Thursday, June 26, 2014

Her Alien Phase

[I'm in the middle of revising a novel draft regarding another native daughter of Bastian Creek. In that story, several people fall victim to The Ladies Upstairs and their belief in the efficacy of stealing Fate to make the world that is more like the Will Have Been and, of course, to give themselves more of the good things that add savor to the everyday. Since that draft has stalled, shifted course, and generally behaved like a creek unaware of its proper banks, I've discovered some pieces of the initial draft, like the rocket slide, that no longer fit into Slay Me a Love Song. The rocket slide, in particular, I was sorry to lose. It appears here in a story fragment set somewhat before the events of SMLS , when Bastian Creek is threatened by Hurricane Beverly and a denizen of the Will Have Been rediscovers a childhood friend.

"Jenny, Jenny, moss is soft and pineapple sweet...NOT! It (Spanish moss) is related to pineapples." Here there was a drawing of a grinning pineapple. "According to Mrs. Lyle. Missed you at lunch. You are most definitely pineapple sweet!" Rhonda pressed her feet further along the curve of the metal capsule and twisted herself around so that more light fell on the page. Which Jenny? There were a million back in junior high. Cheerleaders and student council the entire blonde lot of them. It was just possible that she had known this Jenny; Rhonda remembered Mrs. Lyle's class and the pineapple/Spanish moss thing, something about flowers, maybe? Back when crawling up inside the rocket slide wouldn't make her feel like Alice outgrowing herself. She took another sip from her water bottle. She didn't shrink.

A breeze lifted the air around her and shifted the thin metal rocket skin. Four porthole windows quartered the upper capsule of the slide and let in just enough light to make out the various steps and rails leading down to the slide opening from this upper section. Rhonda's tennis shoes were wedged in between the wall and the railing and, as she waited out the rocket's slight shift, she noticed that her knees were pressed against that same railing, shadows patterning her skin. With her waist twisted in a curve to keep her balanced and able to hold the book up to the light, her lower body was losing sensation, becoming chill against the metal. A slight creak alerted her to another shift. She could see a bit of the ring of caution tape that had surrounded the slide. It's just a boundary marker for the fake rubber shavings. They didn't cordon off the slide or the ladder. Hurricane Beverly would probably push the slide all the way into the ditch.

Thick morning air wrapped book musk and the taste of stale cookie close to her nose, as if her breath were part of the salt and water sighing of the Texas coast, defacing memories and metals with every whisper. Light flickered with another breeze and more clouds. The frozen coffee she'd had for breakfast was burning its way back up her throat. Her stomach clenched. A memory surfaced; one of the Jennies had drowned in Bastian Creek. Just before graduation. Rhonda tried to crane her neck so that she could see the ditch. There was already water in it, even though the rain bands weren't yet moving along the coast. Had it been in this park?

The breeze and creaking stilled, leaving Rhonda's skin flushed. Sunlight returned and Rhonda settled back into the book. Her had brushed the pocket of her shorts, but her phone was locked in the car so that she couldn't be reached while she was reading. She'd rescued the book from the clearance shelves at the last remaining bookstore in Bastian Creek, certain that the old hardcover stamped with "Property of Bastian Creek Intermediate" was lost without its library brethren. Rocket Summer told the story of a group of high school students--a science genius, his two best friends and his blonde girlfriend--who discovered that actual aliens were landing in his town's playground, possibly because it contained a brand new, silver rocket slide. The picture on the title page had brought Rhonda here instead of to the lines at Wal-Mart. There might not be any water or plastic containers left at this point. Her parents, her brother Tim, and his fiancé Beth would just have to use the suitcases and boxes they'd all had for decades. The story wasn't holding her attention, it was just reminding her of growing up with Tim and previous evacuations. She put one hand against her stomach, feeling the chill settle against her stomach.

"Hurricanes cause cheap nostalgia," Rhonda said to the squirrels on the ground below. "I'm trying to grab just one memory before the storm, something to wrap all the other ones in." Immediately, she felt sorry for the squirrels. Previous flood memories of little drowned bodies and floating mats of red ants flickered into an image of a little blonde girl standing by the water at the edge of the creek, holding her arms out to mark "base" at the bottom of the yard. Run to the water for safety. "Run, anyway."

The breezes had stirred up leaves and dust from outside and rust and spiderwebs inside the capsule. Rhonda had cleared most of the webs up here with a stick. There weren't enough to worry her. People had been up here before her. The spider had hidden in beside a streak of rust. As another cloud blotted the light, it climbed down Rhonda's ponytail and rested several legs on her neck.

Rhonda slammed the water bottle into her neck, elbowing the metal enclosure. Her book slide over the treads and flopped down to the slide opening. The floor beneath her groaned and popped as Rhonda kicked the wall and yelled. She leaned over and tugged at her t-shirt until the body of the spider, legs folded, landed on a metal stair beneath her. She closed her eyes and shuddered. It was time to climb down.

She reached down, scooping up the book. Taking a few breaths, Rhonda ran her fingers along the velvet edges of the pages and then flipped the book open, looking for illustrations. A scrawl on one of the pages caught her attention. The blue ink was pressed deep into the margin, "Jenny, Jenny, green and growing, catch my hand and pull me free." Rhonda read the words aloud and traced the impression they left on that page and the ones below it. The words stood out from the back of the page like spines.

A low rumble shook the slide. Thunder? Construction equipment? Imminent containment failure? Rhonda looked outside. The squirrels had stopped moving.

Rhonda didn't want to become one of Beth's pre-wedding horror stories. A thud sounded against the metal.

"Hey, there's someone in here!" Rhonda pounded against the wall. There was another thump. She couldn't unwind herself fast enough. It had taken some maneuvering to draw herself up. She didn't think she could fit through the opening of the slide, but she was twisting around to try when the entire rocket lurched.

Rhonda pressed her face to the window and kept yelling. "Hey! I'm in here! Stop!" She could feel the entire structure twist and tilt. The sky lit up. She grabbed the railing and pulled her legs away from the stairs. The upper capsule fell, hitting against metal. Rhonda closed her eyes as the world dropped away. The capsule raced down.

There was a slight bump and the entire capsule rolled and then Rhonda felt it drop again. She bent tight against the railing, then a shock to her knees and her ribs opened her eyes. She groaned and let go. She sat down in a shallow puddle of water.

The capsule had landed in the ditch, one window facing up to the sky, one pressed into the mud, and the other two showing Rhonda the sides of the ditch. Her ears were ringing and her body ached. Pushing herself up, she saw that dark clouds had rolled in. Lightning flashed and a loud crack split the air above her. The slide had been hit by lightning.

She panicked. There was metal all around her and she was crouching in water with no way to get out.

[End of Section One]

Friday, June 20, 2014

Between the Words and the Weeds

It's hard to start a post about shutting up. There are words that are hurling themselves to the front of my brain with "hey-I-haven't-gotten-my-screentime" steaming off of them colliding with that force field of solid shame that comes from acknowledging that something you wanted isn't within your reach. This is the wince before the Band-Aid comes off.

I've decided to let go of the idea of being a published writer.

I'm not an ethical revisionist. It takes time and discernment and attention to bring a voice to life and I bring instead the kind of impatience that I recognize from school projects: how quickly can I finish this and go on the next idea? And I can do that if the only person who reads my stuff is me. If weedy, obscure drafts remain private.

The End.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

French 75

“That one. He came up to me on the first day and told me he didn’t know whether I was a girl or a boy because the ponytail on my nametag had torn off.” Genny pointed to a blonde boy on the back row of the class in the photo. “Why did you keep this?” She pressed her chin to the side, popping her neck, and shook out her shoulders. She'd been clinging to the steering wheel while navigating the deluge that marked the border. She'd abandoned the car as soon as the rain stopped. “I hadn’t thought about Gage in years.” Muscles along her back tightened as her mother tugged at her hair. “What are you doing?”

“You used to talk about him all the time. We would show this picture to the rest of the family to prove that we had slipped you in, right under the noses of the nuns.” Genny’s mother laughed like the teenager she resembled, high and clear and slightly cruel. “We thought you would entrance him. Give us children to exchange."

Genny dug her bare toes into the cool sand just beyond the patio stones. She and her mother where sitting in the small stone gazebo, facing out into the sandy field that led to the creek, visible only as a line of trees. “I don’t remember if they were nuns. Especially since it was just a summer thing.”

Her mother sat back, her white summer dress falling around her knees and pooling over her tiny waist and stomach. Genny couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked like that, if she ever had. Her mother’s hands were blue with sand from the field beyond, the Dusk her family had mined and shipped for the past few generations along the Texas coast. “Your hair was so beautiful—auburn, brown, and those sky blue curls. They were the lightest thing about you. Solid enough for living mortal, your dad said.”

Genny rolled her shoulders and stretched them up to her ears. She already missed her car and the block where she'd grown up. Dusk coated everything around her and she’d felt it seeping in, felt the hunger that it gave the people—the humans. She rubbed her arms. Showers and swimming in the creek hadn’t removed the feel of it from her skin. She wanted to feel the kick of hunger in her gut, see the halogen shimmer of something precious and dusty under glass.

She pushed her toes further into the sand, watching the wrinkles in her jean shorts relax as she slid her legs straight, catching the back of her knees against the irregular lip of stone. The picture, labelled “French, ‘75” in her mother’s elegant ink letters lay between them. She tried to relax into the same posture as her mother. She glanced to her other side, where the dress her mother had given her on her return was crumpled by her hip. It looked like a child's costume. “How long until I can, until I am back to normal?” Genny asked.

“It takes so long now to understand them. Years of school. And the boxes of stuff that you sent back, obsolete and out of date. We had to send a child out again before you returned. I don’t know how long he’ll stay out there.”

Genny frowned. “A boy? I thought…girls were preferred.”

“Boys keep up the trade and mark the nascent blood. Entire lines run along the edges. Girls are good for that. You always kept a foot in our door. We don’t need girls for that. Girls open other doors.”

“You brought me back.”

“What more could you learn? All of your information was old. You were getting old.” Her mother stared up at the gazebo roof, where a morning glory vine blooming to match the Dusk wove itself among a dome of pipes that reminded Genny of a climbing gym on the old playground at her elementary school.

“I needed to come home. I was starting to get nervous at every rainstorm, starting to overspend…” Genny had been imagining a kind of fairy-tale spa. Slimming down, drying out. Her family had been horrified to discover that she could smell Dusk and that she liked the way it smelled. Not to mention that she was hungry for food full of grease and salt and savor. Grapes exploding like musk in her mouth drizzled with the sharp sweetness of honeysuckle had been good, but she’d eaten three times as much as the rest of the family. Genny felt a burn race along the surface of her skin as she remembered her mother’s expression. The next morning, her mother had taken Genny to the beach, pulled her into the rolling waves and scrubbed her skin with the salt water until both of them were bleeding.

“I’m having a fire built among the aloes,” her mother murmured. “You need to remember how to breathe here. We’ll burn some of the water from the sea. There are still things you can do.” Genny shuddered.

“You know we came from the water, didn’t you? Not the sea, but the clear water that fell through the lightning.” Genny’s mother lifted an arm and swirled her fingers through the air. A charge shimmered in the air and a flash stabbed Genny’s arm.


“Opposite charges—we are drawn to them and they are drawn to us. Energy in the difference and the discharge.” Her mother glanced at Genny. “We’ll need more aloes for the fire. You should be the one to pick the rest.”

The aloes grew throughout the field before them, so Genny pushed herself away from the cool stone and glanced around. There were knives and baskets just to one side of the gazebo. She took one, trying to remember the proper method to selecting aloe limbs.

“Pick the ones with the sharpest spines. There is much to scour away.” Genny’s mother gestured toward the line of the creek. “Try the ones closer to the water. Change first.”

Genny changed right there, slipping out of shorts, underwear, t-shirt, and bra while her mother watched. She put on the dress, which was more of a shirt. I’m still Fae, Genny reminded herself. Still part of her flesh. Once I shrink and my skin grows thicker, it will be fine.

She walked into the Dusk barefoot, watching the blue for signs of insect life. There were things that bit hidden in the twilight of the sand. She made it more than halfway across the Dusk, when she felt the dress beginning to pinch across her chest. Her shoulders were burning. Hunger flared and she forgot herself, stamping the sand. It was dark and the soft. And trembling.

Genny looked up. The trees lining the creek shivered and parted. A house appeared—the empty green house from the block where she’d grown up on the mortal side of the highway. She froze as it lurched forward and stopped breathing as it rose on two chicken legs that gleamed a poisonous orange against the indigo Dusk.

She turned and ran, but the Dusk was too soft. Like running in a dream, she couldn’t force speed into her legs. Her muscles ached.

She dropped her shoulders and bent them forward, straining until her chest popped and then wings exploded from her back. A breeze caught them and blew her up and back.

The house loomed up, claws grasping the Dusk and bounding forward. Genny yelled, wings spread pale and loose in the night. She was reaching for the road, for the car she’d abandoned on the other side of the border when the house leapt up and ripped the wings from her back. A bolt of lightning hit the metal lattice of the gazebo and the entire structure hummed.

Her mother licked a charge from her fingers and watched as Genny fell to the ground, dead before she fell into the Dusk, wingless, no longer identifiable as Fae.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

R/W Brain

After the project that was entering all my To Be Read books in a database (because I was starting to acquire duplicates--yikes--and finding that the TBR stack took up an entire bookshelf) and deciding that I needed to read all the books acquired at Apollocon last year before this year's convention (next week), I assumed all my 'writer' time would be taken up finding excuses to keep reading. Forced march, read, read read!

To a certain extent, the delay in reading was due my distrust of but interest in the self-published books you find at a smaller convention like Apollocon: husband and wife writer teams working on multi-book fantasy series, independent writers with blog story compilations, small press authors with fantasy books unavailable in my local B&N. So far, the stories have been interesting and not what I expected--many of them have scratched the reader's itch that I've had since I was first allowed into the tiny B. Dalton F/SF section with cash of my own. Something of the writer's enthusiasm comes through and, for the most part, the books avoid the excessive length that I've noticed creeping into the bookstore.

Semi-polished and lean, these stories have also connected with my writing brain. When you read about writing (which I do, sometimes obsessively), you encounter the dichotomy of writer brain/editor brain. References to an "inner editor" who can be either a strict structural sentence engineer or some variation on "this is stupid, go back to playing ESO" are frequent. What I rarely encounter is the idea of a triple division -- an inner writer, reader, and editor. I came to writing because I am a reader. It will always be primary; I would rather read good fiction than write my own. [Maybe this disqualifies me from being a "True(TM) Writer." It's possible that I don't love it/want it enough. I can live with that.]

It's easy for me to forget, however, that reader brain is there when I'm drafting and trying not to edit as I go or revising and trying not to lose patience with the entire NOT InstaPerfect project and just start another draft. Reader brain would remind me that there is something that I'm interested in within the words and that I want that enthusiasm to come through. That the words exist solely to convey that enthusiasm. That enthusiasm--which is not a synonym for fun-all-the-time, merely a statement of ongoing, more-than-baseline interest--is how projects are completed. It is motivation and concern for the experience of others. It is finishing what you start.

This is probably something that you already know. I had forgotten. This is my blog-as-fridge magnet to remember.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Gen twisted her phone so that the map faced her palm. “We’re pretty close. Just a turn or two away.”

“Shut up, Gen. That was thunder. You should have put the entire address on your phone.” Brad twisted the steering wheel and the Nissan ran up into the tiny parking lot in front of Jim’s blank-and-Go. “We’re right at the bottom of the bowl down here. The streets’ll flood fast.” He pulled into a spot that faced the street.

Gen opened her door. “There was, like, a twenty percent chance of crap weather. I checked.” It was still hot, squinty, insta-headache weather, despite the freeways interlacing themselves in the air above the parking lot. Houston’s grid of downtown streets was just behind them to the left. “Don’t you remember? We came here for that thing when I was taking that art class.”

“I don’t remember coming down here with you. Ever. You didn’t go to places you had to find. Give me your phone.” Gen handed it over, stepping out of the car so that the breeze could shake out her shorts and tank top. Humidity shrink-wrapped the day to her pale skin, clammy from the a/c. She knew they’d been here because she’d been on the Cougar Gallery mailing list ever since, five years of not wanting to overlay the memory of that day with Brad.

He was still scrolling through her messages. “Why the hell are you on the mailing list for all these job sites? You just got a new freaking job. What was the exhibit called?”

“Dive. Everything relates to pools.” Gen leaned against the car. The wind picked up and trash blew across the parking lot. She thought she recognized the shape of one of the houses that backed up on the next street. The gallery was an ex-fraternity house, reclaimed by the university after an ear-biting incident Gen’s freshman year. Her one art class—a blurry year of slides and coffee orders for the grad student graders—had required they attend at least four shows and write about their experiences. Pretty much the entire class had come to the opening show at the ex-frat.

“I think it’s just over there. I’m going to run over before it rains and take a look. Then you can move the car.” Gen hurried across the street, forgetting to grab her phone.

The neighborhood around them was a mix of businesses and houses. It was hard to tell them apart, unless the buildings were just basic brick and glass. Gen crossed the street, cut up to the left to circle the block and felt a few spatters of rain on her neck. The unexpected touch caused her to jump and spin around.

A woman was waiting at the edge of the curb opposite her. Gen hurried forward, following a cracked sidewalk up in front of the buildings under the tangle of elevated roadways. Sharp shadows dissolved as the clouds lowered and the breeze tossed several foil and paper scraps against her legs. Gen skittered forward, trying to guess which house was the gallery. The one she’d thought it to be was boarded up, although the door was partway open. Her stomach turned cold. There were tags on the windows and the walls. Not art. Maybe gang art?
Thunder rolled above her, vibrating through the concrete and along her shivering skin. Something nearby growled back at it. A pile of blue black kittens squirmed against the fence—Gen looked twice to verify they weren’t rats. She hesitated. Art or cat?

Gen murmured at the pile and squatted beside them. You can’t really pick. It’s kinder to let them pick. She clicked her tongue and held out one hand. The middle one stood up so quickly two others flopped out of the pile. Gen continued to click and it came to her.

“You don’t wanna do that,” said a woman behind Gen. Gen glanced over her shoulder and saw the middle-aged woman from the curb, shaking her head. “Ain’t no kitten. Just leave ‘er be.”

A tiny nose bumped against Gen’s fingers and she scooped the kitten up without looking at it. “It’s hungry. And it’s going to rain.”

“Won’t hurt her. Too late, now, I guess.” The woman shuffled close, her left shoulder twitching as her shirt slid off it. A shadow flickered along her neck. Thunder boomed and the rain fell.

She hurried forward, pulling Gen along to the fence and then underneath the temporary protection of a freeway underpass. “It’s gonna steam. Ketz should have known better’n to mess with that phoenix.”

Gen balanced the kitten on one arm and fished for her phone. It was still with Brad. The rain was pouring down like a curtain, and Gen tried to watch the woman behind her, the kitten, and the water at the same time. “I should have grabbed the rest of them.” The kitten suddenly dug her back claws into Gen’s shirt and reached out to bat the rain. Curls of steam rose from its paws, the sluice of water spread out like a screen and Gen saw a sunny neighborhood beyond. She blinked. The kitten slapped at her arm with a burning paw.

Gen looked down and saw a ruff of feathers rise around the creature’s neck and along her back. “Half phoenix. Half Quetzcoatl. No part cat. Better take yourself off to Ben after the heavy stuff passes.” The woman fished in her top and pulled out a card for the Fahill Apartments. “Long A. We call it the Concrete Mushroom. Two blocks down this street, turn left, another block. Go to the third floor, ask for Ben.” The woman looked Gen up and down. “Smoky Ben. Best one for you.” With that, the woman adjusted her top so that both shoulders were exposed, rolled her neck, cracked her spine and drifted off into the rain, wings like dandelion fluff peeking from the back of her shirt.

A hot paw fell on her arm and “Ben” flared in Gen’s retina. She shook her head, smoothing the ruff of feathers that had flared around the creature's neck and along it's spine. "Art today," she said and plunged into the rain.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The View from My Cave

Summer must have snuck in behind last week's rain. I returned from LJ with a sunburn and a case of lethargy that's given me time to dig into the pile of books waiting to be read on the folding table (there may be some people in the household who are under the impression those books comprise a too-be-shelved pile). Pink-orange ribbons were on sale today, so I've restocked my favorite summer shade and am prepared for a mermaid-themed summer panorama for the shelves beside the fire place.

My brother (the working artist)--henceforward MBTWA, which makes him sound like bank--and I had begun discussing work habits and then meandered into the idea of how one uses art last weekend that reminded me that I've been looking forward to bringing out my soft-sculpture mermaids and associated sea-themed bits & pieces since last year. MBTWA is always good at reminding me that I need be more serious about writing and that I should have a goal and a purpose. He's better than the thousand books on writing piled on the table because he is a vocal advocate of doing the work and a present example of what doing the work actually looks like.

It looks exhausting.

It even sounds exhausting. Sometimes it sounds like ego. Sometimes it looks like self-centeredness. I wonder where he found the self-regard to make those choices--to not give in to the random demands of media and yard work and this-is-how-normal-people-live and just do the freaking work. To assume that you are good enough and let the work come.

There have been times that I've been there. Recently, however, I missed a deadline because I had a draft but never revised it. Instead, I fought with myself about whether I had anything to say, whether what I was saying was relevant, different, needed, kind enough, smart enough, clear enough. In the end, the part of me that decided it was crap won. Much energy went into convincing myself to shut up, but very little went into trying to give the short story any kind of form after that first blob of a draft.

MBTWA believes that there is a novel hiding in my brain. He believes that I'm not going to devour it like an ogre in a cave, digesting the dead remains of the story for years instead of writing it.

I believe that I could easily become the ogre. I'll be hiding behind the pink-orange ribbons, down beside the mermaids.