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Archive for September, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I have this folder in my writing file called “Random Crap.” In it is every random story idea I ever had. Some of them are spindly little affairs, a few hundred words before something even shinier caught my eye. Others are a bit fleshier, tens of thousands of words written before I gave up or moved on or ran out of time. (It’s true! Some ideas come with expiration dates and if I can’t make them work before the buzzer sounds, I’m out of luck.)

Other items in the Random Crap folder are things I just haven’t gotten around to, but hope to some day.

So for today’s teaser, you’re getting Random Crap, but I’m not going to tell you which kind. It could be that there’s a half-written novel that goes with this, or it could be this is all she wrote.

***

“I am just what they told you I am.  It’s true.”  The boy smiled, his teeth glinting white in his tanned face. He had plucked the thought, the question from her head.  “The collar, no.  Your Elders are not magicians. They have no powers to constrain me.  They’re just paranoid old men.  Whatever power you had is gone now and it was never in these chains.”

As he reached up to open it, Yerma saw that it was unlocked.  Perhaps had been unlocked for days as he awaited an opportunity.  What held it together was a red silk thread.  He snapped it, but instead of tossing the collar aside, he held it out to her like an offering.

“Now,” he said.  A pair of young mercenaries grasped her arms.  Men who had been hired to guard the boy, to protect her. She didn’t bother to resist.  They were enormous men with meaty rough hands.  She would only do herself injury to fight them.

“You came to kill me, priestess, but you will never reach Kanheral in time for the Kinging festival.”

Yerma assumed he meant to kill her, but he only snapped the collar in place around her neck.  From the front of her robes, he retrieved the key, where she had carried it all along, safe.  Even when she slept.  She thought of the night she had drunk too much wine.  Or thought she had drunk too much wine.  Drugged.  Who had taken the key and returned it?

He plucked that thought out of her mind, too.  Gesturing to the shadows behind him, he said, “Come to me, my beloved, and see your loyalty rewarded.”

From behind him came Nathor–slender as a reed, wide-eyed but proud.  She gave Yerma a triumphant smile.  An underling rising up against her mistress.  A dagger in the heart.

“Say farewell to your mother, Nathor.  You will not see her again.”

Nathor frowned, searching for metaphor in his words.

“Ah,” he said tenderly.  “She didn’t know she was your daughter?  Of course, you would not have risen to your high place if you had claimed her.  And yet you kept her so close to you.”

Nathor’s face tensed and her lip quivered.  The triumphant look was replaced with something much darker.  It was the nature of betrayal–it required hatred from any wellspring.  She would learn to hate Yerma, because she would need to, to soothe the guilt of betrayal.

in the desert

in the desert

“Let us go.” As the boy turned to go, he cast his gaze over the contents of the tent.  Yerma watched him calculating the likelihood of her escape, before he brought his foot to rest against the brass water ewer.  He smiled as he rocked the ewer toward her, rocked it back.  Back and forth a dozen times until it toppled, the sour desert water gushing into the thick wool rug of the tent floor, and below that into the thirsty sand.  He wetted his fingers in the rapidly absorbed puddle and reached for the lamp wick.

In the darkness, she heard their departure. Laughter, champing horses, and then a steady count: “Heave one.  Heave two.  Heave three.  And over.”

The roof of the tent crashed down on her, knocked her to the ground, the stone anvil striking her gut and forcing the air from her.  There were two other blows on her back: the other tent poles being knocked in, the rest of the tent’s weight toppling on her.  When she got her breath back, she struggled to roll off the anvil, although the tent pressing on her made it like swimming through sand.  When she managed it and lay flat beside the anvil with the weight of the tent off her, she felt the damp of the water soaking into her robes.  Water lost, life lost, that was the lesson of the desert.  She would learn it.  That was his intention.  She would lie there unable to move, pinned down and chained, dying slowly without water.

The weight of the tent was oppressive, steadily absorbing the heat of the air and slowly the damp wool that sustained her was leeched dry by the sand under it.  In the broiling heat and darkness, she prepared to die, parsing the pieces of her regrets and successes.  She remembered the slack lips of the girl she had allowed herself to dote on.  How foolish she’d been to trust Nathor just because she was her daughter.  Foolish to imagine that blood unknown made loyalty.  Perhaps if she had told the girl, but there had been too much risk in that.

Yerma couldn’t gauge time, beyond the vague shifts in temperature and the steady loss of moisture, but she believed it had been three days.  As quickly as the weight had fallen on her, it was drawn away and light pierced the thin flesh of her eyelids.  Rough hands grabbed her shoulder, turned her onto her back.  Thick fingers thrust into the gap between the collar and her neck.  Struggling to swallow, to speak, she opened her eyes.

The rough hands released her, dropped her, and there was a sharp hissing sound of surprise.  She pursed her lips, an unspoken plea forming there.

“Water?  I’ll wager that,” said the voice that went with the rough hands.  A Jento mercenary.  She squinted, brought him into focus–dirty face, dirtier hair, and filthy black fingers that he slipped under the collar again.  Of course, he had come to finish her.  The gold collar must be worth a great deal.  Enough gold and jewels to set a man like that for life.

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I recently discovered something a little odd: I write faster when I need to pee.  I am capable of writing quickly anyway, when I have a story that makes me feel like my head is on fire. I wrote the first draft of Ugly and the Beast in six ten-hours days.

I had another of those episodes, as the THIRTEEN project burned through my brain like a wildfire. I stayed up late to write, snuck time at work to write, and think-wrote every spare moment of the day, when I was walking to work, showering, driving, chewing food. The first thirty thousand words took less than four days.

Gotta Go

Gotta Go

But needing to pee? It actually produces words even more quickly. It sneaks up on me. I’m at the computer, pounding away at the keyboard and I can’t stop. I don’t dare interrupt. I don’t want to interrupt. At some point, I realize I’m writing faster, typing faster, holding my breath, and crossing my legs as a preventative measure.

Of course, I have to get up and pee, and when I come back, the story picks back up, but it loses some of that strange sense of urgency. As though my body had become convinced that I had to finish the story before I could empty my bladder.

I know, you appreciate the over-sharing. It’s one of the hazards of knowing me. Eventually, inevitably, I’ll say something inappropriate.

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Here is what’s likely to be my last teaser for THIRTEEN and it’s one of those sections that’s all about breaking with the received wisdom of writing.  Show, don’t tell is the mantra, but the truth is: sometimes telling works better.  Or at least it has its advantages.  The narrator of this scene is the county sheriff, who provides a slightly different perspective on Kellen, and whose interpretation of events are just as important as the events.  The sheriff represents the perspective of “the community” which is pretty darn hard to show to any effect.  You’ll let me know if I’m wrong, though, won’t you?

***

I’ve known Junior Barfoot his whole life.  I never expected him to grow up to be much, because both his parents were as worthless as they could be, but he wasn’t much more trouble than most boys his age. He did some joyriding and some motorcycle racing, but nothing too bad.

I thought he might turn things around when he went into high school. His freshman year he joined the football team and it turned out he had some skill at that. Even at that age, he was the size of a house, but he could hustle when he needed to, bust through the line of scrimmage and flatten the quarterback before the ball could get into play. The third game into the season he carried the ball for a touchdown. He plowed the opposing team’s receiver under and just by chance managed to intercept the ball at the same time. I don’t think he expected that to happen. As big as he was he probably could’ve walked the ball down without getting tackled, but Junior ran it. Forty yards at a dead sprint. The teams we played that year, those boys got shaky in the knees when he walked on the field.

It could have been one of those inspirational sports stories, if it hadn’t fallen apart after homecoming. We got our usual call out to the Barfoots. Domestic disturbance. I figured it would be what it always was, Barfoot beating on his wife and the two kids left at home, Junior and his sister, who was a couple years older but retarded. We did it often enough, we had it down to a routine. Break it up, arrest Barfoot, throw him in a cell until he sobered up and promised he’d never do it again. Which usually lasted a few weeks, maybe a few months if we were lucky.

Arrested

Arrested

That night, when we got to the house, I could see that was how it had started. Mrs. Barfoot was in the kitchen crying, with her housedress half torn off and her nose bloody. The daughter was standing with her, looking scared. In the living room, I expected to find Barfoot going at Junior, but it was the other way around. Junior was pounding on him and screaming, “I’m gonna fucking kill you!” He did his best. It took me, two deputies and a volunteer fireman to pry Junior off his father, cuff him and haul him out to the squad car.

I thought that might finally make Mrs. Barfoot leave that vicious SOB, but when he got out of the hospital, she took him back. They sent Junior to stay with her family in Oklahoma. That’s when he started going by Kellen.

He came back two years later and almost immediately got into trouble, and kept getting into trouble for a number of years. I never saw someone who could tear up a bar the way he could. When you got called out, you could tell if he’d been involved in the fight. Furniture would be broken and people would be bleeding and crying, looking like they’d been hit by a train.

I knew Junior did some work for Ewan Quinn, but it seemed to me he’d settled down. He’d finished sowing his wild oats, and he hadn’t killed anybody, raped anybody, or burned anything down, which put him a few steps ahead of some other people in town. A few steps ahead of the rest of his family. He had the one brother in prison in Iowa, doing twenty to life for an armed robbery that went south. The other brother dead in a drunk driving accident. The sister, well, she turned up pregnant when she was sixteen, nobody knew who the father was. I don’t know for a fact that it was her father or one of her brothers, but you have to wonder. I don’t believe it was Junior, though. He never struck me as that kind. A blessing that baby was stillborn, but when Mrs. Barfoot died, they had to put the daughter in a state home.

When Junior went in partners with Dan Cutcheon, I was relieved. If Cutcheon would take him on, I figured I could stop worrying about him. Maybe he’d be a law-abiding citizen after all.

So that day, when Delbert brought Junior into the station in cuffs, I thought, “What in Hell now?”

That’s what I said, too: “Damn it, Junior, I haven’t had you down here in four years. What in Hell happened?”

“It’s the Quinn girl,” Delbert said. Junior didn’t say a word.

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I finally finished a solid first draft of the new project, so here’s another excerpt from it. This is a bit further into the story. Wavy is twelve here, and in case it’s not obvious, Ewan is her father and Sandy is Ewan’s girlfriend.

***

“You can pick out the make-up you like and I’ll help you put it on.” Sandy came toward the make-up table. “You need something pale. Pink, because you’re so fair. This is a good color, this lipstick. It’s called Angel’s Kiss.”

She said it so sing-songy, so tempting. Wavy put her finger on the box full of brilliant blue and green squares. Like a box of paints only more beautiful.

“That’s eye shadow. Now see, a lot of people would say because you’re so fair you need a lot of eye make-up, but you’re a natural beauty. When you’re older you’ll have to stay out of the sun or you’ll wrinkle.”

Angel's Kiss

Angel's Kiss

Sandy showed Wavy how to use the little wand to smudge eye shadow on–a pretty dark purple that Sandy said was probably too dark for Wavy’s coloring, but that Wavy liked. The soft, tickly brush to put blush on. The waxy lipstick she dabbed on with her finger to not touch the tube to her mouth.

Sandy smiled in the mirror as Wavy did it. Wavy watched herself, her middle finger smoothing the pink stuff on her lips. She looked different. Her eyes looked strange with the make-up on.

“Don’t you look pretty? Oh and look at your ring. Where did that come from? Are you–are you supposed to be wearing that?” Sandy frowned at the ring.

“Kellen.” It was the one word that was always safe to say.

“Kellen? Did he give you that?”

“We’re getting married.”

Sandy giggled and clapped her hand over her mouth.

“Are you teasing me? Because you know, that’s the only thing you’ve ever said to me besides ‘no’ so I don’t know if you’re serious or if you’re just messing with me.”

Wavy shook her head and did what Kellen did: kissed the ring.

“Oh my god, really? Can I–can I look at it?” When Wavy offered her hand, Sandy leaned over it and stared, blinking. “Wow. That’s gorgeous. Kellen really bought that for you? That’s your engagement ring? He must really love you if he bought you that. So you–you love him, too?”

Wavy nodded and Sandy looked funny. Like she was going to cry, but she rubbed her nose and laughed.

“That’s nice. That’s really nice. You’re lucky. He must love you a lot.”

And then they both heard it: Ewan, calling down the hallway, “Sandy?”

Wavy shook her head, but Sandy answered: “Yeah, baby?”

There was no way to escape and he was almost outside the door, saying, “Where have you been? I gotta get on the road. Kellen’s waiting on me.”

The only choice was the closet. Wavy stepped into it, but it was so full she could only wriggle deeper into the clothes with no time to close the door. Crouching down, holding her breath, she watched as the bedroom door opened and Ewan’s legs came in.

“Where are you going?” Sandy said.

“I told you: business.”

“Yeah, but what kind of business?”

“Are you getting smart with me? What’s that mean?”

“Ow,” Sandy said when Ewan shoved her down on the edge of the bed. “I just want to know: is it business or business?”

“I don’t need Kellen to help me take care of business.”

“Asshole.”

Ewan grabbed her hair and pulled it. The way he did to Mama.

“Come on, baby. Don’t be that way before I get on the road. Why don’t you just do a little something for me before I go? Something to keep my mind on you.”

“I don’t want to.”

He let go of her hair and put his hands on his belt.

“You don’t want to or you won’t? ‘Cause maybe Dee’s not too busy for me.”

Sandy didn’t answer. She looked down at her hands on her lap and then she slid off the bed onto her knees.

“That’s right, Sandy, baby. Why don’t you suck it the way I like?”

Wavy had seen it before. In Kellen’s magazines. At a party. Once she saw Mama do it with a man she didn’t know. But Ewan wasn’t nice. He held Sandy’s hair too tight. He made her gag and say, “Ow, don’t, Ewan. I’m doing it the way you like.” Still it was the same and it made Wavy’s stomach nervous. The mouth was a dirty place. A dangerous place. A way for people to get into you, which was what Ewan was doing to Sandy. That was why she let him make her cry, because he was in her. The same way he was in Mama.

The only good thing was that he didn’t see Wavy. After he made Sandy cry, he pulled up his pants and left. When Wavy stepped out of the closet, Sandy was sitting on the bed, wiping her eyes. She looked up and said, “Oh, Jesus, honey. I forgot you were here. Did you–did you see that?”

Wavy shrugged.

Sandy laughed and sniffled. “I guess you’re getting your education tonight. It’s not always like that. He’s good to me. He just gets in these moods.”

Wavy nodded. She knew all about Ewan’s moods.

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