THE LOVE THIEF: a short horror story

The Love Thief

by K.A. Mielke

First published in Every Day Fiction, 2014

 

Tessa Graham: 5’7″, brunette, wears pale blue contact lenses to conceal her boring brown irises, currently asking the host for a table under the name of Amor. She twirls her brown locks around her index finger as the man scans the list.

He grabs a menu and she follows him to the table.

Tessa Graham: favourite food, colour, song, and movie are chicken nuggets, teal, “Your Song” by Elton John, and “Sophie’s Choice”, respectively. Except “Sophie’s Choice” is a lie fabricated to make her seem like an intellectual; her real favourite movie is “Batman and Robin”. She has two tattoos: one of a dying flower on her lower back–a tramp stamp, she laughs, although this is less a joke and more a genuine source of shame–and one of the Chinese character for intercourse on her shaved upper pubis.

This is supposed to make her seem clever.

She likes to run but has no lung capacity. She wants to get married before she’s thirty-five, and if not, she’ll pop a cyanide pill and fall lifeless on the waterbed in her messy bachelor pad, blue as the reflection of light in an aquarium. She regrets not becoming a journalist.

Sometimes when she dreams, she dreams of her dead grandfather. He softly closes her bedroom door, shutting out the light, and he comes in close with coffee and nicotine on his breath, and he tells her that he loves her more than anything in the world. The world becomes a dark place.

Am I scaring you? I’m so sorry, I just want you to understand. Please, please, sit back down. This’ll be over quickly.

When she sits, she flattens the creases in the blue dress she spent an hour picking out. She orders a beer, something foreign and unfiltered, and she crosses her arms. She smirks as she looks me in the eye.

“Try all you like,” I flirt. I am the thief of a thousand hearts, the scourge of the bar scene, the man your mother warned you about, and with all that experience comes mastery. “You won’t be able to read me.”

“You’re that confident, are you?” she says. “I have a talent for picking out cheats and liars.”

Age eight: Parker Olsen, the class bully who used to call her fat; second base. Age fifteen: Robert Padalecki, drug dealer and philanderer ten years her senior; myriad counts of intercourse, one bout of crabs. Age twenty-four: Jordan Adams, who used to hit her for overcooking pasta; engaged for three years.

Age thirty-one: me.

She had stumbled into the cafe, the weather striking out in rage behind her, a thick layer of snow threatening to snuff out all hope for an early spring. Ovulating, she could hardly resist approaching me as I awaited my beverage, me with my average, symmetrical face–selected with care–and hair swept from left to right in a projection of masculinity. I gently touched her arm and leaned into her right ear, and I asked her on a date.

February fourteenth, we’d decided on.

My day.

Tessa Graham: renown across the state for making bad romantic decisions. And, unbeknownst to her, my prey.

She peeks over her wine glass, the red of my shirt catching her eye. She doesn’t notice that she grows more comfortable, more convinced of my character. The big, strong, aggressive man with a secure future, a subconscious judgment made on nothing more than the colour of a shirt.

Most people choose between science and the supernatural. I’ve never understood why we can’t work together. I know all the tricks to your feeble human brains. So easy to play.

Oh, no, I didn’t mean you, Baby! I’d never play you. Now, stop squirming, you’ll only chafe your wrists.

Poor, gullible Tessa is not a human being. She is a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. She is a stopped watch, kept in a box out of sentimentality. She is a meal dropped on the unswept kitchen floor and eaten anyway.

Tessa Graham: damaged.

So I play her a bit more. We go see a horror movie.

She jumps and screams, nestles into the arm draped over her shoulder, hormones working overtime. The murderer on-screen stabs a girl to death, and Tessa is more mine with every incision. She associates the racing of her heart with her blossoming feelings toward me, and she directs us to her house when the social construct is over and the real ritual is about to begin.

On top of her, I confess everything. Always been plagued by a bit of an honest streak, when all is said and done. All the lies and deceit detoxing out of my system when it’s too late for the pathetic creatures I choose.

I tell her they call me Eros, Cupid, and, as she knows me, Amor. She learns that every February for as long as anyone can remember, I’ve crawled out of the woodwork to steal the affection of fools like her.

Writhing and gripping the tangled bedsheets, she asks in her bliss why I don’t just harvest a steady supply of love. Why not farm the emotion of a devoted wife indefinitely? It’s the natural progression of a world increasingly unwilling to hunt for its food.

They’re good questions, but not exactly dirty talk.

“I couldn’t,” I say, mid-thrust, and I give her the excuses I’ve been telling myself for decades. “Marriage takes time and commitment.” Thrust. “Divorce rates are at an all-time high.” Thrust. Thrust. “I’m just too good at this.”

She screams in joy and I feel her essence, her very being, flee her body and enter mine. My stomach fills with the warmth of her and I finish violently, cataclysmically, more satisfied than an expired star.

I sleep next to her cold, stiff body, as blue as she’d always imagined, and leave in the morning.

That was a year ago today.

I’m telling you this because I think, maybe, Tessa was right. I could settle down with the right person. Saying it to someone else makes it feel more real, you know? I always thought it was impossible, but sitting here with you, even though we only met last week… it just feels so right.

You’re special.

But before I untie you, I need to know: Will you marry me?

DRIVE SAFE: a short horror story

Drive Safe

by K.A. Mielke

First published in Murder Mayhem Short Stories, 2016

 

The woman sits on the side of the road, naked and shivering, knees pulled up to her chin.

Beside me, Cameron looks up from her phone, her freckled face glowing in the light of the screen. “Oh my god, Kyle, stop the car.”

We speed past the woman.

“What are you doing?” Cameron says, twisting around in her seat to look out the rear window.

I shrug stupidly, the rapid beating of my heart informing me of my guilt the way it does any time I don’t take Cameron’s advice. Before I can think better of it, I blurt out, “What if it’s some elaborate ploy by a serial killer? Set a pretty lady up on the side of the road, wait for some chivalrous opportunist to come save her, and WHAM! Best case scenario, we’re the next nude traps on the side of the road.”

“You can’t be serious.”

I shrug again as the guilt settles into my stomach. “She could be a victim of him, or she could be working with him–”

“Or there could be no serial killer and she could just be a woman in need,” Cameron says, her gaze hard and kinda terrifying.

I sigh and make a U-turn. Our wheels spin in the slush, the car drifting slightly before I get her back under control.

When we see the woman again, still curled up in a ball, I pull over. Wet, frozen gravel scatters beneath my tires. The woman doesn’t seem to notice us.

Cameron practically flies out of the car. I unbuckle and step out.

It’s freezing, the wind cutting through my jacket and burning my cheeks. I slip in the slush on my way to her, snowflakes catching in my hair and shooting into my eyes.

“Are you okay?” I shout above the wind. The woman doesn’t hear me, or maybe she’s too frozen to respond. Maybe she’s dying.

Cameron stands beside her and shouts something at me, but the wind steals her words. Cameron holds out her hand, urging. I guess at what she wants, taking off my coat and wrapping it around the hitchhiker’s shoulders. The woman doesn’t even look at me.

“We’re going to help you,” Cameron says slowly, the way the able-bodied think they’re supposed to speak to deaf people. “It’s going to be okay. Let’s get her in the car.”

My bare arms stinging in the cold, I crouch behind the woman and help lift her to her feet.

She steps with us, slowly, shaking and shaking and shaking. I duck my head and pay attention to my feet, trying not to think about how slow our pace is or how long it’ll take to reach the car when every footstep is a painful, freezing eternity–and then we’re laying the woman in the backseat. I run back to the driver’s side and slam the door as if it’ll insult the weather.

My teeth chatter enough to chip. I crank the heat and rub my hands together over the vents.

Cameron breathes heavily, and for a moment we all sit in the quiet, me, my girlfriend, and the dying hitchhiker in the back seat. Finally, Cameron says, “We should go.”

I look over my shoulder, hoping she isn’t dead, praying we got to her in time–and still wishing we’d never stopped in the first place, though I’m not sure why. Can’t place the feeling, but it’s as if I’m in emerg waiting for a doctor to deliver the bad news…

Then again, I don’t need a reason not to want someone to die in my car.

Her shivering seems less violent, at least, her skin a warmer colour.

The woman looks at me with the deepest, bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, so deep and blue they look artificial. Like dyed flowers. Like they’ve been digitally altered. I’ve never seen eyes that beautiful.

I turn around when I realize I’m staring. “The nearest hospital can’t be far,” I say, shifting into drive.

“I’ll Google it,” Cameron says.

We’ve been on the road for a couple days now. I woke up Thursday morning with Cameron on top of me, hair in my face, and saying, “I’ve always wanted to go on a road trip.” So I sat up and packed our bags, throwing her over my shoulder and setting out. Right now, driving through a blizzard, we’ve come to admit that doing a huge road trip during winter was not a well-thought-out plan.

At least it worked out for somebody.

Cameron sets the GPS in her phone and mantles it to the dashboard.

I signal and pull out.

A horn blares and I slam on the brakes as a transport truck swerves out of the way and barrels by us. Our car rocks in the wind.

“Jesus!” Cameron says.

“Sorry.” My words shake. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Cameron doesn’t say anything to that. She’s not the kind of person to rub something in if you’re already feeling bad. The aforementioned guilt she inspires in me is mostly self-inflicted.

I thoroughly check for oncoming traffic, looking in both mirrors and my blind spot until my neck hurts and my eyes ache.

I pull out.

As we drive, the only sounds are the vents pumping warm air and our own erratic breathing. My grip on the steering wheel tightens as I struggle against nature, daring to ride a 4000lbs metal deathtrap at 100km per hour in a blizzard. The wipers work overtime to clear away all the snow, but I still can barely see in front of us–except for the neon sign passing on the right that says DRIVE SAFE.

Might be kinda funny, once we get off the road and into the warmth of a motel bed, bedbugs be damned.

Cameron turns on the radio and leans into me. She cycles through stations until she finds country music. She had to put up with David Bowie’s entire discography up until now, so I can’t argue.

She glances at the woman curled up in the backseat. “What do you think happened to her?” she whispers.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Do you think she was… you know, hurt? Shitty husband? Really bad date?”

“I don’t know,” I say again, snippier this time, feeling anger begin to flush my face. Then, “Sorry.”

She takes my hand. She’s warmer than I am, her hand practically burning mine. I’ve always had poor circulation. “It’s okay. She’s going to be okay. She’s already looking better.”

I adjust the rear-view to look at her. Colour has returned to her olive skin, and she seems more alert, looking around like she isn’t sure how she got in our car.

She sits up, my coat falling off her shoulders, her body exposed. My heart thunders in my chest. When I look at her, my body feels light, as if my soul’s rising out from the dead weight of my flesh. It’s a feeling I’ve only experience intoxicated, but I’ve been sober for years. After how Cameron found me last time…

Embarrassed, I look away from the woman, keeping my eyes on the road and not at her bare chest betraying how cold she is. The feeling starts to fade.

“Hungry,” she says.

That’s when I fall completely, irreparably in love with her. It’s not the perfect curves like a winding mountain road, or the way her eyes look so much deeper than anyone else’s, like there are whole worlds contained in the vastness of her irises. It’s not her helplessness, even though I am very literally her hero right now and that is admittedly hot. No, it’s her voice, uttering a single word we can all relate to, and it shoots me so full of endorphins I’m suddenly a giddy teenager having his first kiss all over again.

I do love Cameron. She’s the most helpful, beautiful, kind person I’d ever met until my fateful roadside saviour act. We both like Indian food and hate fancy coffees, and we’ve spent so much time together she feels like she was never a stranger, like she’s always been a part of me.

But there’s just something about this woman that makes none of that matter. There’s a tugging that I can feel in my gut, my body yearning to be inside her.

Oblivious to the hole blown open in my heart, Cameron opens the glove compartment and pulls out a chocolate bar. She holds it out to the woman.

Our hitchhiker just stares. “I’m hungry,” she says again.

“It might be a little frozen, but it’s better than nothing. I actually think it tastes better frozen.”

The woman says nothing.

“We’re probably about half an hour from the nearest diner,” Cameron says helpfully, putting the chocolate back. “We can stop there and get something to eat. We can get out my suitcases, too. I’m sure some of my clothes will fit you.”

“No,” the woman says. She turns to me. Warmth spreads out from my chest, a beast born within me and stretching its wings. “I need to feed now.

“Anything,” I say without thinking.

“What exactly are we going to feed her?” Cameron whispers.

“Anything,” I say again. “Find anything.”

“I’m not going to give her crumbs off the floor, Kyle,” she says. She starts looking around the car, checking hidden pockets and cup holders. “Do we have any jerky left?”

“Your lover,” the woman says. “Give me your lover.”

The colour goes from Cameron’s face as she looks back in horror. My own body, however, is reacting like she’s just said she loves me and we’re having a baby and my life can finally truly begin. The pit of my stomach flares. The beast is moving downward.

“Excuse me?” Cameron says.

The hitchhiker leans over me, mouth wet on my ear, breasts on my arm. “I’m going to eat your lover,” she says, and it’s like she told me I’ve won an all-expenses-paid vacation to Hawaii, freeing me from the endless cold and bringing me to the oceanside.

With her. Forever with her.

“Take her,” I say.

“What the fuck?” Cameron screams. “Kyle, stop the car.”

“Don’t stop the car, Kyle,” the woman says.

It’s not even a struggle wondering who to listen to.

The hitchhiker turns to Cameron and straddles the centre console.

Cameron’s sobbing. “Oh my god,” she says through the tears. “What are you?”

The woman dips her face in quickly, once, like a bird pecking its food. Cameron screams and cries harder. She presses her hand to her neck, blood leaking through her fingers.

She screams again, loud and curdled and more visceral than anything you could ever experience reading a book or watching a movie. A sound that explodes in my brain into fireworks of every colour.

Somehow, even with her mouth full of flesh, the woman sings. It’s this country-pop Top 40 ballad that’s all over the radio, something Cameron would have loved. Which means normally it’s the auditory equivalent of chewing glass. But with my new love singing, it’s my favourite song, my favourite sound in a world full of children’s laughter and kittens mewing and love-laced moans.

Cameron bats the hitchhiker away with all the power of an infant, her struggle easing into complacency. Defeat.

The hitchhiker tears off Cameron’s ear.

I blink and, just for a second, she changes. She has wings, broken so the bone sticks out, huge and feathered where her arms should be. She’s still naked, her bare back soft and smooth in the light of the phone’s GPS, but her eyes look darker, almost black, and her mouth is contorted in a single, hard, sharp beak.

And then I blink again and she’s back to the woman who makes my heart race and my body sweat and my dick throb, and I can’t control myself around her.

She swallows, and she turns to me.

“I’m still hungry,” she says.

I know what she wants. I expose my neck to her.

She leans in.

I close my eyes, and I can feel her breath on my neck, warm and wet, and her soft, plush lips too.

And her teeth. Her tooth. Her sharp beak at my neck, breaking my skin so the first drop of blood trickles down and pools in my collarbone.

From behind my eyelids, there’s a light, and I almost think I’m in Heaven. My heart hurts, I’m so happy to be giving myself, all of myself, to this woman.

Then the horn starts.

And in that second I see her for what she is, her beady eyes staring at the oncoming truck, her beak hung open over my neck, the headlights outlining every feather on her body. And I see Cameron, too, my beautiful, smart, funny Cameron, torn apart and slumped against the passenger side door.

I swerve out of the way, the truck’s bumper an inch from taking us out, my hands turning the wheel left and right and left as the back of the car fishtails and the wheels catch on a patch of black ice and suddenly the car is out of my control completely, spinning around as the trees and the road and the black form a panorama of the middle of nowhere and then–

The car flips over–

Glass shatters and cuts open my face–

Metal bends as the roof dents and caves in–

Blood squirts into my mouth, though I don’t know if it’s mine or Cameron’s or the hitchhiker’s–

And everything stops. I hang upside down, seatbelt pressed into my chest as it supports my weight, airbags deflating.

I look over at Cameron, ignoring the screaming pain in my neck. The airbag is covered in blood, and Cameron is everywhere, bits of her stuck to the ceiling and the chair.

The naked woman–her top half now entirely bird, her bottom half still impossibly woman–lies with her eyes closed in the back. Blood trickles out of her head, over her feathers.

I sit in a daze for a few moments, feeling the cold of the snow coming in through broken windows, trying to focus on something, anything–and then I remember where I am. What caused the accident.

I scramble for the seatbelt. It releases, dropping me to the ceiling. I open the door and fall into the snow.

My arms and face are on fire, the snow burning and burning until I’m numb to the pain.

The car door slams behind me. I spin around, slipping in the loose snow, limping through the trees.

She cries out to me, cries like a bird whose wings I’ve broken. Feathers release from her, catching in the wind of the blizzard and blowing away until there’s nothing left. Like she was never here at all.

I cross my arms, climb up the ditch, and kneel on the gravel shoulder. I pray for someone kind, someone like Cameron, to stop and help a hitchhiker.

ON SELF-PUBLISHING AND SNOBBERY

There are no two ways about it: I am a snob.

I’m 23. I started taking writing seriously when I was 15, meaning as long as I’ve been learning about the publishing world and aching to become a part of it, self-publishing has been an option to me, as it is to everybody with an internet connection and a labouriously (and sometimes not) self-edited manuscript. I’ve long been envious of the E.L. Jameses, the John Scalzis and the Andy Weirs, the extremely rare success stories that started with self-publication. Knowing these stories makes self-publishing seem awfully alluring, particularly at the end of querying, when I’m running out of agents on my list and things are looking dire. But I’m hesitant. I’m afraid.

And I’m a total snob.

I love reading, but I do not read self-published books unless they’re written by friends or twitter crushes. When I want something to read, I don’t go looking for self-published books. Money is tight, as it is for just about everyone, and I don’t know really want to spend it on books that aren’t vetted by professionals when instead I could buy new books by my favourite authors or debuts picked up by agents I dream of working with. That said, I don’t know why it matters so much to me that my reads are gatekeeper approved, when the gatekeepers prove so often to favour the privileged and shut out the disenfranchised. Or when “bad books”–though, yes, there’s no such thing because all books can teach you something, get off my back Neil Gaiman, goddd–are found just as easily on bookshelves at Chapters as they are on Kindle.

If you couldn’t tell, I grapple with this a lot. (Duh, that’s why I’m writing a blog post about something that doesn’t make me angry for once.) I’m writing my sixth manuscript while again planning on editing my second and third, querying my fourth, sitting on the first draft of my fifth, and doing everything under the sun with years of short stories that haven’t yet found a home. My second novel, Shadow of a Boy, has a whopping 116 rejections under its belt.

At what point do you give up and put a novel away forever?

To be fair, I have done that with my first book which is, by all accounts, a misogynistic fever dream of a novella. But I wrote Shadow of a Boy for NaNoWriMo in 2014, and I am still thinking about it, still loving so much about it, and still actively planning new edits for it–after I finish my laundry list of other writing projects, and deal with going back to school. I hold out hope that, after a newer, shiner novel siren-songs its way into the hearts of agents, editors, and publishers, I get the chance to publish the novels I don’t have the heart to trunk, the novels I still love that need the strong guidance of a good editor. But who knows? I may never get to have the career of Stephen King, whom I do not think publishers are allowed to say no to. Maybe bits of these novels will be recycled into better stories. Maybe I will eventually self-publish everything because I’m just not a good enough writer to join the likes of Stephanie Meyer on those hallowed bookshelves.

Yeah, that was mean. And yes, just like moms everywhere suggest when anyone is mean to anyone else, I am jealous. And to Stephanie Meyer’s credit, she got kids to read, even if her work had some dangerous implications about romance. Celebrating books, like everything else, is complicated.

In explaining why I might not self-publish, I don’t mean to disparage writers who do self-publish because writing is fucking hard and I applaud all those who are brave enough to work at it. But there’s a line writers use to placate one another when that familiar crushing despair comes back round for another go at your self-worth. To paraphrase: “If you write, you’re a writer.”

Which is all well and good, but for many of us, it’s not enough to just be a writer. Everyone wants to be able to work in a profession they love. Everyone wants to be paid for their art, and their effort. No one wants to be treated like they should settle, like they’ll never make it, like romanticizing the making of art is all that should matter when it’s the monetizing that keeps you literally alive.

However, contradicting my use of the word “everyone”, not every writer even has the same goals. Some writers write for the sheer joy of it. Some writers, like Thomas Harris, fucking hate it but feel they have to keep going. Some writers don’t like The Man sticking their editorial noses in their manuscripts and actually prefer self-publishing. And yeah, some writers have no higher aspiration than to be published by HarperCollins. Writers are not a monolith.

I’ll end this post at peak La La Land, before I start whitesplaining jazz. To all writers everywhere, whether you self-publish, or you’re seeking representation, or you’re already published at the Big Five, I wish you luck and happiness. Also, to add to a topic I touched on above, please buy professionally published books by diverse authors, show big publishers that people want to read PoC and LGBTQ+ books and that these authors aren’t confined to self-publication–unless, of course, they want to be. You can start with THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, that book is so good.

Anyway. Excelsior or something.

 

(Side note: Self-published comics are a different matter entirely. Self-released music, too, and art, I respect much more than writing. Maybe I just respect those art forms more in general. Maybe it’s because reading a 70 000 word novel is a much bigger commitment than a four-minute song or a minute tops of taking in a drawing. And I love webcomics. This whole contradictory blog post is a mystery.)

ON ISLAMOPHOBIA

There is an organized anti-globalization group holding rallies across Canada in opposition to M103, the new motion by Liberals asking the government to stand against anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobia. I wrote a message to them over Facebook, on their rally page for my old hometown, which if I don’t post here will probably never see the light of day because they will delete it. So here it is:

M103 is not an affront on free speech. It seeks only to condemn Islamophobic speech, not criminalize those who have spoken. It does not say you cannot criticize Islam, only that you should not hate Muslims. That you would fight to be able to say racist things free from consequence is extremely telling.

Your fight against diversity is dangerous. We are all human. We all feel joy and sadness and pain. And Canada, like the United States, is a nation of immigrants. We stole this country from Native Americans. The least we can do is welcome everyone.

Your fear of Sharia Law is irrational. Sharia Law has no effect on our system of government. We do not live in the Middle East; in fact, Middle Eastern people flee their countries to seek refuge in Canada. They want to live in a First World country (or really any country where radicals aren’t trying to kill them, because Muslims are those most targeted by extremists) because we are supposed to be kind, and respectful, and free. They are not coming into our country–OUR country, meaning THEIRS too when they immigrate–to cause trouble. For many, Sharia means they have a personal responsibility to integrate into Canada respectfully by respecting their neighbours, paying their taxes, and following our laws.

If you want to keep women, children, and Canadians safe, try treating them with respect. Try teaching them to be kind. Try defending ALL Canadians, especially Muslim Canadians, because they are the Canadians hurting right now. They are the Canadians feeling a surge of hate rising from around the Western world. They are the Canadians slain by shooters whose heads are filled with your nationalist rhetoric.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. And right now, the most dangerous consequence of you exercising your right to free speech is that you are inciting others to violence.

Please stop fighting diversity before you get more people killed.

Sources:

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/02/20/factors-to-consider-about-sharia-law-and-m103.html

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/02/23/transparent-double-standard-on-freedom-of-speech-kanji.html

I will be the first to admit that I don’t know nearly enough about Islam, or Muslims, or the Middle East. But the things I do know I only know because I’ve watched Muslim people explain how Islam is a peaceful religion, how the misogyny and homophobia in the Middle East is not a problem with Islam but instead a problem with poor leaders twisting Islam to suit their needs. And all of this reminds me of Christianity, an equally peaceful religion that has been warped throughout centuries to justify homophobia, racism, misogyny, you name it. But I don’t see anyone in a position of leadership calling Christians dangerous. I don’t see Christians failing to drum up support for anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-women movements based on their faith. For Christ’s sake, White, Christian America just voted in Trump, a lying billionaire manchild who shares nothing with his voters besides skin colour and a complete lack of anything resembling empathy or charisma.

There are countries in the Middle East that are undoubtedly less safe than Canada, which is kind of the whole point. Refugees are fleeing horrifying conditions of come here. No one leaves their home unless home might doom them. But instead of showing courage and rising to the occasion, there are Canadians who would give in to fear, and hate. Much like the French government, who hid behind claims of being pro-women’s rights while telling women what they can and cannot wear, these people claim they work for the safety of their people, in this case Canadians (see: white Christian people.) But all they do is make our world more dangerous for everyone.

There is no one more dangerous than the bigoted and the irrationally afraid, but very often they are the majority. They make the laws. But history has shown time and time again that they are on the wrong side. As people ignore the hard data, including studies that say immigrants and refugees are much less likely to even commit crime, they will continue willfully being ignorant. They will continue being the British Empires and the Confederates and the Nazis of the world.

I’m fucking sick of it. We should be compassionate to people in need. It shouldn’t be so hard. (Plus, for the record, it’s what Jesus would do.)

/endrant

July 2016 Writing Update

Dear Diary,

It has been a very long time since I’ve updated my blog, which is a thing I knew would happen because I’m rubbish at social media. I have so little time as it is, I’d much rather be spending it on writing than writing about writing, or pretending to be clever for an audience of approximately no one and maybe my mom.

Which is why instead of writing anything substantial, I’m doing another writing update and adding it to my word count for Camp NaNo (because I’m rubbish at NaNo, too.)

Benson and Cactus:

Psych! There’s no news here. The Benson and Cactus flow has trickled to a stop, and I’m just sitting here waiting to hear anything from other parties involved.

I’m thinking about putting the trailer and one-shot up on here, but I keep running into technical difficulties. One day.

Short Stories:

I do have real, exciting news for this section, but I’m not allowed to go running my mouth about it yet. Without naming names, I have a short horror story coming out in a beautiful hardcover anthology very soon, and I am very happy about it. The usual suspects of my body of short stories still get submitted, come back rejected, get edited, and get submitted again. I’m also hoping to write a new batch after Camp NaNo. I’ve got all these ideas and they just won’t let go.

Things I can’t turn into legit short stories usually end up on hitRECord.

EDIT: Cat’s out of the bag! My short story, Drive Safe, will be appearing in Flame Tree Publishing’s Murder Mayhem. Yusssss.

Shadow of a Boy:

Ninety-nine rejections and counting. I have essentially given up on the agent path for this one, and am now whittling down my list of small, independent publishers. If they reject me, maybe I’ll put this one aside and come back to it in a couple years, but right now Shadow of a Boy looks destined to wallow in obscurity.

Victory Lap:

Ah yes, the book I’m supposed to be writing right now. This contemporary YA full of sex, drugs, swearing, and gender identity your grandmother might scoff at, is my Camp NaNo project. I’m hoping to churn out 30 000 words by the end of the month, and if Riley joins me we’ll have a first draft done. Then I can put it aside, focus on other things for a while, and polish it up in time to write my next exciting adult solo novel for NaNoWriMo.

The Curious Collection of Abigail Prodd:

Last update’s secret project! Miranda and I have just polished the manuscript up enough for her to finally agree to have beta readers tell us everything that’s wrong with it, and after that we’ll be submitting to agents! I have a lot more hope for this one than anything I’ve ever written, which scares me a little. It’s basically a Laika film in book form, only with social justice themes instead of villainizing crossdressers. (The Boxtrolls is one of my favourite movies, but I understand the upset.)

No Thank You, Monsters:

And finally, I have a picture book manuscript out in the world. I love picture books. Much in the way we live in the golden age of quality television, it is a great time for beautiful, funny picture books. I hope Tiffany and her loud, annoying monsters will be joining their ranks soon.

Bam, blogged.

ON DAVID BOWIE, THE POWER OF NOSTALGIA, AND WILLFUL IGNORANCE

King_Jareth_with_the_Crystal

When I first listened to David Bowie, I was trying to impress a girl.

She was a couple of years older than me, liked glam rock and Terry Pratchett, called herself a writer, and talked like she knew everything. Where this could have been something that aggravated me, I instead became altogether too infatuated with her. I doubled down on writing and considered her my writing rival, despite never having read a thing she’d written. And I immediately looked into all of her favourite things, immediately knowing all of her favourite things because she loved to talk about herself–a blessing for a shy kid with no idea how to talk about anything.

Luckily for me, one of her favourite things was David Bowie. I pirated all of his biggest songs, “Space Oddity”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Heroes”, and they soon became a significant section of the soundtrack of my teenage years. I continued listening to Bowie long after I stopped liking this girl and started liking her best friend. I put on Bowie in the background whenever my best friend came over, and we’d play video games while I moped about, complaining about how Bowie reminded me of how much I was in love with So-and-So at the time.

A lot of my emotions and memories are inextricably connected to Bowie. He became an idol of mine, among the first on a constantly growing list of artists.

So I was a bit put-off to find out that David Bowie was a rapist.

In the 1970s, David Bowie had a threesome with a fourteen- and fifteen-year-old. Said fourteen-year-old was Lori Mattix, a girl heavy into the groupie scene, who would later go on to engage in an abusive relationship with Jimmy Page, and who has been very vocal about her time romancing rockstars. Then, in the late eighties, Bowie was accused of rape and taken to court.

Immediately, I wanted to defend him when I found all of this out. I’d already known about Jimmy Page, but I didn’t really care because I’d never been a huge Led Zeppelin fan. Bowie was a different story. And it is important to note that Lori Maddox doesn’t consider what happened to her rape. On one hand, it’s wrong of us to tell other people how to view their sexual encounters, and she makes sure to remind her interviewers that she still sees her time as a groupie consensual. On the other hand, she also considers being kidnapped by Jimmy Page’s manager and being hidden away as a glorified sex slave for three months “romantic.”

Sexual abuse is complicated, from perpetrating it to surviving it, and feeling victimized is but one head of the hydra. It is not uncommon for abuse survivors to deny that what they experienced was abuse. And while the world loves to complain about false accusations, only 2-4% of rape allegations are false (in Canada, at least.) I could argue, as well, that he’s no Bill Cosby.

But.

None of this excuses Bowie’s actions. I really don’t want to make excuses for him, because I don’t want my emotions to get in the way of my integrity. I know it makes me hypocritical to want to defend Bowie, when I’m the first person to scoff at the thought of supporting Orson Scott Card or Bill Cosby, two monsters I’ve never given a damn about. I imagine this is how Cosby fans felt when over thirty women accused him or drugging and raping them.

Undeniably, Bowie abused his power as a rich, famous, older male. On top of that, he had periods throughout his life where he was (admittedly) a bit of an asshat. Rape or not, no matter what anyone says, he is in the wrong. He did a shitty thing. It’s easy to feel betrayed when we allow celebrities so much space in our heads, and it’s hard to realize we never really knew these people or the things they were capable of.

I didn’t know David Bowie beyond the way he made me feel, and maybe it’s for the best that I never met him. Heroes so rarely live up to expectations, and even David Bowie was only human, no matter how often he tried to blind himself to the fact. But it also doesn’t change the role Bowie’s art has had in my life. It sucks, and it is upsetting, and I pray that I never find out the horrible things done by the remainder of my heroes.

(Neil Gaiman, please don’t have sex with minors.)

Now, when I listen to David Bowie, I’ll remember crushes on girls and games with best friends, and these memories will be tainted by the thought of Bowie as a rapist. I’ll try to figure out which songs he wrote were him remembering that time he had a threesome with a couple of underage girls.

Perhaps it’s better this way, when it’s so damn easy to remain blind to the horrible things our heroes do.

On Rejection

Walking to practicum, my cell phone in one hand and Perks of Being a Wallflower in the other, I check my email, and I see that I’ve got a response from an agent who just requested a partial.

The way I get with agents is a lot like the way I get when I have a crush on someone. I’ve read pages of this woman’s Twitter account, and like twenty interviews on how she chooses clients, and also tales of her happy clients and their successful lives as writers. I’m attached to the idea of this woman representing me.

And, similar to my crushes, knowing I’ve got a message pending is an emotional rollercoaster. Only, it’s an unfinished roller coaster that inevitably sends me plummeting to my death. Thing is, I’m already on the rollercoaster whether I like it or not, and even if I think I know what’s at the end of the track, I’ve got no choice but to keep going.

So I open the email, and I read it.

That’s when it hits me, a gust of existential angst unlike anything I’ve felt since I was a teenager. For a moment, I wonder if there’s even a point to anything at all. Why bother writing when all that’s waiting for me is rejection after rejection after rejection? My whole emotional bomb shelter, built up by years of being told I just wasn’t what people were looking for right now, suddenly came crashing down around me.

It’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to move, and it’s hard to exist at all.

Then it’s over. I’m at practicum and I turn my phone off and put my book away, and I get to work thinking, “Shit, that was weird.”

It’s been a long time since I took being turned down that hard, even if it lasted all of thirty seconds. (I don’t know if being at the emotionally-draining ending of Perks really helped.)

In grade eight, I dated three girls. Each of them dumped me. By the time the third one told me it wasn’t going to work, I was a wreck, spending lunch time with my forehead pressed against my desk while she was literally sitting right there because we had the same group of friends.

My next few romantic rejections, that’s just how it went. Walking through the woods, crying, singing along poorly to indie pop love songs (the kind where love is always tragic, flawed, and impossible to maintain.) Crying more.

When I began taking writing seriously, it was a bit like that. Less crying and singing along to “The Bleeding Heart Show”, but enough to stop me writing entirely when I was told I used commas like William Shatner.

There was a lot of struggling to rediscover the point of it all.

But eventually, you harden. Like calluses on your knuckles. And you can handle things a little bit better. Never great, but better. By the sixtieth magazine or agent rejection, it was okay, because I would just write something else or submit somewhere else. I would move on.

The only way to succeed is to make it through the rejections. And the only way to better handle rejection is to be rejected.

Sometimes I do worry about hardening too much, becoming cold and numb to the whole process. That doesn’t seem especially helpful to the passionate process of writing (or loving.) But I won’t turn into a robot overnight, and if yesterday’s agent-related panic was any indication, I’m not as tough as I think anyway.

The point is, even when the pain and sadness piles on top of you and you start to suffocate, you’ve got to crawl back out again. That’s the only option you’ve got.

I urge you, whoever you are, whatever you are struggling to do, don’t give up. Don’t let rejection stop you.*

And I promise I won’t, either.

 

*Unless you’re doing something non-consensual that harms other people. Don’t be a dick, you guys.

November Writing Update

Dear Diary,

Having a blog is all about pretending you have an audience until you do, eventually, have an audience. Or until you give up and your blogging life fades away along with your hopes and dreams, and you flee to Vegas to become an Elvis impersonator.

So, that’s where I’m at, I guess.

Anyway, in an effort to actually do something with this website I’m paying for, I guess I’ll do a writing update!

Benson and Cactus:

First off, Benson and Cactus made its first appearance at a convention in September! London Comic Con was a fun little introduction to the convention scene. We didn’t get a whole lot of business, but I got to try out manning a booth and talking to people, so it was a learning experience. I was planning on doing a full post about Benson and Cactus on its own, but the B&C train sort of halted to a stop yet again, so I’ll save the full thing until we start to actually put up comic pages. (For now, here’s a link to the website and our bitchin’ trailer.)

Short Stories:

For a long time (after realizing I had a long way to go before anyone wanted to publish me) I only wrote short stories. Some of them found homes, some of them did not because they simply weren’t good enough, and four of them are still out there because I’m convinced they are, in fact, good. Hopefully a fifth is about to join the long journey to publication, as I’m hoping to whip up a story for an anthology before next Sunday. In other short story news, I’m also hoping to post some short stories that couldn’t quite cut it in the real world on this blog, though maybe I shouldn’t be posting sub-par material up here…

At any rate, I’ll definitely be posting my first published story, “Old as the Sun”, closer to Christmas, complete with new illustrations from Benson and Cactus illustrator and 80s nostalgia groupie, Isaac Elliot-Fisher (visit his website here). So far I’ve edited and sent out this fucking story to family and friends every Christmas for five years, so let’s hope I can finally put it to rest.

Shadow of a Boy:

Last November I started writing what I called a “semi-autobiographical fantasy novel” for NaNo. I now call it a “literary fantasy novel” which I hope does not sound just as awful when I query agents. I only wrote around 20 000 words during NaNo, but over the course of this year I remained dedicated to my second book-length project. In June, I finished the first draft. In September, I started querying agents.

Lucky for me, I am no stranger to rejection. In fact, I have six years’ worth of literary rejection, roughly as long as I’ve taken writing seriously. When I wrote my first full work, a novella called The Facility, I foolishly sent out sixty queries and became something of an expert on the failing end of the querying process.

To date, I’ve queried 87 agents regarding Shadow of a Boy.

29 of them have rejected me. Well, 29 of them have told me they’ve rejected me.

Two of them have requested partials though, and one even asked for the full manuscript, though they did end up passing on the project.

I know this book is a hard sell. I’ve known that from the beginning. It’s Canadian fiction, first of all, and it’s way more literary than it is fantasy. Having queried almost every agent I could possibly query about this project, I might be out of luck traditionally if they all pass.

I might end up having to Andy Weir this thing and put up chapters on my blog.

Victory Lap:

I’m also co-authoring a contemporary YA project with my oldest friend, Riley Wood (who you can find on Twitter as @CanuckRiley). Apparently I’m pretty good at writing like a whiny teenager, but without an awful story about a vampire hunter and a hobbit, a less awful story about a Christian junkie and a murderous, masturbating android, and countless hours of ATV: Off Road Fury, this never would have happened.

Secret Project:

And finally, my NaNo project for this year, a TOP SECRET middle grade project about a haunted children’s museum, written with my favourite person, Miranda Moth (found on Twitter as @MirandaMoth). Technically we’re cheating, because we’re two people and we’re not exactly doubling our 50 000 word count goal with a middle grade book. But I’ve always been more concerned about writing a good book and meeting new friends during NaNo than I have with actually winning.

Because I love stretching myself too thin, so I almost hit up another writer friend of mine about retrying our middle grade superhero novel, but I think maybe I’ll wait a bit. After all my collaborating, I’ll probably need some time solo anyway.

As always: agents, hit me up!

Well, that’s it. Blog post accomplished. I’m a winner.

On Feminism

Regardless of intentions, it’s a movement’s loudest voice that determines everything: the way it’s perceived, the good or bad that it can do for people. This is why, while supporters of the Gamergate movement defended themselves by saying the movement was about journalistic integrity, all the public saw was the defending of a status quo and the abuse of women. It didn’t matter what their intentions were as a group, because the loudest voices made sure they stood for hate and little else.

This is also why, when I hear about the sects of feminism I’m not a part of, those who embody the Amazon warrior trope, claiming men are lesser and obsolete, I can’t help but shrug. I don’t know if these feminists exist, though my ignorance certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I honestly don’t really care. They exist along with the feminists who bash trans women and feminists who only stand up for white women, far outside the intersectional safe havens I spend my time in.

I call them bad feminists, but I’m told that’s not true. They’re all different sects of feminist. So maybe it’s wrong of me to call anyone a bad feminist. Maybe I should stick to calling them bad people.

It might just be the articles I read, the culture I’m a part of, but the loudest voice for feminism I hear isn’t fighting for female supremacy. The voices I hear are sticking up for everybody. They aren’t tearing down men and rising up women. They are fighting for men to be seen as caretakers. They fight for men, women, people of colour, and people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum to be seen and heard and respected. And they fight against those who wish to silence the perceived minority.

And I think that’s what the public is hearing, too, when see they Joseph Gordon-Levitt talk about feminism, or when there’s a popular Buzzfeed article about women’s rights, or when women hold topless protests in the name of equality.

Anti-feminists don’t appear to be fighting for anything other than the tearing down of feminism. They say modern feminism is useless and that we should embrace “humanism” or “egalitarianism” (as if one can’t be an egalitarian and a feminist), but they’re not the ones I see fighting for it.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you label yourself. There are bad people who call themselves feminists, and there are good people who rally against feminism. What matters is what your do with your label. How you treat people, no matter their skin colour or sexuality or religion, no matter whether or not they call themselves a feminist.

Being a good person is more than assigning labels.

And let’s be honest, we’ve had hundreds of years to work on men’s issues and Caucasian issues. Just because others want a turn does not mean we need to freak the fuck out and cry about how we’re being “persecuted” and “made into minorities”. In fact, crying about white people being a minority just proves you know how shitty things are for them.

/endrant

Dear Diary

And so I dive deeper into the murky waters of social media. My blog will likely continue my current trend of neither being seen nor heard, almost as if I really were drowning in the ocean, all alone, while others on the horizon are fished out and given film deals for their survival stories.

I’m being melodramatic. Hopefully there’s not too much of that.

Anyway, I have a blog now. I guess I should, like, put stuff on it. Gonna do that now.