Road Trip!

So my younger sister met me in the hallway today and whispered, “Seven days…”  We all know what that means, right?

No.

No.

In seven days, we load up the car and hit the road for a fun-filled fortnight in New Hampshire! So naturally, my health took a nose-dive and I am presently laid out in bed, craving a strawberry slush and the cold, comforting touch of the Reaper, not necessarily in that order.

This does not much affect my travel plans. After all, I’ll be riding in the car, not running alongside it. And once we get there, we’ll mostly be lounging around the house, writing on our various books and enjoying the company of other writers, which generally means we all stay in our own rooms and type. However, on the way there, we had planned to make one or two stops and my anticipation for these stops had slid on the anticipation spectrum away from the joyful and deep into the dread. I’m an introvert, the child of two introverts, and to quote the esteemed Dr. Lecter, when two deep-rolling swallows knock their feathered boots, their offspring cannot stand to have anyone they don’t know even look at them, much less ask them if they’re all right, and God help them if they should actually collapse at a social event, something that has happened to me in the past.

Okay, I'm paraphrasing.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

So my feelings are somewhat divided. On the one hand, I’m still excited to be going and I know I’ll get lots of writing done and recharge the old batteries by doing it in a different place, but on the other hand, I really wish I could walk more than fifty feet without falling over. Failing that, I wish there was room enough in the car for a wheelchair, just in case. Failing that, I wish I owned a wheelchair.

Let me tell you, of all the sentences I’ve written–surely, it’s in the billions by now–that was the saddest.

Okay, enough depressing shit. I’m going on a road trip! And because life is a coin with two sides, the fact that my sisters and I are leaving for two weeks also means my father is inheriting a damned zoo during the time we are gone. Collectively, we are leaving him to care for two dogs, three cats, two evil fish, one green-winged macaw, and one hedgehog. And, because we have reached that point on my personal what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-blog-about scale, I’m going to tell you about them.

One of the dogs is my father’s, a short-haired, fourteen year-old black-and-white border collie named Choco, which my dad thinks is short for Chocolate Dog, and which is actually short for Chocobo, because I was playing Final Fantasy when he acquired the dog and my head-canon trumps all others. Choco spends his mornings outside herding leaves and butterflies, lying in the grass or lying on his blanket next to my dad’s computer, unless it’s raining, in which case he refuses to go outside at all. Since we live in the Midwest, it rains a lot, and so we cannot say with complete honesty that Choco is housebroken even after fourteen years. He is a gentleman and a good dog, but he was hit by lightning once (yes, I’m serious) and he is determined never to let it happen again. When the sky barks at him, he gets the fuck indoors and lets the bigger dog have the yard.

Choco, on a sunny day.

Choco, on a sunny day.

The other dog is apparently mine. I say apparently because he was supposed to belong to my sister, Cris, but as should come to no surprise to anyone who owns pets, they decide who they belong to (or who belongs to them, in the case of cats). We adopted him a couple years ago, when he was already old and arthritic, stone-deaf, with one functional eye (the other popped out when he was a puppy–he’s a pug, that’s a thing with them–and although they put it back in, it doesn’t work) and general digestive issues. I don’t have a camera, so here is a picture I found on the internet of a dog that looks exactly like him, down to the kind of halter he wears.

pug1

Isn’t this other person’s dog uglydorable?

On the subject of cats, one of them is also my father’s, but he cunningly foisted it off on us as soon as he moved in with us because he doesn’t like cats and only got it because my mother wanted a cat and he loved her more than he disliked cats. They acquired the cat from a guy who ‘rescued’ cats. Why is that in quotes, you ask? I’m glad you asked. This guy ‘rescued’ cats by acquiring free kittens and chucking them into a house–I cannot and do not wish to imagine the smell of that house–solely occupied by his ‘rescued’ cats. Once a day, he would open a couple bags of cat food and literally pour them in through a window. I don’t know how, if or when he ever scooped litter (or picked up bodies), but after a certain number of cats, it is physically impossible to scoop litter fast enough to keep up with the poop, and this guy, according to my mother, had well over a hundred cats and kittens in this house. How many kittens, you ask. I’m glad you asked. The answer is no one knows, because ‘rescuing’ these cats did not include spaying or neutering them, or even putting the males and females in separate rooms and closing the doors in this house occupied solely by cats, because the cats had been abused, according to this guy, and needed to feel free.

I begged my mother to report this guy to the authorities. She did not, because he was a member of her church and everyone would know who reported him if he got in trouble, which he absolutely would, because that situation is not rescuing.

So anyway, my dad got this cat, which had been flung into a window when she was a kitten to make it as one of a horde of feral cats contained within a house. Her age was unknown; the guy had no way of knowing when he’d gotten her or even if she’d been born in the house. The vet we took her to could only say she was probably between three and six years old, to judge by her teeth. She’s small, for a cat; the vet says she showed signs of severe malnutrition, although she wasn’t very underweight (if the best thing you can say about your rescue operation is that your cats are not ‘very underweight,’ you need to rethink the word rescue. Or at least put quotes around it). And she was so…

You know, I typed the word shy and sat looking at it for a while, but I’ma go ahead and say it. Traumatized. She was so fucking traumatized by your rescue operation, Mr. Church-Going Cat-Abusing Thunderfuck, that she spent the first week in her new home on top of the bathroom light fixture, shivering and purring at her new owners, but too terrified to be touched by them. I’m pleased to say that today, she loves to be snuggled and is very affectionate around people and the other pets, but it is very much a product of our rehabilitation and not her ‘rescue’.

I really need to start carrying one of these things around with me.

I really need to start carrying one of these things around with me.

Anyway, she is a cat, but she is technically my father’s cat already, even if she lives upstairs with us and the other cats, so I don’t feel too bad about asking my dad to take care of her for two weeks. We’ve had her the last two years and we don’t complain. My younger sister also has a cat, a black and white Maine Coon, who has two modes: asleep and insane. Her care instructions read simply: Good Luck.

And then there’s my cat, and again, I use the word mine with a tone of confusion and resignation, because that was not supposed to happen.

We acquired my cat…You know, off-topic here, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought a dog or cat in my damn life. I’ve adopted one or two from a shelter, but for the most part, they’ve just happened to me. Anyway, I think I may have told this story before, but here we go again. We acquired my cat about two weeks, maybe less, before we moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Bible Belt and we had absolutely no spare time or money to spend on new animals. My sister Cris was actually on her way to arrange the rental of the moving truck when she saw this Siamese cat lying in the road in front of my house where it had apparently been hit by a car. It lay in a pool of blood in the rain and she had no doubt it was dead until it raised its head as she drove by.

What can you do, right?

So the emergency vet we took it to looked it over and came out to talk to us. He said its pelvis had been crushed, its jaw was broken, its eyes had been abraded by contact with the road and its retinas would likely detach (they did), and it had a number of smaller injuries which would make recovery longer and more painful. He might never be able to walk or eat solid food, and how far did we want to go with care? My sister and I looked at each other and I sort of laughed and explained that our family fostered special needs children and we did not set a person’s value by whether they could walk or eat by themselves. The vet took the cat away and spent the next 48 hours working on it and watching over it. He charged us for nothing but the medication he sent us home with.

For every Cat-Rescue Guy, there is an Emergency Vet Guy. Remember that, folks.

For the next few months, my sister, Cris, was the one who held him and said soothing things while I was the one who forced medication down his throat and flushed his infected abrasions and wiped his eyes while they lost the fight to retain sight and later put him in a full bathtub to do water therapy as he practiced walking. That cat ought to fucking hate my guts. So where is he now, you ask? I’m glad you asked. He’s lying here on the bed beside me, hugging and occasionally grooming my foot. He never leaves the room if I’m in it. If I leave, he’ll go room to room, bumping into walls and testing each step until he finds me.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that today, Roadwaffle, or Waffles for short, not only walks everywhere just fine (and climbs on the bed and sleeps in my computer chair), but eats and drinks and generally does all the right cat-things. He is blind and his mouth doesn’t close so he’s always hanging his tongue out, but he’s a good cat and shouldn’t give my dad any trouble.

 

Again, not my cat, but an incredible approximation, except Waffles had two red-cast eyes.

Again, not my cat, but an incredible approximation, except Waffles has two red-cast eyes.

Then we have my sister’s macaw, who is in her teens and acts like it. Love that bird. She doesn’t talk very well, at least not coherently, but she mumbles all the time in my sister’s voice. She has the weirdest sense of humor. The bird, not my sister. Well…okay, both of them, but it’s the bird I’m talking about. When someone else is in the room, she wants to interact with them, but when she thinks she’s alone, she’ll play by herself and when she does…wow. Picture a green-wing macaw, if you will, clutching a toy in her talons. Now picture her very softly talking to herself, acting out two distinctly different voices, one of them growling and occasionally laughing and the other softly screaming. So: “Grrr! Ah hahaha! Arrrgh!” followed by “Ahhhhh! Oooo nooooo!” followed by “Ah hahaha! Grrr!”

As we see her...

As we see her…

...and as she sees herself.

…and as she sees herself.

I got to say, I can’t really recommend people get a macaw unless they are fully prepared for something that big, that intelligent, that lives that long. It’s less like having a pet than having a child, and yes, I know, lots of people treat their pets like kids, but this is REALLY like having a kid–a high-strung, unpredictable, hilarious, aggravating, noisy, socially-awkward kid who will probably outlive you and definitely learn to swear before they learn to say I love you…at least, in this house. My dad thinks the bird is wonderful and the bird is intimidated by my dad’s beard, so they ought to get along just fine.

At the bottom of the care list is my hedgehog, Posey Q. Pricklepants the Third. Unlike the dog (who needs feeding and walkies and petting and attention, but who cannot hear and doesn’t listen anyway because he’s a pug), and the cats (who mostly do their own thing, but want daily snuggles and treats on their terms), and the bird (who, like any other kid, needs more or less constant attention and supervision or who will unlock their cage and wreak havoc on the damn house…You keep kids in cages, right? Just me?), Posey is easy to take care of. She sleeps all day, runs on her wheel all night, and just needs a fresh bowl of water and a handful of cat food to be happy. Sure, she and I like to snuggle in the evenings, watch a movie together and share a chicken-salad-and-cricket sandwich (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it), but I won’t ask my dad to do that. She’d disappear into the Beard and never come out again.

So there it is, the zoo my poor old father gets to tend while his ungrateful children are zipping off down the highway. There ain’t no more to say on that subject (we don’t talk about the two evil fish. To speak of them feeds their power), so I guess I’ll have to find something else to bore you with next week!

Serial Saturday Update

Well, now, it’s three weeks running that I’ve had nothing else to blog about apart from my FNAFiction. I’m on a roll. A terrible, terrible roll.

I’m preparing to take a cross-country trip at the moment, so maybe I’ll be able to share some observations and possibly pictures from the road next week. In any event, I won’t be completely out of contact, so it shouldn’t affect my upload schedule for Everything Is All Right, Part One: Girl on the Edge of Nowhere. Oh, did I mention I just uploaded Chapter Nine at Fanfiction.net and archiveofourown.org? Here is a small sample (which some of you may have already read earlier on this blog)…

Everything Is Alright Part 1 (1)

Ana did not waste time. Upon completing her first walkthrough—crawlthrough—of the house, she unpacked her things onto the porch and turned the trailer in at the U-Haul lot in Hurricane. While she was there, she dropped in at the outlet store mall and bought some essential items—a collapsible clothesline tree and a bag of pins, a foldaway chair, a solar-heated camp shower, a battery-powered lantern and a couple cheap LED flashlights, a propane stove and Dutch oven. After some debate, she also caved in and bought a tent, but didn’t set it up yet. Although the rain had not returned with the same force as had greeted her on her first night back in Mammon, it hadn’t dried out either. The house was in no condition to be occupied and, for now, the ground was wet and the porch was rotten. The boxes containing her life could sit under the sagging eaves and risk collapse—they were replaceable—while Ana slept in her truck, telling herself that it would only be for a few days.

But the gears of government grind slowly. Ana knew this and believed she was prepared to deal with the inevitable delays in a rational and adult manner. What she failed to take into consideration was that, in this case, she was not watching the gears turn, but was caught up in them. Their many teeth were hooked and sharp; with each day, she was only pulled in deeper.

Serial Saturday Update

I really meant to blog this week. I hate having two Serial Saturday posts back to back. It makes it look like I don’t like blogging, which is true, but I hate that it’s obvious. Unfortunately, with the Writer’s Workshop having run its course, I have nothing to blog about. I’ll have to work on that.

Anyhoo, it’s Saturday. Actually, it’s 10:30 pm on Friday, but I’m trying really hard to be awake during the days in order to spend time with my family, which means I’m actually sleeping at night for the first time in months. Maybe years. Come to think of it, I think the last time I was diurnal was during the RT Convention in 2014. Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get up in the morning when you know you can walk down to the French Market for beignets and cafe au lait. When you got a day old maple bar and you gots to brew your own K-cup, its harder to get psyched up for it.

But okay, for all intents and purposes, it’s Saturday, and the new chapter of my FNAFiction, Everything Is All Right, Part One: Girl on the Edge of Nowhere, is up on Fanfiction.net and Archiveofourown.org, so if you’re reading along, you know what to do. For those of you just joining the party, here is a little teaser…

Everything Is Alright Part 1 (1)

When Foxy pulled the door to the dining room open on its protesting hinges, he caught the briefest glimpse of Bonnie seated on the edge of the main stage before he leapt up like, well, a bunny and came staggering two steps toward him, only to stop and slump on his feet.

“Oh,” said Bonnie sourly. “It’s you.”

“Aye, nice to s-s-see ye t-t-too,” Foxy said, letting the scowl that couldn’t show on his face come out in his voice. Looking around, seeing Chica in the kitchen doorway and Freddy in the back hall that led to the playgrounds, he added, “Who the hell else w-w-would it be?”

Static muttered through Bonnie’s speakers as he returned to the stage and sat, slumped forward with his elbows on his cracked thighs and his hands dangling between his knees.

Foxy rolled his eyes and went over to Freddy, who made room for him in the narrow hall, allowing Foxy to see that the barricade that had blocked off the door to the playground had been shifted and the door itself forced open so it would never latch again. “Bleeding hell, what-t-t did I tell ye?” he demanded disgustedly of the world at large.

“DON’T FIGHT,” Freddy warned, shuffling back so that Foxy, smaller and more agile, could get in and do the tricky work of reconstructing the barricade.

“I ain’t-t-t fighting. I just be observing Bonnie’s wee b-b-bit of fluff laid us open for her return trip, when she robs us blind-d-d.”

“Oh. Yeah. Like th-th-there’s so much here to s-st-steal,” Bonnie grumbled in the next room.

“Why else w-w-would she do it?” Foxy called, slamming a table into place against the door and wedging it into position with precise kicks. “Oh, right. T-To see ye.” He snorted, ignoring Freddy’s disapproving grunt. “Maybe next-t-t time, ye can take her somewhere besides the bloody maze, so I d-d-don’t have to listen to ye giggling each other up? Hell, there’s a couch in the back, ain’t there? Or—where else d-d-do the kids do their grubbing? Behind the prize c-c-counter? Back r-r-row of the theater?”

“How about the p-p-party room?”

Foxy stopped picking over the scrap and stayed perfectly still for however long it took to think, distinctly and without immediate emotion, ‘He did not just say that.’

“DON’T,” Freddy warned.

Foxy dropped the broken chair and wire rack he had in his hands and turned around.

Freddy stepped in front of him, eyes flashing. “THAT’S. ENOUGH.”

The command passed through him like an electric shock. Foxy fought it, for all the good fighting did; when Freddy said enough, it was enough, and flat ears and black eyes made no difference at all.

Freddy waited to make sure his order took—it always did, but he always waited anyway—then limped back out into the dining room. “IT’S. OVER,” he said, and somehow all his many sound-bites, no matter how spoken in the original format, came out growling. “SHE. CAME. SHE. LEFT. IT’S. OVER.”

Bonnie did not argue or even look up, but his ears revolved and lay flat.

Freddy waited maybe half a minute and then let a few notes of the Toreador March deliberately drop. “WHAT DO WE SAY?” he prompted.

Bonnie raised his faceless head, looked directly into Foxy’s eyes with the whole of the dilapidated room between them, and said, “Fuck you.”

Foxy started forward.

Freddy put out his arm without even bothering to look around and smacked Foxy unerringly in the chest. With his other hand, he pointed at Bonnie. “TRY AGAIN,” he suggested. “TRY HARDER.”

“Fuck-k-k you in the ear,” Bonnie amplified, lurching to his feet.

“Start th-thinking o’ what ye want t-t-to say to yer ass,” Foxy snarled. “In ab-b-bout ten seconds, yer head’s g-g-going to be up it.”

Serial Saturday Update

So here we are again, the weekend! And that means it’s time for another chapter of my FNAFiction, Everything Is All Right, Part One: Girl on the Edge of Nowhere! If you’re reading along, the new chapter is up on Fanfiction.net (edit: I have fixed the hyperlink here, so it will actually take you where it says it’ll take you and not just open this page again. Sorry about that and thanks so much for bringing it to my attention) and Archiveofourown.org, and if you’re not reading along, perhaps I can entice you with this sneak peek…

Everything Is Alright Part 1 (1)

Ana had always been a heavy sleeper, even when pot wasn’t involved, let alone little pink pills. When she closed her eyes on Freddy in the night, she did not open them again until morning, which she knew because she could see. Just enough sunlight found a way through the boarded-up foyer and past the barricade at the cashier’s station to show her the entire dining room, all the rot and ruin, everything broken, everything decayed, right up to the three animatronics on stage.

On stage?

Ana pushed herself up on her elbow, garbage bags crinkling beneath her as she shifted, and leaned out from under the table just like that slight change of angle would somehow alter the view. But no, there they were. Bonnie on the left with his cracked, stringless guitar in his hands; Chica on the right, arms up and fingers splayed over empty space where her keyboard ought to be; Freddy in the middle, microphone in hand and raised to his mouth. All three had their eyes closed and their heads tipped forward, as if sleeping on their feet. In the grey, uneven light, with water from the leaking roof dripping down their bodies and dirt showing black in every crease and crack, they looked like they’d been standing there for years.

Had they?

No. The empty stage had been the first thing she’d seen when she broke in. She’d been high, but not that high. They’d been out and about, all three of them, and Bonnie…Bonnie especially.

Had she really kissed him? Probably. Spider and all. She’d been high, but even stone-cold sober as she was this morning, she’d be happy to kiss him again.

But it was eerie, seeing him like this. Motionless. Silent. Like a…well, like an inanimate object.

“Bonnie?” Ana ventured.

No response. Not so much as a twitch.

“Bonnie? My man?”

Nothing.

Ana felt at her pocket and yes, there were a handful of screws. And there, her screwdriver, lying next to her day pack. She had no doubt if she looked in the kitchen, she’d see that big steel spoon on the prep counter where she’d left it after shaping the end of the broken spring she’d used to rig Bonnie’s jaw into place.

And yet, there they were. Wind-up toys no one had wound up, not for years. Looking around the dining room, it was hard to believe that, even as high as she’d apparently been, she ever could have thought they’d still be in any kind of working order.

It was too early to think about it. Groaning, Ana dropped back atop her day pack and shut her eyes. Another hour’s sleep and she’d try again to sort out last night’s events. But for right now, nothing mattered more than—

Narwhals, narwhals, swimming in the ocean, causing a commotion, cuz they are so awesome!”

Ana pried her eyes open and pinched her brows together. “The fuck?”

But she heard it again, so close it may as well be emanating from her own head: “Narwhals, narwhals, swimming in the ocean, causing a commotion, cuz they are so awesome!”

Not in her head. Under it. From her pack, which she was using as a pillow.

Ana struggled the flaps open and groped inside until her fingers found the familiar shape of her phone. Rider. At some point during her last night in California, she’d changed Rider’s ringtone to the narwhal song. Because, she supposed, he was so awesome. And she’d been high.

She accepted the call, put it on speaker so she wouldn’t have to find her ear, and let her hand drop with a smack to the wet floor. “Morning,” she said.

Rider’s voice grated out through the phone into the empty room like the echoing voice of God Himself: “Woman, you better be dying in a motherfucking ditch somewhere, because if you ain’t, you will be when I get my fucking hands on you.”

On stage, Freddy opened his eyes.

Happy Fourth

Here in the United States, it’s Independence Day and you know what that means!

No.

No.

Anyway, it isn’t very often that my books bump up against the actual holidays I myself celebrate, since most of my characters are busy being on an alien world trying to survive too much to care about Trick or Treaters or braiding ribbons ’round the Maypole, but as it happens, not only does Everything Is All Right take place entirely on Earth, but the Fourth of July actually features rather prominently in one of the subplots. Must be Fate, with a capital F, and so I thought I’d share the scene with those of my readers who are following along with my FNAFiction.

For context, for those of you who are reading EIAR, this scene takes place in Part Three: Children of Mammon. I’d spoil too much by setting up the scene right, so let’s just say that she has been given a detailed rundown of the Fazbear franchise’s “colorful” history, yet stubbornly refuses to believe the animatronics are anything but big toys with amazing AI. After all, she’s been at the pizzeria overnight plenty of times and they’ve never tried to hurt her. How dangerous could they be? She’s there right now, as a matter of fact, spending her Fourth of July weekend covertly fixing the roof. She has just spent all day tearing the old roof down and now she’s sitting on the floor in the dining room, looking up at the stars, relaxing with a cold beer before she goes to bed…

*****

Footsteps. She knew without looking it was Bonnie, but she looked anyway, just to prove herself right.

There he was—a blob of purple with glowing eyes staring in at her through the plastic sheets.

Ana didn’t have the energy either to call out or lift an arm for a wave, but she managed to get her foot off the ground and give the cooler an inviting nudge toward him.

His ears went up. He glanced behind him, then ducked through the plastic and limped over. “OH YEAH,” he said, gripping the wall for balance as he stiffly bent and fished himself out a beer. He bit the cap off, opened his mouth to let it drop, then tipped his head back and poured half the beer away. She could hear it fizzing and falling down his silicone throat, foaming up in the sac that was his stomach. His schtick, Mike had called that. Wasn’t supposed to do it, but did it anyway. Bad Boy Bonnie, who stole sips of beer. Had to remember to clean that out or she’d never get the smell out of him.

Tomorrow, she decided. Tomorrow was soon enough. God knew, he already stank to high heaven. A little sour beer could only help.

Ana wiggled herself over an inch, patting the floor next to her. “How’s it going, my man?”

“All g-g-good in the hood-d-d,” he assured her, making a seven-point turn to put his back flush up against the wall. His legs stiffened. He dropped with just a tremendous whump, his legs going straight out and padded ass hitting the tiles hard enough to break most of them. Whatever, they weren’t the only broken tiles in here. “No id-d-dea how I’m getting-ing up again,” he remarked and drank off the other half of his beer.

“Me neither. Guess we’ll have to sleep in my old room tonight.”

He glanced aside at the table as she gave it an inviting pat. “I don’t think-k-k I’ll fit.”

“It’ll be tight, but I’m sure I can wiggle around and squeeze you in,” she said innocently.

His lower jaw dropped an inch or so to expose his bottom teeth. “You’re c-c-cute.”

“And you’re very handsome when you smile. Hit me.”

The instant the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them, but Bonnie merely leaned out and got her another beer. He passed it over and said, “You m-mind-d-d?” even as he reached for the cooler again.

“Help yourself, my man. Me equis es su equis.”

“Thanks. I know it-t-t’s a waste, but-t-t I love it.”

“Can you taste it?” she asked curiously.

“Nope.” He bit the cap off, this time picking it out from between his teeth and flicking it toward the stage. He drank. “You d-d-drink it for the t-t-taste?”

“I have to admit, I do not.” But she did drink it and proved it. Shouldn’t have opened a fresh bottle. She’d bagged her limit for the night and with an early morning ahead of her, the last thing she wanted to get was even a little bit tipsy. So she thought and, thinking it, drank.

“GREAT JOB,” Bonnie commented, running his gaze over the colossal mess she’d made of the dining room.

“Ugh. Don’t tease me, man.”

His ears went up, surprised. “I’m n-n-not.”

“I suck and I know it.” Scowling around the neck of her bottle, Ana took a consoling swallow and made herself put the bottle down. “I’m so far behind, it’s not even funny, and yet I had a seven-hour stretch when I couldn’t use the power tools and I didn’t do a goddamn thing with it.”

His head cocked. “You were-re-re working all d-d-d—DISECTION ALONG THE ENKEPHALOTIC FISSURE,” he blatted suddenly, right in her frigging face. As she laughed and swatted at the beer she’d startled down the front of her shirt, his ears drooped. “Sh-Shit, sorry. You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Ana leaned out to drag her day-pack over and get a dry shirt. “Avert your eyes, my man.”

“Uh…no? Is…Is no an op-p-ption? I vote n-n-no.”

She laughed again and took her beer-soaked shirt off, tossing it indiscriminately to the floor, and put the fresh one on under Bonnie’s extremely watchful stare. “Anyway, I know it looks like I was working today, but you get really good at looking like you’re working when you’re in construction. You only saw me moving shit around and avoiding my actual downtime job for the day, which was to clean out the bathrooms. Seven hours,” she groaned, flopping back against the wall and reclaiming what was left of her beer. “I could have had all four of them done.”

“Sounds p-p-plausible.”

“Maybe not done-done, but dude, seven hours! I could have easily cleared and cleaned all four of them in that time and at least started the real work in one of them and I all I did was stand in the doorway a couple dozen times and then screw around out here. I suck,” she grumbled into her beer. “I can’t keep putting it off like this. I am too fucking old to be pissing in a parking lot.”

“Can I help? WE CAN DO ANYTHING IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER!”

“No.”

“You sure? I’m pretty s-st-strong.”

“I remember, but it’s really not an issue of strength.”

“What’s the p-p-problem?”

“I don’t know. It’s complicated.” She thought about it, snorted. “I don’t want to. Doesn’t get more complicated than that, does it? It’s so nasty in there. You can’t smell anything, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say it is unbelievably foul in there. When sewer lines dry up, the gasses get trapped and just ooze out of all the pipes. Bad as it is in the kitchen, it’s like a Bible story in those bathrooms. Which,” she sighed, “doesn’t change the fact that the ceilings have to come down, the stalls have to come out, and every goddamn inch of rusted pipe has to come up, which means all of it. I hate plumbing. I’d literally rather tar the fucking roof when it’s a hundred degrees in the Utah desert than plumb those fucking bathrooms, and you want to know what bothers me the most?”

“Wh-What?”

“Fucking Lala and fucking Brewster on those doors.”

Bonnie laughed and poured some beer into himself.

“I don’t know why they rub me so wrong, but they do. They really do.”

“Me, t-t-too.”

“They’ve got no business here. Lala doesn’t even fucking live here.”

“I th-th-think the idea was, once F-F-Fr–FREDDY FAZBEAR’S PIZZERIA!” he cheered suddenly and clapped a hand to his muzzle, pinching it shut even as his hyucking laugh came out his speaker anyway. He shuddered himself under control, cautiously released his muzzle and tried again. “Once F-F-F…Fuck me.”

“Freddyland.”

“Yeah, that p-pl-place. Once it opened-d-d, he’d swap them in and out.”

“What, like Brewster and Peggy one month and…I don’t know…Chipper and Miss Kitty the next?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s…wait a minute, what about you guys?”

“Swapped out,” said Bonnie nonchalantly and drank his beer.

“Oh fuck that! Who the hell would come to Freddy’s if Freddy isn’t even there? I mean,” she said lamely, “unless you guys wanted a vacation or whatever. I guess that really ought to be a factor, before I get all worked up on your behalf.”

“You’re f-f-fine.”

“But do you? Want to go to Freddyland, I mean?”

“And do what?” he laughed, waving his beer. “R-R-Ride the rides? Play the g-g-games? Win a plushie-e-eeee Foxy?”

“Or, you know, just get out. Fresh air and all that.”

“I d-d-don’t breathe.”

“Blue skies, then.”

“It’s j-j-just as blue here, isn’t it?”

“The Grand Pavilion Hotel has a bigger stage. You could see your name in lights, my man. Maybe finally get that album.”

“Don’t-t-t take this the wrong way, baby girl, because you know I love-ve—PEPPERONI PIZZA—playing for you, but if I never sing-ing-ing another word of the Hokey P-P-Pokey, that’s just fine with me.”

“And miss out on that hot Fazbear Band groupie action? Think about it. You could catch some room keys, start building Milf Panty Mountain, or maybe just mingle with the other new faces.” She gave him a nudge in his hard, plastic side. “Wouldn’t you like to see Lala up close and extremely personal?”

Bonnie shrugged. “I n-n-never really thought about it.”

“You never thought about all those hot, curvy bunnygirls down in the Bunny Patch, all draped sensuously over giant fucking zucchini and sucking on carrots? Hell, I’ve thought about it and I don’t even like them.”

He laughed.

“What kind of name is Lala anyway?” Ana asked disgustedly and not all drunk. “Fucking…Lala!”

“It’s F-F-Fr-French.”

“What, like Oo-la-la?” Ana considered that with a curled lip. “That’s even worse, somehow. Makes her sound like a stripper.” She looked at him. “How do you know it’s French?”

He shrugged, fishing out his third beer and shaking clinging chunks of ice free. “He never had a lot of im-m—IMAGINATION!—when it came to naming-ing-ing us. He d-d-designed and named most of th-them in one weekend, so, yeah, she’s a F-French lop and he g-g-gave her the first French-ch-ch name he could think of. Angie’s an ang-g-gora, Harley’s a Harlequin, Missy’s a messa…mues…uh, Moooossen…newer?”

“Better slow down on those brews, Bon.”

“Ha ha, but seriously. It’s Mess-something. I can’t-t-t remember and prob-b-bably couldn’t pronounce it, but it’s another lop and it already sounds like Missy. Then there’s Pearl the English perlfee, and…and there’s more I’m for-or-getting.”

“Dutch, Checkers, Rex and…Martin, I think,” she supplied. “Martin or Marvin. I’m pretty sure it’s Martin.”

“Yeah, it’d-d-d have to be. There’s a s-s-silver marten, but no m-mar-marvin I’m aware of. All the b-b-bunnies from the Bunny Patch are b-b-based off real rabbits, and they’re all named after their b-b-breed.”

“Interesting that you remembered all the girls and forgot all the boys,” Ana remarked, studying the label on her beer. Still Dos Equis. “So if they’re all real bunny breeds, why aren’t you?”

“I’m real.”

“Yeah? What are you?”

“P-P-Purebred lapine lavender badass, b-b-baby.”

She laughed. As she did so, Bonnie suddenly tipped his head back and pantomimed the most ridiculously over-the-top yawn she’d ever seen outside of a cartoon, capping it all off with a stretch that brought his free arm down around Ana’s shoulders. She snorted beer up her nose and choked it down again, laughing. “Holy shit, Bon, seriously?! That’s got to be the oldest move in the book!”

“Worked, didn’t it?” His hand smoothed down over the top of her short sleeve and came up again on her bare skin to cup her shoulder. “Look at th-th-those stars.”

She looked obediently, amused and a little startled to think she had been sitting here two hours at least, but had only seen the rafters and not the sky beyond them. “Pretty amazing, all right. You know, I got used to thinking of the sky over Oxtongue as being ‘full of stars’ just because I’d come from a string of cities in which, if you could see any at all on a clear night, it was noteworthy. I forgot what a starry night really looks like.” She studied it thoughtfully, countless chips of light, suspended in the dark, so still and so full of movement. “Like a fire, when it’s burned down to embers,” she murmured, smiling.

“Hm?”

“Nothing.” She shifted, trying to make his arm more comfortable without letting him know how uncomfortable it really was. “You ever see stars before?”

“Sure, all-l-l the t-t—TIME TO ROCK!—time.” He had another swig of beer, then added, “Windows haven’t-t-t always been b-b-boarded up. We used-d-d to—”

He was interrupted by a chain of tea-kettle whistles and explosions, each one followed by its own colossal scrape and groan of thunder, and each goddamn one made her jump. She tried to defuse her own tension with a laugh when it was finally over and settled with determination even more awkwardly against Bonnie’s arm.

“You okay?” he asked, his eyes slanting downward just a little.

“I’m fine, I just hate that fucking noise.”

“Fireworks?”

“Those aren’t fireworks. Fireworks are sparkly. I love fireworks. That’s just fucking noise and it’s too fucking close.” She stopped to listen as a rapid series of pops went off, indistinguishable from a gatling gun in some old movie about Nazis…or a new one about zombies, she guessed. Monsters changed, but the movies didn’t. “They’re out at the quarry, which I suppose on some level, I must have been expecting because I put so much fucking effort into making myself invisible from a road that, on a normal day, sees traffic maybe six times. And four of ‘em are mine…four of…the six times…” She drank, puzzled. “What was I saying?

“Out at the quarry,” Bonnie prompted.

“Right, which I must have been expecting on some level, but that’s too damn close. I could hear them whooping it up the whole time I was on the roof,” she added, frowning. “Which means they could hear me if I started hammering, so I didn’t, which is how I spent the day doing everything but the work I was supposed to be doing. I’ve just been waiting for them to run out of toys and go the fuck home, but they’re still there. Fireworks aren’t cheap these days, for Christ’s sake, how many could they possibly have?” Another round of zombie Nazis went down, with victory celebrated by rebel yells rendered scratchy by distance that was by no means distant enough. “Bunch of drunken assholes.”

“C-C-come on now. How do you know th-they’re drunk?”

“Because that—” Ana held up a finger and waited for the obligatory ka-boom. It wasn’t long in coming. “—is the kind of thing that only entertains drunken assholes. And I should be grateful, I guess, because sober assholes would be up here blowing the shit out of you instead. Seriously, now, what would you do if one of them came through that door right now?”

Bonnie shrugged. “I usually start w-w-with something like, IT’S TIME TO ROCK, and see where it leads, b-b-but I’m going to have t-t-trouble getting off the damn floor tonight-t-t.” His head cocked as if he were really thinking it over. “We’d better just offer him a b-b-beer.”

“I’m not sharing my damn beer with some low-rent Utah redneck fuckwaffle.”

“F-F-Fuckwaffle,” Bonnie mused. “Shit biscuits. Hellcake. You kind of g-g-got a thing against bread, don’t you? Let me g-g-guess. You used to work in a bakery and it was the worst-t-t job you’ve ever had.”

“Worst job I ever had was in a Cowgirls Steakhouse. Had to wear this super-tight t-shirt and let the bartender squirt me with beer whenever he wanted. Had to smile when drunken assholes were feeling me up. Worst of all, I had to stop what I was doing every twenty minutes to do this stupid clod-hopping country linedancing horseshit. But yeah, I did work in a bakery once.” She looked at the tattoo on her wrist that proved it, then let her arm drop and her head fall back. “When did we lose this holiday, my man?” she wondered, looking back up at the stars. “The Fourth of July is supposed to be about celebrating our nation’s independence and all the freedoms we have and shit. People should be showing their respect for this country, not blowing the shit out of it and getting hammered.”

“You know, you s-s-say that, but you’re pretty-eeeee—” He casually whapped himself in the throat with his beer bottle, coughed up static, and finished, “—pretty drunk yourself right now.”

“You ever see fireworks, Bonnie?” she asked, sticking stubbornly to what she saw as the point. “Real ones?”

“Not at th-this place, but at Cir-Cir—CIRCUMJACENT TO THE MEDULLA—Circle Drive, son of a b-b-bitch.” He shook his head, muttering static through his speakers, then went on, “It was always a pop-p-pular place for kids after d-d-dark. They’d set-t-t ‘em off in the park-k-king lot and we used t-t-to watch until they saw us or the c-c-cops saw them.” He cocked his head at another shriek and explosion. “But no, not here.”

“Why not? This place is nice and isolated, with a good flat parking lot and a building—Jesus!” she sputtered at the end as a fucking sonic boom went off in the quarry, loud enough to rattle the plastic sheets hanging over the doorways. Only when it was over did she realize she’d been sitting stiffly forward the whole time, straining to hear or perhaps poised to leap up and run. Trying to laugh it off, she settled back against the reeking, scratchy pillow of Bonnie’s hard arm and finished, “A building between them and the road. This would be a great place to set off fireworks. Why are those idiots down in the quarry and not blowing shit up right here in the parking lot? Or—”

She broke off there, blushing, but Bonnie calmly said, “Or in the d-d-dining room?”

“People break in here all the time. It’s dark, it’s secluded, it’s full of bustable objects. It can only attract the very worst kind of person.”

He glanced at her, plastic eyes moving beneath plastic lids while the rest of his head remained perfectly immobile.

She held up a warning finger. “This is not a story about me, but for the record, I swear, I steal, I trespass, I smoke pot and yes, I swallow. I am, without a doubt, the very worst kind of person.”

He chuckled and tipped his bottle.

“And I broke in. So why didn’t they?” Ana asked as yet another barrage of explosions set themselves off. “Why aren’t they here right now?”

Bonnie shrugged, rocking the arm behind her neck, which wedged it in at a different, even more uncomfortable angle. He said, “This p-p-place is supposed to be haunted.”

“By what, the ghost of pizza past?”

He looked at her, his eyelids lowered but level, and said, “Boo,” in a flat, unironic tone.

She rolled her eyes, then slung an arm around his neck and shifted so she sat up a little straighter and could get a little closer. “Should I be scared of you?” she asked in her sultriest voice.

His expression did not change. “Not g-g-gonna lie to you, baby girl, yeah. Yeah, you p-p-probably should.”

“Tonight?”

“No.” His hand rubbed on her shoulder some more, then pulled her uncomfortably against his side. He drank his beer and said, “No, tonight-t-t, you’re safe.”

“I am,” Ana agreed, losing her smile as more bombs went off at the quarry. “But those assholes are still out there. And you’re in here.” She tried to drink, but her throat was closing up. Her voice was too tight when she said, “What if they come inside?”

“Let them.”

“No, you’re not getting it. What if they come…and I can’t stop them?”

He laughed. “You’re c-cu-cute.”

And that’s what she got for thinking she could have a conversation with an animatronic. Sooner or later, he was always going to cross a wire or just spit out the wrong response. He made it so easy to pretend he was real, but in the end, he was just a neat toy with buggy software.

Outside, the quarry boomed.

Ana pushed herself forward and rocked onto her knees.

“Aw, hey! D-D-Don’t go!”

“Relax, I’m not, but your arm is killing me.” She grabbed onto his neck, feeling a hundred years older and five hundred pounds heavier than she was, and shifted herself from the floor at his left side to sitting on his right thigh. “Is this okay?” she asked, settling herself gingerly.

“Hell yeah, it is.”

“I’m not too heavy? Am I hurting you?”

“Naw, you’re g-g-g—GREAT JOB!—good, baby.”

“I don’t want to break your knee again.”

“My knee’s fine. Solid-d-d as a—TIME TO—rock.” He gave it a slap as if to demonstrate, then hooked it from below and pulled it up in a slightly bent position, which tipped her against him, but at an angle that fought gravity more than aided it.

“Can you tip back?” she asked, trying to adjust herself.

“Yeah, sh-sh-sure, hold this.”

She took his beer and he put both hands on the floor and scooted himself forward a few inches, then leaned back into the wall again. This put his head at an obviously awkward angle, which could not help but be apparent, especially when he tried to drink again.

“Are you comfortable?” she asked guiltily, knowing he couldn’t possibly be.

He laughed again. “Comfort-t-t isn’t really a th-thing for me,” he told her dryly and patted his chest. “C-C-Cuddle up, baby.”

She did, nervous as a cat and slow to relax, but he was weirdly made for it. When he tucked his arm around her and braced it on his bent knee, he formed so perfect a cradle for her that it was impossible to stay tense. Her cheek fit perfectly against his chest; his chin rested perfectly on the crown of her head.

“I’ve never done this before,” she blurted, fighting laughter and tears together.

“I’ll b-b-be gentle,” he replied, reminding her yet again of all the furtive fumbling sex that had surely gone down within these walls while the animatronics took notes and added fun new phrases to their ever expanding vocabularies.

Another firework went off, the kind that didn’t jump up and send out sparks, but just boomed. The quarry caught the sound, throwing it out bigger and bigger. It sounded like a war zone out there. She could remember being small, running with David along the rocks with nothing but sparklers, trying to write their names in the air with the flashes. She could do it, but he never could, quite. Later, when it got a little darker and they were full up on soda pop and burgers, they’d sit together, she and David on either side of Aunt Easter with her arms warm around them both and watch the fireworks, real ones, the kind that spit colors or jumped up in the air and burst open. And that was what the Fourth of July was supposed to be. Barbeque and fireworks and family.

And just like that, she was crying. Bonnie couldn’t see it, so he didn’t know. He watched the stars and listened to bombs go off in the quarry, and his hand just stroked gently up and down on her bare arm—cold metal and worn fur, abrasive and unpleasant, welcome.

Footsteps. Freddy’s. They came all the way to the plastic sheets that hung over the doorway and stood there at least a minute while Bonnie and Ana pretended not to know he was there. At last, he grunted—he had ten thousand grunts, did Freddy, and that one said he knew damned well they knew he was there—and walked heavily away through the kitchen to the store room and back through the hall to the employee’s lounge.

When he was gone, Bonnie’s speakers emitted a low scuff of sound, neither a grunt nor a chuckle, but something deliberate, not just a crossed wire. He drank some beer.

“I thought he was going to tell us to leave room for the Holy Ghost,” muttered Ana, pretending to scratch her nose so she could wipe her eyes dry.

Now he snorted.

“He doesn’t like me.”

Bonnie shifted, trying to look down at her, but he couldn’t bend that way and Ana wasn’t budging to allow it. “You’re k-k-kidding, right? You’re part of the f-f-f—FAZBEAR BAND—family.”

She shook her head. “I swear too much and I smoke pot and do highly inappropriate things with the animatronics when I get drunk.”

“Th-There are worse th-th-things you could do.”

“I’m a bad influence,” she insisted. “If this place wasn’t shut down, he’d be throwing me out. And you know, he’s the one—don’t take this the wrong way—but he’s the one I needed, when I was little. He’s the one I’ve been waiting my whole life for. Now I’m here and he doesn’t like me.”

“He loves you,” Bonnie said, stroking her arm. “He’d k-k-kill for you.”

“Freddy wouldn’t hurt a flea to scratch it.”

His stroking hand stopped moving, then started again. “Fun-n-ny way to put that.”

Something in his too-casual tone made her rewind her words as best she could, only to discover they were, in fact, Mike Schmidt’s words.

“You never heard that one before?” she asked, feigning surprise like it was right up there with ‘gentle as a lamb’ or ‘wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouthful’.

“Yeah, act-t-t-ually, I have.”

Was this bad? It seemed like it ought to be bad, but the drugs were definitely kicking in and she couldn’t drum up much feeling for it. She held her bottle up, shaking the last few inches to get Bonnie’s attention and mumbling, “Want the rest? I’m over my limit.”

He took it, swallowed it off, and set the empty bottle aside. “You want-t-t to go to b-b-bed?” he asked, making absolutely no effort to move her.

“Think I might just sleep here. You mind?”

“Do I mind-d-d if we cuddle all night? You’re k-k-kidding, right? Who the hell would-d-d mind that?” He looked around suddenly, frowning in his plastic way. “Is…Is it cold? You okay? You need a b-b-blanket or anything-ing?”

“No. You’re warm enough.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

She watched the stars for a while. Her eyes had a way of staying shut just a little longer each time she blinked until, try as she might, she couldn’t get them open again until another boom from the quarry slapped the sleep right out of her. She couldn’t bolt up, but she flinched kind of all over and clutched at the stiff bristles that used to be a thick ruff on Bonnie’s chest. Once again, and for no reason, tears threatened, but Bonnie’s hand just kept moving the whole time, up and down, up and down, shoulder to elbow and back. Cool metal. Bare skin. Her eyelids grew heavier and heavier and finally closed.

“I’d kill f-f-for you,” he said, when she was too far gone to be much concerned. “Say the w-w-word, baby girl. I’ll g-go right now and take th-those noisy mothers out.”

“Bonnie?”

He could not tense, but his internal mechanisms made new, loud noises as he prepared himself to move. “Yeah?”

“Which…Which bunnygirl do you think is the hottest?”

“Heh.” His machinery resumed their rhythms. “None of ‘em.”

“Who, then? I guess it doesn’t have to be a bunny. Cleocatra? Amelia Owlheart?” She thought back to the poster, groping through impending sleep for names. “Peggy? She’s all about the bass.”

“She is and I d-d-do like bass, but to t-t-tell you the t-tr-truth, I could never g-g-get into furries. God knows, I’m in no position to judge, but that shit’s just-t-t weird.”

She couldn’t open her eyes for that either, but she laughed. He laughed with her, then just sat quiet, humming and clicking beneath his skin, holding her until she slept.

*****

Happy Fourth of July, all! Or at least, all of you who celebrate it. Have a nice day, everyone else! And keep reading my FNAFiction, updating every Saturday on Fanfiction.net and Archiveofourown.org!

Serial Saturday Updates

Happy Saturn’s Day to all my readers! In accordance with pagan law of old, we shall celebrate this weekly observance in the traditional manner: with song, with drink, with the devouring of one’s offspring, and with a new chapter of my FNAFiction, Everything Is All Right, Part One: Girl on the Edge of Nowhere, which itself contains all of the above!

chronos2

Your planned weekend barbeque just got a lot more disturbing, didn’t it?

Bonnie checked all the doors in the West Hall—both bathrooms, the reading room, even the party room—but the girl wasn’t hiding. Or exploring, or whatever. She was back in the dining room, sitting on one of the tables as she waited for him and watching her feet swing back and forth above the filthy floor. “Hey,” she said as he limped in, but she didn’t look up.

“Y-Y-You okay?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You r-r-ran out like you were-re-re—”

“I didn’t run.” Now she raised her head and her eyes, although dry, were sparking. “I left, but I didn’t run.” She went back to watching her feet and, a second or two later, to swinging them. “It’s not his fault anyway. He’s not even the same Foxy. I don’t know why I said that stuff.” She thought it over and uttered a low, humorless laugh. “Sure, I do. I’m…I’m not at my best tonight, Bon.”

“Ne-eeeee-either am I. But—” He reached her at last and put a hand on her knee, halting her restless kicking and making her look at him. “—I’m b-b-better than I was.”

Everything Is Alright Part 1 (1)

Like it? You can read more at Fanfiction.net and Archiveofourown.org! Don’t like it? You don’t have to read more at all! It’s a win-win situation!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday VIII

R. LEE SMITH’S SIMPLE EIGHT-WEEK SYMPOSIUM ON THE ART OF STORY-TELLING:

WAT R WERDS?

Lesson 8.  Final Thoughts

Well, here we are…our last class together. I’m going to miss this, seeing all your bright-eyed faces watching me with such avid interest—Coraline, I know you’re new here, but I don’t allow texting during class. Turn it off, please. Thank you.

When I began this series, what got me excited about doing it was having a forum in which to express my feelings on the less-than-helpful advice I’ve received over the years (what was I saying just a few weeks ago on how it’s always easier to criticize than praise?), but now that we’ve come down to the end of it, I find I do have some tips of my own I’d like to share. Heck, if they don’t work for you, feel free to include them on your own future symposium of bad writing advice. Even if they’re only useful as examples of what NOT to do, that’s still useful, right?

WRITING TIP #1: REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN. Creating a book is a job and I don’t care where you work, there are parts of every job that just suck the life out of you. In this job, for me anyway, editing is tedious, Beta-reading is oftentimes painful, and publishing is just plain nerve-wracking, but writing is fun. I love to write. I especially love it when I fall into that world and it opens up around me and I feel like I’m just sitting there, barely aware of what my hands are doing, watching the story as it comes pouring out of me. Those are amazing moments and I think the scenes they produce stand out from the rest of the book, whereas the scenes I just push through, writing just to get them written, working and over-working them until I can barely stand to look at them…well, those are pretty obvious too.

It seems self-evident to say you have to want to do this job, but I’m going to say it anyway. You have to want to tell a story. You have to want to get to know your characters. You have to want what they want as much as they want it. The heroes, the villains, everyone. You have to feel all of their emotions, because if you don’t, the reader won’t. It’s just that simple. It’s also really hard to do if you’re not having fun.

God, not this whimsical shit again.

God, not this whimsical shit again.

So keep it fun. Don’t stop inspiring yourself just because you already know what the book is about. Watch movies that put you in the mood to write a certain scene. Make a soundtrack for your book and listen to it while you work; one of my Betas has a playlist for each of her characters. If you’re me, go to a museum because you’re a huge nerd and get up close and personal with the history of human creativity. One of my sisters begins every working day by posting a short gallery of images she collected off the interwebz to inspire her for writing that immediate scene. My father taking tapping into the divine spirit literally and hypes himself up by playing hymns on the organ. The only wrong way to do it is by making it a chore.

WRITING TIP #2: DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE BRANDING. At the first writers’ convention I attended, my sister bought a book on how to successfully self-publish your book. The author promised that by following his/her/its ten simple rules, any writer could increase sales and build a solid fanbase in just thirty days. That’s a helluva lofty promise for any book to make, especially one that essentially looked like one of those you see standing in the cashier’s line at the grocery store…you know, the ones advertising 50 Fun Picnic Foods or 25 Easy Crockpot Recipes. I would show you the actual book, but we threw it away and the reason we threw it away is because it was garbage.

Those ten simple rules the author was talking about were all about the marketing. The thirty-day schedule was also all about the marketing. It was like, Day One, make a Facebook account and join at least ten groups for writers. At least once a day, make a Facebook post about your book. Day Three, make a blog and post every day about your book. Day Six, make a Twitter account. Every hour, tweet about your book. Day Ten, make an Instagram account. At least twice a day, post pictures of things that inspire you when you write.

You know what AT NO POINT the book told you to do? Write a book. No, it was ALL about telling other people you were working on your book. Seriously, by the end of those thirty days, the aspiring writer had ten social media forums to update and was a member of around a hundred groups, forums or media movements. There was no time to write a book. You know what happens when you follow that kind of advice? You get this:

working-on-my-novel-1

All this guy does is retweet tweets from people who tweet about working on their novel. And it’s funny, I guess. Not snide or mean-spirited or bullying at all. Just funny. Apparently, he’s put a bunch of these tweets together into a novel and is selling it. Hilarious. It’s being called an “epically brilliant work by a great American artist and author.” By buzzfeed, an entertainment site that definitely knows the difference between comedy and ridicule. And the funniest thing of all is that these people are doing exactly what they were told to do by pretty much everyone—market themselves, get awareness out, make their book a brand and push it.

Writing and especially self-publishing a book is a job like any other, and like any other job, you have to think about your target consumer. However, having ten thousand followers does not automatically equal ten thousand sales on publication day. You don’t get fans by asking for them, and you sure don’t get them by ringing their metaphorical doorbell thirty times a day to remind them you exist. Bottom line, there is no ten-step, thirty-day secret to success. Write a book. By all means, market it where appropriate and when you have something to say, but write the book first and focus your energy on telling the best story you can. I can’t promise you a million readers will ultimately find you, because Life is not owned and operated by the Disney corporation (yet), but if you tell a good story, the fans who do find you will do your marketing for you. One heartfelt recommendation is worth a million “I’m working on my book” tweets.

WRITING TIP #3: BETA-TEST YOUR BOOKS. Let’s face it. The creator of any work is hardly the best judge of that work. My mother’s best friend thought she was an amazing cook and insisted on serving us horrible food anytime we were over at her house. My brother thought identity theft was the perfect crime and still thinks so, in spite of fifteen years to think about it in a small, dark, quiet room. The last time I was visiting cousins, some random vaguely-related-to-me kid drew a picture of me that everyone seemed to think was SO amazing!

At least she got my antennae right.

At least she got my antennae right.

Most of us humans have this thing called an ego that tells us how great we are, and it seems to me that us writers have a slightly bigger, louder and more obnoxious ego than most humans. You kind of have to, I think, to create something out of your own head and not only decide other people are going to think it’s interesting enough to look at, but actually pay money for the privilege. Yeah, that takes some ego, all right, but the thing about ego is, its 100% committed to making you think your book is brilliant and anyone who isn’t as impressed by your talent as the ego thinks he or she ought to be is either wrong, ignorant, or jealous, and that attitude is not doing you any favors. If you want an honest opinion of your work, you need to remove your ego from the equation, and the easiest way to do that is to let other people read it.

People will Beta-test their books in different ways, and whatever works for you is the way you should do it. The way I do it is to print out a copy of my book and go meet up with my Beta-readers and take turns reading it out loud, with frequent stops to point out errors or ask questions like, “Did you mean to use this word?” or “Didn’t they already have this conversation two chapters ago?” or “Jesus Christ, R. Lee, really?!”

Having the book in a different format, ie, from the computer screen to a printed page, helps me see a lot of problems my eye was just skimming over, and having other eyes on it helps me catch even more. However, more than just technical errors, having a Beta-read helps you catch potential flaws within the story itself, and let me tell you, you ignore criticism at your peril. Your ego may tell you you’ve written the world’s greatest anti-hero, a dangerous and sarcastic bad boy with an acerbic wit and devil-may-care attitude, but if eight of your ten Betas tell you he’s an immature asshole, believe me, you want to know BEFORE you publish, because your readers will think the same thing, only they’ll also be leaving one-star reviews.

People will tell you never to let your friends or family members be your Betas, and at one time, I would have agreed. I can’t really do that anymore, since two of my sisters and now my father are also joining my Betas on reading days, and I consider all of my Betas friends. What you shouldn’t do is have Betas who are more concerned about your feelings than your writing. All my Betas are writers and they all understand that the book matters more than the ego. They are not afraid to tell me when something doesn’t work and they can be brutal about it if they have to be. And that’s good, because sooner or later, they’ll have to be.

WRITING TIP #4: ALWAYS MAKE THE NEXT ONE BETTER.

My mother once told me a story which I will now attempt to relate to you. I don’t know where she got it from, although I have a vague notion it did not originate with her, so if the story rings your bells and you can tell me where it’s from, please do so, so I can give proper credit.

Ahem. The Writer and the Well.

well1

There was once a man who wished to be a writer, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, he knew of a hermit who lived atop a mountain, where he guarded a magic well whose water supposedly held wish-granting properties. Now, it wasn’t an easy climb by any stretch of the imagination, what with the steep, icy slopes and the falling rocks and, I don’t know, mountain badgers, so there were very few people who actually made the attempt or at least, few who lived to tell about it, but the man really, really, really wanted to be a writer, so one day, he packed a lunch and some badger repellant and headed up the mountain.

It was a long climb, full of danger and reward and adventures that belong in another story, but at the end of it, the man reached the summit and there was the hermit. The man said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t know what to write about.”

The hermit dipped a silver ladle into the well and as soon as the man drank, his head was so full of story ideas, he could barely hold it up. With great excitement, he scrambled down the mountain and returned home, but no matter how vivid the scenes played out in his head, none of the words he could think of could capture the essence of the story he wanted to tell. So after several fruitless days and sleepless nights spent staring at a blank piece of paper, he set off again for the mountain.

It was another difficult climb, even longer, steepier, icier and badgerier, but the man was determined and ultimately staggered up and dropped at the hermit’s feet. “I want to be a writer,” he gasped, “but I don’t have the words.”

The hermit dipped a gold ladle into the well and bent to let the poor drink, and as soon as he had, the words were there. Down, down, down he raced, tumbling more than climbing, anxious to get writing. And write he did! Page after page flew from his pen and scattered around the room in his haste just to get all those stopped-up stories out of his head and onto paper. As each one was finished, he quickly bound them together and put them out into the world to be read, eager to get on to the next book.

This went on for several years and the man wrote many books. One day, on a trip to buy more ink and paper, he happened to overhear two people discussing his books and, because all writers are enormously egomaniacal and insecure, he listened in. To his utter horror, the readers expressed deep disappointment, not necessarily with the stories, which were, as they said, “interesting,” and not exactly with the writing, which, as they said, “showed talent,” but because the books themselves were riddled with spelling mistakes, continuity slips, dangling sub-plots, and formatting errors. In short, his stories were great and his writing okay, but his books were not worth the headache of trying to read them.

‘What’s wrong with those people?’ the man wondered to himself later that night, sobbing in the bottom of his shower with a tub of ice cream and all his clothes on, as one does. ‘Why do they have to analyze everything? Why can’t they just appreciate a beautiful story? I worked hard on those books! Doesn’t that matter to them at all? Ungrateful readers! What do they want from me?’

A few more years passed, with the man defiantly writing “his way,” determined not to let the opinions of a few “overly-critical malcontents who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag” alter his opinion of himself or his talent. However, the more books he offered up for sale at the local shop, the more unavoidably obvious it became that they weren’t selling very well. Discouraged, he pored over his old manuscripts, eating way too much ice cream and taking way too many showers with his clothes on, unable to understand why a few typos and Point-of-View shifts should have such a disastrous effect upon an amazing book.

So at last in despair, he set off for the mountain. He climbed through storms and avalanches and howling packs of badgers, crawling onto the summit with bloodied fingers and icicles clacking in the beard he hadn’t had when he’d begun his journey. “They don’t like me,” he moaned. “They don’t understand me. They don’t appreciate me.”

“Look, pal,” said the hermit. Hermits are not renowned for sympathy. “I’m the magical guardian of a wishing well, not your personal agony aunt. Just tell me what you want. Do you want them to like you? Do you want them to understand you? Do you want them to appreciate you? What?”

The man thought, shivering in the mountain wind.

“No,” he said. “I want…to be a better writer.”

Hearing this, the hermit put aside her ladles and dipped her hands into the well. She bent and let the man drink from her cupped hands, and when he had done so, he turned and climbed back down the mountain and returned to his home and picked up his latest manuscript and edited it. It took a long time. When it wasn’t tedious, it was painful. It sucked all the joy the story had ever brought him out of his heart and replaced with the brutality that made it possible to cut scenes he’d worked on for days or characters he truly cared for. It made him think for the first time of what was necessary instead of just what was fun. It made him sad. It made him tired. It made him humble. It made him learn. It made him grow. It made him better.

The fact that my mother told me stories like this probably goes a long way toward explaining why I became a writer.

Anyway, as a footnote to this story, my mother would always end by telling me that a book is never finished, only abandoned. The truth of this is apparent whenever I reread my previous books, but I would never try to ‘fix’ them. They stand as mile-markers along my own personal road of progress and I’m happy with the distance I’ve achieved. However, with every new book I start working on, the thought is always there in the back of my mind to go further and I think that’s okay. As a human, I believe we should always be learning, open to new ideas and new experiences. We should never think that we’re ‘done’ with Life, never completely comfortable with our place in it. We should always be trying to improve ourselves and the world around us. So it is with writing, even with writing the sorts of books I write; you should always be excited to begin, willing to get hurt and resolved to see it through, and you should always want the next one to be better.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end. I’d like to thank you all for joining me on this simple eight-week symposium and I hope you all learned something, even if what you learned is just that I’m not a very good teacher. If there’s one final tip I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: You don’t learn writing by reading articles about it.

*sigh* Or texting about it, Coraline.

…Coraline? Why are you taking off your glasses? And your huge rubbery nose? What the—? You’re not Coraline! You’re Caroline! You were Caroline the whole time!

Truly a twist ending M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of.

Truly a twist ending M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of.