Toad Words

Frogs fall out of my mouth when I talk. Toads, too.

It used to be a problem.

There was an incident when I was young and cross and fed up with parental expectations. My sister, who is the Good One, has gold and gems fall from her lips, and since I could not be her, I had to go a different way.

So I got frogs. It happens.

“You’ll grow into it,” the fairy godmother said. “Some curses have cloth-of-gold linings.” She considered this, and her finger drifted to her lower lip, the way it did when she was forgetting things. “Mind you, some curses just grind you down and leave you broken. Some blessings do that too, though. Hmm. What was I saying?”

I spent a lot of time not talking. I got a slate and wrote things down. It was hard at first, but I hated to drop the frogs in the middle of the road. They got hit by cars, or dried out, miles away from their damp little homes.

Toads were easier. Toads are tough. After awhile, I learned to feel when a word was a toad and not a frog. I could roll the word around on my tongue and get the flavor before I spoke it. Toad words were drier. Desiccated is a toad word. So is crisp and crisis and obligation. So are elegant and matchstick.

Frog words were a bit more varied. Murky. Purple. Swinging. Jazz.

I practiced in the field behind the house, speaking words over and over, sending small creatures hopping into the evening.  I learned to speak some words as either toads or frogs. It’s all in the delivery.

Love is a frog word, if spoken earnestly, and a toad word if spoken sarcastically. Frogs are not good at sarcasm.

Toads are masters of it.

I learned one day that the amphibians are going extinct all over the world, that some of them are vanishing. You go to ponds that should be full of frogs and find them silent. There are a hundred things responsible—fungus and pesticides and acid rain.

When I heard this, I cried “What!?” so loudly that an adult African bullfrog fell from my lips and I had to catch it. It weighed as much as a small cat. I took it to the pet store and spun them a lie in writing about my cousin going off to college and leaving the frog behind.

I brooded about frogs for weeks after that, and then eventually, I decided to do something about it.

I cannot fix the things that kill them. It would take an army of fairy godmothers, and mine retired long ago. Now she goes on long cruises and spreads her wings out across the deck chairs.

But I can make more.

I had to get a field guide at first. It was a long process. Say a word and catch it, check the field marks. Most words turn to bronze frogs if I am not paying attention.

Poison arrow frogs make my lips go numb. I can only do a few of those a day. I go through a lot of chapstick.

It is a holding action I am fighting, nothing more. I go to vernal pools and whisper sonnets that turn into wood frogs. I say the words squeak and squill and spring peepers skitter away into the trees. They begin singing almost the moment they emerge.

I read long legal documents to a growing audience of Fowler’s toads, who blink their goggling eyes up at me. (I wish I could do salamanders. I would read Clive Barker novels aloud and seed the streams with efts and hellbenders. I would fly to Mexico and read love poems in another language to restore the axolotl. Alas, it’s frogs and toads and nothing more. We make do.)

The woods behind my house are full of singing. The neighbors either learn to love it or move away.

My sister—the one who speaks gold and diamonds—funds my travels. She speaks less than I do, but for me and my amphibian friends, she will vomit rubies and sapphires. I am grateful.

I am practicing reading modernist revolutionary poetry aloud. My accent is atrocious. Still, a day will come when the Panamanian golden frog will tumble from my lips, and I will catch it and hold it, and whatever word I spoke, I’ll say again and again, until I stand at the center of a sea of yellow skins, and make from my curse at last a cloth of gold.

Terri Windling posted recently about the old fairy tale of frogs falling from a girl’s lips, and I started thinking about what I’d do if that happened to me, and…well…

Angel Hunter

(I have absolutely no idea where this little vignette came from or where it’s going, if anywhere…)

Stan Blackwell hunted angels.

It wasn’t a bad job, not in this economy. The logistics were hard to set up sometimes, but the market for angelhide was always enormous, and no one could send you to jail for harvesting creatures that the government didn’t think existed.

And it wasn’t like ivory or tiger skins, which Stan considered morally repugnant. Only a right bastard would kill an endangered species, so far as he was concerned. There were always more angels. Every time a human got born, another angel popped out of the aether to guard them.

Guardian angels were his bread and butter. His system, which he had perfected over the years, was to take a toddler to a high mountain road with no guardrails and set it loose. As soon as the kid got anywhere near the edge, the kid’s guardian angel would come flailing in, pushing it back from the edge with ethereal hands.

All Stan had to do was hit it with the harpoon gun, pull the kid back, dump the angel in the back of the truck and throw a tarp over it. The harpoon line was tied to the bumper of the truck, so pulling it up was usually easy, and angels were helpless against the devilwood bolts.

He always took the kid out for ice cream before returning them to the street or the daycare. Daycares made him uneasy. When he had run through all the guardian angels in any particular place, he generally called an anonymous tip in to the authorities. Any daycare shady enough to let a grown man make off with one of their charges, day after day, needed to be closed down. Stan was harmless–at least to humans–but there were some real weirdoes out there.

He’d run one or two of the kids over to Social Services, written a note that said their home was in an unsafe place, and dropped them off outside. Those kids got two scoops of ice cream and a Beanie Baby, which was pitifully inadequate, but you did what you could.

Kids like that were the reason that Stan never felt any guilt about killing guardian angels. If the damn things did any good, those kids wouldn’t have been in the mess they were in to begin with.

They sure weren’t very bright. You’d think that the angels would notice that a guy in a truck took the kids out for ice cream, one by one, and when they came back, their angels were missing.  You’d think they’d get wise to the fact that something was happening. But they never did. Swoop, panic, flail, harpoon, tarp, ice cream.

(He occasionally thought of just getting an ice cream truck, but he hadn’t worked out the logistics of shooting harpoon guns over the heads of a crowd of children.)

Some of the higher orders of angels were different. He’d heard that thrones could tear you in half if you slipped up, and cherubs were downright nasty. You could tell cherub-hunters by how many limbs they were missing. Presumably they had to quit when they ran out of parts, although powdered cherub feathers would cause flesh to regrow, so if a hunter had a high pain tolerance and reasonable luck, they could probably keep going indefinitely.

Seraphim were easy by comparison. You could always hear them coming because they kept shouting in dead languages.

Stan mostly limited himself to guardian angels. Depending on which translation of which scholar you read, the other kinds might have limited numbers. You couldn’t just go around clubbing archangels like they were dodos, now could you? You’d run out and then nobody’d have any archangels and whatever ate them or relied on them to spread manna about or whatever would be out of luck. It would have been downright irresponsible to hunt archangels.

Plus they might be smart. Like elephants. They were smart. He’d heard that elephants would handle the bones of their dead, for all the world like they were mourning over them. Stan could believe it. He’d read an article that said they communicated through super low frequency sounds, practically a language, and once you go shooting things that had a language, what were you?

Angels, though–you could shoot a guardian angel full of devilwood and the angel standing next to it would look vaguely pained, as if the dead one had done something crass. It wouldn’t try to run. It’d look through you while you set up the next shot.

Stan would have shot a hundred guardian angels before saying so much an unkind word to an elephant.

Slice of Life: Father’s Day Edition

ME: Hey, Kevin, I have a photo that will hit you right in the man-feels!

KEVIN: Ok…

ME: *shows photo of the stormtrooper figure with the two little lego stormtroopers*

KEVIN: I’ve seen it. That does not hit me in the man-feels.

ME: What if Sarah McLaughlan was playing in the background?

KEVIN: No. It’d need to be a movie, where the dad stormtrooper calls to say “I’m coming home, honey,” and then the Death Star explodes and the baby stormtroopers are on the beach watching it blow up and then a shuttle lands and the dad stormtrooper gets out and they all hug and AND Sarah McLaughlan is playing. THEN there will be feels.

ME: …

ME: I think you may have just designed geek dad kryptonite.

KEVIN: BRB, filming.

Mourning

So you’ve heard me talk about my nice little town a couple of times, I imagine.

There’s a downtown–basically two streets with a traffic circle–a couple of restaurants, the co-op, the coffee shop I write at, and up the road a mile or two, where the interstate is, a big-box hardware store. It’s NICE. We’re the county seat, so there’s a couple government buildings, but we’re a super rural county so they’re not big.

I live in the woods, surrounded by pastures. The farmer I buy my meat from is about ten miles down the road. My neighbor keeps bees and has a falcon mews in the backyard. (Also trucks on blocks, because the South.) I sit in the backyard at night and there are whippoorwills and chuck-widows-wills calling.

I’ve lived here for six years, and barring occasional desires to head to the desert, I had sorta planned to die here, preferably while lying in the backyard listening to aforementioned whippoorwills.

Council just voted to nuke it from development orbit.

They just cleared the last hurdle to break ground on a planned development to house *60,000* people. This is one of those massive “planned city” developments.

A development of 5000, I could have maybe gritted my teeth, but they are literally dropping an entire CITY seven miles from my house.

Cities do not stay where you put them. Our population is slated to increase by 1900%. If I wanted to live in a gigantic suburban sprawl, I have lots and lots to choose from already, but yay, now it’s coming to me.

To say we don’t have any infrastructure to handle that is laughably understating the case. It’s just…insane. I mean, the primary road into the area is a four lane highway over a lake, and the road into town is two lanes with a traffic circle and a stoplight. And the developers are being super “It’s fiiiiiine, don’t worry your pretty little head about things like water quality, those rules only apply to people on wells, we’re building sewers next to the lake and the Haw River and that means we can cram LOTS OF PEOPLE IN and you should just relaaaaax. We’re professionals.”

(Nevermind HOW the county is somehow supposed to dredge up the money for all the infrastructure that this place wants…)

And they own all the land, so we can’t buy it away. Rezoning stalled them for over a year, but people sang “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and this was the last ditch and it just ended last night. They break ground in sixty days, and start building houses in eighteen months.

It’s supposed to take thirty years, to hit full capacity, but I am so discouraged. I feel like I’m in mourning for the town. The only bright spot is that our property values are supposed to go up, which is sort of like ‘Your horse is going to die, but good news! Dogmeat’s selling at an all time high!’

Unnngngggghhh.

Strategic Sympathy Reserves

So a few months back, I wrote a blog-post about being tired of Fantasyland.

It’s all still true. I can count the fantasies I have read in the last six months on the fingers of one hand.

That said, ZOMG, The Goblin Emperor is amazing, go read it, I stayed up until three in the morning last night reading it, it is SO GOOD.

The main character, Maia, is just incredibly sympathetic. He is nice. I ached for this character, the way I ached for Aerin back in the day, the yes-I-would-be-this-person ache.

And this made me think that maybe, in my initial post about being jaded to so much fantasy as a setting, I had overlooked something.

Maybe part of my problem is that I am having a hard time finding fantasy characters I like.

It’s not like the old days, when all you needed was a bookish heroine and/or one who was not interested in pretty dresses and you had my immediate unswerving loyalty for the rest of the book. I am now past the point where any given persecuted teenage girl is automatically my soul-sister,* where the fact that your family/village/tribe just doesn’t understand you gives you a free pass to my sympathies.

I have not been willing to read books about awful people for a long time, because their awfulness is not the least bit interesting to me, but I am also starting to lose patience with standard fantasy people. All the interchangeable protagonists with interchangeable names. Yes, you’re scared, yes, your suffering is very important to YOU, but it’s not enough to suffer at me any more. You must be interesting while you are doing it.

Furthermore, god help you, I must like you. If I do not like you–not merely pity you, but like you–you are done.

(There are plenty of people who will argue for unlikeable protagonists, and that is great. I am not decreeing what future writing should be for all. I am saying, I don’t read those books. Because if I don’t like the character, I will not spend time with them. This is not to say that they are not valuable. Phillip K. Dick wrote some valuable stuff that should be appreciated. By people other than me. Because I hate all the characters in his books. A lot.**)

For this, I could be accused of a failure of empathy (and go ahead, feel free, I offer you my admission of my failure of empathy as a gift.) If I were a good person, or at least a sophisticated reader, undoubtedly I could relate to anyone. Any old barbarian warlord would do. I could put myself in the shoes of the entire cast of Game of Thrones instead of “On a good day Tyrion but generally nobody and actually I stopped reading awhile ago because I could not care less what happens to any of these awful, awful people.”*** I would pour myself into the personas of wise-cracking urban fantasy heroines with their hidden faerie underworlds and their nifty super-powers and their on-again off-again relationships with hunky muscled fill-in-the-blanks. I would play Angst Along With Elric. (Follow the bouncing Stormbringer!)

But I can’t, and I don’t. I have dumped out too much of my sympathy on whiny heroes and farmboys with destinies who throw stupid temper tantrums for no apparent reason. The Strategic Sympathy Reserves are running low and I do not consider it worth the environmental damage to start cracking open the Sympathetic Shale. I am just…tired of all these people.

It’s not that characters have to be me. I do not require thirty-seven-year-old divorced and remarried writer protagonists with a gardening bent, and if I did, I would be pretty disappointed by now.

But I would like to read more about people who are kind.

Not…y’know…not the lady-of-the-manor kindness you find in a lot of Regencies, not Tireless Social Reformer archetype, or Look How Selfless I Am, but just…kind.

I know it when I see it, anyhow.

You can do any horrible thing you want to them, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Write me a nice book without conflict!”  Just…I look back at all the characters that I loved, really truly loved and who mattered–Aerin and Dr. Evan Wilson and Number Ten Ox and Brutha and Granny Weatherwax and Brother Cadfael and all the rest, and they were all good and most of them were kind (although it was a rather pointy kindness, at least in the case of Weatherwax.)

(Polite is also sadly lacking in many cases, as I may have lamented before.)

I am saying this badly, I think. I read back and there are huge holes where someone could shout things through, if they were so inclined. Perhaps I don’t know what I’m trying to say well enough to say it. I am not trying to shut up any character who is hard or angry, or tell any author that their characters have to be nice. No. If you need to write an angry and defiant character, write her. Someone will need that book, even if it isn’t me, or at least, isn’t me today.

Maybe what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t actually realize, until reading The Goblin Emperor, how much I was still willing to give to a book where the main character was so intensely sympathetic.

And it pointed up, in such sharp relief, how little I’ve been willing to give to a lot of fantasy books I’ve tried to read for a long time.

 

 

*Except at certain times of month for certain forms of comfort reading.

**Someone said to me once “They’re very human.” No, they’re very asshole. I know lots and lots of humans, and none of them behave like that. If they did, I would not hang around with them.

*Fine, I would prefer Arya not die, but given the series, the only way to do that is to stop reading.

Artist Problems

“Yay! I have lots of originals! I have three cons coming up, but that’s fine because I have LOTS OF ORIGINALS! And this is a small con and some of them are expensive, so I will still have lots left over! I’ll just need to do some small quick stuff for the next one and it’ll be great!”

One con later…

“I HAVE NO ORIGINALS LEFT.”

The worst part about this is that you can’t even really complain (note that I am complaining anyway) because obviously your art sold and that’s a wonderful thing, it’s just that…um…was kinda counting on a couple of those to fill out panels at those later cons and now I have to scramble. My diamond shoes are too tight!

The only people who will be sympathetic are other artists and my mother. I accept this.

(A huge thanks to the generous buyers of BayCon. You are awesome and I am delighted so much art found good homes. I just hadn’t scheduled for quite…how…awesome…y’all would be…)