So What Comes Next?


Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.

Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”  

– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

I self-published a book of poetry recently.

(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)

Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.

It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.

An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.

It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.

Practice. That was one reason. But for what?

Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?

I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.

I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.

I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.

(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)

So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.

I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.

Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.

Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂

New Poetry Work Published


 

For sale now on Amazon http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL
For sale now on Amazon
http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version is at Kindle Link. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.

It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.

http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

Anthology Published


16265206_10211443479138934_5056738108910122519_nGot a little bit of good news this week. One of the editors of the 25th Anniversary Anthology Edition of the Austin TX. Poetry Festival reached out to me a few months ago after seeing some pieces I published here and invited me to submit some work for inclusion. In the end, they included six poems, starting on page 111.

“When Time and Space Conspire” is the title. Charles wrote this morning to let me know that the first printing is in his office and he’s starting to send out copies. I’m hoping to get my own chapbook published this year, but this is nice as a first print appearance of my verse. The anthology is available on Amazon@

http://amzn.to/2kkeeeF if you would like to support the work of the 85 poets and the Festival.

“Live a Good Life”


485px-Marcus_Aurelius_Metropolitan_Museum

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” 

― Marcus AureliusMeditations

Mermaids, Anyone?


Childhood
Cover
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”

Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.

It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.

Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)

“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.

I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but  yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!

If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )

Here’s the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mermaid-sisters-first-dive/id776995608?mt=11

 

Character Study


tedHouse
The relic Ted buys and rehabs as part of starting over in a small town in Pennsylvania.

I’m working on the book again, trying to get some of the characters and plot unstuck in my mind, and decided to do this as a character study for the main guy, Ted Duffy. For those of you who’ve written fiction, have you ever tried something like this? And how does this sound? This probably won’t end up in the book, but by the end, I felt as though I’d gotten inside Ted’s head a bit more. And, I know this is very long. You’ll earn karma points if you slog through it. 🙂
-H

Ted:
I hate talking to strangers about myself. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have had to do it a lot more than I used to do, and it’s gotten easier, but still… it’s not my favorite thing.

It’s boring being a character in a book, you know? And if it is ever published, what do I have to look forward to? If I’m lucky, I’ll occupy the attentions of enough people to encourage my lord and master, the great author, to think up another story to put me in, and then I’ll have another run.

Continue reading “Character Study”

On Writing


“…Writing is a very complicated thing, it’s a completely cerebral experience. And everything has to be at a distance, even you have to be at a distance. You are not writing your story, it has to go beyond the experience. And I can tell you very frankly that if I know how the story will turn out, I never write it. I have to deal with myself, with my capacity and capabilities to get things out of the narrative….”
–Indian author Krishna Sobti, 91

http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/2UCsyjulIq455TpCF2wroK/Hindi-is-an-epic-language-Krishna-Sobti.html

 

Jim Harrison


quote-poetry-at-its-best-is-the-language-your-soul-would-speak-if-you-could-teach-your-soul-jim-harrison-146-16-38
American author, December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.”
–Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison, the fiction writer, poet, outdoorsman and reveler who wrote with gruff affection for the country’s landscape and rural life and enjoyed mainstream success in middle age with his historical saga “Legends of the Fall,” has died at age 78.

Spokeswoman Deb Seager of Grove Atlantic, Harrison’s publisher, told The Associated Press that Harrison died Saturday at his home in Patagonia, Arizona. Seager did not know the cause of death. Harrison’s wife of more than 50 years, Linda King Harrison, died last fall.

It’s Work


photo by Jack Liu
photo by Jack Liu

This from The Writer’s Almanac this morning. Sometimes it is just work to do this, not an excuse to indulge one’s self, or play at being a writer. And, happy birthday Ursula!

It’s the birthday of science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin(books by this author), born in Berkeley, California (1929). She grew up in a family of academics. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a psychologist and writer. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University-he’s been called the “Dean of American anthropologists.” He specialized in researching Native American cultures, and so Ursula grew up with Native American myths.

When she was young, over the course of 10 years, she wrote five novels, none of which were published. Publishers in the 1950s thought her writing was too “remote.” So she began to write science fiction and fantasy, and she has been incredibly prolific for the last four decades. She has published more than 100 short stories, 20 novels, 11 children’s books, six volumes of poetry, and four volumes of translation. She’s best known for her Earthseabooks, a fantasy series that takes place in a world populated by wizards and dragons. She also wrote the Hainish Cycle – science fiction novels set in an imaginary universe where the residents are genderless.

An interviewer once asked her advice for writers, and she replied: “I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you’re writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.”

 

Pray for Salvage Value


Publishing can feel a little like THIS...There’s a good reason pro authors finish a book’s first draft as quickly as possible: If you wait too long, you lose touch with the energy and lives in that created world. They both die of asphyxiation.

This means one of two things. Each and severally—as the lawyers say—is and are quite bad.

(There’s a third, quitting, but …. just no.)

Either you have to pray that there’s something salvageable after you shit-can the 95-plus percent of it that makes no sense anymore, and probably never did…

OR you knife the useless bastard in its hard drive sector like Macbeth stabbed Duncan.

Get drunk, feel sorry for yourself and have the funeral;

Start over.

 

……….Besides, you never know….. 

Short and Sweet Advice For Writers – Have a Point (plus WIIFM)


Wise words…

Live to Write - Write to Live

hand drawn mind mapIf you want your writing to be effective, you need to have a point: a purpose, something specific you’re trying to say, a “Why” behind the writing. This rule applies no matter what you’re crafting – novel, short story, poem, personal essay, op-ed, sales page, website, flash fiction, screenplay. Having a point is what stokes your creative fire, and it’s what gives you the ability to write something that will make people care.

I have written in the past about the magic of clarity:

Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity…

View original post 381 more words

Oh, For a Muse of Fire


Time to get to work.

Doing the inspiration-kick-myself-in-the-ass thing this morning again. 

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention,

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,

Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,

Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire

Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,

The flat unraised spirits that have dared

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

So great an object: can this cockpit hold

The vasty fields of France? or may we cram

Within this wooden O the very casques

That did affright the air at Agincourt?

O, pardon! since a crooked figure may

Attest in little place a million;

And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,

On your imaginary forces work.

Suppose within the girdle of these walls

Are now confined two mighty monarchies,

Whose high upreared and abutting fronts

The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:

Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;

Into a thousand parts divide on man,

And make imaginary puissance;

Think when we talk of horses, that you see them

Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;

For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,

Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,

Turning the accomplishment of many years

Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,

Admit me Chorus to this history;

Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,

Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

Chap. 6, part 2: “To the Death” (continued)


Daggers-stiletto-59

(continued) When Ted tried to remember what happened next, he always had the feeling that it was happening to someone else. Previous scene–>

People watch too many fights on TV or the movies, and think they know what they’d do. It looks so natural, but it’s not. Adrenaline and fear are a potent mix, and sometimes they make you better, and sometimes they make you slow and vulnerable.

But unless someone is well-trained, the fear can take over. No one is the hero he thinks he’ll be. Even the well-trained know fear, but the difference is the training that kicks in.

As the women walked down the hall away from Ted, Rose was slightly ahead of Miriam, body erect and tense and thinking mostly of Miriam. All Ted saw at first was a black-clad figure jump from the side — they knew later that she had been waiting just inside the kitchen behind the door— and an arm appeared to punch Rose in the side and three bodies were a whirl of action. Miriam’s boot hit the woman’s shoulder, missing the arm. Rose folded sideways and slid down the wall. Miriam raised her weapon part way and the attacker flicked her with a knife. Miriam  screamed a guttural war cry as her Glock went off, and the noise in the confined space nearly deafened him. The gun clattered to the floor.

Without a warning sound, the Labrador at Ted’s side launched himself down the hall more quickly than Ted had seen him move in years. His powerful body was stretched out at full speed almost at once, a menacing rumble in his chest. The black figure heard the sound and swung the knife toward it. Ted saw the a long, thin blade and it seemed to twinkle and flash as the woman backed into the kitchen, eyes darting between Miriam and the dog and the gun.

The attacker — he could see it was a woman, now — took a step on Miriam in a low crouch, like a sword fighter’s stance. Miriam held her wrist and leaned against the wall, the gun too far to go for, helpless. She felt the rush of fur and wind as Sampson roared past with murderous intent, his body brushing her aside.

Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The drops of blood from Miriam’s wrist fell in long drips. Rose moaned and a pool of red blossomed on the side of her white blouse. For some reason, Ted noticed that she had on small diamond earrings.

No more than three seconds had passed in the normal world, but to him it felt like hours. Confusion.

With barely a sound other than claws and paws pounding on carpet and hardwood, and with hair upright along his entire back, the dog ate the long hallway in a second or two and launched  himself at the throat of the black–clad attacker from three body’s length away, a hundred pounds of fury and teeth intent on killing. His charged knocked Miriam back into the wall and she hit her head hard and went down.

The assassin was quick, but he was faster and utterly without doubt. The woman had almost no time to move but out of instinct partially raised her knife at the last second.

Sampson was in the air and couldn’t turn. All he saw was her throat through a red haze of rage. The knife slid into his chest through his own momentum, and he knew it was the end. It pierced his great heart, but he crashed into her, already dying, teeth still snapping and seeking her throat. He killed groundhogs with those teeth with one shake of his powerful neck. He weighed almost more than she did, and his body’s momentum carried them both across the kitchen and into the oven. The woman struck her head and the breath was knocked out of her. Dazed, she still fought to get out from under him, with both arms and legs, and managed to scramble out, the knife still in Sampson’s chest

Miriam scrambled crablike to her gun. The assailant was dazed, she saw. But she was getting up. The trouble was Miriam was having trouble getting to her feet, too. The pain in her arm was searing, and she slipped in the blood on the tile floor.

All of this had happened in brief seconds. Ted felt oddly frozen. Then he grabbed the aluminum baseball bat and ran toward the kitchen with a roar, suddenly released from whatever had been holding him. The attacker was on one knee when she heard him screaming and saw him into the room, bat raised high. Quick as a cobra, and despite a feeing her head was splitting apart, she reached down and pulled the blade from Sampson’s chest and faced him. Her face was covered below the nose with a scarf. Her eyes still showed pain, but she raised the knife.

It did no good.

Ted’s baseball bat connected with a slender wrist and heard the sound of bone breaking. The knife clattered to the floor. A scream and string of harsh foreign words spewed from her lips, her eyes reddened with rage and flickered with pain and fear. But anger, too, and a kind of coldness that startled him.

She looked from Ted to the floor. The knife was too far to reach and her wounded arm hung useless at her side. The pain must have been enormous. But with only a second’s hesitation, she  struggled to pull something from a pouch she wore around her waist with her other hand.

Ted swung the bat again, catching her on the side of her head. He tried not to hit hard enough to kill, just stun. He had no idea how hard that was, so he put a little extra into the swing. The bat connected with a wet thunk, like smacking a fist into a ball glove.

She sank to her knees, but somehow didn’t collapse all at once. She just stayed on her knees, head down. She was muttering angrily in some language Ted didn’t recognize, and  seemed to be in some faraway place. Then she slumped sideways onto the floor like her strings had been cut.  He just stared at her, dazed.

“Pashto,” Miriam said from close behind him. He turned and saw that she had her Glock in her left hand steady on Das, but still on the floor on her side. A steady stream of blood left a trail across the floor from her right arm.

“It’s lucky for her your Little League skills showed up when they did,” she said through clenched teeth.”I was just about to punch a hole in the back of her skull. Hold this,” she said as she struggled to her feet, walked to him and slapped the Glock into his hand. She stepped behind him and grabbed a dishtowel from the counter and wrapped it around her wound, lips pressed into a white line. “She’s Pakistani. I recognize the dialect. Probably from the tribal regions.”

Ted was still staring at the woman in black. He could not move. Miriam was already moving again, looking for something to secure the wrap and stop the bleeding.

“Duct tape!” she barked at Ted. “Where?” Again, not a question, but a command. She leaned close to him and said it again, right in his face. “WHERE?”

She had the training, he didn’t; she was used to the fog of war, he wasn’t, and the training kicked in and she took command. He pointed vaguely to a nearby utility drawer. She looked at him again, realized he was in shock.

“Better see to Rose, Ted.” Miriam said, more gently, and she pushed him in that direction. His mind was a swirl of shock, but he staggered over to Rose. Between them, though, was Sampson, a circle of red spreading around him. Sampson’s eyes flickered in panic, then looked off into the distance. He lay still, weakly thumping his tail once on the floor when Ted approached and knelt  in the blood.

Ted put his hand on Sampson’s side, but realized his loyal friend was dying. Tears blurred his vision, and he wiped them away.

He heard a moan and took two long strides over to Rose. She was on her left side, legs moving slowly like she was running in slow motion, her right hand pressed to a spot that bloomed red on her side.  Her eyes, those beautiful eyes, were open but darting around in fear and confusion. She looked at him and reached up for him. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, and a crimson pool surrounded her body. He ripped the front of her blouse open. There was blood welling more slowly now from a gash at the base of her ribs. Some part of him noted that it was not spurting out, which meant it wasn’t an artery. Thank God. Maybe it was not so bad. But she needed a doctor right away. He grabbed another towel from the counter and pressed it against her side.

“Rose, Rose, I’m here. Hold on. Don’t….” .

Miriam moved quickly once she’d tied a bandage made from a white dish towel — Ted had sure gotten domestic, she thought. Then scolded herself for the thought at a time like this.  

Still. I mean…. 

He used to be a real slob. She felt a quick stab of jealousy when she realized who might have had that sort of affect on him. 

Pushing that to the side, she took the roll of tape, pulled the foreign woman’s ankles out from under her and trussed her with three or four rounds of the tape around the ankles, just like a rodeo cowboy tying a calf’s legs together. Then another set of wrappings around the lower thighs. 

The woman in black moaned. Miriam kicked her in the ribs. 

“That’s for the dog,” she muttered. 

She grabbed two wooden spoons from a drawer and fashioned simple splint on the broken wrist, secured them with with duct tape, then tied both arms behind the woman’s back with strips around the forearms and above the elbows. Then more around her whole body, making it extra tight. She kicked her again.

“And that’s for cutting me,” she said. 

Breathing heavily from the exertion and the adrenalin, she stood staring down at the woman for a few moments, tucked her gun into her waistband and retied the bandage on her wound.

She glanced at Ted and saw that he was holding a towel to Rose’s side. She grabbed two clean ones from the drawer and rushed over to them.

“Let me see,” Miriam said, as she pulled the cloth away from the wound. She’d been in Iraq, and had seen plenty of wounds, playing medic more than once.

“Might have knicked her lung a bit, or liver, but she’s lucky,” she said after a quick examination. “The angle was more to the front, and the blade probably glanced off a rib and may not have hit anything big. If it missed her liver it’s a miracle, but it looks a lot better than it would have been. That bitch over there is a pro, but my kick must have ruined her aim. Still,  there’s likely to be internal bleeding, and she’s in shock from all the blood she lost.”

“Lift her up,” she said, more gently this time. He did. Miriam replaced the soaked towel  with two clean ones..” “Now, raise her arms and her blouse.” Rose clamped her lips shut at the sudden pain in her side, just moaned deep in her throat. She was pale and sweating.

“Atta girl,” Miriam said to her. “We’re going to fix you up. Hang in there. I’ll be quick.”

Using her teeth to find the end of the tape on the roll, Miriam held the makeshift bandages on with one hand and pulled and arm’s length of tape off with her tape and her free hand. Ted saw what she was doing and helped her secure an end of the tape against Rose’s bare skin on her back, and the two of them managed to quickly cinch the temporary pressure bandage with with two body-circling bands of tape. It was only five or six miles to the emergency room, but minutes counted.

Judging from the wound, it would be better to take her and not wait for an ambulance. Besides, this kitchen needed to be cleaned up, and they didn’t need EMT’s seeing any of it and asking questions. She was making plans, and by the time she tied off Rose’s wrapping and Ted had brought a blanket from a guest bedroom down the hall, she knew roughly what she would do.

Ted’s mind was in shock; none of this made sense. But he knew he had to get up, to do something, to get Rose to the hospital. He was grateful that Miriam was taking charge. The way she seemed to be able to function at a time like this amazed him, and he was becoming aware that there was a lot more to her than he knew.

He gently closed Rose’s blouse the best he could, knowing she would be embarrassed later at being so exposed and sat her up, pulling her away from the pool of her blood by her armpits. Supporting her with his knees, he got her arms into the coat and lifted her over to the table, glad he’d decided to get the big country kitchen size. A coffee cup and saucer from breakfast fell and shattered on the floor. He laid Rose down as carefully as he could and covered her with the blanket.

“You’ll be ok, love,” he whispered in her ear. “We’re going to the hospital.” She opened her eyes and smiled weakly and said. “Who the fuck hit me?….”, but then closed them again and seemed to drift away.

Suddenly remembering Sampson, he looked over near the stove and saw the dog was still alive. Rose was OK for a second.

Miriam was already kneeling beside the great body when he joined her. Frothy pink bubbles formed at Sampson’s mouth, and his breath bubbled and labored, but he looked up at Miriam with soft eyes, trusting her and thumped his tail once again on the floor. He even tried to get up, but she held him gently down with his other hand.

“Stay down, boy. You’ll be ok,” she said, trying to sound soothing. The floor around Sampson was covered with his blood, and she knew he would not be OK.

In a moment, Sampson’s eyes went still, and the great, courageous heart pumped the last time. Miriam knelt beside Ted and ran her hand down the dog’s flank one last time. He had probably saved her life. And he would do it again, she knew. And again. And again. Dogs were fearless.

She looked over at Ted and shook her head, once. It’s over, the look said.

He looked ashen and she saw his eyes fill with tears. She understood, but had to be the one to run things right now. There would be time to grieve later, if they were lucky.

“Keep her warm, and go,” Miriam said. “She’s lost a lot of blood and is in shock, but you’ve got to get her to the hospital.

_________________

Miriam had seen for herself what had been between Ted and Rose. She felt an ache that he no longer felt that for her. Well, she told herself, he may not know it, but he needs me right now. And she resolved to do what was necessary to help him through it. She also still had some major problems to resolve. Broad shoulders. I am woman, hear me roar, she thought wryly. Oh, what was one more set of problems?

She was suddenly more exhausted than ever in her life. 

“Yes,” she said to herself, “you need me more than you know. What have I gotten you into?”  Then she walled her feelings off in a secret place in her mind and turned to the matters at hand. 

Ted just nodded, his face set. He carried Rose to her own car and Miriam heard the engine roaring out of the little lot, down the alley and onto the street, engine screaming. 

“Still with us?” Miriam asked, tapping the woman’s forehead with the toe of her boot. 

She heard words in Pashto that made her smile. 

“Same to you,” she answered in the same language. “You are mine, now, and forever. Allah is not pleased with you. And I am not pleased with you. We will talk, you and I, and you will tell me everything, unto the time when your grandfather stole your grandmother from her village and raped her and made her his whore.”

The woman glared at Miriam with a crazed fury, and twisted frantically but helplessly against her bindings, but fear flickered there, too. 

Miriam took a couple of steps and knelt down by Sampson and put her hand on his ribcage. The utter stillness of death was all she felt. But she whispered to him anyway.

“You were magnificent, Sampson. You did your job. You were the best. Rest now. I will remember you. ”

A tear fell down onto the reddish hair and she stroked his side.

 

 

 

Keep the Momentum Going


I lost momentum on the book– some things were out of my control, like a clot-caused short circuit in my brain, but mostly I just wandered off into the weeds. But now I’ve got some free time stretching ahead, and will be off for a while to recover from the stroke. This is the perfect opportunity to get the momentum back and still keep up with the blog and poetry. I’ve been doing some reading of writers I like, and also looking for encouraging words to help me get my motor running again. Like this one that references one of my all-time models: 

One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a lengthy project and is going to take about a year, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages.

But when you are writing it for a year, you go away and you have to come back. I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words,

“When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next?

And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year.

If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!

ROALD DAHL

Captain Obvious Talks About Rewriting


editor

Writing is rewriting.

This is not an original thought, but worth repeating.

The real point of any piece, the inner crankiness of malformed intent that pushes me to write, doesn’t emerge until the sixth or seventh draft, usually. (I’m writing for the terminally ill, after all —we’re all gonna die—and I don’t want to waste our collective valuable time with frilly froo froo stuff.

Don’t you have enough crap in your life already? Yeah. Me, too.

Writing is mostly staying at the chair and getting the first five versions out of the way so I can really begin to work, to follow the scent, to hone and polish and revel in the craft and mystery of it. I murder my own words for the greater glory of the correct ones still caught in a holding pattern and unable to land.

The final piece may look nothing at all like the first — or fifth, or eighth — draft. That’s just how it works.

The stuff I’m most unhappy with are the things that I pushed out into the light of day too soon.

Like this post, for instance.

This was only the fourth draft, and it shows. I should probably go back and cut about 20 percent more. 🙂

Well, That Explains That


  • Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  • Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  • Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

My ‘I Need an Editor’ Rant


editor

I need an editor. Everyone needs an editor. A good editor.

NOTE: I am an official fossil. Can’t help that. At least I haven’t shouted “you kids get off my lawn” in… forever. But this rant will sound like I have, I suppose.

This is like a notice on an adult site, though. Don’t read on unless you’re over the age of consent.

I learned the craft of writing at the knees of editors who were hard nosed, but not hard-hearted. They demanded the best, until that’s what I could give them. I have had stories (on paper; told you I was old) balled up and thrown at my head. One quite literally was hummed from across the newsroom and stuck in my ear. That guy had one hell of an arm! Can you imagine such a thing these days? He’d be sent to a re-education camp now, probably. Or go through a shaming ritual on Twitter.  (I shed a nostalgic tear for the good old days. 🙂 )

I get the feeling that most people go through school and early professional life not being put through the grinder like that. That’s a damned shame, frankly. It wasn’t fun at the time, but I grew a thick skin and higher expectations. Those editors who reacted with anger to poorly written stories got angry because they cared. Deeply cared about the words, about the story, about the truth of things. I learned.

Before anyone leaps to the defense of the beginners and seekers who are blogging, allow me to insert a disclaimer:  I’m not thinking of those who are here because they are looking to unburden themselves of something heavy and awful. I’ve read a lot of these writers with awe, many of whom have enormous talent, latent or otherwise. And the cries from their souls would tear a hole in Heaven and make the angels weep. They just need to be heard, and get a helping hand. But I argue that there’s a goal more lofty than just feeling good. It’s being good.

They can be very, very good if they keep at it and refuse to accept easy answers. Along the way, they will probably face doubts and pain every single day. It doesn’t really get pain-free; you just learn to keep going. Some have actual physical pain and they keep going. If they can, we can.

The struggles writers go through are pure raw material that, properly crafted, can be spun into gold. There are only two ways to do that: write, incessantly, and seek out a good editor to keep you honest and moving toward higher ground like you’re escaping Noah’s flood.

It’s acquiring the craft I’m talking about, and do not claim I have achieved any 20th degree black belt, either. I haven’t. I’ve been working at this for nearly 50 years and I look at a lot of what I write now with disgust. I’ve just learned to accept that as a cost of doing business, a challenge, and throw the crap back in the hopper and work it like an eel wrangler hoping to turn those wriggly bastards into rope.

So, back to the premise of the rant.

If I want to call myself a writer, in the professional sense, I cannot thrive or grow without a good editor. Even someone who’s main goal is to work the knots out of their lives can use simple feedback on technique, if they’ll listen. “Do more of this, less of that.  That part doesn’t make sense to me. What if you moved this phrase up there? Poor spelling hurts readership, and muddies your story. Buy a dictionary. Buy a thesaurus. Buy Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style.’ ” This helps you cultivate that little voice in your head that learns to stand off to the side, the objective observer, the voice that is both friend and judge.

A good editor is not your best friend who tells you she loves everything and nods sympathetically at everything you say. She’s the kind of best friend who will call you on your bullshit and help you find a better way. This person will call crap what it is, and you will listen if you give a damn and if you want to be any good. It takes enormous hubris to sit down at a keyboard and write, and enormous humility to be any good at it. Nobody grows if all they hear are soothing words. You need to seek out honest critics and humble yourself. And then write, write, write.

That is, we will if we want to be any good. If we want to be more than good. If we want to be the best we can possibly be.

It isn’t fun, and isn’t supposed to be.

The sayings about this are plentiful. I told someone when I started on the book that it was easy. I just locked myself in a cabin for four days (true), smashed myself in the face with the laptop (not literally) until I lost some teeth and the words started to come. I came down off the mountain and worked for a couple of months, and then had a good friend who used to edit a magazine read it. She really let me have it, the good and the bad. She’s a pro. I listened. I have rewritten it all twice since then, and will probably have to do it more.

A good editor is your best mentor, and the callouses you grow on your fragile ego will let you push on through the hard times when the words dry up. A good editor will push you on when you want to lie down and settle for second-best. A good editor isn’t a bully, but a coach, a friend, an AA sponsor, the hand wielding a whip when you need it most — which is usually when you think you don’t.

Such a person is a pearl of great price—hard to find. In a pinch, however, find writers you KNOW are loads better than you and read, read, read.

Like your life depended on it.

Because it does.

My ‘inner ferret*’


*Author Dan Morrell coined the term, ‘inner ferret’, to describe how he couldn’t write
unless he had something inside gnawing at him.

I’m sitting down to get 500 words into the book today; it might be more, but not less.

To warm up, my habit has been to read someone I admire, to quiet and focus the Tower of Babel in my head. Today I picked up James Scott Bell’s “The Art of War for Writers” again. The page fell open to a chapter on working with passion and purpose — to believe in something, and to let that show on the page.

“I like to see a writer’s heart on the page,”  Bell says.

So do I. And so do you.

From the short-lived TV show “Nurse Jackie,” this exchange:

Zoey Barkow: I put a film critic in a coma. You know when I wake up, the first thing I think is, I hope I don’t kill anyone today.
Thor Lundgren: It’s good to have goals.
Zoey Barkow: The only thing I want to do besides help people, is *not* kill them.

My goal is 500 words a day. And I hope I don’t kill anyone (in the book) unless they really had it coming.

Here’s my inner ferret, summarized.

  • I want whatever I write to be about something
  • I want to believe in what I’m writing
  • I care about my craft

That’s it.  I and others would probably be interested in hearing what your ‘inner ferret’ is, in the comments section.

Writer’s Almanac


I’m a subscriber to “The Writer’s Almanac,” a daily digest of book links, poems and historical tidbits compiled by Garrison Keillor. If you want to check it out, go to

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org

To subscribe: http://info.americanpublicmediagroup.org/LP=56

From today’s email:

“It’s the birthday of lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler (books by this author), born in Tonbridge, Kent, England (1858). He studied at Oxford and taught Latin, Greek, and English at a boys’ school in northwest England for 17 years, then resigned and moved to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, built himself a one-room cottage, and began living like a hermit.

Though he spent all his time writing essays and produced enough to fill two book-length manuscripts, he could not succeed in getting them published. He then came up with the idea to write “a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers.” Collaborating with his brother on the work for Oxford University Press, he wrote The King’s English (1906), which begins:

“Anyone who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”

‘Running Girl’ Ch. 4 excerpt: “Attack in the Family Room”


NOTE: I’m doing some heavy revisions on this and the other excerpts. This scene will remain fundamentally the same, but I’m seeing Eleanor in this version now as a little too much the bimbo. She’s not that at all, really. So I’m removing the more graphic sexual overtones, as i don’t want that part to give the wrong impression about her.

Ch. 1: “Mohana Das”

“Captured”
“Dream Girl”
“Attack in the Family Room”
“Fingers”

‘Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.’ : “Where there is life, there is hope.”

Her captor moved Eleanor, half-walking, half-flying, from the bedroom to the family room and threw her face-down on the couch. Her head throbbed and she almost passed out again. She turned her head a bit to see him from the corner of her eye. His strength made any resistance pointless.

He pulled a pistol from under his jacket — probably a holster in the back on his belt, she noted automatically. All she really wanted to do was let the blackness overwhelm her, to make the pain stop.

But the training, and the way her brain was wired, meant she couldn’t NOT notice these things. They used to call it a photographic memory. It was just a thing she was able to do, like breathing. Noted and filed: A black Beretta 92. Sixteen rounds, if he had one in the chamber, she thought automatically. Not everyone did, for fear of accidentally shooting oneself in the butt or leg. So, 15. Probably.

“Don’t move,” he ordered. From a side pocket of his jacket, he pulled out plastic zip ties. He cinched one too tightly, around her ankles.

“Put your hands behind your back,” he barked. She slowly complied and he cinched another zip tie around wrists. Her knees were on the floor now and her ankles were secure and he had the gun on her.

“Turn over,” he said.

She rolled to her right with difficulty and slid her rump onto the carpeted floor, her legs bent to the side. It was uncomfortable, but she could stand it. She shifted until her hands were in a less painful position and got her first good look at him.

The guy was about six feet away, feet apart for balance, up on the balls of his feet. He was 6’2” or 6’3” and around 235 to 240 pounds, she guessed. His shoulders were broad, but he stood with a slight hunch, the parts of his face she could see through the mask felt as though it was  crimped in a perpetual bad mood. The eyes were brown and sunken in rolls of skin, and at first seemed to miss nothing. But then they’d occasionally lose focus and dart around.

Weird. She could feel the anger and sadism in him. That gave her an idea.

He was strong, she knew that, but had gotten a little thick around the middle. His legs were short and the muscles of the thighs were tight inside his cargo pants. He wore the same black outfit as the other man: ski mask, black military style winter parka with no markings, black pants and laced black military-style boots. Gloves. Thin leather ones. He carried himself like he’d had military training, but had let himself go a little.

She looked again at the eyes — brown, flecks of gold, a little crazy — and saw that he was watching her.
Stepping closer, he used the barrel of the pistol to flip both sides of her robe open, uncovering the full length of her legs. He let out a little sigh.

“Nice. Very nice.” he said.

OK, so this was how it was going to go.

Guys had been hitting on her since she was 11. They usually weren’t pointing guns at her, but that was just a minor detail at this point. She knew the urges in those eyes very well. She’d never been raped before, though, unless you counted that one time in college when she’d gotten too drunk at a party and… well, she just wasn’t eager to find out what the real thing was like.
She looked down, put a look of fear on her face, then slowly looked back up. “I hope this looks scared,” she thought.
“Don’t hurt me, please,” she said. “I don’t know why you’re here”—which was true—“Let me go, and I won’t say anything.”

Fat chance of that, she thought, but it was worth a shot.

“Shut up,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

But he kept looking at the parts of her peeking out from the silk robe. The fabric didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, either. She leaned forward a little and her robe fell open more.

His eyes widened involuntarily.

“Gotcha, pervert” she thought to herself.

“Just don’t hurt me,” she said out loud, wriggling a little for effect.

“I’ll do whatever I want, sweetheart,” he said, licking his lips involuntarily, red spots starting to bloom in each cheek.

“I—I know,” she stammered. “I already know that. You’re strong, I’m tied up and you have the gun. You can do what you want and I can’t stop you. But…” she hesitated.

“But what?” he asked, despite himself.

“But it doesn’t have to be bad for me, does it? I mean, you like me…I can see it. I would rather cooperate than get hurt any more. I don’t have to draw a map, do I? Do what you want, and then let me go, OK?”

He just snorted.

“I don’t need your cooperation. I think I’ll just take what I want from you. And we’ll still do what we came here for. I know about you, Eleanor…. Or whatever your name is. Ex-water-rat, right? You’re just a Navy whore, trying to do a man’s job. So drop the coy young thing act. It ain’t gonna work.”

“Shit!” she thought, again, then took a shot in the dark. This guy had a certain feeling about him. Maybe it was the body language.
“Ah. A jar-head,” she said, leaning back a bit and trying to project as much arrogant contempt as possible. “Thought I smelled the stupid. You reek of it.”

The age-old insult of Navy to Marine hit home. He tensed and his beady eyes narrowed some more.

Bingo. Now to work this a little.

She was the daughter and sister of Marines, and had heard the stories all her life. They thought Navy officers were stuck up preppies, and saw red when talked down to. She joined the Navy, over their half-hearted objections, because there were more opportunities for women at the time. So, they conducted a little training and orientation program of their own before she left for Annapolis. Where to go, and not go; who to avoid; when to fight and when to run; and how to fight dirty when cornered.

They also taught her to take the initiative, especially when in a weak position. Surprise and aggression, especially when coming from a woman and the adversary is male, were always advantages. A bold move can change your luck.

She sighed a little to herself, knowing what was coming next.

“This is going to get ugly, father of mine,” she said in her head.

“Let’s hope you’ve learned how to take a punch, daughter of mine” she heard her father’s voice say in her ear.

“I’m about to find out,” she answered. “I’ll get back to you.”

She straightened up and pinned Brown Eyes with The Look, the command look of superiority and dismissal: me big shot officer, you toe-jam-moron-cannon-fodder inferior, it said.

“Yeah, I was in the Navy. But even as a woman I’m a better man than you, Jar Head. Did your partner dress you today, or have you learned how to do that yourself? I like your style sense, though. Very feminine. ”

She never saw him move, just had the impression of a blur. He grunted once and a vicious blow exploded against the side of her head and she fell over again. She passed out for a time, but woke as his arm circled her belly and he lifted her body roughly onto the couch, her knees on the carpet and face mashed into the cushion. He flipped the hem of her robe up above her waist and ripped her panties off.

She heard him loosen his belt buckle and pull his zipper down and forced one last insult out. Or thought she did. It seemed like she was in a dream again. She turned her head and sneered out of the side of her mouth, every word causing pain stabs in her head.
“So it’s rape now? Christ. Fine. Get it over with so I can compare you with a real man. If I can even feel it. But the least you could do is loosen my ankles. I won’t put up a fight, but at least do that,” she snapped, trying to sound bored and contemptuous at the same time.

He paused. She could almost feel him shrug and then he cut the thin plastic strip from her ankles. She gritted her teeth and tamped down the shame. Just get through it. Stay alive. Get loose. Escape. And maybe kill this guy. That would be a bonus.

He kicked her knees apart with his foot, the soles of his boots smacking the bones. More pain. His aroused breathing was loud. She steeled herself for the next pain, reminding herself that it really wasn’t a big deal, being raped. She’d get over it. It would be just like the gyno exam, without the fun parts. She was on the pill, so wouldn’t get pregnant.

“Any help here, father of mine?”

“Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter of mine. Stay alive. Whatever you have to do, stay alive.”

This raced through her mind, just ahead of the fear. She was in charge. She was no victim. At least she would stay alive a little longer. She briefly imagined the look on Brown Eyes’ face when she cinched his balls with one of those zip ties. Sheep farmers used rubber bands to castrate ram lambs. Seemed appropriate to see how it worked on a grown man, she mused, consciously thinking of anything other than what he was about to do to her.

The voice of the other man yelled from the bedroom.

“Hey, what’s taking so long out there? Get your ass back in here. She’ll keep.”

“Goddammit!” Brown Eyes growled through clenched teeth. “Goddammit!” His hand was on her hip, he was up against her and she felt his hardness and his body trembling.

He hesitated, fumbled with his pants and belt then cursed again. He was afraid of the other man, that much was clear. He put another plastic handcuff strip around her ankles, but she held her feet as far apart as possible and he wasn’t careful. There was some slack this time. He thrust his hand between her legs and grabbed her there roughly and squeezed hard. Pain shot up through her stomach.

She rolled over and sat on the floor again, ears cocked intently until she heard the voices in the bedroom. They were far enough away that she couldn’t make out all of the words, but soon she heard Henry’s voice raised in fear and there was the wet, thwunk of fist striking flesh. Henry grunted loudly followed by the sound of retching.
Henry. He was a crooked banker and twisted in some other ways that repelled her, but these guys were seriously evil. He had no chance.

As the sounds of angry questions, hitting and sobs and grunts continued from the bedroom, she got her feet under her enough to leverage herself erect. Listening for a moment and hearing no one coming, she hopped tentatively to the end of the couch, leaning against it for support. With a little work, she managed to slip one foot and then the other out of the restraint. She stopped to listen and then hurried five feet across the open tile to the kitchen. One foot was nearly asleep and tingling, and she nearly fell, her wrists were still tied behind her, and she couldn’t stop the fall. The counter corner’s point jabbed her hip hard enough to make her clamp her jaws to keep a cry of pain from escaping. She worked her way around to the drawer with the knives.

Opening it as quietly as she could, she backed up to it and clawed fingers around until she felt the handle of a knife near the front. She flipped the blade vertical and quickly sawed through the plastic strip holding her wrists. She stopped again to listen to see if she’d attracted any attention, rubbing feeling back into her hands as she did so, but the voices from the bedroom continued. Eleanor stepped to another drawer, holding the knife pointed in the direction of the bedroom, and grabbed the spare keys for the SUV. Then she saw the Sig sitting on the counter where she’d left it, dropped the knife and pulled the gun out of it’s holster.

She heard Henry’s voice rise to a scream, cut off abruptly by the unmistakable sharp hiss of a silencer. Then another shot.

The short, unhappy life of Henry Bouchier had ended, just like that.

They would come for her next.

Time to go.

She sprinted on bare feet across the family room, through the mud room and into the garage. She reached the SUV in three strides and opened the weapons bag she’d put under the driver’s seat. She pulled out one of the Glocks, checked that it was loaded and pulled the slide to put a round in the chamber.

She closed the door softly, locked all doors with the remote on the keychain, tucked the Sig in the robe’s left pocket, leapt to an outside door beside the overhead garage door and opened it. A gust of cold air swirled in with a cloud of fir needles and dead leaves.
The dry ground wouldn’t show tracks but they might think she’d gone that way. A trackless forest of fir trees was across the road, too. Glancing quickly outside to make sure one of the men wasn’t coming on her flank, she turned and headed to an area next to some open metal shelving on an inside wall of the garage.

Pushing aside a calendar hanging from a hook, she pressed a small button that looked like a pine knot. A soft click sounded and a panel in the wall popped open an inch. The edges of the opening matched the lines of the pine paneling that covered that wall, and when closed were invisible from the outside. It had taken her the better part of an hour to find it earlier, and even with the help of the blueprints, she’d missed the cleverly disguised button twice before she saw it.

The bottom of the compartment was two feet from the floor, its top less than four feet above that. It extended left of the opening, about three feet wide and too short to stand up in. But, it was large enough to hold two or three large suitcases—or a federal agent, if she doubled her knees up to her chin and backed in, squeezing her body in tight.

She hopped on her butt into the opening scooted back until she could pull her legs and feet in and gather in her robe. She realized that there was nothing on the inside to use to pull the door shut at first, and began to panic. Then, frantically scanning around the edges, she saw a screw head sticking out a half-inch, about halfway up the door’s outer edge. She pulled the door shut with just two fingernails clutching the screw and gratefully heard the latch click just as her attacker’s angry voice boomed a foot away, outside.

“Come to Papa!”

She heard the sounds of violent searching in the garage, doors opening and slamming, objects crashing to the floor, cursing.

Something heavy slammed against the door of the compartment. She raised the gun in the dark and held it steady where she pictured his head would be— just in case the latch opened.  She had a vision of the perplexed expression he would have on his face when she put a small round hole into the exact center of his forehead.

She rested arms on knees, both hands holding the gun steady at the height she thought would be about right, took a deep, shuddering breath or two to calm her heart and waited.

One corner of her mouth twitched upward, and she waited in the darkness.

Balancing Writing & Life—The World Rewards Finishers NOT Perfection


Kristen Lamb's Blog

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

The world around us is always pushing this notion of “perfection” and, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what “reality” looks like. All the models are tall and thin and young with poofy lips (and men have their own variety of the super model stereotype). They have fabulous clothes and new cars and go on expensive vacations.

Even our homes! When I look around my house that’s littered with toys, my sink full of dishes and two baskets full of laundry (even though I just DID laundry) I wonder what a real home is supposed to look like? Where do I fit? Sure NOT on Pinterest.

Granted, there are areas I KNOW I am slacking (*cough* Christmas tree is STILL standing) and let’s not talk about the state of my drawers and closets. But, I generally (when the…

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“Running Girl” Ch. 2: “Captured”


Previous chapter excerpts:

Ch. 2: “Captured”

 

The British Airways jet with Das aboard hurried up and away from the simmering city, as eager as its passengers to find its natural frigid, silent and pure habitat five miles above. In minutes, it reached its cruising altitude and leveled out, the endless brown wrinkles of the Earth’s dry crust creeping past far below. The pilot radioed position and altitude and let the autopilot steer the nose unerringly toward London.

The crew relaxed and called for coffee. The co-pilot winked at the dark-skinned flight attendant who brought it, making sure the captain was looking away. She smiled and leaned to the left to give the captain his coffee. As she did, she felt a hand slip up her skirt and almost giggled. Then flashed a mock-angry glare at the copilot. Wait until we land for that, the look said.

The captain pretended not to notice, and thought of his son in London, wondering if he had gotten to school yet, and then whether the co-pilot and attendant’s affair would become obvious enough that he would have to take some action. That reminded him of his own dalliance 20 years before with another black-eyed beauty, dead these many years in a car accident. The memory of her still hurt after all these years. He hoped these two beside him had a happier future.

As the plane cruised toward the North Pole and Heathrow, a man slept fitfully in a darkened bedroom a few miles north of Vancouver, Washington. He snored, one foot twitching under silk sheets.

Henry Bourchier’s house was silent save for the ticking of a hallway tall clock. A full moon glowed in a black sky upon which shards of stars glittered and danced. The house squatted in a woodsy development of fat, cheaply-built boxes financed with creative mortgages.

The homes were a splatter of faux-French country styles, pseudo-Victorians, and utterly bland modernistic pretensions with concrete and glass walls trimmed in wood-grained vinyl siding. Each was a discrete distance from its neighbor—set at angles and with strategic hedges and plantings to maximize privacy— so that each was just barely visible through trees. The housing market was still dead there, and most of the houses were worth a fraction of the debt the fools within carried. Appearances were important, though, and it was still possible to pretend they were well-off, even those who had lost their jobs two years before and were merely squatting until the eviction notices were enforced. Everyone knew who they were.

More than one resident lay staring in the dark, fear slithering into their ears like worms from the shadows.

Struggling dwarf ornamentals from a bankrupt garden center, more aliens in this wilderness land, clung guiltily to the margins of the lawn. Douglas firs, so tall they seemed to touch at the tips, marched hundreds of miles into the unforgiving mountain crags beyond, looming over the suburban intruders below with deep-green, powerless resentment.  The trees swayed in the nighttime breeze. Air muttered around the black trunks and rough bark. A few yards into the forest, where needles lay in thick carpets, noises of the civilized world gave up and disappeared.

A paved driveway led from a country road to Bourchier’s faux-villa. His was safe from the predations of bankers, though, because he was one of the predators. His home was also better-built than the others, and both factors gave him great satisfaction. His bank held the mortgages on a few of his neighbors’ houses, but he did not concern himself with their worries. He had lawyers and a corporation and other, worse men behind him; they did not.

He was also a thief in the traditional sense, although these days the two occupations were almost the same thing. Money and debt were the least of his worries, or so he thought. His dreams were free of the living nightmare that would momentarily rip his brief, shallow, amoral life apart.
Two cars sat on virgin concrete in front of the three-car garage: a midnight blue BMW and a small SUV.

Bourchier drove the BMW  between the house and the suburban Vancouver bank where he was vice president—and secret money launderer for Seattle drug bosses and other, even more shadowy connections.

But he did like nice things. Oh yes, he surely did.

His silk pajamas boasted a label from an exclusive Seattle boutique that catered to those who equated price with quality because they didn’t know any better and had too much money to care. The bed sheets and cover were of similar impressiveness, as was nearly everything in the house. Some of it was even good. He hoped his expensive tastes were just inconspicuous enough to avoid tripping any wires at the IRS.

He was careful.

Unfortunately, he made mistakes. Little ones. But wires had been tripped. He wasn’t as careful — or nearly as smart — as he believed he was.

His mistakes were exposed by a former employee he’d slept with. Unfortunately for him, and still seething with anger after he dumped her, she started sleeping with a small-time drug dealer and appliance repairman. The two were busted during a nooner in a motel room one weekday afternoon.

She’d offered information about Henry in exchange for leniency. The local DA, who was hoping to get noticed at higher levels, let her off with a suspended sentence and a blow job,  but bounced the information up to the US Attorney. They’d both gone to Stanford Law, and he hoped his old classmate would overlook certain personal failings in the drinking and carousing departments, and rescue him from this backwater job.

Details of Henry Bourchier’s life had been filling electronic files in Seattle, Portland and Washington for six months, like little flakes of snow drifting against a door until millions of them push the door down.

Initial interest led to secret spot audits, which yielded enough to get a referral for further investigation — all done as silently as an owl swooping down on an unsuspecting rabbit.
He slept, serene, although his slumber had also been given some chemical assistance.

A Treasury agent, on loan to the FBI interagency task force, roamed the home after putting a little something harmless in his drink. Henry believed she had come to his home from the bar, and after going to a shooting range, for a little frolic between the high-priced sheets. He also thought coming here had been his idea. She had made sure that no one else knew she was there.

Eleanor—that was the name she gave Henry— spent two hours examining the house inch by inch, and found piles of cash, many, many piles, hidden in nylon duffels in several cleverly concealed compartments around the house.

This was expected, and blueprints obtained from the architect were of great help. The SUV was hers, and it carried what she needed. She lugged identical nylon duffles from in from it, each holding many, many new bundles of cash impregnated with electronic “fairy dust” that turned each bill into a radio transmitter. She exchanged the treated currency for the old bundles, which she wrapped in plastic using disposable gloves, and packed them in the zippered bags. It took several trips to complete the exchange, but finally the SUV had nearly $300,000 stowed under the rear compartment’s floor where the spare tire usually rode.

The rear floor of the SUV held another bag that held Eleanor’s other tools: a shotgun, a new Glock 20 10mm auto with a 15-shot magazine and laser sight; a  Glock 17 with ammo. An older, compact Sig Sauer 1911 pistol in it’s holster rested on top. The latter was not government-issue, and was untraceable. She usually wore it tucked at the small of her back, and while it was a bit heavy fully loaded (almost two pounds), and only held seven rounds, it was both a last resort and a throwaway if thinks got seriously fucked.

She left the weapons in the SUV, took the Sig and a travel bag from the back seat and went inside to do a final cleanup tour and change. Henry would wake up refreshed, if somewhat confused and with no memory of the time just before he took the drugged drink. She planned to leave no clues that she had been there. The stuff she’d slipped into Henry’s drink wouldn’t wear off for a while longer, she decided, glancing at a wristwatch and feeling pleased with her work.

A grandfather’s clock — an 1800s Philadelphia model restored at great expense — struck 2 a.m. from its post in the front room. She didn’t know when she’d have the chance again to get clean — and the work she’d just done had been hot and she was starting to notice her own odor— so she took a quick shower in a spare bath.

She checked Henry to see if he was stirring and, hearing only low snores, decided she could pause for a few moments. She donned panties and bra and a silk robe from her travel bag. The silk was warm for it’s weight, and it packed in very small package. Her dark hair, still damp from the shower, tumbled over the collar.

She put the Sig on the counter and looked through Henry’s extensive liquor collection. She mixed a Godmother, a favorite—an expensive Italian amaretto and a couple of fingers of A-list vodka in a tumbler, added ice, and swished it around in the glass until it was cold. The sweet aroma of apricots and almonds touched her nose as she sipped, and she savored the burn of vodka as it slipped down the back of her throat. She padded silently to the family room across a wide tile area that led to a sliding glass patio door and stood looking out. Another sip.

The floor-length white robe swayed from the curve of breast and hip like something from a 1930s Hollywood film. Tall and full-figured but trim, she glided with a natural, sensuous grace that could turn heads even in Monaco’s casinos. In fact, on one assignment, she’d done just that. No one expected someone that looked like she did to be as deadly as she was, which came in handy more than once.

The kitchen waited in gloom. Vague shapes of appliances and counters and hanging pot racks—all seldom used—were just visible. Before her, the double French patio doors framed a deck with a gas grill, outdoor chairs and a table still shrouded in their winter plastic covers. The moon lit a few yards of grass, bleaching it of all color. Shadows of the fir forest fell across the lawn halfway to the deck, as the moon was fairly high in the sky. The edge of the woods was as black as a mine shaft. She stood close to the door, sipping her drink and soaking in the scene. The moonlight draped her form in the same pale aura as the lawn. Her pose in the window conjured a marble statue of some long-forgotten Greek goddess.

The tall clock ticked softly in the background. She held the glass below her lips in one hand, with the other arm folded across her waist. She swirled the liquid in the glass with small movements, taking a sip every so often. It was the first quiet she’d had in weeks, and the liquor and the moonlight lulled her into dreaminess.

The drink was almost gone by the time the clock behind her bonged three times, the sudden sound filling the room. The SUV was packed, her gear was stowed, and the vehicle was fully fueled. It was time to get dressed. Henry would be waking soon wondering what had happened. By that time, she would be miles away.

****
As the last echoes of the chimes died away, a whisper like a feather touched her ear, but so faint she was not sure she heard it.

She took a final sip of the drink, tipping the glass up to get the last of the sweet, golden liquid. She sucked a piece of ice into her mouth and crunched it between her back teeth, enjoying the shock of cold and the noise, just like when she was a little girl.

A shadow flitted through the air beside her. Before she could react, an arm clamped around her throat like a steel hawser, cut off her air and pulled her back, off-balance. A vice crushed her wrist and pulled her hand and arm painfully up between her shoulder blades. In the same moment, the unseen hand and arm turned her body over and her bare feet were kicked out from under her.
The floor rushed up at her in slow motion. She heard a wet crunch and felt a sickening hot jolt as her forehead bounced on the cold tile. Pain exploded behind her eyes and shock surged through her body. A knee jammed in the small of her back, knocking the air from her lungs. She felt her cheek pressed into the cold floor and smelled blood and male sweat just before a wave of nausea rippled through her and a reddish-black mist filled her vision.

“Bring ‘er,” a voice snapped from somewhere in the fog.

Eleanor gasped for air as the weight lifted from her back. In almost the same second, a hand clenched into her hair and pulled her to her feet, the other arm still pinned painfully at her back.

The room whirled. She vomited as spikes penetrated into her brain.

The hands controlling her shook her like a rag doll. She was dimly aware that her unseen master moved out of the way of the puke and then yanked her down the darkened hall through a doorway into Henry’s bedroom. Her legs rubbery, she felt like she was out of her body and flying along like a leaf in the wind….

Delicious slice of evil


Found this quote on the blog EsoterX, and it struck me as a central truth. The tracing of evil in otherwise good people is a delicious line that runs through the heart of mystery and crime fiction. It’s easy to paint a villain as totally despicable, but much more difficult — and more true to life — to deal with someone who is a 49-51 mix of good and depravity.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Tired of the magazines in the waiting room


I’m writing  a book.

No, I’m not; I’ve started, but for months I’ve been telling myself I’m doing it, when in fact I’m just circling at 30,000 feet. Talking is not doing. Time to land the damned plane.

There’s fog and a wicked 20-knot crosswind below 800 feet. The carb is icing up. Are those geese milling around halfway down, just where it’s too late to gun it and go around again? Yes. Of course, there are. Perfect.

F*ck it. I’m going in. The fuel gauge is kissing the big E and I swear there’s smoke coming out of the starboard engine. I have to take piss. No choices left.

I’ve got characters waiting for me to get back to them. They’re looking at me, and at each other, killing time, waiting. Toes tapping. Knives being sharpened. Lives on hold. They are not happy with me. And with this bunch of psychos, this could get ugly, fast.

So.

I’m happy I started. I’m proud of getting 60,000 words into a draft (maybe a leetle too proud. I may need to murder a lot of them.) I like the characters and want to let them live out the stories I’ve put them in. That’s not enough. Time to finish. There’s mystery in there, questions, breathtaking stupidity and evil and sex. Lots of sex. What’s not to like?

“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstance.” — Sun Tzu.

It is time to ride to the sound of the guns, ” ‘Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”

Running Girl Ch. 1 Excerpt: “Mohana Das”


This is another bit from the book, “Running Girl,” introducing the assassin Mohana Das. She plays a recurring role.

  1. “Mohana Das”

  2. “Captured”
  3. “Dream Girl”
  4. “Attack in the Family Room”
  5. “Fingers”
  6. A Little About Rose
  7. The Next Morning
  8. “What will be, Shall Be”
  9. “To the Death”_______________________________

Mohana Das

The brutal sun churned Karachi’s open sewers, diesel fumes, rotting trash, bubbling asphalt and smoke from a million charcoal cooking fires into a exotic, noxious stew that spread 50 miles downwind, into the great Sind Desert. The monsoon season was brewing in the warming waters of the Arabian Sea. It was only mid-morning, but thermometers shimmered. They could hit 115F by early afternoon.

The city would bake like a rock on a grill, day after day, until the monsoons brought drenching rain that could drown a child, bring insane winds and monstrous, otherworldly clouds. For a while, this was better than the heat. It filled reservoirs, flooded rice and wheat fields, refilled the aquifers, ran in sheets from the mountains to flush new life into rivers, flushing the filth of the city out to sea. They also brought misery and death with drownings and malaria and cholera when slum sewage was flushed into hovels of the destitute, of whom there were millions.

In April, though, from early morning through the muezzin’s call to evening prayer, nothing moved outside by choice unless driven by greed or hunger or bad intent. Only the insane or the criminal or the desperate slipped from shadow to shadow when Sol hurled death onto the unprotected below. But when the he wearied of the game and moved away over the edge of the ocean in the west and onshore breezes carried cooler, saltier air over the city, the city’s millions emerged to celebrate. Cafes filled with the sounds of jangled chatter and shouts of greeting, of  street vendors singing of fresh vegetables for sale, playing children and all the complicated noise of  life in all of its joy and brutality.

A man and a woman made love in a darkened bedroom. A window air conditioning unit rattled softly. The woman straddled him, hands on either side of his head and pumped her hips faster and faster with him inside. Her café au lait skin glowed with a light sweat from the exertion, small breasts swaying, nipples hard. The man, flushed and breathing loudly, grabbed a breast and squeezed it roughly. She didn’t seem to notice except for eyes that flashed briefly in anger at the sudden pain, a look he did not see.

She finished with short whimpers, sighs and finally a long, shuddering moan. After a pause with closed eyes and mouth slightly opened and smiling, she lowered herself  and lay still. He pushed himself into her hard a few more times and she tensed again to receive him, ignoring his grunting, looking bored. After a moment, she rolled off. He turned away with no more notice of her and was almost instantly asleep.

Mohana Das’ black eyes flicked with contempt and frank appraisal, even as a small smile played across her lips. She sat up and straightened the silk scarf that was wrapped tightly around her short-cropped hair. Then, utterly still, she watched him until she was sure he was asleep. Slipping slender legs over the side of the bed, she moved into the shower to bathe his smell away and flush all traces of him down the drain.

Upon return, still naked and damp, she pulled a long, thin blade of black carbon steel in its leather sheath from hiding under the bed. A rush of heat flashed down her abdomen and up to her breasts, as it always did at moments like this. She closed her eyes and relished the tremor of a second orgasm, feeling her legs go weak for a moment.

The blade, honed so finely that the edge reflected no light, resembled a long, deadly letter opener. Tiny parallel lines were etched down the middle, forming a channel for lubricating fluids. The raised metal sides were polished to a mirror finish. But the true genius of it was the purity of the edges and the hypodermic tip. A custom-made Rosewood grip, inlayed with a cat’s head made of ivory, nestled perfectly in the palm of her hand.

It was the creature of a Japanese master. His handiwork was known only to a small and exclusive clientele willing to pay the price of a modest house for such a weapon. It was said he worked on only one blade at a time, and sometimes took weeks to complete it. He didn’t take orders, so much as listen to a visitor and decide whether he felt the person was worthy of perfection. Das had sat with him daily for two weeks, sharing tea and silences, the first time. She waited on his judgement, willing herself to utter calm and acceptance. Then one day, he handed the blade he’d been working on to her, along with a custom scabbard.

A year later, she returned, with the same result. And again a third year.

The master’s wizened old wife waited in the outer room of the house, bowing as Das left. She took the cash Das offered with many mutual bows and smiles, tucking it quickly away in the folds of her kimono.

One blade was hidden in London. The third was her gift to someone who had trained her, loved her and, finally, betrayed her.

Das gently pulled the sheet down from her bedmate’s neck, looking with detachment at the structure of his spinal bones. He stirred in his sleep and his hand reached blindly for her bare thigh. She moved his hand away with a shushing sound, and murmured ‘No. Later.” She waited motionless a few minutes until his breathing slowed.

She finally moved one finger until it barely rested on his skin. The other hand positioned the point of the blade in the slight hollow between the bones, palm on the rounded silver inlay of the handle. She pushed it in, the movement of the blade barely perceptible as it slipped though his skin and ligaments as though moving through damp gauze, and cut the spinal chord between the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebrae. He woke, but too late. A quick flick of her wrist killed all motor control below that point and stopped his diaphragm. His brain would die quickly, starved of oxygen. He was paralyzed and powerless, but aware he was dying, only able to stare at the wall. He could hear her behind him, but was paralyzed and bewildered. His eyes darted wildly and his mouth made soundless screams.

She examined her work. There was very little blood, just seepage from the sliver of a wound. With any luck, he would not be found for days. The more time zones between her and this spot the better. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, but professional caution was the rule. Disappearance without leaving a trace was one of her specialties.

But she could take a moment. She slid to the floor and moved languidly around the bed where he could see her. She stood and watched without expression as his eyes flickered around in fear, slowly clouded and became still as his worthless spirit floated away.

She washed and dried the blade and slipped it into its sheath.

She glanced around and with quick, practiced movements, wiped down every surface she had touched with a hand towel. She switched off the air conditioner and sealed the windows tight, knowing the aggressive heat of April would soon turn this room into an oven and speed the decomposition of the man’s body, obscuring what few clues she’d left. Not that the police in this slum had the tools or competence or even interest in solving this crime, of course.

The man in the bed was a smalltime crook and occasional drug dealer, smuggler and pimp who lived on the underbelly of society. In the complicated world of Karachi’s poor neighborhoods— which is to say, most of them— he also dealt stolen weapons to whomever had the cash. He didn’t care what they did with them. Unfortunately, he had cheated the wrong person, a person with connections— the details were not her concern. Word had been sent through a cutout that her services were needed.

In short, she knew the police would not investigate this man’s passing very enthusiastically. His death simply removed one more vermin from the streets, and any hint that his exit was expedited by powerful people would further discourage inquiry.

Besides, the same Hawala bosses that had hired her also paid bribes which purchased official blindness. It was a very efficient system, if corrupt. If you were the one with the cash.

Her brief passage through this man’s life, for all practical purposes, would be as if it had never really happened. It was the natural order of things since ancient times in her land. Though not from Karachi, her ancestors were here to meet Alexander, and many still showed the blue eyes and hair coloring of the Greek and Macedonian and Persian genes deposited in the wombs of women in the valley of the Indus. Babies survived, even if their fathers had their throats slit by the brothers of the women they raped. Like all invaders since, the Greeks left only the results of couplings, either voluntary or forced. But they all left eventually.

The assassin slipped on light cotton pants and pulled tight the drawstring at the waist, shrugged on a blouse and stepped into open sandals. After tying a small pouch around her waist, she slipped the sheathed blade and the rest of her effects into it, threw a black chador over her head and pulled the floor-length semicircle of fabric together in front. She fastened a dark ruband veil on her ears and over her nose, which left only her eyes exposed. She was now, to any prying male eyes, a married, conservative Muslim woman: invisible and untouchable.

Das glided into the glare of the day, breathed in the stench of the city born on superheated air, and stepped delicately through a partially open wrought-iron gate in the wall of the compound.

Across the empty street, she opened the rear door of a battered yellow and black taxi and folded herself inside. The driver had been pretending to sleep in the afternoon heat, then started the engine as soon as she left the gate. He had the old car in motion before she closed the door.

They did not speak. In seconds, the taxi pulled onto a main street, trailed by a cloud of blue smoke. Their first destination was a small, poor-looking mosque, tucked in a side street nearby. She would slip a coded message through a slot in the door, word that the mission was compete. Payment would appear in one of several numbered bank accounts in Switzerland. Then she would pack a small bag and board a flight to London, and from there on to America for her next assignment.

Belching a cloud of fumes, the car soon blended in with dozens of others just like it, with trucks and cars and scooters in the vast honking chaos of the city of 15 million. In seconds, it was lost in the crowded, churning haze.