Elias and Gerard

“Gerard!” Elias ran after the St. Bernard, who was droolingly chasing after a squirrel. It scurried up a tree, and Gerard gripped the trunk with his front paws and began barking.

“Stupid dog,” said Elias. He gripped Gerard’s leash with both hands and yanked hard enough for the dog to flop onto his back with a grunt.

Gerard righted himself, then he shook his head. Gobs of dog spit showered Elias’s shirt and face.

“Oh! God!” Elias yelled. He wiped the drool off his face and glared at the panting St. Bernard.

“Listen, you…” He wanted so badly for the dog to understand English so that he could pummel him with words. Maybe fists. Possibly a bat.

Gerard was completely insufferable and out of control. He was a pure breed, with a set of massive balls that Helena Stathem considered her prizest posession. “He has sired the most elegant litters in the country,” she had said when she had first introduced Elias to him. He had quickly proceeded to christen Elias with a stream of pee.

“…one of these days, I’m gonna make you regret the hell you’ve put me through,” said Elias.

Gerard panted and then licked his nose. His stupid, massive nose. It was why Helena Stathem had named him after Gerard Depardieu, who had played Cyrano de Bergerac in her favorite movie.

The sky started to darken. It was about to rain. Gerard moved closer to Elias and started to whine.

“Oh, shut up,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

Gerard walked in front of Elias, pulling on the leash the entire time so that he either had to run or be dragged behind the dog.

Then, Gerard stopped and growled at the darkness in front of them. Elias hadn’t noticed when day had turned into night. Not totally night, though. The sky was streaked with the colors of sunset. As if God had taken a finger to the horizon and stirred the hues about.

“Gerard? What’s there?” He hated that dog, but now he needed a friend.

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How Do You Do It?

I’m part of a writing group called Murder of Storytellers that, except for during the holidays, meets every week on Fridays to discuss our writing. It’s a great experience, to sit around the table with a group of very intelligent and thorough readers eager to deconstruct a piece of written literature in order to both improve it and the skill of its author. I love my writing group very much and credit them with the significant improvement of much of my work.

Then you have Shannon Bozarth, a prolific writer who has finished one novel, a science fiction thriller named Ride the Train, and is working on his second: a cozy mystery tentatively titled Accounts Payable. His progress is remarkable. He began Accounts Payable as an experiment; over the past few weeks it has grown into 40,000 words full of curious characters and a flowering plot. Sure, it needs work, but it wouldn’t be submitted to our writing group otherwise. Still, it represents Shannon’s continuing success at producing work that will undoubtedly be published some day soon.

I find myself jealous of his productivity. I’m most of the way through a novel of my own, Pyrrhic, but my lack of focus throws me between it and other pieces, including a short story called “Afterhours” and a comedy called Sam. Producing literature is difficult, and part of the problem is my inability to sit down and focus on it. Maybe it’s self-criticism. I wrote the majority of the novel during two consecutive NaNoWriMos and found it easy to sit and pour out the words. When I started to edit it, the problems with the story came rushing out between the lines, and I’ve found that I pretty much have to rewrite the entire thing to make Pyrrhic tell the story that I want it to tell.

And I already have ideas for two sequels.

I’ve been reading H. P. Lovecraft and discovered a short essay he wrote called “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” The piece talks about constructing a story from beginning to end. Lovecraft gives great advice on how to write, but it’s been difficult to take it. Like many writers, I realized that I have a beginning, I have an end, and I have a big, gaping hole where the middle is supposed to be.

I’ve been thinking very seriously on sitting down and writing what Lovecraft calls his Steps 1 and 2. In NaNoWriMo, many of us sit down and skip straight to Step 3, and only because we’re forced to. Self-criticism traps us in Step 4 before we’ve ever even attempted the previous steps.

I know that there are a lot of people who participate in NaNoWriMo who begin their writing with outlines, synopses, and character biographies. I think I might have to become one of these people in order to become an effective writer. One of the unfortunate consequences of having two producers in our group is that the rest of us have become better consumers. While this is an excellent consequence of participating in our writing group, I joined the group to be a producer. I need to engage in changing what I’m doing so that I can accomplish that goal.

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Horror Publishing!

My best friend, who runs the website Splatterhouse 5, just had two of her short stories published in the anthology Thirteen, Volume 3. You should really check it out!

Adrean Messmer (her nom de plume) is an exceptionally talented horror fiction writer. She has dabbled a bit in children’s literature, but her greatest skill lies in disturbing the hell out of her readers. She’s expressive, unforgiving, and genuine in her art. I’m extremely proud of her and her accomplishments. She’s an up-and-comer and deserves your support.

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October Updates

I just posted an article that I had written back in June regarding a game that I had been running at the time. I didn’t remember the context, but it seemed worth posting because the content of the article continues to be relevant.

This has been a good month. I completed the requirements for my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology at the end of August. Since then, I had been looking for another job. Comfort kept me from putting too much attention to it–that, and the fact that I hadn’t been very successful the few couple of times I’d applied. I think I also may have felt a little drained after the arduous ordeal that was this summer: a six-credit hour course and 360 hours of practicum at DVIS.

Steven, who worked at Youth Services of Tulsa before beginning seminary, pointed my attention at his employer. They were hiring counselors who qualified for supervision towards the LPC state license. Unfortunately, that’s a goal I’m heading towards, but until I finish 15 credit hours at OSU, it’s not a job I qualify for at this time. So I never applied.

Earlier this month, though, an excellent opportunity came up on their site: an Oklahoma Healthy Transitions Initiative (OHTI) case manager position in their Outreach department. I applied. And last week, I got the job. I started working this Monday, and I love it. I’m working with transition youth (16 to 24 years of age). The job involves tons of paperwork and data collection, but mostly it involves helping people.

I can’t wait to start working with the youth in my caseload. This place is amazing, the people are great, and I’m very excited for what comes next.

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On Scene

This is a fact: running tabletop games is hard. You have this idea–a general concept of what the world will be like–and then you realize that there’s something missing: the scene.

The scene is an important part of story planning, especially when you’re working with another person. Every moment, every player action, every minute of every hour of the four hours for which a session runs is an opportunity to lose your story to capricious fancy or sudden whim. I’d like to discuss the most recent example, but I don’t want to spoil or spotlight anything.

The lesson here is that planning has to be more specific. Even a skeletal outline of an episode–and possible contingencies for player surprises–can be a bulwark against losing track of a story.

How do you correct against this? Plan scenes. Nothing specific like paragraphs-long speeches or required dice rolls, but have a basic idea of what’s going to happen, with options for levels of success that the characters can experience as a consequence of their actions and dice rolls. And guard against the “rule of cool.” Nothing can utterly derail a storytelling session more than the GM letting himself warp an impacting story into an action movie.

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Working for Free

I’ve been working for DVIS/Call Rape for several weeks now, and I love it. It’s an amazing place with a very close-knit community of people dedicated to helping victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in Tulsa. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working very closely with the perpetrators. Working with them, hearing their experience, and sharing in their personal growth is phenominally rewarding.

I love my internship site. I wish I could be here all the time, but right now I’m stuck to helping only about 20-25 hours a week. If there was more that I could do, I would absolutely do it. Time, however, keeps getting in the way. Time, and work, and sleep, and the necessity of spending time with my friends and my boyfriend–because the last two keep me from going insane, something fellow mental health professionals call “professional exhaustion.”

The lives, histories, and experiences of people who experience domestic violence are so complex that quick judgments are impossible to make. The more I learn, the more any prejudices I once had fly out the window. The most important thing that I’ve learned is to see all of these people as individuals, like myself, who are imperfect and acted in ways that most of us only fleetingly consider.

I’m picking up the book Why Men Batter Women by Dr. Neil Jacobson. This has become my self-assigned reading for the summer semester. When you find a job that makes you want to consume knowledge and that makes you excited to come into work, that’s when you know that you’ve found your calling.

I think I’ve found my calling.

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My Last Day of Classes

It’s here. It’s really, really here. After today–and assuming that finals go well–I will be completing my last course requirement for the Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. This summer, I’ll be doing an internship at Domestic Violence Intervention Services, which will fulfill all of my degree requirements. I’m finally graduating!

It’s a little surreal that this is finally happening. I’m definitely terrified of re-entering the world of fulfilling (and well-paying) employment. I’m not totally done, of course. I still have to take a few additional classes in order to qualify for the LPC. I should be thinking farther ahead, but I’m having trouble even fathoming how difficult this summer is going to be.

Reminder to self: Call OSU about taking some courses within their counseling graduate program.

I need to figure out what I’m going to do with my night job. Do I quit for the summer, or do I stay and trek through working–essentially–two jobs? Quitting means running the risk of being jobless after graduation for some period of time. Working means being exhausted for three months. Or it means not seeing my friends for the same period of time. I’m still not sure what choice I’m going to make.

I’m not sure about a lot of things. That’s the stressful thing about leaving school: no schedule, no agenda, no expectations. Just you, and an endless stream of opportunities.

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No NaNo

It’s not happening this month. I might try again in June–schedule permitting–but Eden Mourning will be thoroughly changing. This is due to a lot of input from my friends about the story: its believability, its style, and its breadth. I originally conceived of Eden Mourning in college, and it seems like it shows. It’s difficult, as a write, to recognize the flaws in a beloved tale, so it’s valuable to have friends that will blazon them.

When I get the chance, I’ll write more. For now though, I’ll be focusing on editing Pyrrhic. No, I won’t be posting the edited work on here. I hope to one day be able to direct you to it on Amazon or another book store.

I’m crossing my fingers.

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Eden Mourning: Chapter 1, Scene 1

This is what I’ve written so far as part of my new novel.

* * *

Dianthe’s heart drummed in her chest. The sudden burst of blood flow woke her lungs, and she gasped. Then her stomach clenched and pushed, and she heaved forward, landed on all fours, and threw up. A foamy, silvery mixture splashed on the sanded cement between her hands and sloshed over her neon green fingernails. The sight and touch of it—it didn’t smell like anything—made her retch again. When she was done, she pushed herself on her butt against some sort of giant pill-shaped tube.

Looking around, she saw very little that she recognized. Dianthe was in a large, circular room about the size of the common area in her dorms at Sorbonne—big enough to fit the long, stained, vinyl couches facing a flat screen TV and a pool table so close to the wall that you had to hold the cues at awkward angles to keep them from sending the balls flying. Stefan had become an expert at it. He would guide the cue across his broad shoulders, placed one leg against the wall and bent the other against the table, and he struck the cue ball with magnificent accuracy. He would flourish each shot with an arrogant grin and a wink that made Dianthe have to lean against the back of the couch to keep herself from swooning.

That was as far as the familiarity went. This room was cold, surrounded by gray metal walls. Behind her there were two metal tubes, one leaning and partly crushed by heavy, steel shelves. And there were boxes, so many boxes, with spilled bars laminated with unmarked bluish silver plastic. It seemed like the set of some ‘60s science fiction show, where the props and actors were covered in aluminum foil and called futuristic. Dianthe struggled to her feet, feeling stiff but oddly strong. She wiped the argent vomit on her black skirt and grimaced at the stripes her fingers had left across her sides.

Dianthe stepped over her mess and suddenly felt her stomach throb. Persistent and unshruggable, she practically leapt to where the bars were and ripped off the wrapper and shoved the brown, grainy mass into her mouth. She chewed and she swallowed with the delicious bliss that follows a chocolaty indulgence post-diet. Then she remembered that the bars were tasteless, vitaminic food substitutes and thanked her lucky stars that her body hadn’t pushed her into pushing something less edible down her gullet. She wiped her hands against her skirt again, and the grains dulled the light stripes with peppery dark brown stains.

Door. There was a door. She remembered coming down here, but not from which way. Her uncle Chance had been in a hurry, his gray hair disheveled and his pink shirt skewedly buttoned. He hadn’t shaved in several days, which was tremendously out of character. Switzerland. Lucerne. She’d gone to visit him in his house in the mountains at his urgent behest. It had thunderstormed the whole train ride there.

Dianthe pressed her hands against the metal, looking for a crack or some other indication. The singular dimmed, and she realized suddenly both that this room was artificially lit and that she didn’t have much time left before it wasn’t.

No. The door wasn’t metallic. It was wooden—a locked mahogany door hidden behind a bookcase. She had asked Uncle Chance if his bat cave was back there. He had said, “Something like that,” in his heavy French accent. The tubes were familiar, but the floor had been tiled with some kind of white plastic. And, Dianthe realized, it was above her. Hundreds of feet up. Dianthe pushed up against the bent and leaning tube and looked up through a small cylindrical hole. The darkness kept her from seeing how far up it went.

“How the hell was I supposed to get out of here, Uncle?” she asked him, herself, or whoever could hear her—which she was fearfully beginning to realize was nobody. “Okay. You had a plan. What was your plan?” Dianthe began to look around desperately for any indication of Uncle Chance’s escape strategy.

Uncle Chance had pushed a thick needle into her neck and pushed some mercury-colored chemical into her body. She hadn’t enjoyed that. She’d remembered screaming and cursing at him in French.

“You will be unconscious when you arrive at the sanctum. When you wake up, you will press this button to get out. I will join you soon.” She’d kissed him as she had been starting to feel delirious.

“Button,” Dianthe said to herself. The tube that she’d been in was cushioned with some white, inflatable foam. She didn’t fully remember pushing it open and falling out, but she realized now that she hadn’t pushed it very far. Just enough for her to squeeze her thin body through the gap and fall upon the floor to hurl. She squeezed back inside and looked around. No buttons on the outside of the foam. She pushed her hand in, and the foam sloughed over her hand like some kind of dry molasses. The palm of her hand pressed against metal, and she searched with her fingers until she found what felt like buttons. Pushing one incidentally caused the hatch to snap shut the whole way, enclosing her inside the tube.

Dianthe dug through the foam, pushing it aside and keeping it from gumming back into its seamless form, so that she could see the control panel. It was a small and simple panel. Close, open, down, up, eject, all written in French.

This was it. Dianthe pressed the open button and rummaged through the supplies scattered underneath the warped shelves. A bag. An LED flashlight. Batteries. Two guns and a rifle. Both had larger magazines and barrels than she had ever seen—they seemed remarkably clunky. She didn’t see much of a use for so much weaponry, but she separated one gun out just in case of…bears…or something. She found a packed duffel bag, which she filled with all of the supplies she was looking for. There was a rubber-ish body suit of some sort. It looked like something out of a kink magazine, so she threw it aside. An all-weather jacket—that could be useful. She’d draped her wool, neon green hoodie over one of the tall chairs in her uncle’s kitchen, and they’d left in such a hurry that she’d forgotten it. And the tasteless food bars. She packed the bag with a big armful of them.

A box of water bottles had rolled behind the tube. There had to be more back there, but she managed to pull six to her, packed them, and decided that they’d be enough. She threw the duffel bag on the bottom of her tube. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small, black square lying at the bottom of the empty tube. A smartphone. The tube hatch had been pushed ajar by its impact with the shelves—not enough to fit through, but she could probably reach for the phone with her arm. She knelt, hugging the tube with one arm and pushing her other arm as deeply into the tube as she could, all while avoiding touching the vomit with her black sneakers. She cursed her want to look cute for her uncle on the same day that he’d decided to go crazy and stick her in some kind of Cold War bunker. She pushed her fingers onto the phone’s screen and slowly crawled it towards her. Then she grabbed it and pulled her arm out, catching her elbow on a piece of sharp metal.

She cursed and dropped the phone to press her hand against her elbow. The cut hadn’t been too serious, but it made her consider something she was missing in her survival bag: a first aid kit. The phone went into the bag, then she searched for a first aid kit and found instead a black, hard plastic case. Inside, all the basic components of a first aid kit plus a flare gun, an assortment of knives, and a lighter with replacement fluid. She packed it into her bag, which was starting to become worrisomely heavy. It was something she’d worry about later.

She stepped into the tube, placed one foot on the bag to keep it below her, and pushed the close button. The hatch shut with a hiss. She pushed the up button, and she was met with a dull buzz. “Okay, that sounds like ‘no,’” she said to herself. Then she pushed the down button. Again, the buzz.

Dianthe did not want to push the eject button. But, it being the only button she hadn’t just pushed, she touched it with her index finger, took a deep breath, and pressed down.

The tube instantly began to fill with foam. Dianthe’s breath caught in her throat, and she pulled her arms around her, protectively. When she was sixteen, she’d taken her father’s car and driven it down Wattleton Road in London. She’d been fine until she’d turned right onto Station Road and hit oncoming traffic. She’d hit a red Mercedes head-on. As soon as their bumpers had touched, airbags had inflated all around her with a loud pop and hiss that made her feel as if she was being suffocated. She’d felt impossibly stupid explaining to the constable that, “In America, everyone drives on the right side.”

Then the tube flew up, into the blackness she’d seen. She heard a whir and felt her direction change slightly. When she was going to UNIS in New York, Dianthe and some upperclassmen had skipped out of school and gone to Six Flags in New Jersey. This was just like that. She felt terrified and twelve and stuck in a small space and like she was about to crash and be crushed inside of a metal box. Finally, her roller coaster stopped cold. Dianthe tried to push her hand through the foam and hit the close button. The buzz told her “no.”

Then she felt a rumble and her ears popped. And the tube started moving again faster and faster and faster until it hit something, shook, and pushed ahead. Dianthe screamed apologies to anybody she had ever wronged. To Sandoval Menendez (age six), whose flower she had crushed under a cruel lace shoe, just before telling him that she would never date him because he was short and brown. To Fred Middleton (age 11), who she had broken up with after their first kiss and later spread rumors about his breath smelling like boogers. To Vala Straum (age 13), whose confidence she had betrayed when she’d posted on Facebook, “Vala likes vaginas.” To Jean-Michel Leroy (age 17), for breaking up with him on the day before the prom after getting cold feet.

The tube landed with splash and began to push forward, undulating and occasionally turning sharply after hitting a series of hard things. Dianthe took a deep breath before she realized what she was doing, but the foam was remarkably easy to breathe through. She tried to make her breaths regular and deep, to calm herself down like Mom—metaphysicist, yoga instructor, life coach, owner and distributor of the herbal supplement Heaven’s Root—had taught her. Then the tube turned again—she was falling head first. Dianthe held her breath again to keep from screaming, and the tube splashed, pushed down, then pulled back up. It settled over the surface and floated for a bit before it finally hit something and stopped moving altogether.

Dianthe reached for the open button. Buzz. Buzz. “Fuck you.” Buzz. Then the computer panel seemed to give up. The foam withdrew as if it’d been frightened away, and the hatch burst open, pushing against a fallen log and sending her floating downstream again.

Careful, to avoid tipping over, Dianthe sat up and peeked over the edge. She was in a turbulent river, the freshwater spray making it hard for her to keep her eyes open. She had obviously come from a large waterfall, which was now behind her. She turned forward and saw another waterfall, towards which she was now helplessly floating.

“Shit!” Dianthe said. She gripped the duffel bag, her thought process being: “Keep my shit dry.” She twisted her hip and hurled the duffel bag towards shore. It landed with a thud and settled on some on the riverbank. But the force of her throw flipped the tube, and she hit the water face first. She struggled to get out from underneath the tube, which she was sure would become her coffin if she didn’t escape it.

Dianthe had hated Tibet because it was so cold, but Mom had forced the entire family to go there twice in her life to discover their higher spirit form. Daddy spent most of the time on his laptop, leaving Mom to focus all of her attentions on Dianthe. “If a woman falls in a river, and he struggles against it,” Mom had said, “then he will inevitably be dragged under by the stream. But, if the woman goes with the stream, lets the river take her where it will, then she will discover truths beyond her imagination.” Dianthe remembered hearing a similar story while watching Pocahontas.

She shut her eyes, pressed both her feet against the interior of the tube, and she pushed as hard as she could. Her back hit the riverbed. She felt little rocks push their jagged edges against her green shirt and black undershirt. She flipped her body around and pushed with her legs against the floor. She gasped as her head splashed out of the water.

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Camp Nano is Here!

It’s April 1st and–no joke–NaNoWrimo is here again! Camp Nano began today, and it’s already going…okay.

I’m working on a new novel called Eden Mourning, but so far it’s been hard. I have not been getting the rave reviews I’m accustomed to getting from my friends. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be trash, but I’m gonna write and hope that it at least is something. We’ll see.

Sometimes the writing you do is just practice, Adey says. She’s right. At the very least, it’s practice.

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