Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Pix!

So yeah, it's supposed to be me, Sophie, posting today but the thing is...I have a manuscript I promised to turn in over the weekend and so I'm running a little late. I'm going to post on Friday instead, and I hope to have something cogent and compelling to say by then. Meanwhile, I thought you all might enjoy these photos from Juliet's annual Halloween bash! Several of the Pens were able to attend - those who weren't working a double shift, or squiring children and nieces around, or not feeling well - and some PensFriends of the highest order.

The theme was "Zombie Schoolgirls Gone Wild" and I'm kicking myself for not getting some shots of the house. Next year for sure! Juliet and her housemate Jace must have an underground cavern where they store all the boxes of decorations, including several lifesize corpses, some of whom talk and crawl and do all manner of creepy things. An entire room was given over to costumes for the guests to try on. Tons of food, though as usual I ended the evening with a pile of potato chips in front of me. And lots of fabulous people, because Pens consort with only the most interesting folks around!

So with no further ado, here's our hostess, the inimitable Juliet Blackwell:

I was bowled over by her wounds, which looked real even inches away. Check this out:

Awesome right? Get this - she *made* that, all with stuff you probably have lying around the house. I'm not going to give away trade secrets, but one of the more interesting supplies needed to make realistic-looking scars and scabs is *coffee grounds*.

Juliet was so good at it that she fixed Jace up too...

PensFriend Mysti was on duty, complete with a very realistic looking sidearm:

Adrienne was there, and she fell victim to the zombie tide.

Perhaps the most disturbing image from the whole evening is this little guy, a zombie baby who makes appearances each year at the party. Reminds me of that one scene in THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.

That was a little over the top, right? Well, I apologize; sadly, I appear to have passed the scary on to one of my two children. Uh, can you guess which Littlefield offspring made her pumpkin look like a cute happy lion - and which created Hellraiser, squash version?

Happy Halloween to all our friends and readers!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bethany's Prepared

A big welcome to Bethany Herron, one of the Pens' favorite people!

The second I saw this week's theme, I started begging the Pens to let me write for them.Why? I am soooo totally prepared for this topic.

- Thanks to Pen Martha Flynn and her motivating fervor, I now know how to make a debris hut shelter, purify water with nothing but rocks and fire, and start a fire with nothing but materials found in the woods (or Ikea).

- I belong to a post-apocalyptic Book Club.

- I will always own a pickup truck, in order to accommodate my ridiculously large survival box. It's got the standards; emergency blanket, med kit, power bars, water. It also has a full 20# bag of Boonie's dog food. Depending on the apocalypse, I can 1) feed Boonie and myself for a short time, 2) start stealing Boonie's food when my own runs out, and 3) we won't talk about the long-term survival scenario when both of our food runs out and I'm left with a sweet, meaty dog. I'm just saying. I'm a survivor. Unfortunately, so is she (she's an island street-dog rescue), so I think we'll have a wary truce.

- I may be one of the few people out there that watched the entirety of Jeremiah, that (possibly justifiably) overlooked classic starring Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Luke Perry, and, overshadowing both its human costars, Thunder Mountain.

I know there are those among the Pens that have me beat, hands down, in terms of Apocalypse-preparedness or even Apocalypse-obsessiveness. Thanks to them, I know my shortcomings. My apartment is eminently un-defensible. I have no Victory Garden, and in fact, couldn't grow something edible for the life of me. I'm entirely too reliant on my car, and gasoline. In a Mad-Max scenario, I'd be toast.

But it's not the movie-apocalypses that scare me. The thought that has me re-packing my emergency kit every six months is the prospect of a quiet collapse. Where the world isn't struck by asteroids, or nuclear missiles, or overrun by zombies. Instead, things just slowly fall apart.
I remember reading "Into the Forest" by Jean Hegland when I was in high school, and having the terrifying realization that this could happen. It would not take much of a push, and there's a wide variety of pushes that could do it, from civil unrest to widespread communication system failure. If any of these isolated problems make it impossible for things to get quickly back to normal, then the natural, human fear in people can make the situation escalate and pour over into every aspect of life.

For example. The satellite system goes down, for one reason or another. Next thing I know, no one's telling the delivery trucks where to go. Resources become isolated. Suddenly I can't gas up my truck and run up to Tahoe for the weekend. No one can. Fear and paranoia snowballs. Call me a pessimist, I can see it happening.

The only solution? No fear. If everyone becomes a crazy combination of a super-prepared Boy Scout and Rambo, then no one will have reason to fear the Apocalypse, therefore the fear cycle won't start, and the good folks who know what they're doing will have a little time to put the world back together.

So get prepared, people. No fear. Learn trapping skills, so you won't shiv me for my dog food. Learn how to shelter yourself, so I won't have to make mine defensible. Let's all just get along.

(Or, you know, don't, and then all these valuable, life-saving skills will be mine and I'll be hanging in the Sierras while you all are running around wailing and raiding dwindling food stores in East Oakland. Whatevs.)

Bethany Herron (who built the sturdy hut above) is temporarily off the road, not driving trains, and has settled down (probably temporarily) as a grant writer who lives and writes things that aren't grants (like novels) in Oakland. Her dog Boonie is very, very fast.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Other Side of the World

by Gigi

When this blog post goes live, I'll be in a different hemisphere than usual.

If all goes as planned, I'll be in Thiruvananthapuram (aka Trivandrum), or perhaps a hew hours drive south in Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) at the southern-most tip of India where my father was born.

I've been to India before -- the last time was over 10 years ago, when that photo at left was taken) -- but not this close to the equator.

My dad left India for the United States when he was 30 years old. He left behind everything he'd ever known and carved out a new life for himself from scratch on the other side of the world.

When I turned 30 a few years ago, I remember thinking that the world was wide open. My father had done it, so why couldn't I? I could go anywhere on earth and completely reinvent myself and my life.

But in reality the idea seemed impossible. I had a life, a love, a language. I didn't want to give any of it up. The closest I ever came to reinventing myself was in my mid-twenties when I left Seattle for Berkeley without a job or a plan of any kind. But that's hardly the same thing as Tamil Nadu to Texas.

Even though I made my choice, I think I'd do just fine if the unthinkable happened and I got uprooted by an apocalypse of some kind. Yes, I passed the the zombie apocalypse quiz with flying colors. But more than that, I've seen that it's possible to change one's life completely. We don't have to live our lives the way we've always done -- but hopefully that change won't be forced upon us because of zombies.

I'll post more about this trip when I'm back home. Wish me luck with the monsoons!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Martha Advocates An Apocalypse in Every Story

Nothing makes a story like a good apocalypse.

I don't mean an end-of-the-world-biblical-zombie apocalypse. Although I do like those.

I mean apocalypse for the classic greek translation - "lifting of the veil."

More broadly, the moment where your character knows something, can't unknow it, and everything is changed. Sometimes the moment is a big twist, sometimes a small character moment.

My top five favorite apocalypse moments in story (spoiler alert).

1. Planet of the Apes - Charlton Heston is on earth! Anyone else's heart drop when the Statue of Liberty came into frame?

2. Ender's Game. Games can be deadly.

3. Soylent Green. It's people. And it's gross. And Charlton is screwed again.

4. Memento. Guy Pierce has actually convinced himself the truth are lies, and will never have the closure he seeks.

5. Life of Pi. There was no tiger.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Apocalypse Revealed

The exact and ancient meaning of apocalypse is revelation.

There are of course other definitions. One definition even goes so far as to name the apocalypse a prophetic revelation, esp. concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil.

In the last few centuries (possibly from the work of John of Patmos, “Apokalypsis”, in the 13th century) the meaning seems to have morphed into a great disaster, frequently involving religion. Jews and Christians both warn of a vague ambiguous end of the world.

But caution of the apocalypse isn’t just found in religion. Varying cultures have apocalypse doomsday warnings. The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. Having been to the ruins in Tulum, Mexico and seeing the city and the structures they built and understanding the incredible preciseness of their temples, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

But I have to wonder if maybe it was just perfect symmetry when they stopped the calendar on that particular date. After all, how many companies print calendars that far into the future? And even though we’re talking about a very precise civilization you have to believe that the Mayans had to concern themselves with the day-to-day running of their city as well as a calendar millenniums.

Nostradamus predicted a similar apocalypse around or near 2012. However, he also predicted events past that date as well.

To my mind the apocalypse is about change. Climate change, balance of political power change, population change, earth change.

Somehow as human beings we’ve evolved into a place of wanting constants in the world. And for a lot of people when the constant changes, they are unsettled. We seem to want things to stay the same unless WE initiate the change. As if we are somehow in control of our Universe. But in reality the only constant we have is that things will change.

In order to come to a place of peace with that reality, we’ve got to accept that things are out of our control. We live in a world where technological advances are staggering (What would the ancient Mayans think about computers and telescopes and space travel?) but we are still at the whim of Mother Nature...earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados can change great big pieces of the world in a moment.

So the way I prepare for the apocalypse is to embrace change. To be open to the new possibilities presented rather than the new constraints imposed. To accept with humility and grace the knowledge that change is inevitable.


ps. Of course, just in case I have a few boxes of supplies in my garage, in the event of earthquakes, tsunamis, meteor implosions, or the improbable zombie apocalypse. It never hurts to hedge your bets.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rachael Worries

(Thanks, LGC, for trading spots with me last week!)

I was about ten years old when I became aware my writing could make a difference. I knew the written word was magical -- I was best friends with Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jo March and I were cut of the same cloth. I wanted to BE Anne Shirley, no two ways about it.

Words meant everything to me. And I was finally beginning to learn that I could string them together in ways that made my teachers say, "Wow! What a good little writer you are!" Of course, I was ten. I'm sure they said that to all the kids, but I was precocious, and a child of California, so I believed in my own self-worth.

I was also a child of hippies, so I believed that Ronald Reagan was the devil (not that adulthood has changed my mind much, but that's another post). I'd done the simple math, and I'd put everything together -- if Russia had nukes, and we had nukes, and Russia was bad, and our president was evil, then we were poised on the brink of annihilation. It was coming. I could feel it. I'd go outside and look up into the beautiful blue sky, and instead of finding shapes in the clouds, I'd scan the skies for missiles. On the Bay Bridge, while everyone else enjoyed looking at the TransAmerica Building, I'd imagine it wreathed in a mushroom cloud.

Reagan had his finger on the button. Gorbechev was going to make a face at him, and then Reagan would push that button, and we'd all be gone in one anguished molten scream.

I had nightmares of being in a mall and being gassed. For some reason, it was always a mall even though we weren't shoppers -- it added to the horror, I think. In the dreams, I'd hold my breath while I watched everyone I loved fall to the floor, mouths open in agony. I'd try to drag one or two people out, knowing the poison gas was invisible, and I mustn't breathe, mustn't die this way.... Then I'd gasp myself awake and lie there, heart pounding, a cold sweat soaking into the sheets.

Then I figured out what I had to do. It was easy. I would solve the global crisis. Me.

I would write a letter to President Ronald Reagan. I'd tell him that I was just a kid, and that I didn't deserve to die. Moreover, the poor kids in Russia, even though they were Russian, didn't deserve to die. None of us did.

And I thought this was an original idea. The fact that children would die in a nuclear apocalypse was something I was sure hadn't occurred to him (this shows both how little faith I placed in him and how much I believed in myself).

I could actually see it, in my mind's eye. The letter would sit on the top of his stack of mail. He'd open it. Read it. Tears would fill his eyes. He'd call Nancy and tell her what he'd just learned from naught but a child in California. Then he'd phone Russia, and take the first steps toward peace. Then, finally, he'd call me and say, simply, "Rachael, from the bottom of my heart, thank you."

For reals. I wrote the letter, and Mom got the address for me to write on the envelope. I mailed it. I waited. Ron would call any day.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks to months. By the time I was eleven, the reality dawned in my dimmed eyes. He wasn't going to call me. He wasn't going to make the world a peaceful place because of my beautiful, persuasive, Grade-12 level words.

My words, weighed against the coming apocalypse, meant nothing.

You know how if you don't hear back from an agent or an editor, it means you've been rejected?

I think that was my first rejection letter. That was the start. And like all rejection letters, it just served to make me more determined. I still think the right letter, the right child's plea, could lead to the phone call that would sort it all out. Call me naive (and you'd be right), but that's what I still think.

Peace. Peace will... Peace will come. And let it begin with me!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stacia Kane's Haunted Weeek

Welcome to Stacia Kane! Author of amazing urban fantasy, and owner of a kickass haircut, the Pens are so glad to have her here today. And the story of the knife fight between her and one of the Pens is not true.

So lately I’ve been having a little bit of trouble blogging. I think it’s because I’m deep in the middle of writing the fourth Downside book, and my blogging always suffers when I’m working, at least when I’m working hard and it’s taking a lot out of me. Which this one is. (Don’t worry, you can’t tell it’s taking anything out of me at all, it sucks so hard.)

Anyway. Not only am I stumped as far as blogs are concerned (bloggedly stumped?), apocalypse has never been my thing. I know there are a few religions out there who keep insisting they know the exact date the world will end, and then when that day passes and everyone is still wandering around alive and everything they sort of pretend they were just kidding and the real date is in thirty years or so. Ha ha! They were just testing us, see? Or sometimes they say that the apocalypse actually has started, it’s just a very slow-moving one, and we won’t realize the world is ending until it’s too late. Stupid us, huh*?

And of course I remember all of the panic around Y2K. My brother was convinced it was going to be anarchy. Convinced. He had stockpiles of food and water. (Yes, he is that guy. But he’s still my big brother.) It was kind of an obsession with him, actually; I remember being over at his house one evening with my husband—he was my fiancĂ© then—and our dad (that would be mine and my brother’s dad, not mine and my fiancĂ©’s dad, because…well, yuck, and illegal too) and actually having to threaten to leave to get my dear brother to stop talking about how all of the bank systems will crash and everyone will need to protect their homes with shotguns because anarchy will immediately fall over the land.

Anyway. I know when people talk about apocalypses, (apocalypsi? No, it is –es, it’s just fun to make that joke), they automatically think of zombies. It’s all about the zombies, which frankly leave me cold (ha!), rather like apocalypsi do. I’m just not enamored of zombies; I don’t understand the appeal. Unless they’re magic-animated zombies, which…well, let’s just say I’ve written those once and totally plan to again very soon.

The people who don’t think of zombies tend to think of The Stand, and a superflu-type illness that wipes out huge swathes of people, leaving a small band of good people to fight the Devil. Or, well, at least the flu thing.

I’ve never really liked that idea, either. I honestly just don’t like the idea of apocalypse. It freaks me out. I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want anything to ever end; I’m furious that it has to, frankly. If someone offered to turn me into a vampire I would take that offer in a heartbeat. Eternal life? I am so there.

So I don’t like zombies, and I don’t like horrible diseases…and yet I write in a post-apocalyptic world. Weird, huh?

Well, yes and no. In my world, right around Halloween of 1997—October 28th, to be exact—something happened. I think I know what happened, pretty much, but you don’t get to yet. Somehow, the veil that separates the land of the living with the afterlife—the spirits of the dead—shattered or was torn or whatever, and the ghosts poured onto the earth, and they were pissed. Largely because people were alive and they weren’t, so they couldn’t enjoy any of life’s pleasures anymore (they couldn’t even really talk, in general), but because they were there to begin with, instead of in their afterlife, which was probably a pretty nice place for a ghost to be.

So because they were so mad they started killing people. Ghosts are translucent, yes—they even glow a little bit, not a lot, but a little tiny bit—but when they touch something they can solidify themselves around it. So a ghost who gets hold of a knife, for instance, can slash and stab a number of people, and those people really can’t catch him to stop him. If they come in contact with magic, like if they pick up a spellbag or talisman or fetish or something, it powers them up and they solidify all the way.

This event, when the ghosts spilled out and started tearing things up like the Who in a hotel room, is called Haunted Week. It ended on November 3rd, thanks to this previously tiny little magical church group called the Church of Real Truth. Here’s a bit of Church history I’m trying to find a way to fit into a book: the Church was formed in 1692 as a reaction to the Salem Witch Trials. Several people who heard about it had been sort of playing with magic themselves and didn’t think there was anything evil about it at all, thank you very much, and any God who wanted them killed because of it wasn’t a God they wanted much to do with, aside from the fact that their magical experiments led them to believe that there is no God (if there were, why would He allow their magic to work, right? If there is a God they shouldn’t be able to influence anything).

So those founding members formed their little magic group, and met in secret while still pretending to be just as pious and proper as all of their neighbors. And now everyone in the Church sort of carries that act on to some degree—Elders wear pilgrim costumes, with knee pants and hose; women in the administrative offices are called Goodys and wear dresses and caps. They usually disapprove of a lot of things, too.

Because of the Church’s three hundred-odd years of studying magic, they had some ideas how to get rid of the ghosts, using magic and psychopomps and the power of the earth. And they did, and it worked, and in exchange the Church basically got to write its own ticket as far as how the world is going to be run. And if you don’t like it, they’re perfectly happy to let all of those ghosts free again and you can just damn well deal with it. (The ghosts currently reside in an enormous cavern several hundred feet below the surface of the earth, called the City of Eternity. It’s not a solid cavern cavern; it has sort of chambers and stuff, but it’s just a big empty space.)

So. Now the Church is in charge—of a reduced population, because the ghosts killed like 2/3 of the world’s population before they were finally sent away—and it’s very totalitarian and dystopian, and that all happened because there was an apocalypse. So maybe you fans of such a thing should think about that next time you squee and clap your hands about zombies, thus putting all of us in danger (hey, who knows what causes zombies, right? Maybe they’re like the Doctor in the Dr. Who episode where the Master has him trapped in a little cage, and he’s all wrinkled and tiny, but Martha gets everyone to think about him at one particular time and it gives him back all of his life and vitality. I don’t really understand how it worked, but it was cool).

So if the zombies come, it’ll be your fault.

*This is a joke, and not meant to seriously denigrate anyone’s religion. I think having faith like that is pretty cool; I don’t, but I wish I did, so rest assured I think your religion is great and good for you and all that.

Stacia Kane has been a phone psychic, a customer service representative, a bartender, and a movie theatre usher. Writing is more fun than all of them combined. She wears a lot of black, still makes great cocktails, likes to play music loud in the car, and thinks Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made. She believes in dragons and the divine right of kings, and is a fervent Ricardian. She lives outside Atlanta with her husband and their two little girls.

And perhaps the rumor about the knife fight isn't completely untrue....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Wave

-- Adrienne Miller

It’s rare to find me and the term realist hanging out in the same sentence. We’re not the closest of friends. Sometimes we’ll nod awkwardly to each other as I sign a rent check or go lingerie shopping, but when it comes to the end of the world I’m sorry to say I am devout realist.
It probably helps that the apocalypse is not my fantasy. I’ve found the brutal reality of life gritty enough without having to add a heaping helping of looming despair to help it along. Sure, I liked the movie Zombieland, but I didn’t take it as a visionary glimpse into the future of all mankind. I don’t worry about extinction level asteroids (what good would it do?) or pandemic outbreaks (couldn’t stop it anyway). I don’t understand the romance of literally being the last one standing. Truthfully, it’s hard for me to imagine worse fate. 

But if the apocalypse comes--and I want the record to show that I don't think that it will--I want to go in the first wave. 
The realist in me, says that it if it happens, the real end of the world is not going to a Bruce Campbell inspired quip-fest. I’m thinking it’s going to be more Cormac McCarthy’s  The Road. And I’m not all that eager to hang out for that. 

Us first wavers, we don’t linger. The bomb goes off, the space rock hits, and BOOM, it’s over. Just like that. I read The Stand. Those people at the base went quick and easy. The others? Not so lucky. 
Now, I’m not going to puff out my chest and feed you some crap about how I’m not afraid of death. I am. It’s just that there’s other stuff that I’m a lot more afraid of.
Like pain. Real pain. The long, drawn out suffering of a slow decline. The terrible realization that not only have you lost everyone and everything that you ever loved, but that with them died the hope of ever feeling that way again. 
Hope? Dead. Joy? Dead. In fact, the only thing alive is you, and all that you pray for is that when death finally does decide to grace you with his touch that he doesn’t make it linger. 
Ok...Can I make a little aside to the Pens here for a moment? What is with us and these dark topics? Really. Apocalypse. Sacrifice. Mistakes. Would it kill us to throw in a week about puppies or something? I mean I get that Halloween is coming up, but seriously, it’s enough to make me miss the erotica posts. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zombie Apocalypse

by Juliet

I was only six years old when George Romero’s zombies first shambled* across the screen in his groundbreaking film, Night of the Living Dead. I caught it some years later on TV late one night, back when a local show called Creature Features broadcast such things. I would never be the same.

There were the zombies in all their glory: decomposing flesh, empty eyes, black and splintered teeth, hands outstretched in incessant need and want. Upon seeing the little zombie girl chewing on an appendage of her victim, I could just about smell the rot and decay. I didn’t eat for a week.

So I’m with everyone else jumping on the zombie apocalypse (ZA) bandwagon in fiction and film– let’s face it, this is just good, clean, American fun. Enough with the sensitive vampires already, let’s get to the good stuff: We’re not just talking apocalypse, but ZOMBIE apocalypse.

The standard narrative of a ZA story paints our current civilization as fragile and unsustainable. When faced with such a massive and unprecedented threat as shambling, half-rotted flesh-eating semi-functional idiots, most of us apparently lose the ability to shoot and use knives, and simply fall to the ground and allow our brains to be eaten. That is a recipe for some awesome movie-making.

But truth to tell, technological fail might just bring us one step close to the ZA. It speaks to our mordant fears that we will inadvertently –or worse, purposefully-- develop zombies through a process of technology gone wrong. Even now, we think, there might be some secret government project that will introduce a germ or a critical DNA alteration, and next thing we know we’ll be headed down that shambling path toward the final ZA.

Zombies are, essentially, not only a result of the apocalypse, but are in themselves apocalyptic. They signal the end of the world as we know it.

With vampires, there’s no apocalypse. They have taste – they live in gentile Southern Gothic mansions with lovely furniture and wine cellars and usually exhibit a genuine flair for decorating in shabby chic. And they’re not at all interested in the end of the world, for then who would they suck on?

My real problem with the ZA is …wait for it… the sex. I mean, vampirism is pretty much about the sex, and as far as I’m concerned it has been so ever since Frank Langella was a WAY sexy Dracula, back when sex scenes morphed into a kind of lava-lampesque swirl of on-screen colors.
But Zombies….? Eeeehhhh. Actually, disturbingly, a simple Google search terms up way more than I ever wanted to know about zombie porn (“why were you looking, then?” is what you’re probably thinking. Suffice it to say that I suffer for my art.)

I’m just saying, if we have to share our actual post-apocalyptic world with a creature, I believe I’d opt for something that didn’t involve rotting flesh, since we’ll probably have enough of that with gangrene and whatnot once the antibiotics are all used up.

(Just FYI for all you scaredy-cats out there, the zombie apocalypse is highly unlikely to actually happen. Don’t believe me? Check out “7 scientific reasons the outbreak would fail” Main reason: It’s hard to spread diseases by biting. Who knew?)

But be honest: Do you secretly want a ZA? Oh, the simplicity of it. The end of political robo calls – any robo calls, in fact. The ability –indeed, the requirement—to shoot things and blow shit up.
That’s some powerful motivation, American-style.

*As noted by venerable Zombie Boy Steve Hockensmith, there would be no zombie stories at all without the word “shambled”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oatcake Apocalypse

L.G.C. Smith

I'm taking Rachael's turn today, and she'll take mine next Monday. She's off traveling and having fun. :)

There’s a gritty romance in anticipating apocalypse that pretty much escapes me. Earthquakes. Fire. Floods. Toxic sludge. Supervolcanoes. Asteroid strikes. Ill-intentioned alien invasion. Killer viruses and bacteria. I don’t look forward to any of these, and I really don’t like thinking about them.

But I know one thing: If I survive, I’m going to need snacks.

For the long haul, I have plenty of fat to burn, and I make muscle fast on relatively few calories—although usually I just store fat seeing as I can’t seem to organize myself into exercise on any kind of a regular basis. Anyway, with all that post-apocalyptic trekking to safety and whatnot, I’ll inevitably slim down and get stronger. Just give me a handful of almonds a day and plenty of water, and I should be fine.

But I’ll want snacks, and I don’t mean crickets or invertebrates of any kind. And seeing as I’m allergic to shrimp, asparagus, and pineapple, intolerant of soy and oranges, and sensitive to both gluten and too much glutamate, I can’t rely on poaching whatever snacks anyone else might have. I suspect that after the apocalypse, there will still be wheat and soy in frickin’ everything. Even hard tack won’t cut it.

An oatcake

Luckily, I have discovered oatcakes. These are a sort of Scottish hard tack, er, cracker, made from--you guessed it--oats. They are most frequently compared to plywood, which is not really fair. They can be almost as dry, but they are, in the end, chewable. Plywood is not. Now I know you’re thinking that cardboard is also strictly chewable, but again, that’s not quite fair. Oatcakes are considerably more durable than cardboard, plus, they are a better class of fiber.

Two oatcakes

I am going to make a bold claim that many will dispute: Oatcakes are delicious. Wonderful. Crunchy. Nutty. (Some of them). One can last an hour if you don’t have a nice beverage to dislodge it from your teeth and send it down the hatch. Once rumbling in the old tum, they have a pretty good glycemic value for a carby snack, and lots of soluble fiber. The latter is important because in a post-Apocalyptic world heart by-pass surgery will be much harder to come by.

In terms of an apocalypse snack, oatcakes are lightweight, sturdy and no one will ask to share them more than once. Even after the apocalypse.

A stack of oatcakes.

In a pinch, I could live on oatcakes supplemented with edible weeds and the odd nut or berry. I should probably consider stockpiling them in a waterproof locker stashed where downed power lines won’t make it inaccessible, and away from anything that can burn. One never knows when an apocalypse will happen along.

I wonder if a steady diet of oatcakes would make my flesh unpalatable to zombies?

A whole box of oatcakes!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apocalypse, Phase II

by Sophie


(First off let me say a big thank you to the Pens for the sweet post yesterday. Winning the Anthony award was a thrill for sure - but like every publishing milestone, it would mean far less if I didn't have friends to share it with. Several of the Pens were at Bouchercon with me last week, and we all had a great time gadding about and learning and listening and pontificating and, yes, happy-houring together. Yay!)

How topical of the topic to be apocalypse this week, as I am neck deep working on the second in my post-apocalyptic AFTERTIME series, called REBIRTH. I'm hot on the heels of the big finish, and it's got me thinking a lot about pacing. Earlier in the book - and in the first book - I waxed philosophical about what apocalypse means for the world. I figured out the broad-brushstroke details of my own fictional apocalypse and what it meant for humans - how many would live, what they would eat, how they would brush their teeth and so on.

At the outset, I figured that apocalypse is really a canvas for the larger theme of loss. Genre fiction provides the means to get to theme quickly and effectively, and when you can rip away a person's comforts, livelihood, sustenance, friends, and family with a quick series of events, you can get straight to the nature of their character. Loss is a big theme in the world today, as our jobs and homes and possessions become more and more vulnerable, and we all find ourselves with less than we had a decade ago.

Now, while deepening the story in the second book, I see that pace can only increase at the rate at which my own characters can be made to care about something other than survival. In the first book it was enough to show the threat (scary zombies!) and a worst-case scenario (eek! One of them is eating a victim!) and a brave escape. Now, though, I have to confront the idea that a life so difficult and fraught with danger might not be a very good one - and make my characters care anyway.

That's why it's not enough for there to be a daring escape or a spectacular paranormal reveal or even a brave battle with a hideous other. This time, my characters must regain some of their humanity, their desire to not just live but to thrive, to rediscover joy. It will be a tough challenge but if I succeed it will also be the thing that makes the story stand out.

This book is keeping my busy. Busy busy busy. In fact I am at it so feverishly that my friend Sean Doolittle made me this little image, which I adore - I love thinking of being an authorial superhero, one who keeps at it until the word count is reached and the storyline is resolved, no matter what.

And the WINNER of the Anthony for Best First Novel is....


Sophie with her agent, Barbara Poelle

"I want my 15%."


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sacrificing the Fantasy

In the musical Into the Woods, Act One merges the stories of several fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk) and their happy endings.

But that's not really the end.

Like in the play, in real life that "happy ending" is really just a beginning. What about what happens next?

In my musical example, Act Two of Into the Woods picks up where the fantasy happy ending leaves off. The princes reprise their song "Agony," but this time with real life domestic woes, not their earlier pining after unattainable princesses. It's real life now.

All of us here on this blog want the writers' life. That's our fairy tale. We're all at different stages of living it -- and personally I'm having a ball -- yet I can safely say none of us are living the fantasy life of the writer as envisioned in the movies. (Well, maybe Juliet.) I love the TV show Castle, but when does that guy every write?

If we want to succeed in writing as well as in our lives beyond, we have to accept that sacrifices are necessary -- the first of which is letting go of the idea that being a writer is a glamorous life that with a little talent doesn't take much work.

Getting what we always wanted is a dream come true, but it's not quite the fantasy one might imagine. It takes more discipline than I ever thought I had in me.

I first started taking writing seriously in 2007, so that's when I started learning about the business side of writing: how many books authors write per year; how much money they make; how one promotes oneself; etc. And you know what? In spite of all the surprising things I learned, I can't imagine giving it up.

I've given up sleeping in, but being addicted to caffeine is a small price to pay for the real life fantasy I'm living. I'm heading to the Bouchercon mystery convention today, where I'm looking forward to talking shop with other writers as well as discovering new authors to get excited about. I'll be the dark-haired girl with a cup of strong coffee in my hand but a smile on my face.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Martha's Note To Parents: Sacrifice Schmacrifice

I am not a parent. But I have seen parents. I know parents. I have my own parents. And it is no sacrifice. It's an investment, sure. Even a poor one in some cases because not every investment pays off. But sacrifice? Well, schmacrifice.

I'm getting to that stage where a lot of my friends are becoming first-time parents. They have their complaints - they're tired, hungry, poor and miss going out. They have less sleep, less personal time, less money and less sanity. They deal with poop, lots of it. And soon they'll deal with backtalk, sasstalk and shittalk. They worry. All the time. About everything. And they wonder whether one can be paid for being a professional carpooler.

I say, hey dude, the rest of us have complaints, too.

I've accepted that I'm now second (or, more accurately, fiftieth) fiddle.

That if we're going to spend time together, I'm the one who should initiate and drive my ass over because hey, parents are busy, so they get a free pass, right?

That once I get there, I will become a de-facto unpaid babysitter for an hour or two while they snatch every opportunity to put in a load of laundry and clip their toenails.

That I get to ooh and aah over photos and stories and drool and pureed peas.

That any story I have going on in my life will inevitably be interrupted by steps (so impressive!) or babbling (almost a word!) or poop (uh oh!) and this will be followed by an apology for being cut off but no real effort to pick up the chain of conversation because goo-goo-gah-gah-how can one speak of trivial matters like my life when a baby is around?

That every moment, my friends are building a life, an insular family unit, that will exhaust and sustain them for the rest of their life to come. That they are awash in snuggly baby kisses, chubby baby thighs, laughter like bell chimes. That their lives are now driven by love and that feeling that only a parent gets. That they have a new found sense of community, of connection. A reason to trick-or-treat. That they are constantly drugged by the high of seeing a little version of themselves have their first booboo, first word, first date. That they have someone to take care of them for the rest of their lives.

I'm cool with that. But let's remember one thing - the friends you leave behind, dear parents? The friends like me?

We don't tuck anyone in at night.
We don't see a miracle grow into a person.
We don't have someone to care about us, to call us on our birthday, to wheelchair us to hospital visits.

And from society's standpoint, we don't get to claim that we've sacrificed. We're perceived as selfish. I've even been told my choices are unnatural.

You don't get to have the best of both worlds, parents. You can't have the best job on earth and have made the biggest life sacrifices. It shouldn't be a sacrifice to have the best, most rewarding job on earth. It's like hearing an actress complain about how her million dollar job is accompanied by the annoying task of having to deal with the media.

While it may not be anthropologically correct, when one thinks ritual sacrifice, one usually thinks of this:

Here's the deal: the person with the knife? That's not the sacrifice. The dude bleeding out? That's the sacrifice. Why? Because whatever they might be sacrificing for (crops, weather, favorable gods), the dead guy will not benefit. The dude with the knife does.

So next time you as a parent want to go down that long and whiny road, ask yourself what you're gaining and if you'd trade it up. And if not, know what to do....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Love is Sacrifice

Sacrifice is integral to the success of popular fiction. The black moment, the climax (most especially in a romance) comes down to that moment when all is lost, everything the protagonist believes or wants is out of their reach and they must make a choice. In that choice is the sacrifice that drives the happy ending.

Can you have an ending without a huge sacrifice? Of course. But those are the books that will be donated to the library or traded into the used book store because the story lacks the intensity that we as the reader crave.

We want the characters to be tortured. We want them to have to make a personal choice. To chose a path that ascends higher than their own aspirations and benefits their lover more than themselves. The lure of a partner who will place you above all others, above their own needs and desires can be seductive. That choice draws us into the fictional world, and we can live vicariously and spiritually through the character who makes the difficult choice.

I remember clearly the first time I read (a very simplistic version) of sacrifice. O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi used to be required reading in middle school (sadly I don’t believe my kids have read it). To my young romantic self, destitute Della and Jim’s secret sacrifice of the one material thing they held dear in order to buy a Christmas present with meaning was epic (even though the point my English teacher was trying to emphasize was irony). Clearly I was destined to write romance.

Now my yearning for that kind of sacrifice is much more sophisticated. And when I analyze my ‘keeper’ books on my book shelves, the books that I read over and over are riddled with characters making agonizing choices in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems.

Using our own personal struggles with sacrifice informs the fiction we write. The sickly slosh of fear in your stomach when taking an irrevocable step, the bubbling swirl of fury of being scorned when you know you are right, the absolute knowledge that you cannot and will not let things slide that you have to take a stand against (or for), the agony of making decisions that you know will shift the course of your life–likely not on the same grand, dramatic scale as books and yet....

Fiction allows us to live those sacrifices, to agonize and fear the outcome, and do it anyway. And hopefully, if done well, fictitious sacrifice gives us the courage to face our own choices with knowledge, foresight and hope. And bring that sense of satisfaction to our own lives.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Witness to Sacrifice

L.G.C. Smith

Six months ago, my father confessed he had gotten used to his Giant House in Austin. He was starting to like it, despite its massive upstairs full of big bedrooms, walk-in closets, two full baths, and a 20’x30’ playroom, plus its lack of proximity to a good golf course. After four years of complaining about the house and how he and my mom should be downsizing, blahblahblah, he was content.

My parents bought the Giant House to be around the corner from my brother and his family. They had lived forty-five minutes away in a retirement community with two golf courses and only one guest bedroom, when my brother’s two-year-old was diagnosed with autism. My dad continued to enjoy a lot of golf, but my mom spent a lot of time on the road going back and forth to help out. There was no place for her to have her own space there, so she was either on the road late, or trying to fit in where there wasn’t room. She was nearly seventy and had just had a hip replacement. It was a bit much.

Inevitably, there was talk of Mom and Dad moving closer. My dad didn’t want to. My mom insisted. My sister-in-law noticed the Giant House around the corner For Sale. A few months later, I was in Austin visiting outlet malls to help furnish guest rooms.

My parents have been moving for other people for a while now. My dad retired early, so when my folks were in their mid-fifties, they moved from Northern California to Rapid City, South Dakota to help my grandparents, who were then in their late-eighties. My dad said it would be for five years. It was eight before the winters beat them back to California.

My parents at Bear Butte, Sturgis, SD, probably in 1957

For the next five years they lived in Sonoma County. My sisters and I were thrilled. We had a bolt hole in the beautiful wine country a scant hundred miles away, and we made good use of it. Then my brother got married. Anticipating long-awaited grandchildren, my parents began to think about moving to Texas for at least part of the year.

They sold their house in California, bought that first house near Austin, and made plans to build a granny unit onto my sister’s house so they could spend summers in a decent climate with easy access to couple of Major League baseball teams. A few years later they moved into the Giant House, my dad kicking and screaming. But he did it. Because my mom and my brother asked him to.

Five months ago, the one-story house next to the Giant House went up for sale. My brother decided he wanted my parents to buy it and live there, while he would buy the Giant House and move his family in there. Instead of being 300 steps away, they would be next door. With his third child about to be born, his family could use more space. A single-story house would be better for my mom with her arthritis and joint issues.

But my parents said no. They didn’t even consider it. The costs. The disruption. NO.

The closing is set for next week, and the move will probably happen in February or March. My parents didn’t want to do it, but my brother asked. And asked. And asked. Anyone with an autistic child knows the worry, stress and extra work involved. My parents don’t really get why my brother wants them smack next door, but he does. Badly. They bitched and moaned a lot, but they did it.

In this case, the complaining doesn’t make it any less of a sacrifice. The fact that it’s not super dramatic doesn’t make it less of a sacrifice. The fact that no blood has been shed (yet) doesn’t make it less of a sacrifice.

I see you, Mom and Dad. I see the love that moves you. I’m humbled by your example, and so very, very proud that you’re my parents.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sacrifice (And a Bit of Luck)

"Friend of a friend" - some of the loveliest relationships get their start this way. You all know that Mario Acevedo is a treasured Pens friend, right? A while back Mario went out into the world and came back all excited about an author he had met on his travels. As he explained how amazing and talented and fantastic she was, we were just a little bit jealous (we thought we were his favorites) until we had the bright idea of stealing her for ourselves!

Deborah Coonts’s mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though Deborah is not totally sure—her mother can’t be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on Barbeque, Mexican food, and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can’t get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager. Visit her here - and check out her first two novels, WANNA GET LUCKY and the upcoming LUCKY STIFF.

I don’t do sacrifice anymore.

Well, not major sacrifice anyway—it’s way too messy. Not that I ever got into it in a big way, but there are dark moments when I like the idea of carving out the heart of a Vestal Virgin as an offering to the Gods of Deathless Prose. However, when the urge to grab a blood-encrusted dagger overwhelms me, the wet bucket of reality douses that burning desire—I live in Las Vegas. Finding a Vestal Virgin here would be a mythic quest worthy of Odysseus and far beyond my feeble skills. I can picture myself roaming the Strip, like Diogenes with his lamp searching for an honest man. Come to think of it, in this day and age, finding an honest man might be harder than finding a virgin. But, that topic reeks of politics and is best left to after-dinner discussion with people I never want to see again.

So, back to virgins…and sacrifice. To be honest, I’ve probably spent more time contemplating my navel than I have inspecting the nuances of sacrifice. However, having been raised in the Catholic Church, I am familiar with the concept. And I like it…in theory. As a writer with a very fickle muse, I’ve found it hard to resist the urge to offer something, anything (even my son when he was a teenager—perhaps understandable), to curry favor with the word Gods. Of course, in this age of enlightenment, offering hormonally-challenged or virginal humans in ritualistic sacrifice is frowned upon. Darn.

What to do? Perhaps a smaller, more PC sacrifice would do? In my fifteen years of writing, I’ve sacrificed time, evenings with friends, summer days of play, nights of sleep, so many computers I’ve lost count, my eyesight, size four jeans, a couple of husbands, and the ability to hold a conversation with anyone other than my imaginary friends—and I’m still a bit short of my goal. I’ve given all I have. Well, everything except my son, and, at twenty-five, he’s returned to the human race so I think I’ll keep him.

Having exhausted all other possibilities, what I could use now is a little bit of luck.

As a writer, I can slave over a hot computer for years, honing my craft, letting loose the storyteller within. But, at the end of the day, what I need is the right agent, who pitches the story to the right editor, at the right house, at the right time, when the market is ready. (Trust me on this one—I’m the writer who published a comedic thriller in the year of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

Okay, I don’t need a little bit of luck—I need a whole boatload of the stuff.

Athletes and gamblers have a long history of trying to bring luck in bizarre ways. They carry rabbit’s feet, use the same pen to take tests or sign important documents, wear a ‘lucky’ color or article of clothing, refuse to eat chicken before a baseball game, run for cover on Friday the thirteenth (although my son was planning on getting married that day—which, given my marital misadventures, I found sorta appropriate)….well, you get my drift.

Before you poo-poo all of this as silly superstition, I want to tell you it’s gaining some legitimacy. Apparently the Germans conducted several studies recently which showed that good luck charms and the like actually improve performance. I won’t bore you with the details, but the upshot is that, if you believe something will bring you luck, then you have more confidence and consequently, you perform better.

Apparently our brains are easy to trick. (This is news?)

And, by tricking ourselves into being more confident, we make our own luck.

Sounds reasonable to me. Count me in. So, the next time you see me at my computer in my purple flannel Rockies’ PJ’s, with my chipped NYU mug, surrounded by a frog prince pen holder, a pencil box given to me as a child, small figurines of Gumby and Pokey, all of it illuminated by a silver disco lamp with a note pinned to it that reads “Wanna Get Lucky?”, I know you will understand.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Benefits of Ritual Sacrifice

--Adrienne Miller
I’m an egg breaker. 

I found out this out a couple years ago at a RWA meeting. Eric Maisel was giving a presentation, and he said something along the lines of, “Start every writing day with a ritual”. Ok. Fair enough. But then he broke out the big gun.
“Every morning break an egg.” 
That’s it. Break it. Open it up and let the insides pour out. 
People gasped. No, really. They did.
“Can you save it and use it later?” somebody asked.
The answer, “No.”
My mind spun. Of course, you couldn’t use it later. You’d already used it, given it up as a sacrifice. You can’t make a Denver omelet out of a freely given sacrifice. If that was your plan all along, then your heart wasn’t in the ritual. So why bother cracking them early?
I was thinking this was one of the most brilliant pieces of writing advice I’d ever heard. So, imagine my surprise when I turned to my friends and saw their horrified expressions. 
They explained their reticence. 
I can’t just waste eggs. 
I would feel guilty. 
The whole idea just creeps me out.
Valid reasons, all of them. But me, I couldn’t wait to crack open some eggs. 

The next morning I got up before my husband and my boys. I pulled back that hinged cardboard cover. I imagined what I wanted to write that day. And then I broke that bad boy open.
And it worked for me. I wrote like crazy cakes that day. I kept at it, and it kept working. 
Obviously, I’m a ritualistic person, and I get why the daily sacrifice works it’s magic on me. Sacrifice isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just another word for the price that has to be paid to receive what you want. Sacrifice isn’t selfish or selfless. It just is. 
There’s no guarantee it work, or, even more frightening, that what you think you want is what you really want. When I was younger, I sacrificed my energy, time and even money, trying to coax a little more attention out of boys that weren’t worth mine. Now days, I give those things to my family, and in return I get the opportunity to love an incomprehensibly beautiful love.

As for my little egg cracking ritual, it’s a daily meditation of what writing means to me and what it’s worth. And that’s what works for me.