Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Where I've Gone

I worked a 9 to 5 job for years in Florida. It was rewarding, important work that ate up all my energy and emotional bandwidth, but was worth losing myself in. Then I moved and then Covid happened, and I've been doing freelance stuff on the side, mostly grant writing, some consulting, and a lot of wishing things had ended differently with my last employer. I moved home to Southern California to be closer to my family, but that wasn't seen as a valid reason for leaving. Bridges burned, friendships died overnight, and people I'd once shared triumphs and tragedies with for years were suddenly happy to see I didn't land on my feet.

This sort of thing will fuck with a person.

I tried to take up writing again, failed, tried again, failed again, abandoned Twitter and threw myself into finding another calling only to fail at that too. My wife makes enough money for both of us to live on, but that's not what I want even if she's kinda pleased with having me be a housewife/writer again. Okay, so how do I remember how to write again?

Not a rhetorical question. I'm seriously asking.

I spent most of this week trying to turn a writing journal prompt into a short story and ended up thoroughly in my own head about the whole thing. Was it a cute idea with no legs? Did I mistake an exercise for an actual story? What clunky bullshit was I covering up by trying to make it funny? And most of all, how does it end?

That's a big one for me: I always know how my stories end before I start.

My next idea involved re-reading some of my past stuff to see if I could hear my own voice again, but it wasn't there. I picked An Undead Grift for Christmas and Ravens from the Ashes for the exercise. At the end of both, I was left feeling like I was good once upon a time, but I didn't see how it all fit together anymore. The last book I published was Pintor Noche in 2017, which means the last time I wrote fiction of any real quality was at least five years ago since there's about a year lag on completion of writing to publication and that's if everything moves fast.

What changes in us to lose what we were?

Because I was a writer. I lived, breathed, and swam through writing for the better part of a decade and felt myself glow from the creativity I was a part of. I feel like I've been cutoff from the feed somehow. The cosmic inspiration or zeitgeist or collective unconscious for the Jungians.

I'm Steve Sax and I don't even know who that is.

He's a baseball player, or was, I know that much. From before I was born, I think. But there was a TV show, I can't even remember which one, where someone talked about Steve Sax who had made the throw from shortstop or second to first base thousands of times, but then, suddenly, he couldn't do it anymore. He straight up forgot how to throw. Short throws, long throws, throws to any point on the diamond were all off the table for a guy whose entire job was catching a ball and throwing it somewhere accurately. I can't remember how the story ended in the show or movie, and I have no idea what became of Steve Sax, but that's been weirdly stuck in my head for months now. I forgot how to throw.

I've got the yips or the shanks or some other sport metaphor. Dick fingers? Is that one?

The question now is do I fight it and try to get back to making the routine throws so I can feel comfortable enough to try the harder ones? Or do I hang it up and do...whatever Steve Sax ended up doing instead of baseball? Is there advice for clearing up the yippy shanks?

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Fable

Deidre: A Fable of Coming Home

Deidre was born on an Island, but it was not where she grew up. She was taken as a baby, immediately after birth. She was of the unlucky one in fifty removed from her home and raised somewhere else.
Instead, she grew up in a harsh land, told she was from there, told she belonged there and nowhere else, and told the Island was lesser in all ways that mattered. In her heart, she knew these things were not true. Yet they stripped her of her name, gave her a new one she did not like, and refused to call her by any but the named they had placed upon her, and told her she would learn or she would suffer. She did not want to suffer, and so she tried and failed to be like them. For from as early as she could remember, she felt a longing for the Island that she was taken from on the day of her birth; the Island that she never truly experienced as others were able to but knew was her true home.
Her abductors taught her to walk in their way, talk in their way, dress in their way, and tried to make her believe what they believed. When she refused, or hesitated, or argued against these things she knew were not for her, were not of her, and which she did not agree, she was yelled at, taunted, punished, beaten, and worse until she learned to hide who she was, what she knew, and where she belonged.
During these dark years in the loud, rough land, death beckoned Deidre constantly while she lived among her captors, imprisoned in clothes, culture, and the mannerisms forced upon her. She was soft in ways they were hard, and that made them hate her, and soon she hated these things about herself. Death was an escape, truly the only door from her cage that she knew existed. She did not want to die, but she knew she could not live in the harsh land, imprisoned and forced to behave in painful, often cruel ways.
When she was still a young woman, hardened against the toxic world and its caustic ways, hiding well to avoid the pain heaped upon her whenever she deviated from the path forced upon her, she met a young man who would become her hero. This young man had been taken at birth as well. He was not from the Island, but had been raised there. He was from the harsh land and had dreamed of coming back one day. He knew of the harshness but in it he saw a beauty that called to him. He also had thought death was the only door until he heard of people leaving the Island and traveling to the harsh land.
Deidre and the young man found a quiet, isolate corner where the young man’s past of being raised on the Island and the young woman’s captivity would not be known to anyone but each other, and she asked him questions about his travels, about the path he had taken, about how she might go home.
It was dangerous and hard, she expected that and was willing to brave anything to go home. It was expensive, which would be difficult, but she would pay anything to be free. She could not take the same path he did; it would not work going the other way. There were similar paths, but he did not know them, had not traveled them, and they did not go the same direction as he had gone. She had more questions, but he needed to go. He was home and wanted to see everything he had missed. She understood that desire as it burned within her as well and so they parted as friends.
Deidre saved her money for the trip. She carefully sought information about a path she might take. There were a few people who wished to aid her, but they too were afraid of what might happen to them if they helped someone escape. Piece by piece, coin by coin, she planned her exodus. On the day she was to leave, she looked back on the harsh land where she was held captive for her entire life to that point and saw there were things she might miss about it, wealth and strength that could be found there for the right person, but none of the treasures could buy the home she felt in her heart, and so she departed.
The journey home was difficult, she got lost many times, the money she had saved to make the trip was spent quickly and had to be replaced by doing things she would never speak of again. There were mountains of pain and she bled often for there was no other way. Each step toward home, she felt herself becoming more of what she had always known herself to be. Each leg of the journey that brought her closer to the Island also brought her nearer to herself. At long last, she stood upon the shore, final leg of the journey, a boat ride across a misty ocean. Without hesitation she stepped off the shore and set sail for home.
The crossing was rough, stormy sometimes, and she felt sick to her stomach with each passing wave. She slept a great deal, ate very little, and stared unblinking into the fog, wishing to see the Island but not able to make out anything but the interminable ocean. Everyone aboard said they were coming closer, that they were on course, and she had to trust them. For they had been there, they knew the way, she paid dearly for their expertise and would have to trust it now that she was in their care, far out to sea.
At long last, the skies cleared, the water calmed, and she saw the Island. She wept for its beauty, even at the great distance from which she saw it again for the first time since her birth. Others wept as well, knowing what the Island meant to so many.
When the ship docked and she took her first step on her ancestral land, the home she was stolen from and denied to her, her heart soared. Other women from the Island saw her, they saw through the scars, both on her body and soul, and recognized her as one of their own. They embraced her with love and compassion, welcomed her to the place she always belonged but had been stolen from.
These women asked her name. She gave them the one she had been forced to use in the harsh land. They told her that was not her name. Her name was Deidre and she had been missed. She relinquished the clothes she was forced to wear in favor of the Island garb that suited her much better. They helped her change her hair to match theirs. They taught her all she needed to know of living on the Island, her home, things she’d not been raised to know. They called her sister and rejoiced in her return.
She had missteps and made mistakes. Everyone on the Island was from there, including her, but most of them were raised on the Island in one fashion or another, and knew the ways from birth, while she had been stolen, taken far away, and forced to behave in ways that were not natural to her and were not typical on the Island.
Sometimes people would see her and know she’d been abducted, know she had been imprisoned, see her often awkward, childlike steps on the Island, her scars, her fear, her pain, and they were angry. Not angry that she was taken against her will and forced to live in the harsh land, forced to adopt their ways that were not her own, but angry because she dared to come back.
“Go back to the harsh land!”
“You do not belong here!”
“You do not know our ways.”
“You were not born here and can never be from here!”
“We do not want you!”
“The Island is only for Islanders.”
They would yell all these things at her and worse. Many would attack her with more than words. Demand she be imprisoned until she was willing to leave. Punished her for being different. Hated her for the scars she bore that they did not.
She cried often and began to hide again from these people. She would not leave the Island, could not go back to the harsh land, and death once again seemed like her only door.
Other women from the Island, who knew her name was Deidre, knew she always belong there and had cried when she was abducted, who only wished for their sister, their daughter, their friend to be returned someday, they came to her.
“These people who say you do not belong, are wrong,” they would tell her. “You are here because you were born here and will always have a place among us. Do not listen to the people who demand that you leave. They are few in number and weak in spirit. The harsh land and the people from it frighten them. Their weakness makes them lash out at you, because the harsh land scares them too much to direct their anger there. They do not understand that your name is Deidre and you are of us, but we do, and we are happy you are home.”
From then on, she wore her scars not with pride, but with compassion. She still did not want them, still wished she had never obtained them, but no longer hated herself for having them. She still made missteps, although fewer and fewer as the years and months passed. She learned to ignore the weak minority of people who did not understand. Whose hatred and small minds drove them to attack one of their own because of what was done to her and not by her.
One day, she saw a crying boy. She saw through his Islander hair, garb, and name, and knew he was from the harsh land. That he’d been brought as a baby to the Island and he did not understand why he was there or how to get home.
“Dry your tears, young man,” she told him. “There are paths to where you want to be. There is a way home. I know it because I have walked them. And you can too.”

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Raven Ladies on Hold

The Raven Ladies on Hold

The Raven Ladies series includes The Gunfighter and the Gear-head, The Steam-Powered Sniper in the City of Broken Bridges, The Gunfighter's Gambit, and book one of the Ravens from the Ashes prequel trilogy all based on a short story in the Astral Liaisons short story collection. As of now, I'm sad to say the series is on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

I love Fiona, Gieo, Veronica, Ramen, Tabitha and all the other characters of the post apocalyptic old west, which makes this decision exceedingly difficult. The fact that the series is by far my best selling series and The Gunfighter and the Gear-head is arguably the only hit book I've written only makes the hiatus more difficult, but I feel it is necessary, essential really.

When I began writing the books back in 2010, I didn't really like guns. My wife (then girlfriend) was from a gun-loving family, but even though my family has a history of military service and hers doesn't, I wasn't raised with or around guns the way she was. She took me shooting at a range in Brea before we moved across country to Florida to try to get me used to the idea of the gun her parents wanted us to have for protection. I hated it. I hated shooting, I hated the gun, I hated the idea of having it anywhere near me. Since she was largely indifferent and doing it only to make her parents happy, we skipped the gun and I'm glad every day that we don't have a gun in the house.

To write these books accurately, which I desperately cared about, I had to spend an enormous amount of time looking up information about guns on the internet, talking to my in-laws, and consulting with the members of the military in my family. I didn't like doing any of this either, but it was far enough from holding and shooting an actual gun that I made my peace with the process required to depict a gunfighter like Fiona even though I'm way more like Gieo who barely touches a gun in the first book and only reluctantly when she finally does.

I could list all the school shootings, mass shootings, and individual acts of police brutality that resulted in people being shot, but I couldn't point to an individual event that has broken me. It's a combined weight and I can't breathe under it, or, more specifically, I can't write under it. I can't look up gun information on the internet. I can't talk to my in-laws about guns. I can't ask questions of military members in my family. I can't write about bullet holes, gunshot victims, or the death and destruction firearms inflict. I've spent months trying to figure this out, trying to divine a way to continue the books without guns, and I couldn't come up with anything. Guns are essential to the series in a way I deeply regret.

This wasn't a publisher's call. No editor decided this for me. No public outcry forced my hand. I made the decision to discontinue the series on my own, knowing full well it'll probably hurt my brand, my sales, and disappoint my most loyal readers. All I can say is, I'm sorry. I wish I was stronger to overcome this crushed feeling, or a more devoted artist to persevere through my discomfort for the sake of the work, or a better writer to be able to write my way out of the mess I created. But I'm not.

I'm stepping away from the series not simply out of principle, although that's certainly a more noble reason and part of what motivated me, but mostly because I can't do it anymore. I can't see what guns are doing to children and innocent people all over our country every day and then sit down to write about how they're saving the fictional world I created and the characters in it.

I'll be focusing on other projects for the foreseeable future and I can only hope people enjoy them as much as the Raven Ladies. Again, I apologize to fans of the series for this unceremonious halting mid-story, and I hope you can understand my reasons.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pintor Noche

Pintor Noche

Alternate History / Women Sleuths / Steampunk / Mystery
Available through Amazon - Barnes&Noble - Kobo

I started this book long before all the political strife in Catalonia. If you haven't followed that situation, the basic summary is a region in northeastern Spain called Catalonia, where Barcelona is, has declared independence from Spain and the Spanish government came down on them hard. So I dedicated my book about Barcelona to the people of Catalonia as a sign of solidarity with their struggle for self-determination even as the situation continues to evolve.

For whatever reason, lesbians love mystery novels. I have a few theories as to why, but they're kind of stupid and silly and probably not at all right, so I'll skip going into any of them. The fact remains: lesbians love mystery novels. Why haven't I written one before Pintor Noche if I'm aware of this fact? Because I don't actually read mystery novels. Yep, I am one of a tiny handful of lesbians roaming the literary landscape with no mystery novels in my reading diet. Then I read a few steampunk mystery novels and realized the genre could include the tech stuff I like and often have elements of romance. Romance is my jam.

Pintor Noche is the culmination of a ton of research and talking to painters, Spaniards, detectives, and engineers. What I came up with is probably less accurate than most alternate history writing, but perhaps more historical than many mysteries...or maybe that's just what I'm telling myself. Whatever was sacrificed in accuracy was done in the name of fun, adventure, and a good story. And I'll stick by that even under intense interrogation by a Spanish Inspector.

Barcelona is burning!
The police are powerless to discover the identity of the Pintor Noche, the Night Painter, who has turned the summer of 1905 into an arsonist’s masterpiece. In desperation Inspector Esperanza seeks out Desdemona, the daughter of his legendary former mentor and predecessor Inspector Amina. Implementing the latest in forensic science, Desdemona teams up with the Inspector to hunt down the Pintor Noche before one of his fiery works of art consumes the entire city. With the help of her painter paramour, Santene, and a roguish French journalist, Yvette, Desdemona struggles to navigate the perilous worlds of the aristocracy, Sephardic gangsters, and secret societies to chase the ghost of a man who paints with fire.

Sample Chapter:

Chapter 1

Sun from the trio of skylights in the studio warmed Desdemona Amina’s skin, telling her it was getting on toward noon. The task of an artist’s model was to maintain stillness in the face of crushing boredom. It wasn’t Desdemona’s preferred work, but she could not deny Santene anything. She watched her lover paint, focusing closest on Santene’s caramel-colored eyes as they wandered from her form, to the palette, and finally to the canvas. Desdemona believed she could tell which part of her Santene was painting based on the micro reactions of her face. A blush to the cheek, faint smile, light sweat on her upper lip, slightly arched eyebrow, all hinted at the different areas of the painter’s focus and the affects Desdemona’s nude form was having on the artist. Santene’s messy, brown curls falling free of the loose bun she always placed her hair in while painting, the fullness of her pursed lips when she concentrated, and the voluminous cleavage created by her corseted dress all served to arouse similar reactions in the model as she watched the artist engrossed in her process. It was only a matter of time, probably even before the sun reached it zenith, when Santene would abandon her paints to join Desdemona on the litter of pillows and sheets. Morning light in the workshop was best for painting while afternoon sun in Barcelona was meant for drinking wine, napping, and making love.
The tension building between them even as the sun warmed the little studio to an uncomfortable level was shattered by a terse knock upon the peeling white door. Desdemona let out a sigh and flopped, face down, onto the blue, satin pillow she’d formerly reclined on. Santene set aside her palette and brush on a nearby stool and rose to answer the door. Before Santene could even fully open the door, the feminine, artistic energy of the room was shattered. Inspector Esperanza charged into the studio, remembering only manners enough to snatch the bowler hat from his head within a few steps. He was a tall, slender man, dressed smartly in a pale, gray suit with gleaming copper buttons. His black hair was mussed every so slightly and a dappling of sweat clung to his immaculately tended moustache indicating he’d been walking briskly in the morning heat.
Señorita Amina, at last I’ve found you,” Inspector Esperanza said, averting his eyes quickly from her nude form.
“At last I am found,” Desdemona muttered. She slipped from the pillows to retrieve her robe. “I wasn’t aware I was sought.”
Inspector Esperanza shifted his focus from one of the many cracks in the plaster on the far wall to look instead at Santene’s work in progress. He cocked his head to one side and then the other in much the same way a chicken might study a particularly puzzling kernel of corn.
“Why is there so much purple to the front edge of her skin?” Inspector Esperanza asked.
“It is an undertone in the process of drying,” Santene explained. “Skin has many shades to it that are built in layers. Señorita Amina has lovely violet hints to her skin in the right light.”
“She looks brown to me,” Inspector Esperanza said, “a pleasant shade of brown to be sure, but brown nevertheless.”
“Certainly you didn’t come all this way to discuss color layering in skin and paint,” Desdemona said, eager to be rid of the Inspector.
“In a manner of speaking, I did,” the Inspector said. “There was a fire last night that I believe was the most recent arson committed by the Pintor Noche. The night’s victims reside in the Moro district…” The Inspector worried the rim of his hat in his hands, trying to avoid the indelicacy of what came next.
“…and they won’t talk to you,” Desdemona surmised.
“Only enough to tell me the quickest way out of their district,” the Inspector said, forcing a chuckle. “Jests aside, I can pay you for your time. I don’t know how lucrative modeling for painters is…”
“You’re supposed to be paying me?” Desdemona asked of Santene with a flirty smirk.
“Only if I plan to sell the work, but I was going to hang this particular painting in my bedroom,” Santene said, “for personal use, you understand.”
“I believe I know the wall you mean.” Desdemona returned her attention to the Inspector, who had grown a few shades redder from the coquettish banter passing between the two women. He was a good Catholic man with a thunderous boring streak who eschewed the houses of burlesque and drinking of absinthe. Desdemona suspected she could send him into an apoplectic fit if she kissed Santene in his presence. Entertaining though that might be, she decided it also might spoil her chance at gainful employment. “Very well, Inspector, I’ll look into the matter.”
“Excellent, here is the address.” The Inspector produced a slip of paper from the front pocket of his suit vest and handed it to her. “I shall meet you at the crime scene within the hour if you are able.”
Desdemona took the paper, scanned the address, and glumly deduced she would not have time to enjoy any carnal delights with Santene if she expected to meet the Inspector’s timeframe. “Barely enough time to lace a boot,” she murmured, “but I’ll manage.”
The Inspector bowed to each of them in turn and then hurriedly exited the studio. Immediately upon his departure, Desdemona let her robe drop and began searching amid the painting supplies, canvases, and set props for her clothing. She could feel Santene’s eyes upon her the entire time, which only served to make the room feel warmer and her imminent departure more loathsome.
“I suppose I’ll head down to the docks to sketch sea birds if you’re going to be occupied this afternoon,” Santene grumbled.
“If you buy clams and wine, I can cook them for you,” Desdemona said.
“If you make me dinner, you will have to stay the night,” Santene countered.
“If I stay the night, you will have to provide breakfast in the morning.”
“Your terms are acceptable Señorita Amina.” Santene stood from her painting stool, crossed to Desdemona, and gave her a light kiss on the shoulder before collecting her sketching implements. “Until this evening.”
Desdemona dressed quickly in her yellow, corseted dress, at least as quickly as the cumbersome garment would allow, and drew up her hair into a bun to hold it beneath the matching, wide-brimmed hat. In bohemian districts she could get away with more sensible attire, but she had to cross several posh streets to get to Santene’s studio, and her skin color was already a source of sideways glances depending on the hues of each neighborhood.
She stepped from the subdued studio into the bustle and life of the city. The smell of roasting lamb floated on the air amid the dust of the ancient streets. She turned down the handle on the side of her Penny-Farthing bicycle’s rear wheel. The motor was of her own design, working in much the same way as a pocket watch to spin the small, rear wheel of the bicycle rather than forcing her to peddle the much larger front wheel. It worked marvelously well around the flatter parts of the city, especially when she was wearing a dress that required her to ride sidesaddle. With the mechanism wound, she rolled the bike forward enough to get it going, stepped onto the peg along the back frame, and swung herself up into the saddle atop the four foot tall front wheel. She flicked the drive release on the moustache handlebars and set off at a clicking, jaunty pace over the cobblestone streets. Certainly she could have purchased one of the new Rover Safety Bicycles that had the lowered frame for ladies to still peddle while wearing a dress, but she rather enjoyed the view from the top of her Penny-Farthing and the nearly unstoppable gait provided by the large front wheel.
The bike ticked like a Swiss pocket watch through the city, over the bridges, across the dusty bits of road in the unpaved sections, and around the busy corner at the La Pedrera. The rich scent of pipe and cigar smoke sat heavy atop French perfumes and colognes amid the gentlemen and women walking leisurely down the thoroughfare. The vibe and pace of Barcelona was slow and sumptuous in comparison to Paris or Berlin, but no less taken with the bohemian revolutions in art, literature, and intellectualism. A strange bit of nationalism for her city arose in Desdemona during the ride, and she found herself a little cross that someone was burning down parts of it. By the time she arrived in the Moorish district she’d come to the conclusion she would locate the vandal regardless of what the constabulary might pay her.
The Moors of Spain, especially on the Mediterranean coast, were a diverse lot inside of the larger Islamic community, although the rest of Spain saw them as one darkened group with inconsequentially different shades. Desdemona was of Moroccan descent, mixing Arab blood with African for a thousand years before her ancestors came to Spain where the blending continued until she only thought of herself as Spanish and her Muslim roots were completely lost to the modernizing influences of Europe. In the neighborhoods set aside for the Moors, who had once conquered and ruled the entirety of the Iberian peninsula, there were proper Arabs, a few Turks, countless Libyans, and Africans from beneath the Sahara—all of which had dealings with Moroccans and all of which would see her as a go-between for the Muslims and the Catholics even though she wasn’t particularly fond of either group despite being an amalgamation of both.
She could smell the lingering smoke of the doused fire long before she saw the burned timbers of the scorched section of the district. Inspector Esperanza was already at the scene with his carriage waiting across the litter-strewn street from the burned out husks of buildings that constituted the scene of the crime. The owners of the five burned buildings were already gathered around the Inspector to voice their complaints while refusing to answer any of his questions. As luck would have it, they were also Moroccan Moors.
Desdemona goosed the spoon brake on her bike to slow it and slid off the back. She tapped her foot on the motor’s release along the way and grabbed the frame of the bike to walk it to a stop so she might lean it against the side of the Inspector’s carriage. She may as well have arrived with a platoon of soldiers, waving the Spanish flag above her head for the immense relief her entrance instilled in Inspector Esperanza.
“Excellent, Señorita Amina, if you’d be so kind,” the Inspector stepped boldly behind her, armed with his little notepad and scrap of a pencil to record what information she might draw from the increasingly agitated Moros.
“Which shop did the fire originate in?” Desdemona asked.
A haberdasher, with his sleeves rolled up and suspenders bedecked in sewing pins stepped forward. “That would be mine,” he said, curtly nodding to her with his head of perfectly shellacked black hair.
“And do you have any reason to believe you were the target of the arson for malicious purposes?” Desdemona asked. “Any enemies? Recent threats made against you? Disgruntled former employees? Unsatisfied customers? Anxious lovers or an enraged wife?”
The other men chuckled behind the haberdasher’s back. He proudly titled his head back and grunted his disdain at the question. “I am a tailor of fine suits and coats for gentlemen of discerning taste but modest means. I have always worked alone, I am well-liked by my customers, respected by my competitors, and live a celibate life with my extremely devout wife.”
She was all too familiar with the haberdasher’s type since his description fit nicely many of the married couples she’d known of both Muslim and Catholic persuasions. The haberdasher’s shop may have been where the fire started, but she did not believe he was the true target for the flames. Response times for Spanish fire departments were slow and their capabilities upon arrival were haphazard; a fire in one shop would almost certainly consume several other surrounding structures before the blaze could be contained and a clever, increasingly experienced arsonist likely knew these things all too well.
She took similar statements of incredulity from a pawn broker, an art dealer, a type-setter, and an unfortunate man whose house happen to partially burn down and was then knocked completely over by the firemen attempting to stop the flames from spreading. If there was a motive to be found in the bunch, it was known only to the Pintor Noche.
“Splendid work, I suppose,” Inspector Esperanza said when Desdemona was done ascertaining that the victims were as they appeared: humdrum citizenry with unfortunate luck. “You’ve uncovered a witness description of a man in a top hat with a cane fleeing the scene at a brisk walk. This would describe every man of even moderate means within the whole of Europe and much of America.”
“Perhaps, but not many within the Moro neighborhood,” Desdemona said.
“So our suspect is Blanco,” Inspector Esperanza said. “We already believed this.”
“Of the other fires, how many struck similar businesses to these?” Desdemona asked, ignoring the Inspector’s petulance for the moment.
“Almost all of them have involved a haberdasher. Perhaps the Pintor Noche detests finely attired gentlemen or he had an unsatisfactory suit alteration that drove him to revenge,” the Inspector offered.
“How many other suit-makers are there in Barcelona?” Desdemona wondered.
“Not counting the people who do a bit of sewing and alterations out of their homes, perhaps a couple dozen or more,” the Inspector said. “We are a fashionable city, after all.”
At the very least, it seemed farfetched to her that the arsonist was targeting tailors over a matter of billing or style. No doubt the records of customers at each establishment were consumed in the flames, paperwork being entirely flammable and all. Still, there had to be more to the fire-bug’s elusiveness than simply choosing a plentiful target in a seemingly random pattern.
“I will need the addresses of all the other fires and a street map current enough to list the businesses that stood near the fires in the last year or so,” she said.
“I’ve looked over all these materials and more already,” the Inspector said, “besides, you were hired to take statements at this location and you’ve done so. The constabulary has things well in hand.”
“If the constabulary did indeed have a satisfactorily progressing investigation, I imagine the Moro district fire would have been largely ignored,” Desdemona said. “Instead you hired an outside agent to take statements in hopes of finding a lead regardless of the disinterest in the particular victims of the latest vandalism. No, no, no Señor Esperanza, you do not have things well in hand.”
The collected victims of the arson, along with several other curious denizens of the neighborhood who had congregated around the investigation to eavesdrop on a scrap of news or gossip, broke into subdued, yet sincere, clapping for Señorita Amina’s cutting oration. Inspector Esperanza harrumphed, waggled his moustache, and straightened his bowler from the fashionable tilt he’d formerly worn it in to a sterner slant. The posturing of his authority evaporated almost as quickly as he’d bedecked himself in it. She was right and he knew it.
“Your contract will be with me, Señorita Amina, and not the constabulary.” He smoothed his moustache with two fingers before producing a pad of paper from the breast pocket of his suit. “You are an outside consultant only, not a deputized or temporarily sanctioned agent of the city. This appointment most certainly does not allow you to carry a firearm or represent yourself as a figure of authority to any Blanco citizens.”
“And would they believe me even if I did,” Desdemona said.
“Let us hope not.” The Inspector scribbled out a contract on his pad of paper, signed it tersely, and handed it to Desdemona. Within moments he was back in his carriage, banging on the outside of the door with the flat of his palm to indicate to the driver he was ready to depart. “I will have the pertinent materials brought to your apartment as soon as they are ready for transport,” the Inspector said as a parting comment.
Desdemona walked the crime scene for another hour after the Inspector departed. She spoke at length with the witnesses she believed might reveal more after the Blanco authority was gone. They did reveal more, if only in placing blame on the police and the dominant culture as a whole for cultivating an arsonist they seemed incapable of capturing. Eventually, after she began wholly ignoring their gripes, the crowd dispersed to return to whatever business was left to them after the fire. She sketched the paths she believed the fire followed based on concentration of ash. Santene would have done a far more artistic job of rendering the scene, although aesthetics were not required for accuracy and she didn’t feel like bringing her Blanca paramour to the Moro district just yet, especially not when it was so justifiably riled by nocturnal arson.
When she’d finally walked and sketched the entirety of the crime scene, successfully staining the bottom hem of her skirt and her boots black in the process, she deduced that the fire appeared to follow prescribed paths through the buildings. Whether or not this was a product of fire’s natural proclivities or something the arsonist planned, she could not say. She purchased from a nearby shop a number of small glass jars and then collected ash samples from multiple locations within the scene to compare at a later date. Research and testing would be required to learn the true nature of fire; an arsonist knew the flame like a lover and so she would need to follow suit to find him.
Even a clever man would have to abide by the laws of nature that dictated fire’s behavior—in that, she believed she could find a pattern and hopefully a clue as to his motive.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Your Hottest Video Game Girlfriends


Let's talk ladies, specifically digital ladies. This is one of those lists that wouldn't even be possible when I first got into video games, even 10 years ago it would have been incredibly short. We've come a ways, I'm not willing to say a long ways just yet because there's this huge road ahead even if the distance traveled so far seems long because there's all this other...yanno what enough waxing poetic. This is about awesome digital ladies you can hang with in video game land and right now, the world needs escapism. Seriously, reality has gone nucking futs--go play some games.

Liara T'Soni -- Mass Effect

Like the picture? It's a desktop wallpaper--just sayin'
That's Doctor Liara T'Soni, hunnie! Okay, she's not that kind of doctor, but she is the doctorate holding kind. I think it's something to do with ancient archeology or communications since she goes full Shadowbroker in Mass Effect 2. She evolves from being an unsure academic to a confident, galaxy saving badass in the course of three games and a couple DLCs. There are other ladies in the Mass Effect series that can make space seem not so vast and cold (Specialist Traynor and Kelly Chambers) but they're light years behind Liara. Aside from being one of the most powerful biotic squad members, she's integral to the story and Commander Shepard's character development. There's also a very real possibility she's the smartest person in the game by a wide margin and she'll explain so many things in a velvety voice that gives silk over glass competition in smoothness.

Rating -- total wife material (even though she's going to live 900 more years after you die)

Piper Wright -- Fallout 4

Did I mention girl's got style?
Bethesda did a lot of fun, creative things in Fallout 4 that they'd hinted at doing in Fallout New Vegas and Skyrim. One of the fun things was making one-size-fits-all romances by utilizing nicknames and easy pronoun swapping in the scripts. That means every romance option is available to both genders and it'll be seamless every time! Everyone knows, when it comes to girlfriends, there's like and there's love. I like Curie and Cait, but I love Piper. She's a reporter, a big sister raising a kid sister after they were orphaned, and she has a beautiful mix of self-deprecating humor, ego, and altruism. She's kind of goofy in vulnerable moments in the most endearing way possible, and how refreshing is that in a game that takes place after nuclear Armageddon? She also has her own thing going on, mostly looking into the mayor of Diamond City as being a possible Institute collaborator and while she's helping you on your journey to find your missing son, she does continue her own work as a reporter, which sets her above most NPCs in complexity of character. Speaking of her newspaper, she's a talented writer. There are several issues of Publick Occurrences to collect throughout the game, and I suggest you actually read them.

Rating -- total wife material (especially if you could get her to quitting smoking...not that everything in the Commonwealth isn't a carcinogen)

Chloe Price -- Life is Strange

Probably not going to prom
Life is Strange is a departure from the big guns, big cars, big explosions, big swords games in every sense. No space marines here, just high school, a photography hobby, and time alteration super powers...okay, so that ones a big deal. There's a mystery, time travel, survival (both high school drama and literal life/death kinds) all while Max is trying to figure out who she even is and what is going on with her teenage angst. Enter Chloe Price. Do you remember that first time you met someone as a young queerling girl and she's the coolest fucking person and you can't tell if she's actually into girls or if you want her to be so badly that your mind convinces you she must be because that would be the only explanation for why she's so freaking cool? That's Chloe and it turns out she's into Max, but in that laid back, older girl, dyed blue hair, wild child sort of way. She comes with a slew of her own problems, an old truck, an over developed sense of adventure, and energy, lots and lots of energy. Yes, I'm describing a manic pixie dream girl, but why shouldn't lesbians get one too? If you missed out on the teenage smitten stage of pining for a cool older girl, here's your chance to find out what it feels like to be a sidekick wishing to be a love interest for a punk rock princess.

Rating -- first love (...and second and third and really as many times as you want since you can turn back time at will)

Sera -- Dragon Age: Inquisition

She's full of these technically-true-isms
There's a hole in the sky. Demons are attacking peasants and livestock. Mages and Templars refuse to get along. An ancient evil is trying to remake the world. What you need is a crazy girlfriend that has next to no clue what's actually going on! So maybe she's never getting a Fulbright, or graduating college, or...okay, she's probably going to be a huge liability on your bar trivia team, but that's not why you love her! Sera's strength isn't in her brains, it's in her sense of humor, straightforward approach to everything, and bizarre, but defined, moral code. Sera is afraid of magic, likes tall women, solves most of her problems with arrows, and creates chaos for shits and giggles, making her a wild ride, in more ways than one if you play your cards right. It's hard to figure how she would fit in with something called the Inquisition and someone called the Inquisitor, but maybe that's a good thing. A girlfriend that likes pranks, jokes, and a clear, if someone basic, grasp of the situation can be helpful for a woman trying her best to save the world. There's nothing quite like the crazy ones, am I right?

Rating -- long term girlfriend or wild fling (that depends on your capacity for shenanigans)

Honorable Mentions

Not every game builds a full romance for you, but there are several games that offer at least some kind of girlfriend option if you're willing to do some of the work yourself or don't mind brevity.

Your Sims Girlfriend -- The Sims

Come on, we all did it. The Sims is basically an elaborate dollhouse and for little gay girls, that's going to mean little Sim girlfriends getting together and doing a lot of interior decorating, pet collecting, and eating grilled cheese sandwiches. The quality of your Sim girlfriends may have varied and some may have died in cooking fires or drowned in swimming pools.

Random Villager -- Fable 2 and/or 3

Want to marry a random village woman? What about a noblewoman? A shopkeeper? A prostitute? Knock yourself out! Want them to be in any way discriminate from other random NPCs? Tough luck. Most of their personalities will be broken down into a two to five word description, but you can date, marry, and get lucky in Albion in the most technical senses. Skyrim offers the same experience with better graphics, if the visual quality of your random NPC wife important to you.

Shaundi -- Saints Row 4

Mostly, the "romance" in Saints Row 4 is done directly to make fun of Mass Effect. The whole game is designed to lampoon basically every video game franchise, popular movie, and TV show they can get their hands on. The strange little blip of a thing with Shaundi on the ship (not fun Shaundi obviously since she only exists in the simulation and our memories) is surprisingly sweet in comparison to the obvious joke "romances" with the other gang members. There's a single cute conversation, implied sex, and a ton of hanging out and blowing stuff up together and that's a kind of relationship, isn't it?

Bioware must have a whole "rendering hot butts" development team
There are a ton of Bioware in game girlfriends I could have written up: Silk Fox, Juhani, Leliana, Merrill, Isabela, Peebee, Samantha Traynor, Kelly Chambers, Vetra, Suvi, Avela, Lembda Avesta, and Lana Beniko. But honestly, it'd get repetitive for some of them and time consuming for the SWTOR ones. Feel free to mention anything I missed in the comments or give love to your favorite digital paramour!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Primary Day

Starting to feel a little like this.
Primary season finally made it to Florida and the race is looking...gross. Let's face it, this presidential season is a little like House of Cards if it was written and directed by NASCAR. I'm always excited to vote in a primary since, being from California, that was the only time my presidential race vote went anywhere. Florida is a swing state, though, so I've had some meaningful votes since moving here. Kinda, anyway. Today was a biggie, and before you get excited, I won't tell you how I voted today. I'm pretty sure it's like birthday wishes--won't come true if you tell. I will walk you through my thoughts, however, because it wasn't an easy decision.

For Republicans you can pick a sociopath or an idiot...usually their candidates are both

I'm a Millennial, so I should be all for Bernie, right? But I'm one of the least Millennial Millennials I know. I don't like taking pictures of everything I see, eat, or drive past, which is a shame, because I drive past some really crazy stuff living in central Florida. I also like breakfast cereal, which my generation apparently might be the death of. I'm also a die hard feminist, which would make me a Hillary supporter. Not so fast or simple (this isn't NASCAR).

Florida is a closed primary system, which means, as a lifelong Democrat, I can only vote for blue candidates. That's actually really helpful since the other side seems to have a really bad game of "death isn't an option" going on with their shit-show candidates. Let's talk about the real issue: who is going to be the next president? Let's face it, the Democratic primary really is the presidential race this cycle.

Bernie Sanders - Back when I graduated high school I actually thought about going to a Vermont college so he could be my senator. No joke. I even applied to Goddard and got in. Then I realized I hated cold weather, didn't care enough about ice cream to be a true Vermonter, and could go to crazy good schools in California without graduating with crippling debt. Bernie reminds me of the grandfather I wish I had (I never really knew mine--thanks a lot cancer and heart disease). He's pro education, pro universal health care, pro union, anti income gap, and pro guns....shit. I forgot about that last one. He's kinda sorta pivoted on that, because you can't really win a Democratic primary anymore with the "from my cold dead hands" group's endorsement. I adore his idealism and most of his ideals match up almost perfectly with my own. He's also a steady, measured voice of anger talking about things Americans should actually be angry about (sorry, Trump supporters, you're mad at all the wrong things). He's refusing to participate in the dark money, super pac bullshit that even Obama couldn't avoid. His stance on the importance of climate change is clear, vocal, and right on point. My congressman, Grayson, a brash firebrand that I proudly voted for, is throwing his super delegate vote Bernie's way, so he's in good company. I have a sneaking suspicion he'd pick Elizabeth Warren as his running mate and I have a huuuuuuge crush on her both political and otherwise. He'd also be the first openly non-Christian president (even though I think more than a few were secretly atheists/agnostic). He's 99% of the way there, but he's still another old white guy in government, even if he's on the atheist side of Jewish and progressive as hell. Any other cycle, he'd have my vote the second the polls opened, but his opponent is...

Hillary Clinton - A bad bitch icon for all bad bitches. If you've read any of my books you've probably noticed I have a deep, abiding respect for tough, power-hungry women with flaws. I'll let you in on a little secret, mostly that's come from growing up in the Post-Bill era of Clinton. I think Veronica is about 25% Hillary in the Gunfighter series: a southern girl who grew up sick of the status quo and set out to change things come hell or high water. Let's be clear here, I don't give a single, solitary fuck about Bill Clinton, where his penis has been, or what kind of president he was. I also don't give a single, solitary fuck about internal martial dynamics of other people. My marriage is none of Bill's business so I'll extend him the same courtesy. With that out of the way...HOW FUCKING CRAZY AMAZING WOULD IT BE TO HAVE THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT! We're so far behind the rest of the world on this one. Wanna know when Israel broke the glass ceiling for its highest office? 1969. Golda Meier died more than a decade before I was born because she was the 4th prime minister of Israel. We're picking our 45th president right now. James Madison was our 4th president for a reference on how far behind America is on the Israel standard. She's pro reproductive rights, pro telling Republicans to fuck the fuck off, strong on defense, pro racial equality, and pro evolving. Pro evolution, sure, but also pro evolving. Intransigence on positions is for some insane reason viewed as a good thing in American politics. Bush 43 was famous for refusing to change his mind no matter what new information came to light (he said this repeatedly in a bunch of ways). How fucking stupid is that? Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and Lucy keeps pulling it away at the last minute...who is the idiot in that situation? Hillary learns, moves, changes, and evolves as things change. That's a good thing. Past positions are nice, but future plans based on current information are more important. Of the two options, she's the one that evolves and that's important.

Let's be clear. Regardless of who I voted for today, the other will get my vote in November if they win. The stakes are too high to stay home because my first choice wasn't the winner. It's one of the two Democrats at the top, a thousand miles of shit, and then any Republican...then a thousand more miles of shit before you get to Ted Cruz. I voted today in the primary and I encourage you to do the same if you haven't already. I'm voting for Bernie or Hillary come November regardless of who I voted for in the primary because that's what both of them promised to do no matter how this race shakes out. This election is too important to skip.

Sorry NASCAR fans for the two jokes. Gotta love a race that only turns left.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bathrooms...are you fucking kidding me, South Dakota?

Sooooo I'm not used to having things work this well or this fast in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights. After writing this 11th hour plea to motivate a final push of public outcry for Governor Daugaard to veto the bill, he did. Read the impassioned post if you'd like. There's a couple sexy pictures of Buck Angel and Bailey Jay, a metaphor about house spiders I'm pretty proud of, and the usual number of jokes. Or just read it to enjoy a battle we won!

Bathrooms...are you fucking kidding me, South Dakota?

And really high waisted shorts apparently
 I don't think much of South Dakota, which is a change for me since I used to not think much about South Dakota. But then they decided to do something really stupid, regressive, and bigoted. Before we get into that, I need to kick myself in text form because I got all excited last July (newly wed buzzed maybe?) and declared the next big fight for LGBTQ+ was going to be adoption laws! Yay! We'd moved on from...wait, what? Bathrooms? We're going to have to have a big fucking fight over bathrooms now? Oh, come on, America.

Add "get arrested" to either side in South Dakota
 South Dakota, under the despicable "we're using our children as weapons" heading of dickhead things to do, decided they were going to pass a law forcing trans children to use the bathroom of their birth gender regardless of how much transition they may have done or how negatively doing so might impact them. And then, get this, they blamed Obama. I'm not kidding. The arguments for why they had to pass this disgusting law included blaming Obama for changing the Title IX requirements to be more trans friendly. So, since Obama did something nice for trans kids, it was up to the fuckwit Republicans in the South Dakota legislature to pass a state law to make sure trans kids never felt safe in bathrooms again...thanks, Obama.

Welcome to the ladies room, Buck.
 It's no secret, I had a pretty shitty high school experience being a weird, Buddhist lesbian girl in a conservative school in a conservative town in a super evangelical Christian county. But, as much as it sucked and it did suck, nobody ever passed laws about where I could pee to make things even more difficult just for me. And certainly nobody in the state legislature vilified me (that I know of) as being far more dangerous than I actually am, which is to say not very. That's what South Dakota is doing to trans kids, though. Passing laws to make sure they don' stuff in the wrong bathroom? That's where their "argument" really falls apart--even the people who made up the regressive, bullshit law can't really explain what might happen if a transgendered person goes into a different bathroom than the toilet assigned at birth. This is because trans people are like house spiders. Let me explain....

I have a feeling the real plan was to get Bailey Jay into the men's room.
 No matter how you feel, no matter how deep your phobias go, you are always going to be more dangerous to house spiders than they are to you. This is coming from a deeply arachnophobic lady. The worst thing that happens to you if you see a house spider is that it might touch you*. The worst thing that might happen to the spider if you see it? It gets killed. That's the reality for transgendered people. They are far more afraid of you than you are of them because, just like with house spiders, one side has all the power and the other side gets stepped on, but you'd never know which is which based on how people (talking to you here South Dakota) behave. The similarities go on and on. The violence tends to be extremely lopsided about who actually hurts who. You're around far more of them than you're ever going to be aware of (see the two examples above if you think you can spot trans people). They're doing helpful stuff for you that you don't even know about. They tend to mind their own business better than just about anyone else, probably because people pass despicable laws about their business whenever someone hears about it. Um...they both like hats? Okay, that one might be a stretch, but you get the point--a lot of irrational fear over a group that is in far more danger than it is dangerous.

*This probably isn't true in Australia--I've seen scary videos of their house spiders

It's wearing a water drop hat and looking at butterflies! Ruuuuuuuun!!!
 This is one of the things that bugs me most about South Dakota and their fear-mongering law. A version of it happened in California during the Prop 8 battle too. Using kids as a weapon as if transgendered kids, lesbian kids, and gay kids don't exist or their lives don't matter. So, ostensibly, this law will protect cis gender kids from having to pee next to transgendered kids'll somehow harm them to pee next to a trans person? During the Prop 8 thing, there was actually several commercials saying "You don't want to have to explain to your kids why two princesses can get married, do you?" What about the little girl who wants to marry a princess? Fuck her, right? Her feelings don't matter as much as those shitty parents who would have to have a five second conversation with their kids about the existence of homosexuals! Can you imagine the horrific damage a girl might undergo if she had to sit, and pee, in a stall, next to another little girl, who changed her name!? The horror!

The South Dakota dipshits...I mean, lawmakers, argue that it's a sex crimes thing, right? Someone is going to pretend to be transgendered to go into a bathroom and molest people. Okay, if the laws against molesting strangers don't stop someone, a ban on them using the other bathroom will? Also, if South Dakota was actually interested in fighting sex crimes, why are they among the worst offenders when it comes to allowing sex offenders to use reservations to cover their crimes? Imaginary sex crimes perpetrated by people pretending to be trans, they need laws for that. But actual sex crimes against indigenous people....meh, let the feds handle that. Also, in the fucked up, completely insane scenario they used to justify their bigoted law, they're punishing transgendered kids for hypothetical behavior carried out by cis-kids. "A cis boy might pretend to be trans to carry out sex crimes, so we made a law endangering trans girls!" Also, PE class and showering at school fears? What the fuck decade do these lawmakers think it is? May as well pass laws for zeppelin crash safety courses and do some duck and cover drills just to be sure.

On a statewide level in South Dakota

There's not many Ts in the LGBTQ+ nation, mostly because they're a naturally small part of the population as a whole, but also because it is extremely difficult, extremely dangerous, and they have a frighteningly high rate of suicide attempts (somewhere around 41%). But when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us, and our kids are precious to us. We've all had a hard road growing up because some frightened bigot decided our childhood needed to be harder for their comfort and insecurities and we don't want future LGBTQ+ kids to have to endure the same. Flood Governor Daugaard's office with calls, messages, emails, and tweets demanding he veto the bill (if you're reading this on leap day). If tomorrow he signs the bill, we can still flood the legislature with demands for the law to be repealed and petition the ACLU to take up the cause.