At My Father’s Statement

  • by Kentto peep between the curtains
  • exposed him
  • just a mess inside that car
  • although she didn’t even own a car
  • seemed to me, judging from his fingers,

Tune in next time part 232                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

At my father’s statement, questions took flight in my mind like a flock of startled birds. But now was not the time to seek those answers.

“You know, the world thinks you’re dead,” I said. “Supposing it turned out they were right after all?” He sat down heavily on the mattress. “Glad to see I have your attention. Sit there and behave for a minute and we’ll get this over with. You have to stop,” I glanced at the naked woman, “renting affection.”

The Asian woman scampered through a gap in the velvet along the wall. She turned back to peep between the curtains, just a face levitating in the blackness of the room. “That is not what it is!” she cried. “I’m not a prostitute. We’re good friends. Last night, I complained that he never exposed himself to me. So, he did.”

Father’s wheezing laughter grated on my eardrums. “In a New York minute, I did! Man, things were just a mess inside that car.” Father’s eyes drifted closed.

I snapped my fingers. “Stay with us, you pervert.”

“We were in a car together,” he went on in a dreamy voice, “although she didn’t even own a car according to my security team.”

“It was stolen,” the face in the curtains giggled. Father giggled back.

I turned to Cleopatra and Esmerelda. “Sounds like you’re mistaken about the abuse of treasury funds. Now I need to talk to my father about some family business.”

The sisters stood with their arms folded. Unconvinced.

I turned back to Father and snapped my fingers at him some more. I wanted to make him explain about Mom and the one-eyed Svenborgian, but suddenly I was unconvinced, too. Which meant I was pretty convinced I couldn’t believe anything he told me, so there was no reason to bother asking. Because I noticed a clue I had overlooked before, a clue that told me there was more to this story. Because it seemed to me, judging from his fingers, that my father had recently been handling a lot of currency.

I looked at the Asian woman and narrowed my eyes. “You,” I said, “tell me the truth about what’s going on here.”

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At the End of a Long, Dank Hallway

  • by jenWe have a ghost, you know.
  • for a few ostentatious minutes
  • “A kidnapper?”
  • though it was badly damaged
  • my bunkmate has malaria

Tune in next time part 231                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

At the end of a long, dank hallway, Esmerelda pressed her eyeball against a retinal scanner and a thick metal panel slid open. The room beyond had black velvet covering every surface, including the floor. Our footsteps were silent as we entered.

The room was lit only by a spotlight that was focused on a raised platform — an island of black velvet in a sea of the same. Upon that platform, which was most likely a bed, lay the nude forms of my father and an Asian woman. Her black hair blended with the velvet, giving her head the unsettling appearance of being incomplete. She coughed.

My father sat up and grumbled, “I think my bunkmate has malaria. Get me a different girl.”

Esmerelda shoved me forward, hissing, “Tell him no more whores!”

When I was a child I had a good relationship with my father, though it was badly damaged through the years by his reckless behavior. Would he listen to me now?

“What’s this?” my father demanded when he caught sight of me. “A kidnapper?”

“No such luck, old man,” I said. And then I stood there while, for a few ostentatious minutes, he stomped around on the bed, bellowing about respect, neglecting to cover his nudity, waving his arms all around. The Asian girl rolled herself onto the floor and stood up. I was relieved to see she did in fact possess an entire head.

I gave Dad some time to tire himself out and work through the familiar first act of his usual tirade. When he finally paused for breath, I said, “We have a ghost, you know. A ghost of a chance of getting you out of here alive. Viscount Arlo is in league with the Contrarians.”

“Arlo?”

“You know, the bald Svenborgian with the eye patch.”

All the hair on my father’s body stood up. I know because he was still naked. “That guy is such a dick,” he said. “I don’t know what your mother ever saw in him.”

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Trip Report – Domestic Edition

We’d like to speak to you today about an exciting new product we’ve recently learned about. It’s called a “calendar” and you can use it to keep track of all your upcoming appointments. Truly groundbreaking stuff!

If only such a revolutionary product had been available to us in the early days of this year, we might now be slightly less exhausted. Alas, it was still in prototype format which means that when we registered for a writing conference in the far-off month of November, we had nowhere to record it. We merely saved the emails for future reference and went about our lives. And so, weeks and months later when we booked our European escape we had forgotten all about the conference. As luck would have it, they did not actually overlap. But they might as well have.

We returned from our Adriatic adventure on Monday evening and headed off to Philadelphia that Friday morning. To make it even more exciting, we were still adjusting to being back in the Eastern time zone, and daylight savings time ended while we were at the conference. In Europe we’d gone back and forth through a couple of time zones, plus several of our devices were in airplane mode the whole time which meant they were still on “home” time. We rarely knew for sure what time it was, and probably still don’t. What day is it? Anyway – the clock in our Philadelphia hotel room assured us that it was 11:00 pm on January 20, which we were pretty sure was wrong no matter which dimension you looked at it from. We were so fucking confused, but we made it to the conference on time so we must have done something right somewhere along the line.

Being antisocial miscreants, we skipped out on the Friday evening author-mingling festivities and instead went to Fogo de Chao and stuffed ourselves.

The Independent Authors Conference was a great big kick in the pants in regards to marketing. The constant refrain from the presenters was basically “yeah, you boneheads, you have to market your stuff.” Which sounds obvious when you say it. Luckily, there was also a ton of practical advice for how to market, and some of it doesn’t even cost an arm and a leg. We especially enjoyed the presentations by Lee Wind of the IBPA, and Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity.

Our hope is that next year they’ll have more sessions focused on the needs particular to fiction authors. And that the conference dates don’t fall right after another big trip.

In closing, either invest in one of these newfangled calendars everyone’s talking about, or start tattooing important information all over yourself, Memento-style so you don’t run yourself as ragged as we did.

PS – of course we had cheesesteaks!

My Next Move

  • by Kentthe Universe of the Upside-Down Toilet
  • “Stop playing games with me, David.”
  • stand back and let me check
  • with the slavish tenacity of a lapdog
  • won’t be built with nuts and bolts

Tune in next time part 230                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

My next move depended on knowing where Cleopatra really stood regarding my father. I tried another coded message.

“I think my father knows that time is money, even in the Universe of the Upside-Down Toilet, and that’s how those workers set their rates.”

“Stop playing games with me, David.” Esmerelda’s use of the proper countersign startled me. I’d thought I knew her allegiances, but this threw everything out the window. Now I was baffled about both sisters’ true intentions.

“I thought your name was–”

“He knows what I mean,” Esmerelda snapped.

I mulled for a few seconds. Then, “I’ll go talk to him, but I need Cleopatra to come with me.” If they both agreed to that, I’d know enough about their loyalties.

“Is my butt on straight?”

“Good question — stand back and let me check. Yes, you look great.”

“You could just take it off,” Esmerelda growled. “He’ll panic if he discovers a Svenborgian affectation like that.” To me, she said, “I know what you’re up to.”

“Good, can you tell me?”

“Don’t be cute. You’re far too old for cuteness. The coup will happen, though its opponents will act with the slavish tenacity of a lapdog. They will be unable to stop the machine. It’s a machine that won’t be built with nuts and bolts. It will be made of pride and sweat and spider silk. Do you hear me? Do you understand what I am telling you?”

“Sheesh, Ezz,” Cleopatra said. “You take all the fun out of revolution, you know that?”

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Geography was Never My Strong Suit

  • by jendidn’t want to say more over the phone
  • the deadly secrets she’d been hiding for three years
  • “What the heck is this?”
  • many generations of fine breeding
  • a very unrealistic assessment of what sex workers charge

Tune in next time part 229                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Geography was never my strong suit, but even I knew there was a limited number of countries one could reach from Harmonia by water, and our current location resembled none of them. And then it hit me: hovercrafts can travel over land as well as sea. We could be nearly anywhere. And Cleopatra worked so hard to keep me distracted belowdecks, as it were. My distrust of her flared anew.

A zeppelin floated by overhead.

Cleopatra led me into a twisting alley. Where it dead-ended, there was a rusty steel door where she unleashed a flurry of knocks in a complicated rhythm. The door swung inward after a moment and I was compelled to enter the dim room.

From the shadows, a tall woman said, “You should have told us you were bringing him along.” Her voice was familiar.

“Time was short and there were enemies everywhere,” Cleopatra said. “I didn’t want to say more over the phone than the bare basics.”

Shadow-voice stepped out of the shadows and stood behind me, hands on my shoulders. She leaned forward and spoke quietly into my ear. “Did she tell you of the deadly secrets she’d been hiding for three years?” Her odd accent and stilted phrasing identified her as Esmerelda, my brother Jim’s wife. If she was here, did that mean my father was, too?

Esmerelda moved from behind me and embraced Cleopatra, giving her bottom a squeeze. “What the heck is this?” she demanded. “I’m disappointed in you, sister. We are the end result of many generations of fine breeding, and yet you cover up your genetically perfect ass with this relic of old Svenborgia?”

They were sisters? That was news to me. Cold dread clutched my gut.

“I am a traditionalist,” Cleopatra replied.

Esmerelda stood beside her sister and regarded me icily. “Your father has a very unrealistic assessment of what sex workers charge. He’s draining the treasury of his new empire, and he’s not even been publicly acknowledged as leader. We need you to talk to him.”

She was standing side-by-side with her sister, but they were on opposite sides of the conflict over my father. Or were they? Had Cleopatra been playing me all along in order to get me here?

Wherever here was.

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It’s Good to Get Out — of the Country

The Writing Cave has been very quiet lately, because no one has been in it. Rune Skelley is only just returned from a seagoing tour of some of the birthplaces of Western thought.

We began in Venice, Italy. A fascinating and crowded place. If you go, wear your most comfortable shoes. Learning your way around the narrow, twisting streets (more like roofless hallways in some cases) is challenging, but finding Piazza San Marco is easy. If the crowds are getting denser, you’re headed toward San Marco. Also, there would seem to be exactly one music shop in Venice, and no two people will give you matching directions for how to reach it. We think it may be enchanted.

Next up: Dubrovnik, Croatia. A gorgeous place with a rich and tragic history (ancient and otherwise). It’s a major filming location for Game of Thrones, a show we don’t watch. But we know people who do, so now we get to tease them about this. Nearby is Cavtat, known as the Croatian Riviera. Due to extensive propaganda when we were young and impressionable, we had entirely the wrong image of Croatia in our minds. It has palm trees and crystalline waters. Some of the “roads” are… well, to call them inadequate would still imply that they qualify as roads in a meaningful way, and they don’t. How about, there are single-lane shared delusions that people drive on in both directions.

Then it was on to Kotor, Montenegro. Another ancient walled city with modern development surrounding it. The Montenegrin language is very similar to Croatian. Both are slavic languages. As one of our guides put it, the people from those countries can understand each other perfectly — when they want to. In Montenegro, we saw signage using three different alphabets (Latin, Montenegrin Latin, and Cyrillic). Sometimes more than one alphabet appeared on a single sign.

In Greece we visited Olympia and Athens. Our visit to the site of the original Olympic games was the day after the lighting of the torch. It was here that we started to slow down on taking pictures of olive trees, because we began to realize that they are everywhere. We visited a farm to learn about how they’re cultivated and processed, and had a nice feast and enough wine to get us dancing in public. We hit Athens during a strike that had the metro shut down, meaning the traffic was even worse than usual. But we still got to go up to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon. If you go, wear grippy shoes — the stones of the Acropolis are polished smooth and slick from the passage of millions of feet.

We bought lots of souvenirs and gifts. So many in fact that we needed to buy an extra suitcase to pack for the trip home. But the best item was one that we didn’t even have to pay for. The shopkeeper gave it to us for free when we bought something else at a store in Athens. It’s a CD of disco bouzouki music (stay with us) including, as a special bonus: recipes! Yes. Not a typo. And they gave us this treasure FOR FREE. We can’t promise such miracles will befall every visitor, but obviously we recommend that you go to Athens.

A writing partner is someone to help you see the world, and join you on inspiring journeys.

PS: back stateside, our rental car had this indispensable feature.

Cleopatra Didn’t Answer My Question

  • by KentI’m sorry, I have a cold
  • obviously an impostor
  • until I broke his collarbone
  • — England’s far-reaching navy
  • I was barely nine weeks pregnant

Tune in next time part 228                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

Cleopatra didn’t answer my question, but instead tried to entice me into another skating trip on the frog pond.

“Ee-yow!” I yelped.

I’m sorry, I have a cold hand because it wasn’t under the blankets. Here, is this one better?”

It was, so I never did find out where the hovercraft was taking us until we docked. In fact, not even then.

The man in the captain’s uniform seeing us off as we disembarked was obviously an impostor. His bushy white mustache was glued on, and the medals were pinned to the wrong side of his jacket. Cleopatra interposed herself as we passed him, preventing me from unmasking him and pummeling him until I broke his collarbone or he confessed and told us who put him up to it, whichever came first. (More likely both.)

“He’s a spy from the navy — England’s far-reaching navy — and he doesn’t know who I am,” Cleopatra whispered. “You, maybe. I couldn’t tell if he recognized you or not.”

“Where are we?”

“Someplace I never thought I’d return to,” she sighed. “Last time I was here, I was barely nine weeks pregnant. Pregnant with foolish dreams and naive idealism, but still in the first trimester.

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I Stood in the Prow

  • by jenAnswer: Not much.
  • blocked nearly all the sunlight
  • desperately tired of seeing naked shoes
  • Welcome to… Aberdeen
  • ice skating on the frog pond

Tune in next time part 227                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

I stood in the prow of the locust until it slowly became a hovercraft and I realized that I had been hallucinating. I asked Cleopatra how much sense I had been making. Answer: Not much.

We were in the middle of the ocean, zipping along in a cloud of spray that blocked nearly all the sunlight. There wasn’t much to look at, but that was actually a relief because I was desperately tired of seeing naked shoes on people’s hands and overdressed fish circling their heads.

Cleopatra coaxed me away from the railing and we went to the cafeteria. She bought me a huge plate of non-psychoactive haggis and said, “Welcome to… Aberdeen.” Then she made me eat the whole thing and wash it down with a glass of peaty scotch. She meanwhile enjoyed a BLT and a coke.

After our meal we still had many hours to kill before our hovercraft would deliver us to our destination. Cleopatra had reserved a cabin for us, so we went there and I showed her a sex position that came to me during my mushroom trip, something that I could only describe as “ice skating on the frog pond.” Her prosthetic butt will never be the same.

I still didn’t fully trust her, but I needed her to think I did.

In the afterglow I said, “So where is this hovercraft taking us?”

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Write Like Your Parents Will Never Read It

… But, um, they probably will.

It all depends on your subject matter, and on your parents. In our case, with books featuring so much vivid sex, profanity, violence, drug use, and trashing of religion, we felt pretty confident encouraging our moms not to read our stuff. (That didn’t work. It probably never does.)

Despite all our subtle warnings, our moms still wanted to read the books. So, we had to hand them over. Jen told her mom, “Kent wrote all the yucky parts,” and Kent told his mom to blame those sections on Jen.

The weirdest thing happened. Our moms liked the books.

Sure, they sort of have to. It’s in the mom job description. Of course they’re proud of us as writers. But we knew — or thought we knew — that our content wouldn’t be to their tastes. First of all, they don’t read much science fiction. And as mentioned above, it’s all stuff we’d never bring up in front of them. And we surely wouldn’t use such caustic language with them. They’re our moms!

We just don’t quite know how to process all this, and we probably never will. Happy to have happy readers? Absolutely. Glad not to have upset our moms? You bet! Wondering how well we really know these women? Little bit.

Having a writing partner means being able to disavow the parts your mom doesn’t like.

A Handful of Mushrooms

  • by Kentdozens of nails
  • impromptu vacations and picnics in the park
  • “Let us go and present ourselves to be killed.”
  • eventually they finished eating
  • my temples throbbing with excitement

Tune in next time part 226                           Click Here for Earlier Installments

A handful of mushrooms was more effective as an appetizer than a snack, but it was certainly better than nothing. I worried that the employees would be upset about me taking some without paying, but they just smiled.

I crammed the fungus into my mouth and chased after Cleopatra.

She held up one hand as I approached. She was probably checking for spies again, but I was distracted by her fingers. Each one had dozens of nails, a trait I’d failed to notice before. It was beautiful.

The stop at her apartment was very quick. Gordon kept asking to be let out of the bathroom. In Italian. Apparently Cleopatra didn’t speak Italian because she showed no sign she understood.

On our way to the hovercraft depot, we saw families of purple giraffes and levitating hippos having impromptu vacations and picnics in the park. Cleopatra was too intent on our travel plans to appreciate the scene. She was dragging me by the hand, so I pulled her to a stop and pointed out the amazing spectacle. One of the giraffes saluted me with his beer can.

“Oh shit,” Cleopatra said. “Those weren’t maitake mushrooms. Come on, we have to hurry.”

Turned out that what they were calling a hovercraft was actually a giant lawnmower. Passengers disappeared into it, and since they didn’t seem afraid I decided I wasn’t either. “Let us go and present ourselves to be killed.” Cleopatra just rolled her eyes. And we survived the boarding process, so I decided I could trust her. Her butt was fake, but she was honest about everything else.

Now I realized our vessel was not a mower, but a gigantic locust. There were others like it, all grazing on the reeds by the shoreline. Eventually they finished eating and set out over the water. I stood at the bow, watching the horizon, my temples throbbing with excitement.

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