John Clark Here: One of the oft quoted pieces of advice offered new writers is, “Write what you know.” That explains why many of my short stories and books feature librarians and sober drunks. I know these people pretty well. This bit of advice, however, doesn’t hold much weight when writing fantasy. After all, most of the genre takes place in realms where mortals have yet to set foot. That triggers another caveat, make those worlds internally consistent. This is the part I’m struggling with these days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. To quote something I’ve heard at a lot of AA meetings, you can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken.
That leads me to the first part of today’s blog. Over the past 33 years, I’ve attended close to 3,000 meetings. If there’s anything for certain about recovery programs, it’s that repetition is necessary. We’re a hard-headed and stubborn lot and, as I heard at my first meeting back in October, 1980, we come with a built-in forgetter. There are plenty of drunks in fiction, probably more in mysteries than in other genres. Heck they make great victims, good villains and create plenty of drama with little effort. Two authors who get them really well are Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke. Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die (the book not the movie), nails it extremely well. On the first page Scudder comes to in a detox and intertwined with the mystery elements are his struggles to get sober after a relapse. If you’ve never read the book, I encourage you to do so.
I thought it would be interesting to share some things describing drunks or that drunks frequently say that aren’t necessarily part of popular culture. Feel free to use any of them in future writing.
1-Stark raving sober. This is a pretty accurate description in early recovery when the nerve endings are coming out of their long-term anesthesia.
2- “I was too drunk to walk, so I drove.”
3- I came, I came to, I came to believe. (how many of us describe our early experiences in AA).
4-Abbreviated version of the first three steps: I can’t, he can, I think I’ll let him.
5-(One my late mother was fond of using when describing someone who was deathly afraid of doing the housecleaning steps (4-9)) He’s constantly doing the AA Waltz.
6-He’s been hit by a blinding flash of the obvious.
7-A treatment center is where you go and pay $15,000 to find out that A.A. meetings are free.
8-Nothing changes if nothing changes.
9-My mind is a dangerous neighborhood, I should never go there alone.
10-Having a resentment against someone is the equivalent of letting them live rent free in your head.
11-Resentments are like stray cats: if you don’t feed them, they’ll go away.
12-The good news is you get your emotions back; the bad news is you get your emotions back.
13-The 12 steps are suggestions in the same way that pulling the ripcord on a parachute is suggested after you’ve jumped from the plane.
14-A grateful drunk doesn’t drink.
15-Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.
16-AA is a tightly knit group of loosely knit people.
17-You’re only as sick as your sickest secret.
18-The road to sobriety is a simple journey for confused people with a complicated disease.
19-Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.
20- TIME=Today is Much Easier.
I kept my New Year’s Resolution simple this time around. I want to have two books accepted for publication in 2014 and I want to write my first juvenile mystery. With those in mind, here are snippets from the two I hope to get out there this year. First is a bit from Afternoon Break the science fiction book I’m waiting to hear back on right now.
Lulled by the warmth and the gentle rocking motion as the raft floated through a light wind-driven ripple, Solomon dozed off, waking with a start when the raft shuddered, then tipped to the left, spilling hot coals from the clay pot. He cursed as he tried to right the heater and brush the embers into the river, burning his injured hand in the process. Kirin screamed just as the last ember want overboard. He saw a horrified look on her face and turned as fast as his battered body could move to see what she was staring at. It was like nothing he’d ever seen. Nothing in books, movies or his own nightmares came close to the thing inching toward them. It had the consistency of a jellyfish, but was blood red and seemed to have eyes scattered randomly across its three foot long body. Several gaping holes opened and shut, revealing nasty looking teeth.
Solomon didn’t hesitate. He swiveled, ignoring the pain as he reopened the gash on his ribcage and kicked the thing as hard as possible. His foot disappeared up to the ankle in the globby body before hitting something firmer and booting the thing back into the water.
“Screw cold, Solly, I’m not going to let something like that come over the side while I’m half naked.” Kirin struggled into her still damp trousers, grunting as she exerted extra effort in order to slide them over her butt. She wasted no time putting on her equally uncomfortable boots.
Solomon tied the side curtain to the top support and stood, legs shaking. He grabbed their push pole to steady himself while looking to see if any more of the creatures could be seen. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the glare reflecting from the river surface. His gut tightened when he looked at the bottom and realized it was covered with more of the creatures in various stages of development. They needed to get ashore as fast as possible, but using the pole meant they were likely to disturb the whole bunch. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.
“Kirin, I need you out here now.”
“Christ with pickles, Solly, the frigging software’s really going to hell isn’t it. I bet those assholes running the experiment are all off getting wasted somewhere and haven’t a clue that things are going to pot on the express train. How do we get to shore before another one comes after us?”
“Poling is out. There’s no way we can avoid boinking one or more and we’re too far out to be certain of beating them to the bank.” Solomon looked downriver where the banks curved to the right. “It looks like the current swings in close to the right bank about three hundred yards downstream. If we can rig something from our stash to use as a paddle, I think I can probably ground us there, but we better come up with something real quick, or we’ll be round the bend and I don’t like the looks of those cliffs ahead.”
Kirin wasted no time digging through the stuff packed in the central storage bin. She straightened up, holding one of the spare pots they made but hadn’t fired. “If we can punch a couple of holes and tie it to the end of the pole, the clay should hold for a bit. It’s the best I can do on short notice.”
“Let me have it.” He pulled out his knife, motioning her to hold the piece steady against the pole as he used the point to drill into the clay. He was acutely aware that while time might be of the essence, drilling too hard or too fast would shatter the piece. He was greatly relieved when the second hole was completed.
After tying it as securely as possible to the end of the pole. He started to use the jury rigged paddle as an an underwater lever against the edge of the raft facing away from the bank, trying to scull them closer to shore without disturbing the bizarre menagerie below.
“Jump!” Solomon ordered, as the raft came within three feet of the western bank.
Kirin landed awkwardly, but turned as soon as she righted herself, reaching as Solly held the pole out. She was able to use the remaining momentum to drag the craft ashore on a little stretch of sand. She leaned forward, taking things as fast as Solly handed them to her.
More of the creatures were beginning to surface, but none approached them yet. Solomon tried to triage their belongings as quickly as possible. He hoped the bizarre things couldn’t move on land, but wasn’t in any mood to test that theory. He cut the side curtains and canopy free before jumping ashore. Too much time and effort had gone into crafting them to abandon them now.
Next up is a scene from Dubstep and Wheelie that I had great fun writing. Cece and Simon are in a lucid dream state on their way to Colorado to meet a Hopi medicine woman who they believe can help them complete a quest necessary for them both to be healed, as each is paralyzed from the waist down.
“Is that what I think it is?” It seemed like we’d been flying above the dark landscape below us for hours. A broad ribbon of water stretched from horizon to horizon far ahead of us with large urban area on either side. I could make out a gleaming silver arch on the opposite shore.
Simon swung closer and followed my pointing finger. “Sure looks like the Gateway Arch to me. That would mean we’re just past the halfway mark. We should be hitting warmer air pretty soon.”
That would be welcome. Neither of us had thought much about the probability that we’d be flying in quasi-winter weather, even though it wouldn’t really expose us to frostbite or hypothermia. At least, we hoped not. There was still an awful lot about this lucid dream business we didn’t understand. Heck, it wasn’t like they taught it in school. All I knew was that right now, I’d kill for an insulated jacket or a heated room.
We slowed when we reached the Mississippi River.
It was wider than any river I’d ever seen in person and there were countless vessels, ranging from a couple jet skis all the way to giant freighters navigating the nighttime waters.
Simon looked over and raised an eyebrow. “Game to do a loop-the-loop?”
I nodded, not entirely sure what he had in mind.
He let go of my hand and took off for the Gateway arch rising to meet the very top where a dim light shined behind the observation windows. a couple figures, probably the overnight maintenance crew, were moving inside the observation area
I took a quick look down at the almost empty parking lot before speeding up, eager to catch Simon and be part of whatever he was planning.
I waited while slowed as he neared the glassed-in area and hovered just far enough so he couldn’t be seen. As soon as I came into view, he let out a whoop and sped straight for the window, flying past two startled cleaning ladies, one of whom dropped a bucket of dirty water, splashing both her and the other woman. They started screaming as he reversed course and flew in the other direction, waving madly.
I couldn’t resist and streaked over to the window, waving at the now thoroughly hysterical women. I smiled while pointing in Simon’s direction and made a ‘he’s crazy’ gesture with one finger before shooting straight up, arcing over the top and dropping down until I was underneath. I waited until Simon joined me and led him back to the window where one of the women was screaming into her cell phone. I spread my hands out like I was making a curtain call and bowed toward the arch. Simon caught on and did the same. We turned so we were facing each other, did a pat-a-cake routine and then streaked westward across metropolitan St. Louis. We laughed almost all the way to Kansas City.
“What do I smell?” We were cruising slowly over a mostly dark Kansas City a couple hours after midnight. Something wafting up from below was so delicious it was making my mouth water uncontrollably.
“Barbecue, gotta be barbecue. I’ve only been here twice, both times years ago when my mother was doing small local theater to, as she called it, recharge her batteries. I remember everywhere we went someone was cooking barbecued meat and most of it tasted as good as it smelled. Good to know at least one great aspect of this country hasn’t changed. Wanna stop for a quick bite?”
I looked over to see if he was joking. Back in Maine, the only place I ever saw open this late were the restaurants in the rest areas on the turnpike south of Portland. Maybe they were more laid back out here and we had brought plenty of cash just in case. “I’m game.”
We landed a block west of the main route through the city. There was still a fair amount of traffic passing in both directions. That would account for restaurants staying open 24 hours a day. Sure enough, when we started walking west, we passed several places that were serving hot food.
I hesitated outside one, but Simon gave my hand a gentle tug.
“Trust me, the best joint in town, or it used to be, is a couple blocks further along.”
He was right. The moment we walked in, I could smell something that put everything we’d been drooling over to shame. I let him order something called the Great Gateway Sampler. We sipped super strong coffee and did some people watching. Most of the other customers seemed to be long haul truckers or families heading home following a Thanksgiving visit. There were a lot of tired parents, trying to keep even tireder children from having meltdowns.
When the waitress set our order in front of us, she chuckled at the look on my face. “A barbecue virgin, eh? Don’t be ashamed hon, we all gotta lose our cherry sometime.”
I was still staring at the steaming mountain in front of me when Simon opened my hand and made me grip a fork that looked closer to a mini-pitchfork. He spread three napkins across my lap and snapped his fingers. “Earth to Cece. Time for din-din.”
I came to and heaped various portions of the incredible array of meat onto my plate. “Dude, this is no barbecue, it’s a freaking carnivores dream orgy.” I dug in, not caring if I got messy, drooled all over myself, or passed out from sheer pleasure.
We managed to eat almost half of what was on the platter and took the remainder with us when we left.
The waitress winked at me as she cleared the table. “That didn’t hurt too much, did it, Sugar?”
I managed a nod and a half-hearted smile in return, uncertain whether I could walk, let alone fly. “I’m surprised anyone lives much past thirty if they eat like that.” I was feeling a little more human now that we were back on the sidewalk and moving.
“What we ordered is generally served to at least four people. I was showing off. You did yourself proud and if we make decent time on the leg to Colorado, Tomah will be thrilled. He loves the stuff, but the only time he gets anything worth eating is when someone returns from the east by way of KC.”