Flash.Fiction: Potion

This week’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction challenge is:

Photo Copyright K. S. Brooks

He wondered if it could be true. Could some potion be the answer to all his problems? Could he capture Vanessa’s heart? Were fame and fortune within his grasp?

He forked over the wad of cash. The old woman jutted a crooked finger at him and uttered an admonition…

And my response is:

The wizened crone shoved the money into her bosom and pushed a tiny blue bottle his way. “Watch what you wish for.”

He cringed as she croaked out the words. Watch. He didn’t like looking at her. Something about her made his skin tingle and not in a good way. Not the way Vanessa did. The crone’s hands reminded him of desiccated tarantulas, and her face… Oh god, her face was enough to put the fear of God into the most hardened criminal. He wanted to get away and write about it. She’d be the perfect character for his work in progress.

A laugh emerged from her hideous visage. “I hope it’s worth it.”

* * *

Within six months, his first novel, the one he’d written during a long week of seclusion at the Motel Six after visiting Madame Marie, was the NYT #1 Bestseller. Three more had followed in quick succession. Each one longer, more complicated than the previous. He was an international sensation. His books were leaping off the shelves. The money was pouring in.

And Vanessa was his bride.

But his fingers itched only for the smoothness of the keyboard, the solid click as words formed on the virtual page. Words filled his brain, putting so much pressure on his skull that he lived off Advil. Words, sentences, dialogue, demanding they be written.

He hadn’t eaten in two day.

Hadn’t slept in three.

Hadn’t made love to Vanessa since their wedding night.

He had to write.

10 Books that Have Never Left You – What are Your Ten?

IMG_20140906_140406A while back a friend–I think it was Kathleen–pinged me on FB to list ten books that have stayed with me over the years.   I know the challenge is to just list them without really thinking about it, but that’s not who I am. I over think everything. No, really. I know I do.

I’m challenging you to do the same. Whether it’s here as a comment or on FB.  I ended up with a dozen, because I can never follow the rules, well, not exactly.

But you only have to do ten.  Unless you want to do more.

~ o ~

This challenge provided me the perfect opportunity to think about two of my favorite things: books and me.

So the real question is what does it mean that a book, its story has stayed with me. I can remember many–I’ll even go as far as to say most–of the books I’ve read. That doesn’t imply that I can remember the title, because I have been known to buy books that are either already sitting on my shelf or that I’ve already read. [I love that Amazon tells me, umm, yeah, we see that you already own that book. With an implied: dumbass.]

Anyway, instead of pondering why books stay with me, I’m just going to list the books that have most influenced me, in my life and my writing.  And a short bit about why. Most of these I have read multiple times. That I’d go back and re-read a book, several of them many times, when there are so many good books available, says more than any theory I can provide as to why they stayed with me.

(1) Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

000download (2)I read this in high school and was enthralled with Mr. Vonnegut’s writing. But it was the idea behind the book that kept evolving in my head that made me love this book. The story is funny and sad at the same time. It gave me perspective, if that is possible in a sixteen year old, on man’s stupidity, man’s willingness to destroy everything around him in the eternal search for more/better/happiness. And it helped developed my style of handling authority. I will never forget the ending, the image of Man’s final act of giving the finger to You Know Who.

(2) Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

This is another one I read in high school, only this time I was scrunched down under the covers in a spooky, supposedly haunted house. Haunted, interestingly enough, by Mr. King, or so said Nettie, our housekeeper. But back to the novel… I had always loved scary movies, so this was a natural progression. Back then kids didn’t have TVs in their bedrooms. And in the living room, we only had three channels. We read books. But what impressed me about this book was how well, how easily Stephen King could get into my head. And scare the crap out of me. If you’ve read his better books (and there are some I sincerely do not like), you’ll understand what I mean. Since reading Salem’s Lot I have been an ardent fan of Stephen King.

(3) Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

You’ll see references to Practical Magic in my own novel, An Untold Want.  My story is nothing like the one told in Practical Magic, but it is the story that nudged me to write my novel. I love Alice Hoffman’s way of telling stories.

(4) The Odyssey by Homer

You’re thinking, finally something classical and meaningful. Yes, this book was so meaningful to me, so powerful that I ended up with a degree [one of three] in Classical Culture and the ability [sadly, a skill that has faded into oblivion] to read ancient Greek. How amazing is it that someone living 2500 years ago, without the use of a laptop, without even writing it down, created something so brilliant, so beautiful as the story of Odysseus and his efforts to return home? This book has everything. Action, intrigue, romance, betrayal, murder, magic. Everything.

(5) The Mystery of the Gingerbread House by Wylly Folk St. John

000downloadThis book would be considered pre-teen now; back then it was just a kid’s book.  I read it when I was nine, maybe ten. And it started my love of mysteries. The book blurb: “An abandoned baby. A locked trunk. A man called Finch. A stolen car ring. And a missing grandmother. Ronny and Greg Jameson didn’t realize that one girl could be so full of mystery. But that was before they met Evie Hollis.”  What inquisitive kid wouldn’t want to read it?

This book is so old, when in a nostalgic moment I looked for it on-line, it was out of print, but I did find a copy recently on eBay or some such site. Amazon now has some re-prints, though third-party vendors.

Wylly Folk St. John wrote the Southern version of Nancy Drew. And when I go back and read these books, it makes me realize that there is some of Ms. St. John’s style in my writing.  She even wrote one called The Secret of the Seven Crows.  If you’d like to read more about her, there’s a nice post here on WordPress:  Wylly Folk St. John -A Life In Words

(6) Shingebiss — unknown

This is not a novel, not even a full book, but I remember it so well from my childhood, from my mother reading it to me from a big book of fairy tales, that I went and found it in print.

Shingebiss is the story of perseverance and self-confidence, or at least that’s how I remember it. If you know anything of my history, you’ll know that it’s an interesting concept that my mother often read this to me.

The book blurb [a re-print]: “… this ancient Ojibwe story captures all the power of winter and all the courage of a small being who refuses to see winter as his enemy. This sacred story shows that those who follow the ways of Shingebiss will always have plenty to eat, no matter how hard the great wind of Winter Maker blows.”

(7) Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

How can you not love social statements encapsulated in humor? The main character is Brother Brutha.  If you haven’t read this book, you should. ‘Nuff said.

(8) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

To be honest, I don’t even remember what the story is about, but I loved that it is a story within a story within a story. I loved the writing. I need to go back and read it again, for the third time.

(9) Light in August by William Faulkner

061281b0c8a0fdff169c9110.LAnother perseverance book, by one of my all time favorite authors. I love long complex sentences. Faulkner gives me something to chew on and has affected my writing style significantly.

“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.”

— William Faulkner, Light in August,”Chapter Six

(10) Throat by Peter Straub

A dark, intellectual thriller, it is the last in the Blue Rose trilogy. I read this one first, and then read the other two books, then re-read this one, several times. Like Stephen King, Peter Straub understands and expertly uses the mechanics of writing a dark story that gets in your head and burrows into the soft brain matter, taking root. That’s what makes it disturbing. Not that it’s a dark story. It’s disturbing because it makes you wonder, long after you’ve put it down.

(11) American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is one of the books that I’ve read many times. I will say that if you aren’t versed in mythology it may not make any sense, or at best be difficult to understand. I love this book because of the layers and layers of complexity. I read it the first time because of the mythology. Read it again for depth of the story. It’s like one of those movies where every time you watch it you see something different.

(12) Imagica by Clive Barker

000567704Last listed, but certainly not least, is Imagica. Take the complexity and depth of Straub’s and Gaiman’s books, the in your head style of Stephen King, and add a lot of grizzly, disturbing horror to it, and you’ve got Clive Barker. Imagica is 900 pages of earth-based, dark, violent fantasy which questions everything we know about the universe. About “themes such as God, sex, love, gender and death.”

~ o ~

I could go on for days talking about books that have stayed with me, but this has become a long post, and I’m tired after a long week at my soul-sucking job. If you want more info on books I’ve read, you can check my Goodreads author page.

Or you can pick your own.

Character.Interview: Sinclair Clement

Name: Sinclair Clement

Gender: male
Age: 31
Home:  Queen Anne (off W Highland Dr), Seattle, Washington
Ancestry:  Irish (mother) / French/German (father)
Appearance: With fair skin, green eyes, and wavy, reddish-blonde hair, Sinclair gets his coloring from his mother. He’s fortunate that he gets his tall, lanky body from his father. He wears his hair collar length, and his lean face is clean-shaven. He has no visible tattoos or scars.
Favorite Color: Sky Blue
Typical Outfit: Sinclair’s fashion sense appears to be in a state of confusion, somewhere between college yuppie and Seattle grunge. His typical outfit consists of jeans [folded up at the ankle], an untucked button-down oxford style shirt [or a sweater], and a worn leather blazer, accompanied by Dr Martens or lace up leather ankle boots. He always wears long-sleeved shirts. But, if he’s feeling really relaxed, he’ll wear a t-shirt—-under an unbuttoned oxford under the blazer.

Today, I’m interviewing Sinclair Clement, the antagonist in my latest–yet to be named–novel. Thank you, Sinclair, for letting me pick your brain, for letting me allow potential reader to understand who you are.

[Sinclair smiles, blushes a bit]

So what do people call you?

Sinclair, or if they’re close friends, of which I have a few, they call me Sin.

My notes indicate that you live on Queen Anne. Do you like it there, what with all the old mansions and such?

I live with my parents. So don’t go getting any ideas that I actually can afford to live on Queen Anne.  

Were you born there?

Actually, no. Until my mo-mother became famous, we lived in a nice part of Renton near where my father works.

So your mother’s famous. How so?

You know that show Frasier? My mo-mo-mother is kind of like that. Sh-she’s a radio psychologist. For awhile it was just a local show, but then one of the LA stations picked it up and it went nation wide. You’ve probably heard of h-her. A-A-Amanda Yesler.

Yesler, as in Yesler Way?

You got it.

For those of you who don’t know Seattle history, in the mid-1800s Henry Yesler brought the first steam-powered sawmill to the region, allowing the Seattle area to dominate the lumber industry at the time.

So what’s it like to have a famous mother, famous in multiple ways?

[shrugs]

It’s okay.  

Wow, that was an enthusiastic response.

[shrugs again]

Okay, next question. What do you do for a living?

I teach at Seattle Central. While I’m finishing up my degree, my PhD in literature.

So what do you teach, and how did you decide on a degree in literature?

I mostly teach rudimentary literature classes. You know, the classes you have to take in order to graduate. I do have one class that’s sophomore level, a class in modern lit. We read and analyse really modern day authors, anyone from Margaret Atwood to Vonnegut. We even did a Stephen King short story. Heinlein’s probably my favorite. I find that young people can often relate to someone like Heinlein or King better than they can to Shakespeare or Faulkner.

You sound enthusiastic. I’m really glad to hear a teacher who’s excited about working, one who hasn’t burned out yet.

[smiles]

It’s okay.

So what made you pick literature for a degree?

It’s something I’m good at. I love to read. And I do a bit of writing.

[pauses]

I wasn’t supposed to be a literature major though. My father wanted me to be an engineer, like him, and my mo-mother wanted me to be a doctor, a medical doctor. But I suck at math, which pretty much eliminates both of those. Neither of them is too happy with me. My mo-mo-mother especially.

I don’t mean to be rude, but do you have a speech disorder? I notice you stumble on certain words.

Sorry. I hadn’t noticed. 

No problem. So, if I may ask, you said you’re working on your PhD. What’s you’re thesis in?

Dissertation. You do a thesis for your masters, a dissertation for your doctorate.

Oh, okay. Sorry. What’s your dissertation in?

No. I’m sorry. That was rude of me.

[Sinclair pulls at the cuffs of his shirt sleeves, pulling them down over his wrists]

I won’t give you the title because it sounds so pretentious, but it’s about the disparity between a book and its movie. About why and how screenplays can move so far from the origin of the written story.

Care to share some examples?

My favorite one, although when I talk about it in class I have to do a history lesson with my students before I explain it to them, is Howard Hawks’ production of To Have and Have Not. You know, the one with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Well, Hemingway wrote the story, but Hawks didn’t really like it the way Hemingway wrote it. So he used the title and most of the characters… and the beginning of the story, but brought in an out-of-print and financially-strapped William Faulkner to help write the screenplay. The movie is drastically different that the story. And Hemingway wrote it. Can you imagine telling Hemingway I don’t like the way you wrote it? Of course, Faulkner was certainly no slouch either. Imagine having Faulkner help write the screenplay for a novel you wrote.

[pauses, pulls at his cuffs again]

And of course there’s The Shining, the one with Jack Nicholson–at least most of my students know that one–which was a really, really bad production of King’s book by the same name.

Wow, I didn’t know that about To Have and Have Not.

[shrugs]

I have a lot of theories. Hence, my dissertation. Soon I’ll be the leading expert on why stuff like that happens. 

[smiles, then shrugs again]

As useful as that is.

May I ask if you have a girlfriend? 

 No, no one. There have been a few, a long while back. They didn’t last.

No one you’re interested in now, though?

Well, there’s someone I like, but she doesn’t know I’m alive.

I find that hard to believe, a good looking guy like you. I would think you’d have a girlfriend. Or three.

Sorry, but it’s true.

How did you meet her?

I haven’t yet. I’ve seen her at Pike Market. She has a stall there, reads spirit cards or something like that.

So why haven’t you approached her? Sorry, am I being too forward?

It’s okay. It’s just [pauses for a long time, as if gathering his thoughts] she’s so beautiful. And a bit mysterious. 

[pauses again]

I just know that she would find me wanting.

I think you should ask her out? Worst she can do is say no.

Sure.

I think I just got dismissed. [I smile to let him know I’m teasing.] So let’s do a couple of fun questions. If you were a tree, what tree would you be? 

[thinks for a moment]

Maybe a sequoia. Because they’re so big and imposing. 

Hang on. [I look it up on my phone.] It says here that sequoia trees symbolize long life and attaining your dreams.

Sure. If you say so.

[smiles]

I hope you’re right.

Okay, one more, and then I’ll let you go. If you were a rock star, who would you be. And why?

Kurt Cobain because he was a genius with the soul of a poet. He made profound statements while, at the same time, often poking fun. I love his music. Although his taste in women was crap. Maybe that’s why I can relate.

Care to elaborate on that last statement?

Nope.

You do look a bit like him, except way more clean cut. 

[Sinclair smiles]

One more question. I know I said that last time, but just one more. What smell do you associate with the kitchen from your childhood?

My father is the cook in the family, believe it or not. But even so, he’s not a good cook. So I’d have to say burnt toast. I always knew it was time to get up for school when I smelled burnt toast.

So I’m about to wrap this up. Is there anything you would like everyone to know about you, something I haven’t asked already?

Nah, I think you covered it pretty well.

So do you have any questions for me?

Why me? Why pick me?

Because you’re interesting. Don’t give me that look. You are interesting.

Sure. Keep telling yourself that.

My Father’s Daughter

Today’s WordPress Daily Post Prompt is Opening LinesWhat’s the first line of the last song you listened to (on the radio, on your music player, or anywhere else)? Use it as the first sentence of your post.

I’m going to cheat a bit. The first few lines in this song by Carly Simon remind me of the protagonist in my Work in Progress, of Beryl, and the strained relationship she has with her father.

~ o ~

My father sits at night with no lights on. Not unlike the resentment smoldering within him, his cigarette glows in the dark. I know just the sight of me will stir that anger from its sleep. Yet, the living room is still; I walk by, no remark. 

One day I’ll face him, ask him why he reserves his anger for me. But not today. I’m not up to the battle, not up to facing the darkness in him because it calls to the darkness in me, making me want to hurt him the way he has hurt me. The way he hurt my mother when she was alive. I’m not sure how  my brother Jeryl is exempt, has always been exempt, but he is. My father dotes on him as if he where the prodigal son returned. In my father’s eyes, I am Cain, and Jeryl is Abel. Jeryl says it’s because he doesn’t fight back. He accepts it and buries it.

I can not be like Jeryl. My anger is alive, burning inside me. I guess that makes me my father’s daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/opening-lines/

If we don’t have darkness…

Today’s WordPress Daily Post Prompt is Work? Optional!If money were out of the equation, would you still work? If yes, why, and how much? If not, what would you do with your free time?

If I were independently wealthy, would I still work? Oh, hell no. At least not at my 9-to-5, soul-sucking job. Even though I enjoy the work and my co-workers, I don’t enjoy the corporate BS, no, not at all. I don’t enjoy the commute either. In fact I hate the commute. And I hate the corporate BS.

If money weren’t an issue, I would stay home, become a pseudo-hermit. I would sit around in my pajamas with bed-head if I wanted to, if I didn’t feel like getting dressed. I would walk to the grocery store. Or to restaurants. Or ride the bus. I would park my car and only use it for fun events. I would take long trips to destinations unknown. I would volunteer at local charities and events. I would quilt. I would draw. And paint. And improve my photography skills.

I would live without the restrictions imposed by a 9-to-5 job.

But I would work. I think work is what gives our life meaning. If we don’t work, then we don’t understand the meaning of vacation or playing hooky. If we don’t have darkness, we don’t understand light.

So, mostly, I would get up every day and write.

 

 

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/work-optional/

Not the She’s Got Some Scary Sh*t in Her Head Part

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is A Bookish Choice: A literary-minded witch gives you a choice: with a flick of the wand, you can become either an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions. Which do you choose?

First of all, I’ve know a few real witches in my time, been to the sabbats and such. I can just picture a couple of them in their faded jeans and t-shirts–no pointy hats allowed, except maybe for Halloween–making me that offer like it would be a huge decision to make. I suppose it could be difficult for the right person, but not for me. You see, I’ve already tasted the shiny red apple of the first choice. I already am an obscure author who has a small but loyal following. And as much as I’d love to be snooty about my work, I know that I won’t ever write true literary fiction. Didn’t you read my post? The one about how I just figured out that I write romance. Who knew? Apparently everyone, but me.

On top of all of that, my goal is to supplement my retirement income from my publishing, which means I need to sell sell sell.

And I like the idea–call me self-indulgent if you wish–of giving reading pleasure to millions of people. It totally strokes my ego. I absolutely want people to feel about me the way I feel about Stephen King. Ok, I admit that I don’t want to meet him, ever, because he’s got some scary shit in his head. But you know what I mean. I enjoy reading his books, can’t wait for the next one to come out. And I would love to know that someone felt that way about me. Umm, not the she’s got some scary shit in her head part. The I enjoyed reading her books part.

If that makes me shallow or lesser, then bite me!  Just kidding. I want you to read my books.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/a-bookish-choice/

Gluing the Frog Back Together

IMG_20140809_111612Did you ever have one of those moments when you’re trying to glue something back together and you realize that you’re missing a piece?

Last week, I had a new sofa delivered, and in the process of moving things so the delivery guys could get in the door, I broke a frog figurine. Yes, I said it. It is a frog figurine. A Jim Shore frog figurine. And quite expensive. And because I love all things whimsical, it is one of my treasured items.

So I’m trying to glue it back together, but I realized last night that I don’t have all the pieces. That a couple of large pieces are hiding somewhere just out of sight. I’ve moved furniture and looked under the fridge. Nada. Still looking.

For me, writing is like that. I don’t write in chronological order. I usually don’t write in any type of order at all, unless it’s a very short story. And sometimes the hardest part of writing for me is finding that piece that has somehow slipped under the refrigerator or is hiding behind the sofa, mentally that is.

This past Thursday, I was thinking about a prior job and the people who worked there. And there she was, my inspiration for Sinclair’s mother. I won’t say her name. Anyone who really knows me will likely guess, but it could be messy if  I announced to the world that X is the model for Y. Especially since Sinclair’s mother isn’t a great/nice/likable person.

This means I have one more piece of the story, a huge piece that I’ve been struggling with, a piece that’s been hiding behind the chest of drawers. I have a mental sketch of her character and possibly her physical appearance. No, it won’t be her exactly. That would be cheating. But it gives me a good start on her character.

Now if I can just find the other pieces, I can glue this frog together.

Dear Gen(re) Letter

genre2

I’m having an identity crisis.

I’ve been reading My Temporary Life by Martin Crosbie. On Amazon, I was surprised to see that it’s listed as a romantic suspense novel. If I twist my brain around enough, I can see that it could potentially be a romance, but from what I’ve read, I’d place Mr. Crosbie’s book in the mainstream/literary fiction genre, not romance. So far, it reads more like a well-written coming-of-age story.

But back to me. After thinking about it for a good while, I pinged some of my friends, ones who’ve read An Untold Want, and asked if it should be classified as a romance. Every one of them came back with a yes.

So now I’m having an identity crisis. [If you didn’t notice the large text / question marks in the photo, it reads I write romance? Really?] I don’t read romance novels. I’m not saying they’re bad or lesser. I’m just saying that they’re not my book of choice. So how is it possible that I wrote a romance novel?

After a bit of soul-searching, I went out to the Romance Writers of America [RWA] web site, and read up on what makes a novel a romance.

For a novel to be considered a romance, there are two requirements. There must be:

1) A Central Love Story

This means that the main plot involves two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.  I went back and asked my friends, and they indicated that, in their opinion, the relationship between Maggie and JD is the main plot. For me the romance drives the plot, but I feel like the plot centers on her self acceptance and that JD is the transport mechanism, the primary person who helps make it happen. Everyone else sees the self acceptance as a nice side effect of working out the relationship.

2) An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending

Okay. An Untold Want does fit that requirement. It almost didn’t, but — and maybe this is the point where I went off the Women’s Fiction rails and headed down the Romance track — I wanted to tie it up nicely. I wanted Maggie to be happy, to have that optimistic ending. After such as struggle, I wanted her to find the place where she belongs, where she feels safe and comfortable. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, that if I can’t have it at least she can. I wanted Maggie to be different, to be not me. To end up better off than I did.

I’m sure that I’ll force myself through some flaming mental hoops before it happens, but I’m positive that sometime in the not too distant future, I’ll be changing the genre on An Untold Want. It’s not a difficult process, at least not technically. And a move like this will potentially open my writing up to a whole new group of readers.

But first, I need to convince myself that I wrote a romance novel.

ReBlog: Influenced by Kurt

I posted this on my old blog back in early 2012, for the anniversary of his death, I think. Anyway, I thought it was worth reblogging. Kurt Vonnegut is still one of my favorites.

~ o ~

I’m also reading Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  I had forgotten how much I love his prose, his wit (the dark humor), and the way he constructs sentences.  I read Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five way back in high school (and yes, they did have printed books back then — on paper, not stone).

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., photo dated April 8, 1992. Doug Elbinger, Elbinger Studios.

I suppose that Kurt V has been somewhere in the back of my head, all these years, setting an example, pushing the gallows humor that sort of pops up in my work, but the thing that really got me thinking about it was, while reading Sirens, I kept thinking I would write that sentence exactly like that. Now that I’m reading him again, I realize–and I’m going to test this theory, by re-reading Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five just to make sure that the prose is similar–that he, not Bill (Faulkner) influenced my style of writing.  I write very much like Kurt Vonnegut. Well, my style is like his. I won’t say I’m as good a writer, because that would be stupid.

Needless to say, I’ll be studying his books to see how to improve my own writing.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes.

From Cat’s Cradle:

–  Anyone who cannot understand how useful a religion based on lies can be will not understand this book either.

–  Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

–  Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘It might have been.’

From Slaughterhouse-Five:

–  All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.

–  The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

–  And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.

–  Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

And from Sirens of Titan:

–  The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

With that said, how can you not enjoy an author who can invent the chronosynclastic infundibulum. I’d urge you to read Sirens of Titan, but just in case you don’t, this is from A Child’s Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do:

“Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.

The Solar System seems to be full of chronosynclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one only because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.

You might think it would be nice to go to a chronosynclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.

Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved towards the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.”

First Draft / First Chapter … Maybe?

Finally, I’ve been doing some writing on my WIP (work in progress).  I have bits and pieces of it all over the place because I don’t write in chronological order, but the story has to start somewhere. I think this is where it starts. For today, this is where the story starts.

I would love feedback, with the understanding that this is a first draft,  and all that implies. Things could change. This piece could be thrown out completely. Or it may be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written. Probably not, but writer’s have to think that way, or we’d never commit anything to paper.

~ o ~

How was I to know that this woman was a bigger liar than I was, that she used the same tricks I used just on a different audience?

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It was the tail end of a cold, gray day, the misting rain insisting I pack up and go home early. But the cupboard was empty. Literally. I needed the money more than I needed an escape from the dreary Seattle winter. So, when the woman stopped in front of my stall, I did my job. I looked up at her and asked if she’d like a reading.

Most days back then, if the weather wasn’t too abysmal, I sat at the north end of Pike Market on a blanket under an umbrella telling people what they needed to hear. This woman, though, wasn’t one of my normal customers. She surprised me when she paused and then sat down on my blanket, curling her knees under her and settling in. I thought she must be desperate to lower herself like that, literally. My usual customers weren’t quite so… refined. Seattleites, especially ones perusing the market, rarely dressed as if they’d just walked from the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.

I could tell she was uncomfortable, physically at least, from her constant weight shifts. She was so thin that with each shift I imagined her hip bones grinding into the sidewalk. The blanket provided no cushioning, but what did I care? I laid the sand tray between us, and using a stick off a fir tree in our yard, I drew a circle in the sand, a medicine wheel. The readings I did weren’t true to any Native American tradition, but all the new-agey-tourists who visited the market didn’t seem to notice or care.

I had her draw four stones from a cloth bag, and I placed them at the elemental points of the circle. It didn’t matter which stones she drew, I read people’s body language and then told them what I thought they needed to hear. That was my gift after all, telling people their personal truths. Maybe I should have paid more attention to my own personal truths. But at this point in my life, that’s neither here nor there.

I then shuffled the spirit cards, had her cut them, and drew the card off the top.

“Rabbit would say it’s time to overcome your fear,” I said.

Rabbit fit this twitchy woman perfectly, all soft and fear-eyed, nostrils quivering as if afraid of even disturbing the air around her.

I told her it was time to face her fears, as if she had any real fears. For heavens’ sake, she was bookended by her stuffed-full Nordstrom’s bag and an overly large, funeral home-ish bouquet from a stall down the way. But the real tell was her somewhat sensible and obviously expensive shoes. Sitting on the ground all day gave me the perfect opportunity to notice and critique people’s shoes. Any shoes that ugly had to be expensive, fabulously expensive.

My brother Jeryl would have said I was being unkind. He often mused aloud, as if hinting to me or trying to annoy me, that he couldn’t understand how someone so close to him, how his mirror image could be so angry all the time when he was always so calm and easygoing. I would just shrug and remind him that he wasn’t the one sent away to be raised by rabid nuns. He got to stay home and have a normal life.

I wasn’t just being unkind. I was angry at this woman. She appeared to have every opportunity at a good life, a well furnished life, and here she was shivering, rabbit afraid. I wanted to shake her, tell her to take one of her platinum cards and buy herself a new life, but my income depended on me being empathetic, even if I didn’t feel that way.

What could she possibly need to worry about? Certainly not where her next meal was coming from. Not that I did either. If I had to, I could depend on Father to help out, but I didn’t want to be dependent, not on Father. Not on anyone. It was bad enough that I lived in the guesthouse without paying rent. Jeryl still lived in Father’s house. He wouldn’t move away. So I stayed, in the guesthouse, but I would not allow Father to fund the rest of my life. I would starve first.

The woman seemed to bring out the worst in me, and I wanted her to leave. But I also wanted her money. So I spent the hour with her, reassuring her that everything would be alright. After all, she wasn’t the one with a young man stalking her.

Of course, I didn’t mention to her that this young man had been watching my every move for the past week or so. The reading was all about her. I always gave the customer my full attention during a reading. They got their money’s worth. But with him watching me, I felt like Rabbit, soft, weak. Easy prey. Like her. And it made me mad. At her, but mostly at myself.

That day he sat at a table in the little Turkish coffee shop across the street from my spot at the market. He tried not to be obvious about it, but even the old biddy in the next stall had noticed him as he strolled by for the fourth or fifth time. On the sixth or tenth time, she rolled her eyes at me and mouthed, “It’s him again.” I had no idea who he was or what he could possibly want from me, but it had become obvious that I, not the old biddy, was the focus of his attention.

The two days before, I had snuck out, walking down through the market to Pike and then back around on First, just to avoid walking past him. But that day, I decided Rabbit was right. It was time to face my fear.

But I didn’t get that chance.

After the reading was done, ‘Fraidy Rich Bitch pulled herself up from my blanket, dusted herself off, grabbed her Nordstrom’s bag and bouquet and headed his way. Something made me watch her. Sure enough, halfway across the street, she waved to him.

And he waved back, not a cheery wave like hers, more of an acknowledgement.

My mind started spinning out a hundred different scenarios. It was obvious that they knew each other.

As I stored the sand and tray in a plastic baggie, I watched her stride up to his table, watched her bend and kiss him on the cheek before sitting down across from him. Watched them lean in toward each other as if whispering some arcane secret.

With a snap, I shook out my blanket—my eyes never leaving their table—and, for once not bothering to be neat about it, squashed the blanket into a tight bundle that would fit into my backpack. Anger swelled inside me, smothering me. The woman hadn’t been afraid of anything. It was all an act. Her shivering, her twitchiness was likely an adrenalin rush coming from the pleasure in the lie.

For the price of a reading, I was sure she had found out more about me than about herself. She didn’t need me to reassure her, to tell her about herself. She knew herself all right. Being able to act like that, to put on someone else’s face took a lot of self-control. And guile. In that moment, I hated her. She made me look the fool. And she was right there, right in front of me, sharing the joy of her deception.

What did they want? To make me look ridiculous? If so, it worked.

My face burned with the pure stupidity of my actions. I took the woman at face value. She used me, more than I used her.

And just as I decided to leave, to just walk away and try to forget, I noticed something between them change. I dropped my backpack on the ground and took a few steps closer.

His body language, something I had become familiar with the past few days, changed. When he got up and went to the counter, gone was the lazy stroll. At that distance, I couldn’t see that well, but I would have bet money he was frowning as he strode to the counter. His body was rigid as he waited for the coffee. His gait hardened when he returned and placed a cup of coffee in front of the woman.

She clasped his hand before he could pull it away, said something to him as he sat. The stiffness went out of him. Pulling his hand from hers, he slouched down into his chair. As if he’d given up, as if it was too much effort to maintain the anger or fear. Or whatever he was feeling.

She, in turn, leaned even further, palms flat on the table on either side of her cup, and said something that, of course, I couldn’t hear.

His chin dropped, and then she sat back and laughed. She was laughing at him? No, I was sure she was laughing at me.

Someone shouldered past me, and said, “Hey, if you’re just going to stand there gawking, don’t block the aisle.”

I stepped off the curb and eased out into the street between two parked cars.

Gesturing with her hands as if telling a funny story, she was doing a lot of talking. She made a circle as if drawing it on the table, and then laughed again. He said nothing.

And then, and then he turned and looked right at me.

I froze, rabbit still, for a moment and then backed up onto the curb, my heel catching the uneven concrete. I nearly fell backwards. Someone said, “Watch it.” Someone else said, “You okay?” But I didn’t see who.

Then the woman also turned to look at me. I felt my throat close up as she smiled at me, a Red Riding Hood wolf-like smile.

I swung around, ran to my stall, grabbed up my belongings, and fled up the sidewalk toward the bus stop that would take me home.