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Bonded: Three Fairy Tales, One Bond by Michelle Davidson Argyle

November 08, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  2 Comments

Yummers yum yum!

Bonded is out, and I just ordered my hardcover edition because I am a sucker for beautiful prose in a beautiful physical book.

The first story in this novel, Cinders, was unexpectedly flawless, and I’m not surprised to see it snatched up by a publisher and put into a novella collection. I can’t wait to read the other two stories, and it’s all I can do not to order the Kindle edition and read it this weekend.

If you are a lover of prose so good it’s sensual, if you appreciate the bittersweet truth to the human condition and like storytelling that extracts the pure heart of a fairytale, then I also suggest getting Bonded. Cinders was that good, and there is no doubt the others will be right up there in the literary clouds of whipped awesomesauce.

Michelle is an excellent writer but these are the stories that push her into that otherworldly zone of awe.

The Most Human of Us All

September 10, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, The Craft  0 Comments

There my main character was, sobbing on the floor, having gone through hell tailored by a computer program, designed to make her confront the very thing she didn’t want to confront. She was done. She had nothing left to discover. She knew all that she needed to know about herself. Yet, why couldn’t she cope? Why did the tears still fall?

It was then I departed from the rails of my outlining process (which isn’t restrictive, but it is an outline) and had the character ask, plead even, with the program. Didn’t it feel anything for the pain she went through? Did it feel anything at all for her plight? Or did was it really an uncaring bit of cleverness, designed to be brutally efficient and cruelly honest at all costs?

At this point, I didn’t know what came next, but I was going somewhere. I typed answer after answer, scene after scene. None of it worked and was worthy of the question before us. One response was five pages of pure speculative goodness, an insight into future artificial intelligence programing born from an understanding of advanced heuristics and neural networks.

But it was missing something. I deleted that, too.

Finally, a week later, I sat down and reached for my poor main character. She deserved an answer.

“Lexus, there is no cure for the human condition,” the program told her.

That was not the answer she expected. She (and by extension, I) wondered if the program was still running. Still trying to make her see through the fog of humanity by stripping it away and replacing it with a program of its own.

Or, was it using logic to reach her, to tell her that bad things happen to good people, that in its own broken way, it did care. It cared a great deal. It cared more than it could say.

I don’t have the answer to that, just as Lexus doesn’t have the answer to being human.

Maybe someday we’ll both find out.

Fifthwind by Ken Kiser

July 06, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  1 Comment

There are many readers, myself included, whom are not enamored with recent trends in epic fantasy. The long, drawn out series where the editor seems to have taken a backseat to the writer’s ego seems to dominate the genre. Then when you come across creative bit of fantasy goodness, you realize you have, in your hands, message fiction. The author has a bone to pick, and you’re along for the ride.

Where, an epic fantasy reader, wonders, did sword and sorcery go?  For years and years it seemed R.A. Salvator was carrying the classic epic fantasy torch.

Where indeed. If ever there was a disconnect between what’s on the traditional bookshelf and what people want to read, epic fantasy was it. I don’t want a twelve book serial where book seven makes no sense. Epic fantasy should rise above pulp but also fulfill the basic yearning of what comes with the fantasy genre. I’ve found a few authors (some in my recommended list) scratching that fantasy itch. Now I’ve found another. If you like epic fantasy and was thinking about or actually writing it, then check out Kin Kiser’s Fifthwind.

Fifthwind, my friends, is classic epic fantasy at its best.

It’s totally obvious, when reading Fifthwind, that Ken Kiser is a classic epic fantasy fan. Take everything you like about epic fantasy: the world-building, the rich characters, the high-stakes plot, an honest protagonist, the epic feel of the setting–these are all present.

Yet, Fifthwind turns out to be original and fresh while at the same time dishing up what makes classic epic fantasy so great. We depart recent fantasy troupe trends with the main character, Ben. Ben is a bad-ass. He starts the book as a bad-ass and simply dials his bad-ass-ery up notches as the novel progresses.

Yes, let’s talk about Ben.

Ben is bad-ass with a slice of awesome toast served with magic butter and jelly made from the tears of lessor fantasy main characters. Normally, I find characters like this annoying, but not Ben. No, Ben is too busy trying to save everyone else and his own ass to grow his ego and arrogance. In the brief moment where there is a pause in the action and Ben becomes reflective, Ben has doubts, but they are proper doubts. Ben doesn’t doubt who he is for a minute, but he doubts his actions because he doesn’t have all the information. And when he gets information that throws him for a loop, his character changes in subtle ways. Ben eventually learns what he doesn’t know can kill him, and instead of focusing on the obvious, he focuses on information gathering. And every piece of information Ben gathers that helps him figure out what is going on, it makes him a right-royal holy terror on the battlefield.

It’s a great piece of careful plotting in which the story moves forward and so does the main character.

Yeah, this is how one should write fantasy characters. It’s familiar: we have the trusted friend, the mentor, the love interest. Kiser doesn’t spend a single moment in the book turning these people into something they are not in the guise of being “original” or “fresh.” Fifthwind is so refreshingly honest, as a fantasy book, it leaves a reader wondering why other novels of its kind are so hard to find.

The plot, as I allude to, has a large mystery and Ben chews away at it and, often, simply refuses to give up because he simply must know. When he becomes a student of a secret society, it’s almost as if his mentor is simply on a crash course to connect the dots for Ben and not preach to the choir. And the scene where Ben learns that his simple view of the world is dead is quite telling. Ben sees that he must harden up. People are going to die, and soon.

And die they do. Fifthwind has the impressive body count, which dives into the highlight of this novel: the action scenes are many and detailed. They make logical sense and they have a certain urgency yet graceful flow about them, which is totally fitting for the martial whirlwind of death that is Ben. This is fantasy action at it’s very best and I am not exaggerating. It’s R.A. Salvatore good. That, dear writers, is so very worth the careful read.

Fithwind is also bittersweet. The story did not end the way I thought it would and I loved every page of the last two chapters, so if you like your epic fantasy served with grim and dark, you’ve come to the right book. You’ve also come to the right book if message fiction and cheap and pretensions thematics causes you to toss a book aside. Fifthwind doesn’t truck in recent trends of literary preaching. It’s an epic story of good vs. evil–monsters and bad guys that simply need killing. Violently.

Highly recommended for both a novelist in the fantasy genre and the reader. I give Fifthwind the coveted five bacon strips out of five.

By Your True Name I Bind Thee

May 22, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, The Craft  0 Comments

Troy was supposed to be rebound guy, mainly because his name was “Troy.”

Karen found herself, however, thinking about him in that school girl way she knew was a one way ticket to Head Over Heels, Population Crazy Woman.

Troy fought dirty. Her daughter adored him, absolutely and completely. This played right into her insecurities of not having a man around the house. When she booted her worthless husband out, she didn’t expect him to abandon his own child, but he did. Troy however, though her daughter was more fun than all of his hobbies combined. Troy did not watch TV, instead, he played Barbie sparkle pony.

Troy’s negatives was his intensity. He was either all in or all out. His idea of relaxation consisted of biking down trails better left to mountain goats and climbing rocks with some “safety” line that didn’t look safe for an anorexic ballerina, much less his man-frame. Troy was an alpha but he had long hair, which for some reason bugged her to no end. Troy thought her friends’ politics were stupid and said so right to their faces. Troy could not cook. Troy’s tolerance for pretentious crap was zero.

In bed, Troy thought nothing of releasing his inner caveman. Grabbing a fist full of her hair was natural to him as kissing. He wasn’t content to be inside of her, her always pulled her as close to him as possible, as if he wanted to fuse their bodies by pressure and strokes.

Her brain usually shut off and she had trouble turning it back on afterwards. She loved every minute of it.

What really got her going, Karen realized one day, was that he never called her a pet name. Never once did he call her Baby, Honey, Sweetheart, or any other endearment. She asked him about it.

“I love to hear my name roll off your lips in a moment of passion,” he said, “so I assumed you like the same.”

Troy loved to kiss her neck. He was simultaneously teasing and demanding when he did so.

One day, after a five-hour marathon of sex and napping, she told him to stop screwing around and move in.

He told her to get dressed. When they did so, and went outside, his truck was already there, packed with his stuff.

The Unfinished Song: Initiate by Tara Maya

January 05, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  0 Comments

For anyone new to Rehabilitated Hack Writer Recommends, I target my book reviews towards novelists (you can find my prior reviews here). I also need to point out that this is a review of the first book of a series, not the series itself.

Before we dive headfirst into the fantasy pool of epic goodness that is Tara Mara’s The Unfinished Song: Initiate, we need to take a step back and formally define what epic fantasy is in the novel landscape of 2012. The classic definition of epic or high fantasy is it’s a sub-genre of fantasy set in invented worlds.

I hate that definition.

To me, epic fantasy needs to be, well, epic. Epic. This is fun, but not epic, fantasy:

A mysterious, sexy pale-skinned sword dancer hires an infamous mercenary to find her kidnapped brother. The mercenary learns there is more to women than bedding them, while the sister learns that if she lets her quest define her life, she becomes defeated before the rescue of her brother ever begins.

Bonus points if you can guess that book, by the way.

Now this, this is epic:

The good peoples, it seemed, never defeated the evil that threatened to consume them all, only delayed the final battle. The dark and vile lord who threaten freedom everywhere wrapped his essence into a ring, and now a band of unlikely heroes must cast the ring into the fiery pit of its creation or see it reunited with its maker. Setting out on their quest with the best intentions, the task soon falls to the smallest and unlikeliest hero while the armies of evil marshal to crush everything in its path. If the hero doesn’t destroy the ring and thus the dark lord in time, there won’t be anything left to save.

Epic fantasy is ambitious. Epic fantasy is grandiose. Epic fantasy is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s heroic, it’s classic, it’s is all-encompassing and all-consuming fantasy. There are stakes. The stakes are high. You could say that the stakes are (wait for it!) epic.

And Mara’s Unfinished Song: Initiate is an introduction into 21st century epic fantasy. Here’s the teaser:

Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking, wow, that sounds cool, but um, that doesn’t sound too epic to me.

Oh, my friends, pour a cup of hot tea and wait for it. Don’t let the girly frou-frou cover and character-driven teaser fool you. Behind the rich, detailed world-building lies the heartbeat of an epic fantasy tale that rises above the bounds of mythology and into a coming-of-age novel that will leave the reader yearning for more. Maya clearly dips her plot and characters in several different mythologies, yet the book has a distinctive voice that tugs at your heartstrings.

Let’s deconstruct the goodness going on here.

World-Building

Maya’s world building kicks ass. It’s unique, it’s ambitious, and it has an undercurrent of femininity that, without the advent of the interweb tubes, the story Maya is trying to tell never would have seen the light of day. It’s so different it is, and I say this with no exaggeration, a high fantasy literary bomb of mass destruction. It is not so much a filled with troupes and familiar themes as it becomes a classic example of the very idea of world-building.

How does she accomplish this? Maya’s neolithic setting latches on the magical undercurrents of the world she envisioned and never lets them go.

For example, stone-aged peoples in the real world were concerned primarily with survival. Gender roles and relations follow a path necessary for the continuation of the individual and the group.  There is a reason when an attractive woman smiles at a man she unconscionably puts her hair behind an ear, why rejection impacts men and women differently and why we are creatures of instinct despite our technological advancements.

Yet, toss magic into the fray. Magic, like technology, lends itself to the removal of the disparity of force. Maya takes this one step where few tread: it’s not necessarily what you can wield, but more what you know. Dindi’s quest isn’t so much a classic grab-onto-the-power but an unlocking of a mystery.

That moves us back to the impact of the type of magic Maya puts forth. Women, in her tribal society, have distinct roles but they are far from simple property. Women need to bear children so the society she has shaped takes that into account, but it’s not as if the magic is something that sits around in a feudal or even Victorian society as if it’s a character by itself rather than infused into the setting. It has a distinct feminine vibe without the politically correct bullshit.

This is evident from the ground up. It’s in the way characters talk. You might think ancient peoples would also have a primitive language and culture. But neolithic-era people with magic? Maya nails this. It’s in the way they dress, how they pick their mates, how they relate to other tribes, how they view politics, honor and duty. In a world where magic comes forth from a dance, where pixies, talking bears, and fae abound–Maya uses this magic as the glue to everything: setting, plot and characterization. It is the basis of her world-building and because of the creative and talented way she does it, Initiate comes off as highly original, unique and engrossing.

I’m not exaggerating here. World-building. How To. Tara Maya. Initiate. Read it.

Characterization

My number one surprise with this book is that this book has guy stuffs in it. I could talk at length how fascinating Dindi is, how she comes across as both vulnerable yet puts aside her fears to do what must be done. How she seems like she is fourteen going on eighteen one moment, and fourteen going on twelve the next. Maya pens her as tenacious and doesn’t shy away from giving her a sexuality. Dindi’s great.

My little fantasy heart, however, belongs to Kavio.

Because Kavio kicks ass.

Kavio, actually, is a tragic figure. Maya gives him nobility and youthful idealism as his moral fiber, and tosses him into situations of conflict where it becomes apparent that Kavio greatest enemy is himself. Kavio is a good guy, but he’s also a weapon of mass destruction. He follows the rules when obviously he could, quite simply, make up the rules himself with his magic. He’s like a Jedi Knight being given a ticket by a traffic cop. Press hard, Kavio, you’re making five copies. The cop has a gun and feels superior, but Kavio could turn him inside out, burn his cruiser, go to the station, and have it swallowed whole by a rent in the earth while blood pixies rip out everyone’s eyeballs through their noses making the police station scene in The Terminator look like a scene from a Jane Austin novel.

Instead, he signs.

Did I mention he’s a bad-ass?

As a writer, Kavio fascinates me mightily. I’m beginning to wonder if someone handed Maya an honorary penis because she hones in on the masculine feel of Kavio with laser-like focus. She nails what I call the Tragic Masculine Paradox: when confronted with an attractive young woman coming-of-age, the man of honor is torn with feelings of protectiveness as a father figure yet desires as a lover. You see this in fiction all the time. Rarely do you see it done with such empathy and understatement. Many writers go overboard with this, giving this a tragic (and pervy) element. Maya, however, simply presents it as-is. Kavio has bigger problems than his youthful naïveté.

Dindi’s feminine, innocent beauty, simply highlights Kavio’s main attraction: Dindi is magically powerful. Without going into the rest of the series, he’s slowly falling in love, and love, my friends, is messy. Dindi is more than a girl and then more than a young woman. She’s the catalyst to…

But I digress. Dindi isn’t the only character in a come-of-age journey in Initiate.

Plot

Which leads us to the clever, delicious plotting, and how we come full circle back to our discussion about epic fantasy.

A prevalent, and welcomed trend in speculative fiction is the come-of-age journey set in a fantastic (be it wonderful or dystopian) setting. I am a huge sucker for these types of stories, and in Initiate, Maya plots a literal come-of-age journey as Dindi goes out to become a woman, ready or not (and no, she wasn’t ready).

But epic fantasy has stakes. Big stakes. End-of-the-world (or worse!) type stakes, but unlike much of what is out there today, this book is surprisingly not a coming-of-age novel with an epic plot line to give the character’s punch and excuses to reveal their literary humanity. No, this is a book that provides the foundation for the true story: the battle with the malevolent forces out to crush humanity. It’s not exactly Clan of the Cave Bear meets The Lord of the Rings, but you get the idea.

Dindi is on a personal journey and she yearns to become a magical dancer in the society she was born in. However, if, as a reader, you’re paying attention, you can spot the epic plot that Maya is serving up like drops of water to the thirsty.

And this is where we depart the shackles of traditional publishing. Maya fearlessly has plotted out a twelve book series and each book is building  on that plot in a relentless, epic fashion. Let me be very clear, I am not a big fan of many-book fantasy series. Many of them have problems with continuity, editing, and, quite frankly, sometimes as a reader, I feel I’ve been ripped off around book four because I’m being milked rather than being cleverly entertained.

eBooks, and today’s book market, however, has expanded the types of books we can find and buy, and Maya’s greatest accomplishment as a writer is taking  full advantage of medium. The twelve book format, based on her world-building, is not only daring but also a little slice of epic fantasy goodness, and her skill at characterization draws the reader right into her world.

It’s epic fantasy by our very definition, and it’s yummy. Give me those twelve books. I’ll gladly ready every one of them. If you love a good fantasy series fix, Maya’s your drug dealer, Baby.

More Please

You can tell I’m a fan. Initiate is a wonderful, rich and diverse book and the series thus far is a fantasy reader’s fantasy series. I do have quibbles with it, but they are nits in the larger picture. I’m not a fan of the cover art. I disagree with some of the editorial decisions made and feel Maya’s talent could easily support books of larger word counts, smoothing some of the abruptness of the plot presentation.

Yet these are mere nits because from a storytelling standpoint, it just doesn’t work, it’s a slice of Awesome Toast with Bacon. I tell my non-writer, but reader friends, the Era of the Reader is upon us. Novels like Initiate proves that assertion. If you are a writer, take a step back from all the meta that goes on with writing, look at the bigger picture, and read Initiate. You’ll realize the sum of the book is bigger than its parts, and, at its heart, epic fantasy many readers want to buy, but haven’t really been able to do so.

I give Initiate four bacon strips out of five. And while this is a singular book recommendation, I’ll just drop a teaser that as good as it is, the other books in the series get better.

The Honey-Do List Affair

November 21, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization  2 Comments

Katie looked at the Honey-Do List on the refrigerator.

The first item had a line drawn through it. “Move the desk in the office to the other wall.” The desk was too heavy for her to move, but her husband had moved it around the office as if it weighed nothing. The item under it, “Change the smoke detector batteries,” and all the other ones that followed, remained unchecked.

She frowned at the list. Then she stuck her tongue at it. Then she tried to repress a giggle, but failed. It came out as a snort.

Tom knew she hated standing on a ladder. It gave her a mild case of vertigo, the feeling of falling while standing up. She could imagine falling off the ladder and landing on her head. Splat. Blood everywhere. Perhaps a broken neck. She could imagine a loud “snap” and then a feeling of oblivion before sliding into it.

She sighed. She didn’t want to do it. It was the husband’s job. Tom was a funny guy, he would do anything she asked as long as it was on a list and he could plan when he was going to do it, yet the items that remained undone clawed at her gut, a list highlighting a failure of… what, she didn’t know. Her husband? Her aptitude as a wife? How they were a couple?

Nagging of course was out of the question. She was not a nag. She was a beautiful, young, lady, thank you very much. Beautiful young ladies do not nag.

She got out the ladder and put on an apron. She put the batteries in an apron pocket, took a deep breath, and climbed the ladder.

When she got to the top, she grabbed the detector with one hand in a death grip. The feeling of vertigo was intense. A third of her felt like she was falling, another third felt like she was building up to an orgasm and the last third that she had to pee.

As she stood there, she briefly wondered if perhaps there was an upside to vertigo. That’s stupid, she thought. She closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When she opened her eyes, the feeling was gone.

She changed the batteries. The worse part, actually, was pressing the test button. The noise hurt her ears. Then she got out earplugs, and that was that.

Look at me, I am all handywoman and stuffs, she thought. She crossed the item off the list.

She put back the ladder, went into her walk-in closet, and cried. She wrapped her hands around her knees and buried her face. Her lovely house didn’t feel so lovely anymore.

***

Katie wrinkled her nose at the next item on the list. It was a dozy. “Power wash the driveway.”

Using a power washer. Like she knew anything about that. Her dad tried to show her once, but by that time, she was putting on a cheerleader uniform and bouncing her boobs at athletic man-boys. One of them could do the power washing.

Her poor dad. Three daughters. And he was such a handyman. She made sure to find someone just like him.

Only Tom was a tiny bit different. Daddy never used a list. He just did it.

“Damn it, Tom,” she said, aloud.

She went to the garage with a little notebook, and wrote down what the washer was. Then she went online. Not only did she find the instruction manual on how to operate it, she found instructional videos.

She easily washed the driveway and porch. The next day, her arms and shoulders were sore. She took a hot bath and remembered the last time Tom and her made love it. She got several bruises, so he went with the not-so-subtle hint of cornering her in the shower instead.

She ran her hand down a soapy thigh before submerging it.

The Honey-Do List wasn’t the only thing under neglect.

***

The next item on the list was worse than the power washing. “Install a new sink trap.” She had to get under the sink, and couldn’t figure out how to uninstall the old one. She couldn’t find purchase to pry it out with her flat-head screwdriver. It seemed melded to the sink.

Vowing to do it all herself, she drove back to Home Depot where she got the new kit and the sealant goop, and tracked down the grandpa-looking guy who found it for her.

“Unhook the drain pipe, and then whack the assembly with a rubber mallet from the bottom.”

She smiled. She was thinking of something with a bit more finesse.

When she did that, the old sealant crumbled loose and landed in her eyes.

She envisioned hitting Tom with the rubber mallet. It was an unkind thought, but it made her feel better. She crossed off the item on the list with a vicious stroke of her felt pen.

***

She hated the next item, feeling like a complete and utter fool for putting it on the list. “Make slow, hot love to my hot little body,” she had put. She thought it would be a cute reward for getting halfway down the list.

Her hot little body. Oh, how vain and stupid she was. She still had a hot little body, all right.

Sometimes she wanted touch so much, she felt like going down to the seedy bar outside of town, in a miniskirt without panties, and fucking the first guy who sent a pickup line her way. Against the dumpster out back. Bonus points if he was wearing a ball cap and needed to see a dentist.

Instead, she got a glass of wine and drank half of it.

She walked over to Tom’s piano. He loved his piano almost as much as he loved her. They met that way. She was sitting in the hotel lobby during a sorority trip waiting for her sisters, looking at this cute guy with quite the bored expression on his face reading a book.

It must have been a bad book, because Tom threw it in the trash, looked around, and spied the piano there. He walked up to it, contemptuously tossed the “Please Don’t Touch the Piano” sign aside, and started to play.

And oh, how magical that was—it was beautiful and sexy and perfect.

And damn it all, if that man didn’t even know she existed. The music consumed him so, that she might as well have been invisible.

But he stopped playing when she sat down next to him on the bench. He looked very surprised.

“I know chopsticks,” she said, and he laughed. She played it for him and he smiled with flashing eyes and that’s when she knew her heart wasn’t her own. Two weeks later, she gave him her virtue.

Now his piano, like her body, had been silent for months.

She drank some more of the wine, and dumped the rest on the hammers in the middle.

“Whoops,” she said.

***

Tom’s piano tuner wasn’t the cuteness of her husband. He was an older gentleman, with an elegant wedding band. Where Tom was tall, he was average. Where Tom was muscular, he was almost too skinny. Where Tom had bright, brown eyes, Rich’s eyes had the beginning of crows-feet behind glasses.

But his eyes were blue. They went quite nicely with his blond and grey hair. She always liked blue eyes on an older gentleman.

Rich played the piano with precision and perfection. Tom played it with passion. Rich was Bach. Tom was Beethoven.

When she called, Rich said of course he could fix it. She insisted on making sure he replaced the felt, not simply repaired it.

How much wine did you spill? he asked.

An entire glass, she said. I feel so stupid, she added.

No worries. I just wanted to know how much time to book.

I would appreciate it if you took your time. The piano means a lot. Could you come on Friday?

I have a volunteer gig at my son’s school, but after that, sure, Katie. You bet. Be there at 1:00.

Thanks, Rich.

More importantly, Rich loved to look at her legs. Rich had a fine appreciation for the beautiful things. His occasionally friendly-wandering eye had made her feel appreciated.

Wanted.

***

Rich was punctual.

“Hey, how are you?” he said when she let him in.

She closed the door. She locked it.

“I’m okay. Do you need something to drink or something?”

“No, I’m good,” he said, heading towards the piano.

“Okay.”

She went upstairs and stripped. She put on black stockings, reapplied her makeup, and put on a black silk slip that stopped halfway up her butt.

She came downstairs as Rich was leaning the lid to the piano on the wall.

“I lied,” she said, feeling hot. She was sure her face was red. “I only spilled a bit of wine.”

“Katie…”

“I know you’re married, Rich. That’s why I picked you. I’m not some pathetic basket case. You’ll never tell, and neither will I. I don’t want men sniffing around me like I’m some lonely loser.”

He stood up straight. He looked uncomfortable, but his eyes betrayed desire.

“You’re taking one for the team, Rich, no more, no less.”

He hesitated.

She walked over and kissed him.

***

Where she would ride Tom’s passions in bed holding on for dear life, Rich was altogether something different. He was in bed as he was—gentle, giving, precise.

But he was also an experienced man. She wanted him to take her from behind, but he did not, ignoring her request and pressing down on her, face-to-face. She wanted him to satisfy his lusts and leave, but he kissed her and filled her with loving strokes until she peaked. She wanted to lie there like a passive lump, the prom queen taken by the band nerd, but she wrapped her legs around him and used her body as she best she could.

Afterwards, Rich held her. She felt like biting him, hard, but kissed him instead.

***

She watched him warily as he dressed. Snuggle time over. He had to go home to his wife.

“You need a lover who isn’t going to leave you lying there, Katie,” he said, stating the obvious.

“That’s what I had,” she whispered, turned her head, and stared at the closed blinds.

When he was gone, she took her pen and put a line through the item on the list.

As if anyone would notice.

Surprisingly, she didn’t cry.

What did that mean?

***

“Put rat poison in the attic.”

The last item on the list.

It took her a long time to find the stuff. She found it in a locked cabinet in the garage of which she had to search all around for the key. The box had a Mr. Yuck sticker on it.

Like she was going to have children. Ha. That would mean having sex. With a husband. Or, at least, with a man without a vasectomy.

As she put down the traps and baited them, she sniffed at the poison. She briefly wondered what it tasted like, and then thought that was the most stupid thing she had ever thought, in, well, ever.

Enough, she thought.

She grabbed her list, crossed the last item off of it and headed towards the city.

Halfway there, she pulled off the road and threw up.

Confession may be good for the soul, she thought, but it was certainly eating her insides.

***

“Tom, I had an affair. I made love to another man. It wasn’t just get-it-over sex, either. I loved every minute of it,” she said.

Tom didn’t say anything back, of course, his headstone silent as always.

She sat next to his grave.

“I finished your list, Babe. See?” She held it out. Then she rolled it up and put it in the flower holder.

“I want someone to pick me,” she said. “Next time. Man Number Three. I’ve picked you and I picked Rich.”

The wind rustled through the trees.

“Yes. I think it’s time for me to be chased. I’m chased-able material.”

She closed her eyes. She could practically feel his arms around her.

“Damn, Tommy, I miss you so, so much.”

She got up and walked away, vowing never, ever, to put a list on the refrigerator again. Her daddy didn’t need a list, and neither did she.

Stand with Her or Not at All

August 26, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Characterization, Not Exactly Random, The Craft  0 Comments

Center of the Sun
Conjure One

***

Young girl in the market
Music to the men
When the men leave
Her eyes are red
When her eyes are closed again she sees the dark market of above

And she sings
‘They say the most horrible things
But I hear violins, when I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done’

Young boy in the market
Follows all the men
When the men leave
He’s out of his head
When his eyes are closed again he sees the dark market of above

And he sings
‘They break the most beautiful things
But I hear violins, when I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done
I look into your eyes
And I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done’

Center of the sun

Young boy in the market
Sees the girl alone
And asks her
‘Have you lost your way home?’
She sings
‘You say the most beautiful things, just like my violins’

I look into your eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done

When I close my eyes
I am at the center of the sun
And I cannot be hurt
By anything this wicked world has done

‘Cause
I hear violins
I hear violins

I hear violins
I hear violins

Center of the sun

I hear …violins

What Kind of Writer am I?

August 03, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, Plot, The Craft  0 Comments

Sometimes I come up with characters that resonate with me, but no plot. The characters sit around, probably sipping tea, coffee or some such, waiting for a plot to show up. When one does, I start writing.

Other times, I have a plot and no characters. There is no distinctive character voice(s) that draws me in to start writing.

At some point, I’m going to have a setting show up waiting for both a plot and characters.

Maybe, just maybe, if I have enough of this going on in my brain, they’ll get together and knock some socks off.

I’m hoping!

Chapter 20: In Which I Become Snarfy

June 02, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Characterization, STUFF BLOWING UP IN SPACE  1 Comment

Chapter 20

“Princess, you are not trained for rescue operations. We’re hot docking to a heavy cruiser that may lose gravity compensation and turn everyone inside into pasty goo. I request you stay on the ship.”

Leiesha stared at James. He was being oh so respectful and oh so proper.

She was going to oh so bite him.

Lies We Tell Girls

March 18, 2011 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Characterization, The Craft  2 Comments

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.

***

Early spring.

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.”