Tag Archives: christmas

Friday Update #9: Superhero Switch and the Coming of Christmas Brings Snow in Miami

Welcome back to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm. As you’re aware, Christmas is coming fast and hot (well, depending on where you live, I guess), and that means eggnog, gingerbread coffees, cookies, and all sorts of goodies are on the way, and I’m here to let you know about some goodies that are coming your way from me.

Goodie #1:

For those of you who have been reading Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One this past year (the anniversary of its worldwide release is coming at the end of the month), I have great news. Its sequel, Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two, is now free for a limited time. How limited is this time? Hard to say, but I’ll keep it free throughout the holidays for sure. However, it’s best to pick it up while you can, before I put the price back on. You know what happens when you procrastinate? You forget. And then you lose. So, don’t procrastinate.

This freebie comes with a trade-off, however. My plan since day 1 has been to develop and release a bite-sized version of the series, where the Annual Editions are broken down into individual story units closer to the length of a traditional thriller or adventure novel. The individual stories would add up to the same universal conflict, but due to the way that conventions dictate how a story unfolds, the core story points would inevitably change. Essentially, A Modern-day Fantasy Annual Edition and A Modern-day Fantasy (Standard Edition) would develop at different speeds and in different ways, while keeping the story line roughly the same.

Because I don’t want to confuse readers with the option to choose the bulky Annual Edition over the easier-to-manage Standard Editions (which would take two or three books to equal the story of an Annual Edition entry), I want the pricing to make it easy. In short, I’d rather readers stick with the Standard Editions. The Annual Editions serve as my original vision for the story, but experience has since taught me that the Standard Editions make for a better fit (and more satisfying read). It doesn’t mean they will be over before they begin, but it does mean the story can be delivered at a more sensible pace.

So, the trade-off for Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two going free for the holiday season is that Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One will now cost you $4.95 to pick up. So, I hope you were one of the people who contributed to its 543 free downloads this year, and not one of the procrastinators who kept putting it off.

It should be noted that I don’t plan to make Cannonball City permafree again. It was free for a year to introduce readers to the character of Jimmy Knightly, but with the Standard Editions on the planner, I don’t see a reason to keep it free, as one of those books will surely come out with a free price tag. Likewise, Superheroes Anonymous will be free for a limited time, but limited times run out before you know it.

Moral of the story: Don’t put things off. You’ve got a good goodie to get, so get the goodie while the getting is good.

Goodie #2:

A year ago, I released an e-book called The Fountain of Truth, which is a collection of three holiday-themed fables, one of which is a revision to the classic tale of how Santa Claus began, one which teaches us to listen rather than to assume, and the titular title reintroducing a story I like to share on Facebook every Christmas Eve about speaking truth. This year, I am preparing another holiday-themed collection called Snow in Miami, which will feature an update to my flash fiction story “Unexpected Weather,” with two new stories, “A Black Friday Tale” and “The Pear Tree,” included. In this book, the three stories will be threaded together through the lens of a husband and father who must learn how to actually be a caring husband and father through his sharing of holiday stories with his wife and son. We get a sense early on that his wife and son are just people who live in his house and demand things from him that he doesn’t want to give. But throughout the course of telling and hearing these stories, he begins to understand just how lucky he is. So, you’ll actually get four stories for the price of three.

I don’t have an estimated release date for Snow in Miami, as I’m still having to split my time between work, CPT test prep, and other projects. But I do expect to upload it to Smashwords before Christmas. However long it takes to get through the channels to the other stores will depend on that upload date.

In the meantime, enjoy this opening sample from “Unexpected Weather”:

Mr. Carson propped his feet on his desk and lit the cigar he had been waiting all day to smoke. Chicago’s temperatures were falling by the minute, and the muzak filling the room was gradually integrating bells and chimes into its drowsy score. Christmas was coming soon, and the bonus he was sure to get from his most recent mega-sale would pay for gifts for the entire family, the neighbor’s family, and even the meter reader who occasionally showed up on his property to gauge him for his utility usage. It would be a Christmas like no other. He’d finally have the means to stock his yard with a holiday scene so spectacular that he would surely win the neighborhood decoration contest this year. He’d even hire that ice sculptor to carve out the outdoor ice bench he had always wanted to sit on, on Christmas day.

His success was a long time coming. Months of proving to the boss that he was capable of leading his office would have to pay off now. Months of top-level ignorance would have to come to an end.

He puffed on his cigar and let the smoke fill his mouth. He was forming cloud nine between his cheeks.

His chair started its backward arc toward the cubicle wall when his boss, Mr. Rivers, popped into view. He had snuck up on Mr. Carson wearing those dang moccasins again.

“Carson,” he said, “how many times I gotta tell you not to smoke in the building?”

Mr. Carson pulled the cigar from his mouth and dangled it over the edge of his desk, just above the trashcan. He wasn’t permitted an ashtray, so he made it his habit to catch the ash in the can. He kept a separate can for paper to the right of the desk to prevent accidental fires. This one just held a single plastic bag.

Mr. Rivers shrugged. Then he handed him a narrow, gift-wrapped package.

“Here, no need to apologize. I decided to make your life easier.”

Mr. Carson took the package, flipped it over and under, listening for something to rattle inside.

“Open it,” Mr. Rivers said. “Early Christmas present.”

Mr. Carson was a little suspicious. He knew Rivers had heard about the mega-sale, and per the standards of the company, sales that large warranted bonuses. Mr. Carson hoped that this wasn’t his bonus. He had been counting on a large check.

But he obliged his boss. He pulled off the wrapper and tossed it in the can to his left. A narrow green box was exposed. He opened it. Inside was a skinny electronic device.

“E-cigarette,” Mr. Rivers said. “Or vape, as they’re calling it now. Unobtrusive and mostly safe for indoors.”

Mr. Carson opened the battery hatch to find it empty.

“Sorry, batteries not included. Figured you could try it at home first, in case it’s not as safe as I assumed.”

Mr. Carson looked up at his boss, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to think about this gift. He was an authentic smoker, proud to carry around his packs of real nicotine darts with the silver lighter that had the naked woman silhouette he was so fond of. Gift from his dad on his eighteenth birthday. Refillable fluid. A real gift from a real man.

“No need to thank me,” Mr. Rivers said. “I should be thanking you for nailing the Trifecta Account today. In fact, I am.” He gestured at the e-cigarette. “Stroke of genius.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. No big deal.

Okay, it was a real big deal, but he didn’t like to brag in front of people who cut his checks. They were a notoriously humbling lot, positioned to strike down anyone who displayed too much pride for a job that was somehow enhanced by the assistance of a team, which this particular sale was not: he certainly had a right to say it was all on him, because it was. But Mr. Rivers didn’t like braggarts, so he kept his mouth shut.

“Anyway, I had a talk with the bigwigs upstairs, and they agree that your work on this account was of stellar performance, and they think you would be perfect for their starter office in Miami.” A wide smile formed on Mr. Rivers’s lips. “You start in two weeks. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson finally opened his mouth. The smoke he had been savoring finally blew out into the opening and evaporated. The space between his cheeks was now nothing more than a tongue that had lost its taste for change.

“In lieu of a bonus, the board has agreed to pay for your moving fees instead.”

Mr. Rivers leaned over the desk and patted Mr. Carson on the shoulder.

“I’ve already asked Mrs. Williams to set up the conference room with finger foods for your going away party. You like bologna sandwiches, right?”

Mr. Carson was partial to turkey, but his boss never paid attention.

“Anyway, you’ll like Miami. Never gets cold there. Just think, you’ll get to spend Christmas at the beach. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson thought about the ice bench he would not get to sit on, on Christmas day.

“Anyway, enjoy your last day. Again, sorry about the batteries. I was thinking I’d let you wait for the party in the observatory. I know you often talk about the big window overlooking the lake. Thought you might want to remember the view.”

Mr. Carson’s sister’s apartment overlooked the lake. They were just over there for Thanksgiving. Mr. Rivers was thinking about someone else.

Mr. Rivers’s eyes drifted down toward the trashcan to Mr. Carson’s left. He reached in it and pulled out the gift wrapping.

“Here, don’t want to cause a fire, right?” Then he found the small plant that Mr. Carson had bought a few months ago to liven up the cubicle. He snuffed out the cigar in the soil. Then he tossed the cigar in the trash. “Housekeeping will take care of your garbage today.”

Mr. Rivers paused at the opening as he headed out to the walkway outside the cubicle. He tried to look at Mr. Carson from over his shoulder.

“Good luck in Miami, Carson,” he said. “You’re going to do amazing things there.”

Mr. Carson was barren of thought by that point. The world stopped making sense to him.

***

            At home, Mr. Carson didn’t know how to tell his wife that the money in Chicago was coming to an end, and that to keep the money flowing, they would have to fly south with the birds. As he rehearsed his speech in his mind, and subsequently shot each version down as ridiculous and an invitation to make Mrs. Carson cry, he took the carton of cigarettes from his trusty brand out to the front porch and lit one stick after another. By the fifth smoke, he was feeling a bit more relaxed. The chill in the air was giving him goosebumps, and the night was steadily growing comfortable.

By the time he had stubbed out half the pack, he was feeling pretty confident in his speech. She would understand. She would have to.

***

            Mrs. Carson didn’t understand.

“Who does he think he is?” she asked, when Mr. Carson told her the news.

“The Great and Powerful Mr. Rivers,” Mr. Carson said.

“We have a life here, John. A life.”

“Yes, I know that, and you know that. But knowledge hasn’t had much power around here lately.”

They were sitting at the dinner table, and Mrs. Carson was just about to pour the wine when Mr. Carson got to the dark side of his speech. It had begun beautifully, with the news that he had succeeded at his big sale. Mrs. Carson was so happy for him that she retrieved the bottle of Chianti from the rack to celebrate. But Mr. Carson didn’t want to lose his place from what he had practiced, so he continued talking. Mrs. Carson put the cork back into the bottle before the first drop hit the glass. Uprooting everything she knew to start over in some gaudy place where the natives walked around half-naked in their front yards at Christmas time was no cause for celebration.

“I just wish you’d stand up for yourself every once in a while,” she said.

“I do. But they don’t listen.”

“Standing up for yourself requires getting them to listen.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. He knew she was right. It wasn’t like him to marry someone who didn’t see the truth in things, and she could see the truth in anything. He liked that about her, even though it caused him stress most of the time.

“Maggie, here’s the thing. The door here is closed. Once they close it, they close it. I know this isn’t ideal, especially with Christmas coming up. But it’s a great opportunity to—”

“Great opportunity? You’re already sounding like them. Have you really thrown in the towel that fast? Without consulting me first?”

Mr. Carson set his fork down. He could sense the conversation was going to interrupt his eating rhythm for a few minutes.

“This isn’t a matter for consultation. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to go. They told me I’m going. Even if we don’t go, I can’t go back to that office, not for anything other than to throw my stuff into an empty box.”

Mrs. Carson’s eyes began to tear up.

“I don’t understand why they won’t give you a choice,” she said.

“It’s called business, Maggie. Relocation was always a possibility. Said so on my contract. I just didn’t think they’d ever call on it.”

Mrs. Carson pushed her plate away and stared off to the side for nearly a minute.

“You know,” he said, “you’ve been wanting a tan for a long time. This could be your chance.”

She rolled her eyes. He noticed the corner of her lips turning upward slightly.

“Your dream body will follow. Imagine the influence of all those bikini-clad beach bunnies turning you to an obsessive fitness and diet fiend. For the holidays no less. Make all your friends up here jealous of your luscious figure.”

Mrs. Carson’s expression lightened. She was considering it now.

“Think of Nancy and her big butt. Then think of you and your smaller butt.” He brought his palms close together to signify the differences in the two butt sizes after hers would shrink.

Mrs. Carson pulled her plate in front of her and started eating.

“I should probably enjoy this dinner while it lasts then,” she said.

Mr. Carson leaned over the table, angling as close to her as he could.

“It’ll be okay, I promise.”

He wasn’t sure it would be okay. He knew nothing about Miami, except that it was hot, crowded, and the music was bad.

Mrs. Carson nodded. “Okay. If we’re stuck, I guess we have to go where the money is.” Her face was still solemn, but not like it was when he had broken the news.

“We’re not stuck. We’re going to be better off than we are here. Richer and happier. And thinner.”

She put her hand up.

“Fine,” she said. “We’ll make it work, I guess.”

After dinner, Mr. Carson retrieved the box that Mr. Rivers had given him earlier and took out the vape. He found a box of batteries in the refrigerator and popped one into the compartment. He wasn’t sure what to do with it exactly, but he started with the button on the side. The thing began to smoke almost immediately. It was as if he had put a thermometer in his mouth and a fever had set it on fire.

“What’s that thing?” Mrs. Carson asked him, when she returned to the table after clearing it.

“Gift from the boss. It’s one of those electronic cigarette things.”

“How is it?”

Mr. Carson thought about it for a moment. It was considerably weaker than his normal cigarettes. And yet, it had a certain flavor to it that he found pleasant. Even fragrant.

“Weird,” he said. “Well, different.”

He pulled the device out of his mouth and stared at it.

“It makes me feel different.”

He put it back in his mouth.

“But in a good way, I think.”
 

(end sample)

Have a good week.

The Christmas Reaper

More than five years later, the subject matter behind this one still kinda haunts me.

Originally posted to MySpace on:

December 21, 2008:

Three weeks ago, I was told to start leaving my cat, Sniffy, inside the house at night. Raccoons had built a nest somewhere near the backyard Schefflera tree and they’ve been sleeping only during the day. Not that I’d consider that a problem, of course, because they’re just raccoons and don’t really bother anyone. But someone had told my mom that raccoons are overgrown rodents, and natural enemies of cats, and can kill cats. So my cat, Sniffy, the backyard prowler, has to stay in at night despite his whining.

I left him inside overnight maybe three times since.

He can take care of himself. He always does.

Two weeks ago, I went for a walk to clear my head. My creative life had hit one disappointment after another, and I just had to re-collect myself, so I put on my flip-flops and headed for the sidewalk. It was pushing eleven o’clock at night. It was also chilly. And I had no jacket. And my incentive to walk was replaced by a thirst (for an actual beverage, not a metaphor for anything else), and not strong enough to warrant continuing, though I continued anyway because I was still discouraged over creative problems. So I walked about a block or so, contemplated whether to keep walking; then I stopped. I saw something furry in the street.

It was small, lumpy, lying in a puddle of liquid or some kind of grease spot, and clearly road-kill. Cars were coming—it’s a busy street after all, not some quiet residential road—and probably destined to do what other vehicles had already done, which was to run it over some more. And since road-kill wasn’t my problem, I kept walking.

Until it moved.

I looked back. It was the size of a kitten. And lumpy. Not squished.

Traffic had drawn closer; though, being that it was eleven o’clock on a Sunday night, it wasn’t coming in volume, or particularly quickly, so I had time to investigate this moving object.

And it was definitely a kitten. And it was still alive.

I thought it was dying—maybe three inches from death—so I wasn’t sure it was worth going into the street for (a girl from high school had died over something similar years ago). But it still moved, and traffic had yet to run me over, so I took the chance and scooped the creature off the pavement, uncertain if it would even come up in one piece. And it was shaking.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. It was, after all, eleven o’clock at night in a not-so-upscale neighborhood, and the closest neighbor it could’ve belonged to had a “Beware of Dog” sign on his front door.

I took it home.

My sister is something of a pet nurse (not officially; she’s just good at taking care of animals), so I told her she had a “project.” She immediately took the kitten and started cleaning it up when she noticed its mouth was bleeding. The kitten had bitten through its tongue.

We kept it overnight, gave it water (which it didn’t drink), and waited to see what would happen over the course of the next couple of days before deciding whether to take it to the shelter or chance contacting neighbors about it. Because I found it in the middle of the street at one hour to midnight, however, I decided that taking it to the neighbors—if it had in fact belonged to anyone at all—would’ve meant dooming it to another night spent underneath passing cars, so I decided that if it lived for the next couple of days, we’d take it to the shelter.

“How’s she doing?” I asked my mom the next day, when I was heading off to work.

“She’s dying. Or still in shock. But she hasn’t been drinking anything.”

I prayed, of course. I didn’t rescue a kitten from the street just to have it die on me. It was supposed to go to the shelter and bless some kid. Or best case scenario, Barack Obama would hear about the kitten, request to adopt it, and the kitten’s story would become a feature in Time magazine and tickle the world. Either way, it wasn’t supposed to die.

Well, it recovered, we didn’t take it to the shelter after all that, and now she—my sister called her Nami—thinks she owns the house.

Now I have a third cat.

My other cat, Nova, has this tendency to get nervous around new felines, regardless of their age. Nami is the third rescued kitten to come into this house since the summer of 2007, and the third one to put Nova’s whiskers in a bunch. To show her contempt of the situation, she has spent the last two weeks running outside at any chance she could get.

A couple of nights ago, I heard a really aggressive cat fight take place out back. I went out to break it up, but all participants had already scattered. With my socks now covered in grass, I went back inside.

The following evening, or last night if you’re keeping score, my family told me to start covering the furniture with blankets. Apparently, Nova was the one in that fight, and was still bleeding from it (a day later). She didn’t seem off-kilter initially, but then I took a closer look and realized just how bloody she had gotten.

Turned out, though, it was just her mouth that was bleeding, and all that red fur had to do with her cleaning and biting herself.

That was last night.

This morning, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. Well, not a knock—a pounding. I got up, opened the door, and saw my sister standing there with a somber look on her face.

“Really bad news,” she said.

Oh no, I thought. What happened to the cat now?

“Uncle Lee died this morning.”

* * *

It was just before 9:30 when she woke me. My alarm was about a minute from going off anyway, but 9:30…it wasn’t the first time that had happened. I just stood there, as anyone would from receiving such news first thing in the morning, and didn’t really know what to say. What was I supposed to do with that?

He was 44.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned around and closed the bedroom door.

Everyone deals with this kind of thing eventually. These surprises, in essence, aren’t surprises at all but inevitabilities with undetermined clocks. Sooner or later the alarm goes off.

But then, after considering this moment, I have to wonder just how undetermined that clock can be. When you’re fast asleep, you have no idea the end of dreams is coming. Or you might, but you’re not aware of the time. Then it comes and snatches you away from your vision of purple monkeys dancing in a tree. And it’s over.

Always. It always ends.

Freaking alarm clock.

I suppose the news itself isn’t what bothered me, though. Well, it did, but I had known for several weeks that the possibility was coming (though I refused to believe it—he had to be the one man in my family to break the fifty barrier by more than two years)—just like I knew that when my head hit the pillow last night, my alarm clock would buzz soon enough. No, the thing that weirded me out most about this was the patterning. And the timing. The fact that maybe the clock had already been set.

First of all, Christmas is coming. In just four days. Four days. Never a good time to lose a family member. The holidays are brutal enough without that cherry on top.

But I suppose it’s not unusual that someone, somewhere, has to lose a family member so close to the holidays. The peer group for such an occasion, I imagine, is larger than I realize.

But as I said, there’s more to this than timing. There’s the patterning. The fact that my alarm clock goes off at roughly the same time every morning, regardless of my dream state.

Thirteen years ago, at just a few minutes before 9:30, my mom burst into my room and woke me. It was on December 29th, 1995. Four days after Christmas.

“The hospital called,” she said. I was still groggy. “It’s more serious than we thought. It wasn’t a heart problem. Dad had an aneurysm and he’s in a coma. They don’t think he’ll make it through the day.”

And they were right. He didn’t make it through the day. In less than twelve hours he was gone.

Four days after Christmas.

Christmas. Four days.

I suppose that peer group is a bit smaller now.

My uncle was beside him when that alarm clock finally buzzed thirteen years ago. I doubt that, as he saw his brother pass away before his eyes, however, he knew his own Christmas alarm clock was about to set.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend I understand any of this. It could just be weirdness through and through. But then I think of a New Year’s invitation I have this year and wonder how many different clocks are running. There’s a woman my mom had worked for back in the eighties and early nineties that I’m sure I haven’t seen since my dad’s funeral, which happened ten days after his death. This year, that same woman is throwing a New Year’s Eve party and we’re all invited. That’s ten days from now. I haven’t seen her since January 8, 1996, if memory serves me.

How many clocks are really running here?

That said, I’m now officially the oldest male in my family. And I’m only thirty-two. And I’m reeling. And while my biggest question in all of this still remains, “Why the hell am I sleeping in the same room after thirteen years—is the economy really that bad?” I still have to wonder, do I have a chance at breaking fifty? Only one man in four generations has done it, and he made it only to fifty-two. Will I be the first to see fifty-three? Sixty? Or will I have to hear that blasted alarm clock at a few minutes to 9:30 again?

This has nagged me since I was nineteen. And I’ve tried to make the most of my life since. And while I’m not particularly afraid of death, I am afraid of dying without having anything to show for my life. As of now, despite my bloody, sweaty, tear-filled efforts, I’ve yet to achieve my dreams or create a legacy. I’ve written a couple of novels, yes, but I have close to twenty ideas still on my plate, and I have to complete each one if I’m to feel like I’ve done my job. And none of them are published yet. And none of them have been made into a movie. And ten of them belong to the same story arc. I have to finish them. Sometime between now and the next twelve to twenty years. And then there’s the legacy. I’ve had zero luck with women. My whole life. Zero. And I’ve never gathered why. And while those same women I’ve had zero luck with have tried to convince me in subtle ways that I don’t need romance, relationships, or whatever, and that to expect it from anyone, especially them, is to lessen my need of God—easy way out for them, I suppose, though I never figured out why they even wanted the escape clause—they somehow conveniently forgot to understand that the whole point of seeking out marriage and intimacy, and those little dates that lead to marriage and intimacy, is to ensure that I can leave a legacy behind once my clock finally expires, which I’m certain now, is coming, and probably sooner than I’d like.

People used to ask me when regarding the affairs of my life (like the career, marriage, and all of that), “What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you.”

My answer, though never in so many words, has generally boiled down to this: “Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, after the events of today, I can add a secondary response that states, plainly: “You’re delusional if you really think that,” in case they still don’t get it.

Though, in fairness, they don’t ask the question much anymore. In fact, they don’t ask me much about anything. I suppose they think thirty-two is kinda late for one to be getting his life in motion. Even when he’s spent every day since high school trying to make life happen.

What’s the hurry?

In case it isn’t obvious, my head is still spinning.