Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alt-Dead is in the house

I have my contributor's copy of Peter Mark May's Alt-Dead anthology in my hands and I am fondling it.  It looks really sharp--the blood-red font against the white backdrop. It's available as both an ebook and print and it is priced to sell!  If you love zombies, or just like short stories, check this collection out. Contributors include Stuart Hughes, Stuart Neild, Stuart Young, Stephen Bacon, Steven Saville & Steve Lockley, plus a whole crew of other writers who are neither named Stuart nor Stephen like Jan Edwards, Ian Woodhead, Zach Black, and more. 
Let me know if you'd like to review the anthology--I can hook you up with a copy.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

September Six Questions Schedule

Jim Harrington's Six Questions For blog has scheduled next month's interviews. Here's the list:

Below is the schedule of posts for September at Six Questions For. . . .

9/01—Six Questions for Sam, Editor, Spilt Milk Magazine
9/05—Six Questions for Anne M. Stickel, Editor, Black Petals
9/08—Six Questions for Gay Degani, Editor, Flash Fiction Chronicles
9/12—Six Questions for Tyler Gobble, Editor, Stoked Journal
9/15—Six Questions for Kristin Ginger, Editor, YoYoMagazine
9/19—Six Questions for Dena Rash Guzman, Editor, Unshod Quills
9/22—Six Questions for Doc O'Donnell, Senior Editor, Dirty Noir
9/26—Six Questions for Bjorn Wahlstrom, Owner/Editor, H.A.L. Publishing
9/29—Six Questions for Meredith E. Torre, Editor, Bumble Jacket Miscellany

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Tremble For My Country

This morning posted a story about a Syrian cartoonist who was kidnapped, beaten, and threatened.  His abductors broke his hands as a warning to stop drawing.  He's now in the hospital. The story is here.
The story is horrible and a reminder to anyone reading that "freedom isn't free."  What's even more horrifying, though, are the comments.  There's the guy who thinks the story is made up. There's the guy who uses his comment to rag on "Shrillery Clinton." I read through dozens of comments and there were very few addressing the actual subject of the story--Ali Ferzat, a brave and idealistic man. Comment after comment spewing rage and bile and toxic ichor.  Comparing Obama to Hitler.
(Seriously?  Hitler?  Really?)
I'm particularly horrified by this display of  hate because two days ago, when ran a story about a woman in dire financial straits, the story elicited almost 500 comments.  Most of them were of the "Poor woman, how can I help? variety, but a lot were ugly.  For some reason the one I found most damnable was an accusation that she probably had enough money to support her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit.  (Nowhere in the article did it mention that she smoked.) 
I know, I shouldn't be surprised by this, but I still am.  The utter conviction in these posts is as predictable as the bad spelling and specious arguments.  The people who write these posts are registered to vote. And there are more of them than me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I've been Zombiefied!

Thanks to Christopher Grant and Peter Mark May who first got me thinking about zombies, I've now written a couple of stories about Zees.  One of them, "Dead Letter," which Christopher first published on Eaten Alive, has been accepted in the upcoming anthology Zombiefied.
Publisher is Sky Warrior Books. Planned pub date is October 1. More information as I have it. 

Pardon My French

About a month ago, I suddenly decided that I simply had to translate some of my stories into French. I decided to pick a couple of my fantasies because I am very fond of a French-language fantasy site and thought that I might be able to link up with them for a promotional hit or two.
My French is nowhere near fluent enough to translate anything more complicated than, "My name is Katherine." Fortunately, though, the talented Pauline Pangon agreed to do the work for a price that wouldn't zotz out my budget.
I am thrilled by the result but also bemused because who knew there were so many phrases in English that don't have exact French counterparts?  Pauline has been incredibly resourceful in finding French substitutions, and we're working on refining the material as I look for images I can give to Joy Sillesen in hopes she will design the cover for me.
As I read over what Pauline's done, I'm reminded again of what a lovely language French is.
Here is the opening of "The Smallest of the Summoner's Bells" in French.

Appelez ça hasard.
Appelez ça fatalité, destin, ou encore  karma.
Appelez ça comme vous voulez, mais quand cet adolescent trop hâlé a passé ma porte avec ce petit bout d'or prodigieux en main, j'y ai vu d'emblée l'opportunité d'une superbe cerise sur le gâteau. 
And here it is in English: 
You could call it coincidence.
You could call it fate or destiny or karma.
You could call it any number of things but when the too-tan teenager walked through my door with that little scrap of fairy gold, I saw it for what it really was, a big tasty slice of opportunity pie.

Monday, August 22, 2011

SinC25--the Fifth and Final (for now) Shout-out to Women Crime Writers

In Game of Thrones, John Snow asks Tyrion Lannister why he's always reading. "A mind needs books," he says, "like a sword needs a whetstone."
Writers need to read or their writing gets stale.
My parents refused to allow us to read comic books (we'd sneak them at friends' houses) but encouraged us to read anything else that struck our fancy. The result was that I turned into an omnivorous reader, devouring both good and bad books without judgment. 
When I discovered I could make a living as a "reader" for the movie industry, I felt like I'd been given my heavenly reward early. "I get paid to read books," I told my relatives, who kept asking me what my "real job" was.

Fourth Post in Praise of Women Crime Writers

Patricia Cornwell, creator of the Kay Scarpetta mysteries used to live in Richmond, Virginia. The first novel in the series, Postmortem, is based on a notorious real-life serial killer case that had Richmond connections. (The Killer was Known as the Southside Strangler) In both the book and real life, the killer was a strangler. In real life, he was a "secreter" and it was DNA that did him in.  (It was the first time the Commonwealth of Virginia successfully used DNA in a legal case to prove the identity of an assailant.) There were some interesting things about the real-life case. The killer was a black man who crossed racial lines with his victims, which is unusual.  One of the victims was a young Asian-American girl, another was a 35-year-old white woman named Debbie Davis.
I knew Debbie Davis. She worked at Richmond Style Weekly with me in the late 80s. She was the only child of parents who had been older when she was born and her death just about killed them too. Remember Fred Goldman's emotionally blasted response to his son's death? Multiply that by ten.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SinC25 #3--Women Crime Writers

I used to work for a now-defunct weekly newspaper called the L.A. Reader. I was a general assignment reporter there, which meant I covered everything from hearings on mosquito abatement policies (just as fascinating as it sounds) to best Halloween costumes.
Occasionally, I snagged a crime story. The last crime-related story I covered was a report on a very special meeting of the local Parents of Murdered Children group.  They were meeting with the state's Attorney General and they had some questions to ask and some bones to pick.
One of the attendees was Dominique Dunne's mother Ellen.  (Dominique would have been 52 now. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of her death.)
Ellen Dunne died in 1997 and this was a decade earlier than that and she was already extremely frail and wheelchair-bound. She must have been a great beauty in her youth and even pain-ravaged and grief-stricken, she had an immense presence.
I sat through the meeting, listening to the parents tell their stories and listening to the Attorney General try to deflect their anger.  "The man who killed my son did five years," one man said. "Why shouldn't I kill him?  I can do five years standing on my head." The room was  not with the AG when he pompously suggested that would be a bad idea.
I was not a great crime writer and this experience was actually the one that soured me on reporting news. I switched to features and then I switched to fiction and I've never really looked back.
But that doesn't mean I don't love true crime.  I'm not as avid about it as my friend Berkeley, but a well-written crime story is a thing of beauty.  And the queen of that is ...

EDNA BUCHANAN.  Edna Buchanan wrote for the Miami Herald and covered thousands of crimes.  She was tough, smart, and savvy.  And she was GLAMOROUS.  Even now, as a woman of une certain age, she's got it going on. 
She won a Pulitzer for general reporting in 1986 and a slew of other awards for both her crime reporting and her fiction. I've never read any of her novels but I loved both The Corpse Had a Familiar Face and Never Let Them See You Cry, her memoirs about working the crime beat. The late, great Elizabeth Montgomery starred in several television movies based on these non-fiction books and she copied Buchanan's signature look of touseled hair and big sunglasses. (See the above photo.) You can download Buchanan's short story "Red Shoes" from Mary Higgins Clark's mystery magazine here

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cranky Pants Rant for Saturday

As I have mentioned (more than a few times), I love Craig's List. I check in on the listings for LA/NY/Chicago several times a day and I answer any writing jobs/gigs ads that look interesting. And while I have to earn a living, I also like to have fun so if a job that doesn't pay anything sounds intriguing, I'll answer the ad.  (This drives certain people in my life absolutely bonkers.)

Lately, there have been a lot of job offers out there for people who want a ghost-writer to finish a book that's "in pieces" and "not yet written down."  And that's okay, if a "writer" wants to hire someone to transcribe their thoughts, organize them and then "flesh them out," and they can find someone to do that, God love them both.  But the thing is, these writers who have imagined how great their books will be, as soon as they're written, are always in a rush.  ("Must be done by first of September.")  Well, okay--they want their book out there before the Christmas rush. Understandable.

But here's where I don't quite get their logic.  On the one hand they'll say, "Great gig for college students or stay-at-home moms" and on the other they'll request the following:  Sign a non-disclosure agreement, provide three references, provide links to your books.  MUST HAVE PUBLISHED A BEST SELLER. 

First of all--references?  What, from three people who read your book and liked it?  Must have published a best seller.  I am not exaggerating for effect. I have seen that phrase.  More than once.

And the ads always contain misspellings too...


More Praise for Women Crime Writers

It may surprise people who know my fiction that I really have a taste for "cozies." I am very fond of the "Hamish Macbeth" series by M.C. Beaton (aka Marion Chesney). A new one is coming out next February and I can't wait. Oddly enough, I really don't like her "Agatha Raisin" books.  They're just a little bit too "twee" for me.

I am a huge fan of Ellis Peters (aka Edith Pargeter) who wrote under half a dozen pseudonyms (some of them male) and wrote dozens of books.  She was also known as a scholar and a translator. Before I knew her as the author of the Brother Cadfael novels, I had read her "Brothers of Gwynedd" quartet, brilliant historical fiction.  In addition to almost 20 novels about Cadfael,  former Crusader-turned-monk, she wrote 13 novels featuring Inspector George Felse. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading those and look forward to it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

In Praise of Women Crime Writers

I am a member of the LA branch of Sisters in Crime (SinC) although I think I'm currently behind on my dues. I love the organization for the warm welcome they gave me and for the sense of community they provide. They're celebrating their 25th anniversary next month at Bouchercon and while I can't be there, I CAN participate in their blog challenge in praise of women crime writers.  (If you want to participate yourself, get the info here.)

Sharyn McCrumb's  "Appalachian Ballad" novels feature a recurring cast of characters (wonderful characters), stories that combine a crime in the past with one in the present, and a lovely sense of place. My favorite is probably  The Rosewood Casket.  She also writes a series about a character named Elizabeth McPherson, which is totally different in style.

Five more authors I recommend:  Kelli Stanley (who has two series going, one set in ancient Rome, one set in 1940s San Francisco); Carol O'Connell (her series heroine Kathy Mallory compares very favorably to Lisbeth Salander, if you liked The Millennium Trilogy, you'll like her books); Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (aka Carolyn Keene) The mother of both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the author who turned me into a lifelong mystery reader; Liza Cody (big fan of her Anna Lee series); Josephine Tey (her books are really timeless and there just aren't enough of them.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reader's Digest Wants Your Life

My parents were omnivorous readers and among the magazines that came into our house via subscription was Reader's Digest.  Don't mock, your parents probably had a subscription to Reader's Digest  too. It sat in the bathroom more often than on the coffee table with Time and Newsweek and EQMM, and Family Circle and McCalls. Long before USA Today mastered the art of the micro-article, they offered short, pithy articles on every topic under the sun.  (For some reason I seem to remember a lot of stories about plucky survivors of animal attacks, but that might just be selective memory.)

Reader's Digest is hosting a "Your Life" contest in which the best 150-word story posted on their Facebook page will win $25,000 and publication. Deadline is November 1st.  Details here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chuck Wendig Made Me Do It

I sat out last week's fiction challenge but this week, Chuck was back with one that was irresistible.  Guns. In a thousand words or less.  'Happiness is a warm gun," I thought, having just viewed Red on Netflix. And this nasty little story percolated up from the dismal swamp that is my imagination.

Check out Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog  ("Must Love Guns") to see the other stories inspired by the prompt.

And here's my story:


All the girls have a gimmick.
Charla’s got the snake, an albino ball python she raised as a pet right out of the egg. Ball pythons can live to be 30, so Slinky’s got another 15 good years left as a performer. Not Charla though. Nobody wants to look at a 40-year-old’s saggy tits.
Not that she’ll even make it to 30 the way she hits the pipe.
Rada shtick is “the dirty girl.” She never washes her ya-ya during the week, so by the weekend she’s built up a powerful stink. Men line up to dip their fingers in the poisoned honey of her rancid cunt, fumble all over themselves to pad her thong with their hard-earned cash.
Easy cum, easy go.
We’re not supposed to touch the customers unless we take them upstairs but Rada pays JoJo a cut and he looks the other way. Probably dips his fingers himself now and again. Probably considers it one of the perks of the job.
Mel’s gimmick is the body paint, which she mixes up special with little glittery bits thrown in so that when she peels down, she looks like that blue girl from the X-Men, the one who used to be married to John Stamos.
JoJo thought it was too weird at first but she convinced him to let her try it out and sure enough, the geeks from the university can’t get enough of her.
She’s so popular one of the girls over at the Pink Velvet tried to copy her style for awhile.
When she didn’t cease and desist after JoJo asked her politely, he sent Yusef to pay her a visit. Yusef thinks we’re all whores anyway so there wasn’t a lot of talking involved in their conversation.
She doesn’t dance any more. I think that’s a mistake. There are some real freaks out there, men who would enjoy looking a girl whose breasts have been sliced off. She could have made some serious money.
Some women have no imagination.
Men don’t come to a titty bar just to gawp at flesh. They can do that at home without the cover charge and the watered-down drinks. Even the paid porn sites have plenty of freebies, pictures and video clips and fetish trappings. When you’re at home, you can just rub one out when you get the urge. You can’t do that at a club.
Sure, some men have tried it here, but a quick word from Yusef usually convinced them to take it outside, or at least to the men’s room.
I think men come to the club as a way of convincing themselves—in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that they’re still the dominant sex on the planet.
And what’s the one thing men like playing with even more than their dicks?
Men love guns.
That’s my gimmick.
I can’t dance for shit but the men love the guns.
I come out on stage like gun-whore Barbie, wrapped in bandoliers and strapped with holsters in all sorts of interesting places.
I writhe around for awhile and then fellate a Desert Eagle—always a crowd pleaser—and then finish off by firing a pair of Colt .45s hanging on either side of my g-string.
The crowd always goes nuts at that point.
They think I’m using blanks.
They’re wrong.
If they even notice the little puffs of powdered concrete when the bullets hit the back wall, they think it’s part of the show.
JoJo thinks I’m a crazy bitch and he’s right about that, but I’m the star attraction.
The audience eats it up.
Of course they do. It feels dangerous in a safe way, like fucking a crack whore while wearing a condom.
They’ll never see it coming whe day I aim to kill.
I’ll take Yusef out first—he’s the only one who might be fast enough to stop me.
The others? It’ll be just like target practice, only more fun.
My daddy taught me two things in life—how to give a decent blowjob and how to handle a gun.
“Gun control,” he used to tell me, “is hitting what you aim for.”
I was daddy’s good girl.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Getting Lucky with Google Alerts

I love Google Alerts.  I love having digests of news stories on topics of interest delivered to my email in box every day.  Sometimes the alerts are short-term, reminders so I won't forget an upcoming event (a book publication date) or  way of researching a specific project. What I love about Google Alerts is that even if you're careful about defining and refining your search terms, you can get some bizarro results.

Right now I have a Google Alert on Grimm, the upcoming NBC television series.  I don't watch a lot of television and I'm always missing shows that sound interesting because I forgot they were on. And if they're not on Hulu or CastTv, I'm cooked. And don't tell me to DV-R them.  To do that, you have to know when they're on in the first place.  Hence the Google Alert.

So I get my Grimm Google Alert today and it includes this news story roundup from August 9, 1911, an account of various goings on at the time, including a speech by a suffragette named Miss Harriet Grimm.  She stopped speaking when a dog fight erupted up the street, realizing that no one was listening to her.  (She had a sense of humor about it.)  I hope Miss Grimm lived to cast her first ballot.

Mystery Lovers' Kitchen Shrimp in Coconut-Lime Glaze

I love food.

I love mysteries.

I love blogs that talk about mysteries and food.  One of my favorites is the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen site where today's post is for this delectable-sounding Shrimp in Colonut-Lime Glaze.  Fire up your grill.
And thanks MJ!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stowaway--a short story inspired by Poe

This story was inspired by Bete Noire Magazine's call for submissions for their In Poe's Shadow anthology.


P. Ross Spero saw it coming. The economic collapse. The failure of the infrastructure. The extreme weather events due to global warming. The pandemics emerging from deforested land. The water wars.

He saw it all coming when everyone else turned their heads in denial.
While the pundits pontificated and the politicians waffled and the aid workers and the doctors and the military were overwhelmed by quantum disasters, P. Ross Spero analyzed and planned and took action.

When he began building the space ship, his escape vehicle from planet Earth, people called him paranoid and they laughed at him. People who had made fortunes investing in his companies—the robo-tech and bleeding-edge genetics and the nano-everything—wondered if Spero had lost his mind.

Two years into what he called “the Prospero Project,” people weren’t jeering any more. What had looked like eccentricity, even madness, now looked like prescience.

The space ark only had room for 1000 people and there was a waiting list of 8000, all of whom had put down a non-refundable payment of two million dollars to assure their place in the queue.

Spero had hand-picked 150 of the passengers—people he thought would be useful in establishing his new colony on Mars. There were male-female pairs of scientists and farmers and engineers and doctors, teachers and construction workers. He even had two attorneys, one a specialist in family law, the other with expertise in contracts.

Spero had selected another 50 people to propagate the arts—musicians and dancers, actors and novelists, poets and painters and artisans. They, like the other “experts,” got what amounted to a “golden ticket” for the ride.

The fee for their passage was minimal—a mere $1500. Three women, all of them beauty queens, none of them older than 21, were offered totally free passage in return for agreements granting Spero exclusive sexual rights for a period of ten years.

Spero was not an ugly man and he was known to be a generous lover, so the three women eagerly signed on, packing sexy underwear in the small duffel bags they were allowed to bring onboard.

None of these “economy class” passengers were gay. Spero only wanted colonists who would procreate and populate his new domain. He made a few exceptions for First Class passengers, but only for a price and only for a few.

The ship was mostly automated, run by an extremely complex computer program overseen by a flight crew of 10 recruited from the remnants of NASA and eight other decimated space programs.

The five-man security team was all ex-military and all had proven themselves under fire.

The crew members counted themselves lucky. Not only were they not being charged for their passage to Mars, they were being paid for their work.
Their jobs also came with a guarantee of their own homestead. The ship’s co-pilot had already made a connection with a cute history teacher and was happily planning her post-voyage life.

The paying passengers had all forked over a hefty price for their cramped berths and uncomfortable quarters. Used to luxury and excess, they now gladly shared tiny cabins and drank recycled water and ate food that was reclaimed from their body waste.

The journey to Mars was not a pleasure cruise. Although Spero had insisted on psychological as well as medical screens for all prospective passengers, there were inevitably some problems.

Most of the passengers suffered from a mild form of claustrophobia. The ship’s doctor prescribed drugs and sessions on the huge observation deck where the giant window offered a view that seemed to encompass the whole galaxy.

That worked for most people but halfway through the voyage, a software engineer from Bangalore had tried to break through the observation deck window with an explosive device cobbled together out of cleaning products and leftover electrical parts.

When security arrived, he fled to the maintenance bay, managed to open a garbage chute, and ejected himself into space.

Part of his boot lodged in the airlock as it hissed shut, amputating Sunil’s left foot above the ankle. The two men who witnessed his death--a former Navy SEAL and an ex-SAS officer—had seen much worse but were still unnerved.
They’d reported the incident in the driest possible military jargon and then sneaked a couple of hits of bootleg booze the ship’s doctor was brewing in sick bay.

Spero, loved jargon. Throwing it around made him feel manly. Almost from the start of the journey, he’d taken to wearing custom-fitted quasi-military garb that made him look like a Third World dictator.

Nobody told him that though. No one wanted to risk igniting his increasingly volatile temper.

Spero’s always larger-than-life personality had begun to decay into something more disturbing. He spent hours on his computer, designing and redesigning the cities he planned to build on Mars after his terra-forming machines had done their work so the atmosphere would support life on the surface of the planet.

He described his architectural style as “future Gothic,” and thought that was a good thing.

The architects he’d brought along to implement his plans soon agreed that his grandiose schemes were just one symptom of his growing mania and made comparisons to the monumental architectural monstrosities designed by Albert Speer for Adolf Hitler.

They were careful not to express these opinions out loud, or even in whispers. The ship was wired with audio and video devices and the feeds all came into Spero’s private quarters.

The Prospero used a high-transfer orbit, burning fuel recklessly to shorten the transit time from the Earth to Mars, cutting the voyage’s duration to 130 days, half the time a more conservative route would have taken.

Even so, two and a third months crammed together in such close quarters is a very, very long time for people who are not used to suffering silently; a long and stressful time. There were no servants aboard the Prospero, no under-class assigned to cater to the passengers’ whims and fancies.
Tempers flared.

There were suspicious accidents, falls in the artificial gravity that should have been survivable but weren’t, incidents with tools slipping and mechanical failures that looked more like sabotage.

When the first murder occurred, Spero and his security team dealt with it discreetly, drugging the killer before dumping him out like so much refuse. He’d still been alive.

But not for long.

When the second murder occurred, a fight over a woman, Spero took more forceful action. He told his security men to film the execution and beam it to every device aboard the ship.

He ordered them to make the punishment messy and memorable.
They obliged.

The accused killer was locked inside an airlock while the oxygen was replaced by a vacuum. The result was viscerally impressive.

The lawyers had argued for a trial but Spero had already decided that his new colony would be a monarchy and the operative legal system would be the Napoleonic Code.

In other words, guilty until proven innocent.

Not everyone was happy with this decision, but since the only weapons aboard the ship were in the hands of Spero’s loyal security team, there were few objections to the policy.

Some of the passengers briefly considered rebellion, but they were of a class that had always paid others to fight their wars for them and they had no idea how to go about it themselves.

It was almost as if they had had violence bred out of them.
Still, resentment simmered just below the surface.

When the red planet first appeared in the observation window, visible to the naked eye, a palpable sense of relief spread through the ship.
What the passengers didn’t know, and what Spero hadn’t told them, was that there was no margin for error on landing. They’d sacrificed so much fuel for speed that if they missed their landing, there would be no go-around.
Fortunately, the landing was textbook. There was a jolt and a shudder and that was it. It was almost an anti-climax.

In celebration of their arrival, Spero threw a party. He produced a secret stash of liquor and freeze-dried meats and fruits, candies and confections, and all manner of delicacies for the new colonists to feast upon.
He encouraged the passengers to dress up for the fête, which was held on the observation deck.

The shutters on the window were wide open, providing all a fine view of the Martian landscape.

Spero even opened up his own suite of apartments, including his inner sanctum, a black-draped bedroom that had a window overlooking the red rocks of their new home. As the sun set on the rocks, it cast a bloody light into the room, giving everything a macabre glow.

While the other passengers had been granted limited luggage, Spero had furnished his suite lavishly with antiques and treasures. All of the furniture, including an exquisite 19th century clock, was made of a black hardwood that was long-since extinct.

His bedroom was luxurious in the extreme but not many wanted to spend more than a few minutes there.

There was something…vaguely repellant…about the over-the-top opulence of Spero’s quarters. Something just a little…sick. Spero’s guests took a quick tour and then retreated to the festivities on the observation deck
The party was a welcome relief for the passengers after so much austerity.
One of the musicians wrote a piece to commemorate the landing and dubbed it “Spero’s Symphony.” Artists endeared themselves to the celebrants by improvising masks both fantastical and grotesque for the party.

The wine and liquor flowed freely and inhibitions were shed just as freely. One of the wealthier passengers, an entrepreneur who’d made a fortune as an electronics recycler in Korea, hooked up with the flight engineer and retired to the ship’s library, which had been painted a soothing blue.

A performance artist and a computer programmer joined forces to produce a holographic puppet show of such stunning invention that they set it on a loop so everyone in the room could have a chance to experience it.

There was dancing and singing and all manner of unrestrained revelry.
In fact, everyone was having such a good time that when two security men dragged in the tall gaunt figure wearing the oxygen mask, at first no one even noticed.

“Stowaway,” the security men reported to Spero, who was more amused than annoyed.

He strolled up to the figure and smiled.

“Welcome to Mars,” he said. “You owe me $50 million for your ticket.”
A few of Spero’s sycophants laughed.
The security men did not.

“Don’t get too close,” the ex-SEAL warned but Spero had been drinking for hours and had lost all sense of situational awareness.

It came as a total surprise to him when the Stowaway suddenly lunged and plunged a small knife into his belly.

Spero fell to the deck, blood pumping from the wound.

The two security men fell on the Stowaway, wrenching off the oxygen mask to get a look at his face.

What they saw made them recoil.

Blood covered his face in Rorschach-like patches.

“Oh my God,” said one of the First Class passengers. “What is that?”
“Looks like some sort of Zaire-Ebola-Marburg strain,” said the ship’s doctor who’d had a whole lot of champagne too. “Nasty stuff. You bleed out of pores.”
She finished off her champagne in one swallow.
“Is it contagious?” the passenger asked.

“Oh yes,” said the doctor, caught in a drunken space between fatalism and dark humor, “close personal contact is one way it spreads.”
She peered at the Stowaway blearily, watching closely as he struggled to shake off his captors.

“It has a one-hundred percent mortality rate,” the doctor added helpfully.
The horrified passenger backed away from the doctor, turned around and ran for the door.

The Stowaway spat in the faces of the men who held him and they let him loose and didn’t follow as he began a circuit of the huge room. It was almost as if he were herding everyone to the exits, like a rancher urging cattle into a chute leading to the slaughter house.

The exodus was not orderly; it was more like a battlefield rout.
One of the lawyers was trampled by the panicked passengers when he fell against a door. The only person who turned back to help him was an agronomist who had successfully concealed his sexual preference.

The first colonists died within two hours, bleeding from every orifice in their bodies.

A media magnate attempted to leave the ship in an environmental suit but with no shelter from the extremes of heat and cold and the too-thin atmosphere, he was dead before sunrise.

He died bloody, his face a mask of red.

The fatalistic doctor was the last to die. She had stayed on the observation deck, toasting her impending doom with the last of Spero’s very good champagne.

When the electricity went out she was glad because it meant she wouldn’t have to look at her own blood leaking out of her pores.
She didn’t notice when the heating grid failed and it began to get cold. Her body was already beginning to shut down.

Hearing is the last sense to fade and so the doctor heard Spero’s ebony clock strike twelve. It took her a moment to realize the clock was still working because it was an analogue timepiece and not digital. Soon after that, the doctor was no longer capable of rational thought.

And soon after that she died in the cold and the dark with nothing but death as her companion.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A short story for Thursday--Kaidan

I am putting together my second collection of short stories, Toxic Reality (due in September), going through them one last time before turning them over to my editor Joy Sillesen of StonyHill Productions.

I'm enjoying the process, although weeding out stories that ... aren't quite there ... has been like killing my children. I wrote this story for Dark Valentine's "Dark Water" fiction frenzy in the spring. I still like it.


They made a mistake when they took Chika.

Her name meant “near and dear” and so she was to Akihiro Tsukimoto. They had known each other since childhood and now, when both were in the winter of their lives, she remained his most trusted confidante, his closest companion, and his only friend.

Unlike Hiro, whose bones were brittle and whose hair was iron gray, Chika seemed ageless, as supple in her tenth decade as she’d been as a fry. And she was beautiful, her coloration still vivid. She was black, red, and white, a Showa Sanshoku, one of the first of her kind and given to Hiro’s father by Emperor Showa himself.

His father had given Chika to Hiro on his tenth birthday, the same day he’d taken his life in the old samurai way. A gift given for a gift taken away. Only Chika had seen Hiro cry and she kept his secrets.

It would not have been easy to abduct Chika. She was large for her breed, nearly 60 centimeters in length and heavy. Hiro hoped they hadn’t hurt her when they took her from the pond that had been her home for nearly a century. He was sure they’d been tempted to just club her over the head but knew they hadn’t because they’d sent him video of Chika swimming in a tank that was filled with murky water and much too small.

The ransom demand had come with the first video. The kidnappers wanted money and nothing more, which told Hiro he was dealing with amateurs and not a rival. They had to be skilled amateurs to have circumvented his state-of-the-art security system but their lack of imagination and ambition struck him as pathetic. It had been a bold move to take the only thing on earth Hiro loved and if the thieves had followed up their strike with a decisive blow, he would have respected them.

They would still have had to die, but he would have given them a swift and honorable death. Their own cowardice had sealed their doom and earned them a much more unpleasant fate.

Akihiro Tsukimoto was one of the most powerful “senior advisors” in Tokyo’s biggest crime syndicate. He had many “younger brothers” who would be happy to earn a favor from him. It was only a matter of time before Chika was back home and the thieves were in his hands. And then…and then there would be vengeance.

Koi are omnivores. He would feed them to Chika one bloody chunk at a time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's in a name?

You say "plucot" and I say..."black velvet apricot."

My local supermarket has been loaded with new breeds and crosses and mixes of fruit this summer. If it's not new varieties of apples, it's forty-nine different versions of melons. (There's an "orange-fleshed honeydew" that's pretty tasty and the lushly delicious "Sugar Kiss" cross is the best melon ever.)

Stone fruits are in season now, so there are three varieties of cherries on offer, including "Royal Anne," which I've only ever seen canned in syrup. And there are all sorts of peaches and plums (including the "Dinosaur Heart" with its greeny-bronze skin and dark red flesh). Yesterday they put out the "black apricots." They're beautiful things. Dark purple like Damson plums or Concord grapes, they are faintly fuzzy like peaches and apricots. They're a 50/50 cross between plums and apricots and the plum genes overwhelm the apricot. It's a delicious fruit, but if you're a fan of apricot-ness, it's probably not for you. On the other hand, there's something called a "white apricot." Can't wait to try it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Flash Fiction

Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge this week is "The Flea Market" and I couldn't resist tackling the topic.

Here's my story--1000 words (minus title)

The Picker

Maybe she had a knack, or maybe she had an eye, or maybe Jeannie was just lucky. But she could go to a yard sale with her best friend Maribeth and Maribeth would walk away with a used copy of the one John Grisham novel she hadn’t read and Jeannie would have paid a quarter for a pair of vintage copper earrings signed Matisse-Renoir that she later sold on eBay for $69.
Jeannie had been buying and selling online for ten years as a hobby. The extra cash paid for little luxuries—a massage here, a new pair of shoes there—and came in handy to cover unexpected emergencies like when the Honda’s fuel pump died.
Her husband, who didn’t have what he called “the gypsy gene,” made fun of her for haunting flea markets and rummage sales and yard sales.
Then Tim lost his job and what had been a hobby suddenly became an economic necessity because nobody was hiring 54-year-old ex-grocery store managers and Jeannie only worked part-time at a company that was laying people off and unlikely to give her more hours.
Jeannie began planning her weekends around yard and estate sales, using a “hit list” Tim compiled from ads in The Pennysaver and on Craig’s List. Tim also handled “fulfillment,” turning their garage into a shipping department and buying bubble wrap and mailing tape in bulk.
Tim, who’d really been a very good manager, also created spread sheets and mailing lists and tracking programs to see which items consistently sold for the best prices. Then he created a website and a newsletter to sell to past customers without having to share the profits with eBay.
He opened a Twitter account and created a page on Facebook and threw himself into social media marketing like he was a lonely teenager. He was working 13-hour days seven days a week and he was loving it.
Tim had been so stressed out by his job the last few years that it had been like living with a ghost. Jeannie had been lonely. Now that they had a shared interest it had rekindled the spark in their marriage, a spark Jeannie had thought was dead.
And best of all, while they weren’t making a fortune, they were keeping their heads above water without having to dip into their savings. And every once in awhile, Jeannie would come across something really valuable, like the horrendously ugly china doodad that turned out to be a highly prized mid-century collectible that they sold on Antiques Roadshow for $35,000.
People approached Jeannie with offers to pay her finder’s fees for a first look at the items she “picked up.” That proved to be a lucrative second income stream and she and Tim discussed the possibility of her taking early retirement and just working from home. The idea was appealing but in the end, Jeannie didn’t want to give up her health insurance. She had high blood pressure and her medicine was expensive.
Still, once the idea had been floated out there, Jeannie couldn’t get it out of her head. She began ranging farther and farther afield in her buying trips. She visited pawn shops and consignment stores off the beaten track. She paid a volunteer at Goodwill to keep an eye out for certain items. She made the rounds of flea markets with computer-generated “wish lists.”
If Tim was busy, she’d go with Maribeth and afterwards, they’d get their nails done or hit the Souplantation for lunch.
Maribeth was absolutely hopeless at spotting “finds” but she loved shopping for bargains and Jeannie enjoyed her company so it was a win/win all around.
Until the Friday that Maribeth spotted the ring in a clutter of junk jewelry piled in a box on a table.
Maribeth was like a magpie—she loved bright, shiny things and the ring was big and garish, with a large blue stone in the center and four clear stones framing its square setting.
She immediately pulled the ring out of the pile, untangling it from the cheap gilt snake chains and the hook from a broken chandelier earring.
It was much too big for Maribeth’s ring finger, so she slid it onto her thumb and modeled it for Jeannie.
“Isn’t it pretty?” Maribeth asked. Jeannie was on the verge of dismissing the bauble with a good-natured jibe at her friend’s poor taste when she took a second look.
What she’d mistakenly thought were rhinestones glittered with a completely gemlike fire. The little diamonds were mere chips but the blue stone—that was worth something.
“Let me see that,” she said casually, holding out her hand.
Maribeth handed it over just as casually, turning her attention back to the pile of bling, looking for another treasure.
Jeannie studied the ring. The gems were set in rose gold in an ornate Victorian design. She estimated the size to be around an 8, which was large for a woman’s ring. She looked inside the ring for an inscription, but the band was worn smooth.
“How much?” she asked the vendor.
“Ten dollars,” he said.
Jeannie scrunched up her face and turned to Maribeth. “Ten dollars seems a bit pricey,” she said, “for a piece of second-hand costume jewelry.”
Maribeth thought about it for a minute. “Okay,” she agreed and put down a brightly colored plastic bangle bracelet that Jeannie’s practiced eye told her was a Lea Stein original.
On their way out of the flea market, Jeannie feigned a bathroom emergency and left Maribeth browsing through handbags as she doubled back to the seller with the Victorian ring.
“I’d like to buy that ring for my friend,” she explained to the vendor, who wasn’t interested. “And that bracelet too,” she said, pointing to the bangle.
“Five dollars,” he said.
“Will you take three?” she countered.
“Four,” he responded.
She tucked her purchases into her handbag and rejoined Maribeth.
“How about lunch?” she asked her best friend. “My treat.”
The ring sold for $10,000.

Photograph of ring by Asif Akbar.