Black Sheep: Book Release and ebook discount!

Burgeoning author, Kia Zi Shiru, just released her second dark YA novel in a series that follows the young Vic on his trek to find love while finding himself. Along with this Book Release comes a 66% discount on Book One!!!

Having chatted with Shiru several times, I’m honored to feature her newest novel, “Black Sheep: Loving in the Present“. I had a chance to ask Shiru a few questions about her book, her previous books, and even upcoming books!

What possessed you to write YA LGBT stories? 

I like to read them, and I often find it easier to identify with them. Don’t ask how that works, it does. Black Sheep hasn’t been my first try at gay characters but it is the first one the world got to see. But the lack of LGBT books in the library or to be found online was what made me push through with writing Black Sheep until the end.

Is this your first attempt at novel length writing?

Shiru: No, I’ve got a scifi story that reaches over 40k that I worked on for most of my teenage years. But since it’s written in Dutch I abandoned it when I realised there was no big market for them. English is a bigger market so that is why Black Sheep has been totally written in English.

Tell me a bit about your short story collection that’s also on Amazon?

Shiru: Magical Roads, yes. It’s a collection of stories about teens in a magical world. They are both realistic and magical at the same time. The stories deal with things like growing up, traditions and making your own choices. I wrote these stories for my classes at university and thought it was a good idea to share them since a lot of people seem to love them.

I know you’re rather busy with school, but do you have any plans for other novels or short story collections in the near future?

Shiru: Honestly? I’ve got a full year coming up. Not only am I doing my last year of my bachelor I’m also doing my masters next year. But that doesn’t stop me. The third book in the Black Sheep trilogy comes out in April and then the collection in May. After that I’ve got 2 series I’ll be starting during the rest of the year. Though they are for a slightly higher age range than the Black Sheep Trilogy.

Given the natural gravitation toward sexuality in your book, how do you think your books fit into the YA category? 

Shiru: I don’t see sexuality being a problem to being included in the YA category. There are more and more books published for LGBT teens. The thing is that sexuality doesn’t have a lot to do with actual sex. Black Sheep Trilogy deals with some shocking subjects but in relation to sex it doesn’t go any further than a bit of groping over each other’s clothes and some kissing. It wasn’t on purpose that I chose to do this, it seemed wrong to actually let them go further than that with all the body issues the main character deals with. Of all the books I think the first one is the most steamy one.

I don’t think there is a problem of putting Black Sheep in the YA category, since that category is full of teen mum books anyway. In comparison to that, Black Sheep is very clean.

Of course, what you all REALLY want is the DISCOUNT!!!!
EBOOK DISCOUNT: As an added bonus, “Black Sheep: Letting go of the Past” (Part One in the series) is will be a mere $0.99 starting today and running through February 25!!!

So, what is “Black Sheep: Loving in the Present?” Here’s it is in Shiru’s words:

Vic has taken a turn for the worse and is back in the psychiatric hospital. Jack gets kicked out of his house when his parents find out that he is gay. The reason Adam is not getting better is revealed. And that is just the beginning.

Everybody is lost and trying to not let it spiral out of control. Jack moves in with Vic’s family, making it his temporary home until he can move in with his brother and sister. Vic’s health doesn’t improve until he hears about Adam, at which point he put his mind to getting better. Adam on the other hand is fighting his own feelings about Vic’s illness and questions their friendship.

When Vic and Jack visit Adam and Tom for Tom’s birthday, it seems like a great way to let loose, but Vic is hiding more secrets than anyone knew and when they are exposed the situation explodes. Vic storms off in anger and seeks solace in dangerous places and, unknowingly, putting not just himself, but Jack too at risk.

EXCERPT: Get hooked now with a short teaser here

And who is this mysterious author???

Kia Zi Shiru is a Dutch girl studying English and Creative Writing in the UK. Amongst her interests she finds writing, reading, doing research and learning different languages (including but not limited to: English, Dutch, French, German, HTML, Java, PHP and Assembly). Her writing and reading habits include books with Young Adults, gay themes, strong female or minority characters and fantasy elements (more often then not all at the same time).

Too lazy to hunt her books down? Here are all the links!
Purchase Black Sheep: Loving in the Present from the following:
In the U.S.:
In the U.K.:
Anywhere: Smashwords or Kobo

As one might suspect, you can purchase Part One or Part Two in eBook and/or paperback forms. Shiru also has a short story collection available from the same sites mentioned above. 

Best of luck to Shiru! From my reading of Book One, this is only the beginning of a long and great novel writing career. If you’ve read this far, I strongly encourage you to support this new Indie author. 

Disclosure: Kia Zi Shiru and I are acquaintances on Google+ and fellow writers (though she’s published, I’m not). I received no compensation for this post (unless you count the ‘thank you’).

A Handmaid’s Tale: A Look at Dystopian Novels

Because there are more than a pleasant share of reviews of this dystopian novel, I’m going to go in a different direction and provide some thoughts I had as I read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.

My main thought is about the dystopian novel itself, as a genre. Not only are dystopian novels common, they are prominent in literature, taught in schools, read in book clubs, revered by conspiracy nuts and theorists, and loved by most who consider themselves high minded.

Most of you realize that dystopian novels are a type of speculative fiction. They point to the absurdity of certain social norms. In many cases they point to the contradictions of social, ecological, economic, gender, and technological mores. Authors of dystopian stories yell at their reader, “Look what we’re doing! Look at where we’re headed! Change before it’s too late!”

But most of you probably don’t think of dystopia stories as short sighted. I do.

I give my reasoning in a story of my own, a true story.

When I was still in graduate school, I went to a talk.I don’t remember the focus, but I do remember the title and synopsis suggested it was about Marxism, the working man, and society in today’s world. What it actually turned into was an “academic” talk about how today’s world is full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and that we need to find a path back to the “Good ole days.”

Sans myself and two other graduate student I went with, there were no participants under the age of 50. The “take away” message was that we’ve fallen from decency. What we need to do is somehow find a way back to the 40s and 50s where people were pure, the economy was great, patriotism was important, and politicians were human.

What all the participants of this talk seemed to do (the three of us excluded) was to romanticize the world they grew up in. All the while, they forgot that young women were shipped off the an “aunts” house when they shamed their family by getting pregnant in high school. They forgot the beginnings of the Cold War where children practiced Nuclear War drills! They forgot that men knifed each other for looking at “their” girls. They forgot the ideal of the pregnant and barefoot wife in the kitchen.They forgot about racial segregation and women’s rights movements and race riots. To be fair, there were no non-whites in the room.

Dystopian novels follow this same arch. Though they point out particular inconsistencies and absurdities about society and civilization as a whole, they all pine and romanticize for a bygone era.

Margaret Atwood is one of the few I’ve come across that doesn’t do this. Atwood does not romanticize about the world she grew up in or lives in now. She doesn’t demonize the futuristic speculative, arguably (il)logical conclusion to the puritan U.S. social culture any more than she demonizes “the way things were” in her book.

Rather, Atwood suggests that in the world we live in, society men have created an manufactured dichotomy of options.

Option One: Men have the “freedom to.

Option Two: Women can have the “freedom from.

That is it. Essentially, recognizes that men have “given women the choice.” Women can choose to be subjugated to men’s sexual urges and turned into objects of sexual appeal and toys for their men’s own sexual pleasure. Or, women can choose to be hidden from men entirely in a puritan fashion. Of course, this means men still have to procreate, so they choose non-sexual women to have non-sexual intercourse.

Either way, women are subjugated.

My feminist hat off to you, Atwood. Not that you need me to tell you, but you understand the world better than most.

Disclosure: I neither know Atwood (though I wish I did, and I do follow her on Twitter) nor was I paid for this post. 

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

In my final trot through the zombie novel pumpkin patch, I finished “Warm Bodies,” a relatively new novel by Isaac Marion. In six months, it will be released as a movie of the same name. Here is my book review:

First off, as both of my readers know, I don’t give synopses of books I read. If you want to know what HAPPENS in a book, read the damn book. My reviews only tell what was good, what was bad, and if you should read the novel in the first place.

Marion’s portrait of zombies is not new. They are dead, or undead. They feed off humans, eat brains, and are generally pretty stupid beings that hunt in packs. The first person angle is not entirely new to this genre any longer either. I refer you to Joan Frances Turner’s “Dust“. Since “Warm Bodies” came out but a year later, I hold no negative here for Marion. Frankly, the first person zombie thing is still avant garde enough  to be highly entertaining when done correctly, which it is here.

“Warm Bodies” is much closer to a typical zombie story. The main zombie character is a twenty (or thirty)-something lazy guy who just shuffles through life until he eats the brain (thereby gaining the memories of) a young man in love. Enter love interest Stage Right.

I have a terrible feeling that the movie that debuts February of 2013 will be very much like “Twilight” with teenage puppy love and an angry dad leading to a Romeo and Juliet meets Shawn of the Dead plot. If so, I’ll be disappointed, but the vast majority of readers of this book won’t be.

The end concept (which I won’t spoil) is interesting. Given the direction the rest of the book, however, it was both predicable yet disappointingly necessary. For those seeking a Happily Ever After zombie story, this is your book. For those wanting a dreary apocalyptic world, move on.

Marion clearly understands both the zombie genre itself and the present obsession with paranormal love and sex. Part of me wants to hate this book for that very reason. Yet, when in Rome. Once he is discovered by the masses, Marion will explode onto the scene much the same way Meyer did with Twilight. This will be especially true if he has sequels in mind.

All his characters are very well fleshed out. It was a fast-paced read that does provide much for many a reader. If you want true zombie death and gore, it’s here. Of course, I might read “Dust” if that was your soul purpose. If you want something new to the zombie genre, you get love, first person goodness, and a Day of the Dead concept well done here. If you just want a good read irrespective of genre, this is also a great start. If you want another book like Twilight without the disturbing tween sex scenes, this again is your book.

Overall, I would read another book by Isaac Marion. It is clear we should expect great things from him in the future.

Zombies! Done Right

In an effort to understand the genre I’m pretending to write in, I’ve read some zombie stories. The first was “Autumn” by David Moody which came from a recommendation list I found online. You can view that earlier review post here. Second on my reading trek was “Dust” by Joan Frances Turner. Here is my review of her zombie story, which happens to also be her first book.

Most complaints about Turner’s “Dust” that I’ve found online via or pertain to the tough stomach needed to read such gruesome descriptions. To be fair, this is a very descriptive book when it comes to the life and death of the living, unliving, undead, and all those we find in between. It is not for the squeamish. However, no description is over the top or unnecessary.

For a truly over the top plastering of descriptions that probably don’t need to be there, one only need to look to the author of “Fight Club,” Chuck Palahniuk. Now, I’ve never read “Fight Club” as it’s never at the library. But I’ve read two other lesser known of his novels (“Survivor” which I thought was brilliant all around and reminded me of “American Psycho” meets TMZ; and “Snuff” which as the title suggests was not for the faint of heart to say the least).

Turner doesn’t do this. Rather than give you a zombie story of gun toting heroes blowing the heads off valueless zombies, she provides a realistic look (as much as one can give with a fictional occurrence) at life in this fictional world. The descriptions are necessary. Similar to “Room” by Emma Donoghue where you get the story from a 5 year old. The description is so natural, but you know pretty quick that what the child is witnessing but not comprehending is the repeated rape of his mother. Turner’s description flows naturally from the character.

“Dust” is a first person zombie story from the point of view of a teenage girl who died before her time. The entire book gives a realistic taste of what such a life would be like. There is no good or bad, only truth. Truth is, they are undead beings. They rot.

Turner takes a classic horror genre and gives it new life. Rather than providing a straightforward zombie story like David Moody, Turner uses the zombie identity to look at life, death, and the human condition. Had Turner used old geriatric patients instead of zombies, people would complain she made old women look disgusting by talking about their incontinence, the way gravity works on the body, and how they literally fall apart at the seams rather than only look at how beautiful the end of life is.

Death is not pretty. Neither is life most of the time. Turner does for the horror novel what Matheson did decades ago.

This novel does have a bizarre second half where the feel of the story changes dramatically, and the end is predictable once you enter the realm of the second half of this story. That said, the ending was appropriate. Anything different would have negated the grotesque first half. This is not only a well-written first novel. This is a solid novel, period.

Zombies! From another perspective

I’ve now read two very different zombie stories written in the last two decades. First was David Moody’s “Autumn”, a highly acclaimed zombie author; and Joan Frances Turner’s “Dust”, a first novel for this burgeoning author. Here is my review for Moody, Turner deserves a separate post.

First David Moody.

Highly excited by the hype behind this six book series and the movies spawned by his novels, I confess myself disappointed.

The hype of Moody’s novels I can only assume come from his “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” appeal. Moody first released his books in free ebook form for all his pre-publication followers days. Looking at Moody this way there are two things to compliment. First, kudos for giving your readers what they want. Many of today’s authors will hold on to their material like it’s pure gold. Now, I’m not one to suggest all writers should put their books out there for free as we all go read our free book at the coffee shop where we buy our $4 latte. NO! I’m say, if you’re a struggling author, he knows how to sell himself.

Which leads to the second compliment: Moody knows the marketing. Few artists realize that art comes with two parts: the art and the marketing. You can say all you want that you’re an artist and that others need to do the marketing part. Them’s the words of the unpublished and jealous. Making money in any field, including fiction writing requires tons of selling your soul to the Devil incarnate.

Now, that’s pretty much where my compliments of Moody dies an untimely death.

Moody’s actual writing is subpar. I wish  couldn’t say this. But it’s true. And I’ll use two specific complaints to drill my point home. First, all his characters have the exact same voice. If you don’t know how bad this can tear apart a story and dislocate the reader from the text, read this book. You’ll constantly wonder, who the hell is talking? Autumn is not his first novel either, so this book shows the lack of editing on the part of a trained writer (And I realize the irony of my writing this in an unedited blog…which is where Moody also got his start).

Second, Moody’s story does nothing but tell a story. Wait! What? That’s right. It does nothing but tell a simple story. Why is this a complaint? Because, no great story is JUST A story. Even the most basic and most juvenile stories come with lessons learned or subjects contemplated.

An example I commonly give is Harry Potter. A great children’s story through and through. It is a story FIRST! But it comes with ethnic conflict, good versus evil (and the gray area in between), race relations, gender roles, and basic child angst.

Give me something more!

Every great story ever told comes with more than JUST A story. “Just a” stories are the sign of a truly amateur storyteller. Matheson’s horror stories had reasons for their existence BEYOND scaring the reader. Ellis wrote about a narcissistic A-hole in “American Psycho” because he saw that that was what the American elite culture was breeding. Some feminists misinterpreted this as male hatred of women. Many feminists saw Ellis for what he truly wrote, which is why a female director turned that book into a movie. Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series is more than a creepy serial killer who kills serial killers. His character understands the human condition even better than the humans he claims he does not relate to.

Writing a “just a” story separates the writers from the authors. Sadly, I find myself among the former struggling to make it into the latter.

Among Others excerpt reviews in…

That’s right!

My novel, Among Others, which I entered in’s Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, has made it to the Quarterfinals. That means my novel has made it through the whittling down from 5000 fiction novels to 250 novels. WOW!
Based on pitch and excerpt, Among Others is in the top 5% of the entrants. But there’s more…
Not only does my book move to the next level in the contest. I also received professional reviews of my excerpt (aka my first two chapters). Wanna know what they said? Well, too bad. I’m going to share them with you anyway!
Click here for pdf version of the two reviews I speak of. 
I would have been happy with terrible reviews. Truthfully! I would be almost as happy as I am right now if they both said they wanted their 15 minutes of reading time back and that I need to quite writing and stop wasting everyone’s time. Two important people read my excerpt and thought my story was good so far. 
My friend Michael Tyburski once said to me that when getting reviews of the plays he starred in, if you get one shout out, a single solitary shout out in the play that is NEUTRAL, just neutral, you’ve succeeded. If you get more than that, you have to go buy a bigger hat to fit that giant head and inflated ego. 

Myrtle’s Girdle

As anyone who knows me knows, I write fiction and non-fiction of a serious nature. I have no fun creative side. My inner Creative Child was beaten and bruised long ago. That’s not even the saddest part.

The saddest part is that my partner loves silly stories, nursery rhymes and frequently begs me to tell her a story of one crazy sort or another right before bed. I say I can’t. She says yes you can. I say seriously, no, I can’t. She gets disappointed, rolls over, and goes to sleep. 
But this year, I’ve resigned myself to break that habit. At least one silly story a week. Written before bed, to share with her at bedtime. Our own personal bedtime stories per say. 
So, without further adieu, I give you, my first attempt at such silly stories.
Myrtle’s Girdle, by Rene Mullen  
Myrtle was a young little turtle
Who’s mother and father always made her wear a girdle.

Said she, “That is how it will have to be,
Every time you get out of bed so no one else can see.”

But Myrtle hated being the only turtle
In the family because she was the only one to wear a girdle.

So she tried to hide it on the go.
Myrtle tried big shirts, wide pants, ribbons and even a bow.

In school Myrtle felt like such a fool.
Her mother’s demand led Myrtle to break rule after rule.

Myrtle couldn’t take gym as a turtle.
She had to stay out of the pool and refused to jump any hurtle.

One day, after everyone poked their fun
Myrtle decided that she was shunned for her last shun.

She ran. At least as fast as turtles can.
She ran. She ran even faster than any other turtle can.

Harder and harder she started to breathe,
Until at last, that girdle couldn’t hold back the pressure, you see.

That girdle gave out where it was at,
Everything broke, every button, seam, and slat.

Though she walked by and looked in a window,
Myrtle was relieved to see she finally looked like a turtle, So,

Away she went to tell of her day,
To a mother to whom she didn’t care about what she had forbade.

She told of her day with such glee,
All mother could say was, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

From time to time a moment will come,
When Myrtle the turtle will still feel a tiny little bit of glum,

Some would say she never has no fun,
But then she remembers her girdle, her pain, her win, and her mum.

Myrtle now smiles like a happy turtle.
Fore no little turtle, no matter their shell, should have to wear a girdle.

Among Others: 19th Chapter

NaNoWriMo 2011 is little more than a day away from completion. I was about 12k away from making the 50k finish line this morning. Today alone I’ve written three chapters so far. That’s 3,500 words today.

Needing a break from writing, I’m doing this…writing a blog post ^_^

But, it’s back to the grindstone.

Among Others: Chapter 19:

Nobody spoke until nightfall. The old man wearing overalls and the woman with knotted red hair sat watching the television with tears in their eyes, holding each other’s hands like two elderly people watching Death himself walk up to them to take their lives one by one. The fat man and young man with the broken face had moved to the tiny kitchenette to gorge themselves on different canned meats in a victory celebration feast. Collins locked herself in her bathroom perfecting her concealer mask she neglected the last twenty four hours while they waited for news reports of their despicable act.

Coming out of her bathroom, she directed everyone to put on their makeup and present themselves for approval. The fat man never moved so quickly, before or since his current condition. The young man with the broken face followed a short distance behind. They elbowed each other for a spot in the cramped bathroom to view their progress in the studio apartment’s only mirror.

“I don’t like this any more than you do,” Collins added at the old man wearing overalls as she sensed animosity. “Desperate times.”
“I will not kill again.”
“Nobody is asking you to kill anymore. Now we just need to let others know they have support. We need to provide them with understanding of how they can help the cause, how they can help their own cause.”
By this time, the woman with knotted red hair had meandered about ending up behind the old man. He crossed his legs and laid his hands on top of each other crossing at their wrists. The woman with knotted red hair placed a shaking hand on the old man’s shoulder, then added, “I can not do this.”
“You have to,” Collins snapped back.
“No, she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do.”
The woman nodded in agreement.
“You could always take your chances out there. Normals will happily make sure you don’t suffer in this world much longer.”
The woman drew back.
“That’s not fair and you know it,” said the old man as he uncrossed his arms.
“There’s no room for people not willing to fight.”
“There’s always room. If they want to kill me for who I am, I can live with that. I answer only to God.”
Collins and the old man stared each other down until the fat man and young man with the broken face barged in for inspection. The fat man was beaming with pride. The young man with the broken face stood in his most dangerous gangster stance.
“You know what,” Collins finally said, slamming her chair into the table with enough force to rattle the woman with knotted red hair. “You are right. Not everyone has to do the same thing. But,” she searched the apartment for a ‘but’ to add, “But, if you want to stay here where it’s safe, you will have to earn your keep.”
“Fair,” the old man nodded.
“Okay,” she said, still looking around for something the old man and woman with knotted red hair could accomplish while the rest of their team was out risking their lives.
“We are running out of food and concealer. Here is some money. Get as much as you can fit in my cart.” She threw her debit card at them. “The PIN is 1105.”
“We will do that. Right after we register ourselves.”
“Are you insane,” Collins jumped.
“We have to. It’s the law. And it will protect us while we are out in public.”
“You will compromise this whole safe house I have created for you just so you can feel a little safer among them? They do not have your best interests in mind. I do.”
“That may be at least half true. But we do not have to give this address.”
“And which address do you propose,” she asked, truly interested.
“Our real addresses. I lived alone before coming here. I can give my real address.”
“They will use your new ID to track you.”
“Maybe. But it is our duty. It’s the law.”
Collins stepped away and walked around in a circle several minutes scratching her head. Then, as if an epiphany fell from somewhere above, she darted back to the group, which did not take much in such a small room.
“That’s not a bad idea. We will all go register. But in shifts. That way nobody knows that we live together. We can’t be seen together.” The old man smiled. The woman with knotted red hair squeezed his shoulder in relief. The fat man and young man with the broken face looked sorely disappointed.
Collins looked at her phone for a time check. Half past five in the morning. Suddenly she was aware of the dull red hue peeking in through the kitchen window curtains.
“It’s too late now,” speaking to the two deflated men once eager for action. “But you two,” pointing to the old man and woman with knotted red hair, “Get makeup on and grab a face mask. You have provisions to purchase. After you register, of course.”
“It’s illegal to hide our identity now,” the old man interjected.
“Fine. Just. Go make sure you do not have any concealer on. Then go register. You still have my card.”
The old man stood slowly, creaking as any old man would after sitting too long in one position without shifting enough to keep his joints well oiled. He walked off toward the bathroom with the woman with knotted red hair in tow. After they disappeared behind a closed bathroom door, the fat man sank his fat head into his fatter chest. Collins moved in close to him and his partner in crime.
“I have something else for you two.”
Their eyes began to light up again behind their caked on war paint.
“This is a list of all the Council Members. Their names and addresses.” She handed the young man with the broken face a printed copy of addresses from a website. It contained eight names, phone numbers and addresses.
Scanning the list, “One has a line on it. Did we kill him?”
“No,” her hands shook, “That person is off limits. You are not to go there.”
Both men looked at Collins like she started speaking a language they did not understand.
“He is on my side. Our side.”
“He is one of us,” wondered the young man.
“Not that I am aware of. He is a friend of mine. You are not to go to his house or harm him in any way. Is that clear?”
They both nodded.
“Good. It’s too late now. But tonight, you have your orders. Do not tell them,” Collins pointed at the closed bathroom door, “about any of this. Understand?”
Both nodded again.
“Good. Put that away. Tonight, when night falls again, you two will move out.”
They were so pleased with their mission and what it entailed it cracked their concealer creating smiles that split from ear to ear. They shuffled off to watch more television in relative silence. The bathroom door opened pulling Collins’ attention away from her two obedient minions.
“You look,” she struggled for an appropriate word, “normal.” All three would have smiled if her comment was not so accurate.
Blue veins mapped out around the faces of both the woman with knotted red hair and old man. Neither looked happy but Collins did not know if their sadness drained from what they looked like now without concealer or that they were no longer satisfied with the position they felt forced into as of late.
The woman with knotted red hair tried to smile but it sputtered away. Unsure where to stand or what to do, she stood fiddling slowly with her hands. Her older partner sat back in his chair at the small kitchen table. He gasped slowly for air like a fish out of water taking its last two struggling breaths. Age and lack of oxygen was clearly taking its toll on his wiry frame.
“We will go first,” the old man Signed at last. “We do not know how long it will take or what will happen down at the, um,” he was unsure of the correct Sign.
“Police station,” Collins assisted.
“Yes, thank you. When we are done there, we will go shopping for food and concealer if we can get it. It’s illegal to conceal ourselves now. But I think I can convince anyone asking that she is my daughter and just wants to look Normal at home.”
“Great idea,” Collins added. Irritated she did not think of such a well thought out plan. Everyone’s eyes struggled to find something acceptable to look at without causing discomfort to anyone else. Instead all eyes bounced around avoiding each other until the old man managed enough energy to wave the woman with knotted red hair to follow him out.
As they left, Collins tapped the old man’s shoulder.
“You need this,” handing him her only key to the apartment. “If you find a place, buy another one. This is my only copy. You can probably justify one extra. We will make it work somehow.”
He took her key, nodded, and left with his female counterpart trailing close.

Among Others: 7th Chapter

Chapter 7 of “among Others” is one of a two part situation that tests Dr. Collins’ will.

Enjoy “among Others” Chapter 7. Remember, of course, that this is a NaNoWriMo rough draft (2nd draft edit 12/29/11):

Two more days passed. Not having spoken to Miller since their last encounter in her office, she texted him requesting they meet at the coffee shop around lunch. Before she placed her phone back in her pocket, a response came through.

“I can be there at 1. Can we meet then?”

She responded with a ‘See you then’, closed her phone and dropped it back in her pocket.
Not able to read her research, she struggled to find an outlet for her awkward feelings and rambling mind. Research meant normalcy. That’s all she really wanted: normalcy. Tearing into a raw chicken neck, she resigned herself to waiting until noon before heading out to see Miller.
Cleaning up after her meal, she stumbled off to shower off yesterday’s concealer. So embarrassed about her complexion, she now wore it to bed. Not even her hands touched her face anymore, at least not without  dollops of pasty concealer on them. The game of pretend exhausted her.
The water warmed her cheeks and nose as the concealer melted away in the stream. She slumped down onto the floor of her bathtub and hugged her bare legs, her blue-veined face perched on equally blue knees. Behind closed doors, in a shower, nobody hears or sees the crying face of the silent voice. Or cares.

Satisfied with her replaced mask, she pulled on her coat, being careful to not rub against her face or neck. She locked the door behind her.

Several protest groups gathered at different ends of the same street. Each hollering about the same thing to the same wandering pale passersby. None of the passersby acted violently. It was as if the pale beings did not react to the yelling at all. She wanted more than anything to intervene. To ask these angry people what it was about these infected individuals that angered them so much. Yet none of them understood Sign. Fewer still would see past her own condition. One screaming person would see past her concealer, call her out for what she was, and probably end her worries where she stood with their bats and fists.
Collins walked on as fast as her cold feet took her to ensure she looked as normal as possible. She chose to walk passed trying to pretend she saw no violence, trying to hide from herself that she was the very object of their disdain.
It was not until she came up on the only coffee shop on campus that she even blinked, focusing on moving at a normal rate of speed of an uninfected person.
Lunchtime isn’t even over and already they were outside tormenting their pale prey.
Collins pointed out a small coffee cup to the petite barista and handed her a debit card. With coffee in hand, she found an empty seat at the back of the crowded shop.  It felt like no time at all passed before Miller swished over and sat across from Collins.
“Um,” he stumbled into Sign, “Where have you been? I have been worried sick, Helen.” Miller’s fingers darted around so fast her stunted eye moment hardly kept up with him.
“I’m okay,” she replied.
Hand to mouth, finger shaking at Collins’ pale hands, “You. You. You,” Miller stuttered out loud. She took one look at her hands. All this time, it never occurred to her to hide her pale hands. Suddenly her stomach twisted. Gloves. She needed gloves before she went back outside.
Miller was still stuttering the same word when Collins remembered where she was. She was never so glad to know Sign than in that loud coffee shop filled with normal people.
“Oh, my God, Helen. Are you OK? How do you feel? What’s it like? Who have you eaten? How did you get passed CAUZ? What are you going to do? Where are you going to stay? Are you gonna eat me?”
Collins watched with pity as Miller rambled out a million questions, some of concern, most out of pure curiosity but meaning no disrespect, for sure. She knew he was not that sort of person.
“I have not eaten anyone,” she Signed as fast as her cold hands let her. “And I am not going to eat you. Although I am getting hungry.” Miller snapped backward knocking the chair behind him but garnering no response from the person sitting there.
“I’m kidding.”
“But the reports. They say, um, the undead, well, um, you, have to eat flesh.”
“Lots of steak.” She tried to smile but the dried on concealer cemented to her face refused to allow it.
“You can’t be seen, Helen. People are scared. I am scared.”
“You said we could meet here.”
“You need some gloves. And maybe, um, a mask.”
From his coat pocket he pulled a ball of masks. A half used tissue fell to the floor.
“Here,” he said aloud, “You’ll want this when you leave here.”
Collins took a sip of her coffee. It tasted so bitter she set it aside.
“I just wanted to get out of that apartment. Talk to someone. Maybe I will go to the library, take out a few books.”
“Trust me, Helen,” Miller’s face reddened, his combover stood ruffled, “You are not safe here, or, um, anywhere.”
“Fine,” she gave in, “I won’t go to the library. I’ll go straight back and lock myself in that cage of mine. That’s all I am, right? An animal?”
“I do not think that at all,” his eyes welled, “But, um, others will hurt you. People are scared.”
“Are the reports true,” she asked as her Sign softened somewhat, “Is it true infected people have attacked other people?”
“What,” he asked, taken aback from the conversation switch, “Um, I do not know. I have not seen footage. I’m sure they would show it if footage existed.”
“I thought as much.” She leaned back in her chair, relieved.
“Please, Helen. Go home. Stay out of sight. At least until this blows over.”
“Spoken like a true soldier.” Collins did not know what possessed her to say something so biting but she felt no inclination to apologize. As caustic as it was, she meant it. Miller felt an urge to adjust his combover while his face darkened further, beads of sweat gathered. His hands shook. It looked like he wanted to say something but would not or could not.
Collecting her things, Collins said, “Spit it out before I go back to my cage.”
“I may not buck the system. But, um, you’re the one hiding behind that mask, Helen.”
Miller was correct. Neither of them wanted any trouble.
She hoped to shove Miller aside as she worked her way toward the exit, but he swished sideways to let her through. She passed unencumbered. Before she was a full arm’s length away, she spotted a flyer on the coffee shop wall. Collins tore it down with almost normal speed and turned to Miller.
“What is this,” she demanded.
He did not answer at first.
“Answer me, Chris.” Usually she tried not to use his Signed name but felt no pity today, just anger.
“It is, um…”
“Just say it.”
“There is a, um, city council meeting the end of the week.” When not Signing, he was wringing his hands fervently.
“But why?”
“Public outcry. They want government to stop spending money on well, um…”
“You know you want to say it. Undead? Zombies? Abominations?” If her face could change color it certainly would have done so even under that mask.
“No.” Tears flowed down his face. Already looking like a coy balding child, now he just looked pathetic. “I hate those terms. I just do not know what to call them, you, I mean it, or this.”
Her anger washed away by her friend’s sincere good nature. Collins’ body temperature may be significantly lower due to her infection but she still had a warm heart hidden somewhere underneath that blue-veined pale skin.
“I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Miller wiped away tears between sniffles.
“Can anyone speak?”
“I assume so. It is a public meeting. Why?”
“And it is at six?”
“Yes. Why?”
“Saturday night? And today is what?”
“Um, Tuesday. Why do you keep asking?” Then like a light bulb popped in his eyes, “Wait. You are not considering? No.”
“You can’t.”
“I will.”
“You can’t even talk. And nobody on the Council speaks Sign. You know that.”
“But you do.”
The light bulb in Miller’s eyes went dim again.
“You’re going to translate. Hell, you’re on the damn Council!”
As Miller interjected, Collins waved at him, “See you there at six on Saturday.”
She walked toward the exit.
“Helen,” Miller yelled aloud. When she turned back, he pointed at his mouth, then back to her. Flustered she had yet another mask to wear, she swung back toward the door and stormed out.

In the campus courtyard, the same protesters stood with the same angry signs, but now there were more of them. What was once three had now become more than a dozen. She remembered who she was, tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear, ducked into her jacket collar, and buried her hands in her pockets. It was cold. Perhaps the protesters believed her ruse. Looking around, there were no pale bodies wandering around the courtyard. Her mind wandered to the beatings she witnessed previously. Had they rid the town of all of them?
Then she realized she that meant she was the only infected person in view. She doubled her pace to appear normal.
Please don’t notice me. Don’t see me. Just let me get home.
She did. For whatever reason, her ruse or their interest in seeking out more obvious prey, they left her alone. Locking her studio apartment door behind her, she dropped to the hardwood floor bursting into an uncontrollable flood of silent tears.

Won My 1st Writing Contest

Low and behold, I won my first writing contest. First place even! Granted, the contestants were probably myself and some poor old senile lady. But I beat that poor old senile lady, and I’m considering that a major win no matter how bad a person that makes me.

For details about the contest:

If you want to read the story that will some day make me famous?

I’m pumped! This almost makes me a legitimate writer.