A Fey Queen in a Library

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(A new WIP. © Robin D. Ashe 2017)

            Órfhlaith used the water closet. It was efficient and clean. The soap was in a bottle on the sink. She drank water from her clean hands, then immediately wished for food.

            Food was a conjuring beyond her powers at the moment. As the big room grew warmer, she smelled sweet scents and meat from a white box in the corner. She opened it. Cold rushed out, dissipated, and then she saw bread, meat in a container, little white bowls with fruit and yogurt written on them, and a bottle with a paper label that read Excite Water. The liquid was pink. She turned the lid until it fell off and rolled across the floor, then sniffed the liquid. Wine.

             There were forks, spoons, and knives wrapped in something clear on top of the white box. She broke the instruments in one before she realized how to open the package. The room was warm. She had food and drink and proper facilities, and she was in a building lined with shelves of books.

            She used a flimsy knife to force her way into a yogurt bowl, then ate up all the white milky stuff and berries. She had a sip of wine. She felt much better. She took the blanket—a thing made from itchy yarn that didn’t smell like wool—wrapped it around her shoulders, and went walking the library with the light hidden in her fist. Every room seemed to be a small library. She found the room where the globe lived and glanced over titles with her head cocked to the side until she found a set of big books with black bindings and gold writing. She knew what encyclopedias were. They many, so very many, in the castle library.

            She carried the first five back to the improvised bedchamber, arranged the pillows, ate another yogurt, and propped herself up on the couch with the itchy blanket over her knees and the bottle of wine in her hand, and she read the first book and most of the second before the nearly-empty bottle slipped out of her hand, her head fell back, and she started to snore.

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Something Fun

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I have a lot of hobbies: reading, drawing, sewing, gardening . . . well, that’s not a hobby, it’s a big part of my life . . . photography, and collecting dolls. Lately, things in the world and the U.S. in particular have been so depressing that it’s a struggle to write for the day job and work on my novels. I’m 44, and I’m starting to have problems with arthritis, so I’ve neglected my sewing and drawing. When I lived on Long Island, I spent hours every day driving around taking pictures. That’s difficult where I live now because I lost my SUV in the divorce due to my ex-husband’s lies and financial connivance. It’s hard to go off-roading in my Kia. On Long Island, it’s commonplace to see people parked on the side of the road, taking pictures. Here, it seems to be bizarrely annoying to people who rocket past in their giant pickups, laying down on their horns as if stopping on the shoulder, putting on your hazard lights, and standing on the opposite side of the road with a camera is some kind of unpardonable sin.

But I digress. I’ve found cemeteries and parks and other places where I can take pictures without someone trying to run me over. There is still the issue of having to go somewhere instead of simply going about my daily business with the camera in the passenger seat. I get some nice shots around my yard from time to time. I got this shot of the full moon tonight:

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I’ve been actively collecting dolls for about 17 years. Doll collecting has gone from a casual hobby to something that keeps me sane. I know what the majority of people think about doll collectors, and I frankly don’t care, because those people collect baseball cards, comic books, model trains, sports team memorabilia, and lots of other things that bore me to tears.

Doll collecting isn’t about returning to one’s childhood, at least not for me. Today’s dolls would have struck me speechless when I was 10. I would have loved the Monster High dolls in particular. I still collect Barbie . . . articulated Barbies, Fashionistas, Holiday Barbies, special collector Barbies. I keep an eye out for a couple of dolls, Star Fairies and Chrissies, that I particularly loved as a child. I’m fascinated by doll photography. I’m terrible at it, but I try. I’ve been incredibly lucky–no, I worked really hard and saved my money and bought three Monster High repaints and three Tonners. I bought the Tonners nude, otherwise I would never have been able to afford them. I found a wonderful lady in North Carolina who makes clothes for Tonners. I dressed the dolls myself, and I’m quite proud of how I personalized them.

Some dolls, you set up and look at and enjoy, like my Wonder Woman dolls. Some dolls you dress and photograph, like my Tonners and my Monster High dolls. I bought a used Ever After High doll, Cerise Hood, the daughter of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (I’m assuming he was a werewolf, nothing will sway my opinion) so I could try giving her a short haircut. So few dolls have short hair. The haircut came out gorgeous. I redressed the doll. The entire project cost $33 (and a bruised thumbnail because I evidently don’t know how to hold barber shears) and was so much fun. I took a mass-produced doll and made it unique. I only wish I had the talent to repaint doll faces.

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Aren’t my twin sisters lovely?

My point in writing this post is to say–hobbies are important for your mental and physical health. ESPECIALLY today. Gardening is a hobby for many people, but to me it’s like running every day. It’s just something I have to do to live, and it does relieve mental stress, and it gets me out doing something physical. It’s healthy and productive.

But so are hobbies. Hobbies take your mind off all of everything that’s going on today for a little while. That’s why coloring books for adults are so popular. That’s why crocheting, knitting, building models, and creating model railroads are so popular. If you don’t do anything but work and try to spend some time with your family before you go to bed so you can get up and go to work again, you’re almost certainly tense, exhausted, and unhappy.

Get a hobby. Make doll clothes. Go fishing. Paint something. Become an amateur astronomer. Do yourself a favor, and make sure that you regularly take a mini vacation.

Put your phone down.

Sometimes I wonder if people wonder why this blog isn’t devoted to books, writing them and reading them. I love writing. I love reading. Writing is my job. Reading is part of my job. I talk books and writing with other writers on Twitter. Here, I like to talk about other things, although since I’ve broken through my writer’s block, I’ll likely be writing more posts about writing, and what I’m reading.

This post isn’t one of my ranty posts. It’s for you and so many other people who have reached the end of their tethers with the excruciating stress of daily life. You have a hobby you’ve been neglecting or want to try but haven’t. Do it.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Today’s reality is soul-crushing. Do something fun to escape it. It will improve your mood and hopefully lower your blood pressure.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

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Yesterday evening, I looked yet again at the pictures of screaming, torch-carrying Nazis in Charlottesville, and something popped into my head. So I tweeted it.

“If you can’t stand the heat, don’t wave a tiki torch at a Nazi rally.”

Here’s a screenshot of my tweet, with the date and time. That’s important in light of what happened later that night.

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Actually, I wrote it in the afternoon. At 5:08 pm, someone asked, “Can I steal this?” To which I replied, “You can RT it.”

At 10:44 pm, I got a tweet asking to use “this slogan” on the person’s podcast with my consent. I don’t know this person, this account, or anything about this podcast. I put them off with “let me think about it” so that I could find out what the podcast was about and who was associated with it. Then my neighbor came to the door. By the time I finished talking to her and got back to my computer, the user with the podcast had already decided that it was okay for them to use it because putting it on the Internet made it “fair use.”

That’s a load of manure, and I told them that they were incorrect. And then I spent hours fending off trolls . . . or tweets by the same person from multiple accounts . . . and reporting their tweets, including some that were sexually explicit. To a woman on the Internet, when a hostile, harassing man makes a sexual remark, it’s not a joke. It’s not “just trolling.” It’s threatening.

The person or persons with the podcast told me that I had FORCED them to reword my tweet so that they could use it as their own slogan. And they were foolish enough to put the copyright symbol at the end of their decidedly flat “slogan.”

People, please.

I’m not going to put the copyright symbol at the end of this post because I don’t have to. As soon as I write these original words and they appear on my screen, I own the copyright. Of course, registering your work with the United States Patent and Trademark Office is advisable because it makes it easier to defend your copyright in court, but I own these words.

Copyright and tweets is a new area of copyright law. Your tweet has to have some worth to be subject to copyright law. A poem, for example, has that worth. And if my “slogan” is worth people verbally attacking me for hours, telling me that I “deserve to be trolled off Twitter,” and rewording my tweet and showing it to me (I got a bunch of nice screenshots) then my tweet must have worth.

If I find the reworded tweet or my tweet being used for any type of advertising/moneymaking purposes, the people using it will get a DMCA takedown notice. And yes, I may consider a lawsuit. I told the people who so badly wanted my “slogan” that they did not have permission to use it in any way other than to retweet it. They’re already on notice.

I did not set out to write a slogan. I wrote a tweet about the stupidity of carrying a Tiki Torch to a Nazi rally, then whining about having one’s picture plastered all over the Internet. I don’t want the words that I wrote used to make money for some losers who can’t write their own slogans. I don’t want the words I wrote used to make money at all unless I choose to use them in some way and give the proceeds to the people injured at the Charlottesville rally and the family of the murdered woman. She was, like me, a bankruptcy paralegal, and she chose that career to help people, like I did.

Now I’m a freelance writer, and I know very well how much people want words written by a professional but don’t want to pay for them, or pay for what they’re really worth. I’ve written so much content for businesses that sell expensive products or services. They’ve made so much money off me. I’ve made minimum wage, if I was lucky, but I like the work, and it allows me to be at home with my mother in case she falls or has another episode of malignant high blood pressure. Freelancing allows me to make sure my mother eats three meals a day and doesn’t try to climb a ladder to cut down a tree branch or vacuum the basement stairs.

I pinned my tweet to my Twitter profile so that everyone can see the time and date stamps. If I see my tweet being used in any way, we’ll see just how much value a court thinks that it has.

Excerpt, Love Lies Bleeding

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I bought wine, vodka, and whiskey. The guy behind the counter asked if he could come to the party. I smiled and wondered how he’d feel about being an hors d’oeuvres.

Two o’clock. I was going to be waiting in agony for the rest of my life for the sun to set. But it wouldn’t be the rest of my life. In nine years I would be his mortal age, if we managed to stay together that long. Then, well . . . then things would really get interesting.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 2: Vivian

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What is there to say about me? Once I was a mother. I lost my daughter.

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I felt that I was becoming a shadow. I couldn’t bring my daughter back. I couldn’t keep living in our home. One day, I woke up and packed a valise and went to the airport.

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I don’t require much, and when I make a decision, I act. I left England for the United States. I was used to a quiet life in a green countryside. I took a taxi cab from the airport to the train station, and when I walked out onto the street and looked up at the metal and glass buildings and heard the noise of so many people and so many cars, I almost turned around.

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I thought I had made a dreadful mistake, that I should return home, but I kept walking until I found myself in an old part of the city. Though the buildings were young compared to my home, I did sense age, and the passage of many lives, and there was life all around me. Street vendors selling food, clothes, handbags, shoes. I didn’t need shoes. I thought that I might seek lodging in this neighborhood, at least for a little while. Then I heard a woman calling a cat. I looked up, and she was standing on a balcony with a wrought iron railing.

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“There!” she called, and pointed, and I saw a kitten with blue eyes hiding under a food vendor’s cart.

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I have never been a great fan of cats and was surprised when it came to me. The woman ran down, and I saw she was just a little older than my daughter had been. I told her I was new to the city. She said that she had a room to rent.

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This is how I came to live with Justine. She loves books and old-fashioned things. I am an old-fashioned thing. She said that I must have more clothes, so she took me to her dressmaker. I paid. I paid for a new dress for her, too. One thing I did bring plenty of was money. The apartment is tiny, even thought it has two bedrooms. We’ve been talking about moving. I’ve grown to like the little beast, whose name is Pyewackett after a cat in an old movie. We like old movies. We aren’t exactly friends yet. Perhaps we are both trying too hard. I must never tell Justine how much she reminds me of my daughter. Sometimes I hear Justine’s step behind me and think it is . . .

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But it isn’t, and it never will be.

Can a Villain Be a Villain?

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Or, can a monster be a monster?

This is a hard one for me because I write vampires, all of whom would describe themselves as monstrous in many ways, but not monsters.

Of course the sympathetic vampire started with . . . Carmilla! She beat Dracula by 25 years!

What prompted this post wasn’t vampires with whom you can sit down and earnestly talk before they drain you dry. It was goddamned Jeepers Creepers.

I hate this movie so much that I watched it and the sequel last night, and I figured out why Jeepers Creepers works and Jeepers Creepers 2 doesn’t. The sequel brought us too close to the monster.

Okay, let’s define the movie monster we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with the bizarre, horrifying, disgusting, demonic, soul-devouring THING that’s never been a person. This isn’t the type of monster you can even try to reason with because once it notices you, you’re dead.

Monsters got wimpy for a while there; maybe that’s why zombies are so popular. Zombies are way worse than the demon from Jeepers Creepers. They aren’t even interesting.

And that right there is why Jeepers Creepers 2 fails. It brings us too close to the monster. The closer we get to the monster, the less it scares us.

The monstrous vampire in my first book has a backstory that readers learn as the series progresses, but essentially, this vampire was a human monster and was chosen to become a vampire for that reason. But you’re not going to get chummy with it. You’re not going to spend much time with it, for the same reason we shouldn’t have spent so much time with the monster in Jeepers Creepers 2: Both are simply evil things.

Times are bad and we’re trying to make chummy with century-old villains, like the villains in fairy tales. There’s no understanding of why DAMMIT THAT PERSON IS JUST BAD. There are too many excuses.

Vampires can be amplified versions of ourselves, our desires, our evils. Or, they can just be monsters.

If your villain is a vile creature, let it run free. Monsters require no reason nor rhyme. Just don’t allow it to spend to much time onstage, because the more we see of it, the more we question it, and questioning the monster saps its power.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 1: Justine

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I’m twenty-two (my birthday was in January) and have been living in a little apartment since I was eighteen. My apartment is in an old-fashioned brick building with cast-iron door handles and balcony railings. There’s no elevator, but I don’t mind climbing the stairs.

Someone in the building has a lady cat that goes outside, and she had kittens. I adopted a boy kitten and named him Pyewackett.

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He has enchanting blue eyes. My favorite colors are blue and pink. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together.

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I work in a library, in the history room. I shelve the very old books. On my way home, I sometimes stop at a shop that sells vintage clothes and little treasures. I bought my doll there, and my chest of drawers, and bedding. I like imagining that I saved someone’s favorite thing from being thrown away, and now it’s one of my favorite things.

I don’t need much, just books and Pyewackett. One warm day I did a terrible thing: I left the balcony door open, and Pyewackett disappeared.