Sunday, April 15, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
I'm restarting all sorts of things these last few weeks. I spent the winter bulking up to drive my lifting, but now that it's getting nice out again I've started running again.
Just like with lifting, I'm not a particularly good runner. My best 5k time was 26:55 and that was two years and 25lb ago. Last year I ran three races and finished between 28 and 30 minutes on all of them.
But even so, I like running. Usually I don't waste my time doing things I'm bad at, but running is different than, say, darts or first person shooters. I can 'sprint' for a couple of blocks and walk for a couple of blocks and still have fun because I get to go fast for a little bit. Or I can plod along for most of a mile and feel good because I did manage to catch and pass someone walking their dog.
And in a way, that might be part of why I like running. Most everything else I do I have to work for, whether it's hitting a PR squat, or banging out a chapter, or even beating a videogame. Doing poorly at any of those things hurts in one way or another. But it's okay to suck at running; the worst that can happen is I end up going for a walk instead.
And so I'll head out again today in my funny toe shoes and cat-scratched shorts and just have fun looking at the trees and feeling the sun and breathing the crisp spring air.
Monday, March 26, 2012
I'm not exactly the target audience for this book. I haven't identified as Christian in about six years, and I've never been a fan of the vampire genre. That said, this is a damn good book. The pacing is outstanding, and the numerous subplots lend a richness that has to be read to be appreciated. There were a handful of times when the symbolism got rather heavy-handed, but not enough to bog the story down.
Theron really carries the story, as he should. He's just conflicted enough with his encounters with Jesus to fit the mythology, but not enough to make his internal conflict override his struggle with the vampire council and the Legion. I was honestly hoping for a little more fireworks during the crucifixion (spoiler alert: Jesus dies), but the effects of the resurrection make up for it.
McAfee sets us up for a sequel, and like a dealer handing out samples, attaches a preview at the end of 33A.D.
This was a fast read, but there's enough here to get lost in. It is a fantasy, but based on how much I liked it, I'd recommend it to anyone who can stomach the blood.
Friday, March 23, 2012
I started rewriting the first book I ever submitted for publication this week. Its actually the third book I tried to write, the first two being abortive failures in every sense but what they taught me about the process. So by my count, by the time this is done it will be the sixth time I've attempted to write a book.
And what I'm noticing since I finished drafting Nomads (the fifth book I've written but the third book I'll publish) is that my drafting process has slowed down. I'm a lot more careful with my word choice and sentence structure, and I've actaully used the backspace key on the first run through a scene. As a consequence, my words per hour have fallen from 600ish to about 200ish.
My hope is that taking more time on the initial pass will cut down the extent ant number of edits needed for polish, and will end up saving time over the course of the process. And eventually maybe I can get good enough to take this same level of care but still draft at haphazard speed.
I'll give it a shot for science.
Monday, March 19, 2012
A Father and a Daughter
The apartment’s buzzer startled Brad Verne so much he almost dropped his beer. He never got visitors. Pushing away from the table, he pressed the intercom button.
“Hi, Dad,” the garbled speaker said. “It’s Cheryl. Can I come up?”
He pushed the door button in response and looked out his apartment’s window. After a beat, he pushed the chair under the table and crossed to the bed under the window. He threw the blankets over the bed and ran a hand over them to smooth the wrinkles. The pizza boxes in the counter couldn’t be helped, but he gathered the empties off the table and dropped them into the garbage. A knock at the door made him jump again.
He took a breath and undid the chain, latch, and deadbolt. Cheryl had her cell phone out when he pulled the door open.
“Hi, Dad.” She wore her hair long, braided with bits of colorful ribbon. Her duster was open, and the embroidery decorating the outside matched the colors in her hair. She’d gotten a lip ring since the last time Brad had seen her.
She did. “I can’t stay long.”
“You just got here. Sorry for the mess.”
“Don’t worry about it. I wanted to talk to you in person.”
“Is it about your mom?”
“That’s good at least.”
“It’s about me and Mark.”
“Mark. The guy I live with?”
“Oh. The pretty boy. You’re still with him?”
“Is he working? Are you working?”
“Can you let me talk?”
“We’re talking. I’m trying to get some context. Okay? You want to talk about you and Mark.”
She sighed. “Yes. We’ve been getting pretty serious lately. And last week we were out on a walk and we were talking—”
“If you let me finish, I’ll tell you.”
“We’re having a conversation, aren’t we?”
“I’m trying to. We were talking about our relationship. And he… um.”
“He asked me to marry him. And I said yes.”
“Did he give you a ring?”
“What? What does that matter?”
“If he’s going to marry my daughter he’d better fucking give you a ring.”
“That doesn’t matter! I’m getting married.”
“That’s it? ’Congratulations, Cheryl, I’m so happy for you that you’re marrying the man you love.’ Nothing?”
“Yeah, it’s great. If you’re happy, that’s great. Congratulations.”
“So, yeah, we’re thinking about saving up for a year and having a small ceremony next spring.”
“Good for you. I can’t help you out, you know.”
“I would, but your mother—”
“I know, Dad. Do you want us to invite you?”
“You can do whatever you want, obviously. I would hope I would get invited to my own daughter’s wedding.”
“That’s why I was asking; sometimes you don’t like those sort of things.”
“Well, I appreciate your concern. Yes, if you would deign to invite me, I would like to go.”
“Okay, okay. That’s good; I want you there. I just wanted to ask first.”
“Make sure you make him sign a pre-nup.”
“I know, Dad.”
“Hey, that’s just my opinion. If you want to tell me to fuck off, that you don’t need my advice, that you two love each other—that’s fine.”
“No, I know; it’s in the plans. There’s just a lot going on all of a sudden. But I’ll take care of it, okay?”
“Okay. Like I said, that’s fine. Do what you want.”
Cheryl stuck her hands in her coat pockets and rocked from her toes to her heels. Brad took off his glasses and vigorously cleaned them on the inside of his shirt.
“So, I guess I’ll be going,” Cheryl said after a minute.
“Okay.” Brad put his glasses back on. “Good seeing you. Thanks for stopping by.”
“Yeah. Good seeing you too.” She took a half-step toward him, stopped herself, and then went to the door. “I’ll let you know what our plans are as soon as I know what they are.”
She opened the door and paused. “Bye, Dad.”
Her brow furrowed for an instant. “Bye.” She pulled the door closed behind her.
Brad cleaned his glasses again as soon as she was gone. He went to the window and looked out over the parking lot. He saw Cheryl’s car pull out into the street a minute later. Bumper stickers covered the sedan’s trunk, and Cheryl’s hand-painted zodiac signs flowed back from the hood over the doors. The car squealed metal on metal when it paused at the stop sign at the corner, and then rumbled away.
He looked out the window for a moment longer, and then grabbed the phone off the wall and jabbed at the numbers.
“You think you can warn me before you send Cheryl over here?”
“What? Where are you? What’s she talking to you about?”
“I’m at my house, Lynn. Where do you think?”
“Put Cheryl on the phone.”
“She just left. I’m sure you can get all the details when she reports back.” He started pacing at the end of the phone cord.
“I haven’t seen her in a week. Are you drunk?”
“Answer the question.”
“You send Cheryl over here to start a fight instead of talking to me in person? What do you think I am?”
“I’m not talking to you like this.”
“Oh, so how would you rather—”
Brad sighed through his nose and ran his hands over his scalp. The digital alarm clock on the nightstand started beeping. He slapped at it and knocked over the picture next to it. Three-thirty already. Brad set the picture back on the nightstand. In it, he and Lynn sat on a tree stump while seven-year-old Cheryl played in the leaves at their feet. He grabbed his keys and wallet from the table and headed out the door.
After a quick walk to the 7-11 a few blocks down, Brad returned to the apartment building with a pair of travel mugs full of coffee and a handful of gas station pastries. There were two apartments on the first floor; the superintendent’s faced the laundry room, and the other was tucked at the end of the hallway past the storage lockers and garbage room. Brad went to the latter and knocked.
No response for a minute, so he knocked again, louder this time. Someone mumbled something inside, and Brad swore under his breath. Another minute passed, and finally the door cracked open.
“Hi, Frank; it’s Brad.”
“Oh,” the old man croaked. “Hello. How are you?”
“I brought you your coffee. Did you forget?”
“No. No, I didn’t forget. Come in.” He tottered back, opening the door for Brad.
“Thanks.” He strode past Frank and set the coffees and pastries on the table. Frank’s apartment was three times the size of his own studio. Boxes of newspapers and magazines rimmed the baseboards of the living room. The TV faced the dining room table, and the remote had taped-on paper labels covering most of the buttons. A trio of large framed pictures of Frank and his dead wife faced Frank’s seat at the table. The medals hanging in the box on the wall adorned Frank’s Navy uniform in the oldest picture, and his laughing wife pressed her cheek into his shoulder.
“How you feeling today, Frank?”
“Oh. I feel great. I did three pushups today. I’m going to get strong again.”
“Oh yeah? You better be careful not to hurt yourself.”
“I won’t. I take my time. Don’t you worry about me.”
“Okay, well, I’m telling you. You won’t be much good to anybody if you break something.”
“I know. What kind of coffee did you get?”
“I got hazelnut. This one’s your French Roast.”
“Oh. Thank you. That’s my favorite, you know.”
“Yeah, Frank, I know. That’s all you ever ask for.”
“A man knows what he likes.”
Brad helped Frank sit at the table, and then took the chair across from him. The two men unwrapped pastries and sat in silence for a moment.
“What’s on your mind, friend?” Frank asked.
“Ah. You don’t need to worry about it.” Brad wiped his glasses on his shirt.
“Oh. That kind of thing. A man needs his secrets. I see.”
“Thank you.” Then: “Cheryl stopped by today.”
“First time I’ve seen her in months and she says she’s getting married to some asshole.”
“Have you met him?”
“Yeah, I met him. I said I did, didn’t I?”
“Well, I met him.”
“And he’s an asshole?”
“Sure he is. An artist or something. But regardless, he didn’t even ask my permission before he thinks he’s going to marry my daughter.”
“Cheryl’s a smart girl, isn’t she?”
“Well. I thought so.”
“So she probably knows what she’s doing.”
“Ha. You say that because you don’t know her.”
“No. I don’t. But she must do things for a reason.”
“Maybe she thinks she does.”
“Maybe. You know, Barbara sometimes did things I didn’t understand.”
“That’s great, Frank.”
“She did. But I trusted her. So I says, ‘Honey, I love you and I believe in you, but I’m staying out of the way until you ask for help.’”
“What the fuck does that even mean, Frank?”
“It means a woman gets an idea in her head, you see. You can either help her along or get out of the way, because they going to do what they want anyway. If you fight it, you lose. Every time.”
“So I should let my daughter tell me what to do?”
“No. No, but you can’t tell her what to do either.”
“She’s my daughter, for Christ’s sake.”
“Can you stop her from getting married?”
“No; if she wants to throw her life away with some fucking jerk, that’s her business.”
“You see? You can get out of the way or help her along. Think about it.”
“Yeah, thanks. That’s great. Are you done?” Brad stood and started gathering the wrappers on the table.
Frank smiled. “Yes. Thank you.”
“Yep. See you tomorrow, Frank.”
The old man stood up and put out his hand. “Thank you for coming, friend.”
Brad shook Frank’s hand. “Okay. Good seeing you.” He tucked the coffee mugs in his elbow and headed for the door. “Don’t forget to lock up.”
“Yes. I won’t. Good bye,” Frank said.
Brad pulled the door closed behind him and headed for the stairs. Back in his own apartment, he opened a beer and settled in front of the TV while the sun set through a shell of clouds.
Hours passed. He moved from his chair to his bed and stumbled over the empty beer cans on the floor. When the TV switched to infomercials, he switched it off and stared at the ceiling in the dark.
The room stopped spinning and he wasn’t even close to sleep. Another one of those nights. He picked his way to the sink for some water, and then found his shoes and coat. The night was cold, and it welcomed him.
Brad wandered through the sleepy streets. On weekends the neighborhood around the train station was busy with bar flies through the early morning, but tonight only a handful of people braved the cold. A fine mist fogged the streetlights. He passed the courtyard next to city hall where he and Lynn used to go to the farmer’s market. The last train clacked into the station behind him, and he kept walking.
He crossed the street toward a neighborhood still decorated with Christmas lights. A car roared out of the train station and blew the light by the main drag. Tires screeched around a corner and the car fishtailed into the wrong lane. The driver overcorrected and bumped the curb before swerving back onto the road and charging toward the underpass under the tracks. Streetlight made the zodiacs on the doors glitter. The sedan hit a patch of ice and skidded sideways.
Brad was already running when the driver’s side door slammed into the pillar dividing the underpass. The courtyard stretched on forever. The car’s brake lights were a fire in the freezing mist. His desperate breath echoed in the sudden silence after the crash. He slipped and scraped his hands and kept running. Headlights flashed in the underpass, a horn blared, and Brad ran down the middle of the street past an oncoming pickup.
The pickup’s driver pulled to the curb and got out yelling. The lights on the underpass spilled gold through Cheryl’s spider webbed windshield. She slumped against her seatbelt toward him, hair hiding her face, not moving. He shouted her name. The door wouldn’t open, and he shouted for her again.
The pickup driver appeared next to him with a phone to his ear. Brad wrenched the back door open and flopped into the back seat. Glass glittered all over the car’s torn upholstery. The front door was caved in all the way to the steering wheel. He reached for Cheryl’s shoulder, and she whimpered. He almost laughed through his tears.
“Cheryl? Cheryl, kid, it’s Dad. Hey, you’re gonna be okay, okay?”
She moaned and reached for her head.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay, kid. Settle down. You’ll be okay.” He brushed her hair back. Blood pattered on the upholstery, and the car hissed in the night.
“An ambulance is on the way,” the pickup driver said around his phone.
Brad barely heard him. “Good. Cheryl, you’ll be okay. I’m gonna get you help.”
“You know this bitch?”
Brad shot him a look. “She’s my daughter.”
“Oh, fuck.” The man talked into his phone again.
Cheryl leaned on the collapsed door, and Brad reached for her hand.
The ambulance wailed to a stop next to the wreck. Men in blue shirts guided him to the curb and he sat while they swarmed over the car. Police cars blocked the underpass. One of the officers approached him while the paramedics lifted Cheryl onto a stretcher.
“Sir, can I –”
Brad pushed past him and went to the paramedics. “How is she? I’m going with her. I’m—I’m her Dad. I want to go with her.”
The men in blue had a word with the police officer, and then they let Brad climb in the back of the ambulance after they loaded Cheryl’s stretcher. He rode in a daze. Tubes sprouted from Cheryl’s arms and chest. They had a mask over her face, and wrapped her head in bandages. He pressed his daughter’s hand to his forehead and willed the ambulance to drive faster.
When they pulled into the hospital, he followed the paramedics through the sliding doors until a wooly-haired nurse pried him away from the stretcher.
“That’s my daughter!” he protested.
“I understand,” she said. “But the doctors need to help her now. Is there anyone you need to call?”
“No. Her mother. Yeah. I should call Lynn.”
“Okay. Good.” She led him to a room not much larger than a closet behind the emergency room desk. A phone and a box of tissues sat on a table with a pair of soft chairs. The nurse closed the door, and he sat at the phone in a daze.
Lynn didn’t answer the first time he called, so he called back.
“Hello?” Her voice was thick.
“It’s Brad. Cheryl had an accident.”
“What? What do you want?”
“Don’t hang up. I’m at the hospital. Cheryl got in a wreck.”
“Huh? What’d you do? Is she okay?”
“I don’t know. You need to come here. She’s hurt. I don’t know how bad.”
“Where are you?”
He read the hospital’s information from the card next to the phone. He heard her gathering her things, and she hung up without saying goodbye. Brad sat alone for a while with his head in his hands. Eventually the nurse knocked on the door and told him his wife had arrived.
Lynn stared at a TV in the waiting room. He crossed the room and sat in a chair a ways away from where she stood. The nurse busied herself at her station, and Brad waited in silence.
“The police told me what happened,” Lynn said finally.
“Did you talk to her? How did she look?”
“Not good, Lynn. She’s totaled her car for Christ’s sake.”
“Why were you there? Was she with you?”
“I couldn’t sleep, okay? Will you sit down? She must’ve been out drinking. I was in the area; I hadn’t seen her since the afternoon.”
Lynn slumped onto a chair and rubbed her temples. Once the first tears came, more followed in choked sobs. Brad stared at his feet for a moment, and then leaned over the armrest to put his hand on her knee. Lynn coughed and wiped her face. She patted his hand and stood up again.
“We should probably call Mark soon,” Lynn said.
“Well. I’ll let you handle that.”
“Of course.” She paced in front of him.
“Is he good to her?”
She stopped and pressed her lips together. “Yes. From what I’ve seen. She told you, then?”
“Yeah,” he laughed once. “Hell of a thing, today.” He cleared his throat. “I could have taken it better.” His voice cracked.
A sad smile pinched the side of her mouth. “I imagine. All right. I’ll call Mark.”
Brad tried to swallow after she left. The image of Cheryl in the ambulance stuck in his mind. She looked so small, lying there with bits of glass covering her, shining red in the harsh light. The adrenaline had worn off, and the twisting pain in his gut crawled up his throat. He bit a sob into his fist.
Lynn returned some time later, and Brad cleared his throat a few times.
“Mark will be here in a couple hours,” Lynn said. “There shouldn’t be much traffic this time of night.”
“Good.” He sighed. “That’s good.”
“When I told him what happened, he said he was glad you were there with her.”
“I said I was too.”
He looked up at her. His vision blurred. She held out her hand and he took it. She sat down and leaned on him. He squeezed her tightly, and together they waited.
The doctor who came for them had bags under his eyes and introduced himself as Doctor Fischer.
“Cheryl’s stable,” he said. “I can take you to her if you’d like.”
“Thank God,” Lynn said.
“How is she?” Brad asked.
“It’s this way,” Dr. Fischer said.
The look on the doctor’s face dried Brad’s mouth. He flanked Lynn as they followed down a fluorescent hallway.
Dr. Fischer spoke as they walked. “We’re going to do some more procedures for her tomorrow after she gets some rest. She’s sedated now. Her left femur will need a couple of pins, as will her left radius. It doesn’t look like there is any cognitive damage, but …”
They paused in front of a closed door. “But what?” Brad insisted.
The doctor’s face darkened, and he opened the door.
Cheryl lay swaddled in white in a bed next to a rack of beeping machines. A wire elevated her leg. Bandages hid her face from her mouth up, and thick pads of gauze covered her eyes.
Dr. Fischer’s voice dropped to a whisper. “There was significant damage to her orbital sockets. Tomorrow we’re going to try to extract the glass from her eyes. There’s a chance she may retain partial vision in her right eye.”
Lynn gasped. “What—what does that mean?”
“It means we’re going to do everything we can for her. But our best shot is transplants for both organs. I’ve gone ahead and put her name on the donor list.”
Lynn knelt at the edge of the bed and sobbed. She stroked her daughter’s bruised cheek and pressed her face into the sheets.
“Doc,” Brad managed. “What happens if there’s no donors?”
The doctor inhaled through his teeth. “Rehabilitation. We’ll get her in therapy for the sight-impaired. She’s young. She’ll get back on her feet, and we have resources to help her adjust.”
“She can’t adjust; she’s just a kid!”
“I’m sorry. We’ll help her every way we can. Hopefully they find a donor before the window closes.”
“What?” Lynn said. “What window?”
“The sooner we find a donor, the better. Scar tissue can affect the procedure. Eventually she’d get pushed down the list.”
Brad’s throat closed. Lynn said something to Dr. Fischer, and he said something back. Brad saw Cheryl with a cane and sunglasses. On her wedding day, if she would have him, she’d walk down the aisle on his arm with nothing but hushed whispers to describe how beautiful she was. He stood at the foot of the bed and looked into Cheryl’s broken face.
“So,” he began. “What does it take to be a donor?”
He felt Dr. Fischer and Lynn focus on him. His own gaze never left Cheryl.
Eventually, the doctor responded. “Basically, matching blood types and a clean disease history.”
Lynn appeared at his shoulder. She touched his face, and he broke his gaze from Cheryl. Lynn’s face was anguished and tugged at his heart. He tucked her hair behind her ear. Her hand found his, and he turned to face Dr. Fischer.
“All right, Doc. Where do I sign up?”
My original plan had me spending a few months this year getting my old short stories edited and polished so I could get more content up for sale. But a couple weeks of frustration taught me that I'd need to completely rewrite them in order to get them up to my current standards.
In a couple of cases, that's fine. The Experiment is a decent way to start one of my novels coming out this year, as I wrote it specifically to help me conceive that world. F&D is another. But most of these stories would take more work to fix than it would take to put out something entirely new.
Its not easy to bury a story, even years after writing it. I have to look at it like an especially deep edit. Those character may come back somewhere, sometime, but its time to thank them for what they taught me and move on. I'll leave the old posts up on this site, of only to remind myself how far I've come, but my future publications will leave them behind.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Once again I've been neglecting my dark little corner of the internet, but I'm going to try to change that. Updates should be more frequent for the immediate future thanks to science.
Recently I've been spending my time editing some of my old short stories. These were some of the first posts here, and if you've read them you'll agree that they needed it. I'll re-up A Father and a Daughter "soon", because it'll be a few months before I get around to doing the formatting for Kindle, and I'd rather be read than paid anyway.
The other shorts haven't been as kind to me. They were good five years ago, but like F&D, they need complete rewrites to match my standards now. So rather than beat my head against a format I'm not all that great with anyway, I've spent the last week outlining a rewrite of one of my training novels. This particular one got rejected by some 65 agents and publishers when I originally wrote it, but back then I thought editing was a luxury.
So hopefully I'll be pushing a new novel out by early summer. I'll talk about some of the rewrite process on Monday. We're looking at a weekend at Starved Rock ahead, so I'll check in again next week.