An exercise in brevity…

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, our local weekly newspaper calls for submissions to their Readers’ Writes issue. They cynical side of me thinks it’s because the regular staff writers wanted a vacation from the ice box that is Ithaca in winter and fled to the south, leaving the editors behind to scramble for stories. The less skeptical part hopes they do it because they know that this town is crawling with talented people and what better way to showcase this talent?

Whatever the reason, this year I decided to participate, so I did what any author should do: I looked up the submission requirement. This, in their entirety, was what they said:

Submissions sought for year-end Readers’ Writes issue of the ‘Times’

Since 1981, the Ithaca Times has closed the year with the “Readers’ Writes” issue, featuring submissions from our most valuable commodity, you. Stories, poems, drawings and photographs are welcome. It’s a chance for you to have a voice in the paper other than the letters page.

This year’s theme is “Stories of Redemption”

That can be as loosely interpreted as tradition here dictates. Of course, a wide range of submissions will be accepted. Send submissions to Attn: Readers’ Writes, the Ithaca Times, PO Box 27, Ithaca, New York 14850. Or, you can email submissions, with a subject line of “Readers’ Writes” to editor@ithacatimes.com.

GET WRITING!

This year’s deadline for submission is Thursday Dec. 19, 2013

So, I got writing! I wrote a story based on this definition of redemption: “the repurchase of something sold”. It was a great story! It was a lovely story! It was a fantastic 3400-word story! Puffed up with pride, I sent it off to the editor, certain it would be received with fanfare and confetti.

I think it took maybe an hour for a reply:

Michelle,
I’m sorry, but we can’t fit anything that long into the issue. There are a lot of submissions and the issue is only 20 pages long.
If you have anything under 1200 words, please submit it.
Thanks,
Bill

Deflated balloon would aptly describe my ego when I read that. Anyone who has worked with me, knows what happened next. I had a hissy fit.

Dammit! I wrote 3400 fantastic words! I sweated and slaved over each one of those 3400 words! I rewrote and rearranged and reworked every damned one of those 3400 freakin’ fantastic words! How dare he — this… this… this… BILL person — how DARE he tell ME there are too many of them?

Then it hit me: it’s a challenge! Well, challenge accepted.

It took me one full day of ruthless slashing and reworking, much hair-pulling and, of course, table-chomping to cut it down to 1181 words. Along the way, I learned how to tighten up a story until it was gasping for breath and begging for mercy. What I got was the bare story, stripped of embellishment and flowery phrases, a spare tale of redemption.

As of this writing, I have not heard back from Bill the Editor, but I’m quite certain he will find my story worthy. How can he not? It’s brilliant!

What a long, strange trip it is…

Well. I was going to do a post solely about my book release, but I got caught up in scheduling interviews. Me! Doing interviews! Scary! So, this will be a post about me, trembling in fear before the public eye. (With the obligatory gratuitous links to my novels at the end, of course.)

They’re both for very local news outlets, but I think that actually makes it more nerve wracking. There are so many people in this town who know who I am! What if I say something stupid? They’ll start to think I’m stupid! They’ll all laugh at me!

Well, people. The joke’s on you! No one likes to laugh at themselves more than I do. We’ll laugh together!

I’m not what you would call an extrovert, really. Which makes the fact that I really enjoy my bar tending job a little strange. Maybe it’s that I like listening to people. Whether I’m surreptitiously eavesdropping on them from across the bar or actively participating in the conversation, I enjoy hearing what they have to say.

Most people like to talk about themselves, so I do my best to draw them out. If they peak my interest, they just might become the model for a character. There are a few regulars who make cameo appearances in a vague sort of way. Vague enough to avoid lawsuits, of course.

Anyway…

I’m doing my best to avoid going through the interviews in my mind because, whenever I do that, the reality never even comes close my fevered imagination. And the reality tends to cause me to stumble and stutter. I’m hoping the interviewer will be kind. No “Gotcha” questions. A “fluff” piece, if you please!

It’s always a huge risk when you put yourself out there for scrutiny. Like Sally Fields, I just want everyone to like me. Perhaps I’m spoiled: the few Amazon reviews on my first novel are all very positive. I’m worried how I’ll react to those inevitable two-star (and, God forbid, one-star!) reviews. I’ve had to give some of those and was shocked when one author lashed back at me. Hmmm. I’ve always been told that’s a no-no. You takes your chances, and you takes your lumps. That’s life. And, thus far, that’s been the story of my own life.

So, here I go on another roller-coaster ride. I’ve always loved roller-coasters…

Gratuitous links:

The Gentle Man on Amazon and on Smashwords (for those who do not posses a Kindle)

The Loyal Man on Amazon and on Smashwords (again, for those who do not possess a Kindle)

Both books in one: exclusively on Kindle Select at Amazon: a bargain!

The Half World of Ash Krafton

“Blood Rush” is the second in a series of books by Ash Krafton. I received a free copy in return for this review.

I have to admit I was a little leery of this book when I saw it was part of a series titled “Demimonde”. The term usually refers to those ladies of leisure kept by wealthy men during the Victorian days of repressed sexual desire. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I wasn’t really up for a novel about kept women. Thankfully, this book wasn’t about that at all.

Literally, the term means “half world”, so I took it literally: a domain for those who belong to the shadowy realm of the supernatural. And, this is what I got from my first read:

Sophie lives in a half world: half in reality, half in the supernatural. She does her best to keep these worlds separate, but the supernatural is encroaching on reality with increasing frequency. You see, she’s being chased by werewolves and vampires.

Sophie works as a columnist for a magazine. She also does freelance consulting for creatures known as demivampires, or DVs. She has empathetic powers and acts as an oracle for the DVs.

She has a history with a DV called Marek; he was her lover and, she thought, soul mate. One fateful night, however, he turned full vampire and took a chomp out of her, draining her life’s blood, leaving her to die. This is all played out in the first book.

In this, the second book, she’s called upon by Marek’s brother, Rodrian, for help with his troublesome teenaged daughter. Apparently, she’s supposed to be reaching the DV equivalent of menarche and hasn’t yet. It’s a serious thing in the DV world.

So, that’s the gist of this second book and these are my impressions:

I enjoyed the read. It kept me interested to the point of feeling annoyed when I was forced to set it down for more mundane tasks, like sleeping. It’s well written, for the most part, and the characters are nicely fleshed out. However, there were a number of questions that arose as I read, some of which took me out of the story on occasion.

Why is she being chased by werewolves and vampires? Why do they want her dead? Her job as oracle to the DV seems to be pissing them off to no end. It may well take a second read for me to suss this out.

I know it’s not good form to spend too much time hashing over past events, such as those from the first book, but I feel the author left too much out. I had trouble understanding what exactly happened to Marek. It seemed to be a very important event, and I would have liked to have more of a clue. Hmm… Maybe this is the author’s devious way to get me to buy the first book. Well played, Krafton. I may just have to purchase the first book in the near future.

Impressions of San Francisco

Here I am, on the left coast, in the weirdest city in the US. Ostensibly, I am here in my role as supportive wife to my husband while he attends a conference. In reality, I am here to do research for my third book — a book that will come to fruition toward the end of 2014 (provided I survive the extensive reworking of my second book).

This particular visit is very different from the two previous forays I’ve made to San Francisco. This time, I am forcing myself to put my impressions and observations down on paper. By writing down the events that go on around me, I’m compelled to look, listen, smell, and feel things with greater intent. I find that I pay closer attention to each and every little gesture, conversation, glance; every sound that assaults my ears, loud or soft; every scent that drifts by my quivering nostrils. As I’m bombarded with sensations, I have to sort them out, categorize them, and give them meaning.

It’s as if I’m observing myself observing the world around me. An out-of-body experience without leaving my body. It’s also setting the impressions in my brain like handprints in wet concrete.

It might seem an obvious thing for a writer to visit a place, experience stuff and things, and write it all down. My problem, before I had this amazing idea to record my experiences, was I relied too much on my recall abilities. Too often, I found that shortly after leaving a city or town, the feelings and thoughts had faded and were useless. I have the memory of a steel sieve, apparently. So, this time, I resolved to get something useful from the pain-in-the-ass it is to travel by airplane in this day and age of Heightened Airport Security.

Today, I offer my observations on the needy people of San Francisco:

On every corner, and I do mean every corner, there is one panhandler with a large take-away drink cup. The cup rattles with a few coins as the beggar shakes it at passers-by, often accompanying the rattle with a hopeful “Good Morning!” or “God Bless!”. Sometimes the person is dressed quite nicely, sometimes he or she is in rags. I try not to make snap judgments, but the well-dressed panhandlers often give me pause. I have to avoid eye contact, though, or these people, sensing a sympathetic soul, will glom onto me and follow me for blocks, demanding money, cigarettes, or… my name (the most difficult thing for me to offer). So, I keep walking, head down, ashamed of myself, but unwilling to make the effort that would alleviate that shame.

San Francisco seems to have more than its share of shelterless folk. There’s an undercurrent of muted despair and hopelessness here that I haven’t felt in any other large city I’ve visited. The homeless are everywhere here. They huddle against concrete retaining walls in the entrance ways to the subway. They lay rolled in ragged camping bags and blankets on the slopes of the park lawns. They slouch in doorways at all hours of the day and night. I can almost see the aimless souls drifting above each unconscious body. Sleep is the only escape, it seems, from this day-to-day existence of nothingness.

This morning, I stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel at which we’re staying; my back to the street, smoking a cigarette, and watching the endless stream of people stroll by. Over the constant roar of traffic, punctuated by horns blaring and tires screeching, I can hear the rhythmic cry of a man whose synapses seem to be misfiring. His rhythmic cry of “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” echoes off the building walls, with a beat I imagine timed to the pulse of his heart. I stop hearing the traffic noise, the passing conversations of the crowds, and listen only to his mournful expression of pain. What happened in his life that he cries his anguish to an unfeeling, uncaring city? I’m tempted to go find him and ask; but once again, I am unwilling to take that risk.

Cowardly? Yes, of course I am. It’s far easier to sit here and type out my thoughts and fears than to go confront them in the person of some mentally challenged vagrant.

I stubbed out my cigarette and retreated to the safety of my hotel room.