Novel snippet

Another short snippet from my novel-in-progress, The Trick.

Small annoyances got under her skin and grew more obnoxious over time. Jake’s voice, once a soothing baritone, developed a scratchy rasp. The way that he ate food, slobbery and loud, started to madden her. His caramel and honey scent turned to bitter licorice, and the hazel of his eyes turned a puke-toned green. Not literally, of course, thought Helen. But that’s how things go over time, don’t they? They acquire qualities one never imagined on first meeting.

What do you think?

 

Big Sur Horizon

This photo of Big Sur posted in response to today’s daily prompt, Horizon. I took a series of photos left-to-right and then pasted them together in Photoshop to make a panorama. I was fairly outdoorsy when I lived in California and always had my camera (Nikon D200) with me. Nowadays my biggest hobby is writing. Still, my trusty camera and lenses sit on the shelf, waiting for the day when I feel like taking a picture again. Odds are higher that I’ll take photos with my iPhone, and not lug around the heavy Nikon.

Big Sur Panorama

And another Big Sur coastline horizon:

Big Sur Beach

Pretty-creepy songs

I’m a fan of songs that are pretty to the ear but contain a darker undercurrent in the lyrics. These pretty-creepy songs are nice to listen to, but something dark is going on.

Every Breath You Take

Perhaps the most famous example of a pretty-creepy song is Every Breath you Take by The Police. On first listen you might think it’s a gentle love song. No! The narrator is obsessed. It’s basically an ode to stalking.

Even Sting himself admits it’s not a love song. According to Wikipedia he says “it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.” Doesn’t matter what Sting says, however, because the lyrics speak for themselves:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

I’ll be watching you? With every step? That’s definitely not a healthy relationship he’s talking about. I’m always surprised at how many people think it’s a regular love song.

The Nicest Thing

Kate Nash’s The Nicest Thing starts out gentle, with soft guitar, gentle violin (or is that a cello?) and almost self-conscious lyrics. The conversational style reminds me of Elton John’s Your Song. She talks about her crush and how she wants to see if they can make it happen. So far, so good, as far as romantic songs go. But then this happens:

I wish that without me your heart would break
I wish that without me you’d be spending the rest of your nights awake
I wish that without me you couldn’t eat
I wish I was the last thing on your mind before you went to sleep

That’s not love! That’s not romance! That’s terrible. She wants this guy to suffer (really suffer) if she can’t have him. Here’s a hint: if you want someone to suffer, you really don’t love them. It’s a slightly modified version of “If I can’t have you, then no one will!”

The object of her affection/lust/torment is not even an actual lover. She works up all this pain and anguish for someone she barely knows? Gee, that’s not stalkery at all.

Shady Grove

Takenobu’s cello version of traditional Appalachian folk song Shady Grove might be a love song, but there’s a bit that throws me off:

If I can’t have the girl I love
I don’t want none at all

It’s not quite as bad as “If I can’t have you, then no one will”, but it’s in the same ballpark. And this:

I wish I had a needle and thread
The finest that could sew
I’d sew that pretty girl to my side
And down the road I’d go

HE WANTS TO SEW HER TO HIS SIDE! Maybe it’s a metaphor, but I get a definite “it rubs the lotion on its skin” vibe. At minimum it implies a disregard for her feelings.

As with “The Nicest Thing” or “Every Breath You Take,” there’s plenty to suggest that the object of his desire doesn’t return his affection:

I wish I had a banjo string
Made of golden twine
And every tune I played on it
I wish that girl was mine

She’s not even his girl, and he’s already dead set on marrying her:

Some come here to fiddle and dance
Some come here to tarry
Some come here to fiddle and dance
I came here to marry

Note the similarity with earlier ballad Matty Groves, which features a lover’s triangle and murder. Wikipedia observes,

The folk/Bluegrass song “Shady Grove” from the United States also with many variations in wording, some arising in and around the Civil War, has a tune very similar to and possibly arising from the tune of Matty Groves.

But wait, I love these songs

Make no mistake, I love all three of these songs. Their beauty lies in the feeling that what you hear is not what you get. I particularly like how “The Nicest Thing” builds from casual to completely demented.

There are probably tons of pretty-creepy songs out there. Can you name any others?

What counts as cold?

I took this photo several years ago when I lived in San Francisco

The photo features a bus passing by the Embarcadero neighborhood. At the time of taking the photo I thought it was incredibly cold. I wore gloves and a hat and couldn’t warm up. I was not quite miserable, but approaching. It was windy.

Now that I live in the Boston area I have a completely different attitude about cold. Do I need to wear the thick puffy long coat, or the thicker and even warmer puffy long coat? Do I need to wear the slush-proof boots, or will regular boots suffice? Will the subway station be flooded? Will the sidewalks be passable? Will I be stuck in a blizzard if I go into the office? Checking weather has more significant implications on my routine.

Since moving to Boston I have developed a winter uniform

When I first moved here I wanted to be fashionable in the winter. I thought puffy coats were silly-looking and made everyone look shapeless. Now, I think they are fantastic. The technology for keeping out the cold is amazing.

My winter uniform:

  • Standard long black puffy coat (what everyone wears)
  • Blazer and scarf
  • Fleece leggings and skirt
  • Knee-high boots (or sometimes Uggs)
  • Leather gloves
  • No hat unless it’s really cold, because my headphones double as earmuffs and I keep the hood up
  • A hat and a hood if it’s really cold

It’s a tricky balance to wear something outside that will be suitable for the office. I tried wearing pants because I thought they’d be more suitable for snowy weather, but they required a belt and were generally uncomfortable. I have been a no-pants person for many years now and I can’t go back.

What’s your winter uniform?

Novel writing and the elusive third act

I am in the throes of novel writing.

I am working on the third act of The Trick, in which the heroine (Helen) goes a little baby-crazy, and her immortal vampire boyfriend must make a decision: start a family, or live without her.

I’m stuck because I don’t know how to write about baby-craziness. I never felt it myself. I have only witnessed it in others, and I fear turning it into a stereotype. Also, my novel is only at 48,000 words. It’s a wee bit too short.

In essence, I am stuck, with a fairly static third act. How do I make it as dynamic as the first two acts?

Act 1: They fall in love. Falling in love is fun to write about.
Act 2: They travel and enjoy the world. Vincent recalls previous girlfriends. Helen starts to worry about aging, and asks to be turned. They fight about it.
Act 3: Helen’s fear of aging and her desire for a family runs into conflict with Vincent’s non-human nature. Conflict is good but this act feels flat to me.

What do you think?

What kind of magic is this?

A snippet from my in-progress upmarket vampire story, The Trick

For a moment it all stopped and everything was silent. Helen listened for the tweet of a bird, the honk of traffic, or the chatter of a squirrel but heard only the sound of her own breathing. In the absence of external noise, the rhythmic beat of the pulse in her ear grew louder.

Helen marveled at the motionless tableaux. Gold and red autumn leaves were suspended in the air; a moth was caught in mid-flitter; even the feathery clouds, picking up the shine of the moon, had stopped moving. Helen touched a leaf hanging in mid-air and wondered, What kind of magic is this?