My daughter received a small cabbage plant from school the other
day. She was supposed to water it, but
at her age, daily chores are still quite a chore. As a result, after I waved goodbye to the
kids from the window this morning, I looked down to find that the little
cabbage plant had gone crispy. I watered
it thoroughly, just in case its root was still alive in there somewhere, and
while I was at it, I watered our two philodendrons as well. All this going back and forth with water from
the kitchen sink initially drew my sleepy focus to a dark cluster of leaves
poking up from the garbage disposal.
For a second, I was very confused. The leaves were whole, lush, and dark
green. I certainly hadn’t put them there,
and I hadn’t seen anyone eating spinach for breakfast. Then I remembered that my husband had eaten a
plateful of spinach last night, drizzled with ranch dressing: one of his
favorite simple vegetable dishes. So,
that solve the mystery of why it looked like something was growing up out of my
disposal. But my brain couldn’t leave
that sudden moment of “which planet am I on” alone.
What if there really
were disposal plants? my mind wondered. How
cool would that be? Something alive
in the bottom of our sinks, like a cross between a compost heap and a Venus
flytrap! It would eat all our kitchen
detritus, and through its digestive juices, keep that funky decomposing stink
at bay, no citrus rinds required.
But it would make more
sense, my brain continued, if the
sink wasn’t really a porcelain sink.
Some sort of garden circle, either in a giant pot, or just outside the
kitchen door toward the garden, perhaps.
And here I’ve already segued from reality, imagining a fantasy home with
servants in the kitchen, who have a rather large plant because they produce so many
kitchen scraps on a daily basis. I
envision kitchen maids scraping potato peelings and eggshells and the outer,
wilted leaves of lettuce from battered wooden platters into a deep, wide tub
rather like half a wine barrel.
Within the tub, I imagine a sort of Sarlaac pit, with
sloping dirt leading down to a cluster of leafy stems with bitey tips that
sense and target food with rather more independent movement than your average Venus
flytrap. Such a handy plant, it also
consumes its own stems when they begin to wither.
But plants need maintenance, right? And what if no one wants to touch the bitey
plant in case it nips them? So now I’m
envisioning ants. A small, symbiotic colony
that lives in the soil surrounding the plant and tends to the health of its
roots. They’ll also fight
opportunistically for the odd scrap that rises too high up the Sarlaac pit
slope for the plant stems to reach. And
how to keep this aggressive colony from escaping the pit pot? If the kitchen maids ever find one wandering
from its home, they are instructed to step on it and put its tiny, mangled
corpse at the edge of the pot. My ants
have evolved to understand that when they discover their own dead, it marks the
edge of their territory, unless food supplies run out. Which, within the pit pot, they never will.
So there’s my cool idea.
I don’t know about you, but I think I would actually use such a plant, ants
and all, if it were a thing. Would you?
I live at the hanging tree—well, I say live. A great, ancient cypress tree grows
in the swamp west of New Orleans. If you’ve given up, you’ll find it. And then, you’ll find me.
I am less than a man, less even than a spirit. I don’t quite know what I am, save to say
that I am some tiny, indomitable sliver of consciousness that somehow refused
to go quietly into that good night.
I must have been someone once. I must have had a life, a family. A purpose.
Now, and for a very long time, I have had none of that. For decades, I wandered. In the end, though, it seemed best for me to
retire from society—again.
And so I remain at the hanging tree. It seems my best—and their last—chance.
Every few weeks, someone comes. I never know how they will perceive me, but
humanity is generally predictable: the first word they utter is often a name. Their eyes widen, and they stumble back a
step. I always take pleasure in the fact
that they are suddenly and entirely diverted from their suicidal purpose, for
at least that one moment, by the face of someone they esteem.
Every person has a radius of awareness surrounding them. Depending on their level of intelligence and
current distraction, their radius may be very large, or rather close. Whenever I draw close enough to them, or they
to me, their mind perceives whatever ectoplasm I may be as the man upon whom they
place the highest emotional value.
Sometimes, that man is dead. Those always make for interesting encounters,
but you’d be surprised how often a message from the beyond can convince a
desperate soul to remain among the living. I’m convinced that, had Hamlet’s
father borne such a message for his son instead of one of revenge, the play would
have had a happier ending.
Even if their trusted confidante or long-lost lover is
still alive, my would-be suicides are naturally predisposed to listen to his
words. I am ashamed to say that, in my
long and sordid past, I have often abused this curious feature of my existence –
decades of enterprising housebreaking in the dead of night brought my temporary
body rather a good time on dozens if not hundreds of occasions. But now that I have come to certain
realizations about my existence, I have found some small measure of redemption
in using it to save others from a fate such as mine.
It doesn’t always go over well, the suicides suddenly
spotting me under the hanging tree.
Occasionally, I have been entirely unable to convince them to refrain,
and on the rarest of occasions my presence has actually spurred them to
action. Their brightly colored neon ropes
loop over the most popular of the low branches, easily spotted by their worn bark,
and though I am able to touch them as long as I am within their sphere of
awareness, the absolute panic with which their terrified orbs lock onto me is
something I would never wish to prolong.
And so, I am forced to back away until I vanish from their sight,
remaining only an invisible witness to their chosen fate. For I would never
abandon such a desperate soul, not again. No.
Thus do I save most, but not all, of my visitors from the
fate they think they deserve. And thus
it has been for the last thirty-three years of my interminable existence.
But one day, a different sort of person sought me out. She came to the tree alone, dressed in dark
red leather, old jeans, and sturdy boots.
Instead of a rope, she brought a gun. A heavy, shiny thing, it adorned her right hip
like a dangerous jewel. I had seen one
other suicide bring a gun, over twenty years ago. It has sunk two feet into the swamp since.
As she approached the tree, I stepped forward until I
felt the edge of her awareness pass through me – at a considerable distance
that revealed remarkable perspicacity for one so young. She froze except for her right hand, which
latched onto her gun, but did not draw.
Her jaw went tight beneath her pale skin, and her dark eyes stilled. She didn’t even breathe.
“You’re not him.
But I swear…”
A shock borne of a sudden shift in my reality rippled
through me, bringing existential discomfort in an intensity I’d never known. “How do you know about me?” I blurted,
hearing my voice as a rich baritone with a Midwestern accent that matched hers.
Her chin lowered, but her eyes remained fixed on mine. “I
came to find you. You’re the ghost of
the hanging tree. There are legends
about you stretching back thirty years.” She finally relaxed her posture and
removed her hand from her weapon. “I
suppose shooting you wouldn’t do any good, would it? You don’t really have a body.”
I held my hands out, palms up, and eased toward her, then
placed two fingers against her upper arm.
She flinched at the gentle pressure, and her glorious brown eyes went
wide once more. “As long as I’m close
enough,” I told her, “I’m as real as he is.”
She swore under her breath, took a step back, and dragged
her stocking cap from her head, revealing a short bob with pointy tips, which
matched the shade of her leather jacket.
“And you’re not tethered to this tree?
You can travel?”
A sudden wrinkle of suspicion crossed me. From the moment
she’d appeared, I’d felt a sudden absence of certainty, as if the vast map of
my world had suddenly sprouted a dark and unexplored region. I nodded.
So did she, far more decisively than I. “Good.
Because I need your help.”
Elements, the first fantasy book in my latest series, titled Seals of the Duelists,
suddenly started selling after one week on the market, I was surprised. When it sold 1000 copies in the first month,
I was stunned. As it continued to rise
in popularity, I had a bold, crazy idea.
See, I sit all day, writing, or thinking about writing, and as
a result, my body isn’t in the healthiest condition, and my back complains more
than I’d like it to. I didn’t need a drastic
change, just, you know, acknowledgment that I’d like to be a little healthier at
the size I am. So I thought, “What a
fine idea to pit my series book sales against my health! After all, its win/win.”
So that’s what I did.
I decided to see whether I could sell more thousands of books by the end
of the year, or lose more pounds/inches combined. And now, at the end of all things 2013, I
have my answer.
The winner is: me!
But, you knew that.
Specifically, my health wins, with more pounds shed than inches
lost, but the two stats ended up being pretty close.
However, I’m more than excited by the results from my sales,
as well. I released book two, Traitor Savant, in September, and since
then I’ve sold over 1000 copies of it.
Since releasing Rebel Elements
in February, I’ve sold more than 5000 copies, for a grand total of over 6000
books sold since I released the first book in the series.
Overall, an excellent year for my books, my writing career,
and me. And you, my faithful readers! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may you
never run out of adventures to read.
“There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” - JK Rowling
Can we talk about Susan’s fabulous adventures after Narnia? The ones where she wears nylons and elegant blouses when she wants to, and short skirts and bright lipstick when she wants to, and hiking boots and tough jeans and big men’s plaid shirts when she feels like backpacking out into the mountains and remembering what it was to be lost in a world full of terrific beauty— I know her siblings say she stops talking about it, that Susan walks away from the memories of Narnia, but I don’t think she ever really forgot.
I want to read about Susan finishing out boarding school as a grown queen reigning from a teenaged girl’s body. School bullies and peer pressure from children and teachers who treat you like you’re less than sentient wouldn’t have the same impact. C’mon, Susan of the Horn, Susan who bested the DLF at archery, and rode a lion, and won wars, sitting in a school uniform with her eyebrows rising higher and higher as some old goon at the front of the room slams his fist on the lectern.
Susan living through WW2, huddling with her siblings, a young adult (again), a fighting queen and champion marksman kept from the action, until she finally storms out against screaming parents’ wishes and volunteers as a nurse on the front. She keeps a knife or two hidden under her clothes because when it comes down to it, they called her Gentle, but sometimes loving means fighting for what you care for.
She’ll apply to a women’s college on the East Coast, because she fell in love with America when her parents took her there before the war. She goes in majoring in Literature (her ability to decipher High Diction in historical texts is uncanny), but checks out every book she can on history, philosophy, political science. She sneaks into the boys’ school across town and borrows their books too. She was once responsible for a kingdom, roads and taxes and widows and crops and war. She grew from child to woman with that mantle of duty wrapped around her shoulders. Now, tossed here on this mundane land, forever forbidden from her true kingdom, Susan finds that she can give up Narnia but she cannot give up that responsibility. She looks around and thinks I could do this better.
I want Susan sneaking out to drink at pubs with the girls, her friends giggling at the boys checking them out from across the way, until Susan walks over (with her nylons, with her lipstick, with her sovereignty written out in whatever language she damn well pleases) and beats them all at pool. Susan studying for tests and bemoaning Aristotle and trading a boy with freckles all over his nose shooting lessons so that he will teach her calculus. Susan kissing boys and writing home to Lucy and kissing girls and helping smuggle birth control to the ladies in her dorm because Susan Pevensie is a queen and she understands the right of a woman to rule over her own body.
Susan losing them all to a train crash, Edmund and Peter and Lucy, Jill and Eustace, and Lucy and Lucy and Lucy, who Susan’s always felt the most responsible for. Because this is a girl who breathes responsibility, the little mother to her three siblings until a wardrobe whisked them away and she became High Queen to a whole land, ruled it for more than a decade, then came back centuries later as a legend. What it must do to you, to be a legend in the body of a young girl, to have that weight on your shoulders and have a lion tell you that you have to let it go. What is must do to you, to be left alone to decide whether to bury your family in separate ceremonies, or all at once, the same way they died, all at once and without you. What it must do to you, to stand there in black, with your nylons, and your lipstick, and feel responsible for these people who you will never be able to explain yourself to and who you can never save.
Maybe she dreams sometimes they made it back to Narnia after all. Peter is a king again. Lucy walks with Aslan and all the dryads dance. Maybe Susan dreams that she went with them— the train jerks, a bright light, a roar calling you home.
Maybe she doesn’t.
Susan grows older and grows up. Sometimes she hears Lucy’s horrified voice in her head, “Nylons? Lipstick, Susan? Who wants to grow up?” and Susan thinks, “Well you never did, Luce.” Susan finishes her degree, stays in America (England looks too much like Narnia, too much like her siblings, and too little, all at once). She starts writing for the local paper under the pseudonym Frank Tumnus, because she wants to write about politics and social policy and be listened to, because the name would have made Edmund laugh.
She writes as Susan Pevensie, too, about nylons and lipstick, how to give a winning smiles and throw parties, because she knows there is a kind of power there and she respects it. She won wars with war sometimes, in Narnia, but sometimes she stopped them before they began.
Peter had always looked disapprovingly on the care with which Susan applied her makeup back home in England, called it vanity. And even then, Susan would smile at him, say “I use what weapons I have at hand,” and not explain any more than that. The boy ruled at her side for more than a decade. He should know better.
Vain is not the proper word. This is about power. But maybe Peter wouldn’t have liked the word “ambition” any more than “vanity.”
Susan is a young woman in the 50s and 60s. Frank Tumnus has quite the following now. He’s written a few books, controversial, incendiary. Susan gets wrapped up in the civil rights movement, because of course she would. It’s not her first war. All the same, she almost misses the White Witch. Greed is a cleaner villain than senseless hate. She gets on the Freedom Rider bus, mails Mr. Tumnus articles back home whenever there’s a chance, those rare occasions they’re not locked up or immediately threatened. She is older now than she ever was in Narnia. Susan dreams about Telemarines killing fauns.
Time rolls on. Maybe she falls in love with a young activist or an old cynic. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe Frank Tumnus, controversial in the moment, brilliant in retrospect, gets offered an honorary title from a prestigious university. She declines and publishes an editorial revealing her identity. Her paper fires her. Three others mail her job offers.
When Vietnam rolls around, she protests in the streets. Susan understands the costs of war. She has lived through not just the brutal wars of one life, but two.
Maybe she has children now. Maybe she tells them stories about a magical place and a magical lion, the stories Lucy and Edmund brought home about how if you sail long enough you reach the place where the seas fall off the edge of the world. But maybe she tells them about Cinderella instead, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, except Rapunzel cuts off her own hair and uses it to climb down the tower and escape. The damsel uses what tools she has at hand.
A lion told her to walk away, and she did. He forbade her magic, he forbade her her own kingdom, so she made her own.