Friday, January 29, 2016

Fiction Friday: Limberjack

Limberjacks from Prairie Wind Toy Co.
For Fiction Flashback Friday, I'm sharing a poem that I've been kicking around a while. I grew up around some clever bluegrass musicians, including my lovely Aunt Lerlie, who would sing and provide percussion to their songs with a Limberjack doll.

I've been thinking a lot about those days with our Papa's family, mostly about how I thought they would never end.

So this little poem is about lost childhood and a generation that is slowly slipping away. Even so, we won't forget what they've given us.

This poem is for Aunt Lerlie.


Never again
Will the little wooden man
Dance as he did
Like he danced with you

And never again
Will his jitterbug limbs
Spin as they did
When he spun with you

In our childhood dreams
of watermelon teeth
and sweet gum trees,
He jigs and he jumps
To your knuckle-bump thumps
On the pine wood plank
where he danced

But never again
Will he swing and sway
As he did back then
In those huckleberry days

None of us learned
How to play the spoons
And the cuckoo clock springs
Have sprung too soon

And never again
Will they rewind
While the limberjack man
Lies on his side

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fiction Friday: Upper Batracia

This week's Fiction Friday features world building and an amphibian princeling borrowed from my child, Parker Dumas. This is an excerpt from our novel in progress, The Boy Who Painted Stars.

Upper Batracia

by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 1,150
Y-Chien wound the parchment strip into a tight cylinder and tucked it into his belt. He went to the edge of the marble steps. He stood beneath the great pillars and beheld his city. The scent of winter-frost crept along roads and in between crop-rows, withering tender vines and snuffing blossoms like candle-flames. Soon the Lower Batracians would line their warrens with silk-leaves. They would plug their vents with silt. They would wrap their younglings in tenebrous grass, and they would burrow for the Year's End sleep.
He sighed, letting the melancholic ache of envy radiate through him.
A lilting voice came from the temple's recess. “It's as if I can read your thoughts, Chien-ai.”
Y-Chien's inner-eyelid narrowed. “And what are my thoughts, then?” he snapped.
Yun-Hye moved in the temple like a capricious breeze. She said, “You wish for the simple peace of the Lowers, for the bliss that is their ignorance.”
Anyo,” Y-Chien said. “You're wrong.”
She drifted to his side. Her long braid-skirts pooled and swayed around her lithe, lean legs. “Good, Chien-ai, for the Lowers lose half their lives to hibernation, whereas we have evolved to only need sleep—”
“—when our bodies require rest,” Y-Chien finished. “Deh, deh, I know it. Just like the humans.”
Yun-Hye cupped his face with her hands. She caressed his jaw with her wide cheek-plate. “So we have risen from the slime to calculate, to travel to the stars, to play music, and to dance.”
“I hate dancing,” he sulked.
She arabesqued away in a tempest of skirt-braids. “Don't I know it,” she pouted. “You hate many human things.” She reclined on the stone pillar opposite him and trailed her thin arms above her head. The action drew attention to her new implants, which bounced unnaturally beneath the fabric of her robes.
Y-Chien refused to look at them. “I don't hate the humans,” he said. “I merely think we shouldn't try so hard to look like them.”
Yun-Hye chortled with delight. “You?” she sang. “This, from you?”
Y-Chien leaned his back on his pillar and folded his arms across his chest. “I realize the contradiction,” he said. “But you know I did not choose this. It's the prophecy...”
Yun-Hye straightened. “It's your destiny,” she hissed. “Your birthright. You would do well to remember that.”
“I know it's my destiny—”
“—And soon it will be fulfilled,” Yun-Hye said. She glided along the polished marble, watching her reflection in the glossy stone, catching glimpses of her blue freckled legs beneath the swirling weight of her skirts. “You will save us all, Chien-ai, you will kill the Diminished One, and you will have your greatest wish.”
She looped her arms around his neck, and he did not resist as she pulled him close. “What is your greatest wish, Y-Chien? What is it you hope for?”
Nothing. The whisper of his heart. He wanted nothing. He hoped for nothing. In his whole life, he had never needed to strive for anything. What he desired, the Batracians gave, from the smallest toy to the grandest palace.
Soon there would be a ceremony. They would set him at the control panel of the finest ship in the galaxy. They would send him to the stars where he would seek out the Derelict God. And then Y-Chien would defeat him.
But what if the prophecy was wrong? What if Y-Chien was not the Designate? Yes, he was the most human-looking Batracian ever decanted (so far). And yes, he matched the description in the prophecy, a boy with dark eyes and dark hair.
But Y-Chien had seen countless vidscreens of humans. The race had reached homogeneity centuries ago. All of the ones still hovering around their homeworld matched that description: Dark eyes, dark hair.
The thing was, Y-Chien possessed no secret, hidden longings. He was, to use ancient human slang, Wysiwyg – what you see is what you get.
“Oh, Chien-ai,” Yun-Hye mused, releasing him. He breathed in her scent, as familiar to him as his own skin – nectarus blooms and quill ink. “You've gone all pensive again. Can it be you will miss this place?”
Y-Chien looked out of the temple, really looked this time. First Sun was setting, lighting the scale-ways to gleaming bronze. The city pools fell away in broad terraces of green and gold, with slender, spindling arches nimbly perched between state buildings and storefronts and reading-nodes. Ubie children splashed from the pool's edges, cutting the sunlit pools into rippling rings as they swam. Adult Ubies streamed from the buildings, heading home for the short span between First and Second Sun.
The Ubie adults ambled along the arches, their monochromatic skins concealed beneath vibrant robes and weighted skirts. Brightly-freckled Lowbies flanked their Ubie counterparts, trundling behind them with crates and parcels in their three-wheel carts. 
Above all this, sky-skiffs sailed, threading the scarlet clouds with amberglow. And further, in the distance, heavy thunderheads pulsed with pink twists of lightning. But that was beyond the city-grid, out in the uptake land where the Ubies let the weather rage.
Did Y-Chien love any of it? Would he miss it at all?
He said, “What does it say if I have to think so long about my feelings?”
Yun-Hye frowned. “Love should be immediate,” she said. “It should have nothing to do with thought.”
“Then I will not miss it,” Y-Chien said. “Because I do not love it.”
Yun-Hye's freckled skin blushed a pale crimson. If she could have seen herself, she would have been overjoyed at how human she looked. “You are spoiled, Chien-ai,” she said. You always have been. A spoiled, selfish bur-rim-bun-ai.
“Hey!” he shouted. “It's not my fault. You all have made me this way. You and Mother and Father and the Elders. I don't want anything, and I never have!”
He began to storm away, but it soon became plain that Yun-Hye did not intend to follow. He stopped and turned to see her standing at the edge of the steps, her long webbed fingers flexing.
“You will learn,” Yun-Hye said. “Oh yes, you will learn what you have and what may be lost, Chien-ai. You will learn it, whether you want to or not.”
Y-Chien hated when she spoke like this, in some kind of vague riddle that could be applied to any lesson and any person. Y-Chien whirled again, striking off into the cloisters, where he would pull up his vidscreens and fill up his emptiness with songs.
No one understood. And how could they? Everyone thought he was something special. And they were so very, completely wrong.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fiction Friday: Prophecy Collector

Prophecy Collector comes from last week's prompt, The Ironist, exercise 029 in The 3 AM Epiphany. This exercise encourages the author to play around with an unreliable narrator. The trick, however, is that this narrator knows more than she or he is letting on. The result is a twisted fairy tale told from the wry perspective of mantis bureaucrat Jacara Landfair Prentiss.

The image is from I am trying to find and thank the artist for inspiration.

Prophecy Collector
by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 796
Safe for work

My name is Jacara Landfair Prentiss. I sit at a desk, and I listen. That's my job. Listening. It's not up to me to interpret events.

Yes. Technically, my title is Prophecy Collector. I collect them and pass them Upstairs if they're worthy. Most of them are a bunch of 'woe-be-unto-earth' nonsense. Those I weed right out. On an average day, I'll hear half a dozen fuzzy forecasts from divining dragonflies and prognosticating pill bugs. But to receive a true revelation, an actual bonafide auguration, that is a rare thing.

In fact, in all my years at this desk, beneath the watchful compound eyes of Mother Moth, I have only seen it three times.

The first was the Prophecy of the Flood, and we all know how that turned out. Of course, that office is thirty meters beneath new sea level, so I suppose 'desk' in this case describes the job itself, and not the actual object. Haha, you catch my meaning, right? The juxtaposition of the desk as a symbol... Oh, right. Of course.

Would you like a morsel of mushroom while you're waiting? Tea leaf? No? Very well. Where was I?

Oh yes. The second. That was the Oracular Divination of the Bee Decimation. What a tizzy we were in over that one. I hear humankind went bonkers, but down here, we were more concerned with who would fill the niche. The moths lobbied for the job, but is was argued they were inadequately suited, given their nocturnal proclivities. Then the horseflies put in their bid, but can you imagine? Always playing about. Horseflies taking over for bees? Huh. I think not.

In the end, the contract went to the yellowjackets. Pity. Brutal blighters, the lot of them. Nonetheless, time went on and so did we. The insect kingdom adapts. It's what we do.

Maybe that's why I dismissed Miss Mouse. I don't go in for mammalians in general. Too hot-blooded for my taste.

And she was a pretty thing, too. Smooth and gray, with eyes like black water beetles. She wore a circlet of silver upon her nimble little head. Two pale pink ears poked up from beneath that delicate crown. I should have known, really...

Anyway, she fairly swept in, long whiskers twitching. “Please,” she said. “I must see the Weavers. It is a matter of life and death.”

I leaned upon my bent elbows and tsked. “My dear, you'll have to do better than that,” I said. “In this business, everything is a matter of life and death.”

Yes, I did say it exactly like that. As I told you, I dismissed her as a mouse. Well, you weren't here, were you. May I proceed?

Very well. She said, “I was not always a mouse. I was a girl, until two nights ago. I went to a wishing pool at midnight when the full moon reflected in its surface, and there I made a wish.”

I told her, “This is Prophecy Collection, Miss, not Wish Fulfillment. You'll find that department on the third floor.”

She went on as if she hadn't heard me. She said, “A fairy appeared and granted my wish. She gave me a flowing white gown and slippers made of snow.”

I know, I know. I thought glass as well, but she said snow.

The mouse went on. “The fairy told me I must return to the pool by midnight or I would return to my original form.”

She stared up at me then, her black eyes sparkling.

“You didn't make it back to the pool by midnight,” I said.

“No,” she said. “I did not.”

I leafed through the files on my desk. I thought wistfully of my home and my bed and the corpse of my last husband resting by the hearth.

I said, “If you don't have a prophecy, I'm afraid I cannot help you.”

She said, “Not a prophecy so much as a promise. For it is well-known that the Weavers serve the Fates and they should know, when I am restored, I am coming for them. Their curse made me their servant girl, and now I remember every vile thing they made me do.”

Yes, that is word for word what she said. I wrote it down. I stamped it. I sent it Upstairs.

No, I haven't a clue where she might have gone. She didn't exactly leave a forwarding address. My job is to sit at my desk and listen, which I've done. It's not up to me to interpret or judge. Now, pray excuse me. You've got your many hands full, and I've a new husband to behead.

Good day and good luck. You're going to need it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fiction Friday: Unrequited

I've decided to start a special section on this blog dedicated to Daily Writing Practice. Each week, I'll feature the best one (or an excerpt from a larger work) on my blog. For fun and stuff.

This one is a sci-fi piece, off-prompt, that explores an aspect of love. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please feel free to comment and share. And if you don't like it, please let me know why. 

by Celeste Hollister
Word Count: 455
Safe for Work

In the end, we left empty-handed. We boarded our ship and left everything behind.

I dream about you, though. Such breathtaking splendor, those ice-penciled peaks, the crystalline pools, the star-spun cloth of midnight sky.

When I wake, I smell the cinnamon-fragrant reeds that waved at river's edge. I taste the honey-cool springs that fed the lake beside which we once slept.

It's easy, now, years hence. Deceptively simple to recall your glory, to forget the heartache. Even as I write these words, I feel the twinge in my fingers, once twisted beyond recognition by the jaws of that snarling monster. Though terror struck me blind at the moment of attack, I can look back and understand. It felt threatened. It was afraid. Or maybe it was hungry. Maybe I appeared like a tempting morsel as I paddled at the water's edge. As insignificant as a worm on a hook.

Either way, it was not the only creature to shed blood that afternoon. We killed it, and others. We left a trail of bones in our wake. After all you gave us, we answered with blood.

The doctor chides me. She says I should not focus on the past, that I should turn my eyes to the present moment, that I should live second to second, breath to breath.

I did that. I tried.

But every breath here is poison. Every second a lie. How can I explain that my heart remains fixed on a world light years away, beyond the reach of any of us? When people talk of finding love, do they only mean humans, or can a person also love a place?

I have no pictures. I lost my ability to sketch. I kept not a single stone, not a feather, nor a scale. Yes, I damaged the records containing your coordinates. They called it sabotage, but if we could not stay, then no one else would find you, not so long as I was alive to prevent it.

Now in the evening, I sit upon my rooftop. Beneath me, the city boils under a blanket of smog. My nostrils fill with the oily stink of cookfires and exhaust. My skin roughens from yet another scrim of blisters. The tea I drink tastes of sweat, and I long for a mouthful of your sparkling snow upon my tongue.

A creeping deluge slowly swallows earth. We'll roast to death long before the waters claim us. There is no hope that I will ever return. But if the ancients are right, that we choose our fate upon our passing from this life to the next, then I beg for us to be reunited.

Only then will I know peace.

Only then, in the end.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year's Resolutions, 2016

2015 was the year that broke everything wide open. After years of sitting and waiting and 
worrying and debating, I risked it all. I quit teaching. My tiny child and I moved to another 
country. I published my novel, 
Reprieve. I got my heart broken by a man who abandoned us in 
Seoul. While that did suck, the rest turned out surprisingly well. And as Shakespeare says, “All's 
well that ends well.”

The really important part, though, is that this isn't the end. 2016 is just the beginning. There's a 
great quote by Marilyn Monroe: “Sometimes good things fall apart so that better things can fall 
together.” And Michael Ende says in 
The Neverending Story, “Nothing ends... Everything 

I really like that idea.

Each day, each year, we have the chance to change. And every year, I like to look back at who I 
was and who I am becoming. If we don't stop once in a while to have a look around, we may miss 
something. So this is me, having a look around.

Traditionally, I make goals in four categories: Health, Travel, Career, and a Reading Goal.

This year, I'd like to add an overall goal to be more generous. We try to give back in as many ways 
as we can. This year, I want to explore even more ways to help people, specifically people in the 
LGBTQ+ community.
Here are my goals for 2016. May everyone have a healthy, happy, and blessed year.
Health Goals      

1. Continue the Paleo/low-carb diet
2. Running Rewards
3. Daily Meditation
4. Cut back on screen time

When we moved back from Seoul, we moved in with my parents. My Mom's cooking is like some 
kind of special witchcraft. Her secret ingredient is bacon grease. With it, she can transform 
anything into an amazing southern comfort feast. Alas, it's about as healthy as eating mayonnaise 
straight from the jar with a Dorito.

So when we moved in, we made some changes to the menu. We're on a low-carb, mostly Paleo 
diet. My Mom and Dad have both lost twenty pounds since last March. I lost about seven pounds, 
but I gained it all back during the holidays (curse you Aunt Amy's asparagus casserole!)

Therefore, the goal here is to continue Paleo eating. I have also been running, and I got us 
memberships to the Activity Center. I've found that by rewarding myself after a set number of 
runs/workouts is a very effective motivator. After every 12 runs/workouts, I get to buy myself 
something nice – a nice book or some clothes. Total win-win!

As this category also deals with mental health, I would also like to maintain a state of mindfulness 
through the meditation techniques we learned in Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) this fall.
One of my lifelong challenges is agoraphobia (which I'll expound upon in a later post), and I'm 
learning that meditation helps me manage anxiety associated with that condition.

With regret, I must admit, I suck at meditation. I seems like a simple thing, sitting still and 
quieting your mind, but my mind likes to scamper off in multiple directions, which is fantastic 
when I'm writing. Not so great when there's a battle of five armies raging in my head, and I'm 
trying to find a sense of peace.

I have three shiny new apps to help on this meditation journey: 
HeadSpaceCalm, and Stop-
Breathe & Think
. It is my hope that these apps will guide me on the meditative path.

Bit of irony between the tools that will help achieve that goal and my final goal for this category. 
Through our IOP, I discovered that I spend a lot of time on my phones. Plural. I have two phones 
– one for business, one for games – and a third iPod device for books.

I alternate between the three of them, trailing charger cords about the house like I'm the Flying 
Spaghetti Monster. I use them for music, Facebook, Solitaire, Words With Friends, videos. The 
phones double as alarm clocks, so I am on a device from the moment I awake to the late hours 
when I wearily scroll through my Tumblr notifications one last time.

One thing we picked up in IOP is the idea that we should focus on one activity at a time. My 
brain loves to multitask, and the phones are perfect little enablers. I'm going to significantly cut 
back on the screen time this year. One way to do that is an app called Forest. This app allows you 
to put your phone into sleep mode. While its sleeping, a virtual forest grows. If you move to 
check your Instagram or answer a text, you kill the forest. This kind of proxy empathy works on 
me, so I'll use it.

I'm also going to implement device-free times like 'at the dinner table' or 'during family time'. I 
would never text while driving, so that's a given. I just want to be more present and mindful this 
year. That means less time looking at a glowy blue screen, and more time looking at the real 
Travel Goals

1. Plantation Tour
2. Road trip? Book signing tour?
3. Katrina: Hollywood or bust

Definitely on the books for Spring 2016, we have booked a plantation tour in Louisiana. This will 
include Katrina's first trip to New Orleans, a city which holds an odd allure for her. It could be in 
the name? Not sure, but we'll find out this March.

I also have a growing itch for another Epic Road Trip. This ERT would probably happen in the fall 
and would hopefully take us up the East coast to Maine, stopping in North Carolina, 
Pennsylvania, and New York along the way. Or, I may take us straight up through North Texas to 
Montana and possibly into Canada. This will require more research, something I love to do.

Katrina was invited to attend an acting/screenwriting workshop in Hollywood this July. We really 
want to see this happen. Since I'll be working for the San Marcos Parks & Rec department again 
this summer, I won't be able to ERT there with her. Nonetheless, it's an awesome opportunity 
that she will most likely attend.
Career Goals

1. Publish 
2. Finish 
The Boy Who Painted Stars

This is one of the widest-openest parts of my life right now. Last year, I made the incredibly 
difficult decision to quit teaching. While I loved teaching and I am now and will always be 
devoted to my students, I realized last year that if I continue teaching, being an author would 
never be a reality. Both paths require the whole of a person's heart. I was still trying to do both 
and spinning in circles.

I published 
Reprieve, and people are reading it. Actually buying and reading it!

So I'm going to continue writing for as long as I can. Hopefully until I'm 140 years old and I ascend 
to a higher plane through some kind of virtual upload. That would be freakin' awesome.
Reading Goal

I began keeping track of the books I've read after reading 
On Writing by Stephen King. He reads 
in the neighborhood of 80 books each year, and at the time I was struggling to make time for 
ten. The first year, my goal was 12 books – one a month – and I read 16.

Last year, my goal was 52 books – one a week – and I read 56. Of course, my own book, 
was on that list, but whatever, I read it. It counts.

This year my goal is to read 
54 books. Maybe I'll read 60! I cannot wait to dive in to all of these 
wonderful worlds.

I track all of my reading on
 Goodreads. Occasionally, I also post reviews.

So that's it, my first look forward into the new year. May everyone have a terrific time as we 
mark another passage around the sun. 2016, this is just the beginning.