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 to 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 kid’s 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

“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” is a classic children’s book that spawned several sequels. None of those sequels, however, went in the direction of horror, and I asked myself, what would that look like?

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 anyone,
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