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)

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.

trifectacycle

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?

Busted

“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.

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

“Who’s your dentist?”

“What?”

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.

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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.

Flori and the Snakes

I’ve been travelling for the holidays, and between that and the Nutcracker, I was an all around shitty friend and blogger. To make up for it, here is a Flori snippet. Her novel is finished, has been finished, for some time, but I have no fucking clue what to do with her. She was done at 65,000 for a long time. Then she leapt up to an ungainly 107,000. At the moment, I have her under control again at 95,000, but something still isn’t quite right. In the meantime, I’m considering what might happen to her AFTER the novel, and here is one potential series of events.

_______________________________________________

Flori and the Snakes

Flori slithered behind the ivy and climbed the back of the trellis, pleased it was both wrought iron and well anchored to the wall. At the top, she flattened herself against the roof. Here, she was exposed to anyone looking down, but there weren’t any dragons in sight. She crept along on all fours, following the magical red line that connected her to her great-grandfather. Of necessity, she used no magic of her own. To do so this close to the heart of the Yilan compound would have been to advertise her presence.

When the line stopped pulling her forward and started, instead, to tug her gently down, she had reached the other side of the roof and the inner compound proper. She smiled and climbed back out behind the ivy. She had only descended a story before she found the right window.

“I wouldn’t.” A sibilant voice interrupted Flori’s attempt to slide in through the top. She froze. “Look around you,” the voice went on. “Do you really think I cover my buildings with ivy so intruders can attack me at will? No, no.”  The plants around Flori began to sway and twist together, and she suddenly found herself looking at a large number of snakes.

None of the snakes were large, but all of them gave off the faintly noxious odor that Flori had learned to associate with venom and Lady Medusa, who led the Yilan, and some said the entire continent.

“Luster invited me,” Flori said through gritted teeth.

“He invited you to come in through the gate like everyone else.” The snakes shifted and wound themselves around Flori’s wrists and torso.

“So he I could meet with him and … you? No, thank you. I was hoping to speak with him alone.” Now, they bore her quite publicly inside the window she had planned to enter in secret. She squirmed, but her living bonds only tightened.

“Let her go.” As quickly as they had captured her, the snakes turned Flori free, depositing her in an ungainly heap at Lady Medusa’s feet. Where Flori was small in stature, Aurelia Medusa of the House of Yilan was large. The Lady towered over even grown men. Her white face and chalky hair stood out against golden clothing as she glowered down at her prisoner. The last time Flori had seen Aurelia, that hair had been bound up in a crown, and she knew better than to mistake it for human locks. Aurelia’s hair was made of as many snakes as the vines that had carried Flori into the chamber.

Flori dusted her pants as she rose, trying to rid herself of the snakes’ malodor. “I don’t appreciate being ordered to your court,” she snapped.

“The Lady did not ask for your opinion,” said a new voice. Flori darted a glance to the right and saw Luster Anguis, Lady Medusa’s First in Command, stretched along a canopied sofa, his copper brown hair coiled around his neck.

“And I did not ask to be dumped…”

“Be quiet,” Luster hissed. “The Lady and I have devoted a goodly portion of our morning to your one-person invasion. I will tell you that you have exploited our weaknesses and given us new areas to cover. We could not have followed someone who was not in my family. Nonetheless, we have wasted half a day on it when The Trade demands our attention.”

The lartë trade fueled the city of Hiria’s economy. The drug was an expensive way for wizards to transform into animals. Though Flori used it herself, she steered away from the snake lartë that Lady Medusa controlled and used instead the product as it was distilled from dragon’s blood. She needed to take far less of the dragon than the snake lartë to achieve the same goals.

“Then, please, waste no more of your time on me. I won’t hold you from the snakes.”

Luster chuckled. “Sit down, Flori,” he said.

“I prefer to stand.”

“I did not ask what you preferred.” Three chairs scooted out from a table in the center of the room, and Lady Medusa and Luster Anguis took two of them, leaving the third for their unwilling guest.

After a long silence, Flori joined them. “What do you want?”

“Your company, naturally.” There was a teapot in the middle of the table. Luster poured three cups.

Though he and Lady Medusa drank, Flori left hers alone. “You did not send me a formal invitation to have me over for tea.” She pushed the cup away.

“No,” he agreed. “I did not. I asked you here because I need your company on a rather long journey.”

“No. The last time I left Hiria…”

“He wasn’t asking you.” Lady Medusa’s hair sprang to life, and the angry snakes swiveled unblinking gazes towards Flori.

“Flori, look at her,” said Luster. Was Flori imagining it, or did his voice contain a note of appeal? “The Lady is greatly changed since you last saw her.”

“Yes?”  She wasn’t imagining it. Luster was entreating her to study those snakes. The last time Flori had laid eyes on Lady Medusa, those white snakes had all been golden. “Is she unfit for travel?”

“She is dying.”

“She is not.” Flori couldn’t understand why Luster’s statement produced a lurch of dismay in her own chest.

Look at her,” Luster commanded. Flori obeyed, forcing her eyes to meet those of the unblinking snakes. “You have seen her with golden hair. But her face used to be golden as well. When her first Sentient Snake died a quarter of a century ago, she entered a long dormancy. She lay with the rest of the snakes for nearly a year before she rose again, and her face never regained its color. She was more prepared for the second Sentient Snake to die last month. She had braced herself for its severance. She did not go dormant. But she has been losing her color bit by bit ever since.

“The Sentient Snakes are like the dragons, one of the old races, and there are few left. There is only one small colony remaining, and I must cross an ocean to reach it and appeal to at least one of them to come with us. The Lady cannot be spared from The Trade for so long, even to save her own life, but the Sentient Snakes will not tolerate many of the other races. So I need a companion who can finish the job if I am unable.

“Your mother is off with her gnomes, and frankly I doubt she would be anything but a hindrance. Your uncle cannot be spared from his own family. And your cousins are both too young. That leaves me with you. I need your company on a long trip to save The Lady’s life. Think of it as a lengthy family vacation.”

 

 

Technicalities

“Sam, why did you bite your friend?”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh yes you did. Hard enough to bruise. His Mom told me.”

“Mom, I didn’t bite him.” Arms crossed, Sam stomps. “I pinched him.”

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Holy moly, cats, it’s been three weeks. The Nutcracker cracked my figurative nuts this year. But it was good, and the kids had a great time, except for the moment mentioned above. I’m finally hooking up with Trifecta again, just in time for the editors to switch things up and put Trifecta and Trifextra in alternating weeks. This is good. It isn’t like I have time for many more than 33 words this week, even with the annual cracking of the nuts behind me.