Category: Fiction

Half-buried ornamentals

The woman watched rain sloosh from rooftops and cleave into arterial streams. Water pooled around the stone plinths and terracotta pots that bracketed La Casa Pasta’s doorway, spreading topsoil and half-buried ornamentals onto the pavement.

 My, Pallene said, why does no one fix that?

Because no one can, she answered and

she awakened and could still feel the girl’s damp fingers waggle inside her palm. Her hand was empty and dry, and the left side of her bed was empty and undisturbed, and the rain still fell on Casimiro Avenue. She could hear it splash from slow-moving cars, broad semicircles that flattened on the sidewalk. Pallene is a pretty name, she thought. She may have discovered that name in a newspaper or in a magazine at Hello, Dollies, where she had her hair done every third Thursday afternoon. Hair done. What does that even mean, she thought: shampooed and shaped and perfumed with allegedly and quite possibly European hairspray. And still he did not notice. He just saw the twenty-five dollars deducted from the checking account every month, and actually called it her womanly fun thing. He was probably proud of himself for his acuity, and he probably had no idea of how demeaning it was. Or maybe he did.

Why does no one fix that? 

Because no one can, she answered and

she did not go to Hello, Dollies to make herself more desirable for him. She went there to listen to differently-phrased conversations, and the sort of laughter you hear from women when discussing literally anything but their marriage: John Kennedy, Jesus Christ, movie stars, lapsed desires, diminished expectations, dissertations, disappointments, desserts. How could she tell him that, that none of it was about him? He would be bruised and his shoulders would droop like half-buried ornamentals. That image startled her and she thought again, Pallene is such a pretty name. Where have I heard it before?

We can try again, he said. As if that solved everything. You lose a nickel down a sewer grate and you find another one beside a shopping cart. All things evened out. At least you didn’t have to go full term, he said. The nurse turned away. She did not smell like European hairspray at all but of sweaty, bludgeoned hands reaching for mercy, and underneath that stink, simple hospital soap foamed into nothing. We can try again, honey, he said. When you feel better. 

Maybe Pallene was nothing important at all, just a word conjured up for a corporate Scrabble board: (n.) an expensive hairspray that promotes unrealistic expectations of beauty, possible European. See also: hair done (v). the act of becoming beautiful and ephemeral. 

Or something less that that. Something fleeting, like rain that can only exist in a dream.

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First review of Asunder, baby

A big thank you to Priscilla Bettis for her amazing and generous review of Asunder, baby. In part:

Asunder, baby is a chronological series of short stories with different but similar settings and small-town characters. Baird is a literary author, and some of the stories have atypical punctuation (still totally clear, though; as an example, the story titles do not have conventional capitalization). Other stories include poetry verses or the lyrics of retro-popular songs. With the songs comes a bit of nostalgia. I bet ya start singing the songs in your head like I did.

Baird’s dialogue passages are marvelous in that they move the story along while defining the characters who speak it. Baird is also good with quotable bits. I can’t help but put one in this review:

“…An age ago when we were an age that never impressed us much.” (Ain’t that the truth?!)

“Light of the West Saugerties” at the beginning of the collection and “This day, just now” at the frame the collection with stories of Birdie and Harry. You get a sense of what’s gone on between them over the years that are missing while the other stories in the collection take over. It makes for an incredibly gratifying journey.

Overall, this collection is literary and intellectual and slightly experimental, and it’s written with the obvious skill of an author who has the writing chops to pull it off. Five huge stars!

Thank you again, Priscilla!

For your consideration

Excerpt from ‘Lamentations of a Farmer’ from the collection Asunder, baby:

When the derecho winds arrived Friday, they lifted the split-rail fences, tore up most of the barn roof, uprooted the vegetable garden, then set everything down, hard, probably, in the parking lot of the shuttered A&P in Mechanicsburg. When he first heard the sound, he thought the P&E Freight was running ten minutes early, its whistle off-key by about two octaves. Then he remembered he hadn’t heard that whistle in nearly sixty years, and the bones of that old depot were half a country away.

Saturday morning, he carried his shovel to the fence line, now reduced to a perforated line of dirt clumps and splintered cedar, and he rubbed the tired out of his eyes. Strands of barbed wire spread across the pasture, patches of galvanized weeds.

As through a wide breach they come, in the midst of the ruin they roll themselves in,” he said. “Job, you were one sorry son of a bitch if you couldn’t figure that out.” Before he started, he checked his pockets. “Fool,” he said. “What is it you expect to accomplish with only a shovel?” Nonetheless, he set the blade into the dirt, and leaned into it with his boot.

From a mean distance, he noted the tricks of the midmorning sunshine, how it spilled through a colander of apple tree branches and furnished a fine frippery of light, then raised its heels along the curves of the pea-gravel garden borders and set itself to dance. Even so, the dark western horizon was starting to crawl back.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated,” he whispered.

His cows, those that remained in the field, gawped at him from a tousled ridge of hay. His favorite (if a beast could be called a favorite, though she wore a particular sorrowful glint in her eyes that always drew his attention), named Marmalade for the spoon-shaped patches on her neck, stepped towards him, tentative, and she brought her melancholy with her.

“To the end, eh, Marmy?” he said.

First published by and many, many thanks to DarkWinter Literary Magazine and its founder and editor Suzanne Craig-Whytock (www.darkwinterlit.com)

A photo, a book launch, and several thousand words…

I have been searching for this particular photo for months. A little over a year ago, my laptop died, and with it went a whole bunch of stories and notes, a half-completed novel, and all references to this picture. I’ve been looking for it off and on ever since, and now, here it is, on the eve of my book launch.

What is it? A little slice of late 1960s Americana, and a story waiting to be written. It ran in Vanity Fair, December 2013, and was photographed by Elliott Landy. It was hugely inspiring to me. I first saw it online a couple of years ago and… I wrote a story — relatively quickly — and that story evolved into more stories. The two people in the foreground became Harry and Bridget (aka Birdie).

I did the requisite research into that particular area — the West Saugerties, NY (only 7 miles from Woodstock) — and rediscovered The Band, “Songs of Big Pink”, and Bob Dylan’s association with the area. I decided on “Light of the West Saugerties” as the opening story of Asunder, baby and I really hoped to find this photo again, since it was such an inspiration for a few thousand words.

Asunder, baby will be available for Kindle readers and in paperback on Amazon tomorrow, January 12. Many thanks for reading this little origin story… they’re not usually this specific.

The story begins:

—–

July, 1967

I see you, Birdie, pressed into your favorite gold brocade dress, somewhat shrouded in a turquoise Navajo throw. You were always a July blonde / September strawberry, but today your hair is transcendent, luminescent, loosely tied with a loop of jute twine you picked up at the side of Burnett Road. You walk ahead of me at that final curve before the smell of water hits us, you draw me closer with the shimmer in your hair, the shimmy in your hips, the sweet in your voice. A song is sung, “At dawn my lover comes t’ me / an’ tells me of her dreams,” a rat-sized chihuahua tramps along beside you, pauses at the dandelion stalks, the river birch trunks, pisses on the things it wants you to love.

In real life, Bridget, you tend the bar at the Pinewood House in the West Saugerties. You complain about the Club members who line up for their Tom Collins sacrament every Wednesday afternoon: ex-cops, mostly; tough guys who don’t know what to do with their hands.

“You think we’ll see him, baby?” you say.

“He who?”

You turn to me, your hair a spray of candied sunlight. “Don’t you ever listen to his words? Dylan, silly. Do you think we’ll see him there?”

“Maybe. Probably not. But so what? Maybe he’ll see us. Do you think he ever wonders about us?”

“He should. Because we’re fabulous. And he will receive us.”

Waves

Photo by Aviv Ben Or on Unsplash

We witnessed the waves as bystanders, watched them spill into limestone gulleys, and we waited for something different this time: a new color, perhaps, to percolate from their churn, or for the sun to gild the shore with a little more gold.

You pilfered persimmons

  • but only for the seeds

from Missus Mead’s trees

  • she can only eat one piece of fruit at a time

unless she slices them for pies

  • then I will inform her of the deed

but if the trees grow elsewhere, will they even be hers?

  • they will be closer to the water

such a long walk from her orchard

  • they will grow in her memory

but they were still pilfered

  • and now I fancy strawberries

Your words do not weigh enough, my father said. We need to build you up. You know how to use a walkie-talkie, right?

I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. Words don’t weigh enough? Walkie-talkie? I had just finished high school two weeks earlier, was about to turn 18, and he signed me up to work on a road crew. With muscles unleavened and shoulders like butter knives, I didn’t think that was a good idea.

But to look at him, even casually, you knew the word ‘no’ was not an option. His dimensions were broad, but, you would think, unremarkable; his face, a modest clay, was a little too plain without benefit of finely-tuned details. Chin, just so, maybe slightly too flat, but not insubstantially so, though his nose, a scintilla too blunt for a man who, you would suppose, possessed a diminished sense of smell; a broad forehead, yes, shaped for good hats, like a fedora or a gray felt Homburg. And eyes: well, that’s what would stop you from thinking him average or dull. Dark green, swamp green eyes. Curious eyes, but not yearning or imploring. You would conclude: here was an intelligent man, but wait, also a troubled man, but no, pointedly philosophical, brutal, vivid, imaginative. You never knew his temperament before he spoke, and the man was not a talker. His voice was naturally soft, but it carried, and it made you interested in what he had to say, made you crane your neck so you could watch him strip the words to their plainest enunciation.

So ‘no’ was not a choice. I joined a work crew as a flagman on my eighteenth birthday.

He wrote:

You craved the wild fruit of Pompeii, you exclaimed

and as a young man, i sought it

there was no such flora in northern California,

so of course in Sausalito, i just bought it.

I was to be put to rest in the second cheapest coffin he could afford. They haggled, Mr. Bueford D. Weill, Jr. and he, but the words ‘dignity has no price tag,’ put him off.

“That I should kiss my son’s cheek and lay my hands square on his shoulders is all the dignity he requires,” my father said. “He was not a ‘mahogany and antique bronze finish’ kind of boy; planks and sturdy bolts and a comfortable mattress would do him fine. He respected a dollar and a firm bed. He won’t think less of me, because he’s deceased, of course, but I think he might respect me, even dead, if I did not have to forgo a mortgage payment for the sake of a fluffed pillow and half a chesterfield.”

It was agreed, then, that I should be put to flame, and whatever residue remained of me  be poured into the lake or, more likely, latch onto a substantial happenstance of a come-along wind to play-along with my ash.

I don’t know what I thought of this much fuss, with all corporeal appetites for sight and such no longer of any interest to me. I was waiting for him, I think, to say goodbye in a way that would end all complications between father, son, and whatever ghosts wound between us. A simple, even clumsy,  goodbye, would be fine, but he held onto his grief with both hands. 

My dream had a beginning, he said. We walked along a canopied path, prolific with beach grass and the skeletons of striped bass, and we were the same age. I could not feel the warmth of the sand, but I told you it was warm and you agreed, yes, it was warm. And then it was gone, all of it, except for the water, and it was gray and filled with stones. I told you it was cold, and it felt cold, and you said, yes, it was cold. You gathered persimmon seeds, my hand reached to receive them, and I woke up holding nothing.

And I told you that a Buick Skylark ignored my Stop paddle and sped past me, filled with boys my age, and they all wore the same cartoonish grins, shiny with spit and noise. I waved, frantic, to Ronny and his crew, who noticed the car, of course, and I was reprimanded by Mister Douglas Hawkes as we stood beside his pick-up truck. What else could I do? I memorized the license plate, but what else could I do? I forgot that I could speak, that I could yell, I only waved, waved like a dunce, as if I could command the waves to relent.

And my father, still dreaming, said, I dreamed of something that became nothing, and that was the beginning of our goodbye.

Blog Stop Tour: The Necromancer’s Daughter 

Fantasy writers are especially unique in that they imagine worlds — regalities and cultures and creatures — that never were, and then go ahead and build them, imbuing them with their own lively visions, and then spiking them with a bit of awfulness that we all recognize. Dragons? I’m not so sure they don’t exist. In the imagination of D. Wallace Peach, of course they do. And so do necromancers, but it’s a costly gift.

A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.

Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.

While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.

Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.

A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

From Chapter 5 – An excerpt

A wave of panic stilled Barus’s hand, the needs of an infant beyond his experience. The insanity of his choice forced him back a step. For a full day, he’d suffered from fatigue and fear, his mind as muddy as a spring puddle. What was he thinking? Did he believe, for a single moment, he possessed the knowledge or skill to raise a child?

He slumped onto the one chair Graeger had left intact when he’d first barged into Barus’s life. His head hung forward into his hands, and he shivered. If the land wasn’t trapped in the grip of winter, he could bury her body under the willow beside the boy. He could lower her into the ravine beside Olma’s bones so neither would rest alone. And while the thought comforted him, it made his heart ache with grinding loneliness.

Olma hadn’t abandoned him despite the tragedy of his birth. How could he choose otherwise?

If the land wasn’t trapped in the grip of winter, he could bury her body under the willow beside the boy.

He studied the baby’s exquisite face, her repose as tranquil as sleep, fingers curled, complexion and hair as white as the asters on the summer’s lea. On her deathbed, the queen had begged for her child’s life. He possessed the power to see her will done, and in the depths of his heart, he couldn’t deny her … or the infant. Or himself. Despite his fear, he’d fallen in love.

Meet the Author

A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.

In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography.

Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

—–

One of my favorite excerpts: “A cold bone-moon sailed across the treetops. Silvergreen leaves glimmered between the towering evergreens like fairy lanterns. For several hours, she walked beside him, and they resorted to quiet conversation. With dawn a long way off, they settled beneath a tent of bowed branches and huddled together for warmth. Aster sighed and fell asleep with renewed hope.” This is simply lovely.

Diana’s writing brings a certain elegance to all her characters, who feel lived-in and fully-realized — particularly Barus, whose kindness and simple humanity lifts this tale high. Diane’s descriptive prowess is enchanting as always, and “The Necromancer’s Daughter” is as magical and rewarding a read as you would expect from this gifted author.

Purchase Links:

Global Amazon Links:

US: https://www.amazon.com/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach/dp/B0B9FY6YZJ

IN: https://www.amazon.in/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Apple

Diana’s Sites:

Amazon Author’s Page:

 https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dwallacepeach

A patchwork of cotton flowers

The only breeze that blew through Nannie Dee’s front yard carried a miasma of malt liquor fumes and hyacinth perfume, Millicent’s step-mother’s favorite and thereby unavoidable. Nannie could count the number of real Christians in her front yard with the fingers on one hand, and the rest of them could have the back of the other one. Still, she would be polite. She would offer refreshments and compliment them on their new shoes (or their new blouses, or their fashionable ties, if they bothered to wear one), and her countenance would not change. This was Millie’s day, and none of their frowny-face pantomimes were going to change that.

“She’s with God now,” proclaimeth Judith Meyers, the new-ish teacher who taught Millie ‘Northern History’ and was likely from someplace like Boston or Newport, but who had tamed her accent to fool the local folk. Oh, she probably came from good stock, alright, raised in some third or fourth generation Italianate style home, on her second marriage at the tender age of thirty-four, and, no doubt, already eyeballing her next Mister. There were stories about her, but Nannie Dee would be charitable: “Thank you, honey, God bless.”

Next up was Courtney Everding, Millie’s Academic Advisor, and her husband Darryl, a stately-dressed cowboy-type — a mustached goober, really — and the man who most likely raped Millicent. He was currently squeezing a sausage biscuit to death. “So sorry for your loss, Missus Dee,” she said, and offered her a hug. The goober nodded, distracted by all the young women wandering the yard. Millie’s friends.

“Appreciate the kindness,” said Nannie, then whispered: “And if you was to cut your husband’s throat and cock when he falls asleep tonight, I would gladly alibi you without any complaint from my conscience.”

Missus Everding acknowledged her with a crisp nod as her husband squeezed that biscuit until crumbs started to fall on his shoes.

Next up didn’t matter. They were all cotton flowers from the same patchwork quilt around here. Oh, she would judge them in her old-style way, everyone did that, always judging each other until that judgment didn’t even matter any more. This was Millicent’s day, and if Nannie Dee — the girl’s grandmother, after all — made a sour face for just the tiniest of seconds, it wouldn’t be more damning than if her dentures had slipped a little. And who would fault her for that?

“God bless you, honey,” she heard herself say to a boy who rode over on his tractor. She would complain to his grandfather tomorrow, because the boy tore up a small patch of her sweet alyssums. Things like that did not sit right with her. Boys had to learn early, or look at all the trouble they’d cause later. “Give my best to your mama, you hear?”

Touch/Either/And/Or/Adoration

A big thank you to Suzanne Craig-Whytock for publishing my latest flash fiction, Touch/Either/And/Or Adoration at her brand new literary magazine, DarkWinter at darkwinterlit.com. Please pay a visit and check out the other works (fiction and poetry), and feel free to add something to this growing publication. Suzanne is an award-winning Canadian author, and she’s extremely talented and funny. Also check out her must-read hilarious blog, mydangblog. Thanks for reading.

Liars and Thieves: Book Launch for Diana Wallace Peach

Welcome to the launch! Today, I’m proud to present the newest book — Liars and Thieves — by my friend Diana Wallace Peach, an extremely prolific and gifted author of dark fantasy, and a great supporter of independent writers. She’s written a new series, Unraveling the Veil, and I’m happy to shout it out.

Book One: Liars and Thieves

Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.

Three unlikely allies stand in his way.

A misfit elf plagued by failure—

When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.

A changeling who betrays his home—

Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.

A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets—

Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.

When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Unraveling the Veil series

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Diana, how do you define success?

In all parts of my life: Happiness. We only get this one life; there are no second chances, no do-overs. We are each miracles, here through the perfect alignment of billions of years of evolution, choices, and chance. It’s not a gift to be wasted. Happiness means different things to different people, but for me it’s choosing an attitude of kindness, care, and compassion and acting on that choice. Writing is something that brings me joy, no strings attached.

Diana’s very creative trailer, well worth watching:

Author Biography

D. Wallace Peach

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Diana’s Links:

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myths-of-the-Mirror/187264861398982

Twitter: @dwallacepeach

Thanks, Diana, and may you have much success with this new series!