Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Chapter 45

Posted: December 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

The argument raged for over an hour – if one person screaming and the other refusing to answer could really be called an argument. Jessie ranted, raved and sobbed, hurling accusations and curses at Vinnie, before falling finally, blessedly into silence.

All of this seemed to be happening at an impossible distance, the loudest shouting little more than a blurred murmur. Maddie sat alone in the ambulance bay, awash in misery. She knew she should go back upstairs – the concrete floor was cold, and she felt uneasy knowing that the undead were likely still outside. But she couldn’t yet stomach facing her sister, or Vinnie.

How could I be so stupid?

She looked back at everything Vinnie had said or done – his reluctance to disclose who he’d been with before her, his repeated insistence that she stop caring about his prior relationships, even his pointed comment to Jessie, “I don’t want you” – and saw it all as confirmation of Jessie’s claim. She did briefly wonder why Jessie had kept it to herself until now, then pushed the question aside; perhaps she’d been sparing Maddie’s feelings, and Caleb’s death had simply been too much for her.

He should have told me. He should have said something. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. I should have known.

The sound of footsteps on the concrete pulled her from her thoughts. She tensed, straining to see in the dark, instantly angry with herself for failing to re-load the handgun in her pocket.

A voice came out of the darkness. “Madelyn?”

Hannah. Maddie wiped her face again and steadied herself. “Over here,” she called back, wincing at the waver in her voice.

The older woman shuffled toward her, groping until her hand fell on Maddie’s shoulder. She eased herself down next to Maddie with a groan. Once seated, she reached out and grabbed Maddie’s hand, gripping it tightly in her own.

“Are you okay?” Hannah asked quietly.

Maddie shook her head, forgetting for a moment that Hannah couldn’t see her. “No,” she whispered, fighting not to cry. “Are you?”

Hannah sighed deeply. “I–” She stopped, seeming to choke on the words. “I tripped,” she said raggedly. Her pain was palpable. “I tripped.”

Maddie wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. “An accident,” she said. Hannah turned her face against Maddie’s shoulder and wept. “You didn’t mean…it was an accident, Hannah.”

Hannah pressed a hand to her mouth and sobbed. Maddie held her, rocking gently. “It was nobody’s fault,” she whispered, not believing the words even as she said them. Hannah had tripped, and that had been an accident. Caleb had fallen from the roof, and she felt that that too had been a quirk of bad luck. But who had hit him with the bar? Who had hurt his knee in the first place, setting him on the path that had led to his death on the sidewalk outside? No matter her reasons, or what she’d believed at the time, she’d been the one to start it all.

I’m the one at fault. And I deserve every terrible thing I feel right now.

After a bit, Hannah stopped crying; she sat up, sniffling, and gave Maddie’s leg a pat. They sat in silence, still holding hands, until the older woman awkwardly cleared her throat.

“Do you think she was right? Your sister?” When Maddie stiffened, Hannah hastened to add, “About the roof. Did Vinnie drop him on purpose?”

Maddie immediately said, “No.” She didn’t believe that for a moment. “I think Caleb slipped, or let go before Vinnie was ready. I don’t think he meant to hurt the kid.” Me, on the other hand…

Hannah took a breath, as if to speak, then simply sighed deeply. “I think…” She swallowed, loud enough that Maddie could hear it. “I’m scared. I think that we’re never going to get out.”

Maddie didn’t know what to say to that. She thought, in her secret heart, that it was probably true – they were all going to die here, one after the other, and she was never going to see her mother or father again.

I wish I could just run. She closed her eyes, considering the wonderful possibilities. She could leave her sister behind, and Vinnie, and all of the hurt and baggage that the two of them carried. She could stop trying to get out, and instead find a place – a safe place – where she could hide. The house had been that, until they’d screwed it up, and what had been the cause? They’d been out, looking for a way to leave. If we’d just stayed inside… That was her fault too, she knew it, another weight added to the already towering pile of guilt and blame she carted on her back. Run away, and leave all of them behind.

A useless dream. She had no idea where she would go, or how she would get there; moving through the city alone, on foot, was the exact opposite of safe. Vinnie’s car was out of commission, stuck as it was in the flooded street, and she doubted she could steal it from him, even if it was useable. That would be going way too far.

What I need, she thought dreamily, is a boat. Then I could just sail away.

She sat up so suddenly that Hannah gasped beside her. “What is it?” the other woman whispered urgently. “Did you hear something?”

“A boat!” Maddie cried, gripping Hannah’s hand so hard she could feel the knuckles grinding.

“You heard a boat?” Hannah asked, skeptical.

“What? No, no. We need a boat.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on.” Maddie got to her feet, hauling Hannah up beside her, and dragged her across the garage toward the stairs. Her anger at Vinnie and Jessie was gone, swept away in the mounting excitement she felt.

We should have thought of it before. She took the stairs two at a time, releasing Hannah’s hand so she could bound up ahead of her. They wouldn’t need much – a small sailboat, or even a pair of waverunners. It wasn’t a foolproof plan – the Navy was no doubt patrolling the waters around the city, watching for escapees – but it was certainly better than sitting around waiting to be eaten.

Jessie and Vinnie both looked up, startled, when Maddie burst back into the loft. She quickly explained her idea, repeating herself three times after excitement made her difficult to understand. Jessie immediately shook her head, her mouth set in hard lines. “No way,” she snapped. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Hannah, surprisingly, was also hesitant, though fear had nothing to do with her reticence – she objected, of all things, to the theft.

“We can’t just take someone else’s boat!” she argued. “Maddie, that’s stealing.”

“You can’t be serious.” Maddie waved her hand around, encompassing the whole of their situation in the gesture. “Who do you think is going to care?” she asked. “They’re bombing us.”

Hannah crossed her arms. “I’ve never stolen anything in my life.”

Forgetting for a moment that she hated his face, Maddie turned to Vinnie in mute appeal.

“Hannah.” His voice was so quiet, his tone so gentle, that Hannah couldn’t resist meeting his gaze. “It’s been almost a week. If there’s anything left – if we find something we can use – odds are that the owner isn’t coming back.” He raised an eyebrow. “Can you steal from the dead?”

Hannah wrinkled her nose, but said nothing. Maddie turned her attention back to her sister. “Jess-”

“No.” Jessie shook her head again, emphatic. “I want to stay here.”

“We can’t. Jessie, there’s nothing here! We don’t even have any water!”

Jessie’s eyes narrowed. “Then let’s go back to the house. It might be empty now.”

The thought of returning to the house made Maddie’s stomach clench. Their reasons for staying – the storm, Shawn’s possible return, Caleb’s injury – were all gone now, and she couldn’t stand the idea of being stuck there again. Even if the dead that had infiltrated had somehow lost interest and left, she wasn’t willing to set foot back inside.

“We can’t go back,” she said firmly. “I won’t.”

“No, you’ll just follow him again.” Jessie sneered. “He’s a liar, and a murderer, why can’t you see-”

“Enough!” She glanced at Vinnie, whose expression remained impassive. “This isn’t his idea,” Maddie said. “It’s mine. The three of you are free to make your choice: stay, or go. I’m done arguing. But as soon as it’s morning, if the way is clear, I’m leaving.”

There was a long silence, and then Vinnie nodded. “I’m going,” he said. “It’s a good idea.”

Hannah hesitated for a little longer, but finally she nodded too. “Okay. But,” she warned, “I can’t sail.”

“I can,” Maddie assured her. She’d been out on various boats in her lifetime, first with her father, then later with Jack and his friends. She wasn’t sure she could handle a full-on sailboat by herself, with the boom and the jib and whatever else, but few people had those in the city; most of what she’d seen at the docks had been speedboats, which she felt more than capable of sailing.

Jessie refused to say anything, but Maddie was confident that when the rest of them made moves to leave in the morning, her sister would come along. She was stubborn, not stupid, and she wouldn’t want to remain in the city alone.

They stayed awake for another hour, refining the plan. Vinnie suggested that they start with the harbors and piers on the eastern side of the city, as far from the bridges as they could get; if the military was blowing them up, that must mean they were being over-run, which wasn’t good for their little group’s safety, nor for the odds of them escaping undetected by anyone who could stop them. They had no map to guide them, but Maddie was confident that they could find something along the way – every gas station in the city tended to carry tourist maps, marking out where visitors could go to rent everything from waverunners to call girls.

She continued to think, long after Hannah and Jessie had succumbed to exhaustion and fallen asleep; her mind ran on obsessively, searching for each flaw or potential danger in the scheme she’d devised. When Vinnie placed a gentle hand on her arm, she jumped.

“You need to sleep,” he said quietly. “We have a lot of walking to do.”

She looked at his hand without speaking, staring until he removed it. He looked sad as he pulled away, though she pretended not to notice.

“Sleep,” he said again. He got to his feet. “I’ll keep watch.”

He moved away from her, deeper into the shadows, and she watched him go. Part of her wanted to call his name, bring him back to her side and make him explain what he’d done, and why he’d lied about it. Instead she dragged herself over to the remaining empty sofa and collapsed down onto the cushions. She didn’t think she would sleep; her mind was too full. She was surprised, then, when she rested her scratchy eyes for just a second, and in the next moment found herself squinting as the first pale streaks of morning light penetrated the dark loft.

Blinking, she peered around the room. The others still slept – even Vinnie, who had stretched out across the top of the stairs, one hand resting on the shotgun at his side. Maddie narrowed her eyes, uncertain of the wisdom of falling asleep while on guard duty, then realized it made no real difference: the only way into the station was through a giant metal door, and the noise of anything coming through it would have woken them all anyway.

Thinking of the door, she frowned. She hadn’t heard any noise at or near it all night – which meant, perhaps, that the horde that had crowded around it the night before hadn’t returned after being drawn away by the explosion. Would they eventually come back? What had brought them to the station house’s doorstep in the first place?

She hadn’t had much time to consider what she’d seen when she and Vinnie had crouched in the street, or to explore the impression she’d had, that the behavior of the undead crowd had looked and felt familiar. Now, giving the others a few more precious minutes of sleep, she mulled these things over. She saw them again, in her mind’s eye: milling before the door, a few stumbling into the metal before bouncing off and back into the crowd. There had been no frenzy, no sense of urgency or desperation; they hadn’t been swarming, like the group of undead that had overcome the door to Shawn’s house and swept inside like a flood. They had been…waiting. But for what?

Her knowledge of the undead was gleaned entirely from movies, and one half-forgotten documentary about the so-called zombies of some tropical island, who weren’t zombies at all but rather drugged and kidnapped people used as slaves. Drugs had long ago ceased to be a viable explanation for what was happening – which left the varied and conflicting information she’d learned from Hollywood. Nothing she could remember indicated anything other than violent, animal-like behavior on the part of the dead; they had no direction, no thought processes, and no focus outside of food. Yet that hadn’t been the behavior she’d seen the group exhibit.

What were they doing? She felt again like the answer was just beyond her grasp.

She didn’t have long to ponder things; before too much time had passed, Vinnie stirred on the floor, and together they woke the other women. Jessica groused and threatened to remain behind, posturing that lasted until the others had trekked down the stairs and prepared to leave; then, as Maddie had suspected, she dragged herself down to join them. Vinnie made them all stand back a good distance from the door before he raised it, held it a foot from the ground, and waited.

No hands darted under to grab them; no shuffling feet appeared in the gap, and no moans drifted in to the bay. The dead had yet to return to the station, if they ever would. The way was clear.

Vinnie threw the bay door all the way open; the metal roar of the door ratcheting up echoed off of the building across the street and crashed back at them, impossibly loud. Maddie glanced at the others, saw her own fear mirrored on each face, and forced herself to breathe.

We can do this. She curled her fingers around the gun in her pocket, comforted by the feel of the metal against her skin. We can do this.

With her heart in her throat, Maddie stepped out into the morning light.

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I don’t remember how old I was when I snuck a peek at my first romance novel.  I don’t remember the title, or the name of the author.  I don’t remember much of anything about the plot.

I do, however, remember the details of the first sex scene I ever read.

The hero character was royalty of some sort – they usually were, in the older novels – and the heroine was not.  The hero character was sexually experienced, and the heroine was not.  The hero character wanted to have sex – and the heroine did not.

So he drugged her.

Okay, that’s not quite true.  He thought about drugging her; he set things up so he could slip her something, something that would cause her pain – pain only an orgasm could relieve.  At the last minute, he backed off on it.  But one of his guards slipped it to her anyway, and gosh darnit, he had no choice but to help her out.  She resisted, at first – until he threatened to let his guards in and have them take care of her in his stead.  Then she gave in, and there was sex.

I haven’t thought about that scene in many years.  Recently it came back to me, and I started musing, not just about the scene, but about the woman who wrote it.  (It was most likely a woman; romance authors usually are.)  What was she thinking when she put that down on paper?  Did she think it was hot?  Was she constrained by the “rape is love” trope that was so huge in that era’s romance novels?  Was she proud of it?  Or did she cringe?

If I tilt my head and squint a little, I can almost see a way that scene could be considered empowering.  The heroine doesn’t want to have sex – not because she doesn’t have the desire, but because her society tells her that she’s wrong and dirty if she does.  The drug takes away her consent – as does that threat of gang-rape by the guards – but it also gives her star billing in the sex scene that follows.  The focus is not on the hero and his pleasure; his sole purpose is to help her, which means bring her to orgasm.  Multiple times.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a fucked up scene.  But I can also see how it was written.

Straightening up, she barely had time to register his arrival when he was on her.  The wall scraped her back as he pushed her against it, his hands in her hair.  She gave a muffled “Oh!” when his lips met hers; his tongue slipped in her mouth, hot and desperate with adrenaline and fear.  When he finally pulled away, she gasped.

When I was younger, a man shoved me up against a wall like that.  I was 18; he was decades older, basically a stranger, someone I sold coffee to once or twice a week.  He’d made my politeness into something other than it was, a delusion that came to its head in the back parking lot of a gas station.  There were complicating factors, things that affected the events that followed, but the upshot is that I testified in court and he went to jail.  Back to jail.  Where, for all I know, he still is.

My husband has tried to grab me like that – one of those passionate, “I have must have you now” embraces.  I don’t melt; I don’t go weak in the knees with lust.  I freeze, like a cornered animal, and wait for him to stop touching me.  That kind of thing is the exact opposite of “hot” for me.  He hasn’t done it in a long time, and I’m grateful.  I hate it.

So why the hell did I write it?

We could come up with a lot of reasons that sound good.  Maybe I was “reclaiming” the experience.  Maybe I thought it fit the characters.  Maybe I set aside my own personal bias against that kind of interaction and acknowledged that it’s something other people like.  All of those could be true.  But I know what I think.

I think I wrote it without thinking about it at all.

When I write, I’m fascinated by the things that are revealed to me as I go along.  If I get into the right groove, I learn things about the characters, their environment, the plot, whatever, that I didn’t know until I started.  It’s interesting, the things that come out when I let myself just go.

I also learn exactly what I’ve internalized, just by virtue of living in the society I live in and having the experiences that I’ve had.

I try to fight these things, on a conscious level; hence why Marion is obsessed with brides wearing white and Maddie pushes back against it, or why she and her mother have that conversation about “fault” when it comes to infidelity.  But sometimes they slip by me, and I don’t even notice until I go back and read my work over again.  Vinnie’s kind of grabby, isn’t he?  Always yanking Maddie out of the way, steering her where he wants her to go.  I noticed that, after I wrote it, and made a conscious decision to have her assert herself when it happens.  But I didn’t realize it was there, while I was writing.  Just like I didn’t realize that I was slut-shaming Maddie’s sister – an addict whose choices are judged equally, regardless of whether she makes them deliberately or while under the influence, when her ability to truly choose anything is pretty compromised.  I noticed that, too, far later than I should have.  It’s out there now, and all I can do is try to work against it moving forward.

I consider myself a feminist.  And it bothers me that I have these issues pop up, that I have these notions and ideas that I so strongly disagree with, just lurking under the surface, waiting to rear their ugly heads.  In the normal course of things, I’d go back and re-write, tweak things so they were erased from the plot, but that’s not how this works.  So instead I try to recognize them, fix the problem as best I can, and thank god that I’m finding these things before the whole book is finished.  Because who wants to be “that” author?  The one whose work encourages women to fall in love with an abuser, whose book says that rape is okay or stalking is normal or a woman’s refusal is only good for as long as it takes for a man to convince her otherwise, however he may do it.  I sure as hell don’t.

People think that writing romance is easy.  I have a whole post coming about why I disagree, from a technical stand-point.  But I’ve also found it difficult on a personal level.  Writing about sex, love and relationships shines a light on the dark shit you’ve swallowed, and confronting that is a hard, scary thing.  I find myself not only grappling with what I learn about myself, but with the responsibility I feel toward the people who are going to read what I write.  I’ve had the enormous pleasure of getting to know many other romance writers over the last two years, and I’ve found that they all feel that sense of responsibility; many of them wonder if they’re writing in a way that doesn’t alienate or harm the women who read their work.

I worry about the not-quite-woman who takes a peek, and finds a heroine being jacked up against a wall for a first kiss.  And my pen feels very, very heavy.

On Loss, and Other Things

Posted: April 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Two years ago, when I realized that my 30th birthday was approaching and I hadn’t yet done any of the things I wanted to do with my life (other than have children), I panicked just a little bit. I made the decision to do two things that were at the top of my list: go back to college, and finally publish a book. I’ve done really, really well at one of those things. The other…

I enjoy school. I’ve loved all of the classes I’ve taken over the last two years, even the ones I was required to take for my degree. I’m set to graduate in December with a nearly perfect GPA, job experience, a portfolio full of work and a pile of recommendation letters for absolutely anything I choose to do next. It’s been awesome, and I’m not for one minute sorry that I did it, even though an associate’s degree in creative writing isn’t exactly one of those “practical” degrees we’re all supposed to be out there getting. No regrets.

Well, one.

See, the point of the degree, when I enrolled, was to improve my writing skills and make connections in the local writing community. Done, and done! I was also supposed to simultaneously use those improved skills to keep churning out chapters for the novel I’ve been posting here, which I’ve…kind of done. With gaps. Increasingly large, painfully disappointing gaps. I have this one area in my life where I feel very accomplished and fantastic, and this other area where I feel like I’ve not only dropped the balls, they’ve shattered all over the floor and I have no idea how to pick them up and glue them back together. And the unfortunate thing is that the area where I’m succeeding was supposed to be the temporary fun part, and this other area was supposed to be the part I would build on for the future. Somehow, in the last two years, things got all twisted around and upside down, and I lost sight of what I set out to do.

A few weeks ago I had another one of those panic moments. I was deep into the process of looking at four-year schools to transfer to, with the intention of getting a BA in Creative Writing instead of the AA. And then maybe an MA. So I could teach writing! Because I do that, a bit, in my current job, and it’s really rewarding and fun and I love it dearly.

And then my husband said, “That’s wonderful! But, uh, when will you write?”

Oh. Oh yes, that.

The last two years have taught me that I can’t attend school full-time, properly parent my children, maintain my sanity and my marriage AND give my writing the time and attention it needs and deserves. I can’t. And if I were to pursue this teaching thing, that would be another four years, minimum, of being stretched incredibly thin and feeling like a failure somewhere and still not, you know, doing that thing I really really really want to do, which is finish and publish a fucking book.

I like teaching. But I like writing a whole hell of a lot more.

So that’s where I was, a few weeks ago, leaning toward just finishing the AA and getting back to the thing I really love to do. And then two things happened.

Someone I like and respect gave me some advice that pushed me a little further toward the writing side of things.

And someone I liked and respected, whom I’d known for almost a decade and considered a sort of private role model, passed away. And when she did, nearly everyone said, along with the grief and the heartache, “Oh no. She was so close to doing the thing she really wanted to do, and would have been so good at. What a terrible shame.”

I don’t want to talk about her too much; some stories are simply not mine to tell. My sadness is nothing compared to that felt by those who were closer friends, or her family. But she inspired me, when she started to pursue that dream. She inspired me when she kept trying to reach it, even when she was fighting the illness that would eventually end her life. She was an incredible, kind, compassionate person, and she would have been awesome at what she wanted to do. I will miss her.

So those two things happened, on top of some other things, and the end result was a massive reality check. I looked around at the path I was barreling down and realized, holy shit. This is so, so far from where I set out to be. And it’s not really, in the end, what I want. Maybe someday! But not right now.

The point is this: I have been working. I have an outline for the rest of this book – which I don’t think is cheating, serial-wise, but if it is we’ll just toss a flag on the field and keep running. (I don’t actually watch sports, so just go with that for me.) I’ll be starting the next chapter very soon. My goal is to have the whole thing done by the end of the summer. From there, I will figure out a timeline for the next book.

Yes. The next book. There’s at least one more in this universe. I have the outlines for two other, entirely unrelated manuscripts as well, that are more in the vein of mainstream paranormal romances. I think you’ll like them. I hope you will.

Hang tight with me, my loves. Shit is being straightened out. The path isn’t entirely clear for me yet, but I’m getting there. I forgot, for a little while, what it was I wanted to do. But I’ve remembered now.

Chapter 33 is Coming

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

And so is Maddie, which is why there’s been a delay.  I’m willing to screw up a lot of things, but my first published full-on sex scene?  Not one of those things.  I’m aiming for an evening post, but if not, tomorrow for sure.  Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

I did this thing, back in January, and it’s a thing I think everybody does, at one point or another, in their life. You have all these balls, you know, and you’re juggling, and you’re juggling, and you’re really kicking ass at it and you think, “Yeah! All right! Let’s toss another ball in there, I have this thing on LOCK.” And then you do, if you’re crazy or stupid or whatever it is that I am, and pretty much immediately you realize oh. Shit. Maybe not so much? With the balls? And the juggling? My arms are fucking tired. I did it once before, when I had, like, two perfectly sleeping kids and thought it would be awesome to add a third, and then the universe was like “HAHA YOU IDIOT HAVE SOME TWINS. SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.” And then I did it again recently (but not with kids, chill Mom), and it was nearly as badly thought out and exhausting but in an entirely different way.

I dropped some balls, is what I’m saying.

But it’s over now, and I’ve learned my lesson. Things here will resume as scheduled starting next week; a new chapter will go up June 1st, and we should have smooth sailing all the way through to September. I’ve taken on a reduced course-load for the fall semester – 4 classes instead of 7, because really, that shit was ridic, DON’T DO THAT – so, fingers crossed, it should be easier to achieve some kind of school/work/home/book balance.

In the meantime, if you’re still here, let me know. And please accept my abject apologies for disappearing off the grid for a bit there. I’m doing my best to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I want to know what the fuck Maddie and Vinnie are going to do too.

Down with the Sickness

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning (to be published later today), after spending considerable time trying to finish today’s chapter despite a fever and stomach virus. Children share everything, including their germs, with no respect for things like deadlines. DAMN THEM.

I’m going to aim for Wednesday to get up 26, which should give me enough time to recover. Sorry, loves.

Delay

Posted: February 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

That about sums it up. A thousand apologies; further explanations will come soon.

Are YOU Ready?

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

9.1.2013. The apocalypse is coming.