Saturday, April 30, 2011
This week I'd like to share an excerpt from one of the stories included in my anthology of short fiction. I hope you enjoy it - and if you wish to read the rest, pick up a copy in either paperback or digital download by clicking here.
I first met Joey Conroy two years ago. I was taking the only official holiday I’d allowed myself since Brad’s death. Matt, my editor, insisted I use some of my vacation leave, complaining that the union would be on his back if I didn’t do it soon. So I packed a bag, tossed it into my old Ford Mustang and drove out of LA with no definite destination in mind.
I still wasn’t sure how I’d cope with traveling on my own. I’d shared every other holiday with Brad and it seemed there were few places I could go that didn’t hold memories.
Since his death, my work at the newspaper had kept me so blissfully busy that I’d been spared the excesses of grief. Now, as my car sped along the straight, unbroken Arizona highway, I began to worry that all that mind-numbing work had merely postponed the inevitable. Already I felt a hard black ball of misery well up inside as though just waiting for the right moment to envelope me.
I’d been on the road for only six hours when the fan belt broke and I had to pull up in a little one-horse town called Dry Bark. The mechanic at the cluttered little gas station informed me that the fan belt was not the only problem. My radiator had sprung a leak and needed welding. Of course, the fellow who did that type of work wouldn’t be in until Wednesday.
I ran a hand through my hair, stared at the steaming automobile, then turned to look up the street of the dusty town.
“There’s a pay phone at the Post Office.” Jim, the mechanic, said. “You might wanna call triple-A or something.”
I grimaced. My roadside cover had lapsed two months ago and I hadn’t bothered to renew it.
Seeing my chagrin, Jim added, “There’s always Ginny O’Dwyer’s rooming house. She could put you up for a while, I reckon.”
I smiled at him wearily. “Yes. Perhaps I’ll get a room. I’m in no hurry.”
He told me how to find the place and I trudged off through the shimmering heat with my suitcase in one hand and my purse slung over the opposite shoulder. At least Brad and I had not ambled this road hand in hand, I thought ruefully.
Besides the garage, post office and rooming house, the town consisted of a diner called Lulu’s, a two-lane bowling alley, a bar, a combination grocer-drugstore and a white weatherboard, single story building with a gold plaque on the front that said, Town Hall. There were a number of scraggly houses ranging down either side of the main street, all with sagging front porches and tin roofs. There was probably a school somewhere, since I noticed a number of children playing marbles in the dirt and I wondered why they weren’t in it on a Monday.
I wiped perspiration off my top lip and adjusted my sunglasses. I could see Ginny O’Dwyer’s ahead, a two-story house with a large sweeping veranda and a picket fence that badly needed painting. There was a wooden sign swinging from a post that said, Rooms to Rent. It did not pretend to offer too much in the way of comfort or congeniality, but I didn’t mind. I’d only be here two days.
I was just about to hoist my bag again when the door to the bar opened and a stooped old man stepped out. The sounds of clinking glasses, a baseball commentator, and raucous laughter spilled out after him. He stood there for some moments as though getting his bearings, then shuffled forward. He must not have seen the step, for the next thing I knew he was falling, grabbing weakly at the handrail as he went down.
I ran over and squatted down beside him.” Are you all right?”
He looked up at me, squinting against the bright sun. “’Becca?” he asked. His voice quavered.
“No. Not ‘Becca. I’m Stephanie – Stephanie Gilbert. Are you hurt?”
He continued to stare at me for a few moments, then finally shook his head. “Becca’s gone, Joey.” he said. He tried to struggle to his feet and I put a hand under his arm to help him.
Just then the door of the bar opened again and another man came out. He was younger, with sandy hair and brown overalls. He took in the situation at a glance and hurried down the steps.
“Is he all right?” he asked me.
“I think so.” I said, “He managed to catch the rail as he fell.”
“There, Joey, let’s get you up. How do you feel?” the young man pulled Joey to his feet and began to dust him down.
“Joey feels great!” the old man thumped his barrel chest exuberantly, then he looked at me and nodded solemnly, “But Joey got hurt, once.” he said.
I realized at that moment that he was probably not as old as I’d first thought – perhaps in his early sixties. He had a large, round head sparsely covered with strands of white-gray hair. His face resembled an irregular bread-loaf – full of pouches and sags, drooping jowls and thick lips, with a huge bulbous nose, splat in the middle that looked to have been flattened on more than one occasion. There was a white scar over his left eye and his ears jutted from his head like doorknobs. But, despite this battered, misshapen countenance, Joey had a pair of beautiful, sapphire-blue eyes that made the rest of him retreat in a blur once you were caught in their mesmerizing glow.
Posted by Maureen McMahon at 5:31 pm
Friday, April 22, 2011
I don’t know if I fully believe in Karma, but I'm not about to take any chances. If we get back everything we give, then it’s best to avoid causing pain, death or injury to any living things. Does killing insects count, too? And what about germs and micro-organisms? Algae on the pool? I’ll try not to worry about the death of germs, micro-organisms and algae, but insects surely must have feelings and therefore register somewhere on the Karma Meter. Why take the chance of becoming a stain on someone’s ceiling in my next life? So, I've made a pact. No personal and intentional killing – and that includes everything as far down the food chain as insects. I've been known to capture mosquitoes, moths, daddy-longlegs, spiders, beetles and flies to release them unscathed.
The other night my husband brought in wood for our wood-burning heater. He brought in some extra logs for later and left them in the wood box next to the heater. We were happily watching our Richmond Tigers get trounced by Collingwood Magpies in Aussie Rules Footie, when I heard a thumping noise.
Upon inspection, we discovered our two Labradors merrily jumping on and eating a couple spiders. Now I’m not particularly afraid of spiders. I just avoid them, or move them if they’re in the wrong place. But this time I was concerned because Bryndal, our yellow lab, is pregnant and I don’t expect that eating spiders could be good for her health.
Then my husband made the offhand comment from the entry hall nearby, “Look at this.” To my shock there were at least twenty spiders on the wall. Not cute little ones, but long-legged nasty ones that could run like the wind.
It was like a bad horror movie come true. The spiders were all near the front door and moving rapidly into the house. It crossed my mind that the spiders might be seeking shelter from some natural disaster that was about take place. I’d heard insects, birds and animals can sense these things. Was a tsunami on the way? An earthquake? An asteroid about to crash into our backyard, or a volcano erupt nearby? I looked at the crack under the door expecting to see them pouring in, but no, they weren’t coming from there.
There were no lights on in the living room but I could see the carpet moving – shadows running hither and yon. Then I felt something in my hair and brushed out a spider so large it made a resounding thump when it hit the wall.
I think that’s when the panic hit and I started to believe it was an invasion. Karma be damned. This was war.
“Get the swat!” I yelled. “I'll get the spray.”
Together my husband and I went to work. I was even more shocked when I looked at the ceiling. It was covered. They were hanging there – just waiting to fall in my hair again.
It took several minutes and almost a can of spray before the bulk of the killing was done. Dead spider bodies lay shriveled or twitching on the carpet and on the wood of the hall floor. Spider remains were splattered on walls, furniture and ceilings. And just when we thought it was safe to put our weapons away, another would run out from behind a bookcase or the curtains. For hours we were yelling: “Over here!” “Here's one quick!”
At some point it occurred to me that the spiders must be coming from the logs my husband had brought in that day so we removed said logs to the front verandah.
Finally, with our hearts barely beginning to return to a normal rhythm, we collapsed into our lounge chairs and put down our weapons. This was not a movie set and there were no special effects. The death toll was high and we had the bodies to prove it.
Later that night, after cleaning up the carnage, my husband went through the logs we’d taken outdoors and found that one was hollow. After dropping it hard on the ground to break it open and watching dozens more spiders come pouring out, we were relieved to at least know the source of the plague and be grateful we were safe – at least for the night.
Now, however, in the cold light of day, I realize we’ll have to atone for our lapse in caring for other living creatures for at least eighty more lifetimes. I wonder if there’s some Karmic score keeper up there who might understand and give us a break?
Posted by Maureen McMahon at 8:17 pm
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Blog, blog, blog…Okay, so sue me, I’m not all that sure about blogs. Who knows whose going to read them? What if your blog attracts a cult of crazed mass-murderers? Or suicide prone individuals who need just that one word to push them over the edge? It’s dangerous, in my opinion. That said, I’ll do my best… and with determination not to encourage murder or personal mutilation.
It’s not easy being a writer. People seem to think if you get paid to write you’re the luckiest person alive. But it’s not easy. Of course we have our days when it just flows – when the words just tumble out one on top of the other and it becomes like a stream then a river and you simply can’t stop. But those days are most often surrounded by days when the words just won’t come and we have to pry them one by one from the dark, tight recesses of our creative minds. And then they don’t often fit properly. A hodge-podge of words that just don’t work together the way we want them to. “But,” we say, “never mind. Tomorrow might be better.” It rarely is.
Then of course we have editors waiting and tapping their feet. Will we have the story finished in time? Will it be any good? So on top of our own pressure to perform, we have the added responsibility of a deadline. After all, it’s not just our story anymore, it’s meant to bring income to a great many people. No dilly-dallying! Evolving creativity can’t hold a candle to the push and shove of the giant publishing machine.
But, okay, let’s face it, making money from our thoughts is one of the best ego-trips around. IF you make money, that is. Gone are the days when publishing a novel will put you on Easy Street. Publishing a novel every six months might make life a little more comfortable, but it’s not a ticket to the limo and prime seats at the opera.
This is not meant to put anyone off writing. On the contrary, if anything it’s meant to encourage writers to follow their hearts. Don’t get caught up in the glamour or glitz you may think goes along with writing. Stick to your personal voice and style. Keep learning. Like what you write. When those days come along where the words simply don’t want to come, keep writing anyway and know it’s natural. And if your work is accepted by a publisher, enjoy it - but don’t lose track of the real reason you started writing in the first place. Most of you will realize in the end that you write because you love it. It’s part of you. And without it, you simply wouldn’t be the same.
And if you’re a mass murderer, or suicide prone, please take up knitting instead of reading blogs. G’day.
Posted by Maureen McMahon at 12:53 pm
Thursday, April 07, 2011
I'm really looking forward to seeing Haunting Passions out again, since it's the main book that starts the series with Peter and Stacey. Keep checking my page at Ellora's Cave (click here) - I expect it'll be out within a few months.
Thanks to all my loyal readers and fans!
Posted by Maureen McMahon at 1:27 pm