Wednesday, April 29, 2015

fiction coming for Friday

I've got a little writing done this week, so there will be some more Oscar and Phillip coming on Friday. Stay tuned!

I'm up to ten pages of them in my file that I keep of all these snippets. I never guessed when I started on the first prompt that Oscar and Phillip would have such staying power!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

gazing out the window

So, I'm sitting in my writing spot and pondering how best to use my small amount of free time this morning. This is the first Saturday morning since winter started that I have quiet time to myself, a few precious hours to while away or spend being productive, and so many ideas and projects that need attention. None of them could be finished in this small block of time, so I'm hesitant to really dig into them, but its too good a chance to work on something to not start one of them.

Later today I have the start of a massive three day Spring Cleaning. (And I've already etched out a snippet of Oscar and Phillip to mirror that spring cleaning....) There won't be a lot of writing time later, although I will finally get my physical space into better order, and I always find it easier to write when I have more organized surroundings.

Today I see blue skies and hazy white clouds, and the touch of wind upon the old leaves on the ground. The snow is finally gone, and remains of fall linger, but up the hill a little way I do see some darker green -- a very small patch of grass that has already rejuvenated, and a little bit to the left, a clump of shoots that I suspect will be daffodils.

But best of all, in the sunlight outside, which is always a very fine companion for a quiet morning of shuffling along on projects.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Free Fiction: In Love with Capsicum, Part II

"Go ahead and pour in the milk," Mike said.

Carl tipped the measuring cup and the milk spilled out into the sauce pot on the stove.

Mike reached over and turned the knob. "Medium heat," he said. "Which is always a mystery. What is medium exactly? Low and high are obvious, but medium heat could be anything in between."

Carl rinsed the measuring cup and set it aside. "I always thought it was five. Right in the middle of one and ten."

"That's very mathematical of you." Mike said and adjusted the knob. "Let's risk it all and turn it up to six. It'll be midnight before it heats up if we keep it on five."

"Because five is so much hotter than six?" Carl said as he raised a mental eyebrow at the prospect of heating things up. Mike and he were on their fourth date and for a man who could chew up an entire habanero pepper without flinching, he surely kept things cool in the dating department. First they'd met for coffee and had talked for hours. Conversation began with the topic of the spicy chili competition they'd met at, but it had swiftly detoured around to music, books, growing up, dreams of the future, and everything in between. Mike was easy to talk with and Carl's emotions had swooned. He'd fallen hard and fast, and his libido had been the part driving the bus over the cliff. Mike seemed to drive at a slower speed, though.

They'd parted from the coffee shop only when it had closed with plans for dinner the next evening. Again, they'd met, talked, even imbibed copiously, and yet Mike hadn't come the halfway Carl needed. Carl put out all the signals, and waited at the crossroads for Mike, but they'd stayed in the slow lane.

Surely, by the third date, Carl thought, he'd gain some physical satisfaction, but no. They'd gone to a movie and then found a late night pizza joint and stayed up until midnight, debating the hazards and merits of hot peppers placed on pizza prior to baking or after, and Carl nearly sizzled all evening, while Mike remained placid.

For a man with red hair and the ability to eat fiery hot peppers, he surely broke the stereotype mold.

Mike laughed. "What's hotter than six?" He turned back to study the recipe and read off the next part of the directions. "Once it is simmering, add in the cocoa powder, sugar, and vanilla extract."

Carl integrated the ingredients in order and stirred with a spoon until everything dissolved. The milk turned from a creamy white to a rich brown and a delicious aroma wafted out.

"Then, a healthy pinch of cayenne," Mike said.

Carl shook the tiniest amount of dried cayenne pepper into the pot.

"Healthy pinch," Mike repeated.

"I know, but you want me to be able to try it, right?"

"You're tougher than you give yourself credit for," Mike said. "I witnessed it at the competition."

"Just because I could force myself to drink it, doesn't mean I want to. I want to enjoy it, not wish my mouth wasn't on fire."

"Point made," Mike said with such a gentle tone that Carl knew he had reprimanded himself. "Okay, now simmer together, but don't let it boil."

Carl transferred the spoon to his non-dominant hand and stirred the concoction. With his other hand, he touched the back of Mike's hand. "Do you ever let it boil over?" he asked. He stroked his thumb across Mike's skin and looked him directly in the eyes. He hoped it was obvious his question was about so much more than just the hot cocoa.

A slow smile spread across Mike's face. "Sure," he said. "Sure I do. But I've had my fill of temporary hot night stands. All good fun, but I want something more than just a burst of heat and nothing to follow it up. I want a long term thing. Not a flash in the pan. So I figured I'd let you tell me when you were ready."

Carl raised both his eyebrows. "Seriously? I've been ready for two weeks."

"Gotta say it out loud, hot stuff. I can't read your mind."

"Let's boil over," Mike said. "Let's take it to bedroom. Let me make you feel good. I want you to make me feel good."

Mike pried the spoon from Carl's hand and pulled the pot off the burner. "Let's drink this cayenne hot chocolate first," he said. "It's an aphrodisiac. Cayenne's good for male stamina, and I think we'll both be glad of that. Then we'll see who boils over first."

"I'll drink to that," Carl said.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

tough re-entry

There a really tough re-entry when you're reading a book and really getting into it, and then suddenly you run out of time and need to refocus on the real world. It is absolutely disorienting and disappointing to return from the adventure or the depth of intrigue to swim back up and break the surface into your normal life again.

Alas, I had that happen this week. I was devouring a book at lunchtime and when my break was over, I hated to stop. Kudos to you, writers of the world, for making stories come so alive that they feel so fantastic to become engrossed within.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness, review

Bookpushers did a review of the Random Acts of Kindness Anthology here:

It's a good review overall, and hits all the stories. Mine, Never Waste a Good Left Turn, got solid marks. (Which is always nice!)

This is such a sweet anthology, it is nice to see it get some attention. These stories really will make you feel good for reading them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

spring is coming

I saw the tender green shoots of some crocuses yesterday while I was out walking around. Also, this morning, the birds were outside chirping very loudly. I forgot that part about spring! All this wishing for spring to get here, and I forgot about the birds. I only mind them when their chirping wakes me in the morning. They're all such early birds!

Monday, April 13, 2015

two lemons are better than one

Just general advice for shoppers out there. I've found when purchasing for a new recipe that uses fresh lemon juice/peel/zest, that is always a wise option to get 2 lemons instead of just the 1 that is usually recommended. I do like the taste of lemon, so I admit my bias toward liking things more lemony than less! But I've generally found it useful to have the extra lemon on hand, in case the first lemon doesn't have enough juice in it.

I made soup the other day and my volumes tend to creep up (I always think more, more, more is better!), so having the extra lemon on hand was very useful!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

have screwdriver, will fix

So, for a little while, I had occasion to carry a small screwdriver around in my pocket. It's astounding how many things you can fix when you suddenly have the tool at your disposal. I went into the bathroom and noticed a screw was coming loose on the hook on the back of the door. *I fixed it.* (This scenario happened more than once. There are a lot of loose screws in bathrooms. And that sounds like a really naughty punchline to a joke!) I was going up a flight of stairs and noticed a screw loose on one of the bannister foundations. Fixed! I was at the gym and noticed a screw loose inside the locker that held one of the hooks. (Apparently, lots of loose hooks in the world. Ba-ding! More joke fodder!)

I started to feel like a miniature superhero, going about, secretly doing good.

Then, I didn't need to carry my small screwdriver around, and really, I didn't want to. It was still heavy and a little pointy and not really good for the seams of my jacket.

But I miss being a secret superhero just a little bit.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Free Fiction: In Love With Capsicum

Title: In Love With Capsicum

I had a spicy soup the other day and made me think about heat levels in our food, and more.

Carl stared across the expanse of tables at the dozen other contestants. Everyone seated at a table had a pile of napkins nearby, large glasses of water, with refill pitchers between, and spoons. Red and white checkered tablecloths decorated the competition tables, which were centered on the small stage in the local barbeque restaurant. On the floor, spectators cheered and ordered beer to watch the spectacle unfold. The restaurant was holding its fifth annual Spicy Chili Eating Competition, and Carl sat in the middle of all the excitement.

One of the officiators placed a small bowl of chili in front of Carl and he shifted his attention to stare down at it. As soon as everyone had a bowl delivered in front of them, the timer would start, and he would have three minutes to eat a third of a cup of spicy chili.

Carl had already eaten three small bowls of chili, each growing more spicy with the advancing turn. The first had been the most mild, containing only bell peppers and no heat at all. A warm up round that had given the announcer a chance to explain procedures and encourage spectators to purchase their own meals. All of the contestants had made it through the first round easily. After that had come a mouth warming jalapeno chicken chili, followed by a meatless chipotle bean chili that had singed Carl’s tongue.
The bowl in front of him now boasted Serrano peppers. Carl gripped his spoon and waited for the time to start.

“You can do it!”

“Eat, eat, eat!”

“Go, Carl, go!”

His cheering section yelled from across the room and Carl waved at them, spoon still in hand. His sister, Deena, who could eat five-alarm chicken wings and not blink an eye, and his two best friends, Paul and Lucio, who usually were making the five alarm chicken wings, had prompted and pushed and pulled at him for years to develop a tolerance to heat.

Carl had spent his entire life eschewing anything spicy. It wasn’t that it upset his stomach. No, once it got down into his belly, he didn’t notice it at all. He didn’t even burp. What tingled and burned and burst into intolerable pain were his mouth, tongue, and lips.

The smallest banana pepper hidden in a sandwich could do him in. The hint of poblano could cause untold distress.

Teased mercilessly by his loved ones, he’d worked on developing his palate. It had been slow going, but after a year of diligently forcing down pepperoncini and licking spoons dipped into curries, he felt ready to test his newly developed abilities. He’d signed up for a local eating contest. Now he was here, and he was sweating and burning.

The official called the start of the time and Carl dug his spoon into the chili. It glistened, looking ominously hot, and then he brought it up and shoved it in. His mouth, already tortured, exploded into hotness. Carl didn’t quit. He shoveled in the rest of the chili.

Tears streamed down his face and he clutched the glass of water, sucking it down. The water was a false friend, and did nothing to stem the tide of pain as it swept across his tongue.

As he sat there, contemplating misery, he considered quitting. None of the other contestants even looked concerned yet. Especially not the guy directly across from him. With fiery red hair that matched the red-hot spice, he looked like the coolest cucumber ever. He’d calmly spooned down everything set before him and Carl steamed with jealousy.

An attendant whisked away the empty bowl and a moment later a new bowl appeared. He sniffed it cautiously.

“We’re up to our famous cayenne chili!” The announcer waved flamboyantly at the crowd and the cheers rose up.

Carl shook his head. He couldn’t do this. He just couldn’t. Cayenne. It was impossible.
He looked up, ready to raise his hand and quit, and found the red-headed contestant staring at him, mouthing words.

Through his blurry vision, Carl couldn’t quite make out what the man was trying to tell him, but he understood the intent. Don’t stop. Don’t quit.

With resigned determination, Carl grabbed the spoon and shoveled the cayenne chili into his mouth. It burned as it went down, but he ate it as quickly as he could. When he finished, he looked up and saw the man smiling at him. His bowl was empty already and he looked just fine.

“The next chili is habanero based!” the announcer sounded gleeful.

It felt like an eternity for Carl before the empty bowl was removed and the new chili placed before him. This one’s contents were chopped fine. Flecks of dark, glossy green hinted at peppers, but only the dark red beans were truly identifiable. He looked up again and the other contestant was making an encouraging motion with his spoon.

Carl sucked in air and then spooned the concoction into his mouth. He nearly gagged as the heat spread across his mouth, traveling up into his nose and sinuses. A wave of nausea swept over him and the urge to spit the food out became nearly unbearable. He swallowed, forcing his throat to work, and then breathed for a minute, willing himself not to be ill.

Movement at the corner of his sight signaled the attendant coming by to retrieve the empty bowl and bring the next one, but Carl was done. He stood up and waved, and then moved away from the tables and the other contestants.

“Our first forfeit of the night, ladies and gentlemen. I tell you, these are hot! And after the competition, we have packaged samples ready for sale if you’d like to take them home and try them yourself! In addition, we always have our mild chili available for dinner every night, as well as a rotating spicy chili.” The announcer’s spiel turned into a burble in Carl’s head. Hot, he thought. These are hot. Too damn hot.

Carl moved off stage and away from the crowd, into a part of the restaurant not involved with the competition. As soon as he was out of the limelight, his sister and friends swarmed him. They thumped him on the back and hugged him.

“Carl, you made it to cayenne! That’s fantastic!” Deena clapped her hands.

“Those other people up there all love spicy food. Cayenne’s child’s play for them. I’m proud you stuck it out. I thought you’d give it up at jalapeno," Lucio said.

“Next time we make wings, buddy, you know you can eat them!” Paul slapped Carl on the back.

Carl pointed to his mouth. “I need some bread. Or milk. Something,” he told them.

Deena pulled crackers from her purse and Lucio vanished for a moment, returning with a glass of milk. Carl stuck them in his mouth, chewing and drinking, and wishing for relief. Slowly, his mouth started to feel better.

“Want to watch the rest of the competition?” his sister asked.

“Sure. Now that I'm not facing down a bowl of chili, I can enjoy it!” Carl followed them back out into the main part of the restaurant. There were only two people left on stage. A woman with long, dark hair and beautiful dark eyes and the red-headed man.

“Next up, is a combo chili. Rated a 10 out of 10 for hotness. This one’s so hot, we couldn’t use just one kind of pepper. It’s got four different kinds!”

The bowls were served and both contestants dug into the food. Neither flinched.

“Amazing!” the announcer crowed. “And that’s the top of the line, folks. Looks like we have a tie!”

“I should get some of that, just to see how hot it really is,” Deena said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Me, too," Paul said, and Lucio tagged behind him, digging into his pocket for his wallet.

Carl watched them vanish into the milling crowd as he stayed leaning against the wall, content to be quiet and still. His whole mouth pulsed with warmth. He was proud of himself, but grateful to be done. He was torn between feeling foolhearty for trying such a thing and having second thoughts. Maybe he could have handled just one more chili….

“Hey, you did well up there. I was impressed."

Carl turned to look at the speaker who'd come up behind him. It was the red-haired guy who'd co-won. "Uh, thanks. But I really didn't do that well."

The guy offered his hand. "Mike."

Carl shook. "Carl."

"Carl," Mike said, "you should have been the winner. And you did do that well. I could tell how much pain you were in. I sat across from you and watched the whole thing. You were tougher than everyone else up there. I can't speak for all of them, but I'm pretty sure most of us either enjoy the sensation of hot, or else have the right genetics to handle it. Why'd you join a spice contest if you can't eat spicy foods?"

Carl laughed. "I just spent about a year working my way up from not being able to eat ground black pepper on my food, to today. A challenge. And I guess I should also say congratulations on your win."

"Thanks. But I still tip my hat to you," Mike said, and he pantomimed tipping an invisible hat.

"I graciously accept your praise," Carl said. "But aren't you disappointed that you didn't win by yourself, that you had to share the prize?"

"Not really. The girl who won, Suze, and I have been around the block a few times trying to figure out which of us can handle more heat. I'm used to tying with her. Someday, maybe one of us will find a competition with some serious kick. Which it looks like I've gotta go. My ride is waving at me." Mike reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. He handed it over to Carl. "If you want any tips on things that are hot, give me a call some time. If you're interested." He touched his imaginary hat brim again, smiled, and sauntered away.

Carl looked down at the paper and realized he'd been given a phone number. He felt his cheeks start to warm. Looking up, he saw Deena, Paul, and Lucio on their way over. He tucked the phone number in his pocket and decided to blame the blush on the peppers. At last, his inability to tolerate spice would be useful.

He brushed his fingers against the paper in his pocket, and knew he would make that call.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Free Fiction: Aisle of Life

A little bit more of Oscar and Phillip. Lately, I've been in a sentimental mood, so they have too. And they have an anniversary coming up.

Edited to Add 4/9/15: I just now noticed that this didn't publish and was sitting there as a draft for a week. I'm so sorry!


Oscar stared at the aisle of cards. Spots of color greeted his eyes as his attention roamed left and down, then right and up. Stacks of cards stretched high and wide, offering words and pictures for every occasion.

Birthdays. Weddings. Baby showers. Get well. Good luck. Retirement. Sympathy.

All of life condensed down to a single aisle of greeting cards. There was no need to go anything farther, because the timeline was all right here, doled out in small paperboard increments with pastel envelopes. Oscar shifted his weight and finally caught sight of the category for which he'd been searching.


Oscar thumbed through the cards. Some were covered with flowers and contained sweet, inspirational messages. A few were coated in glitter that loosened with the barest touch, cascading everywhere, to make everything glint and shine. A few were humorous, some of them more crass than Oscar thought necessary, but most had a gentle humor. Two were thick and played music when opened.

Oscar quickly shut the card to stop the polka music that blared forth. Surely it couldn't be a top seller.

He mused for a moment on the tricky nature of writing the inside of greeting cards. It was difficult to find the right words to set down on paper. How could anyone dig out trenches in their heart and offer up the precious metals and gems found there onto a card for someone else?

The thoughts and emotions Oscar harbored were for Phillip only. They were secrets shared and promises given. The world could know they were in love, but their pillow talk was reserved only for them.

Perhaps he should look at the blank cards. He didn't need pre-written words to convey how much he loved Phillip.

Oscar sidled down the aisle to the blank card section. The covers on these cards were different. The romance element was turned down and the down-to-earth factor was turned up. A card with a photograph of two old men wearing overly large sunglasses caught his attention. The men were sunbathing and looked contented. Friends for sure. Not inconceivable that they might be lovers.

Oscar pulled the card out along with an envelope.

It was a nice card. Perhaps not the exact one he wanted, but adequate. He still had time to search for something better, something more profound, something that revealed just a little of how deeply he loved Phillip. He wasn't looking for too much language on the front or inside, but something visual that expressed his sense of appreciation and gratitude. But it was better to at least have something, in case his search should fail.

Phillip always came through for special occasions with something masterfully artistic. He instinctively knew the right tone and perfect pitch of what to say, and usually what to draw. Oscar cherished every single card, sketch, and doodle that he'd every received from Phillip. He had them tucked away in the top drawer of his bureau, just beneath his socks. That way he saw them frequently and kept them safe.

He often wished he had some singular artistic talent so he could reciprocate, but he didn't. Phillip had taken up with a man of many talents, but Oscar's gifts were sturdy, practical ones. Which was why he wanted to find a beautiful card to express his love. A rare and talented person like Phillip should be told how much he was loved.

Oscar smoothed his fingers over the photo of the two old men smiling into the sunshine. Best friends, and confidants. He'd keep looking for the perfect anniversary card, but he liked this one. Maybe he'd leave it under Phillip's pillow sometime this week, just because he could.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

think spring

When the cold winds still blow, sometimes I think of warmer days.