One factor of these interesting times we live in now continues to be a nuisance: Some items persist in being difficult to find at the store. When I had yet another run-in with such a dilemma, I groused to myself that it feels more like living in a socialist country than a democratic republic. Then my contrarian ego decided to shake up that monologue with a question.
Am I spoiled?
Spoiled usually brings to mind the image of a pampered princess who pouts because she was asked to put her own plate away instead of somebody else doing it for her. But I have a hunch that if you nabbed a fellow from 1880 and dropkicked him into the present, he’d find us pretty spoiled….
And he’d probably also ask to stay.
We get to toss our clothes in a washer and then pitch them into a dryer instead of building a fire, heating the water in the cauldron, stir in soap (made ourselves from lye) with the clothes, wring them out, hang them on the line, chase the birds away….
Our lives are definitely easier than they were a century ago, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Necessarily? Yes, it’s pretty standard that everything comes with bad and good mixed together. It seems our lives have become so easy we’re more readily annoyed by little things. We have in a way become the pampered princess.
But if making our lives easier is a good thing, then why is being spoiled a bad thing? The difference all lies in attitude.
We can be grateful … or we can be entitled.
Literature has its share of stories about princesses who start with nothing and appreciate deeper meaning over shallow pleasures when the crown comes to them. It’s one of the ironies of life that we can’t truly enjoy what we have until we’ve done without: You don’t realize how wonderful it is to be warm and dry until you’ve experienced being cold and wet.
Are we spoiled? Well, yes, but if we’re grateful for the good in our lives it will also make us more vigilant about insuring our posterity enjoys life at least as good as we have it, and preferably even better. If we’re entitled, we only care about ourselves and leave posterity with a mess to clean up.
Speaking of messes, I sure will be grateful when the store gets those darn paper towels back in stock….
It’s time for another regaling about life on the farm (my go-to when I draw a blank on what to blog about writing). You see, a few weeks ago I decided it was time to raise and train pack goats (yes, you read that right the first time).
But even though I’ve raised goats for, ahem, decades, we hadn’t been in the baby business for several years because I could no longer commit to milking twice a day. The brush-control squad we were keeping didn’t qualify as candidates to produce pack goats, so I needed to – and succeeded at – locating a couple of two-week-old kids.
There was one small issue I knew I’d have to confront: They’d been nursing off their mom, and goat babies are notorious for not liking to switch to a bottle.
Getting them to make this switch is nothing new for me. In my milking days I’d leave the kids with Mommy the first day or two to insure they’d get their colostrum (a component in early milk that keeps them alive). Although the babies might go on a hunger strike initially, I’ve never had one starve to death….
We named these bouncing baby boys Charlie and Buster. In case you didn’t know, they’re named after Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, two of the most capricious actors that make me crack up laughing.
When feeding time rolled around after we brought them home, Buster wasn’t daunted by the rubber nipple for long. Once he realized that was milk dribbling into his mouth, he nursed like a champ.
Charlie reacted more the way I expected. He squawked and turned his head to spit the nipple out. It’s possible more milk trickled down his chin than his throat. I shrugged and figured he’d be hungrier in the morning, and figure things out then.
But the next day Charlie didn’t show any improvement. During breakfast, lunch, and supper, Buster would chug away while his brother cried and spit and invented all kinds of contortions to get that nasty rubber nipple out of his mouth. By that evening, I’d made up my mind….
If Charlie didn’t eat the next morning, it was time to pull out an old trick.
Sure enough, that dawn he behaved as badly as ever. So as soon as the nearest Dollar General store opened, I hopped in the car to pick up a plastic baby bottle and a package of spare nipples.
Since the silicone nipples for two-legged babies have too small an orifice for four-legged babies, I cut one wider slit across the top (although in previous occasions I’ve had to cut an X to get the milk to really gush out). After warming a cup’s worth for Charlie, I brought his new bottle out to the barn.
Since Buster believed he was supposed to get a second breakfast, I carried Charlie into the barnyard and cornered him between the fence and my leg. As usual he resisted as I thrust the nipple into his mouth. When he settled into his You got it in my mouth but I refuse to suck form of resistance, I gave the bottle a quick squeeze.
Charlie still didn’t move. I squeezed a second time.
His next reaction could be translated as Where have you been all my life!
Maybe it was also because the nipple was smaller and softer (in my milking days, I always preferred to start kids off with broken-in, softened nipples). But there’s something about squirting the milk into their mouths that’s more effective than counting on gravity to dribble it. Charlie guzzled down the milk with as much enthusiasm as Buster … maybe more.
Once finished, he gave me the goat equivalent of a hug, and since then considers me to be his best friend in the world. Oh, there is a way to work some philosophy about writing into this piece: When coming up with the right words seems like a struggle, just try some old trick to get something started (just a squirt), and it’s likely the words will begin to flow.
And I was also able to return to my writing, satisfied with the knowledge my track record of never having a baby goat starve to death on me remains intact….
The other day hubby and one of our offspring returned from hauling wood and asked what the Cajun phrase was for “Let the good times roll.” After responding it was Lassaiz le bon temps rouler, I inquired why they wanted to know.
They’d had a discussion that if you yell Timber when a tree is about to fall, what would you yell if a log was about to roll over you (I do have a family that tries to be prepared)? Rolling seemed straightforward enough, but of course they couldn’t leave well enough alone and also came up with Let the good times roll.
Now that’s what I call being optimistic.
That got me to thinking about people who try to make a living at something they enjoy, but the element of work still encroaches on such endeavors (no, you don’t want to know how my mind works). I’m listening to music as I write this, and shortly will track down a picture to include with the post (yes, you’ve just experienced a ripple in the space-time continuum).
Writing, music, art … some would claim these activities aren’t as necessary as slaying an animal and dragging it back to the cave for consumption (I’m going way back in our history, folks). But those activities also help to elevate existing to living.
You can just roast that meat over the fire and eat enough to stop your stomach from rumbling. Or you can add some salt and herbs and experience savory satisfaction that makes you ask for seconds (cooking can be a bit of an art form, too). While you’re dining, you can add pleasure to the time by telling stories, singing songs, and then paint on the wall a portrait of the critter you ate.
One of our uniquely human traits is appreciating beauty. The readers, the listeners, and the gazers of the world are enriched by these various art forms. So while it’s true that trying to produce this stuff can sometimes be a bit of a chore (meeting deadlines, getting the components to jive, etc.), we artsy-fartsy types address one small aspect of helping to make the world a better place.
Yes, sometimes this can feel like work, and the monetary pay often doesn’t seem to match the effort. But most of us aren’t in it for the money (don’t get me wrong, I do find income useful). Our greater satisfaction is usually derived from adding some beauty to somebody’s life.
Is that a log rolling this way? Lassaiz le bon temps rouler…!
“How do I know this wasn’t your plan all along?” Although his voice was thin and the brogue accent further stilted by flat inflections, Oswald Taggart’s gaze seemed to bore into Deuce. “We’d be foolish to believe the Elite haven’t caught wind of our plans.”
The question was like a right cross, delivered without warning after Deuce spent a half hour explaining his defection to the elderly man. Oswald’s gaze was not antagonistic, but Deuce could have sworn it possessed the ability to stretch into his core and twist out his soul, revealing how wretched he really was.
They sat only a meter apart, files and computer components surrounding them as silent witnesses to this interrogation. Oswald still wore the light overcoat he had on upon entering the room, and Deuce figured he was one of those seniors prone to feeling chilly.
He decided to try a method learned from Zeke, his mentor who Oswald asked to leave when their discussion began. “So you believe I’ve refined my skills of infiltration to uncover your alternative to this war?”
Oswald studied his face while simultaneously watching the screen of the communication device he held between them. The man had gone deaf a decade ago – a detail Zeke didn’t tell him until they met – and the device rendered Deuce’s speech into text.
The hand-held device was both anachronistic and a testament. These people commanded the technology to insert an implant that would enable Oswald to hear. But their ongoing war with the Elite precluded such conveniences.
This conflict began decades ago with the Elite designing androids that perfectly mimicked people. These imposters attacked members of the population who refused to accept the enhancements made mandatory by the authoritarians. The resistors developed means to detect the hidden technology. But that made using it on themselves for medical reasons, which they accepted, compromising to their own people.
So the Elite next developed fully biological infiltrators to evade detection, super soldiers genetically engineered to carry out orders, but proving to lack necessary skills to adapt to deviations. Deuce himself was a representative of their next innovation, retaining physical prowess but also designed as a strategist.
Oswald’s gaze focused on his face. “Is that an off-hand confession?”
“I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to ease your suspicion.” Deuce’s conscience writhed. Earlier today he discovered he’d killed this man’s son, but didn’t know if Oswald had been informed of that inadvertent disclosure.
The elder’s lips twitched. “Surely you aren’t going to admit defeat already?”
“Defeat is not an option. But why should you believe any of my claims, that my life is now dependent on the success of your resistance?”
“You seek to save yourself?”
His guilt over the death of this man’s son made Deuce reconsider his motivation for defecting from the Elite. “That was my original intention. But the time I’ve spent among your people has … opened my eyes. I thought I understood why you didn’t want to be integrated into the central data core that binds the Elite together. But I was wrong. My reasons weren’t your reasons.”
“I questioned their authority. You … deny it. They taught me compassion and mercy are weakness, yet that makes you strong. I came to you, counting on that compassion, with the offer to show you how to be as ruthless as your enemy.”
Oswald studied him but said nothing, so he continued.
“I now know that if good stoops to evil, it was never good to begin with. So the way good stands up to evil must be … different. Those are details I’m still working out.”
“You believe the Elite is evil?”
“How can they not be?” His conscience stirred again. “They demand the destruction of all who refuse to conform to their standard. I carried out that task for them. I … was an instrument of their evil.”
Oswald leaned forward. “Was?”
His guilt surged. “I know what I’ve done to you. To your son. The assistance I offer will never be able to wash all the blood from my hands. I can’t fathom why Zeke suggested I should assist you with this project, when I only remind you of your loss. I regret what they’ve made me, and what I’ve done, but that can never change the past.”
The senior leaned back and stared at Deuce. During the silence that elapsed for several seconds, Oswald’s gaze softened and he blinked a few times.
“I agreed to this meeting not so much to challenge your offer of assistance,” he murmured, “but to challenge myself if I could truly forgive you. Part of me wanted you to fail, so I could justify dismissing your humanity. But this old, deaf father can tell the difference between contrition and blowing smoke, and I see Zeke’s good judgment of character proves him right about you.”
There was nothing comforting about the man’s words. In fact, Deuce’s conscience cringed even more.
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
“None of us deserve forgiveness, yet it’s always offered. But you are no more evil than the Elite … and if you can seek redemption, so can they. This alternative I developed to ongoing war, it’s not only for our survival, it’s also for theirs.”
He stared at Oswald. “I don’t understand.”
“Some days, neither do I.”
The elderly fellow stood and shrugged off his coat. Deuce recognized the black shirt with a white collar, but it took a couple of seconds to realize that Oswald wasn’t just an astrophysicist – another detail Zeke left out. The revelation caused a tremor at the pit of his stomach he couldn’t explain.
“Just what is this alternative?”
Oswald studied him for a few seconds before replying. “How familiar are you with the story of Moses?”
Here is this month’s contribution to #BlogBattle, and for me the word for this round turned out to be the exact opposite of its meaning: Wretched! Ooh, you know there’s got to be some great stories with a prompt like that, so don’t miss on checking them out.
Antagonists – every story needs them. Whether it’s somebody as in-your-face as Lord Voldemort or as invisible as the cold that will kill the explorer if he doesn’t succeed at lighting a fire, they provide the conflict at the heart of any tale.
Real life in the last few months has brought about a thought experiment that got me pondering where villains come from. You’ve probably heard the mantra about how each character is the hero in his or her personal story. It’s easy to think of bad guys as power-hungry sadists, but sometimes people antagonize others because they mean well, but they’re misguided….
That’s kind of where you run across the other mantra that truth is stranger than fiction.
What antagonist do you find the juiciest? The evil villain that wants to rule the world, or the self-proclaimed do-gooder who actually causes more harm?
That’s a hard choice to make. I might need to read some more stories to help me decide … and that leads to A BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT.
Smashwords is having their annual Summer/Winter Sale (depends on your hemisphere). Membership is free, and until the end of July many e-books are available at a discount (including mine, of course).
Just click here to get started. I hope alerting you to the sale was helpful and that I haven’t inadvertently caused any harm….
Many millennia ago our ancestors, who spent lots of time outdoors, noted that positions of stars in the night sky heralded the change of seasons in the year. This was important to know. If you want to eat, it’s helpful to anticipate when the herds move or edible plants grow.
Exactly where the sun rose and set on the horizons was another important harbinger, especially when we adopted an agricultural lifestyle. If you want to eat, it’s important to know when to sow and get the harvest on time. Determining the annual cycle even led to cool architecture like Stonehenge.
Fast forward to the present. Most of the population is urban, and they spend more time indoors (as a relative once observed, it’s where there’s TV and no bugs). If you want to know when it’s time to eat, look at your watch (if you’re retro) or phone.
You may or may not have heard of Indian time. I heard it most often when we lived in Oklahoma, within the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation (in case you didn’t know, tribal jurisdictions in Oklahoma are what was left after the government broke all the other treaties). When somebody was late, the joking explanation sometimes given was that they were running on Indian time.
And yes, even the Native Americans made that joke.
What we call Indian time here in the States could go by any other moniker both here and abroad: Hillbilly time, Farmer time, Ancestral time … it’s a way of living regimented more by the world around us than artificial timepieces.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate that when I show up for an appointment at the dentist’s office, ten other people don’t arrive at the same time because we were all scheduled for in the morning. Living by the clock has its advantages.
You probably didn’t notice I’d fallen behind on posting to this blog. Yes, I was on Indian time, but that doesn’t mean I was just being lazy. Quite the contrary, matters pertaining to farm and family needed more of my attention for a while.
Running on Indian time might make you late now and then, but that’s because you were tending to priorities. In this world of instant gratification, getting slowed down once in a while could be beneficial. Maybe you stopped to smell the roses. Maybe you took some extra time to play with your kids. Regardless, you took some time to savor living in the here and now.
Wow, that’s more serious than I usually get. Is it time to eat yet?
“Wait!” you may be saying. “Portmanteau is a real word!” Well, yes, and portmanteau words are for real … although it may take a while for the culture to accept them. I know people who refuse to acknowledge the existence of ginormous (wow, I can’t believe spellcheck actually accepted that), but I suspect the word is here to stay.
If you’re still thinking “What the blazes is a portmanteau?” I’ll explain it here: Take two words and smoosh them together (remember: safety first). If you combine smoke and fog, you get smog. Easy, right?
Dogs are often victims of portmanteau words. Labradoodles and cockapoos are just a more precise way of calling them crossbreeds (or it’s the owner’s way of claiming “I meant to do that”). We have a dog we’re convinced is part Labrador and part beagle. So what should we call him? Labeagle or beagador?
Actually, animals in general have gotten smooshed together throughout history. Beefalo is what you get from a beef cow and a buffalo. Once upon a time a lion and a tiger produced a liger. I’ve heard of the offspring of zebras and donkeys called both donkras and zonkeys (although spellcheck only recognizes the second one).
So how come when somebody crossed a horse with a donkey, they called it a mule? Was it because dorse sounds too insulting, and honkey is … too insulting?
You’ve probably quipped new coinages of words quite often, but often it’s in situations where they don’t stick. Trying to figure out if a certain shade of color is blue or purple? Just call it blurple. Can’t decide if that smell is spicy or funky? Call it spunky … or maybe not.
Well, that’s enough portmanteau words for now. So before I get hangry and begin to use snark, I think I’ll have some brunch and use a spork to eat turducken….
As Deuce sat beside Zeke on the underground rail transport, he remembered the serious tone to Kyla’s voice. The conversation he overheard this morning, before leaving with Zeke, hadn’t been meant for his ears. He glanced at his bearded traveling companion and recalled Zeke’s response.
“Might as well start at the beginning, and besides … he’s in the business of forgiveness.”
Kyla’s final statement lingered most in his thoughts. “I don’t think he normally needs to forgive something so personal.”
Deuce was pretty sure what she’d meant. His entire life had been devoted to combat. When he defected from his creators to join the ranks of those who sought to liberate themselves, he hadn’t been readily accepted into this society.
Many tolerated him because he offered assistance to help them win this long-fought war, but losing friends and family to troops he’d led made that acquiescence more begrudging.
Deuce wondered how much more personal the dislike, which he was accustomed to, would be for this Taggart fellow.
The transport slowed to a stop at the station where they disembarked. It had taken a couple of hours to travel halfway across the continent, so the artificial lighting that mimicked the sunshine above ground was brighter than when they boarded. They walked from the station into the subterranean city.
Swift and silent conveyers delivered them to a different level of the municipality, a manufacturing district where the rattle and bangs of machinery were more apparent. Zeke led him into a facility to the side, and they entered a room where a handful of people were discussing a three-dimensional, projected digital display of conduits.
Most of them glanced casually toward the newcomers, but Deuce took note of the auburn-haired woman whose expression shifted into a subtle glare when her gaze fell upon him.
“Didn’t you get the notification?” Her eyes softened only slightly as they shifted back to Zeke, but she had an accent that Deuce identified as a brogue. “Grandpa is still out on a service call.”
“Something that always takes longer than expected.” Zeke’s smile expressed an impertinent bravado Deuce had become accustomed to. “I figured we could still begin the orientation with you, and Oswald could catch up to us.”
Her eyes narrowed. “That’s a bad idea.”
His smile remained. “Which part?”
“All of it.” Her gaze hardened again as it returned to Deuce. “This whole affair is against my better judgment.”
“You aren’t questioning your grandpa’s judgment, are you?”
Some of the spark in her green eyes subsided. “If the two of you weren’t friends, he wouldn’t have agreed to this, either.”
Zeke’s smile warmed. “But aren’t you and I friends also, Ita?”
“That’s what I used to think.” She glanced at her cohorts and excused herself before strolling toward the two men. “But since I know the only other way I’d get you to take that thing out of here is to draw a blaster, I’ll take you to the office instead.”
“Is that where you keep the blaster?”
This was one of those times Deuce wasn’t sure if Zeke’s question was serious or a joke.
Ita hesitated as she drew near, and slid a sideways gaze toward the bearded man. “Don’t tempt me.”
Zeke followed her as she brushed past, so Deuce fell into step with him. As they accompanied her into a corridor, he wondered why his companion hadn’t told him about this young woman. She certainly seemed to know who he was.
Ita turned right, through a doorway, and they stepped into a room lined with various computer components. She turned and locked her gaze on Zeke.
“How much did you tell it?”
Deuce was accustomed to being referred to as it by people who knew he was genetically engineered.
“No more than Oswald said I could.” Zeke continued smiling. “But why don’t you ask Deuce himself?”
“Deuce?” Her gaze snapped to him, and then back to Zeke. “How appropriate. I have nothing to say to it.”
“Surely your grandpa asked you to be nice to him?”
“I am being nice. I’m not blasting it.”
Although he still wondered if a blaster was hidden in this room, Deuce decided it was time to speak, and it should be conciliatory. “I’m sorry.”
Her glare shot to him before locking on Zeke. “You weren’t supposed to tell it!”
“I presume he didn’t,” Deuce continued. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I do know I’ve instigated anguish for many people, so I assume I’ve committed some form of distress to you.”
This time her glare stayed locked on him. “How dare you speak to me like that? After all the times I’ve thought about this moment, about telling you who my dad was … just before you die. But that’s not the way it’s going to work, is it?” She frowned at Zeke. “Sort through the files if you must. Grandpa will deal with you when he gets here.”
She swept out from the room. Zeke sighed as Deuce regarded him.
“Sorry how that introduction worked out, but Ita won’t get the anger out of her system unless she confronts it first.”
Deuce studied his companion as he decided to confirm if he’d added all the clues correctly. “She’s Oswald Taggart’s granddaughter?”
“And I killed her father?”
Zeke pressed his lips together. “Yes … it was you personally.”
“And is her father Oswald Taggart’s son?”
Zeke drew a deep breath before replying. “Yes.”
Deuce was out of clues. “So what was this meeting supposed to accomplish?”
“Our … alternative to annihilation … is Oswald’s brainchild. But he’s getting on in years and Ita is overseeing the project now. You can’t help them unless she agrees to it.”
“You still haven’t informed me what this alternative is.”
Zeke smirked as he shrugged. “I can’t tell you that yet, either. Oswald wants to evaluate you himself … and unlike Ita, he’ll have plenty of questions.”
The word to this month’s #BlogBattle was actually easy: It was Liberate! I’d expect there will be lots of entries for a prompt word like that, so don’t miss out on checking into them.
Time is running out for the special lower pricing on my latest book, Cast into the Fire. The e-book is available at online retailers, and the paperback can be found at Amazon. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on that opportunity, either….
Pardon the shameless promotion, but you know it’s got to happen every now and then….
1. Expect characters you didn’t expect
Okay, I would call that above statement oxymoronic (some might just call it moronic), but it’s true. Considering Cast into the Fire is book three of a quadrilogy (a word I’m trying to establish in our lexicon), certain characters from book one get to make reappearances they didn’t have in the second book.
As you would expect, several players in the second book return for this round. And what’s a new book without new characters…?
2. The research took years
Considering Darkness upon the Land debuted in 2017, this might not be much of a surprise. Knowing what – and where – things would be happening in the following books, I’ve taken advantage of any opportunities that turned up to further the research.
As a writer, my mind takes on sponge-like qualities whenever I travel, anyway (although some might claim those ocean denizens and I think alike, regardless). I go anywhere with the assumption I might need to know this for a future story. It’s a good thing Hubby enjoys exploring as much as I do, or he’d be left sitting out in the car….
3. These darn books keep getting longer
When the second book, Wail of the Tempest, was completed, I was actually a bit disgruntled it was a few hundred words longer than the first one. Imagine my disgruntlement when book three wound up over a thousand words longer.
The books will be as long as they have to be to tell their stories, but longer books create more work. This may seem obvious, but did you factor in the editing and formatting that follows the writing? And as you would expect, the more words there are, the more errors that can creep in.
I’m really hoping the final book will reverse this trend … but it will be as long as it has to be to tell its story (sigh).
4. Its debut was delayed by COVID-19
Count this book among the things got pushed back, thanks to that annoying virus. The bug and I have kept a wide berth, but the societal effects of this flu caused some complications. All the lockdowns and social distancing descended in full force while I was working with beta readers on making final polishes to the manuscript.
Technology helped us overcome enough hurdles in that arena, but then I had to take the job market under consideration. People were falling into unemployment. Even if it was only temporarily, it didn’t make sense to ask folks to buy a new book while they weren’t sure when their paycheck would return.
5. It’s so timely, it’s scary
A major theme of Cast into the Fire is resisting totalitarian policies. Been listening to any news lately? Plenty of people are suspicious about limits to our freedom to assemble, or delays on economic recovery, or requests of contact information on folks who go to church (to make it easier to track new cases, they say).
The story involves a corrupt government faction that treads on rights in the name of rebuilding. We’re flirting with violating some rights in the name of keeping people safe. It’s not my goal to be an alarmist, but it’s always a good idea to remain vigilant….
So here’s a reminder this book is being offered at a special introductory price. The e-book is available for preorder at your favorite online book retailer for $2.99. The paperback will be available at Amazon by June 2 at the lower price of $12.00 until June 16.
Okay, I’m sufficiently ashamed. Time to get back to work on that next book….
The third book of my End of an Age series is available for preorder. Okay, let me modify that: The e-book is available for preorder at your favorite online retailer. The paperback will be available at Amazon by the launch date of June 2.
Cast into the Fire continues the (mis)adventures of Alexia Gautreaux, a young woman with the singular ability to convert energy into a force to be reckoned with. This talent means shadowy conspirators want to capture her and use her powers for their evil. And did I mention this takes place after a coronal mass ejection (really big solar storms) knocks out the power grid, dragging society into chaos?
In this book, Alexia gets involved with a resistance movement that’s formed to depose those shadowy conspirators. Her goal is to help behind the scenes and not confront her pursuers directly … and of course things don’t go as planned.
If you’re a visual person who likes videos about books, click below to watch the short (under two minutes) trailer:
Cast into the Fire preorders are offered at the special introductory price of $2.99 for the e-book. The paperback will also be at a lower price initially, but I’ll have to update you on that detail later.