Political Notes From the South

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Political Notes from the South

Usually, I try to avoid talking about current events on this blog. They don’t have much of a place here, it only starts a lot of unpleasant arguing, and, frankly, most of them are painted in such lurid colors across the media canvas I hardly feel the need to add my own voice into the mix.

But I DO have something to say about all this Confederate Flag nonsense.

Let me start off with a little autobiography. I’m a woman, twenty seven years old. I have traveled north of the Mason-Dixon line twice in my life, and I’ve spent a total of three days–THREE days out of the roughly 9,500 I’ve been alive–outside the South. I haven’t received an especially rigorous education. My family isn’t especially progressive, or especially regressive. Nobody’s a flaming racist (well, nobody much, and certainly not me). I’ve lived a fairly normal life, for someone south of the Mason-Dixon.

I–and most of the people I know down here–think flying the Confederate Flag is pretty dumb.

I do NOT think the Confederate Flag stands for bravery, or loyalty, or anything much except a war that should’ve been over 150 years ago, and has been romanticized, perfumed, and anointed far beyond its use except as a lesson in history books, drowsed over by kids more interested in what they’re having for lunch than class content.

I do think people (individuals, please read) have the right to FLY the Confederate flag outside their own homes. I think it’s a pointless and moronic thing to do, and, yes, a racist thing to do as well. However, letting your freak flag fly is a right protected by the first amendment, as is my right to tell you you’re a moron.

But that’s all whatever. Because, in spite of some of the alarmist stuff I’ve been seeing, I don’t think anyone much is interested in repealing your first amendment rights and ‘banning’ the Confederate flag. Stores have taken it off their shelves? Well, tough, that’s their right. And what goes up in front of government buildings is a matter for the government to decide, and has no bearing on the first amendment. God, people, get it together. Not everything you dislike is an attempt to take away your freedom.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. All that shit’s been said to death, and I’m tired of all of it.

What I’m here to say–PLEASE stop assuming this nasty mess gives you the right to blanket-refer to an entire region of the country as rednecks, hillbillies, hicks, morons, undereducated, etc.

Please, Jesus.

I don’t give a shit about my ‘heritage’ as a Southerner. But that’s not what you’re attacking, when you say ‘all Southerners this’ and ‘Southerners that’–when you say those things, you’re attacking me, as a person who happens through pure accident of birth to live in the South.

I’ve seen plenty of questionably-spelled post-vomit coming from our nothern states. Plenty of racism, plenty of ugliness, plenty of stupid. I wouldn’t say you assholes up there are, en masse, any smarter than us assholes down here.

No, none of your rejects are clinging to a Confederate flag. Of course they aren’t–you guys won that war, remember? This does not, however, mean your rejects are all shining examples of human equality and compassion. They just don’t have a handy banner to unite behind for the Great Moron Crusade that is our current century.

So yeah. Flying the Confederate flag is dumb. I’m not arguing with you here. Hell, I’ll join you in calling the people who do it idiots.

However.

We’re not all racist morons. We’re not all undereducated, ignorant, inbred, potbellied, alcoholic, all those other fun labels your blowhards have been flinging like poo-laden orangutans all over the internet. As someone who’s pretty proud of her brain, seeing this blanketing happen just makes me grit my teeth.

So please. Please. Don’t lump all of us in with those flag-waving dickheads. All right? Can you do that for me?

Otherwise, I want you to take that piece of lox slathered bagel you’ve been munching and blow it out your Yankee ass.

Got it? See how not fun that is? How totally not cool? I feel a little bad for saying those things, even as an example.

However.

Call me ignorant one more time. I fucking dare you. But if you do it, here’s the deal–any arguing we do in the comments thread will be conducted in sonnet form. Petrarchan, because I hate you and want you to think better. If you get me mad enough, we’ll move to sestinas. FULL sestinas.

The first person to break meter probably fucks his own sister in the mud patch outside his doublewide. I mean, obviously. You’re from whatever arbitrary place in the world you’re from, so that’s what you’re about, right?

Writing With Emotional Immediacy

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WRITING: Emotional Immediacy All Up In Your Business

Someone–I think it was Orson Scott Card, but then again, I always think it was Orson Scott Card–once said this: don’t tell your readers about the apocalypse. Tell them about a pair of child’s sneakers hanging from a telephone wire.

Yes, it’s good show vs. tell and all that writer-writer nonsense. But that’s not what he meant–at least, it’s not everything he meant.

We’re not a species made up of big-picture thinkers. Life is overwhelming, and so are some of the things that happen in it–when a person talks about justice, for instance, the inevitably give you an example of what justice is. Justice is a criminal going to jail for a crime, a police officer getting indicted for shooting an unarmed citizen, your stepsister dropping the remote she just stole from you in the fishbowl and shorting it out. Take your pick.

But we’re not built to look at justice and automatically get it. The one word, ‘justice’, isn’t going to bring a tear to anyone’s eye. On the other hand, the story of a man wrongfully held on death row for fifteen years for the slaying of three people he never even saw might–the story of his first day out of prison, the sun shining, the daughter of one of his supposed victims waiting at the door, all grown up now and smiling, to take him home. Maybe she always believed in him–maybe she cried when they sentenced him, standing beside her grey-faced and livid-lipped father in the courtroom.

That’s a story that might inspire some emotion. And it’s a story about justice and forgiveness–the need for it, the lack of it, the way you can sometimes find it in the strangest of places. (Does the father ever forgive him? Does he meet them at an Applebee’s and buy our ex-con a steak? Do his hands tremble when he pays the tab?) And the smaller you go with the details–the father’s shaking hands, the daughter’s floral perfume, the way the ex-con eats, as though he were still hunched over a prison trencher, one arm around his plate–the more affecting the story will be.

It wasn’t too long ago, after all, that the only other people most of us would ever know were the folks around us in the village, maybe a feudal lord up in the manor, a priest in the village church. We’re social creatures, and we care about those we know better. So give us somebody to know. Give us something to care about.

Don’t think of it as show vs. tell. That gives it all the immediacy of a Tuesday in grade school. Think of it, instead, as a sort of emotional deconstruction–don’t write a story about the horrors of war, write a story about Private Will Henckels, nineteen years old, whose mother stitched his name in every pair of his underwear in bright red thread, so he’d be able to tell which pair was his on even the darkest corner of the front. Write a story about the Iowa State science fair, in which he won second place last year for a project about talking to plants. And then write a story about the bullet that went through Private Henckels and the moment he woke up in a hospital bed, went to scratch an itch on his left leg, and realized that leg wasn’t there any more.

We can’t deal with tragedy head-on. We don’t know how to respond to the deaths of innocent people, mass murder, genocide. We all know these things are wrong, but what can we do about it, other than say what we all know?

Think about the times someone close to you has had a beloved family member die. Not a lot to say about it, is there? Just ‘I’m sorry for your loss’. And you both stand there for a minute. And you know what’s happened. You know there’s a corpse in a coffin in the next room. But you don’t talk about it.

You just stand there.

But as a writer, you can’t just stand there. You’ve got a story to move forward. So you talk about the drapes. You talk about your wife sending an arrangement, taking what felt like five years to research what flowers were appropriate for a funeral.

You don’t talk about the senseless deaths of nine people, gunned down in a church while worshipping. You don’t talk about the young man who shot them, whose eyes are cold and flat, and whose manifesto is terrifying.

You talk, instead, about a flag. You talk about a symbol of racism and hatred and a bygone era. You do this because the real thing–the deaths, the sociopath, the red raw hatred–are, in some ways, incomprehensible. You talk about something less terrible as a substitute for the great unknown, a more approachable canvas for your condemnation and horror. You talk, in short, about the symbol, because the real thing is too awful for what even I recognize are ‘mere’ words.

Is it cowardice? Is it distraction? Or is it just what we are, how we are?

At the funeral, you utter a few pat phrases of comfort, and you stand there.

Then you talk about the drapes. 

What’s Up With Me III

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What’s Up With Me, III

It’s time for another all-encompassing ‘what I’m doing’ sort of post.

Obviously, the answer right now is typing.

Anyway.

I have new and exciting crap to tell you about my own crap, which you hopefully read. While I know this post will leave you with a spring in your step and the tender refrains of love music by lute echoing in your ears, please, try and contain your joy until I’m done typing. Really. I hate it when dreams soar prematurely.

1) The King’s Might
My Aurian and Jin unrelated novel, The King’s Might, will be out 7/21/15. Will you like it? I bet you will. It’s more serious than A&J, and far grimmer, which people seem to like, for some reason I don’t completely understand. It’s also about princes, which people also seem to like.

Oh, and one other thing. It’s going to be free.

Yes, you read that right. PERMANENTLY FREE OH SWEET BABY JESUS LOVEJOY JUMBLEBUBBLES. So even if you don’t like it, you haven’t lost a fucking thing, honey. (There will be a post in not too long about my decision to do this, and why I’d do such a silly thing. It’ll be edumacational.)

2) Bonemaker
I wrote another novelette. Sorry, I can’t seem to stop doing it for some reason. It’s about Morda the Bonemaker, and his time as a child in the Joyous Wood. I’m still trying to decide what to do with it, but hell, it’s there. I have this vague plan where I do a few of them–I had a great idea for one about the making of the Sundering Sword–and maybe do a little compilation bookthing. But I don’t know. Just in the throwing-stuff-around phase on this one.

3) Dehydrator.
I haven’t talked about this enough yet. You know what’s surprisingly delicious? Cucumber chips. Put a little salt and vinegar on those bad boys, a light dusting of chili powder, let ’em dehydrate for fifty years or however long it takes where you are. SO TASTY.
Anyway. Lemme try this again.

3) Aurian and Jin.
I’m going to start running free sales on the ol’ A&J through Amazon once more. The first one of these, for one day only, is this weekend: Saturday, June 28th, 2015. I’m hoping to get a few more reviews in time for Little Bird’s release this September, so, you know, buy my stuff and whatnot. (The Antidote will not be free. Because, come on, it’s ninety-nine cents. If you’re that bad off and you want to read it anyway, contact me and I’ll damn well buy it for you.)

4) What the hell should I do next?
I’m going to stick a poll in this post to ask YOU, buddy. Because I’ve got like twenty thousand things going right now, and, while I’ll probably finish at least half of them, I’m curious as to which ones you guys want me to finish FIRST. I like to feel important and liked. Or, well. Important, at least.

And I like to do things for you guys. And about the only thing I’m good at other than writing is baking, which doesn’t transfer to the internets too well. So, tell me what to write and I’ll do it.

A note: all of these projects now have at least 10,000 words on ’em, which is about where something has to be for me to be fairly sure I’m going to finish it.

1) Things That Go Bump In The Night
2) Night Shift
3) Balancer
4) Hesperides
5) The Apple and the Tree

WRITING: Words and Their Stereotypes

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The Right Words: All Words Are Not Created Equal

Good morning, blog children! (Or, via the movie O Brother! Where Art Thou…Soggy Bloggum Boys. I think you guys are going to be the Soggy Bloggum Boys from now on).

You might be wondering where I went yesterday. I feel I owe you a simple answer before I proceed, and it IS a simple answer.

It was mah berfday. Therefore: I was busy drinking and opening presents and being twenty seven. Sorry about that. Kind of. (I got a dehydrator. Have I mentioned I got a dehydrator yet?)

Anyway. On to writing stuff.

This is a short but important post, and it’s about word choice. Specifically, it’s about word choice and extreme prejudice.

You see, kiddos. Not all words are created equal.

You’ve seen the lists, just like I have. 200 Other Words to Use in Place of ‘Said’. 50 Words to Substitute for ‘Went’. Four Billion Things To Desperately Grasp For When Your Ass Means ‘Was’, But Is Too Afraid of Looking Unwriterly to Use It.

Unsurprisingly, these lists are another thing in the long line of writing aids and advice I just don’t agree with. Because, again, not all words are created equal. Not all words, in short, that have the same rough approximate meaning as ‘said’ mean ‘said’. (Also, if your vocabulary is good enough, you don’t need a list. And you’ve all seen my posts about building a good vocabulary.)

This is especially true in dialogue. Words bring their own history with them, their own stereotypes, their own flavor. If you ever don’t believe me on that, just think about the power ‘bad words’ have in our society–think about the difference between calling an American of African descent a black person, an African American, or the n word (which is one curse word, ladies and gents, you will never see me use here). All three of these terms technically could refer to the same person. One of them is unspeakable, and why?

Because of its history. Because of the way we look at that word, the emotions it triggers. The person who uses the last term in speech is probably a white supremacist and an asshole, and you’d NEVER substitute that word for one of the other two just because it ‘has the same approximate meaning’ (or I hope you wouldn’t. Jesus.). I leave the other two up to you, but you get my point. Think about that, briefly, next time you’re debating the difference between perambulating, strolling, and just plain walking. What does each of those words bring to the table? What sort of person can you picture using each of those words?

The fact is, my writerly ladies and gents: no matter how liberal and free-thinking you otherwise are, when you’re writing, you are inextricably bound to the stereotypes of words. You have, after all, no other medium in which to influence your reader, no pictures in which to show your story, no chance of bringing the reader by for a cup of coffee over which she can meet up with your character and get to know him a little better. If you use ‘stroll’ instead of ‘walk’, your reader has to make snap judgements based on the fact that this person is strolling rather than walking or plodding or shuffling, because, for the moment, that is the only thing he or she knows.

So, instead of being a git and bemoaning your inability to take back the word ‘perambulate’, work within the boundaries of your goddamn craft.

Your character should only be strolling along if he or she is actually strolling along. If he or she is walking, just let the poor bastard walk. Don’t try to change it because you’re worried the word is overused, or isn’t fancy enough, or wouldn’t pass the rapier wit test at your best friend’s ironic teatime soirees (your friends don’t have these? Jeez, what kinds of friends do you have?).

To prove my point, I’m going to give you two shorts lists of words. I want you to picture the person using each of these words, and the people the word is used to describe. You’ll notice the picture is very different for each word, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well, I don’t particularly care. Because words are what you’ve got, and you need to use them with excercises like this in mind.

1) A group of people, also known as–
*friends
*peeps
*associates
*fellows
*homies
*bros
*gals (or guys)
*companions
*cats
*the crew

2) An attractive woman, who could also be described as–
*lovely
*hot
*sexy
*pulchritudinous
*delightful
*pretty
*handsome
*svelte
*fine

You seeing what I mean yet?

Don’t let your only reason for using a word be because it’s unusual, or because you’ve used another word too much. Each word brings with it a very specific visual image, of both the object described and your POV character. A person who thinks of an attractive woman as ‘hot’ is a very different person from the one who thinks of her as ‘pulchritudinous’, and the woman you picture is very different, too.

So I’m begging you. Don’t change your wording without a good goddamn plan, and certainly not because some list of five million alternatives for ‘went’ tells you to. Change it, always, with the reader in mind, and with an eye for the atmosphere you’re trying to create.

Otherwise, all that time you spent trying not to use the same speech tag twice in a novel will certainly be noticed, because it isn’t natural and it doesn’t flow naturally. And, trust me, the last thing you want is for the devices of your story to be noticed over the actual story. It’s like putting a picture in a frame that doesn’t fit.

WRITING: Clear, Uncluttered Prose

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WRITING: Clear, Uncluttered Prose

Item one: if you’re calling it prose, my bet is on it being neither clear nor uncluttered.

Anyway.

We’re going to do this one by example, because I think it’s the best way to get the point across. So here goes.

Somewhere in the sky over Dallas, a blue red-breasted bird chirped from time to time.

1) In the sky. This is a bird. When we picture birds, they’re in the sky. No need to specify that here.

2) A blue red-breasted bird. There are a few ways of dealing with this. One would be to scrap adjectives altogether and just call a bird a bird. However–does the reader need to know that this bird is blue and red-breasted? If they do, do a little research. Google ‘blue-red breasted bird’. Oh, hey, look at those results–a bluebird is blue and red-breasted. Most people know that. You can just call it a bluebird, and provide absolutely as much description in a much smaller wordcount.

A note here–this is why it’s crucial for a writer to have a good working vocabulary. Why say ‘he walked to the store in a loose and blubbery fashion’ when you can say ‘he walked to the store, jiggling’? Or, even better– ‘he wobbled to the store’?

Now, mind you. There are times, especially in humor, where ‘a loose and blubbery fashion’ fits perfectly. But if you’re not going for special writerly effects, and you just need to provide information, the fewer words you do it in, the better it sinks in.

3) From time to time. Okay. I ask, again–is this need-to-know information? Basically–is it important that the reader understands, in this very sentence, that this bird not only chirps once, but repeatedly, at unspecified and probably not regular times?

If it is–take a deep breath here–I’d recommend an adverb.

What? You ask, monocle askew. But adverbs are the great Satan! They’re the devil standing in the way of a peaceful society! They murdered my mother!

Well, I’ll ask you how that happened later, for sure. That ly combination is pretty pointy, but rarely ends in death for those involved. However, let me take a moment to broadcast some unavoidable truth in your general vicinity, like a homeless guy passing gas on a city bus:

Adverbs exist for a reason.

Should you use a ton of them? No. Moderation in all things. But when you have a situation like this, where you have a piece of information that needs to be imparted and the alternative is a long and overused modifying phrase, reach for intermittently, or periodically.

Have some care, of course, in how you deploy them. Some of these little parachuters have been on one too many drops, and we’re so sick of them we’d be more than happy to blow them out of the sky. ‘Occasionally’, which it might occur to you to use here, is one of them.

So, when faced with the unavoidable adverb, go fancy. Intermittently or periodically say the same damn thing, with a little less common wear. I might even take a stab at using ‘infrequently’, but I don’t think I would here–infrequently, after all, puts the emphasis on the bird not chirping more often than otherwise, and therefore doesn’t mean quite the same thing.

Our fixed up sentence is, therefore,

Somewhere over Dallas, a bluebird chirped intermittently.

Which is a lot shorter, more direct, and better. And, yes, I itch to strike that ‘intermittently’ too, but you need to know what you need to know. So. You’re welcome.

But here’s the thing, kiddos. You’ve all heard this before. Practically every craft blog on the interwebs has a section on prose clarity, and many of them are much more comprehensive than mine.

What I want to do is, actually, call attention to a phrase I used throughout this little experiment: what does the reader need to know?

People are remarkably imaginative. They’re more than willing to fill informational gaps with information of their own choosing. For instance, if you asked ten different people to draw you a picture of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, you’d get ten very different portraits, even though he’s well-described in the course of the novel. You’d probably get messy clothes and shining crazy eyes in every one–well, an attempt at them, at least–because these things are vital elements of the man’s character. But the little details, well. People are happy enough to imagine.
This is because they don’t really matter.

Whether your character is blonde or brunette, green eyed or brown, tall or short, lanky or plump–unless these things are also a part of this character’s personality, their page presence (like that one?), they aren’t important.

So if you’ve been indulging yourself in the little things, it’s time to diet. See how much you can convey through simple nouns and verbs, scene setting and character interaction. A call for minimalism should never be a call for lost detail, but a call for detail more carefully sown. After all:

Why waste time describing every map section of Hogwarts when you can describe the teachers and students, and the things they do and interact with? JK Rowling told you more about Hogwarts with her moving portraits and magical candies than she ever did actually talking about Hogwarts. Take a lesson from her.

Leaving you now with a list of modifiers I’m sick of seeing, and ways to say the same thing more prettily:

1) Often. I’m sick of often. Instead, try frequently or commonly, if you must at all.
2) Nearly. This is a hard one, along with its evil twin, almost. The best thing I can say here is just try not to use them. If you’re nearly blind, then what the hell are you? Nearsighted or farsighted, maybe. Purblind. Just like if you’re nearly asleep, you’re probably dozing or snoozing. Flex those vocabulary muscles, boys n’ girls.
3) Rarely. Again–if you rarely participate, what are you actually doing? Lurking, possibly? Skulking?

Remember–the more modifiers you use, the more modified your writing is. And nobody likes modified. We paid for the good stuff, don’t water it the fuck down.

Much love.

Writing: Fun Words

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WRITING: Fun Words For You And Your Family

I’ve been on a kick lately. No, I’m not sure what kind of kick, and no, I don’t know if that’s a proper use of that phrase at all.

But here lately, I’ve been super into writing down words I don’t know and find interesting. There are a lot of ’em, buddy. I’m going to give you some of my words–which, I know, is technically what I do every time I sit down to write a blog–but these words are awesome words, so that has to count for something.

Go on. Use them in a sentence. Impress your family and friends. Or, even better–use them all in the same sentence. If you post it here, you’ll have my mad respect, which isn’t worth a lot of money, but might make you feel better.

I’m going to even be so bold as to propose something (not marriage, don’t get your heart set). Maybe you should write down words you don’t know for a week, and write a similar post. We can all share words. It’ll be like a giant word-sharing orgy up in here. Our critics may call us shameless and dissolute, but it’ll be okay, because we’ll know what that means.

This is the part where I’d usually talk briefly about how important a good vocabulary is for a writer, but hell. If you don’t know that already, why are you writing? Let’s just get to the good stuff and lookit some words. If you guys like this enough, maybe I’ll make it a once a week thing. I could use the practice too.

Jejune (learn all about the controversy here).
Megrims
Pettifogger
Suppurate
Cadaverine–yes, there’s a word for this.
Sybarite
Karoshi
Hexerei–this is one of those fun Pennsylvania Dutch words.
Haruspex–disturbingly, this is a word I’ve needed several times in my life, but never known…
Solander–yes, there is a word for these damn things. Every time I see them in a home goods store, a part of me wants to go ‘fuck you guys, that isn’t a real book.’

BECAUSE WORDS.

I should note–I don’t give two shits about using the best dictionary ever. I want to know what a word means, not whether or not you approve of dictionary.com.

WRITING: You and Your Vampire Novel

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Vampire Fiction: A Semi-Authoritative Guide

I wanted to take a minute to talk about vampires.

Some of you are already groaning. You’re thinking of Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Anne Rice if you’re my age. You’re thinking of Love That Never Dies, brooding-handsome guys with pale skin and strangely chiseled abs, Darke Perfektionne, ineptly written historical romance (vampire hunters in 1700, one of whom is a beautiful seventeen year old girl for some reason, have black powder guns that fire multiple rounds. What?). You probably have your own opinions on whether or not literary vampires should drink human blood and kill people or not (my answer: modern day, probably not. Do you know how hard it would be to kill that many people and not get caught doing it? I don’t care if you’re a vampire or the king of freaking Monaco, it’s a different kind of story, the story of a fugitive, if your vampire kills a lot of people.)

And you’re fixing to vomit all over your laptop keyboard just because I’m bringing all this up. Hey, I get it. Most of it, I have that gut reaction too. I don’t buy into the mystery and romance element of the vampire myth. Nothing bores me quite like the thought of immortal perfection–and, frankly, this thought has produced some of the most laughably bad writing in the history of horror (if it can even be called horror, when nothing horrible happens). The idea of Vampire Romance–of a handsome man eternally handsome, eternally the same, who never goes grey or gets fat or starts preferring the Pats game at the bar to your company–is wish-fulfillment fantasy, territory best governed by teenaged girls and unsatisfied wives from all walks of life.

I know, I know. I just made some enemies. Whatever. This has all been said before.

My point is, in spite of all the dirt that’s been thrown on it, there is serious literary potential in the vampire mythos. Even, perhaps, in its wish-fulfillment element–even I’ll concede there’s something powerful about the idea of Love Eternal, Love Unchanging.

But the most powerful thing might be the essential wrongness of the vampire–a creature that sleeps through the day, stays awake all night, scorns regular food and feasts on the blood of other human beings. A vampire is, essentially, an anti-human in a human body–a creature at irreconcilable odds with the rest of the human race. If you’ve ever worked a night shift, you understand exactly what I mean. There’s something powerfully disturbing to the human psyche about being awake when everyone else is asleep, asleep when everyone else is awake.

When you’re writing a vampire story (and this is something Anne Rice, at least, understood), you’re really writing a story about lost humanity, changed humanity. Louis or Lestat, after all, weren’t different people because they became vampires–they were the same people, the same personality types, only changed and warped by the necessities of their new identities. And, little though I like a lot of Anne Rice’s books, I think this is the right question to ask, if you’re writing about vampires:

How does being a vampire change this person (and his or her day to day life?)

On the most superficial level, think about this stuff:

1) This person can only go out at night. Where do they work? How do they work?
2) This person is immortal. How do they continue to get a driver’s license, SSN, etc.?
3) If your character doesn’t have to work, how the hell did he or she get so much money operating only at night?
4) For that matter–how the fuck does this person BANK? It’s a little easier now than it would’ve been forty years ago, sure–but he was probably alive back then too. How did he manage it then?
4) This person’s been around for a while, eh? How does firsthand knowledge of the past affect his or her view of the present?
5) If we’re sucking the blood from a lot of people, how’re we doing this without police getting involved?

These are basic vampire character questions. Superficial? Maybe. But here’s the thing about superficiality, kids. If you don’t have your ‘superficial’ bases covered and believable, what the fuck else do you have? The definition of ‘realistic’ should be something along the lines of ‘handles the annoying small questions in a way acceptable to the reader’. And if you’re writing about Dracula and Co., you want a little realistic in your story structure.

I know. It sucks having to deal with these questions. But they’re the questions your readers are wondering about. I know I never read Interview With the Vampire without wondering what bank these vampires went to. So, if you’re writing the next generation of Fanged Fantasy, do me the favor of leaving off talking about Benny the Bloodthirsty’s amaaaaazing amber eyes for long enough to deal with his property taxes, or at least how the fuck he affords his house.

I’m writing a vampire story. It’s, unsurprisingly, humorous. If you haven’t read it yet, here are the first few installments:

ONE: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/excerpt-things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/
TWO: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night-some-more/
THREE: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/excerpt-all-these-things-just-keep-on-going-bump-in-the-night/
FOUR: https://pisscoffeeandvinegar.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/its-night-time-and-things-keep-on-bumping/

Liebster Awards

Ohhh, boy. The Liebsters.

The idea, basically, is: answer eleven questions, nominate eleven (!) people, ask eleven questions for those people to answer. Here we go.

I got nominated by two great guys, with two great writing blogs: Gabe, over here at Gabriel to Earth, and Dave, over this way at On Writing Dragons. I’m going to answer both sets of questions, because it occurred to me: I NEVER talk about myself on here. At least, when I’m not puking in the street somewhere, or cooking something particularly tasty. So I want this to be a sort of introductory post to me, as well.

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This is me, today, shitty hair and all. Fuck pretty. Fuck it so hard.

Hi.

My name is Emily. I’m twenty six years old, very short, and slightly plump. I have a magician boyfriend, I’m struggling with a coffee addiction, and I write sweet gumdrop fantasy stories about people getting drunk and putting poles through livestock. My job is arts-related, and because of this I’ve more or less stopped painting in entirety. If you met me on the street, you’d probably look right past me.

That’s okay. I’d probably look right past you too. Because, you know, I don’t know what you look like.

My hobbies include cooking, drawing, reading, word collecting, thrift store diving, frame restoration, singing quietly to myself in the shower, making horrible puns, thinking about exercising and then deciding not to, and recreational drinking, which, really, should be the only kind. I’m decent at beer pong. I dropped out of college in my junior year, and love it when people make quiet tsking sounds and judge me about it, because then I get to smile sweetly and ask how long it’s going to be until their loans are paid off.

Now that you’ve had some information about me dumped into your laps, back to the Liebs.

I’m gonna start by saying something similar to Gabe: I don’t usually do these. They do have a whiff of the chain letter about them. And I’ll be straight up honest: most of the people I’d recommend have already been recommended. (Two of them, as it happens, nominated me). So my nominee list is a little shorter than most and consists of two people:

Nominees

1) Chris, over at Modern Fantastic. Because I miss you, buddy. And maybe if you get some prompts in you you’ll write a new damn blog. 😛
2) Allison, who wrote this wonderful mystery novel, over here, called The Fourth Descendant. Because these eleven questions are going to be all writing, and you might enjoy them.

Everybody else who reads me frequently, and who I read: if you wanna answer them, consider yourself nominated, even though you already have been. 🙂

Questions:
1) Why do you blog/write?
2) What keeps you from enjoying a book?
3) What does writing mean to you? Is it escape, release, a way of thinking on paper, a way of reaching/teaching others, etc?
4) What made you decide to write the last thing you wrote?
5) What makes it difficult for you to write?
6) Are there any themes that keep cropping up in your stories? If so, do tell.
7) What would you want to hear someone say MOST about your writing?
8) How private do you keep your writing? Do your friends/coworkers/families know you write?
9) Stealing one from Dave here. What would be your perfect job?
10) Do you have any writing rituals? Anywhere you particularly need to be, music you need to hear, food you need to eat, etc? What do you write on?
11) Favorite words?

GABE:

1) Why do you blog? Because the internets told me I needed to blog to sell books, mostly.
2) Favorite music? First wave, post, and old school punk. Some metal, trance, bluegrass and folk. And, okay. Let’s be honest here. Justin Timberlake. I don’t know WHY the hell I love Justin Timberlake. But I do.
3) What would be your perfect day? After waking from a night of restful sleep in my Roman villa, I would retire to the soothing pastoral atmosphere of Pompeii or Herculaneum to enjoy  political discussion and cheeky verse over a magnificent cena with my very bestest of Roman statesman buddies. We’ll have multiple meats and elaborate clothing and generally enjoy our vaccuous and sybaritic existence, screw sumptuary laws.
Realistically? You mean ‘realistically’ DOESN’T involve lark’s tongue and positive auguries?
4) If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland, honestly–from pictures it looks like the most beautiful place on earth. However, I recognize that I am a total sissy when it comes to cold, and that this is an issue, as the places I most want to go–Greenland, Antarctica, Finland, Western Russia–are, one and all, ridiculously freaking cold. So I’ll settle for Thailand or Tokyo, Japan.
5) Favorite author? This is one of those lemme give you a list types of questions. I’m a big fan of Ursula K. Leguin, Russell Banks, Terry Pratchett, Nikolai Gogol, Wilkie Collins, Lev Grossman.
6) Coke or Pepsi? I’m a Dr. Pepper girl, at heart.
7) What is your favorite historical time period? Another toughie. I’ve always had a deep love of Imperial Rome, particularly the Julio-Claudian dynastic era (I’m a nut for Suetonius). I’ve been recently working on a fondness for the Victorian Era as well–I think we take the popular ‘repressed’ definition of it too much from Freud, and a lot of the stuff that happened in there is a result of the world changing too quickly for our values and societal conventions to keep up. Things like The Great Stink happen. And you guys know how I feel about The Great Stink.
8) Read on a Kindle or paperback book? Kindle all the way. I have my Kindle with me constantly, and it’s nice to know that, if I finish a book somewhere out and about, I can just start another one willy-nilly without looking like a crazy booked-up bag lady.
9) Who would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island? My Kindle, a charger, and a single source of electricity. If I have to slowly starve to death, my body turned to fruit leather consistency by heat and dehydration, I’d like to at least have some time to read.
10) Favorite color? Yellow. Because I’m cheerful.
11) What do you hope people get out of your blog? A new appreciation and worship for myself as a minor household goddess.
Just kidding. Well, kind of kidding. I mean, let’s face it, most people blog secretly in the hopes someone will see their blog and just be floored by JEANEEYUS. There needs to be a word for ‘honesty so uncomfortably direct it’s a joke’. Here, I’ll make one up for you. Forthwrongfulness. There you go.

DAVE:
2) What is one of your core values? I aim for delicate honesty. I want to tell the truth–lies irritate me–but I want it to be pretty truth, and I want the metaphors of my truth to carry all the way through the story.
3) If you could work anywhere, where would that be? I just saw a show about a guy who makes knives in his own little forge. I could totally do that. I imagine it’s immensely satisfying.
4) If you had the opportunity to ask 1 question of any author who ever lived, who would you ask, and what would your question be? I actually wouldn’t do this. I think it’s better not to know the answers from the horse’s mouth. If a book makes you think, that’s what it’s supposed to do.
5) What inspires you? Random things. Little bits and pieces. I saw a clip of a woman on a talent show balancing an incredible amount of sticks on one finger, and The Balancer was born. A scene in Little Bird involving bogs came from the taste of Laphroaig scotch. I had a dream about a bush made out of grasping hands and I wrote an (admittedly, shitty) story about it. Long story short, it’s the little things, and mulling them over for a day or two.
6) If you were to be remembered in this world from 1 piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t let someone else’s bullshit stop you from being yourself, or being happy with yourself.
7) Favorite beverage? I’ve been trying to cut down on the coffee here lately. It’s made me a sad, sad shell of a human being.
8) Do you have a favorite font? Baskerville, but I go sans serif for headlines and bold writing. I’m tired of seeing Papyrus. Please, please, please, people. Stop using Papyrus. It’s sooooo early 2000s.
9) How do you deal with rejection? Poorly. I admit freely to being a sensitive little turd, and recognizing that the heaps of fecal matter that make up my consciousness shiver and tremble with the thought of rejection. This is, being honest, probably the real reason I self-publish.
Seriously. I don’t even like not being invited to parties. But, as a grown-up, I try and keep it within the bounds of human decency by not talking about it, ever.
Except right now.
…shit. I talked about it.
10) What is your current or most recent project? Hahahaha. Oh. This is a bucket full of teehees. Here’s the list:
1) Death Dealer, the third book in the Sundering Trilogy, begun with Aurian and Jin.
2) Things That Go Bump in the Night, that story about vampires and poltergeist dads and stuff.
3) The King’s Might, which I’m releasing pretty soon here, btw.
4) The Balancer, a story about Riftings and Skylings and people who capture dreams and stuff.
5) The Apple and the Tree, which is about magicians and alchemy and good old fashioned Southern Gothic family twisties. Learned a lot about alchemy for this, more or less have to finish it or discover the Philosopher’s Stone, one or the other.
6) Hesperides, a story of Erasure.
That’s everything I’ve got 30+ pages on in Word, and thus plan to finish. I’ve got a few Aurian and Jin related shorts I’m kicking around, but you know how it goes with those.
11) What do you hope people will get out of your blog? I’m doing this one twice because there’s two answers. The first is the above flippant one. The second is this:

I hope somebody benefits from my advice, my strengths, and my mistakes. I’m not a Pulitzer prize winning variety of writer, but I’m damn clever and the words flow pretty fast for me, so maybe I’ve got something somewhere that can help somebody, right?

The compliments that I like to hear most lean more towards ‘helpful’ or ‘insightful’ than ‘I agree’. I don’t particularly care if anyone agrees with me, but I’d like to make people think a little more about ‘The Craft’ (hurrhurrhurrimportantlaughterfancymoustache) and go beyond easily uttered writing axioms and governable ‘make yourself a better writer’ territory. I think that, rather than easy tips and tricks, a writer should search out open-ended advice that begs the question ‘will this work with what I do?’ rather than ‘am I doing what I’m already doing right?’.

‘Cos here’s the thing, see: you’re doing what you’re doing, and it’s not going to get any wronger or righter whether you add an adverb into it or cut it loose. Your style is your style, and your choices your choices, and you need to figure out how to make what you’ve got work for you and not the other way around.

Also, recipes.

Writing: The Life Illiterate

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Writing: The Life Illiterate

Hello. My name is Emily. Occasionally, I do things other than write.

Shocking, I know! Even when I don’t have to do these things. Even when they’re not particularly tempting things.

Sometimes, I would rather play Piano Keys than write. Sometimes, I would rather stare at my Facebook news feed with my eyes unfocused than write. Sometimes, I would rather look at long lists of vapid celebrity gossip (27 Ways You’ve Never Seen Taylor Swift’s Hair Look Before! 19 Glorious Golden-Skinned Teenaged Actresses to Judge Yourself Against!) than write. And I hate celebrity gossip. Unless it’s about me. Which it never is.

Sometimes I come home from work–a day that, plus travel time, often runs twelve hours–and I am so brain-numb, so skull-fucked, so thought-fried, that the only thing I want to do is lie down in bed, pick out constellations in the popcorn ceiling, and never think about anything ever again. I frequently get less than five hours of sleep at night. Do you know what it’s like to be away from the house for twelve hours, come home at eight, clean up last night’s mess AND cook tonight’s dinner, with the full knowledge you’re going to lather/rinse/repeat this cycle five days this week, and fit some other stuff in there too?

You probably do know. You probably do it too. My story isn’t self-pity sob-sob, it’s classic Americana at this point in the economy.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it happens to everybody. And, while I am firmly of the sit your ass down and write school of literary craftsmanship, the fact remains–sometimes, you just don’t feel like it.

And I think we need to talk about this, too. Because, if you believed every blog you read, it would look like most of us were writing automatons, able to ignore the pressures of day to day life and ART CONSTANTLY, dammit.

And it isn’t true. It just isn’t. Sometimes, you don’t want to write. You don’t want to read. You don’t want to do something particularly literary and constructive with your time, even though you usually enjoy literary and constructive things. I’ve had entire days–days–where I did nothing, accomplished nothing, wrote nothing, talked to no one, ordered pizza for dinner.

They were awesome. Fucking. Days.

My point is: everyone needs some time off. Not just from work, but from writing. From being the upper-class literary butterfly we all know you are. And on those days, cutesily though you might protest, you’re glad you didn’t get anything done. You might tweet about it the next day with dramatic sadness (‘totes unproductive today!!! #frownyface #writerslife’), but deep down inside, you know you needed that time and you’re fucking glad. You enjoyed yourself.

I’m a fairly prolific writer. I usually write two to three thousand words a day, though this number is hard to judge, as I never look at my word count. I flatter myself I’m fairly good. I’ve read all the right literary books and hold with all the proper literary opinions.

But fuck that. Because, sometimes, you need a break.

Does my 2-3 K wordcount make me any more of a writer than someone who gets down eighty words a day? No, it doesn’t. Hell no. Let’s face it, ain’t none of us doing this for a living.

Does it make me more of a writer than someone who hasn’t picked up a pen in two years?

This is where people get shirty. Because I say yes, it does.

I’ve made it a priority. It’s slightly more groundshaking on the Richter scale of my existence than getting eight hours of sleep, but less than getting six hours (we fight for those six hours, baby). I squeeze it in. I’ve made sacrifices for it. It’s part of me, and a part that matters enough to make time for.

But even I, like I said, need a break every once in a while.

Enough with this fabricated pre-packaged pablum that is ‘the literary life’. Enough with trying to sell ourselves the story of our own greatness, our own literary involvement, our own Byronic wit. Enough with the self-branding, the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman bullshit, the idea that anybody, anybody, takes a writer without a six-figure book deal seriously as a literary fountainhead.

You’re a person who likes to write sometimes. You do it well, or poorly, or some combination of both.

And then, sometimes, you go out to a club, drink something pink called a Fuck It Bucket, and shake your ass to some Pitbull. Sometimes you buy groceries with coupons and haggle with the cashier over clearance gravy mix, prefer James Patterson to James Joyce, pick up a glossy magazine, paint your toenails. Sometimes your anniversary dinner disagrees with you and you spend what should have been a love-filled night in the bathroom, your husband holding your hair while you vomit whole kernels of corn into the toilet bowl. Sometimes you get fired, and it’s totally because you did something stupid. And you never learn your lesson. In fact, you never even figure out it was your fault.

You do, in short, unliterary things. ‘Unworthy’ things. You do things which are unwriteable, things which just don’t jive with your view of yourself as a coffee-drinking, hardcover book loving, mahogany-desk owning character in the story you’ve carefully composed about your author-self.

Keep doing them.

Keep doing them because they’re you, and you need a break from the Hemingwayesque hell you’ve made for yourself.

Keep doing them because you’re a person, not a writer-character in a story.

Should you write, devote time and care to writing and getting better at writing?

God. Yes. If you haven’t gotten that by now, the answer is YES. And you should enjoy doing it. Otherwise, why are you?

But you have to do other things too, to remain sane. And, if you’re wise, you won’t be ashamed of them, because they’re a part of who you are, and a part of your writing.

It’s Night Time, And Things Keep on Bumping.

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I know, I know, It’s so CHEAP how I do these excerpts instead of writing a post when I’m tired. But I don’t want you guys to forget about me. And you seem to be enjoying this story. So. More Day Brothers for you. The story is beginning to come together, so hold on to the seat of your pants, or whatever it is you do when a story comes together.

If you missed the earlier parts, here they are:

TTGBitN I
TTGBitN II
TTGBitN III

Woo! When I do the next one, I can use a V! Excitement!

*****

“I don’t know if this is such a great idea,” Derek said, as they frantically piled the dirty dishes in the sink. “I mean, he’s a giant, and he’s got pointed teeth. Does that sound like one of the good guys, to you?”

“Of course it doesn’t. I’m not stupid, Der.”

“And the house is filthy.”

“Well, we can’t help that. As long as Dad’s around, it’s never going to be clean and we might as well not bother. Besides, Mom said to do this. And Mother,” he added gloomily, “always knows best.”

“Course she does,” Derek agreed. “It’s hard not to, when you’ve seen it all play out. But she doesn’t always mean what we think she meant, you know? Remember Alston Street?”

“Ugh,” said Deacon, finding a stash of forks in the living room with week-old mashed potatoes still clinging to the tines. “We really need to get working and clean this place for real, at some point. And yes, Derek. I remember Alston Street. But we still did exactly what Mom said, and it still worked out. Sort of.”

“I almost lost a finger.”

“Well, that’s what you get when an unquiet spirit’s throwing knives. She never said it would be easy.”

“She never does,” Derek said gloomily.

There was a thunderous rapping on the door.

“That’s him,” said Derek, shoving a dirty dish towel into the overflowing trash can. “He’s about knocked the door off.”

They left the filthy kitchen for the unswept and unmopped foyer. A vase of yellow roses, left over from Madame Day’s passing, sat calcifying on the side table, still whole under a layer of dust.

“Hmm,” their visitor said, as they both moved back to accommodate his bulk. “I take it your business doesn’t do well enough to account for maid service.”

“Yes,” Deacon said. “Well. We’ll take some tea on the porch.”

Derek led the large man back out onto the porch, and would, Deacon fervently prayed, let him have the sturdiest of the old rocking chairs. Deacon made tea in Mama Day’s old kettle and poured it into the only three clean mugs he could find. After a moment’s thought, he grabbed a box of crackers from the pantry and emptied it onto a plate.

The cabinet door, which he had left open, abruptly slammed shut. Deacon’s sixth sense began to tingle unpleasantly.

“Shit,” said Deacon.

The doors of all the cabinets began slamming shut unaided, in an odd synchronized flow of noise. One of the clean mugs lifted itself up and slammed abruptly back to the table, sloshing steaming tea all over Deacon and the newspapers piled beside him.

“Dammit, Dad,” Deacon ground out. “We have a client in the house. Stop it.”

The mug lifted up again. This time, it slammed down so hard it shattered.

“Dad,” Deacon said.

Neither Day brother knew how they knew the old house’s poltergeist was their long departed father. Maybe it was the slamming sounds he made on the staircase late at night, reminiscent of their father’s heavy tread. Maybe it was the way he had found the old box of seventies Playboys up in the attic and dumped them all over the sunroom floor.

Maybe it was the scent that lingered after his apparitions–a combination of sweat, English Leather, and drain cleaner. It was their father’s scent, a smell Deacon associated with childhood Christmases and going to the fair. With childhood.

It was not, however, something he liked associating with mischievous ectoplasmic manifestations in his own home. Especially not ones that made more of a mess than he did.

Deacon and Derek’s father had died fifteen years ago. A heart attack at night, sudden and unexpected. He’d been fairly young–only forty eight–and Deacon imagined he’d left a lot of things unsaid and undone.

Whatever he’d left unsaid and undone, however, he’d seemed perfectly fine with–at least, until Mama Day passed away. Deacon supposed he, much like his sons, had been willing to wait until the afterlife to venture forward, when the coast should’ve been clear.

The sugar bag hovered above the table.

“Don’t,” Deacon said. “Jesus. Please don’t–”

The sugar bag upended itself.

“Dammit, Dad.” He went for the broom and the dustpan.

When he came back, a single word had been traced in the sugar with an invisible finger.

DANGER.

“Huh,” said Deacon. He’d never tried communicating with it before, other than yelling when things started slamming and getting spilled. Mom had always said there was no reasoning with poltergeists, and there had never been any reasoning with Donald Day, anyway.

Maybe it was time to try.

“The man out front,” Deacon said slowly. “Is he what’s dangerous?”

There was silence in the wrecked kitchen. Deacon’s sixth sense, cultivated since toddlerhood, informed him something was waiting, gathering its strength.

Slowly, a shaky line appeared under the word DANGER.

“Should we help him? C’mon, Dad. Give me something I can use here.”

But there was no answer. The spirit, Deacon’s sixth sense informed him, was gone.

Sighing, Deacon swept up the sugar and deposited it, after some consideration of the overflowing trash recepticle, in the sink. He ran the water until it was gone, gone, gone.

He went back outside, balancing the plate of crackers on top of the two remaining mugs of tea.

To his surprise, his svelte brother and the overtattooed giant seemed to be having a pleasant conversation, sitting side by side in their rocking chairs. The giant had his phone in his hand, and was showing Derek something on it.

“Ah,” Derek said, when he saw Deacon. “There you are! Took you long enough. Pass me one of those mugs, and take a look at this. Ivan, d’you need cream or sugar?”

Ivan. Of course the seven foot tall bald man was named Ivan.

“I take it plain,” Ivan said. The man’s voice, though deep, was strangely mild, strangely cultured. “Thank you, Mr. Day.”

“Just call me Deacon,” Deacon said. “It gets confusing, otherwise.”

“Ah. Yes.” The man fiddled with his phone. ‘At any rate, Mr…Deacon. My organization and I have been in pursuit of an item wrongfully stolen from us for quite some time. We tracked it down, a few days ago, to a small independently run convenience store downtown. We sent one of our best young men to claim it. This is the video his spotter sent me of what happened.”

Deacon watched the video. He blinked, watched it again.

It made no more sense the second time around than it had the first. A middleaged woman, cheeks obviously over-rouged even in the grainy video, got out of her car in a faceless dim alley. She was carrying a lockbox under one arm. A young man–Ivan’s ‘best young man’, he assumed–approached her, holding a firearm that looked like it belonged in a dystopian science fiction flick. He gestured at her, yelled something. The woman, surprised, dropped the lockbox.

And that was where it got weird.

A door behind the woman’s car opened. The woman whirled, stared, just as though there were something in the empty doorway. She yelled something.

And then, like a cherry on the chocolate sundae of weirdness he was observing, the young man began to float a few feet in the air. He shook, dropped his weapon. Looked like he was about to beg for something.

And, promptly, imploded.

It was the only word Deacon could think of. Something blurred, violent, and too quick to see clearly happened, and then the young man started shrinking, like a sponge ball crammed into something entirely too small to hold it. His features underwent several physically impossible transitions, mouth twisted in agony, until they were at last obscured by a fine fountain of red.

In the end, there was nothing left of him but dust.

“Jesus,” Deacon whispered. “What the fuck was that?”

“Language, Mr. Day,” said the seven foot monster currently stuffed into one of his rocking chairs.

Deacon kept watching, fascinated. The woman, with shaking hands, lit a cigarette. She was talking to someone, someone it looked like she trusted.
Talking to someone who wasn’t, for all practical intents and purposes, there.

Deacon watched it one more time. On the third try, it sunk in.

“Vampires,” he breathed. “Holy…heck. You guys found a vampire.”

“You sound very surprised.”

“I am. Vampires’re tough to catch in the wild, and they generally don’t like to be found, which makes it even tougher than it is already.” Deacon paused the video at a spot where the young man was dangling in the air, feet limp, staring with eye-popped terror at something none of his observers could see. “They’re not as evil as their reputation, maybe, but they’ll fight hard to protect their privacy. I don’t mean to question your credentials, Ivan. But whatever group you’re a part of, are you sure you’re ready to mess with vampires?”

Ivan pointed to something on the screen. His finger was about as wide as the phone itself, so it was hard to make out precisely what he was pointing at.

“Erm,” said Deacon. “You might have to…narrow things down for me.”

Sighing, Ivan plucked a pen from his jacket pocket and pointed with that. It wasn’t the young man, and it wasn’t his weird gun, glinting forgotten from under a dumpster.

It was the lockbox.

“There’s something in there,” Ivan said slowly, locking eyes with each Day brother in turn. “Something extremely dangerous. I’ll admit, my dear friends, that we aren’t precisely a charitable organization–I’ll admit that my employers are far from charitable men. But the thing in this box must not find its way out into the population. Charity or no, my employers recognize full well when they are part of an ecosystem, and do not wish it to change.”

The giant’s eyes were utterly sincere. It was frightening, Deacon reflected, what fear in the eyes of a seven foot tall man could mean.

“Unfortunately,” Ivan continued, “it would be…somewhat difficult…for our men to approach this vampire, given the nature of our employment. But you, perhaps, could do it. And the vampire is not, we think, a full vampire–we think he is a fledgling, one not yet born into the full ways of the undead. We do not particularly care if he lives or dies. We only want the box.”

“Have you considered just asking him?” Derek asked. He didn’t look any happier about this than Deacon felt.

“That is,” Ivan began. Deacon got the distinct sense he wanted to finish with the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but was far too polite. “Impossible.”

“Of course,” Derek said. “You can’t ever just ask for something.”

“The thing in the box,” Deacon said slowly, ignoring his brother. “I suppose we can’t know what it is, then?”

The giant’s smile was surprisingly gentle, for a smile full of pointed teeth. “No,” he said. “It’s better, we think, if the world never knows.”

Deacon looked down at Ivan’s phone again. He had frozen the video in such a way that the young man seemed suspended in midair by a cloud of pure violence, energy and dust and gore.

He then looked up. He looked at the porch with its peeling paint, the weathered old rockers, the front door bowed half out of its lintel, its cracked panes of Victorian glass. He looked at his brother, whose sweater could use some darning and whose jeans were developing holes. Whose coffee mug was chipped, and from a thrift store and said ‘#1 GRANDPA’ in patchy block caps.

DANGER, eh?

Well, they were used to danger.

“What,” he asked, “is in it for us, if we do this?”

Ivan seemed to have been expecting this question–he smiled slightly, waved for momentary patience, walked back out to the driveway at the side of the house, where Deacon assumed he had parked.

He returned with a black leather briefcase, of the variety Deacon usually associated with drug deals in nineties action movies. He balanced it on the porch railing and popped the locks.

He lifted the lid.

“Holy shit,” Derek said softly.

Inside, packed in neat little wrappers, were row after row of hundred dollar bills, from one end of the case to the next.

“Once we’ve discussed terms,” Ivan said, “would you like a ten percent advance?”