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Archive for June, 2009

This little excerpt is from a bit further into The Hornbeam Door, after Oona has a nervous breakdown, courtesy of the voices in her head.  Rumor has it that she really had a bad acid trip, and on her first day back at school, she discovers that none of her friends are talking to her.  In this scene, she’s sitting down to lunch by herself, aware of the other kids staring at her.

***

Goth how-to

Goth how-to

When I was almost finished with my sandwich, Jessica Walker sat down across from me. She was in my Spanish class freshman year, but I didn’t know her enough to say hello if I saw her on the street. Since then I’d changed from a nerd to a half-way normal person to a crazy person. Jessica had changed from a half-way normal person to a Goth sophomore year. She had her hair dyed black and her fingernails painted black, and all her clothes were black.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi, Jessica.”

“Actually, I go by Raven now. So how are you doing? You know, the first day back and all?”

“I’m fine.”

“So, what was it like?”

I guess that’s what it feels like to be in a car wreck and have people drive by staring, while you sit on the curb and bleed. I opened my bag of chips and didn’t answer her.

“I heard that you were, like hearing voices. Was that pretty freaky, hearing voices?”

She wouldn’t give up. She sat there with her elbows on the table, leaning toward me, staring at me. Like she thought I was honestly going to tell her.

“Did you really try to kill yourself? I think about it sometimes, like what it would be like to cut my wrists or something.” She pushed her black sleeve up and showed me these little red scratches on her wrist. The kind of scratches you’d get from a kitten.

Probably I was supposed to be shocked or concerned. Maybe I was supposed to be impressed. I wanted to say, “You need to use a sharper knife,” but I went on eating my potato chips. It wasn’t that I hated her or wanted her to kill herself. I just didn’t care. No matter how much she wanted to be in a car wreck, I didn’t want to be the car wreck she was staring at.

“So, what kinds of things were the voices saying to you? Like were they telling you to do stuff?”

I didn’t say what I wanted to say: “They were telling me to kill girls with black fingernail polish.” I didn’t say it, but I should have.  That would have been better than what I did say. Just like with my parents, I opened my mouth and started repeating what the voice was saying right then.

“And when the Interloper rent them from their souls, they were as toys in his hands. Dumb as beasts in the field and docile. They no longer looked back to the Doors with longing, but neither did they look to the river. He ate up their souls, as tender as the flesh of children, and turned them away from the easing waters. He had no need for whip or halter then, for the hooks in their spiritual bodies bound them to him fast.”

That was all new stuff, stuff I’d been trying to ignore, but it came out of me just as easily as any of the Doors would have. Like I already knew it, because the voice was inside me. It was part of me, whether I understood it or not. Whether I liked it or not.

“Any more questions, Raven?”

Jessica blinked and after a minute, she closed her mouth and sat back in her chair. I crumpled up my chip bag, picked up my tray, and walked away.

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Today’s teaser is from a young adult book I’m working on called The Hornbeam Door.  It feels a little weird to write something intended for teenagers, but I’m clearly tapping into the desolate weirdness of my own adolescence.

***

As soon as Mom got home from work, I said, “Reese asked me to the movie tonight.”

I thought she’d be excited. That she’d want to be there when Katelyn came over to help me get ready. I thought maybe she’d loan me some of her jewelry. She always did that when Lola had a special date. Ironed stuff for her, bought her new lipstick or nail polish.

“It’s awfully short notice,” Mom said.

Tea

Tea

That wasn’t like the third or fourth thing she said after: “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” Because she didn’t say any of those things. The first thing she said was, “It’s awfully short notice.” She didn’t even look at me when she said it. She was fishing the tea bag out of her mug.

“The movie doesn’t start until 9:00. I know curfew is midnight, but I can be home by then.”

“That doesn’t seem a little rude to you?”

“What?” I said.

“That he only asked you today to go to the movie tonight?”

“Katelyn and I make last minute plans all the time.”

“She’s your best friend. I think if a boy wants to ask you out, he should give you more notice.”

“Mom–.”

“More importantly, I think you should consider what kind of message it sends that you’re willing to let him ask you out like that. Do you want to be the kind of girl he can treat very casually?”

“It’s not like that anymore.”

“It’s not like what? Men don’t need to respect women? Has that all changed?” Mom said. I hated it when she got like that. Like every little thing in life was part of some big picture. Some universal injustice or nationwide discrimination.

“Mom, it’s not like it was when you were dating. People don’t plan that far ahead. He only asked today because that’s when he decided to go.”

“It was like that last year when Lola was dating. She expected to be treated with more consideration.” Mom didn’t move. Didn’t do anything except blow on her tea and look at her recipe book.

“Well, how nice for Lola that she’s so wonderful she can plan her social calendar months in advance.”

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Mom said.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you content to be an after-thought? To be something he just decided to do at the last minute?”

“Dad!”

I hated playing that game, but sometimes it was the only way to get through to Mom. The worst part was I knew it was over. By getting Dad involved, Mom was never going to be part of my dating life. She was never going to care about it the way she did about Lola dating. Maybe she wouldn’t have anyway, but it was over once I yelled for Dad.

When he came in, I said, “Can I go to the movies with Reese tonight?”

“Is this the boy you like? From your chemistry class?”

“Yes.”

“That’s great, honey. I hope you have fun. Do you need some money?”

Mom closed her recipe book and left the room while Dad was getting out his wallet. It wasn’t that she didn’t mean well. She did. She just always meant well in the shittiest way possible.

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Like a lot of people, I have an alter ego on the internet.  I have another blog and a whole other identity which is sorta-secret.  Recently on that blog, I posted about an issue that tends to rouse people’s passions.  Not surprisingly, I got a slew of anonymous comments that were self-righteous, unfriendly, and downright annoying.  I decided I didn’t want the drama, so I blocked a few people from posting.  When that didn’t do the trick, I even deleted a few comments.

It was hard to do.  I felt uneasy about deleting comments, because I believe in dialog.  That said, none of those comments felt like dialog, especially the one from a particularly persistent stalker, who called me an “not a big believer in free speech” and a “fascist,” after I blocked her.  You see why it felt a bit odd deleting that comment?

Personal space

Personal space

As my finger hovered over the mouse button, about to click “Yes, I’m sure I want to delete this comment,” I came to an important realization about my role in promoting free speech on the internet.  I don’t have one.  I’m not a government entity.  I don’t own a news organization.  I don’t host a public forum.  I am one lone person with a very personal blog.

When I deleted those comments, I wasn’t silencing the people who made them.  The internet is a big place and free blogs abound.  The people I blocked were free to go elsewhere, start their own blogs, and post anything they liked, including accusations of my alter ego being a Nazi.

Rather than silencing them, I asked them to leave my party.  Because a personal blog is just that: a party you throw at your own house.  You invite people and hopefully everyone gets along and has fun.  If somebody shows up who can’t play nice, well, you’re within your rights to ask them to leave.  Sometimes people you didn’t invite show up.  You certainly have a right to ask them to leave.

People have opined that if my blog is open-access, I shouldn’t pick and choose who I let comment, but I’m sticking with my house metaphor.  The door to my actual house is visible from the street.  Anyone who walks by can ring the doorbell.  I don’t have to let them in.  It’s my house.  I decide who comes in.  Same thing on my blog.  Act like a jerk and I won’t make the mistake of inviting you over again.

It all reminds me of an incident in the park earlier this spring.  As I walked to work, I passed two squirrels fornicating near the tennis courts.  I stared at them, a little amazed that they were just doing it out there in the open.  The male squirrel stared back at me, continuing to hump his partner, as though to say, “What you looking at?  This my living room.”

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There was a point in my writing life when I dreamed of seaside cottages and isolated mountain cabins.  Some quiet place to spend a week or two writing with no interruptions.  It seemed like I would really be a writer when I could take a vacation to write.  (Sure, there was the whole “getting a book published,” but that was a given.)

I was wrong.  You don’t have to go to some isolated place surrounded by nature to have a writer’s retreat.  You just have to go somewhere different and give yourself permission to write.  I knew this on some level.  After all, I occasionally go to a coffee shop to write, because it separates me from the internet and my soul-sucking cats.

When my sister was very ill, I went to spend a few weeks with her.  I never expected to get any writing done, but that first afternoon while my sister slept, I sat down at her dining room table and opened my notebook.  I didn’t expect to get much done, but I started writing down a scene that had popped into my head a few days before.  A small ugly girl  was alone in a forest at night, chopping wood.  I didn’t know why, but I needed to find out.  That’s how things always start for me.

Three hours later, I had written seven pages of what would become Ugly and the Beast.

The next afternoon, I repeated it. The day after that, I started in the morning and worked all day.  My sister slept through most of it, with me waking her up on schedule to eat and take her medication.  With only one patient, though, the nurse had plenty of time to write.  By the time I went home ten days later, my sister was on the mend and I had 50,000 words of the book, plus a rough sketch of the remaining pages to be written.  Voilà.  A writer’s retreat.

I did it on a much smaller scale with my recent trip to California.  I went out to visit friends, who are also writers.  In the lulls between eating, drinking wine, and chatting, there was writing.  I didn’t write an entire novel, but I did manage to squeeze in 6,000 words on Lie, Lay, Lain.  (Of course, to be honest, most of this writing took place in a cottage by the sea, but hey, I never ruled that out as an option.)

It’s all about taking opportunities where they come.  What’s your favorite unofficial writer’s retreat?

By the sea

By the sea

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For those of you left wondering, “What happened with the paramedic?” after last Tuesday’s teaser, this is simply … a further tease.  What can I say?  It takes more than a few chapters for this particular incident to unfold.

***

Olivia was the kind of girl who never managed to break the ice, even at parties where she knew everyone. The paramedic, on the other hand, leaned out of the ambulance window every day for weeks and said, “Morning.” Or sometimes, “Hey there.”

Down by the river

Down by the river

Startled out of her pre-dawn reverie each time, Olivia nodded, half-smiled, and kept walking. She walked every morning for an hour, looping around the river park trail before the sun made it up over the tree line. The ambulance parked at the edge of the river, its driver leaning back in the seat, arm propped on the window. He had been parking there as long as Olivia’s resolution to lose weight had been in effect and for all she knew, before that. She supposed he was on his break.

Olivia had finally accepted the exchange of greetings as an unavoidable annoyance. Then one morning, as she stepped off the curb to cross the street and start her walk, he opened the ambulance door, got out of the cab and walked toward her. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, he seemed to be waiting for her to cross the street and reach him. Or perhaps he hadn’t noticed that he was standing directly in her path. Except that he was looking at her.

“Good morning,” he said.

Olivia dropped her gaze, giving her half-smile and trying to step to the side, between the trash can and him. He side-stepped to match her and then there was no place to go. She flushed. She hated games like that, where someone was made to feel stupid and embarrassed. Resigned, she muttered, “Morning.”

“Nice and hot, huh?” he said.

“Global warming. That’s what they say.” She hesitated, her foot seeking the curb, trying to gauge if there was enough room to squeeze past without touching him.

“Yeah, you right.”

Olivia wondered if maybe he were a little “off.” Touched, as her grandmother said. He had the hint of an accent, something exotic to Tampa. When he said hot it sounded like hawt. New Jersey, maybe? Belatedly she felt nervous. There it was, still practically dark, and she was alone.

“You new to Tampa? Dis neighborhood?” he asked. He rocked back on his heels like he was enjoying himself. Daring a quick glance at him, she guessed at a nice tan and hazel eyes, maybe? Hard to tell in the pre-dawn. Sort of swarthy–Italian?  His hair was cropped short, military style, too short to really have a color. Dark blond or brown, she guessed. Embroidered on the right side of his uniform shirt was his name: James.

“Neither. I’ve lived here my whole life.” Just the sort of personal information you shouldn’t offer to crazy strangers.

“Really? I only been seeing you for a few months. Not before that.” He should have been embarrassed or uneasy–she was trying to make it difficult for him–but he didn’t look it.

Olivia stepped up on the sidewalk and, bracing herself for it, pushed past him, her shoulder brushing against his.

“Excuse me, James, I need to go for my walk.” That at least startled him. He looked down at his chest and laughed.

Behind her, he said, “James is my last name. I’m a paramedic, not a quick-lube guy.”

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