Nano2018

There will be nothing substantive in this post.  I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year. I ‘finished’ in 2016, quit about halfway in last year, and I’m gonna try again this year.  My book is going to be a supernatural thriller in the vein of Stephen King and his “thinnies.” (shocker, I know).  Even if I don’t finish, I’ll have more on paper than I started with.  Any fellow WriMos?  What is your book going to be about?

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“Excuse me, sir, but your stupid is showing”

2/9/2015

Ah, Mr. King, you’ve done it again. I have been waiting to get my hands on some of your most recent novels, but, poor as I am, have had to be content with staring longingly at the book section of Walmart. Last week, I finally got my copy of Mr. Mercedes. As usual, I find in your writing a refreshing blend of humor, uniqueness, and, of course, captivating plot and characters. Some people might call you strictly a pop fiction writer, but I would wager they hadn’t read enough of your works, especially the later ones, to be able to discern your true talent. For instance, the tying together of a meta- plot arc spanning basically the whole of your writing career in the Dark Tower series took epic writing chops, so sayeth this humble writer. Some reviews have no doubt referred to your writing in “literary” terms, and I think this is more accurate, because you don’t just write stories, you write characters…real people. Yes, I am fully aware I sound like a gushy fangirl, but, believe me, I am coming to a point (I think.) I read and love your writing so much I know it has influenced my own, from the “artistic liberties” I take with sentence structure to the very tone of my writing. Your stories make me think.

Mr. Mercedes is no different. I am still in the thick of the novel, but the villain in Mr. Mercedes has gotten me thinking, and… I think, therefore I BLOG. Although I have some educational background in criminal justice, and have done quite a bit of reading on sociopathic killer-types, I really can’t say for sure what your “typical” villain might be like. Brady Hartsfield seems to fit a lot of the established characteristics (and maybe some stereotypes?) for sociopaths. He’s arrogant, narcissistic, seems socially underdeveloped yet is great at faking proper social interactions. His moral compass is completely off kilter (he still thinks he knows right and wrong, but his morals definitely don’t conform to social norms.) He’s also fairly intelligent…and perhaps also predictably, he does consider himself smarter than the rest of us sheeple.

And yet, like most criminal/villain types in pop culture, he is stupid. Not in the intellectual sense, so much as the moral sense, I suppose. As if we didn’t have enough reason to dislike Hartsfield for committing mass vehicular homicide (and then writing a letter to brag gleefully about it,) you wrote him as a casually unapologetic racist. While he doesn’t overtly go out of his way, at least not that I have read yet, to commit acts specifically for a racial agenda, throughout the narrative of his internal thoughts, he displays his tasteless views on everything from inter-racial dating to black people with “white names,” and peppered in there, in case you need more convincing, is his flagrant use of the N-word.

Now while all of this of course did achieve the likely purpose of causing me to dislike him even more, I found also that it put me off of his “character” as well. What I mean, I guess, is that many readers may dislike a villain for his actions, but like the function he serves in the story. Let’s face it; some characters make good villains (Hannibal Lector immediately springs to mind as an iconic good villain.) They have flare, charisma. They’re clever. Some of them even start out with sort of sympathetic reasons behind their villainous actions.

This douchebag, Hartsfield, while admittedly “clever” in the sense of planning and execution of his crimes, has sort of lost any credibility (with me, at least) as a good villain. As intelligent as he may be in some ways, the fact that he displays such racist ideals just proves his ignorance and selective use of intellectual and logical thinking, and thus causes him to go down in my estimation, even as a villain. While this may seem like an obvious statement (uh, duh, racism is stupid) what was more curious to me was how this changed my dislike for him, from simply thinking of him as a nut-job with a murderous agenda to thinking of him as a narcissistic, weak-minded brat.

So, if there is a point to this whole excursion into mental diarrhea, I suppose it’s that (in my book at least), If you’re a villain, it’s okay to be a psychopathic killer… as long as you’re not a fucking idiot too.

Thanks for coming along, readers.

Related:  https://alienredqueen.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/tunnel-vision-more-on-the-predictable-pathology-of-bad-guys/

The Cycle (V)

*I like doing segments of the same story for my prompts.  Maybe they will equal something like a whole novel one day.  More likely I’ll have to hack away at them, cutting and pasting until I get a useable short story.  Today’s prompt (“I’m being followed”) is courtesy of BareKnuckleWriter.   I just started following her.  I think I’m gonna like ‘er! 

The Cycle (V)

Many criminalists, and probably most anyone else who a longstanding career in most any aspect of criminal law enforcement, would probably agree that a woman should follow her instinct in regards to “bad feelings.”  If you feel like you’re being watched, you likely are.  If you think you’re being followed, it pays to be paranoid.  As the great author Joseph Heller once said, Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.  

Kurt Cobain agreed, and look how he ended up.  He chuckled at his own tasteless joke with evident self-approbation.

The women he had followed had no idea they were being watched.  When he finally approached them, disarming and all smiles, they had no idea they had likely seen him before.  He took no great pains to avoid being seen.  That was how you got noticed.  Someone trying to hide behind a hoodie or a menu, or surreptitiously slip into a doorway appeared suspicious.  His great talent was blending in.  He knew he was too classically handsome, too good-looking, to go unnoticed entirely all the time, but he had perfected the art of looking nonchalant or preoccupied.  Too busy to notice anyone, let alone be approached.

Even still, every once and a while, a woman would approach him.  Not usually the one he was observing, thankfully, but some clueless, brazen bitch who had no idea that the inconvenience of her advances far outweighed any minute ego boost which he might derive.  Yes, sometimes the shyer ones would just try to catch his eye, offer a tentative smile.  But then there were the ones who practically sauntered over.  Try to buy his coffee, make small talk, perhaps actually thinking they would leave with a phone number or a date.  He was usually able to shut them down quickly and effectively, without hurting their pride too much– a wounded woman would remember him– but he always had to abort whatever mission he was on so as not to draw any further attention.

Even those instances where he’d been “spotted” did not concern him greatly.  He’d had plenty of practice over the years, plenty of time to perfect the art of the hunt.  There had been plenty of times when he’d followed people just to see if he could.  There had been many times when he had no intention of doing anything but following.  He didn’t consider it time wasted.  Rather he thought of himself as an actor learning a part.  Like those prissy Hollywood types they called “method actors.”  Only he didn’t get so involved in his work that he wanted to go home and swallow a bottle of pills or drown in a bottle.  He liked his work.

And after his work became less random, more focussed on what came next, he began to be more selective about the object of his attentions.  When he finally moved on to phase two (what he was scarcely aware that he mentally referred to glibly as “the meet and greet,”) he was pleased to discover an unintended result of his “blending in.”   Often the women he engaged had in fact noticed him, but were largely unaware that they had noticed him.  Sometimes they said things like, “Do I know you? You look so familiar…”  The fact of his having been an unobtrusive presence in the background of their local grocery or coffee bar had resulted in a sort of false sense of familiarity, of which his targets were not consciously unaware.  In his efforts to learn master his craft with minimal mistake or misadventure, he had unintentionally perfected the art of being present just enough to be familiar, but not enough to be creepy.  The end payoff was that the women were often easier to lull into a false sense of security.  Their early warning systems, their “bad feelings,” had essentially been short-circuited.

Stroking My Writer’s Ego

Last night I got probably one of the best compliments a writer can get.  A friend (who shall remain anonymous) told me how much something I had written has affected her.  More specifically, her husband.  And even more specifically, it had effected them both in a positive way.  I wrote a piece, part expository, part personal, about an affliction that is apparently common enough to have it’s own moniker, however not something widely known about or discussed.   And by writing about it, a wonderful thing happened; my friend’s husband was able to put a name to his demon and realize he is not alone.  It opened the door for frank discussion between his wife and him.

You can’t get a better compliment as a writer, fiction or nonfiction, than to have a positive impact on someone’s life.  

Thanks to all of my readers and the people who support me.  I hope I can return the favor.

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The Cycle (III): Meraki

*in keeping with the past two segments of Prompts For the Promptless in which I participated (courtesy of Rarasaur,) I’m going make this week’s prompt another short story in the same series.  Here are the first and second shorts in the series.  I kind of like doing it this way because it allows me to keep to the same story idea, but frees me from having to worry too much about pacing and tying together chapters.  It allows me to play with different styles of writing with each segment.  Plus, Rara’s prompts give me a theme to work with.  So without further pontification on my part…

The Cycle: Meraki

She didn’t find the journal until several months after he’d been in prison.  It didn’t seem as if he had taken great pains to hide it from her.  Rather, he’d likely felt confident that she had no reason to mistrust him or to snoop through his belongings, so complete was his hold over her.

And, damn him, he’d been right.  A simple leather bound book with a snap, the journal was right in his car console, masquerading as a benign looking day planner, or maybe a forgotten address book.  In fact, she thought that’s what it at first, and only opened it in a sort of distracted and automatic way.  At least that’s what she told herself.

Only were the contents nothing like what she expected.  Still, had she found the journal a half a year ago, she might have passed off the contents as nothing more than lines from some obscure film, or perhaps her husband’s attempts at some creative writing.  But now the lines of obsessively neat script seemed damning–not to him.  He’d already confessed when he knew he could no longer make any reasonable claims to innocence, and yet here she was, knowing she would have given him the benefit of doubt with almost eager self-deception.

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

…It’s my art. The first thing I’ve cared about in a long time.  First, the woman- she is a blank canvas, and I paint her with blood.

But there’s more- the performance art.  All the world really is a stage, and everyone I meet is a bit actor, but they don’t know it.

Or a chess board, and they are all pawns.  I’m not the king though.  The king is weak, with no freedom of movement.  I am more like the queen- I move, silently and lethally, and the pawns never see me coming.

The Cycle (II)- Schadenfreude

*the following short fiction excerpt is a combination response to Rarasaur’s Prompt for the Promptless and answer to the interest shown by some readers on my short story The Cycle. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

The Cycle- Schadenfruede

She could remember when she had loved him, been enamored with him.  She remembered it in the way one sometimes remembers a dream, like a detached observer.

…Their first meeting, on the back patio of the bar where she and her friends from work had gone after the dull and seemingly interminable company party…  The tentative anticipation and exhilaration of finally meeting someone who could potentially hold her interest for more than a few weeks.  She remembered his dark good looks and his easy charm.  The electricity of their first kiss.

Even now, she could remember his effect on her.  How she had lusted for him and had to force herself to wait even the short week before they fell into bed together in a furious tangle of limbs.  Now, the thought of her lust for him sickened her.  She felt nauseous and ashamed, disgusted by the memory of his face, still handsome and seemingly unaffected by his time in prison.  Disgusted that she had fallen for him, even though, objectively, she could still remember why she had loved him.

But mostly she was disgusted that she had been so completely and utterly fooled by him.  She felt used and stupid.  She felt responsible, as if, in her stupidity, she had somehow been an accomplice to his crimes.

Because now, casting a harsh eye back over the past ten years of her life, she could clearly see– she should have seen– that something was wrong.

He had handled her too easily on too many occasions.  They had fought little throughout their courtship and marriage.   He always seemed so considerate of her feelings, even when her fears or feelings may have been irrational.  He always knew the right things to say, or when to say nothing.  She could see now that what she had taken to be easy-going, what she had thought was just his generous nature, insouciance, had really been an expertly veiled sort of scorn.  The smug bastard had let her have her way simply because he could.  And he enjoyed being able to manipulate her so easily.

Once they had been together for a while, once her trust in him was complete and unwavering, he had enjoyed free rein to pursue his other...hobbies.   He had complete control over her, and she hadn’t even known it, because he had never harmed her, never threatened her, or even said so much as an unkind word to her.  

Now she found herself on some level wishing, perversely, that he had hit her, insulted her or belittled her…given some sign of his true nature.  His abuse had been so much more insidious.  It was in his contentment and pleasure in the  role he was playing– the doting husband–  and in his wife’s utter ignorance.

DP: The House that Writing Built

“Writing Room,” hell!  If I find a genie to grant me a wish, I’m gonna have that motherfucker build me a whole house!

It would be in a remote location in the middle of nature somewhere.  Rustic, inviting, inspiring.  It’d look something like this:

Open air and a fire place? I think, yes!

Open air and a fire place? I think, yes!

The “veranda” (sounds much more stylish and conducive to writing than “porch”) would be the perfect place for temperate weather and chain smoking which I love to do when I write or read.  When I used to smoke more heavily, and indoors, my poor keyboard was littered with ashes from cigarettes I forgot to ash as I pattered away at the keys.

Inside would be cozy, but spacious, and well-stocked with wine.  And a hot tub.  Of  course there’d be a hot tub.  Writing is strenuous work.

genie

Oh shit, oh shit! nevermind!

Oh shit, oh shit! Nevermind!

DP: Helpless? I Don’t Think So!

The DP Challenge for today is sort of ironic:

Helplessness: that dull, sick feeling of not being the one at the reins. When did you last feel like that –- and what did you do about it?

It’s irony is two-fold in that I have felt sort of helpless about my life for a while.  Please understand, I am not unhappy with my life.  I have a wonderful, hard-working, good-looking hubby and a beautiful, intelligent, and sweet two year old girl.  I wouldn’t trade them for anything…  and yet, other aspects of my life have been suffering for a while, for many reasons.

I’d say the root of this is probably the unpleasant shock that came when I graduated from college in 2005 with a double degree… and could not get a job.   Getting a job was like getting credit in a way.  If you don’t have credit, you can’t get credit.  Similarly, there are so many people in the job market today that even in specialized positions, employers feel they have a wide sea of eager fish to choose from.  We eagerly await their return calls, while they have their choice of prospect after prospect in a revolving door of interviews.  Also, they want education.  They want that little piece of paper that says you went to school for at least for years and your education is specialized in this or that.  But…

They also want job experience.  I worked my way full time and went to school part-time, and I worked part time and to school full-time, and I’m sure variations of the two.  But my job was at a mortgage company– read: not my desired career field.  So when exactly, after working in the day and then going off to school in the evening, or visa versa, was I supposed to have time to intern for job experience.  I had my own apartment, no roommates, bills to pay.

Also, turns out my majors were not well thought out.  Turns out, to get a decent job in Psychology, you pretty much need a Master’s degree, and to work in a specialized field in Criminal Justice, it’s usually advised that you walk a beat.

Maybe my counselor in the Student Aid office should have mentioned some of this stuff when she was suggesting I declare a double major.  Just saying.

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Maybe you should have planned better and got a job in your career field, you may say.

To which I would answer either 1) How, with no education?  or

2) Hindsight is 20/20.  Should I continue to pay for making ill-informed or uninformed choices forever?

But alas, I digress…  The point is, suffice it to say, I only had a general idea of what I might want to do.  It’s moot now anyway, because I don’t think I could stomach the job I initially dreamed of having, a criminal profiling job.  I’ve become too sensitive.

And despite having a fulfilling home life, my “career” has fallen by the wayside.

I also have long had aspirations of writing novels as well, but have never been able to complete a novel length manuscript (see my post on writer’s block.)

I have also long wanted to work with animals.

I have a lot of interests and a little experience with a lot of things.  In other words, I know a little about a lot.

Do you see my problem here?  My goals are many and thus I have not given 100% to any of them.  There’s also the money problem.  I haven’t held another full time, career type position since my three and a half year stint at the mortgage company.  Not for lack of trying.  Just a no-go.  So we don’t really have extra money now, even for me to invest in myself.  Similarly, hubby has some ideas of his own he  may or may not decide to pursue.

Well, this brings me to the second reason the DP Challenge for today is sort of ironic.  I have been entertaining the idea for a while that I would love to work either in animal control or with police and service dogs.

Yesterday, I found out my sister is going to school to work with dogs.  I talked to her on the phone today and she offered to send the info about her program.  I am excited, but I am already thinking of all the reasons this won’t work out for me.

I won’t have the money for the program; I won’t have the time; There’s no one to watch the baby if I have to go to classes while hubby is at work; Will hubby be upset if I want to go to school and he still hasn’t gotten to?

But this could be the first step in me “taking the reins back” on my professional life, so to speak.  I also tend to vacillate between being hopeful and being pessimistic about my career situation, and so maybe I need to put a cork in the negativity and, you know… like Nike says, Just do it! Swish!

Decompose (part 2)

 

I want you to understand what it was really like. Yeah, the idea of being mauled, Cujo style, by one of those walking monstrosities was terrifying. It was bad, seeing them torn and broken– with bite marks or chunks of skin and muscle missing from when that moment when they became someone else’s snack. But what was worse was imagining the person they were before. Someone’s brother, someone’s daughter, but reduced to empty sacks of flesh, wall-eyed and filled with stupid fury. Puppets of some evil god.

But then, like I said…it got worse.

See, when a person dies, a series of chemical changes begin. Cells lose structure and enzymes start to break things down. I won’t bore you with a lot of technical terms, but this process usually starts in the gut. Also, the body starts to cool and the blood starts to settle. You may have heard terms like lividity or livor mortis or hypostasis if you’re into all those crime dramas, like Law and Order and CSI…  and a lot of that stuff on CSI is pure bullshit. But one thing that is true is that a body that lays in a fixed position for a significant period of time after death will exhibit a dark purplish stain where ever the blood has settled. Except these guys, these zombies, most of them were walking around, so the blood traveled to the lowest point of the bodies fairly quickly, the legs and feet. The people that had been wearing shorts or skirts, or maybe died in their nightclothes– you could see where the skin on their legs was turned a dark purple, and starting to split like a sausage busting out of the casing.

Another thing those crimes shows always talk about is rigor mortis, which, depending on the ambient conditions, kicks in anywhere from three to four hours after death, and peaks around twelve hours or so.  Normally, it goes away on its own by about the second or third day, but I guess in this case, all that moving around must work the stiffness out pretty fast, because for dead folk, these walking skin-sacks are pretty limber and alarmingly quick on their feet.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, though, there’s more.  When a person dies, their muscles eventually relax and bladder and bowels evacuate.  Yep.  That’s right.  A bunch of zombies walking around with a load in their pants.

These are all changes that take place fairly soon after death. They ain’t pretty, but they’re a good bit more tolerable than what comes next.  After death, bacteria multiplies in the gut and the body’s own enzymes start to break down cells. These processes result in the excretion of gas as a biproduct, and a dead body will eventually begin to take on greenish tones and bloats significantly where gas builds up, namely the abdomen. I don’t know whether you’d exactly call it fortunate or not, but it seems as if the aggressive movement of the zombies probably dispelled most of the gas in their bellies. I’d guess they were belching and crop dusting everywhere they went.  Otherwise, their bellies swell up to massive size as the body cavities fill to capacity with the gases.  Eventually the gases diffuse to other parts of the body, the circulatory system, until the skin tissues rupture, and the gas can be released.  Bacteria continues to spread throughout the body, turning veins various shades of ugly brown, bruise purple, and black.

This is all stuff I read, you understand. At this point, I was still holed up in my apartment, actively not looking out my window. When I finally screwed up the courage to venture out of hiding (more out of necessity than desire) I’d see some of these “early stages of decomp” first hand, in some of the newly infected.

I know this is beyond foul. Actually, that’s what I’m really trying to drive home to you. This is where Hollywood got it wrong. Because unlike the movies, where the zombies seem as if they’ll go on shambling around and eating people til the end of time, what actually happened was much, much worse. The initial victims of the plague, or whatever you want to call it, had started to enter into the stage of active decay. What I mean is, they were starting to fall apart– splitting open, spilling their liquefied insides or leaking decomp fluid from their bloated lips or down their legs… their skin slipping, their skeletons collapsing as their disintegrating muscles and connective tissues became unable to hold them together or support locomotion.

I don’t know why it seems so important for you to understand, why I felt compelled to start this journal. Maybe it’s because there’re so few people left around here, and everyone I knew from before, which was few to begin with, are gone. I think I just wanted a record of what happened, in case someone could maybe use it one day. Or maybe I just wanted someone to know that I existed, because even though it’s been almost a month now, I don’t know how much longer I’ll last.

At any rate, what I’m trying to get you to understand is that the zombies attacking and killing living people was not the true horror of this whole mess…although some nights images of Ms. Russo and Farley still chase sleep from my exhausted mind. The real horror was the fact that eventually, despite their inherent unnaturalness, nature reclaimed the bodies of the dead. Where they fell the final time, they stayed, and when I finally left my apartment, I was walking into a reeking abattoir.

Decompose (part 1)

I love getting requests for posts. It makes me feel special because it lets me know there are some people out there who like my writing enough to ask for something. The idea for this story was based on another post I wrote about The Walking Dead.  There in the comments section, I got a request from my friend Dianda, over at Cats & Co. So here goes the first installment of my serial on what I think a zombie apocalypse would really be like once the zombies get…gooey.  

Fair warning, people, it’s gonna get nasty. 

 

When it actually happened, it was nothing like the movies. Sure, the first week or so was crazy. Zombies everywhere. Yeah, I know how it sounds, but dead people were up and walking around, so what would you call them? People were dying all over the place…and then getting back up again. And chasing people. They could move as fast as you or me too. None of that George Romero shambling shit. These guys were aggressive– like they were pissed off about being dead and all. They weren’t hungry, they were just angry… or crazy, like a rabid animal, something reduced to its basest instincts. On the second day, when shit really started to go south, I saw my neighbor tear apart her own dog like it was made of cheesecloth. He was a Corgi named Farley.

Whatever happened, it happened fast. Saturday night I was heading home from my shift at the store, feeling pleased with myself for scoring a phone number from the hot girl at the pizza shop next door. I should have known it wouldn’t last. Nothing good ever happens to me. I stayed inside playing Halo and eating day old pizza all day Sunday, and Monday morning I woke up to Ms. Russo giving Farley a close shave with her teeth. Once I realized what was happening out there, I did what any self-respecting convenience store clerk would do; I holed up in my apartment.

I don’t mean to be glib. Well, maybe just a little, but only so I don’t go completely nuts.  I wasn’t gonna try to be brave.  My initial plan was to stay put until whoever was in charge of fixing really major league fuck ups… The National Guard.  The CIA.  I don’t fucking know.

After a few days, it became apparent that no one was coming to rescue me.  After days of witnessing the chaos from the safety of my second story window, I closed the drapes and just stopped looking… like I could ignore it all away if I just tried hard enough. The random screams that pierced the days and nights came less and less frequently.  A couple more days after that, I even stopped hearing the sounds of people, living or dead, in the other rooms and on the other floors of the apartment building. I stayed put though, barricaded in my apartment, with my heavy oak dresser against the door and my sofa in front of that, for good measure. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that when you finally think it’s safe, that’s when you get your ass handed to you by a guy wearing someone else’s face. By then I was starting to run out of food…and toilet paper.

Now you’d think at that point that things couldn’t get any worse, but you’d be wrong, and this is where the movie guys got it wrong too. Because no matter what you’ve seen in the movies, zombies can not walk around indefinitely. It’s not physically possible. It was the following Monday when the smell started to seep into the apartment, and what should have been obvious snuck up on me and sucker punched me in the back of the head.

I grabbed my SmartPhone. I don’t know why I even have one. I don’t call anyone. I don’t really have anyone to call. There’s maybe six or seven numbers total in directory, and two of them are for work. That first Monday, I tried to call the cops, an ambulance, anyone. After getting a busy signal four different times, I gave up. I put the phone on the charger and didn’t touch it again until that smell, that stench… There’s really no way to describe a smell like that. And it was still mild. I knew it would get worse. It was October. Temperatures pogoed up and down almost daily, and there was no telling who had their AC off or their heat on, or whatever. Do you see where I’m going with this?

I could still get a WiFi signal with my mostly useless phone, so I hopped online to confirm what I already knew, and I learned more about dead bodies than I ever wanted to know.