Driving home from work through the drizzling dusk, I'm following a bicycle. He's riding on the right side of the road, where a bicycle lane would be if a bicycle lane were there, and I could go around him if there weren't a steady stream of oncoming traffic, but there is. So, I creep along behind the bicycle, maybe fifteen miles per hour. I don't mind. I'll get where I'm going when where I'm going is where I've got. We pull up to a red light and wait while the traffic crosses, bicyclist in front, me behind. When the light changes, the bicyclist doesn't move. A second goes by, another. The green car facing us on the other side of the street starts into the intersection but the bicyclist waits.
Now, fast, from the right, a car plows through the red light and just about into the green car. Both cars slam to a stop. The car that ran the red light was going fast enough that when it stops, it's with a great jolt that rocks it back on its tires. For a second no one moves. The car that ran the red light, sitting stopped in the middle of the intersection right in front of me, its nose practically up against the other car's driver's side door, is a white Scion, the mirror image of my car.
Had that bicycle not hesitated, it would have been very bad.
Green car drives through, white Scion drives through, bicyclist and me, we ride through. The street is shiny with rain. Bicycle, how did you know? I didn't see you even turn your head. How did you know?
We creep up to a four-way stop. The bicyclist stops, then starts ahead, then does a little bobble-swerve to a halt as another car, a yellow old-fashioned station wagon, pulling to a stop where the cross street comes in from the right, rolls a tad too far into the intersection.
I felt it too, that jolt when the station wagon rolled forward. Coming from exactly the same direction as the white Scion that ran the light. A zing down to my fingertips on the wheel.
For just a moment, the bicyclist's foot is on the ground, and then he's getting back on the bike to continue on. As he rides through, the guy in the yellow station wagon, scraggly beard and puff of light brown hair, throws his hands up in the air at the bicyclist like, what are you freaking out for, you little twerp.
People and their need to judge.
Yellow station wagon, get your hands down. You don't know everything. You don't know anything at all.
On my way home from the car shop, then the pet store, then the grocery store, I pull out of the parking lot and onto the street, ease into a mid-range speed. From the right, the kind of quick you call a flash, not because it's a cliché but because that's the way you see it, a big, fluffy, white dog runs happy right in front of my car.
I slam the breaks and the instant breaks into tiny pieces of thought: it's OK, I won't hit him, it's OK, I'll stop, he has a very fluffy tail, does he belong to those people on the other side of the street with the black dog, no he wants to visit the black dog, his leash is trailing, it's OK, I'm stopping - and then for just one of those fractions of the moment, that automatic optimism my brain goes into whenever I panic is gone and the dog is right in front of my left front wheel, I'm sure of it, and then I know I'm completely stopped. And the dog is still running, to the far side of the street to say hi to the black dog.
Hot adrenaline out to the palms of my hands on the wheel. The white dog circles close to the black dog, then back across the street in front of me toward his owner, a small woman with white hair, her arms out, hands open, fingers splayed.
At her angle and from the terror on her face and her arms outstretched, I can tell she doesn't know if the dog if OK. I want to tell her he's fine and heading back to her. For one more of those fractions of a moment, her eyes connect with mine through the passenger window. And I don't know why I do it, but I do it. I blow her a kiss.
My good friend Steve is in the hospital again. As if the removal of that pesky kidney wasn't enough, he's been having issues breathing and, today, has been lying around another hospital bed awaiting results from testing for a possible pulmonary embolism. Those are two very scary words, words that have been following me around through my workday, following me through the early evening rain, here to the hospital, where his girlfriend, his daughter, and I sit around the bed as Steve, ever the storyteller, has been describing his earlier roommate, a young guy learning for the first time that he had diabetes.
"And so he had visitors in and out the whole time," Steve says, "nutritionists explaining the ways his life is going to have to change, teaching him how to do the shots. He was a military kid, and since it's Veteran's Day, I gave him a solute and thanked him for his service." He mimes a little solute, then runs his fingers across his close-cropped white hair. "I look kind of like a veteran, I've got this General MacArthur hair, so maybe that was OK."
Now here comes the doctor, a tall guy with dark hair, looking even taller since we're all sitting down and since we're all worried about what he's come to say. He goes directly to the end of Steve's bed, no expression at all on his face, at least nothing I can read. My heart does what hearts do when you're afraid you'll hear something bad about someone you love, it rises up on tiptoe inside my chest.
"Well, your results show no sign of a pulmonary embolism," he says. "We think what you've got here is a little pneumonia. We're going to put you on a good antibiotic."
I've never been so glad to hear the word pneumonia in my life.
A moment in the day becomes two, becomes more as the doctor talks about antibiotics and rest and the other things doctors talk about, and then Steve is introducing him to us around the room.
"When I first met this doctor, I told him I was a surfer," Steve says, "and I was kind of afraid he'd say I'd better not do that for a while, but he just starts talking about sharks."
"Oh, yeah," the doctor says, now, "I love sharks. I've always figured I'd die by shark. If the plane goes down, it's going down in the ocean, because I'm going to die by shark."
I can't believe we got that hulking thing through the narrow door and into the garage. I can't believe we were able to haul it all the way from the living room, through the front door, down the porch steps, past the car and along the side of the house, back to here. I can't believe my hands haven't fallen off. I'll tell you one thing: getting an old couch into a garage would be a lot easier if you had a garage door that wasn't broken in the down position.
For a moment, Stephen and I just stand here and look at it sitting there, without its cushions, in the clutter of the unpacked and unorganized art-studio-to-be.
Our success was not without its casualties. The upholstery along the back of the couch is frayed from rubbing against the door frame. And rubbing against the frame of the back door to the house when we first tried to take the thing down the stairs and around the corner into the basement. And from getting wedged in that corner during that one harrowing moment when I wasn't sure how we'd get it back out and Stephen would have to live in the basement forever and I'd have to throw food and art supplies down to him over the couch for the rest of his life. I've got an ice pack on my finger from when it got pinched between the bottom of the couch and the concrete step, Stephen's got a rip in his favorite jeans.
Still, we did it. It's done.
"If we ever have to get this thing out of here," I say, "let's get two strapping young men to help us."
"Yeah," Stephen says, and then, in all seriousness, "Or my mom."
I love book cover projects where I get to geek out. With Jamie Duclos-Yourdon's Froelich's Ladder, which takes place in the late eighteen hundreds, I got to geek out nineteenth century style.
Here's the book description from Forest Avenue Press, to give you a sense of the magic and whimsy of the story:
Uncle Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his perch atop a giant ladder. When he’s discovered missing, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked trek across a nineteenth century Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs.
I brainstormed lots of ideas and tones for this cover, from photographic and realistic to goofy and cartoony, but I kept coming back to these lovely old book covers from the time period:
I just love the ornate lettering and the fancy borders and, well, everything about these old book covers. What works of art. I loved the idea of doing a modern spin on them, something that retained the lavishness but also added a hint of the whimsy that is a part of the book.
The two books I drew the most inspiration from were both published in 1871, the year when most of Froelich's Ladder takes place. This first is an edition of The Count of Monte Cristo, published by George Rutledge and Sons, Limited. I wish there were an easy way to find out who created these covers. The listing where I found this book said that the book is illustrated with 20 etchings by M. Valentin, but the cover artist was probably someone completely different.
Wish the image were bigger - but you'll see I used some of the border as influence in my piece.
The second is a book called Burns Illustrated. I know nothing about this book except that it was published in 1871 by Belford, Clarke and Company. I loved the typography and the title banner in this one. And the nearly non-stop ornamentation.
I let myself soak in these fabulous book covers like some fancy, gilded bath, and I picked and chose what to glean from them, musing on how best to incorporate all the elements we needed, including a kick-ass blurb by Brian Doyle. Then I used a color scheme that was reminiscent of the classic red and gold but updated into something modern. Funny to be tootling around on Adobe Illustrator, making minute movements with a mouse, creating something electronically that nonetheless hearkens back to book covers that fabulous artisans created, more than a century ago, using such a very different process.
You'll find out what the foot is all about when you read the story.
Here's a quick sneak peek at Jamie Duclos-Yourdon's voice. One thing you need to know is that the characters in Froelich's Ladder have a special method of communication that borrows from Morse code, using thumps and vibrations to create combinations of words. That method is called TAP.
In all of recorded history, Froelich’s ladder was the fourth tallest that had ever been erected. The tallest, of course, had been Jacob’s ladder—which, even if it were fictional, had still been conceived of by man, and therefore had to be counted among his many accomplishments. In truth, neither Gordy nor Binx had any idea how tall the ladder was—not precisely, anyway. Froelich claimed The Very Big Tree had never ceased to grow. He claimed never to have seen the top of the ladder, suggesting it might be infinite. When Binx reminded him that Harald had carved the other end, and therefore the ladder couldn’t be infinite, Froelich had given the TAP equivalent of a shrug.
More info on Froelich's Ladder and Forest Avenue Press is here.
It's a rainy Saturday morning and laundry day in the new house. I step into the bathroom that looks so unlike the bathroom we bought a month and a half ago. New blue paint where it once was mauve, new vanity, toilet, cabinet, rugs and towels, shower curtain. Even the grate in the floor, new. We've spent a painful amount of money but as I look around, there's something so surprisingly satisfying in knowing we've bought so much. How much we've made this place new and our own.
I stop at the laundry hamper, one old thing in this very new room. The basket is halfway across the house full of curtain supplies, so I figure I might as well just grab the hamper itself and take it downstairs. I heft the thing - it's tall and thin, probably a lot easier to take around the corners down the stairs, actually. Nice not to have to transfer the clothes from one container to another just to take it downstairs. Jeez! Why didn't I ever think of this before!
There's a sound that starts out crackle, quickly moves to crunch and ends a second later in a satisfying crack. And, you guessed it, the bottom of the hamper falls out, spilling my dreams of laundering efficiency all over the floor.
Ah. Well, I guess it's never too late to buy one more thing.
Mid-day, catching a quick bit of lunch in the midst of all my move-in chores, I sit down at my desk upstairs and flip over to facebook, and one of the posts I see is this picture.
-along with the caption, "To hold a book with your name in it..."
What a lovely thing. The picture is of a page of the early galley for City of Weird, the anthology I'm editing for Forest Avenue Press. Sadly, we weren't able to give galleys out to all the contributors - they're for booksellers and blurbers and the media - but along with being a writer, Leigh Anne Kranz is a radio personality (sssso not the reason I chose this gorgeous story, which, like all of the stories, I chose blind), so she got a sneak preview. How wonderful to witness, even in cyber form, a writer's pleasure at holding a publication for the first time.
I stare at the picture for a moment: the story title, Leigh Anne's name, the tiny bits of phrase. Empty of the pink-fleshed fish. The sonar of hunger.
I remember when I held my own first contribution to an anthology for the first time. 2009, Portland Noir. I was at Powell's, mid-day on a Friday, running up to the fourth floor to grab re-sorts to take down to my displays, and out of the blue, sitting stacked in three face-outs on a cart in the Publicity book corral, was a whole mess of Portland Noir. I just stood there looking at it. It took me a long time to pick it up. I don't know why.
From my journal:
It was a full cart and I stood there sort of moving the other books around, putting Orange Room books with Orange Room books and Green Room books with Green and… well, hovering around. The appearance of Portland Noir in the store changed everything. I had slipped from the anticipation Portland-Noir-Is-Being-Published phase, the I’m-going-to-be-published phase, to the Portland-Noir-Is-Out. The I’m-published. The thing against whose absence I’ve judged my existence ever since… I don’t know when. As early as Sophomore year in high school?
I’m distracted by the fact that I’m not sure if that sentence I just wrote about measuring something against an absence of something is correct. Oh well, what the hell. What do I care? I’m published now. They can’t take that away from me.
Ha, my silly words. But a moment like that is worth some silly words.
I click like on Leigh Anne's post and scroll down, reading people's comments of congratulations. Somewhere along the thread of comments, Leigh Anne says that it made her cry, which makes me cry, and I think, my goodness. Holding my first publication for the first time was a wonderful feeling, the best, but sitting here, looking at Leigh Anne's picture of hers, which I had a hand in, feels even better.
City of Weird doesn't come out until October next year, but here's a little sneak peek at Leigh Anne's story:
The Seattle pod moved south. The sonar of hunger echoed between them. The homewaters were empty of the pink-fleshed fish they loved. They swam fast and close to the shoreline. They followed a troller in the fog, moved in with stealth to pull the fish from the hooks. The grandmother killed a great white shark easily, turned it belly-up and held until it drowned. She learned the technique on her first long migration, from a pod in the Farallons, the triangular islands where sea lions lounged golden on the rocks and bled scarlet in the choppy water.