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What If You Could ‘Slip’ into the Dreams of a Killer?

This family of PIs can. They use their psychic dream ability to solve crimes, and that isn’t easy.

Trilogy_edited-1

"The launch of an intriguing female detective series." - Kirkus Reviews

"Clearly author Lisa Brunette has a genuine flair for deftly crafting a superbly entertaining mystery/suspense thriller." - Midwest Book Review

“Lisa Brunette’s Framed and Burning is a brilliant, suspenseful whodunit…” - Qui Xiaolong, Author of Shanghai Redemption, named one of the Wall Street Journal’s Best Books of 2015

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What's the Motive? Rebecca Slitt

Psyhigh-s_color_v2

In this regular blog series, guest authors discuss the motive behind their latest books--or in this case, games. Maybe that’s the motive for murder in the traditional mystery sense, but writers will share some aspect of motive in their works without spoiling the plot. For example, rather than focusing on the killer, what is the protagonist’s motive? This could also be the author’s motive for writing the story. Why this story? Why now? Contributors are free to explore “motive” in all of its connotations. 

When it comes to Interactive Fiction, where reader choice matters, motive is a little more up-for-grabs. If you were a nerdy kid like me in the 80s, you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books, with multiple endings and reader choice all the way through. This form enjoys a vibrant life online today, as in Rebecca Slitt's Psy High.

Rebecca Slitt:

What’s the motive in Psy High? It’s whatever you decide it is.

Psy High is an interactive novel: on the border between a book and a game. As in all of the titles from Choice of Games, you the reader direct the action at every turn: you decide what the main character does and why. Not only that, but you get to choose the main character’s name, gender, orientation, personality, and goals. 

The story in Psy High is a mixture of mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, inspired by “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” You play a teenager with psychic powers – clairvoyance and telepathy – who uses their gifts to solve mysteries. When an old friend asks you to investigate why your classmates are acting strangely, you discover a plot that could put the whole school at risk. You have to maneuver around your teachers, parents, and even your friends while using your magical abilities to uncover the truth – not to mention going to class, trying out for the drama club play, and finding a date for the prom.

The culprit has their own motive, but you figure that out – along with the culprit’s identity – fairly early. The more complicated question is: what's your motive? When you discover what's really going on in your high school, what do you do about it, and why? 

Maybe you’re motivated by altruism: you want to do what will help the most people. That’s a noble goal, but it’s not always easy to figure out how to reach it. What helps one person might hurt another.

Maybe you’re motivated by affection: you see how all of these issues are affecting your friends and want to help them. Maybe you want to help your boyfriend or girlfriend, or do whatever it takes to make them happy, or just spend as much time with them as possible. The prom is coming up, after all, and what could be more important than that?

Maybe you’re motivated by power. There’s plenty of power to be had, both magical and otherwise, and plenty of secrets to uncover. Do you care about that more than you care about your classmates? More than going to college? More than anything?

Maybe you’re motivated by a desire to fit in. In high school, what’s worse than being different? You can try to reject your magical power, act like every other kid, keep your head down, study, and try to lead a perfectly ordinary life. 

Or, maybe you think that the villain isn't such a villain after all. Maybe you realize that you share their motive: you think that their plan will make the school a better place, not worse. That’s possible, too. You can team up with them and use your magic to help them.

What this all means is that you get to choose the kind of story that you’re participating in. It can be a story about love conquering all: You can find your true love and draw on the strength of that bond to triumph over whatever challenges come your way. It can be a story about discovering deeper truths about yourself and the world: learning what you truly care about, what your values are, and how far you’ll go to defend them. It can be a story about rebellion: breaking every rule, fighting the power wherever you find it, showing the world that you’re your own person. It can even be a story about failure: No matter how strong or noble your motives are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed – so if you fail, what meaning will you draw from that?

There are dozens of stories to be told inside the mystery of Psy High, each with its own motive. You get to choose which story you want to tell.

Download and review Psy High.

Follow Rebecca Slitt on Twitter.

  RLS photo

Rebecca Slitt is an academic-turned-game-designer who uses her knowledge of medieval history to make sure that dragon battles follow the principles of chivalry and time travelers go to the right places in medieval London. She is an editor and author for Choice of Games, and has contributed to the tabletop RPGs Timewatch and Noirlandia

 


The Goodness of Gathering

SWWC cookie

It's tempting, when you're freelancing or otherwise working from a home office, to become a hermit. You're finally free of the crowded bus; you no longer have to endure the cutthroat competition for the microwave at lunchtime. Even pants are optional.

But after you've soaked up scrumptious solitude for a good while, you start to crave communication. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Alternative answers to the questions you ponder silently every day. 

That's where writing conferences come in. As a writer, editor, and teacher with 25 years' experience, I've attended many conferences over my career, and I always learn something new at each one. At this year's Southwest Washington Writers Conference, there was plenty to absorb, from the art of cover design to the craft of villainy.

Kyle_cookie

Author Kyle Pratt, who presented at the conference, with his mug on a cookie.

Having recently completed a cover vote-a-thon, I found Gorham Printing rep Kathy Campbell's presentation on cover design very interesting. I hadn't realized that male readers prefer blue covers or that Millennials have a thing for vintage photos from the 60s and 70s. (Hmm... wonder what that's all about... ).

Memoirist Jennifer Lauck's presentation served for me as the perfect follow-up to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I'd re-read right before the conference. Both Lauck and Dillard present a vision of the writing life that requires strong commitment, a dedication to the work, and an active reading practice. I loved Lauck's advice to read a book looking specifically for a particular aspect of structure, such as where and how to turn a scene or develop a character.

  Kyle_carolyn_me

Author Carolyn McCray, me, and Kyle.

I felt more in the mood for craft discussions over business talk, but when I read Carolyn McCray's bio, I realized I couldn't miss her showdown with Kyle Pratt over whether or not to publish exclusively with Amazon. The two presented equally compelling models for how to make it as an indie writer. They've both achieved great success but with radically different approaches.

Which brings me to this: There are so many different ways to be a writer. Sure, you can get advice and take a lot of rules to heart, but the writing life is as wide open as the sky. For example, there's writer Terri Read, who's published more than 40 books with Harlequin since 1993. She thinks of writing in terms of layers of cake, and her process is very structured, to the point of adhering to a set formula. Another conference presenter, Jill Williamson, takes a less structured approach with her self-described "weird books." She devoted her whole talk to villains, pointing out cliches and arguing that "the best villains are the ones readers actually like."

  Kyle_pat

Speaking of villains, get a load of these two. Just kidding - Kyle* and Pat are my fellow members of the Lewis County Writers Guild.

The most rewarding aspect of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet other writers. While there are always plenty of published and veteran authors in attendance, most of the people I meet are noobs just dipping a toe into the writing waters for the first time. So if you're holding back because you don't think you're experienced enough, let go of that right now. I hope to see you at the next one.

*I realize from the pics here it looks like I'm stalking Kyle Pratt. But I'm not. At least I don't think so. I think it's just that we're both becoming less camera-shy. ;)  


What's the Motive? Corrina Wycoff

Damascus House

O Street

Welcome to the inauguration of "What's the Motive?" In this regular blog series, guest authors discuss the motive behind their latest books. Maybe that’s the motive for murder in the traditional mystery sense, but writers will share some aspect of motive in their novels without spoiling the plot. For example, rather than focusing on the killer, what is the protagonist’s motive? This could also be the author’s motive for writing the book. Why this book? Why now? Contributors are free to explore “motive” in all of its connotations. 

Here Corrina Wycoff shares the motive behind all of her main characters, the "unattainable desire to outrun public failure." In this age of daily public online communications, it's one I'm sure many readers feel keenly.

Corrina Wycoff:

In 1980, at nine years old, I auditioned for Annie. I lived on the East Coast, and going to a cattle call Broadway audition was practically as common a rite of passage as a first kiss. I wasn’t a particularly good singer, but I was a creditably good mimic. My Andrea McArdle impression was decent enough to get me a lot further in the audition process than it should have, far enough that every kid in my neighborhood knew about it, far enough that when I didn’t get cast after two call-backs, my failure became an ongoing subject of playground gossip and cafeteria scorn. Years later, after personal devastations much worse than the Annie experience, I still occasionally thought about this ruined chance, about the happier roads that might have arisen from earlier roads, if only.

I’ve never written about my unsuccessful childhood stab at professional theatre, but the important part of the story can’t be found in its literal details—the suffocating crowd of young girls waiting outside the Alvin Theatre on 52nd Street, admitted inside by the dozen to stand on the black, dusty stage and to sing a few bars of “Tomorrow”; the choreography I was shown twice and then expected, to my horrified astonishment, to repeat; the polished, young performers waiting backstage with me, wearing brand new, hot pink OshKosh B’Gosh overalls and comparing their agents, their private tap dance lessons in Manhattan, and their resumes. However, those details, once fictionalized beyond recognition, have repeatedly become the scabs overlying the singular stinging wound at the psychological core of all my main characters. My characters’ primary motivation—like mine, it seems—is always the unattainable desire to outrun public failure, a hopeless quest to transfigure it into something, anything, less painful.

My first book, O Street, describes a character’s twenty-year attempt to escape the humiliating aftermath of having been, in childhood, the victim of a well-publicized sexual assault. My newly published second book, Damascus House, follows six characters, members of a fundamentalist Christian church, each trying, in different ways, to restore dignity after suffering a small, public scandal. Currently, I’m working on a third manuscript, still untitled, that revolves around a woman who, with decreasing success, tries to rationalize her failings as they become increasingly apparent to everyone who knows her. Although we live, now, in a post post-Freudian world, the idea of a surveillant superego still captivates me as a source of narrative tension, as do the (very human) methods by which characters try to avoid the judgment and contempt of that surveillant Other.

Playwright Harold Hayes explained, “The essence of drama is that man cannot walk away from the consequences of his own deeds.” I repeat this advice to my creative writing students, to remind them to establish necessary elements of character motivation, tension, and conflict in their fiction. When I’m writing, I repeat this advice to myself, too, with the caveat that people also cannot walk away from the aftermath of their own humiliations, no matter how assiduously they try.

Review Damascus House.

Review O Street.

Follow Corrina Wycoff via Amazon.

  Corrina Wycoff

Corrina Wycoff’s fiction and essays have appeared in journals, magazines, and anthologies. She is the author of two books of fiction, a linked story collection, O Street (2008, OV Books) and a recently released novel, Damascus House (Spuyten Duyvil Press). A single-mom-turned-empty-nester, she lives in Washington State, where she teaches English and Writing at Pierce College.


Cover Reveal: Bound to the Truth

BOUND TO THE TRUTH 1

Ta-da! You're looking at the cover for the next book in the Dreamslippers Series. Bound to the Truth releases November 11!

About the Book

The Dreamslippers are a family of PIs who solve crimes using their ability to 'slip' into your dreams. But that isn't easy.

In Bound to the Truth, the dreamslippers are hired to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming Seattle architect. Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims? Or will Nina's buried past lead the dreamslippers down a twisting--and twisted--path to the truth? Find out as they chase a killer while navigating the kinky Seattle dating world. When Cat and Granny Grace hit the fetish scene, hilarity is sure to ensue!

Read an excerpt here.

Pre-Order Now

The novel is now available to pre-order, which you should do because you want to see me live to write another book.

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Cover Vote Results

Thanks to everyone who voted for a favorite cover. In contrast to my previous cover vote-a-thons, this time there was no clear winner, with three tied for first place, earning 22 votes each.

Those were #1, #4, and #5:

   1 4 and 5

We considered all three of these very carefully. In the end, we decided on #4, but with the colored smoke effect from both #1 and #5 added, which I believe drew a lot of people to choose them since it made those covers a better match with the first two books in the series. We love, love, LOVE the new cover, so thank you for your votes, ideas, and arguments.

We've never had a tie before, so this was new territory. Since the final cover is #4 with aspects of #5 and #1, everyone who voted for all three will get a free ebook copy of Bound to the Truth when it releases November 11. You're welcome! And all of those voters' names will go into the pot for the drawing for the signed print copy. This applies only to voters who followed instructions and sent their votes by email, by the way, or voted on the blog, which auto-sends me a note with an email address attached. I'm a one-woman shop here and can't track voters down across all social media, yo.

Why Why Why?

If you didn't vote for #4 and are all like, "wha...?", here's a peek inside our decision to pick that one out of the three-way tie.

Ultimately, I balked at the idea of putting a collar on the cover, both because several voters said it screamed "50 Shades" (a reaction I'm not actually going for here) and because it doesn't quite fit the plot. I also liked the idea of continuing a human figure on the cover, and I wasn't opposed to showing more of her even though the first two covers don't. The problem with #5, though, was that the female figure resembles neither of my protagonists nor the victim, so what exactly would that foreshadow? 

A couple of other points about the three above. A few voters said they didn't like the cursive "to the," and I agreed. As much as I love that nightstand, cover #1 didn't seem to mesh enough with the first two books in the series, plus the collar issue.

We got some interesting ideas out of the mix, like this variation in which voter Stan Brown tried to make more of an obvious handcuff out of the bracelet in #5:

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A lot of my reasoning for choosing #4 I can't totally explain without spoilers, but I will say that my cover designer and I both loved that one best, and to sweeten the pot, the figure on that cover was a dead ringer for my vic, from her hair to the more conservative style of dress than you see in #5. The duct tape across the mouth is flippin' perfect. I mean, gah. I fell for that hard, and I love how the three covers harmonize with each other across the series instead of looking like perfect matches, which to my eye always seems a bit boring, as if I'm going to read several variations of the same story. This does it for me, and I hope readers feel the same way:

  Trilogy_Web

Thanks again for playing along. Now pre-order the book and tell everyone you know to do the same! The Dreamslippers will love you for it, and me? I might not go hungry.


Vote for a Cover, Win a Free Book!

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Which one of these covers fits the next novel in the Dreamslippers series best? With such awesome choices, we're having a hard time deciding. We hope you can help us out.

Here's the book description:

In Bound to the Truth, the multigenerational PIs with the ability to 'slip' into dreams are hired to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming Seattle architect. Did Nina Howell really fall under the spell of a domineering, conservative talk show host--as her wife claims? Find out as the dreamslippers chase down a killer while at the same time navigating the murky waters of the Seattle dating scene.

The challenge, as I put it to my brilliant cover designer, Monika Younger: While the novel includes elements of Seattle's kink culture, it's a mystery, not erotica, so we want to differentiate from those types of covers. There also needs to be continuity between the cover for this third book in the series and the first two:

CatintheFlock_thumb Framed-and-Burning_Thumb

But the continuity doesn't have to be perfect. Each book is different, so it's okay if there's a bit of a departure.

Here's the 'win' part: If the cover you voted for is chosen, you get a free ebook copy of Bound to the Truth when it releases this fall. One entry out of those winners also receives a signed print copy of the book.

So, are you ready to vote? If you need a sneak preview of the book first, here's the prologue from the current working draft.

Alrighty then! On to the choices.

#1:

  BOUND TO THE TRUTH1

#2:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH2

#3:

  BOUND TO THE TRUTH3

#4:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH4

#5:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH5

#6:

BOUND TO THE TRUTH6

Vote for your choice in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and feel free to argue your case! BUT - to make sure we have a way to contact you if you win, send us an email with your vote at this handy link.

By the way, reader votes synched up with our choices for the first two covers, so we obviously listen to what y'all have to say. We're looking forward to hearing what you think of these.

Thanks for playing!

 


Sneak Preview! Bound to the Truth, Dreamslippers Series Book Three

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Which cover fits the feel of this novel best? Vote here.

Bound to the Truth: Prologue

Robin Howell sat on the floor of her living room watching Jin Mae play. The girl stacked yellow block upon blue block, alternating the two colors until she had a tower. Jin Mae seemed to sense when the height would become unstable and stopped. She turned to Robin and said, “Look, I made a building. Just like Mommy Nina does.”

The girl’s words bloomed like flowers in Robin’s chest. She got down on all fours to admire her daughter’s architectural feat. The two played together for a long time, until Robin noticed the slanted sunlight stretching out across the floor, suggesting it was late. She felt for her cell phone in her pocket to check the time. It showed an indisputable 7:36 pm, and a text message from Nina that she hadn’t noticed while absorbed in play: Taking a client to dinner. Go ahead without me.

Robin hoisted herself up off the floor, pulling the rough-hewn Guatemalan wrap around her for comfort as much as against the chill. “Come, Jin Mae,” she said, beckoning for her daughter’s hand. “We need to make dinner.”

>>>

Robin woke, her book still in her hand and her reading glasses perched on her nose. She heard running water and saw a slit of light beneath the bathroom door. Nina was home. Robin’s heart lilted at the thought of her wife climbing into bed with her fresh from a shower. But Robin craved more than that. She did not want to wait. She got up and walked to the door. 

The bathroom knob wouldn’t turn. It was locked.

“Nina,” she said. “Can I come in?”

Silence. A pause. And then, “Oh, Robin. I’m so exhausted. I just want to sleep.”

“Okay.”

Robin returned to bed, picked up her book and glasses, and set them on the nightstand. Nina finally came out after a few more minutes, and she was wearing a full set of pajamas. 

“You used to sleep in the nude,” Robin said. 

Nina did not respond. Her face was scrubbed of makeup, the ends of her chin-length hair wet. Robin made room for her under the covers, put her arm around her once she settled.

“How was your client?”

“Intense. But somehow still boring, in the sense that he was utterly predictable.”

Robin smirked. “What does he want you to build?”

Nina sighed. “What else? A mixed-use building with apartments above and retail below. It should have all the semblance of sustainability and green living without his having to invest in anything that would really make a difference.”

“So no go on the solar.”

“Nope.”

“Sorry.”

Nina turned toward Robin, touching her face. “How’s Jin Mae? I looked in on her when I came in. She’s fast asleep, with Lambykins in her arms.”

Robin felt Nina’s touch smoothing the jagged edges of her worry. “She’s fine. Building apartment towers with her blocks. Wants to be like you.”

Nina smiled. “It would be better if she wanted to be like you.”

“Why do you say that? You’re a fantastic role model for her.”

“Oh, I’m just being self-critical. It’s been a long day.” Nina dropped her caress and turned  to one side, away from her.

Robin snuggled into Nina’s back, spooning her. “I miss you.” She whispered it into her wife’s ear.

“I’m right here,” Nina said, grasping Robin’s hand.

But as they drifted off to sleep, Robin wasn’t so sure.

>>>

Robin’s knitting needles clicked as the women talked, giving their conversation a subtle staccato rhythm. The Wyld Womyn had come together as a group without fail for the past nine years. Staunch feminists to a woman, they supported a cornucopia of acronymed organizations that represented the fight against hegemonic patriarchy: NARAL, NOW, EMILY’S List, the FMF. More than half their number were lesbians or had dated women at some point in their lives. The ones who were currently partnered with men had chosen SNAGs, or Sensitive New Age Guys, as their mates. These were men who shared in the household chores and child-raising, took their turns in conversation rather than interrupting, and understood that their wives would retain separate bank accounts to preserve their economic independence. 

Today’s topic: pornography and strip clubs. Marjorie Jackson, an organizer for Feminists Fighting Porn, had been invited to speak about their various initiatives. 

Marjorie had chosen not to color her grey, which framed her face in dramatic streaks. Robin found the look both stunning and a little intimidating. 

“We know that pornography is like a gateway drug for perpetrators of rape and child rape,” Marjorie argued. “Notice that I did not use the word ‘molestation’ in place of ‘child rape.’ I don’t want to minimize the act when it’s done to a child. Rape is rape.”

Robin felt a surge of emotion at this that made her drop a stitch. She thought of Nina’s father. It had taken Nina fifteen years of therapy to undo the damage that man did to her. Robin wondered if pornography had anything to do with his criminal acts against Nina. 

“Now it’s everywhere, thanks to the Internet,” Marjorie continued. “We’re long past the days of banning porn from bookstores and convenience marts. Type ‘cock’ into a search engine, and it’s in your face.”

Robin fought a snicker at the woman’s unintended literalism.

Danielle Everton, a fortysomething financial planner, piped up. “I caught my son watching a YouTube video the other day about how to give a better blow job. The girl in the video demonstrated with a carrot, and she was alone and fully clothed, so I guess the parental filters didn’t recognize it as porn.”

“I don’t know why men like that so much,” said a woman named Sharon Koal. She pushed her turquoise frames back up to the bridge of her nose. “I’ve always found it disgusting.”

Robin thought of Sharon’s husband, who wore his hair in a ponytail and always smelled of the mushrooms he grew in their backyard. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” said one of the younger members of the group. She’d only recently joined. “They can be just as good for the woman as for the man.”

“Really?” Several women spit out the question at once.

The newbie looked caught off guard, and as if she wished she’d kept her mouth shut. “Um, yeah. I mean, why not? It’s the variety of sexual expression, right?”

One of the heteros sort of leapt to her defense. “If a woman truly enjoys it and isn’t just doing it to please her partner, that would be all right.”

Robin remembered furtive, awkward attempts at going down on her high school boyfriend, back when she was trying really hard not to think about her attractions to the girls who were just her friends. She hadn’t quite known what to do with that thing. It tasted like the terrible brie hors d’oeuvres her mother served to guests. So she closed her eyes and hoped for the best but ended up cutting him with her teeth. She had to admit, there was something satisfying about causing him pain there. And he never insisted she do it again after that.

“I think we’re getting off-topic,” said Helen Dubus, the host. “And there’s been an awful lot of cross-talk.” She cast looks at both Danielle and Sharon, who had effectively derailed their guest’s speech.

“Sorry,” both women murmured.

There was a pause, and then Marjorie spoke again. “So, anyway, there is not a lot we can do to put a stop to pornography. But what we can do is try to prevent strip clubs from obtaining licenses. They prey on young women who are already victims in society and create centers for drugs and crime.”

She distributed a flyer advertising a rally to protest a new strip club opening in a Seattle suburb. “We need as many people to show up to this as possible,” she said.

Robin wondered if she could get Nina to go. This protest would be something they’d do together. A question occurred to her.

“Would it be appropriate to bring children to the protest?”

Marjorie considered it. “I think that would be all right. There won’t be anything that children can’t see at this, not in our signs, and the club itself will be closed at the time. It’s during the day.”

Sharon spoke to Robin, but she meant her words for the group. “It would be a good experience for Jin Mae. Anyone else willing to bring their daughters?”

“—And sons,” corrected Marjorie. “They have just as much to learn as girls do. Maybe even more.”

>>>

The day of the protest dawned warm and drizzly. Robin made them all pancakes, a smiley face on Jin Mae’s, a banana mouth and strawberries for eyes. Nina brewed coffee, Robin’s favorite free-trade brand from the shop near their house. She poured in enough coconut milk to turn the coffee tan, just the way Robin liked it.

They told Jin Mae they were taking her to a protest, an important one for women. “Wo-men,” the girl said before sticking a strawberry into her mouth.

Robin always let Nina drive. The few times Robin drove, Nina spent the whole trip telling Robin where to go or pressing an imaginary brake on her side of the car. It wasn’t that Robin wasn’t a good driver. It was that Nina liked to be in control.

When they got to the building that would soon open as a strip club, Robin was dismayed to see only Marjorie, the woman from Feminists Fighting Porn, along with a handful of women who were also part of the organization. She, Nina, and Jin Mae were the only ones from the group of Wyld Womyn, and Jin Mae was the only child in attendance.

Still, they held their signs high for the news cameras. A few passersby joined them, including an elderly couple who lived a few blocks away and didn’t like the idea of a strip club opening in their neighborhood. 

The building was brick painted black, with a garish pink stripe across the top. A glittery sign spelled out its name: TOP LET’S. The windows had all been blacked out, and there was an enormous satellite dish on the roof. It was on a busy intersection, and the sound of tires swooshing through the rainy streets gave the proceedings a constant white noise, punctuated by an occasional honk, which the protesters took as gestures of support.

Through the constant wash of cars and steadily building commotion as more people joined the protest, Robin sought connection with Nina, who seemed distracted. Robin reached for her wife’s gloved hand. Nina clasped hers in return. But her gaze went elsewhere, to the gaggle of media people milling in front of vans, their crew swarming around them like flies.

One man, holding a tiny microphone, stared right at them.

Or at Nina, rather. He cast a quick, mildly curious glance at Robin, but his stare was directed at Nina.

As if he knew her.

As if there was something between them. 

Nina’s hand in Robin’s felt weak. Robin felt her wanting to break the hold.

But then the man turned away. He fell into conversation with his crew member. 

Robin thought she heard the slightest noise come from Nina, just a tiny note, as if she were trying not to react to a sudden pain.

He turned back around, his eyes scanning the scene but avoiding Nina and Robin. He clipped the microphone to his tie. Robin strained to pick out his voice above the din. 

“I’m at the scene of a protest here in North Seattle…”

Robin felt Nina pulling her away from where the man stood, but Robin held her ground.

“Regular listeners of my radio program know I’ve been covering the Rizzio family saga for the past three years…”

Robin had heard his voice before, when flipping the channels in her Subaru. As soon as his distinct baritone came out of the speakers, in fact, she knew to keep flipping. He was a conservative radio talk show host, and she never agreed with a word he said.

She nudged Nina, who was already staring at him. “Isn’t that…”

“—Sam Waters,” Nina supplied. “Yes.”

“Right,” Robin said in a whisper. “What an asshole.”

“That’s for sure,” Nina said, but the look on her face seemed to betray something else.

Sam Waters filled his microphone with his own rapid-fire, loud, inflammatory speech. “…The police have so far failed to provide any solid evidence against the Rizzio family in what amounts to a politically motivated witch hunt. Meanwhile, the radical feminists have descended, all eleven of them…” 

Robin held one of Jin Mae’s hands, and Nina held the other. “You’re hurting my hand, Mommy,” Jin Mae said to Nina, shaking the hand Nina held. 

Nina, appearing startled, glanced down and let go of Jin Mae. “Oh, sorry, honey.” 

“He just lied about the protest,” Robin said. “I count twenty-one of us.”

“Like it matters,” said Nina, coughing out a laugh.

Someone behind them began to chant. “No More Porn! No More Porn!”

Robin picked up the chant, and so did Nina. Even little Jin Mae joined in, though coming out of her three-year-old mouth, it sounded like, “No Morn Corn!”

>>>

Working late, said Nina’s text. Nothing more. 

But Robin had received that message at 6:13 pm. It was now morning, and Nina was not there. 

Robin could hear Jin Mae making wake-up noises in her room down the hall. Nina’s side of the bed was cold, the sheets still tucked under the mattress. 

A panic attack surged through Robin, turning her palms wet. She felt as if she were being choked.

She leapt from the bed. “Nina?” she called through the house, though she knew her wife wasn’t there, could feel Nina’s absense in her bones. She had felt it for some time. She’d known this was coming.

She thought of the man at the protest. Sam Waters. Nina had dated men before, but no one like him. How could she fall for someone like him?

Robin did not know how to stop it. She couldn’t imagine life without Nina, her love, her everything. How would they raise Jin Mae if they weren’t together? 

Robin wondered for a flicker how the money would work out, if she would have to go back to work or if Nina would continue to support her. 

“You’re dependent on me financially,” Nina said to her once. “Does that bother you?”

“Does it bother you?” Robin had asked her. 

“Of course not,” Nina’d said, rolling Robin onto her back and gazing down into her face. “Your work keeping up the home and caring for Jin Mae has value to me.”

Nina kissed her then, passionately. “I love you,” she’d said.

It had been a long time since they’d been intimate like that, Robin thought with alarm. And now it seemed like it was too late to get back there.

She shook the notion from her head. There was still time. She could save this. She had to.

>>>

Robin kept checking her cell phone for messages but found none. She expected to hear from Nina by noon, but lunchtime came, with Jin Mae getting parmesan all over the dining room. No matter how many times Robin swept the sponge across the table, she’d find flecks of cheese she’d missed. 

Then the front doorbell rang. Robin expected someone selling siding for the house, or cable services. But it was two police officers, a man and a woman. She let them in. They seemed so out of place in her living room in their starched uniforms, shiny shoes. Instinctually, Robin picked up her knitting needles. It seemed important suddenly to finish Nina’s sweater. It was taking her forever, and soon it would be too warm for it anyway.

“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this,” said the man. To Robin, it sounded as if he were more sorry about his role as messenger than he was about the message itself.

He cleared his throat, hesitating.

“Yes?” Robin prompted him. She didn’t look up, though. She didn’t want to drop a stitch.

“Your wife was found dead this morning,” he said.

Too late, too late. The words Robin had been worrying over all morning rang in her ears.   She dropped the unfinished sweater and looked up, but not at him. Her eyes met the woman cop’s, seeking comfort.

But there Robin saw only pity. 

 


One Hot Little Reading

Lisa_and_julia

On Sunday I hoofed it down to Gladstone, OR, to take part in The Other Side Reading Series, hosted by Nancy Slavin, a past guest poet on the blog. I had the pleasure of sharing the mic with Julia Laxer, whose poems have appeared in So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art, Small Po[r]tions and The Nervous Breakdown. The theme was "heat," and Julia and I sizzled... literally. We were outside, the sun blazed down, and the mercury rose to around 90 degrees.

Reading

To further prove my in-synch-ness with the theme, I had my pick of tie-ins, from the opening fire scene in Framed and Burning, to the blaze of anger Mick Travers exhibits in that book, to the heat of passion in a couple of love poems tucked into Broom of Anger.

Julia

The talented Julia Laxer read about the seedy, lusty world of strip clubs, as well as traipsing through San Francisco in hot pursuit of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. She has a gift for the telling detail, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Her first book is sure to be a scorcher.

Shoes

Organizer Nancy Slavin lusted after my hot shoes.

All thanks to Nancy Slavin for putting the heat on, Happy Rock Coffee for hosting, and to the Clackamas Review for this great event write-up. Gladstone's just a stone's throw from Portland, so if you're in the area for the next reading in the series on September 11, stop on by. You'll be glad. 

Happyrocksign

Photos by Nancy Slavin, Julia Laxer, and me.