Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem

The water of Tsion sang soft in the warm silence. Miriam stood with her eyes closed, listening, stance wide and solid with her hands joined behind her. Uniform white as marble, hair a golden filigrees decorating her shoulders and back, Miriam was a slender monument on the concrete bank of the lake. The fountain's mist caught in her eyelashes and shone.
Miriam's glowing eyelashes shivered. Veiled blue irises turned towards the man who had addressed her, a head shorter than she, a few shades darker. "Hm?" Her voice boiled lazily from her stomach, as though she'd been dozing on her feet.
"The Taranish." That man's own white-and-gold uniform looked somehow gray on him. "It was sighted passing around the Mezeket Cluster, on its way to the Vhallas System."
Miriam's slender form straightened, muscles hardening. The hair on the back of her neck stood electrified. Her glowing eyelashes parted and she glowered at the domed ceiling of Tsion. The name: the Taranish. It brought to her mind other such ugly words: Sarnath, Brimstone, Guinangap. The war-carrier Taranish did not belong in space controlled by the Blessed Confederation. The Guinangap had been exiled far from the Mezeket Cluster, farther still from the holy worlds of the Vhallas System. Light shone deep inside of those worlds, like fire inside of pearls. They should not be there, the Guinangap, those people of darkness, those outcast sinners who huddled in shadowy cities, brains riddled with sacrilegious cybernetics, thoughts ever on money and power and perversions.
Like a birch tree, Miriam swayed before the lake, gaze full of its waters and the flickering light on is surface. Terrestrial seas mirrored the heavens as they had once been, it was said. Miriam swung her long arms up in front of her, fingers white as shafts of sugar, fingernails of caramel, eying over them the vague shape of a sieve that circled the fountain at the center of the lake. Her fingers curled between her eyes and that roiling near-starlight. "The Taranish. That's Eva's ship."
"Who?" The gray-uniformed man blinked. His eyes did not catch the light. It was not that he was dull or distant. That wouldn't matter. It was simply how the light fell.
Eva was not a woman widely known by her first name. Miriam joined her fingers and pressed the doubled fist to her breast. "The spawn of the geist-Emperor of the Guinangap."
Now the man's eyes rose in recognition. "Her again? So her loathsome hobby continues."
"It is just so, yes." Miriam's high head inclined. Eva and the Taranish had slipped past the borders of the Confederation's space a half dozen times in the past. Four of those times, it had been Miriam's fleet that had chased Eva away. But never had Eva sought to reach a place so deep, so holy, and so vulnerable as the Vhallas system.
"A war-carrier, Commodore. Eva will be carrying a thousand fighters, weapons platforms, heavy munitions, sentient machines heretically bound to human mounds."
"Yes, all of that. Perhaps more than we know."
"Into holy space!"
Miriam watch the sky panels that covered Tsion's ceiling, shedding light that alternated between white and yellow in the manner of a great, rippling golden sheet. A mist drifted up towards it from the surface of the lake. "Audacity. It suits her."
Miriam chuckled. "Am I the only one not surprised by her intrusion?" Eva was a tiny woman, slight and sickly, garbed in purple scales, dark sashes, and the flirtatious sneer of a devil. Bold impetuousness had always hung about her: she the short-on-life girl who thought she could obtain immortality if only she managed to slam the doors of Heaven with enough force. Miriam's shoulders rose in a sigh. "I could have predicted it. Every time I chased her away, she only returned more voracious, better-armed, and more eager for conflict. Will she start a fight this time, or will I be able to defuse her again? Regardless, something must be done. Something different."
"The provincial council agrees. The Taranish will be within range of the Mezeket Cluster's accelerator cannons for another hour. They want you to use them."
Miriam's hands unfurled from one another, and she looked down at her upturned fingernails. "The accelerator cannons? Destroy the Taranish before it even reaches the Vhallas System? Kill Eva and everyone with her?"
"The Taranish is in clear violation of the Guinangap exile, armed and ready for conflict. They've been antagonistic in the past. You yourself have given them more than enough warnings." The gray-garbed man gestured broadly, his voice gaining volume. It was, Miriam was sure, only an echo of the strength of the language the provincial council had argued with before sending him to her. "The Vhallas System has no defense against them. The Taranish could destroy everyone there before any Confederation fleet can get to the system."
Keeping her expression stubbornly neutral, Miriam dropped her hands to her sides and turned towards the gray man. "Eva has never hurt anyone in the past. She has come very close. Very close. But she has never hurt anyone."
"She has always been under threat in the past. If she escapes range of the accelerator cannons, there will be no way to stop her. Commodore, all of these things have been considered."
"I suppose they have." Miriam turned a sideways glare on the waters, Tsion's sea of stars.
"The Mezeket Cluster's defenses are yours to control. We implore you to use them."
Eva was a cruel woman, boisterous and mocking. It could not be an accident that the Taranish had passed through the Mezeket Cluster, considering the thousands of wiser routes it could have taken to the Vhallas System. Eva was calling out to Miriam. Daring her. The small, loud woman, shouting for attention again. Miriam questioned the lake, "Is she really, though?"
"Is she really what?"
"A moment, please."
"Commodore, the Taranish is moving out of range. A moment may be all we have."
"Then I will take it. Eva is doing this for a reason. Let me think." Miriam curled her fingers around one another, squeezing the joints until they ached. If Eva really just wanted to launch an attack, to start a war, then she wouldn't have passed the Mezeket Cluster. It was too much risk. And why the Vhallas system? There was no military presence there. It was a cultural and religious hub of the Confederacy, with only negligible industrial impact. It was undefended because there was no reason for it to be attacked. On the other hand, Eva was the daughter of the ghost-Emperor. Destroying the Taranish would start a war. There would be no way around that. Eva had always boasted such in their confrontations.
Eva was like a child who had been told she was not allowed to be somewhere. Now she was running into that place, calling out to let everyone know she was misbehaving. But even that was too simple an evaluation. Eva was a devil, clever and calculating. There was a reason she wanted Miriam's attention. There was a reason she wanted Miriam's intervention, far from Guinangap space. Miriam's. No one else's.
Miriam blinked at the waters, inhaling deeply the mist of the fountain, so that her chest swelled and her white face turned a measure pink. "Dona Nobis Pacem."
The gray man's brow lowered, and he shook his head. "Commodore?"
"Grant us peace. Sir, I will not use the cannons on the Taranish. I will take my fleet to the Vhallas System and confront Eva directly."
"Commodore!" The man snapped a half step forward, hands curling into fists. "She could kill everyone before you get there!"
"Or she could hurt no one." Miriam looked down on the man. "It's Eva. I'm sure she's going to do something to force my hand. I have no delusions that she's just going to float in space taking in the sights while she waits for me. However, I cannot defuse this situation by detonating it early. She deserves the chance to not start a war."
"She has done nothing to earn that! You don't know what she will do. You're supposed to protect those people."
Miriam turned directly towards the man and crossed her arms. "I am protecting the Confederation by preserving peace as long as I can. Sometimes war is the coward's way. Sometimes peace is risky, difficult, dangerous. I think Eva wants to talk. I'm willing to bet on it. I will not be the one to start a war today, sir."
The man released a tattered sigh that was half a growl, but he retreated a measure. He was the kind of soldier, the kind of man who did not like the flavor of this kind of peace. But as Miriam watched, the man swallowed it. "I will inform the provincial council of your decision."
She smirked and took a sideways step, and turned away from the water. The broad, low concrete buildings of Tsion awaited her, and past them, great domed structures where she could board a shuttle to the waiting flagship of her fleet high above. "Sometimes peace is just saying 'no' to conflict. Not that I expect Eva to make that easy on me." Her feet fell hard as she walked, limbs barely containing a simmering fury directed at Eva for daring to create this scenario. "Not that I think I'll make it easy on myself." She concentrated on keeping her hands open, though they wanted to pull into fists. "But I will do what I am capable of. And hopefully, Eva will reciprocate.”


Friday, August 22, 2014

Blog Hop: #MyWritingProcess

Here's a thing I've never done before. I was tagged into this blog hop by C. Stuart Hardwick, one of the writers of Tides of Possibility and the Co-editor of my current project, Tides of Impossibility. Anyone following the #MyWritingProcess tag will find these questions familiar. For the rest of you, hopefully you enjoy the insight!


#MyWritingProcess: What are you working on now?

Kyle: Today, I came out to the cafe to write a short story that will be going in the back of a friend's novel. It's a bit of a deviation for me because the sci-fi element is super slight and it focuses on the romance between the two lead characters. So, yeah, I'm writing something sappy and trying to resist the thousands of ideas on how to turn it into a tragedy.

Other than that, I'm still reading through submissions to Tides of Imposibility (here I'm resisting the urge to rush the work. Slow and steady gets it done right), waiting on beta readers to get back to me about my fantasy novel manuscript, and trying to find time to get together with my collaborator on another project. For me, writing is all about time management, which is unfortunately not a talent of mine. Never any shortage of projects to work on, just a shortage of time to spend on them.

#MyWritingProcess: How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Kyle: I can go from romance to horror in about five words, and if I want, I'll try to juggle them. This is kind of a difficult question, but let me answer it this way: I don't apologize for the things I write. I do not write gently. I write violently. I write ruthlessly. One of the things I love about prose is that I control what my readers see, what they look at, and how long they have to stare at it. My stories often force my readers to look at things they wouldn't choose to look at, and to look at it very closely for a long time, and to notice things about it that they might not have seen on their own.

I'm disappointed by writing that leaves things out because they're too graphic or extreme or awkward or difficult to write. I don't do that. Things that other writers would avoid or set off-screen, I'll make pivotal. I'll push the reader right up against it.

This comes in to play a lot in predictable ways, such as gore during violent scenes. But it comes out a lot in the romance and beauty as well. I don't shy away from mixing beauty and ugliness, because that's what people are. I'll write a beautiful person covered in blood and vomit, and they'll still be beautiful underneath it. The world is like that. I might go from writing the most violent thing in the world in one paragraph to writing the most romantic thing in the next, without losing any of the violence. Often I'll make my readers trudge through entrails to get to the beauty, and sometimes the beauty isn't what you're expecting. But it's there, covered in the ugliness, no less beautiful because of it.

The typewriter save points in Resident Evil are about to make perfect sense.

#MyWritingProcess: Why do you write what you do?

Kyle: I don't know. I just write and this is how it comes out. Ernest Hemingway said "There is nothing writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." And that's exactly what I do. I poke holes in my fingertips and this is what bleeds out: strong hate, strong love, hideous things I can barely stand to look at, and beautiful things I'm left struggling to capture. More than writing what I feel, I write what I am, and sometimes a bit of the world around me slips in.

In the metaphor where prose is blood, this is what my target audience looks like.

#MyWritingProcess: How does your writing progress work?

Kyle: Lists. You'd think somebody who writes based off of feeling and instinct wouldn't plan their work a whole lot, but I outline meticulously. I have layers and layers of outlines before I begin. I have to start with a name for the project, names for the characters, character sketches, a plot outline, knowing exactly where scene-breaks are going to be and how many of them are going to be there. In addition to outlining what scenes I need to write, I outline the very innards of the scene. I make check-lists of points I need to hit in every passage, plan how many words I want to spend on each point, and keep these lists available as I write.

I do this because I need to feel so deeply when I write. Because I can't stop bleeding once I've begun. I get all the thinking out of the way up front, because I'm going to lose the ability to think as soon as I begin. I'm going to hit the 'play' button on whatever music helps me feel (often posting it to twitter as a proclamation that the bloodletting has begun) and then I'm going to feel deeply. The descriptions and flow will take care of themselves; they'll come from the emotions and the immersion. I'm not going to follow my lists. I'm going to go over my word-limits. I'm going to overwrite every single line.

Then, when  get my brain back later, I'll rewrite it into something coherent, keeping the emotion, pulling it back under control, and making it marketable.

See, I'm the statue on the left. And the three-headed monster in the middle is Amazon. How's that for a monomyth?


And, done. I'd like to thank Stuart for tagging me into this, and you can read his answers back here. They're far more coherent and interesting than my answers. As for who I' tagging next?... Nobody! I'm sorry, readers, but I was the last in the chain of people to get asked, and everyone I've poked about it has declined or already been poked. Keep following the tag, though, as I'm sure I'm not the only link on the chain! If any of my writing friends wants to volunteer, I'll edit a link in here, but for now, the hop is mired at this point.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tides Signings

At a panel at the Barbara Bush Library in Cypress, Texas. From Left: Myself, E.L. Russell, Rebecca Nolen and Lilia Fabry.

I love that I can now plug Tides of Possibility up for sale on Amazon as a print of ebook, and that means I'm also promoting all of the writers there in. I met a lot of great, creative people while working on this project, and I can't wait to start going to events with the local writers. I was just at the Barnes & Noble at the River Oaks shopping center making plans for an August 9th signing that will feature myself and several of the anthology's writers. Actually, I think I have an advert around here somewhere...

There it is!

If anyone wants to pick up a signed print copy of the anthology, that's the first opportunity. The next? On August 15th there's going to be an event at Writespace in downtown Houston, at 8pm. Myself, Erin Kennmer, C. Stuart Hardwick, Lilia Fabry and Mandy Broughton will be reading our stories and signing books. Even if you already have a copy, it's still worth coming out to hear the readings. I'm really looking forward to it!

And that's just the first half of August. Will there be moroe? I sure hope so. I was kind of already talking to people about setting some up. So, I'll see you around Houston (and don't forget to come see me at COSine in Colorado Springs come January)!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Comicpalooza Retrospective

Yes, yes, there is one day left on Comicpalooza, but the last day of a 4-day con is usually much smaller scale. So many people do what I do and burn themselves out on the first two days of the con, then spend the third trudging around and accidentally buying things on the dealer floor (for me, this was every issue of Red 5's Neozoic except, of course, issue #1. Darn) that by the time day four rolls around, we're not even sure if we can make it to the convention center. I'm leaving myself open to taking tomorrow off because my last panel was today, because I haven't seen Days of Future Past yet, and because I have anthologies that need editing (I may have forgotten how to take days off).

First lesson from Comicpalooza: lines suck. I was able to evade a lot of lines by being a panelist, but I still wanted autographs from the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I had to stand in line for on two separate days. Still, worth it. I got a picture with J. August Richards (so did a lot of people) and Elizabeth Henstridge blessed my marriage by wishing us good luck, in ink, next to her signature. That's got to be at least twice as effective as the blood rites I'd been planning.

Myself, my fiancee, and Deathlok. Probably my favorite character. I geeked out a little.

Second lesson from Comicpalooza: Being on panels is fun, and I'm surprisingly okay at moderating them. Also, it's really encouraging to have someone come up to me after a panel and tell me that they thought it was awesome. As anxious as I was to moderate the Gender in Science Fiction panel, especially after witnessing the absolute disaster that was Denver Comic Con's Presentation of Women in Comic Books, it meant a lot to me that the panel went over so well that someone stopped me in the hall to say so. The thanks for that goes to the other panelists: D.L.Young, Antha Adkins, and Keri Bas who very strongly and rightfully disagreed with me on a few points. The panel was very energetic and I learned a lot from being part of it.

Another attendee spoke up bravely to say that they appreciated my choice of writing a gender-fluid character into the novel I'm working on, which is all the encouragement I need to renew my energy to do so. Themes of gender are important to me, and as a writer it's a powerful moment when my target audience tells me that it's important to them, too!

My co-panelist on the Plotting and Pacing Short Stories panel, David Sidebotham of Unfinished Creation, also made me look a lot smarter than I should have (which I need a lot of help with some days). When it comes to making a great panel happen, the others on the panel with me are my best resource.

Myself and David Sidebotham. Not pictured here: during the panel What Makes Monsters Terrifying, David became uncomfortably excited about monsters with pustules. It was adorable.

It was great running across friends and colleagues from as far away as Colorado, like Peter J. Wacks, whom I haven't seen since last year's DCC. Nothing like seeing how far a fellow writer has come since last meeting him, plus picking up a signed copy of his new epic fantasy and meeting his new coauthor.

While it can be tiring and difficult, this weekend has reminded me just how invaluable it is to do cons like Comicpalooza whenever I can. It's not just making the professional connections and speaking on panels, but about the living, breathing culture that spec fic is part of. I love my role in this culture, I love my readers, and I love events like this where all the best parts of the scene boil over.

I won't be at Denver Comic Con this year on account of getting married (which feels important to me), but I do plan on attending more cons and events throughout the year, beginning with a Sci-fi panel at the Barbara Bush Branch Library in July and including COSine in Colorado Springs at the end of January. I'll be growing between now and then and can't wait to have even more to share with the community.

Thanks to everyone I saw and met at Comicpalooza!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ready for Comicpalooza

I'm going to be hitting Comicpalooza this weekend with some of the authors from the Tides of Possibility science fiction anthology, and post cards with the cover art on them, and you can have one if you can find me. What panels can you see me on? Glad you asked!
  • What Makes Monsters Terrifying: Friday the 23rd at 1pm.
  • Gender in Science Fiction. Friday the 23rd at 4pm.
  • Plotting and Pacing a Short Story: Sunday at 10am. Bring coffee!
For those wondering, the anthology is still expected to go to print and ebook simultaneously sometime this fall. There should be a call for submissions for its sister anthology, the fantasy one, in a few weeks. Am I going to do more anthologies this year? You bet! I'm rolling some ideas around with my colleagues at Comicpalooza, so there should be news on even more upcoming publications sometime around the time I'm done collecting submissions for the fantasy anthology.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Tides of Possibility" now on Kickstarter

Around 6pm yesterday I pushed the 'launch' button on the Tides of Possibility's Kickstarter campaign, and a little less than 24 hours in it's more than halfway to it's funding goal. This gives me a lot of hope for the stretch goals we set out. You can probably imagine how much I'd love to add more writers to the project (the first stretch goal), not mention publish an entire anthology full of fantasy (the second goal).

I'm really looking forward to this next month and seeing what I can do with this. Even though I was pretty confident this Kickstarter would succeed, I also had a dissonant anxiety since it is the first I've ever run. If it goes as well as it looks like it will, I can definitely understand now why so many spec-fic publishers are making heavy use of it. It's letting me deliver the perfect pitch and sell a high-quality product, and that's just a lot of fun for people like us.

You can see the Kickstarter page here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Tides of Possibility

When I found out I was going to be editing the Houston Writer's Guild's science fiction anthology, it wasn't difficult for me to decide who I would contact to do the cover art. I've known dark fantasy artist and graphic novelist David Sidebotham for years, and his work is some of the most creative and visually dynamic art I've ever seen. Even so, I wasn't prepared for the incredible quality of work I would receive.

I gave David a small number of the stories that would be featured in the anthology and asked him to respond to the themes. Which stories? Read the anthology when it's out and take a guess. I'll never tell.

The piece of art David created for the anthology presents a fascinating mise-en-scène. The hard, warm light is almost angry, but also calm. Is it sunrise or sunset that illuminates the vast number of dark, ruined buildings? Of the two figures in the rubble, one is strong, unintimidated and watching. But the other is thin, almost skeletal, collapsed in the corner of the composition with his empty eye-sockets turned down. The image seems to bare a statement from the artist about to the stories in the anthology, the possibilities which certain authors explored. While one figure looks out, is aware, is strong, the other refuses to look, and seems to die.

The artwork is not just a cover for the anthology or a piece of marketing; it is one of the works that the anthology contains. David Sidebotham's illustration is the first work of speculative fiction I have the honor of displaying, a moment portrayed in a single image, a work of flash fiction if ever I've seen one before.

If there is interest, poster-sized prints of this artwork may go on sale. I would love to have one for the wall of my office.

Monday, February 3, 2014

On Craft: Three Big Lies Writers Tell Themselves About Writing Gendered Characters

The lead character of my book is female, and a mother besides. One of the book's primary supporting characters is also a woman. Again, a mother, though in this case a mother-to-be. In theory, a male perspective on the issues they experience will be distant and irrelevant, but in the same book that I tackle the powerful emotions and conflicts of motherhood, I also write a romantic male foil and a father character. These characters not only have gender, but their actions are steeped in a deep understanding of their gendered roles: those of mother and father, husband and wife.

Whether or not I did a good job representing these roles is for my readers and reviewers to say. But my willingness to do so and the bold disregard with which I dove into these roles is apparently an aberration. I've heard it said that men do not write proper female characters and women do not write proper male characters. I've attended critique groups in which a writer passes on the chance to render advice to a writer of the opposite gender because they "know" that men and women think differently. Consider this in light of the SFWA's recent drama concerning its treatment of female writers and characters, and the popular support for Lightspeed Magazine's Women Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter campaign.

A realistic depiction of protective armor which doubles as effective insulation
against the frigid winds of the frozen wastelands. And stuff.

There is a shortage of strong female characters in genre fiction. Lightspeed's Kickstarter demonstrates this is not because of a lack of interest in strong female characters, but instead a lack of opportunities for female writers.

I would challenge that it is also because male writers for some reason boast a series of nigh misogynistic assumptions about what it means to write a female character. In the same breath, I've noticed women feel unable to write realistic male characters. The latter problem isn't causing such dramatic issues, but surely every writer wants every character to work, don't they?

It's about time writers stopped lying to themselves about the nature of gender and allowed themselves to write good, solid characters, no matter their gender. If you can write two different characters of the same gender, then you can write two characters of opposite genders.

Friday, January 31, 2014

On craft: Five things Spec-fic writers can learn from basic Sociology

One thing that spec-fic writers need a firm handle on is world construction. It's not enough to say that aliens cured cancer, your character lives on a space station near a jovian world, or that the Orcish Hordes have been raiding the kingdom's boarder towns for three decades. You also have to represent how that affects the society your story takes place in, and how your characters perceive that. At 11am on April 12th, I'm going to be giving a presentation about Creating Alternate Worlds at the HWG's 2014 Writers Con. Obviously I feel like I have a lot to say about the subject; I'm not planning to spend an hour babbling about fictional plate tectonics (only about twenty minutes, tops, on the geology thing).

Pretty much this except the athenosphere is giant dragons and the volcanoes are full of zombies.
Seriously. Come to my talk. I might actually say those words.

We all know the writers who do this well. Frank Herbert gave us summaries of galactic economies compressed into two paragraphs so dense we barely noticed them. Ben Bova wrote almost a dozen novels about the same fundamentalist regime and how different groups of people overcame the problems it caused (while also discovering space whales in Jupiter. Love.). Larry Niven's Mad Puppeteers had a society based on putting the most cowardly individual in charge of everything and also planets that moved like spaceships, and he made it make sense. And let's not even get started on Tolkein's grasp of fictional history.

There's good reason that the best Spec-Fic writers are usually highly educated and always extremely well-read. In addition to knowing a thing or two about science, language, and psychology, odds are they've read at least one book on sociology. And if not one book, then at least an essay called The Promise, by C. Wright Mills, (highly recommend link to click, by the way) which essentially pushed the 'reset' button on the entire school of thought while also making basic sociology accessible to anyone with the ability to tell the difference between public issues and private troubles.

Here's the five most important lessons I think that spec-fic writers need to take from the essay.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Absolute Tenacity, published

I have a disproportionate number of memories about writing this book. Its first incarnation was a 500-word piece of flash fiction that made no sense, written between shifts in the small parking lot behind a noodle shop in Colorado Springs. I remember writing it again, later, in the parking lot outside the south campus of Pikes Peak Community College, a much larger black-top, far hotter, listening to the sound of gunshots from the army shooting range less than a mile from my car. One time, while struggling with words at a Seattle's Best coffee shop at a Borders (which I miss), I put away my laptop and began to march frustrated lines between the shelves of books, staring at names of writers who were apparently better than I was. My self-loathing reached a breaking-point that caused me to sit down on the floor, back to a bookshelf, and begin writing again. This time I wrote on a legal pad, my handwriting so poor that it would take a cryptographer days to discern my words.

The trend of writing by hand would continue. From then on, most of it was written by hand, and I rewrote the book that I would eventually call Absolute Tenacity eight times over the four years I worked on it. I had five different jobs, dropped out of college and enrolled at a university, lived in two different cities, fell in love and got engaged, all while I was writing Absolute Tenacity. I spent several days sitting on the fourth floor of the University of Colorado's Auraria science building, filling legal pads with unreadable scrawling while my fiance did science. She became a Masters of Science. I became an author.

In order to write Absolute Tenacity, I tossed my muse in a great vice and squeezed a million words from her. Of those I kept roughly twenty thousand. Hopefully they were the best of those words.

Absolute Tenacity was published by the Max Avalon imprint of TZPP on January 18th. I'm not as concerned with its best-seller rank as I am with those reviews, and the conversations I've been having with everyone who's read it. They're the vindication that I spent those four years doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. From where I'm sitting now, all that hard work wasn't so bad after all.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Thought About the Bug ...

I shook them out of the bush as best I could, with the admission that I was humbly intimidated by the brightness of their ruby bodies, the yellow specks and their very long, black legs. My intimidation was likely instinctive: bugs bite and bright ones are often poisonous. My respect, though, was my own, for never has destruction been my first instinct upon seeing insects and spiders. I found them beautiful, fascinating, and to be intimidated by them was the greatest compliment I could give them. But the shrub had to go, the plant frozen to death in the unusually cold week prior, and so I shook the dozen bright red bodies from the dead limbs of their home. Just like humans would one day, the bugs had outlived their tiny world.

Cutting the shrub off at its roots and turning it over, I had left it mostly whole. And now, having shaken it nearly to the point of destroying it, seeing the beautiful, large, long red insects scramble confused into the brown-green grass, I lifted the shrub over the garbage bin and watch its sharp limbs poke into the black trash bag. I let the shrub fall into the bin. I pushed it down and listened to the crunch of dead twigs.

I thought about the one stubborn bug I had almost certainly failed to shake from the bush. Its strong, many-joined limbs would be wrapped around some deep branch that had fallen below my notice, below my attention, below my concern. While I respected them enough to shake most of them from the shrub, I certainly wasn't going to go fishing into it to make sure I'd gotten every one. The limits of my mercy were drawn by convenience. So this old bug, perhaps one, perhaps with a companion or two -- I could only guess -- simply clung fast with no notion at all as to why it should have let go. And why it was too late now.

And I pushed down on the shrub. The branches cracked and broke and compressed, closing around it, the light fading as the shrub sank deeper. The brittle edges of the bug's world strained against the unyielding walls of the bin, black like glistening shadows. Panic and confusion would overcome the bug as its world fell into darkness, inexplicably, suddenly. Perhaps it thought to itself, "We cannot surrender even an inch. This is our home. God help me, where is my family?" as I crushed the shrub, as I pulled the garbage bag around its world and tied it shut, and set it all off to the side as though unimportant.