Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Unlikely Stories

Two stories published today at Unlikely Stories. I really dig this site, because they tend to be interested in some of my riskier and/or odder pieces. Definitely a good market for me. These two stories both appear on the same page, and I've had three other stories published there in the past: Box (one of my all-time favorite pieces of mine), Guitar Rain, and Her Cat (which was my old partner in crime, Chris Owens' favorite piece of mine). When my mind is doing odd twists and flips, this is one of my favorite places to submit. Just don't click on the bio for the editor, unless you wanna see a skinny, naked guy reflected nearly infinitely in several mirrors.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Cacophony--Chapter Two

Stupid internet. Our cable internet was down over the holiday weekend, and wasn't fixed til this AM, so I haven't had a chance to update. Afraid I was a major slacker from a writing standpoint, too, instead playing Gamecube with my sons. So... here's another older chapter. This is chapter two.

Chapter Two

Ah, Sunday. Sunday is probably my favorite day of the week. I get to go to church (twice) and I get to have dinner with Charles. Sunday is the day that I get my dosage of spiritual renewal.

In the morning, I go to the service at the Methodist church here in Evanston where Charles preaches. In the early afternoon, I attend services at an Assembly of God church in the inner city. I get two very different things from the two services.

Charles preaches a very sober sermon, very (for lack of a better word) white. Because it’s Evanston, there are a fair number of blacks in the congregation, but it’s still a very sedate Middle American sort of service. I’m aware of how stereotypical that sounds, but Chicago (and its suburbs) is a city of stereotypes.

The Assembly of God service is entirely different, of course. I am one of the few white people in the congregation and that suits me just fine. Where I feel like I’m renewing my spiritual education at the Methodist church, the AOG is where I exalt God and feel closer to Him.

Even the ride on the El to services is sort of a spiritual experience. When I first started going, I received a lot of dirty looks from the other passengers on the train as I drew closer to my destination. The church is in the heart of Black Gangster Disciples territory. Many of the people in the cars with me wear their colors prominently and flash gang signs at one another. A middle-aged white man carrying a cello was not the most welcome sight.

Occasionally, one of the younger gang bangers trying to prove a point would get in my face, flashing a weapon inside his coat, letting me know I was unwelcome. The first time that happened, an older woman with a bag full of groceries slapped the backs of his knees with her cane. I didn’t recognize her, but apparently she recognized me.

I didn’t hear what she said to the teen, but he slouched away without a further word. That day, I saw her in the service, bobbing her head as she sat in the front row, occasionally lifting her hands above her head in praise.

I take the cello with me to the AOG to play as a stand-up bass. The minister there was a classmate of mine at Northwestern, one of the very few black students I got to know there. We had never been especially close while in school, but we ran into each other at an open mic at a blues bar near Commiskey Park about ten years ago and started talking about what we’d each been up to since graduation. I’ve played at his church ever since.

I’d like to say that every service I’ve ever attended has brought me into a closer relationship with God, but that would be a lie. There have been many times that I’ve just gone through the motions. That initially concerned me, but conversations with both David (my friend at the AOG) and Charles revealed that even they felt distant from God at times.

Charles, by the way, doesn’t know about my membership in the AOG. I don’t think most Ministers would be very understanding of their members being members of other churches as well, especially those of radically different denominations. Likewise, I don’t really talk to David about my attendance at the Methodist church. I’d love to have dinner with both of them together some time, though.

Occasionally, the messages of the two churches coincide. Today was one of those days. Both services emphasized the importance of family, and especially the integrity of marriage within the family. Charles doesn’t preach on that topic very often, perhaps every couple of years, which I think is a disservice to his congregation, but also understandable. He hasn’t seen his wife in nearly twenty-five years or his daughter in almost as long. If he had the option, he’d probably never preach on the subject; he just doesn’t feel qualified. I knew, therefore, that dinner tonight would be a bit awkward, as one of the subjects of conversation is usually that day’s sermon. And there was still the matter of the habit and the jail. Fortunately, it was his turn to host this week. When the conversation is uncomfortable, I've found that it's easier if he's on his home turf.

I kissed Magda good-bye and threw on a windbreaker for the walk down the street. Fallen leaves littered the sidewalks. I love autumn. It's that back-to-school time, when all sins of the previous year are, at least momentarily, wiped clean. There are no students who've learned to hate me over the course of the year yet. Those that return either didn't hate me or have serious issues. And people with serious issues can be entertaining in their own ways. I rent the bottom floor of my house to one such student, and have for several years now.

Our street is reasonably quiet except for the occasional rumbling of the El overhead. We're one block up from the Foster Street station. When I was an undergraduate, there were a lot more students on the street and parties weren't at all uncommon, but it's quieted down considerably since I graduated. It's a very comfortable oasis not far off campus for grizzled veterans of academia like me.

Charles's beat up old Volvo was in his gravel driveway as usual. As much as I detest cars, I have a special fondness for the vehicles Charles has owned over the years. Every single one of them has borne one bumper sticker, "When the Rapture comes, can I have your car?" It's not something he'd ever have thought to put on his car himself. His daughter put the first one on a Volkswagen Rabbit he owned over twenty years ago, and it's been a tradition ever since.

Wafting over the smell of the leaves (deciduous trees have such distinctive scents; areas of America are as identifiable by those smells as part of Scotland have particular flavors of Scotch) I could smell meatloaf, a favorite. There was nothing fancy about Charles's meatloaf. There was rarely anything exotic about anything either one of us cooked and we liked it that way. Hamburger with breadcrumbs, onions, and a few fairly innocuous spices was our idea of gustatory heaven. And green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Is that not the perfect meal for a nippy October night in Evanston? There are only two things that could complete the perfection: a fire in the fireplace and a decanter of Dalwhinny. I knew Charles would have both ready for the evening. He's a good friend. Have I mentioned that?

Sometimes, I enjoy watching Charles squirm. This wasn't one of those days, so I let him off the hook right away.

"I'm working on the novel again."

"Ah," he said from the stove, where he was busily working the meatloaf out of a pot with a spatula. "That would explain it."

He knows that I take on odd behaviors when I start writing the novel. I don't do that with every story I ever write. Most of them, I just sit down, start typing, and a month or two later, I come up out of my fog, remember to shave and shower, and send the manuscript off to my editor. The story of Christy (this is the first time I've called her by name, isn't it?) does strange things to me, though. It's also the only story I work on during the school year. I can't write complete fictions while having to be engaged in the world. The story of Christy, however, heightens my awareness somehow.

"I was climbing a tree when the police picked me up." I pulled a couple mismatched plates and glasses from his cupboards.

"Is that illegal?" He slid a piece of meatloaf onto each plate.

"I didn't think so. Smells good," I said, and started carrying my cargo out to the dining room.

"Thanks." Behind me, I could hear him sliding the pot into soapy water in the sink. He came out a moment later with a serving bowl filled with green beans and another filled with mashed potatoes. The man knows how to live. As he lay them on the table, I returned to the kitchen to retrieve milk from the fridge. As we passed, he said, "The report indicated indecent exposure."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. That's what it said. Why do you think it would say that?"

I reached up to the cabinets above the stove and pulled down the gravy boat. Stretching, I saw that I hadn't put any underwear on this morning. Sometimes, I forget. Sometimes, I just don't have any clean boxers so I go without. I couldn't remember until later that night that it was the latter.

Pouring gravy from a pot on the stove into the boat, I said, "I think I just figured it out."

I returned to the dining room with the gravy and the milk. Charles took the milk from me and poured us each a glass. "I probably don't want to know, do I?" he asked, and returned to the kitchen to replace the milk in the fridge.

"Probably not," I said. He came back in, wiping his hands on a cloth napkin. He's rather fastidious.

I pulled out his chair for him and he sat down. I then took my place across the table from him. Honestly, we're like a married couple at times. We looked at one another, each of us with clasped hands, and then bobbed them up and down three times. I came up rock. He came up paper. That's our routine to determine who will say grace.

We bowed our heads. "Dear Lord," he began. "Thank you for this meal. Thank you for the cows and for the grains they eat. Thank you for green beans and potatoes. Thank you for milk. Thank you for autumnal evenings on the shores of Lake Michigan. Thank you for higher learning, both in the seminary and in universities. Thank you for letting us bring learning and light to those who desire it. Thank you for our talents, whether those talents be to minister to your children or to use language to move others. Oh, Lord, although our families are not with us, we thank you for families and for the structures of husband and wives and sons and daughters. We know these are the most effective means of bringing healthy people into your presence. And Lord, we ask of you to remind our friend Dave that if he wants to wear flowing garments, that he should remember to do his laundry so that he'll not be arrested for exposing himself." I opened an eye to a squint and looked at him. The ghost of a smile creased the corners of his lips. "Thank you, Lord, for friends such as these. Amen."

"Amen," I said, "you bastard." And smiled.

"Honestly, why don't you just let Grace do your laundry? She's offered often enough."

"She already makes me feel like a child as it is. I don't need her taking on a more motherly role."

"I suppose," he said and shoveled a huge chunk of meatloaf into his mouth. A dollop of gravy attached itself to one of his nasal hairs and hung there, bobbing as he chewed. I motioned with my napkin. He didn't take the hint.

"Charles, for God's sake, wipe your nose. It looks like you're shitting out of it."

He rolled his eyes at me, but wiped his nose. He looked into the napkin, just as one would look at a piece of toilet paper after wiping, and then replaced it on his lap with the stain facing up. He then ran his fingers under his nose.

"I'm getting old," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"Honestly, have you ever known a young man to have such rampant nasal hair? It's an old man's curse." He plucked one of the offending hairs and winced, tearing up.

"Grace would probably trim them for you."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Well, that's how I feel about my laundry."

He grunted. "Fair enough." He was nearly crossing his eyes, looking down his nose, fluting his fingers under his nostrils. "Do they make trimmers for this kind of thing?" he asked.

"Got me," I said, and spooned a small mountain of mashed potatoes into my mouth, making sure to get gravy on my nose.

"You," he said, "are a complete buffoon." He tossed a napkin across the table to me. "And I appreciate it."

I wiped the gravy from my nose. "So stop obsessing about your nasal hair. You’re making me think about it and I’m going to lose my appetite."

"Okay," he said, but I could tell he was still thinking about it. There was an awkward pause, broken only by the scraping of our utensils on our plates.

"Oh, for God’s sake," I said, and rose from my chair. "Come on, you’re driving me nuts." I headed to the bathroom. He appeared in the door behind me just as I was pulling a pair of nail clippers from his medicine chest. "Here," I said, handing it to him. "Cut them already."

I headed back to the dining room and sat back down. I was about to take another bite of mashed potatoes, but I saw a pattern in them. They looked like a cello. "Go away, Magda," I growled under my breath, and manically stirred the potatoes until they were shapeless.

Charles returned to the table with a blot of red toilet paper stuck to his nose. "I cut myself," he said.

"So I see." I pushed my chair back. "I’m not really hungry anymore. Are you?"

He gazed at his plate. For either of us to leave the table before cleaning our plates was highly unusual. And we both love meatloaf. I could see something like longing in his eyes for a moment, but then the waving tissue banner distracted him and his focus returned entirely to the tip of his nose. "No, I guess not," he said.

"Scotch?" I asked.

He sighed. "I don’t know. Is it okay if we skip it tonight?"

I studied him. "Charles. Are you all right?"

He sighed again. "Yes. I think so. I don’t know. I think I’d just like to be alone tonight."

"It was the sermon, wasn’t it?"

He nodded. "And you’re working on the novel again. We’re both thinking about her."

I didn’t answer right away. I puffed out my cheeks, ran a hand through my thinning hair, blew out the air. "Okay." I started picking up plates.

"Don’t worry about that. I’ll clean up," he said.

"Are you sure?"


"We’re still on for next week."


"Okay, then." I shuffled my feet, still uncertain. "Call me if you need company, okay?" He nodded. "Okay. I’ll see you next week."

I went into the kitchen and grabbed my jacket. As I was opening the door, he called out to me. "Dave, one favor?"


"Could you lay off the cello tonight?"

I nodded. I’m not sure if the blurriness was tears in my eyes or in his. Maybe both. "Okay, Charles. I’ll see you next week."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Of course, after re-reading Chapter One last night, I now hate it. I knew the meta-fiction angle was a risk, but I was surprised by just how much I loathed it. Well... it's not entirely the meta-fiction angle that bugs me. Once I got into the climbing the tree section, I sorta enjoyed it. But it took too long to get there. I need to trim some fat. It needs that quirkiness up front, or I see no reason why an agent or publisher would keep reading. Grrrr.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Cacophony--Chapter One

I've been thinking a lot lately about my alleged novel that I've had "in progress" for a couple years now. I haven't touched it in nearly a year, but the characters have been invading my recent thoughts, so I'm thinking it might be time to return to them. In light of that, here is Chapter One. I plan to post a chapter a day, whether one written anew, or one that already existed. That's the "plan." We'll see whether I actually stick to it. Oh, and as the title of this post would suggest, the title of the novel is "Cacophony."

Chapter One

My mother died when I was two days old. I hate cars. I string those two sentences together because anyone who’s ever even audited a freshman seminar in psychology would do so. My mother was killed in an automobile accident. I hate cars. It’s not rocket science, at least not from an easy analysis.

My dislike of cars actually goes far deeper than that. I didn’t actually learn how my mother had died at the time. I was, after all, two days old. It wasn’t something that was in my comprehension. There was a change from breast milk to formula that was abrupt and the person from whom I’d taken the most comfort was gone. At least, that’s what seems obvious in retrospect. I was two days old—I don’t really remember. Would you?

At any rate, the story I want to tell is neither about my mother nor really about cars, although, like any modern story, cars will be in it. They can’t help themselves. They’re like television, ubiquitous. The reason I wanted to start with my mother and my loathing of cars is pretty self-serving. I’ve been accused (not unfairly) of having very detached narrators when I write in the first person. And, after several drafts of this story, I’ve certainly seen that to be the case. Hell, I even sound fairly detached in what I’ve told you thus far. I’ve presented facts, but not my reactions to those facts. That will come later. I promise.

In this story, it’s essential that my narrator not be detached. Usually, my narrator is an idealized version of me. He’s not idealized so much in that he’s a perfect human being. Far from it. My narrators are often wildly flawed human beings. They are idealized in that they aren’t dramatically affected by the characters around them. The epiphanies always belong to the characters surrounding the narrators. The narrators are solid, steady, unchanging, God-like.

And if you re-read that paragraph, you’ll have received much greater insight into me than the bit about my mother and cars, although one follows from the other. Figuring out how might actually require having completed a freshman course in psychology, but not much more. As complex as I like to pretend to be, my inner workings aren’t that difficult to fathom.

So why is it important to me that I not be so detached narratively from this story? Good question. This is the story of my life, or rather, the story of the most important events of my adult life. This story is the story that shaped who I am today, so I believe it’s important for me to actually put on prominent display the organ that pumps blood to the rest of my body. And you, dear reader, may think this is done for you, that I may craft the best story possible. It’s not. I have far more vanity than that. It is for me. It is for me, because even though I’m not very difficult to understand, I don’t understand me.

While you can stare at my heart and apply basic Freudian principles to it (or Jungian or whatever school you prefer) and reach conclusions easily, I’ve not yet been able to do that. I could probably look at your signature alone and analyze you inside and out with shocking precision and you’d think me some prophet or remarkable astrologer or something of the sort. My brain works that way. It did even before I took a ridiculous number of classes in psychology (which I mention not as a way of indicating my prowess, but rather to illustrate something else; can you figure it out?). My signature, incidentally, is precisely illegible. It varies little from signing to signing, but is basically unreadable as anything other than a bold squiggle with specific instances of straight lines and dots.

I’ve committed a cardinal sin of writing, by the way. I’ve told you much, but showed you very little. That will change. I promise. My reason for telling you all of the above is purely selfish. I am printing out the above and highlighting certain sentences and taping it to the wall next to my computer. Every time I find my narrator growing too distant, bold swaths of iridescent yellow will hurt my eyes until I admit to falling back into old, bad habits. Come to think of it, I think I’m going to go to a party supply store and buy a nun costume. Just for the habit, mind you. If writing while wearing a nun’s habit doesn’t remind me constantly not to fall back into bad habits, nothing will. So I’ll be back in a few hours and I’ll start telling you the story I wanted to tell you.

Oh. I can be impetuous sometimes. Just not in my signature. Okay. Watch a football game or something. Or better, go climb a tree. I’ll bet it’s been a long time since you climbed a tree. You’re overdue. If you climb a tree, I’ll put on the full nun costume and climb a tree, too. In public. Okay? Is it a deal? Good. I’ll see you back here in a few hours.


Okay, I’m back. Are you? Good. Let’s get started. Oops. Hang on a second. My roommate wants to know why I’m wearing a nun outfit and why my hands are all scraped up and where the hell I’ve been. Okay, so she’s my lover. I probably shouldn’t conceal that. Her name is Magda. Well, really, it’s Margaret, but I call her Magda, and that’s a long story and it’s actually relevant to the story as a whole, so I’ll let it come out in natural order. Oh, and she’s not real. Nobody in this story is, except you and me. Standard disclaimers about this being a work of fiction apply. Anyway, she wants to know about the costume and all that. And hopefully, we’ll have sex.

If sex bothers you, by the way, you should probably pick up a different book. I like sex. A lot. And sometimes, I describe it in fairly explicit terms. So if that’s not your kind of reading, you might want to pick up a different book. I could leave the sex out of it, but I’d be lying, mostly to myself, if I did that. So I hope sex doesn’t bother you. It’s important to this particular story. Okay, she’s getting annoyed because I’m still typing and saying, “Just a minute, I’m almost done.”

How was the tree?


Hi. I’m back. The sex was good, thank you. Magda decided it might be fun for her to wear the costume and she was right.

You didn’t climb the tree at all, did you?


Sorry, the whole tree thing kind of pissed me off, so I took another break. I have a habit (there’s that word again) of trying to control other people. See, the thing is, I know what’s good for you. Really, I do. I don’t always (okay, ever) know what’s best for me, but I’m good at figuring out what other people need, and it irritates me when they can’t see it for themselves. That’s called projection, you know. That’s probably about chapter three of the freshman psychology text. Anyway, don’t mind me if I get petulant and pouty when you don’t do something that I suggest you do. I’ll get over it. I always do. And if I don’t, you’ll eventually leave me like everyone else always does. Everyone but Magda, and like I said, she doesn’t really exist.


You know what I’m really doing when I take all these little breaks? I’m having a cigarette out on my porch and wondering where the hell the story is going to go next. That’s God’s honest truth. Or maybe not.

Do these little asides bother you? I think they’d piss me off. I’d probably have stopped reading by now. I’d realize that it was the author’s way of hiding from the truths he’s supposedly trying to reveal.

Let me say this in my defense. I like being enigmatic, not letting anyone get too close. That’s part of who I am. It’s a defense mechanism. Because everyone goes away. Eventually, they all do. You will, too. You’ll finish this book and then you’ll move on to something else. If I’m lucky, you’ll like the book and maybe recommend it to your friends and maybe keep it on your bookshelf and come back to it from time to time. If you’re one of those people, I love you.

Hi, it’s good to see you again. How have you been?


I’m going to tell you now a few truths about myself. There will be other times that I’ll tell you truths about myself. Well, one truth anyway for now, as I don’t have time for more. I’m married. I have two kids. One of them just woke up my wife and she’s irate. She’s asked me to stop writing and watch the kids so she can go back to sleep. So I’m going to shut down the computer for a while. I’ll be back after several more cigarettes and I’ll probably masturbate between now and then, too.

There are still lots of trees to climb. I’m very serious about this. Go. You have time.


I didn’t get to masturbate. Did you get to climb the tree? Magda, by the way, is very angry with me now. She can’t believe that I’d write that I have a wife and two kids. “Show them to me,” she said. But I can’t.

Look, I’m going to tell a lot of lies to you while writing this. That’s what fiction is. But hopefully, I’ll be able to reach some deeper truths. That would make it good fiction, and maybe it’s presumptuous of me to believe I can write good fiction, but I’m going to try.

There is only one thing you can know. You know that you exist, just as I know that I exist. Beyond that is a crapshoot. That’s basic philosophy right there. DesCartes. “I think, therefore I am.” I will probably make lots of references like this to make you think that I’m well educated and intelligent. The fact is, though, that I have smatterings of knowledge in a plethora of areas, but no deep knowledge in any one. And that sums me up pretty well. I seem very well-rounded, but I’m actually pretty shallow.

That probably doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in you to continue reading, does it? Hopefully, I can at least be moderately entertaining. Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead. And that, my friend, is about as basic as it gets.


I didn’t actually take a break this time, but since I’m going to go in another direction now, the section break seemed appropriate. Ha! As if you weren’t already having to sort through what’s true and what isn’t true, now you have to deal with the conventions themselves. I really am an asshole sometimes. That’s something that Christy used to tell me a lot. Well, actually, she referred to me as a dumbass, but it’s kind of the same thing, isn’t it? Christy’s going to play a very major part in this story, perhaps the biggest part. Every time I started to believe she was the most important character in the story during previous writing sessions, though, Magda popped up and became more important. And vise versa. The story originally was about Magda and was supposed to be only about five pages long, if that. Twenty-five pages about Christy later, Magda had barely entered the scene. So I don’t know. They’ll both be important parts of the story. And knowing me, now that I’m on yet another draft, someone else will come in and assert her dominance. (It won’t be a male; I don’t know men very well. Does anyone?)

Ah, there was a direction I was going to go with this section and the preceding paragraph wasn’t it. Sooner or later, I should probably cease inserting every thought I have about the writing of this story. I’ll try to keep aware of that. Self-conscious writing isn’t generally very interesting to anyone but the person who wrote it, is it? So for the next thousand words at least, I promise not to refer to the writing itself, but rather will just show you the events as they transpired. Does that sound good? Okay.

I hope you didn’t climb a tree during that last break, since it wasn’t really a break at all. This next break isn’t really a break either, so feel free to read without revisiting your inner child. Why don’t you get a beer, though? You deserve one. Go ahead.


Police officers, at least in this town, don’t have a sense of humor about men dressed as nuns climbing trees. You wouldn’t think such a thing would be illegal, but apparently it’s enough to cause stringent questioning. I don’t really want to go into the details, but I had to have someone bail me out of jail earlier today. And Magda couldn’t do it, because she doesn’t really exist. I had to have her ex-husband bail me out.

Charles lives just down the block from me and we’ve developed an uneasy friendship over the years. I dated his daughter when she and I were both students at Northwestern University. At one point, I felt fairly confident that we would marry. Charles did, too. I don’t know about his daughter. We never actually discussed marriage. She just felt like “the one,” and Charles told me later that he saw something between the two of us that he hadn’t seen exist in any of her other relationships.

We didn’t get married. There are lots of reasons for that, including one big one. The big reason is the crux of the story, though, so I’d be jumping the gun to go into it here. (That wasn’t too self-aware, was it? Oops, this parenthetical remark certainly was. Sorry about that.)

At any rate, Charles bailed me out of jail. I owe him five hundred dollars now. I have no idea how much I owe the costume rental place, but between climbing trees, going to jail, and having sex with Magda while she wore the costume, I doubt they’d accept it back in its current condition. So I own the nun outfit now. Which isn’t all bad. Sex with Magda was really, really good while she wore it.

Charles doesn’t know that Magda is my lover, by the way. He knows I play cello and didn’t start playing cello until after I met his daughter, though. The first time he saw the cello in my house, he raised an eyebrow, but that was about it.

We have dinner together once a week, every Sunday night. We’ve done this ever since the first day I met him. Initially, we always ate at his house, but after a few years, we started alternating who hosted the dinner. It seemed unfair that he always had to cook, although I know he enjoys cooking. And I like having him over to my house, and so does Magda, even though he never sees her. She didn’t like it at first, but she’s grown accustomed to it.

Charles is a minister at the Methodist church here in town. He does a good job. I go to his services every week. Does that surprise you? It surprised me the first time that I realized I was going because I was getting something out of the services. I’ve been going for nineteen years now. Charles isn’t very charismatic, and I don’t always agree with the messages he takes from the text, but I find comfort in his sermons nevertheless.

Charles is a good friend, the only male about whom I can truthfully make that statement. I think seeing me in jail in the nun’s habit bothered him, though. He’d never say as much, but I could tell. He raised that eyebrow again, just like when he first saw the cello.

stories I like

So I just read a new story by Randall Brown that completely blew me away. We've published him in SLQ before, he Guest Edited our last issue, he's gonna be in our December issue, and he's coming on board full-time as an Associate Editor after this issue. All of which is a big yay! Anyway... the point of this particular post... on Zoetrope, the site where I've met most of the incredible writers whom I now feel honored to call friends, I include in my bio a list of many, many stories by other writers that I love. So I'm gonna copy and paste it here. Time to share the love, no? Here ya go:

The Evil B.B. Chow by Steve Almond
That Gladrag Razzmatazz by Bob Arter
Baby It's Time by Rusty Barnes
Peaches by Theresa Boyar
Coffee by Richard Brautigan
Soccer Dad by Randall Brown
Feeling Lonely, Watching a Machine by Daphne Buter
She Guessed They Called it Justice by Gary Cadwallader
Remember by Myfanwy Collins
From This Distance by Katrina Denza
Ant by Stuart Dybek
The Bunker by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Three Months by Kathy Fish
The Dog Who Smelled of Cabbage by Steven Gullion
Untitled Thing About a Wasp by Susan Henderson
The Virtue of the Potted Fern by Liesl Jobson
Annabelle by Ian Kita
Bubba Tries Again by Nance Knauer
Thirty-nine Years of Carrie Wallace by Jeff Landon
The Day of the Shoes by Lisa McMann
Blue Shirt by Ellen Meister
Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor
I Reek by Ellen Parker
Zen Cola by Rob Rosen
Ring, Finger by Jordan Rosenfeld
The Lesson by Robin Slick
Window by Claudia Smith
Fantasy in Infancy by Amy Sparks
The Visit by Karen Stevens
Couple Seeking Romance. Best Offer. by Denis Taillefer
100 Posts About My Sex Life by Andrew Tibbetts
The War Prayer by Mark Twain
Trailer Trash by Thomas White
What, Me? Hardly by Joseph Young

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sexy Beast

So who's seen this flick? If your ever-lasting impression of Ben Kingsley is one of Gandhi, then you really need to see this. He looks like a wiry bad-ass version of Jay Buhner, and is this hard-core Cockney criminal who won't take "no" for an answer. Total. Psycho. He completely blew me away in this flick. Just saw it last night and I'm still trying to figure out what the hell that whole were-rabbit thing was about.

Alien Loves Predator

God, I love this comic. I'm not usually into the whole comix scene, but this one just kills me. If you've never been, you owe yourself several minutes of laughing your ass off. Here's a link to the first one. Just keep going through 'em. There are 39 in all, and he adds new strips two or three times a week.

Quick edit: I just noticed that the site displays as blank for me in Netscape, so you may have to visit it using IE.


The other day, I sent out some follow-up emails to some lit mags that I'd submitted to ages ago. Heard back from one of the editors asking me to re-send, so I'll do that. Looks like his email changed. But the sad one is Pierian Springs. Apparently, the guy who ran it has been having health problems and can't do the mag anymore. Very sad. It was a lovely little pub. *sigh*

Friday, November 19, 2004


I was published a while ago in Monkeybicycle with a really silly piece entitled Stupid's Rising Up. Like me, they're based in Seattle. Wellll... at the moment, they have a fun thing going where they're looking for stories told in one sentence. GSG did something like this a while back and published a piece of mine called Remembering, and they were looking for loooooooong sentences, so I figgered Monkeybicycle was looking for the same. So I sent 'em something a few weeks ago, but now that they've started publishing some of 'em, I see that they like really short ones, too! Whee! I have a piece I've been trying to place for quite a while that's only 13 words long. We'll see if they like it. Come to think of it, I have an 8-worder as well. Okay! I'm off to submit that one, too! Whee again!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Well, hell.

I just completely disappeared for a while, didn't I? On the plus side, I wasn't a total waste-oid. In the interim, I submitted pieces to NFG, Defenestration, Failbetter, and Cherry Bleeds. I'd never heard of Cherry Bleeds before. Came across them looking at a list of zines that had SmokeLong in it. Looks like a pretty nice site. I'll try to be a better boy about keeping this placae up to date. Oh, we also accepted several pieces for the next issue of SmokeLong, but we're still a few pieces shy of being done for our December issue. So if you're not already in that issue, sub something to us.

Places I've submitted lately and the URL for SmokeLong as well:

Cherry Bleeds
SmokeLong Quarterly

Thursday, November 04, 2004


Obviously, another day passed during which I didn't write. I was one cranky son of a bitch yesterday. It wasn't just that Bush won. That was bad enough. But also eleven out of eleven states passing initiatives pre-emptively banning gay marriage, and in some cases, even turning over existing civil union laws. Unbe-fucking-lievable. I'm still majorly, majorly pissed off about this. Anyway...

I also had a lot of crap to get done at work yesterday. I'm not gonna talk in my blog about where I work, because it'd be nice to occasionally bitch without worrying about it. But I build the online shopping cart for a small software company. It's excrutiatingly dull. And yesterday was a day in which I had to make live two code releases, which is always a joy. Bleah.

And then I had rehearsal. For what? This is the piece about me that's gonna seem insanely out of place for folks that are only familiar with me peripherally, or have read stuff like "Pink Fuzzy Bunny Slippers" in NFG. Rehearsal was for Praise Team. For those who've never heard that phrase, that's a band that plays at church. I sing (moderately well) and play guitar (not so well). I really didn't want to go, because I feel like the lone liberal there (although I'm not completely sure that's true), but nobody mentioned the election at all, so that was good. Plus, of the four songs we're doing this week, two are my favorites: "Trading My Sorrows" and "Grace Like Rain." I sing lead on both of these.

I first learned "Trading My Sorrows" from listening to a CD recorded by The Vine Band, which is led by the husband of a writing friend of mine. I don't think she likes a lot of folks to intermingle her writing life with her personal life, so I won't mention who that is. That said, her husband is one of the nicest guys I've ever met and is also an incredibly talented guy. So when we first played "Trading My Sorrows" in rehearsal about a year ago, it was new to everyone in the band but me, and I just sorta took it over. It rocks. And the lyrics seem kinda apt right now for this dark, dark time:

I'm trading my sorrows
I'm trading my shame
I'm laying them down
For the joy of the Lord

I'm trading my sickness
I'm trading my pain
I'm laying them down
For the joy of the Lord

Yes, Lord

I'm pressed but not crushed
Persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I am blessed beyond the curse
For his promise will endure
That his joy is going
To be my strength

Though my sorrows may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning

A good hopeful song, no? I'm sure folks who are vehemently anti-Christian (and I understand y'all--I used to be among you) won't much care for it, but I really dig the message of hope underlying this.

"Grace Like Rain" is the song we do for communion. We take communion the first Sunday of each month. We used to rotate what the communion song was, but for the past several months, we've been doing this song each time, so I guess people must like it okay. Personally, I love it. It's just a re-working of "Amazing Grace" in a more contemporary style. And it wails, baby. It hits both the bottom and the top of my range, which I love. I'm not crazy about stuff right in the middle of my range. I really prefer the stuff that makes me stretch out. They actually have to turn my microphone down a little on this one, because I just belt it (which probably has something to do with my sell-it-to-the-balcony theater background).

So. Rehearsal was good and started to lighten my mood. But that wasn't nearly the best part. I've been seeing a woman for about three months now who is just incredible. Our schedules are interesting, because she has a kid and I have two and we have to coordinate schedules with our exes. I also live a ferry ride and a bit of driving away from her. Well...

What with Halloween and the election and our usual schedules, we hadn't seen each other for six whole days. I dunno how we made it. Definitely the longest we've been apart since we started seeing each other. I won't go into a lot of detail, but... it was great. She just makes me swoon.

Y'know how sometimes when you're very much in love with one person, it colors your perceptions of the rest of the world? It's like that. I mean, I'm crazy about my kids, but like every parent, I have times when they get on my nerves a bit. This morning, several of those misbehaviors of theirs just made me smile, because, well... hell, they're kids! And they're acting like kids. More specifically, they're acting like my kids, and I'm happy enough with my life that I delight in passing along some of how life is lived. Does that make sense?

So. I didn't write last night. I was too busy singing and loving. I will be writing tonight, most certainly. Dunno what yet, but I'll be writing later.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

obviously, I gave up

On keeping up with the latest results several hours ago. It was just too damned depressing. I left the office and sat in front of the TV with the remote. I'd like to be gracious and congratulate the administration, but I just can't bring myself to do it. See BS is now yakkety-yakking about a recount in Ohio.

Also sounds like Dubya is gonna give his victory speech soon, that they've decided not to wait for a concession speech. This is all going to be very, very ugly.

I need to go to bed. No NaNo for me tonight. I'll get back to it tomorrow. Oh, and every GOP talking head is blah blah blahing about how Kerry should concede "for the good of the country."

Shit, ya know what? I'm over 35. I should fucking run for president. Or not. Good night.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Thank you, California.

And Pennsylvania. Makes things look a lot better having those two in the Kerry column now (per CNN). But my stomach is still really upset.


Was curious about Florida, so I put together a spreadsheet that assumed that each county would continue going the way it's currently going until it reaches 100% of votes tallied. If that does occur, Bush wins it by about 50,000 votes: 1,631,353-1,584,102.

This is officially driving me nuts.

I think I figured out the issue with my vote counts being off. A couple of states can send split delegations, so one vote in Maine hadn't yet been declared, and one vote in Nebraska hadn't yet been given. So my totals (now that I've updated them) actually have an additional vote in the Kerry column and an additional vote in the Bush column.

The way the vote is currently going, it looks a hell of a lot to me like Bush may win the popular vote and Kerry the electoral vote. How ironic would that be?

something odd...

I checked the number of electoral voters by state from The New York Times versus USA Today. They match up. And yet, when I drop states declared into a spreadsheet for USA Today, I get a vote of 168-113 for Bush and USA Today says it's 170-112. Huh? At first, I thought maybe it was because of the potential splitting of votes in Maine, but that ain't it, as they link Maine to an article on their site that says Kerry gets at least 3 of the 4 votes there. Additionally, if they weren't calling one or more of the Maine votes, then their projection should total less than mine. But they show one vote more than I do. Again, huh?

I don't want to make too big a deal of this, but if this election is as close as people have speculated it will be, a vote or two here or there in the Electoral College could mean the difference between four more years of global hatred and four new years of ally building.

discrepancy between media

Odd. As I'm going through the numbers, I'm finding that the different media seem to have different allocations of electoral votes per state. As I sat down to compile the numbers, I relied on The New York Times for the number of electoral votes for each state. However, when I input the winners for each of the states according to C-SPAN using those numbers, I get different tallies of votes. I wonder if one of the sites is still using the districting from 2000? I'll try to figure this out.

still working on the table

But there are new results in. C-SPAN and USA Today both have it 145-112 for Bush now. No surprises anywhere. FAUX has it 156-112, giving Bush Nebraska and the Dakotas for the difference between them and other networks. Again, no surprises.

North Carolina

Bush, according to CNN. New count: 102-77. Working on the big, bad table o' states.

Virginia and South Carolina go Bush.

Took a while for anything new to come in, but CNN is now projecting Virginia and South Carolina for Bush. Updated EV: Bush 87-77. No change at New York Times. C-SPAN has it going 81-77 currently, as does USA Today. I think I may try to make a fancy-schmancy table for all the states and media outlets. Wouldn't that be fun?

Lots of new stuff called.

The New York Times has now called both Kentucky and Indiana for Bush. 19-0 Bush.

CNN has Bush with Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia for Bush, Illinois, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and District of Columbia for Kerry. 77-66 Kerry.

FOX has a Javascript error and isn't updated beyond Georgia for Bush on my machine.

USA Today has Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, and West Virginia for Bush, Vermont for Kerry. 39-3 Bush. MSN shows the same.

Times addendum

Something else I really like about the NYT site: their races called appear to be based only on votes counted. Kudos to them for not caving to exit poll hysteria. They haven't called a single state yet (although with 42.5% of Kentucky reporting and GWB ahead 56.7-42.5%, that's probably a pretty safe call).

I wish I was a statistics wonk, so I could put together a decent margin of error report. That said, I'll go based on what I think makes sense, and call races from the NaNoWriBlo home office here in Poulsbo, Washington. I probably won't call any states until at least 25% of precincts have been tallied, and unless the margin is very, very large, I won't call it until it's at least 50%. I expect Kentucky will be the first state I call, and that will go in the red column.

NY Times

Carol Novack just pointed me to the page where the New York Times is tracking the race. I like this. Very, very easy to follow all the states at once. Check it out at http://www.nytimes.com/ref/elections2004/2004President.html. I love having just a straight text layout like this. The only issue I have with it is that I have no way of knowing which precincts have reported and how they have trended in the past. Florida, for example, has 3.2% of precincts reporting, and Bush leading 56.3-42.8%. That is so far off the last pre-election polls that I'd have to assume that the precincts that are in trend GOP. But I can't know that for sure based on this layout. In all fairness, I similarly can't know how the Ohio numbers I reported earlier relate to usual trends.

Are we having fun yet?


Early, early, early. But. It looks good. In exit polls, Kerry leads among men 51-49%, and among women 53-47%. And women are voting more than men, 53-47%. In actual votes tallied, Bush leads 52-48%, however, but that's with less than 1% of precincts reporting. Very, very close.

exit polls

Aha. Figured out how they're calling the states that haven't had any precincts report yet (in fact, the only precinct that has now reported in Georgia, Effingham, went 62-38% for Kerry). Exit polls. In exit polls, the margins are huge in the direction that the races have been called. I'll try to make clear as states are called whether the calls have been based on precincts reporting or exit polls. Indiana and Kentucky both look like fairly safe calls based on precincts reporting. The rest all appear to be based on exit polls.

blah blah blah

Wasn't there a ton of talk from the various media about how they wouldn't make the mistake of calling races too soon? And yet, every major outlet I've looked at has called both Georgia and Vermont based on 0% of precincts reporting. What the fuck?!

Huh. While typing this, West Virginia just went red on CNN. Again, based on 0% of precincts reporting. USA Today hasn't colored WV yet.

Looks like things are about to hit their first really interesting point of the day, too, as votes start being processed in the first of the battleground states. Ohio, Virginia, and North and South Carolina are all processing right now, according to CNN. Will be very interesting to see early numbers from Ohio.

Four states have been called.

USA Today calls Kentucky, Georgia, and Indiana for Bush, and Vermont for Kerry. I don't know how they're calling Georgia, since there are 0% of precincts reporting. Following FAUX's lead? They're calling Indiana based on 4% of precincts reporting, with Bush receiving 58% of the vote to Kerry's 42%. Kentucky has 22% of precincts reporting, with Bush receiving 53% of the vote to Kerry's 46%. I'm really surprised Kentucky is that close. That's a huge loss of votes from the 59-38% lead he had in the last pre-election poll. Vermont's page is broken, so I don't know the reporting there.

My co-worker just told me that CNN is calling those four states the same way. Another says that FAUX is going the same way.

Kentucky keeps updating.

We're up to 19% of precincts there now and Kerry's gaining nicely. I think I'm gonna give up on the tables, because they slow down my posting quite a bit. Here's the latest from Kentucky, with 19% of precincts reporting:

Bush: Rep 197,664 53%
Kerry: Dem 172,453 46%
Nader: Ind 2,000 1%
Badnarik: Lib 640 0%
Peroutka: CST 321 0%

I'm loving this trend. If Kentucky actually goes to Bush by only 7%, he is in deep, deep shit.

Indiana has updated, too, with 3% of their precincts now reporting:

Bush: Rep 43,181 58%
Kerry: Dem 30,588 41%
Badnarik: Lib 556 1%

Indiana, incidentally, went 58-39% in the last pre-election poll, conducted by Survey USA. Again, it looks like the 2:1 rule of Undecideds going to the challenger is, at the very least, holding up.

update on Kentucky

The numbers have changed a bit:

KentuckyElectoral Votes: 8
President5% of precincts reporting
CandidatesPartyVote Count% Votes Cast

I'm trying to remember at what point this stuff becomes statistically significant. Seems to me that when the spread has been this large in the past, 5% of precincts wasn't a bad indicator. This also pretty much goes along with the latest pre-election polls we have for Kentucky, a Survey USA poll that puts Bush up there 59%-38%.

What I find really encouraging is that if this trend holds across other states (Bush dropping a percentage point and Kerry picking up three), the tossups aren't gonna look that close anymore. We might (and I hate to jinx it) actually see an electoral landlide. Keep your fingers crossed.

a couple exit polls out

From Indiana and Kentucky:

KentuckyElectoral Votes: 8
President1% of precincts reporting
CandidatesPartyVote Count% Votes Cast

IndianaElectoral Votes: 11
President1% of precincts reporting
CandidatesPartyVote Count% Votes Cast

Obviously, it's waaaaaaaaay too early to ascribe much meaning to anything, but the above does sorta illustrate one thing that I've found interesting about the polls leading up to today. In most polls where more than two candidates were offered, the only alternative candidate was Nader. However, in the very few polls where Badnarik was also presented as an option, he fared better than Nader. Shouldn't the pollsters have noticed this and begun to poll accordingly? Realistically, Badnarik probably pulls more from Bush than he does from Kerry, whereas Nader almost undoubtedly pulls more away from Kerry than from Bush.

Probably not that big a deal, but I do find it interesting the way the pollsters follow FAUX's lead in researching based on ideas that put the current administration in the best possible light.

Georgia again.

Ha! As soon as I wrote that last post, I refreshed FAUX, and there was Georgia again (although Indiana and Kentucky weren't red this time). And again, I clicked through to find zero data. Take a look:


Okay, I am going to harp on stuff today, because I'll explode otherwise. I've been visiting various sites to check out if any of the exit polls have been released yet. I hadn't hit FAUX News yet, but the guy who sits next to me at work is a Bush supporter, so he'd checked them first. And briefly, they had Georgia, Indiana, and Kentucky already in red. Granted, all three of those have been trending pretty hard toward Bush in polls. But DC has trended even harder. If they were calling states this early based on Gallup, et al, shouldn't they have done the same in blue a few times? When we clicked on Georgia to check out the exit polls, everything was at zero. That's a pretty solid basis upon which to call a state, no?

I wish I'd done a screen capture, because now all of their states are in gold again. One of my other co-workers said they were probably just testing their feed to make sure it worked. Nevertheless, ya gotta love the old "Fair and Balanced" network showing things going in Bush's favor before they have any evidence upon which to base it.


I don't wanna get bogged down in politics here, because I could easily rant and rave all day. Actually, I could probably write well over 50,000 words about this administration, but it wouldn't be fiction and it might earn me a visit from the FBI. That said, I just wanted to share the following.

Doesn't he look like he's about ready to throw his own feces through the bars of his cage? Four more years, my ass.

about last night

I really don't care for what I wrote last night. I'm gonna give myself about a week of trying different starts. If I haven't found something I like within that time, I'll return to something else that I'd already started, probably "Cacophony," which was the novel I started last year.

I hope everyone is grateful that I don't do something like post pictures of Demi Moore and Rob Lowe when I have a post entitled "about last night."

slow start

(To make the actual writing entries obvious, I'm gonna see if I can't put a different color behind 'em.)

Up there, on the porch. He comes out about once an hour. Hitches his thumbs in his belt while he drags on a Marlboro and looks out over the lights of Poulsbo. Wears a leather motorcycle jacket, but doesn’t ride a bike. He might soon. Now that the marriage is over. It was always his wife who insisted that he not ride a motorcycle. For the kids’ sake. She’ll likely continue to insist, but he may not listen much longer.

“Where are the kids?” she asks.

“Bed,” he replies “You’re home early.”

“Migraine,” she says.

Poor sucker, he thinks. She’s been seeing this guy for only a few weeks now and already she’s bailing on him with migraines.

He’d been looking forward to having the night to himself. So much for that idea.

“You staying up?” he asks.

“Yeah, for a little while.” She’s already settled in at the computer. She’ll be up until at least 2:00. He drops the cigarette in a Tupperware container filled with water.

“Good night,” he says, and heads into bed.


Lying in bed, he listens to the twins’ deep breaths. There’s a rattle in Ian’s lungs. It’s been raining a lot lately.

He counts under his breath. “One cent, two cents, three cents…” This is his nightly routine. When he’s restless, he reaches the full balance of his checking account. This is one of those nights. He’s still about fifteen hundred dollars short of where he wants to be—first, last, deposit.


At 2:30, she enters the bedroom. She hits her foot on her hope chest. Curses. Jacob says, “Knock, knock” in his sleep and rolls over to his other side. In spite of himself, John smiles. At his son? At Barb? He’s not sure, and frowns thinking about it.

As she settles in on the far side of the bed, he rises.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Can’t sleep,” he says.


Back on the porch. It’s still raining. He hears something below. The baby raccoons have gotten big. Two of them.

He spits. The raccoons here the impact on the grass and investigate. No food. They both look up at him expectantly, standing on their hind legs. He spits again.

Over and over, they’ve amazed him. He’s thrown bread crusts, cat food, whatever was at hand. Short of hitting them squarely in the face, they almost never have had any sense of where the food was. How can they be so blind?

Once, their mother had scared the crap out of him, and vise versa. He’d come out for a cigarette and there she was on the porch. She’d climbed the post up to his second story deck, and was at work on his cat’s kibble. She moved back down the wooden post with incredible speed, but he’d not been able to light his cigarette for a few minutes.

She’d bared her teeth at him before scampering away, but once she’d reached the ground, she looked back up at him, sniffing the air, waving from side to side as she stood up. “Sorry,” she’d seemed to be saying.

He knows it only encourages them to be bold, but he tosses some cat food down to the two young raccoons.



Blank pages suck.

Monday, November 01, 2004


In an effort to procrastinate as much as humanly possible, I'm trying to spruce this place up with all the usual gee-gaws and doo-dads. I see several of my writer friends' blogs have these nice lists o' links, all formatted purty, as if they match the rest of their templates. Now, these folks are writers, right? And I make my living as a web developer. And yet, I'll be damned if I can find anyplace in this crazy WYSIWYG environment where I can simply add a links list. Sure, I could fashion my own (if I wanted to really get down and dirty with it), but something tells me there's a very simple solution that I'm just not seeing. Anyone out there who can offer a helping hand to an inveterate procrastinator? Pretty please?


I don't know what the hell I'm thinking, undertaking NaNoWriMo again, but... well... why not? I attempted this bad boy last year and managed about 15,000 words, if memory serves. Sooner or later, I'll return to that novel, but right now, I want a fresh start. No pre-conceived notions. I want to be surprised by the story, for it to tell itself to me as much as to the reader. We'll see if it works.