At the Base of the Ceiba

Today’s post is a little different. It’s a work of flash fiction, created in response to the the challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The idea was to take two randomly generated literary genres, smash them together, and create a story of about 1000 words from the mess that resulted. My two genres were Southern Gothic and Superhero — neither of which I’ve ever had much experience with. The “superhero” in my story isn’t traditional… so sue me. Hope you guys enjoy! Feedback is always welcome.

 

At the Base of the Ceiba

 

Kinah kept her eyes down as she skirted the outside of the big house, the hem of her faded blue dress kicking up small clouds of dust. The midday sun was particularly brutal for this late in the year, but she didn’t dare stop to wipe at the beads of sweat tickling the back of her neck. Someone would be missing her in the crowded kitchen, and it wouldn’t do to get Misses’ ire up again.

 

She found Ben kneeling on the hard packed dirt under the Kapok tree. Ceiba, they called it back home. At least that’s what she’d been told. Home to Kinah was the plantation where she’d been born. But Ben clung stubbornly to the stories of the place he’d last seen as a child – and his back and arms bore the scars of his willfulness. Above his head, two fat bumblebees traced lazy circles in the dappled shade.

 

“The ceiba is sacred to Chango.” Ben spoke without looking up.

 

Kinah sighed heavily as she stepped closer to him, her bare feet relishing the change in temperature as she approached the spot where he knelt. In front of him, a small candle burned at the base of the tree.

 

“I know. You’ve told me a million times.” Crouching low, she took a moment to rest her head against his broad shoulder.

 

“What are you doing out of the kitchen, Kinah? The overseer won’t much care that your hands are soft and your hair smells like cinnamon if he catches you out here.”

Despite his admonishment, Ben turned and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to her forehead as he held her tight. Had he not been so close, he wouldn’t have seen her wince. He was on his feet in a breath, pulling her up with him.

 

“Let me see.”

 

There was really no point in playing dumb. Carefully, she pulled the collar of her dress bodice down, revealing a fresh set of bruises around her neck and shoulders. Ben ran a calloused hand gingerly along the raised welts, his dark eyes clouding over with fury as he hissed a slow stream of air out from between clenched teeth.

 

There wasn’t a soul on the plantation that didn’t know better than to try to talk down an incensed Ben. But then again, Kinah’s head was easily as strong as her brother’s. Quietly, she slipped her hand into the tattered pocket on the front of her dress and pulled out the small red apple.

 

“I brought a gift for Chango,” she smiled and placed the stolen fruit on the ground by the lump of candle. The sun glinted off the apple, blurring her vision. Or maybe it was unshed tears in her eyes. Deep in her throat, a lump burned.

 

Kinah had long since given up any hopes that the gods of her homeland would somehow make her life any better. Resigned, she simply spent her days in the kitchen and her nights waiting for Mister to come for her. But she knew how much Ben’s faith meant to him. It was all he had. So she played along, and let him believe that she prayed as hard as he did.

 

“I better get back before –“

 

“Before someone notices your gone? I’m afraid it’s too late for that, girl.”

 

Spinning around, they came face to face with Tobi. Mister’s favorite overseer was crueler than anyone had a right to be; his fingers petting the frayed edges of the whip with a reverence usually reserved for lovers.

 

Everything seemed to spill forward in muddled slow motion. Tobi reaching for the handle on his whip, Ben pushing her aside and rushing forward towards the overseer.

 

Stumbling against the Kapok tree, Kinah felt the spine slice into her palm before scrambling back up towards her older brother.

 

At first she thought the rumbling and cracking was coming from Tobi’s whip. But even as he raised his hand again, the sky darkened to the color of spilled ink, a hot wind picking up dust and pebbles until Kinah had no choice but to shield her face and turn her head back towards the tree, where her blood dripped, thick and slow, over the apple.

 

The thunder roared louder, seemingly rolling across the fields to mix with the screaming wind and the shrill cries that she hadn’t even noticed were escaping from her. And then, as suddenly as it began, the wind died. Still trembling, Kinah looked up at Ben, only to find his gaze fixed back at her. Or rather, just behind her.

 

Spinning around, it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the light erupting all around the tree. Flames licked at the hem of her skirt, and before she could scream again, a man stepped from the center of the fire. Only, “man” seemed too light a word for the figure. Easily towering over even Ben, he seemed a mix of royalty and unadulterated power. Even as her mind refused to acknowledge it, Kinah knew she was looking at the orisha of justice and war himself.

 

“Chango…” Ben’s harsh whisper echoed her thoughts.

 

Behind them, Tobi spewed venom and grabbed for his whip again. A single wordless look from Chango had him dropping the bundle of leather, the telltale hiss of skin and smoldering flesh letting everyone know what had happened. In the blink of an eye he ran off, gripping his burned hand as he called blindly for help.

 

It was then that the rumble of thunder began to blend with the distant pounding of a drum beat.

 

Ben fell to his knees in front of the deity, and Kinah watched in wonder as the raw slices of flesh that had been sliced open by Tobi’s merciless hand sealed themselves. Behind Chango, the fire died down, and a doorway appeared at the base of the tree. Feeling her brother’s hand wrapped around her own, Kinah felt the warm embrace of hope for the first time in her young life. Together, they walked towards the door.

 

Towards uncertainty and, for the first time, a future.

Awesome Stuff of the Week

 

Being a woman, I have been known to adorn my face with the beautifying products known as makeup.

 

Wait a sec… I am a woman. I am female. [Fe] + Male = Iron Male OMG I AM IRON MAN!!!! Where’s Jarvis?! Why isn’t he writing this for me??? Sorry. I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, makeup.

 

As it turns out, my face is sort of special needs when it comes to cosmetics. Lupus has this God awful way of causing all kinds of rashes and dermatitis and red spots and drama. About 4 or 5 years ago, when the skin symptoms really started making an appearance, I set out on a sort of quest to find makeup that wouldn’t aggravate my skin, but still offered coverage. Good gravy, I had no idea it would be such a painful process – and I do mean that both figuratively and literally.

 

I tried all kinds of things, from liquids to powders to creams and back again. My face went from breakouts to blisters and rashes and I was pretty much convinced I would just have to go around bare-faced for the rest of my life.

 

Enter Colorevolution. It’s a mineral makeup company that actually creates spoonie-friendly makeup. Not that that’s what they set out to do. Turns out that they just create makeup that is made from actual minerals, without gunk and fillers. (I found out the hard way that most mineral makeup companies – even the big name infomercial ones – use a heck of a lot more than real minerals in their products. Hello, rash)

 

At any rate, I have no intention of ever going back. Not only is this stuff easier on my skin than everything else I’ve tried, it costs a whole lot less than you’d think. Check out their website for specials, but honestly even at regular price I think it’s more than fair. Plus, they make eye shadows and lip glosses in a zillion colors, and have makeup for just about every skin tone. Even Latinas who are far paler than they should be.

 

Oh, and if you’re worried about coverage, I think it’s worth mentioning that this is the official makeup being used on Rupaul’s Drag Race. And if it’s good enough for those ladies…

 

As usual, I am not affiliated with or getting anything from the awesome stuff of the week products.

What Was I Talking About Again?

 

So Saturday night, I was in my kitchen, baking a cake to take to a family Mother’s Day celebration the next afternoon. And I was confused. Seriously confused.

 

Sure, I had flour in my hair and a vague handprint on the butt of my shorts, but that’s not what was confusing me. Hey, that’s pretty much par for the course for me when it comes to baking. I love to get all creative in the kitchen, and can cook a five course meal without a problem, but can’t seem to create a dessert without creating a subsequent mess all over myself. No, my befuddlement was a direct result of simple math.

 

See, I was doubling the recipe for cake batter, in order to create a two layer cake for my grandma. And that meant I needed to figure out what 2/3 of a cup of melted butter was, twice. Pretty basic calculation, and on any other day I would have quickly melted up a cup and a third and been on with my mixing and mess-making. Only that’s not how it worked. I was just standing there, butter dripping onto my socks, concentrating as hard as I could to figure this out. And the harder I tried, the cloudier my thoughts became. It was like trying to add simple numbers with a head full of oatmeal.

 

Fibro fog. Brain fog. Cognitive dysfunction. Call it what you like, it’s one of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of fibromyalgia to deal with. Whether it comes from the sleep disturbances that accompany fibromyalgia or as a result of your brain’s response to all that pain, or another reason altogether, doctors still aren’t sure what causes the memory loss, clouded thinking, confusion and panic attacks that come compromise fibro fog.

 

For me, brain fog is also one of the hardest symptoms to try and explain to other people, as well. How do articulate that your mind seizes up and simply won’t work? How do explain that you walked into the same room four times and still can’t remember what you’re doing there? Or that you suddenly can’t remember how to spell basic words or add 2/3 and 2/3? And that the harder you try the more likely you are to fly into a blind panic about the whole thing?

 

I guess you just try your best. And, when you can’t add measurements, remember that Google is your best friend.

I’m Sexy and I Know It

One of my absolute favorite parts about my job is getting to write fun and feisty content for unexpected clients. Today, purely by accident, I discovered some of my articles seem to be living a much wilder existence than I am.

 

A while back, I sold a couple of erotic short stories to the site Simply for Lovers, which sells adult toys and lingerie and has all kinds of steamy tips, tricks and naughtiness. I probably don’t have to tell y’all that the link is NSFW, but I’m giving you fair warning anyway. So if you get caught by your boss, or your husband or what not, I don’t want anyone blaming me. Actually, come to think of it, it probably wouldn’t be such a bad thing if your hubby caught you, right? All wanton and breathless and heaving bosom and take me on the desk… ok wait, this blog is sort of bordering on NSFW-dom right now, isn’t it? Anywho, both stories seem to be doing well, although this one has gotten quite a few enthused responses, which makes me a happy writer. Here’s the second one, which was also well received, so yay.

 

Come to think of it, I could probably be totally content making a living as an erotic storyteller type, should anyone be inclined to pay me to do that. HINT HINT, PENTHOUSE – I’M AVAILABLE!

 

Also, I discovered today, quite by accident, that another couple of my articles, which I sold through a third-party agency, were actually bought up by an escort service in Vienna. Check them out here and here and, duh these would also be NSFW. Oh, and if you’re ever in Vienna and you’re into that sort of thing, there are some remarkably attractive women up for grabs, just sayin.

A Little Awareness Coming At You

So May has arrived, and seeing as though ‘tis the month of lupus and fibromyalgia awareness, and seeing as though I carry the badge of both lupus and fibro warrior (I’ve got the scars to prove it!) I thought I’d share with you some websites and blogs that are doing a whole lot to increase awareness and funds to fight these two big bad diseases.

 

Don’t know much about lupus or fibromyalgia? Don’t feel too bad… neither is very well understood, or spoken about much. And despite the fact that lupus affects more people every year than AIDS, MS, Sickle Cell Anemia, Cystic Fibrosis and Cerebral Palsy combined, there is actually very little happening in the way of research and new treatment options. In fact, the last major advancement in lupus treatment was about 50 years ago. I will be adding some more info throughout the rest of May on Lupus and Fibromyalgia. For now, here’s a look at some websites that are representing the fight.

 

Metal Mama Designs on Etsy

http://www.etsy.com/listing/130342621/spoonie-pendants-awareness-jewelry-for?ref=shop_home_active

So, the problem with most awareness jewelry is that it’s, well, ugly. Sure a purple rubber bracelet is ok and all, but it’s not really a new and inventive concept any more. Nor is it winning any fashion awards. This Etsy site has all kinds of cool handmade spoonie jewelry that’s cute, fresh and downright pretty. Plus the creator will personalize absolutely anything for you. It’s all surprisingly affordable, but for an extra 10% off, use the code AlannaRocks.

 

The Spoon Theory

http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

 

Anyone who’s ever tried to describe what it’s like living with an illness or chronic pain has probably struggled with how to tell their friends or family about their daily fight. The spoon theory, written by Lupus fighter Christine Miserandino is hands down the best way I’ve ever found to explain my situation. (It’s also where the term “spoonie” comes from.)

 

Tune Into Your Autoimmune (Facebook Page)

So I was lucky enough to meet this page’s mod, Lena, via Twitter. She’s a feisty chick who doesn’t let her MS or her fibro stop her. Plus we share an off-beat sense of humor and she bakes zombie cakes. So yea, cruise on by the FB page and say hi to her. And if you know anyone who’s dealing with an autoimmune disease, send them there. Now. Do it, I’ll wait…

 

Hurry Up!!!

 

Ok, so that’s my starter list for awareness pages that rock. I’ll be adding to it as the month rolls by, so if you happen to know of any pages, blogs, or other sites that are fighting the good fight, let me know! Otherwise, go give these pages some love.

On The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance

Being a reader with lady parts, I’m not ashamed to say that I indulge in the occasional romance novel. In fact, I have often said that a well-written romance is my dream gig, and will most likely be the first thing I actually publish of my own. However, I will be the first to admit that I am all kinds of picky when it comes to my girlie reading. I’m all about a good plot first and foremost. I’ll take a little paranormal with my story, as long as it’s not all throbbing members and heaving bosoms. In fact, I tend to steer clear of anything that doesn’t have a modern setting, and have been known to toss aside a freshly purchased novel at the first sign of a heroine that can’t seem to find her own backbone.

Maybe that’s why I’d avoided the whole steampunk thing thus far. Hey, I’m not normally one to roll my eyes at an entire genre without giving it at least an honest to goodness shot first, but it all seemed a little out of my comfort zone.

And then, in the midst of my quasi Twitter stalking (Twaking?) swearalicious author Chuck Wendig and Stephen Blackmoore (who’s Dead Things I absolutely could NOT put down) I stumbled across another author with lady parts – Miss Delilah S. Dawson. If you’re the Twittering kind, I highly recommend you check all three of them out, as they are Twitterific. At any rate, it didn’t take long for me to develop a total word-crush on Miss Dawson. I figured if she could keep me chuckling and entertained and thinking with 140 characters or less, it would definitely be worth checking out what she could do with a whole novel.

As it turned out, her brand spanking new novella, The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance was due out in 48 hours. I figured it would be the perfect gateway into the whole steampunk romance world, as well as a peek into her Wicked series of novels. Boy, am I glad I gave it a shot!

First and foremost – yes, it’s part of a series. But, I didn’t read anything that came before this, and I didn’t feel the least bit lost. I will say that I probably would have felt more “in the know” had I read Wicked as They Come first, but all in all, I had no trouble keeping up.

The whole tale takes place in Sang, a parallel world crafted by Dawson where live animals are a rarity, and living, breathing pets are rarer still. In the midst of this somewhat Dickensian London sits Needful Creatures – an actual pet shop run by Frannie Pleasance. Frannie happens across a needful creature in the form of Casper, a fellow that reminds her of her late brother. She gives the drunken cad room and board, and it isn’t long before he’s flirting away.

And then we meet Thom – a sexy Scottish fireman in a kilt. Think a love triangle is coming? Think again.

Soon, strange things start happening to and around Frannie, and it’s obvious that someone is out to do the feisty pet shop owner harm.

Dawson weaves an incredibly detailed story, making you feel a part of her world from page one. The character development is quick, which is important in a work this short. I found myself immediately drawn to Frannie, and relating to her – despite (or maybe because of?) the whole steampunk vibe. Oh and Thom? Totally yummy hero.

Five stars to The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Delilah S. Dawson’s work in the near future. Hey, who knows, maybe she’ll swing by and write a guest post? (A girl can dream, can’t she?!)

Why Richard Simmons is a Cool Guy – No, Seriously

So I have some weight to lose. (What, you’re perfect? Stop judging.) I figure gnawing on twigs and branches instead of eating dinner will only get me so far, and heading to the gym just isn’t an option. No big deal, right? I’ll just work out at home.

Only, I have lupus and fibromyalgia and the whole low impact/high impact thing makes a difference. A big difference. A ginormous difference, as it turns out. I came to this realization rather abruptly on day two of Denise Austin’s three week body boot camp. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Denise is a perfectly pleasant (if overly peppy) person, and I’m undoubtedly speaking from a place of pure, unadulterated jealousy. But somewhere between minutes 18 and 19 of this 20 minute video I found myself reaching for the remote in an effort to SHUT HER UP.  Why wasn’t she the least bit out of breath? Why weren’t her knees crumbling and weeping blood as mine surely were judging by the throbbing, searing, aching pain emanating from them? Why on Earth was she so damn PERKY as she did one armed push-ups with a small legion of brick toting monkeys perched on her impossibly firm butt cheeks?

At any rate, I finished the video, and paid dearly for it with a fibro flare of epic proportions in the days that followed. Time for a new plan. A plan that included the words “low impact.” A plan that wouldn’t kill me in my quest for biggest loser-dom.

Wrapped in my heating pad, I crawled face first towards my laptop and pecked my way over to Amazon. And was more than a little surprised to find that the low impact workout DVD selection is pretty scarce. There’s a handful of yoga and stretching vids, which seem like they’d be nice for warming up or cooling down your muscles but don’t exactly look like they’re going to burn up much in the way of fat and calories. Lord help me, Denise Austin has some 12 minute workouts called the Daily Dozen that I ordered. I was afraid that I was stuck with this crazy b— err, lovely aerobics instructor as my only option in the battle of the bulge. Then I saw it.

Turns out some of the best selling – and highest rated – exercise videos on Amazon are actually by none other than that whacky, cheesy, king of fatties himself: Richard Simmons. I read the reviews. I laughed. I scoffed. I mocked him with my boyfriend. And then I ordered one anyway. (Disco Sweat).

The day it arrived, I put the DVD in and rolled my eyes. The video begins with a parody of Saturday Night Live that includes the Simmons selecting his tank top to wear for the evening before heading to the disco for the night. But then the workout begins and you’re off. Ok, yes, it’s cheese with a capital C. Moves like ‘Travolta Arms’ and ‘The Hustle’ had me making sure that my door was locked and the shades were tightly drawn.

But here’s the thing. It’s a helluva workout. No joke, it kicks butt. A solid hour of sweating and working. And because it’s broken into songs, I can squish it into my work day (I work from home) and squeeze in 2-3 20 minute workouts a day. The impact on my joints is waaayyyy easier. Obviously, exercise makes you sore (hey, that’s how you know it’s working, right?) but I don’t feel like I’ll never be able to walk again. Most importantly, I’ve lost about 9 pounds so far.

And Richard? Eh, the little guy grows on you after a while.

What Are You Reading? (The Dead Things Review)

 

Perusing through the Terrible Minds blog a few days back (see my last post) I stumbled across an interview with author Stephen Blackmoore. Now, I have to admit, I’m sort of a sucker for a well written story with a paranormal slant, so when I saw that the description for his novel, Dead Things, included words like necromancer, ghosts, and Santa Muerte, I was intrigued. By the time I had read through the whole interview, I was making a bee line towards Amazon to download a copy of the book for myself.

 

And holy guacamole am I glad I did! It’s been a while since I stumbled across a novel that I couldn’t put down, but this was definitely it. Set in my hometown of Los Angeles, the whole story is a gritty, dark, ghostly noir explosion of awesomeness.

 

Eric Carter sees dead people. He’s a necromancer, and as such, he’s made quite the name for himself among the dead (and undead) putting dangerous spirits to rest once and for all – for a fee, of course.

 

Fifteen years ago, Carter left L.A and never looked back. With too many bad memories and too many enemies – dead and otherwise – to be wary of, it just wasn’t the best place for a necromancer to be. But when his little sister is brutally murdered, he finds himself headed straight back to the one place he’s sworn to never return. With a list of suspects too almost too long to keep track of and fewer friends by the second, Eric is determined to figure out who killed his sister and get revenge… as long as they don’t kill him first.

 

So here’s the deal about this book: it’s a great read. As in, an “I was up all night reading it in one sitting” great read. The characters drew me in from the first page, the story line withheld enough to keep me greedily turning pages, and the hero was imperfect enough to make me feel truly sorry for him every time he got himself throttled. All in all, an exceptionally well-written story.

 

Oh, and a quick note for those that are picky about their paranormal. I grew up as part of a traditional Cuban family. That being said, magic, Santeria, traditions, ghost stories, and the like were spoon fed to us right along with our first bowl of Cheerios. Few things will make me walk away from a book faster than over-used, mis-used, or poorly used paranormal/magic elements. Details like Santa Muerte’s traditions were well researched, there were refreshing new takes on magic (as in not the same tired, eye-roll inducing stuff you see in every shaky “found footage” flick to hit the theaters come October) and there is plenty to keep even a mage snob intrigued. Keep an eye out for the Hello My Name Is stickers, as they prove to be fantastic bits of comic relief sprinkled throughout the entire story.

 

Check out the first chapter of Dead Things (and pick up a copy for yourself) at http://stephenblackmoore.com/dead-things/ or else head on over to Amazon.

 

In the mean time, what was the last book you read that you absolutely loved?

Hype a Writer Day!

 

Writers write. We’ve established that. What I haven’t said yet – what doesn’t really need to be said because it’s implied, really, but I’m going to say it anyway – is that writers also read.­ In fact, the more a writer reads, the better their writing gets. Now, that’s not to say that better writing skills can be absorbed via osmosis, but it’s a fact that reading good writing gives a writer ideas, inspiration, insight, etc. What’s more, reading a good writer’s blog about how to write better? Now that is pure genius.

 

So when I discovered Chuck Wendig’s blog a while back, I was just about giddy with glee. It’s well written, dripping with sarcasm and wit, and stuffed full of really juicy tidbits and great ideas on fleshing out your story, making the most of your plot, developing your characters, and more. I was so enthralled that I quickly picked up one of his books, Blackbirds, and was immediately glad I did. (Fair warning – his blog is NSFW, as it does have a bit of foul language thrown about willy nilly. Double fair warning: the book, while AMAZING does have quite a bit of violence, cussing and a wee bit of sexuality thrown in.)

 

If neither of these things offends your sensibilities, I encourage you to check out Chuck’s blog, here. You can pick up a copy of his books, including Blackbirds or any of his writing guides, from there.

 

Now it’s your turn, fellow word nerds. What’s your favorite writer-type blog?

Kids, Legos and Leftovers

 

When my mom passed away years ago, leaving me to raise my much younger brother and sister, I learned a few essentials pretty quick. For example:

 

Stepping on a Lego causes a sensation akin to stomping on a rusty bear trap. In a field of rosebushes. Barefoot.

 

Little boys will put anything and everything in their pockets. Seriously, I’ve found money, mud, bugs, candy toy soldiers and various unidentifiable objects shriveled up sadly on the bottom of my washing machine over the years.

 

Hell hath no fury like a little girl catching you throwing something away. No matter how old, broken or outgrown, it’s THEIRS and tossing it is a personal attack. I’ve smuggled broken pencils and headless Barbies out of the house like a Columbian drug lord. And perhaps the most important lesson of all…

 

Families are expensive.

 

Like, really expensive. Food, shelter, clothing, utilities, karate lessons, dance class, track meets… it all adds up pretty quick. Next thing you know, you’re Ebaying the ever loving heck out of your closet and garage, trying to drum up money for a prom dress, skate shoes or groceries to keep a 16 year old boy fed. (You’d be surprised. They can put it away.) Now don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t give back a single moment for all the jewels in the crown. They’ve brought more meaning to my life than I ever thought possible, and I’d give anything to make them tiny again. But still, in the still moments of the night, I can almost hear the forlorn sobs of my distraught wallet; weeping alone in the darkest corner of my closet.

 

That’s why I love getting to write for websites like Smart Living by Fingerhut. The whole site is full of awesome, money saving tips and tricks. It’s all about making more of what you have, and that’s something anyone with a family can appreciate. Like this article, about creative ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers. Which, incidentally, works really well with leftover weeknight chicken, turkey, or pork, too.

 

So what’s your favorite money saving family tip?