The loss consumed Davis.
If there were stages of grief, he felt he was at the very most bottom, standing in a hole, looking up at a sky getting farther and farther away.
Reality suddenly intruded on his circular thoughts. Someone else had left flowers. They weren’t even wilted, but the petals where sagging in the rain.
Davis added his own. They made a nice, soggy, arrangement.
Two months. Summer gone. Today it was a teacup, with a teabag of jasmine tea. The rain had filled the cup, the raindrops going plip and sending small waves of water over the rim.
She never drank jasmine tea.
At least, she never drank jasmine tea in front of him.
A winter rain. More flowers. These were bright and vivid, as if picked to dispel the ever-present grey winter gloom. A beacon of color.
He left the mistletoe next to the flowers. He could imagine holding the sprigs above her head, giving her the flowers and receiving a sweet kiss in return.
The kisses were the most cruel of daydreams.
At his apartment, Davis stared at the calendar.
I see you, he thought.
The man was tall and well-dressed in his trench coat, expensive shoes and tight-fitting black leather gloves. One of those men would would look good in a hat, only he wasn’t wearing a hat, and the rain was in his dark hair.
Davis walked to his side and stood next to him, both of them silent. They were silent for a long time.
“She always liked the rain,” the man said, staring in his cup of petals. Japanese maple petals.
“She loved Japanese maples, she did,” said Davis.
The man turned to him.
“Joshua?” David asked.
The man nodded.
Joshua. The boy who moved away. She confessed to him one day after a glass of wine in the late hours, that her first love was a boy named Josh. Her parents told her she could not follow the boy.
She was too young to be married, they said.
There would be other loves, they said.
Davis remembered the look on her face when she told him this. There were other loves all right. Other loves after a broken heart. She cried, finally, when he touched her face after she sat there staring into her empty wine glass.
Crying like Joshua. Silently.
Davis set down the very same glass, or the glass he liked to think was the same, and grabbed the man. Joshua was stiff and then it was as if he melted.
“Why? Why do we tell girls those lies? Why do we hurt them so?” Joshua whispered.
“They were just trying to hold onto something they loved. But it’s never right to lie to a girl.”
“No,” said Joshua, “it’s not.”
Ah, the life of a consultant: the move from one contract to another.
Perfect for the little ADD Monster inside all of us.
This is an exciting re-engineering contract. I get to plumb the depths of the undocumented and air our all the deficiencies.
So, what does that have to do with writing or reading?
Nothing! Ha! But I am behind in my blog list of things to do (as you can see by the lack of updates). This always happens when I switch contracts. I need to find my rhythm. I am almost there.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the artistic expression of the battle between Good vs. Evil. Then I watched this movie:
The Indy movie Ink is gathering hype, as it should. The pacing is masterful, right from the slow beginning to the crescendo of the ending. The extraordinary clever writing. The understated special effects.
But, dear 9.3 blog readers, this is, at the core, a story of Good vs. Evil in the most basic sense to its most insidious. It encompasses every major Good vs. Evil thematic you could possibly imagine wrapped up in a glorious narrative rapture, from the overt to the slices of gray so thin you can see through them.
I don’t normally review movies, but I will review Ink after I post my next book review.
Bottom line: If you have a Good vs. Evil theme in your writing, don’t even talk to me until you’ve seen this movie.
Disclaimer 1: This is a book review for novelists. There are many other reviews about Cinders, this one is for those who like to write books.
Disclaimer 2: I placed 3rd in one of Michelle’s short story contests in a blind judging. Please don’t think I’m doing a bit of quid pro quo, because I can assure you I am a vicious reader.
I always thought Cinderella was a bit of a whore.
You can’t blame Disney’s Cinderella for being a whore. The girl’s stepmother and sisters abused her, making her life a living misery. Going back to the classic tale, we can all put ourselves in her shoes (get it—put ourselves in her shoes? Oh, I am so clever!), and who can resist the charm of the Prince searching for the girl who enticed him and then taking her away to live happily ever after?
The classical definition of a whore is somebody who does things for selfish reasons. Add a bit of the magically seduced prince, and there you have it.
Thus, it was with trepidation that I started reading Cinders, attracted to the book because I love novellas and I thought the cover was smashing. It was supposed to be a coming-of-age-story with a bunch of girly girl mixed with whimsy. I was even expecting talking animals.
Goodness was I mistaken.
Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle is a literary wonder with perfect, sparse prose obscuring a multi-layered depth that is haunting as it is breathless. When I finished the book, I just sat there in my chair outside staring at the trees in the sun. Cinders captivated, disturbed, infatuated, crushed, bewildered and beguiled me.
It’s difficult to know where to begin on an in-depth review with something so overwhelming complex born of simplicity, but there is the obvious. The prose.
Argyle’s delicious, sensual, twilight and shadow prose.
Here is one example:
“Not yet. Let me sing you a song.” He sat with her near a bush with white flowers, the same ones in her hair, and as he sang, the smell of clover grew stronger. He helped her lie down. Petals fell from his hair when his lips brushed hers. She closed her eyes and saw Isaac bruising Rose’s horse, his arm moving up and down, the cat licking her paws.
See, I’m a red-blooded American Male. I like my steak waved in a warm room, apple pie and watch movies where stuff blows up in space. A productive evening for me is when I’ve managed to clean all the guns without running out of CLP.
Yet, that excerpt right there made my heart go pitter-pat. I read that and I was breathless, the feeling you get when you look at a girl for the first time and realize you’re crushing hard.
For the writer, Cinders is a decent into the visceral, as that example shows. It’s not a la la la literary going to describe a flower in twelve metaphors visceral, but a dark, sensual, haunting flowing river of words that sits at the bottom of your gut like a fiery Cognac. Argyle’s prose is sparse, her mastery with such few words speaks to a deep, creative talent, and she uses her creativity to breathe life into the lifeless.
In Disney’s adaptation, Cinderella is a story about a girl becoming a woman in order to escape her awful life while snagging the man of her dreams in the process through magic and rodent Tom Foolery.
“Cute talking animals” is code for “this is a child’s story for entertainment” and as such that’s what Cinderella, the character, was.
Argyle’s characterization is so fascinating and her Cinderella is a compelling, complex figure different from the original literary tale before it. It is impressive how Argyle turns a vapid fairytale shell into a young woman, but Cinderella here is a wonderful, flawed person yearning to make her own choices.
And make them she does. I was rooting for Cinderella through the entire book because her yearning selfishness, even though justified, was tragic to behold. Even at her worst mistakes, at least she made them. Choice. Has there ever been such a literary theme worthy of published words?
But I digress.
How I loved that seductive, lethal yet empathetic Cinderella. What, you say? Cinderella? Lethal? Seductive?
Oh, yes. That and more. Cinderella makes mistakes, and people die. Cinders, my friends, is a book with an impressive body count, like any good fairytale. Despite the darkness that Argyle serves up as pebbles falling into a still lake, the book isn’t about death, but about life: living, learning, and loving.
She also loves, oh how Cinderella loves. Her love is consuming and fearful; she loves with her mind and her body, and her passions and desires elevate her from her magical prison of her own making while driving her to the cliff of despair. Argyle pulls this off with mastery for the complex wrapped around the simple.
Cinders is a love story, but it’s also a coming-of-age-story, and the truly amazing part of this novella is the themes and plot intertwines to the point where it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. It’s also a raw story with under-the-radar world building, a world that comes alive in the fewest words possible. The setting is so vivid, it mesmerizes the reader who turns page after page and all too soon, the end of the book comes like a punch in the gut.
The ending is a study in perfection, a true “didn’t see it coming, but should have,” moment of pure bittersweet. That’s the summation for the writer: Cinders is a study in perfection. The perfect cover. The perfect tagline. Even the bookmark is perfect. The perfect story. Perfect prose. The perfect novella. It’s magical. You could stick this novella in a time capsule, move it forward two hundred years, and for the lucky reader who dug it up, she would say “oh!” and yearn for more.
Argyle banished Disney’s whore from my mind. It was as if she never existed, and in her place is a woman of empathy and beauty, a mixture of danger tempered with love.
Momma always told him to watch out for certain girls, and after a while, he learned “certain girls” was Momma’s code for “girls who want in your pants to break your heart or make off with your wallet.”
The girl in front of him was Momma’s worst nightmare.
It was Valentine’s Day in Southwest Washington. That meant the cold, ever-present rain. The fireplace was going at it with the snap and crackle to remind everyone that it was there, the sleeping dog next to it, trying to will herself closer in warm doggie dreams.
The Merlot bottle stood half-empty, sitting on the table next to the photo album. They had been giggling over the photos for quite some time.
She had disappeared while he was fetching cheese and pouring the rest of the wine, but now she was back, wearing her dancing heels and the red dress she loved to wear salsa dancing, the one with the slit that went to the ceiling. She put on slow jazz, the singer with her sensual tale of love and longing in French, all sexy and warm.
He stood and put a hand around her waist, and one across her back. One of her hands came up behind him and she ran fingers through his hair. She swayed into the music, swayed into him, and her lips came up to his ear. She smelled of grapes and flowers, but also that dangerous woman scent that she loved to use like a weapon.
“Dance right into me,” she whispered. “Dance into me.”
Momma was wrong. The girls that knew how to say the perfect things at the perfect time were the ones that needed watching.
It was their eighteenth wedding anniversary.
“Dance right into me,” she said again, and sighed when he kissed her.
I was having a very interesting conversation with my 10-year-old.
First off, that kid is wicked smart. Takes after his mom.
We were talking about (get this) urban fantasy or to mix genres, paranormal urban fantasy.
He asked me “are there any urban fantasy books for guys, besides the guy who wrote Monster Hunter International?”
MHI is one of his favorite books.
My brain struggled. Was there? Non-dystopian?
I told him that urban fantasy was very popular with women, so much so that if there was something out there that had universal appeal, I didn’t know about it. It got lost in the noise.
“That sucks,” he said.
Yes, Thing One. It does suck. But hey, look at this from Larry Correia:
Yeah, Thing One and me we’ll be all over that one. Have you ever seen such a pulp-goodness hint of steam punk noir cover? I sure haven’t.
It’s official, author Larry Correia is kicking ass.
I have been accused of having mad love scene writing skills.
Of this, I am truly guilty and now impart the Rehabilitated Hack Writer Secret to Writing Hot Love Scenes.
- Pour glass of wine
- Put the Stacey Kent playlist on random
- Press Play
- Start typing
It’s that simple, folks.
No need to thank me, that’s just the kind of guy that I am.
Contest entry for author Natalie Whipple’s Weather Contest.
Post a link to yours in the comments!
Terrance was dreaming about the war again. Each one was different, and this one carried with it an aura of menace, taunting him in his sleep. The only thing constant about the dreams was the weather.
In this dream, the tank wing stopped at the start of the carnage, and they all got out and shut down the tanks, so it was quiet. Sixteen men walked through the blasted Iraqi armor, trucks and tents. The Iraqi dead lay everywhere. In the blasted tanks, the blown trucks, lying out of the tents, strewing this way and that, bodies mangled unbelievably, hundreds of bodies all in name only. To an objective observer, they were just parts. The sand was wet with their blood, the air smelled like burnt metal, burn bodies, burnt fuel, the tang of blood and viscera, and yes, even fear and terror. The wind carried an eerie sound, mostly the tenor of burning accompanied by the whooshing and whirling moans of the breeze low across the sand. When it blew across his face, he could taste death. The sky was a sickly gray-yellow, the sun more of a suggestion.
Perhaps, if it rained in his dreams, he would stop coming back to the desert.
It never rained when he was in the desert, and so his memories would never wash away. All they did was congeal, like blood.
Previously on Hack Writer TV: Characterization
Terrance dreamed about the war again. Each one was different, and this one carried with it an aura of menace, taunting him in his sleep.
The tank wing stopped at the start of the carnage, and they all got out and shut down the tanks, so it was quiet. Sixteen men walked through the blasted Iraqi armor, trucks and tents. The Iraqi dead lay everywhere. In the blasted tanks, the blown trucks, lying out of the tents, strewing this way and that, bodies mangled unbelievably, hundreds of bodies all in name only. To an objective observer, they were just parts. The sand was wet with their blood, the air smelled like burnt metal, burn bodies, burnt fuel, the tang of blood and viscera, and yes, even fear and terror. The wind carried an eerie sound, mostly the tenor of burning accompanied by the whooshing and whirling moans of the breeze low across the sand. When it blew across his face, he could taste death. The sky was a sickly gray-yellow, the sun more of a suggestion.
They found their forward scout’s buggy with a few holes in it, but it was mostly intact. Other dreams had the buggy blown to pieces, but this one was more accurate than most, with just enough changed detail to let Terrance know the dream world trapped him here. Outside the riddled tent next to the buggy was Logan, hands bound behind his back with a bullet hole in the back of his skull. Inside the tent was his crew, more of the same treatment.
The tank wing walked aimlessly among the dead, Terrance noting each man coming to the same realization that he did: their holy vengeance did not serve their slain brothers well. What they did went beyond revenge. It went beyond obscenity; as if some fell, dark forgotten god of vengeance offered his services, and the only price an accurate look into what each man was capable of doing, how far they could go.
How far they could sink.
The LT came back with the white, impromptu flags some of the Iraqis had been waving, most of them stained with blood. He tossed them on a burning tank, and stood there looking at his stained hands.
“What does this mean LT, what does this all mean?” asked Terrance.
He looked at Terrance, a blank look of a man with only a thread of soul left.
“Now we’re all sons of bitches.”