Friday, December 28, 2007


“Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it--namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The irony and humor of Mark Twain’s passage aside--a world where people covet what they don’t have, and can't easily get, is not hollow?--this passage spotlights a necessary ingredient for character study: motivation.

In her recent article, “We have ways of MAKING YOU TALK” (The Writer, January 2008), Lois J. Peterson says that what a character really wants, his motivation, is “… a plot element as much as a characterization one … If he is pursuing something as specific as a new watch, a job or a trophy, identify the bigger need it represents.”

For example: Once hurt over a snide remark on his intelligence, little George seeks identification and importance. In order to achieve this, he works hard and pushes through college, becoming a lawyer, only to find that the law degree lands him in a firm where he spends the first year writing legal briefs and wading through countless hours of spell checking and the onerous task of searching for the correct placement of every comma and period. His name is not on the company letterhead. His office is a cubicle. Most of the partners don’t even know he exists. He looks for the right car, the perfect house, the snazzy suits, material things that symbolize his intangible goals. Even with all of the possessions, though, he still can’t find the respect of peers who are only interested in themselves. Identification and importance, he discovers, can’t be bought; they are not for sale. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. George will spend his whole life searching for the next thing that will hopefully give him what he truly wants.

Truth be told, there are probably several motivators in our lives, some of which may lie on opposite sides of the fence. A man wants to be seen as a man. Hunting symbolizes that need. But his wife is adamant that she doesn’t want any guns in the house. Think of the children. Growing up with a need to please others, a sad bi-product of intolerant parents, he suppresses his need in order to make peace in the house, which in turn leads to a frustrated life--especially when he listens to a co-worker’s hunting stories, and then wonders why he can’t have the best of both worlds.

We are all striving for something in our lives, and the characters in a novel, or short story, can’t do anything less. One dimensional characters are boring. The reader can’t relate to who they are or what they want. As such, a writer needs to think long and hard about what her character wants. Where did the need start? Why is it so important? To what lengths will the character go to attain the goal? These are questions that must be asked and answered, and then played out over the course of the story. The reader demands it. The story demands it. After all, they have needs too.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


The whole time I pushed myself through college, working by day and schooling by night, I don’t recall ever hearing the dirty little secret about the accounting profession. If you work in public accounting, your life is not your own during the first quarter of the year as everyone comes begging and pleading to make their tax return as tolerable as possible. If you’re in corporate accounting, the same premise holds true during the last two months and first couple months of the year. It is during this time that end of the year financials need completed, external audits endured, and budgets finalized.

Pulling down a “paying” job while trying to advance a writing career can be challenging, especially during the accounting crunch time when the job demands those precious excess hours that were specifically carved out … to write. But, as I have learned while working in this industry for ten-plus years now, it is what it is; it won’t change, and there is no use crying about it--at least not too much.

There is good news, though. My stories have a couple of months to sit and percolate. When I do revisit them, I can truly approach them with fresh eyes and see the flaws. Last month, I finished a nice crime story for the Holiday Story Exchange. Since starting it, I have had three separate writers critique it, each offering good advice. Next month, after I wade through all the accounting demands on my life, I plan to sit down and re-work the story and submit it. While I’m at it, I’ll brush up a Western Crime story that I submitted to the Tony Hillerman Mystery Contest, which obviously didn’t make it, and I’ll wrap up a third crime story that has been seen a first draft and several revisions. And even though my day job pulls down my resources, I can still read (which now takes between two and three weeks to finish a novel) and submit small posts such as this to my blog.

While I’m at it, here is an excerpt from my Western Crime story. I hope you like it.

From “Meant To Be”:

Sheriff Tom Harper squatted down at the base of a towering ponderosa and studied the sign, picturing in his mind how the scene might have played out. Above him, the body of Jeremiah Winters swayed in the cool breeze that carried the scent of a late autumn rain down the ridge toward Deerhead Canyon. The taut rope creaked with each subtle sweep of the dead rancher. Across the mountain slope, evergreens and aspens whispered their secrets in the wind, and Tom wished for a fleeting moment that he could speak their language, hear what they had to say. As it was, only the impressionable soil offered to tell its side of the story.

Twenty yards down Deputy Ethan Meade reigned up on his sorrel next to two men huddled at the edge of the trail--the same two who discovered the body earlier in the morning. Henry and Jesse Alton. They came to Cloudcroft a few years back to help drive the railroad up through the mountain pass; after the work was completed, they decided to stay. Henry said he liked the atmosphere.

Tom wondered how the atmosphere suited the Alton brother now.

He watched as Meade swung down from the horse. The deputy stood at least a foot taller than the other two, the brim of his hat curving down as he talked with them. He had migrated up to Cloudcroft two years ago after spending ten years with the 10th Cavalry at Fort Concho over in San Angelo, Texas. Ten years too long, he told Harper. If he had to protect settlers he would rather do it in a place that had more to look at than scrub brush and yucca plants. Tom informed him that Alamogordo was only a half-day’s ride down the mountain if he ever got homesick.

After talking with the Alton brothers, Ethan walked toward the scene. Tom spoke first.

“The Winters family been notified?”

“Took Sarah with me,” Ethan said, referring to his wife. “She stayed behind to offer Mrs. Winters some comfort.”

“What did the wife have to say?”

“It appears Jeremiah left the ranch out of sorts some time yesterday evening. They haven’t seen him since.”

“She say why he was upset?”

“She didn’t know. Said her son didn’t know either.”

“So you didn’t talk to him?”

“He was out doing chores, and I didn’t stay. I figured you would need me back here.” Meade chucked his chin. “What do you have?”

“Not quite sure. There’re horseshoe prints all around. This here, though, is a boot heel.” He ran his finger along the earth. “Looks like the owner gave a slip and fell. The mark runs almost a foot long.”

“With the rain last night, it wouldn’t surprise me if Winters took a spell.”

“Maybe. But why would a man dismount out here,” he looked around, “in the middle of a storm?”

“A man who plans to hang himself ain’t using the good sense God gave him, if you ask me.”

“Did his wife say what he was planning to do?”

“No, I’m just guessing.”

“Well, let’s hold off on the guessing.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I was swirling through YouTube last night, that whirlpool of wasted time and entertainment, where most people actually embarrass themselves in a public format. On a whim, I executed a search for Stephen King. Wouldn't you know it? There are handful of good interviews. One in particular caught my attention.

Mr. King stood on a platform, apparently addressing a mob of collegians and taking questions. On this particular video, the person asked what advice he would give young people who wanted to develop a career in writing. There was this long pause, coupled with a look that (to me) said he wished he didn't have to address the same question for the billionth time during his life. I'm sure that famous authors get tired of the same questions. Can't we ask something that will surprise them? But then, without any snide remarks he graciously responded. You have to do a lot of reading, he said. You also have to do a lot of writing. You can't get around putting in the work. He mentioned that he has little patience for people who say they want to write but have little time to read, adding that with reading there comes this "magical moment" when a person puts down a book and says: "That really sucks. I can do better than that. And that was published." Listening to Mr. King, I found myself laughing and clapping my hands.

He went on to emphasize that reading means "everything", which I interpreted as variety. While a writer needs to focus most of her attention to reading in her specialized genre, she must be willing to read works from other categories as well. This is why I have read works from the Classics, Mystery, Horror and (yes) Chick-Lit, which is not to degrade that genre or its writers. In fact, of my favorite Chick-Lit writers Jennifer Weiner (author of both In Her Shoes and Little Earthquakes) ranks at the top. The decision to read this variety is to keep me balanced and, hopefully, at the top of my craft. If I want to write a scene with sexual tension, I can fall back on my exposure to Chick-Lit. If I want to craft a story with evil creatures chasing a protagonist, I can pull from my readings in Horror.

Reading. As a writer, you can't do without it. As Mr. King said in the video, "You have to do the work."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The question posed on the Writer’s Digest Forum asked what gift would a writer would like to receive to further his own craft. Some listed reference tools, like the Oxford English Dictionary. Others listed technology, like voice recorders for interviews. I listed books. Reading, in my opinion, is one of the best resources to improve one’s writing. By studying the works of others, one can understand issues of plot, character, scene and setting. Reading authors like Elmore Leonard can improve the understanding of what works in dialogue. While reading alone is not a miracle cure--there’s much to be said for physically putting the pen to paper--it is a far better resource than a whiz-bang software package that promises to support a writers specific needs. After all, how can a computer or a program help a person write better? Even spell checker is incapable of recognizing that some words, while spelled correctly, just do not fit the sentence. The point is, a writer can have all the techno-gadgets at her disposal and still produce a cumulative pile of illiterate crap.

This year marks my tenth anniversary to my wife. Four years into this writing adventure, after listening to the countless discussions from yours truly about writing, authors, sentences, dialogue, and so-on, she has come to understand just how BIG this writing thing is in my life. How could she not, what with all the chatter I give her on a daily basis? For an anniversary gift, then, she gave me a pair of leather bound bookends and two hard-back, collected volumes of novels by both Mark Twain and Jane Austen. What great gifts! The bookends are solid and heavy. And the books--complete and unabridged, with twelve classic novels combined--promise to give me hours of reading enjoyment and plenty of opportunity to study the craft of two of the greatest authors of all time. In fact, I plan to read at least one of these novels during the Christmas holiday.

Now to write some more…

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


This entry is one week in the making. Due to an annual budgeting process at work, and trying to meet a writing deadline for my contribution to a Holiday Story Exchange, my blog has been forced to sit in the back seat and watch the tree line whiz past the windows.

While reading Page After Page by Heather Sellers, I came across this interesting remark:

“But here is what I’ve noticed. It takes three years to get your mind and your body working in concert. I think it’s helpful for beginning writers to know that it is going to take a really long time to feel comfortable and be productive as a writer.”

Every writer wants to put out the most perfect work--the profound poem that causes hearts to swoon, or that great American novel that will be read and discussed within the sacred halls of academia all over the world. We all want this. Truth be told, we secretly loose ourselves in daily reveries of imagined book signings, Matt Lauer interviews, and watching our stories played out on the silver screen with big-named actors (though I personally loathe the way Hollywood butchers books for the sake of artistic interpretation).

Okay, so we all want the dream. That is not earth shattering information the world can catch on the evening news. The problem is, though, many of us don’t set realistic expectations.

All a writer has to do is read interviews, or even talk to authors, to know that book signings aren’t all they are believed to be. People do not always stand in a line running out the front door, eagerly waiting for the autograph and to tell the author what a profound impact she made on their lives. “Oh, and can I have someone take our photograph together?” According to Heather Sellers, author of Page After Page, authors are lucky if bookstore shoppers even know their names.

One time, while visiting a village in another state, I stopped off at an unfamiliar bookstore with the sole purpose of finding something on the Mescalero Indians. I like westerns--I love to read them and write them--and I was interested in learning more about these Native Americans so I could accurately depict them in my stories. On that particular day, an author was holding a book signing event for her latest mystery novel. As soon as I stepped into the store, she handed me a glossy-covered bookmark. Being the dunce that I am at times, and still with my own personal mission of finding the book I wanted without wasting energies, I asked if she was the store manager. “No,” she said, the smile melting from her face. “I’m the author.” How embarrassing, both for me and for her.

Further inquiry also reveals that several writers have penned three, four or even more unpublished tomes before seeing their first book contract. J.A. Konrath wrote nine before he started working on his Jack Daniels mysteries! The reality is that success stories of authors like Christopher Paolini are not the norm in an industry where breaking out is like piercing a titanium shield.

In a day when a perfect bag of popcorn can be microwaved in two minutes, it is hard for some writers to fathom that their work can take enormous energies and be received with little fanfare. It is a reality I have seen played out countless times in the public writing forum on the internet. Authors submit their stories with great enthusiasm, only to be dashed by the ensuing constructive criticism. They want it to be perfect; sadly, it is not.

According to Ms. Sellers, it takes a writer three years of dedicated, day-after-day writing to be any good. Three years! My guess is the number grows larger as the dedication wanes. Her advice to the prospective writer in a previous chapter: Dare to Suck.

I remember my career in public accounting. I had just passed the CPA exam -- a grueling process that typically weeds out those who have the drive and those who simply dream about the license -- and accepted a staff accountant position at a public accounting firm. One of the partners was notorious for the comment that it took the firm two years of work and training to see any benefit from the accountants they hired. Unbelievable. A firm was willing to invest in a salary (plus benefits and taxes) for two years before it could actually shape and mold the accountants into what they needed. Within the first week, I understood why. I sucked. The college courses only scratched the surface of what I learned while spending five years in the field. In fact, it did take a couple years to be more efficient and better qualified to call myself a CPA.

It is the same with writing. I have been writing, reading, studying, exerting myself for almost four years now, submitting a few stories along the way, and only now do I feel like I have something to offer.

Four years. Okay, so I'm on the extended plan.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Next week, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving Day -- a holiday when most will stuff their faces with turkey and dressing, slap backs with relatives, and listen to the tired old stories that they’ve heard more times than they care to count but smile and listen to again because they’re fascinated with the way Grandpa’s dentures clack while he talks. It’s a time when most of the women in my family gaggle around the table to cackle and haw, when most of the men plop down to watch (mostly scream and whoop) as the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions play football with opposing teams.

For me, it is one of the few times that I actually watch sports on the tube. Now, before the men out there decry me as an infidel and gather wood to burn me at the stake, I willingly and publicly acknowledge that I like to watch football. If I’m going to watch a sport, though, I would much rather be in the stadium than at the home where I am more inclined to pop in a movie and sit down with a bucket of popcorn.

But, this is a writing blog, and I’ve only brought up football as a vehicle to address a tactical approach I use sometimes when writing short stories: drop back and punt.

Currently, I’m in the middle of a piece for a Holiday Story Exchange, a little something in the spirit of "Secret Santa" that I put together with some of the forumistas on the Writer’s Digest Forums. Instead of buying gifts for each other, though, we’ve swapped names and are writing stories about one another with very little information to begin with. Reading books like On Writing, by Stephen King, I have learned that there are generally two ways to write stories: (1) plot and outline and (2) watch the characters and write down what happens. When it comes to short stories, I usually follow the latter. Stephen King refers to this process as digging up the stories out of the ground. The point is, writing this way is a path of discovery; I never know how it will end up until the final period is in place. The story takes on a life of its own, often forcing me to zig when I thought we were going to zag. As such, there are moments, like the case with my current story, when I just have to stop with the ending I had in mind because it doesn’t gel. I drop back and punt it to my subconscious.

"Think it through," the right side of the brain says. "Don’t rush to a conclusion that readers will ungratefully say sucked." The truth is readers don’t care how much time and effort went into a story, whether it took two hours or two months. All they realize is that the ending didn’t fit the story. Or they see the flaws in the character’s action compared to the character’s motives. There have been plenty of times when I’ve ignored the little critic inside of me and pressed on, only to have my friends in the writing group sadly shake their head. So now, I’ve learned to listen when the little voice inside throws up the warning flag.

This goes against the grain for some writers. Keep writing, they say. Don’t let the critic inside discourage you from putting the pen to the paper. If you stop writing the story, you’ll lose it. For them, I say that dropping back and punting is a form of writing. Listening to the story over the course of a day or two, letting it tell you how to finish, is in fact writing – even though the pen hasn’t hit the paper (or the fingers tapped the keyboard). And it is a far better approach than to press forward when there’s plenty of time on the clock and fumble the ball.

Dropping back and punting has helped me in more than one case. There have been stories when, after a few days, the answer snapped into focus somewhere on the bridge between dreams and consciousness. It was only then that I could sit down and finish. My subconscious just needed to churn the story over, whirl it around to polish it up.

Pulling off of the story to let the brain digest it is not an act of giving up or abandoning the craft. Besides, while the mind is working out the details of the plot line, I can always blog to stay in a productive habit of writing every day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Excerpt: "Simple"

Donald “Jett” Ferris searched through the window to the east, then to the west. Outside, the highway cut a black line through the arid Texas landscape, separating nothingness from more nothingness as far as he could see.

A deep voice crackled from behind.

“Thought you said you had a ride.”

Isaiah Walton. At two hundred and fifty pounds, with fists made of concrete and a seismic temper, the head security guard at the TDCJ prison was also known as The Wall. He minced few words and tolerated nothing.

“He’ll be here,” Jett said.

Kyle Winston, a former cellmate, promised he would be at the gate around noon; the clock on the wall registered five minutes after, and the only vehicle in the parking lot was an empty, dried-up Chevy C-10, its brown paint sun-bleached the color of vomit, its rims packed with caliche.

“You got two minutes,” Walton said. “Your boy don’t show, we go back into lockup till he arrives.”

Jett bit down hard and fought against the urge to say anything. Texas policy mandated that inmates would not be released without transportation. As such, he was still a ward of the state. Out in the desert, with the sweltering weight of a hundred and five degrees and twenty miles separating Jett from the nearest town, the reason was painfully obvious: a released inmate would collapse and die before trekking back to the civilized world. So much for rehabilitation.

His muscles vibrated with anticipation. Fourteen years. Too long to be rotting away on the bright side of hell, chained down to the devil’s playground.

Finding the only words he could, Jett repeated himself. “He’ll be here.”

Jett pulled out a crumpled pack of Pall Mall’s from his pocket, shook it and cursed. Only three left. In anticipation of his release, he’d forgotten to barter another pack.

Lockup. In this strange, up-side-down world, a pack of smokes could easily cost a man twenty five dollars. At twenty-five cents an hour--the standard wage for inmates--buying cigarettes, or anything for that matter, didn’t come easy. As such, bartering was a way of life: you got to give to get. The question, though, was whether an inmate had anything to give. For some, that meant selling themselves out, and prison provided a fresh market for the bartering of souls. For his part, Jett offered protection. It was never about sex, though. For one, he wasn’t a back-door man for no one. Secondly, it was sex that handed him fourteen years behind bars. Some mistakes weren’t worth repeating.

Jett stuck a cigarette in his mouth, patted down his pockets for a lighter.

“No smoking,” Walton said.

“You gotta be kidding.”

Walton pointed to the wall. A white sign with a red circle-and-slash, the familiar idiot’s symbol for Thou Shall Not, covering a burning cigarette hung beside the prison’s version of the Ten Commandments for all visitors.

Jett muttered another curse and stuffed the Pall Mall behind his ear for later.

Winston finally arrived in a black Ford Mustang. Jett turned to Walton, who paused but finally spoke into a radio and asked for the main gate to be opened.

Outside, Jett walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. The window was open.

“About time,” he said.

Sitting behind the wheel, hair pasted to his forehead and a jade tattoo of a cobra coiled around his arm, Kyle gave Jett a long look. “You getting in or not.”

A slow, wry smile curled Jett’s lips. Occasionally, an inmate tried to push Jett’s graces, test his ability to provide the protection they needed. When that happened, he resorted to his father’s philosophy on life: keep it simple. Time was too short to dance around with the issues. Anyone willing to step across the line was free to barter with the rapists or the child molesters, in which case their options were limited. Like most of the inmates, Kyle tested the boundaries once and quickly discovered that Jett’s protection was worth the cost in order to keep his dignity. But here, only six months out of the joint himself, the boy had apparently worked up his old attitude. Jett decided he would deal with that--later.

On the highway, the Mustang up to a cruising speed of eighty-five, Jett asked if Kyle took care of the guns.

Kyle gave Jett a double-take. “You sure about this?”

“That cop took fourteen years of my life.”


“I already told you--”

Kyle held up a hand. “I’m just saying maybe it ain’t worth it. You ready to do more time when you just got out?”

He thought about that a moment and then slowly nodded. “I’ll take my chances.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The Sabbath. Supposedly the day of rest. Over the years, I have discovered that Sunday is one of the most hectic days of the week for the regular church attendee. A family drags itself out of bed and clamors to get dressed amidst a raging battlefield of morning attitudes – mom screams at dad, who in return screams at the kids, who in return pesters the family pet, thus fulfilling the age-old axiom about crap and its submission to the laws of gravity. The kitchen takes the brunt of the assault: black stains paint the cabinet in front of the Mr. Coffee machine, the toaster and the tub of margarine fall victims to an explosion of bread crumbs, and the table becomes a minefield of cereal bowls and fruit and the Sunday comics. In a rush everyone races out to the minivan, the garage door seemingly closing on its own from the vacuum left in the wake of the dashing family. And finally, after a litany of "did we turn off the curling iron" and "did we lock the doors", the family car squeals out of the driveway pit, breaking all sorts of laws that would take a cop a half hour just to fill out the moving violations report.

A typical church attendee consumes half his day with the morning service and evening service. Compound that even more if the parents, or children, belong to a choir, which most certainly has rehearsals. The family either comes home to eat or visits a restaurant, thus burning at least another ninety minutes. By the time the day is done, with all the fussing and praising, a working stiff is so worn out that Monday morning is both a burden and a blessing at the same time.

The question for the writer, then, is when to find time to sit down. Obviously there’s enough inspiration if one looks for it: the preacher ranting about tithes, the parents fussing with fidgeting children during the sermon, Dad screaming at the kids to keep quiet so he can watch half of the Sunday football game before he snoozes off to catch an afternoon catnap. But with all the hustle and bustle of the Sabbath, which after all was to be remembered and kept holy, there never seems to be enough time (or energy in the reserves) to sit down and make some progress.

Right. There’s always an excuse if one looks for it.

So, here I am today, sitting at the table with cup of Chai Latte and a bruised morning sky off in the east. The children are still in their bed, the wife softly snoring in mine, and the family dog yipping because he’s old, and trying to find a comfortable spot on the couch takes about fifteen turn-arounds and a throw pillow. The clothes were ironed last night, baths were all administered last night, the coconut chest pie that we’ll be taking to the Sunday social was baked in the oven last night. Do you see the pattern here?

I’ve found that planning and preparation and focus are essential keys to a productive writing life. Learn to find those areas that tend to eat up your writing life and attack them ahead of time. Free up your time at the desk so that you can sit and allow the muse the opportunity to show up. This writing business is simply that – a business. It takes a lot of work and a ton of focus. And it's that focus which motivates me to get things done ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about them in the morning.

By my count, I’ve now logged about six hundred and fifty words. For me, that’s success for the one hour or so I have before the rest of the day kicks in. Oh and the Sunday morning kitchen? I went out and bought some donuts. A couple of napkins and a glass of milk and everyone’s happy. Now what do I do about the ranting preacher? Maybe he can be the victim in my next crime/mystery story.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Okay, so I’m reading this amazing little book, Page After Page by Heather Sellers. In Chapter 8, a chapter about her experience with a Russian Lady at a speaking engagement with three other writers, she takes on this "dream" everyone thinks they have (or their friends think they have): writing. Instead of encouraging her readers to sit down and write, she asks them to take a long, hard look inside. Is writing what they really, really want? This whole process of writing is hard. Writers practically isolate themselves, spending less time with their friends and family, less time on entertainment (though, thankfully, reading is still something that every writer knows they need to do). Is it worth it? Is not writing something that makes a writer sick and lifeless, like denying himself air or water?

This morning, I asked myself that very question. To date, I’ve written several short stories, made fleeting attempts at novels (all of which have fizzled-out for one reason or another), and dabbled in spiritual writing; and yet, after three years of serious writing I’m still not published. I can attest to how hard it is to write. I have a quiver full of stories that have never seen the bow, never been launched, victims of the just-not-good-enough syndrome, because I can’t seem to let go. And I’m asking myself whether or not I’m good enough to be a writer. Is this whole adventure (quite a long trip after three years) just pie in the sky? Is it a nice hobby?

My best writing times are in the morning. Today, I climbed out of bed a little after five o’clock. Looking at the atomic clock perched in my computer room, which also synchs up with an external thermometer, the temperature outside registered a cool fifty degrees. Ahhhh. There’s nothing like a moment out in the brisk autumn air. For me, it clears out the cobwebs, opens up the sinuses, rejuvenates my mind. So, I stepped out with the dog, who skittered from place to place, sniffing the grass, the tree, the flower garden, his tail happily whisking back and forth (How on earth can one creature be so excited about a morning whiz, I’ll never know). Standing there in my backyard, I recognized the cycles of life. The stars were brilliant because the moon, in its cycle, took a hiatus from the southern night sky. A sign to the coming winter, the peach tree had already shed half of its leaves, which the dog rustled as he sought out his next happy spot. In the distance, I heard the sound of ducks, or maybe it was Canadian Geese (it is that time of the year again, when they migrate down to Texas for the winter). All of these things, from the moon to the stars to the animals of the earth, they have to do what they were created to do. They simply can’t not do what they need to do; it is hard-wired and a part of who they are. Even the happy tail is a part of who the dog is.

The question, then, is this: can I not write? Would it kill me? Would I be denying myself something as precious as air or water? I believe so. Going a day without writing is like trying to get in the car and suddenly finding that I’ve misplaced the keys. Oh I can do it, I suppose--just get in the car, sit behind the wheel, and go through the motions. I might even vibrate my lips, give myself that running motor sound. But it’s not the same without the keys. The car doesn’t run without switching the ignition, releasing the spark and turning the pistons over. I feel … well, not complete when I deny my writing. The passion is so strong that I feel lost without it. And this is for sure: I would probably resent myself for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try, if I talked a good game but never touched the keyboard or picked up a pencil.

Yes, this writing adventure is frustrating. At times, it almost takes me into deep depressions when I think about how far I’ve got to go. But I can’t give up. I can’t go without it. Telling stories, reading stories, being a writer is something that I simply have to do in order to be whole.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Story: "A Justifiable Defense"

I’m such a snarxhüset. When it comes to pftzer oozing juice cases, I can’t seem to turn anything down--even when I know that accepting the assignment will cause me a stinging pain in the lower pusher. I just hope Sensi, the love of my life and bearer of my chingos, will forgive me someday. Otherwise, it’ll be a long cold season this side of the sun; and quite honestly, I’d rather have a sharpie jabbed in my darkies, blinding me forever, than to live through that.

“This is your last chance, Krii!” With all the scratches and zizzings pouring through my headsets, I barely made out Reginald’s words.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied, failing to work up any fear from Reggie’s antics. It wasn’t that I disliked Reginald … well, it was that I disliked him. In fact, most everyone in my brood felt the universe would spin better without him. Since he was in his own language “family”, though, I felt a small obligation to extend simple courtesies before I pulled the trigger and took him out of commission. Permanently.

Reggie corkscrewed left. Not bad, but still not talented enough to escape my pursuit. “My gamma beam will blow your snake heads into oblivion!”

Chuckles grumbled up both of my throats. P3 Bi-pods were all the same: they demonize what they cannot understand. No appreciation for differences.

“No reason to be nasty, Reggie.” I pushed into a slight dive. “It’s not my fault your God made you with only half a brain.” I nosed up on the fighter, targeting my guns on the vulnerable heat shield on his underbelly. “Maybe you should have done a better job using what you do have, though, eh?”

A split second before I pulled the trigger, he flanked right and pulled into a sharp downward dive. A typical Zizklak maneuver. If it had been done on his planet, the G-forces would have squeezed him into unconsciousness; out here, a million miles from the farthest moon of Saturn, the dive most likely tickled his chest like a small cough.

My right head twisted to keep my eyes on Reggie as I pulled up through a 135-degree arc and flipped around to trail behind him.

“That was a nice trick,” I said. “But you’ve forgotten one thing.”


“I’m a better pilot than you’ll be in two lifetimes. And you’re still in my sights.”

I couldn’t control my laughter when a stream of obscenities cut through my earphones. The P-3 Bi-pod nature again: all mouth and no brain.

“Why are we fighting each other, Krii?” I detected a note of panic in Reggie’s tone.

“Because you made someone very angry.”

“I haven’t done anything.”

“I wouldn’t call stealing and attempting to sell an antimatter bomb to terrorists a small thing.”

“I’m acting on behalf of my government.”

“It’s your government that paid me to take care of this problem.”

More profanities.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Reggie, is that anyway to talk to your cousin’s mokluk?”

What Sensi’s uncle ever saw in a Reggie’s mother, I will never know. Listening to Sensi tell it, though, the whole brood took it as a personal affront that a Qrtz would try to marry a bi-bod. I mean, we don’t even belong in the same species. A Qrtz has two heads, each with four sets of eyes. We also have four arms and four legs. By design, a Qrtz is by far superior to the simple creatures from the P-3 of this galaxy.

That we can actually crossbreed is considered an unnatural act by most Qrtz in their right minds. However, Sensi’s uncle was never one to stick to the confines of creation. Consequently, their consummation produced a total disaster: a bi-pod with three eyes, one of which Reggie can’t even use. Sad.

Reggie spiraled down and attempted to cut back into me. Surprising. I snapped left, jettisoned through a tight downward bank, and caught up with him at the bottom of the dive, my guns trained on the back quarter-panels of his spacecraft.

“Don’t act like you’re better than me,” he said. The bitterness returned to his tone. “You’ll probably just use the government’s money to buy more drugs.”

I rolled all eight eyes. “I don’t use.”

“Tell that to Sensi.”

My fuel gauge told me that time was on short supply. My holographic readout also confirmed a lock on my target. “I’m done talking, Reggie.”

“Wait,” he cried, pulling up into steep angle.

I jerked back on my controls and re-acquired the laser-lock.

“Do you still have Jules?”

Interesting. Two seconds away from termination and he wants to know about the family dust mop? Reggie gave us the thing as a pet, said it was a guinea pig. I told Sensi it looked more like dinner. She didn’t find the humor in it.

I didn’t answer him. Instead, I sent out an electro-magnetic pulse and scrambled his systems; then, I flanked right past his dead ship. I circled around, toggled another lever, and jettisoned a timed explosive device which my read-outs confirmed a secure attachment to the floating coffin. In one hour, Reggie would be dead. I would be clear by then, the universe a safer place. Sure, the P-3 government would be angry to lose their precious bomb. I didn’t care.

Using my tele-port, I channeled home.

Sensi’s luscious heads filled my screen. “Is he dead?”

“He will be soon.”

She nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said as apologetic as I could. “I know he—”

“I understand. He could have caused a universal war.” She closed her eyes for a moment. Then: “When will you get back?”

“I’m on my way.” I fired up my after-burners. “It will take a couple hours”

“What do you want for dinner?”

I thought about Reggie’s last question.

“Take Jules to my lab and X-ray him, will you? If he has an explosive device imbedded under his fur, send him to your uncle. If not, have him on the table by the time I get home.”

Story: "The Intermission"

Savannah gazed upon a weathered marquee, skirted by fractured and burned-out light bulbs. Dusty black letters declared the previous owner’s pronouncement: Closed For Business.

“Are you sure she left this for us?”

The paralegal nodded and said, yes, this was it. Dressed in a navy blue pant suit, a leather attaché strung over her shoulder, the lady was all business, an objective professional doing her job. To Savannah, though, the woman’s tone implied she would rather be somewhere else, doing something more worthy of her time.

“What is it, mommy?”

Savannah looked down at nine-year-old Natalie holding her hand in the brisk November air. Fine blonde hair lifted and flowed on a breeze before settling back down. A few defiant strands resisted the laws of nature as if they held the fingers of God.

Just like David.

Savannah knelt down next to her daughter. “This is an old cinema.”

“You mean where they show movies?”


Excitement filled the girl’s soft hazel eyes. “Can we see one?”

Savannah shook her head. “I’m afraid they haven’t shown a movie here in years.”

A shadow of confusion darkened Natalie’s face. “Why?”

Savannah turned and inspected the neglected building. Paneled wood sealed in the front doors on either side of an empty ticket booth, its grilled mouth held open in a perpetual cry for help. Beside one set of doors, two lifeless showcases hung on the brick wall, their glass panes shattered and posters stolen.

“Because some people don’t know what they truly have.”

Natalie frowned. She obviously didn’t understand.

The paralegal produced a set of keys. “Are you ready to see the inside?”

Standing up, Savannah felt her legs tremble. The drive down from Tulsa had provided plenty of distractions, mostly from Natalie with a thousand questions and simple observations. Now, there was only the theater with all of its memories.

“We didn’t ask for this, you know.”

The paralegal looked uneasy with the comment, which made Savannah uncomfortable as well. The woman could probably handle drafting a complex settlement. Asking her to listen to a broken heart was another matter.

“I’m sorry,” Savannah said. “I just want you to know that Natalie and I weren’t standing around with our hands out.”

The woman nodded but said nothing.

Inside, the air was stale. A dusty film clouded over the glass candy display cases.

“Mommy, can I look around?”

Seeing the curiosity in Natalie’s gaze, Savannah couldn’t resist. “Stay where I can see you.” The girl clapped her hands and bounced away. She stopped briefly at the popcorn machine, looked it over and then moved on.

Savannah touched the top of a display case. “She wouldn’t have given this to us if she knew.”

The paralegal shook her head.

“This is where we met.” Savannah trailed a finger across the glass. “I was ready to buy some Whoppers when this voice behind me said, ‘Try the sour gummy worms.’ His parents weren’t sure about offering worms to their customers, but David and his friends convinced them otherwise.”

Savannah closed her eyes, remembering that night so long ago. “We watched Raiders of the Lost Ark. I screamed during the scene with the snakes, and he held my hand. We came here every week after that.”

The paralegal offered a polite smile.

Savannah grimaced, feeling the emptiness in her heart. “His mother didn’t like me. To her, I was the foster child who kept David from college. I was the one he wanted instead of his family’s money.”

Across the lobby, Natalie cracked open a door to an empty theater.

“He died un-expectantly before we could get married,” Savannah said. “Brain aneurism. Of course, his mother blamed me. Which is why I’m surprised she left us anything at all.” She brushed a tear from the corner of her eye. “I wish Natalie could have known him. David was gone before I even realized I was pregnant.”

The paralegal quickly diverted her gaze. Embarrassment flushed Savannah’s cheeks. She told the woman she had seen enough and called Natalie over. It was time to go.

Outside, locking up, the paralegal said, “I know it isn’t much, but the land is at least worth something. If you want to sell it, our firm can assist you.”

Across the street, two teenagers walked beside each other holding hands. Savannah watched them for a moment and then glanced down at Natalie.

“No. This place isn’t for sale.”