Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Improvement Of Her Mind

" extensive reading." Tradition has it that we do this thing around this time of year. We look back on the books we read in the past twelve months, and feel very good about ourselves. At least, I do. The list usually ends up being longer than I had hoped and it always makes one feel cultured to see a piece of paper with The Weight of Glory and Psmith, Journalist chivvying for mention. So without further commentary, my list:

Tramp For The Lord by Corrie Ten Boom
The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (reread)
Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Notes From The Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson
Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers
Mr. Popper's Penguins by the Atwaters (reread)
Betsy, Tacy, and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace (reread)
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (rearead)
Stuart Little (by “Whatshisface” is what I had written on my list) (reread)
True Men And Traitors by David W. Doyle
Schindler's List by Thomas Kenealy
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson
Cocktail Time by P.G. Wodehouse
Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Always Pack a Party Dress by Amanda Brooks
Dearie: The Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
How To Get Dressed by Alison Freer

My list rounds out with The Whimsical Christian by Dorothy Sayers, which I will finish shortly after the new year. I love how, with my governess-ing job picking up this year, I got to include re-reads of some of my childhood favorites with the girls! I hope to include a lot more this coming year. I am also happy with the balance of ten non-fiction titles out of twenty-four. That's nearly a fifty-percent non-fiction ratio, which is the highest I think it has ever been, and the strength of my brain feels it. Hurray for challenges accepted and completed! I can't wait to see what titles will make it onto my list for 2016! And now I want to know: what was your favorite book read this year? For me, I would choose Always Pack A Party Dress, which was basically The Devil Wears Prada incarnate. Just a fascinating read for anyone interested in the wide, intricate world of designer fashion.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yuletide News

I do sometimes pop back out of the woodwork to say my piece. Not frequently, but frequently enough to hope some of you remember me, Rachel Heffington, the Inkpen Authoress. I bought a new laptop on Cyber Monday and it should be coming soon, which I find thrilling. New things are obviously not the reason for productivity, but they certainly help one feel like sitting down with the laptop for the old writing sesh. I sent "The Spindle and The Queen" out to several beta readers and have pretty roundly decided I will not be sending it into Rooglewood's contest. Instead, I intend to brush it up, expand it here and there, and publish it myself as an e-book sometime mid-winter. The story, word-count, and ending all suggested I go my own route, so as much as I wish all of you luck in the contest, my Sleeping Beauty retelling will not be making an appearance in Five Magic Spindles. I know many of you will understand. To rest, best of luck! I had the chance to peep at the story of one contestant and I'm quite excited to see who makes the cut and which stories are chosen!

In the realm of "consumed literature," I've been reading gobs. Both of actress Mindy Kaling's books were gobbled down between a total sum of three days (not constant reading, either). I'm most of the way through a massive biography on Julia Child, which has been so very eye-opening! I'm threading down the path of Charles Dickens's Dombey & Sons when I think of it, and working on a Civil War romance lent to me by author Meghan Gorecki. The only reason I haven't finished that novel yet is because Mindy Kaling happened. Excuses.

I hope/plan to write another Christmas story this year. In fact, I know I will because I've yet to pass a year when the need to Write Something hasn't seized me by the throat halfway through December. If you're new to the blog, or just want a healthy dose of the feel-goods, might I point you in the way of last year's story, "John Out-the-Window" - it's guaranteed to make you smile. The first part (and all the parts following) can be found by following this link. Gosh, I loved that story.

The most fantastic piece of information I have to announce, though, is the fact that I recently returned from a visit to my fellow "slipper sister," Clara Diane Thompson. We connected quite well over a group video-chat hosted by author Shonna Slayton , kept up afterward, and have continued to grow a wonderful friendship. Clara is just as amazing in person as she seemed to be over FaceTime and emails, and I treasured our five days together. When not writing, Clara works full-time as the sort of events/volunteer coordinator for a sprawling retirement center, which meant that I got to tail her at work one day and give makeovers to all of the precious old ladies. I also got to run their book club for the afternoon! Clara asked me to read one of my short stories and I'm telling you, it's harder than you'd think to find a short enough piece of fiction that is also complete/cheerful enough to read to residents at a nursing home! I enjoyed myself so much, though, and talk of my stories soon became talk of which authors and books were special to the residents. They fished around for memory of Pride & Prejudice's plot and reminisced about waiting for each Nancy Drew mystery to come out. What fun times we had...though one of the ladies sagely suggested I might record myself reading aloud sometime and listen to it to see places I could improve my enunciation and slow my speed so that someone nearly deaf would have an easier time following along. I laughed. And agreed. I cannot wait to see Clara again sometime! She really is darling.

I want to know about you now! How did NaNoWriMo treat all of you? And what is your favorite Christmas story? I foresee my annual re-read of The Christmas Carol in the near future!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maybe Next Time: Flash Fiction Offering

This week, between hectic days at work, I wrote a short little flash-fiction. I had  thoughts of sending it off into the wide world someplace and seeing if it would catch thirty dollars in some magazine, and then I realized ain't nobody got time fo' that before Thanksgiving, so instead I'm letting you read it. This was a fun exercise in an unusual (for me) POV. And if you're wondering, though the events are fictionalized, the tone and certain facts are definitely autobiographical. This is, in short, how it feels to walk downtown as Rachel Heffington. Ciao, ciao.


Here’s the problem with being idealistic:
You always hope. Always. And when things don’t turn out your way, it’s almost pitiful how faithfully you smile and shrug. “Maybe next time.”
And your Experience says, “Yeah. Sure.”
And your Idealism says, “Yeah, sure!”
So this is why you find yourself (having locked your keys in your car by accident in a downtown parking garage) instead of cursing, thinking, “Hey, an inconvenience is just an adventure wrongly considered, right?” This is why you smile expectantly at the next car that passes, hoping they will notice your predicament.
They don’t.
Maybe next time.
You’ve got your purse, though, and your outfit is a power-house itself and there is a Place to Be, so let’s not allow imprisoned keys to set the afternoon counter-clockwise. You shove off the side of your car and swing your purse higher up your shoulder, headed toward the North stairs. The strap catches and dumps the contents of your purse’s outer pocket into the center lane of the parking garage. A BMW purrs up the ramp. It’s either dive for your Yves St. Laurent lipstick or let him run it into a woebegone, cinnamon-colored smear on the second-level ramp.
With the skill of a gold-medalling gymnast, you dart into the path of the oncoming Beemer, grab for the lipstick, and tumble to the other side. The driver blares his horn and throws his hands up, voicing everyone’s disbelief:
“What the heck, woman?”
Or some curried variation of the phrase.
 The horn-blast pierces back on itself as you check: all limbs accounted for. You go, girl. High-heels intact and everything. You smile and wave at the car’s taillights and reach the North stairs unaccosted.
Take the two flights down.
Exit on the quiet side of the street.
There’s a light mist in town. It isn’t exactly coming down thick enough to warrant the umbrella you left in the (locked) car, but it’s going to settle in a fine mesh on your hair, pulling it into damp, clinging tendrils. You had wanted to look especially polished. Well, you lost that one.
Two businessmen round the corner as you approach. You notice the vintage make of the taller one’s briefcase, the slim cut of his suit, the way his pocket-square matches his eyes. The broad set of his shoulders hunched against the vaguely-chill damp; his good hair and supremely wonderful beard. But it’s the compact, razor-burnt member of the pair who gives you a preoccupied smile. You return the expression, knowing full well his heart wasn’t in it. Still, a smile from a stranger is valuable, even though you might have been a mildly pleasant stocks-report for all the meaning in it.
Hurry now. Skitter around the corner, past your favorite restaurant, scents of anise, cumin, coriander, Chinese five-spice, and teriyaki wrapping exotic hands around your stomach. You flip the collar of your trench against the mist and hunger, wishing again for a real, live Burberry and a festive meal with friends.
You slowly pass your soul-mate store, tempting you with blank cards and paper for perfectly wrapping a yet-to-be-purchased gift for a yet-to-be-discovered Someone…dinner party invitations; placemats; card-cases; ink; cranberry-colored tassels. What you would do with a tassel doesn’t matter. You want one. You’ll find a use for it.
You wait for a string of fancy sports cars to finish their intricate four-way stop-sign dance and then hazard your chances getting across the intersection. After all, you don’t want to end up a woebegone, cinnamon-colored smear in the pavement. Plenty of people are gathered around the fountains in the Town Square as you flit by. You know you shouldn’t really stare at the couple having their date in the table at that picture- window, but you can’t help a quick peek. Bad news: they look up at you. The man laughs. His date narrows her eyes. Oh well. You cross again at the haberdashery store with its emblem of the Golden Fleece. Yeah, you’d need the corner market on the entire Golden Fleece trade to afford anything in there, but someday. Someday.
Despite that Place to Be, you pause to view the model in the show-window and your hand automatically slides up this side of the glass to touch his cashmere sweater, to fix his tie, to rest your palm on his chest and inhale the scent of his cologne. Some shop-girl with civil eyes and devastating cheekbones steps into the case and fixes the tie for you. So he, also, belongs to someone else.
They all do.
Maybe next time.
You duck against the mist that has somehow become a rain and press on through more businessmen in tailored suits, more women thinner, chicer, more successful in their careers  than you, skirt a few hopefuls dancing hip-hop to a beat straining from a rattled boom-box. A smile for them all. They don’t notice. Not most of them. But that’s okay. Smiles are cheap currency.
At last you’ve arrived. The sign ahead shines bleary-eyed against the rain and you hush into the simple, glass-fronted shop. Here, it is warm and dry. The others inside blink up against the dampness you brought. Laughter swells inside as you wring out your ruined hair and feel your heart pushing eagerly against your breast-bone. Adventure. Adventure. Adventure, it beats.
“You’re late,” the others say in their several, silent ways.
You laugh and whisper to no one, to everyone, “What’s new?”
“Meet any dashing strangers this week?” a girl asks from the far side of her earl grey latte. In the foam is drawn a plumy feather.
“Not a one.”
She sips her drink. Pewter daylight pings off her French manicure. “Pity.”
“Uh, yeah.”
You order a chai tea latte made with whole milk instead of water and wait as the new barista draws the foam. Will he make a string of hearts or a leaf or the latte-cat you’ve waited for your entire coffee-drinking life? He sloshes the cup across the bar and you catch it, scalding-hot against your palms.
“Thanks.” Then you see he didn’t know how to make the art, or didn’t bother to. Your foam is looking spectacularly like, well, foam…with a careless brown blob in the center. No leaf, no feather, no hearts. Definitely no cat.
Your heart settles into its everyday promise:. Maybe next time.
Carefully, so as not the spoil the art-that-wasn’t, you carry your latte to the corner booth. The booth that’s always empty every Thursday afternoon around four; the time you come. In you slide, down you slip, and even though it’ll come off on the cup’s rim, you swipe on some of the rescued lipstick. You never can tell when you’ll meet with an adventure.
Suddenly, the door jangles open and a swath of damp air matches itself against the back of your neck. Confident steps stride to the counter. The little hairs on your arms stand up tall. Something big just came through that door. You lift your coffee and sip, rotating just enough to watch the newcomer without it appearing to be your sole mission. Italian-looking shoes. Slim-fit, navy slacks. A trench-coat, belt knotted behind. A trilby, for lawd’s sake.
Adventure, adventure, adventure.
He orders black coffee, extra hot, takes one hand out of his pocket and pays for it. As he waits for the coffee, he surveys the crowd in the shop, like he’s a regular and they’re the newcomers, drumming the fingers of his right hand on the polished cherry bar. Polished till it gleams almost as dark as his hair.
Bluffing, you think. You’ve never seen him here on a Thursday at four.
As if he heard that thought, his gaze roves to you. The eyes crinkle and a grin –the best kind of grin—quirks at the corners of his mouth and finally cracks wide open, for you. He gives a two-fingered salute and you contemplate the consequence of trying to vanish into your latte.
“Black coffee, extra hot, for Grady?” bawls the barista.
He grins again, murmurs thanks, and sips his coffee. You decide it should be illegal for anyone’s jaw to do what his jaw just did. And just at the point when you’re beginning to wonder whether he’s a doctor or a lawyer (we can probably rule out Indian chief), he slides into the booth across from you, plunks down his coffee cup, and says:
“Mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is taken.”
You peer around the shop. Gosh, it’s true. You’re thankful for the decision to add lipstick and deftly rub off the evidence from the edge of your for-here mug. But before you have a chance to say anything even mildly intelligent, he takes his other hand from his pocket and clasps both around the mug.
“Chilly out there, isn’t it?” he remarks. Tiny drops of silver cling to his lapels, his shoulders, even his finely-etched face.
You nod, your heart a tiny, startled lump of chilliness itself.
“Didn’t expect it to start pouring like that.” He taps the fingers of his left hand against the mug, wedding ring clinking fatefully, as he stares out at the rain.
So he, also, belongs to someone else.
They all do.
And just like that, your heart begins to chug again, pulling itself back on the tracks, steaming along through life to the rail-song, Adventure, adventure, adventure. Somehow you make small-talk and he finishes his coffee and you finish your latte and he leaves and nothing is different than any other time in your young, long life except that maybe you’ll put him in a book someplace.
For a second, you thought it had happened.
You’re a little ashamed of having thought it was happening. Wryly, you notice how you’ve been knotting your hands in your lap, biting your bottom lip. You stop all that. There’s always someday.
Probably someday an adventure will come your way and the dashing stranger won’t be married and maybe you’ll buy a coat and you’ll find a twenty in the outside pocket and perhaps Diane von Furstenburg will start making dresses in a size fourteen and maybe, you know, someone will give you an inheritance or you’ll go on a road-trip and end up by mistake in a town called Accident. It happens, you know.
You grab your purse, slide out of the booth, and return the lipstick-stained mug to the dish-rack. You wave goodbye to the girl with the foamy feather and step back into the rain, smiling again at the people who don’t notice.
Maybe next time.

And at any rate, there’s still the matter of what to do about your keys.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Fifth of November: Celebrating The Fallow Year

"Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Tolkien said that his ideas sprang up from the leaf mold of his mind: your readings are the trees where your fallen leave would come from."

"The first thing is that writers should be voracious readers. We live in a narcissistic age, which means that many want to have the praise that comes from having read, without the antecedent labor of actually reading. Wanting to write without reading is like wanting to grind flour without gathering wheat, like wanting to make boards without logging, and like wanting to have a Mississippi Delta without any tributaries somewhere in Minnesota. Output requires intake, and literary output requires literary intake."

"Read like a reader and not like someone cramming for a test. If you try to wring every book out like it was a washcloth full of information (and nothing but information), all you will do is slow yourself down to a useless pace. Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it...Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading you will not be able to remember. The most formative years of my life were the first five, and if those years were to be evaluated on the basis of my ability to pass a test on them, the conclusion would be that nothing important happened then, which would be false. The fact that you can't remember things doesn't mean that you haven't been shaped by them."

All of these very, very excellent quotes come from a slim little volume by Douglas Wilson titled Wordsmithy. I was given this book in the coffee shop I'm sitting in now. It was a gift from a friend who, I hope, didn't feel like giving it to me because she could sense my drought. I must confess the year 2014 was a year of output. Massive output. I published two novels and a novella, started a new job, and worked my precious little butt off. The understandable assumption was that the year 2015 would be the same. It was not, however. 2015 has been a year of immense personal schedules. The girls I mainly nannied in 2014 I am now schooling, which adds a dimension and a half. I now plan their lessons, teach them, and have had the huge privilege of seeing them go from their alphabet to real books, explaining our ridiculous English language, and showing them the world, such as it is. This year I have also rediscovered my love of reading.I'm sorry to say that I forgot about it for a little while. Not about my love of stories - that never faded. But of how easy and delicious it is to lose oneself in a book. To nose so deeply into the pages and words and characters that one forgets present constraints. Is it summer? Is it autumn? Does it rain outside or are we having dry weather?
I forgot about this love because I consciously kept myself in. I am a book drunkard. I give myself up entirely to the story and if I lose myself early in the day, I am lost until whatsoever time the book has coughed me up ashore like a word-soaked Jonah. Knowing this about myself, I was careful not to get too entangled in a book. I only read if I deemed I had time to read. And, predictably, my word output shriveled. If I had no time to read, I certainly had no time to write and here was the vicious cycle. Friends, however, gave me books for my birthday. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and bought a couple more. Pretty soon I had a stack of unread books waiting on my shelf. Waiting for that day when I had "time to read." The temptation was, quite simply, too much. Since summer began, I have given into my passion and picked up Wodehouse's Summer Lightning. I don't have hours upon hours to read - I am a busy working woman. Still, I elbowed other things to make time. From Summer Lightning, it was a short step to swallowing Schindler's List piecemeal between bouts of more Wodehouse. Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman grabbed me and shook me by the throat as I soared through it in two or three days, and Wordsmithy dribbled through my fingers as well. Cocktail Time rounded to a close and Blandings Castle was waiting, all uncracked-spine and crisp pages. And do you know what? I found a piece of myself that had gone into hibernation. Ever so slowly, I'm coaxing her back out. I do have time to read. I can choose to put aside my phone, to postpone that drawing commission, or to go to bed a little early and pick up a book before sleep. I can choose to spend my evening reading rather than watching White Collar or The West Wing, as painful as that choice is.

Reading opens massive, massive worlds. How could I ever have let it go? Since picking my books back up, I have found that my mind is brighter. I am not at a loss for things on which to think. Words spring readily to mind. I've almost finished the first draft of my story for the Five Magic Spindles contest with the overflow. But you know what? The paradigm shift was as subtle as it was important: I did not read to turn the words like so much straw into WIP gold. I read for reading's sake; for the sake of losing myself in another world for what might be half an hour, or a full afternoon. I found the joy again of diving so deep that when I emerged, I had to shake myself a bit and look about and remember where and whom I was.

Farmers rotate crops so that a given piece of ground is not stripped of a particular nutrient; different crops suck different things from the soil. And though the farmers, by rotating the variety of crops grown on that piece of ground, can keep the soil fairly healthy and thriving, fallow years are necessary. A year of rest for the soil. A year of building up again the depleted stocks, of fertilizing the ground and waiting. A year where nothing will grow that is lucrative, but wild-flowers and grasses will knit its wounded, harrowed soul back together, leaving that field fresh-faced and ready for the following spring. 2014 was my insanely productive year. 2015 has been my fallow year. But a fallow year is necessary, and I will not apologize for (unofficially) taking it. I will only turn back to my books with a fond smile, write as I can, and thank God for the great, great joy it is to be literate and to know the thrill of traveling lands afar through the wilds of an unread book. I feel myself healing. Oh, rest is a beautiful, needful thing.

It has been a year today since my last release of 2014.  A warm happy birthday to my dear first mystery: Anon, Sir, Anon! If any of you feel like burying yourself deep for a cozy, British afternoon, head thataway to say hello. Supporting independent authors is a wonderful way to explore deeper waters in the joy of reading. Buy a copy for yourself, for a friend, or to show a lonely little mystery that though the promise of a sister-mystery has been delayed, it has not been forgotten.

All My Love,

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo Therapy: Helpful Things For Your Sanity's Sake

Today is the first of November, which means that every day from now until December 1st, the writing will fall into its peculiar autumnal hush. Except from this corridor because I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month, hitherto referred to as "NaNoWriMo." I don't do well under that sort of pressure and besides, I prefer sleep to word-count, which could be my main issue. But since I know that many if not most of you will be participating in NaNoWriMo, I've filled this post with happy things for you, as my Instagram begged just this morning:

I love all of you and I'll be back with a celebratory post in just a couple days because, get this, Anon Sir, Anon will turn a year old on the Fifth of November, which really calls for celebration! "Remember, remember, the fifth of November." Maybe, to help it feel as grown up as it is, it is time to purchase a copy of your own? But for now, I'm here to nourish your massacred soul which stands upon the brink of a thirty-day howl and begs mercy.

And because I am trying to help ease things along for you, I'm also sharing my recipe for a single-serving clean-eating brownie because you writers need to eat healthily, but you also need chocolate. I love you! 

Edible Therapy:

1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 Tablespoon honey
1 pinch baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon flour (or almond flour)
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 Tbs. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate bar (70% cocoa or higher)

Place first two ingredients into a ramekin or oven-safe mug in the oven, preheating to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for one minute till melted together. Mix with other ingredients. Press chcoolate into the top. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until no longer jiggly. Eat warm! 

Best of luck to you all! <3

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Even More Snippets!

I've been getting a bucketload of reading done lately, partially because our home wifi has been ought and my cellular data doesn't support overmuch lazy Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram scanning, leaving me way more time for actually productive pursuits. Also, since my sister and I carpool to work most days and she gets off half an hour later than I do, I have spare shreds of time that I've been filling with reading rather than browsing. Maybe by the time we get this sorted out, I'll have reformed to a creature who doesn't fulfill all Millennial stereotypes? Anyway, I've rediscovered the depth of my love for reading which had been forced dormant for a while. I've also been getting a lot of words into The Spindle and The Queen via "word-wars" with friends such as Meghan Gorecki. I had never given much credence to the helpfulness of friendly competition until I tried it and realized I really didn't like losing. Sunday afternoon found me having written three-thousand words, give or take. I like this trend. I also finally dragged Cottleston Pie out of my trunk, discovered my trunk has a leak and the file had become a hotbed of disease and black mold, tied a scarf around my face and extracted blurred words from the page and copied them into a file on my computer, and generally felt like I would fall prey to the Bubonic Plague any minute. Update: I'm fine. I've finished Schindler's List, read Go Set A Watchman in record time, am a chapter away from rounding off Wodehouse's Cocktail Hour, and am the same distance from finishing Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson. I have so much to say on the subject of all these things...about reading in general, reading as regards writers, about my story, and about the value of other art forms serving as inspiration. In short, I've got a lot to say and about ten minutes in which to say it. So I'm not going to waste my breath. I'll write it out when I have time (tomorrow?) and leave you with a few snippets from The Spindle And The Queen instead.

The producer’s phone rang once, twice, three times. Heath glanced at the minimalistic wall-clock and calculated that if it was seven o’clock here, it would be noon in New York and nine in L.A. Brendan Fischer was likely finishing his second mimosa, wiping his mouth on a monogrammed napkin, calling for Natalie to reschedule his nine-fifteen appointment an hour later so he could cram some yoga into his routine and swing by the juice bar before hitting the office. Heath winced as a deafening crackle birthed a dubious connection between two continents.

“What’s up, man?” Brendan’s voice sounded suntanned.

Silence. Silence so firm and cold you could skate across it.

After confessing the non-plausible plausible solution to Flavian, the man had quietened, suggested he might have someone who could help the case, and invited Heath into the street with him. Every cell in Heath’s composed, civilized brain told him this was what travel guidebooks called “a compromising situation” and suggested the American traveler at all costs avoid. 

They passed skinny boys and gangly men, shapely women with braids swinging to their hips, fat women with hair combed into thick knots at their necks. No one seemed in a particular hurry to close themselves into their homes for the evening. All doors were open to the street. Half the children ran naked, chasing a ball down the center of the street. Dogs skulked between legs and cats hid in potted petunias, their eyes catching odd shards of light leftover from the setting sun. Everywhere the streets reeked until Flavian led Heath and the boy into a clean, white lane set with the most opulent mansions Heath yet seen. The contrast between the sector through which they’d just trekked and this celestial glory hurt Heath’s eyes almost physically. He blinked a few times and caught his breath while Flavian spoke to a slender gypsy man smoking against a gold-painted fence. Daniel climbed the fence and swung by his hands on the top spikes, making faces at the grand house in its beautiful cage.

“I am supposing the spirits brought me to you.” 

Heath looked at him curiously. “You believe that?” 

“Of course. What do you believe? Are you Orthodox?” 

“I’m not saying it’s a popular belief and I’m not saying I don’t sometimes forget I believe it, but I’m a Christian.” He laughed. “The only Spirit I have dealings with is the Holy Spirit.” 

“Oh.” Flavian eyed him slyly. “Ah...Pentecostal.” 

Heath grinned. “Baptist.” 


At the balancing point in all awkward interactions when some decision or another must be made, the farther door opened the queen who had once been beautiful entered.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Behind-the-Scenes: a writing tag, answered

Hi, Kids! Still obnoxiously in the land of NO WIFI (can I scream like the first-world woman that I am?) so posts are still scarce as pre-boiled hens eggs, but I'm here at Starbucks again and I'm going to post by crikey. The Spindle & The Queen runs apace. I still haven't thought of a better title and I'm still angsting over getting all the details correct but I am happy with how it goeth.
There is much happy news in my land. My friend and editor, Rachelle Rea, has had published her second novel, The Sound of Silver! My friend, the ever-inspiring Mirriam Neal, has landed a contract for her wonderfully unique Paper Crowns and I'm pacing like a caged tiger to learn more details about it. I want to know by WHOM and WHEN we'll get to read it and all of that jazz. Patience. Bah.
I was also tagged by Elisabeth Foley to do the Behind-the-Scenes writing tag. I don't usually participate in tags but I figured that it could not possible hurt to help you peer into the foggy mist that is my writing process. It will help you cheer me on and that's something. Questions, then!

a blessing on your head, mazel tov, mazel tov.

Is there a certain snack you like to eat while writing? Hazelnut in dark chocolate. It began as my editing chocolate and is basically Nutella, deconstructed. I solemnly swear there is something in the molecular structure of this particular chocolate that is conducive to word-count and general productivity. It seldom, if ever, fails.

When do you normally write? Night, afternoon, or morning? Night. I would naturally prefer writing in the morning, but having a "real job" negates the possibility of morning or afternoon writing, except on Wednesdays which I have off, on principle.

Where do you write? Wherever is nearest to an outlet, as my mother's laptop (which I'm using till I buy a new on on Cyber Monday) cannot operate off-charger.

How often do you write a new novel? Ha. Hahahahahahaha.

Do you listen to music while you write? So rarely as to be a firm "no." If I do, it is instrumental, as I can't listen to someone else making words while I'm trying to.

What do you write on? Laptop or paper? Laptop, generally. I have fewer excuses if I write on Google Docs, which I can access anywhere. If I write on paper, there is far too much leeway for leaving it someplace like a car trunk for weeks on end (ahem).

Is there a special ritual you have before or after you write? Nope.

What do you do to get into the mood to write? Read someone else's work. Wish I could write like that. Decide I never will if I don't keep writing. Then I write.

What is always near the place you write? My inspiration journal, in which I keep all my research notes.

Do you have a reward system for word counts? Getting to stop without shame?

Is there anything about your process that others might not know about? I have a hard time tacking down plot. Characters, setting, dialog, writing itself are so much more natural to me than plot. I basically have to chase my story down a dark alley and buffet its head before it will respond with plot.

I tag Meghan Gorecki, since this tag has already been pretty well around my blogging circles. Cheers & stuff.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Spindle And The Queen

Though my story for Rooglewood Press's Five Magic Spindles contest is yet untitled, for now I am calling it The Spindle And The Queen. I have begun a Pinterest board for the story for those of you who are curious for the photographic inspiration behind it. I am thrilled to have set The Spindle in Romania at the beautiful Peles Castle. I'm privileged to have been twice to this location and to have hands-on research to help me in my writing...paired with the historical research required (Princess Maria of Romania was a legitimate person and died at the age of three), I'm quite excited and stocked-up-on-ideas for this story. Let me practice pitching The Spindle And The Queen to you:

Hunted by a rabidly envious gypsy-witch, Maria, princess of Romania, must decide in which era she truly belongs. Carlotta the Maleficent meant to keep a century between herself and her arch-rival, but when American Maria Weid stumbles into the past through a shattered bookcase in Peles Castle, the gypsy's carefully-sculpted plans are destroyed. If Maria, heir to the Romanian throne, discovers her true identity, she will alter the course of a history selected for the world by the maleficent lady. With Maria's intern hunting the truth this side of the century and the young princess, in possession of The Spindle, struggling to make sense at the other, Carlotta must wage her war. 

One princess buried , one gypsy queen vanished, one hundred-year gap. One book, which achieved it all, suspended between.

And now for the snippets, because I know all of you are absolutely dying (har, har) to read about the Sleeping Beauty!

The glass casing hummed beneath her hand, its beauty physically drawing her near: hundreds of unfamiliar stories in unfamiliar languages, made friends by their livery of leather and cloth and gold-leaf. If only there was no barrier between her and the books. If only she could touch them—just touch their spines and run her fingers across a page or two…the glass…how strong could it be? Would they even have an alarm system?

Don’t panic, Itty. Don’t you dare panic. She forced several calm breaths. See, that’s air. That’s oxygen. You’re fine. It loomed behind her memories, though, older than nightmare: a great blackness—layers of it—blotting out light, just as if she’d been put in a heavy, narrow box.

“Karl!” Elisabeth’s tone stung more than she intended and her husband’s blue eyes darted, troubled, to her face. The look melted her. Cold he certainly was, but he was not cruel. “Karl,” she tried again, “do you ever wonder how different our lives might have been if…”

A high, cadenced ceiling rose up, up, up above her; a ceiling just like music.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled. “P-pace.” There was no hand offered to shake so she went for the traditional cheek-kiss. The man backed away.

Monks. Right. Monks.

Heath was too clever to fall for the favorite “Americans are stupid so I will try to lie to them” trick. “Ma’am, all I know is that your bookcase swallowed up my boss and there is an entire film company in America who will be beating down the doors of this castle unless you tell me where she went.”

The tour-guide’s honey-hued eyes riveted Heath as if she’d taken her hand and tipped his chin to force the connection. He found an alluring, unsettling conviction in their touch. “Peles,” she said melodically, “is a palace, not castle.”

Could a more pleasant Alpine afternoon be asked for? Heath forced himself to notice the wide, forest-lined avenue and the sound of a river purling a short distance away. He passed a sign warning the pedestrian of possible bear sightings, and grimaced. If a bear would show up now and take care of everything for him, he’d probably not mind as much as he would have this morning. Before Maria had been so asinine. Before she’d vanished in a wall four inches thick.

“So unlikely,” Carlotta muttered. How many times had she searched through the tour groups, knowing that Maria, daughter of Elisabeth of Wien, would, by Fate’s hand, try to come home? How many times had her suspicion landed upon a woman fair in form and face, light and laughing as the child had been last she saw her? How many times had she watched such women, guided them away from the bookcase, sing-songed them to the safety of the outer court? And this one—this very American, brown-haired, green-eyed person, slightly plump and not graceful in movement—had slipped past her notice. Why? Because she had not considered a Romanian princess could have been so wonderfully…commonplace.

A young Romani boy—a gypsy, as were the rest of her household—scuttled off the front porch and came to her. She ruffled his hair and put away her golden magic for a time.

She took his hand in her own and swung her arms. “What has Tamara made for dinner?”


“Mmm. Did you go to school?”

Daniel scuffed his toes in the clean white gravel of the courtyard and looked off to the rose-beds. Carlotta sighed and chucked under his chin.

“Daniel, you know you must attend school.”


“Because.” She pulled him along.

“Because why?”

“You are a gypsy. You know what they think of us.”

Daniel’s dark eyes searched her face mischievously. “What? That we cannot learn?”

“That we are too shiftless to want to learn. I know that is not true. And so do you.”

“Maybe I do not want to learn.”

Carlotta’s voice dipped to the coaxing tone to which she seldom stooped. “You want to learn to make magic, don’t you? Like your ancestors?”

His black eyes riveted on hers. “I want that.”“Mmmmm. Good,” she hummed, and pushed open the heavy, gilded door.

Out of desperation, she had traded her Toms for an ensemble resembling more a feed-sack tied with a woolen scarf than anything recognizable as fashion, and a pair of ugly leather clogs. The trade had hurt her worse than she’d thought it would. Those glorious Toms…formed exactly to the shape of her foot….gone to an old, sewage-scented woman who appeared to be growing a beard of all things!

She knew the way to the palace. She felt odd, knowing, for it was clear to her that Peles was not entirely built. Workmen and carts crammed the road which led to the castle. Here a long-eared, sad-eyed donkey looking as if doomsday drew nigh, there a random knot of sheep and a lanky shepherd. She knew more of the palace than the palace knew of itself. It dizzied and enchanted Maria, and for one fleeting moment, she forgot her terror.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Illiteracy, Red Stairs, And A New Hashtag

Hello, chaps and chapesses! I wanted to pop in for a few reasons. First and foremost is to let you know that yes, I have been writing and yes, it is going well and the reason I've been so incognito on the blog is that our home wifi is null and void and has been for the past two months and by the time I get to Starbucks or another wifi'd place, work for my food + fashion blog has stacked up so much, all my time is spent playing catch-up for that. So this is going to be a fun post because I have twenty minutes to cover a multitude of sins and I'm going to go at it at a running pace.

Tuesday, September 8th, was International Literacy Day! It baffles me to think there are, by some accounts, 757 million adults in the world who cannot read. When I stop to consider how different my different I would be had I never learned to read, it it almost too much to handle. As the primary teacher of two little girls, one of whom is on that precarious brinking of reading-but-not-quite, I feel like I'm up close and personal with the subject of literacy and "can we read," or "can we not read." The following infographic (brought to my attention by Grammarly) gives you a little more insight into the problem if illiteracy and where the highest problem-areas are.

Literacy Day

Please don't take for the granted the fact that you can read and write and all the worlds that have opened up to you because of it. And if you ever get the chance to teach a child to it. It brings the subject into such a different point of view!

I'm working through Cocktail Hour by P.G. Wodehouse as well as slowly tromping through the rest of Schindler's List (it's so heart-rending I find I can only take very small doses), and reading through (over breakfast each morning) Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I heard this past weekend that Rooglewood Press is officially and permanently offering one of its author's stories as a free download, and Hayden Wand's The Wulver's Rose (from their Five Enchanted Roses collection) as chosen as the featured title! So definitely go download that and see if it tempts you into buying the whole collection.

September has also been a great month for another friend of mine, author Rachelle Rea, whose second novel, The Sound of Silver, Whitefire Press releases on October 15th! She's been busy all month sending out e-ARC copies to fellow authors and I just know it will be as huge a success as the first title.

My untitled Sleeping Beauty story. I'm still not sure whether I will enter Rooglewood's Spindles contest with this story, but I am writing it to that end. If the story wants to stretch itself and get bigger than the allotted word-count, I'm not going to cramp it and make it fit. I have a good feeling about this story and if it wants to become a full novel (though I'm not saying it will) I want to give it its freedom. Also, Cottleston Pie, which is being conducted on paper, has been locked in my trunk for two weeks. But it is so much almost finished I keep forgetting I need to actually do the deed.
Just now, as they mounted the red stairs again, the Queen weighed the cost of asking the one question to which she already guessed the answer: “When our sweet Mariechen died, did you swear to never again love anyone, even her mother?" But, as always, she hesitated. Already so strained, what might honesty add to the turmoil? No, far better to accept the coolness in place of warmer emotions and, philosopher-like, remark that the weather was pleasant enough to require only a light wrap. She placed her arm in his, reminded him of their evening engagements and, at the door to his study, parted from him with a sensation like frostbite pulsing in her throat

The hashtag for #wordplaywednesday! I know I've trained all of you to hashtag your weekly posts with that, but apparently we share it with something entirely different. So from now on, #wednesdaywordshare is the name of the game, okay? If you think of it, please share the news around so that we can all get grouped up again! :)

I will be back as soon as I can with a full snippets post, but I wanted to pop in while in the presence of wifi and say that I hadn't died, rotted, or abandoned ship. The Inkpen Authoress is still alive. Somewhat more stressed, busy, and wifi-deprived than of yore, but as full of words as she ever has been. Cheers, darlings!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Short Share

Autumn is a good time for sharing short, favorite poetry. Here is one of my very favorites by Emily Dickinson. I like how it doesn't mention goldenrod allergies. *achoo* Isn't it pretty?

"The morns are meeker than they were,
the nuts are getting brown.
The berry's cheek is plumper,
the Rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf, 
the field - a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned
I'll put a trinket on."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Nameless Vanish

You would think that after all this time, I would have learned. I would have learned to name my files before saving them. That being said, I'm here to announce that I finished the pressing chapter of Cottleston Pie which pretty nearly completes the draft. I'm going to consult with my notebook tomorrow and see if there are any pieces and stories I left dangling that want to be included, but otherwise I'm only going to smooth over a few things and touch up the synopsis before beginning to send it off. Excitement! I know that it won't be accepted probably for a very long time, but you never can tell. I also feel that I have a better pulse on what makes good children's fiction than I do on how to tap into the mystery market, or the historical romance market. Not that I couldn't get into those, but I feel it might be easier (and I will probably be eating crow, presently) to get into this market of children's fiction. We'll see.

What I mean by complaining about not naming files is this: I began a (very good) story for Rooglewood Press's  Five Enchanted Spindles contest and forgot to name it. At least, if I did begin it on Google Drive as I suppose, I forgot to name it. If I began it on my laptop, that is a whole different problem because guess what? My laptop died and with it, everything on it. Children, always back up your hard drive. I am not off to open every untitled document in Google Drive (because I had planned to work on this Very Good Story next, after finishing Cottleston Pie) and if I can't find it me weep. Here's hoping! Are any of you planning a story for Five Enchanted Spindles? I would love to hear about your story. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Hundred Ways To Write

I have just spent rather a lot of time traveling to see my new niece, so you'll excuse the lack of posting on this blog. I have also been reading a good deal. True Men & Traitors: From the OSS to the CIA, my Life in the Shadows by David Doyle is fascinating and whether because of that book or watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Cold War and spies have very much been on the brain. Schindler's List is nearly finished, and I've been burrowing among food magazines and reading up on this very different but so intricate form of creativity and the people who have done astonishingly well with it.

I've been thinking a lot about the different forms of "being a writer." When I first got into this gig, I thought being a writer meant being a novelist. Well, it can mean that and for a lot of us it does mean that. But there are many other methods of being a writer. Methods that are fun and helpful to explore even if you think novelizing is your main talent. For instance, you could freelance some non-fiction articles, enter an essay contest, submit poetry to a magazine, take on a job as a content-editor, start a blog series on your favorite restaurants, or write a cookbook. You could write an editorial for the newspaper on a social issue close to your heart, or freelance the entertainment column for a local newspaper. I think of one of my favorite Facebook accounts, Humans of New York, and how its proprietor, Brandon Stanton, has so smoothly meshed photography and writing in telling the stories of people he meets in word and image. That's such a cool and inventive method of being a writer. You know what I really want to do? I want to be in charge of writing descriptions of perfumes and naming a line of nail polishes or lipsticks. Isn't that weird? But I bet I could get paid for it and it sounds like so much fun. I've also always wanted to name a neighborhood full of streets under a certain theme. I think I might have a problem with naming things.

My heart has also been tied up in finishing seasons 4, 5, and 6 of White Collar and continuing to watching The West Wing. Also the odd episode or three of Parks & Rec watched while holding a sleeping infant and trying not to wake her with my laughter.

Got me thinking about screenwriting, and what a blast it would be to write a show so successfully that you had fans begging for more, that your words got quoted in daily conversation, that people aspired to dress like your character, or be your character some day.

Jeff Eastin, I blame you for my goal to become Elizabeth Burke. I also blame you for creating Neal Caffrey, making me want to marry a Bureau agent, and making NYC look swankier than it ever has. But that's a whole nother conversation. Then the devastating trailer for the final season of Downton Abbey came out and cemented the thing: screenwriting is, perhaps, just as rewarding profession as becoming a best-selling novelist. So I suppose my thought for your Wednesday is this: never limit the range of your writing experience to novels only. Write your novels and write them well. Noveling is probably the most straightforward way in which you can be a writer. But if you want to create an addicting screenplay on the side? Well, I'm not going to stop you.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Snippets of Story: Cottleston Pie

My August word-count goal of 10,000 words is coming along. Not terribly quickly, but it is mounding up, what with nearly 3,000 words in "Swing It" and another 2,000 in Cottleston Pie, not counting bits of it I am rewriting. For instance, I am switching the setting of Cottleston Pie from England (which wasn't necessary) to America, which means changing some terminology, holidays, etc. Still, after thinking on Cottleston Pie and deciding I wanted to add a couple of chapters from other points of view, I am focusing on wrapping that up and sending it to a final reader or two. I also read back through what I have in Scotch'd the Snakes and decided I need to find my notes and read up on who these important-sounding "strangers" are supposed to be up to, because I stopped writing mid-scene and quite forgot why or if they are important. Isn't that terrible? Should teach me not to suspend action for so long again. So today you get scraps of Cottleston Pie. Enjoy!

He thought he might say a few Clever and Weighty things, but the wren flew off across the purple morning and the King started his exercises: skipping thrice around the Cottleston Pie hill followed by jumping-jacks while humming “The Star Spangled Banner,” which was fantastic for getting your heart pumping if you didn’t suffocate first. When this was finished, the King did push-ups till his arms ached (after four-and-a-try, usually), and then he rolled around in the grass for a while to get the crackers out of his spine. At last, His Majeshty felt up for a stroll to clear his lungs so he’d be able to orate per usual, come breakfast.
-Cottleston Pie

"...if you’ve never taken a walk early in the morning by yourself, you can’t possibly imagine how new the world seems, how scrubbed up and polished, as with a chamois leather. Probably just for you, just this once. And yet every morning you wake up early, the world might look a little different – does look a little different – and so you form a habit of waking with it to see what clothes it puts on today because the one time you miss its wake-up face will probably be the freshest morning of all.
-Cottleston Pie

“An owlet.”
“Is what you look like,” the King said. “Or a quail. A small one. Such as might be fixed for my birthday. If you were a quail,” he said, feeling a breakfast-less cavity gape inside him, “I would not eat you. I am magnanimous like that. Kind to my friends. Gentle-hearted. Tender, I have been called now and then.
-Cottleston Pie

Privately, the King felt ready as a buffalo, but it wouldn’t do to lord such feelings over those of the weaker type.
-Cottleston Pie

"...The quickest way to get clean is to take a bath, and wanting to be clean, I took one this morning. But while I bathed – though half the trouble is getting back into them – I took off my clothes and my crown. I put my clothes on, thank heavens!” (And here the King scrabbled his robes around himself and looked severely down on Simpian for having even suggested he might do such a thing as forget) “But I left my crown at some point between scrubbing up and playing bear.”
-Cottleston Pie

About twenty-thirty-six hours later – it had taken the King quite a while to find his crown and even longer to find anything to eat – the King once again made his way down to the field where he’d left the orphaned cloud. It was still there, which it shouldn’t have been.“Good beans,” the King muttered. “I wonder what happened to the boy."
-Cottleston Pie

Friday, August 14, 2015

Flash Fiction: Swing It

As promised, some very-semi-autobiographical flash fiction which I hope you enjoy with your Friday morning! And I do mean "I hope you enjoy it" because I am late to work for its sake. Hurray and all that. P.S. If you ever get the chance, PLEASE learn East Coast Swing. It's the bee's knees. That's all.


"Swing It"
By Rachel Heffington

In response to its infernal ringing, Willoughby lifted the receiver of his desk-telephone and grunted into it: H’lo? Willoughby Colbert’s office.”
“Take me dancing and make me forget there was ever a man named Christopher Markham.” The person on the other end of the phone-line drew a few reedy breaths, then laughed a little off-center.
Willoughby rocked back in his chair and peered at the yellowing calendar on the wall. Yep, still 1944. “Sal, that you?”
“And who the deuce else would it be?”
Then it was Salamanca Deathridge, calling him up at nine PM on a Tuesday night after two and a half years of friendly silence. Already, Willoughby felt the buzzing warmth speed into his blood. Sal’s voice, homelike, smoothed glossy paint over all the cracks worn into his soul by the last thirty-two months.
“Rizzio’s?” he drawled.
“9:25. I’m taking a taxi. And I won’t pray before I get in.”
The sharp click on the other end of the line told Willoughby that Sal considered the appointment made: he’d show up, because he always did.  This eternal availability might’ve been because he was one of the only single men not kicking Hitler’s butt in France right now, but Willoughby preferred to think she favored his friendship over those  tributaries which ran dry. He knew exactly which troublesome grey umbrella Sal walked under tonight: the daring, wild, implacable mood of a woman who’d been spurned by someone or another. And he knew exactly how to sooth her, as he had so many times. Sal might go two years without speaking  to him, might not even remember there was such a guy as Willoughby Colbert in New York City, but get her in a pinch and she’d remember soon enough. Adorably predictable in that way. Kinda kid-like. She knew where to come for the real stuff.
Willoughby took his feet off the desk, spun his hat in an uncharacteristically flamboyant gesture, and walked, whistling, out the door, taking care to lock it behind him.

I don’t know why I care. Why do I care? I don’t. I don’t care.
“You got troubles, lady?”
Sal, too depressed to bother with activity, answered the cabby’s question with a non-committal “Mmmfh.”
“It’s just, you’re not looking quite yourself.”
This comment coming from a cab-driver she’d never met in her life caused Sal a momentary flicker of interest. She took her chin out of her hand and moved glazy eyes to the cabby’s potato-shaped face. “What’s that?”
He jerked his head over one shoulder, switched lanes, and jutted his chin. “Your lipstick’s coming off.”
Sal whipped out a compact mirror and saw, to her concern, the man had made an accurate observation. A vibrant red ring around her lips, a non-committal pink between.
“You know, I don’t know why I care.”
“About the lipstick?”
“So don’t,” the cabby advised helpfully.
Sal fished deeper in the little net clutch and extracted a tube of lipstick which she proceeded to apply. “Drama!” She flourished the tube. “ Everyone has to have their little pouch of drama, which wouldn’t be so bad if it could be rationed out or something. They ration everything else, you know. Why not drama?”
“Hear, hear!” the cabby pounded the edge of his steering wheel and pulled alongside the curb in front of a small dance-club. “Hey, lady.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying not to care about, but get this: it probably won’t matter tomorrow morning.”
Actually, it probably would matter tomorrow morning. Especially because he’d said that just now, in that absurdly cheerful manner of his. Sal manipulated a sulky smile onto her newly-rouged lips and handed in a fifty-cent coin. “Keep the change.”
“It won’t matter!” the cabby yowled after her as Sal slipped past a group of businessmen headed uptown. “Tomorrow, it won’t matter.”
Sal waved her net bag without turning around and barged through the door into Rizzio’s. A well-groomed attendant took her light wrap and asked if she waited for a companion.
“Seen a long-legged loser come in recently?”
The waiter answered that, if she referred, perhaps, to the gentleman sitting at the bar just there, then perhaps miss would like him to go apprise him of her arrival?
The attendant glistened off and Sal watched the old play of familiar figures: the immaculate waiter clearing his throat at Willoughby’s side, Willoughby, thoroughly absorbed in a cup of coffee, not hearing him. The waiter trying again, Willoughby coming-to with a jolt, the soft lights of the bar gleaming on his head of unabashedly good hair. The crinkle-eyed smile was followed up, as always, by the whole six foot-five of Willoughby Colbert extending itself to full running-trim as he found her and came forward.
“Salamanca Deathridge. Two years have done you no harm.”
“And if I’m allowed to hope that you’ve done no harm to anyone in two years, I think we must render ourselves satisfied.”
Willoughby’s eyes ran over her face again and again and she knew he saw straight through the confident lipstick. That was why she came.
“Let’s dance.”
Sal proffered her small, manicured hand and let it rest in Willoughby’s big, empty one. He put his other hand firmly in the small of her back and steered her to the floor where a black jazz band played one of her favorite songs. She couldn’t remember the name of it right now, or any of the words, but let her body sway to the rhythm. She’d missed this. Why had it been two and a half years? No wonder she felt thin and frail and half-starved.
“So who’s Christopher Markham and when can I do the honor of punching him for you?”
They’d gone away for a few minutes, and now all of Sal’s troubles came galloping back to stampede across her mind and leave her exhausted again. She wilted a little against Willoughby’s supporting arm and shook her head. “He’s Dorcas’ sweetheart.”
“Dorcas Bowman?”
“I thought she was with Donny.”
“She broke that off eighteen months ago.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t have known.”
Was it just her, or did Willoughby sound a little defensive right there? She thought she’d better wake him up a bit. “I was thinking, I ought to throw a little party for all of the old set: Dorcas, Annie, Ben, Frankie, Martin, Priscilla. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“If any of the old set is still this side of the Atlantic.”
Definitely defensive this time. Sal wilted a little further as she realized, barring she and Dorcas and Priscilla, who were nurses in a hospital here, all the old set had signed up for the war in their different capacities. All except Willoughby, who’d been excluded on the ridiculous grounds of asthma or something and now worked in the ad business.
“It’s okay, Sal,” Willoughby was saying now. “Somebody’s gotta stick around to paint Uncle Sam’s picture. ‘We Want You.’ It’s only those he doesn’t want who get the honor of making him look welcoming. I know his best angle. He says I’m his favorite portrait-painter.”
“I didn’t mean to pinch a sore spot, Wills.”
“Aw, I know, kiddo.”
He spun her gently out and brought her back, but it was an empty gesture, she felt. No pizazz in it. And this music was too slow. How was a girl supposed to cheer up if the band kept playing sentimental ballads?
“So what has Dorcas’s boyfriend done to peeve you?”
Christopher Markham of the excellent nose and devastating profile  stalked into Sal’s mind. She gave him a mental kick in the pants as the band wrapped up one piece and started into “Swinging on a Star.” Willoughby’s hands gripped hers a little tighter and she leaned back into his tension.
“Christopher Markham,” she said, “Is a great big bad egg. He’s ridiculously handsome and Dorcas is absolutely ga-ga over him. She’s never home. We make all these plans to meet for dinner and she always forgets.” Maybe it was childish of her to feel cut out, but it wasn’t like Dorcas ever made any effort to keep things up. And they were roommates for heaven’s sake. “Chris is eternally taking her to the theatre, or the USO show, or out dancing. And when she is home, it’s nothing but, ‘Christopher this,’ or ‘Christopher that.’ I swear, Wills, I could tear that man’s eyes out with my fingernails.”
Willoughby cut off Sal’s bad humor by snapping her into a spin and dip. She came up laughing and not half as angry at Dorcas as she ought to be.
“A mule is an animal with long funny ears, kicks up at anything he hears.” Willoughby sang in his shameless way, a little oblivious as to tempo, but thoroughly good-natured. “His back is brawny but his brain is weak, he’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her to make her laugh, and tossed her to one side, then the other, gripping her close and flinging her away.
The joy of dancing – of being dragged through a musical kaleidoscope and making trails in the notes with their feet –began to intoxicate Sal. The new-fangled Latin dances were all dandy if you wanted something romantic, but for forgetting your woes, for forgetting everything but the easy presence of a good friend, there was nothing like swing. Willoughby was an excellent dancer – one of the best, in fact. Besides, she could always wear high-heels around him – the highest she wanted – without ever being taller than him. And this was a useful thing when you’re over-the-average tall for a girl.
“Still stewing over this Christopher Markham fiend?”
“Who’s Christopher Markham?”
“Atta girl. Any other men bothering you?”
“Men? A bother?”
“It’s been over two years. Can’t imagine a pretty, spunky thing like you’s been spending her time alone. You’re a nurse in a big hospital. Bet every soldier comes through your ward and leaves lovesick.”
“You’re a big tease.”
“I’m being one-hundred-percent honest, kiddo.”
Sal shrugged. “Maybe there’ve been a couple disturbances.”
“Major infractions?” Willoughby wrinkled his nose and laughed. “Anyone need a fist in the face?”
“That’s a little cruel when most of them have  Kraut metal in there already. No, no one needs your charming fist, but thanks.”
Willoughby quieted a little and shook his head seriously. “God knows I wish I had a chance.”
“To fight?”
“All these other fellas.” He spun her again. “And I don’t have even a fraction of a chance.”
She thought he meant a chance to fight. He probably did. Of course he could have meant something tenderer, but Sal was a sensible girl. She knew better than to ruin a perfect friendship by asking it if it wanted more. They danced closer to the band and, Sal imagined, made all the other couples jealous with their unaffected happiness.
“And you, Wills?”
He tilted his head down to look her in the eye. “What about me?”
The gaze lifted. “Nah. Too busy.”
Sal could translate: “I can’t fight so I’m not worthy of any woman.” That’s what that meant. She backed them off the dance floor as the song finished and rested her hand with purpose on Willoughby’s arm. He flinched a little as if even that was too good for him but Sal stayed with him and felt his pulse under her touch.
“Wills, you are valuable.” She gave him one of her best, most encouraging smiles.
He laughed, as he always had, like it couldn’t be true but that he was glad she’d said something. “Hey, Sal?”
Another whole-hearted smile. “Yeah?”
“I think you’ve got some lipstick on your tooth.”
It didn’t bother Sal how she looked in Willoughby’s presence.  He was too familiar for that. All the same, blood shot to her face and shame – though she was unsure why – flooded to her fingertips. She growled savagely and swiped at her teeth.
“It’s probably because,” she protested, “I put it on in a dark cab with an impertinent driver looking on.”
Willoughby tossed his head, laughing the old laugh that forgot itself. “C’mon, goober. Let’s dance.”
He tugged her out to the floor and she followed, slipping past a young woman in evening dress who had stepped to the front of the band to sing. Willoughby looked back to smile at the girl appreciatively. Sal laughed in his face.
“What about her, Wills?”
His eyebrows shot up. “You’re not suggesting I pick up a chorus girl?”
“She’s an entertainer, and a looker to boot.”
“You’re horrible, Sal.”
She shrugged, pleased with herself. “I know.”
The band played a slow, bluesy tune and Willoughby’s arm fit easily around her waist. She was pleased for a slower pace and glad it wasn’t a waltz – her left arm always ached from reaching up over his Alpine shoulder. The room darkened and what lights there were focused on the singer, who smiled a little sadly and slipped into the first lines of a bittersweet, familiar tune.
“I can see no matter how near you’ll be you’ll never belong to me,” the girl sang. “But I can dream, can’t I?”
Her voice was devastating. Tears pinched the bridge of Sal’s nose, unreasonably she felt. Why the heck was she crying? What about? Nothing. Besides, Willoughby always hated that sort of thing.
He continued to lead well. Hadn’t seemed to notice her sudden depression. Bless the man’s obliviousness. Sal sorted through a stack of conversation-starters she might use to distract from this unwanted emotion. She could tease Willoughby again about the entertainer, or suggest he cut his hair differently, or admit to being as tired as she suddenly felt. If she employed the latter excuse, he’d take her gently to one of the cocktail tables lining the walls. He was that sort. A good sort.
“Can’t I pretend that I’m locked in the bend of your embrace?” the woman sang. “For dreams are just like wine and I am drunk with mine.”
Sal’s breath caught like a half-sob in her throat. Good heavens, woman. Collect yourself. Willoughby was humming along now. She felt his deep voice thrum against her palm which rested on his back, and at the next line he broke softly into song, keeping company with the entertainer:
His smile reached deep into his eyes, deprecating even the moment, apologizing for things that could not have been his fault.  “I’m aware my heart is a sad affair. There’s much delusion there but I can dream, can’t I?”
Smile. Say something flippant, but Willoughby spun three times and the opportunity dropped someplace on the floor between them. The bridge of Sal’s nose hurt worse than ever and now her throat was tangled up in the trouble, asking to air-drop an embarrassing cargo of tears.
“Can’t I adore you although we are oceans apart?” Willoughby would sing. “I can’t make you open your heart but I can dream, can’t I? Dream on, dream on…”
The song finished on a sorrowful note. People were applauding for the songstress and Sal joined blindly in. She wasn’t so far gone as to forget what a beautiful moment the silk-clad, sparkling girl had given her.  Then, before she’d had a chance to shirk the memory and let it fade, the band-leader grinned and jerked into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
It jarred against her emotions like fingernails on old stone. Great. The Moment was now cemented in her heart forever by an incongruous set-list. No laughing it off now. As suddenly as Willoughby’s rich mood had dropped upon him it wisped away and he was his old, half-contrary self: a boy’s face and a man’s loyalty draped over six and a half feet of clumsy, good intentions.
“He’s in the army now blowin’ reveille, he’s the boogie-woogie bugle boy of Company B,” they sang together.
Willoughby bobbed his shoulders up and down like a simpleton. “They made him blow a bugle for his Uncle Sam. It really brought him down because he couldn’t jam…and now the company jumps when he plays reveille, he’s the boogie-woogie bugle boy of Company B.”
They finished with a deep dip and Willoughby half-dropped Sal. She squeaked and clung to his arms.
“Don’t drop me!”
Cackling, he lifted her back on her feet. “Just trying to shake that glum look off you. Shoot straight with me now, little Sal.” He tucked his chin and looked stern. “There’s a fella overseas, isn’t there?”
“Now what makes you think –”
They sauntered toward the bar. Willoughby motioned for two glasses of water. “Your face a minute ago. I can read faces.”
“Mmm.” She leaned against the counter. “You’d be a lot smarter if you learned to read books.”
“Ouch. What’s his name?”
“The fellow.”
“Which fellow?”
“The one overseas.”
She sighed heavily. “Would it surprise you very much if I told you there isn’t one?”
“I’d be confused about your pouty-face.”
“Confusion is yours.”
Willoughby downed his water and viewed her a moment through the bottom of the glass. He set it down on the counter with a careless clack.
“Tell Dorcas I said hello.”
Sal jumped a little, then laughed. Dorcas with her sudden inability to remember any commitment, her protests when teased, her piled-on apologies, assurances of how sorry she was she’d left Sal – again – to her own company. Dorcas with her hideously perfect boyfriend.
“I hate this,” Sal admitted.
Willoughby flung an eyebrow upward. “What?”
“This annoying realization.”
“Which one?”
“That the cabby was right. It already doesn’t matter.”
And because Willoughby understood her so well, he didn’t immediately inquire what cabby. The twenty-piece band, the soundtrack of their incongruent lives, struck up another tune.
“You know what, Sal?” The wry brother-smile.
“I say swing it.”

And really, put that way, his was the best logic in the world.