Friday, December 26, 2008
Sometimes I get a crazy notion and just won't let go, and yesterday that notion was that I would finish, no matter what. It took until 4:00 am, but what the heck, I don't go back to work until January 5. In spite of my earlier worries that I was going to go wildly over my anticipated word count, the draft came in around 93K words. Whew!
I'm not too crazy about the final scenes of the book, but we all know the drill--you can edit crap but you can't edit a blank page. Well, no more blank pages. I'm on to the editing phase!
Overall, this is a pretty clean draft so I'll be needing beta readers sooner rather than later. More on that soon.
For today, I'm just loving my Christmas present to myself--a completed draft!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
“Your friends sure are a lively bunch,” his mother said, scanning his face in concern. “Why were you so mean to them? They obviously think highly of you.”
“The bass player kissed my wife,” Mike said darkly.
“Holiday spirit,” Ricky informed him. Then to his mother he said, “I wasn’t trying to be mean. It’s just that I told them not to go caroling. I don’t want them making any mistakes and getting bad publicity.”
“It seems like good publicity to me,” Joanne said, still glassy-eyed over her encounter with Bo. “We should go see their show.”
“Not on your life,” Mike said. He poured himself a drink. Then in an uncharacteristically generous move, he poured one for Ricky. “Cheers?”
Ricky touched his glass to Mike’s and tried to smile, but there was something in his brother's coolly appraising look that he didn’t like. Something had aroused his suspicion and it wasn’t just Bo giving Joanne a holiday kiss.
While the family settled in front of the TV to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, Ricky sipped his scotch and pondered. Where had the band gone next? Were they keeping out of trouble or were they about to ruin everything he had helped them build since summer? And why did Mike keep looking at him that way? Seeking a distraction, he opened his Christmas stocking. Most of what was inside was typical holiday fare—chocolate and peppermint candies, a snowman magnet for the refrigerator, a packet of almonds, and a silver Christmas coin like the ones Nevin had given the children. It was the envelope, though, that Ricky found most curious. He opened it to find a card with a reindeer and Santa on it, and the words, “Holiday Wishes.” He opened the card and what he found inside left him staring in shock.
Mike was watching him carefully. “What’s the matter, Ricky?”
Deep breaths. It had to be a joke, except the band didn’t kid around when it came to matters like this. More deep breaths.
“Love letter from your cute guitar player?”
“No,” Ricky said. “Just an ordinary Christmas card. And my holiday bonus check.”
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and very best wishes to you and yours, whatever you're celebrating this year!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Spurning his coat, Ricky chased them to the tour bus, which was painted for the occasion with red and white stripes like a peppermint stick. He ignored Calvin, who seemed impatient to get going, and cornered everyone against the bus door in the lightly falling snow. “What the hell was that all about?”
“Christmas cheer,” Kalila told him. “Really, Ricky, you should study up on your culture.”
“But I told you I didn’t want you to go caroling. Please tell me this was a special thing you did just for me.”
Vic sneered. “You’re not that special, human. We already did Jeff Truitt and a couple other music reporters.”
“And we have several more people on our list,” Kalila said. “So we need to get going.”
“What others? This is not acceptable.”
“Oh, Ricky.” Nevin shook his head sadly. “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“We’re conforming to human expectations of behavior,” Bo pointed out. “In case you didn’t notice, I could’ve banged your sister-in-law, but I didn’t. We have things completely under control.”
“That’s because we’ve got snacks on the bus,” Vic said. As if on cue, two blondes in Santa hats opened a window and leaned out, waving and shouting, “Merry Christmas!”
Ricky shook his head. “Jesus Christ.”
Vic adjusted his scarf. “That’s what it’s all about. Excuse me, but one of these young ladies is type O and I need a little refreshment before our next stop.”
He shoved his way past and got onto the bus, with the others following suit. Nevin was the last to go, after giving Ricky a hug and wishing him a Merry Christmas. Ricky watched the tour bus head down the street, then went back into the house, shivering and in need of an egg nog with a lot of extra rum. In fact, screw the egg nog. Just the rum would do.
to be continued...
Monday, December 22, 2008
Ricky sucked in his breath and debated what to do next. “Uh, yeah. This is that big client I was telling you about.” He started to make introductions, but his mother interrupted.
“Ricky, if these are your friends, you need to invite them in.”
“Yeah, it’s cold out,” Adela added, shivering.
He waved the band inside, but grabbed Kalila by the arm. He pulled her aside and muttered in her ear, “Count your blessings that you’re immortal. I could kill you right about now.”
Kalila patted his cheek with a mittened hand. “Merry Christmas to you too, Ricky.”
Ricky introduced everyone, more for his family’s sake than the band’s since they no doubt knew who everyone was already. Then Nevin accepted a cup of hot chocolate and the other band members shed their coats and helped themselves to the scotch. Mike gawked at Kalila in her sexy elf costume, Joanne hovered near Bo, obviously smitten, and Ricky was wondering just how long things could last without a blowup of some kind when Nevin offered to do some magic tricks for the children.
Ricky met his eyes in silent gratitude and urged the family to the sofa to watch. “You’ll love this,” he said, although he had no clue what the fairy had in mind. “He’s very talented.”
Nevin started with some traditional card tricks, then went on to make silver Christmas coins appear in the children’s pockets, in Joanne’s new Coach bag, and behind Mike’s ear. He finished his show by conjuring stockings stuffed with trinkets and candy, which he handed to each family member, including Ricky. Then, while Joanne made cow eyes at Bo, and Mike stared at Kalila’s breasts, the band sang a rousing version of “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with the children singing along. When they were finished, they shook hands with everyone and Bo gave Joanne a kiss while Mike glared and clenched his fists like he wished he could throttle him. They approached Ricky’s mother last.
“You have a terrific son, Mrs. Landon,” Nevin told her. “He’s been such a help to us.”
“He’s the best manager we’ve ever had, and we’re sure you’re very proud of him,” Kalila added.
Ricky tried to catch Kalila’s eye while his mother stammered something about what a good boy he was and how she always knew he had it in him. Then the band wished everyone a good night and trooped outside and down the steps like an entire parade.
to be continued...
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It was Christmas Eve, and for the first time in years, Ricky was enjoying it. His niece and nephew had liked their gifts enough to actually hug him, and Mike and Joanne smoldered with annoyance.
“I hope this didn’t set you back too much,” Joanne said in her catty way as she examined her new Coach bag for evidence that it was a fake.
“This was more than we expected,” Mike added, waving a hand in the direction of his new golf clubs. “Especially when the payments on your new ride must be costing you a pretty penny.”
“Actually, the Lexus is paid for,” Ricky said, relishing the disbelief on their faces. “The insurance is a little high, but it’s within my budget.”
Ricky’s mother leaned toward him. “This is all lovely, dear, and we’re glad you’re doing so well, but we’re a little concerned—” she glanced toward the front door and frowned.
Ricky heard the sound too, and his momentary bewilderment became a sinking feeling.
Adela jumped to her feet. “Carolers?”
“Don’t open that door,” Ricky called after her, but it was too late. Adela flung open the door and there on the doorstep, looking for all the world like ordinary humans in winter coats and scarves, were Nevin and Kalila, harmonizing “Adeste, Fidelis,” while Bo and Vic stood behind them strumming guitars and Lazaro tapped a silver triangle.
Adela and Little Mike clapped their hands and urged “Grandma” to come see. Meanwhile, Ricky came to the door and gave the band the fiercest glare he could manage. It did no good. They finished the song and Bo shouted, “Happy Christmas!”
“It’s ‘Merry Christmas,’” Kalila reminded him. She turned her best smile on Ricky and his family. “You get one more song,” she said. “Do you want traditional or modern?”
Mike looked at Ricky. “You know these people?”
to be continued...
Saturday, December 20, 2008
In addition to the new site, I've got lots of new ideas for my main writer site, so that will likely get a "closed for remodeling" post over the holiday break while I do some mucking around and get ready to launch some new ideas.
Between now and Christmas, I'll be posting excerpts from my draft, so my friends can see how Ricky and his band of demons celebrate the holidays. Enjoy!
* * *
“Uh, Ricky?” Kalila waved a hand to catch his attention. “We have a question for you. Or actually, an idea.”
Ricky was immediately on his guard, but affected an expression of polite interest.
“We were wondering if we could go Christmas caroling.”
Ricky stared in disbelief. “You know what that is, right? Going door to door, singing songs about reindeer and Baby Jesus?”
Kalila shrugged. “Yeah. So?”
“So you’re a demon, pagan, metal band. You don’t think that’s just a little inappropriate?”
“But the songs are so pretty,” Nevin said.
“And it would be good publicity,” Kalila pointed out. “You could find a reporter to do a story about us spreading that holiday cheer stuff.”
“No. I just can’t see a vampire singing ‘Away in a Manger’ while you do guitar riffs in the background.”
“I would take my acoustic guitar,” Kalila said in tones that suggested Ricky wasn’t very smart. “Where would I plug in my amp if I took the Stratocaster door to door?”
“Look,” Ricky said. “I appreciate your creative thinking and your interest in marketing yourselves, but Christmas caroling is just not a good idea. Can you trust me on this?”
Kalila raised her eyebrows and exchanged a look with the other band members, but her words were acquiescent. “Of course we trust you, Ricky.” She picked up her guitar. “We’ve been making some changes to ‘Carrion Road.’ Want to hear?”
Thursday, December 11, 2008
We shall see. I can be patient, since the draft isn't even done yet and I don't have a website or even a domain name for the project. I've got a lot of ideas for how to market this, though, using the university to build a readership. College students are a great target audience for this type of story and I've got all of Houston's biggest campuses within a five mile radius, as well as the indie bookstores and guitar/drum shops. Catchy artwork and a little perseverance ought to reap rewards.
And a completed, edited, beta-read, re-edited-until-it-hurts novel. Gotta get on that and quit dilly-dallying over my tea at night.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I'm having a lot of fun with this novel and I'm looking forward to having something I can share!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Was there anything more depressing than a holiday on the road? Ricky switched through the TV channels. He should be at home having Thanksgiving with his mother, not at the Ambassador Suites hotel, or wherever the hell he was. After so many weeks of touring, it was all running together.
On the television, an aggressively cheerful woman was basting a turkey. She reminded him of his sister-in-law, Joanne. At least he wasn’t having to deal with her today. Small blessings. He turned off the TV and stretched. It was early for the band to be awake, but he had no friends in this town and any companionship was better than none.
The door to the band’s suite opened before he could knock, and Calvin the werewolf blocked his way. “They’re busy, human.”
Ricky tried to peer around him. “What are they doing?” From this vantage he could see Kalila and Nevin on the sofa, huddled over a book.
“It’s a surprise.”
This wasn’t good. Ricky had been managing the band since summer and they had yet to come up with a surprise that wasn’t illegal, immoral, or both. He tried to shove his way into the room, but Calvin tossed him into the hall with ease. Kalila noticed and came to the door with a curt order for the werewolf to “heel.”
She leaned against the doorframe and watched Ricky get to his feet. “Why aren’t you attending to human things? It’s a holiday for you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s a family holiday. There’s no “human things” for me to attend to out here on the road.”
“Oh. Well, don’t blame us for your troubles.” She looked over her shoulder at Nevin. “Should we let him in?”
“Of course. We’re the only family he has today.”
“That’s pathetic.” Kalila waved Ricky into their suite. “No sentimentality, okay? We’re not a substitute for whatever you would’ve done at home—caroling, hunting for colored eggs, or whatever.”
“I think you’ve got the holidays mixed up.” Ricky went to move Kalila’s book so he could sit on the sofa, but it vanished in his hand before he could get a look at the title.
“None of your business,” she said.
“That wasn’t very nice,” Nevin told her. Then he gave Ricky a childlike smile. “So is there anything in particular you’d like to do today?”
“No, I just wanted some company.”
The fairy nodded wisely. “It seems to be a common sentiment among your kind.” He indicated the closed door to the back of the suite. “Arlinda from the front desk felt the same way. Bo is helping her out.”
Ricky had already noticed the sound of creaking bedsprings. “I thought I told him to leave the hotel staff alone.”
Kalila sank into an upholstered chair and dangled her long legs over the armrest. “He was after a cute girl at the pool until he found out she was underage. He thought you’d be more upset about that than the desk clerk. And you know what Bo is like if he goes too long without feeding.”
With a small shudder Ricky remembered the times the bass player had tried to back him into a corner for a quickie. Bo’s preference was human females, but when an incubus got hungry enough, anything from a human male to a gazelle would do.
“So tell me about this holiday of yours,” Kalila went on, in a tone so artlessly casual that Ricky was immediately on his guard. “It has something to do with football and Pilgrims, right?”
“Not exactly.” Ricky tried his best to explain the concept of Thanksgiving. “It’s about being grateful for the good things that have happened in the year. It’s about sharing as a way of showing thanks for your blessings.”
While Kalila pondered this, Ricky looked around. “So where are Vic and Lazaro? Sleeping?”
“They had an errand to take care of.”
Ricky sat up in alarm. “What kind of errand?”
“Don’t worry. They wore their hats and ski masks.”
That the vampire and zombie were out in daytime was the least of Ricky’s worries. “The sun isn’t what scares me. I want to know where they went. The blood bank? The morgue? How am I supposed to keep you guys out of trouble when you go doing crazy demon shit all the time?”
“You worry too much.” Kalila stood up. “And you’re starting to bore me.” She exchanged a look with Nevin, who took Ricky by the elbow and tried to pull him toward the door.
“Wouldn’t you like to go back to your room?” Nevin said. “You’ll feel much better after a nap.”
“I’m not sleepy. I need to find out what Vic and Lazaro are doing so I can make them stop. I need for Bo to quit banging the hotel staff and start acting like a civilized creature. I need—”
“Oh, Ricky. You’re overwrought by all this silly holiday business.” Before Ricky could answer, Nevin tossed a handful of pink glitter in his face, making sure to catch him when he fell.
* * *
Ricky awoke in his own bed, comfortable and his mind at ease. The sunlight filtered through the half-open curtains at a low angle that made him wonder if it was morning or evening. He spent a few minutes trying to piece together how he had gotten here. Oh, yes. Fairy magic. He relaxed, knowing he would be pissed about it later, but there was no point trying to drum up negative emotions until the effects wore off. What the hell was he in band management for when he could make a fortune selling Nevin’s fairy potions?
A sound of whispered argument from the front room caught his attention. Was it a robbery? Some kind of mischief from the band of washed-up deities that had kidnapped the tour manager, leaving Ricky to handle the tour himself? Oddly, he felt no sense of alarm. Damn Nevin and his stupid spells.
An unmistakable aroma began filling the room. At first Ricky thought his senses were deceiving him, but then his stomach rumbled and he decided that whatever the danger on the other side of the door, it was one that included food and should be investigated. He got out of bed and quietly opened the door.
White tablecloth. Candles. Nevin arranging flowers in a vase. In the kitchenette, Kalila was spooning things onto a plate while Vic leaned against the counter watching in disgust. Bo was on the sofa playing with the TV remote and Lazaro sat in an upholstered chair, tapping a soft rhythm on his knee with a pair of sticks. Overseeing from the doorway was Calvin, gnawing a turkey bone.
Ricky stepped into the room and everyone stopped what they were doing. Kalila turned to Nevin with a frown. “He’s not supposed to be up yet, is he?”
Nevin shrugged. “Close enough.”
“I suppose.” She set a plate of food on the table. “Happy Thanksgiving, human.” When Ricky didn’t answer right away, she glanced at the plate in concern. “We got it right, didn’t we? “Turkey, stuffing, potatoes …”
“And I found us a football game to watch,” Bo said.
“I thought you only watched porn,” Ricky said.
The incubus set the remote aside. “I can make sacrifices. Enjoy your dinner.”
“With your new family,” Nevin added. He pointed to his plate of green beans. “I can join you, right?”
“You can all join me.”
“Food’s not bloody enough,” Vic said. “But thanks.”
“No. Thank you. You guys—”
“Stop that,” Kalila said. “No weird human emotions.”
Ricky sat down. “But it doesn’t work like that. This is a day for being grateful for food, friends, family, and all the other good things in our lives.”
“Or our deaths,” Lazaro reminded him.
“Right. For whatever we have that we like.”
Nevin set down his plate and gave Ricky a hug. “And we like you.”
“That’s pushing it a bit, glitter boy,” Vic said
Kalila crossed her arms and looked at Ricky in annoyance. “So are you going to eat, or what? I did a lot of research on that meal to get it to your silly human standards.”
“And I’m grateful for it,” Ricky told her, picking up a fork. “Even if you are a bitchy genie.”
“I’m a what?”
“And I’m grateful for you, too.”
Kalila’s face changed slightly. “Are you really?”
“Yeah.” He scooted over and patted the place beside him on the sofa. “Want to join me?”
Their eyes met and Ricky held his breath. The only thing Kalila hated more than being disrespected was being liked. Had he gone too far?
She ran a nervous hand through her hair. “I guess there would be no harm in it.” She sat down beside him, as cautiously as if Ricky might be dangerous.
Bo grinned. “What’s the matter, djinn? He’s the only one in this room who doesn’t bite.”
Kalila ignored him and pretended great interest in Ricky’s food. “So I got it right? The cranberries and everything?”
“It’s perfect Kalila. Thank you.”
She nodded in cool satisfaction. “You’ve done a lot for us. It was the least we could do.” She hesitated, then gave him a quick, embarrassed hug. “Happy Thanksgiving…friend.”
Sunday, November 16, 2008
When my grandmother was still alive, Dan and I would make an annual summer pilgrimage to Connecticut to visit her. Since everything in New England is so close, we always combined the trip with other fun adventures, including the annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont. We had a favorite rural B&B we stayed at, and after a few years of visits, we felt quite at home there.
One of our favorite things to do in the evening was make tea and sit in chairs on the front lawn, looking at the night sky. There were no street lights or city lights to dim the vast expanse of stars, and it was so quiet that we could hear the wind in the pines and the rushing water of the brook up the road. It was a peaceful way to end our busy days before turning in for the night.
One evening we saw a pair of headlights make their way slowly up the country road. We watched in that lazy way one watches everything in the country. To our surprise, the van pulled to the side of the road right in front of us and a man rolled down the window. In broken English with an unmistakable Spanish accent, he asked directions.
Now, usually tourists like us are the worst people you can ask directions from because they spend most of their time lost, too. But this was our third summer in the area and Dan did, in fact, know the place the occupants of the van were trying to go. Since we were from Texas and bilingual, we understood without having to ask that we would only get them lost again if we gave the men directions in English. As it turned out, they were natives of Ecuador, on their way to the annual Pow-Wow in one of the nearby towns. We were impressed that they had come so far. We explained in Spanish how to get to their campground, wished them well, and watched them drive away into the night.
As we went back to our tea, Dan and I pondered the strange ways the universe works. What were the odds that a group of Spanish-dominant South American natives should become lost on a rural road in Vermont at night and happen across a pair of bilingual Texan tourists who just happened to know how to get them where they needed to go and could explain it in their own language? Strangers to each other and all of us far from home, we found each other, anyway. Sometimes the universe gives us exactly what we need, that lucky little break, just when we least expect it.
We sipped our tea and returned to admiring the velvet sky and its infinite span of stars. We were no longer strangers here. We were home.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Somehow, I can't get my husband completely on board with this. He knows that once I've made my evening tea and shut the door at night, I'm not to be disturbed. But I like to use my Sunday morning to read through what I wrote the night before and maybe write a little more. For some reason though, Dan doesn't get it that the previous night's "don't disturb" rules apply to morning writing time as well.
And so I get pestered with questions, bits of cheerful morning song, requests for things to pick up at the store when I go run errands later, and tales of what the cat or bunny are up to, and although it's always a lovely thing to have one's spouse in a happy and sharing mood, there are times when it's just aggravating as all hell. I read the same three paragraphs over and over, unable to get the full effect (or just check if there even is an effect) because of the pestering.
"Have you seen my running shoes?"
"Where's the sugar?"
"Does this coffee cup look clean?"
"Come see what the bunny is doing. He's so cute!"
Oh well. There's always tonight for writing.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
And next, it looks like Every Day Fiction is looking for slush pile readers. Here's the post where they're asking for volunteers. It sounds like it could be a good experiene and a way to make new contacts in the online fiction community, so if anyone has the time, get in touch with them and let them know!
Happy reading and writing, everyone!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Danica squinted at the computer screen. The message asked if it would it be a costume party. What a stupid question. Just because her birthday fell near Halloween didn’t mean...
With a smirk, she typed the non-answer, “I’m sure whatever costume you have on now will be perfect.”
A tap at the window made her glance toward the door of her bedroom. It was locked, thank goodness. Her father would kill her if—
Behind her, Danny parted the curtains and dropped into the room. “You didn’t answer my text.”
Danica stood up. “I wasn’t sure what to say. Besides, I’ve been busy answering stupid questions like whether or not people should wear costumes to my party. Hello, it says right on the invitation, ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ not ‘Halloween.’”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He threw himself into her vacated computer chair. “Where’s my invitation?”
Danica gazed at him in silence for a moment, not comprehending. “What do you mean where’s your invitation? You don’t need one. It’s a given.”
“If it’s a given, why didn’t you give me one? It’s bad enough you’re doing this lame girly thing on our birthday, but—” he grabbed the box on her desk that contained the unused cards. “The least you could’ve done is invite me.”
“But you’re family.”
“You sent one to Aunt Beth.”
“She lives in Chicago and probably won’t come, anyway.”
“Then why’d you bother?”
“Because it’s what I was supposed to do.”
“Then why didn’t you give one to Mom? It isn’t like she can’t come.”
“That would be stupid. Besides—” she snatched the box from his hand. “You and she promised to help decorate, so you’re already coming. Invitations are for people who don’t know all the details.”
Danny sighed and leaned back in the chair, folding his arms across his chest. “You just don’t want me there. You think you’re too grown up to have your parties with me any more. You want to be all feminine, and next thing I know, you’ll quit going to the range with me, you’ll quit taking aikido classes, and then I’ll have to do all those things alone.” Before she could protest, he added, “Don’t think I don’t know you’re changing. You even bought a dress.”
“Have you been snooping in my closet again?”
“Only when you’re not around.”
“Well, duh. When else are you going to do it?” She tried to catch his eye but he was busy frowning at a piece of lint on the carpet. “I totally expected you to come to my party. I mean, sort of.” When he shot her a look from under his brows, she added, “It’s just I know you’re already laughing at me for doing this, so I thought if I sent you an invitation, you’d tell me I was being stupid. I mean, why go to all that trouble just—”
“Just for me.” Danny got to his feet and began stalking toward the window. “Thanks a lot.”
Danica lunged after him and caught him by the sleeve. “Stop it. You know that’s not what I meant.”
“It’s what you were going to say, though. Isn’t it?” He jerked his arm out of her grasp and launched himself out the window with the noiseless grace of a cat.
Danica made to go after him, but then reconsidered. This wasn’t a mood she could jolly him out of in a matter of minutes. She would have to let it run its course.
She sank back into her computer chair, still holding the box of invitations. Inspired, she picked up a ball point and addressed one of the envelopes in neat block letters. On the invitation itself she crossed out some words, added others, and on the inside where she was supposed to note the date and time, she wrote, “Forever.” Then she slipped the card into the envelope and licked the gummed flap closed. Would he want to see the silly thing stamped and postmarked, too? She would sleep on that and decide in the morning.
In the meantime, another message had popped up in the lower corner of her computer screen. With a sigh, Danica set the invitation aside and began to type. “The costume you’re wearing now will be just fine.”
Friday, September 19, 2008
Last night was the first time I could write any fiction at all, and I had to force myself to do it. I ended up writing a couple pages of a light, completely non-disaster novel I'm toying with. It felt good to get some writing done, even if it wasn't up to par.
Perhaps the most interesting outcome of this crisis has been the way my writing helped my real life in tangible ways. In researching my novels I've learned a lot about food storage and living without electricity. After the debacle that was Katrina, I moved my personal hurricane preparations into high gear, and it was a real sanity-saver to have a plan and be able to put that plan into action with no insurmountable missteps.
I've done a lot of writing this week, but it's mostly been of the factual variety. I've been journaling and working on detailed Lessons Learned reports to share later on my other blog for people who need ideas for their own disaster prep. Since I still don't have internet at home, getting such things posted will happen as time permits.
So I haven't been writing much fiction lately. My life has been edging uncomfortably close to my fictional scenarios, and reality has been as much as I can deal with. Last night was a start, though. I never wanted to live the lives of my characters, but more than ever before, the fiction can stay on the page, as far as I'm concerned.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
“Close your eyes, pray to La Señora, then toss in your coin. Like this.” Sachi’s small iron coin splashed and made ripples across the surface of the pool.
“I didn’t hear you wish for anything,” Boeing said.
Sachi opened her eyes and sighed as if he were an ignorant child instead of one of their unit’s best marksmen. “If you say it out loud, it won’t come true.”
Diana nodded, hoping to forestall an argument. “I’ve heard that, too. But—” she glanced around, taking in the abandoned and partially-melted adobe church and its dusty yard bordered by the remnants of a wall. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Kind of a dump for someplace a miracle occurred,” Will added. “If it was so important, you’d think the locals would keep it up better.”
Coyote went to the edge of the wishing pool and peered into the water. “Lots of stuff down there.” He looked around like Diana had done, then dug in his pocket. “All that wishing must not have done any good. But what the hell.” He dropped in a coin and watched it sink to the bottom.
“Okay,” Will sighed. He dropped in his coin then made a furtive glance at Diana before closing his eyes and making his wish.
Diana went next, standing a long time with her eyes squeezed shut, her lips moving in silent prayer.
When she was done, Coyote laughed. “That was some wish.”
“I want a lot of things. But none of them are for me, so that makes it okay, right?” She looked to Sachi for confirmation.
While Sachi hesitated, unsure as to the rule on asking La Señora for more than one miracle, Boeing shook his head. “You’re all crazy. Wasting your money on a bunch of superstitious bullshit.”
“It’s not superstition,” Sachi said. “It’s the honest truth that right here a spring appeared when a little boy prayed to La Señora for water to help his village through a drought.”
“A fairy tale.”
“At least it’s not as crazy as the stories the older people tell us about airplanes and rockets that went to the moon.”
“But there were witnesses for those things,” Boeing reminded her. “And there’s evidence you can go look at in books and airplane graveyards.”
“There were witnesses at this church too,” Sachi sniffed. She pointed at the pool. “And evidence.”
Boeing opened his mouth to say something, but Will cut him off. “Come on, man. Humor her.”
Boeing fumbled in a pocket, approached the pool and dropped something in.
Sachi peered over the edge and frowned. “You’re not supposed to use wooden scrip. It’s going to float there forever.”
“You didn’t say what it had to be made of. Quit changing the rules.”
Diana put a hand on Sachi’s arm. “It’s okay. I’m sure it’s all the same to La Señora. Let’s go back. We’ve been gone too long as it is.”
As they rode their horses back to camp, they speculated about their upcoming assignment. The latest dispatch from their spies had indicated a new attack was imminent, with troops waiting in camps along the Mexican border and supplies arriving daily. Sabotage and diversion would be needed to keep the Mexicans busy until their own army could reach the area. It would be a dangerous job with a high potential for casualties and although they tried to talk casually about the matter, there was no mistaking the nervous anticipation that lay beneath their words. Would the wars ever end?
When they arrived at base they noticed an extra flurry of activity around the camp kitchen. Grateful for the distraction from their worries, they hurried to put their horses away so they could investigate.
“Cabrito?” Diana asked in wonderment. She had been anticipating yet another dull meal of nopales and boiled jerky, or maybe corn atole, not shanks of fresh goat sizzling on spits over the fire.
Paloma smiled and shrugged. “It wandered into camp a couple hours ago. It was healthy and had no markings indicating it belonged to anyone.”
Sachi wandered over and nodded sagely. “La Señora sent it.”
Diana pursed her lips in annoyance. Stray goats weren’t unusual. She was tempted to point this out, but just then the wind shifted and the scent of roasting meat filled her nostrils. Her stomach rumbled. The goat was welcome, no matter who sent it. It might not be a miracle, but it was something.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Dark above. Dark below. The ring of boots on metal. Was it really his boots? Jay stopped and listened. Maybe the problem was his ears. Or his feet. He continued walking.
The clouds parted and the moon appeared. The water below sparkled—something to dive into and get lost in.
He leaned over the railing as the moon vanished again behind a cloud. Now the water was dark like the sky, but it was still there, waiting for him. Jump and it would all be over. No more pills and crazy raids he only half-remembered. No more waking up with bloody hands and patches of memory that felt like someone else’s nightmare. The water would consume him, pull him under, and he would become…what?
He took a step back and turned around, slamming into a pole he hadn’t noticed in the darkness. It didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt if you took enough pills and drank enough gin. Or vodka. Or whatever the group had managed to steal that day.
Sometimes it was the girls who brought him things. They asked him for food and protection from other boys. Then they would laugh as if the pandemic was a joke, and for awhile the world seemed right again, until he woke up with missing time and a girl he barely knew lying against his naked skin as if she owned him. That was what Trina had done, Trina who was supposed to be his friend’s girl. Oddly, there had never been a fight or angry word about the matter. And now there was nothing to fight over any more.
Jay moved back to the railing. No moon, no water, only an empty pit of blackness. But of course the water was down there. It had been there before, hadn't it? Was he in the right place? He frowned, wishing he hadn’t taken so goddamn many pills.
But now he had an idea. Wouldn’t the overpass be better? In the water, he might survive, but surely not if he leaped off the overpass. Yes, that was the better way to do it. He stepped away from the railing again, felt the world tip and fell to his knees, fumbling for something to grab onto.
He pulled himself up against a lamp post, breathing hard. He couldn’t get to the freeway in this condition. Not unless he crawled. In his present state, the idea didn’t seem preposterous. Crawling was safe. Hard to trip and fall that way. But wasn’t falling what he was after? Yes, of course. But one couldn’t fall just anywhere. It had to be from someplace high. He needed to smash his bones and break his skull so all the ugly memories would bleed out, leaving his body free and his mind pure.
Water wouldn’t do that. He would have to find a way to get to the overpass. But as he let go the light post, his knees buckled and he sank to the iron grate of the pedestrian walkway.
Water would have to do.
He dragged himself to the railing and pulled himself up. The dark water shimmered below, waiting.
Then a soft footstep beside him. A quiet voice. Unalarming. “Jay?”
He squinted at the boy in the pale light. Thin, about his own age, with large soulful eyes that looked like they could swallow a person whole. Sort of like the river.
“It is you, isn’t it? They tried to tell me it wasn’t, but—”
The boy put a hand on his arm. “You know who I am, right? Your cousin Paul.”
Jay grunted and moved away, trying to shake off Paul’s grip. “Of course I know,” he lied. As if he could recognize anyone in the dark and after so many pills. What had they been, anyway? Pharmacy stock, that was all he knew.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“Dumb thing to do.”
“But you’re my only family and I care about you.”
“That’s because you’re stupid. I'm a Kevork now.”
“God's not stupid, and he loves you.”
“Not after what I’ve done.”
“If you’re truly sorry, he’ll forgive you.”
“There’s things I've done with the Kevorks that won’t get forgiven. Go back to your church group, or whoever it is you’ve been hanging out with, and read your fucking Bible.” He jerked his arm from Paul’s grip and moved a few steps away, the better to figure out how he was going to get over the railing.
Paul watched in silence as Jay struggled to swing a leg over the rail. “You know,” he said, “You could always try this another day.”
“Don’t give me that shit. You think if I sober up I won’t want it any more.”
“I promise if you still want to try tomorrow, I won’t stop you.” When Jay didn’t answer, he waved a hand in irritation. “Come on—what kind of lame suicide attempt is this? You can’t even do it in the condition you’re in. I always thought if there was something stupid to be done, you of all people could get it right.”
Jay leaned against the railing and looked at him, trying to understand this new tactic. The moon was brighter now and he could see the shadows and angles of his cousin’s face. He was thinner than he remembered, and seemed older. “You don’t get it, do you? It’s over—us, civilization, even your precious God.” He took a wobbly step toward him. “Do you have any idea how many people I’ve killed?” When Paul hesitated, he laughed, a mirthless sound. “Neither do I.” He turned back to the railing and tried again to hoist a leg over it.
“But if you die, how will you make things right?”
“You can’t do anything for the dead.”
“You could do something for the living. You used to like to help people.”
“I love you.”
Jay looked at him, then turned away, unable to bear the kindness in Paul’s eyes. “I don’t deserve it.”
“We don’t always get what we deserve.”
“Sometimes God gives us better, for no reason at all.” Paul held out his hand. “Come on, man. The bridge will still be here in the morning.”
Jay took a step toward him, stumbled, and felt Paul catch him in his arms. “I want to go to the overpass.”
“How about in the morning?”
“I don’t know—”
“It’s okay. You don't have to.”
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Johnny wound the last bit of tape around the boy’s finger, securing the splint in place. “You’ll need to make sure this doesn’t get wet,” he said. “Do you have any rubber gloves or something like that?”
“My mom used to wear rubber gloves to wash the dishes.” The boy frowned. “But I don’t live there any more. And I don’t want to go back.”
Johnny recognized the look in the boy’s eyes. He had seen it a lot since the pandemic. Children who lost their families often couldn’t bear the memories associated with home. Sometimes it was more than just memories that sent them into the streets looking for new homes and new friendships. Many people had died where they fell ill, with no one to take them to a hospital or remove the body for burial afterwards.
With a small sigh, Johnny rummaged in a drawer and produced two latex gloves from his dwindling stash. “One for now, one for later if the first one gets torn. But be careful with these. And if you end up not needing the second one, bring it back.”
Johnny pulled a glove over the boy’s hand. The child’s fingers were so small that the latex fit neatly over the splint and Johnny had to secure the glove at the wrist with a rubber band. “You’re all set. How do you want to pay for this?”
“I’ve got to eat too, you know. Food, water, batteries…what do you have?”
The boy stared with round eyes. “Nothing. I’m hungry, too.”
This had been happening a lot lately. When Johnny had first set himself up in his mother’s old medical clinic, his young patients had been eager to pay. They had taken it as a given that no doctor would work for free, even one who was just shy of fifteen and working out of what he could read from books and remember from dinner table conversations. But Johnny had been too generous. He couldn’t bear to send an ill or injured child away just because he or she had nothing to offer. That wasn’t how he had been raised.
But things were different now. Supplies were becoming harder to find, more children needed his help, and now there was a violent new tribe on the scene, breaking into clinics and pharmacies, taking drugs for their own use and for barter. The Pharms had harassed Doc twice already and they had tied up supplies of many of the pain-killers and antibiotics he needed to do his work. Even if he could live off air like a Tillandsia plant, he still needed payment in order to barter with the Pharms.
Well, what was he going to do, break the boy’s finger again? “Go on,” he said. “Pay me when you can. But tell your friends I don’t work for free.”
The boy thanked him and hurried out the door, as if afraid Johnny might change his mind.
Johnny began tidying the room for the next patient, putting instruments and supplies back in their proper places, checking supplies, and wiping surfaces with bleach. He was writing in his notebook where he kept track of all his patients, treatments, and supplies, when a shadow in the doorway caught his attention.
The serious young man with the pistol on his hip didn’t look sick. Neither did the two armed boys behind him. Johnny jumped to his feet. “I’m not ready for my next patient, but if you’ll take a seat in the waiting room—”
“I’m not a patient.” The young man moved into the small room as if he owned it and stood assessing with critical eyes.
“Look, if you’re with the Pharms—”
“Nah.” He waved a hand. “My name is Reymundo Guzman Morales, but you can call me Mundo. I’m leader of the Regents and I need a house call. Are you the doctor?”
Johnny hesitated. Weren’t the Regents that group of kids who had taken over the Regency Hotel? He couldn’t recall what he had heard about them, but if it was something bad he surely would’ve remembered it. And they wanted a house call?
“I don’t do house calls. Why can’t you bring your patient here?”
“Too dangerous.” When Johnny gave him a skeptical look over the tops of his glasses, Mundo added, “It’s a pregnant girl, and I don’t want her out on the streets where she might get hurt.”
“I don’t know anything about pregnancy. Sorry.”
Mundo sighed and a note of vulnerability crept into his voice. “Look, Doc, we’ve got goods. We can pay.”
Johnny scanned Mundo’s face as he considered.
“Please?” Mundo ran a hand through his hair and looked at the ground. “Don’t make me have to kidnap you. I want my kid born healthy. Just tell me what you want.”
Now Johnny understood and for a moment he forgot that he didn’t know a thing about babies and had only the sketchiest understanding of female anatomy. This was an opportunity. A tribal leader with goods and armed guards needed him and was willing to let him name his price. “I need supplies,” Johnny said. “And protection from the Pharms. Every time I find a new source of meds, they show up and take them. Give me barter goods and a guard, and I’ll—”
To his surprise, Mundo shook his head. “I haven’t got enough guards to spare. The Regency Hotel is huge, or haven’t you ever been there? I can’t spare anyone to hang around here waiting to shoot a Pharm.”
“I can’t help you, then.”
The guards behind Mundo shuffled their feet, while Mundo sized Johnny up through narrowed eyes. “What are you really after, Doc? If you just want to practice medicine in peace, I can set you up in one of our ballrooms. You’ll have food, supplies from our forage runs, and guard protection twenty-four-seven.” When Johnny hesitated, he added, “You’re not particularly attached to this place, are you?”
Johnny looked around. He knew each wall chart, supply cabinet, and treatment room they were his own. Even the coffee-stained china cups in the break room were as familiar as his own name. He had been brought here as a baby so his mother could show him off to her co-workers. He had come here as a toddler and colored quietly under the receptionist’s watchful eye when his mother couldn’t get day care. He had listened to all the nurse and patient chatter, then quizzed his mother and father at the dinner table, always wanting to know more. How did antibiotics work? Why do you splint broken fingers but not broken toes? Johnny wanted to know it all and he forgot little. Yes, he was attached to this place. But he remembered the boy he had treated a few minutes ago and brought himself back to reality. There was something else his parents taught him about medicine, and it was more important than a mere building.
Johnny lifted his chin. “If you want me for a private physician, forget it. Go on and shoot me, if that’s what you think you need to do. But if you’re offering me a real clinic where I can treat anyone who needs me, I’ll do it.”
A smile broke over Mundo’s face and he stuck out his hand. “It’s a deal.”
They shook on it and discussed the particulars of what Johnny, who Mundo insisted on calling “Doc,” would need. They agreed on a moving date, and then with a clatter of boots on the hard stone floors, Mundo and his guards left.
In the silence that followed, Johnny looked around. Nothing had changed, yet everything had. He picked up his pen and notebook, but didn’t know what to write. He ran his hand across a stack of brochures about diabetes and colitis, but couldn’t think what to do with them. He contemplated a chart of the major muscle groups. That would be useful. He would need to take that with him.
At a small sound in the doorway, Johnny looked up in alarm. A girl with dirty feet and ragged braids stared at him, then coughed again. “Are you—?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “I’m the doctor.”
“I can’t—I mean, I don’t have—” she held out her empty hands.
“It’s okay,” Johnny told her. “I’ve got a patron now. No one needs to pay me any more.”
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
In other news, I got the trade paperback (6 x 9) version of Steal Tomorrow finished. The best I could do on price was $10.50, which is cost plus a few pennies to make a nice round number.
Chapter Two begins bright and early tomorrow morning, so be sure to stop by the blog and read!
May walked down the city street carrying two empty gallon jugs and trying to reconcile the evidence of her eyes and nose with what her brain still struggled to acknowledge. They were all dead—not just her parents, tutors and professors, but all the adults, from newscasters and bank presidents to hedge-trimmers and street musicians. The ones who died first got graves. Later, the dead were thrown into pits. The last of them still lay in the streets and buildings where they fell, hence the smell that May tried to counter by wearing a perfume-soaked scarf over her face. It helped a little.
She saw a few kids hawking bottles of water on a street corner, but although she was tempted, she continued on. Two blocks ahead was a park. The turf had been dug up for burial pits and a broad open area showed scorch marks from an attempt at mass cremation, but what May was after was the water. She walked the stone path to the canoe launch and stooped to fill her gallon jugs with river water.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
May looked around, nearly dropping one of her water jugs. The boy looked to be about twelve and although he was dirty, there was nothing about him that suggested danger.
“Everyone who drinks that water gets sick,” the boy went on. “Sometimes they die. It’s because of all the dead people.”
May turned away in annoyance and went back to filling her jugs. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Shut up and go away.” May capped the jugs, refusing to look up. Ignorant child. Of course the river water would make a person sick if they didn’t properly treat it. But she was a chemist and the daughter of chemists. She went to college at sixteen and would’ve been in her third semester if not for the pandemic. She knew what to do to keep from getting sick off the water.
It occurred to her that it might be a good thing to share her knowledge with the boy. What would it hurt to explain how to filter the water, then distill or pasteurize it? She got to her feet and looked around, but he was gone. Stupid kid.
As she walked back to the room she was living in over a restaurant, she found herself unable to shake the incident at the river. What was she living for? Sure, she knew how to survive. Science had taught her a lot of useful things. But if she wasn’t going to teach others, what was the purpose of her own life?
She had the skills to put together a cocktail that would kill her quickly and with relatively little pain. Perhaps that was the best thing. It was either that or make herself useful to the other survivors, and she had spent her entire life doing what other people wanted. Child science prodigy May Ellison, credit to her parents and teachers, but really just a friendless freak who never got to do what she wanted to do.
A pack of dogs ran past, chased by children wielding baseball bats. A hunting party. Well, good luck to them. May paused so they could go by but as she resumed walking, something felt wrong. Something smooth was embedded in the sole of her shoe and she muttered a curse and stopped to remove it. The glass shard was bottle-green and caught the afternoon sunlight as she held it in her fingers.
A flicker of memory stirred. Mosaics at the art museum. Stained glass in the church windows. The glitter of fanciful costume jewelry on the necks and arms of the girls at her high school—girls her parents wouldn’t let her be friends with because she was so much younger and needed to study, study, study to win a scholarship to Harvard. She had spent all those hours poring over books and mixing chemicals in the lab when what she really wanted was to surround herself with bright, colorful things that sparkled.
May looked around the filthy streets, ignoring the curious stares of a group of boys sitting on the curb, passing a bottle back and forth. The glass of the bottle was brown and would probably sparkle too, once its contents were drained. She could smash the bottle, scoop up the glass, and…what?
What indeed? Who was there to tell her not to take the ugly, broken shards of civilization at her feet and make something of beauty? The road was littered with clear glass, blue glass, red and amber bits of plastic, and who knew what else? It was hers for the taking, and to hell with her parents’ goal of seeing her in a lab. They were dead, anyway, and so were all their dreams.
May dropped the shard of green glass in her pocket and picked up her water jugs, surprised that they felt lighter now. In fact, her whole body felt made of feathers and her heart fluttered with excitement. There had been a time when she thought she might have to wait half a lifetime to realize her own dreams, but who was to stop her now? She would go home and distill her water, and tomorrow she would begin scavenging art materials on the city streets. Her life would not be long—she was infected with Telo just like everyone else. But at least her life was finally her own.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Cassie slipped from under the blankets and went to the window. She and Leila had hung quilts over the curtain rods the night before, hoping to keep some of the chill at bay, but she wasn’t sure it had done much good. She pulled a corner of the quilt aside and squinted at the pale winter light.
“Wake up,” she told Leila, without moving from the window.
Leila burrowed deeper under the covers. “You go. I’ll stay here where it’s warm.”
“We have to go together,” Cassie reminded her. “Safety in numbers.”
Leila pulled the blankets away from her face but made no move to get up. “Can’t we eat MREs today? Do we always have to go out foraging?”
Cassie folded the window covering back so she would have enough light to dress. Dressing was a relative term. Without gas or electrical service since the die-off, every place was cold and getting dressed to go out meant layering more clothes on top of what one already had on. She picked up a sweater lying across the back of a chair and pulled it on over the one she was wearing. “We agreed to the rules together, remember? Forage every day we can and save our food for the days we can’t.”
Grumbling, Leila got out of bed and reached for her coat. “Sometimes I think the dead people have it easy.”
“Don’t talk like that.” Cassie pulled on a jacket and fleece cap. “We have to keep trying.”
“For what? We’re infected. We’ll be dead in a year or two and in the meantime we go around eating bad food, trying not to get raped or beat up by a gang, and being cold and dirty in the meantime.”
“Maybe you’re dirty, but I’m not.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you?” Leila went to the dresser and fumbled among the clutter for her gloves. “Like hell I’m going to get wet when it’s freezing out.”
“I offered you the no-rinse camp soap.”
“It’s lavender. And it smells better than you.”
Leila reached for her hat and tugged it on over her hair. “What’s got into you today?”
“I’m sorry.” Cassie rubbed her face. “I didn’t sleep too good. And I’m hungry.”
“I told you we should eat the MREs.” When Cassie didn’t answer, Leila shoved her hands in her pockets. “Well, I’m ready.”
Cassie grabbed her pepper spray, a few packs of cigarettes for trade, and a ring of keys, ignoring Leila’s sneer as she locked the door on their way out.
“If someone wants in, they’ll just break a window.”
“I know,” Cassie said, dropping the keys in her pocket. “But at least if someone wants to rob us, they’ll have to work for it.”
Leila shrugged and the girls headed down the sidewalk.
“Any ideas for where to forage today?” Cassie asked.
“I thought you had a plan.”
“The townhouses on Wilson Street?”
“They burned down.”
“Not all of them.” When Cassie didn’t get a reply, she said, “Okay, how about Wal-Mart? I know it burned, but those kids in Jason’s gang said it was becoming an open-air market.”
“Like I’d trust anything Jason and his friends would say.”
Cassie looked at her askance. Jason Tibbs had played football for their high school varsity team and had been nice to Leila their junior year, leading her to think he really liked her. “Just because he only wanted to copy off you in calculus doesn’t mean he’s dishonest about everything.”
“Whatever.” Leila scowled and looked away. “Wal-mart is as good as any other idea. Let’s go.”
Getting to the nearest Wal-Mart required leaving the neighborhood and following Ingall Road to the freeway. Ingall had a small strip center with a grocery store, a drug store, a dry cleaner’s, and hair cutting salon. This was where their mothers had shopped when they had no need to drive to the larger, better-stocked stores a few miles away. The girls had been here a few times since the pandemic and had no expectation that anything was different now. Nevertheless, the looked at the ransacked shops, broken windows, and graffiti with dismay.
“Hard to believe—” Cassie began, then cut herself off. Comparing the present to the past only made things worse.
When they got to the freeway feeder road, a dog leaped from behind an abandoned car, snarling. There had been a time not very long ago when the girls would’ve been terrified, but Cassie had her pepper spray ready and got the dog full in the nose. As he limped away, whining, Leila muttered, “This shit with the dogs is getting old.”
“I hear some kids are eating them.”
“That’s disgusting. But I guess if they only eat the dangerous ones—”
“A service to humanity,” Cassie said.
Leila laughed in a mirthless, half-hysterical way. She had done this a lot at the start of the pandemic, but hadn’t done so as often lately, as the winter cold and constant hunger sapped her energy for seeing irony in their situation.
“We’re not far now,” Cassie pointed out needlessly. “Let’s hurry up. I bet they’ll at least have fires so we can warm up.”
When they came within sight of the Wal-Mart, they saw groups of kids of all ages huddled in groups in the parking lot. Some had built small fires of scrap, some had set up tables and were trying to trade merchandise. Cassie and Leila moved cautiously among the sale items but were unimpressed. They already had gloves and winter scarves and had plenty of toilet paper from foraging in their neighborhood. The only kids selling food weren’t interested in Cassie’s money and wanted more packs of cigarettes than she had brought along for trade.
“We were better off staying home,” Leila said.
Cassie was about to reply when she noticed a group of girls huddled around a fire at the edge of the parking lot. They were dressed in short skirts and high heels and their faces were heavily made up. One girl in particular caught her eye. “That isn’t Emily, is it?”
Leila squinted at the pretty former drill team captain touching up her lipstick in the afternoon sunlight. “I think it is.”
They wandered over, startling Emily, who blushed underneath her makeup and returned their greeting warily. As they made idle chatter about the weather and where the best food supplies were to be found, Cassie couldn’t escape the feeling that Emily was rushing them, being purposefully vague in her replies, as if she wanted them to go away. After a few minutes, she saw why.
Three teenage boys with greasy hair and guns sauntered over and began looking the girls over. Finally the one who appeared to be their leader asked, “How much?”
Cassie and Emily exchanged a look.
“You should go,” Emily whispered as one of the other girls started negotiating.
“But you can’t do this. There’s other ways.”
Emily shook her head. “It’s easier than scavenging, and I bet I eat better than you.”
Leila had been listening to the negotiations and gave a small shrug. “We sure don’t ever get to eat Oreos.”
“Oh, come on.” Cassie frowned and tried to grab Emily’s hand. “You don’t want to sell yourself for a package of cookies, do you?”
Emily jerked away. “It’s easy work. And I’ll be dead soon anyway, so who cares?”
“We care. We—” Cassie looked at Leila for confirmation. “Come with us. We found some rice yesterday, and—”
“No way.” Emily shook her head and glanced toward one of the boys who was sizing her up with interest. “These guys have Hershey bars too, or haven’t you been paying attention?” She flashed the boy a smile. As he walked over, she muttered to Cassie out of the corner of her mouth, “Go away. Now.”
Cassie and Leila did as they were told and started back toward their neighborhood. They walked in silence for a long time before finally Cassie said, “You were right. We should’ve stayed home and eaten the MREs. That was depressing.”
“I can kind of see her point, though,” Leila said. “We work awfully hard and don’t have much to show for it.”
“But at least we haven’t compromised.”
“Maybe not, but does it matter?” Leila waved a hand at the trash and burned-out cars littering the deserted street. “Look at this place. We have no future, so why give a damn about the present?”
“I don’t know,” Cassie said, after appearing to think about it. “Sometimes doing right doesn’t make any sense, but you have to do it anyway.”
“So it’s the principle of the thing.”
Cassie took a deep breath and tipped her head back so she could see the startling blue of the clear winter sky instead of the muck of the streets. “Something like that. We may be living like animals, but at least we'll die like humans.”
Drop by and sign up!
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The entire first chapter of Steal Tomorrow is up now and I hope to have a short story "Extra" sometime this weekend.
If anyone is not too crazy about the formatting on my Steal Tomorrow blog or would prefer to read the story in full chapters instead of segments, it's being serialized at Readers and Writers Blog, starting Sunday. Readers and Writers blog also hosts other good reads, including Waiting for Spring by my new blog pal R.J. Keller. Check it out!
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Extras, character sketches, and oddments will also continue as time and inclination permit.
I've uploaded the book into Kindle format and it will be available for purchase later this week. I hope to have the trade paperback version available in a day or two as well. It will be cheaper than the pocket edition, once again due to Lulu's pricing structure, not my own.
I'll be adding trade paperback (6"x9") and Kindle formats soon, and I'll start the web serialization either tomorrow or the following Monday, depending how quickly I can get my act together.
For those who asked me privately, I did do a little querying on this book, but I didn't get any early nibbles, probably because the premise has been done, no matter how cleverly (I hope) I riffed off it. I also suspect there isn't a huge market for YA/Crossover fiction that references Shakespeare, the Bible, Sun-Tzu, and Ezra Pound, among others. You don't have to be well-read to enjoy Steal Tomorrow, because it's not a pedantic book, but you'll have a lot more fun with it if you catch the references.
Furthermore, I really want to get this story out in the world so I can get it out of my head. Every writer knows the feeling. If I snagged an agent tomorrow, I'd be lucky to see this book in print before 2010. I'm not in this writing thing for fame and fortune and I have a job already, thanks. So I'll do what I can to market this, but without the pressure of a publisher breathing down my neck, needing me to earn back my paltry advance, lest I be dropped.
No pressure, just fun.
Here's the link to the pocket edition: Steal Tomorrow. I'll be posting links to other versions when I have them ready, and check back later tonight or tomorrow for my final decision on when the web serialization begins. Try before you buy!
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I would really like a few normal weeks about now. Normal weeks and normal weekends.
I'm still hoping to start posting Steal Tomorrow by the end of the month. I'm doing a lot of research on ways to promote it (cutting further into my writing time), and I feel good about the possibilities.
I've also got another "Steal Tomorrow Extra" in progress, and I owe a flash to the Flash Fiction Carnival. Now if only I could concentrate!
Yep, I definitely need a little normalcy here. Tropical storm notwithstanding, I think this might be the week that starts me back on track. I sure hope so!
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Julilla bounced the ball and looked around. Still too early. That meant she had time for a warm-up. She went through a routine of her own devising, dribbling and dodging imaginary teammates as she moved across the blacktop and back again, then to the free throw line for a few practice shots. The first one bounced off the backboard, but she was unfazed. Her first shot always sucked. She had envied her teammates who never needed those first practice throws, but a lot of those girls were dead now, and so was the coach, while she carried on, muddling through the post-pandemic wreckage.
She threw again and this time the ball slipped through the basket without touching the rim and bounced off the asphalt with a satisfying sound. Julilla leaped to catch it and followed up with a couple of quick lay-ups and a hook shot. As she hit her groove, she forgot she was hungry and alone. She forgot the ever-present reminders of the dead in the empty streets and shops. She even managed to ignore the sickly smell of rot that occasionally wafted from the direction of a nearby parking garage where bodies lay piled up, waiting for transport trucks that would never arrive to take them to the pits.
For a few blessed minutes, Julilla’s world narrowed to just herself, the ball, and the shadows of the dead and missing girls who she dodged and scored off of in her imagination. If she let her fancy take hold, she could almost believe she was playing for the high school all-stars again, rallying her team for the final victory while her coaches, classmates, and dear Aunt Veegee screamed her name and the college recruiters tapped madly into their Blackberrys.
A movement at the edge of the blacktop caught her eye, bringing her back to the present. The children were arriving, but there weren’t enough yet. She continued to practice, adding a few exhibition moves—ball between the legs, catch, over the knee and down again, then a high bounce with a little twirl before catching it and spinning it on one finger.
A few more children wandered up and one clapped.
“I got better moves than this if you’ve got food,” she called.
One boy had a few crackers. For him, Julilla showed off a little of her quick footwork, and shot three hoops over her shoulder in rapid succession.
Another girl had a box of raisins. For her, she performed a new routine she had been working on—a hard bounce, then see how many times she could clap and twirl before catching it. This pleased the girl and her friends so much that they started digging through bags and pockets, and Julilla added some hand jive moves.
The girls were giggling and pooling their food resources into something that might take the edge of Julilla’s hunger when a group of rangy older boys wandered up. The chattering girls and clapping boys fell silent and Julilla paused, bouncing the ball slowly and returning the group leader’s cool look.
“You a real basketball player?” he sneered. “Or just some kind of Harlem Globetrotter showoff?”
Patience. Aunt Veegee, God rest her soul, always said to wait to see what the other guy would do first. That way you’d have time to plan. “I’m here,” she said. “So I guess that makes me as real as anyone.”
The boy reached in his pocket and for a panicked moment she thought he had a gun. A lot of the older boys did these days, and sometimes the young ones, too. But instead of a weapon, he took out a Milky Way bar.
Julilla’s stomach growled and she swallowed hard.
“Eleven points,” he said. “You game?”
“Is that the prize?”
“If you win. Want to know what mine is if you lose?” His eyes moved across her body.
Julilla had seen that look before. It was the same way her mother’s ill-chosen boyfriends had looked at her, including the one who—well, the pandemic had been good for something, at least. A wave of anger swept through her, spurring the killing urge that her coaches had so carefully channeled into a winner’s drive. “I won’t lose,” she snarled, and tossed him the ball. “You can even go first. That way your friends can see you make at least one good move before I wipe the blacktop with your ass.”
“The only move on anyone’s ass is going to be mine on yours, baby.”
The boy made a fast break, dodging Julilla’s blocking moves and going for a lay-up. Julilla leaped to knock the ball out of range, but he crashed into her with his shoulder and she stumbled. The ball swooshed through the basket and he caught it with a laugh while Julilla recovered her footing and the children on the sidelines screamed foul. Julilla thought of calling him on it, but could tell by the way he was breathing hard that earning just one point had cost him. She only needed to hold him off and let him wear himself down. It was just like playing defense for the all-stars.
Over the next twenty minutes, they panted, sweated and cursed each other as the boy twisted and feinted, unable to lose Julilla as she hovered over and around him, sometimes knocking the ball from his hands, sometimes waiting so she could block his shots. She took stomps to her feet and elbows to her ribs, all of which he pretended were accidental, but as she saw him grow winded and she stole the ball again and again, she didn’t bother to call him on his fouls. All she had to do was outlast this bastard, and as she sank her last shot, she beamed at the crowd of cheering kids.
“I think I earned my candy bar,” she told the boy, as he leaned forward, hands on his knees, breathing hard.
With a malevolent glare, he stood up and reached in his pocket. He threw the Milky Way to the ground in disgust and when he raised his foot like he would stomp on it, Julilla lunged toward him. Fouls and bruises were one thing, but that was breakfast!
To her surprise, the boy’s friends grabbed him and pulled him back. “Let it go, man. She won fair.”
As they dragged him off the blacktop, Julilla scooped up the candy bar and ripped open the paper. Dear lord, how long had it been since she had eaten chocolate?
The little girl who had offered her raisins tugged at her shirt and handed up a bottle of water.
Gratefully, Julilla accepted. Putting nasty teenage boys in their place was thirsty work.
The girl still stared at her with big eyes. “M’am?”
Julilla stifled a laugh. She was too young to be m’am to anyone.
“Can you teach me to play?”
Julilla assessed. The girl wasn’t much bigger than the ball. “It doesn’t come easy. You willing to work hard?”
“Everything’s hard since the Telo.”
“It was hard before, too.”
Julilla nodded and broke off a piece of Milky Way for her. “We gotta make the most of what we’ve got. That’s how we’re going to get through this.”
The girl sucked on her candy and nodded.
Julilla held out her hand. “Come on, girlfriend. I think I can show you a few moves.”
Friday, July 11, 2008
With a thwack, the knife embedded itself in the wood paneling. Danny flinched. “That was close, love.”
Danica picked up another knife. “It was supposed to be. You need to hold still.”
“I did. Your aim was off.”
“I’m never off.” Danica took aim but before she could throw, a knock on the door made her jump. “What the—?”
Another knock. This time Danny stepped away from the wall and started across the room. “Why would anyone come here?”
Danica put the knife aside and scampered after her twin. “Maybe someone heard about us and wants us for a job.”
“That would be nice, especially if they can pay in food or water filters.” Danny peered out the murky peephole. “I don’t see anyone.” He reached for the semiautomatic he kept next to the door. “Get ready to cover me, in case it’s trouble.”
Danica grabbed a .38 and waited while Danny fumbled with the bolts and locks. They were the only residents of the building since the pandemic, but that didn’t mean they were safe. In the early months of the die-off, gangs had roamed the area, but recently things had been quiet. So who was at their door?
A small box, apparently.
After checking that no one was waiting to jump him, Danny stood over the package and frowned. It was about half the size of a shoebox and wrapped in neat brown paper.
Danica peered around his shoulder. “UPS?”
“Very funny. It might be dangerous.”
“I’m sure it’s just an ordinary delivery. Some of the kids must be trying to re-establish a post office.”
“That wouldn’t explain why they brought something here. It doesn’t have our names and address on it. Maybe it’s a bomb.”
“Who would want to blow us up?”
“You never know.”
“Well, I think it’s harmless and we should open it.”
A debate ensued, in which the twins discussed possibilities as disturbing as explosives and anthrax to the more horrific notion that the box might contain a fruitcake from their grandmother, dead in the pandemic.
“Sometimes things get lost and don’t get delivered for decades,” Danica pointed out.
“Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I’m going to move it out of our doorway.”
“Why? It’s not in our way, since we always go in and out the window.” Nevertheless, she went into the kitchen and returned with a mop.
Danny pushed the suspicious package to the end of the hall and left it by the stairwell. He returned with a satisfied air.
As he locked the door and set the bolts, Danica asked, “If it really is a bomb, what if it blows up the stairs?”
“Then we won’t have to worry about any more deliveries.”
Danica threw herself onto the sofa with a giggle. “That would be nice. Maybe no one would bother us again, ever.” She stretched with the sensual moves of a cat. “I didn’t expect this much excitement on a non-foraging day.”
Danny stalked toward her with a grin. “The day’s not over yet.”
“What more could happen?”
Danny leaned over her and ran a hand up her thigh. “Do you need some ideas?”
She drew him to her with a satisfied sigh. “We do this every day, though.”
“Does that make it any less exciting?”
Before Danica could answer, there was another rap at the door, more urgent than before.
“Let them knock,” Danny said. He fumbled with the buttons of his fly.
Danica helped. “Right. We’re busy.”
The knocking continued.
Danica paused. “Maybe it’s important.”
“Nothing’s more important than you, babe.”
“Then we should find who’s doing it and shoot them.”
“Too much trouble.” He gave a little tug at her pants. “You going to leave these on, or what?”
Danica cast a glance toward the door. “I just wonder if—”
“Don’t wonder.” He pressed her shoulders into the cushions and kissed her until all urge toward curiosity was gone. By the time Danica squirmed out of her clothes so he could make love to her, the knocking had become a distant background noise, easily ignored.
An hour later when Danica wrapped herself in a robe and peeked out the door, she saw nothing on the empty stoop or in the vacant hallway. Even the original package was gone. "That's odd," she said.
"Everything's odd since the die-off."
Danica shut the door and leaned against it, frowning. "Yes, I guess that's the apocalypse for you. You never know what to expect."
"It's all about us now."
"So can I throw knives at you again?"
"Of course, love. Nothing matters but you."
Thursday, July 03, 2008
“So what’s this leadership meeting supposed to be about?” Cassie asked Julilla as they climbed the stairs.
“Fourth of July.”
Cassie hadn’t realized it was almost Independence Day. Who could keep up with dates any more? Since the pandemic, each day was like every other. She had even overlooked her birthday. Not that it mattered. Getting older was nothing to celebrate when you were infected with a retrovirus that would kill you before you were out of your teens. “We don’t celebrate our own birthdays,” she said. “Why should we celebrate the nation’s? Do we even have a nation any more? If there’s no more government, there’s no more country, right?”
“Beats the hell out of me.” Julilla pulled open the door to the patio and kicked the doorstop into place, muttering about “irresponsible brats” who let the doors fall shut, trapping the hot summer air inside.
Their leader Mundo and his girlfriend Kayleen were waiting on the shaded deck, along with the guard commander Alex and lead forager, David. Cassie sat as far as she could from David, ignoring the way he leered at her.
“You’re late,” he said.
“We were rewinding our sundials,” she snapped.
Kayleen blinked, not understanding the complex joke. She asked no questions, though, and reached for a bottle of sunscreen.
“You’ve got enough of that,” Mundo told her. “We’re not going to live long enough for you to get melanoma. Did you bring a pen? I need you to take notes.”
With a sigh of annoyance, Kayleen set the Coppertone aside and picked up a purple felt tip.
“What we need to decide,” Mundo said, “Is whether to celebrate the Fourth, and if so, how.”
“When is it, exactly?” Cassie asked.
“Don’t you ever look at a calendar?” David sneered.
“I’ve never seen one around here. Have you?”
Mundo waved a hand for silence. “It’s the day after tomorrow. The Thespians have invited us over for a production they’re putting on in conjunction with the Operatics. I think it’s going to be a musical.”
Cassie cringed. The last thing she wanted to deal with was another crazy performance by the tribe of kids living at the theater. Didn’t they have better things to do than go around declaiming and pantomiming? The whole world lay in ruins, and their answer was to write scripts and songs about it.
David saved Cassie the trouble of being the first to decline the invitation. “I don’t want to watch those freaks prance around in wigs.”
“And what are they going to do, exactly?” Julilla asked. “Set the Declaration of Independence to music and reenact the Battle of Bunker Hill? No, thanks.”
“The little ones might like some kind of celebration, though,” Cassie offered. “I think it’s good for them to celebrate holidays. It gives them a sense of normalcy.”
“There’s nothing normal about the Thespians,” Julilla said.
“I meant maybe we could forage some fireworks or something.”
Everyone looked at David.
“What? I haven’t seen so much as a sparkler since the pandemic. I could set something on fire for them, though, if you think that’ll make them happy.”
Mundo rubbed his face in frustration. “So it looks like we don’t have any good ideas for how to celebrate.”
“I don’t see why we should bother,” Julilla said. “Two hundred and forty years ago, a bunch of rich white guys told their government to stuff it. Big deal.”
“It’s more than that,” Alex said in his best ex-ROTC manner. “It’s about celebrating our freedom to choose our way of governance. It’s about honoring the sacrifices of those who died so we could be free.”
The little group lapsed into silence, thinking not of men in powdered wigs fighting for a free and independent nation, but of their parents, teachers and leaders. The death of the adults had left them struggling to understand their freedom and bewildered about how to make order from the wreckage.
“Creating a government is hard work,” Mundo admitted.
“So is keeping it safe,” Alex pointed out.
“Freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Cassie said. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”
David frowned and looked away. “It’s harder than I thought, I'll grant you that.”
Kayleen had been taking notes and now Mundo looked over her shoulder. “What are you writing, babe?”
“That freedom is hard. And that we should be glad we’ve made it this far.”
“So you think we should celebrate our own independence?”
Kayleen shrugged. “David’s right. It’s a lot of hard work.”
“Besides,” Cassie said. “We’re not really independent. We’re all in this together. What we should celebrate is Dependence Day—learning to get along when we’re all so different.”
Julilla agreed. “I can roll with that.”
Heads nodded, Kayleen made a few notes, and Mundo said he’d put the matter to a vote after dinner.
“But what are we going to do to celebrate this so-called Dependence Day?” David wanted to know.
They all fell silent again.
“Well,” Julilla finally said, “I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t involve Thespians.”
“Too bad the potatoes aren’t ready to harvest,” Cassie said. “Potato salad would be perfect.”
“I still think we should set something on fire,” David said.
“I’ll take ideas from the floor after dinner.” Mundo glanced around the group for confirmation. “We’ll do this thing democratically.”
“Democracy is what we’re all about,” Alex agreed.
“It's almost as hard as freedom,” Cassie pointed out.
“Got any better ideas?”
She shook her head. “Beats the alternatives.”
“Then we’ll take suggestions from everyone and put the best ideas to a vote,” Mundo concluded. “God bless America.”
“God bless us,” Kayleen corrected him.
“God bless someone,” Julilla said, standing and stretching. “We could all sure use it.”
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I really do like having a print copy of my manuscript to do edits from. I can read and make notes anywhere, any time, and of course we all know from experience how different things can look on paper as opposed to the computer screen. And for me there is also the time of day factor. Things that seem brilliant at 2 am are...well, not quite so much after a night's rest.
I'm edging downward on my word count and I think I'll be around 95-96K when this editing pass is done. Funny how on the first draft, the goal is more words while on the edits, the goal is less.
Once my first-pass edit is done I'll be soliciting beta readers, so if anyone is interested, let me know!
Friday, June 20, 2008
Yay! I came home for lunch and found my printed draft waiting on my front porch. Good thing I like my new job or I'd be trying to weasel my way out of having to do anything else this afternoon!
I'm still working on the front cover and haven't done the back, but you can see here the direction I'm going with it. And if you haven't bookmarked the blog yet, what are you waiting for? Sign up for the email updates while you're at it-- they're pretty nifty!
Monday, June 16, 2008
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I've also started work on the sequel. It was hard getting those first words written. I hate that moment where you're sitting in front of a blank page, thinking, "Whatever I write, it'll be crap." But at some point you just have to go ahead and write something, anything, and it often turns out just fine. Besides, I'm of the opinion that the first few pages are usually for the author, not the reader. They get your head into the right place to write what the book is really about. If by the end of the book, the first part no longer suits, you delete it.
That's what drafts are for.
But the really good news about the sequel, aside from the fact that I started, is that I finally found out the motivation for my bad guy's behavior. Chicks and power are lame and overdone, so it had to be something bigger. I wanted him to have the kind of motive that a rational person might say, "Sure, it sounds good in theory, but in actual practice it's totally unworkable and unethical."
I think I have that motive! I'm going to get a lot of good (read: dark and weird) stuff out of this one!
But for now, go check out the Oddments! More content will follow over the next few weeks!
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I have a new item posted on the related blog: an excerpt from the story and a picture. The excerpt was chosen because of the picture and not the other way around, so the text isn't really stand-alone. But it's my blog and I'll blog however I like, right?
In addition to posting the full story in serial fashion sometime later this summer, I'll have a download and print version available from Lulu. I might also have an option for people to sign up for an email of each day's post. Does anyone have any other ideas for me to consider?