Dr. Kevorkian and the Miracle of Coffee


Patron Saint of Patience

Patron Saint of Patience

Sometimes you get so close to something you can feel the heat of it.

Like the aroma of coffee warming your nose before the cup ever touches your lips.

I’ve had this health issue thingy for over a year now. So as not to channel my Mama (who expertly lists each and every crick, ache & ooze of her own & those in our extended family, like she’s a hybrid living phonebook/family tree/Ailment Field Guide), I’ll keep it vague. Perhaps you’ve noticed I’m pretty candid at times. (I get that from Mama, for sure.) But, I also have it in me to engage my hush-hush & discretion genes when needed.

Unnamed health issue. Riding on a wave of not-so-good, then okay again. Doctors, meds, co-pays. A specialist. Surgery.

Thursday at midnight, I enter the land of no-food-or-drink-or-you’ll-turn-into-a-pumpkin. Which is to say: NO COFFEE ON THE EARLIEST MORNING IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD WHEN I NEED IT MOST. Java-less Friday dawns. Dread oozes over me as my chauffeur parks the chariot outside the Surgery Center.

Check-in. Consent form signage. Butt naked, then re-styled in surgical couture: graphic muu-muu with this season’s signature slit up the back, a powder-blue cap obviously offering a nod to little Toadstool from Super Mario Brothers, and a pair of grippy-bottom booties—the medical world’s Louboutin.

The second hand of the institutional clock circles like a slow, methodical vulture. The surgeon’s running a half hour late to the fashion show. (And you know what it’s like when you have to wait for things as important as Friday quitting time, to hear back on a full request, to go under the scalpel—agony.) So, decked in my trendy garb, I do what I always do when nervous, happy, pissed, scared, or basically anything other than sad; I joke. My chauffeur plays editorial photographer with his iPhone as I smize & nail risqué poses in my designer clothes. I cause the nurse to chuckle as she enters top-secret jargon into her sci-fi computerator. Nurse #2 (who resembles a young Roseanne Barr) giggles as she inserts the ouchy IV. Anesthesiologist is already jovial (probably hitting a mild sedative), so I surreptitiously prestidigitate, casting a spell to further augment his sunny disposition.

Dr. Sleptthefuckin finally darkens the doorway. Funny bone: amputated.

Questions. Expectations. With nurse #1 carrying my IV bag, my entourage and I own the red carpet (i.e. white linoleum) and sashay to the operating room. Sharp things glisten under the harsh light of the paparazzi flashes. Or maybe that’s just the weapons-grade surgical lighting bouncing off the stark white walls and stainless steel.

I’m horizontal. Action. White-coated bumblebees buzz all around me. I want to close my eyes. So bad. I want to just block it all out. This isn’t fun any more. In that moment, I think, No. Keep your eyes open. Suck it all in, read the visuals like tea leaves, focus on description. Scribble notes in your head so you can fictionalize this experience in a novel someday. 

Electric sensors latch on to my back and chest, cuffs squeeze both legs and one arm, a crab claw clamps down on my finger, sunny-anesthesia-man twists a little plastic knob, my arms get strapped to wings jutting from each side of the table. Dr. Kevorkian palpates the soft skin he’s about to slice wide open. His hands are neither cold nor hot, but they’re definitely not just right. I can barely even feel them.

He grimaces. His unibrow furrows. He pushes with so much force it hurts. He looks at me, mumbles some words that may or may not be proper English.

A complication?

A miracle?

For reasons: the surgery can’t proceed. Not today.

In the recovery room, I cry.

Not because I wanted the surgery, but because I wanted the unknown over and done with. So much build up, months of worrying & wondering, crackling nerves, a coffee-less morning, pokes & pricks, a resolute part of me whispering It will be over soon. Rest well, Lucas. Rest well.

Sometimes you get so close to something you can feel the heat of it. An orchiectomy. A request from a writing contest. A blessed email asking for the full. A surprise phone call and an agent offering your book—you—representation. An editor at a major house whispering yes, blowing the steam over her coffee cup. Just a few more sales to shimmy on to the bestseller list.

Like the way things oh-too-often happen in the writerly world, my health issue and I are back to waiting, to see what comes. It’s a limbo-esque place to exist—fret with hand-wringing, impatience, and the nervous shits. But also: hope. That things are okay for now, and there’s a chance a miracle has happened. That one stage of the waiting may be over. That chauffeurs who take provocative pictures, and nurses who look like Roseanne, will be there supporting you no matter what comes.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, coffee is always there. Even on those most dreaded of java-free mornings, it smiles—warm and comforting—just on the other side of the wait. I’m savoring the heat of it right now. But, Patron Saint of Comedic Coping help me, I’m ready to take a sip.

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Sucking Smarties Until the Chocolate Comes


But it aint chocolate

But it aint chocolate

FACT: Every stage of traditional publishing is slow.
FACT: The waiting can drive you batty.
FACT: Distractions between stages are a necessity.

I’m not ready to start my next novel. It’s percolating, but the idea isn’t hot enough yet. The concept hasn’t reached its boiling point. So, while it simmers, I’ve been fighting off the crazies by both reading and writing (shorter pieces).

There is this [anonymous] bestselling YA author, see, and I’ve tried my best to like her books, to enjoy them, to discover their appeal. Last week I made a third attempt—the first book in a trilogy—in hopes that this would be the one which would win me over. No ma’am! Not even close. I slogged through it, forced myself to just.make.it.to.the.last.page, which is a horrible thing to have to do with a book. And thus, my non-relationship with this author has officially ended with a whimper.

Flip that coin over. Let’s talk about some BANG. Through the wonder of word-of-mouth, which is to say: a random Tweet floating by in my feed, I strolled a block to my local library & checked out Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. Now, let me state for the record that I rarely read Contemporary YA. YA Fantasy? Yes. Non-fiction about psychology, science, philosophy, astronomy, etc? Why yes please and thank you. So this wouldn’t normally be a go-to novel for me.

Well, I suppose the best testimony for how much I dug it, is the fact that I ordered Rainbow’s new release, Fangirl, the day it came out. This is the first hardcopy book I have purchased in probably a dozen years. My m.o. is 75% borrow from the library and 25% purchase for the Kindle. So, obviously, excited. Whatever your preferred genre to read and/or write, whatever tastes you normally fall back on, I highly recommend both of these books. Because: quirky, endearing, relatable, solid.

Now, on to the writing-as-impatience-repellant.

Flash fic keeps me loose. It’s like the warm-up laps in a pool before swimming from Cuba to Florida. It purges ideas—exorcises them, if you will—to clear out headspace and make room for more. But it has its limits. Flash fic is akin to eating a pack of Smarties when you really really want chocolate. (Y’all know exactly what I mean…) So, I chew on it when there’s no time-chocolate, attention-span-fudge, or even complexity-syrup in the house. But it doesn’t satiate the craving for: more, a robust arc, deep characterization, subplots, intricate weaving of symbolism or layered themes.

That’s where short stories gallop in like white horses, or unicorns, or bronies, or [equine analogy of your choice]. If novels are king-size candy bars, then short stories are like the fun-size. Scroll down a post or two and you’ll find where I mentioned that “dark” seems to be whispering my name. (Mmmmm, dark chocolate is the best.) So I says to myself, “Self, how about some short stories? Make ’em dark. Oh! And I know, seek out venues in which to share them.”

On some as-of-yet-undisclosed Friday in October, my Until it Pops, short story (weighing in at 3,400 words), along with accompanying illustration, will be part of the #DarkCarnival. http://penandmuse.com/freaky-fridays-dark-carnival-writer-illustrator-showcase/ 

Then there’s this other project, which isn’t so much of a definite thing. Today I submitted my short story, Bastardbreed, (weighing in at 6,200 words) off to the guys heading up a Clive Barker fanfic anthology. (Which feels a little weird for me to say. Like fanfic is somehow unclean or not real writing. Which is silly. Because I created my own offshoot of a world, birthed brand new characters, and incorporated all the complicated elements listed three paragraphs up.) If the story makes the cut, it won’t be available for public consumption until Fall 2014 when Tor releases it in simultaneous hardcover & paperback.

FACT: Traditional publishing is a reaaaaaallllllyyyy slow process for high-octane chaps like me.
FACT: I won’t let my wiring keep me from pursuing that end.
FACT: I’m writing, reading, percolating, producing, and sucking on Smarties until the chocolate comes.

Update: So once this posted, I found out that Canadian *Smarties* actually ARE chocolate.
FACT: I feel ripped off, ‘MERICA!
FACT: I should move to Canada.
FACT: Everything should be made of chocolate. Except that would be really messy & make many things anti-useful. Nevermind. NOT A FACT after all.

AUTHORS: 9 Ways To Get Information Into A Character’s Hands


This is pretty solid stuff on the means of getting important info to your characters.

Creative Writing with the Crimson League

Content editing doesn’t have to involve changing major aspects of your plot (though it can.) Sometimes, it just involves making sure a character learns a bit of information in a more logical manner.

I was reminded of that this morning editing “The Esclavan Abductions,” my NaNoWriMo novel from last year.

I got to a section where the villain pretty much spouts off lots of valuable info to his enemy while they’re fighting. (In my defense, this was a first draft and it was NaNoWriMo.)

I realized that needed to go. No question. Within five minutes I also figured out  more logical way to have the hero figure out the information he needed to know: and the editing work involved was pretty minimal (luckily for me!)

There are SOOO many ways that characters can get valuable or important information. Not all will work in every situation, and that’s awesome.

It means…

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Flash Fic: Dublex Orb™


Inhabisphere™

Inhabisphere™ – 100 years ago

Of course I’ve had roommates before. Down on Earth™, I mean. Not up here in the Thermosphere™. But the new policy makes double-occupancy mandatory. It’ll be good to have someone to talk to and interact with. Maybe even touch like once a year or something.

It’s ridiculous and kinda pathetic. 1.2 trillion of us crammed into such a small space, yet we all live completely disconnected lives.

All realms of our Inhabisphere™ are overcapacity. Down on Earth™, the thousand-story skyscrapers are packed so tightly over every acre that they’re pretty much a single, sprawling building. The Tunnelands™ have already burrowed farther than they safely can. Even the Sealands™ are filled now: the ghettos on the seafloor and down in the trenches, the upscale topside floaters. In the Skylands™, only two narrow causeways remain undeveloped.

The Housing Council™ started the Thermosphere Development Program© out of desperation. They launched the Duplex Orbs™, like the one I live in, through the northern port of the Skylands™ a year ago. That’s when a billion of us moved up here to orbit like secluded satellite moons. The Resource Restrictions Act© forbids us from visiting one another.

So we basically live in floating prison cells.

The last two ports through the Skylands™ close tomorrow. They’ll be sealed shut to gain the last bit of atmospheric real estate remaining. After that, we won’t be able to directly trade with the Groundlands™ anymore. Tariffs are gonna skyrocket.

My last shipment from the surface will be here any minute. This month’s visit is a bit different than all the rest. Twice as much Oxygen®, twice as many rations. All because my Duplex™ is about to house twice as many people.

Dania seemed cool enough during our minute-long v-Chat®. Kinda quiet and distracted maybe, but I’m hoping she’ll open up once she gets here. She’s a Digi-Designer® like me, so we at least have that in common. If she’ll unplug long enough to give me three minutes of face time a day, I’ll be happy. Five minutes would be even better, but I’m trying to be realistic.

The supply taxi just docked. The recycled Oxygen™ is already pumping into the tanks. Why am I so nervous? There goes the bay door. The rations are loaded. Oh Gods™, the airlock. I think I’m gonna throw up. The first flesh-and-blood person I’ve seen in over a year. The stranger I’ll spend the rest of my life with.

The warning horn blares. The door swooshes open.

Dania stares at the PodPad® in her hands.

“Hi,” I say.

Her left eye twitches a little. That might be a sign that she heard me.

“Which way?” she asks.

“Your room’s on the right,” I answer.

Without looking up, she expertly navigates the furniture in the common area. She places her palm on the KeyPad® and steps inside her room.

I move towards her. “I thought we might interact for a bit.”

She stops, but doesn’t turn. “I’ve been De-egged®.”

“What?” I stare at the soft skin on the back of her neck. “No. Not like that kind of interaction.”

Her PodPad® monopolizes her attention. “What kind then?” she asks.

“You know, talking, eating rations together.” My mouth is so dry. “Maybe even playing a game?”

“I’m busy,” she answers.

Then her door swooshes closed between us.

***

That was six months ago. I haven’t seen Dania since. I’ve stumbled across her username in the forums, so I know she’s still alive. Sometimes, I press my ear to her door, but I’ve never heard a thing.

It’s sad, really. We’re now up to 1.4 trillion people in the Inhabisphere™, and I haven’t seen one in half a year. Haven’t touched one in almost two. There’s no way I’m the only one who’s lonely. There must be others tucked away somewhere in our stuffed-full world.

I keep hoping Dania will accidentally come out of her room, that she’ll forget she has a roommate in the Duplex Orb™ and will stumble into the common area by mistake. Or that she’ll suddenly get the urge to unplug and interact.

Just sixty seconds, once a month. That’s all I need.

There’s a new plan to add more Duplex Orbs™, to link them airlock-to-airlock so they form a massive sphere encircling Earth™. Maybe my new neighbors will want to hang out. But I’m not holding my recycled-air Breath™.

Flash Fic: Alchemy 2.0


Ipad Gold Ingot

To be honest, I’m not sad that Paracelsus is dead. He was old as dirt. Not only can I do my own thing now, but I don’t have to cringe at his judgmental, gold-toothed sneer anymore.

Don’t get me wrong; he was an okay mentor who taught me the basics of alchemy. I’d be nowhere as awesome as I am without him. But, the thing is, he was stuck in the old ways. As wise as he was, Paracelsus wouldn’t accept that we have technology in the 21st century that the old coots didn’t.

Like his whole Great Work obsession. I get it. It’d be cool to create a Philosopher’s Stone to transmute junky base metals into gold. But, really? Who cares?  For thousands of years, wrinkly dudes with scraggly beards have been trying to do that. It’s not gonna happen. Just move on already.

He never even got close to making it happen. Instead, he charged me with stupid busywork of extracting existing gold from ore. A bunch of rock crushing, washing the dust over copper plates coated in mercury, then the repetition of that tedious refinement process, over and over again until he had a few tiny gold flakes worth a couple bucks. Boring as crap, not profitable, and totally not alchemy.

Paracelsus was all about the exoteric, physical process. I’m much more spiritual, into the esoteric/mystic vibe. My new process marries the ancient with the modern. Pretty genius if you ask me. And my piles of glittering gold speak for themselves.

I use some old-school materials like salt, mercury (of course), caustic lime, and sulfur. But they’re just catalysts to amp up the intensity of the spell. The Molecular Receiver and 3-D printer soft-wired through my smart phone hotspot make the actual alchemy possible.

Chugging a few shots of absinthe doesn’t hurt.

That stubborn, backwards-thinking Paracelsus would say I’m bastardizing the alchemical tradition. Whatever. I’ve got more gold than the geezer ever dreamed of. Sure, I’m not actually creating it from scratch, but neither was he. At least I’m making precious metal instantly appear. And it’s not like I’m stealing. I’m simply finding things which were lost and forgotten.

Take my first experiment two months ago.

I lit orange candles, for luck, during the full moon. Eff off if you think that’s lame. Some of the old traditions can’t be broken. I laid out the salt circle in my mom’s basement and ignited the mercurial sulfur amalgam in a coffee can. Low tech stuff. I calibrated the printer and backhauled the Molecular Receiver’s signal over the wi-fi. High tech. Next came the software-of-sorts. Every good alchemist knows you need magick to drive the process.

I filtered this ancient incantation from Tycho the Elder through my voice recognition app. I was super cautious, though. I had absolutely no idea how much lost gold was out there, so I set the parameters pretty tight to only include [“charms” AND “baubles”].

Then I chanted.

What gold is lost, I must now find. Charms and baubles, make them mine.
Bring them back, they must be found. Take my fortune, spin it round.

One iteration is all it took.

The 3-D printer immediately started spitting out gold: lockets, tiny spoons, fancy buttons, these cool little rosettes, clasps, bracelet charms in all shapes and sizes. Before I knew it, mom’s musty basement was flooded with stuff lost over the centuries. I could barely keep up with the transmission. At one point, I was scrambling with a shop broom in one hand and a rake in the other, trying my damndest to make room for more. By the end, waist-deep in gold trinkets, I had no choice but to disengage the receiver.

Stick that in your stinky-ass pipe, Paracelsus.

That single interrupted spell produced a crapload of gold. In theory, I’m an effin billionaire. I only scrapped a small portion of it—a shoebox worth—and scored 350 grand. I reinvested it right away: upgraded all the equipment, bought some property. It took me three full weeks, four dozen truckloads, and two pulled muscles to haul all that scratch to an old 50,000 ft2 warehouse-turned-mystical-lab on the south side of town.

By then, the moon was already waxing full again. I cast the spell to summon gold statues lost through antiquity. I qualified the parameters [height>=6” AND height<=12”] and [“soldiers”]. I ended up with my own army of 30,000 miniature warriors. It felt wrong to melt them down. So I lined them along the edge of the mezzanine so they could watch over the awesomeness happening in my lab below.

I can’t stop making lists of all the gold I can dredge up: watches and fobs, rings, armor, chains, inkwells, crowns, chalices, flatware. I’ve got pages of programming possibilities. The most exciting are [“coins”] and [“bullion”]. Can you even imagine how much is out there? Buried in the earth, lying in the sewers, shipwrecked and lost at sea? I’ll have to set parameters like [mint_date<1500CE] and probably [max_value=10000 “coins”] and then cast the spells by time period until I find them all.

It’s ridiculous how much lost and forgotten gold is out there. I’d never be able to spend it all—or even spend what I’ve already summoned. Still, I want to find every last scrap of it. Because I’m spiritual like that.

The full moon’s rising. The candles are lit.

I know it’s stupid, but I keep catching glimpses of Paracelsus’s sneer glinting at me from the greasy, dark corners of my warehouse. Ghost or not, I’m snatching those gold teeth right out of his critical jaw tonight. His, and a million [“incisors” AND “molars”] like them.

All lost and forgotten.

Which is something I’ll never be. The filthy rich, and humble, Rodney the Magnanimous will be remembered and venerated as the Father of Alchemy 2.0. That’s got a good, golden ring to it.

I have a nice little collection of Flash Fic pieces & figured I’d share a few over the next couple weeks. Hope you enjoy!