Little Lies: Two Bright Girls


This is the third piece in my fiction experiment in which I lie  
about people I know and love. Many thanks to my friend Nora for 
letting me write about her.

When Medusa was born, she did not have snakes for hair. She wasn’t even ugly, really, just strange looking. Perhaps it was a slight unevenness of the face, or the slight puff under her eyes that made her look alarmingly old for a child. People were nice to her, of course, and remarked loudly over how sharp she was. At age four, she could recite the complete genealogy of the Titans with a thoroughness most of humanity has long since forgotten.

When Nora was born, though, she was radiant. From the first smile, Nora enthralled all who saw her so they felt they could not move. The baby girl had eyes the color of a summer sky and a swipe of red hair to match her rose-and-porcelain cheeks. To meet her gaze was to be seen through and through. Medusa did not get any more beautiful, nor did she want to. As she grew older, adults ignored her and schoolmates teased her. Seeing how she was rejected by the world simply for being plain, she had no interest in changing herself to please idiotic people.

In other words, people wouldn’t shut up about Nora. Medusa, the plain sister with the clunky name, grew sulky as Nora grew older and proved just as bright. Intellectually, the girls were a perfect matched pair, their differences being mainly ones of taste, never of capability. In addition, the two shared a deep and abiding respect for each other. They shared all their knowledge with one another and were the most intimate of friends. It was only foolish outsiders who judged them and whose opinions they found perfectly worthless.

Though Medusa wasn’t much for religion, she decided to join a little known, semi-religious sisterhood rather than get married. She knew her father would be bound to marry her off before her younger sister could be married, and though Nora protested that she wanted nothing to do with any fool man, it was clear that she had her eye on someone. Medusa on the other hand had been rejected, ignored, and bullied so much in her young life that all she really wanted was to go live in a quiet place where she could continue her studies. She hoped the sisterhood would send her to teach physics in a school for intelligent girls.

With Medusa cared for by the Gorgon sisterhood, it was not long before the beautiful and brilliant Nora was married to a well liked man named Cato who served as strategic adviser to very powerful men. Nora, too, would be provided for and would live a life of leisure and study.

For the next long time, the young women grew in their own ways. Nora penned all the truly great romances and tragedies, those long lost scripts of which every novel since has been poor imitation. Medusa meanwhile conjured mathematical concepts beyond this author’s comprehension. Each of the women was quite happy with her work and proud her sister, except for one small yet meaningful thing: Each new work of Nora’s was met with praise, and people threw parties to celebrate her every move. Medusa’s work was largely ignored and dismissed except for those occasions when she sent out papers under the name of some male she invented.

Medusa and Nora, both enraged by the stupidity of humans and their willingness to discard the work of a woman decided to play a trick on the world. They began to send each other their work, and each woman published her sister’s work under her own name. As a result, Nora received credit for creating worm holes while Medusa published the answers to life’s greatest mysteries, and what’s left of the manuscripts floats around in scraps, often misquoted, and always attributed to Anonymous.

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Little Lies: Laurie Saves the World

LONDON :: pedestrian sign : green (walking right)

This is the second in what I hope will be an occasional series of 
fiction experiments. Thanks to my friend Laurie Saldon for 
volunteering her likeness for my studies.

The day Laurie ran over Duke Smith with her minivan was, by all accounts, a very big day. It hadn’t started out that way, of course. Laurie planned on dropping her daughter off at pre-school, running a few errands, and doing laundry. Her husband, Bill, who did not volunteer to be part of this catastrophe planned on having a beer with the guys from the office after work. The news media planned on covering bland stories about Arbor Day, which mostly revolved around reminding everyone that Arbor Day still exists and that there are these things called trees which are not only attractive but also essential to air quality. A young NPR reporter, who was struggling to make her name in the news organization had labored over a special feature piece about inner-city kids who never saw real live trees. The story highlighted a nonprofit that took these kids out on Arbor Day field trips to educate them about nature. It was just the sort of nonprofit against which angry white men like Smith railed.

It was the first time in her life she had occasion to ponder that fine delineation between an accidental death, manslaughter, and outright murder. If she had liked him, wanted him alive, regretted the whole thing in the least, this would be a different story. The trouble was, she didn’t, and she had just inadvertently accomplished something hundreds, maybe thousands of people around the world had been secretly hoping for ever since his rise to prominence. Some of them were less secretive about their hopes, actually. They tried to bury his Youtube videos with their hateful comments, describing the many horrific ways in which they thought he should die. Laurie steered clear of all that, though, because she didn’t have the energy to waste on ignorant hate-mongers like Smith, and she felt certain that no sane person would ever take a man like him seriously. What scared her, however, was the fact that so many apparently insane people did listen to him.

When Smith’s career revolved around crackpot blog post and racist diatribes on Youtube, even the people who hated him seemed to think he was basically harmless. But when he courted and then married Ann Coulter, progressives around the world took notice and braced themselves, knowing they were witnessing the beginning of something ugly. The couple had become the conservative Sonny and Cher, held up as a paragon of family values and righteous new-world conservatism. Together, they advocated for a world in which creation, not evolution, was taught in schools, and in which “survival of the fittest” was applied in the economic sense only. Laurie herself had watched with horror on their wedding day as the live broadcast showed the two exchanging grossly specific wedding vows regarding the number of times per week sexual activities should occur and under what circumstances various activities were to be prescribed. Top recording artists performed glitzy song-and-dance routines at the reception, and one of said performers was known to have mentioned that day among his “darkest moments” in a suicide note only weeks later. A few others expressed regrets in less final ways.

Anyway, this is all just background knowledge to let you know that one of the world’s most justifiably detestable human beings had just been killed by accident by a happy liberal suburban housewife who, at the moment of his death, was weeping nostalgic tears, having just dropped her little girl off at her first day of preschool. I say “at the moment of his death,” for Duke Smith died instantaneously upon his head striking the pavement. No one really gave much thought to his death for they did not know the level of disaster the world had just dodged. In an alternate dimension (and I assure you, there are such things) Duke had lived to become president thanks to an aggressively run campaign backed largely by Rupert Murdoch himself in exchange for a backdoor key to the NSA’s metadata archives. In other words, Laurie was a hero, and no one would ever know.

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Little Lies: Freddy’s Winter Commute

icy road
This is the pretend Freddy.
This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of fiction
experiments. Thanks to my friend Freddy Nassar for volunteering his 
likeness for my studies.

It would have been appropriate to get on the road a little early, but he didn’t. There were numerous little things to be done before he could leave the house. Shower, shave, feed the cat, clean the litter box, and scrub the spot on the floor where the cat had expressed his dismay with the state of the litter box. He checked his e-mail while waiting for the coffee to brew. He checked it again while sipping his coffee pensively, quickly, wishing he could gulp it down like water, knowing he should be getting on his way. He checked his email once more from his phone as he sat in the car waiting for the engine to warm up and melt the ice on his windshield. No new messages, except for the usual barrage of sales pitches from online retailers used once to purchase a Christmas gift for a girlfriend who was no longer so much as a friend. At 7:45, he put the car in reverse and began to move only to glimpse a dark, hulking figure in the rearview mirror. Brakes. Park. That fleeting moment of insanity: Is that a fucking bear? A fat, ruddy face lowered into view, leathery red cheeks smiling idiotically.

“Sorry!” shouted the stupid face. Two hands appeared alongside it, one wearing a mitten, one bare-fingered, both waving stupidly. “Have a nice day!” The idiot bear man moved on with snow and ice crunching under his feet.

At 7:54, the car was warm, sitting at a traffic light, and grumbling away like an old man. Freddy checked his phone. Nothing. Greenlight. Acceleration. The way the tires spin until they can get traction on public roads when winter catches them by surprise. Freddy’s car scrambled as though having a bad dream of its own, then bolted into the intersection just as the cars behind him began to honk. “Fuckoff!” Freddy shouted as he fishtailed through.

The next time the car stopped, it was facing a low, grey building nearly identical to every other building within a radius of about 5 miles. The front door was locked, and Freddy opened it with a key that he carried along with his car and house keys. His gloved fingers fumbled for a moment, human error, but the key slid into place and the door recognized its partner, and the grey building opened itself up, offering him a slightly less grey and rewardingly warm interior. Lights, automatic. Carpet, grey berber, that bland mélange of colors that is not a color unto itself, intended to disguise the stains of everyday abuses.

Freddy’s lungs overtook him with a spasm that produced something that he was compelled to expel emphatically onto the floor. “Ugh,” said Freddy, as he scuffed the filth into the carpet with the sole of his favorite shitkicking boots.

Freddy used to enjoy being the most competent person in the office. That was before he learned there were no rewards for competency. If you are good at your job, efficient, if you ensure that rules are followed and schedules are met, you get the occasional pat on the head or an invitation to lunch with the boss. You get invited to play golf. Freddy did not want to play golf. He had learned the rules of the game and how to swing that stupid stick at that stupid little dimpled ball, and he sometimes tried playing mental games like in fourth grade — imagine your boss’s head on the ball, et cetera. He drove around in golf carts with old men droning on and kept score for them and was jolly about being the looser of every round. After all, bosses and clients love to win. They invited him back often when he’d been good, guided some tough project through the weeds and made everyone a bit of cash.

Good-boy Freddy rolled his eyes, pulled off his gloves, and stuffed them in his pockets. With a groan, he unzipped his pants and pissed on the carpet, letting the morning’s coffee finish it’s journey to an unexpected destination. He listened thoughtfully to the sound of piss on berber, a sound he’d never contemplated before, and at the same time felt a thrill not entirely unlike the first time he dragged his tongue up the length of a woman’s body. Strange, he thought, that those two things should be connected in his mind. But then, life is certainly strange. Sex is strange. People are strange. What wasn’t strange was this office and golf and the coworkers who were now officially late.

8:46. Work started at 8:30. No fucking respect for schedules, Freddy thought. No fucking respect for each other or themselves — what a waste, he thought.

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writing from my very own dark side

So, it’s day 7 of NaNoWriMo, in which I am attempting to write fiction. I’m finding it both difficult and rewarding to construct a coherent narrative.

I’ve been writing a character who is sortof based on myself, and I’m starting not to like her, which is weird. She’s kindof a bitch. And she’s very full of herself and judgmental and tends to do whatever she wants despite how it might hurt other people. And she convinces herself that it’s all Ok somehow, which is twisted.

I tried to write a blog post about the subtle differences between fiction and nonfiction, but the truth is I don’t grasp that yet, and the post was getting long and rambling, and it was really irritating for me to read it over and over and try to make sense of what I was saying. The short version is that I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s fun. Except for the part where I realize I’m an asshole.

But of course, I’m focusing on the negative and the dramatic. This character is not a real representation of myself. If she were, she’d be a much more complicated person. She would worry about money and hurting people’s feelings and disappointing her parents. And she would be sweet sometimes and really insecure about some things. But for the purposes of story and moving things forward, I’m letting her be this most terrible version of myself, and maybe this is the real purpose of fiction.

Anyhow, as of tonight, I have 17,243 words out of the projected 50,000. The NaNoWriMo stats tracker says that at this rate, I will finish on Nov. 20, but I’m predicting there will be snags and delays between now and then.

And I’m already wondering what I’ll do when this is all done. So far, the plan is to foist this manuscript on some unsuspecting reader/keeper who will sit on it until I regain the mental stability to edit the thing or simply move on to the next project. If I don’t come up with a new book idea by the end of November, I will consider getting a job. Not because I particularly want or need a job but because it would bring some new elements into my life, which would give me something new to write about.

I’ll give you another update in a few days, maybe with an excerpt.



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Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone!

You might have noticed that after releasing my two books, I hit a big slump. I had several ideas of what I’d like to work on next, but I couldn’t quite get started on anything. Plus, October has been an intense month for me, full of traveling, friends visiting, the big Halloween bash, and the corresponding crash after all that. I needed something to get myself back on track, so I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. That is, National Novel Writing Month.

I like to imagine this is sortof how I look while writing: all dainty, peaceful and softly focused on the task at hand. (Also, doesn’t she look a lot like Drew Barrymore? Weird.)

A Woman Writing A Letter

In reality, it’s probably not so pretty. I sit at the coffee shop and stare at my laptop like I’m negotiating a divorce settlement with it, occasionally pausing to rub my face and eyes with open palms as though I should be muttering, “I wish we’d never met.” However, as pained as my writing face may look to the casual observer, the practice of putting words on a page remains the most satisfying thing in the world to me.

Today being November 1st, it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve written 1,651 words of my 50,000 word goal. I’m hoping to have another cup of coffee soon and do another round. I’d like to get ahead of the game early in case I have slow days later.

Although I recently released my first book, Dirty Water Coffee, and published a second little volume, At Risk, only a couple weeks later, I’m one of these compulsive people who need to be working on something and find it hard to cope with life between projects. I normally have a strict “no talking about the new project” policy, but I’m telling you this now because they say NaNo is a good thing to tell people about. I’ll be attempting to write around 2,000 words per day, but in week two or three when I don’t feel like writing and can’t quite dig my way out of the plot hole I’ve created, I’m going to need your support.

I’m trying to write fiction. I’ve tried writing short stories plenty of times, but the trouble was that I never really had a story I wanted to tell. I just wanted to experiment with fiction for its own sake. As a result, I wound up with some pretty passages of description, very little plot, and completely stilted dialog. So, when I signed up for the NaNo site, I marked myself as a “rebel,” meaning I would be writing something other than the strictly defined novel. At one point, I planned to write a series of travel essays, which I had already started, but that would be too easy. I can easily write one essay per day if I have a plan, and NaNo is supposed to be a challenge. Plus, I had this other story I wanted to try and tell, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it or if I could even bring myself to write fiction. So I decided to try. NaNo is only one month, which is really not too long to try and work on something new and scary. If it works, awesome. If it doesn’t, then I still have all the time in the world to write those things I already know how to do.

I am telling myself right now that I can afford to write this badly because I’m going to hand the whole mess over to an editor the moment it’s done. And I’m assuming it will indeed be completed at some point. I’ll do my best to update here regarding how much I’ve written each day. I’m still too shy to talk much about the story itself and how it’s evolving, but perhaps as I get comfortable with it, I’ll be able to share more, so keep an eye here for more updates soon, as well as my true feelings about NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure they too will evolve in some artfully complicated fashion. And maybe if you’re lucky or I encounter some severe blogger’s block, I will also post some photos from our Halloween party and other misadventures which are sure to come.


Miss Dirt

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