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Archive for April, 2014

I’ve decided I need to do more short fiction, namely short stories in particular (anything less than 7,500 words). I came to this conclusion because sometimes I just need a break from novel writing, but mainly I need representation of my work out there in the real world. There are a crap-ton of publications and contests waiting for word fools like myself to feed them. I looked around at the writers I like to read and to a person they all had bunches of stuff besides their full-length novels. Besides the additional (hopefully positive) exposure that comes with short story publication and/or contest wins, there’s also that little bit of cash that usually accompanies such things. A definite bonus in a cash-strapped environment. Plus, I’ve always been intimidated by short stories and one should tackle head on that which makes one most afraid.

One writing day a week will now be dedicated to short fiction writing. I have a couple ideas to get started with, and will be trawling the world for more. Since I’m a science fiction geek, most of my stories will head in that direction, and some will even occasionally show their faces here. You’ve been warned.

And, in that vein, below is one I did for a contest a couple years ago. I never heard anything back from the contest so I’m assuming it was a bust, but I still like it and thought it would be fun to share. It was one of those “write a story to match this photograph” kind of things. The photograph was of a modern era middle-aged man sipping tea on a train. The story that follows is what my little brain did with it.

 ****************************************************************

From Afar

 He had seen her on the platform, a leggy brunette with luminous green eyes. Fresh-faced with that type of glowing soft skin you only get from Mother Nature, she walked down the aisle with a dancer’s grace.

She was so much prettier in person.

Watching her melt into a padded seat and then shuffling her bag underneath, he wondered if she was off to another film set, or vacation. Not that it really mattered either way. He was content to enjoy the long ride up the mountains before their next stop. It would be plenty of time.

She was recognized by several people and graciously signed their proffered memorabilia as the train eased away from the station. Not a big celebrity, not like some of the others, but she was a favorite of housewives and college kids and was often seen on the cover of one fashion magazine or another. Within a few minutes she had fulfilled the demand for her attention and sat back to gaze out the window at the passing landscape.

She looked tired, he thought. The sharp tang of lemon rose from the tea setting the steward placed before him, and he pondered on the reasons why she had that look while making sure the steward had indeed brought Earl Grey, and not green tea or chamomile.

No, the look was something else. Glancing back up, he saw that it was a pale shadow of remorse on her lovely cheekbones. A weary ache of loss sat on her shoulders. Maybe that’s why she had taken public transport instead of a private car or plane. Being lost in the crowds could chase off that sort of feeling, for short periods. Just long enough to make it from Point A to Point B. Sometimes that’s all one needed to survive.

Though he didn’t count himself a fan, he had seen a number of her appearances on that comedy serial, and a couple of those low-budget horror movies, too. Neither was much of a stretch for most actors and she had done her job as well as any. There was potential there, despite only being allowed the ubiquitous beautiful bimbo roles. So sad when potential was wasted.

Dribbling honey into the tea, he envisioned her as Lady Macbeth, wringing her hands and babbling about spots. He could see that she had that kind of darkness in her, that kind of depth. It was something he knew well, since he saw it every day in the mirror. Though not in the acting profession, his job often gave him opportunities to play various roles: the tough protector, the gentle rescuer. And that one time in Istanbul, with the clown hat, but that was so long in the past it was just a shadow of memory anymore.

This time there was no need for such theatrics.

He sipped his tea and watched as she stared out the window, and occasionally looked out his own. The train chugged up the grade into the mountains and within minutes snow could be seen scattered on the ground. Then more snow, and then lots of snow, and then great mounds of snow on either side of the tracks. The evergreens were laden with white and he could almost feel the heavy silence of the mountain forest. It was hours still until dark, but a grey haze crept over the landscape as clear skies were supplanted by threatening clouds.

How appropriate, he mused. A dark day for a dark soul.

He hadn’t always been such. His youth had been much like anyone else’s. Normal parents who worked much too hard for what they had. Average school grades with average friends who had built jump ramps for their bikes on the back lot of the local pub. Good with his hands and a football, he had made a minor local name for himself in the rugby league. He even still played, when time allowed.

But something had changed somewhere. He wasn’t even sure where or when anymore, just that it had. He could empathize with others, from a distance, but there came a point when he could just turn it off and feel nothing. That’s what made him so good at what he did.

He watched the sway of her hips with admiration when she walked down the aisle to the restroom. She was truly a beautiful woman, and in another time he might have been interested more than professionally. But this was not the time.

Using his tablet, he pulled up the maps for the next station and examined them closely. It had a small platform, with really only one way out. He knew from his earlier research that many of the train’s passengers would be getting off there, ski season being in full swing. It would make for a crowded exodus, people bumping and brushing each other in their zeal to make an afternoon run or two before the clouds covered the mountain for the night. The perfect cover.

He slid the tablet back into his bag, covering the pistol with attached silencer therein.

No one would ever notice, and she wouldn’t feel a thing.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved

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I’m not feeling particularly chatty this evening, so I’ll just offer up this:

 

IDL TIFF file

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field

 

So, where should we go first?

 

 

 

 

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Back in the early ‘60’s a child was born to a young mother. Hitting the world at 19” long and a whopping 8 lbs. 8 oz., that child went through all the usual child stuff of that time: tonsillitis and measles and chicken pox; glasses at five; braces at ten; teasing and bullying from the other children. A constant problem with knees that popped and swelled and hurt and generally didn’t cooperate was eventually determined to be a previously unrecognized birth defect in the meniscus. Surgery at twelve “corrected” that problem, removing the offending part entirely because the medical community at that time thought it would grow back in the right form. Of course, now we know that isn’t true, and while there was a brief respite for a few years after the surgery, that child later spent decades with bone-on-bone until the pain became too bad, and the joints too fused, to go on any further. Thankfully, there was a surgeon who believed in quality of life over commonly accepted medical practice, and those ratty old arthritic knees were polished up with titanium and polyethylene. After four-and-a-half decades, the knee pain was finally gone. But the worst of the damage would never be healed.

It’s not a physical damage. It’s far deeper than that. Think about it for a moment: spending your entire childhood unable to run and jump and play with your friends because your knees don’t want to work right, in constant pain both physically and emotionally. The course of an entire lifetime is charted in those first few formative years. Activity levels, social interactions, eating preferences and thousands of other little details that will affect you for the rest of your life are developed, learned, accepted, adopted in early childhood. Add in a genetic predisposition for depression, and you have a winning formula for a losing battle.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m referencing myself in the above paragraphs. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my childhood and the decisions that led me to where I am. I’m not blaming anyone besides myself, mind you, because as a responsible adult what I am now and what I do now is entirely my problem. But I can’t help but wonder how things would be different if I had been able to be more active as a child, if certain patterns hadn’t been developed to compensate for the different kinds of pain I was experiencing then. Would the depression still have been such an issue in my life? How about the migraines and the nightmares? And the worst part yet, would I have spent my entire life in a constant battle with my weight?

I’m the descendent of German and Scandinavian immigrants. Everyone of them was a big person for their time, and the only thing that kept them within reasonable condition was a lot of hard work; in the fields, in construction, in the lumber yards, etc. Our family puts on muscle easily when we do physical work, and fat easily when we don’t, and neither one goes away without a lengthy hard fight. I’m built to go all day long at a steady pace in a cold environment. Because of those damn knees, I never developed the habits necessary to keep that genetic package balanced. And so I’ve spent my entire life in a battle with food.

It’s always been what to eat, can I eat, should I eat, when to eat, how to eat, every blasted day as long as I can remember. Counting calories, carbs, fats, sugars, steps, laps, miles. Reading all the latest weight related literature, following all the newest doctors’ recommendations. Weight Watchers, Atkins, NutraSystem, portion control, small short-term losses that only lead to beating my head against a wall of failure time after time after time. Aside from the occasional vice, we don’t have junk food in our house. Haven’t for years. That was one of the first changes we made, just simply not buying it in the first place. If it’s not in the house, we can’t eat it. We avoid processed foods and complex carbs and soda and eat lean meats, fresh vegetables and whole grains. The last few times we had “fast food,” we both felt crappy for days afterward.

And yet, despite all that, my husband and I are both the heaviest we’ve been in our lives. Because of our ages and our sizes, our doctor automatically assumes we’re about to collapse from a heart attack or stroke at any moment. Plus he is constantly testing us for diabetes, high cholesterol, bad triglycerides and whatever else as he takes pints of blood every time we visit. All those tests come back within normal ranges, every time. We both have blood pressure on the high end of normal, but that seems reasonable given how much blood has to be moved over how much area. Or maybe it’s really the stress of spending a lifetime worried about every atom we eat, seeing the eyes of the crowd judging us as we walk by, hearing the snide remarks behind our backs. Fat shaming seems to be the last bastion of bullies everywhere, because the popular perception is that obese people are just lazy fucks busy stuffing their faces with potato chips and ice cream all day long. Bite me, bullies.

People are obese for a lot of different reasons, usually all intertwined to make a big Mobius Knot of complexity that turns any effort for changing that status into an epic war of self. It’s genetics and mental health and habits learned decades ago that are nearly impossible to reprogram. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, no quick and easy program, no obvious answer to any one individual’s weight problem. But until the medical community can accept that and stop trying to feed us all those pills and diets and flawed parameters of what’s “normal,” (see “Why BMI is inaccurate and misleading”), and the fashion industry stops pushing a completely unhealthy ideal of beauty, and society gets over its need to pick on those who are different, people like me and my husband will continue to suffer for sins we haven’t committed.

And you wonder why I don’t leave the house anymore. Here’s my bottle of Fuckitall, now where’s my dark chocolate…

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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Being middle-aged is more than watching your waistline expand like a balloon at the carnival; it’s also about watching the myriad pieces of your childhood disappear, one by one, until there’s nothing left but fuzzy memories. This is the way of the world. Time marches on, change is inevitable, and the only guarantees left are death and taxes. Or maybe it’s death BY taxes… I’ll get back to you on that one.

Anyway, another piece of my youth is falling by the wayside. Last week David Letterman announced his retirement. You can watch how he handled it in his usual sarcastic way here. Now, Dave wasn’t necessarily a part of my childhood – I grew up watching Johnny Carson, and he will always be THE late night TV host for me – but Dave has always been my first choice for late night as an adult because of his dry sarcastic wit, his fearless and pointed questions, and his inimitable ability to be the perfect straight man. Supposedly Carson’s chosen successor, there was quite the furor when NBC went with Jay Leno instead, and is the cause behind Letterman jumping ship (quite successfully) to CBS.

That was another reason I stuck with Letterman; I don’t like it when people are shafted (I’m still mad at the Cowboys for how they fired Tom Landry – yes, I hold grudges). I enjoyed Leno as a stand up comedian, but I could just never get into him as a talk show guy. And I’m really showing how curmudgeonly I am by swearing off Jimmy Fallon (almost) entirely. Talented youngster, but most of his stuff isn’t funny to me (okay, some of the musical stuff is hilarious, but I’m a Weird Al Yankovic fan, too, so there you go. You actually have to be a pretty damn good musician yourself to parody others, and that I can really appreciate.) I’m hoping Craig Ferguson gets promoted so there will be at least one crazy person left on late night TV I can still enjoy.

The speculations abound as to why Letterman has chosen to retire now. I think David Bianculli puts forth the best reasons in his CNN opinion pieceIs Internet driving Letterman away?” It all goes back to what I said at the beginning – change is inevitable. The younger generation wants everything in sound bites. Memes and viral videos are the way of the world now, and someone like Letterman just doesn’t translate well to those micro-mediums.

It’s the same reason behind the decline of the printed word. There’s an entire generation of short-attention-span-theater-goers coming up right now, running around with their smart phones, tablets, e-readers and Siri-enabled cars. Most don’t want to bother to take longer than a few minutes to engage their brain in anything. They’re like a bunch of fleas on a hot plate, jumping about from one thing to the next and never landing anywhere for very long. And people wonder about the rise of ADHD diagnoses. I don’t think it’s actually a genetic thing – I think it’s an environment thing. The world is overloaded with sensory input and our frail human brains are having a hard time keeping up with it all.

Don’t get me wrong – I love technology. I have a smart phone and think e-readers are where the future of reading is headed. But I’m also an unapologetic bibliophile. It’s why I’m so insistent on exhausting every possibility at selling my novel into actual hard copy. I want to feel that heft, smell that new paper and the fresh ink, walk into a bookstore and see that spine with my name on a shelf. It is my golden ideal. And, like David Letterman, I seem to be one of the last of my kind.

Books don’t seem to carry the importance and status they used to. Being able to read and write was once a significant privilege reserved only for the carefully selected few (read: stinking rich or high level clergy). The invention of the printing press allowed the greater masses to become part of that vaunted learned class. Once the “ordinary” people gained the ability to see for themselves what all those fancy books said, significant social and economic changes quickly followed. Knowledge is power, and books became the symbol (and actual medium) of that power.

Books don’t need batteries. They don’t bow to public opinion. They don’t change words between readings, or advertise the latest fashion drug between paragraphs. You can use them while your plane is taking off and landing. You can read them in the bathtub without fear of electrocuting yourself. Take them with you to a coffee shop, a convention, or even to court and no one will blink twice. In a pinch, you can level your computer desk or knock out a burglar. Try that with your e-reader.

And in the advent of a real zombie apocalypse, where do you think all you fancy city folk are going to learn how to do anything without your trusty electronic minders? Yeah, books, bitches.

So while Letterman is going out with grace and dignity after a lengthy and successful career, I’ll give up my books with all the grace and dignity of a rabid badger on meth. I know, I know, most of you hear “bookshelf” and think:

 bookshelves coco rocha in vogue

http://cotedetexas.blogspot.com/2012/12/ask-miss-cote-de-texas.html

Not exactly my definition. I’d rather have something more like:

English manor libraryhttp://www.beautiful-libraries.com/3500-1.html

And maybe one day I will. But in the mean time, this old fart will enjoy:

Cheri's bookshelves

…and hope soon my own words will be in those piles somewhere with the rest.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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I love movies. To me, they are the ultimate entertainment form. They combine music, photography, performance and storytelling into one big glossy bowl of wonder. That’s why I went to film school, to learn more about the magic. And while my naïve little eyes were opened wide by the experience, it also gave me an unparalleled appreciation for the art form. Never mind that a part of me still wants to dissect every aspect of a movie, from shot angles to casting to how much catering must have cost. Sometimes it’s best not to see behind the curtain.

Writing for movies is a whole ‘nuther animal from novel writing. I was okay at it, but screenwriting was never going to be my best creative avenue. I’m too wordy, too detail oriented, too into the minds of my characters, too control-freaky. Once I came to accept that fact, and the fact I was never going to be awarded anything besides a pat on the back (oh, the fantasies children have of golden statues and piles of money…), I was able to sit back and just be happy writing to my strengths. And I was able to watch movies just for fun again. I have a few favorites that I keep going back to. Not because they’re Great Films, but because they’re great escapes. As I thought about them, I realized I haven’t shared much about my tastes in movies here, despite bragging about my film school education. So get some popcorn and a big drink and sit back for my top five.

1)        Blade Runner

Blade Runner

My favorite of all time. Directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. The tone and texture of this thing is just beyond anything else I’ve experienced. A commentary on what it means to be human, it is a feast for the eyes with exquisite detail and a subtle depth in its storytelling. I’ve never cared for the soundtrack – my tinnitus and electronic tones don’t get along – but I can overlook that for everything else it offers. I’m one of the few who actually saw it in the theater when it was released and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it since.

My favorite scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_saUN4j7Gw

2)        The Omega Man

 The Omega Man

Charlton Heston at his badass best. I remember seeing this at a drive-thru with my parents. I think it was part of a double-header, but it’s been awhile so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. This thing haunted me for weeks afterward. Okay, it still haunts me. Probably why it’s one of my favorites.

Based on the Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend,” (which has spawned several other movie versions as well), it’s more than just a monster movie or a tale of survival. Just check out Chuck’s not-so-subtle position at the end:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhPOEFnQkw8

3)        Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II

The best of the original series/cast movies, in my not-so-humble opinion. Ricardo Montalban (and his amazing chest – he was 62 when this thing was released) gave us one of the most memorable science fiction villains in modern history. And William Shatner proved that he was more than just a caricature for comedians to make fun of. Subtle performances combined with sharp writing gave us fans a fitting big screen entry. A beautiful story of friendships and sacrifice, Spock’s final scenes still have me reaching for the Kleenex. Too bad the studio couldn’t leave it alone, and the sequels cheapened the experience.

Since there’s too many good scenes to pick just one, I’ll give you the pretty bitchin’ extended trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBpwPfW1Lsw

4)        Gladiator

 Gladiator

Another Ridley Scott entry. The man is a friggin’ genius and I’m still mad he didn’t get a Best Director Oscar for this one. But Russell Crowe garnered his first for acting, in a performance that can only be termed breathtaking. Grand and tragic and noble and heartbreaking, his character lives the motto of “Strength and Honor” right to the bitter end. This one is more than a movie; it’s also a FILM, so be ready to actually pay attention.

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is haunting and its own work of art, while the opening battle sequence is worth the price of admission all by itself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AP7XCCUcug

5)        Die Hard

 Die Hard

The definitive action movie. There was a collective moan of horror when it was learned Bruce Willis had been cast as the lead because he was only known as the wisecracking David Addison in Moonlighting at that point. Did he ever prove the naysayers wrong. And then there was Alan Rickman, who gave the villain Hans Gruber such depth he’s become the gold standard for bad guys everywhere. Sharp writing, tight action and stellar performances make this my go-to escape whenever I feel the need to see some justice in action. But let’s just forget the sequels, shall we?

Just in case you need a reminder, here’s where the catch phrase we’ve all added to our lexicon originated:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEOVNmSR7_c

So there you go. Some rainy afternoon time wasters for your perusal. I hope they bring you as much fun escapism as they have me. Yippee ki yay….

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved*

 

*         Except for the movies themselves. I’m just passing them on and don’t claim any rights to them or the creation thereof. Those rights stay with the original creators. Please don’t sue me. 😉

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