Promo Friday: Free DeAnna Books

Okay, last Friday, I was swamped.  This Friday, I’m busy but mostly I just want to lounge about and pretend I’m shagged out after doing taxes.  Or work on a TV pilot, because who would I be if I weren’t biting off more than I can chew?

I didn’t have time to get the edits in on the ultimate section of Alice in Underland: Queen of Stilled Hearts.  To be honest I’m scared of them, not because they’re that terrifying (they aren’t; it’s not that kind of book), but because the idea is so perfect that I’m scared that a) I’ll screw it up, or b) I won’t screw it up and it’ll be perfect and wonderful and that just isn’t me.  Sigh.

So instead let me send you to my free ebooks, if you haven’t read them yet.

Alice's Adventures in Underland, Book 1 Ep 1

 

Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts #1 – Smashwords,KoboApple, and B&NAmazon is not cooperating; you can buy a copy there, but it’s not free.  You can also read it here, on the blog.

Exotics1_EbookCover.6_mini

Exotics #1: The Floating Menagerie – SmashwordsAppleKoboB&N.  Amazon is still not cooperating at this time; that is, you can buy it, but it’s not free.

Zombie Girl Invasion, by De Kenyon

Zombie Girl Invasion – SmashwordsAppleKoboB&N.  Amazon is never going to let me have a book be free ever again, apparently.

And, if you would like to drop me a line by some method or another (Facebook is good) and request one of my other books for review purposes, I will probably see my way to sending you a free copy, because I’m cool like that.  You might also try whining to me about finishing the Alice edits, because my subconscious might listen to you.  It likes you.  Me, I’m like the mother of a teenager as far as it’s concerned.

Promo Friday: A Variety of Cool Things

Since I don’t have anything major to promote for myself today, allow me to present some interesting bits of late:

  • The Pikes Peak “Write Your Heart Out” half-day thingy on Valentine’s Day, which will have lots of speakers.  Julie Kazimer!  Jennie Marts!  I will see you!
  • The Queers Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter only has three days left.  They have met their goals and then some.  That is all.
  • The Problem with Action Movies Today,” via Dave Hill, has lots of good Writer Stuff.  I also watched “The Problem with Horror Movies Today,” but that just wasn’t as sharply insightful.
  • Writers!  Please read The Copyright Handbook!  It’s thick and has lawyerspeak!  Leave it in the bathroom and read it slowly, I don’t care!  Just read it!  How do you know if you’re ready to publish?  You’ve read The Copyright Handbook!
  • I have a series of posts about early childhood memories that’s been running over the last couple of months.  They build on each other; I’d start at the beginning of the series if you’re interested.
  • JT Evans wrote an excellent post about being creative and having mental disorders that I found very close to home in spots.  Highly recommended.
  • Check out my massage therapist, Jen at Tranquil Balance, who helped me put myself back together again after my slip on the ice in January.  She’s excellent :)

AND NOW FOR THE PHOTO YOU HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR…!

Or not, because I didn’t mention it.

2014_12_25 1036

The current lineup of ZZ Top: Larry, Darryl, and Daryl, not a brother, but the sexy slaughter machine from The Walking Dead.

We received knit beards that velcro into matching hats for Christmas, from my family back in South Dakota. (From my sister-in-law Erica, Mom, or both…I told Erica that Lee ABSOLUTELY had to have one of these, and apparently things got out of control.  We weren’t the only ones who got these!)  Merry February!  I still haven’t sent stuff yet!

Hard Things Are Hard

 

One of the mantras I’ve been using over the last year:  Hard things get to be hard.

  • Going for a walk is hard.  Not because walking is hard.  I love to walk.  But because I go, “I should be working harder, not taking care of myself.”
  • Answering emails is hard.  My Duotrope weekly update email contains a list of markets that are closing soon, far more than I could send stories to if I were managing a writers’ sweatshop with a whip and free lattes.  Which one of these markets will make my career?
  • Asking for favors is hard.  Because someone might offer to help.  Worse:  three people might offer to help, and then I have to a) politely decline two offers in such a way that I make them feel good for offering, and b) figure out how to not @#$% up the third offer and use that help to make something so awesome that it more than justifies their generosity.

I have 1001 things that are hard.  They center around a) taking care of myself, b) finding a workable balance between two unhealthy extremes, c) managing my attention span, d) dealing with contradictory social obligations, and e) making 100% decisions based on 51% sureness, when I know there’s at least a 5% margin of error.

Today is hard because I’m fighting off about six colds, and I need to sleep, but this has been a hard week, so I haven’t gotten a lot off my to-do list, because hard things take time if you aren’t going to shove your head under a pillow and wait for things to degrade to the point where it’s useless to do something anyway.  Which totally explains why I’m blogging instead of a) taking a nap, or b) working.  Or not.

Today is hard because good things have been materializing out of thin air and I don’t know how to handle them.  A client both gave me a raise and offered to pay for me to watch a movie.  Lucy.  I asked for resources on a project (a drawing tablet, so I can do something cool for a client cover), and three awesome people volunteered to make it happen for me.  Another client came to me and said, “I grossly underpaid you on a previous project, as evinced by me hiring someone else for this other thing.  I want you to consult for something specific on this other thing; take your time and name a better rate.”  I pitched an article to an editor whose opinion I value greatly, and he said to go for it, sight unseen.  More than one person has said nice things about my writing lately.  I currently have more open jobs on cool projects than I can deal with.  I can’t even cope with all the good stuff today.  I know it’s stupid, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Today’s project:  say “got it” “yes” and “thank you” to all the good things, sort out my inbox, and establish priorities.  And also “no” to all the things that are just kind of there, because even if you don’t say “yes” to everything, if you don’t say “no” it’s just kind of hanging over your head, because they will be back to say “HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT MY OPPORTUNITY YET?!?”  Believe me, I know.

And then I will take care of myself, because otherwise one of those six colds will take me down and make everything 100% harder.  It’s still going to be an uphill battle, but that’s okay.  When I have my stupidly hard things taken care of, the ease of doing everything else makes me look like a superhero.

So, universe:  I offer up my apologies for having such issues handling the good things you’re sending to me.  I will take time out of my day to work out how to handle them appropriately rather than putting them off.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll get it right, right away, and I won’t pitch a fit when you throw some inevitable bad stuff at me, unless I haven’t slept or eaten, in which case I’ll try to eat and sleep before I throw a total tantrum, but that’s on me, not you.  I feel like that one episode of I Love Lucy where she’s eating all the chocolates, but I guess I’m not complaining.  Because, you know, chocolate.  I humbly submit that I will learn how to cope with even better things that you send my way, eventually.

Got it, yes, and thank you.  Love, De.

 

The Orange Streak

Before Christmas, I asked Ray if there was anything she wanted–thinking about something easy, like a trip to the zoo or a video game.

I want to color my hair orange, she said.

Here’s the deal:  Ray doesn’t @#$% around when it comes to hair.  The last time I put off getting her bangs cut a little too long (in 2007), she gave herself a home trim that involved removing a pile of hair comparable to our guinea pig.  And in the sixth grade she started pulling out (and eating, as it turned out) her hair.  It was almost exactly a year ago that the doc pulled me out of the room and told me that Ray had a mass in her stomach.  A trichobezoar.  She had to have surgery to remove it–hair’s pesky stuff, and you shouldn’t a) drink drano or b) let that stuff move into the intestines if you can help it.

I talked her down to an orange streak, warned her that she’d have to pay for it herself, and said that we’d have to do some research.

But I knew there would be no getting out of it.  Somehow, someway, there would be orange hair.  If I wasn’t committed to helping her get what she wanted–I shouldn’t have asked.

This is less permanent than ear piercing, I told myself.  I don’t have a thing about hating hair color or anything.  It’s just a big change, and a reasonably big pain in the butt, and I fully expect there to be fallout, although probably not from the school unless there’s some hypocrisy going on.

Also, I don’t like orange.

I don’t know why.  I like oranges, I like sunsets, I liked fall leaves, etc. etc.  I like a lot of things that are orange.  But the color orange, as a decoration?  It’s like tasting artificial strawberry flavor.  You know it’s supposed to be “delicious,” but all you can taste are the chemicals.*  The subtleties are lost.  Orange.  Maybe it’s that it’s nearly impossible to rhyme.**

The wheels of progress ground slowly, what with one thing and another, until yesterday, when we slammed out of early-release day at school and got into a salon.

The woman at the door had a colored streak in the front of her hair: blue that shifted gradually into purple.  A sign, I thought.

We talked to her, got an estimate, signed some papers confirming that yes, we really did want to color Ray’s hair, and…the stylist announced that she needed to go to lunch.  At 2:45.  So that she wouldn’t be doing this on low blood sugar.

We left, walked to the pet store down the row, diddled around while Ray babbled about the fish.  I did not ask her whether she really wanted to do this.  She pointed out: all the snails, all the dead fish (and the fact that one of them lit up yellow in the black-light tank, which she found helpful), which fish were her favorites, why some fish are see-through (so that their predators will a) not realize they are fish, and b) if they do see them, think they are floating skeletons and not worth eating), the fact that the one starfish had six arms (three of which were stumps), moss balls anchored to rocks by fishing line, the way some of the rocks glowed in the black lights, bamboo plants, a snake, turtles, every cricket in one particular cage, all the frog hideout locations in the frog tank, the fact that she didn’t care for birds, the fact that I wasn’t saying much, that she was talking too much and she was sorry, that she was excited about getting her hair done.  More than once.

We briefly wandered around an office supply store; she told me that the worst kind of desk would be a square one that surrounded her on all sides, so there was no way to get out.  She would hate a desk like that.  Three sides were okay, but not four, also, she was babbling again and she was sorry and she was excited about her hair.

We went back to the car to pick up a book for me to read–and the hair stylist burst out of the door.  “Are you still doing this?  Are you?”

I had to laugh.  It looked like we were leaving.  A dramatic moment.

Ray’d been waiting to have her hair cut for a while.  After the hair-eating stuff started, she’d stopped wanting to have her hair cut–but we made her, after we found out about the lump in her stomach, just to make sure the temptation to eat more of it was gone.  It was a hard one: half her head was bald.  The stylist did her best, but it still looked rather odd, especially because Ray’s hair started growing in curly.

After the surgery, she didn’t want it cut because–because.  Just because.

We started with bangs, and the story came out, or most of it, because I have TMI and I will tell you pretty much anything that hasn’t been specifically labeled as a secret.  And because Ray and this woman were pretty much sympatico.  It turns out she was going to do a My Little Pony cosplay shoot this weekend, as several ponies but not–and they both agreed this was one of the world’s small injustices–as Rainbow Dash.

Bangs, wash, bleach in foil (there was this interesting thing she did with a metal comb to get a straight, neat edge at the end of the foil, which was to wrap a loop of foil around the comb), then waiting.  I sat next to Ray in an empty salon chair.  I always do.  Not because she’s scared or anything; she’s just the kind of person who’d always rather have company, even if you’re not talking.  While we were waiting, the stylist did a boy’s hair, transforming him from a stubborn lump into a cool dude with spiked hair.  Rinse out bleach.

And then the orange.

Why orange?  Because she’s designing a MLP character named Pumpkin Spice Pony.  Or “because,” really.  Just because.***

A few minutes later, the stylist was cutting the boy’s brother’s hair, then styling it.  He wanted to know how old Ray was, that she was being allowed to get her hair dyed, then explained in a laborious fashion that he was in the fourth grade and that he was going to live in North Carolina for two years.  He kept eyeballing me, the mother.  Whatevs, dude.  She can have orange hair if she wants.  Just because.

He yelped as she forced his short hair up into a jaunty flared peak in front–not a mohawk, just a flair at the front edge of his very short hair.  I lack the language for describing the style, but it looked vaguely Dolph Lundgrenish.

“Suffer for your fashion!” I said, and he stopped and looked at me again, then at Ray, then back at me.

We giggled.

Hair rinse–the color on her hair looked off, didn’t match her glasses.  Then the hair trim, and the stylist went off about how Ray’s hair hadn’t been cut in a while.  I told her it was complicated.  We learned that the curliness might have been due to the hormone changes of teenagerdom:  everyone’s hair changes every time their hormones change.

As her hair dried, the orange became brighter and brighter, until finally the stylist took a blow drier to it, and then it truly came alive.

2014_12_25 1038

 

We got lots of tips, including the warning that Ray’s pillowcases were toast, so we stopped at Goodwill and picked up a couple of used ones, because I want to keep the ones she’s using for the guest room after we move.

As we left–and yes, I got the stylist’s email–Ray gave me a hug that so far surpassed other hugs that tears welled up in my eyes.

Here’s my daughter, moving into herself.

 

2014_12_25 1040

 

New rule to add to list of teen-rearing rules:

  1. Feed them.
  2. Make sure they’re getting enough sleep.
  3. More hugs.
  4. Hydration is important.
  5. Make time to just listen to stupid shit, because keep them babbling long enough and the important stuff comes out.
  6. You don’t have to do everything.  Now is the time to start offloading their projects back onto them:  you are in charge of your own sleepovers.

And now…

  1. They aren’t saying goodbye.  They’re moving into themselves.

Just look what my daughter decided to do.  It’s so beautiful.

 

 

*Somehow I never have this problem with mango or raspberry.

**Words that rhyme with orange.  Also, you use more than ten percent of your brain, and cognitive bias happens to everyone.

***Fortunately, I learned last summer from my sister Betsy why because is important.  I asked her why she got her ears gauged–I missed the particular window where it makes innate sense, so I asked–and she said “Because I can” with this particularly rebellious look in her eyes.  Something clicked.  Because she’s in charge of what makes her happy.  Because it’s her body, not her parents’ or siblings’ or boyfriend’s or religion’s or society’s or anyone’s.  Because her skills are more important than her appearance at her job.  Because.  Just because.  It’s important.

Promo Friday: Recommended Short SF/F/H Fiction (January)

After some debate, I have determined that I just have to read what’s available–there’s just no way I can conveniently handle the whole issue-that-came-out-in-January-but-says-it’s-the-March-issue thing that the Dell Magazines do.  I just can’t.  Also, I think I’m behind a few stories from various places…they’ll have to show up as I get to them.  I’ll make sure to mark the correct month.

I’m also not going to tell you the total short stories that I read every month, because working that out would be more time spent given my current, otherwise convenient setup than it’s worth.

I rate on a scale of one to ten, with one to five essentially being “did not finish.”  The stories here are eights and nines, with the nines being starred.  No tens this month.

A note: Freakin’ Fireside, man.  All three of their stories were an 8/10 for me this month.

Blah blah blah–onward to the stories!

“On the Night of the Robo-Bulls and Zombie Dances” – Nick Wolven, Asimov’s Feb 2015.  A literally sleep-deprived future, filled with stress and madness as people work more…and more…  The story lurches weirdly but appropriately in places.

Pocosin” – Ursula Vernon, Apex Magazine, Jan 2015.  One of those quasi-humble/folksy godling stories that should be too cheesy to read, but is instead really excellent.

The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary” – Kij Johnson, Clarkesworld, Jan 2015.  A list of monsters to be found in one’s apartment, if one were living in a world of monsters.  A lovely mythology, Kafkaesque if Kafka had a gentler sense of humor.  Took a big risk on losing the reader due to apparent repetition, but I think it works.

Tuesdays with Molokesh the Destroyer” – Megan Grey, Fireside, Jan 15.  A solid YA fantasy, full of danger and sweetness.

She Waits” – Laurel Halbany, Fireside, Jan 15.  I am so sick of mythological retellings, because they’re usually told with sledgehammers.  But this one, about Medusa, is non-ranty and subtle, short but dense with ah! moments.

Who We Once Were, Who We Will Never Be” – Brent Baldwin, Fireside, Jan 15.  A just-so story of surpassing sad-but-trueness.  I normally hate these mini-episodic stories with pretentious titles, mostly as a method of keeping me from constantly writing bad ones, I think.  But this flash piece was excellent.

Cliona’s Coat” – Leslianne Wilder, Flash Fiction Online, Jan 15.  In the interest of not spoiling it, I won’t say.  But filled with scent and memory.

Beautiful Boys” – Theodora Goss, Lightspeed, Jan 2015.  A handy SF myth for something you see all the time.  Goes down smooth as whiskey.

*”The Absence of Words” – Swapna Kishore, Mythic Delirium, Jan 2015.  A family inheritance of anger.  Excellent.

Returned” – Kat Howard, Nightmare, Jan 2015.  The opening was, to be honest, more of an eyeroller than a grabber, but I pushed on because I like Kat Howard: poor dead woman, her man done her wrong blah blah blah…but that ending.  I’m a sucker for a good ending.

*”The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History” – Sam J. Miller, Uncanny, Jan 2015. Mostly these fake oral history stories don’t work for me, but this one knocked it out of the park.  On the Stonewall riots.  I espeically loved the unromanticized descriptions of the place.  Excellent.

Honorable mention: “Folding Beijing” – Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu, Uncanny, Jan 2015.  Certainly the most inventive idea I ran across this month:  a timeshare story, where the city of Beijing is divided between the haves and have-nots by a) stasis and b) literal folding of the city.  However, I kept drifting out of it, and finally left after a major section break.  This will probably get a bunch of awards because of the idea, but the telling couldn’t pull me through personally.

Personal observations:

  • If you don’t write fiction that pulls me through the story, then I don’t care about your ideas.  I really don’t.  As soon as I catch myself start skimming, I’m out.
  • As a result, I think I’m biased toward smaller stories that hit heavily on character and setting and mood, which tends to mean contemporary fantasy.  Ironically, in novel-length I love high fantasy best.  Form.  It’s wonky.
  • As much as I hate certain types of stories, when they’re good I love them.  I noticed that a lot this month.  “I normally hate this kind of thing but…”
  • I need more horror.  Gaaaaah.

 

Memories: Snow (Part 2, Magic)

Where do you get your ideas from?

When people ask me that–they tend not to, although there are a few sweethearts who do–I have to wonder: isn’t it obvious? I am a tool for generating ideas.  First I cut things up with my agonizing powers of analysis.  Then I stick them back together with my glittery gluestick of intuition.  Ideas are not the hard part. I wish someone would pay me just for the ideas–”Predict the next fifty years of fashion, given that our major energy source will shift from petroleum to solar.”  “List ten locked-room murder mystery plots for a virtual reality that is not transcendental in any way.”  “Fifty recipes using cricket flour.”

Bliss.  I was made to generate ideas the way some people are made to generate kindness or stability or leadership or problem-solving or sheer bullshittery convincingness.  Ideas are not the problem; you have to do something with them.

I used to get angry about this.  (I’m sorry.)  Just like those people who are like, “You’re depressed?  Well, all you have to do is be more cheerful!” Privately I was like, “You’re out of motivation to write?  Well, all you have to do is go get some magic!

Everyone who creates art has their own reservoir of magic, and their own methods of going out and getting some more.  Most people, I think, do, although what they use it for varies, and I think they mostly take it for granted that it will replenish itself, or that, conversely, it will never (if they are stressed out) replenish itself.  The idea of making more of it is, I think, where the key to art comes from–not the ideas.

Which brings me to the snow.

After you have kitted yourself up and have gone outside and done your chores, it is time to go out.  This may not mean going further than the yard, because the trailer house may be surrounded by untouched snowdrifts.  But once the snowdrifts have been touched (or if it’s one of those annoying days where the snow is thin and crunchy on the ground), then you have to go further out.

There are, because this is a farm, piles of junk:  sheds full of junk, piles of railroad ties, old chicken wire, parked equipment, firewood, busted parts that might be good for something someday, stuff that your parents haven’t hauled to the garbage dump just yet, either because they’re too busy doing something else, or because there has got to be something they can do with it.

These also make for some good snowdrifts, as long as you’re careful enough not to dig straight into a jagged piece of metal or broken glass.

Once the piles near the trailer house have been exhausted, then it’s time to circle the farmyard:  the huge Quonset hut, which is often frosted on the inside with ice crystals that have blown through the cracks in the bay doors; the chicken coop; the hay shed and the shed with the snow chains hanging in the back, for one of the tractors;  the old white garage, filled with junk and never parked in; the garden, with apple trees to climb, the enormous cottonwood that is almost a spirit of the farm, and the stock tank; the corrals.  When that area has been restlessly circled and explored and dug into and slid down, either on one’s snowsuit or with a red plastic sled, then one moves outside the farmyard.

Follow the gravel road up the hill to Uncle Johnny’s old house site and its crumbling basement, and the silver barn where the sheep or the horses or whatever is there this year are huddled.  To the old trailer house, where Bronc and/or Duke are staying, or aren’t, depending on the year.   Across the road into a shelterbelt of trees, where in the summer sometimes you have to search for thistles, where there are haystacks and old tractors.  (After Grandpa died, a lot of the equipment was sold off, an auctioneer and everything; even later, lightning hit one of the haystacks and burned out a lot of those trees.)

Walking past the turnoff to the old highway–or, really, the Knippling sign at the end of our road–was understood to be off-limits.

Or, you could walk out the heavy red wood gate at the bottom of the farmyard, over by the chicken coop, and head out to where most of the cattle stayed in the winter.

The ground is muddy: don’t bring your sled, bring your walking-stick.

The dirt road is packed pretty well, so that’s where you walk, because you’ll lose a boot in the sucking clay mud if you don’t.  The cattle treat you like a dog: they know where you are, and the herd oozes away from you if you get too close.  You don’t do anything to rile them up.  You’ve seen what a herd of panicked cows can do.

The dirt road passes over a crick, which in winter is frozen solid.  The culvert through which the water passes can be climbed into, although it’s annoying (because of the ridges in the metal, which you can’t lean comfortably against) and smells pretty horrible.  It started out as a fairly small culvert, but was expanded later.

You can follow the crick up to a pond where, when your Uncle Howard and his kids were there, you once went ice skating on hockey skates.  It was blissful, but once they left, nobody ever did it again.  People end up going to a lot more effort to distract a large group of town kids than they do two farm kids.

Or you can follow the crick on its winding trek downward, to another shelter belt of trees that hang over the water.  Somewhere out in that direction is the garbage dump, which is a crack in the ground that seems to erupt with old washing machines and trucks and tractors, like an excavation site revealed by an earthquake, but you a) suspect that it’s too far to walk, and b) that you’ll get your ass whupped if you go out there without your dad.  Probably because it’s too dangerous, although because of what you’re not sure.

If you don’t want to walk out by the cows, then there’s always the road north, which heads out to the silage pile and the hay and alfalfa bales.  The silage pile smells like…bread.  People will say that it smells alcoholic, but you’ve smelled beer, and it smells nothing like the Coors Lights and Buds that get tossed around at large gatherings, from a separate cooler than the soda, an icetank where adults shove their arms into the cold and pull out what should be the most delightful thing on earth, by their reactions, but that smells and tastes perfectly rancid and foul.

No:  the silage pile smells like bread that’s been sitting in a ray of sunshine in the tiny kitchen-dining area in the spring or fall, only made out of corn silage. It is enormous, it is a ramp that leads to the stars, it is eaten away every day by tractors with enormous, toothed mouths, until it is a scrape of sludge on the ground in the spring.  There are plastic tarps on top of it, and old tires to hold the tarp down, and even when it’s very cold, if the sun is out, the snow on top of the pile will melt into stale puddles of water in the middle of the tires.

However, the hay is even better than the silage.

If the hay is rolled up in large, round bales, then they are stacked in chained pyramids, two or sometimes even three bales high, and if the hay is tight, you can sometimes ooze backward into the cracks to get warm.  You can climb to the top of the first bale, then run along it until you reach the last one–and slide down, thump thump thump, onto the ground.  Or you can leap off into the snowdrifts, because haystacks collect snow like dogs collect fleas.  Even if the rest of the snow has blown off across the prairie, then the hay bales will have a little bit of snow hiding around them somewhere.

If the hay is in huge, sloppy stacks, then you can climb to the top of one, take a flying leap, and jump onto the next one over.  (If you miss, you just slide down the side.)  Sometimes you miss but you’re able to shove your hands into the straw and cling onto the side, and then you have to climb up, slowly and carefully, because all children, everywhere, will invent the game of do not touch the ground or you will be killed by lava, even in -40F weather.

If the hay is in small square bales, that is often not terribly fun, because you’re always getting yelled at for breaking the twine on the bales or knocking them off the pile, or else they’re so tightly packed that you can’t even climb them without a bale hook, which is rusty and looks like Captain Hook’s spare hand.

You can drag a sled with you, and find what there is to launch it off of.

You can pull your brother, although when you take turns he always says he pulls more but really pulls less than you do.

You can dig holes in snowbanks–the new ones are best–and lie on your back and watch the sun sparkling through the thinnest crust of ice overhead.  You can dig tunnels, some of which may or may not connect to your brother’s, and put carved pieces of snow over the doorway to keep the wind out, and then tell stories.

You can walk, carefully, on top of snowdrifts that have not thawed but have had the sun shine on them during the day, then the temperature drop at night again, freezing the top layer so hard after a few days that you don’t need snowshoes–you have never really needed snowshoes–even though the snow is three feet deep in places.

You can follow the tracks of birds, rabbits, squirrels, the dogs, coyotes, deer–through snow, embedded on the surface of the ice, in mud.

You can feel the wind and the sun burning your cheeks, your lips.  You will always have cracked lips in the winter, and you will always have a bright red ring of chapped skin around your wrists and ankles, from them being frozen and wet all the time because of the gaps between your gloves and boots and your snowsuit.

You will see your breath on the air but you will never be able to make smoke rings with it.

You will often come home with feet frozen from breaking through ice over the crick, then dancing in the water.

All that time, you will not be thinking, this is magic, this is magic, which is about the dullest possible thing you could think, but when you come back into the house, when you step through the door from outside to inside, then you will know that you have been somewhere else, and it was not merely out.

And then you will read or color or play or set the table–or it will be time to do chores again, so you’ll do them again, quickly, and then come back in and eat and eat and eat–

Until the next time it is time to go out.

 

Memories: The Christmas Present

Sorry, one more before I get back to the snow.  I was trying to explain about winter being magic, and realized it was missing context: not-magic.

Matt is less than two years younger than I am; I think he has the exact number of months and days memorized, which, really demonstrates the whole concept of privilege:  I don’t have to give a crap.  The younger kid sees the power that the older one has; the older one sees the freedom that the younger one has (that brat).  The only people who benefit off the system are the parents, who now have their work cut in half:  a) free babysitting, and b) a chain of command, which means you always know the appropriate person to blame.  Parents perpetuate it on their kids without thinking: Will this make my kids more or less able to tolerate each other at our funerals?  Will this help them support each other through their various childhood hells?  Will this help them when they form their own families, and discover that they have to work out how to have actual, non-regimented, non-required fun with each other?

But it’s the way it’s always been done around the farm, so of course my parents did it.

Ha-ha, it’s so funny when the kids argue with each other.  Someday they’ll learn that they really love each other.  Yuck-yuck.  Never mind that the love always comes in spite of being hounded for decades over your birth order, never because of it.

One of the strange ways that the birth-order conspiracy carries itself out is in pure villainy.

I didn’t understand this later, until I had re-met my cousin Celina, the eldest of my Uncle Howard’s kids, as an adult.  I thought she was the most awful of people as a kid.  A real witch.

Items of evidence:

A) Eyes were rolled.

B) Snorts were given.

C) Sarcastic things were said.

D) Doors were slammed.

E) She would chase us around the house cackling and sticking out her fingernails, which I think were chewed off anyway.  (She has an excellent evil laugh.)

In conclusion, I think she was a teenager.  Later, I found out she was overweight.  This was not a concept that I easily grasped:  nobody called Chris overweight (okay, nobody dared), and Celina wasn’t as big as Chris; therefore, the fights between Celina and her mother Claire (which I would occasionally catch the edges of) seemed ludicrous.  I found out later from my mother that lines were drawn, points of negotiation were shrieked, and quite possibly things were thrown.  Why can’t you just be skinny like me?

I never really got it. A lot of my relatives are overweight, not because they are horrible people, but because there are a limited number of models of Knippling available:  brown-haired/skinny/tall (me), blond- or strawberry-blond-haired/skinny/tall (both of these models have a metabolic collapse around age 50 or upon retiring from cowboydom), mumble-mumble from their non-Knippling parent, and almost black-haired/tall/brick shithouse.  My model has a risk of hyperthyroidism, I found out later.  Fortunately, my mom’s side of the family has a brown model as well, and my bits and pieces sorted themselves out in a relatively cohesive if not terribly imaginative fashion.  I used to think my nose was ugly, but when you’re a teenager and subject to bullying on a more-or-less constant basis, you have to find something about your appearance to explain what’s going on, because otherwise it’s pure madness, which it is, but you’ll kill yourself if you dwell on that too long.

Celina the villain.

Now I get it.

Someone had to be the bad guy, the evil witch. She was, while not actually that big a meanie, perfectly okay having a roomful of kids shriek at her for her unspeakable evillness.  What evillness, I don’t know, unless it was stealing candy.  None of Howard’s kids ever got sugar at home, which meant they were the raving lunatics that picked the dusty, fused lump of hard candies out of Chris’s candy dishes (crystal, laid out on a Christmas towel on a desk/sewing table/buffet at one end of the dining room) whenever they were over.  Some more desirable candy may have been stolen.  Some bossiness due to the constraints of being an eldest child may have occurred.  But no actual evil, no murdering of kittens.*

Rather than being upset at things that were actually upsetting, she let us be mad at her.  I don’t think she was trying to be nice, but it was.  Nice.  Fun, actually.

Which takes me back to Christmas, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of every child’s year.  Because presents.

My parents basically suck at presents.  Now that their kids are grown up, they often give gift cards and/or boxes of food, and I think they find that a relief.  They often send my daughter care packages full of a) clothes and b) daily newspaper comics, and/or c) craft projects done with my nephew Liam and niece Jillian.  Perfect: repeatable, known to be enjoyed, low stress.  Plus, they’re no longer broke-ass farmers, so it’s not actually a kick in the guts to have to come up with this stuff anymore.

As an adult, I can appreciate these factors, but they are not my factors.  I like shopping for presents (although hell will probably freeze over before I get them sent on time).  I like obsessing over the perfect gift.  That moment when you get a gift epiphany:  it is so very sweet.

I really only developed this skill as an adult, though.  As a kid, I think I bought the fifty cheapest of all possible necklaces for my mother, and I can’t even remember what I got my father or Matt.  I think I got Matt action figures or Matchbox cars at least a couple of times.  We were always playing the damn things together.  Star Wars (Ewoks being the toy of choice), He-Man, Ninja Turtles…Transformers.

Transformers.

You could have gotten him sixty of the same Transformer and said, “They didn’t have anything you didn’t have, so I got you extra backups of the one you like best,” and he would have been fine with that, I think.  Because Transformers.

Whatever it was that he was getting that year, it wasn’t Transformers.

I knew one of his presents.  I don’t remember what it was.  But it wasn’t Transformers.

He knew one of mine.

We went into the bathroom at the trailer house (the second one) and closed the doors.  That bathroom was where all secret business occurred if you had to be in the house, as far as we were concerned: even parents would knock before walking in on you. I think we went so far as to stand in the shower.

We agreed that we would tell each other what the presents were.

He went first.

I was getting a puzzle.

This was, I felt, lame.  A puzzle.  Yet another thing that was not on my Christmas list, which we had both, as we did every year, painstakingly assembled from the latest Sears and Montgomery-Ward catalogs and submitted to Santa, parents, and the world.  A puzzle.

As always, I was not going to get what I wanted, I was going to get what Mom and Dad and everybody decided I should have.  Christmas, I was discovering, was not in the least about getting what you wanted, it was about behaving.  They told you and told you that you had to be good or you’d get nothing for Christmas, and then they made you fill out this stupid list, and then…a puzzle.  And getting dragged around to seventy bajillion Christmas parties where, if you were lucky, you’d be ignored the entire time, because the cousins your age weren’t coming this year, and if you weren’t lucky, you’d have to babysit.

I think I was seven or eight or nine.  It was before Grandpa died, that whole drama.

All right, sometimes my parents got it right, like the year I got a whole jar of olives or the year Dad made us stilts, or Barbie doll clothes, which was one of those “don’t know what you got until it’s gone” situations.  But mostly it was stuff like a pink electric shaver in your stocking, because Matt was growing facial hair, and logically I should probably stop shaving my legs with Mom’s razors.  Oranges.  Who freaking gets stuff you have to get nagged to eat in your freaking stocking?  Us, that’s who.  Cardboard puzzles.  Candles.  Things that are not books.

By the time I was dating Lee, I had no idea how to give anyone anything anymore.  I gave him a towel.  Or maybe he gave me a towel and I gave him something similarly lame.  We were a pair, let me tell you.

But, as I explained previously, a) South Dakota = a necessary sour grapes mentality in order to survive harsh conditions, and b) my parents suck at this kind of thing.  Which is okay.  And I’ve given up on obligatory presents and Christmas festivities, which, honestly, they couldn’t, and so had to laboriously coordinate, assemble, deliver all kinds of things they couldn’t give a shit about, which has got to wear you down.  And I don’t have seventy bajillion Christmas parties to go to, and most of the ones I do go to are after Christmas anyway, and post after-Christmas sales.  And, even so, I’m still working on getting it right.

Plus, food.  Food’s always perfect.  Even when it’s terrible you can hand it ’round:  “Here!  This is horrible!  Try some!”  It’s hilarious.***

Matt said, “So what am I getting?”

For years I’ve wondered why the hell I did it.

“I’m not going to tell you,” I said.  And I did.  I refused to tell him.  It wasn’t Transformers.  It was never going to be what he wanted.  Christmas was lame, he was two years–sorry, less than two years but I forget the exact number–younger than I was and still believed in Santa Claus, and it wasn’t going to be what he wanted, it was never going to be what he wanted.

Man, he was pissed.

All I knew then was that I could not do it.  I could not tell him what he was getting.  He’d find out soon enough.

I think, ironically, he liked it, whatever it was.

 

 

 

*I saw that once, by the way.  One of the kids at the country school who was always bullying me–I think?  Or possibly the equivalent at the other relatively close country school to the north**–picked up a kitten and slammed it against a barn wall.  It barfed white foam and died.  No punishment, as far as I was ever aware, ever occurred: but we were yelled at for tattling.

**There’s always one little psychopath in every group past like eight or so, isn’t there?

***Jackie and Scott had hard root beer for Zwolfnacht this year.  It was horrible.  And so, so funny.

 

 

Promo Friday: Alice’s Adventures in Underland, Part the Sixth

Almost done with the first set, which should have been final oh, um, June of last year.

AliceBook1Part6_Cover_mini

Part the penultimate for the Wonderland arc.

You can find it on Amazon/Kindle, Barnes&Noble/Nook, and other sites (forthcoming).

“We were hoping for some perfectly innocent little girl to happen by so we can eat her, and instead all we have is you,” the Hare announced.

Update:  In case you haven’t read any of the earlier ones, you can pick up a free first episode almost anywhere but Amazon (because they’re being stubborn, all right?).  You can pick up a copy at AmazonB&NKoboSmashwordsApple, and more.

More update:  Kobo link! Yay!  Apple link!  Yay!

Memories: The Monsters under the Bed

 

Don’t worry.  I won’t forget about the snow.  Every night before one of these comes out, though, I toss and turn, trying to think of the next one to write, and if I don’t agree to write the one that needs to get written next (according to my subconscious), I don’t get to sleep.  Eventually I break down and agree to do what I’m supposed to do.

I mentioned the trailer house next to the old teacher’s house; we lived in there for just under a decade, I think.  But in between moving back from the house of golden sunlit dust in Wyoming and that trailer house, we lived in another trailer house, a tiny one up on the hill as you drove the gravel road into the farm.

One of the earliest stories of my childhood is that when they brought my brother Matt home from the hospital, I said, “Take him back.”  Yuck-yuck, laughs all around.  I hated my brother and I’m a spoiled brat.  Aren’t kids cute?

Nobody mentions that everything that I’d ever known had just changed.

When I was seven or eight, anytime I had to deal with my father, I would recite a saying under my breath:  Do this, do that, you did it wrong.  He only ever had four types of interactions with me:  the fourth involved me being the butt of some kind of unpleasant practical joke or bullying.  For example, he would tickle me until I wept, and then would tickle me some more, because it was funny.  To this day I will physically attack anyone who tries to tickle me or poke me in the side.

I don’t remember this happening before we moved, only after.  The person I apparently couldn’t wait to come home from work–Daddy!–had become someone I was shocked to find out was proud of me when I graduated college.  And even then I only found out because Lee, who was sitting next to him up in the bleachers at my graduation, told me.

And suddenly Mom wasn’t a woman who was in charge of her own house anymore:  there was nothing too small and insignificant that it didn’t need to be someone else’s belittling gossip, and if you were a hired hand who felt like picking on someone else’s wife, well, it was all in good fun, at least for the guy doing the picking.

Plus she had a baby to take care of.  And not just a baby, a boy.  You don’t give farms to girls, only boys.  And if you have a boy who doesn’t want to farm, well, you better just raise him up right, that’s all.

Which is just a nice way of saying that Matt’s real personality would have to go.  Just like they did with Dad.  Who, for all his sense of mischief, is not a cowboy, but a mathematician and a lover of order and spreadsheets, and who became much less of a merciless tickler and bullier when we eventually left the farm.

I don’t remember telling my parents to take my brother back, but here’s my guess: we’d just moved from a golden paradise to a place where it was never warm enough in the winter or cool in the summer, my parents never had any free time that wasn’t dominated by adult family members or church, and it was all right for everyone in your community to bully you into being the kind of person that they needed you to be, in order for the community to survive in the harsh climate and shitty economic situation.

All I knew was that suddenly neither of my parents loved me anymore–neither of them protected me from bullies anymore–and neither of them smiled.  (I remember being shocked the first time I saw my parents hold hands.)  And suddenly there was a crying baby, and we were in a place where it was considered sheer idiocy to be nice to crying babies.  Shove food in them, check the diaper, leave them to cry.  Otherwise they’ll be spoiled. And yet a boy.  Clearly the most important thing in the room: he’ll have to take over the farm one day, you know. You’ll just have to understand, even though we will never, ever explain it to you, because that would imply that once it had been different, and nobody must know that we aren’t amazeballs happy out here.

Take him back.

Yes, I can see myself saying that.  And being laughed at for it.

I don’t remember him having a crib, but rather a small, squat bed with a rail on the side.  The wood was yellowish; the rails screwed on.  It had a single, thin mattress on top that sagged when any kind of weight was put on it; underneath was a metal frame with horizontal springs that coiled from small to large to small again, and that you had to be careful not to get your fingers pinched in, if you were hiding underneath the bed.  We were always underneath something as kids.

I had a mattress on the floor.  There wasn’t much room for space between the bed and the mattress, because the little room was so narrow.  I want to say the walls were all pressboard with fake wood and the carpet was thin and colored with brown and brownish-blue stripes, but that might have been the other trailer house.

At night, every night, in the dark, I had to lay next to the space under Matt’s bed, and watch the monsters move.  I had a soft, magnificently soft, small purple crocheted blanket made by my Aunt Julie, who has been known to be nice to people she doesn’t have to and who cries at funerals.  It was my magic blanket–I called it a ginkie for some reason–and while I can’t say that it protected me, at least it was soft, and really sometimes that’s all you need.

What was the monster under the bed?

Now I know:  everything that I sensed but couldn’t put into words (and that would have been denied up one side and down the other, had I been able to) had to go under that bed.  This is not a nice place but Mom and Dad want you to love it anyway.  And, eventually, I did.

But all I knew then was that things were staring at me, and they were going to attack me at some point, and I would never know when or why.

The only thing that kept me from becoming a gibbering idiot (not that I didn’t decay into gibbering idiocy on a regular basis; I cried and threw tantrums a lot as far as I can remember, although probably it was just a lot relative to other farm kids) was knowing that it was better for me to have to sleep on the floor than Matt.  He was just a baby.

The monsters would get him for sure.

There’s one story that sometimes goes that my parents wouldn’t teach me how to read so that they could use it to bribe me into going to school–but sometimes it goes that I taught myself how to read when I was three so I could read books to Matt when Mom and Dad were too busy.  I’ve heard both enough times that I’m not sure which was the case, if either; I can see it going either way.

 

 

 

Memories: Snow (Part 1, Equipment).

I have lost my ability to shrug off the cold.

As a kid, the cold wasn’t just cold, it was part of my identity:  I am better than you because I can endure the cold.  South Dakota has a lot of sour-grapes values:  I can’t have nice things, so I’m better than people who can.

Which, you know, is petty, but you take what you can get.  On the other hand, cold was one of the greatest adventures that I knew, as a kid. The blizzards were epic, the snow piles well-nigh eternal, the sledding suicidal, the frost mythic, clearly caused by a demon so beaten into submission it was safe enough to call it a sprite.  The icicles were as thick and deadly as poniards.  When I first saw Dune, I went, Yes, that’s it exactly.

Only it’s heat, not water, that you have to conserve.

And so let me present to you the equipment of my childhood:

Boots: commercial snow boots were useless.  I remember longing for a dressy pair of boots at one point, only to have Mom flip them over and point accusingly at the smooth, barely-ridged bottoms, and not having to say a word.*  Proper winter boots are the ones from the farm store with the removable wool liners and the laces that can be jerked to seal out the snow and slush over and over again.  To bust a shoelace outside in the snow means taking your gloves off.  No. Just no.

Socks: as many pairs as you can fit on.  As many pairs as you have, because you only get new socks when school starts, and by the time late October rolls around, you have already shredded the heels.  Hopefully not higher than can be concealed by your school tennis shoes, which are already falling apart at the seams as well.  Socks for Christmas?  Yes, please.

Pants:   Denim, no long johns, not really.  Because…

Snowpants:  Nylon full-body snowpants and/or snowsuit.  Nylon because it resists soaking and makes a swishing sound when you run.

Shirt:  Shirt, another shirt, another shirt on top of that, sweater, another sweater…

Coat:  Depends on the snowpants/snowsuit situation.  Coats are easier to get on or off, especially if you have to pee.  But coats let in wind and snow and water around the waist.  It’s a tradeoff.

Ski mask:  Always has a chewed spot on the bottom lip, because it would get cold and sweaty, and then you would chew on it.  I think it was my cousin Laurie or Mary who was trying to explain to me that if you were thirsty you should suck on a small pebble.  No, actually, you should suck on your ski mask.

Hat:  Over the ski mask.

Hood:  Restricts visibility and freedom of movement (turning your already sausagelike head).  Not used unless it was really windy.

Gloves:  The best setup, IMO, was gardening gloves on the inside and nylon shell gloves with long wrists on the outside.  Your hands and feet tended to spend so much time at or near frostbite levels of cold that you really didn’t pay attention to them until they started to ache and/or prickle.  Strips of snot along the wrists marked your unwillingness to go Back In The House, not your essential disgustingness as a kid.

Scarf:  Debatable.  One of the shortfalls of a non-hood setup was having snow, snowmelt, cold air, etc. go down the back of your neck.  But Christ, those things would just get tangled up in stuff, and then you’d lose them or get stuck on a nail half a mile from home somewhere, or tear the damned thing.  Probably better off without, unless you wanted to feel like an explorer.  And then you needed a scarf.  Which you would probably also chew on.

Another benefit of nylon-shell outerwear was that, if the snow was hard enough, you were essentially wearing a full-body sled.

Accoutrements:

  • Sled:  Long.  Red.  Plastic.  Low weight, for those interminable walks uphill.  Bottom may have been waxed with waxed paper from the kitchen, if you were feeling especially daring.  Not a toboggan.  Teenage cousins and idiot uncles (Howard!) would use the toboggan.  Not a dish.  Oh God.  Those dish sleds were like providing an interplanetary launch pad, the hills we went on.  Better to have something you could brace your boots against.  Stupid breakable cotton cords replaced with scratchy, non-break, non-slip nylon rope.
  • Sticks:  Big walking sticks, for banging on streams to see if they were safe to walk on or punching holes in if not; for knocking frost off the trees and fences; for reaching icicles off the eaves on the big house; for shaking at the sky like sandpeople.  Dagger-sized sticks with the ends sharpened, for digging holes and prying interesting things out of the ground or from a patch of ice; for stabbing snow-monsters; for wedging open stuck doors or prying old bits of rusty junk off larger bits of rusty junk; for tracing patterns in the tops of blank patches of snow.
  • Steak knives:  We had a couple of old steak knives hidden in the hay shed, for sharpening and/or carving the small sticks.  We didn’t carry them around much; we flung ourselves off too many tall objects to make carrying around knives even remotely safe most of the time.
  • Trowels:  I think we had some sort of choppy-stabby garden thing that we used to dig snow tunnels with, but I didn’t learn what the word “trowel” was until later, so it might have been something else.  We may or may not have been allowed to use these.

The normal rule of no hitting was suspended for snowballs, although generally, not being coordinated, I gave up on these pretty quickly, in a rage of incompetence.  I vaguely remember making about a hundred snowballs in preparation for a snowfight once, only to discover that they’d frozen to the ground in the night.  D’oh!  I instead loved to carve out big squares of snow (with the small stick) and drop them off things.  One year we got some sort of rough wooden slat–garden markers or paint stirrers, maybe?–and those were the shit for cutting out snow blocks, like wooden saws.  We never really got into snow molds for making blocks:  with that much snow, it was just a waste of time to patiently pack blocks, when you could be cutting them out of fresh snow much more quickly.

The rituals of reentering the house were almost as important as getting dressed properly:

Did you do your chores?

Just don’t even bother taking off your clothes if you hadn’t.  Your need to pee was immaterial in the face of the question of chores.

Did you knock the snow off your boots?

A boot scraper sat outside the back door of most people’s houses.  If it wasn’t the snow, it was the mud.  Or the manure.

Then, the two most important questions having been answered, you could then begin to throw all of your outerwear on the floor.  But there was one more step…

Did you hang up your wet clothes?

We had a folding wooden rack made mostly of half-inch pine dowels that perpetually sat in front of the heater.  Wet (outdoor) clothes were draped over it while little tushies shivered in the thin, blasted gap between the rack and the furnace-like heater.

And, sometimes, if you had answered the questions correctly or, better yet, without having to be nagged, Mom would bring you hot chocolate.

 

 

*My dressy boots now are calf-length Doc Martens with thick laces and side zippers and treads so deep you can see geological strata in them.  Score!