Friday, February 16, 2018

Wings

If you search “strange photos” in Google Images you find some straaaange photos. This story was inspired by this photo:

https://designyoutrust.com/2016/05/bodies-of-strange-creatures-were-found-in-the-basement-of-an-old-house-in-london/ 

“Are those? Wings?”

“Yes?”

“On a person?”

“Yes?”

“On a tiny person?”

Yes.” This time my voice is certain.

“Like a fairy.”

And now my voice is gone. That’s what this thing looks like. A delicate little fairy. Dried and preserved and tucked away. Pinned to a piece of pine like a butterfly. A specimen.

“It can’t really be a fairy. Those aren’t a real thing.” I say. My eyes poke Jessie, prod him to confirm my words. His eyes stare back, unable to tell me I’m not seeing what we both think we’re seeing.

Someone caught a fairy. I’d feel better if I knew who that someone was.

I ask the question. “Who do you think put this here?”

Jessie’s eyes slide from mine back to the fragile figure sprawled in front of us. He reaches out and trails one finger across the miniature brow. I expect it to break under the weight of his comparatively substantial finger, but it doesn’t. He moves down an arm, across a papery wing. Like the head, the wing is sturdier than it seems, refusing to crumble under his touch.

“She’s perfect.” His voice is soft, as gentle as the finger that lingers. Reverent.

“How do you know it’s a she?” I want to ask if fairies even come in hes and shes, but this doesn’t seem like the time for a discussion of fae anatomy and physiology.

“Dress.”

“Oh.” She, or whatever, is covered by a scrap of white fabric that might have passed for a dress when this thing was still alive.

Jessie is still staring, but at least he isn’t touching her anymore. My breath moves easier. His loving touch on her corpse was starting to creep me out.

“Jess.”

He doesn’t look away. Doesn’t blink.

“Jess.” Louder this time, my voice sharp.

His eyes fly to mine.

“What should we do with it?”

“Her.”

“Okay. Her. What should we do with her? I mean, should we bury her? Burn her?”

Jessie’s brow turns stormy, his eyes darken. “Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know. I’m just not sure we should leave her here.” Wherever here is. Jessie never answered my question. We don’t really know where we are. We have no idea who lives here. Who visits here. Who saved this fairy.

Jessie lifts the lid I had pushed to the side of the table and settles it in place, blocking my view of the body.

“We should take her with us.” Jessie lifts the box, shifting it toward his backpack.

This isn’t right. Taking her. It feels like sacrilege. It feels dangerous.

I should stop him, stop this. But I don’t know what to say. I am searching for words when the edge of the box snags on the zipper of Jessie’s bag.

He tries to hold onto her, to catch her. But he can’t shift his grip fast enough. The box tumbles. One corner hits the ground, the unforgiving concrete knocking the lid free. Knocking her free. She flies. For one moment, her wings flutter as she moves through the air. The ground finally catches her, shatters her. She is nothing more than a cloud of dust that drifts back to coat the grey concrete in a light layer of brown.

We are frozen, staring at the remains.

I break the silence. “Well. That just happened.” I feel like I should feel bad. We just destroyed a fairy. But she was dead long before we got here. Right?

Jessie is still silent, still staring at the dusty floor.

I try again. “Should we clean her up? We could still bury her…” This has passed awkward. I’m now contemplating some sort of funeral for fairy dust.

“It’s okay,” Jessie finally speaks. He turns back toward the tall brown cabinet where we found the former fairy on the top shelf. “I have another one.”

Friday, February 2, 2018

Doctor Sleep and Other January Reads

I finished 13 books in January:

Isaac Newton: Discovering Laws that Govern the Universe by Michael White
A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (ARC)
The Call by Peader O’Guilin
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (reread)
Isaac Newton by James Gleick
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Albert Einstein by Frieda Wishinsky
Renegades by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)
Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas
Albert Einstein: The Miracle Mind by Tabatha Yeatts
Drive by Daniel H Pink
Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner (audiobook)
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My favorite read of the month was Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. Sequels can be a tricksy thing. Sometimes they feel like a warmed-up, left-over version of the original story. Sometimes they feel like a bridge that only exists to move a reader into a third book.

Doctor Sleep was neither of these. 

While part of the story returns to the site of the Overlook Hotel, the story itself barely skims along the surface of The Shining, following Danny (the child in The Shining) as an adult. It has been a long time since I last read The Shining, but I never felt like I was missing anything by not remembering the details.

Doctor Sleep is a story about ghosts, both literal and figurative. We all have them. Some of us ignore them. Some of us face them and chase them away. Some of us, like Danny, cram them into a box, shove them into a dark corner, and try to forget that they are waiting for us to deal with them. Like Danny, we don’t expect them to come back to help us. We know that they are only waiting in the dark to pop out and hurt us.

Woven throughout this mist of ghosts are a slew of other themes. The idea of family, both genetic and chosen, both for the good guy and the baddies, is prominent. The importance of the past, especially a person’s worst moment, echoes throughout. Hidden potential, the kind that we keep secret to protect others or keep them from judging us, runs through as well.

I went into this book thinking that it was a book 2 of 3. (I was wrong, it is book 2 of 2. At least for now….) Based on that, my expectations were relatively low (see my sequel thoughts above). I was pleasantly surprised by the complete feel of the story. By the end of the book, I felt like Danny’s story was whole. I would not be surprised, though, if King decides to go back to this world.

After all, there is a young girl in Doctor Sleep. A young girl with the shining. Just like Danny.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Whispered

Chuck Wendig issued a challenge to write a short story inspired by a song lyric. This is what happens when that challenge mixes in my mind with a Tweet from MagicalRealismBot.

Last night I dreamt about a koala whispering inside a mountain. It beckoned me close with its dainty dagger-tipped paws. I stepped into the fire-lit cave, careful to dodge the scatter of toothpick-thin bones strewn around the fire pit.

I stopped two feet away, hoping that was close enough. Hoping even more that it was far enough.

Staring at the mouth of the koala didn’t help me separate the shushing hiss of its whisper into actual words. I leaned forward, strained my ears to filer the popping crackle of the fire from the furry voice.

I flinched when a paw lifted toward me. Even dream-me wouldn’t get any closer to this unknown.

“Could you speak up?” Dream-me’s voice was surprisingly steady and clear. The koala coughed and took in a big breath, then let the air out in a long, weary sigh.

“You’ll see him tomorrow, dear.” The scary furry, it was a she. An old she. A granny with a creased, worn voice.

“Him?” I asked after a pause long enough to reveal my surprise.

“Your one true love.”

“Oh.”

Then I woke up.

My hand snaked out to the far edge of the bed, finding clean cold cotton. Not warmth. Not him.

Apparently I believed the words the mysterious granny koala uttered about a man who didn’t exist. Not in that moment, anyway.

I hate dreams that linger after I wake, that make me question where the line is between dream and reality, between night and day. I hate dreams that are just freaking weird.

A koala whispering in a mountain.

Right.

I closed my eyes again and pushed the koala away, trying to wrap myself up in the promise of him, the him that I would see tomorrow. I imagined him there, with me in the dark, his body cushioning me, the warmth of his flesh draped over me.

But he wasn’t there. The sleep, the deep dark calm that I so desperately needed to return to wasn’t there either.

I threw off the covers and moved on. Returned to the real reality. A very him-less reality.

I didn’t spend my day looking for him. I didn’t spend my day searching the periphery of my vision for a glimpse of a sliver of him. I spent my day deliberately not thinking about the koala in the mountain.

Her voice kept echoing in my head, forcing me to look up, look around. Look for him.

Sometimes you don’t find what you’re looking for. You search and wish and hunt in vain.

Sometimes you don’t look at all. You refuse to search and wish and hunt in vain. And you end up finding what you weren’t looking for.

Sometimes you pretend that you’re not looking so well, so fiercely, that you finally really do forget to look. In that moment, when you accept that you won’t find the thing you can’t allow yourself to want, it drops into your lap.

Or walks through the door.

Sometimes the second you find it, the second it finds you, you wish you had never wished at all. Because it’s not right.

It’s perfect. It’s exactly what you imagined, exactly what you remembered, down to the curvy curl of the deep brown hair around the delicate arch of his ear. The smell of his body wash. The flash of green peeking through the brown of his eye. The flirt of the dimple high on his right cheek. It’s him.

He’s impossible.

And completely wrong. Wisps of hair don’t hide the patches of scaly red scalp. The musk of the body wash doesn’t cover the rich, ripe aroma of rot. The flash of green battles the milky white of cataract. The dimple has poked through, revealing raw flesh and bone beneath.

The koala told me I would see him again, my one true love. She didn’t lie to me. She just left out the rest of the story. She didn’t tell me that seeing him again meant I would have to kill him.

Again.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Landline and Other Top Reads of 2017

In December, I finished 10 books:

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (audiobook)
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (reread)
I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (audiobook)
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The Crown by Kiera Cass
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer (audiobook)
Fever by Deon Meyer
The Man Who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon

This brings my total for the year to 140 books!

My Five Star reads for 2017:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker
The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Winter by Marissa Meyer
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Duma Key by Stephen King
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
The Blonde by Anna Godbersen
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
The Reader by Traci Chee
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Of these thirty, it is hard to choose a favorite. I am a little in love with Leigh Bardugo right now, and super entranced by the worlds and characters she creates. Yet none of her titles above stands out as a clear winner.

I think I would have to go with Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Unlike Bardugo, Rowell sets her stories in the very ordinary world. She populates her tales with very ordinary people. And that is why I love them so. Landline in particular felt like visiting with people that I personally know. Which is a little strange, given that the story is based on a phone having magical powers. (I won’t explain the phone thing, you will have to read it!)

While I have read a lot this year (thanks in part to having a long drive to work again filled with audiobooks), I have not been as prolific with my own words. I did finish a draft of Variations, the contemporary young adult novel set in a school of the arts, but haven’t finished revisions yet. This is at the top of my priority list for 2018. I also have a YA paranormal story lurking in the dark recesses of my brain, waiting not so patiently for its turn to hit the page.

What did you accomplish in 2017? What is on your to-do list for the new year?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Wife Between Us and Other November Reads

In November I finished sixteen books:

Come Sundown by Nora Roberts (audiobook)
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
The Rule Maker by Jennifer Blackwood
Blue Smoke and Murder by Elizabeth Lowell (audiobook)
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (ARC)
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audiobook)
The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan (reread)
Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (audiobook)
The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
The Crystal Scepter by C.S. Lakin
The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide by Julia G. Thompson
Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
Mosquitoes Don’t Bite Me by Pendred Noyce
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (audiobook)
The Duchess by Danielle Steel (audiobook)

I received an Advanced Readers’ Edition of The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen from the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) as part of a Shelf Awareness giveaway. This book is scheduled for release in January 2018.

This is the story of Vanessa, a woman who has recently split with her husband, Richard. Her ex is moving on without her, seemingly happy and content with his new, soon-to-be bride. Vanessa is fairing less well. She seems to be struggling with depression, with alcohol, with grief for the relationship she has lost.

Vanessa is obsessed with Richard and his new relationship. She is unable to move forward with her new life away from Richard.

To avoid spoilers, that is almost all I can say about the plot of this novel. There are numerous shifts and twists as the story moves forward, some that work very well, some that I struggled with a bit more.

While I really enjoyed the first half of this novel, and fell into the characters and their individual issues, I hit a stumbling block at the midpoint. There is a huge turn at this point, which there typically is in a novel. This turn was a reveal, a piece of information that changes the context of everything that came before it and sets the stage for everything that comes after.

My problem was that this piece of information was one that the narrator had for the entire story, and did not share with me, the reader. This can work in a story if there is a good reason for the narrator to keep the secret. In this case, I saw no reason for the secret, no benefit to the narrator in keeping me in the dark. Instead, I felt that I had been deliberately tricked. And not tricked by the narrator. I felt the presence of the authors at this point in the novel. I felt that they had deliberately mislead me.

This feeling of being tricked by the authors pulled me out of the story. I had a very hard time connecting with the characters in the second half of the novel. I was hyper-aware of the authors standing over the shoulders of the characters, nudging them down certain paths, telling them what to do.

Possibly because of this feeling of the authors standing over me and the characters, the resolution of the story felt both clunky and too neat and tidy at the same time. I felt that the authors had placed marks for the characters to hit at the end, and then manhandled the characters into those perfect positions.

Trust, betrayal, and manipulation are themes that run through this story. So maybe it was an intentional choice of the authors to make the reader struggle with all of those things in the second half of the novel.

I guess I really should have seen all of those feelings coming. The back of the book does say “Assume nothing. Read between the lies.”

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Variations on a Tango Girl

I am working on revisions of my latest novel at the moment, which means I haven't written any new short fiction. Instead, I offer you a excerpt from Variations on a Tango Girl, my work in progress. This story is set in a high school of the arts.

I am so nervous during mods that I fall out of pirouette, as if I haven’t done a million of them before, as if my feet don’t sometimes do them in my sleep. After two days of whispers, staring, and even one blatant pointer in the cafeteria, today is judgment day. Well, I’ve already been judged, I guess. Today is just my sentencing, the day I find out my fate.

Desiree has been in different mods over the last couple of days, so I haven’t been able to ask her if she’s heard anything, good, bad, or otherwise. I don’t know her well enough to park myself next to her at lunch, or find her between classes. I don’t know anyone well enough to ask. I would feel like I’m fishing for compliments.

When mods are done for the day, I know the list is up. I can almost feel it down there in the green room, a swarm of bodies crowded around it, eyes eagerly searching for the names of their owners.

I hide. I linger in the locker room. I take a ridiculously long shower. I blow dry my hair. I pluck my eyebrows. Eventually, I run out of procrasti-hygiene.

I leave my bag in the locker room, an excuse to retreat to the safety of a bathroom stall if my name isn’t on the list. An escape route if I have made a complete fool of myself.

There are roughly seven times as many bodies as I expect when I get to the green room. I thought everyone would have come and gone by now, leaving only a few lingerers. Instead, there are more than a dozen people left.

I’m not sure what to make of this space. It’s called the green room, but it’s not really a room. More of a lobby, an opening, an atrium, maybe. And it is definitely not green. The walls are a particularly boring shade of off-white. Dark gray carpet covers the floor. And the benches. They’re really just large blocks, maybe built out of plywood and then covered by an odd shade of blue carpet.

When I step into the not-really-green-room, silence falls. The guy from auditions with the spiky black hair and the wolf whistle is the only one brave enough to make eye contact. Everyone else is actively not looking directly at my face. Spiky guy smiles at me, then stands and walks away from the guy he had been talking to in the corner.

“Congratulations. You’re Mavis, right?”

The words are all in the wrong order. Congratulations before he even knows for sure I am who he thinks I am. But the congratulations mean I am on the list, I am part of the cast. I haven’t made a fool of myself, ruined my chances of having enough stuff to list on my application. I can list Chicago as another extracurricular activity.

I move my head in what might be a tiny nod. “Thanks? I haven’t seen the list yet.”

I step past him, headed for the single sheet of paper posted on the bulletin board. I feel his body trail behind mine, close enough that his body heat brushes my bare arm.

Before I am close enough to read the words on the page, I see the tall blond that took the lead in auditions. Trina? She is leaning on the wall across from the bulletin board, her eyes focused on me. She looks furious. Her eyes are red, as if she’s been crying. The door next to her swings open, and Dr. Rott sticks her head out.

“Come on in, Trina.”

Trina pushes off from the wall and pulls her eyes from me, letting them skate over spiky-haired guy as she follows Dr. Rott into her office and closes the door. I feel like a massive weight has been peeled off of my shoulders. Her gaze was heavy.

“Don’t worry, she’ll get over it.” Spiky guy is still hovering at my shoulder, still putting words together in ways that don’t quite make sense.

I turn toward him, about to ask what he means, but bail halfway and pivot my head back to the sheet of paper. I think it can explain what is happening here.

My name is at the top of the list. I read it three times, thinking there must be another Mavis. But there’s no way there’s another Mavis Ostreicher at this school. Me. At the top of the list. Next to the name Velma Kelly.

Dr. Rott put my name in the spot where Trina’s belongs. No wonder she looked angry.

I scan down the list, my eyes skimming over a list of names I don’t know. Desiree is down toward the bottom, just below Trina’s. Where mine belongs.

Maybe Dr. Rott made a mistake, switched our names. But if she had, she would have realized it already, fixed it. Or at least taken down the messed up list.

This must be what Dr. Rott meant. I don’t know why. This isn’t how this is supposed to be. I want to be a dancer. I want to be able to check another item off my list of things to include in my application.

This is more than an item to check off. This is more than I can do. I can’t sing. I can’t act. I’m just a dancer.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mr. Dickens and Other October Reads

I finished 8 books in October:

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (audiobook)
Testimony by Scott Turow
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas
The Reader by Traci Chee
The Heir by Kiera Cass
Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
11/22/63 by Stephen King (audiobook)
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I received an Advance Reading Copy of Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva from the publisher (Flatiron Books) in exchange for an honest review.

This is the type of book I am a sucker for. A re-imagining of a person or story from the past that we all think we know. I love seeing the familiar, the expected parts of a story shoved up against details that I would never have thought of. What I realized while reading this book is that I am not as familiar with A Christmas Carol as I thought.

Mr. Dickens is the imagined story of Charles Dickens in the months leading up to the publication of A Christmas Carol. Mr Dickens is in a bit of a bind. His stories are not selling as well as they should. His wife, children, and other family are demanding more time, more money, more everything. And his publishers are, too. Mr. Dickens is given an ultimatum. Write a Christmas tale in a few short weeks, or we will take away promised money.

Charles rebels, refusing to write the story he has no interest in writing. But he finds himself backed into a corner, in desperate need of the money the Christmas tale promises. So he caves, and begins to write. The only trouble is, Mr. Dickens has lost his Christmas spirit.

This novel is the story of Charles finding his Christmas spirit and writing the story we know and love.

Samantha does a great job of plunking us into London and Mr. Dickens’ mind as his personal story mirrors the tale he is beginning to weave. We get to know Charles and several of the people he interacts with, most notably Eleanor Lovejoy, who serves as his muse and guide on his journey. The story is peppered with references to both Dickens’ personal life and the details of A Christmas Carol.

This is actually the part that gave me trouble. I have not read A Christmas Carol in a very long time. While I remember the general story line, and many of the key characters, the details are far from fresh. Reading Mr. Dickens, I often felt like I was missing a smart reference, or an inside joke that I should have gotten. I began to wish that I had re-read the original tale before diving into this novel.

Overall, this is a lovely, refreshing holiday read that lovers of A Christmas Carol will enjoy. But I do recommend re-reading the original story before you start!