Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dog Days of Summer

I forgot how long summer could be... okay, not really... it’s one of the few things that seems waaaaaay longer now than it did to me as a kid... but that’s only because I’m on full time mommy duty and I like to complain.

My kids however have found all sorts of interesting ways to amuse themselves. The funny thing is, I remember coming up with games when I was a kid. We made up our own all the time – ours were pretty much just pummeling the hell out of each other, though. My kids are far more inventive.

Take for instance, the new game sweeping the nation:

Dodgeball Old Lady Mock 6000

There are rules to this game.

If the ball hits you in the face, it’s a bloody nose and you’re sent to the principal’s office (apparently this means you lose a turn and sit out)

If the ball hits you in the leg, it’s a broken leg – you must hop on one foot until you’ve gotten the thrower out...

If the ball hits you in the arm, an old lady attacks you – you are forced to sit in a chair while the old lady mocks you (thus the inventive title)

Oldest does the announcer voice throughout the game... she’s rather good at it. There are sound effects and everything.

My backyard is a water war zone

We don’t have a pool. We talked about it, a few times, but so far it’s not in the cards. First of all, youngest doesn’t swim very well yet – he’s still in the beginner level at swim lessons. If he can make it up to the next level by the end of the summer, I’ve promised them that we can get a pass to the public pool next year... This, of course, is not good enough. Next summer is forever away!

So, like every mother of beasties, er, umn, I mean beautiful, well behaved children type peoples... I let them play in the sprinkler with squirt guns a few afternoons a week...

But, you know, after the first few afternoons of running around in their swimsuits through a sprinkler, it wasn’t nearly as much fun anymore... Now they’ve taken to new ways of turning a nice normal yard into six flags theme park... The super soakers all get filled up... as do water balloons.... don’t ask me what they’re doing with the tennis rackets because I’m not quite sure what that bit’s all about... oh, and they’ve turned the backyard slide into a water slide by disconnecting the hose from the sprinkler and spraying the heck out of the person at the top of the slide....

The kid down the block saw the ruckus from his own backyard and told his mom about it... I don’t think he’s allowed to come here to play anymore...

So, how about you? What have you been doing to fill up your summer months?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Halloween in July - The Man in Black

Since I’m the one with the bright idea to run a writing contest, I figured maybe I should start the ball rolling. Mine is, obviously, not entered to win the non-existent prize... so really it’s just here for your thrill seeking amusement.... If you’re thinking of entering (whine, wheedle, plead), stop over at the original post and drop me a comment to let me know you’ve posted one. Deadline’s on Wednesday, July 30th.

Head warning, this story is a lot longer than my regular posts... sorry, I’m long and windy today.

The Man in Black

The glare from the streetlights skittered across his tobacco misted windshield, as Scott veered past the quiet parked cars and careened to a stop at the usual place, three houses from my mom’s. There were two gnarled old trees between us and the front window, and even with the crisp fall wind doing its damage on the leaves, they were still a great cover for long goodnight gropings.

I watched his hands trail across the steering wheel, putting the car in park and moving over to my left knee as if in one fluid motion... he couldn’t dance worth hell, but he was graceful as anything when his mind was on things best reserved for places not near where my parents actually lived. I could feel the half smirk lifting the corner of my mouth as I looked up at him, intent on telling him to stop without really meaning it, when it caught me out of the corner of my eye.

Right there in the small window behind the driver’s side seat, the same man I’d been seeing for days stood watching. My chest tightened and I jumped full around, my jean’s pocket snagging on the warn leather upholstery as I backed up against the passenger door. There was no one there. No man. No shadow. No nothing. I’d seen him at the gas station the night before, standing just behind the pump as I got out of my car. When I turned to look at him, there was no one there. The same thing happened days before, walking to the mailbox right down the block.

I turned my attention back to Scott, trying to regain my breath and act like nothing had happened, except it was too late.

“What?!!!” he shouted, whipping his head around and then glaring back at me, a vivid panic twisting his cheeks.

That little gleam in his eye that I liked to think was from me, but just as likely had to do with the amount of drinking we’d been doing that night, well, that playful look was gone. Instead, his light brown eyes darted back and forth before settling on mine, and his hand was less a caress than a vice grip on my leg before I cracked him with my knuckles.

“Nothing,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and trying to resurrect that half smile thing that usually worked so well.

“Seriously, what? What did you see?” he turned back to look behind him again before focusing on me in earnest. “What? It wasn’t nothing, what did you see?”

I was going to try arguing with him, but his voice was a little too manic and I didn’t think he’d believe me. Then again, I really didn’t want to tell him I’d been seeing some shadow man with a fedora hat who looked like he came straight out of an old forties movie.

“Nothing... really,” I huffed a bit to accentuate my frustration but as none of my usual tricks seemed to be working, I settled on the truth... or an approximation of it, anyway.

“I thought I saw someone... it wasn’t anything, probably a leaf floating past or something,” I explained, waving my hand toward the back of the car, “See? Nothing there.”

He shook his head, with his lips all puckered up as if he’d just sucked down a fistful of lemon drops. This was going nowhere. The mood was gone anyway and I had a paper due in the next day.

Just as I was about to say goodnight, he stopped me with one, quiet question. “Was he wearing a gangster hat that covered his face?”

I didn’t have to answer, couldn’t have even if I wanted to. My face was confirmation enough. I didn’t even know my mouth was hanging open until I realized my tongue was so dry it was painful. Scott turned the key in the ignition and lit out of the parking space without even checking his side view mirror.

We wound up at a little coffee shop some blocks away from my house; Scott hadn’t said a word the entire drive there, even though I’d been peppering him with cuss words and indignant epitaphs the whole way.

“What are we doing here?” By this point I half-expected him not to answer even that simple question.

He grabbed a notebook from the back seat and headed for the restaurant door, saying, “Come on, I’ve got to show you something.”

By the time our waitress came back with our coffee, I was halfway through the second page of his story, fidgeting with the ragged edge of the loose leaf paper and trying to make his chicken scratch make sense. Scott’s story described my ghostie to a tee, and I knew I didn’t tell him about it.

“So wait,” I started, grabbing a handful of sugar packets and dumping them in my coffee, “is this fiction? What is this?”

“Yes and no...” He drummed his hand on the table and leaned forward in the booth, “I’m writing it as fiction, but the man in black is the real deal.”

“Okay...” I said, “so what, it’s like a ghost or something?”

He sat there, with this smug look on his face, like he knew some great life truth or something, but as near as I could tell, he was just trying to freak me out... except, I’d seen the guy and there was no way for him to know what I was seeing.

“Okay, what do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I mean I don’t think it’s a ghost. I don’t think it lived before... just read the rest of the story.”

I slammed the notebook shut and leaned back in the booth with my arms crossed. The story was, first of all about his ex-girlfriend, which was annoying enough. Second, I didn’t want to sit in front of him reading thirty pages of writing when he could just tell me what the hell he was talking about.

His eyebrows shot up and then he just shook his head. “Okay, basically, he’s this thing that’s been hanging around me for two years.”

“Okay...” I started, but the waitress was coming near our table and I didn’t want a perfect stranger to know we were both crazy. After she checked our coffees and moved on, I continued, “so far I got that you guys were playing with a Ouija board and this thing came through.”

“He didn’t just come through; he threw the stupid pointer thing into my wall!”

He was yelling so loud, I leapt halfway across the table to put my hands over his mouth to shut him up. And two truck drivers sitting at the counter were giggling. Have you ever seen a truck driver giggle, it’s actually not that pretty. Seriously, two big burley guys in flannel shirts and grungy hats, chirping like little school girls in my general direction... that’s uncomfortable.

“Shuuuuush... fine, so what’s the big deal, just have your house exorcised or something.”

“It’s not attached to the house. It’s attached to people. Everyone who was there that night has seen him since then, and none of them have been able to make him go away.”

What the hell did I get into?

“Wait – I wasn’t there.” I could feel the Cheshire cat grin, ha, ha... I felt like a little kid who got to glue just before the guy who was it tagged me...

“Yeah,” he said, fidgeting with his spoon, “here’s the thing, since I’ve been writing the story about it, he’s been acting up, and I think... maybe... ‘cause I’m around you so much...”

“Oh, nice... so what, you gifted me your psychic stalker?”

“Well, not on purpose.”

He looked so nervous, checking out the windows and looking everywhere but at me, I almost felt sorry for him. And I still figured it was probably more imagination than anything. By the time he dropped me off at home, I knew that the thing had been hiding his pens (more likely he misplaced them) and futzing with his computer (but he wasn’t that techie savvy to begin with). And I still didn’t see any reason to believe that if there was something there, it wasn’t just a run of the mill ghost.

I continued to see the shadowy figure in odd places, always when I was relatively alone. When I was with another person, they were never looking when it happened. A few weeks later, it started doing a bit more than just popping into my peripheral vision and disappearing. One morning, I was sitting in my kitchen after everyone else had left for work when all of the sudden the dog started barking. She was an older dog and usually only barked at the doorbell, so I thought maybe someone was coming to the door. But then her barking got louder and quicker, and by the time I got to the doorway of the kitchen, where I had I good view of the living room, she was in a full fledged fury. My mild mannered mutt was sitting bone straight in the middle of the couch, staring up at the ceiling, barking and crying at the same time. I stood there, confused for a second, until I noticed what she was looking at. There was a large cloud, it looked almost like smoke, but it was more solid and all in one spot, right up near the ceiling by the front hall.

I grabbed my keys and ran out the back, no shoes and still wearing my pajama bottoms. I’m not proud of it, but I left my poor dog there. In my defense, she was fine when I got back home.

Things quieted down a bit after that, but I was so on edge that any little thing made me skittish. Real people weren’t nearly as frightening as the things I imagined lurking around the corners.

Scott would occasionally ask if I’d seen it again, and I always lied. I didn’t want to freak him out any more than he already was, and I really thought all of his thinking about it was feeding the problem. He was convinced that the thing was trying to stop him from writing his story... Frankly, if it was me, I’d just chuck the damn story.

I was thinking that exactly, that I should convince him to throw out the story and not write it, on the last night I had contact with the man in black. We had a long weekend and I thought I’d turn in early on Sunday night because I hadn’t been getting much sleep at all in the previous weeks. Laying in the dark in my room, I got that feeling, like someone else was there.

A normal person might turn on the lights, but I froze, pulling the covers all the way up as if that would help. If anything, it just made it harder for me to move. Then there was a sound, a scratching sound, almost metallic but not quite, and it seemed to be right in my ear. I jumped up and turned on the light, half expecting that there’d be nothing there. Except there was.

One of those mylar balloons, you know, the helium ones with the pictures on one side – this one had hearts and flowers. It was bopping up and down near the ceiling and I breathed a sigh... until I realized the window was shut. There was no draft in the room. Why was it moving?

Then it raced all the way across the ceiling and stopped at the opposite wall.

“Huh... well, that’s not that scary... really.” I said it out loud, I think to convince myself, except I might have accidentally cheesed off the man in black or ghost or whatever, because just as I stopped talking, one, thick, hardcover book came all the way off of the book shelf and dropped with a bang on my desktop. The light from my overhead fixture shown off the spine, making the title wink and dance. The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul... nice choice.

Fine, that was scary... I wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud, though. I cracked my door open a bit, shut the light, and got back in bed, because there was no way I was going to sleep on the couch... again.

My eyes were closed for barely a minute, when I heard a low rumble coming from my closet. I looked in the direction of the closet door, which was open, and couldn’t see anything, but it sounded like something was knocking everything around, as if someone was having a fit in the closet. I could hear the hangers screeching against each other and things thumping around. I turned on the lights and, silence. Nothing looked moved at all, and the noise stopped. I shut the lights and it started right up, louder and more ferocious. This time when I turned on the lights, it didn’t stop. The noise grew louder and more intense, but nothing was moving.

I shut the light off and did the only thing I could think of. My grandmother once told me that to get rid of a curse, you have to surround yourself with a white light, pray to God, and ask that it be ‘sent back from whence it came’. I made the sign of the cross, imagining bright light like a halo all around, and said the Our Father, all the while, thinking, ‘Send it back from whence it came’. I said the Our Father a second time. By the third time, my mind was screaming, pleading, whining, “Send it back from whence it came, send it back from whence it came!” The minute I said, “Amen” the noise stopped. I added a Glory Be and Oh My Jesus and ended with a sign of the cross. Then I turned the light back on.

The room was completely quiet and that feeling, like there was someone there, was gone completely. The glow of numbers on my digital alarm registered 1:02 am. I walked over and closed my closet door and for the first time, took a good look at the poster I had hanging there. It was from the Art Institute of Chicago, a neon outline of the character from Dick Tracey – a shadowy man wearing a fedora. I tore it off the wall and threw it in the garbage. And when I fell into bed, it was the deepest most dreamless sleep I can ever remember.

The next day bloomed bright and sunny for October, and I was in the most fabulous mood. It was like walking out of smog into the most perfect summer day. Scott called during his break at work, like he usually did, and we made plans for later that night, but he sounded funny.

“What’s wrong with you, you sound miserable?” I asked.

“Nothing, I didn’t really sleep good last night... something started banging around in my closet at like one in the morning.”

Monday, July 21, 2008


The gracious Editorial Anonymous is hosting a best-worst pitch contest . So all of my fellow middle grade and children’s writer friends should head on over there and take advantage of her hospitality!

On my previous post, I announced a scary story contest, but in light of EA’s contest and the Book Club’s week of debauchery, I’m going to extend the deadline to next week, Wednesday, July 30th... that should give everyone enough time. If you’re playing, drop a comment or link over there when it’s up!

Thank you. We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WRITING CONTEST - Halloween in July

I thought it might be a good time for a writing contest... why not? Middle of summer when most of us have the least amount of time....

The lovely Ello (by the way, the new blog and picture are stunning – lucky Da Man) inspired this little writing contest, with her latest blog on Scaredy Cats

The rules are simple and anyone can play.

1. Write a short story, essay, anecdote, or personal memoir on a horror inducing subject matter. It can be anything from slasher to ghost story, paranormal or otherwise. Anything goes.

2. Form – It’s up to you. You can use traditional fiction, poetry, screenplay... I’m interested in any type of writing you’d like to include – the more variety the better.

3. Post your entry on your own blog, with a link back here and announcement on the contest – I’d love as much participation as you guys can generate... after all, we’ll all get to read a lot of different work and, best of all, get some new material for our own summer campfires.

4. Deadline: All entries must be posted by Friday, July 25th at 11:59 pm, Central Time

5. Once you’ve posted, make sure to drop back here and leave me a comment to let me know it’s up and included.

On Saturday, I’ll post a follow up blog with links to all of the entries so everyone will know where to find them. Judging will be done by you, the readers. On the follow up post, commenters can vote for their favorites. The prize is simple bloggy glory. I’ll post (with your permission) the winner’s full entry here, with links back to your blog. (I know, how cheap am I?) Or, if you prefer, an open critique, but that’s up to the winner.

So what do you say? Who’s game?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hypothetical Dream Killing

The lovely Nathan Bransford recently posted an interesting hypothetical question... more interesting was the response by the writers who participated in the mammoth comment section... he asked:

Question #1: Let's say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that's that. Final answer. Would you want to know?

Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don't have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?

First, the responses:

I think, if any of you actually missed the post, it’s worth your time to go look at the writers’ responses in Nathan’s comments section. Not that I’m negating or arguing with any of them, I just got stuck on the fact that so many people could not stick to the hypothetical premise. I think it’s because that premise came very close to some of our deepest fears. What if I really am not talented enough for this? What if I’ve been spinning my wheels for years, years of my life that I can’t get back and I’ll never be any good? What if I’m a failure?

Second, my response:

Well, what if? I thought the same thing, you know... think it every time I re-read something of mine that I thought was damn well-written, and see all of the flaws on second or third or fiftieth inspection... what if? Well, let’s take it a step further and answer his question in the spirit it was intended... the hypothetical spirit, the one that can’t argue the seer’s accuracy or fudge the outcome in any manner.

Question 1: Yes, I would want to know... for the same reason I found all of my Christmas gifts before Santa came... the same reason I found out the sex of my children... we were doing the ultrasound anyway, why the hell should my doctor know and leave me in the dark? So, yes, 100% accuracy beats the hell out of ultrasound (otherwise my daughter would be named after my father)... so yes, I’d want to know...

Question 2: Would I still want to write? Brass tax honest answer – No. Should I give you a minute to gasp and wring your hands before I continue? Okay, at least I’m honest, and I don’t think everyone is... but I do feel the need to elaborate here, just for the sake of it.

I’d love to write some poetic ode to writing, that it’s in the journey not the publication, that it’s in my blood and I can’t for all that is holy, live without it... all true, but I’ll digress... would I, knowing I will never ever make a living from writing novels, continue to spend every possible moment of my time, carrying my notebooks to get in a few sentences during the kids’ swim lessons, staking out the computer during their library time to hunt up research on agents, publishing, writing queries, how to negotiate contracts, and all of that gobblidy gook that’s a necessity for a professional writer but not nearly as fun as actually writing? Would I continue to flow through the rough draft, revel in the revision, and sweat through large portions of the edits for two or three hundred pages? No, I think you’d have to be a masochist to follow all of the steps knowing it will never sit anywhere but on my own damn desktop.

I’m sorry. No. Now, what would I do?

I would likely mourn for a very long time. I’ve actually done this once before, so I know there is an active mourning period in retiring a dream. I’ve mentioned in blog before that I originally wanted to be an artist and studied drawing and painting up to college... I was in my senior year of high school when I realized I didn’t have that talent... no seer, I realized it myself. It was a quick, lightening flash moment, when I realized that that spark, the one you see in great, beautiful, moving artwork, I can’t do that. I’m proficient with shapes and lines, my technique is passable – I cannot make it breathe... I don’t feel anything when I look at my own drawings... I can see the flaws and well drawn lines, it will never breathe.... some people can do it – if you can’t, no amount of training will give you that particular gift. I do still draw and paint... I even do portraits for other people occasionally, but I’ll never pursue it professionally.

If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d never reach publication with my writing, I would likely continue to write in journals, and send long windy letters and emails... I would probably blog, I’d definitely do something literary, because I can’t not... but I would get to cut out all of the angst that goes with the business end of trying to sell my creation... would I write a full length book in that state? Maybe, but it would be completely up to my own whim and enjoyment, and that push is less aggressive than the one that’s striving for a goal.

Then I’d find a new dream. Life is more fun when you have a vision, a goal... and I am a person who needs goals... I need to be working toward something... I’d venture to guess I’d want to work somewhere in publishing or maybe teaching. I can’t envision a dream of mine not having to do with literature or art of some kind... that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy writing, but you have to strive professionally as well as spiritually... when they match up it’s wonderful... but if they don’t, you still have to keep going.

Okay, guys... how about you? Do you have an answer to this one?