Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Monday, May 31, 2010

Thaumatrope--Bite-Size Fiction for Hungry Readers

For those times when flash fiction just takes too long to read, check out Thaumatrope, which features Twitter fiction (140 characters or less) for readers of sf, fantasy and horror. The stories are like potato chips--you really can't sample just one.

The site publishes serial fiction too, and it's even fun reading the bios of the writers and seeing what they have in the pipeline. My favorite is Robert T. Jeschonek, whose upcoming Clarion YA novel is called My Favorite Band Does Not Exist.

Thaumatrope is now one of my favorite sites for dropping in for a few minutes of entertainment (along with Fark).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's not just about the sales

This is Memorial Day weekend and as usual, CNN is running lots of stories about the men and women who have fallen n the service of our country. This video of soldiers decorating the graves at Arlington with small American flags--as is done several times a year--really got to me.

The video shows what a beautiful and peaceful place Arlington Cemetery is. It overlooks the Potomac. It is covered in green. Trees grow among the graves. When I was little, people could picnic there and ride bikes along its broad boulevards. That was before the Viet Nam war started filling up the "Garden of Stone" and forced the opening of new sections to accommodate the newly dead.

Now the cemetery is stressed not only by the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan (they're buried in "Section 60") but also by the deaths of World War II veterans who are now in their ninth decade. It won't be long efore burial in Arlington, the nation's most famous military cemetery, will be a matter of "by invitation only."

John F. Kennedy is buried in Arlington Cemetery, where an eternal flame flickers in his memory. Nearby is the grave of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the premature son born to the Kennedys and rarely mentioned. Also nearby is the grave of the stillborn Kennedy girl who never even had a name and whose existence is still a secret to all but the most avid Kennedy-philes.

Robert Kennedy is buried there too; as is Ted Kennedy and surprisingly, perhaps, so is Jacqueline Onassis. The Kennedys were known for their compound in New England, in Arlington they have claimed their own corner of national real estate. The area is one of the "must-see" spots on a tour of the cemetery, along with the statue that replicates the famous photo of the flag-raising over Iwo Jima, the Tomb of the Unknowns (Formerly the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) and Custis-Lee Mansion, where the cemetery began during the Civil War when Union soldiers buried their dead in what had been the front yard of a gracious Southern mansion.

There is a cairn of 270 stones to commemorate the 270 souls aboard the plane that exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. There are memorials to the Challenger and Columbus space shuttle crews. Many famous military men and women are buried there, as you might expect, but so are Dashiell Hammett,writer Charles Willeford and actor Lee Marvin. Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French engineer who designed the city of Washington DC, is also there along with a mission's worth of astronauts, including Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee.

The second most-visited grave (after JFK) is that of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII. (Define irony: Murphy was killed in a plane crash on Memorial Day weekend nearly 40 years ago.)

Here's a sobering fact: More than 100 graveside ceremonies are conducted each week at Arlington. Each week. There are more than 300,000 people buried there already, including my parents. They're just up the hill from the Kennedy memorial.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fitzgerald was wrong...

Back in the day, my sister hung with a wannabe rocker who would occasionally loan equipment to the band Poison when they had a local gig. The wannabe didn't have much good to say about Bret Michaels, but then, he didn't have much good to say about anyone, really, being the poster boy for schadenfreude.

I knew of the band, of course, you couldn't escape them unless your radio was permanently tuned to NPR or your subscription to People had run out. (He was going out with Pamela Anderson at the time, so they were a couple made in paparazzi heaven.) Michaels was handsome--actually beautiful--with his sky-blue eyes and his long blond hair. If urban fiction had been a genre back then, he'd have been the model for many a cover. If I thought about him at all, it was mostly in terms of being a second-string Van Halen's David Lee Roth whose athletic stage moves he seemed to have borrowed. (The self-styled "Diamond Dave" is one of the smartest guys ever to sling a microphone and his interviews were always a delight to read.) But that was 20 years ago.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, here's Bret Michaels back in the spotlight. One minute he's in the hospital fighting for his life and the next week he's on American Idol, sporting a hat that would make Dwight Yoakam jealous and doing his guitar slinger thing. And he won Celebrity Apprentice. Without watching an hour of reality TV, it's been possible to chart his amazing renaissance and it's been hard not to get caught up in it.

When you live in Los Angeles, you really have to fight the onslaught of celebrity culture or drown in it. When you overhear women at the grocery store discussing Sandra Bullock's love life like they're next-door neighbors or a guy in line at the bank bagging on some movie like he is a disappointed investor, you just want to buy a farm in Nebraska and hide out. Part of the problem is that so much of celebrity culture is about the bad things--Lindsay Lohan's downward spiral, the break-up of a marriage, the replacement of an actor. In a time when a lot of people are struggling, it's clearly comforting to know that the rich and famous and beautiful have problems too. Big problems.

And then there's a story like the one Bret Michaels is living out. And even the most jaded Angeleno has to sit back and go "whoah." When an Idol-loving friend called to tell me I had to turn on the TV, I had something else to do so I didn't. But then I went to YouTube to check out the clip of Bret doing a duet of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" with contestant Casey James. And I found myself getting caught up in the whole thing. Michaels was clearly having a great time. He's not the beautiful boy he was and the voice has weathered too, but cheesy as the song is (I've always liked it, sue me), it rocked.

See it for yourself here.

Rock on Bret. Enjoy your second act.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wish me luck!

I'm entering the fifth annual Guide to Literary Agents' "Dear Lucky Agent" contest with the first 200 words of my YA sf book Frontier Town. The 200-word cut-off is kind of unnerving. I found myself wanting to add just a few more sentences from that all-important first chapter.

The contest is for completed manuscripts in the sci fi or fantasy genres, so if you have a ms sitting around, why not enter? The contest closes on Wednesday, the 26th, so you still have a little more time. The top three winners snag a critique of their opening pages and the attention of the agent judge!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Needle Magazine is Here

And it looks fabulous.

They bill themselves as a "magazine of noir," so that's right up my alley. It's a print magazine, available here.

Long-time supporter and friend Cormac Brown is among the authors in the premiere issue which makes me happy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Through a Lens Darkly

I always enjoy photo story prompts, so we've put another one up at Dark Valentine. We're looking for flash (under 1000 words) inspired by the photo. Here's all the info.

We don't pay for the stories published on the site but Dark Valentine is a paying market for stories published in the magazine. Our first issue will be available in mere weeks, but we're open for submissions to issue #2 now. Here's a link to our guidelines. Dark Valentine is looking for any sort of dark fiction--you pick the genre.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Surf's Up


As you may know, CBS is about to launch a remake of the classic television series Hawaii 5-0. This was the show that launched "5-0" into the lexicon as well as making a catch phrase of "Book 'em Danno." As catch phrases go, it's not that cool (coming in somewhere behind Kojak's "Who loves ya baby?" and "Where's the beef?") but turning a television title into an urban slang term--that's pop culture immortality.

The show had a long run (from 1968 to 1980) and during some of that time, I lived in Honolulu. My apartment overlooked both the Punchbowl cemetery and Iolani Palace (with the statue of King Kamehameha in front). Both locations are seen in the iconic credit sequence. (Possibly the best television credit sequence ever with that shot of Jack Lord turning around on the balcony and gazing steely-eyed into the camera as the Hawaiian breezes tugged at a strand of his perfectly coiffed hair.)

James MacArthur used to wander around the grounds of the Palace on his lunch breaks, being charming to the tourists and signing autographs and posing for pictures. Everybody loved him. And being a resident of Honolulu, I always felt somewhat proprietary about the show.

Here's the credit sequence for the new show.

Here's the credit sequence for the classic show.

What do you think? And what television show would you like to see updated?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Love Your Mother

I got lucky in the parent lottery. My mother was an artist and a dreamer; my father was an Army lawyer and practical. I inherited the best of both of their personalities, along with my mother's blue eyes and my father's crack memory. My parents gave me the kind of love that sustains you your whole life and that's good because I was still young when they died and I miss them still.

Two things I inhereited from my parents have significantly shaped my adult life. They both loved to read and they both loved good food. I grew up in a house surrounded by books--my mother loved mysteries; my father mostly read history and other non-fiction.

They encouraged me to read anything and everything. Once, when I was 13, I loaned a book I'd read, something by Max Schulman, to a school friend. Her mother showed up at our door, furious that I had loaned her daughter such trash, demanding to talk to my mother, who didn't censor what I read and didn't really understand the other woman's outrage. Max Schulman was the man who invented Dobie Gillis and though I no longer remember what the offensive book in question was, even at 12 I thought the woman was making a mountain out of a molehill.

My mother taught me to cook and when I moved to Los Angeles, I continued to use the recipes she'd taught me--Southern comfort foods like mac and cheese, exotic meals she'd picked up in her reading, like the Pakistani kima (curried meat and peas), favorites from friends, like a pizza sauce recipe that has won me raves at parties over the years.

It's Mother's Day this weekend. To celebrate, I offer you the recipe for my mother's favorite chocolate cake.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Food for Thought

Did you ever read the book Stone Soup? It's about a hungry village that combines their resources to make a soup to feed everyone when all they thought they had was stones for the cooking pot. I always think of that book when the annual NALC Food Drive comes around.

The NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers) makes it painless to participate. All you have to do is leave out a non-perishable food item--it's nice if you put it in a bag--and it'll get picked up and combined with donations from people all along your mail route. Even if all you can spare is a can of tuna (68 cents at my local supermarket and I live in an expensive city), it adds up.

The Food Drive will take place this Saturday, May 8th. Last year the Drive collected a record 73.4 million pounds of food. The Food Drive is a real world example of the power of community. This economy has left a lot of people hungry. Some of them are our neighbors. For more information about this year's drive, go here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dude Looks like a Lady

Here's my entry into Patti Abbott's Sweet Dreams Challenge. Here's what we were given--Eurythmics Sweet Dreams is playing in a restaurant of some kind when a red-headed woman wearing an electric blue dress walks in. Under 1000 words.

Check out her blog to see the other entries which will be posted Monday, May 3, 2010. If you don't know her blog, you should.

Let me know what you think of Dude--

Dude Looks Like a Lady

I was deep into my second plate of Chilaquiles Verdes, hoping the cheese and fried tortillas would soak up some of the alcohol in my stomach before I had to go on duty. I hadn’t had much sleep and I’d been up early to run some errands and I was in a foul mood to start with so the 80s music pumping at ear-bleed levels didn’t help.

I wasn’t the only one who winced when Sweet Dreams replaced Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. With its throbbing backbeat and Annie Lennox’s orgiastic wailing, the song was a musical root canal exposing every nerve in my head. I signaled Yadira to refill my coffee as Annie whispered, “Hold your head up” and drained it almost before she’d turned away.

The headache was kicking my ass. I was thinking about getting a Red Bull to go when Zelda came through the door.

Staggered was more like it. Her long red wig was askew, revealing about three inches of smooth, shaven skull. It looked like she’d been scalped. “Oh my god,” shouted the assclown in the corner booth, shrinking back as far away as possible. Frozen by the sight of the blood soaking her electric blue dress.

Blue was Zelda’s favorite color because it brought out the color of her eyes. “I’m a Technicolor woman in a black and white world,” she’d told me once, and it just about broke my heart.

I keyed my radio and called for a bus but by the looks of her, Zelda would be dead before the ambulance arrived. As I moved toward her I saw the busboy take a picture with his phone. I grabbed the phone and stomped on it. Crushed that plastic clamshell like an oversized roach. The kid said something to me in Spanish that made Yadira gasp. I told him in English to get back in the kitchen or I’d do the same thing to his scrawny illegal ass. He understood that and stood aside, pouting. I’d spoiled his chance to make points with his FaceBook friends by posting the picture.

Yadira gave me her apron and I balled it up and stuffed it into the hole in Zelda’s gut, putting pressure on it to stop the bleeding. “You’re hurting her,” the guy in the corner booth said. “You’re making it worse.”

What is it with civilians? Seriously. This guy hadn’t even bothered to dial 911 and now he’s telling me what to do? Like he’s a doctor and not a bottom-feeder lawyer who has to scrounge for court-appointed cases. I’ve seen him hanging around the court house in Van Nuys, mooching cigarettes from pissed-off potential jurors taking a smoke break after hours of waiting around to see if they’re going to get called.

“You’re hurting her,” the guy said again because lawyers never know when to keep their mouths shut. I stood up and walked over to his booth. Crowded him a little as I leaned in to him. “Shut up,” I suggested.

I’m a big guy and in uniform, I rarely have to ask twice. The guy looked like he was going to make me ask twice, so I knocked everything off his table—dishes, napkins, paper placemats, the little pitcher of maple syrup for his pancakes. He got wide-eyed then and he shut up quick. Yadira moved to clean it all up. “Leave it,” I growled and she backed away. I could tell I was scaring her.

I went back to see how Zelda was doing. Not good. She was barely conscious. I could hear the siren of the approaching ambulance but knew it would arrive too late. I told Zelda to hold on. I’m not sure she heard me.


She was a sweet lost soul wobbling through life in size 14 four-inch heels. She’d been born Bobby Zelda but reversed the order of her name as she worked on reversing her gender. She was in the final stages of pre-op, trying to raise money for her last operation one blow job at a time. If she’d gone to Vegas she could have been pulling down $200 a pop minus whatever cut her pimp took, but she didn’t want to leave her mother.

I gave her money sometimes and we both pretended it wasn’t charity. A girl like Zelda can be an asset to a cop. These street girls see everything. I told her to be careful. Some things you see can get you killed.

Zelda was a good girl but she should never have been in that alley this morning. She never should have seen me taking that money. I’d warned her what could happen if she saw the wrong thing. I’d told her. But she hadn’t listened. She had just laughed, with no concern for self-preservation at all. It was a self-esteem thing. She didn’t have much.

I had thought she was dead in the alley. I made sure she was by the time the ambulance arrived. Yadira was weeping as the EMTs took Zelda away.

Everyone was starting to mill around when the detectives arrived. They found the murder weapon wrapped in a napkin on the floor by the corner booth. Right where I’d left it when I’d swept everything off the table.

The lawyer was wide-eyed as he saw the knife and said the first thing that came into his head, which was… “I didn’t kill it.” Everyone in the room gasped. He fumbled around for something more PC to say but the damage was done.

That’s lawyers for you. Never know when to keep their mouths shut.

I gave my statement to the detective and managed to make it to work in time for roll call, the chilaquiles sitting in my stomach like a ticking cheese bomb. After work, I’d go by and say hello to Zelda’s mother. See if she needed anything. It was the least I could do.

The Blog is Back

Yes, April is the cruelest month. And March wasn't much better. But it is May now and that's enough said about that.

If you have an Amazon wishlist, I suggest you put Kevin Brook's iBoy on it. It won't be published until July but it's worth the wait. It's a gritty story that manages to be completely credible while basically giving us the origin story of a modern superhero. Brook's writing is smart and gritty and surprising and the book itself is something special.

I got an advance look at the book because one of my clients was looking at it as a potential film property. I love my job.

Submissions for the first issue of Dark Valentine have closed. I am very, very happy with the range and quality of stories submitted. Our art director, Joanne Renaud, has found some superb artists and the artwork will be fantastic.