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So, it finally happened. My rather irreverent take on some of the things that happen to me at work managed to catch the attention of someone at Booklist. This month’s issue featured an article on Twitter Reference, and it included one of my #librarylife tweets. You can check out the article here.

I could see the dust clouds rising in the distance long before I heard the slow rise and fall of the sirens. On the plains, you can see forever. I ran back into my grandfather’s house and grabbed the binoculars from their place on the back of his dining room chair (where they would always be close by so that he could watch birds at the edges of his property or approaching storms rolling in over the nearby towns to the west). Looping the carrying strap over my shoulder, I dashed back outside and scrambled up the television antenna next to the house. Stepping across the gap to the green-shingled roof, I climbed to the apex and brought the binoculars up to my eyes.

There! They were still several miles away, but getting closer by the second. A quick adjustment of the focus knob brought the cars into sharper view. There were four of them; three were police cars with their lights flashing a staccato red and blue rhythm. Leading them all was one car that I can only describe as a cherry red Detroit dream, with outrageous fins and chrome surfaces catching the August sun and threatening to blind me. It had to have been customized. There was no way the stock engine would have given him the speed he had. The driver was pulling away from the cops, clearly outmatching them in both skill and machine. He was using them against each other on the narrow dirt roads, using his speed to thwart any of their attempts to outmaneuver him.

Closer now, and I adjusted the binoculars again until I could make out the writing on the police cruisers. Two were local, town cops having apparently joined a sheriff’s deputy in the chase. His car was superior to theirs, but the county roads were clearly not familiar to him either.

I knew them well. My dad had taught me to drive on that stretch of road. I knew full well where the neighboring farmers’ sprinklers caught the gravel beyond the edge of their fields, washing away some of the stable surface of the road or turning the low-lying stretches into very small swamps. I knew the intersections where the corn grew tall in the late summer, blocking a driver’s view of any oncoming traffic. I knew where the semis driving through had turned the road into a washboard until the next time the county could send a road grader through to smooth it out again. There were dead ends lurking where anyone not paying attention would find themselves flying off an embankment and into a ditch. Even if you spotted any of the hazards, there was no guarantee that hitting your brakes would keep you safe.

I knew that the cops didn’t drive out into the country unless they absolutely had to. An occasional domestic violence call when a wife had finally found the courage to seek help, a child who had wandered farther from home than usual, a controlled burn getting out of hand when the wind shifted suddenly; these sort of things, they were used to dealing with. A high-speed chase down narrow, unpaved roads? Not so much. Now they were coming up to the Ackers’ farm and I could finally hear the shifting pitch of the sirens. I felt my heart beating faster as the older car pulled farther ahead, adrenaline surging as I imagined myself in the driver’s seat, laughing out loud as I saw one of the city cops skid and spin a 180 into the ditch, hurting only his car and his pride. The other cop and the deputy managed to keep themselves on an even course, but the driver in the red car had gained nearly a half a mile.

The cars were close enough to see without the binoculars now, so I let them hang around my neck and watched anxiously as the red car swerved to the left at the edge of my grandfather’s tree line, dust flying as he stomped on his brake pedal in an impossible U-turn onto our property. The deputy and his cohort sped past, losing track of their prey in the cloud he’d kicked up. The driver, a long-haired man in a backwards baseball cap, was grinning like a madman as he wove past the John Deere outside of the shop, past the end of the paved driveway, and back out onto the road, back east toward Ackers’ again. Soon he was just a column of dust on the horizon. I raised the binoculars and watched him fade into the distance as the officers too late realized their mistake and changed direction, climbed back down the antenna and went inside. My grandparents were drinking coffee and watching Murder She Wrote with the blinds shut, and I doubted that they’d even noticed the events of the last few minutes, so I made a point of not mentioning it to them, sitting down with them and watching the rest of the show instead.

I had never seen the car before, and I never saw it again. Same for the laughing man behind the wheel. I checked the local newspaper the following Wednesday, but there was no mention of the chase in the city or sheriff’s reports. I like to think that whoever he was, wherever he was from, he’d wanted a little adventure for the day, and he somehow found a way to share it with me. To this day, I wonder what it must have felt like to have the thrill and uncertainty of that pursuit, not knowing if he’d be able to make the turns and courting death with every second. I’ll never forget the roar of the engine calling to me as I stared at the taillights, the smell of tires grinding into gravel. When I go back to the farm, I still climb up to the roof and watch for him, binoculars in hand, waiting to see that Detroit dream one more time.

This piece was written for Chuck Wendig’s latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to check out the other entries!

“The river stole the gods.”

That’s what my grandmother used to say, anyway. “The river stole Them away from us, and left us alone. Left us to survive without Them.” They had belonged to our people for centuries, longer than we’d been maintaining a record of our tribe. I still remembered the stories that we would hear every night, that the elders of the village would share. Stories of how the gods came to be, what They did.

The First of the gods had come to us from the river, so it never seemed strange to me that the river had taken Them back. It was perfectly logical to me, but I was always a bit strange, according to my brother. The First was born to us from the reeds and the mud, given shape by the flowing water that still sustains our village. The sun looked down and saw the shape, and baked Him into hard clay, and the full moon looked down on the empty body and saw fit to give Him a soul, and then the moon began to wane, and He rose up and made His seven sisters and brothers in the same manner. Soon, all of the gods had been given Their shape, with the First asking the sun to dry Them, and the moon to give Them souls as well. The sun complied willingly, for the sun is always hot again with each new day, but the moon replied that there was but one soul left, and that it was the moon’s own soul, for there could be nothing more given until the moon was full again. So the First god took His own soul and broke it into eight pieces on a rock at midnight, when the moon was gone, for He could not wait for the moon to return with new souls. My grandmother told us that this was supposed to be a lesson about patience, but I never really understood why. I wanted to ask her if the rock the First had used to break His soul was still there, if she knew where He had done it. Instead, I’d just smile and nod and encourage my brother to do the same so that she wouldn’t yell at us for not learning from her stories. Father and Mother would have spanked us, so even the yelling was preferred if it came to that.

One fraction of the First’s soul, He took back into Himself. The remaining seven fragments were given to His brothers and sisters, and once They too possessed souls, They stood by His side. Together, They then set about naming all of the things, and dividing the world into parts that each of Them would oversee. The seas, the skies, the stars, the earth, the plants, the beasts, time. Each of the First’s siblings was god of these things. The First presided over Them all, giving Them guidance, since He was connected to all of Them through His soul. For centuries, our people lived in peace under Their rule, and They would return to our village every month to visit the place of Their birth. “We would watch Them from a great distance, and we could see that every one of Them stood at least twice as tall as my father, who was the tallest man in the village,” my grandmother said. “And we would hide, but still try to see what They were doing. Their gatherings always lasted from sunrise to moonrise, as They honored the place of Their birth. They appeared at dawn, They stood at the river’s edge in the mud from which They were formed, and They vanished as the moon took its place in the sky.” We asked my grandmother to describe Them, beyond Their great height. “They were the color of the river, bright when the sun shone on Them, blending with the night save for a subtle shimmer when it didn’t. They were beautiful.”

The gods were kind, benevolent, and very slow to anger. My grandmother only knew of one time when They had seen fit to punish any of the people of our village, just before the river took Them. It was harvest time, and one of the men of the village had been found having killed his neighbor. Murder was unheard of in the village. Death was not uncommon, but it was not the explicit realm of any of the gods, and so it was deemed to be something far beyond the control of men. After all, if the gods have no power over a thing, what hope does man have of controlling it? When this man was found with another’s blood on his hands, he was locked away until the next time the gods came. The villagers had no idea that it was going to be the last time. The gods returned as was Their fashion, and instead of hiding from them, my grandmother’s father stood near where he knew they would appear. When They arrived, he called out to them, and my grandmother and the others hid in the usual place. “My father spoke to them,” she says, “but we couldn’t hear him or Them from our hiding place. Eventually he came back to us, saying that the First had demanded the murderer be brought to him. We brought him out, and my father took him to where the gods waited for them. They looked at the man, and instructed my father to come back to hide with us.” Here she always grows sad. “We heard the rushing sound of the water, and saw the gods step into the middle of the river, the killer up to his neck. There was a great rush of white and blue, and when the surge passed, there was no one left. No murderer, no vengeful gods. We never saw any of Them again after the river stole Them away. Punished him, and punished us all by leaving us here without Them.”

Note: This story was written for a “Story from a Sentence” challenge from Chuck Wendig over at terribleminds. He hosts similar challenges weekly, and I’m trying to get back into the rhythm of writing for them. Hopefully more microfiction will continue to arrive here on a somewhat consistent basis. Thanks for reading!

Question: Ever have a conversation that goes something like this?

 

“What’s the obsession with secret passages?”
“Huh?”
“In stories, every old house has a secret passage hidden away somewhere. Why’re people so preoccupied with something so impractical?”
“Dude, did you ever play CLUE as a kid?”
“Yeah, once or twice. My brother and I were really too young to understand the actual rules, so we mostly just played around with the little fake weapons that came with it.”

 

Answer: NO! No one questions the awesomeness of secret passages.

Now, questioning the practicality of secret passages is another matter altogether, but that’s not why I want to talk about them. The secret passage is a staple trope in fiction, and is surprisingly common in real life, depending on the location of a building and the era in which in was built. Case in point: the more literal aspects of the Underground Railroad. Hidden doors and tunnels crop up everywhere. Even Alexander Dumas was subject to using them in his work, even if it meant using only a partially accurate location to describe an existing tunnel. “But Dumas was not a man to waste a good subterranean passage.”

I’ve always loved tunnels and caves. Kind of a claustrophilia, if you will. When I was growing up, I would dig tunnels in snowbanks during the winter. When a wind storm created a massive pile of tumbleweeds against the trees at my local park, my sister and I (along with some of the other neighborhood kids) dug in and built an enormous tunnel and fort in them. When we got a new refrigerator, I was thrilled to get the cardboard box it came in. I cut a doorway and windows in it, put it over the top of my bed, and turned it into a Calvin and Hobbes-esque spaceship. My older sisters and I shared an adjoining closet with a bookshelf separating the two halves, and we could sneak into the other bedroom by climbing over or around the shelf. When we were installing a new center pivot sprinkler on one of our fields, we had to install the power cables and such in pipe that was going to be buried underground. This pipe was in two sections in our shop for a portion of the winter, a ten-foot length and a twenty-foot length. At fifteen inches in diameter, it was just big enough for me to crawl through. My little sister and I took turns making our way through them.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

This is what I think of when you say sprinkler.

In college, I learned that I could fit through the campus housing office’s parcel boxes. Suffice to say they ceased use of them, since it meant that people like me (read: skinny bastards with too much free time) could access staff-only areas through said parcel boxes.

In my mind, every one of these things was a special pathway. It didn’t matter if the tunnel didn’t lead to Narnia or Hogwarts. Even if somebody else knew about the passage, I didn’t care. I was thrilled that I had something I could do that not everyone else could.

I wanted the stories about secret passages to be true. I wanted to live in the CLUE mansion, because it had not one, but TWO secret passageways. I’ve researched sites like these and dreamed of building a house complete with at least one hidden doorway. Now that my sister is an architect, I might be one step closer to that dream. It may not end up being like House of Leaves (though I’m totally okay with that, I don’t need a sentient house [at least not a malevolent one, anyway]). I’ll settle for a hidden closet, or secret writing room. Until then, I’ll read more, and I won’t question anyone else who loves secret passages as much as I do.

 

 

 

I never had the honor to meet Leonard Nimoy, and I am greatly saddened to know that now I never will. I have been a Star Trek fan for over two decades, thanks to my Oma and Opa. I would sit on their couch or living room floor with a bowl of ice cream and watch The Next Generation episodes with them (Oma loved Data, and even had an action figure of him).

I remember very few specific episodes, but I recall very clearly the sense of wonder I felt every time I heard that theme song. TNG was the Star Trek I grew up with. I was only a few months old when it premiered, and it aired its finale just after my seventh birthday. It was a massive part of my childhood. While TNG was my first Trek, it was by no means my last. I watched every episode of every series I could find (including a happy discovery of the first three season of Deep Space Nine on VHS at my local library’s book sale one day). I learned as much as I could about the different characters, and even bought a Klingon dictionary for me and another for my best friend. I have continued to return to The Original Series over the years, due mostly to a long-ago viewing of The Wrath of Khan on some almost forgotten Saturday. I didn’t know who Khan was at the time, but the death of Spock was incredibly poignant, even if it was a foregone conclusion that Nimoy would be returning in the next movie (the TV guide said so, and the TV guide was never wrong).

Netflix and DVD releases have allowed me to maintain access to Star Trek whenever I feel the desire. I’ve seen more of Spock’s adventures in the last two years than I ever did as a kid. I’ve come to know more and more of Leonard Nimoy’s work, Trek and non. I have to say that the man was admirable, on-screen and in real life. Spock told us the “Live long and prosper,” and Leonard Nimoy did. I’m going to do my best.

A while back, I wrote a post about some of the best books that I’d had to read over the course of my academic career. These were books that I might not have read had they not been on the syllabus for a class. I’m pleased to say that my own horizons were greatly expanded by this. Here’s a few more of the titles that were part of my college life.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Like Beowulf from the first iteration of this post, I was familiar with the core story, but I’d never read the full text before. In my first literature class as an English major, we focused on British literature from the 19th century (this might explain my fascination with the Victorian era…). This was one of the first times I’d intensely studied the life of a writer and their times while simultaneously reading their work. The story of the creation of Frankenstein caught me almost as thoroughly as the narrative. I loved the idea of Mary Shelley taking part in a competition with her husband and friends to write the scariest story. Not just taking part, but completely rocking it, to the point where her single novel is more well-known than Percy Shelley’s collected works. Frankenstein is brooding, Gothic genius.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. While Johnny Depp did a fine job of portraying Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s perfectly trippy adaptation, there’s nothing like reading the novel itself. Part of that may just be the result of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations  throughout the book. Thompson’s narrative weaves autobiographical elements and biting social commentary with detailed depictions of copious drug use. It’s stream-of-consciousness at its finest, and difficult to define in any other way. This one was assigned by the same American Literature professor who introduced me to the work of Alison Bechdel, and certainly caught the attention of the students in a manner unlike any other piece we read that semester.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. In my Modern British Literature class, we were given a book of short stories based on famous fairy tales. Let me start with this: these are NOT for kids. These are as dark (if not more so) than the Grimm Brothers’ versions, and are unflinching in their handling of the subject matter. They’re full of bold, strong women who handle traditional roles in non-traditional fashion. According to Carter, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” These renditions of Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and others will leave you questioning what you might have missed in some of your other childhood favorites.

Reading is good for you, especially when you read outside of your usual range of authors or subjects. Branch out. Try something new. I hope that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The literary world is rejoicing today at the announcement that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be releasing a sequel this year. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was actually the first novel written by Lee, but was not initially published. Her editor advised her against the publication of the book, which focused on To Kill a Mockingbird‘s heroine, Scout Finch, as an adult. Instead, flashback scenes of Scout’s childhood were reworked into the classic novel we know. According to initial press, the sequel will follow a now-grown Scout returning home to visit her father, Atticus. July 14th is the current planned release date for Go Set a Watchman, and frankly, I can’t wait to see it.

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in junior high, in Mrs. Crocker’s English class. It’s been far too long since I watched Gregory Peck star in the film adaptation as Atticus. I need to make another trip to Maycomb, Alabama, because it’s tragically clear that the prejudices Lee wrote about in 1960 are just as present today.

I quit my job.

Well, one of my jobs. As many of you are aware, I’ve spent much of the past two years working for a local bookstore in addition to my job at the local public library. For better or for worse, the bookstore and I have parted ways. The time had come, and so I turned in my two weeks notice for the first time at any job I’ve ever held. My official last day is going to be on January 2nd, but as things currently stand, I may have already completed my last shift, dependent on Friday’s as-yet-undetermined schedule.

I’m not certain what 2015 will bring. A lot happened in 2014, both good and bad. I had to say goodbye to far more people than I would have liked, and there have been great periods of painful silence. Still, a great number of positive things have happened too, and I’m hoping to see much more of those things in the future. My life is going to be changing drastically in 2015, and I can’t wait to see what else this year has in store for me.

Neil Gaiman said it best, and so I’ll leave you with this quote.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” -Neil Gaiman
Happy New Year, everyone!

 

No, it hasn’t been a writing day. However, I’m getting caught up on lots of other things today. Paperwork is already done for both “real” jobs. I finished the last of my Christmas shopping (and all of my Christmas shipping) just in time. Everyone else on the list is getting a homemade gift, which is ready to go but requires packaging. That’s just fine, as it can wait until just before the holiday to hand out. There’s still gift wrapping to be done all around, and some finalizing of plans for the day to still take place, but I’m effectively ready for Christmas.

And I went to go get my tires checked, because I’m an adult, and it’s winter, and I’m trying to be somewhat responsible about things. My car is far more content with me now, though, since I bought an outdoor extension cord for the engine block heater. No more cold starts!

I’m rewarding myself by going to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and having dinner with forgottenmoon after work, and then maybe drinks at home. Because again. Adult.

December is halfway through, and it has brought with it the special sort of self-imposed hell that comes from working in retail during the holiday season. As such, my writing on here has dwindled to almost nothing but apologies for not having written more. I seem to get to write a lot of those. I don’t like it. Two posts a month is unacceptable.

Thank you, Lemongrab.

Thank you, Lemongrab.

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It’s not that I didn’t care, because NaNo is another special sort of self-imposed hell, and I’m rather fond of those, or so it would seem. I’ve tried before (and managed upwards of 33,000 words out of the 50,000 goal), and I probably will again, but this was not the time.

A little over a year ago, I introduced a character named Kidd Raven in a short story. Originally designed for a pirate-themed D&D campaign, Kidd Raven quickly took hold in my head as one of the most complex characters I’d ever invented. Now the campaign has stalled a bit, with some of the players moving out of town (and others out of state), and it may be that it only ever continues via something along the lines of Storium. However, when you’ve got a good character, it’s really hard to let go. So, I’m going to be repurposing Kidd Raven, bringing the pirate’s swordsmanship and spellcraft into a non-Wizards of the Coast world. A few changes here and there, obviously, due to copyright issues and whatnot, and this could shape up to be a damn fun adventure. This is new story number one.

New story number two is one that I started on in September, when inspiration struck during Nan Desu Kan. It’s very difficult to come across an image like this and not be driven to write about it.

the-white-door

I mean, look at it. That’s gorgeous. Who’s the figure in the photo? Where does the door lead? That’s new story number two. I like where it’s going so far.

And of course, I plan to continue working on what I consider to be one of my most ambitious projects to date. This one’s a novella, at least in its planned form. I don’t want to say too much more about it right now, but it’s also been in the works for a while. It may or may not make its way here to the blog, whereas the other two stories are slated to appear here for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, I’m working on getting some more short pieces, poems, and reviews up here in the very near future. Thank you all for your continued readership.

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