Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I wrote this little blurb

about how my DDO buddies, Fluffy, and I finally met in real life and playing DnD. I submitted it to As Seen on Tabletop, and they posted it!

My As Seen on Tabletop story here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good Sign?

The chair asked me to be on a search committee for a new position in our department. It is safe to say this means they plan to keep me at least one more year?

::happy dance::

Monday, October 21, 2013

This week is going to be hell.

I have four meetings, prep for job performance review, a test to give and grade, homework to grade, and 12 presentations to grade.

All I want to do is write.

I finally made it through re-editing the sixth book of my vampire slayer series and sent it to my former office mate. She is nuts about them, and the fact that she is makes me think other people would be, too. This is why I keep going back to them.

I've been going through the seventh book. I finally, FINALLY got through a chapter that had me stuck. It is hard - knowing where you want to go but being stuck. Camellia is stuck in Memphis, and until I figure out how to get her out of there, the story is going to irk me. Ah well, I'll get through it.

Next, I will re-edit my epic fantasy, and then, back to Cameron and the best damned thing I've ever written.  But well, not this week.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Works in the Works

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been re-editing my vampire slayer series. I'm back to book six. I've written about half of book seven, but unhappy with where it was going, I left it. I imagine something similar will happen once I finish book six and give it another look. I know where I want to the story to go; I just can't seem to get there.

The problem with the series is that the first book isn't the best. There is a lot of world building and character development that had to occur, and that makes the story drag at times. With that out of the way, the other books are action-packed. Fluffy has often said that if the series started with book two, it would be better. Unfortunately, without book one, nothing else makes sense. Other than this year's heavy-handed edit, I don't think there is much else I can do to fix it.

It has been a while since I sent out queries for it. I've heard the advice that often, you just have to shelve a project, maybe forever. It's hard to let go of something that you have worked on so hard and for so long. I could try sending out more queries for it. Maybe 4 years is long enough since the last round.

I think my publisher would publish it, but the problem with that is that they are a mainly ebook company. While that gets the book out there more quickly, it makes it more difficult for people to acquire paper copies of the book. I had dreams that a big-time publisher would go for something of mine. Maybe that dream is too big, or maybe I just haven't written the right book yet. I'd like to find an agent, but to get an agent, you have to have something they want. I think I have a product that readers want; I just can't find the right agent.

I have an epic romantic fantasy I've written. Several people (men) have read it. I think it has potential, but again, maybe it isn't marketable. I'm waiting for a bit more feedback before I send off queries for it.

For now, I'll keep editing and preparing a packet for job performance review. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I'm not an author by profession but simply by love of doing it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Long Time, No Write

With the new job and the move, I have been unable to do any writing beyond a quick Facebook post here and there. I still haven't restarted my research, and while that isn't the end of the world, it isn't good either. I'm still overwhelmed. Part of that is my car acting up. Part of it is that Spawn is taking only one nap a day. When he is up, I accomplish nothing in the way of work. When I go to work, I accomplish a few tasks but then end up chatting with someone, or several someones. This is good in that I am building friendships with my co-workers, but it is also frustrating because I never seem to get ahead.

I miss writing.

In an attempt to kickstart myself, I have been editing my vampire slayer series. I have put my heart and soul into it, and I think I can probably find a home for it. It's just...I put so much of myself into it, that I'm afraid of someone mistreating it. What if the cover is terrible? What if it doesn't sell? What if it does sell and people send me hate mail because of how gory and graphic it is?

My first book isn't doing so hot, and that is mostly on my shoulders for doing a poor job of promoting it. Even if I had the time to so it, I'm not a "Toot-My-Own-Horn" kind of person. I'm not even that worried about sales. Anyone who gets into writing for money is an idiot. I just want people to read my stuff, and while I have a few friends who are willing to read it, that doesn't really get my work out there for many people to read. I just fell like, "Dammit, Jim! I'm a mathematician, not a marketing manager!"  

It is almost as if I am afraid of failure and success.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


May was a whirlwind, and June is looking to be a tornado.

In May, I interviewed for and accepted a job offer at Eastern Kentucky University. This means that my little family of three will uproot and move from Alabama. I'm sad to leave behind all my family (and Fluffy's family) and many friends, but this job looks to be a good fit for the direction my teaching career has taken. I'm excited to be working full-time again, and I am thrilled that we will be moving close to two sets of very dear friends.

Last week, Fluffy and I capped off this exciting month by driving (6 hours) to Kentucky to look for houses. Three and a half grueling days later, we found what we feel is the perfect house for us right now. It isn't that much larger than our current house, but it has 3 bedrooms and much more natural light. It's close to work and in a great neighborhood/area. I think we will be happy there for several years, provided I am happy at the job for as long.

The primary source of "wind" in May was the trip, nerves over finding a house, and issues we encountered when getting a loan. It is hard to get a loan when you don't have a current paycheck or a signed contract, but when such a thing happens, look local. Those homegrown banks are willing to help out folks that will be professionals in their towns.

With the choice of house and loan made, we move into June. I stand - arms crossed and foot tapping - waiting for my contract to arrive so I can sign it and send a copy to the bank. We can't close on the house without that. Hopefully the bit of nudging my department head gave the dean will help things along with the higher ups. Move your pens, people! I need in my house before school starts!

Adding to the stress of getting all the paperwork in order is the stress of trying to sell our house in Alabama. The house has been on the market since Monday around 10am, and we have already had 5 visits. Two more are scheduled for tomorrow. There is plenty of interest, but so far, no offers. And the folks who came tonight came in a downpour - definitely the worst time to show the house as they could see how horrible it gets when we have flashflood-type rain. These visits are rough on Spawn, as we have to pack him up and take him away, often screwing up the schedule to which he has grown accustomed. This makes him whiny, which makes Fluffy and I irritable and snippy. We are all sleepy and grumpy.

I just hope someone makes a good offer soon. That way, we can have July to just chill before August comes and brings with it the stress of a new job.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Why, oh why, must everything happen at once? First, my book came out. Then, I got a new job. Now, I'm trying to find a new house in a city seven hours away and sell my house. So much for a calm summer.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


It isn't unusual for me to have weird and/or violent dreams. I awaken - heart pounding in my neck and ears, terrified. Then, I remember who I am, where I am. The world settles. I get up, pee, get back in bed, get back to sleep. Only rarely do I have dreams that leave me shivering, almost in tears.

Last night, I had one.

Thinking over it, I know I've had dreams that were more frightening, more cringe-worthy than this one, but something about it left me so scared that I woke up Fluffy. I asked him to snuggle me and whimpered. It's one of the few times I made a point to adhere to an old wives' tale that states that if you tell a dream before breakfast, it will come true. I waited until after lunch.


Zombie apocalypse. I am wandering around my parents' neighborhood - down in the part of the loop where their house is - carrying a bloodstained baseball bat. I am a survivor. 

Fluffy is with me, as are a few other men. We have cleared the area of zombies, but they are so widespread, so pervasive, we are never safe anywhere for long. We know of a checkpoint nearby, and all but one of the men decide to drive one of the trucks that way in hopes of finding out what is happening.

The man and I stand by my parents' mailbox. The sky is gray, darkening as night approaches. A car comes up the drive from the neighbor's house, and a woman and a 6 year old child get out of it. She waves an automatic rifle and a radio.

"It doesn't look good," she says. "I hope they reach the outpost soon. From what I've heard, this area is so overpopulated, they think the only way to neutralize the situation is to nuke it. I just hope they come get us, or at least give us a chance to clear the radius."

It's dusk now, and the man has built a fire down by the hard woods at the edge of my parents' yard. I stand at the top of the yard, scanning the road, scanning how the patchy grass and moss slope at first sharply and then gently down, down to the campsite.

The child is playing, running. His mother isn't paying attention, and he picks up the rifle. The man tells him not to touch it, and the child drops it. The safety isn't on.

Bullets, rapid, everywhere. She's running to the child. They are screaming, screaming as their bodies are mutilated. I throw up my arm, as if that can protect me. Dirt, twigs, bits of moss pepper my legs, and when the pop-pop-pop stops, they are dead. Dead. Shredded,empty flesh bags - facedown in the leaves near the fire.

The man steps out from behind an oak he used as a shield. He looks at me. "My God." In the firelight, I see his Adam's apple bob. Then, I hear the moaning.

"I don't want to die," I say. "I don't want to be undead."

I awoke with tears in my throat and clawing for Fluffy's arm.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I've been absent from the writing world for the last week or so. My blog and Facebook posts have been brief (and about my hatred for airports). I've spent little to no time on Twitter and little to no time editing and writing. Instead, I was preparing for a job interview.

Interviewing for an assistant professor position is quite different than any other interview experience I've had. These things last about 8 hours. It gives you and your prospective employers a chance to see how you are over a day. You see the campus, the town, meet possible fellow employees, chat with deans, etc. It gives you a chance to say the same things over and over to different people until your nerves are melted away by fatigue.

My committee seemed more interested in Fluffy's research than mine, but I have the skill set they want. One might say this job is perfect for me, for the direction my career has taken. I would be preparing future teachers -- something I've been doing for about 6 years now -- but with the opportunity, in fact the main goal, of designing courses for the master's program. This is extremely exciting! No more freshmen who couldn't make up their minds and just picked teaching. No more eye rolls and class time spent texting instead of actively involved. Small classes!! Tiny classes -- something I haven't encountered since I taught community college -- and a dean and department that keep classes small, no matter what the student population is. 

On paper, I am a great candidate for this position. In person, I believe I come across as genuine and open. I don't make false promises or claim knowledge or experience I don't have, as those types of mistakes ALWAYS come back to haunt me.

I felt the interview was going swimmingly until the end of my research presentation. One of the professors asked me to draw a diagram. I drew it but then I couldn't figure out where all the arcs inside it should be. Without preparation, this type of figure takes some time, a good 10 or more minutes, to draw. After five minutes of staring at the paper, I called it quits. In hindsight, I realized I had the correct diagram and should've stopped. In hindsight, I realized I needed to start with a different version of the parent diagram in order to get a nice ending diagram.

The really annoying part is that none of them knew that I was right all along.  I looked like a fool for no reason. Nothing to do about it though. I can't go back and say, "Oh, hey, I was right." When the committee chair picked me up to take me to dinner, he said the committee didn't feel that my mistake was a deal-breaker. That's a relief, but I still hate looking like an ass in front of twenty people AND on video!

I think the school interviewed three other people, and I was the last. I wasn't told where I was in the hierarchy of candidates, but the committee chair made it clear to me, several times, that I am the one he wants for this job. I would feel good about working there. I always feel good about teaching, but it will be a very nice change to work for a dean who appreciates his underlings.

Now, until I know more, back to writing and peddling my book!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

E-book Away!

The e-book for Fairest is live today on Eternal Press' site. It should be up on Amazon and other retailers over the next few days. Print will be available on EP's site about 10 days from now and at other retailers a few weeks after that.

Squeeee! I'm a published author now.

Fairest can be purchased via this link.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Fifteen Months Later

When I was pregnant with Spawn, I carried him all out front. I had what I referred to as a ba-donka-donk belly. It looked like I had a basketball under my shirt. I could set things on it.

I think this happens to some extent for all heavily pregnant women. Near the end, we are just so tired that resting any part of the body is a good thing, and that is why I think you see women resting their arms and hands atop their bellies. Sure, sure, it's to feel the life growing inside you, but for me, it was mostly about resting. I slept very little after my six month in.

Today, as I roamed around the lab and proctored a final exam, I rested my hand on what is left of my belly. I became conscious of what I was doing and wondered how many times I had done that after the pregnancy. I still get out of bed like I'm 9 months pregnant, but a few weeks ago, Fluffy caught me resting my arms on my tummy. Just habit now, I guess.

Anyway, so in the lab...I thought about resting my arm on my belly and how hard it was in those last months of pregnancy. It was too cramped in there, what with an 8 pound person sharing space with with my organs. If something pressed against me, Spawn fought back. If something pressed against me, my skin stung, and my inside felt uncomfortable.

For a while after I gave birth, my entire abdomen was soft and smushy, with reddish-purple lighting bolt-shaped stretch marks covering it like cracks in an egg shell. Now, there is a thick layer of soft and smushy, but under it, I've begun to rebuild muscle. My abs are stronger, tighter. The stretch marks are flesh-colored lighting bolts. When I rested my arms on my belly, they slipped off. When I rested my arms on my belly, my elbow hit my stomach -- my hard stomach -- and I thought, "There I am. Under all that destroyed mess of flesh and fat, there I am."

My body is ruined. It will never be as it was before, but I get these little hints.  There I am, under the wreckage. It's bittersweet. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Launch Day is coming!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013:

This is the day that the e-book version of Fairest goes live on Eternal Press' site and for Kindle on Amazon. From 1:00p.m. to 2:00p.m. (CDT) I will be in the Eternal Press chat room talking about my book and myself. To the few who read this, you are welcome to join me and hang out. You just make up a chat name, no accounts or anything else necessary, and chat away. Everyone I know and love is busy, so I expect is to be fairly quiet. Still, I think I'll be too wound up to be lonely.

EP link for my book: Fairest

Link to EP's chat room: EP Chat

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Update

The e-book for Fairest goes live at 12:01 a.m. pacific time on Eternal Press' website. EP offers five e-book formats: .pdf, .lit (microsoft reader), .pdb (palm), .mobi (works on a kindle), and .epub (which also works on a Nook). It will show up for Kindle at Amazon within 24 hours and then pop up at the various other vendors throughout the following couple of weeks. Vendors put the books up according to their own time schedule, so I can't be more specific. I'll try to keep tabs on this and post updates about it.

A paper version of the book should be available around the 7th on the EP site. Print is at the usual Amazon, B&N, and others, but on their schedule. E-books at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Blio, Itunes, All Romance/Omnilit, Overdrive/Content Reserve, Zola and others.

I'm supposed to have a book launch chat on the site on May 1st. I haven't selected a time slot, but my options are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (EST). I'm supposed to invite my friends, family, and fans to chat with me. If you know me, you know that I'm sitting here thinking, "These are terrible times. No one I know is going to show up for this thing, which is just as well since I will spend most of my time there not chatting but struggling to keep Spawn off my mouse." On top of that, this launch day is right in the middle of finals. I don't think this would be so stressful if I didn't have 4 or 5 other important things pressing on me all at the same time. Oh well.

Keep swimming, right?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rain-tinted Glasses

          Clouds blanket the sky.  Everything is saturated and squishy, but I take pleasure in the sharp contrasts found only when the land is drenched.  Wet like this, things appear to exist more.  The world looks skewed, as if I have been transported to a realm similar to my own but where every color is deeper, bolder, richer.  Everything is off-set just a bit, distances seem further, and the empty spaces, emptier.  

          The tree bark is almost as black as the asphalt.  Where they reach into the puffy, gray sky, more naked branches, limbs, and twigs of the white oak are visible in the tops of the trees.  The ultra-green of the pine needles glows when compared to the trunks.  The vinca blossoms are purpler, the fallen leaves burnt orange instead of dry, dull brown.  The tiny, dripping leaves of the boxwoods seemed livelier, and the dormant grass, a warmer shade of beige.
          I first felt this shift, this different realm, as a child.  I pulled my mother outside and said, "Look how different everything is!"   

          "It's just wet, honey," she said and went back inside the house. 
          She didn't see.  Confounded by her reaction, I focused harder, trying to see the world as it had been when dry.  I couldn't.  I never have been able to, and I wonder how anyone with eyes can.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Due in May

Here is the cover for FAIREST, my modern re-telling of the Grimm's "Snow White." I turned out so well. Release date is set for May 1, 2013, via Eternal Press. Aint she pretty?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My List of Abused and Overused Words

I shared this with my Tumblr friends, but I thought I should post it here, too.

Why I need my list: As an aspiring author, one thing I have been told repeatedly is to edit the hell out of everything before trying to get it published. This stands to reason, as a manuscript full of typos and incorrect word usage is a turn-off for agents, editors, and publishers. Great, but no one has ever told me how to edit the hell out of something. I figured that grammar and spell checks factored in, but beyond that, I wasn't sure, and those checks don't catch everything. Thus, I developed a system for myself, and this list of words is a big part of that.

How I started my list: After I sent my mother the first novel I ever wrote, she called me and said, "I am sick and tired of Mr. Chuckles." I had used that word over 50 times in 300 pages. No one chuckles that much. Because of that, I did some searching <ctrl+f> and came up with a list of words that I abuse. I always search these when editing. For the overused words, I don't remove all of them, just enough to spread it out so you don't notice it. (The book I am currently reading has "diffidently" 20 times in 400 pages. That is too much for an adverb!) The others are words that are abused - used incorrectly or typed in error.

My List:
cliches and colloquialisms (grammar check catches most of these, for American English)
your/you're (a mortifying mistake for an author, but it happens)
there/their/they're (another mortifying mistake)
words that end with -wards should be -ward (toward not towards)
piece of [my, his, her] mind/peace of mind
you not inside a quotation
had/passive voice (you can't get rid of them all; you can't!)
is/was (you can't get rid of them all, and you shouldn't)
fuck/shit/piss/hell/damn (no one should curse all the time)
my own (replace with "mine" or just "my" whenever possible)
snicker/snigger usage (I don't think anyone really uses snigger anymore)
flop (my characters flop onto furniture a lot)
hum (related to sex scenes)
like (when I should use "as if," "as," or "as though")
words in place of "said" (don't over-do it)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Stone Skipping Over Water

Our relationship was like that - here and there only a moment of interaction but with enough impact to make a mark (not a bad one, mind you).

Our mothers played tennis together, and this was how we first met. My mother often dragged me to the courts and left me in the clubhouse with a lunchbox of toys. Even though I would've preferred being left at the swimming pool, this wasn't often possible, but I had an active imagination and could make do with my toys and an almost-house.

One day, I sat upon one of the bamboo sofas with neon palm tree printed cushions (hey, it was the 80's) and applied makeup to a Barbie head. He came in, looked at me, and said, "That's terrible, and look at her hair!" It didn't matter that he was six years older, he sat with me and showed me how to brush the tangled from her hair without ripping it out of her scalp. Why would he play with me? This, I asked my mother.  "He has a little sister. He knows your brother." Judging by how rarely my brother allowed me to play with him, I couldn't understand how this was an answer.

<long skip>

He sat with me on the porch of the clubhouse and helped me tear out dresses for my paper dolls. "Don't be impatient or you'll rip the folding tabs." No, I couldn't abide that. This obsessive trait, we mutually understood.

<long skip>

"Here," my tennis coach said, "Practice returning Jason's serve." It glanced off the top of my racket and hit me in the chin. He crossed the net to have a look at it. "Sorry," he said and smiled.

<long skip>

I stood beside an outdoor fireplace, Solo cup of keg beer in hand, chatting with another girl. I saw him and he me. "Oh my God, [Summa]! Is that you?" Yes, it was. "How old are you?" I was eighteen. "Really?" We talked for three hours.

<short skip>

I hugged him at his engagement party. By now, he was a dentist, and I was working on my bachelor's.

<short skip>

I chatted with him at someone else's engagement party, told him I was married and that I was a teacher. "You're too smart to do that." Well, kids need smart teachers. "It was good to see you." You, too, and it was the last time.

<the stone sinks>

Monday, April 1, 2013


I remember staring west, waiting and watching as the sun dipped below the tree tops, below the street that curved to meet our driveway at the top of the hill. I heard it then -- groaning, rumbling, rushing.  At any moment, I expected to see great giants crash through the three line to trample my house and my family.

"Do you hear that?" I asked my brother.  "It changes, but I hear it every night."

"It's just the trees growing," my father said.

Later, I learned that, whether it was air masses colliding or the pounding of my pulse in my ears, the sound was thunder.  Now, when I hear either one, I think, It's just the trees growing, and I'm not afraid.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Paradigm Shift

          In a cloak the color of Spanish moss, she follows the path through the ancient cypresses of the swamp. The only sounds are the squish of her bare feet in the mossy mud and the call of a loon. She parts the knee-high fog, which slithers behind her to cover all traces of her passing.
          She glances back, and a long coil of dark hair falls out of her hood to rest over her shoulder and against her chest. Foggy eyes wide with worry scan the wet, dim trunks and bruised skies. Bothered, she quickens her pace, dotting the hem of her cloak with the murk splashed by her feet.
          She carries a use- and age-darkened scroll and slides her hands along it as she approaches a set of vivid red stairs. She stops -- her left foot just above the bottom step -- and inhales sharply. Around her, the trees have turned to twisted spires of metal, and a thousand head-height shafts of rebar pierce the fog, each one tipped in red.
          Her nostrils flare, and she shakes her head in disbelief.  Biting her lower lip, she rushes up the stairs and straight through me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Spring is coming. With the warming weather comes a rapid increase in birdsong. There is one call in particular that stands out -- a mocking bird. With each song, he says, "Hey ladies. This is my tree. Come on over and check out my nest."  One long tweet followed by a lower-pitched short tweet and then a slightly higher, off-key short tweet and I am thinking of the swings and the first time I ever heard the mockingbird's song.

When I little, about once a week in late spring and all summer, my mother would pack up our giant, wooden picnic basket with the smiling sun on top, load us into the car, and take us to Memorial Park on the backside of the public swimming pool. My brother and I hung from jungle gyms, dirtied our bottoms on metal slides, got stung by yellow jackets, and (my favorite) swung on the swings. These were old-school: black plastic U-shaped sling seats that burned your legs on summer days, long just-rusting chains, and towering A-shaped pole supports.

Tweeeeet, tweet, tweet, just like the squeak of the chains as she swings. Listen! He thinks he's found a mate, but it's her on the swing. Poor, poor bird.

Back, forth, the pendulum child stretches out her legs, leans back on the chains. Higher feet, higher. She reaches, reaches and scoops the clouds with her soles.

Down she goes, knees tucked tightly. Lean forward now, but don't fall out!

Soaring, reaching, stretching, yearning, until she gets so high that the chains go slack. Weightless for a moment, her bottom leaves the sling, then she returns, the chains catch with a loud clang. Watch your fingers, honey, the chains pinch. They leave blood blisters and blood and a worried mother. Fingers safe, she wobbles wildly for a bit on the back arc.

When it's the dry, hot misery of late August, she watches as the poured concrete around the pole wiggles in the grassless dirt. She sees the earth crack, sees the pole puff out dust as it settles at her lowest point. She wishes for her brother, because if they synchronize, they can get a bit of the pole to come out of the ground. They can see how the concrete looks like a crumbly, gray mushroom. It won't come out too far though. These things are buried deep (lawsuits and all).

Tweeeet, tweet, tweet. She swings up, up. At the highest point, she leans back and lets go. Little girl, let your feet fall over your head. You will stick the landing with a smile.

Monday, March 4, 2013


          "You write books?" This is what a student asked of me today. I can't help but laugh because it's laughable. I am a math professor - not at all what most people invision a fiction author to be. Yet, I am. I am! "When does it come out?"
          "May, after final exams."
          "Well, what is it about?"
          "It's a modern-day version of Snow White."
          Her eyes bugged.  "I would read that."
          My response:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Update

The artist emailed me a draft of the cover for FAIREST. It's very pretty, and I only have a few things I'd like her to tweak. Overall, I am very happy with it and will be happy with it even if she doesn't make any changes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Works Always in the Works

I have a series of which I have written six books. Because my timing is absolutely wretched, they will most likely never be published unless I do it myself.  I might, one day, but right now, I don't have the time to do all that I would need to do to make such a thing worth while much less successful.  

After receiving a rejection but with excellent feedback, I decided to attempt another rewrite.  I've spent the last two weeks editing books 1 and 2. As with every time I open the files and dive back in, the story pulls me. My heart and soul went into these characters and their lives, and it is sometimes painful to me that I am the only one who has met them, who knows their struggles, their shortcomings, their saving graces. The main character reflects quite a bit of me, and many times I have written her experiences and thoughts with tears burning my eyes and throat.

I'll have to think about it more, but I may post chapters or scenes here.  Camellia's story is dark, and most people don't do dark. 

For tonight, I will just share one of her thoughts: 
Loneliness was a catching illness.  I am an adult.  I am strong, physically and mentally.  The loneliness shouldn't get to me, but somehow, it always does.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

EA* Imitates Life

I had not played Sim3 in about 3 years, but when the house was struck by lightning just before Christmas and we had no internet, I got back into it. I made Sims for myself, Fluffy, and Spawn. At the point when this conversation occured, I was top level in the science career, Fluffy was a gardener/inventor, and Spawn was a firefighter (We have since all retired and are awaiting the Grim Reaper.).

Me: I hate that I just now realized they'd added that you could be a teacher. I would've made my Sim do that since I'm actually a teacher.
Fluffy: Well, you can always re-start your game, try again.
Me: And go through raising Spawn all over again? No.
Me: I should've made you a teacher, too. I mean, what else are you going to do? I don't know, if I could get a job that paid well enough, you could be a stay-at-home dad.
Fluffy: Really? If I did that, I would take care of the house and even do home improvements. I actually enjoy that kind of stuff when I'm not also having to work.
Me: Sure, and I actually enjoy teaching. 
Fluffy: I am so in love with you right now.
Me: Of course, that means we could never leave the south because we wouldn't be able to afford to live on one salary anywhere else.
Fluffy: Buzzkill.

*For you non-gamers, EA is Electronic Arts

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Real Life Updates

1) Last Sunday, Spawn turned one. We held a large party (in my opinion) of family and friends. It went better than I expected - all the children had a good time, no one had a meltdown (including Spawn). It was stressful, but it was good.

In the time I spent with Spawn and looking through pictures of the party, I noticed how interested in other children Spawn has become. He needs friends his age, but every time I think about putting him in daycare or a mother's day out, I think a) I don't have the money for that b) Spawn is so healthy and I know he will be sick all the time if he's in daycare c) Once I find a full-time job, he'll have to go to daycare, so I should just enjoy having him home and teaching him myself while I can.

I keep telling myself I just need to try to enjoy him while he's little, especially since he will probably be my only child. Taking care of him can be so exhausting. It's hard when you need a break or you just want to go out, see friends, or shop and you can't.

2) Friday, I received my signed contract for Fairest. It has been put on Eternal Press' publication schedule for May of this year. I've returned my author information sheet, so now, I'm just waiting to hear from the editor about suggested changes or corrections.

I'm amazed by this little book. I started it as a NaNoWriMo project in 2010 and gave up after 15,000 words. In 2011, I added a few more chapters before I gave up. I moved on to other projects for a while before I made up my mind to finish it. Unlike most of my other works, this one is stand-alone. Those other stories, even if I have finished entire books of them, are still unfinished. I had a chance to complete something with Fairest. In summer of 2012, I did. It was fulfilling to finally FINALLY finish something. It has a beginning, middle, and end.

I spent some time editing it and tried querying in September. When it received no interest, I sent it off to friends and had another go at editing it. Then, on a whim, I decided to look for publishers instead of agents. It's not easy to find YA publishers who take unsolicited works, but Eternal Press does and did! I was so used to rejection that I had to read the email twice before I realized they wanted my book!

3) I have applied for twelve jobs across the southeast. I am qualified for all of them, but I well-qualified for three of them. As a female and with my work experience, I should be a prime candidate.

It may be too early to worry about, but I'm torn over whether or not to move. There is a position at my current school, one that I could easily learn what I don't already know, one where I already know everyone, am respected and like, but it is administrative. I'm not wild about having to evaluate co-workers and grad students. I'm not sure I can tactfully deal with parents, one of many reasons I will never teach high school again. Before I had Spawn, I was too sympathetic. Now, I have almost none. All of my patience and caring are spent by him, and I don't know if this would be a good thing or a bad thing for my job.

On the other hand, I don't enjoy research. I see it as necessary for my career, but I'm not passionate about it in the way I am about my actual career. This administrative position comes with no research, but the pay and workload are terrible. Having said that, there is a similar position at another school that has competitive pay and workload to that of someone in a regular professorship. But do I want to move?  Do I want to leave my friends and family? Yes and no. Yes and no.

4) I spent the last three days proofreading Fluffy's dissertation. He finally sent off first drafts to his committee last night. Now, he just needs to set a date and time to defend and make a power point. Why is this more stressful for me than my own defense?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where the Wild Things Hunt

Foreword: I often have dreams of my shadow. He (my shadow is male) usually tries to kill or absorb me, so I generally wake from these dreams feeling panicked and at best uncomfortable. This one...well, this one was different. I was my shadow.  

          Shadow stood on the edge where the dormant grass met the rip-rap-covered bank.  In the bay, the water gently lapped against grayish rocks.  Rusty water, made less inviting by the bright sunlight.  Through oval glasses he didn’t need, he stared at the ferry as it approached the docks.  He’d been compelled to wear them, putting on the face of an intellectual.  People stereotyped glasses-wearers as geeks, nerds, and squares long before Velma began single-handedly solving mysteries for the gang.  He could play off that for the day.
          Looking to his left, Shadow recognized the teenaged boy sitting on a tripod stool in front of an easel.  He knew that the boy painted ocean scenes in watercolor, all the same shade of blue but with different concentrations of the color.  Several empty tubes of acrylic lay scattered around the boy’s feet and on the easel two cups – one for water, one for paint. 
          The boy moved the brush over the paper with inhuman speed, starting in the upper left and working his way to the lower right.  He didn’t wait for it to dry.  As soon as one was finished, he flipped the paper over the top of the pad to reveal a fresh, white sheet.  Always intrigued, Shadow walked over to stand behind him and watch as the boy transferred the world onto paper.
          “Sea, sea, sea, sea,” the boy murmured over and over as his arm jerked and hitched.
          Shadow couldn’t understand how such uncontrolled movements made something so beautiful.  The result was a surprisingly realistic rendering with exquisite detail to the tiny crests of waves.  For only a moment, he took the pad from the boy and flipped through the paintings.  As he flipped, Shadow saw the nebulous blob that marked the position of the ferry make steady progress toward the dock.
          “Sea, sea, SEA, SEA.”  The boy grew increasingly agitated.
          “Yes, I know,” Shadow said to him and returned the pad.  “It’s the only thing you see clearly.”
          “Sea,” the boy sighed and resumed painting.
          Shadow took the ferry to the island.  It was a small boat, and the waves were rough, but since the trip was uneventful, he tuned out for a while.  He never noticed the young woman, no more than twenty, staring at him with large blue eyes rimmed with black liner.  She longed for a hat as she fought to keep her pageboy-cut hair out of her eyes.  Eventually, she settled for holding each side of her hair in her fists. 
          Beyond the draw of a handsome face, she marveled that Shadow’s hair hardly moved.  The wind picked up only a few strands and twice saw him scratch at the stubble on his face.  Other than that, he didn’t move, and she wondered how anyone could be so still for so long.  She thought that, if he embraced her, her ear would rest just over his heart.  
          On the island, Shadow stared into the forest while the others set up camp.  The young woman spoke to him, and he greeted her, letting his eyes pass over her face to record it for future reference.  Her eyes, hope and good will seemed to arrow out of them, and he wondered if other things – hate, fear, lust – would also come through them, not only transparently but forcefully so.  He gave her a half-smile and a half-laugh, which she returned with a wide, guileless grin.  Clingy, he thought and walked away from her to the main tent.
          Fourteen feet-by-fourteen feet, the tent stood in a patch of evergreen needles just large enough to contain it.  Two adjacent sides had both the flaps and screens unzipped and tied open to allow easy access.  A long table and several camp chairs were already set up, along with two laptops, a scanner, and a printer.  Shadow gave the equipment the same treatment he’d given the young woman. 
          “You can try,” he said quietly and left to set up his own tent.
          He was up, sitting in a chair in the main tent and listening to the night.  A man’s scream cut off abruptly.  Snapping, snapping, rending, gurgling growls of satiation.  More screaming.  His lantern was on, and soon, the surviving five people clustered in the center of the tent, looking to him to know what to do.
          “Did you see it?” one horrified man asked of Shadow.  “It was eight feet tall!”
          “Furry, too?” Shadow asked, his smile haunting his face again.  He stood and turned up the lantern.  “With lower tusks, large black eyes, and a nose that’s almost comically human.”
          The man poked his head out of the flap of the tent and never had the chance to scream before the snarling thing outside batted his head off his shoulders.  His body dropped to the ground, and the young woman, beyond terror, darted to Shadow’s side.  She tucked her head under his arm and dug her fingers into his shirt.
          “What are they?”  Her skin was cold, and she quivered with the rush of adrenaline.
          “Wild,” Shadow answered.  When the beast poked its head into the tent, the young woman looked up at him, searching for an answer, for deliverance.  Shadow passed a hand over her short, soft hair and removed his glasses.  “Hungry,” he added.  As he breathed warm air onto the lenses, the beast leapt.          (2011) 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle

I first heard this story in either kindergarten or first grade. I love old European fairy tales, Grimm's and otherwise (and I love re-telling them). They teach children all sorts of life truths and lessons. There is one that is unspoken but undeniably true: Never trust a fairy.

THERE once was an old woman who lived in a vinegar bottle. Don't ask me why. It was a common old vinegar bottle. Maybe a little larger than most, but, still, it made for a very small house. The old woman would often sit on her front steps and complain. "Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in a tiny house such as this. Why, I should be living in a charming cottage with a thatched roof and roses growing up the walls. That's what I deserve."
           One day a fairy happened to be flying overhead and she heard the old woman's complaint. "I can do that," thought the fairy. "If that's what she wants...that's what she'll get." And to the old woman she said, "When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. In the morning, just see what you shall see."
           Well, the old woman thought the fairy was likely batty, but she decided to give it a try. When she went to bed that night she turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again in the morning ... She found herself in a charming cottage with a thatched roof and roses growing up the walls! "It's just what I've always wanted," she said. "I know I will be so happy here." But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.
           The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. "I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I'll just stop round and see."
           When she got to the charming cottage the fairy found the old woman sitting and complaining. "Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in a tiny cottage like this. Why, I should be living in a smart row house with lace curtains at the windows and a brass knocker on the door! That's what I deserve!"
           "Well," said the fairy, "I can do that. If that's what she wants ... that's what she'll get." And to the old woman she said, "When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see."
           The old woman didn't have to be told twice. She went right to bed. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again in the morning, she found herself in a smart row house with lace curtains at the windows and a brass knocker on the door. "It's just what I always dreamed of!" she said. "I know I'll be so happy here!" But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.
           The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. "I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I'll just stop round and see."
           When she got to the smart row house, there sat the old woman in her brand new rocking chair ... rocking and complaining. "Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in this row house with common neighbors on either side. Why, I should be living in a mansion on a hilltop with a manservant and a maidservant to do my bidding. That's what I deserve!"
           When the fairy heard this, she was much amazed. But she said, "Well, if that's what she wants ... That's what she'll get." And to the old woman she said, "When you go to bed tonight, turn around three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you will see!"
           The old woman turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning ... She found herself in a mansion on a hilltop with a manservant and a maidservant to do her bidding! "This is just what I've always deserved," said the old woman. "I know I will be so happy here!" But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.
           The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. " I wonder how that old woman is getting along. The one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I'll just stop round and see."
           But when she came to the mansion on the hilltop she found the old woman in her velvet chair ... sitting and complaining! "Oh, what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should have to live in such a drafty old mansion. Why, I should be living in the palace. Oh, yes, I should be the queen with musicians to entertain me and courtiers to bow to me. That's what I deserve."
           "Good heavens," thought the fairy. "Will she never be content? Well, if that's what she wants ... that's what she'll get." And to the old woman she said, "When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see!"
           The old woman could not wait to go to bed that night. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning, she found herself in the palace and she was the queen, with musicians to entertain her and courtiers to bow to her. "Oh, yes! This is what I've always dreamed of. I know I will be so happy here!" But not a word of thanks did she give to the fairy.
           The fairy went north and the fairy went south. The fairy went east and the fairy went west. She did all the business she had to do. Then she began to think about that old woman. "I wonder how that old woman is getting along ... the one who used to live in the vinegar bottle. I think I'll just stop round and see."
           When she got to the palace there sat the old woman on her throne ... sitting and complaining! "Oh what a pity! What a pity pity pity! That I should be queen of such an insignificant little kingdom. Why I should be Empress of the Universe. Oh, yes, Empress of the Universe! That's what I really deserve!"
           "Well!" said the fairy. "There is just no pleasing some people! If that's what she wants, that's what she'll not get!" And to the old woman she said, "When you go to bed tonight, turn round three times and close your eyes. When you open them again in the morning, just see what you shall see."
The old woman hurried to bed that night. She turned round three times and closed her eyes. When she opened them again the next morning, she found herself right back in her vinegar bottle! "And there she shall stay!" exclaimed the fairy. "If she can't be happy here, she won't be happy there. For, after all, happiness comes from the heart! Not from the house!"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Karma Police

           "Arrest this man."
           I believe in karma, as I have felt the wheel roll over me too many times to ignore it. When I hear about people who prey on the pain or loss or generosity of others, I know that at some point, the scales will balance. I'm sure that isn't much comfort to those who were the victims of deception, but it is something.
           With each day comes new tragedy. People come together to aid their fellow man, but there are always a greed-driven few looking to make a buck off tragedy. I'm going to tell you a story about one such person.
           Fred, let's call him, started graduate school the year I came back. Though his undergraduate record wasn't stellar, he received a full ride (tuition waiver, stipend, book money, housing allowance) at the department's expense. An older student with a wife and seven-year-old daughter, he wanted to get his PhD, try to better his position in life, etc.
           He'd never taught before, and if you've never taught before and have no training, it's in your best interest to seek the help and guidance of a veteran. Fred did not. The first semester, he was never on-time to class. Several times, he never showed, forcing other teachers to fill-in for him and leave their tutoring spots. He was always late to do his floor hours, practically hid while in the lab, and left early.
           Because of him, the lab director made a new policy that all the workers had to swipe in and out, like punching a time clock the same way the students did. She claimed that the information collected would be used for the department chair to decide who got benefits and how much in following semesters.
           When Fred learned of this, his work ethic improved. He asked for help, called or emailed people to cover for him, and so on. And we did help him and cover for him, even when he didn't repay us or failed to show for the shift he swapped with us.
           After his first semester, he lost his stipend but not because of his shoddy work. No, his grades were too low. As graduate student in our department, you can't make C's, and if you make too many B's, the department will cut your funding in favor of giving a better student and worker more benefits.
           Since his family depended on the money and he had 18 graduate credit hours, the department head took pity on him and kept him as a part-time instructor (same work load). Because of his lack of teaching skills, he was put in a course with no instruction time. He couldn't possibly teach his students wrong because there is no teaching in that class. All he had to do was show up, and of course he didn't.
           Now, you might be thinking, "So he's a dirt bag. I'm not seeing how this should exact karmic retribution." I'm getting there.
           Right around spring break, he just disappeared. The two people in the department who were friends with him couldn't get in touch with him. Finally, he answered an email from the department head stating that his wife was in the hospital.
           She had some kind of stomach bug. He spent two days nursing her before deciding it was too severe and took her to the emergency room. They said it was a bug, sent her home, etc. When she wasn't better five days later, he took her back, and she was diagnosed with a bacterial infection so rampant that the antibiotics couldn't fight it. After another week, she died.
           We were shocked and appalled for him. In this day and age, in the United States, how could this happen? Well, it does. Every day.
           We covered his classes. We covered his hours. We sent food, money, cards, flowers. We asked after funeral arrangements. Then, one of his friends saw him out one night with his wife! Here, we were supporting him while he grieved for the loss of the love of his life and the mother of his daughter, and she wasn't dead. She hadn't even been ill.
           Even though there are people like Fred out there, who will use and abuse the goodwill of others, we should still extend it to those in need. Even if we can't be sure that the need is real, giving and helping is what a decent human does. If you've been burned, please don't let it discourage you. Just think of it as good karma.


          On the way to my parents’ place, there is a rather large pine tree growing close to the edge of the road.  In my largely rural hometown, houses and roads are built as to intrude upon nature as little as possible.  Lined with pines and hardwoods, the road to my parents’ neighborhood is hilly, and so it has narrow shoulders with steep drop-offs in many places.
          What makes this one tree so special?  Someone died by it.
          I met Amber at one of the infamous “Tupperware” parties where she proudly showed us the Silver Bullet (think metal, vibrating tampon) she purchased, with car adapter.  She was twenty then and had a fun personality to make up for the fact that she didn’t inherit the same good looks her older sister had.  She loved male strippers and could be heard above the rest of the ladies, hooting and shouting for the over-tanned man in a star-spangled banana hammock to, “Yeah, take it off, baby!  Come earn my money.”
          Amber was an alcoholic who also happened to be addicted to Oxycontin, two things she had in common with Kevin, her boyfriend of four years.  She spent the next few years of her life in a co-dependent relationship, bouncing between jobs with her parents threatening to throw her out of their house, and her two closest friends begging her to get clean.  Eventually, she broke up with Kevin and kicked the booze and narcotics. 
          It turned out the drugs were easier to give up than the boy.  A few times a month, they would hook up, and then she got pregnant.  When she was sure, she called him. 
          He picked her up around eleven on a Friday night, drunk, but where I’m from, driving drunk is a sport almost as popular as football.  They drove to a cul-de-sac in her neighborhood and talked for a few hours.  When she told him she intended to keep the baby, he promised to get clean and marry her.  They loved each other.  Kevin wanted her to go home with him, and she agreed.            
          The old pine is at the top of a steep hill, across the road and a bit left from where her neighborhood exits onto the main road.  Kevin, traveling at escape velocity, hilltopped and smashed the passenger side of his Mustang into the pine.  He woke up two weeks later, but Amber died on the scene.
          It’s been several years now.  The area where the car struck the tree can’t grow bark anymore.  The exposed tinder attracted beetles and has grayed and flaked with time.  I wonder if that’s how Amber’s parents feel. 
          Every Christmas and on her birthday, friends staple her picture to the tree, lay flowers at its base, and leave candles, and I wonder if any of them give her grave the same loving treatment.  I feel as though the scarred tree alone is a hard enough reminder to her parents.  They see it whenever they leave the neighborhood to go to work or church. 
          Drive down any highway in my neck of the woods, and you’ll see similar roadside memorials.  “Somebody died here.  Remember that.”  I’m not sure what purpose that serves.       (2011)         

Monday, February 4, 2013

Urban Renewal

          The A-frame across the street from the Salvation Army Store has been many things.  In my memory, it was first a cleaners.  I seem to recall seeing lots of things in plastic - herrings hanging to dry.  I don't recall the name.
          Next, it was a nail salon.  It now had a sign.  Nails! it proclaimed with a bottle of polish to the side.  Strange, I never saw a car parked there.  The owner most likely lived within walking distance, but with no car in the lot, the place looked vacant.  In a town like this, there is something off-putting about a business with no cars in the lot.
          Two summers ago, the building hosted Hot, Hot, Hot Wings and the sign had a flaming chicken with bugging eyes in full squawk.  That is a chicken going ape because it was engulfed in fire.  Again, no cars in the lot and no visible people in the building.  It had such potential, but it seems no one wants to eat in an empty restaurant.
          Now, the place is Abracadabra Jail Bonds complete with unlocked handcuffs on the sign.  It's only three blocks from the county jail, but with a competitor on the same block as the jail, Abracadabra is surely doomed. I wonder what it will be next.    (2010)

Sunday, February 3, 2013


          With my grandparents no longer living in their house, it has fallen on my mother to see that the place doesn't fall into disrepair or get robbed. Each week, she ships furniture to various relatives. Each week, she calls me and asks, "Do you want [...]?"
          Last week, she went to oversee the dredging of the pond. This pond is actually across the highway from the house, and only a metal guardrail and three foot-wide bank separates it from the road. The purpose of the dredging was to recover a truck that crashed through the guardrail. When they pulled it out, they found another car...with a body.
          "They finally identified him," Mom said. "The man has been missing for over a year, so at least his family has closure."
          It's just strange to think that a dead guy was pulled from a pond where I used to fish as a child, where I once came upon a black racer, and not knowing it wasn't poisonous, blindly ran through the woods and bolted across the highway without looking. My father caught me up in his arms -  something he rarely did, as I tended to run to my mother.
          I've been terrified of snakes ever since then.


          While watching American Pickers, my mother asked me, "Do you think it's possible to ever really understand someone else's perspective?  If someone grew up being told the sky was brown, do you think you'd ever convince them that the sky is blue?"
          I said, "I think most people accept what they're taught without question.  When they encounter something outside their experience or contrary to what they believe, they either ignore it or violently oppose it."  I watched as teary-eyed old man made a deal to sell one of his many antique bicycles.  "Maybe not.  Maybe people are more willing to explore, but the ones who aren't just yell louder."  I looked back at her and half-grinned.  "Trying to help a lost soul, are you?"
          "Always.  And you?"
          "Always." Even if it's only my own.

Over the train tracks and through the hood

          On my way to my parents' house, I passed a house where my childhood best friend's husband lived.  It's a square cinder block house, the kind where one side of the block is coated with ceramic asbestos paint.  It's a terrible puke-mint-green color with a white door, no shutters, and no shrubbery.  It  looks naked without those things.
          He hated the house, called it The Cracker Box both because it was the approximate size of a cracker box and because many people in the small, conservative community considered him and his *gasp* divorced mother to be white trash.  His mother is a first rate Hell-bitch.  She once broke her ring and pinkie fingers by slapping him with her rings turned so that the stones were inside her palm.  He came to homeroom bleeding from three cuts on his chin and laughed when I told him.  She was mean and tough but had to be. She had a strong-willed boy to raise with no help from family.  She refused all government aid.
          She waited until after he graduated from high school to marry her long-time "boyfriend."  When she did, she moved out to his lake house and sold The Cracker Box.  It's now Don's Pawn Shop.  A large fluorescent sign with a giant pistol on top pokes out of the lawn to let potential customers know that cash for Christmas is only a sale away.  It's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen.  Someone I cared about lived there, grew up there, lost his virginity there, and now there's is a giant pistol on top of a sign in the front yard. 
          I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

A Mother's Laughter

          It was spring, and the Bird Carver and I were standing on the sidewalk where it dead-ended into the parking lot.  He was ready to go home for the day, having already set his box of tools, along with the soldering iron, in the back of his van.  The second and third rows of seats had been removed in preparation for his trip out of town.
          The barn owl he'd completed rested in bubble wrap amongst other boxes.  He said he could get $2500 for it, and I whistled, to which he nodded.  I had to admit, when he'd glued the eyes in place and set the bird upright, the owl came to life.  I'd flinched slightly, and my skin chilled a bit.  The eyes were the type that seemed to follow you.  The black pupils reflected the overhead light but nothing else, truly fitting for a predator.
          "Your wife's going to?" I asked as we stood together enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
          "Oh, she can't resist the feel of cash in her hands," he said, rocking back on his heels and then forward again.  "These craft shows give her a chance to talk nonstop."
At that moment, a cocoa-colored Buick surged up the steep drive into the faculty lot and aimed for the free spot where we stood.  He grabbed my arm and pulled me back protectively.
          "Watch out for this crazy old hag in the Buick," he warned in a distasteful tone.  He caught my grin only moments before the driver waved at me.  "Oh, please, please tell me that's not your mother."
          "Um," I said, snuffling in an attempt to deflate the laughter bubbling inside me.
          Embarrassed, he turned from me and walked briskly to his van.  Still grinning, I went to the Buick.  My smile deepened my mother's, even as her brows flicked down in question.
          "He just called you an old hag for driving a Buick.  He thinks he insulted me."
          She looked at the back of his van as she put her own car in reverse and then stomped on the brake so she could laugh - a loud, unrestrained, open-mouthed "Ha!"  Still smiling, she pressed her hand over her lips and settled into a smile that showed teeth.  With one more quick pop, she backed up the car and then headed down the drive.
          I hadn't heard her laugh like that in a long time.     

The Bird Carver

          I sat across his desk from him as he used his soldering gun to burn texture onto wood.  It had changed drastically from the previous day.  It had been a rough-cut hunk of white oak, a piece he'd scavenged after lightning killed the eighty-year old tree.  After ten hours of carving, gouging and sanding, the hunk took on the form of a small bird.  Today, he added the feathers.
          He wore two sets of glasses - his usual pair and his bifocals.  He peered through both sets, studying his work.  Next to the soldering gun, he had a small gouge, and in a piece of soft pine, he had stuck the legs.  They were made of copper wire that he meticulously cut, twisted, and etched until every crease of "flesh" and the curves of the tiny claws were just so.  He made everything but the eyes.  Those, he ordered from a ceramic eye company.
          He spared the book on his desk a look, making sure that the layering was coming along as it should.
          "I'm glad you decide to stay another year," I said.
          "My wife wants me to retire so we can take cruises," he said.  "I suppose I can carve just as well on a boat deck as in this office."
          "At least she won't make you give that up."
          "Oh no.  She knows a cash cow when she sees one."  He shook his head, his brow drawn down.  "I used to make all sorts of things and just give them away, and one day she put her foot down and said I should make money off them.  It's in her blood; she can't help it."  His wife was Vietnamese.  He made so much off his carvings that he had to get a business license and report his income to the IRS.  "I think it was when I made a violin for one of the doctor's children that she insisted I charge for it."
          I blinked deliberately.  "You made a violin?"
          "Yes.  I'm going to make a guitar for him," he gestured to the office next door, "out of the same tree this came from," he waved the bird.  "It's his tree, so I'll give him a discount."
          I shook my head.  "So, what are you feathering today?"
          "A youth grosbeak."
          He leaned forward and let me take the bird while he turned the book around for me to see.  One side of the feathering was complete, and I could see exactly how the bird would look once he painted it.  He would spend a day layering, dabbing, and washing color over the body until it was perfect.  Then, he would paint the legs, pop them in, and add the eyes.  When he finished, it would look as though a real grosbeak was perched on his pine block -  a perfect replica.  It would go for $200, easily.
          "May I look?" I asked, pointing at the book.
          "Sure," he said, taking the bird from me and sliding the book over the desk.  The motion sent a spill of curlicues over the edge of the desk.  "I suppose I'll be chided for that," he murmured as he looked down at the mess.
          "Well, you have to do something to pass the time until the whistle blows."
That made him smile.  He liked to compare the job to something blue collar.  He'd been in it for over twenty years but only recently felt pressure to stay in his office a required number of hours every day.  It was just another reason to call it quits.
          "We punch our time cards like the sheepdog and coyote," he said.
          When we weren't working, he carved and I read, or we sat together and talked.  One day we sat outside and watched as a hawk tried to pluck a squirrel from the side of a pine tree.  I was rapt as I watched the tree rat wait until the last possible moment to scoot around the tree, just out of the hawk's grasp.  The raptor would squawk, fly back, adjust, and fly in again.  We stood watching for so long that we grew bored and went back in the building.
          Now, it was too cold to stand outside comfortably.
          "I saw a crow dead on the side of the road on my way in this morning," he said.  "Strange business.  Crows are too intelligent to get killed in the road."
I looked up from his book on North American bird species.  "I saw something on Discovery about how crows in some city or another would drop nuts into crosswalks and let cars run over them.  They watched for when the people would cross and knew they would be safe to retrieve the nuts."
          "It's nice to have someone that enjoys learning around this place."  He grinned at me, and I chuckled.  We were, after all, in a building on a college campus.  "What are you looking for?"
          "A particular type of black bird," I said, turning the book around to him.
          "Did it have a breast of burnt orange and a light yellow beak?"
          "No, its breast was cream."
          "Oh, then it was a regular blackbird and not an oriole.  Did you kill it?"
          "No," I said, stunned.
          "Pity," he said, picking up the soldering gun.  A curl of smoke and the scent of charring wood filled the office.  "Terrible birds, blackbirds.  They rob bluebird nests.  Did you know?"  I shook my head when he looked up at me.  He nodded.  "They aren't native.  Some moron thought it was a brilliant idea to bring to America every bird Shakespeare mentioned in a play or poem.  They call them starlings, trying to give a trashy bird a better name.  Kill every one that you can."