My novel is going well! Yay! Here are some excerpts.

I’m really excited about how well my novel project is going. I’m close to a third done which is a big marker for me. I though tit might be fun to post a couple excerpts from the first two chapters (they each have a different point of view character). I’ve put some up excerpts on my Patreon before (where you can get a new story or poem from me each month for as little as $1, plug over, thank you.) These are new excerpts.

Chapter One

Smog hovers over the mountains ringing the valley, grey underbelly lit orange by the last rays of sunrise. In winter, Marie’s garden is filled with pale color, splashed with infrequent dapples of red from dogwood and witch hazel. The woodchip path threads from the back porch through the flowerbeds, pausing to circle the wide-crowned whitebud tree. Droopy-headed snow drops and star-shaped glories of the snow drowse along the path, clustered close to the ground. Crocuses, violas, and camellias grow in higher beds, pastel blues and violets shimmering like chiffon.

 

Breeze shivers through the whitebud’s branches, tumbling a snowfall of tiny, bell-like white blossoms. It stirs the evergreen hedges encircling the garden, casting shifting shadows across green, white and brown. Lavender hellebore scales the leafy walls, its contrasting color creating the illusion of depth, as if the hedges could continue forever. Marie’s roses remain a few months from blooming. Their branches scratch bare and thorny against the dawn.

Chapter Two

More kids arrived, and everything was glowy and strobey, and a bunch of people had put music on their phones and all the different genres rattled and clashed against each other, and some people asked if she wanted to buy something, which she did, but she didn’t have money. She set up singing near the front where there was better music, and some people stopped and told her she sounded like Beyonce, and a couple of guys told her she was a cunt, and someone else told them to fuck off.

 

So much spark. So much sizzle. Dancing wasn’t enough to get the lightning out of her fingers and her elbows and her toes. Her skull was full of electric fists that kept punching and punching and if she couldn’t break loose then they were going to hammer shards straight through her scalp and she needed to move, to move, to move.

 

Some guy danced with her and grabbed her tit, and she elbowed him in the ribs, but when another guy came up behind her later, she let him kiss her for a while until she got bored. There were other girls dancing and she watched them, the slither and sleek of their legs beneath their cut-offs, the chocolate dart of their eyes beneath jagged liner. She slipped between them and their bodies were close and press, and she licked the taller one’s neck, and her skin was salt and sweat, and Jamie was singing again, and someone’s hand was soft on the small of her back. There was so much smoke everywhere like haze, and people’s colored lights beaming through it and making everyone look pink and blue and weird and wonderful.

 

Old Stories Into New: Come Take My Class on Retellings!

Hey! Come take my class on retellings!

October 7, 2017 at 9:30am PST.

(Secret: If you join my newsletter, or sign up for my Patreon at $1 or more a month, you’ll get discounts.)

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(It used to be called Retellings and Retaleings.)

Authors constantly draw on the stories that have preceded them, particularly folklore, mythology, and fables. What are the best methods for approaching such material and what are the possible pitfall? How does one achieve originality when working with such familiar stories? Lecture, in-class exercise, and discussion will build your proficiency when working with such stories.

Register by mailing Cat at cat AT catrambo.com and specifying whether you would prefer to pay by Paypal or by check. The cost for a single session live workshop is $99 for new students; $79 for students who have formerly taken a class with Cat (or me!). Classes are taught via Google Hangouts; all you need is a computer with a microphone and reliable Internet connection, but a webcam is suggested.

Can’t make it on the 7th? I have an on-demand version of Retelling and Re-Taleing: Old Stories Into New available online.

Speculative Poetry Class tomorrow!

Come take my first ever speculative poetry class tomorrow!

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Poetry requires intense linguistic control. Every word matters. Whether you’re a poet who wants to create fantastical verses, or a prose writer who wants to learn the finely tuned narrative power that poetry can teach, you’ll find something in this class.

Over the course of a few brief lectures, peppered with plenty of writing exercises, we’ll discuss some common forms of speculative poetry, and the challenges they represent. I’ll also send you home with market listings, and lists great authors, poems, and books to pick up to continue your journey.

The class is September 16, 9:30-11:30, with $20 off for anyone enrolling.

Hope to see you there!

Friday Read! “Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson:

Shard of Glass

That day, my mother picked me up from school, wearing the yellow sundress and shawl I remembered from our trip with Father the year before. She looked just like she did most days back then—a glamour queen, a movie star (“Just like Lena Horne,” my friend Chloe had once said, “only darker—oh, sorry, Leah!”), but today her beauty somehow had a harder, more defiant edge to it. I could smell the expensive Dior perfume as soon as I opened the door, which surprised me, because my mom was usually fastidious about not getting perfume on her clothes. She was wearing her bug glasses—huge dark things with lenses that bulged out like fly eyes and reflected my face like a fun-house mirror. She had tied a yellow silk scarf around her hair and was taking deep pulls on a cigarette held between two immaculately manicured fingers. Only I knew about the nicotine stains she carefully covered with her special order “forest sable” cream each morning.

Tiffany, a stupid but vicious senator’s daughter who I had the misfortune of sharing a classroom with, suddenly dashed from inside the school, her face flushed.

“Hello, Mrs. Wilson,” she called. Before my mother could respond, she giggled and ran back to three of her friends waiting beyond the door. I could hear them laughing, but I was glad I couldn’t understand their words. They were all fascinated with my mother—the black housekeeper who dressed like Katharine Hepburn and drove a Cadillac, whose daughter’s “light toffee” skin indicated that she might just like her coffee with a lot of cream.

Sometimes I hated those girls.

“Get in the car, Leah,” my mother said. Her already husky voice was pitched low, as though she’d been crying. That made me nervous. Why was she here?

“Ma, Chloe was going to show me her dad’s new camera. Can’t I go home on the bus?”

My mom pulled on the cigarette until it burned the filter, and then ground it into the car ashtray—already filled with forty or so butts. She always emptied out the ashtray each evening.

“Get in the car, Leah.” My mom’s voice was even huskier as she lit another cigarette and tossed the match out of the window.

I sat down and shut the door.

We rode in silence for a while. Despite her shaking hands and the rapidly dwindling box of cigarettes, she drove meticulously, even coming to a full stop at the stop signs. She never stopped at stop signs.

“Ma . . . is something wrong?” I asked hesitantly.

Her fingers tightened on the wheel until her knuckles looked even paler than my skin. “We’re going on a trip, Leah,” she said finally, jamming on the brakes at a stop sign.

Read here.

Friday Read! “Remembrance Is Something Like a House” by Will Ludwigsen

Remembrance Is Something Like a House” by Will Ludwigsen:

Cheniere_Caminada,_Louisiana_Ruined_House

Every day for three decades, the abandoned house strains against its galling anchors, hoping to pull free. It has waited thirty years for its pipes and pilings to finally decay so it can leave for Florida to find the Macek family.

Nobody in its Milford neighborhood will likely miss the house or even notice its absence; it has hidden for decades behind overgrown bushes, weeds, and legends. When they talk about the house at all, the neighbors whisper about the child killer who lived there long ago with his family: a wife and five children who never knew their father kept his rotting playmate in the crawlspace until the police came.

The house, however, knows the truth and wants to confess it, even if it has to crawl eight hundred miles.

Read here, or find an audio version here.

Friday Read! “Useless Things” by Maureen McHugh

Useless Things” by Maureen McHugh:

Sleeping_baby_doll,_Musée_du_jouet_de_Colmar

I wake at night sometimes now, thinking someone is in my house. Abby sleeps on the other side of the bed, and Hudson sleeps on the floor. Where I live it is brutally dark at night, unless there’s a moon—no one wastes power on lights at night. My house is small, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a family room. I lean over and shake Hudson on the floor, wake him up. “Who’s here?” I whisper. Abby sits up, but neither of them hears anything. They pad down the hall with me into the dark front room, and I peer through the window into the shadowy back lot. I wait for them to bark.

Many a night, I don’t go back to sleep.

But the man at my door this morning weeds my garden and accepts my bowl of soup and some flour tortillas. He thanks me gravely. He picks up his phone, charging off my system, and shows me a photo of a woman and a child. “My wife and baby,” he says. I nod. I don’t particularly want to know about his wife and baby, but I can’t be rude.

I finish assembling the doll I am working on. I’ve painted her, assembled all the parts, and hand rooted all her hair. She is rather cuter than I like. Customers can mix and match parts off of my website—this face with the eye color of their choice, hands curled one way or another. A mix-and-match doll costs about what the migrant will make in two weeks. A few customers want custom dolls and send images to match. Add a zero to the cost.

I am dressing the doll when Abby leaps up, happily roo-rooing. I start, standing, and drop the doll dangling in my hand by one unshod foot.

It hits the floor head first with a thump, and the man gasps in horror.

“It’s a doll,” I say.

Read here.

Friday Read! Eugie Foster’s “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”

Before Eugie Foster was taken from us last year, she gave the world hundreds of short stories. We are lucky that she was so prolific, and it’s our loss she died so young when she could have written so many more.

I’ll take the opportunity while I’m linking this story to link to a few others. “Beautiful Winter,” a retelling that appeared in last year’s IGMS sampler, has the very beautiful imagery I associate with her writing. Retellings were often her ouvre. “The Tanuki-Kettle,” a folk-tale-style story set in Japan, was one of my first acquisitions for PodCastle for its warmth and humor. Finally, for those who didn’t see it last year, one of her stories was posthumously nominated for the Nebula Award, and particularly wrenching in context — “When It Ends, He Catches Her.”

Eugie and I were part of the same “Nebula class” (which is only something I call it in my mind, it’s not a real thing). We were both nominated for the first time in the same year and in the same category, and we got to know each other and a bunch of the other first time nominees at the convention that year.

“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest” won that Nebula Award. Its mix of high concept and colorful images that disarmed readers.

Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster:

Lightning mask

Each morning is a decision. Should I put on the brown mask or the blue? Should I be a tradesman or an assassin today?

Whatever the queen demands, of course, I am. But so often she ignores me, and I am left to figure out for myself who to be.

Dozens upon dozens of faces to choose from.

1. Marigold is for murder.

The yellow mask draws me, the one made from the pelt of a mute animal with neither fangs nor claws—better for the workers to collect its skin. It can only glare at its keepers through the wires of its cage, and when the knives cut and the harvesters rip away its skin, no one is troubled by its screams.

I tie the tawny ribbons under my chin. The mask is so light, almost weightless. But when I inhale, a charnel stench redolent of outhouses, opened intestines, and dried blood floods my nose.

Read here.