“Alive” (a letter to Neil Gaiman)
The odds that you are reading this are slim. Very slim. I probably won’t finish writing it, but if I do, I almost surely won’t be brave enough to send it to you. If I am uncharacteristically brave, what then? I send it, and it never reaches you; it slips between the cracks of your magically real life and goes to Neverwhere — or wherever unread emails go to die.
So why am I writing it at all? I’m writing it for me, because I have to. But please be patient with me. It’s hard to type through the tears.
Two days ago, my brave, compassionate, quietly kick-ass sister Gretchen died. One minute she was Alive… and then she was Dead. My beautiful inside-and-out sister was beautiful no longer.
Death is not beautiful.
I think — how can I know? — that she didn’t tell us there was no hope for her surviving the cancer because she didn’t believe in no-hope scenarios. Or maybe she didn’t tell us so she could spare us weeks of pretending we weren’t already writing her eulogy, while she was still sitting there. Maybe she agreed to start the chemo just to gain a few precious weeks to get her affairs in order.
No maybe about it that she didn’t get that chance.
Let me tell you a few things about Gretchen, Neil. She couldn’t stand pity, or being pitiable. (She also couldn’t stand spelling mistakes or grammar gaffes, so if her spirit exists anywhere, in any spacey-wacey way, it’s sitting on my shoulder, clucking its timey-wimey tongue.) Because she couldn’t stand pity, Gretchen kept secrets. Sad, sad secrets. She shared a few with me. I will not be sharing them with you.
But some things she couldn’t keep secret, like the time she leapt out of her car, wielding pepper spray, to confront a man stabbing a pregnant woman on a San Francisco sidewalk.
The man turned to her, dropped the knife… and pulled out a handgun.
“Thank you,” he said to Gretchen, “you saved me.” Then he blew his own brains out, all over her. But mother and child were saved.
Another time, again in her car: A man approached the vehicle stopped ahead of her, shot the driver multiple times and ran off, but not before Gretchen burned his face into her long-term memory. Sadly, the woman at the wheel passed away while Gretchen comforted her, drenched in blood, waiting for help to arrive. But her murderer is in prison now, thanks to Gretchen’s testimony.
Gretchen has been:
- bitten by a rattlesnake (“It was just a baby,” she said!)
- hit by cars (twice. No, wait, three times!)
- “shocked” (toxic shock twice, and then there was that supermarket sample shrimp, eaten just to be polite…)
- nearly done in by countless other, unbelievable things
In fact, over the years, so many things, circumstances, and people have failed to kill Gretchen that I’d started to think of her as an immortal among us. Like she was secretly Captain Jack Harkness, or the (finally!) female Doctor Who. Like we were just her Companions. She couldn’t really be my sister, this tall, brown-eyed beauty in a family of blue-eyed children, could she? Genetics said she could, since our mom had brown-hazel eyes, but I’ve always had my suspicions that she was not of this world.
Since timing is everything, or everything is time (or time doesn’t exist, at least not right now), the first thing I saw on TV after Gretchen died — when I could bear to turn it on — was my favorite episode of Doctor Who. It was my favorite for all sorts of reasons, long before I knew that you’d written it.
Though I didn’t know it, it was just what I needed to watch in this space and time.
Neil, you are starting to understand why I’m writing this letter to you. In case anyone else ever reads it, though, I should probably elaborate:
Gretchen, large in life — “and getting larger all the time”, as she would so wryly have put it — was like your version of the TARDIS brought to life: beautiful, mathematically inclined, and much, much bigger on the inside.
Thank you, thank you for that, Neil. I will now always think of Gretchen as a sort of immortal TARDIS, moving through time and space, saving people and taking them where they need to go more often than where they want to go. I will always think of the magically real time I spent with her as “the time that we talked”.
How right you were, Neil. “Alive” is the saddest word “…when it ends.”
The Harbinger of Gloom Street
Trolls for Equality Now!
Greetings, troll watchers!
I have news! Not only do we have a publisher for the charity anthology, we also have picked the charity: Equality Now.
Please scroll down to watch Joss Whedon’s speech about why he supports this worthy cause — and if you watch from the beginning, you’ll get to see Meryl Streep introduce him! (It’s worth it.)
Thank you in advance to all the wonderful writers who are contributing troll stories for the anthology. And troll poems. And — who knew? — even troll haiku!
Our publisher, The Etling Press, is the brand new publishing division of the award-winning San Francisco design firm, Reflectur. They will handle all the nitpicky financial details, and at materials cost! The Etling Press is so new that they don’t even have a separate website or a logo yet. But Reflectur has many, many years of experience with pro-bono work for charity — and they have their own on-site events venue, The Box SF, in downtown San Francisco.
The War of the Words… Has Begun!
Emma => enema.
First typo in 2014:
Updated => unpated.
Pretty sure I know what enema means.
Let’s say no more about it.
But what could “unpated” mean?
Since “pate” means the crown of the head, “unpated” must mean:
“One who has had the top of one’s head lopped off.”
I imagine it’s like cracking the top off a soft-boiled egg, in one deft thwack.
(If you’re thinking about “pâté” right now, don’t. Just… don’t.)
Let’s use “unpated” in a sentence, shall we? Perhaps in a hard-boiled detective novel. One which begins: “It was the best of crimes, it was the worst of crimes…” Here we go:
“The victim was unpated. Defenestrated.”
Now, let’s see what the Internet has to say about “unpated”:
- WordFind graciously provides an anagram: “unadept.” (Are they trying to tell me something?)
- Wiktionary kindly asks: “Do you mean ‘update’? (Yes, yes I do. And I should be getting on with it.)
- OmniiDict! chides: “The proper spelling of this word is “unpathed”. (How dare they?! It’s presumptuous to imply I have no idea where I’m going with this! Correct, but presumptuous.)
- But YouTube — precious YouTube! — suggests I go to war over it. (Thus, the bullets.)
It’s going to be a fun war.
Happy reading and fighting!
Let Ruth Harris Slay Your Writing Dragons
The following is reblogged from Anne R. Allen’s Blog. Go there. Read the Whole thing. Enjoy. Then get back to writing.
Still here? Not quite ready to commit to the click-through? Then here’s the dragon teaser:
6 Writing Dragons: How To Slay Them…and Realize Your Writing Dreams in 2014
Why Tough (Self-) Love (and Some Dragon-Slaying) Will Get You Where You Want To Be Next Year
- You’re tweeting instead of writing.
- You’re surfing the web instead of writing.
- You’re making coffee instead of writing.
- You’re answering emails instead of writing.
- You’re cleaning the bathroom instead of writing.
- You’re organizing your spices instead of writing.
Bottom line: You’re doing anything and everything you can think of except write.
2) The Interruption Dragon
- The phone.
- The kids.
- The dog.
- The cat.
- Your husband/wife/significant other.
- The Amazon drone delivering 3 pairs of gym socks you ordered half an hour ago.
- You lose your train of thought. If you were in the zone, you’re now out of the zone. If you weren’t in the zone, you’re now out in Siberia.
3) The What-Happens-Next? Dragon
- So now what happens?
- What does the MC do?
- What do the bad guys do?
- What does his/her husband/wife, cubicle mate, best friend, bridge partner, girl friend/boy friend, Pilates teacher, dog walker, nutty neighbor, favorite TV comedian or movie star do?
- Who says what? And to whom?
- You forgot why you’re writing the damn book and you hate every word anyway because you’re a no-talent nobody.
- You can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy, a thriller, urban fantasy, horror or romance.
- You can’t remember why you started the stupid thing in the first place.
- You have no idea what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you got from there to here.
For the rest of the dragon line-up and how to vanquish the beasts, read the post here. And have a happy, healthy, kick-ass-writing New Year!
(Illustration from Wikimedia Commons: Frontispiece to chapter 12 of 1905 edition of J. Allen St. John‘s The Face in the Pool, published 1905.)
Fantasy Evildoers are All Gay (says no study whatsoever)
Tis still the season to blog under the influence. So, Ho Ho Ho. There’s a study to explain why we writers should all go out and play more. It’s all about Vitamin D and hobbits and fantasy bad guys. My conclusion? (Remember, I am blogging under the influence. Don’t do this at home):
Fantasy Evildoers are All Gay (says no study whatsoever).
No, really. No study whatsoever has ever found that to be the case. So it MUST be true.
The only thing better about this (following) study would have been if the U.S. government had paid for it, and Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin had had a cow over it. And then Sarah Palin shot the cow. And then she and Michele ate it. And then Peta and Greenpeace got involved, somehow, perhaps meeting at (or on) a holiday ice-breaker, with Pussy Riot as the entertainment. And then Vladimir Putin came riding in, shirtless, on a reindeer…
Cuz, you know, Vitamin D cures gay people. Especially hobbits.
I have reprinted just the abstract of the study. You know, the study that doesn’t say Vitamin D cures gay hobbits. Cuz, you know, lawsuits.
The hobbit — an unexpected deficiency
Joseph A Hopkinson and Nicholas S Hopkinson
Objective: Vitamin D has been proposed to have beneficial effects in a wide range of contexts. We investigate the hypothesis that vitamin D deficiency, caused by both aversion to sunlight and unwholesome diet, could also be a significant contributor to the triumph of good over evil in fantasy literature.
Design: Data on the dietary habits, moral attributes and martial prowess of various inhabitants of Middle Earth were systematically extracted from J R R Tolkien’s novel The hobbit.
Main outcome measures: Goodness and victoriousness of characters were scored with binary scales, and dietary intake and habitual sun exposure were used to calculate a vitamin D score (range, 0–4). Results: The vitamin D score was significantly higher among the good and victorious characters (mean, 3.4; SD, 0.5) than the evil and defeated ones (mean, 0.2; SD, 0.4; P < 0.001).
Conclusion: Further work is needed to see if these pilot results can be extrapolated to other fantastic situations and whether randomised intervention trials need to be imagined.
Read the rest of the post here! It’s fascinating. And there are hobbits!
(Why are you still here? I said read it! It’s not like you have anything else to do today.)
Who Gives a Crap?
(Please bear with me; there’s a method to my “psychic shit” madness!)
Some of you know that I jokingly fancy myself a media psychic. That is, some strange, very specific things have happened on TV, online or on the radio not long after I thought or dreamed of them. Truth is, I’m almost 100% sure that they are coincidences — but they are freaky, nonetheless. I’m not claiming causation in either direction — just correlation.
Here’s one example: I had a nightmare, in which I was walking behind some friends in a supposedly haunted house. They were all spooked, but of course I was whining about not believing in ghosts and how stupid it all was, when I was grabbed by the clothes on the middle of my back — as if by a giant hand or maybe a grappling hook — and yanked backwards, twenty or thirty feet across the room. This scared the living shit out of me and I woke up.
That evening I was washing dishes and decided to turn the TV to a channel I never watched. I went back to the sink, but turned to look at a commercial — which was a scene from a new movie: the scene from my dream, exactly.
Oftentimes, I wake up with a strange word or sentence in my head, and that turns out to be meaningful during the day. Remember Quid Pro Ho? But these days, since I injured my arm and sleep with it in a sling, I wake up thinking “Careful… careful…careful.” Because, if I move just wrong trying to get out of bed, the pain is faintingly sharp.
This morning, my first thought after “Careful… careful…careful” was about toilet paper. That’s not so surprising; after all, what do you do first when you get up? Pee. But today, sitting there, I started pitying the forests of the world, and wondering if there was a really sensible alternative to toilet paper — one that wouldn’t use more precious resources, such as water, or cause worse environmental and public health problems. I wished Turkish plumbing was better, so we could flush toilet paper instead of it ending up in landfills. There, poor people are exposed to the unspeakable as they try to salvage something to sell to recyclers — thus spreading filth, and possibly disease, far and wide. So I started wondering if composting toilets compost the toilet paper, too, and next thing you know I’m off the john and online to look it up. “But first let’s just check facebook…”
where we find this, the original sit-in, for “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper:
So, do I think these coincidences happen for a reason? No. Can I make them meaningful? Yes. For example, I can pledge to give all my 2014 profits from the paperback version of “Hyperlink from Hell” to the charity that “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper supports with 50% of their profits: WaterAid. Their mission is to “promote and secure poor people’s rights and access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation”, worldwide. What better charity could my toilet-obsessed ghosts support? What other books have parts dedicated to poo? (remember Part Two: Shit with Wings?) I’ll also set it up so that anyone who buys the paperback in 2014 gets the ebook for a discount (for free, if I can manage that).
For those who don’t live in the US, here’s the global page for Wateraid, which will take you where you need to go, in case you’d like to make a direct deposit. For the holidays.
If you are lucky enough to live in Australia, you can do even more. You can really give a crap, because “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper can be delivered to your door.
Quid Pro HoHoHo!
What does someone do with the time someone intended to spend putting up decorations, cooking, etc., when one has a bum arm and is forbidden to do any of the above? (Put up a tree? I can’t open a f&cking tuna can! I can’t yank the Band-aids off my own ass, the ones covering my two-a-day injection sites!)
Someone finally joins Quora, and contemplates the secrets of the universe in question and answer form. (Someone also gets her husband to open the f&cking tuna. The tree? Ha ha ha ha ha… And the Band-aids will fall off eventually. Probably into the toilet. Clogging it up. You think Band-aids can’t clog up a toilet? We once had a plumber accuse us of flushing so much dental floss that it clogged the pipes. We did not flush dental floss. Not even a single strand. Someone did, though. But who? When? And did they cackle maniacally while they did so? Could they see the future, or know what damage that floss would wrought? We will never know.)
So, I probably won’t be asking or answering a lot of questions over at Quora, because this is the kind of question I want to ask:
“Who flushed all the f&cking dental floss, and why do I care that the plumber believes it was me?”
Mostly, I will be skulking around Quora like a one-armed, Band-aid-buttocked Bandit. It is my way. But I wonder how the inhabitants of planet Quora would answer Jimmie’s Secrets-of-the-universe questions, in Hyperlink from Hell. Remember this? It’s Jimmie’s lament that, given the opportunity to ask God anything he wanted, he’d wasted that golden moment:
I’d blown my chance to ask Al some gritty, secrets-of-the-universe type questions, like “Why do flies always buzz around the center of a room?” or “How can blind people tell when they’re done wiping?”
Well, You can’t just ask them, can You?
I’m deadly serious. Wipe that smile off your face. And while you’re at it, I could use some help in the bathroom.
No, no; not that.
I can’t floss my f&cking teeth.
The Masses need Glasses
This post was meant to be about author J.A. Konrath.
Well, not about J.A. Konrath, himself, more about this blog post of his, called “Zen and the Art of Bitching“, which reminded me of this part in Hyperlink from Hell where God starts bitching about all the lazy, ungrateful humans who sit on their asses and blame Him for their troubles. That is: they want Him to do everything; they won’t take responsibility for their lives. You know, like people who won’t wear seatbelts and blame Him for not deploying the airbag, as they sail through the windshield and into Intensive Care. If they’re lucky.
So, naturally, I ended up on YouTube watching this apologetic book trailer for Blinders Keepers, a book I’d never heard of by an author I’d never heard of, either. (I may be the last in the universe. I usually am. Damn You, Universe!)
I checked out the book’s blurb, on Amazon:
Collapse, chaos, confusion, rioting, looting. And that’s the good news!
America is coming apart and the President can do nothing to stop it. But 23-year-old Noah Tass has his own problems. Stuck his entire life in the hayseed capital of the Bible Belt after his father abandoned him 18 years ago, he has no future, all his friends are losers, his job is a dead end, his mother is stark raving mad, and his sister is a meth head stripper.
It was time to bail! Time to strike out a new path, to discover America, and kick start his life. Noah leaves Missouri and for a year truly experiences the adventure of a lifetime. But the country is one big loony bin and he ends up in the sock puppet theater of contemporary American life, inhabited by a deranged blundering president, brutal agents of the ATF, FBI and NSA — men who kill first and ask questions later — and an underground of wild and wacky but endearing freaks who are trying to overthrow the existing order.
Blinders Keepers is social-political satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, but revved up and spit-shined to take on the historic new levels of absurdity and dysfunction of the 21st Century. It is one young man’s laugh-out-loud struggle to survive the epic disintegration of the American Dream.
Next, I downloaded the sample to My Precious (Kindle), because I can’t afford to buy any new books until, like, 2045, and I started reading it. And that’s when I realized the title (Blinders Keepers) had special meaning to me. Because when I read this sentence:
“As I stand before this great body and look at the faces of those who have dedicated themselves…”
I saw this, instead:
“As I stand before this great body and look at the feces of those who have defecated themselves…”
So this post is about needing glasses.
Now… who can I blame for that?