The Kite Runner: A Review

Today across the blogosphere, in support of Banned Books Week, hundreds and hundreds of bloggers are reviewing a banned or challenged book they've read.  Well, I've made no secret of the fact that I suck at reviews (in fact, I hate them – they remind me of doing book reports in school), but because this is an important week, I will contribute my two cents about my favorite challenged book, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Every so often I read a book that makes me so emotional, I can't stop thinking about it for days afterward.  The Kite Runner is a book like this.  Set in the political and religious upheaval of Afghanistan in the 1970s, Amir is a young boy who knows all about the terrible thing that happened to his best friend Hassan.  But instead of speaking up about it, he keeps quiet.  This really bad choice sets him up for a lifetime of guilt and affects every decision he makes, long after Amir and his father flee Afghanistan for the States.  Years later, he's given the opportunity to right some of the past wrongs, but some things are so awful they can never be fixed.

The Kite Runner is a painful read.  It's not sunshine and rainbows, and if you're waiting for some massive, redemptive payoff at the end, you're probably not going to get it.  The one moment of pure joy in the book is marred by an act of extreme violence against one of the most lovable characters.  It made me want to throw the book across the room and stop reading.

Sound depressing?  Well, it is.  But it's also a story that needs telling, because violence against children happens every day, everywhere.  Political oppression is a reality for millions of people.  And at some point in our lives, we've all made terrible decisions we've had to live with.

The Kite Runner is a story about fathers and sons, friendship, choices, political tyranny, and a journey towards redemption.  Hosseini's prose is far from perfect, but his voice is unflinchingly honest.  It's one hell of a debut novel.

Have you read it?  What did you think?

We love Banned Books Week!

It's Wednesday and I'm having fun over at Killer Chicks, wondering what would happen if my book was someday banned.  What numerous offenses would CREEP be accused of?  What offenses would YOUR book be guilty of?

CLICK HERE and play along!

Banned books week

It's Banned Books Week, friends! What does this mean?  Here's an explanation from the American Library Association:

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read
September 25−October 2, 2010

(reposted from the website)
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

JB Lynn has a wonderful post over at Killer Chicks today, so come on over and tell us what banned book you loved.  Because talking about censorship is a good thing.  A really good thing. 

May every challenged/banned book earn a hundred gazillion dollars.

Kickin' it old school

You know you're a geek when you're no longer in school but you drop big bucks on two textbooks and can't wait for them to be delivered.

Check out what I ordered (and yes, I'm ridiculously anxious for them to get here):

Practical Homicide Investigation:  Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques

Synopsis:  Renowned for being THE definitive source of homicide investigation, Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques is the recognized protocol used by investigative divisions of major police departments throughout the world.  It is also the text used in most police academies, including the prestigious FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.  It emphasizes essential procedures, combines detailed techniques with instructive case studies, and outlines the foundation on which to build a solid, prosecutable case.

Serial Violence:  Analysis of Modus Operandi and Signature Characteristics of Killers

Synopsis:  Linking the murders of an alleged serial killer to successfully present a case in court involves a specific methodology that has been scrutinized by the judicial system but is largely absent in the current literature.  Serial Violence: Analysis of Modus Operandi and Signature Characteristics of Killers fully explains the process of finding the nexus between one violent crime and another for the purpose of pursuing the same offender at trial.

Written by renowned experts, this book focuses on analyzing crimes of violence to unveil common characteristics that might prove useful in the identification, apprehension, and conviction of murderers.

Somehow I think these two textbooks are going to be a lot more interesting than anything else I read in university.  They were recommended to me by a fellow writer at ThrillerFest last year, and I've been meaning to order them for a while.  Mind you, I didn't need them with CREEP, but the new WIP involves a lot more police procedural stuff.  I find I'm getting stuck on a lot of scenes because I just don't know a lot of really basic things about police investigation and dead bodies.  I know that I can't put too much trust in what I see on TV shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order, much as I love watching them.

So what are you looking forward to this week?  Tell me here, or drop by Killer Chicks for Status Check Monday!

Long vs. short

I've had a really great writing week.  I shot right past my 10,000-word goal and am happy to say I'm sitting at 55k (or 198 pages).  Next week I'm going to focus on editing what I've got so far.  I've had a few Aha! moments as I've been writing, and now I need to go back and make those Aha! moments make sense.  I don't really have a choice – I won't be able to bring the story home if I don't clean up the first half.

Unfortunately, I think this draft is going to be really long.  I had hoped to wrap up around 80k, but based on the plotting I've done, I'm guessing I'll finish up somewhere around 110k or 115k, which means (big sigh) that I'll be cutting a lot of it during revisions.  Nobody likes a wordy thriller.  No sir.

So tell me, are your first drafts too long or too short?  Why is it I suspect most of you are in the too-short category, leaving me all by myself in Too-Long Land...? 

(Don't forget, it's Free-For-All Friday at Killer Chicks! Today's question for you to ponder:  What's your favorite true crime story?  I'll give you a hint of my answer – it involves a serial killing couple from my hometown in Ontario from the '90s.  Gruesome stuff.)

Dreams are evil

I had a dream last night that my cover for CREEP was pink.  Not hot pink, like our signature color on Killer Chicks, but pale pink.  Soft pink.  Girly pink.  I also dreamed it had curly letters that said CREEP: A NOVEL, and that there was a misty, blurry picture of a white flower (yes, flower).  My name was also in curly letters, but the font was so small it was barely readable.

It looked like a wedding invitation.

I woke up sweating.  Please God.  NO.

My subconscious mind is an evil, scary place, and clearly it's in overdrive at the moment to torment and terrorize me more than usual.  My editor at Gallery let me know last week that they were having a meeting to discuss the cover concept for my book, and of course that's all I've been thinking about lately.  Because cover art is really, really important.  I read somewhere that most buyers will purchase a book based on three things:  author recognition, the cover, and the back cover blurb.

As a debut novelist, clearly I don't have name recognition.  So the cover – front and back – really, really matters.  Now, I can't imagine that anyone who's read CREEP would imagine a flowery cover in baby pink... but you never know, do you?  You just never know what someone else's vision for your book will be.  A writer friend whose book comes out next year sent me a picture of his publisher's first attempt at his cover... and it was Not Good.  In fact, it was so Not Good that if it had been my cover, I would have curled up on the floor in a fetal position, sucking my thumb and wishing for the world to go away.  Luckily, they re-did the cover and now it's outstanding!  (Names withheld to protect the innocent.)

I can't imagine what it will feel like to see my cover for the first time.  I'm guessing it will make things feel more real.  Right now, even with all that's happened, things still feel sort of... surreal.

My favorite TV shows

Happy Top 10 Tuesday!  I stole this from Jennie Bailey's blog.  Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows of all time (some are still on the air, and some are long gone to TV heaven):

10.  Young & the Restless
Yes, I know.  This is nothing to be proud of.  But addiction is a disease.  I've been watching since I was 9 years old and I'll probably keep watching until the show goes off the air.

9.  Sons of Anarchy
An edgy, unapologetic look at life in a motorcycle club.  Sex, violence, drugs, guns, and bikes.  Add to that Stephen King's guest appearance sometime this season, and it's just about perfect.

8.  Without a Trace
An FBI team specializing in missing persons, headed by a hotheaded supervisor, solves cases in New York City.  I miss this show.  It was comfort food.  R.I.P.

7.  Grey's Anatomy
This alternates between gritty medical drama and soap opera, but I kind of think that's part of the appeal.  Ladies, make your choice:  McDreamy, McSteamy, or McKidd?  Or all three in a McAwesome McSandwich?  Oh, and there are interesting surgeries too.

6.  Criminal Minds
My blog is called The Serial Killer Files and this show is about FBI profiling and serial killers.  Need I say more?  Though I will say the show is missing a little something without the very intuitive Gideon.

5.  House
Super genius, super grumpy, super doctor.  Dr. Gregory House is a diagnostician, and it's positively gleeful to watch him berate his team into figuring out what strange disease the patient is suffering from.  Looking forward to seeing how his budding romance with Cuddy goes this season.

4.  Roseanne
There's only one comedy on here and it's ROSEANNE?  What can I say, the show was relatable for me (okay, maybe not the white trash part).  But their house was messy, they struggled financially, their issues were real, and they didn't look Barbie-perfect.  Not to mention, it was hella funny.  R.I.P.

3.  Law & Order and Law & Order SVU
Never thought I'd see the day when they'd cancel the original version of this show.  My favorite seasons were the ones with Logan & Briscoe (Chris Noth and the late Jerry Orbach).  R.I.P.  Thankfully I have SVU to keep me going.  Admist all the icky grit of solving sex crimes, we have the sizzling chemistry between Benson and Stabler.

2.  True Blood
Vampires, were-creatures and faeries, oh my!  You either love this show or don't get the hype.  I love this show.  It's bloody and funny and surprising.  Can't wait for next season.

1.  Dexter
No surprise here.  A serial killer who only kills other serial killers?  Genius!

Honorable mention goes to: Big Love
This didn't make my top ten list because last season was CRAP.  I'm really hoping the show will redeem itself this year, because the hook is irresistible:  Bill Henrickson is a polygamist.  He has three wives.  What else but chaos could possibly ensue? 

What are your favorite TV shows?

(When you're done telling me what entertains you on the boob tube, go hang out at Killer Chicks for a bit, where JB Lynn is talking about the original thrillers... children's bedtime stories!)

Dexter is delicious

To my great disappointment, I wasn't able to attend Jeff Lindsay's book signing at the extremely awesome Seattle Mystery Bookshop on Friday afternoon.  So I did the next best thing... I sent Steve instead.

Being the third person in line, my husband was able to snag this pic of the genius man who created Dexter:

And get me a signed copy of Jeff's latest book, DEXTER IS DELICIOUS:

Any fans of DEXTER out there?  I can't wait for Season 5 to start!

(Don't forget to stop by Killer Chicks and let us know what you've got going on this week.  It's Status Check Monday!)

Choose your weapon... for real this time

It's Free-For-All Friday at Killer Chicks, and the question of the day is:

If you were going to kill somebody, what weapon would you choose?

We're dying to know (pun intended).  So hop on over to Killer Chicks and tell us what your scary little mind is thinking.

On a more serious note...

It's been a really interesting week.  I ended up changing three characters' names in CREEP.  I know!  You'd think it'd be a little late for that, right?  But I got to thinking.  One character shares the last name of an entire family of Steve's relatives (I honestly didn't notice till I was re-reading my manuscript on the Kindle last weekend), another character shares the surname of an old friend (Steve caught this), and the third name references somebody famous (won't tell you who).  So I asked my editor about it, and while she didn't think it was anything to be super concerned about, we agreed that maybe name changes were in order just to be on the safe side.   

Surprisingly, the name changes don't bother me at all.  And I'm the Queen of Getting Really Attached To My Characters Just As I Originally Wrote Them.  Though I'll probably forget and refer to the characters by their old names and confuse people.

I also heard from my editor about other exciting things that are going on with the book... but I'll save that for Monday's Status Check on the Killer Chicks blog.

Another week full of WIN.  Surely this can't last.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Blast from the past

Recounting a conversation about sex and violence yesterday on the Killer Chicks blog took me right back to my video store clerk days.  I worked in a neighborhood store (a family-owned business, not a Blockbuster) for three years, and during that time, I made a lot of friends, made a few bucks, and watched a lot of movies.

It was mainly a weekend business – Fridays and Saturdays were crazy.  But during the week, one clerk was enough to handle the flow.  Tuesdays were always my "solo" day, which was cool, because on Tuesdays the New Releases would come out.  This meant that on Monday nights, after the shipments came in, we could bring home any new movies we wanted for free, so long as they were back in the store first thing the next morning.

If the store wasn't busy, I could sit at the counter and do my homework, read a book, or just watch movies.  We had TVs all over the store (tube, not flat screen) and we could watch anything we wanted, so long as they were rated PG.  My favorites?  Grease, The Princess Bride, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Grumpier Old Men.  If the store was really quiet, I might also watch Stand By Me or Dumb and Dumber, but these ones were riskier because Stand By Me had a dead body in it, and Dumb and Dumber had a diarrhea scene (tee hee hee).

Steve would come in for free rentals all the time (yes, we've been together that long).  I think he watched every straight-to-video action/kung-fu/horror movie ever made back then.  We were encouraged to watch everything (except the pornos) so we could recommend them to the customers.  We were even reimbursed for one movie ticket per week at the theater, so we could talk up the New Releases before they arrived in the store six months later.

Useless but interesting trivia:  Did you know that when Braveheart came out on VHS back in 1995, it cost $150 PER VIDEO?  New Releases were always expensive back then.  It took a long time for the store to make their money back.  A significant part of our revenue actually came from X-rated films.  In contrast, they cost about $30 per tape, and they'd rent for $5.99.

All told, the video store was a fun place to work.  The best part of the job?  Free movies!  The worst part?  Having to tell a customer he owed fifty bucks in late charges.  The most interesting part?  The customers who rented pornos.  They never looked like how you'd expect them to.

What was YOUR first job?

(Don't forget to pop over to Killer Chicks, where the fabulous Joann Swanson is discussing dark themes in young adult fiction.)

Choose your poison

It's WEDNESDAY!  You know what that means!  (Okay, maybe you don't, but that's why I'm reminding you.)

Today is my day to post on the Killer Chicks blog.  I'm discussing sex, violence, and my video store clerk days.  Intrigued?  Come on over.

As always, comments are most welcome.

(p.s.  For those of you with eagle eyes, yes, I did change the title of this post.  Choosing weapons is a topic for Killer Chicks on Friday!  This is what happens when you blog after midnight.  You stink up the place with brain farts.)

Top Ten Tuesday: A love letter to my Kindle

My dearest Kindle,

We only met three days ago.  You arrived in a nondescript cardboard box that was light as a feather.  I brought you home from the mailbox, eager to meet you.  After all, you were on backorder and I'd been waiting three whole weeks for you to arrive.  Ripping open your box was an exciting moment, and when I saw you for the first the time, you took my breath away.

Um, okay.  That's a lie.  Truth be told, there's nothing that interesting about the way you look AT ALL.

But don't be sad, looks aren't everything.  You're still a cool little dude and it's been wonderful getting to know you.  In the past three days, you've made me laugh, you've given me chills, and you've made my heart race.  So I might already have serious feelings for you.  And I'd like to share with you ten reasons why I think you might just be The One:

10.  You weigh nothing. 

9.  You "turn" the page faster than I could.

8.  When my eyes got tired last night, you let me make your font bigger.

7.  You displayed my own manuscript – originally written on Word – just like a real e-book.

6.  When my eyes got really tired, you read out loud to me.  (So what if your voice is a little robotic and you don't always pronounce the words right?) 

5.  You allowed me to download samples of books I'm interested in for free. 

4.  When I switched you back on this morning, you remembered exactly what page I was on the night before.

3.  You charged me a little bit less for books than the brick and mortar stores do.

2.  You took less than 60 seconds to download the books I bought.

1.  What you lack in color and style, you more than make up for in functionality.

So guess what?  I'm keeping you.  Welcome to the family!

(Are you keeping up with us at Killer Chicks? I sure as hell hope so, because today JB Lynn has a terrific post about the real-life Craigslist Killer that you do not want to miss.)

Spurts of excitement and long periods of nothing

That pretty much sums up the publishing game, at least in my experience.  Things can be vewwy vewwy quiet, as my old rabbit-hunter friend Elmer Fudd used to say... and then BAM!  Something totally exciting happens.

After a vewwy quiet July and August, I had a busy second week of September launching Killer Chicks with JB and Joann.  It's not as simple as you might think to launch a new site as a trio.  It involves a lot of conversation, flurries of email exchanges, conceptualizing, brainstorming, and discussions about branding, marketing, and promotion.  Don't get me wrong – it's FUN AS HELL.  But it's work, too.  Just ask the lovely Joann, our multi-media guru, who created our blog trailer (and if you haven't watched it yet, shame on you!  It rocks!).

Since the summer ended, I've also been writing the shit out of my current book.  The endeavor of writing a first draft always keeps me firmly rooted at the intersection of "I love my job!" and "Novel-writing is crazy!  What the hell am I doing?!", a special kind of insanity I'm sure all writers feel from time to time (at least I hope so – please God don't let me be the only one).  And right when I thought I had survived the week and had nothing to look forward to but hours of U.S. Open tennis, I get a BAM! right in my inbox.

My contract from Gallery finally arrived.  All eighteen pages of it.  I'm looking at it right now.  Here it is, folks, in black and white – actual PROOF that I am a writer.

So tell me.  What phase are you in?  Spurt of excitement, or long period of nothing?

(And be sure to check out what the other Killer Chicks are up to.  It's Status Check Monday on the blog!)

Top Ten Tuesday on Friday: Things I Wish I Could Do

I just realized that I didn't do a Top Ten Tuesday post this week.  Of course, me and the gals were launching Killer Chicks, but still.  Why didn't you say anything?

Here are ten things I wish I could do, but can't, for various reasons which may or may not require an explanation:

10.  Eat peanut butter.  Everybody seems to like peanut butter.  I'm allergic, but I can imagine that if you like the taste of peanuts, peanut butter would be a lovely thing indeed.  Just once I wish I could try it and see what the fuss is all about.

9.  Run for hours without stopping.  I am so not a long-distance runner.  When I was a kid, I was a pretty fast sprinter, but I never had the stamina for long laps around the track.

8.  Serve like John Isner.  Probably helps to be 6'9". 

7.  Sing opera.  Without sounding like I'm being murdered.

6.  Play the guitar. 

5.  Meet Stephen King.  Just for coffee.  And a doughnut.  For an hour.  We don't even have to talk about books.  We could talk about Sons of Anarchy

4.  Stand on the edge of very high cliff and look down without freaking out

3.  Have a snappy comeback when someone is rude to me.  Why is it I always think of the exact right thing to say ten minutes after the moment has passed?

2.  See all my friends.  Every day.  And no, Facebook doesn't count.

1.  Stop social networking.  For thirty seconds every day, I fantasize about disappearing from Facebook and Twitter.  They're such time-sucks!  But I stick around, because I hate to miss out on what's going on.

What do you wish you could do?

(Psst... be sure to visit me at Killer Chicks today.  It's Free For All Friday!  Answer our weekly question and win... well, nothing, but I'll think warm and glowy thoughts about you if you participate.  Non-writer friends, DON'T BE SHY!  Killer Chicks is for you, too!)

Who is your Mr. Rogers?

And no, I'm not talking about the dude on TV in the cardigan who wanted to be your neighbor.  I'm talking about my Mr. Rogers, who was my English teacher in tenth grade.

Mr. Rogers didn't have a TV.  He wasn't married.  He didn't have much of a sense of humor.  He'd been working on a novel for, like, ten years.  He was quirky and unconventional.  His class was as much focused on nurturing creativity as it was on studying literature.  We didn't just study writing, we actually wrote.  And even more than that, we learned to revise what we wrote.

One of our assignments that semester was to write a short story.  We had a month to do it, and one whole class each week was going to be dedicated to just writing.  Imagine that!  A whole hour each week at school, WRITING FICTION.

On a Friday a month later, we handed in our stories.  The following Monday, Mr. Rogers called us up to his desk to give us our "preliminary" mark in private, followed by a two-minute verbal critique.  We were given a choice:  take the mark we had and be done with it, or revise and resubmit based on his feedback for the chance to improve our mark. 

Being the keener that I was, I chose to revise and resubmit.  My mark went from a 45/50 to a 47/50 – not a big leap, but worth it to me because I saw how much better his feedback made the story.  His suggestions went something like this:

  1. Listen to the rhythm of your words.  Short sentences mixed with long sentences "sound" better.  Too many short sentences can be choppy, and too many long sentences can be tedious to read. 
  2. You suffer from "comma-itis".  Go ahead and break your sentences in half.  They won't die.  
  3. Always stay true to your characters.  Never let them say "frig" when what they really mean is "fuck".  

Guess what?  It's advice I still follow to this day.

I don't know what happened to Mr. Rogers.  I don't know if he's still teaching, or whether he ever finished that novel.  But of all the teachers I had from grade school through university, he's the one I remember the most.  I was inspired to write this post because a blogger friend of mine, Milo James Fowler, is also a teacher, and he just started a creative writing workshop at his junior high.   

Milo, if you're reading, kudos to you!  You're about to change lives.  You're about to become some lucky kid's Mr. Rogers.  Minus some of the quirks, of course.  Imagine that!

The final mark and critique... click to enlarge. This ended up winning a spot in the school anthology -- but of course the editor made me change "fuck" back to "frig".

Who is YOUR Mr. Rogers?

(Don't forget to check out Killer Chicks, where today we're discussing Shakespeare and his talent for writing dark, dark fiction.)

I write, therefore I kill

I may be a Killer Chick with a zesty love for murdery mayhem, but guess what?  I don't actually kill people.  I don't actually plot to kill people, either, unless it's for a book.  In which case, I do it all the time.

But here's the thing:  I don't actually like killing my characters.  And yeah, this is a problem.

So what am I gonna do about it?  Read the rest of my post here, at Killer Chicks.

Happy Hump Day!

I am a killer chick

I'm not boasting.  Just stating a fact, baby.

And I know what you're thinking:  WTF is a KILLER CHICK?  Well, allow me to school you, my friend.

A killer chick is a female who writes thrillers.  If you've been paying attention around here, then you know I write books about serial killers and murders and dark stuff, where the things that go bump in the night might actually shoot you if you don't shoot them first.

A killer chick loves to read and watch thrillers.  She's not afraid to sink her teeth into some literary blood, gore, and murdery mayhem, and she's the type of girl who'd just as easily rent SE7EN as My Best Friend's Wedding.

A killer chick wants to see more women writing in the thriller genre.  While there are plenty of amazing female thriller writers out there (Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Lisa Gardner, and Lisa Scottoline, to name a few), we're still the minority here.  And we've love to see that change.

If you fit into just one of these descriptions, then you, my friend, are a killer chick.

But wait.  There's a place for BOYS here, too.

Now while a guy can't really be a killer chick, he can certainly be a FAN... and fans of killer chicks are just as awesome as killer chicks themselves.

So without further ado, allow me to introduce a new BLOG that I'm launching today (that means RIGHT NOW!) along with my two very kick-ass writing pals, JB Lynn and Joann Swanson.  It's called – what else? – KILLER CHICKS, and we're hoping you find us, FOLLOW us, and make us a part of your DAILY blog roll.

You still sitting there?  Move that mouse, and come on over to 


But remember, watch your back.  We don't always play nice.  

(You can find me at Killer Chicks every Wednesday.  I'll also be checking in Mondays and Fridays.  But don't worry, I'll still be here, too.)

For your (hysterical) reading pleasure...

Picture me in 1987:  Twelve years old, seventh grade, short hair, bangs, glasses, and braces.  Crushing on a boy named Joe who was fourteen and who failed seventh grade – not once, but twice.  Dreaming of being a writer and changing the world with my amazing stories.

Today, for your reading pleasure, I have painstakingly retyped one of my earliest works of fiction.  I have not fixed anything.  Comments from me (today) are in red.  Try not to laugh too hard.
Jenny Pestano  7F
I give a liesurely stretch and sit up.  Where am I, I wonder?  Something wierd is going on.  I take a look around the room.  Wow!!  I've never seen so much silver and white in my life.  All of a sudden, a nurse walks into the room.  (A compelling opening paragraph, aside from a couple of spelling mistakes which my teacher underlined, and an extra exclamation mark which he did not.)

"Ah, you're awake," she says to me.  (Notice my deft use of first person present.)  "Welcome to the year 2005!"  (No, I didn't know you're not supposed to write numbers as numbers in dialogue.)

"Say what?!" I cry.  (It was 1987.  "Say what?" was cool back then.)  2005!  Who is she kidding?

"2005," she repeats, smiling.  "You've been asleep for about 20 years – some dumb sleeping sickness."  She motions toward a tray on the night table.  "Hungry?"

"Yeah, yeah....... I am," I answer.  (Yes, seven dots, each one critically important to show my hesitation.)  2005!  I still can't believe it.  This has got to be a joke.  I'll get whoever thought this up!

"Here, let me cut you a couple pieces of bread," the nurse was saying, "and I'll pour you a glass of decaffinated milk."  (Interesting how my teacher did not underline decaffinated.) 

What??  (Because two question marks are so much better than one.)

I watched the nurse take a knife out of a drawer and begin to slice some very old-looking bread.  (Okay, that present tense didn't last long.)  The knife slipped and she cut herself badly.  So bad, in fact, that she cut her finger right off.  I bit my lip, thinking of the pain the nurse must experience right now.  I watched her face carefully.

She continued slicing the bread, until four pieces lay on the plate.  The finger had fallen onto the floor – the nurse didn't even realize she was missing her index finger!  Another thought crossed my mind.  Blood.  There wasn't any blood.  Leaning slightly forward, I closed my eyes briefly before picking up the finger.

"My God," I whispered, examining it.  It wasn't a human finger.

Looking closely, I saw hundreds of tiny little wires inside of it.  The nurse must have noticed what I was doing, because she snatched it from me and hurried out.

I lay back against the pillow and thought long and hard.  2005.  All of a sudden it hit me.  Just like a fly on the wall with out a catcher's mitt.  (Say what?)  I had to get out of here – fast.  Calling on a reserve I didn't know I had, I bolted out of bed and ran towards the bathroom.  On the other side of the door hung a robe made of thin, shimmery fabric.  I slipped it on.  Heading back to the night table, I picked up the bread knife and cut off the hospital bracelet around my wrist.  Then I crept towards the opened door and peeked out.  The coast was clear.  I stepped out cautiously.  (I'll give you a dollar for every cliché you count in this paragraph.  Should be enough to buy you a Happy Meal.)

There was an exit at the end of the hall.  I sprinted up to it, pushed open the doors, and ran outside, expecting sunshine to hit my face.

But was there sunshine?  (Is this a rhetorical question?)  No, it was dim and grey.  (Guess not, since I answered it.)  Fog covered the brightness of the sky, and there were dead plants everywhere.  What happened?

"I can't get over it, either," a voice by my side said.  I looked up to find myself standing beside a man of about 60.

"It was that stupid, crummy war.  (Yes, war is often crummy.)  Earth will be like this for a long time," he continued.

"War?" I croaked.  (I must have had a frog in my throat.)  "There was a war?"

The man proceeded to tell me about a nuclear holocaust that had happened 3 years back.

"The only survivors," he told me, "were the patients in the hospital at the exact time the bomb hit."

"So that means me." 

"And me, sweet pea.  We're 2 of the 103 humans left in the world.  The rest are androids."

Androids.  Androids!!  The nurse......  (Yes, six dots.)

"My parents," I mumbled, in a daze.

"Sweet pea, your parents are dead.  You're the only oriental human."  (Bwahahahaha!  It's even funnier when you consider that I'm not even oriental.)

"No!" I yelled.  (Because my parents are dead, or because I just discovered I'm oriental?)  "No!!!"  (Because three exclamation marks are better than two.)

* * * * *

"Jenny, wake up!"

I opened my eyes, breathing heavily, but feeling relieved.  It was a dream, just a dream.  (Stories that turn out to be dreams are the best!)

"Jenny, you've had a nightmare," Mom said.  "Drink this.  I'll slice some fresh fruit."

She padded downstairs to the kitchen and returned later with a knife.  Then she began to cut up an apple.  The skin was slippery, and the sharp edge of the knife sliced into Mom's finger.  I watched in horror as her finger fell to the floor.  There was no blood, just wires.



Click to enlarge.

We all gotta start somewhere.  My teacher liked it, anyway.  And that was encouraging.

Happy long weekend!  Be sure to check back here on Tuesday....... because I have an extremely important announcement to make.  Did I say extremely?

Extremely!!!! (Because four exclamation marks are better than three!)

Say what?

I secretly want to kill you.

My writing buddy Joann linked to a really great article in her blog yesterday by Jeff Lindsay, author of DEXTER, which originally appeared in the Huffington Post

I'm going to go right to the part of the article that inspired Joann's post  – and now my post:

For the short time each day that I write, I am Dexter and everything is different – but otherwise, that stuff creeps me out.  I don't actually like murder and gore, and if I didn't write Dexter I probably wouldn't read it, either.

Of course, this squeamishness makes me hyper-sensitive to a question I get frequently, one that I think is pretty stupid.  There have been two murderers that I know of who claim they were inspired by Dexter – in both cases, the TV show and not the books, but maybe that's a quibble.  And some reporters love to ask, "How does it feel to write something that inspired murder?"

Do I really need to respond to that?  Seriously?  Because the answer should be obvious to anybody with enough intelligence to tie their own shoes.  Reading Harry Potter did not give you magical powers, and reading Dexter will not make you a killer.  If you are not already capable of killing another human being in a cold, cruel, deliberate way, no book ever written will make you capable of doing so.  There are no magic words that will turn you into a psychopath.

Thank for you saying that, Jeff.

Perhaps writers are a little sensitive to the misconception that we are what we write.  This is because we're NOT what we write, and the assumption – and yes, it's a stupid one – that we have the power to inspire people to commit dastardly deeds through our novels is idiotic.

Do we tap into personal experiences to help enrich our stories?  Sure we do.  Fiction writing – for me, anyway – taps into a personal place, and it's inevitable that parts of myself will seep into my work.  But ultimately, it's a fictional story.  It's made up.

As I said on Joann's blog, if anyone were to insinuate that I'm somehow responsible for turning you into a psychopath... well, I'm sorry, buddy, but you were already there.

Or maybe it's that thriller writers (and writers of dark fiction in general) get tired of the assumption that we're all creepy, weird people with psychopathic tendencies we channel into our writing so that we don't actually kill anybody.  Well, shit, maybe that's true for some writers.  Who the hell really knows what goes on in Stephen King's head?  But as far as I know, he hasn't murdered anyone, and neither have I, and neither have my friends who also write thrillers.  We just write about murder, for reasons we can't always explain, but that's all we do.

And if you assume otherwise, I'll stab you.


September dreams

If the weather in Seattle is any indication, summer is on its last legs.

The end of summer has always been bittersweet for me.  The feelings I have about it haven't changed all that much since I was a kid.  I never really liked going to school  – I wasn't one of those kids who couldn't wait to go back and see all their Awesome Friends! (insert smile with big dimple here) – I was the kid who got anxiety at the thought of having to wake up early, catch the school bus, and do homework.

But there was something beautiful about September, too.  It symbolized a fresh start.  And if you've ever been lucky enough to experience the fall season in Ontario, there's something about the crisp air and the sunshine combined with the reds and golds of the trees that always makes the fall a magical time of year.

I have many, many memories of trudging through piles of leaves wearing my "fall coat" wrapped up in my "fall scarf", heading for the bus stop with my knapsack over my shoulder, dreaming about all the cool things that were certain to happen to me during the new school year.  Maybe I'd finally get an 'A' in math.  Maybe I'd finally get Mr. Long-Time Crush to notice me.  Maybe I'd be able to convince my mom to buy me cooler clothes so that Mr. Long-Time Crush would notice me.  Maybe this would be the year I'd become Super Popular.

They were just September dreams, and as the year would wear on with nothing really major changing (I don't think in my whole life I've ever earned an 'A' in math, and Long-Time Crush never did make the transition to First Boyfriend), the dreams would disappear and reality would set in.  Not that the reality was so bad.

But what is it about September that makes everything feel possible?

So, in honor of September 1st, here's to possibilities.  May you get everything you wish for this month.