Month: August 2013 Page 1 of 2

Why We Quote Movies (maybe)

…or why we quote anything, really.

Dave Hill has this site, Wish I’d Said That (WIST), in which he collects quotes, so I should be really consulting him on this.  Dave, why do you quote things?  How do you choose the things you quote? But I have this feeling that he’d say something direct and logical, which is fine, but I want to say something indirect and illogical.

Obviously, we quote things that are quotable.  Either they’re short and quippy or they’re long but otherwise memorable.  We quote things because we want to quote them.  We quote them because we really hope that someone will get the reference.  An old friend of mine, Peter Smith, quoted on his Facebook page:

Let marrow, bone, and cleaver choose…

To which I responded correctly with:

While making feet for children’s shoes.

So now I have the song in my head, and memories of Peter in my head.  Good times.

But is that the fundamental reason why we quote things?  To remember them, to call up associations?

I want to be able to give a clear answer here, but I don’t know if there is one.  But follow me for a moment, and see if you don’t agree with this other idea I’ve had spinning around in my head, because since I’ve pulled it together it keeps cropping up.

1.  Many, if not most, words are ultimately based on a metaphor.

many (adj.)Look up many at
Old English monig, manig “many, many a, much,” from Proto-Germanic *managaz (cf. Old Saxon manag, Swedish mången, Old Frisian manich, Dutch menig, Old High German manag, German manch, Gothic manags), from PIE *menegh- “copious” (cf. Old Church Slavonic munogu “much, many,” Old Irish menicc, Welsh mynych “frequent,” Old Irish magham “gift“). Pronunciation altered by influence of any (see manifold).
metaphor (n.)Look up metaphor at
late 15c., from Middle French metaphore (Old French metafore, 13c.), and directly from Latin metaphora, from Greek metaphora “a transfer,” especially of the sense of one word to a different word, literally “a carrying over,” from metapherein “transfer, carry over; change, alter; to use a word in a strange sense,” from meta- “over, across” (see meta-) + pherein “to carry, bear” (see infer) (Online Etymology Dictionary).

2.  What we do, when we don’t have a word for something, is make a new word, based on a metaphor.

Some of the 2012 additions to Merriam Webster:

  1. aha moment
  2. bucket list
  3. cloud computing
  4. copernicium
  5. earworm
  6. energy drink
  7. f-bomb
  8. game changer
  9. gassed
  10. gastropub
  11. man cave
  12. mash-up
  13. sexting
  14. systemic risk
  15. underwater

3.  Sometimes the ideas we want to communicate are too big for a single metaphor, either because they’re just too big, or because they’re conflicted, or meaningless without context (well, most metaphors are meaningless without context–could you really understand a mashup if you’ve never heard one?).

If you go here you’ll find a list of the top 100 movies on IMDB.  In case you’re rolling your eyes at this point, let me list some:

  • The Godfather
  • Schindler’s List
  • Raging Bull
  • The Shawshank Redepmption
  • Casablanca
  • One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest
  • Citizen Kane
  • Vertigo
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Titanic
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Sunset Blvd.
  • Godfather Part II
  • Psycho
  • On the Waterfront
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Sound of Music
  • West Side Story
  • Star Wars
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • 2001:  A Space Odyssey
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • Chinatown
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai

I typed that list out by hand, and it was tougher than it looked.  The movies I’d seen on this list (most of them) kept trying to overtake me as I was typing.  I still have “the heeeeeels are aliiiiiiiive” in my head, but I’m especially vulnerable to musicals.

If you can sum up any one of these movies as a single metaphor, you’re probably doing it wrong.

and so…

4.  When you quote a movie (or anything else), what you’re invoking isn’t that single line.

As you wish. (The Princess Bride)

I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you. (Firefly)


Off with their heads! (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)


You’re invoking the entire work–the movie, book, or whatever.  You are taking something that can’t be said any shorter than the work itself, and calling up the entire work, and the implications of that work, by just bringing up one small part of it; the quote is a fractal part of the work, and can be used to recreate the work as a whole.

And more than that.

5.  For me, the easiest way to think about this is through poetry.

Poetry is bigger than metaphor–it contains multiple metaphors–and it has heightened, very patterned language.  The creation of patterns in poetry is deliberate–not necessarily formal, but deliberate.  Poetry starts with things we know how to talk about, like Wild Bill and roses and rolled-up trousers and red wheelbarrows in the rain.  Then it moves into things that we don’t know how to talk about, like death, love, despair, and how the brain works.  Often the poet won’t even bother to talk about the real “point” of the poem:  it’s created through patterns, and breaking of patterns, more than it is strictly through metaphors.  You can write poetry without metaphor, although poetry will tend to produce (excrete?) metaphor more often than not.  Human brains are such that they will find meaning in patterns, no matter what the pattern is, and poetry tends to be complex enough that multiple patterns can be found in them, intended or no.

This is why it’s so hard to sum up complex works.  It’s hard to find the one clear, compelling pattern in a work that someone new would enjoy.  It requires a different talent than just figuring out a working pattern in the first place, because new, unintended patterns emerge as you create the work.

6.  So in the end, we quote movies because we need to say something bigger than what we can otherwise invoke…and quoting the movie is the easiest way to do it.  When we say, “two by two, hands of blue,” we really are speaking poetry.



New Fiction: Oracle of Strangers

“Oracle of Strangers” is available at  B&NAmazonSmashwords, AppleKobo, Powell’s and more.

Didi can find anything she wants…except friendship.  Wherever she goes, strangers tell her how to locate anything, from the perfect pair of jeans to carrying out the perfect crime.  But love?  Friendship?  Her power can’t seem to handle things that most people find easy.

When her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend figures out Didi’s power, Didi gets ready to get used, because that’s what people do.  But it turns out there might be more to Jo than meets the eye…


Free Fiction Monday: Oracle of Strangers

Didi can find anything she wants…except friendship.  Wherever she goes, strangers tell her how to locate anything, from the perfect pair of jeans to carrying out the perfect crime.  But love?  Friendship?  Her power can’t seem to handle things that most people find easy.

When her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend figures out Didi’s power, Didi gets ready to get used, because that’s what people do.  But it turns out there might be more to Jo than meets the eye…

“Oracle of Strangers” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

The Oracle of Strangers


Jo brought the letter, holding it at arm’s length and tilting it from side to side, letting the gold leaf catch the fluorescent lights in the hallway. “Take a look at this, Didi.”

I jerked it out of her hand, hoping that she hadn’t held it for too long. I didn’t want her wrapped up in this. “Jo. I told you not to touch my mail.” I tried to shut my bedroom door, but she pushed her way in. She had no way of knowing I had fifty thousand dollars’ worth of signed first editions on my small pressboard bookshelf, or that I found all the wall art at thrift stores for a buck-fifty a pop. But it still creeped me out having her in here.

She snorted. “Didi, you’re crazy, you know that.”

I nodded and stared at the letter. It was addressed to me, all right. Heavy linen envelope. Bright gold on the address. The return address was on the back: Mail Recovery Center, 443 Fillmore Ave E, St Paul MN 55107-9607.

“I ain’t doing it,” I said, and stomped over to the trash can. My foot stomped the foot pedal, the lid popped up, and the letter dropped in. The lid closed with a clomp.

“What did you do that for?” Jo asked. She reached down for the lid, but I stepped in front of her. “Either get out of the way or tell me.”

“Job offer. In Minnesota. I ain’t going to take them up on it, that’s all.”

I didn’t see that it was any of her business, but that was Jo for you. Nosy, like she owned the place or was the master to my servant. She’d only been dating Marcus for a month. What she’d be like after a year I didn’t know. Ordering me to polish the damn silverware, probably.

“Why didn’t you just say so?” she asked.

“I did.”

She bent down again to get at the trash, and I said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave that letter alone.”

“Good grief, Didi. I just want the stamp.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Despite my words, which sounded like I’d resigned to the inevitable, I turned around, pulled the plastic bag liner out of the trash, and tied up the top. The corners of the letter tried to poke through. I slipped on a pair of Marcus’s loafers and went out the door, down the stairs, and dumped it in the trash, shoving it under a bag that oozed. She didn’t follow me. Maybe it would keep her out of trouble, the thought of getting her hands dirty.

I grimaced. If there was one good thing you could say about Jo, it was that she didn’t mind getting her hands dirty.

Writing a first impression.

I went to a wedding recently.   It was a good wedding, as those kinds of things go.  The couple got hitched, the bride was happy, there were no fist fights.  But I’m not here to write about the wedding, just about my first impression of one of the people I met there.

I saw her and went, “60-year-old woman in a prairie dress.”

That’s it.  I didn’t even have to talk to her to judge her, and judge her I did.  I think that says more about me than about her.

Let me unpack that prairie dress a little bit.  In the 80s, they were all the rage in South Dakota, and logically so.   They looked like someone took the dresses out of Little House on the Prairie and spraypainted lace on them.  Where I grew up, people deeply believe that “fancy” is just “plain” with unnecessary ornamentation on it.  Prairie dresses weren’t just a fashion but a philosophy.

Even I had a prairie dress.  It wasn’t so big through the shoulders as most of them were (and I took out the shoulder pads anyway).  It was blue on white and had lace that at least looked like it was made out of cotton, rather than that itchy plastic-looking stuff.  It wasn’t stiff fabric, it had a little swoosh to it.  I liked the dress…until my eyes got sick of seeing other people’s prairie dresses.  Over and over and over again, the same dresses, associated with the snobbish attitude that simpler was better–the kind of attitude that would say a crappy apple pie was better than a really great eclair, because an ee-clair is French and an apple pie was ‘Murican.  Real eyerolling stuff.  Eventually the fashion faded out until it was the people who had a real investment in the philosophy that were the only ones wearing it anymore.

In the 90s, I quit looking at the dress section in thrift stores, because that’s what you could find:  prairie dresses.  Ugly, awful brown and yellow prairie dresses that made you feel like you were five years old in church getting yelled at for not keeping your legs crossed, not an adult.  I wore a lot of black in the 90s. A lot of people wore black, and got rid of their prairie dresses.  C’est la vie.

So.  2013, and I see someone wearing a prairie dress.  To a wedding.

It’s blue and white and pink.  It has wide but not severe shoulders, and a modest amount of lace.

I see it and I judge the woman wearing it.  I go, “This person will judge me and hurt me, because I’m not like her.”  So, quickly, I judge her first.  Apparently, all I need to know about her is that prairie dress to tell me that she’s going to do to me what others have done.

Think about that process as a writer.

When you first describe someone, you’re not–or shouldn’t be, most of the time–writing an objective description.   Height, weight, hair color.   Usually, you’ll be writing from your character’s POV, either in first-person POV or a tight third-person POV, and you’ll have to write their snap judgment of the person they’re looking at.

A first impression isn’t really about the person your character is looking at, but about your character.  Their memories, their experiences.  In my case, it’s once bitten, twice shy.  I think I’m a relatively objective person, or at least able to see things from multiple perspectives, and then something like the prairie dress comes up and goes straight into some kind of primal hindbrain.

I think, really, in order to get a full sense of a character’s first impression, you may want to give the snap judgment–the “60-year-old woman in a prairie dress” version–followed be a few details to unpack that snap judgment, just like I did.

I tried for years to write descriptions of characters based on objective details.  It felt artificial.  “No, no, you have to write the little, telling details,” people would tell me, and stare at me like it would somehow sink into my brain if they just spoke slower, louder, and put significant pauses in the conversation.  But of course trying to write those little, telling objective details felt artificial.  We don’t make first impressions based on little, telling objective details.  We make a first impression based on bias, prejudice, memory, and emotion.  We fail to notice things that don’t fit our worldview.  We stress things that tell us what we want to hear.

That I get.

It turns out the woman was nice.  At least, she and my daughter liked each other, which is usually good enough for me.  When Ray sees you, she sees the good in you.   That’s just her.  I tend not to see the goodness in people, as such; I tend to see people’s joy and pain, which is different.   More subjective.  Ray saw the goodness in this woman, and I saw that Ray and the woman enjoyed each other’s company, and now the dress is just a dress, mostly.  I can remember what I thought about the woman, how threatened I felt when I saw her–but it seems like thoughts from another person.  I have changed my mind.

She and Ray wandered along the path through the garden where the wedding was, drinking soda and talking to each other.  Ray’s getting tall.  I’m proud of her for seeing what I couldn’t.  Lee was walking next to me as the two of them were walking away and not noticing anything else in the world.

I joked, “I’ve just been ditched by our daughter.”  What I meant was, “There she goes, growing up, meeting people, not being influenced by me and my stupid prejudices.”

He looked at the two of them.   I forget how he said it.   It think it was something like, “Our daughter’s a cool kid.”  But I think he meant something similar, too.


New Cover: Exotics #2, Xanadu House

Now (or soon) available at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more. The print book will be available at and more.

Check it out!  I think this is going to work as a design – the cover here took much less time to put together than the first one.  If you want to read the sample chapters, head over to the De Kenyon website.


New Cover: Exotics #2, Xanadu House

Now (or soon) available at B&N, Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more. The print book will be available at and more.

Check it out!  I think this is going to work as a design – the cover here took much less time to put together than the first one.  If you want to read the sample chapters, head over to the De Kenyon website.

Sample Chapters from Exotics #2: Xanadu House

Rachael survived her adventures on The Floating Menagerie and went back to her normal life…except that her mom is still missing. Now she’s coming down with the Exotics virus herself and is changing into a half-human, half-animal Exotic, just like her friends. As a new Exotic, Rachael can’t control the change, so she travels to a safe place for Exotics in danger—Xanadu House. The house is owned by an aunt that Rachael never knew she had, and who will protect any Exotic, no matter which side they’re on. But is Xanadu House as safe as it seems?

These chapters of Exotics #1: The Floating Menagerie will be here permanently.  You can find a full copy of the ebook online at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.  The print book will be available at and more.

Chapter 1

“Go on!” Rachael’s dad yelled. “Get out of here!” The front door slammed.

Rachael rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times; they were all dried out.

Second grade had been a really weird school year so far. At least it was almost over.

First her mom had disappeared, and then she and her friend Raul had been kidnapped and taken to The Floating Menagerie, a strange ship in the middle of the ocean.

The ship had been run by the Shadow Dogs, a group of…well, she didn’t know what to think about them anymore. At first, she’d thought they were people who kidnapped and smuggled Exotics. (Exotics were humans who had been infected with a magical virus that turned them into magical half-animal creatures.) Some of the Shadow Dogs, like Mr. Hightower and Tapeworm, were pretty awful. But some, like Captain Monn and Dr. Menney and maybe even Ken and Sponge and Bob, were pretty nice, and they weren’t trying to smuggle Exotics at all, but protect them.

The bad Shadow Dogs had wanted to make Rachael tell them her mom’s password, because they wanted the secrets on her computer…her mom was an Exotic, a bee (the Queen Bee was her name, and she was a spy for another group of Exotics, the Animal Lovers’ Club).

Rachael finally told them the password to keep them from hurting her and Raul, but the password had been changed.

Her mom hadn’t come back. Nobody knew what happened to her.

And nobody would explain anything to her. Her dad didn’t know, and nobody else would talk to her about it.

So now she was spending a lot of time searching on the Internet for weird stories about animals, trying to find anything that might tell her more about the Exotics or where her mother was, and sometimes she forgot to blink, and it felt like her eyes were dry all the time.

She yelled, “Who was it?”

“Kids from that club of your mother’s,” her father said. “Just because you’re back doesn’t mean they can start having their meetings here again. It’s not like you’re part of their club.”

Of course Rachael wasn’t part of the Animal Lovers’ Club; the club was a fake club. It was really only for Exotics, and Rachael was just a normal second-grader.

But maybe they wanted to tell her something about her mom.

“What did they want?” she said.

Her father said a bad word and stomped out of her hearing. Rachael tiptoed into her bedroom, where she could look out the window over the front door.

She’d taken down all the pictures of princesses and put up glow-in-the-dark stars and pictures of panthers, horses, and falcons. Secretly, she hoped she’d be infected by the Exotics virus, and she was trying to decide what kind of animal she wanted to be. The stars were there because she just liked them.

To her surprise, she didn’t see anybody from the Animal Lovers’ Club out of her window. Instead, the twin Shadow Dog boys who had helped kidnap her and Raul hid behind a tree in the front yard. They weren’t doing a very good job of hiding.

They saw her face at the window at waved her to come down to them.

She opened the window and hissed, “What do you want? Are you going to break down my door and kidnap me again?”

The two boys looked at each other. One of them said, “We wanted to apologize.”

Rachael wrinkled up her face. She wanted to yell at them and call the cops to make them arrest them—but then the truth about the Exotics might be revealed, and everyone would freak out, so she couldn’t.

“I don’t forgive you.” She had to get them to shut up as soon as possible, before her dad came over to find out what was going on. “Go away.”

“Wait,” the other boy said. “It’s about your mom.”

Rachael snorted. “I know, I know, you want her password so you can break into her computer and steal all her secrets. But it’s too late. The password is changed; nobody can get in.”

The second boy shrugged. “I’m just supposed to tell you she’s safe in a castle in Hungary.”

The first boy elbowed the second boy. “You weren’t supposed to say what country.”

“Sor-reeeee,” the second one muttered. “I told you to do the talking.”

Both boys turned around and started walking away from Rachael’s house.

“Wait!” she whispered as loud as she dared.

The first boy stopped, looked up at her, and said, “Sorry, Baby Bee. That’s all we can say.” Then both boys ran down the street.

She closed the window. Baby Bee was the nickname the members of the Animal Lovers’ Club had called her…it was weird that the Shadow Dog boys knew it, too.

She tried to ask Raul about her mom the next day at school, but, as usual, he wasn’t talking to her. He wasn’t grateful that she’d rescued him on The Floating Menagerie; in fact, he still blamed her for getting them captured by the Shadow Dogs in the first place.

She found him out on the playground, playing with his friends on the jungle gym.

“Go away,” he said.

“I have to ask you something.”

“I don’t want to be your boyfriend. Now go away.”

Raul’s friends laughed, and Rachael felt her face get hot. “I don’t want to be your girlfriend,” she yelled. “You’re so stupid.” She ran across the playground and behind a wall to hide.

Nobody followed her; her so-called friends, swinging and sliding and picking dandelions out of the grass, had been ignoring her lately. She wiped her face on her shirt and waited for the teacher to call them in.

During class, she was doodling bees and castles and the word “hungry” on the back of her assignment when Raul grabbed the paper out from under her pen.


Raul glared at her and walked back to his desk.

Rachael raised her hand to get the teacher’s attention, then noticed that Raul was holding a finger up to his lips.

“Yes, Rachael?” the teacher said.

She quickly thought of an excuse for raising her hand. “May I use the bathroom?”

Her teacher sighed and said, “Yes, Rachael. Next time, please use the toilet before you come back to class from recess.”

“I will, Miss Sorensen.”

Rachael went into the bathroom. When she came back, her homework was back on her desk, with the word “Visegrad” under the word “hungry.”

Writers and Drive

If I had it to do it all over again, if I could put a message in an envelope and send it back to my past self, I would pick one thing to change:  drive.

Here’s the thing.  When I was younger I was shy.  I’m not shy now.  I’m an introvert.  Say what you like about the flaws of personality tests, but they have, on occasion, changed the course of my life for the better.  When I first moved to Colorado Springs, after a disastrous stint temping at another business, I started working at Wells Fargo.  They hired me on full-time and I got to go to their training classes:  everything from diversity to the legalities as they apply to equity loans.  I like learning things the way some people will read the back of a cereal box.  I had fun.

One of the classes was a personality class, with a focus on getting along with people who aren’t the same as you.

This helped pretty much everyone who went through it.  It wasn’t Myers-Briggs (in which I’m an INTP, the architect/icon breaker, thank you very much) but it was close–True Colors.  I’m a green, which means I’m a rational/curious type.  A nerd (go figure).

Here are some of the things I learned that I still take with me:  I hate having people in my personal space…unless I’m exploring with them.  If you can’t explain it to me on a rational level, then it’s probably not worth my time–although I accept “because I want to/feel like it/I don’t know how to explain it” as perfectly rational responses.  I don’t have to go along to get along.  I don’t have to fit in.  It’s not my job (that’s blue and gold).  It’s okay to be me, and I’m supposed to be near the edge of things, messing around.

It was freeing.

Shortly after I went through that class, I started being more forward about chasing down learning opportunities.  I got a promotion, became a QA, pissed everyone off for judging their work against objective standards, learned how to do everyone’s jobs, worked on documenting everything…and, because I was doing what I was good at, I could expand into other dimensions that I wasn’t as good at.  Like sympathizing.  (I’m good at empathy but that’s different–watch me pick up an accent inadvertently around someone else, or start using the same hand gestures, or agreeing with someone else’s opinion after spending the day around them.)  Or standing closer than three feet to people.  Or giving out hugs.

It was like a hierarchy of personality traits:  first I satisfied my need to be myself, and then I could satisfy the needs of other people.  Instead of being “shy,” I could interact more with people.  And, because most of the people there had been through the same course, I could say, “I’m sorry, I’m being very green today, and I need some quiet time” and they’d let me have it.  They’d joke about it, but they’d let me have it.  And they could say the same to me, and expect me to respond at least at a basically appropriate level.

In the middle of all that, I discovered I had drive.

I’d been pissing around with writing for years, but hadn’t really done anything other than write poems and a few story fragments.  I’d determined that I wasn’t really (or at least primarily) a poet, and that I should be writing fiction.  And then I’d given up:  because learning a new form was hard, and complex, and I didn’t really know where to begin.  I’d write enough to keep my ego intact and leave it at that.

Then I discovered I wasn’t happy with “leaving it at that.”

In fact, the hell with “leaving it at that.”

My dream was to be a writer.  Why wasn’t I writing?  Why wasn’t I learning?  Why wasn’t I just giving myself over to my dream?   They tell you to follow your dreams, right?

Well, it turns out that drive makes other people uncomfortable.

The first time I left a room with people in it, having a conversation, in order to go write, was hard.   I felt like they were staring at me.  The conversation stopped.  I felt like I was abandoning my daughter.  I felt like I was wasting my time.  It took me an hour to write a hundred words, and that wasn’t the only night that I pissed away most of my time staring at a page or a screen and going, “What the hell am I doing here?”

But I felt better.  I felt more myself.  I felt more like I could function around other people.  I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

However, people tried to keep me from writing, for whatever reasons:

“You know you’ll never make a living as a writer.  You need to come up with a backup plan, like being a substitute or marrying someone rich.  You know that women don’t write as well as men (yes, I got that one).  How are you going to balance being a writer and a mother?  Children are supposed to take up all your time.   How will you take care of your family?  I bet your house is dirty.  Wow, you sure are pushy about this stuff.  [Sigh] If only I had time to write…but I’m too busy with my real life (what, mine isn’t real?).   You obviously aren’t a success…you’re just writing genre fiction, after all.  Well, I haven’t heard of you.  How much money have you made?  Self publish?  Isn’t that for crazy people with pamphlets?  How many copies do you sell?  Is it enough to justify your decision to self-publish?  If I were you, I’d just give up, because obviously you’re not going to get published by a real publisher.  You sure have a lot of…aggressive energy.  Why don’t we just do what everyone wants to do?  Look, this is how everybody does it.  Why are you being so uncooperative?”

And so on.  I often find myself awash in a sea of defeatism, of people trying to sell me the benefits of being stuck in a rut, even among other writers.  Especially among other writers.

There are reasons.  I’ve tried to defuse other people’s dreams.  Yes, really.  I’ve caught myself at it.  Dreamers are like little birds that have to slam against a window hard enough to leave a print in the dust before they’ll try to stop flying through the damn window.  “Look,” you say, “that’s a window, not a hole in the wall.  I support your ability to fly but Jesus do it somewhere else.”  And then the dreamer slams into the window.  Again.  It’s frustrating.  You want to shake them.  “Why won’t you listen to me?!?”

But the longer dreamers throw themselves at windows, the less likely they are to be windows, and instead be holes in the wall for them that would be solid panes of glass for anybody else.  So I’m learning to keep my mouth shut when it comes to other dreamers, too.  It’s easy to be a hypocrite about this stuff, is what I’m saying.

So.  Here’s the letter to my sixteen-year-old self:


You’re a nerd.  This turns out to be a good thing.  It’s your purpose in life, so don’t let people tell you that it’s not okay to be smart.  Also, you’re also a writer (yes, really).  You’ll have ups and downs, you’ll try things that don’t work out, but that’s okay.  You’re worried about not having anything worth writing about, too, which will also take care of itself.  The main thing is to not let anything stop you from putting in your time writing.  Write every day.  When people try to discourage you from writing every day, flip ’em off.  They’re just being rude, so go be rude right back to them and write.  This too is part of your purpose in life.  Every day that you try something new in writing is a day that you’ll feel better and more confident about yourself.  Tell people you’re a writer.  You don’t need to have “success” to be a writer.  You just need to write.  It’s okay to be driven.  That’s the word you’re looking for, when people try to discourage you.  Say, “Thanks for the advice, but I really am driven to do this.”  They probably won’t get it, but that is also okay.  First you have to take care of yourself, and then you’ll be able to make things look tidy for the church ladies of the world.  You know what I mean.


I was going to tell her not to go after that Creative Writing degree, because it turned out to be a lot of misinformation and dead ends, but…nah.  It’s all fuel for the fire.

New Fiction: In the Groves of Lord Satsuma

“In the Groves of Lord Satsuma” is available at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo,  Powell’s and more.

Even more than she wishes to destroy the celestial invaders who have killed her husband, wrecked her fields, and killed hundreds of her peasants, Lady Satsuma wishes to destroy the peasant who usurped his place, even over her own sons.

But now that they know that Heaven did not send the invaders, but that they simple come from the realms far from Earth, the people rush forth to attack the destroyers, instead of fleeing their strange, cutting ribbons.

A small victory brings the people joy, and they celebrate.  But the insolent peasant knows no limits to his “celebration.”

What will the Lady choose?  Justice, or revenge?

“In the Groves of Lord Satsuma” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&N, Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

Free Fiction Monday: In the Groves of Lord Satsuma

Even more than she wishes to destroy the celestial invaders who have killed her husband, wrecked her fields, and killed hundreds of her peasants, Lady Satsuma wishes to destroy the peasant who usurped his place, even over her own sons.

But now that they know that Heaven did not send the invaders, but that they simple come from the realms far from Earth, the people rush forth to attack the destroyers, instead of fleeing their strange, cutting ribbons.

A small victory brings the people joy, and they celebrate.  But the insolent peasant knows no limits to his “celebration.”

What will the Lady choose?  Justice, or revenge?

“In the Groves of Lord Satsuma” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

In the Groves of Lord Satsuma


I watched from the gates of the manor, impeccably dressed in my finest robes, to honor those who fought.

The leader of the survivors, the despicable Hashimoto Kenta, who had forced his preference ahead of that of my sons, rode through the mikan groves, down the slope, across the bridge, and into the daikon fields, where a month ago he was whipped for being lazy and stirring up other workers to argue and fight. He screamed a garbled battle cry as he rode one of my lord’s horses and waived one of my lord’s swords. I prayed for his death.

As I hoped, the three celestial invaders rose up out of the fields with their long, insect legs dripping rich brown earth and dangling with rotted leaves. The daikon had been harvested just before the invaders came, which was a fortunate thing. The first invader stabbed at Hashimoto with a sharp forelimb, and red blood sprayed, although I could not identify whether the injury was his or the horse’s. I smiled.

But Hashimoto, that thief of thieves, wheeled my lord’s horse even as the men charged into the field behind him. He had told them many things, that they were strong, that they would be safe from the invaders because the gods were with them. That kind of nonsense.

Two of the invaders charged the men. One invader still tried to kill Hashimoto, tearing bloody gashes into the back of my lord’s horse, which reared. The horse leapt forward, knocking men aside, streaming blood, charging across the creek to safety with Hashimoto still on its back. The horse disappeared into the lowest of the trees, heavy and bright with fruit that we had not dared to pick, they were so close to the fields where the invaders lurked. I could not see if he lived or died. I hoped for death.

The three invaders lifted their torsos off the ground and began their dance. They lifted their metal ribbons from the ground and spun with them, raising their forelimbs in the air, spinning, and striking out with the ribbons. Where the ribbons touched, blood flowed and limbs sailed through the air, even heads. The white of bone glimmered through the mud, and men screamed.

Still, more of them swarmed out of the groves, raising swords, rakes, shovels, or fists. Peasants’ weapons. There were only three of the invaders. Yesterday, a traveling monk had convinced us that they had not been sent from heaven before he had died, ribbon-slashed through the gut, and today the men were able to fight with clear wills. There was hope in their shoulders as they attacked, even though their leader had abandoned them.

The men swarmed the nearest of the invaders, at least a dozen losing their lives within the first few blows, struck down like harvested rice under the ribbon. The survivors—including my eldest son—grabbed the invader’s legs and clung like children to their mothers. The invader lifted its feet and shook them, but the men tied themselves to its legs with leather thongs. Other men threw hooks over the invader’s long, sticklike belly, drawing hemp ropes over it and heaving downward.

The other two invaders abandoned their attackers and ran to help the third, dropping their ribbons, lest they kill their companion. They tried to use their legs to scrape the men off, but the captured attacker fell and was staked into the mud with ropes. Its limbs were cut off with axes, then its head.

The invaders pounced on the head, snatching it up. As soon as one of them had it, its long whiskers dragging on the ground, they ran off with it, leaving the men behind.

My sons both lived, but many other men died.

{snip! this free fiction is over for the week–if you’d like a copy, please purchase it at your favorite online bookstore}


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