Teaser Tuesday (Part 3 of 4)

This is part 3 of a short story; be warned, this section has some sexual language. If you'd like to read the other sections they are at
Part One
Part Two

P.S. I've made it through the first round of judging in the WOW! Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest!

He started to pack his suitcase like this was any other trip and I almost exploded until he finally asked what the big secret was. I got the brochure for the cruise ship, and we stretched out on the bed to look at it together.

The ship left L.A. in the morning and stopped off at Catalina Island before heading down to Baja California. I thought it would be kind of neat to see those places, but the best part was all the activities the cruise offered.

There were three swimming pools, a soccer field, a golf course, a mall, and a casino/stage all packed onto this one ocean liner. We wouldn't even have to set foot on land during the whole trip! When I showed Steve the schedule I made so that we could fit everything into ten days, he looked a little unhappy. He said something like, "I thought this was supposed to be a vacation," and I totally lost it.

I was trying so hard to be spontaneous, and his negative attitude was going to ruin everything! He tried to make up for it and pretended to be enthusiastic, but I knew he was faking it. I guess maybe it wasn't the best timing, but that's when I told him I'd been faking it for a long time.

By morning neither one of us wanted to go on this cruise, but we couldn't get a refund on the tickets, so we showed up anyway. It only got worse because we found out not everything was like they said it was in the brochure.

The swimming pools were so small that there was only enough room for three toddlers in soggy diapers in each one, and the so-called soccer field was a modified Foozball game. Then we found out when we sat down for lunch that the golf course was just a putting green way too close to the on-deck dining area. The only thing that lived up to its claim was the casino/stage. It was like they took a hunk of Las Vegas and grafted it onto the ship, complete with skanky showgirls and pale, wheezy people at the slot machines.

By the second day, this whole bad trip was stressing me out, but luckily I'd brought my cell phone so I could call Tammy and Kristal. It really ticked Steve off when I answered a call right in the middle of him going down on me, though. I guess it was kind of tacky, but the man was going at it like he was at a pie-eating contest—I mean he had no finesse at all. I was starting to think maybe it was better when we didn't have sex.

After Steve threw on some clothes and stomped out of the cabin, I felt a little guilty. I called Tammy and started crying because everything was going wrong. This cruise was supposed to be so romantic and bring us closer together, but it sucked.

I felt much better after Tammy read me a chapter over the phone from my favorite book, Men Are from Uranus. The author was one of the first people to intelligently discuss the theory that men and women are actually separate species seeded on the Earth by aliens. It made me feel better because I knew it wasn't my fault we were having marital problems—men and women hadn't even evolved together. If it wasn't for the aliens' genetic engineering, we wouldn't even be able to create fertile offspring.

Family Connections

We just got back from the Salinas, California area, and came home to a scorcher here in the foothills. We went out to visit Grandma Jackson, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday next week.

She still gets around well enough to cook for herself and clean up a bit, but the amazing thing is how sharp her mind is. My mother's mother got dementia so I haven't really experienced this phenomenon (and my dad's mother was in Salt Lake City, so we didn't see her very often in her later years) firsthand.

We dragged out the photo albums and Grandma Jackson was a little fuzzy on dates, but for the most part was able to identify who was in each photo and where it was taken. All sorts of images from early twentieth-century Salinas and their hometown of Moss Landing. We came up with a whole box of yellowing photos for me to scan and restore, and make copies for other family members. Maybe I'll come to look at it as a nice break from revisions?

My husband is just getting into genealogy (blame the Who Do You Think You Are? show) so we took her to all the cemeteries to track down burial sites and put flowers on the graves. He got right on the computer when we got home, and now his family tree on Ancestry.com connects with a bunch of other family trees. I bet those people are going to be excited once we upload images!

Teaser Tuesday (part 2 of 4)

This is another section of my short story, "Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!™" Part 1 is here This section doesn't have any sex talk, but the other sections do, so don't read if you're offended by that. Oh, and hopefully the comment snafus from last week are fixed.

Since my sister and Tammy weren’t much help on this subject, I invited Kristal over to get her opinion. She got all distracted when she found a stack of my lists. She claimed I was so unhappy because all this organization was against my Gemini nature. How could I be happy with Steve if I was not in harmony with my inner self, and I was stifling my vital spontaneity?

I called Tammy after Kristal left to tell her what Kristal said. Tammy told me there was an article on being spontaneous in July's issue of Light, so I went right out to get it. It's great to have all these friends looking out for me!

When I got back from the natural-foods store, there was a message from Steve saying he was working late again. I decided to have a real pityfest and gathered up my usual comforting things. I made sure that my box of organic chocolates and herbal tea would be in easy reach and sank into a tub of pure aromatherapy bliss. I allowed myself to relax for exactly eight minutes and then grabbed my magazine.

I found the article Tammy was talking about—it was called "How to Be Spontaneous: A Step-by-Step Guide." First it had a little quiz on identifying stagnated behavior and I got almost a perfect score. I was feeling pretty smug until I read the answer key and found out the object was to get a low score. A high score meant that you were totally dependent on creating structure in your life. I don't know if I would go so far as to say I was addicted to my schedules— I just felt lost if I didn't have one.

I moved on to the article part and the author made a lot of sense to me. She said you should try to set aside a portion of your time every day for spontaneous activities, sort of make it a part of your daily routine. Some exercises were included that walked you through "re-creations of spontaneous acts" that I knew I would have to try sometime. Maybe in a couple of weeks I could fit some spontaneity into my schedule.

I was getting drowsy from the combination of the herbal tea and the hot bath water, until I sat up so suddenly I almost swamped my angel candle. I had just thought of the perfect thing to put some passion back into our love life!

When Steve got home later that night, I was already in bed, but I'd stuck a note to the refrigerator that read "I don't care how you do it, but get ten days off from work! Don't ask me why—it's a surprise that just might save our marriage!"

As he crawled into bed, I heard him whisper my name and ask if I was awake. I pretended to be asleep, but then he said he didn't even know our marriage needed saving. When I didn't answer, he just sighed and rolled over. It was all I could do not to laugh—he was going to be so surprised by my little plan!

Steve did manage to get the ten days off, so I made all the arrangements for us to leave for a cruise in three weeks. I wanted to keep the whole thing a secret until the last minute, but it was so hard to do. I'm one of those people that just can't wait for gratification—if I buy someone a birthday present early, I have to give it to them right away so I can see their face. This drives some of my friends crazy because by the time their real birthday does come around, I have to buy them something else because I feel guilty about not having something to give them.

For only about the third time in my life I managed to hold out and not give away the secret. Finally it was the night before the vacation started. Steve came home late and seemed really tired, but I had just finished an espresso so I was bouncing all over the room like that Tasmanian devil guy.

What belongs on a writer's blog?

Jessica Faust over on Book Ends started a discussion on what readers look for in writer's blogs. Not on the websites for their books, mind you, but blogs or social media.

The comments are particularly informative, and timely for me. I've only had my blog up since May, so I've spent a lot of time introducing my current projects, and also put up some (hopefully) helpful resources. I've been a little hesitant to post too many personal things (no, not like those kinds of personal things) like what goes on in my life when I'm not writing.

From the comments, it sounds like a lot of readers are looking for some way to connect with an author, whether that be inside information on their individual writing process or things they find humorous. So I think I'll let loose a little bit more in the days to come.

That sounded more provocative than I meant it to . . .

Fat Vampire is Coming

I'm a big fan of Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday, so I'm eagerly awaiting his next book, Fat Vampire. Here's a tie-in/trailer:

And an interview with Adam Rex on Editorial Anonymous

A lot of writers would like to take some formalized writing classes, but can't spare the time or the expense for an MFA. Many universities offer certificates in creative writing through their extension courses, adult learning, or continuing education programs. Some community and junior colleges are offering them now as well, and either venue is a good opportunity to make connections within the writing community.

I was excited to find a program near me through UCDavis, and then ran into a glitch. They've started offering a few online courses, but their regular classes take place at 6 in the evening. And, surprisingly for a university that prides itself on promoting bicyclists, their Sacramento location does not have any public transportation options. I do have a car, but my route to their location passes through prime commuter territory.

As an experiment, I tried to go to their information session, and left my house at 3:45. By 5:15, I had gone about 1/3 of the way and had been at a standstill for a while. It took me another 20 minutes to make it to the next exit, where I promptly got off the highway and turned tail for home.

But another opportunity has come up in the form of a summer intensive class, taking place over two weekends. That part of town is much quieter on the weekends, so I should have no problem getting there on time. Sold! I've already signed up (a birthday present from hubby since my business account is tapped out).

Here are some links for certificate programs I found:

University of Chicago


Washington University (St. Louis, MO)


Santa Barbara City College

UC Davis (CA)

Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

University of Toronto

Community College of Philadelphia

Phoenix College (AZ)

University College (Denver, CO)

Teaser Tuesday

While I'm working on revisions on my novel, I thought I'd post a short story that's been sitting in a drawer for a long time. I wrote this for a class years ago and it just never found a home, but I really like parts of it. It's one of the few contemporary things I've written (or at least it was current ten years ago) and is about 2900 words, so I'll break it up into 4 chunks and post them over 4 weeks. And just so you're warned, it does have some sexual content/language.

Never Buy Another Self-Help Book Again!™

I knew our marriage was in a rut when my husband, Steve, and I went a whole month without sex and I didn't notice right away. I don't want you to think I'm a nympho or anything; it's just that sex usually showed up on my schedule at least once a week and I'd gotten used to it.

I guess it took me a while to notice the lack-of-sex thing because I was trying to pick a major in college, now that I could afford to go back to school full time. I took classes in art, drama, women's studies—just about every subject, but I was having a hard time deciding which way to go.

If I decided to get a degree, I'd be stuck with that subject for years. I wasn't sure if I was ready for that kind of commitment, especially with my tendency toward flakiness. Like when I say I took all those classes, what I mean is that I took the classes for a month or so and then decided they weren’t what I was looking for, so I dropped out. Except sometimes I forgot to officially drop at the Admissions office, so my transcript shows all these F’s that I didn’t even earn.

Maybe now is a good time to say I was born under the sign of Gemini; my friend Kristal says that Geminis are notorious for starting a million projects at once and only finishing half of them. I met Kristal at a support group for Wronged Children, and she's really into astrology and numerology and stuff. Nothing like black magic or voodoo, just harmless things about how the planets control your destiny.

Anyway, Geminis are also supposed to be really good at everything, but they only stick with it if they excel right away. Otherwise they lose interest and move onto the next project. To help me stop scattering my energies so much, my other friend Tammy gave me this book on how to organize your life and stop procrastinating.

That's what it's called—Organize Your Life Now and Stop Procrastinating! It helped me a lot because I got in the habit of making lists of things to do. I got this wonderful feeling of accomplishment whenever I crossed an item off. Since I started cutting back on fat at the same time, that was really the only treat I allowed myself.

All on my own I took that list idea a little bit further. I started giving myself a deadline for each task and making it into a schedule, like this:

8:15-8:30 Wake up
Mentally go over a list for the day

8:30-8:53 Shower

8:53-9:00 Dry off
Free time to squeeze blackheads, pluck eyebrows, etc.

9:00-9:15 Get dressed

9:15-9:30 Style hair and put on makeup

9:30-9:55 Eat
and so on . . .

I usually scheduled all my waking hours this way so that I was never without something to do. In fact, if I did something that wasn't on my list, I added it on so I could cross it off and get that extra little kick.

My husband always teased me about my lists. If I left one lying around, Steve would add things like, "Breathe every three seconds," and "Read horoscopes to determine best time to empty bowels." He thought he was being cute, but it was just more work for me because I had to recopy the lists. Which reminds me, I started out talking about our relationship.

It was obvious to everyone except Steve that we were having problems. My friends gave me all kinds of advice, but my sister said it was all my fault for marrying a guy eleven years older than me. After all, she argued, he peaked sexually like twenty years ago, and I should just be getting started. I wasn't sure whether or not to believe that because I've heard older guys stay primed longer, as long as they don't have a heart attack right there on top of you.

Tammy told me that the thing that first attracts you to a man is also the first thing you come to hate about him. Like if you're charmed by his boyish playfulness, by the end of the relationship you can't stand his childish behavior. I think that’s so true because when we first started going out, Steve was nothing like the other guys I had dated; he was stable, tender, and easygoing. Of course after a few years, I saw him as predictable, soft, and apathetic. It was the mediocre sex that was really starting to worry me, though.

Now I know it's (nearly) summer . . .

Because I'm cooking in my solar cooker! Roasted some potatoes to use in Herbed Potato Salad and now I've got some Chimichurri Tilapia cooking. So nice not to heat up the house with the stove or oven.

I got my solar cooker from Solar Cookers International, a really great non-profit organization that promotes the use of solar cookers around the world.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? For one thing, this is a great cooking method for the busy writer, it's like cooking in a slow cooker: you put everything in the pots and leave it alone for a few hours. It's also an unusual article topic for green magazines.

Got sidelined this last week with allergies and revisions, but I'm back with a post on the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing

Quick facts
Deadline: Postmarked by June 30, or enter electronically online
Entry Fee: $20
Length: Up to 10,000 words (can be a story or a stand-alone excerpt from a novel)
Judge: Holly Black

If you don't make this deadline, the Hunger Mountain journal is also a paying market year round:

"YA and Children’s Writing
We accept picture book, middle grade, YA and YA crossover work (text only—for now). We’re looking for polished pieces that entertain, that show the range of adolescent experience, and that are compelling, creative and will appeal to the devoted followers of the kid-lit craft, as well as the child inside us all."

Poetry today

Instead of teasing on this Tuesday, I'm spending the day submitting some poems and an article for reprint. While going through my files, I found this one that I wrote just after our dog Blue passed away. It's probably one that I'll never sell (too many sentimental dog poems appear in editors' inboxes!), so I decided to post it here.

Feeling Blue

The cat has her pick
Of the overlarge beds.
And at the dinner table,
My hand falls on empty air.


Wow, such good comments on my teasers that now I'm feeling the pressure to keep the rest of the manuscript up to those standards! Or perhaps that's my sinus pressure I'm feeling, it's hard to separate them at this point since the allergies have been nonstop for a few weeks now.

In any case, we've just finished going through my novel in my critique group, so I'm going to be tackling some rewrites in the next few weeks. That means I may not post teasers, depending on how confident I am that a specific scene is going to stay in the final draft.

Or, I may post some excerpts from other works. Guess you'll have to check back on Tuesday and see!

Yes, that's a critique from Slithery Barbara Poelle, a coveted agent. This contest is through Sophie Littlefield's blog.

First prize is the critique, a signed copy of A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefield, and some racy nail polish. Enter your first 5 sentences by following the instructions.

Notice that there are 3 separate rounds you can enter, so you can enter more than one work that way. I'm entering today, so that will be part of round two.

Luck, everyone! (A typo made that read "Lick, everyone!" the first time I typed it. That works for me, too.)

Teaser Tuesday--Prologue continued

I realized that a line got dropped in last week's teaser, so I'm backing up a bit and then finishing out the prologue this week. You can see the first part of the prologue here

I froze in place, holding my breath and straining to pick up the slightest noise. Suddenly, there was a flurry of whispers around me, dry and fluttery as the cries of moths. The voices of three girls, overlapping and swirling together, so agitated that I could only pick out a few words.

"You shouldn't be here—"

"Get out—"

"There is still time—"

My mouth was dry; it took me a few tries to ask, "What happened here?"

"We'll show you—" they said together.

Since I ordinarily could hear spirits but not see them, their cascade of images caught me unawares. I struggled to make sense of the pictures: this room filled with moonlight and candlelight, three girls weeping over a bloodied woman lying still on the carpet. And the figure looming over them, coming out of the shadows with axe raised and ready to strike.

I must have fainted; I came to on the floor, the scent of dust and old blood filling my nostrils. As I tried to re-orient myself, the whispers started again.

"You see? He's too strong."

"We tried to tell you—"

And then, "He's coming," and I felt I was alone again.

But I was not alone for long, as I saw the dust motes by the window begin to swirl and coalesce. The very air boiled, blood-red and seething as it took on the outline of a human form. I didn't wait to see more, stumbling in terror as I ran to the door.

I pressed my lips to a crack. "Miss Bonney, Miss Bonney! Please, you have to let me out!"

The steps on the other side were muffled, and far too slow. "Hurry!" I called. I spared a glance over my shoulder; the figure was becoming solid, I could see the man's wild hair and demented grin. This spirit looked substantial enough to do me real harm, and I scrabbled at the door in panic.

The key scraped into the lock, but Miss Bonney asked, "Are you ready to admit you were lying?"

"Yes, yes, I was lying," I cried. "Let me out!"

"I want to hear you say, 'There are no such thing as ghosts and I cannot communicate with the dead.'"

I heard a dragging step behind me as I repeated, "There are no such thing as ghosts and I cannot communicate with the dead."

The key rasped in the lock and the door opened in front of me, spilling me into the corridor. I rolled to my feet and ran down the gallery, hardly registering the sound of the door closing to muffle the frustrated roar beyond it.

I ran until my shaking legs would no longer support me, and one of the other teachers found me and took me to the infirmary. I lay in bed, raving, for four days, crying over and over, "There are no such thing as ghosts and I cannot communicate with the dead."

And with time—and much practice—the latter became true for me.