Friday, December 28, 2007

Thunder is Rumbling Again

Once again, the family has a health crisis. My father-in-law is having triple bypass surgery today. It seems like we get past one hurdle only to find another one right on the horizon. I'm the central communication hub, excused from hospital duty because my back is in particularly nasty shape. Shannon is there with his mom and I'm keeping the other, widespread offspring up to date.

Right now all the up to date is: still in surgery. Try back at 5.

It's strange how the wheels of life turn sometimes. It actually can work like some of the plots I concoct with hills and plateaus--and cliffs-- in the action topography. Sometimes, as in the Summers' households this year, it's all cliffs. We've been rock climbing and rappelling like crazy this year just trying to keep one turn ahead of the twist in the road.

Four sixteen.

I start a submission orgy on January 2nd. I'll be querying two different novels (Requiem and Terella) to as many agents as possible. I've been polishing the hell out of them for a month and I finally wrote the last chapter of Terella this week. I'd been putting it off because I knew how I wanted it to end but couldn't quite wrap my fingers around how to portray it. Sort of a Jesus meets Carrie (Stephen King) image had wandered around my mind and I finally figured out how to create that feel. I am eerily optimistic about it. Requiem is paranormal romance, pure and simple. It will be nice to see what it can do.

Four twenty one. Time sure is moving slowly. I think I'll let the dogs out, smoke a cigarette while sheltering from the rain on the deck, and think about maybe taking a long, hot bath. Then I'll go back to the computer and pound my query letters into shape. Four twenty two.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Gift for Christmas

We went home to Tennessee for Christmas. This year was different from so many others because on the 23rd, I had a reunion with my Latin class. I’ve spoken before of my teacher, Grady Warren. This year, the students that he and his wonderful wife Kaye taught over the course of 3 decades came together to honor them. It was fabulous: we had pictures from old Junior Classical League conventions and got to try and figure out who was who. Great fun.

And, it leads me to a story…

Once upon a time, I was a toddler who lived in a tiny house on old highway 79 in Oakwood, Tennessee. Because it was a highway, the only little girl I was allowed to play with was the one who lived three houses up: Tammy Milliken. She was smaller than me, a tiny little thing with a mop of brown curls and big, sweet eyes. She was the only child that came to the Millikens, who were a hard-working farm family. My mom would take me over to her house and we were allowed to play sedately in her fenced-in back yard. Eventually, we moved. I didn’t run into Tammy again until high school.

When we met up again, we were rivals. In Latin, we both studied mythology; I beat her at all the conventions. In forensics, we both competed in extemporaneous speaking; she beat me soundly for four years. We hung out together at conventions, where we became great friends. I hooked her up with her boyfriend, who went to my school. When she turned 16, she bought a car with money she’d saved for years—picking tobacco for her father. In every way, Tammy was a model student, daughter, and friend. Except for the fact that she beat the tar out of me at every debate tournament, she and I grew closer every year.

Our senior year, we’d decided to both go to Austin Peay State University. We had agreed to be debate partners—after all, how could anyone beat us? It was going to be fabulous.
We had it all planned out.

Two weeks before we started school, Tammy was killed by a drunk driver. What makes her case so different(odd? horrible? sad?) is that the man who killed her was driving a dump truck at 7 a.m. while still inebriated. He crossed the median and hit her head-on. She was one mile from her house, on her way to see her grandmother. Her funeral was the last time I had seen most of the people I saw last Sunday. We’d huddled together in great clumps at the funeral home, shocked, dazed and angry. Long lines of adolescents filed in front of her coffin, to take one last look at Tammy, whose face was miraculously intact, and to hold the hands of her stunned parents. I remember leaning over to kiss her and then saying to her mother, “You know Tammy was like a sister to me, Mrs. Milliken…” before choking up and moving on.

So on Sunday, as a group of Latin geeks from the 80s found themseleves in the same place at the same time, we all took a moment to remember Tammy and to honor her place among us. She was the first, and the hardest, loss to our number. For a little while, it was like she was there with us, laughing and falling back into the old jokes.

Strangely, I didn’t see a picture of her. I don’t know if I just missed it or if there really wasn’t one. It didn’t matter; her face has swum before my eyes pretty consistently over the last few days.

Yesterday, I went with my father to visit my grandparents’ grave. While I watched my aunt adjust flowers on their headstone, I looked around. Fifteen rows from my grandparents, I saw two headstones that read “Milliken.” One was a dual stone, only one side filled for Mr. Milliken. Mrs. Milliken lives alone now, on a farm not far from the cemetery. But next to him was Tammy’s grave. I hadn’t been there since she’d been interred. There were fresh flowers there, and it was there that I saw her picture. She smiled out at me from the headstone, the braces she’d been buried in glinting slightly from the flash. I smiled back, and laid a single flower on her grave.

There really isn’t a point to this story, unless it's that I’ve noticed lately that graves have become associated with holidays. I paid my pilgrimage to my mother’s grave this morning as we were leaving town. Tammy's was the first grave to bring pain and confusion to my life; it was fitting that I should remember her along with this last, more vicious pain. Perhaps you, who are my friends and peers and audience, would like to know that once upon a time in a tiny hamlet buried in Tennessee, there was a girl named Tammy Milliken who was everything that I am not. And twenty three years after her death, a group of 30- and 40- and even a few 50- and 60- somethings that gathered together in a church hall in Tennessee who remembered, and missed, her still.

In this season of resolutions and gift exchanges, it may help to know that you don’t have to be great, or successful, to make an impact on this world. Consider that my gift to you.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Upsizing and Downgrading--or Why The Holidays Suck

Wow, have I been busy. Not only have I been too busy to blog, but I juswt checked my email accounts and had ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY TWO new emails.

Of which 90 were spam.

So, I've been getting the antique shop through the holidays (traffic is up, business is down--go figure), rapping out a mess of rewrites, bartending for special holiday parties *rolls eyes* and doing sporadic Christmas shopping (I'm still planning my annual December 23 2 a.m. trip to get it all done) and...not content with my normal chaos...have decided to upgrade and move to a bigger house.

Yeah, I know. The last chick is flown from the nest and now I want a bigger house? Go figure. So in the midst of holiday madness and still under a work restriction from my latest back fiasco (did NOT go well, but thanks for asking!) I am now packing up my house.

What an idiot.

So anyway, here's what I figure: if I can make it past January 7th (Ohio State in the national championship game playing against LSU in what is essentially a home game for the SEC champ---have to love the 'fairness' of a system like the BCS) then I can get back some semblance of my normal compartmentalized life. Won't that be nice?


*thinks for a minute*

Yeah. I agree. Bah humbug.