Shadow Worlds

Which came first, the idea or my belief in it? I’m not sure. I am deep into writing of the second novel in the FRAMES series, in which seemingly inanimate objects like books and buildings are sentient beings. And – guess what? Everywhere I look I see objects that appear to be more than objects.

Is this a new perspective? Or did I always see things this way but have no reason to think twice about it? Certainly, I’ve always been fascinated by shadows and reflections and silhouettes – their ability to reproduce while distorting, maintaining the familiar within the strange.

Case in point. Below is a staircase banister at the Egyptian Theater, a deco movie palace in Hollywood, CA. In silhouette, the banister’s reptilian underpinnings become apparent. I see a head in profile, facing right. The iris bisects an eye that narrows to a point, into an elongated snout that slopes down and to the right, out of frame…

EgyptianStairsphoto

You see that too, right?

Right?

How about this one? The ocean has carved creatures in this eroded beach wall. You see this furry guy with the long nose, right?:

2013-11-03 15.17.43

In this post-apocalyptic sunset, the creatures line up looking frail:

EerieSeawall

You see them, right?

This WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Silhouettes.

Pssst! I Want To Share My New Discovery: It’s Called Twitter!

How many times do you have to hear the same advice before you listen? For me, the answer is 17. That’s how many times somebody told me, You’re a writer? You need to be on Twitter or people won’t know about you.

Okay, I made that up. The 17, that is. It could be 12, could be 30. Anyway, I’ve heard it a lot of times. I resisted the advice for years, because I don’t really get Twitter, except it is amazing to watch the flow of tweets during big-deal world events. And it’s a brilliant medium for certain comedians. The 140-character limit is also an intriguing fictional milieu, and I once dabbled in creating multiple accounts for imaginary people so that I could engage them in a story. It was fun, but writing novels remains funner.

Funner is a word my son used, back when he was small. For example, he dictated this message with the shower gift to an unborn child, “At first it’s not fun but then it gets funner and funner.” (It = life.)

But I digress. Just like on Twitter, except with more characters.

As with my children, I want the best for my novels. Especially, I want people to read them. Towards that end, the first – and in the current publishing world, the most difficult – step is to make people aware that my novels exist! So, a week-plus ago, I took the plunge and joined the Twitter universe.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 5.46.40 PMThe Twitterverse is a peculiar place that I don’t much understand. I have come to learn that if you like what someone tweets, you can reward them with various coins of the realm. You can favorite the tweet, or re-tweet it, or follow that tweeter. Following someone is a particular honor, apparently, and important. Some people pay for services that reveal who followed – and who un-followed – them every day. What does one do with un-follow information? Beg them to come back? Make a Nixonian enemies list?

My number of followers fluctuates. This happens whether or not I tweet anything. The long-term trend is up so maybe it’s like the stock market. Or perhaps I have offended some, by failing to retweet them, and so they cut me off. More likely, they were false followers, who followed me just to get me to check them out and say hmm, interesting and follow them back… Mission accomplished, they hook another follower and then unfollow her. Me. Apparently this kind of thing is worth the effort because your ratio of followers to following could indicate how cool you are. In even more arcane ways, your number of tweets matter, but I’m not the one to explain how that works.

The unfollowing methodology perplexes me. Should I figure out who unfollowed me and – eye for an eye! – unfollow them? Should I unfollow the #Dalai Lama? What about my musical faves like #Chris Thile or #Noam Pikelny or #X (here Xtheband)? They’ve had more than a week to follow me back, how long am I supposed to wait for respect?

I can’t imagine how much energy it takes to keep track of such things. Twitter is overwhelmingly productive. I don’t follow many people yet, so I don’t get all that many tweets on my timeline. While I typed this, I only got 183 new tweets. Wait, make that 203. The tweets flow by and if I’m not watching the screen when your latest tweet posts, I will never see it. And so tweeters post and post and post, so that I might occasionally see one of their tweets. (Make that 247 new tweets.) Many writers claim that incessant tweeting noticeably boosts sales and downloads of their books. (272 new tweets.) Oy. I hope that is not the only way to grow readership. (292 new tweets)

Conversation seems difficult on Twitter. When you reply to a tweet, you do actually engage with another tweeter, but your timelines shows non-sequitur reply lines that make no sense to anyone else and it takes several clicks to backtrack to understand the conversation. I’m sure no one bothers.

For all of that, Twitter is amazing. Think about it. All over the world, millions upon millions typing and sending these cryptic messages in internet bottles, all day, every day. No need to reply, it’s all one-way. (337 tweets) Sometimes I go bittersweet and pretend that Twitter relays the transmissions from a distant galaxy, messages only just now captured after traveling light years from a civilization lost to a supernova, eons ago.

Do you tweet? My twitter handle is in the snapshot – stop on by! (363 tweets)

P.S. To those of you who have read Nica of Los Angeles – I sound like Nica now, don’t I? It’s kind of awesome and kind of creepy to be inhabited by a character in this way. After I finished book 1, I wasn’t able to shake her style of narration, and now that I’m immersed in book 2 in the series, I’ve stopped trying to shake it because I need it again. Maybe I will become more like Nica, and not just talk like her. Now that would be awesome!

Surely There Is Someone to Sue Over This!

Guess what this is! I’ll give one hint: It is not an heirloom hand-crafted dish:

2014-08-10 09.20.23

For more context, here are a couple others of the same species:

2014-08-10 09.15.07

Here they are shortly after birth:

2014-08-08 08.50.43

What they are: blobs of melted metal. I put a pan of water on the stove to boil for my oatmeal, then messed around on the internet for just a couple minutes, or so it seemed. Clearly I was lured to keep clicking around! I came back to find the pan melting.

I confess that I was tempted – very tempted – to keep the pan on the burner because the melted blobs are smooth and interesting and I want more. I fought my temptation after I envisioned a later stage called pan explosion.

This is not the only pan lid now left bereft. In memorium:

2014-08-08 09.12.09

This seems to happen about once every 18 months, and started about the time I started my blog, which is quite a coincidence!

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is Texture.)

Consumer Nirvana – a short list

All hope abandon, ye who shoppeth here.

All hope abandon, ye who shoppeth here.

Being a consumer makes me anxious and hostile. I go into a store, see shelf after shelf of choices and I don’t revel in having options. I just want to get my laundry soap and get out of here. I become loyal because overwhelmed. I stick with products that slightly work for me because I can’t bear another round of label reading or comparison shopping. Consumer-wise – except for the shortages – I might have done okay in the Soviet Union.

But – there are some times when I glory in being part of a consumer society, when I am enjoying the luxuries that have become necessities because I love them so frigging much. My top two consumer necessities are:

1) the iPad. It captures the essence of all that is charming and easy and cool about Apple products, while allowing me to read and write in the dark, such as on patios on summer nights. I write my first draft novels on my iPad now, and only switch to a laptop because iPad text editing remains at a Neanderthal stage.

2) the automobile seat warmer. Although my last couple cars have had them, it took me years to toggle the on button. The concept seemed weird and pointless, and reminded me of a failed toilet attachment from long ago called “Butt Spa”. Then I tried one (a seat warmer, not a Butt Spa). Now I look forward to driving in frigid weather. And yes, even in southern California it gets cold enough for a seat warmer — if you want it to.

Image from electronicproducts.com.

Campus Wildlife Resort

What do Caltech and Tony Soprano’s swimming pool have in common? Ducks.

In the middle of the Caltech campus is a shady oasis for people and some unexpected wildlife. Here, deep in suburban Pasadena, California, there is a small Japanese garden with a pond full of turtles and crayfish, a few ducks – and the occasional heron. Geese cause trouble nearby.

The flow of the pond’s water creates intricate zig-zagging reflections, so it might be hard to find the ducks at first. There are two males with green stripes, and one female, in the foreground of the photo below. Also note a few turtles on the rocks in the middle of the pond; most of the turtles prefer the other side of the pond – not enough sun here.

2014-02-05 11.55.02

I am lucky enough to work near this campus and often walk there for lunch. Any day becomes cheerier if I go past the pond and see a duck snoozing with a beak tucked under a wing.

The ducks have been around for years. Lately, in a nearby reflecting pool, some geese have sporadically appeared. The geese leave poop all over the walkways, and chase people. I’ve yet to get close enough to the geese to photograph them. Goose drama. I don’t need it.

The ducks are better neighbors than the geese and more consistently on campus. In fact they are around so much, it seems they have ceased to migrate. Obviously, they like this safe, comfy pond, but there may be another, more persuasive reason for them to stay…

In the back of the photo, do you see those stairs? One day I spied a duck waddling around, behind the stairs. WTF, is that duck going into the building? I detoured to investigate and found the duck munching from a bowl of cat food placed behind the stairs. So – the primary reason the ducks stick around may involve Friskies.

Why the cat food? Well, there are feral cats on campus, and people feed them regardless of how many cease and desist threats the campus security issues about this dastardly practice, which exposes us all to terrible dangers. (If you re-read this paragraph carefully you may be able to detect whose side I am on, regarding the feeding of the feral cats.)

Every once in a great while, a heron appears and lurks at the pond for a few days:

2011-12-20 12.30.06

Okay, maybe it’s not a heron. Egret? Anyway, it’s a large white bird that menaces the crayfish.

Campus folklore has it that the pond was first populated with crayfish and turtles (and frogs; alas, the frogs have vanished) when scientists completed experiments and released survivors into the water. Unlikely, but a fine story!

Across the pond, beyond the heron, is a sign that says don’t feed the wildlife. If you stand near the sign, turtles will flock to you in anticipation of being fed. Those Caltech-ians are a rebellious breed!

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge wanted to see Zigzag.

You Could Be Having More Fun

nola

Bored with the blog world? Then, stop reading this blog post and instead check out the first chapters of my latest novel, Nica of Los Angeles, It is the first in the FRAMES series, a speculative fantasy with detective elements, plenty of humor, and a strong female lead. I’m excited about this series and the reactions Nica is getting so far! One thing I can guarantee – you haven’t read anything quite like this before.

Not ready to commit to free chapters? Then start with the descriptions below.

Thumbnail:

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, where a stray cat has great powers, where books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica tackles missing persons cases, while in the larger reality of the Frames she is swept into an escalating battle between good and evil.

Synopsis:

Nica Sheridan Taggart Ambrose Taggart Ickovic (S.T.A.T.Ic.) craves action and change, which leaves her life as stable as old dynamite; and though she’s had more than her share of tragedy, she maintains an unquenchable spirit. Her restless nature has led her into several marriages and countless jobs. Now she appoints herself as a private detective, and her shingle is barely dry when she gets not one but three pairs of clients demanding her attention.

First comes a noxious couple that Nica secretly dubs Mathead and Scabman, who claim to seek a certain duffel bag; repelled, Nica declines their money but they won’t go away. Then, the Garcias hire her to find a missing, 15-year-old goddaughter; Nica doesn’t trust them, but decides she can help the girl in spite of them. Both cases pale beside the third demand for her services.

I became aware that the air had changed. My office smelled like a forest just after a flash flood, when everything is power-washed and tree trunks are smeared with riverbed mud. Fresh and wild.

It took much strength to gently lower that window, but the stranger’s arms – all sinew and muscle – showed no strain. I took a step back to get a fuller look and to get farther away. He was a wolf. I don’t mean a predatory flirt, I mean he was long and lean and fast and dangerous: coarse black hair, ice-gray eyes and smile full of teeth, supreme confidence backed with survival instinct.

“Please sit down,” I suggested or pleaded as I retreated behind my desk. As he complied, muscles flexed inside his garments, a loose cotton tunic and drawstring pants that were as gray as February.

She sat down, too. My other visitor was a princess: not as in daddy’s spoiled girl, as in future queen of the fairies. She was as ethereal as he was earthy, exotic but I couldn’t place the ethnic background. Cornsilk hair, slanted eyes like unpolished silver, her skin like the penny you’ve always kept in your pocket for luck. Her tunic was white as a desert sunrise.

“We are in need of your detective arts,” she said.

“That tends to be why people come to this office.” The joke was stillborn. “I’m usually good with accents but I can’t place yours. Where are you from?”

“I first arrived in the place you call Kansas.”

“Huh.” I’ve been to Kansas and there is nobody like her there. I decided I would not call her a liar and looked to him expectantly.

“Knowledge of my ancestry provides no value. We have need of your assistance,” he said, in a voice that never needed help from anybody.

“The fate of the free worlds is at stake,” she added, in a voice like the first spring breeze on snow.

“Oh-kay.” Note to self, cancel ad in Nutjob Quarterly.

Despite this bizarre introduction, Nica instinctively trusts these two, Anwyl and Anya, who draw her into adventures beyond imagining – and she’s got a crazy imagination. They travel into other dimensions called Frames, often with the Watts Towers – which are folk art sculptures in Nica’s Frame, but sentient, animate beings elsewhere. Nica learns to avoid books, which form deadly mercenary armies; to keep silent around clouds, which can be spies; and to view her stray cat warily, since cats are beings of great power and you never know what side they’re on. There is danger everywhere in the Frames, but also a mind-boggling expansion of reality. For once, Nica feels challenged, engrossed, and strangely at home.

In this first book of the FRAMES series, a band of allies that includes structures, landforms, and creatures sets out to stop Warty Sebaceous Cysts, a repulsive trio who casually commit genocide as part of their plan to free their imprisoned leader, Maelstrom. Freedom for Maelstrom would bring cruelty and horror to all the Frames, so Nica joins the allies’ cause without hesitation, though her efforts get her in trouble with the law at home, and in danger of mind control, pain, and death in other Frames. As she sees it, she was born to travel the Frames.

Cover art by Lars Huston.