Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: Across the Face of the World

Title: Across the Face of the World
Author: Russell Kirkpatrick
Genre: Epic Fantasy


Leith had lost hope that his father would ever return.  Mahnum, a trader, left his wife and sons two years ago to investigate troubling rumors in Bhrudwo, the land of the sinister Undying Man.  When he unveils a coming invasion, Mahnum flees.  He's hotly pursued by four deadly Bhrudwan warriors.

Arriving home to the small village of Loulea, Mahnum has just enough time to reveal the horrific news to his family before the warriors catch up.  They capture Mahnum and his wife, leaving Leith and his brother Hal for dead.

Helped by three villagers--the fat and peacemaking Haufuth, cantankerous old Kurr, and beautiful Stella--Leith and his brother launch a quest to save their parents and warn the king about the coming vengeance of the Undying Man.


Five maps and a glossary attest to Mr. Kirkpatrick's dedication to world-building, by far, the strongest attribute of his book.  Here is a raw and wild land of snow-filled mountains, cascading rapids, and pits reeking with the bodies of the sacrificed.  The cultures are many and varied, and the author treats them with respect, whether the people be allies or enemies.  Religious stories of the Most High and folktales of Qali the snow god pepper the pages.  Not only do they add depth to the world, they are entertaining and exciting reads in and of themselves.

The plot, on the other hand, is like a showcase for the world-building.  For 500 pages it consists of nothing but one chase after another.  While this is a good vehicle for dragging the characters across the beautiful landscape, it makes it very hard to muster enthusiasm for reading.  A chase is only exciting if it's short.  Months and months of the characters almost finding (but not quite) their loved ones soon becomes tedious.

Nor did I find the main protagonist Leith very compelling.  Leith is the very definition of "tow-headed farm boy wanting to be normal but destined for greatness," an overused fantasy trope.  Honestly, Leith doesn't do much, mostly getting dragged around by the more interesting supporting characters.  The Haufuth has a self-effacing leadership style, while Kurr's deliciously cranky.  I wanted to see more of younger brother Hal, who seems to have mystical powers.

Much as I liked the side cast, the third person omniscient point of view prevented me from accessing their innermost thoughts.  Between the distant pov and paragrahs of description, the book was a slow read.  It had its moments, but I'm not sure it's enough for me to continue onto the second book in the series.

Rant (Warning: Spoilers)

I almost didn't finish this book.  After reading the first chapter, I put the book down and contemplated casting it aside.  But I told myself, Get through the first hundred pages at least and then decide.  

Not a great sign.

The first hundred pages interested me enough for me to continue.  Even so, reading proved to be a exercise in discipline.  I forced myself to read chapter after chapter, gritting my teeth on the last fifty pages.  Just get through it, just get through it.

The book did not compel me to read, so I would say, it was not very compelling.  Why not?  Well, I've touched upon it in my review.  But to expound, there are two main factors: a distant point of view and a static plot.

A close point of view, by contrast, can be either first person or third person, but either way I am in the character's head, seeing the world through their eyes.  Across the Face of the World was told in omniscient point of view, which meant that pretty much all the description, lovely as it was, felt like staring at a un-narrated nature footage for a full 15 minutes.  For example, at the start of Chapter 4:

"The morning sun shone bright and clear, supervising a roguish westerly breeze.  The wind caressed the freshly fallen snow, rattled the bones of the tall poplars and ruffled the dark tunics of the mourners gathered around the two open graves.  Around them swirled the glory and the bitterness of life: the heartswelling sound of songbirds, the cheeky glint of the sun on the swift-running brook, the crisp wind on downcast faces, the pungent smell of freshly turned earth; the salty taste of sadness and death on such a morning as this filled the hearts of the people grouped together at the graveside...."

...And it goes on for another half paragraph.

Who actually sees the sun and feels the wind and hears the birds?  People, generic people.  There's no intimacy, no individuality--all are equally sad.  Yet at any given funeral, one person might be weeping over the memory of the departed, another might assume a pose of reverence while his mind wanders to lunch, someone else might be numbed with shock.  We don't get any of this, so we lose the actual experience of being the mourners at the funeral.  Instead, we're regulated to spectators.

Now for the plot.  I think that all stories need at least one strong central question to compel the reader forward all the way to the end.  In a mystery, it might be "Who is the murderer?" and "How did they commit the crime?"  In a romance, it might be "Will the lovers be together at the end?" and "How will they overcome the obstacles that separate them?"

In this book, after Mahnum gets kidnapped, the central question became, "How will his sons and a ragtag bunch of villagers defeat four trained warriors to rescue him?"  Also, "How will rescuing him play a larger role in preventing the Undying Man from conquering the world?"  So far so good.

The thing is, the central questions are not allowed to sit idly by on the sidelines.  The story must continue to address them.  That's why, in the mystery, clues must be unearthed.  In romance, the lovers must struggle through problem after problem.  Above all, progress must be made, even if it is of the "two steps forward, one step back" variety.

In Across the Face of the World, the ragtag bunch of heroes chase Mahnum, admire the scenery, meet new people, hear a tale, get into a fight, and chase Mahnum some more.  It gets rather repetitive.  But the heroes don't actually develop any skills for defeating the Bhrudwan warriors.  Those same skills might also help develop the second question, how to defeat the Undying Man.

What's doubly frustrating is that almost as soon as the heroes start the quest, a holy man prophesies, "As you leave this little valley, you'll be leavin' the realm you know, [...] the realm of the flesh, and you'll be drawn into the Realm of Fire. [...]  Miracles there are in the Realm of Fire, and illusion, and dreams, and prophecy to bind and to loose, and dark magic.  [...]  I foresee that the Most High will be trainin' you in the way of the Fiery Realm."

And yet, no one has been trained, with the exception of Hal, who might have already had the power to begin with.  It's not that the characters aren't subjected to prophets and prophecies and miracles, they simply don't take anything away from the experience.  Leith, for example, actually sees brother Hal swathed in an outline of blue fire, with shadowy wings on his back, speaking words as though he were a messenger of God.  So what does Leith do?  He doesn't.  He doesn't confront Leith, he doesn't tell anyone, and he doesn't reflect deeply on what he's seen.

Anyway, shortly after (not) realizing that Hal is a prophet, Leith and co finally get to rescue Mahnum, and with some teamwork, ingenuity, and Hal conveniently blocking the Bhrudwan warriors' magic, Mahnum is rescued, and so the first central question is answered... 150 pages before the book ends.

So now what?  Well, ideally, the heroes should start to work on the second question, which is how to save their land from the wrath of the Undying Man.  But immediately after the fight, Leith gets himself captured by a group of bandits.  And so the pattern continues: chase, meet people, hear a tale, fight, and chase again.

And this why I was gritting my teeth for the last 50 pages.  One question had been answered and I knew the second one wouldn't be addressed.

This all sounds like a harsh critique.  But really, I'm just trying to figure out why I had trouble reading the book.  And in the end, maybe the question shouldn't just be, "Why was it so hard for me to read?" but also, "Why did I choose to finish?"

I chose to keep reading because I did care about the characters, because in the rare moments that Mr. Kirkpatrick let us into their heads, I liked what I saw.  I kept reading, because I wanted to know what would happen to Mahnum, if he'd be rescued, and how.   I kept reading because I loved experiencing Leith forced to spend a night on the ice huddled for warmth with a girl he loves who doesn't love him back; cascading down rapids with jolly fur traders; standing drugged above a crack in the earth about to be shoved off and sacrificed to Mother Earth.

And I chose to keep reading, because I knew that Mr. Kirkpatrick's strengths were my weakness: setting and world-building and description.  I was inspired by the originally-formed world, and I wondered if I could ever hope to master the depth and richness.  So I read, hoping to learn and be inspired.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Weekly Update: 7-26-13 (Bookstore Conversation)

Despite house-sitting for my parents up in Victorville with only a dog and two turtles to keep me company at night, I've had a fairly social week.  I hung out with my cousins on Tuesday night and all of Wednesday.  We made gnocchi and manicotti and giggled like lunitics while playing charades.  (The biggest laugh came with the word "alligator wrestling."  I was an alligator and my cousin tackled me.)  Today I went shopping with my friend Melissa.

As always, we started our day in Barnes and Noble.  Since I'd just finished with my poll, we ended up analyzing the shelves of YA new arrivals.  We were discussing what titles and pictures caught our eye, and though we both had different tastes, a cover of New York City standing above a waterfall definitely caught our eye.  The Ward was the name of the book, and as I skimmed the flap, the things that sold us were the idea of Manhattan flooded, a sickness threatening a sister, and a car that could climb up skyscrapers.  Melissa decided to buy it, but hesistated when she saw the price.  $17.99.

"What's wrong with it?" she asked.  

As it turned out the hardcover books she was used to buying were in the range of $26.00 (though she got them at discount).  If the book were cheaper, it must mean it wasn't as good.  Once I showed her that all the YA books were in the $17.99 range, she happily bought it, along with a Mary Higgins Clark book (she didn't even read the summary) and The Cuckoo's Calling, after I explained that it was a mystery penned by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym.

As we exited the store, she started to complain about not having room on her shelves. 

"I could donate them, but I don't want to.  It feels like I've already invested so much money in them.  But I'm never going to read them again."

"It's like a collection," I said.  "Like stamps."

"Or Barbies."

Melissa thought she ought to go to e-reader, but didn't like how it felt on her eye.  

"That's why I don't like reading your story," she said.  "I'll read it when you've published it.  But the document hurts my eye."

"My cousins have similar complaints," I said.

"Anyway, now that I have these new books, I don't have time to read yours.  Besides, I don't know how good yours will be anyway."  She grinned.  "You're still an unknown." 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Changelings: Summary

As those of you reading this blog may know, I've just about finished my first book, an 800-page epic fantasy called The Changelings.  As I prepare to submit to agents (or, failing that, self-publish), I've been trying to write a summary that will entice my audience while also capturing the essence of my novel.  This is what I've come up.  Let me know what you think.


What if your whole life was a lie? 

Sylvie of Brenton thought she knew who she was--the priest's daughter, an unassuming human girl content to lead an ordinary life.  But one sweltering summer day, her best friend Matthew reveals a long-held secret: Sylvie is a Changeling--a creature given human form and switched with the priest's real daughter.  And she's not the only one.

Four other Changelings lay hidden in the desert town of Brenton--including Matthew himself.  Once a child prophet, Matthew's premonitions of conquest and collapse prompted his people to create the Changelings--their one hope of survival.  Unfortunately, Matthew's visions were incomplete.  For seventeen years he waited to receive the end of the prophecy.  Now at last he sees the truth.

Matthew will die.  It's Sylvie who must finish the prophecy for him.

Heartbroken and confused, Sylvie tries to forget Matthew's words.  But the prophecy will not be contained.  Soon, the remaining Changelings set forth on a journey leading back to the place of their creation, where they will learn their true identities and confront their destiny.  And Sylvie--the only Changeling who knows the truth--must decide whether to uphold the prophecy that killed her best friend or abandon it altogether....

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Poll Results: How Do You Discover Books?

Last month, I sent out a poll to various friends, family, and acquaintances to ask them how they discovered books and what made them choose to buy them.  I received 15 replies, 14 of whom were female, ranging in age from early 20s to retired.  Many are writers and many are involved in education.

If more surveys trickle in, I may update this.  But for now, may I present the results of research.

1. How many fiction books/ novellas do you read each year?

Average (Mean): 33 books a year
Lowest: 2 books a year
Highest: 200 books a year

2.  How do you find new books?

"My favorite way to find a new book is on because after having rated some books, the website will give me personalized recommendations.  This is less overwhelming than walking into a bookstore with no idea what I'm looking for."

"Sometimes I browse the used bookstores and just pick up something that looks interesting or was recommended by one of their store employees.  Another minor way I've read a few books was through  [...] Honestly, though, I've read all the books I've discovered this way, but haven't fallen in love with any of the authors.  Really, my biggest way of finding new books is asking my friends what they like, then sticking with the authors I like."

60% (9/15) of those polled cited Friends/ Word of Mouth as a way to find new books.
53% (8/15) of those polled cited Browsing at bookstores, libraries, or used bookstores.
47% (7/15) of those polled cited, using recommendations, email alerts, discussions, reviews, and freebies.
27% (4/15) of those polled cited, using recommendations and email alerts.
27% (4/15) of those polled cited Other Websites, including Goodreads, Reddit, Pinterest, and Bookseller's Digest.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Newspapers.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Movies.
40% (6/15) of those polled cited Miscellaneous, including anthologies, radio, bookseller's lists, online reviews, favorite authors, and literary classes.

3.  How does a book first catch your eye?

"The first page/ hook is important--that's where I see if I like the writing style, story, and character--given the limited time that I have, do I want to be involved in the story?"

"I'll pick up something that catches my eye based on the cover (oddly enough) or title.  I'll then pick it up, read the back, and take a peek inside.  If I find that the first few pages has sucked me in, I'll take the book home with me."

47% (7/15) of those polled cited the Title.
40% (6/15) of those polled cited the Cover, looking at the color, if it jumps out, birds, strong female character, and if it looks funny.
33% (5/15) of those polled cited the Author's Name.
27% (4/15) of those polled cited the Summary/ Description on Back.
27% (4/15) of those polled cited the First Page(s), looking at the writing style, the story, the characters, and the theme.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Genre.
7% (1/15) of those polled cited Bookstore Employee Recommendation Signs.
7% (1/15) of those polled cited Reviews.

4.  After getting your attention, what makes you decide to buy/ read a book?

"Hooked after the first chapter/ few pages.  Usually the summary 'sells me' in addition to online recommendations/ reviews."

"Right now, it has to be very inexpensive or free.  I'll read just about anything Michelle Knowlden recommends.  If it's a new book in a series I'm already reading."

60% (9/15) of those polled cited Summary and Description, with one person being sold on murder and another considering blurbs.
47% (7/15) of those polled cited First Page(s), with one person looking at style.
27% (4/15) of those polled cited Price, with one person not buying a book over $10.00 and another wanting the book to be inexpensive or free.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Good Reviews.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Next in a Series.
13% (2/15) of those polled cited Recommendations.

5.  Is feeling like you know the author important? 

"Through their writing, tells a lot about the author.  The author pours themselves into whatever they're writing."

"I don't go out looking for facts about any author.  The only thing I want to know is what to expect from them through their writing.  I've noticed that when I like one book from an author, I tend to like all of their books, because the writing style and type of plot doesn't change."

53% (8/15) of those polled said Yes.
5 people said, "I learn about them through their writing."
1 person said, "I like supporting local authors."
2 people read the Author's Biography.
2 people check the Author's Website.

33% (5/15) of those polled said No.
2 people said "All I care about is their writing."
2 people said "But knowing the author is a nice bonus."
1 person said, "Except when their life is important to understanding their work."

13% (2/15) did not answer.

6. What are your favorite books and how did you discover them?

"Twilight--Amiee bought the entire series for me for Christmas and told me I had to read them.  I loved these books.  I read each book in 2 days.  That's a record for me."

"The Great Gatsby--Read it in high school for an English class and enjoyed it.  Re-read it when I found out they were making a movie."

"The Hunger Games--A certain niece told me about it, took me to the movie, and started to read the book to me."

49% (21/43) of books came from Friends or Family, with 8 specified as Recommendations, 4 as Gifts, and 3 as Loans.
13% (6/43) of books were discovered from School, with 3 Assigned Reading, 1 from an AP Practice Test, 1 from SAT Essays, and 1 from a Book Order
13% (6/43) of books came from Bookstores, with 1 specified as from the Library Bookstore, 1 from Barnes and Noble, and 1 from Borders.
7% (3/43) of books were discovered when a Movie came out.
5% (2/43) of books came from an Anthology
5% (2/43) of books came from Book Clubs
2% (1/43) of books came from an Amazon Recommendation
2% (1/43) of books came from Book Exchange
2% (1/43) of books was discovered because they Already Knew the Author

By the way, the The Top 3 Favorite Books/ Authors are:

#1 Harry Potter/ J.K. Rowling (6 Mentions)
#2 The Hunger Games/ Suzanne Collins (4 Mentions)
#3 (Tie) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy/ Douglas Adams (3 Mentions)
#3 (Tie) Twilight/ Stephanie Meyers (3 Mentions)
#3 (Tie) Agatha Christie (3 Mentions)

Honorable Mentions: Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis, David Sedaris, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaimon, Chuck Palahniuk, and Terry Pratchett


Most readers seem to find their books via recommendation, whether through friends or Amazon.  There's still a lot of physical circulation of books, through loans, gifts, libraries, bookstores, and used bookstores.  The title and cover are what catches people's eyes, but it's the summary and actual writing that seals the deal.

Interestingly enough, when asked when knowing the author is important, most people, whether they answered yes or no, say they learn what they want from the writing and will continue to buy books from an author they like.  Neither group seems to seek out supplementary info via a blog, social media, etc.  They might glance at a bio, though.

Almost half the favorite books were recommended by friends and family, many of whom passionately force their favorites onto others.  This means the same books keep circulating.  Online websites don't actually seem to match people with their favorite books--at least, not in this survey.  Even browsing and school did a better job of that.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Weekly Update: 7-20-13

Discipline does not come naturally to me.  I have to cultivate it, like some beautiful hothouse flower, putting in time and effort and care.  The slightest negligence and the whole thing withers into a heap of mulch.

Or to put it in less flowery terms: I've been a lazy, Candy-Crush-playing, Reality-T.V.-watching layabout the house.  I hate it and yet I secretly enjoy it.  I know that by fall, when school starts up, I'll have to be disciplined again, so I am procrastinating with all my might. 

I hope this week will represent a turning point.  I'll be house-sitting in Victorville while my family goes to Oklahoma to prepare for the birth of my brother's first child.  (I'm not going because there's limited space and I'm not all gaga for newborns anyway.)  I hope I'll have less distractions and this in turn will help me get things done.  But we'll see.

Last week Friday, I finally got my driver's license.  I was so nervous, I could hardly sleep.  I tried reading Agatha Christie to soothe my nerves.  By Saturday, I'd finished: Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates, Taken at the Flood, Mrs. McGinty's Dead, and The Big Four.  (I liked all of them except The Big Four, which abandoned the English cozy mystery format to become an international spy; this change did not work.)  This week, I've been reading non-fiction on battles, weapons, Mongols, bad parents, and Ennagrams.  

I figure, if I must procrastinate, better to at least get some reading done.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fiction: The Character Assassination of Julia Kaiser

"They're out to get you."  The homeless man grips me by the shoulder and pushes his face close to mine.  "It's March," he wheezes.  "The weather warms up, and the crows come out.  Can't you see their glittering eyes?  They accuse you.  Beware! Beware the eyes of March!"

"Thanks for the advice."  I push his hand off me.  "Here's a dollar for you trouble."

His gazes at me with bloodshot eyes.  "The eyes of March... the eyes of March."

"Creepy old man."  My cousin Otti shudders.

"He's harmless."

"He smells."  She kicks a rock.  "I hate walking."

"Oh, cheer up, Otti.  It's good exercise."

She scowls.  "I told you not to call me that in public."

Ottiviana has always hated her name.  She prefers her middle name—Summer.  Personally, I think she's too stoned-faced and serious to pull it off.

"We aren't in public yet," I say.  "Still a block to school."

"We wouldn't have to walk if you had your car.  That's twice in a month someone's trashed it," my cousin mutters.  "I swear, Julia, someone's out to get you."

"It happens," I say lightly.  "You can't be smart, pretty, and popular without making a few enemies.  People are bound to be jealous."

Otti shakes her head.

We get through the gates of school right as the bell rings, and there we part ways.  Otti heads off to the sophomore corridor, while I go down the senior hall.  The walls are jammed with students, but I spot my veep, Marcia Anthony, near the drinking fountain.  As usual, she's going through her debate cards.

"Student Council meeting after school today," I call to her.  "Don't forget."

She nods absently.

First period Spanish.  I try to think if I've done the homework.  Only half, but it should be okay.  My conversation partner, Brittany, will help me fill in the blanks.  She's one of my oldest friends and won't mind the favor.

"Hola, Britti."  I plop into my desk.  "Como estas?"

"Bien," she says quietly.

But she's not bien, and no wonder.  Cassie leans over Brittany's desk on stick-thin arms, hovering over my best friend.  My stomach tightens.  I don't trust Cassie.  She's too skinny, has too much pale foundation smeared over her face.  You have to watch out for girls like that; they're bone-deep insecure.

Cassie wears a poisonous smile.  "We were just discussing all your extracurricular activities.  You're so busy, Julia, it's a wonder you find time to sleep."

"That's what vacations are for."

"Not this vacation.  You'll be traveling all over Europe on the Ambassador Scholarship."  She rises to her full 6' 2" model height.  "It's such an honor to represent our school, our state, our country.  To be a positive role model for all girls."

"Yes."  I flash my teeth at her.  "I'm just sorry it could only go to one person.  I know you had your heart set on it."

She shrugs.  "All I care about is showing our school in the best possible light."

"That's what I'll do.  You can be sure of that."

The bell rings.  Cassie glides out the door, fake smile still plastered to her mouth.

* * *

The security guard interrupts my Student Council meeting, right when I'm in a fierce debate with Marcia on how to spend our prom budget.  She wants her boyfriend Theo Patrick's band to play.  I say no.  She's still going on about it, when the security guard knocks on the door.

"Julia Kaiser, you're wanted in the principal's office.  Immediately."

"Okay."  I take the note, expecting him to leave.

He doesn't.  "I'll walk with you."

That's a little strange.  "Am I in trouble?"

No reply.

I look at Marcia.  "Continue the meeting.  And it's still a no on Theo's band."

She makes a sour face.

I walk up to the principal's office with the security guard.  Romano Paxton, reads the flashy gold letters on the door.  Inside the office stand Cassie and several members of her posse, some I know, some I don't.  The girls crowd the room so thickly, I can hardly see Mr. Paxton.  He hunches over his desk, his fingers knit together and a grave expression on his face.

"Julia, sit down.  A serious charge has been brought against you."

"Against me?  Why?  What did I do?"

He brings something out of his desk.  "Is this yours?"

He holds up a dagger, and my heart stops.  It's a military-grade knife my brother gave to me before he went overseas.  I know it's mine, because the silver handle has my name engraved on it.

"How-how did you get that?"

"We found it in your locker."

"My locker?"  My heart races.  "Mr. Paxton, you don't think that I, of all people, brought a knife to school?  Why would I do that?  I spoke out in favor of the school's zero-tolerance weapon policy just last September."

"I find it hard to believe as well."  He rubs his eyes.  "But there are witnesses."
Cassie looms toward me, and her mascaraed eyes glitter.

"You're sick, Julia.  You need help.  You bring that dagger to school every day and hurt people you don't like.  You make them do things they don't want to do."

"What are you talking about?"

A girl I've never seen before points a bony finger at me.  "You made me steal Mr. Gaul's test answers.  You said if I didn't, you'd tell my boyfriend I was cheating on him."

"You called me fat and ugly and stupid," another girl says.   "You'd take out that knife and cut me in the bathroom just for fun."

A third girl circles me.  "You threatened to kill me if I opened my mouth about you.  You said no one would believe you did it, because you're student president."

"You're all liars!" I yell.

"We know what you really are, Julia."

That voice kills me.

The crowd shifts, and now I see her.  She stands by the window.  The glaring light of the afternoon sun shrouds her in shadow.

"Y tu, Britti?" I say softly.

Her eyes harden.  She turns to Mr. Paxton.

"Julia and I were friends until middle school.  Then she changed.  During class she still acted nice, but after school she'd drink and start cussing me out.  I shrugged it off, because I knew her parents were getting a divorce.  But then she did this to me."

She lifts up her hair to show the scar on the back of her neck.

Julia's Bitch.

The letters are still carved into Brittany's skin.  Cut by my own dagger, cut by my own hand.  Tears well in my eyes, and my face grows hot as I remember pinning her down while she cried and I laughed.  I want to hide.  I want to shrink smaller and smaller, until I disappear completely.

"I'm sorry," I whisper.  "You know how sorry I am.  I stopped drinking.  I went to counseling.  You said you'd forgiven me.  You promised not to tell."

"Because I thought you'd changed."  Brittany steps forward.  "But you haven't.  You're still a bully, Julia, and that's all you'll ever be.  You don't deserve to represent our school.  You don’t deserve my protection.  No one else will be hurt by my silence again."

I'm dead inside.

More accusations fly, but I no longer hear them.  Brittany's betrayal has bled me dry, and I can't even defend myself.  Mr. Paxton tosses around words like forfeiture of scholarship and expulsion.  I nod mutely, curling my arms around my chest.  I just want to get out of there, as quickly as I can.

By the time they release me, a small crowd has gathered around the principal's door to gaze at my lifeless body.  Marcia's pale face stands out among the onlookers, and her eyes are wide with horror.  

"What happened?" she cries.  But I float away like a ghost.  I pass through the school gates and wander the streets, until I reach my bed.  I entomb myself under mounds of blankets.  And there I lay, sobbing.

The blankets lift.  "Julia!"

"Summer!" I gasp.

My little cousin wraps her arms around me.  I bawl into her chest.

"It's a lie.  It's all a lie."

"I know, I know."  She strokes my head.  "Don't you worry.  I'll restore your reputation.  Those girls who did this to you—I'll destroy them, Julia.  You wait.  Those girls will pay for what they've done."

Her voice is like steel.  I see the determination in her eyes and know she means every word.  My sobbing subsides.  I sniffle one last time and wipe my tears away.

Note: I wrote this story in for my Brea Library Writer's Club March Contest.  Ultimately, the contest fizzled due to lack of entries.  I tried to re-write Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with high school girls.  It started off with lots of bad name puns and ended up getting really dark and intense.  It sort of scared me, but I couldn't figure out how else to portray the "assassination."  So it is what it is. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Weekly Update: 7-6-13

I've been bitten by the lazy bug, infected by the lazy virus, and bed-ridden by the lazy flu.  No need to send me cards.  A swift kick in the pants ought to do it.

It's depressing to talk about how little I've accomplished.  So I won't.

I did discover that my local library was doing an adult summer reading program.  Sign up in Brea Library and get a free book, with chances to win other prizes!  I love summer reading programs.  It's not that I wouldn't read, but the opportunity to get free stuff just makes it that much sweeter.

I read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is a speculative nonfiction about what would happen to Planet Earth if humans suddenly vanished.  It's actually a well put together story of the impact humans have had on the world.  The second book I read was The Survivor's Club by Ben Sherwood, which talks about people who have survived disasters and how they did it.

I've also been watching "Through the Wormhole" on T.V. (Science Channel), where host Morgan Freeman takes science fiction concepts like "Can our Brains be Hacked?" and "Will Sex Become Obsolete?" and shows how current science could tilt in those directions.  My uncle also dug up on YouTube an old series called "Connections: With James Burke" which talks about the zig-zagging pattern of trends and inventions that led to the modern world.  It's part science, part history and surprisingly addictive.

Now all this makes me sound smart, but it's still, in the end, procrastination.  I'm trying desperately not to think about stuff I need to do: short story writing, market research, driving practice, new banks, health care, etc.  It's too overwhelming.

I figured, if I'm going to procrastinate anyway, I might as well do something.