Giving Birth and the Publishing Process

Usually I feature an indie artist in this space on Fridays, but today is a Very Special Friday.

Yes, it’s Launch Day!

Now, not only can you order autographed print copies here, “Athena’s Promise” is now available for the Kindle. I’ll be getting it up on Smashwords too, in the next week or so. Remember, you don’t need an e-reader to read it; Amazon thoughtfully provides a free app for you to use on your PC to read Kindle books. Isn’t that nice of them?

Don't mistake Amazon for a saint. But it's still pretty cool.

So, now we have that out of the way, let me just say this has been such a roller-coaster experience. I don’t remember it being so intense when I put out “Not Nice” last year. Of course, that could be a case of selective amnesia, heh.

This time, I took notes. Lots and lots of notes, because I intend to release “Athena’s Chains” in the spring of 2012. Believe me, I hear the clock ticking already. However, one of the great things about being fully in the driver’s seat of your own publishing business is the fact you are the one determining the scheduling. Although that can be stressful, it’s quite liberating.

Giving birth to a novel is really similar to giving birth to a child, I have come to think. You have your gestation period, where you conceive the idea and start writing. You might think once you’ve finished it, the hard part is over — but you’d be very, very wrong.

The early stages of labor — beta reads and editing. *Sigh* Just like in real labor, this stage can take forever, to the point where you start to wonder if you will EVER BE DONE WITH THIS DAMNED THING. Honestly, I was editing up to the very last minute, and then I had to quit picking at it like a scab and let it go. That was probably the hardest part, for me.

In the second stage, you’re wrangling with covers, trailers, and trying to formulate some kind of marketing plan. The deadline fast approaches and you start hyperventilating, trying to figure out how to fit 97 hours in one day. Tip: you can’t.

Then, the actual delivery. For the record, I hate formatting. Here is where my anal and compulsive personality is both a blessing and a curse. It helps to keep in mind print is vastly different than electronic and I must extend many blessings to the creators of Mobi Creator for making the electronic conversion so easy I about wet my pants.

Print is a different story. Designing a print book is an art form. I felt like a baboon with crayons.

Only I'm not this cute.

Honestly, this was very difficult. Mostly because I wanted the print version to look every bit as professional as a book released by a legacy publisher. And friends and neighbors, that is not as easy as one would wish, just like delivering a baby. It’s painful, messy and it made me scream, bleed, yell and not only use every cuss word in my vocabulary (which is quite extensive) but made me invent even more crass ways to express my frustration.

But in the end? I have a beautiful baby, and I can’t stop looking at her. I’m happy, relieved, and feeling all kinds of awesome.

I really hope you’ll check out “Athena’s Promise” and tell me what you think, whether in a private email or even better, on a review. Because, just like having a baby, once you deliver the hard part starts. Now I have to devote myself to raising her and introducing her to the World At Large. It takes a village, and I’m counting on my peeps to help me get word about Pallas out to the unsuspecting. So if you can spare a Tweet, an update, or want to write a review or even interview me, feel free 🙂

I’ve lived and breathed in Pallas’s world for two years. I know the journey isn’t over yet, but I’m ready. I think she is, too.

Thanks to all of you for the wonderful support. I appreciate it more than I can ever say. *MUAH* !!

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Getting Down With Patti Larsen

When you meet Patti Larsen, you have to squint your eyes, she shines so bright, in person and online. She’s got one of the strongest work ethics of anyone I’ve ever met. She is THE most prolific writer I’ve come across, generous and giving to other writers. That counts for a lot in this business.

Keep your eye on this rising star — and eat your Wheaties, because you’ll need the strength to keep up with her.

She looks like she means business, doesn't she?

1. How has your dream of becoming a published writer differed from the reality?

Oh boy. You don’t pull any punches, do you? In one word, VASTLY. I went from THE DREAM of writing a best seller, finding the perfect agent, nabbing a million dollar advance and sitting back to enjoy the accolades of my adoring fans to, well… none of that. Except writing the best seller part. That will always remain.

I’ve learned so much in the last two and a half years. When I dove into writing full time, I was still under the impression this was going to be so easy! And that lasted quite a while. It’s really only the past year or so I decided to actually open my eyes and pay attention. After all, I’m a businesswoman and have been for many years through two other businesses. But when I leapt into publishing, it was like the smart and savvy part of myself took a vacation in favor of having everything done for me.

Since when? It took some great new friends (yourself, Joseph Paul Haines and others) to help me see how much I’d strayed from what I really wanted. With all the changes in this industry, it makes sense to put my big girl entrepreneur panties back on and treat this like what it is–not a fairy tale or a pipe dream but a business.

Am I ever glad I did.

2. You really pump out a lot of material. What is your writing process like?

I think I suppressed the muse for so many years because of fear and other people’s opinions that she’s been saving everything up until now. Seriously. It’s like this faucet has been turned on and the more I drink from it the faster it flows…

My process. I get an idea, I spend two days developing it, turn it into an outline and sit down and write the thing in about eight or nine days. That’s my process. I wish I had a magic bullet to hand to other writers, had some witty or charming way of explaining where all of this material comes from but I don’t. It’s really just that simple. And while I know it isn’t for everyone, please don’t be jealous.

I have to produce that fast. The voices, you see. It’s write or go nuts.

The first book in Patti's series, "The Hunted". Get ready to Run!

3. What do you think is the most important part of being a self-publisher?

Being in control of my career. NO ONE knows what’s good for me and my books but me. NO ONE. And while I am wide open to information, to learning, I embrace what I discover, absorb it, take what I need from it and discard the rest as I see fit. Everything I do, sink or swim, is up to me. The learning curve is massive but it’s also thrilling–and I no longer have to tolerate someone else’s opinions on how I should run my business.

Every writer, every creator, needs to do this at least once. I love to explore all avenues of everything I get involved in. I need to understand how everything works, from typesetting to cover design, editing and proofing, marketing… all of it. Every piece of the puzzle gives me another insight into doing my job better, smarter and faster.

4. What was your biggest misconception of the editing process with a professional editor?

Oh, that my work was absolutely perfect, naturally, and that the manuscript would come back with giant happy faces and lots of notes proclaiming how I was a literary genius.

And while I know I’m fortunate, I can string words together into a coherent sentence and those sentences into paragraphs and those paragraphs into something that makes sense, the editing process has taught me so much more about how I write. I never see comments as criticisms but as an opportunity to learn something more–to take that knowledge and apply it to my work from then on.

So while it didn’t happen the way I imagined, it’s been so much more than I could ever hope for.

5. How much self-editing did you do before engaging an editor?

Not a whole lot, to be honest. I’m pretty lucky that the copy I write is fairly clean. I still need editing, I know that, but I trust my creative process now. I’m a staunch believer in outlining and do most of my editing during that part of development–so major story changes don’t tend to pop up for me (at least so far…). When I’m finished with the first draft, I basically read through it once, catching as many typos as I can as well as fleshing out anything that needs it then send it off immediately.

While some of your readers may flinch at the idea of not revising fifteen million times, I say this: why are you washing the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher? That’s what your editor is for.

6. What do you like the most about the editing process?

EVERYTHING. Seriously. I know most writers hate it, but I love it. Love it. Did I say I loved it? It’s like taking a diamond and adding facets and angles and sparkle until it glows and shines even without any light on it… it’s fun and informative and I adore every second.

The key to it I think is having an open mind and leaving your ego at the door. And trusting your editor. You have to find someone who understands your work, who sees your vision. Shares it. But is outside it enough they can spot the areas that aren’t sparkly yet. I’m lucky enough to have found that person in you.

I don’t let my logical mind control my editing. Again, I feel your readers all shuddering collectively and that’s okay. I don’t think logic really has much of a place in writing, at least, not in the art part of it. When I go through your notes, Netta, I let my heart tell me: does that serve the story? Of course it does! Or, hmm… no, I like it the way it is. Most of the time I’m bouncing in my seat with excitement that you’ve pegged the very thing I’ve been trying to let out and get to. Tip of my mind stuff. For me, that’s thrilling. Like uncovering treasure.

I love it so much.

7. What do you like the least?

If I had to pick something it would be when I screw up and repeat a mistake. I know better than to tell and not show but sometimes the odd one will slip through. You catch them and I kick myself. I don’t like wasting time, mine or yours, so I see those mistakes as failings.

8. What surprised you the most about it?

I guess how much I love it. I didn’t think I would enjoy it this much. I mean, I was raised to think editing is terrible, horrible, painful, that I’d end up hating my manuscript at the end and never want to see it again. That I wouldn’t even recognize it when it was done.

Um… I call bullshit. I love my books even more. Who would want to work like that?

9. Tell us about any upcoming projects.

So many… you and I just finished the edits on Family Magic, book one of The Hayle Coven Novels. It’s due out on or around the 15th of this month. I love this book. It was the first one I wrote in this current incarnation of my career, the very first young adult I tackled. It’s about Sydlynn Hayle, a sixteen-year-old daughter of a powerful witch and a demon lord, but she just wants to be ordinary. Syd is my soul sister and I adore her. I’m thrilled she’s finally going to meet the rest of the world.

I’m working on next three books in that series as well as outlining the following four. In November, I’m tackling the Blunt House series, Pins and Needles, Them Bones and Blood Lines, about Alice, a quiet loner who finds a voodoo doll in her grandmother’s house and then wonders why horrible things start happening to people who are mean to her.

That will wrap up this year–next year is another story entirely. I have eighteen novels lined up to write in 2012 and books scheduled into 2015. Busy busy!

Wooohooo!

10. Tell us something you’ve never divulged in an online interview.

I don’t like to have strangers tell me their story lines–not because I’ll steal them but because I’m so prolific I know I probably have something similar on the back burner–and if I hear someone else is working on the idea I have to dump mine. I have too strong of a work ethic to ever consider writing something I know is already being developed by someone else.

About the Author: Patti Larsen is a middle grade, young adult and adult author with a passion for the paranormal who writes a great deal of horror for someone who is afraid of the dark. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband Scott and four massive cats.

Where to find Patti:

My website! Shiny!
For the latest news on my work
My writing blog
Because a girl’s got to have a fanpage
I’d love to Tweet you!
My Amazon page!

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Fabulous Friday Fiction – Monsters Unmasked

Monsters Unmasked by Lori Whitwam

In the early days of the global zombie pandemic, Ellen Hale learns a brutal lesson. Sometimes the shambling animated corpses aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Sometimes the monsters are human, hiding their thirst for violence behind deceptively benign masks.

If zombie fiction isn’t your thing, that’s fine. Because this novella by Lori Whitwam is much more than that. Monsters Unmasked explores human nature in the face of a cataclysmic event where every facet of human life has been tipped upside down. Exposing both the darker side of human nature and offering a thread of hope, Monsters Unmasked begs the question — what would happen in a zombie apocalypse? Or any apocalypse, for that matter. How would you, your neighbors, your friends react? The people you think you know…do you really know them?

Ellen’s story is one of deep despair and emotional chaos as she fights to regain some of what she’s lost. In the aftermath of captivity, amidst the constant threat of zombie attacks, she must find a way out of the darkness and set foot on the brighter path of hope.

Based on a world created by the talented and brilliant Joshua Guess, Monsters Unmasked is a stand-alone work that meshes seamlessly into the compelling universe he’s created. Not only am I a huge fan of Living With the Dead in particular, I am a huge fan of quality in general, and this is quality work. Lori Whitwam provides another look into a fascinating world in which nothing is what it seems; survival may require more than you bargain for and this novella constantly challenges you to wonder what you would do in the place of the survivors.

Like Joshua’s work before her, Lori’s novella is not your usual self-publishing fare. Like Joshua’s work, Lori’s compelling and memorable story is worthy of standing on the shelves of every brick and mortar book store, side-by-side with traditionally published products. Both Guess and Whitwam show the publishing world that there are quality self-published works out there definitely deserving of the support and accolades of not only the self-publishing community, but the publishing community as a whole.

Ellen’s tale will stay with you a long time after you finish the last page. Thought-provoking, dark and yet hopeful, don’t miss this read.

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Caveat Emptor vs. Caveat Venditor

WARNING: This is a true NettaRant. You might want to wear a helmet.

“I’m just feeling kind of truthsome right now. Life is too damn short for ifs and maybes.” ~ Capt. Mal Reynolds of the Serenity

Instead of your regularly scheduled programming in which I feature some form of Fabulous Fiction, I have instead decided to shake things up in more ways than one.

Yep, it's likely to get thick. And I'm pretty sure it's not going to bring any boys to the yard.

As you may well be aware, I am all for supporting the self-publishing wave, also known as the Indie Movement. (Although some contest the moniker, “indie”, as it really applies to a different aspect of the publishing business…still, I’m not one to split hairs.) I believe passionately in self-publishers coming in to their own without the stigma of “if you’re self-published, your work sucks hot rocks.” That being said, some self-publishers are making it VERY difficult to don the pom-poms and rah it up.

Oh, not on purpose, I’m sure. Pretty sure. Right now it seems like it’s the “American Idol” of publishing, and like American Idol, some people are just not right for the stage, and that’s my nice way of expressing it. It’s a buyer beware world out there — I’m not saying it hasn’t always been that way, but at least with the Big 6 as gatekeepers you had some assurance of quality. (You can argue about their control issues another time. I’m on to something else right now.) In this Wild West Frontier of self-publishing, as a reader you have to do your own due diligence as far as sniffing out quality material to read.

Okay. Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, I need to vent. Consider this your wake-up call.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND HOLY, PEOPLE, GET YOUR SHIZ-NIZ TOGETHER!

It’s not just a “let the buyer beware” world out there, it’s a “let the seller beware” world! Wake up! I understand you want to jump on the bandwagon and present your work to the world, but have some patience! Is it your best work? Could it be better? Have you EDITED your piece? Have you hired a professional editor or just let your sister who has a degree in liberal arts have a whack at it? Did you put it away for a few weeks to look at it with fresh eyes, or did you mindlessly throw it up on Smashwords or Amazon so fresh off the word processor it’s bleeding from a thousand knife wounds? You guys are KILLING ME.

And while I’m at it, let’s take a look at formatting. Is it formatted properly? Is it consistent, or do you have flawed formatting throughout the entire novel? You know, like it starts off with indents, then goes to block, then back to indents? Are there proper spaces between paragraphs? ARE THERE EGREGIOUS TYPOS?? Did you even bother to put it through a simple spell or grammar check?

Am I perfect? Oh, hell no, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that. It’s not perfection you’re going for here, but at least aim in the general vicinity!

Oh my GAWD, you make me stabby, cranky and want to spank you so hard you can’t sit down at your word processor for a YEAR.

Don't make me get out the whip. Because I WILL do it!

I have seen so much potential absolutely RUINED by LAZINESS and that makes me NUTZ and quite frankly, it pisses me off. As a self-publisher myself, every one of you that is too damned lazy to make sure you’re putting out a quality product is adding to the very stigma you’re trying so hard to dispel! I know you’re in a hurry, I understand why you’re in a hurry, but slow the hell down! Will it really kill you to take an extra few weeks to make sure your work is polished, professional and ready to fly?

If it’s not, you run a real risk of wrecking any chance you might have of a successful launch, and instead you’ll be thinking oh, this self-publishing stuff is bullshit, just like you think the Big 6 is “The Man” and keeping you down, when in fact it’s your own fault! If this is any example of the kind of material you have sent to “traditional” publishers, it’s no wonder they kicked you out on your ass. And if your baby is NOT ready, then roll up your damned sleeves and DO THE WORK.

You’re doing even more damage than that. You are tearing down the credibility of every single writer out there in the self-publishing process who actually works their ass off to make sure what they produce is as good as anything from the Big 6. It’s aggravating, defeating and embarrassing.

I realize this post is not going to make me popular at parties, but someone had to say it. Go ahead, make your voodoo dolls and stick pins in me, but in your heart of hearts you know I’m right or you wouldn’t be so annoyed at reading this.

Go ahead. It wouldn't be the first time.

I am really frustrated (no, Netta, really??) by starting off reading a book by an indie and being unable to continue because of the above-mentioned flaws. I am frustrated because many of these pieces have great potential, but have sadly fallen victim to the author being in a big fat hurry or just not caring. And if YOU don’t care, why should I? That’s right, I don’t. I’m not liking your damned page, I’m not liking your damned book, I’m not re-posting, re-twittering or re-anythinging your work if you can’t actually give a rat’s ass about what you’re putting out there. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. If that makes you hate me, oh well. I’m over it.

Self-publishing is not the easy way — NEWSFLASH — there is no easy way! Unless you realize that you’re not going to be successful and you’re just clogging up the works like a hairball in the drain.

Hire out what you can’t handle, such as formatting, book covers or editing and if you can’t afford to hire it out (and BELIEVE ME, I am so in touch with that!) then impose on good friends who do know how or learn it yourself. Stop pimping writers who aren’t ready. And for the sake of all of us out here, buyers and sellers alike, have enough respect for yourself, the profession and the potential fans to take your time to put out the very best you can.

Otherwise, get the fuck off the stage.

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Fabulous Fiction Friday Round-up

You might have been expecting this kind of round-up.

Yeeehaw! Okay, it’s not that kind of round-up. There are no cows or bulls, no ropes and no manure (although that might be a matter of opinion). What I thought I’d do is re-introduce you to some of the Fabulous Fiction Peeps I’ve had the honor to host on this blog.

First, you may have heard of this guy. He’s the best-selling author of The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, along with The Great Bazaar and Other Stories and Brayan’s Gold. His name is Peter V. Brett, and you can find my interview with him from 2009 here. I find his comments about publishing especially interesting.

Next up is an interview with Jeremy C. Shipp. I think he had the best answer I’ve ever heard about the future of publishing. Although I haven’t done a review of “Cursed” yet, it is on my list. Which is about as long as my left leg, right now. *sigh*

My next victim…uh, I mean my next GUEST…was a badass chick by the name of Susan Helene Gottfried, author of Trevor’s Song, Shapeshifter: The Demo Tapes – Year 1 and ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes – Year 2. She inhabits the world of rock and roll, kicking asses and taking names.

Of course, I have a soft spot for editors, and I have two I’ve interviewed here. First is the “Goddess of Flash”, Esther Schrader, the Editor-in-Chief for Flashshot. Second is the Mad Aussie, aka Matthew Glenn Ward. In addition to his editor duties (although Skive has been regretfully retired) he found time to compose his novel, John F. Kennedy Lives in the Future! and is one of my favorite people.

Podcasting is a fast-growing portion of the fiction market, and to that end I wanted a word or two with Kate Sherrod who also composes some brilliant sonnets in her spare time. Besides the podcast point of view, Kate is A Very Interesting Person, and you can read the fascinating interview here.

MeiLin Miranda is probably one of the most innovative and hard-working indie authors I know. She’s recently won the Preditors and Editors Best Erotic Novel for 2010 as voted by the readers. You can find “Lovers and Beloveds” in a wide variety of formats, and you can find my interview with her here.

Last, but far from least, if you haven’t met him, now’s your chance. Yes, it’s Joseph Paul Haines, author of Ten With a Flag and Other Playthings. He’s got a lot to say, and pay attention. He knows what he’s talking about.

Quite a stellar line-up, if I do say so myself. Every one of these artists are hardworking, dedicated, twisted, demented and brilliantly talented. The have all inspired me in different ways to become better at my chosen career, they have offered hope that it can be done and lead by example. These guys don’t just talk the talk, people, they walk the walk. Every one has marched to their own beat and represents a different aspect of the writing journey. I hope you enjoy the interviews as much as I did conducting them.

Find your own drum. This one's mine.

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Fabulous Fiction Friday – “Living With the Dead”

*Please note: after this entry was posted, I received word that Josh has run into technical difficulties with Amazon because of their revamping of their digital platform, therefore “Living With the Dead” had to be re-published. It should be available soon, and I will update the links for purchase as soon as that happens. In the meantime, you can find it on the Nook or still keep up with him on his Living With the Dead blog. Thanks for your patience — it’s definitely worth the wait, I promise.*

*ADDENDUM*

Good news! All of Josh’s data has been reinstated and the links are good to go. YAY!

I have very eclectic reading tastes, and I’m quite picky. Part of this is because I’ve been reading for almost 50 years. Yes, you heard that correctly. I know I’m giving away my age here, but I’ve been reading voraciously since the age of three, and when you’ve read that many books, friends and neighbors, you become real picky about what you read.

Part of the reason I’m such a book snob is because I don’t have a whole lot of time, and although I’m a really fast reader, I have a lot of stuffs to do. When a book isn’t worth it, it really irritates me. To be frank, it pisses me off. Not to mention the economic impact, which further stokes the Irritation Fires. If I’m not happy with the story, and I don’t think I’ve spent my time or my money well, I’m really annoyed.

I downloaded “Living With the Dead” for the Kindle on a recommendation from a Very Good Friend. I resisted reading it because I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. She told me it was a “zombie” book, and although I enjoyed “World War Z” by Max Brooks and I’m totally hooked by “The Walking Dead” on AMC, I’m not really a zombie reader. Plus, it’s written in a blog format, and I have found that can be a boring way to read a book.

I was more than pleasantly surprised by Joshua Guess’s book. From the very first “entry”, I was HOOKED. Once I started, I couldn’t wait to read the next one, and the next one, and so on until it was 2am and I finished the entire thing in one sitting. It. Is. Fab.

The story starts with an ordinary geek in Kentucky watching the news and noticing reports of a disturbance in Ohio. Right away he sees the seeds of a Zombie Apocalypse, and springs into action. He starts right away preparing for the worst, trying to warn his family and friends, laying in supplies and shoring up his defenses. He blogs every day, documenting exactly what he’s doing and the important preparations he’s making — but more than that, Josh documents how he’s feeling and the emotional, physical and spiritual toll the entire experience is taking on him and everyone around him.

Most zombie fiction I’ve read (and I admit, it’s not a lot) seem to focus on the brain-eating, rotting horror that are zombies and the military or defensive actions that the characters are taking. “Living With the Dead” is unique to me in that it involves the lives and the emotions of not only dealing with the undead intent on eating the living, but with the complicated and difficult decisions the remaining survivors have to make in the wake of destruction of society as they have always known it. Since the blog was (and still continues to be) written in “real time”, you can follow the day-to-day changes in the characters and sympathize with what they’re up against. You question whether or not you could make these decisions yourself, how you would deal with the apocalypse, what you would do in their stead.

You won’t agree with everything that’s done. You won’t like everything that happens. You won’t like all the people you meet — you may not even like the narrator. But that’s what makes all of this seem so terrifyingly real. When I finished the last page of the first six months (you can either follow along in “real time” on the blog or wait for a compilation of the entire year, due out in March) I was afraid to watch the news — because the situation seemed just that real.

(On a side note, there’s some really great information on what to do to prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse. I took notes, you know, just in case.)

Another thing I’ve noticed about zombies is although the basic precepts stay the same (they die, they reanimate, can only be killed forever through some kind of brain trauma, they eat the living, they never…ever…stop) different writers add a little something different to their zombies. Guess has added some horrifying and frightening aspects to his zombies that really freaked me, and yet still made sense in his zombie-world. The suspension of disbelief is easy because Guess’s world is logical even in the midst of madness.

The price is right, and the story is worth every penny and then some. This ranks up there as one of my top reads for 2011, and I can’t wait for the next installment in March.

You can find “Living With the Dead” for the Kindle here, or you can follow along for free on the Living With the Dead blog. Joshua has a compilation planned for March with the entire year, plus extra bonuses. You can find him on Facebook and on Goodreads. He is currently at work on several projects, including a “campy vampy” novel. He has recently released his novel, Bound to Silence, also on Amazon.

While you’re on Amazon, check out Not Nice and Other Understatements – A Journal of Flash Fiction!

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Fabulous Fiction Friday – “Curiosities, Inc.”

For my first entry in the ABC Indie Fiction Challenge, I decided to kill a few birds with one stone. Since I just inherited a 2nd Gen Kindle (nicknamed “George Senior”) from a dear friend who moved to a Gen 3 (nicknamed “George Junior”, which is cracking me up on more levels than I can explain) and since I just published my own book on Smashwords, I figured I’d start there for my book choice.

The second consideration was being aware a new (and fabulous, let’s just get that out of the way now, she’s totally fab) friend of mine had just published HER new book. Not that this was a quid pro quo – I don’t play that way. But, I was very curious (heh) about her work and intrigued by the premise.

Third, I want to open myself up to different genres and not read just the same thing I’m used to. That’s a really bad habit of mine, as I’ve probably mentioned before, and although there will always be my “comfort food” books, I need to get my head out of my ass here.

Initial thoughts on Curiosities, Inc.:

Keep in mind I am unfamiliar with this genre, and I’ll be reviewing as a reader/writer and I’m sure that bitch, the editor, will make an appearance.

The genre is YA, paranormal. It is tagged as not suitable for people under 17, and that puzzles me because I don’t remember reading anything that would shock or horrify a teen under 17, but as I said, I am not familiar with this genre so there could be something I’m missing.

The cover looks great, to my eyes. In fact, it’s part of the reason I chose this book to begin with. Spooky and weird and very compelling to me, in spite of the fact I’m a real weenie when it comes to scary books. I read them; I love them; I even write scary stories sometimes. (What is it about us that we love to scare the crap out of ourselves?)

Premise:

Danica Harper is dumped on her weird grandmother when her parents take off to Kenya as wildlife veterinarians tending to rhinos. Originally, she’s supposed to stay with her Aunt Shirley, but Aunt Shirley has other plans. We find out that Danica’s mom, Carmen, and her mom, Viviana, have had a falling out and don’t speak, so when mom finds out Danica is at grandmom’s instead of Aunt Shirley’s, she’s going to have a cow.

Danica has no idea why mom/daughter don’t speak.

In the meantime, poor Danny is dealing with a weird grandmother she doesn’t know who feed peanuts to a crow named Henry in the kitchen, being the new kid in school and encountering some really weird types, and having a really bad time with her English teacher. On top of all this…well, I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s got her hands full, trust me.

Review:

Danica is a likable heroine and I’m sure a lot of teens will relate to her and the problems with moving and being the new kid in town. I know I did, because even though I’m old and withered I still remember what it was like being the new kid. Viviana is a vivid character with a unique skill set, although the rift between mother/daughter isn’t explored until very late in the game.

The book opens with a bang-on scene that hooks you right away, and you get a good idea of the situation in which Danny finds herself without an info dump, which is a huge relief because I hate that. I felt like her friends were a little too one-dimensional, and Danny does a lot of teen angsting which is to be expected in a YA. You know, ’cause teens do that stuff. I didn’t really feel a strong connection between Danny and her new friends.

The end felt rushed, although it simultaneously tied up some loose ends yet left enough for another adventure.

It was a fun, romping read and I enjoyed it enough to definitely pick up another book by Patti Larsen.

Now, to the juicy stuff.

Viviana, in my opinion, Danny’s grandmother, is the star of this show even though I’m a bit confused about what exactly she does. At the end of the book, the author includes a bonus story that fills in some backstory about Henry, the crow, and Viviana. It’s dark, creepy, and I loved it. *shiver* Oooo, it’s really good. Like, really really good and I could have read a whole book about Viviana’s adventures. She is one creepy broad, and Henry’s story was heartbreaking. To be perfectly honest, I loved this story much better than the book. It seems geared toward an older audience, and more to my taste.

This indie book is a pleasant surprise in the sea of muck out there. As an editor, there are some tweaks I would suggest, but nothing so big as to take away from the story. All-in-all, it was well done, and very much worth the modest $1.99 price tag and as good as anything off the shelf in a brick-and-mortar store.

“Curiosities, Inc.” is available at Smashwords in a plethora of formats for only $1.99, and available from Lulu in print at the same link. Check out Patti Larsen’s blog, and keep your eye on her. She’s got it going on!

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A Taste of Hunger — Friday Flash

Happy Halloween!

Millie remembered always being hungry. She was starving when the children picked on her in school for being different. When her father screamed and yelled and threw fits and fists, she was ravenous and couldn’t wait for dinner.
 
Somehow her metabolism was able to keep up with her appetite until she married Harry. At first, there was love. At least, she was pretty sure there was love, or some version of it. Over the passage of time, the love lines became blurred and in some instances, totally obliterated.
 
Millie was a good wife, but never good enough. Leftovers from gourmet meals attempted did not end up in the trash. They ended up in her belly as she tried to eat her mistakes and pretend nothing was wrong.
 
Nothing was wrong. She was punished as was only right and natural, for not ironing the crease in Harry’s pants the right way, for being late from grocery shopping, for talking too much or too loudly in social situations.
 
“You’re just bringing me down. I don’t know why I put up with you!” Harry would exclaim and Millie would agree. Sometimes she didn’t agree fast enough and that was good for a few more bruises. Bruises that were hidden by long sleeved shirts, or make-up.
 
She never felt the burning rage always simmering under the surface because she would eat until she felt sick and her heart pounded. She would go on diet after diet at Harry’s command, trying to become the woman he needed, the woman he wanted her to be. She was constantly famished, and the weight would not come off.
 
She started having dreams; dreams of mountains of food that she would eat and eat, never feeling satiated. Millie would wake in the morning feeling drugged and unhappy, until her breakfast of eggs, toast, hash browns, bacon, orange juice and yogurt. Because yogurt was healthy.
 
When she became pregnant she was ecstatic and actually lost weight the first six months of her term. Harry wanted a boy, of course, but in her heart Millie wanted a girl. A perfect girl.
 
Daisy was born and Millie was very happy. Harry had proof of his virility and viability of his seed; Millie had someone to love and someone to love her, unconditionally. Harry just sighed and said, “Maybe next time you’ll get it right.”
 
For four years things were tolerable, even good in places. Then, Harry got a promotion at work which meant more money, more status and more stress. Life took a U-turn back to the days of flowering bruises.
 
The constants were fits and fists, and of course, the sharp hunger that never quite left her.
 
The dreams came back. Mountains of food on which she gorged, never feeling satisfied.
 
The situation finally came to a head one evening when Harry came home from work in a spectacularly bad mood. The screaming was so loud from Harry, and in turn Daisy, that all Millie could hear in her ears was a curious ringing. This was not assuaged by the blows to the face and head she received, or by the kicking once she was down. She thought she would have to go to the hospital for broken ribs, and make-up was never going to cover the black eye or the split lip.

Harry realized he may have gone a little too far. He apologized and promised he would never do it again. Millie agreed that it was her fault in the first place for not being the woman he needed. They went to bed. Millie was starving.
 
She awoke with the realization she was not dreaming and she was not in bed. Disoriented, she sat still until her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark room. She could faintly make out the figure of her husband. Something was wrong with this picture, but at first she couldn’t figure out what it was. She heard a drip, drip, drip, like water from a faucet. The air felt hot around her. A coppery aroma arose from the bed.
 
She reached for the bedside lamp with trembling fingers. The light snapped on and her mind tried to take in what her eyes were seeing.
 
Her hands.
 
Covered.
 
In blood.
 
Red, sticky and wet. She sat in a kitchen chair bedside her bed, in attendance of her husband, not knowing how the chair, or herself, had gotten there.
 
Millie contemplated this for almost ten minutes.
 
She raised her bowed head and looked at the figure in front of her. Something dark fluttered at the edge of her consciousness, but she batted it aside absently.
 
Harry’s head had a dent near the temple and blood soaked the pillow, crimson so dark it was almost black in the low light of the bed lamp. His eye sockets, empty now – but they had been empty even with eyeballs intact – stared  blankly at the ceiling. Once cheek had been ripped off. There were teeth marks around where his nose had been. Millie heard crunching noises in her head, then batted them away too. It looked like something had been gnawing at the knob of his chin.
 
Her gaze traveled down – seeing and not seeing the half-eaten pecs, (so toned, so tough, so tasty, her mind whispered ) the ravaged abdomen, and then finally to the place of Harry’s power.
 
The man root, the masculine rod, and its two attendants were missing.
 
Millie held her hand over her mouth and burped gently. Like a lady. It was a meaty burp.
 
She contemplated this for another ten minutes.
 
She felt full and replete for the first time in years. The dark thing was back and it fluttered madly. She couldn’t push it away anymore, and finally recognized it for what it was.

She knew what she had to do.
 
Pushing back the chair, she spared one more look at her husband, her captor, her torturer – and the father of her child.
 
She went to feed her daughter.

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Fabulous Fiction Friday – An Interview With MeiLin Miranda

As you can see, I’ve been re-vamping the site due to a server move. It’s still a work in process, and it’s eaten up my time this week like I eat Peanut M&Ms when I’m stressed. Still, I was fortunate enough to catch up with MeiLin and ask her some interesting questions about her experiences as an indie writer and publisher. Take notes, my poppets, because this woman is a dynamo. Not only talented and smart as a whip (heh!), she’s got a handle on this indie publishing monster and you would do very well to study what she’s done and emulate it. Lovers and Beloveds is a ripping good tale, and is not only available in serial form, updated twice a week, but also as an e-book in several formats and hardcopy due mid-October.

1. What was the inspiration for “An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom” and how did you get started?

It started as a serial daydream I’d tell myself—the story of Warin and Emmae. I read a Neil Gaiman quote to the effect that daydreams were perfectly good story ideas, which astounded me. Foolish writer, I’d never considered such a thought. So I started with that.

Later I gave it to a good friend to read who’s a sociologist, and she started asking me all these questions! What was the society like around them, who were these people, what languages did they speak, what was the relationship between their two countries, and on and on! I found I enjoyed answering her questions, and the next thing I knew, there were Temmin, Teacher and the Greater Kingdom of Tremont and Litta. (She’s still asking pesky questions, by the way, and I’m still enjoying answering them.)

2. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of writing a serial for the web?

There’s the obvious answer: You’re meeting a weekly, or usually more-than-weekly, deadline. At its height I was writing a 2,000 word update three times a week.

But for me, what’s been hardest is figuring out when you’ve got a serial and when you’ve got a novel. Halfway through what I thought was book three of the History I realized I did not have a serial; I could not sustain the story through ten years of this young man’s life at the pace we were going. I had to start over, and I lost a substantial chunk of audience in the process. They’re coming back as the word is spreading that I’m back, but I think a lot of those who aren’t coming back may not realize that this is a very different story; they think it’s a line edit of the original and they’re not going to come back until I get to what they think is the end of book three. By the time I’m on the real book three, we’re going to be years past the end of what I thought was book three. They’ll miss a lot of story.

But I digress.

The other hard thing is that a lot of the time you’re writing first draft/last draft. Right now, the History is serializing in its final form. It’s the best I could do with that story. But my current serial “Scryer’s Gulch,” a work that can be sustained long term and open ended, is first draft/last draft; sometimes it really shows, embarrassingly so. I usually finish it, give it a quick polish, and post it within an hour or less of finishing it. It’s stated at the top that in the grand tradition of the soap opera it’s fd/ld and any plot holes will be explained away—no do-overs. So you gets what you get with the Gulch.

3. What makes your site unique among the other serial webfic sites on the Internet?

Oh gods, I don’t know. Probably the community that’s formed around it. I have amazing readers, really an erudite, funny, charming, wonderful group of people. Very little in the way of flames, supportive of me and each other, but not fawning.

A bunch went to Webcomics Weekend, I think it was last year, as a group and handed out fliers for me; I was told later by some artists that I have an extremely good-looking fan base. So there’s that, too.

4. What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about your audience?

That I have one.

5. Name the most important thing an aspiring writer should invest in regarding their work.

Time with the keyboard and/or pen, and editing. Accept constructive criticism with grace, not defensiveness. Where you’re defensive, you’re very probably wrong. That doesn’t mean the criticism’s always going to be right; I ignored some things my editor said as well as my beta group. I was right and they were wrong on those points. But they were more right than wrong on the whole—far more so.

6. Where do you see the direction of publishing as a whole headed?

I see the Big Six continuing to insist that they’re selling paper, not books. I see them continue to overprice ebooks. This opens up huge opportunities for independent writers, and for midlist authors to take their pulped-and-forgotten back catalog and make some dough. JA Konrath is not that unusual; he’s no more a fluke than any successful traditionally published writer is. This is a tough business, always has been.

7. What is the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received?

Read, and when you read something you love, pick it to shreds and figure out how the writer did it. That, and write what you love: if you love mysteries, write mysteries. If you love literary fiction, write that. I love fantasy and Victoriana, so that’s what I write.

8. Tells us about your future plans for IHGK and Scryer’s Gulch.

Oh gods. Well, I’ve begun book two of IHGK, which is tentatively titled “Mothers and Fathers.” I have it outlined, and longtime fans will have their little minds blown, I’ll tell you that much. If you think you know what happens, oh boy, you so do not.

Over at the Gulch, my plans are to keep the goings-on good and soapy. I’m working on a piece about genial Deputy and hapless werecritter Rabbit Runnels for an anthology. Just got a handle on it this morning.

9. If there was one thing you could do over again in this process, what would it be and why?

I would have taken myself more seriously earlier. It would have saved me, I think, from conceiving the History as a serial.

10. I know this is like choosing a favorite child, but who is your favorite character of all your written works?

Oh boy. I have to say Temmin. He’s such a goon. He’s handsome, intelligent, and can be quite charming when he feels like it–and he’s a complete dope. Because he’s eighteen and that’s how teenagers roll.

I’m also very fond of Maleen Polls, a madam from IHGK, and the resident Gulch madam, the demon Mamzelle. Apparently I have a thing for madams. But that’s three, not one! I love them all, really, even the super bad guys like Hildin.

Many thanks to MeiLin for answering my nosy questions! The hardcover is available for pre-order here, and if you prefer your books in an ebook format, MeiLin has made options available to you at this link. Of course, you can always visit her site every Monday and Friday for the latest chapter.

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Fabulous Fiction Friday – The Last One Standing

I am neck deep in non-fic work, plus a tutoring gig teaching conversational English. It has been a long and very busy week. This is Good For Me, because it seems the busier I am the more productive. I have edited up to Chapter 10 of “Athena’s Promise” (working title) and I’m happy about that. However, the hard part of plot tweaking is about to come up. Wish me luck.

Anyway, I was poking around in my 3 Words file, and found this story. To refresh your memory, this story is a result of a group of writers who thought it would be fun to write 100 words a day around three prompt words. We all took turns posting the words, and this is one of the results. Here it is raw and unedited, written one day at a time, and I’m actually pleased with how it turned out — I think by this time, I was getting the hang of it. I don’t have a listing of the prompt words, so you’ll have to guess. Enjoy 🙂

The Last One Standing

Her pearls are in my jewelry box.

They lay in their velvet prison, reminding me of other days, better days. Lost days.

I’ll light a candle, I’ll open the box, taking the cool pearls and running them through my hands. They’ll warm from my own body heat. They feel like tears.

Comfort? There’s none. She’s moved on and left me behind, waiting and wondering.

#

Her name is Sunny. I loved her from the moment I saw her.

#

It’s like something from an old movie. I was in a video store, looking for something to watch on a lonely Friday night. It’s a small video store, a faded dream in the age of corporate owned places, but very customer service oriented. I like that they call me by name, recognize me.

I said hi to Ray, walking over to the rack featuring movies from the forties and fifties. Not looking at what I was doing, I bumped into this girl.

“Whoops!” she exclaimed, as she dropped a load of video cases on the floor.

A flash of deja-vu swept over me as I stammered my apology. I bent to help her gather up the videos.

I never knew what hit me.

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said, “My fault, really.” I rose and so did she, and we got our first good look at each other.

I can’t tell you what she saw, but I can tell what I did. Short, with long brown hair in a braid. Hazel eyes, cat’s eyes, my mother would’ve said. It wasn’t that she’s beautiful in a conventional sense; it’s something about the configuration of her features that make her seem beautiful.

She literally took my breath away.

The red sweater she wore against the snow of this morning hugged her in all the right places, and although she would tell me later of her battle with her weight, she seemed perfect to me.

“My name’s Sunny,” she smiled, and the world pulsed with her song.

“I’m Jake,” and I offered my hand. I felt my spirits and heartbeat rise when I felt her small hand nestle inside of mine as if it belonged there, as if it had always belonged there. From the widening of her eyes, I was certain she felt it too.

Was I mistaken? Even today, I don’t know the definitive answer to that question.

Her pearls are in my jewelry box.

I had no idea what to say next, so I helped her gather up the videos, too upset with myself to even think straight. I’d spend the next two days arguing with myself, but that was for later. For now, I was tongue-tied and feeling nothing but stupid.

“This is really sweet of you, Jake.”

“Uh, s’ok. My fault.”

“Don’t be silly. It was an accident. Anyway, it was nice to meet you.” She flashed me a funny grin saying, “I’ll see you around, right?”

“I’m in here all the time – I’m sure we’ll bump into each other.”

She giggled.

Even I had to grin at that one. After a final good-bye, she went to check out and I resumed perusing the videos, my mind in a maelstrom. What just happened to me? I felt as breathless as if I had climbed a stairway all the way to heaven. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, not wanting to seem needy or desperate. I stood behind the comedy section (normally I wouldn’t be caught dead in the comedy section, but it gave great cover) and watched her economical movements, her gentle banter with Ray, her graceful exit.

I’m a fool. I can admit to that much.

Once she had gone, I waited a while, moving on to the mystery section. I was trying to be cool, but I wasn’t even fooling myself. I certainly wasn’t fooling Ray. Anyone who thinks they’re going to catch Ray sleeping on the job has a big surprise coming.

I picked a movie at random and headed to the check-out counter where Ray was waiting.

“Dude, you can get picked up for stalking, then you’d be stuck with Bubba as a cellmate.”

I didn’t even pretend to not know what he meant.

“You’re a funny guy, Ray. You should take that act on the road.” I wondered how cooperative he would be if I got the nerve to ask….

As if he could read my mind, he shook his head, long hair flying. “No, buddy, you know I can’t do it.” Ray might look like a dumb, hairy monkey but he’s a sharp guy. He guarded his member’s privacy as if it were his own.

I sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“Hakunamatata, dude.”

I hated that expression. He considered this phrase the wellspring of wisdom — all it did was piss me off.

Ray grinned. “Don’t look so glum, man. I can tell you she’s applied for a job here.”

My heart jumped like a kite on the breeze. Although I tried to keep my expression neutral, I knew Ray saw right through the façade. It’s like he can feel the same tingle I feel. I think the word is “empathetic.” He’s like that. Can’t hide a damned thing from the guy.

He’s peculiar, but in a good way. At least, most of the time. I don’t think I’d ever want to get on his bad side – but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

“You going to hire her?” Nonchalance was thrown to the wind. What the fuck, I thought.

Ray scooped up a pile of DVD cases from the counter and stacked them on a cart. “Well,” he said, “I do need somebody dependable, and the winter season is fairly busy.” He pulled “Lost Horizon” and “The Green Mile” from the stack. “You ever see either of these movies?”

I watched his reflection in the bank of windows behind him. That’s Ray. He bounces from one subject to another and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of where he’s going. I still try.

“I’ve seen ‘The Green Mile,’” I replied.

He handed me “Lost Horizon.”

“Give me that drivel you have in your hand.” I didn’t even know what movie I had picked up. I was surprised to see “Bring It On,” with a picture of vapid cheerleaders gracing the cover in my hand. Yuck.

“You need to relax, dude. Take it slow. Watch this movie, think about it. Then, if you’re still inclined, when you run into her again, ask her out for a cup of coffee. Take it from there.” Ray bagged up the movie for me, no charge. “Let me know what you think, grasshopper.” He snickered.

I just nodded, took the bag and wandered home. Sure, I’d been hurt before and there was no sense trying to hide it, at least not from Ray. He sees everything, and he’d call me out on it if he thought it was getting out of hand. He’s a strange guy, I think I mentioned that. Hanging with him for any length of time is like standing in the shade for a bit, then stepping out into the sun. It’s a lot to take all at once; somehow, you feel blinded and disoriented until the world settles back to normal.

That’s how I felt, walking back to my place with my free movie and head filled with the sound of Sunny’s voice, her cool scent, the image of the red sweater baked into my memory. What the hell just happened to me?

The cold November breeze picked up and I shivered. It was a good day to stay inside, pop in the movie and chill out. Of course, I didn’t know at the time it would be the last day of peace I would have for quite a while.

Life is funny that way. One day you’re good – the next….

Again, ahead of myself.

I let myself into my dank, basement apartment. It was a mess, but I had a better idea of how to spend my day off than cleaning it. I work six days a week at a major home improvement store, and I have no interest in improving anything on my day off.

Since it was past lunch time and I was starving, I cut a slice of stale cherry pie for my noon meal, and sat down to watch Ray’s pick.

First of all, it was mis-labeled. The movie was actually titled, “Shangri-La,” not “Lost Horizon.”

The reason this struck me is because Ray is quite anal about labeling his movies. He never makes a mistake, at least not in my experience, so this had to be deliberate. He knows how much I hate seeing dead people in a movie, I thought, so I wonder what this is all about. There’s a message here, I knew it. I also knew if I tried to pin Ray down the next time I saw him, I’d have better luck holding a cup of water in my bare hands. I’d have to figure it out all on my own.

#

It was a typical old Hollywood type of movie, meaning I loved the atmosphere. No special effects, you know, all that hype stuff that’s in movies these days. They take all the imagination out of it. Still, the title thing kept bugging me, until I heard the wails and screams from my neighbors. The slamming door finally drove me over the edge.

I pounded on the thin wall – “Hey! What the fuck over there!”

I heard nothing but muffled sobs. So ended my hard-earned peace. Did I have to go over there? Yes and no. My mama raised me right.

I sighed and walked out my door and knocked on the next one. This was not a new drama, but I wouldn’t feel right if I ignored what was going on over there. I knew someday I would see that asshole Brian’s mug shot on the wall at the post office.

The door opened and Danielle stuck her head out, mascara running from red-rimmed eyes.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She sniffled, and opened the door a little wider. “Yes. Wanna come in?”

“Sure.” Not sure this was a good idea, I took her cold hand in my warm one.

Danielle looked old and tired to me, and she was only six months older. Exotic dancing can do that to a girl, I’ve seen. She’s told me she feels like she’s dancing for vampires; all they want is to suck the blood out of her. It showed in her face today.

As she ushered me inside, darting nervous looks out to the hallway, I noticed she’d dropped weight, and she never had it to lose. Her blond hair seemed brittle, her face gaunt. She had the most marvelous ass, but it was lost in the baggy sweats she was wearing.

She seemed lost all over.

She plucked some Kleenex from the box on the coffee table, blowing her nose. The cupboards in her kitchen were standing ajar; the end table from beside the recliner in the living room — knocked over. Danielle stood wiping her wet eyes as I surveyed the wreckage.

“You don’t have to say it. I won’t make excuses. We weren’t playing tag, and it wasn’t an artist’s tantrum. He’s an asshole. I know it.”

I sighed. What’s the point? It’s a rough life, we’re both aware. I don’t judge. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t pissed as hell.

What I wanted to do was grab Brian by the head, punch him until he screamed like a little girl, then crumple him up, tossing him out with the trash. What I did do was straighten the end table, close the cabinets and kept my mouth shut. I’ve seen Danielle go through guys like this before. There used to be a core of strength inside her, but I see it diminish a little bit with each Brian.

“You gonna be okay?”

“Sure,” she sniffled. “He’ll be back, and he’ll behave. If he doesn’t, there’s plenty more where he came from.”

I grinned at that. It’s such quintessential Danielle at her best.

She brushed her hair back from her face, and asked, “How about a cup of tea?” Not waiting for my response, she went into her tiny kitchen, putting the kettle on. “Thanks for … well, you know.”

I sat on the worn sofa. All her furniture looked blurred around the edges. “Yeah, that’s what neighbors are for.”

“You need a good girl, Jake. You deserve a good girl. Not someone like me, someone with class.” She reached for the kettle and gave a little yelp at the hot handle. “What a day,” she sighed. “When it rains, it pours.”

I just nodded. My head was still in the video store. Sunny’s voice was still in my ears, and it was keeping the regular darkness at bay.

Danielle brought two tea cups and a bowl of sugar cubes over to the coffee table. She picked up her cup, and blowing gently across the hot liquid she studied my face. She smiled as I put two lumps in my cup, stirred, and raised the impossibly fragile and feminine piece of china to my lips. She knew right away something was up.

“Something’s happened to you, Jake,” she said. “You look like you just won first prize in a contest.”

I said nothing. I just sipped my tea.

“All right, I won’t push.” Danielle settled back into her chair. “I guess it’s putting the cart in front of the horse, anyway. You wanna know what I’m gonna to do about this Brian thing.”

I shrugged, my mind a million miles away. What was Sunny doing right now? Could she be thinking about me? Would she say yes, if I were to ask her out? Did I have the balls to do it?

I missed what Danielle said next, until she attracted my attention by punching me in the arm, a typical Danielle move when she felt neglected.

“Ouch! Are you insane? That HURT.”

“Pay attention, then. If you won’t tell me what you’re all in knots about, the least you can do is pretend you’re interested in what I’m saying.”

I blew her a kiss for an apology. “I’m not telling anything. There’s nothing to tell.”

“You’re gunning for a black eye, my friend,” she sniffed. “Fuck’re you doin’ here, anyway, if you’re not gonna listen to me?”

I had to laugh. The woman’s a nut case, this is true, but we’d been neighbors for over a year, and we looked out for each other.

“Okay. Sorry. What were you saying?”

“I said I’m sick of working, paying all the bills just so Brian can go out and play, having a good time.”

“And?”

“And what?” she retorted. She shifted in her chair and crossed her magnificent legs. Although she was my friend, I could still appreciate a good set of gams.

“What are you going to do about it?” I picked up the teacup and took another sip of tepid tea. Gah, I hated the stuff. The things you do for friendship.

“You know, Jake, when we first started seeing each other, sparks flew. He didn’t mind me dancing for a living, and I didn’t mind he seemed to be the comforter for other girls. But now, well, it’s different.” She nibbled on her forefinger, a nervous habit she’d had ever since I’d known her. “It’s like real life slaps you right upside the head, and you never know what hit you.”

Is that how it would be with Sunny? I thought. Fine at first, then a slow decline? What’s worse? Living through the death of something fine, or being alone with your dreams?

“Look,” I said, “I can’t make a decision for you. Here it is, straight up — either you’re going to put up with this fruit loop or you’re not. I think you’re better than this, but if you don’t, I’m just wasting my breath.”

Some balm for the soul I am, but I confess I was getting irritated.

Danielle blinked her great blue eyes, becoming all teary again. “You do? Think I’m better?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. What do you think?” I sighed and stood. “Dani, I love you, but you need to get your head out of your ass and face your gorgons. Small things turn into big things, and next thing you know your heart’s turned to stone.” I knew she had no idea what I was talking about, but I could feel a sense of purpose forming. I reached out, stroked her creamy skin, and she smiled. She’d be all right.

“There’s a girl, isn’t there?”

“Not yet, but I think…I think it’s a possibility.”

“I’m glad. She’s a lucky girl.” Danielle stood and took my hand, walking me to the door.

#

I walked back to my apartment, thinking about Danielle and Sunny. Thinking about how life sometimes kicks you in the balls. About how sometimes when you meet someone special, you can almost hear an audible “pop’ and your heart feels as warm as a southern breeze. Thinking how sometimes it seems only the stars in the sky understand how you feel.

When I walked in the door, the phone was ringing. Its shrill peal sent goosebumps up my spine. The last thing I wanted to do was pick it up. It refused to stop, so I picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Jake?”

“Yes.” I knew it was Ray immediately, even though he had never called me before. The skin on my skull suddenly felt too tight.

“I thought you’d want to hear it from me, dude. Sunny came in just after you left. She wanted your phone number, but you know me.”

Yeah, I know Ray.

“Still, I gave it to her. I don’t know why I did, I normally don’t do that, you know.” His voice was shaking, and I knew I didn’t want to hear what was coming next. My legs felt heavy and there was a metallic taste in my mouth.

“She was acting a little funny, like she knew something was going to happen.”

“What happened, Ray? Stop fucking around and tell me.” I had to sit down, my legs wouldn’t support me any more.

“I’m trying to, man,” and I realized with some horror Ray was crying. He was crying.

“She took your number and left a box for you. She called them her ‘precious memories’ and said you would understand. Then she…she…left to catch the bus. You know the stop is right across the street.” Ray was practically blubbering by now, and I could see her as if she were standing right across from me, curls escaping the tight braid and that smile. My heart clenched and I was sure it was going to stop beating.

“Go on, Ray. Just spill it,” I said, my voice unwavering.

“It…it was a truck, Jake. A young kid, just got his CDL. I’m so sorry, man.”

I hung up the phone. What else was there to say, after that?

#

After I picked up the package Sunny had left for me, I didn’t go to Ray’s much. Actually, I’ve not been back. It’s not Ray’s fault, but it is hard for me to take.

Inside Sunny’s package were her pearls. I hold them in my hands, feel them warm against my skin and sometimes I can feel her close. Time ticks by and I’m left behind, wondering what could have been, what should have been, and what will never be.

It’s hard to be the last one standing.

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