Friday, October 23, 2009

Prologue: The Side Effect of Sleep (An Excerpt from The Soulkeepers)

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took of them all which they chose.”  Genesis 6:1-2

A single choice can change a life forever.

Jacob Lau had a choice to make.  If he believed a person was only as good as the worst thing they had ever done, than he should go.  After all, no one in their right mind would remain in the apartment without a good reason. Not with the smell of dirty dishes and the sound of gnawing teeth that came from the walls.  Or, the scurry of multi-legged things that hid when the lights came on.  No one should stay alone and hungry.  But, the problem was that Jacob Lau did not believe a person was only as good as the worst thing they had ever done, especially when that person was his mother.
She wasn’t a bad mother.  She tried hard.  But, since his dad died, something about her was broken, something important. Often, he wondered if that place she went to, the dark prison of sadness that left her unresponsive, was permanent, but then, the sun would rise, and the weight of whatever burden had held her would be gone as mysteriously as it had come. But this, this might be too much.  This could be the thing that gave him permission to hate her. Abandoned was such an ugly word.
It was tempting. One phone call and the gnawing pain in his stomach would be history.  They’ll take me away again, he thought. The hard truth was all they had was each other. If he left, there would be no one to take care of her and he would have nowhere to call home.  With a hand on his growling stomach, he filled a glass with water.  It would have to do. Because Jacob had decided that he wouldn’t give up on his mom, no matter what she had done.  He wouldn’t give up, no matter what.
The choice was made.
The sofa that absorbed the impact of Jacob’s bone poking thin body could be described as anything but a proper place to rest, with fabric the shocking orange of a safety cone, and collapsed cushions with loose springs.  At 15 years old, he was capable of taking care of himself, but he didn’t.  Deep down, some part of him believed if he let himself go, she would have to come home, as if some sort of parental radar would alert her to his desperate condition. Not to mention that to lie in a bed would invite sleep and the potential side effect of dreams, those confusing and willful episodes he was so apt to avoid.  It was far better to lay here in relative discomfort, positioned to face the door should she walk through it.
As hard as he tried to stay awake, exhaustion overcame him.  His eyes closed. For a few moments he enjoyed peaceful nothingness. But, all too soon, the darkness parted, the weightless shift in space of dreaming and he fell, helpless, into a rush of green.
It began harmlessly enough.  He landed in a crouch, knee deep in ferns and bromeliads, shoulder to shoulder with bamboo. Wet leaves brushed against his arms and legs and rain mapped cool trails over his skin.  He turned in a circle.  There was no path here. Still, there was a familiarity among these trees.  He was sure he’d been here before.  
Dark clouds rolled in overhead, faster than in real life, and the forest grew dim under their ominous bellies.  An alarm sounded in every cell of his body. Chased or pulled forward, he wasn’t sure, but Jacob launched himself into that forest.  He darted through the trees, casting frantic looks over his shoulder with no idea why the panic swelled in his throat. 
Up ahead, the forest opened and Jacob watched a car climb a gravel roadway. The faded blue of the 1989 Toyota Celica was unmistakable.  It was his mother’s.  Panic threatened to rip through his chest.  No.  Not now, he thought. Not here, in my head. He knew his dreams weren’t real but they weren’t exactly harmless either. There had been others. Terrible others.  For a normal dream about football or girls, he would have given anything. Any dream that didn’t find a twisted way of coming true would be welcome.  But for Jacob, dreams were dangerous and his mother didn’t belong here.
Move, he thought, and pushed his muscles harder. If he could reach her, maybe everything would be normal again, in his head and in real life.  But, it was like running in quicksand, for every three steps forward he was dragged two back.  Or was the road getting farther away?
From the drivers seat, his mother emerged but she was not the woman he remembered.  Jacob had never seen this Lillian Lau, a strong soldier of a woman in a long sleeved black t-shirt and military pants.  Her jet-black hair was swept up into a ponytail and her almond eyes were deadly serious. The blade of a knife glinted from her leg. 
The knife bothered Jacob. His mother had never been violent.  She hated fighting.  The idea that his subconscious would produce the knife was as threatening as her appearance here.  He watched as she reached across her body and drew a gun from under her arm.
 MOM! Jacob tried to scream but nothing came out of his gaping jaw, not even a whoosh of breath.  Dead silence wrapped itself around him like a fog. The call of birds, the crunch of greenery underfoot, the slam of the car door, were unnaturally absent, as quiet as a grave. 
“Over here mom,” he mouthed.  But, somehow Jacob knew this nightmare was not about him.  Today, he was a voyeur in her story, doomed to watch what was about to unfold. The gun pointed toward the trees, his mom scanned the forest with a determined confidence.  Her eyes skipped over Jacob like he was invisible even though his red shirt should have stood out against the foliage. There was something in the forest behind her.  He couldn’t actually see it but Jacob could feel it.  He could smell it.  And, although he didn’t know exactly what it was, he hated it.
Behind you, Jacob pleaded inside his head. He wished he could close his eyes, wished he would not see what he knew was coming, but he was already asleep and there was no avoiding what horrors his mind had planned for him.  All he could do was run to her, warn her, and maybe protect her.
 Closer now, the rain felt funny against his bare arms.  Maroon drops, hot and thick, fell in tacky splotches to his skin.  He paused to dip a finger in the stuff and raised it to his lips. A salty, metallic taste filled his mouth.
It was raining blood. 
Panic fueled a sprint toward his mother, pushed his muscles harder, the leaves and twigs slicing his skin like a thousand paper cuts.  But it was no use. The dream was ending. The light began to flicker and the last images came in disjointed flashes: a grasping set of talons…a spray of blood on the windshield… the gun firing toward yellow eyes and the last image, the one he would never forget, his mother’s silent scream in the shadow of a monstrous leather wing.
“NO!”  Jacob’s voice reverberated through the empty apartment.  He sat bolt upright, launching the glass off his stomach.  Shards of glass skimmed across the linoleum in all directions, making a sound that he imagined like talons on the windshield.  The hair on the back of his neck bristled.  “What the hell was that thing?” he asked the emptiness.
He leaned his head between his knees, his chest cold and wet. Sweat rolled down his temples and air rushed into his lungs in hungry gulps. The yellow eyes, the leather wing, his mother’s blood, he tried to shake the memory from his head. Hugging himself, he rubbed his upper arms, hoping to come back to reality. It was just a dream, he told himself. This time, it was just a dream.   But, his hands came away warm and wet, covered in streaks of blood.  He forced himself to look and saw tiny cuts that ran from shoulder to elbow.
              A knock at the door brought him to his feet in one movement.  “Mom?” he called.  Jacob didn’t wait for an answer. He turned the deadbolt and threw open the door.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defeating Discouragement

Since my last post, I've been writing. (Hooray)  I've also submitted some pieces to contests and magazines. (Applause)  Now, I am waiting and feel the ominous underbelly of gray clouds moving in overhead.  The loom of rejection makes the air thick. I dwell on "what ifs".

During these times, I am comforted by the joy I find in the journey of writing.  I suppose, published or not, a writer writes. We send our babies out into the world, come what may.

The good news is that becoming more comfortable with rejection means that there have been more submissions to reject, more experiences, more growth.  That's how I choose to think of it, anyway.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Scariest Thing I've Read Today

Louisiana Judge Won't Marry Interracial Couple - Crime & Courts News Summaries | Newser

Shared via AddThis

One of the themes in my book "Dark Angels and Maggot Pie" is the remnants of bigotry, especially in small town America where generations of family have grown up in the same place with the same influences.  The attached article makes the "Dark Things" blog because, as a 10 year partner in a mixed marriage, I feel we are truly in dark times if this behavior is allowed to continue.  Thankfully, it appears that most people are as outraged as I am.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Vampires and Zombies Per Square Inch




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Chronic land shortages in Japan have driven up the price of traditional graves which can now cost $100,000 per plot.




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But, thanks to modern technology the Japanese have solved the problem.  New high rise cemeteries will enclose the dead in stacked graves up to five high.  Robots will retrieve the dead (in urns) for relatives to visit in special mourning rooms at the swipe of a card.  Kind of like a dead person vending machine!


Here's the full story...
http://www.newser.com/story/71525/japanese-dying-to-get-into-highrise-cemeteries.html

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Award Winning Essay

I am pleased to announce that my submission for the 11th Annual Regional Nursing Conference essay contest was a winner.   The requirements were a 300-500 word essay on nursing informatics.  No zombies, hell hounds or vampires in this one, but if you are interested, it is included here.

Nursing and Informatics: the Future of Healthcare
Nursing and informatics are the future of healthcare because never in the history of medicine has there been more opportunity to leverage information to save costs, save time, and save lives. 
No longer are we controlled by the necessity of duplicate paper charts across multiple departments.  The future will not be about hunting down outdated manuals or drug books, or relying on a patient’s memory for every medical intervention they’ve received.  The future is not limited by separate pharmacy databases or look alike sound alike names.
No longer are we restricted by middlemen that add cost but no value to healthcare.  In the future, imaging and test result can be available to doctors, nurses and even directly to patients at the touch of a button. They can be shared between offices, hospitals, and specialties.  Patient outcomes and quality control data can be analyzed like never before.
No longer are we bound by geographical borders.  A specialist in London can help a patient in Chicago without ever leaving his or her office.    A nurse in San Diego can answer questions for a patient vacationing in New York in real time.   She can customize her materials to her patient and send instructions electronically in a heartbeat.
Nursing and informatics are the future of healthcare because the future will be about having the right information available, at the right time, to the right people so that medical professionals can do what they do best—heal the patient.  I believe that the questions that nurses will face as we move forward into the future of healthcare will not be about what technology can do, as the technology already exists to revolutionize the way we care for patients.  I believe the questions that we will face are about what technology should do and how far we are willing to go, how adaptable we are willing to be, to leverage technology to its full potential.  Nurses, as the hands of patient care, are now more than ever able to carve out the future of health care.  We are surrounded by opportunity.  It is just a matter of deciding what limits we will place on ourselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Spiritual Is The American Reader

How Spiritual Are We | Parade.com


A new poll by Parade magazine sheds light on how Americans think about religion.  I’ve always had an interest in spirituality.  It’s part of the reason I prefer to write about supernatural characters.  But, beyond simple curiosity, I think there is value in these results because they necessarily change the way we assume readers perceive religious themes in literature.

In 1970, a book was published by Judy Blume called Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?  The book is one of the top 100 requested to be banned from libraries because of its open discussion of interfaith marriage, religion, and choosing ones belief system.  The results of this poll, however, seem to indicate that Blume’s themes were simply ahead of her time.   

What do these results mean for the psyche of the mass market?  I tend to think it means that people, especially young people, will be less familiar with traditional religious symbolism and ceremony and more familiar with the specifics of individual spiritual practices such as meditation.  I also think that spiritual “seeking” will continue to be a popular theme.   The flip side is that traditional themes may become more edgy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Books On Writing

“You can’t teach someone to write fiction.” 

-- Comment made by an experienced author when asked if they could recommend a good creative writing course for aspiring writers.  

After I poked pins into the doll I made in his likeness, I read these books on writing.  They’ve served me well. 

On Writing by Stephen King
As entertaining as it is educational, contains excellent info on the mechanics of writing as well as encouragement on enjoying the journey.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Written by a literary agent in New York, outlines the common mistakes that get manuscripts rejected.

The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman
This one is less about what not to do and more about breathing life into your manuscript.

The Romance Writers Handbook by Rebecca Vinyard
Explains what makes a winning romance as well as info on archetypal characters, subgenres, contracts, queries, synopsis writing and more.

Self –Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King
After I finished the first draft of my novel, this book gave me some priceless advice on fixing it up.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss
This book is the equivalent of mixing medicine in applesauce.  No one likes grammar but Lynne Truss makes it as palatable as possible.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Everyone should have one.

Do you have a favorite book that has improved your writing?  If so, I would love to hear from you.