Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Blog

August 31, 2015

Triwell doesn’t adopt strays. He feels like a stray himself, a man who has lost everything even though he has a house and an antiquarian bookstore in Seavy Village on the Oregon Coast.


But the cat adopted him. And she proves a mystery. A mystery who lives with him. A mystery he will solve one summer in a surprising—and deadly—way.


“Cat Nap,” by USA Today bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook on Amazon, KoboiBooks, Barnes & Noble, and from other online retailers. 


Cat Nap
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

 


She sleeps in the sun, oblivious to all she has wrought. Her white fur glistens in the light, a stark contrast to the rich wood floor beneath her. Occasionally the breeze blowing in through the open window catches her. She raises her small triangular-shaped head, ears up, and sniffs, delicately, as if the air had a bouquet, like wine, that she could accept or reject.


Then she puts her head down, sighs heavily, and falls back to sleep. Her body twitches—dreams, I know—but their content remains a mystery. Does she have nightmares about those days she spent roadside, waiting for someone to find her? Does she run from unseen predators? Cower from yelling voices?


Or are her dreams happy places, filled with hummingbirds and flowers and all the food she can eat?


I do not know and I do not want to know. I like to pretend she is happy here, even in sleep, untormented by memories that would bother humans until the day they died.


 


***


 


The first time I saw her, she was chasing sandpipers on the beach. She was fat and sleek and pampered, so fat that she couldn’t catch the birds—probably a good thing, since they would have pecked her to death if she had even come close to them.


For weeks after that, she haunted the beach like a thinning white wraith. I saw her on my daily walks, flitting in and out of the rocks, or sitting roadside and staring at the highway as if waiting for her salvation.


At first I didn’t even try to catch her, thinking she belonged to one of the weekenders who filled the beachfront houses every summer. By the time I realized she had been abandoned, I couldn’t get her to come to me. I spent weeks bribing her with food until she learned to trust me.


The day she finally came close enough to let me pet her was the day I scooped her up, put her in the cat carrier I bought just for that purpose, and took her to our small town’s only vet. He stitched up gashes on her sides and back, showed me old burns on her paws, and started her on a regimen of pink antibiotics that smelled of bubblegum.


She had no tags, no data chip in her shoulder, nothing to identify her at all. Just a baseball-shaped patch of black on her belly, and eyes so green they looked like they’d been made of emeralds.


No one advertised for her in the papers; no one posted signs for her in the neighborhood. The Humane Society had had no calls from anyone searching for an all-white cat with a patch of black on her belly, and none of the vets for a fifty-mile radius had either.


For good measure, I called the local radio stations, reported her found, and sent notices to newspapers all over the state, promising to return her to anyone who could list her defining characteristics.


No one did. No one even called.


She was mine—and at the time, neither of us was sure we liked the arrangement.


 


***


 


I had come to the Oregon Coast with half the fruits of my life’s labors, spoils—if you could call them that—of a wretched divorce. It hadn’t been acrimonious; it hadn’t even been rude; it had just been heartbreakingly empty. Two people arguing over the remains of a life neither of them could live any longer, not with the ghost of their son still haunting the street outside their home.


One particularly bad afternoon, I had gone outside with bleach and a scrub brush, determined to remove the skid marks from the concrete, but as I scrubbed, the liquid turned red.


Suddenly Jesse lay on the road, his small form crumpled and twisted in ways no body should ever be. My wife’s screams still echoed in the air, along with the squeal of tires, and that horrible, horrible crash, followed by a thud which, though softer, was somehow worse.


I dropped my scrub brush, and wiped my hands on my jeans, feeling his blood, sticky as it had been that hot summer day, knowing I would never get it off.


That moment—not the accident—was the end. My wife couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave the neighborhood. She saw his little frame everywhere, marveled at his happy, smiling face, and heard his laughter. She found comfort in the memories.


I seemed to have lost mine—all but one.


She took the house, and we divided the rest of the assets. I moved to the Coast because Jesse could not haunt me there; we weren’t going to take him to such a dangerous place until he grew older.


Which wasn’t to say I didn’t feel him sometimes, just behind me, his soft sweet breath on my shoulder. I would turn, and he would vanish, like a trick of light.


But he was there. I always knew he was there, watching over me, just as I should have watched over him.


 


***


 


The cat and I fell into a routine. Even though I left kibble in a large bowl, she demanded that I feed her twice a day. I complied. At first, those were the only times she acknowledged me. The rest of the time, she sat in my picture window, staring down at the street.


I wondered what ghosts she saw, what she was hoping for. Often I sat beside her, and stared as well. Sometimes the traffic vanished—the Winnebagos and dusty cars with strange license plates—and all I saw was a single illuminated streetlight, and a small boy, clutching a basketball.


Dad, watch this. Dad—


The cat would flinch, and the image would disappear.


The cat and I would look at each other, as if we were checking to see if the other had had the same vision, and then we would stare once again at the street, watching other people speed to their lives as if they were so much more important than our own.


 


***


 


Gradually, the cat acquired a name.


“How’re you, Missy?” I’d say as I carried groceries through the kitchen door.


“Did you sleep well, Missy?” I’d ask when she would show up, threading through my legs, waiting for breakfast.


“What do you see, Missy?” I’d mutter when I sat beside her on our couch, for our evening stare at the street.


She never answered, but it got to the point where she would look at me whenever something that sounded like “missy” came out of my mouth. I had meant the word as a substitute. Somehow it felt rude to call her “cat” when she had a personality all her own.


And she, in turn, gradually warmed to me.


The thaw came in little ways: a chirruped greeting for our evening sessions; a small white face in the kitchen window, waiting for me to come home; the Saturday afternoon she fell asleep, her tiny head resting heavily on my shoe.


But she didn’t purr and she didn’t cuddle. She rarely came close, and only then to give me instruction—a meow that meant it was nearly time for dinner; a march to the cat box to show me that it was overflowing; a paw on the arm when I stayed up past midnight, to remind me it was time for bed.


It was three months before she slept heavily; six months before she stopped frowning whenever I opened the door, as if she were afraid I would toss her out; nine months before I first heard her purr.


But the purr broke something loose inside her. The next morning, I awoke to find her lying on my chest, her paws kneading my shoulder, my skin wet with drool. She shivered and shuddered and purred so hard I thought she was going to hurt herself. It felt, I later said to a friend, as if she were sobbing a year of pain and anguish away.


I wrapped my arms around her and held her, and she didn’t complain or squirm away. In that moment, she became my cat, and I became her person, and neither of us would let anything change that.


 


***


 


The people who abandoned her came back on a Tuesday. I heard rumors that some people were looking for a white cat on Wednesday, but I got confirmation on Thursday, from Missy’s vet.


“Thought you’d want to know a couple came in here asking about a white cat with a black stomach,” the vet said in a low voice, almost as if the couple were still there. “Said they lost her about a year ago.”


“Why are they looking for her now?” I asked.


“They’re back in town. They didn’t realize she was gone until they were away from the coast. By then, they weren’t sure where they had lost her.” The vet’s tone made it clear he didn’t approve.


“So they just assumed someone took care of her?”


“They’re checking,” the vet said. “They made it sound like they’ve been looking all year.”


“But you don’t believe them?”


“Maybe one of them has,” the vet said. “But Missy had a lot of old scars. She didn’t get those from being lost.”


“She was also fat and sleek when I first saw her. Someone obviously fed her and groomed her.”


“Who knows? Maybe she was a stray before they got her,” the vet said. “All I’m doing is letting you know they’re here. I didn’t mention you. I have their number if you want to contact them. But I’d think about it, I really would. Sometimes one half of a couple really loves an animal, and the other half uses that animal as leverage. I think Missy’s a lot better off with you.”


I liked to think that too. But Missy did cast longing gazes at the street, even now. I thought she was still pining for someone, someone whom she really and truly loved.


Yet, for one year, these people never called. They never checked with the Humane Society. They never did anything that made me believe she was precious to them.


I never asked the couple’s name, and I ignored the paper flyers that appeared all over town with a picture of a cat—perhaps Missy—on them.


She was an indoor cat who had her own life now. She was mine. And she still spent her mornings shuddering and sighing on my chest, as if I were the only safe place in her entire world.


 


***


 


Oregon coastal towns seem big to tourists because most tourists come here when the towns are stuffed. The hotels are full; the streets are full; the restaurants are full. But in truth, coastal towns are tiny things—the largest only having a handful of locals year-round.


The locals all know each other, and usually that’s a good thing.


Sometimes it isn’t.


Someone clearly told Missy’s former owners about me. I have no idea who, even to this day, and I’m never going to try to find out. But less than a week after they blew back into town, Missy’s former owners showed up on my doorstep.


Fortunately I was home. If I hadn’t been, they might have taken Missy, and I would never have known what happened to her. Unlike them, though, I would have searched immediately, done all I could to find her, done everything in my power to make certain she was all right.


I knew who was at my door the moment the bell rang. Call it prescience if you will, or perhaps simple deductive reasoning. None of my local friends used the bell. The delivery services left packages outside the door, and no one else came to my house.


Missy ran from the unfamiliar noise. I waited until she was gone before I pulled the door open.


I have no idea what I expected. I had built these people up in my mind into something horrible—people who abused animals; people who didn’t care—but they seemed normal. He was tall and thin, awkward in an out-of-date suit, and she was short and round, with grandmotherly curls and a delicately lined face.


They were in their seventies at the very youngest, and that surprised me.


“Mr. Triwell?” the man asked. Polite, but then, you’d expect polite from someone of his generation.


“Yes?” I said, pretending I didn’t know what this was about.


“I understand you have our cat.”


The sympathy their appearance engendered, the momentary lapse in which I actually thought I could talk with these people, vanished.


“Your cat?” I said, pretending ignorance again.


“Yes.” The woman stepped forward and peered around me, as if she were looking for Missy. Missy had been her cat, not his. I could tell from the longing in her face, the softness around her eyes. “We heard you found her. I—we—”


“We can pay you for your trouble,” the man said.


“I’m sorry,” I said, biting back anger. Where did they get the right to barge into our lives and pretend like nothing happened. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”


“Arabella,” the woman said, her voice a coo. She was answering my query and calling the cat at the same time. “We lost her last year, and even though I looked for her, I—we—couldn’t find her. We’ve been searching everywhere.”


“Really?” I crossed my arms, hoping Missy wouldn’t appear. I blocked the woman’s view of the door. “Last year? Did you call the vets? The Humane Society? Did you do anything at all to help this cat survive a year outside?”


“So you do have her,” the man said with deliberate obtuseness. “We’ll take her now.”


“I never said I had your cat,” I snapped, and slammed the door shut. Then I turned and leaned against it. Missy hadn’t appeared after all, but I felt an irrational fear, the kind that used to plague me after Jesse died. Maybe Missy had slipped out while I was talking to those people. Maybe she was going to get lost all over again.


Even though I knew that was nonsense. Even if Missy had slipped out, someone would find her. She wore a collar now, even though she was an indoor cat, and I had gotten her an ID chip. Missy would never get lost again.


Still, I searched for her and found her in her favorite hiding place—beneath my bed. She stared at me with wide eyes, and I could sense fear.


I just didn’t know if it was hers or mine.


 


***


 


They came back several more times, and I never again opened the door to them. I stayed home so that they wouldn’t be able to sneak inside and steal her. For some reason, I put nothing past these people.


I ran an antiquarian bookshop by appointment only, and during that week, I left it closed, canceling what few appointments I had. Missy had become the most important thing in my life, and I wasn’t going to let these people, no matter who they were, take her away from me.


Even though I didn’t leave the house, I learned several things. I found out that the couple lived in a giant recreational vehicle—the kind that is a moving home on wheels. Their names were Kilpatrick, and they had been coming to the coast for two weeks every summer for fifteen years.


Locals did remember them. They also remembered a dog the couple had had a small, yapping dog, the subject of many complaints. The dog did not return the following summer. From that point on, the Kilpatricks had cats—never the same one.


The woman doted on them. The man couldn’t care less. Apparently, they had had Missy for two summers, since one or two of the other summer residents of the RV park remembered her peering out of the window of the RV’s main bedroom long before she became a resident of the streets.


Missy was peering out one of my bedroom windows when the Kilpatricks returned for the last time. She squealed and jumped to the floor, running for my bed. I saw her go by my study, her ears flattened, her body low to the ground. I knew someone was outside even before the doorbell rang.


I debated answering. The bell rang again, and I finally went to the door. As I entered the living room, an envelope fell through the old mail slot and slid across the hardwood floor.


I pulled the door open to see Mr. Kilpatrick get into an ancient Cadillac. He put the car into gear and pulled into the street without checking his mirrors, peeling off before I could stop him.


My breath caught and my heart pounded. The man was a reckless driver on top of everything else. After Jesse had died because a driver had gone too fast down our suburban street, too fast to stop, too fast to even honk before Jesse rolled over the hood, smashed his window, and rolled off the back of the car, I had no tolerance for any kind of recklessness behind the wheel.


I eased my door closed and walked to the couch where Missy and I spent our evenings. I sat down gingerly, turning the envelope over and over in my hands.


My name was written across it in precise, spidery writing. I slipped my finger under the flap, and found that it hadn’t been well sealed. The envelope opened easily.


The letter inside was written on expensive but yellowing paper, with a law firm’s logo embossed into the fibers themselves. The law firm’s name, Kilpatrick and Associates, was printed along the top, followed by an address in Denver, Colorado. The address was so old that it had no zip code, and the phone number below used letters instead of numbers as its first three characters.


The street address had been crossed out, leaving only the Post Office Box, and a zip code had been written in.


The letter itself was typed on a manual typewriter.


Mr. Triwell:


We have attempted to contact you many times. You refuse to see us about our cat, Arabella, whom you have cared for this past year.


While we appreciate the care you have given Arabella, she is ours, and we would like her returned. We will take this to court if we have to. You may not be aware that there is precedent in Oregon which favors the original owner of any pet in a custody dispute.


Please return Arabella to us so that we may settle this amiably.  


John D. Kilpatrick

Attorney at Law


My stomach twisted, and I clutched the letter closely. I was familiar with the case he referred to. People still talked about it whenever someone took in a stray animal.


Several years ago, a man found a Jack Russell terrier on a beach in Seaside. He took the terrier to the animal shelter. When no one claimed the dog, he legally adopted it. Months later, the original owner contacted him, claiming she had been out of town and a caretaker had lost the dog. The new owner refused to give the dog back. The case went to court, and the terrier went home with his original owner.


Since then, two other cases had been tried over similar circumstances—one here in Seavy County—and had been settled for the original owners each time.


It was clear that Missy had been theirs initially. I had no idea why they were fighting so hard for her return now when they hadn’t seemed to care for her before.


I folded the letter in my pocket, and called my neighbor to ask her to watch the house for any suspicious activity, requesting that she call me on my cell phone should anything happen. Then I left, locking up tight, and I walked to the RV park near the beach access at the bottom of the hill.


 


***


 


It wasn’t hard to find the Kilpatrick’s super deluxe RV because it had been described to me so many times. It was parked near the mouth of the park, and was not plugged into the water or electric services. The RV looked like it was ready to leave, not like it was here for the long haul.


Outside, a grill was cooling, the charcoal inside turning to ash. The metal rack on top was still covered with fat from the meat cooked for that day’s lunch. A half empty beer bottle of Heineken leaned against one of the legs, long forgotten.


I mounted the metal steps beneath the pullout awning, and knocked.


After a moment, the door opened. Mr. Kilpatrick blocked my entrance.


“So,” he said, “changed your mind?”


“I’d like to talk with you,” I said.


He stepped aside to let me in, but he left the door open, as if he didn’t trust me. Old scents of garlic, onions, and cooked meat filled the small living area. Mrs. Kilpatrick stood in the nearby kitchen, dry-wiping dishes. She set down a large cast iron skillet when she saw me.


“You have Arabella?” Her voice was soft and I heard hope in her voice.


“I don’t have a cat with me,” I said, still unwilling to admit that Missy was theirs. “What I do want to know is why it took you a year to start searching for yours.”


Mrs. Kilpatrick looked at her husband.


“That’s not your concern,” he said.


“It is if you threaten to sue me for custody of my cat,” I said.


“Our cat,” he said.


“We tried to look for her.” Mrs. Kilpatrick’s voice rose over his. He shot her an angry glare. “We just—couldn’t find her.”


“A year,” I said. “No contact to the shelters. No contact with the vets. All the stuff you’re doing now you could have done then.”


“We did,” she said.


“I checked,” I said. “No one ever asked about a white cat with a black belly.”


Mrs. Kilpatrick looked at her husband, and her face went pale. “You said you called. You said—”


“Shut up,” he said. “What matters is she’s our cat, and we’ll do what we can to get her.”


“Why?” I asked. “It’s clear you don’t care for her. It’s clear you never have. How did she get those burn marks on her paws, anyway?”


The question came out before I could stop it, and I cursed silently. It was a tacit admission that I had the cat they wanted.


“Burn marks?” Mrs. Kilpatrick’s voice rose again. “She had burn marks?”


“Old scars on her paws,” I said. The mistake was made. There wasn’t much I could do to correct it. “They had nothing to do with her weeks of starvation. They happened when she lived with her previous owner.”


Tears filled her eyes, and before I realized what she was doing, she grabbed the cast iron skillet with both hands and swung it like a club. It hit Mr. Kilpatrick so hard that it made a smacking sound, like grapefruit dropped on concrete. He stood for half a second, his eyes suddenly empty, and then fell forward.


I had to step aside to keep him from landing in my arms. His head thumped against weather stripping, his mouth open and dripping blood. The back of his skull was a mass of bone, black blood, and thinning hair.


His eyes were open. He was dead. I knew it as clearly as I had known Jesse was dead. Sometimes checking for breath, for a pulse, was simply redundant.


“You’re a rich man, aren’t you, Mr. Triwell?” Mrs. Kilpatrick asked. Her voice sounded reasonable again. In fact, if I weren’t looking at her, I would have thought she was an extremely rational woman.


But she was standing next to her husband’s body, holding a skillet like a baseball bat, as if she were waiting for someone to throw another pitch. Her face was covered with a fine spray of blood, and her hair had come free of the tight bun that had held it in place.


I had no idea what she planned next. That, and sheer shock made me answer her.


“No,” I said.


“The house, your bookstore. You have money.” Her voice wasn’t reasonable. It was flat. I had mistaken softness for calm.


“I suppose it might look that way.” I waved a hand toward her husband. “We have to help him. Where’s your phone?”


“We don’t have one,” she said. “We can’t afford it. Just like we can’t afford a parking space here. They’re going to make us move. John can’t manipulate them any more. He used to be so good at manipulating, after the law firm went under. But people don’t see him any more, so they won’t listen to the promises. They just see an old man now, and they all think old men are poor. And we are.”


She blinked, then looked at me. The tears still floated in her eyes.


“He just wanted your money.” She sounded so disappointed. “I thought this time he was actually doing it for me. For Arabella. But I should have known after he kicked Daisy like that. I should have known he couldn’t care about anyone but himself.”


“Daisy was your dog?” I had to keep her talking while I backed out the door. She wasn’t thinking clearly, and I needed to get out of there, needed to get help.


“My dog. The animals were mine. They always ran away. He said they hated me.” A tear ran down her cheek. “All but Daisy. She wouldn’t leave, so he kicked her. And kicked her. And kicked her. Arabella hid from him. But not enough.”


My left foot found the second step, and I put my weight on it. Then I jumped to the ground, away from that skillet.


“I’m getting help,” I said, and ran.


 


***


 


I ran to the office, called the authorities and waited. They showed up a few minutes later. An officer stayed with me while others went to find Mrs. Kilpatrick. They arrested her and took his body away.


Then they asked me why I had been in the RV, and I told them about everything but the letter, which remained in my pocket until I got home. Then I tore up the letter and flushed it down the toilet.


Even without the letter, it wasn’t hard to verify my story. Every local in town knew about Missy and the Kilpatricks’ strange arrival one year later.


The police stated, and some psychiatrist agreed, that my arrival at the RV was a catalyst for years of repressed anger on Mrs. Kilpatrick’s part. She had clearly loved her animals—they had been a substitution for her children—and her husband’s abuse and murder of them had been more than she could bear.


When she learned that he had done the same thing to a cat she had loved beyond all others, as well as lied to her about trying to find it, then doing a reversal by setting up a blackmail scheme with me, she had snapped.


The blackmail was just a guess, of course. The lawsuit—which I never mentioned—probably would not have happened. Kilpatrick would probably have settled with me for an undisclosed sum. I had ruined his plan by coming to the RV and confronting him in front of his wife.


As a catalyst, I did feel responsible. I found Mrs. Kilpatrick a good lawyer who was willing to work pro bono. Under his advice, she claimed she suffered from battered spouse syndrome, and pleaded to a lesser charge. She was given probation and placed in a resident care facility, the profits from the sale of her RV and her belongings providing her entry fee.


I intervened one more time, making sure that the home had a program that involved pets. People brought specially trained dogs and cats once a week, and apparently that was the highlight of Mrs. Kilpatrick’s new life.


She asked me for Missy—Arabella as she called her—but I couldn’t part with my girl. I knew there had been a bond between them; that had been clear in Missy’s longing for her owner. But I also knew that victims of batterers often learn to batter.


I couldn’t risk Missy’s life with a woman who had murdered her own husband.


 


***


 


I wonder what she would think of all this, my pretty little white cat with the black spot on her belly. As we sit at night on our couch and stare into the street, I think of ways to talk with her.


But Missy, for all her intelligence, is not a child. She cannot tell me what she wants. She can only tell me how she feels.


She still runs when the door opens, and she’s terrified of the outdoors. She avoids hot objects, and she purrs at the sound of female voices.


But she cuddles with me now, and in the mornings, she crawls into my arms, seeking comfort. I think she has nightmares of being alone, of being abandoned, of being tortured by the husband of the woman who loved her.


I have never allowed anyone to speak of the tragedy in Missy’s presence, nor have I brought copies of the local paper into the house. I kept the radio off until the case ended.


I know that cats aren’t human. I know that they have different brains, different ways of perceiving the world. But I also know that Missy understands language—certain words and sounds, such as her name, mean something to her. I believe she heard Mrs. Kilpatrick call for her that day, and I believe that Missy remained under the bed.


Not even love could triumph over the hurts my poor cat suffered.


And I do not want her to suffer any more. So we spend as much time together as I can manage, living our quiet little lives. She remains in her house, and I stay in my small town, letting our boundaries define our existence.


I watch her sleep and pray she is dreaming of happy things, of hummingbirds and flowers and all the food she can eat. I like to pretend she is happy here, even in sleep, untormented by memories that will bother me until the day I die.


Copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First published in Kittens, Cats, and Crime, edited by Ed Gorman, Five Star Publishing, 2003

Published by WMG Publishing

Cover and Layout copyright © 2015 by WMG Publishing

Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing

Cover art copyright © Sonica83/Dreamstime


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


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Published on August 31, 2015 12:00 • 10 views

August 28, 2015

Okay…I only added the cat pictures to get your attention. They say (whoever “they” are) that cats make people come to your blog. So here you go:


Sir Duke feigning indifference

Sir Duke feigning indifference


Sir Galahad of Kitten being impy

Sir Galahad of Kitten being impy


Miss Ella wondering why we're bothering her

Miss Ella wondering why we’re bothering her


The two newest rescues wondering what the hell is going on

The two newest rescues wondering what the hell is going on


There. Now that you’ve had your daily dose of cute, let me tell you about the disasters. Nah, they’re not mine. In fact, I have little to do with this at all. Dean’s wonderful novel, The High Edge is part of a  Storybundle titled The Disaster Bundle. Others in the bundle include Bob Mayer, Laura Anne Gilman, Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason. Full disclosure: I usually don’t like disaster fiction. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to read and enjoy half of the novels in the bundle before the bundle was even assembled. As usual with bundles, you get to set your own price above a minimum, and if you hit $15, you unlock the bonus books (which include Dean’s). You can also opt to donate to a charity while you’re there. Eleven books, fifteen bucks. Go take a look.


Okay. Cats. Disasters. Announcements nearly done. Here’s the last.


9781476780634_p0_v1_s192x300For years, I’ve enjoyed the Chicks in Chainmail anthologies, edited by Esther M. Friesner. Humor, fantasy, warrior women…what’s not to love? A year or so ago, she asked me to be in the latest volume, Chicks and Balances, which she edited with John Helfers. I thought about it, wasn’t really inspired by actual chainmail, so I thought about what armor really is, and when it’s needed…and somehow, I ended up at the Academy Awards, on the red carpet, with demons. Yeah, that makes sense—in a Rusch kinda way.


Lots of my favorite writers in here, and bonus! I’d already read two of the other stories. One, a strong Poker Boy story by Dean, and the other, a continuation of the Jelly’s Heroes stories by Louisa Swann. (The first was in Fiction River: Valor) I love all her Jelly’s Heroes stories, and “Saving Private Slime” might just be my favorite.


So, don’t miss this one. It’s tons of fun.


And remember: I showed you the cats first. :-)


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Published on August 28, 2015 22:17 • 9 views

August 26, 2015

Instead of going to Worldcon, I’ve spent the last week in my comfy chair with my cats, catching up (so to speak) on my reading. With a back and neck injury, there’s a lot I can’t do. I can’t even sit in my writing chair for a long time, although I’m getting more writing done than I thought I would after the injuries first occurred.


Part of my catch-up includes reading back issues of magazines lying around. It’s kind of fun reading months’ old magazines, because often my reaction to the various “horrid, horrid” crisises described inside is “Oh, yeah, that was a big deal in the spring. I forgot.”


Those magazines also include the inevitable early publicity for the upcoming big events. The articles I read came out in the spring, before the big mid-summer crush of fannish publicity and trailers and spoilerific journalism that is Comic-Con. So it’s a little like going a short distance backwards in the Wayback Machine. (And I don’t mean the internet archive, I mean Sherman and Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, for which the archive is named.)


Sometimes it’s fun to see the money spent on hopeful advertising for movies that tanked spectacularly, television shows that didn’t make it past the first two episodes, or horrifyingly negative reviews of what would become the most popular movie of the year.


This time, though, I stumbled on something that took me even farther back. The June, 2015, issue of Vanity Fair had a nice little puff piece on the upcoming Star Wars film (the June issue came out in May), The Force Awakens. Interviews with J.J. Abrams, discussions with Kathleen Kennedy, a few tidbits about the storyline and George Lucas’s (possible) reaction to it all.


Star Wars is and was a cultural phenomenon, and I would expect Vanity Fair to cover the new film in one way or another, just like it’s covered the Oscars and Downton Abbey and other things that the society is currently discussing.


But I didn’t expect the article’s focus. It was worried that somehow the Abrams film wouldn’t upset “persnickity” fans. Okay, I assumed, as I started reading, that this was an anti-fan article. Yeah, that stuff happens, especially in some of the more elitist magazines like Vanity Fair.


However, the deeper I got into the article, the more I realized that the tone wasn’t about “persnickity” fans. The author of the article, Bruce Handy, also seemed concerned that the film would upset people who loved the original three movies.


He ended with this paragraph:


…“wonderful preposterousness” isn’t a bad descriptor of the Star Wars ethos at its best. Reviewing another scene, with spaceships blasting away at each other with phasers or whatever, Abrams could briefly be heard making ray-gun noises, the way a kid lying on his bedroom floor and drawing his own spaceships might. That galaxy far, far away appeared to be in good hands.


The fact that a magazine like this one worried that the “galaxy far, far away” was in good hands damn near floored me. I have been knee-deep in the women in sf project, and that has taken me back to the big sf fights of my early career. One of those fights was against space opera and the Star Wars/Star Trek fans “taking over” sf. In fact, as recently as ten years ago, David Brin edited an entire book on that very issue, Star Wars on Trial. I had an essay in that book, defending the media properties, an essay that Asimov’s also reprinted.


The idea that elites and critics would worry about the upcoming Star Wars movie living up to the original…well, it makes my brain hurt.


Those fights back in the day were pretty ugly. The woman responsible for the tone of The Empire Strikes Back, screenwriter and sf writer, Leigh Brackett, had trouble being taken seriously be the sf establishment of the 1970s, partly because her style of sf was considered passé—even though she influenced almost everyone writing and editing sf back then.


The negativity was so severe that her husband, Edmond Hamilton, wrote this defensive paragraph in the introduction to her short story collection, The Best of Leigh Brackett:


Those were the days when we were all writing, in accordance with the latest guesses of astronomers and scientists, about a Mercury that kept one face always to the sun and the other to space and had a Twilight Belt between those extremes of savage heat and bitter cold, where there were alternate sunsets and sunrises due to the rocking of the planet, and where life might conceivably exist. Today those concepts have been shot down by better data from probes and more advanced scientific methods. But in those days they were valid….


He was writing about one of our best writers, whose work was “dated” and not really worth reading, according to the Powers That Be at the time. Leigh Brackett was and is a marvelous writer, and if you read her science fiction, you’ll understand why Lucas asked her to contribute to the original Star Wars trilogy. Essentially, Lucas’s entire universe wouldn’t exist without Leigh Brackett.


I had a few moments of panic because of Hamilton’s comments. I read them just before NASA’s New Horizons space probe changed everything we “knew” about Pluto. Fortunately, I never wrote about Pluto. But I wonder sometimes what we “know” about something, that I’ve written about as hard sf or even as contemporary fiction that will be debunked in the future.


I cringe at times, because I came of age when the arguments were loud, particularly in sf, about what was and wasn’t appropriate for the genre. Whether I agreed or not, those arguments went in.


It took me forever to write space opera, and it took some creative traditional editors to buy it. Nowadays, we can publish what we want, indie if traditional publishing doesn’t want what we’ve done, and public opinion shouldn’t make a difference.


But it does.


Writers still put themselves in boxes. You can see it in the comments section of my recent rebranding post, where some of the people commenting followed a link from other sites. A handful of the people following links didn’t read the post at all. They just looked at the rebranded covers, and schooled me in what paranormal romance readers expected.


Had they read the post, they would have realized that I know what the modern paranormal romance covers are saying to the readers, and that’s why we worked so hard on the redesign, since my Grayson novels—which were marketed as paranormal romance ten years ago—don’t fit much of the genre expectations at the moment.


That will change again in a few years. Genre expectations always do. That’s what Hamilton was fighting in his defense of Leigh Brackett. That’s what we looked at with the redesigned covers. That’s why people who were born after the original Star Wars trilogy have no real idea that, among the sf genre purists, those movies were reviled.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, whatever that moment might be. Since I’m digging into thirty- and fifty- and seventy-year-old fiction right now, I’m finding a lot of things that aren’t acceptable to modern audiences. From smoking cigarettes on spaceships to stories causally using racist terms to terms that no longer mean what they meant sixty years ago, I occasionally get inundanted with then-versus-now.


And of course, on top of it, there’s the whole Go Set A Watchman controversy, also from a few months ago, when the world was shocked—shocked!—that Atticus Finch was a man of his time.


Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set A Watchman, was a courageous book to write in the late 1950s. She was taking on not just the entirety of Southern culture at the time, but she also had to contend with a subtler Northern bigotry.


In case you don’t know what I mean, here’s the short version. Harper Lee wrote Go Set A Watchman first, before writing To Kill A Mockingbird. Lee turnedWatchman in to her New York editor in 1957.


And here’s some history you’ll never get in a high school textbook. In the late 1950s, in the North, the civil rights movement as we know it didn’t exist yet—as far as white people were concerned. Yes, African-Americans were fighting for their rights, but this is before sit-ins and non-violent protests had become part of the national conversation.


Even when they did become part of the national conversation, the white-oriented mass media didn’t call the events the “civil rights movement.” That would imply agreement with those protesting. The phrase the national media used for the protests and the calls for equality was “The Negro Problem.”


Look at the difference in perspective. When is it a problem for someone to ask for equal rights? (Well, it’s been a problem throughout all of American history [as well as current times], but that’s a discussion for another day.)


The editor of Watchman, Tay Hohoff, was clearly uncomfortable with the point of view in Lee’s Watchman novel, the examination of current events from a perspective not usually seen in fiction of that day.


Hohoff asked Lee to revise, asking for a nostalgic and more comfortable narrative. Before you jump all over me, let me add here that To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most influential books in my personal canon. I’ve reread it many times. I think it deserves its classic status. But the narrative is only peripherally about the black community. Instead, it’s about whites discovering that injustices happen to blacks (among other things), a kind of coming-of-age novel not just for Scout, but for the entire culture.


Much easier to market in 1960, and much easier to contemplate than the complexities of modern Southern life at that time.


Ursula K. Le Guin wrote about this eloquently on Bookview Café’s website a few weeks ago.  As the press coverage grew about Watchman, and the upset reaction of long-time readers of Mockingbird made the news (and before I saw Ursula’s piece), I had the same reaction Ursula had: I kept thinking that the writing experience of those two novels was what silenced Harper Lee, why we haven’t seen anything new from this once-driven writer in my lifetime.


Do I think someone took advantage of Lee to get this novel published? Not from what I’ve read. Even the state investigated Lee’s ability to enter into an agreement. I think she waited until her older sister Alice died—Alice, her lawyer, who handled all business matters and who was, in Harper Lee’s words, very similar to their father, the man who inspired Atticus Finch.


There is no longer any family to deal with the way that this more accurate portrait of a middle-aged 1950s white Southerner tarnished Finch’s knight-in-shining-armor image.


I think Lee always wanted Watchman to be in print. It’s a vindication, of sorts, almost sixty years later, of what must have been a terrible time for her. The book is finally in print, for good or for ill.


When she wrote that book, everyone would have understood the subtext. Now, she’s “ruined” Atticus Finch by portraying him as a bigot.


Here, I think Le Guin is spot-on. She writes,


So I’m glad, now, that Watchman was published. It hasn’t done any harm to the old woman [Lee], and I hope it’s given her pleasure. And it redeems the young woman who wrote this book, who wanted to tell some truths about the Southern society that lies to itself so much.


Times change. Opinions change. What is “true” changes as well.


And books still follow trends—or lead trends.


I’m not sure how Watchman would have been received had it been published in 1958 or 1959. It might’ve simply disappeared, and Harper Lee might’ve been a midlist author of good quality books for twenty or thirty years.


Instead, she wrote a second novel at the urging of an editor who liked the nostagic parts of Watchman better than its truths. Mockingbird echoed the national mood of 1960, as the white establishment learned that injustice existed, injustice that people of color had lived with for generations. Mockingbird is an important book, not just for the excellent story that it tells, but because it hit the zeitgeist and helped with the national conversation of its time.


Some books do that. So do some movies.


Vanity Fair covered the new Star Wars movie because Star Wars, along with Jaws, changed the way that movies were made, and what was “acceptable” in film. We wouldn’t have any of the Marvel films or any of the summer blockbusters without Star Wars. But going to the movies would have been a lot less enjoyable.


The Vanity Fair article said it more clearly than I could:


What people sometimes forget about the first Star Wars was that when it hit theaters, in 1977, it was startling not just for its revolutionary special effects but also for its unabashed sense of fun. After 10 years of haunted, pessimistic, even nihilistic hits such as Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, The French Connection, The Godfather, Chinatown, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Network, and Taxi Driver—films in which more often than not the heroes, such as they were, ended up compromised, defeated, or dead—there was something radical about a movie where the good guys win an unambiguous, bell-ringing victory, and receive medals in the final scene to boot. As Time put it in a big 1977 feature about Lucas and Star Wars, “It was a weird idea to make a movie whose only purpose was to give pleasure.”


Now that the world has indeed changed. A young filmmaker can make a nihilistic movie and post it on YouTube or crowdfund it, getting an audience, and a following. Or an established filmmaker can make a film of the heart in a few weeks in his house (like Joss Whedon did) without destroying his career.


Writers can do the same thing. We can write what we want.


The trade-off is that hitting the cultural zeitgeist is much harder. The world has gotten bigger. The days when a single book rests on the coffeetable of everyone who reads are long gone.


What we gain in freedom, we lose in attention.


And many writers do their best to build boxes around themselves, as you can see from those comments a few weeks ago. Even indie writers believe that there are Rules To Be Followed, and Tastemakers To Be Placated.


Weirdly enough, in this world where we can upload the book today we finished writing yesterday, we have to wait to get attention for it. Yes, we might get our usual readers to pick up a copy, but for the book to have “legs,” for it to make an impact, that takes time.


And sometimes that time might be years, not weeks. The book we published today might be part of a cultural trend ten years from now. It’s up to us to remain informed, to see the trends building, to change covers or point out that this book—which first saw print a decade ago—actually has a lot to say about what’s going on right now.


It’s a whole different way of thinking about things, a way we’re not yet used to.


I think it’s better than the old way. But I’m a prolific and stubborn writer who always rebelled against being told what to do. And I’ve butted my head against critics and “tastemakers” since I was in school. So the new world suits me.


It’s a harder place for those who want to write classics, who can’t wait decades for the culture to worry about whether or not the sequel to that “crappy little adventure film” lives up to the greatness of the original.


I almost typed “it’ll be interesting to watch how this all plays out,” but the tense in that sentence is wrong. It’s already interesting to watch. I suspect it will remain so for years to come.


I’m sorry I missed some of you at Worldcon. I had greatly hoped to go. See last week’s post as to why I didn’t.


But this new world allowed me to stay in touch anyway, and to let people know why I couldn’t make it. The now of what was once the future is a much better place than I ever imagined it would be.


I suspect that will remain the case going along. I hope anyway.


And here’s the usual stuff. I do my best to put up a weekly business blog. If you count last week’s, I’ve done this for forty straight weeks, starting another streak. But blogging does take time from my other work, so donations are important to keeping the blog going.


If you learned something or enjoy the blog in general, please leave a tip on the way out.


Click Here to Go To PayPal.


“Business Musings: Changing Tastes,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.









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Published on August 26, 2015 22:10 • 5 views

August 24, 2015

Rowena runs the House, a place for homeless Sky veterans. The House, open only to the women who compose the Elite Squad, has only a few rules: No names, no details, no weapons. The problem? Anything can become a weapon—even a toilet bowl scrubber. Even a word. Especially a word. A word that could destroy both Rowena and her House.


“Elites,” by  Hugo Award-winning  author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook on Amazon, KoboiBooks, Barnes & Noble, and from other online retailers. 


Elites
Kristine Kathryn Rusch

 


The fight started over cleaning the toilet.


It’s an old-fashioned porcelain job, swirling water, environmentally unsound. Grandfathered in because the building’s ancient, kept in place because we’re poor, we’re a nonprofit, and we get the government to look the other way.


A self-cleaner costs twice our monthly budget. A self-cleaner that doesn’t use water costs four times that.


I don’t know how often I have to explain that to the troops. Not quite every day, even though someone has toilet duty every day, but damn close. Every time a new recruit stumbles into the House, I find myself discussing toilets, old-fashioned plumbing, and even older stoves.


I lead this group of misfits. I’m a vet myself. Two tours each in two different wars. Sixteen medals, give or take, all lost or tossed, and at least that many wounds.


The scars remain.


I found that even though the military gives you memory blocks for the post-traumatic stress, PTSD still finds a way to rear its ugly head. Only worse than the olden days.


Now you don’t know what it is you’re reliving.


It’s scary as hell.


The House is a remodeled Victorian monstrosity. Once upon a time, it housed a single family. A single, very wealthy family. Then it became a duplex, then a series of apartments, then college housing, then an abandoned mess. It had been condemned when I found it about fifteen years ago.


I had the bright idea that restoring the thing would restore my sanity. I managed to buy it, discovered two vets living inside it already—squatting being the more accurate term—and together we ripped and tore and demolished, learning it was easier to tear down than to build. It took us a day to remove a wall and three weeks to build one right.


By the end of the first month, we were actually friends. By the middle of the second, we started to talk about our nightmares. By the end of the third, we finally learned each other’s full names.


Names are a big thing. You can be traced by name. Someone can look up your identity card, find your family, send you home.


We don’t do that here. Privacy is an issue for our vets. Even when the government tried to tie that last grant to the House’s records, we fought.


We went to court.


We actually won.


Which has nothing to do with the toilet battle. Zoomer gets me to stop that. She’s six-one, going to fat, with a long scar that runs from her left breast to her navel, a scar she refused to fix. She goes shirtless half the time, shocks the hell out of the boys who come in for the annual code inspections—fire, insects, population. We always give those boys numbers, never give ’em names. Hell, one year, we weren’t even gonna give them the names of the bugs.


Zoomer stands on the balls of her toes, leaning into my office, but never entering. My office is the former front parlor, divided in half. The front half has my desk and my book collection, the back half my bed and the e-readers I really use to consume literature. I sneak back there in the dark, turn on the screen light, and read text myself rather than have the reader do it for me. I feel like I’m on the front, in the only safe place out there, my bunker, deep within the ground.


The shrink says I gotta get past that. I plan to—someday.


“Wena,” Zoomer says, “they’re at it again.”


Zoomer’s the only one who calls me Wena. Everyone else calls me Boss. My real name is Rowena, but no one uses that unless they don’t know me. It’s a good double-check.


“Toilet or stove?” I ask.


“Toilet,” she says. “Suzanne’s using the scrubber like a stick.”


“Fuck.” I stand up quickly. No one considers the germs—and you’d think they would, especially the Sky Vets. The Sky Vets fought our first space war in the Moon colonies, and biological agents became a big factor. How big we’ll never know because that’s classified, but the Sky Vets who came all the way home have some interesting diseases.


The government says everyone allowed back to Earth was quarantined, tested, and found clean.


Yeah, right.


The toilet in question is in the back of the House, in what used to be the entry to the kitchen. I know this without asking; if there’s ever a fight about cleaning, it happens in that tiny hallway or worse yet, in that mean little room that never quite loses the smell of piss.


I could’ve followed the sounds. The closer I get, the louder voices grow—yelling obscenities, cheering, clapping in approval.


These women love fights.


I used to let them do it too, without interference, until the repair bills got too much. Then the House shrink told me about the added toll of repeated trauma—the fights would often replicate something that happened Out There—and I realized that no matter how much steam got blown off, the fights weren’t worth the expense.


Still, I wished for those old days sometimes.


Like right now, as I push my way past women bunched up three together across the hallway. The place smells of grease, sweat, and old blood. The closer I get, the more those smells get replaced with the stench of backed-up sewer.


I see the toilet scrubber before I see the fighters. It flails through the air like a tree branch in a windstorm. Women are leaning forward, urging their candidate on. The sounds slowly die as I make my way to the front.


Suzanne is bent over her victim, a new recruit—Darla, Dopa, Demmi—some dumb “D” name. The recruit’s curled up in the fetal, her face spattered with what I hope is water. She’s whimpering.


I wade in, shove Suzanne against the wall, and wrench the scrubber from her. “You want to tell me what this is about?”


Suzanne’s height matches my five-five, but she has broader shoulders and a powerful mean streak. Not as powerful as mine, though. When I get me an anger on, no one in the House can take me, not even the big girls.


“Bitch shoved my face in the john,” Suzanne says.


That’s when I realize the front part of her hair is wet. The back part isn’t. I’d blamed that on sweat initially, but the smell tells me otherwise.


“Why’d she do that?” I ask.


Suzanne shrugs. “Ask her.”


I glance over my shoulder. Debbie or Danni or Diane is still whimpering on the floor. I’m not even sure she knows the fight is over.


I turn back to Suzanne. “I’m asking you.”


Suzanne’s lips thin. She’s pressing them together hard, and I know she’s not answering any of my questions any time soon.


“Suzanne’s been taking her ration cards.”


I can’t identify the voice, but it comes from behind me. All of the women are staring at us, as if they haven’t heard a thing.


“Is that true?” I ask.


Suzanne’s dark eyes meet mine. “I been denied.”


Ration cards buy a lot of things: medication, clothing, the occasional outside meal. Most of the troops don’t use them, though, because it marks the bearer as former military, and that’s not the most popular thing these days.


“So?” I say. “Someone can loan you theirs.”


“Thought that’s what she was doing,” Suzanne says.


“But that’s not the case, huh?”


Suzanne shrugs. I want to hold those shoulders down, just so that Suzanne won’t have the nonchalant option.


“Ask her,” she says again.


“I will,” I say. “When the shrink’s done with her.”


Then I hand the scrubber back to Suzanne. “When you finish this john, do the second and third floor johns. You can do the showers too. Make sure you take one when you’re through.”


“Hey,” Suzanne says. “The rules say no more than one toilet a week.”


“The rules also say no violence in the House.”


“She dunked me.”


“And you should’ve reported her, not beat her.” I take Suzanne by those misbehaving shoulders and push her toward that horrible half bath. “Get busy.”


Suzanne scowls, but knows better than to argue. No one fights with me. They don’t raise their voices to me or their scrub brushes. They know they’re here on my suffrage.


This is my House and I run it as I see fit. I’ve tossed women on the street before.


Other vet’s houses, they try to accommodate everyone. But I treat all the troops in this place like the military they once were. If they don’t measure up, they get kicked down a rank. If they still don’t do the work, they get my equivalent of a Dishonorable Discharge—my boot in their ass, my hand in their pocket as I take their key, my voice in their ear as I tell them never to darken my doorway again.


Every once in a while, some Important Person gives me a citation or a key to a city or some other kind of Important Recognition for the “good work” that I’m doing. No one else rehabs vets like I do. No one else has as high a success rate. No one else really tries.


What shocks all the regular folk is that I’m working with the Hardcore. They’re called Elites in the recruitment vids, and when you get to Basic, you get told only the best qualify for the Elite Squad.


They don’t tell you what the best is, though. The best isn’t the smartest or even the strongest. The best is the fiercest—the biggest do-or-die in the entire camp, the person who gets such a mad-on that she will slaughter fifteen enemy before she realizes she’s even activated her weapon.


The Elites get chosen for the last bastion of war, the only part that resembles what our ancestors knew of battle—hands-on combat. Most of the battles nowadays are fought at great distances—heat-seeking weapons, smart drones, bot warriors. But for cleanup and delivery, for reconnaissance and ground-clearance, nothing beats troops on the ground.


Those troops on the ground gotta be tough. Tough, indestructible and fucking ruthless.


Once upon a time, seems the human race used men for that. Seems too that that turned out to be a mistake.


Here’s how it was explained to me:


Several generations ago, the military let women join up. Women were non-coms at first; everyone was afraid their delicate sensibilities couldn’t handle the violence of war.


Then warfare tech made a lot of things equal—equal weapon strength, equal machinery—and someone assumed the women could handle some combat.


But it was the biologists who changed everything. They found a way to enhance the natural self-defense reaction so that the soldiers in the thick of things became even more violent, even more determined to survive.


That still would’ve kept the men in the forefront if it weren’t for some dog—or so the story goes—who went all feral defending her puppies. The scientist who saw it had this theory that mother-love made women even more ferocious than men in defense mode.


The scientist raised some hormone levels, altered adrenaline responses, made a few other alterations in the soldiers who volunteered for the experiments and, the rumors go, the men didn’t survive.


The women ripped them to shreds.


Literally.


I’ve never seen the literature, though I’ve looked. I’ve never seen the studies, even though I’ve been searching for them for years.


What I do know is that ever since I got my booster when they approved me for the Elites, my emotions are stronger than they ever were before. And the darker the emotion, the more it controls me.


In the early days, I couldn’t have broken up a fight, not without breaking the fighters. I somehow saw them as a threat not just to me, but to everything I held dear.


Hence all the medals and all the tours. Whenever I came home, I’d react “inappropriately” to “minor stimuli.”


Then I got too old to re-enlist. The best thing to do, I figured, was stay on the streets, get uninvolved in life.


There’re lots of Elites just like me out there. Some who actually went home and then went berserk over a “minor infraction” like the cat from next door digging in the flower bed. Most held off the reaction (the few who didn’t are serving time now) and lit out for the cities, places where they wouldn’t ever feel at home.


That’s why there’s so many of us on the streets.


But I found the House and two more Elites who lived the same way I did, and we began to realize that there was more to living than survival, and more to survival than violence.


It took us a while, but eventually we figured the way the Elites survive in the field is simple: they have structure and discipline.


No Elite goes kamikaze on her squad because she knows that she’s safe. She’s given a protected hole in the ground, told she’d be called on when she was needed, and pointed in the right direction when the time came.


And that was how it worked.


Took me years to figure out why.


Command was scared of us. They had created monsters, managed to hold us on a short leash, but knew if that leash ever broke, the only ones who survived would be the small, enhanced women of childbearing years.


That leash works—not just for them. But for me.


 


***


 


The D Girl’s name is Davi. I’m not sure if it’s her real name, but it’s the name she gave when she arrived two days ago. Her entrance interview was mostly about her service—Sky Squad, Elite (of course), tattoos to prove it—three years on the streets, hints that her family might’ve thrown her out, might even be dead.


Hard to tell with Elites until they’re ready to tell you. Sometimes they never do. Sometimes only the shrink gets in, and then we never hear what the real deal is.


We do group sessions, mostly encounter stuff, trying to pull the PTSD memories out of the block. We’ve had some luck with that. It gets rid of an Elite’s hair-trigger.


We’ve gotten some funding to reduce hormone levels, try to undo the biological changes, but we’ve had almost no success with that. That’s like trying to make the body forget motherhood. It don’t happen. The changes are too profound.


So in addition to the blocks and the group stuff, we do a lot of self-control work, and sometimes that’s enough to reintegrate a woman back into society.


The thing about Davi is I get the sense I’ve seen her before.


Zoomer cleaned her up. Anti-bacterials on her skin and clothes, a super-hot shower, and a clean robe from my stash. Zoomer left her sleeping in my office, partly because Zoomer knew Davi’s my responsibility now, partly because we don’t dare let her back into her room—not until we’re sure Suzanne’s gonna stay calm.


Davi’s still asleep, still whimpering, and I sit at my desk watching her, wondering if I should call the shrink. We actually have two: a soft-hearted, soft-handed, sensitive male straight out of shrink school, and Carla.


Carla’s the best. She’s former Elite, and part-owner of the House. She’s one of the original three. She’s the one who led our discussions, and realized that the PTSD blockers just blocked the memory, not the response. Years later, she made her career on that—some series of papers in the right venues, talks all over the Earth and in Moon Base too—and now she’s working on a real cure for PTSD—not blocks, not memory removal (which doesn’t work anyway—the brain rebuilds the neural links, unless too much is removed and then there’s no real brain left), not drug therapy.


But she still comes here, she says because she needs the contact for her research, but mostly because she’s wired as tight as the rest of us, and only here does she remember that, and manage to hold on.


She’s taken our toughest cases, and brought them back to society.


She’s a goddamn miracle worker, and the House wouldn’t be such a success without her.


But we have a deal. She comes in twice a week, generally Tuesdays and Wednesdays (leaving the other five days for travel and research and teaching the occasional class), and I only call her for emergencies when they merit her special skills.


That whimpering says Carla to me.


But I know Carla. She’ll yell if I don’t try the other shrink first.


 


***


 


The other shrink’s name is Robbie. He’s not bad. In fact, he’s good for a lot of these women, especially the younger ones who got out before the anger and violence hardened them into something not quite human. Some of them see him as a son, some as a husband, others as a nebbish father figure—all in desperate need of defense.


In those women, he brings up the good emotions: love and warmth and gentleness, the emotions that supposedly need defending, the ones that get forgotten in years of Elite work.


But for the hardcore, he’s just one more victim waiting to be chewed.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rushed into his office, and pulled him out just as the blood starts flying.


I don’t know why he comes back. I can’t ask him. I’m one of the hardcore. I see him as a victim. Every time he walks into a room, I shake my head and hope that he manages to walk out alive.


Carla explained his dynamic to me. She explained why he’s so damn important to the House, and why she needs him as much as the recruits do.


She can’t do the soft stuff.


I get all that. I probably would’ve gotten it eventually on my own. I just don’t know what he gets out of it, and even though both he and Carla have tried to explain it to me, it doesn’t stick.


The shrink—my shrink, who isn’t on the premises, who’s at the V.A. and has been my hand-holder since before I bought the House—says it won’t stick because it means something to me, something deep, something that may be buried in one of my blocks.


Sounds like babble to me.


But I don’t have to understand everything here so long as it all works and our boy Robbie, he works. So I call him in for Davi, and when he gets here, about a half an hour later, I let Zoomer brief him. Zoomer likes him.


She thinks he’s cute.


When the briefing’s done, Robbie comes into my office. Davi’s still on the couch, still whimpering, arms wrapped around a pillow, knees drawn up, body tight. Not quite fetal, but close enough.


Robbie’s short, round, and flabby. He wears glasses because eye enhancements scare him, and his skin has that pasty quality of old glue. He stares at Davi for a minute, then says to me,


“I don’t think we should move her.”


I sigh. “You want me to vacate?”


“Sorry,” he says, but he isn’t. I like to think I run the place, but the House wouldn’t be the House without the shrinks. We all know that, and I worry about the day that Robbie and Carla burn out.


I step out of the office and head down the hallway. The smell of burnt toast comes from the kitchen, and my stomach rumbles. Forgot to eat for the second—third?—day in a row. It’s part of my pathology. Food is comfort to me, and I rarely think I deserve it. So I’m rope-thin, hyped up on vitamins and nutri-supplements, and a little too shaky for my own good.


I sit at the table. Amber, the third partner, slides a bowl of chili toward me, along with some homemade cornbread. Three other women are enjoying the meal. At the end of the table, Suzanne is eating the charred toast, staring at the plate as if it holds the secrets to the universe.


“You check in Davi?” I ask Amber.


She nods.


“She come in before?”


A lot of time the women walk in, then turn around. Sometimes they get dragged in by friends and family, and they’re just not ready. Sometimes the idea of healing—even a little bit—scares the piss out of them. They don’t want to keep living on the streets, but it’s what they know.


“She’s been in three times, maybe four,” Amber says. “I talked her into staying this time.”


She shoots a glance at Suzanne, and the glance is filled with anger. I resist the urge to sit between them, but the air crackles with a potential fight.


“Think she’s gonna regret it?” I ask.


Amber shrugs. “That’s Robbie’s problem.”


Suzanne breaks the toast, sets the crust on her plate, then shoves the plate away. There’s black crumbs around her mouth.


“I didn’t mean to scare the bitch,” Suzanne says. “She hit me first.”


“So you say.” I can’t quite keep the sarcasm out of my voice. Suzanne likes picking fights. She even likes staging them. But she is making progress and I’m not quite willing to send her away.


“Look,” Suzanne says, “I’m sorry about the ration card. I was just trying to teach her a lesson.”


“About what?” Amber asks, sounding curious. I know she spoke up before I did. Amber’s better at the subtle stuff which is why she gets the door. She can wheedle and charm and manipulate. Me, I go right through people, and usually don’t care.


“About sharing,” Suzanne says. “This House is about sharing, right?”


“You hit her in home,” I say, even though it’s a guess.


Suzanne flushes. Hitting someone in home means that you whacked the protect button, found their weak point, and made them go all berserker on you.


“Didn’t mean to,” she says, but her words tell me she knows it.


“You got the bathrooms cleaned?” I ask.


She nods.


“Next time Carla’s in, you talk to her,” I say.


Suzanne nods again. Then she picks up her plate and disappears into the kitchen.


“That’s her fifth infraction,” Amber says. “You usually toss them out on three.”


“I know,” I say.


“You’re thinking potential again, aren’t you?” Amber asks.


We all got weaknesses. Potential is mine. Sometimes I can see what these women would be if we can just control their demons, if we can tame them just enough to return to society.


The problem is the smart ones are the toughest to mold. Their minds have already rebelled, and won’t take much more. They’re usually my lost causes.


“I didn’t say potential.” I sound petulant and I know it.


Amber grins. “But you’re thinking it.”


I nod. The other women eat in silence, their spoons clanking on the bowls. The peppery scent of the chili makes my stomach rumble, but I don’t reach for the food.


That too is part of my bizarre discipline. We can learn to function again, but we never really become whole.


“One more infraction, we’ll have to have a House vote,” Amber says.


I grab the cornbread, rip it up like Suzanne ripped up her toast. House votes always end badly. The recruits don’t get along. They’re team players in combat, but outside of it, they’ve become such rugged individualists that they don’t get along with anyone.


The votes always reflect that. My candidates always lose.


Zoomer creeps into the dining room.


“Wena,” she says, “Robbie needs you.”


 


***


 


He’s not, like I expect, in my office with Davi. He’s in his office, a little box of a room—probably a coat closet in the House’s first incarnation—and he’s behind his desk.


This is serious, then.


“We need to send for Carla,” he says as soon as I close the door.


“Davi’s that damaged?” I ask.


He shakes his head. “I don’t think she’s military.”


I let out a small breath of disbelief. “She’s got the tattoos, the quirks. She’s tried to enter three times, failed, and had to be coaxed inside.”


“This isn’t PTSD,” Robbie says. “I’d stake my career on it. And that girl’s not violent. I’d stake my career on that too.”


I don’t understand. “Then what’s she doing here? A wannabe?”


I’d heard of them: women who pretended to be macho, pretended to have had service just to get the benefits—benefits none of the rest of us willingly claim. Or some just do it for the glory, using the various media outlets to tell their made-up stories. Sometimes doing it to get a lover—usually male—who’s attracted to a woman with a violent, but sanctioned, past.


“I don’t think she’s a wannabe,” he says.


“What then?” I ask.


He shakes his head ever so slightly. “I’d rather have Carla answer that.”


“I’m not calling her,” I say. “She’s really clear about her hours, and I’m not hearing anything that convinces me she’s needed.”


“This Davi,” he says, “I did the usual blood tests, ran them through my handheld, twice as a matter of fact.”


He slides the handheld toward me. I see numbers, a few graphs, nothing I can read.


“I didn’t know you took blood,” I say to cover my ignorance. I shove the handheld back at him.


“We always have to rule out the organic cause first,” he says. “Blood, temperature, a few other things. A lot of things cause violent and/or irrational behavior, from a high fever to certain kinds of drugs.”


“And what’s she got?”


“Nothing,” he says, frowning at me.


“I don’t get it,” I say.


“She’s clean,” he says.


I stare at him.


“She’s a Sky Vet,” he says. “If nothing else, she should have antibodies to just about every known disease. She doesn’t. I think she’s gonna get sick from that—plunger, was it?”


“Scrubber,” I say, trying to assess what he’s telling me. “You’re saying she wasn’t on the front lines?”


“I’m saying she hasn’t been off-planet. She’s not inoculated for anything remotely Moon-based.”


“So she’s a wannabe,” I say.


“With official tattoos? A great cover?” He shakes his head.


I’m cold. “What do you think she is?”


“I think Carla should decide.”


I can feel it, building, that insane desire to rip out his spleen just to get him to talk faster. I clench my fists.


“Sometimes Carla isn’t the most rational person,” I say.


He nods, and something in his gaze tells me he understands that I’m getting angry.


“I think she’s government,” he says. “I found this on her as well.”


He throws a bag at me. It’s filled with more bags. Each one holds small items—a toothbrush, strands of hair, a scab.


DNA.


“Son of a bitch,” I say, and fight the urge to stick my fist through the wall. “What the hell are they doing?”


“Trying to identify everyone,” he says. “They requested it with the last grant.”


“And we fought them,” I say. “We won.”


“Still,” he says. “They’re not letting Sky Vets back to Earth any more. They’re talking about rounding up street people. Haven’t you been listening?”


I don’t pay attention to media. It betrayed me years ago. It got me all fired up about that first war, and it turns out that the battles I thought I was fighting weren’t the ones I really fought.


“So?” I say.


“So the anonymity is what’s bothering them,” he says. “They want to know where all the vets are, particularly the Elites. I thought you knew this.”


“I worry about the House,” I mumble. And that’s partly true. The other part is that I can’t deal with the government. It makes me crazy.


Still.


“You were right,” I say. “Call Carla. It’s time for a meeting of the principles.”


“I thought you were going to—”


“Just do it!” I snap, and let myself out of the room.


 


***


 


I play by the rules because I ask my people to play by the rules. If you want to return to society, I tell them, you have to understand that the rules exist for a reason: They exist so that we can all get along, live together in close quarters, and not kill each other.


I actually believe that.


The rules here at the House are simple:


Names aren’t necessary.


Details aren’t necessary.


A willingness to work is essential.


A willingness to follow the daily rules of living—clean yourself, your room, your assigned area—also essential.


Heal at your own pace.


Learn non-violent ways to resolve disputes.


No weapons allowed.


The rules here have no particular order because they’re all important. And in some ways, none of them are important. Because the House changes depending on its makeup. Sometimes we let recruits get violent. Sometimes we let them slack off work. Sometimes we let them go weeks without bathing.


But we never ever ask names. It’s safer to talk to people who think they know you rather than people who have read an official history and assume they do.


 


***


 


The next thing I know, I’m back in my office, Davi’s off the couch, and shoved against the wall, my hand against her throat. She’s flailing, and there’s fear in her eyes.


She’s trembling.


I’m not.


“Boss,” someone says behind me. “Put her down.”


I squeeze a little tighter. Bitch has messed with my House. Bitch has invaded my territory, threatened my people, trespassed in my world.


“Boss.” The voice sounds a little panicked.


Maybe it reflects Davi’s eyes. They’re bugging out. Her skin’s turning purple.


“Wena!” Zoomer has her hands on my shoulders. She’s trying to pull me away.


“Rowena, stop.” And that voice, official and barking, belongs to Carla.


But dammit all, I respond to official. I respond to barking. It goes deep into the training, activates the controls, and I open my hand.


The bitch drops like a dirty blanket.


Zoomer’s got her, takes her away from me, does something for the neck. Robbie helps, his soft hands trying to sooth that imposter as if she’s someone important.


Carla takes me back into my bunker. Amber follows.


The principles.


Carla makes me put my head down, take deep breaths, calm, calm, calm. I’ve seen her use this technique before on someone who’s lost it, on someone who’s one step away from leaving, on someone who might not be rehabbed.


“She’s a fucking invader,” I finally say.


“She’s probably not the first,” Carla says.


“Son of a bitch.” This time, my hand does connect with the wall. But I reinforced those fuckers myself. My hand bangs back toward me, bruised; the wall isn’t damaged at all.


“We expected it, remember?” Amber says. “You even mentioned it.”


“We said we’d keep privacy. They didn’t get to know which one of us heals and which one doesn’t. If it’s the worst of us, then they’ll use it as an excuse. They’ll keep doing this, they’ll keep creating Elites, and—


“And maybe they’ll have a program to get us back into society.” Carla’s voice is soft. “That’s all they want, Wena. They want something that works. They think you have the secret and aren’t willing to share.”


She and Amber are staring at me.


“We’ve been in existence ten years,” Amber says. “Do you know how many people have reintegrated? How many women we’ve helped return to their lives?”


“No.” I clutch my throbbing hand with my other one. “We’re not supposed to know, remember. Government keeps statistics. Facts, figures, we’re not about that. We’re about healing.”


“So why not let people know the system. We can patent it or whatever so that they have to follow our rules. Let them know, so others can be helped.” Amber says this as if she’s just thought of it.


But I know Carla’s set her up to say it. Amber used to support me. Carla’s been the advocate for letting the House’s systems out. Carla thinks we can save the world.


“No,” I say, and turn my back to them.


They sit in silence for a long time. We’re good at silence.


Finally, Carla says, “This girl, she hit you in home.”


I let out a small breath. “I don’t have a home any more.”


“We all do,” Carla says. “I just thought yours was House. And I thought you had remarkable control. Every time a recruit infracts, I thought how impressive it was that you didn’t kamikaze all over her. But you just did. Home to you isn’t the House. It’s the method. You think we’re the only ones who can do this. Maybe you’re the only one. Don’t you?”


I reach for her before I even have a chance to think. Amber restrains me. She’s strong. Not as strong as I am, but I’m not entirely gone. I let her hold me back.


I’m shaking this time.


“I should’ve seen it,” Carla says, more to herself than to me. “I should’ve realized it was the method, not the building.”


“Have you ever thought that I’m right?” My voice sounds harsher than I want it to.


“About what?” Carla asks. She’s using her shrink voice. I hate that voice, all reasonable and calm and mommy-like.


“About the method. What if we are the only ones?”


“Then other experiments’ll prove it,” she says. “I think it is a mixture of personalities that makes this work. But I have to remind you, Wena. Our culture’s good at personalities now. That’s how they found us in the first place. Maybe we should give in. Maybe they’ll use this for good.”


I shake myself free of Amber. She cringes.


So does Carla.


But I’m calm again. I have finally understood what I’m protecting.


“Yeah, they’re good at personalities,” I say. “And for a while, government facilities’ll use our methods. Then they’ll find other uses. Our good work’ll get twisted. We’ll have created new kinds of monsters.”


“We won’t,” Amber says.


“We need to keep something pure,” I say. “Just one thing. We have to hold one thing sacred. If we don’t…”


They’re staring at me, but I can’t finish. The words—those words—I said them just before I led my troop—my real troop—into the worst fight of our lives. The purity I was referring to then was our friendship, which I had thought to protect, because the training was that deep—I had to pick something, something to protect, something that elicited that deep, violent response…


“Shit,” I whisper, and put down my head.


They’re right. Carla and Amber are right. I’ve been hit at home, and I’m not rational.


But it feels like I am.


And that’s the scary part.


 


***


 


We can agree on a few things: We’re going to press charges against Davi and whoever’s behind her. We’re going to keep identities in the House private. And we’re going to find someone to replace me, for a week, six months, a year.


As long as Carla can convince me to stay away.


She thinks it’s not healthy for me to remain. The House has helped others, she says, but then I insist that they leave. They grow outside, and become real people.


I never have.


I’m not sure she’s right, but the only way to prove her wrong is to step out into the world. And not for short ceremonies or speeches at VA Hospitals.


For some significant time. On my own.


The idea scares me, and exhilarates me all at the same time. And my shrink—my original shrink who approves of Carla’s ideas—says those emotions are normal.


But I don’t like normal. And I think Carla’s wrong about a few things. I’m not protecting the method. I’m believing in our uniqueness.


I don’t think anyone else can create the right environment. I don’t think anyone else would know when to break the rules and when to enforce them.


I don’t think anyone else can nurture like we do.


Only I don’t admit that to Carla. She’d say I’ve got a mother complex which is part of the Elites distinctive psychology. She’d say I have to get it repaired.


I’m open-minded enough to think that she might be right. But I’m wary enough to know that if she’s wrong, we lose everything.


The House, our home, our community. The women we’ve been helping and the ones we haven’t helped yet.


Fifteen years of success, based in part on my own particular pathology.


And I keep thinking the House has gone beyond potential. I’m not fighting for what might be.


I’m fighting for what is.


It’s our last stand—and I seem to be the only one who knows it.


 


Copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First published in Women of War, edited by Tanya Huff and Alexander Potter, Daw Books, 2005

Published by WMG Publishing

Cover and layout copyright © 2015 by WMG Publishing

Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing

Cover art copyright © Agsandrew/Dreamstime


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


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Published on August 24, 2015 12:00 • 3 views

August 19, 2015

I had a blog all finished for this week, and it was to auto-post late Wednesday night. It’s all about the World Science Fiction Convention and how to use conferences, but honestly, I don’t want to confuse matters.


For those of you who didn’t see the Wednesday morning post, I got into a run-in with the rental car, and have gotten injured badly enough that a long drive or an airline flight wouldn’t be smart at the moment. So I won’t be at Worldcon.


The other upshot of the injuries are that typing isn’t exactly fun right now, so I didn’t write a new blog either. Instead, I spent the day with old friends — John Rebus and DCI Alan Banks. (Mystery readers will know what I’m talking about.) I did let Dean buy me Chinese food for lunch as well.


I should be back next week. Heck, I’ve already typed more than I expected to, which is a good sign.


Those of you at Worldcon, please have fun. For the rest of you, I hope the days remaining in your week go very well. I’m heading back to my recliner, my cats, and the stack of novels on the end table.


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Published on August 19, 2015 19:39 • 6 views

Bad news, everyone. I’m afraid I won’t be at Worldcon after all.


Yesterday afternoon as I was doing errands before leaving for Spokane, I had a run-in with the rental car. The car is okay. I am not. I spent some time in the emergency room that evening. I will see a specialist today, but I felt I had to write this brief notice to you all, especially since I had just told you I’d be at Worldcon.


I hope I catch those of you who are going before you pack books in your cars for signatures, or give up other programming items to see something I’m in.



I’m really sorry to miss you all. I was greatly looking forward to Worldcon this year. I finally had some time to meet readers and see old friends. Maybe next year.


Have a great time. Worldcon is, at its best, a celebration of science fiction. Even though I won’t be there in person, I’ll be there in spirit.


Thanks for understanding,


Kris



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Published on August 19, 2015 11:14 • 8 views

August 18, 2015

Tiffany TumblesToday’s a big day for me. Tiffany Tumbles, the first in the Interim Fates series, hits print. Getting Tiffany in front of you readers took some work—and I don’t just mean the writing.


The Interim Fates appeared one afternoon as I wrote the Fates series under my Kristine Grayson pen name. The Fates got demoted, and someone had to take their place—hence “interim.” For some reason, my brain decided that three of Zeus’s daughters would take over the job…three of Zeus’s youngest daughters. Three teenage girls, in way over their heads.


Well, if you read the Fates trilogy, then you’ll understand why I couldn’t abandon those three girls to their (ahem) fate. I needed to know what happened next.


What happened was that Ms. Grayson, this hard-to-categorize romance writer, committed YA with a fantastic bent and no romance at all. Two separate agents gave up on the project, and one editor, well, let’s just say that she objected to an African-American protagonist in the strongest possible terms. As if I could go back and change Tiffany’s appearance in the romance novels to please that editor. As if I wanted to. (Nope, not at all.)


Fortunately, publishing has changed. WMG Publishing took on the project, and will publish the series this year.


Tiffany’s story, set in Eugene, Oregon, comes first. Next month, Crystal will share her tale from Manhattan, and it’ll all end with Brittany in Superior, Wisconsin.


I love these books. I had fun writing them, and I hope it shows. You don’t have to read the romance novels to enjoy these novels. (Nor do you have to be a young adult.)


Here’s the back cover copy for Tiffany. You can find the trade paper at your favorite retailer, and the ebook at your favorite online store, or click on this link.


Recently fired from her job as an Interim Fate, one of the most powerful people in the world, Tiffany VanDerHoven must move in with her mother in Eugene, Oregon. Tiffany finds living without magic hard enough, but high school? Not even movies or TV prepared her for that.


Tiffany has tumbled into “the real world,” and it baffles her.


To make matters worse, she can’t talk to her sisters Crystal and Brittany (the other two Interim Fates)—except for an hour or so, on the weekend, under strict parental supervision. Parental, meaning their mothers’ supervision. Because none of the girls can talk to their father, the Greek God Zeus, who started this entire mess when he wanted his daughters to use their Fateness to get rid of true love.


Tiffany needs to face her future, but first she must decide what kind of future she wants. One with her crazy magical Greek God family? One in the “real world”? Or can she discover the strength to straddle both worlds?


Whatever Tiffany decides will impact not just her own fate but her sisters’ fates, too.


“Grayson’s clever, humor-tinged writing is absolutely delightful.”

—Booklist



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Published on August 18, 2015 10:37 • 5 views

August 17, 2015

LizBet wants to accept Van’s marriage proposal, but she can’t say yes until she figures out what to do about her last name. Should she take his? Should she keep hers? Such a simple thing. How come it feels so hard?


“Name-calling,” by  bestselling  author Kristine Grayson, is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook on Amazon, , , , and from other online retailers. 


Name-calling
Kristine Grayson

 


Such a simple decision, really, and yet it held her up. She couldn’t say she would marry Van unless she knew what she would do about her name.


LizBet leaned back on the brown leather desk chair and stared out the wall of windows. Her office was in one of the tallest buildings in Portland, not quite on the top floor, but close enough. She could see the Columbia River and beyond to the mountain ranges narrowing into the Willamette Valley. Her desk, shiny oak, still smelled as woodsy as the day she bought it. Van had once teased her that she bought her furniture because it smelled good, not because it looked good.


She doodled on her Palm, the Mac humming on the credenza to her side. Mrs. Van L. Lyndale. Elizabeth Lyndale. Elizabeth Lyndale-Hayes. Mrs. Elizabeth Hayes. Elizabeth Hayes-Lyndale. She drew little hearts over the “I” in her first name, just as she had done in middle school, and made the period after “Mrs.” Into a small flower. Then she sighed and erased it all, and glanced at her brag wall for reassurance.


Her undergraduate degree from Vassar read Elizabeth Hayes, and so did the sign on her desk. She was just beginning to get a reputation, and the reputation came under the name Hayes. If she dropped it, she would have to start all over again.


Van had said he wouldn’t mind if she kept her name, and the statement, in the middle of a romantic dinner at her favorite restaurant near the river, had left her feeling unsettled. Even though she had expected the proposal, she hadn’t thought of the name thing until that moment. And instead of the resounding “yes” she had planned, she had smiled weakly and had asked a chance to think it over.


She put the Palm away and returned to the notes she had been studying for the deposition she had at three.


She would have to decide—and soon.


***


LizBet canceled lunch with Van, pleading a heavy caseload, and instead called her sister, Maggie. They met at a coffee shop near LizBet’s office. The shop had rickety tables and alternative music, old signs announcing Grunge Rock concerts, and posters of the Beats that probably dated from the late fifties. At the counter, LizBet ordered a double espresso and a croissant sandwich heavy on the veggies and herbed cream cheese, then took a table near the rain-streaked window to wait for her sister.


Maggie was a dressmaker who lived near Lewis and Clark College in an apartment as funky as the coffee shop. She made a marginal living full of occasional windfalls, and she spent her free time thinking about things. She hadn’t gone to college; she said, at age twenty, that she still had time to review that decision later.


She was fifteen minutes late. She bustled into the shop, raindrops glistening on her red and orange hair. As she hurried to the counter, she waved at LizBet, and while she ordered, she pulled the multicolored tasseled scarf that was supposed to protect her from the rain off her shoulders, and tied it around her waist. Her simple black shirt and skirt suddenly became an ensemble as fresh and personal as LizBet’s suit was corporate.


“I don’t see why this is an issue,” Maggie said as she brought her latte to the table. “Your name is your identity, and you keep it.”


“Lots of women don’t,” LizBet said.


“Professional women do. Look at Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.”


“They’re divorced.”


Maggie waved her hand. “Not because of the name thing.”


“We don’t know that,” LizBet said, knowing she was being unreasonable. “I mean, maybe it started there and little events made it worse and worse.”


The girl behind the counter brought LizBet’s sandwich on a clear glass plate. She also brought a handmade ceramic bowl full of tabouli for Maggie.


“You haven’t said yes yet, have you?” Maggie asked.


“No, why?”


Maggie took a spoonful of the tabouli. The scent of vinegar and onions wafted toward LizBet. “Because this is clearly an issue for you and it shouldn’t be. Beta, you’re not twenty-one years old. You need to figure out why you are even considering losing your identity to some man. That’s what our grandmothers did. And once you decide that, then you can see me about making your dress.”


LizBet cut her sandwich into bite-sized pieces. “Van isn’t some man.”


Maggie snorted. “Yeah, right. He’s the one who showed up when the world said, ‘Time to get married.’ Otherwise he’s no different from all the other bozos you’ve been with. You watch. Three years from now, we’ll be sitting at this same table, and you’ll be saying, ‘Mags, what did I ever see in that jerk?’ just like you did about all the guys before.”


“No, Maggie,” LizBet said. “He’s the right one.”


“Uh-huh. That’s why you can’t decide what role to play. If he were Mister Right, you wouldn’t have to play any roles at all.”


***


LizBet refused to let herself think about marriage during the staff meetings. She left the office at seven, stopped at Safeway on the way to her apartment, bought ice cream for dinner and rented three movies: The Philadelphia Story, Sleepless in Seattle, and Adam’s Rib. She ate Chocolate Ripple Fudge out of the carton while she watched, barefeet tucked under her sweats, her cat sleeping on the embroidered pillow beside her. She found herself wondering why Spencer Tracy had never left his wife, why Katharine Hepburn never married, and how anyone could divorce Cary Grant. She asked the cat how Nora Ephron, author of Heartburn, could write a romance as sweet as Sleepless in Seattle, and why nothing was as certain in real life. And she wished her mother was alive so she could ask what it was like to spend twenty years as a missus, and still remain even passingly sane.


When the movie fest was over, and the ice cream was gone, she called up Van and asked him to give her three more days.


***


“It causes problems,” Zeke said. His jeans were rolled up to his calves and his bare feet were stuck in the sand. LizBet shivered in the cool ocean breeze. Gulls circled overhead, and children ran down to the water’s edge, parents screaming cautions behind them.


She usually didn’t take Saturdays off, but this time she felt she owed herself and Zeke, who had been her best friend since high school, loved the beach at Seaside. He had married his freshman year in college and his wife had kept her own name.


“I mean, we’re constantly explaining to people that we are married and not just living together. And then there’s the decision of what to name the kids. We thought maybe we’d let half of them take her name and half of them take mine—until it wasn’t an issue anymore.” He paused and dug his feet deeper in the sand. His mouth twisted slightly in the non-smile that had become routine whenever children were mentioned. Zeke and Audrey couldn’t have children and they were the only people LizBet know who really, really wanted them. “So it’s not as trivial as Maggie says. Besides, it says a lot about who you are.”


“Who I am?” LizBet brushed a strand of hair from her face.


“Yeah.” Zeke faced the water. “I mean, are you the kind of woman who takes marriage so lightly that you’re not willing to make any changes? I’ve seen a lot of marriages end because the couples are unwilling to do the compromising necessary to live together.”


“You and Audrey have been together over fifteen years.”


He grinned, but still wouldn’t look at her. “Well, then there’s the kind of woman who is so sure of herself and her identity that she allows her husband to spend Saturday afternoon on a beach with another woman. Confidence. Audrey has confidence.”


LizBet’s throat was dry. “Did you talk about her changing her name?”


He shook his head. “We never discussed it.”


“Not once?”


“Not at all.”


***


“So what does Van think?” Dani asked as she paused before her second serve. The tennis club was nearly empty at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings, so Dani and LizBet picked that time as theirs. LizBet’s white frou-frou tennis outfit—required wear, just like gym class only upscale—stuck to her back. Tennis was out, which was precisely why they liked it. It meant they had a sport all their own.


“Van?” Lizbet wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her wrist brace. “He says he doesn’t mind.”


Dani bounced a green ball against the ground, her first preparation for a serve. “He doesn’t mind?”


“That’s what he said.”


“So nice of him to give you permission.” Dani tossed the ball in the air and hit it with her racquet so hard that the sound echoed in the confined space.


The ball cleared the net and bounced. LizBet swung and barely connected. The ball wobbled crazily before tripping over the top of the net. “He didn’t give me permission,” she said.


“Sure he did. He doesn’t mind. If he didn’t mind, he wouldn’t mention it at all.”


LizBet picked up the ball and tossed it back at Dani. “I think he was trying to reassure me.”


Dani caught the ball with one hand. “I thought you said it wasn’t a problem until he mentioned it.”


LizBet swallowed. “How come all my friends try to put Van in a bad light?”


“We don’t have to,” Dani said, bouncing the ball once before she prepared to serve. “He does it so well himself.”


***


LizBet begged off the traditional post-tennis brunch and went back to her apartment. She picked up the phone to call Van, then hung up. She had asked for three days and only used two. And she wasn’t thinking very clearly. Who was she, listening to Dani? Dani had never been married. Dani thought all men were evil and out to get women. Dani believed every woman who screamed sexual harassment and believed that all men were after only one thing. Dani did not believe in shades of gray.


With a sigh, LizBet sank into her scratched pine kitchen chair. But Dani had placed her finger on the very thing that was bothering LizBet. The comment that started the whole inquiry. Her name. Her name, not his.


This time she did pick up the phone and hit the speed dial. Van answered on the second ring.


“How about meeting me for brunch at Capewell’s?” she said, without preamble.


“What about the sisterly morning with Dani?” he said, his emphasis on the word “sisterly” making her wince.


“She beat me soundly. My mind wasn’t on the game.”


“What was it on?” he asked, his voice sinking into a lower register.


“You,” she said, and felt odd as if she were lying. “And changing my name.”


He sucked in air. She frowned. That comment could be taken too many ways. “Does that mean—?”


“Nothing,” she said. “It means I’m still thinking. Look, I’ll get us a reservation for 11 and I’ll meet you there. Oh, and Van, the reservation will be in my name.”


***


Capewell’s was a new restaurant on the Columbia River downtown. It had a spectacular view of the bridges criss-crossing the city and of the buildings that made Portland feel like new money. The restaurant was fancy, and it was expensive. She wasn’t sure why she chose it. It always made her feel uncomfortable—and not just because the prices were outrageous. Because, the place felt like a special place, a place she had always expected a man to propose.


LizBet arrived late. Her stomach growled, unused to going so long without food after her weekly tennis match. Van had a table down three small flights of stairs and pressed up against the window. He was nursing a cup of coffee, and had already bunched up the white linen table cloth.


She nodded to the maitre d’ and stood on the steps for a moment, just watching Van. He was striking in a forties movie star sort of way. His features were chiseled, his nose aquiline, his skin darkly tan. He had dark black hair, and dreamy blue eyes. When he saw her, he stood.


Old fashioned. Of course, he would give her permission. She had liked old fashioned, she thought, like Cary Grant and Clark Gable. Only the movie star Gable wouldn’t have cared if his wife kept her name, and Grant would have chided her, but in a loving fashion. Hanks, Ephron’s modern sex symbol, would have said nothing at all.


As Van slipped back into his seat, he glanced at her and she saw a new expression on his face: uncertainty.


He was a contractor, and had been since high school. He worked for one of the best in the city. He was a man used to dealing with men, a man whose hands bore the scars of hard labor.


He was as different from her as rain was from sunshine.


“Hello,” she said.


He nodded. Then he set his coffee cup down and put his hands on the seat beside him as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “I was going to order for us, but I thought I’d better wait.”


“Thanks,” she said. This hesitancy didn’t suit him. And she had caused it.


“Look, Beta, I’m sorry—.” He sighed, ran a hand through his thick hair, and glanced out the window. Then he glanced at her. “When I proposed, I didn’t expect this. A hearty yes, maybe or an are you kidding? But not this. Three days of silence, of not knowing how you feel at all. And then your sister calls me and chastises me for trying to make you change your name—”


“Mags called you?”


He nodded, his lips a thin line. His hair, tousled over his tanned forehead, made him look like a three-year-old boy fresh out of school instead of a man who’d been on his own for years. “I didn’t say you should take my name, Beta.”


“I know,” she said. “You just told me it would be okay with you if I kept mine.”


“Isn’t that right? I mean, it’s up to you these days, isn’t it?”


“It is,” she said. “And I’m having trouble deciding.”


“Deciding?”


“What to call myself.”


His eyes widened for a moment, then he seemed to get his expression under control. “Does that mean…?”


“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know why this bothers me so much. Mags says—well, forget what Mags says. Zeke says it’s all about identity, and Dani says you took the choice away from me by telling me it was okay.”


“And what do you say?” His tone was low. It had a thread of anger in it.


“I say I’ve never been more confused in my life.”


The waiter set down two mimosas, then took their order brusquely as if he could tell from their posture that they needed privacy. LizBet tapped her fingernails against the crystal.


“I mean,” she said without missing a beat, “it’s my dad’s name, not mine, and it was given to him by his dad, and his dad before him, right? And Elizabeth is my mother’s name, and LizBet is what they called me to distinguish me from her, and Beta is my friends’ nickname for me. I wanted people to call me Beth in school, but no one did, except one girl who kept forgetting and calling me Liz which is worse, but really, Van, it’s not like I’m deciding the fate of a nation here. I’m only deciding what to have people call me.”


Van took a sip of the mimosa, grimaced, and set it down. “No,” he said. “You’re deciding how you want people to perceive you.”


LizBet stopped tapping her fingernails. She gripped the glass’s stem as if the crystal’s fragility could give her support. “What?”


He spread his fingers on the bunched linen and stared at them. “I thought about this before asking you. Whether or not a woman like you would want to marry. Your mother didn’t have a career, and Maggie has made certain every man around her knows that she has chosen to live her life alone because she’s afraid that a companion will take it over. Then I thought about how I would feel if you asked me to change my name—” he looked up “—and I considered it, I really did, but my name is all anybody knows me by. Then I remembered how your name is on the door of your office and on the company stationary, and I figured if you married at all you would do it under the same terms as me, and so I asked, in my inept way, and I wanted to reassure you that you don’t have to fend me off with a stick like Maggie does, that it’s okay to be the same woman you are now because you’re the one I fell in love with.”


LizBet drew in her breath. If he hadn’t spoken in so many run-on sentences, she would have thought someone scripted his lines for him. She could almost hear Spencer Tracy (it was a Spencer Tracy speech from a movie like Woman of the Year or Adam’s Rib), still masculine, but confused about the changing roles, willing to play along, but not willing to give up an essential masculine part of himself. And perfect, so perfect. If this were an old movie, she would be in his arms, bunching up the tablecloth herself in her haste to kiss him.


But no cameras were rolling, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t be Katharine Hepburn.


“It’s not you,” LizBet said. She looked down, the sudden realization embarrassing her. “It’s me. I’m like Mags. I don’t think I can be a wife and a person at the same time.”


***


The future wasn’t supposed to be like this. She lay back on the warm wood, sweat running down her stomach, her skin already pink even though she had only been in the sauna for a few minutes. Her mother’s generation was supposed to have fought this fight. It was supposed to be easy to be a wife, a mother, and a climber on the corporate ladder. She had a lot of opportunities growing up. Everyone told her she was equal to the boys. She knew she wasn’t going to be her father’s daughter, or her husband’s wife. She would be a person in her own right.


A strong woman.


Who didn’t need a man.


And somehow she had gone from a woman who didn’t need a man to a woman who was afraid to be with one. Afraid that all the magic and promise that she had felt as a little girl would disappear when she said, “I do.”


So simple and yet so hard. It wasn’t as if she could just marry Van now that she made the realization. If anything, the realization made marriage tougher. She would constantly be on guard, constantly vigilant, punishing him for things that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with her past and her perceptions.


Sweat poured down her body. Her throat ached from the dry heat. Her skin was rosy. She hadn’t realized that she could choose something other than the extremes represented by her mother and her sister. She could remain herself.


But only if she had a man who understood the dilemma. A man like Zeke.


Or like Van.


***


“I think it’s wrong,” Maggie said, her mouth full of pins. She was kneeling, pinning the hem on LizBet’s white satin dress. She wanted a simple ceremony, she had said to Van, not too traditional. He had insisted that it be dressy and that a few friends be there. I want people to know we’re proud to be together, he said. They need to know that. “He’ll want you to stay home and make babies.”


“Men and women make babies together,” LizBet said. She’d been having this argument with Maggie for two weeks, ever since she had let her know about the wedding. “Besides, neither of us want children.”


“And what about your political career?”


“What political career?”


“The one you would have had if you hadn’t met him.”


LizBet frowned at her reflection in the full length mirror. The white set off her skin, the gathered waist gave the dress a festive feel. Perfect for dancing. Even if Maggie didn’t approve, she was designing a hell of a dress.


“I never wanted a political career,” LizBet said.


“But Vassar—”


“Gave me an excellent education.” She sighed. “Are you almost done?”


“One more pin.” Maggie stuck the pin in the hem then took the remaining pins from her mouth and placed them in her tray. “Well,” she said, leaning back and surveying the dress. “It’s not what Mother would have wanted.”


LizBet grinned. “Mother got married in brocade covered with a thousand tiny seed pearls. Have you seen those pictures? She looked like she was wearing armor.”


“She needed to.”


LizBet crouched down beside her sister. Pins poked her legs. “It’s not a battle, Mags. I’m not trying to vanquish an enemy here. I’m just trying to share a life with another person.”


“He’ll change you,” Maggie said.


“Oh, probably. And I’ll probably change him. That’s normal.” LizBet stood. “Can you unzip me?”


Maggie stood also and took a step back to examine the dress. She scanned LizBet’s length, then reached up for the zipper. “I still think you should wear heels.”


“They hurt my feet.”


“They flatter your legs.”


The zipper let go and the dress’s softness gathered around LizBet’s waist. LizBet caught it so that it wouldn’t slip to the floor. Not white lace and promises, but still a special dress that made her feel pretty. Maggie understood with her art, even if she didn’t understand with her mind.


“Thanks for the dress,” LizBet said.


“You’re welcome,” Maggie said and turned away, but not before LizBet caught the shine of tears in her sister’s gray eyes.


***


Maggie gave her away, and Zeke was her maid of honor. They didn’t ask her what changes she would make. Neither did Van. They figured, apparently, that she had already made her decision. And she had.


After the ceremony, the entire wedding party shuffled into the minister’s office. The minister spread the marriage certificate on the desk. LizBet used Van’s pen and more than the usual flourish, signed first her mother’s name, Elizabeth, and then her father’s, Hayes. In parenthesis, she added the name given her by the people she loved the most—Beta—not to indicate that she was second in importance, but to indicate that she was who she had always been and no one else.


She watched as Van signed his name. Then they linked fingers—two strong independent people, facing the future, together.


 


Copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First published as an Amazon Short on Amazon.com in 2005

Published by WMG Publishing

Cover and layout copyright © 2015 by WMG Publishing

Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing

Cover art copyright © Valuavitaly/Dreamstime


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.


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Published on August 17, 2015 12:00 • 20 views

August 16, 2015

I’m behind in posting on my June reading. Worse, I got behind writing much of it up. So I simply put titles in my file and moved along. The problem was when I finally got to this, I couldn’t remember those pieces from their titles. When I looked them up, I barely remembered them.


Ooops. Delete. If they’re not memorable, they’re not worth recommending. The three big ones were bestsellers by favorite authors. Not that they wrote bad books. They entertained me. But the books didn’t stick with me, so I’m not mentioning them here.


I also read three Shakespeare plays and a lot of analysis in prep for a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Fascinating stuff, but not worth recommending. I’d rather recommend that you see their production of Pericles. If you can’t make it to Ashland Oregon before the end of October, then see the production in D.C. in November or at the Guthrie in Minneapolis in early 2016. You won’t regret it.


Otherwise, I did a lot of reading for the upcoming Baen anthology. If you also follow the women in sf site, you’ll see some crossover on what I’ve written. Not everything here is there or there is here. (I love that sentence.)


So, without further ado, here’s what I enjoyed (and remembered!) in June.


June, 2015

Best of Leigh Brackett (1977) coversBrackett, Leigh, The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by Edmond Hamilton, Nelson Doubleday, 1977. I read every story in the volume, even though I shouldn’t have. I was trying to plow through so that I could find “the best” Leigh Brackett story for my Baen anthology. Let me tell you now: there is no “best” Leigh Brackett story. There are some I don’t like as much as others, but my, oh, my, I like her work.


This collection has fun pieces, some of which I’ve listed below, like the Edmond Hamilton introduction. The afterword by Brackett herself is also wonderful for some of the writing tidbits. Nice collection. I’d love to see it back in print.


Brackett, Leigh, “The Halfling,” The Halfling and Other Stories, Ace, 1973.


Okay, anyone who has come to the anthology workshop that Dean and I hold in the early part of the year knows that I don’t like carnival stories. I fell in love with Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and nothing compared after that. (Plus, I’m not a big fan of carnivals, anyway. I loathe a circus. And I hate zoos as well.)


I ended up liking Stephen King’s Joyland because it’s not really about a carnival or, rather, a theme park. It’s about life. So I nearly skipped Leigh Brackett’s “The Halfling” when I realized it was set at a carnival. Not to mention the fact that the story was published in 1943, and all of the details about Mars, Venus, etc., are wrong. Yes, yes, that means I was looking for a reason not to read it. But I made myself. Or rather, I gave it another paragraph, and then got lost.


The story’s a pure sf horror story, with a lot of setting and atmosphere, and a rather creepy alien stuff, mostly based on cats, which of course, Brackett got right. I couldn’t put this story down. My heart was pounding as I raced toward the end, which was satisfying.


THHLFLNGND1983Brackett, Leigh, The Halfling and Other Stories, Ace, 1973. I admit: I haven’t read enough Leigh Brackett. I fell in love with her stories as I read for the women in sf anthology. I’m beginning to believe that all sf roads ride through Leigh Brackett.


Heck, maybe most genre roads. She wrote so many westerns and mysteries as well. She’s a marvelous writer, and her work is so very vibrant. She is a woman of her time, so there is some casual racism in the stories. Most of the stories don’t have that flaw, however, so they’re definitely worth reading.


If you haven’t picked up any Brackett, you need to do so.


Brackett, Leigh, “The Queer Ones,” The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by Edmond Hamilton, Nelson Doubleday, 1977. “The Queer Ones” reminds me more of stories by Stephen King or Zenna Henderson or Sharyn McCrumb, stories set in a rural America that makes its own rules. Hank Temple and his friends run into a badly beaten child who heals well and has a blood type that’s not found anywhere. I mean, anywhere. How he came about is the plot of the story; why he gets beaten is the meat of the story. What they decide to do about it is the heart of the story.


I won’t spoil it for any of you. Brackett relies on her strong characterization, her Western and Mystery backgrounds, and her sense of place to make this story feel original and somewhat chilling.


In the notes about The Halfling and Other Stories above, I mentioned the casual racism in Brackett’s work. That shows up here, in “The Queer Ones,” not because of the title, which is the old usage of the word “queer” (meaning “weird” or “uncanny”), but because of other terms, properly used, and no longer said in polite company.


Brackett’s point with the terms, though, is to look at the other and to see it as valued and worthwhile. She just couches it in language that’s difficult to stomach these days.


Brackett, Leigh, “Shannach—The Last,” The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by Edmond Hamilton, Nelson Doubleday, 1977. Honestly, I shouldn’t have read “Shannach—The Last.” I didn’t have time, and it was clearly too long for the anthology I was editing.


But that opening paragraph—


It was dark in the caves under Mercury. It was hot, and there was no sound in them but the slow plodding of Trevor’s heavy boots.


—grabbed me, and suddenly I was all the way through the story.


“Shannach—The Last” is a bracing adventure story. It deals with Brackett’s favorite themes of lost races and dying peoples and shady characters.


I had no idea how the story would all end up, and there were moments where I was reading with one eye open, and my face averted. I had to keep reading, but I didn’t want the characters to go through what they were going through, and oh, wow. Wonderful stuff.


Brackett, Leigh, “The Tweener,” The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by Edmond Hamilton, Nelson Doubleday, 1977. Boy, when Leigh Brackett wrote horror, she wrote horror. This story, set in 1950s suburbia, is just chilling. Uncle Fred, the astronaut, brought a “neat little furry thing” back from Mars for his nieces and nephews. The “neat little furry thing” which might very well be the last of its kind has a profound impact on everyone it encounters.


Brackett pulls off an odd empathy for the creature, and at the same time, a low-level terror over what the creature is doing to the family and the neighborhood. Highly recommended. (Read in broad daylight.)


Camozzi, Rosemary Howe, “It’s on Us,” Oregon Quarterly, Spring, 2015. As I mention below in the notes about the Jon Krakauer book, sexual assault on campus has become a big topic this year. This well done piece examines how the University of Oregon is dealing with its various issues. (And the U of O had some high profile ones.) A well done, well balanced and fascinating piece.


Etulain, Richard, “Imagining Calamity,” Oregon Quarterly, Spring, 2015. I have fallen in love with the University of Oregon’s alumni magazine—and I’m not an alum. I just inherited the magazine from an alum. My own alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, also has a great alumni magazine.


This article is an excerpt from Etulain’s book on Calamity Jane. It gives her history, and even more importantly, the history of her legend. I love the photos of her at the top—one in a dress and one in buckskins. (You can see them if you follow the link above.) I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about her. The piece does what all good excerpts do: it made me want to read the book.


Hamilton, Edmond “Story-teller of Many Worlds,” The Best of Leigh Brackett, edited by Edmond Hamilton, Nelson Doubleday, 1977. This started as a pretty standard introduction to a collection of short stories, and then it became something else. For those of you who don’t know, Ed Hamilton and Leigh Brackett were married, so he saw her career up close and personal.


Even though Brackett was one of the most important writers in sf, and even though dozens of later writers stated that she influenced their work, she had encountered difficulty and criticism about her stories toward the end of her life. Hamilton addresses this thusly:


Those were the days when we were all writing, in accordance with the latest guesses of astronomers and scientists, about a Mercury that kept one face always to the sun and the other to space and had a Twilight Belt between those extremes of savage heat and bitter cold, where there were alternate sunsets and sunrises due to the rocking of the planet, and where life might conceivably exist. Today those concepts have been shot down by better data from probes and more advanced scientific methods. But in those days they were valid….


9780385538732_p0_v4_s192x300He was defending her work (and the work of others), just a little jab at the critics, but a necessary one. Because her stories hold up. Yeah, they might not be hard science fiction any longer, but they’re great science fantasy, and should be read for the wonderful adventures that they are. That she chose to name the planets she deals with Mars and Mercury should be irrelevant.


The introduction also touches on how-to-write and collaboration themes as well. It’s a great way to enter a collection of Brackett’s work.


Krakauer, Jon, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Doubleday, 2015. I wish I could say this book surprised me. What surprises me is the fact that the reviewers are surprised by its contents. Krakauer has raised awareness on an issue that’s been much in the news of late, and he did it with extensive research.


He was shocked, people who are unfamiliar with the statistics were shocked, but I’m not because I used to work with rape survivors (and am one myself). The stories in this book, personal all, are also very every-survivor, and quite sad.


The book is compelling. Krakauer is a hell of a writer, and he’ll make you feel the families’ pain, the frustration against the justice system, the frustration of those inside the system, and the difficulties faced by everyone.


This is one book everyone should read—especially parents whose kids are in college.


51cYcxyb+4L._SX292_BO1,204,203,200_Moore, C.L., “Footnote to ‘Shambleau’…and Others,” The Best of C.L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey, Ballantine, 1976. In this delightful essay, Moore describes her writing process. She also tells the tale of writing “Shambleau.” Most interesting to me is the way she describes writing, and the importance she gives to reading for enjoyment. Much of what she writes here is exactly what I teach my students. (See my lecture “Read Like A Writer.”)


I had no idea she wrote like this, and I found the essay to be lovely validation. Not that I would have changed my process anyway, but still.


For example, she writes, “Here we return to my conviction you must read enough, enjoy it enough, to absorb unconsciously the structure of the fiction you like the best.”


She compares her unconscious to a black cat, and she adds, “The unconscious more than anything hates being dragged into public. He can’t work under the inspection of the conscious mind.”


Yep. I agree. And I haven’t seen it written about as well or as succinctly. Wonderful little essay.


Moore, C.L., “No Woman Born,” The Best of C.L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey, Ballantine, 1976. Titles are such important things. I had never read this story because of its title. It just didn’t interest me. But I’m being a completest these days, and reading what’s before me, or at least trying.


I knew that “No Woman Born” was an sf classic. I also knew it was probably too long for the Tough Mothers anthology, but I read it anyway, partly for some of the future projects I’m doing.


First, you need to know that this story was written in the mid-1940s, but much of what Moore describes about television and its effect on the world is quite accurate. Get rid of a few phrases here and there, and the story could be set now.


“No Woman Born” tells the story of Deirdre, the most beautiful woman in the world and an entertainer (dancer, singer, actress), who nearly died in a fire. A man named Maltzer manages to save her before it’s too late, and places her body in the body of a metal creature. (To call this metal creation a robot is wrong.)


The story begins a year later, when Deirdre is going to return to public life—reintroduce herself, more or less. The story is told by her manager, John Harris, a curious choice as the teller of the tale. Nonetheless, he provides the perfect bridge between the new and old Deirdre, and our understanding of her.


Essentially, this story is a conscious retelling of Frankenstein, upgraded for the modern era. It’s not about birth or death, though. Instead, it’s about being human. And dammit, it deserves its status as a classic in the field.


Moore, C.L. “Shambleau,” The Best of C.L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey, Ballantine, 1976. Oh, my. I read this story with one eye closed, and my face turned as far away from it as I possibly could. I was still compelled to finish. Ick and yuck and oh, wow, is this story well done.


The first published story of C.L. Moore, in 1933, apparently turned the sf world on its head—at least, according to the introduction Lester del Rey wrote for The Best of C.L. Moore, published by Ballantine in 1976 (well, in a book club edition in 1973. I read the Ballantine edition). He mentions in his introduction how the story’s emotions and sexual content changed sf forever—that fans who had read the pulps remember this story for its vibrancy and life. Since I’ve read some of the older sf, and found most of it turgid at best, I can see what Lester meant.


This story is an sf horror story of the Alien variety, with an alien creature that’s both familiar and unfamiliar, a hero who can’t save himself, and a world that’s not our own. One of Moore’s most well known characters, Northwest Smith (who shows up on other stories), rescues a woman from a mob. The mob calls her Shambleau, and turns away when he claims she’s “his.”


He doesn’t speak to anyone after that, but goes about his business, protecting the girl (as he calls her—”girl” is 1933 for any female, young or old), and half expecting her to leave before he gets back from whatever he’s doing.


She doesn’t leave and then, in a time-honored fiction tradition, things get worse. Very creepy story, which will probably give me nightmares. And I mean that as a compliment…


all-cats-are-gray-andre-norton-paperback-cover-artNorton, Andre, “All Cats Are Gray,” A Norton Book, 2012. Full disclosure. I read this in another anthology entirely, but I couldn’t find a link to it (and I’m not sure I want to link to it—it’s weird). So the link here is to the standalone version of the story.


I spent an evening binging on James Tiptree, Jr, who is, I’ve decided, not a writer to binge on. Wonderful stories, but dark and often depressing. Breathtaking, suspenseful, and down.


So I took a break and read an Andre Norton story I’d been meaning to read.


Steena of the Spaceways and her cat Bat explore a ghost ship called Empress of Mars. The story’s memorable, but more important than that, it has that Norton sensawunder feel. I loved it.


O’Donnell, Lawrence, “The Vintage Season,” The Best of C.L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey, Ballantine, 1976. Lawrence O’Donnell is one of the many pen names that C.L. Moore used when she collaborated with her husband, Henry Kuttner. Credit for this story has often gone entirely to Moore, but no one knows for sure how much Kuttner had to do with it. They did choose to publish the story initially under a joint byline. However, I read the story in The Best of C.L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey, which is included under Moore’s byline alone. Since she wrote the afterword and doesn’t mention her collaboration with Kuttner except vaguely, she seems to suggest the story is hers alone.


The story feels quite modern, even though it’s over seventy years old. It’s beautifully done, set in an unnamed future in an unnamed city, but it feels like the past. Oliver, the main character, is a bit hapless and passive, but that works for the story, and for what the story holds, in its ending.


Another classic of the field, deservedly so. It’s been reprinted many times, most recently (as far as I can tell), in 2006 in a collection of Kuttner and Moore’s works. You can find the story, and if you’re a time travel fan or a classic sf fan, I suggest that you do.


Tiptree, Jr., James, “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain,” Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Tachyon Press, 2004. I’ve read a handful of Tiptree—mostly the required classics (as judged by others)—but I haven’t read the bulk of her work. I know I’m going to include a Tiptree. I’m just not sure which one. So I’m getting completest and reading as much as I can.9781892391209_p0_v2_s192x300


I started the volume Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, and it begins with “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain,” a very short story told in a reported style about an act committed by a lone terrorist. It feels so modern, so 2015, that it’s breathtaking.


The story was published in 1969 and was a Nebula finalist, for good reason. Scary, and good, and very slipstream—at least, nowadays.


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Published on August 16, 2015 17:19 • 8 views

August 12, 2015

Last week, Steve Hamilton utterly destroyed his career—or would have, if it were 2005. Steve, a New York Times bestseller and two-time Edgar winner, pulled his novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason, from St. Martins Press less than two months before the book’s release.


Steve didn’t just pull the book; he canceled the entire four-book contract. His agent repaid the monies that St Martins had already paid on that contract.


Why would a writer do such a thing? According to the articles I saw, Hamilton claims that the book, which had received excellent pre-publication reviews, was getting no support from the publisher.


To be clear, I should add two things here as a former St. Martins author that might color my perspective:



Like Steve, I got excellent prepublication reviews before all of my Smokey Dalton books were published, as well as promises of huge promotions on those books. The promotion never happened; the books were dumped. St. Martins is the company that sent me on a book tour and refused to supply books. So…
In all things here, my sympathies and my experience lead me to believe Steve. You might see me as biased. Go ahead. Because I am. :-)

What St Martins promised on the back of the galleys sent to reviewers and places like Publishers Weekly was this:


A 75,000 copy first printing, and a lot of national marketing, including a national author tour and a national ad campaign for the book.


But not even Publishers Weekly, an industry trade journal, was buying that. In an article about Hamilton’s parting with St Martins, Rachel Deahl of PW wrote, “It is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade–about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts–can be gross exaggerations.”


In that article, Steve says he’s canceled the contract because of a lack of publisher support. Since he’s been with St Martins for 17 years, he knows what he’s talking about. He probably saw The Second Life of Nick Mason as his breakout book, and when the reviews came in, confirming it, and St Martins dropped the ball on its promises, he decided he’d had enough.


I don’t blame him.


In the past eight years, I’ve canceled two book contracts because publishers didn’t fulfill their promises. I felt relief both times.


But I had options, even before the changes in publishing. Steve had options as well. It looks like his agent had talked with other publishers before pulling the book from St. Martins. After the book’s rights were freed up, over 10 publishers bid on the book.


G.P. Putnam’s Sons (part of Penguin Group USA) won the bid for “substantially more than the near-seven figures Hamilton was to have received from St. Martin’s,” according to the AP report on the new sale.


The world has changed. Back in the day, no publisher would have bid on a book already in production, no matter what was going on. And no agent would have tried this, no matter how bad things got.


But . He’s an author himself, as well as a filmmaker, and screenwriter. He runs a company in Los Angeles called the Story Factory. He’s not playing by the old rules at all, which is good, because large corporate publishers aren’t either.


But let’s assume that Steve had done all of this without having other publishers in his back pocket. These days, he still had options. If no one had offered on the book, he could have published it himself.


If he handled it right, it would have sold better than it would have through St Martins, which has a lot of trouble selling most of its hardcovers to places other than libraries.


Books get canceled all the time. Often they get canceled because the writer fails to deliver. But sometimes there are other problems, as there were with me and my two publishers above. One of those publishers had assigned me the editor from hell. (Wait, that’s being unfair to editors from hell. She was and is a demon spawn, a hell native who makes hell hellish for anyone who is there. [yeah, you guessed it. I think she’s a terrible editor and an even worse person.]) I refused to work with her, and that ultimately led to the cancellation of the contract.


In the case of the demon spawn, I had a book in production, and I offered to pay the costs of production. The company’s vice president and I negotiated a deal in which I moved to a new editor while the book worked its way into print, even though I knew that guaranteed the book would be published “dead” (meaning no promotion). By that point, I didn’t care; I had a brand new pen name on the book, and therefore had very little invested in the name.


But…back in 2007, I canceled a St. Martins contract for the very reason Steve did. My agent and I had the contract negotiated, and St Martins changed the terms. I wanted some promotion guarantees in writing, and even though they were promised to me, those guarantees weren’t in the final version of the contract.


I canceled it. My agent at the time—a New York agent at a very big firm— then decided I was unworthy of representation because I wouldn’t go with a deal even though the final contract did not reflect the negotiations. (I keep copies of emails and all work product associated with negotiations, including concurrent phone logs.) So I lost both contract and agent—and I was happy to have that happen, because this was for my Kris Nelscott pen name, which did have a lot of time and investment behind it.


I thought I would have to sit on Kris Nelscott and the Smokey Dalton series for about five years before I could sell another book under that name, and if the indie revolution hadn’t happened, I would have.


But the revolution changed everything, and now I control all the rights to Smokey. We have a movie under option, more books in the works, and some side character novels underway. Because I walked away from a very bad deal.


So why did I say that Steve killed his career—or would have if it were 2005?


Because he pulled the book two months before publication. At that point, the traditional publisher has made a full investment in the book. Even if St Martins did not intend to keep up all of its promotional promises, it still put money into cover design, copy edits, proofing, galley mailing and so on. It might have bought ads in magazines (although given what Steve says, I’ll wager St Martins never spent an advertising dime on the book). It certain scheduled printing time, and may even have printed some copies of the book.


In addition to the monies paid to Steve, St Martins had probably invested $100,000 in actual costs and overhead on the book, if not more.


Pulling the book two months before publication guarantees that St Martins lost money on the deal. Other publishers know that. In this instance, they didn’t care.


But had it been 2005, they might have. And for this reason: Steve Hamilton is not a marquee bestseller, the kind of name that will allow a traditional publisher to take a risk even if the author is a flaming asshole. (Steve is not). And in the old days, the days before the indie publishing revolution, Steve Hamilton’s byline would have vanished.


Oh, he would have kept writing, and he probably would have had a frustrating few years. He might’ve tried to write under his own name, and except for the short fiction magazines, probably not sold anything. Then he would have moved to a pen name, and maybe used the cover of his agent to keep his real name out of the loop until the book was accepted (and maybe not even then).


That kind of secrecy revolving around a pen name happened all of time back then. I know of several writers whose real names are still hidden from their publishers because the writer did something to get blacklisted under that name.


And Steve would have been blacklisted, because of the fear that he would cost the publisher money.


Not to mention the fear of him.


Force the publisher to keep promises? Force the publisher to honor a contract? Horrors! Better to get some naïve young writer to write books than an old pro who knows what he’s doing.


Steve took a huge risk here to protect his art. And kudos to him. I wish him great success. I’m so very glad he stood his ground.


I’m also glad he’s speaking out about it. Initially, St Martins issued a snarky press release, making it sound like they threw him to the curb. Steve corrected that, and Publishers Weekly (among other places) picked up the story.


Once upon a time, a writer taking on a big publisher like that remained secret, partly so that the writer could sell another book. (Even then, the large publisher would often bad-mouth the writer in private to any other publisher who would listen.)


Times have changed. If you go to the PW link I’ve cited above, you’ll find a link chain of writer after writer after writer who has blogged about traditional publishings’ broken promises. You can find such things on my blog. You can find them aggregated on The Passive Voice blog.


It doesn’t take a lot of work to find a successful writer who has left her traditional publisher. Here’s my favorite post from the past week. It’s from Elizabeth Spann Craig, who was asked what it would take for her to return to her traditional (Big 5) publisher.


She wrote a long list of things that would have to be different and then added, “I’m still not sure I’d go for it.  I’m not sure exactly what I’d be using them for.  I’ve done all this stuff myself with better financial results.”


Yeah, me too. Dean’s asked me more than once what it would take for me to sell another novel into traditional publishing. (I sell other projects to traditional publishers—nonfiction, editing, short stories.)


If the novel contracts change, maybe, I would sell a novel to traditional publishing again. If I’m offered 7-figures and the contract change, and…


Probably not even then. As Elizabeth Spann Craig says, I’ve done all of this myself with better financial results.


Plus, as she says, I like the control.


Last week, it was amusing to watch poor Mike Shatzkin come to the realization that the publishing world he knew and loved is gone. I dealt with some of that in last week’s blog.


But Shatzkin still believes that traditional publishers bring added value, although he has trouble defining what that value is. He writes that traditional publishers have:



the capability to coordinate the many marketing activities that go into maximizing a book’s success in the marketplace, and;
the “brand” that tells retailers they should believe your hype and stock your book before they know for sure it will sell.

Sadly, neither of those things are true. In fact, I have some thoughts on why traditional publishing marketing exists the way it does and I hope to blog about that, while looking at the changes indies are bringing to the promotional marketplace.


But a publishing “brand”? Seriously? Have you bought a book in the past 5 years because G.P Putnam’s Sons or St Martins published it? Or because your favorite author just happened to be published by St Martins?


Shatzkin and his traditional publishing friends are still deluding themselves. Just like they delude themselves over one other thing:


They believe no “important” author has left traditional publishing to go entirely indie. By that, they mean a “big” bestseller like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. They conveniently ignore that J.K. Rowling has been a hybrid author for years, thanks to Pottermore.


They also don’t understand something: they’ve lost hundreds if not thousands of important writers (no quotes). People like Elizabeth Spann Craig and Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath. Writers like the ones in the Storybundle that I curated this month. Every single book, by every one of those writers, is indie published.


We might not change stock reports for Big 5 companies on the strength of our book sales, but until recently, we were the very writers who provided the foundation that those big authors stood on. All those products that come out of traditional publishing were written by writers like us—bestsellers, yes, and reliable sellers, writers with a fan base, a growing audience, and readers who don’t care who publishes us, as long as we give them the books.


That’s what Shatzkin and St Martins and all the others forget: It’s not their brand that the readers buy. It’s the writer’s brand.


When G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishes The Second Life of Nick Mason in 2016, Steve’s readers will flock to the book. They won’t care that the book is not being published by St Martins (although they will be disappointed they won’t get a book in October). They will be pleased to get the next Steve Hamilton book when it releases a year from now.


Writers are the brand. We always have been. And because of that, traditional publishers are slowly beginning to realize that indie published writers are cutting into the bottom line. Mike Shatzkin admitted as much last week.


And as these opportunities grow for writers, as they have the freedom to publish their books without being blacklisted, then more and more authors will stand up like Steve Hamilton just did and say that the traditional publishers aren’t living up to their end of the bargain.


And then the writers will hold the traditional publishers accountable.


You have to understand the kind of courage that it took for someone who has spent over 20 years in traditional publishing to hire a lawyer and go to bat against a traditional publisher. Steve Hamilton showed that courage. He believes in his work.


He did a good thing.


Congrats, Steve. Well done.


Every now and then, the changes in publishing make my head spin—in a good way. This is one of them. It’s no longer necessary to keep your battles with your traditional publisher secret for fear of being blacklisted. How wonderful.


The fact that I can blog about these changes on a weekly basis also pleases me. I’m glad you folks follow along, and respond. The interactive nature of this blog keeps me learning, as well as helps all of us.


Thanks for all the comments, shares, and emails. Thanks too to the handful of folks who donate. You all keep me coming back to the nonfiction chair week after week.


So…if you found something of value here, please leave a tip on the way out.


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“Business Musings: What Traditional Publishing Says It Does Best,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo Inc. / iqoncept









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Published on August 12, 2015 22:55 • 20 views

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