Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I take out a paper napkin from the little holder on the table in the break room and blow my nose in it, then put the spoon back in the bowl and push it away from me. I can’t eat it anymore because I’m falling apart so bad. I wipe my eyes, which are weeping, careful to keep my fingers away from them. I feel like I should spit in the sink, which would be gross, but I’m such a mess I’m shaking. Goddamn. I grab another napkin and wipe my face, and start to stand up to go hide somewhere when I realize one of my co-workers is behind me.

“What going on, man? Talk to me.”

“I can’t talk about it,” I wheeze, and blow my nose again for emphasis. But he won't go away.

He sits down and folds his hands in a universal gesture of patient and stubborn compassion. Here I am, bro. The thing is, I wish he were a woman. If this were a woman I would at least try to find something to say. I always find it so much harder to talk to guys. There’s just something about women. It wasn’t that I was close to my mother or anything. I don’t know if she was even capable of being close to someone, she was such a hungry, wounded soul who was so cut off from the rest of us by her madness. I just really like women so much more. I like their company. I like the way a room feels when a woman is in it. Yet, I don’t like to show weakness to a woman either. You’re not supposed to cry in front of women. If it weren’t a guy sitting across from me, even if it were the most maternal female in the world, I don’t know if I could really let her in. I’m very much my mother’s son.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that,” I blow my nose again and cough. “Oh Jesus.”

“Okay, bro?”

“No, man. I’m pretty fucking far from okay. Here.” I wipe my eyes on my sleeve and push the soup bowl across the table to him. “Try this.”

He looks at it suspiciously. “Goddamn. What is this shit?”

I’m starting to feel a little better now. I think I’ll be all right. It really does help that he’s here to share the pain with. “Try it.”

“What’s those red things?”

“Try it anyway. Go on.”

Guys cry differently from women, because it’s expected of us. Its one of those things guys learn as we grow up without ever knowing how we learned it, like the way you always wash your balls first when you take a shower. Why do guys wash their balls first? I don’t know. Where did we get that? I don't know. But we all do. In my life I saw my father, whose name was Daniel, cry on only two occasions. He cried the way guys cry.

Around 1959 or so he packed my mom and my brother and me in the little blue Rambler and we drove from Iowa to Kansas. We just drove and drove with little rest stops on the way. No motels or hotels. In Kansas, my grandfather was dying of cancer. We stood by his bed. He seemed to stare out past us and he was very thin. I didn’t know him much at all. We stood around feeling a little awkward and then my dad took his hand. Grandpa looked at him and said “Joe?”

A single tear ran down my father’s face. Left side. Maybe two inches from his nose. From the corner of his eye, roughly the length of his cheek, stopping on a little beard stubble at the corner of his mouth. He let it stay there. Which must have itched. One tear. That’s how a man weeps. Old school. I don’t know why.

In the emotional nakedness of orgasm, in that moment when a man's self control is shattered by pleasure, there are men who burst into tears in the relief of wild release. I don’t do this myself even on my best nights, and I have never attained to it, though I secretly envy men who have. Women are frustrated by the way men keep the tender stuff all bottled up inside. But what women should also understand is that's also one big way sex has such an obsessive appeal for guys. That magic moment when a man feels himself pop deep inside his woman and connects to his wildest emotions, a man can experience himself as completely and perfectly male.

Our hard cock is the trumpet of our feelings. Werewolf like, it has transformed from the softest, limpest thing to something bluntly aggressive. I don’t think women have an equivalent to this. Showing your breasts to a man is a display of intimate mystery and beauty, and invitation. A woman’s bare breast may be the most beautiful thing in all the world, but there’s nothing threatening about a breast. When a man exposes his stiffened phallus to his lover it's an unambiguous declaration of intent. The other side of that is when a man’s cock falls and fails. If a man’s phallus betrays him in the presence of his lover he hears the sound of his own mortality knocking.

My father’s cancer returned in 2008. When my father’s time of dying came there was no mystery about it. It was a good death and he prepared himself as though preparing for a trip, which was how he viewed it. The doctors told him he would be gone by Thanksgiving. In the previous couple of years we had been reviving our relationship with each other and discovering each other all over again. He had become a complex, spiritual and very beloved man, almost a cult figure among his many friends. Me, I had at least become interesting, and my son was the only grandchild who truly loved him and they delighted in each others natural wisdom and openness to wisdom. As a pair of liberal Democrats my father and I were excited about Barrack Obama and I decided to fly up and spend election night with him. In the evening before the vote count started he took down some photo albums my Uncle Tony had left behind and went through the ancestral pictures with me, explaining who the people in the slick black and white photos wearing archaic clothes and kitschy hair styles were. Who the young girl with the bone cast and bandages was and what had happened to her in the car on a certain rainy night and why her parents weren’t in that picture. There was a photo of his mother whom he had never known, with him on her knee as a toddler on a picnic in the ruins of a ghost town, a year before she died. We sat up and watched Barrack Obama become president. In the morning I had to catch my plane. We had coffee, making guy talk, him in his bathrobe with the ugly ravages of leukemia on his face like a plague.

I stood in the door with my suitcase. He was already too sick to come to the airport with me. We joked around a little and said goodbye to each other and all the unspoken baggage between us. Though the word was never used, we forgave each other for all the terrible ways a man and his eldest son can disappoint each other over a life time, and remembered only the love and hugged. He said he was proud of me and I was a good son, and I want to believe he finally meant it. I said I was proud of him and he was a good father, and I really meant it. I had cause to mean it.

In our last manly moment, guy to guy, we rationed each other a single male tear apiece. Two weeks later he was gone.

He looks at the spoon in my bowl like maybe it has cooties on it. He’s maybe wondering if its gay or something to eat off the same spoon a guy’s been eating off of. He gets a plastic Wendy’s spoon from a pile of them someone stashed in a drawer along with little packets of catsup and hot sauce. “What’s those little red things in there again?”


He dips the yellow Wendys spoon in there and takes a lick. Instantly his eyes squeeze shut and and he jumps to his feet. He sticks his head in the trash can and spits. His face is turning red like mine. “What the holy fuck . . .”

By the time he comes back I’m digging through the drawer with the little catsup packets. Here we go, I found some crackers. One of those little things I learned from my dad about eating hot foods is that water doesn’t put out the fire like people think, it makes it worse. Tortillas, crackers or bread get the acidy oil out of your mouth. I tear the packet of crackers open and suck on one. Oh that’s so much better. “I really love this stuff. Want some more? Good for colds.”


“Where I live we have this neighbor named Knut. She’s from Thailand. She’s alone, her kids are gone, no husband for years. But she likes my family and when she makes traditional Thai soup she brings it over for me. She knows I like hot food.”

“That ain’t hot food, bro, that shit’s insane.”

“And yeah it’s seriously insane. This isn’t fun hot like Taco Bell hot. This stuff hurts. Get yourself a cup I’ll give you some.”

“Fuck no!”

“Oh, come on. Try it with a cracker. Here. Don’t be such a baby.”

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There Goes My Hero

You know how moving stories of human triumph make people cry? Like those programs about, say, a child who used the phone to save his dying mother, or a man who lifted a car to rescue a squashed cat or summat?

Yeah, I never cry at those. I'm probably dead inside. My Dad used to blub every Saturday night over Surprise Surprise, while I looked at him like he'd gone insane. I mean, here was a man who regularly yelled at my Mum for having the washing machine on when he wanted to watch telly. But some TV show with Cilla Black...that made him feel human emotions?

Yeah, there's definitely a hollow space where my heart is. I mean, don't get me wrong - I cry with frustration, and in anger. Sometimes I cry out of disappointment. But I never cry at the things other people do.

Other people cry over sad puppies or romantic movies.

I cry at the end of Alien 3.

And my malfunctioning tear ducts don't end with a movie about a creature bursting out of someone at the end. I also cry over movies everyone else finds completely dull and dry, like Remains of the Day. I cry at other sci-fi classics, like Twelve Monkeys, and I cry at things that star Jim Carrey, like Truman Show.

I don't even know why, really. I don't know what moves me about Starman, that doesn't move me about Britain's Greatest Heroes. I just know that it happens - I watch some guy who saved a girl from a burning house, and I'm dry eyed. I watch Kyle Reese telling Sarah Connor that he came across time for her, and I'm sobbing my heart out.

It's inexplicable. I can't explain it to people. I just know that it happens, and after it happens I feel much better, and then I can carry on living this life in which the most exciting thing happens is some lady rescuing a cat from a tree. No one comes across time for someone else. No one lets herself drop into a pit of fire, to save the human race.

This is what we've got: a mediocre program on a Saturday night, about families that shouldn't have fallen out with each other in the first place. I don't care if you're reunited, family. You're probably all a bunch of miserly, unforgiving assholes anyway.

Where as Ellen Ripley...well. She's my real hero - even though she's made up.

God only knows what that says, about me.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I followed Mom outside, but folded my arms across my chest when I got to the car. “I still don’t see why I have to go.”

“Because I said so.” Pop’s voice boomed. He held to door open and pointed to the back seat.

The Foster’s garage was open. I could hear guitars, so I knew the guys were inside.

“Why don’t you try asking me for once instead of ordering me around? This isn’t the military,” I yelled. I knew I was being stupid, but couldn’t stop. “Being in the same room with those people makes me sick. Have you ever listened to them? They’re proud of what they did, the Holocaust. Bunch of murderers. They’re so smug, because they got away with it, and given the chance, they’d do it again. Makes me want to puke!”

The music from the garage stopped.

Sensing that we had an audience, Pop got into my face and told me through clenched teeth, “Get in the damn car. Now!”

My knees shook, but I held my ground.

Pop shoved me toward the car. I stumbled and slammed my cheek against the sharp metal corner of the door. My face went numb, but I could feel glorious hurt about to bloom in scarlet shards under my eye. Fracture lines seemed to branch through my skull like cracking ice on a pond. I stood there blinking, waiting for the barrier between me and pain to shatter.

For a moment, a brief fraction of a second, Pop almost looked worried. Then he bumped my wrist with his. "What are you going to do?" he demanded. “Huh? Huh?” Each “huh” was accompanied by another smack of our forearms, harder every time. "Huh? Huh? You gonna cry like a little baby? Huh? Huh?"

Well, yes. As soon as time, which was held in suspense by shock, unfroze, I planned to wail like a banshee. Until he said that.

"You gonna cry? Little baby? Huh? Boo-hoo. Let's see you cry."

I drew a long breath in through my nose and wished God would strike him dead. Burn in hell, old man. Burn.

Satisfied that he’d shamed me out of a scene, Pop said, "Get in the car."

Time caught up and pain rushed to fill the vacuum. How could throbbing hurt so much? I collapsed into the back seat.

Pop slammed the door shut and got into the car. Mom sat rigid in the front passenger seat, staring ahead as if there were nothing to see.

Tony must have gone inside to tell his mom that Pop and I were fighting, because she ran out onto their lawn. Tony stood beside her, his hands darting as he talked. His mother’s expression didn’t change, but the weight of the world seemed to settle on the corners of her eyes.

Pop pulled out of the driveway, his hands clutched tight around the steering wheel.

Mrs. Foster's mouth formed the words, “Are you okay?”

Just knowing that someone cared enough to ask was huge. Smiling hurt, so I touched the window with my fingertips and nodded. When she was out of sight, my fingers curled to my palm and I turned away from the window.

This scene is in a young adult novel I wrote a couple years ago. It's a memory though, not fiction.

While R probably believed me when I told him about the weird stuff my parents did, I'm sure he thought my imagination and adolescent hormones put it out of perspective. Then he heard Pop say almost these exact same words to my emotionally fragile nephew a few years ago. His eyes widened as he turned to me, horrified, finally understanding.

I know that I should try to unlearn everything I was taught about emotions when I lived with those people. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling of deep shame when I cry. Crying means that you're defeated. If you cry when you're happy, your happiness is forever tainted by your weakness. If you cry when you're hurt, you're a worthless loser. When you cry, you failed to keep yourself under proper control and you disgust everyone who has to see it. So even now, if I cry at a movie, I go to great lengths to hide it. The same thing at funerals. And oh lord how I hate ads for Hallmark cards because for some reason, they always make me tear up. Bastards.

I still feel silly about it, but the one time I'll let the tears flow is when I'm writing. If my characters are sad, I'm sad with them. When they're devastated, I'm a wreck, because it can take days or weeks to write my way out of a scene, and a pall of emotion hangs over me the entire time. Maybe I subconsciously push my characters into situations that bring on the tears so I can let them fall without shame. Who knows?

I hate the way I look when I cry. I hate the way my nose runs and the burning in the corner of my eyes. But I do like the release it brings, as if tears wash away the extremes of emotion and bring a sense of calm. Maybe that's what Pop was trying to stop when he stopped my tears.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


By Lisabet Sarai

When I was twenty one, seeking admission to graduate school, I interviewed at ___ University. The department to which I was applying offered to pay all my travel expenses - airfare, hotel and meals. I bought a new suit and headed to ____, simultaneously thrilled and terrified. This was one of the first times I'd traveled on my own. I vividly recall the rather stodgy, old-fashioned hotel where they put me up. I even remember what I ate for dinner the night before my appointment.

I spent all day talking to various faculty members, and probably (though I don't recall it) gave a presentation on my undergraduate research. My most enduring memory is my final meeting, with one of the young but already famous stars in the department. In retrospect, I realize he was a new Ph.D., probably no more than half a dozen years older than I was, but his brusque, no-nonsense manner intimidated me from the start. Confronted with his authoritative presence, my already feeble confidence wilted. I knew I was about to be exposed.

I sat in his office while he rapid-fired questions, probing my knowledge of the literature, testing my understanding of both my own research and his. I answered to the best of my ability, but as the interrogation continued, I grew more and more intimidated. A lump congealed in my chest. Tears gathered in my eyes. We probably talked for no more than twenty minutes, but I felt as though I'd been subjected to hours of torture by the Inquisition. By the end of the interview, I was appalled to realize that I was crying outright. How could I be so immature? So unprofessional?

At last he sat back in his chair, watching as I choked back my tears. “So,” he said, with a small smile that I knew hid his scorn. “Do you have any questions for me?”

“Um – well...” My voice quavered. Self-disgust almost overwhelmed me. “Do you think I belong here at ____?”

His smile broadened. “Oh, definitely. You'll fit right in.”

It turned out he was right. But that's not what this post is about. No, I want to focus on that sense of inadequacy, so deep that it inspired tears. Of course, everyone feels nervous when they're being evaluated, but all the evidence suggested that I was perfectly capable of succeeding at this university. I was graduating from another top school with combined bachelors and masters degrees. I already had a research publishing credit. My transcript showed a single B (in Physics, due to my klutziness in lab) over four years of study. I brought stellar recommendations from my adviser and other faculty. Why did I feel like I was a fraud?

I recently heard the term “imposter syndrome” for the first time. Apparently it's pretty common to feel that your successes don't reflect your underlying ability or knowledge – that you've just been “lucky” and “had the breaks”. It's somewhat discouraging for me to realize that I still suffer to some extent from this syndrome, not just with regards to my profession but also my writing.

Because you know, I'm not really a writer. I don't write every day – hey, if I can force out a few thousand words on Sunday, I'm grateful. I'm not driven to write, the way a real writer is. In fact, sometimes I'll do anything to avoid sitting down at the computer and attacking my latest WIP.

My publishing history looks impressive, but remember, that's over a twelve year period. My incremental rate of publication is pretty pitiful, especially compared to my peers. Even more telling is the fact that I really don't suffer for my art. I don't agonize, trying to find the perfect way to express my ideas. I don't dig deep into my soul for truths and then expose them on the page. I pound away, satisfied to produce superficial, forgettable stories that at best entertain. I rarely do more than two drafts, and the second is likely to be pretty close to the first.

Oh sure, I'm proud of a couple of my early stories, especially the ones that explore the relationship between submission and spirituality. But lately, the stuff I've been publishing – well, it really doesn't cut it. It's crap. And then I spend week after week, here at the Grip and on my own blog, pontificating about the writing life.

What a phony!

Sound familiar? I'll bet that it does. When I read the work of some of the other contributors on this blog, I'm simultaneously awed and envious. They're such excellent writers – their words move, inspire, arouse and disturb me. Even their blog posts sometimes bring tears to my eyes.

However, I suspect – no, in some cases, I know, because they've told me – that they feel the same way as I do. In my more rational moments, I recognize that this sort of comparison undermines my satisfaction, my motivation and my peace of mind – and theirs, too. That doesn't stop me from crying sometimes - from frustration and guilt.

Reason doesn't always win.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Non-American's Version of Giving Thanks

By Lucy Felthouse (Guest Blogger)

I'm from the UK, and we don't have Thanksgiving, but when Lisabet asked me to do a post on giving thanks, I happily obliged. After all, it doesn't matter where we're from or what holidays we celebrate – we could all use a little time to give thanks for what we have.

An old friend of mine was tragically killed this week, which I'm gutted about. He was a good guy and it's terrible that he was taken from us so young (29) and so suddenly. However, I'd still like to give thanks for having known him. My thoughts are with his family.

On a much lighter note (I'm not normally maudlin, I promise), I'd like to give thanks for my family and friends (and that includes the online buddies I've never met, but still class as my friends!), and my other half. Together, they love me, support me, make me laugh, make me happy and also drive me crazy. The world would be a very quiet and dull place without them!

I'd also like to give thanks for my unwavering creative streak, determination and ambition. Without it, I wouldn't be writing professionally at all, let alone on this wonderful blog. Long may it continue!

I'm lucky to have a veteran as one of my good friends, though as he's only 27 it seems odd to call him a veteran! However, he has indeed served his country and has mercifully come back safely, which I'm very grateful for. I know so many others have not been so fortunate, which is why I'm proud to raise money for a charity that helps returning servicemen and women who've been injured. It's my way of giving back – and giving thanks, too, for everything that they do in the line of duty.

These are just a few things that are important to me. I haven't included the obvious things, like my health, the roof over my head, food, education, etc, but of course it doesn't mean they don't matter, or that I take them for granted. I don't. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm grateful for all the good things in my life, and although the bad things we all experience are, well, bad... they do help to make us realise what we do have so in a strange way, we should appreciate those, too.

Finally, thanks to you for reading this post. Without you, I would not be writing.


Want to give back? A portion of the proceeds of this erotic anthology go to UK charity Help for Heroes, helping returning servicemen and women who've been injured.

Do you get all weak-kneed at the sight of a grubby fireman or a hunky soldier? Perhaps immaculately-dressed waiting-on staff get you feeling frisky? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

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Delve into this anthology and enjoy steamy stories from established erotica authors including Justine Elyot, Craig J Sorensen, Victoria Blisse, Shermaine Williams, Elizabeth Coldwell and Lucy Felthouse. Uniform Behaviour also proudly introduces some exciting debut authors. So remember, you saw them here first!

As well as being written and compiled for your titillation, this anthology is also designed to do good. A portion of the proceeds from Uniform Behaviour will be donated to UK charity Help for Heroes, which helps those wounded in current conflict.

The stories in this anthology have been hand-picked by a uniform aficionado, so you can rest assured that only the sexiest erotic fiction lies in this eBook.

Excerpt & buy links:


Lucy is a graduate of the University of Derby, where she studied Creative Writing. During her first year, she was dared to write an erotic story - so she did. It went down a storm and she's never looked back. Lucy has had stories published by Cleis Press, Constable and Robinson, Noble Romance, Ravenous Romance, Summerhouse Publishing, Sweetmeats Press and Xcite Books. She is also the editor of Uniform Behaviour and Seducing the Myth. Find out more at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's a Small World After All

I posted that last week on Facebook after I returned from a doctor's appointment. I've been having high blood pressure since Lucas was born and my doctor ordered several tests to determine the cause. An EKG and echocardiogram showed abnormalities with my heart (which may or may not explain the hypertension) and is referring me to a cardiologist. I was more annoyed by the time spent in waiting rooms lately than worried about what the tests meant and I intended my status as a joke--an attempt to make light of my annoyance at a serious situation. A broken heart. Ha ha. Romantic, no?

I was overwhelmed by all the comments and private messages that I received in response to that simple post. I was embarrassed by the attention. I hadn't meant for anyone to worry about me or spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what might amount to nothing serious. I had the same feelings of embarrassment when I posted several months ago that we were preparing to put our beloved dog to sleep. So many people commented or sent notes of support, that I felt silly for sharing my sad news with the world (or the 600 or so people I currently have on my friends list).

People joke about Facebook and Twitter, about the internet in general. But the social networks and the blogs bring us all closer. We share--and we over share. We learn. We educate. We empathize. We judge. We connect. It seems ridiculous to be thankful for the internet-- it seems... shallow, somehow. So be it. I am grateful for the internet. Go ahead, make fun of me. But if not for the internet, I wouldn't even know you were LOLing.

I honestly had no intentions of writing about Facebook or the internet when I chose the topic "Give Thanks." Yet here I sit on Thanksgiving night in the United States, connected to a world of people I have never met and people I've only met in person because I met them here first. I owe the bulk of my writing career to the internet, because so many of the connections I have made and the markets I have discovered have been because of websites and people I "met" via email.

The internet seems like such a cold, impersonal thing and it certainly can be when you're talking in terms of URLs and apps and browsers and the like. But there are faces behind the terms, lives behind the screens, real emotions behind every emoticon. (And imagine how grateful the @ symbol must be! Who used it before the internet existed?) So many people behind these screens have touched my life, both personally and professionally. I will always be grateful for that.

When Steve Jobs died, the cynics criticized the millions who mourned his death. There are people dying in anonymity all over the world, they said, and yet we mourn the loss of one very rich man. But it is people like Steve Jobs that have made it possible for us all to connect so easily. Through these connections we create awareness about issues beyond our own neighborhoods. We discover the world is filled with people just like us struggling with all the same problems and we reach out in whatever way we can to offer whatever we can. Sometimes, it's an "I'm thinking of you," comment on a Facebook page. Sometimes, it's more. Lives have been saved because of the internet.

When I posted my heartbroken status on Facebook, I was thinking I was grateful for health care that comes at an affordable cost because of my husband's military status. When I got such a heartwarming (no pun intended) response from people, most of whom don't know me personally, I was thinking about how grateful I was for the kindness of friends and strangers and strangers who have become friends. I am grateful for all of those things and so much more, including a family I love and a career I adore. But after my husband and my children and the other people who are closest to me in my real life, my life has been most affected by this:

That space above represents the internet. That place exists only because the technology exists. And that space can be filled with anything I choose-- surprise kittens, talking dogs, college classes, entire novels, every retail store in existence, WebMD to research my heart condition, knowledge on any subject under the sun (including the sun), parenting advice, recipes, friendships, relationships, new writing markets and, oh yeah, porn. That space is everything we know and everything we don't and everything we wish we knew that we once struggled to find information on-- but is now at the tips of our fingers. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic (in which case, I will blame it on the wine), the internet has changed my life.

I have met the lovely Grippers thanks to the internet. Every erotica story I've ever sold has been to a market I found via the internet (most often on the Erotica Readers and Writers Association website). The internet (specifically Skype) made it possible for my oldest son to get to know his father even though my husband was several thousand miles away for the first several months of his life. The internet bridges distances, physical, political and philosophical. It connects people. It has connected me to so many wonderful, amazing, inspiring people.

I am thankful for so many things in my life. I am grateful to you, whoever you are, for reading my OGG columns. For caring enough to remember my name, for taking the time to follow a link to my blog or my Facebook page or my books. For making this connection-- THIS ONE RIGHT HERE-- that bridges the distance between me in Virginia in the U.S. and you, wherever you are. If only for a few fleeting moments here on the screen, we are connected. This opportunity didn't exist twenty-five years ago when I was in high school and computer classes were cataloged as math classes. This is something amazing. And I am grateful I live in this era and am a part of it. Thank you for joining me on this amazing ride. Thank you for reading my words.

Oh, and if you'd care to tell me where you are and what you're thankful for, that would be really cool, too.

Gracias a la Vida

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo

Roughly translated, these lyrics mean:

Thanks to life, which has given me so much./It gave me two eyes, which when I open/can perfectly distinguish black from white/And in the distant heaven the starry backdrop/And amongst the multitude/The man that I love.

These words were written and sung by the Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra in the 1960s, and they have been sung by various luminaries in various countries ever since. After the earthquake in Chile in February 2010, this song was sung to raise funds for the international relief effort.

I sometimes wonder how they sounded to the man that she loved: a flute-player named Gilbert Favre who was a generation younger than she was. (He died in 1998.)

But first, a brief bio: Violeta Parra was born in a small town in southern Chile in 1917. Her family was musical, but this wouldn’t have made them unusual in their culture. As an adult, she helped develop a musical movement known as the Nueva Cancion Chilena, roughly equivalent to the folk movement (including new music composed in traditional folk styles) in North America. Her art and her political commitment were inseparable. She joined the Communist Part of Chile and revived the tradition of the pena, a community centre for arts and social activism.

For better or worse, she didn’t live long enough to see what happened to her country in the military coup of September 11, 1973, and the subsequent destruction of Chilean socialism and the arts community that supported it, or the massive exodus of Chilean refugees.

She met Gilbert while she was married. She and her husband divorced, and she accompanied Gilbert to Bolivia and back to his native Geneva, in Switzerland. By all accounts, Violeta and Gilbert made beautiful music together. Then something happened, and the official biographies are vague about who left whom.

It seems that Gilbert decided never to return to Chile, but Violeta was rooted to her native soil and didn’t want to leave it. On February 5, 1967, she shot herself to death. She left behind two children, a son and a daughter who have continued her musical legacy.

“Gracias a la Vida” seems to be a suicide note set to music, but as far as I know, it is never introduced this way in public performances. Maybe it can be enjoyed better out of its real-life context.

The quick changes in the melody, from major to minor chords, suggest the bittersweet nature of life, especially for those who feel. Love is said to be a blessing, but it often hurts. The more we have, the more we have to lose.

A drawing of Violeta Parra hangs in my front room because I am separated from her by less than six degrees: she was a blood relative of the ex-husband of my spouse. I sometimes wonder where she would be if she had never met Gilbert. Would she be a 94-year-old matriarch of Latin American music and culture, still leading the resistance against Big Money and the military goons who protect it? Would she be fading away in a nursing home or a back bedroom? Would she have died in a plane crash while on tour, like other legendary musicians?

I honestly can’t imagine committing suicide for love. I also can’t imagine launching a musical or cultural movement. Maybe one capacity is necessary for the other. Or maybe too many women are fools for men. As a feminist, I sometimes wish some companera had talked some sense to Violeta in the dismal winter after the end of her love affair. (Girlfriend, what are you thinking? He didn’t deserve you.)

But then, I’ve been told I just don’t understand romance, and I suspect that’s true.

So many creative spirits have died from unnatural causes, supposedly before their time. However, they left their creations behind, and we who are still here can still enjoy them.

I’m grateful for that.

Gracias a Violeta.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


". . . .
Who are you?" She sat as she was and only watched him. He stood and came over to her. "Speak to me when I call to you. This is my land here, where are you from? Were you sent to me?"

"I came here to find you," she said. "I've watched you with your women and wondered if God was just."

"And has God sent you with a message for me?"

"Only that you are a murderer and a swine."

He struck her across the mouth. "I can have you killed. I can kill anyone I want. Do you know that?"

She shook her head. "Paradise has not been kind to you. There's no kindness in you even now. All you want is to fight."

"What have you got there?" He pointed at the bag.


"Let me see."

She opened the bag and reached inside. She brought out a miracle. A piece of simple, brown, flat bread.

He was stunned at the sight of it. "Is that real bread?" She placed it in his hand. She looked in his face. Bread. The warm flour dusted his fingers and he rubbed his fingertips to feel the grit of it. Not dates. Not sweet. Only the plainest of food. He held it to his nose and sniffed. Bread, such as he remembered eating long ago, somewhere back there. Simple honest bread, given by God. He licked it. All of his skin shivered at the memory. Sinking his teeth into it, he tore off a bite, chewing it slowly, tasting each humble globule as memories began to flood into him. He closed his eyes and the darkness was there. The deep darkness, but this time the veil was thin. The bread was in his mouth, and the memory of bread; and the veil was now ready for him to lift aside.

He tasted the bread, rolled it in his teeth. The bread. The simple bread. Getting his teeth into it—his teeth—swallowing it. . . . "

from "How Paradise Comes to the Blind" by C. Sanchez-Garcia

Coming Together Into the Light ed. Alessia Brio

We settle down at our little kitchen table with bowls of the soup my wife has been making for us all day. The little kitchen is filled with a cozy herbal steam. Carribean soups are very different from American soups. What’s considered soup to Spanish folks is more like what gringos would consider to be stew. It’s a bowl of ox tails and beef shanks, with potatoes and carrots, and sweet potatoes and nyame and yucca root and a ton of spices floating in a thick gumbo. I shake in some hot sauce and fistful of croutons and I have that special thrill of knowing I’m going to eat good tonight.

Reaching and grabbing as we do at the family table I glom the little plastic bag of cheese rolls we got at the Fresh Market where the rich folks shop. They have the best bread. They have the best of everything if you can afford it, but bread is what I usually buy or some espresso beans. The cheese bread is some kind of yeast roll with a lush crunchy crust of melted, baked on cheese all around. I tear off a piece and dab it in the thick soup. I could just sit here all night and eat bread and soup and not need anything else in the whole world. Sometimes good food is better than sex. While I stuff cheesy bread and soup in my mouth, I start thinking of the last supper, where Jesus and his little gang were dipping bread in wine. I’ve tried that bread and wine thing when no one was around just to see, but it seemed too woo-woo for me, something snooty people might do to show off for others what good taste they have. But its very filling that way. It occurs to me in the moment, Jesus and his bunch came from poor folks. Maybe if you’re poor this is how you fill up, how you stretch a meal. You get a lot of bread and dip it in something just to get it down the hatch until you’re full of bread.

Food is the universal sign of hospitality, the open hand extending bread to the stranger. My maternal grandmother lived near the railroad tracks during the great depression. She always kept a little cornbread and soup put aside for the hobos who would come around and eat at the little table in the back yard. In return they carved a stick figure of a cat on a tree facing the rail yard as a sign to others. In hobo talk, a cat picture means “A Kind hearted Woman lives here.” It means, “Be nice to her, boys. Behave yourselves.”

Bread and rice are the most universal foods of all mankind. They have that quality of humility, of being neutral and blank. Like a white canvas. Or a blank sheet of paper. Or a blank computer screen. They have a feminine quality, a kind of provocative, erotic submissiveness. They are there to be acted upon with your imagination. You want to touch them and transform them and fill your senses with what they become for you to give you pleasure.

As we’re eating I hear a scrabble at the other end of the table, sharp claws appear and there’s a soft meaty “thunk”. Its our cat Ronnie, a big 18 pound orange tabby. He’s 11 years old now, which is getting on for a cat, but he can still broad jump to the top of a ten foot privacy fence or a little dinner table. He stands on the table, his tail held high like a banner and looks around at his human family with our bowls of meaty "Caldo de Res". He pads over to my wife’s bowl, taps his nose at it to check it out. He looks up into her face with eyes half closed and begins to purr loudly enough to hear over the radio.

He turns around once and settles down near her bowl, laying there with his tapered eyes half closed in contentment and that permanent smile cats always have; his round killing paws tucked in, the hairy tip of his big tail batting up and down apart from the rest of him and goes on purring, studying our faces one by one. He’s not here begging for food. He doesn’t eat people food, he only sniffs to see what it is. What he likes is to watch us eat. Its something he understands. It’s something we all share together. We don’t have guests tonight, we almost never do, and we’re not embarrassed to have a familiar animal sit on our dinner table among our plates who just likes watching us eat, so we go on eating. He watches us. We watch him. He purrs. We eat. I suppose if we killed birds with our teeth he’d probably enjoy watching us do that too.

The radio plays some kind of string quartet and the table is full of the sounds of soup and purring and an occasional grunt of contentment. I keep thinking about Jesus, which I really don’t do that much except tonight. Jesus is like rice. Jesus is like bread. He is this blank page, this interesting canvas you discover in Sunday school, or at your mother’s knee, and you go on through life with your invisible friend, talking to him, praying to him, thinking of him with you and how much he loves you and wishes you well. And Sunday School Jesus goes on like a slice of lily white Wonder Bread that you smear peanut butter or jelly on, or maybe wrap around a big piece of baloney, and whatever people project on him poor Jesus just goes on purring and watching you eat. Maybe Jesus just likes watching you eat.

In the spiritual life I think I first went wrong when I thought I could reduce the incomprehensible, the sacred into a form I could butter with my petty expectations. To squeeze God into a jelly jar. Or finally a big baloney sandwich. But that’s all right, its what a young person does, and maybe should do, until life knocks you around enough to land you flat on your ass one day and you think “I really don’t understand this shit. I don’t know how this stuff is supposed to work. I don’t think I ever will, no matter how often wise people appoint themselves to explain it to me.”

I think the genuinely sacred is what it is because it’s beyond us, it can’t be comprehended. Its something you find in the cracks between ordinary things. It’s the atom, so tiny it exists mostly as an equation, an explanation of the ineffable. But the equation, packed into a bomb the size of a garbage can, is able to wipe out a city like Hiroshima in an instant like a piece of the sun falling to Earth. Or generating the golden apples of the Sun, heat the salty soup of oceans of water and fill it with life. Standing in the desert, or by a lake in northern country in Minnesota, looking up at the Milky Way, you get a sense of how huge our galaxy is, and there are so many galaxies, even God seems small, and what you do is surrender and realize you’re not meant to understand the sacred. You don’t even have the tools to understand it. But you can still know it when you see it. You can watch it with your eyes half closed and purr and just be glad its all around you.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Couldn't Do It Without You

Things I am thankful for:

1. Husband. It's his birthday today. He spent the morning reading his present - "Yeadon Above The Rest: Yes, This Is Actually A Book About Leeds Bradford Airport". Soon we're going to have KFC, because that's his fave birthday meal. I love Husband.

2. Mum. When I discovered I was number one one the Resplendence Publishing chart over at Fictionwise, she took a picture of it with her camera phone and sent it to everyone. I love my Mum.

3. Friends. I wouldn't have made it through the last few weeks, writing wise, if it were not for my online pals. I have a meltdown, they put me in the freezer.

4. Home. This one's obvious, I feel. Otherwise, I'd just be in a ditch somewhere, bashing on a half broken typewriter.

5. Health. Okay, so my toe's falling off and my eyeball's rebelling. The rest is holding, *touch wood*.

6. Ability to write. Comes and goes, so it gets big thanks from me when it's actually there.

7. My editors. They are orsum. Without them, number six wouldn't matter. Thank you, editors, for believing in my work enough to work on it, and actually let the public see it.

8. Good TV shows. I couldn't live without sitcom breaks. Hooray for The Office!

9. Good books. Currently being revitalised by Let The Right One In.

10. Good movies. I need to cry a bit? Starman's there for me.

11. Chocolate. I have to be thankful for it. Soon, I'm going to turn into a giant chocolate bar. If I'm not nice about it now, what will happen when I have to integrate into the Cadbury community?

12. Armie Hammer. He has to be thanked, cos he's been actually responsible for about five of the stories I've recently had accepted for publication. No, really. His face inspires me to complete stories. For reals.

And that's all the things I'm thankful for!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

By Kathleen Bradean

(I apologize to the non-US readers about how US centric this post is, but the topic is giving thanks, and this is the week of Thanksgiving in the US - Canada celebrated their Thanksgiving the second Monday of October - so my thoughts ran to US events))

In this decade of hate, where hate speech is entertainment and people allow their worst selves to run amok like a tot hyped up on sugar and caffeine at a birthday party, quiet class continues but is largely ignored. We've seen from the Penn State tragedy that blind allegiance to anything leads to moral corruption. So I'm always leery of belligerent flag waving.

But for all the inexcusable things our government has done and our military too, I'm a staunch supporter of the individuals serving in the U.S. armed forces. That may surprise you, but it shouldn't. After all, I grew up around military people. Sure, there were a few gung-ho whack jobs with far more testosterone than sense, but by far, the men and women I knew entered the service with just that thought in mind - service. The few I knew who saw combat didn't enjoy it one bit - to grossly understate what I understood to be their feelings. It was a burden they carried on their souls.

What appalls me is how many of the homeless men in the U.S. are veterans of the armed forces. It burns me down to my core when I hear about staff infecting patients with unsterilized instruments, rodent infestations, and substandard care at VA hospitals. (I've accompanied Pop to a few doctor's visits at VA hospitals across the country, so I've seen the gamut from pretty good to 'I wouldn't dump my worst enemy on this doorstep.') The suicide rate of our troops on active duty is a national disgrace. I doubt we even bother to track the suicide rate of military personnel one, two, or five years after they leave the service. If we do, we should add those numbers to the homeless and get a real idea of the price people pay to serve in the military - and then we should work our asses off to fix that. Even a one percent decrease in suicide and homelessness would be good, but I'd love to see twenty-five or fifty, or even ninety percent.

Tuesday, November 8 was just three weeks ago. Do you remember that day? Probably not right off the top of your head. For most people, it was a workday. Unless your kids are on a modified schedule, it was a regular school day. Nothing too terrible happened. Yes, people in Connecticut were entering their tenth day without electricity, and the weather forced the Occupy Wall Street folks to prove how serious they were, and around the nation people died and were born and applied for unemployment or celebrated anniversaries and groaned that the price of turkeys had tripled over the past few years...

And some of us even voted in local elections.

The reason why you probably didn't remember that day, even if you remembered to vote, was that nothing much happened. Oh sure, some people won elections and some people lost them, but the thing is, that the transfer of power was such a peaceful event that it didn't even register with us. Think about that long and hard, because that's one of the greatest gifts of living in the U.S. Someone had power and they lost it in a fair (let's not quibble) election and their reaction wasn't to grab guns and start slaughtering people. No. Their reaction might have been to get drunk and cuss, but they relinquished power.

Everyone in the world should be so lucky.

Compared to the mayhem that follows winning a national sports title in this country, our political demonstrations are downright civil and orderly. And that too, is a great gift. The idea that you can hoist a sign that offends so many people and not get shot. (I'm aware of the police attacks on OWS protestors, but that's the police, not the military - important difference)That you can be seen walking a picket line and you don't have to worry about your spouse being "disappeared." That people who are no longer active duty military (and some who are active duty) stand with us or across the road from us at demonstrations and hold signs instead of guns because they believe in this peace, this country, as much, if not more, than the rest of us.

And that's what I'm grateful for.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Toast

By Lisabet Sarai

So our topic this week is “Giving Thanks”, and to be honest, I hardly know where to begin. Everywhere I look, I see occasions for gratitude. I love my life – my family, my work, my home, my history. Everything has turned out so much better than I ever dreamed. Even an abbreviated litany of my blessings would require several weeks' worth of blog posts!

Let me start right here, then. I want to spend a few hundred words saying thanks for Oh Get a Grip and my wonderful fellow bloggers.

I didn't start the Grip. I “inherited” it from another set of authors. I'd been a guest once or twice and really enjoyed the theme-oriented concept of the blog. Then one day a member contacted me to ask if I'd like to take her place, because she was moving on to other things. I accepted enthusiastically, only to discover that all the current members had decided to retire. So there I was, with an empty roster of five slots. If I wanted to keep the Grip going, I needed help.

That was (I find, consulting my email archives) almost three years ago. The membership over those years has varied. The roll of ex-Grippers includes some of my favorite authors, and people: Jude Mason, Jenna Byrnes, Devon Rhodes, Kim Dare, Michelle Houston, Ashley Lister, Mike Kimera, and Helen Madden. The number of names in that list reflects, to some extent, the demands of doing a weekly, theme-focused blog. It takes commitment, organization, flexibility (in order to write on topics posed by others) and creativity to be a Gripper. Thus, I'm incredibly grateful for the current diverse team of contributors.

Kathleen makes me think of diamonds – brilliant, tough, sharp enough to cut to the heart of things. I've known her for at least a decade, through the Erotica Readers & Writers Association, but we didn't meet in the so-called real world until this past April. She turned out to be the same intelligent, unconventional, no-nonsense person I'd come to value in our cyber-relationship. And I love her writing. Her story in Cream, “Challenger Deep”, remains on my list of absolute favorite erotic tales. I only wish she'd pull out and publish the science fiction novel she let me read, 'way back when we first connected!

Charlotte is a much newer friend, but no less dear. Before I'd had any personal contact with her, I reviewed her astonishing, arousing book Things That Make Me Give In. I'd never encountered anything like her breathless, stream-of-consciousness approach to erotica. I was thrilled when she agreed to join the Grip. Her posts never fail to make me laugh, but at the same time I identify with the confusion and self-doubt she so often expresses.

Garce has been at the Grip ever since I made the decision to keep it going. It's a good thing that he and I live half a world away from one another. If we didn't, we'd probably have a torrid, heart-wrenching love affair that would wreck both our lives! Ever since I did a crit for his incredible Color of the Moon, I've been in awe of his depth, creativity and emotional honesty. He's repaid the favor by serving as a beta reader for my work, taking fierce delight in “muddling” my often simplistic plots and characters. Garce is my anchor here. If he decided to quit, I'd probably close the Grip or hand it on to someone else.

Jean is another long-time friend from ERWA. For a number of years, she had a great column on the ERWA website where she expertly deconstructed issues related to sex, gender, and politics, throwing in a generous portion of personal experience to illustrate her points. I knew she'd be perfect for the Grip – and I was right. Jean and I came face to face only once in “meat space”, years ago in New York City. I hope that we get another chance in the future.

Before asking Kristina to join us, I knew her only by her reputation as an author and editor. She agreed to take the Friday slot, adding a caveat that she might be MIA for a bit since she was expecting a second child in a few months. Little did I know that (as she shared a few days ago), she's the type to gleefully take on new commitments and then kill herself to fulfill them! Her introspections on the experience of being a writer have been a joy to read. I count myself lucky that she was crazy enough to accept my invitation.

Why do I keep the Grip going? I doubt that it's an effective promotional tool. We rarely talk about our new releases or urge readers to buy our books. It's just that – I love these people. I love reading their incredibly honest and well-crafted posts. They make me laugh and cry.

We've each shared truths about ourselves and our lives, things so private that possibly even our families aren't aware of them. The intimacy I feel with these other authors – some of whom I've never even “met” - is rare and precious. I'm honored by their trust. And I've found that I learn new truths about myself here at the Grip - both in writing, and in reading the posts of my colleagues.

So as the traditional day for gratitude approaches, I want to express my thanks to you – Kathleen, Charlotte, Garce, Jean and Kristina – for joining me here and making the Grip the very special place it has come to be.

I raise my glass to toast you all, wishing you peace and joy, personal satisfaction and professional success. You deserve it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Editor Tackles the Topic of Deadlines…a truly scary word

By Stacey Rhodes Birkel (Guest Blogger)

Lisabet was kind enough to invite me back today to talk about deadlines. Of course, writing this post was an exercise in meeting one, since it was one of those unfortunately frequent, odd little to-do’s that pop up often enough to mess with any sort of schedule I try to adhere to. Lisabet even gave me a deadline for getting this post to her…and if that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.

So the word “deadlines” has been flashing in my head all week. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I really looked at the word “deadline”.

Dead. Well, we all know what that means. Rather ominous, isn’t it?

Line. Likely from the proverbial line in the sand, which in and of itself can have two meanings. Either it’s a point not to be crossed without dire consequences, or it refers to an act after which there is no going back. No do-overs.

Huh. Yeah. Not a very friendly word to say the least. It actually seemed rather tame to me until I broke it down just now. Now, it just scares the pants off me. It also makes me think about the power I wield. Because not only am I a writer dealing with inevitable and multiple “do-not-pass” dates for submitting, returning and approving of my own work, I also dole those dates out on a daily basis.

Yes…I am one of the dreaded editors.

Right now, I edit for over fifty authors, both for a publishing house and freelance for authors who self-publish. This means that I have literally dozens of manuscripts in various stages of the editing process to keep track of and “chase” at any given time. And I’ll tell you right now, without deadlines, it would devolve into utter chaos (as opposed to controlled chaos).

Now, I’ll tell you right now—I’m a born procrastinator. Fortunately, I also hate conflict, which means when the chips are down and something is looming that will cause a hot mess if it’s not completed, I will pull out all the stops to get it done. Very tough to do on the creative side, I know. Believe me, I feel you. I have wrestled with my muse over something that has to be in, but that I just can’t seem to finish, often enough to have real empathy for my authors when it’s just not flowing.

Unfortunately, time just keeps marching along, and when you have a long, involved process to complete that takes multiple people, at some point—this is where the deadlines come in—you have to begin or it will never get done in time.

The ultimate deadline that we all have driving us in this industry is the publishing date—the release date. Everything works backwards from that sought-after point at which the completed product is available to the public. Allowances? Can occasionally be made. Shortcuts? Sure, we have them and we use them. But they only really work if it’s an exception, and not happening with more than one person in the process.

Here’s a (mostly) fictional example. An author has promised a completed manuscript to me by a certain date. Life happens, the muse takes a vacation, the author gets sick…whatever it is (and sometimes more than one thing). Of course, I’m going along and working on dozens of other manuscripts with dozens of other authors. But I keep looking at my tracking sheet. Missing Title isn’t in to me yet. I email for a status update. I get a response, promising it by another date…past the deadline, but the author is soooo close to finishing.

I’m understanding. I give the author a bit of leash. Then I turn around and tell the publisher, yes, Missing Title will be coming, please bear with us.

Time passes…as does the new date. I get an email from the publisher, wanting a status update on Missing Title. I contact the author once again. This could go on for some time. And yes, it could result in the “ultimate deadline” ie the release date, being pushed back.

This is why: without the manuscript I can’t evaluate and approve it for contracting. It is only at that point I can have the author fill out the paperwork to start the contracting process. Then someone else has to get the contracts out to the author (and the editor and the cover artist), so if that typically happens in a batch once a week, there will either be a wait, depending on where in the week we are, or the person who does that part has to stop what they’re doing and make an exception, which throws them out of their routine.

Then once contracted, we can actually “touch” the book. I can start edits. The cover artist can start their job. The website person can create the book page. That’s a lot of people waiting to start work and possibly having to do things out of synch or out of order because a deadline wasn’t met. Keeps going on down the line. Until I finish the editing process, the proofers can’t do their jobs, the person who creates versions for release can’t do their jobs, pre-sales can’t happen, etc.

(Believe me when I say, I have a lot of respect for my own editors and their time now that I know everything that happens behind the scenes.)

Now…imagine that perhaps the author doesn’t turn the second round of edits around quickly because they’re out of town. Or the cover artist has a sick kid. Or the formatter has a two-week holiday planned.

Imagine there are two or four or ten authors asking for extensions or ignoring emails. (Because it’s never just one at a time. Oh no.)

Yeah. Welcome to my reality.

Which is why, in retrospect, the frightening aspect of my breakdown of the word “deadline” fits pretty well after all.

When Stacey isn’t politely emailing her authors or working on their edits, she occasionally manages to crank out a few pages under her pen name of Devon Rhodes.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yoda Made Me Do It

I have over-committed myself. Again. I have a bad habit of doing that. And I freely and readily admit I do it to myself. Given the open-ended question of, "When can you do this?" I will always choose a date that is sooner rather than later. I will look at a calendar, figure out what a reasonable date would be and then subtract a week. Or a month. Why? Why do I do it?

Deadlines are my friends. I thrive with a deadline. I thrive even better if it's a deadline I have committed to. I have missed many anthology deadlines over the past year, but I was the only one who even knew I was planning to submit my work. Deadlines that I've committed myself to (verbally or in writing) are another story. I've only missed one of those in the past year-- and it was one of my OGG columns. (Sorry again, Grippers.)

Actually, that's a lie. I've missed another deadline. A book proposal I was supposed to deliver around mid-September. Because of the baby, I was told to take a few more weeks if I needed them. Um... I'm still in the window of a few more weeks, right?? Sigh.

And now I have a few more deadlines that are looming--deadlines I've committed to and selected the dates for and made assurances I could deliver--and somehow, come hell or high water or sleepless babies, I will find a way to deliver, dammit. According to Yoda, there is no "try." There is "do" and "do not." I never choose "do not."

I hate missing deadlines, but even more than that, I hate letting people down. I hate the idea that someone somewhere (perhaps on this very blog) is saying, "Oh, that Kristina, she's such a flake. You can't count on her." That has to be a fate worse than...well, if not death, it's certainly a fate worse than a lot of things in my book. (And not the book that is several weeks past due.)

Despite the reputation writers have for being flaky free spirits who are at the mercy of their muses and miss deadlines willy nilly, most writers I know are pretty responsible people. There are a few divas in the mix, of course, but most of us know that meeting deadlines requires discipline and we act accordingly. But of course that doesn't always work and life--or other deadlines--get in the way. Then we beat ourselves up and call ourselves names (waving at Charlotte, here...) and lament our failings. And then... we dust off our egos and make another commitment and next time (hopefully), we get the job done.

So here I sit, over committed to too many projects and knowing that I will likely fail to deliver on at least one of them. Dilemma. I can ask for extensions on deadlines, of course. It's accepted and even expected in some cases. (I try not to play the baby card, I swear.) I could simply let one or more people know that I need more time to make my deadlines or I could give up on at least one project and make the deadlines for the others. Or I can just buckle down, nose to the grindstone, full steam ahead. Blood, sweat and tears dedication. Etc. , etc., etc.

Guess which one I'll choose? I'll choose "do," of course. It is the only way I know. And maybe that's why I'm a writer. Maybe if I didn't do it this way-- if I didn't commit myself to things that seem impossible-- I would never have sold the first story. Maybe. Only Yoda knows for sure.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone

“All abo-o-ard!”

The conductor is announcing the departure of a venerable train that crosses the continent from Obscurity on one coast (home to the aspiring traveller) to Fame (the destination) on the other. There are luxurious cars for dining and sleeping, even gambling and card-playing. Drawn shades at windows might indicate Torrid Affairs being conducted en route.

There is nothing like a train as a traditional symbol of escape and adventure. When I was young, a train threw its poignant hoot against a layer of volcanic rock at the base of a mountain every evening as the shadows lengthened, and every evening, the echoes reverberated through the valley where I felt trapped in a house on the opposite side. “Woo-oo! Leaving here!” called the train while I dreamed of escape.

And now the train to Fame is leaving without me. I can’t possibly catch up. The wheels are already turning faster and faster as the big vehicle picks up speed. Had I arrived at the station five minutes earlier, I could have boarded. I could have been on my way. But I didn’t, and I’m not.

I missed the deadline.

In a marvellous anthology of steampunk erotic romance that I just finished reading (Steamlust, edited by Kristina Wright of this blog), the heroine of one story uses her auspiciometer (sp?) to determine the perfect moment for doing whatever she wants to do: meet the right gentleman, start or finish the calculations for an experiment, go shopping for a hat or a parasol or a pet snake. Her handy device shows her the perfect moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean she will always be in the right place at the right time. Even with the device, she might miss a deadline.

Pregnancy is the one project with a deadline which can never be missed. Due dates can be missed, of course; first pregnancies, in particular, are often several weeks early or several weeks late (if not induced). But the day of birth is the day of birth. Much as an expectant mother might prefer not to experience third-degree labour soon, today, or at this moment, contractions wait for no one.

Human-made deadlines are more like train departures. Once the train has gone, it’s no longer there.

Please! Wait for me!

I hate to be considered irresponsible and unreliable, so after I’ve made a reckless promise or six, I chase after deadlines like a stranded traveller chasing after the only train due to pass through the mountains all week, or the only ship that has come within sight of the desert island for months.

Where does time go? I should have written at least two more reviews this month (see the above reference to Steamlust, which sits atop Red Velvet and Absinthe, Best Lesbian Erotica 2012, Princes of Air, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, and a volume of vintage gay-male erotica from the 1970s).

Then well-meaning fellow-writers and polite colleagues ask me what I’m writing now, meaning “Are you writing a short story, a collection of them or a novel, and why not?” Of course, I should have time for that. If I’m a real writer, inspiration should strike me regularly, like a gong (as in a notorious saying about how often women should be beaten).

Students who ask for extensions of deadlines for handing in essays want them to be graded and handed back between one class day and the next. What else could be more important to me?

Sinister characters like uncanny train conductors invade my dreams with signs reading “FRIDAY” or “NOVEMBER 30” or “TOMORROW AT THE LATEST.”

Then there are events like Pride Week in June (mentioned by Kathleen of this blog) which I managed to unload onto a new committee. Ha! Freedom! But it’s not complete. I wonder how well the new committee of twentysomethings will cope, and how responsible I’ll feel (as an elder of the tribe) if they drop the ball, or several.

But here is a strangely reassuring thought: every time I miss a deadline, a new one is coming up behind it. And with luck, I’ll miss the deadline (due date) for the end of my own life. Am I supposed to be on that train at age 96? Sorry, I’ll still have a few things to finish up first.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dead Lines, New Lines

“Hi Garce, it’s me. I’m heading off to New Orleans tomorrow. Just wanted to check in and say hello. It’s just that I noticed . . . well. Listen. If you get a chance give me a buzz. Otherwise be well.”

Wait a minute whoa whoa whoa. .. Jesus what was the number – I know who this is – she called me! That’s amazing! Jesus, where’s the mother effing number – fuck!

The little phone cartwheels out of my hand bounces off the porcelain rim of the toilet bowl and drops to the bottom of the gunk.

I don't care! I truly don't give a shit as I plunge my hand beneath soggy icebergs of toilet paper and what-what and grab the slimey little bastard and plaster it against my ear.

"Hello? Hello? You still there?"


Standing in the Men's restroom with my pants around my ankles I shake the nasty little gadget and yell into it again. What would I not do to talk to this person? Pride and potential dysentery are nothing against the chance to talk to this person. "Hello?"

It's a goner. It sags in my arms like a dying comrade.

I shake the little cheapie pay-as-you go cell phone with the cracked screen filled with brown water. Its bleeding! Black LCD shit is spreading like a pool of blood at a fatal jump from a tall building, all over the tiny screen. I hold it up to my ear to make sure. Pathetic. The line is dead. It’s a dead line. My phone is dead. It’s a dead phone.

Dr. McCoy puts his hand on my shoulder. “He’s dead, Jim.”

Al Pacino waves a machine gun at me. “Say goodbye to your little friend.”

Bye-bye little friend.

I wave the cheap, bottom of the barrel, little cell phone and put it to my ear again. Shit. The line is as dead as Julius Caesar. Now I’ll never know what she called for and she’ll probably never call again. And I don’t have the number, and even if I did I wouldn’t have the balls to call her myself. Some ladies, I feel like I’m back in high school again too shy to talk to a girl.

Jesus Christ. Gee zuz Frights. Cheese Whiz Rights. Cheese Whiz Fights.

Excuse me while I go boil my hand.

Okay, it’s going to be Walmart again, where good little cheapie pay-as-you-go cell phones come from. I think if the little SIMM card is still okay I’m supposed to be able to keep my old phone number somehow.

Nucking Futz!

Cheese Whiz Fries!

In Augusta the Walmarts are a reflection of their local social class. The one near my house is kind of worn down and crappy but not that bad, which is about like my neighborhood. Then there’s the classy gadget rich Walmart of Evans, the center of yuppie White Flight in Columbia County; where people retreating from the poverty and crappy public resources of Richmond county fled to live in the suburbs with good schools and good libraries. This is what high property taxes gets you. Civilization. Me, I fled here too as soon as I could, because my kid was having a miserable time in a poor school filled with gangs. The liberal in me felt offended by my social cowardice, the daddy in me just wanted to save my kid from hating school forever. That’s how it works in the real world if not the voting booth.

In the electronics department of the Evans Walmart, I go cruising the aisles of the telephones. I see the smart phones and iPhones and the iPads and iPad2s and something that might be a time machine and all the gee whiz miracles I’ve always coveted. Everybody I know has one of these or a blackberry. Except me. They probably don’t have to worry about dropped calls or dropped phones either. The phones vary in price from about a hundred dollars to hundreds of dollars. And that’s not where the money is. That’s the service plans that start at about $300 a pop. The ones I want, well, same old story when it comes to buying things these days. It’s all for The Best and I’m not one of them.

I stand in front of the smart phones and tap at the screens. Its beautiful technology. Delightful. Simple. You could give a toddler, hell, a rhesus monkey, one of these and they’d have it figured out in a couple minutes. Arthur C Clarke famously observed that “Technology of sufficient advancement is indistinguishable from magic.” Well this lovely stuff is pure magic.

I tap at the screen and there’s the internet. A few taps and I can see the blog. There’s Google. Oh, my god, I could even read Google books on this. This is fantastic, and all so new. I’ll bet Facebook is in there somewhere. And the little eye on the top, that’s a web cam, the kind that revolutionary crowds in the middle east used to overthrow dictators. If only I had money, there’s so much stuff out there to communicate with and get me out of my shell or maybe deeper into it.

Oh well. I walk down the aisle to where the phone cards are and pick up a slightly nicer edition of my cheapie dead buddy. It’ll be nice to use a cell phone that doesn’t have all the numbers worn off the keyboard. It’s an okay little phone. It’ll do.

A revelation comes to me. A smile slowly crawls onto my mug.

I’ve gotten better. Spiritually.

I’ve gotten so much better.

I used to hate Christmas. Like poison. Like Dracula hates crucifixes. It was the season of envy, of being reminded of what I don’t have and feeling like a failure and having it rubbed in my face. But this time it feels different. Something in me has given up and its okay that I won’t get to have those things.

“Attachment causes suffering, grasshopper.”

Yes, Master Poe. Yes, indeedy.

Something in me has finally out grown this stupid idea that God or the universe owes me something. Hell, I’ve got a job. That makes me better off than 10 percent of people in my country. It makes me better off than a lot of the people I know from the old days. Standing in the phone aisle, I suddenly feel so good. Blessed. It’s okay to have cheap shitty stuff. It doesn’t have to be who you are.

I go back and run my hand over the smart phones, loving them. But not wanting them. The way you might sit and love the passing women with your eyes, adoring them, imagining them in states of undress, but not needing to possess them. Feeling happy for the men who get to have them in their beds.

I walk out of Walmart thinking it’s a perfect fall day in the deep south and I think I can afford an ice cream off the value menu at McDonalds.

In the evening over the dirty dinner dishes I talk to my kid. He’s been listening to the news, and of course if you follow the news it seems like the zombie apocalypse is around the corner. He’s feeling down tonight. He says the world seems to be dropping over a cliff.

It’s not, I tell him. Of all the 10,000 years expanse of human history today, this day, right now is the very greatest time to be alive. Ever.

“Look,” I tell him. “Look at the meal you just had tonight. It was spaghetti, because spaghetti’s cheap. Okay, but its real food your mother cooked, and she makes her spaghetti sauce Caribbean style which is really good. A lot of kids don’t get that kind of food anymore, just the fast food stuff. Tell you what, boy. I lived on the open road without a home for six years, and I’ll tell you it makes a difference when you eat food made by somebody you know, who loves you and wants you to be all right. You sat down and ate with your family. A lot of kids don’t get to do that, just microwave some frozen stuff and eat it in front of the TV. Maybe living with one parent if they’re lucky.”

“The food you ate, two hundred years ago a king didn’t eat that good. The king of Italy didn’t get spaghetti like that. And there’s plenty more food in the fridge. You can eat Captain Crunch anytime. That’s amazing. And you’ll be on Facebook in a few minutes, hanging with friends from all over the world, talking to them instantly about eating spaghetti for dinner and how you feel about it. That’s pretty weird but still. The future is flattening. Power is flattening. Social communication is flattening. The world is flattening. The future is going to be so different from anything anybody’s ever seen. And you’ll be there when it happens.

“You know, my generation the baby boomers. When I look at what we’re passing on to your generation, it feels like we messed everything up, like my generation is the worst ever. And its true, we took the American dream and gang raped it pretty much. But there’s this other thing. The smart phones. Someday you’ll get one. The Social Networks. The Internet. Digital communication. Instant information. Mass communication. Guys like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Beatles, these Baby Boomer guys gave you the world too. We gave your generation these really incredible powerful tools of communication and free information. Thing is, you’re still figuring out what to do with them. Your generation is the one that doesn’t care if somebody is black or white, or gay or lesbian or rich or poor or up or down or sideways. You don’t know how new that is. You have no idea how revolutionary that is. When your generation figures out how to use these tools to flatten wealth, and make the world more fair, when your generation finds a way to replace money with something else and money becomes obsolete, the world will change for good for everybody forever. It make take a long time, you’re going to stand on our shoulders, the stupid boomers who took a good country and messed it up really bad, and you’re going to use these powerful tools we gave you and make something amazing out of the mess. I just hope I’m around to see some of it.”

Cheese Whiz Fries. Someday we're gonna be all right.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Every week, I make myself a little list. It's usually on the back of an old envelope or something similarly pathetic, and invariably I will forget that this scrap of useless paper actually holds the most vital info in the known universe, and accidentally throw it away or similar. And then of course I'll have a panic attack, because what if I've forgotten one of the things on the list? What if there's a deadline I've failed to remember, and I'm about to run into the most awful calamity?

Of course, I usually end up running into calamity anyway. Like on Saturday, when an editor politely enquired as to how I was doing with a novella they'd contracted, and I realised I'd actually written the deadline date down wrong.

That's right. My fooking stupid envelope system collapse in on itself, like a dying star. It's inevitable though, really, because here's what my current list looks like:

* Do that thing one time

* And that other thing that you didn't do the time before

* Watch the Mirror Mirror trailer again and die of orgasms when Armie Hammer actually becomes a big puppy, just like in all the weird ass probably bestiality related fantasies you've ever had about him

* Finish that story you still haven't done

* And that other story. Yeah, you know the one I'm talking about. Don't ignore me

* Watch Armie Hammer kissing Leonardo de Whatsit. Again. Yeah. You can see why this list system keeps failing, right? I hate you

* Finish this novella for a date you've just passed

* Finish this novel for an insane time, like next week

* Print out this thing

* Yeah, this thing that you'd forgotten about cos it's on the other computer

* Make seventeen cover requests

* Then forget to email them

* Write twenty blog posts

* Then forget to post them


* Do edits for this thing

* And these other edits too

* Don't sleep ever, and get this weird sticky stuff coming out of your eye because your eye IS READY TO REBEL

* And I swear to God, if you start writing that fantasy world story where Armie Hammer is a big puppy instead of all the rest of the masses and masses of stuff on this list, I WILL END YOU

My list is very angry. It has issues, and shit. I'm taking it to counselling next week.

If I can find it.

P.S. Just want to thank Lisabet especially but all the other Grippers too for being massively understanding during my trying time of failing as a human being. Massive hugs, you guys.

Monday, November 14, 2011

...Looming Like a Great Looming Thing

By Kathleen Bradean

"...Looming Like a Great Looming Thing"

Any fan of Blackadder will recognize that quote. Anyone who doesn’t know Balckadder has missed one of the best comedic television series of all time. I'm most partial to the Elizabethan ones, which feature such great actors as Miranda Richardson and Stephen Fry. If you're a Huge Laurie (of House fame) fan see the Regency ones. The entire cast comes together perfectly in the World War I episodes.

I'm off on a tangent, which is bad news considering that I have a deadline quickly approaching. Sundays are my deadline days. Every week I have an Oh Get a Grip article to write, and every month I review a book for Erotica Revealed. I used to review for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association too, but when reviews were cut down to a max of 700 words, it felt more like rewriting the back blurb than writing a real review. Besides, ERWA only accepts positive reviews, so I often read an entire book only to find that I couldn't "review" for them, so I felt my time was wasted.

Like every other adult on this earth, my time is in short supply, so I have to be on the constant look-out for claim jumpers. You know what I'm talking about. Those people who guilt you into coaching soccer teams (as if I'd ever fall for that again, after falling for it twice) or working a fund raiser for the high school band or pitching in with set building for the high school musical. And why is it that with the hundreds of kids involved in these activities, I see the same twenty parents at all of these events? How are the rest of those parents weaseling out of any commitment? What would happen if the twenty of us went on strike? And it isn't just school stuff. Jean could tell you all about her struggles to keep Pride Day going in her town. Everyone wants to enjoy an event, but no one wants to do all the dull, time-sucking crap that makes it happen. Oops. Another tangent.

I wish I had a vault full of spare time like Scrooge McDuck's vault of gold, and that I could sneak down to swim in my horded minutes and hours whenever I wanted to or better yet, toss great wads of time on my bed and roll around in it with sybaritic abandon. So much lovely time. I'd grab handfuls of it and let it trickle through my fingers while laughing gleefully and perhaps a bit maniacally but only for the cartoon effect. Deadlines? I'd sneer at them, because my infinite supply of spare time would act as an impenetrable force field. Maybe I'd call myself Time Girl or maybe The Hourglass. *looks at figure* Well, obviously String Theory is out of the question.

I once met a girl whose name was spelled Infinite but pronounced Infinity. Maybe there was supposed to be a little accent over her final E. Anyway, imagine the possibilities. She was the embodiment of TimeItSelf. Sort of. That was her brother's name. No fooling.


Anyway, there are three ways to handle deadlines. 1) See them coming from far away and plan accordingly. 2) Panic. 3) Denial.

You get to guess which method I chose this week.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Necessary Evil

By Lisabet Sarai

Well those drifter days are past me now.
I've got so much more to think about.
Deadlines and commitments,
What to leave in, what to take out.
~ Bob Seger, "Against the Wind"

I hate stress. I'm paralyzed when I have too many tasks on my to-do list, and too little time to complete them all. I've been known to scream, tear at my hair, literally bang my head against the wall under the influence of over-commitment stress. I really hate acting like that. (My husband hates it too.)

Paradoxically, I love deadlines. Well, perhaps “love” is a bit strong, but I heartily appreciate them. For me, deadlines are tools to avoid the kind of crazy misery described in the previous paragraph. When I have a set of dates associated with my tasks, I can begin to manage them. They cease to become looming disasters and turn into simple chunks of work that I can schedule according to priority and required effort.

For example, I have two new releases this month, so I've committed to doing more guest blogging than usual to promote them. My calendar shows seven guest blog appearances this month, in addition to my usual stint at Total-E-Bound's Hitting the Hot Spot, on the 17th, and of course my slots here at the Grip every Sunday. I made a point of spacing out the guest spots throughout the month: November 4, 8, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21 and 28. Also, as a blog host myself, I know that blog owners really like to receive post content from their guests at least a few days ahead of time. That allows me to establish a set of deadlines for each post, which I will obviously work on more or less in the order that they are due. At this point, I only have the last three to complete. Not to mention the Grip, posts for my own blog Beyond Romance, and my monthly website update/newsletter, but those I will slip into the interstices.

When I looked at my commitments at the start of November, I had a few hair pulling moments. What had I gotten myself into? Because I've also committed (to myself) that I will finish my novel in progress, Quarantine, by the end of November. (I figure I have about 20K to go.) And I told Alessia Brio I'd finally finish editing the next Coming Together Presents book. (I sent that off last week.) Plus I've taken on a project for my job that needs to be complete by the end of the month, as well. Earlier in the month, I really had to calm myself down. I needed to remind myself that worrying about one deadline while I'm working toward another is counter-productive.

That's why deadlines are a necessary evil. They help me focus. And they provide structure. If I have three works in progress, but no deadlines, how will I decide which to address first? If I've promised an editor that she'll have my story by the 15th of the month, well, that answers the question for me.

One thing I've learned about myself over the years: I have a low tolerance for ambiguity. I like to have at least the illusion of control, the feeling that I know more or less what's going to happen. (Given this orientation, my attraction to sexual submission may seem a bit odd, but perhaps it's an antidote to the control I require in the other areas of my life.) Deadlines help.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that in eight years of college and graduate school, I never, ever did an “all-nighter”. And I never turned in an assignment late.

I owe it all to deadlines. Well, maybe not all. But I'd rather have a deadline than be floundering in a quagmire of uncertainty, smothered by unruly commitments.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On The Road Again

By M.Christian (Guest Blogger)

Thanks again to the always-wonderful Lisabet Sarai for giving me another chance to reach out to the readers at the Grip.

This time Lisabet asked me to take a trip, so to speak. It's always odd, when you're a writer, to have a friend look at what you've written and point out ... well, 'things' that you weren't really aware of. For example, I recently learned that I like to start stories at dusk or dawn. That threw me for a loop, as I really had no clue I was doing that. Naturally when I write now I make a point of doing exactly the opposite...

But one thing I was both aware of and not really aware of is my love of traveling. I say aware and not aware because I know I write a lot about it – maybe too much, actually – but not aware because it wasn't until recently that I spent a bit of time roaming my own mind to find out why.

Before I get to that, though, a bit of evidence: Running Dry, my gay vamp novel, is basically a road trip; Me2, my (if I do say so myself) flat-out strange gay thriller, is set maybe far too much going from here to there; and I even co-edited an anthology called The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with my friend Maxim Jakubowksi) featuring everyone from Jack Kerouac to Hunter S. Thompson on the allure of wandering the highways.

Then there's my story, "Wanderlust" that Lisabet particularly pointed out – from my non-smutty science fiction, fantasy, and horror collection Love Without Gun Control. Originally written for an anthology called Graven Images (edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Thomas Roche), the story – without giving too much away -- is about a perpetual salesman with a very serious affair with the Goddess of Travel ... with some very good, and very bad, repercussions.

That story, I think, more than a lot that I've written really gets to the road and what it means to me. What's odd is that, sure, I've traveled a bit more than most people but compared to others I've barely left my backyard: a few trips to Europe, a year living in Belgium when I was in my early 20s, and then there were the trips I took with my parents – motoring from one end of the country to the other in, believe it or not, a British motor home painted red white and blue.

It wasn't until "Wanderlust" though that I really began to think about why I love to travel, and write about it as well.

This is going to sound weird – or maybe not too weird if you happen to be a writer, musician, painter or any other kind of creative person – but I'm rarely here.

Here has always been ... not as good as somewhere else. I take my immediate world too quickly, it seems: a few glances here and there and (sigh) it seems too ordinary, predictable.

So I look past it all, dreaming about what else may be out there, around the next corner. When I do travel I always drive my companions crazy. They may have plans for a nice, relaxing trip but I'm always the one wandering street after street, turning every corner I see, waiting for the new, the unique, the possibly-wonderful to come into my life.

Even when I read, I try to read a wide range of what's out there, always hoping to discover a new book, or author. The internet, naturally, is a huge part of my life: every day begins with a cup of coffee and going through some thousand or so posts via my RSS reader: each one like walking a strange new street, visiting a new and unexpected land.

Literally (hahaha), travel is an alluring device: how better to show a character's change then to have them go from a geographic point A to point B? True, that's a tad obvious – even amateurish – but as a set design for a story it's still a very dramatic and compelling one.

But traveling is more than just a change in setting, or a way of seeing what's on the other side of the next hill: it also means leaving something behind, putting it behind you. By getting behind the wheel of a car, or boarding a train or airplane you are escaping not just point A but abandoning – for a day, a week, or a lifetime – all that point in space meant to you, and what you were because of it.

When I travel there's always a feeling of possibility – that the Chris walking the streets of that strange, new land is just as different as the landscape: everything is new, everything is fresh -- and so am I.

...and so am I. I've probably written too much about it, but it's too important not to look at. For all of my life I've battled chronic depression, the deep-down and pretty-much constant feeling that I'm less than everyone else. I've taken (and am taking drugs) but it's always there, always in the background.

The road, then, calls and calls and calls: not just to show me things that I never, ever could have imagined – new people, new foods, new ways of thinking, new architecture, new entertainments, new experiences – but a possibility that one of those roads not yet traveled could allow me to travel to a place where I would become a new person, someone not me.

I know, of course, that there is no emotional Shangri-La out there – that the way to finding a happy, sunshine land of candy and joy is through medication and therapy – but that doesn't stop me from looking out the window, at the world I have not seen, and wondering that maybe, perhaps, out there somewhere is a place called happiness and satisfaction.

But until then I get out my maps, fill my tank, adjust my mirror, and set out for places unknown...


Excerpt From"Wanderlust"

The moan of radials on asphalt; a high-octane, four-stroke, eight cylinder, growl under the hood.

The white line vanishing under, then appearing behind. The near landscape moving fast, far landscape slow. That it was day pines and jagged peaks, blurs of snow, and stoplights swinging in a biting wild. The clouds above were thick and dark, heavily laden with imminent hard rain.

Dancing on his dash, spring-loose hips knocking back and forth with each shimmy and engine knock, she smiled up at him: a beautific image of absolute love in cheap, sun-faded plastic. Every once and a while he found himself looking at her, entranced for a moment by her smile – but most of the time he tried to ignore her, pretend the Mustang’s dash was void of cheap hoola girls.

The road lifted and dropped under him till the sun set, cutting itself on a distant mountain top – bleeding a bright red sunset. Reaching down, he hooked two fingers around a peeling, chrome knob and pulled. High beams stabbed out, revealing a picket line of trees beneath a dark canopy of thick branches and strong needles.

The needle tapped E. Around one corner, a gas station – antique signs lovingly preserved: Gas & Food. Then a restaurant, flashing by his right-hand window – a hospitable glow from within dusky log cabin walls, through thick gingham curtains.

A quick turn, tires only beginning a scream of protest. With his foot on the brake, the exultation of being on the road, of traveling, fell away from him. Stopping felt like a putting on a heavy cloak. Before he opened the door he took a deep breath of mental preparation.

Out and into the station. Dark deco pumps, like drained Coke bottles, under buzzing lamps circled by flights of huge moths. The air was crystal – hard and jagged with cold. Plunging hands deep into leather jacket pockets, he moved across the concrete towards the buzzing neon OFFICE sign.Inside, the place was as familiar as – well, as his home had been, so long ago. It had the usual touches, as regular as the gas in the pumps: jerky and maps, cigarettes and potato chips, lighters and a GIVE can; a guy behind the counter in overalls, backwards gimmie cap, face craggy with exhaust and exhaustion – and with that special grease and spark plug viewpoint they all seemed to have, that special kind of bitterness.

Howdy,” the gas station man said, “anything I can do you for–?” Then he stopped. Frozen, arrested, his eyes staring wide. He’d been drawn in, completely taken.

Yeah, I need gas,” he said. As the door closed behind him, he took another deep breath, feeling the soft leather press against his chest.

Take what you want, please –” the gas man said, his voice soft, cooing like a pigeon. “Anything you want, it’s yours.” It was a tone he had probably never used before, and would never use again. Not a two stroke sound, not a fuel additive sound; it was so sweet it was almost comical.

Thanks,” he said, turning and walking back out to his car, the pumps. He didn’t laugh.

Dipping the nozzle in and squeezing the handle, he sensed the gas man standing behind him, lingering close by. With another breath, tired this time, he turned to look at him.

Turning his gimmie cap in his dark, wrinkled hands, mouth hanging open just enough to show his yellowed, picket-fence teeth, eyes glimmering, flashing with fascination, the gas man said, “Uh, Mister, I, ah–”

He turned completely, to look at him directly. Sometimes he just walked away, or drove off – feeling bitter guilt for a few miles. Tonight, though, he felt a pitiful affection for the man. “For the gas,” he said, kissing him on his chapped lips, listening to his little sigh, his pathetic moan of ecstatic release.

Then, towards the restaurant. Suddenly, the wind surrounded him, nipping at his exposed skin, howling with feral glee – carrying away most, but not all, of the gas man’s sobbing, beatific joy.

He hoped it wasn’t crowded. He prayed it wasn’t crowded. The door was heavy, halved logs again, but pushed open easily. Inside it was warm, comfortable, like burying under many layers of blankets. Maybe a dozen tables, a dark jukebox, red and white checkered table cloths, little electric lamps at each table, stuffed moose on one stuffed moose on one wall, antlers on the others. From the back, the clatter and bang of a busy kitchen....

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