3 free Bobbie Faye short stories coming soon (for newsletter subscribers)

I finally did it. I know, I know, not a single one of you thought I’d ever get my act together and get the short stories up where you could get them again, but I have finally done so.

Announcing 3 free Bobbie Faye short stories for newsletter subscribers. (Limited time only.)

If you’re seeing this directly on my site, the “sign up here” button above the blog is what you’d click on to go subscribe.

If you’re seeing this on Goodreads, then here’s a short link to get you to the sign-up page: CLICK HERE
[Your email will never be sold, shared, spammed, folded, stapled, or inappropriately fondled.]

I had fun making the covers. Here’s the first one. (More cover reveals next week.)

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Colors

Man, it has been difficult picking out the colors of the building we’re remodeling in the Quarter. We both started out certain we wanted red, with white trim. Until we really started looking at reds, and found that most of them were either too orange at some point in the day, or too purple later in the evening. Rust was out (there are two prominent buildings near us that are rust), as well as yellow (same reason).

You would not believe how many quarts of paint we murdered today to pick the final final no-going-back-dammit final colors. I thought I might have the record, but I found out from Sherwin Williams today that someone else, over the course of trying to make her decision, had gone through 96 quarts. At least I’m not that bad. (Close, but not that bad.)

We settled on a forest green for the main portion of the building. A darker shade of that green for the molding that go across, and a cream for the columns and the surrounds of the windows. For the mullions, a deep rust accent color.

It’s got to be approved by the historic committee this week, because next week is sunny and perfect for our painters to get started. Fingers crossed.

Welcome to the new digs.

If you typed in tonimcgeecausey.com and got here–to themisfitchronicles.com, then everything worked as it should. I’ve built this new site in order to consolidate my writing news, blogs, etc., with my photography and design/remodeling. There will be far more updates here than on the old place, which necessitated the move. I highly recommend xuni.com and Maddee and Jen over there for anyone who’s looking for someone else to build a site for you.

For me, though, my business has grown–both the writing business, and the photography (and, well, the remodeling, too). I’m still populating the galleries, so you’ll see a lot more new pics in the coming days, and more blogs (much shorter, unless I get on a tear).

And… I’m going to be giving away the THREE Bobbie Faye short stories, for FREE, in just a couple of weeks. They’re all done, formatted, and the covers are finished. We’re finishing a couple of minor details, and ONLY the SUBSCRIBERS to the newsletter will get them free. Plus other stuff, and news, in the future, about what’s coming up next, so tell friends, if you know someone who’d be interested.

Major thank you and hat tip to CJ Lyons (www.cjlyons.net) who walked me through the stages of getting this puppy set up, when some of it made me want to smack something, hard. Fairly frequently. She has been immensely patient, and a wonderful friend.

More updates, very very soon. Stay tuned!

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The sounds of Mardi Gras

There are voices in the Quarter–loud, laughing, arguing. People woohooing, still, which will likely go on ’til midnight, Tuesday, when the police declare Mardi Gras over, and en masse, make everyone get off the streets and go home. The voices surge and fall, a tide that will rise and ebb again toward morning. Everything from, ‘Ma’am, are you okay?’ to someone who fell, to someone yelling at someone else to meet them at Tippitina’s, to the Jesus contingent who are roaming around the Quarter with signs, alternately singing hymns or screaming at the people that they are sinners. Lots of people milling the streets, pausing often to catch beads thrown (by tourists, mostly) from the upper balconies of the hotels, and cops every other inch, the clop clop clop of horses hooves as they patrol on their giant beasts. Someone is singing now, slightly drunkenly out of tune, and funny, and helicopters keep making rounds overhead–several, from different agencies, keeping watch. Everything gets punctuated every few minutes by the crackle of glass bottles in garbage bags being thrown out of the Hard Rock restaurant onto the already overflowing garbage bins set perpetually on the curb.

It’s like living behind the scenes of the big top, knowing all the magician’s tricks, and enjoying the show anyway.

Benches at dawn in the French Quarter

It was a rare morning in the Quarter — it had rained, and so no one was moving around or sitting on the benches. The sidewalk washers had just finished the slate where I’m hunkered down to take this shot–those are suds you see under the bench. They wash the sidewalks and the Square every morning, about 4 a.m., and if it hadn’t been raining, I’m sure those benches would have been filled by six. As it was, I got lucky with the light coming in, and the fog that was starting to drop in the background.

a shot of the benches in front of the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter

Graffiti building at Ursaline and Decatur in the French Quarter

When I was out one morning with my husband in tow, I grabbed a bunch of shots of this building. The building itself is gorgeous–I have another version that shows all the stories above, and how beautiful the old brick really is. At the time, I thought the graffiti both beautiful and ugly. We are constantly battling the tags on our own street, and it was frustrating in a way to see so many tags on such a gorgeous old building. I’m all for street art when it’s really art, and not just someone who’s ready to piss on the world by damaging property (rather than art, which at least expresses something).

And then… as I developed the shot, I ended up loving it. It’s a mark in time for this building–which was, ironically, about to undergo renovations (and I hadn’t realized it at the time). Just a week later, orange plastic “wire” barricades were thrown up around the building and signs from the construction company were put up. (And those signs were almost immediately covered in graffiti, so they added a secondary fence.) I’m going to be curious how they manage in the future, once the building is re-done, to keep the graffiti off it, since it’s such an iconic place, now.

I’m glad I got the shot; that moment is lost in time, and no one will be able to go back there and get just that shot. It’s amazing how fast that happens here, in a place so old, you sort of assume it always stays the same, when there’s nothing further from the truth.

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Be Bold

by Toni McGee Causey

(written mid-2013)

There was a time when I was terrified of the blank page. It had so much potential for mistakes, for making the wrong choices, for derailing into something derivative, and I’d freeze up. Second guess myself. Wonder. And lose time.

There was a time when I’d let what someone said affect how I chose to proceed. How I chose to live. I’d let an insult fester inside and I’d tell myself that they were right, maybe they were right, and I shouldn’t be a writer at all. I tried to do other things, tried to find another passion, because I thought there was nothing worse than wanting something so badly as to write something that would impact people, only to fail at it. Failing was humiliating. The potential of that humiliation, constantly thrumming in the back of my head, stole the joy from me when I did succeed. I’d always think, “Well, for now I’ve done this thing. These people think so. But they could be wrong. What if they’re wrong? And when all is said and done, I’m nothing? I’m insignificant? I should have spent my life doing something else?”

I’d have longer moments when I’d push on in spite of the fear, but it never really left me. I’d just battle it back, write in spite of the terror, and send it out to be read by my friends, or my agent, or, God help me, an editor, with something akin to an anxiety attack. What if I’m not good enough? What if this thing I labored over, loved, birthed… was a joke to everyone else?

As writers, we learn (eventually) to be thick-skinned, if you’re anything like me. We get hammered and beaten up and stomped on, and we know it’s a part of the natural selection process of throwing things out there in the world. There is no one book or movie that is going to capture absolutely everyone’s love. Nor should there be. There is no explanation why some things catch fire and others don’t. Try to figure that out, and that way lies madness. You may figure out what’s marketable, you may figure out one thing that’s a part of the Zeitgeist, but odds are, it’s something just beyond explanation. You may be a bestselling author, and your books snapped up, but will they be remembered? And really… does that matter?

All these things would swim around my head, slowing me down. I thought the blank page was hard. I’d let people who meant well derail me from my own self-confidence. I’d let an agent, who meant well, steer me the wrong direction because she thought she knew what would sell, fast. I’d let a lot of things slip in and make me doubt what was important. I was afraid of the blank page.

I misunderstood what was important.

I should have been more afraid of lost time.

We take time for granted. We all do it, it’s just human nature. We can’t live each and every moment like it’s our last—the world would be chaos if we did. We rely on the normal, the mundane being the mundane, in order to function.

But December 18th, 2012 changed that for me.

I held my brother’s hand while he was dying. Mike McGee is… was… my only sibling. We’d spent the last year-and-a-half together, almost every day, fighting his cancer. He had a rare gamma-delta T-Cell lymphoma. The survival rate was abysmal, and that was with a bone marrow transplant. But… in spite of the odds, he kept getting better. Faster than they had ever seen. He kept fighting off the impossible, and the doctors and nurses were constantly astounded. There was not a soul in that hospital that he came into contact with who didn’t leave him more encouraged in their own life.

They called him Coach. He was a fifth degree black belt, a Master, and had won an international championship in sparring, and a large number of other medals, many first place, and trophies, in international competitions. He had his own school, and had taught over twenty-thousand students, and was stubborn as hell. He was the kind of patient who was like a Pied Piper, going to every other patient’s room and encouraging them and, if they could stand up at all, getting them to walk a few laps with him because the nurses told them that walking helped them handle the chemo better and gave them all a greater chance of winning.

He kept beating the odds. He had a rare allele cell that made matching him almost impossible… and yet, they found a match. He came out of remission but they found the match just-in-time, and so he could have the transplant. He survived that, only to battle graft-vs-host disease, which is horrific. He was winning that, when he was diagnosed with a virus. He beat that, too, and they discovered the cancer was gone.

Gone. 100% gone.

He was going to go home in a couple of days. He walked around the floor, making trips to the exercise bike, where he rode forty miles in five mile increments. I can’t ride forty miles on a damned exercise bike in a day, and I was annoyed with him. Get that. Annoyed.

He woke up the next day with double vision. They were thinking a mild stroke, maybe as a result of the meds, maybe something else. Potentially, it could have been the lymphoma coming back, but it could also have been a fungal infection. They were saying, at this point, that he would go home, still, and would have to have some mild rehabilitation to help strengthen that left side, but he would likely be okay. He might not do spinning jump kicks anymore, but he’d still be able to teach.

They just weren’t quite sure what had caused it.

The next ten days were a blur. He got significantly worse each day. He started losing more of his balance, more of his eyesight, more of his hold on what was going on. He couldn’t stand on his own and I was lifting him out of the bed to get him to the bathroom, and holding him there so he wouldn’t fall. My six-foot-two-inch brother, one of the toughest human beings I have ever known, and I was having to lift him.

And he would say, “This is not going to get me. I am not going out this way.”

I want you to know there are worse things than a blank page. There are things so much worse than what a critic thinks of you, or what a reviewer says. There are things so far beyond that minor pain that when you live through them, if you live through them, you will look back and think, “Why in the hell did I let that matter? What the hell am I waiting for?”

Those last few days, he was in the ICU. He’d fallen, bloodied his head, and there was significant swelling in his brain. They had to do a procedure where they put a shunt in there to continuously drain off the fluid, and even that wasn’t working. They’d done a biopsy of the area of the brain where the lesions were—the things they had thought, at first, were just pools of blood from a burst blood vessel—and we were waiting to see if they were lymphoma or fungal infection. With lymphoma, there was zero hope. With fungal infection, the doctors thought there was a slice of a chance. What I didn’t understand then, but came to understand when one of the specialists took me aside and showed me his MRI, was that a fungal infection isn’t like what we think of when we say “infection”… something that can be cured and made to go away. It is something that’s actually killing the brain cells where it’s living, and as it grows, it kills more of the brain. Getting medicine in the brain in enough quantities without killing other organs from the high dosages is a Russian Roulette, and they had already tripled the dose of anti-fungal meds when he had had the first signs of a “stroke.”

Picture a hurricane, like you see it on the weather channel. Now imagine two interlocking hurricanes, barreling into the brain stem where autonomic reflexes—breathing, swallowing, heart—are controlled. That’s where these two infections were, and they were growing exponentially. They were fungal, and they were far outstripping the speed of the medicine.

The last day, he was on a respirator, blind, unable to move except his fingertips. The day before, he’d been able to move his hands a little, and when one of the doctors talked obliquely about how bad he was doing, and wondered what his wishes were, he grabbed my sweatshirt and tugged, and then waved. I didn’t understand he was waving goodbye, until he pulled his hands together… and it was very difficult for him to do… and clasping his hands in the traditional fist-in-cupped-palm formation, bowed his head.

I asked him if he was bowing out, and he nodded. mike b & w

He had two more strokes that night.

I talked at length the next day with five different teams of doctors. Every one of them wanted to do just one more thing, but when I asked, “Will this save him, will he have a chance to recover?” they each and every one of them had to admit that no… there was nothing they could do. He was now blind, almost unable to hear, unable to speak, unable to move, and was on a respirator. He’d made me promise that I wouldn’t let him live that way. He’d cried in my arms when the cancer came back. I had held him, remembering all the times we fought as kids, all the good times we shared, the two of us against the world, and he’d made me promise that I wouldn’t let him live like that.

Hardest promise I’ve ever made.

I held his hand when they pulled him off the respirator, and pulled the shunt out of his brain. I made sure they gave him enough morphine so he wouldn’t feel pain, wouldn’t panic, wouldn’t be afraid. I held one hand while my mom, and then my husband, when my mom could no longer watch, held his other hand, and I talked to him. He squeezed my hand three times… I love you… and I asked if he understood what was happening, and he squeezed once for yes. I told him so many things, watching the monitors as they showed him breathing slower and slower, as they showed the oxygen rate dropping. I knew that once it was below 88%, brain damage—permanent—would start, and it was the point of no return. Inside my own head, I was screaming for him to not have to go. I think that part of me will always be screaming. It doesn’t really shut off; you just get used to it.

I talked to him of how much we loved him, and how he’d been a hero to so many people. I told him how proud I was of him—how we all were, mom and dad and his nephews. I told him how much I was going to miss him, and that there was a karate school in heaven with a bunch of new kids for him to teach. He squeezed my hand at that one, but it was a weak squeeze. I told him it was okay for him to come visit me now and then (we both believe in ghost), but not when I was in the shower, because that would just be gross, and he smiled. There were a thousand things I wanted to tell him, and I had so little time, and I knew it, as he slowly changed color and his breathing slowed and slowed and slowed, and I felt the grip of his hand go lax, but I talked to him and talked to him, running out of time, until the doctor pulled me away and told me that he was gone.

5:55. December 18th. I learned that there was nothing else that mattered, other than living the way you want, living boldly, pursuing your dream. That’s what Mike always did. We didn’t always understand it, and he wasn’t always a success. He’d had failures and frustrations, but he had not quit. Not even when everyone told him there was no hope. Every single doctor there cried. The nurses cried.

And I left him there, knowing, strangely, that he’d lived his life fully and boldly and out loud, and he’d died knowing that he’d achieved most of his dream—to teach little kids karate. To teach them how to handle bullies simply by being more self-confident. To prepare them for the real world by encouraging them to get as much education as they could. He had students who’d gone on to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, military, firefighters, etc. Whatever failures he might have had, he gloried in the successes.

I’m telling you now, live boldly. If your dream is to write, then write. Send it out. If it doesn’t work? Learn from it and try again. And again. And again. And however many times you need to try. Quit waiting for life to come along and give you permission. Quit caring what your peers say. Quit listening to reviews or bullies or people with opinions that you don’t respect. Learn from those you do, ignore the rest, and keep trying.

If you don’t love the writing? Do something else you love. Period. Don’t waste your life because you think you ought to be doing something because you told a few people that’s what you were going to do and now you dread it and hate it and it’s like pulling teeth to make the time to write. There’s nothing more glorious about writing than there is teaching or creating art in some other way or science or math or firefighting or being a police officer or being the best damned secretary you can be. Find your place, wherever that is, a place you love and LIVE IT, BOLDLY.

Time is the thing to be afraid of. Time is short. Mike didn’t know, that day that they told him he was going to go home in a couple of days that, in reality, he would die about ten days later. People in car wrecks each day think they’re going to have tomorrow, and then they don’t. People have heart attacks in their shower, or they’re standing and watching a race finish, and a bomb goes off.

You matter. Who you are, how you are in the world—matters. And don’t you forget it. You never know who you’ve helped. Someone like me.

Now go. Live boldly. Don’t squander this time you have. You matter. Remember that.

 

mike-and-me-at-hillcrest-drive

Comfort Reading

by Toni McGee Causey

COMFORT READING

Somewhere, there is a woman, sitting in a room, three days past a rape. Her bruises are turning purple and in a few more days, they’re going to be that greenish hue of ghouls. She hasn’t looked in a mirror, yet, but the swelling is starting to abate, and she can open her jaw without the execrable pain. The screaming is almost entirely in her head, now. The stitches hurting her remind her she’s alive and she’s not really sure why people keep telling her that, as if that’s a good thing. She’s not sure she wants to be. There’s been just enough time to get past the initial shock, the stunned chaotic business of having lost any sense of strength in the face of the world. She has had just enough time to be processed, and there should be a stamp for her forehead: file # 56449A.

Oh, people have been caring. They have been very professionally caring. All of the people, scads of them. They have been very careful not to touch her or move too fast. Everyone is diligent about addressing her respectfully, using her name, always making sure she feels like an individual. She can see it, see in their eyes how she is now different. The opposite of the person on the other side of the desk, where there are things like strength and weapons and confidence.

And right now, she is finally alone, though the moat around her has turned into an ocean, and the screaming, it just keeps on coming. For a few minutes, not having to deal with anyone else is good. A relief. But then there is the silence, and in the silence, it all happens again. She cannot close her eyes, because it’s all happening. Again. She cannot talk to someone, because the screaming will break free. Or the tears. Either may kill her.

She needs. Needs. To be somewhere else, other than here. Other than this thing she’s become. Needs to be able to step outside of her skin for a little while. Maybe a long long time.

She’s going to go to her bookcase and pick up something. Maybe it’s something where the woman kicks someone’s ass. Maybe it’s one where the good guy wins. Or the DA is brilliant. Or the girl comes of age and has confidence. Whatever it is, she gets to step outside of the bruises and the cuts and the broken bones for a little while. She gets to live a different ending. A different beginning. Have a safe place to be. And somehow, maybe, have a little hope that this thing, too, will pass.

Write a story for her.

~*~

Somewhere, there is a man, sitting in a hospital room. His wife has cancer, and he’s been there, every day, before and after work. Except now, he can be there full-time, since he’s lost his job. He’s spent days seeking help, trying to find a way to keep her there, to make sure she has the care she needs, when all of his benefits are gone. He’s filled out more paperwork in this one week than he’s done in a lifetime, and only barely understands half of what they’ve told him, if that.

He’ll try to get a second mortgage for the house. Sell off the second car, trade his in for something cheaper. The savings–such as it is, there’s not much with two kids–is gone. The retirement will go next, and that might last a month, at this rate. They don’t qualify yet for any sort of Medicare or help. His sister is at his house, boxing up stuff to sell. Doing it while the kids are at school, so they don’t see.

The screaming is almost entirely in his head, now. The anger, the rage, the helplessness. His wife’s asleep, and sleep is so rare with the pain she’s in, he can’t risk turning on the TV. She’s been in too much pain for him to leave the room, though.

He’s lost. He sees it in the eyes of the nurses, sees it in the eyes of the administrator. The woman running the accounts payable office. He’s become this other thing, this person he doesn’t know, and right now, for a little while, he needs. Needs. To be somewhere else but here. Someone else but him.

He’ll slump down in the God-awful chair they have in the room, punching a pillow that one of the orderlies found for him, and he’ll crack open that favorite paperback he grabbed on his way out the house this morning. For a little while, he gets to be a hero. He gets to fight crime or solve problems, save the world or save the girl. For a little while, he gets to have hope.

Write a story for him.

~*~
*I wrote this piece long before my brother was diagnosed, long before I was a woman in a hospital, watching him die, and the screaming in my head just wouldn’t stop. I needed. Needed. A place to go, a chance to escape, a world where the good guy won, the bad guy was destroyed, and people didn’t die of cancer. I still have days like that, and I probably always will, where I will only be able to remember holding his hand while desperately trying to tell him everything in the tiny minutes we had left, when that becomes so overwhelming, the screaming in my head will not stop.

Write a story for me.