Tag Archives: stories

Middle Children (or Books, really)

Root, book two of my Dormant trilogy, is completed and at my publishers! It’s bittersweet letting go of a story I’ve been absorbed in for so many months. However, it’s time to release Root into the wild and see how it fares.

Recently a friend commented that the middle book was usually her least favorite of a trilogy. It got me thinking about trilogies in general and middle books specifically. As I ticked through some of my favorite trilogies I realized that frequently my favorite book is the middle book. (The same holds true for movie trilogies in many cases.)

In the first book, the author has done the work of introducing the reader to world and the characters who inhabit that world. There’s often a lot of world building and character-building. Always interesting and necessary but sometimes the action can get a little lost. In book two of a trilogy, the assumption is the audience read the first book, so the author can spend a few lines on the events from book one, and then dive right into the action. The action is usually leading up to the climatic events in book three without having to resolve everything.

In no particular order here are some trilogies where the middle book is my favorite (no spoilers – though it was hard!):

The Tony Foster Trilogy by Tanya Huff. The middle book is Smoke and Mirrors, which takes place almost entirely in a haunted house. I relish Tony’s view of the world and he’s so accepting of the events that unfold around him that it makes scary scenes more enjoyable. This is my favorite in the series for it’s humor, tension, and deep character development.

The Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. The middle book is Lirael. The focus shifts from the characters in book one and ups the stakes for the Old Kingdom’s’ survival. Lirael and her companion, the Disreputable Dog, are delightful together and I cheer for Lirael’s hopeful success in achieving her desires. I love this book because we get to know more about the folks in the Old Kingdom, Lirael is an appealing character and her problems feel familiar, even though I’ll never have the opportunity to be a seer.

Daughter of Smoke and Bones trilogy by Laini Taylor. The middle book is Days of Blood and Starlight. We know Karou’s secret and now all hell is about to break loose between two worlds. Taylor finds a good balance between our world and the alternate fantasy world.

One notable exception is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – The Two Towers is my least favorite. Though, I do love the Ents and it establishes Pippin as my favorite hobbit.

Does this hold true for some of your favorite trilogies? Let me know in the comments!

Now, about the third book…

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan twitter photo

 

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

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Filed under books, fiction, LeeAnn McLennan, musings, writing

Three Blind Mice

By Jay Duret

Three Blind Mice

“Charles, you’re late,” Krug said. “We were supposed to get going 20 minutes ago.” Krug was standing impatiently in the driveway in front of his large home. He was wearing a dark blue fleece vest with a Goldman Sachs logo on his breast.

Charles got out of the driver’s seat of the new Audi wagon and came forward with his hand outstretched in front of him like he was carrying a rolled up map. His smile was big and lop-sided, very close to goofy. He grabbed Krug’s hand and gave him a bro hug, whispering even before he left the clinch, “it was Joyce. Couldn’t get her moving. Ha Ha. You been there man, you know.” Charles smiled again as he separated, this time conspiratorially.

Joyce was now out of the Audi too. She was smiling and kissing, her blond ponytail hanging down the back of her puffy Patagonia jacket. She had a Starbucks in one hand and a dog leash with no dog attached curled in her other.

While she finished kissing Krug hello, Charles popped the hatch on the Audi and two Spingers bounded out and began rocketing around the driveway and yard.

“Damn,” Joyce said. She turned from Krug to Charles but he was deep in the back of the Audio, rummaging, rummaging, only his butt visible.

Joyce sighed and headed after the Springers, slightly twirling the leash she was carrying.

Charles backed out of the rear of the Audi and turned back to Krug, keeping his voice low. “Kruger. I need a little cover here. Make sure Joyce isn’t looking. Am I good?”

Krug said, “she’s trying to get your dogs on the leash. Probably take her a week.”

“Great.” Charles reached in the back of the Audi again and held up a gray steel box the size of a shoebox. “Gotta dispose of the evidence.” Another, even more lopsided, grin.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a trap. Have-A-Heart. For the mice.”

“What mice? Are there mice in there?”

“Uh-Huh.” “What are you doing with mice?”

“Shhhh. Don’t let Joyce hear you. She is scared of mice.”

“You’re kidding. Joyce is scared?”

“Don’t let her fool you. She can kick your ass but she is the original stand-on-a-chair type when it comes to mice.”

“So why are you driving them around?”

“That’s the point, Krug. That’s the exact point I am making…” Charles stopped the sentence there and completed it without using another word, just with his sheepish lopsided smile.

Krug didn’t seem to understand the point. “Charles.” Krug said. “Let’s start again. Why are there mice in a trap in my driveway?” Krug said.

“It’s Lorie’s fault.”

“Your nanny?”

“Yeah, we have been having a little mouse problem at the house. They are running around the kitchen in the morning when she is making tea and it freaks her out.”

“She doesn’t like to have breakfast with rodents? She must be a real downer.”

“Oh she is nice as shit but she is a Brit. She doesn’t like mice.”

“Neither does Joyce and she is no Brit.”

“Yeah the thing is Lorie sees them more than Joyce cause she gets up so early. They are everywhere in the morning – its like one of those Wild Kingdom videos down there when the sun first comes up. Anyway one morning she gets fed up and tells Joyce that she going back to Sheffield if we don’t get rid of the mice.”

“That sounds serious.” Krug nodded his head slowly.

“So Joyce calls the exterminator. Fortunately I get wind of it, and I cut that off at the nub.”

“Cause you like mice running around your kitchen?”

“Oh the mice don’t matter, I just don’t like exterminators, have you ever seen what they charge for walking around and shooting that shit into your baseboards? Its crazy. And a complete waste. I mean its just mice, Krug. They aren’t very hard to outwit. They are not exactly brain surgeons, you know what I mean?” Charles beamed a broad and happy smile, obviously delighted at the thought of the pitiful size of mice brains.

“So you bought a trap.”

“Hoollian’s Hardware. Fourteen dollars; two for $25. They are indestructible. I bait them with peanut butter.”

Joyce was across the yard and had managed to get one Springer on the leash, but the smaller one was continuing to elude her and his cavorting had encouraged the one she had captured to run in circles so the leash wrapped around her legs like a bolo.

“And so you caught them.” Krug said.

“I have been catching them no problem for weeks. I been getting one or two every night. I used up half a jar of peanut butter so far, Ha Ha.”

“What’d you do with them?”

“Got ‘em out of the house and let them loose down the street. You know over near the Hanford’s where they could run into the arboretum, but after a while I started to suspect that I was catching the same ones over and over again.”

“How did you figure that?”

“They still had peanut butter on their fur.”

“Not the only ones that aren’t brain surgeons. They were probably back in your kitchen before you were.”

“Yeah yeah, you sound like Joyce…”

“I doubt it.”

“…so I decided I should take them further from home.” Charles looked up at Krug’s quizzical expression, coughed slightly, and said, “you know, that way they won’t come back.”

“So you brought them here? What are you smoking?”

“You got the park behind your house.”

“You actually think you are going to let them loose in my backyard? You are frickin’ crazy. I don’t want mice any more than you do.”

“No no, Kruger. It’s not like that. They just know the way to my house. They won’t get in yours.”

“Forget it. Take them down to Valley Green if you want. Or better, just put them in your toilet and flush. Put them out of their misery.”

“You sound like Joyce. There is no reason to be vicious. They are just mice.” Charles lifted the trap to show off the mice and then his expression changed. “Shit!”

“What?”

“They aren’t in there. Shit!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They must have gotten loose.”

“In the Audi?”

“Oh Shit!”

Across the yard, Joyce had extracted herself from the leash and tied up the other dog.  Now she was coming across the yard toward the car, the two Springers surging ahead of her, pulling the leash taut.

Charles opened the passenger door of the Audi and, as he did, a small gray mouse literally leapt off of the front seat and landed on the driveway directly in front of the two men. There was a short but timeless pause as they took each other’s measure but then the dogs saw the mouse and they began baying and charging forward, nearly yanking Joyce off her feet. The mouse scampered directly into Krug’s open garage.

“Jesus!” Krug screamed. “Charles, get that thing out of there.”

The dogs raced after the mouse, pulling Joyce into the garage. Even from in there, she could be heard yelling, “CHARLES WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”

“Oh shit,” Charles said,  “Kruger you gotta help me out here.”

“What do you mean, help you out? I have got your goddamn mouse in my house now.”

“No it’s just in your garage. That isn’t the problem.”

“That isn’t a problem? To me,” Krug said, “that is a problem. It’s a big stinking problem. Why isn’t that a problem?”

“Okay, Okay. It might be a problem. But it isn’t the big problem.” Charles stopped and looked at Krug. He wasn’t smiling now. “There’s two more. They might still be in the car. Joyce is going to flip out. You gotta help me here. Just keep her away from the car until I can get rid of them.”

Krug shook his head. He grumbled. He muttered. He shook his head again and he kept shaking it all the way into the garage.

Charles opened the driver’s door and he went around from door to door throwing the contents of the Audi onto the driveway.

Inside the garage, scrambling sounds. Overturning flower pots, falling shovels. Dogs yapping. Krug cursing. Joyce cursing.

After a few minutes Krug came out alone.

“Where is Joyce?”

“She went out the back door. She saw Lyle in the back and she wanted to tell her what you did.”

“A diversion. Great work, Krug.”

“I don’t think she was very happy, Chaz-Boy. You are in deep shit.”

“Yeah, at least she didn’t realize there might still be two in the car.”

“Jesus, Charles.”

“I know. I have looked all over. They are probably gone but I can’t be sure. If you can keep her occupied I will make sure. She is just dropping me off on the way to the mall. Can’t have a mouse pop out while she is at the wheel. This Audi is practically new.”

At that moment Joyce and the dogs came out from behind the garage. She was yelling even before she reached them. “I have seen some stupid things before but I have never seen anything so stupid as this. What are you thinking, Charlie?” She had wrapped the dog leash around her fist multiple times so the dogs were right at her feet and as she walked to Charles they barked and scratched as if they were part of an entourage. “You brought a mouse to the Krug’s? I mean seriously? Are you a moron? WHO DOES THAT?”

“Honey, honey…”

“Don’t you Honey, Honey me. What were you thinking of?”

“I was just going to get rid…”

“In the Krug’s garage?” Joyce focused for the first time on Krug. He was by the Audi, as frozen as the mouse when it jumped off the front seat. “Krug,” She said, “I am so sorry. This is all inexcusable. The moron here will get that mouse out of your garage if it takes him all night, won’t you Charles?”

Krug mumbled that it was all right. He would just leave the doors open and the mouse would let himself out. No big deal.

But Joyce had now noticed that the contents of the Audi were spread out on the driveway. She didn’t say anything. She looked at Charles and gestured to the items with her chin. She raised her eyebrows. She waited.

Charles filled the pause, “Honey, I was just making sure that the mice were all gone.”

“MICE? Are you kidding? There was more than one?”

“Three, but no worries. They are gone. Long gone.”

“You had three mice in the car? While we were driving here?”

“Long gone, Honey, long gone…”

“Did it occur to…” Joyce bit off her response. She gave Charles a murderous stare. She took a deep breath. “Krug would you give us a minute?”

Krug didn’t need any further prompting. He walked swiftly into the garage and then into the house. He slipped into the kitchen and then surreptitiously positioned himself by the side of the kitchen window so he could see into the driveway. From that angle he couldn’t hear but he could see Charles shuffling sheepishly from foot to foot as Joyce bellowed.

There was a Kleenex box on the driveway. Joyce kicked it like it was a football and it sailed up on the hood of the Audi and lingered for an instant in equipoise before sliding off onto the driveway again. Then she pulled out her cell phone and yelled into it for a few seconds and then she turned back and yelled at Charles again. After a few minutes of yelling Charles started to put the stuff on the driveway back into the car.

Krug watched the scene from the window for a few more minutes then another car drove up and Joyce got in and drove away. Charles continued to restore the contents of the Audi.

After a few minutes, Krug went back out to the driveway. Charles was closing the dogs in the hatchback. He gave Krug a sheepish, lopsided, smile. “Don’t even know why she was so pissed. She really went off the deep end.”

Krug was conciliatory. “Yeah.”

“It’ll blow over. I am not worried about it. She’ll get over it by the time she gets back to the house.”

“She was pretty steamed.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll say. Just hope the other mice aren’t still in the car.”

“I thought you said they all ran off.”

“Here is hoping. I can’t really tell. I tried to check everywhere but it’s hard to see under the seats. I guess they did. I mean why wouldn’t they? What a pain.” Charles looked up. “It’s all Lorie’s fault. Those mice weren’t harming anything. And it isn’t like I didn’t step up to the plate and deal with them.” Charles shook his head at the injustice of it all. “Well, Krug, sorry about it. Guess I better go home and make sure that the mice are gone.

“Yeah. No worries. We’ll catch up next week.”

*          *          *

Krug was in his driveway when Charles pulled up. Charles was driving a Toyota with a Budget Rent a Car license plate in the front. The door swung open and Charles started to get out.

“Not so fast.” Krug shouted, “you got any mice in there?”

“Ha Ha. Very funny.”

Krug hummed, “three blind mice, see how they run…”

“Give a rest, Kruger. I am a little sick of hearing about that whole mice business.”

“What, are you still in the doghouse?”

“Yeah ‘fraid so.”

“You are kidding. That had to be three weeks ago.”

“I know.”

“You can’t be in the doghouse that long over a stupid mouse. I mean it was my garage.”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, three weeks is a long time.”

Charles gave his sheepish smile. “There were some aggravating circumstances.”

“Like?”

“All the mice didn’t actually escape from the car.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I mean I was sure they did. I even got a flashlight and looked everywhere.”

“So how did you find out? Did a little bugger jump out while you were driving?”

“Naw. Worse.”

“How could it be worse than that?”

“Trust me.”

“Oh man, you gotta tell me.”

“You know what’s weird, at first I didn’t even think of the mouse. I thought it was my gym bag. I kept meaning to take it out of the car but I was really busy and I kept forgetting.  I could tell it was a little ripe, you know what I mean?”

Ripe?”

“Yeah at first. It was just that sort of smell. But then after 3 or 4 days it got a lot worse. Driving downtown in the morning, I started wondering if maybe I had hit a squirrel or something, but I couldn’t see anything. Then I was coming home one afternoon and it was really hot so I turned on the air conditioning and it was horrible. I mean I had to stop the car and get out…

“What the hell?”

“Yeah, I guess one of those mice crawled into a little duct or hose or something…”

“And died in there?”

“That’s what I am thinking…”

“Oh my god. You have a dead rotting mouse carcass in your air-conditioning?”

“Yeah. I mean, it was wretched. Like make-you-gag kind of wretched.”

Krug looked over at the Toyota. “Let me guess, you had to take the Audi in for a mouse-exhumation?”

“Yeah. It was really bad. Wouldn’t air out. I mean nasty.”

“Can they get it out?”

“They are saying yes, but it’s going to cost a shitload and I don’t know that I believe them. I sure hope so. That car is almost new.”

“Charles, Charles, Charles.” Krug shook his head at the wonder of it all.

“Yeah.” Charles agreed.

“But there is one thing I don’t get.” Krug said. “How come you are still in the doghouse?  Joyce must have felt that you got just what you deserved, having to drive around in your Audi full of dead mouse stink. Perfect punishment. She’s probably laughing her ass off.”

“One problem.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s her Audi.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. He blogs at www.jayduret.com. His comic novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press.

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You Are What You Ink by LeeAnn Elwood McLennan

I’m getting my fifth tattoo today. Some of you may smirk at the measly amount of ink adorning my body while others will wince with dismay at the whole idea. To tattoo or not tattoo — a great way to get people talking, isn’t it?

800px-Alice_05a-1116x1492

Tattoo # 1

When folks hear I’m getting a new tattoo, the natural question is what am I getting? True to writerly form, all of my tattoos are literary — specifically from Alice in Wonderland. My ink-marked road began back in 1992 with the Caterpillar smoking his hookah tattooed onto my left thigh. A few years after that, I balanced things out with the Mad Hatter on my right thigh. Later on, I added the Cheshire Cat on my back and more recently, a playing card painting roses on my foot. For my next tattoo, I’m branching out into Through the Looking Glass for the White Queen, along with her wonderful quote ‘sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’.

I considered the Red Queen but as I explained to a friend, the Red Queen has taken on menacing connotations since appearing in Through the Looking Glass. Anyone who has read Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars series or watched Resident Evil knows what I mean. I’m not sure how I feel about putting something sinister on my body. Would it imply I’m sinister? Reveal my dark side to the world?

This got me thinking about what drives folks to choose what they have tattooed on their skin. If you ask someone about her tattoo, you’ll hear a story in return. The story could be about the design — be it a Chinese character denoting a name, an Egyptian symbol for Osiris drawn on a napkin at a bar by a tipsy friend, or a favorite piece of art reimagined just for you. The tattooed person might choose to reminisce about the experience — perhaps the ink was drawn by a renowned artist, maybe the tattoo shop clientele was rougher than expected tinging the experience with a little fear, or possibly close friends came along as support during the session. Sometimes the story is about why she got the tattoo — it could be in memory of a parent, to commemorate a momentous event, or a reminder to be strong. The stories are as varied as the human experience.

A tattoo is more than ink cut into flesh. For most folks their tattoos express how they think of themselves, who they present to the world. I’m a fantasy author and one of the first stories I remember loving was Alice’s crazy journey though Wonderland. Tattooing her world on my body tells the world a little bit about who I am and what I like. Some folks want original art on their bodies, while others sport family portraits. A gorgeous design of flowers twining around your arms could lure you to the tattoo parlor chair while your friend would rather have words from a favorite movie coiling around her arms.

Oftentimes, a non-tattooed person will mutter, “I don’t know what I’d get” — I think that’s a sound reason not to get a tattoo. You’d better like what you pick — because it’s going to hurt and be permanent. Tattoo removal notwithstanding.

Tribal designs, Chinese symbols, family photos, movie characters, album covers, favorite foods, a lover’s name, a child’s birthdate — anything can be mined for ideas. If someone chooses a menacing, evil design, be it historical, religious, literary, or simply violent, he is embracing a philosophy, declaring an affiliation with something disturbing. It’s a deliberate choice.

Of course, the Red Queen isn’t all bad in Through the Looking Glass, but she gets bad rap since she’s often confused with the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland. You know, “off with their heads’ — that Queen of Hearts. In fact, The Red Queen even helps Alice become a queen and celebrates with her near the end of the book.

Mmmm — perhaps # 6 will be the Red Queen after all. A kinder version of the character.

I’d love to hear your stories about your tattoos in the comments.

With thanks to Amber Hettman for the title. In addition, a shout-out to Brynn Sladky at Blacklist Tattoo (http://blacklisttattoo.com) for designing and inking tattoo number five.

Tattoo # 5 or at least the original design before Brynn worked her magic

Tattoo # 5 or at least the original design before Brynn worked her magic. She added the ‘six impossible things ‘quote as well as some other wonderful details.

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

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The Last Taxpayer

By Jay Duret

The Last Taxpayer

The two men were in the locker room. The tall one was stripping down after a sweaty workout. The short bearded one sat on a stool, slowly and tiredly pulling off his work socks, getting ready for his session in the gym.

The tall one said, “Rodge, I never see you. How long you in for?”

“Came in yesterday, leaving tomorrow.”

“Three days. In and out. That’s a quick trip.”

“And that’s all I am gonna be doing. Gotta be careful.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s quick but I get a lot done. Tues to Thursday, that’s most of the week. And it only counts as three days.”

“How many can you have?”

“There is no bright line. That’s why I have to be careful.”

“I thought 183 was the bright line.”

“Yeah 183 and you are definitely screwed. But you can be screwed with a lot less. The only thing you can actually count on is that less than 45 days is okay.”

“Really?”

“But anything beyond 45 and, well, you just don’t know.”

“Seems harsh.”

“You really have to be careful.”

“I guess.”

Rodge said, “Trust me. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the line, wherever it gets drawn. We are talking beaucoup dollars.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

Beaucoup. If it weren’t so much, I wouldn’t worry. I love San Francisco.  Mostly. I’d be here all the time, but it is just impossible. Can’t take that kind of a risk.”

“Well at least you can get to the gym. You keep your membership?”

“Yeah, they let me. But I have been working so hard with the travel and everything I don’t feel that much like working out.”

“Dude, don’t say that. You used to be fanatic #1.”

“Gotta be realistic. I fly in and I’m going to a meeting straight from the airport and then they are all stacked up for 3 straight days. I hardly get any downtime, even at night. Dinner meetings every night and then back to the airport. It’s wearing me down, frankly.”

“Dude you gotta manage your life better. Gotta take care of yourself.”

“I know. I know. But when?”

“What about when you are home?”

“That’s just as bad cause I have all the follow-up when I get back and as soon as that’s done I have to start preparing for the next trip – I am coming at least twice a month.”

“That’s gonna get you way over 45 days, Dude. Three days a week, twice a month? That’s more than seventy days.”

“I know. I know. It’s stressing me out. Some days I get palpitations when I think about it. I have to figure out how to cut back.”

“You ever think about coming in disguise?”

Disguise?”

“Yeah I was seeing this program about Robert Durst and he was worried people were following him so he rented an apartment dressed up as a woman. You should do that.”

“You are saying I should come to San Francisco in drag?”

“It is San Francisco. Nobody’d give a damn.”

“Claudia might.”

“What does she think about you being away so much?”

“She misses the city. She wants to come. She keeps saying that I have got her in a Bedouin prison.”

“Bedouin prison?”

“Cause we live in the desert I guess. I mean I wonder what she wants. We have sun 365 and she has golf with her friends whenever she feels like it.”

“You guys are crazy. You are city people. You should just throw in the towel and buy a house here and pay taxes out the wazoo like everyone else.”

You are crazy. You know how much that will cost me?”

“Beaucoup?”

“Ha Ha. I am not frickkin’ kidding.”

“But it’s for a good purpose. It goes to the schools. You used to be all over the schools. Didn’t you donate big bucks to the children’s scholarship deal?”

“Still do.”

“So pay some more taxes and do the same thing.”

“You are turning into a socialist. I am not giving to the bureaucracy so it can waste 90% of the money before it gets to the kids. I don’t want to give my money to the Teacher’s Union so they can continue to educate kids who can’t read at their grade level. I’ll give my money where it can make a difference.”

“Apparently you feel strongly.”

“You know in Korea on the day they have the big exams for college placement the government stops all the planes in the country from flying while the test is going on. They stop all the planes! For hours! Can you imagine us doing that?”

“Actually no. It’s over the top don’t you think?

“But Bo, that’s the competition! If we don’t keep up we are going to be run under. And it’s happening.”

“The sky is falling is it?”

“This is no Chicken Little business. I am telling you I see it every day. People are living in the past. You should see what is happening in Singapore and Shanghai and Mumbai. They are hungry there. Their workers work hard. They are eating our lunch.”

“I forgot they invented the Mac in Mumbai.”

‘You laugh but you won’t be when your job is being is being done in Malaysia.”

“Malaysia’s getting big in brand management?”

“You’ll see.”

“But how are you fixing that by hiding like outlaws in the Nevada desert and skipping out on your California taxes?” Bo launched into a snatch of Friend of the Devil: “’I lit out from Reno I was trailed by twenty hounds..’ God, I love that song.”

“Very funny. I am doing what we all should be doing. Doesn’t help anyone to feed the Beast. We should starve it. If government was half the size it’d do twice as much.”

“You actually believe that?”

“I do. And you should.”

“Jesus. You’ve become a Republican.”

“I am a Libertarian.”

“You sound like a Republican. What does Claudia think about that? She used to be a flamer.”

“Oh she still is.”

“But she is going along with you on this?”

“She’s not crazy about it but yeah. It’s her money too.”

“How long has she been locked up in the desert with the money?”

“Not funny.”

“Lighten up, Rodge. How long?”

“Four months maybe.”

“That’s all? And she is already climbing the walls?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Reading between the lines, bro.”

“She’ll get used to it. And once the ski season gets here she’ll be in heaven.”

“If we ever have any snow again.”

“Oh come on Bo, don’t start with the climate business. We had more snow in Reno last year than in a decade.”

“Rodge, Rodge, Rodge. Don’t tell me you’ve become a Denier too?”

“Trust me, as soon as the politicians get us to believe that there is climate change they will tell us they have to raise our taxes to pay for it. And it won’t be China and Singapore and Korea who are paying; it’ll be you and me.”

“Actually just me cause you’ll be hiding out in the desert.”

“You’ll be hiding with me when you see what the tax bill looks like. People like you just don’t want to face up what’s going on all around us. You just wait.”

“When did you get this dour? You used to be fun. Well not a lot of fun. But at least mildly entertaining. Now you are all doom and gloom. No wonder Claudia is losing her mind.”

“Women and children can be careless. A man has got to be serious.”

‘Jesus, that’s right out of The Godfather. That’s what Brando says to Michael when he says he doesn’t want to be a puppet for someone else pulling the strings.” Bo stooped, cocked his face to the left and launched a poor imitation of Brando’s scratchy voice, “’Whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that.’ God I love that movie.”

“I am serious.”

“You said that. I just don’t see that running out on your taxes is the sign of a serious man.”

“You’ll see. Remember when we used to do that deal in the restaurant in college? We’d get everybody except one poor guy in on it and then when the check came we’d all bolt at the same time and the one guy who didn’t know would be sitting there with a WTF on his face and he’d have to pay for everybody. Remember?”

“God, that was bad. I can’t believe we ever did that. What little shits we were. Jesus.”

“Hate to tell you this, Bo, but we are still doing it. We never stopped. It’s just not a check at a restaurant anymore. And now you are the last guy. You are that guy.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Rodge got up and stuffed his socks into his gym satchel. He smiled. “And by the way, when you pay the tax bill, leave a little tip. Don’t want them thinking we are cheap at our table.”

“Ha Ha.”

Rodge smiled wide, clearly energized by the exchange. He slapped his locker closed, extracted the key and headed down to the gym for his workout. As he left he sang a bar of the old Janis Joplin song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” He looked back over his shoulder, “God I love that song. Love it.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, is published by Indigo Sea Press

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Why do I Write in the Fantasy Genre?

At recent book reading for Dormant, someone asked  why I write fantasy novels. My gut answer was that I’m all about escapism and what better way to escape than by hiding in another world?

As I thought about it, I realized there’s a longer answer. I write fantasy stories because of the world building, the chance to create the rules and structure the characters inhabit. To me, a good fantasy story balances between describing the world and describing the characters’ journey — it’s not always an actual journey, of course. For that matter, it’s not always another world. Many wonderful fantasy novels take place in our world…with a twist.

In each world, there are rules that define how life works. The rules can relate to magic — does using magic make a sound that other magic users can hear, can only certain people use magic, or are only certain locations magical?  Where does the power comes form — is it an inherit ability, or does it come from a magical object?  Are you born with the power or does it turn on like a flipped switch? Does magic come from a fragile balance between man and nature that can break without explanation?

The writer defines the rules — she must follow those rules or else build the story around why the rules are suddenly suspended. It’s both fun and daunting to face creating a world with certain guidelines. Staying within the rules can be just as frustrating for the writer as it is for the characters. However, rules must exist because if the character can suddenly change within the story to resolve an issue then there is no conflict.

In The Well World series by Jack Chalker, he creates a planet where the rules change geographically by creating hexagonal like worlds with the major world. The rules of one hexagon might allow magic while the next one over doesn’t. Machines work in some hexagons while they don’t in others. It’s one of my favorite series simply because the rules can change so quickly but within the construct of each little world, the rules are absolute. Machines go from useful to lumps of useless metal just by crossing a border, geography deters poisonous gases, and an extreme patriarchal society borders a hive world run by a queen.

Sometimes people assume authors spend time creating the rules before starting to write the story. Obviously, everyone has a different process but many writers develop the rules while writing the story. I began Dormant with some basic rules — you’re born a supernormal with basic package abilities (super speed, super hearing, super strength, etc.), your significant ability manifests at age thirteen and you don’t get new abilities once you’ve grown into the significant ability. This means I can’t decide Olivia’s ability is fire and then add the ability to fly because it would be an easy away to get her out of a sticky situation. Other rules of the supernormal world inhabited by Olivia and her family evolved as I wrote the story.

As I write Root, the second book in the series, I’m having fun defining more rules — for supernormal beasts, for Ben’s mind reading ability, and, well…you’ll just have to see when Root comes out later this year.

What is your favorite fantasy novel and what are its rules/laws?

LeeAnn Elwood McLennan 05 Color (2)LeeAnn Elwood McLennan is the author of Dormant, the first book in the Dormant Trilogy available on http://www.secondwindpublishing.com, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She’s diligently working on Root, book two in the trilogy. Follow LeeAnn on Twitter @atticusmcl and on Facebook at LEMWrites.

 

 

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Imagined Conversations

2014_10_05_06_47_50By: Jay Duret

These pages are frequently home to matters of writing craft; today let me describe a writing therapy.

This Spring I am going to get back to work writing a novel. As all writers know, it takes a considerable toll to turn out pages at a quantity, and with a quality, that will make the end product worthwhile. The effort reminds me of training for a marathon. Every day the need to log miles on the laptop. And not bursts – or not just bursts – but the steady, painful, foot by foot, slog forward. Day after day. Relentless. I have done it before; I know the daily efforts will come to a conclusion, but there is no denying that it is hard, hard, lonely work. To keep my spirits up, this time I have decided to cross train. I won’t just run a marathon; I am taking up a new sport, one with a very different training regimen.  Something to counter-balance the inwardness and the determined grinding of writing a long piece of fiction.

With this in mind, at the first of the year I began a project I am calling Imagined Conversations. Each day I create and post on my website a drawing and a few lines of imaginary conversation. Sometimes the words of text are created from whole cloth; sometimes I post the fruits of the eavesdropping I do in San Francisco where I live.

As I said, I began the project on January 1, 2015 and as I write this post on February 28th, I have created 59 illustrations. I began with a New Year’s message:

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

which captured my mood at the time. I followed it the next day with a cheery vision:

Love

Love

I do not try to for stylistic or narrative consistency; I post whatever moves me at the moment. Some days my prompt is an event on the world stage, as this one from the days just after the Paris killings:

Mourning Cartoon

Mourning Cartoon

Other days I travel where whimsy takes me:

Blither

Blither

I don’t have recurring characters and my message is never the same.

Some days I take a literary slant:

Prufrock

Prufrock

At other times I chase lines from scripture:

Clap

Clap

or from the streets of San Francisco:

Memories

Memories

I am counting on the discipline of posting a new drawing every day to be helpful to the discipline of writing my next novel, but I confess an ulterior motive. I also hope to create a bigger following for my blog, particularly followers who will be interested in reading my stories as well as viewing the drawings in the Imagined Conversations project. (You can help by following me at www.jayduret.com/illustrations/facecards or on Instagram @JoeFaces.)

But the most important part of this effort is the therapeutic part. The part of the brain I exercise when I draw is a different part than the one I punish when I write. I can wind myself in knots struggling to get words on paper but turn around and sketch for an hour completely relaxed. In fact, I can feel the writing tightness in my shoulders bleed away as I draw. I am one of those sad suckers who believes in home-spun therapies, and at least for the minute, this one is working for me.

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco-based writer. Second Wind recently published Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits. See the trailer here

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Addiction?

I remember one day, a few years back, when Elin Woods was reported to take a golf club to her husband, Tiger’s, car. At that moment, I remember thinking,”He cheated and she found out.”

Sure enough, as the press reports filtered in, it was revealed that Tiger had not only cheated once, but several times.

Shortly thereafter, Tiger confessed to being a “sex addict.” Again, I saw it coming.

You see, it seems that recently, whenever someone does something wrong, they don’t own up to it. It’s more of the “I couldn’t help myself because I have an addiction.”

You know what?

I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of people not taking responsiblity for their actions and for the people they’ve hurt. Take Tiger Woods. Instead of owning up to his mistakes and admitting that yes, he cheated on his wife numerous times, he chose, what I feel is a complete and total cop-out. He held a press conference in which he claimed to have a “sex addiction.”

I’m going to call BS on that one.

You see, in my mind, an addiction is something that has a hold over you, something you can’t help but take part of. For that to occur, there’s got to be some sort of chemical manipulation. Tiger claimed sex addiction and I couldn’t help wonder why if he was so addicted to sex, why didn’t he have sex with his wife? To me, at least, he seemed to be addicted to having sex with other women. Is that really an addiction? A chemical imbalance? Something you have no control over?

I doubt it.

More likely, Tiger was relishing in the thrill of having sex with someone other than his wife and loved the excitement of trying not to get caught.

Addiction? I think not.

I apply this same principal to those who say they have a food addiction. Typically, these people are overweight and, in my opinion, trying to find an excuse.

Sorry, but there it is.

Food addiction? I completely doubt the validity of this condition.

Here’s the thing: When someone claims to have a food addiction, they tend to be drawn to fatty foods – pizza, ice cream, fried chicken, etc.. I can’t help but wonder why no one is ever addicted to, say, carrot sticks or leafy greens.

The other problem I have with this so-called condition is that you need food to survive. How can you be addicted to something that is essential to life? Is anyone addicted to water? Oxygen?

In my mind, a fodd addiction is not so much a food addiction as it is a lack of self control and once again, the quest to shift the blame onto something or someone else. It’s as if they’re saying “This weight problem isn’t really my fault. I can’t be held accountable. You see, I have this addiction to food….”

Again, I call BS on that one.

It’s time for all of us to own up to our actions, especially when our actions hurt ourselves or others. Tiger, hold a press conference and tell the world you’re just an ass and not someone with an addiction or, as I like to call it, an excuse for bad behavior. If you have a problem with making poor food choices, call it what it is – a lack of self control. No addiction “made” you eat that entire fried chicken or cheesecake. You made the choice and you are in control of your behaviors.

This is what I’ve tried to instill in my children. I’m tired of hearing the excuse “she made me…”

No. She did not.

“She” may have instigated you or pushed your buttons but you are the one who chose to hit, poke or do whatever in response. You are in charge of your own behaviors and it’s time we all accept that. What each of us does is our own choice and not the result of some condition or “addiction.”

Yes, I purposely put the quotes around that word.

If I seem a bit intolerant, I apologize. For the record, I do accept that there are many legitimate addictions. Many have fallen victim to drugs and alcohol. I get it. But in my opinion, we are taking it to the extreme.

No more, people! We all need to take responsibility for our actions. No wimping out and claiming “it’s not my fault” or “I couldn’t help myself.”

Take control of your actions. Apologize when necessary and simply say that you’ll do your best not to do it again. Personally, I’d rather hear a heartfelt apology than an excuse any day of the week.

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Summer vacation…Finally!

This summer seems to have passed by in a blur. Once school finished, my daughters and I spent every day at the pool since my eldest daughter is involved in our local swim team. While this is great and I love spending my days lazing at the pool, once the season is over, I find I can’t drag my children there. Swim team also means no vacations until after the season is over. As luck would have it, my daughter made it to the championships, which extends her season an additional week.

Then August approaches. Stores begin to advertise back to school savings, lunchboxes and bookbags are everywhere, each bag more colorful and vibrant than the last. It is right around this time that families scramble to get in that one last vacation before the kiddos return to school. Unlike these other families, my family is still searching for their first vacation.

So, this friday, my girls and I will drive twelve hours to Massachusetts to surprise my mother for her sixty-fifth birthday. She has no idea. My children are thrilled beyond belief and began packing several days ago. They’ve determined which movies, blankets and pillows they are going to cram into my minivan for this trip. And me? Well, I’ve purchased an audio book that is, coincidentally, just about the same length as my anticipated drive time. The hope is that I will become so engrossed in this novel that I will forget about the seven hundred miles of highway that stand between me and my mother.

Once there, I can enjoy the fact that my children will want to spend time with their grandparents – the people they only get to see once or twice a year. And what does this mean for me? It means that if one of my children needs something to eat or drink, someone else will get it for them. I can spend the entire week relaxing while my children spend time with family members who love them.

Then, of course, I need to drive another twelve hours back to North Carolina.

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My Hat’s Off to You by Sherrie Hansen

 

IMG_9755

I wear a lot of different hats in my life as a writer, the owner and manager of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, a pastor’s wife, and a daughter, sister and aunt. And I don’t get it from strangers. My Grandma Hansen loved wearing hats. During the depression, she and my Great-Grandma Danny used to make matching mother daughter dresses out of feed sacks. They would go to the feed store with Grandpa and root through the pile of feed sacks until they found enough in the right fabric to make two dresses. They sewed the dresses on a treadle sewing machine. I remember pumping my short legs back and forth on it when I was a girl. Grandma told me once that she never minded wearing a feed sack dress as long as she had a pretty hat to make it an outfit.

Rose - hat

So she would take a few pennies of the money she raised selling the eggs her chicken laid (their only source of cash during the depression) and drive to the Millinery Shoppe in St. Ansgar to buy a hat.

Zion - Hollyhocks

Grandma Hansen was a multi-tasker, and a wearer of many hats, just like I am. She cooked enough for a threshing crew even when there wasn’t one, had a huge garden, entertained family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis, taught a Sunday School class, and always seemed to find time for a game of Aggravation or Sorry with the grandchildren.  She taught us how to make hollyhock dolls (with pretty little hats) and pick eggs and butcher chickens. She was a woman of many talents. But no matter how busy she was, she always had time to tell us a story.

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

When I think of how tired Grandma must have been at the end of a long hard day washing clothes on a wringer washer, sewing on a treadle machine, cooking over a wood cook stove and standing on her head out in the garden, it amazes me that she had the energy to tell us bedtime stories, And never just one… My favorites included Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, and Chicken Little with Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey. There were also stories about our dad when he and his brother and sister were little. And there were stories from the Bible, stories about Jesus, and people he knew, like Nicodemus, Peter, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Grandma wove her stories with Billy Goat Gruff’s deep, scary voice, and Goldilocks sweet soprano. She held us spellbound for hours, telling stories that were new each time we heard them even though we had heard them hundreds of times.

baby-blue-cinderella

So it seems that I got not only my love of hats from my Grandma Hansen, but the gift of storytelling. As a writer of novels, I’ve spun tales of pure imagination in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Thistle Down and Wild Rose that I hope would make her proud.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

When I put on my chef’s hat and go to work in the kitchen of my B&B, I tell people how the Blue Belle Inn came to be, and how I concocted their favorite recipes, how I met my husband and what interesting guests we’ve had that week.

Sherrie - Mark

I really do wear a hat to church most Sundays, when I dabble at being a pastor’s wife. And I tell the old, old story with my hands and voice, as I play the piano and help lead worship. When I’m with my nieces and sometimes my nephew, I tell stories about their daddy when he was a baby, and about what happened in our family before he was born. I’m 16 years older than my brother, and someone has to pass down the stories and legends and funny family tales. Who better than I, the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter for generations back? It’s a sacred calling.

Danish Girl

I used to wish I had one outstanding talent that would propel me to some sort of greatness. I play the piano plenty well enough for our small church, but a concert pianist, I’ll never be. I was a straight A student, but I’m no rocket scientist. I am good at a small dabbling of different things instead of being great at one thing.

Sherrie - hat Sherrie - beach

Sherrie - pirateSherrie - porchSherrie - dreadsSherrie - Zion

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided I like wearing different hats – my purple one to parties, my velvet one to church, my straw hat to tea and my floppy Florida hat with the big brim to the beach. What I once rued, I’m now thankful for. I’m a storyteller, a preserver of legends, a mind set free to fly anywhere in the world my imagination may take me.

Sherrie library

So thank you, Grandma Hansen, for telling me about Indians and horse-drawn sleighs and one room schoolhouses and eloping to the Little Brown Church in the Vail, and all the stories of your life. My hat’s off to you.

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Return to the Scene of the Crime — by Norm Brown

Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?

If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.

 A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.

Oregon Wilderness Road

Oregon Wilderness Road

Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.      

 

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

 

              

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