Conward Bound

Every year, I go to a science fiction and fantasy convention. Well, I guess I’ve skipped a couple years since I started going, but it’s been few and far between. The last few years though, I stopped going as much for the social aspect of it and started to go to panels to Learn Stuff. A writer can always pick up a few good ideas at a panel, it’s like taking hour long classes. Also, being surrounded by up-and-coming writers who are trying to figure out the ropes as well as authors who have followings and experience recharges my batteries. Writing is a lonely gig, so these meets and greets remind me that my dream is a shared dream.

Sometimes I wonder if I *am* a writer. I haven’t been writing anything lately. It’s been about two or three months. Normally I carve out time come hell or high water, but things have been rough at home, and it took priority.

I’m sad to say that my husband and I have decided to divorce.

It’s not a surprise to most of our friends at this point, and of course our families know. It’s an amiable separation. In fact, I have to admit it has been by far the healthiest, kindest break-up in the history of my whole life. Luke and I have to co-parent Toby, and both of us are taking that seriously, and in the course of that decision have made sure that we are friends, first and foremost. Fortunately, with as much as we already had in common, the transition has been okay. Nothing is great, a break-up is always sad, fraught with regret and buried feelings and lost moments. But it’s been good too, insofar as we’re talking a lot, sharing child care as best as we can, and also spending time apart so we can heal.

This is about as much as I want to talk about it right now, though. I imagine while going to con I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do with friends, and I am sure I’ll be retelling this story several times.

This is why I’m looking forward to con, honestly. My son will be safe with family, and I can decompress for a few days. Luke will be there too, and we will see each other off and on. Which isn’t different from any other con, despite the fact that it is. It’s just a process of clearing the old stuff and building something new.

My Only Friend

(this is a piece I wrote for my fiction class, I thought I’d share.) (photo credit Jessie Shelton)

Angie wandered to the kitchen and found most of a bottle of Jameson sitting on the bar. She grabbed it up and headed upstairs, uncapping the green bottle and taking swigs directly out of it.  Gallie had a nice house. It was like her place, a little. Her ex-house. Repossessed as of the eighteenth, she watched them put the big Keep The Fuck Out lock over the doorknobs, and tears threatened to spill hot onto her concealer. She dabbed at her eyes with a careful finger, trying to shoulder how much she’d lost in such a short span of time.

The house. The stretch. Brad, her yoga instructor. Charlene, her majordomo. It reminded her of watching dominos fall, these slices of bad news toppling her life over. She walked up the stairs to the master bath, with its hardwood floors and its glassed off shower and deep soaking tub. Gallie had told her to take anything she wanted. She’d mentioned there was Valium around. This lead Angie to snooping. She set the bottle of Jameson down on the counter and found the mirrored cabinet. She jerked the hatch open and noticed how many little yellow bottles were in Gallie’s cabinet. Enough to kill a horse.

She found the Valium. There were a few left, but Angie wasn’t sure it was enough to do the job. She started poking around her cabinet in search of anything else she could take. She found a bottle marked cyclobenzaprine, with an ambiguous message, “For pain.” The bottle was almost full.

Running a bath seemed like the thing to do while she waited. She took another swig of Jameson and stepped into the rising level of hot water that made her feet tingle and turn pink. Angie thought about everything that happened. The video that started it all, the video of her creating her sculpture. It had gone viral, she couldn’t believe the hit count. Until Abhimanyu Singh himself contacted her to purchase the piece. He was the highest profile client she’d ever landed.

Her stomach gave a violent lurch. Quickly, she reached for the Jameson and swallowed, drawing down the liquid into her stomach. She couldn’t fuck this up, or she’d be in rehab for months.

She thought about her fame. She was a has been now, washed up, worse off than when she’d started. No one thought her art was cutting edge anymore, everyone was off chasing her copy-cats instead, Helene and Ursula. Who had a name like Ursula? It was as fake as the rest of her, Angie despised her.

It was getting hard to breathe. Angie leaned back in the hot water and tried not to struggle. Then she heard something speak. “Really? A suicide attempt? Isn’t that a bit overdone?”

Angie tried to look around the bathroom to see who spoke, but the glass revealed that she was alone. “Who said that?”

“I did,” said the Jameson bottle.

Angie almost dropped the bottle. Instead, she set it carefully on the edge of the soaking tub. “Why are you talking to me?”

“I’m the spirit of drowned sorrows. And you took too many pills,” The Jameson bottle’s voice sounded tartly disapproving.

“Fuck off, I’ve lost everything,” Angie snapped. It was hard to feel angry with so many relaxants in her system but she felt distinctly pissed off at the moment. “You don’t know anything about it.”

“Oh, I’ve seen plenty of artists kill themselves when their popularity sinks low,” the Jameson bottle supplied. “I’ve been in the toxicology reports. You need to puke, and soon, if you’re going to live to prove them wrong.”

“There’s nothing left,” Angie said plaintively.

“There’s this,” the Jameson bottle said, and showed her.

Fighting the lethargy in her body, Angie pulled herself up the sides, and stuck a hurried finger down her throat, gagging almost in slow-motion as the drugs pulled her body towards a grave. With a final push, she brought up the mass of booze and pills, onto Gallie’s pristine white tiled floor.

“Now what do I do?” Angie said, still gagging on the bitter-sour aftertaste.

“Get your ass to a hospital,” the Jameson bottle said. “Then get back to your art. Don’t get tied to what you can get from it. Just be proud that you made it.”

Angie reached for the Jameson bottle, but her fingers didn’t respond to their commands and she knocked it over on the tile, too. The neck of the bottle shattered and littered shards amid the vomit and the ceramic.

She looked at where she could safely step and found there wasn’t anywhere. She hoisted herself out of the tub and gingerly stepped down into the morass.

Fiction Midterm

I wrote this for my fiction midterm story, but I thought it would be fun to post here and see what people thought.

Emily’s Garden

The tower rose three stories with a top floor filled with glass. A hot house, with ripe tomatoes on the vine, beans growing up trellises, mounds with cucumber poking through the soil, a small herb garden that released pleasing aromas into the air. There was even a small patch of strawberries. He stood at the east windows of her garden, looking at the glow just clearing the horizon. He winced, unable to look at it directly, then, he wouldn’t have to.

A furious clatter atop the stairs caused him to turn around. A woman stood at the entrance of the room, blood-spattered and breathing hard. She wielded a large axe, but what he took notice of was the thick black utilitarian braid running down her back, her large dark eyes, the flush of pink at her lips. He could smell the blood of Clarence and Vanessa on her, but not of Emily. No, that would just be ash.

“What, no sly remarks?” The woman demanded. Girl, he thought, probably no more than forty, although perhaps only thirty with a rough life. Her teeth were nicotine stained. “No menacing threats?”

“Child,” he said, his voice a slow breath over dandelion seeds, “you killed me yesterday. Go away.”

“You look surprisingly animate for a dead vampire,” She said. “I think you’re lying.”

“Tell me, was it your brother or your sister?” He asked, and watched her eyes go wide in shock. “It couldn’t have been a parent, they are expected to pass first. Was it in the dark of night? Were you in the room, listening to soft sucking sounds as the monster lay atop them, holding them close so they could not escape? Or was it a lover? Someone you were very close to, surely.”

“You don’t know me,” She spat, braid stiff like an angry cat’s tail. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I know everything about you,” he said, his gaze turning back to the horizon, ignoring her. “You were hurt, you were trained, you started to make a name for yourself. You decided to try for more difficult prey. You killed Emily.”

“I kill a lot of vampires. I’m going to kill one more,” She said, taking another step closer.

“I told you, you killed me yesterday. When you staked Emily, the wood pierced two hearts. I cannot face immortality without her.” He confessed, his fingers caressing the soft ripeness of a nearby tomato. “I have given it thought, and I realize without her, this life offers me no more.”

“Bullshit,” She advanced again, holding her axe up between them. “Vampires can’t love.”

“On the contrary, we love very deeply. It is difficult to find the one person who can traverse centuries with you, but it is possible. Vampires do not change the way that humans do, but we do change. Like those plants we twine around what supports us, holding us up as we reach for the next level. Many vampires are not capable of love at all, as you say, but there are some who not only do, but who love for well beyond a human lifetime, into the realm of ages.”

“If you want me to apologize for killing your wife, you’re asking the wrong woman,” She said, taking another wary step across the teak wood floors towards the vampire. He discerned that she’d crossed half the length of the space. He wondered which would reach him faster, the sunlight or the hunter.

“I do not apologize for my kills,” he shrugged delicately. “I am a hunter, just as you are.”

“I’m nothing like you!” She shouted.

“Oh, but you are,” he said, taking a step towards her. Her axe flew up in a defensive style. “You have blood on your clothes. This is not the average wear of humans. Very few pick up the cause to end things lives. You are just. Like. Me.”

“No!” She shouted again, and she rushed him, axe swinging.

He reached out and gripped the axe beneath the head, ripping it out of her grip. “Emily was asleep and unarmed,” he pointed out. “You are a clever hunter, but you are not a strong hunter.” He turned the axe and swung, hitting her in the thigh, all the way to the bone.

She shrieked, and her agony was a song in his heart.

“Immortality is impossible, you know,” he confided in her, jerking the axe free of her femur, smiling at the cracking noise that preceded the rich smell of blood that flowed like wine. “It is like perfection; something to strive for, but inevitably as ephemeral as the soul.”

The hunter stopped screaming, and both of her hands pressed hard against the wound, trying to stem the flow of blood. Such riches going to waste, but he would not give her what she wanted. Vampire hunters sought vampires to risk eternal life, and she had killed Emily. Her deed was immortal, but he would not give her the satisfaction of living forever. She coughed. “I could be her,” she begged. “I could take her place.”

He could feel the bright brush of the first rays of sunlight stroke his cheek, so similar to how Emily would rouse him at night that his chest hitched, and his breath caught. His attention was torn away from the hunter as he turned to face the sun. “She was singular,” he said as he felt his cheek turn to ash. “You should try her strawberries before you die.”

He looked back to her, watched her blood soaking into the teak wood floor. He saw her pick up her stake and slide in his direction on her injured leg before his eyes turned to ash and he joined Emily in her garden.

Photo credit:
unsplash-logoChristian Widell

Teaser Trailer

This is the prologue of a story I’m in the process of writing. I felt like sharing it out, I hope you enjoy it!

*

The crash of the storm startled Ferris out of his book. He looked up, checking to see that the window stood closed. The frame had budged slightly in the last gust of wind, nothing to concern himself over. The room was full of leather bound tomes that he had no intention of exposing to damp or weather. The dust was bad enough, for all that he had hired two maids to continually service this room specifically.

He looked down at his latest acquisition, a brown leather clad, hand lettered copy of An Fae Ri,worked in gold filigree. He smiled in pride, his hands looking careworn and drab next to the artistic depictions of the title.

“Sir, phone,” the maid knocked on the door, distracting him.

“Confound it, you know I hate that thing!” Ferris roared through the door.

“It’s lady Jenna, sir, elsewise I wouldn’t have disturbed you,” said the maid, the perfect amount of contriteness in her tone.

“Very well.” Ferris stood, smoothing his brown corduroys and sliding his feet into house slippers. He felt for his pockets, found his pipe, stuck it in his mouth. Continued his search through his pockets, found some thread, a ceramic cat’s head, a doubloon, and his tobacco pouch. He shuffled towards the door, railing at his old man’s gait, thumbing a pinch of tobacco into his pipe and tamping it down with practiced ease as he approached the door. His library was his sanctuary, the one room he required absolute concentration in. He vowed to dock the woman’s pay, but found himself unable to remember her name. He would have to remember to ask for it so he could see to it at once.

He opened the door, and there the maid stood, in her gray uniform, hair back behind a white cap, holding a tray with a white enamel phone, its numbers set in gold, the edging in cream.

Snatching the handset off of the cradle, Ferris realized he’d forgotten his matches. “Yes, girl, what is it?”

A gust of wind rattled the windows of the room behind him, but Ferris ignored it, straining to hear Jenna’s voice. He stepped into the hallway to lessen the strain on the telephone cord.

“Ferris, so glad to reach you,” she said. “I forgot to inform you that there is a big luncheon tomorrow that you must attend.”

“What?” Ferris choked on his indignation. “You expect me to drop everything so I can be bored to death by that thin crowd of morality challenged idiots?”

“What did you have on the docket for tomorrow, if you don’t mind my asking?” Jenna’s voice was thin and tinny across the connection.

“Well, you don’t know, do you? I could have been having lunch with Mr. Chaplin tomorrow afternoon,” Ferris prevaricated.

“There’s no way Charlie would invite you to lunch without me, I would have known,” she said, calling his bluff. “Stop playing the grumpy old man and get in the spirit. These are investors, Ferris. The very people you want to woo, not stiff. Get your best suit out, the navy one with the pinstripes. Have Ella polish your shoes and trim your hair, there’s a good boy.”

“If I wanted a woman running my life, I’d have a wife, you know,” he muttered irritably.

“And most of the time Darryl does a fine job at it, but you’re a man who needs a communal effort,” said Jenna’s crisp voice. He pulled the handset away from his ear, frowning at it the way he would at her were she here.

The wind rattled the windows in the other room, and Ferris snuck a look over his shoulder to the partially opened door. He had to get free from this damnable handset and back to his library before the windows burst in and the rain hit his books. He’d left his newest acquisition sitting on top of a stack. He felt a spill of anxiety and put the handset back to his ear.

“…there’s a dear.” Jenna said smartly. “The car will be around at eleven. I’ve told Ella to wake you at ten.”

“Yes, yes, whatever you say, I must go,” he said into the phone, then slammed it on the cradle unevenly, the handset falling off even as he turned and ran into his library to catch the windows. Ella was left behind, catching the handset and trying not to drop the tray that held the phone. He slammed the door behind him, shutting her out.

The wind shoved the windows open just as he reached them, the wood and glass catching his hand so that it stung fiercely. He dropped his pipe as he yelped in pain, then swung the large frame shut and latched it tightly. He paused then to take a look at his hand. It had apparently sustained no lasting wound, but the damn thing pulsed in time with his heart and was sore besides.

Reaching down to retrieve his pipe with his off hand, he stuck it back in his mouth after a brief brush against his jacket to knock anything free. He reached into his pocket to find his matches, only to find they were neither in the left nor the right hand pockets. He searched his inner lining pockets, to find an envelope he’d forgotten about, addressed to him by Tomas Marcato. He hadn’t had a chance to read it. He drew it out, made to open it, and then realized that he was no longer alone in his library.

“El…” was all he managed to choke out before something wound around his mouth and nose like an anaerobic scarf that cut off his oxygen supply. He gasped, his lungs heaving as he tried to draw breath. He flailed and thrashed, falling to the ground as he used his fingers to dig into his cheeks, trying to grip the fabric that wasn’t present, but to no effect. He felt no person behind him, no one to throw himself against, no arm to grab and dislodge from his face, just his own features, contorted from strain in the act of breathing, of attempting to draw air into his lungs.

His eyesight faded around the edges, dimming as his struggles weakened. He believed in that moment he heard laughter coming from somewhere above him and off to his left. It was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard.

Reflections

It’s hard to reflect on the situation when you’re in the middle of it. I have been trying to write a blog post for months, but have been coming up short. Some of it is the sheer amount of writing I’ve been doing this quarter. Fiction and creative non-fiction, which are demanding in different ways. I like both of my professors for their strengths. I have also had good luck with the groups I’ve been assigned for writing critiques.

I’ve had no small amount of challenges this quarter. Taking two writing intensive classes was a good way to set myself up for insanity, and then I threw in a debate class, which is a realm to which I do not belong. Despite my obstacle course, I have made headway in all three classes. I even got an A on my first debate, which is the highest grade I’ve made in that class thus far.

I realized something, which is that I’m not letting these classes make very deep impressions upon me. In my fiction class, my teacher has been assigning stories that are well outside the range of what I read on my own. The stories are challenging, upsetting, or worse, pointless and boring. Those are by far the worst, where I can’t figure out why a college professor would assign it as reading. But that’s the thing. I’m just dismissing those writings as useless and stupid. And maybe, maybe they are. However, I do tend to think my professor is good enough to determine a poorly-written story from a challenging story to make me think. I just haven’t figured out how.

What is it about the human mind that writes off situations it doesn’t understand as stupid, trivial, or in some way minimized? Why can’t we admit our weakness and accept that this is something we don’t understand, and needs more thought? The brain budget for new thoughts tends to have deeper reserves than we want to admit to, but it takes time to convince it to pay out.

My stories have been developing. I posted a couple of flash fictions that I turned in as assignments in class. It’s harder to post longer pieces here, but I can post excerpts of other things I’m working on. I used to do post flash fiction all the time, but it’s amazing how much concentration it takes to churn out a work, even a short one.

I published my third novel, Typhon Inc. I have been meaning to post it here, but that’s just how busy it’s been. I hope that people take a peek; it’s an improvement on Bento Box. I figure the difference between book sequels and movie sequels is that authors are continually learning their craft, and movie sequels tend to try to extend a story that wasn’t intended to be.

And now to take on the end of the quarter.

 

New Education

I went on a field trip today with my class.

The class is Natural Disasters. We have been dealing with different topics – this week’s is flooding. An appropriate topic for the Pacific Northwest and one that can be easily explored, unlike earthquakes or volcanoes.

We weren’t just casual observers on this trip. This trip required active participation, which I’ve heard is standard for field trips, but I had never seen it. In my mind, field trips are where the boys and girls would split up into mean-spirited little groups and make snide commentary until the trip was over.

It is possible that this happened, but if it did, I didn’t see it. The age group is older, although the vast majority of my classmates are sitting between eighteen and twenty. What I saw were students paying attention to their teacher and trying to fulfil the requirement of the class.

We went to Whatcom Falls Park. The river is swelled right now due to a lot of rain coming in over the past week. Fortunately for us there was a rain break.  We stood on bridges and tried to measure the river’s speed, depth and width with a string, a rock and some leaves.

I felt like I was on The Amazing Race. We struck out to the first bridge, away from the teacher. I got distracted by a leaf that was suspended by some errant cobweb, and took a picture of it while the other team sailed past us. We caught up to them, but I felt like we were behind on the challenge. The other team would get their clue before us!

Our team worked together well. I found a rock to tie to the string to plumb the depth of the river. My other two teammates got leaves and a stopwatch and started doing time tests. The other team seemed to be struggling, although I wasn’t paying enough attention to know why. They didn’t ask for our help, and soon enough we had our data and were ready to go.

The leaf was still hanging by the same thread when we came back through.

This isn’t the first instance where I’ve been surprised by the quality of group work in my class. In my Communications class, we had to each look at a picture. Then using only words to describe the picture, line up in the order the pictures went in. My heart went to my throat thinking about talking to twenty some kids that I barely knew. I appeared to be the only one with this concern. The kids in the class wandered around like this was an everyday occurrence, with self-confidence and determination to get the job done. To my surprise we did it, too.

Education would come a long way since I’ve been in school the first time, but experiencing those changes first hand leaves me feeling a bit out of place. My ingrained habits are outdated. I’m no longer a bullied girl playing defense just to get through class, which is wonderful, but a little disorienting. It’s taking time to develop these new skills. In the long run though, developing these new skills underscore how much this new education is worth.

Tornado Hallway

I didn’t grow up in Tornado Alley, but I did grow up in a tornado hallway. I’ve lost track of how many funnel clouds I’ve seen threaten my subdivision when I was growing up. The skies would turn black. Not the open black of night, but oppressive, thick black cloud cover that cuts the sky out and replaces it with aggression. There’s a taste in the back of your throat like dust and ozone. Once a funnel forms, your eyes are locked, waiting to see if the clouds will kiss the ground and try to drag it back up to the sky.

After a while, though, living under the constant threat of sky strafing, you get inured to it. I mean, it’s a natural disaster that no one controls, not some human threat, after all. There is no objective, just barometric pressure and wild winds. You know to listen for tornado warnings, and you find low spots for safety if you’re out in the weather, but otherwise it’s nothing more than an insurance claim waiting to strike.

I find this experience has prepared me for life as a non-traditional student. There are days that go by where things are almost peaceful, but then my son will need a doctor’s appointment or my spring break doesn’t coincide with my son’s so I need to be in the first week of school and to have someone watch him while I’m in class. My date nights have gone from once a month to once a quarter. Homework dominates every aspect of my life. I’ve pared my social time back to the quick. Writing? Forget it. I can dash off a blog post but anything more demanding is relegated to least priority.

Why did I do it? Honestly, I do it because it satisfies a host of requirements for my life going forward. I did it to be a better writer. I did it to become an editor. I did it to have a four-year degree under my belt so I qualify for a job more complex than to bring fries to a table. I’m not dissing on anyone’s job; I simply am fed up with being a customer service muppet. For my sanity I require that I am more employable, even if I don’t plan on working for a major corporation.

I’ve done some very awesome things in the last two months. I went to Vegas for the first time in my life, with several girlfriends who are awesome, supportive, and hilarious. I went to NorWesCon and learned a lot about myself as an author, and how to further my career going forward. I have submitted another story to the Tokyo Yakuza crew per their request. I have even managed to overhaul my next novel and set it on a firmer path.

The silver lining to the funnel clouds above is this: I am handling it. My grades are great, my kid is doing fine in school, and my husband is gallivanting and being his social self. The most important pieces of my life are in order. There is a lot of sacrifice, and its being borne up by significantly less time with my friends. I’ve left people wondering if I’m still their friend anymore, which pains me. I appreciate everyone who is putting up with this major change. I put my social life above everything else for a large portion of my life. Not doing so is weird.

The funnel is high above the earth right now, and I can spare a glance out at the world for a moment. Knowing that it’s going to take years to make my goal brings more clouds and more wind. The truth is, that the funnels will never completely disappear. The point is to keep going despite them, and not let them distract you from your goals.