Patrick, the little kid up the street who ate 3/4 of a stick of Imperial margarine trying to get the crown to magically appear in his head like in the commercials, had a swimming pool. Just once, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited over to swim while his father played lifeguard. Patrick, tiny as he was, jumped into the deep end like a fish. My older brother and Rose the neighbor girl both swim around in the deep end. And there I was, in the shallow end, with the babies. Except Patrick. He was a baby, but perhaps margarine made him buoyant.
I said I wanted to swim in the deep end, too, and Patrick’s father said, “Why don’t you swim over to the ladder on the side and let’s see how you do.”
I confidently ducked under, knowing I could swim farther underwater, and in about 3.4 seconds, ran out of breath and popped to the surface, yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
There was a huge splash and someone lifted me out of the pool and set me on the side. Patrick’s father, from in the pool, said, “Perhaps you should stay in the shallow end for now.”
It is astonishing to me that 50 years later, I still find it embarrassing. I’m not saying I would have preferred a tragic death in front of my friends to being rescued. I’m not saying that.
We are strange creatures indeed.
After finishing his latest fiction I’m rereading Stephen King’s On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
Last night this reminded me why:
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”—from Stephen King’s On Writing p50
shatter leaves from the trees and slash them through my dream
pour them onto the road I cannot travel
smear them across the windows I cannot see
tear the rain from the air and chase it from this place
dry the lies
and the hate and
upturn the funnel
empty the blackness till it whitens
drag my heart from here to that place I belong
that place where I dreamt I was me,
where I dreamt I was myself
We chatted for an hour about brownies. I would make a big batch and bring them to the gig.
At some point I got out of bed, still on the phone, opened the door, and walked through the next room toward the kitchen.
He was sitting, no clothes at all, on the bed by the window, sunrise streaming across the white sheets. He stopped talking as I walked through, but he didn’t look at me.
Before I got to the kitchen I woke up.
… more … “My Naked Dylan Dream”
We read in order to learn how to face life’s challenges.
A book without challenges teaches us nothing.
The greater odds our hero faces, the more we learn from their success (or, to be fair, failure.)
I’ll confess that the young boy in my current work in progress is me, and I’m using the book to work through some childhood difficulties I’ve never been able to shake; nothing world-shattering, just the usual pains of being different and trying to grow up.
… more … “Merciless”
He sat, pretending to watch the garish musical on the big screen. Why anyone would present a so-called gala night featuring some forgotten and forgettable musical was a mystery to him.
Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.
Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.
The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.
It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.
The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.
Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.
I climb the stairs, avoiding the few creaky ones I’m used to avoiding coming down. Soft-soled shoes help, but I know whoever is up there will hear the slightest noise.
Every time they rummage, stumble, make any noise, I take an extra step. My slow climb is taking minutes that feel like hours.
I miss, or rather, don’t miss, one of the creaks. The noise above stops abruptly and a figure dressed in black appears at the top of the stairs.
My assailant, male I think, rushes me, probably trying to push me backward down the stairs.
I quash the instinct to fight back. Instead, I drop to my stomach, arms flailing above me.
I catch an ankle.
Then I catch a knee in the back as he tumbles over me.
By the time I turn and scamper back down, he’s lying motionless on the floor.
Before I even check for a pulse, I pull the ski mask off his head.
It’s more of a shock than when I first realized someone had broken into my home.
Finding that pulse matters now.
“What makes you think she’s in trouble?”
“I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously.”
“Not saying that. I need the lay of the land before I take the case.”
“Just because I’m not old enough to drive—”
“Hey, age has no bearing on whether someone needs help.”
“Or tells the truth.”
“That, too. People of all ages lie to me. People of all ages get confused about people they love. People of all ages come in here and tell me all kinds of stories. I pepper them with questions like I’m doing right now, and if I don’t like their story, they can take it somewhere else. So like I said, age has nothing to do with it whether I’ll believe you, or take you seriously, or take the case even if I do. I still need to know what makes you think she’s in trouble.”
“She packs my lunch for school every day. Writes me notes.”
“This is not surprising.”
“Wait, I wasn’t finished. This is the note I found in my lunch today. Read it.”
“He’s going to kill me. Get help.”
The blue-grey clouds squished over the rooftops down the road as I warmed my hands on my mug of darker-than-clouds coffee. A good night’s sleep would have been nice, thank you very much, but no, I got to bed early, tossed like a fish till all hours, then awoke, twitching and wild-eyed, at 3:13am. I’m not superstitious, so twitching awake from a nightmare to my WalMart digital clock displaying the usual number of disasters followed by the unluckiest number didn’t bother me at all. Not one bit.
When it’s black night out here you can’t see the next house, a hundred yards up the road, unless Mort is going fishing and he’s up early. Otherwise, new moon like this, you see nothing but stars until the sun oozes up over the hills behind my cottage. Then, the stars are there one moment, gone in a blue-grey haze the next.
Except that was all in my imagination, of course, what with the thick dark cover of clouds. It would get lighter. It would not get sunny.
Matched my prospects for the day.
I swallowed the last of the lukewarm brew in my mug and went upstairs to shower, shave, and dress for my last day as an outsider.
The last thing the police officer said was in English, sort of.
“You, go easy in the boulevard.”
My brother nodded vigorously.
I continued looking vaguely out the windshield at the traffic passing by.
Like many teenagers in the 70s, we sometimes took Dad to work so we could use the car.
Work just happened to be in another country.
… more … “Go Easy in the Boulevard”
Pally was silent.
Dope headed for the house. Since he had my arm twisted behind my back, I headed for the house, too.
Just before we entered the light from the door, a large sliding glass affair, Dope let my arm go and Pally stepped up next to me, as if they’d been like that all along. Dope slid the door open, and we stepped into a lavishly furnished living room where a tiny little man sat in a chair three sizes too large.
“What’s that on his face? What happened? He was not to be harmed, fools! This is not how we solicit assistance from our friends; it is most certainly not!”
During his tirade, startlingly violent in tone, he’d slipped from the oversized chair, crossed to Dope, and started slapping his face for punctuation. He almost had to jump, but he slapped, nonetheless. I expected Dope to snap him in half and use the sharp end for a toothpick. Nothing doing.
He was white as a sheet, eyes wide in fear.
This is an excerpt from Through the Fog.
To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon
9 Days Earlier
The sand rose and fell in miniature dunes as far as he could see. Unless he looked straight up into the cloudless sky, it was all sand, sand in two-foot dunes.
He turned, just his head, then his upper body, as far as he could, all the way right, all the way left.
Jarring not to see footprints behind him. As a tracker, no trail was out of his experience.
His pack grew heavier as he listened.
The silence, too, grew heavier.
No wind. Not a flutter.
He brushed his right hand on the rough canvas sleeve on his left forearm. Heard the light scratching noise.
He could hear. There just wasn’t anything to hear.
He turned again, this time his whole body, stepping a few degrees at a time in a circle.
On the horizon.
… more … “No Pursuer in the Desert”
As he scrambled through the underbrush the jagged tear in his leg soaked his boot and, worse, left a clear trail for the monster on his trail.
The same question circled his brain over and over: loop back and get behind the creature, or drive like a madman straight away from it?
His inability to decide stemmed from his unfamiliarity with the beast. Was it sentient, reasoning, a strategic foe, or simply a mad animal looking for a meal?
Pushing through the dense jungle since waking before dawn to the stench of the taloned thing behind him, he fought the mental fog brought on by lack of sleep. The animal had dogged his trail for a week, if his count of the days was right.
Precision wasn’t his strong suit.
… more … “Perpetual Prey”
In multiple ways, the next Phil Brennan mystery A Still, Small Voice passed the midpoint this week.
I’ve written 35 of 64 scenes.
Over 42,000 of a projected 75,000 words, my longest book by far.
And sentence #6 of 12, the Midpoint, where Phil changes from Wanderer to Warrior, from flailing and failing to winning.
It will be written before we go away for our year-end sabbatical, during which my beta reader will review it for sanity (where appropriate.)
The underlying theme has made writing some scenes emotionally challenging, in ways beyond the usual Resistance.
After I thought this post all the way through by explaining it to Best Beloved I discovered that the scene I was thinking of doesn’t exist in the movie. But it must have happened, so I’m going to write as if it did. Let’s all suspend disbelief for a few , eh?
Who’s seen Kate and Leopold? Ah, excellent. If you haven’t, and you’re a hopeless romantic, go watch it. (If, on the other hand, you often find yourself using words like “derivative” and “predictable” after suffering through a romantic movie, please, don’t; or if you do, don’t talk to the rest of us about it, eh? Good.)
Short synopsis of some core concepts: Kate’s friend Stuart has discovered holes in time. He accidentally brings Leopold back from the 19th century. Kate and Leopold fall in love (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and after Stuart sends Leopold back in time, they realize Kate must follow him.
Thing is, to do so, she must leap off the Brooklyn Bridge at precisely the right time and fall through a portal which will appear below her feet. … more … “Death-Defying Heart-Stopping Leap of Faith. With Blood.”
The wind howled so loud he could just make out his cell phone, ringing his mother’s home phone. Maybe it wasn’t turned up all the way. Didn’t matter; he daren’t give up one hand in the fight against the steering wheel.
It was why he’d moved here, to watch over his aging mother. He didn’t begrudge his brother and sister their lives; he’d have moved here for the beauty of the place, not to mention the economical lifestyle it allowed.
He didn’t begrudge his mother the gentle neediness of a twice-widowed elderly woman. She’d mellowed in her age. Less mourning, more reminiscing.
He’d begrudge the final call, though, when it came. Her apartment door would be unlocked, as it always was. He’d step in, calling her, but she’d not answer. She never did, whether she couldn’t hear him or just wasn’t answering.
That’s what he’d begrudge: the finding, then the calling, the endless mourning of others on his behalf.
It started to snow as he slowed for the series of camera-topped speed-limit signs at the edge of town.
Turning onto Main Street, he heard his phone ring through to her voice mail, finally. The wind blew less fiercely between the buildings so he pulled his left glove off in his right armpit and pressed the hang-up button on his phone, dropping it clunk rattle back into the door handle of the van.
If you’re old enough, you remember a scene, whether in real life or on TV, of a parent telling their food-fussy child “Eat your sprouts; there are children starving in China!”
(If only the kids could send their Brussel sprouts to China. But I digress.)
Do hungry children in another land make it more important for your kids to eat well? Perhaps there’s a thin, very thin, connection with showing appreciation that we don’t go wanting. Try telling that to a kid facing a pile of Brussel sprouts.
How often have you heard an author decry the lack of quality in self-published books, saying that lack of quality hurts us all?
Let’s mull this over, shall we?
… more … “Authors Starving in China”
Chapter 1 went live on January 31st (because that’s when I wrote it.)
I’d had the first sentence rattling around in my head for decades. I typed it, for something to do, and the rest of the first chapter came out as if I’d already written it.
The way it ended, I knew I had to keep going.
“Going” is right. In 58 days I wrote 56 chapters. During that time we also moved everything we owned into storage in order to move out of the house we rented before we left for a month-long business trip, which we also had to pack and prepare for, while maintaining some semblance of our normal life.
When people tell me they don’t have time to write, I marvel. … more … “Finishing”
The first year my blog over at Someday Box was live, I posted whenever I felt like it, when something special was going on. When I realized the work I do with Someday Box was our future, I started posting daily.
Except last week.
I’ve been kicking myself for only posting 4 times in 9 or 10 days. Kicking oneself is counter-productive. I cannot move forward while looking backward.
… more … “Rigidity and Balance and Forward Momentum”
Two weeks ago I wrote a post at my Someday Box blog which I’m inordinately proud of. My fans responded by making it the busiest day I’ve ever had at any blog in 11 years. By a factor of 3 — yes, one post tripled my best day ever.
And now, the following days of normal traffic look puny and sad.
When kids say something surprising and get a laugh, they do it again.
… more … “Chasing Attention is a Bad Thing (but It’s So Hard Not to Do)”