Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fruit Cocktail

A fellow author, Annette Mori, threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to write a short story using all the clinical names for external female genitalia in the service of charity and education. This resulting story meets 100% of the challenge criteria in a surprisingly PG-13 way. I hope you enjoy it.

Fruit Cocktail

Leticia thumbed through the anatomy textbook on their kitchen counter for the hundredth time this semester and sighed.
“Look I know it’s retarded, but Davis swears it helped his whole class remember every friggin’ detail well enough to best even the gynecology residents in the year-end quizzes.” Gerald shoved his pale thin hand through the pages fluttering in front of Leticia, stopping perfectly on the frontal illustration of external female genitalia.
“I don’t need a fruit model to aid my memory,” Leti complained.
“Not all of us have the benefit of being lesbian love sorceresses, Dear.” Gerald scowled at her.
He was her best friend, and final exams were on Monday, but it was a heavy burden to spend the waning hours of Friday evening  ̶ after many weeks of lonely, wasted Friday evenings ̶  constructing fruit models of female genitalia.
Sarah leaned in the doorway and sang, “It’s not like you have anything better to do Leti, the Lesbian Love Sorceress.”
“Thanks. I don’t need the reminder.” They all knew that Leti’s wife, Lee, was busy finishing Air Force officer training before they deployed her to God-knows-where for the next two years she owed them in return for paying out her last year in a nurse anesthesia educational program. 
It was a deal each of them had considered taking to pay for medical school at one time or another.
“Yeah, but you do need the distraction.” Sarah smiled as she walked past Leti toward the refrigerator.  She passed out a collection of fruits, while humming something that sounded like Carmen Miranda’s “Chica Chica Boom Chic” song.
Leti felt the smile taking over her scowl before she could muster up enough sadness to counter it.
Two hours of labor and bawdy limericks later, Leti thought they actually had a pretty good fruit replica set up on a nine by thirteen-inch baking sheet.
“One more time,” insisted Gerald.
Sarah and Leti groaned in simulcast. The doorbell rang and Sarah dashed out the kitchen door to answer it before Leti could volunteer.
“Probably Jehovah’s Witness,” Gerald peered over his black rimmed glasses at her, “you should go ahead and do your repetition first.”
Leti shook her head and almost protested before the thought of their local Jehovah’s Witness overhearing inspired her to impish compliance. 
She took a big breath and sang, “The outside hairy cantaloupe mons pubis and forms the melon’s crust labium majus. Cantaloupe mons pubis leads to a perfectly pear prepuce of clitoris guarding a silky raspberry glans of clitoris. Lovely grapefruit skin hinges shapely labium minus from which first stems a plum pithy meatus urethral opening and Skene’s raspberry seeded paraurethral ducts which are the equivalent of male prostate glands.”
In her pause for another breath, no clues sounded from the front door as to their visitor’s identity.
Gerald followed Leti’s gaze to the door and shrugged. “Go on.”
“A center grapefruit segment opens to define a blissfully blue blueberry vaginal opening with a thin skinned hymenal caruncle less intact on riper blueberries and women before the whole grapefruit encloses vestibular fossa navicular like a navel orange to the frenulum of labium.  The posterior labial commissure closes the whole fruit store commissary before her perienal raphe routes home to anus.” Leti closed her eyes as she completed the mnemonic narrative and left them closed as she summarized, “Cantaloupe, Pear, Raspberry, Grapefruit Skin, Plum Pith, Raspberry Seed, Grapefruit Segment, Blueberry with thin skin, Grapefruit again, Navel Orange.”
“That is one dirty fruit cocktail,” a familiar voice shocked Leti into opening her eyes.
Her wife, Lee stood next to Sarah in the kitchen, smiling at her. 
Leti hurled herself into Lee’s arms, neglecting to care at all for the starched perfect lines of Lee’s dress blues.  
Her wife smelled of Brasso, Ivory Soap, and familiar salt and the cocktail of aromas was headier to Leti than that of all the eviscerated fruit crowding the kitchen. “I can’t believe you’re home.”
“I have three weeks leave. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to mess up your concentration before exams,” A laugh rumbled over Lee’s shoulders as Leti held tight, “but I can see that you three have already resorted to desperate measures.”
“Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Gerald said.
“I’ve had plenty of fruit cocktail to know where it’s best modeled for study,” Lee replied and nuzzled Leti’s ear.
“Umm. Ick. Let’s go look at more manly eggplants in the grocery story, Sarah.”
“Right. Have fun you two.” Sarah called as Gerald tugged her toward the front door.
“Is now a good time to taste your raspberry?” Lee giggled.
“Oh yes. I can’t think of a better study aid.” Leti laughed.
“I’m open to stroking blueberries too.”
“I’ll share my whole fruit cocktail, if you’ll share yours.”
Lee pulled her toward the bedroom. “Yes, ma’am.”

I hope this story entertained you, but also serves as a reminder that it is mentally healthy to label and talk about all kinds of potentially awkward things--including your own mental and learning challenges, just as the great Carrie Fisher (who passed this week) did over the last two decades.  Mental Health and emotional well-being are causes dear to me and a big challenge among homeless adults, LGBT youth, and veterans in America. Please, learn more about what you can do to help yourself and others by visiting and volunteering through front-line organizations like The Montrose Center.
If you're interested in another free story meeting this challenge, please check out Darla Baker's.  And if you're brave enough, I double dog dare you...#BeMightyWrite

Why not the whole armor when challenged to a guantlet?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Save your holidays and happiness

Not all family gatherings are places of welcoming warmth and serenity, and some will never be no matter what you do; but you can improve your chances of happily-ever-after in every relationship by following healthy rules for fighting. Fights, conflict, arguments, and heated debates are a necessary evil. If we fight well, we learn something important and the relationship grows stronger.
There are dozens of lists on-line describing how to fight well in relationships, but the bottom line is that you should make your own list. Pick the rules that matter most to each relationship. Pick the rules you frequently fail to follow.
Memorize your list of rules. Carry them around in your wallet or on your smart-phone. Recite them at the cat each morning. Print them on your mouse-pad at work. Do whatever it takes to ingrain them into muscle memory before you find yourself in the heat of the battle.
And above all, pull them out and look at them before you allow yourself to lose your shit with someone at that Holiday Party or family dinner.
Yes, I know, your opponents probably break every single one of the rules; but their bad behavior does not justify your bad behavior. Rise above. You are in this relationship still because you want to be for some reason, because you somehow value your opponents enough to keep trying.  The good news is that you'll be surprised how vicariously contagious many of the rules are when you apply them consistently over time.
I maintain that is important to do your own research and pick your own rules, preferably in cooperation with your most common opponent (buy them a beverage and invite them to sit down and pick which rules you'll both try to fight by when the time comes). However, I will get you started by sharing the rules my spouse and I  picked. My last word of advice on the matter, pick a dozen or fewer rules and review and adapt them twice a year as you master them (for example, we've mastered the "no violence" and "no sarcasm during a fight" rules so they aren't on the list any more).

 1.    Never fight tired/ hungry/ distracted. STOP and figure out what you are really upset about. Set an appointment to fight.
2.    No degrading language or negative triggers (e.g. ridiculous, stupid, silly, all in your head).
3.    No blaming. State the problem first, then your feelings. Accept apologies at face value.
4.    No yelling. Try to keep calm, sit down, keep an open posture.
5.    No talk of quitting, being done, or leaving the relationship.
6.    Define yourself, not your opponent. No mind reading. Describe how you feel and what you want.
7.    Stay in the present. One issue, one occurrence. No bringing up past times or other grievances.
8.    Take turns. Invite your opponent to give her point of view. Restate what you heard before giving yours.
9.    When necessary, use time-outs. “I’m too wound up/ emotional right now, how about we try again in an hour/ day/ week?”
10.           Propose a specific solution and debate the advantages and disadvantages of each.
11.           Finish with gratitude. “Thank you for talking this out with me.”
When we fight fair, there is less fear and more fun in my family.
Happy Holidays! Please give feedback (like what rules work for you) as it is the gift that shows you really care.

Monday, November 14, 2016

And now with more feeling?

One of the single profound, most eye-opening, things I have learned as a social scientist was the idea that my feelings are like the temperature gauge on my car. They are simple emotional reactions to a real physical situation that tell me when something probably deserves a second, closer look.  They tell me there might be a problem and that I should begin a thinking and decision-making process.  While the temperature might indicate burning oil and might influence my direction and impact my distance of travel, it would be silly to let it decide my ultimate destination.
Yet, sometimes, I do.
There are costs to letting feelings, no matter how justified, dictate our destination:
  1. Immediate blindness. When I revel in the righteousness of my own fear, anger, happiness--whatever--I cannot see the righteousness of others' emotions or comprehend the depth of anyone else's feelings.
  2. Aborted logic. Once I give my emotions the lead, the majority vote, they overwhelm and oppress all attempts to objectively think through anything.  Emotions rule our sympathetic nervous system, which like any good emergency operator puts all of its resources into making the system immediately safe through any means possible.  Our SNS chokes off higher-order reasoning and throws out the objectivity with the bathwater screaming, "This is war, dammit." Even if it isn't.
  3. Escalated emotions, especially the bad ones. Emotional reaction begets more emotional reaction. Sometimes this works in our favor, like when sex and intimacy ramp up our feelings of love and contentment. But usually not. Humans excel at negative pattern recognition.  We hone in especially well to what doesn't feel right or good so that we can avoid it. This is part of why it is so easy to focus on what is wrong with the world and get caught in a downward depressive spiral.
  4. Regret and shame. In retrospect, letting my emotions have the majority vote in deciding my action or reaction to something usually causes me to be disappointed in myself because it usually means I was blind to what others were feeling, I gave in to fear, and/ or I publicly perpetuated a negative sentiment. If my emotional reaction succeeded in persuading others then it did so by somehow appealing to their baser emotions and not by figuring out what is in our best interests or for the greater good (and I have then become my worst nightmare).
In my experience, and in research, these costs far out-weigh the benefits (e.g. temporary satisfaction) of letting my emotions rule my actions.  These costs compound interest as they frequently lead to relationship traumas and social crises, too.  Awareness of all of this is somewhat helpful, but it isn't a panacea.  Maybe there isn't one, but through writing and meditation I have learned some things that help when I want to respond with more feeling (maybe too much):
  1. I accept my feeling.  I don't need anyone else to validate it. They can't. It's mine and therefore it is legitimate, and I  probably have others I need to explore too. Some may even contradict each other.  Ever been crying happy? Raging sad? Painfully pleased? It's just a temperature gauge telling me to explore why my oil is burning--and it is always worth asking if my gauge could be broken or miscalibrated too.
  2. I nurture my curiosity about others' feelings, especially those who seem to be feeling entirely differently than I do.  Part of it is that understanding others enables my compassion, which I know from research increases my odds of living happily ever after.  Part of it is that the larger sampling of what people feel and why allows me to shape my feelings and reactions with more intelligence. "There is no better intelligence than the enemy's marching orders" (Napoleon, I think...). Curiosity avoids aborted logic and the awful art of satisficing.
  3. I chant until I believe it, "It's none of my business what any one else thinks of me, but how I act is entirely my responsibility alone."  I am an existential humanist so authenticity and responsibility play equally large part in giving my life meaning. Having a faith or a core philosophy helps me parse and value my emotions, but I need the reminder that having a moral code doesn't excuse me from having to carefully parse and value each and every emotion.
  4. Always consider the wisdom in doing nothing. Emotions push us to react, right now. Sometimes it helps just to ask myself if there is any harm in waiting to decide how to react, in doing nothing for a day, a week, a month, a year. This also helps me time my reaction better if one is needed or desired.
  5. Constantly solicit advice and insights. Yours. What do you do when your head is hot and your body is shouting at you to do something with more feeling this time? Why? How does it turn out? What would do instead or again if you could?
Accepting and acting on a feeling, like hugging a frightened pussy, can be good for everyone in the right context.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose at Noveling

Nobody likes to lose and you shouldn't have to when I am perfectly willing to mercilessly unveil my own abject failures to forewarn yours. If I've discovered the antidote, I'll give you that too.

  1. Start with a blank page. Blank pages are intimidating.  They look so large and perfect and you're about to scribble it up to shit, and that can really dampen your courage and kill fledgling inspiration as mental rats scurry about ranting, "I have no idea where/ how to start this right." My antidote?  I learned it from a sketch artist. Draw a baseline/ just put down random notes in any order that you can delete or reshape later as needed.  It helps to leave these on that big bad blank page as long as you can, until the end of the project so that you don't experience #2.
  2. Ignore your progress.  Writing is an all out bloody war with your best and worst inner demons.  It is a journey of millimeters, one freaking sweaty alphabet letter at a time.  Sometimes even thinking in terms of number of words a day is just too bone-shakingly overwhelming. Antidotes? Mini-reward yourself for each paragraph, or dialogue (i.e. I get a lemon drop as soon as I finish writing this description for the first time, even if it sucks). Find your most unconditionally supportive friend (i.e. Polly Always Positive) and text her a line saying you just conquered the hardest sentence ever.  At the end of each hour, look at the shear number of characters you have managed to fling against your inner demons and that imposing blank white helps if you shout out like Alexander the Great or Rocky, "I am a conqueror!" (Don't worry about the folks and critters who live with you as they already know you're're a writer.)
  3. Doubt your motives. Some people say you should only write for yourself.  Some say your should only write for others.  And yet some people say you should only write to serve a worthy purpose.  Writing is a noble endeavor and I don't want to belittle it by committing the worst treason and writing for the wrong reasons at the right time (note: that is a muddle  of  a T.S. Elliot quote). I cripple myself at times by trying to figure out why I'm going into screaming battle wielding my keyboard.  Soul-gazing is good sometimes, keeps us humble and compassionate, but not when we're painted-blue and naked running at the idea of NOVELING like a wild Pict toward a Roman legion. There are many antidotes for this, including Hemingway's trick of imbibing enough bourbon, but not all of them are healthy. So I suggest the simplest: be kind to yourself.  Trust that you have many motivations for trying to slay the Novel dragon, and the nobility is in the effort--in the fact that you are running naked at the Roman legion. Later, when anybody asks why you wrote your complete novel or what motivated you to keep going, then you can narrow it down to the right, most noble, reasons.
  4. Berate yourself today for messing up or missing yesterday.  The old crying over spilled milk makes you fail twice.  I saw it a lot on the softball field.  The short-stop is so busy fuming at herself about missing the throw to second base that she gets smacked in the head by a line drive during the next play and lets two runs score.  And yet, even though I know better, I still do it. The only antidote I know of is cultivating your self-awareness enough so that you can recognize you're doing this and stop it before you fall into another screw-up today.  Five to ten minutes of meditation a day has helped me a lot--forcing myself to just be in the moment has strengthened my ability to focus.
  5. Tough it out alone. One of the things I learned working with high-performing teams in extreme environments (e.g. astronauts) is that the hardest and the most critical thing to do is to take care of yourself first. Put on your own oxygen mask in the airplane before assisting your child with hers. We've all heard it, but we've also heard much more frequently something along the lines of Nike's Just Do It or, "Don't be a pansy." In extremely tough environments (and I do believe writing a novel is definitely one of these), toughing out an injury or sickness may kill you--but more importantly, it makes your whole team vulnerable. If you are struggling, then you owe it to your teammates (your friends and family) to let them know you are struggling so that you can decide as a group how to deal with it before it snowballs into disaster for your relationships and your writing (It's damn hard to take the time to focus on putting words on paper when you're worried about the health of your marriage).  The antidote is recognizing that writing is a team sport and playing it like one.  You feel like a lone, naked, conqueror; but you're not. There are armies of armies chaotically flailing all around you in similar and competing directions and if you coordinate with those closest to you, then you significantly up your chances of winning as well as surviving.

Bonus Helpers:

I like the old adage (or maybe it's a misquote from one of the Roosevelt's) -- If you never try, never start, then you have already failed in the most miserable way imaginable.  The good news is that like most failures, this failure too may be overcome by applying fearless effort.
While there are hundreds of ways to lose at writing anything, there is ultimately only one way to win: apply your ass to a chair and start slashing at that big white wall in your own proud warrior fashion. You are mighty every single pen stroke and keystroke, forging something tangible out of seemingly nothing.

Have you discovered alternative antidotes? Please share them.

"This is my pen. There are many like it, but this one is mine...
 I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my pen is useless."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Can you sum up your whole philosophy in 4 words or less?

In the course of my day-job and writing, I'm often asked to give a ninety second pitch that explains what I am all about--what's my most important secret for why you should keep talking to me?  As a social scientist, I've also been asked multiple times what the over-arching, explain-everything, silver-bullet answer is to happiness and health.

These are deep questions I will probably never answer satisfactorily, any more than anyone else will, but thanks to a ridiculous Facebook challenge I do have a 4-word answer that almost, usually, at least as well as a Douglas Adam's novel, summarizes what I am all about and the one silver-bullet answer that I have discovered:

Love well, live well.

To clarify, I mean that I believe if I make an effort to love others well (e.g. better and better) every day, then all the other frustrating shit that comes with normal human existence will turn out more or less well. Spending my existence learning how to love well will be enough for me.  If I love well, then ipso facto I will live well. Everything I do ultimately tries to serve that purpose.  I can make hard decisions easily by simply taking the time to sincerely ask myself if doing this X difficult thing or sacrificing this thing I want will either a) help me learn how to love better or b) better show those I love how much I love them?

Am I good at it?  Not yet, but that doesn't bother me.  The point is that I have something to live for, something to keep perfecting, that brings greater and greater rewards just by living and trying to perfect it.  Also, when I'm dead (and we're all getting there), I'd be very happy if just one person said about me, "That Lacey, she really loved well."  I'm satisfied that doing so is a meaningful legacy to leave behind.

Is it a good philosophy for you too? Maybe.  But maybe not.  More important I think is the act of challenging yourself to define your whole philosophy in 4 words or less. I dare you.  Try it. Then for bonus, you writers out there, I challenge you to write a whole novel illustrating it.  Let your 4 word philosophy be your novel premise--if it can't make a book, I think it probably can't make your life.

What's your 4-word life philosophy/ pitch of what you're all about?  Please share in the comments.

If you need some help thinking about it, then here are the questions that helped me some:

  • What do you want others to say about you after you're gone?
  • What one thing would make you happy whether anyone ever knew you were good at it or not?
  • On your worst day yet, what made you get out of bed and try again anyway?
  • What has given you that hell-yeah-hallelujah-can't-believe-I-survived-that sense of accomplishment before?
  • What resonates with your soul, your faith, your talent, your hopes, and you curiosity all at once?
  • What advice would you want the children in your life to remember their whole lifetimes?
  • What would someone have to be good at for you to consider them truly enlightened and living the dream?
  • If you had one minute to live, how would you most want to spend that minute?
Even if you can't sum it up at all, much less in 4 words, the act of trying puts you a whole lot close to living well...that's my silver bullet.  Please, pass it on. Oh, and it's a fun exercise with friends and bourbon.
Maybe two words is enough, if you think of life as an adventure?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Reality tells taller tales than fiction.

Fans and editors sometimes ask and criticize how authors plot outlandish events and happenings that just really couldn't ever happen. Right?
Well, I'm sorry, Virginia, there might not be a Santa Claus, but there is a bum in a Santa Claus suit who really does roam the beaches of Honolulu gifting cookies in April.  And I have seen dozen of drunk Santa Claus look-alikes on a lawn during the Houston's Lights in Height's Festival.  And there was that Santa stripper with herpes I saw in an ER room once...

Anyway, my point (and I do have one) is that it is very easy to fall into what I will call the "Jarring Too-Reality Trap" when plotting my stories.  

I've seen and discovered some very weird things while  researching things for my novels, A Walk Away and Catch to Release.  Even weirder things than I see in my day job riding along with first-responders and extreme environment teams to do job analysis (and some of those tales are indeed tall--like the time I got to stand under a 20G centrifuge for people in Russia's Star City).
As a writer, I'm incredibly tempted to work in those very real and very weird things into my stories. It's quirky flavoring, something that I love as a reader myself, but that temptation can cause a backlash of disbelief or confusion so strong that it leaves a reader hating my story and it's ridiculously real events.
And that's a problem. Not that I believe I will ever learn enough to know how to write to please everyone (I'm not sure I'd want to either), but I do believe that fiction serves a purpose.  I think fiction is supposed to help us deal with our world more mindfully by entertaining us enough to read through many different mental simulations or rehearsals where we can see how various people handle and process emotions and situations.  Fiction is an engaging way for us to learn interpersonal skills and discover social insights, without any boring lectures or dangerous missions.  So it's a problem if I shock too many readers out of that opportunity with a plot event they can't reconcile with probability, but it is also a thin line--I mean we read fantasy and much of those stories include events that are no where near probable, but we don't mind because in their established universe they sound probable and real.

So what I have learned to help avoid the "Jarring Too-Reality Trap" so far is:

  1. Yes, it is cool that a South American radio novella star really did serve as a cartel hit-woman by arranging murderous accidents for her targets in the 1980s and that would make a good twist--but any weird reality-fueled twist probably requires a lot of narrative exposition to establish that as a viable probable reality for my readers.
  2. Feedback from editors and betas can really help you see when your true facts are too true and the reader will likely doubt any explanation you might provide in narrative.
  3. Society and popular culture decide the final truth you can get away with in your fiction. For example, in reality 95% of those who receive CPR outside a hospital die, and it isn't really helpful for injuries like gunshot wounds.  Also, those 5% who live don't usually live long or ever return to normal. CPR works best on cardiac arrest victims, and then it still only helps around 15% of the time. But thanks to  TV, many readers believe that CPR can save a main character and restore them to 100% functioning within a day or so.  If you don't want to promote that fallacy, then you have to plot carefully enough to avoid any situation where the reader thinks "they should just do CPR to save that character, that is what would have happened in real life."
  4. Limit my quirky reality flavoring to two events per novel or less.  A little probably goes a long way? I mean would you believe me if I told you I once used a Rock Flounder to pull myself to shore, without swimming, through a cloud of jelly fish? Or that I saw a man who had died instantly from a 15 mph auto accident even though he was wearing a seat-belt, driving a decent car in the US, and had an airbag that deployed correctly?  It just doesn't matter how true it is if I overwhelm you with too much truth to process in one reading.
  5. I have to remember to serve one premise. The purpose of my writing anyway, even if it isn't the purpose of all fiction, is to create a story that engages readers and empowers them to learn something about their own social and interpersonal experiences; so if I want to accomplish that then everything in the story should serve the story's premise first and foremost.  For example, the premise of Catch to Release is that the best way to protect the ones you love is to show them you love them so they don't do stupid things that get them hurt trying to get more love and attention.  Anything that doesn't support that premise, I tried to cut despite it's veracity (or not) otherwise.  The jarring too-reality events I kept where the ones that support that premise--sometimes being a hero means helping your loved one be her own hero, so she can defend herself from our improbable, unbelievable reality at times.
Have you discovered any tips or tricks for avoiding the "Jarring Too-Reality Trap" in your own writings?  Any too-true funny or scary stories of succumbing to the trap that you want to share in the spirit of Halloween impending?
Holding wild hawks was deemed too real by a beta reader for the scene I wrote about counting them in A Walk Away.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

10 Commandments on the Flipside

The ten commandments are missing something crucial to the human psyche: positive edicts.  They read as a list of laudable, but definitely minimum, standards for human behaviors. Research indicates that those of us who hold minimum standards (like federal laws) to be our ultimate moral compass are more likely to fail the standards and break the law.  
While on the other hand, when we set goals for our own behavior we are much more likely to exceed those goals beyond our own (and others') expectations (see self-management techniques).  So maybe it would be good to have a flipside -- a goal-oriented, positive re-framing -- of the ten commandments? Please indulge me, as I give it a try.

The Traditional Ten Commandments

 (credits to
  1. I am the Lord, your God.
  2. Thou shall bring no false idols before me.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shall not kill/murder.
  7. Thou shall not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shall not steal††.
  9. Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. Thou shall not covet your neighbor's wife (or anything that belongs to your neighbor).

My Suggested Flipside/ Positive Reframing of the Ten Commandments

  1. Hold a higher faith.
  2. Focus on continuously building and honoring your faith.
  3. Behave so that your reputation, your past behaviors, establish your primary and ultimate credibility.
  4. Devote one day out of every seven to restoring your soul by serving your faith.
  5. Encourage and support those who have raised you/ encouraged and supported your growth.
  6. Bring joy and spread the will-to-live to others.
  7. Love unconditionally and faithfully.
  8. Obtain permission before taking actions that impact others.
  9. Proclaim and praise other's positive endeavors.
  10. Celebrate other's joys as if they were your own.

And a short note for those I have offended...

Who am I to propose such blasphemy? A soul put on Earth to make the most of God's gifts, just like you. An adventurer, a writer, a psychologist, a mail-order ordained minister, a spiratualist, a privileged American, a minority group member (lesbian), a human compelled to try to use my God-given talents for good. Someone eager to see how my fellow humans will use their God-given talents to make my proposal an even better attempt to help us make the most of God's gifts. 

What are your flipside commandments?

Croatian statue of an angel rewriting's been done before somewhere, right?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Emerald Envy

A Free Romantic Historical Lesfic Caper in Brief

Emerald Envy

I hefted the carved flat emerald in its newly set platinum and diamond pendant necklace. There was no way to wear it inconspicuously through the streets of Paris. Even on a bitter winter night like this, it would bulk out my thin wool cape too much. Some opportunist would see a tall thin woman with a promising bulge and figure out that they had little to lose in trying to jostle it loose. I also didn’t trust any of my pockets to support the monstrous weight of the emerald I’d lifted from an Indian Mogul two weeks prior.

There was nothing for it. I had to get the emerald and all of its flashy new diamonds to Jacques “the madman” Coquin before he slit Madeline’s pretty throat just to satisfy his grudge against me for being the better thief. Holding my lover hostage gave him all the leverage and he knew it. The millions I would have made selling the newly fitted emerald to the highest mob bidders on Chicago’s diamond street were nothing compared to the wealth of joy I found basking in Madeline’s bright smiles. Some treasures are priceless.

I took out my handkerchief and wrapped it carefully around the sharp edges of all the jewels’ settings, encasing the pendants' glory inside the silk bundle. I sighed and shoved the mass between my corseted breasts as firmly as I could manage before draping Madeline’s heaviest brocaded scarlet scarf around my head and shoulders. Satisfied the folds of the scarf held enough obviously fabric lumps to satisfy the curious looks of second-glancers, I pulled on my navy wool cape over top and quickly inspected the results in the looking glass.

My image reflected someone who would likely be taken for a normal middle-class woman hurrying homeward. I left our modest flat on Rue Claire and hurried down the stairs to the street. One of those new-fangled Bugatti 35B’s roared around the corner on brass and rubber wheels, making an unworldly racket against the cobblestones on its way toward the Champs-Elysees and all of the park’s Friday night pre-opera festivities. At least there was a reason for people to be out in such cold tonight, I realized that would help me pass unencumbered to Jacques' little cabaret.

I kept pace with pockets of other people walking when possible, glancing around to see if and when Jacques' men might pick me up, but I spotted no one threatening until I arrived in the alley backing the cabaret.

Two of Jacques' goons, one flat-footed, the other with a nose like a hobnail vase, barred my way.

Hobnail-nose grabbed my shoulder with an iron grip and chuffed in French so thick I could barely interpret, “What do you want here?”

I suppressed my wise-acre urge to retort nothing before kneeing him in his fruit basket, and answered like I remembered Madeline’s life was at stake instead, “My name is Lissette Tatum and Monsieur Coquin is expecting me here now.”

Hobnail-nose gaped at me and didn’t ease his grip any. I peered expectantly at the flat-footed goon, who looked a shade brighter than the other one. Flat-foot nodded and smiled, his voice strangely high pitched, “Yes, Madame Tatum, you are on the list as they say.”

Hobnail-nose turned loose of me and pushed the door open with the heel of his right boot. Flat-foot stepped aside to give me room to pass and gestured with one hand. “Monsieur is waiting in the first dressing room on the left.”

I walked from the cold dark bricked alley and into a warm ocher plastered and gilded hallway. My boots looked cheap and worn-out against the white marble tiles, but I forged ahead like I owned the place anyway. A regular woman of the modern era, Ms. 1926, I kidded myself. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I was a steel rose when it came to sleight of hand and seduction thieving, but heavy-hitting was way out of my league. I was desperate to get Madeline and I out of this place still breathing, but I wasn’t smart enough to spot any leverage for keeping us safe. Once I gave up the Mogul’s emerald, Jacques would surely just kill us both, but if I didn’t try he would undoubtedly kill Madeline or worse. Thoughts of his brutish mustache blemishing Madeline’s pale velvet skin renewed my anger and determination as I lifted a hand and rapped twice on the door the flat-nosed goon had indicated.

Several deep breaths passed and no one answered. My pulse quickened. I lifted my hand to strike my knuckles against the wood again, but before flesh glanced wood the door swung open slightly. Madeline’s hand slipped out, grabbed my wrist and tugged me into the dark room. We stood practically nose to nose in the silence as she reached around me and pushed the door shut again with a firm click.

Irrational joy at the sight of her unharmed stunned me mute. Dumbstruck at her smiling green eyes peering up at me in the dim room, I stammered my words together, “Where’s, What’s, did the madman, I mean Jacques.”

Madeline pressed two cool finger tips against my lips. “Shh. It’s fine. I am not hurt. I took care of him, but we need to leave and quickly.”


She gestured behind her and I peered into the dimness. Jacques lay sprawled out on a velvet love seat in the corner with a large knot looming on his temple. His eyes were closed and a full bottle of absinthe lay in his lap.

Madeline took my hand. “He was stupid enough to give me the bottle of absinthe so I could check out the quality before he poured us a drink.  I clubbed him with it.”

“Is he dead?”

Madeline pulled me to the door. “No, he is breathing.  You can feel his mustache moving, but we will be dead if he wakes up and finds us here.  I was just waiting for you.”

I hesitated. “We can’t go out the back.  Those two goons I came in through will make a ruckus.”
Madeline stepped very close to me. “We can go out the front.  No one here has seen either of us and it’s crowded. Listen.”

I tilted my head and heard the sounds of the crowd, clinking glasses and shuffling chairs, thrumming along the walls.  I pulled Madeline in close and kissed her full on her warm lips, relieved to be together and potentially still wealthy despite Jacque’s emerald envy. “You’re my hero.” I realized she was a true partner, as in love with as I was her.

She smiled. “I know.”

Cover Art for the Story
This story was written as a #NaNoWriMo warm-up and as such was limited to a 1,000 word short story featuring the Mogul Emerald Necklace. Bonus if I include ninja space monkeys (which I couldn't). 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Riding Through It.

My bicycle's tires glide over glossy blacktop, a whir of black on black, as they have for so many miles. My feet on the pedals are as distant as two pine trees at the base from the peak of a mountain. Bands of muscles in my legs compulsively continue pounding out a road-eating rhythm that intertwines with the primal beat my heart plays against my inner ear under the melody of my ringing breath.

Somethings make no sense because you don't know why--once the why appears you understand.  But then there are things, like your suicide, that make no sense at all whether you know why or not.

I ride on. My forearms and wrists are only iron clasps, designed to clench these handlebars right now. A fresh kiss of wind from a nearby rain storm proceeds by with a promising caress.  This altitude in barren rock and startled heat before the storm.

This is rain you will not feel, like all the rain you will never feel again.  I cannot imagine a soul, pregnant with such promise, bending to that sickle free of will.  The effort leaves me ill.

I ride through it. A droplet teases the seething flesh on the back of my neck, evaporating in the salt already collected there. The roads roll on. I am lost. Below there are lolling hills, heavy with the grace of sun-ripening corn and an endless spill of think cotton leaves. They slide toward me in a silence that screams against the wiring of my wheels on wet asphalt.

You are not here now. Only remembered. A laugh as I suggest that you are right. Metallica is the best heavy metal band ever because of Nothing Else Matters. Few metal heads can make a symphony rock like that.  How could you forget?  Nothing else matters. Life is ours to live our way. Life was yours to live.

The roads ahead of me are all mere winding traces going somewhere uncertain, but certainly somehow the only eternity is riding on them.  Time means nothing, and nothing else matters, but a chance to continue. Suddenly, I know, this is a not about a ride in the country anymore.

Its not a ride to get over the loss of you. Life is mine to live.

On a bike, in worn out shoes, ragged shorts, and a beaten Ani DiFranco concert t-shirt proclaiming, "here comes naked little me," I have reached another existence.  I am in the heart of grief, savoring something that feels like life. It is without promise or rules, offering only choices. I continue. I ride through it astounded. Frightened at the ease of it. Guilty for seeing through the complexity without you.

How could you forget? But I remember.  That is all that matters, and I am comforted by that simplicity.

The wind roughs the edges of my ears and slaps against my cheek, encouraging me as I turn east out of treacherous terrain toward the valleys of green.  Broad black top spills downhill over the down-lands in a hurry.  All there is. I ride through it.  Nothing else matters.

The view from the top of the ride.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Catch Gratitude and Pay it Forward

I consider myself very lucky in life, and I like to try to find ways to share all that luck.  I've created a charity drive for Amazon reviews of my second novel, Catch to Release.  The book is currently available in all eBook formats and in print from Amazon.

If you've read it, I invite you to submit a star rating and a simple 3 word review on Amazon (e.g. "I loved it!"). If you're one of the first 20 reviews posted between now and August 28th, then I will donate $10 in your name to your favorite charity. Once you've received Amazon's confirmation email for your review just forward that to me at along with your charity choice. I'll send you back a confirmation/ receipt of my donation to your charity. Do $10 worth of good in under 5 minutes by clicking that "Write a Customer Review" button just like Ms. Morrison did on August 21st.

"Ten fingers and two thumbs up. . ." 

By G.L. Morrison on August 21, 2016."Masterfully erotic. The way the guitarist equates her passion for music as like passion for a lover: "all ten fingers intimately involved." Yeah. Um, yeah. Readers are the same putty in the author's hand as fans of the folk singer. Tight, fiercely paced mystery is just the hollow point bullet of a cherry on the literary sundae." 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Catch to Release debuts in top 100

On it's third day of release, my second novel has broken into Amazon's top 100 in the Lesbian Fiction, and Lesbian Romance genres.  I am unbelievably excited and extremely grateful folks are reading it.  Thank you so much for your interest.  I hope you enjoy the story.

I'm very proud to be publishing with Affinity and to be a part of their supportive and talented crew of authors.  I hope you will check out some of their highly entertaining books too.

For those of who have asked, copies are Available now from: Affinity eBooks; Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bella Distribution, Smashwords including Apple iBooks

Monday, July 11, 2016

Safe Haven Sanctity

"Elusive as blood moonlight."
On the dance floor
we are all created 
equally impetuous,
eager to move,
caught up 
in the rhythm and the lights.

There is only one kind of down 
beat we seek
on the dance floor
free of beat downs.

Life is
on the dance floor.
The tradition
as old as war
as stark as battle.

The act serving
every function and phase
from anger and despair
to love and hope.
Anything floats
on the sonic boundaries
amid audial tides
because the dancing is a truce among souls,
a guaranteed right of asylum
for a second to seek mindfulness
as apparent yet elusive
as blood moonlight.

is a sacred temple
in the darkest night,
where we thumb our noses at death and blight,
if only for a few measures
meandering in the beat
hearing our heart
pound at the tips of our fingers
with right now in hand.

No matter how many terrorists toss the place,
shattering lives like bullets,
some things cannot be robbed
point blank.
We will rise to the tempo,
shimmy, sway, swing,
and pop-n-lock
no matter what the threat is cocked.

We have no better choice,
no safer haven
even under fire.

We will dance.
It is as imperative
to our existence
as having a pulse.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

I tried to stifle my tear before it hit my waffle. I stared down at the text from my mother, "Supreme court recognized same-sex marriages. Heart. Smiley Face."
My wife was alarmed at my sudden change of affect, but I was too choked up to vocalize an explanation so I settled for passing the phone across the table.
Our eyes met.

I'd like to say unfettered joy crossed our faces and that we stood up and did a dance, but our prejudices ruined the moment.

We thought about holding hands, but didn't.
We dashed the palms of our hands at the tears in our eyes while cautiously peering around us hoping no one would notice our odd behavior and ask if we were okay.  We might be prejudiced and even occasionally hypocritical, but we're also both horrible liars and we know it.  Don't ask after our welfare unless you want an honest answer, and on that day we were afraid (because of our prejudices) that an honest answer might get us lynched.
We were having breakfast at a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas on our way to a lakeside cabin near Eureka Springs.  I knew Eureka Springs was relatively hippy and LGBT tolerant, but we weren't there yet.
My wife bit her lip and gave me a smile.
She handed me back my phone and squeezed my fingers as our hands touched in the passing.
Our smiles trembled.  This was just too big to celebrate silently.

I come from a long line (156 years back on the newly immigrated side of the family) of Texans.  My wife comes from an even longer line of Texans.  Parts of both of our families have been in American since 1690.  In short, we live in our ancestors' ancestors' homeland; and neither of us was about to abandon our families and careers to move out of state any time soon--even if that was the only way to obtain legal recognition of our relationship (our status as a family).
Sudden legal recognition of us as a family was momentous. Not because we or our family needed it to validate our relationship.  In our eyes, and the eyes of our friends and family, we had already been married for over three years.  We already had the illegal ceremony and marginally-legal (as long as we don't talk about the city ordinances we broke) wedding reception. We had even already obtained a legal marriage certificate from Martin Luther King County in Seattle, Washington while we were passing through for work (and where more friends than we new we had in town showed up uninvited to the impromptu ceremony to celebrate it with us).
Legal recognition of our marriage in Texas was momentous for us because it restored our faith in our homeland.
We were suddenly free to chase our dreams, buy a house, officially take care of each others' aging parents, and pay our a couple (which meant paying more taxes by the way) in our ancestral homeland. We could have some of the same freedoms that our great, great, great, great grandparents came to these lands hoping to find and secure for their progeny.
Somehow it made me feel safer at home again.
But it didn't make me feel safer about expressing my love and happiness in a Waffle House in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Of course I have an excuse for that.  My prejudice prevented it.
That morning when we wandered into the Waffle House, we were greeted by a spirited, balding Caucasian septuagenarian named Joe, who proclaimed himself a to be a lay minister and witness to Jesus, "Blessing upon us and all strays."

As I said, I'm from Texas, and I'm no stranger to adamant fundamentalist Christians.  I wasn't offended by Joe's strong expression of faith.  I blessed him back and we chatted about his life and the shared points of our faith for several minutes after he showed us to our table.

But I didn't give Joe the benefit of the doubt.  I let my stereotype of adamant fundamentalist Christians convince me that Joe would be rabidly opposed to same-sex marriage as a sin and that he would want to tell me all about how I was bound for hell rather than share our joy.  And I let this prejudice convince me that everyone in that Waffle House would share this condemning attitude.

Fortunately, my tears did hit my waffle, and Joe did notice.
He bustled his way back to our table, slid into the booth next to me and asked the dreaded question, "Are you okay?"  In my hesitation, he continued, "I'll pray right with you, whatever it is."

I thought he would find my answer nutty and offensive, but I had to be true.  I told him we were just happy.  Happy that our marriage of three years was finally legal everywhere in our great country.
Joe was so happy that he cried too.  Then he thanked God for us with enough volume, enthusiasm and specificity for everyone to hear and understand. . . and people clapped. Then he sang a celebratory hymn and people joined in, including me.

I am ashamed that I did not sing with more courage with Joe in that Waffle House.  I should have suspected better of Joe in Fayetteville.
I am sad that I didn't realize until after we left breakfast that the Waffle House was on MLK street--I should have taken that as a sign from the universe probably.  Joe and God wanted us to be proud of our love and to share the joy and light that love brings without fear born of prejudices.  I should have already known that.
I am proud to know, and call family, so many compassionate and supportive people of a great diversity of religions, politics, ethnicities, educations, sexual orientations, and socio-economic classes. I believe this is America's greatness: that we can all so easily choose to know and love a great diversity of people.
And one lesson I have learned from my fortunate existence in this greatness is that most people prize and share two primary objectives: to love and be loved.  I strive to let this lesson always be my first prejudice now.

Our wedding bouquets. Photo by Andrew Fritz. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Novel Preview: Catch to Release

Chapter One – Bang, Bang. Got Me Good.

Addison Weller pushed open the underground garage access door beneath the courthouse and glanced over everything before she ushered the Honorable John Errington through the door ahead of her. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She listened and heard only the hum of the industrial heating system, but a prescient tingle tapped lightly over her spine. Reaching her left hand inside her jacket, she put the tips of her fingers on the butt of her FN 5.7 pistol. She placed her right hand lightly on the back of the Honorable John Errington.
A solitary businessman watched them from over the hood of a black sedan forty feet to their left. Weller noticed he was immaculate in a navy suit, white shirt, and pale blue tie. His face was smooth and regular as milk, until he reached inside his jacket. One of his brown eyes darkened and squinted in an aim as he pulled out a Sig Sauer P299.
Weller drew her heavy FN 5.7 smoothly. Her left forefinger brushed the safety off as she slid her gun over the crisp linen of her suit vest with a soft rasp. She tossed her head to clear away a dark brown wisp of hair in her sight-line. She leveled the gun. Adjusting her own aim to the poor lighting and the lack of breeze underground, she strained to hear over the adrenaline roaring in her ears. With one long, sure step forward, she brought her own body between Errington and the Sig Sauer’s speeding bullet before firing her own weapon.

The two shots fired so quickly that John Errington wondered if he was dreaming them. For a brief second he thought to protest when Weller pushed him to the oily ground in front of a black BMW. Then Weller’s stillness rested heavy on his back, and her weight behind her forearm spread across the back of his shoulders. He listened carefully to hear her breathing. He heard silence.
“Weller?” Errington shifted his face off the floor just enough to talk.
Under the tunnel of parked cars, he saw a man in a navy suit, arm outstretched but still holding a smoking gun, and a pool of velvet blood creeping over the oily floor. The man blinked at Errington as their eyes met, but the man didn’t make any other movements. Errington watched a sigh fall from the man’s lips to the floor. He swallowed, and asked again, “Weller?”
Weller’s weight lifted with such speed that Errington was too stunned to sit up.
He heard the steel door to the garage bang open and lifted his head to watch Weller wheel around to face the door with her FN 5.7 aimed and ready.
Errington let out a long shaky breath. One of Weller’s team members, the exceedingly tall one with short brown hair, filled the doorway.
Errington rose to his knees as Weller lowered her weapon, and he heard her request, “Wimberly, call 911, and then call Jim O’Rourke at the Chicago DSS field office and tell him we’ve eliminated a hitman. He’ll get the investigation rolling.”
Errington stood and watched Wimberly nod before leaving to comply with his boss’s request.
Weller offered a hand up. “Would you like to see if your phone charger is still in the car now?”
Errington tried to swallow the leaden fear bubbling in his stomach, but only managed to throw up on the floor between his wingtip shoes.

Chapter Two – Stage Fright, Stage Right.

Shay Greenaura played the guitar like most people played a piano, with all ten fingers intimately involved. She thought of her guitar as another woman with a driving pulse that she could bend. The cheers of the seven thousand or so souls watching her play rushed over and around her like waves washing against stones at the sound of every clear note she struck. Sweat stung her eyes and she tossed her head to free the tangle of blond curls sticking to her forehead. She sang out the closing note and leaned into the tightening of every muscle in her small body. Her voice broke free and clear beyond the roar of the crowd for a last, lingering second. Wolf whistles and cheering rolled over the stage. She was already drunk with the calm, wonderful weariness of giving all of herself to her passion, her music.

Thirty feet away at the edge of the stage, a solitary man in a horde of exuberant women watched Shay touch the hands of her fans and smile at each one as she walked off the stage. The man eyed the crunchy-granola hippie chick next to him and decided she would do fine. All of these liberated, self-righteous women ultimately just want to go home and be given some order, some direction, to soften the chaos of freedom. He would seduce her first, as he knew she believed she wanted to be seduced. Then when she learned to trust him, he would ram order into her with each hammer of his cock and beat her to the edge of senseless before he silenced her life into eternal order. He smiled to himself and smoothed one hand over the Greenaura logo on his T-shirt. He would use the hippie chick for today. But, one day soon...Shay Greenaura will be my bitch. That thought made him hard in his jeans. He caught the blue eyes of the petite blond hippie chick with a shy nodding smile calculated to earn her interest.

Gloved hands pattered on a keyboard in a dim public library just minutes before closing time on a rainy Tuesday. A YouTube video of Shay’s latest concert rolled on in a minimized window, while in a larger desktop window, Shay’s blue eyes crinkled with a grin in a candid still shot. The photo was a nice close-up of Shay in pajamas, at home on a winter night, snuggled up on the sofa with her daughter, Iva. The pleased photographer slashed a warning over the photo in Jack-the-Ripper-horror font, “I WILL KILL IVA. SLOWLY. SO YOU CAN WATCH.” The photographer saved the creation to a jump drive, careful to erase the file properties, pocketed the drive, and erased all history folders before leaving the library.

“This is the Chasten Scorn show coming at you live on Talk Time Satellite Radio. We are all ready to ridicule and beguile Robespierre Greenaura, bass-guitarist and pansy brother of the infamous liberal dyke singer, Shay Greenaura. Say hello to the folks, RobO, you know the drill.”
“Hello, world. I’m Rob Greenaura and I can take the Scorn.” RobO flashed Chasten a wide self-deprecating grin and patted the thinning hair down on the top of his head.
Chasten shrugged his hoodie smooth over the back of his neck and smiled broadly. “Then let the games begin. Our first burning question, RobO, is—and we have done our research, so we do have some dirt—why is your sister quickly becoming a rich and famous musician with a cause, when you were the first one with star ambitions?”
“That’s too easy, Chasten. I never had any star ambitions. I just liked crooning cover songs, and I was floored and amazed that my baby-sister wanted to play along.”
“Aw, come on, man. Aren’t you even a little jealous that the scrawny no-name drummer of your Frank Sinatra cover band achieved all of this success as a singer and a songwriter, while you were stuck tagging along?”
“Well the cover band was mostly for fun anyways. I never expected it to feed us long-term. Our dad died when I was ten and Shay was four years old, and our mom wasn’t exactly reliable even before she died, too. So, I’d already been working as a busboy, and then as a bouncer for several clubs in DC, before I started trying to sing for more money. Shay had an after-school job, but she learned to play the drums so we could take home more of the band’s pay.”
“Got tired of ramen noodles?”
RobO chuckled. “Honestly, we got tired of living without power because we couldn’t pay the utility bills. Even when Shay wasn’t at work, she followed me to the gigs so she could have air conditioning and light for free for a while each night.”
“So you took your underage baby sister along to clubs like The Bottom Line bar for her safety?”
“Ha! No, of course not. Have you met my sister? I took her along for my safety.”
Chasten laughed boldly at the punchline in a deep rumble that was obviously playing it up for their listeners. “Point taken, RobO. So you taught your baby sister to play drums so you could keep her out of trouble and use her for slave wages?”
“Sort of. She actually taught herself to play drums by watching every night, I guess. I didn’t have a clue until one night when our regular drummer got too pissing drunk to stand up and we were about to go on without any drums, she slipped in behind his kit and started playing.”
“But how did she get from behind the drums to strumming a guitar and singing then? And how did you end up behind those drums?”
“We were waiting in the alley to go on at some scummy joint above a nice restaurant one night. Shay picked up Glen’s guitar and sat on his amp fiddling around with it—just like she did just about every time we waited somewhere, but that night she started singing along. Some poem she’d been scribbling all over the back of envelopes and receipts. A more upscale club owner, Jane Karsen, walked out of the restaurant after dinner and heard Shay singing. She handed Shay her card and asked us to play an early evening gig at a coffee house she had just opened called the Daily Grind. Since the time slot allowed us to still play our regular gig that Friday, we went to the Daily Grind first. Shay and I played that gig with her singing and me playing the bass guitar. We had to borrow both guitars from Glen the first few weeks, but then found I found a three-piece jazz drum kit and an acoustic guitar on sale in some pawn shop. After that we played any gig we could get anyone to book with either of us singing lead.”
“The masses just liked your sister best.”
RobO rolled his eyes and shrugged. “No accounting for tastes, heh?”
“What about this Greenaura crap? Couldn’t you guys make up a better stage name?”
“It’s our name. Our father gave it to us. All I know is that it means ‘from the village of Greenaun,’ which is in County Mayo, Ireland. Our father was of Irish descent, but his family had been here so long, and suffered so many separations, that I don’t think he knew much more than that. At least, he never told me more than that.”
“What about your mother?”
“She was part Italian and part Polish. She kept a list of family births and deaths in the front of her bible, but I don’t think she ever knew where or how her own parents or brothers ended up. I think they gave up on her before we were even born. I don’t remember any grandparents or uncles or aunts. None of the names on her list have led to anyone alive so far.”
“You heard that, world. If you’re related to these shady Greenaura musicians, please let us know. Maybe RobO will get sentimental and cut you in on the inheritance. Right?”
“Sure thing, Chasten, we’ll split our whole stock of Irish whiskey and all our bail bonds with anyone who can show they’re remotely related.”
“Now don’t be so damned generous, you bastard. Tell us how the hell you got from sleazy clubs in DC to Chicago in the first place.”
“Well, it’s really kind of a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
Chasten smirked. “No, but I’ve gotta ask you to tell it anyway. How else am I going to get a balding, middle-aged drummer to fill out an hour long show? I’ll interrupt you when I need to.”
“Okay. You asked for it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Our mom died just a few months after I turned eighteen, but Shay was still only twelve-years old. Child protective services gave me the choice of assuming guardianship for Shay, but they advised against it since they didn’t feel I could take care of myself well enough yet. I opted to let them place Shay into the foster system for three years until I turned twenty-one and got a little more practice at raising myself.”
“So you left your little sister hanging in the wind?”
“Yeah, but in my defense, I thought I was doing what was best for both of us. It wasn’t until Shay and I were back together that I realized just how wrong I was.”
“So what happened?”
“The foster family Shay was placed with over those three years essentially used her as a drug mule and beat her into secrecy.”
“Whoa! Holy Cow!” Chasten’s eyes grew wider. He leaned in toward RobO to listen.
“Yeah, I know. Unbelievable, right? I had my doubts, too, until Metro PD showed up on our doorstep one morning to question Shay. The foster parents had been busted for dealing at a little league baseball game. Based on their subsequent accusations against Shay, and the evidence they handed over in Shay’s old school back-pack, the DA was pressing charges against Shay for possession with intent to distribute.”
“So then what? As far as I know Shay Greenaura has no criminal record.”
“No, she doesn’t. But it scared the hell out of us since we knew it was her word against the foster parents’ implications—and we didn’t think that stood much of chance in convincing any judge. Lucky for us, the public defender worked out a deal. If Shay agreed to serve as a witness for the DA against the foster parents as needed, do 500 hours of community service, and serve two years of probation with active drug counseling, even though she swore she never used any, then the DA would not press charges.”
“Okay, so how does that get you from Washington, D.C., to Chicago?”
“Well, Shay testified and the foster parents were convicted, but then they appealed and the conviction was overturned on a technicality, not too long after Shay finished her two years of probation with counseling. We were both afraid the foster parents would try to cause her some sort of misery in retribution. During the counseling, Shay saw something about a mission and shelter in Chicago called Second Start. I started poking around their web site and saw that they specialized in helping young adults get another start after drug-related misdemeanors. It seemed like our only real chance out, so we started saving for two one-way bus tickets to leave.”
“And you gave up your cover band and your gigs to go?”
“I did give up the cover band. We couldn’t take the other band members with us, and we didn’t have any connections in Chicago to restart the band, or knowledge of the club scene there to arrange any gigs.”
“We kept our pawn-shop instruments. Shay and I played for money every chance we got on the way to Chicago, and all around the Second Start shelter once we got there. Many folks at the shelter helped us get paying gigs and promoted our work. Shay is a natural and it was easy for her star to rise once people could see her perform. She came out of her shell of fear and insecurity, too, and found a sense of belonging in the community.”
“Aww. How rainbow-from-the-ass-ends-of-butterflies lovely is that?”
“Yep. A regular happy ending. For me, too. I met my wife Sylvia there. Syl had been arrested for possession of cocaine as a minor before escaping from her rich bitch parents in the suburbs to the Second Start shelter in downtown Chicago. The three of us just bonded, and when Syl got a job in the city’s permit offices, she started networking with vendors who were willing to mentor us all on promoting our music. Everything worked out for the best.”
“So you’re not miffed about giving up your whole chance at fame and fortune to look after your sister?” Chasten’s voice played the tonal registers of false incredulity.
Shaking his head, RobO gave a sheepish grin. “Nope. I just want to keep my family safe. Shay and Syl experienced so many things because there wasn’t anyone who cared to keep them safe.”
“Safety is more important than fame and fortune, hey?”
“But you never get bummed out about it? I don’t believe you.”
RobO half nodded and played with the zipper on his green pleather jacket. “Well, sure, sometimes. Sometimes I feel I still can’t really keep them safe. Sometimes I get tired of my brilliant little sister’s talent for change, evolution, learning, personal growth. Whatever you want to call it. Getting caught up in all the hubbub associated with that talent can be overwhelming and tiring at times.”
RobO shrugged out of his jacket and pushed up the shirtsleeve on his left forearm to reveal his tattoo. He held it up to show Chasten. “That’s why I have this tattoo that says ‘it is what it is’ right where I can see it when I drum. I think everything, including change, power, and growth is good in moderation. Some things you still just have to accept and make the best of. I just have to accept that I can do more good behind the drums, supporting my sister and hopefully keeping my family safer, than I can pursuing my own fame and fortune as a singer. Sometimes what it is should be enough.”
“Jeeze. Deep thoughts by RobO, folks.”
“Yep. It is what it is. Don’t you enjoy being a penny-ante shock DJ, Chasten Scorn?”
“Oh no, I’m not going to answer that. This isn’t about me. In fact, it’s time for me to ask you the question that matters most, RobO…what giveaway did you bring to appease our audience members?”
RobO smiled and reached behind him to pick up a hard-shell guitar case. “I’ve brought one of Shay’s custom, green-pearl-sparkle, semi-hollow, body guitars.” He unlatched the case and lifted the guitar out to show Chasten the sparkle beneath the studio lights.
“Well folks, I’m looking at it right now, and it is a thing of beauty even if you don’t write lesbian-folk-pop songs. The first caller who can correctly name RobO’s Frank Sinatra cover band wins.”

Shay pushed open the steel exit door a crack and found a score of people crowding the alley behind the Maddux Theater in St. Paul. She quickly pulled the door shut again. The cold air fanned in behind her and washed over the entire sweaty band at her back.
“What’s up?” RobO asked from behind her.
“They alley is lousy with media, fans, and,” she sighed, “protesters.” She looked at the ratty concrete floor and a dewdrop of sweat beaded down the edge of her nose to splash against the top of her boot.
“No other exit gets any better, I’m sure.” RobO’s voice was calm and smooth.
“Let’s just do it.” Fallow, her drummer flexed up and down on the tiptoes of his green Chuck Taylor’s.
“I’ll go in front.” RobO nudged Shay away from the door.
Shay rubbed her palms over her face and pressed herself close to RobO’s broad back.

The crowds parted around RobO letting him through. After twenty or so steps, he turned to smile at his sister and found that he could no longer see her. The crowd around him was looking behind him and shouting.
Hoots of “Shay, over here,” and growls of “Jesus can still save you, sister” echoed around him. Smartphone cameras flashed. Bodies pushed past him.
The rest of the band was lost in the sea of people. Everyone and everything sparkled dewy with the night’s humidity.
RobO spotted a small blond head bouncing above the writhing mass of humanity and turned to push his way back to Shay.
This alley, this venue, the security isn’t built for this level of recognition. RobO used his arms in a breaststroke manner to swim through the crowd to rescue his baby sister. I’ll never keep her safe.

An early cover concept draft.

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