Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

The bottle of Scotch was a gift to him, from him.

Merry Christmas.

They used to be warmer. Full of cheer and light, sweet voices and happy times, even the occasional carol or two. Now it was the alcohol that warmed him instead, pumping through his veins, making cheeks ruddy and eyes twinkle.

He was a regular Kris Kringle.

The tumbler sparkled in his hand. He shouldn't be drinking. Drinking poked holes in his head, making old memories start to tumble out. A smiling woman and a happy home, a white picket fence and 2.5 kids, the American dream, complete with apple pie. It was best to leave those memories packed away.

Because, really, all they really were was a dream. It was a world built on cotton candy clouds, destined to crumble, but for a short time, held up by hope.

Oh, how they had hoped.

He had loved her, and as far as he figured, she had loved him, too. They kissed and they cuddled, sharing pieces of themselves. She spoke of happy summers at the shore, bright days that were never-ending. She whispered of angry boyfriends with heavy hands. He listened, and gave up little parts of himself, too, secrets he hadn't told anyone else. She was the first, the only, woman he had ever loved.

But then, love hadn't been enough. Secrets they spoke, but they started to creep in as well, nasty little things hiding in the corners, dark spots in their bright lives. They were easy enough to ignore at first.

The Past Due notices weren't, however. He had asked her to pay the electric bill. Dutifully, she took it out of the account, the exact amount, as always. Except the money never seemed to make it from Point A to Point B. The numbers stood out, insistently red. He approached her, confused, and she bowed her head.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.


"Because I spent it." The words tumbled out. It had all been for him, really. Didn't he remember? A nice little gift, a pair of tickets to the White Sox game, front row and center. He'd been able to see hometown heroes Lefty Williams and Happy Felsch, stunning swings and sizzling strikes. Of course there was a price to pay for something he loved. There always was. Hadn't he realized that? Hadn't he liked the game?

"Yes," he admitted quietly. "But we can't do this again. I love you, and I appreciate you, but... Right now, we have to scramble to pay the lights. We've got to put the basics before ourselves." She agreed, apologizing profusely. She would never do it again.

Except she did. The next time it was the car payment, mysteriously missing. Again the perplexed husband went to his beautiful bride, and again she looked down. A simple explanation and a heartfelt apology followed.

She would never do it again.

The next time it was the house note, exchanged for a radio.

The next time it was the water bill, spent on a sweater.

The next time it was groceries, a down payment for acting lessons.

Each time he confronted her a little less patiently, and each time her apologies were a little less sincere. He'd get angry. Then so would she. Heartfelt talks turned into screaming matches.

Neither ever seemed to win.

"Stop," he had asked her.

"Please," he had begged her.

"Fucking stop!" he had screamed.

He had even hit her once.

That hadn't worked, either. She grew resentful and he adopted loathing, a His and Hers matching set of heartache. The white picket fence started to splinter, while the idea of children started to fade. There were more fights and fewer apologies. She stopped smiling, and he stopped laughing.

But now it was Christmas, a time for change, for cheer, a new beginning for a long hurt. Maybe, just maybe, they could forget all that happened. Maybe, just maybe, they could love one another again. He needed her to love him again. And how he had worked on a change. There was a roaring fire, a glowing tree, the house filled with the sights and scents of the holiday season. Of course, there was one other thing he had managed to get:

An empty home.

That last one hadn't been in his plans. He didn't even know it would happen until she was already gone, a note left on the coffee table. When he picked it up, the piece of parchment was short and to the point.

"Gone to Mom's."

And with that, his revival was repulsed.

He reached for the bottle, filling the glass. The Scotch swam over the ice, driving it to tink off the edges of the glass, a lazy motion on a special day. Down came the bottle and up came his hand, wrapping around his other Christmas present to himself. It was a reassuring weight in his hand, the sort of heft that Smith & Wesson were eager to offer.

All it took was a flick of the wrist to open the barrel of the gun. Six empty chambers stared up at him hungrily. It was a scant Christmas dinner that he offered up, one bullet for every year of heartbreak. Another flick of the wrist, and the revolver clacked shut. Back he leaned and started to play a Christmas game.

Which would empty first, the bottle or the barrel.

Had this sad little bit on my mind after a fight with somebody. You get tired of constant confrontation, and no more than on Christmas, I'm sure.

I originally thought this was going to be Johnny, but it just didn't quite fit. Perhaps another sad soul, somewhere in his world.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


"You shouldn't have come back."

Brian knew that. He had fled into the night years ago, trying to forget this house, trying to forget this man. Time had passed, but the memory always remained. It stalked him, haunted him, filled his waking hours with anxiety and his sleeping with horror. He tried to forget. He honestly had. Brian went to counselors, made friends, even dated a girl or two, all the sort of things a man does when he tries to heal.

But he simply, couldn't, forget. That's why he was back, ready to confront his demons. His Demon. The old man sat with his back to Brian, fingers gripping the armchair, form distorted by the flicker of the television. He was as terrible as the man remembered, a Bogeyman of boyhood days. The old man would always sit there, illuminated by the screen's light, black and white playing across his features, the shine of the screen making his glasses glow. It was his habit to make the boy wait, standing behind, watching the play of shadows, dreading the beating that invariably came. He would watch, and the boy would wait. Brian couldn't lift his legs to walk, to run, to escape those horrible days.

He could, however, lift the knife to confront them.

"I know, Dad. But here I am."

The novel is progressing better than expected. I expected it to suck, to be honest. Maybe all writers think that, especially when they're trying to tackle an ambitious project. But here I am, feeling positive, like this can work. The characters are likable, interesting, different. I can spot a thing or two already that I'll need to change, but we'll worry about that in revisions.

For now, I'll just enjoy the experience.

The story's origin comes from the most recent Castlevania games (Lord of Shadows). There's something so very epic about a son coming home to confront the father. There's something primal in that. It worked for Shakespeare, and I suppose it works for me, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014



I don't know what I would do without my agent.

They're big, bold words, sure. Most writers aspire to an agent. They're the gatekeeper, the status symbol, that banner that shows we've made it. We're above the humdrum, above the day-to-day, having fought tooth and nail to get out from the bottom.

But they actually have a use outside of our ego.

These people, at least the right ones, are our champions. They cheer on our successes, mourn with our failures, care about us as clients, sure, but also as human beings. They want to see us grow, for business, but also for ourselves. They're busy people, and they can't be there all the time, but goddammit, when they are, it's wonderful.

There's more, though. They just aren't champions -- they pull a motherfucking twist, turn that noun into a verb, and champion us. They push us to editors, publishers, these big ivory tower sorts who we probably have never heard of, and who certainly haven't heard of our unwashed masses. They bring their enthusiasm everyday, speaking excitedly about a project they've read in and out, edited until their eyes bleed. They talk up our material in ways we can't see, and what we sometimes don't deserve. Again, it's business, but they also believe.

These motherfuckers looked through hundreds of other submissions. They literally had their pick of hundreds, if not thousands, of other desperate voices, wanting to do this mad thing we call "writing." The agents slapped them aside for weak queries, poor grammar, uninteresting plotline, but you... you were different. They swatted away all the other contenders, pointed to you, and said, "Let's boogie on the dance floor."

They believe this shit they're saying. They believe that you're good, capable, and people will love your shit. Sure, some of them are soulless husks, operating on what might turn a quick dime. But the good ones, the quality ones, want to grow your career, and grow with you.
I know self-publishing is big. I know it's great. But goddammit, somewhere in your career, get an agent. Get someone who will be your champion, who will champion you, who will be there on the good days, but also the bad. Someone who will do their best to see your art grow, and also see you grow.

If your experience is half what mine has been with Jennifer Azantian, I don't think you'll come away unhappy.