1. Storysculpting Whimsy

Up On The Roof: a short story

Introduction: the magazine that originally published this story is no longer active. I don’t want Grawlix the gargoyle to disappear, but no one is clamoring at me for reprint rights, (hahahahahaha) so I’m pasting the story here in my own corner of the interwebs.

It’s about a little girl, a big gargoyle, and the power of belief. Happy Spring.


Every Friday, the girl on the roof planted snowmen. I watched her in silence every time she crept out the fire door and did her little ritual, and every Friday it bugged me more. Patrons aren’t allowed on the roof. The hulking HVAC units, the crunchy gravel, the slanted, begrimed skylights, and above all the wide parapets that made such perfect roosts—all those things belong to me and my sister and brothers.

That’s the Agreement. The Librarians guard the contents of the building, both the mundane and the secret, and we guard the outside. Four times a year the Administrators do their dances and chants to refresh our wards, and twice a year the Pages scrub us and the skylights, spread a new layer of tar on the gravel and change air filters. We watch over them all, and they go away when they’re done.

The roof was ours. Patrons stayed in the Down-below. Except this one.

Every Friday this winter, this little girl showed up with her puffy red coat zipped up to her tiny nose and a cup full of ice cubes clutched in both hands. She would spend an hour sticking ice cubes into every snowdrift and whispering to them, and then she would creep away. She never once looked at us, the watching guardians. It was insulting, that’s what it was.

The kid was so sure those ice cubes would grow into snowmen, too. She told each chunk of frozen water what she wanted it to do until it dripped through her fingers, but of course the trick never worked. She didn’t have the power to make the magic work. She said please, and you can do it, and I believe in you as if the words would make a difference, but power has nothing to do with faith or courtesy.

Like all the other Patrons, she was nothing but blind ignorance wrapped up in wet flesh.

The ignorance didn’t bother me. The way she kept ignoring all of us did. We’re huge, all of us. We’re designed to look terrifying, but she just didn’t care. It irked me.

This Friday she crept out the fire door onto the icy gravel just like always, and after a look around, she headed straight for the snow piled in the lee of the north parapet. That put her right under my great big nose, just like previous week and the one before that, and she still didn’t even look up.

It was enough to make any gargoyle feel insecure. Why couldn’t I impress a kid whose whole head would fit in one nostril? What was wrong with me?

I should’ve kept my mouth shut. Be silent is one of the big Rules, right up there with never let them see you move. We have a lot of rules. No one can follow all of them all the time, and there’s only so much rudeness a person can take.

Besides, the kid broke the rules first. Patrons didn’t belong on the roof. She must’ve sneaked past two locked doors to get to the roof stairs, and children weren’t allowed to wander unsupervised. That made three rules she’d broken right there. Who knew what else she’d done?

So I opened my big mouth, figuratively speaking. <What’cha doin,’ kid?>

She shrieked, which was satisfying, and she ran all the way to the fire door. I laughed so hard. Her stubby, little legs almost blurred, she was moving so fast.

Then she stopped and turned around, slowly, with her little brown hands all tight-fisted and her lumpy brown face scrunched up in an expression any gargoyle would be proud to display.

“Rawr,” she said, and marched right back to me. “Rawwrr.”

Right. In. My. Face.

She waved her hands over her head and did it again. “RAWWRRR!”

I admit, I was taken aback. I have big ears. The yelling was actively painful.

She was missing three teeth on her lower jaw, and the remaining teeth didn’t look useful. I’d never noticed how pointless Patron teeth were. Not that I use mine for biting, but they’re nice and sharp. The Pages see to that, filing off mineral buildup from rainwater and polishing them smooth.

Maybe she was defective. That would let me off the hook for talking to her. I decided to risk satisfying my curiosity. <Is that supposed to frighten me, or are you incapable of forming words?>

She lowered her arms and closed her mouth, only to open it again immediately. “Ha! I knew it. You did talk. Your mouth doesn’t move, but you speak. You’re alive.”

I’m not, actually. I’m a construct. That’s an important technicality when it comes to things like souls and immortality and blah-blah-blah secrets of the universe stuff. Precision is important. I turned my thoughts to condensing those ideas into idiot-Patron vocabulary without revealing any secrets.

Something wonderful distracted me.

There was a smell, a scent so penetrating and rich that it stopped all thoughts except one: want. This scent was delight distilled; it was sweet and pungent, so thick with creamy tones and smooth notes that my nose went into spasms trying to catch them all.

I did mention the nose, didn’t I? It’s big. There’s a reason. I’m a not simply a grotesque, not a mere stony ornament. I’m a gargoyle, and gargoyles are designed to channel things in through their bodies and out through their noses and mouths.

Traditional gargoyles channel water off roofs. That’s why they face outward. Library gargoyles? We channel magic. We’re designed to capture the universal forces drawn to stored knowledge. We catch it and safely direct it all down into the building where it can be tapped, stored, or eliminated as the Librarians choose.

The work is done by big wings, broad backs and bellies, yawning cavernous mouths, and huge noses—and our noses are sensitive, too. How else could we sense evil trying to thread its way into the guarded places? Forget sampling parts per million. I can detect the odor of one fallen demon among the infinite crowd of angels in an air molecule. We’re all about the sniffers.

I had never smelled anything like this in my life. <What is that?> I demanded. <What is that smell?>

The kid jumped back, tripped and bounced her butt on the gravel. That defective mouth of hers gaped open again, and her eyes filled up with water. I braced myself to be deafened. The screams from Patron families dragging kids out the front door Down-below always hurt my ears, and this little creature was a lot closer.

She sat and made sniffly noises. No screams. I tried again. <You smell delicious. What smells so delicious?>

“I don’t know. Are you going to eat me?”

The idiocy of Patrons never ceases to amaze me. The Library histories are full of their incredible feats of intellect, but most of them are as thick as bricks. <Don’t be absurd. I’m made of stone. How could I eat anything? Please come back so I can smell you better. You smell wonderful, and I want more.>

The kid got up and came closer. The smell came with her. When she wrapped both her hands around my upper tusks where they curved over my lip, the heady, powerful scent grew so thick that I thought I might pass out from it. <So sweet. So tangy. So perfect. Can you stay there forever?>

She climbed higher, onto my front paws, and tugged my ear. “I don’t think so. Uncle Hector would miss me. Mom and Dad, too. What does absurd mean? Is it worse than stupid? Uncle Hector’s assistant calls me stupid all the time.”

Most of that went in one ear and out the other. Despite the vast knowledge the Library gives me, my area of expertise is pretty limited. I’ve never left the same rooftop where I was brought to life seventeen years ago. I know Patrons have complicated hierarchies and relationships inside and outside the Library, of course, but assigning meaning to facts is difficult without a frame of reference.

The name Hector had meaning. <You know the Head Librarian?>

“Is he head of something? He has the tiniest office. Mom has to work late on Fridays in her new job, and I can’t walk home alone because it’s too dangerous, so I come here until Uncle Hector can take me home. He brings groceries and stays for supper.”

That explained how the kid got here. If she was under the Head Librarian’s protection, no door in the building would be locked to her, and his office was above the wards that made Patrons ignore the floors filled with curiosities and books in dead languages. His office would look like an archivist’s cubby. All the Librarians have mundane job titles as well as supernatural duties. Patrons don’t do well with magic past a certain age, not even family members.

This kid obviously hadn’t reached that age. She was climbing all over me now, poking at my decorations and brushing snow off my eyebrows, perfectly comfortable with a talking statue. It felt delightful. Spring equinox cleaning was a long way off, and grimy city air always gets into crevices. I decided to add to my Patron experience base while my neck fringe was being scratched. Relationships were hard things to work out. <Do you love your uncle?>

“Of course I do. Don’t you love your family? Aren’t those your family?”

A little hand waved in my peripheral vision. I decided that if I was going to ask questions, it was only fair to answer some. <Those are my brothers and sisters, but gargoyles don’t do love and families. We have audacities.>

“That’s a funny word.” She hopped down to duck in front of me. “Do you have names? Do the others talk too? Why are you here?”

<I’m Grawlix. My sister Nittle is facing us, and my brothers Agitron and Briffit are on the left and right walls. They sleep more than me.>

They sleep almost all the time, honestly. Our cornerstone was only laid twenty years ago, and it takes a lot of time for a construct to build up enough residual magic to awaken without a Librarian’s help. <We collect magic from moonbeams and starlight at night and pour it into the Library.>

We also guard against the demons who lurk in darkness and storms, and we assist the Librarians in repelling attacks against the minor works of Power stored here. I didn’t mention that. Kids don’t need to know everything. I’d been awake ever since this one started puttering around on the roof, but she didn’t need to know that I’d initially thought she was a threat.

“Gathering starlight sounds pretty,” she said. “I’m Krissy Pollux. Nice-to-meet-you-Grawlix.”

I couldn’t see her now with my nose in the way, but something bumped heavily against my tongue, and then I had the strangest sensation. <Are you inside me? I thought you were afraid I’d eat you.>

Krissy’s voice echoed. “You said you wouldn’t. How odd you are! Hollow like a cave, and warm. May I eat my snack in here? It’s nicer than the corner of the top floor where I usually go to hide from Barton.”

The kid was sitting in my belly with her feet on my lips. It had to look undignified, but oh, heavens, who could care while that happy smell permeated my body? <I like you there. Why do you hide from Hector’s assistant? Patrons aren’t usually allowed on the roof, you know, and children are supposed to stay with adults.>

“I’m not a child. I’m almost six. And Barton is a snotty snotball.”

Wet smacking noises punctuated her words, and the glorious scent intensified a million times. Its sweetness gained deeper, richer tones, some earthy, some astringent, and I belatedly realized something. The smell was the kid’s snack, not her. <What are you eating? Where did you get it?>

“It’s a banana. Oh, I’m so sorry.” She squirmed a bit, which tickled. “Are you hungry? I should’ve split it in half.”

Banana. Associations fell into place. Chemistry. Botany. Horticulture. Shapes and sizes, nutritional profiles, growing conditions, shelf life and pricing—I tore my attention away from the data flow. Nothing in it hinted at the incredible wonder of the smell, not even descriptions of aromatic molecules like crystalline spindles. Nothing could substitute for the experience.

Krissy said, “I’ve eaten most of it, but you should have the rest. You said you wouldn’t eat me, so I –I’m sorry. Being hungry is awful.”

If gargoyles had hearts, mine would’ve melted, right then and there. <Don’t be sorry. I don’t eat anything. Not little girls, not bananas. If I did eat food, I think I would only eat bananas forever. Where did you get it?>

“Uncle Hector. He gave it to me. I didn’t steal it.”

Of course the kid hadn’t stolen it. Hector was a the Library Administrator. A thief couldn’t take dust from this building without his knowledge. Where she’d gotten it wasn’t important. I was more interested in why no one ever brought us one before now, and most of all, how soon I could get more.

Those weren’t questions Krissy could answer, but she could keep helping me understand Patrons better. <Why don’t you stay in your Uncle’s office?>

“He’s always busy, and Barton is mean whenever he isn’t looking. He says I’m a stupid little ape, and every time he loses things, he says I stole them. I like the stacks better, and the pictures in the books. And it’s pretty out here on the roof, only I get cold and lonely.”

<Is that why you make snowmen? To keep you company?>

“No, I want to make them dance because Uncle Hector wouldn’t do it this winter for me. He says I’m too old now and should start forgetting about them soon. I don’t want to forget. I want to make my own and prove that Barton’s wrong and I’m not stupid.”

The last few words came out so loud they made my ears ache. A limp, yellowish-brown thing landed with a splat on the roof nearby. Sweet rapture trailed along behind it, which meant it was the remains of the banana. I forgave the littering, just that once.

Gritty boots pressed against my teeth. Krissy said, “You never told me what absurd means,” she said.

That was true. I’d forgotten already. <Absurd means deserving of derision or mockery. See also ridiculous, silly or frivolous.>

“So it is like stupid.” She kicked my left lower tusk. “I guess I’m all those things. I’m stupid, and silly, and ridiculous.”

Kick, kick, kick, kick. Every syllable.

<Ow. If you keep doing that, I will call someone to take you away.>

Silence. Snuffling. “Go ahead. I don’t like it here anymore. I hate being too stupid to do magic.”

<Who told you magic was about brains? That’s absurd too. Magic is about spirit. You can’t do magic because you’re a Patron, that’s all. It’s how life works.>

Krissy kicked my other tusk, gently. “I don’t want to be a Patron if it means forgetting magic. I don’t want that. I want to make dancing snowmen, and learn to read books, and grow up and work in the library so I can come at night to watch you collect starlight.”

Her breath hitched, and her voice got very small, at the end.

I’m a gargoyle, not a monster. I may be made of stone, but let me tell you, there’s no force on heaven or earth as powerful as the cry of a heartbroken child. It could move mountains. It moved me, that’s for sure. She’d shared banana with me. How could I send her away in tears?

Short answer: I couldn’t.

She might only be a Patron, but when I thought about it, there were no Rules against Patrons doing magic. If one could do magic, one became a Page and then a Librarian. Patrons couldn’t, and that was that. One did not become the other. That didn’t mean it was impossible. Only one thing in the universe was Unchanging, and it surely wasn’t a mortal’s state of being.

No matter what happened next, my siblings and I were going to get a good few decades of debate over the existence of this epistemological loophole.

Meanwhile, I had an unhappy kid to console. <Stop sniveling. Please remove yourself and stand where I can see you.>

Hiccupping and scuffling led to crunching across gravel. Krissy picked up the banana carcass along the way and put it in her pocket, and my heart got all mushy inside, seeing that. A Patron who picked up after herself. Miracles did happen. She wiped at her eyes and frowned up at me. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Grawlix. I’ll come to visit until I forget, I promise. And I’ll bring you your own banana, next time.”

I said <I might be able to help. Even if I can’t, you can visit any time, with or without bananas.> Although she wouldn’t. Patrons stopped playing, when they reached a certain age, or so the research on file indicated. <Today, if you’re willing to listen hard and do exactly what I tell you, we might be able to make snowmen dance together.>

That would make a nice beginning, I thought, and Krissy showed all her defective little teeth at me in a big grin. “Really, truly?”

<Really, truly. Is that a yes? You’ll do exactly what I tell you?>

“If it means I get magic, yes! You can give that to me? Will it hurt?”

<I don’t know. I need to make a call first.>

Gargoyles channel power. We don’t control it, and we don’t direct it. Librarians do, and Administrators of course. What I wanted to do, though—this was out of their league too. None of us on the lower planes handle States of Being. This kind of philosophical paradigm shift would take the work of a Higher Power.

So, I called on the Powers. It’s another thing gargoyles can do.

All the records indicated that there would be a wait to get an issue like this into the queue for resolution. I was prepared for a delay involving explanations, consultations, passing to other Powers for discussion, and then lots and lots of specific instructions about prayers, drawings, and rituals. Sometimes there was singing. I expected to receive a lecture and a liturgy and maybe a hymnal.

I was wrong. Someone Up There must’ve already had an eye or six hundred on little Krissy, because no sooner did I pass along my request than an answer came back. A shaft of white light lanced down from the sky and struck the kid like a bolt of lightning.

If I’d known she was going to scream, I never would’ve made my offer to her, because the kid had a set of lungs on her fit to call down Judgment Day. At least she only had time to scream once. One long shriek, and it was done.

She sat down on the gravel and sat there blinking. The sky felt dark without the light of Heaven coming down. My ears rang with the sound of more than Krissy’s screams. The music of the sphere went silent again, and I strained to catch the last echoes.

Krissy jumped up and squeaked and started dancing around like a tiny little dervish. “I’m full of ants!” she yelled. “Ants, and rainbows, and baby camels, and a narwhal, and so many other nice things are filling me up, and oh—” She stopped dead and said in the tiniest voice ever, “Oh, but some of this doesn’t feel good at all.”

<Having magic won’t only be about playing with the pretty parts of the universe, or the nice ones. It’s about the dark and the painful and the dying, too.> I felt sorry for her, in that moment, I did. But not too sorry. <Do you want to make dancing snowmen now?>

“Yes!” She walked over to her line of ice cubes and poked at them. “I have all these bubbles inside now, but I still don’t understand what I did wrong. I said all the words Uncle Hector did.”

<You did everything wrong, and nothing. You couldn’t tap into the energy of Creation until now. Say the same words you were whispering earlier. You’ll see the difference.>

She picked up an ice cube and told it that she would love it to become a snowman please, and she laughed like a ringing bell when snow spun up in a cloud that condensed into a lumpy, bumpy white mannequin around the symbol of her heart’s desire.

I might’ve added a little power boost. A tiny, tiny bit. Just to be sure it worked, her first time. The snowman bumbled over to her and hugged her finger, an she said, “Go and play, now, and I’ll make you some friends.”

By the time Hector arrived, barely a minute later, Krissy had a whole parade marching around the roof, up and over my paws and down again, and the commotion in the aether was beginning to wake my siblings.

The Administrator watched from the fire door. He wore a Patron suit, not his official robes, and he had on one of those expressions that might make more sense to me when I have more experience. His mouth was open, which could be surprise or fear or anger, and his eyebrows were moving up and down too, which made the rest hard to interpret. He has extremely bushy white eyebrows.

I had no doubt he’d heard the noise of Krissy’s baptism in power, but he didn’t approach her. After a long interval of silence broken only by Krissy’s laughter and ridiculous instruction for the snowmen, he looked right at me and frowned.

There was no fooling a Librarian. <Hello, Administrator.>

Now he definitely looked surprised. He came over and peered closely into my right eye. Snowmen danced a jig over his feet, and Krissy said, “Hi, Uncle Hector. I’m sorry I yelled, I know I’m s’posed to be quiet in the library, but look! I made my own this time!”

“I see that, honey,” Hector said. “And I’m not mad about the scream, as long as you’re safe. Those are excellent snowmen. Why don’t you let them have a snowball fight?”

She squealed, painfully high-pitched, and started lining up sides for an epic battle. Once she was distracted, the Administrator put a hand on my nose and leaned in. “Hello, Grawlix,” he said. “No one expected this for another few decades. I would’ve kept a closer eye on Krissy if I’d known. I apologize for the disturbance.”

<I’m not disturbed.> I had to presume that the unexpected this referred to my alertness. <This is an powerful Library, and you manage its collections with great skill. It’s no surprise that we’re coming into sentience on the early side.>

“Not surprising? I might dispute that, but it’s never wise to argue with a gargoyle.” Hector regarded his niece for several moments before sighing. “Those damned snowmen. I knew it was a mistake, but she has such a happy laugh. Do stop powering them, Grawlix. I’m sure you mean it for a kindness, but she has to adjust and grow up. It’s hard on us, letting our Patron relatives go, but it’s for the best.”

<About that…you’re going to have to put her in Page training now.>


Once I explained, he looked at Krissy again, and then at me, then at her. “Well, now. This should be interesting.”

That was a singularly uninformative statement. <Could you clarify, please?>

He laughed, and it was Krissy’s laugh, only softer and deeper. “I could try, but I won’t. You’ll understand eventually.”

I wanted to understand now. <Is this one of those experience gaps?>

“In part. You’ve done something amazing today—so amazing I can’t begin to predict all the repercussions. Frankly, I don’t care about any of them. Thank you, Grawlix. You’ve given me a precious gift, and I don’t know how to express my gratitude.”

That was the opening I needed. <Do you know about bananas?>

### The End ###

Copyright 2015 K. M. Herkes
Art credit: convention sketch by Buzz

I hope you enjoyed! If you want to read more words by me, I have lots of stories available on Amazon & beyond.  All are available as ebooks, most are in paperback, and some are on audio.

You can go straight to the ‘Zon via this link:,  see other vendors by clicking on titles here:, or take a no-pressure peek at the descriptions right on this website: All The Books.

Why didn’t I put this story up for sale? Because I don’t have time for formatting and then re-proofing and finding cover cover art etc right now.  Why not let it sit? Because then I would be distracted by the constant temptation to fuss with the language and structure.

Distraction is my life. The only cure that works for me is knowing a work is posted somewhere. Even if it’s here. So…here ’tis. Thanks for reading!

1. Storysculpting excerpts Writing Life

Story notes to self

Here be two story nuggets I need to put somewhere I can’t lose them. This way I can come back to them when I get the itch to do a short story later this year (which will happen, it seems to be an annual, seasonal kind of thing like hay fever)/

First, one about a young woman, poor and desperate,  who lives in a land where passing ghosts freeze solid in the winter and brave hunters harvest the souls for…I dunno what, but I know this will be somewhere near the beginning:

The music of winter rolled across field and forest during the dark months.  Snow and ice crunched loud underfoot, tree limbs rattled and cracked to pieces, and bitter storm winds howled their harsh melodies down every chimney while snow whispered rippling descants around the walls.

Everyone huddled close during those long, cold months, and they sang their own songs, long stories of winters defeated and warm summers to come. They sang of hopeful things, knowing the wild music was the sound of survival.

When the skies cleared and the the ice moon shone down bright on a still, silent world, the night air turned so cold it froze the dead and the living alike.

Sometimes, when that stillness held the wilds hostage, a careful listener would hear the rare, delicate chime of spirits shattering against snow.

Then there’s a short story in the Rough Passages universe that I know will start off with this gross little bit:

The black, furry thing by the side of the road was the size of a refrigerator, smelled like a landfill, and had entirely too many flies buzzing around it for Jane’s comfort.

“Hey, Janie, look!” Her sister poked it with the trash stick. The thing squelched and deflated to half its original size with a soft, messy noise, and the stench of decay made Janie gag.

“Ew, Megan, what are you doing?” She backed away fast–too fast.  The shoulder of the road was narrow, she wasn’t watching her footing, and her heel slipped off the graveled edge onto slick grass.  She flailed for balance, then desperately flung herself forward onto hands and knees.

She landed with a jolt of pain, but it was better that than sliding ten feet backwards into the muddy weeds at the bottom of the ditch. Her sweaty, filthy, too-large leather work gloves saved her from scraping her hands raw, but her knees stung through her now-ripped jeans.

They were wet, too. Blood? She got to her feet.  Oh, no. Not blood.

She brushed at the sticky, yellowish ooze. Her stomach lurched, and disgust prickled all along her skin. “Megan, it’s a good thing we’re family, or I would kill you. First you get caught shoplifting like a juvenile delinquent and blame me so we both have to do community service, then you pick trash duty of all the ungodly things under the sun, and now look at me?”

“What?” Megan kept her eyes on the dead thing as if mesmerized by its ugliness. She poked at it again with the stick. “I wonder what happened to it.”

“Stop it! Who cares?” Janie got to her feet and caught Megan by the arm. “Come on, we’re way behind the rest of the crew already.”

“Who cares?” Megan jerked loose and dug in her heels.  “It’s huge. We can’t just leave it here.”

“Yes, we can. We’re supposed to leave road kill for the crew with the shovels. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The last part came out in a shriek as Megan pulled off her work glove to lay her palm flat against the thing’s hairy side.

It gathered three legs under it and lurched upright, dangling half of a fourth limb, dripping fluids, and sending the swarm of flies into angry flight. When it shook itself, bits of fur, flesh, and gravel flew in all directions. It wobbled unsteadily  down the steep slope into the ditch and disappeared into the tall grass at the bottom.


Megan was staring at her own hand. “Uh. I’m not sure, but I want to do it again?”

Unfortunately,  I have no idea what’s going on with these two, beyond Meg rolling unexpectedly into a power that animates dead things. Oh, well. More will come eventually, I’m sure.

Until later!


3. Other Things Media Consumption Whimsy Writing Life

Summer Reading & viewing, etc. Lots of etc.

First, a list of non-media activities.

  • I’m collecting subscribers for my new-release emails. (you can be one, click on the big “click here” button somewhere on this post) and I wrote a whole new story about Jack Coby as a teenager to lure people in.
  • All my books are moving into wide distribution off Amazon-exclusivity, and if your your library gets ebooks through Cloudlibrary or Overdrive, you can ask them to get my books for you that way now.
  • I’ll have a boxset edition of the Restoration ebooks soon. Just needs a cover image.
  • Sharp Edge of Yesterday: A Rough Passages Novel should be back from the editor any day now, and its cover is almost done too.
  • My new ghost mystery work-in-progress is over a third of the way finished.
  • Went on a cherry-picking day trip to Michigan & had a blast. 22 lbs of tart cherries, 5 lbs of sweet. and a major tendonitis flare-up afterwards.
  • I survived being a featured reader at Gumbo Fiction Salon and have the mermaid necklace to prove it.
  • The yard is in happy jungle mode, and the first veggies have been harvested.
  • The butterfly-garden summer volunteer gig is in full swing, and  I can’t believe it’s year 7…wow.
  • I’m spending much less time online and getting more things done in real life.

…things like watching TV & reading. Books first, then TV, then movies.

All the Confederation Universe books, Tanya Huff. I was writing about Jack Coby and got a free Confederation book from the Nebulas conference, and that was justification enough to re-read all of Ms. Huff’s Condeferation books. I adore her writing, and this universe feeds my love of Space Marines and fabulous space opera world-building.

If you want to see the result of my writing efforts, sign up for the new-release emails. It’s an exclusive subscriber story.

The Werewolf of Marines trilogy, Jonathan P. Brazee: Rollicking good men-at-war military paranormal popcorn reading.  I’ll reward myself with the Space Marines series …after I finish Ghost Tome

Neogenesis & select re-reads of other Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.
Because I finished TWO short stories and sent a book off to an editor, I rewarded myself by catching up on the  Liaden releases from the last little while. *HAPPY SIGH*

Instinct season 1: Basic buddy-cop drama, with the obligatory “not-a-cop sidekick” twist that allows for lots of rule-bending. BUT. The characters are complex, the plots are off-the-wall entertaining, and the acting is excellent. Bonus points for the character and his husband being portrayed as a couple with believable couples issues and dialogue.

Luke Cage Season 2: The plot took a turn to the grimdark side, which isn’t to my taste, but the situations supported that bleakness a LOT better than most lure-of-the-dark-side stories. And they didn’t trash the character’s development the way Certain Other Series did. (Looking at you, Jessica Jones, with your sexist WTFuckery) Hoping for some gritty, difficult redemption arcs next season.

Red Sparrow: IMHO this movie wanted to be Atomic Blonde crossed with Alias by way of La Femme Nikita. Spoiler alert: fail on all fronts. Some fine performances, but the slow pace, murky character motivations and reliance on absurd complications…big nope.

Wrinkle In Time: It could have been great. It was okay. I loved the lush visuals. I adored the Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsis & Mrs. Who. Great casting on the kids. Meg & Charles Wallace were very much how I pictured them in my head. Sadly, the directing just felt clunky and telegraphed, which did the dialogue no favors. I could also wish they’d stuck closer to the original plot–far too much screen time on fleshing out backstory that didn’t need fleshing &

Greatest Showman: Wellllllllll, I loved it, but hey, it’s Hugh Jackman singing and dancing, so cut me some slack. It’s a fantasy about a world that isn’t this one, about someone who isn’t the real P. T. Barnum–it’s about a charming and socially-conscious rebel, not a manipulative money-grubbing status-climber. Yeah. Singing. Dancing. Uplifting as fantasy.

Game Night: I can see why it was popular, but it was not my cup of whiskey. The plot is a mess of cliches and sends a slew of awful messages (not least of which is “lying to people and humiliating them is hilarious”)

I Kill Giants: It was…good, I guess? Gorgeous film, sweet and simple. I was not the target market. The general plot & likely resolution were obvs within 10 minutes.  The protagonist was about 5 years too old for the way she was handled by adults in the film. (Retreat into fantasy is natural for grieving kids. The protag is in her teens and no one even mentions

The Quiet Place: as long as the premise is accepted, it’s a decent post-apocalypse horror flick. (plot holes include farm fields somehow planted silently after civilization’s collapse  due to noise-targeting monster aliens and people who can’t manage non-baby sex iwhen obstetric care and/or A CRYING BABY will likely be fatal. Seriously? The sex menu is huge, people. Plenty of ways to have max fun without baby-making.)

Anyway. I can’t accept the premise because it’s so damned stupid. ANYTHING THAT HUNTS BY SOUND CAN BE BLINDED/CRIPPLED BY SOUND. The strategy isn’t complicated or secret. The organized military could’ve created safe zones inside noise-protected “blind spots” with layered perimeter defenses and created traps to eradicate the monsters the same way.

But then there wouldn’t be a movie about brave sacrifice blahblahblah….harumph.

Westworld Season 1: this series was disturbing for many reasons that I don’t think occurred to its writers. It’s brilliant in potential, and I will keep watching it because it’s kinda like watching a beautifully filmed car crash, but wow. It’s a pretentious mess of unexamined racism, misogyny & truly muddy pseudo-existentialist nonsense.  Conflict arises from some questionable philosophies, and the story spent a lot of time building to a “huge surprise reveal” that disappointed me in all possible ways.

The show is so, SO pretty, though.

Logan Lucky: total miss. Did not finish. (Do you know how boring+annoying something has to be for me to turn it off? I WATCHED ALL 4 SHARKNADO MOVIES ON PURPOSE.) I do not know how this got made. The script must have looked good to someone.

Victoria & Abdul: an unexpected delight based on a true story that turns out to be actually true or at least true-ish. Wow.

That’s a wrap. I’ll try not to keep updates closer together and shorter, but no promises.  I have Gen Con in two weeks (AAAAAHHHHHHHH KERMIT FLAILING AAAAAHHHHH) and a lot to do with edits and prep for Dragon Con after Gen COn, and writing and reading a bunch of books on my TBR list…and so on. Life is busy.

Until later!

Authoring Whimsy Writing Advice Writing Life

Titles ready for their stories

I’ve been doing title research for my Work In Progress novel because its working title is nothing to make hands reach for the buy button.

None of these quite fit it ( or so I think at this point, I could be convinced, feel free to make a case) but titles can’t be copyrighted anyway,  so I lose nothing by sharing.

If any of these speak to you, grab and create.

  • All The Days In Darkness
  • A Handful of Tranquility
  • Chasing the Whirlwind
  • The Heart Of the Wise
  • In the House of Mourning
  • A Crackling of Thorns
  • The Heart Is a Trap
  • Her Hands Were Chains
  • What Wise Hearts Know
  • Sagging Rafters, Leaking Souls
  • Like Clouds After Rain, The Days of Trouble Come
  • Break the Golden Bowl
  • Cut the Silver Cord
  • A Wheel Broken At the Well
3. Other Things Writing Life

Applesauce & Magic

This is my usual day for posts about my stories, but today I want to talk about apples and real life instead.

My love for apples is no secret, and I love them best as apple sauce, which isn’t quite as boring as it sounds. For one thing,  Real Applesauce tastes nothing like the putrid crap sold commercially.  Properly made, apple sauce tastes like your favorite apple pie melting on your tongue and dissolving into pure happiness. For another thing, there’s more to applesauce than taste for me. There’s memory and meaning.

I make applesauce the way my mother-in-law taught me before she was my mother-in-law. There’s a story about magic in that sentence, one I want to share with the world.

Back then SpouseMom was just my boyfriend’s mom. Even when I didn’t know her well I liked her. She’s a woman who carries around herself an aura of patient, welcoming courtesy, someone whose tolerance and dry sense of humor makes people comfortable even in situations that might be unbearably awkward.

SpouseMom is pretty damned special. I’ve learned many important life lessons from her. Apple sauce was among the first.

I can’t remember why I was at Spouseman’s house on my First Sleepover Visit to his family home. I recall it was during the college years in late summer or early fall.  I was probably stealing extra time away from my own turbulent household in the weeks between camp counseling and back-to-school in South Bend or on a long wekend.  “Boyfriend” was a good excuse to avoid the ever-present stormy atmosphere at home, a trump my parents could not outplay with their usual strong hand of guilt cards.

Anyway,  I was at not-yet Spouseman’s house, and I learned many things from SpouseMom on that visit. I learned it was possible to be a guest in someone’s home and not be nervous about my behavior all the time. I learned it was possible to have guests and not hover over them all the time. I learned that Spouseman had awesome parents.

And one afternoon SpouseMom had just put some kind of easy one-pot thing into the oven without drama or complaint. And then she handed me a saucepan. “Fill it up with apples for the tree out back,” she said. “We’ll have apple sauce with dinner.”

Dinner would be ready in an hour. Now,  I’d made apple sauce with my mother more than once in my life by then. It was a Full Scale Cooking Operation. It was a Major Project. Complicated Equipment was involved. The investment of time, energy, effort and emotion was huge. The results were never entirely satisfactory. It was in a word, stressful.

Just. Make. Applesauce. For supper. It didn’t compute. And yet…

SpouseMom seemed confident, so I rolled with it and dutifully went out to fight for low-hanging fruit with the neighborhood birds, bees, and flies.

The tree was an heirloom variety I’ve immortalized in Heartwood because I fell in love with it that day. Golden Transparents ripen early, sweet and winey, and they’re so tender they bruise from rough handling and brown up at the first touch of air. But oh, the sauce they make, and the hand pies, and…well. Enough about the apples. Onward to the saucing.

I brought in a pan of scaly, bumpy backyard apples, SpouseMom handed over a peeler and picked up one herself and showed me how to peel and quarter the fruit in no time flat.  In five minutes, pish-pash-posh, we had the apples ready to go. Twenty minutes after that, I had my first taste of homemade apple sauce cooked without any bitter aftertaste of stress. It blew my mind.

Lesson learned: kitchens can be places for making family as well as food. They’re where you can try new ideas and share quiet time making things easier by making them together.

I make applesauce all the time now. The big trick is to use apples whose flavors I already like. I like my sauce to  taste like a fresh apple pie without crust that dissolves on the tongue, so Jonathans, Arlettes, and Winesaps are my go-to choices. And I think of SpouseMom with love and gratitude every time.

Here’s the practical side of the magic. Peel/quarter/cut out the seeded centers of a few apples, toss ’em into a stovetop pan, and turn the heat to medium. A splash of water or cider or other tasty liquid in the bottom helps if the apples are a dry variety. Sugar & cinnamon optional. Leave plenty of space above the apples because they bubble up before they collapse into sauce.

Simmer with a lid on until they’re so tender they start to fall apart. How long? That’s the tricky part. It depends on the apple variety. Golden Transparents? Less than 10 minutes. Granny Smiths? I like to live dangerously and turn the hear up to high, or else they take a half hour or more to break down.

Once the apples are steaming and squishy, stir it all up, mash out any major lumps with a potato masher or a spoon, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer another 5-10 minutes or as long as you want to boil off liquid. The natural sugars caramelize so it turns a deeper pinkish brown color. Keep cooking long enough, and you have apple butter spread. True story.

And here are some alternatives to apple sauce I’ve discovered for myself over the years:

(1) bake the prepped apples in a covered dish until they’re as tender as you like. The higher the temp the quicker the baking time. (Spouseman calls this “lazy sauce”) Beware the boilover effect, though. Burned apple on the bottom of the over smells NASTY.

(2) nuke the prepped apples in a covered dish in the microwave for 5-10 minutes . Note: I usually only do this when traveling because I hate the loud hum of the microwave and it only saves ten or twenty minutes. And in winter at home, why not warm the kitchen and make the whole house smell yummy?

Apple sauce isn’t showy, and it doesn’t make much of a spectacle on the table, but to me it will always be just a little bit magical.