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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Earth will go on... without us.

I've gotten flak for my stances on the environment. One thing I hear a lot is, Why worry? The earth has been through many disasters. If we cause another one, it'll recover. Animals go extinct, others evolve. So why bother?

I bother because I'd like humans to be able to continue on this planet. Yes, the earth will go on, evolution will continue. But if we poison, heat up, drain all the potable water, and screw up the ecology enough that the weather turns apocalyptic, humans won't be part of that earth or that evolution. What environmentalists are trying to save the earth for, is people.

Trouble is, there's no profit in saving the environment. Tiger skins and other parts, elephant tusks, and the land the tigers and elephants need to live on is all too valuable. So we use  it up. The oil companies can't figure out how to make obscene amounts of money on renewable energy sources, so they don't fund the research and they spread lies about it. Meanwhile they're fracking the daylights out of every possible source. Here in New Mexico, impoverished farmers are selling their fresh water to frackers. Like we've got such an excess of potable water in this desert state. And when it's all poisoned - make no mistake, fracking poisons water - there'll be no water left to drink.

At least, not cheap water. Want to pay for water at the same prices as gasoline? Keep on, folks. You will.

Global warming is another hot topic. Of course, the uber-rich who are currently running America don't want to 'believe' in it despite all the evidence. It would make them have to make changes in their companies that would cut into their profits, and of course if you only make 9 million a year instead of 10, you've got quite a hardship. Mercy, how does anyone live on that? Poor souls. And who cares about dead polar bears anyway? Can't make a profit on them. So on we go, melting the ice caps, until sooner or later low-lying coastline cities will be inundated. Oh, you bet they can make a profit on that. Just watch.

We keep poisoning the air and water, cutting holes in the ecosystem, blissfully assured that humans can't possibly go extinct. We're immortal and perfect, we're invincible.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

And away we go

Having discovered CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle both have free, if rather generic, cover generators, I've got ahead and self-published some old pieces. Home Again, a romantic suspense, is now available as a print copy. Haven't done the ebook yet. Two sci fi novellas are now out at e-books. They are Like a Single Cell and Reb Dexter's Last Concert. If I can get enough short pieces together to fill up a book, I'll put them out in print. I can't decide what to do with three children's books - they're text for picture books, but I can't draw very well. Put them in with the 2 short stories?

My life's work doesn't look like much so far, but there's more to come. I've thrown out a lot of old crap that wasn't salvageable, and lost some pieces to assorted accidents, corrupted floppies, and dead computers. After NaNoWriMo, I've learned how to rough-draft a lot faster than I used to. Hopefully I'll be able to finish all the partial books, fragments, and ideas I've got. Whoops, sorry Sandy, there's a 'got.' You can take the girl out of Kansas, but the speech patterns are going to stick no matter what.

I want to earn enough to afford Digital Donna's magnificent work for the rest of the Phoenix trilogy. And I'd like to have it also for the Seven Kingdoms  and Grove Witches series. The first book in each series is ready to publish, and I've rough-drafted the second of the Phoenix books. I'll be rough-drafting the third one this November (NaNoWriMo).

And soon: Plague Scars.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Children's Eyes

The weak ones and the wounded ones,
The ones frustration tears,
Pick helpless victims for their hate –
They make their children bear.
The children learn that love is pain,
And blows just show you care.
Even though the bruises heal,
The pain is always there;
And generations down the line,
The painful pattern grows.
Some survivors make it through –
The scars all may not show.
The twisted parents shift the blame
And tell their alibis,
The children hold their twisted love
Deep in their blackened eyes. 

In their eyes you see the future,
In their eyes you see the past.
In their eyes you’ll see how well we’ve done –
We’ve made the evil last
In the children’s eyes. 

For boundaries only in our minds,
For dogmas soon forgot,
For cold ambitious power plays:
The wars just never stop.
And from the rubble watch them come –
Survive’s too strong a word.
And though some of them live to grow,
They can’t outgrow the hurt.
The legacy of hate we’ve left –
We’ve taught them all we know,
And generations down the line,
The violence just grows.
From Ireland to Vietnam
The whole world’s heard their cries:
The price of war’s not cities, friend,
It’s in the children’s eyes.

In their eyes you see the future,
In their eyes you see the past.
In their eyes you’ll see how well we’ve done –
We’ve made the evil last
In the children’s eyes.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What I really want for Christmas

What do I want for Christmas? My mom asks this every year. This year, I honestly don’t know. Short of giving her a list of books and DVDs, there’s not much that I want that can actually be put in a box and wrapped up.

I want my husband’s health back. The medicines he has to take for his constant pain make him a different person. I miss the old him.
I want a place to live in a better part of town, and preferably over 1000 square feet.
I want our car paid off. It costs us nearly as much a month as our rent.
I want to be able to sell or self-publish the other four finished novels I’ve written.
I want the 20 pounds I’ve gained to GO AWAY.
I want my hairline back where it was.
I want to be able to pay all our bills each month without juggling.
I want energy.
I want my cats to stop pooping outside the box, and if they’d bury the poop they actually do in the box, it’d be lovely.

That’s my real Christmas list.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


The urge to move is itching me,
The highway sings a song.
I’ve got the wanderlust so bad
My whole life just looks wrong,
But deep inside my soul I know
To go won’t change a thing.
My enemy’s inside my brain
And that’s the real sting.
‘Cause you can run around the world,
No matter what you find,
And even at the speed of light
You’re trapped inside your mind.
But still I’m full of wanderlust –
The far hills look so green,
And maybe in another place
The people won’t be mean.
The highway sings its siren song,
The only words I trust:
I won’t return if I give in
Just once to wanderlust.

Sometimes I’ll just be glancing round
To see what’s there to see;
My eyes will fix upon a man
And unexpectedly
The sight gives me a hot, sharp pang
That hits and moves straight down.
It seems to make no difference if
His hair's red, gold, or brown.
Can’t really say what catches me,
The way he moves perhaps,
Or humor in a pair of eyes
That sparkle when he laughs.
Intelligence gets to me, too –
The dumb ones make me yawn.
Yes, strength is sexy, goodness knows,
But humor beats out brawn.
These crushes never last too long,
They singe me then they fade.
My lust has wandered near and far
But never has it stayed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Come little children and sit by my knee;
I’ll tell you a tale of my tomcats three.
First there is Bandit, my shy Siamee;
Then Muffin, the tiger, all orange and white;
Lastly there’s loverboy, black Starry Night.
When I got three I made one oversight.
If one can’t find mischief, the other two can.
They sail past my fragiles like a catamaran.
They’re making a fuzz-ball of my new divan.
Star chews my hair while he purrs oh so loud,
Bandit does yodeling while pacing around,
And Muffin picks fights with the whole naughty crowd.
Bandit sheds cream on the dark brown stuffed chair.
Star likes the white chair to leave his black hair.
My blazer of blue looks like orange mohair.
Yet sometimes, when Muffin curls up by my knees,
And loverboy purrs without even a please,
And soft murrows come from that loud Siamese,
I know bad things and good things both come in threes.
Written in 1981, about the three cats I had in my first apartment. They were a lot of fun and aggravation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My cousin Rocky

My cousin Rocky is facing terminal cancer, and with his usual wry humor has started a blog titled Terminal Velocity. What he calls his ramblings could easily be collected into a book. They're very good. The situation with him breaks my heart. My handsome younger cousin, after having disfiguring surgery on his face to try to save his life, had the cancer recur before they finished reconstructing his jaw. They'll do no more reconstruction, so he'll spend this last year unable to swallow let alone eat. He's relearning how to talk. He has no teeth, a partial jaw, no salivary glands, no soft palate. When he vomits - which is often - it comes out his nose as well. Can't be helped. Has a tracheotomy.

I was glad he at least still can ride his motorcycle, though his leg is weak - evidently that's where they took the bone to remake his jaw. He has to be more careful, but can still do it. He was a classic extrovert. Lived his life to the hilt with no regrets and beholden to no one.

What brought him down? Smoking.

After my Dad died of the side effects of smoking, I wanted to hire a plane and bomb all tobacco farms out of existence. Now, I look at young people smoking and want to slap them. Dad started before the tobacco companies admitted their product was poisonous. Now we all know. So why do people start smoking? It makes you stink, it makes you wrinkle young, it damages your health and might even kill you. Oooh, hold me back.

A lot are going with those electronic cigarettes in the mistaken notion that they're safer. Yeah, just like tanning beds are 'safer' than the sun. Tanning beds still give you melanoma, and electronic cigarettes are still dispensing poisons, toxins, and carcinogens deep into your body. The only safe suntan is a spray-on tan, and the only safe cigarette is a candy one.

To those who say, well, you've got to die of something, I say, But why pick that? It takes ages, it's expensive, and chemo, radiation, and surgery are very bad experiences. Painful, sickening, horrendous experiences that take away parts of your life you loved.

Rocky, age 18.

                                                Rocky, age 51, after smoking for decades.

Is this really the death you would choose? Because you can choose not to.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Not much of a blogger, huh?

Funny, I write in my personal journal a lot more than I blog. Frankly, I'm too private a person to post most of what I journal, and my outside life is kind of dull. No big events to discuss, nothing driving me to a rant - although some things are getting close.

The weather has been kind of a big deal here in Duke City. We had drought for 8 months, and now it's raining a bit. And at last the landlord found a roofer who could actually fix the huge leak in the bedroom closet. Thank God. I was getting tired of having to rewash all my clothes every time it rained.

My two elderly cats, Kira and Tribble, littermates who are 15 years old, are having tooth problems. I don't think there's much that can be done, because they'd have to be put under anasthetic to fix that, and they're too old to do that. Plus Tribble has a congenital heart murmur. I'm pretty sure he also has arthritis. Kira, on the other hand, is still the zoomer she's always been.

I succeeded on the April NaNoWriMo, finishing a 50K word rough draft on the sequel to Phoenix Hatching. This one will be called Phoenix Flying. There will be a third book called Phoenix World. The germ has planted itself. I also figured out why the mutas were made, and why they were made smaller and resistant to radiation. Nyah Nyah, not telling. Have to wait for the third book. I have too much revising to do, so I didn't do NaNoWriMo this month. I need to revise my own book, Annie's Doomsday Engine, and am editing 2 books written by a friend. Honestly, I love rewriting.

Having to churn out 50K words in a month really opened up something in my brain. Not slowing down to analyze bad sentences, deal with typos, or change anything actually helped me figure out the plot. I started with the characters and the beginning, with no idea as to where the book was going. I ended with a rough draft that needs a great deal of revising, but has a plot and a point. Amazing. Since I didn't know what my characters would do next, they spent a lot of time discussing it among themselves. and it worked.

Writer wannabe? Plot stuck? Google NaNoWriMo and plan for November. I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

First Day of NaNoWriMo summer camp

Today I kicked butt. My daily goal is 1,667 words to reach 50K by the end of the month.

I wrote 4,505 words. Dayum.

A fellow-crazy writer friend came over, and we drank wine, ate pizza, and wrote for 3 solid hours. I had gotten some licks in earlier but she's so fast she nearly wrote the same number of words, in what amounts to half the time. I had written for a few hours earlier & had 2K words when we started.

Now, of course, my eyes have had enough computer screen and are refusing to focus. Have to stop and rest them.

Friday, March 22, 2013

NaNoWriMo summer camp

There is a wonderful, insane site called NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The original month is November, but they have Summer Camps in April and July. During the course of a month, the goal is to turn out a 50K-word rough draft of a novel. This boils down to 1,667 words per day. Every day for 30 days. For those who think this is too much, it can take as little as 2 hours a day. For those who think that's too short for a novel, well, The Great Gatsby is 50K words, and there are other examples.

In November 2011 I attempted it, but that was the month that I lost my job. I spent the month finding and going on interviews, 12 total. Didn't get a job, and gave up on NaNoWriMo after the second week. Last year I had just started my new job and was still getting my strength back from cancer, so I didn't even think of trying. Still, got a good start on a rough draft in 2011 - my steampunk novel, Annie's Doomsday Engine, which I'm currently working on. I'm going to pause on it for April and do Summer Camp. I have chapters three and four nearly ready for my writing group, and that will get me through.

Why would anyone do anything that crazy? Well, here are my reasons: Personal challenge, fun, and knocking loose more plots. I have around 40 ideas that I think are viable. For some of them, I have a bit of plot, or I know where I want it to go. For most of them, all I have is the characters and the opening situation. Can't think of a plot to save my life. Had a couple ideas like that since high school! Plus, I'm a very slow rough drafter.

So, I'm taking one of those that I have the characters and the opening situation, and seeing if this 30-day rollercoaster of writing can kick something loose. My April project will be called Phoenix Flying, the sequel to my self-published Phoenix Hatching. Will I do this again for July and November? It'll depend on how I do for this one. I'd like to crank out rough drafts for three ideas this year, and spend next year rewriting. However, November's problematic for me. Besides Thanksgiving, which always involves company and/or traveling, my birthday and my Mom's birthday are in November. More traveling and/or company, and maybe parties. So we'll see.

I'm pushing 60, and can't count on continued good health. I would like to get as many of my ideas as possible turned into full novels before I die, even if I have to self-publish the lot. I have two more steampunk ideas, both involving the Secret Service in 1880. I have the characters and the openings. These could possibly be my projects for the next two NaNoWriMos, causing me to spend next year immersed in steampunk. I can think of lots worse ways to spend a year.

Monday, February 11, 2013

World War Z

Since I've been seeing promos for the movie, and the book has been on my to-read shelf for a while, I pulled the book off and read it. I prefer to read the book before I see the movie, if I know ahead of time that it's made from one. From the promos I can tell that all they've used from the book is the title and the fact that there are zombies. This would have been a tricky book to faithfully translate to film, but it could have been done with skill and originality. Oh wait, I'm talking about Hollywood. Not going to happen.

The promos look quite a lot like the movie 2012. Family in vehicle, trying to escape. Lots of chase scenes and explosions. I'll watch it - probably will wait for the dollar movie. Looks like a pretty standard action flick. I hope I'm pleasantly surprised.

The book, on the other hand, is written as a series of interviews with a wide variety of people after the war is over (for the most part - it can't really ever be completely over). Each interview, ranging in length from one page to ten, is from a different person and has a completely different voice. Person by person, they tell the story from Patient Zero to when humanity finally gets its feet under it and rallys. People from all over the world tell their piece of the story: heartbreaking, scary, self-deprecating, blunt. Along the way, bureaucracy, pride, government/military hubris, greed, and a host of other social ills get in the way. Talk about illuminating the human condition - the author illuminates and skewers virtually every social, government, and religious institution on earth. Every country. And without being obvious or preachy.

If you read this expecting a conventional horror or thriller, you'll be disappointed. But if you're willing to let a story unfold slowly, bit by bit, until it takes over the entire world and changes it forever, read this. It's an amazing book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Depression + gun in house = suicide

Here's why it's a very bad idea to have a gun in your home if you have a family member suffering from depression. Putting a gun to your head takes only seconds, and there's only a microscopic chance the person will survive.

Yes, there are a lot of other methods of suicide: hanging, jumping off a high building, pills, slitting your wrists. The difference is that all of these take time. The suicidal impluse can be urgent for a few seconds in an average depressive, and with a gun, a few seconds is all it takes. With all the other methods, the depressive has to find materials, and those methods take longer giving him/her time to rethink, time for someone to arrive to help, and a lot longer to work with a lot more margin for error. In this case, error equals survival.

In many cases, depression has to bottom out before the sufferer can come back up from the episode. The bottom of a depressive episode is a horrible place to be. You feel utterly worthless and completely without hope. You can't think properly, and to some people suicide looks like a way to stop the pain. Sadly, if they can only hang on a bit longer it'll start to clear. Someone once called suicide a permanent solution to a temporary problem. That's clever and basically true, unless you're the person going through the depressive episode. When you're in it, you can't believe it's temporary.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Annie's Doomsday Engine, Chapter One

            “You’re leaving?” Annie stared at Silas as pain struck her heart. The high neck of her brown and yellow gingham day dress felt as if it would choke her, and suddenly her corsets seemed laced much too tight. “Right away?” She looked around the laboratory as though it would vanish along with him.
            The heavy teak tables, scarred from many an experiment, stood solid as ever. Beakers glittered in the electric light. Sheets of brass and steel, spools of wire, half-finished devices lay on shelves or tables, larger pieces stacked against a wall. An aroma composed of ozone, carbolic, machine oil, and a mélange of chemicals gave the laboratory its distinctive atmosphere. All carried memories of Silas. Her eyes went back to him.
            He smiled ruefully, turning his porkpie hat in his hands. “This situation has come out of the blue, hasn’t it? That I have a son! I never wanted to have a child. Babies always bored me, and you know my feelings on marriage.”
            Annie knew, all right. A proponent of Free Love, Silas believed marriage to be unnatural. She put down her beaker and wiped her hands on her heavy cotton duck apron. Reaching over, she turned off the Bunsen burner she had been using.
            Silas continued. “But this boy is thirteen. He’s nearly grown. His mother is dead, and she was a lover of mine fourteen years ago. The letter she sent with him says he’s mine. I can’t help but believe it. Just look at him.” Silas waved a hand.
            Annie looked through the laboratory window again at the boy seated on the bench outside. He did indeed look like a younger version of Silas, dark eyes and sandy hair, his features a child version of her co-worker’s. She swallowed, her throat tight. She had secretly loved Silas for seven years, since she earned her final degree at age twenty in 1873 and they began to work together at the Benjamin Franklin Institute for Scientific Investigation, the scientific branch of the Secret Service. Annie had left her feelings unspoken, keeping her silence as he romanced one woman after another. Simply working together with him in this laboratory, where they invented many new devices in the service of their country, had been half a loaf, but she convinced herself to accept that. He became one of the few men who didn’t discount her abilities and brainpower even though she was female. To not even have the daily platonic camaraderie of working together felt like more than she could bear.
            Annie swallowed, and gathered her courage. “I would be glad to come with you and help you raise him. I have feelings for you, though I have never spoken them.”
            Silas smiled at her, but the smile stung her with the pity in it. “I know. But you would never consent to live without marriage, and I will never marry.”
            “But now you have a son to raise,” she countered. “A child needs a stable home, and both parents.”
            “You weren’t. He’s been raised well enough so far by his mother alone.” Silas moved toward the door. “At his age, he should be separating from female influences anyway. No, he and I are going
traveling together. We’ll get to know each other. When we come back and perhaps I’ll buy a small house and we’ll settle down, just two old bachelors.”
            Or perhaps, Annie thought bitterly, you’ll continue cutting a swath through the ladies and living in rented spaces over stores. And he thinks I’ll be here when he gets back, and we’ll just continue on as we have been. No! Her pride rose in a great wave. I will not permit this situation to go on any longer. I cannot.
            Reaching for her poise, Annie smiled and held out her hand. “I wish you all the best, of course, and the Institute will surely miss your talents.”
            Silas seized her hand, and brought it to his lips. Annie’s heart jumped, for he had never done that before. “I’ll miss you too,” he said. Then he put his hat back on and strode through the door.
            Annie sat down at her battered roll-top desk, refusing to watch him through the window. She also refused to cry. It’s time I faced facts, she told herself. I have cried enough over this man. He will never love me as I have loved him. I don’t believe he is capable of it. It is time for me to make a change as well. She realized her fingers stroked the place he’d kissed her hand, and stopped, her lips thinning in anger at herself. I must put him out of my mind, forever.
            She took a sheet of Institute letterhead from the stack in a drawer, uncapped the fountain pen she designed and patented, and began to write. After signing her name, she waved the letter in the air for a moment to dry it, folded it, and stood. Removing her heavy cotton duck apron and donning her hat and jacket, Professor Annabelle Briggs prepared to turn in her resignation to the
United States Secret Service. It’s too bad Ruby has been sent to the field. She wished she could say goodbye in person to her friend, the other female scientist at the Institute. She pulled out another piece of letterhead and wrote a letter to be left at Ruby’s desk. Professor Darnell was a chemist, so they rarely collaborated, but they freqently ate lunch together, and went together to shows.
            Glancing around the laboratory for the last time, her eyes went to the spiral staircase that led to the small room on the roof where her crowning achievement, the Aetheric Communicator, sat in state. The Analytical Engine hummed and clicked, and her experimental Aetheric Power Generator fizzed quietly in one corner, forming a backdrop of sound that she had long grown used to. She would miss this laboratory for its own sake. It had been a haven, the one place where she could permit her scientific mind to run free without social constraints.
            One door of her laboratory let out into the plaza that connected the assorted buildings that comprised the Benjamin Franklin Institute for Scientific Investigation. The public would never be informed that the investigation also covered numerous covert operations. The Civil War and its concurrent industrial revolution had solved many problems but created many more. The creation of a Free Negro State and the designation of the Great Plains as permanent Indian territory had not been without dissent. Aid to the defeated South had blunted some of it, but even some who agreed with freeing the slaves felt that forty acres and a mule were sufficient. Proponents of Manifest Destiny believed the Indians didn’t deserve their own land either, but President Grant had been adamant, and President Hayes had continued his policy, saying, “We just fought a war to ensure that all men, whom the Declaration of Independence states are created equal, are in fact treated equally. I feel the best way to begin is to provide education,  give them their own territories, and let them make of both what they will.”
            Walkways paved the plaza between grassy areas containing trees and flowers. In the center stood a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin. Annie glanced at it, and couldn’t help smiling as usual. His expression seemed to have a hint of mischief in it. From what she had read of him, it probably did.
            Dark green marble veined in glittery white floored the entrance to the offices. That and the dark wood dado, beige-on-white Federalist wallpaper above, made Annie think of a bank. Past the echoing entrance carpeting created a hush. Locked doors barred the wing that held Willie’s. Only those who knew the door code could enter. Annie punched the code, turned the heavy brass lever, and the door swung open.
            Willie’s office held oversized furniture, chosen because of his freakish height, six feet four inches. Dark well-polished mahogany filled the room, the chairs upholstered in rich maroon and pine green. The walls had been painted a warm cream, the window shades made of heavy fabric the same color. Currently they were raised to let in sunlight. As the windows were mirrored on the outside, no one could see inside during the day. At night, when the light inside reversed the mirror effect, the shades were pulled.
            Willie Barnes was an old and dear friend of hers. Her brother Daniel had been the first director of this division, and Willie one of his finest agents. Now her brother lay in the churchyard and Willie ran the Institute.
            Wordlessly she handed him her resignation. He looked it over. “I’m not surprised, after Silas’s news. In his case, I accepted his resignation. In your case, I won’t.”
            Annie, shocked, started to protest. “Willie, I must….”
            Willie held up a hand. “Hear me out. Frankly, I don’t want to lose you. You’ve been the backbone of this laboratory since before you left high school. ‘Genius’ doesn’t begin to touch the gifts you have. What I’m going to do is give you a leave of absence, with an indefinite amount of time. Get away, take a vacation somewhere lovely, and get over Silas Laird.”
            “He’ll very likely come back,” she said. I don’t want to work with him anymore.
            “And if he does, I won’t rehire him, that’s a promise.” Willie met her eyes, and his were serious. “He’s brilliant, but erratic. He can’t be counted on. And in these troubled times, we need reliable scientists doing the work here. He’ll have to find a position elsewhere.” Willie frowned. “If he wasn’t such a womanizer, he’d still make a good field agent.”
            “Thank you, Willie,” she said, her voice choking. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” Or how badly I need it, she thought.
            Willie stood and came around his desk. To Annie’s surprise, he hugged her. “I watched you grow up. Sometimes I feel as though you’re my sister as well as Daniel’s.”
            Once that statement would have devastated her. As a teen, she had quite a crush on Willie. Handsome, with dark curly hair, dark eyes, and a cleft in his chin, he turned heads wherever he went, and had a perfectly endearing streak of shyness. Physically the strongest man she’d ever met or even heard of, his incredible strength had come in handy many times when he’d been a field agent. He could carry a grown man in a suitcase and make it look as though the case held only clothing. Now, she felt only sisterly towards him. “My worst regret at resigning would have been missing you, Willie,” she murmured. “I feel you have become my brother in spirit.”
            He released her, and returned to his chair. “Now go, book one of those new pleasure cruises somewhere delightful, and have some fun.”
            “I will,” she told him, smiling though her eyes burned.

            After she left, Willie called in his secretary, a plump fortyish women in secretarial black. Her thick spectacles and severe hair disguised a sharp mind. “Please send a secure message to Maximilian Hamilton. I am in need of my best agent.”
            “Yes sir,” she replied, and left to secure a messenger from the pool.
            Willie steepled his fingers together and smiled, thinking, Sending Max just might solve two problems at once. We shall see. At the very least he’ll make sure Annie stays safe.

            Annie took the streetcar home this time. Her brother had given her the ingrained habit of varying her transportation daily. Her home stood in a row of modest three-story brownstones on a pleasant tree-lined street. The area wasn’t Society, but mostly held comfortable businessmen and their families. When their parents passed on, Daniel had selected this area to raise his baby sister, who had been a surprise of his parents’ middle age not long before their deaths. Annie didn’t remember her parents’ home, just this one. After Daniel had been killed on an assignment, she continued to live there alone but for her maid and cook. The neighbors had known her from childhood. She knew they all kept an eye on her. Her neighbors, all excellent friends for her lifetime, felt a spinster living along but for a cook and a maid needed a bit of looking after. The men frequently brought over servicemen of one type or another to check on her furnace, her chimney, and other things they didn’t believe a woman could handle. The women visited bringing handwork and conversation, making sure no one damaged Annie’s reputation.
            Daniel decorated their home in a more spare style than the current fashion, as he hadn’t seen the need for a lot of bric-a-brac. Neither did Annie. The house abounded in books. Where other families would have had a china figurine, the Briggs household had a pile of books. Instead of Godey’s Ladies’ Book and Theater Weekly, science journals lay on the coffee table.  Her maid had expressed gratitude for the ease in dusting. After six years alone, a few feminine touches had made their way in, many of them gifts from female neighbors such as crocheted doilies and embroidered antimacassars.
            “Professor!” Her maid, black-haired Pegeen O’Riley dropped her feather duster. “You’re nivver so early! Is it sick you are?”
            Annie smiled at her. “No, I’m fine. We’ve had an upset at work, and Willie thinks I should take a vacation.”
            “Why, isn’t that a splendid idea? Haven’t you had yer nose t’th’ grindstone since I’ve worked here?” Pegeen picked up her feather duster. “Where is it you’ll be going, then?”
            “I think I’ll take one of the new pleasure cruises. I’ll take the train to Florida, and leave from there. A cruise going south, perhaps. Those lovely South American islands, if I can get a cabin.”
            “Well, won’t I stop me dustin’ and pack for you? Yer trunk and portmanteau?” Pegeen tucked the duster into the waistband of her apron and patted her hair. A useless gesture, for a multitude of pins held the coronet braids firmly in place.
            “Yes, please. And lay out my traveling suit.” Annie considered for a moment. “Goodness, I don’t know exactly what I’ll need. Best pack all my clothes. The trunk’s certainly large enough.”
            Pegeen whirled away into the kitchen, no doubt to put the duster away in the scullery and alert the cook. A thin woman, she always moved as though the world depended on her being quick.
            Annie smiled when her elderly cook Lucy Simmons came out, wiping her hands on her apron.  She had been the cook as long as Annie could remember. Her taffy-colored hair had faded slowly to gray and her face had acquired more lines, but she was basically unchanged: stout, grandmotherly, and a superb cook. A lifetime in American had softened but not erased her Yorkshire accent. “Lucy, I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. Your pay will of course continue in my absence, though you’ll only be cooking for yourself and Pegeen. I’ll compose a letter to my accountant at once.”
            “Tha’ needn’t worry, Miss Annie.” Lucy’s broad red face split into a smile. “We’ll watch over the place and keep everything in order. Have tha’self a wonderful time.” She looked wistful for a moment. “A cruise! How modern. Ships are so much more comfortable than when I came from England. Tha’lt send me some postcards for my collection?” Typical Yorkshire directness. She and Pegeen would have clashed if Lucy hadn’t become accustomed to indirect ways of the Irish from the succession of Irish maids they’d had.
            “Of course, Lucy!” Annie reassured her. “Anything you want.” She went over to hug the woman. “For goodness sakes, you’ve always been the closest thing I’ve known to a mother. I’d bring you anything you cared to have.”
            “Tha’rt a dear girl!” Lucy exclaimed, and hugging her in return. “Tha’ own mother would be so proud.” She chucked Annie under the chin as though she were still a child. “Tha’ be careful traveling, and have tha’self a grand time.” Releasing Annie, she turned and walked slowly back to the kitchen.
            Stepping into the drawing room, Annie went to the desk. Composing a letter to her accountant informing him of her plans and instructions took only moments. A cab would be necessary, because she’d have to stop at the bank for travelers’ checques as well. She smiled for a moment at her fountain pen. Such a simple device, yet it had changed the process of writing forever. People were already calling them Briggs pens, to her deep embarrassment. She sealed the letter and took it with her upstairs to her bedroom.
            There, Pegeen whirled so quickly from the chest of drawers to the trunk that her skirts were still turning toward one while she turned toward the other. Looking around, Annie realized that she had become truly a creature of habit. The same four-poster bed, chest of drawers, and washstand had furnished her room since she outgrew her baby bed. The wallpaper had been replaced only once, changing the old-fashioned flowers on white for a modern fern pattern in two shades of green. When she began to wear her hair up, Daniel had given her a pier glass in an oak frame to hang between her windows and a dressing table with stool and tabletop mirror. The only other changes had been taking her old doll house to the attic to make room for these accouterments of young ladyhood, and the changes of books.
            Her simple work dresses hung on pegs behind curtains of cotton rep fabric. Her best clothes were folded with sprigs of lavender in the dresser. Pegeen had already laid out her traveling suit on the bed and smoothed the wrinkles.
            Looking over the items on her dressing table, Annie made sure her handkerchief case and brush and comb set in its case were going into the portmanteau along with nightclothes and changes of body linen. She considered her jewelry case for a moment, then put it in as well. Most of her jewelry was quite useful in sticky situations. None of it was simply jewelry.
            “Will ye be havin’ yer ball gown, Professor?” Pegeen asked, reverently stroking the turquoise silk.
            “Yes, and the matching headdress. Now which hats?” She studied the shelf with her hatboxes then selected her favorite to pack and the one that went with her traveling suit to wear.  “These should be sufficient. Oh, pack the day dresses as well, and put one into the portmanteau. And an apron. One never knows.”
            “Is it south you’re headin’? Then you won’t be needin’ yer winter things,” Pegeen mused, hovering over the drawer where her woolens lay.
            “South it is. Leave those, then.” Annie picked up the latest science journals from the floor by her bed and tucked them into the portmanteau. She had purchased a just-published novel, Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ by author Lew Wallace, the current governor of New Mexico Territory,  and hadn’t started it. She added that. Surely there would be time to read, on the train and a cruise vacation. Unbuttoning her day dress, she began to change clothes. Her traveling suit, a golden brown serge with silk piping in turquoise, was very plain in style, with a small bustle and only one ruffle on the overskirt. To go with it she had a straw boater trimmed in turquoise with ostrich feathers. Considering her hat pins, she selected the pair that had a hidden tranquilizer dart. One never knew.
            Pegeen had finished packing. “Won’t I go and summon a cab, Professor?To Annie’s relief, she had grown used to her mistress’s independent ways and no longer offered to help her dress. The maid ran from the room, and Annie assembled her garments. The body linen she had put on that morning would do fine with her traveling suit. She put on her underskirt, overskirt, and basque, settled her hat onto her head and anchored it with the hatpins. Deciding she needn’t change shoes, she picked up her gloves and small leather bag.
            Willie had only mentioned a cruise off the top of his head, but it sounded so wonderful she couldn’t think of another plan. Fresh ocean air, the company of strangers out only for a good time, and the wonderful food ships provided sounded like a lovely break from all the intrigues of her work and life.
            Before long the horse-drawn cab arrived. The driver clumped up the stairs to get her trunk. Pegeen startled him with Annie’s elevation device. “Hasn’t the Professor invented a grand thing, then? Don’t ye only have to put her trunk in this?” Pegeen slid back the section of wall to reveal a box. “Then won’t it slide so smooth down to the back hall? And won’t you save all them steps luggin’ the heavy thing?” She twinkled her bright blue eyes at his surprise. “Isn’t my mistress an inventor? Doesn’t she come up with the cleverest things to save work? Ah, the contraption she came up with to wash an’ dry the clothing! Nearly does itself, it does.”
            The cab carried Annie to her bank, her accountant’s office, and then to the train station where she booked a sleeper car to Florida. Once she arrived, she would see about open cabins on cruise ships. Pictures of the Caribbean Islands, the Lesser and Greater Antilles, had been in the news as one of the new cruise destinations. She had even purchased stereopticon cards of some of the sights. Hopefully, she thought, there would be an opening on one of those ships.
            Of course ships could be had much closer to Washington D.C., but her years in the Secret Service left her with a natural inclination to cover her tracks even though she’d never been a field agent. She purchased her tickets using the name Mrs. D.L. Smith. For the rest of the day she sat in the train’s observation car, looking out the window and chatting casually with other passengers. A red-haired middle-aged woman in a very fashionable traveling suit of gendarme blue damassée sat near her in the observation car. The underskirt had two plaited ruffles, headed by two puffs of plain silk. Fringe edged the skirt, and she wore her shirred bodice with a belt. Isabelle-yellow and gendarme-blue ribbon and feathers trimmed her Tuscan straw hat. Despite making Annie feel positively dowdy by comparison, she proved a delightful companion. They commiserated about their unfashionable hair color. Both had grown up wearing blue or brown and were tired of both colors.
            “I love turquoise,” Annie offered. “And I think it suits my coloring well. Autumn colors make nice accents, but of course one can’t wear an entire garment of rust or gold, at least not in the daytime.”
            “Rust!” exclaimed the other woman, a Mrs. Travis. “Heavens, doesn’t that clash with your hair?”
            “No, it seems to blend. I find blues make me look pasty, except for turquoise and teal.” She smiled. “Your hair is nearly auburn. Mine’s carrots.”
            Mrs. Travis smiled gently, and reached out a hand. “I thought new copper, actually. And goodness! Such an adorable dimple. I never saw anyone with only one. It’s quite fetching.
            Annie took her hand. “Thank you! But you have such lovely pale skin, and gray eyes. I’m stuck with freckles and brown eyes.”
            “But your hair curls naturally. I have to manufacture my curls with a hot iron.” She patted her lovely hair. “And then I must worry all the time about keeping my hair in curl. Moist air does take all the curl out.”
            Annie smiled. “It makes mine curl even tighter. As if anyone ever needed ringlets the size of dimes!”
            A man walked by, a rolled newspaper revealing an enormous headline: Manifest Destiny Party Stages Protest in Washington. Both women stared at it for a moment.
            “They won’t let it go,” sighed Annie. She colored and put a hand to her mouth. “Forgive me. Politics isn’t polite conversation.”
            Mrs. Travis waved a hand. “Never mind. The reassignment of land after the War Between the States will be controversial for years. I doubt we’ll see agreement in our lifetimes.” She shuddered. “But when I think of the horrible atrocities committed against the Negroes by their former owners, I grow faint. No, separating the former Confederacy into Caucasian states and Negro states seems the best solution. I’m glad President Grant sent educators and agricultural specialists to all, to assist in reconstructing all the damage done by war and relocating.”
            “All relocated landowners received equal amounts of land, often better than the land they left.” Annie shook her head. “I can understand the hard feelings, but they were never going to accept free Negroes as neighbors. Those horrible terrorist groups! Perhaps later, when the wounds of slavery and war have healed. It could take generations, I suppose.” She frowned. “Permitting slavery in America was the worst thing the Founding Fathers ever did.”
            “However, I disagree with the president’s decision to designate permanent Indian lands.” Mrs. Travis made a face. “Their way of life is so primitive. I can’t help but think it would be doing them a favor to Americanize them.”
            “But against their will? That is not freedom. No, I agree that they deserve to have their own land to live as they will. It’s better, I think, to show them what our way is like and let them decide for themselves.” Annie smiled to blunt the force of her words. “I’m feeling a bit hungry. Would you care to join me in the dining car?”
            “No, thank you,” replied Mrs. Travis. “I have enjoyed our conversation, but I brought a box meal with me as I my destination is only an hour more away. I think I shall return to my seat to eat.”
            They parted amicably, with mutual wishes for a safe and pleasant trip. Annie made her way through the jolting train to the dining car. The porter seated her and took her order. She watched the darkening landscape roll by, dined on roast beef, potatoes cooked with herbs and butter, a carrot salad, and dessert of chocolate cake with ice cream. Then she made her way through the swaying cars back to her sleeper. The sun had nearly gone down, so she pulled the blinds and took off her traveling suit. In the tiny water closet, she washed and prepared for bed. Now alone she had time to think, and the day’s strain all came back. It took her a long time to fall asleep. So many memories paraded through her mind, and so many of them made her eyes burn.

The Black Flood recedes

Today I'm myself again. My husband made me go out and have fun, and thank God for him. He has never once uttered the fatal phrase "Just snap out of it" when I'm in the throes. Instead he knuckles down and hands me a lifeline.

You see, folks, there are 2 types of depression. One is the normal kind that everyone gets on occasion, called "the blues." It usually has a reason. The other kind, which goes under many labels, doesn't have a reason. Sometimes something triggers it, but the response is so far in excess of the trigger it looks from the outside like an overreaction. This one is caused by something in the brain, some kind of chemical imbalance that doctors still don't completely understand. Hey, they still don't know how aspirin works, either.

This kind isn't just you, feeling down. This kind is like a separate entity. Churchill suffered from it and called it the Black Dog. I always felt like I'm drowning, hence the Black Flood. It sucks all the light and joy out of you like a Harry Potter Dementor to the point you can't remember anything good in your life. You can't snap out of it. You're drowned, and can't find the way up by yourself. Readers, if you know anyone who's having this, make them get help. And you'll have to MAKE them - they might not have enough of themselves left to do it. 20 years ago, a friend drop-kicked me to a psychiatrist. I didn't want to go because I hadn't had any luck with them before. This one took my history and promptly began prescribing antidepressants until one worked with minimal side effects. I have been on Prozac since, and it saved my life. My innate stubbornness helped. I would NOT commit suicide because if I did, IT would win. No way would I let IT win. At that time, though, my condition had progressed to where that was the only thought I could hang on to. And it was slipping.

A thousand blessings to the friend and the psychiatrist, and to the inventors of Prozac.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


The depression has me in its grip today. After a week where I didn't get a promotion I put in for, found out my second part-time job is ending, today I broke one of my treasures because I bumped it trying to get the crock pot out where I could use it. I gathered up the pieces and cussed out this miserable cramped tiny apartment where I can't do anything without bumping into clutter or breaking something. My husband, meaning to be comforting, told me "You shouldn't have put that so close to the edge. My depressed brain hears "It's your fault." And the slide into depression begins.  Once again I feel like my life is shit, my writing is shit, nothing I've ever done has ever made a difference to anyone, and no matter what I do it's never enough. The Black Flood has drowned my ability to remember anything good - Oh, I know where J.K. Rowling got the idea for the Dementors, all right - and it's a damn good thing there isn't a gun in the house.

I'm sorry my husband has to feel like I'm mad at him, or that he has to do something to make this better. There's nothing to do but wait it out. The flood will recede. I just have to hang on.

Friday, February 1, 2013


I've always disliked telephones, stemming from childhood when I was constantly teased by classmates. By junior high, and continuing through high school, this teasing expanded to include prank phone calls. As my maiden name was distinctive and rare, it was easy for the bullies to find my family's number. Boys would call for fake dates (I could hear their friends laughing in the background) and girls would call impersonating one of my friends, trying to get me to say things they could tease me about in person at school. After a few of those, I stopped answering our home phone and was pretty much "not home" when anyone called asking for me. If they left a name, and it was someone I allegedly knew, I'd call that person back. Half the time it hadn't been them.

I love caller ID. I got it a long time ago when an elderly and probably senile library patron in El Paso found out my last name (I was the only one in the whole city with that name) and began calling me AT HOME to ask library hours, then nag me to book an appointment with him (he was an eye doctor). I strongly dislike being rude to people, and besides I'm quite sure that if I had been, he would have complained to my supervisor. Caller ID was a Godsend. I'd see it was him and just not answer the phone. Heaven. I could also avoid telemarketers with that.

Given this background, it's no wonder that I didn't want a cell phone. I haven't got children, don't have a lot of emergencies, and having a device on me that enables anyone to contact me anytime is my idea of hell. However, after having been married for nearly 8 years, it started to soak through that one of these horrid little phones might be a pretty good idea. My Mom put her foot down when she found out I worked nights, and in what neighborhood, and made me get one. Last November.

I've got to say, it's coming in handy for coordinating with the husband. Still haven't had any emergencies. I keep it in my pocket on vibrate for two reasons: I can't hear the loudest ringtone my inexpensive phone can produce, and on the rare occasions when I did hear it, I couldn't get it out of my purse before it went to voicemail. Every time it goes off I jump and squeal. I wonder how long I'll have it before it stops startling me.

This phone has a little screen on it that lets me know who's calling. If it's no name or a name I don't recognize, I don't answer. However, since it's already made me jump and squeal, I do offer imprecations to whoever's making the junk call.