Cycles

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I posted the latter of these two poems on this blog around 18 months ago, but I thought I’d post both of them to show how writing styles might change, while leaving the writer beneath intact.

Cycles, 2013

darkness wails in windswept winter
white with dust and frosted dew
broken branches, barely bother
scraping daytime from my shoe

winter falls and thus to springtime
footfalls tread on mildewed pass
blink an eye and summer’s sadly
dead and gone like sun-scorched grass

autumn’s awful, full of schooling
never learned the lessons well
falling for the futile blessing -
leaves once red, now brown, in hell

empty arms that wail, despairing
once were warm, now softly, sing
how a love once lay there telling
lies that winters lead to spring.

 

Cycles, 1982

winter turns to spring
spring turns to summer
summer turns to fall
fall finds me in school
in school i don’t learn nothing
nothing fills my life
my life is dead like winter
winter turns to spring

The Briton and the Dane: Timeline – available on iTunes

Timeline_CVR_LRG
Dr. Gwyneth Franger is a renowned expert in early medieval England who is set upon learning the truth about the death of Lord Erik, the last descendant of the powerful House of Wareham.  Her quest becomes an obsession, a condition that began with the discovery of a portrait of the tall and valiant warrior with which she forms an extraordinary and inexplicable bond.

Digesting troves of mildewed scrolls and source documentation only enhances her belief that Lord Erik was brutally assassinated by a cabal of traitors in the pay of William the Bastard, shortly before the onslaught of the Norman Invasion.

On an archeological dig in Southern England, her team unearths an Anglo-Saxon fortress, a vast citadel built during the reign of Alfred the Great, which she believes was Lord Erik’s stronghold.  In the midst of her excitement, she is awakened one night from her slumbers by a disconcerting anomaly emerging from the site.

Dr. Franger finds herself transported back to the Dark Ages and at the side of the noble Lord Erik who commands an army of elite Saxon warriors, a swift and mobile force able to deploy quickly throughout the kingdom to ward off invaders.

Witnessing the unrest firsthand, Gwyneth senses that her instincts had been right all along, and she is determined to learn the identities of the treacherous blackguards hiding in the shadows, villains who may well be posing as Lord Erik’s friends and counselors.

Will Gwyneth stop the assassins?  Is she strong enough to walk away and watch her beloved Erik die?  Or will she intervene, change the course of history and wipe out an entire timeline to save the man she loves with all her heart?

iTunes

Mary Ann Bernal web page

Falling in Love with a Story

I know when a book is working because I stop being the author and become a reader. This book, I like to read.

Dark Hat

After an hour of pointless ranting, Hardesty had convinced me he thought everyone in Northern Africa was potentially part of a Muslim plot. I’d have considered that racist, but the man thought pretty much the same about everyone in North America too. To his reckoning, our little Seize Mai contingent was no more than a fingerprint away from an Al Qaeda plot. It’s one thing to be a racist. It’s another, wholly indigestible subhuman trait to be despicable simply because no one ever taught you not to be a schmuck. Kevin Hardesty was a schmuck.

“Cain, you and your partner are interfering in a United States Government Operation.” I was no synesthete like Dark, but I could hear the capital letters in that declaration. I almost saluted out of habit.

“Boss, I keep telling you, we aren’t working on or interfering with your case in any way. Rather than come back home, me and Dark took a holiday in beautiful Casablanca.”

He bellowed some epithets that I was glad Dark couldn’t hear through the glass door. He went silent then, except for slurping on what had to be his tenth cup of Joe of the day. Actually, it was a Starbucks Tall Latte Mocha Something-or-Other, but I was in Casablanca and found myself channeling Bogart’s Rick Blaine by the minute. To me, Hardesty was no longer my obese Government COR, he was Kev Hardass, my stout Fed Bureau Chief, sipping on his cuppa Joe and trying bring his rogue agent, namely me, in line. I sort of sympathized with the poor sap, especially since he was knee-deep in a D.C. snowstorm while we were luxuriating in a Mediterranean clime and I knew there was nothing he could do about our actions short of creating an international incident by sending the troops into a friendly country.

“Cain, for the last time, tell me the truth. What the fuck are you doing in Casa, and how the hell did you know to go there? If you have someone here leaking you TS-SCI info, friend or not, I will have your ass and theirs.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I had zero idea to that point that the man considered me his friend. I can be as stubborn an ass as anyone, but I’m a sucker when it comes to loyalty. I’d started to fold just as Dark reentered the room. “Kevin, I promise, no one on the inside told us anything. Dark figured it out from some clues that Danni Rudenko dropped us.”

“Oh là là là là,” Dark said, throwing up her hands.

“What clues?” Hardesty asked. I gave Dark the hush sign, received the fuck-you sign in return, and then recapitulated the highlights of our interview with Danni, while my partner stood scowling at the phone with her arms crossed. When I’d finished, Hardesty said, “You’re in central Casablanca based on that meager information?”

I looked at Dark who called Hardesty something that sounded unconscionably harsh in German before stalking out the room’s front door. “I will see you downstairs,” she said and slammed the door behind her. That made me reconsider. She flat out didn’t trust him; friend or no, if Dark was suspicious then I needed to tread lightly.

“Cain, did you hear me?”

“No, sorry. Dark just stuck her head in to tell me we have an appointment.”

“I was saying that I don’t know how that woman does it, but she hit the nail on the head. Tell her I said she can work for me anytime.”

Editing Minute: Using a Reverse Dictionary

Since I get so many hits on my “Grammar Minute” posts, I’ve decided to start an “Editing Minute” series. They’re really more like 5-Minute posts, but that’s not as catchy a name. This first one points to a nice interwebs tool called “OneLook Reverse Dictionary.”

The concept is a simple one. One of the main goals of the editing process should be to tighten your language. Readers are busy people. A fast way to take them out of your story is to make them stumble over unneeded words. That’s where the reverse dictionary comes in. Unlike a normal dictionary, wherein you look up a word to find its precise meanings and usage, with a reverse dictionary you start at a concept and use the tool to find a more concise or precise way of stating it. Let’s look at a real editing example.

Here’s the original sentence:

“Her hips were barely covered by a tiny, asymmetrical skirt with a split all the way to her waist.”

Now, there’s an immediate marker that my editor’s eye should tell me I need to edit: the adverb, “barely.” Now, unlike Stephen King, I’m not allergic to adverbs, but they do often indicate there’s a better word or phrase that can be used. So, stuck for a word that’s more precise than “barely covered,” I pull up Reverse Dictionary:

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.38.34 AMThe tool is sometimes hit or miss, but right away, the 2nd verb strikes me: “feather.” That’s a possibility. I click on the word, which takes me to a set of dictionaries that I can use to verify my choice.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.39.01 AMI use the American Heritage, as I’m writing this in US English. For UK usage, I’d likely pick Oxford. Clicking on it takes me to a Yahoo page with the following:

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.39.52 AM

Blah, blah, nouns, blah, and then to cover, dress, or decorate with or as if with feathers. That’s perfect. I want the feel of something short and diaphanous, and feathering will produce that image. I’m still not done, however. I’m not thrilled with “all the way to” her waist as originally written. Returning to the Reverse Dictionary produces the following:

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.47.52 AMNo good choices, alas. However, number 28 strikes me–“to.” Ah, I can simply strip out “all the way” and end up with the following sentence:

“Her hips were feathered by a tiny, asymmetrical skirt with a split to her waist.

Much better than the original sentence–it’s more visual and 4 words (21%) shorter. Try a reverse dictionary and let me know what you think.

Letters for my Little Sister | A collection of letters

Bill Jones, Jr.:

A collection of letters on aging and menopause, gathered by my dear friend, Cecilia Gunther.

Originally posted on Melissa I. Hassard:

“Her little sister is so lucky,” says my 10-year-old daughter, earlier this evening, as I was explaining one of Sable Books’ latest releases to our beloved piano teacher.  As I got home, I realized I hadn’t shared it with all of you.

letters_for_my_little_sisterLetters for my Little Sister began as a real letter — one that Cecilia Gunther had begun to write to her younger sister as a way to help with navigating the journey of aging and menopause. Their mother had died when they were young, you see, and there had been no one to really turn to to ask questions about this stage of their lives, and while Cecilia had been old enough to have observed their mother some, the memories were scarce.  And there was really no one else around to give them this very personal advice.

She realized the taboo and silence around the subject of menopause, (“even typing…

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Reciprocity

Infinite rows of
tear-stained mirrors
hung with nails on greasy walls
faded a laundromat grey
grimace at each other
from across the room
unnerved by the vastness
shouting at each other
too close to hear the words
for all the screaming

Rows of commercial dryers
with cyclops’ eyes
stare unblinking at the
procession of strangers
marking each one with its scent
consuming stray socks and promises
smiling through uncaring, toothless jaws

Blondes in pink curlers
and cut-off Levis
march in robotic procession
treading over soap-stained floors
in a blizzard of heat and
the opaqueness of indifference
used to dry clothes and tears
when the heat runs out.
Tear-stained schmaltz
works well with bleach
to get those whites whiter
and the colors brighter

The give and take of life
goes mostly unnoticed
by those who only take
whatever you’re giving
The reciprocity of cracked mirrors
hung over swivel chairs
smiling at each other over
fresh haircuts and idle chatter
reflecting each other willingly
and paradoxically
stimulating growth
in an inanimate society

4/14/1982

Shut Up and Rub Me

An excerpt from my current work-in-progress, Jeanne Dark.

Dark CoverThe bathroom door opened and steam roiled out, bathing the room in warm, damp air. From its dark midst emerged Jeanne, lit by the flickering light from the living area as if she were a chimera, or perhaps a wounded angel, defrocked and sent limping to Earth. She was dressed in a flowing, white robe with her hair wrapped in a towel. It was ordinary hotel attire, yet she wore it as if she were an ancient Persian Princess and I her faithful servant. I’d doused the lights in the hotel room and substituted them with candles that were bright enough for her to see her way to the bed, but little else. I’d just turned off the lamps, and my eyes were still adjusting to the darkness when she approached. I regained my vision in time to see the creamy outline of her flesh through the sheer robe. I swept her up with my eyes, and for a moment, she met my gaze and the fog was no longer in the room, but in my mind, clouding out the thoughts I’d had of our case, our agreed professionalism, my reason. I realized, too late, that I’d not thought the setting in the room through. Behind me, Coltrane and Ellington conspired in playing “My Little Brown Book,” which added just enough heat that I feared the room might melt. That woman and her jazz were going to be the death of me.

“Merci pour l’éclairage,” Dark said, taking my hand so I could help ease her onto the bed. “It was very thoughtful.” My elementary French told me she was thanking me for dimming the lights. I breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t think the setting was as full of romance as my thumping heart was telling me that it was. Dark removed her sunglasses once again. Even in the dim light, the gloriously large olive orbs were breathtaking. She lay on her side, briefly looking me in the eyes, and smiled. “You are full of compliments tonight,” she said.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Oui. You said plenty.” She turned on her stomach, reached underneath and undid her robe. My brain reminded me for the second time I hadn’t thought the scenario through. It was, however, way too late to turn on the lights and the television to break the mood. She pulled the robe over her shoulders and lifted her chin to me. “You can help, you know.” I gingerly eased the garment off her shoulders, to her mid-back, stopping at her hips. I could see a strap across her back that looked like a … “Do you like my bikini?” she asked.

The question startled me, because for a moment I thought the woman could see me out the back of her head. It would have been a natural evolution from her current set of gifts. I managed to stutter out a query as to why she had a bikini in London.

“I bought it the day we met, when you promised me a massage. I was beginning to think I’d never wear it.”

I settled in over her and began at her shoulders. Her fragrance stopped me. “Why do you smell like oranges and vanilla?”

She gave a throaty laugh. “Do I make you hungry?”

I muttered my answer under my breath. “You have no idea.”

I resumed work on her shoulders, but she turned, looking at me. “Is the rest of me too damaged for you to massage?”

“What? No, of course not.”

“Then, if you don’t mind, I’d rather you start with the bottom and work up. All the pain is from below the waist.”

“Should I pull your robe back up?”

“If I am ugly, oui.”

I pulled the damned thing the rest of the way off, revealing her slender frame, delicate skin, and slim legs. From head to toe, she smelled of the attar of orange petals. “Yeah, my pain is from below the waist too,” I said.

“Shut up and rub me,” she said. I could hear the smile in her voice.