Monday, July 17, 2017

Luminary

The lighter snaps to life as the last
of the sun drains from the sky
It is naked, bare,
Harshly bright compared to the muted
flicker of the candles that line the path
A host of hands reach up, prop the ribs,
the flesh, as the fire kindles
Air warmed, the white orb lifts away,
a ghost drifting up into the sky
Eyes lift, follow the glow until
the distance is too great
The flame fades from sight
leaving its heat behind in our hearts

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prophecy (The Lightning Thief and Other June Reads)

Persuasion by Martina Boone
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler
Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger (digital ARE) Click here for full review
‘Round Midnight by Laura McBride (ARE) Click here for full review
Just After Sunset by Stephen King (reread)
Illusion by Martina Boone
Fairest by Marissa Meyer
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (reread)
The Land of Darkness by C.S. Lakin
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audiobook, reread)

So, I wanna talk about prophecies. This is partly coming from my reread of The Lightning Thief, and partly from other life stuff. You’re about to get a mish-mash of the two.

Prophecies are a common trope in fiction. They sit on the edge of the land of cliche, tempting writers to use them as a tool in their plots. This can be an easy way to send your hero on an adventure (hey, the prophecy says you have to), or a complication tossed into an already happening adventure (ha, ha, you only think you’re making your own choices). Whenever they appear, we tend to say, oh, fantasy, that just doesn’t happen in real life. Prophecies aren’t real, and we maybe shouldn’t use them for the sake of making our fiction more believable.

I would like to argue that prophecies happen every day. Maybe not like we see them in Harry Potter, or the Percy Jackson series. Smaller. Sneakier. But no less powerful. No less able to change the course of our stories.

Prophecy is the teacher who says “I know you can do this,” or “You’re going to fail, so why even try?” Prophecy is the parent who says “You can be whatever you want,” or “You’ll never amount to anything.” Prophecy is the doctor who says “You’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re twenty.”

Any of these prophecies can have a huge impact on the course of your life. The student/child either lives up to what is expected of them (or isn’t), or sees the comment as a challenge, something to prove wrong.

In medicine, prophecy is called prognosis. You get a diagnosis, the what of your condition. And then a prognosis, a prediction of the outcome of your condition. You makes choices for your future based on your projected lifespan and level of function. The option to fight, to prove the prognosis wrong, is a lot trickier. How much control do you really have over the progression of a condition? Sometimes none.

Sometimes prophecies do not play out the way anyone expected.

When I was thirteen, I had a year of suckitude. I had intense pain in my left ankle and leg. A slew of doctors had no idea what the problem was. I ended up in a cast for eight weeks. (Super fun during rainy springtime in Florida) Finally, the right doctor ordered the right blood work. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The cast was removed, and massive anti-inflammatories were consumed.

The wrong doctor (seen for something else) informed me that with my diagnosis, I would be in a wheelchair by the time I was twenty and dead by thirty.

As a thirteen-year-old, I had no idea what to do with that. I held it tightly to me, though. I carried it through every moment of my life.

I was lucky. Within a year of starting medication, I was in remission.

On my twentieth birthday, I went for my daily morning run up a mountain in New Mexico and yelled from the top “F— you, Dr. _______!”

But prophecies are tricksy. As my thirtieth birthday approached, the prophecy reared its head, reminding me that it still lurked. A few months before my birthday, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had my thyroid removed, and had the fun of dealing with a string of complications. I was convinced that the prophecy was partly true. Right expiration date, wrong cause.

Again, I was lucky. My birthday passed, and I was still alive. A year past diagnosis, no sign of the cancer. (Still no sign to date, FYI)

The prophecy was squashed again.

And now I am less than a month from forty. Another decade. Those seem to be key moments in my personal prophecy. Again, the prophecy is being tricksy.

Last week, I spent a day in a wheelchair. I could not stand on or move my right hip. An ultrasound showed fluid in my hip joint. Inflammation markers are elevated in my blood work. I have been off and on crutches since. My immediate thought: this is the return of the arthritis that brought the initial prophecy. Perhaps the cause was right, but the expiration date was wrong.

We will see how this pans out. We will see what new turns the prophecy takes.

But my point: the idea of prophecies in fiction is not far-fetched. I do not cringe when I see them in stories. The challenge is to find the twists and turns, the ways the prophecy can be true and not true at the same time, the ways the prophecy changes the course of events just by existing. And of course, how your hero deals with the words in the first place.

Personally, I like to see the prophecy that seems crystal clear on the surface. It isn’t a riddle or a mystery. Everyone knows what it means, they just aren’t sure how to deal with it, or change it. Then a turn of events forces everyone to change their perspective, makes everyone reconsider the meaning of the prophecy.

This, to me, is what life is. Taking what you are given (including prophecies) and building meaning around it.

Have you used prophecy in your writing? How did you make it twist and turn?

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Year of Bodies

I didn’t realize salt had a smell until I moved inland. Maybe my smell sensors were always full, clogged, and couldn’t register the salt. Maybe it was just pleasant, a lovely thing that blended into the background. Unlike the air here. Here I am full of the absence of salt. I miss it.

I knew that I would miss the water. I planned for that. I found a cute little house sitting at the bend of a long skinny lake. The water lies twenty feet, maybe thirty, from my front door. But it’s fresh water. Fresh. That’s not what the smell says. The smell says full of living things and the things they make. Poop. Pee. Previously dead things that are slowly decomposing below the depths. The smell is earthier than the sea I loved. More minerally. Less salty.

I can’t describe the salt smell. It’s just there. A note of fresh laced through the smells of life. A whiff of movement in the stagnant air.

I moved here to protect myself. I was lucky that I could. I try not to think about all the other women, the women who look like me but couldn’t afford to flee the city the killer used as his hunting ground. I’d like to think I would have saved them all if I could, but the reality is, he wants us. He’s going to take some of us. I can only make sure it’s not me.

The Pin-up Man.

That’s what the newspapers call him. That’s the name I heard every time I turned on the TV or radio. The name splattered across billboards next to the picture of the current month’s girl.

It is supposed to be a warning. Watch out. Protect yourselves. I think he likes it. The fame. The fact that everyone knows what he likes, what he’s looking for now. The fact that the police still can’t find him. It’s October. This is the tenth month of his reign.

This is the month that the pin-up girl looks likes me.

The first body was found in January. A tall, leggy, sliver of a girl. A fountain of blond hair dripping to her waist. She was posed on a park bench, her legs tucked neatly together, her back arched, hands tucked behind her head. Next to her on the bench was a page from a wall calendar. January. The picture was a near match to the scene on the bench.

February brought a short redhead, March a muscular brunette, April a stunning black woman with a massive afro.

Every month brought fresh girls posed to match the calendar photo they were paired with.

In May, someone finally figured out which calendar the killer was using. American Beauties, it’s called. Pretty, fresh-faced girls to represent the ideal of America.

People went crazy, tracking down places to buy the calendar. Physical stores were out in a matter of hours. Online wasn’t much better. Bidding on BuyItHere had the price jacked up to over a thousand dollars. Everyone wanted to know who was next, who should go into hiding in June.

I know the price on BuyItHere because I had the winning bid. One thousand, two hundred, fifty-three dollars. It was worth every penny.

The second the calendar landed on my doorstep, I tore off the plastic sheeting and flipped through the months. I stopped cold at October. Raven dark hair in tight curls to the shoulder, green eyes, a scatter of freckles over the bridge of the nose. A tattoo on the exposed right shoulder. An octopus with a pencil clenched tight in one arm.

I dropped the calendar and turned my head to catch the mirror on the wall behind me. I could see my octopus reflected there, stretched under my raven curls.

There was no question, I had to leave the city. How much of a catch would I be for the Pin-up Man? Not just a near match to the photos he clearly had a fetish for, but the real deal, the actual girl who posed for the shot. If he found me, if he somehow knew I was in the city, I doubted he would be able to resist.

So here I am. In the place with no salt. No sea. Wrapped in the stagnant, ripely rotten smell of the lake. Safety is worth the smell.

There’s just this one thing.

An hour ago, I was in the little shop down at the base of the lake, the only place within a thirty minute drive of my little safe nest. It’s a bait shop, really, a place to rent a boat and stock your beer cooler before setting out in your boat. I found milk, bread, sliced processed cheese stuff, peanut butter.

And the calendar. Hanging behind the register.

I left the things I had chosen helter-skelter on the closest shelf and managed to not run to my car. As I turned to pull open the door, I saw his face. The man behind the counter. A grin split his face in response to what must have been panicked terror on mine.

I should have never left the city.

I am the October girl.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Blonde and Other May Reads

I finished eleven books in May:

Shadow Man by Alan Drew (ARC)
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Productivity for Creative People by Mark McGuinness
Heartthrobs by Carol Dyhouse (ARC)
The Civil War Love Letter Quilt by Rosemary Youngs
The Map That Leads to You by J.P. Monninger (ARC)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audiobook, reread)
The Map Across Time by C.S. Lakin
The Blonde by Anna Godbersen
Collapse by R.J. Infantino

Three of these books were advance reader copies (ARCs) that I received from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. If you want to see those, you can find them below:

Shadow Man: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1986559451
Heartthrobs: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1994311546
The Map That Leads to You: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1999791030

My favorite read this month was probably The Blonde by Anna Godbersen. This book is adult historical fiction about Marilyn Monroe. The book takes the moments of her life that were witnessed by the public and imagine a story that occurred behind the scenes.

The imagined story is that Marilyn was recruited by the Soviets as a spy of sorts, to get information on JFK. To convince Marilyn to work with them, her handler dangles the promise that Marilyn will finally get to meet the father she has never known.

I won’t lie. I have been fascinated by Marilyn Monroe since I was a teenager. It may have come from the ridiculous number of times I was asked if I was related to her. (My maiden name is Monroe). I don’t know how many times I had to remind people that Marilyn Monroe was a stage name, that her real name was Norma Jean Baker. It didn’t help my fascination that there was a connection (of unknown strength) between Marilyn and JFK. I have also been a bit obsessed with his story.

So I was a prime target for this imagined history. The main focus of the story was Marilyn’s intentional effort to get close to JFK, and the unintentional side effect of falling in love with him. This was where the story was strongest.

There were a couple of things that worked less well for me, though. Jackie Kennedy was portrayed as a cold and distant woman, a marriage of convenience. She was pushed aside and dismissed as insignificant to the plot. I would have preferred to see her more engaged in the story, or see her with a bit more depth and dimension.

I also had some trouble with the last part of the book. The ending felt a bit forced, as if  Anna knew she had to give the couple some closure. Given that both JFK and Marilyn die at a young age, this is incredibly tricky. I won’t tell you what Anna does to close the story, but it was probably the weakest part of the book, in my opinion.

What I loved most about this book was the idea of taking snippets of a story, the moments that everyone sees, and building a whole world of story behind it. This is what historical fiction always does, but this one started with moments that were so iconic, so part of the memory of our society (Marilyn’s version of Happy Birthday for JFK, for example), that it felt closer to me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tango Girls

I finally finished the rough draft of my latest novel. This is the fourth novel I've finished in the last two years. I'm still not entirely sure how this happened....

The novel is part of what I think will be a set of four novels, each focusing on a different main character. I have no idea what the title of this novel is, but the series of books is title Tango Girls.

Here is a snippet from the novel. Please be kind, this is a completely unrevised rough draft!

I am lurking in the candy aisle at 6:55 Friday morning. I’m not sure that I really made a decision to do this, to take up Tate on his offer of a ride. It was just the idea of not having to sit on the bus. I did the thing that didn’t involve a bus. It won’t hurt to take the ride once, I can always change my mind later and go back to the bus. Even if the thought makes me cringe a bit.

The rattle-tinkle of the strip of bells hanging on the front door pulls my eyes from the gummy chipmunks. Why are those a thing? A guy with a tower of black kinky curls walks through the doors. His hair reaches the 5’11” mark beside the door. I estimate his head reaches to 5’9”. It’s a lot of hair.

He makes a beeline straight for the coffee island. I watch him grab a cup and dump in four packets of sugar and three cups of hazelnut creamer before pouring coffee over the top. He is humming something and shifting on his feet, almost dancing, as he does this. I can’t make out what the music is, but he is definitely putting on a coffee show.

“You’re here.” I turn to the voice on my right. Tate.

“Yeah. Good morning. And thanks.” If Tate is beside me, I think the coffee dancer must be his friend. “Is that Malcolm?” I send my gaze back to the island where the show has progressed to stirring while his feet patter out a bit of soft-shoe.

“Yes.”

“Does he do this every morning?”

“Yes.”

“What is he like after he adds all that sugar and caffeine to his already overflowing energy?”

“You’ll see.”

My eyes widen. I’m going to be trapped in a car with him when all of that hits his system. Maybe this is an awful idea. But I’m stuck. The bus is long gone. If I wait for  the next one, I’ll miss English.

“You’ll survive. He hasn’t exploded yet.”

This is my real concern. Tate pulled it right out of my head. I look up at him, and he is smiling down at me.

I sigh. “Okay. Let’s go.”

I have so many reservations. Deep, deep reservations. But I climb into the car with these two unknowns anyway. Malcolm insists that I take the front seat, because I’m “a lady.” I’d much rather sit in the back where I can hide, stay out of their conversation and the path of Malcolm’s potentially frantic, explosive energy.

The first few minutes are relatively calm, silent even. I pull my script out of my bag and flip it open, intent on memorizing the lines to my first two songs. I want to be able to focus on the notes, the music during rehearsal, not juggling a sheet of paper to help me with the words.

Malcolm has other ideas. He has a lot of ideas and a ton of random facts. He is determined to share them all with me in the next forty-five minutes.

“Did you know there are two skulls in Hayden’s tomb?”

This one stops me cold. “Hayden, as in, the guy in the show?” I pivot my head to look over my shoulder so that I can see Malcolm out of the corner of my eye.

His look of confusion mirrors mine. “Hayden is dead.”

“What?”

Malcolm and I sit staring at each other in puzzled silence for a moment. Tate breaks it. “I think Malcolm is talking about Haydn, with no e. Not the guy that goes to our school.”

Malcolm’s brows relax. “Why would I talk about a guy at our school? Haydn. No e. Austrian composer.”

That makes much more sense, and yet none at all.

Now that his confusion has passed, Malcolm resumes bouncing slightly in his seat, vibrating, really. I can feel it pass through the hand he is using to grip the headrest of my seat as he leans his head forward into the space between the two front seats.

At this point, I decide it will be easier just to play along. “No. I did not know there are two skulls in Haydn’s tomb. No e.”

I hear a tiny snort from the driver’s seat. I glance over. Tate is smiling and shaking his head ever so slightly. I feel like he’s heard this version of the Malcolm show before.

Malcolm continues as if I asked for more information. “His real skull was stolen. By those science-ish people who study the shapes of people’s skulls, the bumps and stuff. So someone, like his relatives, or something, put a fake skull in his tomb, so he wouldn’t be headless. But they got the real skull back eventually. And just added it to the tomb. They didn’t take the fake one out. I think it’s because they weren’t sure at that point which one was the real one, and didn’t want to through away Haydn’s actual head.”

There might have been breaths in there somewhere, but I didn’t hear them.

“Death is weird. And people dodge it all the time. Like the London orchestra. They were booked to travel on the Titanic. But something happened at the last minute, and they changed boats. So they lived. Like, the whole orchestra should be in the bottom of the ocean somewhere, but they’re not.”

“That was lucky.” It’s the best I can do. I feel obligated to say something, but I’m clearly not as obsessed with music-related death as Malcolm is.

Again, Tate seems to pull my thoughts from my head. “Maybe enough with the death facts, Malcolm. What else you got?”

Or, not quite what’s in my head. I was more interested in a general stop in fact-lets, not just the death specific ones.

“There are more than seventy pieces of wood in my violin.”

I turn my head to look into the back seat. I missed his case when I climbed into the car. There is a black hourglass settled in the seat behind Tate, sitting upright like a little human. The seatbelt is crossed over it and latched into place. I smile.

“Is that your violin?” I know it’s an obvious question, but I ask anyway. “Can I see it?”

“Not in the car. Tatiana stays safely buckled until the car is no longer in motion.”

“You named your violin.” There is zero question in my voice. Of course Malcolm named his violin. Maybe she knows the name of Tate’s car. I don’t suggest this out loud.

“I didn’t name her. It’s just who she is. The beautiful and elegant Tatiana de Corleon.”

I smile at Malcolm and turn back to look out the windshield so that he can’t see what happens on my face. I can’t control the raise of my eyebrows, the twitching of my lips as I struggle to keep in the giggle.

“She is beautiful,” Tate says. Somehow he manages to keep his voice straight, I don’t hear a trace of a laugh in there.

Malcolm is silent for long enough that I am able to focus on my script. I’m not sure if he’s lost in reverie, or dreams of dancing with Tatiana, or just passed out from caffeine and sugar overload.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Motivation (April 2017 Reads)

I finished twelve books in April:

The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (reread)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
Touch by Courtney Maum (digital ARC)
Identical by Scott Turow

“What’s your motivation?”

I’m not sure how many times I heard that question in high school and college. When you are a theatre major, you hear it almost daily. Acting is really just figuring out what the character wants and showing the audience how much they want it.

This month, the same question has been swirling in my mind. Two of the books I read this month stirred it up, both because I had issues with the characters motivation. In one case, because they didn’t seem to have a motivation, in the other because their actions didn’t match their motive.

The first book I want to mention is Touch by Courtney Maum. This was a digital ARC I received in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in my review, click here.

The short version is I didn’t really like the book. What it boiled down to for me was that I had no idea what the main character wanted. I couldn’t even figure out what I should want for her. So I didn’t care what was happening to her. I didn’t care about the few choices she made. Eventually, this changed, the character developed a goal, and started moving toward it. But it was too late for me to become invested in the story.

The second book I actually really liked. The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig is the sequel to The Girl From Everywhere. This is a duology (I think there are only two books, but I would absolutely read a third) about a girl who has the ability to navigate through time and space as long as she has a map.

Warning: If you haven’t read the book, and plan on it, there are some mild spoilers ahead.

Nix (the main character) starts the story with a very clear goal. She has learned that Kash, the man she loves, will drown at some point in time (though she does not know when/ where it will occur). Her goal is to save him, to not lose the man she loves. This is a crystal clear goal, and one that I firmly support. Kash is my favorite character in the books.

The trouble I ran into was in the how. Nix learns that a man named Crowhurst has figured out how to change the past. He has figured out how to double back in time and revisit a map that he has previously visited to change what happened there. Nix latches onto this as the way to save Kash and sets out to make Crowhurst tell her how it works.

What was missing for me was how the ability to change the past would keep Kash from drowning. There was nothing (that I know of) that occurred earlier in Nix’s story that she could change to alter Kash’s future.

So instead of riding along with the story, I kept drifting out, into my own head to try to figure out how what Nix was trying to do was going to get her what she wanted. The best I managed to come up with was that Nix had already accepted that she would watch Kash drown. She just wanted to be able to go back and fix it after it happened. If that’s what Nix was thinking, it would have helped me stay in the story to have Nix lay it out there. Honestly, a conversation between Nix and Kash along the lines of “You’re going to die. But don’t worry, I’ll save you later” would have done the trick.

These motivational issues have gotten me thinking about my own writing. I am looking at every scene in my stories to see if the character has a clear goal, and if that goal is clear enough to carry the reader through the scene and story.

It has also got me thinking about why knowing what a character wants is so important for a reader. Knowing what a character wants tells us so much about them. It gives us something to root for. It makes us wonder how far they are willing to go for that thing they want. Where is the line they won’t cross? Who will they recruit (or squash) on the way to get it? Want characters (and people) want is the core of who they are. We are all defined by our dreams.

Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Way Back

Again, the middle of the month has snuck up on me. Typically, I post a new bit of short fiction around the fifteenth. But I am deep in the dark and spooky drafting cave where the bright flash of short fiction cannot reach. (Translation: All of my writing has been on my current novel in progress, I ain’t been writin’ any shorts.)

The current novel in progress is set in a school of the arts, which has sent me into the land of remembery. Even though I was in the theatre department at my high school, the editors of our literary journal were kind (or pitied me) enough to publish bits of my writing.

I have resisted the urge to edit myself, so here are the bits as originally published in Elan (Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Literary Journal).

Shears and Stripes


We sit in the small stick-shift truck
bumping towards the barbershop
with the candy-striped pole

inside we walk across the soft down of
the newly cropped hair to sit in
the old red chairs lining the wall
with their dull, worn leather
peeling off the seats

we never get our hair cut,
just chatter and jabber for hours
while we nibble on
the chocolate frosted donuts
that only taste good in the
small little shop with
the red and white pole out front.

Note- This poem is about five-year-old me visiting the barbershop with my grandpa. I miss you, Valter Vance.

Falling

He talks to me, and it becomes difficult to keep from jumping off the cliff. Even though I hate to fall, I think that eventually someone will catch me at the bottom and make it all worthwhile. But, that someone may not catch me and I’ll fall to the ground. Then I’ll have to pick myself up, wounded though I may be, and come face to face with the person who let me fall. If he let me fall to catch another, I’ll have to face her too. Sitting snugly in his arms, where I know it’s very comfortable to be. We’ll have one last long look and he’ll turn to walk away, carrying the princess in his arms. Then I’ll stand at the bottom of the cliff, watching him go. He might look back, or throw a word over his shoulder that will give me the motivation to turn to the cliff and begin the struggle to climb back to the top.

As I climb I think of the fall, the not knowing if he’ll catch me, or let me drop as he’s done before. I near the top and I swear I’ll never fall for him again. But in my heart I know that all he has to do is say my name, wrap his arms around my waist as he likes to do, or flat-out ask and I’ll gladly jump again. I’m a lemming, only a whole lot worse because I know what I’m doing and what it means when I step off the edge.

I’ve reached the top, and I look down. There he is. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him, yet it feels like only yesterday. I step closer to the edge to get a better look, thinking all the while, “You’re too close, step away from the edge!” Do I listen? No. I waver there on the edge watching him looking up at me. He holds out his hand. I start to cry as I take the final step over the edge, and I’m falling again, again, again……..

Note- This one is about sixteen-year-old me and that’s all I have to say about that.

What writings do you have tucked away that you might rather forget you ever wrote?