Bound & Gagged

When I was in 7th grade, my friend Ryan Fivecoat told me, “Never write anything you’d want the whole world to read.”

That was a heavy load to drop on a 7th grade skull, but I kept it close to me, because it resonated with me. I wasn’t like the other kids. I wouldn’t write notes that I worried about the teacher finding. I wouldn’t commit my serious thoughts to paper, because God only knew who might find my writing and judge me.

Honestly, given the judgmental nature of the city I grew up in, and how quickly people were to pounce when they caught a whiff of weakness… it was probably the best advice anyone could have given me.

Fast forward 20+ years. I live in a different state, with different values. I’m a grown woman, have a child and a husband, and a slew of petty past infractions such as imperfect ex-boyfriends and wonky career paths. I should be beyond that feeling that I need to protect everything I have to say, to sanitize my words for others comfort. I should be comfortable in my own skin, revealing these truths that are self-evident.

I don’t though. To this day, the words of my friend still rattle around in my skull. “Never write anything you’d want the whole world to read.”

Except, who am I to determine what that is? Who am I to know how you’re going to take these words?

I had a hell of a summer. I was torn free from my anchors and dropped down on the shore, left to find new points of stability. It wasn’t one large pull from a storm wave, but instead the gentle, insistent tug of the tide.

I had to watch my kid all summer long. I wasn’t prepared for his proximity, he’s been in daycare since he was 3 months old. I love my kid but anyone who’s had an uncouth roommate can tell you that even if you care about the person, there are habits that will drive you to biting the heads off of nails. I lost faith in myself at some point, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Fortunately I pulled myself free of that defeatist notion, and kept on going.

I had to confront my trust issues. Certainly a girl whose mantra is laced in paranoia couldn’t have trust issues, but I am a poster child for it. Obviously there are those whom I do trust, who have spent years whittling away at my armor to get inside the shell. They are few, they are far between, and up until now I didn’t even recognize my problem.

So, I did a little renovation over the course of the last few months. I’ve started to peel away some of the layers that don’t suit me. I’ve started to confront those demons that we all collect on a long enough timeline. I don’t know how to verbalize some of what I’ve accomplished… but even saying what I’ve said is a considerable amount of putting myself out there that I don’t do.

Hopefully this work will continue, and I can tell you more of my story soon.

Original Bento Box – Flash Fiction!

Okay, fans, this was the piece that launched a novel. Almost none of this made it into the book, but that’s what inspiration does. It takes you where you don’t expect.

***

The emergency induction port funneled strawberry ice cream shake into her mouth and chilled her tongue. It was too sweet. She longed for a Tequila Sunrise, but the body she wore had an abysmal fake id. Younger bodies were by far more flexible, which she preferred. Carnelia hated being treated like a child; it was the tradeoff she made.  To keep up appearances, she couldn’t turn down the generosity of the older woman with the voice that sounded like cigarettes and whisky. So, here she sat, infusing herself with sugar and waiting.

A trilling noise incited no interest. Everyone in the small diner had a cell phone. She slipped a peek at her locator tracker. The LT showed a red dot, slowly approaching a blue dot. A smile touched her lips as she clicked the LT shut. She did the math and estimated that he would arrive in six minutes.

She stuffed her hand into her purse. It brushed past sharp objects, dangerous items, ammunition, a lipstick, and finally the grip of her LazrGn™. It was sized perfectly for smaller hands and had the benefit of looking like a toy.

The door to the tiny diner swung in, setting a bell set above the door in motion. The tiny chimes drew people’s attention. The figure stepping through the door held it. He filled the door frame at seven foot two. His hair was shaved on the sides, and a noxious green Mohawk flared upwards. His heavy black coat swirled around his ankles. He held a bento box, and had a wonton halfway to his mouth when he barged through the door. He flashed a toothy grin to the horrified folk inside.

She pulled out her LazrGn™ and aimed it beneath the bar. She whispered in her throat mike. “Orochi confirmed.”

Orochi seemed to be enjoying the horrified looks on everyone’s face. He popped the wonton in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully, his gaze strolling over their mingled fear and growing concern.

“Got any soy sauce?” He asked the nearest waitress.

The older woman appeared unimpressed. “You get outta here, son. You got trouble in you and I don’t want it in here.”

“I just want some soy sauce. Is that really so much to ask?” He gave her a wounded look. Then he drew a BFG 300 from his side holster, concealed by the big leather coat. He aimed his gun at the ceiling and shot it, deafening the closest patrons and causing panic to erupt.

Carnelia dived under the table, taking cover behind a booth. She aimed, but a panicked civilian ran for the door and right in front of her path.  The civilian was rewarded with a BFG 300 clipping him in the temple. The civilian crumpled at Orochi’s boots.

The big gun went off again. “Shut up!” Orochi yelled.

At the sight of one of their number going down, the civilians had found cover. They huddled in small groups in the booths.

Carnelia had an idea. She slipped her gun into the waistband of her panties and hid the bulge as best she could under a hoodie. She grabbed her Hello Kitty backpack and peeked at Orochi over the booth top. Her blonde and pink hair stuck up like two antenna.

Orochi saw her and smiled. “What’s your name?”

“Carnelia.” She pushed herself up, leaned over the booth. “What’s yours?”

“Call me Orochi.” He looked down. “My bento box broke.”

Are We There Yet?

I’m hot.

It’s 7 pm and it’s 87 degrees with not an air conditioner in sight. My kid is trying not to melt into the couch as he plays Pokémon to ignore the world around him. I know it’s too hot for him because he’s quiet.

It was a good weekend. It was my business partner (affectionately known as my “Book Wife”)’s birthday. While I was there, I had an exciting conversation with a friend I’ve recently connected with. He told me that after reading my book, he thinks he wants to write one. This is a little unexpected and a lot flattering. Especially since he’s the third person who has credited me as their inspiration to write a book.

I’m going to start putting warnings on my books. “Caution: May cause authorish urges.”

It’s awesome and inspiring and I am a little intimidated. I feel like the Queen of Spain commissioning some ships to find the New World. Of course, that bitch is responsible for some serious destruction of indigenous cultures, but that’s another blog post.

Following a dream is WAY harder than I thought it would be. I always thought that it took about an hour and a half to achieve a life’s dream. That’s what the movies have taught me, anyway. No matter how hard the struggle, no matter what bullets you have to dodge or Russians you have to defeat, you’ll win in an hour and a half. Two hours if you’re particularly epic.

I’ll tell you, it’s been years and I thought I’d be further than I am. But then the idea of having published two books when most people never publish one seems like a big deal. I’m out in a land of unfamiliar, and I don’t have a base normal to work from. My entire life is changing, and it’s so big and so fast sometimes and so slow and so tedious other times, I find myself constantly fighting for balance, which is pretty weird because anyone who knows me will assure you I’m neither patient, nor a creature of balance.

I’ve got two half stories going – a misnomer as one is a short story and one is a novel. The novel I know where I’m going, the short story not as much, so even though one is longer, one is harder to get into. Neither one are going as fast as I’m used to. I feel as though there is a time clock ticking in my head and judging me because I’m not hitting my word count.

I don’t know what else to do but write about it. Try to get the words OUT. Try to clear the decks for creativity to flow. It’s not writer’s block, it’s a blocked writer who wants nothing more to be at her desk churning word count.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, it’s time to put my son to bed.

Flash Fiction 1 – Nathan meets Orochi

Concept art by Caleb Brown, ©2014

The small, white chapel had a neon sign that read Kum & Go. Below it another sign read: Funerary Services, open 24/7. Nathan had never been to a funeral before. It wasn’t that he didn’t know people who died. This time, it mattered.

The black coffin dominated the chapel. Dark veneered benches offered a place to sit. Nathan didn’t recognize any of the other four people looking bored or comm-zoned in the place. The chaplain had the good taste to look sad, at least.

Nathan found a bench in front of the casket and sat, seething. Alexi’s death hadn’t been an accident. She was too good a Savvy to overlook equipment in danger of breach. The casket lie closed, to not distress the fainter stomachs in the room. Explosive disruption of implants were an occupational hazard.

Nathan ignored the gathered group, wondering what had happened to Alexi in the three days since he’d lost contact.

The chaplain stood up to speak. The group settled to their chairs, deigning to pay attention to the deceased.

The heavy wooden door to the tiny chapel swung open, catching Nathan’s attention. He spun to see an enormous man with a bright green mohawk, a wide grin, and a full length leather jacket. The stranger filled the chapel with his presence.

“Fellow denizens of the Green Dome of Seattle, please do not get up. I’m only here for the beer and pretzels…” He trailed off when his eyes lit upon the casket. Nathan noticed that his grin faltered slightly before he continued. “Ah, the cooler! Fear not, your refreshments are at hand!”

“Who do you think you are?” One of funeral goers stood up. He came up short against such an enormous man. Nathan estimated his height at over seven feet tall.

The big man’s expression hardened briefly before resolving back into his big grin. “Why, sir, I’m the bartender, can’t you see? And I fear we all need a drink.”

He walked over to the casket. The chaplain was white with fear, and backed away, muttering prayers and crossing himself. He brandished his cross towards the interloper but did not step forward.

Nathan’s hand fell to his gun. He didn’t know who this meat muppet was, or why he upstaged Alexi’s funeral. When he grabbed the lid of the casket, Nathan hit his limit. He shot the man in the arm.

The bullet flattened against the leather, leaving a gray ashy mark before falling to the floor. The shot ringing through the air galvanized the others into action; they all ran for the door, screaming.

“Ow,” said the big man. He heaved the coffin lid up and looked inside.

“You piece of shit, you get away from her!” Nathan launched himself at him, no longer caring that he was two feet shorter than the interloper. He started pummeling, his fists slapping against the reinforced leather.

“Will you look at that?” The big man said, unperturbed.

Nathan’s head snapped around, and he immediately wished he hadn’t. Alexi lay on her back, eyes closed. Her skin held the pallor of death. It wasn’t the mess he’d expected, and that made it worse.

“Look here.” The big man said dispassionately. “Behind her ear.”

New, unhealed wounds pouted, showing red edges and hasty sutures. Despite the bloodless appearance of his deceased friend, nothing indicated massive equipment failure.

“What the fuck is going on here?” Nathan shouted in the chapel, his voice echoing off the walls.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” The big man assured him.

“Who are you?” Nathan felt as though his mind was starting to melt from overexposure to unbelievable circumstances.

“My name’s Jack.” His eyes flicked to Alexi, and Nathan could see the wistful sadness that showed briefly. “Alexi knew me as Orochi.”

“I’m Nathan. And I’m all ears.”

***

This flash fiction is based around my new novel, Bento Box. It is available for preorder and will be released June 30th, so you don’t have long to wait!

Flash Fiction

The playground was silent. No squirrel scolded, no bird sang. The swings did not move in the still spring air. Nothing stirred, not even a silent cat hunting a bold mouse. There were no children on the slide or on the small jungle gym.

The children were inside the small brick building nearby. Each sat with their spines straight and their eyes focused on the teacher. No one squirmed. No one giggled and passed notes. No one played with their hair, or tore small pieces of paper to roll into spit wads when the teacher wasn’t looking.

The teacher, a small, light structure of aluminum and plastic, stood at the head of the class, droning in a monotone about recent history. “In the wake of the supervirus, small birds and mammals were the first to die out. This led to more deaths as the predators, finding easy meals of bird and rodent, were exposed to the contagion. Larger animals were also affected, with fatality rates of seventy-five percent.”

The children sat in rapt attention, silent and still.

“Humans were susceptible to the virus, and once contracted, the fatality rates were upwards of eighty percent. Until a pharmaceutical lab began trials on a cure.”

“There are no cures, only solutions.” The children, fifteen in all, said as one.

“That’s right, class. The medicine treated the symptoms of the virus, but did not destroy it. Those affected by it typically would lose certain brain function. Creativity and self-identity were often curtailed. Those affected still kept their ability to reason and learn, although at decreased rates.”

The children listened intently.

“Johnny, could you please read from the text? Page seventy two.” The teacher called on a small child, in the back of the room.

He looked up and flipped his book open with stubby fingers. He was the youngest in the class at five years old. “The medicine for the virus saved the world, but at a cost. Billions of people died, and there were great efforts made to safely depose…”

“Dispose.” The teacher corrected placidly.

“Dispose of the bodies.” The child finished the paragraph and looked at the picture above it, showing rows and rows of shrouds and people in hazmat suits pointing towards something off the page.

“Thanks to Alexion, we are alive today.” The teacher said.

“Thanks to Alexion.” The children repeated back.

“History is over. You have ten minutes. Why don’t you go outside and play?” The teacher suggested.

“You haven’t taught us how to play, Teacher.” Beth said, staring at the robot for further instruction.

“I lack the programming to instruct you how to play. You must learn on your own.” The robotic teacher said patiently.

The children neither looked left nor right, not looking to their other peers at all. They picked up their books to read, instead.

Ray looked away from the video. “They’re all like this?”

“All of them.” His partner confirmed.

Ray sighed and rubbed his temples. “So, all we have to do is figure out what causes this. The virus or the vaccine.”

Confessions of an Author

A month ago today, my day job let me go.

The shock was utter and complete; I had no idea that I was in trouble until my supervisor asked to speak with me in the conference room. My stomach sank when I saw the HR guy was already there. I sat in confusion and disbelief as they broke up with me. Breaking up is what it felt like, anyway. I wanted to argue with them. My pride demanded I try to show them they were wrong. Defeat descended quickly, however, and then I couldn’t get away fast enough. Stripping down my cubicle to the bare beige and gray was terrible.

They let me go near the end of my shift. I went home, stunned for the entire evening, worrying about the logistics of what to do next.

Rather than stay at home and stew in an anxiety ridden turmoil, the next day I went to a coffee shop with my laptop. I worked on my novel. I’ve been working on this novel for two and a half years. The bulk of the day was spent doing what I loved.

I am of course looking for work, but finding a job in my town is a demanding art form all its own. I’m also looking to get back in school. I have a few hours a day that aren’t spoken for, in that time  I work on finishing up Bento Box.

The first time I was laid off, it was in 2009, when the housing bubble burst and all the jobs stopped. During that time, I wrote two novels. I didn’t know what to do then either, but writing at that time seemed just like something to wile away the hours until I landed my next job.

This time, I don’t feel like I lost a job. I’ve been practicing at this writing business for almost three years now. I’m not lost for things to do, I’m desperate to get everything done in a day. I’ve worked harder in this last month than I feel like I have in a really long time. The only difference now is that I enjoy the work so much more.

This has been a time of unexpected ups and downs for me. The one thing I have going for me is the amount of support I have. So many of my friends have told me, “This is a blessing in disguise,” “This is an opportunity,” or my favorite, “The universe really hit you with a two by four, didn’t it?”

I’m terrified, but I’m going for it. In this situation, what else can I do?

Off the trail, into the unknown

Our world is a world of stories.

Stories to teach, stories to entertain, stories to make sense of the world, and stories to create it. Everything is a story, but what stories we pay attention to matter the most.

I tell my son stories almost every night when I put him to bed. It’s a duty I share with my husband (and I will never call it a chore.) Sometimes I lean on the written word, but that was by recommendation of his teachers, who told us it would help with his literacy. Most nights, though, I enjoy spinning tales for him and watching his reactions.

I’m so glad I have this instantaneous feedback. Nothing is as rewarding as a gasp of surprise or a chiming laugh as I catch him off guard with some bit of humor. His eyes get big, he leans in very close, and he’s quick to ask questions if something wasn’t clear enough or if he simply wants to know more. My son is a parrot – I know I will be hearing bits and pieces of my tale the next day over breakfast. What he pays attention to is important, and I notice.

His instant feedback is one of the best ways to remind me why I love storytelling so much. It gives me what I need to sit down, day after day, and put words on a page. Everyone has a book in their head somewhere, stories of characters they love, rattling around, chapters unfinished and scenes firmly envisioned. It isn’t as easy as it looks, though, and it takes a lot of patience, fortitude, and sometimes suffering to get a book translated from brainpan to word processing software. (Or paper, but eventually it all becomes electronic format.) It took three years to take The Corsican from request to .pdf, and with luck it will make it to Amazon this month.

Even now, with more time than I’ve ever had before to write, I’m still struggling with being a student and a mother besides. I am constantly trying to keep up with my grades, my son’s needs, and my other duties. I am quick to apologize for spending my time writing when there are other things to be done, and there are always other things to be done.

It is hard to be a writer. The competition is legion, the hours wonky, the pay chancy. It’s a fringe job, like styling oneself an artist. People are comfortable asking you to do for free what professionals charge handsome fees for, “for your portfolio.” The bottom of the pile is a raggedy heap of hopefuls, who either cling to you for support or despise you for being alive, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

I know what I’m doing is risky, but the love of the word rests within me, and I’ve already denied it for too long. I have to keep trying, and work hard, and tell myself that the risk is worth it. I have to stop apologizing for my dreams and just stay strong in the face of all the distractions and life’s demands. I can’t give up now; not with the first taste of victory so fresh on my tongue.