Lucy Crowe's Nest: 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Contest Entry: Nicola and The Whopper



I love contests! So often, they are the key to meeting other authors and occasionally, even publication.  This one found me via Facebook, and I couldn’t resist. I apologize in advance for the decidedly unholidaylike theme, but I was on a deadline, and try as I might I couldn’t fit Christmas into the Horror category that I had decided to write under. Well, you’ll see – I’m including the links as well as the story. My contribution fits under number seven in the Horror section - not really horror at all, but lots of fun. Hope you enjoy!

                                         
              ~ Nicola and The Whopper ~

            Nicola’s affinity with frogs had long been established, even before she found The Whopper in the fire station on the day of the drowning - her childhood summers spent largely on the shores of Blue Goose Lake with spotlight and gig in hand, blonde curls caught back with haphazard butterfly clips. Bikinis Tap paid a flat ten dollars per pound for the unfortunate’s hindquarters, and Nicola had purchased books with the proceeds – Steinbeck and Burke and later Sookie Stackhouse.
            But she had never seen a frog the size of The Whopper. He emerged from beneath the gear rack while she was removing her helmet - nudged her boots crosswise and leaped past her, enormous legs trailing.
            “Good Lord.” Burwell passed a gloved hand over his bald head and left a sooty smear just above his eyebrows. “There’s a whopper, kiddo.”
            Nicola had already captured her prey - gray-green and greasy-wet, its warble more like death rales than anything else.
            “Look at that mouth,” Burwell bent close to peer into the pop-eyed visage. “Opens a little wider, he’ll eat you right up.”
            “I’ll put him in my car for now,” Nic twisted away from her coworker with the monstrosity clutched to her chest. “Take him home and turn him loose in the lake.”
            Nicola’s half-sister Benny called at lunchtime, when the EMS crew was still hashing the details of the drowning – her voice so agitated, Nic could practically see her finger- combing her cornrows and rolling her eyes.
            “That thing I did last night, remember? With the frog eggs and the poppet?”
            Nonsensical magic, Benny’s forte; Nicola closed her eyes against a wash of real fear. She would not reply....

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Season for Reaching

Okay, here comes Christmas! Life is flying forward in fast motion and it’s time for the tree the gifts the cookies the caroling! If you’re on facebook at all – and I assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this – I'm sure you've been inundated with holiday posts, everything from the holy rollers to the folks from Walmart.
I know.
I’m going to try to limit my Christmas posts, I promise. But I wanted to share this with you, and, fair warning for those of you who are nonbelievers – this might actually get a tad religious.
I think that belief is more about reaching than anything else, no? That stretch of the mind towards another plateau. This is a good season for reaching. And in doing so I stumbled across the really unique view of Christmas as a subversive holiday.


 (This frame of mind comes to us from the brilliant teachings of Father Barron – he’s all over Youtube, people, and he’s wonderful.)
So, Christmas. Peace, joy, love – subversion, really?
But I love this idea.
Consider this – the Gospel of Luke tells of the shepherds tending their flock by night, how the angels appeared with their message of hope. We tend to think of angels as benign creatures, winged and wreathed in smiles, bathed in light. But no, pay attention. The angel’s first words were “Be not afraid,” which would indicate a real fear on the part of the shepherds. Well, the sky was lit up, strange beings were talking to them. And lets face it, they were simple men, so, perhaps, even “gibbering terror” would be an apt description of their reaction? It gets better! The first angel was then followed by a “host” of angels. Again, we picture song and light. But the Greek word is “stratos” and that word means army. So we have an army of angels. A triumphant army with a message.
The King has come.
I’ve heard it a thousand times. We all have. But this stops me in my tracks. That baby was here with a purpose, and that was, yes, to subvert. The message of love is painful, hard fought for, not easily gained; and it began at that moment with the angels shouting a victory into the boundless night sky over Bethlehem .
We’re meant, I believe, to think about that, at least a little, during the mad rush of the season, in between the Festival of Lights and the cookie bake-offs.
We’re meant to reach. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"I See Ghosts All the Time" -A Thanksgiving Post-

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to share something that showed up on my Facebook wall a couple of days ago and actually made me cry. But only for an instant. One tear. Because I was at work, and I’m never a sissy at work. One of my partners captured, so beautifully, the very essence of our job, how it lightens and darkens the soul all at once. And in an instant, I was taken back to all the after-turkey walks through our slumbering town where I mark the houses more through my knowledge of the occupant’s tragedies than anything else. “This one battled cancer, this one died in her sleep, here is the heart attack house, here is the basement fire.”  So, such intimate knowledge. Alas, so isolating, and such a downer - especially on a holiday! – that I have learned not to share. But I will share this with you.
Because it’s lovely.
 
 
 
 
~Quentin Buffington - the same man who penned
this post - is also a photographer of enormous
talents, and he has captured here the sunset
over the Illinois River . And while at first
I could not make this relate to Thanksgiving,
it soon came to me that a sunset of such epic
proportions undoubtedly puts us all a
little closer to God.~
 

 "Here is my Thanksgiving "Thankful" post and it will be the only one of the month I am going to do. I once argued with someone about shows like "Rescue Me" being a bit unrealistic because the characters saw ghosts. I tried to explain, I see ghosts all the time, not literally like they do in the "shows" but I do.  I see the boy who drowned. I see the lady I delivered papers to for years who died in her sleep. I see the family members who I had to tell that I am sorry that there was nothing we could do. I see accident victims who died in my arms. I see the lady on her sun porch looking at a Cardinal eating and taking her last breath surrounded by her family. I see suicides and overdoses and heart attacks. I see people at their worst, their most tragic. I have seen the little girl who felt safe because Jesus was with her in the ambulance and there was no pain.  So I thank God everyday for giving me the ability to be there. To give your loved one, someone, for who this is not a job, but someone that cares. God does not hate, God is not evil, he is with us in all things and all places and his is the hand that guides and heals all wounds."
 
So, I love this, and it made me thankful again for a beautiful job and wonderful coworkers. And the really awesome life with the really lovely people in it that God has given me. 
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
 
 

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Nice Writer Lady"

 


"Once you use those quotation marks, it's not you the writer talking, it's you the writer listening."—Albert Ríos


  
“Okay, guys.” I’ve gathered my characters together in a corner of my mind resembling the dining room of Nicola’s big old inn. They’re pretending to listen to me. “The verdict’s in. Ya’ll swear too much.”
“Y’all,” Bobby corrects me. He’s a Tar Heel, after all; he knows. 
“You always fu.... misplace that apostrophe, darlin’,”  That was purposeful. He’s grinning at me, blue eyes laughing behind his Lennons.  At least he’s listening.
Rush and Delilah are at the piano, working on arrangement to “Everybody Hurts.” It’s gorgeous. And furthermore, it’s nice to see them getting along so well.I almost hate to interrupt them, but our meetings have become infrequent since publication; these are exceedingly independent individuals, and by now – seventeen chapters into the sequel - they are running their own show.

“Attention please.” I clear my throat in a futile bid for the spotlight. “About the swearing. You guys drop the F bomb way too often. You take the Lord’s name. Some of my readers are upset.”
“Then they ought to jump into my shoes for a day.” Bobby cracks a Budweiser and takes a long draught while I refrain from comment. “I spent four hours in a dumpster last night waiting for a bust that never happened. Came home stinking like moldy tacos and kitty litter. Sometimes ‘gee whiz’ doesn’t cut it, see?”
“Ha.” Sophie’s smile dimples her narrow cheeks. “Try tending bar if you want to test your tolerance levels, big guy.”
“No, the writer lady is right about this.” Help from an unexpected quarter; Delilah speaks to the piano keys.  “You’ve got kids in this house.”
“Give it up.” Rush elbows her without missing a note. “You’re worse than the rest of us.”
Delilah sacrifices harmony for retaliation, punches her father on the arm. “Angelo? Remember him?”
“He’s in bed. And the nice writer lady is only worried about her Amazon rank, kiddo.”
Not fair. I slink from the room, closing the door on their argument and leaning against it to get my breath.
We’ll take this up another time. In the meanwhile, gentle reader, try not to judge.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

November House

Walls and windows. Hardwood floor - scarred by the memory of a child’s roller skates - and a narrow, enclosed stairway. (We painted the steps SpongeBob Blue a dozen years ago, and I have played hell matching that color ever since.)  We've added on, jacked up, mudded and sanded. New roof, new bedroom, foundation repair, windows replaced all around.
Our house has been tucked into the base of Cemetery Hill for so long it is not hard to imagine horse-drawn farm wagons lumbering past, and my children were the third generation of our family to toss maple spinners in the front yard. All of which is to say that our home belongs as much to the past as the present; and that has always felt exactly right.        
            But, particularly in November, the line between seems rather blurred.
November is the month of All Souls, and the seventeenth was my grandfather’s birthday, as well. This late in the season, there is already a bite in the wind, and nightfall comes early, twilight seeping through the blinds and throwing plum colored slats across my living room floor. It’s not hard to envision my younger self sprawled on the carpet with siblings and cousins, chin in hands, while my grandparents showed vacation slides.
            “How are you?” My grandmother’s voice, forever paired in my memory with the music of front door chimes. Short little woman, she wore flowered dresses and round spectacles, and on November seventeenth she would have made a two-layer cake and kept if from our incautious fingers by means of a pink plastic carrier.
            Funny what your mind chooses to keep. I could pick that cake caddy out of a hundred others.    
            But often the smallest retrospection is the one that stays with us the longest. Scent of butter cream frosting, sound of first sleet ticking on windowpanes. Comforting backdrop of adult voices. We keep these things in the whirlpool of memory and forget we even have them until they surface again.

  Usually in the fall, always in November.


(My grandparents were the first family members to own our home. This is their wedding picture, taken in 1929, and I just had to include this picture of Grandma. Wasn't she gorgeous? My sister still has the dress she is wearing here.)



Related Post:  Spring has its own form of nostalgia, in "Frog Song".    

"....The frog song brings the little girl back, and I can see her almost as plainly as I see my own children –  Here in the same yard, beneath the magnolia, and trailing up the hill after lightning bug..."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November Tool Kit


January - at least in Illinois - requires a kit. Snow shovel, extra blankets, Carhartts. August is all about sun screen. Flip-flops and margaritas. April is umbrellas and rubber boots.
            But November, as far as I know, is the only month that requires a mental tool kit. From the dawn of the first gray day (with your optimism already circling and gasping like a goldfish in the toilet bowl) to the final death rales just after Thanksgiving, this month is a struggle.
            A lot of it has to do with sunshine. Which there tends to be less of when daylight savings time kicks in at the beginning of the month. There’s not much good to be said about living in the dark, but, well – shadows are good for hiding. Once my youngest leaped out at me from behind the oak as I came down the sidewalk after work. I splattered twelve ounces of pumpkin latte down my front and we laughed like loons for half an hour. 
            So, tool number one, and most important – laughter. Don’t lose it in the dark.
            Faith, people, faith. Play “Here Comes the Sun” on your iPod and try to believe it. Do not for any reason play “Bookends”. Simon and Garfunkel injected a downer into their harmony that seeps beneath your skin and lays there like a bruise for days. I’m sure there’s a warning label somewhere on the album cover.   
            Search out good winter fruits. Pomegranates are phenomenal! Which, okay, I know sounds absolutely overboard, but have you ever had one? Juicy and crunchy all at once, and what a gorgeous color, never mind the red stain beneath your fingernails. In salads, in desserts, or just out-of-hand, these are sweet and wonderful, and the best thing about them is that they don’t become available, at least around here, until several weeks into the fall. Welcome November!
            Oh wait, did I say that?
            Early evenings are made for reading. Go ahead and be greedy about it – it’s not like you can do yard work! This time of year is awesome for disappearing into a good Victorian mystery – the fog, gas lamps, horse drawn hearses, all so fitting. I can almost feel Jack the Ripper lurking in the shadows, and while there’s nothing uplifting about that, it makes for a great diversion.
            So – laughter, faith, winter fruit and a good book. I think we can make it now. Let me leave you with these lyrics from Kimya Dawson, which I try to keep at the front of my mind on the really gray days. 
When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road, turn out the lights, get out and look up at the sky
And I do this to remind me that I'm really, really tiny
In the grand scheme of things and sometimes this terrifies me

But it's only really scary cause it makes me feel serene
In a way I never thought I'd be because I've never been
So grounded, and so humbled, and so one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything
 
 
            Oh, do look this up! There is much more to it, and the tune is as fun as the lyrics.
            Happy November!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Halloween Life: Photos and Memories

 Halloween is the easiest holiday to love! 
(“Yes, a holiday!” I reiterate to my spouse, who by now is apoplectic over the extravagance of my celebration. Lol! )

 Candy, color, magic. Excesses of sugar and laughter. . . . what’s not to love? In looking through my photo albums, I was not at all surprised to find that Halloween pictures dominated all others, burying with sheer numbers all summer vacations and Easter egg hunts combined. But there’s just something wonderful and expectant about dressing up and dashing off into the night to collect Hershey’s kisses, isn’t there?

 And so, I wanted to share these snippets of our Halloween life with you, along with some excerpts from a guest blog I did with my publisher. Enjoy!

 

"Begin with the candles. Four of them in yellow Dollar Store jars, one for each child and one for myself...Light shimmers from slanted eyes, fracturing on fangs and waggly eyebrows."

 



"The village is alive – a glorious noise of shrieks and laughter, smell of smoke and a thousand bobbing glo sticks. Clowns and mermaids are a blur of color, sneakers beating a tattoo on the sidewalk brick, ghosts pale as luna moths keeping pace seemingly without feet."'






"We climb the cemetery steps, seventy-seven of them in full darkness, picking our way over the broken spots.... Tombstones are rounded as old teeth in the narrow moonlight, live oaks so fat we can’t reach around them even if we all hold hands.

No flashlights, because we are brave and wonderful tonight."







"Candy candy candy. Chocolate and gummies and caramel apples and popcorn. We are sticky-chinned and bright-eyed and willing to wring every wonderful moment from this gorgeous evening because we know. We know that it passes, and then it takes a year to get it back."




Monday, October 21, 2013

Why EMS?



“The patient was in the basement.” I say to my kids – just enough information to color my day without violating Hipaa. “Kinda big fellow. In a garden tub.”
Or: “I had a blood exposure. Not a little, a lot.” (I’m wearing the hospital scrubs I came home in while I explain this.)
Or what about – “My partner slipped in the pukey-goop and cracked his head and then we had two patients.”?
“Ugh, Mom! Tell me again why you want to do this?”
I’m fairly certain it has to do with the vehicles. When you’re rolling full-out lights and sirens, yours is, hands-down, the prettiest vehicle on the road. You look like Christmas sailing down the fast lane, all lit up and shiny.
Or the clothing? EMS pants are the best, all those pockets and snaps – what’s not to love? Combat boots and sky blue coats with reflective lettering. And don’t get me started on bunker gear. It’s like a superhero cape, only real.
Down time is almost as good as up time! Read a book, play on your lap top, lift weights, wash the rig. Or not! Twelve hour shifts are spent with your good buds. We share coffee cups, couch space, and each other’s lives.
The adrenaline rush. We can go from zero to a hundred in seconds flat, from a dead sleep to the rig before the second page. I love that about us.
Not enough?
We brought a kitty out of a burning house last winter and although that’s a tired cliché, in real life it’s an awesome save. The homeowner quit crying and actually smiled. 
And once after a bad call – one that had the worst possible outcome –  my partner and I made chocolate chip cookies; that was a consolation without words.
“It’s a little hard to pin,” I say to my kids. “But sometimes the itty-bitty things add up to a really superb whole.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

911 Next Generation


I gave my blog over to a couple of my characters today to better address the issue of 911 Next Generation. This is Delilah’s first “Cop’s Kids” blog, and Bobby is her guest of honor. Let her know how you think she’s doing!


                                                                     Bobby Blogs
          


  I’m Delilah’s first victim. She’s managing a blog called “Cop’s Kid” and I’m her opening guest. “What the hell is a blog?” I say. “Sounds like something you slop down your front at the truck stop.”
            “It’s just little diary entries about your life.”  She doesn’t look up from her keyboard; her fingers are doing a crazed hunt and peck pattern.
            “Nobody wants to know about that. Why don’t you talk about something important?”
            “Such as?”
            “911. You can’t text it.”
            The fingers flutter and pause. “Of course you can. And besides, lame-o.”
            Delilah is fifteen. That’s the problem.
            “Your local dispatch center isn’t set up to receive texts. Or pictures. Or blogs.” I tap her head with my knuckles.
            “Shut up!” She swats at me. “What happens if I send one?”
            “Poof, it’s gone. How the hell do I know? But they don’t get it, okay?”
            “Seems like this should be national news so we all quit making mistakes.”
            “You don’t know the half of it, baby.” She’s got a picture of me up on her screen, looking tough behind my Ray Bans. Ha. “Your generation screws up the call all the time.”
            “Because we feel entitled and we have too much. Blah-blah, what else is new?”
            “You call for help on your little cell phones and fail to give an address or leave a call back number.”
            “Aren’t you supposed to figure all that out?”
            Delilah is an honors student. Scary, ain’t it?  
            “The best the dispatcher can do is to triangulate to the nearest tower. Which in your case is four miles away just outside Wapsi.”
            “Seems inadequate.”
            “Not. Just give them your address.”
            “My address is like a million digits long, thanks to you people.”
            Wow. Really? And this from a cop’s daughter.
            “It’s actually simple,” I tell her. “The roads are set up and numbered in a grid pattern, starting with 00 on the south and on the east and working up from there.”
            She’s stopped typing and her face is crinkled in consternation.
            “Or you can just read the number on the blue sign in your yard.”
            “Bite me,” she says. The fingers are tripping again; she’s brought a county 911 map up already. “All right, I see what you’re saying. But if I use my GPS I don’t need to know any of this.”
            “Until it fails.”
            “It doesn’t.”
            I give up. “What did you want to talk about?” I say.
            “Nothing, I’ve got enough now.”
            Trouble with girls that age? You can never tell if they’re pissed or just preoccupied.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chicago Writers Conference 2013

I love Chicago! Lake Michigan was blue enough this weekend to have swallowed the sky, wide and flat and shimmering all the way to the horizon. Rachel and I ate pasta at an outdoor table, stood in the spray of Buckingham fountain with our shoes in our hands and sampled the best coffee in the world at Lavazza. 




Congress Plaza Hotel is stately and elegant, all plush blue carpet and antique light fixtures. It’s not hard to picture Al Capone in this setting, cocktail glass in hand, cigar poised between cruel lips in that big moon face. The doorknob on our bathroom rattled in the middle of the night, and for a full minute I couldn’t breathe, lol.




Much to learn at the conference! We brushed elbows with publishers and marketing professionals, and were relieved to find them so friendly and informative. Regular people after all! We scribbled notes like mad, and I had, for just the briefest moment, a sense of time just whooshing by us – only a day or two ago, I was coloring at the kitchen table with this little girl, and now here she is, a bright and lovely and so-grown-up college girl. But that’s another story entirely - and of course we took pictures! Enjoy!






Monday, September 23, 2013

Hello Fall!

Hello Fall! Gorgeous sky and cooler temps, hoodies, bonfires and all-things-pumpkin, welcome!
Interestingly enough, the Fall equinox has coincided, this year, with my immersion in some much-needed research on witchcraft. Midway through my second novel, “Maypops in September”, my character Benny Jones has begun to more actively pursue the more magical aspects of her personality. She is being badgered by a particularly persistent – and extremely unhappy! – spirit, who she is, consequently, seeking to send . . .well, onward. Wherever it is that he needs to be, but no longer in her bedroom! And so Benny, who has generally tried to bury her talents, will now be forced to haul them out and polish them instead. And perhaps even muscle her sister on board, as well. 
And I, the ever-beleaguered author, am forced to bone up on witchcraft.
Oh, but it’s fun! What a perfect time of year for this project!
Here’s a little of what I’ve picked up so far, probably just enough to start any Wiccan readers out there chuckling at my ineptitude. The autumn equinox, Mabon Sabbot, just passed yesterday, with its perfect measure of hours, light and dark being exactly equal. This entire week is considered a bridge, a time when the dead can travel between their shore and ours – not for sinister purposes, but in order to be remembered. So, this is a time to not only look back fondly on those who have passed, but also to recall any lessons that we may have learned from them, and to put into practice any good deeds that they may have failed to achieve.
Positive thoughts for a witch! But I’m rapidly learning that modern-day witches have very little negativity.
Maban, apparently, is not only about balance – and interestingly enough, the sun now enters the sign of Libra, which is represented symbolically by the scales – but also about gratitude. Traditionally, thanks is given for a bountiful harvest, but I’m pretty sure that any thanks for any bounty is good! We are urged to make gratitude lists, to tell timeless stories, and to honor the darkness so that we may better enjoy the light.
And so, only a little knowledge thus far, but enough to sway me in the direction of autumn as the perfect time for Benny to rid herself of the unwanted spirit, and allow her to celebrate the perfect Halloween.
In other news . . . the big day is almost here! “Sugar Man’s Daughter” will be released on Friday, and I am beyond excited!

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Sniffing the Flowers" : Writer’s Guide to Stress Management

Writing a book, I’ve discovered, is only the proverbial tip of the ice burg. Creating the story, the setting, the characters who live in your heart as surely as your own children do – all fluff compared to what follows. The search for a publisher (and yay, I found the most wonderful man in the world, Lyle Perez, and the awesome Rainstorm Press) the creation of a blog, a facebook page, a presence on Linkd, Twitter and oh dear, who else . . . all become a prominent fixation on your day-to-day horizon.
            Which brings me to the meat of this post, and what is likely to be a most unpopular approach to ultimately keeping your sanity. Here it is: take a breath. As when you’re doing yoga and you realize your chest is about to burst. Breathe. Understand that you are enmeshed in what is perhaps the loneliest and most self-serving profession known to man, and so, you are in danger of becoming isolated from, well, life. The very thing you are writing about.
            Steinbeck took Charley travelling for a reason.
            I have two very different jobs, and yet I’ve discovered parallels in the way that each encroaches on my existence, nearly to the obliteration of all else. A neighbor’s house fire, or an infant’s imminent birth can yank me from my home life at any time. Sounds horrible, but the truth is, I love this. I live for it. And my characters (who are lately crying for promotion) have the same demanding shrill as the pager; sometimes I can’t sleep for the noise in my head. I have to respond, and if you are a writer reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
            In my EMT world, we say, “Breathe. Smell the flowers and blow out the candles.” Another lovely parallel because it applies to both of my professions. Candles and flowers are all about the passage of time, and taking notice of them means just that. Don’t let life run away from you – children grown, tasks abandoned, leaves turned to gold – without noticing its passage. Take time to recharge, and while you’re doing so, look around you and realize how beautiful everything is.
            Fuel for the next book.
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