Monthly Archives: February 2013

Finn, Not Finnegan

Darby KarchutFinn Finnegan by Darby Karchut

Finn has been waiting his whole life to become one of the Tuatha De Danaan, magical warriors from Ireland charged with battling monsters called the Amandán, but when he begins his apprenticeship with Gideon Lir, things don’t go exactly as he he’d dreamed they would. His master has a temper to match his own, and his not-so-pure bloodline gets in the way while they search for a legendary weapon that has the power to destroy the Amandán.

 

The problem with being lucky enough to read a book early is that when you finish it you realize there’s still three months before it actually hits shelves. And more importantly, an entire year before you can read the sequel. Impatience and irritation abound. Well, I did y’all a favor and waited to tell you how awesome Finn Finnegan is until you didn’t have to wait so long to read it. It comes out this March so go ahead and preorder a copy.

While I loved the characters and the premise, what made this book was the ending. I was so sure I had it all figured out about a quarter of the way in; smug and a little disappointed Darby couldn’t trick me… I should know better by now. Darby is particularly good at indulging your expectations until the last possible moment when she says “That’s cool, but what about this?” and you’re left with your jaw on the floor.

Another thing I always look forward to is the unique problems her characters face in the normal world. They have unearthly powers to draw on, but more often than not, those very powers earn them more problems than they solve. Finn and Gideon were no exception, and I can’t wait to see how they get out of their new set of complications in the next book. Oh, if only they could tell people why Finn keeps ending up so black and blue. But where would the challenge be in that?

I was a little worried that Finn Finnegan would be too similar to Griffin Rising given the importance of the master/apprentice relationship in both books. But Finn and Gideon had a completely different dynamic than Griffin and Basil. They still had a strong, loving bond but it was fascinating to see Finn and Gideon’s particularities.

All I can say is, write faster, Darby. Write faster.

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At First Sight

In the spirit of the holiday I have a special post for y’all. This is a short story I wrote back in September as a response to a prompt that said “write something that takes place in a public restroom”. I’m not sure how a romance fell out but it did. I think it could use a couple more drafts but the foundation is there. I hope y’all enjoy, and happy valentine’s day.

 

The door of the restroom swung open. A young woman limped in, her flats shuffling across the tiles and her crutch clicking with each uneven step. She stopped and leaned against the cool wall, looked down at the bridesmaid’s dress she wore, and burst into tears.

She should never have introduced them. Kara sniffled and reached into her purse to grab some more tissues. The wads in her fist which she’d been using all night were too soggy with tears and snot to do her any good now. Her fingers found some loose change, a tube of chapstick, and four pens, but no Kleenex.

Dammit. Her nose was leaking like that stupid kitchen faucet she still hadn’t fixed. She ducked down to make sure the stalls were empty and limped across to the counter. She winced when she saw her blotchy face reflected in the mirror. That shade of red definitely clashed with the coral of her dress. She turned from the horrifying visage and propped her crutch against the counter so she could snatch up a few paper towels.

Really, this was her fault. She shouldn’t have introduced them, she thought again. Or at least she should have refused the dubious honor of standing next to them as they tied the knot. Then she wouldn’t have had to come at all and wouldn’t have had to watch her best friend marry the only guy who had ever looked past Kara’s crutch to see her.

Kara froze as the door to the reception hall swung open, letting in a burst of sound from the party. Oh God, if it was Emily, she’d just go ahead and die on the spot, public restroom or not.

But it wasn’t Emily. Her gaze met startled gray eyes in a distinctly masculine face.

Kara squeaked and darted into the back stall, but her drooping foot caught the edge of a tile and she stumbled. Ready to start crying again, this time with frustration, she slammed the door shut and collapsed onto the toilet.

“Oh crap, I’m sorry.” His voice came over the stall door.

“What are you doing in the women’s restroom?” she said. Her voice sounded too high, and she concentrated on bringing it back into a register discernible to humans.

“I didn’t notice the sign,” he said.

“It’s a chick in a dress. How could you not see it?”

“I just didn’t.” He paused. “Are you okay?”

She blew out her breath. “I’m fine. Go away.”

“Your face is all red.”

“Gee thanks.”

He didn’t apologize but there was an awkward silence where it kind of felt like he wanted to. “I have a confession,” he finally said. “I didn’t come in here by accident.”

“You didn’t,” Kara said, her voice flat.

“No.”

There was another pause. This one went on a bit longer. “Are you still there?” he said.

“I’m trying to decide if you’re some creepy pervert.”

He laughed. She liked the sound of it ringing off the walls of the restroom. “Not a creepy pervert,” he said. “I swear.” She imagined him holding up his hand as if swearing on a Bible. “I’m Paul. Emily’s brother.”

That’s right. She’d met him last night at the dress rehearsal, but she’d been so worried about not being bitter and not ruining Emily’s wedding that all she remembered of him was a brief impression of light eyes and dark hair. But wait, if he was her brother…

Kara groaned. “Emily sent you in here, didn’t she?”

“Yeah.” He sounded kind of resentful and weary at the same time. Guess he didn’t like being sent to comfort the third wheel any more than she liked being recognized as the third wheel.

“Well, you can tell her I’m fine. I’m not angry, or upset, or-or anything, all right?”

She heard him shift and it sounded like he was leaning against the counter. “I don’t think she expected you to be in here crying,” he said.

“Why else would she send you?”

“Maybe because she thought you could help me.” His voice was quiet.

Kara closed her eyes and pounded her forehead with her fist. Not everything’s about you, stupid. Well, maybe if she helped him with whatever problem he had, he would go away and leave her alone. “Why do you need my help?” she said.

“I don’t.” His response was too quick and too loud. “I’m fine. Emily’s just overprotective, and she thought since we both have disabilities… you know, instant connection.”

Kara sighed. “Why does everyone think that crippled people are automatically attracted to other crippled people?”

“I don’t know. It’s insulting really.”

“It is.” Kara narrowed her eyes and thought back. She didn’t have a great memory of him from the night before, but she knew she would have noticed if he’d been in a wheelchair or had crutches like hers. “Wait,” she said. “I don’t remember you having a disability.”

“You’re assuming you can see it.”

“So, you mean like vertigo?”

“I mean like PTSD.”

“Oh. Were you in the military?”

“Nothing so heroic,” he said. “I was a hostage in that bank robbery last year.”

“The one on 6th street? Geez, I remember that.”

“Yeah, nothing like being in combat or anything, but it kind of messed me up.”

She was getting better at reading his voice. He sounded embarrassed with something deeper underneath. Shame? “Paul, they kept those hostages locked up in that safe for three nights. And a couple people were shot, weren’t they.”

She heard him swallow. “Yeah.”

“I’m not trying to remind you or anything, I’m just saying, that would mess anyone up.”

“Yeah, well, I’m better now I’ve got Warden. He keeps me sane. I’m usually too worried about him sticking his nose up women’s skirts to be worried about myself.”

“Who is Warden and why hasn’t he been arrested?” she asked.

“He’s my service dog. And most of the girls forgive him once he looks up at them with those big brown eyes.”

“You have a service dog? Why didn’t you bring him?”

He paused. “I did.”

She leaned over and looked under the stalls and saw Paul’s feet in his dress shoes. Right next to him were four paws and the tip of a wagging tail.

“Sorry, I didn’t see him.”

“He’s big and slobbery and wears a bright red vest. How could you miss him?”

She heard the smile in his voice and couldn’t help smiling in return. “I just did. Besides you startled me.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. So why are you in here instead of out there eating cake?”

Her smile disappeared at the reminder. “I’m being pathetic,” she said, going for a light-hearted tone. “I didn’t want to ruin Emily’s wedding by bursting into tears during their first dance.”

“You don’t approve of the groom?”

“Oh no. I know he’s a really great guy. That’s the problem.”

“So you’re in love with him,” Paul said.

“No.” The stall door made the perfect barrier to hide behind, so she found it easier to say, “I just thought he might be the kind of person who could love me. And those are hard to find.”

“Well, now it just sounds like you’re fishing for compliments.”

Kara knew he was trying to lighten her mood, but she’d had a rough couple days and just wanted a moment of self-indulgence. “Oh, that’s what it sounds like to you? Well, that’s the reality I live with. Every guy I meet I have to wonder if he’s going to be one of the ones who only sees my disability. Half of them have a hero complex and the other half get that glazed look right before they run away because I’d be too much work.”

“At least you can leave your house without having some kind of breakdown. Every day I wonder if I’ll actually be able to step out the door. At every store I have an argument with myself about whether there are enough exits or too many people inside.”

“But no one knows what’s going on in your head,” Kara said. “You can smile and nod at people and they won’t be able to tell you have problems. I get judged before I even open my mouth. Everyone can see my weakness as I step out of a car or stand up from a chair.”

“And that’s a bad thing? Do you know how long it took me to realize that I actually had a serious condition? This is something treatable, but only if you recognize that it’s there. Once I finally acknowledged that I needed help, I had to convince the rest of the world there really was something wrong with me and it wasn’t all in my head. You don’t have to convince anyone.”

Suddenly, Kara was laughing, the tension and the anger spilling out until she felt loose and free. “Are we arguing about who’s disability is more disabling?” she said.

His chuckle was warm. “I guess so. Is it weird that I kind of feel better?”

“Not really. I feel better, too. Maybe Emily knew what she was doing.”

He was quiet while she fished in the toilet paper dispenser for something to wipe her nose. The plastic rattled.

“Drat,” she said.

“What?”

“It’s empty, and I’m out of tissues.”

A package sailed over the stall door, and she reached up to grab it just to keep it from hitting her in the face.  It was one of those pocket size packets of Kleenex.

“Really?” she said, her breath huffing out on a laugh.

“Brother of the bride, you know. I have another confession,” he said. “Emily might have asked me to talk to you, but that’s not why I came in here. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask you to dance all night.”

“So you followed me into the bathroom?”

“I didn’t want to lose my chance. I guess I got a little carried away when I realized you were alone and no one would overhear my awkward attempt to ask you out to dinner tomorrow.”

“First it was just a dance, now you want a date too?”

“I wanted a dance cause you’re pretty. I want a date because you’re interesting and I’m really enjoying our conversation.”

“Hmm. Are you sure you’re not one of those guys that only sees the disability.”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to tell since I haven’t actually seen you in a while. Why don’t you come out and you can judge?”

“My face might still be splotchy.”

“Warden doesn’t mind, do you? He says he doesn’t.”

Kara suppressed a giggle and levered herself to her feet. She took a moment to smooth her dress and make sure her mascara hadn’t run before she opened the stall door and stepped outside. Paul leaned against the counter, his lips curving up in a smile, a German shepherd grinning at his feet.

“Well?” she said. She turned like a model on a runway, hanging onto the stalls for support. Where had she left her crutch?

He shook his head. “No disabilities. I just see a beautiful woman.” He cocked his head. “Is there hope for me?”

Kara pretended to consider. “What do you think, Warden?”

The dog’s tail thumped against the tiles.

“I agree.” She spotted her crutch propped on the counter opposite Paul, and she limped to grab it. Something cold and wet touched the back of her knee, and she felt the back of her skirt lift. She jumped, slipped, and caught herself against the counter with her hand in the sink.

“Warden! Sorry, sorry.” Paul was yanking the shepherd’s harness.

Kara laughed. “I suppose you did warn me.”

“What did you agree with?” he asked the dog and then looked up at Kara. “Do I get a dance and a date?”

Kara opened her mouth just as the door opened and an older woman wearing a burnt orange sweater and a lime green skirt swarmed into the restroom.

Paul started guiltily when her eyes widened and she stopped short.

“Paul Jay Sherman. What do you think you’re doing in the ladies room?”

“Aunt Phyllis. I was just-”

“You were just leaving, is what. Stop bothering this young woman and get marching.” She pointed to the door, and Kara had to cover her smile.

Warden stepped in front of Paul and leaned against his legs. Paul seemed to soak in the dog’s strength and stood up straighter. “Not until I’ve heard her answer.” He turned to her and held out his hand. “So, what will it be Kara?”

His eyes stayed locked on hers. They didn’t stray toward her crutch or her legs.

She placed her hand in his. “A dance then,” she said.

“And dinner?”

She smiled. “And dinner.”

They walked out of the women’s restroom, letting Aunt Phyllis seek out a stall in peace.

The restroom door swung open. A young woman limped in, the clicking of her crutch muffled by the fabric of her wedding dress. She stopped by the mirror and took a moment to check her makeup. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a plastic package of Kleenex propped up by the sink. She smiled as she reached for it.

“Kara?” A girl poked her head around the door. “Paul says hurry. Emily’s about to start her toast, and he says he can’t live through it without moral support.”

Kara curled her fingers around the tissues. “I’m coming,” she said.

“Okay. Oh geez! Warden, no.”

Kara laughed and left the restroom.

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Get Out of Your Mind

Last week I talked about The Secret Garden and how Colin’s entire disability was a product of misconception and rumor. However, my mind didn’t stop there. I was struck by how many of Colin’s problems could have been and/or were fixed by just giving him something to think about besides everything that could go wrong in his life.

One of the most common reactions to disability in life, as well as other media, is the thought “my life is over”, or “they’ll never do anything for themselves again”. Even if the reaction isn’t as strong as that, it’s an insidious little thought that can find its way into the most rugged of souls. “Why do I push myself so hard?” “Is it really worth all this pain?” Sometimes we do need to step back and re-evaluate where we’re putting all our energy. But I also think it’s really important not to let pain, fatigue, fear, and complacency take away our passion or drive us into damaging introspection.

Self-awareness is usually a pretty good thing, but I know for me personally, I have a tendency to think too much, to worry and second guess, to live in my own head. That’s where the depression starts; it’s where I lose my passion and the will to push through – in my head. Sometimes the answer is just finding something that distracts me from worry and second guessing. The less I think about it, the smaller it gets until suddenly the problem is bite-sized; not this looming, all-powerful thought chasing me around the inside of my skull.

If we let the fear and complacency win, we all become Colin, lying in bed waiting for the end so we can finally escape the misery and boredom. That’s where we need a challenge, something to inspire us and work towards. Without it our own thoughts get the better of us. Without it we become more disabled.

And our challenges don’t have to be earth shattering. Colin lacked even the motivation to get out of bed in the morning because everyone told him he couldn’t. Standing up can be a challenge. Taking a step. Just sitting up and thinking about something other than pain and fatigue instead of rolling over, back into that familiar, wasting mindset.

Find a hobby. Find a friend. Find a goal that takes you out of yourself and away from your fears and your doubts. Strength is elusive if you’re not searching for it.

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Redemption and Domestic Chores

The Secret GardenMary Lennox is a lonely girl who only becomes more lonely when her parents die of cholera and she’s sent to live in her uncle’s huge, foreboding manor. But it is there that she meets her cousin, Colin, a boy just as lonely and neglected as she. He has lived his whole life in bed, believing he is going to die. Together the two embark on a mission to find a secret garden, and in the process, find the love and care they’ve been missing their whole lives.

My mom read this to me when I was a kid. At that point, I loved secrets and the idea that two ten year olds could coax a garden to life with no adult supervision was a thrilling one. I also really liked Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards, a book about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage and makes it her own. I guess I had a fascination for independence… and domestic chores. Not sure what that says about me. But now I’m grown up and certain things have happened to me, and when I picked this book up to read it again, I was drawn to the memory of Colin. I wanted to see what Frances Hodgson Burnett had to say about living with a disability (especially in 1911). Funny thing though, about three quarters of the way through I finally realized it’s not about living with a disability at all. It’s about the perception of disability and the perils of living too much in your own head with nothing but fear for company. It’s about the transformative powers of challenge and determination. It’s about redemption.

Colin’s illness is a direct result of the fears and misconceptions surrounding disability and infirmity in the world as a whole and Mistlethwaite Manor in particular. There’s nothing physically wrong with him. But his father is a hunchback (really just some severe scoliosis), and from his birth everyone around Colin assumed that he would be the same. The assumptions grew and multiplied until it was whispered that his back was weak, his legs were crooked, he was half-witted, and it was only a matter of time until he died. Even if all that were true, his ears worked just fine, so is it any wonder he believed all the horrible whispers, especially since no one ever bothered to say anything nice or positive to counteract them?

That is, until Mary shows up. I love the symmetry of Mary and Colin. It takes a sour, miserable little girl to shake a sour, miserable little boy out of the prison of his thoughts. It’s through Mary that we can see under the tantrums and the imperious demands to find and comfort the terrified boy underneath. Colin doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to wake up one day and find that his back has started to twist. But no one has ever bothered to give him something else to think about and hope for. Mary cuts though his despair with her own kind of harsh wisdom, giving him such simple childhood gifts like laughter and a belief in magic.

Normally, I’m not a fan of stories where a disabled character is healed (whether miraculously, magically, or through their own hard work), but since Colin’s disability was a product of fear and his unwillingness to test his own strength, his recovery was about something more than just slapping a pair of legs on a crippled boy as a reward. Colin’s healing was his redemption. He grew from a miserable, nasty child into a strong healthy boy determined to leave his “queerness” behind. He triumphed over his own mind, his fears, and his beliefs.

Colin’s recovery fit. But what bothered me at the end of the book was that his father’s return and their joyous reunion seemed to reinforce Colin’s belief that if only he were strong, if only he were well, then his father would love him. Archibald Craven’s feelings regarding his son aren’t very well defined. He wonders what he should feel when he visits the sleeping boy. And he only returns because of a vague feeling of happiness and the nagging of a local mother. In the Broadway version, it’s much clearer that Archie loves his son and only stays away because he’s been led to believe his presence would disturb Colin and make him more ill. Their reunion in the garden is bittersweet as they forgive past neglect and move into the future with hope and promise. However, I was very dissatisfied with the ending of the book. I wanted Archibald to be redeemed and Burnett obviously wanted us to believe he was but it just didn’t ring true to me. Too little, too late, Archie.

And not only does Archibald Craven’s love and care for his son seem to hinge on Colin’s new strength and ability, but also, Mary disappears. In remembering his son, Archibald is still forgetting the other young life dependent on him. Though given Mary’s independence and the lessons she’s learned, I think she’ll probably do just fine, even if her uncle can’t get his act together.

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