So, I have a short story I wrote quite a few years ago for an online fantasy journal that has since folded. But since the story's been published, it's against "the rules" to submit it elsewhere. But I really like the story and would like it to be able to get a new chance at grabbing a few readers. So, I'm just going to toss it on here! It's about a maid in a medieval-esque palace. I hope you enjoy.
Making a Mess of Things
Did the King ever—for one single, solitary second—think about all the extra work he was making for the staff when he flew off the handle and had one of his impromptu executions? On her hands and knees on the floor of the ballroom, scrubbing blood out of the grout of the intricate tilework, Lena did not care one iota that the now-deceased lord had dared to wink suggestively at the Queen. All Lena cared about was that, because of one errant wink from a probably-drunk lord in the middle of a raucous, late-night party, she had been woken three hours before sunrise to clean up all traces of the carnage.
Blood was so hard to clean out of grout.
“It’s just crazy how much blood a body has,” a maid to her left, Nessa, muttered.
‘I am so fed up with this stuff,” Lena complained. “This is the second indoors execution in the past month!”
“Shh!” Nessa hissed. “Someone’s going to hear you! I don’t want to be scrubbing your blood next!”
“I know, I know,” Lena whispered. “It’s just—“
“You’re a maid,” Nessa pointed out. “This stuff’s in your job description. Probably word for word.”
Lena sighed. “I guess. Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s not disgusting and horrible. A man died last night. This stuff we’re scrubbing out of the grout came from his body!”
“Shh!” Nessa hissed.
“Fine, fine,” Lena grumbled. Nessa did have a point. It was, technically, silly for a maid to complain about having to clean. But Lena was so tired of it. Day after day after day. It never ended. The people who lived in the palace were disgusting. And, before working at the palace, Lena had been a maid at The Festering Cadaver, so Lena knew a thing or two about disgusting. Hell, she knew three or four things about disgusting.
Another thing that made her situation so stressful was that Lena was really only working in the palace as a maid in order to spy for the rebels. It was insanely irritating that she had to clean up after the very people she was plotting against. Nothing rankled the soul like fluffing the pillows of a person who you believed should be meeting the business end of a rebel’s dagger. Lena’s soul was not one that held up well under rankling conditions. The civil war could not come fast enough.
At long last, all traces of the winking lord were scrubbed from the grout. “Awesome,” Lena said, pushing herself up from the ground and wincing at her aching knees. “Maybe I can catch a nap before I’m needed in the kitchens—“
The servants’ entrance to the ballroom swung open, and a maid poked her head around the door. “Lena!”
“Yeah?” called Lena.
“Monin has a job for you!”
Oh great. Lovely. The Head Maid, Monin, hated Lena. Whenever a particularly disgusting job came to Monin’s attention, it was Lena who got the assignment. “Oh?” she asked.
“Yup. In the Grand Wizard’s chamber. Monin said something about a fermented goat stomach exploding?” the woman said, throwing a sympathetic wince Lena’s way before shutting the door.
Lena went to collect her bucket and cleaning supplies. She gritted her teeth. For her own sanity, if for no other reason, this country needed a civil war. Immediately. The very last thing she needed at that moment was one more gross thing to scrub. The Grand Wizard, Virox Beeth, was a complete and utter slob, and a conceited moron who would never think of cleaning up his own mess after blowing up a fermented goat stomach all over his workstation. Honestly. A Fermented goat stomach. Magic was disgusting.
Lena collected her supplies, then winded her way through the dark, narrow servant halls to the chamber of the Grand Wizard.
The door was already open, so she walked in and stopped just inside the doorway, waiting. There was no way he hadn’t heard her approach. Unless he was in some sort of magical trance. But it didn’t look like he was.
Across the cavernous stone chamber, Virox Beeth stood before a massive cauldron, stirring something that was producing a thick orange smoke that curled lazily toward the ceiling. Since Beeth’s back was to Lena, she seized the moment and thumbed her nose at him. Boom. Yeah. Take that, Establishment.
That done, she cleared her throat and said, “Grand Wizard?”
He removed one hand from a long wooden spoon so that he could silence her with a sharp, slicing motion.
She set her bucket of cleaning supplies down as quietly as she could, then folded her arms and waited. She didn’t go so far as to tap her foot, though. Stone floor and massive, echo-y chamber. He might hear.
Time ticked on.
He had totally forgotten she was there.
It looked like there was nothing time-sensitive going on with the cauldron. Nothing that required immense concentration. Just a pompous man in a cape with far too much embroidery, stirring some orange glop. Lena cleared her throat again, and said, “Grand Wizard, it’s just—I got word there was a fermented goat—“
“Right, right,” he said, waving lazily in the direction of his workstation.
Lena sighed, picked up her bucket, and trudged over. She surveyed the damage and concluded that Beeth had been in no hurry to send for a maid—the stuff was dried on. Perfect. Just perfect. She had not thought to throw a chisel in her bucket. Now she’d have to walk all the way back to the opposite side of the palace to get one out of storage. This day was just the worst. The absolute worst. First, a tiled floor covered in the blood of a winking lord. And now this. What would be next? Would the groundkeepers need help corralling a rabid wolf from the forest? “Grand Wizard, I’m going to have to run back to storage to get—“
“Confound it!” the wizard yelled, slamming a fist down on the edge of the cauldron. “Confound it!”
Lena looked at him, alarmed. “What--?”
“Oh for the love of—I can’t believe I didn’t add--“ the Grand Wizard spluttered, glancing over at a shelf full of ingredients. He looked at Lena. “You. Check that shelf for powdered bladeleaf.”
“Go! Bladeleaf! Now!”
Lena scuttled over to the shelf full of jars of ingredients. Powders, liquids, crystals of every color under the sun. At least they were labeled. “Bladeleaf, bladeleaf,” she muttered as she scanned.
“They’re in alphabetical order!” he yelled, making her jump. “Alphabetical! B!”
Lena grabbed the jar and brought it over.
“Well, open it!” he roared. “Open it!”
Lena did so with shaking hands. Wizards were so scary.
“Take a pinch. Sprinkle it in,” he said, calmer. Maybe he had spotted her shaking hands and didn’t want her dropping his jar.
She did as he said.
He exhaled a calming breath when it was done. They looked down at the cauldron’s contents. Within seconds, the orange glop transformed to brilliant blue.
Figuring she was no longer needed, Lena returned the jar to the shelf. She was about to leave to get a chisel for the exploded stomach, then Beeth said, “Come here,” snapping his fingers. “I need you for something.”
Lena raised an eyebrow at the back of his head, then walked over. Oh no. He wasn’t going to test this potion on her, was he? Did that kind of thing happen? She hadn’t been working at the palace long, so she hadn’t yet heard all the gossip. Did the Grand Wizard do stuff like that to the servants? Was she going to turn invisible? Be transformed into a snail? Die? Lena halted by the cauldron and swallowed heavily, looking down into the blue, bubbling muck. Yuck.
“Stir this,” Beeth said, handing the huge wooden spoon handle over to her.
“Stir. Stir. You know stir?” he asked, irritated, as he pantomimed stirring with one hand even though he was still holding the spoon in the other. “You’re not one of those Torians, are you? Honestly. Foreigners. Learn the language if you’re going to come to our land.”
Jerk. “Uh, no. No. I’m from here. Not a—foreigner.”
“Then you understand. Stir.” He shoved the spoon at her.
She took it and looked down into the glop. She had zero experience with magic. “Um, so I just—stir?”
“Yes. Stir. Stir. Oh. My. Gosh. How hard can this possibly be?”
Lena began to stir.
Lena slowed down.
“Not that slow. It’ll stick to the sides of the cauldron, idiot.”
Lena gritted her teeth and sped up.
The Grand Wizard sighed a martyred sigh. “Oh fine. I suppose that’ll do. Just keep it up like that. I’ll be back. Don’t let it burn. I need to go to the garden to collect some fresh petals of—“ he said, then stopped short and looked at her as though he’d only just remembered who he was talking to. “Never mind.” He curled his lip at her and walked toward the door.
“Oh—but I’m expected in the kitchens for lunch—“ she said as he strode away. “I need to be there—“
He walked out the door.
Fuming, Lena stirred the orange glop as she listened to the wizard’s footsteps receding. Typical. So typical. He’d better get back fast. She had to get to the kitchen on time. The King was giving a speech before the entire city at noon, and all the lords and ladies were in town for it. There was going to be a huge feast afterwards, and all hands were needed on deck. The people in the kitchen needed her. She could not lose her job. And she totally would if she didn’t make it to the kitchen on time.
If she lost this job, it would be a setback for the rebels. She was doing some quality rebel-related work in the palace. Only the day before, she had hidden behind the King’s curtains in his office and overheard him talking about how he was taking tax money slated for spending on education and poorhouses and using it, instead, on a massive redecoration of the entire palace. The King and his advisors had had quite a laugh about how they were pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace, yet again. Also, she had discovered a potential access point for the secret passageway system in the walls. If she could get the rebels information that would enable them to scamper around in the palace walls and eavesdrop through holes cut in portrait eyes, this whole stupid job would be worth it. She could not be dismissed from her job before getting a chance to poke around some more and expose some ugly truths.
The longer she stirred, the angrier she got. By the time she heard footsteps approaching down the hallway, she was so cranky that she actually turned and glared at the Grand Wizard when he walked into the chamber.
Except it wasn’t the Grand Wizard.
It was the Prince.
She gasped, and dropped the spoon into the cauldron as she collapsed into a low bow. As the seconds came and went and the Prince didn’t give her leave to stand, she got more and more tense thinking about the muck behind her that needed such picky stirring. The muck that she’d just dropped the spoon into.
He sauntered over, looked down at her, and said, “Uh, you’re not Virox.”
“No, Your Highness,” she said to his glimmering, black boots.
“You’re a maid.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“What are you doing down here all alone?”
“Your Highness, I was here to clean some fermented goat stomach—“
“Eww! Too much information!” he cried. “Answer without any gross words, OK?”
“The Grand Wizard asked me to stir this potion,” she said, pointing over her shoulder in the direction of the cauldron. “He had to go to the gardens to pick some flower petals.”
“Oh! Then why aren’t you stirring it? You mess that thing up, he’s gonna have your—Oh! Right! Duh!” he said, then cleared his throat and said in a regal tone, “You may rise.”
Lena flew to her feet and whirled to look at the contents of the cauldron. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” she muttered, looking down into the formerly-blue glop. It was now a dark yellow-brown, and wasn’t moving at all. Had it solidified? She reached out gingerly to pinch the tip of the spoon that was poking out from the top of the substance. She pulled. The spoon didn’t budge. It was as though it was imbedded in rock.
The Prince joined her by the cauldron, looked in, and said, “Oh man! You are in so much trouble!” He gave her a playful punch to the shoulder, and chuckled. “It’s not supposed to look like that, is it?”
“No,” she said, monotone, as she rubbed her arm where he’d punched it. “It’s supposed to be blue. Bubbling. Moving.”
“Oh man!” he reiterated, then laughed a bit more, only stopping when Lena walked away from him so that she could begin pacing and muttering under her breath and rubbing her temples with shaking fingers. “Geez, you’re totally freaking out.”
This was not a question, so she did not respond.
“Aw come on, it won’t be so bad. Not like he’s not gonna kill you. You servants are made of some pretty tough stuff. The abuse you can bounce back from is downright impressive. For instance, you would not believe the stories I could tell you about my whipping boy, Sokos—oh man—that kid!” he said, breaking into more laughter and slapping his knee. “That kid!”
Since it felt inappropriate to be pacing around while the Prince was speaking to her, Lena stopped and looked at his boots, trying to maintain a neutral expression as she weathered his horrible pep talk.
“Eh? Eh?” the Prince asked. “Buck up! Right?”
Oh wow. This guy had to be overthrown and put in the stocks in the town center. So badly. If ever someone needed a bunch of rotten produce smeared in his face, it was this guy. “Yes, Your Highness.”
“Right! That’s the spirit, kid!”
Lena balled up her fists and imagined herself tossing a decomposing tomato at his nose. Not as therapeutic as it could be. But it helped.
“OK. Well, let Virox know I stopped by for a truth serum he made me, would you? It’s gotta be around here somewhere. He told me it’d be done last evening. I was going to slip it into Lord Blasly’s drink at the party last night—but I totally forgot to stop by and pick it up.” He laughed some more, and said, “Funny stuff, Eh? Eh? Blasly under the influence of a truth serum?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“That’s right!” he said, clapping his hands together. “Well. Uh, chin up! You’ll bounce back from, uh—that—“ he said, pointing at the cauldron. “Catch ya later.” He sauntered out.
She waited until his footsteps had faded, then zoomed into action. A truth serum. A real, honest to goodness truth serum. The Grand Wizard had made a truth serum for the Prince, and it was here for the taking. If only she could find it. After the incident with the cauldron, Lena was already—at the very least—fired, if her superiors got the chance to make it official before she ran. She might as well make the most of a bad situation and do some stealing before she left. A truth serum was something the rebels could definitely use.
Lena looked wildly around the room. How long could it take to find a flower and pick some petals? She needed to work fast. She decided the truth serum probably wasn’t anywhere on his workstation. Even someone as thoughtless as the Grand Wizard would not leave something for the Prince sitting around with fermented goat stomach bits all over it. If it had been at the workstation, he’d have picked it up post-explosion and cleaned it off.
Cleaned it off where? Lena looked frantically about. There, in the far corner, was a table with a pitcher and a basin, and a few upended glass containers drying on a towel. She hurried over and looked around for a something that might be a truth serum. She saw nothing. Though how could she be sure? How would she know it when she saw it? That was the real problem.
Lena walked over to a big bookshelf by the door and scanned the titles. Awesome. A-Z of Potions and Spells. That sounded helpful. She took it out and flipped to the T’s. Tastebud disruptor, Tear duct inhibitor, Tile cleaner (What. The. Hell. Tile cleaner? A spell to clean tile existed and maids didn’t have access to it? Oh man, did this monarchy need to fall). Ah! Truth Serum. OK. She skipped the description, because, to quote the Prince, “Duh,” and went on to the part that told how to make it. At the bottom of the recipe, under a list of things like cabbage hearts and butterfly antennae, were two helpful sentences: A properly prepared truth serum will be the consistency and color of olive oil. A standard vial-full will be more than sufficient for most needs.
Swell. So she probably needed to look for a vial of something that looked like olive oil. Lena took in the room with a sigh. So many tables, so many shelves, so many places for a little vial to hide. OK. Well, it wasn’t at the workstation, and it wasn’t at the cleaning station. She began to search random surfaces of tables.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway. Oh no. She didn’t agree with the Prince—she was pretty sure the Grand Wizard was going to kill her. Her eyes strayed from the door to a small table just to the left of it. There was a wooden box on top of the table with a paper affixed to the side. On the paper was printed: Outgoing potions. Yes!
Lena scampered to the box and looked in. There were a few cloth bags and a few vials. Only one of the vials looked like it contained olive oil.
She grabbed it and backed away from the door and the approaching footsteps.
He was nearly there. She had no time to run to the servants’ door.
So, she dove under the nearest table, held her breath, and hoped for the best.
From her hiding spot, Lena couldn’t see, but she could hear. The Grand Wizard halted in the doorway and muttered something under his breath, then ran across the room, no doubt to look into the cauldron. Next, he let loose an inarticulate howl of rage that echoed around the chamber most impressively. Then, he sprinted from the room.
Lena looked down at the vial clutched in her hand. Tied around its lid was a little piece of paper with directions scrawled on it. Dab a drop on skin of target. Should take effect immediately.
Well. The King was giving a speech today. A speech that was probably starting any minute. A speech where he was going to be talking about his alleged initiatives to improve both education and options for housing the poor. A speech that Lena knew from firsthand eavesdropping was going to be nothing but a pack of lies.
Lena had an idea.
She ran to the kitchens.
Without much trouble, she convinced the busy head chef to let her bring out a fresh pitcher of water for the King. The speech was going to be a long one, and Lena had feigned concern that the King might drink up the whole first pitcher. Within minutes, she found herself standing in the doorway of the palace’s huge central balcony. Straight ahead of her was the King. Straight ahead of him and a two floors down was the square, which was packed with every citizen of the city who was able to attend.
Lena walked slowly forward with the pitcher of water. She felt disconnected from her body.
The King was talking. Lena’s ears were feeling all funny and plugged up, so she couldn’t really hear, but little snippets came though. Phrases like “—education for a new tomorrow—“ and, “—time our most disadvantaged had a fair shake—“ echoed in her skull as she stepped ever closer to the King.
At his right hand was a small table with a pitcher of water and a goblet.
Lena placed the new pitcher of water down by the first one.
She took the vial of truth serum out of her pocket.
She opened it.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sudden movement. The Grand Wizard was standing among a group of the King’s advisors. He was pointing at her and whispering to a lord wearing an elaborate cape and frilly collar. Behind the Grand Wizard was the Prince, who gave her a grin and a thumbs up, presumably to celebrate that she wasn’t dead.
Lena swallowed heavily and looked from the Prince to the King. She had to do it. Now.
She took one step, and then another, so she was standing uncomfortably close to the King.
Lena reached up and upended the truth serum on the King’s head.
“What the--!” the King gasped, whirling around.
His stunned guards jumped to action. Within seconds, two of them had grabbed her by the arms. Lena didn’t struggle. She was too busy staring at the King, waiting for signs of the truth serum taking effect. Would he freeze and go silent? Would his eyes go blank?
So far, no. The King was spluttering and gaping at her as green oil slid down his face. “What is the meaning of this?” he roared as he wiped the potion out of his eyes with a handkerchief he had grabbed from his pocket.
Lena attempted to hold her head high and throw her shoulders back, but was hindered by the guards’ hold on her. She nodded toward the crowd down in the square, and yelled, “Tell them! Tell them all the truth!”
“What are you talking about, you lunatic?” the King asked, looking wildly around at his advisors, who shrugged confusedly. All except the Grand Wizard, who was eyeing the vial in her hand with dawning comprehension.
She yelled at the top of her lungs so that the whole square could hear, “I’m talking about the truth about where the money is going! The money for the schools and the poorhouses! It’s going to redecorate the palace! Admit it! You have to admit it--I just poured truth serum on you!”
The King looked at her with wide eyes.
She smirked at him, enjoying the shock showing clear on his face. Well now at least whatever happened to her next, she would know she had forced this buffoon to admit one of his lies. “How did you know—“ he hissed at her, but then he shook his head and looked down at the crowd, remembering their presence. “Nonsense!” he yelled. “Pay this lunatic no mind. My subjects, uh, listen to some music for a few moments. I’ll be right with you.” He signaled to the royal trumpeters, who scurried to grab their instruments. The King reiterated through gritted teeth, “What is going on? I have oil on my head!”
As the royal trumpeters got down to business in the background, Lena stared at the King, dumbfounded. Something was very wrong. “But—but—the truth serum…” she whispered.
The King shook his head, and growled, “I can assure you I am not under the influence of any truth serum.” He looked around at his advisors again. “Can anyone explain this?” he hissed.
“I think I can explain,” the Grand Wizard said, swooping forward. “That vial in her hand—she believed it was a truth serum. The girl is a halfwit maid. She was in my chamber earlier today. She must have stolen the vial.” He shot Lena a slimy smile, then said, “What she didn’t know was that the vial held nothing more than olive oil.”
Lena’s jaw dropped. She stared at the Grand Wizard. Oh, no. Oh, no. Not good. She looked wildly around at all the royalty and lords staring at her, then down at the sea of faces upturned to the balcony. No one in the crowd was paying those royal trumpeters any mind. Some of those people down there were her rebel friends. What would they think of her for doing something so stupid? For not talking over her plans with her superiors first? Did they have anyone on the inside who might be able to rescue her from the dungeon she was most certainly going to be visiting shortly? Was she being optimistic assuming a visit to the dungeon?
“What? Olive oil?” the Prince asked, stepping forward. He looked at the Grand Wizard. “Virox? Olive oil? Was that my potion you made me for the party?”
The Grand Wizard scoffed at the Prince, “Like I’d give you a real truth serum, boy--”
The Prince gasped. “Virox! That’s so lame! You totally lied--”
“Quiet!” the King spat, and turned to stare at Lena. He bared his teeth in an ugly, mirthless grin. “If it’s truth serum you want, it’s truth serum you’ll get.”
Lena bit her lip as she took in the King’s flaring nostrils and fiery eyes. Yeah, this was not good. Not good at all.
How I managed to not do a blog post right when my most recent book was published, I do not know. How to Break an Evil Curse was released July 6 of this year. Though I've had a few other things published already, this one is my baby. It's the first book in a series of four eventual books, but honestly I wish I could write in this world forever. Something about its blend of humor, the opportunities that pop up to draw parallels between the stupidities of its fantasy society and ours, and the way the characters just hijack the plot and do whatever they want (if you're a writer, you know what I'm talking about), makes this project the most fun I've ever had writing. If you buy it, read it, laugh, and think it's rather silly and rather thought-provoking, my dream has come true.
OK, on to other things. I'm going to show you pictures of cute animals. First off, my three current foster kittens! These babies. I swear. They're the sweetest. Fostering kittens can be an emotional rollercoaster since, as mega tineies who were separated from their moms too early, they are often not the healthiest, but it's so worth it for the snuggles and the adorableness and the knowledge that you saved a tiny little life and put them out in the world to be awesome little pets for some lucky person. Also, kitten genetics are crazy; somehow, these three look completely different and are all different weights, but they're all brothers:
I've fostered about 30 neonatal kitten so far, but I had never fostered a dog until a few months ago. There was this poor, filthy old bichon mix that was found wandering around Detroit, and his teeth were so bad that the vet actually decided they all needed to be pulled. This guy was a complete mess, and I don't understand human beings who could ever let a dog get to that state. Clearly he had a home for a long time, because he's really well trained, but at some point he got lost or was abandoned or whatever, and he ended up at the shelter. We had been wanting to foster a dog for a while to see how the kiddos handled it (with the idea that if they did a good job we might get a dog eventually). I figured fostering a really old dog would be a good bet because they'd be chill, and also because we wouldn't ever commit to adopting it since we'd be basically signing on for getting attached to a dog that was going to die very soon, and the kids would be sad, and yeah, no wayyyy were we adopting an old foster. Riiiiiight. Yeah. PomPom is ours. Love at first sight. We officially adopted him a few weeks ago. These are his two speeds:
I'm so happy I have my family and good publishing news and all sorts of fuzzy animals to snuggle, because I tell you, this world is insaaaaane and it breaks my heart on a daily basis. So many fanatical, greedy men with hard hearts are in control of so much (or trying to be in control of so much). Please do what you can to be kind in your own little corner of the world. And foster some animals from your local shelter. And do whatever art or craft calls to you (and don't worry about whether it's good or not). I hope you're doing well.
Since I last posted on here, I have done a lot of creative whatnot. Covid has given introverted me a legitimate reason to leave the house as little as possible, and I have done my civic duty and then some, let me tell you. Do I even know how to socialize anymore? I don't know. Do I care? Eh. A nice benefit of this social distancing has been that I have so much more time to create. So, I have created.
Let's start with my podcast, Space Mantis. As of my last post, it had not even been released yet. Now, Season One is complete and we are working on Season Two. I'm so happy with how Season One turned out, and so, so proud of (and thankful for) all the people who have helped to make Mantis a real thing. And of course, anyone who has subscribed to or listened to it: THANK YOU. You're magical, and you fill my heart with joy. If you haven't listened to it yet, clicky-click. I bet you'll dig it.
Black Spot Books has put out another seasonal anthology, Dead of Winter, and I have a short story in it called Jolly Old Saint Ryan. It's a horror anthology, so I tried as hard as I could to do horror, but I'm pretty sure it's the least horror-y of all the stories in there. It's horror/comedy for sure. It tells the dark truth of Santa. You know, that creepy stalker of an old man who judges your children harshly all year long for ever having negative/sad feelings and for not being perfect (as opposed to we adults who are always perfect and never react badly to anything), and bribes them into performing well with the promise of material possessions. That guy. I'm here to tell you he's even worse than you already knew. Check it out. As of the posting of this blog, the anthology cost a grand total of 99 US pennies, so it's not even much of a financial commitment.
That's it for the big stuff for me in the realm of writing. Now, onto crafty pursuits! So, I have always thought Huichol beading was the coolest thing ever, and toward the end of 2020 I was finally inspired to give it a try. I have this statue that used to be my grandpa's, and as much as I love me a peregrine falcon, I gotta say this statue just wasn't my thing. So, I painted it black and started gluing beads to it! Mr. Peregrine Falcon doesn't know what hit him, poor guy. In stressful times, I find that doing time-consuming, twiddly little detaily crafts really calms my brain down, so I guess I have American politics to thank for this project.
And last but not least, math! I know, I know. "Math?" you ask. "How is math in your blog about creativity?" Well let me tell you, though in school I was not a fan of math, I am relearning it on Khan Academy (so that I will be able to help my kiddos with their homework when they get into the higher stuff), and either it's the way Khan Academy teaches it or my brain has finally developed, but I must say not only do I love math now, but it feels like it lights up the same spots in my brain as writing/arts/crafts do. For the past week or so, instead of reading before bed, I have been balancing equations. And I bought a new calculator for myself, and I'm obsessing over graph paper notebooks, and yep, math is lovely. Who knew? Not me! Until like three weeks ago.
OK, that's it for now! I have been doing some other little projects here and there like some jewelry and painting some Dungeons and Dragons figures, but maybe I'll post those pics later. Right now, this is long enough for internet attention span.
So yeah, the world's gone insane. Or, rather, it's been insane the whole time and the more sheltered and/or denial-happy among us have been living in much more ignorance than we should have been for much too long, and now things have hit a tipping point and BAM, RealityCon 2020 for all! Am I talking about the disease of racism that white people have been (either intentionally or accidentally) been reaping the benefits of for far too long? Yes. Am I also talking about the fact that we've been idiots about the possibility of a pandemic, and now a pandemic's actually hit, and we're still being idiots instead of learning? Yes. Two very nasty diseases, friends.
Considering the state of the world, I feel like my first update in months shouldn't just me obliviously blathering about whatever projects I've got going. It feels empty and inappropriate.
So, though my thoughts are nothing new and have been phrased much more eloquently elsewhere, in short, my thoughts are thus: as regards racism, my job as a white person is to (1) listen to BIPOC and never inflict my opinions on them regarding racism since they live it and I have no clue, (2) educate my children about racism, (3) have tough conversations with other white people about racism, and (4) educate myself (I joined an anti-racism book club and am learning so, so much. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, man; I knew the prison system was horrific, but I always assumed it was a thing that had accidentally evolved to be in the awful state it is in. But nope. It was intentional, and it's chilling, and it needs to change. Read. This. Book.). I'm sure there are other things I should be doing that I'm not thinking of, which is why the learning can't stop.
And as regards the pandemic, I'm not going to get into the whole mask debate or the stay at home debate or anything like that here. Let me just say that my opinions on pandemics and how to behave during them are formed by the scientists who have devoted their lives to studying this stuff and have a huge body of statistics to back them up. The end.
So yeah, the world. I tell ya. The below pictures are depictions of the two moods I swing back and forth from on a day-to-day basis (hour-to-hour basis?). I'm currently the one on the left, but I'll switch over soon. I hope you're all doing well, whoever reads this.
I'm writing a podcast! This project has been in the works for years; there are a lot of people involved, all of whom have real lives and jobs and a million other projects, so it's been slow going. But, at long last, it is going to be released in April 2020! I'm so excited. It's called Space Mantis, and a bunch of writer friends and other creative-type friends are doing voices for the characters. I am so lucky to have so many pals who are into making Mantis a reality.
Why a podcast, you ask? Well, dialogue is my favorite part of writing, and a podcast is basically 100% dialogue. Funsies! But know what's not necessarily funsies? All the other podcast stuff. See, the files that people record don't just magically form themselves into a podcast. Yeah, I know. I was shocked, too. There's actual work that must be done. Ugh. If it weren't for my super kind and super podcast/computer-smart pal, Joe, this project probably would never have been able to happen. So, three cheers for Joe!
No, not that one.
No, not that one either, but man, if this Joe wanted to come down from heaven--where he certainly is--and write the soundtrack for Space Mantis, I would be so in. Anyway, thissun's the Joe I'm talking about: https://jawaters.com/j-a-waters-is-a-spec-fic-author-of-weird-sci-fi-and-fantasy/
Anyway, yeah, podcasts are work. I've been editing audio, organizing files, nagging people, recruiting people for little side parts, doing more nagging, writing more episodes, nagging, and nagging. But, weirdly, it has been fun. I have enjoyed all of it, except the nagging bits. I mean, I have a reason to use a big ol' binder and fill it with colorful tabs! I get to have a to-do list that I can cross things off of and feel like I'm getting stuff accomplished! What could be better? Yeah, that's right. Nothing.
Okey dokey, well that's that, I guess. Mark your calendars for (probably) April 1. Space Mantis is going to rock. I guess before I wrap up this blog, I should describe the podcast a bit: it's part space opera (with a lovable, scrappy crew, of course), and part...uh...well...know what? I'm not actually going to describe the other part, because that would break things. It's cool, though, and I'm proud of it, and I'm proud of everyone who is a part of it, and I hope you listen and like it.
I am a great fan of dying arts. Weaving, spinning yarn, dying yarn, making paper. They're all lovely. "The deader the better" the old saying would go if it was one. My favorite dying art of all is book binding. I worship physical, non-electronic, paper-and-ink books. I write them, I buy them, I make them. I make them for myself, for friends and family, for beta readers. Sometimes, like with the book below, I do super fancy stuff with the spine, and I draw patterns on the covers, and I put rhinestones on because sparkly.
I love to get fancy with books, like with this exposed spine that shows off the stitching and all the pretty papers inside:
I'm so fanatical about books that having them published in mass-produced paperback just isn't good enough sometimes. So I do some fancy, special book fold printing on my computer, stitch and glue it all together, and bind it up with fancy papers, since every novel deserves to be dolled up using real, artsy techniques instead of just machine printing that falls apart after more than two reads:
Below are some books I have made. Some are blank, some are lined, some are hard cover versions of things writer pals or I have written, some are just little booklets.
And below are pictures showing the process of book binding, step by step, for one of the fancy rhinestone journals.
So, there's a little window into my favorite crafty hobby! I hope you liked it! And if you want a journal, sketch book, fancy copy of a book you wrote, or anything else along those lines, you just let me know! I welcome any opportunity to make a book. Prices vary a lot based on materials, but it varies from approximately $30 for a blank journal to $65ish for a printed novel.
I love cowriting.
That's doing cow rituals. Like performing dark magic with cow fur and milk, casting spells on cows to endow them with the ability to drive cars and dance the tango, that kind of thing.
Unrelatedly, since I'm talking about hobbies, another thing I like a lot is co-writing. Here's a picture of my pal Jennifer Flath and me writing. I'm the old guy with the hat. Even though Jennifer lives on the West Coast and I'm in the Midwest, and even though I'm busy with parenting stuff and she's busy hawking fabric softener, we have already managed to write two books together!
Yes, co-writing is one of my favorite things to do. Working on a creative project with a person who is one the same wavelength as you humor- and creativity-wise is crazy good times, let me tell you. It all started for me with some pretty stellar fanfiction that my little sister and I used to write about Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It was amazing stuff if I do say so myself. We got to out Snape as the vampire he obviously is, let Gandalf and Galadriel have that affair they so clearly have been carrying on behind Celeborn's back for centuries, and have Boromir not die but instead run off to a hippie commune to recuperate and become a pacifist. Very fulfilling.
And then! I met writer folks on the internet! The internet, as I'm sure you know, is a magical place where you can often find like-minded people a lot easier than you can find them in real life. I started some super fun co-writing with one of these writer pals, but then he went and decided he wasn't a writer after all or some crap, and the story died on the vine, and my heart shattered into a million little pieces for the loss of a story that could have been. I guess if I there's a downside to co-writing, that's it. People might kick you to the curb.
I'm over it.
No, I am.
Then good ol' Jennifer, another writer pal from the magical internet, asked if I'd be interested in writing a YA mystery and I was all like hecks yes, and we've been writing ever since.
I'm sure you're wondering how one works on a project with a person halfway across the country. You're so curious I can feel it all the way back from here in the past before you even read this.
The key to co-writing is Google Drive. This is a picture of how Google Docs works:
Before the magic of Google Drive, there was this cumbersome thing called Word. Bleh. All you need to know about it is that it's a half step above the Pony Express in terms of communicating effectively with a co-writing partner. Google, while its spellcheck is hilariously idiotic at times (Shut up, Google. I do mean "pointed stares", not "pointed stars." Presumptuous upstart, get back in your corner), is swell because you both get to be on the doc at the same time, making changes and bouncing ideas off each other and stuff. It's pretty much the same as having the other person in the room with you, except your hair can be super messy and you can be in ratty pajamas and no one will give you funny looks. And you don't have to clean up your writing room.
It's list time! What's so great about co-writing:
1. You can write twice the book in half the time.
2. You get to have fun with another person on a creative project.
3. If you get to the point of searching for an agent for your book, you don't have to do all the querying alone, and you have someone to whine to about the rejections as they roll in. Jennifer and I are currently in querying mode, and it's so, so, so nice to divide up this horrific process.
And the downsides:
1. Time zones. Sometimes your co-writing pal is a few time zones away. It's more of an annoyance than a real problem, though, for a halfway competent person. And Jennifer and I are halfway competent.
2. Sometimes the person decides they don't want to write with you anymore. But, as mentioned above, I'm totally over it.
So, in closing, I highly suggest finding yourself a writer pal and make a book.
Here's a link to books by Jennifer Flath:
"Why Laura!" you say. "A gardening post on a writing website? That's crazy!"
Yeah, I see how you might think that. But follow me here: Gardening directly relates to my writing, since in the spring and summer it is the #1 thing that gets in the way of me and writing.
"Oh," you say. "That totally makes sense. Cool. Show me some pictures of dirt with little seedlings starting to poke out! Say stuff about the dirt and plants! I'm so excited!"
Awesome. You go pop some popcorn, then come on back and feast your eyes on my rockin' blog...
Got your snacks? Groovy. Let's do this thing.
Exhibit A: My seedlings! This is not all the stuff I'll be growing. Not by a longshot. It's just the stuff that I start indoors ahead of time. Cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and celery. The top left one is the cabbage, and the other ones are all tomatoes. The peppers haven't sprouted yet, since peppers are losery drama queens who take their sweet time to sprout and then grow like garbage for me since they like to make me mad. I've never been able to grow peppers, and yet I keep trying.
The top right squares that are kinda not even in the picture are the celery, which is also sorta a drama queen, I think, though I've never grown it before. All I know for sure is it likes to be kept uniformly moist until it sprouts, which makes it rather high-needs.
At least my tomatoes aren't making trouble for me. They always just explode right out of their seeds like they own the place, since, as tomatoes, they run the garden and they know it.
Exhibit B: Anise. They're one of my first plants to sprout, and thus they fill my heart with joy. Also, they smell nice.
Exhibit C: Speaking of plants that fill my heart with joy, STRAWBERRIES!!!! I love these dudes so much. Berries grow so well in my soil, and strawberries seem to do especially well. They're one of my first plants to produce each spring, so they're basically my BFFs. My arch-nemeses, the groundhog family that live under the shed next door, also like the strawberries. I wish the groundhog family would die and burn in hell.
Exhibit D: Egyptian walking onions. They're a little pathetic right now since they got hit by the frost, but they're tough little guys so they'll bounce back just fine. I adore walking onions. They grow really tall, and their bulbs grow on the very top of their stalks (if stalks is the word I want). When the bulbs mature, they weigh down the stalk-thing and it bends over to the ground and the bulbs take root, thus "walking" a few feet away from the plant they came from and making a new plant! Neato!
Exhibit E: My sweet, lovely bees. I frankly don't want to talk about them too much at this point since it's still cold and I'm afraid they'll die before spring really comes. Stupid colony collapse. Stuff of nightmares, I tells ya. But if they survive I will do a big ol' post all about them for sure. And if they don't survive, I'll do a rage-post about how we're killing the planet and we don't care about anything and humans are jerks and blablabla.
OK, wow, you read the whole thing? Cool! Thanks for checking it out. Laters!!! xoxox