Saturday, September 29, 2007


I received some exciting news yesterday: on the heels of my recent rejection, the second piece I submitted to the same publication was purchased and will be appearing in the next few weeks.

When it’s released, I’ll post details here. For now, keep your fingers crossed for me to get the opportunity to read the story as well: the publisher combines written work with podcasts, and it would be a real bonus to be the voice behind my own story.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Frog Prince

The Frog PrinceI can tell just by looking at you that you think the whole kiss-a-frog and it-becomes-a-prince thing is right up there with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. I’ll bet you’ve never even heard of the Order of the Royal Guardians. That's just great—you’re all I’ve got to count on for help.

Well, I suppose we need to get you squared away on the basics: a few centuries back, when countries were a thing to be boasted of, and rulers were determined by royal blood, there were plenty of kings and queens making lots of little princes and princesses. I can only hope you have enough sense to understand that primogeniture created a good deal of strife among royal boys, and though you have no modern equivalent to the (literal) back-stabbing this caused, bitter sibling disputes over the wares of dead parents comes closest.

The fate of a nation often rested on the shoulders of princes, and because of this, the Order of the Royal Guardians was born. (I see that look, but be clear, we are nothing like those drunken, bloody, whore-chasing Knights of the Round Table.)

At the moment a new prince was born, he was assigned a team of Royal Guardians whose task it was to protect the prince throughout the rest of his life at all cost. Through disputes within the family and threats from the outside world, the Royal Guardians served their charges with absolute loyalty. (Like the royal family, the members of the Order of the Royal Guardians are born into their positions. Thus, the team of Guardians assigned to a prince would be direct descendants of those who had been tasked to protect the king when he was but a prince himself.)

The ways of the world began to change, and as that happened, fewer and fewer monarchies survived. Once proud countries—countries steeped in familial history—were toppled and replaced by a variety of alternate governments. By the time your father’s grandfather was born, real royal blood had been so thinned that protecting the lives of the remaining princes became a task of even greater necessity.

I have said that the task of each prince’s team of Royal Guardians is to protect their charge at all cost, but you will not be aware that Royal Guardians must take two oaths upon their being assigned to their prince. The first oath is an oath of loyalty, but the second oath is one prohibiting any Royal Guardian from causing harm to another living being—even to save the life of his prince.

I see you doubt my story now more than ever, but I pray I can convince you of its truth.

Royal Guardians are inherently smart, and they have an uncanny ability to convince others to do as they wish. These two traits, along with their quick-thinking skills provide ample means for the Guardian to solve all but the most dreadful of situations without resorting to violence or to bloodshed.

On those rare occasions when it appears there is no hope, there is the fail-safe. If a Guardian fears his prince’s life is going to be lost, the fail-safe allows the Guardian to change places with his prince. With little more than a thought, the Guardian assumes the appearance of the prince and is transported from his location to that of his charge—this works as long as the prince and his Guardian are within eyesight of one another.

Obviously, the fail-safe would be of little use if the prince were merely to assume the appearance of the Guardian and be transported to the Guardian’s position: the prince could still be in grave danger if an enemy knew what he was doing.

The prince is indeed transported, but he is transported back to the grounds of his home, and for his safety, he is disguised. To ensure as few princes as possible are lost in the process, it was decided by the Order of the Royal Guardians that transported princes reappear as frogs. (In this way, even if the Guardian who activated the fail-safe perishes, the rest of his team has a general idea of what they are looking for, and as a species, frogs are reasonably safe and go reasonably unnoticed.) Because the grounds of a kingdom vary, so do the types of prince-to-frog transformations: princes may be morphed into real or decorative frogs upon the Guardian’s triggering the fail-safe. (What form of frog the prince takes is determined by the Guardian and is based on his knowledge of his prince’s home.)

Over the course of time, a number of princes have been temporarily misplaced after a fail-safe activation. (To date, no missing prince has been officially deemed lost, but some fail-safe activations have led to a prince being missing for several decades.)

It is the task of the misplaced prince’s remaining Royal Guardians to seek out their prince wherever he might be, and so, you have found me here, looking in yet another corner of another garden in hopes I might find my charge.

All that I have left to tell you is this: as the last line of a prince’s defense, the fail-safe has a built-in fail-safe. To ensure no Guardian ever be forced to reveal his prince, the frog must be released by someone outside of the royal family and the Order.

And so, I beg you for your assistance, for I am convinced the frog that you see is in fact my prince, and only you can help free him with a kiss.

The Frog Prince

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beyond Cool

Once in awhile, I run across a site that just captivates me. I stumbled onto Centripetal Notion recently, and if you hurry, you can spend the time you were going to take being here over there.

The place defies description, but if you are breathing, you’ll find something interesting.

Why are you still here? Get going!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Over the Fence

The fat one held one of the two babies close to her as she looked through the fence at me. The other baby lay on the blanket beside the fat one. It was crying and twisting back and forth while reaching upward with its two chubby little hands. The fat one kept clutching at the baby in her arms and staring at me. She paid no attention to the other child. I couldn’t really make out the fat one’s face, but I could tell she was afraid of me. It might have been the way she sat: one shoulder rolled toward me and over her baby as if to protect it from the monster on the other side of the fence. It might have been the way the fat one just stared: I had smiled as soon as I saw her sitting on the blanket with the children, but she had only clutched at the child in her arms and stared. A small boy ran between us cutting an angled path in the tall grass on the other side of the fence. Startled by the running boy, the fat one’s eyes suddenly darted away from mine. After the running boy had passed, I noticed the fat one looking down at the second child: she looked up at me and back at the child—up and down, up and down. Several minutes passed, and I stared at the fat one as she looked up at me and down at the second child. She seemed surprised that it was there. The running boy returned retracing the angled path he had cut in the grass; this time he was screaming.

The skinny one appeared from behind the small barn. The screams of the running boy had roused her from her work. While the boy screamed and the skinny one ran to him, the fat one began to rock back and forth with the baby that was in her arms. The second child was no longer reaching toward the sky with its chubby little hands. As soon as the running boy started screaming, the second child had begun crying. It might have been the crying that started the fat one rocking. It might have been the screaming. Or it might have been me—the monster on the other side of the fence.

The skinny one caught up to the running boy whose screams had begun to subside. She whispered something into his ear and he disappeared into the house. The skinny one went over to the blanket where the fat one sat rocking and clutching the baby. The skinny one whispered something onto the ear of the fat one. The fat one looked back at me with fear and panic in her eyes as she struggled to get to her feet. The second child had stopped crying and was making a gurgling sound and wiggling its legs. I could smell it from my side of the fence. The fat one had gotten to her feet. She looked at me and then at the skinny one. She clutched the baby in her arms and turned toward the house. For a second, I thought she might look down at the second child, but she didn’t. I heard the door slam and rattle shut as the fat one went inside. Then I heard her scream.

The skinny one looked at me, and I smiled. She was not afraid. She scooped the baby up off of the blanket, held it close to her, and walked toward me. The child had stopped gurgling, but its legs were still wiggling. The skinny one stopped a few feet from the fence. She looked down at the baby, and then up at me.

The baby sailed upward for a few moments, and then it began to fall through the air. It hit the ground just in front of me, and it began to cry. They always cried when they hit the ground. The skinny one looked at me for a moment before turning away. I had finished my meal before she got inside.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

To Have and to Hold

MobiPocket Top

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books.

It began in my childhood with lots of the caretakers of my youth reading to me and with me. I was lucky enough to have parents who took me on adventures to the library and bookstores. My folks also ensured I was one of the kids who got to order from the super cool book magazines at school, and my memory of delivery day is my box was always the biggest.

My Christmas list is regularly littered with must-have books and requests for bookstore gift cards. Of the frivolous expenses in my year, books outweigh everything.

Over the years, I’ve developed a pickiness about the books I read: size, shape, and covers can make or break a spontaneous purchase, and while I never refuse to read a book I’m interested in because of the version available, I have been known to leave a bookstore empty-handed only to make an online purchase of the book I was after in a version I prefer.

A recent example: I decided to buy Crime and Punishment after reading a writing article about a particular element of Dostoyevsky’s book. A day or so later, I was in a bookstore and found a copy of the book, but it was a paperback version with really small font, and it just didn’t give me the warm-fuzzies. I went home, poked around online, and found a hardback copy of medium size which I purchased. (When it arrived, I found it very warm and plenty fuzzy.)

Those of us who love books understand how difficult parting with many of our reads is, and we all suffer the same ailment: too many books and too little space in which to keep them.

Additionally, I suffer from an education-based injury as well: the chronic backache of the book-laden English Literature major.

While studying for the requisite Comprehensive Examination for my MA, I was in constant possession of several books and several binders of notes: every spare moment was filled with studying, and in order to study, I had to have the texts and the notes.

Then, the eBook was born, and shortly thereafter, the Microsoft Reader converter was given life. Much of what I was studying was available electronically (for free), and thanks to the Reader converter, my notes could all be changed into eDocuments as well.

I became a much happier person once I was able to load 60+ texts and the notes about them onto a PDA.

The experience has turned me into an eBook fan, and while most of my purchases remain physical texts, there are times an eBook is what I want. There are other distinct advantages to eBooks: privacy, portability, built-in dictionaries, and backlights in the reading devices for insomniacs like me.

For example, I recently began reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and after buying the physical text, I located a free eText. I keep the eBook on my Treo, and not only do I have the book with me at all times, but also, when I awake at 2 a.m., I can read from the eBook while remaining snug in my bed with all of the lights out.

About two weeks ago, I wanted to purchase several eBooks, and the reason was two-fold: first, there was a blowout sale on some titles I wanted to read in preparation for some writing I am now doing, and save for the sale, I would not have been able to spend the money on the books; second, the books are erotic in nature, and the covers are not the kinds of images I am comfortable exposing while proctoring exams and the like.

I don’t care that half-naked people in extremely sexual positions grace the covers, but some students are so easily offended, I have to be careful. (And then there are those students who simply don’t know better than to say something inappropriate once they see the book’s cover.)

I filled my cart with nine eBooks, and with the kind of giddy excitement I always feel over books, I tried to checkout. Each time I tired to buy the books, I received a very confusing message regarding copyright laws, and after spending several hours attempting to get to the bottom of the issue, I realized the seller’s system was locking me out because it believed my copy of Microsoft Reader to be unregistered.

(For those unfamiliar with eBooks and copyright, the short answer is that many commercially available eBooks have built-in copy protection that is tied into a simple online registration process of the reading software. This protects authors from losing money at the hands of unscrupulous, thieving, shit heads who think copy a text and giving it away is the right thing to do.)

The thing is, my Microsoft Reader was registered.

I wanted those books in the worst way, so I reregistered my laptop’s Reader. Fortunately, I realized my Treo’s copy of Reader was not registered, and that needed to be fixed before I downloaded the books, or I probably wouldn’t be able to get them onto the Treo.

(Again, for those unfamiliar with eTexts, in order to place copies on several devices, each device must be registered and owned by the same person. See the shit head explanation above for the reason.)

I spent TWO DAYS trying to register my handheld device (i.e. the Treo), and each try ended with a failure and a declaration that my device had the wrong operating system on it. This situation was addressed in the Microsoft Reader forums, and there was a fix available for download. Unfortunately, the fix yielded the same failure/error message.

I even completed a hard rest and software reload.

I gave up in frustration, and chose only two of the nine purchases because anything I bought I’d have to read on my laptop which is about as convenient for me as carting around an entire set of encyclopedias.

The missing books weighed on me, and I went back several days later and tried the whole process again, and again I failed.

I installed Adobe’s eReader, and I had the same problem.

There were only three eBook versions available: Microsoft Reader, Adobe Reader, and something I’d never heard of: MobiPocket Reader.

I went to the MobiPocket site, and having determined the reader software seemed legitimate, I gave it a shot: in about 10 minutes I was up and running on both my laptop and my Treo.

Unfortunately, the sale that started it all had passed, and while I decided to splurge on two more of the original nine books I’d wanted, I found the whole experience troubling.

Obviously, several authors (and the selling site) didn’t get my money, and while they might at some later date, they likely will not.

Had I not been ridiculously driven to purchase those eBooks, the first failed attempt might have led to my giving up. I’m going to guess the average consumer might have given up, and if that consumer were trying an eBook purchase for the first time, chances are excellent that person would never try to make a similar purchase again.

Because of all of this, I am sold on the MobiPocket product and intend to avoid the others. As a bonus, MobiPocket also has a converter that I’ve already begun to use to create new items and replace old ones.

MobiPocket Reader Bottom

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scary Sarah Simpleton

Sarah Simpleton was not the least bit pleased by her name, and who could blame her? No matter how often her well-meaning parents (Sally and Sam Simpleton) tried to convince her of the things that could and could not break bones, Sarah was not appeased.

The schoolmate insults leveled at Sarah began as basic chants of her name, but as she grew, the range of her peers’ creative name-calling grew as well. Eventually, the fact that her parents’ names and hers all began with the letter “S” led to refrains of “suh-suh-suh-sarah suh-suh-suh-simpleton.” (Timothy Renfield believed Sarah deserved one “suh” for each “S” in the family, and the rest of the kids went along with Timothy because he was the kid all the other kids wanted to be.)

As Sarah grew, the teasing became worse, and she folded more and more into herself. Sarah had no friends, and though several teachers were as vigilant as possible about stopping the teasing leveled at her, the truth was Sarah Simpleton was her name, and nothing and no one could change that—or the psychological issues having such a name caused.

Sarah developed an imagination well beyond that of the average young boy or girl who creates friends with whom to spend summer afternoons and rainy evenings. Sarah created an entire world of people for herself, and where most children imagined a world unlike the one in which they lived, Sarah’s fantasy world was identical to the real thing, except that in Sarah’s world, no one made fun of her name.

After awhile, it became apparent to those around Sarah that she spent a good deal of her time enmeshed in her own thoughts, and soon Sarah Simpleton became Scary Sarah Simpleton. By the time Sarah was dubbed scary by her classmates, she’d learned to block out the noise of the world around her, and more often than not, the insults hurled her way (along with the protective measures taken by the adults around her) went unnoticed.

Sarah’s parents were helpless during most of their daughter’s struggles, and while they did their best to assist Sarah through the taunts and teases, they had little luck reaching their child.

When Sarah had insulated herself from the outside world by means of her imagined one, Sally and Sam Simpleton agreed the best course of action would be to take no action. After all, once Sarah got a bit older, the teasing and ridicule would end, and Sarah would be able to get on with her life.

Which is why it was both a shock and a pleasant surprise to Sally Simpleton when her daughter came to her one afternoon and asked her mother whether or not they might take a trip to the pet store. Along with her request, Sarah presented to her mother a short list of supplies:

  • Cat bowls

  • Cat food

  • Cat collar

  • Litter box

  • Litter

  • Toys

Sarah’s mother was taken aback by her daughter’s sudden want of a pet. For years, Sarah’s mother and father had tried to foster a desire for a companion in their daughter, but Sarah never showed any interest.

“Honey, isn’t there something missing from this list?”

Sarah’s mother spoke to her in a teasing manner, but Sarah didn’t seem amused. The girl walked up to her mother’s outstretched hand, viewed the list with a careful eye, stepped back, and replied,

“No. Everything I need is there.”

“The cat, Sarah—you didn’t put ‘cat’ on your list.”

Again, Sarah’s mother delivered her words in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and again, Sarah seemed unmoved by the humor.

“No. I didn’t forget. I have the cat. He showed up just this morning. I tired to shoo him away, but it seems he’s decided to stay. Obviously, he’ll need the items on the list if he’s going to be here for awhile. If you’d prefer, we can skip the toys and the collar as neither is absolutely necessary.”

Sarah’s mother could do nothing more than stand flat-footed and stare at her daughter. The joy she’d felt over what she presumed to be Sarah’s coming out of her shell evaporated into confusion over how to respond. She chose the direct approach.

“Sarah, show me the cat you want to buy these things for.”

“Mother, you know perfectly well you won’t be able to see it.”

“Well, if you can’t show me the cat, I can’t take you to the pet store.”

“Very well, but the cat will grow hungry and thirsty before too long.”

“Well then, you’d better think your cat the supplies he needs!”

Sally Simpleton had not meant to reply so crossly to her daughter, but she’d grown exasperated over Sarah’s fantasy world, and having glimpsed what she thought was a moment of lucidity in the girl, watching it disappear was more than she could bear.

Before Sarah’s mother had a chance to apologize, Sarah had turned and left, heading to the safety of her room and her made-up world.


Over the course of the next few days, Sarah repeatedly asked her mother to take her to the pet store, and her mother continued to refuse. When Sally caught Sarah sneaking food up to her room for the cat, she’d had enough.

It’s pointless to ground a child whose days are spent holed up in her room or alone in the backyard, so the only punishment Sarah’s mother could think of was to force her daughter to go with her on each and every one of her errands and club meetings when the child wasn’t in school. This kept Sarah away from her room, her people, and her cat.

Two days later, Sally Simpleton received a call from the principal of Sarah’s school. A camera had gone missing from the art department, and several students claimed to have seen Sarah take it and leave the school grounds. The principal was wondering whether or not Sarah had gone home.

Sally Simpleton assured the principal her daughter had not come home, and she was about to hang up and call her husband and the police when in through the kitchen door walked Sarah. In Sarah’s hands was a camera. Mrs. Simpleton hung up on the principal without realizing it, and as she was about to address her daughter, Sarah walked though the kitchen and headed upstairs to her room.

When Sally Simpleton’s “Young lady, you come back here this instant!” got no response, she went upstairs to confront her child.

She found Sarah sitting in front of her computer with the camera plugged in, and as she began to chastise the girl, Sarah turned the computer screen, so her mother could view it.

“There, you see? There’s the cat. I took his picture just now as he was disappearing. He’s been doing it more and more lately. I think he’s starving. Now, can we please go to the pet store?”

Sarah’s mother said nothing. She looked from her daughter to the picture, and back to her daughter, then she turned around, walked downstairs, and as she grabbed her car keys, she yelled out,

“I’m ready when you are, honey.”

Scary Sarah Simpleton

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sliced Bread Is Nothing

It dawned on me early this morning that this year’s NaNoWriMo is drawing near. That realization filled me with a mixture of terror and excitement, and anyone who’s participated in the event understands the reason.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual event that takes place each November, and participants are challenged to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days.

I participated for the first time last year, and I was a winner.

(Before you send confetti, a winner is anyone who completes the task.)

It’s true that sheer determination got me through, but time is everything when one is on a 2,000 word-per-day schedule, and the little device below made all the difference for me.

Stowaway 1

Stowaway 2

Stowaway 3

Stowaway 4

Stowaway 5

Stowaway 6

That’s right: a portable keyboard that allows me to use my Treo’s Microsoft Word Mobile and work anywhere.

My final writing day included a five-hour stint at the dentist’s office, and without this keyboard, I never would have made the deadline.

There are many portable keyboards on the market, but the ThinkOutside Infrared Wireless Keyboard features some significant differences.

  • It’s a full-sized qwerty keyboard.

  • It has no stay-flat problems.

  • The keys feel and respond like those on a computer’s keyboard.

  • It is durable and comes with a carrying case.

Beyond the NaNoWriMo use, this keyboard makes working anywhere possible with very little equipment: it takes up less space than a pad of paper, is smaller than a paperback book, and fits nicely in my purse.

While sitting in a cafĂ© and writing is a nice change of pace, dragging a laptop inside and going through the hassle of finding a plug can be a pain. (Then, there’s what to do with your laptop if the coffee leads to the need to use the restroom.)

With the Stowaway and my Treo, I can come and go quickly and easily, and I don’t feel the burden of dragging my laptop around.

The only drawback I can find is the company has sold its product line to iGo, and their Web site isn’t very user-friendly, nor does the current version appear to be as lovingly crafted.

I never doubted the value of my purchase, but now, I feel like it was an even better buy.

There’s only one on eBay, and I may have to snag it as a backup!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Past, Present, Future

Neither the steady hum of the overhead fluorescents, nor their rhythmic flickering had an effect on Detective Wilson as he sat alone, bent over, and intently studying the hand-written words in front of him. His surroundings were as familiar as his own home, and like the unique noises of the detective’s house, the idiosyncrasies of Interview Room #3 were ingrained in his subconscious.

Wilson turned another page in the diary that lay before him on the tabletop. Over the past twelve years, the pages on which Charles Douglas Lane had written had yellowed around the edges. Many were stiff, and most retained a fine coating of latent print powder.
Wednesday, 9 January, 1985

Three days ago, I opened my front door, coffee in hand, and I bent down to pick up my morning paper. As I stood up, a small envelope drifted to the ground in a slow, zigzagging motion. It came to a rest on the doormat revising the message to WE      ME. I guessed that the envelope had been slipped under the rubber band that held the folded newspaper, and for the second time that morning, I bent over while trying not to spill the contents of my coffee cup onto the porch. I thought it was an advertisement of some type and almost threw it away.

The envelope lay unopened on my kitchen table until after I’d finished reading the news. Then, before I really knew what I was doing, I opened it and removed a note card. Three words stared up at me:


The letters that made up the words hadn’t been cut from magazines and pasted to the card like in some horror movie. They were printed in large, neat, block letters. At the time, I thought it was a teaser for an ad campaign. I flipped the card over looking for a logo, a product name, or some further clue, but there was nothing.

Detective Wilson paused and stretched, and as he moved, the hard, wooden chair groaned. Satisfied, he rocked gently on the chair’s uneven legs as he rummaged through the pages of the case file that rested on the table beside the diary.

Three or four pages from the file’s top, he found the interview list he was looking for and scanned it. Near the bottom of the almost page-long list, he found the name he sought: Doctor E. Martin Duncan. The note “Lane’s psychiatrist” had been written in parentheses next to the doctor’s name. Wilson recognized the tight, clean cursive as his own handwriting.

The detective remembered that at the time of the murder, Lane had been under Dr. Duncan’s care for just over one month, and the diary entries from which he read were part of the doctor’s suggested therapy.

Detective Wilson turned his attention back to the diary.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


This morning I read a post at Paperback Writer, a site I’ve been following for the last six weeks or so, and it made me laugh out loud—really. And then, it made me very, very depressed because I am so at the-idiot-who-misses/ignores-the-cannibal-signs stage it hurts.

You can read the whole post here, but the gist is this: writing is as big a tangled mess as almost any profession worth pursuing, and because what is at stake is of one’s own creation, the loss at times is immeasurable while the small victories are enormous.


In an ironic twist of fate, the words I read fit everything I’ve done professionally, and given “writer” is now on my tax form right along with “teacher,” that makes this tapping of the keys my third profession.

Way to go, Shawn!

I remember watching Personal Best in the early 80’s, and one line from the film has always stuck with me: Scott Glen (as Terry Tingloff) says, “The high jump is a masochist’s event—it always ends on failure.”

I’ve often thought that line the perfect description of writing: it’s a masochist’s pursuit—it requires a willingness to fail. A lot. While pretending everyone who rejects you is a moron. No matter what.

True, this could be applied to almost any creative pursuit, but if I write a story, and it goes nowhere, I can’t hang it on my wall, or pour coffee into it, or give it to my friends as a gift. It hasn’t made my abs better or my teeth whiter or my clothes hang more elegantly. I can go back to it, decide whether or not it’s worth trying to save, and either “fix” it or kill it. And the rub is, unlike the painting or the ceramic, a story is basically useless unless it goes out into the world. (The only benefit a rejected story may have provided is teaching the writer something. But that’s not necessarily the case, either. Often, the story is good, but some other thing has prevented its being accepted/purchased.)

Now, my father is an artist and he’ll read this and disagree about my suggesting writing is any different from painting. He’ll remind me of all the paintings he’s failed to sell, and all the rejections he’s faced, and to a certain extent, he’ll be correct, but he will have missed one of the most significant differences, and the primary reason writing is so different from other creative endeavors.

He can post his paintings as often as he wishes and never face an inability to sell them or enter them in contests or submit them to a gallery because paintings and other similar creations are not exposure-limited like written pieces are.

The things I write that I intend to sell or enter into contests I must keep secret. Most publishers/contests do not accept simultaneous submissions, and they want first rights—often print and electronic. Meanwhile, the turnaround time regarding acceptance/rejection ranges from weeks to months. What this means is I spend months or years on a project, and then I begin at the top of my wish list of publishers/contests and send that baby off. And I can do nothing else with it until I hear back. Months later, when it’s rejected, I go to publisher/contest number two, and so forth.

Meanwhile, I have to create a whole new world before I can try to make a sale or win a contest. (Yes, I write because I love to, but to make it a career, I have to sell things and gain exposure.)

My dad—I love you dad, and I appreciate your support, so don’t be too mad—can paint a piece, photograph it, and send its photographic representative to as many places as he wants to—simultaneously. He can hang the same piece in a gallery while it resides virtually on his Web site and blogs, and he can take it from show to show to show without anyone batting an eye.

There is no limit placed on how or how often he exposes that one work of art.

Selling anything one has created is a matter of talent, luck, and exposure. Unfortunately, my works of art have to remain hidden like unwanted children or precious gems, and most of the time, they suffocate in the process.

I found out yesterday that my latest story submission has been rejected. It’s a really good piece called “The Battle That Raged On,” and I’d share it with you, except, I really believe in it, and I’ve already begun the process of sending it off to another potential publisher, so I can’t let you judge its value for yourself.

I can’t even post parts of it here to get a little positive feedback from my friends and family. I have to pull the knife out of my own back, lick my own wound, and kiss my baby goodbye yet again.

And wait.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Unreported Dangers of Grocery Shopping

While at my local Safeway a few days ago, I narrowly escaped my demise on three separate occasions.

Setting aside the irony of multiple near-death experiences at a store with “Safe” in its name, I feel it’s my moral obligation to warn the general public about the dangers I recently faced. Shopper, beware!

It began in the produce section, and as is the case with many a produce section, the aisles are wider than those in the rest of the store: I believe it was the ample space in the area that saved me. As I reached out for a mid-sized russet, I narrowly missed being sideswiped by a boy DARTING AROUND SHOPPERS AND CARTS ON HIS ROLLER SKATE SHOES.

Let me be clear: this was not an open-air, farmer’s market setting—it was a fully enclosed grocery store. And the little runt was recreating (the original) Rollerball in the aisles.

I looked around for the parent/guardian, but saw no one with the proper degree of humiliation and/or anger sweeping his/her face.


The kid was long gone by the time I was able to shake off the startle and return to my potatoes, and that was fine by me: I might have stuck a russet in his path had he continued.

I’d forgotten the affair by the time I headed down the bread aisle, but roller-kid struck again: this time, I was turning back towards my cart to deposit my loaf when he skirted between it and me.

There was no one else in the aisle, and I realized the skater was speeding through the store unsupervised.


(Where is a decent serial killer of children when you need one?)

Normally, there is an employee around every corner, and my first hope was one would be plowed down by the kid before too much more time passed. If that didn’t work out, I was determined to report the activity to the next smock-wearing individual I could find. (Unless I found the child’s parent/guardian first—in which case I anticipated losing momentary control of my cart: whether I hit the kid or his supervisor being irrelevant.)

Several aisles later, having neither seen nor been brushed back by the mad-skater, I felt certain he’d been stopped, injured, or banished. Oh, sweet safety.

The coup de grace occurred while I maneuvered my cart from a particularly busy aisle into the main thoroughfare that leads to the checkout aisles. As I pulled forward, there he was for a third time speeding his way in my direction; however, this time, the path behind me was full, so I couldn’t put my cart into reverse. His eyes got wide, and he tried to apply his non-existent brakes.

[The remaining portion of this entry has been written in slow-motion to allow you the best view of the action.]
As the raucous little boy edged closer and closer to the metal barrier that was my cart, I spied his guardian and noted she was engrossed in a cell-phone conversation: she too was headed straight for me. [Cue evil laugh track.]

The smile on my face spread in blissful unison with the look of terror spreading across the boy’s mug, and I breathed deeply of the aromatic smell of victory as the skating menace hit my cart mid-speed. Almost immediately, the little monster was pinned by his inattentive mother who sandwiched her angel between my cart and hers.

Very nice.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Work in Progress: The Well

I was seventeen years old when my father murdered Rose Acres, and while I haven't yet decided if the term murder fits, that's the word my father used. A week after he'd done it, he'd driven his car off a cliff and was dead also. I was left alone to face a town that was still reeling from the events and divided over what was truth and what was fiction.

Since the fire destroyed almost everything I own, I can’t help but feel as if some of what my father said over the years is true. Perhaps he was as sane as anyone after all. But that's something I can’t decide for myself because it's no longer my father's sanity that's in question: it's mine, and a person shouldn’t try to decide on his own whether or not he’s crazy.

In the hours before he committed the murder, my father filled the pages—front and back—of three spiral notebooks. The words in those books, written in my father's clumsy hand, served as the explanation behind what led my father to his sealing Rose Acres' fate.

The consensus was mixed: about half the population wanted Rose Acres eliminated as quickly and mercilessly as possible, while the other half was in favor of a stay of execution—provided it was followed by a carefully planned rehabilitation period. And this was not the first time Rose Acres had been on the verge of death. The last time, about forty years earlier, Rose Acres' identity hadn't been clearly established; in fact, most of her best-known features hadn't yet taken shape. But even then, she had straddled the precarious balance between life and death without seeming to care which direction fate swung.

The earlier decision to exonerate Rose Acres had hinged almost solely on her historical significance. The bronze dedication plaque, a wrought iron bench, and a small patch of more-yellow-than-green grass were all that separated her from any other undeveloped bit of land, but the plaque and bench had been installed to mark the town's establishment, and although the center of town had shifted away from the bench and plaque, the town council simply could not bring themselves to remove either of those land marks.

Since her first brush with death, Rose Acres had grown into a respectable, if small, park—due primarily to the addition of a wishing well, a swing set, another fifty square feet of grass, several strategically placed trees, and an automatic sprinkler system. The uneducated often wondered where the roses were and why the park wasn't several acres in size, but those who were observant would have caught that Rose Acres was the name of the first Mayor's mother—it said so on the bronze marker.

The issue that had the town in fits when my father intervened and sealed Rose Acres' fate had to do with money—at least on its surface. Rose Acres had grown out-of-place in a town that had become more city and less country. She remained the only real bit of nature among brick buildings, parking garages, and moderately-busy streets and stood as an oasis of sorts—a sad reminder to the older residents of the town of what they had lost in the name of modernization.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Attention: You Are Not Alone in the Universe

Several days ago, a new phenomenon began to occur in my neighborhood. Normally, the early morning hours are filled with a variety of nature’s sounds including wild birds singing, deer walking their well-worn paths while crunching the occasional leaf, and dogs barking here and there. Aside from the dogs, it’s a great way to begin a day.

Last week, while the various forest creatures were beginning their early-morning routines, and I was pouring my second cup of coffee, a car horn sounded several long, obnoxious, un-forest-like hoots.

The noise silenced everything else but reverberated through the area like the screeching echo of a beast. Talk about a mood spoiler.

The next day, it happened again.

And so it appears it will be on weekday mornings.

The driver is obviously picking up another passenger, and the idiot behind the wheel is so pathetically lazy and rude he/she thinks laying on the horn is appropriate.

I hated the horn-honk when I lived in the city, and in the mountains, it is just this side of criminal.

But it goes far beyond the noise: in the car, I imagine (based on the time) there is at least one school-aged child being taught by his or her parent/guardian that it's perfectly fine to be lazy and rude and honk one’s vehicle horn in the peaceful hours of the early morning.

Neighbors be damned.

That same passenger is also being taught that getting out of one’s car, walking up to the door of a person with whom you are about to share a ride is a complete waste of time and energy.

At the very least, the asinine honker might send the kid from the car up to the door, but that might mean the child actually burns up a few stored calories, so forget it.

And before anyone points out the driver might have only an infant who can’t be left in an automobile, I ask you: do you think the dingbat driver is without a cell phone? What—he/she can’t pull to the curb, park the car, and call the person in the house to announce the grand arrival? (Heaven forbid the rider wait outside in the beautiful, late-summer air.)

I can promise you this: if the honking keeps up, I’ll be getting into my own car and driving the vicinity to find the mad honker so that I might honk at him or her myself.

What is wrong with people?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Day the Rains Came

The Day the Rains CameSmall towns have a certain allure. It might be the landscape or the architecture. It might be the people. It might even be a combination of things, and Fallover was no different. It was just another small town with its share of lore and mystique—two qualities which seemed to rise and fall in proportion to the number of tourists who were in town—but all-in-all, Fallover could have been Anywhere, USA.

Until the rains came.

Until the bad things started.

That’s what Roger Crocket eventually called them: the bad things.

Roger’s goldfish had turned belly up the day the rains came, and even though no one (including Roger) understood on that day that it would be remembered as the day the rains came for as long as Fallover existed, Roger did understand a fish who was belly up was a goner. He also understood that his fish had been fine earlier that morning. (Of course, that idea remained in the boy’s subconscious until he began to connect the rains to the beginning of the bad things.)

The passing of a goldfish isn’t cause for alarm, and neither is rain—even the odd spurts Fallover was experiencing at a time of the year during which precipitation was basically unheard of—but after nearly two weeks of the rains, it wasn’t just a small boy grieving for his goldfish who began to notice something was very wrong—that bad things were happening.

The rains that came to Fallover were not unrelenting showers spread out over days-on-end. They began as one or two daily instances of sudden, torrential downpours that lasted no longer than one minute a piece. There was never a cloud in the sky, nor was there a change in the temperature, and the smell that should have been in the air was absent: in other words, the rains came out of nowhere.

It became apparent that the passing of each little storm left a tragedy in its wake: Roger’s goldfish had been the first, but to the list had been added a variety of in-home mishaps, several traffic collisions, and the fire that had broken out so suddenly at the town’s only grocery.

If you were to chart these events—as many in Fallover began to do—you’d have noticed that each new rain brought with it a tragedy of increasing seriousness. The first few in-home mishaps were things like small appliances malfunctioning, but these events quickly escalated to include larger appliances.

When the ice-maker on Mrs. Tarlson’s refrigerator shot out a knife-like “cube” that embedded itself into her forearm, people began to get worried.

The traffic accidents followed a similar path: first, a car that had been parked before one of the storms ended up in motion after the rain had passed—it took out a large section of the fence surrounding the grade school. Shortly thereafter, car-chasing dogs became a thing of the past. Just before objects began igniting in Fallover, a cadet was run-over in the fire house. No one had seen what happened, but little sense could made of a man’s being found beneath the rear tires of a fire truck that was parked as usual in the station house.

The escalating tragedies were only part of the problem: with the passing of time, the frequency of the rains had increased: near the end of the fourth week, they occurred up to five times each day.

By the time the residents of Fallover realized leaving might be the only thing standing between themselves and death, the fence had been put up around the entire town. No one saw it go up, and no one had heard anything either.

One morning it was just there.


Surrounding Fallover.

It had been six weeks since the day the rains came, and suddenly, the people of Fallover were trapped. The bad things continued after each of the storms, but once the fence went up, worse things began to occur.

Fallover lost all contact with the outside world. While the residents still had electricity, not a television or a radio or a telephone worked. Meanwhile, each time one of the rains ended, a fire broke out. The grocery had gone up first, and though this complicated the food situation in town, at least no one had been inside. Shortly after the store burned, the first occupied vehicle was incinerated. The next day, an entire house (and its family) was reduced to ashes.

The rains had become even more frequent, and like the clocks that chimed the hour in Fallover, the rains marked the passing of time—as did the fires.

Bit-by-bit, person-by-person, and building-by-building, Fallover was being transformed into piles of charred and soggy rubble.

Roger was trying to explain to his mother and his grandparents that all of all of the bad things had started with the death of his goldfish when another of the rains came. Roger’s mother went to the back door and yelled for her husband to come in from the garage. As she yelled, the rain stopped. The sound of the pelting drops was instantly replaced by the WHOOSH of the flames that engulfed her home, her son, and her parents.

Roger’s father didn’t bother to watch his home and family burn to the ground. He knew, as did everyone who was left in Fallover, that the fires burned so fast and hot that nothing would be left of everything he had loved in his life.

Turning back to the garage, Roger’s father got into his car and drove to the section of the fence closest to what had only moments before been his home. He got out of the car and looked the fence up and down. After several minutes, he ran straight at it, determined to climb his way out of Fallover.

As Roger’s father ran toward the black monster that kept Fallover’s residents at bay, another of the rains fell, and at the instant he hit the fence, the rain stopped.

His body exploded into fleshy particles as water droplets mixed with the high voltage of the fence.

A lone, dry spot remained to mark the last efforts of a man—until the next of the Fallover rains fell.

The Day the Rains Came

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

You Know You're Old When. . .

Underwood Typewriter. . .you remember typing papers on a typewriter, and you went to the doctor if you had a virus.

Those were the good old days, you know, before the words personal and computer became associated with one another.

According to several articles, this marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the very first personal computer virus.

Written by then ninth-grader Rich Skrenta (now 40) who called it “some dumb little practical joke,” perhaps the funniest part of the gaff is where the virus was grown: on the hard drive of an Apple II computer. (Talk about not PC!)

I think I finally understand the missing bite in Apple’s logo: it represents the origin of the term chip off the block—knew you could do it.

For those of you who want that piece back, dig around in your non-Apple hard drives!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Work in Progress: Test Case

My name is Karen Deerborne. I am a prosecuting attorney, and as such, I am used to establishing things. I tell you this because I want to be clear: I am not a promiscuous woman. I am not a risk-taker. I have never been picked up by a stranger in a bar, and until last night, I had never had anonymous sex.

* * *

The digital clock on my desk flashed as 11:59 pm turned into 12:00 am. Exhausted and feeling the weight of the previous day settling on my shoulders, I closed the file I’d been reviewing, turned off my desk lamp, and left my office carrying nothing but my purse. Walking down the hallway, I mentally planned the next few hours of my life: home, quick shower, sleep until 4:00 am, shower again, dress, eat, be back in the office by 5:30. It was going to be another in a string of very long days that had turned into several very long weeks.

My mind raced around the events of the last few days: a mysterious man had been entering the homes of single women, catching them unaware, blindfolding them, and forcing them to undress and masturbate for him. He had done the victim’s no additional harm, and while each of the women expressed shame at the idea of being forced into such an intimate act while being observed by a stranger, they all noted their “attacker” had been polite and kind. The newspapers had dubbed the man Mr. Perfect after one female journalist commented about it being the perfect crime: the victim and the suspect each getting what they wanted, and proclaiming that if Mr. Perfect kept it up, Arlingtown would be filled with the happiest, most satisfied women on the planet.

Reaching the end of the hallway, I made a left turn, punched the elevator’s down button, and waited for the car to arrive on my floor. Moments later, the doors slide open, and I entered the ornate box while willing myself to let go of everything work-related as one-by-one the floors to the ground ticked by. The ride down thirty-six floors doesn’t take very long, but as I felt the elevator slow, my internal counter alerted me to an unplanned stop. Looking up at the numbers above the door, I saw the 26 light up, felt the slowing movement turn to a dead stop, and waited for the doors to open.

Expecting Charlie, the building’s janitor, I was taken aback when a man in a suit was waiting at the other side of the doors. The man seemed as startled as I was, and I immediately read his hesitation. Moving over, I tried to make clear to him I wasn’t a woman frightened by an unknown man getting into an elevator in the middle of the night. Of course, I was, but I didn’t need the man standing in front of me to know it. Moments after the man stepped in, the car’s doors slide silently closed, and with the touch of the lobby button, we were on the move.

The odd silence of elevators descended around us, and the relaxation I had tried to find before the man’s appearance had gone into hiding.

“Late night, for both of us, I guess.”

He spoke with a deeply melodic voice, and when I met his eyes to respond, I felt a sudden tingle run through me.

“So it seems.”

I waited for his next polite statement, but instead of speaking, he simply looked at me. Ordinarily, a gaze like his would bother me, yet his eyes and his stare seemed harmless—inviting even.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Turning a Critical Eye on the Carpool Lane

I commute to work, and when I say commute, I don’t mean drive: I mean commute, as in I live over 60 miles from the campus at which I teach. In terms of driving time, it takes me nearly 90 minutes to get from my home to school, and that’s if there are no unforeseen events.

The first thirty minutes of my commute is on a winding mountain road, and any other driver who’s ahead of me has the potential to be one of those unforeseen events by merely traveling slower than I do.

Then there are the traffic accidents: the freeway is filled with unskilled multitaskers, and none of them has the common decency to have single-car collisions: they always have to involve others in their shortcomings.

Which brings me to the carpool lane.

When our schedules allow, I carpool with a coworker, but it’s not an easy thing to do. We rarely have identical schedules, so there’s an hour or two either before or after arrival during which one of us is trying to work in a shared office that’s the size of a small home’s master bathroom. (To say it isn’t an ideal working environment is an understatement.)

There are other issues as well: once committed to a carpool, errands are out of the question, and for me, this makes things very difficult. Although my coworker lives 45 miles from campus, she is 10-15 minutes from things like the grocery store, the gas station, and the typical assortment of convenience-based businesses to which most of us who live in non-yurts have become accustomed.

My shopping and gassing up and getting a hair cut are best planned around a trip into town (i.e. going to work) because I live thirty minutes from civilization. Unfortunately, once I drop off my carpool partner, I have passed everything I need, and turning back down the hill sounds like fingers—lots and lots of fingers—scraping down a chalkboard.

I also have friends and family who live near my campus, so getting to see them before or after I teach is a luxury I lose when I am sharing a ride with someone else.

But the gas savings is huge, and passing hundreds of bumper-to-bumper cars is such a time saver, I generally compromise by choosing one day per week as my non-carpooling day and plan all of my errands and visits around it.

I have mixed feelings about the carpool lane: I think it’s a great idea to encourage drivers to share rides whenever possible; however, I’m not sure the carpool lane is the best way to encourage what ought to be natural behavior.

The carpool lane functions on three basic principles:

  1. Take away and entire lane of the freeway from the majority of drivers causing what is already a major traffic backup to become worse.
  2. Allow an itty bitty percentage of drivers to use an almost-empty lane provided they pack their cars with the requisite number of bodies.
  3. Pretend taking away a lane from the majority to encourage a minority does something to help the environment while overlooking the fact that the backed-up cars are getting nowhere fast and throwing crap into the air for greater amounts of time.

Again, the point of the carpool lane is to get people who are going to the same place to share rides, and by ridesharing, to get a car off of the roadway.

So how does a minivan with one adult and one or more kids fit? Was there ever a chance that mom or dad or insert-adult-title-here was going to go someplace while the child was going to go to another place, but they decided to take only one car to save on gas and to toss less pollution into the air?

I’m sorry, but the carpool lane should be reserved for driving-aged persons who take the time to plan, and who are willing to sacrifice a bit in the name of line-cutting and environmental responsibility.

The non-driving-age passengers should not count because no car was taken off the road by the actions of the adult and child being in a car together. Unless I get to pack up one of my dogs and use the carpool lane—that would make things fair.