Thursday, May 31, 2018

You Can't Score Off Me Unless I Want You To ( #Excerpt #Baseball #LoveOfTheGame #Feminism #Threesome )

By Annabeth Leong

Guys, it’s always been hard for me to stand up for myself. And I’m not sure what to say about that right now--it’s been a long couple of weeks. So I’m going to cop out a little and share an excerpt from my story, “Fast Pitcher,” in which my main character, Margie Underwood, does know how to stand up for herself. I wrote this during a time when I was listening to baseball on the radio just about daily, and I really loved playing around with how dirty baseball language sounds. :)

If you want to read the whole thing, “Fast Pitcher” appeared in Harley Easton’s Love of the Game anthology.

I’ll try to have more to say next time!


Phillips had stayed late too, eschewing the team's afterparty in order to participate in Margie's tête-à-tête with Pete Muñoz. She knew she needed a catcher, but part of her wished it could have been just the two of them.

She braced herself for more nonsense from Phillips as she stepped onto the field, but her pitch earlier that evening seemed to have made him a convert.

"I've got two bills down that you strike Muñoz out. He's lucky this isn't official, or you'd be messing up his precious over-.300 batting average," he said.

"Nah, man. Margie's good, but she's about to give it up to me. I think she's going to let me take her deep." Muñoz spat in the dirt at his feet, then squinted out at the empty park.

Margie squared her shoulders. She recognized Muñoz's trash talk for what it was — challenging, not sexist. He was chirping at her the way he would have with any hot pitcher. Telling her that she wouldn't be able to keep him from hitting long and hard, far out into the outfield or maybe even over the fences. When he hefted his bat, however, he glanced at her with meaning in his eyes. Margie's mouth went dry. It wasn't just the language that seemed sexual. Muñoz obviously planned to take her deep off the field even if he didn't manage the feat on the diamond.

She glanced from one man to the other, and heat gathered between her legs. The night was cool and clean, and she was drunk off the feeling of standing on a pro diamond and hanging out with men who played ball for a living as if she were one of them. Margie adjusted her baseball cap and raised an eyebrow at Muñoz.

"You boys can bet all you want, but neither of you is going to score off me unless I want you to."

Phillips let out a whistle. "You want to put your money where your mouth is, Underwood?"

Every line of his body was arrogant, but there was something appealing about him, too. His brand of cockiness looked like it could be a lot of fun. He was a big, strong man, thicker than Muñoz but no less cut.

She tossed her head. Her heart pounded so hard she could feel it in her throat.

"I'll do you one better," Margie said.

"How's that?" Both men spoke at once, their faces sharpening.

"If either of you can score off me? Well, then you can score off me."

"Not that it's going to matter, but what's in it for you? What do you get if we can't hit?" Phillips grinned.

"Then you can tell everyone else on the team tomorrow that you struck out trying to get me to give it up."

She couldn't suppress a little surge of hope that the pitching coach would overhear, and one thing would lead to another.

"Fair enough." Muñoz laughed. "How many tries do we get?"

Margie tossed the ball into the air and caught it barehanded, pondering how lucky she felt tonight. She had that sense of fate and magic she'd become acquainted with in baseball, a sensation that sometimes came to her as she stepped onto the mound. It was a sort of full-body knowledge that resided outside of her head or heart or gut. It might have been written in the red stitches snaking over the surface of the ball, or perhaps it resided in her joints. Tonight, she was in control. She knew down to the tips of her toenails that tonight she could put the ball anywhere she damn well pleased.

"Three," she said. "You'll each have an inning to yourselves."

Phillips raised an eyebrow. "You sure about that? You haven't got any fielders to help you work around the hits."

"I'm not going to need them," Margie said, and even with the premonition she was having she had to work to summon confidence to her voice. "Neither of you is going to be able to touch me."

She knew what she was risking, but it didn't matter just then. She was good enough that she could make a serious contest out of this, even if they wound up besting her. She wanted to win for the glory, but the more she stared at Phillips and Muñoz, the more she thought she might enjoy losing for the pleasure.

Phillips started out catching, and Margie took her position on the mound and breathed a few times to steady herself. She was pitching to Pete Muñoz, listed by multiple sites as one of AAA's top prospects for the majors.

She struck him out swinging, and then she struck Phillips out looking.

"What's the record for a woman throwing fastballs?" Phillips muttered as the ball smacked into Muñoz's glove again and again. "I swear to God this has to be some sort of record."

"No one bothers to measure most of the time," Margie told him. "Ila Borders used to throw just over 80, but she's one of the only women who actually got a chance to play."

The conversation must have distracted her, and Muñoz hit a couple of fouls off of her before she managed to set her anger aside and return to that pure place of connection she’d had before. A screwball retired him a second time, and Phillips looked at two more pitches.

"You've got to try," she told him. "It's no fun if it's too easy."

Phillips scowled, but her admonition made him marshal something. He stayed alive off fouls for a while, and then she threw a few outside, tying them up at a full count. He made her work for it, but she made him struggle just as hard, and the push-and-pull between them charged the air around him.

He brought his body closer to the plate than she would have liked, and Margie remembered that she needed to work him over a bit. She placed a couple pitches high and tight, forcing him to continue hitting fouls. When he backed away, she sent a beauty to the outer edge of the plate, just inside the strike zone but out of Phillips' reach.

Muñoz returned to the batter's box, new respect glittering in his eyes and his mouth curved upward with a smile.

"You said we wouldn't score off you unless you want us to. I guess the question is, do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Do you want us to?"

Margie ignored the question, winding up, knowing her speed alone could stop him. Muñoz swung on the heels of the pitch, but still a fraction of a second too slow. She glanced at Phillips and saw the lust in his eyes, but this night had become about more than an individual's desire. There was raw hunger between the three of them. Together, they could have eaten the world. Margie thought about what it would be like to step deeper into that mood, to tear into the two men with all her need.

Phillips tossed the ball back to her. Instead of winding up again, she let her glove fall off her hand and onto the mound. The ball fell beside it.

"Yeah," she said. "I want you to."

Muñoz waved his bat. "Then pitch to me. Let me take you deep."

Margie grinned and shook her head. "Nah. You can't touch the ball. I'm not giving you that satisfaction." She reached up for her hat and swept it off her head. "Satisfying myself, though... That's another story."


And if I'm going to self-promote, I'll go all in. Here's that link to the book again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Take a stand. You’ll feel so much better.  

 By Tim Smith

 I was a very shy quiet kid when I was growing up. I won’t get into the family dynamic that made me that way, except to say that I was the youngest and my father was what you’d now call a micro-manager. I used to get picked on a lot at school, and when I went away to college, the first class I took was Self-esteem 101.

It took me getting out on my own and being fully responsible before I learned to open my mouth and stand up for myself. Then I had to learn to do it with restraint when I realized that the wrong words can hurt as much as a hard right to the kisser.

By the time I became a professional writer years ago, I had become more at ease with speaking to crowds and handling criticism. Good thing, too, because I quickly discovered that in the world of romance writing, a guy who tried to make that scene wasn’t entirely welcome. The fact that I chose to write under my own name, instead of hiding behind something like, say, T.M. Smith, didn’t help.

The first time I attended a romance reader/author event, I was in for a shock. I knew that my presence wouldn’t be greeted with a bouquet of roses, but some of the reactions I got were downright hostile. Many of the attendees—readers and authors alike—treated me like a lecherous uncle who snuck into a slumber party. I quickly decided to change tactics and turned on all the charm I could muster.

One of the sponsors was a friend whose online site was handling the PR for my latest book. On the list of attending authors, I noticed the name of a woman whose book I had recently read and favorably reviewed. I told my friend that I wanted to meet her to tell her how much I liked her book, and she arranged it.

When my friend made the introduction, she noted that I was a writer of contemporary romance, too. The author looked at me like I was a homeless guy who had shown up at her front door at dinner time, then stumbled “But—but…you’re a man!”

I smiled and said “Thank you for noticing. I’ll try to do better next time.”  

My early streak of outspokenness eventually developed into a need to stand up for others, especially those who were at a disadvantage. This is probably why I spent most of my career as an advocate for the developmentally disabled. After I retired last year, I had time to think about why I had made it my life’s work. Perhaps it was my way of making up for all the times when I was a scared little kid who didn’t have the courage to stand up to those playground bullies.

It also produced one of the character traits that I really felt comfortable with, one that definitely goes against the grain in today’s culture. I decided that if I had made a mistake or done something wrong, the best recourse was total honesty and taking responsibility. I get in front of situations like that, especially when I realize that I’m wrong. Rather than make up a lame excuse or try to pin the blame on someone else, I freely admit when I make a bad decision. It may have cost me a promotion or a few friendships over the years, but man, did I start feeling better about myself!

 As a postscript, I’m still reaping the rewards of being assertive, but in a positive way. My post-retirement job is Managing Editor for a weekly arts and entertainment publication. To say that my boss, the owner/publisher, is difficult to work for is an understatement. Attila the Hun had better people skills. At least several times a week, he instigates a shouting match, and when he lobs a grenade at me, I toss one back at him. Lately, he’s been doing less of it.

 Maybe he’s finally figured out that he isn’t going to push me around. Or it’s because I’m several inches taller, twenty pounds heavier and a helluva meaner than he is. Whatever works.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Standing Up For My Nerdery

I've always been a reader, but it took me a long time to find books that I actually enjoyed reading.

During silent reading time in elementary school (up to grade 6), I would usually pick some book at random that didn't really interest me and then I wouldn't finish it. Though I loved reading, I found it boring.

All of that changed once I hit grade 7. There were two "new" types of books that I discovered -- thrillers and Star Trek.

If I remember right, the first Star Trek book I read was a novelization of the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think the appeal was that I saw these characters on television, so they were familiar to me -- I wasn't actually a huge Star Trek nut at that time, I think it's my habitual reading of the books that helped spark that flame.

The first thriller book I read was Jurassic Park. I was enthralled that books would have swears, violence, and people dying. It was a gripping read -- far better than what YA novels consisted of in the early 90s (at least the ones the school library had).

From then on, I was hooked. I read almost ever Star Trek book that came out after that novelization. (I'm not a fan of the original series, so I think those are the only books I haven't read that have been published in the last 25 years.) I also read my way through much of Michael Crichton's back catalogue, discovered Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and read pretty much any thriller that my aunt passed my way.

In grade 8, our Language Arts teacher gave us the assignment of writing three short stories. I worked so damn hard on those. I ended up with something that was a hybrid of the Star Trek and thriller stories I was reading -- my three short stories were sci-fi thrillers. When I felt I had perfected them, the teacher then announced that we didn't need to hand the stories in ... they were just for us to practice our writing skills. And that was the end of the creative writing unit that year.

I was furious. I was a mega-nerd that had 100% in Language Arts that year, so to not have my hard work acknowledged and graded made me really mad. So what did I do? As a sort-of revenge, I just kept writing short stories. If my teacher wasn't going to appreciate them, then I would appreciate them myself and write tons more. (I know, the logic of that revenge doesn't quite make sense.)

So I continued on through middle school and high school, reading mostly Star Trek and the occasional thriller and writing short stories about aliens and distant planets and creatures in the night. My Language Arts teacher in grade 9 was aware of my interests but didn't say much, which was fine with me.

In grade 10, though, when the Language Arts teacher found out I read Star Trek books, he very loudly (and kind of mockingly) said in front of the whole class "Oh... you're one of those people." He might not have meant it in the way it sounds here on the screen, but that's my only real memory of him, mocking my reading interests. I do have a few other memories where he asks me about my interest in Star Trek, but it's clear he was not a fan and thought there were better things I could spend my time with.

In grade 11, when that Language Arts teacher found out I read Star Trek books, he very loudly and snidely said in front of the whole class "How can you like that stuff?" I never told this teacher that I also write "that stuff" in my free time.

By the time grade 12 rolled around, I was ashamed of my reading choices. It didn't stop me from reading Star Trek, but if no one asked, I didn't make it known. I was also feeling battered with my short story writing; by that time, I'd written a couple dozen short stories, I think, and while most of my teachers had known I wrote stories, none of them showed even the slightest interest.

For grade 12 Language Arts, we had a few assignments throughout the year where we had to respond to things in creative ways. The best example I remember was that we had to respond to Hamlet through a creative medium of some type. I tentatively asked my teacher if I could write a sci-fi retelling of Hamlet. I was shocked when he said yes, and even more shocked when he marked my story and handed it back -- and it had positive and constructive feedback. I was blown away.

Later that year, we had to do a research project. Taking a risk, I asked the teacher if I could present my research (which was about racism) through a short story, provided I included a bibliography and could explain how that research impacted my storytelling. He said yes. Again, I got positive and constructive feedback. I was again blown away. As well, in our conversation on the project, he dropped a few hints that not only is he aware of Star Trek, but he knows the franchise in some detail.

My biggest lesson learned in grade 12 was to stand up for my reading and writing interests and not be ashamed. I had gone into grade 12 ready to abandon writing for good and had learned to hide the covers of the books I read so the teacher won't make a comment. I left grade 12 not caring who knows I read Star Trek and with an enthusiastic new energy for writing.

(A few years later, I found out that my teacher's wife was bestselling romance author Elizabeth Thornton and their son had published a few sci-fi / horror novels. It was certainly this teacher's involvement in genre fiction that had led him to be accepting and affirming of my interests, which really put me on the path to where I am now.)

From there, I actually had a Star Trek short story published by Simon and Schuster (under a different name than this) and had a taste of publication. I was hooked. And if I didn't have that teacher in grade 12, I never would have entered this short story contest, so I really do have him to thank for this. It still took several years for me to explore my path in sci-fi and then eventually end up in the pool of gay smut.

But when I did get into stories of dudes boinking, I had a resurgence of that shame I felt during much of high school. Yeah, I'm writing, and yeah, I got published by a small publisher, but it's (awkward whisper) gay erotic romance. It took a few years to build up my confidence so that I can talk about my interest in it like I talk about my interest in Star Trek.

Those who are in authority positions regarding language and culture far too often disregard romance, erotica, and other genre fiction as "lower class" or "that stuff". These attitudes are damaging. If I had let those attitudes take over and if I didn't have that amazing grade 12 teacher, I wouldn't be writing and publishing now. I probably would have abandoned writing and gone into some boring 9-5 job. (I mean, I'm in a boring 9-5 job, but that's not my life -- my life is writing.)

I love to read stories and I love to tell stories. It doesn't matter what genre or who wrote it or what it's about -- if the story makes me feel something, then it's worth the time and effort to write and/or read it. I have no more shame over this.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Silent Hearts. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Monday, May 28, 2018

Whose Ground Do I Stand On?

Sacchi Green

This topic made me consider standing one’s ground in some alternate contexts, since I don’t have many occasions to stand my ground in a personal way these days. Not old enough to be feeble or young enough to attract most kinds of harassment, even my occasional outbursts of outrage in adolescence are pretty fuzzy now in my memory. Just as well. As a small business owner for many years (two college-town stores) and a writer and occasional anthology editor, I’ve learned that the old catching-more flies-with-honey thing does work, and taking a diplomatic approach has usually served me well. So I’ve been searching my mind for some good example of actual ground-standing, and coming up with nothing, except...just yesterday…well, there was the matter of the bear.

I know that one isn’t supposed to set out bird feeders around here in the months between when bears come out of hibernation and when they go back into that semi-sleep. But I love to watch the birds up close, so in spring through autumn I take the bird feeders inside at dusk and back outside in the morning, which works most of the time. But a every year the time comes when a bear will stroll through in daylight with the intent to tear down the pole with the sunflower seed container on top, as well as the suet holder dangling from another pole next to a tree where the woodpeckers gather. This year, yesterday, in the late afternoon, was that time.

It was medium-sized bear, possibly one that had come by last year when it wasn’t quite as big and could resort to climbing trees. I saw it this time it when it had just reached the seed feeder and was tensing to rise up and topple it. I banged on the window and yelled, and the bear, startled, moved back a few steps. I charged out onto the porch and yelled more, and the bear loped away out of sight into the close row of dense shrubbery and trees bordering a stone wall. I marched out into the yard while a family member backed me up from the porch, retrieved my feeders, and that was that. It will happen again, and if no one sees him, the poles will be pulled down. If I see him, I’ll shout and scare him off, and if it appears to be needed a family member will chuck small stones at him, not enough for injury but enough for a warning. (Note that I say “he.” If it were a female with cubs, I wouldn’t challenge her, or any large bear that couldn’t be driven off by my yelling. I wouldn’t stand my ground.)

Now that I reflect on the episode, though, whose ground was it? Was it the bear that didn’t stand its own ground? Bears have a sense of territory, I think, but only in terms of where they can hunt for food. And extending that line of thought, were early settlers standing their ground with guns against indigenous natives also trying to stand their ground? Whose ground it was certainly varied according to separate perspectives, especially when the indigenous side had a far different view of whether land could actually be owned. I’ve thought of this a good deal with regard to land I theoretically own, my home, and my father’s home where I grew up but must now sell since he’s in a nursing home at 98, and my beloved riverside retreat in the mountains of NH which I’ll need to sell fairly soon. I’ve come to feel that the land endures (we hope) but all we own is its use for a certain span of time, and the memories we have of that time.

We of course want to protect that land and our families and other possessions during that time. We want to stand our ground against threats. But that attitude seems sometimes to expand to a dangerous extent. You know where I’m going, right? Here’s part of a Wikipedia explanation of “stand your ground” laws: “A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law) is a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can ‘stand their ground’ and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats.” In some states this covers being in any place one has a right to be, not just on one’s own ground. The obvious rub here is the “perceived threats” part. Our society right now is in a dangerous state of perceiving anyone not just like ourselves to be a threat. You know the cases we’ve seen in the news.

Often, of course, the threats are real. Looking back through colonial history across the world, the threats have been real, not just perceived, on all sides. Ground can seem to be gained, or lost, in all sorts of ways, and standing one’s ground has always felt imperative, and honorable, to both sides. It is, in fact, imperative and honorable, but not always a clear-cut cause for deadly force.

All of which has nothing to do with our individual and personal cases of standing our ground, so I’ve clearly been punting here, although I’ve found the thought-exercise interesting just the same.

But I’ll still chase off any bears (with the previous exceptions of mothers/cubs and really big, unchasable ones) even though the whole situation is my fault for setting out bird feeders in the summer. Mea culpa.  


Friday, May 25, 2018

Shit Rolls Downhill

by Jean Roberta

This earthy saying means that those in positions of power often mistreat their underlings, which is no surprise. But the way the shit gets rolled is sometimes unexpected by the ones in its path.

This spring has been a bad time at work for members of my family. Let me introduce you to some of our bosses.

The Screaming Supervisor

First, my spouse Mirtha was harassed by a female supervisor who accused her of bullying her “consumers” (people with physical and mental disabilities who are helped to live independently by a government-funded organization) and demanded signs of “improvement.” I know how Mirtha treats her “consumers” because I’ve been welcome to go for lunch or go to the movies with them when I have time – and when Mirtha has to deal with two people in wheelchairs who need to travel by bus, it helps to have another able-bodied person on hand. I’ve come to know most of Mirtha’s “consumers,” and they greet me when they see me anywhere. I could testify that they love Mirtha. They laugh a lot when they’re with her, and they even like the way she refuses to do things for them that they can do for themselves because this enhances their self-respect.

The supervisor’s supervisor (director of the program) seemed completely taken in by the harassing supervisor’s story. Mirtha spoke to the chairman of the board, a man we know and used to like. Mirtha asked me to send him my version of the situation, so I did. The chairman didn’t do a thing, and he told us the situation was “resolved.” Mirtha resigned.

Obviously I’m biased, but I don’t think I’m blind. I think Mirtha’s absence is a loss for the organization. She even met with the mother of one of her more talented “consumers” to discuss ways that Mirtha can stay in this young woman’s life. (The mother is willing to hire Mirtha privately.) I think Mirtha should set up her own program and apply for government funding, and several of her friends agree with me. She’s been talking to a labour lawyer, and I hope something comes of this.

Why Can't Workers Be More Like Machines?

Meanwhile, Mirtha's hunky younger son has been working for Canada Post, delivering mail from house to house. I’ve always considered mail delivery people here in Canada to be unsung heroes because they’re the last of the workers who still provide house-to-house service in extreme weather: freezing cold, blazing hot, windy enough to tear big branches off trees. Younger Son (who is now 37, not young for someone doing hard physical work) does Mixed Martial Arts, and his arms and chest look sculpted. He is much stronger than the average man of his age, but he has suffered long-term symptoms from a terrible vehicle crash in the 1990s, when he was travelling with a young drama group and their car was rear-ended on an icy highway.

Younger Son was told by a doctor that he had to take time off to get physiotherapy because the heavy loads (mostly advertising material) he was carrying were aggravating his chronic back problems. At first, the management refused to accept Younger Son’s version of the situation because they said he waited too long to make a doctor’s appointment. (He provided evidence that he phoned for an appointment as soon as the problem became evident, but the doctor couldn’t see him immediately.) Luckily, postal workers in Canada have a strong union, and so Younger Son got support. Management backed down and gave him the time off, but apparently, they made it clear that they were not happy about this, and they will be watching him.

It's Just Not Enough

For years, I’ve bragged that in my teaching job, I don’t have to deal with hostile co-workers OR supervisors, all of whom have given me amazing compliments. I do get some flak from students who resent having to take mandatory English classes, but since I have power over them, I can afford to show some noblesse oblige, i.e.: I have an obligation to keep explaining things to them as calmly as possible. If they don’t get it, they’re the ones who suffer the consequences.

Every three years, I have to list my latest accomplishments on a form (with supplementary material as needed) which goes first to my immediate supervisor (current head of the English Department), then upstairs to the “fifth floor,” where the administrators do their thing. (And what is their thing, exactly? The main business of a university is teaching, and administrators don’t do that, yet they get large salaries. I find this mysterious.) For many years now, the Dean of Arts has simply confirmed the good things the department head has written on my Faculty Review form. I’ve been at the top of my salary range (for Instructors – read on) for years now, but the Dean usually states that I would deserve a raise if I were eligible.

I was expecting similar results from the Faculty Review material I submitted in January 2018. This is why I was shocked when word came down to me from the Dean that I was performing far below expectations because too many boxes on the standard form were marked “none.” This means that I have not applied for or received big grants from government or charitable organizations, I haven’t earned an additional degree, I haven’t published in scholarly journals, I haven’t done much committee work: all the things that tenured professors are expected to do.

The Dean wrote that I will now be reviewed every year, and he will be looking for improvements in my job performance.

When the “Instructor” category was created in 1999, seven of us “sessionals” (marginal academics, hired temporarily by the course) were given job security in exchange for the amount of teaching we were doing, which was and is much more than tenured faculty have ever been expected to do. The class limit for mandatory first-year English classes was then 35 students, and it was then bumped up to 40. Instructors were expected to teach six classes per year (May 1 to April 30) if we were also doing some type of “research.” (I think all 7 of us were freelance writers at the time.)

We were told that teaching was by far our most important job duty, and if we were doing anything else, that was a bonus. For awhile, it was debated whether we could get “merit increases” (usually given for outstanding research) or “career growth implements” because we weren’t expected to distinguish ourselves by our “research,” and supposedly, we had jobs rather than careers.

Traditionally, tenure-track or tenured academics are expected to do three things: 1) teach a few classes, 2) publish or perish, and 3) help run the Ivory Tower by spending hours in committee meetings, organizing conferences, setting rules for course content, maintaining communication within and between departments.

Duty #1 is much lighter for people in this category than for Instructors. In the English Department, those folks teach on a 5/4 schedule, meaning they teach 5 classes one year and 4 the next. Upper-level English classes are filled by keen students who are usually English majors. I was once a graduate student at the university where I now teach, and my classes were small, intimate discussion groups.

Since I’ve been allowed to teach Creative Writing as part of my courseload, I've had a chance to see how real professors get to live. Last semester, my Expository Prose class (non-fiction) started out with 12 students registered, but two had to drop out due to circumstances, so I was left with 10 delightful, compatible young people who liked to discuss writing. Teaching them was heavenly. Teaching my regular first-semester literature-and-composition courses is a sentence in purgatory.

(Too many students who are not fluent in English get shuffled into these classes even though they have no hope of passing. When they realize this, they become desperate or angry, and they blame the messenger. This is probably why I got two anonymous, threatening emails last year. The sender called me "bitch" and said I needed psychiatric "help." I reported this to the administration, the union, campus security, and the city police, but everyone told me that since the critic didn't sign his/her name, nothing could be done.)

I met with a representative from my academic union, the local faculty association. (She is a very nice but clear-headed prof who teaches Religious Studies. I've known her for years.) I showed her what the Dean wrote about me, and she told me frankly it is "bullshit." She spent some time researching the job description for Instructors (of whom there are only 2 left in the English Department due to promotions, retirements and resignations), and shared her findings with me. The description is fairly brief and vague, and it doesn’t claim that Instructors have to sit on committees, organize anything but our classes, or get the kind of grants that profs in the physical sciences get when they have discovered a new planet or a cure for cancer.

My union rep advised me to send the Dean a letter challenging his decision to put me on Faculty Review once a year. She said I should mention the generally-positive anonymous evaluations I get from students, the amount of teaching I do, the incredible length of time I've spent doing it, and the fact that older women faculty tend to get treated worse than male faculty by students in general. (Union Rep said that studies have shown this.)

She explained why the Dean suddenly (IMO) started shooting arrows at me: because the biggest expense for the university is senior faculty, those at the top of their pay-range who are close to retirement. She said it's no secret that the administration would like to make us uncomfortable enough to consider retiring sooner than later so that we can be replaced by younger and cheaper versions of ourselves: someone like myself as a sessional in 1999.

Thank the Goddess for unions, I say. Now I know that I'm not alone, and I don't have to take it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Girl Who Stood Up for Herself

I’ve never been especially good at standing up for myself, that’s something I’ve often done through my characters as so much of writing is an extension of the artist’s own longings. In the following two scenes from an unpublished novella “The Tortoise and the Eagle”, my favorite character, Nixie changes her destiny in an instant as she learns for the first time to stand up for herself.

Nixie is a young milk maid on her father’s failing small dairy farm in 19th century Oberammergau Bavaria. She is homely, ostracized and has crippling epilepsy.   When her uncle Snorri invites them to visit him in Munich, she is seduced by a “nosferatu” named Woglinde and they become lesbian lovers.  In my mythology which is strongly influenced by Octavia Butler’s vampire novel “Fledgling”, vampires and humans were separate species who were meant to live symbiotically, but the relationship was damaged somehow into a predator prey relationship.  Ideally a vampire would establish a small communal family of humans around herself.  The treasured vampiric blood, when dosed in small, careful amounts would have a powerful, rejuvenating and life prolonging effect upon humans without in any way changing their humanity.  In return for this, a small human family would protect the cherished vampire member with voluntarily given donations of their blood without the need for hunting or violence.  A symbiotic relationship where two species take care of each other. 

This mythology structure is carried over into this scene where Nixie has awoken from her first death-sleep and experienced her new identity and rejoices in it.  As she goes down the stairs, naked and rampantly sensuous – and for the first time truly happy to be alive more or less – she sees Snorri, her father and Woglinde have been waiting and realizes for the first time, that instead of being loved by Woglinde, she has been used.  .  .

“. . . She left her clothes on the bed and went to the mirror.

The nose, once bent was straight and even small. The lips inviting, the chin delicate. The eyes soft and bright such as a man might be invited to fall into.  Her legs, her belly, her breasts were all equally lovely, full and curved, womanly and soft.  There was no longer the awkward lumpiness she had seen there before.  The legs were clearly lengthened in bone and stride, could leap high, chase down the running –

-  the night is dark and I am very fast, Woglinde had said.

I will not chase, she thought.  I will not kill.  I will heal.  Only heal, those whom I chose, I will be their goddess.  I am the fountain, the blood and the life.  They will love me. The sick and the old, the deserted and the lonely, I have known them, I have been them, I will take their blood and give it back to them imbued with my magic. Mine! I will save them all with our communion. I chose who deserves to be saved. 

Silent, nude, stepping with beauty, a long panther stride of hidden strength that came to her instinctively.  She left the bedroom, padded to the stairs and stood a moment trying the air.  She sensed each person in the dining room below.  She could tell which part of the room they were sitting in at this moment.  Papa.  Snorri.  Dear Woglinde.  She also knew instantly that Woglinde knew she was there.

She moved silently down the stairs and wondered for a moment if she might actually have become a ghost.  She listened to the voices of the dining room and felt the particular feelings hiding behind each voice, brushed their souls with her fingertips, perceived the anxiety in all but Woglinde's voice. 

She went down, stepped into the light.  Woglinde was at the far end of the table and Snorri and Papa were arguing in small anxious voices.  She stood in the doorway only a moment when Woglinde turned to her.  The men followed her look.

"Oh!" said Snorri, laughing.  "Shield your eyes, old man, she's not your little girl anymore."

Papa did not shield his eyes.  He looked at her long and hard.  She felt a great boldness.  There was power in her nakedness.  There was challenge in her audacity, in the pink of her youthful nipples, the ruff of silver hair between her thighs.  She walked across the room, long legged and rolling hipped to the dining table and the room was silent.  All eyes were on her and - the feeling!

Soon all the pretty boys will bow down to worship me. 

Papa rose from the table without a word.  She felt Woglinde's eyes on her, as Papa strode over and stood before her. 


He slapped her face hard with the back of his hand so that her eyes spun.

"No!" Woglinde leaped to her feet.  "Don't ever do that!"

"Again you're parading around like this in front of others.  Are you having another fit?  Are you going to fall down drooling again like an idiot?" 

"Stop that!" yelled Woglinde.  "Stop!"

He slapped her a second time and she felt a tremendous wave surge through her such that she suddenly rose on her toes.  Whatever Papa was seeing in her face made him take a step back.

Papa turned to Woglinde, eyes fevered, face flushing furious.  "Am I supposed to be afraid of my little girl now, Rhine bitch?  Is that what you've made for me?"

"She's not your little girl - your little girl is dead."

"She made?" said Nixie, looking at the two men.  "You knew.  When it was happening.  You knew all about it."  She looked around the table, smelled Snorri's guilt in the air like bitter incense, felt the night air vibrate with Woglinde's defiance.  "Whose idea was it?"

She suddenly felt a great urge to go somewhere, downstairs to look for Danzer, to be away from all people.  Smell Danzer’s honest horse hide, caress an animal's honest face, something innocent, something perfectly itself, away from people.

"I don't belong to you anymore, not any of you.  I belong to myself and who I choose to love.  You can all go to Hell!"  Woglinde came around the table and took a step towards her.  "And you too Woglinde!  You most of all.  Go die in the sun!"

She stamped up the stairs feeling the lightness and strength in her legs; sure that if she tried she could jump to the top step in a bound.  As she reached her room she could already hear someone coming after her.

"It was my idea," said Papa, stamping into the room.  I won't carry you on my back all my life."

"Nobody asked you to,” she said, turning to him, at bay.  I don't need you anymore.  I don’t need anybody anymore." 

“You have to be good for something.  Everyone has to be good for something.  A young woman like you should be married.  Should have given me grandsons to keep up the farm.  But no!  Your fancy ideas, your sickness, falling down in public like some imbecile, like a fool.  Useless girl. You cost me everything – everything! You.  Until now.  I'm old. You will take care of me."

She wrapped her arms around her bare breasts and drew the old wall around her.  She felt if she could stand very still it might all pass away and stop.

"I finally know what you're good for. Woglinde gives Snorri life and youth.  I've seen it.  She will help him live forever with her blood.  I've tasted it.  It's all true.  Even if it's the devil’s blood, at least you're good for something now. Even a milk cow is good for something.  Now you're going to be good for something.  You're going to be my milk cow.  Through you I will live.  Do you hear?"

She turned her head at the rushing in her ears and looked at the lamp on the table.  A soot shadow on the glass chimney was shaped like a little rabbit with ears.  She looked at her hands and they needed washing. She looked at the thumb of her left hand and there was a tiny piece of skin near her fingernail that felt a little sore.  She felt the hair on the back of her head begin to rise.  She put her thumb in her mouth and stood very still feeling the room shrinking fast around her. 

"I never wanted a fool for a daughter. I wanted a son!  I never wanted you at all."

"I'm sorry, Papa." 

The table cloth had a printed pattern of little black coaches pulled by little white horses and a driver with a tall hat and a whip and little heads in the coach windows.  They were happy because they were traveling somewhere.  That was the thing to do.  To travel somewhere.  Oberammergau.  The cows.  The farm.  She sucked her thumb and counted the little horses as the room began to squeeze her chest.  Six horses, each coach.  Happy people, traveling.  Would the angels come back?  No.  The angels and her lord, she would not see them again.  How did she know?  No, she knew.

"I never wanted you!  Your mother never wanted you!"

Heat rising in her face.  Sucking her thumb, shaking her head, trying to bite off the piece of sore skin on her fingernail.  "No, papa."

"You’re a useless, falling down cripple."  Papa's voice was trembling.  He had come close to her.  "Even a cow is good for something.  Well, now maybe your blood at least will be good for something.  By god - you'll do this.  Are you hearing me?"

"No, papa."  She chewed her thumb.  She shook her head. "No."

The soot stain in the lamp chimney.  It looked like a turtle now with four tiny legs.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four. Now flying over the mountains, now through the cold air back home to the farm and the quiet barn, now cool with the steam of the cows breath in the morning air.  No need for the eagle.  No need for anyone ever again. "It's all right, I'm sorry, papa."

Her eyes skipped around the room.  Looking at the window curtains which blew in with the night breeze, looking past the shouting man, looking down at her feet.  The thumb salty in her mouth.  Her big farm girl feet now pretty and light.  She would learn to dance. And the beautiful boys.  The beautiful boys would worship her and live forever.

She made a fist and hit herself in the face. 

Maybe I can make it happen, she thought.  Maybe I can call the angels and my Lord to me and they will pick me up and fly me away.

"Why weren’t you a son!"

"I think maybe you're drunk," she said "You should maybe lie down."

"Bleed for me."

She shook her head.  "That's not a nice thing to ask, Papa." 

"You do not say no to me!"

She hit herself in the face again, but the golden glow wouldn't come.  "That's not a nice thing to ask, papa.  Don't talk anymore, please.  You're just drunk."

"You will bleed for me."

"No, sir.  I will not." 

"What did you say?  Say that again."

"No, sir.  I will not."

His hand swatted her fast and hard across the face.  Nixie shrieked and bounced into the table, knocking the lamp over.  She lowered her head as he stormed toward her.

The stirring swelled in her.  A sharp eruption behind her lips.  She let it come.  An iron taste that filled her with sudden light. 

And there he was.

She moved over the floor to meet him, barely touching with her toes, moving with awkward untested power, snatching his hair in her clenched fist, tugging his head back hard, his arms windmilling as he toppled.  She fastened down tight on his throat and felt the teeth slip in easily and beautifully as though choosing the first bite of a persimmon.  She hugged him close, feeling his throbbing energy, his life, spilling into her as her brain went dull.  He pounded at her back with his fists. The beating thrilled her and she gripped him harder.  Bones cracked.  She drew in a breath, smelling his sweat.

The lamp oil spreading on the floor had caught flame.

Snorri was running up the stairs, shouting - "I'll put her in the sun!"

Woglinde burst into the room ahead of him and stopped at the sight, blocking Snorri at the door.

On the floor Nixie sat, off far away, eyes closed to all, rocking gently Papa in her arms like a doll, cooing to him.  On her cheek, a trailing blood tear stalled.

"Oh child," whispered Woglinde, "What have you done?"

And so it goes.  I love my Nixie.  I haven’t written for a while but seeing her awakens me.  I want to check back in with her soon.  Not let the light die out for us.  We love our characters because they shw these hidden sides of ourselves.