Flash Fiction: The Caddy

I was putting his nine iron back in the bag when the thunder started. Which was weird because the sky was almost totally clear. But in Florida, you never knew. You’d think we’d be used to the changing weather, but there was something different about this rumble. It sounded like a warning.

At least he thought so because I swear he flinched.

I’d only caddied for him a few times, when his regular guy couldn’t make it. “Everything all right, sir?”

“Yeah. Yeah, fine.” Making a tight fit in the passenger seat of his golf cart, he wiggled a hand into the front pocket of his khakis and came out with a sweaty ten-dollar bill and shoved it at me. “Kid, take a walk, okay?”

I took a walk. I’m not stupid. The pay there was shitty. I only worked for tips. And, occasionally, whatever food was left over.

Still, I had this sense of something not quite right. If his heart finally exploded (and among the caddies we were taking bets as to when) I didn’t want to be the guy who walked off and left his charge in trouble on the back nine. I’d never work in this town again. So I took a few steps away and hid behind a bunker.

“What?” he said, seemingly to no one. “Seriously, in the middle of one of my best games—”

Lightning flashed. Like that sky-to-ground shit. So close I nearly pissed myself.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. You want me to stop lying so much. Sure. I can do that.”

Thunder. It sounded like the sky was laughing.

“Watch me, loser. I got this.”

Loser. He’d called God loser? Because that was another thing discussed among the caddies. That while he played the course, he talked to God. And it wasn’t always respectful. He talked to God like he was someone who worked for him. I never called myself that religious, but even I knew that wasn’t right. You don’t call bullshit on God. If you want to live.

Another rumble came like a question.

He threw his hand up. “Because it’s easier than the truth,” he said. “Hell, nobody cares what you tell them. I know what they wanna hear. And it ain’t the truth. If I went out and told the truth I’d lose a million Twitter followers, easy. I’d never sign a boob again.”

The sky responded. The clouds darkening. “For fuck’s sake, how can you be that naïve? You must be a Democrat.”

I totally expected lightning after that. Like, for the whole club to get blasted off the face of the earth. I even put my arms up over my head.

Nothing.

He shot his middle finger toward the sky. “Pussy. Loser. I don’t know what those evangelicals see in you. Maybe they’re smoking something. I think you fucked it up, and you fucked it up big, and now you’re trying to blame it on someone else.”

I’d never heard thunder that loud before. It shook the ground.

But the man only chuckled. “Obviously you’ve forgotten we had a deal. And that you signed a solid NDA. I’ll have your ass in court so fast you won’t believe it. Acosta won’t even believe it.”

The sky responded and the man laughed louder.

That was when I saw it. The dark spot at the edge of the rough. He was facing away from me, and the words flooded my brain, as insistent as a command from…well, Him. “You know what to do,” I swore it was saying, and for some reason I could not take my eyes from the iron sticking farther out of the bag than the others.

I crawled over there—fortunately he was occupied with whatever trash-talk he was doing with the Big Guy—inched it out of the bag and, employing skills I’d honed playing pool and darts in many, many bars, I sailed it true and it landed near the dark spot.

Thunder sounded like a snort of amusement.

“What?” The man turned. I ducked away, back behind the bunker. “Aw, who the fuck left that over there. Caddy. Caddy? Hey. Pablo!”

My name was Juan.

He worked his cell phone out of his pocket. “No fucking signal. We had a deal. We had a deal! Five fucking big shiny bars wherever the hell I am.” A slow, rolling peal of thunder. “Fine. Be that way. I’ll just have to get it myself. No thanks to you.”

He tossed the phone onto the seat next to him and struggled to pull his bulk from the cart. Scowling, he lumbered across the green toward the rough. As he was bending, he clutched his chest, dropped to the grass, and it seemed the earth, through that dark spot, opened up to swallow him.

I could do nothing but stare for what felt like minutes. Then I snuck out from behind my hiding space, got the club, cleaned it up pretty, and put it back in the bag. The sky looked a little lighter. The dark spot was just as green as the rest of the thirteenth hole. I thought it best to leave the cell phone where he’d dropped it.

I felt something then, like a hand in my shirt pocket. Very slowly, I checked it and found a crisp new twenty.

I’m not stupid. I dropped that twenty into the first church collection bin I saw.

What is a Kitchen Brigade?

Some of you have been asking about the significance of the kitchen brigade, and why I chose that as a title for my latest book. The kitchen brigade (brigade de cuisine) is a system of hierarchy in the kitchen, particularly in restaurants and hotels, developed in the late 1800s by Georges Auguste Escoffier (yes, that Escoffier) to delegate the many, many tasks required to produce a magnificent haute cuisine meal, The list, as originally crafted, is incredibly extensive, and includes four positions just under the pastry cook alone! The larger the restaurant, obviously, the more positions are required. It was called a brigade based on Escoffier’s career in the French army.

Most modern restaurants don’t use the full order of the brigade. Partly because of the cost involved and because most restaurant meals don’t include the seven or eight courses that were common in the high-end restaurants of the late 1800s, when a fancy meal could last an entire evening.

Since, in the story, Chef Svetlana has crafted a kitchen to please the refined sensibilities (if not refined palate) of the Russian general she works for, she structures her kitchen using a stripped down version of the classic brigade system. She’s the head chef; under her command are sous chefs, a pastry cook, and two line chefs. In real life, she might have preferred a fuller brigade. But there’s a war on, so she does the best she can with what she can find. So, a kitchen brigade during wartime… The Kitchen Brigade seemed like a natural fit as a title.

Also, in case you didn’t get to see this, or want to learn more about The Kitchen Brigade (the novel), here’s an interview I did with Cyrus Webb about the story. I hope you enjoy it. He asks great questions.

As always, thank you for reading!

New Zealand Mosque Attack – the murder of children

I have nothing to add here. Meeks says it so well. Namaste.

Meeka's Mind

I was horrified by the New Zealand Mosque attack yesterday. It touched my head and made me angry.

Today, the first thing I saw on Twitter was a picture of a man. He was shown from the back and in his arms hung the body of a child. A four year old.

That image touched my heart and will haunt me for the rest of my days.

I remember being a young Mum and suddenly being terrified of the world into which my baby was born. My baby is over 30 now. The child in that picture…

I’m only one person, but I have to do what I can to hammer home this simple truth:

people who spew white supremacist/nationalist poison are not exercising their right to free speech, they are pointing psychopaths at a target and inviting them to shoot.

Every single person who excuses, condones or ‘softens’ the…

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Carla

This week I was inspired to go a little dark. Some parts of this story are based on actual incidents. I learned why I never go to that pharmacy.

———

“Ma’am?”

The syllable filters down like mist, drifts around in her head as she parses the inflection and what it wants of her. Everybody wants something. Read this, join us, click here, you won’t believe what happens next. Get mad, get religion, get woke, donate to save the polar bears. Save democracy. Save the planet. Save the children. Save your soul while you still can…

“Ma’am, I have to close the store now.”

Store. She clasps something in the faded-denim valley of her crossed legs. Cotton balls. Jumbo size. She doesn’t remember needing cotton balls. She doesn’t remember coming here. She never comes to this pharmacy. But she can’t remember why. The slippery package feels nice in her hands. Cool. Soft. Comforting. There’s a background hum—ventilation maybe—the air is clean and antiseptic, the floor carpeted. Before her sparkles a mirrored wall of wands and lacquers and tubes, but she can only see slices of her face. Face slices. The words and image make her laugh…softly, to herself, before her throat tightens and the tears threaten to return.

“Ma’am.” Now it’s a plea. “Ma’am, I need to go pick up my kids. Is there someone I can call?”

“Carla,” she tells the heavens. Remembering how her mother loved it. Loved crooning it to her to chase away the pain.

“Oh…kay. Does this Carla person have a number?”

“I’m Carla. My name is Carla. I’m not ‘Car.’ I’m not ‘ma’am,’ I’m not ‘honey,’ I’m not ‘libtard,’ I’m not ‘snowflake,’ I’m not…” The tears choke off her voice before she can say it. Crazy.

Silence from above, except for the buzz of fluorescent lights. It skitters across her nerve endings. Now she remembers why she doesn’t come here. He shook his head at her when she said that about the buzz; he walked away and turned on the television. Those loud, braying mouths spewing garbage. Like his.

He can’t walk away anymore. Or watch that network.

“Okay, Carla.” She pinpoints the source of the sound. A loudspeaker mounted to the ceiling. The voice is slow and deliberate. Almost kind. But she doesn’t quite believe it. “How are we going to get you home?”

An image flashes through her mind and she shakes her head violently. The slices of her face dance. Face slice dance. Not funny. Not funny anymore. She clutches the cotton balls more tightly to her middle and with the unlacquered finger of one hand traces patterns in the dried, rust-red dots on her jeans. “Oh. Oh, I’m not going home. I’m never going home.”

More Challenges Faced by Indie Authors

Good stuff, here…

Author Don Massenzio

ChallengesThis is the second in a series of posts centered on the challenges faced by indie authors as we try to compete in the vast ocean of competitors/cohorts that is filled with sharks and other predators. Here are more that I’ve come up with to get you thinking and to foster a discussion:

bad reputation speedometer illustration designThe Stigma of Self-Publishing

I refrain from calling what we do self-publishing. I am an independent author. My publisher is Amazon. Instead of having services provided to me by a traditional publisher, I outsource them to providers that fit within my budget and style.

I recall trying to join a local author group and being refused because I was “one of those self-publishers”. Truth be told, I had essentially published more books than the total of all of the authors in the group. Many of them were waiting for some big publisher to say yes. Of those…

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7 Things I Learned in 7 Years as an Indie Author

Some of you have asked what it’s like to take the indie author road instead of traditional publishing. So I’ll tell you. It’s a bit like typing in Spanish with one hand and Greek with the other, while you’re blindfolded and going fifty-five on a hoverboard. Except with less nausea and bloodshed. I kid, of course. It’s worse than that. Why do it, then? Because I can. Because I like to be in control of my work. I’ve been self-publishing for seven years now—long enough to learn a few things, and also long enough to realize there’s a lot I still don’t know. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my seven years of independence.

1. It helps to stay current.The publishing market is always changing. Sales outlets change; advertisers change; Amazon algorithms reallychange. What worked like gangbusters for one author one day might be a flat bust for another…or even for the same book two months later. This is why I read a handful of publishing blogs and bother my colleagues with questions about what’s working—and not working—for them. 

2. Reviews are for readers. A hard lesson I learned was that once I publish a book, I have no control over what readers will say about it. Zip. Zero. I still hope for reviews. They make me feel good, especially when readers like my work, but I stopped getting hung up over the “negative” ones. Because, really, reviews are for readers. They tell other readers if a book is worth their precious leisure hours that they could be spending with Netflix or crafting avocado toast. If you hate first person, present tense stories about vampire mermaids with serious alpha billionaire issues (spoiler alert: this is not what I write), you’d want to see that reflected in a review, yes? Saves you oodles of time and frustration.

3. Goodreads is also for readers. Other than doing giveaways (which are now honking expensive so I stopped) I was never really comfortable wearing my author hat there. It felt kind of spammy and stalky to be lurking around. But I do like the site as a reader, with my shelves and to-reads and discussion groups and all that. Once in a while, I’ll mention a new book or a promotion or whatnot, but I try to keep it low-key.

4. Patience. Patience. Patience.I publish a book. I open my handy spreadsheet of bloggers and reviewers and send out queries or review copies. I wait. I wait patiently, I wait professionally. I wait…happily. Not that I’m sucking up or anything, but book bloggers and reviewers are gold. They are wonderful people who love books and want to talk about books, but they are BUSY. They don’t get paid for what they do, so they have jobs and stuff. So once I send, I don’t bother them. Ever. If they choose to review my book, I thank them; I share their blogs and try to get them more traffic.

5. The Oxygen Mask Rule. There’s that announcement in airplanes that if the oxygen mask drops, put yours on before assisting others. Promotion and marketing can take a lot of time and energy. I went out guns blazing when I started, and within a few years I was dragging. I had to make a tough decision: back away from promotion so it wouldn’t kill the joy I get from writing. When I was ready to return, I had a much better perspective on how I was balancing my time.

6. Play well with others. The internet truly is forever. So are a lot of readers’ memories. I cringe when I read public posts from authors bashing other authors, complaining about Draconian editors (not me, of course), or whining about book reviews. It makes them look like jerks. 

7. Do my own thing and be happy. As I said before, writing is one of my great joys and I like to have control over my work. So I want to write and publish in a way that makes me happy. If another author’s version of happy is publishing six romance novels a year or winning the Pulitzer or making a boatload of money, then I wish them well. Life is short and we all deserve a shot at being happy with what we make.

Thank you for being part of my adventure.

Nonessentially Essential

Terry was supposed to have been home by now. Done with all this. That was the deal. Pete had made dinner, fed the kids, took care of the dog, the cats, the dishes, the laundry, the playdates, the bills…keeping himself active now to stem the barrage of disaster scenarios. Accidents and phones dead and emergency rooms and—

Stop.

He took a deep breath. Two. Three. Four. Checked his phone again to make sure he hadn’t missed her. Some accident of interstellar space keeping her voice from its landing pad, some defect in the system. Once he had two voice mails and the little button on his phone never told him.

Nope. Nothing.A low rumble started from far away. He felt it in his fingertips, pressed against the countertop. The rattle in the windows pounding in his heart.

“Dad. Dad!” Mark, all of seven, came barreling in, hair askew, eyes wild. “Dad. It’s one of those big planes. I can tell by the lights! Come see!”

A fifth breath. He’d been hearing more and more of those engines shaking the house. Cargo planes from the air force base, an hour away. Headed god knows where with how much killing power.

He went outside with his son. A clear, cold night. Stars twinkling. The sort of night Terry had written poems about, before she took on this new assignment… Before she tore a hole in the tapestry of their everyday. Before terrible meals and unmade beds and lonely nights. So many lonely nights. He knew this was the deal. Didn’t mean he liked it. Didn’t mean he hadn’t had the occasional fantasy of driving to Washington and punching a few politicians in the face.

“Dad!” Mark was shouting, pointing up.

Pete had never seen lights move that slowly across the sky. Hovering. Taking one last, long glimpse at what its passengers would be leaving behind.

“I think it’s a Galaxy!” Mark waved. As if the people on board could see him. “Like the one Mom was in! Dad. You think she’ll come back in one, too? Maybe this time we can see it?”

His throat tightened. His hand landed on Mark’s thin, twitchy shoulder. “Yeah. Maybe. We’ll see. Let’s go in now, son. Cold out here.”

He went back to busywork, diverting his attention. Long ago he’d stopped watching the news; he didn’t want to know what had exploded where. “Just keep in touch when you can,” he’d said, mustering all his energy to quash some Y chromosome throwback—or voice of his father—telling Terry that her place was with them. Not in some godforsaken country doing thankless work for ungrateful leaders, where every day could be her last.

“I have to try,” she’d said. A near-death experience shining a new light in her eyes, as bright as the stars she wrote about. “I have skills they need. Getting girls into schools. Teaching them to read, to have a chance to improve their lives. I have to serve.”

“But couldn’t you do that here? Somewhere safe?”

She laughed, a soft laugh, pressing a cool hand to his cheek. A strong hand, one that had held babies through sickness and health, through joy and pain. Yet tender enough to calm his greatest fears.

She couldn’t calm this one. It would have been so easy: don’t go.

He’d reasoned, he’d fumed, he’d tried so many ways to get her to see things from his point of view. But in the end he gave up the fight. Because he eventually realized that when she came home—and he wouldn’t even allow “if” into his head—he wanted her to come home to him. 

Three months, she’d said. That was what she’d signed on for. Six months ago. 

He put the kids to bed, watched something unremarkable on television, put a leash on the dog for one last, quick walk.

Half a block later, under a canopy of stars and silence, his phone rang.

Terry. His blood pressure dropped twenty points just hearing her voice, hearing her tell him about the work she’d done, the lives she’d bettered. He held his tongue each time he thought “what about our lives?” But then he saw a shooting star. Making a wish on it like his mother always told him. Wishing he could make peace with her decision.

“Honey, you still there?”

“Uh. Yeah. Sorry.” The connection was bad. Why did she sound so flat?

“I said, is next Tuesday good? Around six?”

“Good. Good for…?” Damn. So self-involved, so absorbed with how this was making his life a holy mess that he didn’t…

“For meeting me at the base. They’re done with me. I’m coming home. Or would you prefer I call an Uber?”

“Wait. Done with you?”

The pause broke his heart a little. In it, he imagined a frown, a shrug. A brave face. “No money, no nonessential services.”

Those bastards. “They can’t just—”

“Yeah.” The sound this time was a definite sigh. “They can.”

His Y chromosome went into overdrive. “We’ll find you something else. Some other way you can help. There are plenty of girls here, poor neighborhoods, schools that need help…”

Was that a laugh? It was a soft laugh, a little sad, but it made him stop. And smile.

“Whoa, cowboy,” she said. “I want to talk about that, I want to talk about all of it, but let’s wait until I get home, okay?”

“Yeah.” His voice broke. He cleared his throat. “We’ll do that, yeah.”

After they ended the call, he petted his patient dog’s soft ears, and the two of them finished their walk silently, gratefully, under the dome of stars.

New: The Kitchen Brigade

Hi, everyone,

I’m so excited to tell you that The Kitchen Brigade, my latest novel and first dystopian story, is now live on Amazon!

Here’s the gist of it:

In the not-so-distant future, a culinary student—and daughter of the assassinated secretary of state—is forced to work in the kitchen of a Russian general whose army occupies an America torn apart by civil war. To rebel could prove deadly, but how long can she serve the men destroying her country?

If an army marches on its stomach, a cook might find a way to win the war.

Here’s what an early reader said about it:

“In The Kitchen Brigade, a powerful dystopian imagining of a post-Trump world in which Russia has overtaken America, author Laurie Boris pulls us into unexpected territory with her rich, detailed narrative of the despair, courage, and persistent creativity found amongst a band of female chefs forced to serve their captors.” — Lorraine Devon Wilke, author of The Alchemy of Noise and Hysterical Love

Here’s the universal Amazon link.

For now, The Kitchen Brigade will only be available as an e-book on Amazon. You can read it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’ll have more updates to come about sales, events, recipes, when the paperback will be ready, how to skin and cook a woodchuck (just kidding), and all that jazz. But for now, I’m popping open an adult beverage and celebrating.

Have a great day!

Happy New Year and Some Book News

Hi, everyone,

Based on a meme my neighbor shared a couple of years ago, I started an experiment. Some of you might have seen my “Positive Jar” on social media, and if not, here’s a photo.

It works like this: Starting at the beginning of the year, write down good things that happen in your life, big and small, and put them in the jar. Then on New Year’s Day, read them all. The unveiling is kind of fun—a little bonding exercise with my husband—and a reminder that while doom and gloom does exist, there is also good. Sometimes where you least expect it.

This past year came with a lot of challenges. Car trouble. Household repairs. Loved ones going through tough times. Headlines that made me want to run to my doctor for a prescription for Xanax. But in a lot of those negative events, I found lessons or silver linings. A flashing engine light came on right near a service station that has since become my “go-to” place for car problems. A broken air conditioning unit on the hottest day of the year led to meeting the owner of a small HVAC company…that also repaired our furnace for not very much money. (After another company tried to fix it twice but failed.) You get the picture. Each adversity I overcame made me feel a little stronger.

In my writing life, I also had challenges. For the last couple of years, I’ve been working on a novel that’s different than anything I’ve ever published. I’ve written action/adventure before, but never anything dystopian. Never anything that takes place in the future. I’d fallen in love with the idea, a wonderful bit of therapy for me, but I fretted if it was tenable, or if anyone would want to read it. Finally, “Finished novel!” went into the jar. So did the positive feedback I’d gotten from several early readers and my editor.

Cover of The Kitchen Brigade
Cover photo by Art Husband!

The Kitchen Brigade takes place in an increasingly isolationist United States, embroiled in civil war. Russia, one of America’s few remaining allies, has sent peacekeeping troops—but they’re doing everything except keeping the peace. Attempting to get through this war is a brigade of female chefs forced to cook for a Russian general occupying New York’s Hudson Valley. But the women may be serving up trouble as well as five-star meals. If it’s true that an army travels on its stomach, can a cook find a way to win the war?

I’m excited to tell you I’ll be publishing the novel in January. You can read more about it here.

Happy New Year to all of you and the best of everything in 2019. May your positive jars be full!

Unraveling, with Gratitude

Hi, everyone,

Recently my father shared an analogy about time with respect to your years on this planet. That it’s like a ball of string. It rolls out so slowly—almost too slowly—when you’re very young and the ball is full, but faster and faster as it gets smaller. Although the events of the world this year often made time feel interminable, I looked up from the computer one day and could barely believe 2018 was almost done.

My ball of string is unraveling faster than it used to. But I’m trying to be grateful for every inch. I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and food on my table and that I get to work with words and stories, a childhood dream that for a while I never thought possible.

I’m grateful for readers and writers and my entire community of book-loving people.

I hope you have a lovely holiday season and good health, happiness, and abundance in the coming year—wherever you are on your own ball of string.

Laurie

PS: I haven’t forgotten the book deals! See this page for more info…