December 19, 2014, 5.31 pm
Oh, has this been such a better week than the three weeks beforehand! Everyone in the family (knock on wood) is healthy; MrD was able to go back to school; I got to write and write and, better yet, go to my mums' group's yearly Christmas dinner, where we visited our joint favorite local restaurant, ate gorgeous Italian food, drank sparkling prosecco, and celebrated the season with friends...
We even got our Christmas tree (at last!), and it is tall and fat and gorgeous. Perfect!
In other words, so far I am MUCH preferring the second half of December to the first half, to say the very least. ;) The only downside right now is that I'm between books and having a hard time settling on a new one to read next.
What about you guys? What are the highlights of your week so far? And which books would you recommend to me?
December 11, 2014, 1.30 pm
So, between my M.E. crash last month, then Baby X's illness, and now MrD's illness (still ongoing)...I've been pretty much stuck at home over the last three weeks. Aagh! And I'm not just feeling stir-crazy, I'm also starting to feel a little panicky about how I'll actually get all of my holiday shopping done.
The obvious answer, of course, is to shop online, and Amazon is a quick, easy, go-to place...but, for a whole lot of reasons, I really don't want to give all of my money to Amazon this year (or any other year, honestly). So I have a question: where do you guys shop for Christmas, Chanukah, or any other holiday, when you want to buy online but don't want to pay Amazon for it?
Obviously, since it's already mid-December, and I'm personally shopping for Christmas, it's too late for me to order from anywhere outside the UK. However, I'd love to have a whole list of any of your favorite online shops in the comments, no matter where they are - partly because I can come back and check them out next time I shop with more notice, and partly in case they help anyone else who's outside the UK and doing last-minute shopping.
Thanks so much, in advance, for any suggestions you guys can give!
December 4, 2014, 12.53 pm
A few years ago, Patrick and I set up a website and invited a whole bunch of other authors to join in with our December Lights Project, where every story had a happy ending, many of them were funny, and all of them were intended to light up the darkness. This year, to be honest, I was just way too tired to try to organize all of that...but between my ongoing M.E. crash and Baby X's current stomach bug, I know I could certainly use some lightness and some momentary escape right now. Note: I'm not saying an escape from the news, because the news right now is so horrifying and infuriating, it needs action, not escape.
But we all need a few minutes off and some lightness in our days from time to time. So I thought I'd post here what I would have posted to the December Lights Project if we had run that this year - a fun, silly, light story for the dark, cold months.
"Dreaming Harry" was first published in the anthology Unidentified Funny Objects, edited by Alex Shvartsman, in December 2012. The tagline is: A story about the true horrors of parenthood.
It's very silly and I wrote it to make myself and my husband laugh. I hope you guys enjoy it!
(And just a note - it was written for adults, not children. I don't think there's anything terribly inappropriate in it, but I don't want anyone going into it with the expectation that it will be MG.)
By Stephanie Burgis
Making a bad night even worse, Elizabeth Nichols woke at 3 a.m. with an unmistakable feeling of nameless, creeping dread. A cold chill brushed her cheek.
She opened her eyes with deep reluctance.
An ancient, tentacled horror as old as time was lurking in the corner of the room.
She moaned and kicked her sleeping husband. “Your turn.”
“Mwha?” Dan fought his way up out of the cocoon of duvets he’d buried himself in after their last wake-up. His hair stuck out in all directions; he focused blearily on the horror across the room, then flopped onto his back, groaning. “How can it be my turn? I went last time.”
“You’re the one who left that Lovecraft book where he could find it.” Elizabeth buried her face in her pillow and squeezed her eyes shut. “You deal with the results.”
She heard the scuffle of duvets being shoved aside, and then a thump followed by a yelp - Dan’s bare feet hitting the floor. That must have been chilled by the horror, too. Elizabeth wrapped her duvet more tightly around herself, shivering at the very thought of it. Her husband’s curses filled the frigid air as he stumbled down the hallway to their son’s room.
After a minute, she couldn’t help herself. She rolled over and cracked her eyes open to peek.
The horror was still there, exuding a miasma of turgid hopelessness and fear. Its tentacles drooped against the floor.
“You’ll be gone soon,” Elizabeth told it. “I hope.”
She waited a full twenty minutes before it finally disappeared, though. Dan stumbled back into the room a few moments later, yawning.
“I told him they were completely misunderstood,” he said. “Lovecraft got it all wrong. They’re big cuddly toys, really. Terribly shy, like bunny rabbits.”
“Probably vegetarian, too,” Elizabeth mumbled. “Lucky for us.”
Dan slid into bed, wrapping himself back up in his cocoon. His voice was muffled by his duvets. “Dr. Margo says none of his dreams can actually hurt us.”
“Easy for Dr. Margo to say,” Elizabeth muttered.
But the bedroom was already warming up, and when she woke up again it was nearly seven. There was a thumping sound in the corner of the room, but that only came from a gathering of bunnies, playing some elaborate hopping game with Elizabeth’s shoes.
She pulled the curtains open, waited for the bunnies to disappear in the sunlight, then picked up her shoes to examine them. Apart from a few pellets in one of her Skechers, they were fine.
“Success,” she said, and headed for the kitchen to make coffee.
Harry was already there, eating Weetabix with the jar of sugar sitting open beside him and a comic book lying open on the table. Elizabeth eyed the lurid illustrations with foreboding.
If any women that well-endowed showed up in their bedroom at night, she wasn’t sure Dan would agree to send them away.
Still, Dr. Margo was very clear that they had to let Harry exercise his imagination, so Elizabeth didn’t confiscate the comic book. She only dropped a kiss onto Harry’s mussed-up brown hair and tried not to wince as he spilled a spoonful of Weetabix and milk onto the table.
“Mum!” He swivelled around, spilling more milk in an arc. “I had the coolest dreams.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said. Then she heard the sourness in her own voice and sighed. “Tell me about them, darling.”
He did, chattering away in the background as she made her coffee and toast and peered through the window at the birdfeeder, which a squirrel was currently raiding.
Too bad they couldn’t send Harry’s dreams after that squirrel. See how many seeds he’d want to steal after a Cthulhoid horror came after him . . . or a hooded, dark rider, the kind who’d screamed in the corner of her bedroom all night after Harry had watched The Fellowship of the Ring with his friend Simon last Saturday.
Simon’s mum hadn’t taken Bennerol during her pregnancy. She didn’t have to worry about her son’s dreams.
“Mum!” Harry said. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Of course I am,” Elizabeth said automatically. “You were saying - ”
The doorbell rang just in time, before she had to hazard a guess. “I’ll just get that,” she said, and scooped the sugar jar out of Harry’s reach as she left.
She was still holding it when she opened the door and found Dr. Margo standing on the doorstep, next to a dark-haired man in a tailored charcoal suit, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and the kind of gentleman’s gloves that Elizabeth had only ever seen in movies.
Elizabeth glanced down at her own decidedly untailored, five-year-old M&S pajamas, which had a fresh milk stain on one knee, courtesy of Harry’s breakfast. “Ah . . .”
“Elizabeth!” Dr. Margo beamed as she stepped forward, forcing Elizabeth to move back. “I’m sorry to interrupt you so early, dear, but we wanted to be sure to find you at home. Elizabeth is always so busy,” she added to the man behind her, as she bustled through the doorway. “Always on the go, aren’t you, dear?”
“Ah . . . I suppose so?” Elizabeth thought of the state of the living room, which she’d been too tired to tidy the night before, and rallied her energy. “I’m sorry, but we’re actually in the middle of having breakfast now, so perhaps - ”
“Oh, don’t mind us! This is what the health service is for, you know - giving you a helping hand just when you need it. And it’ll be good to observe Harry in his natural habitat, so to speak. Always meeting him in the office is so impersonal, don’t you think?”
Elizabeth gritted her teeth and gave in. Dr. Margo’s companion had remained on the doorstep, with punctilious courtesy; she waved him in, sighing. “Would you like any coffee?” she asked.
Dr. Margo swept ahead of her down the hallway. “Tea for me, dear. Milk but no sugar. Nothing for my colleague, though.”
“Are you sure?” Elizabeth asked, trailing behind them into the kitchen. “I have decaf if you’d prefer.”
The dark-haired man turned and smiled at her. “Thank you,” he said. He had a heavy accent, which sounded Eastern European. “But I do not drink . . . coffee. Or tea, for that matter.”
“I see,” said Elizabeth, and cursed the fact that Dan had already left for work. He’d taken off the first two weeks of Harry’s summer holiday while she’d stayed at the office. During those weeks, no officious health workers had shown up, and as far as she could tell, they’d spent most of the time playing video games and eating cinnamon rolls from a tin. Now, of course, it was her turn.
She pasted a smile onto her face, and said, “Harry, Dr. Margo’s come to see us. And she’s brought . . . ?”
“My colleague,” Dr. Margo said, sitting down in the chair beside Harry. “From the government. Everyone’s so interested in our Bennerol babies, you know.”
At the word “babies,” Harry gave her an outraged look and scooted his chair away from her. Elizabeth didn’t blame him. It was a different word that had caught her own attention, though. She’d been in the middle of setting down the sugar jar, but now her hand tightened instinctively around it.
“From the government?” she said. She tucked the sugar jar up against her stomach. “Which branch of the government would be interested in Harry?”
“Oh, you needn’t worry about that, dear!” Dr. Margo tittered, tipping her head back. “Why, you look as if you’re thinking of some terrible MI5 conspiracy - science fiction films and the like. We’re nothing like that. No, indeed! Isn’t that a funny idea?” she said to her colleague.
“Ha,” he said. “Ha. Ha.” He drew out a chair, pulled it into the shadiest corner of the room, and dusted it off carefully with one gloved hand. “Very amusing indeed,” he said, and tipped his hat to cover more of his face.
Bloody hell. Definitely MI5, Elizabeth thought. Or was it MI6? Dan was the one who would know about all that. He liked to read political thrillers when he wasn’t reading terrible horror stories that sent Harry’s dreams haywire.
She inched toward the telephone in the corner. “Let me just give my husband a call,” she said. “I’m sure he’d like to be here for our discussion.”
“Dear Dan,” Dr. Margo said. “Such a good father. So involved. But you needn’t drag him home from work just for us. We can explain it all to him when he comes home tonight.”
Elizabeth blinked. “We can?”
“Yes, yes. This is in the nature of a surprise inspection, you see. Of course we all know that you two are doing a splendid job in terribly difficult circumstances, but not everyone in the government completely understands that - or understands just how these difficult Bennerol babies could possibly be managed in a home environment.”
Harry looked across at Elizabeth with big eyes. “Am I difficult, Mum?”
“Of course not, darling,” Elizabeth told him, and offered up a silent novena in apology for her shameless lie.
“You see?” Dr. Margo turned to her colleague. “Didn’t I tell you she’s handling it all marvellously? And that’s just what you’ll see for yourself tonight.”
Elizabeth set the sugar jar carefully down on the counter. “I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand. Do you mean that you’re planning to actually stay the night? Both of you?”
“You’ll barely even notice we’re here,” Dr. Margo said. “Well, apart from having to cover up the mirrors, of course. But that’s just a silly little preference of my colleague’s, nothing to worry about. We won’t interfere at all in your routines - we’re only here to observe, you know. Think of us as being like that TV show - Big Brother, isn’t that the one? Only without the cameras, of course.”
“Of course,” her colleague echoed. “Ha. Ha. Cameras. As if we would want any of those turned on.”
“Ahem.” Dr. Margo gave him an admonishing look and turned back to Elizabeth. “We all want to lay those silly official worries to rest, don’t we?”
“But we’re not really prepared - I mean, we don’t have a guest bedroom, and the living room isn’t - ”
“Oh, don’t worry about any of that,” Dr. Margo said. “My colleague doesn’t sleep much anyway.”
“Bennerol babies are creatures of the night,” her colleague said. “So we must spend the night awake to understand him, must we not?”
“Of course,” Elizabeth said faintly. She reached into the sugar jar and dug out a spoonful for her coffee that would have made even Harry quake.
She was going to need it.
“What the hell is going on?” Dan hissed, eight hours later. He’d dragged her into the kitchen, promising the others tea, and closed the door behind them. “Why is Dr. Margo making Lego towers with Harry in our living room? Who’s that bloke dressed up like the Invisible Man in the corner? Why’s the hallway mirror covered with a pillowcase? And damn it, why didn’t you warn me about any of this before I got home? If I’d known social services was visiting, I wouldn’t have been carrying a case of cider when I walked through the door. Now they probably think we’re alcoholics!”
“I couldn’t help it.” Elizabeth pushed the kitchen door back open so that she could hear Harry’s piping voice. Reassuringly (under the circumstances), he was cackling with manic glee. She heard the telltale crashes of Dr. Margo’s Lego towers being bashed over by his newest inventions: giant multi-coloured Lego frogs of Doom. She dreaded to think how much space one of those might take up in the bedroom at night. For once, though, sleep was the least of her concerns.
“They’ve been here all day,” she whispered. “I thought about trying to ring you from the toilet, but Dr. Margo looked at me like I was a pervert when I said I wanted to take Harry in with me, and I didn’t want to leave him alone with them while I went. I’m bursting now, though, so if you could just keep an eye on the situation for a moment - ”
“No chance.” Dan clamped his hand around her arm. “First, tell me. Harry had an accident, didn’t he? How bad was it? One of his dreams must have spilled over. Or he had one in the daytime. Or - did the neighbours see something and complain? For God’s sake, when you think how many times their dogs have kept us up - ”
His voice was rising. Elizabeth pressed her free hand against his mouth to stop him.
“It’s not the neighbours,” she hissed. “It’s the government.”
Dan lost his grip on her arm. “Bloody hell,” he whispered against her palm.
Then they both turned, as the silence coming from the living room finally struck them. The crashes of falling towers had ended. The only sound that carried was a soft murmur - Dr. Margo’s voice, speaking too quietly for them to hear. Their eyes met in a moment of perfect understanding.
Dan took off for the living room so quickly, Elizabeth was surprised not to see flames erupt underneath his boring black loafers. When she joined them five minutes later, carrying the tea tray, she found him standing behind Harry like a bodyguard, arms crossed and legs spread apart, glaring at Dr. Margo’s colleague across the room. She elbowed him in the stomach as she passed.
“Be nice,” she whispered. “Don’t offend him.”
Dan bared his teeth in a menacing smile. The other man smiled back, with a courteous nod of his head. Elizabeth blinked at the sight.
She had never seen teeth so bright white and . . . well, sharp-looking, before. Even in the fading light of early evening, in his shadowed corner of the room, they positively sparkled. And was it just a trick of the light, or were his canines a bit longer than was usual?
Dr. Margo cleared her throat loudly. Her colleague closed his mouth. Dan widened his stance by at least an inch.
“You’re standing funny, Daddy,” Harry said. “Do you have something wrong with your - ”
“What would everyone like for supper?” Elizabeth asked brightly, speaking over Harry’s final word as she handed out the cups of tea.
Dr. Margo said, “Oh, anything, dear. Except for any food with preservatives in it, of course. Or anything that’s been frozen, or come from a tin. Or anything with red ingredients. You can never really trust red ingredients, can you?”
“Well . . .” Elizabeth mentally ran through their kitchen cupboards, feeling her heart sink.
“But I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble,” Dr. Margo said.
“Of course not.” Elizabeth smiled tightly. “And . . . ?” She started to turn to the man in the corner.
“Oh, you needn’t worry about my colleague,” Dr. Margo said. “He isn’t hungry.”
“Are you sure?” Elizabeth asked, trying not to sound hopeful.
He nodded regally. “I do not eat . . . supper. But should you not be going to bed, very soon? You need not stay awake for us, you know. Dr. Margo and I can look after your son very well without you.”
Elizabeth didn’t have to look at her husband to know that their thoughts were in perfect unison, possibly for the first time since their wedding ceremony.
Still, with the health service - not to mention the government - watching, there was no excuse to keep Harry up late. Elizabeth supervised his tooth-brushing under the silent, looming observation of Dr. Margo’s colleague, and Dr. Margo beamed maternally from one corner of Harry’s bedroom as Dan sat down to read him his bedtime chapter of Captain Underpants. She winced, though, at the first fart joke, and looked more and more pained as the chapter went on.
“Isn’t there something a bit more traditional that Harry might like?” she whispered to Elizabeth. “One of those nice Narnia books, perhaps? Or - ”
“Trust me,” Elizabeth said. “Waking up to find the White Witch in my bedroom is not an experience I want to repeat. And Aslan may be friendly in the books, but that’s not terribly reassuring at three a.m., when he’s keeping us all up with his roaring.”
“I’ll find out what that’s like myself, tonight,” Dr. Margo said, regaining her cheer. “I must say, I can hardly wait! Nighttime really has become so much more interesting ever since Bennerol was invented, hasn’t it?”
Elizabeth smiled weakly in return. It wasn’t until five minutes later that she finally lost control.
She was leaning over Harry’s bed to kiss him goodnight when he said, with sleepy consideration, “I don’t think I like those pills Dr. Margo gave me, Mummy. They’re making everything look a bit funny.”
“What?!” Elizabeth straightened with a jerk. “Dr. Margo gave you pills? When?”
Dr. Margo rose from her seat in the corner. “Now, dear . . .”
“It was while you and Daddy were in the kitchen,” Harry said. “And again just after dinner, when you were clearing away. She said it would be instead of pudding. But then you gave me pudding anyway, so that was all right.”
“Let me get this straight,” Dan said to Dr. Margo. “You gave Harry two different pills, without asking us? Without even telling us?”
“Oh, Harry.” Dr. Margo shook her head sorrowfully. “Didn’t I tell you those pills were our little secret?”
It was a long moment before Elizabeth could trust herself to speak. “You did just right to tell me, Harry. You’re a good boy. Now go to sleep.” She leaned over and pressed a second kiss against his tousled brown hair. “If you start feeling really ill from those pills, just call us. We’ll be close enough to hear.” She turned to Dr. Margo and was glad to see the other woman step back under the heat of her gaze. “We’ll be in the living room, having a little chat with Dr. Margo about ethics and the law.”
She stalked out of the room, her spine rigidly straight. Dan waited, pointedly, for Dr. Margo to leave before he followed.
The other man was already sitting in the living room when they arrived, flipping through one of the horror novels that Dan kept on the top shelves of the bookcases in almost every room of the house, well out of Harry’s reach. He looked up questioningly as they walked in, but Dr. Margo ignored him.
“If we can all please refrain from overreacting - ”
“Overreacting? You drugged our son!” Elizabeth kept her voice low for Harry’s sake, but it shook with rage. “How do you think the General Medical Council is going to feel about that? When we report what you’ve done - ”
“Oh, I really don’t think you want to do that, dear.”
“Why not?” Dan demanded. “If you think you can walk all over us now, just because Elizabeth let one brainless midwife talk her into taking those pills in the first place - ”
“I beg your pardon?” Elizabeth stared at her husband. “You and I both agreed I should try the Bennerol! Everyone said there weren’t any side-effects. They said - ”
“Children!” said Dr. Margo. “Please. The pills I gave Harry are completely harmless. All they’re intended to do is strengthen the results of his dreams.”
Elizabeth didn’t say a word. She couldn’t. Distantly, she heard Dan say, “Why in the name of God would you want to do that?”
Dr. Margo sighed. With her carefully-curled grey hair, pink silk blouse, and patterned scarf, she looked the very definition of a kindly grandmother. “You see? This is why I couldn’t discuss it with you ahead of time. Parents are always the same. So conservative. So narrow-minded.”
Elizabeth said, “I’m ringing NHS Direct right now, to find out how to register a complaint. Dan - ”
“Do it,” he said. “And as for you two - ”
“If you do,” said Dr. Margo, “you will regret it. Because those pills work . . . and the Government would be very interested in discovering that.”
Dr. Margo no longer looked in the slightest bit vague or harmless. For the first time since Elizabeth had started taking Harry to his monthly sessions with her, four years earlier, she looked past the air of kindly, fluffy condescension. There was a scientist behind the candy-pink blouse, and behind Dr. Margo’s old-fashioned, cat’s-eye glasses, her hazel eyes shone with far more ambition than Elizabeth had ever recognized before.
“I thought he was from the government,” Elizabeth said, gesturing to the heavily-swathed man in the corner. He had moved on from the horror novel to one of Harry’s Calvin & Hobbes collections and was sniggering over the pictures . . . but with an alarming expression of hunger on his face.
Was that drool slipping down from one of his sharp teeth?
“It made things simpler for you to think so,” said Dr. Margo. “But trust me, dear. I’m the only one standing between you and a whole host of exciting government agencies, all of whom would love to know that our Bennerol babies could turn into real weapons. Without me, Harry and all the little children like him would have been taken away from their parents years ago. You can hardly begrudge me a few experiments of my own, can you? Just for my own personal satisfaction - as a small payment, you might say, for my protection?”
She smiled gently, as Elizabeth and Dan said nothing. “No?” she said. She sat down on the couch, patting down her trousers. “I thought not. Now, I’d like some tea, please. Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth met Dan’s eyes. They looked darker than usual against his pallor. He shrugged, the gesture despairing.
“Fine,” Elizabeth said flatly. “Milk?”
“But no sugar,” Dr. Margo said, as she opened up her notepad. “It’s so unhealthy, don’t you think?”
Elizabeth couldn’t think of any answer that didn’t involve cursing.
Luckily, Dr. Margo didn’t seem to expect a reply. She was already tutting softly over an earlier page of notes. Harry’s parents, it was clear, were old business.
Elizabeth didn’t bother to ask Dr. Margo’s colleague, this time. She already knew what the answer would be.
As she filled up the electric kettle in the kitchen, her eyes went to the darkness outside the window. It felt like a palpable force, pressing in on her chest until she could barely breathe.
She couldn’t see the birdfeeder in the dark, nor the squirrel who’d driven her so wild that morning. Was it really less than twelve hours since she’d stood here idly wishing she could send Harry’s dream-creatures after that pitiful little animal, to frighten him away? It already seemed like a different world. This morning had been just another day of summer holiday. Harry had been safe, warm, and protected in her kitchen, chattering about his dreams, and her biggest worry had been the comic he was reading, because she knew how it might affect them.
Cold water overflowed from the electric kettle. It splashed across Elizabeth’s hand as she stood unmoving, her mouth open.
She might not be a scientist, like Dr. Margo. But she had learned something important all those years ago, after she’d let that damn midwife reassure her about the Bennerol. She’d learned to never, ever again let anyone intimidate her out of listening to her instincts, especially when it came to protecting her son.
And Harry wasn’t the only one who had an imagination.
When Elizabeth stepped into the living room ten minutes later, carrying her best tea service on a tray, Dr. Margo didn’t even look up. She was too busy making notes. Excitement glittered in her eyes. Ten minutes ago, that would have sent alarm flaring deep in Elizabeth’s gut.
Now, Elizabeth lowered her own eyes submissively and set the tea tray down on the coffee table. It was laid out exactly as her mother-in-law had taught her one excruciating Sunday afternoon, like a souvenir from the Victorian era. Normally, it would have elicited a sarcastic comment from Dan. Tonight, though, Dan sat with his head propped on his fist, staring hopelessly into the empty fireplace. He didn’t move to pick up his tea, or comment on the leaf that fell off Elizabeth’s hair as she stepped back from the coffee table.
She shifted casually in place to cover the leaf with her shoe, and ran one hand over her hair to check for any other giveaways. For the first time ever, she felt deeply grateful for just how quiet Harry could be when he was sneak-reading a book in bed after lights-out . . . especially one that had always been off-limits, hidden on the tallest shelf of the bookcase in his parents’ bedroom.
He had been so thrilled to finally get hold of this one, he hadn’t even asked why Elizabeth was climbing in through his window to give it to him, along with her mini-torch.
When Elizabeth turned around, the man in the corner was leering at her neck. Rather than showing any embarrassment as he met her gaze, he waggled his eyebrows meaningfully, tilting his head toward the kitchen. His eyes seemed to burn with urgent invitation.
Heat swept across the room. The scent of temptation filled her senses. All she had to do was give in.
Elizabeth smiled serenely and sat down beside her husband, patting his knee affectionately. Sometimes, it was good to be a mother.
If Mina Harker or Bella Swan hadn’t managed a single full night’s sleep in six years, they wouldn’t have had the energy to be mesmerized by a vampire’s stare, either. Daniel could have warned the other man about that issue, if he’d been asked.
She picked up a magazine from the table and began to read about the season’s latest fashion innovations. Across the room, she heard a mournful sigh.
“Harry’s dreams always manifest in your bedroom, don’t they?” Dr. Margo asked half-an-hour later, when she finally looked up from her notes.
Dan only grunted. Elizabeth looked up placidly from her magazine and said, “Yes, always.”
“Well, then, I’m afraid we’ll have to use that room tonight. You won’t mind sleeping on the couch, will you, dears?”
Elizabeth sighed heavily. “If you insist . . .”
It was three a.m. when the first scream sounded. Dan jerked out of sleep, still sitting upright on the armchair. “Wha - ? Was that - ?”
“Shh,” said Elizabeth, and put one hand on his arm to hold him back. “They wouldn’t want us to interfere.”
It was seven-thirty when she finally opened the door to her bedroom. Harry was still fast asleep, of course - he always slept in after staying up to read a particularly gripping novel.
Powerful though they might have been, his dreams had still dissipated in the morning sunlight. Harry had, after all, had only two doses of Dr. Margo’s experimental pills. She could only imagine how many more doses had been used on some poor child to create Dr. Margo’s “colleague” . . . or what might have happened before Dr. Margo took over his supervision.
A small pile of ashes lay on the floor next to Dr. Margo. Elizabeth made a note to clear them up as soon as she emptied out the vacuum cleaner.
Dr. Margo herself sat on the bed, glassy-eyed and staring. Her pulse was rapid, but her eyes were glazed. As Elizabeth walked into the room, she repeated, as if by rote, “I will not create vampires. I will not . . . I will not . . .”
“Shh,” Elizabeth said. “Of course you won’t. You won’t ever do anything to any of the children again.”
She patted Dr. Margo on the back. The other woman, still in a deeply hypnotized state, didn’t even blink.
Good for Harry, Elizabeth thought. And good for Dr. Van Helsing. He had always been her favourite character in the Dracula book and movies. She was pleased she’d been able to convey her abiding love for him - and all of his varied abilities, from hypnotism to vampire-staking - in the five-minute pep talk she’d given her son last night.
“Come along,” she said to Dr. Margo. “I’m making breakfast. You can drink a cup of tea while you tell me exactly how long it’ll take for Harry’s doses to lose their effect. Because . . .”
She smiled. Of course, Dan might have his own ideas, but surely he would agree that tonight was her turn?
“. . . I think today might be the perfect day to introduce Harry to Jane Austen. Starting with Pride and Prejudice - the Colin Firth edition.”
Note: I hope you guys enjoyed it! If you're another writer, I'd love to see links to your own lighthearted stories in the comments. And if you're a reader, I'd love links to your own favorite lighthearted stories on the web. As a reader, I'm really looking for them right now!
And to start that list with one of my personal favorites, Patrick just posted his fabulously fun, funny short story "The Frog King" to his own blog. Read it here! (I love it. It makes me laugh every time.)
November 27, 2014, 12.25 pm
This has been a tough autumn, I've been feeling helpless and horrified about the news this week, and right now I'm in the middle of my worst M.E. crash for a while...but that makes it even more important to me to focus on the stuff I'm truly thankful for right now. Since I live in the UK (where schools, oddly enough, do not close on the Thursday of American Thanksgiving! ;) ), my official Thanksgiving celebrations with family always have to wait until the weekend...but right now, on Thanksgiving day, I want to take the time to write this post.
1. I am so thankful for the authors who write wonderful books that I can escape into when I need a break from reality. I've been re-reading books and novellas from Laura Florand's wonderful Amour et Chocolate series of adult romances this week, and they're just as delicious the second time around.
2. I am so thankful for the readers who've read and responded to my own books and stories and to the Kat novella. I can't tell you guys just how much that means to me. (The other day I was having a very hard time with the M.E.. Then I came online to find someone talking about happily reading their way through the Kat boxed set for the first time; someone else talking about re-reading the books again; and saw this lovely SF Signal MIND MELD roundup of Best Openings in Books, where Kat, Incorrigible got 2 (!) different mentions...and altogether, it made me feel SO happy and so much better about everything.)
3. I am so thankful for just how supportive my family and friends are. My M.E. crash would be so much worse right now if my parents hadn't flown internationally to help us with the house-move. My friends have been hugely supportive throughout, and I've found such a warm, supportive community online even for the days when I'm stuck at home and can't get out. Thank you, everyone who reads this blog/twitter/facebook and brightens my days!
4. I am so thankful that I have a husband who also works from home and juggles the childcare, so that I can get writing done even during my M.E. crashes. I've been writing every day this week, zooming at what is for me an incredibly fast pace through my new MG novel (my dragons-and-chocolate novel!), and it's making me really, really happy. If I were trying to single-parent my days with a partner at work, I simply would not be able to write during my crashes, and I don't know how I would emotionally cope. As it is, though, I have my writing as a (huge) emotional outlet (even when I'm writing fun, upbeat adventure stories, as I am now) and as a source of personal satisfaction, challenge and pride, even on my worst M.E. days.
5. I am so thankful for how welcoming our new neighborhood is. Our house-move has been full of associated stress, but I absolutely love living in this neighborhood, with its lovely local library and with the warmest, most welcoming, and easiest toddler playgroup I've ever attended. It makes Baby X happy and me happy, and it's just around the corner from my house. Perfect!
6. And oh, am I grateful for my sweet, funny, loving, wonderful kids. They're the center around which everything else in my life circles. They give me joy every single day.
And speaking of kids...
If you, like me, have felt frustrated and helpless when reading this week's news, there's one easy thing you can do to make at least a little bit of a difference for kids in Ferguson right now: donate here to the Ferguson public schools, whose teachers are in need of funds for various classroom projects right now, all of which look incredibly worthwhile. I know a lot of us are broke right now or trying to figure out how to afford the holiday season (I certainly am), but even $10 can make a big difference and be one step toward trying to make things better.
Alternately, you can donate to the Ferguson public library, which is staying open even when schools are closed.
Whether you're American or not: what are you thankful for this year? I would truly love to hear about it.
November 20, 2014, 10.13 am
Since it's mid-November, now, writers all around the internet are putting together lists of their award-eligible stories published in 2014. In a similar vein, I thought it would be nice to do a sum-up here of all the stories of mine that were published this year, for my own sake (because it's a lovely reminder to me that yes, I really did get stuff done this year, no matter how it sometimes felt) and also in case anyone had wanted to read them and missed them the first time 'round.
I'll also talk a little at the end about the bigger story that I gave up on this year, and why I really needed to see this list.
First, here are all the stories I published this year, some of them original (and therefore award-eligible) and some of them reprints (so, not award-eligible). They're all free to read or listen to online (except for Courting Magic and "Red Ribbons"), and I really hope you enjoy any of them that you do try.
Original stories published in 2014
(Both of these were published in online magazines aimed at adults)
"Lighting Candles" - for anyone who ever felt a moment of sneaking sympathy for the older sisters in fairytales...
"Clasp Hands" - mothers and magic and powerful aunts, oh my!
My one original novella, which, er, you probably HAVE seen me talk about here before... ;)
Courting Magic: A Kat, Incorrigible Novella - Magical mysteries and star-crossed romance - Kat's all grown-up and making her social début!
"The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain" - a YA story of forbidden magic and romance in Victorian England.
"Foxwoman" - a flash fiction for adults about magic, marriage and unexpected discoveries, republished as an audio podcast.
"The Wrong Foot" - a frothy, romantic YA comedy of manners based on a skewed version of Cinderella and republished as an audio podcast.
"Red Ribbons" - wildly romantic, tragic, feminist historical fantasy for adults, republished in the anthology Wicked Women and available in ebook or paperback.
Aaaand...that's it! Whew. (I might be able to add one more story to that list if my story "Marking Time" gets published by Daily Science Fiction before the end of the year, but I'm guessing that won't happen until next year.)
Oh, but one more longer-form story did get republished - the Kat books came out as a boxed set! So that was pretty amazing.
And now, for the less fun but equally true and important part...
This was also a year when I had to give up on a book I'd been struggling to write for a year and a half, which was a hard and frustrating epiphany to have - I realized that I'd gotten so twisted up worrying about what other people would like, I had completely lost touch with the stories that I really wanted to write. (This is why I stopped talking here about Family Magic, alas. Maybe one day I'll figure out how to make it my book, but I can't even let myself look at it again right now.)
It was incredibly painful to make that decision - to decide that a year and a half's worth of writing was not, after all, going to lead to anything I would submit for publication - especially since I've had such limited writing time and energy ever since Baby X was born.
Writing Courting Magic this year - letting myself write Courting Magic, which was a story I'd wanted to tell for years, but which (because it was linked to my Kat trilogy, and because it was a novella) I couldn't possibly try to sell to a publisher - was the best thing I've done for myself as a writer in a long, long time. It forced me to let go of that desperate, overriding question "But will someone want to buy this???" and instead ask myself only, again and again: "How can I have the most possible fun with my work?"
It reminded me that writing is supposed to feel good. (Hard, sometimes, but good, at the core of it.) It reminded me that I do my very best writing when I'm writing the stories that I personally find enchanting, not when I'm trying to write to some nebulous commercial ideal in my head that doesn't really match my own personal tastes.
And I realized I couldn't keep doing that other kind of writing anymore. Because it doesn't work for anybody. That was when I finally gave up on Family Magic for good.
(I'd sat down to write it, a year and a half ago, with the idea in my head that this would be my "safe" book. The one that people would like, the one that would definitely sell, because it wasn't going to be the kind of quirky book that I wanted to read, it was going to be the kind of solid, commercial book that other people would want to read. Well...long story short: that's a really, really bad way to write a good novel.)
It took a while, but I feel like I'm finally back in the right place again, now, as a writer. I'm juggling two different novels (one MG high fantasy, one adult historical), and as different as they are from each other, they both feel like me. That's such a better place to be in my writing life! I feel like everything is right again inside me when I sit down to write, nowadays. But of course I still feel like I've been shoved back a notch in my publishing career by having to give up on that last book.
That's why this list feels so important to me. It's a reminder that no, this was not a wasted year for me as a writer in any way, shape or form. Things are moving forward, no matter how it sometimes feels inside.
Thanks so much, guys, for sharing this journey with me.