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What Stace had to say on Friday, December 13th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part IV

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

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Chapter Three

The four Cepts she’d taken as soon as she got off the Church grounds were starting to cool her still-boiling blood when she walked into Trickster’s bar—surprisingly crowded given that it was only past eight—twenty minutes or so later. Funny. The Church wasn’t the only place where her relationship with Terrible was now public information; everyone in Downside knew now, too.

So the people she worked with had started worrying and avoiding her and thinking something was wrong with her, and the people in Downside…well, they avoided her, but they’d always done that to some extent. People were scared of witches; they tended to think she had a lot more power than she actually did. She didn’t exactly go out of her way to correct them, either.

The difference, as she made her way through the tight-packed crowd of people waiting for a beer at the bar or making out or getting ready to do either of those things, was that it wasn’t just fear in their eyes anymore, or even the bland acceptance she got from people who’d seen her around enough to get over being afraid. What she got now was deference, even more than when it was just common knowledge that Downside’s Churchwitch worked for Bump. People got out of her way with cast-down eyes; when she passed she felt those same eyes follow her. Vendors in the Market tried to offer her discounts or free stuff in respectful, hopeful voices. Restaurants served her better food.

They’d been afraid of her before because of her abilities, but they were more afraid of Terrible. Way, way more afraid. With good reason, too; he took his job as Bump’s chief enforcer very seriously, and he was very good at it.

That probably shouldn’t have made her as proud as it did, but whatever. Maybe she was a “bad guy,” too. She certainly couldn’t argue if somebody wanted to call her that, no matter how much she would have liked to. She had too many crimes under her belt at that point, too much damage done.

The red-gelled blacklights that always made the interior of Trickster’s look like some sort of hazardous materials alarm had just gone off inside also made it harder to see at first. Her eyes had finally adjusted by the time she got past the bar, and she started hunting for him. He’d probably be against the back wall, where he usually was, keeping an eye on things. Giving Trickster’s what their protection money paid for, at least in part. Being visible.

White-hot joy burst in her chest when she saw him over the heads of the crowd. It felt like days since she’d seen him, like weeks, instead of just that morning. Yeah, he’d been asleep when she left, but still. She had seen him for an hour or so the day before, and the day before that.

It wasn’t actual time making her feel like it had been years since she’d gotten to talk to him; it was the sense that when he wasn’t around the minutes crawled. She’d always thought that was sappy bullshit, lies made up by bad songwriters to make normal people feel both inferior and desperate, but it wasn’t.

A cloud of kesh smoke wafted through the stale-beer-and-sweat scented air; almost unconsciously she sucked it in as she passed through it. He hadn’t seen her yet. He was looking down at someone or something she couldn’t see.

Someone. A girl. Probably a little younger than Chess, and a hell of a lot more scantily clad, with light brown hair curling over her blue halter top and almost to her bare waist. She was smiling up at him, and as she talked with bright animation her hand snaked out to touch his arm. What the fuck? Who the hell did she think she was? She ought to watch herself, with that flirty look and—Chess caught herself. What the fuck, indeed. So some girl was trying to flirt with Terrible. So what? As if he’d even care, or respond.

But that…that jealousy, that sudden red-hot explosion of Back Off He’s Mine in her head, shocked her. That had never happened to her before; well, she’d never had anyone for it to happen to her for. Not like that. Why would she be jealous because some guy she didn’t want to see again hooked up with someone else the next night?

She wasn’t. She never had been. So her response to seeing that girl was…interesting. Not good, but interesting.

The girl drifted away, dropping one last smile like a lacy handkerchief. Terrible looked up; his eyes found Chess’s. Those glowing red lights washed over his face, mellowing the few bruises and scratches still fading from his skin. Just looking at him made her rage disappear, melted it in a sweet sticky flood. When they’d first met—when they’d first met, and for a couple of years afterward—she’d thought he was ugly, with his nose crooked from multiple breaks, his heavy brow and jaw, his scars and hard deep-set eyes, predator’s eyes old before their time. His massive frame, the threat implied in his every movement…there was a reason nobody had ever called him anything but Terrible, and she’d thought that was exactly what he was.

She’d been insane and stupid. Every scar and crag told a story, and all those stories added up to the most amazing person she’d ever met, the one she was so fucking lucky to be with.

“Hey, Chess,” he said—the way he always did—when she got close enough to hear. “You right?”

“Yeah, right up. You?” It was so hard to get close to him and not grab him, slide her hands all over his chest and press her head against it. But she didn’t. Yes, public knowledge, blah blah blah, but that didn’t mean they had to put on some kind of free show—and the news was still fresh enough that people were watching.

He did kiss her, though, a brief kiss that nonetheless managed to make her entire body vibrate. He probably didn’t have much time—she knew he didn’t, he’d said in his text that he didn’t—but maybe he had enough to run home for a few minutes? She just wanted to be alone with him, to be close to him, to let him chase away all the shit she’d picked up at Dana’s and the depression over her lousy new case.

His hand came to rest on the back of her neck, sliding under her hair to touch her bare skin. Another little vibration, a shiver that her insides all participated in. “Aye,” he said. “Busy, though.”

“Who was that?” She tipped her head in the direction the girl had gone, irritated with herself for asking but unable to not ask.

“Chloe. Been helping, dig, knows she some people. Got a brother works the corner, too.” His thumb rubbed the sensitive spot where her head met the side of her neck, slow little circles. “What you been doing?”

Finding out my co-workers think you beat me up, she thought, but she didn’t say it. “New case.”

He looked at her more closely, those dark eyes—black in the red light—searching hers. Looking through hers. Nothing could hide from those eyes. “Ain’t a good one?”

“I doubt it.”

The question passed across his face, but he didn’t ask it. She was glad, too. She didn’t want to talk about Elder Griffin. She didn’t want to talk about anything, actually, especially not because his thumb kept moving and it was like he’d found a nerve that ran straight down through her stomach to all points below. “Better though, aye? Be a challenge or whatany. So you ain’t all bored up by easy shit.”

The first real smile she’d managed all day felt good. Almost as good as his leg against hers when she shifted closer to him. Definitely not as good as his warm skin, though, when she slipped her left hand around to his back, and up under the t-shirt he wore beneath a black bowling shirt. “Yeah. Why have things been so dull around here lately? It’s been like three weeks since the last time we almost died. You really need to get something moving.”

His head dipped forward in acknowledgment. “Be this dame I’m living with, guessing. Keepin me busy.”

“Oh?” She hooked two of her fingers just inside the waist of his jeans, slid them back and forth. His body didn’t move, but even in the fluorescent red glow of the room she saw his eyes change, saw sparks go off deep inside them. “She sounds lame.”

“Naw,” he said. “Only she ain’t should keep doin that with she fingers, lessin she got plans for more.”

Oh, she had plans. She’d had plans ever since she walked in—hell, she’d had plans since she’d left that morning.

Months before, she’d learned the not-as-disturbing-as-it-should-have-been Truth that when faced with an essentially unlimited supply of drugs, she didn’t stockpile or regulate very well. She just took more. Living with him was pretty much the same thing. He was always there, in his bed—their bed—right next to her, a big strong sexy temptation, and she couldn’t seem to set him aside for later. She just wanted.

Like she did at that moment. And if he was going to make threats like that… She ran her hand around to his front and stopped just before the thin line of hair on his stomach started, very close to where she knew he wanted her to go. So close, in fact, that she could tell just how much he did. “Looks like I’m not the only one with plans for more.”

“Ain’t know what you talkin on.” But his grip on her neck tightened and shifted, tilting her chin up as he leaned toward her, and his other hand squeezed her hip to pull her closer.

Discordant guitar notes jangled loud over the speakers, startling her; the first band was starting to set up. She hadn’t even noticed them moving around, or the way the crowd had shifted to the side to let them pass. Actually, she’d pretty much forgotten that anyone else was around at all, much less a room packed full of Downsiders on their way to whatever kind of stupor they liked best.

Shit. That meant it was getting closer to nine, and he’d have to get to work soon. Her heart sank. Not all the way—not only was she feeling more cheerful than she had all day thanks to him, but her Cepts had really hit so she didn’t think her heart could sink all the way if it tried, and fuck wasn’t that nice—but a sink just the same. Getting to see him and touch him and feel whatever googly lovesick warmth was all well and good, but if googly lovesick warmth was all she wanted she’d get a fucking puppy.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. If time was running short, Terrible seemed determined to make the most of it; he finished the movement he’d started before the noise distracted them, and his mouth met hers hard enough to let her know he wasn’t about to let her just leave.

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Now. Normally I would say “more tomorrow!” but…unfortunately, I won’t be able to post the next section tomorrow. I’ll be away most of the day (and tonight), and by the time I’m able to get to it, honestly, it might as well wait until Sunday. So Sunday it is, and I’ll post an extra-long section then to make up for the delay. I’m sorry, guys; I hadn’t planned for there to be a break at all, but life has intervened.

So I really hope that’s okay, and I hope you’ll all be here Sunday–or Monday, of course, because I’m sure you guys have busy weekends ahead, too–for more.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part III

In which the plot thickens…

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

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Chess clenched her fist under the table to keep from reacting. Fuck. Holy fuck, how had—she’d been so careful. She’d never even taken fucking cold medicine or aspirin in front of anyone at Church, never let them see her pillbox, hardly even drank. How could they know about her addiction, how had they figured it out?

With an effort she hoped wasn’t visible, she furrowed her brow and shoved as much genuine confusion as she could into her eyes. “Worried? Why?”

“That…” Dana took a deep breath. Oh, shit. “That guy you brought to Elder Griffin’s wedding. Your boyfriend. Doyle says he’s met him before, that he’s violent and a bully and not very smart. That he’s a bad guy. He looks like a bad guy. It worries us.”

Her first response was relief. It wasn’t about her pills; she wasn’t about to get shopped to the Elders and kicked out of the Church and into some rehab hell. She was safe.

But right on the heels of that relief—so close it happened at pretty much the same time—was anger. Doyle was running around calling Terrible a violent bully? Doyle had some fucking nerve saying that shit. Him of all people. And—hold on. “Us?”

“Me, Atticus, Nancy… We thought maybe we should talk to Elder Griffin, but we decided to talk to you first. And let you know we care. We’re here for you. You don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship—”

“Okay.” More fist-clenching; if her fingernails were longer she’d have sliced all the way through her palms at that point. Getting pissed—no, showing how pissed she was—would only be seen as an admission of guilt, as panic or trying to hide something. So she focused on the sharp pain in her hands and used it to keep her voice calm. “I appreciate that you guys care, really.” Lie. “But I am not in an abusive relationship. Absolutely not.”

“You have bruises,” Dana said quietly. “On your wrists. It’s not the first time, either. We’ve all noticed them, for the last few months, on your arms or your wrists or your shoulders or neck. You didn’t give those to yourself somehow. And you weren’t on a case, so you didn’t get them that way.”

Shit, could she leave now? When could she leave? Dana’s cottage had become a trap; not just a plastic toy house, but a roach motel. The floors covered with sticky, oppressive care and concern would grab her feet and hold her there until she starved to death, until she cut off her own legs to escape.

Which she was almost tempted to do, if it meant she could avoid that conversation. Avoid trying to come up with a way to explain those bruises on her wrists—they were hardly even bruises, really, Dana was being awfully fucking dramatic—that didn’t reveal things that were nobody’s business but hers and Terrible’s. Yeah, he’d given her those little marks, those faint smudgy shadows under her skin, but he sure as fuck hadn’t been hurting her at the time. And she didn’t mind one bit, either.

When she didn’t reply, Dana continued. “What about a few weeks ago, after Elder Griffin’s wedding? You looked like somebody had beaten you up.”

Fuck. It had never occurred to her that people would see the bruises she got the night the Agneta Katina exploded, and think Terrible had given them to her. And she didn’t have any way to explain that set of injuries, either, because what was she supposed to say? “Oh, those. Yeah, I was just doing a little illegal magic and blowing up some private property. You know, because somebody was bespelling my dealer’s drug supply. And a bunch of people died, but I never reported any of it?” Sure. That was a great idea.

How fucking ironic. People had been ignoring the abuse written all over her body, the signs of what had happened to her at the hands of this or that piece of shit who was supposed to be taking care of her, for her entire life. Now she was happier than she’d ever been and actually with someone who made her feel safe, someone who would die before he’d let her get hurt, and suddenly everyone had fucking eagle eyes and were so worried about What Horrible Things Were Happening To Chess.

“I was in a car accident,” she said. It wasn’t a great excuse, but she had to give one, didn’t she? Damn it, she never should have agreed to this stupid visit, no matter how useful Dana’s information was. “It was only minor so it didn’t get reported. I am not being abused. By anyone.”

Pause. Dana wasn’t looking at her, so Chess couldn’t tell if she believed her. Did it matter? Probably not.

Almost definitely not. “Even if that’s true, you have to know that people are talking about you. We’re concerned. You could do so much better. You’re smart, and you’re pretty, and you can be really funny. You have a lot to offer, and you should be with someone who has a lot in return. Who is just as smart, and can talk properly, and has a real job.”

Dana reached out to stroke her arm, a brief touch that Chess ignored. She ignored Dana’s attempt to catch her gaze, too. “Why do you want to waste your time with someone like that, when there are so many better men out there? Men who can give you a real life, who can be good husbands and fathers one day?”

The smell of the food had changed from appealing to nauseating; Chess’s throat burned from it and the rage churning in her gut. Good thing she hadn’t been hungry before, because she couldn’t imagine forcing that meal down even at gunpoint. She hunted with her eyes for the clock on the wall, found it above the fridge covered with sappy greeting cards and magnets with kittens on them and a few pictures of Dana and Doyle in his Look-at-Manly-Me leather-filled living room, and stood up. “Oh, hey, I didn’t realize it was so late. I’ve got to go, Dana, sorry. I’ve got—one of the Randalls’ neighbors asked me to come back around nine, so I really need to get moving.”

Dana didn’t look fooled. Chess didn’t give a shit. If she didn’t get out of that place immediately she was going to scream. And then she was going to smack Dana across the face, and that was really not a good idea. That was the kind of thing that would bring a whole load of disciplinary actions and problems down on her head, and she did not need that. What she did need was fresh air, and a smoke, and fuck how she needed her pills.

“Just think about it, Chessie, okay? I know a couple of really nice guys who’d be happy to go out with you. Doyle and I were thinking of having a party in a couple of weeks, you could come and meet them—”

“No, thanks.” Chess was already grabbing her bag. The door only a few steps away beckoned her like a pipe full of Dream. All she had to do was grab it, open it, and she’d be free. She’d be done with this bullshit conversation, and she’d be forewarned if any of them ever tried it again.

They were all talking about her? Nosy motherfuckers. She’d known when she brought Terrible to Elder Griffin’s wedding that there would be some gossip, that everyone would have some sort of opinion. It was easy for busybodies to have opinions, after all. Especially when it came to subjects they knew absolutely fucking nothing about.

But she had not imagined them all getting together and dissecting her life and personality, assuming she was with Terrible because she didn’t think she could do better or that he actually abused her and she needed their help. She hadn’t pictured them setting up some kind of intervention to free her from Terrible’s fell clutches. Fuck them all. All of their best qualities piled together wouldn’t make half the person he was.

“I really didn’t mean to upset you,” Dana said. “I’m trying to help. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

The furious words Chess had been about to fling in Dana’s direction died before they left her mouth. The fury itself didn’t, not really, but Dana wasn’t lying—at least she didn’t seem to be, and Chess didn’t think she was. She was honestly worried, and while it was at least partly her fault that she was shallow and unimaginative and that she couldn’t see what a scumbag Doyle was, her heart was in the right place. Or close to the right place. The point was, if Chess actually was being abused and needed help, she’d be grabbing a lifeline offered by Dana at that moment, and that mattered.

But the rest of it? Fuck letting that go. “I know, Dana. I appreciate it, really. But you have no idea what you’re talking about. And neither does Doyle.”

She turned the doorknob and opened it, pausing for a second before she crossed the threshold into sweet, sweet freedom. “But tell Doyle for me that I’m really grateful for how he’s being such a good friend, too. Tell him I’d hate to ever have to tell you if some guy actually had hit me, because I know you’d be really upset to hear the whole story. Could you just say that to him? I don’t want him to think I don’t care about his concern.”

Doyle wasn’t stupid. He’d get the message. It would only hurt Dana to tell her how she’d slept with Doyle—once—and how he’d acted like an entitled little whinybaby when she made it clear it wouldn’t be happening again. Dana didn’t deserve that, so Chess wouldn’t do it. Unless she had to, like if Doyle opened his fucking mouth about Terrible again.

Of course, she guessed it could be argued that she had a responsibility to tell Dana how that situation ended with Doyle punching her in the eye, and how he had a problem with Terrible because Terrible beat the shit out of him for it. But she doubted Dana would believe her. Doyle certainly wouldn’t admit to it. She didn’t have any proof. And honestly, she didn’t think it was something he’d do again, to anyone else.

But…she would tell, if he didn’t shut the fuck up.

She almost hoped he wouldn’t, as she strode across the grounds and climbed into her car. Too bad that would mean a whole different kind of shitstorm, and would open an even bigger window into her life for her fellow employees to shove their interfering heads through. And if they did that, who knew what they would see?

Anything was too much. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? When had she ever asked any of them for help, even in training? She hadn’t. Shouldn’t that have given them the message that she didn’t need anything from them?

As if people ever got that particular message. Or as if it ever stopped them from telling other people what to do.

She stabbed the gas pedal and steered her car toward the street, satisfied by the feeling of escaping and the knowledge that she’d soon be back in Downside. Satisfied by the act of driving, and the fact that it, at least, was something nobody else tried to “help” her do—although, hell, somebody out there probably would try to snatch the wheel from her if they could, even if it killed them. Which led her right back to Doyle, and how she was going to tell Terrible about the discussion with—oh, shit.

No. She couldn’t tell Terrible about it. This was what he’d predicted, wasn’t it? What he’d worried about, one of the reasons—if not the reason—why he hadn’t wanted to go to the wedding with her. He’d told her they would judge her, that seeing her with him might make them look at her differently, that they’d think something was wrong. He’d told her it could cause trouble for her and she ought to be concerned about it.

The discussion with Dana couldn’t exactly be called “trouble.” Neither could the still-infuriating mental picture of everyone she worked with having some sort of roundtable “Poor Chess” conversation over popcorn and beers—or fish and wine, or whatever the fuck. It was irritating, it was annoying, it made her want to drop “Mind your own damned business” notes into all of their mailboxes, but it didn’t count as trouble.

Trouble would be if she’d just had that conversation with one of the Elders. The fact that her fellow Debunkers thought Terrible didn’t look like a nice guy—what the hell did a “bad guy” look like, anyway? Because she’d known a lot of cold vicious shitbags who looked as kind and gentle as Nursery Goodys—meant nothing when it came to her work. She didn’t give a damn what the other employees thought of her.

And despite her paranoia earlier, she knew that as it stood her Debunking record was good enough to grant her a lot of leeway in behavior. Not good enough to save her ass if they found out about her drugs, and definitely not good enough to save her life if they found out about the sigil on Terrible’s chest, but good enough that they wouldn’t care about who she dated. If they’d even cared to begin with, which she doubted.

So this really didn’t matter. And if it did? Well, that was a bridge she’d cross when she had to. If she had to, which she hoped she didn’t, because if she had to make a choice between Terrible and the Church, the Church would lose. No question in her mind about that one. She could handle not working for the Church. It would suck, but she could do it.

But losing Terrible? Nope. Somewhere in the back of her mind, somewhere deep down in her soul, deeper even than all the filth and sludge, the guilt and rage and memories she buried every day under the weight of her pills and powders and thick sweet Dream smoke, way down at the bottom… Down there was the terror like a constantly churning engine at the idea of losing him. If that ever happened she didn’t know how she’d be able to handle it, how she would go on with her life. So if anyone at the Church thought they were going to take him away from her?

She’d like to see them fucking try.

…on to Part 4!





What Stace had to say on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part II

Eek! I forgot yesterday to tell you guys, you know, what the story is called. The title is KEEPING IT CLOSE.

Part I is here.

Longer part today; I wanted to find a good place to stop without it being extra short.

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She was just about to get into her car when she saw the man across the street. He wasn’t hard to see; it was still light out and he was standing on the porch watching her. Watching her like he knew something, like he had something to say.

Might as well talk to him. Neighbor interviews were usually part of the investigation anyway. She put her keys back into her pocket and crossed the street.

He straightened up as she approached. Yeah, ready to talk. He was about her age—so about Maria Randall’s age, then, maybe a year or so older than Chess—and attractive in a bland clean-cut way. Medium build, blue t-shirt and jeans, stupid-looking sandals on his feet like he was some sort of surfer dude or something instead of a bank clerk or customer service rep or whatever it was he probably did.

“You’re from the Church?” he said when she reached the bottom of the short flight of stairs leading to the porch. His house was bigger than the Randall home, and nicer. Fresh wood indicated recent repairs. “Looking into the Randalls and their supposed haunting?”

She nodded. Address “supposed” or not yet? Not yet. “You know them?”

“All my life. I grew up here.”

“So you know them pretty well.”

A dark flash across his even features, quickly controlled. Hmm. Anger, or sadness? Chess couldn’t tell. Maybe it was both. “Yeah. I know them pretty well. I did, anyway, until he kicked Maria out of the house.”

The Randalls hadn’t said Maria was kicked out. Not a surprise, though. Hell, it was possible Mrs. Randall didn’t even know. “So you and Maria were friends?”

“You could say that.” He sipped his beer; a time-waster. “She was my girlfriend. I still hear from her sometimes. She writes. I went up to visit her a few years ago but she has her own life up there. Job, boyfriends.” Another little face-twist. Looked like Mr. Neighbor was the jealous type.

She ignored that, too. For the moment. “And you still live here?”

“I’m here to see my parents. They told me about the Randalls claiming a haunting. The whole neighborhood knows.”

“That they’re claiming it, or that they’re faking it?”

He smiled an oozy kind of smile, while his gaze on her face evaluated its effect. Chess readjusted her earlier assumption about his work. He had salesman written all over him. “They’re faking it. Old man Randall there’s always got an angle, you know what I mean? He’s one of those guys. Claiming injuries to get paid time off work or free stuff from stores, that kind of thing. A scammer.”

Mr. Neighbor would probably know all about that kind of thing, too. The conversation felt manipulative; Chess had the sense that he was feeling her out, looking for a way to convince her of something. Kind of weird coming from somebody not actively involved in the case, but not unusual. Besides, she had no real idea how involved or not he was. He could be in on it. He could just hate Mr. Randall for taking away his special girlfriend toy.

Whatever his motive was, it definitely existed. Neighbors weren’t usually so eager to get involved, especially not in areas of town like this, but there were always people who wanted to feel important or like they knew the real secrets or whatever. He could be one of them. He looked like one of them; the kind of guy who’d started writing his autobiography when he was twelve and was still convinced that one day there would be public demand for it.

She pulled out her notebook. Most people clammed up when she started writing things down. It reminded them that she was there officially, that there was an investigation and a record. She had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t. “What’s your name?”

“Pete. Pete Malina. M-A-L-I-N-A.” Oh, yeah, definitely somebody who wanted to insert himself into her case. “Mrs. Randall’s a nice lady, but she’s totally cowed by him. She does whatever he says. She’d go along with his plan, absolutely.”

“You seem awfully convinced this is a fake haunting,” she said.

He didn’t even blush. “Why wouldn’t it be? What about them would attract a ghost? Besides, I know him. I know what kind of man he is.”

“What kind is that?”

“The kind who only cares about himself. I bet Mrs. Randall believes it. He’d scare her just for fun.”

Chess squinted at him. Partly because the sun was bothering her and she didn’t want to go digging for her sunglasses with him watching, and partly because that statement didn’t exactly jibe with the impression she’d gotten. Mike Randall was kind of a dickhead, but he’d seemed to love his wife; he’d been dismissive of his daughter but not of her.

Something to think about. Maybe Dana would have more for her about their relationship, too. “Okay, thanks,” she said. “What about your parents? Have they seen anything? Can you think of any other neighbors who might know something?”

“Just about everybody on this street might. You could talk to my mom. She’s out shopping right now. You know, I come to visit, I give her some cash.” He smiled like this was supposed to be impressive. Like it was going to make Chess think he was some great guy or something. She could see a calculator clicking away in his head, looking for the right equation to charm her. He’d never find it. “She’ll be around tomorrow, probably.”

“Thanks,” Chess said again. Then, remembering, “Hey, do you have a number for Maria? Or any way to get in touch?”

“I do, yeah. She doesn’t really answer her phone but you could try leaving a message. Hang on.”

He disappeared into the house, leaving Chess to stand alone in the fierce sunset light. A glance around the neighborhood showed her a few other people loitering in their yards, pretending to pull weeds or enjoy the sunshine and conspicuously not-watching her. Shit, she’d really wanted to head home instead of interviewing more neighbors; there was a chance she could see Terrible before she headed to Dana’s place.

But they were all standing there waiting, and if she took off… It would look like the Church didn’t care, and that was not an impression she was ever supposed to give. Even if she wanted to, which she didn’t.

Pete came back and held out a scrap of notebook paper to her. He didn’t come down the stairs, so she had to climb up. Jerk.

He didn’t let go of the paper when she took it, holding it between his fingers and holding her eyes with his. “They don’t have a ghost,” he said. “Trust me.”

As if she would.

Chapter Two

She finally got back to Church a couple of hours later, just as rush hour was dying down and the horizon was pale with the setting sun. Too bad the arrival of evening didn’t come with an accompanying drop in temperature; by the time she’d walked across the grounds to get to Dana’s cottage in the employee complex she was sweating.

Dana answered the door with a bright smile on her face, and hauled Chess into the house on a tide of speech. “Gosh, it’s been so long since you’ve been here, hasn’t it? How long has it been? How did things go at the Randall place? Just sit down, do you want a drink? Dinner’s in the oven, it’ll be ready soon.”

With anyone else Chess might have thought nervousness lay behind the chatter, but Dana was a talker anyway. Although…she did seem a little nervous, didn’t she? Or at least jumpy, trying too hard. She couldn’t be that excited about Chess coming over—and she certainly couldn’t be so anxious that Chess was going to enjoy the visit or something, they were just going to talk about work—so what was going on?

“I hope you like fish,” Dana was saying, as she bustled around the kitchen. All of the single-employee Church cottages—as opposed to those for married employees or some of the higher-up Elders—followed one of two floorplans: living room on the left, kitchen on the right, bedroom in the back; or the mirror image of that. Dana’s was the mirror image, with the living room on the right. From Chess’s position on the ivory flowered couch she could see into the ivory-cranberry-and-pale-blue kitchen and the ivory-cranberry-and-navy-blue bedroom. It was all very tidy. Beneath the fragrances of dinner cooking were potpourri and air freshener, the scents of things to hide. “I thought, hey, you haven’t been over for dinner, so I’d do something nice.”

“You didn’t have to.” She wished Dana hadn’t, actually. The Nips she’d taken after leaving the Randalls’ neighborhood were kicking in, and the last thing she wanted was food. Especially not when that food would come with a large helping of I-made-this-special-for-you guilt. Dana probably wouldn’t say that, but that wouldn’t make Chess feel any less guilty if she refused to eat it. “I thought we were just going to have a snack or something.”

“I like to eat early.” Dana pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and set it on the counter. Would it be rude to ask for beer instead? Probably. Damn. “You know, I’m usually in bed by ten, so if I eat too late I don’t sleep well, which makes it hard to get up at six for my workout, so…”

“Sure,” Chess said, like she totally had the same issues. Bed by ten? Up at six for a workout? It sounded horrible. And pointless. Who needed exercise when speed was available?

Dana smiled at her, like she honestly believed Chess did relate. Her co-workers did not know her at all, did they.

But then, she didn’t really want them to, so that worked out okay.

“How did things go at the Randalls? What did you think of them? Helen—my parents’ girl, you know—she says Sue Randall is terrified.” Crystal chimed as Dana pulled two wineglasses out of a cabinet and set them beside the bottle. Gold rims reflected the room in narrow miniature; that image moved when Dana moved, a visual distraction Chess didn’t need. “She’s known Sue for a long time. And she knows how hard we work. She definitely doesn’t think Sue would fake it, or is even capable of it.”

“What about Mike Randall?”

Dana bobbed her head back and forth, a maybe-maybe gesture. “I don’t think so, though, I mean, Helen doesn’t. He wouldn’t scare Sue like that. He’s kind of a mean bastard but he’s pretty devoted to her.”

Which was the impression Chess had gotten. It was also what most of the neighbors had said: Mike Randall was a prick who loved his wife. “But would he think it was worth scaring her if it meant she could have a retirement fund or a new house or something?”

Dana shrugged. “What did you think?”

Chess avoided that question. Not because she didn’t trust Dana—well, she trusted Dana when it came to work-related discussions—but because she didn’t feel ready to answer it. “What about their daughter? Did Helen say anything about her?”

“Maria? I know Helen remembers when she moved away, because Sue was really upset. And she’s seen a few of Maria’s letters and, you know, gotten updates on what she’s doing and stuff.” Dana shook her head, her eyes wide. “I don’t think she’d come back here, though. And I can’t see her faking up a haunting to get money for her parents. She hasn’t even mentioned Mike in any of her letters that Helen knows of.”

Her letters. Chess hadn’t asked for those, or for copies of them; unless it became relevant later, she preferred not to. And odds were high that they wouldn’t be relevant. “How does Helen know them?”

“They were kids together. They went to the same church. Before Haunted Week, I mean.” Dana’s voice took on a slightly nervous tinge. “Helen doesn’t believe anymore or anything. My parents wouldn’t have hired her if she did.”

“Of course.” Chess managed to keep the impatience off her face. Dana was always so eager—so desperate—to please, so worried people would take her the wrong way. Unlike Chess, who assumed right from the start that they would. She avoided a lot of pain that way.

She avoided more of it with her pills, and didn’t she wish she could take a couple more at that moment. Sitting in that cottage made her uncomfortable, the way all of the cottages did. It wasn’t the small size or the interior decoration that looked as if it’d been done by a woman thirty years older than Dana. It certainly wasn’t that they were on Church grounds.

It was the sameness of them all, the feeling that she wasn’t a person but was instead a doll, something off an assembly line sitting inside a plastic board-game house from a larger assembly line, set into a square of artificial turf made on a larger one again. No individuality, just a few superficial differences in hair or eye or skin color bestowed by the stroke of a mechanical paintbrush; wind up the tiny humans and watch them walk in mindless circles until they ran out of power. And there was no meaning in any of it, no purpose.

Thinking of it, feeling the ivory walls with their wallpaper borders closing in around her, made her itch. She wanted to take a couple of Cepts but there wasn’t much point when she was about to force some food down her throat. She wanted to go home. She liked Dana okay, she really did, but fuck, how she wanted to go home. She wanted Terrible, and their big gray bed, and to be where she belonged.

Dana carried the glasses and the wine bottle over to the cloth-covered round table by the window. “Of course, Helen says Sue is especially scared because a few years ago there was a haunting at her old job.”

The file hadn’t mentioned that. Had it? No, she was pretty sure it hadn’t. “What? Which old job?”

“Um… Helen didn’t say. I’m not sure she remembers. Sue quit when the haunting stuff started, I think. She wasn’t there long.”

Which might explain why nothing came up in Chess’s search, or why it wasn’t in the file. She pulled her notebook out of her bag and scribbled a reminder to ask Mrs. Randall about that, and to double-check her employment history against the place files. “Do you know how long ago it was?”

Dana pulled a ceramic dish out of the oven. Steam billowed from the open oven doorway and off of whatever it was bubbling in the dish, which actually smelled pretty good. “It has to have been at least ten years, because Helen said Maria encouraged Sue to leave that job when the haunting started, and Maria left about ten years ago.”

“Did Mr. Randall want her to quit?”

“He’s never liked her working.” Dana carried the food to the table, tipping her head to invite Chess to come sit down. “I guess he complains about it a lot. So he was happy for any reason for her to leave a job.”

Now that was more helpful. If faking a haunting—or, well, apparently the one at Sue Randall’s job hadn’t been faked, but there was no confirmation of that yet. If the threat of a haunting had been enough to get Sue to quit a job…what might Mr. Randall want her to do now, that he decided to pull out the big scary ghost-gun to convince her?

A couple of the neighbors had mentioned Mr. Randall seemed to want to move. One of them told her Sue seemed to love her latest job and to be pretty dedicated to it. Maybe that was Mr. Randall’s motive?
All things to consider. She was starting to feel a bit better about the case; it still didn’t seem like a winner or anything, but at least she had some leads, something to go on. And she owed that to Dana. Guilt over her earlier resentment made her shift in her seat. “Hey…thanks for this. The information, I mean. And the food. I really appreciate it.”

“Happy to help.” Dana sat down herself and poured them both wine, then started serving the food with a silver spatula. Something in the way she did it, in the pensive frown on her face, rang warning bells in Chess’s head. Dana looked as if she was trying to figure out how to say something, and as if it was something she didn’t think Chess was going to like hearing. “You know, Chessie, I’m always happy to help you. I mean, I want to. Because I care.”

Uh-oh. Chess grabbed her wineglass, which Dana had filled a ladylike third of the way, and poured that ladylike third down her throat. Ugh. She really was not a fan of wine.

But she was a fan of alcohol—among other things—and the wine was there, so she’d take it. “Thanks. This really is helpful. Hey, seen any good movies—”

“Which is why I hope you know that I’m just trying to help you when I say I’m worried about you. We’re all worried about you.”

…on to Part 3!





What Stace had to say on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part I

Okay, here we go!

I’d originally planned to post this a chapter at a time, but that makes for some awfully long blog posts. So I’m breaking it up a little bit more. I’m quite nervous about this, since I’ve never done anything like this before–a whole story on the blog, a “Pay what you want if you want” story, all of that–so I really hope you guys enjoy it!

Chapter One

Elder Griffin pulled a slim, pale blue folder from his drawer and set it on the edge of the desk. “This came in four days ago.”

Chess guessed that meant he was giving it to her. She reached for it carefully, waiting for him to stop her. She almost wished he would stop her. Wished he would say something, do something, so she could challenge him on it. If she could just make him talk to her…

What difference would it make? If she got him talking he’d just tell her things she didn’t want to hear, and there was no point in that. She knew what he’d say: That he was disappointed in her, that he no longer trusted her, that the only reason she still had a job was because to report what she’d done would be to implicate himself—and to sentence her to death in the bargain.

Every time he spoke she heard that, anyway. It was clear in the impersonal tone of his voice. It was obvious from the way he didn’t look her in the eyes and the falseness of the smiles he gave her only when other people were around.

And it hurt. Fuck, it hurt, just as much as it had the day three weeks before when she’d confessed everything and lost him forever.

She picked up the file and skimmed the first page, the form filled out by the homeowners themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Mike and Sue Randall, of Cross Town. No actual ghost seen yet, but they had—they said they had—several of the markers that indicated one was trying to materialize. Cold spots. Objects being moved. Sounds like chains being rattled or someone crying in another room. Smears of ectoplasm on the walls.

The Randalls reported a few other, more unusual things too, things that didn’t bode well. Scratch marks in paint, broken glass and mirrors, locked doors opened and left open. None of that encouraged, just like the admittedly unconfirmed idea that Elder Griffin had deliberately given her a shit case that wouldn’t earn her a bonus didn’t encourage.

But all of those things could be faked, too. Most of them were things the average person didn’t know about or think of, but that didn’t mean the Randalls weren’t just creative with their fake haunting. She’d find out, anyway.

She looked up at Elder Griffin, who had his attention turned to the silent TV mounted on the wall. It was just moving pictures, people mouthing words he couldn’t hear or understand, and he apparently thought it was still more worth paying attention to than she was. “Okay. I guess I’ll get started, then.”

A curt nod. Then, as she tucked the file into her bag and started to stand, he said, “Cesaria.”

“Yeah? I mean, yes, sir?”

Six months ago—one month ago—he would have smiled at that. Now his blue eyes remained impassive, his face blank. “How is Terrible?”

A split second where she thought he was talking to her, maybe starting to think of forgiving her, before she realized what he meant. He didn’t mean “How was Terrible” as in, “How’s that man of yours doing, why don’t we all get together?” or “Why don’t we start talking about things again?” He meant “Has Terrible been passing out in the presence of dark magic or possessed by any ghosts lately?” But of course, he couldn’t outright say that because of where they were, and he wasn’t about to seek her out elsewhere or call her to ask, so he had to be oblique.

“He’s fine,” she said. “Everything’s fine.”

That was Truth, when it came to Terrible. Everything was fine. Better than fine. Despite sitting in Elder Griffin’s office in the middle of one of the awkward, stilted, and cold discussions she hated getting used to having with him, thinking of Terrible made the weight in her chest lighten. Not as much as it would when she managed to get a couple of Cepts down her throat, but almost.

Elder Griffin’s fair hair caught the light as he dipped his head. Even then he wouldn’t give her his eyes for a second. “Good. Let us hope that continues to be the case.”

Well, that sounded optimistic. But she couldn’t exactly argue with it, could she? And she wasn’t about to call him on it. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t. He was, essentially, her boss. No, he couldn’t turn her in for her crime—the illegal sigil she’d carved on Terrible’s chest to save his life after he’d been shot, binding his soul to his body, making him more vulnerable to possession—because to do so would be to condemn himself as well. But he could get her fired, or demoted. He could assign her a bunch of shit cases like the one in her bag, and then report to the Elder Triumvirate and the Grand Elder that she was no longer effective in her job.

The thought made her sick. “Thanks,” she said, although she had no idea what she was saying it for, and stood up. “I’ll just, I guess I’ll get started.”

* * *

Filing cabinets stretched along the entire back wall of the library, filing cabinets full of history and horror and lies. Every address the Church of Real Truth had ever investigated had a file in there, and the Debunkers even remembered to update them most of the time. Well, over half the time.

The Randalls lived at 24751 Harrel Street, in Cross Town. The south end of Cross Town, not too far out of Downside. Not wealthy people, then. Money troubles were likely. If they were close to Downside it was possible they’d have some resentment against the Church, too, which meant this would probably not be a fun initial visit. Well, more not-fun than usual, because they weren’t exactly a laugh riot anyway.

No file on the Randall house. Okay. That was good news, because places where a haunting had been previously confirmed were more vulnerable in future. While she was there she went ahead and checked the other addresses on the street. All clean.

The computer didn’t give her much that wasn’t already in the file Elder Griffin had given her. Mr. Randall was a short-order cook at a Pancake Hut. Mrs. Randall had a spotty employment history but had been a secretary at a printing company for the last five months. Not a lot of financial security in that household, then, which meant they had reason to fake a haunting. The smallest settlement Chess had ever heard of for a confirmed haunting was thirty-five thousand dollars, and thirty-five k could go a long way.

At least, it could go a long way for people who didn’t spend big chunks of their income on drugs. People not her, in other words.

“Chessie! There you are.” Dana Wright—one of the other Debunkers—was heading for her at a purposeful clip, an eager grin on her face. Speaking of people who didn’t spend big chunks of their income on drugs. Dana’s jewelry caught the overhead lights as she walked; her clothes were so obviously expensive that even Chess could see it, and her freshly colored and styled hair made Chess think of the fact that her own black-dyed hair had reddish-blond roots showing and her Bettie Page bangs needed a trim.

“Elder Griffin said you might be here,” Dana continued once she’d arrived at the table. “I was wondering what you’re doing tonight?”

Chess cast about for something to say. Anything at all. Unfortunately, she had nothing. Terrible was working on something with Bump that had kept him out every evening that week, which meant he had a lot to catch up on that night so probably wouldn’t be home until late. Which meant she’d either be home by herself, or— “I have a new case, so…”

“The Randalls, right? In Cross Town? Elder Griffin said he gave it to you.”

Chess focused on making her smile and nod look natural, on not showing how much the question stabbed. Elder Griffin was telling Dana about her case? He’d barely tolerated Dana before; well, “barely tolerated” was a little harsh, maybe, but she hadn’t been his favorite Debunker or anything.

That had been Chess. Not anymore.

“My parents’ maid knows the Randalls,” Dana said. “So I might have some information that could help you. I thought, maybe you can come over, and we’ll have something to eat and I can tell you about it. Say, seven o’clock?”

Well, that made her feel a little better. It explained why Dana knew about the case, at least, and since it was way, way against policy to assign Debunkers cases where they knew any of the people involved, it explained why neither Dana or Doyle had been given it. Since Doyle and Dana were—much to Chess’s surprise—still together.

She thought for a second. Depending on how her initial visit went, she might be heading for the Randall house to do some middle-of-the-night investigating while they were asleep, but she wouldn’t be doing it at seven. She’d been kind of looking forward to having the apartment to herself for a few hours, but that wasn’t that important. And how long could Dana keep her?

Besides, the more information she got, the faster she could get the case finished and move on to a better one. So she nodded again and forced a smile. “Sure. That sounds great, thanks.”

* * *

Mrs. Randall started crying the second Chess arrived, and ten minutes later she was still sniffling and sobbing. All that misery, on top of the meeting with Elder Griffin and the evening she was going to have to spend with Dana and the sinking, stronger-by-the-second certainty that she was not going to be getting a bonus on this case and, of course, all the other shit that lived in her head… Thank fuck she’d downed a couple of pills right after she left the Church, because if she hadn’t had a few Cepts in her system she would have been clawing the walls to get out of there.

Not that she blamed Mrs. Randall. She didn’t, at all. Everyone joked about how they wished they could have a ghost in their house so they could get a settlement, but nobody actually wanted it to happen, for real. An entity that could walk through walls and wield weapons, whose only desire was to kill as many living things as it could, and which was uninjurable, unkillable, and didn’t feel pain? Not the best houseguest, even if millions of them hadn’t risen from the grave and slaughtered most of the world’s population twenty-three years—almost twenty-four, now—before. Most people were terrified at the idea that a ghost could be trying to set up camp in their homes.

So no, she didn’t blame Mrs. Randall. She just didn’t feel up to dealing with tears, and luckily she had the slow peaceful slide of narcotics in her bloodstream so she didn’t have to. She could close herself off to the misery emanating from Mrs. Randall, and focus on work.

She pulled her Church-issued Spectrometer from her bag and switched it on. It came to life with a shrill beep, which didn’t bode well for her bank account; she ignored the sound. Best to pretend that was totally normal. No matter how sinking that feeling in her gut was, this could still be a scam, and her job was still to prove that it was. “Maybe you could show me the rest of the house now?”

Mr. and Mrs. Randall nodded and stood up. They moved like people thirty years older than they actually were, like their fear and unhappiness had settled into their joints and created a constant ache there.

They headed for the kitchen first, a narrow galley-style space with fading olive-green paint, white cabinets, and a dingy linoleum floor. A dingy, scratched-up floor. “Do you have a dog?”

Mr. Randall shook his head. “We used to. A long time ago. Maria took him with her when she left.” His tone changed when he said “Maria,” bitterness and anger creeping in. Hmm.

“Maria is your daughter?” She knew the answer already, of course, but it was always better to pretend she didn’t have much information, that she didn’t know anything of importance. Easier to catch people in lies that way; easier to get them to talk if they thought she was just sort of an empty-headed rube.

“She moved to New York ten years ago.” The words came out clipped, pushed through gritted teeth. Clearly this wasn’t a subject Mr. Randall wanted to discuss.

Which meant she should push it a little. “When was the last time she came for a visit?”

“She hasn’t been back to visit. She’s not welcome here.”

“She writes sometimes,” Mrs. Randall said, glancing from her husband to Chess and back again. “She lets us know where she is. She sent money once or twice.”

“Which I sent back,” Mr. Randall said. “Dirty money.”

“Mike,” Mrs. Randall said, in her tear-choked voice, “that’s not true.”

Mr. Randall glared at his wife. “You know what she’s doing up there.”

“She’s an administrative assistant.”

“For a pimp,” Mr. Randall said.

“For her boyfriend.” Mrs. Randall turned teary eyes to Chess. “He’s a businessman.”

Mr. Randall made a dismissive noise. Chess ignored it. A boyfriend would be another name to check out, and she could verify which of the Randalls were right that way. Mrs. Randall wouldn’t be the first woman to believe her child’s lies, but Mr. Randall wouldn’t be the first man to think the worst of a child, either. “What’s his name? The boyfriend.”

“Jeff. Jeff Martin.”

“Mason,” Mr. Randall said. “Jeff Mason.”

“No, I know she said Martin—”

Best to nip the bickering in the bud. The house, with its air of loneliness and suspended time, the anger sparking off Mr. Randall and the hopelessness of his wife, had already started to oppress her, and she hadn’t even seen the rest of it yet. She scrawled down both Martin and Mason, and said, “We should probably get to the rest of the house, okay? Especially where any particular incidents took place.”

The Spectrometer beeped steadily throughout the house: a short hallway, a bathroom with cracked dusty-pink tiles, a non-bedroom dominated by a sewing machine and piles of fabric, and the pale green master bedroom with heavy Art Deco furniture. All normal. She saw the paint scratches and empty frame from the broken mirror, and got more beeps, but that wasn’t such a huge deal. The Spectro picked up on ghost energy, yeah, but high emotions or magic or, hell, microwaves or old wiring could set it off, too. It was just a tool.

Her skin, though… That was not just a tool. That was closer to a guarantee, and the tingling of her tattoos, the way they itched as the magic-infused ink and the power of the symbols reacted to the energy in the air, was the sort of guarantee she didn’t want when she was on a case. That itching and tingling said ghost. Or at least ghost magic, black magic, and she really didn’t want to get involved in that. Not again. Not when she was still recovering from the last mess, the ghost-infused speed that had turned half of Downside into magic-controlled zombies.

They entered the last bedroom—Maria’s room, it had to be, from the outdated movie posters and pictures torn from magazines, the general air of neglect and disuse. The Spectro went crazy, erratic beeps echoing in the air, like the sound her burning, itching skin would make if it could scream aloud. Fuck.

But it was still too early, and too little evidence, for her to just give up. The Randalls seemed like an average couple, unhappy but not thieves or cheats. Lots of scumbags did. Nobody was innocent, really; Chess had learned that lesson many times. And everywhere she looked in that house and everything they said provided more reasons why they might fake a haunting. They were poor. They were estranged from their daughter and seemed unhappy—or too happy, in his case—about that. They lived about six blocks from the outer edge of Downside, and that distance was growing shorter every year.

And really, they were people, and most people didn’t need a reason or an excuse to lie or cheat or steal or fuck over other people. They did it because they were selfish and self-important, because they wanted things and didn’t want to wait for them. Humanity was a seething pit of snakes and snake-charmers, waiting to bite or order others to bite.

Not that she was any better. She definitely wasn’t.

Which was why she wasn’t counting this case as a loss yet. Everything could be faked, and her job was to prove that, and she was good at that job. Very good at it. Even with the number of weird-ass cases she’d had and her little ghost-threesome-soft-spot a little while before, she was one of the best—if not the best—Debunkers in Triumph City.

So she wandered around Maria Randall’s sad teenage bedroom, scanning the books and stuffed animals and make-up but really looking for wires and plugs, projector lenses and speakers and, especially, spellbags or gris-gris or totems, anything magical that could set off her tattoos and make the Spectrometer react.

Nothing jumped out at her—literally or figuratively—but she saw a few things she’d look at more closely later, when she broke in with her Hand of Glory and really searched the place.

“Okay,” she said, turning to the Randalls. They both stood in the doorway, close together but not touching. “I think I have everything I need for now. I’ll be in touch again soon.”

…on to Part 2!





What Stace had to say on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Death and Eggnog

Okay. I’m going to start posting the story tomorrow (a couple of last-minute things I needed to do, and because I’m flaky I want to give it a better title so am busily trying to come up with one) but I had to share this.

First, my Faerie turned nine yesterday, which is just insane, and she had a slumber party on Saturday to celebrate. The girls (she had four guests, so with her and Princess we had six girls in the house) decided they wanted to play Beatles Rock Band. They pretty much sucked at it, hee, but honestly, that game isn’t as easy as it looks. Anyway. The best moment, I think, was when the hubs decided to give them a real challenge and have them try out “Helter Skelter.” Imagine, if you will, four nine-year-old girls singing “helter Skelter.” Now imagine that those nine-year-old girls do not know the song, and are not (of course) drunk–which, let’s be honest, the only way one can really get into the full non-shy spirit in which Rock Band is supposed to be played–so are basically just tunelessly chanting “Helter Skelter” in a weird little-girl monotone. In unison. It was honestly like we’d invited the Manson Family over for popcorn and cookie cake.

Anyway. Last night the hubs and I decided to start our Christmas Movie watching, and we started with LETHAL WEAPON. The Christmas elements in this one are pretty thin, really; a couple of vague references and some lights and a tree, but still.

Now, I remember when this movie came out, and what a huge deal it was. I remember watching it quite a few times and thinking it was great. And to be fair, it is still a decent movie–once you get past some of the ridiculous dialogue and contrivances and such. But you know, we were having fun with the ridiculous dialogue, and sort of laughing and poking gentle fun as we went along.

Then we got to the death of Michael Hunsaker. Some of you may recall that the movie’s plot spins directly from the death of Michael’s daughter Amanda, who was high and so distraught by the fact that she had apparently misplaced her bra and so was forced to be the film’s 80’s Gratuitous Boob-Baring Girl that she leapt from a hotel window and died. Michael was in the ‘Nam with Roger Murtaugh, which is how Riggs & Murtaugh got involved in all of this, and there you go.

Anyway. Here we have Amanda’s funeral (or memorial service). It takes place, we suppose, at the Hunsaker house, on a cliff overlooking the ocean:

See all those mourners there, behind Mel Gibson being stoic and manly? Because it's a funeral/memorial service.

While the mourners listen to speeches about how Amanda’s breasts were taken from the filmgoers long before their time, Roger and Michael have a Serious Talk about the sneaky Vietnam-vets-smuggling-heroin plot that led to Amanda’s death.

"This is too big for you to stop, Roger!"

In fact, Michael is so upset–which we can imagine, since his daughter is dead, and he’s having to admit to the police that she’s dead partly because of him and his heroin-smuggling business–that he has to turn away and cover his eyes. Because of all the sorrow.

Note: the mourners are still out there, because this is a memorial service and thus a sad occasion.

We feel very sorry for Michael. What a rough time he’s having. And now he’s having to admit not only his involvement in crime, but the fact that he’s terrified his other daughter will be killed or even that he himself may be killed, and his certainty that the police cannot stop it because the Bad Guys have trained mercenaries who have forgotten more ways to cause pain that you or I will ever know. He’s looking at his expensive study and his spiffy stereo and his lovely well-tailored suit, and realizing none of it was worth the loss of his child and his soul.

I’m amazed he’s not drunk, in fact. I imagine a guy could use a drink when his daughter is being buried. And Michael Hunsaker is no exception. He’s thirsty. Thirsty from all the talking and dehydrated from all the crying we assume he’s done and, well, just thirsty. So we totally see why he’d want something refreshing to drink. Good thing he keeps eight cartons of eggnog right there by his desk!

Mmmm, eggnog!

Oh, wait, sorry. That’s not just any eggnog. That’s “Party Nogg.” Because hey, it’s not just a funeral, it’s a party! If there’s anything that will make the memorial service for a twenty-two-year-old girl more festive, it’s Party Nogg. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t keep multiple cartons of Nogg in their offices, right there in easy reach for whenever the Nogg mood strikes.

And you know how Nogg is especially good, right? Not just straight out of the carton, the way the classy folk drink it. But straight out of the carton kept right in front of the ocean-facing window, where it has plenty of time to absorb the warmth from the setting sun’s rays every evening. Now that’s good Nogg! I like mine with extra botulism, how about you? And when it curdles, well, it’s not just a drink, it’s a meal.

Delicious!

I mean, really. He keeps eight cartons of eggnog in his office? By the window? It’s his daughter’s funeral and not only is eggnog (Sorry, “Party Nogg”) the first thing he reaches for when he’s thirsty, he just drinks it right out of the carton?

What kind of funeral is this? Is it the kind where as soon as the ashes are blown away by the wind, the guests change their clothes from black to green-n-red and the DJ starts spinning those dance hits? (Tip for the 80’s DJ at this particular funeral-cum-Christmas-party: Do not play Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok.” I suspect it will not go over well.) Is the Party Nogg there to add a much-needed touch of holiday cheer to a young woman’s funeral service? To remind them that even in death, eggnog is delicious? I mean, I know I personally have often sat at funerals thinking, “Man, I could really go for some eggnog right now,” or “What this funeral needs is some Party Nogg to get everyone in the mood,” but I thought that was weird of me. I guess not? Is this one of those funerals where they celebrate the soul passing into another realm/being with [Deity of your choice] and everyone is supposed to be really happy for the dead person, and envious of them because now they get to float silently in the ether without a body or whatever while we living people are stuck here drinking and eating delicious food and having sex and other things that suck about being alive?

Are the guests all eggnog addicts (seriously, look at that first image. There are maybe twenty people there. Do you really need four gallons of eggnog for that many people)?

Who can drink that much fucking eggnog?

Perhaps Michael Hunsaker could, but we’ll never know, because out of nowhere, Gary Busey appears in one of those cool movie helicopters that is basically silent until it ascends over the cliffs, and shoots Hunsaker in the chest. But not just in the chest. In a hugely shocking cinematic touch that is in no way the whole reason why we have a man guzzling eggnog out of the carton while burying his child, Hunsaker is shot through the Nogg.

Couldn't Mr. Joshua have waited until I polished off all this Nogg? My wife won't be able to return it!

If you look closely, you’ll see that there’s no blood on his shirtfront. There is only Nogg. Now, I get that the idea is the bullet went through the carton, so eggnog would spill out both holes, but it raises some interesting Bathory-esque theories, doesn’t it, about why he has so much eggnog in his office, just sitting there? Why he seems to crave it so much he can’t even wait for a glass? Why it doesn’t bother him that he’s drinking a warm eggnog-flavored bacterial stew?

Is Michael Hunsaker made of eggnog? Perhaps the real story of the film isn’t heroin dealing, it’s experiments that created Nogg-blooded superbeasts, and the lengths to which they will go to ensure they are never without the Nogg they need to stay alive. Now THAT would be something, wouldn’t it?

Hell, perhaps this is actually all about the eggnog, and the heroin is a ruse. Maybe Gary Busey works for a rival eggnog firm (“Funeral Nogg,” anyone?) and is trying to destroy all the Party Nogg out there, and woe betide any who get in his way.

Seriously. This is even stranger than the end of Ghostbusters 2, where a crowd of people faced with eternal darkness and the Titanic’s arrival and ghosts wandering the streets and a museum covered in an impenetrable shell of otherworldly slime and the Statue of Liberty hopping off her plinth to go for a walk–basically, with terrifying evidence that something Extremely Bad is happening and they could all be dead in the next few minutes–nonetheless decide they’re not only going to celebrate the new year, they’re all going to toast each other and sing “Auld Lang Syne” while they wait for their seemingly inevitable death-by-slime. You know, because life must go on, and from all the signs, there’s good reason to think that this year will be the best ever.

So the moral here is, Gary Busey hates eggnog. And you.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, December 5th, 2013
FREE!

CLOSE TO YOU is up for free on Heroes & Heartbreakers! So head on over there and give it a read; it’s a (hopefully) creepy Christmas story, which was a lot of fun to write, especially since Christmas doesn’t exist in Chess’s world.

Read it here. (You have to register if you’re not a H&H member, but it’s free to do so.)

(And by the way, the Faulkner reference is in the scene where Chess & Terrible wake up in the Hudson [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?] bedroom. It’s from the short story A Rose for Emily: the gray hair on the pillow.)

What Stace had to say on Monday, August 5th, 2013
Questions Answered (and bundles of nerves)

Eep!

Tomorrow WRONG WAYS DOWN will be hitting cybershelves everywhere–at least I hope it will; it’s supposed to and everything is all set for it to, but I am always convinced something is going to go horribly, horribly wrong, and release dates freak me the hell out, so… I’m in panic mode, basically, waiting for the Big Problem Shoe to drop right onto my head.

But on to other things! You guys asked me some great questions the other day, and I’m going to answer them. And post another excerpt, too.

First, though, a couple of reviews have come in! (A reminder, btw, since it’s been a while: all links open in a new window.)

From Vampire Book Club, FIVE stars!

If you thought you had it bad for Terrible before reading Wrong Ways Down, the new Downside novella set between Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic, prepare to swoon on a whole new level. … Terrible is truly one of the most complex and dichotomous antiheroes I’ve ever come across. His novella adds a new layer and richness to this fantastic series.

FIVE STARS from Addicted2Heroines!

Terrible has been one of my favorite male characters in urban fantasy for years, and this book only bolsters his credibility as a leading man. If you thought you understood Terrible, you will find that you are mistaken. Kane takes an already beloved character and adds layers to his persona, allowing the reader to understand him on a more personal level. … Stacia’s Downspeech is perfect in this book. It brings such a texture and even a clarity to the characters. And the writing is beautiful. Kane is able to weave a multi-layered story with serious continuity and a twisty plot.

FIVE BASKETS from Little Read Riding Hood!

This story takes place between Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic, and it is all in Terrible’s POV. I felt like a cat in a field of catnip, and wanted to just roll around in his mind and make myself comfortable and just stay there.

So, let’s do some questions!

Melissa asked:

Do you have any plans to go into Chess’s background? Who her parents were and why they may have left her? Or a snippet of a current Church employees POV – do they think The City is terrifying, too, but can’t admit it? Are they really “good” or was Haunted Week caused by them so they could come to power? Having The City already there seems like too good of luck.

I don’t have plans to do so, no. We won’t “find” Chess’s parents. I do have a vague sort of story in my head about the circumstances surrounding her birth, which I’m going to explain a bit more in a guest post over at Addicted2Heroines. But her parentage won’t be part of the story.

Most of the Church employees honestly think the City is a lovely place, although they all view it with a healthy dose of awe/respect. I actually think that’s the big reason why they don’t think it’s horrible; much like Chess’s reluctance to go underground because it’s disrespectful, most employees think that to see the City as a “bad” place would be disrespectful. And they like the idea of knowing where they’ll be when they die, and being able to communicate with their friends etc. So they tend to chalk up any discomfort they feel to respect or a reluctance to die (which makes them think their discomfort is wrong, because they shouldn’t be afraid/reluctant to die).

I don’t think the Church as an official body caused HW, but that doesn’t mean some members didn’t inadvertently cause it.

And the City…that WAS there already, because of the location of Triumph City. The City was a government installation; some of it was bunkers and tunnels built for government officials: fallout shelters and the like. The Church expanded it, but it was already there.

Some inspiration etc.:

Hidden Tunnels Under Washington DC

White House Tunnel System

Dupont Underground’s Secret Tunnel (Note: many of the tunnels Slobag uses are old Metro maintenance tunnels or sewer tunnels)

Underground Cities United States (scroll down to DC)

Mount Weather

The Greenbriar

(Now, granted, Mt. Weather and the Greenbriar aren’t located exactly where the Church is. But I figure, in my world there are other projects we don’t necessarily know about.)

Lyssa asked:

I’ve never read a UF book with an unattractive looking hero. Was there a reason behind making Terrible genuinely ugly?

I think only a talented writer can manage to make their ugly hero swoony and attractive through their personality. I get so sick of all the super hot UF heroes who are only sexy because of their looks and not their attitude. Terrible is refreshing.

That was basically it, Lyssa; I am of course a fan of gorgeous men, but I wanted to see if I could create a hero that wasn’t obviously The Hero the second he appeared. It was a big writing challenge, basically, in that I wanted to see if I could create a character readers would find sexy based on personality alone, or largely on personality. (That’s not to say I agree with you about my level of talent, just that it was my goal.)

Plus, one of the major themes of the series is the idea that everyone deserves some kind of love and happiness, that everyone has value, that there’s more under the surface than you might think, that what people DO is what matters more than how they look.

As I’ve said before, I was certainly hoping people would still love Terrible despite his not being outright handsome, but I never expected the response he actually got! I’m so grateful for it.

Allison asked:

I wonder if you plan on expanding on Elder Griffin’s story as it relates to Chess or just in general?

Yes and no. We will learn more about Elder Griffin, and of course there’s a bit of a reference to his home life and past in the free BRAVE TALE OF MADDIE CARVER short, but I hadn’t planned to do a whole story from his POV.

Of course, if it’s something you guys want, let me know!

That’s it for today–I don’t want this to get too long–but I am not done answering questions, so if yours isn’t here, it will be!

And an excerpt for you:

Terrible saw the woman before she moved. Easy. He sidestepped, swinging his arm—the arm holding Wayne—to the right as he did, putting Wayne’s scrawny shoulder in the way of the woman’s blow. The crack the bat made when it hit Wayne’s bone—might even have broke it, from the sound, and from Wayne’s shriek—seemed to echo in the almost-empty room. Coursen it was almost empty. Wayne had sold anything he could.

Damn it. He hated having to do this with dames. He dropped Wayne and grabbed her by the back of the neck, pushing down so first her knees, then her forehead hit the floor. Both she and Wayne were screaming. Fucking annoying.

He knelt between them, keeping his hold on the back of her neck and doing the same to Wayne, leaning forward so his weight pushed both their faces into the dirty floor. “What money you got?”

“Got no,” Wayne said. Hard to understand him, since he were talking into the thin carpet. “Sorry, sorry, got no, waitin on…Louann here, she gonna get me some, she gonna…gonna earn us some…”

Aw, fuck. He gave them both another hard shove into the floor, tightened his fists. Their necks were so fucking stringy and skinny in his hands. “How? How’s she earning it?”

Wayne apparently realized he’d said the wrong thing. “She…she…”

“Aye? What?”

“Only be a couple dudes we knowing,” the dame—Louann—said. Squeaked, more like. “Wanted it from me, them did, not from just any dame. Them ain’t be paying for it any elsewheres, true thing them ain’t.”

“Maybe—maybe she coming work for Bump.” Wayne tried and failed to lift his head so he could look at Terrible. “Maybe she work off my owings. Maybe you wanna take she off inna bedroom, give she a try? Be—”
Terrible shifted his weight, pressed his knee into the dame’s back so he had a free hand. He needed it to smash into Wayne’s face. Which he did, with a satisfying crunch of bone. Fucker. What kind of man whored his woman like that, ain’t even checked with her first?

And as if he had even the faintest interest in that dirty, ragged, starved sack of bones under his knee, with her broken teeth and bruises. Even if he needed to take a whore to his bed, he wouldn’t be interested. Bump’s whores were clean, and most of em were pretty, and he could have any one of them he wanted any time he wanted, for free.

He never did, but he could. He weren’t so desperate he needed to jump whatany dame waved it in his face. Specially not one like this one.

“You knowing how this goes,” he said, loud so they could both hear him over their wails. “Money, or knowledge. Which you got?”

See you tomorrow!

What Stace had to say on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
WRONG WAYS DOWN release date (and a new short)!

We have a release date! And unless I’m mistaken, WWD should be available for pre-order on Your Favorite Ebook Retailer Site in the next week (it may take a little longer for the print version to be available; I hope it doesn’t, but it’s a possibility).

So mark your calenders, folks, for

AUGUST 6th!

YES, I will be doing a contest and pre-orders will be part of that, so look for details in the next day or two; basically the rules will be what they always have been, though, where talking about the book/pre-ordering the book gets you entries, and the prize on this one is that the winner gets a character named after them in the next story. I’ll be announcing the specific details soon, but entries WILL be retroactive, so to speak, so if you’ve been gabbing about WWD already you’ll have to be sure to let me know (not yet, though, okay? After I get everything set up).

But that’s not all!

I mentioned last week that I’ve sold a new short to Heroes & Heartbreakers, and now I can give you guys some details about that story, which is called CLOSE TO YOU and will be released on October 8th. Heroes & Heartbreakers is doing a special holiday program this year–well, here, you can read a bit more about it on the H&H site.

Like I said last week, I had a special bit of fun with this, because as you know (Bob), there is no Christmas (or any other religious holidays) in the Downside Universe. So finding a way to fit a winter holiday into a Downside story was especially cool, because not only did I get to play with the way the world has changed a bit, but I got to go a little more into what Chess’s specific reactions to and feelings about that are. It’s fun to write a holiday like Christmas from the perspective of a complete outsider, someone who’s never actually seen a “real” Christmas tree or experienced the holiday at all, not even really in movies or TV shows.

Plus, I got to make some slightly creepy points about love, I think, which is always nice. Not to mention how fun it is to work with the lovely H&H/Macmillan folks.

The blurb:


The Holidays Are Hell

Churchwitch Chess Putnam has seen, and banished, her share of ghosts, but not of the Christmas Past variety—the holiday has been illegal since the Church of Real Truth defeated the undead and took control of the world in 1997.

Yet when she and her boyfriend, Terrible, make a trip to an abandoned auto junkyard, they find more than the rusted auto parts and spare tires they’d bargained for. They also run across a creepy Miss Havisham-type hell-bent on reuniting with her long-dead husband just in time for Christmas—even if it means taking Chess and Terrible down with her into the City of Eternity…

If Chess and Terrible don’t manage to keep these ghosts in the past, they won’t have a future…

So…lots of stuff coming up!

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
Who Takes the Chance?

Quite a few years ago I did a blog series about choosing a publisher, specifically an epublisher: what to look for, what to be wary of, that sort of thing. It’s a topic I’ve revisited now and again, though not recently (thanks to my long moratorium on discussing writing-related subjects).

But you know…I just, I’m tried of seeing something. I’ve been tired of seeing it for, oh, eight years or so now, and I grow more tired of seeing it every day, and it pisses me off, so I’m going to talk about it anyway, because there seems to be a new wave of it out there.

I am sick to fucking death of seeing bad publishers, or writers associated with them, justify their lousy treatment of writers and their unprofessionalism and their crappy business decisions and their lack of ability to perform a publisher’s number one job (which is to SELL BOOKS TO READERS) with the following phrase:

“We/they took a chance on you, so you should be grateful!”

You guys, publishers do not “take chances” on your work, at least, not in the way these people imply they do. Sure, every book is a chance they take. In the most basic sense I must concede that publishing is about taking chances, and your book could lose money.

But those publishers who stand to lose money? They’re buying the rights to publish your book because they’re pretty sure it will actually make them money*, and they’re basing that decision on quite a bit of experience and knowledge and work**. They’re buying your book because in their professional opinions it is well-written enough and interesting enough to appeal to a large audience of readers, and they want to sell it to those readers. It’s “taking a chance,” yes, but not in the sense these snippy little writer-nannies seem to mean it, whereby the author who’s getting fucked over is apparently supposed to spread wider and beg for more because hey, somebody agreed to publish their book! That means they have license to treat the author any way they want and make whatever shitty business decisions they want and the author should just shut the hell up, right?

(*They SHOULD be buying the rights because they think it will make them money, anyway; and **They SHOULD have quite a bit of experience and knowledge and work before they start acquiring books. More on that in a bit.)

The thing is, when you tell another writer that they should be grateful somebody took a chance on their book, you might as well scratch out “book” and insert “piece of shit.” Isn’t that what you’re really implying? That they should be glad somebody actually agreed to publish that crap they wrote? That it’s not really a good book or anything, so they’ve been done a huge favor and beggers can’t be choosers? That they don’t really deserve a decent, professional publisher, so they should be glad somebody agreed to “give them a chance?”

Quite frankly, if the book isn’t good enough, then doesn’t that almost by definition mean that a publisher who “takes a chance on it” isn’t a very good publisher? Because they’re publishing books that, well, aren’t good enough to be published? (It’s like a big “chicken or the egg” loop, isn’t it?) There’s no benefit to anyone in “taking a chance” in publishing a lousy book; it doesn’t benefit the writer, it doesn’t benefit the publisher, and it certainly doesn’t benefit the people the industry exists to serve: those people we call “readers,” who spend their hard-earned money on those books.

Either you think your publisher publishes good and worthy books (like yours, right?) and therefore should be providing the authors of those books with all of the benefits professional publishers provide, or you think your publisher tends to publish crappy books (except yours, I guess?) which deserve only the bare bones and everyone should just be glad they got a “chance.”

Except–and here’s the big thing–throwing a book out into the ether without promotion or decent cover art or good editing is NOT giving it a chance. It’s sort of stacking the deck against it, actually, and ensuring that most people either won’t have the “chance” to hear about it, won’t look beyond the cover, won’t look beyond the excerpt, or won’t find it to be of high enough quality to “take a chance” on other books from that publisher or by that author. Or, of course, they’ll see a review that mentions poor cover art and/or editing, and write both publisher and author off in their minds.

Being a writer means you make, and take, your OWN chances. You’re taking a chance every time you open a new Word doc and start writing. You’re taking a chance every time you submit. You’re the one who controls the quality of your book and what happens in it–don’t forget, editors are not supposed to change your book, just make suggestions. It’s your name on the cover, and what’s inside should be 100% yours. Publishers do not–should not–be the ones deigning to give your book a “chance,” the way you may agree to a date with that guy who doesn’t really appeal but seems nice enough, or the way you might give someone who’s been rude and nasty to you one more chance to make it up to you, or whatever other serious power imbalances and ambivalence are inherently implied in the phrase “give it a chance.” A publisher shouldn’t be publishing your book reluctantly. They should be snatching it up. A publisher who buys your book is not–should not be–doing you a fucking favor.

You know what you owe the people who publish your book? You owe them the text of that book, turned in on time, edited on time. That’s it. That is ALL.

Now, in the standard nature of the professional author-publisher relationship, it also behooves you to do things like not scream and yell at editors, and not turn to the internet to scream about your publisher because you found out X got a higher advance, and generally not make yourself horrendously unpleasant to work with. It behooves you to work with your editor, whose sole interest is and should be making your book the best it can possibly be. It may also behoove you–it’s not a requirement, usually, but it’s often nice–to do things like have a website or make appearances or do guest blogs or interviews or whatever at the publisher’s request, in order to help make you and your book more visible in hopes of selling more copies.

Nowhere on that list, or on any of the similar things I left off the list because of length considerations, are things like, “It’s necessary to let your editor call you an idiot and imply that you’re lucky she agreed to take on that piece of shit you think is a book,” or “You can’t forget to let various publishing staffers call you names,” or “You must sit quietly while a pack of illiterates overshare about their ladyparts in emails to you,” or “It’s important to remember that paying you is something we do out of the kindness of our hearts,” or “Never think you deserve things like distribution or for our website to work properly or for us not to behave like twats online.” Nowhere on that list are things like “Of course, by submitting your work you agree that only entitled jerks expect to be able to negotiate contracts,” or “If you think you have a right to an opinion about your work, you’re dead wrong,” or really any variation of “Be grateful we published your talentless ass, loser.”

Here’s the thing. As I said, yeah, it’s sort of true that any publisher who offers you a contract is “taking a chance,” on you. But the thing to remember is that A) You are also taking a chance, on them, and believe me, there are plenty of stories out there–a really sadly large number of stories–of authors for whom that chance didn’t work out; and B) Everything is a “chance,” if you want to look at it that way.

For example. Are you married? If you are, that means your spouse “took a chance” on you. Does that mean, in turn, that you are required to allow him/her to be abusive? That you get no say in the finances, or where you live, or how you spend your evenings? Does that mean every argument is your fault, or that s/he is entitled to cheat on you and you should shut up, sit down, and be grateful? (Yeah, I know that last one with the cheating is stretching the analogy a little. Tough.)

It doesn’t. Because the “chance” isn’t all on one side in your marriage, and it isn’t all on one side with your publisher. If your spouse tells you it is, s/he is abusive and you need to get the fuck out. Same with your publisher.

You were offered a contract–you should have been offered a contract–because your publisher thinks your work is good enough to sell. Your publisher thinks that not only will the publisher make money, but you will, too. That’s how partnership works, see, and really, to a large extent publishing is a partnership.

All that editing and cover design and stuff that amateurish publishers keep insisting they provided free of charge so you should be grateful? Yeah. Books get cover art because cover art attracts readers: you know, paying customers. Books gets editing because publishers who want repeat business don’t expect to get it by selling a substandard product–at least, publishers with half a damn brain don’t.

Another example: Say you walk into a restaurant, and the food is bad. Next time you’re considering where to eat, is that place going to be at the top of your list? Unless you’re a culinary masochist, I’m guessing no. Personally, I go to look at the websites of new publishers and look at the excerpts, and if I see more than one full of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors or clunky writing? Not only do I not buy those books, I don’t look at the others, and I write that publisher off in my head. Sure, I might check again one day, but the odds are against it. I’m sorry for the good writers (and, sadly, good writers sign with bad publishers every day, and I in no way mean to imply anything different) who are caught up with that substandard house, but my time is limited and there are too many good books out there for me to spend hours hunting through published slush piles to try to find the one or two good books in there. I’m sorry about that; sorry for the writers watching their good books sink in a heap of not-so-good ones, and sorry for me because I miss out on a story I might have loved.

I’m digressing. My point is: Quit telling writers they should be grateful that publishers “took a chance” on them and provided them–however expertly or ineptly–with the things that are the fucking job of a goddamn publisher, like editing and cover art, and provided it in the way that a publisher is supposed to, which is without charge. Oh, good, they’ve done the bare-bones minimum, so writers are supposed to be tearfully grateful for the crumbs from their table. Whoopee.

You guys, let me be blunt. You are better than that. You deserve more than that. You deserve a publisher who will provide you with the things a publisher is supposed to provide, professionally executed, and in a professional fashion. You do not need to be “grateful” that someone published you; a real, professional house is just as grateful that they are getting the opportunity to work with you. An editor doesn’t wake up one morning, grab any old manuscript from the slush pile, and decide to send a contract because, gee, they just feel like giving somebody a chance that morning (at least, a good editor doesn’t). You didn’t win some sort of lottery. You worked hard and made your book the best it can possibly be, and if a publisher contracts that book it should be because they think they can make money on it and want to work with you, not because they’re granting favors and your name was in the hat.

I repeat: They are not doing you a favor.

And if they say they are or imply they are…they’re wrong, and you deserve better.

I may discuss this more tomorrow.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
Brought to you by the letter D

…as in “Dork.”

Yesterday I was at the grocery store. Because–I know it’s shocking–I had to get some groceries. In fact, I have to do this pretty much every day. It’s these children of mine, you see. They (and those pesky childcare laws) insist I feed them. Were it not for them, I would happily live on nothing but energy drinks, cigarettes, whiskey, and shame, but you know, when we have kids we give up some of life’s little pleasures.

Anyway. One of the other things I had to buy at the grocery store was toilet paper (those kids again!).

For some time now we’ve been buying this one particular kind of toilet paper. It’s kind of tacky, actually; it’s patterned. Brightly patterned. Some of the rolls have stars–which are my favorite, but they’re very hard to find–and polka dots, and then there are some weird patterns like oddly colored owls or flowery things. Apparently their new design is hearts, which really holds very little appeal for me.

Hearts = not my thing.

Anyway, we needed toilet paper. And I, as I do, was standing on the edge of the bottom shelf (they always put these on the top shelf, and I am not tall), balancing precariously and gripping the top shelf with my left hand while with my right I shifted around all the packages of toilet paper to find the one with more than one polka-dot roll, or to see if I could find a star roll. And of course when I found a package with TWO polka-dot rolls, I set that on the lower shelf–saving it, you see–while I continued shuffling through all the packages to find just the right one.

Imagine this, if you will. A grown woman clinging to the top shelf in the grocery store, risking breaking her fucking neck just to get the package with the most rolls of polka-dot toilet paper inside. People look at me oddly when I do this, and I can’t say I blame them.

So then, this evening, I was explaining this to the hubs. And, as he laughed and laughed at me, I managed to explain to him just why I not only do this, but why when opening the package and taking the rolls out, I save the polka-dot ones for last (I used to save the stars for last but they don’t make them anymore I guess):

“The polka dots are the most festive.”

The most festive.

Yes, indeedy. Because when it comes to toilet paper, what matters is that it be festive. Also, multicolored polka dots are attractive on toilet paper because they are festive. And we save those for last, because we want to anticipate the party. Or something.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who does ridiculous things like this, for ridiculous reasons like that. I’d love to know there are other people who, for another example, don’t like putting spoons next to spoons in the silverware drawer or rack because “that’s just weird.” C’mon, spill.

I have a bit more news and such, too, stuff I left out the other day. First, WRONG WAYS DOWN is about 55,000 words–so it’s really a shorter novel rather than a novella, but it’s not really as complex as a novel so I’m still calling it a novella. That should come to about 215-225 pages, roughly, but I won’t know for sure for a few weeks at least because of the whole formatting-can’t-start-yet thing. The price will be $3.99 for the ebook and I’m not entirely certain yet for the paperback.

As for the cover…I cannot wait for you guys to see it. I love it and it’s not even finished yet.

I have a few other little things in the pipeline, which I’ll announce when I have more details. So stay tuned!