Friday, February 27, 2009

Free Fiction Friday

This is something new for me. I've never written a flash fiction (under 1000 word) story, but I was inspired (okay, I'm a little weird, which you'll see), so I wrote one. And I thought I'd share. It's a charming little holiday story. Enjoy.

(And don't forget about the win it before you can buy it contest for Highway to Hell. Just leave a comment at the link, and I'll draw a random winner on Tuesday.)



Ash Wednesday


I never knew what to do about the ashes.

As I walked the damp city streets, the slush of a late and half-assed snowfall skulking in the gutters and shadows, I hunched my shoulders and kept my head down, a thin and anonymous figure in a long, dark coat. But on this night, my eyes slipped to faces, drawn by the mark some bore--sometimes a black blazon, sometimes a faded, dingy smudge. It depended on how many hours the bearer was into lent.

I remembered the rites for the day. The Gospel says to make oblations without fanfare, to fast with a secret smile, when giving alms, keep from the left hand what the right one is doing.

But then the priest marks each person with a cross of ashes, and entreats his brothers to bear the sign as a reminder of mortality.

Remember, thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.

What to do about the ashes, then? Do I wash them off, and keep my contrition a secret, or let the soot mark me as the penitent that I am?

The people jostling past me didn’t look as though they were contemplating their mortality. They looked neither worried nor serene. They looked like they are contemplating their dinner, or what to watch on television.

What they would see in my face, if I raised anything but my gaze from the pavement? Dreams of mortality consumed me. Would the thoughts line my ancient face as time could not? Long experience said no. The right hand of humanity never knew what the left was doing. I had few blessings, but this was one.

I turned off the street, into the predatory alleys of the city. Like the people with their sooty smudge, I’d drunk today from the cup of life--but in secret, without fanfare or evidence. The sip was enough to made me strong and quick as I stalked the dark lanes, the soles of my shoes soaked by the grimy slush, but leaving little imprint, as if I didn’t completely touch this world.

The sounds of a desperate struggle, too soft to compete with traffic and cell phones and the busy noise of life, drew me deeper into the shadowed urban valleys. I rounded the corner, slipping along the greasy brick like the quick arc of headlights of a passing car.

The hooker in the alley was definitely thinking of her own mortality. She was staring it the face as it gripped her with taloned hands, hissed at her with sharp, crooked teeth, bared in inhuman hunger. This was an old one, thin and strung out, long past the age when it should be prowling the streets of the city for what it needed.

So was the vampire.

Its thick, yellowed claws had drawn blood on the woman’s bare arms; I could smell it even through the reek of stale urine and rotting garbage. She was too frightened to scream, the whites of her eyes gleaming beneath the caked blue eye-makeup and spider-leg lashes, her mouth pulled into a fuchsia rictus of terror. Her fear and the tang of blood had the monster in a frenzy. It wouldn’t sip from the cup it had stolen. It would rip out her throat and bathe in the spray, a gluttonous waste, spilling more life than it drank down.

Not for nothing is gluttony a deadly sin. The big sins were about taking more than one needed, more than a mortal could use. More food, more sex, more idleness, more adulation.

More life. Years, decades, centuries. The undead lived on because of their mortal sin. The irony was not lost on me, in calmer moments.

I moved in a flash of retribution, wasting no time on cinematic fighting or dramatic flying kicks. My weapon fit my palm like it had been born there, slipped out of the deep pocket of my coat with the ease of long practice. In its frenzy, the monster never noticed me. As it reared back to shred the neck of its prey, I drove a stake of fire-hardened oak into its back, angling to avoid the spine, the wooden point grating against rib before sliding, unerringly, into the unbeating heart.

Flames engulfed the monster, and the woman finally screamed as the talons burned her scored skin. But still she didn’t pull away, and pushing aside contempt, I pushed her aside, too, snarling at her to run. She did. Maybe she would tell someone what happened, and maybe they wouldn’t. Probably not. The right hand never knew what the left one was doing.

She took the smell of blood and fear with her. The stink of sulfur and scorched flesh remained, eddying around the screeching monster, consuming it in the impatient fires of hell long denied.

I watched with sad and weary satisfaction, shielding my eyes from the light. It had chosen its fate--the possibility of eventual hellfire over the certainty of mortal death. But it was a bad bargain. The undead don’t live sumptuous and decadent nights or sparkling days. They do not live at all. Decay creeps slowly, even on the undead. Hunger comes inexorably apace. And retribution comes by my hand.

The corpse collapsed to the slick asphalt in a charred heap. No magic, movie monster. It was an ugly, grisly reality. It did not disappear in a convenient puff of smoke. The skeleton would remain, and the body would be found sooner or later, chalked up to criminal mischief or spontaneous combustion.

The flesh continued to smolder. I grasped the end of the wooden stake, braced my foot on the spine to pull the weapon free. The jarring crumbled the burnt flesh like the spent end of a cigarette, disintegrating what had once--a long time ago--been a man, into greasy black cinders.

I paused, then pressed my thumb into the ash, raised it to my forehead, and drew the sign of the cross. It burned, because of what it was. And because of what I was. Penitent. Monster. Glutton for retribution.

Remember thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.

All of us. Eventually.

__
Copyright Rosemary Clement-Moore. Please do not alter or reproduce/repost in any form.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Have books, will travel

This morning I went to speak to a junior high group up in Lewisville (which is only "up" in the sense that it's north of where I live, which is the SOUTH part of the metroplex.). I really do enjoy talking to (receptive) students. It's sort of hellish when they're required to be there, and you can tell they don't give a crap about what you have to say. I start to flashback to my own school days when that happens, to that awful feeling of being looked down on, seen for the dork I am...

Who am I fooling. I feel like that no matter where I go. :) I wonder if there's ever a point when you DON'T secretly worry people are going to see through the facade to the dork beneath. Maybe that's why I out myself for being a nerd right away, sometimes more quickly than necessary. Because people are going to figure it out anyway, so I might as well own it.

Weirdly random-- There's a herd of buffalo in the pasture near the school. Livestock in the middle of town is actually not that weird where I'm from. We used to stop to pet the horses on our way to elementary school. But buffalo? Random.

Don't forget to leave your spring break and/or vacation story here so that you can be entered to win a copy of Highway to Hell before it hits the shelves on March 10th!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Highway to Hell teaser

Two weeks until Highway to Hell debuts! To celebrate, I'm running a quick and dirty, win it before you can buy it contest on my website. Click over here to enter.

I'll also be posting fairly sizable teasers for the next two weeks. Enjoy!

(From Chapter One, Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore)

[Maggie and Lisa are in the car, heading for South Padre Island.....]

“Not that I can remember why that seemed like a good idea.” [I said.]

“Because we’re best friends.” Lisa unplugged my iPod and replaced it with hers. The screen cast her face in a cool glow, at odds with her devilish smile. “And when I take over the world, I’ll appoint you to a place of distinction in my Council of Evil.”

“Can’t wait.”

The music had started low--a distinctive, almost tribal, drumbeat. Bending her other leg to join the first, Lisa tapped her bare toes on the dash and drummed on her knees along with the Rolling Stones.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

Lisa just grinned and sang along with Mick, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…”

“Sympathy for the Devil.” I slanted her a look of disbelief. “You have got a sick sense of humor.”

All I got was a wider grin and more lyrics. “’Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name.’”

“That might have been funny before you took up sorcery as a hobby.”

“One little demon summoning,” she said, as the chorus began. “And you never let me forget it.”

If she was going to Hell, I guess I was, too, because the outrageous irony dragged a laugh out of me. She bobbed her head, tapping the beat on her knees. This was why we were still friends, as much as because of the saving each other’s lives and teaming up against Evil stuff.

Abruptly, Lisa dropped her feet to the floorboard. “Brake lights.”

I peered into the darkness beyond the Jeep’s headlights. “I don’t see anything.” Only road and more road.

Drumbeats nearly drowned our voices. “There! Dead ahead.”

I glimpsed twin red beacons in the silver-grey darkness. But in the instant it took for me to shift my foot to the brake, the lights disappeared.

“Where’d they go?”

I’ve been around for a long, long year, sang the Stones.

“There!” Lisa pointed into the field. How had that car moved so fast? The gleam of red seemed to be moving off road, across scrub and between the shadows of scraggly mesquite.

“How…?”

“Maggie! Look out!” I slammed my foot on the brake. Lisa braced herself with a hand on the dash and another on the roll bar. I could see it now--something huge lay across both lanes, too close to swerve around. The Jeep hit the yielding bulk of the thing; a lower profile car would have smashed into it. But the off-road tires of the Wrangler went up and over, tilting precariously to one side. The whole vehicle shuddered as something scraped the undercarriage to the tune of tearing metal.

We hit the ground on the other side. There was a sharp crack, and my teeth rattled as we spun out, tires squealing like a tortured soul. The flat gray Purgatory of South Texas whirled past the windshield as I released the brake and turned the wheel into the spin, my right arm burning in sharp protest. Careening onto the shoulder, we came to a stop facing back the way we’d come.

The headlights illuminated the great misshapen carcass of a horned animal, dead in the middle of the highway. In the anti-climatic quiet, the Rolling Stones played on.

Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Highway to Hell on a Monday Morning

Coolness. I found the text of the VOYA review of Highway to Hell (which, just as a reminder, comes out MARCH 10... oh my GOD! That's only four weeks from now. I stink at promotion. I really do.)... Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Here's what VOYA had to say. It's mostly recap of the book, but in a positive light.

The mysterious forces of Good and Evil come together for another throwdown and it's a lucky thing that Maggie is leading Team Good. The college freshman and her best friend, Lisa, are working on a new rite of passage into adulthood with a road trip to a beach for spring break. On the way to South Padre Island, the girls hit literal and metaphysical obstacles that prevent them from leaving Dulcina, a little town in the middle of nowhere Texas. Something is killing the livestock. A small faction says coyote have been driven to kill bigger prey than usual, but a more vocal group is naming it el chupacabra. Lisa's potential crush, Zeke Velasquez, might belong to the most powerful family of Velasquez County, but his refusal to consider a supernatural predator may be endangering everyone. Soon Justin arrives bringing his best friend and future priest, Henry, to even the odds of survival for the side of Good. Using local mojo, religious faith, and Maggie's gifts, the Evil One should be headed down for the count. As Maggie's abilities develop, the opposing forces also seem to be getting stronger. It is great to witness her confidence grow, sending a subtle message to the reader about the strength of believing in oneself. Although there is more action, adventure, and suspense than in the two previous books about Maggie Quinn, the friendships and budding romances remain equally important. It is difficult to imagine teens who have enjoyed Charmed, Buffy, or the Twilight books not loving this series*. Reviewer: Stacey Hayman

* From your mouth to God's ear, Stacey. Thanks! :-D

And a little vanity Googling turned up this truly thrilling review of both Hell Week and Highway to Hell from a new reviewer on The Well Read Child. The interesting thing about reviewers, especially bloggers (as opposed to the big magazines, which spend a lot of their column inches going over plot points) is what people key in on. Because the Good vs. Evil takes a big turn here with the introdution of some Big Cosmic Bad and a character who is actually religious (as opposed to Maggie, who is faithful, but not particularly religious), I was interested to see what people think about that. (Also, I loved showing that Justin has an anti-Lisa in his life in the form of his BFF Henry. Do boys have BFFs?)

Excerpt (click here for the full review):
With their fast-paced action, sharp tongues, and quick wit, Maggie and her friends are a great match for any teenage Buffy fans in your life. They potentially have some appeal to readers of the Twilight books - but you might want to make it clear that if Maggie Quinn runs into a vampire in her biology class, that vampire's going to have a stake through his heart sooner than he can say "I'm madly in love with you!"* The teen-friendly covers make these books a pretty easy sell, but it's the bitingly funny characters and their smart take on some implausible situations that will keep readers coming back. (reviewed by Laura Koenig. Thank you!)


*Snicker. It's true Maggie wouldn't have much patience with the brooding undead.

On a side note, I've discovered that Highway to Hell is not an easy thing to Google. You come up with a bazillion hits, all to the AC/DC song. So if you google it, make sure you put "book" in the search line.

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rosemary vs. the TV Camera

Okay, so I can't believe I'm going to tell you to watch, considering, but just so you know, if you're in the DFW area, I'm going to be on Channel 33 on Sunday morning at 7 am (DFW Closeup).

If you're not in the DFW area, you can still share in my experience. I give you...

15 Things I Learn From Doing a Local TV Spot:

1) An hour before you have to leave for the studio is a bad time to discover I own no jackets that are not made of sweatshirt material and/or possessed of a zipper and hood. I own a few day dresses, but they're all spring and summer colors, and even though it's 75 degrees out, it's still February. My only dressyish shirts are all white and/or cream.

2) I need to go back on my diet and get to the gym.

3) Writing out notes only works if I actually look at them.

4) Practicing what I'm going to say ahead of time is useless, because I'll forget everything.

5) Don't look at the monitor, because I'll discover just how bad my final choice of outfit actually was...

6) And how I really should have worn a little more blush...

7) And stayed on my diet...

8) And playing with the puppies from the next segment probably wasn't the best idea either, since dog slobber does silk no favors.

9) On the other hand, my hair looked great.

10) When I forget what you're going to say in the middle of saying it, a sense of humor really helps.

11) However, there will inevitably be people who don't realize I was joking when I said, "Of course [I wasn't surprised my books are popular because] I'm so brilliant and witty."

15) The folks at Channel 33, especially Shana Franklin, were delightful and friendly, for which I'm very grateful.

All of which should give you a hint how it went. Hopefully seven minutes on Sunday morning will not convince the world I'm a twit. Though I'm sure when I'm Stephanie Meyer famous, someone will dig up the clip to puncture any pretensions I may ever possess.