Sunday, December 30, 2007


Now that I'm submitting stories to contests and paying markets, it's about time I had a more serious website. It's here, and I'd appreciate tips and suggestions.

I've also prettified my Lulu Storefront and would appreciate thoughts on my new banner. You'll see I've got my newly-compiled "Will and Diana Adventures" ready for purchase (it's also available in Kindle format at Amazon). It has two stories that have not been posted here, and lots of nifty pictures, like in "My New-Found Land."

And speaking of "My New-Found Land," Thomma has a very nice review of it on her site. Thanks, Thomma! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

And finally, I know it's the holidays, folks, and I'm as guilty as anyone of comment laziness, but a lot of people contributed some very fine stories to the Holiday Flash Fiction Carnival, so please take a minute to read and comment. The person looking for comment love tomorrow might be you, yanno.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Flash Fiction Carnival

Happy Holidays, everyone! No matter what you're celebrating this month, we've got a story for you! Just take your pick from the offerings below and be sure to leave a comment!

Submissions are still trickling in, so be sure to stop back by and see what's new!


Musical Hanukkah Celebration by Susan Helene Gottfried


Forever Christmas by William Skye

The Perfect Gift by Jared Holt

Christmas Parade, 1968 by Virginia Lee

Age of Abundance by Ann Pino

Christmas at the Old Motel by Ann Pino, aka Bunnygirl

Why We Have an Artificial Tree by Sherry Antonetti

Sauce for the Goose by Sherry Antonetti

The Real Christmas Fruitcake by Sherry Antonetti

Arcady and Zene: A Decent Christmas by Arachne Jericho

The Christmas Gift by Kat Frass

Blunt Reality by Kate Boddie

Christmas Story by WriterKat

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree by Lee Ann

New Year's

New Year's Eve by Thomma Lyn

New Year's Eve in Dallas by Susan Helene Gottfried

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Flash fiction by guest blogger Lee Ann

Rows of evergreen trees filled the field, stretching to the edge of the narrow road and back to where the woods began. Some were the right size, anywhere from four to six feet high but others climbed toward the dull sky, reaching up to ten feet and beyond. The wind that whispered through the branches reminded her of ghosts and the entire Christmas tree farm experience was surreal, reminding Bethany of an animated holiday special. If a talking or singing snowman emerged from the trees, she would not have been too surprised.

“Do you see one you like?” Raleigh’s voice interrupted her musing. With a borrowed handsaw, orange with wicked sharp teeth, he looked out of place. Under normal circumstances, he was handier with a pen or television remote than any type of tool so in this wild place, Raleigh looked like a deranged tree man bent on mayhem.

Bethany walked down the road, turned left and sauntered through more trees. An insane urge to hum carols seized her but she did not, dealing instead with the task at hand. How, she wondered, do you choose a single tree of the proper size from hundreds of like pines? And how do you adjust the concept of size from the wide-open field of trees to the close, confined walls of an apartment?

One tree, tall enough but slimmer than most of the rest, seemed like the ideal choice. She touched one branch, amazed at the give of a living object, and waved one mittened hand at Raleigh.

“I want this one.” She imagined it in a stand, decked with small multi-colored lights and ornaments. “It will look just right.”

He shrugged. “If you’re sure.”

Raleigh knelt on the frosty ground and began sawing at the slender trunk with the jagged teeth of the saw. The soft wind sounds through the other trees ceased and a high keening echoed in her ears, the awful sound of an emergency siren or a banshee.

“Stop!” Bethany screamed. “You’re killing it.”

“Huh?” Raleigh stopped, sap spattered across his freckled hands like blood. “What are you talking about?”

The tree’s screams grated on her soul like someone’s fingernails scratching down a chalkboard and she knew even though they stopped, it would die, mortally wounded. Still, she could not listen any longer so she pulled the saw out of his hands.

“I changed my mind.” The lie sounded fine as she spoke it, plausible and convincing.

“I think it would be better to buy a fake tree. Let’s turn in this saw and head for Wal-Mart.”

He scowled but pulled himself up from the ground, brushing the dirt from his jeans.

“Whatever, Bethie, whatever. I just wish you had decided it sooner. We drove by three different Wal-Mart stores on the way here.”

Raleigh turned to go and she followed. Although the screams softened into whimpers, she could still hear them but she did not look back, not even once.

Forever Christmas

A flash fiction by friend and guest-blogger William Skye

The dream of winter. The dream of snow. Soft flakes falling in moonlight; the crack-crack-crackling of ice in a world gone still. Soft and cold, as white as the night is black.

Drifts piled high. Cold breath steams frosty and freezes in the ice thin air. Walking. Crunching and cracking. Slowly walking. Houses, some lit, some dark, some festive, some sullen. They cocoon their human larva and weave the dream of spring.

The path gives way to a flat land, where houses dare not grow. Snow piles and drifts in cold waves, pushed by the wind, watched by the moon. Soft flakes falling. Here it is deep, here it is hard. With each crunch-step a steam breath, and finally a rest. The slope down to the sea.

The moon is full and hard and bright in a sky filled with jewel lights. Bleached of color, a world of black white. Down the slope, to the slap of an ice fringed sea. Hard to walk. The sand gives way. She falls once, but catches herself and goes on. The sea is black and full of dancing lights. The moon paints a streak of white in the black, and in it she just sees something move. Up. Down. Up. Whales? Orca, yes, Orca. Their steamy breath, white cotton puffs clear in the moonlight. For a moment her heart is warm.

Quiet, she begins to shiver. Her breath is soft and white, and she is dizzy. Squatting on her heels she stares down, and sees it. Up. Down. Up with the wave. She pulls off her mitten and grabs into the freezing, burning water. Got it! A shell. She drops it in the snow and her mitten, warm and dry, wraps her hand again.

She stands and turns to go back, but first angles the moonlight on her prize. It is familiar, many ridges. She looks slightly away to catch any color; faint yellow. Tiger Lucina. What are you doing here, my tropical friend? And who is asking whom?

She zippers the sea gift into her jacket. Oh, the slope shines faraway bright. So much easier down than up. The snow crusted sand is hard walking. Finally, the dark base. She rests, then on to it, climbing, crabbing, jogging an inch at a time. Eventually, fitfully, to the top. Her heart is in her throat. Dots at the edges of her eyes. A step, a stumble, her strength fails, she falls.

A white light. A world of light. A whorl of sound, of traffic in the city. The woman who is not a mother stares into the face of the girl who is not a daughter. Not Mother not daughter, hand-in-hand on the curb they wait. The busses stream past, the sickly smell of burning fat, sometimes fishy, sometimes bovine, equine, porcine. The terrible heat and grit and unwashable staleness. Close bodies, standing, waiting. Not daughter is at the bottom of a well of humanity, breathing softly, trying not to inhale through her nose.

Talking. Mr. Li and Mrs. Li, always arguing. A parody of language, a song of anger and accusation. Waiting for the bus. Honking, swirling traffic. Jimmy and Eloisa, but that’s not right, kissing. He stares at her green eyes, and then at her tits, dappled with sweat, up, down, inside her white blouse. Laughing. “And do you think she doesn’t know?” not Mother said. Not daughter didn’t know what to think. She felt beads of sweat on her upper lip and drew her breaths in little pants. Eloisa wore little pants. Didn’t she know?

An age of the world turned and the sun blotted out, a white leviathan grunted and hissed air shot black from the blowhole on top, bobbed up, down, up and stop. Steps, pulled gently, she stumbled slightly but was caught. The blesséd blessed bus. Twice and thrice blessed. An end to waiting, Hail Mary! Motion, Ye Saints Be Praised! Air conditioning, Hosanna! But wait, the windows are all open, a dark breeze when the bus pulls into traffic, stifling heat when it stops. The smell of fried flesh. Oh, ye curséd and ye vile city transport.

Into the heart of the city. Shopping, yes, Christmas shopping. The air-conditioned mall. Not daughter one more piece of baggage for not Mother, but like an egg placed in her pocket for safe keeping, never a cross word or jar or snap. A soft touch, a gentle kindness, a smile, a cold drink with lunch and no tsk-tsk because she was too hot to eat more.

Encumbered and laden like llamas they return from whence, retracing and rebussing themselves across the sweat stain city. Not Mother proud her not daughter absorbs the lessons of stoic propriety and proper demeanor.

And walking. She looks up into not Mother’s face, and down into her own, and they are walking in Pertumbuco, yes, a few short blocks, and then the house. No air-conditioning, but ceiling fans, and no flat gassy smells, but not Mother’s airy scents, Lemon Grass and Lilac. Jimmy is napping, the TV murmuring. Not daughter can at last use the bathroom, pee, wash. She pulls off the white skirt, rolls up and rolls down the sweaty clothes. Naked, she runs the washcloth over herself. Luxury, pure luxury. Convinced Jimmy is asleep she dashes damp for her chest of drawers, grabs panties, white cotton, left step right step pull up, lays on the cool sheets, and dissolves in siesta.

Giggles wake her. “Don’t wake Granma,” boy whispers. “Too late,” girl whispers. “I’m tellin’,” boy whispers, hoarsely.

She sits up in the chair, and feels the fire’s warmth pleasant on her face. Christmas tree shines in the corner. “No one’s telling,” she says, and “go back to playing. I’m awake.” Smile.

Her husband rounds the corner. For a moment she is shocked, he looks so old. Hair gone, skin loose, sweater red, with a cup of tea, for her. She closes her eyes for a moment and pulls herself straight, and back to the present. He perches on the arm of her chair.

“I had a dream,” she tells him. “I think it was of when I was a girl. Ceiling fans on at Christmas, everything so hot, the city so still and stifling. The busses ran on that bio-diesel, do you remember? Everything smelled like cooking.”

“Umm,” he said. Not a yes or a no but an I Hear You. “Before the Big Snap.”

“Uh-huh,” she replies. “Before this damn new ice age. Before these damn glaciers everywhere.” She sips her tea. “God, what a world.”

“And this?” he says, picking the shell up from the end table. He runs his fingernail across the ridges, up and down.

She takes it. “I’m not sure where it came from. It’s Lucina. Tropical. Something, something to do with it, too, the dream. I can’t remember.”

“Tropical?” he says. “That’s not a word you hear much anymore.” He touches the shell. “All gone?”

She nods, “All gone.”

Christmas at the Old Motel

(a Will and Diana Adventure)

Wind was blowing through the broken window again. Before Amalia could get up, Diana set her knitting aside and wedged the rags back in place. She paused, peering out the grimy pane of glass.

“They’ll be back when they can,” Amalia told her.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t let me go with them.”

“It’s Unitas’ rule, not mine.”

Diana gave her a disgusted look. “You could’ve told Harley I was the same age as Will.”

“Honesty is the best policy.” Amalia bent back over her journal.

Diana returned to her seat of duffel bags and an old seat cushion and picked up her knitting. “Well, you won’t be able to stop me next year. I’ll be old enough to go on all the same missions Will goes on. Even the dangerous ones.”

Amalia’s shoulders tightened and her pen quit moving. “And if something happened to you, your family—”

“Would still be dead.”

“I suppose so.” Amalia began writing again.

Diana examined her knitting and tried to pick up where she left off, but she kept dropping stitches and finally set the shapeless project aside.

“Why don’t you fletch a few arrows?”

“Don’t feel like it.”

“Take a nap. I’ll wake you for your turn on watch.”

“I’m not tired.”

“Would you like me to read to you?”

“No.” Diana got to her feet and paced the cold, narrow room.

“If you can’t find a useful project I can make sure you get assigned one.”

Diana sat down and sullenly picked up her knitting again. “I just want Will to come back.”

Amalia didn’t answer.

“What kind of dumb mission takes place over Christmas? Last year all the groups called a truce and we played soccer with the snipers from Hispanos Unidos.”

“And by New Year’s they had shot three of our camp supporters. We can't trust anyone.”

“So why did you let Will go? He's my best friend and he's the closest thing I’ve got to family and—”

Amalia’s voice took on an edge. “You’ve got me.”

“It's not the same. Some fucking Christmas this is.”

“Diana.” Amalia turned intense eyes upon her. “You obviously need constructive work to do. Go help Paloma with supper.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Go now, or I’ll make sure you get assigned something you’ll like even less.”

Diana spent the rest of the afternoon tending fires and stoking improvised brick ovens in the shelter of a collapsed wing of the motel. Finally it was time to go on watch. With a pocket full of dry cornbread, she went to her station on a low wall at the entrance to the motor court. Now that she had access to binoculars, she scanned the horizon anxiously. But she saw neither friends nor enemies, only the blank scrubland stretching toward the distant mesas.

As the sun set and a light snow began to fall, her hope faded that Will and the rest of their party might make it back for Christmas Eve. When Ikea relieved her, she handed over the binoculars and trudged back to the room she shared with Auntie.

As she stepped inside, she sucked in her breath. On the wobbly dresser, Amalia had arranged some branches of mesquite and lit her two precious wax candles, their light reflecting like stars in the dusty mirror. Occupying pride of place was a bundle wrapped in cloth and tied with a fraying ribbon.

At Diana’s questioning look, Amalia ducked her head. “I know we said we’d wait until Will came back. So consider it a surprise from Santa.”

“I’m a little old for Santa.” She picked up the gift. “Maybe I should open it later. I don’t have yours ready yet.”

“Santa gave me what I wanted.” Amalia sat on the edge of the musty bed and motioned Diana to her. “You seem to forget you're not the only one who has no home or kin. I know I'm hard on you sometimes, but you're my family now, and when I think what it would mean to lose you. . .”

Diana stared in silence as Amalia looked away, sniffling. Auntie never cried, not even on the day she buried her own sister. “I'm sorry.” She threw her arms around her. “I don't know what makes me so selfish. It's a good Christmas, just us together. Really.”

Diana opened her present, which consisted of some much-needed socks and a warm knit cap. Then Amalia read the nativity story from the Bible while Diana dozed beside her on the bed. Finally Amalia put the book away and they slept huddled in their patched wool blankets while snowflakes drifted lazily outside the window.

Just before sunrise, a soft sound awakened her and Diana opened one eye to see the door swing inward. Thinking it was the wind, she stumbled to her feet to close it.

A shadow in the doorway gave her pause. “You came back!”

Will was filthy and damp with melting snow, but he grabbed Diana tight, as if he might pull her into his body so he could have her with him always. Over the top of her head, he met Amalia’s suspicious eyes.

“Are you AWOL?”

Will limped to the bed, carrying a saddlebag. “I'm heading straight back after breakfast. What’s Harley going to do? Kick me out?” He reached into his bag and produced two paper-wrapped packages. “For my favorite ladies. Merry Christmas.”

Amalia’s eyes narrowed. “How did you get—?”

“Does it matter?”

“Stealing is no way to celebrate the birth of our Savior.”

“You know I don't care about that Baby Jesus stuff.” He opened his arms for Diana to sit on his lap, where he kissed her hair and wrapped her braid around a chilblained hand. “Aren't you going to open your present?”

“This is my present.” She looked to Amalia for approval. “Isn't that what's important? That we lost our families but made our own, instead?”

Amalia was examining her gift, frowning as if she might have something else to say about it. But instead her features softened and she put it aside. “Of course,” she said. “Being with the ones we love is the best gift of all.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sticky: Holiday Flash Fiction Carnival

Send story links! Carnival submission details here.

The Sniper

(a "Will and Diana" Adventure)

It started with a ping off the dutch oven. A musical note, it startled Cascabel as she was about to crack an egg. A few feet away, Macy looked up from the coffee grinder with a frown.

The second bullet zipped past Cascabel's arm like a bee. She dropped the egg and clutched her shoulder.

“Get down!” Paloma shoved Cascabel to the ground while Macy shrieked and scurried behind a donkey cart.

There was a rustle in the nearest tent and Ikea poked her head out the flap. A bullet punctured the canvas inches from her face. With a gasp she ducked back inside, but her action had given Paloma and Cascabel enough time to hurry to the shelter of Macy’s cart. Ikea fired some warning shots, sounding the alarm.

In a tent at the edge of camp, Will sat up with a start. He grabbed the rifle he kept by his side and scrambled to his feet, stepping into his moccasins as he ran outside. Diana tried to follow, but Amalia grabbed her arm and jerked her back.

Will heard them arguing as he zig-zagged toward the shelter of a crumbling wall. He hoped Amalia would keep Diana away. Although he trusted his adoptive sister’s aim, it made him crazy when someone took shots at her, and bringing down a sniper would require he keep his cool.

He stopped to collect his thoughts as bullets chipped harmlessly at the other side of the wall. How the hell had someone gotten close enough to fire on their camp? And was it a loner, or part of an advance group for an enemy unit?

A few feet away, Sachi waved to him from behind the shelter of a metal drum. She made hand signals that Will thought he understood, then fired in the direction the shots seemed to be coming from. Her distraction drew the sniper’s fire and Will made a run for it.

It took only a few minutes of ducking and dodging to get out of the line of fire, but it felt like hours before he was safely scrambling up the hillside behind the cover of some creosote and mesquite. Although he couldn’t make out the marksman’s exact position, he suspected he was hiding somewhere along the ridge of flattened space where a road used to wind through these sand hills.

He was almost over the spot when he came upon Boeing taking temporary shelter behind a rock. “What the hell’s going on?” Will asked.

“Seems to be just one. Got past the Javelina somehow.”

“He better have shot him,” Will muttered. “’Cause if any of our people get killed, I’ll slit Javelina’s fucking throat.”

The two young men advanced slowly, sometimes crouching, sometimes dragging themselves through the brush on their bellies, until they finally made out their target—a dark-hatted figure in bandoliers taking aim at the camp from behind a rusted pickup truck.

Just as Will and Boeing raised their guns to their shoulders, a shadow rustled the nearby scrub. They cursed and were about to fire when they realized it was only Javier. “We were hoping you were dead,” Will said. With a snort of disgust, he turned back to the sniper

It was never clear whether it was his shot or Boeing’s that laid the sniper flat against the rusting metal, but what neither of them doubted was that Javier’s shot was an afterthought, punctuating the body with a superfluous hole after the real work had been done.

It was Javier who was first down the trail to the sniper’s perch, where he shot the marksman a few extra times with his pistol.

“Quit wasting ammo,” Boeing said.

“If you’d done your job and kept proper watch—”

“Me? He came up on your side, asshole!”

While they shouted at each other, Will turned the body over. “Shit. He’s just a kid.” He started checking the boy’s gear and clothing for signs of group affiliation.

“What’s he got?” Javier forced his way forward and shoved his hand in one of the boy’s pockets. With a pleased smile he withdrew a few silver coins.

“That belongs to the group,” Will said.

“No, it belongs to me. For the trouble I had to go to to kill the little bastard.”

Boeing lunged toward him. “You didn’t do jack, Javelina—”

Before he could say any more, Will’s fist connected with Javier’s gut, knocking the wind out of him with a gasp. “You’re such an asshole.” He picked up the coins where they had spilled on the ground, then returned to the matter at hand. “I don’t see any evidence the kid had affiliation,” he told Boeing as Javier lay wheezing at his feet.

“Probably a lone troublemaker.”

Will examined the sniper’s face, the blunted boyish features innocent in repose. “We’ll take him down to camp and make sure he gets a decent burial.”

From where he was still trying to catch his breath, Javier gasped, “Let the fucker rot. He wanted to kill us.”

Boeing kicked Javier in the ribs, then helped Will pick up the body. “This kid wasn’t a half bad shot,” he said as they stumbled down the trail. "I wonder why he did it.”

“No telling.”

“Maybe he had something to prove.”

Will adjusted his footing in a patch of loose gravel. He thought of Macy and Cascabel and wondered if there would still be coffee and eggs. “He only proved he could shoot at women making breakfast. That’s nothing special.”

“And it's a dumb way to die,” Boeing added.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Flash Fiction Carnival:

Watch This Space!

I'll be hosting a Holiday Flash Fiction Carnival, starting December 21. Anyone who wants to join is welcome.

Requirements are minimal:

* Must be 1500 words or less, 1000 or less preferred.
* Must have a December holiday or New Year's as a theme. I expect Christmas and Hanukkah to get the most representation, but Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, ancient Mithraic rites, or even a respectful Bah Humbug are fine.
* Must be fiction (duh).
* Can be old or new, posted on your blog or someone else's, or even published in a zine somewhere, so long as it's linkable.

Any other questions? Just ask!

Send those story links to me between now and the 21st via the comments section below or via email to uhamp "at" yahoo "dot" com.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Flash Fiction Interlude: Hunger

(A Will and Diana Adventure)

Diana bent over the cluster of spiny cactus pads, searching for the best one. “Best” was a relative term. Not only were the nopales a detestable food that she hadn’t liked even before it became this summer’s staple, but this patch was particularly poor; the pads were thin and wrinkled, with black spots of spreading rot. She selected one that was less pock-marked than the rest, sliced it off and dropped it in her bag.

She stood and stretched her aching back. Around her, the other girls worked listlessly. They were thin and dispirited after a long summer stationed at this remote site, waiting for the invading armies of Texas and Mexico to make the next move. In the meantime, food had run scarce and game died from drought.

Diana adjusted her thick gloves and bent back over the cactus. In spite of the weak rumble of her stomach, the nopales didn’t appeal. Her thoughts drifted to a cache of lizard eggs she had found a few weeks ago. She had been less hungry then, and the soft-boned proto-lizards had sufficiently repulsed her that she hadn’t tried to eat them. Now she would gladly eat a lizard in any stage of gestation, goo and all. But as she scanned the dusty, rock-strewn field, she saw no sign that anything lived here other than the wretched nopales.

“Think we got enough?” One of the girls removed a glove and fanned herself. “Maybe they’ll let us have some of that soup before the boys get back and eat it all.”

“Caldo de huesos,” Diana’s friend Sachi muttered as she examined a pad for rot. “My favorite.”

Diana silently agreed. The weak broth of nettles and boiled rabbit bones was hardly anything to look forward to. “Better than nothing.”

“But not better than posole.”

“Or roast chicken,” another girl said.

“Or a thick goat stew with potatoes and carrots, and—”

“Stop that,” Diana said, tying off her bag. “You know what Harley said. No talking about food we don’t have.”

“Well if he’d let us take what we needed from that ranch on the other side of the arroyo, we wouldn’t be so hungry,” Sachi pointed out. “It’s not like they’re going to miss one of their skinny cows, anyway. They’re probably all gristle and will die before the summer is out.”

The other girls murmured in agreement as they headed back to camp to turn over their nopales to the camp supporters who would strip them of spines and cook them.

As Diana gave her sack to Aunt Amalia, she averted her eyes and shied away from the hand that reached to comfort her. For the last several days Auntie had been looking at her strangely, as if hunger was a visible thing etched in her face. And last night as Diana snuggled against Will for warmth in the cool desert air, he had run a hand across her hip and expressed concern at the way her bones jutted sharp underneath her skin.

“They’re not very good,” Diana said of the nopales, hoping to avoid a personal discussion.

“Just don’t overcook them,” Sachi said to no one in particular. “I hate it when they get slimy.”

“Don’t worry,” Amalia told her. “We’ll roast them. And Harley got a snake for the soup pot.”

“A big one?” a girl asked hopefully.

Amalia picked up Diana’s sack. “We take what we can get.”

Diana and Sachi exchanged a glance. Where there was one snake, perhaps there would be others. “Where did he find it? We’ll go see if there's more,” she said.

“Just be back in time for your turn on watch. And bring some Russian thistle for the horses.”

Sachi and Diana headed out on foot. Once they were beyond the immediate camp environs, they drew their guns and began scanning the ground for signs of life. They tracked west for half an hour without seeing anything. When they came to one of the arroyos bordering the nearby ranch, they slid down the bank and began following its twists and turns. After a few minutes they came across boot prints and their hopes fell. If the boys had already passed this way, it wasn't likely there would be any game.

They were about to turn back when they heard voices.

“You look like a fucking cannibal, man.”

“And what do you think you look like?”

“Hold it steady so I can get another piece.”

Around the bend Will and two other boys huddled over the carcass of a spotted calf. Blood soaked the parched soil and flies buzzed over a glistening pile of entrails.

The boys looked up. Their hands and mouths were dripping red and they tightened their grip on their knives. But seeing it was only Sachi and Diana, they relaxed and waved them forward.

“It would've died anyway, so it's not really rustling," Aguilero said. "But still, don’t tell."

“Oh, God, no.” Sachi cut a strip of bloody flank and shoved it in her mouth. “I’ve been wanting to do this for weeks.”

“Harley’s got the right idea about principles,” Will said, “But there’s gotta be limits.”

“I don't want to starve over someone's idea of right and wrong,” Boeing agreed. He dug into the calf’s open belly and sliced off a piece of liver. “Here you go, baby.” He dangled it in front of Sachi’s lips. “And if you come by my tent tonight, I’ll have some other organ meat for you.”

While the others ate and teased each other, Will drew Diana away. In the shade of a rock was an oozing leather pouch. “I was going to bring you this.”

Diana opened it and stared for a moment at the quivering mass of raw meat. Her mind flashed back on her other life, on who she had been before the Guard destroyed her home and killed her family. She had a fleeting impression of eggs scrambled with chiles, of beans and summer squash, and of honey drizzled over corn cakes hot from the oven. How had she come to this?

A wave of dizziness hit her. She scooped a handful of the bleeding flesh and devoured it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Identity Management

No, I’m not going to talk about single sign-on, LDAP, or strong passwords, so disappointed techies will be advised to keep moving.

* * *

Okay, are we writers alone now? Good. Because I want to take a minute to discuss who we really are.

In the years I’ve been writing and meeting writers online, I’ve seen a wide range of attitudes toward the end result of our efforts. For some, just getting their work into the hands of a few friends is enough, while for others, print publication and financial success are the only markers that their long hours at the computer have not been in vain.

Why such a disparity in what a writer considers “success?”

Clearly, some of it is innate. Some people are naturally oriented toward the external trappings of success (such as a positive review in the New York Times) while others see success as something internal. (Who cares if anyone else likes it? I had fun!)

But there’s another element to all this that had eluded me until recently: Identity.

When you define yourself first and foremost as a writer, that means something to others, and you’d have to be made of stone to not be swayed by the cultural assumption that if you’re a writer, you therefore must be published. For those of us who see writing as our primary identity, a sense of true accomplishment can only come from commercial success.

Even if we hit the brass ring of traditional publication, that doesn’t mean the book will sell or that we'll ever be published again. Therefore it seems to me that we writers would be wise to better appreciate our other identities.

Most writers are fully capable of developing other artistic skills, so why not paint, learn a musical instrument, or sing? If you already do these things privately, maybe there’s a retirement home that would enjoy some new paintings or a piano concerto. Maybe there’s a church or civic choir that would appreciate your lovely voice.

Get some new certifications and develop new career goals. If you don’t have a non-writing career, why not do a little volunteer work?

Want to do something non-creative for a change? You could take up a sport. Go back to school. Learn to fix cars or re-upholster furniture. Plan a garden for spring. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Then when the query-go-round has got you down, your writing is only one piece of your identity that’s not going as well as you would like. People love your great ideas at the office. Your brownies/quilts/therapy pets were a hit at the retirement home. You finally mastered that tricky heel work in your flamenco dance or hit a shot on the golf course that made your buddies jealous.

No matter how much our writing lives mean to us, we’re more than our stories. When we stop narrowly defining our success, we become open to many more ways to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Let’s not succumb to the temptation to box ourselves into narrow ways of interpreting our lives.