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Achievement Unlocked: London & Berlin

Posted by | Conventions | 2 Comments

We are back from the wilds of Europe!

…wow. That was pretty awesome.

So much happened that I feel like I have no chance of talking about all of it. It was Kevin’s first trip out of North America, so it was awesome to be able to take him there, and it was only my second as an adult. Loncon was actually fantastic, and there is just no comparison to the Worldcon in San Antonio. And Eurofurence was amazing and I had so much fun. They took very good care of us.

Since I have absolutely no way of breaking down everything, here is a partial list of interesting things I did or discovered or saw or thought or whatever.

1. It is super weird to take the Tube in London and see all the station names and know that they are attached to places that you’ve read about. I never disbelieved in Hyde Park or the Tower of London, you understand, but it existed in my head in bookspace rather than realspace and thus on some level was lumped with Narnia and Pern and New York and other questionably existent places.

2. The ravens at the Tower of London are enormous.

3. I got to meet Terri Windling and talk to her for awhile and tell her that the Wood Wife is one of my great comfort reads and that was really wonderful. Also Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman and Amal El-motar and Terese Nielsen Hayden and SO MANY OTHER AWESOME PEOPLE. And a bunch of them knew I existed! What’s up with that? How did they know that? These are real people with names on books! I draw honey badgers on the internet! How is this my life, again?

4. Aardvarks are much bigger than I thought they were. They’re like the size of pigs. Holy mackerel.

5. I still vaguely regret not buying the T-shirt with the Underground logo that said “Mind The Gap” on it.

6. Crosswalk signs in Berlin are very strange.

7. The British Museum goes on forever. Every single Brit I spoke to about it uttered some variation on “Oh, yeah, that’s where we keep all the stuff we stole!”

7a. We spent about two hours at the British Museum and it pretty much destroyed our sense of age. You walk in and look at paintings painted when our country hadn’t been founded yet, you think “Old.” Then you go down and there’s the Rosetta Stone and statuary from 1500 BC and you go “Really old.” And then you wander into the room where they’ve got ancient Chinese jade and there are pieces from 5000 BC and you go “These were really old when they were carving those statues downstairs.” And then you go through another room and another room and hey, look, it’s artifacts from Jericho. And those were ancient when the jade pieces were carved.

Kevin sort of gave up at that point and started clutching his head and heading for the gift shop. Unfortunately for us, on the far side of the gift shop was a library with stuffed hoopoes. Great! And also hand axes, which were dated at something like 400,000 BC, and at that point you are standing on a fractional sliver of the vast sweep of human history and you realize that if civilization were pounded into dust tomorrow, it would be the eradication of an exceedingly brief anomaly.

And then you go buy a hot dog stuffed into a hollowed-out baguette, because really, what else can you do?

8. Hot dogs stuffed into hollowed-out baguettes are awesome.

9. Both hotels, in London and Berlin, did these massive breakfasts like they expected we were preparing for a nine-day siege.

10. The Brandenburg Gate is amazing and I am a terrible person because all I could think for a minute on seeing it was “Hey! I built that in Civ 5!”

11. It is very surreal to walk through Berlin and keep seeing this meandering double line of bricks. It’s where the wall was. Every now and again that realization would kind of grab me by the throat. That happened in my lifetime. I watched that wall come down on TV as a kid. And here I am, many thousands of miles and over two decades away from being that kid and I am actually standing here staring at the place where the wall was and a whole city that has basically put itself together in the aftermath and things grind in my head between real and unreal.

12. I just don’t get currywurst.

13. The European way of living with WWII is a lot different than the American one. A very nice German woman in London gave me directions to an old Templar church, which she said was the best in London. “Of course, we blew out all the stained glass in the Blitz,” she said cheerfully. “Pity we didn’t get [German train station],” muttered her (British) friend. “Yeah,” said the German woman, “if you had, we could have built something that actually worked.”

There is no possible response an American can make to any of this, beyond smiling and nodding. This is a far greater culture shock than little things like lack of public restrooms.

14. There is a near-total lack of public restrooms.

15. German coffee is mediocre. British cream is amazing. I am told that German beer is basically the greatest thing ever.

16. The British version of Indian cuisine lives up to all the hype and is incredible.

17. You can sell alcohol at a dealer’s table in Berlin. We were seated next to the schnapps dealer. One of them spoke very good English and helped me navigate a phone tree to figure out where my laptop had gone to (answer: left on plane flying into Berlin) and the other spoke virtually no English. He and Kevin, with a mutual vocabulary of perhaps ten words, managed to have several lengthy discussions of techno music. Apparently “oontz” is universal.

18. Losing my laptop was very stressful, but I tried to make the best of it. “We will go in early on Monday,” I said, “and check with lost & found. I am sure the airport is run with typical German efficiency!”

“….No,” said one of our German hosts sadly.

Despite this, after a lengthy wait in a line full of increasingly angry people, I got into the Lost & Found and said “I left my messenger bag on this flight, it had a laptop–”

“Brown leather, Macbook Air. Wait here.” Two minutes later, I was reunited with my laptop. So that was nice.

19. There is this moment where you are standing in an electronica dance party full of furries and somebody hands you a straw and you are drinking Cuba Libres out of a gallon bucket with a group of fursuiters and you think “How is this my life, again?”

20. When the con sends a limo to pick you up that is made out of five Trabbis welded together and the limo driver is explaining that these cars are made primarily out of pressed wool and incidentally, that’s the Reichstaag over there and you think “How is this my life, again?”

21. I would love to go back.

MythCon & Other Awesomeness

Posted by | Conventions, publishing | One Comment

Back from Mythcon! Which was fantastic!

Seriously, if you told me I’d enjoy an academic conference that much, I…well, I am generally too polite to call anyone a liar to their face, but I would have been deeply skeptical. But it was awesome! (Collaborative Beowulf readings. Who knew?* Also there is something deeply surreal about being in a room where everybody else can recite the opening to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English.)

It was a great honor to be able to present the Mythopoeic Award (“The Golem and the Jinni” won) and I’m trying to get the text of my speech edited to post here–it’s the usual thing where you write the speech and then you spend the hours beforehand scribbling margin notes and cutting bits, so what I wrote is not exactly what I said. Will try and badger it a little closer and then will put it up here. (I mean, it’s mostly about the revelation about Aslan being Jesus, and some of you have heard variations on it before, but there’s also a lot about how I wanted to be Smaug when I grew up. Anyway, everybody laughed–a lot–which is what I ask for in a speech and they did not repo my Aslan statue, so it’s all good.)

Also, while I was gone, we cracked 500 copies sold of Toad Words! (We’re actually closing in on 600, at the time of this writing!) And how cool izzat?

And my ARCs of Castle Hangnail arrived and oh my god, it’s finally a real book. That one seemed to take forever–it’s the witch book–although it was actually a pretty fast turnaround as these things go.

castlehangnailarcs

(I’ll try to do a giveaway or something–AFTER I get back!)

Now I get basically two and a half days to prep for London. Madness! Bunnies!

*The organizer laid out the Anglo Saxon version and the translation and asked people to come up and read if they were moved to do so. Kevin said “Oh my god, it’s English major altar call!” And it totally was. And it was pretty darn awesome. The con-chair is apparently an authority on the subject, judging by the young man who read in the original language, then collapsed in his chair behind us, panting “I read for Drout and he didn’t throw me out of the room!” as if he’d just won a gold medal. It was pretty delightful.

Toad Words Launch Day!

Posted by | publishing, Writing | 7 Comments

And we are live, gang!

toadcoverblog
(I’m including the cover again so we all remember what I’m talking about…)

Smashwords

An ePub version only is available via Smashwords.

Amazon Kindle

It’s Kindley!

Kobo

Impressively fast turnaround from Draft2Digital for this one. (If anybody grabs this one, please let me know if the formatting transferred okay–I checked the D2D draft, but it’s not quite the same as having an e-reader of that type!)

Barnes & Noble/Nook

One day turnaround for Draft2Digital here–still impressed!

iTunes

Okay, Draft2Digital is getting a tentative mega-thumbs-up from me. We’ll see how they do on the payouts, but so far…holy mackerel.

PDF version

If you can only read PDFs, don’t despair! I will happily sell you one directly for 3.99 via Paypal! E-mail me at ursulav (at) gmail.com or use the contact form on the site and we will make it happen!

Review Copies

If you’re a book reviewer and would like a free copy of Toad Words, shoot me an e-mail at ursulav (at) gmail.com with a link to your site and the format you’d prefer, and I am delighted to send one out!

But Where Do You Get The Most Money?

I love you guys. I get the most money via Smashwords, at the moment, followed by Amazon, though Amazon pays it out a LOT faster. However, we’re talking a matter of a couple cents and I really want you to get it in the format that is most convenient to you. If you’d like to support me, the best thing you can do is leave an honest review (and by that I actually really mean “honest” because I don’t read my reviews, so you can say anything you want and my feelings won’t be hurt) on whatever platform you like to read on. Reviews may lead other people to buy the book, and that’s worth way more than the nickel or so between various platforms.

I Found A Problem

Thank you for letting me know! Comment here and let’s see if it’s something I can fix. (Formatting between devices is occasionally wonky and not always within my control, but I will do my best!)

Will There Be A Print Volume?

Not at the moment. If somebody in the small-press world wanted to make me an offer, I’m totally willing to entertain the option, but it’s not something I’m currently set up to do myself, and I’d rather not do it than do it badly (and oh, but the internet has made it easy for someone like me to do it very, very badly!) I could (and may be forced to!) learn the pre-press ropes to do a POD version, but I suspect it would cost a lot more than 3.99.

Cover Reveal and a Question!

Posted by | publishing | 10 Comments

Okay, gang, we are looking at releasing–very soon!–the fairy-tale anthology I’ve been promising you for awhile. In fact, here’s the cover!

toadcoverblog

(Was I supposed to do a big reveal there? Errr…play a little drum roll on your desk, maybe?)

(Also, Twitter told me to do that jacket quote. When I get some more blurbs, I may change it to something slightly less meta.)

Now, this is not the annotated fairy-tales, which I can’t actually sell for copyright reasons–those are best treated as weird fan fic–but stuff like “Toad Words” and “The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight” and “The Wolf And The Woodsman.” Basically, most of the short stories and weird little things I’ve posted here over the last few years* plus–excitement!–an all new novella called “Boar & Apples” that has been seen nowhere before!

There is poetry, but not much of it. Hopefully not enough to damage your enjoyment.

Depending on proofreaders and my own mad schedule, I am hoping to get this out sometime this week. However, here’s the thing…

Smashwords is…well…frustrating and very slow to push out to vendors and in a number of ways behind the times. And there is a service called Draft2Digital that will get the book into iBooks, Kobo, and B&N, and do it much faster than Smashwords and without the various griefs, which I’d kinda like to use. (Plus Amazon, on Kindle, obviously, but I want a non-Amazon alternative as well, because eggs, baskets, etc.)

The only thing that would be lacking here that Smashwords does is offer various formats, like .pdf, .rft, read online, etc, which would not be available if I don’t go through the Smashwords Meatgrinder.

So my question is—is anybody using those formats here that will be completely unable to access the book if I don’t do Smashwords? (If you want to read on your actual computer, there’s a free program called Calibre that will take an epub, and the book would be in all the various stores.)

I’d kinda like to skip the Smashwords step, now that Draft2Digital is an option, but I don’t want to lock anybody out of reading if I can help it, so I want to hear from you guys!

(Alternate possibility–skip Smashwords, and if you cannot do any of those other reading methods, e-mail me and I’ll sell you a file directly–trying to avoid direct sales because I don’t want to be tech support for that, but I could probably manage a couple if people really need .pdf or .txt!)

As always, Toad Words would be completely DRM free (or as free as I, as creator, can manage it–can’t swear that various services don’t get shady on the back end, but I’m opting out wherever there’s an opt out.)

Anyway, let me know your thoughts, everybody!

*Except “Elegant and Fine” which is fan-fic for another five or six years, until the first Narnia book falls out of copyright.

The Day My Grandmother Exploded

Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

So we were chatting on a writing forum about “hooks”–the things you’re supposed to have that make the reader keep reading–and about hooks that were clearly over the top and existed just as an attention grab, and somebody tossed out “It was the day my grandmother exploded” as an example and then I was off and running and I haven’t got any idea what this is at all, so don’t get attached (and don’t tell me I said that about Digger!) because I think this is probably just weird flash fiction and not the start of a messed up urban fantasy.

 

It was the day my grandmother exploded. Also the day of her eighteenth wedding.

Mom always said she’d get into trouble, carrying on with men like she did, but Gran liked men and men liked Gran. Problem was that she was a staunch Catholic and did not hold with foolin’ around outside of marriage, so she dragged each one to the altar, sometimes a couple of times each. (She wasn’t so good about divorcing them, but our parish priest had a soft spot for Gran and generally fudged the paperwork.)

The husbands were generally pretty good-natured about it–Gran being well-endowed in the charm department–but the last fellow was a small-time hit-man from Pittsburgh and it turned out his business associates weren’t so good natured. I wouldn’t think you could wire a bomb to a wedding cake, but mysterious are the ways of The Lord. Or the mob, anyhow.

The explosion was so loud it shorted out Uncle Willy’s hearing aid and he kept saying “What? What? Is it the militias?” while bits of Gran, hit-man, wedding cake, and a discount wedding singer rained through the VFW dance hall. I turned to run, and that’s when I saw the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life.

She was short and well put together and had dark hair and a diamond stud in her ear. More importantly, she was not a relative.

My heart leapt. I won’t swear that wasn’t the adrenaline.

We took shelter under a table together.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m Jack, short for Jacqueline, never Jackie. I believe I am passionately in love with you, although it could be that things are blowing up, and I’m not good at telling the difference.”

“What is going on?!” she yelled.

I looked over my shoulder. The table full of presents erupted in a sheet of flame.

“They’ve booby-trapped the presents,” I said.

(I should have known. The table had been nearly full, and nobody sends that many presents to an eighteenth wedding. The family had been pretty well tapped out by the time Gran hit double digits.)

Uncle Willy grabbed my shoulder and shouted something about ‘them’ coming through the windows, which wasn’t likely because there weren’t any windows. The VFW was the local shelter in case of tornados or nuclear war. It was built out of cinderblocks and civic paranoia.

The beautiful girl looked around wildly. “Who’s doing this?”

“The mob, I think,” I said.

“The militias!” said Uncle Willy.

“How do we get out of here?”

“I’m not sure…”

“They’ve come with their ammo and their canned goods!”

“There must be a way out!”

“Well, we got in here somehow…”

Years of canned goods,” Willy clarified. “They have to have enough canned goods each to survive a thousand days of darkness when the Antichrist comes.”

“Oh, is he here too?” I asked vaguely. Another present blew up, embedding a full set of wedding silver two inches into the top of our table.

“They think he is,” said Willy darkly. “They carry specially blessed bullets to shoot him and bring about the Rapture.”

“I always wondered how that worked…”

“Can you shoot the Antichrist?” asked the beautiful girl, sounding a trifle hysterical. I hoped she hadn’t come in with the wedding singer. That would be awkward.

“Only in the forehead,” said Willy. “Between the sixes. That’s what they say, anyway.”

“How do you know so much about militias, Uncle Willy?”

“I dated a woman. But she wanted to bring the canned goods to bed with her, and I drew the line. I respect your survivalism, I said, but I do not believe the love between a man and a woman and a half-ton of French-cut green beans is a wholesome love. And I stood by that.” He nodded firmly.

“You gotta draw the line somewhere,” I said.

“This is not normal,” said the beautiful girl, putting her head in her hands.

“Well, no,” I said. “It’s my family.”

She looked up at me with narrowed eyes. She was wearing a little bit of purple eyeshadow and there was a smudge on her cheek.

“I’m the normal one,” I said, and then the long fuse on the presents finally hit the end. A waffle-iron rose from the table, soaring like a stamped metal bird, and struck the light fixture. I put my arms around the new love of my life and the sparks rained down around us.

 

Mom eventually overturned the table to discover me with my head in Amanda’s hair (her name was Amanda.) Uncle Willy was composing a letter to the editor on the back of an envelope. She sent them both out to wait for the police, along with the other two dozen guests, and we went to the grim task of scraping up Gran and shoving most of her into Mom’s enormous handbag.

It wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted to do on a first date, and I did get Amanda’s number, so it all worked out for the best.

“Is this Gran or wedding singer?” I asked, holding up a squishy bit on the end of a dustpan.

“Is it wiggling?”

It was not. I dropped it again.

Sirens blared outside the hall. Mom shoved her handbag into my arms and said “Go. I’ll deal with them.”

I went. The handbag was fake alligator and weighed a ton, even without a dead maternal relation in it.

The VFW had a back door, and fortunately there were neither mobsters nor militias around it. I could have probably dealt with the mobsters, but I have never been tested against blessed bullets or cans of French-cut green beans, and I wasn’t in the mood to find out.

It was a short walk around the block, across the high school’s lawn, and onto our street. The handbag thumped against my ribs and I elbowed it. “Settle down in there.” It settled.

The house was unlocked and it is possible that a burglar might have been able to walk in, although I won’t swear to his mental state if he tried to walk out again. I opened the folding doors to the laundry nook, dumped the clothes from the washer into the dryer, and then emptied the handbag into the washer. Chapstick, three paperback romances, a set of keys and a water bottle fell out.

I shook the handbag, and Gran slid out with a wet thwuck! and landed in the washer. I closed the lid, started the water, and set a bulk bucket of detergent on top of it, then went to get more weight.

Two cinderblocks and an unabridged dictionary later, the lid was locked down tight. It still rattled occasionally when something slapped the underside, but it didn’t come loose. I started the dryer so we’d have clean towels afterward.

I wanted to call Amanda, but there was a lot of eldritch howling coming from the washing machine, and anyway, calling thirty minutes after our first meeting might come off as needy. We’d sort of been making out under the table, admittedly, but that was probably-going-to-die petting, and I wasn’t sure if that counted.

I hoped she’d want to talk to me again. We’d have the best meet-cute story ever. On the other hand, Uncle Willy and the exploding wedding cake. Also, she might know the wedding singer.

I did feel bad about the wedding singer. The hit-man had obviously made some bad life choices, but the singer’s only bad choice had been coming to Gran’s wedding. We’d have to see if he had any next of kin.

I decided to text Amanda, under the pretext of finding out if she’d gotten home okay.

About an hour went by, and the howling stopped. So did the thumping. Then Mom came home, looking tired.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“It’s fine,” she said. “A couple of eager deputies, but then Sheriff Eli showed up, and he soothed it all over.” (The family had an understanding with Sheriff Eli.)

“That’s good.” Amanda still hadn’t replied. Maybe her phone wasn’t charged. Maybe I was overthinking this.

“How is she?” asked Mom, pulling open the liquor cabinet.

“She hasn’t answered my text. I don’t want to send another one and look all desperate.”

“I mean your grandmother.”

“Oh. Done howling.”

Mom went over and knocked on the lid. There was a pause, then a knock in reply.

Mom did the first part of shave-and-a-haircut. The response came immediately.

“Good enough.” She stacked up the cinderblocks and the dictionary beside the washer and opened the lid.

“Did you have to use the washer?” asked Gran, standing up. “You know I hate that thing that sticks up in the middle. My back gets so cramped.”

“It’s easier to clean,” I said. “And there was a lot of your hit man in there with you.”

Gran sighed and dabbed her eyes. “Poor boy. He was just looking for a second chance.”

“He was sixty-seven. He told us he’d capped a guy last month.”

“He liked to keep his hand in.”

My phone buzzed. Home ok u?

           It pained me that someone so beautiful could not type the word “you.” Still, love was patient, love was kind, love could overlook poor grammatical choices. Got home fine, I replied. Pretty wild day, huh?

“Put that thing down and help your grandmother,” ordered Mom.

I sighed. There are disadvantages to living at home after your first century. Everyone treats you like a kid. I helped Gran down from the washer.

“The dryer is a front-loader,” she said. “I can climb right out.”

“We have to pour all your water in by hand and scrub it down afterward, Gran. We can just set the washer to heavy load and it takes care of itself.”

“In my day, we had cauldrons for this sort of thing.”

“In your day, people lived in hide huts and prayed to the Mother of Serpents.”

“Nothing wrong with the Mother of Serpents, Jack. Could do with a bit more of it. Better neighbors than the Baptists, anyway. None of this parking-you-in on Wednesday nights. It was shameful what that nasty little Patrick man did to her, even if he was a saint.” (This was a sore spot with Gran, and had been for years. You can spot us on St. Patrick’s Day because no one in the family is wearing green.)

My pocket buzzed again. I handed Gran a bathrobe, made my excuses, and went to go see what sort of movies Amanda liked.

Pen-Priest

Posted by | Art | One Comment

So MCA Hogarth and I were chatting about free time, and I said I believed in the ancient legends and then she drew us looking at a Free Time and then I drew another Free Time and then she drew a Deadline and then made the class Deadline Slayer and then since we were apparently making character classes anyway…
penpriest

There are prints. Of course.

Plausible Ghost Stories

Posted by | Uncategorized | 18 Comments

So we’re driving home from the Con Monday listening to podcasts, and one did a show on ghost stories. There were about five, as I recall, three of which were ridiculous, one of which was so-so, and one of which made me go “…huh. Okay, I could give you that one.”

(For the record, I don’t have much opinion on ghosts, which is maybe a little surprising, since I have so many opinions on so many other things. (I more or less want to pitch every ghost hunter show out the window while screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs, but it’s not the same thing.) I have strong opinions about gray aliens, conspiracies, and every form of cryptozoology but especially Bigfoot. But ghosts I am somewhat agnostic on, unless I am having a grim fit of skepticism when I attempt to disbelieve in the entire world.)

But it got me thinking about what constitutes a plausible ghost story. Not an “I totally believe in ghosts now!” story, but just…”I do not immediately roll my eyes and call you a lying liar that lies.” Obviously there’s some combination of factors that reads as “plausible” and some that immediately push it over into eye-rolling territory.

On a whim, I went over to one of the many send-us-your-real-ghost-story sites on the web, and this was very helpful, because it provided so many examples of implausible stories. You could run down the list muttering “Lying…deluded…hypnogogic hallucinations*…lying…dream…get the pipes checked…yeah, you inflicted that on yourself…hypnogogic hallucination…oh honey, you need a therapist in a big way.” (I am Judgy McJudgerson when it comes to ghost stories by anonymous posters. This is undoubtedly a character flaw.)

And I started working up a mental list of what I’d find plausible in a ghost story and what threw me out completely, and I’d be curious to hear yours. (If the answer is “Nothing, because ghosts aren’t real,” you are most likely right, but you won’t have much fun with this one.)

Frequently I found that what made something plausible was simply the narrator acting like a real person would act in those situations. Which may have some benefit for writing, somewhere down the road, or if I decide to make a living breaking into the lucrative world of telling ghost stories for no profit whatsoever.

An Incomplete List Which Probably Only Applies To Me:

POSSIBLE DEAL-BREAKER: Any story that begins with “I’ve always been sensitive to spirits…” establishes you as a probably unreliable narrator who is going to assume ghosts before checking the pipes for air bubbles. (Sorry, them’s the breaks.) It is possible to come back from this one, but unlikely. If you then go to talk about guardian angels, we are done.

DEFINITE DEAL-BREAKER: Ouija boards. The minute the Ouija boards make an appearance, I check out mentally.

PLAUSIBLE: Trying to fix the supposed ghostly phenomena. “The cupboards kept swinging open, so we got new latches. The doors kept coming open so we replaced the hinges.” Even if it doesn’t help, I appreciate that you tried like a sensible person.

DEFINITE DEAL-BREAKER: Dripping blood. Yawn.

PLAUSIBLE: Banal hauntings. The really implausible ones are always big and dramatic. Something like “Bobby-pins kept showing up all over the house, which was weird because none of us used bobby-pins,” strikes me as a better detail.

DEFINITE DEAL-BREAKER: Unexplained phenomenon that I happen to know the explanation for. One ghost story I read had someone trying to blame a fairy ring on ghosts, and talking about seeing spiders of a species they didn’t know. Get a field-guide, people!

PLAUSIBLE: The ones that seem to be more “the world is stuck in a loop” than “something is purposeful here.” Like the Lutheran Ladies Bible Study met every Wednesday at eight for forty years in this room, so now that it’s been re-purposed for apartments, at 8 pm on Wednesday, the room suddenly smells like coffee. I’m surprisingly okay with that.

POSSIBLE DEAL-BREAKER: Murder victims. Honestly, the minute you discover that somebody was murdered in the house, I get twice as skeptical. It’s a little too pat and ties things up too neatly. Real life doesn’t make for cohesive plotlines.

DEFINITE DEAL-BREAKER: “I woke up and felt like something was in the room with me.” This is the classic sleep paralysis intruder phenomenon, and can be filed under “brains are weird.” Also, “I felt like something was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe,” aka the Hag. Brains do this, no ghosts required, and seeing it attributed to ghosts irks me.

POSSIBLE DEAL-BREAKER: “And then I found an old photo album, and there was a picture of the ghost!” This is very likely a deal-breaker, since I’ll assume you saw the photos first and filled in the rest mentally, and anyway, it’s a little too horror-movie perfect. I’d be much more likely to accept “I found a photo album and there were photos of people. No, I couldn’t pick out the ghost. Photography from that era was primitive at best and anyway “zippy blur at around ankle level” doesn’t photograph well.”

PLAUSIBLE: Lack of malice. I have a much easier time believing in ghosts that aren’t vengeful, just, y’know, there. This is not to say that a ghost can’t get angry over something the homeowners are doing, but broadly non-malicious, just doin’ their own thing–that works much better for me than “I AM GHOST-DAR, DESTROYER OF TENANTS.” (Will also accept “There are X number of ghosts in the house for some reason, but only one has an attitude problem.)

POSSIBLE DEAL-BREAKER: “I was scared, so I kept doing the exact same thing I was doing and didn’t take any precautions whatsoever.” Look, people do dumb things hoping that life will get better, but I am much more impressed when someone decides to sleep in a different room or put a brick in front of the door to keep it swinging closed.

DEFINITE DEAL-BREAKER: “I’m a professional ghost hunter…” ‘Nuff said.

 

 

*The intense hallucinations/waking dream experienced when falling asleep. Hypnopompic hallucinations occur when you’re waking up. I get those, incidentally, if I’m having a sleep paralysis episode, and they are as clear and vivid as real life, so I don’t blame people for thinking there’s weird stuff happening.

Toad Words

Posted by | Writing | 14 Comments

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

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(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.

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