arroyo with Diana slipping and scrabbling for purchase as she followed. The woman's skin was dry and flushed. As Will splashed water on her and Diana tried to find a pulse, the woman's arms fell open and a wail emerged from the bundle she had been holding.

Diana grabbed the baby and checked it for injuries while Will raised the woman to a sitting position and held his canteen to her lips. She was conscious now, blinking and confused.

The baby cried again and the woman reached for it, but Will held her back and tried to make her drink some more.

"The baby's fine," Diana said, although she wasn't at all sure.

"We've got somebody coming with a cart," Will added. "You're safe."

The woman nodded and lay listlessly in his arms while Diana frowned at the baby, trying to figure out how best to hold it. Finally she laid it on her lap and fanned it with her hat. "You know," she said, "If Coyote hadn't—”

"I know."

"I wonder why he didn't tell us from the beginning."

Will shrugged. "I think he bluffs a lot. He knows but he doesn't know."

"Hm." Diana stopped fanning and peered into the baby's dimpled face. Unimpressed, she began waving the hat over it again. "Well, if he ever got good at understanding those voices he hears, he'd be the best friend in the world to have."

Will looked at her sharply. "What are you trying to say?"

Diana gave him a sly smile. "Just that we're done with this tracking exercise, and I think we won."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Macy

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story assumes a prior knowledge of Will and Diana's world, and it also contains more bad language than most of my other stories. Uneducated teenagers who kill for a living don't have very refined vocabularies.

The little blonde struggled with the iron pot as she dragged it toward the creek.

“Hey, Macy!”

She swiped a curl out of her eyes and looked up. It was the new boy, the one who said he was seventeen but who she suspected was closer to her age, fifteen. Everyone said he was a demolition genius, but it was hard to believe that this coltish boy with the mischievous smile was the half-crazy derailment expert so widely feared in the rail towns.

He caught up to her, panting. “Want me to carry that? It looks heavy.”

“I can manage.”

Coyote followed her to the muddy bank. “Can I help you scrub it out?”

Macy sat down to take off her shoes. “You’re not fooling me. I saw you talking to Boeing and them. You’re not here to wash anything, so why don’t you just admit it?”

Coyote’s ears flushed red and he fumbled in his pocket. “Well, Boeing said. . .”

“I can imagine.” She rolled up the cuffs of her pants and dragged the pot into the water. “The answer is no.”

“But I’ve got a dollar. Silver, not that stupid paper.”

“I don’t do that any more. I’ll do it on a spy mission or to distract a guard, because that’s my job. You guys are on your own.” She bent over the pot and began scrubbing the inside with a rag. “Town’s not far away. You want to buy a girl, go there.”

Coyote waded into the water, boots and all. “Why are you being this way? I’m not like Boeing.”

Macy could think of a hundred ways this skinny kid wasn’t like Boeing, but before she could toss out a few cutting comparisons, the sound of voices caught her attention. She wiped her hands on her pants as three young men came around a bend in the creek.

Even now, her heart still skipped a beat at the sight of Boeing's handsome, even features. She had known she shouldn’t expect much from such a good-looking charmer, but he had come around often enough that she had allowed herself to hope. She had also quit charging him, which was too bad, since the money would’ve come in handy. Maybe she could’ve afforded to have the baby, or at least pay for a proper abortion. Now she wouldn’t ever be able to have children, and Boeing insisted it wasn’t his fault.

Boeing’s lips twisted into an ugly smirk, but he didn’t say anything to her and called to Coyote instead. “What’s the matter? Don’t tell me she said no. You’re a pathetic piece of shit if this slut won’t take your money."

Will pulled his hat lower and looked away in annoyance.

Aguilero laughed. “Even whores got sense," he told Boeing. "Maybe his imaginary friends made a eunuch of him.”

Boeing turned to Macy. “That shouldn’t stop you. Everyone knows whores will do it with anything for the right price.”

“Enough,” Will said. "Leave the girl alone. I thought we wanted to catch some fish.”

“And I got one. Cut the chivalrous crap, okay? I’m not the one who wants to fuck his own sister.”

With startling swiftness, Will dropped his fishing pole and slammed a fist into Boeing's belly. Boeing bent double, gasping, then reached for Will’s legs and threw his weight against him, sending them both into the creek with a splash.

As they cursed and pummeled each other, Aguilero walked over to Macy and gazed at her down the bridge of his much-broken beak of a nose. “It’s just as well,” he said. “They needed a bath. It was getting hard to hunt with them because they scared the game.”

Before Macy could figure out if she should laugh, he added, “So since you’re free tonight, how about it?”

Men were all alike. Not a nice one in the bunch. “I’m not free.” She waved a hand at Coyote, who was watching the proceedings with cat-like curiosity. “You can say whatever nasty things you want about him, but at least he doesn’t call me names. If I spend the night with anyone, it’ll be with him.”

Boeing had forced Will’s head under water, but now he let go and turned around. “Hey, Coyote! When she takes you to her tent tonight, be sure you ask her to—”

His words were choked off by Will’s hand around his throat and the boys fell back into the water and began struggling again.

Macy fled into the woods and didn’t stop running until she came to a low wall. Far from the boys and their taunts, she curled up on the concrete and cried. When her tears were spent, she lay sniffling and listening to the chirping of birds overhead and the scratching of squirrels’ feet on the bark of nearby trees. After a long time she heard another sound: footsteps. She sat up, cursing herself for being so far from camp without a weapon.

“Oh,” she said, as Coyote emerged from the forest. “I thought you’d at least want to wait until tonight.”

“Actually, I came to bring you your shoes.” He set them on the wall. “You didn’t step on anything, did you?” He reached for one of her feet, but she jerked away. “Okay.” He sighed. “I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t cut yourself.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I also wanted to tell you thanks for taking up for me back there, but I don’t want it if you’re doing it just to spite them. Even if I’m paying you should want it a little, so forget about it. No hard feelings.”

As he turned back to the trail, he added, “Don’t worry about the stew pot. Will broke Boeing’s nose, then me and him made him take the pot back to camp.”

Macy hugged her knees and watched Coyote disappear into the woods. She stared so long at the shadows that she lost track of time and was startled to realize it was late in the day and she still had chores to do. She tugged on her socks and laced up her shoes, pausing to run a finger across the battered leather, marveling that Coyote had brought them to her so she wouldn’t hurt her feet. Maybe he was crazy, but at least he was nice.

She walked the trail, enjoying the afternoon sunlight filtering through the aspens. At the sight of one of Coyote’s boot prints, she impulsively scooped up some of the soft earth. A curandera had once told her that the dust of a person’s footprints held magic. Macy wasn’t so sure about that, but she dropped a bit into her pocket, just in case.

"Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

They posted my photo submission at the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks!

After seven years of looking at this dumb sign, I'm so excited to see it get the derision it so richly deserves!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Prize winners in my book promo and photos of the selection process are posted on my main blog. Enjoy, and congrats to the winners! Next drawing will be in November.

Seventy Days of Sweat

It's starting TOMORROW!

My main goal is to write the draft of the last book in my series about life in a resource-poor speculative future. I've struggled a lot with this final story, but since I gave Diana her happy ending in My New-Found Land, I really want to give Will his. I intend to keep torturing him for awhile, of course, but he deserves it. Stoic alpha males are very hard to work with and he's been a total jerk ever since I let Diana leave him.

But as much as I want to get this story written, I feel like I'm getting so much out of writing short stories lately that I've cut a deal with myself. I can write a short story instead of working on my novel as long as the short story takes no more than two days from first word to final edit. Two days may sound like a lot, but my writing time is actually pretty limited-- three hours each weeknight under the best of circumstances, and a little more on weekends. In actual practice I often have no more than an hour or two each night, or even less if I'm sleepy.

I would like to eventually have enough of these stories to make a book, with everything in its proper chronological order. The stories fill part of the gap between Tin Soldier (on a private blog, since it might be publishable) and Bella Diana, in which I torture poor Diana mercilessly. I always thought it would be fun to write vignettes about Will and Diana's years together, before he asked too much of her and everything went to heck in a handbasket. Hence the "Will and Diana Adventures."

So those are my goals for Seventy Days of Sweat: write my novel and/or finish my collection of short stories. Either way, I'm going to be learning a lot.

Can't wait to get started!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Endings Are Beginnings

(A 'Will and Diana' Adventure)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: If I were to compile my "Will and Diana Adventures," this would probably be first, even though I write them in no chronological order.
* * * * *

Amalia let the door slam and dropped the bag of laundry in annoyance. The tribe said she and the children were living on their charity, but if that was so, why did they treat her like a servant? She was about to go into the kitchen and check the beans she had left soaking when she heard a splash from the back room. She paused. The children were supposed to be at riding practice, or was it archery today?

“Hold still. I’ve almost got all the dirt out.”

Through the partially open door, Amalia saw her ward Diana swirl a rag in a bowl of murky water, wring it out and bend over someone lying on a lumpy mattress.

“You’re too rough. Leave the dirt in. It’ll make a nice tattoo.”

Amalia pushed the door open. Her adopted son Will raised himself on one elbow, his face and arms bloody where they weren’t already turning purple. He raised his chin and gazed at Amalia in defiance.

“I told him not to,” Diana said, jumping to her feet and knocking over the bowl of bloody water. “Dammit!”

“Watch your language and clean that up.”

“Don’t talk to her like that, Mother. She’s trying to help.”

While Diana scurried to find a towel, Amalia settled her gaze on Will. In the three years he had been under her care, Amalia had learned to pick her battles wisely, but this was too much. “I can’t believe with the danger we’re already in, you’ve got no better sense than to go picking fights—”

“I didn’t pick anything. They were harassing Diana.”

“She can handle those girls on her own. You’re too protective.”

Will started to run a hand through his long sandy hair, but finding it matted with blood, he wiped his fingers on the blanket instead. “It wasn’t the girls. It was the boys. Ba’leetso and them.”

Amalia’s stomach clenched and she felt suddenly cold. “So what did you. . . did they. . .”

Will smiled through his swollen lips. “They won’t try it again any time soon.”

Diana pushed her way into the room and began mopping the floor with a piece of dirty laundry. “I tried to make him stop, but Will wouldn’t let me use my gun.”

“Oh, God, no.” Amalia said. “They’d have killed us all by now.” She watched in silence as Will laid back against the pillows and Diana scrubbed the cracked linoleum with a stained shirt. “I’m going to talk to Hashbidi-chii. Will you two be okay?”

“I’ll shoot them if they come here,” Will said. “And I don’t care what you say about not killing Nativists.”

Amalia had no doubt Will meant what he said. She would have to make her errand fast.

Luckily she found Hashbidi-chii at home and the wise woman knew why she had come. “It was bound to happen eventually,” she shrugged.

Amalia knew only too well. Since the new Southwestern Republic had fractured into civil war, the young people on the reservations had become increasingly militant. An Anglo name or hairstyle was enough to get one banished from some places, and if you weren’t of native blood, you were nothing.

Hashbidi-chii set aside her beadwork and patted Amalia’s hand. “We who remember your sister wish you no harm, but we can’t hold the young people in check much longer. It’s the times.”

Amalia snatched her hand away. “Where would we go instead? You know we can’t go home. The United States took everything. Am I to drag the children to a squalid refugee camp or throw myself on the mercy of a drug lord with a private fiefdom?”

“They say your children are good with horses and weapons.”

“No.” Amalia shook her head. “The fighting groups are political, racial, religious, or all three. Hispanos Unidos would take Diana but not Will. The white supremacists would take him, but not her. Besides, they’re too young too be fighting. Will is only fourteen and Diana is barely old enough for her puberty ceremony, which I suppose the tribe won’t let her have now.”

Hashbidi-chii ignored this last remark and said, “Unitas doesn’t care about race or religion, and they don’t let anyone under sixteen fight unless they’ve already been fighting for someone else.”

Amalia’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know this?”

The wise woman looked away. “People talk.”

“Yes, but not so much.”

Hashbidi-chii picked up her beadwork again with a sigh. “We’ve known each other a long time Amalia. Believe me when I say this reservation is not your destiny.” She waved hand at the door. “Or those children’s, either.”

“What is our destiny then? To be nomadic mercenaries? If the tribal leaders are putting you up to this, you can come up with a better lie than that.”

“Unitas isn’t your destiny, but they will lead you there. They have a base in Jonasville. Go or don’t go, but I think you know what will happen if you stay here.”

Amalia did know, and in spite of her angry words, she knew Hashbidi-chii wouldn't steer her wrong. Deep in thought, she walked across the scrub to the dilapidated shack the tribe had given her.

Inside, she found Diana had bandaged Will’s injuries with passable skill and was now bent over his bowed head with a pair of shears. Locks of snipped hair lay in soft waves on the floor and on Will’s pants and sleeves. Without looking up, Diana said, “It’s okay, Auntie. He asked me to.”

Will didn’t move as Diana’s scissors snipped close to his scalp. “They’re a bunch of murderous, cock-sucking bastards, and I won’t dress like them or wear my hair like them ever again.”

Amalia chose for once to ignore his street language and merely said, “Good, because we’re leaving tonight.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Dark Places

(A 'Will and Diana' Adventure)

“We won't make the foothills before night,” Will said.

Diana glared at the horizon. “I’m sure it’s not as far as it looks.”


“Okay.” She turned in the saddle to face him. “I’m sorry. It really did look like a shortcut back there, didn’t it?”

“It hardly matters now. Just keep an eye out for a place to make camp.”

A few miles later, they came over a low rise in the fading twilight and saw the remains of a village below. “If we can’t find water for the horses,” Will said, “At least we’ll get a roof over our heads.”

But as they neared the cluster of buildings, they found the structures were hardly fit for the wild creatures that inhabited them, let alone humans. Roofs had fallen in and adobe walls crumbled. Wood-frame houses had collapsed of dry rot and mobile homes were stripped of their metal siding. Will was about to suggest making a dry camp among the sagebrush when Diana turned to him in excitement.

“Look—someone still lives here.”

Set back from the road by a dark and overgrown path was a hulking adobe cast in shadows seemingly of its own making, but with a pinprick of light at a window.

They dismounted and approached on foot. They were ready to shoot and flee if necessary, but the pale man who answered their knock merely gazed at them in silence.

“We were wondering if you could spare some water for our horses,” Will said.

“And a place to sleep would be much appreciated,” Diana added. “Anywhere is fine—barn, patio, a little floor space is all we need.”

“Why are you here? Who sent you?”

“We’re travelers,” Will said. “We fell behind schedule. It got dark and we saw your light.”

The man stepped back from the door. “I have no light you could’ve seen from the road.”

Diana glanced toward the window where the light had been. It was just an empty hole now. “The wind must’ve blown it out. So can we stay? We’ll be no trouble.”

“And we can pay,” Will added.

“Yes, money.” The man shivered, although the room wasn’t cold. “Do whatever you want.” He waved a hand and disappeared into the gloom of a hallway.

Will and Diana exchanged glances. “He’s a strange one,” Diana whispered. “But he doesn’t seem dangerous.”

“Just stay close, okay?”

They bedded down their horses in the empty barn then took their gear into the house and made pallets on the entryway floor. They ate some jerky, nuts, and dried apples from their packs, then settled in for the night.

Distrusting their host, Will sat watch. The silence of the house and the opaque darkness beyond the reach of his solar lantern would’ve disturbed a more imaginative young man, but years as a street urchin and soldier had made him sensitive only to physical dangers. With no sign of impending threat, his shoulders relaxed, his head nodded, and finally he reached for Diana, curled beneath her blanket, sleeping with the deep and utter peace of a cat.

He resisted the urge to turn his touch into a caress. One wasn’t supposed to have such feelings for an adoptive sister. He shook her roughly. “Your turn.”

Diana sat up and stifled a yawn. She scooted to the foot of her pallet and stared into the gloom as Will wrapped himself in a blanket and closed his eyes.

Hours passed. Will’s breathing became deep and regular, the darkness thicker and more tangible. Diana shivered as the circle of light around her lantern shrank and the shadows took on a life of their own.

Then she heard it— a murmuring from deep within the rooms, part chant, part pleading, part something else. Diana shook herself, but unlike the transient whisperings of her imagination, the sound persisted.

She stole a glance at Will. She hated to wake him when he so often suffered from insomnia. She could handle this alone.

She stepped silently into the hallway. The narrow walls, low ceilings and peeling plaster closed in around her like a tunnel as she followed the sound and then the faint murky glow emanating from a room at the end of the hall. She paused in the arched doorway, hand on her gun.

By the light of a flickering lantern in a room hazy with smoke and incense, their host bent over a dark form, talking in low tones. It seemed to be an apology of some kind, an explanation and a plea for forgiveness.

Then he saw her. His eyes widened in horror and he stumbled to his feet. “Go away.” he said in a trembling voice. “At least I did it fast. You can't say you suffered.”

Confused, Diana took a step toward him, nearly choking on the rose-scented incense and the putrefying smell beneath it.

“Don’t come any closer. I promise I’ll bury you tomorrow, whatever it costs. A proper priest and everything. But I’ve kept you here out of love, because I couldn’t bear to see you in the ground, because having you here keeps me from forgetting my sins—”

Diana stared at the black-shrouded form on the ground, realizing now what it was. “You sick bastard.”

“I know, I know." He fell to his knees. "Kill me - I deserve it. Do you think the money has made me happy? I don't even use it!”

Diana backed into the hallway, wheeled about and slammed into something tall and solid that held her as she shrieked and squirmed.

“What the hell? Will said.

“He’s got a body in there!” When Will made like he would see for himself, Diana pulled him by the arm. “Come on, before he figures out I'm not a ghost."

Will followed her back to the entryway where they stuffed their gear into their packs and hurried into the night. Once they were on the road, their horses picking their way by the first faint hints of sunrise, Diana told him what had happened.

“So he killed the woman he loved for money and now he keeps the body and talks to it at night?” He shook his head. “Son of a bitch doesn't deserve to live.”

They rode in silence as orange sunlight bled into the morning sky.

“If I died before you, you’d make sure I got buried, right?” Diana asked.

“Don’t talk like that.”

“But you would, wouldn’t you? Not with my family in the desert, but on a mountain where the aspen leaves would cover my grave in fall and where the flowers would bloom in spring.”

“You won’t die before me. But sure, if that’s what you want.”

Diana twisted in her saddle and looked over her shoulder, as if their host's haunted past might be following. “I just want to know I’ll end up in a happy place.”

Will tugged at his hat. “This is our happy place. If it’s not, we need to work harder to make it that way.”

“That’s a nice thought, but—”

“Don’t argue," Will said as the morning sun frosted a few high clouds with gold. “This is all there is.”

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Product Review: Laptop Stand

My laptop stand finally arrived last week, after many delays. It looks fantastic and greatly increases my writing location options. I need quiet when I write, and I need to know I won’t be interrupted.

You’d think with no kids I’d have oodles of uninterrupted time on my hands, but my husband is a bit of a pest, bless his heart. If he’s awake, I won’t usually even bother trying to write because sooner rather than later, he’ll have a question or want to tell me something, or start doing something that involves making noise. Luckily for me, he goes to bed relatively early, whereas I’m a night owl. It all works out. And now I have a nifty laptop stand so I can write comfortably in any room in the house.

As for the stand itself, it comes in oak or cherry finish. I got cherry and it’s lovely. It has a part that doesn’t tip, which is perfect for the computer mouse and a beverage (Yogi tea with soy milk is my late-night fave). And the part that the laptop rests on is fully adjustable. Height adjusts to accommodate working on the sofa, in a chair or in bed. Of course, since it’s on castors, it’s easy to move wherever you need it. And it’s so easy to put together that even my husband was able to figure it out! (I’m the mechanically-inclined one in this family, I’m afraid.)

I’ve seen cheaper laptop stands available for as little as $79.99 online and at office supply stores such as Office Max. But you get what you pay for, and I wanted something that looked like real furniture and would blend in with my existing décor.

I’m all ready now for Seventy Days of Sweat!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

World-Building Reference

This week I found a reference somewhere (I don’t remember where) to Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong. I did a little investigating, and it’s a fascinating world-building reference for writers of speculative fiction.

It was razed in 1993, but it was basically a high-rise slum, controlled and modified by its inhabitants and subject to its own laws. People added onto the buildings with no attention to building regulations, they dug wells and built plumbing systems that snaked through the alleyways and were subject to no codes. The homes and businesses had no addresses, yet a postal delivery system was developed and postmen left marks by the doors to help them navigate the warren of shops and residences so the mail could be delivered. There were gangs, stores, schools, and medical facilities, all subject to no control from outside political entities. In fact, medical and dental care were supposedly quite good after the Communist takeover of China. Doctors fleeing to Hong Kong without papers ended up in Kowloon, where no one checked your immigration status.

In sum, Kowloon was both an architectural and social entity that built itself, free of outside control. The solutions the people came up with for day-to-day problems and needs are fascinating and a great jump-start for anyone looking for world-building ideas.

Here are some references to get you going:

Kowloon Walled City (article and photos)
Wikipedia entry
City of Darkness (book)

Starting Soon!

Who's In?

Seventy Days of Sweat

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Grammar Alert!

This is just "hilarious."

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Too "funny" for words!