December 28, 2007

Fiction Friday: merry axe-mas

This Week’s Theme: Your adult character just got a guitar for Christmas–a gift very out of character. What changes, if any, does this cause in her life or personality?

"Is the man sick?"

I knew Cara was only trying to help, in her typically brute-force, tactless way. I handed her the note that had come threaded between the guitar's metal strings. I watched her eyes scan across the dozen or so hand scrawled words, watched the revulsion grow in her grimace.

"Oh my God," she said as she handed the note back to me. "Hope you get better soon? Motivation for your recovery? Holy crap, Dan, your dad is one sick jerk."

"Not sick," I replied, "just... misguided." I swallowed back my desire to let the tears flow again, but it would only get Cara on another rant.

"Still a jerk," she murmured, her fingers fiddling with the needles on a miniature Christmas tree she'd brought to cheer my hospital room. "I mean, didn't you tell him--"

"Yes, I told him." I did not want her to say it out loud, again. My left hand throbbed enough under its club-like, white bandage to remind me every few seconds of what I'd lost. I kept trying to remind myself of what I hadn't lost. I hadn't lost my life. I hadn't lost my sight, or my entire arm. And if I worked hard at therapy over the next hundred years or so, I might find I hadn't lost my sense of humor. But that was unclear. What I had lost was three of the fingers on my left hand.

"Sorry," Cara mumbled. She looked down at the fake, little tree, eager and sincere amid the austere, sterile room. Two books in Christmas wrap sat under it on my little side table. The TV behind Cara's head showed some claymation reindeer in silence. Somewhere, children were watching this show and experiencing the wonder of Christmas and the magic of Santa Claus. Here, I lay recovering from a drunk driver's selfish indulgence.

A tear fell from Cara's face onto my sheet. She shook her head slowly. "Doesn't he realize that you'll never play again?" She looked up at me, a deep pain swelling inside her. "That your dream is gone? That our dream is gone?"

I wiggled my phantom fingers, the ones that had been crushed to pulp when the SUV slammed into the door of my car and crumpled it into my side. I breathed deep, as deep as I could before the pain in my chest became unbearable, and let it out. I looked at the guitar leaning against the wall in the corner. A beauty, it must have set Dad back nearly a thousand dollars.

"One dream is gone," I whispered as I reached my one complete hand across and put it on top of hers. "But we still have others." She did not look up at me but let a few more tears fall from her eyes onto the back of my hand.

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December 23, 2007


Our vacation to visit my mom began with a real bang. Three bangs, actually. On I-15 approaching Primm, NV (at the state line) last night, traffic came to a sudden stop in front of us. I managed to stop in time as I had left an adequate cushion between me and the Mercedes in front of me, but as we came to our quick stop, I saw in my mirror that the guy behind was not going to be so lucky. I called out to the others in the car, "We're gonna get hit, we're gonna get hit." And then we got hit. That was the first bang. The second was when he plowed us forward and under the bumper of the Mercedes. The third was when a girl behind him bashed into him, moving the whole pile like an offensive lineman pushing his running back into the defensive line and into the end zone. Thank goodness it was not worse than that and that no one was seriously hurt. (Whiplash does not count as "seriously hurt," does it?)

Anyway, as you can see the front of our Subaru wagon now looks a little... rearranged. Claims adjusters are on vacation until after Christmas. What a year 2007 has been. Sheesh.

December 21, 2007

Fiction Friday: solstice celebration

This Week’s Theme: What happens when your character gets dragged to a solstice celebration?

I knew I was in big trouble when I saw the "Wicca for Dummies" book poking out from under Saturday's newspaper. Pushing aside the paper, which once again screamed about slumping home sales, I gathered a breath and readied for the coming inanity.


"Mm hmm?" Mom did not look up from her cookie spritzer as she squeezed out another perfect little dollop of... wreath, or maybe camel. No, it was a Christmas tree. Or maybe a star?

"What's this?"

"What's what, honey?" She pried the cookie dough off the tip of the spritzer, mauling it into some other unrecognizable shape. At least the cookies would taste good. She licked her fingers, wiped them on her green apron, and then plunged them into the bowl of dough to fill the spritzer again.

"This, Mom." I held the book up and raised my eyebrows. I knew what it was. It was the latest in Mom's quest for meaning since Dad died so suddenly two years ago. She had tried Buddhism (fortunately I convinced her not to shave her head), escapism (in four months she hit every roller coaster in California), and even Church. I sighed. At least she was trying.

"Oh!" No pause in her cookie work. "You should read that. It's fascinating. I've only read the first two chapters, but I'm hooked. By the way, I hope you brought your boots." She hummed a few bars of "Let It Snow" to herself as green sprinkles skittered over the blobs of dough on her cookie sheet.

"I'm afraid to ask..."

"Didn't Jake tell you? Oh, that boy. I made him promise to tell you."

"Tell me what, Mom?" I tried to keep the frustration and apprehension out of my voice, I really did.

"We're celebrating the Solstice today! I've picked out a lovely spot out in the back woods, some beautiful trees and after last night's snowfall it should be just like Heaven." She seemed not to notice the irony in her choice of simile. "Though," she frowned at nothing in particular, "it might be cold even in the sun." A glance out the window and a quick shrug, and she was back to her multicolored dough blobs.


"Where is your brother? He's always late."

"I don't think he's coming, Mom," I said, not admitting out loud that had I known her plan I'd have stayed away, too.

"But my whole knitting group is going. Liz is bringing her new gentleman friend, and Peggy has invited her children." She had come down the stairs with her long overcoat already buttoned, a thick, black scarf wound round her neck and Dad's old hiking boots on her feet. The gap between Dad's gray wool socks and the bottom of the coat showed bare legs where I expected slacks.

"Mom, are you wearing a dress?" I wasn't sure she even owned dresses any more.

"Mmm. Now, where is your brother? Well, we'll just have to go. I've left a note for him with directions to the spot. He'll just have to show up when he shows up." She popped open the door and bustled out into the sunny but chilly day. "We need to get there by noon or they'll start without us."

I followed, shaking my head at her naive exuberance. We listened to her Nat King Cole CD of Christmas songs on the way down the highway, pulling off at a trail head mostly frequented by teenagers looking for a good place to drink beer on Friday nights in the summer. I followed her up the trail, neither of us talking. The day really was astonishingly beautiful. My breath hovered in wisps before me, and the new snow sat on the naked branches with grace and serenity. One tree near the top of a rise had frozen into a crystal wonder and glistened in a way that no artist could ever have recreated. Mom trudged ahead with purpose and resolve.

After a few minutes, she followed footprints off the side of the trail, and I heard a murmur of voices. We emerged into a clearing where a dozen people loitered, chatting with each other. Mom turned to me and said, "Oh, good. We're not late."

I saw Peggy and Liz, her reluctant boyfriend hovering behind her with a blue beret on his bare head. He wore a suit as if dressed for Christmas Mass, and his eyes darted from woman to woman like a cornered animal looking for an escape route. I tried not to give the same impression.

I recognized them all. My mother's friends from the past thirty years--women who changed my diapers. Women who brought meals to my mom and sat with her late into the night after Dad died. Women who had come to my high school graduation, who had sent me generous gifts when I graduated medical school. Women who had come to my E.R. with fake ailments just so they could be treated by their friend's daughter. I smiled to see them all supporting her once again, even this nutty idea of a solstice celebration.

Peggy came over to us. "Oh! Wonderful! Now we can get started!" She turned to the group. "Ladies! And Ken, of course." She winked in his direction. "It's time to start the revelry!"

I started at the resulting whoop from the other ladies. Then my eyes went wide and my first thought was that they had all been drinking. I glanced at Ken to see his reaction mirrored mine. All at once, the ten old ladies, every one of them at least sixty years old if they were a day, threw off their overcoats. And every one of them was naked except for wool socks and heavy boots.

They leapt about and formed a circle in the middle of the clearing, and they started dancing about. Some twirled, some bounced up and down--which was not flattering from the front or the rear--and others pranced around and around the circle. Every now and then one of them would whoop or shout something subtly Christian like "Praise be!" or "Hallelujah!"

I stood rooted, unable to move. I could tell my mouth was agape. The doctor in me started worrying vaguely about frostbite and heart conditions, but the daughter in me was nothing but mortified. I couldn't stop myself from looking around to make sure no one but us saw this. I glanced at Ken, who seemed to feel as I did. Then, suddenly, his face changed. He shrugged at me, smiled, and threw off his coat. As he started unbuttoning his shirt, I turned to leave.

"Where are you off to?" demanded someone's voice behind me.

"I'm going to wait in the car." And if Jake shows up, I thought, I'll keep him busy so he doesn't have to see this.

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December 19, 2007

haiku wednesday

This week's words are:

overlooked lantern
hot time in the old town now!
fire clumsy milkmaid

overlooked nerd girl
clumsy bookworm, thick glasses
oh, she lights your fire

teen kid's clumsy fire
overlooked embers tumble
Malibu ashes

December 18, 2007

Ten on Tuesday: New Year's Resolutions


10 New Year's Resolutions
I am not that big on resolutions, preferring to opt for a more "continuous quality improvement" approach to my life. Resolutions tend to be of the "oh my god I need to make huge changes" variety that last a few weeks. I think my life is pretty good, and I just tinker with it here and there constantly to adjust it to current conditions. All that said, here are 10 things I resolve for 2008:

  1. Vote.
    I usually wait until election night to read the voter pamphlet, which means I'm voting on my mood. Instead, I resolve to read the pamphlet at least one day before I vote, hopefully more.
  2. Write.
    Whether they get published or not, I will write three new short stories in 2008. I managed only one in 2007 because work became overwhelming.
  3. Submit (#1)
    I have a number of completed stories and plan to write three new ones. I want to see them in print, so I need to submit them.
  4. Call.
    I am supremely awful at keeping in touch with friends and family. I resolve to call and write them more often.
  5. Stretch.
    I have suffered a series of nagging soccer injuries in the past year (yes, I'm getting old), so I resolve to stretch and warm up properly before soccer games and when I go to the gym.
  6. Get trained.
    Although I don't expect ever to be a uniformed Scout leader, my older boy is bridging to Boy Scouts this year, and I want to go on camping outings with them. That means I need to be trained. Even though I don't have time for it.
  7. Revise.
    The Gold Miner's Daughter first draft is complete. Now I need to revise it. Early reviews on the first draft are very positive.
  8. Submit (#2).
    Once revised, find an agent for Gold Miner's Daughter.
  9. Tell people I care about them.
    In the past 18 months I've lost three friends, and another person close to me is diagnosed with a terminal illness. None of us knows how much time we have left, and at the most recent memorial (a friend died suddenly, without warning) many people lamented not telling the guy how they felt about him and how much they liked him while he was around.
  10. Carpe Diem.
    Keeping in mind #9 above, I plan to worry less and enjoy more. (My friends might snicker because I already don't worry much and enjoy a lot, but the truth is that I hold back from doing some things I want to do, and I resolve to break that.)
So there it is. Not so very remarkable, huh? What are your resolutions?

December 14, 2007

Fiction Friday: we're not all perfect, you know

This Week’s Theme: What is the skeleton in your character's closet?

For this exercise, I am using one of the minor characters from my new NaNo novel. This character will become a major character by the end of the third book in the series, but now he appears as an honorable, courageous father figure. Below is a scene from his not-so-distant past in rural Virginia, a scene leading up to his decision to join the Gold Rush and move to California.

"Cold night." The stranger's drawl oozed from his mouth in an exhale of pale steam and hung in the moonlit darkness. He wore a floppy, bumpkin hat and a thick, woolen coat that was two sizes too big for him. Bill Mitchell couldn't see the young man's shoes, but he was sure they would have holes in the soles.

"That it is," Bill replied.

The young man stood in the middle of the road, unmoving. His hat shaded his face from the moon's light, creating deeper shadows. Bill watched and waited, unable to spur his wagon forward with the man standing there. Becky, the horse, seemed content to wait and rest a while. The man coughed once, sniffed, rubbed the coat of his sleeve once across his nose. Neither man spoke for an uncomfortable time.

Finally, Bill broke the silence. "If you don't mind making way, I've got a ways to go tonight before I'm home."

The stranger waited a moment more, then spoke in his long, drawn-out words again. "Neighborly thing would be to invite a man in for some warmth."

Bill felt himself tense. The man had said it in a kind enough tone of voice, but it was a challenge nonetheless. Had this stranger appeared at Bill's door, perhaps he would have invited him in for a meal, offered that he could sleep in the barn for a night, given him food. But here on this remote track still miles away...

"I'm sorry, son," Bill said, "but I've got nothing to offer you tonight."

"Ain't that a shame," the man whispered, but still he did not move.

Bill climbed down from the seat atop the wagon, lifting his rifle as he went. "Son, I don't mean to be inconsiderate," he said as he stepped in front of the smaller man, "but I'd appreciate you moving on so my wagon can get past."

"Something good you got there? In that wagon of your'n?"

"Never you mind. Just step off the road and I'll be on my way." The night closed in around him, and he raised the gun barrel, pointing it at the stranger's chest.

"Now, that don't seem neighborly neither," the man said simply.

"We ain't neighbors."

The man still did not move, and Bill waited two minutes, then three. His throat was dry, and his hands were shivering in the early November night. Clouds were moving in across the moon, covering the sky, and the snow would come soon. He needed to move on. This stranger, a young man of perhaps twenty years, stared back at him from his ragged coat and threadbare pants and motionless boots.

Bill felt the cold in his bones now, and the weariness that had been settling on him all evening now weighed him down. "Please, mister, just step aside and let me pass."


Bill did not mean to do it. It must have been the shivering, the exhaustion, the cold, the darkness. But his finger squeezed the trigger on his rifle, and the shot cracked out in the silence, the bullet thudding deep into the man's chest. Bill dropped the rifle as the man crumpled to the road without a sound. Confusion and despair spread through him as he ran to the fallen stranger.

The man was dead, there was no doubt even in the darkness of the thickening night. Who he was, or why he chose that remote road on that night, Bill would never know. Quickly, Bill grabbed the man's feet and dragged him off the road and into the woods. Only a dozen yards in was a deep thicket, and Bill shoved the body under it. Within minutes he was back atop his wagon, riding quickly for home, his hands still shivering, but no longer from the November cold.

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December 8, 2007

December 5, 2007

December 1, 2007

Vacation finally

Pacific ocean from our villa balcony

November 29, 2007

Four More Years!

Ha, you thought this was some political rant, didn't you?

No, it's my personal chest-thumping post to say that two days ago I flew past 50,000 words in my quest for my fourth consecutive NaNoWriMo achievement. I still have about 5,000 words to go to finish the manuscript, which will weigh in at about 60,000 when all is said and done. Since it's young adult genre, that's in the ballpark from what says about manuscript lengths.

Here is a brief history of my NaNoWriMo experience:

Before I Discovered NaNoWriMo:
I was among the legions of tortured souls who know that someday they will write a novel. My problem was that I'd get a terrific idea and then write the first two chapters and discover, to my horror, that my writing was mediocre, my plot trite and also full of plot holes, and my characters contrived and flat. So I'd abandon the effort and plan to start again when I had time.

NaNoWriMo 2004: "Jumping The Stream"
I sort of snuck into the deal, telling only my wife that I was trying it. She showed support in the way that a mother might show support for a five-year-old who says he is going to grow up to be president of the United States and drive a backhoe. "That's nice, dear." So I wrote the first two chapters, then the third and fourth. I thought my writing was mediocre, my plot trite and full of plot holes, and my characters contrived and flat. But I wrote on, ignoring the problems, committed to hitting 50,000 words in 30 days. And I made it. And I finished the full manuscript at about 65,000 words in late December. And I set it aside. And I read it a few months later. And I saw that it was not utter crap, that it was passable. And a friend read it and said it was not utter crap. But this was a lonely, solitary experience.

NaNoWriMo 2005: "Crossings"
I resurrected a plot I'd developed some years earlier for this one. I went into it full of confidence and vigor, knowing that if I could do it once, I could do it better the second time, and I'd have a literary masterpiece, a best-seller on my hands for sure. Turns out that although this one was not quite utter crap, it was little better than the first one. But I wrote it, it had some good moments in it, and I was proud of it. Sort of. I set it aside. This NaNo I started attending write-ins and joined the online forums a bit.

NaNoWriMo 2006: "Forced Air"
NaNo 2005 led to my connection with a great writing group, which led to a frenzy of short story activity for me. In 2006 I sold my first three short stories to small, literary magazines Thereby Hangs A Tale, THEMA, and The First Line. So when I went into NaNoWriMo in November, it was with the confidence of a home run hitter fresh off a BALCO treatment of "flaxseed oil." I had another literary novel brewing, and while I liked the characters and the premise, the middle was a bit lacking in clarity when I started. But I dove in anyway. After 20,000 words, my characters revolted because the story was so boring, and one of them killed another, and I was whisked away into a frenzied thriller. This schizophrenic novel was not literary enough to be a literary novel, yet it was not really a thriller either. I shelved it.

NaNoWriMo 2007: "Gold Miner's Daughter" (working title)
I really feel I have something this time. For two years I've wanted to try my hand at Young Adult, having enjoyed reading many books with my 11-year-old son. So finally I decided to have a go. The plot and characters came to me in mid summer, and by the end of October I had a workable plot. I've heard happy noises from those who've read excerpts so far, but these are people who have to like me. Like my wife and my friends. When my 11-year-old son reads it, I'll get my first brutally honest feedback. I've hit the 50,000 word level and have just a little to go before I'm done with the first draft.

I've learned a lot over the past few years. I learned I love writing more than I realized. I learned why so many people never finish their books (lots of reasons). I learned why most novelists don't publish until their 3rd or 4th manuscript. I learned how the publishing industry works, and how easy it is to fail. And I learned quickly how much I had to grow as a writer in order to get to where I am today, and how much farther there is to go before I reach my goals.

I'm proud to have written four novels and sold four short stories in the past few years. I'll be much more proud when I see this new manuscript on the shelf at Borders and Barnes & Noble. After learning why the first few manuscripts were not really salable, I believe I've got a shot with this one.

... the marching band refused to yield...

Because it NEVER gets old.


November 28, 2007

November 26, 2007

The X-Ray

Here's what the doctors had to work with. Sam is still complaining terribly of pain in his thumb and first two fingers, but there is no pain in the elbow or the arm. This would imply some problem with the median nerve, but all the tests we can perform show that the nerve itself is not necessarily damaged. His fingers work and wiggle and flex and extend, and the coloration is good and there's little swelling. And, certain positions in which he holds his arm seem not to cause the pain in his fingers. So I am guessing that something is pressing on that nerve somewhere. Even though we went in and had the cast loosened slightly, it hasn't improved and tylenol and motrin don't seem to help that much. I'm hoping when we visit the orthopedist on Tuesday (tomorrow) and they re-cast the arm that the pain will go away.

Poor little kid.

November 20, 2007

Cast on!

On vacation in oregom

November 17, 2007

he chose a green cast...

So here's the story to go with the two previous photo posts.

On Friday a little after noon, Sam fell from the monkey bars. He was swinging and lost his footing on the landing platform (about three feet off the ground) and fell backwards, landing right on his elbow. Thank goodness he didn't hit his head.

We took him to John Muir, one of the best trauma centers in the area, and they took one look at the x-ray and pawned him off on Children's Hospital in Oakland. By 4 p.m. we were checking into the E.R. at Children's. It wasn't until about 6:30 that we met the orthopedic intern, who told us we'd like not get it fixed that night, and Sam would have to stay overnight but that they could probably get him fixed by 8, maybe 9 a.m. This was to be our first lesson in timeframe expectation setting and hope dashing at the hospital.

All this time, Sam was given morphine. Now, the only two things I know about morphine are that they gave it to dying soldiers in World War II (at least in the movies), and that my father-in-law had it during his final days of cancer. Neither of these is a real confidence builder, so I tried to ignore the whole morphine thing. But anyway, poor Sam was drifting in and out, and his arm looked like that point in the train tracks where the switch has the track jogging a whole lane to the right. It wasn't a Theisman, but it definitely looked unnatural.

About 7:30, we were excited because they said they had a room for him upstairs in surgery admitting, and we could get out of the noisy, busy ER room we were in. What we didn't realize was that surgery admitting is a big barn of a room with the nurses' station in the middle and eight beds separated by curtains only. Each bed had room for approximately one Barbie-sized backpack and half a fold-out chair, so Maria and I had to share the chair, which was roughly fourteen inches wide. But at least it had solid arms on the sides so we could be nicely squished together like those pop-n-fresh cinnamon rolls in the commercials.

Sam managed to sleep OK even if we didn't. (All this time, Ethan was staying with his friend Chris.) He woke at 6:30, and so did I. At 8 a.m. we naively awaited the doctor. At 9 a.m. we saw the intern again, who had come to tell us he did not know when Sam would be fixed. At 10 a.m. we met the orthopedist who came to tell us that there was an appendectomy ahead of us and he didn't know when Sam would be fixed, but we'd likely be done "this morning." By noon we were counting the minutes and wondering where all the doctors had gone. At 1 p.m. I finally piped up and asked please please please could they call the doctor and find out any kind of time frame... Sam had not had a bite to eat in 15 hours (they said NO food after midnight), and he was beginning to come unglued from the slipping schedule and not being able to move for now 25 hours and Cal's horrible football game losing to Washington on the TV next to his bed. Oh, no, wait, that's why I was coming unglued. Sam was just ready to be done with the hospital by then.

Finally at 2 p.m. they started his procedure, and by 4:15 p.m. we were out of the hospital on our way home. By 7 p.m. he was eating normal dinner and watching Star Wars, and by 8:30 p.m. he was changing himself into pajamas for bed. 27 hours waiting for a 2 hour procedure. Tough on the little kid.

His procedure consisted of knocking him out with general anesthesia, then pushing the bones around until they were in the right place, then firing three pins into the bones. (They did not have to make any incisions.) The pins stick out and get integrated with the cast (Sam picked green). We go back in a week for a checkup, then he gets the cast off three weeks after that.

So that's that. It means he couldn't finish the tryouts for winter soccer today, and he'll miss the makeup games for the end-of-season tournament, and he couldn't go to his friend's rock-climbing birthday party today. On the plus side... well, we'll figure that out at some point.

November 15, 2007

Evanescence ROCKED

I'm glad I got my 3,200 words done early yesterday because we went all the way south to San Jose last night to see Evanescence in concert at the San Jose State arena. They rocked. Amy Lee is awesome. We saw them when they were in San Francisco, but this concert was better--I think the band seemed more into it, and the opening group (Sick Puppies) also rocked like crazy.

Some observations from the concert:
There was a surprise third group that opened before Sick Puppies, and although they were fun to listen to, they were surreal in a Spinal Tap way. I don't even know the name of the group, but I couldn't tell if they were taking their image seriously or not. The singer had a good voice, reminiscent of Depeche Mode, and technically and technologically they were good. But their image was just... weird. Part heavy metal, part new wave, part "too sexy for my shirt." It all added up to a Spinal Tap experience.

I was surprised to see quite a few young girls, like 9 years old, in the audience. The concert did not end until 11, and Sick Puppies in particular dropped the F-bomb numerous times. The kids looked like they were having a good time.

It's weird to have pretzels and hot dogs and popcorn at a rock concert like this.

There were tons of older, bald guys. So I fit right in. While the San Francisco show had a lot of teenagers in goth outfits and heavy black eye liner, this was a much more suburban looking crowd. There were a lot of women showing off big cleavage, though (mostly bouncing around above big, round bellies, not the type of stick-figure-with-fake-boobs you might see at a country rock concert). Some black lace gloves and taffeta tu-tus, the occasional bustier, but mostly the same type of crowd you might see on the street at lunchtime or going to a Warriors game.

Speaking of the Warriors, it's hard to believe someone might spend $60 a seat for one of those miserable games when they could have spent just $35 a seat for this totally awesome rock-out extravaganza.

The only problem with the whole night was that I didn't get to see Sam trying out for the winter select soccer league. It was his first-ever tryout for a team, and I really wanted to watch it. Won't know if he's selected until next week. I'm cautiously optimistic--he's younger and smaller than most of the other kids and only 50% make the team, but he's also very coachable and eager and actually a good little player.

November 11, 2007

rained out!

Of the fourteen people I talked to about our town closing their sports fields today because of the "rain" last night, exactly zero thought it was the right decision. This means that Day Two of our two-day soccer tournament for the under-nines is postponed three weeks. Meanwhile, when the kids' tournament was canceled I ran out to play in my over-thirties game on a field in a nearby town. That field was in the best shape it's been all year; the light rain softened it up, but not enough such that it was dangerous to ankles or such that cleats would destroy it.

And the day was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. Sunny, warm, brilliant. Perfect soccer weather for mid November.

On the plus side, I was able to get in two hours of writing today and managed over 3,200 words. This is a Good Thing because when I started the day I had just finished all the scenes from my first planning session and was a little unsure what came next. But it all came to me in the shower, and the words began to flow. Now I've got some more momentum and am approaching the next big plot point. Started slow, but I'm really beginning to like this book I'm writing.

November 7, 2007

has it been a week already?

Hard to believe it's already the 7th of November and I'm already 11,000 words into this year's NaNoWriMo, which I wasn't even sure I'd do because everything else was so busy. But I'm keeping pace and gaining momentum as my story grows out of the intro phase and gets into the meat of the plot.

Keeping word count up is tough, though. Last weekend I lost the entire weekend to a cub scout campout. Thirteen scouts and seven dads on a local mountain where the weather was simply perfect. We all expected to be in clouds at about 40 degrees when we woke up Sunday morning, but it was sixty degrees and clear, and we didn't even need to break out the sweatshirts. Unfortunately, the only camera I had was in my cell phone, so the photo of the campfire and sunset doesn't nearly do it justice.

This coming weekend I'm coaching three or four soccer games in the U9 boys tournament, and we have our end-of-season party as well. I expect to lose two days' worth of word count, so I'm trying to forge ahead of pace so I'm at least on track when next Monday rolls around.

So if I'm not blogging, you'll know where I am... hard at work on this year's NaNo effort, "Gold Miner's Daughter."

October 30, 2007

shake and bake

It was only 2.9 (my guess was 2.8 at the time), but the earthquake a few minutes ago shook my chair in my home office and gave the house a little "whump" as if one of the boys had ridden their bike into the garage door.

... and Bake
Last week I attended the BSR conference, one of the international conferences centered on the idea of corporate social responsibility (BSR actually stands for Business for Social Responsibility). I've attended many similar conferences recently, but BSR seemed to be very focused on climate, water, and environment issues with a little bit of labor practice thrown in. This was different from other conferences I've attended in that the others tend to be more focused on community development--workforce readiness, family financial stability, job growth, that kind of thing.

So it was with this heightened awareness of the challenges around the world (deforestation, population growth, water issues) that I received a link to this video from a friend. It articulates quite well what has been bothering me for some time: that the debate over whether global warming is caused by human activity is moot. As a species, we basically have a choice: Act to conserve resources and reduce pollution, or push forward with unfettered economic growth. Some would argue that we should not take action without proof positive that the costs are justified. That may be a good way to approach whether or not to add a new server to your network, but it is not a good way to approach the continued viability of the only world we have on which to live.

A few months ago, I read an op-ed in my local paper from an educated man who concluded that he would proudly drive his Hummer to Tahoe and back every weekend, leave his outdoor floodlights on even when no one was using them, throw plastic bottles in the regular trash, that kind of thing. Aggressive denial that his actions could possibly have any negative impact on the Earth. As if this arrogant selfishness somehow made him superior to people who recycle, who conserve, who care. Such an immature sense of immortality is unbecoming in an educated adult. And no, this was not Richard Pombo, though I have no doubt the op-ed writer voted for him. What steams me about Americans like this is that they view everything through the lens of Americans: We have abundance, we have riches, we have energy, we have water, we have forests and mountains and open, fertile, arable land. They fail to realize that the world's population is now more than 50% urban... that is, more than half the world's population is now living in cities. Vast cities. Crowded cities. Cities that are growing at an alarming rate around the globe--not only in size but in number. These Americans fail to realize that despite the growth of cities abroad, the United States produces a far higher percentage of the world's pollution than any developing country with many times the population.

But watch the video. It's 9:33, but it goes quickly. After watching it, let me know if you see any reason that conservation and environmental stewardship are not the better choice.

October 22, 2007

no dunk tanks!

I was recently voted "most wanted in the dunk tank" for the school carnival by the school student body (which was later defined as "whatever kids were standing around when [the PTA mom] asked"). Moments later, the school district, in a fit of efficiency unseen in academic administration, distributed memos to every lawyer and law student within four hundred miles, as well as the PTA mom in charge of the dunk tank. This memo said, "No dunk tanks!"

Fortunately for my constituents, the PTA mom found a litigiously suitable alternative whereby the students could drench me without making me susceptible to being hounded by injury lawyers. Also fortunately for me, the sun was shining. Unfortunately, there was a persistent, cool breeze that, due to the unique shape of the foothills of the nearby mountain and the peculiar way the houses are arranged in our neighborhood, was focused straight up the back of my soaking wet shirt.

October 19, 2007

Fiction Friday: Karma's A Bitch

This Week’s Theme: What happens when a character, while cleaning out a house before moving out, finds a roll of film?
Dear Crystal,

Since you weren't around today, I had to get my things from your closet. Remember my gray sweater you never gave back? Now I know why. Red wine doesn't come out. Just like your red lipstick didn't come out of Ricky's underwear. I'm sure you two will make a great couple, just right for each other. Conniving, backstabbing, klepto bitch and smug, arrogant, heartless prick.

Anyway, I also found that CD I lost months ago, you know, the one signed by Bruce Springsteen? That JJ gave me for my birthday last year? I can't for the life of me figure out how it fell into that shoe box behind your old suitcase. And my diamond studs, the ones my dad gave me for my birthday two weeks after I moved in here with you? Yeah, also in the same shoe box. Along with my shoes. Go figure.

Since you felt it was OK to "borrow" my things for so long, I thought it would be OK if I "borrowed" one thing I found while getting my stuff from your closet. Remember that disposable camera you bought one night, that night we went clubbing and you got wasted and all "curious" and brought home that Rachel girl from that gay bar?

Yeah, Crystal. Welcome to instant internet fame. See you on the Web, bitch.

Love forever,
Your newest ex-roommate, Shaundra.

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October 13, 2007

October 12, 2007

Fiction Friday: sentimental endings

This Week’s Theme: Use this quote as the spark for anything you want. “I’m not one for sentimental endings. Not this time.”
"I'm not one for sentimental endings. Not this time."

It wasn't the tone of Adam's voice that chilled my blood, or even the words. It was the stark emotionlessness of his steel gray eyes. At just eight years old, he had already seen more pain and death than most men see in a lifetime. The problem was, he was the one causing it.

"Sedimentary what?" His sister, Grace, bless her heart, had just finished fourth grade but no one could quite figure out how. She glanced away from the mirror at Adam, then back to continue gazing at her own deep, stunningly blue eyes and golden hair.

Adam rolled his eyes in just the way that an eight year old shouldn't.

I knew what was coming, and I also knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. Adam had already sensed the fear and anger in my heart, so deep this time that I couldn't hide it from him. His mind was set. Poor Donnie. To Adam, Donnie would look no different from the insane pit bull that had attacked Grace last year. At the time, it was a blur, an unbelievable sequence. I found myself watching Adam watching me, his clear gaze appearing so empty yet hiding so much power.

The choking rumble of Donnie's pickup filled the darkness outside the window, and a brief flash of headlights reflected off Grace's mirror and then snuffed themselves out. The loud screeching creak of the old truck's dented door shut up the frogs momentarily, and the uneven scuffing of Donnie's work boots in the gravel let me know that he'd been down to Danny's tavern again. He'd have been better off getting in a wreck off the old drawbridge and drowning than coming home drunk and mean. Adam's gaze slid sideways to the door. I found myself wondering if Adam would wait until Donnie... did something bad. Like that crazed dog.

A knock on the door. Among the three of us only I tensed. My hair stood up all over my neck, and my feet tapped, ruffling the hem of my flowered dress and making an almost raining pitter-pat on the threadbare carpet.

"Manda!" Donnie's drawl clawed through and around the locked door. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swore I could smell the bourbon on his breath. "Ain't it time I met those cute little ones of your'n?" His voice dripped sarcasm. "How come you been hidin' them from me? You know we talked of this."

I didn't want to answer. My feet tapped, but my body felt glued to the sofa.

Another knock, more determined and threatening. Adam gazed at the door, impassive and curious the way a normal eight year old might look. Grace hummed to herself, twisting and twirling her golden hair in the pale light of the dim bulb hanging unshaded from the middle of the ceiling. "Manda! Don't keep your man waiting on the doorstep now!"

Adam swiveled his gaze to me. "Shall I let him in, Mom?"

I tried to think nothing, tried to feel nothing. Did I want Donnie to come in? Did I want what I knew was going to happen? Or did I want... what? More pain?

Grace tilted her head to one side and smiled at me in the mirror. "Let him in, Mommy." Her smile was so genuine and innocent, so untroubled by the past, so unconcerned with the future.

My eyes flicked to Adam, and he knew.

A moment later, just when the pounding on the door was about to begin again, the door vanished. It didn't explode or open or disintegrate; it just ceased to be. The children seemed not to notice, but Donnie noticed as his hand, in mid-pound, swung down where the door had been and carried his body with it, stumbling out of the darkness into my dim living room. "What the hell?"

He righted himself, wobbling slightly, his eyes squinty and his hair jagged from under his cap. He looked first at me, triumph and disdain mixed in his sneer, then glanced past Adam to have his drunken gaze rest on Grace. Just eleven, she had the body of a voluptuous sixteen year old, and I saw the hunger, the lust rising in Donnie's eyes. "Well, Manda, you didn't tell me you had a sister."

I tried to speak, but my mouth felt filled with dust, and my body began to quiver. Adam observed us both at once, watching Donnie with his eyes and watching me with... some other part of him. Donnie moved toward Grace, his hands greasy and his shirt sweat-stained, and I felt it then. The anger, the revulsion. I glanced at Adam.

"You're doing it, Mom." He watched, a little smile curling the edges of his mouth. "Don't hold it back. Let it happen. You can do it, too." His mouth didn't move, but I heard his voice in my head. "It's the right thing. You know it is."

As Donnie's hand reached out to touch Grace's hair, I let go of something inside. I didn't understand it, didn't know what I was doing. It felt like that moment when you've been holding in the pee for hours and you finally let it loose, a relief, a breaking of something, a flooding of energy. And Donnie vanished.

He didn't explode. He didn't disintegrate. He just ceased to be.

Adam's smile had made itself complete now. And I understood.

"I guess," I said to him, "I'm not one for sentimental endings either."

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October 7, 2007

Cub scout time

fundraiser time!

September 28, 2007

Fiction Friday: Newlyweds

This Week’s Theme: Give a virtuous character a sordid past.

"Shh!" Karly stopped in mid-moan, her breasts glistening with perspiration in the moonlight filtering through the rattan blinds. The blinds rattled a little when the ocean breeze came up, a sort of lonely sound that made it feel like we were alone in a beach hut, not on the third floor of a full service resort. So far it was a great honeymoon, and I had no interest in shushing right at this moment.

"Seriously, Tom, stop." An edge I had never heard in Karly's voice before chilled me, and I stopped moving and tried to slow my breathing so I could be quiet for her. Even in the darkness of the room I could see her intense frown, a look of sheer concentration in her eyes. Her warm weight on top of me was tense, absolutely motionless.

"What the..." In a swift move that only an Olympic gymnast could have managed, Karly slid off me and rolled off the bed, landing silently in a low crouch just next to the window. She glanced briefly back at me, where I lay on my back feeling pretty naked, then lifted the rattan blinds a half inch and peeked out. "Oh, shit."

"What?" I whispered it, barely breathed it. Something in the way she crouched looked catlike, predatory. Something in the way she'd said "shit"--the first time I'd ever heard her curse since meeting her three years earlier--announced danger.

Without answering, she stood and padded without a sound to the closet. She rummaged in my suitcase and threw my blue sweatpants and my black fleece jacket at me. "Put those on." Her voice carried to me with urgency and precision. Then she was in something black herself, and she was hissing at me to hurry as she moved to the door.

I sat up and swung my feet over the edge of the bed, pulled on the sweatpants. I had heard of new brides going a little nutso on their honeymoons, but this was new. Maybe she wanted to take our lovemaking out to the beach. Maybe this was a kinky side of her I didn't know about before. Maybe this elementary school librarian had a sexual appetite she hadn't shared with me. I had to admit that I found it a bit exciting. But the way she was going about it was weird.

Pop, pop-pop. A noise outside, somewhere on the resort grounds, sounded like someone had just let loose on a snare drum buried under a pile of leaves. Then there was a yell, a man's deep grunt of a syllable. And I looked at Karly.

"Russian," she said. "I think it's an AK-47. That's what they'd have. Probably." She glanced at the window. "Hurry up."


"Hurry the fuck up, Tom." She said it casually, like a drinking buddy eager to get out to a party and being held up by his friend combing his hair or something. She raised one eyebrow at me. I slipped the fleece over my head. "Forget shoes. Too much noise. No time." She pushed open the door to the hall and walked out. I followed, trying my best to remember how I used to pretend, when I was little, that I was an Indian and able to walk silently through the forest. I never could then, and now I found I was just as noisy in a carpeted hall. Karly made no noise whatsoever. If I didn't know she was right in front of me, I could have stumbled past and never noticed her.

We took the stairs to the ground floor, then went through the deserted kitchen and out the back door of the hotel into the service parking lot. Dark trucks huddled around us, and every few steps Karly stopped to listen. I felt like a puppy on a leash, or maybe like a five-year-old following his mother. Or following a stranger after picking the wrong pair of legs in a crowd.

As we hustled and paused among the trucks, then across the pool patio among the umbrellas and lounge chairs, then on into the tropical garden that bordered the jungle, I watched her. I'd known her four years. We met through one of those online dating services. She was young, only twenty three when we met, only a year out of Berkeley and newly hired as the school librarian at my nephew's school. Four years later, here we were on our honeymoon, and she was acting like some sort of soldier of fortune, leading me into the jungle, talking about foreign firearms.

Suddenly she stopped and put one hand out behind her in a clear signal for me to stop and be quiet. My breath was heavy again, but not like it had been in bed just a few minutes earlier. With a glance, she indicated I should come up next to her and look at something ahead, just inside the jungle, just outside the resort compound. I looked, and at first I saw nothing. Then there was a brief flash of something in the moonlight, and my eyes found it in the darkness: A man, holding something that glinted black. He wore dark clothes, maybe even camouflaged. He moved the black thing again, and I realized he was whispering into a walkie-talkie.

Karly made some hand signals that I interpreted as "stay here, don't move, don't make any noise." OK, I figured, but what are you going to... then my eyes went wide as I saw her do that gymnast thing again and slide silently between two low hedges, coming up on the man from behind, and doing something to his head or neck. He fell backwards quietly into her arms, and she lowered him gently to the ground. Within seconds she was back at my side.

"Twelve others, I'm guessing. Eight inside by now, and three others stationed at the obvious watch points. I'll take care of them first. You. Do. Not. Move." Her whisper was a hiss I could not disobey even if I wanted to. But I was distracted by the pistol in her hand. I felt like my heart had stopped and my breath would never come again.

Karly noticed me staring at the pistol. "Oh. Yeah." She hefted it. "Not mine. His." She jerked her head in the direction of the man she'd just apparently overcome. She grinned in the dark. "You didn't know I shoot lefty, did you?" As she sped off across the pool deck again, I observed my brain trying to grab hold of the scene. Yeah, that was her left hand. I think it was her left hand. I didn't know she shot lefty. Jesus, I didn't know she shot at all.

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September 21, 2007

Fiction Friday: Oh no, it's velcro!

This Week’s Theme: Pick an unusual phobia and explain why a character has it.

It's that sound, you know? That tearing sound that makes your teeth sweat, like the sound of tendons ripping away from bone. But sounds will do that to you. I was told that smells bring back the strongest memories, but I don't believe it. Sounds, man.

Think about it. Any good thriller or horror flick. What makes it scary? You know the stupid bimbo who just ran out into the deserted forest in her nightgown is about to get filleted by ten inch knife. It's the soundtrack. A good soundtrack is what makes that scary. There's no smell but popcorn in a movie theater, but you're still scared shitless.

Sounds. Like the sound of a dripping faucet in the middle of the night. The drops echo, and you open your eyes to the darkness and think there's water dripping over by the TV, or in the closet. Makes you disoriented. Where the hell am I? What's that noise?

You'd think I'd hate pocket knives, or sand paper. After all, that's what the sick bastard used on me. Somehow he always found me. Seemed to know, every day, where I was hiding. I had some good hiding places, too, but damn he found me every time. Every time. Scars in hidden places, patches of pinker skin where no hair grows even though I'm forty-six. Mom never realized what her "boyfriend" was doing in those hours late at night when she was off working at the hospital. Not til that night she got laid off.

What could I do? I was eleven, scrawny, bookish. He spent his days tossing luggage at airplanes and his night tossing back Millers. I hid. He came after me. Always had a reason, even if he had to make it up. Maybe one night I didn't wash all the dishes, he'd say. Or I left the toilet seat up, he'd say. Anyway, I needed some discipline, and by God he was going to give it.

He wore a back support harness, one of those things that looks like some freakish neo-Nazi Blade Runner fashionista interpretation of lederhosen. Black, it was. He'd wear it all day at work, throwing luggage around. Even wore it in his pickup on the way home. He'd open the door and come in, and I'd be buried in a book, maybe already hiding, and then my world would freeze and the air would turn solid in my lungs and I'd hear that ri-i-i-i-p of the industrial velcro straps being rent away from him, releasing him into the house.

She came home that night. It was a Thursday. She looked sad when she walked in, then confused. She saw him over me with the pocket knife, my own cub scout knife, open and drawing a fine, crimson line down the left side of my back. My hands were held behind me, wrapped tight by a black velcro strap.

I saw her eyes. He saw her eyes. He lost it, lunged at her. He knocked her down... I don't remember too much. I looked away. I was crying, I know that. He was nuts. He'd gone nuts. Lost it completely. I remember more sounds of velcro, and then Mom lay beside me, her mouth strapped shut with a thick, black velcro strap, another around her neck. Her hands were wrapped tight, and she was bent in half, unnatural. Her eyes looked scared, and she stared at me. Then I felt the knife touch my back again, this time burning and, I could tell, cutting deeper. I tried to block it all out, closed my eyes so Mom wouldn't see the pain I felt growing in my legs and back and wrists, bound too tight.

When I looked again, Mom's eyes held no more fear. She still stared at me, but her gaze was vacant, her eyes glassy and unfocused. It was then I noticed she wasn't breathing.

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September 7, 2007

Fiction Friday: Three wishes...

This Week’s Theme: A character gets three wishes...

Her mama called it ghost breath, this late September fog that lifted from the nearby pond and swirled slowly around Clara's ankles and calves. It was thicker over near the old, wooden bridge where the stream came down from Parker's Hill and fed the marsh that became Braden's Pond. A ghost breath night, Mama used to say, was a sure omen of death. Soon the ghost breath would swell until Clara couldn't see the stooped, stubby trees across the old gravel access road. Already the bridge had been swallowed up by the silent mist as darkness gradually defeated a reluctant twilight.

Clara sat on the embankment, the train tracks a few feet behind her, and watched the pond disappear into the darkness. Gravel poked through her thin skirt, but the night was warm and she didn't mind the mist seeping through her threadbare school shirt. The moisture gathered and made the shirt cling like a second skin to her shoulders and breasts. Clara closed her eyes and imagined Mama out there gliding across the pond, floating above it in the air like a graceful dancer, pale and white and glowing. Maybe Mama was the lonely soul bringing the ghost breath with her tonight, back to visit the living. Maybe she'd come to take Clara away with her.

Clara opened her eyes and was startled to see the fog glaring bright-white at her from the direction of the old bridge. The brightness was moving, slowly, creeping closer and growing. Her heart jumped and thumped as she held her breath and barely dared to think of Mama coming to her as she'd just envisioned. The feeling lasted only a moment, though, as the brightness clarified into two burning white dots ringed with rainbow coronas: headlights. And now she could feel the vibration of its motor not far off, now sense the rumble of its tires on the gravel road, coming nearer.

For a moment, she hoped the car would drive on by and not see her. Her white shirt might blend in with the fog, her gray skirt with the gravel. But it was Friday night, and as the car lurched to a halt only ten yards away, Clara knew it was already too late to try to run away. She watched the driver's door open, saw Charlie step out and say something. Nick popped out from the other side, laughing with his evil-looking sneer. Finally, Bill slid out from the back, pushing his greasy, black hair back and slouching behind Charlie. The three boys sauntered toward her.

Sometimes, Clara knew, her deafness could be an asset. Now she tried not to imagine all the things the boys were saying to each other. Even ten feet away the stink of bourbon flaked off them and melted into the mist swirling around them all. Maybe she could run after all. Maybe she could make it to the marsh and they'd let her go.

Without hesitating more, Clara pushed off the embankment and drove hard past Charlie, straight into a pounding run aiming for the bridge. They would catch her if she didn't get a good head start into the darkness, into the ghost breath. She passed Charlie, but Bill lashed out with his foot. Pain seared into Clara's shin, and she fell, her hands ripped open by the sharp gravel of the road, her knees ground into the dirt. Then they were on top of her, before she knew what was happening, and they hit her, hard in the legs, or maybe they were kicking. The pain in her leg and now a new wet pain on the side of her head dazed her, and she was only partially aware of the skirt being torn from her amid the stench of new sweat and stale cigarettes and bourbon. She was pushed and rolled and yanked like a rag doll, and every inch of her hurt so much.

Mama, she thought, Mama please come help me. Please come take me away with you.

She closed her eyes and retreated inside herself, clinging to the vision of Mama gliding across the pond, a shimmering vision of death, vengeance--salvation. Unable to hear, choosing not to see, Clara shut out the outside world and ignored her body and what was being done to it. She imagined Mama coming to her, kneeling beside her, hugging her like she used to. She felt Mama's arms around her, felt Mama's heartbeat, Mama's warmth.

"Mama," Clara whispered to the vision, "Mama take me with you. I wish I was dead. I wish to be with you."

Her mama looked her in the eye with sad calm. "Hush, Clara. Don't say that. Why, you're just fourteen. You've got so much good ahead. Don't wish that. Wish something else." The vision embraced Clara again, this time with strength and solidity.

"Then Mama," Clara whispered, "I wish Charlie would die. I wish Nick would die. And I especially with Bill would die."

Mama pulled back from Clara and looked into her eyes again, sadness now mixed with that look she used to give when she was very proud of Clara. Mama nodded slowly and began drifting away, backwards so they kept looking into each other's eyes, until the bright figure merged into the mist and faded into the brightness that now was all around Clara.

Later. How much later, Clara had no idea. She had fallen asleep. No, she had passed out. She knew because she felt the pain growing as she became aware, as she floated up out of the depths of unconsciousness. The pain, everywhere, so intense she could barely gasp in enough breath.

Then, a familiar rumble began building in the ground under her. The gravel vibrated beneath her, and she opened her eyes. In less than a minute, the freight train would barrel past. All was darkness around her. The mist still loitered, now still as a frightened rabbit, waiting for something. The train would stir up the mist good, Clara thought.

In the distance, she saw the glimmer of the train's headlamp glowing small and orange-white, a little sun in the dark mist. It was going fast tonight, Clara could feel it in the vibration of the gravel. She pulled herself to her knees, then stood up. The car was no longer next to her, but the stench of bourbon still lingered. She felt her head, found the blood still sticky in her hair.

Fifteen seconds, perhaps. The train was heavy, too. It was an insistent rumble, an unstoppable determination. She looked at the tracks on top of the embankment, their rails black as onyx, almost sucking what little light there was around her. Then she saw it. The car. Parked on the tracks. She could see the boys' heads through the windows. They looked asleep, maybe.

As the train bore down on the car, Clara realized it was too late to save the boys. She felt a shudder through her chest that must have been an urgent blast on the train's whistle, then a grating grinding as sparks leapt from underneath the engine. In the bright white of the train's headlamp, the car became a brilliant centerpiece in the black surroundings. Charlie in the driver's seat, asleep. Nick in the passenger seat, asleep. Bill in the back, lifting his head, his eyes growing wide as he watched his million-pound death pour down upon him at eighty miles an hour...

Clara did not close her eyes at the impact. She did not flinch. She watched in vague curiosity as the car first buckled and shrank, then sprang away from the train like a bead of oil off a hot griddle, up and away, off the tracks into the night beyond.

Limping, she turned to the gravel road and began slowly trudging toward the bridge where the ghost breath still lay thicker than anywhere. Away in the distance, over the pond, she thought she saw a shimmer of pale white gliding away from her and disappearing into the mist.

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Write Stuff Short Story Contest Entry

See the other entries and vote for your favorite (which would be, of course, ME) at the Write Stuff page!

What Goes Around
By Peter Dudley

"Didn't you used to work there?" Dawn's two-packs-a-day voice rasps across a wide, stainless steel counter as my knife slices, swish-click, through sausage after sausage. I enjoy her Tuesday summaries of the business section while I prep for the lunch rush in the shelter's kitchen. Dawn is surprisingly well read considering she dropped out of middle school and had to sell herself just to survive. That was ten years ago, though she looks much older than twenty-three. "Those college-ass pansies blew a hundred million bucks in two years? God damn. They could have given it to me and had lots more fun.” She sits cross-legged on the end of the counter.

I hold my tongue, which is not unusual. I'm sick of talking about my old boss David and his lying and backstabbing. Thank God he fired me before his shit really hit the fan. My friends still try to convince me it's not too late to sue for a "hostile work environment." They tell me I could get a lot of money in court. Dawn absently twists her long, wheat-colored hair, exposing a jagged scar stretched across the back of her neck. I wonder if my friends have any idea what a "hostile work environment" really is.

Dawn slides off the counter and wipes her sleeve under her nose. "That asshole boss you told me about. What’s-his-name. They gonna send him to jail, like Martha?” I’ve learned that shrugging gets Dawn moving on. As Dawn helps me haul the sausage tub across the kitchen, the first hungry people shuffle in. I admit to myself that I'd love to see David hauled off to prison.

The people file past, one by one, so lonely they aren't even acknowledged by each other. Some smell like the foul public toilet up the block. I take my place behind the counter. Today I'm slopping out mashed potatoes while Dawn delivers hunks of fresh bread.

As each blank face passes by, it’s hard to keep smiling. Most look down at their trays. One guy wearing a gray sweatshirt glances up, and when our eyes meet my blood runs cold. I want to grab the newspaper, hold up the headline for him to see. I want to point and say, "Didn't you used to work there?" But I hold my tongue. David turns away with his tray, and I turn to the old woman in line behind him. She gets double mashed potatoes because she has no teeth.

September 4, 2007

Ten on Tuesday: Fire! Fire!


10 Things I'd Save in a Fire
So I probably would only check to see that my kids and wife are safely out of the house and just say "screw it" to the rest of everything in the house. Even though some things can't be replaced (one-of-a-kind photos from the 1920s, for example), they're just not worth the risk. In the spirit of the meme, however, here are the noncritical things I would try to save:

  1. The old photos. My photo albums from when I was a kid.
  2. The other old photos. These boxes are kept in a different place from the first group and are really really old photos of my wife's extended family.
  3. My writing. I have several old stories I wrote on a typewriter twenty years ago that have not moved into the electronic age. Some are even worth keeping.
  4. My wallet.
  5. My journals. Mostly for a few entries such as my trips to Japan and Germany and England. The rest is utterly useless.
  6. My anti-Alzheimer's box, which contains random things that seem utterly useless but which tend to spark memories.
  7. The kids' school boxes, which contain the artwork we didn't throw out from preschool up to today.
  8. Our address book.
  9. Um, the cats. Maybe. Probably.
  10. Our "important documents" box. Deed, insurance policies, savings bonds, etc. This is last because it's actually in a fire-safe box, though it might not be locked.
This is a good time to think about preparedness and to make sure that emergency kits are up to date and that you have all the important documents and phone numbers stored off site in a safe location such as a safe deposit box. Also not a bad idea to back up photos and such to an online service, particularly one whose servers are in a completely different part of the country.

September 2, 2007

Lake Shasta

At the Sugarloaf Resort. The lake is very low, but it's still a ton of fun.

August 31, 2007

Fiction Friday: Robin Hood

This Week’s Theme: Pick a famous fictional character and give them a secret vice—at the very least it should be distasteful if not outright illegal. Now give the character’s rationale in their own words.
I'm not like the brutes sent out by that bloody Sheriff. My only goal is to bring him down, and that damned Prince John with him. But I can't do it alone. I need the people behind me. Granted, the Sheriff is doing a jolly good job of turning the people against him without my help, but a little nudge here and there can't hurt, can it?

Robbing the rich to feed the poor people around these communities is all well and good, but it's simply not enough. If there's to be change--real change--then we must restore the order and justice that existed while King Richard was here. He may not return from the Crusades, and in that case we have to watch out for ourselves. If he does return, we have to be prepared to receive him and fight for his rule again.

How else can we do that without having the people against the prince?

Like I said, I'm not like the Sheriff's brutes. They burn houses at random, just for the fun of it. When I burn a peasant's house, I am very careful to make it the right house, at the right time. The residents must be away so it's easy to blame the Sheriff, and to ensure there are no injuries.

I suppose there might be other, less destructive ways to incite the people. But there's nothing like a good fire to get people really angry, is there? As a lad, I used to practice archery at night with fire-tipped arrows. Part of the thrill was in the secrecy of it. I had to sneak out of the manor house and down past the stables. One night I missed the target and nearly set the stables ablaze. My father saw from the window, and I had never seen him so angry. Later, when I first went into hiding from the Sheriff and the prince, I took every opportunity I could to learn the best ways to make a fire in all weather, from all materials.

That intense study has made it relatively easy, for example, for me to burn farmer Giles' house and blame the Sheriff. After all, it happened while Giles was with me, five miles away, feeding the seven children orphaned by the last attack by the Sheriff's brutes.

Like I said, I'm not like them. They burn houses for sheer enjoyment. I burn houses for a much nobler purpose.

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August 29, 2007

haiku wednesday

This week's words are:

obscure memory
her room number forgotten
hotel matchbook lost

obscure floor, bare feet
step--crunch--forgotten item
slimy roach hotel

obscure hotel tryst
"I've forgotten your name, hon."
just how I want it

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things I like about my job


10 Things I Like About My Job
Ironically, I was so busy with my work yesterday that I never had time to complete this week's Tuesday 10. But I like my job so much that I just had to do it, even if it's a day late.

  1. My boss is wonderful.
    I've had a couple of good bosses and a few real stinkers. My boss now is not only a wonderful person, she's a terrific mentor and is genuinely concerned with all aspects of my career. She actively encouraged one of our coworkers to pursue additional opportunities, and even though we lost an outstanding performer when he left, her mentoring and advocacy has him on a great career path. I have learned a ton from her already.
  2. My team mates are awesome.
    I figured working for a company with 150,000 people would be a bureaucratic nightmare. But every company is made up of individuals, and with extremely rare exceptions the people I work with are helpful, sincere, team-oriented, can-do, positive people.
  3. Doing good in the world.
    What can I say? My job is all about helping communities improve. I build systems and run programs that make it easy for people to volunteer and donate. I've had jobs where we were making products I didn't really believe people needed. Now I'm helping make the world a better place. Cool.
  4. Travel.
    Although it's not like my time with Geoworks and Nokia when I traveled overseas a couple times a year, I do get to travel to conferences all around the US quite often. I like it when it's not too much... a trip a month for 3-4 days is just about right.
  5. Work-life balance.
    My boss is super supportive of a healthy work-life balance. Flexibility in my schedule allows me to head out for lunchtime pickup soccer games or take the car to the shop or volunteer at the school as a crossing guard. I make other sacrifices for this balance... my salary is way lower than my market value, but I prefer the balance to the cash.
  6. Very cool projects and people.
    There are CEOs of large organizations who greet me by name, sometimes with a hug. I've met with White House advisors and directors of national government and nonprofit organizations. Although I wouldn't say I've had a significant impact on policy, I've had a voice that will only grow as I progress in this career.
  7. Very cool and fun people.
    The people I meet when I got to conferences tend to be wonderful people--they have similar jobs trying to improve communities, so they tend to be compassionate, nice people. But I've found they also tend to be very fun. It's rare to go to one of these conferences and not find a group to go out with, whether it's the French Quarter in New Orleans or dancing at a lame club in San Antonio or just having drinks at the hotel bar. Really fun people who
  8. Using all my skills.
    I started this job as a contractor doing simple database work. It turned into a tech-oriented job where I built one of the most successful employee giving campaign intranet sites in the world, processing over $20 million in employee gifts a year. But technology has become only a fraction of my job. I use a whole range of skills from writing to presenting to technology to diplomacy to support to strategic thinking to problem solving to... you name it, I'm probably doing it at some point during the week.
  9. The learning never stops.
    See #8 for the job arc. I have learned a lot about technology and enterprise applications. I've learned a lot about United Way and the nonprofit community. This year I began learning a lot about economic development policy and government relations. There is so much more out there to learn, and I've got that opportunity.
  10. Benefits and stability.
    If I didn't need money, I would choose not to have a job. (I would write.) But since I have to work for a living, it's better to work for a company with nearly unparalleled performance over a huge period of time, a company with stability and growth. Also, the benefits are pretty good, and there's a good 401(k) match. So that's definitely a benefit.
I could definitely see myself working in this department in this company for the rest of my career, which I expect will be another 25 or 30 years. I would recommend the company without hesitation for people seeking employment. Basically, if I have to work, this is the job I want in the company I want. This year has been too busy, but it's all good.