Author: De Page 3 of 235

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 Amazon.com and more.

Exotics2.2ebook.mini

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.

 

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:

De,

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.

Love,
De.

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.

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}

 

On Building a Writer’s Mission* Statement

It’s a good morning.  I’m having a professional-sale short story published in Crossed Genres Magazine.  I’m having another short story accepted in eFiction magazine.  I’m walking around the house, barefoot, pantsless, making another cup of tea and putting on shorts while the water heats in the microwave.  I have long since made my peace with microwaving water:  it’s not as romantic as boiling it on the stove, but it’s a heck of a lot less screechy.  And, for one cup of water…ugh, no, I don’t want to get a countertop water heater either, thanks.  At any rate, my mind is wandering.

It’s going to be a hot day, 80 degrees already at 9 a.m.  I’m sure in other areas this wouldn’t seem like such a threat, but in Colorado, which heats up and cools down quickly, it’s a pretty reliable heads’ up.  I stayed up late last night playing Mah Jongg on my tablet, which I initially felt slightly guilty about but reminded myself that if I spend all day working it’s bound to spill over somehow.  So I’m tired but I’ve got a cup of tea in me with another on the way.  It’s Ceylon, good Ceylon but not the transcendental kind of Ceylon that makes you stare out into space and nod to yourself.  Really good tea strikes me as the ideal drug, unless I’m having my period, in which case only coffee will do.  I’m in the PMS phase of that swing of things, which might be considered TMI, but really what it means is that whatever emotions I have have a force multiplier on them.  So when I’m feeling mellow I’m feeling really mellow.

I’ve recently worked out that all of my writing is about bullies.  I knew this about my kids’ fiction, but for some reason, the connection to my adults’ fiction escaped me.  I’m writing about power structures, I’m writing about things that happen because one group is stronger than another.  I’m writing about bullies–it’s just that the bullies are bigger, institutional things a lot of the time in my adult stories.  I’m writing about how everyone thinks they’re getting pushed around when really they’re doing a lot of pushing around themselves.   I’m writing about why the war of the sexes sucks.  I’m writing about the strains that drive people to lash out–to become the bullies they hate.

But I also know that’s not all I write about.

I want to know what it is that makes me write, what purpose I’m trying to accomplish.  I want to try to figure out what I bring to the world–why it should pay me to write!  Like a half-built robot who wakes up to find its master dead of a heart attack on the workbench, I want to find out what my purpose is in life–and to change it, if necessary.  (Because I’m meta like that.)  I want something that lets me know when I’m off course.  I think I’m off course a lot of the time, but I’ve also recently learned that maybe being off course is part of my purpose.  Maybe the things that make me go, “What the @#$% was I thinking?” are the things that most express what it is I am and do.

It would be nice to go into a dark place and write something personally horrifying and be able to go, “It disturbs me…and it should.”

And so I know now that I write about bullies, and when I write something horrific, after I’m done, I can go back and say, “Was this about bullies or power imbalances?”  And if the answer’s yes, I know I have at least part of what I was meant to do.

But this morning, I’m walking around on the perpetual hunt to try to remember where I’ve left my cup-sized tea strainer, which I should probably clean because no doubt it’s so covered in tea stains that it’s starting to affect the taste–this is the world’s best tea strainer.  It’s got this superfine gold mesh wire which is now several shades of dark brown.  The tea’s been a little bitter tasting lately.  I walk into the living room, and it smells like cat pee again.  Great.  I’ve got a cat with apparent Alzheimer’s and an attitude problem, and I love him but it’s a strain.  I carry him over to his litterbox.  I try to remember what I was doing.  Oh, yeah, looking for the–

And it hits me:  something else I write is about finding and accepting the secret self.

The Crossed Genres story?  About an alien teacher who’s trapped on Earth and finds her calling here.  The eFiction story?  About a woman who haunts other people’s dreams, judging them mercilessly, only to find out that she’s judged herself, too–and who then faces her fear, liberating herself as she wakes.

I think back to other stories:  a woman whose horrifying past has revealed to her the horror inside herself, which she decides to use (Dexter-like) against the kinds of people who hurt her.  A Rapunzel who fears her hair until she finds out how easily it’s controlled.  A geisha to aliens who becomes other than human, and more herself.   A hundred others.  A kids’ story about a girl who thinks she knows it all until an emergency happens, when she finds out that strength doesn’t look like what she expected, but that she has it.

The idea cascades.  It rings like a bell.

I find the tea basket and make new tea and eat a cereal bar.  While I write this, I pick honey-covered oats out of my teeth with my tongue.  I’m not there yet.  I don’t have the whole shape of what I am and what I do:  but I have another piece of it, and it feels good.

*So here’s what got me thinking:

Matt Buchman (a.k.a. M.L. Buchman of the Night Stalkers romance series and more) has a personal writing mission statement, of which he has three versions:

Simple:
To Champion the Human Spirit

Middle-sized:
To Champion the Human Spirit, the Power of Joy, and the Wonder of Love

Complete:
To Champion the Human Spirit,
To Celebrate the Power of Joy,
And to Revel in the Wonder of Love!

The simple version for me now embodies the full scope of what I’m intending.
The middle version is the one I initially came up with and expresses it in a form that doesn’t make others eyes glaze over.
The full version, I love the verbs celebrate and revel (my absolute favorite) and wanted to include those.

You can see I have a ways to go before I can be this clear on what I’m doing 🙂

Sample Chapters from Exotics #1: The Floating Menagerie

Nobody knows what really happened when Rachael Baptiste’s mom disappeared a week ago. So when Rachael’s second-grade classmate Raul tries to break into her mom’s computer only to be chased away by giant talking dogs, she follows him into the night and discovers that Raul—and her mom—have caught a magical sickness that lets them turn into magical animals, or Exotics.

A group of evil Exotics, the Shadow Dogs, kidnap Rachael and Raul to a mysterious ship and try to force them to tell them her mother’s secrets…but Rachael’s not talking. Instead, she’s trying to find a way to escape the ship and rescue the Exotic kids trapped on board, waiting to be sold as pets…or are they?

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

 

Chapter One

Rachael, who had just brushed her teeth and changed into green spotted pajamas and fuzzy pink slippers, was almost ready to kill the final wave of zombies on her video game when the doorbell rang.

From the kitchen where he was washing dishes after supper, her dad yelled, “Rachael! Will you check the door?”

“I’m on the last wave, dad!” she yelled back.

“Just push the pause button.”

“Please?”

“It’s your turn!”

That was true. Rachael pushed pause on the game, annoyed because it was never the same when you had to push pause all the time. Meanwhile, the person at the front door had started pushing the doorbell button over and over again and pounding on the door.

Rachael peeked out of the glass beside the door. Even though it was dark out and he should have been getting ready for bed, Raul was outside their door. He looked mad and scared at the same time.

“Open the door!” he yelled.

Rachael liked Raul, but he wouldn’t talk to her at school. They were both in Mrs. Sorensen’s second-grade class. Sometimes they played tag at recess, and she’d let him catch her. He was part of a club, the Animal Lovers’ Club, that met with Rachael’s mom at their house once a week (Tuesdays). Sometimes he would talk to her after the meeting, but mostly not.

Rachael unlocked the door. Raul rushed in, slammed the door behind him, and locked it.

“Your mom—” he said, too out of breath to say anything else.

“Nobody’s found her yet,” Rachael said. Rachael’s mom had disappeared a week ago, but Rachael was an ordinary girl who couldn’t do anything about it. So she tried not to think about it too much.

“Your mom’s computer. Hurry.”

Rachael said, “Why?”

“Just come on.” Raul led her upstairs to her mom’s office.

“What’s the matter?”

Raul still had his uniform on from school, and it was dirty, with bits of leaves stuck to his back. “Nothing,” he said.

Somebody banged into the front door like they had run right into it. Raul said a bad word and ran up the stairs really fast, leaving Rachael behind.

“Rachael,” her dad called. “Would you get that? Please?”

“Don’t open the door,” Raul said. He went inside the office.

The front door thudded again, and Rachael heard a cracking sound as the wood started to break.

Rachael,” her dad whined.

She ignored her dad and followed Raul into her mom’s office; she really didn’t want to open the door.

Raul was sitting at the computer desk, jiggling the mouse and saying more bad words. Rachael knew her mom’s password (she’d looked over her shoulder), but she wasn’t sure that she should give it to Raul.

Then the front door broke open and slammed against the wall. Rachael started to scream, but clapped her hands over her mouth to stop herself.

Raul jumped out of the chair. “I have to get out of here.”

“I’m coming, too,” Rachael said.

Raul almost growled at her. “Stay here. Hide in the closet, and they’ll leave you alone.”

“I said I’m coming too.”

Something barked loudly from downstairs like a really, really big dog.

Rachael’s dad said, “What is going on, Rachael? Are you messing around again?” Then he said, “Who broke the door? What are these dogs doing in here? Out! Out!”

Rachael opened the window into the back yard, where their gigantic dog, Ox, was barking and growling. “Go down the trellis,” she said. “Dad made it really strong in case of storms. Then jump onto the shed. There’s a big trash can on the other side.”

Rachael pulled out the window screen, and Raul slid out the window. She started to follow him.

“Go back,” he yelled.

Rachael stuck her slippers in the trellis, reached up, and slid the window shut the rest of the way, as quietly as she could. “Shh,” she said. “They’ll hear you.”

 

Chapter 2

Raul banged down onto the shed, then jumped down to the trash can, knocking it over. Rachael followed him, quiet as a snake, then pointed toward the back gate. The gate led to a gap between Rachael’s back yard and their neighbor’s back yard. The gap, which was full of weeds and trees and stuff, ran all the way to the end of the block.

They tiptoed through the garden. The streetlights were so bright they almost covered up the stars.

Ox licked Rachael’s hand, then walked to stand under the office window, woofing to himself very quietly. Inside the house, Rachael’s dad yelled, and something crashed and broke.

Rachael reached the gate and opened it, and she and Raul left just as the upstairs window slammed open.

Rachael expected Ox to bark, but he went perfectly quiet and stood in the shadow of the shed.

Something stuck its head out the window. “I smell him,” it growled. There was something weird about its head.

Raul grabbed her arm. “If you’re going to come, then hurry up.”

Rachael followed Raul through the weeds I juas something thumped in the back yard. Suddenly, Rachael heard a big, angry bark from Ox as he attacked whatever had jumped out of the window. Raul pulled her arm even harder, so hard that she had a hard time following him and not tripping in the weeds.

Rachael heard another thump, and the sound of dogs fighting got even louder. Rachael’s dad screamed her name, but she and Raul kept running until they reached the sidewalk.

Raul started to head right, but Rachael grabbed his arm and jerked him back the other way. “We can cut across the dead end,” she whispered. She whispered because the crickets and leaves sounded too loud, like they were spying on them.

Raul ran with her up the street. Running uphill is always the worst, she thought. I always feel like I’m running through glue.

Ox yipped with pain then whimpered, and the back gate broke with a crash. A police siren started howling, far away. The wind blew harder for a second, making the leaves rustle all the way down the street, and Rachael ran even faster, passing Raul.

She was almost at the dead end when the animals reached the other end the street. They howled so loud that it drowned out the police siren, and Rachael couldn’t help but look, even though she knew it was a bad idea to slow down.

There were two black dogs—not quite as big as Ox, who was part Mastiff—at the bottom of the hill. A white truck with the words “Animal Control” stopped by the two black dogs. One of the dogs wagged its tail when it saw the truck.

Then Raul grabbed her again. “Which way? You stay here. Just tell me which way.”

Rachael pointed between two white houses. “Go that way. It comes out behind the school.”

Raul shoved through the bushes in front of one of the houses, making a lot of noise.

The two dogs started running up the street. It took them a lot less time than it had taken her and Raul. The dogs raced like two motorcycles speeding under the streetlights, they were zooming up the street so fast.

Rachael had been almost ready to give up the adventure—her dad would be scared out of his mind; he’d think she’d been kidnapped, just like her mom—but the way those dogs ran up the hill made her panic, so she ran after Raul.

She was a lot quieter, though.

 

Chapter 3

Raul hissed at her from behind a tree. “Go home!”

They ducked under branches, climbed low fences, and got prickly plants stuck in their socks. It sounded like the two dogs were right behind them.

“No!” Rachael whispered. “They’ll eat me. What’s going on? Do you know where my mom is?”

“Shut up,” Raul said.

One of the dogs growled—but not from behind them, from in front of them.

“Oh, no,” Rachael whispered.

“Shut up!”

The other dog was behind them; Rachael could tell, because he growled, too.

“We’re going to have to turn left,” Raul said.

“Don’t,” Rachael whispered. “We’ll just come out on the football field. They’ll catch us for sure.”

“They’ll catch me,” Raul said. “You go home.”

“No.”

Raul sighed. “Close your eyes for a second.”

“Okay,” she said, but she didn’t.

It was even darker under the trees, and they were in the middle of a bunch of bushes, so she couldn’t see much. But she did see Raul bend over. He grunted, shook off his clothes, and changed into something else.

“You looked,” he growled.

“Wow. You’re a werewolf. But it’s not a full moon.”

“I’m not a werewolf,” Raul said. His voice sounded growly, but more like a puppy trying to sound tough than a scary monster noise. “Grab on.”

Rachael sat on Raul’s back, grabbed the fur on the back of his shoulders, and leaned forward. Raul started running so fast that she almost slid off. She grabbed on tighter and squeezed her legs together around Raul’s belly.

Raul turned to the right, running toward the playground behind the school and right past the big dog, which yipped in surprise. Raul ducked between the swings, under the monkey bars, over the teeter totters, and out the other side of the playground.

Even though Raul was carrying Rachael, the other dogs were falling behind, because they were too big to jump through the playground equipment. Raul, who was much more graceful as a wolf than as a kid, turned around the corner, almost spilling Rachael onto the sidewalk. She was feeling a little sick to her stomach, to tell the truth.

Raul ran onto the school’s front lawn, toward more houses. The two big dogs started to catch up to them.

Raul ran across a couple of empty lots and turned onto a narrow side street. The houses on this side of the school were packed together, with tall fences everywhere, so Raul couldn’t hide.

The white Animal Control van pulled into the street, blocking the way out. Behind them, the two dogs were almost close enough to knock her and Raul onto the ground.

Suddenly, Raul stopped, and the two dogs ran past him, unable to stop as fast as he had. Raul was panting so hard it sounded like he couldn’t breathe, and Rachael realized that carrying her had exhausted him. She should have let him go without her—he was going to get caught because of her. The two big dogs stopped and ran back toward Raul, guarding him.

Rachael rolled off his back and onto the street. Her whole body hurt from hanging on so hard. “I’m sorry, Raul,” she said. “I only followed you because I thought you might know what happened to my mom. I didn’t mean to get you caught.”

A man got out of the truck. He was wearing a blue-and-white shirt with what looked like a picture of a black dog on the pocket.

“Here, boy,” the man said, whistling at Raul. “Miss? You should stay back. That animal is dangerous. He might have rabies. Do you know what rabies is?” He pulled a long gun out of the van. “Don’t worry. This is a tranquilizer gun. It won’t hurt him; it’ll just put him to sleep.”

Rachael looked at Raul. Now that she could see him, he looked just like a really big wolf, only kind of skinny. The streetlights made his gray fur shine orange.

The man aimed the gun at Raul.

 

Chapter 4

“Don’t shoot!” Rachael shouted.

The man ignored her and kept aiming the tranquilizer gun at Raul.

Raul whimpered.

Rachael made up her mind to do something to help Raul, because it was mostly her fault that he hadn’t been able to escape.

Rachael ran straight toward the man. “Help!” she yelled. She ran right in front of the man, waving her arms, then followed him when he tried to step to the side, staying between him and Raul. “Help me, mister! I was almost eaten by that wolf. He picked me up and dragged me all the way here!”

“I’ll help you, miss,” the man said, “if you’ll just get out of the way.”

“I don’t know what happened to my friend Raul,” Rachael said. “One minute he was there, the next minute, he had run away!” She yelled the last two words really loud, hoping Raul would get the hint. “Yeah, he must have run away!”

“Get out of the way!” the man shouted. He snapped his fingers twice.

Rachael heard something moving behind her. She looked around and saw the two dogs starting to circle her.

Rachael screamed. Where was everybody? Couldn’t anybody hear her?

A few lights went on in the houses nearby. The man said a bad word and waved his hand toward her while he aimed the gun at Raul.

Rachael screamed again and ran toward the man. “Help me, help me,” she sobbed. She didn’t have to try too hard to sound scared. “Now there are three big dogs attacking me.”

She heard the click of claws on the street behind her, then Raul was knocking her out of the way, charging the man, jumping onto his chest, and knocking him to the ground.

The two big dogs grabbed Raul with their teeth and tried to pull him off the man, who was moaning. Raul tried to bite the dogs, but they were both bigger than he was and knocked him to the side.

Rachael didn’t dare jump into that dogpile.

Then Rachael heard more barking as the sound of sirens got a lot louder and closer.

Suddenly, Ox rushed into the dogs and dragged one of them off Raul, shaking the bigger dog back and forth with his jaws.

“Ox!” Rachael yelled.

Raul and the other dog rolled off the man and attacked. Now that Raul wasn’t outnumbered, he was beating the bigger dog.

The man sat up and reached for his tranquilizer gun again.

Rachael heard a bark of pain and saw Ox cowering in front of the other dog. It looked like he was hurt, one paw held off the ground. The other dog was walking slowly toward Ox and growling.

Rachael was getting really, really mad. Ox was hurt, Raul was in trouble, her mom had disappeared a week ago and nobody knew where she was, and nobody would tell her why any of this was happening.

Rachael ran at the man, grabbing the long part of his gun. “Your dog is attacking my dog! Make him stop! Make him stop!”

The man tried to push her away, but she grabbed his gun and twisted it around like she’d learned in karate class. He was a lot stronger than she was, but Rachael could tell she was hurting him. She twisted harder. Her heart was beating so hard that she thought she was going to die—then the man finally dropped the gun, yelling and grabbing his hand.

Rachael felt something sting her leg. It hurt a lot—then stopped hurting. She looked down and saw something sticking out of her leg, probably one of the tranquilizer darts from the gun, full of sleepy medicine.

Shoot, she thought.

Suddenly, all she could see was the man’s face, which looked scared for some reason. Rachael tried to stay standing up, but she couldn’t. She was falling asleep, whether she liked it or not.



 

New Fiction Online: “The Nest”

I have a new short story up online in the August 2013  Crossed Genres magazine:  “The Nest,” a SF story about a teacher who has to deal with the terrors of an alien planet–Earth!

Powell’s City of Books: Big. But not IKEA big.

I have just learned that Powell’s bookstore isn’t as huge as people describe it.  Powell’s!  It’s bigger than Tattered Cover, to be sure, but not of the immensity that people describe.  When people (i.e., book lovers) talk about it, it sounds miraculous: more than a collection of books, a Mecca.  I was expecting something that was as big as, say, the Denver Art Museum.

Why do people describe it as being more immense than it really is?

I think it has something to do with the speed at which you travel through the place.  In a museum (or a store), you stop, look at things, and move on.  Zoos are the same way.  The monkey house is way bigger than the wolf woods, for example–even though, rationally, I know this not to be the case.  It’s only when you stop gawking at everything that you can get a sense of how big a place “really” is.  So when you’re walking through Powell’s, you’re digesting a sense of space in two different ways:  in square footage, and in space shaped by your attention.

Okay.  Let me back up to the actual experience itself.  I came into Portland the night before, after a week-long writing workshop on the Oregon Coast, with thirty-five pro writers (that I can, in any context, think of myself belonging with the rest of that crowd blows my mind).  I had time to kill before my flight back to Colorado and a city with which to kill it.

For some reason, the journey from the motel to Powell’s was very long–subjectively speaking.  I’m not used to riding light rails, city buses–public transportation.  I’ve done it before, but not regularly.  So the distance seemed disproportionately long.  On the MAX I sat next to a nice couple and their kids, from south of Portland by about four hours, who were headed up to Washington to see family and who were taking a break to go to the the Portland children’s museum.  Two cute kids, both girls under the age of six.  One who faced life with a mixture of motion sickness and amusement, and the other who was going to be a candidate for Sarcastics Anonymous in a few decades.  A dad who looked like a former college football player, with tattoos and shades and some kind of tech job; a mom who had curly red hair and talked about getting smashed in San Diego in previous times without either embarrassment or regret.  Good people.  After a week of writers it was heaven.  Stop after stop, the world distorted, longer and longer, as I worried:  Why the hell wasn’t anyone checking my ticket?  Would I miss my stop?  Where were we?  Why were there so many distracting and interesting things outside?

We watched the train go around corners.  We sat next to a circular section with two sets of accordion walls and put our feet on either side of the two sections of floor, to feel it turn and try to make it turn faster.

I got out at the right stop and walked toward Powell’s:  there was a block of so full of food trucks on the way, so many that I passed three Thai places alone.  I ordered food at one that looked busy and stood around waiting.  A couple of people asked for change.  The food trucks, as far as I could tell, only took cash, so it wasn’t a bad strategy.  But I’d already dealt with several sets of people asking for change.  Portland?  Has a lot of beggars.  Not a level worthy of fable.  But more than I’m used to.

I picked up my Thai and realized there was noplace to sit.  I walked toward Powell’s, trying to find a bench.  I did eventually find one, but a homeless person had spread out over it.  So I ended up at Powell’s (another three beggars at the corner), sat behind the bikes area, and ate panang curry, which was probably one of the less interesting things I could have ordered from the food truck area, considering that I eat it about once a month, but I was giving myself a break.  I gave a couple of bucks to a guy on the corner, who had a sign that said, “DIVORCED.  WIFE HAD A BETTER LAWYER God Bless” on it, who posed once for a couple of tourists and had this great, gravelly voice–no, not gravelly, more whiskey on the rocks (more booze, less smoke)–and who, every time someone spoke to him, tried to shift the conversation to the point where he–and the people around him–were people.  Everyone else just wanted the change.  “Spare some change?” And then they’d give you whatever reason they needed the money.  Need change to park a car (?!?), need change because they lost a job (this from a hot goth girl outside Powell’s who did well for herself), need change for a bus transfer (which nobody ever looked at, when I had one).

This guy, though, he was a showman.  A storyteller.  He didn’t give too much detail; he didn’t have much time.  I listened to him and ate.  He didn’t really resent his wife–or so the story went–she took what she could get, which was what he would have done, if the circumstances had been reversed.  He was doing all right.  Times were hard but he’d see it through.  And you young guys?  You don’t know what you’re in for.

I finished up and thought about offering my leftovers to the guy, and decided against it.  Because he didn’t look like a panang curry kind of guy, but also because, shit–I thought it’d be insulting.  He had enough cash to buy lunch, especially considering the prices at the food trucks.  I tossed in an extra buck instead.

How long would it take him to make $500?  Did he have days that were good enough to pay for the days in winter when people rushed by shivering and didn’t absorb that little blast of cynicism and hope?  I hope so.

Powell’s.  I checked my backpack, which probably saved me from hating the place.  I wandered a little, and decided to get a feel for where everything was before I got too far into the weeds.

At first I had that rush.  The place is huge.  But slowly I realized–compared to an IKEA, it’s nothing.  Costco seemed closer.  Like, 1.75 Costcos = 1 Powells.*

Powell’s is a warehouse for books.  They’re scattered all over the place, and I’m sure there were more books elsewhere that I didn’t see–but it’s still a warehouse for books.

This is not to say that it’s not a magical place.  They’re books; I love books; Powell’s has a lot of books.  But the space wasn’t distorted for me the way the train ride to the city center was, or the way the block full of food trucks was, or the way the corner behind the bikes where I ate Thai and listened to a panhandler work his trade was.  I thought a couple of times about leaving early, and walking around the city center, but if I had done that, I’d had to have carried my backpack, and @#$% that noise.  So instead I got a cup of coffee, which helped.

Suddenly books started popping out at me, and I started texting myself titles.  I’d have to look them up later–I couldn’t buy, let alone carry, all of them.  I’d already shoved three books in my backpack through the course of the workshop, and I didn’t think I could shove in a fourth.

I decided, nevertheless, to try.

I knew the book as soon as I saw it.  Pleasure Bound:  Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism.  I have a crush on the 19th Century, and Richard Francis Burton in particular.  This book was mine.

I found it in History–Britain–Hanover/Victoria, I think.  The entire section was enchanting, but there was one shelf where I texted myself five or six titles alone, and thought about doing more.

That shelf felt enormous, larger than (say) the entire section on archaeology, plus all the foreign languages, as well as all of the rest of history, and the–well, entire rooms full of books.  That shelf distorted all the space around it, and made the entire store feel larger.

Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld books, writes about L-Space, Library Space, in which all libraries connect throughout space and time.  Powell’s is like that–but the space isn’t created by the books, but by our perceptions of them, our attention.  It would be cool to compare how big various people think the store is, what areas are bigger than others.   Someday, we’ll have virtual realities where we can do that, virtual bookstores whose shapes, whose very layouts change, as people move through them, in real time.  We will be able to build strange maps that change around the readers, subject by subject, book by book.**

I’m sure there’s someone out there who will whine that virtual bookstore maps are killing their love of reading.  There’s always someone who can’t enjoy the moment and has to get all wound up about oh my God the books are dying, dying… Well, I hate to say it, but Powell’s looks like it’s doing pretty well for itself.  They even have a Kobo kiosk, because you can buy Powell’s ebooks via Kobo now.  It’s a good place.  I liked it.

But it’s still just a warehouse for the books.

So here are the numbers:

  • Powell’s:  68,000 square feet.
  • IKEA in Centennial, CO: 415,000 square feet.
  • Costco in Colorado Springs, CO (Powers): 158,000 square feet.
  • Tattered Cover, downtown Denver, CO: 41,700 square feet.
  • Denver Art Museum (entire complex): 350,000 square feet.
  • Denver Public Library (new building downtown): 540,000 square feet.
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO:  146 acres, or over 6.3 million square feet.
  • Amazon warehouses:  the numbers change almost as fast as the ones on a McDonald’s sign used to.  Millions and millions.

*As you can see, I wasn’t even close on that one.

**Yes, I know, online bookstores almost do this.  But not in a way that we can really feel or see in front of us.  Also, yes, I’ve read the Thursday Next series, although I didn’t realize where I might be going with this post when I started it.

Free Fiction Monday: Winter Fruit

Adrienne hides a secret face from the world:  she craves eating with an insatiable, magical hunger.  Only her husband, Miklos, an undertaker, knows the truth.  And yet loves her, passionately.  Because of her appetites, not in spite of them.

Then Miklos dies of a heart attack, and his brother Andros, the owner of the family Greek restaurant, creates a feast that tests Adrienne’s resistance to the core.  Andros has somehow learned Adrienne’s secret.  He wants to possess her, all of her, flesh and bone, and now Miklos isn’t there to stop him.  But he wants more than just Adrienne…

Someone removed Miklos’s  great bull of a heart from his chest after he died.  And Andros thinks Adrienne might have done something horrible with it.  Adrienne must discover what rules her:  her love of Miklos, or her appetites…

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

Winter Fruit

 

Miklos had always wanted an old-fashioned Catholic funeral, with incense and a tomb, so he’d converted a few years ago, when the doctor started to warn him about his heart. He didn’t change his diet.

The tomb was cold, but not actually unpleasant.

I locked the door of the tomb behind him and placed the key on a black ribbon inside my dress, singing an old song under my breath. Outside the tomb, it was cold but sunny, and a light breeze played with the black silk scarf covering my hair.

I had to choke back an appalling giggle. Miklos would tell horrible jokes at funerals—the one about switching heads—the one about the man who wanted to be buried with his money, so his wife wrote him a check—

Andros stood next to me with his hand on my shoulder, squeezing hard. The family looked like dancers at a costume ball wearing masks of tragedy, which would soon be cast aside for the hideous grimaces of comedy at the dinner.

If only they had known how hungry I was.

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

Giveaway for Reviews: Guinea Pig Apocalypse

Would you like a free copy?

The print version of Guinea Pig Apocalypse is up.  Yay!  You can order it online at Amazon or B&N, and probably a bajillion other online bookstores.

However, I could use some reviews.  I have a giveaway going on at LibraryThing right now; you can scroll down or do a search for “guinea” to find it (there are a lot of different giveaways–if you want free books, it’s a great reason to sign up for LT, because they do this every month).  For a limited time, I will also pass out ebook copies to anyone who drops me a line to request one, barring anything weird, like someone with a signature line that reads “violates copyright for fun and profit.”

 

Guinea Pig Apocalypse

by De Kenyon

What? It’s summer and you have kids who are bored? Who knew?!? Why not hand them a copy of this story to keep them amused? It’s a cute story, especially for those of use who are Guinea pig fans, but there’s no shortage of action (or poop). Parents with a sense of humor required, but I’m especially looking for reviews by kids aged 9-12. (If they’re younger, you may want to skim the book first.)

Galileo’s mad-scientist parents have done it again: invented something that got completely out of control. This time, it’s a matter replicator in their basement. And a squirrel army out to get rid of the humans. And lots…and LOTS of Guinea pigs out of sewage. Yuck!

Now it’s up to Galileo and his friend, the giant Guinea pig Max, to stop the pigs from being mind-controlled by the squirrels and taking over the world!

You can get the ebook of Guinea Pig Apocalypse at these online retailers, and more: AmazonKoboSmashwordsB&N, and Apple.

 

 

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