Thursday, February 24, 2005


I've always said that a critiquer's comments on a story are as much a map of the critter's psyche as of the story's content.

I may have mentioned, I gave copies of "Sikeston" to my kung-fu teacher, Sit, and to a coworker, Susan.

About halfway down the first page is this description:

She was slim, and pale, and very English, with fair hair swept back in a tight knot and china-blue eyes.

Susan's parents are English. They moved to Canada, then to the U.S., before Susan was born. Susan said to me, "What does that mean, she looked English? Do I look English?"

Susan does not look English. She looks like all my Mom's uncles, who are potato-bug Irish, as Trace would say. I explained to Susan that there is a stereotypical ideal of English beauty as blond and pale and blue-eyed--and this stereotype was much stronger in the nineteenth century. No one else has questioned this description.

Sit, on the other hand, is a 50-year-old Chinese native, been living in the U.S. since the 70's, I believe.

In the story, the Englishwoman has a Chinese manservant (The story takes place in St. Louis, 1880.):

“Miss Fairweather will be with you momentarily,” the Chinese said, bowing. His English was excellent, with British enunciation.

Sit told me last night that the servant was unlikely to have good English, because virtually all Chinese in America at that time were poor laborers. Only a rich man's son, he said, would have known good English.

Fair enough, but I know some things about that Chinese man that don't feature in the story, i.e. his employer brought him from China to England and then to the U.S., and he is quite educated.

Again, nobody else has even noticed this detail. I think some of the critters may pick up on it, though.

I just find it amusing, because people have their hot buttons--they notice the things that relate to them, which they find either flattering or potentially insulting. The second Trace story will have several Chinese railroad laborers featured in, as spear carriers and victims, and I'm already squirming at the inherent prejudice I'll have to deal with, for the sake of versimilitude.

Oh yeah, "Sikeston" is up on Critters TODAY, instead of next week--I didn't expect my MPC award to be redeemed so quickly. I'm not mentally prepared for this.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

paper and silk

I am suffering through some serious inadequacy issues here. The first round of Trace is done, and I got four crits on it this weekend, two from people I respect and two from people I like (note the distinction). Three of them really, really liked it—their only complaint was not knowing what Sabine wanted with the box. The fourth, whom I probably respect more than any of the others, basically indicated the thing wasn’t done yet.

I consider myself pretty thick-skinned when it comes to criticism. Today I am wondering if I’m so thick-skinned that the criticism doesn’t even reach me. This is not a recipe for growth and improvement. And it's funny; when people say the story doesn't need anything, I think they must be weak-minded fools or cowards. If someone claims the story still needs work, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume they didn't get it. Isn't humility supposed to come with age? Or is it just that I haven't been challenged for so long?

I dunno. The whole weekend was an emotional roller-coaster; Saturday I’m thinking the story’s done except for some minor tweaking, Sunday I’m shredding my heart because I'll have to take it completely apart. Today my attitude falls somewhere in between--I’m thinking in terms of adding highlights and shadows, changing the focus, bringing certain elements to the front and coloring the emotions brighter. And since I’m past the ten thousand mark anyway, I may add another scene or two--in for a penny, in for a pound. But we’ll see.

In other news, I completed ten crits this week, so I can bump Sikeston to next week’s Critters batch. I did six crits in about 18 hrs, and my brain was tapioca this morning. I still have Joy's story to do. Fortunately her prose is easier on the stomach.

Also, Tony’s brick red silk noil arrived via UPS yesterday—I love UPS. They have never failed to get a package to me, which is more than I can say for the U.S. Postal Service. Can you say "privitization," kids? I knew you could.

The silk is dark and handsome. I may tint it a shade browner, but I’ll consult my client first. (Oh, I forgot: Tony was my fifth crit on Sikeston--he loved it, too.) So I’m going to let Sikeston sit for the next ten days or so until the Critters start on it, and in the meantime, I’ll sew.

I’m really looking forward to using that black silk. I know it’s going to ravel like a bitch, but I’m ready for her. My jacket’s not going to be a traditional design; instead I’m thinking of something like this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

may I have your attention please:

As of 1:18 pm this afternoon (give or take a few minutes and/or revisions), Trace story No. 1, "Sikeston," is complete.

As you were.

poised for climax

The climax of the story is in sight. I know now what's going to happen, and should get it hammered out today or tomorrow.

I got in this very cool book, one of three I ordered last week: "The Expansion of Everyday Life 1860-1876." Chapters include: A Soldier's Life; Houses, Homesteads and Hovels; Life at Home; Churches, Charities, and Schools; Shopkeepers and Professionals; and my personal favorite, Daily Woes.

And in other news, Je sais où la boite est caché.

I know where the box is hidden. There may be an ending to this story, after all.

Monday, February 14, 2005

now we're getting somewhere

“You all right?” Trace asked after a while, stirring the chaff on the barn floor with his bootheel.

Boz lifted his head from between his knees. His face was darker than usual, from the blood running to his head, but it was an improvement over the ashy color he had been upon leaving the church. “Just tell me one thing,” he said. “Did you know that old fellow was… was—“

“Dead,” Trace supplied helpfully.

“—not real—when we went in there?”

“Nope,” Trace said. “Sometimes I don’t.”

“And they just do that—pop up and talk to you when they feel like it?”

“On occasion. More often they don’t know where they are or who they’re talkin to. It’s like they don’t know they’re dead. They’re just echoin what they did when they were alive. Ones around here seem to have more of an agenda.”

“What did Miss Lisette want, then?”

“Huh? You mean Miss Fairweather?”

“No. Dead lady. DuPres. Said you saw her, right?”

“Couple times.” Trace frowned. “Thing is, she keeps changin. Sometimes she’s a little girl, sometimes she’s grown woman, and a crazy one at that.”

“Reckon she was a girl sometime,” Boz said. “Remember the preacher said she was actin crazed, last time he saw her. And this Mereck was supposed to be a mezer—messer—”

“Mesmerist. Ain’t you soundin like a true believer.”

Boz snorted. “I ain’t sayin I believe none of this—but if it’s real, if you think it’s real—hell Trace, I rode cross this country with you ten times, I got to trust you by now. So I got to treat it like it makes sense, and the sensible thing I see is you go ask Miss Lisette what happened. She was there, wasn’t she?”

Trace recoiled from the idea, a sour taste like indigestion rising in the back of his throat. “I don’t think I can do that.”

“Why not? We just sat in there talked to some dead holy-man—“

“I can’t help it if they come to me, but I ain’t goin to start callin up spirits and demons—“

“Who said nothin about demons? Just one poor dead crazy lady.”

“’There shall be none among you who practice witchcraft, or interprets omens, a medium who calls up the dead,’” Trace said savagely. “That’s the laws for the priests—“

“Which you ain’t. Sometimes the world’s a bitch. And that preacher called it a gift—“

“Evil spirits can speak prophecy, too.”

“Christ on a crutch,” Boz hollered. “Don’t it say in your Bible all niggers is cursed? Ain’t you heard the one about Ham’s sons bowin down to white folks cuz Ham’s old man got drunk and left his pecker layin out? Now you tell me you believe that one, I’ll just head back to St. Louis and find myself a new trail-partner.”

“You know I don’t.”

“Damn right. You got the sense God gave you and that’s worth a helluva lot more than what some old smoke-breathers wrote on hides. So quit feelin sorry for yourself and use that gift to find out what the hell we’re doing here.”

Trace looked up slantwise from under his hat. “You’re startin to sound like my old man.”

“Shit. So what would he want you to do?”

“No need to get personal,” Trace muttered. “All right, goddamn it, but you got to come with me.”
“I ain’t holdin your hand.”

“No, but you can hold the goddamn gun, in case McGillicuddy comes around.”

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Trace tidbit

He stood before the bowl, unbuttoned his johnnies, and had just let loose a stream of water when a small voice asked, “Who are you?”

Trace flinched. Hot piss pattered the floor, and then the whole flow just dried up. “Damnation,” he breathed, and cautiously turned his head to see the little dead girl standing behind him. The black pits of her eyesockets seemed to look into the back of her skull. She held her doll by the hair and tilted her head curiously at him.

Just ignore it, he told himself. It’ll go away in a minute; they usually do. Although “usual” didn’t strictly apply to this situation. He’d always had a firm if untested suspicion that they wouldn’t bother him while he was answering nature’s call.

But nature was no longer calling. His genitals had retreated into his fly, which was damned uncomfortable on his bladder. No matter how control he imposed over his mind and emotions, being brave was not the same as being not scared, and his body insisted on reminding him how near he stood to stark terror.

“You don’t really work for Mereck, do you?” the little girl asked.

He glanced at her again, from the corner of his eye. She was very solid, not transparent at all, and if it weren’t for the crawling of his skin—and pecker—he might not have known she was dead. “I don’t know any Mereck,” he said. “You run along, now.”

“I don’t have to leave. It’s my house.”

“Who are you, then?” He rebuttoned his johnnies, trying not to think about what he was talking to, figuring he’d go outside and do his business behind the barn.

I’m Lisette DuPres.”

Trace turned full around, startled, but she was gone.


We are making progress, Trace and I.

Monday, February 07, 2005

productivity, at last

Any day in which someone expresses their dislike for me due to my proficiency at something is a good day. In other words, one of the new guys in kung fu approached me and said he didn't think he liked me very much because I made the fan form look so easy (and I look good doing it). I thanked him. This kid's no slouch in martial arts, either. He's doing three or four at the same time, including capoera. Kind of impressive.

Feeling good about the fan form, tho. I think I can take a gold in performance.

Saturday, I added a few pages to Trace, including a nice meaningful conversation with the town preacher. I'm up to sixteen pages now. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I've also dreamed about ghosts the last two nights.

Sunday, after class, I came home and found that my husband had cleaned the kitchen (yay!) so that left me with unresolved cleaning urges. I had pledged to myself that I would clean the floors after every rent day, so I dragged out the vaccuum, but using it was no simple task because our living room space has been badly congested ever since we got that new recliner from his parents.

So I rearranged the living room. Pushed the TV table to the adjacent wall, switched out the lamps, circled the loveseat and the chairs to a new arc, and came up with a much more accessible space. Now the recliner doesn't loom up and try to kill you as you pass by to the kitchen. Since I have a tendency to walk around in the dark, this is a plus.

I put/threw away all the old magazines, stashed the DVD's, and dusted. I even scrubbed the entryway tile and vaccuumed the rugs in the kitchen. I did not clean off my writing desk or the sewing table, but we can't expect miracles.

Scott liked the new arrangement, but when he saw what all I'd done he said, "Are you on Ritalin?" (he's been watching Desperate Housewives with me).

I must say, I seem to be heading into another "output" cycle and that's fine with me. I don't even mind the restless sleeping, since I feel fine this morning, now that I'm up. If the money situation works out the way it's supposed to, I may be able to sustain this bustle and cheer. Oh yeah--H&R Block made a mistake on our return: they charged us three times for Scott's 401K payout. So we should be getting a hefty check from the IRS in about a month. Here's hopin'.