INSIDE-OUT BOY—SPEC SCRIPT

Writing

Do you remember the TV show Inside-Out Boy? It was an excellent piece of claymation that ran on Nickelodeon for a few years in the late 80s/early 90s. Fast forward to a couple of decades ago, and I had an idea for some new stories set in the Inside-Out Boy world. Not content to sit on an idea I liked, I wrote a few spec scripts, and hunted down the production company that had produced the original series. As it turned out, they liked it. We started talking about the possibility, and it was a slim possibility, that we could move forward with the idea. Then…then 9/11 happened, and they were in New York, and that was it. But I still like the idea. Here’s one of those spec scripts.

Inside-Out Boy In:

The Grass Is Always Greener On The Inside-Out

SCENE: Bird’s-eye view of a suburban neighborhood at dusk; kids playing, lawns being mowed. This wholesome vision is shattered by the sound of a—

YOUNG GIRL’S VOICE

Help! Leave me alone, you bullies!

CUT TO: An access alley behind a garage with garbage cans, etc. Two punky looking teenage boys are teasing a cute young girl (Carla). They have taken her bike.

CARLA

Give me back my bike or I’ll tell my dad!

BOY A

Ooooh, I’m really scared! She’s gonna tell her daddy!

BOY B

Not if we put her in a garbage can…come on, Stu, let’s get her…

They approach her menacingly.

CUT TO: Close-up of Carla, looking terrified, as the shadows of the boys fall across her. She trips and falls.

CUT TO: The two boys approaching, from Carla’s P.O.V.

VOICE FROM OUT-OF-FRAME

Hey! Why don’t you dorks pick on someone your own size!

The punks look around puzzled.

BOY A

Who said that?!

VOICE FROM OUT-OF-FRAME

 I did!

Inside-Out Boy leaps down from the garage roof, landing on top of a garbage can. He waves his arms and sticks out his tongue at the boys, making loud noises, exploiting his inside-out-ness. The punks become scared little kids and run away screaming. Inside-Out Boy watches them go.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Hah, that’ll teach ‘em.

I.O.B. turns back toward Carla, and really sees her for the first time.

CUT TO: Close-up of Carla’s face as I.O.B. sees her…she’s a blonde vision, light radiating from her face.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B.’s face with a dumb smile and faraway eyes. He is clearly smitten.

CUT TO: I.O.B. kind of shakes himself, realizes he’s staring. He reaches to help Carla.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Here, let me help you up.

Carla recoils from his touch, tries to hide the look of revulsion that crosses her face but does not succeed. She scrambles to her feet, keeping her distance. This is one girl who does not think I.O.B. is cool.

CARLA

No, no, that’s okay. I’m fine, really.

Carla hurries past him, jumps on her bike. She pedals away, one bent wheel squeaking.

CARLA (OVER HER SHOULDER)

Um, thanks and everything.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B. He realizes what has just happened.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (TO HIMSELF)

Wow, she was scared of me. I, I think I grossed her out!

CUT TO: I.O.B. walking home, slumped and dejected, as indignities are heaped upon him. Dogs and cats follow him, sniffing. A bird lands on his head, begins to peck. An elderly woman carrying a big pie to her neighbor sees him, screams and flips the pie up in the air; naturally it lands on his head.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (HOWLING TO THE HEAVENS)

I’m tired of being inside-out!

A gopher pops his head out of his hole, sees I.O.B., lets out a loud EEEK and dives back into his hole. I.O.B. hangs his head and sighs.

DISOLVE TO: The next day at school, I.O.B. sits in class, still grumbling. His teacher enters with Carla in tow, and I.O.B. perks up immediately.

TEACHER

Class, say hello to your new classmate, Carla Calloway.

CLASS (HAPHAZARDLY)

Hello, Carla…

TEACHER

Carla, why don’t you find yourself a seat.

I.O.B. realizes there is an empty seat next to him. He looks at Carla and smiles hopefully. Carla sees him and ducks her head. She heads for a desk on the opposite side of the room. I.O.B. drops his head on his desk.

DISOLVE TO: I.O.B. eating lunch with his best friends; Darcy, who lives next door, and Thomas, a bit of a nerd who thinks of I.O.B. as his own personal science project. I.O.B. gazes longingly across the cafeteria at Carla.

DARCY (TO THOMAS)

What’s with him?

THOMAS

He’s in love with that new girl, Carla, but she thinks he’s gross!

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Shut up, Thomas!

Darcy looks daggers at Carla. She’s been carrying a quiet torch for I.O.B. for years. She thumps I.O.B. on the head to get his attention.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Huh? Ow! What?!

DARCY

If Blondie over there can’t see what a cool guy you are, even inside-out, then she’s not worth the time of day!

INSIDE-OUT BOY

You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re my friend.

DARCY

Ooooh!

Darcy storms off, upset.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

What’d I say?

THOMAS

Man, you really have a way with the ladies.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Shut up, Thomas!

DISOLVE TO: Later that day, after school. I.O.B. and Thomas sit on the playground swings, talking.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Where’s Darcy?

THOMAS

She went home. She’s still cheesed off at you. You know she kind of likes you, right?

INSIDE-OUT BOY

You’re crazy! Me and Darcy have been friends forever!

THOMAS

Yeah, whatever.

They sit in silence for a moment, I.O.B. deep in thought.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Hey Thomas…I don’t want to be inside-out any more. Can you find a way to change me back?

THOMAS

Are you sure?

INSIDE-OUT BOY (DETERMINED)

Yeah, I’m sure.

THOMAS

Well, I love a challenge. Let’s go to the lab.

DISOLVE TO: Thomas’s room. It’s a nerd’s paradise, with computers, test tubes, Bunsen burners, etc. Thomas is wearing a lab coat, the pocket bristling with pens. I.O.B. looks apprehensive.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Now what?

THOMAS 

(WITH A BIG SMILE ON HIS FACE…

HE’S BEEN WAITING TO DO THIS FOR A LONG TIME)

We have to run some tests.

Collage of scenes, one dissolving into the next, as I.O.B. is subjected to all manner of silly tests while Thomas takes notes. He’s poked and prodded with odd-looking instruments. He’s hung upside-down and spun in circles. He hops on one foot while holding a goldfish bowl in one hand, balancing an umbrella on his nose and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

CUT TO: Thomas pressing the ENTER button on his computer keyboard, while I.O.B. looks on, exhausted.

THOMAS 

Keep your fingers crossed, here it comes.

A sheet of paper slides out of the printer. Thomas picks it up, not letting I.O.B. see it.

THOMAS 

Hmmmm…why didn’t I think of that?

INSIDE-OUT BOY

What? What’s it say?

THOMAS 

You have to swing up over the bar backward.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

You’re kidding…

THOMAS 

Nope.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (WITH CONVICTION)

Let’s do it.

DISOLVE TO: The swing set. I.O.B. takes his seat as Thomas and Darcy look on.

DARCY (STILL MAD) 

I hope you know what you’re doing. What if you turn inside-out again? You’ll end up being a big gooey mess.

INSIDE-OUT BOY 

I’m already a big gooey mess…besides, that’s not going to happen, right, Thomas?

THOMAS 

Um, right. At least, I don’t think so. So, you ready?

INSIDE-OUT BOY (HOLDING ONTO THE CHAINS)

Yep.

Thomas and Darcy get in front of I.O.B. and each grab a side of the swing. They back up, pulling the swing forward as far as they can.

THOMAS 

On three. One, two, threeeeee!

They rush forward, flinging I.O.B. backwards. The swing goes up in a big arc, almost parallel to the ground, before heading back.

INSIDE-OUT BOY 

Almost, keep pushing!

Thomas and Darcy keep pushing, the swing inching higher and higher.

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B. as he finally loops over in slow motion, upside down, chains slack. As he comes over the top he begins to transform, turning right–side out. He comes to a bouncing stop, looks down at himself and lets out a loud

INSIDE-OUT BOY 

Yeah! It worked!

Thomas and Darcy join him in cheering.

THOMAS 

I knew it would work! At least, I was pretty sure. Science triumphs again!

DARCY 

So now what? You going go tell your family?

INSIDE-OUT BOY 

Yeah, they’re really gonna be surprised!

DISOLVE TO: Mom and dad hugging I.O.B. in a stranglehold.

MOM 

Oh honey, we love you no matter what. Plus, now I can take the plastic off the furniture.

CUT TO: I.O.B. with his little sister, Shelly. She pokes him experimentally.

SHELLY 

Hmmm. You’re not sticky anymore. I’m gonna miss that.

She looks at him with a frown, then bursts out laughing and hugs him.

SHELLY 

Just kidding!

CUT TO: I.O.B.’s big brother Steve. He looks I.O.B. up and down, then bops him on top of the head and walks away.

STEVE (OVER HIS SHOULDER) 

Inside-out or not, you’re still a dweeb.

I.O.B. sighs, rubbing his head, then smiles.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (A LITTLE SARCASTICALLY)

There’s no place like home…but now there’s a certain blonde girl I have to go see.

DISOLVE TO: I.O.B. in a jacket and tie, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He’s obviously nervous as all get-out as he walks up the porch steps of a nice house and rings the doorbell. Carla answers the door. She looks at him dismissively through the screen door.

CARLA

Can I help you?

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Um, yeah, I mean yes. (HOLDS OUT THE FLOWERS) These are for you.

CARLA

Who are you?

INSIDE-OUT BOY

It’s me, the kid who saved you when those older boys took your bike. I guess I look a little different now. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to go to a movie or something.

CARLA

As if. So you’re not inside-out any more, I still don’t owe you anything. You really thought I’d go out with you? Yuck!

Carla slams the door in I.O.B.’s face. I.O.B. slinks away, crushed, and the night just gets worse. He runs into the elderly woman who had the pie before and tries to scare her out of spite. She hits him with her umbrella. A gopher pops up out of his hole and bites him on the ankle. Finally, as he crosses an alley, the two punks from before grab him up, pulling him into the darkness. We hear loud banging sounds, then the punks exit the alley, dusting off their hands, laughing.

CUT TO: I.O.B. in a garbage can, banana peel and miscellaneous trash on his head.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (DEFEATED)

I guess there’s only one thing left to do…

DISOLVE TO: The playground, late at night. I.O.B. peeks up from behind some bushes, scanning the playground. He zips from bush to tree like a ghost, making his way toward the swingset. When he’s sure the coast is clear he gets on the swing.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Here we go again!

I.O.B. begins to swing, higher and higher. As he climbs into the sky, his determined frown is gradually replaced with a smile. Finally, with a triumphant yell, he loops over the top and turns back inside-out. He leaps off the swing, plants his feet and raises his hands into the air.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Inside-Out Boy is back!

DISOLVE TO: The next day in the school cafeteria. I.O.B., Thomas and Darcy are sitting together, I.O.B. inside-out as can be. Thomas is shaking his head.

THOMAS

I just don’t get it. I can’t figure out why you turned back inside-out.

INSIDE-OUT BOY (WITH A SLY SMILE)

It’s a real mystery all right.

DARCY

So what’d your family say?

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Oh, you know. Steve bopped me on top of the head, Shelly loves me no matter what, and Mom put the plastic back on the furniture. I guess life is back to normal. So who wants to hit the playground for some kickball?

THOMAS

I’m in. Darcy?

DARCY

You guys go on, I’ll be there in a minute.

Darcy reaches into her pocket and pulls out a big, juicy worm.

INSIDE-OUT BOY

Darcy, what’s that for?

DARCY

That Carla girl is looking a little pale. I think she needs more protein in her diet, so I’m gonna add this to her spaghetti.

Darcy and Thomas high-five.

THOMAS

You go girl!

DARCY

No one messes with my boy—best friend. (SHE BLUSHES)

CUT TO: Close-up of I.O.B., a big embarrassed smile on his face.

INSIDE-OUT BOY 

Shut up, Thomas.

THOMAS

I didn’t say anything!

INSIDE-OUT BOY

You were going to…

THE END

Trapped in Lunch Lady Land

Writing

In 2013 CBAY Books (which, I was happy to discover, stands for Children’s Brains Are Yummy Books) held their first writing contest, and I was the first winner in the Middle Grade category. The manuscript I won with clocked in at 15,000 words, but my wonderful editor, Madeline Smoot, suggested it would be a much stronger novel at 30,000 words. Turns out she was right.

Fast forward to 2014, and Trapped In Lunch Lady Land was born. Did my life change? Was I able to quit my job and become a full time author? Nope. But having a published novel was way up there on the bucket list. I had a book signing event at my local Barnes & Noble (no indie bookstores in my neck of the woods, unfortunately), which was a blast.

The very best part of the whole publishing experience, though, was doing school visits. I did a bunch, reading to kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, taking questions, and generally being flabbergasted by just how smart and funny they were. Kindergartners wanted to know what kind of pets I have, and told me in great detail about theirs. By fifth grade they were asking how advances work.

So what’s Trapped In Lunch Lady Land about? Here’s the elevator pitch:

Josh and Patty Anne aren’t exactly the best of friends (ok, they detest each other), but after they both end up trapped somewhere beneath their school in a land made completely of school cafeteria food, they quickly learn they have to work together if they want to survive. With the help of some unusual friends they meet along the way, the two must brave countless dangers unlike anything in the normal world. If they can survive the skybeater, the canisaurs and the tater-tot throwing ladle monsters, Josh and Patty Anne might just make it home alive.

Interested? Know an eight to eleven year old boy or girl who might be interested? You can check it out on Amazon at:

Here I am doing a school visit!

THE BALLAD OF TRIXIE DELIGHT

Writing

I never tried my hand at a ballad before, and this may not be the usual subject matter for the form, but it was really fun to write.

they say there’s a corner of heaven reserved

for priests, politicians and barkeeps

we spend our time helping the people we serve

though sometimes their problems run chin deep

I’ve tended this bar for near twenty years

and I’ve seen more than I care to tell

I suppose that I’ve poured out an ocean of beer

and drunk more than my share as well

I’ve heard the confessions of killers and fools

and downed shots with a couple of saints

I’ve had punks strut in who thought they were cool

and watched them leave knowing they ain’t

of all the nights spent with one eye on the till

and one ear with some clown on the make

there’s one magic moment that stays with me still

one memory I can’t seem to shake

a hard rain had pounded the city all evening

and business had been pretty slow

one hand on my coat, I was planning on leaving

when a voice at the door said, don’t go

an old woman entered with slow, measured steps

took a stool at the end of the bar

her gaze when I caught it was none too direct

like the road she had traveled was far

I gave her some time to get settled in

a good bartender knows not to hurry

one good look at her face told me she favored gin

and I could see every bottle she’d buried

I’ve got a small problem, she said in a whisper

I had to lean close just to hear

if you’d pour me a drink I’d be grateful, mister

but I don’t have a penny to spare

the thing is, I’m not one for charity

I can set things right, given the chance

I offer you something of heart stopping rarity

if you stand me that drink, I will dance

I guess my face betrayed my thoughts

and she put me to the test

if you don’t know about it, you shouldn’t scoff

there was a time when they called me the best

the name I was born with is Mary McDevin

but my stage name was Trixie Delight

I gave more than one boy his first glimpse of heaven

and haunted a thousand men’s nights

then she slid off the stool and stood herself tall

walked arrow straight to the jukebox

she punched up one song, leaned back to the wall

and the whole damn place started to rock

she started off slow, just a sway to the beat

like each note was her own private lover

I will swear to this day she was giving off heat

and I thought about diving for cover

she threw off her coat with a flick of one wrist

shimmied out of her dress like a cat

and if someone asked me I’d have to insist

I no longer knew where I was at

I could blame it on the hour, or blame it on the beer

or maybe it was just a trick of the light

but I swear right now on what I hold dear

for that one brief moment she was Trixie Delight

the music faded and she quickly dressed

and an old woman sat down at the bar

I knew in my heart that I’d just seen the best

that I’d been entertained by a star

I poured her a double without saying a thing

and she knocked it right back like a pro

I was thinking about all of the joys this job brings

when Trixie said, it’s time to go

as she opened the door to let herself out

she turned and favored me with a wink

I may never know what that night was about

but I sure as hell know what I think

POEM—TRIPTYCH: ARMAGEDDON

Writing

1.

standing on the broken summit of the hilltop

surrounded by his disciples

the mad prophet rants

feet planted in hellfire

head spinning in a fever dream

hecklers come to laugh at the crazy-eyed fool

in the death-dusted robe and the halo of pity

who is overstepping set bounds

scorn for a man who does not know the limits

the sky shatters

opens great cracks and rends in the clouds

that slowly reveal the night sky

disciples chant at the insane stars

the hecklers inch back from the frenzy

the mad prophet opens his eyes

hear me

he screams at a world

that for him is coming apart at the seams

hear me

he shouts at the lost sheep who cower about him

i am god!

a tear opens in the sky

allows passage for a searing bolt of lightning

a moment later an acrid stench and a rumbling echo

the crowd slowly disperses

no praise for wind-blown, smoldering ash

2.

now there are more

and the light in their eyes is a secret shade of madness

the hecklers scoff from hidden places

hesitant

not sure if the limits matter any more

afraid that the boundaries have been forgotten

in place of the death-dusted robe

a legion of uniforms

gold buttons and blood-stained medals

the halo of pity has been thrown to the wolves

and the odds have been evened

thousands of turrets

and shafts and gleaming barrels

that catch and splinter the sunlight

banks and rows and bunkers and stockpiles

all pointed bristling at the sky

that say

more eloquently than words

we are god!

fingers poised over switches

punch down in savage haste

all the sounds of destruction fill the air

the machineries of war clash

tangible grinding against intangible

the oceans erupt in their rocky basins

the hot lands shake apart

the walls of the world tumble down

the walls of heaven fall away

and nothing left in either place

3.

a cockroach struggles up

through ash and rubble

and decaying layers of the past

it breaks through to the surface

stretches to full height against the pale red sky

looks about with slow comprehension

says in a small brittle voice

i am god?

there are none left to refute it

SHORT STORY—”CLOSING FOR THE NIGHT”

Writing

I’m really proud of this short story. It first appeared in a middle-grade anthology titled Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre.

CLOSING FOR THE NIGHT

 Darkness crept up on the carnival like an old tom, slow and easy. A sign hung over the entrance gate: JOJO’S ALL-MECHANICAL CARNIVAL. The sign hung sideways, a confusion of peeled paint and rain-warped wood, the colors washed out by the passing years.

Gent permitted himself a faint metallic sigh as he rose to his feet. He let the rocking chair fall back and settle itself. Another night, another closing. Knee joints squeaking, Gent walked down the three wooden steps to the parade grounds. It had rained earlier in the day, and the ground was still muddy. Water splashed up to soak the edge of his tattered cape, and brown-spotted his tarnished brass legs. 

The small clapboard house that was Gent’s home sat in the shadow of the Ferris wheel. He pulled back on the switch, and the big ride ground to a halt. Lights, the ones that still worked, blinked out one by one along the wheel, dropping it into silhouette. 

Gent made his way from ride to ride, shutting them down. At the merry-go-round he had only to turn off the music. The ride had long-since ceased to turn. The tape was worn, and the tinny melody ground out slowly, in fits and stops. Gent let it play for a while as he wandered through the patterned labyrinth of his memory, where laughing knights rode to battle on their gaily painted steeds, and the music rang out to announce their coming.

So many memories. Gent had been the caretaker of the carnival in its heyday. He had strolled through the crowd, joking with the men, complimenting the women. His pockets were always filled with candy for the children. Gent’s sculpted ivory handlebar mustache curled to pinwheels at the ends. His ivory hair cascaded to his shoulders like the froth of a mountain stream. His white top hat was always tipped in greeting.

Gent shook himself, alarmed to hear a loose rattling sound. Enough. He had a job to do. 

He stopped the last ride, then crossed to the long, low sideshow building. The crude paintings on the outside had worn away, leaving only the barest outlines of the spider girl, the lobster man, the bearded lady, the alligator boy, the many others who had steadily pulled in the marks. 

Jojo had at first tried mechanical sideshow attractions, but it had not worked out. People came to a sideshow to be repulsed and shocked. Mechanical attractions could not do that. So he brought in human performers, the best, pulling them out of retirement in a celebration of deformity. The customers did not seem to mind that this one aspect of the carnival was not mechanical, and Jojo saw no reason to change the sign.

Open resentment existed between the humans and the droids, at least at first, but year by year their relationship mellowed. Gent felt true sadness when they left. They were all gone now, left with the last wave of colonists, gone to the stars.

Gent entered the sideshow. He walked down the row of parted, threadbare curtains to a small booth at the end. The only one who had not left—a two-headed baby floating in a large jar of formaldehyde. Its limbs had atrophied, skin wrinkling back from bone. Four eyes glistened like milky pearls. It stared into the darkness, lips pursed in identical frowns.

Gent had put off giving the baby a proper burial. It was his last, pitiful link with humans.

The slow, mournful wail of a harmonica drifted in on the night breeze. Gent left the sideshow behind and headed for the midway. This was the worst part of closing for the night. His fellow droids, the ones still operating, were all too human in their suffering.

Gent followed the sound of the harmonica to behind the first trailer. Kentucky’s brass skin had been inlaid with polished teak. Now the teak was discolored, the brass spotted, but a black felt derby still perched on his head.

Kentucky tipped his derby as Gent came into view. He dropped the harmonica into his lap. “Good sir, would you sit for a story? A bit of excitement to color this drab evening?” Gent heard a note of pleading in his voice.

Kentucky was a storyteller. It had worked fine in the old days. People would wander around back of the trailer, pulled in by the haunting sound of the harmonica. When enough had gathered, Kentucky would begin.  He knew a thousand stories. Tall tales and breathtaking adventures, stories to quicken the pulse and touch the heart. Pirates and ghosts, fair maidens and fire-breathing dragons, dastardly villains and heroic children.

And if the crowd thus gathered was just right for the pickpocket’s trade, it was a fair price paid for the entertainment given.

“Not tonight, Kentucky. Tomorrow. Right now, it’s time to shut down.”

Kentucky grabbed Gent’s arm, held tight. “Please, Gent. I’m getting tired of telling myself the same old stories every day. I need to look in someone’s face and see them smiling, or crying, or anything! The back of this trailer ain’t much of an audience.”

“Yeah, Kentucky, I know. And you’ll have an audience, just wait, they’ll be back. But right now it’s time to shut down.” Gent slid his hand to the back of Kentucky’s neck and eased down the switch. Kentucky drooped forward. The brightness in his eyes died and his arms dropped into his lap. Gent curled the fingers of one hand around the harmonica.

Gent never got used to the wide, desolate midway. Without a laughing throng of people, it was just sad. All that’s missing are tumbleweeds, he thought. 

The gaming droids had long ago rusted away. They were buried in the plot of swampy land beyond the row of trailers. They had never been more than simple machines. Jojo knew that no droid, no matter how complex, could top a human hawker. But the sign said ALL-MECHANICAL, and except for the sideshow it was so.

The gaming droids had squatted on casters and shouted, “Try your luck!” in a hundred different voices as they proffered darts and balls, rings and hoops. When the people left for good, they rolled into corners and shut down. Perhaps, Gent thought, they were the lucky ones.

Most of the trailers along the midway were tightly shut, the heavy corrugated shades pulled down and welded in place. Gent made his way past them, to the lair of Stupendo the Great.

Stupendo sat back in shadow, his cape billowing, his high top hat tilted at a jaunty angle. Stupendo had been a marvel in his day. His golden hands flashed to and fro, creating illusion after illusion with dizzying speed. His polished obsidian eyebrows were always raised, as if in surprise at his own mastery. Now when Stupendo moved into the light, Gent saw that the top hat was brimless, the cape a rag. His left eyebrow had broken off. And scrambled circuits, besides.

Stupendo fanned an incomplete deck of tattered playing cards before Gent. “Pick a card, any card at all.” Gent smiled as he took a card. The three of hearts. Stupendo tapped the deck with his magic wand. “Ah ha!” he shouted triumphantly. “Your card is…the queen of spades!”

Gent smiled again as he slipped the card back into the middle of the deck. “Right again, as always. But now it’s time to shut down.” Stupendo chuckled to himself as Gent flipped the switch.

Gent made a wide detour around the geek pit. When the geek had ceased to function, they had left the body there, unable to lift it from the pit. It lay there now, overgrown with fern and ivy, surrounded by the bones and severed skulls of chickens and rats.

The geek had been a prime draw. Built with its software purposely corrupt, it was a wild thing, truly dangerous, and the deep pit with its close-set bars across the top was a necessary precaution. Its iron skin bristled with spiky hair. Its body was corded with muscle, arms long and snarled. It walked with the sideways gait of an ape. Its eyes burned with a red, hateful fire.

To Gent had fallen the task of running the geek show. Four times a day he stood on the bars over the center of the pit and gave his spiel. Then, averting his gaze, he dropped in a live chicken, or a sleek black rat. The geek would fall on the animal with a guttural roar. Grasping the animal at the neck with steel teeth, it would shake its head back and forth in a frenzy until head parted from neck in a bloody shower. Foam running down its chin, the geek would proudly display the headless, jerking body. Men screamed and women fainted, but they kept coming back for more.

Gent was dragged back to the present by a shrill, cackling laugh. Madame Blatsky, the only other droid still living, and she was raising a ruckus.

By the time Gent reached her trailer, Madame Blatsky had quieted down, though her eyes still sparkled, and her carved mahogany cheeks seemed flushed if that were possible. Madame Blatsky reclined in a womb of Turkish rugs, the colors now muddled and indistinct. The faded sign above her read, Madame Blatsky, Palms Read, Fortunes Told, Prophesies Given.

Before Gent could say a word, Madame Blatsky began to talk, and the words poured out like thin wine from a goblet. “I saw a vision! They’re coming back, the people are coming back, they’re coming in their great silver ships, and they’ll reward us for waiting. They shall bedeck us in riches, in fine silks and spun gold, they’ll encrust our bodies with jewels and precious metals, and they’ll carry us in splendor…”

Gent turned her off. It was always the same. Each day she shut down her senses and entered a trance. At twilight she woke with a yell, convinced she’d had a vision. Madame Blatsky had begun to believe in herself. At least she still had some faith, some hope. 

Gent made his way slowly back to his house. Tonight had been a bad one. They were all nearing the edge, and it was only a matter of time before they slipped over. Perhaps they had been built too well. Loneliness, Gent thought, is a curse that man could not have wished upon us.

Gent looked up as a tendril of cloud snaked across the moon, sending a shadow racing along the ground toward the merry-go-round. He closed his eyes. For a brief moment it had looked just like a small child running to catch the ride before it began.

SHORT STORY—”BAGGED”

Writing

This story was first published in an anthology titled Nasty Snips, a collection of short horror. This one is indeed short, clocking in at a little over 500 words.

BAGGED

It was the witch’s fault.

There were other contributing factors. Paul’s friends had convinced him that a new club in the Industrial Flats was the place to be for a steamy summer night costume party. They had goaded him into wearing the wool Sherlock Holmes costume that was now causing him to sweat and itch uncontrollably. Yes, his friends were partly to blame. And alcohol had been involved; enough said about that. 

It was the sight of the witch across a dance floor crowded with trendy, costumed partiers, however, that had caused his present predicament. He had caught just a glimpse of her; alabaster skin, raven black hair that refracted the spinning lights like a prism, the flash of a slim yet curvy body between the folds of her black satin cape. Beneath the cape a Moebius strip of leather, lace and chrome that revealed more than it concealed. Her boots were leather, intricately laced; wickedly high heels that pulled the sleek muscles in her calves taut. She held a mysteriously oversized black leather purse protectively against her body.

The witch was dancing by herself, spinning in slow, looping circles. Her body seemed to catch and hold the music, like each note was her own private lover. Paul watched her with an attraction that bordered on physical need; he felt like a small planet in orbit around a novaed sun. Their eyes caught just once. She held his gaze with eyes the color of anthracite, until he had to look away, dizzy.

When she left the club Paul followed, helpless.

He was lost. Paul had no idea how long he had been following the witch. It was as if he was hypnotized by her impossible beauty, a moth drawn to her black flame. He vaguely remembered scrambling up and over a concrete bridge abutment, scraping his hands raw on the rough edge. He had crossed a railroad trestle above water mossy green in the moonlight, making his frightened way in the dark from one precarious foothold to the next. There was a long-deserted factory, rusted scrap metal piled into angular mountains. The witch moved with fluid grace, always too far ahead to catch, yet always in sight. At some point, they went underground.

The witch stopped. Paul stepped into a cavernous room where old fluorescent lights sputtered fitfully, sending hard-edged shadows careening across the space. Shapes moved in the darkness all around him. As they staggered into the spastic light, the shapes became people, dozens of them, dressed in rags and cast-offs. They carried bags or pushed squeaky shopping carts filled with bags and trash. They’re just bag people, Paul thought, and started to laugh. He had been spooked there for a minute. 

The first rock caught him by surprise. He was on the ground before he realized what had happened, blood running into his eyes. They advanced methodically, stoning him with surprising precision. When they stopped, the witch was standing in front of him, smiling. She set her bag down next to him with great care. Something moved inside it.

The last thing Paul saw before his connective tissue began to dissolve was the creature that oozed from the bag. It wrapped its many arms around his body, releasing a fluid that burned like napalm.

When Paul’s body was suitably prepared, the witch’s master laid eggs in the flesh jumble. The bag people danced long into the night, in celebration of the birth to come.

WRITING AS EXORCISM AND CATHARSIS

Writing

Why do writers write? That question comes up once in a while on the Twitter #WritingCommunity, and as you may imagine the answers are as varied as the folks answering. Some write for that elusive fame and glory, some to illuminate a particular passion, some because it feeds the creativity monster that lives inside them. For me, the answer is pretty simple. Writing makes me happy. I’ve been doing it since roughly junior high, and I still get a happy little rush from crafting a pretty sentence. And on rare occasions, when my brain is bubbling with ideas and words are sparking out of my fingertips at a feverish pace, that happiness approaches something very much like joy. I can reach that same joy by drawing but it’s trickier, because there are more tools involved, more variables between my brain and the final result.

There’s another reason people, including me, write, and that’s because they have to. Because the act of writing keeps the darkness at bay, because it expels inner demons, because it brings relief and release. They use writing to work through issues, and maybe so that they don’t surrender to those issues. They write because it’s better than screaming into the void.

Looking back at my own work, I can recognize the moments when I wasn’t writing for fun, but was instead writing to alleviate…something. It might be an entire story, or a poem, or just a fragment or even a single line. To the reader it may not be readily apparent that I wrote those words as a way to exorcise some beast clawing at me from within, to justify or maybe apologize for an experience that haunts me. I can see it, though. I remember.

I’m not, as a rule, particularly tortured. I have led, and continue to lead, a relatively happy and fulfilling life, with a loving family and good friends. That doesn’t mean the hopelessness never comes to call. I’m lucky in that, when it does, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I have a way to battle back. I don’t think I’m at my best in those cases, when I’m tearing the words out of my soul one barbed letter at a time. To me, my best writing happens when the creative flow is wide open and I’m just going along for the ride. But I cherish each and every one of those painful sentences.

It’s comforting to know that the next time the darkness descends, words are waiting to shield me.

SONG LYRIC—GAVE ALL THAT UP

Writing

I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. I’ve always really liked this one.

GAVE ALL THAT UP

I had this little walk-up flat down in Chinatown
above the sidewalk vendors selling magic by the pound
neon pulsed outside the window like crickets in the night
and the bar girls walked home all alone through the early morning light
from my fire escape I’d watch the parade, check the pulse of the city around me
open myself to the beat and the roar, let the sounds of the city surround me

but Chinese food gives you a headache
and smoggy air gives you the flu
so I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I had the kind of lifelong friends that people sing about
however deeply in I went, I knew they would pull me out
call us Musketeers or Stooges, we never really cared
the three of us would ride a passing comet on a dare
side by side we fought and cried and propped each other up
I considered knowing them the source of all my luck

but Pauly makes you nervous
and Ronnie drinks more than a few
so I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I had a life that fit me like a well-worn overcoat
and then you came along and rocked my happy little boat
I took your hand and turned my back on all the things I knew
I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

I can’t remember now if you even asked me to
but I gave all that up for you…
and now we’re through

SO CLOSE, AND YET—THE TWO DECADE JOURNEY OF A SINGLE MANUSCRIPT

Writing

Way back in 1999 I wrote a picture book manuscript that I really liked. It was a silly, rhyming (Yes, I know, rhyming picture books are perennially out of favor, but mostly because there’s so much bad rhyme out there, and my rhyming is pretty good, if I do say so myself. But I digress.), 313 word picture book called Up Ned’s Nose. Yep, it was about a kid named Ned with an alarming number of things stuffed up his nose, and his older brother’s attempts to extract said things. The book had no moral, no lessons too impart. It was goofy and funny, and like I said, I really liked it. As an illustrator, I knew it would be stupid fun to illustrate.

Earlier that year I had entered a story in the Writer’s Digest annual writing competition, and placed in the top 10, which was pretty cool. So, not really expecting much, I entered Up Ned’s Nose in the 2000 Writer’s Digest competition.

I won the grand prize!

Crazy. Not sure what you get now for winning now, but back then the prizes were pretty spectacular. I got a nice check, which was great, but the rest of the prize was, well, life changing. Writer’s Digest sent my wife and I to New York City all expenses paid, accompanied by one of their editors, who was altogether delightful. That’s still not the best part. Included in the trip was the chance to meet with three editors of my choice, in their big, fancy NYC publishing house offices. All three were welcoming, supportive of my work, inspiring, and full of helpful tips. On days when I’m down on myself and thinking of hanging up my keyboard, I still think back to that trip.

Did any of them make an offer on Up Ned’s Nose? Nope. But that was okay. In the several months between winning the prize and taking the trip, I decided to try subbing Ned. And the first publisher I sent it too, the very first, liked it and offered a contract. The publisher was Smallfellow Press, the kids division of Tallfellow Press, founded by Larry Sloan and Leonard Stern, of Price Stern Sloan fame (Sloan and Stern have sadly both passed away since then.). They paid me the first third of the agreed upon advance, as stated in the contract.

So did the book get published? Nope. A funny thing happened. One of the partners at Smallfellow became worried that a little kid would be unduly influenced by my silly story and stuff a toy truck up their nose, and they would be held liable. They went back and forth. Eventually my manuscript was sent to Alan Isaacson, the lawyer played by Ed Norton in The People vs. Larry Flynt, to get his opinion on the matter. At least my story was meeting famous people.

A couple of years passed. I never did hear what Mr. Isaacson thought about the issue, but Smallfellow eventually let the contract lapse.

In the intervening years I’ve submitted Ned a couple of times, and had some interest, but nothing has come through. Truthfully, after everything that’s happened, my heart hasn’t really been in it. This past summer a writing conference came to Cleveland, my home town, and I pitched Ned to an agent. She asked me to send her the manuscript. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m going to give it a bit longer.

After all, what’s a few more months.

SONG LYRIC—MOTHER MUSIC

Writing

I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. Here’s an example:

MOTHER MUSIC

I first heard Mother Music as a child in the south
calling through the screen door from the woods behind my house
barefoot in the dew-wet grass, blanket wrapped around me
deeper still among the trees I felt her voice surround me
I came into a clearing hung with early morning mist
sat back and watched the treetops that the sun began to kiss

(chorus)
and Mother Music sang to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music sang to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I thought the skin would lift right off my bones
Mother Music sang to me in a voice of pure white light
left me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight

my intervening years are filled with restlessness and yearning
the need to hear her song again rests within me, burning
I’ve slept beneath the stars above more times than I can say
from mountain top to desert floor I’ve watched the break of day
I catch a whisper now and then, like an echo out of time
and it brings me back to dew-wet grass and Mother Music’s rhyme

(chorus)
when Mother Music sang to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music sang to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I thought the skin would lift right off my bones
Mother Music sang to me in a voice of pure white light
left me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight

(bridge)
Mother Music, sing to me
Heal my heart, set me free
Mother Music, sing to me
My eyes are open, let me see

I’ve traveled down so many roads to find this humble truth
that I was touched by magic one sweet morning in my youth
but you can’t recapture magic and you can’t bring back the past
so I’ll spend my time contented ’til I leave this place at last

(chorus)
then Mother Music will sing to me from deep within the earth
a song of new beginnings, of cleansing and rebirth
Mother Music will sing to me from leaf and branch and stone
a song so bold I think the skin will lift right off my bones
Mother Music will sing to me in a voice of pure white light
leave me dazed and satisfied, possessed of second sight

SONG LYRIC—IF THERE’S A JUKEBOX IN HELL, IT’S PLAYING OUR SONG

Writing

I can’t play an instrument, can’t sing a lick, but oddly enough I love to write song lyrics. I’ve had a few recorded by local bands and singers, but if any singer/songwriters out there are interested, I have a notebook full ready to go. Here’s an example:

IF THERE’S A JUKEBOX IN HELL, IT’S PLAYING OUR SONG

I was drunk our wedding night, couldn’t get it up
you did my best man in the bathroom, beat him like a pup
we headed south to honeymoon where tropic breezes blow
I can understand the hurricane, but why’d it have to snow?

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

we lived above a laundromat just a stumble from the bar
even so, some nights I just couldn’t crawl that far
when I heard your ass was for the asking, I didn’t really care
let’s just say I wasn’t caught completely unaware

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

I walked in one afternoon and caught you dead to rights
you said, honey wait your turn…it wasn’t worth a fight
you picked up the bottle, I picked up young girls
we’d meet at night and hold on tight to our sad and lonely world

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, it’s playing our song

we’ve lost our friends down bad dead ends, lost our self respect
lost whatever we once had to pity and neglect
consider this an invitation to put our lives to bed
it really couldn’t be much worse with a bullet in the head
I’m leaving in the morning… I hope you’ll come along
this bus is heading straight to hell, and I hear they’re playing our song

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, I hope it’s playing our song

there’s so many places where our love went wrong
if there’s a jukebox in hell, I hope it’s playing our song

If You Give a Hummingbird a Hatchet

Writing

My writing group did a challenge—write a twisted version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. This was mine:

IF YOU GIVE A HUMMINGBIRD A HATCHET

If you give a hummingbird a hatchet, he will plummet to the ground from the weight. That will piss him off, and he’ll seek revenge.

He’ll probably notice that the hatchet is dull and ask you for a whetstone to sharpen it, because dull hatchets are not suitable for revenge.

If you give him a whetstone, because he’s a cute little hummingbird who couldn’t possibly hurt anything, he’s sure to ask you for some water for the whetstone.

If you give him the water he’ll sharpen the hatchet to a wicked edge. Then he’ll probably ask you to bend down close and accept what you have coming to you.

At this point you may feel the first shiver of fear creep up your spine, so you’ll run.

He will absolutely chase you, the hatchet thumping against your hardwood floors as he drags it behind him, his little claws making scritch-scritch sounds that fray your nerves like nails down a blackboard.

Just when you think you’re going to make the front door, as your outstretched fingers brush the knob, you’ll probably hear something that sounds very much like an evil cackle as your legs suddenly stop working in a rush of blinding pain.

He may crack a smile then, just a hint, and he’ll ask you what it feels like to have your achilles tendons severed. Then he’ll go to work with the hatchet.

When he’s done he’ll ask you for a mop to clean up the mess. But you won’t be able to answer. This will piss him off all over again, And he’ll probably head for your neighbor’s house.

Let’s hope they have a mop.

WHAT I’M WRITING NOW—TV SERIES IDEA

Writing

I started writing my first YA novel a while back. It was challenging—I was writing in first person as a teenage girl, which as it turns out I am not and never have been. But, I have two daughters, ages 19 and 24, and I’ve been listening to them and their friends talk for years. That proved invaluable.

However, a funny thing happened several chapters in. I realized my idea would make a better TV series than a novel. I know nothing about creating a TV show, but I have an ace up my sleeve. My sister (hi Donna!) is a talent agent in Chicago who reps both actors and writers, so she was able to walk me through the process. So far I’ve written the pitch document that lays out the show—what it’s about, who the main characters are, the story arc of the first season. Next comes the show bible, then a pilot script. I’m flying blind here, but with my sister’s help, hopefully I can figure it out.

Oh, what’s the show called? Nope, I can’t tell you. It’s too good.

WHAT I’M WRITING NOW—RAT AND ROACH

Writing

I had ideas for three different stories rattling around in my head for years. At one time or another I started all three, but ran out of steam a few pages in, frustrated that they just weren’t working.

As it turns out, the problem was that they weren’t meant to be three different stories, they were actually one story. I had just been seeing different parts of it. Once I twined the three threads together, there it was.

This new story, titled Rat and Roach, is humming along nicely now. It’s dark. Really dark. I haven’t written horror for awhile, and I’m really enjoying it!

WHAT I’M WRITING NOW—IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT UNDERWEAR

Writing

Last year (2018) I participated in NaNoWriMo, which as any participant can attest is exhausting and stressful, and I will probably not do it again. But what I ended up with is a book I’m really proud of, a 9,300 word chapter book called In Search of Ancient Underwear.

This is another fantasy adventure in the vein of Trapped In Lunch Lady Land. After much poking, prodding and pruning, I started querying this summer, with fingers crossed.

What’s it about? Glad you asked!

Digger McDonald, boy archeologist of B.A.R. (Boy Archeologists Rock) and Heidi Hightower, his counterpart in G.A.R. (Girl Archeologists Rule) are criss-crossing the globe in search of history’s most important underwear. It’s a neck and neck race for underwear supremacy. Until, that is, a mysterious new player emerges, willing to do whatever it takes to beat them both. Now Digger and Heidi, with help from Digger’s little sister DeeDee, must grudgingly team up if they want to keep the world safe for boy and girl archeologists. A deadly drone in the sewers beneath Rome. A murderous robotic Mona Lisa in Paris. Radio controlled dingoes in the Australian outback. The stakes are high. Are Digger and Heidi up to the task?

The thing is, I’m considering going the self-publishing route with this one using Kindle Publishing Direct. As a graphic designer and illustrator, I know I can make it look good, but I just don’t know.

Have any thoughts on the matter, any pros/cons? Let me know!

Tough As Daisy—Highlights Magazine

Writing

Another writing bucket list item was to be published in Highlights Magazine. The idea of placing a story in a magazine sitting on end tables in dentist and pediatrician offices all over the world filled me with an irrational delight.

My story, Tough As Daisy, was published in 2006, and yes, it filled me with irrational delight. It was also chosen as the editors’ favorite story of the issue, which I’m very proud of.

Since publication Highlights has resold Tough As Daisy to be used for school testing, which I find very cool, and a little humbling. The graphic below came from one such publication.

I’ve also sold another story to Highlights since then, called Breakwall Bobby. Still waiting for it to appear. Watch for it next time you’re at the dentist!

FROM THE VAULT—MY FIRST POEM

Writing

Yes, I’m a packrat, which has its drawbacks. But on the plus side, I still have an embarrassing amount of my earliest, fledgling attempts at writing. Here, for your amusement, is the very first poem I ever wrote, way back in 8th grade.

THE FALLING OF THE SPADE

I woke to a dark not lit by stars, nor by candles. In fact, was not lit at all.

No shadows were cast, not a thing did I see, as if enclosed in a great hollow ball.

The bed where I lay seemed strange to my touch, not a wrinkled cotton spread.

But the finest of satins, the smoothest of silks, as if I lay in the richest man’s bed.

And then as I stretched out my cramping arms, I found I lay not in a room.

But a box, a mere trifle, perhaps two foot by six, like the closet where the maid stacks her brooms.

All of a sudden I realized the truth, and I cowered in spasms of fright.

The bedding, the box, a coffin by God, and I cried on that blackest of nights.

Soon the air was all but gone, and the last sounds that I heard.

Were the falling of the spade, and the minister’s fitful words.

FROM THE VAULT—POETRY FROM 9TH GRADE

Writing

As the title states, I wrote this in ninth grade. I’m resisting the urge to edit, but it’s killing me. Literally, killing me. I do see improvement from eighth grade to nine.

SAILOR ON AN ALIEN SEA

I woke to the pitch and the roll of the deck

With a rope at my neck and rough planking beneath me,

The foaming white sea spray trying to reach me,

The sky a dark yellow that whirled above me,

And two pale red suns that the sky bled and ran.

I felt a soft touch and my fingers met silk,

And a girl with no eyes took me up by the hand.

Guided by fingers that slid along railing,

Her hair whispering back to the sea wind’s lost wailing,

She led me past crewmen that bent at their oars.

With lean muscles straining and braided hair trailing,

They sliced at the water that tumbled and roared,

And each face looked up as I walked slowly past.

I was met by the stares of the eyeless, to the last.

She led to a place at the last of the oars.

I sat and took hold of the long wooden handle,

And lost myself soon in the rhythm and pull,

In the flapping of wings and the screaming of gulls,

In the slapping of water ‘gainst the barnacled hull,

In the two suns that set and the three moons that rise,

In the dark yellow sky that whirls and sighs.

I am a sailor on an alien sea.

I have only the gulls to talk to me,

I have only the wind to hold me up straight and tall,

Only my eyes to search for a shore that we never will see.

And a long ago dream that answered the call.

FROM THE VAULT—POETRY FROM 10TH GRADE

Writing

In tenth grade I broke the bonds of rhyme. I still want to edit the hell out of it, but I kinda like this one.

TRIPTYCH: ARMAGEDDON

1

standing on the broken summit of the hilltop

surrounded by his disciples

the mad prophet rants

feet planted in hellfire

head spinning in a fever dream

hecklers come to laugh

at the crazy eyed fool

in the death-dusted robe and the halo of pity

who is overstepping set bounds

scorn for a man who does not know the limit

the sky shatters

opening great cracks and rends in the clouds

that slowly leak in the night

the tension builds to a crescendo

disciples chanting at the insane stars

the hecklers inching back from the frenzy

the mad prophet opens his eyes

hear me

he screams at a world

that for him is coming apart at the seams

hear me

he shouts at the lost sheep

that cower about him

i am god!

a tear opens in the sky

allows passage for a searing lance

a moment later the acrid stench and the rumbling echo

the crowd slowly disperses

no praise for a pile of smoldering ash

2

now there are more

and the light in their eyes is a secret shade of madness

the hecklers scoff from hidden places

hesitant

not sure if the limits matter any more

afraid that the boundries have been forgotten

in place of the death-dusted robe

a legion of uniforms

gold buttons and blood-stained medals

the halo of pity has been thrown to the wolves

and the odds have been evened

a thousand turrets

and shafts and gleaming barrels

that catch and splinter the sun

banks and rows and bunkers and stockpiles

all poised and pointed bristling at the sky

that say

more eloquently than words

we are god!

fingers poised over buttons

punch down in save haste

all the sounds of destruction fill the air

the machineries of war

tangible grinding against intangible

the oceans shaking in their rocky basins

the hot lands coming apart

the golden gates of the kingdom crashing down

and the walls of heaven falling away

and nothing left in either place

3

a frail earthworm struggles up

through ash and rubble

and decaying layers of the past

it breaks through to the surface

stretching to full height against the pale red sky

looking about with sudden comprehension

saying in a slow, brittle voice

i am god?

there is no one left to refute it