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