Blueberry Haven

20140622_104612Fat raindrops smacked the windshield, and Scott turned on the wipers.  Ahead, a church billboard warned us that the only true wisdom came from God. “We timed that perfectly.”

“And it was the most fun we’ve had as a family in ages.” I peeled my ball cap back and wiped the sweat off my face.

Caroline stopped playing Subway Surfers long enough to disagree. “Ugh. No it wasn’t. We nearly got hit by lightning.” Sam was entrenched in Frozen, or he would have seconded her opinion.

Scott and I exchanged a look. Pick your battles. We had measured that storm impeccably, even leaving ourselves time to pay for our blueberries and transfer them from the U-Pick buckets into gallon bags before the sky opened.

Last weekend, when we visited Ohio, I yearned for the rural summers of my childhood, filled with pick-your-own strawberries in June and tramp-to-find-‘em blackberries in July. I wanted to stay home and can with my mother, to make jellies and jams for the county fair. I was even willing, as long as it was only in theory, to help in her garden.

But Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again. Or I can’t, anyway. Mom’s house isn’t just about food. It’s about the creek, the field, and the sky unsullied by city lights. Me, I no longer trust freshwater swimming; I flinch and smack at even harmless bugs; and I hesitate to sit on bare earth. All of those things, swimming at the creek, catching lighting bugs and mosquito bites in the backyard, and throwing myself face up into the newly mown grass are etched in my childhood. These days, I prefer swimming pools over even the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming holes make me think of brain-eating, flesh-devouring bacteria.

No. I don’t want the country for my own again. What I really want is slices of country life that I can walk into and out of at will. The visits home. The trips to pick berries with my kids.

I worried when we moved south, because the nearest pumpkin patch is nearly an hour in one direction, the nearest apple orchard is over an hour in another, and strawberry farmers are few. But we have found these places where I can re-create my childhood in neatly cropped photographic images. Now we have added one more: a blueberry field.

Even the heat cooperated yesterday, the temperature dropping as the breeze picked up and thunder grew 20140622_104651_resizednearer. We got four gallons of blueberries that should have transformed into sixteen quarts when Scott and I froze them this evening. They only made twelve, but Blueberry Haven’s owner wasn’t doing any funny math. We ate a gallon on the way home. Nobody wanted lunch until it was almost time for supper.

And Caroline’s protests aside, we celebrated a peaceful morning. Sam didn’t need any time-outs, and the siblings didn’t fight. Indeed, they formed an anti-parent car-hood-sitting alliance while Scott and I doggedly picked for those last fifteen minutes. We’re pretty sure they would have staged a full-fledged sit-in if we hadn’t filled our buckets when we did.

“I think we should go on a date out here,” Scott told me. “Leave these two at home.”

“I’m game. But we’ll let them find out later. Right now, they’ve forgotten we exist for the electronics.”

“No we haven’t,” said Caroline. “We’re just picking our battles.”

Touché, my dear. Maybe I’ll make you come pick next time, after all.



Don’t Buy My Book … Request It at the Library

The don’t buy my book tour 2014

MarriageAtRueMorgueFront (1)Less than thirty days remain between now and The Marriage at the Rue Morgue’s hardback release. July 16th is coming. But I’ve got a problem, and I need your help. The book is expensive. So can you do me a solid? Go out there and don’t buy it. Don’t-do it as loudly as you can.

Let me explain.

The last time I shelled out for a hardback, it was written by Stephen King. The time before that … well, I don’t remember the time before that, because frankly, I balk at the expense. My husband does, too. Remember, we’re the people with twelve overstuffed bookshelves. We constantly overspend our book budget. But the less we know of an author’s work, the less we’re likely to spend on it.

The Marriage at the Rue Morgue costs twenty five dollars, more or less. I wrestled with myself for weeks over how to justify asking people to spend that much, when I know I wouldn’t do so myself.

I can’t do it. I’m too fucking honest.

Don’t get on my case about false modesty or the importance of self-promotion these days. I’m promoting this thing. I’m promoting the hell out of it. But I cannot ask individuals to pay so much.

If you know me and like my writing, then by all means, go shopping. Rue Morgue is a good read, and it’s something you’ll come back to. Hell, Publisher’s Weekly liked it. But if you’re a stranger to me and to my work, then I’m offering you access to the entire text free of charge before you decide to buy.

No, I’m not posting it here on my website. I’m foolhardy, not stupid.

Instead, I’m suggesting you request it at your local library. What I cannot justify asking of an individual I’m completely comfortable asking of an institution. While twenty five dollars is a large amount of an increasingly limited book budget, I know it will be money well spent. This is my publisher’s target group, so selling well to the library market matters.

Libraries have patron request forms for titles not currently available. Because so few people take advantage of these programs, librarians make every effort to get the things people do ask for. I’ve worked in libraries. I have an MLS. I know whereof I speak. Sometimes, interlibrary loan will do the trick, but when the line starts backing up, the system starts ordering.

My publisher will ultimately release paperback and electronic versions of the title, and those will cost less. You could wait. Or you could request the book at the circulation or reference desk of your branch library and go the route of near-instant gratification.

Once you read it, if you find you’ll be coming back to it, by all means spend the money on the hardback. It’s a worthwhile purchase. If you really like it, tell your librarians the author offers creative writing seminars and library mystery parties. Direct them to the Jester Queen and Rue Morgue websites.

Help me build my fan base. Encourage your mystery-loving friends to check out a copy so the library will know its money wasn’t wasted. That kind of support would be worth a hell of a lot more than a single twenty-five dollar purchase.

The Marriage at the Rue Morgue

On July 16, the groom is big, the bride is hairy, and the best man is dead.

My book comes out in 41 days.

Click here to see its new website.

Bloggers, drop me a line at jesterqueen @ att . net if you’re interested in reviewing it. You’re going to love my “don’t buy my book” campaign.

MarriageAtRueMorgueFront (1)

An Open Letter to Neil Gaiman

20140515_105253One of the few things I anticipated, really reveled in, as an expectant mother, was the books I imagined my children choosing. I did not look forward to first steps, had low expectations in the “first words” department, and absolutely dreaded the thought of birthdays.

But books.

Two times, Scott read Winnie The Pooh to my swollen belly. We presented The Sneetches, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and Henry and Mudge to our newborns, and we gloried in the first titles the children read independently.

We’ve been planning our kids’ libraries for years, pre-stocking our shelves with our own true loves. I’ve dreamed a steady diet of Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, and Judy Blume. Scott has had his eye on The Hardy Boys and Horatio Hornblower.

I made the mistake of starting Diana Wynne Jones too soon, and now we’re stalled in Howl’s Moving Castle,because Sophie has bumped into the Witch of the Waste one time too many for my timid daughter.  I’ve held a few things in reserve. Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Lois Lowry.  I’ve been waiting until she could handle even Scooby Doo to present these favorite writers.

Mother’s Day weekend, we went to the beach.

I had set aside The Ocean at the End of the Lane for myself. It was almost the only Gaiman title I hadn’t read, and it was short. I wanted to absorb it when I could spend the day digesting. I’ve lied to several people, claiming to have already finished it so they wouldn’t hassle me, or worse, avoid talking about it in my presence.

I downloaded it for the beach trip, plunked the kids in back under headphones, and settled in for the drive south, which doubled in length thanks to a slow start followed by heavy rain. Early in the book, when the eleven year old Lettie Hempstock and the seven year old Neil Gaiman faced the flea who would become Ursula Monkton, a sound alerted me that I wasn’t the only audience. A glance in my rearview mirror showed that both children were listening intently.

I nearly turned it off.

But damn it, I’d been waiting nearly a full year to read this thing and I didn’t see another chance before July at the soonest. And too, the kids’ earphones, both ten year old Caroline’s and six year old Sam’s, dangled around their necks. Their Kindle and Leap Pad sat forgotten.

So I let it play.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”


“What, Caroline? You’re interrupting the story.” I hit pause expecting to have to return to music, after all.

“Mom, it’s the Witch of the Waste! How did she get in THIS book?”

How does she know? We haven’t even gotten to the part …

“She’s … it’s … I …” Words globbed together, and I didn’t get it right. I don’t think she understood that Neil Gaiman adores Diana Wynne Jones’ writing the way that I adore Gaiman’s. I don’t think she fully grasped that The Witch of the Waste was facing those children because Gaiman harvested her, carefully pruned her twiggy edges, then planted her gently in his own forest in homage to one of his mentors. (Then shredded her to fuckall, because that’s what one does to evil witches.)

After that, there was no question of hitting stop. At the end, we remained fixed in the car at the beach, none of us ready to get out, absorbed instead in those last words. And when it was done and I finally tapped “exit”, Caroline asked, “Didn’t he write Coraline? Can we read that on the way home?”

I jammed my seatbelt in my rush to launch Audible again, babbling “Yes, yes, and after Coraline there’s Neverwhere, and then Stardust, and … and…things by other people, and….”

“Yeah,” she said. “All those other books you’ve got scattered around the house.”

Yes, Caroline. All those other books. Every single one.

Knife’s Edge

I talked with my sister’s ghost last night. We met in my grandparents’ kitchen as it stood before the house flippers renovated it into a room of stainless steel appliances and corian countertops. My grandfather was there too, disgruntled because the new gadgetry hadn’t migrated into the ghost house. He was annoyed with my sister and I, too, because, even with one of us dead, we couldn’t manage mutual civility.

“Sam’s nothing like you, really,” I told Amye.

She shrugged. She stared over my head, out the window behind the sink.

“For instance, he gives a shit about other people.”

Again the shrug.

“I used to only perceive you. When he kicked in the door, I saw your feet coming through the hole. When he blew the power and destroyed the ceiling fan, I smelled you in the burned out wires. When he screamed endlessly, I heard your voice louder than my own.”

Still she wouldn’t speak to me. Silence was always one of her favorite pissy tricks. I looked over my shoulder out the window, searching for the house next door. But, like the new appliances, it not transferred into the world of the dead. The light in the room was cast by a full moon hanging huge and low. Except for that moon, the world did not extend past my grandparents’ driveway.

I averted my gaze. “What happens when you go outside?”

She had come from somewhere, after all. I had arrived in a dream, but I didn’t know from which direction. I had walked in and seated myself at the incongruous picnic table that hulked in the middle of the room, making passage on either side impossible (Except other people, strangers, kept walking past anyway, brushing through me in cold bursts that blurred my vision.) . Amye had come not long after, easing in languidly from the back porch like she had always been there, though I knew she had not.

“Not much. You go somewhere else. We provide our own space here. Keeps things from getting crowded.”

Poppa glowered at the fridge and drummed his fingers. “I’m going to have to go out to the garage,” he grumbled. “I’ll come in again when I find the beer.” He stumped off and vanished behind a slamming door. The back porch went with him, replaced a moment later by my mother’s living room, as it had looked before she redid the floors. Like the shiny new things in the kitchen, the new wood had failed to convey.

I went to the doorway. The green chairs we had given away when I was twelve sat at their stations on either side of the buck stove. “Can I go in there?”


I started forward but then looked back. Amye was watching me avidly. She wanted me to cross that threshold. “I’d better not.”

If she was dismayed, she didn’t show it.

Dad wandered in, transitioning from one dream to the next. “Did you know,” he asked us, “that in Maine, there used to be a competition for builders? They’d hold a wooden nail between the fingers of one hand and drive it into a board with the opposite fist. You ought to see them some time.”

He climbed up over the table on his way to the living room but shook his head at the boundary. “Nope, better use the other door,” he advised himself. When he returned, he passed straight through the table as the others had done.

“I guess he comes here a lot? He seems to know where to find things.”

Amy rolled her eyes and sneered. “He sleeps deeper. He didn’t even see you. He was talking to me.

“Whatever.” I felt I ought to be telling her something about Kaylee or Caroline, offering up some grain of friendship, but I had no words.

“Anyway, I have to go.” She brushed past me and into the living room.

“Wait! I miss you sometimes. I wonder who you’d have been. But all I see is imaginary. Every future you I create you is false.”

She shook her head, either because I’d said the wrong thing or because I’d stated the obvious. She walked around the corner and opened another door, one that ought to have led upstairs, but instead showed my grandparents’ furnace room, dingy with fifty year old coal soot, crowded with broken toys and yard sale junk.

“What are you doing? Why are you going in there?”

As she pulled the door shut behind her, she said, “I miss you, too.” But I knew it was a lie, a tease meant to make me come back again. She needn’t have bothered. I’ll be back.

We carry our own ghosts with us. It saves on the travel. But it means they’re always hovering, waiting to ease in past an unguarded periphery, one that was supposed to be an invitation to someone else.

The Tenth Circle

Sock Hell

Sock Hell


Our house has several circles of hell Dante never thought of. Today, I’m thinking in particular of Sock Hell. This is the underworld of mismatched socks, where no two look quiiite close enough to each other to be worn together in public.

But it’s worse than that. Sock Hell is a crowded place. In fact, because there are so very many socks in it, redemption is nearly impossible. The socks are damned as much because mates can languish nearly side by side, unmatched when one, perhaps is faded more than the other, or one (but not the other) acquires a fine glaze of pink paint when I tromp through something fresh I am coating. But here’s the worst part of all, the reason Sock Hell is so particularly fiendish.

I am in charge of folding the socks.

Our division of household labor is more than somewhat inequitable. Scott picks up most of the day to day shit that drives me to distraction (laundry, dishes, etc.), and that I would only cope with once a week, given my druthers.

I do deep cleaning on grime he doesn’t ever see. (Guess which one needs to happen less frequently. Hint: it’s the one I do.)  But I do try to pitch in on the regular household chores. When I remember.

I pick shit up. I put away dishes. Working as a team, we fold the clothes. And when we’re dead out of socks, even the ones we steal from the “out of season” bin, I delve into Sock Hell for some matches. The pile shrinks. But only a little. Mostly, I’m left with a collection of sad foot coverings screaming out for a salvation I can’t offer.

A friend has a policy of tossing any sock she’s seen for more than three washings. I’d like to do that. Only I’m so ADHD that I can’t remember which socks I’ve been looking at for three washings. I’m not talking about the ones that are almost identical anyway, or the ones that, if only they had necks of similar lengths, could be paired off and called good enough. No, I mean the adorable patterned ones, the pinks, the purples, the puppies and kitties. They all run together and look alike, so that I cannot possibly recall which have been in my basket for three consecutive wash cycles.

I tried a rubber band system. After all, we have a fuck-ton of the things sitting around thanks to the non-weaving-loom people. A clump banded in green had been around for one washing. Then, yellow was two, and red was three. But what counted as a washing? We do laundry daily! Do I seriously trash a sock after three days? Or by wash cycle, do I mean “wash week”, in which case, I’m back to square screwed, because I cannot remember when a “wash week” starts or ends, and my calendar-keeping skills are untrustworthy in this area.

Also, I share socks with both kids. I have to factor in the reality that we only scour their rooms about once a month. So am I planning to sit on those socks for three months? Hardly an improvement over the original system of hoping for the best and watching the fucking mountain grow.

When I die, I expect to be buried in socks. They will line my casket with those unmatched remains to travel with me to the underworld. And we’ll search there, forever spiraling outward, rowing round in the patchwork remains of a cotton tide.

Everyday poet

When Emma was a poet, she wrote books even the least well-read listener enjoyed. She remains popular now only in academic circles and lives off her investments. She stays indoors, cloistered by agoraphobia, though she hungers for companionship. I hold the Huddleston chair at our University because I am her translator, the one person who can still walk inside and carry her words out again.

She’s moving from her house to an apartment across town, and we’ve been packing for weeks. Her psychiatrist thinks this means she’s finally coming out of isolation. But she and I know it’s merely a new phase of her particular funk. “I won’t be so alone,” she tells me one moment, and “Oh, God, they’ll be all around me,” the next. “New York was like that.”

And then she’s incanting, and I drop the boxes, the dusty tomes in need of stacking, and scramble for my recorder. She tells me, “Being lonely in New York was like falling slipstream, borne along by currents I could not fathom or reach, a passenger in humanity’s wake.”

I’ll take that to my graduate classes, let my students chew the words, grind them through twenty page essays. Only Emma and I will ever know she is speaking of now, not New York, of living pressed into her own books, crowded against the glass of a window she dares not break.


You Might Be a Geek If

You might be a geek if


These are the signs of geekdom in my house. What signs do you see on a regular basis?

What kind of geek are you?


“We’re looking for a parent for Caroline Merriman?” The woman calling me sounded professional and slightly worried.

“What happened?”

“She fell and chipped her tooth.”

The kids were at Starbucks, not two hundred feet from where I was answering phones at the ballet. I send them on a regular basis, confident Caroline knows when to come get me if Sam breaks down and Sam knows I’ll throttle him if he does anything too outré. It gives them an outlet when my volunteerism has left them stuck waiting around after both their classes have ended.

I knew I’d get a call eventually. Something was bound to go wrong. But I expected it to be Sam. Nobody calls about Caroline.

The woman was still talking when I hung up on her.

“Gotta go, Caroline’s busted her face in.” I knew it was worse than “chipped her tooth”. Even with Asperger’s and sensory issues, Caroline would have sent her brother for me before she would have had a Starbucks employee call. I left someone else to collect my scattered belongings as I raced down the stairs and across the courtyard.

I didn’t see Caroline when I got to the store, as she was surrounded by concerned parents and staff. But I heard her. “It hurts! I want my mom! I want my dad! I wish I’d lost a limb instead!”

“Caroline, honey, I’m here.” The sea of worried people parted to let me through.



She has a nosebleed, and she’s shattered a front tooth.

“Who’s your dentist?”


A woman holding a phone materialized beside me as I reeled Caroline in and started to rock.

“Her tooth is broken. Who’s your dentist?”

“Doctor Hudson over on Bell Road.”

“Great. Doctor Rob is still in his office.”

“But I said…”

She was dialing before I could complete my protest, and I doubt she heard me over Caroline anyway. I pulled away from my daughter long enough to get a good look at her injury, then went back to rocking. “We need to go to the emergency room.” That’s not a nose bleed. Holy God she skinned her face.

“No! I want to go home!”

The woman with the phone was back. “Look up,” she commanded Caroline. “And open your mouth.”  When Caroline complied, still howling, the woman said, “No root showing,” then,  “Is it loose in the socket? Can you wiggle it, honey?” Caroline shook her head. “Not loose. Great. Any pain here?” She brushed the bridge of Caroline’s nose with her index finger.

“No! It’s all here!” Caroline indicated the hamburger that had formerly been her upper lip and nostril.

“Fantastic.” The woman hung up and turned to me. “There’s not a thing the ER can do for the tooth, and they’ll only clean the abrasion. Take her home, alternate Tylenol with ibuprofen; and get her into her regular dentist first thing in the morning.” The woman vanished. I felt like I’d been visited by the Lone Ranger.

“Ow! I want to go home!”

“OK. Home.” I stroked Caroline’s head and led her towards the door. “We’ll get you home.”

The next day, the dentist repaired the tooth and confirmed that the palate wasn’t broken, while the pediatrician provided ointment for the skinned face and double-checked the nose. Caroline clung to us all day, especially Scott, but that was fine. It felt good to hold her and reassure her, to let her know that she is still young enough that we can ride to her rescue when those calls come in, to let her know we’ll always be her parents.


Frozen (Movie Review)

Nobody enjoys going to movies with me. Not the other people in the theatre, not my friends, and certainly not my husband. OK, that last isn’t quite true. Scott doesn’t mind if I like a movie, and he hasn’t divorced me over the ones I’ve hated. This includes Whomever Jackson’s bastardization of The Two Towers, which I ultimately walked out of in tears at about the midway point.

But seriously. If you want to be my friend, let’s don’t go see a film together. Because I’m that gal sitting dead center in the middle row who won’t shut up. If I like the story, I cackle at every punch line, shout encouragement to the main characters, and boo the bad guys. If I hate it, I deride the director, demand explanations from an invisible producer, and whine about product placements. I pipe down every time Scott whispers, “Let other people enjoy it.” But within minutes, I’m at it again, so engaged with the screen that I have no control over my mouth.

I’ve never met anybody as obnoxious as I am at the cinema.

Until Sunday.

Last week, Caroline did a 180 on her position that movies were sensory nightmares and announced a desire to see Frozen. So I took the kids when I knew the theater would be deserted. (Actually, for 9:55 on a Sunday in the South, it was surprisingly crowded. I think I just figured out what the rest of the agnostics and atheists in town do for entertainment while their Christian brethren commune with the Lord.)

Sam sat, as he always does, transfixed by the film, except that he has started melodramatically climbing in my lap and demanding that I cover his ears while he covers his eyes during the parts he deems too scary (i.e. any time the plot gets tense or the music becomes ominous. Snow monsters are fine; treachery and treason, not so much.) But Caroline, from the moment that Princess Ana demanded “Wanna build a snowman?” of her older sister Elsa, was chatting up the screen.

“No, no, NO! Don’t climb so HIGH!” she pleaded with the young Ana. “Oh God, they’re dead,” she sympathized with the mourning sisters.

And was I, as a proper parent should do, shushing her and reminding her that it was only a movie? No. No, I was not. Or not much, anyway. In real life, I tell her thirty times a day to stop talking to her video games, to turn down her personal volume, and to generally calm down and not amp up.

But at the movies, I morph into a cross between Siskel and Ebert and the guy on MST3K myself, so I was helpless to curb my daughter’s enthusiasms. To every exclamation of Caroline’s, I had a whispered remark of my own. (And I have trained myself to keep the chatter down to a whisper; Caroline still needs to work on this.) If it was funny, we both barked laughter. If touching, we “aww” ed in unison. While Sam was demanding that I cover his ears for the umpteenth time, Caroline was begging, “No, no, no, Hans DON’T,” while I beat on her arm and hissed, “Isn’t this the best plot twist EVER? I can’t believe it! They were all right!” (Never mind that it was a twist straight out of Shakespeare.)

It was a kid-flick, so the extra vocalizations went largely unnoticed. Still, when the lights came up, I saw the glances darted in our direction. Ah. So it was them. Caroline, who has only experienced three in-cinema movies ever, didn’t recognize these people for deriders. In fact, she beamed at every pair of eyes and greeted several complete strangers with chipper joy, much as if she was Olaf the Snowman looking merrily for warm hugs and summer, completely immune to the consequences of both.

And as for the film, we loved it. There were SO many places where the story could have devolved into typical princess shit that it instead mocked exactly the trope it had been setting up for forty five minutes. There were a number of unexpected twists, and it had enough humor to balance out the sorrow. Also, the cheesy lyrics were tolerable, sometimes even enjoyable, in the context of a movie that wasn’t afraid to laugh at itself.

I only had two real complaints. First, there’s a scene where big sister Elsa, in breaking out of her good-princess role, gets all vamped out. It seemed unnecessary. I mean, I’d love for Disney to write a heroine who NEEDED to be sexy-strong. But this character went all sultry in the stereotypical “if I am strong my sexuality MUST play into it, let’s make sexual frigidity metaphors shall we?” sort of way.  Second, as with Brave (which I also loved), it was the all-white-people revue. So, fine, Disney is setting it in a fictional Scandanavian-ish area. Brave was in a fictional Ireland. So black characters would be anachronistic, right? Oh, wait, SO ARE BARBIE-WAISTED MAGIC-WIELDING PRINCESSES WITH ORDINARY SIBLINGS who have modern-sounding teen dialogue.  These are imaginary places. So fucking make them inclusive.

But those are my only gripes with otherwise good tales, and I only felt obliged to mutter them at the screen. And in Caroline, I think I’ve finally found someone to see movies with me. As long as we both like the film. Because if we don’t? Heaven help the ushers trying to throw us both out.