Grady’s Childhood Inspiration

Cowboy profile artGrady did Western art.  The way she explained it – her childhood hero was Clint Eastwood.  She was entranced with his imagery on the screen and the “cowboy motif,” based on his example.  “I used to walk around chewing the end of a beef jerky stick, like the outlaw, Josie Wales, and his cigarillo.  I ate beans right from the skillet with a wooden spoon, wore button down shirts and threadbare trousers, and Jack scolded me more than once for smudging dirt on my face to achieve that rough shaven look.”

“So you were a cross-dresser before you knew you were gay?”  I joked.

“Hush your mouth!” she teased, “All kids play around with costumes and characters.  I just couldn’t get over the walk, you know?  I didn’t think of that stance or walk as manly.  I was just fascinated to walk as if all life fulfilling chi originated and radiated from a bulge in my crotch,” she giggled.

“I am not going to ask.” I said.

“It’s probably best you don’t.”

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What I’m Reading and Why, v3

Writers have to read.  It’s not a chore.   Chef’s taste food; athletes watch footage of other athletes; cars get waxed.

The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People

by Neil Hegarty

A project I’m working on requires that I become a connoisseur of Irish history and society.  As someone who has always loved the lore and mystical nature of the average stories of Ireland that are tossed around somewhat casually, I am beginning to be in true awe of how for granted the world (and especially the United States) seems to have taken this island of people.

I had always had this idea that Celtic culture and religion had begun there.  In reality the island served as the perfect geographical location to collect all of the good aspects of historic European culture and (mostly) repel all of the negative aspects.  Who can resist the story of how cattle barons got rich and thus became Irish nobility off the backs of traders supplying the Roman army with their tons of leather?  Suffice to say that Vikings and Normans, while certainly ancient invaders, also became settlers and, along with the trend, melding with Irish-ness and further shaping the culture.  Talk about a melting pot!

I’m further enjoying the overlap this book has to the BBC produced, 5 segment special on Irish history hosted by the author.  I can read more of the book and then watch the segment covering those bits on YouTube and viola! it stays in there.

I’m careful about relying on one source for my information.  While this book and the corresponding documentary collection are very comprehensive and informative, I will also seek other sources for my information.  Bottom line here is – if you are Irish American, or even if you are not, there is much to be loved about an island nation that formed from our best qualities as humans and actually SAVED civilization as we know it through it’s academia and careful recording of history while the rest of Europe was burning heretics and killing knowledge.

 

Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

I’m a science fiction fan.  Bradbury and Asimov are not foreign to me.  So how did I miss this?  I came across an estate sale recently where the deceased was obviously more of a sci-fi fan than I.  There were complete series of Orson Scott Card, and alas, all the series of Asimov.  The Robots were all there.  I bought them all.  Even the set of Fantastic Voyage books made an appearance.  I bought them too.  Now, I was aware of the Foundation trilogy, but for whatever reason, had never cracked it open.  What I didn’t realize was that he was enticed to write three additional books in the series later in his life.  So I got to work trying to figure out what order the books were in to make sure I didn’t miss getting one of the pieces.  This is where the trouble started.

foundation bookThere were actually one book to each story present but for the price of 50 cents per paperback, I could get the one book that housed the initial trilogy all-in-one for just that.  Duh.  Except … the cover of this one (unlike the cover graphic I have snagged for this article) listed the trilogy contrary to the order I understood from the other books.  It listed them as:  Foundation, Second Foundation, and Foundation and Empire.  As you can see from the graphic to the right, the actual order is different.  Without internet to research my treasure trove, I scratched my head and made my purchase.

I couldn’t wait and started reading Foundation as soon as I got in the truck.  Thanks my lovely driver!  It wasn’t until I got home and researched that I discovered that he wrote the three follow up books out of order and was floored, once again, by his skill and capacity.  I gave the idea of reading them in actual chronological order a very brief consideration, but decided to stick to the order they were written.

Aside from the sheer enjoyment, I’m reading Foundation because I want to study one of the great masters of world building, to learn how he imagined and threaded together contrived history married with cutting edge science truthes into the magic of science fiction where, indeed, the reader becomes so enmeshed that they could easily live there themselves.

 

 

More Malone Snippets – Chance Meeting with a Friend

Child picking nose. Oh - and a Smart Crossblade. - Flickr - exfordy

At the gala she saw Kaylee with her son, Echo, tagging along beside her.  She could tell Kaylee was excited to finally introduce her boy – of whom crayon drawings and amusing stories had abounded up to this point.  Kaylee reached for the socially appropriate hug while Malone shrank clumsily into a simple shoulder tag.  Kaylee smiled, entertained at Malone’s usual social awkwardness.

Looking down at Echo, Malone realized Kaylee was completely unaware of his tiny little finger, deeply rooted in his nostril, and rummaging around.  Malone broke into a huge grin at the boy – sun painted curls adorned his tan, freckled face – pure innocence at its best.  “Hey Echo!  Save some for me, huh?  How about it?” she smiled.  He was instantly charmed as evidenced by his beaming return smile, finger still planted in his face.

Finally recognizing the situation and feeling the impulse to be embarrassed – Kylee dropped his free hand and gently removed his digging finger, wiping it on her jeans.  But the contrast of Malone’s own social anxiety in comparison with her genuine appreciation for her son’s youth caught her at the heart level and she giggled … almost like a school girl.  It was completely unlike most encounters when her son’s childish antics made other adults uncomfortable and led to her hasty apology which always felt like a betrayal to her love for Echo.

Estate Sale

The house smelled like cat urine and mildew.  The estate sale had been picked through pretty thoroughly.  She could tell they might have found something of a treasure … a steal … if only they’d come to this one first.  But it wasn’t a video game, she reminded herself, and there was no level up or missed easter egg.
She found an old pencil sharpener like what she remembered from grade school – the kind that had a rubber bottom and a lever so you could “seal” it to the flat surface.  One dollar – it was marked.  And the wall map of the continental united states rolled up next to it was only a quarter.  “What are the odds of that?” she thought.  She found Grady and rambled around behind her, keeping her finds well in sight of whomever might be in charge of sales.  She didn’t know why, but she always felt worried about that – like someone was going to run after her and firmly say, “Excuse me – but you have to pay for that.”  She’d had people crowd around her half naked body with flashlights before, but somehow this scenario seemed even more mortifying than that.  Ironic.”Look at this.  I love this…” Grady said.  She motioned to a appalling rendition of an upturned hand.  The sculpture was done in white mortar or plaster and was grossly disproportionate.  She didn’t respond, didn’t make a face.  “Only I think it would be nice if it were your hand.”  Grady smiled sweetly and reached to stroke her arm.  A wave of emotion rolled from Malone’s gut and prickled the hair on her head.  Damn, she loved this woman.

What I’m Reading and Why, v2

Writers have to read.  It’s not a chore.   Chef’s taste food; athletes watch footage of other athletes; cars get waxed.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

It occurs to me as a writer with a full time job that short stories may be the way to start.  I was fearful after I read a preface by Stephen King in one of his short story collections (“Until Sunset” I think).  He said short stories are a totally different creature than books and left me with the impression that it would be hard to break out of one mold (that of a short story writer) to become another (author of a novel).  So I delayed, dabbled, delayed some more.  Then I started reading this book.

I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories when I started.  It may be possible that the stories will overlap somehow as I read more.  I’m less than half way through this book and so thrilled at the way it allows the author to flex more than one writing muscle.  The first story tells of a pair of girls who live in swamp lands and have been left alone for a time.  I could state its storyline follows that of the children of Alligator wrestlers but that wouldn’t even cover it.  Besides, you’d miss out on the sister’s jaw dropping relationship with the ghost/demon, and then might abandon it altogether for fear it’s a paranormal story when, in fact, it is not.  My favorite story tells of a camp for youth who suffer from a myriad of sleep disorders (some that will make you want to google them to see if they are indeed real).  I could state that the campers must band together to solve the mystery of a serial sheep killer, but you’d probably mistake that to mean this is full of cliches and a “cute” story.  It is not on either of those counts.

My point here, and I do have one, is how lovely it feels to dip my feet in, and even at ankle deep, this author has shown me how refreshing it can be to shift gears, change paradigms, and even genres, all within the same book.  My fear erased, I will honor the summer and start writing some shorts!  While I’m at it, I’m definitely adding some of her other books to my reading list: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Swamplandia, and Sleep Donation.

 

Writing Mysteries

by Sue Grafton (Editor), Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Tony Hillerman, Sara Paretsky, Fay Kellerman, Ann Rule, Linda Fairstein, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lutz, Nancy Pickard, Jan Burke, Barry Zeman, Lawrence Block, Laurie R. King, Margaret Maron, Loren D. Estleman

WritingMysteriesCoverI know what you’re thinking – “Who are these people and why should I care?”  If you’re a mystery writer and this is, indeed, what you were thinking, you might want to consider writing for dairy ads.

Yes, it’s true!  In just one book you can have the mentoring of all those mystery writers.  Sue Grafton edited it and each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the genre.  I’m reading this book because, to not read it and go on writing mysteries would be like the child who pulls away from his parent and says, “No!  I can cut my own food!” and then progresses to let fly everything on the plate.  My favorite sections so far have been Faye and Jonathan Kellerman’s piece on research and Julie Smith’s on “Background, Location, and Setting.”

I hope you’re listening – mystery writers – this book has it all.  From dialogue and perspectives to short story mysteries and YA, you’ll find some inspiration or new information here.  The only thing better than reading this book would be to sit in my writing tank while listening to this as an audio book being read by each of the contributors.  Wait.  Is that too creepy?  Did I cross a line?  #authorgroupie

 

George Mowgli – 9

He’s back.  If you haven’t followed George from the beginning of his adventure, feel free to seek out his stories by scrolling down to the “Be a Seeker” box on the right side and typing in “George Mowgli.”  You can also start from the very beginning by clicking here.


Her cackle from some location below elicits an involuntarily response, pushing the left side of his nose and mouth into a sneer.  “No doubt she’s turned on the stupid box and is laughing at some brain-sucking sitcom.  She’ll probably find it imperative to try and repeat the scene to me later.  Won’t matter if I’m engrossed in a good book or napping.”  He pulls his face out of the sneer as if putting a long abandoned piece of laundry back in its drawer.  Matter-of-fact.  No point letting more bitterness creep in.Airwalk Men's Mason Mocassin Slippers

In about three hours, Micah will either shut himself in the garage (AKA his workshop), or he’ll change into something similar to what he’s already wearing and head to his idea of a night out.  Thirty-eight years old and he’s still playing Dungeons and Dragons with kids ten or fifteen years younger than him.  Such a disappointment.

The moccasins that are his house shoes await him somewhere in the darkness above.  He should have put them on when he came down for breakfast this morning, he knows that now.  The climbing, always the climbing up and down, it was all he could think about after his morning ablutions.  “Is this what athletes go through before every game,” he wonders, “or maybe soldiers before a battle? Knowing they’ve done it many times before, but worried they might just be all tapped out?”  Another step … and then another … almost there.

What I’m Reading and Why

Had an idea for this series while talking to friends yesterday.  Almost every author advising new writers agrees – you must read as much (if not more) than you write.  That wisdom makes perfect sense to me, so I follow it.  For the sake of getting more things posted while still working my insanely demanding job, I intend to run this series whenever I finish a book and start into something new.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I just finished “The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova.  Upon first cracking it open, I was impressed by the style and flow.  I have no doubt it reads like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” intentionally.  I say that, but you should know that it is a more modern account and is really about several historians as they search for the truth about Vlad “The Impaler” and his dark legacy.  As such, it balances light with dark themes and lures you into a more “historical fiction” style of the Dracula legend.  Unlike other vampire stories, this book is a serious literary contribution.  There are the elements that make the reader stay hooked and coming back for more (character development, mystery, adventure, romance), but without the “teenager with raging hormones,” stamp of approval.  You will not find a group of readers in “Camp Paul,” versus those in “Camp Rossi.”  For that, I am very thankful. 

This is Kostova’s first novel!  Oh, please let me be as blessed!  Reader BEWARE – if you have no patience for long books – this one is 704 pages.  That’s nearly twice the page count for the average reader of fiction.  Oh, please let me be as prolific!

I didn’t choose this book, it chose me.  I was in between pages that held my interest and it grabbed me out of the e-library stacks.  I stayed in it because it made me feel like a scholar in the Oxford library wiping dust from an ancient volume bound in worn leather.  I hope to improve my skills in imagery having put this one in my bank.

The Shining by Stephen King

Immediately after finishing this one, I started on an older book, Stephen King’s, “The Shining.”  I have never watched the movie rendition of this book other than the occasional Jack Nicholson “Redrum” clips.  Not a fan of King’s books until recently, this is probably because I had no idea he had more than just gore and horror.  It wasn’t until I read his book, “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft,” that I got curious about some of his other offerings.  I picked up “The Dead Zone,” and then “The Body,” “11.22.63,” the “Dark Tower” series … well it’s just that now I’m hooked.  I have always been a student of sociology and psychology – in awe about how just a single synapse could be the difference between monsters like Ted Bundy and people like Oprah Winfrey.  Stephen King does “Psychological Thriller” like nobody’s business!

If you want a writer to take you on a journey of escape, while still rooting you in some lessons about people and relationships – Stephen King is your answer.  Just a few pages into “The Shining” and I’m reeling at how effortlessly he tells me the grisly detail of how this guy (a dry alcoholic) broke his baby boy’s arm … and then pages later makes me empathize and still see this guy and his family in human terms.  In the world outside the pages, it would be so easy – common, in fact – to write this guy off for the asshole he appears to be.  When Mr. King writes it, you have to really try hard to demonize him and the family that chooses to stay with him.  “Life has to go on for these people,” King says with the story, “Put their shoes on and deal with it.”

That’s what I love about his style – he finds unique situations, often times rooted in gut-level reality, and he doesn’t dismiss truth for the sake of entertainment in these stories.  If I could emulate only one writer – it would currently be Stephen King.  I’m reading him because I’d like to be able to infuse his style into my mysteries.

I won’t even go into the typical King spin that grants someone in the story a unique but stigmatizing power (like reading people’s minds) and how that tickles my fancy.  Read it yourself!

George Mowgli – 8.5 (Note)

Dear Readers,

 

George needs rest before continuing his perilous journey into the recesses of his mind.  He is taking a brief hiatus while his writer attempts to create something from scratch for a mystery writing contest.  He was a bit appalled at my thirst for competition, but when I mentioned I wasn’t 38 years old and still living at home his objections fell silent.  I apologized for hitting below the belt, to which he replied he probably wouldn’t feel it anyway.   I believe he has a much better sense of humor but I was careful to laugh politely out of respect.

In an effort to compromise, I allowed him to leave a forwarding address in case anyone wants to write him.  You may address any comments or questions to him below and I will be happy to serve as his personal secretary until his return.  You’ll also be happy to know that he guilt-tripped me into slapping up some poetry since it is National Poetry Writing Month.  So feel free to stay tuned for some flow.

 

Sincerely,

George’s Writer

George Mowgli – 8

His palms are slippery.  He turns his right hand over, barely recognizing the mottled exterior, the soft-skinned canvas of his lifelines loosely draped around the bones and swollen joints.  Like ghosts in his mind, a false duet of memories and the present, he can still make out the muscles of his youth as he twitches his thumb.  Days were when his calloused hands put in time at the lumber mill, returning home with nubby, dirt encrusted nails as evidence, scrapes and bruises the “war wounds” of their service.

A bar of Lava soap, wrapped in the dirty imprint of this or the other hand from those days, still convalesced on the shelf in the mudroom.  He thinks about tossing it once in awhile.  Recollections of the texture, the solace of that gritty lather under soothing warm water, prevent  further consideration.  Comforts of the past.  He splays his fingers and turns the decrepit looking thing away from his view, wafting air along the sweaty underside as best he can.  He dares not loose his grip on the railing yet.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 7.5 (Note)

Dear George Mowgli readers,

 

At this point in the progression of this narrative, I’m unhappy with the number 8 and beyond.  I’m going to let the 8th post, but will probably rework it and may not post further until I can revamp some things.  Do not worry about George.  He will continue to suffer, commiserate with his younger self, disdain, regret, celebrate, remember, forget, sweat, outwit, analyze, fight, and survive (the last part is negotiable – he and I are still going around about that one) … and he will be back to tell you all about it.  He asks that you please forget that bit about his unmentionables.

 

Thank-you,

 

George’s Writer

George Mowgli – 7

He’d wanted to name the baby, “George, Jr.” but Sarah whined it wouldn’t do.  Not poetic enough.  Not ear catching.  What would the girls at work think?  Looking back, he was certain she’d only agreed to have a baby because she wanted an excuse to stop working and stay at home.  It was clear, once the mission was accomplished, she was ill-prepared and had as much motherly instincts as a harp seal.  He’d watched one of those television documentaries on the creatures and experienced deja vu when he discovered the mothers abandon their defenseless babies vulnerable to predators, alone on the ice after only twelve days.

Now he knows what that must feel like.  Hadn’t put two and two together back when she forgot Micah was playing on the sun porch and locked the door.  Poor kid had nearly fainted of dehydration by the time she realized.  From all accounts over the years, Micah could have been one of those poor little babies that baked to death in the back seat while his mother lollygagged at the mall.  But for the strange ironic brew he’d come to accept where good things happened to bad people and bad people happened to good ones, Sarah would be seeking all manner of reporters and gullible ears to question “Why on Earth any legitimate legal system would put a poor mother behind bars for an innocent mistake that had taken her child from her bosom of love …”  Her flair for drama and talent for overlooking reality was cemented in the fabric of his familiar.  Try as George may, he can’t get the stain she leaves on his attitude to wash clean.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 6

It would never be said of his son – Micah, “A chip off the old block.”  A  middle-aged man of pale complexion and reddish brown hair – these and his glasses were the only traits that could be claimed as ever being shared between the men.  His son’s exterior was a contradiction.  One could easily make out his hefty midsection, still within the socially accepted picture of “average,” but gaining.  His choice in the latest alternative band t-shirts attempted a distraction to the mismatched area in contrast to his spindly legs and scrawny neck.  Lanky but graceful – his straight, wiry hair sat atop his globe as a wig might.

It was clearly his own hair; its roots visibly clawed into his head nearly a full inch behind where his forehead should have ended.  It seemed to follow a set of standing orders as it cascaded back and then, in tune with gravity, down the sides of his head in the form of a sort of academic-looking mullet.  That pasty, waxen forehead was accentuated by his choice in eye-wear.  Dark wire rims joined his cartoonish appearance, and together they defined the word, “spectacles.”  At 38, the boy had not acknowledged his adulthood, it seemed to George.  He dressed in rust colored jeans that hugged his legs, the shirt bloused over the waistline.  Wore suede construction boots with the ensemble.  “As if he’s worked a day of manual labor in his whole, enabled, meaningless life,” mutters George, as he counts and thinks, and waits for his lungs to join him once again in this life.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 5

George reaches up and pulls himself up again.  Amazing what energy can be found in those “cringing moments.”  His left toe catches the ledge as he brings it up and his right arm swings itself forward on its own volition to counterbalance his imminent demise.

Sarah had a mole that could be mistaken for a cold-sore.  She tried to apply her makeup to under accentuate its redness.  Lingering just above her lip and southwest of her right nostril, it could have become her trademark.  Entering her 40s  she should have accepted the “opinions and rumor mill be damned” attitude that is a right of passage most other older women enjoy.  Instead, her collaboration with her flamboyant beautician produced a pair of eyebrows – reminiscent of the golden arches – relegating her mole to a sideshow in the vaudeville that was her presence.

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 4

He parked himself in denial years ago.  A stereotype behind the wheel, he refused to ask directions and insisted on reading his map any damn way he wanted.  It was upside down.  He smoked his smokes and drank his drinks and chuckled at the naysayers who warned him of death.  Now he smirks, and thinks, “They were still wrong.  Its not the death that means anything.  Its the landscape.”  His lungs confirm this assessment.  Bristles of perspiration tingle him all over, under his tummy rolls, beneath his unmentionables.

His real name is George, but today he thinks of himself as the boy raised in the rainforest (or was it a jungle), surrounded by pitiless wild animals with only the thought to devour him, or ignore him if a better meal is in view. It fits rather well given the selfish, oblivious nature of his son and ex-wife. These stairs are his daily hell. He is too proud to refuse or complain. The 38-year old man who still lives at home, his son, remains a “mama’s boy,” which explains why he remains clueless and disengaged from his father’s plight. His ex-tormentor, Sarah? He divorced the woman 18 years ago. The only difference George had been able to enjoy was that she’d moved out and occasionally (he’d begrudgingly learned of her debacles through their son) played the fool for all to see, flirting with the butcher at the supermarket.

He was actually in line once at the front when he’d heard her cackle.  He’d instinctively whipped his head toward the hideous but familiar squawk as one would turn at the sound of screeching tires, only to see the encore.  “Oh, hellooooooa!” she waved her entire 63 year old body at the poor man behind the meat counter.  “God help us! What is wrong with that ridiculous witch?” George snarled to himself.  The timid Mr. Schultz, caught in the middle of handing a more sane customer a pound of salami, had issued forth an awkward cough.  It was sort of the thing you would expect to happen after realizing your credit card was declined, or you’d locked your keys in the car.  Susan had turned to the lady friend she was with in line and giggled like a school girl, as if the camera was on but her mic wasn’t working.  She hadn’t even noticed her friend’s mouth agape or her pink cheeks of embarrassment.  Oblivious!

 

READ ON –>

George Mowgli – 3

Regrouping, he lifts his chin and peers into the void again.  “Not today.  They cannot win today.”  This silent affirmation does nothing for his motivation.  It summons several questions, and they roll around in his skull like mismatched cufflinks in a dead man’s shave kit.  “Will they even know of their victory?  Do they even know I’m fighting them?  How long will it actually take them to realize I’m gone?”  They had lived in his peripheral (or he in theirs) all these many years, yet had managed to miss every detail of his heart, his longings, his needs, his pain.

What is that poem?  He can’t recall.  Something about how people will laugh when you are up and leave you in the dust when you cry?  He remembers that paperback book of 101 poems he used to carry in his pocket as a young man.  His grandmother had given it to him and asked him to memorize one of the pages for her.  To this day he can still recite Longfellow’s “The Day is Done.”  “How very prophetic,” he thinks, and the dimple on his weathered face makes a small appearance.  He resigns himself to the irony and pulls himself up once more, before he has time to think about it.

 

READ ON –>