Tag Archives: writing

a frightening chaos

My Work Table Standing in for My State of Mind

(This mess is now half cleaned up)

My work table is reflecting the state of my head.

My main canning/preserving season has just ended.  I’m playing with foraged olives and soon I’ll be playing with drying produce to make zombie-soup with but the big projects – the few hundred pounds of tomatoes projects are done.

Max is mostly doing okay in school right now so I’ve had a little break from dealing with all that.  Though I’m surprised the school never contacted me about Max’s long fight over “The Pledge of Allegiance” which he has been refusing to stand up for or say on the grounds that he isn’t religious and won’t make any pledges that include “God” in them.  More than that – he’s expressed that he’s not all that keen to pledge allegiance to a country he’s not so proud of.  After many weeks of irritating his teachers with his refusal to cooperate they reached a compromise this Monday when the PE teacher finally agreed that Max didn’t have to say the pledge but he does have to stand up with everyone else.  Max is not overjoyed with this compromise but has accepted it.  I can’t deny that I’m proud of my kid for fighting for his right to not make religious-based pledges.

Or political ones for that matter – no pledge should be automatically demanded of any citizen because that is how dictators and fascists roll.  Anyway – children should not be giving pledges of political allegiance until they are allowed to vote and when that day comes they should be free to give that pledge or not, according to their political beliefs.

(And no, I did NOT put him up to this!  He has no idea that I stopped saying the pledge when I was a teen and only stand up when others do it but never put hand to heart or say the words.  But damn – he sure didn’t fall far from the parental tree)

I have not had the time nor the spark to do any fiction writing.  It’s beginning to weigh on me pretty heavily.  I shouldn’t let it.  I have plenty of non-fiction to work on – fun nonfiction even.  But the Jane Doe story won’t shut up in my head.  It won’t shut up but it won’t come out either.  Meanwhile I need to finish the real edit of Cricket and Grey because the chapters I’ve published online are catching up to the chapters I’ve actually re-edited.  It’s time to plunge into the world of e-publishing so I can make the first book available in e-book format followed by print-on-demand format.  I’m hesitant to try and make it available for Christmas buying because in my experience – people don’t buy shit from me.  That would represent a lot of energy most likely to result in no return.  Yet I still want to make it available – to symbolically finish the book.  To take it to the end.

I’m not sure if I will be writing more Cricket and Grey books.  I suppose it depends on whether or not people would actually be interested in reading more of them.  That was two years of work for the first one.  I know the next one wouldn’t take quite as long since so much of the character development has been done already.  Still, would it be a waste of my time?  If I am only writing to please myself and not trying to develop an actual career – then I would write the whole series only because I love the story so much and want to see all the seasons completed (I planned one book for each season of one year in Cricket’s life).  But I AM trying to create an actual career out of my writing and that’s where I have trouble knowing where best to put my energy next.

The truth is that it would be most awesome if one of my blogs would get so much traffic I could make money off my ads (I currently make zero dollars from them and mostly have them on my blogs out of solidarity with BlogHer and my company and partly because I like to keep even the most unrealistic dreams alive).  It would be cool if I could do something with one of my blogs that it took off and became my way to earn money – then I could write the fiction merely to please myself and those few others who might be interested in it.  But this question always drives me in circles of madness.  I don’t have the magic it takes to make a popular blog.  In fact, over the last several months both of my blogs have been dropping traffic like crazy.


There it is.

I suppose part of the answer is that to make either of my blogs (and let’s face it – we’re really talking about Stitch and Boots because Better Than Bullets is just too all over the place to attract a crowd) to make it really thrive I would need to stop paying attention to the fiction all together and put a lot more energy into the blog(s).  But I’ve done this in the past without any resulting benefit so I’m not all that hopeful.

Then there’s the newest blog: The Post Apocalyptic Kitchen

Which I’m super excited about and we’re slowly figuring out how we want to set it up so we can start writing it.  I think it’s a great idea with a solid premise that links up really well to current trends of interests and concerns.  I dare not hang any specific hopes or dreams on this project.  I am simply going to work on it because it absolutely has to be done – it needs to be created.  Plus it’s going to be so much fun to collaborate with my friend Emma who is also really excited about this.


There’s that.

Meanwhile I am bogged down by feelings of dread that are nonspecific and irritating.  I know there are lots of specific reasons for me to be stressed out but I’ve been handling all of them pretty well.  Or, so I thought.  Perhaps I am mistaken in how well I’m handling everything.

One really good thing is that Netflix finally put all the Saturday Night Live episodes from the 20000′s on the streaming site.  So I’ve been watching all the years I missed and now Max is hooked on them too.  His favorite SNL comedians are Kenan Thompson, Amy Poehler, and Seth Meyers.  Mine are Bill Hader, Kristen Whig, and Fred Armisen tied with Kenan Thompson.  Though it’s so hard to pick favorites because they all have such different strengths.  I think if I had to pick just one favorite of all of them it would be Bill Hader.  We’re watching the 2007 episodes and it’s so weird seeing all the presidential election skits from the last election while we’re up to our eyeballs in the current one.

It’s time to get more coffee and get to work.  I hope you all have a great Wednesday.  And try not to use the word “giggle” too often.

Powell's parking garage

What Works For My Writing

I read a post on 80,000 Words called “What Works For My Writing” that I enjoyed a lot because Christine Lee Zilka discusses in loose list form what things get in the way of her writing and what things help it along.  This is the kind of stuff I always want to know about other writers.  I have an infinite curiosity for it.  All writers have their own processes and it’s fascinating to me to know what they are.  Christine’s post about what works for her writing was inspired by a post on “distraction no. 99″  about the same subject.  I just read that post and now I want to write my own.  For any other writer I know -  I would love it if you would do the same so I can know more about the things that work for you.

What Works For My Writing:

Music -

If other people are in the house I listen to music on headphones.  I have always written to music.  There is a soundtrack to every single thing I write but the longer the work the more difficult it is to find the soundtrack.  Music sets the tone in my head and I often find a song that reflects and can sustain this tone and then listen to it obsessively until the piece is done or until my ears hurt with it.  I estimate that most chapters in my novel are 100 – 150 song lengths.  I can’t change the song until I’m done with it.  I don’t pay attention to the music while I write, it doesn’t obtrude, it simply holds me in the proper space.  Change of chapter, change of scene, or change of post almost always requires a new song.  Sometimes I know what kind of mood I need for what I’m going to work on but can’t find the right song.  It once took me three days to find the right song and so I didn’t write for three days.

I once wrote a whole chapter to the Moonlight Sonata and it came out all wrong.  The writing was too quiet and slow but I couldn’t figure out why.  I sat down to re-write it and started off with the same song but it wasn’t right – I found a song with more urgency and anger and the chapter, though not all that changed in content, was completely changed in feeling and it was so much better.

Solitude -

I know it’s a cliche but I write best when no one is home, when no one is around.  I love writing at 5am because most people on the west coast and certainly in my town are asleep.  The world is a lot more quiet when it’s sleeping.  I can hear the churning of the earth and the buzz of collective humans and find it hard to shut out.  I don’t get to be completely alone very often so writing while my whole house and whole town sleep is a good match.  I hate the feeling of writing at 5am if I got there by staying awake all night.  By the time I’ve dragged myself through 3 and 4am I feel like a drug addict coming down from a high and losing my teeth right there on the spot.  I only do that when I feel like all the words will be lost if I don’t stay up.  I hate  being awake between 2am and 4am.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life up at that hour because of insomnia.  I rarely do it on purpose.  But waking up at 5am to write is awesome when I can manage to do it.

Beverages -

I love that Christine mentioned this too.  Unlike her, I can eat while I write.  I can eat through most things, unfortunately.  Beverages are necessary.  I can’t imagine writing without a drink near my left hand.  It goes like this: wake-up to 11am is coffee or black tea time, 11am to 5pm is water time, 5pm until bed is beer time.  Except that I don’t always get to drink beer so when I’m not drinking alcohol I’m drinking either tonic and lime, water with lemon, ginger ale, tea (herbal or decaf black), lemon Italian soda, or mineral water with a little unsweetened cranberry juice.  I don’t prefer writing between 11am and 5pm and I think this is because I don’t find water very creatively inspiring though I do drink a lot of it.

Facebook -

The majority of the time I wrote Cricket and Grey I used Facebook as a breather.  Giving status updates on word counts and favorite words and bits of the research for the book gave me a chance to breath between stretches of writing.  In many ways it was part of the rhythm.  Friends commenting on those writing statuses gave me all the connection with other humans I needed so that I still felt like I belonged in the world instead of outside of it.  A couple of people responding to Nova’s post mentioned Twitter providing a similar function for them – I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

Outlines -

I wrote The Winter Room without one.  I just wrote and wrote and wrote with no plan and thought it was going really well until I got to 108,000 words and suddenly realized that I had no idea where to go from there.  I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t see in my head where it was supposed to lead and pretty soon I discovered such huge plot problems I had to set it aside.  I’m still trying to figure out how to pick it up again.  When I wrote Cricket and Grey I used a fresh outline for each draft because with each edit I had made so many changes I needed a fresh outline that accounted for them.  The outlines really helped move me along and seeing my chapter plans on paper helped me SEE plot holes.  So I’ve discovered I write best with one.  I find them really hard to write.  But once written they are a great tool for me.

Word Counts -

I know this kills creativity for some authors, freezing them up.  Not me.  I think my philosophy about lists keeps word counts from being oppressive to me.  A list is a way to organize my thoughts and once I write a list I may refer to it to remind myself of my goals but I never use it to measure my personal successes or failures.  I have never been one to scratch everything off of lists.  By the time I get halfway through it either becomes apparent that I’m not going to get anything else done or I simply forget because my day has evolved however it needed to.  No guilt.  A list is a suggestion.  A list is a thought organizer.  A list is not an appropriate measurement of your worth in any way.  This is how I feel about word counts.  To reach my larger writing goals I would figure out how many words I needed to write every weekend or every day to get there.  I figured out the approximate number of words per chapter and sometimes simply told myself that I would finish one chapter per weekend or sometimes when completely charged – per day.  I often met my goals.  It kept my momentum going.  I can get caught up in infinite details and not paint a whole picture.  Word counts kept me moving forward instead of stagnating.  For me it was a positive pressure rather than a negative one.  I knew I could walk away if I had to and I wouldn’t feel I’d failed in any way if I didn’t meet my goal for that day.  I would just start over the next day.  Fresh conscience.  Fresh mind.

Big writing goals -

Much like word counts, I found these very useful for me.  I know that a book is going to ultimately take as long as it’s going to take to be written.  You can’t always control that.  However, deciding how long I wanted to give myself to complete each draft was very helpful in pushing through the tougher weeks.  I suppose it helps that I’m 42 years old and I don’t feel like I have all the time in the world to finish my novels if I want to get published.  I’ve got a fire under my ass and a lot of ground to cover to become the writer I want to be (published AND making a living at it).  So specific goals helped me move steadily.  Again, I didn’t thrash myself for not meeting those goals but I did work better when I set them.

Talking about the novel with people I trust -

discussing issues I’m having with plot or character development with Philip or close friends was necessary for me to get it out of my head where it these things tend to gnaw at me.  Most useful of all was discussing these things with writer friends.  Talking with other writers was incredibly sustaining to me.  Talking with people is often helpful in this way: their opinions often make me more clear about my own, especially when I disagree with them.  As Philip likes to say, I’ll do the opposite of whatever you think I should do.  I admit that hearing other people tell me what I should do gives me this clarity: they don’t know how to write this book and hearing their misbegotten opinions has shed light on how strongly I feel about points I didn’t realize I felt so strongly about.  Opposition flushes out the important things.

Translating A Novel Into My Mother Tongue

Burning Hand

The first punishment came like road rage
scorching the pavement with friction
devils uncuffed with viscous screams
thick and rich and choking with blood iron
flooding the closed room filling with metal death
small hands buried in mud, elbow deep
constricting nightmares lapping at small skin
punishment like living threads of belief
frayed to a nothing point, to a nothing thought
a nothing pain, a nothing confusion
until the mud is tight and cracked with thirst
fighting for oxygen, crying with child’s tears
for being a dirty girl.

The Weight Of It

You will look at me, sisters.
you will remember me as I am today
you will not say my name but you will feel my hair
the weight of it will hold down your chests
the weight of it will remind you that I’m free
the weight of it will remind you of your passive life
how you stood and watched me hang
how you turned your eyes away, from a nothing face
how you shut your ears to me, a nothing noise
you will look at me, sisters
you will hear me, sisters and brothers
you will see me for the first time
I may die as I leave but you will envy me
when you discover how they lied
about the cost of the freedom they promised
how we paid in wages of skin and sweat
alone we are nothing at all, not even names
we only exist in this strange forest cage
we are their trapped dreams delivering promise
we are their weapons of war against the machine
we are their fevered delusions squalling in poor light
you cannot follow me into the road
you cannot tell me I am nothing anymore
you cannot stop the machine of change

Note: these two poems constitute this evening’s notes for Baby Girl Six.  This is how I grab onto my fiction.  It is always poetry first.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good poetry or not.  We need not attach value to it.  I don’t, and I would appreciate it if you offered no critiques.  That’s not what this is about.  It serves to let me get to know a character in my own language.  A repetitive emotional shorthand.  Poetry isn’t something to “get” unless you get it.  It isn’t really a puzzle to be solved so much as it’s a script for longer thoughts, for longer stories.

When I was 23 years old I realized that poetry was my first language.  I’ve written a couple of good ones in my life but most of them are worthless to anyone but me.  Poetry is my mother tongue.  It is where I begin.  It is where I will end.  It infiltrates my prose, my most serious discussions about life and death.  You hear me most of the time as a translation from poetry to regular speech.  I think in poetry.  I smell in poetry.  I see in poetry.  I am constantly translating.  It is no wonder, then, that things go awry in my life.  Translation is not a perfect art.  If I want to write a novel I must first hear it in poetry.

Other trends emerge.  Patterns of thought connected tightly to music.   I cannot write without a soundtrack.

Tonight I learned another lesson: there are specific stories I have to tell.  All of my stories are guided by an internal switchboard directing what is revealed.  I have a beginning point that is necessary for me to tell stories from.  You don’t need to know this because it will become obvious to you over time.

Tonight it is Six I’m hearing.  Her story is becoming lucid.

Excellent Reads for Writers

When I started working on Cricket and Grey I wanted to work in a more organized way than I had with The Winter Room because I wanted to avoid getting lost in pages of emotive crap that leads nowhere.  What I really wanted was to avoid emotive crap altogether.  I looked for a book that could serve as a guideline and found a great help in the book “Write Away” by Elizabeth George.  I didn’t want someone to tell me what to write but how to structure a plot and story thoughtfully.  Taking the time to work out a plot outline, do some character analysis, and to play with POV before digging myself into an enormous grave full of words made writing my second novel a completely different experience than the first.  Each draft I wrote accomplished very specific things.  I know that all writers have their own processes and mine, as it develops, will not match anyone else’s exactly.  Still, I think it’s useful for writers to listen to other writers talk about writing.  I think it’s useful for us to share notes, to compare notes, and to share ideas.

Through doing my agent research, looking for support with other writers, and reading advice from the trenches I’ve compiled a number of great reads (and a video) that I think most writers will find encouraging, interesting, and useful.

Write Away

Elizabeth George is one of my favorite mystery writers.  Though I admit I stopped reading the Lynley series a few books ago because I got really sick of Tommy and Helen’s inability to work their shit out and then she went and killed Helen anyway, so that’s alright.  I have seen George speak and I really like her.  So I bought her book and have found it very useful.  Her message isn’t “If you write exactly like me you’re guaranteed success!” (because she’s not stupid), her book is meant as a guideline to writing fiction, not a gospel.

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott is funny, she’s real, she’s honest, and her book “bird by bird” is a great collection of essays about writing she’s taken from the writing classes she teaches.  It isn’t a manual (can you tell I don’t want anyone telling me the ONE way to write?) so much as it’s collected perspective from a seasoned and respected author.  Reading her book was illuminating and made me want to shove the book back on the shelf, roll my sleeves up, and write.

The Writing Life (writers on how they think and work)

Edited by Marie Arana.  This book is a collection of essays written by writers about writing (the process, the editing, the rejection slips, the magic, the slogging).  There are a couple of essays I didn’t get much out of but most of them had interesting perspectives and showed the diverse range of ways one can approach and succeed at writing.  Some of the writers have written only a couple books that took years to write while others write a book a year.

Here are some blogs I’m finding useful and entertaining right now:

The Novel Doctor An editor talks about novel writing and reveals your deepest insecurities.  He also says some useful things and cracks the whip against your indolent ways.

Query Shark Excellent site a friend shared with me while I was trying to write a query letter and was 100% bombing.  I’m still working at it but at least I’m avoiding many of the biggest mistakes thanks to this witty and ruthless agent who really wants you to write better queries.

Rachelle Gardner Another literary agent whose blog has many truly interesting and many useful articles about the business of publishing books.  She’s not the agent for me as she almost exclusively represents Christian fiction, but I think her blog is great.

Agent Query This is a great site to look for agents with.  It is reputable and has good information on query writing, looking for agents, and other things you’ll want to know such as how long an unpublished author’s first novel should be (yeah, this is useful to know before you’ve finished writing it).

Terrible Minds I would truly love to get Chuck Wendig together with my Grandma just to see who would win that inevitable clash sharp tongued titans.  His profanity is breathtaking (as in – I’ve never heard anyone swear so much who wasn’t a stand up comedian) and he finds the most shocking ways of making everything sound pornographic.  His writing advice is gritty but completely sound.

Novel: First draft, Second draft revision…  I loved this post and am enjoying her blog.

25 Things You Should Know About Suspense And Tension In Storytelling I had to give you an actual post to check out from Wendig’s blog.

Editor Alan Rinzler & Literary Agent Andy Ross On All Things Publishing This is a video interview with a written transcription.  It’s long but well worth watching.

on fire

Reaching For Winter

Reaching for Winter

This fall air collapses lungs
sharp needle intention rents empty space
where your heart used to be
you wear your colors like your milk
in drooling white streaks across a devastating void
you’re too far gone now
sparrows diving into spoiled crumbs
crushed sunflowers rising to light
with eyes like silkworm wombs
green, with water light
you see between the days
killing through corrugated windows
with cellos sketching the negative space
carving one more minor note to decorate your throat
it hangs like the moon on your skin
a jewel of flesh
a cancerous tool of life
listen to the autumn music
rich with black keys reaching for ether
reaching for winter, even now.


Who Wants To Live Forever? (Not Me)

My Weekend in Bullet Points:

  • Twenty years after Freddie Mercury dies I discover what an amazing person he was and am obsessed with the song “Who Wants To Live Forever”.  I was going for a record of listening to “Jar of Hearts” for 72 hours straight but then my friend Tracy Bush posted a video of Queen performing and I have not been able to stop listening (and watching) since then and Have done lots of research on Freddie for two days and have looked at tons of pictures of him.  My respect and fascination grows, but I will admit I still don’t love most of his music.
  • I’ve canned 5 half pints of peach chutney, 5 pints of peaches in light syrup, 11 quarts of marinara sauce, and 28 pints of pickled jalapenos.  All this weekend.
  • I’m reading a really boring book but I have to finish it because I got too far and now I need to know how the author is going to wrap it up.  I will not read this author again.  My mom insists I must like it enough to finish it even though I explained that once I start a thing there is a point of no return where I feel compelled to know what will happen not because I’m interested but because my brain needs closure on things or it will irritate me.  It will be like an unending itch that is always there.  Always.  They don’t go away.  They just collect in the bin of unfinished business in my head.  I’m almost done with it now.  Last few pages.  I can’t wait to read something better.
  • This heat wave we’re having is stupid.
  • Max doesn’t go back to school until next week due to some administrative issue the school is having.  Everyone else’s kids in the county started today.  This is the longest summer in the history of the world.  I am pretty much the only person who thinks this.  The roar of disappointment and the predictable parental tears being shed everywhere are like a symphony all around me that I can’t enjoy or relate to.   (They are lamenting how fast time flies and how their kids are just growing up WAY TOO FAST.  God, I’d like to be part of that universe, please.)
  • Doing a lot of writing in my head and not so much on the page.  My head is getting over-full and yet it’s having trouble shifting gears.  I also haven’t compiled a list of agents to query as I promised myself I would do this week.  I’m thinking I am going to have to finish canning tomatoes and then call it quits on food preserving so I can get back to focusing on moving forward with my “career” as a novelist.  I take those air quotes back.  I need to focus hard on my career as a novelist because I know I’m going to have one.  I just might be a lot older by the time it happens.
  • The tomato eating is pretty incredible right now.  My mom has done so much work in the garden so that even though I can’t be out there helping- she’s transforming it and we have lots to eat from it.  That feels fantastic.
  • Fleas.  All the animals have been treated.  We waited too long.  They are still scratching like crazy.  The dog is so loud with her thumping scratching that she wakes me up with it.  But why blame her for poor sleeping?  I sleep poorly most of the time anyway.  It’s always been that way.  Anyway- I seem to recall a similar situation last year.  A dreadful combination of going too long without treating the animals, flea season going strong, and eventual carpet infestation.  Gross.  So today I’m treating the carpets.  The good news?  That means I have to vacuum.  I haven’t done that in a very long time.

I’m going to sign off now because writing is distracting me from listening to Freddie sing and that’s really all I want out of life right now.  May this song never end!

(Where the hell did I put my butane lighter?)


An Agony of Pitches: Pitch #1 for Cricket and Grey

Remember back when I was trying to write a pitch for Cricket and Grey after finishing the second draft?  Remember how much I sucked at it and how embarrassed you were at my efforts?  Now that I’m finished with the third draft I have to write a pitch and send it out to book agents until I land one.  In spite of receiving some good coaching from friends, I remain incapable of writing even a marginally good pitch.  My future depends on this skill and I can’ t conger up even the smallest chink of light onto to this mammoth task.  When I’m done posting my two pitch efforts I’m going to crack open the first of many beers to thin my blood and then I’m going to slit my wrists and take a hot bath.

The purpose of the pitch to an agent is to make them want to read your book.  Period.  It has to be short and concise and say just enough about character, crisis, and context to make the agent (or anyone) read more.  Easy, right?  It’s a summary of the key elements in your book.

First I wrote an elevator pitch:

At the end of the twenty first century, life is hard enough for Cricket Winters, a small town apothecary in Western Oregon.  When her father dies, leaving her with steep unpaid tax bills, she discovers the secrets he’s been hiding about her mother’s death, and it gets a whole lot harder.  Now, as she takes on a dangerous job as an armed guard for the local Mormon crime boss, she must also keep one step ahead of her mother’s killer.

Then I wrote a query letter length pitch (300 words or less):

At the end of the twenty first century, life is hard enough for Cricket Winters, a small town apothecary in Western Oregon.  When her father Peter (an armed guard) dies, leaving her with steep unpaid tax bills, she discovers secrets he’s been hiding about her mother’s death, and it gets a whole lot harder.  Grey Bonneville, a colleague and young friend of Peter’s, receives a posthumous request to watch over Cricket.  “Watching” over a pretty girl seems pleasant enough until FBI agents, Smith and Hesse, who have been investigating Peter and Grey on suspicion of smuggling, show up at the burial.

Smith, a swarthy pock faced bully, taunts Cricket at the graveside with accusations about her father’s criminal activity.  If he had not underestimated her reputation for being as skilled with herbs as she is with her fists he might have refrained from calling Cricket’s dead mother a whore.  Luckily, Grey has some valuable information Smith wants and accepts in exchange for Cricket’s release.  The fact that Grey won’t reveal to her the deal he’s made on her behalf convinces her not to trust him.

Her best friends Julie and Tommy (her ex-flame) want to help her pay her taxes and take her to their farm on the coast to rest and grieve.  But flu season is fast approaching and she refuses to abandon the poor people of her community when they need her most.  She stubbornly insists on solving her problems by taking a dangerous job as an armed guard for the local Mormon crime boss and discovers that Grey has been hired for the same job.  Now all she has to do is deliver Malakai’s under aged niece to her fiancé in Portland while staying one step ahead of her mother’s killer.

That was a 300 word piece of crap pitch.

My friend Emma (one of my readers and a really good person to listen to) read the pitch and told me it was all wrong.  She didn’t say it like that.  She pointed out that my book is about the relationship that develops between Cricket and Grey and how Cricket comes of age through all her dire experiences.  I know when someone is right because I often become unhinged and then very very angry with myself.  Of course the book is about my main character growing up and definitely a main part of the book is about her relationship with Grey, but I wrote it to be a suspense novel.  Not a romance.

NOT a coming of age romance.

So I’ve heard from all my readers and two friends who haven’t read the book but who know a lot about genres and pitching and all that.  My two friends who haven’t read the book both insist that any book set in the future, regardless of other elements of the story, are automatically in the science fiction genre.  That makes sense to me even though I don’t think of this story as being science fiction.

Two of my readers (Emma and Lucy) mostly think of it as a murder mystery.  When Emma tried to call it a murder mystery I practically jumped down her throat telling her not to call it that.  (Seriously, Emma is going to regret being my friend soon if I don’t stop being such a jumpy spaz)  Why would I object so fiercely to my book being thought of as a murder mystery?  Because I read a shitload of murder mysteries and every single one of them focuses on the main character SOLVING a crime.  Cricket does not look for clues to her mother’s death, she merely discovers some disturbing secrets about it her father has hidden.   She doesn’t have time to sleuth.  There’s just about ZERO sleuthing in this book.  Most of the time Cricket is trying to figure out how to make enough money not to lose her property and fighting everyone she knows about the best way for her to do it.  But because she KNOWS too much now about her mother’s murder she is being stalked.  The fact that her mother is killed and how she’s killed made an indelible impression on Cricket but who did it and finding clues is not something she has time to mull over all that much.

If I was going to try to sell this as a murder mystery I would have to seriously ammend the story to include lots of “clues” and make it much more about who did it.  Already I have added more lead-up to the end because I downplayed it too much.  Anyone expecting a murder mystery would be deeply disappointed in this book.  It aint no whodunnit.

I also didn’t intend to write a romance.  I think all the best books have a good romantic relationship in them but the thought of being a romance writer mortifies me.  Yet if I have to describe this novel in terms of a relationship then suddenly, it becomes clear I’ve just written the millionth stupid-ass novel about a girl who doesn’t think she needs anyone until she meets the person she needs.  I thought that it was just incidental, a part of her maturing, yes, and a pleasant development, but I never once thought of it as a book mostly about her relationship and her coming of age.  Yet there it is.  So now I have to wonder if I should sell it as a romance?  I could close my eyes and throw a stick and I’d be sure to hit a romance writer, there are THAT many of them around.  Why should the idea of being one of them bother me so much?  I don’t hate romance books.  In fact, I like some of them quite a bit.

Does genre matter at all?  Yes, it does.  People say “let the story speak for itself”.  That’s all well and good but if you can’t get someone to read it then it doesn’t have a chance to speak.  Agents, just like publishers, have a tendency to specialize in different genres.  If you sound like you’re peddling a romance to an agent who mostly handles paranormal novels, you’ve already lost the game.  Unless it’s a PARANORMAL romance.  So yes, it DOES matter.  It matters a lot.

One thing no one is calling this book, besides me, is a suspense.

I’d like to flatter myself and suggest that this book is just so unique that it defies any genre.  This is patently untrue and what every single writer on earth wants to believe.

I think I’ve written a common little romance with a little murder mystery thrown in for fun.

Makes me think of the first book I wrote “Jane Doe”.  What would I have called it?  Suspense.  Yep.  But looking at it through today’s eyes I’d have to say that it’s identical in essence to Cricket and Grey except it doesn’t take place in the future.  Mentally ill girl who was raped and left for dead when she was thirteen grows up, heals, and just when she’s even finally healed enough to have a relationship (ROMANCE!) she gets stabbed and left for dead in her apartment.  So apparently I like romance books with lots of violence in them.

I’m full of black piss and stinging vinegar today.  If all I’m going to write are romances with a little murder mystery thrown in, I’m going to quit writing right now because that means I keep writing shit I don’t mean to write.  Which means I’ve got the skill of a writing pig or else I’m too arrogant to just accept what I write for what it is.

But before I go off to bloody my walls with my head, I’m going to post my angry pitch so you can all see how I pitch my book bitterly as a romance.  It’s a parody of a pitch so don’t take it seriously.  Watch for it next.


layers of please

The Truth about What Authors Earn – some great articles to read

I have been in the slow process of finding other blogs by writers who talk about the business, the skill, and the practice of writing.  I want to know what other writers do to deal with writer’s block, how they find inspiration, how much research they do and what kind,  whether or not they write outlines, and how much they know about their characters or their subject before they even start writing.  I seek the community of other writers.

One blog I have added to my blog-roll is a blog called “Don’t pet me, I’m writing” which I like because the author, Tawna Fenske, is open and personable.  She had a post today that I found really interesting with links to a couple of other articles on the subject of what authors really make on their books.  For me it brings up the question of whether it’s really worth trying to get published by one of the big publishers, or any publishers at all as opposed to self publishing.  The article that especially brings this in question is the one written by Sabrina Jeffries “The Big Misunderstanding about Money”.

Let’s talk about money, or let other people do it.

The Big Misunderstanding About Money

The Reality of a Times Bestseller

My writing friend Emma, who writes for The Kitchn and is just beginning to write her first book on home brewing, passed along a great link that I hope everyone with any creative life will read by Austin Kleon called “How to Steal Like an Artist and 9 Other Things No One Told Me“   Read it.  It’s brilliant.

Speaking of my friend Emma, she and I were discussing writing exercises that might help shake the blank-brain syndrome.  If she doesn’t have time to write about this in a guest post I will have to do a post by interviewing her and sharing our notes on ways to overcome writer’s block that don’t involve landing yourself in jail or ending up in a skeezy motel room naked and chained to the bed.

I am priming myself for a day of writing tomorrow.  I pulled quack grass roots and planted bean seeds today so that I can lock myself in my office tomorrow all day and write with a clean conscience, knowing that I have accomplished at least a meager something to benefit my family.  Having completely rewritten chapter one I must now smooth it a little and add to it.  I must extend everything outwards, develop dialog, go deeper into characters, take greater time and care to fill out the world I’m asking people to live in for a while.  It’s short.  Too short.  I was focused mostly on making sure that I had a whole story, that the plot worked (mostly), and that I had some dialog that didn’t make me feel like a twelve year old writing my first book (if you can’t imagine what that’s like I suggest you become my best friend, give me lots of money, and beg me to show you the first book I ever wrote that I never talk about), and that I covered the basic descriptions necessary.  Now is the time for detail, for development, for taking the time to go deeper.

In some ways I’ve gotten to the best part, the part where I add all the textures, shadows, and olfactory memories that propel my characters through life.  This is the part where I show you how the winter landscape of the woods is reflected in my main character’s mourning as well as her first real inner crisis in life.  This is where I make you hear the crows in place of gunfire as you might actually remember it yourself.  This task is the juiciest part but as life often arranges things it is also the most complicated because I have to be careful with each word that I keep on point and don’t let the flowery details excavate so much crap on the page that you lose sight of the main thread.  This is where I must demand of myself more excellence than at any step before it.

I can do this.  I was made for this purpose.  I am at the finishing point.  This is what I tell myself to pad my confidence and not shoot myself before I have to.

I’m trying so hard not to ask how some authors manage to write two or more books a year.  I’m trying not to think about how many authors must write more than a book a year just to make a modest living.  This one has taken me over a year, edging up on a year and a half now, to write.  I’m not writing pulitzer material here.  Does it mean I’m slow-witted and complete crap that it’s taken me this long to write a book that I hope will be really good but isn’t going to win any book awards?  Should I be able to whip the same quality material out in half the time or a quarter of the time?

NOT asking those questions.

All I’m going to ask is that if I have to self publish because it’s ridiculous to go through a publishing house that will make me pay for all my own promoting anyway – you all will help me get the word out about my book.  Anyone who promotes my book may come to my house for a free dinner.

I’m an excellent cook.

Angus chews

Maggot Cookies

This shoe was the work of a 90 pound puppy.  Puts Charlie Chaplin’s shoe eating ways to shame.  They used to be good boots.  I need boots.  I don’t need puppies.

It’s safe to say that my head is all over the place right now.  Not necessarily in a bad way.  I’ve got a lot of parenting stuff I want to say, I have book updates, I have living arrangement updates, there is the question of blood and bacon (still) in cooking, the dog training, the extra walking, the fact that we’re at war, the baddest nastiest bloody nose we’ve seen in months which splattered even my socks, and then today someone told me “You should really do something about your obesity” and everything sort of drained from my head for an hour and a half.

Still, today was a good day.  A little weird, but good.

I wish I hadn’t let that comment about my rotundity get under my skin because, being a terribly (and irrationally) contrary person I immediately bought myself an obscenely big chocolate chip cookie and ate the whole thing.  What’s stupid about it is that I haven’t eaten one of those in over a year because they make me feel sick.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.  I suppose if I could have pulled a  beer out of my bag right there in the street I would have chugged that instead.

A moment of silence please, while we all contemplate the destructiveness of the irascible nature.

I was riding my bicycle all across town, I could have just gotten on my damn bike and reveled in the knowledge that I AM DOING SOMETHING ABOUT MY OBESITY.  So what if the pounds are reluctant to budge even when I’m being good and conscientious?  I have been riding my bicycle more and I have been taking the dog for 20 minute brisk walks at least 4 days of the week (Philip takes her out too).

Now that I’ve spat that out I can let it go.

You all know I read food blogs for a living.  This gives me a front row seat to all the food trends barreling through the food world which, if you didn’t know, can be fascinating.  One of my favorite games is spotting foods to truly gross Max out.  You might think, considering his dislike of most foods that this would be boringly easy.  The funny thing is that when he can’t smell the food there are a surprising number of foods he doesn’t think seem all that gross, just as long as he doesn’t have to eat them.

He did explain to Philip that the reason why pasta really offends him is that it looks like tape worms.  I have to admit that I don’t like sprouted things, especially in soups, because the little sprouty curly cues look like tiny maggots.  I can’t eat while the thought of such perfectly benign beasts are floating through my head.  I’m a lot more like Max with food issues than I allow anyone to know.

The bacon craze has yet to abate.  I think it will not die down until someone discovers that all bacon eaten in conjunction with sugar will poison the liver due to chemical reactions between the tritophatic lymph-pins and the non-soluble demigloxins.

Max and I are most amused/disgusted with weird meat trends and his favorite to date might be the maggot cookies.

That is not a lie.  I have seen (and been haunted) by photographic proof of someone’s maggot cookies (with chocolate chips).  From a paleo eater’s kitchen.  Okay, they were actually meal-worms but it’s all the same to me.

A close second is the plate of glazed chicken feet.  We are especially fixated on the toenail clipping that must occur before full enjoyment may be had sucking the feet of juicy goodness.

The most recent two dishes that have nearly unseated our favorite hunt for the most bizarre foods are:  blood pasta and chocolate blood pudding (not to be confused with the savory boudin noir).

Pasta made with blood.  It’s fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

Chocolate blood pudding.  Dessert.

Such a fun game!

Two people have read my book.  TWO.  I wrote a book and two people have finished reading it.  I will write a detailed post about this soon.  My friend Lucy read it and wrote lots of notes and asked questions and I will be transcribing them all to my working third draft for due consideration.  Soon I will have my friend Emma’s notes too and I will add them in.  This is really cool.  But it’s also a little weird.  I have been alone with this story for a year.  No one but these two friends have in their heads the whole story.  A third friend has just asked to read the second draft too.  I begin to shake a little.  I can take the critiques, they are kind and helpful cause I’m not in a brutal writing group or class where people feel it’s their duty to find your work completely wanting.

It’s just weird.  It makes me feel a little skinned.  A little opened up in a way I didn’t expect.  So this is a new part of the book writing process for me to get used to and experience.  I think having readers is really important.  I’m all excited and scared and open and ready to go forward but first I think I need to stop dragging my spleen around on the ground.

Max is at the charter school.  People: this mama’s relief is grandiose.  He’s had a fabulous first three days.  He’s already been allowed to learn a little animation on their video game building software.  He came home excited about algebra.  He gets to eat lunch wherever he wants and he can do what he wants for recess.  When he comes home there’s no stress and fight over the homework that is just too much on top of 7 hours of him having to fight his natural instincts and to conform to uncomfortable rhythms and other people’s needs.  He can come home and just be.  We can be together.  My relationship with him can be less about monitoring his experience in school and slogging through the stress of the homework.

I know I’m waxing poetic and you’re thinking I’m going to end up disappointed.  I’m not naive.  I’m hopeful.  My kid is always going to have challenges around other people and in the societal structures others build, but when he starts struggling I do have a lot of hope that this school will approach the problems with ideas, strategies that might work for him, and without making him feel punished for who he is.

Speaking of- I find I’m really wanting to develop a no-tolerance policy for adults in Max’s life or activities that will crush him.  Anyone who punishes him for being who he is should not be allowed to do so.  I know this is not practicable nor is it healthy.  The kid is going to grow up and there will be six billion people who won’t see the world like he does and he’s going to have to find a way to cope and take it in stride.

I’m going to have to cut this communication short(er) because I’m all distracted by The Daily Show and the power they have to help me manage my extreme anger about us engaging in a third war.

It’s amazing how our country keeps finding the funds to fight new wars.

People keep decrying the horror that is public schools and moaning about the terrible education our children are getting.  There’s a direct correlation  between how much money public schools get and how good the education our children are getting.  We’ve been cutting funding, cutting programs, cutting salaries for years.  Every single time we do that we tighten the noose of the public schools.  But we keep blaming the schools for the deficit.  Like we expect teachers and schools to run on air.

God but my ex-country is stupid.

Enough of that.  You know what there is in this world worth celebrating?  Kittens!

Wait- I said I was going.  I hope you all have lusty dreams.

I don’t really.  I just said that because it’s what popped into my head.

Good night!

Jane Doe: inspecting writing style

Jane Doe: inspecting writing style

I said I was going to show examples of what I meant by “mood whiplash” and multiple POVs in my fiction.  I’ve selected the opening piece of Jane Doe and then two whole chapters that, I think, illustrate the kind of difference of mood I’m talking about.  The first part (“His Dead Eyes”) is first person, it’s dark and stark.  It’s nightmarish.  The second part (“The All-Night Laundromat”) is told in third person and is lighter, a little irreverent, and then moves back to the dark.  The third part (“The Boyfriend Inquisition”) is a few chapters after the laundromat scene and is silly, light, and totally different in feel from the first two.

These are first draft chapters I’m sharing so they are still quite rough.  I am trusting you all to consider this before judging on detail.  What I’m really looking at, for my own sake and possibly for your interest, is writing style.  I want to know if my writing style (multiple points of view as well as mixing both light and dark moods in the same story) can really work or am I doomed?

I’m putting them here, side by side, to see how it feels moving from one piece to the next.

There’s a lot of text in this post.  It’s a lot to take in.  If you’re interested in actually reading it you may want to print it out.  I won’t be giving such large examples for the Cricket and Grey style post.

If any of you happen to read all of this, please feel free to tell me what your thoughts are.  Is it difficult to or jarring to read a story with such different moods and changing pov?  Do you wish there was less contrast in between the light and dark?  Do you wish I would commit to either a light or dark atmosphere, and if so which do you like better?  Do you wish I would commit to one POV, and if so which do you like better?

His Dead Eyes

His dead eyes, like mousetraps, snap the neck of my hope, snap the neck of my youth, and steal fluid from me until I am as dry and as brittle as an autumn leaf, the last one falling from the empty cold branches. There is no light in them, there is nothing at all in them. They suck and they suck up life, absorbing everything: babies, mothers, acid, Pall Malls by the carton, and me. There is no reflection in death. There is no reflection in evil. There is no reflection of me, anywhere.

Those eyes, never seeing, was better. Never seeing or turning or watching but to say “Pick up the shit, whatever the fuck your name is little nobody!” Never registering on that dull cornea, never appearing in his conscienceless consciousness, where empty river beds cramp with broken glass, where birds hang from trees like effigies of joy, bleeding feathers onto the hot cracked rocks of hell that is the furniture of his mind.

Never seeing was better. Never seeing was living still. Was not dying before hearing my own name said with love, not spat on the floor like chum, inviting the sharks in to feast. Thirteen years of trying to uncover what action, what flicker of haste, what ill timed motion set all to flames and caught the dead eyes, drawing them onto my skin, drawing them onto my body where they waited and sucked and sucked and sucked the life out of the air I breathed and I still cannot find it, this speck of time, this infinitesimal motion which brought me down like a nestless sparrow from the free blue to the waiting ice.

Every night those eyes find me where I hide. There is no sheltering cove, no den of fur and twigs in which to camouflage my broken limbs. Before I close my eyes, holding my splintered bones close to me, they are already looking, turning slowly from the dark where they wait to suck the light from my rooms. I feel them reaching for my skin and I am a thousand snakes coiled to strike but I have no power. I have nothing, because I am no one.

I am a Jane Doe in my own life.


Yet, like the tiniest grain of wheat, there is nourishment in hope, however spare it may be. Someday there will be an answer to the winter hush of my spirit and my bones will heal. I will untie the effigies from their strings and I will lay them tenderly to rest in the soil of my own choosing, where those dead eyes cannot follow to spoil this gorgeous rest.

Then I will know my own name.

I will remove the tag from my toe.

Walk out of the morgue, into the light.

The All-Night Laundromat

Some city nights vibrate with visceral tension, and if you’re paying attention, you can almost feel it like a damp fog, getting under every one’s skin. These are nights when it is best to batten down the hatches, rest your shotgun across your knee, and wait for Armageddon to pass. However, if you must go out into the streets on one of these nights when the natives are looking for an excuse to cut into your comfort like it was butter for their crack-toast, then there is one place you should avoid: Laundromats in questionable neighborhoods. Never do your laundry on one of these combustible evenings in a Laundromat in a bad neighborhood because it’s a magnet for bullets and knives, for sweat and stale doughnuts. This is the place stiffs are discovered in the cold sober light of dawn with the first flush of morning washers. This is the place where you will find notes to the damned and scrawled threats on the walls in garish dripping spray paint.

This is not the kind of place where the sap of young dreams rises to the surface of life to be drunk delicately and nurtured. This is the kind of place where old whores come to clean their pilled up g-strings and to cleanse the micro skirts they wear to showcase their ass cheeks on the corner just outside of where they do this ritual washing. Living, whoring, washing, all on the same block. Life can feel small sometimes when our dreams have shrunk to fit this miserable little Formica covered palace of pay-per-wash detergent boxes with giant (always broken and therefore useless) change machines. This is no place for the ill prepared, or the still milky youths who have moved from mama’s house to find themselves, and their starry dreams, right here on O’Farrell Street. There are no dreams here. Only fossilized broken condoms near the front door, and the gutted frame of what you thought life was going to be.

Into this bleak atmosphere of desperation, on just such a night as I have described, Jane Bauer walked boldly into exactly the Laundromat I told you never to venture into on a night when there is a thick taste of violence in the air. She is not a milky youth, though she is fairly young still, not having reached thirty years of age yet, but you would not guess from looking at her fair clear skin, her dark glossy shoulder length hair, or at her robust tall form that she is a broken person. A person with more contradictions of experience and beliefs you will not find. Everything about Jane is a contradiction. She is broken though you would be hard pressed to find another woman more fiercely independent. She is funny and light and joyful, yet at the same time she carries with her a thousand pounds of sorrow and fear that lap at her light, dimming it in power surges that last for days.

This tall bottle of contradictions with the keen green eyes of a person accustomed to watching came into the All-Night-No-Fuss-Laundromat on O’Farrell Street because she was out of clean underwear. Jane Bauer is not a girl willing to wear dirty underwear. She could feel the thick tension in the city air on this night and it made her alert, her skin alive with warning. Yet she must do her laundry. It is not agreeable to be caught waiting out Armageddon in filthy panties no matter how many shotguns you have to rest on your knees. Jane hates the word “panties”. She hears it a lot where she works, at the underwear factory. She is the shipping manager for the factory and all day long she packs up tiny panties, panties with no crotches sometimes, cheap flimsies, bras and teddies, filmy nothings favored particularly by women with breast “enhancements” and frosty hair. There is going to come a moment when the irony of Jane’s job is going to sock you in the teeth, but that moment isn’t now.

Sometimes these charged nights when no one should be wandering the streets at all are the only nights on which lives that would normally never intersect may cross each other like a streak of stars, blinding, brief, and beautiful. This is one of those nights.

At the very moment that Jane is loading her dirty clothes into a giant washing machine and feeding it ten pounds of quarters, a very tall man in an especially well cut grey wool overcoat and a worker’s cap is walking up O’Farrell Street in the direction of the All-Night-No-Fuss Laundromat because he has just gotten off of work and is cooling the sweat from his day, which has already been full of flashing lights, blood, and the evidence that this is one of those days when it is best to stay home. Isaac is a paramedic, a very good man to have around in emergencies, hands built to receive the most desperate bodies. He is egregiously handsome. Women have been known to rip open their shirts for him in public. But he is not a man who enjoys such shameless displays of breastitude. Well, not overly much, anyway.

There are two more lives that will meet at this intersection of disparate paths in just a few minutes from right now. A pimp and his whore are busy counting her $20 bills earned from alley blow jobs and there is a question about the amount, a slight discrepancy of expectation as often blooms between pimps and their girls. The bricks are being laid for their Friday night as they raise their voices, pace up and down the corner; ugly words begin to flow like the ooze of old sores coming loose in the fray. Everything is fast tonight, in slow motion. Try to understand how slowly everything moves in reverse.

Jane is waiting, watching the street ramping up its thumping party vibe from inside the mausoleum quiet of the empty Laundromat. These are the kinds of moments when we tend to notice the burn marks in the old linoleum from dropped cigarettes- little orange melted craters in the floor, and the flickering florescent lights, casting a sickly green cast onto all the ancient dirty white folding tables and dented machines. Jane is simply waiting for her washing to be done.

The pimp and his whore have graduated from the little fight to the accumulating clouds of aggravation expected to explode regularly on a Friday night. They are enacting their drama publicly, with muscles snapping, jaws gnashing, and pushing has begun. They trip from the corner towards the All-Night-No-Fuss-Laundromat, the pimp getting ugly, letting the crack fueled rage loose on the whore’s stringy body, she is slightly running from him, yet still attempting to placate and absolve.

Isaac is passing Jones Street. He is beginning to feel the blood of the day loosen its grip from his mind. He is taking deep breaths of Friday night air, aware that it is fraught with fight. He is trying to think about mundane things like eating quietly with his Grandmother; heading home to the blessings of good books and long drinks of cold beer.

Jane is standing by the washer near the front door when their three bodies collide: the pimp and the woman crash through the door like an explosion of gasoline; Jane turns to the noise but it has already hit her before she can react to this writhing scratching pushing tangle of charged flesh, hurtling into her, knocking her backwards, the bodies keep moving, following her as she hits the wall; they hit it on top of her and she feels elbows smash painfully into her ribs and the smell is intense- sex and death and pollen- the wind is knocked out of her but she’s pinned to the wall by the weight of these bodies and then, just as suddenly as the bodies pinned her they rolled off in a fresh turn of fight on the wall not ten inches from where she’s left standing.  The pimp’s hard hands are clamped around the whore’s neck.

Jane and the woman are facing each other, Jane sees her eyes looking back at her rather than at him, and they implore, they wish and they seek but Jane can’t move, she can’t actually feel her body anymore. She can no longer tell what is real, what is imagined, if she’s awake or in her other life where it’s all stark grief and dust curls into open mouths. The woman’s skin is turning and the eyes are popping, the man- Jane cannot look at him, she cannot see him, cannot allow herself to see him because she has seen his fingers and already knows what’s in his eyes because she’s seen it in men before and the woman is going to die not ten inches from where Jane stands against the wall, not breathing.

When Isaac passes the picture window of the All-Night-No-Fuss Laundromat he sees a man killing a woman. Without thought, without noise, he has crossed the Laundromat and grabs the pimp by the collar, prying his tight fingers from the woman’s neck and shoving the pimp to the floor like a goddamn super hero who does this kind of thing all night long in capes and gauntlets. He is already phoning 911. The woman, now getting her color back is already leaning down to her man saying “I’m sorry baby, I’m so sorry baby” and no one will ever know whether she’s sorry he didn’t kill her or sorry he was thrown to the ground or sorry she didn’t give enough blow jobs today to score them a dime bag tonight. She sees Isaac’s phone out and tells him not to call the cops.

Jane is the accidental body that is finally falling, a long long way down from where she so recently stood, she is falling and it doesn’t matter to her that her head is catching on the corner of the folding table in front of her. Nothing really matters where she is now, because she is already gone. Isaac, who has been shaking his head at the two drug addicts who will kill each other on some other Friday night when the city fever is running high, has not turned around in time to see that Jane is going to fall, he has had no time to register this extra witness to the unfolding violence. He can do nothing, every super hero’s worst day, she is sprawled on the floor, face down, and her head is beginning to leak out onto the pocked floor, a very small pool of dark red, inching closer and closer to a hard grey lump of old gum near her face.

Isaac has already called the paramedics, he does what he can while he waits, a job he performs all day long, he gently checks for broken bones, checks for other wounds and checks her pulse, then he looks for something to staunch her bleeding. Never once moving the body. He removes his coat and lays it across her sprawled form to help with the shock, then he removes his shirt to fold up and hold against the open gash on Jane’s temple, which is beginning to bleed more steadily. There they sit for what feels like a hundred years of bleeding; Isaac is cold in his undershirt, but he doesn’t move because he would never leave a person to bleed to death. He doesn’t question. He has no thoughts right now. Checks pulse, scans the Laundromat, sees that they are completely alone, and off in the distance, cutting the city fugue into ribbons of light is the sound of approaching mercy.


There are voices to answer, lights rushing in and a thickening of pain. Hey, they say, can you hear me? Can you see me? Can you speak? And it is to her and yet not to her. She feels faces move in like shadows on a wall of blurred color. She has no mouth. Isaac, have you checked for identification? We have a Jane Doe, mid to late twenties, with a head wound, BP’s low, staunch it, staunch it!, how’d this happen? Hello? Can you hear me?

She would like them to stop talking, stop touching her ribs where there is an explosion of white light against the curtain of her head every time those fingers crush into her, and there is so little air she feels as though she might be happiest here in the watery underworld where girls like her go to die.

This is better than those eyes again. Better than all the rushing pictures, the out of focus memories, let them slide away down the muddy riverbanks and let there be no more of this pain. Vaguely feeling hands shift her weight, which is foreign to her, foreign to them. She has heard Jane Doe before, from this same watery place where voices are slow and miles up to the surface, she has been called Jane Doe before.

She hears: “I’m sorry.” She hears it close and it is quiet around the words like a lullaby just for her, a slow burning piano sonata just for her. “I’m sorry.” Close to her skin like a blanket. But whatever for? Who is sorry for what? It comes closer now but not because it comes closer to her but because she is rising like a corpse from the bottom of the lake up to where the faces hover and she emerges from the water but without sound. It seems she cannot work all at once. Nothing can work all at once. When her eyes focus on the faces looking down at her she can not hear them, not even muffled, there is only the most profound silence and she’s not scared because she knows this silence.

They are mouthing things she cannot hear and she watches them with the calm of a person who’s already said everything that will ever need to be said. The calm of the half-dead. Uniforms lean in and out and when they lean out she can see the ceiling moving above her. There is one face left for a moment which she evaluates calmly. Hazel eyes. Pale with dark hair like hers. Taller than people are supposed to be. He is watching her too and she thinks he sees her where she is, so far away from all of them. Impossible. She feels everything shift and shimmer and then the man’s face is looking at one of the uniforms and is mouthing something that looks loud and urgent but it doesn’t matter where she is. She is warm and she is tucking herself away now.

She says, “I am Jane Doe” and she is unconscious again.


It is deeper here. Like a memory within a memory.

Does anyone know who the victim is? Has anyone found identification? There must be something. Does she live here? Where is the smell of urine coming from? Oh. And the blood? Do we know if there is any other wound? Someone check with the neighbors. OK. Can’t see her features well under those contusions. Take pictures before we move her. Quickly. There are flashes and searches for identity. None is found.

We’ve got a Jane Doe in her early teens, unconscious, one eye swollen shut, a patch of hair missing from her scalp, bruising to her abdomen, a possible broken rib, raped, left lying unconscious on the floor. We’re taking her to Marin General. Someone find out who she belongs to.

I have been called Jane Doe before.

I’d like to follow the water.

I’d like to follow the water to the snow.

The Boyfriend Inquisition

While Isaac walked the couple of blocks to the Cafe des Croissants to meet a stranger named “Tim” who seemed to be Jane’s watchdog friend, he wondered why he had agreed to come. What shade of fool was he to agree to meet a person who required him to bring picture ID, proof of address, and his worker’s badge just to tell him if Jane had been run over by a Muni bus? All he wanted to know was if she hadn’t called because something dreadful had happened to her? This “Tim” character had suggested they meet up and if Isaac could prove that he was some kind of legitimate human being and not the next Ted Bundy (yes, these people seemed quite obsessed with serial killers, as though they were in constant danger from them) he would tell Isaac what he wanted to know. This was part madness, ridiculous paranoia, and also intriguing.

Isaac let his curiosity win. It was a gorgeous late spring morning and the cafe was close to his house. He was wearing his usual casual but stylish clothes, his hair was perhaps a little disheveled, and his old fashioned sneakers were a little bit frayed, but over all he was as handsome as always and when Tim saw him approaching he couldn’t help but dismiss him as the guy he was waiting for. Isaac was nothing like Poor George, Jane’s first real boyfriend. This guy just wasn’t the same make or class. Tim had an appreciative eye for lads and this one was pretty exquisite. Not Jane’s man, for sure. He would be looking for someone dumpier, possibly wall eyed, with a slightly sloped posture. This might sound unkind unless you were privileged enough to judge the slew of boyfriends Jane had tried to be enthusiastic about.

There was Charles The Blond who had platinum hair and wore out-dated glasses, the kind that serial killers wear, and he always had a saggy air about him. In spite of this general air of sagginess, he was surprisingly despotic in the expectations he had of his girlfriends. His idea was that girlfriends should always kiss a man when he picks her up at the muni stop where they are meeting and takes very unkindly to any application of lipstick which might render this slurpy greeting less agreeable. He declared that Jane should always want to hang out with him on Friday nights because that’s apparently an expected night for girlfriends and boyfriends to sit close to each other on sad patchy couches watching something meant to inspire a little make out session.

It was fortunate for everyone, especially Jane, that he wimped out on Jane’s issues before Tim or Luca was forced to kill the sucker because later on they found out the dude had gotten crabs from somewhere and the blaring question was undoubtedly “What woman out there with crabs was willing to sleep with Charles The Blond?” Both Tim and Luca had prayed that their own sweet Jane wasn’t serious about trying to see it through with him. Their relief at his departure was thick and joyous.

While Tim was lost in his thoughts about Jane’s past boyfriends Isaac had figured out that Tim must be the person he was looking for and broke into Tim’s reverie with a polite tap on his shoulder and introduced himself. They shook hands and Tim, trying hard not to drop his jaw, motioned to the seat across from him and invited Isaac to sit down. This was a promising turn of luck for his Jane, except that he was obviously suspicious about his degree of handsomeness and apparent ease, a known trait in some serial killers and other creeps. Isaac asked when Tim would like to satisfy himself with his “papers” and Tim said, quite seriously, that it would be best to have a look right away. Isaac couldn’t tell if Tim was being completely serious about this whole ID thing or not, part of him felt it was an elaborate joke in which Jane’s friend got to eye him head to toe, which was exactly what it was, but he admitted it was possible that Tim was a bit loose headed and didn’t know how inappropriate this was.

Either way, Isaac didn’t particularly care. He had the capacity to go with the flow, to see where things might lead, to unearth adventure in the quotidian. If he had been otherwise he would not have had such a wonderful evening with Jane, who was also apparently a little unhinged, but charming. Perhaps he had unearthed a small society of harmless eccentrics. His life outside of work was quiet enough that it could use a dose of the unusual, of the unexpected. It was in this spirit that he solemnly presented his driver’s license, his ambulance driver’s license, his station badge, and a letter that had been sent to him at his home address with his name on it. He laid them out carefully and waited to see what Tim would have to say.

Tim appreciated the sangfroid with which this stranger allowed him to peruse the details of his life that Tim had no right to ask for and it amused Tim that Isaac had completely followed his lead in going through this deadpan pantomime of ridiculous paranoia. Dude must lead a very dull life, Tim thought, to be game enough to go through an inquisition all for a girl he had met once. It piqued Tim’s curiosity, a curiosity completely shared by Isaac.

Tim pushed all the official identification back to Isaac across the table. “OK, he said.” and they looked at each other. “She’s not dead.” he assured Isaac, with a studied serious expression which made Isaac burst out laughing.

“I’m sorry!” he apologized trying to force his face into it’s previous serious mode.

“What you really want to know is why Jane hasn’t called you back.” Tim said, changing from his charade of boyfriend inquisitor to his casual easy going self. “Seriously? I can’t understand it myself now that I have met you and, uh, see that you are an upstanding gentleman with an excellent job who is obviously good in emergencies. Chick magnet I imagine!” and he winked at Isaac who didn’t know where to look or what to do because people under seventy just don’t wink at each other any more. Especially men to other men.

“Yes. That’s it completely.” He admitted and felt lame. Lame because he didn’t want to have to explain the things he was thinking or expose himself as an eager beau. No one wants to be thought overly eager in the pursuit of love because it doesn’t get less cool than that, unless you’re Poor George and you just don’t get it.

“You have to promise me you’re not going to tell Jane that I searched you for proper identification.” Tim said. “She’d kill me. In fact, if you could not tell her we met up, that would be even better.”

“Sure. So are you really close to her?” Isaac asked.

“We’ve been friends since third grade.  My parents unofficially adopted her when she was thirteen. So, yeah.” Tim reminded himself silently not to run off at the mouth just because this guy was so good looking he couldn’t stop thinking slightly dirty thoughts which distracted him from what he was actually saying. Luca wouldn’t feel betrayed, provided Tim gave no details. Still, this was potentially Jane’s man and he owed it to her not to give too much away. Isaac was taking this in and trying to decide how ethical it would be to ask for any details about Jane. It felt slightly stalkerish and improper to pump her close friend for any information. On the other hand, this red headed freckled freak of a man who obviously liked to play deep games might be able to give him an idea if he should just drop this or not.

While Isaac was busy debating stalking ethics, Tim was remembering another manly gem who had asked Jane out. Roger Kinkytail (not his real last name). In a stunning miscalculation of taste Jane agreed to date this very handsome, postureful male specimen who seemed practically normal, except for having the unfortunate name of Roger, which in some circles elicits visions of nekid activities of an explicit nature. Much like the name “Randy” evokes unfortunate visions of horny teens. That and Roger’s vision of unifying Jane, Tim, and Luca in a “cosmic” communion of flesh and fantasy in which the four of them would reach Nirvana through a rich romp in a busy bed. No amount of handsome could erase the horror from any of their minds and Jane was left wondering what signals she had put out to attract such a piece of work as Roger. Tim and Luca consoled her as best they could with offers to set her up with Luca’s heterosexual cousin Mack which generous offer Jane limply waved away, declaring that she was not ever going to date again and instead was going to become the best spinster she possibly could. Petticoats and all.

Tim knew that Isaac was dying for details. He could smell Isaac’s keenness like a fox on the scent of something spicy and personal. So he was trying to figure out what he could tell this tall fellow with the dark hair, pale skin, and dark brown eyes.
“Dude,” Tim began “It’s a little unethical for me to tell you anything about my best friend until I know if she’s even really interested in you and also until I find out if you have a crazy wife tucked away in an attic in Idaho or something.”

“Have you and Jane had a lot of experiences with people that store wives in attics?” he asked curiously.

Tim laughed quietly. “No.” and he appeared to have something else to say yet the hesitation hung out there between them while Tim tried to figure out what the hell he was doing. Perhaps it was Toothsome Barry who had filled Tim with genuine despair for Jane’s future in loving and which made him now so reckless. Reckless with her heart, a place he had no right to meddle. He had no right to encourage this gorgeous tall dark eyed eager (yes, Tim sees through Isaac’s veneer of coolness) man who seems solid and free of sagginess, extra wives, and tricky lusts.

Toothsome Barry left Tim with a foul feeling in his chest just from having to look at Barry’s capacious mouth. It seemed like terrible proof that Jane was going through the motions only to reassure the people who loved her that she really cared about dating; proof that she didn’t have her eyes open. Of all things, to have agreed to date a man with as many long teeth as Barry had was uncharacteristic of Jane who had a fastidiousness concerning mouths that didn’t allow for horsey, dirty, dark brown, creaky, or mossy teeth. Tim had to admit that he had never witnessed Jane kissing this paragon of mouth hygiene gone wrong and it’s also true that she often closed her eyes while looking in his direction, which, honestly, wasn’t much anyway.

Here Tim was looking at a deliciousness who seemed already a little uncomfortably hot under the collar for his own sweet Jane and he couldn’t bear to think of Jane deciding not to see him just because she had only gone out with losers before and figured this one would turn out to be the same. He was grappling with a feeling about this one, feeling a new hope, and unabashedly, for the first time in his life he felt the bow of cupid thrust in his hand and it was irresistible, it was a temptation too great. It was Jane’s damnable lack of self confidence which had landed her so many limp duds. Tim didn’t think her previous forced forays into love were proof of anything. She had always been his magnificent savior, his champion, and the greatest platonic love he had ever had. She was his treasure and these slithery toothsome people she kept dragging home to prove that she was normal irritated Tim beyond belief because not a single one of them deserved her.

Here was a promising specimen with good posture, an estimable job, and obviously a sense of humor (and some curiosity) or he would never have agreed to Tim’s suggestion to come bringing all manner of identification. Jane would certainly kill him if she could see him right now. He shivered a little at the thought because she had a preternatural sight. He could walk away right now, say nothing, give no hoped for encouragement of courtship to this amazon of a man, which (let’s be honest) would be insane, or he could throw a crumb or two in the path of love; be the bow that hits the bulls eye. If he didn’t take a hand, the chances were pretty great that Jane would let him slip away.

“The thing about Jane,” he began carefully “is that she doesn’t have a lot of trust in people.” and at Isaac’s curious look he stopped.

“I’m thinking she’s not the only one!” Isaac said, grinning.

“Yes, well, I have to be careful. She’s my oldest friend. She’s like a sister. Some dude calls me up to ask questions about her- I have to be sure he’s not-”

“The next Ted Bundy. I know. I just think it’s funny you saying she isn’t trustful. And what is it with you two being obsessed with Ted Bundy? There are a lot of other serial killers out there too.”

“Yes, but he’s the only one famous for luring his victims with his handsomeness. Anyway, my guess is that Jane is too timid to call you back. I think she probably wants to but can’t get herself to pick up the phone.” he explained reasonably.

“What should I do? I suppose it isn’t appropriate for me to ask you that.” he said, shrugging his shoulders a little and taking a sip of his forgotten coffee.

“I think you should drop by her work and see her in person. I can’t give you her home address, that would be highly inappropriate, but she works with a lot of very alert muscled men who will not hesitate to beat the shit out of you if you do anything threatening, so I feel comfortable giving her work address to you. I think if you talk to her in person she’ll have a hard time saying no to whatever you propose to her. I mean, provided it isn’t creepy or anything.”

“Won’t she be suspicious that I found out where she works?” he asked.

“Definitely. But you can just say there’s a mole in her life. She’ll be so distracted by you standing right there in front of her she won’t really pay close attention. I mean, if you do it right.” he said impishly. “Once she really thinks about it she’ll know it was me but by then it won’t matter.”

“You’re a strange man, you know?” he said.

Tim wrote down an address on one of the cafe napkins and slid it across the table to Isaac who took it, folded it up neatly and put it into one of his pants pockets.

“Why are you doing this for me?” he asked Tim. “Why not just tell me to shove it on the phone?”

“Toothsome Barry is why.” he said getting up. They shook hands and Tim strolled back towards his apartment with a huge smile on his face and a sudden acute desire to grapple a little with his own dark haired man. Life just might be about to get a whole lot better for us all, he thought to himself. If he knew how to whistle he would have whistled a jaunty tune all the way home.

Isaac watched this stocky fiery man walking away down the street with an air of someone who has a pot of gold stashed in their underwear drawer

He had definitely uncovered a den of eccentrics.