Monday, April 25, 2011

Redundancy

Sorry for not posting in so long. Here's a piece of short short fiction that I might submit soon. But first help me workshop it and tell me why you hate it:

Redundancy

by Darren Pardee

There was a schizophrenic lady on his train every evening who knew she was crazy, but only half the time.  Her happy persona knew it.  “Make room for the crazy lady!” she’d say with a deep-maroon grin drawn onto her pasty face with what looked like an oily crayon, as she shuffled against the tide of commuter egress.  She spoke with a high-pitched warble, the same sort of voice one would use to tease a laugh out of an infant.  When the train became elevated she would profess the beauty of the sunset as if it was the first time she had ever seen one.  She was always concerned for her fellow passengers if the train car was particularly crowded, and gave her childlike encouragement to those attempting to disembark who were having a rough time of it. 
But her angry persona didn’t seem to know she was crazy, or if it did, didn’t care.  Her angry persona glowered at non-whites, mouthed voiceless fuck-yous to those she felt threatened by, complained to the conductor over the intercom that a good portion of the brown-skinned passengers on board were illegal immigrants.  Her angry voice was not childlike and it never admitted to psychosis, whether it was self-aware or not.

On the day he was fired, he got the happy persona.  She sat next to him and urged him to look out at the horizon but he quite reasonably did not feel like it.  He wondered if putting on his headphones while she was babbling and cooing in his ear would bring out the angry one.
 
Due to budget concerns.  Department is relocating East.  You spend too much time on the internet.  We have three people doing the same job.  We’re shipping these jobs off to Singapore.  Your last two performance evaluations have been subpar.  They threw these at him, at least some of them, excuses he barely heard, as he sat there sweating and thinking about how to tell his wife.  Before he could, he had to probe his memory for the reason.  It was a confusing jangle of explanations that did nothing to explain.  He was either fired, or laid off, he wasn’t sure which, and in fact, had the impression he was both.

“It looks like a Big Stick popsicle,” she said, and he found himself wanting to be reassured by the tone of her voice alone.

Another crazy street urchin, a girl of hopefully seventeen, followed him off the train and offered him a quickie behind the local seniors’ home as he was walking to his car.  “I’m on the pill,” she said.  He shook his head and she rolled her eyes in feigned exasperation.  For a moment he considered it, just taking her around the corner and fucking her up against the wall.  What stopped him was not her looks, which were homely, and not his marriage, which was amiable, even pleasant, but the image of his naked shanks pulsing and bucking against her behind the dumpsters of the Home which smelled like maple syrup in the morning and rancid milk by nightfall.

His wife was not home yet, wouldn’t be for another hour at least, and he paced back and forth in front of his computer for quite some time, staring at his four year-old resume and watching the cursor tap impatiently at the bottom of the white screen.  He eventually drifted to the television, and when he heard the garage door grumble to life, he scrambled for the computer and closed the accusatory file.

“How was work?” she asked him as they ate dinner on the couch.

He said, “Fine,” and now, committed, went upstairs to change out of his work-clothes and into his pajamas.

***

He boarded the train again in the morning, neither early nor late for anything, on the lookout for private detectives, and he was surprised to see the schizophrenic lady on his train.  Not because he rarely, if ever, saw her on the morning commute (although he presumed she must board at some point in the morning in order to be returned during his evening ride), but because she was not wide-eyed and grinning, nor was she scowling or mouthing obscenities.  She was sitting complacently, her hands folded in her lap, looking unconcernedly out the window.  He sat across the aisle from her and, after observing her for a few moments, asked if she had the time.  She opened her pocketbook, looked at her phone and calmly told him eight-twenty-three.  No happy or angry persona here, no oily-crayon lipstick, no remarks on the ice-cream-colors the sun was capable of producing.  She was adrift, like he was, normal and aware but unwittingly playing a game, like he was, the game of obstinacy that would find its breaking point at some unknown hour midday, to be revisited upon his fellow commuters in a happy daze or dull rage, chosen arbitrarily, severed from the umbilical of her routine, pleading for return.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Greatest Query Letter Ever Written

Re: Query

 

To Whom It May Concern,

I heard that your not reading Young Adult manuscripts right now, but mine is so terrific that you will definitely reconsider. I am currently an unpublished writer trying to hire an agent for my fiction novel, which is sure to make a lot of money. I have tried probably a billion times to sell my novel, but I get nothing but rejections from publishers so I guess I have to go the "agent route" even if that means being forced to pay a comission. As you may or may not know the writing market has really taken a dive lately, so you will be surprised to find out that, after 58 years of honning my craft, I have as yet to "make it." But that's a whole nother story!

My 840,000 word Young Adult fictional manuscript starts off with Chapter 1. Chapter 1 is only 35 pages long and is a very detailed description of the weather, which is important (as you may or may not know) for establishing the mood. The next chapter (Chapter 2) is where the "meat" of the story begins! In it, the hero (female) comes home from school and has dinner with her parents. After talking with her folks about school and what classes she likes and what her homework is, she goes to watch TV, but her little brother is hogging it. They get in a fight and then the Mom tells them to calm down. Suddenly the phone rings! It is the principal to tell her (the hero's) parents what a terific student she is. So she relaxes and says, "Ah, this is the life!" But as it turns out, she is actually a vampire! We learn this in Chapter 5.

The plot thickens in Chapter 12 when she falls in love one day with a boy at school. But he is NOT a vampire, and so she feels conflicted. They do not have sex because she is worried she might bite him during it and "accidentally" turn him into a vampire too (although I can happily add a sex scene, if you think it will sell). You are probably asking yourself, "This sounds familiar?" as this might sound very similar to a very similar novel already out there which I will heretofore leave unmentionable, but it is NOT, it is TOTALLY DIFFERENT, because the girl is the vampire, not the boy. Will the hero (female) and the other hero (male) ever have sex? You will have to read the entire novel to find out!!

Please let me known immediately (don't take months to answer this, just a simple yes or no) if you are interested into representing my novel "MOIST ARMS" as how could you not be since I am obviously tapping into a very HOT genra. Please be advise that this novel is COPYRIGHT so you cannot take it and pass it off as your own, or I WILL SUE. Also, this is NOT based on a true story, so any potential film makers who will want to make it into a movie don't have to buy life rights or anything.

You're website said to query first before sending the complete ms, but I did you a favor and pasted the entire novel into the body of the email below in case you wanted to "dive right in." I can still give you one of my self-published copies quickly if you want that, however, since I live only three and a half blocks from your office. I have enclosed a picture of me so you will recogize me when I come to see you.

Best wishes,

P.S. This can be a series, just give me the nod and I'll start writing book 2 of 10.

P.P.S. I also sent a copy to Oprah so if she picks my book I am going to need a publisher STAT! So please prioritize.

P.P.P.S. Let me know if you find my picture attractive.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Untitled Short Story (1)

*First two paragraphs of new untitled short story in the works.*

I asked Jesus into my heart when I was eight years-old and again when I was fifteen. They say the third time's the charm, but I haven't felt the need to ask again. My Sunday School teacher taught me the prayer the first time and I thought it was just a part of growing up, like learning how to ride a bike or getting braces. I was actually quite surprised when my best friend at my public elementary school, Janine, looked at me baffled -and not a little perturbed- when I told her I'd been "washed in the blood of the Lamb." That was when I found out that not everyone went to Sunday School like I did.
When I told my mother what I had done at church that day -we were driving home, I in the passenger seat and my baby brother Caleb in the car-seat in the back- she looked over at me warmly and told me how proud she was. "Some might say you're not old enough to understand it," she told me. "But you're certainly much brighter than other girls your age." She stopped us at McDonald's for our usual Hamburger Happy Meal (I always had to share with Caleb, who only liked fries), and in celebration of the big step I had taken she spoiled me with a soft-serve cone. But she was wrong, I did not understand it. Who ever does completely?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Katrina's Cold

*Author's Note: This is an unrevised sketch inspired by an altercation I witnessed on this morning's train. Probably not an official story, but here for your reading pleasure.

Katrina's cold was mostly gone but for a tickle in the back of her throat. The tickle forced a wet cough out of her every couple minutes or so and made her eyes water, but she gauged she was well enough to get back to work -a relief, since she was part-time and didn't accumulate sick pay. She dressed quickly that morning, the usual county-issued khaki uniform, steel-toed boots, olive-green jacket. She toted her helmet in her right hand and her lunch in her left -tuna fish sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil, banana, Thermos of chocolate milk, all crammed into a wadded grocery bag- as she half-jogged to the train station in an attempt to catch the 7:45 for once.
She made her train -barely- squeezing in just as the chime went off above her frantic head, and she found an aisle-facing seat across from a handsome man in his thirties who was so engrossed in his iPhone that he allowed Katrina as much time as she needed in which to admire him. She plopped her helmet and lunch-bag to the floor of the train as it rattled out of the station and removed her jacket -stuffy in here this morning. She coughed into the crook of her elbow and settled herself into her seat, letting her gaze roam over the motley assortment of commuters, continually circling back to the man across from her as if drawn by gravity. He looked up at her when she coughed again and she quickly buried her eyes in her arm along with the rest of her face. Of course she was probably much too homely for someone with his looks, but still, there was nothing wrong with a simple morning fantasy.
A large lady in the forward-facing seat directly to her left shook her head wearily and grabbed what looked like a tissue from her bag. At first Katrina thought the woman was going to offer her a Kleenex and was ready to gratefully accept it -she regretted neglecting to stuff a few into her pocket on her way out this morning- but the woman instead covered her own mouth with it. It was a face-mask, like the kind surgeons wore.
Katrina couldn't help feeling a bit hurt -and not a little peeved- by this. Her ears burned and she glanced over at the cute guy to see if he had noticed the big woman's token display of indignation, but he was still fiddling with his phone. As if I can help my coughing. The train trundled on.
Another cough and this time the masked woman glanced over her shoulder at Katrina, her eyebrows drawn down in disapproval. "Cover your mouth," the woman said and her voice suggested a warning.
"I did," Katrina replied defiantly. She wasn't going to let this fat paranoid bitch spoil her day so early. And in fact she had covered her mouth, with her arm again, and she had even turned her head in the opposite direction of the woman. What more did this bitch want?
"Obviously you're not," the woman said, "I can practically feel your germs on the back of my neck."
Now even the guy across from her had looked up to follow the altercation. Ears and cheeks burning she said, "It's not like I can help coughing. People cough."
"And they cover their mouths," the woman retorted. "Gonna make everybody on this train sick."
Silence. Katrina had no retort ready and she stewed in her seat. The man across the aisle went back to whatever action was happening on his phone.
But the big woman would not be dissuaded from having her full say. "I can tell the conductor and he'll kick you off this train. No sense making everyone on this train sick. You're lucky I don't tell the conductor."
"What, for coughing?" Katrina trilled. Her cheeks and throat burned and her eyes watered. "Why don't you just mind your own business? How disrespectful. You are so disrespectful."
The woman addressed the air of the train, appealing to the commuter gods. "I hear this all day every day," the woman said in a rehearsed litany. "All day every day. 'Disrespectful,' but I bet you can't even spell it. Spell it."
Katrina blinked. "What?"
"Spell it. Spell 'disrespectful.' I bet you can't. You can say it just fine, all day every day, but you can't even spell it."
"You are so disrespectful," she said again, uncertainly this time. She could not come up with anything else to say.
"Oh, there's that word again! But she can't even spell it!" The woman cackled. "Spell it, and then maybe I'll respect you."
Katrina swallowed down a burning sandpapery lump in her galled throat. She tried on a sardonic smirk, but it didn't seem to fit her face which was ready to quiver apart. "Why don't you just shut up?" she spat after a moment's rumination. She felt her lungs aching to pant and she breathed quickly through her nose.
The woman cackled again. "Oh yes, I'll respect you plenty if you can spell it. Ha! All day every day! They can say it, but they sure can't spell it. Ha!"
The cute guy across the aisle was watching the verbal volley in what looked suspiciously like pleasure. She decided she would get even more vulgar to try to salvage any public reputation she might currently have as well as to deflect attention from the fact that she might be able to spell 'disrespectful,' but only if she had paper-and-pen and a few minutes to think it over.
"Why don't you just shut the fuck up already, bitch?" she said gruffly. She coughed into the crook of her arm again. Perfectly respectful. Her eyes were watering and she tried to swipe the moisture away as nonchalantly as possible so it would not like she was crying. Who does this bitch think she is? She tried on the smirk again, to no avail.
"Oh sure, sure, bet you can't spell that either," the woman said. "I'll respect you plenty. I'll get down on my knees."
"Get down on your knees and suck my dick," Katrina said. She felt impotent. Her nostrils flared.
The woman guffawed. "Oh, nice! Just nice! All day every day!" The woman got up from her seat as the train slowed for the stop. It happened to be Katrina's stop as well, but she wasn't getting out here, not with this woman.
"I hear it all day every day," the woman said, facing Katrina in the aisle and staring down at her with jolly eyes above the impersonal paper mask. "'Disrespectful," but can't spell it. Ha! Yes. They talk a good game, but don't have the know-how to even spell what they say."
Katrina only shook her head and kept trying to smirk without her face falling apart. She could not look at the woman, not with her eyes red and watery like this. The woman would think she was crying and by default be the victor. "Fucking bitch," she muttered under her breath while the woman continued to chant her catchphrase in the aisle for all the passengers to hear. "Fucking bitch, fucking mind your own business, people cough." She swiped another arm across her burning eyes and sniffed in deeply, keeping remnant nasal fluid from leaking out. Would she ever be over this cold?
The train stopped and the woman got out, loudly explaining Katrina's spelling ability to anyone who would listen. The handsome man got out at this stop too, almost as if in league with the fat bitch, but he had plugged earbuds into his ears, perhaps bored with the thread of conversation. What a shame because this was supposed to be her stop too, but there was no way. Not now.
The doors mercifully cut off the woman's sermon and the train continued on. At the next stop, she scooped up her helmet and her lunch and disembarked. Ten minutes later, a train headed in the opposite direction (and devoid of loud, obnoxious spelling-experts) picked her up and whisked her away to her intended destination. By the time she punched in to work, late again, her eyes had not quite stopped watering.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

House of Reptiles Shameless Plug (1)

I won't often use this blog as a plug for my purchasable fiction, so I'll make this brief and infrequent:
My first novel House of Reptiles is available as an e-book here from Smashwords for $2.99 USD. Smashwords sells it for every file-type available including .mobi (Kindle), ePub (iBooks, Stanza, others), LRF (Sony Reader) and PDF and Plain Text (for printing out, or online reading). Alternatively, it is currently available in the iBookstore for iPhones and iPads, and will shortly be available through Kobo, Sony, Barnes & Noble and Amazon websites for various e-reader devices.
FREE sample chapters are available through all of the above outlets, so try before you buy!
Thus ends the shameless plug. Next blog entry will be about something else, promise. :)
Thanks for supporting independent writers, artists, and bloggers.

The Caregiver, Novel in Progress (1)

*Author's Note: The following is the first chapter from a novel I'm currently working on tentatively titled "The Caregiver." It is about a male caregiver who takes care of an old man dying from complications with Parkinson's. Both of them have pasts they would like to forget, but can't --especially the elderly man, who is unmercifully haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. I welcome constructive feedback.*

19 June 2001
Dear Clarissa,
It appears that yellow must be the color of my doom. I was driving south down the Five with a wary ear to the shrieking and grinding from behind the dashboard and below my feet when I saw first the glow of it on the flat horizon, then the light itself, a big ugly yellow thing, nondescript but still exclamatory. I can read the sign now, and it’s inviting me to stay at the Komfort King Motel, Free Wi-Fi and HBO, and of course plenty of Vacancy, but vacancy is not a concern of mine since I’m not going to be staying. I’ll be stopping, yes, and sleeping, yes, but not staying. The sign grows, a jaundiced eye glaring belligerently at me as I pass the sign announcing the off-ramp, gas food lodging, Exit 321B, and the heading on the sign tells me that if I were to follow that exit to its coastal conclusion, I might find myself in Thornton, where Mom still takes her meals through a plastic tube stuffed rudely down her throat. Fitting, but I know that you never cared much for coincidences. You wouldn’t find any romance in the notion that the path that would deliver me from this stupid chase happens to intersect with Mom.
The gun is in the glove compartment. I am going to exit the Five at the Thornton Pass off-ramp, number 321B, pull into the nearest, most dimly-lit business establishment (probably not the Komfort King; too bright, too yellow, too soul-sucking), put the gun into my mouth and pull the trigger.
It is either that or end up like Andrew. It isn’t what Mom would have wanted, but given those two options, it’s what she would have preferred. I know you see that too. It’s probably one of the few things that you and her would be in agreement on, isn’t it? Do you remember how you used to be just like her? Andy and I took you to that carnival at the school once and you watched him steal a stuffed frog from a game stand while the barker’s back was turned. You were practically shaking with the guilt, and you wouldn’t take the toy from him. He kept saying that he stole it for you, and that made you feel worse. “The games are all rigged, anyway.” He tried to justify it to you in that way he had, that little smirk, the small curving of his upper lip on the left side of his face that suggested some sort of erudite worldliness that he didn’t really have. He told you, “They rob you, so it’s okay if you rob them,” but his use of the pronoun probably made you feel worse. He made you feel like you had stolen it, that you were an accomplice and therefore just as culpable as the criminal, and your idolization of Andy (I speak of idolization as ancient Aztecs might have reckoned it—devotion through fear) wouldn’t stop you from telling Mom about it later that night. She used the wooden spoon on him privately the next day while Lucien was at work because we all knew too well what he would do if it was to him you ran and tattled.
As I round the exit ramp, my heart does not race faster, my blood does not pulse quicker, nor is there any of the heat in my chest that usually accompanies my fear and makes my hands shake. I am remarkably calm. My hands turn the wheel smoothly, even as the engine whines and rattles somewhere in the bowels of this junk-heap and the brakes growl protestingly. I’m not concerned about the car’s functions anymore, as it only has to go just a tiny bit further, to the nearest secluded spot where I can pull over and do what needs to be done, what should have been done long ago. Even if it picks this moment to conk out for good, that’s fine. I’ll put the flashers on and do it quickly. I’ll just have to hope it’s a passing CHP officer that finally stops for my car, not a Good Samaritan motorist. I can’t imagine the grisly visual with which such a well-intentioned person might be confronted.
But the car makes it to the quadrangle of gas stations, motels, and roadside diners. The hitch in the timing belt hasn’t shown up tonight, and the car made it just a smidge over ninety-eight miles—I reset the odometer, like I do every time I travel back to Port Beach. I abandoned my overpriced studio apartment in San Francisco a little over an hour ago, leaving most of my belongings and furniture for the vulturism of the creditors (including Mom’s old chifforobe, do you remember that? how it was always your first choice of hiding spot on those wet dripping days we were hostage in the house and played endless games of Hide-and-Seek and –Andy’s favorite—Guns? and we always found you first, either by tagging you or shooting at you with our baseball bats held like AK-47’s and making expectorant pchew! pchew! pchew! noises? and how this would make you cry and you would accuse us of cheating, that we didn’t close our eyes all the way or counted too fast? and how despite all this, you would still choose the chifforobe as your very first hiding place over and over, forgetting your previous defeats through some sort of hopeful amnesia?), and made it here to the middle of the blasted California heartland, just seventy miles east of Mom in her bare lime-green room where perhaps even now she is sitting up and studying her carmine threadbare Bible by mesh-dappled moonlight. I told myself the next light I saw on the horizon would be the place I would take these final thoughts, and the yellow Komfort King was it. And my nerves aren’t jumping, my hands aren’t shaking. It’s like I’ve taken a Phenobarbital from my stash of pilfered hospital samples, although I haven’t used in months and dumped them all down the toilet before making my escape. I could take these soothed nerves as some sort of sign, but I know, I know, such talk just makes you annoyed and impatient, so I’ll leave it alone for good.
The darkest corner of this road-stop is a demode coffee shop with a round parasol roof and a squat annular dining room. There are windows three-quarters around the base for a panoramic view of trailer trucks and asphalt, but I find a parking spot far in the back and away from the empty windows, behind overflowing dumpsters reeking of rancid milk. It is dark, it is quiet. My body might not be discovered for days. Maybe when somebody finally comes along to trundle away the stinking refuse from these rusting dumpsters, they’ll discover another piece of trash that has to be carted off with the rest of the offal. But now I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I’m sure that’s nothing you care to hear.
I lean over and take the gun from the glove compartment, Lucien’s gun, the one he always forbade us from touching, the one he brandished at Andy once. You weren’t there; you were over at your friend Jessica’s house. Lucky you. I don’t remember if Mom ever told you about that night. I hope she didn’t. But I’m sure you know everything now, from where you are. Mom would quote 1 Corinthians 13:12 here, I’m sure, but I won’t patronize you. She did enough of that for all of us.
The gun is heavy. I am amazed by its weight and sleekness, its oiliness. There is something surreptitious and sly about that greasiness of the steel. Lucien kept it clean and preserved in its wooden velvet-lined box, like a museum relic. It has the weight of finality, like the thud of a slamming coffin lid. Its deadliness is not subtle; it is inherent and overt, it proclaims itself. I thought it would lose some of its heft, me being older and bigger now than my former pre-teen self, but it hasn’t. If anything it has gotten heavier, although that could be because it is loaded this time. I open the chambered cylinder and with a quick flick of my wrist I flip it back shut like Andy and I used to do when we were home alone, scaring each other with it, feeling omnipotent and vulnerable at the same time. One time Andy dared me to look down the barrel and I did; I put my eye right on the level of that deadly black cylinder, and I felt so dizzy I thought I was going to puke or pass out. I wonder if that will happen this time. I will likely have my eyes shut. In fact, I fear that will be a necessity.
There is a traffic signal in the intersection where the ramps from the interstate let out. On this street it has remained green for the through-traffic, and I tell myself that when it turns red, I will muster up the courage to finally finish it. Just as I’m thinking this, the light automatically flicks to yellow (the color, remember, of my doom), without any prompting from ramp traffic. The light (I assumed, anyway) is set to trigger red when any car has taken the exit, but there are no approaching lights. Before I can even blink again, the light switches to green, as if aware of its faux pas and quickly reacting to correct itself. I’m not sure if it even went red. But I did see it change to yellow, at least, no matter how briefly, so I suppose this is it then. I’d better put down my imaginary pen, stick the imaginary paper into the imaginary envelope and send it off to you, no need for imaginary postage (I probably couldn’t afford it anyway!). When you read it, be sure to consider Mom, Lucien, Drew, and, of course, yourself. Please don’t think this has anything to do with me. I don’t consider myself a tragic character, not in the literary sense at least. If I could describe myself as anything, it would be a loser. And before you laugh, I don’t, obviously, mean it that way. I mean, “one who loses.” More specifically, I mean in the sense that I can’t bear loss yet must be doomed to suffer it. Over and over. Andrew, you, Mom, Sophie (whom you’ve never met and likely never will). Some sort of karmic retribution from a past life, perhaps (imagine what Mom would think if she heard that!). I think the reason I’ve lost my nerve every time is because this has to be considered the ultimate loss. The loss of future experiences. But the loss of consciousness and memory—especially memory, especially that—more than makes up for it. And of course those theoretical future experiences also mean certain future losses. So I can do it this time. I can lift the gun to my mouth, as I do now, I can close my eyes and part my lips, as I do now, I can slip the oily barrel into my mouth, as I do now, and if I open my eyes again, it is only to watch the traffic signal. When it changes again, even if it’s only another aberration, I will pull the trigger. So I open my eyes now and wait, with the hard round end of the barrel pressed to the roof of my mouth and the sound of the car’s engine still ticking as it cools. The light is green. Soon it will be yellow. And then I’ll be gone. Blessedly gone. The final loss.
I miss you, sister.
Your loving brother,
Bruce