Sunday, March 22, 2020

Writers are Socially Distanced and Some Frankenstein

Last weekend, I was supposed to attend the MWW Agent Fest in Muncie, IN.  Of course, this, like so many events, has been postponed until further notice.

Our fiction writing group, too, has gone virtual.

I've been working from home, enjoying the life of my cats, alternating my sweat pants and drinking lots of tea but also working long and undefined hours of work.  Not seeing many people aside from my husband is a lovely break from the typical stress and chaos of my normal life.

On the other hand, I am like many other writers.  Introverted.  Withdrawn.  Not open about my writing or myself.  This silly social distancing is lovely--but I want more time in front of my laptop and with a book.  But this is never different.

These are strange times.  I'm making the most of this (I don't watch much news, so I don't get too upset by any of this), so although I suspect I am becoming more withdrawn and introverted, this feels like a lovely vacation with lots of work.

Anyway, because of my anticipated trip to the Agent Fest and hopeful rescheduled conference, I have been reworking and revising my Frank and Gala stories.

I'm posting my pitch here:

Pitch for Frank and Gala 
There's nothing new under the sun, right?

This is another Dr. Frankenstein story.  Sort of.

Dr. Frankenstein--Dr. David Levison--moves to small-town, southern Minnesota.  He teaches at the local university in the engineering department, and he brings large grants from out East somewhere.  

He is strange.  He is a mystery.

We, the town of Winona, start to talk about Dr. Levison when he starts to do really odd things.  He engineers the introduction of a woman into town.  And we, the local people, spread lots of rumors about Dr. Levison and Sherry, his unexpected monster.

Dr. Levison tells people that Sherry is his perfect woman.  He created her.  Like Pygmalion crafted his perfect woman, Dr. Levison claims he formed Sherry to be his perfect companion.

So we start calling her Galatea, and of course, we call him Dr. Frankenstein.

We tell stories about them.  Some people think she is a robot, and some people think she is a lobtomized metal patient because something is weird about her.  Very off.  She is very beautiful but not right.

These are the stories of Frank and Gala, otherwise known as Dr. David Levison and Sherry.   The stories spread like small pox in county school.  We tell about what happens to them in our little town of Winona and how Dr. Levison's experiment is much worse than we could have imagined, much more devious than we thought.
Any thoughts or comments?  Want to read this?


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, Part II

The house was furnished with matching sofa and two chairs, kitchen table, four lamps, some uninteresting paintings of potted flowers, and two single bedroom chambers, and one master bed chamber. Lillian was not happy with the color of the furniture (an unfortunate shade of muddy green), but she was clearly satisfied with the house’s size and condition overall. She wanted to waste no time in finishing the homemaking, eager to shop the stores in the city for supplies and grains, so made a list on the back of an unused Chicago postcard of what she needed.

After a quick lunch of smoked ham and fresh coffee at the house (purchased almost immediately upon arrival to Virginia City), the family left for ‘C’ Street to do purchase the items. The strangely graded blocks of Virginia City took some getting used to and would soon make fit anyone who took to them on a daily basis, if inhaling the gritty smoke could be avoided. Roads were clear, yet icy in places. Thankfully, Virginia City had excellent boardwalks along C Street -- though walking them demanded patience due to the overcrowding. Alastair had never seen such a mixing of classes participating so openly together and consuming from the same hands – the same stores -- as if everyone were equal in wealth and education. English, Cornish, and Irish miners were sharing the same air? Miraculous! And, they were courteous towards each other -- or, so it seemed. He was told the Cornish kept to themselves -- but Alastair clearly heard Breton. A validation of both the isolation of Virginia City and evidence to the odd functionality of this strange American culture and their homogenization experiment was all around him. This was liberty; in all its forms.

Indeed, isolation gave everyone a significant role in the maintenance of civility no matter the trade. Alastair was surprised to find such an array of commerce on a single street: lawyer offices, banks, hotels, grocers, restaurants, saloons, fabric and dressing shops, and assayers – all plying their trade practically on top of the other, each commanding attention with large, often gaudy, advertisements and paid street reciters. Lillian laughed at it all –shook her head at the silliness as if she were watching a circus. The children, too, took it all in as something close to magical. So much that Alastair realized within the first hour that his arms were going to be numb by evening with all the tugging Seán and Evelyn did to get his attention of a ridiculous or marvelous sight.

However, both Alastair and Lillian had to apologize profusely to three elderly Chinese women loading a small cart with bags of grain -- for Evelyn’s probing questions and yes; even her touching their faces.

“You understand, she has never had the privilege of meeting someone like you women.” an embarrassed Lillian appeased. “From China? Yes?” though no response was received.

“Can I help you finish loading your items?” Alastair had offered; and the women appeared to have not understood Alastair’s offer and finished loading their cart without aid.

“You're lucky Evie they didn’t load you up with them.” Seán teased Evelyn, who then gave it some thought and ran to her mother’s safety.

“And you’ll be lucky if I don’t pay them a small fee to carry you off.” Lillian scolded her son.

 Alastair was impressed, too, with the selection of fine suits and gold and silver watches available; luxuries that one would least think would be available in such a barren wasteland. Norman Jacob was one particular Jeweler whose silver timekeepers were as fine as any he had seen in Chicago. While in the shop, Alastair found it easy to forget that he was not in a real city.

They spent the entire chilly afternoon on C Street, sightseeing and shopping. Though Lillian said hardly a word as the day progressed, Alastair assumed that she was equally surprised by the number of fabrics and grocers and general merchandise shops available to her. She certainly bought a number of items for the new home – linens, pots and pans, window dressings, three Knapp’s joint dressers, bed pans – anything she could think of as she examined wall after wall of hanging merchandise. The rest, she said, she would order through catalogue.

Much to Lillian’s frustration, Evelyn felt it was her duty to greet every food vendor they passed, and – unable to say no – Alastair paid for whatever fancy Seán and Evelyn wanted: mussels, corn-on-the-cob, and pork. (Evelyn spit out the mussel.) Evelyn kept her parents and brother busy looking for clean cloth to wipe her sticky hands and face. However, Lillian’s patience drained when Evelyn made quite the scene outside a small Confectioner’s; a scene so attention grabbing that Seán had to beg his mother to allow him to hold Evelyn’s hand to barter off a threatened return to the house. Evelyn sobbed for two blocks, so when Lillian and Alastair went inside Whitman’s General (and with a nod of approval from Alastair), Seán ran back to the Confectioner’s and bought Evelyn a bag of chocolate. Evelyn insisted on holding it. Lillian never discovered the transaction, for the chocolate was lost between Whitman’s and their visit to Lorraine Sisters Dress and Fabrique.

By mid-afternoon, the sun had hidden behind Mt. Davidson incredibly early and blanketed Virginia City with a dark and devilish chill. This was due to the height of Mt. Davidson as it stole the sun and cast its shadow over the eastern slope too soon. Alastair was quite surprised at the instant shadow fall; yet, no one seemed fazed by it in the slightest. He then insisted that they have dinner at one of the finer restaurants and get into warmer environs. A Jeweler suggested the International Hotel near the Piper’s Opera House. Lillian said they were not dressed for such “an event”; yet, Alastair talked her into it. The dinner was marvelous and as good as anything in Chicago – or so thought Alastair. Lillian’s mood changed for the worse when Seán, who was especially fond of the lamb chops with crabapple, had made the mistake in asking his mother if she could make her next lamb chops the same way, “… And not quite sour and tart as your jelly.” The table went silent, momentarily.

“Sour and tart, eh?” She looked as if to reason the thought as Alastair set his napkin down. “Tell you what, Lad; why don’t you plan, pluck, and pot the family’s meals for the rest of the month if you so wish to further dictate how to run my kitchen.”

No doubt, an unsettling thought in everyone’s mind, including Lillian’s, for she returned to cutting the lamb in small pieces for Evelyn and changed the subject just as efficiently.

After dinner, Alastair asked the English concierge the best way to get to St Mary’s where he could register his family. Alastair did not appreciate how the man answered. He thought the reply quite snobbish as the concierge had pointed out the window at nothing in particular and then nipped as he turned to leave that they should “find you a carriage.” An expected response from an Englishman, thought Alastair, of his wife’s Catholicism? So in defiance, Alastair suggested to his family that they find their own way to the church that he was told by a pedestrian was just south of D Street. Yet, when they crossed the street and began walking past the coach station, the concierge from the International Hotel came sliding down the alley, hollering out at them to stop and even lunging at Alastair’s arm. Out of breath, he warned Alastair that it was not safe to take his family onto that particular area in the evening -- indeed not at any time, for he would be taking his family very near the ‘vagrant villages’ and to a place where ‘soiled doves’ plied their trade.

Soiled doves?

Needless to say, Alastair hailed a carriage and ended their first day in Virginia City registering at St. Mary’s -- and meeting a dozen fine citizens and a quick tour of the orphanage.

Overall, Alastair thought they had a marvelous experience, and his family’s stay would be just one of many great adventures! Until, of course…

“Oh my Lord! The water it’’s.... Alastair Fell! This water is atrocious!”

And, of course that following Sunday morning when the vigilantes hung that poor fellow from the Piper’s rafters and shot a dozen holes into him; perhaps a bit of kindness on their part to allow his soul to escape with ease.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, Part I

Good Day, Fiction Forge Indy Followers
I am still writing my Western that I had mentioned in a couple of posts (see B Street, Virginia City, NV). I am providing a chapter that is written in the form of a Preface, of sorts, although the story is well on its way by the time this chapter comes along (hence, the Antecedent). Please feel free to comment! Here is Part 1 of a two-parter:
Antecedent: Gold Hill and Virginia City, February 1871
He should have known of her unhappiness by the time they left the valley. As if the fear of stage coach robberies from Reno to Carson City were not unsettling enough, the railroad trip up to Gold Hill was one of fright and torture. The Virginia and Truckee rail from Carson City to Virginia City ascended too quickly for their likes and hugged too closely the sides of the mountain as it rocked its passengers back and forth as they circled up the slope. Of course, the newly laid track was far worse than any they had experienced since Salt Lake City. Rolling up along the edge of this barren land made the rails feel less secure and the steaming iron horse's endeavor to stay on it questionable.
“Did little boys lay down this foolish path? With their toy train set?” Lillian exclaimed holding on, of all things, to her hat.
She had a fair analogy. But, to Alastair, what was worse than the crooked railway that seemed to circle back upon itself and its frightening tunnels (Evelyn screaming as they entered everyone one of them); the environs of this desolate state left Alastair feeling uninspired and questioning his own judgement in removing his family westward from their safe and most civilized home in Chicago. Nevada was primitive, stark, and rugged; the vagueness unnecessarily absolute. Miles of depressing stumps of what looked to be once a mighty forest dotted the hills like grave markers. Abandoned mines and their pilings looked like giant ant hills, and derelict  shacks that wouldn’t have been fit to be outhouses had coal smoke billowing from their thin furnace pipes. With each pull of the train engine up the moonscape that was Mt. Davidson, Alastair felt a foreboding of what awaited them at the summit in a town strangely called Virginia. 
“Oh, why couldn’t we have stayed in Carran’s City?” Lillian mumbled.
“Carson City.” he corrected her with a grin. She didn’t hear him -- or she effectively ignored him. 
More tester mines. More shacks. More turns of the rail and looking away from the window. But, he couldn’t for long. He could now see for dozens of miles out below. For as primitive as this high desert appeared, the entire area had been disturbed and extracted and trekked upon. The upturned land made it all too real that symbolism of Man’s nightmarish industrious nature and ingenuity to cut, saw, erect, dig, extract, discard, and forever exhaust anything that lies in the path of Man’s greed. The wasteland all around made for want of a restart; a re-seeding of nature -- to correct a wrong and heal an open wound with the salve of nature’s green or the scrubbing by a thunderstorm. Nevada was want for recovery with deep, meandering rivers and wetlands, green broad leaves, or even tall prairie grasses and landscapes which were alive and horizontal and near sea level and...normal. Even the Washoe Lake was too thin, too fragile to be considered a true oasis. And, what of that giant lake he had been told about, Lake Bigler? “The cleanest, clearest, deepest water in the West” that could rival a Great Lake? Such a place sounded unreal to him and more a fable than fact.
“I can see right down to the bottom, Dad!” Seán had exclaimed in a wheeze; his asthma not quite going away since the night before, but thankfully, not getting worse.
Alastair was more astonished than amused when looking down at the Washoe as the sun’s reflection broke near the shore. “Most unfortunate.” He acknowledged, gently patting his son’s back. “No doubt, it dries up in summer.” For, what could keep it from soaking into the thirsty desert, or subliming to the ether?
“Dad. I hope we don’t roll off the edge. I can’t see the  --”
“Seán. Sweetheart.” Alastair warned and then whispered into his ear, “Best not get your Mum and sister --”
“Dad, please. Don't call me sweetheart. We're in public. Oh no, look Dad. Another tunnel.”
Another ear-shattering scream from Evelyn. Alastair closed his eyes and hoped this was the last of the tunnels. “Oh, this is a nightmare!” Lillian exclaimed, pulling Evelyn onto her lap and bracing her and sinking further into her seat.
Yet, Alastair was just as spooked as her. Did she not see it? They all more or less held their breaths for the fifteen mile trek. Did she look at him at all?
No. She's questioning my soundness.
And, so was he. Only when the buildings of Gold Hill and its working mines and buildings of commerce and the dozens of house rooftops came into view did they relax.
“So, we’ve reached an end?" Lillian exclaimed, "And not our end? The boys must have used up all of their tracks." She stretched to look out the window for the first time. "Please tell me we’re able to walk the rest of the way.”
Unfortunately not. They had to transfer to a carriage that would take them from Gold Hill to Virginia City, “… Just over the Divide. Ain’t long.” claimed one of the brakemen before he poured himself some coffee from a pot set up at the station.
"I bet he's got himself a fine pot of salted pork and beans." Lillian scorned, more to herself.
"Lil. We've made it. Look at all of this amazing stuff!"
"Amazing you say? Huh. The only thing amazing is that we survived this preposterous ride. You know what they say: Tis a long road that has no turning. I had so many turns on this iron horse that I long to be dragged through the straight and narrow. And now we have some divide to get over?"
Lillian’s concern must have grown with every block as she no doubt expected to bear the burden of yet another great expanse of emptiness between the two cities on some divide. Certainly, Alastair was concerned for her. Yet, no such expanse came as they discovered the Gold Hill scene was repeated with one-bit saloons and stamping ore mills and beer fermenters with their burnt barley and smoke stinging the eyes -- all cuddling the same mountain slope and blurring the two cities into one.
“Stinky.” Evelyn remarked, holding her mitten over her nose. 
“It’s the lager.” Seán explained, his eyes glued on the scenes passing by at a steady rate.
“Like Dad’s wiver.”
“Canal.” Seán corrected her as he wiped the fog from his window and watched in amazement the wondrous industrial municipality of a kind he did not seen since Chicago. Alastair took note of his son’s excitement, for he shared his curiosity and awe at the steam-laden, noise-riddled commotion. This place was, indeed, terrible - but terribly fantastic, just the same!
The carriage now made frequent stops due to the traffic and often without warning, hurling the family and personal belongings into the other’s knees and laps and Lillian’s huffing and puffing grew louder -- until it fell silent, having sunk into the simmering cauldron of one of Lillian’s moods that Alastair and, no doubt, Seán understood quite well. Thankfully, one of those stops lasted a good fifteen minutes giving everyone time to recuperate, and the family had nothing to do but listen in on conversations outside the carriage and hear the constant booms of the stamping mills echoing in the valley mountain as both Alastair and Seán rubbed the glass regularly of breath fog to catch a face or a passing carriage and to try to guess if the odd looking ‘bridge’ they could just see north of them was actually...finished and usable.
“Let’s hope not.” Seán declared as he stretched in his seat to look for any evidence. 
Despite the clatter and noise of the mining town, Evelyn had no trouble falling asleep on Lillian’s lap as Lillian trailed her fingers through her hair and Lillian, herself, had closed her eyes and slumped into the corner of her seat. Yet, far from being sedated or bored, Alastair and Seán watched in awe as a train engine suddenly took to that tallest and flimsiest looking wooden trestle over the small, yet perspectively deep valley to Virginia City.
“Incredible!” Alastair exclaimed.  It was a good thing, he added, that passenger trains were not allowed to take it. “Who could do so without fainting? Lillian!” Alastair, in his momentary lapse of judgement, nudged Lillian awake from her doldrums. “You must see this. What’s your best guess as to its height?”
Lillian shushed him and waved the whole scene off; not even bothering to open her eyes. “Salted pork and beans.” She mumbled; a curse of hers since Omaha, spurred by the terrible food served at the watering stations along the way; a curse that lost its meaning except to say: Nothing is worth this misery...nothing could be better than Chicago.
“Please, Lil. Let’s not judge our destination too quickly. I mean… ,” Alastair’s attention returned to the window, “out of nowhere, there’s a thriving… magnificent city of amazing industry.”
“And saloons.” Seán added with a wink at his dad who did not appreciate the addition.
“Oh dear God, help us all.” Lillian responded, ungluing Alastair and Seán from their trestle fascination and raising some concern for a few moments before he and Seán returned to their study of Man’s latest accomplishments.
As the carriage jutted forward once again was on the move, Alastair overheard two men crossing the street just then that an arsonist was terrorizing the cities. And by the looks of the new construction, he could easily see how a loose flame could render everything back to ash. Did they worry about landslides, too? Many of the houses coming into view were perched on slopes and one or two stories facing the street, yet actually built to three or four stories higher on the backside of the drop! One would think a single, unsound footing could send a house collapsing down the slope and into another. Terrifying heights all around. 
Seán, momentarily forgetting his mother hated everything about this move to Nevada, grabbed his mother on the knee to get her to witness this bizarre American town. Lillian slapped his hand away, but even she gave in and looked out. She shook her head in disbelief and seemed genuinely perplexed. But after a few traffic stops, she gave up looking out altogether, preferring to bury herself in a week’s old Omaha newspaper, the last of a stack of newspapers that she had already read on the train as they were crossing the continent.
However the nuisances of that bizarre stretch of Gold Hill and Virginia City, Lillian’s mood changed for the better once they came to their new house on a street called ‘B’. A white, two-story sat alone on the corner and seemed to have only a blacksmith shop and butcher’s across the street as well as a livery stable to share the cross street. The house was newly built; the paint was bright, and the house looked impressive against the backdrop of dreary brown and gray Mt. Davidson. Although furnished with a sitting porch, the house was half a size smaller than their Chicago house and less charming to be sure, yet was fitting for their class; perhaps opulent in comparison with the other houses further up the street. And their house had luxuries the other houses lacked, such as an iron fence, stained glass trimming the front picture window, and a secured mail box. The yard was actually larger than their Chicago home, fitting for a good-sized vegetable garden and roses… if such things could grow in this strange climate and its seemingly scrubby, dry, sandy-clay soil. Yet, that was wishful thinking.
“Huh. What’s this?” Lillian muttered as she studied a handful of near frozen soil, then crushed it and watched the grains take flight in the cold wind. “Even the Devil couldn’t grow a thicket of thorns here.”
Part II will be posted Saturday

Monday, February 24, 2020

Old Gamers Never Die

Once, a long time ago when the world was younger and so was I, God looked into the neon world of the 1980's and said, "Dude, check it ouuuut! Video games!"

We mortals looked up from our Monopoly, Risk, and Uno blinking languidly at the flickering monochromatic dot bouncing off the simple paddles. It coursed across the black background in a lazy, yet hypnotic, path. We, the uninitiated youth of the time, stared at this Greek fire brought from the ether by the modern Prometheus unaware of the twitch beginning to form in our thumbs. We huddled about the RCA or the Zenith shrines as cavemen would a fire listening to the boop and bleep of the dot as it struck the paddle.

Thus began our descent into madness.

From these simple primordial bits and bytes, rose an ever evolving and ever more cunning labyrinth of mental masturbation. And there I was, one of millions alive at the dawn of it all. Watching, but unable to resist, as quarter after quarter spilled from my jeans pockets and into the token machine. I was enthralled...I was addicted.

And then came the Arcades.

Raucous dens of sight and 8 bit sound. Tempest (my favorite),

Star Wars (I always wanted to be a Jedi), Dungeons & Dragons (are you surprised?), and so many more called to me whenever we mall rats drifted near. Had I but invested those quarters.... ah, but what's the use in "What if?".

I played as the games continued to evolve. PS1, PS 2, SEGA, Nintendo, and on and on. Final Fantasy was my last great love. I played them all from I to X, losing many a night to the conquest of digital monsters. But it all changed when we found out my son was to be born.

As I considered my future now full of impending responsibility, I knew it was time to lay such things as video games aside. And I did...for a time. Raising a tiny human encompasses your life in a way you can't imagine when you are a first time parent. All your time, thought, and...well, everything goes into this diminutive version of yourself. Even the thought of gaming left me, replaced my exhaustion and a slight nervous tick in my right thumb.

But, old gamers never die.

You see, my son loves video games as much as I do. We discovered this with our first Lego video game (one of the Star Wars versions, I believe). They are easy games that are fun to play together as most of them are multi-player. It is the kind of thing that makes the gamer gods smile while giving us memories to laugh about in the future.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Natural Killer

My wife and I have lived in our house for a little over a year now.  It is an older house, built in 1930--a two-story Cape Cod style house on a corner lot, in the heart of downtown, small town Indiana. 

Like most old houses, it has quirks.  Some quirks are expected and some are just down right comical….

Well, I find comical, but my humor is altered compared to most.  

Shortly after we moved in, we had a very surprising visitor.

My wife and I came home from some event.  It was our first week living in our house.  

It was dark.  

We walked through the house turning on the lights, settling in.  My wife walked past the stairway to turn on the lights to her office.  She quickly yelled for me.  

“Nick, there is something on the stairs… and it’s hissing.”

She quickly found me in the kitchen with a very startled look on her face.

Thinking to myself, “It’s November.  Too cold for snakes to be out about, what’s hissing in our stairway?”

I walked around to the stairway, turned on the lights expecting to find some long snake curled up on one of the stairs.  But I saw nothing.  

Just as I was mid-sentence questioning my wife, I heard the hiss.  

Looking up the stairs, I still saw nothing.  As my eyes scanned down the steps I caught a slight movement on the third step.  A sizable bat with its wings sprawled out, mouth opened, and long white fangs showing was sitting on the step hissing at me. 

Shocked and confused, I hollered to my wife, “We have a bat.”  

This was the first of more to come.  

Shortly after we moved, and after the first bat sighting, we moved in our two cats, Gaby, the wild cave woman cat, and Gracy, our princess cat.  

One weekend morning we found a pair of shriveled up wings laying on the floor of my wife’s office. 
Looking at Gaby, we knew the cave woman cat had her way with the flying visitor.  She had a proud stance about her as I picked up the leftovers to dispose of them in the trash.  

This past summer I woke up in the middle of the night.  I walked out to the kitchen with my cell phone in hand to use as a light to find a glass for water.  Standing at the sink drinking some water, I sensed something else in the house.  I heard Gaby trotting through the kitchen heading for the living room.  She has a collar with a bell on it.  Jingle, jingle, as she passes through. 

Not fully awake, I dismissed my feelings and walked back to the bedroom.  As I walked through the living room, I caught a dark flicker of something.  My cell phone backlight had just turned off, leaving me questioning in the dark.  

I tapped on my cell phone. The backlight filled the room with a dim light.  Holding my phone up I saw the flutter flutter of a black bat flying just below our 9-foot ceiling.  It was flying in circles around the ceiling fan.  I heard Gaby’s jingle bell and pointed my cell phone towards the ground. She was sitting in the middle of the room looking up, tracking the bat.  She then looked at me with a look of, “Do you see it?”

I continued on to the bedroom told my wife, “There’s another bat in the house.”  Half-awake, she asked if I closed the door to our bedroom. Stupid me, I hadn’t.  

Our other cat Gracy was in bed with us, and she started to move from her sleep.  Reaching for the flashlight on the nightstand, I lit up the room.  Gracy stood up, looking at the bat flying around our bedroom.  

By now my wife was wide-awake and full of concern.  “Get it out of the room,” she said.

I was able to flush the bat out of our room and closed the door.  

Settling back into bed my wife asked, “Do you want to do something about the bat or should we let Gaby deal with…”

Just as she was about to finish her sentence we heard the jingle jingle with a few loud crash bang thud sounds.

Seconds later the deep proud wild call that only a wide cat like Gaby can produce sounded through the house.  

She was announcing her kill. 

And she continued to call out her announcement.  

I went out to find the carnage.  

Walking out into the living room, I saw Gaby come running up to me with excitement.  Talking at me.  She turned and led the way to her kill.  Her jingle bell ringing out as well has her proud meows.  She stopped and sat next to the dead bat on the floor still talking at me with excitement.

A week later we had the roof replaced.   Our house had a dormant chimney that we had taken down as part of replacing the roof. 

We figured the bats were getting into the attic through the dormant chimney.  How they got into the interior of the house we have no idea.  

That was over six months ago.  We have not had any bat visits since.    


Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Brave, New World of MWW

Entering January, I usually anticipate post-holiday blues.  After a few days off, some lovely if not chaotic time with family, and a bit too much food and drink, I generally approach most new years with blasé.  Sometimes even ennui.

This year is a bit different.

For Christmas, my husband bought me a ticket to the Midwest Writers Workshop, the MWW Agent Fest in March--the complete package with meetings with two agents.

I have not been active in the writing community for years outside the Indiana Writers Center--and that, mostly to go to the fiction workshop.  Going to an outside workshop and meeting agents is beyond my comfort zone--way past my fuzzy pink robe, hot tea, old green armchair, comfort zone.

Any long-time followers of this blog or anyone who knows me well, knows that I struggle with confidence in my writing.  Of course, this is not uncommon for many writers.

I even struggle with talking about writing--my writing in particular--as if my writing is my own secret world that only those closest to me might understand.  Anyone else isn't allowed into that world.  I suppose that's a trust thing.

As I am researching and exploring the information about the MWW and the workshop, I find that I am both excited and terrified.  Since Christmas day (when I saw the email from Jama Bigger, the coordinator at MWW, who, I might add, has responded to several of my emails quickly, professionally, and pleasantly), I have rewritten most of an old manuscript that I haven't looked at in years.

Funny, in looking at old work, I have a very duplicitous mind about it.  On one hand, I think, "Huh, this is pretty interesting.  An agent might be interested in this...."  And then, the proverbial devil on my other shoulder says, "I need to rewrite this another 25 times.  Even then, it won't be any good."  I know I need to be excited, to get excited, to act excited, to pretend--this is my writing, for God's sake.  If no one else can get excited about it, who will?

So, with that, I plan to go to MWW and learn how to write a decent query letter.  I will learn a bunch.  Plan on another update.  Maybe, I will think more seriously about the agent/query/publisher thing in another 10 years.

Just kidding, I think.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Just For (OTHER) Men

Today is the first day of 2020, and what’s the first action I commit? I dye my hair.

Now mind you, I dyed my hair just a little, unlike other men my age who probably need to dye their hair more.

Sure, I am getting older. And, just like other men my age, I do see some gray under some shades of light on some parts of my hair...but certainly not most of my hair! Only the temples, to be exact. And, just like other men my age, the gray is unwelcomed, right? No doubt they feel the same way that I feel in preferring not to see a reflection in the mirror each morning that claims to be the exact opposite image of our current, graying state.


So, on the first day of the year, I fooled the mirror and returned my reflected image back to an earlier operating system. No, not to Microsoft Windows 3.1; I don’t care to look younger...just circa early 2000s attractiveness. I like Randy circa early 2000s. I'm familiar with that guy. He's a handsome guy, too...with not a single gray hair on his handsome little head. What harm is there in wanting to look familiar? No harm at all. Thus, I used my partner’s Just For Men light brown hair dye to help me get back to, oh, Windows XP or maybe Windows 7.

Thankfully, I don’t need much of the stuff to do it, unlike other men my age. Heck! I don’t even need to buy it. I just have to borrow it, you understand. I am quite proud that I don’t have to walk into a Walgreens or a Kroger and publically state that I “need” Just For Men, because I need only a ‘wittle splatter of the stuff along my temples...maybe a bit further towards the back, too, if I could be assured that I won’t stain my neck in the process without realizing it. But no. I’m not assured. I’ll leave that small, incy-wincy spot of gray alone. For now.

However, I have recently discovered in a moment's glance while at work or taking selfies, and while at restaurants or taking selfies, and while shaving or taking selfies; I have discovered that I am not very good at applying Just For Men. Sometimes, my hair is too dark -- as in 'black sharpie' dark. Or, my hair has not taken in the color stain at all. I either leave the dye set too long or I don’t leave it set long enough. For someone like me who doesn’t really need to use the stuff anyway, unlike other guys my age, I'd still like to have a successful staining experience for once!

Eventually, I'm hoping to get this dye thing timed just right, so then I could start seeing a less graying man staring back at me and someone who I recognize as ME.

One small problem. I seemed to have used all of my partner's dye. I’ll have to figure out how often the Just For Men is stocked...if I can deduce a regularity to its magically showing up in the bathroom cupboard. Such a bother, isn’t it? Which brings me to this one question….

Do you think the Gen Y or Z inventors of tomorrow will create a dye that will last an entire year? Like, an annual application, Just For Men and Just Once A Year Formula? A Windows Infinity_Plus of hair dyes?

Because, that would be swell. I’d definitely be scrounging around the bathroom cabinet for a box of that stuff!

...Not that I really need the stuff.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Knee-High 55-Gal Drums

Stepping off the bus onto the city sidewalk, Evan was unsure exactly where he was.  He turned around to watch the bus doors slowly slide together shut.  The grumble of the engine became more audible as the bus started to drive away.
Evan looked to his left then to his right, examining his surroundings.  

It was a gray chilly day, high overcast clouds.  A biting wind blew gently against his left cheek.  

People walking by spoke some kind of Asian language.   Not knowing for sure if he was in Chinatown of some city or if he was in some far off distant city somewhere in Asia, he continued to walk.  

Evan had no idea how he got there... wherever there was.   He thought to himself, Am I dreaming? Or am I having a real Quantum Leap moment? 

No worries, Evan thought to himself.  I’ll figure this out.  But first I need to use the bathroom.  

Evan started walking down the sidewalk in search of a public restroom.  

Above the street was a large steel track system.   Some kind of a train or public transit system, Even thought to himself.

The people passing by were all Asian, all dressed in really nice, dark-colored business attire.  Some had briefcases. Some had accenting scarves around their necks.  Very well put together people.  I must be in some kind of business district, Evan thought.

He continued walking. Taking in the environment.  

Evan came to a large, beautiful courtyard.  A fountain was in the middle.   A wide semi-circle of cement stairs was on each side of the fountain, making a perfect circle around the fountain when looking at the whole courtyard.

At the top of the semi-circle stairs was the entrance to what looked like a really nice business sky scrapper. 

Evan proceeded to go into the building in search of a restroom.  The urgency was increasing.  

Once inside the lobby of the building, Evan found a security officer sitting at a large stone desk, dark jade green in color.

Evan asked, “Where are the restrooms?”

The security guard looked at Evan with a puzzled expression.  The guard responded in some Asian language that Evan could not understand. 

Evan started to communicate with the guard using hand signals and speaking really slowly.
Somehow, Evan and the guard were able to understand each other.  The guard pointed to the elevators and held up 4 fingers.  

Evan said thank you and headed for the elevators.   

He was able to get into an elevator just before the door closed.  There were 3 other people in the elevator with him.  

The door opened at the 4thfloor.  A man next to Evan stepped out of the elevator.   Evan followed.  

As soon as Evan cleared the elevator door, he saw something very confusing.  

On ether side of the elevator door was what looked like 55-gallon drums, only they were about knee high.  

Evan stepped towards one of them thinking it was some kind of art exhibit.   He confirmed that they were just 55-gallon drums cut in half.  

He counted 8 of them. He thought to himself maybe these drums are just trash or different recycling containers.  

He turned around.  

The man that walked out of the elevator with him, walked to one of the drums.  Evan watched the man proceed to unfasten his belt, unbutton his pants, and pull down his zipper.  

Evan was dumbfounded at what he was watching.  The man was pissing into the knee-high drum.  Right there in the open lobby.  Hearing the man’s urine splatter into the drum triggered Evan’s urge to urinate even more.  

Evan was still dumbfounded with the knee-high drums and watching a stranger pee into them.  

Just then the elevator door opened, and a lady sharply dressed exited from the elevator.  She walked passed Even, gave him a pleasant smile as she passed.   She then went to the far knee-high drum, proceeded to lower her skirt, and squatted over the drum. 

The sound of the splatter inside the drum sent Evan into desperation.  The urge to pee was over whelming him.  

Clenching his muscles tight and looking around in hope to find some sign of a traditional restroom, he was becoming desperate.   He was thinking to himself, I hope this not the restroom area.  I don’t want to pee in front of this lady.  I hope this is just a dream.

And just like that.  I opened my eyes to my dark bedroom.  I crawled out of bed and bee-lined for the bathroom.  Looking down at the toilet, I made sure I was peeing into a real toilet, not a knee-high 55-gallon drum.  I thought to myself, That was a strange dream.   I guess I really had to go.

I have been having very strong and vivid dreams the last month or so.   Some of the dreams I remember strongly.  Some of them I remember long enough only to forget about a few hours after my day starts. 

The above story is one of those dreams that I’ve held onto for whatever reason.      



Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Vlog to lighten the mood

Things here at Fiction Forge have been a little depressing lately, so I'm sharing a video that made me laugh.

Here is a vlog I discovered six moths ago.  Yes, Randy and Mike, this is the one I intended to share with you a long time ago and never did.

Language alert: Jenna swears a bit.

Jenna's vlog has some insightful, amusing rants.  This specific one made me laugh out loud a few times.


Thursday, October 24, 2019

My Ode to Gold

We had to put our Lady Lucy to sleep late last night. We discovered she had cancer that metastasized to her lungs (probably osteosarcoma). She was a 12 year old Golden Retriever whom we boarded for many years and then had a golden opportunity to keep permanently when her first daddy had to uproot to Dallas.
Lucy was quite a lady. A brilliant lady. Classy. Upper-crust. Quite the intellectual, too. She hated the whistle and bangs of human activities such as the 4th of July because they made no sense. She was concerned and sought shelter whenever thunder shook the world, grabbing her favorite toy from her toy box because safety from the coming storm was due diligence. She appreciated us leaving the TV on when we left the house, because it was tolerable human background noise that confirmed to her our return. She warned us of visitors with a bark that could crack the ceiling, yet she always welcomed a generous belly rub and a warm kiss on her large, white snout...and her lovely, soft face...and on the very top of her truly genius head.
Yes, it’s true she never lacked a good appetite – often pretending to go potty outside just to get a treat (like we couldn’t see her run down the porch, turn on a dime, and run back up?). Also, it’s true she barked at rowdy puppies who got too close to her bed — but who could blame her? Puppies can't deduce!
Lucy loved her home on Ivy Hill, hanging out with us at the side yard while everyone else was taking in nature -- or getting out our cell phones to take pictures of her, rolling in the grass or hopping- yes, hopping -- like a giant, furry, golden rabbit. She was even hopping around yesterday outside, though we had noticed her breathing had become very labored and coupled with coughing spells. When Lucy became lethargic as the evening progressed, we decided to take her in.
Of course, many of us have been here at this transition, when a soul whom we have shared our lives and know so incredibly thoroughly is to be released from our hold, from our protection. No matter how often we have been at this juncture, each companion of ours was unique and special and full of personality. In those strange hours when time moves - differently, Lucy was uniquely 'Lucy'. She had her four daddies to keep her company with a lifetime of kisses and belly rubs and I love yous. She enjoyed her favorite treat that she kindly shared with her sister, Daisy. She had her latest favorite toy too, Purple Stegosaurus, to keep safe as our love on her blessed and peaceful journey to Heaven.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Winter Will Fail and Spring Will Come

Life has crashed upon me in unyielding waves lately, dear readers. I have spent the better part  of an entire evening re-creating my eulogy for my recently departed father, only to have the digital gods take it all away. I cannot bring myself to go through that again, so I will leave you with a bit of my writing for now in hopes that I may be strong enough to try again at some later time.

Excerpt from "The Wild Man of Winter Wood"

             Shortly, six more squirrels glided out and fell in behind the first. Three more squadrons sailed in from different directions pelting the wolves with acorns and rocks as they flew over. One, grey with a black stripe down its side, hurled an acorn straight into the open mouth of a wolf as it leapt upwards towards them. The wolf fell to the ground gasping for air.
            It was then that creatures of the forest of all kinds came bounding, hopping, running and flying into the meadow. All set to harrying the wolves with teeth, stone, stick and claw. One in particular, a badger with a patch over one eye, ran into a cluster of wolves who had circled around Ralph. With a terrible ferocity, the badger began biting the wolves’ legs and muzzles, causing them to yelp and howl as they scurried away.
            A jagged black rock pelted down, striking Spur across the flat of his snout. The wolf growled fiercely as he leapt away from the Wild Man, snapping his jaws at the retreating squirrel completely ignoring the shrieks of rage from the tiny figure on his back. The Wild Man rolled to his feet, chucking handfuls of snow and sod at the wolf as he steadied himself.
            “Sparky!” he cried. He thrust both arms into the air waving them enthusiastically at the squirrel. A flutter of red scarf and the muted glint of the failing light off his goggles were all that the Wild Man saw of Leftenent Sparky McWingnut before he glided back to his squadron, but not before the squirrel nodded towards him and offered a brief salute. The Wild Man laughed and returned the salute as they banked to the left, gliding back into the trees.
            A banshee screech startled him around. He spun quickly to see Francis standing in front of the Flower, her back arched and her tail at full bristle. A low rumbling hiss came from her. The dark of her eyes had narrowed to mere slits as she glowered at Havelock. He stood a scant foot away from her and was creeping slowly forward.
            A single flake of snow drifted downward, coming to rest on a petal of the Flower. Havelock grinned wickedly. The Wild Man shouted. Francis hissed. Snow began to fill the air.
            And then, the snow stopped.
It was not that the storm had passed, but rather that the snow simply stopped falling. It hung in the air. Each and every creature within the clearing paused. And in the stillness, a woman’s voice was heard singing.
            Still, still, still we are;
            Still, Still, Still we must be;
            The world without, the world within;
            All must be still, as still as can be.
            A woman, dressed in russet and orange, stepped from the trees at the far side of the meadow. Tall and thin, with hair the color of loam, she crossed to the stone to stand facing the Wild Man. She held a wand of curled witch hazel, which she twirled in lazy circles as she sang.
            The Wild Man looked about. Nothing stirred, not even a mouse…except for him. The woman crossed the glade with barely a whisper. Snowflakes parted around her and swirled in her wake as she passed. She drew near the stone and paused opposite the Wild Man.
“Ever here, ever there;” she chanted. “I find you, ever here, ever there.”
The Wild Man began to circle the stone, holding his staff close to him. The woman did not lower her wand, but began to move around the stone in the same direction.
            "Time and Tide wait for no man.” He said as they circled.
Stopping suddenly, he looked around and said, “Survey says! Agatha le Fey!”
He blew his breath at a snowflake that hung in the air before him. “No man is a failure who has friends.”
A smile quirked Agatha’s lips as she also stopped. She lowered her wand and said,
Known to you
And known to me,
I know you of old.
And me to you.”
And in that frozen time, the two stood across from one another unaware that they were not the only ones untouched by Agatha’s spell. Havelock cowered where he had stopped, crouched and ready to spring away. His black eyes darted between them daring not to move for fear of being noticed. After moments when only the frost of their breath stirred the air, Havelock leapt forward. He reached out, but had his hand swatted by Francis’ claws. Black blood oozed from the scratches on his hand.
Agatha whirled towards the darkling creature, pointing her wand directly between his eyes.
 “You have no power here, elf,” she said calmly. “The Flower will bloom soon and you will be returned to the Darkness. When you return next season, you will not remember any of today. No memory of this grove will remain to you when you return. You will begin this fruitless endeavor all again to the very same end. You are doomed for your sins to continue chasing Spring until Time itself perishes. In what’s left of your soul, you know this to be true.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

First Trip to Red Dog

Having spent the past eight hours flying from Indianapolis I was more then ready to get up and move around.  Landing in Anchorage International Airport, the plane slowly taxied from the runway to the gate.  I did my best to look out the window from the aisle seat.  

Mountains.  I could see mountains.  A gentle calm came over me.  I was back in my home state of Alaska.  

As soon I was off the plane and on the jet way connecting the plane to the terminal, I felt the cool Alaska air all over my body.  Inhaling it in, I smiled to myself.  I can breathe.  No more humid Midwest air. 

I found my bags at the baggage claim.  Made my way to the hotel.  Check in, dropped my bags off in my room.  Immediately, went right back outside to go for a walk.  

It was about 8pm.  It was a gorgeous evening for a walk, sunny and clear.  The temperature was in the low 60s.  Perfect weather.

After an hour or so, I returned to the hotel bar.  Sat out on the deck.  Ordered a Reuben sandwich and a cold Rainier Beer.  Returning to my room a little before 11pm, the sun was still out.  I guessed it would be another 2 hours before it would go below the horizon.  Land of the midnight sun.

The next morning was an early one.  I had a 7am flight to catch.  Fly Alaska Air to the village of Kotzebue.  My first time flying so far north.

Landing in Kotzebue was a trip.  The runway is not all that long.  The pilot did a very good job stopping the Boeing 737 before running out of runway.  

Kotzebue is a few miles south of the Arctic Circle.  Tundra country.  A permafrost landscape.  No trees. Just shrubs and small bushes.  Treeless mountains in the distance still covered in snow. 

Getting off the plane in Kotzebue was comical.  No jet way to the airport terminal.  Steps were rolled up to the plane, and I had to walk about 50 yard across the tarmac to get inside the terminal.  

I noticed immediately the air temperature was about 10-15 degrees cooler than Anchorage.  It was cool enough for me to want my hoodie that was inside my backpack but no time to dig it out.  The TSA agent that was at the bottom of the stairs was waving a few of us passengers to get off the plane.  About halfway to the terminal, another TSA agent stopped a group of us.  He said to wait and let these people pass.  I didn’t see anyone.  Then I saw about 6 or 8 people walking towards us from the terminal.  It was some of the boarding passengers heading out to get on the plane.  I didn’t understand what was going on.  Don’t they normally let all the passengers off the plane first before they start to re-board the plane?

Not in Kotzebue.

After another stop by a TSA agent to wait for the next group of boarding passengers, I finally got inside the terminal.  And what a madhouse it was.  The Kotzebue airport terminal was super tiny--one room, not much bigger than a 3-car garage.  And all the normal things that you see at an airport were in this one room.  On one side was a small ticketing check in counter. The other side was a small miniature luggage carousel with luggage making its short round and round.  A front door went out to the parking lot, and a back door led to the tarmac.  TSA had their outdated, walk-through, metal detector at the back door.  You had to walk through the metal detector getting off the plane.  People trying to clear through security had to wait for those getting off the plane, vice versa.  

And on this day, it seemed like half the village was in that very small airport terminal.  The place was packed.  Standing room only.  People tried to get through security one direction or another.  People tried to get to their luggage on the very small luggage carousel. Then there were those in line trying to get checked in at the ticket counter.  Families hugging and kissing loved ones.  It was a zoo.

After getting to the luggage carousel to collect my bags, I headed for the front door of the airport.  

Kotzebue Airport Alaska Air terminal

I walked down the street.  I was looking for Kotzebue Air, a small regional airline, which would be my final flight to get to Red Dog.
Noticing the local houses, it seemed like every other house had dogs in the yards.  Some had lots.  Dog sled teams.

Dog Sled team

Kotzebue house
Being the start of the summer months, the snow was gone revealing all the clutter in people’s yards.  

I found Kotzebue Air and checked in.  I gave the gal behind the counter my bags.  She put them on a cart and said that I had 4 hours until the plane departed.  Looking at the Kotzebue Air waiting area, which was not much bigger than your average living room, I knew it was going to be a long 4 hours.  

I decided to go explore the village of Kotzebue.  It only took about 15 minutes to walk around the village.  I went to the local grocery store to get a snack.  I was blown away by the outrageous prices--over $4.00 for a liter of Coca-Cola.  

It cost a lot to get things flown into the Arctic

Kotzebue Main Drag

Arctic Church

Caribou racks 
After seeing the sites, I went back to Kotzebue Air.  I pulled out a book from my backpack and got comfortable in a chair.  

It became more entertaining to people watch.  Locals would come in to catch a flight to wherever. Or they would drop off packages with whatever to have flown out to whatever remote part of the artic.  About every 5 or 10 minutes someone would come in.

Not every family uses cars to get around
One man, an old-timer native with a thick native drawl, came in with two 5-gallon buckets in hand. He told the gal that he needed these buckets flown out to his brother to whatever village.  

She nicely asked, “What’s inside the buckets?”

“Seal oil,” the old timer responded.

She kindly told him that they could not fly open buckets full of seal oil.  It was at that point that I could smell the stench of seal oil filling the waiting area. The smell was indescribable, like a fishy sting, metallic almost.

The man turned and walked out with his buckets of seal oil. 

About an hour later, a man walked into the waiting area with a clipboard.  He called out 3 names, mine being one of them.  He introduced himself and said that he was going to fly us to Red Dog. We followed him through the door behind the check in counter that lead out to a hanger.  Passing through the hanger, the pilot stopped at a cart with luggage on it.  He said that if we saw our bags grab them.  We picked up our bags and followed the pilot out of the hanger and onto the tarmac. He pointed towards three Cesenas that were parked together.  “Our plane is over there.”  He climbed up into one of the Cesenas and told us to hand him our bags.  

After loading the plane, he got out and looked around and said, “Well, I don’t see Greg.  He must still be at lunch.  We’re a little short staffed today.  We need to back this plane up about 40 feet.  Let's push this plane back.  Two of us on each wing should get the job done.”

The four of us pushed until the pilot said, “That should do it.  Let's get in.”

Pilot from Kotzebue Air
I sat just behind the pilot.  He fired up the twin engine Cesena and taxied out to the runway. He pushed the throttles down and the engine roared.  

We climbed to about 500ft and started to turn to the left. Looking out the window, I watched the village of Kotzebue pass by until it was out of view.  Still climbing and flying over Kotzebue Sound, I felt the plane make a hard bank to the left.  I looked at the pilot.  He was shaking his head and adjusting the flaps on the plane.  

Village of Kotzebue 

We circled back and lined up with the runway and landed. Taxing back to the hanger, the pilot shut one engine off so that we could hear him better.  

He yelled out, “Weather.  The weather at Red Dog is not good.  The runway is fogged in.”

We made our way back towards the waiting area of Kotzebue Air. Greg was back.  He waved as we passed by him.  “Bad weather?” he asked.  The pilot nodded.
I grabbed a cup of coffee from the coffee pot that was behind the check in counter and went back to my book.

About an hour later the pilot came back in and said, “Let’s try it.”  

We took off again.  

I looked out the window, enjoying the barren landscape below--nothing but tundra wilderness.

The pilot weaved the plane around the mountains throughout the 45-minute flight.  He kept the plane low in elevation, no more the 800ft up.  The cloud ceiling was low.  I watched him throttle back the engines and start to adjust the flaps. Looking out the front window, I could start to just barely see a runway. 

Red Dog Runway

Landing was smooth and effortless.  

It was starting to drizzle rain and the fog was still present but lifting.  

I made it to Red Dog.