Missed Connections

This quirky bit of short fiction was inspired by the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist. I hope you enjoy it.


Missed Connections

Cotton Candy Cat Girl

You were standing behind the door of a stalled outbound Green Line train at three thirty Tuesday afternoon. Leggings with white cat faces in a sea of black. Pink streaks in your long white hair that made me think of taffy and bubble gum and girl singers from the eighties. You were reading something on your phone that made you smile. I won’t be able to sleep until I know what it was. Maybe you missed me, a skinny redheaded freckled guy in a Spider-Man T-shirt, staring at you from the inbound side, wishing time would freeze, longing for a non-pervy look into your closet. But in case you glanced up, for only a second, or even if you didn’t, let’s meet in the middle and share TBR lists.

Doe Eyes on the Green Line

I was so engrossed in rereading the first Harry Potter book—crushed so hard on those Weasly twins when I was a kid, or is that TMI?—that I barely noticed the T had stalled out north of Kenmore. Maybe it was the rush of the train passing on the opposite tracks that pulled my attention. Maybe it was you. I saw your eyes through the window. Soft, like a doe’s. And you smiled. So tell me, tall, dark, and handsome in the black muscle tee on the Tuesday afternoon train. I’ve never done anything like this, and maybe you were just smiling at my punky self like “look at the freak,” but if those eyes were meant for me, let’s meet for a brew somewhere and see where this leads.

Cat Girl, Why So Blue?

I didn’t think I’d see you again, or that you’d even get my message. But there you were at five thirty on Friday, on the outbound C train, your cotton-candy hair now streaked with blue. Does it change with your moods, like those old rings my mom has? I wish I could make it pink again. If you looked out your window you might have seen me crossing Beacon Street against the lights—yeah, I’m a rebel like that—with beer and comic books and a pizza. If you remember the guy in the Flash T-shirt carrying a bunch of stuff while drivers honked at him, maybe we can split a pizza one day. Unless you’re vegan. It’s hard to tell anymore.

Crossing Paths at Park Street

Thursday at eleven a.m. at the Park Street station. Our eyes met across the platform. Your gaze dropped to my checkered Chuck Taylors and you smiled, in a better sort of way than before. So maybe I’m not so much of a freak as I think I am. Or you were looking for something to brighten the reason you were wearing a suit in the middle of the day in the middle of July. But then a train came, and when it pulled away you were gone. I hope you got the job. Or got out of the ticket. Message me and let’s talk about it. I’m a good listener.

Rainbow Brite

Friday afternoon, about two. You were sitting at an outdoor café in Coolidge Corner, blue and pink now braided together like dancing rainbow ribbons, with something tall and frosty in front of you. I was on the inbound C train, and I almost pulled the cord to get out, but I thought that would be kinda creepy. Also, you looked like you were waiting for someone. I hope whoever it was showed. Because that’s not right, to leave a cool Rainbow Brite girl like you stranded on the corner. I might have to challenge the person to a duel or something, and I have a feeling I would probably suck at that.

Was It Something I Said?

It might have been amusing, if life were a rom-com, and if I was being played by that girl from Juno, to have two or three guys come up to my table and ask if they could join me. You know, with that la-la-lasoundtrack behind us. And then I’d have to tell them, “No, I’m waiting for this random guy I met a handful of times and all I know about him is that I think he likes my wardrobe.” Funny, huh? Totally hilarious. So I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and convince myself that your mother’s cousin’s hairdresser needed you to change a flat or something. Same place on Monday?

Color Me Baffled on the B Line

I thought you smiled at me on Saturday afternoon, across a sardine-crowded outbound Green Line car at Copley Station, but that could have been wishful thinking. Or my overactive imagination. I mean, who knows? Maybe I’m invisible. Like I’m a spirit traveling through time and I’m the only one who can see my body. Color me baffled, but you sort of gave off that vibe today. Like you’d just realized you’re also not part of this dimension. Is that why you’d washed the streaks out of your hair? Why you were wearing all black? Maybe there’s another plane we can meet in.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, You Suck.

Saturday night you said your name was Rafael and that I was the most beautiful girl you’d ever seen in a train station. You twirled your finger around a lock of my hair and said some romantic-sounding words in a language I didn’t understand. Or the music in the club was too loud. Maybe you really did apologize for the no-show in Coolidge Corner. Two drinks in I was ready to go home with you and find out where the trail of your tattoos led. Then that Latina chick slithered by and called you Enrique. You didn’t correct her. That phone call you got right after must have been important. By the way, you owe me twenty for the bar bill. Donate it to your favorite charity. A scholarship fund for the women you leave behind. Or use it to buy a goddamn clue.

Watercolor Painting Freeze-Frame

Mom’s eyebrows rose when I said that once again I’d seen you, a palette of somber shades on a Monday morning, dashing across Beacon Street to beat the rain. She doesn’t believe in missed connections, in the Doppler Effect, in two trains passing in the night. If fate wanted, it would have us meet in the middle, a watercolor painting freeze-frame of two hands pressed on either side of a window. Well, that’s not exactly what she said. In truth it was more like “schmuck, what are you waiting for?” But I like my version better. It has more hope, more life, more magic. What if it’s not the Green Line at all where we keep missing, but the Hogwarts Express?

Damsel in Distressed Denim

You didn’t strike me as the kind of person who reads Missed Connections, so I’m posting this to the universe and hope you see these words. Thank you for the handkerchief—we both knew I couldn’t blame all the tears on the rain. You’re a kind man, and the world needs more kind men, and your wife is a very lucky woman. I wish I knew how the two of you met, but since you got off at Copley, I didn’t get to ask, so it leaves me to imagine. I’m seeing another handkerchief, another rainstorm, another damsel in distress. She’s probably wise and funny; she’d probably be proud of you for helping me. So this guy wasn’t the one. It’s hardly the end of the world—I’ll just throw my D&D dice and let fate take me for a spin.

All by Myself on the Top of the Shelf Looking Down

Maybe my mother was right. I kind of felt like a schmuck when I saw you on the Park Street platform Tuesday afternoon with that guy. You in black Chuck Taylors (how many pairs do you have!) and your hair snagged into a high pony; him like a billboard for Muscle-Man Gym. It’s none of my business. We don’t even know each other’s names. But the hole that gnawed at my stomach when I saw the two of you together, the way he touched your arm…that had a name, and it wasn’t pretty. So I went home to the part of the movie where they’d show montages of me being all bummed and alone. Sorting my superhero socks, alone. Eating my cornflakes, alone. Shopping for comic books, alone. But I can’t shake this Spidey-sense that he was the kind of guy you thought you should go for, and that I—maybe you’ll also think I’m a schmuck for saying this—was a guy you might want to get to know. A little. Maybe. A guy can hope.

Missing Something?

Hey, cute freckle-faced dude in the Avengers T-shirt who jumped off that wicked jam-packed Green Line train at Washington Street, so fast you left your comic books behind: I’ll keep the bag in a safe place until you answer this message. Well, after I read them. You have great taste in comics.

My Rainbow Connection

You in pink Chucks and pink tights and pink hair, you with a rainbow of colors in your kaleidoscope eyes, a smile I know is for me because there’s no one else in the car leaving Kenmore Square at eleven p.m. on a Wednesday. You stand and walk toward me and take the seat next to me, lean your head against my shoulder, and for a long time, we say nothing. It feels right, like we’re two magnets, and I can almost hear a ping that makes us visible again. Like the two halves of Shazam’s magic ring. You smell like coffee and donuts and books; you tell me that you’ve always liked guys with red hair and freckles. Your number sits on my phone like a promise. So I don’t even need to post this message. Maybe I just wanted to thank Missed Connections for existing? Or maybe I’m just sticking my tongue out at that guy who was never going to be good enough for you. So, Cotton Candy Girl, would you mind if once in a while I posted here, wrote some goopy stuff to make people believe in happy endings? Or is that too weird? I’ll let you decide.

The Magic of Writing Fiction about Magic

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I’ve loved magic since I was a kid. I eagerly watched magicians on television, especially Doug Henning, Harry Anderson, and David Copperfield. It looked so cool that they could appear to cut a person in half, make something vanish, or perform some other jaw-dropping feat. In my head, I knew that the illusions performed were not physically possible. Harry Anderson wasn’t “really” sticking a giant hatpin right through his arm on Saturday Night Live. David Copperfield wasn’t “really” making a 747 disappear. Doug Henning didn’t just…do that, did he? But I still was enthralled. The craft of illusion fascinated me, and even though I was able to suspend my disbelief, I admired the work and practice it must have taken to make the performances look so smooth.

Then I had a chance to peek behind the curtain. I lived with a magician for a few years, and he had a lot of magician friends. I watched them practice; I went to their shows; I learned about their props. And for a short time, I was an actual assistant, right down to the fishnet tights and misdirection. I wasn’t very good at my job, but it was a lot of fun to dress up on a weekend and try to get people to put money in our hat. I learned how to juggle and perform a few simple illusions, much to the delight of various small, fussy children and their weary parents.

I still watched the professionals with agog, even though most of the time I knew how the tricks worked. I met Harry Anderson in a Manhattan magic store (he’s adorably sweet and freakishly tall), I spoke with David Copperfield after one of his shows (eerily intense and possibly a vampire), ditto Jeff McBride (less eerily intense than Copperfield though), among others. But there was one thing I noticed time and time again.

Nearly all of the women I’d met in magic were the assistants. They were better than I had been, earned a lot more money than I had, but they weren’t headlining.

My career ambitions lay elsewhere, and just as well, because as I said, I wasn’t very good at my assistant job. You need to be flexible to fold yourself into some of those illusions, and that wasn’t in my skill set. But the question still ruminated in the back of my mind: why aren’t there more women in magic?

As I grew into writing and left magic to the professionals, I discovered two fundamental truths. First, no experience is wasted. Second, certain themes and ideas resonate for a reason. I hoped that one day I would find a suitable vehicle for my magical past and write about a woman who wanted to be a magician in her own right. And then Christina Davenport popped into my head. When I first “met” her, she was a snarky waitress, auditioning to become a magician’s assistant, hoping he wouldn’t figure out that she wanted to use him as a springboard into her own spotlight. It was a sort of power struggle between her and the magician: he wanted her to get inside a box illusion and she didn’t want to reveal her claustrophobia or her ambitions. When I started asking her more questions, a story developed.

How to handle the magic in the story was another challenge.

I’d hung around enough magicians to have internalized the idea that you don’t spill the secrets. Even though magicians like Penn and Teller do let a few cats out of the bag, it’s done strategically, and to let the audience share in the wonder of how something is done.

But how could I write a story set in a background of street and stage magic without a little peek inside—enough to pull a reader into the world and make the (sometimes imagined for the sake of the story) illusions look real without ticking off the magicians by revealing too much? Well, the magicians union hasn’t made me disappear yet, so maybe I struck the right balance.

Another reason I liked working with the theme of magic is that it sort of mirrors the art of fiction itself. Fiction writers harness the power of misdirection, of showmanship, and throw around a little sleight of hand when needed. So even though I might have been a bad assistant, maybe it was because I was really rehearsing for a different role in magic.

—–

A quick and shamelessly promotional note—for a limited time, A Sudden Gust of Gravity will be available free from The Choosy Bookworm. If you sign up for the Read and Review program, you’ll get a free copy of the book in exchange for your honest review. Even though it’s listed under “suspense and thrillers,” the story is more on the suspense-y, romance-y side. Categories are funny sometimes.

Playing Charlie Cool: Launch Party!

Charlie_Cool_kindle500Woot, Playing Charlie Cool is live and I’m Snoopy dancing. The fabulous folks at Book Partners in Crime are helping to get the virtual launch going with a one-day book-launch-a-palooza. A whole bunch of book bloggers (scroll down to see the list) will be featuring Charlie today and hosting a raffle for a $30 Amazon gift card and other prizes. I hope you’ll swing by and maybe hit some of those social media buttons to share with your friends.

Because some of you have been asking about the order of the books, I’ll give you the rundown of the Trager Family Secrets series and how the new book fits in. Continue reading

It’s Boomer Lit Friday!

Dont_Tell_Anyone_200Happy Friday! Once again, it’s Boomer Lit Friday. Every Friday, a bunch of us who like such things post snippets from our “Baby Boomer Books,” and the lovely Shelley Lieber has graciously offered up her blog where you can see what other authors are up to. Here’s a teensy bit of Don’t Tell Anyone. Please hop over to the Boomer Lit Friday blog and read and comment on the other participants. Enjoy, and I hope you have a lovely weekend.

Previous to this bit, Adam, Liza, and Charlie were attempting to get Estelle to agree to a biopsy.

——

Liza pounded the elevator button. “You’re sick. That was sick and cruel. How could you say something like that?”

Adam shrugged. “I panicked.”

“You couldn’t say something like, ‘We love you and we want you to get better?’ You had to tell your mother I was pregnant? In her condition?”

“You mean you’re not?” Charlie said.

They both scowled at him.

“I was looking forward to being an uncle.”

“Your brother is sick,” Liza said.

Charlie smiled. “Yes, but he’s creative.”

“So, what, I’m supposed to fake being pregnant now? Excuse myself every so often and pretend to throw up?”

“For a while,” Adam said weakly.

“And then what?”

“We are trying, Liza. Who knows, we might even be pregnant by then.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “At the rate I’m learning new things about you? I sincerely doubt it.”

Drawing Breath a Nominee for Readers’ Choice Award: The Voting Begins!

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Click on the shiny badge to go to the B&P page, where you can place your vote! Thank you!

Some of you may know this already, but among the world of indie authors, getting a review from BigAl’s Books and Pals is no small accomplishment. According to statistics released by the site, “In the twelve months ending February 28th, 2013, BigAl and the Pals received over 1,400 books to consider for review. Almost 300 of them were selected, read, and reviewed.”

I’m completely humbled down to my toes to know that two of those titles were mine, and one of them, Drawing Breath, has been selected as one of the books they felt stood out as an exceptional example of indie writing. (Their words, not mine, and they’re enough to make a girl do a Snoopy dance and then collapse upon her fainting couch. Smelling salts, anyone?) Continue reading

Tell Everyone!

DTA_Print_coverI’m excited to share the news with you…my third novel, Don’t Tell Anyone, has just been released!

When pneumonia lands Estelle Trager unconscious in the emergency room, it ruins everything for the stubborn 65-year-old woman. She’d been keeping a secret—a deadly secret—that she’d planned on taking to the grave. But now her son Adam and his wife, Liza, know about her tumors. Adam is outraged, but Estelle, who watched her mother and grandmother suffer from breast cancer in the days when no one dared speak its name, has no intention of putting her family or herself through the horrors of cancer treatment. Estelle decides there is only one solution: ask Liza, the 33-year-old daughter-in-law she once called a godless hippie raised by wolves, to kill her.

A horrified Liza refuses and keeps the request—among other things—a secret from her furious husband. But she tells his younger brother, Charlie, a close friend from college with whom she shares her own confidences, despite Adam’s serious case of sibling rivalry. Armed with nutrition textbooks and her neighbor, a savvy nurse, can Liza win over her mother-in-law and convince her to consider other options before the cancer, the secrets, and Estelle’s determination to end her life win out?

I didn’t intend on writing another book set into a backdrop of illness. At least not so soon after Drawing Breath, which pretty much wrenched me inside out and had me begging whatever subconscious power supplies me with stories to give me a nice, lighthearted comedy next time. But a death in my own family was still haunting me. And when that happens, I write. So Estelle came into my life. I wanted to know why a woman who knows breast cancer runs in her family would not only conceal that fact from her grown sons, but when she discovers her own lumps, chooses to let nature take its course. And the little apple-cart-upsetter that I am, I let someone find out. Set into a family with its own crazy quirks, closet-skeletons, and almost-healed scars, I sat back to watch how they would handle the situation.

Let’s just say that this isn’t your typical cancer story. I even show you how to make my mother-in-law’s famous chicken soup.

If you’d like to read an excerpt, go here. You can get the e-book from Amazon.com and Smashwords.com right now, and a paperback from Amazon.com shortly.

As always, thank you for your support and your comments. You guys continue to awe and inspire me!

Week 11: The Next Big Thing

I need to shake things up a bit. Do something different. Get out of my blog rut. So I’m breaking a few of my own rules. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. So Jacqueline Hopkins-Walton comes along asking for volunteers to pick up where she left off, in a tag-team blogging game where we answer ten questions about our work in progress. Yeah. I’m taking part in a blog-hop game AND talking about my work in progress at the SAME TIME. Now I’m waiting to be struck by lightning.

Off we go…

Continue reading

Does Your Fiction have a Shelf Life?

You loved that old TV show. You know the one. With the topical humor that once had you laughing your ass off and quoting the good lines to your friends at lunch the next day. Now you catch it in syndication and it looks a little…dated. The jokes fall flat, the hairstyles are embarrassing, and the whole thing kind of flops around like a dying halibut. You’d put a bullet in its brain if not for the gawking-at-a-car-accident vibe. Then there are other shows that may be even older, yet you can watch episodes over and over and the content still feels new.

The same goes for contemporary fiction. That dead fish, the curdled milk, the rancid orange juice could be your book. Sure, contemporary fiction is, in its essence, contemporary. So why do some novels hold up over time and some quickly get that “not-so-fresh-feeling?” How do you avoid stamping an expiration date on your work?

Trouble is, contemporary life moves fast. Technology moves fast. The news cycle moves faster. Publishing a book is glacial in comparison, especially if you choose the traditional or small press publication route. By the time your manuscript goes through editing, proofreading, acquisitions, more editing, approvals, and printing, the bit you wrote about Snooki’s baby might be old enough to start preschool, and the world will blink at you in unison and wonder what the heck you’re talking about. This reaffirms my faith in humanity, but it’s not so great for your fiction. Here are some things to watch for if you want to keep your book fresher longer:

1. Pop culture references. Pop culture is the soundtrack of your protagonist’s angst; it’s the wallpaper of your contemporary novel. You know what happens to wallpaper. We love it, we love it, we love it, and…then we hate it. It’s out of style. Bring on the wood paneling! And so on. Certain things have staying power. This is why we call them classics. Game shows. Bad commercials. Horror films. Chick flicks. Sitcoms. Keep your references generic if you don’t want to “date” your novel. For instance, my character catches the latest action film. It barely registers because he’s pissed about a business deal gone wrong. Answering his wife’s query about the plot of the movie, he just says, “I don’t know. Stuff blew up.” Voila. We know what he saw. Five years later, when the book is released, you’ll still know what he saw. No matter who is the reigning master of the CGI explosion. It’s the same with music. Some is iconic. Opera. Duke Ellington. Miles Davis. Heavy Metal. Led Zeppelin. Reggae. The Beatles. Some isn’t. In an early draft of The Joke’s on Me, I had a sulky teen blaring White Zombie. Where are they now? Well…not in my novel. The band reference I opted for was simply “loud and angry” and didn’t break up the month before my publication date.

2. Celebrity comparisons. Don’t tell me your male lead looks like Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, or Chris Hemsworth. First, a slice of your audience might not know who they are. Second, depending on their career trajectories, your flavor-of-the-month could flame out or end up in jail, in rehab, or in hiding by the time your book is released. Over the years I’ve had to axe references to Anna Nicole Smith’s diet pill endorsement (she died from an overdose), Lindsay Lohan’s acting (her career is in intensive care), and Britney Spears (self-explanatory.) “He flashed a movie-star smile that seemed to deepen the cleft in his chin and attract every straight female in his gravitational field,” holds up better than, “People told him he looked like (insert name of this week’s hot stud here).” Icons work here, too. Give your hot blonde Marilyn’s curves and pretty much everyone knows what you’re talking about.

3. Buzzwords. Quicker than you can say “Urban Dictionary,” catchphrases and slang words appear and disappear. Use them sparingly in dialogue to set a character in a generation, sub-culture, or socioeconomic group (peace out, dude), but try to keep them out of your exposition, or else you risk confusing your readers.

4. Technology. Remember the older Seinfeld episodes when Jerry had one of the first cordless phones, which had a huge slab of a receiver and a telescoping antenna? By today’s standards, it looks like he’s speaking on a World War Two-era field phone. Try not to do that to your contemporary fiction. Certain technology, like e-mail, text messaging, and cell phones, is an inevitable part of everyday life, and accepted as almost generic these days. Watch out for specific references, though, unless you’re using them for comic effect. For example, the poor sucker who cornered the market on Betamax or Zune. I think I made a mistake referencing Wikipedia pages and YouTube in a recent book. Who knows how long those will be around?

Finally, be wary about using writing fads and gimmicks. For about thirty seconds in the eighties, Jay McInerney wrote fast-paced, second-person prose that captured reviewers’ eyeballs and spawned a disappointing string of imitators. Write in your own voice. It’s yours. You earned it. You will write better in it than in the ill-fitting cloaks of your literary heroes. Forever.

(Note: This post originally appeared on Indies Unlimited, at http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/03/20/does-your-novel-have-an-expiration-date/)