Recommendations for the Masses

Is your Tuesday plagued by the sense that Monday is repeating itself? Are you looking for ways to avoid doing work/writing/planning a world takeover and inventing a shrinking ray? If you answered “yes!” to any of the previous questions, look no further.

CHUK is a serial story/novel about the Louisiana town of Bayou Bonhomme. There’s BBQ, cults, murders, mystery, and a veritable menagerie of monsters. Penned by Jessica B. Bell (the nefarious, nasty, and not-very-nice alter ego of Helena Hann-Basquiat), this tale is almost at a close–but there’s still time to catch up!

You think your day is bad? Sean Smithson’s probably had worse. He’s self-deprecating in the best of ways as he recounts various tales of woe and humiliation. He also has a book!

Ashley Alleyne also has plenty of stories of his embarrassment for your entertainment, along with general stories that are amusing, poignant, and honest. Jennie Saia (who is clever and funny and smart) likes him, and that’s endorsement enough for me.

Reflect

Friday Fictioneers: One photo, one story of 100 words.

© Janet Webb

© Janet Webb

There are things you know you’ll miss—for me it was cheeseburgers, that particular satisfaction of drinking a cold beer after a long day out on the lake. Then there are the people; the ones who grow old and fade away, leaving you alone like the last skeletal leaf clinging to a tree when the snow starts falling. That part was harder, watching parents and friends wither into nothing, into food for worms. They didn’t tell me I would miss my reflection, that I would slowly forget my own face. Sometimes, I’m not certain I exist. Then, I get thirsty.

An Ode to Apple and Microsoft, in the Tradition of Romeo and Juliet

Two companies, both alike in dignity,

In fair Silicon Valley where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where different operating systems make people want to scream.

From forth the grinding gears of these two foes

A pair of star-crossed softwares take your files;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,

Do with their glitches bury your smiles.

The fearful passage of their glitch-marked love,

And the continuance of their consumers’ rage,

Which, but competition’s end nought could remove,

Is now the endless traffic of life’s stage.

The which if you with patient ears attend,

A customer service rep in the middle of nowhere shall strive to mend.

 

This is dedicated to my sister, R, without whose Google Chat conversations, this never would have been written.

*It’s not in Iambic Pentameter. Take it up with my legal counsel, the firm of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern*

Assassins’ Academy II

         When the boys were roused from their beds for the trial, stumbling after the Brothers with sleep-shrouded eyes, the tension was palpable. They never knew exactly what the trial would be until it began–although dark hints from the older boys left even the bravest lying awake into the early hours of the morning. They were all surprised and twice as wary when the Brothers led them into the dining hall. It was cold and lacked the comforting smells of breakfast, as the first meal of the day would not be served for several hours yet, but there was nothing threatening in sight. Instinctively, the boys pressed together, scanning the room. Brother Calver moved to the head table where a large, misshapen mound was covered with fabric. He pulled the cloth aside with more flourish than necessary, Zion noted, keeping slightly to the side of his fellow novices. If there was to be some sort of attack, he did not want to be caught up in the crush of their fearful bodies. For a moment, he was back on the docks, ripped away from the protection of his Mother and sister’s hands and unable to escape the mob. He hoped no one could see the sheen of sweat on his brow as Calver began to speak.
         “There will be no swords, no bows and arrows, and no knives, today.” He waited for the rumble of dissent and confusion to die down. “This is the only weapon you need, boys.” He tapped a finger to his temple. “This is the only thing you will use today.”
         He gestured for them to draw nearer and explained that the thing on the table was a scale model of a city–Nyssa, the fabled city of unbreached walls and towers that stretched beyond the clouds–and that their mark was the Emperor of Nyssa. They must devise a way to kill the Emperor without detection and remain alive themselves. Those were the only two rules.
         “Eliminate your target and stay alive,” Solas repeated, stepping forward from the back of the group. “This is the foundation of your training. Do not forget it.”
         Zion did not turn to face his mentor like the other boys but as the assassin walked towards the front of the room to stand behind the table, he paused imperceptibly and Zion caught the flicker of his fingers, hidden from the others at his side. Luck go with you. Zion stood at the table, scanning the model and the symbols painted on it that represented archers and guards and boiling oil and pitfalls and traps. He had never believed the stories of Nyssa, but looking at it as though he was a raven soaring high above its so-called endless towers, he could see the cleverness of the design. It was diamond shaped and two of the four walls were carved directly into the cliffs behind. The cliffs were made of slate if he understood the symbol correctly–sheer stone that would flake at any attempt to drive in footholds. At the back corner a waterfall tumbled down the black walls. Long after the other boys took their seats, sketching and toying with bits of rope and wood, Zion studied the city. He ignored Brother Calver’s sighs and the creaking of the floorboards as he shifted impatiently. When he cleared his throat and announced that they had half an hour remaining, Zion walked over to the table of supplies, mind whirring. He picked up a piece of parchment and several pots of ink and a quill. For the next half hour, he bent over his work, stopping only flex his cramped fingers. He wasn’t certain if they would be given time to explain their methods, so he painstakingly wrote down the steps he would take in addition to his diagram. When Brother Calver announced that their time was concluded Zion put aside his inks and wiped his stained hands on his shirt. Calver and the others stopped at each boy and allowed him to explain his scenario. The Council nodded and shook their heads almost in unison, doling out heavy criticism. A few of the boys received grudging compliments for their innovative thinking, but one by one their plans and mechanisms were torn apart, the gaping flaws pointed out to them.
         When the Council came to Zion, he stepped back to give them a clear view of his work. The painting master, Brother Andrew, made a noise that could have been either a cough or a sign of approval.
         “And what,” asked Brother Calver slowly, “is this?”
         “Monkshood. Or Wolf’s Bane,” Zion said, gesturing to the meticulously painted flower. He had enjoyed leafing through Brother Garth’s herbal on the rare occasions he spent time in the infirmary.
         “What do you hope to accomplish with this?” Brother Mendic asked.
         “The waterfall that runs along the back of the city–it is their main water source.” He pointed to the rough sketch he had made of the city, the way the water disappeared underground to well up again in fountains and cisterns. “Everyone, from the lowliest maid emptying chamber pots to the Emperor of Nyssa himself drinks this water. The forests around Nyssa no doubt contain enough Monkshood to make the water deadly, but an assassin could carry a concentrated supply as well.”
         “But how would you ensure only the Emperor drank the water?” Calver asked. “What about the rest of the city?”
         Zion looked down at his carefully outlined plan, from gathering the plants and distilling their poison to adding it to the water system, how to completely avoid notice from the guards, the townspeople, even the huntsmen and goat herders in the forested hills. He let the silence stretch until he could almost taste Brother Calver’s anticipation of his failure. Then, he raised his head.
         “That wasn’t one of the rules.”
         Two days later, Zion spent his first night in the pit. The pits were small, stone lined holes beneath the foundations of the main buildings. They were damp and cold and there was not enough room to sit or lie down or stand fully upright. A man–or even a boy of fourteen–had to crouch like a beast in agony until everything went numb. Brother Calver said it was for insolence, for other, minor infractions that had been overlooked for too long. Zion knew he was lying, had seen the tremor that ran through Calver’s hands and the flicker in his eyes at the group trial. He knew Calver lied and he knew why.
         Brother Calver was afraid of him.

Assassins’ Academy

This is part of an ongoing story. Read from the beginning so you won’t be confused.

         Zion sat on one of the narrow cots that ran the length of the infirmary, gritting his teeth as he carefully stitched up the thin slices on his arms and legs. One of the first lessons he learned was stitching his own wounds. Brother Garth handed him a bowl filled with a thick brown paste and he smeared the healing ointment over the gashes before stitching them. Brother Garth treated the Brotherhood for serious wounds and illnesses when they arose, though most brothers could equal his skill in healing more minor complaints. Zion wondered if Garth knew of Brother Solas’s penchant for Redheart. It was unlikely. If he knew, he’d be forced to bring it before Mendic and the other Elder Brothers. Garth was silent as he worked with his herbs and salves; the knife that took his tongue left him with no other speech than the sign language of the Brotherhood. Zion finished his stitching and sat for a moment, enjoying the cool quiet of the Infirmary. The noises of sparring outside were muffled and the smell of fresh herbs and ungents was soothing.  Zion had imagined once that the building where assassins trained would be dark and dank, but the sandstone floors were always swept clean and the walls freshly whitewashed each spring. The different training arenas–most of which ran underground–were more suited to his imaginings. He shut his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall and letting his mind empty. It was the first lesson the Brothers taught them–to seek the quietest corner of their own mind and enfold themselves in it. Calm and control were the marks of a focused mind and only with that focus could they perform their duties for the Order. It was difficult to believe five years had passed. Sometimes it felt like only moments, other days he could hardly remember his life before Solas and the Order. The nights when he woke bathed in a cold sweat after dreaming that Rael had found him and planned to gut him like the fish he used to steal from nets at the docks came rarely. Zion couldn’t decide which was worse–the nightmares about Rael or the nights he dreamed about his mother and sisters, dreams that left a strange ache beneath his ribs that no amount of food or distraction could erase. He tried to regain the void, but his mind was filled with his most recent past time–imagining Rael’s face when he killed him. He focused instead on the gentle rustling as Garth sorted herbs and folded bandages.
         When he first met Garth, he did not understand how Garth maintained his cheerful silence. Now, he sometimes wondered if he would forget to speak.  So many of the interactions between the brothers in the Order were silent–not merely the hand-talk they used almost without thinking, but the body language and facial expressions. They studied these as well. Knowing someone’s thoughts was as easy as reading their face, the way they walked, what they did with their hands. Change your face, your walk, your gestures, and you could become anyone. Zion had learned that lesson more quickly than the other boys in his year–not only because it built on the skills he learned with Rael, but because he soon found that the circumstances in which he came to the Order were unusual and brought a level of notice from the other boys he could have happily gone without.  Most boys came to the Order well before their thirteenth years. Zion had been old for a novice. Brother Calver insisted he be placed with the seven and eight year olds and fought against moving him up to train with the older boys for months, despite his quick advancement. Solas finally stepped in one afternoon during Zion’s third month with the order. He was sparring with the younger boys and barely containing his anger. It had been a long day and fighting with boys half his size and age was wearing on him.
         “You could have killed them all,” Solas had said after calling a halt to the hand-to-hand fighting.
         The younger boys were sprawled, panting, around the training yard. Many were nursing bruises and aching heads and one boy was still cross-eyed from the minutes he spent unconscious.
         The next day, he was moved into the room where the fourteen-year-olds lived. Brother Calver’s expression at breakfast when he sat with his new year almost made the three months of humiliation worth it. Training was more challenging but he also endured months of taunts, of finding his clothing stolen or soaked with water or urine, of having his food snatched away from him. He knew fighting them would only make the tormenting increase, and it was no worse than what he had experienced from Rael and the sewer rats in the catacombs. Eventually the pranks ceased as the training drove all else from their minds and they fell into bed too exhausted to even mock one another. In addition to the individual trials, which took place every few months, they began group trials. These pitted all the boys in one age group against each other and were meant to weed out the unfit before the individual trials. In the first few years of training, boys often died in the trials. As they grew older, those who failed but survived were ejected from the Order. When the time came for his first group trial with the older boys, there were only ten including Zion, left in the fourteens.  The group trials were less likely to end in death or serious injury, but, as the Brothers always reminded them, the trials were still meant to test them to the breaking point.

NEXT

Spotlight on Secondary Characters

Headlights at night-790596

Photo originally used for “No Sleep Tonight

Writers often talk about how their characters will develop minds of their own, how they’ll do things the author never would have expected when they first started writing them. I think this phenomenon is wonderful but I’m not sure it’s quite happened to me in the way many writers describe. It’s a side-effect of knowing your characters really well–something that is critically important if you want other people (i.e. readers) to see your characters as real people and not as cardboard Flat Stanleys on the page.

I have recently been working on some stories related to Southern Summer Night. I probably know more about Beau (the protagonist) than I do about a lot of my other characters. One of the newer stories was for class and and one element of the feedback I received was surprising–everyone wanted to know more about Beau’s relationship with his father; they didn’t have the benefit of all the information in my head about that particular S.O.B.

At the end of my master’s program, I have to present a thesis. So, sometime before that, I have to write said thesis. I originally thought I’d do a novel—I always wrote more novel-length stories than short stories–but that’s looking less likely. Short story collections are another option. However, if you know anything about short story collections, they’re like a fashion runway collection. Everything has to fit together somehow, it has to be cohesive. It has to have a theme. There’s another kind of short story collection where the stories are linked. Whether by place (Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is one well known example) or character (Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout — there is some argument over whether this is a novel or short story collection, but for the sake of argument…work with me), the stories have a link that’s more solid than a common theme.

I started thinking about perhaps writing linked stories about Beau and his hometown and his family. The obvious first choice was Beau’s father, Mason. Everyone wanted to know why Beau hated him so much–and was there more to Mason than just being an abusive, alcoholic caricature? I started writing about Mason after figuring out what could have happened in his life–what disappointment, what slings and arrows (as it were) drove him to be the miserable, foul person he is in Beau’s life. The funny thing is, knowing as I do where he ends, I feel bad for the guy as I write about his younger days. I wonder if there was anything he could have done to change his fate. And then I realize while technically he has no choice because I am his Creator (insert maniacal laughter), it is his choices that turn him into the “monster” he becomes–and that’s his real downfall. That he chose poorly again and again.

What about you? Do you ever write about secondary or side-line characters and learn new things about them AND about your main character? Do you know or write the “back story” for characters–even if it isn’t included in your stories? Do you ever feel like you’re torturing your poor characters and should cut them a break?

 

Coffee With Hannah & Helena – Episode IV: A New (Hope We Don’t Get Sued)

Coffee with Hannah and Helena
Welcome to the first official edition of Coffee with Hannah and Helena! Grab a mug or a cup or a stein or a glass or a hollowed out skull with your favorite beverage and get comfortable. One of the things Helena and I like to talk about is the projects we’re working on—whether it’s a nascent idea or something that’s more solidly formed. It’s always enjoyable to talk about writing with other authors and get advice, whatever the stage of creation. We (read: Helena) also have a habit of playing a game we like to call Pop Culture Confusion (I just made up that title, roll with it). This essentially involves mixing up pop culture icons and the films/shows/etc in which they appear. We also like to speculate on who we would pick to cast characters in our stories when they one day make it to the silver screen. You can see how Pop Culture Confusion can make casting tricky. Today, we’ll be talking about CHUK – the serial novel in progress by Jessica B. Bell, dark alter ego of your favourite dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat (for more about Jessica, CLICKETH THOU HERE…EST)

Bayou Bonhomme Primer:

CHUK is a gothic horror mystery that takes place in the fictional Bayou Bonhomme, Louisiana, home of the legend of Remy LeVert, a swamp monster that to most is about as real as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But there are those in Bayou Bonhomme that know for a fact that there is something old and evil that lives in the bayou, and they shudder in terror. There are others still that worship it as some sort of god, and do its bidding, which includes the occasional human sacrifice.
Chief of police Oscar Blanchette has lived with the knowledge of Remy LeVert’s true nature — call it C’thuN’Chuk, or Chuk for short — for the past fifteen years. Something terrible happened in the summer of ’98. A bunch of children went missing and turned up horribly mutilated, if they turned up at all. Was this the work of the otherworldly creature that lived in the bayou, or was there a human agent at work. One thing’s for sure – there are monsters in the Bayou — and some of them walk on two legs just like you or I. The story opens in current day, and another child has gone missing. Oscar fears it’s beginning all over again.
Leroy Angell runs a BBQ shack, boasting the Best BBQ in Louisiana, and it certainly is popular. Downright addictive, even. Leroy and Oscar share in old secrets, and while Leroy might not exactly be the most scrupulous of individuals, he is, for the most part, on the side of the angels.
The same cannot be said for Olivia Hereford, who stems from the two oldest, richest, and most powerful families in Bayou Bonhomme, the Herefords and the Bergerons, and who is secretly the head of The Faithful, the religious group that has worshipped C’thuN’Chuk for a hundred years or more. She is, quite simply, evil.
Then there’s Marla Bergeron — Oscar’s deputy, who he cares about like a daughter. Her allegiance is divided, having been raised in the traditions of her family, but after someone she cares about ends up dead, she begins to question her place in life, and if anything is ever truly ordained by Fate.

Soundtrack for CHUK:

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  About a year ago, Hannah and I were chatting, and I pitched her the idea of an ongoing story — completely unrealized or plotted at the time — set in the Louisiana bayou, where there lived an actual swamp monster. The idea was that it was just going to be an over the top, Tales from the Crypt-esque story about a BBQ Shack where the owner was cooking up strange meat that he got from this creature. It was really just a grotesque “the secret’s in the sauce” gag at first. Hannah, where did you think the story was going to go?

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  Well, I certainly didn’t think it would go as long or become as big a world as it has–and that’s no slight against Jessica’s writing chops, if anything it’s my fault for underestimating. I wasn’t sure how far you could take a BBQ Shop of Horrors without just rehashing jokes about “It’s an old family recipe–that there’s part of the old family!” But as the story simmered and more spices were added, and Helena mentioned that the real monsters in the Bayou weren’t the ones you expected, I knew it was going to be good. Twisted, warped characters are a forte of Jessica’s.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I honestly think a lot of that had to do with not taking it seriously. I had a trilogy of novels in my head that just refused to come out properly, and I just wanted something different to get the creative juices flowing. Next thing you know, I’ve created an entire mystery, shady characters, a Lovecraftian mythology going back thousands of years, and of course C’thuN’chuk herself..

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Not to mention Monsterotica is all the rage these days.

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  That was completely unintentional… the tentacle porn bit just seemed to fit.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’m sure there’s a niche for that too, but I’d go to a movie store outside your neighborhood before asking. But speaking of Chuk, if you could pick anyone to be the voice, who would it be?

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Oh, are we doing fantasy voice casting? Oh, this is always fun. Well, you know, I almost want the voice to be sort of androgynous — Tilda Swinton? That guy from that ’90s band BUSH? Whats his name? Gavin Stefani?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’m not a Tilda Swinton fan (it’s probably latent jealousy from the fact that she was in a film with the Hiddles**) but she would be stellar.

(** This guy)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was in a film with Loki?

(Interlude — Of course, we’re talking about the film Only Lovers Left Alive, a film by the amazing Jim Jaramusch, which looks fantastic.)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Yeah, it was after she attacked Narnia–world destroyers get on well together. (I totally missed the Gavin Rossdale/Gwen Stefani moment, that one was over my head.)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was the only watchable part of Constantine. If they make a movie of Sandman, I’d cast Tilda Swinton in every role. One actor to rule them all…

Would I cast her as a Bowie-esque Lucifer? Would I cast her as the androgynous Desire? Would I cast her as the zany Delirium? Would I cast her as sweet but sombre Death? The answer to all of the above is a resounding YES!

 Hannah:

Hannah Sears  She looks like Voldemort. Was Constantine a stop on Bill & Ted’s most excellent adventure?
 If you’re casting rulers, who would play the chilling Olivia Hereford?

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat Unfortunately, no one can tell you WHAT Constantine is. You just have to see it for yourself. (TAKE THE BLUE PILL HANNAH! SAVE YOURSELF!)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Oh THERE’s the Advil Liquigel I dropped on the floor this morning. Cheers!

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  So who would I cast for Olivia? Sadly, the actresses I’d want for Olivia are dead. Olivia is, in my mind, a younger, evil Jessica Tandy — a refined Southern Belle with a vicious side. Bette Davis would have been perfect, too. But now? Hmmm… Who would you cast?

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  This may be completely off base but I could see Sally Field–she’s got that spitfire quality that I could see translating into the Matriarch, but both your picks were blondes. I almost want to say Michelle Pfeiffer as well, but I feel like she’s a little bit of a cliche choice.

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Michelle Pfeiffer is a favourite, but yeah, you don’t want to type-cast her. I definitely think there needs to be a sexiness to Olivia that I don’t see in Sally Fields.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  True, which is why I started thinking Michelle–she’s got that slinky quality that could lend itself to the creepiness.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I could see Famke Janssen as well — a young(er) actress could handle younger Olivia, and with makeup could play older Olivia. But then, Hemlock Grove. Don’t even get me started on how that show has taken a giant nose dive with the second season. Hell, right up until the last two minutes, I was still hooked.
Hey, what about Judi Densch as the voice of CHUK! (Worst casting ever…)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I never actually knew the name of the actress that played Jean Grey — Google is getting a lot of action this morning–DAME JUDY DENSCH. Show some respect!

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I was actually already chastising myself for that, thanks. I’ll go borrow Jessica’s scourge. What do you think of Billy Bob Thornton for Leroy? I know he’s a little old, but I loved his performance in Puss In Boots.

 Hannah:

Hannah Sears  But it makes me see Puss in Boots and he’s so cute in his little hat. I still think the real question is who voices Chuk.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Didn’t we already answer this with the catch-all answer? Tilda Swinton. She’s like the default answer. If you’re asked to solve for X in a mathematical equation, the answer is Tilda Swinton. Why’d the chicken cross the road? Tilda Swinton. What’s the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? 42 (Okay, that one’s not Tilda Swinton, but you don’t mess with Douglas Adams, darling.) But, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Who is: Tilda Swinton?

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Of course.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’ll take Who’s Going to Voice Chuk for $300.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Ah, yes, the voice. Cummerbund Bandersnatch, of course. Or Robin Williams (kidding.)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Are you prepared for Chuk to periodically shout KHAN? (I know he doesn’t shout his own name in the film. Semantics.)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  My only non-negotiable in the casting (other than the obvious Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Robert Pattinson, Shia LaBeouf prohibitions) is no True Blood castaways, and that guy who played Gambit in one of the X-Men movies… you know… John Carter.

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  You leave Taylor Kitsch alone or we’ll be having words! Angry words, that is.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Yeah, but GAMBIT. Need I say more?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’ll just have him in the starring role of every single one of my movies. He’ll be the Depp to my Burton. Hey, I swore off X-men when they killed everyone and then they weren’t really dead. It was like LOST but less confusing and less pointless shirtless dudes.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  In the comics, apparently Charles Xavier is dead. Again. “For real this time, we swear”

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  How George RR Martin of them.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Do you know how many times Jean Grey has died and come back? More than Jesus. Too much.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Technically he only did that once, so it’s not hard to beat.
Well, that’s all the time we have for today, thank you all for joining us–we hope you didn’t scald yourself snorting any hot beverages out of your nose, Helena and I are not responsible for injuries incurred from reading our posts. As Helena mentioned in our introductory post, we want this to be a conversation with more than the two of us, so I hope you’ll join in our discussion.

When you write characters, do you start with images in your mind, or do they develop over time? Do you create Pinterest boards or slideshows or inspiration boards etc with photos and things that inspire characters ? Do you start with the way a character looks at all or do you build from the inside out? 

Coffee With Helena and Hannah (or Hannah and Helena)

Coffee with Hannah and Helena

Step right up ladies and gents, it’s finally time to peek behind the curtain. For the first time ever, you can join Helena Hann-Basquiat (who can usually be found with a Greyhound and a choice musical selection over at Memoirs of a Dilettante) and I once a week(ish) to, as Helena says, “hang out, banter about books, films, blogging, and our ongoing projects. It’s been brewing for a while now, and long overdue.”

What’s in store for you, lucky readers? I’ll let the delightful dilettante spell it out as only she can.

Helena:

This is a chance for you get to know us a little better, and ask questions. It’s just in the conception stage right now, but I’m hoping for it to be almost like a bit of a variety show — we’ll hang out, maybe have some special guests from time to time, and we can catch you up on what’s going on.

It’s important to me because I’m going to be wrapping up CHUK in the next couple of months, and after that, I plan on launching into writing a new novel, but due to the advice of some very kind people who advised me not to give away such quality material, I won’t be writing it in public after all. So this is a way to keep you in the loop, give you a taste of what I’m writing.

And also, it will be a place for writers to come and talk about writing. I’ve often made the distinction between writers and bloggers, and I relate more to the first one than the latter. Writing a fiction blog can be a tough sell. I’d like to point you to some great fiction that you might be missing out on.

When I met Hannah over a year ago, it was over at Friday Fictioneers. We clicked immediately, and have spent the last year helping each other grow as writers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Hannah is a painter when it comes to writing. I consider myself a storyteller. She and I have hugely different styles, and we echo each other’s envy of our respective skills. Hannah creates fantastic characters and wonderful atmospheric settings, and at some point, I’m going to hand her a bare-bones story idea and have her give it sinew, muscle and skin and bring it to life.

Hannah:

I was going to complain about the fact that the title of this get together should be Coffee with HANNAH and Helena–I don’t know what your idea of alphabetical order is, but A comes before E last time I checked–but after you said all those nice things about me, I’ll let it slide. This time. At the risk of retelling the story of our meet-cute, it all began with a vampire gauntlet (if it didn’t happen this way, blame an unreliable-narrator-in-training and besides, if you’re a writer you make stuff up for a living). I stumbled across Friday Fictioneers and wrote my first story about a vampire which is where Helena found me. This evolved (or perhaps devolved) into the “vampire gauntlet” being thrown and a somewhat in-depth discussion of what said gauntlet would look like. And so began the start of a beautiful friendship.

Praise from Helena is praise indeed, and while I splatter paint around on a canvas, Helena sits you down and en-spells you, locking you into whatever world she’s currently crafting and refusing to let you go until you’ve read until the end, making sure that along the way you’re either snorting your favorite beverage out of your nose, crying into your coffee, or sweating profusely.

When I first started reading Helena’s blog, I was impressed not only by her verbosity and skill at turning a phrase–the alliterations, I tell you, are masterful–but also by the sheer variety of treasures to be found. There are anecdotes that will make you laugh, stories that will make you cry, and tales of terror that will have you checking under your bed. If you talk to Helena for more than a moment or two, you’ll find that underneath the perfectly coiffed curls, there is an entire library of music and pop culture–she awarded herself a doctorate in Films of John Hughes. If you want to strike up a conversation, mention Ferris Bueller or Velvet Underground and prepare for an education.

In the Cards

Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenge was to “smash” superhero fiction with another genre. I went with Noir and as for my “hero”, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

         The yellowing glass made the street outside look sepia, like a photograph peeling at the corners. Not that anyone would want to capture this place forever, Cas thought, leaning away from the warped window. The shop of curiosities had a stale smell—like the inside of an old tomb where the bones had crumbled into dust. The old man who ran the shop had inherited it from his father, as his father had before him. For all Cas knew, the curio shop had been there when Haven was founded. The old man was in the back sleeping. He slept a lot these days. After the mugging the only escape from the knifing headaches and waking nightmares was a healthy dose of oxy and sleep. Cas understood a thing or two about nightmares. He touched the thick, ridged scar that ran around his neck, blotched purple and red–angry, like a burn. Knotting his scarf around his neck, he retrieved his hat from the head of a dusty cat statue and stepped out into the street, locking the door behind him. Garbage clumped along the outside of the building. It was too dangerous for the so-called civil servants to make it down to the Point these days.
         Something moved on the corner, just at the edge of his sight and Cas tensed. But it was only a cat, a one eyed, ragged tom whose malevolent yellow eyes watched him as he turned his collar up against the wind. Curtains in the barred windows above twitched occasionally. You’d think everyone in the Point was blind by the way no one ever saw anything when a crime was done, but Cas knew that the Point was one of the few places where people saw everything. Cas glanced around before slipping down the stairs into the subway station. The ammoniac scent of urine made his eyes water and he waited for his eyes to adjust to the intermittent flicker of the fluorescent lights. There was no point in checking his watch. The trains stopped keeping to a schedule when half the stations were closed, the other half barely maintained. The Mayor announced new plans for an above-ground tram that would be the height of innovation and safety—“a shining beacon of what is to come for Haven”—but the rusting iron framework for a station near City Hall was the only sign of progress well into his second term. Cas pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket. He shuffled them, tapped them against his hand, and shuffled them again.
         “Hello, Lee,” he said, not bothering to turn his head.
         “One of these days you’ll tell me how you do that.” Lee’s laugh sounded nervous as he crossed the platform to stand next to Cas.
         “How about today?” Cas didn’t look up from his cards, his hands moving almost too quickly, shuffling, straightening, shuffling.
         “Yeah?” Lee’s hands shook as he lit his cigarette, throwing the spent match onto the dirty tiles where it sputtered out.
         Cas turned, meeting Lee’s eyes for the first time. “I thought we were partners, Lee. The last two guys on the force whose hands were cleaner than our consciences.”
         Lee’s eyes widened and his doughy face paled to gray above the red glow of the cigarette. “I don’t know what you mean. We were—are—what’s this about, buddy?”
         “I’m talking about you and Nico Capello. I’m talking about you and a yacht out in the bay with enough coke to sink the Titanic. I’m talking about the Mayor’s above-ground railway project that just so happens to be the perfect mode of transport for all the pies you’ve got your dirty fingers in.” The sharp snap of the cards in Cas’s hands made Lee flinch. “Drugs, human trafficking, stolen goods. You’re a damn fine cop, Lee Marlowe. The citizens of Haven will sleep soundly in their beds knowing a guy like you’s out there protecting and serving.”
         “Cas, come on,” a wheedling note crept into Lee’s voice. “You know me. You know me.”
         “I do, Lee. I know you.” Cas ran his thumb over the edges of his cards and watched his partner’s big shoulders slump in relief. “Do you know what this is?” Cas held up one of the cards.
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         Lee leaned forward, squinting. Cas smelled the rotten tang of his sweat, his barely restrained fear.
         “It’s one of those tarot cards, yeah?” Lee pronounced it like carrot.
         “Tarot. Yes. This is Le Pendu—the Hanged Man.” Cas returned the card to the deck so quickly that Lee blinked.
         “I didn’t know you were into that, whatchacallit, occult stuff,” Lee said.
         “My mother used to deal the cards and tell fortunes sometimes.” Cas said, remembering the last time she dealt for him, when she dealt the Hanged Man. It could mean anything from sacrifice to inner harmony, but for him it was all too literal.
         “You know how I got this?” Cas tugged the scarf away from his scarred neck. “Some of Nico Capello’s guys strung me up one night, left me hanging from the struts of the new construction of the good Mayor’s new railway.”
         Lee’s cigarette hung from his fleshy lips. “I didn’t…. How’d you get away?”
         “I didn’t.” Cas flipped over the next card in the deck. The skeleton with the scythe: La Mort. “I hung there until it all went dark. But, I came back.”

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         Lee’s mouth still hung open when his body crumpled, cigarette fallen to the ground when the tarot card sliced through his neck.
         “I came back, but you won’t.” Cas flicked another card onto Lee’s body. It fluttered to his chest, just below the gash that leaked black blood out onto the grimy tiles. La Justice.

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         Cas hopped down onto the rails. A tremor in the earth signaled a train approaching. He began to whistle as he walked, cards flickering in the dark. It didn’t matter if the train was on time, he thought. Lee wouldn’t need it.