Dine In, Carry Out


Algy jammed everything back onto the last tabletop after wiping it clean.

Edith said, “Easy now.”

“Rob sent me another letter,” Algy told her.

“Did he?”

“He wants me to send him my paycheck.”

“Ohh.” The sound was a cross between a groan and a sigh. Edith went to the cash drawer, counting the money twice over to be sure. Then she asked, “Did you write him back this time?”

Algy grunted.

“You did, didn’t you.”

Slowly Algy nodded.  “I said to ask me nicely.”

Edith counted out several stacks of bills, then went into the office for her deposit slips. Returning, she asked, “If he does, what then?”

“I’ll tell him it’s too late. That’s my college money.”

Edith smiled. “Good,” she said. She dropped the deposit in her purse and started for the door.

Algy didn’t follow her at once. “Do you really think Granddad will let me have this place when I’m older?”

Edith turned back. “What did that letter say?”

Algy drew a deep breath. “That you and Granddad would be throwing good money after bad to let the restaurant fall to a big headed fool like me.”

Edith shook her head and held a hand out to her grandson. “He’s the fool to say that.”

“That’s why I told him to ask nicely.” Algy joined his grandmother. He didn’t take her hand, but instead held the door. “It’s why I’m waiting for him to ask again to say no.”

“Good,” Edith repeated. She turned and locked the door .“He just wants to get your goat. He’s got a lot of nerve to ask, though.”

“It’s because he still thinks he’s my father,” Algy told her. “But he’s not anymore, is he?”

“No,” said Edith. “And he won’t ever be again.”

Algy opened the driver’s door for his grandmother before going around to his own side. “Then I don’t ever have to give him my money.”

“You don’t ever have to give him anything at all.”

“Good.”

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The fools over at  Trifecta have assigned us the third definition of fool. And I pity the fool who doesn’t rise to the challenge. {ahem. sometimes, the puns will out}

Wolf’s bane


“Wednesday Washday,” Mam always said.

She had sayings like that for every day of the week. The only other one I remember is “Monday morning do the darning”, probably because it rhymed. But she died when I was small. Everybody in town says Daddy should have given her at least a month in the ground before he started poking around in other women’s holes. But if he had waited, I wouldn’t have gotten Ona for my new mam, and we’d not have Ruby for our baby. Of course, she isn’t really a baby any longer. She’s got five summers on her, and she can do more every washday.

Ona’s husband died of the same sickness that took my mam, and they told me in the village that my Daddy and Ona got married before the stones were piled over the big cairn where they put the fever dead that summer. I was supposed to be mad at him for that. But they don’t understand that Ona brought me Ruby so tiny, who needed a Daddy as badly as I needed a mam. They don’t understand that every year for the five since that fever, when the magnolias are honeythick, Ona takes me to the cairn and we put blossoms on it together. I put one for my Mam, and since she could walk, Ruby puts one for her first Daddy, even though she really only knows my Daddy for hers. And then Ona sprinkles dust for both of them that their sacrifice should be enough.

We always see the others, like the blacksmith’s big son Gavin, whose parents both died. His uncle came down from the mountains to run the forge until Gavin gets bigger. When we meet him at the rocks, we all stand together to lay our flowers, and Ona speaks his parents names when she throws the dust for my Mam and her Roddy, that their sacrifice should be enough for him as well. His uncle barely knew his brother that died, and it won’t do any good if his uncle lays a flower or throws the dust. The dead can only hear the invocations of those who have felt their loss. Ona and Daddy both say so. But Daddy can’t bear to go.

This year, it’s not the fever giving us trouble. It’s flooding and wolves. We can hear the river loud and close everyplace we go, and at night, the wolves are always howling. Ona says Daddy laid the spells strong by our house against the flood, and the wolves will keep to themselves. But the water sounds always like it is rushing towards us, looking to pull our little house loose and rend it apart. And the wolves sound like they’re right outside my window some nights, hungry and lonesome.

Ona says we may as well have high water as fever, may as well have wolves as water. She says the wolves haven’t got anywhere to go. When the river recedes, they’ll go home to the lowlands. But of course they can’t do that now with the river spilling all over the ground.

Last night, Mrs. Carmody came to the house with something wrapped up heavy in a cloth. She opened the cloth, and it was a man’s hand in there. Ona screamed, and all my body  but my stomach rose up into my head so I felt like I was floating. My stomach held me down to the ground like somebody poured it full of rocks from that cairn.

I knew it was a man’s hand by the hair on the fingers. Little Ruby didn’t understand what she was looking at, all purple and swollen, the skin jagged and muscle rotting at the stump. She just stared while I covered my mouth to hold back my food, and Ona shrieked, “Cover it up!”

Mrs. Carmondy rolled the cloth tight again, then said “My Derrick found that in one of those metal traps. Those wolves aren’t natural.”

Ona said, her voice still high, running along the edge of a scream, “Like it walked into the trap and had to chew off the paw to get loose, then the paw changed back to a hand after.”

“That’s what we reckon,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I’m sorry to put it to you that way, but you need to know, and I didn’t think you’d believe me without the proof.”

Ona reproved her, “And me a wizard’s wife! Of course I would.” Ona was crowding her apron into her mouth now, like maybe her stomach wanted to turn the same trick as mine.

Mrs. Carmody went on, “I brought you something.”

“Please, no more!” Ona’s voice was a little more controlled now, but it still shook some.

“Not that,” said Mrs. Carmody. “I had a silver idol from my own gran from the last time the wolves came around. I took it to Gavin’s uncle and melted it down. I’m taking the bullets around to my neighbours. I came here first because I knew you had those little girls to think of, and your man off trying to find a spell that will hold the levy at Knightsbridge.” Mrs. Carmody nodded to the gun stretched across the rack above the fireplace and held out a pouch. “You can shoot that?” she asked.

Ona let go of her apron. She took the pouch and nodded. “Yes, thank you,” she said.

Mrs. Carmody wouldn’t stay the night. No wolf would touch a witch, and she meant to finish taking the silver around by morning.

“She’s a good woman,” Ona said, when Mrs. Carmody had gone. “Cares a lot for us.”

I just nodded, still too nauseous to trust my mouth to spit out words and not my supper.

“Here.” Ona handed me the pouch. “Put these on the mantle and we’ll go to bed.” Neither she nor I had much taste for sleep after news like that. But what Ona really meant was that if I would keep Ruby quiet in the bedroom, Ona would try to scry Daddy in her little glass so he might be warned and tell them in Knightsbridge. She had enough of the witch in her, but that wasn’t something we told around. The village already had a witch, and we didn’t want them thinking Ona meant wrong by Mrs. Carmody.

When Ona came to bed, Ruby was long since asleep. Ona kissed Ruby’s face and pushed the hair away from my ear to whisper, “It is well with him. He says not to worry. He will come home.”

Then, she pulled Ruby and I in close to her, and I could finally rest. If Daddy was coming, that was good.

Today is Wednesday, and wolves or not, Wednesday is washday. I’m big enough. I can help. Ona and I both get down on our knees in the yard and scrub the dirt out over the washboard. Ruby tries to do her part, too. We work side by side and watch the river race itself. It comes to a bend near our house, so that it passes on three sides, and there is nowhere we can do wash without feeling it.

“What do we do if the wolves come, Ona?” I say.

“Are you still thinking of those bullets?” she asks me.

“Yes.”

Ona lets go of the shirt she’s scrubbing and takes my face in her wet hands. “Your Daddy and I will keep you safe. You and Ruby are our gems, more precious than silver even.”

I lean into her a little then but just as quickly pull away. “Where’s Ruby?”

Ona jumps up and whips around. “Ruby!” She calls.

My sister doesn’t answer, and in an instant, I see why. She walked away while Ona and I talked of wolves, her exploration taking her behind us and too close to the riverbank. Even as we watch, Ruby misses her footing and vanishes.

“Ruby!” Ona screams our baby’s name, and then she’s running. She looks around once at me. “Stay put,” she says. Then, still running, she pulls her shirt up, throws down her skirt and tears at her underthings.

She’s moving so fast, and I am crying so hard, that her body blurs as she strips. Every step is one too late, then she is at the riverbank where Ruby went down, leaning out, staring hard. She looks back at me one more time. “I see her,” she calls. “I can get her.”

Then Ona dives, and it seems at first that my tears have blurred her body again. But it’s not my eyes. Ona is changing, her body tightening as she flies out over the water, her arms and legs pulling up into haunches, her head becoming flat and long. Then she breaks the surface, and I can’t see her any longer.

I can’t bear to be still, so I run to the bank, clinging to the trees when I get too close myself. I can see  little Ruby clinging to a tree, an entire tree that has been ripped out into the current, it twisting so that she must flail to stay above water. And then I see the wolf’s snout. Ona is swimming hard to reach our baby.

“Hold tight,” I scream to Ruby, who cannot hear me at all.”Don’t be scared. It’s just Mam coming to save you. You have to let her take you.”

Ona will reach her. She must reach her. We cannot lose our baby. Running footsteps behind me, and when I look back, I see Gavin and his uncle, who could not have heard us screaming, who could not have come so fast from the village and their forge even if they heard. Beside me, they stop for a moment, just as Ona did, and I understand what will happen even before it begins. Gavin’s uncle gets down on all fours and leaps, and I find I cannot watch him change. “They’ll come out down there,” says Gavin, and he points to a place downriver where the bank smoothes out, becomes less steep. “Get the clothing. Hurry. Then get on me. Your father is coming.” And then he changes.

I run madly around the yard, collecting the things Ona, Gavin, and his uncle have removed. I cannot watch the wolves, but I know they will get to Ruby in time. I felt the certainty in Gavin’s voice. With the clothes piled in my arms, I scramble onto the huge wolf’s back. I cling to him with my knees, my fists knotted in his fur, the shirts, and pants, and drawers crushed between us.

And I think, “Does he know? Does Daddy know?” over and over as Gavin carries me to the place where Ona and the uncle will come out of the water. I think he does not know.

Then Gavin stops and rolls me off. He curls on his side, and within an instant, he’s a boy again, only a little older than I am, even if he is as tall as a grown man. He yips in pain, a sound that becomes his own voice shouting. “Help them if you’ve any magic, Birdie. Others are coming. They must not see.”

The wolves don’t need my help, and that is good. Because if I do have any magic, it has yet to show. The wolves have got Ruby between them, and I cannot tell them apart in the water, but they are swimming strongly against the current. They will reach us just where Gavin said.

“You mustn’t speak of this,” Gavin tells me. “It must be something kept between us. Or they will kill us all sure.”

But I knew that already. I know I have seen something I must never put into words. If I do, I’ll lose the only precious things to come into my life since the fever took my Mam.  And I know this, too. The water is wild, and it will take a body faster than a body can take breath. But the wolves, them I must trust. They came to protect us from the water. They are here for Ona’s sake, a protection like the dust she throws at the cairn, that no lives be lost that can be saved. That the sacrifices of those already dead should be enough.

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For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, SAM challenged me with “magnolias, Wednesday, riverbank, wolf” and I challenged Supermaren with “Mornings suck at our house. Between the noise from the forge and the smell coming out of the dragon pens, we’re all grumpy and nauseous before we finish breaking our fast.”

Old Friend



Grad school exacerbated my bipolar. I’ve mentioned that before. And it took away my writing completely for four horrible years. And what’s worse was that I felt it going away. I took some creative writing classes and suddenly had nothing at all to say. Each piece was a struggle, and as I finished the final story, I realized that there simply were no more ideas. None at all.

It wasn’t just a matter of writer’s block. Writer’s block implies a hurdle that one can overcome. There was nothing at all in my way. I was still sitting down regularly, trying every trick I knew, and there was just nothing there. I composed graduate essays, scraped by on mostly A’s (but one C), and stared at my keyboard and the empty words I put on the page.

And then I stopped sitting at the keyboard, because it was so depressing. I finished two Master’s degrees, got married, and found a job, though not in that order. And none of those things held any words for me. I experienced those things, truly loved some of them. And yet they were just events. Things to enumerate. And every day, I died some.

And then my daughter was born and I needed medication to get through from hour to hour.  I knew the Zoloft was working when I was sitting struggling to nurse Caroline and suddenly thought of a sentence. In that moment, I understood where the writing had gone, and I began to hope that I could bring it back.

I could not unplug that baby from my tit fast enough.

The story that sentence launched never got finished. I realized halfway through that it sucked and I didn’t feel like revising it, not because I was out of ideas, but because my head was suddenly so brimming full of them that I couldn’t type fast enough. The next month, I started the short story that would ultimately become my novel (it was published last December; my daughter is 8; writing time was scarce for too long).

But I remember sitting there looking at the chunky mess of “The Wallet Murder”, and thinking, even as I realized that the story was a trasher, “Hello old friend. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much.”

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Sorry. Madame Syntax Here. I just wanted to say that one of my biggest pet peeves is people who spell “exacerbated” “exasperated”. That is all.
Wait. You interrupted me for THAT? Would you let me READ already?

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remembeRedButtonThis week, the folks at Write on Edge challenged us to write about friendship in 400 words. I seriously did not expect to go in this direction with that prompt.

Blurry


It’s just an old grain elevator.

Grain elevator

But at the right angle, blurry  behind the trees, it might be a castle,

becomes castle

the winter-dead trees the entrance to some forbidden forest,

winterdead

the rusting hulk of a barge the last vestige of a sunken navy

barge becomes navy

the hidden railroad bridge a lowered drawbridge

railroad bridge well hidden

whose struts become the scaffolding upon the battlements

bridge strutsabove a river that leads to  a long forgotten realm,

and the river a portal

a place where fantasies are born.

And also nightmares.

Take Me To The Pilot


Mom and I used to go to Florida with my grandparents every year. Plane tickets were expensive, and even after Dad came off the road, we got by on his royalties and a little stock dividend money. When we flew, Mummum and Poppa paid. One year, I missed a month of Kindergarten and lost no ground. We came home because Mom was eight months pregnant. My sister was born in a hospital as scheduled. Nothing midair. But Mom says the pilot looked past her as we got on that plane, wordlessly asking the flight attendants “Ready to catch a baby?”

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Lance over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog is launching a weekly music meme. He’ll give us a song for inspiration, and we write 100 words on the topic. Come play with us!

Edit: Here’s a historical photo of Dad. (He’s standing; John Call is seated.)  I’m sure somebody else owns the copyright, but damned if I know who. I scanned it in from a picture in a photo album.  If somebody wants me to take it down (yes Dad, that includes you), I’ll be glad to. If somebody wants credit, let me know.

And so I write


I knew what I wanted.

I’ve been a writer since age ten. Initially, I just wanted a career (yes, I was thinking seriously of my future career then) where I could use the old Remington Rand manual typewriter. I loved the way it felt under my fingers, and I savored the letter-arm’s whack against the paper. Even now when I’m feeling completely empty, I type just to hear the clickity-clack of my keyboard.

My parents supported me. My dad is a musician, so they kind of had to by default. “Write,” they told me. “But have a backup.”

That advice has haunted me, still haunts me. It is the thread that floats through my dreams and nightmares. It has brought some of the best things in my life, but also some of the worst. Thanks to two masters degrees, I can now earn gainful ‘backup’ employment as a librarian or college English teacher. I met my husband in grad school, and we have two wonderful children. But grad school brought out the worst of my bipolar, stole my writing for nearly four dull, hideous years, and pushed me into jobs that are not writing.

Before I was five, we used to scrape by on what my Dad sent home from the road, which wasn’t much. After he came off the road and both my parents went to work, our income level reached middle class status. But we were always the scraping-by sort.

Dad job-hopped. His life’s refrain was “I play guitar. I write music. It’s what I do.” I hated those words. And I swore to God I ‘d never be that.

Only I am that.

Exactly that.

Although I have a job, a good one, I am becoming increasingly unemployable. I work online, or I probably would have been fired eons ago. The more contact I have with my employers, the less sure I am what’s going to fly out of my mouth at any given time. I tell the truth, often to my own detriment.

Increasingly, all I can do is write. I’m frantic because I know the odds in this business. But this is what I do. I write. My writing has been deferred deferred deferred until my chest clenches, and my throat closes. Until my face burns and my angry soul rebels, demanding its own time.

And so I write.

Because I know what I want.

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remembeRedButtonI’m linking up with this week’s RemembeRed post, Unfulfilled, which asks about an unfulfilled moment in our lives.

I’m also sharing this Awesome with Momma Made it Look Easy

Publication


Writing is a business for me. It is my passion. It is the thing above all other things that I must do to remain sane. It is the guidepost I use to measure my bipolar, because when the crazy gets too bad, the writing goes away and I have to Do Something Else Pharmaceutical About It. So when I’m not grading, doing other things for my paying job, getting obsessive-compulsive about the state of my house, or being a Mom, I write. Sometimes, often, I throw over those other things to write, because the writing, in addition to being my bipolar barometer, is also my therapy.

And sometimes, I sacrifice my writing time to become my own marketing department. Because I have not yet either reached the level of success that mandates that I need an agent nor yet found one with whom I mesh perfectly. And because writing is my passion, and it is also my business. One I would like to get paid for.

In spite of the fact that my blog is almost exclusively nonfiction, my strongest writing can be found in my fiction.  I don’t harbor the illusion that many people want to pay a lot of money to buy copies of Sam’s Hide N’ Go Shit Report. I do harbor that illusion about my speculative, mystery, and ‘other’ fiction. But I have to hunt around to find those people. There’s a statistic that I can’t be bothered to find that says I have better odds trying my luck at major league baseball.

Today, I spent my time looking through various magazine guidelines to see who might publish my short stories. I started by combing through Writer’s Market, then I visited a bunch of potential websites, and I eventually narrowed the list down to five places where I might send one short story I’ve been working on. It’s a tedious process made more frustrating by baffling publisher websites.

When I’m shopping stuff around, I maintain an excel spreadsheet for each story. I keep things simple, logging the publication’s name, its web and e-mail address, the fiction editor’s name, the submission guidelines, and whether or not it accepts simultaneous submissions. Once I actually submit, I add more, but when I’m just planning, that’s it. An astounding number of journals and magazines can’t be bothered to provide me with these mundane details. I need a WTF column in that spreadsheet for the ones that explain themselves like this:

SouthTurn* is a shockingly original journal concerned with the postmodernist crisis of identity stemming from pantheistic atavistic anti-nationalism. Published on an unpredictable schedule. Circ. 3. Because only our parents would buy the thing. And not all of them.

We publish creative stories only. Things you wouldn’t find in another magazine.

Accepts submission only by snailmail with SASE, replies in 100 to 10,000 days.

No simultaneous submissions.

Guidelines available by SASE. If you can find the address.

I get it that magazines would like me to read them before I submit. That doing so is in my best interest and theirs. And part of my research process does generally include reading online samples from the publisher. (And sometimes getting so engrossed in those that, even though I have eliminated a particular publication as having potential for my story, I spend hours on the site just enjoying myself.)  When possible, I order a copy and pay them something.

But I cannot afford to be part of the mill of writers that support a whole host of publications by buying copies only so they can figure out the submission guidelines. I am a working mother married to my kids’ working father. I do not have time to sit around the bookstore and browse copies. And we have to share the mail with Sam and Caroline. Pretty much anything that comes into the house has to survive their interest before it can get to Scott and I!

Moreover, this is the twenty first century. In the old days, “SASE” was the only way to get those coveted guidelines, many age spotted and faded from too much photocopying, some still showing symptoms of a close relationship with a mimeograph machine. In the old days, snail mail was the only way to submit at all. And in the old days, journals distinguished themselves from trade magazines with verbose semi-pompous self-descriptions.

But this isn’t the old days. The good journals have either developed a strong elite following for their niche or else come down off their high horses. Pretentious wording is just pretentious wording, and it doesn’t make me want to send in my work.

Beyond that, most of these journals have websites, but many fail to make appropriate use of them. Why the hell should people have to send out an SASE for writer’s guidelines when the publisher can put those online? Doing so will increase traffic to the website and save time for the editorial staff. Similarly, why not accept e-mailed or online submissions? Glimmer Train does it, so why not The N’oreast Nevada Review?** I can’t be persuaded that virus protections software isn’t effective or that it’s too much of a hassle for the editor to learn how to open webmail. Besides, it’s oh-so-easy to bounce back work to the people who blow off the requirements and even give them a link to the guidelines page!

Sometimes, lucky networking can be more effective than these fruitless searches for valid outlets. I actually found the folks who published Divorce: A Love Story  by networking. The husband of a friend of a friend was starting a small publishing company with some lady in England, and I found out because we were Facebook friends. Seriously. And let me pause to say that Throwaway Lines is a very cool small press. The lady in England turns out to be this fantastic idea dynamo who is willing to put in time and enthusiasm to make things work. Jason and SJ have fought through some of the hardest things a small press can fend off, have completely lost the battle once, only to reform successfully in this current incarnation. I have no idea what their publishing future is, but I want it to be awesome. (The Throwaway Lines blog/website is currently under revision. I’m sure that when it is all prettied up, it will have all the things an author needs to submit, so stay tuned over there.)

Anyway, to get back to my original topic, I spent around five hours on a search today, and I really only found four or five potential matches for one piece. Another is weird enough that I have to pore over my physical copy of Writer’s Market (yes, I do still have one) before I decide my online search strategy. I plan to shop the first one around, see what kind of rejections I get, then revise it some more and repeat the process. And then do it again a few more times. If nobody accepts it, at some point, I’ll deem it revised to death and stop making changes. After that, at some other point, I’ll deem it submitted to death and stop sending it around.

I’ve got another piece outstanding. I sent it to two places last August. One rejected it sometime in December. The other made ‘drowning in our own inboxes’ squeaks, but at least took the time to contact me, meaning I’m waiting a little while before taking the next steps in this cycle. And the interesting thing about that last one is that it’s got networking potential, much like the novel did. I have an interested party, I know what guidelines to follow, and I’ll be sending it along there when the second place I actually hunted up and already submitted to gets around to rejecting me. I’d do it sooner, but I think I’ll get a guided rejection out of these other people, and I’d like to see what they say.

Although I’m a little bit jaded by the whole submission process, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little bit jaded about everything. My handle is jesterqueen because ‘jaded queen’ sounded kind of stupid and I’m often too scathing to have any legitimate claim to the word ‘snark’.  Mostly, I want to see my writing in other people’s hands. I devote a lot of research to that process, in addition to my writing and revision. While I really would like to see clearer submissions guidelines, there’s a nasty little part of my soul that revels in disambiguating a magazine’s requirements all by myself. I imagine that this somehow makes me a better match for it. And I harbor that fantasy right up until the moment I am rejected. For being 3,000 words over the upper limit. Because the guidelines mentioned nothing about that little detail.

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* Magazine name and precise wording made up to protect idiots. But it’s pretty close to about six of them that I saw today.
Just take me back to the damned entry

** Yes, I invented this one, too.
And you brought me down here to tell me THAT?