I’m at Writing Wranglers and Warriors, explaining my latest epiphany–and how it’s responsible for the story coming out July 21.
Writing is a business.
That’s what experienced writers tell the wannabes.
For a long time, I thought business applied to action alone: Write every day, attend classes, network, become familiar with various routes to publication, learn the market, read submission guidelines, stay in good physical shape, and on and on… Items on a list, they could be checked off at the end of each day.
Last winter, Kaye George put out a call for submissions of stories for DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology to celebrate the total solar eclipse that will be visible from parts of the United States this summer. Each story would contain an element of mystery and would be related to an eclipse. Kaye would edit, and Wildside Press would have the…
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I’m collapsed on the bed at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Fort Worth. I am tired.
Between sentence #1 and sentence #2, I stopped and tried to scrape a little black bug off the side of the monitor–it was at the very edge of the screen, and I had no idea where it came from but knew it would somehow scoot under the chrome and stick there, halfway in, halfway out, forever, and look awful and drive me crazy–and then I realized the little black bug was the little black cursor arrow thingy. That is how tired I am.
We just returned from Pappadeaux, where I wanted to order crawfish etouffee but ordered fried oysters instead, even though I sort of remembered I didn’t like them the last time we were at Pappadeaux. I ordered wrong because once upon a time I loved oysters, but also because David ordered them, and I’m always sure if I don’t order what other people get, I’ll be sorry. While he was cleaning my plate, I told him that the next time we go to Pappadeaux he’s to demand I order the etouffee, and to remind me why.
A digression: I know Pappadeaux is a higher-class joint than we normally frequent, but still, there’s something radically wrong with any restaurant that serves a plate heaped with french fries and oysters without providing a big bottle of Heinz ketchup. If they’re concerned about appearances, they could remove it when it’s not in use. Those little dabs of ketchup they serve just don’t do.
Anyway, against all odds, we got to Fort Worth. It happened in this wise:
First, David lay on the bed upstairs and coughed once in a while and then asked William to come out, and William did. David carried him downstairs and put him into the carrier. William banged against the sides of the carrier so hard I thought he would break out. David took him to the vet.
Upon hearing William banging, Ernest scooted upstairs. I remained where I was and kept on writing. David came home and sat down. He said he guessed we might not make it to the festival. I said we would. (I’m a pessimist who lies a lot.)
I got tired of sitting, so I went upstairs, closed the bedroom door behind me, lay down on the floor, and looked under the bed. It took a few moments, but Ernest’s big eyes finally became visible. I wished, as I do every time he hides under there, that the bed weren’t queen-sized. And that it weren’t built so low to the ground. Why do they do that?
David brought me the leash we never use, and I tossed one end toward Ernest and pulled it slowly back, over and over, as if I believed he would actually chase it so I could grab him. David brought me the meter stick. David lay on the bed, ready to pounce. I lay down on the other side of the bed and poked around and obviously made contact, because Ernest shot out the other side. David pounced. Before they made it to the carrier, Ernest freed himself from David’s clutches. Ernest is muscly.
We followed Ernest downstairs and tried to flush him out from behind our recliners (which are joined by a cat bed ingeniously constructed from a straight-backed chair, a double-decker end table, and a piano bench that needs to be reglued, topped with a variety of pillows and a quilt (you have to be there). He got past me and ran upstairs, where all bedroom and bathroom doors had been closed. Oops!
David went up after him. Ernest ran down, got past me, ran behind recliners/cat bed, ran back upstairs… several times.
Desperate, David dragged the double-decker bed over and placed it at the foot of the stairs. I added to the barricade with cardboard boxes, suitcases, and the red-and-black tote I got at Malice Domestic 2015, which had my laptop in it. While I was barricading, David brought the carrier back downstairs (it went up and down several times during the morning) and set it atop the double-decker cat bed. Then he went back up for Ernest, somehow got hold of him, and carried him down. Jubilation ensued.
David was lowering Ernest into the carrier when I saw the opportunity to help: Ernest was doing the I’m-going-to-spread-my-hind-legs-so-far-apart-you’ll-never-get-me-into-that-thing, so I reached over to squeeze them closer together. I don’t know exactly what happened then or why, but I ended up with a great big hind-cat-toenail lodged in my arm. I had to grab his foot to free my arm.
But somewhere in the chaos, Ernest ended up in the carrier, I stuck three Neosporin-covered bandaids on my arm–tiny bandaids, I couldn’t find any regular ones–and we scooped up carrier and bags and headed for the vet’s, and made it in time to leave at our ETD of 12:02 p.m. and arrive at the hotel at our ETA of 4:10 p.m.
Our original ETD and ETA were 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively, but because we prize flexibility, we’ve mentioned the changes only once. That was when David said we would have to take the Texas 130 toll road because at noon IH-35 between Austin and Georgetown is a parking lot.
Well, we’re here, and David’s film runs at 10:00 a.m., so I’ll sign off. I expect to sleep well. The morning workout was so invigorating, I don’t know why I haven’t already passed out.
If I don’t sleep, it’ll be from guilt. I poked my dear, sweet Ernest with a meter stick. I’d never done that, never expected to do that, and, now that I’ve had time to think about it, I feel pretty awful. I scared him. And I did it so he wouldn’t be home all weekend, alone and scared. How dumb is that.
He’ll get me for it. He’ll give me sad, dirty looks for several days. He’ll boycott me. He’ll never allow either David or me to lay a hand on him ever again, so we’ll never get him into a carrier, and consequently, I’ll never get out of Austin ever again. David will go to all the film festivals by himself, and he’ll come home with stories of camaraderie and whooping it up* in big cities like Beaumont and Conway, Arkansas, and I’ll smile and pretend I’m happy for him. And Ernest will sit between us on the chair-piano-bench-double-decker-end-table-cat-bed and look at me and smirk.
Few things are more maddening than a smirking cat.
Our film festival experiences haven’t included any whooping up, but I can imagine.
We’re on our way to the Fort Worth Indie Film Festival.
All we have to do is get William and Ernest into the carriers and haul them to the vet’s. They watched us pack, said, “We may be crazy, but we ain’t stupid,” and crawled under the bed. This is why one shouldn’t go to film festivals two weekends in a row–cats remember.
An open can of salmon rests on the post at the foot of the stairs. Unfortunately, salmon isn’t as stinky as used to be, and some cats cannot be bribed.
David is about to try to pull William out from under the bed. Since William needs insulin, his cooperation is critical. Ernest has never been left alone–he’s always had either parents or brother–so his cooperation is critical, too. Scared, lonely cats are scared and lonely, and that worries me, and they sometimes do things to furniture that I don’t want them to do, and that worries me as well. Ernest produces a lot of adrenaline on short notice. After hearing William in crisis, he may stay under the bed for a week, absorbing nutrients from the air.
I hear David upstairs, speaking softly, cajoling, babytalking, being generally sneaky.
We may be on our way to the Fort Worth Film Festival. At present, I am not optimistic, but we persevere….
When I suggested setting the salmon on the post, David said wouldn’t it fall off. I said no. He just came bopping downstairs and knocked it off the post. He’s now cleaning up the mess. It didn’t fall on the carpet. As I said, salmon is not as stinky as it used to be. Water-packed salmon doesn’t taste as good as salmon packed in oil, but next time I shop, I’ll buy the water.
David has progressed from cloth towel to paper towels and Simple Green. He said Ernest is watching him from the landing. He said Ernest is coming down. It’s not the salmon, it’s curiosity. Here he is! It is the salmon. He’s snuffing and thinking about licking the floor. I hope Simple Green is good for cats. If it isn’t, the vet can take care of it, if we get to the vet.
I turned on “Remington Steele” in hopes the felines will think we’re watching. I’m using the Chromebook so Ernest will be jealous and jump into my lap, as he spends seven days a week doing, except today. Maybe I need to get the laptop out of the suitcase.
He’s on his way back up the stairs. David has gone back upstairs. Ernest came back downstairs. He’s behind my chair. He’s looking at me. He jumped onto the arm of the chair! I rubbed his tummy. He jumped down and is now examining the site of the salmon spill. Now he’s going back upstairs.
David has been upstairs for a long time. He and William are usually kindred spirits, but not right now.
I have not yet begun to weep. But I’m close.
This blog is titled, “Telling the Truth–Mainly.” That comes from Huckleberry Finn. Mr. Mark Twain told the truth, mainly. I am telling the truth, period. Everything I’ve written happened or is happening. Really.
I am becoming disheartened, so I shall stop and concentrate on sending harmonious vibrations to the floor above.
I really, really want to go to this festival.
The life of the artiste is not an easy one.
Some people live calm, uneventful lives. Things work. They make plans and carry them out. They write about grammar and cooking and astrophysics. What am I doing wrong?
David is talking babytalk again.
If we had a dog, we’d be in Waco by now.
The total solar eclipse–the first across the entire continental United States in ninety-nine years–will take place on August 21. David and I will view it from Kansas City, where the full eclipse will be visible. We have our eclipse glasses and hotel reservations and look forward to a jaw-dropping experience.*
Not to take anything away from the eclipse, but I’m more excited about an event scheduled for later this month–Wildside Press’ release of Kaye George’s crime fiction anthology DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of the Eclipse. The book has twenty-four stories, each centered around a solar eclipse.
Individual authors are donating royalties from DAY OF THE DARK to various organizations. Mine will go to the Texas Museum of Science and Technology in Cedar Park.
As a sneak peek, I’ll say that my story, “I’ll Be a Sunbeam,” concerns Marva Lu Urquhart, Kilburn County librarian, who set out to “put Mama out of her misery” in her debut story, “Hell on Wheels,” which appears in Austin Mystery Writers’ MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move. If you’ve read that story, you know that when planning a murder, Marva Lu takes into account every eventuality–she thinks.
A number of online events are scheduled to celebrate the release. An interview with Kaye George, editor and contributor, will soon appear on Criminal Elements. Interviews with all the authors will appear on Writers Who Kill. Austin Mystery Writers will carry an interview with Laura Oles and me. For a complete list of events, as well as other information, see Travels with Kaye.
And, of course, watch this space.
Read an excerpt from “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” here.
To see paths of future eclipses, click here. It looks like the one scheduled for 2024 won’t require travel. David and I will just step outside, pull up a couple of lawn chairs, and look up. Which is kind of a shame, because part of the excitement resides in getting out of town. But maybe Kaye will put together another anthology. That’s exciting. I’ll ask.
A number of men from Fentress, Texas, served in World War II. Two did not return.
Marshall Langley was the son of Will and Essie Langley, my family’s very good neighbors. Marshall graduated from Texas A & M, which commissioned more officers during World War II than West Point did. His name appears in Texas Aggies Go to War: In Service of Their Country. He died in France in 1944, leaving a wife and an infant son.
Dunallen McCaskill was lost when the plane he was piloting went down over water. August 1942 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports lists the site as “Unknown, PAN” (Panama). Dunallen was my father’s friend. His family left Fentress before I was born but I heard many stories about them. Neighbors described them as kindhearted, spontaneous, fun-loving, and much loved. Dunallen’s mother never lost hope that he would one day come home.
First posted here on Memorial Day 2012
The Friday Fictioneers Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photograph.
USED TO BE
“The convention center? Well, go about six blocks, to where the old movie house used to be–the one that burned in ’87–What’d you say, Fred?”
“It’s The Oaks now. Condos.”
“Oh, that’s right. Well, just before the condos, turn right, and when you get to where the Masonic lodge used to be, there’s a–What’s that, Fred?”
“It’s the Hyatt–”
“All right, the Hyatt. Turn right again, and almost to where Milton Badey’s furniture store used to be–”
“Omni. One day they’ll knock down the diner and this’ll be where we used to be.”
On my husband’s first visit to my hometown, I took him on a walking tour: There’s where Miss Blanche Harris used to live, and my great-grandmother lived there, and when my grandfather moved in from the farm he built that little house, and the house across the street was Uncle Carl’s, and that one belonged to Aunt Bettie and Uncle Maurice, and Rob and Nell’s grocery store was there, and right next door was where Dick Ward sold double-dip ice cream cones for a nickle, and next door to that was Earl and Lorene McCutcheon’s store, and that was the Masonic lodge, and across the street was Dr. Luckett’s office, and that was the cotton gin, and there are the scales where they weighed the cotton wagons, and there’s the old post office that was a bank before it was a post office, and that was the gin yard where they stored the cotton bales, and the skating rink was back there on the river before they moved it to Lockhart . . .
And when the tour ended, I realized everything I’d told him was history.
(The the event pictured below happened before my time. And it’s Fentress Resort. That’s the skating rink in the background.)
On Tuesdays, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields posts a photo prompt on her blog. The following Friday, writers post 100-word stories inspired by the photo on their blogs.
To read what other Friday Fictioneers have written, click the blue frog.
“The good old days.” Joe turned his eyes up to the ceiling and sighed.
“Oh, I remember it all. Fried chicken, sunbathing, you grabbing me and holding me under the water till I almost drowned before you let me go. . . . What I don’t remember is anybody actually swimming.”
I personally believed what he loved most was Bonita and her bikini. My sister Bonita was the youngest in the crowd, but she developed early. Mama absolutely forbade her to wear anything but her blue gingham one-piece, and as long as Mama was taking us out to Paradise Bluﬀ, that’s what she wore. But when I turned ﬁfteen and got my driver’s license, I started driving us out there. And every day, as soon as we got to the Mobil station on Main Street, Bonita would set up a howl, and nothing would do but we had to stop so she could slip into the restroom and change.
Joe goofed around with me, but when Bonita was wearing that bikini—there wasn’t enough cotton in it to stop up an aspirin bottle—he only had eyes for her.
Joe leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. He had a faraway look in his eye. “I haven’t been out there in years. It’s kind of sad, you grow up and get responsibilities, seems like you to forget the simple pleasures of youth.”
“Um-hmm, sad.” Watching him leave with that silly smile on his face, I knew he was thinking about Bonita’s little red bikini.
~ M. K. Waller, “I’ll Be a Sunbeam”
Marva Lu Urquhart is on the move again. This time, she’s celebrating the 2017 eclipse with a picnic at Paradise Bluff.
If you remember Marva Lu from “Hell on Wheels,” in Austin Mystery Writers’ anthology MURDER ON WHEELS, you’ve probably already guessed the picnic has less to do with the eclipse than with–well, it has more to do with knocking the memory of Bonita’s little red bikini out of Joe’s head and replacing it with–let’s put it this way: Marva Lu hasn’t been taking belly dance lessons all these years for nothing.
All twenty-four stories in DOTD focus on those crucial minutes at midday when the moon devours the sun and anything can–and does–happen
Especially if you’re Marva Lu Urquhart.
Austin will see only a partial eclipse, so David and I will watch from Kansas City. Our eclipse glasses arrived through the mail this week.
Now there’s nothing to do but pack, grab my copy of DAY OF THE DARK–a little escape reading for the drive–drop William and Ernest off at their hotel, and head north. Where we trust our experience will be much less eventful than the one Marva Lu has planned for her friends.
Technically this isn’t a reblog, because WordPress and Blogger aren’t set up to reblog each other’s posts. So I’ll call it a shareblog.
In a post on Travels with Kaye, established–and very successful–writer Kaye George says the IRS hobby rule doesn’t have to apply to writers, “if you’re serious about your writing.” She explains the hows and whys and provides links to pertinent IRS publications. She’s not a tax preparer, but a veteran writer and taxpayer.
Kaye posted this in March. I’m late in sharing it, but perhaps information will be helpful in preparing for April 15, 2018.
Here are her first two paragraphs:
I learned of yet another writer whose tax preparer gave her wrong information! It’s a shame that ignorance of what taxes mean to writers is so widespread.
What I’ve been doing when I haven’t been fighting off my cat.
Posted by M. K. Waller
The Austin Mystery Writers blog has been quiet for several months, but we’re still living the Writing Life. Here’s what’s been going on.
In November, AMW members, along with Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator at MysteryPeople in Austin, appeared on a panel discussing AMW’s crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), at the Wimberley Village Library in Wimberley, TX.
Laura Oles is editing her novel, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, to be published by Red Adept in winter of 2017. Her story “Ocean’s Fifty” will appear in DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology compiled and edited by Kaye George. DAY OF THE DARK will be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017, exactly one month before the total solar eclipse that will occur on August…
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The juxtaposition of cat and quotation prompted a question: Do cats really realign themselves?
Initially, I said, No. Cats come into the world perfect. Cats are the creme de la creme. Miss Jean Brodie need not apply.
On reflection, however, I realized that cats sometimes do realign. A case in point:
Ernest the Cat Davis is a compulsive snuggler, a compulsive stomper, and a compulsive pest. I am a born victim.
When I’m lying down, he marches back and forth across me, turns ’round and ’round like a dog, and makes biscuits. Lots of biscuits, and I am his bread board. When he’s ready, he settles down and snuggles.
When I’m sitting in a recliner, working on the laptop, he jumps onto the arm of the chair, right side, reaches over, and tugs at my shirt. I pet him. He tugs the shirt again. I pet him. He tugs the shirt again. Etc. I know I’m reinforcing the tugging, but it’s either that or lock myself in the bathroom.
Tired of tugging, he turns 180 degrees and straddles my forearm–the one attached to the hand sliding the mouse around on the chair arm/mouse pad. Then he settles and tucks himself in, leaving my hand in what would be prime tummy-rub position, if I weren’t holding the mouse. When it comes to pinning, Jesse Ventura has nothing on my cat. I eventually I manage to extract my arm.
Then he crawls onto my leg. I quickly shift the laptop to the left. He goes into stomping mode.
This is where the real battle begins. While stomping, he backs up and tries to straddle my forearm. I resist. There’s one upside: The sight of him making biscuits with his front feet and at the same time stabbing one hind foot in the air, trying to glom onto my arm, is funny, and I laugh and release endorphins all over the place. The endorphins almost make up for having to hold his tail to keep it out of my face.
Finally he tires and collapses, on the keyboard if possible. Once in a while he hits the Enter key. His rear has sent several unfinished emails. If I’m lucky, he turns over so his tummy is exposed for easier rubbing. If I’m luckier, he oozes down to the footrest.
It’s a lengthy and exhausting process, and it takes place several times a day.
Now, here’s where realigning comes in. For quite a while, I’ve tried to influence Ernest’s behavior.
While he tugs and stomps and kneads, I say, “Lie down, lie down, l-i-i-i-i-e-e-e dowwwwn.” It’s begun to sound like a mantra.
For the first few years, he ignored me. But lately there are signs it might be working.
He doesn’t stomp as long as he used to. Today we set a record. I said, ” L-i-i-i-i-e-e-e dowwwwn,” only fifteen or twenty times before he obeyed.
Obeyed isn’t the correct word, of course. Cats don’t obey. They don’t react to stimuli. They are the deciders. There’s a reason Pavlov had a dog.
But Ernest is changing. He’s realigning.
I took some photos of Ernest realigning. To see captions, hold the pointer over pictures. The black-and-white stripes are my shirt. I wanted to get a shot of the tug-holes in the shoulder, but my arms are too long.
You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity.
Let out a little more string on your kite.