Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A New Partner (WoE #12 Legs and a Song Challenge)

Write at the Merge gives us a picture of a retreating woman's legs in film-noir style and a song by Justin Timberlake.

I liked the picture. It brought to mind The Thin Man and the Maltese Falcon, and the colorful characters created by Dashiell Hammett. The language used by his hard-boiled detectives I find delightfully crass, but ingenious. Lines like: “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.” (The Maltese Falcon) and “I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.”(The Red Harvest) make me positively giddy.

So when I saw the picture, the first thing that sprang to mind was: She had legs that went all the way to the floor. I needed a "she" to go with that phrase.

I'd like to return to Essie Dorely. She's just been hired as a reaper of souls.

I offer the following in response: A New Partner

Reaper walked Essie down a long, star-lit hallway. She tried not to feel like she was headed for the principal’s office. She also tried not to stare at his silent flip-flops.  “So we help with the transitioning to this new life. Do we ever have difficult customers?”

“All the time,” he turned and continued through a marble archway. “Not all souls transfer as easily as you did. Some experience extreme regret and disbelief, and they never really let go of their earthly existence.”

“What happens to them?”

“Oh eventually they come around to the idea, realize they’ve been scared of the change and embrace their new lives with euphoria. Until then, they wait.”

She chewed on her thoughts for a moment. “Like purgatory?”

“Like purgatory is a strong analogy to draw, but I suppose if you don’t have anything else to compare it to, it’ll do.” He stopped at the end of the hall where another magnificent archway framed a door. Stocks and Bonds was etched into the frosted glass and filled with flaking gold paint. His hand hovered at the door knob. “Sometimes, though, the reaped soul, and custody battles ensue.”

His look worried her. “Partners? Fights?"

“Reaping isn’t an easy profession, Essie, but you needn’t fret. I am confident you are well up for the task.”  He opened the door and she followed him inside.

They stood on a platform that seemed to float above a chaotic gallery where a thousand people worked dizzying circles around each other. Hundreds of ticker-tape celebrations broke out with the constant clamor of a myriad bells and alarms. In the center of the sunken room spun a crystalline replica of Earth that reflected lights like a disco ball. Reaper leaned against the railing with a wistful expression adorning his perfect face. “This is where the struggles of the Adversary and our Architect are witnessed. We share in man’s brightest achievements and we weep in his darkest hours.”

“It’s so lovely.” The excitement in the room enchanted her, filling her heart until it bubbled over.

Reaper tapped her shoulder, turning her attention to the opposite end of the platform. “Here she comes, late as usual.”

“Who?” Essie spun around.

“Your partner. We usually go in teams of two, you see. One of their's and one of ours.”

A young woman stepped off the elevator in a puff of smoke. Red hair curled about her face like flames licking at porcelain in a kiln. She slinked towards them, her stride limited by a pencil skirt and stiletto heels. A black mink stole snaked around her neck. Her ruby lips parted, revealing pristine fangs. “Reaper, darling.”

“Miss Essie Dorely, Miss Abilene Fortesque.”

“Enchantez,” Abilene’s tongue traced her mouth.

Essie never associated with this type of woman during her earthly existence. She reached for anything to say. “The pleasure is mine, surely.”

“You’re so sweet, I could just devour you. We’ll be the best of friends, you and I.”

Somehow, Essie didn’t think so.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

State of the Onion or What I've Been Avoiding

My State of the Union address is long overdue. I've been avoiding it.

My parents shuffle about, getting ready for dialysis. In truth, they're dragging their feet on purpose. Who wants to go to dialysis? Even as it's a necessary procedure to extend the life, dialysis has become a chore. Three days a week, my parents put their lives on hold to sit in a chair and do nothing for four hours straight. And lately, the staff, although professional and conscientious, is running hours behind due to a corporate takeover, making my parents thrice-a-week trek all the more unpleasant.

I sit in a state of onion: Layers of frustration and needs and chores and depression, all neatly packaged in a parchment-thin skin that makes me cry when I go to chop it up. When ignored, this onion only grows bigger and bigger, sprouting new life all on its own. I know what I need to do. I know how I need to do it. But instead I sit amidst my growing projects and feel like I've accomplished nothing for four hours straight. I'm spinning wheels like I'm stuck in Alabama mud and I'm going nowhere fast.

Or am I? I'll get back to this point in a second.

I'm still unemployed, after a year and a few months. In today's job market, I'm just not getting noticed. I probably need to fix problem areas in my resume, get out of the house and make connections, and/or pester all of my friends to point me somewhere, anywhere that will prove fruitful. But that's not the crux of the matter, and I know this. It is obvious even to me that I have been granted with an over-abundance of time. If I had used this time to my best advantage, I could have drafted and re-drafted at least three novels by now and had them ready for publication. I have squandered my time through false hope, lack of dedication, and poor work ethic. I have closed my eyes and my onion has sprouted a life of its own.

Time to wrestle Time back, peel back the layers, and get to chopping. That means focusing on the aspects of my life that I find exciting, so I can draw from that energy to apply to things that I should be doing.

Outstanding Personal Obligations Recently Completed:
  • Scrivener: Learning the nuances of a new software. I'm now comfortable using it for bigger projects. As a result, Waking Grandpa is trotting along nicely.
  • Knitting: I've completed several washcloths for baby showers and scarves for gifts.
Inserting proud camera moment here:

The camera is an important addition to my techie circus. My previous camera wasn't "Shelton-friendly" so all pictures I took with it look like...well...something that came out of the south-end of a north-bound kangaroo.  This new one has features and I don't need a Bachelor's in Computer Science with a Minor in Japanese to figure out how to use it. Now, I can dabble in photography and feel good about the pictures I take. Like the above duck. Don't make fun of it. I'm really REALLY proud of that duck. Soon, I'll be able to play in the Really Cool Sandbox of Really Cool Blogs with Really Cool Pictures along with the big girls. YEA!

The point is this: although I've avoided a few things and I don't feel like I've accomplished anything, I do have completed projects. I have seen remarkable growth in my creative writing (thanks in no small part to the wonderful WoE community and daily encouragement from my editor and good friend.) I have had job interviews that haven't produced offers, but that proves I'm doing something right somewhere. So maybe I'm not further along because I zigged when I should have zagged, but I've accomplished enough of my little goals from last year that I can devote some time to what comes next.

Next On My Pipeline:

  • Novel: The second draft of The Trouble With Henry is back from my editor. There are only a few trouble spots to work through. But I'm seeing the end of the tunnel on this WIP. The next steps are: Revising and Tweaking: by the beginning of April, and formatting, cover art and (drum roll) PUBLISH by the end of April. (Hey, it can be done. I'm THAT close!)
  • Novel II: Waking Grandpa second draft to be completed by the end of July.
  • Camera: Three local trips are planned ('cause I can't afford to go farther right now) to exercise my budding photographing skills. Orfila Winery, Old Town San Diego, and The Huntington Library. Oh and the beach, which makes trip four.
  • New Job: Time to pester those friends for a little assistance. 
  • Taxes: yes, I need hold my wallet open for Uncle Sam and remember the IRS agents are only doing their jobs. I'm really not that important for them to have a personal vendetta against me.
  • Knitting: Another scarf or three for my editor. And few gifts for the Hallmark Holidays. Maybe I'll actually knit something bigger than a scarf or a washcloth. Maybe a tea cozy?

So there it is. The State of the Onion that I've been avoiding from the beginning of the year is finished. I'm not where I wanted to be, but that's okay. The slow and steady pace of the tortoise is better than the flashing over-confident pace of the hare. And if I run the onion under water before chopping, I won't cry.

My parents will still have to trudge to dialysis, but perhaps I can have dinner ready for them when they come home.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Podgy-Warble (WoE #11 Bubble & City Hall Challenge)

Reporting from Write at the Merge week 11, we are provided two pictures for our inspiration. One is of the New Town Hall in Hanover, Germany with the lights on the facade for a charming display of evening colors. The other is of the perfect bubble suspended over a Norwegian valley at sunrise.

I was so captivated by the picture of the bubble that I didn't even think about the Town Hall. I found the picture simply breathtaking, the sort of picture I which I could take but never will because I won't ever have the right camera or software. Not to mention, I'm still a five-year-old around bubbles.

I was at Disney's California Adventure once when a cast member was using one of those bubble guns in the Hollywood section. "Look, fairy farts!" I exclaimed.

The cast member doubled-over, giggling incessantly with snorts and squeaks. I pronounced myself a winner.

That story shared, I believe you will see that I absolutely had to return to Sticky's world for this prompt. Sticky just learned of his destiny, but he's conflicted about what that means, and now all his friends are involved.

I offer the following in response: Introducing Podgy-Warble

“I don’t see what the problem is,” Pocker scratched his head as they gathered seeds in the farmer's meadow, “why is being a Fetcher a bad thing?”

Sellamina shot Pocker her withers-butterflies look and Sticky cringed instinctively. “Secrets are secrets, Pocker!” she hissed.

“Yeah but it’s not like he’d be lying or anything.” Pocker said in defense. “We keep secrets from all kinds of things, like other clans, humans, even squirrels.”

“Those secrets are different.” Sella gestured emphatically. “Those secrets are about protection.

“Can we think about maybe heading back?” Sticky interrupted, pointing eastward. “The sun’s coming up.”

Sellamina continued as if she hadn’t heard him, her voice pitching in passion and her wings darkening with her mood. Lily appeared openly confused by the argument. “What do I think?” she whispered.

Sticky shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen Sellamina and Pocker this at odds before.”

Topple materialized in the toadstool beside them. “You know what I don’t understand, is why the Seeress chose you as the new Fetcher to begin with. You can’t Fetch without us. Not to mention your camyflaging skills are sorely lacking.”

Sticky made a face, insulted, “They are not! I’m just not obsessed with looking like a toadstool.”

Lily groaned, “You two aren’t going to start fighting, are you?”

He didn’t feel like apologizing, but Lily made a point. The rising sun meant they would all be exposed soon. Inhaling slowly, he grumbled, “Sorry, Topple, you’re right.”

The fight between Sellamina and Pocker grew steadily louder, another threat that would need resolved for their protection. The sun would coax the balinogs from their dens for warmth and the amphibians would not resist a potential snack of pixies. Then Topple would never let them hear the end of it, his I-told-you-sos haunting them for the whole of the season.

Sticky turned away in frustration and was instantly taken in by an unfamiliar sight. A perfect sphere, full of the swirling colors of dawn clouds, drifted in mid-air. He flew into the eye of the argument to get their attention. “Stop, what’s that!”

The quintet watched the sphere float, awestruck. “Must we bring it back to the Seeress?” Lily-fathri whispered, her wings quivering like she was about to explode. “Or can I keep it? I want to pet it and name it Podgy-warble.”

The sphere did a curious thing then: it audibly popped, disappearing.

Sticky tasted soap on the breeze. “No!” Lily screamed, frantic tears pooling in her almond eyes, “Podgy-warble’s dead!”

Pocker flew to her, wrapping protective arms around her. “Shh, it’s okay Sweet-pea,” he whispered, but Sticky could tell Pocker didn’t have a clue if it would ever be okay again. Podgy-warble was gone and there was nothing left for them to plant in reverence. Lily shook and sobbed until they all had tears.

Sellamina pointed a shaky finger over grass, “Stars, look!”

An army of Podgy-warbles floated above them, each a perfect sphere of swirling color. Lily wiped her eyes and cooed.

99 Problems Challenge (WoE Surprise Prompt)

It's the 900th post at Write On Edge today and to celebrate, we get a surprise prompt! WoE gives us Hugo's song 99 Problems and they're not too concerned about word limit.

A while back I came across a prompt that involved an act of revenge against neighborhood kids who toilet paper houses. It wasn't until this prompt that a whole scene snapped into place.

I offer the following in response: Serving Revenge Cold

Kids. Urchins. Prepubescent dunderheads. I detest them. My shrink told me I suffer from ephebiphobia, but that’s not my only issue. I have several issues in fact. All of them have some sort of lengthy Greek or Latin beginning and end with –phobia. I have a trunk full of costly pills to address each one.

Apparently, killing teenagers is an act of murder punishable in a court of law, not an act of mercy that nominates one for sainthood. So I attend anger management classes, group therapy sessions, and practice yoga, and I'm proud to say I'm officially coping. It helps that my house is solitary on its little hill. The housing developers never got to build the rest of my block before the rare butterflies were discovered. So it was a no-brainer that I chose this house.

But I digress.

April Fools is a particular challenge for me each year, and the rotten, good-for-nothing vandals can smell my law-abiding inability to act. For over a decade, it’s been a rite of passage for the monsters to drudge up my hill with all the toilet paper they get their grubby mitts on. Two years ago, they even plastic-wrapped my car and egged my garage door in addition to turning my oak trees into weeping willows of TP. My sister douses my entire property with water so the toilet paper is washed away before I wake in the morning, but she shouldn't have to. She should not have to sit with me in my dark room each March 31st just to help keep my temper under control.

But last year was different. I had what my shrink labeled ‘a breakthrough moment.’ I went on the offensive.

My sister's fiancé gave me the idea. "You realize what they're doing is malicious mischief, don't you?" he asked. "It's a misdemeanor."

"Thanks, Brian," I replied, "but I'm not a cop like you are. I can't exactly enforce anything."

He shrugged, "I'm willing to help. Let me throw a party here. I'll invite the precinct. We'll take care of it."

Did I mention I love my future brother-in-law? “Isn’t that entrapment?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No, entrapment would mean we force the perps to do the crime. A person ready, willing, and able to commit a misdemeanor is not a victim of entrapment.”

Despite my irrational fears of crowds, germs, and body odors, the party was a ton of fun; something I wasn’t expecting from a sting operation. I met sergeants, detectives, their wives and significant others. They all brought food and drinks and for the first time since forever, I actually felt like a normal human being. Everyone was so kind and sympathetic; I almost forgot to watch the main event go down.

Just as the hoodlums crept across the front of my lawn, my sister flipped on the flood lights, exposing their intent to the night. The entire house emptied of arresting officers, surprising the brats and their accompanying adults alike. Citations were issued for malicious mischief, breaking city curfew, inciting a mob, contributing to the delinquency of minors and being drunk in public.

I summoned the courage to wish them all a Happy Fools Day as the dawn broke.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Flatwater Departure (WoE #10 Dr. Seuss Challenge)

Write at the Merge gave us a Lorax quote:
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax
 and another from Yertle the Turtle:
"Oh marvelous me. I am the King of all that I see!"
 also of Dr. Seuss fame, in honor of his birthday: March 2.

Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Seuss Geisel published 46 children's books, but had no children of his own. When asked about that, he was quoted having said "you have them, I'll entertain them." He certainly had a genius's ability to convert current events into anapestic, amphibrachic, and trochaic tetrameter poems, colored heavily with his own moral code. I can't say that I agree with all of his political stances or that I condone his outspoken personal prejudices, but I can say that I am still a fan, looking for the arms race in the Butter Wars and fascist dictators in Yertle the Turtle. Who says adults can't enjoy the subversive text while kids enjoy the silliness of his invented worlds? I dare anyone to find an author who is more dedicated to his craft than Theodore Seuss (pronounced Zoice not Sewce) Geisel was to his.

As for the prompt, I took so long to post my response because I couldn't settle on one story. I have an installment plotted for every one of my characters you've met on my blog, and a few for characters you haven't met here. It's been a while since I was that inspired, when I had a thousand pictures in my mind to write about. I've written close to 5k in words in the last two days, advancing several plot lines in slim margins.

But per the rules, like in the "Highlander", there can be only one.

I've decided that the most complete storyline is the one to post. The winner brings us back to Patience Bannon and her quest to rescue her baby sister. Jeb and she are just about to leave from their overnight stay in Flatwater Bend.

I offer the following in response: Flatwater Departure

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Gilroy,” Patience smiled.

Forrest Gilroy kissed her hand, manners that the savage west seemed to have abandoned. He was a bright rose among thorns, with his silk waistcoat and silver buttons shining in the early morning light, and a welcome sight for Patience. His voice carried the distant memory of her Boston as his once-common east-coast accent tickled her ears. She drank his words, giddy. “The pleasure is mine, Miss Bannon.”

Jeb sauntered from the mercantile, the shop-keep’s boy in tow loaded down with their purchased supplies. Patience felt him bristle across the dusty space. “Let’s git a-goin’, Girl,” he interrupted, irritation saturating his tone.

She sighed, broken-hearted. She wanted to ask her new acquaintance about the coast, to reminisce with gentile aristocracy again. Did he ever skate on Jamaica Pond in the winter? Had he ever dined with the Bacons or the Amorys? The settlers here were hardened, base people, with little by way of pleasantries or civilized associations. “My guide is eager to press on. I must beg my leave.”

“Safe travels, Miss Bannon,” his words trailed behind her.

The shop-keep’s boy provisioned their wagon, and departed the livery without speaking while Jeb cinched the tack buckles for his horse. “I should have liked to speak a while longer with Mr. Gilroy,” Patience mused aloud as she climbed onto the driver’s bench. “He might have news from the east.”

Jeb snorted, tethering his horse to the wagon. “I highly doubt that, Girl.”

Of course Mr. Grayson wouldn’t have anything polite to say. “Oh, and what would you know of Mr. Gilroy?”

“I’ve little use for dandies,” he retorted, settling in beside her and taking the reins. With tongue clicks and a snap of the leather, the wagon jolted forward. “Gilroy ain’t got no need bein’ out here. He don’t have the sense God gave a turtle and he flashes his coin like it’s worth somethin’.”

“He comes from civilized society. I would not expect you to understand.”

He shot her a dark look that sent a chill through her spine. “Now I suppose you’re right, Girl. What would I know? I’m justa savage as like to piss on the floor than use a pot.”

Shamed, Patience tried to take her comment back, “I didn’t mean-“

“Didn’t you? You’ve been turnin’ your nose up at everyone since you moved to Brasher, like you’re a queen or somethin'. That attitude might work in Boston, but out here it’s only gonna git you dead.” He spit, then his tone softened. “Hell, you’ll probably git us both dead.”

The wagon jostled them over the rocky path. “What do you know of Mr. Gilroy?” she whispered.

“He uses cocaine and cuts up whores that refuse him service.”

She felt ill. “I wouldn’t have known.”

“The Pottawattamies say listen to the trees before you test the bark,” He adjusted the reins. “In other words, don't be fooled by a devil in a fancy suit.”