Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Have Yourself a Merry Little

(my entry to faith*in*fiction and Fuse Magazine's Christmas story contest)

I looked regretfully at the gingerbread man before biting his head off. Bliss. Switching the decapitated cookie to my left hand, I steered my Explorer into the cul-de-sac, then reached over to shove the edge of the Saran wrap back under the cookie tray.

I chewed on a leg as I hummed along with "Jingle Bell Rock." Twenty-four hour Christmas music had a knack for lightening my mood. I eyed the last bit of gingerbread. Too bad the season didn’t lighten anything else.

Shrugging, I shoved the rest in my mouth as another song came on the radio. The first few notes told me all I needed to know. I swallowed the suddenly dry cookie and switched the stations. A merry little Christmas, indeed.

My parents’ house sprawled gracefully at the end of the street, a ranch with wrap-around porch and white picket fence. The prison of my teenage years. The haven where I would lick my wounds now.

A ladder stood in the front yard. Someone was helping Dad string up Christmas lights. I parked under the basketball hoop and walked over.

Dad gripped the ladder as the other man stepped down, then he enveloped me in a bulky hug. "Jana. It’s good to have you home."

"Thanks." I turned to the stranger and held out my hand. "Hello, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Jana Tate."

The man moved his scarf away from his face and Dad chuckled. "Why, Jana, don’t you recognize him? Troy Pearson?"

My hand dropped and I stepped back, tasting crumbs of gingerbread and feeling every ounce of the few pounds I’d put on since the breakup. Troy Pearson. My brother’s childhood best friend. And my worst enemy.

My eyes flicked over his face. He hadn’t changed much in five years. Same narrow eyes, identical smirk. Only now his face was red with cold when before it had been bronzed to arrogant perfection.

I deliberately turned back to my father. "I need to unload the Explorer." He nodded, and I crunched back to my vehicle. My feet beat out Troy’s long-ago chant against the snow: Fatty, fatty.

The December wind made my eyes smart. I opened the front door and reached for the box of kleenex at the foot of the passenger seat.

"I can help you carry stuff in." The familiar voice behind me had deepened slightly since I’d last heard it.

I tossed the tissue and moved to the back of the vehicle without turning around. "I can manage," I muttered as I shoved open the hatch. Pity the smaller boxes were on top.

"I know." Troy grabbed the box under the one I’d lifted and hoisted it with a grunt. I hid a sudden grin. Books.

I turned away and walked into the house, letting the door slam behind me and saying hi to Mom. As I walked down the hall to the guest bedroom – now once again my own – I ignored the footsteps following me.

Two hours later I emerged from my partially unpacked room and headed for the kitchen, stepping around the two men wrestling with the tree. Mom scraped the last of the mashed potatoes into the bowl before greeting me with a smile. "Could you put these on the table, Jana?"

I carried the potatoes to the dining room. Four plates graced the table. The bowl dropped in place with a thud. Of course my parents would ask Troy to stay for dinner.

I helped Mom get the rest of the meal on the table while the men washed up. Troy took Adam’s seat across from me, and I glared at his wrists.

Five minutes of silence prevailed as the food circled the table. I served myself tiny portions and watched Troy cover half his plate with potatoes. I grinned as I thought of the paunch he’d have by fifty. That sight would almost make up for the insults and practical jokes of years gone by.

Mom sipped her iced tea. "Have you heard from Adam lately, Troy?"

Adam. I’d heard from my little brother twice since he had left faith and family six years ago to search for himself. He must have forgotten to ask for directions.

Troy cut off a bite of chicken and nodded. "Last week. He’s in Nebraska."

My fork clattered onto my plate. Last week? I hadn’t heard from Adam in four years. So much for blood ties being the strongest. I allowed my eyes to focus on Troy’s detestable face. "How often do you hear from my brother, Troy?"

He shrugged. "Maybe once a month."

Once a month? This, this, peon chatted with my brother every month while I’d waited years? I scooted my chair out and tossed my napkin onto the table. "Please excuse me." I ran back to my room. Knowing from experience that the walls did nothing to muffle sound, I grabbed my coat and keys to seek refuge in my Explorer.

Once I’d shut out the quiet neighborhood, my lungs finally let out the scream they’d been holding far too long. Since Troy’s statement at the table. Since the day I’d lost my job and my boyfriend decided the distance from the city to here was too inconvenient. Since my brother had walked out of my life without so much as a goodbye.

I tucked my forehead into my palm, ignoring the cold and the idea of turning the heater on. I wanted to feel miserable. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and the shreds of my life weren’t enough to trim a tree.

The minutes ticked by, and I gave in and shoved the key in the ignition. The radio came back on. From now on our troubles will be out of sight . . .

I slammed it off. It wasn’t going to be a merry Christmas – it was the worst one of my life.

Someone tapped on my window, and I rolled it down, expecting to see Dad. Troy stood there with hands awkwardly shoved into coat pockets. I turned back to the windshield, not saying a word, my finger ready to send the window back up at the earliest sign of an insult. Let him be the first one to speak

"Are you okay, Jana?"

Sure, the sensitive, caring male trick. "Why should you care?"

He stepped closer. "Jana, I know I was mean to you in the past, but I’m different now. Can’t you at least give me a chance?"

"A chance?" I turned to skewer him with my eyes. "When you’ve stolen my brother and are shoving yourself into his place in my family? I don’t think so."

He looked off into the distance with a frown. "Anyhow, I’m sorry. For everything. But you should go back inside – your parents are decorating the tree. I’ll see you later." He walked away, pulling out his cell phone.

"Later?" I called out, but he didn’t reply.

I shrugged and went inside. Bing Crosby blared from the stereo and a plate of cookies sat on the coffee table. Dad strung the last of the lights as Mom methodically unpacked ornaments. Her face relaxed as she saw me, and she came over and gave me a hug. I blinked away the tears. This was supposed to be a season for rejoicing.

I brought out my box of ornaments and pulled the tissue paper away to reveal snowflakes and bells, glass balls and paper cutouts. Some I had purchased for my little apartment tree, others dated from babyhood. Many of them were identical to Adam’s and each year we’d have to pick different sides of the tree. This time the thought brought a smile.

The phone rang. Dad, having stepped back to admire his handiwork, answered it, then handed it over my way. "It’s for you."

I pressed the receiver to my ear. "Hi, this is Jana."

"Hi, sis."

Adam. The front door opened and Troy walked in, a satisfied smile on his face, erasing his arrogant smirks forever from my memory. I reached toward the cookie tray for a gingerbread man. "Merry Christmas, Adam."

I bit the head off and closed my eyes. A merry little Christmas, indeed.

By Katie Hart

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Eye Color

There's a big discussion going on at faith*in*fiction about how eye color relates to fiction and the ratio of odd eye colors to romance novels. Personally, character descriptions that go on for paragraphs have always bored me. I prefer quick, vivid sentences that add a bit of insight into the person's character; either the person being described or the POV narrator.

Colors are vivid, so I use them for my characters. But I don't like weakening them with adjectives beyond the necessary light or dark or deep. While hair color is obvious, it means something more when one person notices another's eye color. It can be an early indication of romantic interest, or simply that one character sees someone as more than just their job or position.

I don't like using odd colors, though. I've never met someone (unless I didn't notice their eye color) with violet, orange, or black eyes, so I don't use those colors in my writing. (Though I must admit to wishing I had violet eyes at times - I love that color!) Since contacts are so common, artificial eye colors might make a neat twist (like in Dekker's Thunder of Heaven).

A great book that will be coming out next year - The Lazarus Trap by Davis Bunn. If you haven't yet, you should read his Elixir. You'll find a link to my review of it on the right, and later on there'll be one for The Lazarus Trap, too. I can't tell you much about the latter right now (since I still need to review it), but if you like suspense/action adventure, try out Davis Bunn.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Article Fiction

Delightful surprise in my morning mail - two issues of WIN-Informer with my article in them! Of course my family's like, "What? Where? Let me read it!" At least the ones old enough to appreciate a trends article. (Somehow I don't think six-year-old Lydia was very impressed. But she had other things on her mind, including playing Mary tonight in our church's children's Christmas program with a solo - she's a born actress.)

It does strike me a slightly humorous that I've had success with publishing articles, poems, and book reviews, while my main focus, fiction, sits on the shelf. Well, at least it's not always my shelf. Word has gotten around in our little 900-strong church that I'm a writer, and my first novel is making the rounds. Just tonight I was talking to a ten-year-old, and she said her whole family had read the copy I let her mom borrow. Very cool. Even if the book is never published, some people have enjoyed it already. And that's the whole reason behind writing, anyway. Money is nice, but an unread book is not worth the paper it's printed on.

Most of the "nonfiction" I've had published does relate to fiction anyhow. Fiction has always been my preference. Back in school, when Mom (I was homeschooled) assigned an essay I knew it would be boring and when I had to write a report I knew it would be a rehash of several history books. But a short story? I'd triple the required length then write a sequel just for fun.

My current lack of published results from fiction is probably because I've focused on book-length fiction for the past two or three years. But, thanks to and, two sites I visit daily, I'm taking a break and writing a short story for their impromptu Christmas contest. I hope you'll join in on the fun!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

He Who Lifts the Skies

I finally took a break from review books (including an extremely annoying six-book series my mother wanted me to review so she could buy them off me) to delve into a book that's been tantalizing me from my bookstand for weeks - He Who Lifts the Skies by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow. Sometimes when you wait to read a book it seems a serious letdown when it doesn't meet your overwhelming expectations. But my reaction to this book can be reduced to three words: I wasn't disappointed.

Kacy brings the ancient world to life in a way I've never seen paralleled. The characters are as real as your next-door-neighbors, yet the entire book (and the prequel, The Heavens Before) is permeated with a sense of wonder at things of which you've only read the bare facts in the Bible. Men living past nine hundred. Generations piling together as parents see their great-great-great-grandchildren. A city and a tower built in defiance of the Most High. Genetic differences appearing and lifetimes shortening. And that's only the setting!

Imagine being taken from your family and someone you are just starting to love by a man who stands for all you despise. Imagine that your brother and sister will do anything to help you submit to this mighty hunter who claims to protect the world from the righteous anger of the Most High and who kills, enslaves, or banishes for the slightest infraction. Imagine if your very touch brought death.

I'm sure to have more to write on this wonderful book, but it's late. And I'm sorry for the delays in posting - two surprise birthday parties (held here - one with 30 guests and one with 70) and Thanksgiving (including making 15 pies in two days) has kept me busy. And my work on Winter is going very slow.