Friday, November 30, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Fame

Matt Potter, editor extraordinaire of PURE SLUSH, wraps up his fame series with Point/Counterpoint stories this week. I am honored to have The Comfort of Friends paired with Relics by the talented Cheri Ause. Please, take a look at the light and dark sides of fame, and the woman who stands behind every successful woman--or not.

Thank you Matt!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What to Say?

I'm a writer but find myself without a lot to say.

Sure, I could talk about the frustration surrounding my novel-in-progress. How I'm struggling to figure out the container. How for the first time ever I'm boggled by not knowing the distance between the narration and the event. How writing all my many voices in third is freeing and scary at the same time. How I love my characters but they don't shut up. Ever.

And then there's work. The work which never ends. Oh vey! My mind is a constant, growing To-Do list that never stops running. Work crowds out all the other stuff my head should contemplate, like the novel-in-progress.

Of course, it is the beginning of the season. And the season means FOOD--cookies and choclates and wine and eggnogs and special meals with friends and family and even people I work with. In the lunch room there's bowls of chocolates someone brings in, someone with more will-power than I will ever possess. And whoever brought in the Girl Scout Tagalongs definitely should not get a raise.

Then again, who IS getting a raise? I feel the pinch, but even we are so lucky compared to most. Crime's up everywhere, and with night falling earlier, walking 4 blocks to the metro station after work is one way I get a cardiovascular workout. But even in my suburban town, copper wiring, snow-blowers, cell phones, and bicycles get stolen. We have armed robberies here, it seems every week.

Not many businesses make profits these days. But do you know gun stock prices shot up after Obama's re-election? Ruger sales alone went up 86%. Wow. I anticipate a comparable increase in health costs to treat trauma and assault victims.

I don't watch the news. Too depressing. Too apocalyptic. Instead, I hunker down with my family to watch Star Trek. We finished the first season and are now into the second. The Klingons have definitely gotten much better looking since the original series. My daughter is smitten with Spock; when asked why, she says his pointy ears remind her of Legolas, who she would like to marry some day.

Like I said, not much to say. What say you?

Live long and prosper...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Phantom Sister @ Creative Thresholds

A small story about linkages seen and unseen at Creative Thresholds, a new blog that blends boundaries. Thank you Melissa Johnston for sharing my words in your visionary new venture. Peace...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Here, Everyone Smiles

And why shouldn't they--they live in sunny San Diego.

The day job took me west to discuss problems of geriatric health with like-minded colleagues. Although I spent my fair share in dimmed conference halls soaking up knowledge or, hopefully, imparting it, the sun beckoned through tinted windows.

How the heck does anyone get anything done here?

Sure, I can see how washing down your gazillion-foot yacht might be an okay task, or driving the water taxi that takes you to and fro between San Diego and Coronado, or even serving at hostess at one of the uber-nice restaurants doting the harborside.

But seriously? Work?

We ate well, too well--sushi made with snow crab, grilled sea diver scallops, tapas of Rioja-braised ribs and vanilla-lacquered pork belly, house-made spinach and basil ravioli. Topped off with a pilgrimmage to Extraordinary Desserts (and no, I was with friends--we shared the two cakes, one a passion-fruit ricotta, the other a chocolated-up tiramisu cake. But the cappucino is all mine).


 We traipsed to Balboa Park one afternoon, to visit the Marston House, one of the finest examples of arts-and-crafts architecture. Chock full of Stickleys and Rookwoods and Native American rugs and such. There, I found my dream writer's spot.

After my last presentation I made my own mecca--to the Pacific Ocean. I found myself not wanting but needing to walk in the Pacific's cold surf, to hear the roar and tumble of it's waves. I took the ferry to Coronado and walked the 1.5 miles to the beach. The sand fine as dust between my toes, I walked for two hours, pelicans and gulls overhead, the waves crashing hard, the occasional happy shout of someone as they body-surfed onto shore.

I found a sort of peace there, one that quelled a recent restlessness. A good trip, but happy to return home, or at least my family, as we join more family in chilly New England.

Have a restful and blessed Thanksgiving. Peace...

Friday, November 16, 2012

after he failed to wake up

A small story of mine placed in the 12th GLASS WOMAN PRIZE contest. Follow the links--the story itself takes place in 53 words.

Thank you Beate Sigriddaughter for all you do for women writers. Peace...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some Femmy Fun Up @ Used Furniture Review

Had scads of fun writing The After-Life of a Defeated Politician with brilliant co-writer femmes Kari Nguyen, Faye Rapaport DesPres, and (of course) Meg Tuite.

Thanks to Ms. Meg for inviting me along for this surreal and slightly naughty post-election ride on Exquisite Quartet.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Those Who Serve

I have uncles who have served in wars--Korean, Vietnam--and friends who have served in more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I must admit--until I began to write about war, I did not begin to understand it. Begin is a key word, for no amount of research, no amount of hearing soldiers' stories, no amount of imagining war can replicate the experience of war.

For most of my life, I have thought of war as a dirty deed done by our government to others' countries. Part of our nation's conquest of capitalism and resources. Parts of the perception may be true, depending upon the war, the countries. Certainly, these are factors considered in the decision of a country to go to war, and strategies employed during engagement.

But if there is one thing I have come to realize, it is this: the reasons to go to war are very different for the average American who enlists in an armed service. The reasons might have to do with patriotism or politics, but more likely have to do with economics, the need for structure, the need to escape things that might appear at face value worse than enlisting: legal problems, loss of love, loss of identity and self-worth.

Indeed, Jeremiah Anselm, one of my characters, enlists only after he finds himself failing at every thing he has ever loved. In researching his character and the war in Afghanistan, I have read and witnessed the stories of a number of men who join for similar reasons.

It takes a lot of courage to serve the Army, Marines, Navy, and other services, especially when America finds itself at war. To those who serve--or who have served--I thank you for your courage, for doing what I do not have the bravery to do myself. Peace...

(Photograph by the late documentary film-maker Tim Hetherington. Photo taken of the inner arm of Sergeant Rice, Second Platoon, Battle Company, 503rd Us Infantry. Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 2007)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

HOME (The Runaway--XXI)

WHEN THE BUS DRIVER DROPPED JOSH OFF at the foot of the drive to the farm, the sun hung low, just touching purple mountains. Two signs, neat and hand-carved from wood, swung from the mailbox: Oglala Clay Works and, below, Anselm Guitar and Repair. The drive twisted ahead, hard packed dirt through knee-high yellow grain that went forever.     
Josh walked for almost fifteen minutes, more than a mile, through wheat that rustled in a breeze Josh did not feel. Patches of uncultivated meadow interrupted the wheat, splotches of green wild with daisies and Queen Anne’s lace. He turned a corner and there it was, the white two-story house he had only seen in photographs. A covered porch wrapped around the side. Smoke smudged the sky from behind the house. In the center of the small front lawn, a weeping birch tree with round, black stones circled the base. Two rocking chairs set on the porch, and between them, on a table, a glass pitcher glistened with water droplets. When Josh saw the pitcher, he realized how thirsty he was, and how hungry.

A sheepdog ran towards him, soft yelps of greeting. Josh squatted and offered his hand and the puppy sniffed him before bounding away.

Beside the house was a shed of grey withered timbers. A low ramp led to a wide door cut into the side. Wood shavings curled at the threshold, on the ramp and grass. Josh stepped into the dark room and inhaled the punky richness of wood just cut. Guitars hung from hooks in the wall. Two instruments covered the long table, surrounded by thin pieces of different colored wood and slices of mother-of-pearl. The afternoon sun slanted through the open door and dust floated in the warm air, sparkling. The room felt familiar, someplace he had been before or wanted to be. A radio played, muffled, an overtone of static, and something in Josh’s chest tightened.

Smoke billowed past Josh. He left the shed, passing cords of wood stacked higher than him against the outside wall. A woman bent over a smoking pit. She was tiny and slight and her long black hair was pulled back in a single fat braid. She prodded a long metal rod into the pit and orange-tinged ashes danced in the smoke. Beside her, a man in a wheelchair, his back to Josh. All Josh saw was the back of his uncle Jeremiah's, golden-brown curls that fell over his shoulder. The puppy ran past them, chasing some imaginary prey, and the woman looked up and turned sideways, her belly swollen, round and hard like a nut. Without moving, she nodded.

The man wheeled around. All Josh saw was the missing leg, gone from above the knee.

“Hey buddy,” his uncle said. “We’ve all been so worried about you.”

Josh looked up, past that hole in his uncle’s body to the smile, broad the way he remembered, and the arms opened wide. Josh stepped toward him, then ran to the man so big, so strong, and for the first time since he and Nikko left Maryland a lifetime ago, Josh let himself cry.  
So, the end of THE RUNAWAY. At last. Of course, revision is next, but only after I have written the others' stories. For a peek into Jeremiah's story, go HERE. As for that mysterious woman stirring up ashes, her Christian name is Sheila, but among her Oglala Lakota tribespeople she is called Maka Proud Tree. I'm writing her now, as part of my annual NaNoWriMo adventure.
Thank you kind readers--I always appreciate you taking the time to care about my stories and, most of all, my characters. Peace...

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Four Years Ago

on the day after the vote, drizzle marred the morning but the city of Baltimore felt electric. A new president. A new future. The subway buzzed with excitement; outside Lexington Market, folks whooped their joy. Horns honked their approval.

Fast forward to today. Another morning of the same dingy sky, the same bottles rolling in the gutters, the same questionable red streak splotching the corner wall (don't think too hard whether it's ketchup or some other liquid). Heads bow against the wind, smiles get tucked into pockets.

Another day. Same old same old. Hope dissipated in four short years, at least here, in Baltimore, the city of believe.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

In Love

                                                                                                      Photo: Frank Ragsdale
How can you not love this face?
We visited an alpaca farm today while visiting in North Carolina. Amazing creatures--gently assertive, huge soulful eyes, necks soft as a downy pillow. But best of all is their ability to make everyone smile. Even me.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

BADLANDS (The Runaway--XX)

THE PLANE FLEW OVER TERRAIN JOSHUA HAD NEVER SEEN: rivers that twisted like mud-colored threads, jagged clots of red earth pushed through yellow plains that went forever, rolling foothills with green at the bottom and snow at the top. When the jet landed at Sioux Falls, he followed the rest of the passengers through the chute and into the terminal in a numb kind of haze.

He arrived at the lower level of the airport, where the noise and fluorescence and movement confused him. Josh retreated to a bathroom, waited for a stall to empty, then went in, sat on the toilet with his knees pulled to his chest, and rocked back and forth, wishing he had Nikko with him, wishing he knew how to get from point a to point b by himself.

But Nikko was not with him, he would never be with him, and Josh prayed again for Nikko—find peace, find peace—his lips moved and no sound came out. Find peace, find peace. Nikko, pale against the white hospital sheets, the hum of the machines, his hands folded on top of each other. Eyes closed, black hair splayed on the pillow, lips pinked up and curved into a faint smile, no, a smirk, he looked asleep. But when Joshua found him that morning, he did not move, his chest did not swell with air.

Too far gone, the doctor had said. Who do we call?

Find peace, find peace.

Josh flushed the toilet. At the sink he splashed his face and hair with water, taking time to keep his bandaged hand dry. He dried himself under the air blower, the air warming him again. He sniffed his armpits. Not too rank, not like he spent the last four weeks-- or was it five?--sleeping wherever his body dropped.

Back in the terminal he surveyed the car rental booths. He went to the one with the shortest line. The man behind the Budget counter read a newspaper.

“How much for a rental?” Josh asked.

The man eyed him. “You old enough to drive?”

“I’m seventeen,” Josh said.

“We don’t rent to minors unless a parent co-signs,” the man said and flipped the page of the newspaper. “And we don’t accept cash.”

Josh stood for a moment. This complication had not figured into his plans. Nikko would know how to sneak around the rules but Joshua didn’t think the way Nikko did.

The way Nikko had.

Josh started to tremble. The man rested the paper on the counter.

“Hey kid,” he said. “Where you trying to go?”

“Hot Springs,” Josh said. “My uncle lives there.”

“That’s clear across the state,” he said. “He’ll have to pick you up.”

“My uncle, uh, can’t drive.”

“You sure you have an uncle?”

“He served in Afghanistan,” Josh said.

The man’s face softened. “Oh, man, I’m sorry,” he said. “My brother was over there. Hell hole of the world. Look, the bus takes you to Black Hills National Park, right outside of Hot Springs. A hell of a lot cheaper than any old rental, too.”

The woman behind the bus counter took his nineteen dollars without question, without even looking at him. He had four dollars left.

“Fifty minutes until we board, honey,” she says. “Don’t miss--there ain’t another bus ‘til tomorrow.”

Josh returned to the bathroom. He cleaned himself again, wetting paper napkins he nabbed from a pretzel stand. He cleaned under his clothes, leaning against the stall door so it wouldn’t swing open. He felt giddy, shaky, from lack of food, from excitement about almost being there, from the anticipation of seeing his uncle, to finishing his trip. Someone entered the bathroom while he scrubbed his feet. The toilet two stalls down gurgled. He slid back into his stiff jeans and stained socks. At least his shoes felt dry. In the trashcan, a half-eaten hamburger nestled in its waxed wrapper. Joshua ate it hurriedly before leaving the bathroom.

This, the penultimate installment of THE RUNAWAY. I do appreciate you reading this massive story/chapter. Already, this story has changed, and after next week, it will marinate for a few weeks or months while I work on other stories in THE MINISTER'S WIFE. Indeed, working on THE INDIAN for NaNoWriMo, and will then focus on THE MINISTER'S WIFE herself. Peace...