Friday, August 27, 2010

Breathe Easy

Frank grabbed the toaster out of my hand.

“Hey! I’ve got bread in there!”

“I don’t care.” He fingered the dangling cord. “I’ve got more to worry about than burnt bread.”

“I know, And I’m sorry, but, I can’t really help you. I’ve almost gone through my quota.”

Frank opened my trash can, tipped the toaster and shook my bread slices into the bin.


“Hey,” he said, dropping the toaster in after the bread. “You brought this upon yourself, my friend.”

I gave up.

“Fine.” I said. “I will give you all the air you need.”

He smiled. “I thank you.” 

He grabbed the long hose and attached it to his breathing tank, then kicked on the compressor.

I watched his needle rise and my needle fall.

“Thanks again, buddy.” He wiped some condensation off his faceplate, stuck it over his head and took in a few deep breaths. Then he winked at me, slipped into the airlock and exited into the haze.

Stupid global warming.

Thanks for the writing prompt, @alphabete 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Untitled Five Minute Fiction

Leah Petersen hosts a weekly Five Minute Fiction contest on her blog. This week, I decided to play along. She posts a one-word writing prompt and you then have five minutes to write a story.

Here's what I came up with. Oh, and I won the contest. Woo hoo!

He cocked an eyebrow at me. Stupid Vulcan. He hasn’t got more than that one stupid expression. At least not that I’ve seen in these seven months.
“I found another bug under the mattress.”
He didn’t even glance at me, just sat there, meditating or whatever it is Vulcans do for hour upon hour, day in, day out.
“Fine, I’ll eat it.”
When they threw us both into this cell, I figured his super strength and logic would get us out in no time.
No such luck.
Green blooded bastard.
He glanced over.
“Why don’t you work on a plan to get us out of here instead of just sitting there another day like a big, stupid pointy eared rock.”
He reached over, pinched my neck.
Sometimes, it’s the only way I can get to sleep.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I decided I’d make my fortune with a science fiction novel, maybe an epic saga, not unlike Asimov’s Foundation series.  He often claimed that he merely cribbed The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Change the names, add atomic powered spaceships and bang, instant classic.

I was going to do it with the story of Lyndon Johnson. In space.

Start with a backwater planet, a place fiercely independent and proud of its own heritage, yet saddled with vast regions of dirt poor farmers and ranchers. And a young boy who grows up there, lying to his friends and neighbors, possessing an instinctive genius for political manuevering, ends up in the galactic council or whatever I ended up calling it.  Round about volume three or four I’d have to come up with the Vietnam of space, but that was much later.  And the space Kennedys.  It just all seemed to fall into place in my head.  Sketchy, but doable.

First I had to come up with the planet.  I wanted to name the planet first.  I mean Texas produced LBJ, was instrumental in producing him, so my space Texas had to be just as unique.  Then I had to name spaceboy himself, little Lyndon.  In fact, maybe I needed his name first, then work backwards to the name of the planet.

Drebbin. Nope.

Shamlet Walker.Maybe

Initials! That was it. Maybe give him the initials LBJ, but don't use them. That would help future academicians to help understand my underlying metaphor. "A ha!" one would say. "The hero has the same initials as LBJ! It must be some sort of parable. I shall write my thesis on it!"

Okay, so future doctorates depended on this. Let's see. Had to be subtle, but strong.

Lipid. Lipid Behrans Joculan. Yes. A good space name.

So young Lipid, who'd be given the nickname of "cowboy" as a kid (genius!) would grow up a backwoods space farmer, then go on to bring the glory of galactic civilization back to his homeworld, then rise to patriarchal overlord of the imperial senate, then ascend the throne to become the Great Space Emperor.

It would practically write itself!

Yes, and the great space Vietnam would loom over Emperor Lipid's reign, even as he continued to make strides toward equality for aliens and humans.

Oh yeah, baby.

So, next I needed the name of the planet. Lodestar. Yes! It was like saying Lone Star when you had a stuffy nose, and Lone Star, of course, is the nickname of Texas. So subtle! So perfect! The future doctoral dissertations were piling up!

So Lipid B. Joculan of the planet Lodestar. Right. Now an opening sentence.

An opening sentence.

Well, that could wait until tomorrow. I had the actual hard work done. Names. Naming a thing gives it power. I had the power.

I took the power and stuck it in the back of my brain. It short circuited, spun me around. I wobbled, fell back on my bed.

The ceiling spiralled. My feet floated. I could see the light. Rising. Rising.

Then a hat. And a face. A familiar face. Scowling. And then a voice. A familiar voice.

"Don't screw with me, boy."

I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the giant head of Lyndon Johnson now consuming my depth of field. But he burned through my eyelids, pried them open with the force of his will.

"Listen to me, boy. I will not stand for this. Do you understand?"

I nodded.

"I said, do you understand?"


"Good. And don't try to recast it with Jack, either. Get your own damned ideas."

"Yes, sir."

And he began to fade, and I relaxed, and then he was back.

"Wait. Use Dick. Skewer the son of a bitch."

And with that, he was gone.

I sat up.

Let's see.

Dixon. Flitchart Dixon of the planet Lorbayinda...

Monday, August 16, 2010


I wrecked my car during high school. Ran into a tree. What a moron.

I broke my ankle, split my lip open, but otherwise came through it okay.

Or did I?

Ever since then, I feel like part of my face, around my upper lip especially, has been less sensitive. It's not that it's numb, or has no feeling at all, just, maybe, less than there should be.

And, maybe, I'm emotionally less sensitive as well. Sometimes I think I'm practically Vulcan. Is it a result of trauma, is it a reaction to moving so many places, starting over so many times over the course of my life, is it some sort of coping strategy that evolved? I don't know. But sometimes, I feel like I'm emotionally numb.

The protagonist of Sean Ferrell's debut novel, Numb, arrives into the world literally numb. His first remembered moments are of stumbling through a sandstorm into a circus somewhere in the backwaters of Texas. He's numb, has no feeling at all, and soon becomes part of the circus sideshow. Nails are driven through his skin and he doesn't feel it. So begins his journey through popular culture, first as a freak, then as a, well, more high class freak. Numb, as he's called, experiences life without physical pain. And, in a way, he seems to have trouble relating to emotional pain as well. Yet he's certainly capable of causing - or at least bearing witness to - a tremendous amount of pain in himself and those who get too close to him.
Numb: A Novel

Numb, the novel, sucked me right in. I received it Friday afternoon and found myself grabbing it at every available opportunity. By Sunday morning I had devoured it. Could it be that I detected myself in the way Numb, the protagonist, stumbles through the world?

The book put me in mind of Paul Auster, whose novels contain a similar feeling of detachment from their narrators. In Numb, Ferrell creates a sort of avatar of and commentary on contemporary culture. Numb, the character, begins life fully grown, aware of and knowledgeable about everything except his own past. He starts his life in obscurity, grows a following, and, by the power of others more than any steps he takes himself, gets dragged up the ladder of success. He ends up in the spotlight, both figuratively and literally, as Ferrell casts his glare at the absurdity of celebrity. 

But these kind of metaphorical overtones aren't shoved in your face. It's a very open, deceptively easy to read work. I found it to be engrossing, entertaining and, in a few places, disturbing. Ferrell's voice is assured, his writing crisp and engaging. As I mentioned, I zoomed through it, caught up in Numb's strange journey.

I loved little observations. "Living for more than a few days in a hotel is like being dead and resting in a morgue. Everything you need is at your disposal, but you need nothing." I appreciated the way Numb, the character, acknowledges and understands and is affected by the internet but never directly interacts with it. I loved the irony of Numb being a man who lets every one else make decisions for him, the complete opposite of every Hollywood hero, while Hollywood courts him and tries to tell his story - a story that Numb himself doesn't even know. It's funny because it's true.

As I sit here thinking about the novel, I discover more and more interesting layers. There's a Christ story in there (is Mal, Numb's friend and sometime savior, a John the Baptist, paving Numb's way in the wilderness?), lots of digs at celebrity culture and Hollywood, and a parable about someone like me, someone who can feel that the world spins so fast, that life goes by so quickly, that things are so strange as to leave him numb.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


She keeps it in her dresser drawer. The top drawer, with her jewelry and stockings and souvenir matchbooks.

Sometimes, when she feels truly alone, she unseals the plastic bag and takes a long sniff. His scent is still there. Or so she tells herself.

It’s soothing. Comforting. It makes her feel like he’s still here.

She only saw him once. In Atlantic City. She’d been so young. He seemed so old.

She’d gone to the concert with her friend Beverly. Whatever happened to Beverly? Hope she didn’t marry a lout like Mike.

Mike. Ugh.

She risks another whiff. This time she touches it, just for a moment, letting her fingertips brush the silk.

He’d been so electric. Sure, in retrospect, he looked a little unhealthy, sometimes he even forgot the words of the songs, but he was so alive, so vital, so important.

And he’d whisked that scarf from around his neck and walked to the edge of the stage, and she caught his eye, and she began shaking, she couldn’t stand up, it was so hard, and he looked at her, and he touched her hand, and he gave her the scarf.

Beverly never spoke to her again.

She seals the bag, sticks it back in her drawer, safely tucked in the very back, on top of her 45 rpm record of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”

“Thank you,” she says to no one. “Thankyouverymuch.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Just finished reading Wireless by Charles Stross. Here's a review of it I posted on Amazon.

It's the worlds he creates. Layered, fascinating worlds. In stories like Missile Gap, A Colder War and Palimpsest, he creates strangely familiar yet utterly cold and different realities from our own, worlds so textured I wanted to spend more time exploring them. This was my first Stross book and it's a mixed bag. I loved the world-building stories mentioned above, but felt left out of some others due to my utter lack of knowledge of Lovecraft. And one story, Trunk and Disorderly, never pulled me in at all - I finally just skipped over it. Stross plays with some wonderful recurring themes - cold war angst, "meta" character names, slide presentations and terraforming - throughout the collection that kept me engaged and, sometimes, smiling. Other conventions, such as the Lovecraftian nature undergiding some of the stories, completely put me off. And his favorite words seem to be caul and lour. Overall, I'd recommend this book. It's, as the cover blurb brags, "a lively collection" and makes me want to seek out more of his work. Though I'll definitely be skipping the "laundry" novels, if the story here is any indication of their general nature. Just not my cup of tea.

Friday, August 6, 2010


They called him Noodle.

He never knew why.

Maybe because of the limp. Maybe the stringy blond hair. Who knew anymore? Kids say the darnedest things, and all that.

So Noodle it was.

He joined the Navy. They overlooked the limp, desperate, he guessed, for sailors. They shaved his head, for which he thanked them.

He lived on an aircraft carrier, a giant city on the sea. He filled vending machines for twelve hours a day. Off duty, he learned to smoke and stare at overhead conduits and tune out the noise of the other men.

He made one friend. One.

He told no one about his name. They all called him Rayburn, if they called him anything at all.

During an extended leave, his friend invited him to stay at another guy's apartment. They were three Navy guys, stuck in a second floor craphole in San Diego.

Friday morning, he woke to the sound of thumping. Thuds. Laughter. Strain. He shouldn't be able to hear it. He tunes out every noise on the ship. Why would this wake him?

He stumbles into the living room where the other two guys are wrestling. Wrestling. On the living room floor. Are they drunk? It's five in the morning.

"Stop it," he says.

"Tell me that to my face, Rayburn," one of them replies, slamming the other to the floor. The whole place rattles.

There's a banging on the door. An urgent knocking.

He opens it. It's a girl. A woman. She's, well, gorgeous. Her eyes are blue, bluer than, yes, the Mediterranean. He's speechless.

"Will you guys knock it off?"

She's wrapped in a flannel robe. She's tired. She's angry. She's beautiful.

"Oh, sorry," he says.

The other two guys rush to the door. "Yeah, we're sorry. Real sorry."

She nods, begins to walk away.

"Hey," one of the other guys says, "You wanna come in?"

She stops. Faces them. "No," she says, smiling. "Actually, I want to kill you."

They laugh. They smack each other on the back and head toward the refrigerator.

She looks at him. He watches her pad down the hall.

"Sorry," he says again.

She stops, turns, looks at him.

"I don't really know them," he says. It just comes spilling out. "I tried to stop them. I don't really understand them. I guess they're used to being on a big, noisy ship."

She blinks, shoves her hands into the pockets of her robe.

"Well, they've ruined my morning."

"I know," he says. He walks into the hall. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee to make up for their idiocy?"

She stares at him. "What's your name?"

"Noodle," he blurts out, unthinking.


He nods.


He nods again.

She shakes her head. Says nothing, It feels like ten thousand years go by.

"Yeah," she says. "You can buy me a cup of coffee. And then we're gonna come back upstairs and kill those guys."

He closes the door behind him.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


For your approval: my headshot (originally snapped by Tim Brosnan for Mauritius).

Artist Profile Article

Here's a link to an article I wrote for Greenville Business Magazine about the new Artistic/Executive Director of Centre Stage (a great space where I've acted in two great shows, including last fall's Mauritius).