Voracious Consumption

Lately I’ve been more of a consumer rather than a producer — partly due to taking the summer off to hang with my little dude — and it’s been…well, awesome. No, really. I’m so excited. Not only to have the time to do some reading & watching & playing but because of what I’m reading and watching & playing.

Japanese manga. Anime. Korean & Chinese dramas. Mainstream movies and TV shows featuring Asian characters (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Kim’s Convenience, and Crazy Rich Asians). Japanese & Korean otome games (kinda like visual novel choose-your-own-adventure romance things developed for women and invented by women). 

I may have gone off the deep end a little based on my bookshelves and the apps installed on my phone but seriously, guys, I’m in love. I’ve tried explaining it to my husband, but he’s kinda your standard white dude and he’s never lacked for media that portrayed people that were like him. He gets it, but he doesn’t at the same time. When I was growing up, I had the Fifth Chinese Daughter and anything by Pearl S. Buck. That was pretty much it. I can still remember watching The Joy Luck Club (1993) when it came out. It was like a lightbulb. Those Aunties were MY Aunties. 

And now…now there’s so much! Okay, statistically it’s a drop in the bucket but it feels like so much. I came late to anime/manga (just the last few years) and I have so much catching up to do. K-dramas I just discovered this year. Thank you, O gods of the Internet and streaming services like Viki and Crunchyroll.

Because even though I’m a too-short American-born half-Chinese very random gadabout, I’m finding something in each of these things that I didn’t even know I was missing in my life. My people, as silly as that sounds. I feel like I’m making up for lost time. Teenage me would be in such a tizzy. I know it’s a buzz word but representation does matter. Diversity does matter. And creators are just as excited about this stuff as consumers. I know I am.

I may not be Korean, but the mom in Kim’s Convenience is totally my mom, down to her facial expressions and her penny-pinching ways. I’m not Japanese, but my son and I are both finding that shōjo manga exactly hits our shared sense of humour (okay, he also really loves One Punch Man which is definitely shonen manga but Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is our uncontested favourite). I may not be part of the (primarily) young target audience, but I’m finding camaraderie in the otome sub-reddit and have far too firm opinions on who in Mystic Messenger makes the best husbando (Zen. Totally Zen. He is best boy.).

I’m happy to be even a small part of this. My third book Cat Girl’s Day Off, if you haven’t read it yet, features a half-Chinese protagonist and is arguably the most “me” out of all the books I’ve written. Stay tuned soon for some news on that one…

Anyway, I’ve been terrible about blogging for a while (here, at least) and I’m pledging to be better about that. I’m going to be talking about some of the stuff I’ve been reading, amazing books from some of my friends, and whatever other random thing I’m obsessing about. Feel free to contact me with questions. Ask Me Anything. I’ll answer. 

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The Bet: 2018: Audible Magic (a short story for YOU)

It’s that time of year again…The Bet. Wherein some writers get together and make a wager (no money involved, only words) on the Kentucky Derby. I once again lost, though I think this is the first year that the horses we picked (myself, Brian Farrey and Catherine Ryan Hyde this year) came in first, second and third. So we’re getting better. Usually I’m somewhere around dead last…or at least it feels that way.

Catherine gave me my title this year: Audible Magic.

I’ve been working on some middle grade fantasy books so I thought, hey, maybe I’ll do something different and do a real-world story. And I really like what happened. I hope you’ll like it too. A bit romantic this time, which was fun to play with. I wound up really liking the characters.

So, without any further ado, here it is.

Audible Magic

 

I’ve known Becky since I was seven. She’s been talking me into things for fifteen years. Things like moving to the city without finding a job first, dying my hair purple, and that very ill-advised tattoo of a twerking penguin that I will never, ever let my dad see.

She knew me back when I played tuba in our middle school band, back when I thought I was the coolest girl on the block for being able to dah dah dah dum da da dum da da dum out a recognizable version of the Imperial Death March. Back when you couldn’t find me without my Beats on. A lifetime ago.

We’d gone to our first concert together when we were thirteen. All the other girls were mad over One Direction but not us—we were above that. No big box stadium shows for us. No boy bands. No, we snuck into some dive of a bar to listen to a band so bad that they wound up splitting up on stage because the guitar player was falling down drunk and was, apparently, sleeping with both the lead singer and the drummer. I can still remember the smell of the beer and the sweat of the crowd. The smell of doing something you weren’t supposed to.

Yeah, Bec can talk me into anything. She can even talk me into things like going to a concert I have no desire to go to.

But she was right. I had promised. And the tequila had definitely had something to do with it, but also the twinkle in her eye whenever she talked about Tom. Bec had incredibly bad taste in men and the jury was still out on him, at least as far as I was concerned. Sure, she’d met him at the grocery store instead of on Tinder, but he wore his baseball cap backwards and he worked in finance. It wasn’t promising. He’d been there buying avocados and granary bread.

Bec was only fifteen minutes late picking me up, which didn’t leave her any time to make me change out of my most comfortable pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt. She was club-ready, wearing a little black dress and some thigh-high boots and lipstick you could see a mile away. She eye-rolled hard at me in my normal clothes, swiped some heavy black eyeliner along my eyes, and twenty minutes later she was pushing me to the front of the line at some club I’d never heard of. Clubs weren’t my thing anymore. Too dark to see who you’re with. Too many people. Too much.

The bouncer was huge, with a nose like a potato. He held up a hand to stop Bec’s full frontal assault and pointed at first us and then somewhere in the vicinity of the back of the line. It snaked down the block. I couldn’t even see the end of it.

Bec just smiled at him and pulled two lanyards with passes out of her bag. She threw one around my neck and put one on her own. No telling how she’d managed to pull those. It was nearly always better not to ask. I wasn’t the only one that Bec could talk into things.

The guy that had been first in line didn’t look very happy with us. I smiled at him and gave the universal shrug of sorry dude, what can you do, amiright?

The bouncer poked me in the shoulder and I jumped.

“Hey, man,” said Bec, signing to me at the same time, “don’t get handsy. She didn’t hear you. She’s deaf.” She turned to me and signed I.D. show.

I nodded and pulled my driver’s license out of my pocket and held it out to him. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at it, then said something to Bec that I couldn’t catch any of.

She pursed her lips at him, signing her answer at the same time. “Yeah, she can drive. She’s deaf, not blind.” I hoped she hadn’t also said the idiot she’d added onto what she’d signed to me. He was way too large to insult.

He bent over to peer at me like I was a bug under microscope. “Can you read my lips?” he asked.

That phrase right there is one of the only ones I can consistently lip read from a stranger, but only because I’ve been asked so many times.

“No,” I said. I can lip read Bec a good deal of the time, since I know her so well, though I don’t have to since she’s been signing with me for years. She learned it along with me. Half the time I know what she’s going to say before she says it. But other people? Not so much. Especially since the hipster trend took over and every other guy out there had a porcupine growing on his chin or a handlebar mustache that belonged back in the Wild West.

He stared at me, processing that. I got the feeling his job didn’t normally require him to do much thinking. And he probably didn’t get a lot of deaf people coming to shows, not at a club like this. The chance of a place this size having an interpreter was slim to none. He finally spoke. “_____ how ___ ___ know what __ ___ _____?” That was all I got from his lips, but I could guess what the rest of it was.

“Because everyone asks me that,” I said. Seriously. If I had a dollar…

I could even guess what he was going to say next, but this time he turned his attention back to Bec like I wasn’t even there.

Now she was starting to look pissed and I was starting to regret that she’d talked me into coming. “And what exactly are deaf people supposed to sound like?” she told him. Yeah, he’d asked what I thought he would. I wasn’t sure why she was getting so wound up about it though. I’d had this conversation about a million times before and she’d been there for many of them. It was annoying, but it was normal.

“Bec,” I said sweetly, “Tom’s already in there waiting, right? Can we go in now?” I smiled up at the bouncer. Full charm. Lots of teeth. I wasn’t going to go into the full story for his benefit. How I’d lost my hearing when I was a teenager. How I could still remember what the sound of my voice was like. I remembered how it felt to speak, the feel of my tongue against my teeth, the breath in my lungs, the movement of my lips. How I practiced enunciating every word now. How people told me I sounded more like a news announcer than like I’d used to.

I’d gone deaf, not stupid. I could do anything the big dumb bohunk could do, other than hear. And throw people across a room. I wasn’t really sized for that. Pity, sometimes.

Some of what I was thinking must have come through, because he shuffled uncomfortably out of our way and waved us in. I grabbed Bec and pulled her through the door and into Hell.

At least, that’s what it felt like. The cool night air, gone, replaced by a stagnant, almost antiseptic smell layered over with perfume and alcohol. It was dimly lit, tiny puddles of reddish light from uselessly artsy light fixtures around the outside edge, while the center of the large room pulsed with flashing strobe lights. There was a bar at one end of the space and a stage at the other. Clusters of tables and booths on one side, but not nearly enough for the number of people that were already inside. How were they going to fit the rest of the people in line? How were we going to find Tom? Why had I let her talk me into coming? She knew I hated crowded spaces filled with strangers.

One of my questions was answered almost immediately. Bec made a beeline across the room, dragging me with her. Her guy-dar was on full throttle. She’d spotted Tom all the way across the room standing near one side of the stage. At least he wasn’t wearing the cap today.

He was two-handed with drinks, sipping something whiskey-brown out of a glass in one hand and holding a blue martini with a plethora of fruit sticking out of it in the other. It looked like a Bec kind of drink. She was surprisingly frou-frou. The more things poking out of it, the better. He handed the concoction to her with a smile as we came up to him.

“You remember Molly?” she said to him and gave him a very unsubtle elbow in the side. He smiled and waved at me and managed to sign a passable how are you to me. Okay, he had potential. More than Bec’s normal picks, anyway. The last guy she’d dated wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

Good I signed back, saying it out loud at the same time. I didn’t want to make him work too hard.

“Great spot,” Bec said, nodding at the stage. “Right, Molly?”

“Perfect.” Whatever. I pointedly spent some time looking at the instruments on the stage as she got down to greeting him in a more personal manner. There was a well-loved bass guitar on a stand right in front of us, a couple of faded stickers decorating it. Drum kit, center stage towards the back. A red guitar on the other side. A single microphone down front, another guitar next to it. Huge black speakers on either side on stands. No fancy set dressing. Just the instruments. Well, you couldn’t say we’d changed much since we were young, though this club was both better and worse than that dive bar we’d gone to for our first foray into live music. I’d bet the drinks were a lot more expensive here, that was for sure.

The house lights flashed. I looked around and saw that the room had filled up even more. It was a wall of people behind us, undulating like a beast, like they were one body with many arms and legs and mouths. It was even hotter now, like a wave of heat washing over me. Hell. Seventh level.

I looked at Bec, ready to make a face at her but she was smiling at me, so happy. I couldn’t do it. “Showtime!” she said. Love you she signed to me. Ready? Dance you me. She pointed to the stage and then flung an arm around Tom’s waist, hips already ready to go. No one loved to dance as much as Bec.

I turned back to the stage, putting the crowd at my back, trying to pretend they weren’t there. The band was coming out. All guys. But there was no way they were a boy band; not unless boy bands had gone sexy and dangerous since I’d paid any attention to them. Harry Styles eat your heart out.

The bass player was dressed like me, t-shirt and jeans, though somehow they managed to not look basic on him. Maybe it was the hair. It was long-ish and tied back in a ponytail. No facial hair, unlike the lead singer, who was sporting a full-on hipster beard. I wouldn’t be lip-reading him. The drummer was tattooed and shirtless. The guitar player had on tight leather pants and some shiny silver shirt. Silk? God, he had to be melting in the heat.

I could feel the crowd behind me now as they clapped and shouted and stomped. Like a heartbeat. A drum beat. No, that was the drum beat. The drummer had started playing. And the bassist too. A line, a thread…it vibrated inside me, a drawn out thrumming I could feel in my chest. In my bones. Boom. Boom. Boom. The speakers were quivering. So was I.

Boom. Bah Bah Boom. Like a race car had suddenly let loose inside my veins, gone screaming through the bends of my heart and come out the other side. I could feel the music. It was there. Like I could reach out and touch it. Cradle it. Take it inside me, but I didn’t need to. It was already there.

I put my hands on the stage in front of me, near one of the speakers and closed my eyes. Yes. There it was, the pulse of the song. I stayed that way, nodding my head in time to the music, feeling it all the way down to my toes, like I was inside the song. A minute, forever, too long, not enough, I wasn’t sure and then the song was over. I opened my eyes as the thrumming left me. The singer was talking. I didn’t know about what. I didn’t care. He should shut up and sing.

I tapped Bec on the arm. “I was in the song,” I said but she shook her head and cupped her hand to her ear. The crowd was too loud. She couldn’t hear me. Song I signed. Music I am. Was I making sense? Beautiful! I didn’t care. Feel music inside. Boom. Boom. My hand to my chest. She smiled at me and laughed. Good good she signed. Did she get it? Did she understand?

We could talk about it later. Another song was starting.

I closed my eyes and this time I leaned into the stage, wishing I could take my shoes off and feel it even more, from the soles of my feet up. I didn’t know what the song was, but I did at the same time. It felt like I remembered. It felt like music and freedom and doing something you shouldn’t but you oh-so-should.

I kept trying to explain it to Bec between songs, but I wasn’t sure she could understand. I feel too she signed. Band good. Song good.

It wasn’t good. It was amazing. It was magic.

Bec touched my arm. Last song. Too soon. I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Next band half hour she continued. I felt like I could stand here all night, so long as the music kept going. A half hour felt like forever away. Drink?

Okay, I signed. Bar you me drinks. But not yet. Not until after the last song. Shut up. Feel-me-need. I pointed to the stage. Words weren’t enough. She laughed and nodded and went back to Tom. He was doing the white man dance and I didn’t even care.

The last song began and this time I kept my eyes open, wanting to take it all in. The drummer, sweat shining on him, making his tattoos glisten in the lights. The guitar player, down on his knees, head thrown back. The lead singer, cradling the microphone like a lover. I wished I knew what the words were. Man, I didn’t even know what kind of music this was. It felt like rock. It could be punk. It could be anything. It didn’t matter. It was music. I’d ask Bec later.

And the bassist—I looked up at him to find him staring down at me with his dark eyes like he’d been waiting for me to notice him. He smiled as our eyes caught. He took a step or two toward me and then knelt down right in front of me, still playing. He nodded at me. Nodded at my hands pressed to the stage. What? What did he want? Was I in the way? Crap. I lifted my hands and would have pulled them back, but without missing a beat he grabbed one of my hands with one of his and put it flat against the bass. Then he went on playing, nodding his head in time with the music, his eyes still on mine.

Oh. My fingers thrummed. Buzzed. Hummed. I felt like it was in time with my heart or maybe it was the other way around. I smiled up at him. He had no idea. He was making magic and I—I was feeling it. Buh buh buh bum ba bum

He stayed on his knees in front of me until the end of the song, watching me, like he was playing just for me. I knew I was smiling like a loon, like an idiot, but I couldn’t help it. I’d never thought I could feel the music again. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it was in all the right ways. It was the feeling of it, that bubble that builds up inside you as the music takes you and grows and grows until you overflow.

And then it was over. I didn’t take my hand off the bass until it was gone. Done. No more hum, no more vibrations, no more music. “Thank you,” I said to him, not sure if he could hear me over the crowd or not. I would have said more, had more words on the tip of my tongue, but Bec pounced and wrapped me up in a hug. She let me go, signing fast and furious. Amazing! How feel? Good? Love? Fingers out in horns, smile on her face. You rock!

Tom, behind her back, smiled at me too. He mimed drinking something and pointed at the bar. I nodded. I needed something. I felt drained. Alive, maybe more alive than I had felt in years, but like I’d run a race.

He pushed through the crowd, making a path. Bec took my hand and pulled me after her. I looked back toward the stage but the bassist was gone already. I let her pull me along through the crowd. I should have said more to him. Something. Anything. Thank you wasn’t enough.

Tom was a paragon. He found us a spot right at the corner of the bar. Definite talents. I was liking him more and more for Bec, especially without the baseball cap. They were a matched pair, working in tandem. She insinuated herself into the line up at the bar with a sneaky hip and pulled me in next to her.

Usual? she signed.

Please, I signed back.

She held up a hand to get the bartender’s attention when someone tapped both of us on the shoulder. I turned around, ready to be annoyed, but it was the bassist. He was tall and lean and some bits of dark hair had escaped his ponytail to curl around his ears.

“May I?” it looked like he said, looking first at me and then at Bec.

“Yeah!” she said, with a huge grin. “Gin and tonic for my girl here,” she told him. “I’ll just be…over there…” She signed an added Go, girl at me. Then she grabbed Tom by the collar and disappeared, swallowed up by the crowd before I could even get my thoughts together.

Ah. And I hadn’t brought my notepad. I usually carried a small one, just in case, but I hadn’t bothered tonight. Hadn’t thought I’d need to talk to someone I didn’t know. Hadn’t thought I’d want to.

He’d managed to order some drinks before I got myself together enough to realize I should say something.

“Um, hi,” I said. “I’m Deaf.” I didn’t usually blurt it out like that. Jesus. I’d even pointed at my ears, like he wouldn’t know what deaf meant.

He nodded. Opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again. Then looked frantically around.

I pulled out my iPhone and opened the Notes app. It would do in a pinch. I wasn’t sure how loud the club was, but I didn’t want to shout, so I leaned over to him. “I’m Molly,” I said. “What’s your name?” I held out my phone to him and mimed typing on it.

He took my phone.

My name is Jack.

Did you enjoy the show?

“I loved it!” I said and then I started babbling about the music, all the things I’d been trying to tell Bec in between songs, how I’d felt it, how it had run through my body, through my veins, how I hadn’t known that it would be like that. That it could be like that. All the while, my hands were talking too. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.

The drinks arrived and he handed me mine with a smile. God, what a smile. I took a sip if only to stop myself from spewing words. What was I doing with this verbal diarrhea?

“Sorry,” I said. “That was a little much, wasn’t it?”

He shook his head no and typed something out on my phone. He held it up for me to read while I sipped, hoping the glass was hiding my face. I was pretty sure I’d gone red. Though the gin probably wasn’t going to help with that.

I’m happy you liked it.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone enjoy 
our songs that much before.

Yeah, embarrassing. I tried not to imagine what I’d looked like, my hands on the stage, my head nodding in time, my eyes closed. Inside, I was still that dork playing the Imperial Death March.

“I’ve missed music,” I said.

I’m glad you’ve found it again.

“Thanks,” I said. Now was my chance. “I mean, really, thank you. Thank you for the music. For helping me find it.”

You’re welcome.

Awkward. So awkward. He was probably thinking I was an idiot. But I hoped he understood what I was saying because I did mean it. Every word.

I took another sip, trying to think of what to say next that wouldn’t sound scatter-brained. I didn’t even know what the name of his band was. Or any of their songs. I certainly couldn’t ask, not now. I mean, hello, thanks for the show, enjoyed it, loved it, who are you guys again? I couldn’t even ask him what kind of music he liked. I didn’t know what kind he played!

I just knew how it made me feel.

He handed me back my phone, held up a single finger and smiled. One? One minute? One moment? One what? Then he disappeared into the crowd, into the dimness of the club, the mad heat. I’d lost track of the crush while we were talking, but now I felt it again. People pressing against me on every side. An elbow in my back as someone walked by, pushing me into the bar.

Oh, I’d done it. I’d sounded like some kind of crackpot groupie. Where was Bec? I texted her but she didn’t answer. She was probably off in a corner with Tom. I looked around, but all I saw were nameless faces. A blur. Should I wait? Stay? I finished my drink, debated ordering another. The high I’d felt from the music was nearly gone now.

There was a soft tap on my shoulder. He was back. Jack. His smile had gone a bit crooked. He squared his shoulders and raised his hands and—signed. Date, two-of-us, go-to you want you?

I was so surprised that I didn’t respond. Just gaped at him. Then I saw Bec over his shoulder, beaming at me. He must have gone to find her. Asked her to show him the words. My language.

He lightly touched my forearm to bring my attention back to him, his head ducked down a bit, staring me right in the eyes. Not looking away. Looking right at me. Me. You I like, he signed slowly. Together music?

Together music, I signed back.

 

 

Author’s Note:

With much thanks to a couple of people on the Reddit /deaf/ sub for their advice, especially on American Sign Language (ASL) syntax. And to the Deaf community on YouTube for the many great videos that I watched while researching ASL and deafness for this story. Any mistakes are my own.

Jack is named after Jack Bruce, a legendary bass player, though he definitely doesn’t look exactly like him.

The Bet 2017: The Sock Bumbler

Every year for *mumble something mumble* years, I have participated in a bet with some fellow authors wherein the losers have to write short stories with titles given to them by whoever lost less (it’s on the Kentucky Derby). It was all started by Brian Farrey (who was inspired by Stephen King). Catherine Ryan Hyde has also been a glutton for punishment and participated every year while Andrew Smith has joined us most years. This year, David Oppegaard has joined the madness (I’m expecting something terrifying from him). We’ve also had David Lubar before (though I think he was smart enough to get out while he could).

So, basically, I nearly always lose. This year was no exception.

The title I was given this year (by David O.) was The Sock Bumbler. I actually really like that title. Goodness knows that it’s a lot easier than some of the ones I’ve had in the past (I’m looking at you, Brian Farrey and Andrew Smith).

So, I wrote a story.

I’m warning you now that it doesn’t have as many words as it should have. I say that because I actually like the Sock Bumbler and I didn’t have much time so the ending is a bit rushed and formless. I kind of want to give him a hug and the story he deserves. Or, maybe, it has more words than it should because I’d also rather like to turn it into a children’s book. Maybe some day I’ll do one or the other — after all, last year’s short story, A Slight Exaggeration, actually became a book that I’m revising now. But, for now, today’s the day and the story must go up and the show must go on!

So, here it is.

The Sock Bumbler

The Sock Bumbler’s most favorite sock in the whole world was lumpy and fuzzy and far too small for him to wear on his own large, three-toed feet. So, he wore it attached to a leather cord around his neck. It dangled there comfortably in his whitish-grey fur like a lone ornament on a snow-covered Christmas tree. It had red and purple stripes and there was a hole in the toe, but that didn’t matter to the Sock Bumbler.

He had other socks, of course. Hundreds of them. Perhaps even thousands. He kept his collection hung about the walls of his house and tucked away snug in little drawers, each one carefully labelled with where he had found it. His house was full of them, from the top to the bottom and from side to side.

A small green baby sock with a pom-pom on top, hung in the hallway: Sidewalk outside grocery store, covered in snow. Evanston, IL. February 10, 1979.

A man’s plain black sock, draped over a lampshade in his bedroom: Tumble dryer, still warm. Cupertino, CA. June 9, 1998.

A sock so full of holes it was hard to tell what color it had once been, carefully folded away in a tiny drawer just bit enough: Underneath the High Line. New York City, NY. November 15, 2016.

He never took a sock that had a match. He only took the lonely ones.

He wondered sometimes where the other socks had gotten off to, the ones that matched the ones he had collected. He listened for them but they were quiet. Wherever they were, he hoped they were happy and as well taken care of as the socks that decorated his cozy home.

The Sock Bumbler went out collecting every single day because he didn’t like the thought of any sock left by itself, abandoned and lonely. Once he had found a sock and brought it home, the very first thing he did was to tell it gently, so it wouldn’t be surprised or startled, that it now had a home. Then he would wash it—not in a washing machine where anything might happen, but by hand, carefully, with just enough laundry detergent and a bit of fabric softener for fluffiness. After that, he dried it draped over the radiator or hung up in a sunny window, depending on the season, but never in a tumble dryer as they were a very dangerous place for socks. And finally, he would find the perfect spot for it to live in his house.

All the socks were very happy to be there. He could tell.

One day, as he went collecting, he felt the pull of a lonely sock that felt very familiar but different at the same time.

There was, he knew, a very clear difference between left socks and right socks, though most people couldn’t tell and thought they were the same. They even sometimes wore their left sock on their right foot and vice versa. The Sock Bumbler never ever did that.

Left socks were more independent and tended to slouch if left to their own devices, while right socks were very straight-laced and serious. They never fell down on the job. The Sock Bumbler liked them both. He didn’t discriminate when he collected them; a lonely sock was a lonely sock, whether it was a right sock or a left one.

But what he sensed as he set off felt much like one of his favorite left socks, only sideways and backwards. He had hung it in his living room by the fireplace because it reminded him of a Christmas stocking. It was very long and red and nearly as fuzzy as he was. Someone had thrown it out, probably because they couldn’t find its match or perhaps because the holiday season had ended (he had collected it in January), and he had rescued it from certain doom. Sometimes he filled it with happy things.

So, he followed his nose because it was much better at finding socks (especially dirty ones) than his eyes or his elbows. It led him all the way to a small wooden house in the middle of a big forest that reminded him of his own cottage. It had the same cheerful trail of smoke coming out of the chimney. It had a basket of flowers on the small, wooden porch. And there was a sock hung on the front door. A very long, very red, very fuzzy sock. A right sock. But that wasn’t all. There was a mitten with the thumb missing tacked up next to it and a half-unraveled scarf tangled around the door knob. A collection of earrings and hair clips were hung off a necklace that was wound round the doorbell.

So, he knocked.

Something opened the door. Something with a lot of blueish-white fur done up in ringlets and a large nose and bushy eyebrows raised up high, perhaps because no one had ever knocked on their door before. It looked surprised.

“Who are you?” they asked each other at the same time.

They stared at each other a moment and then the Something in the door said, “Shouldn’t I be the one asking that? You’re the one gone knocking on my door, you know.”

“Oh,” said the Sock Bumbler. “Yes, sorry. I’m the Sock Bumbler.” He held out his hand for a shake because he’d always read that was what you were supposed to do when you met someone for the first time. “You can call me Bumble, if you like.” He’d always rather fancied having a nickname.

“Nice to meet you, Bumble. I’m the Jumbler.” The Jumbler smiled at him, showing a great deal of shiny teeth. She took his outstretched hand and shook it. “I suppose you could call me Jumbly? Or is that silly?”

She did look rather silly. Her ringlets were tied up in a multitude of different colored hair clips and bows and ribbons. She was very colorful. He rather liked it.

“Jumbly,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. They stared at each other again. “What can I do for you, Bumble?”

“I think that’s my sock.” said the Sock Bumbler, giving himself a shake and pointing at the sock on the door. “At least, I mean, it’s the right sock to the left sock that I have at home.” He felt a little tug, and then another. He could hear more lonely socks, though they sounded muffled. Without thinking, he pushed his way past the Jumbler into her house and took a long look around. There were socks everywhere, though none of them were tidily labeled and most of them – the horror! – were unwashed and simply lay in piles on the floor mixed in with everything from hats and mittens to baseball bats and kittens.

But he recognized many of the socks. Or, rather, their matches.

“Why do you have all of my socks?”

“These are my socks,” said the Jumbler, looking around proudly at the mess. “I collected them and everything else in here too.”

The Sock Bumbler took a deep breath. And then coughed it out again because it tasted of unwashed sock and other smells he couldn’t identify but that were equally bad. He picked up a sock from the pile closest to him. It was a dark blue one with grey spots. “I picked up the mate of this one in Florida in June,” he said. “It was lying on the ground under a washing line, slightly muddy. I’ve got the right one.”

“That’s a left,” pointed out the Jumbler.

“I can see that.” The Sock Bumbler was bothered and confused. The sock in his hands was STILL MUDDY. He had a horrible suspicion about where the Jumbler had found her socks, which meant, in turn that his own socks had only been lonely because their match had been collected by the Jumbler. They hadn’t been abandoned or lost or discarded at all.

“When did you get this one?” He shook the slightly muddy sock in the Jumbler’s face. She backed away from him a tiny bit. “Where did you get it?”

“I don’t know. I find a lot of things.” She tilted her head and looked closely at him. “Do you collect things too?”

“Socks,” he said. “I’m the Sock Bumbler.”

“Oh, I see,” she said and smiled. “Just socks, then? What about all of the other interesting things to collect?” She waved a three-fingered furry hand around the room.

He took a good long look. Lumps he had mistaken for furniture were, in fact, piles of things.

“What all do you collect, exactly?” he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

“Oh, everything,” she said. “I like everything.”

“But why do you even collect things if you’re not going to take care of them?” The Sock Bumbler felt almost faint. Not a single thing in the house had a label and nothing, absolutely nothing, was where it was supposed to be. It was all a hodgepodge mishmash mess.

“I’m not?” The Jumbler seemed genuinely confused. She looked around and it was obvious that she didn’t see the same thing that he saw.

“No!” The Sock Bumbler was trying hard not to be mad but his fur had puffed out, rather like a cat faced with something disagreeable. “Did you ever think about the people these socks belonged to? Or the socks themselves! What about the socks!”

“No.” The Jumbler seemed to shrink down a bit and even her curls deflated. “I’m not even all that fond of socks,” she whispered.

“What?”

“I’m really more into mittens,” she said. “And gloves. And hats. And—”

He held up a hand to stop her because he had the feeling she could go on and on for a long time. “There are rules to collecting, you know,” said the Sock Bumbler.

“Really?”

“Yes,” said the Sock Bumbler firmly. “There are. You shouldn’t collect things that are still useful and loved, you know. We’re only supposed to save the ones that need us.”

“But how will I know?” asked the Jumbler.

“You have to listen,” he said. “Here, close your eyes.” He took her hand in his, their fur together blending like ice and snow into something that sparkled a bit, much like when the sun hit a frozen pond first thing in the morning. She listened and, for the first time, heard.

The Sock Bumbler brought all the socks home with the Jumbler’s help. Together, they washed them and dried them. Then they carefully matched them up with the socks in his collection one by one, until each of them were folded together neatly in a pair. When they were done, his collection had dwindled down to only handfuls of socks, but he didn’t mind. It was more important that they were happy and whole. Now he just had to get them where they belonged, together with the Jumbler. She had much to learn.

That was how people all over the world began waking up to a recently laundered, nicely folded pairs of socks left at the foot of their beds. Sometimes, they remembered them and wondered where they had been. Sometimes they were confused, as not everyone treated socks with the respect they deserved. And sometimes, it meant a great deal to them, like the tiny pair of small green baby socks with pom-poms on top that magically reappeared just in time to be worn by a newly arrived baby as they were far too small to be worn by the original owner any longer.

And sometimes there was something else there as well; a lost hair ribbon or a pair of mittens, freshly washed.

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Happy World Book Day!

You’ve gotta love a day that celebrates books and reading! I know I do. This morning I did a fantasy map building workshop for Max’s class and found them to be amazingly creative cartographers! It was loads of fun and I think the kids had a great time.

And this afternoon I had a Skype visit with a school that was just really, really lovely. There was an entire roomful of kids but they were just incredible — so quiet and attentive and they asked great questions. Skypes can sometimes be a bit rough if there are technical difficulties and sometimes kids don’t stay as engaged as when you are physically in the room with them, but these kids were absolutely brilliant. Plus, many of them were dressed up for World Book Day! I saw everything from Hermione to Katniss to an Oompa Loompa to Thing 1 and many more. I rather wish I had been there in person to see them all up close.

I really enjoyed it and I hope they did too. Now I’m itchy to set up my next author visit (Skype or otherwise)! It’s so much fun to connect with readers. 🙂

I love my readers!

Someone pointed out (rightly) that my (new) website was really lacking in pictures (including of myself, other than the lovely doodles drawn by Emi Tanji). So I thought I’d fix that. And what better to put up pictures of than my favourite thing (other than my family)? Readers!

I’d lost a lot of photos and things when my old website crashed and burned, so I put out a call for people to send in either new or old pictures of themselves with my books. I’m so happy to share them with you! (And feel free to send one on to me…I’d love more!).

I’ve even got one of a Czech reader, which is AWESOME. I’d love one of someone with a French or Spanish version (hint, hint).

Hope you enjoy!

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Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

Okay, so, remember when I had to remake my website entirely after discovering my old site was gone & the database corrupted & backups inaccessible? No? That’s okay. I didn’t actually expect you to remember that.

I am, however, happy to announce that I’ve finally got some more of the old website recreated again (excerpts from all my books + a teacher & discussion guide for Sucks to Be Me) and…drumroll please…ba da dum…for the first time ever, a never before published EXTRA for Ask Me from the Killer’s Point of View.

I highly recommend reading Ask Me first, as this is a companion piece and not a continuation or epilogue or anything of that nature. And I’d love to hear what you think.

So, what are you working on now?

(Question from Emily on Twitter. You too can ask me anything.)

I’m so glad you asked. No, really. Because I’m totally in love with what I’ve been working on — both right now (a new book I started with the new year) and the one I recently finished (and is currently out with my agent…wish it luck). Both are middle grade (ages 8+) fantasies, though they are very different.

Why am I so in love with these books? Well, to be honest, after ASK ME I was determined to write an adult book. Crime fiction. I’d had a short story published that had a character I really loved and wanted to expand upon: a female hit man. But, you know, with humour and gory jokes and severed hands in purses. Because that’s how I roll. I worked on that sucker for what felt like ages and nearly finished it. Maybe I will finish it one day (or maybe I’ll re-write it down to be YA, which is more likely) but I had to stop writing it. Maybe I’m too nice. Maybe I’m too silly. But that book was killing me. I’ve never felt so miserable writing anything before. I think I deleted more words than I wrote and that’s not normal for me at all. I draft fairly clean. So I put it in the metaphorical drawer and pulled out some younger ideas I’d been sitting on.

And it was like sparkly unicorn-poop fueled magic. Writing was suddenly something I wanted to do again rather than something I was making myself do. It was fun. And it was something I could share with my son (who is now about to turn 9 and has a weird sense of humour…I wonder where he gets it from).

So, anyway, to actually answer your question…the pitch-y blurb of the book I am working on now would be:

(drumroll)

A lowly apprentice accidentally becomes the world’s greatest wizard and soon finds out it isn’t at all fun when everyone wants something from you. He embarks on an epic adventure to rid himself of his “curse” while dodging jealous wizards, trolls, and scheming gnomes. With his ungrateful and argumentative new friend at his side, who just so happens to almost be a hag, the Kingdoms will never know what hit them.

Or, you know, something like that.

Sucks to Be Me as recited by an Aussie Drama teacher

I randomly came across this recording on YouTube from Andrew Recites (he’s a Queensland Speech/Drama teacher and apparently records bits of books and poetry as monologues) and he’s done a bit of my first book. Cannot even tell you how much I love hearing this in an Aussie accent. This is total awesomesauce.

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When you were young, did you ever think you were going to be a successful author?

(Question from Beth on Facebook. You too can ask me anything.)

The full question was: When we sat in speech class and you were constantly writing in your notebook, did you know you were going to be a successfully published author? Anything from your notebook published?

Wow, no, I definitely had no idea. I might have hoped that in the back of my mind, but I definitely had no inkling. I generally wrote for myself. There was a lot of turmoil in my life at that time and writing seriously did keep me sane.

I can’t say that anything from any of those notebooks has been published exactly, though I do turn to them for ideas sometimes. I can definitely say that all of that scribbling did help though! The more you write, the better you get at it, same as with everything else…

What is your favorite book?


(Question from Kevin on Facebook, you too can ask me anything)

Everyone asks me that and I have to say that I think it is one of the most evil questions ever because I love books. How can I have a favorite/favourite? Maybe this is why I only have one kid…because I could never choose. 😉 Seriously, though, my fav book changes depending on what mood I’m in. It’s also changed over the years. I have a lot of authors I re-read (like Jane Austen or Piers Anthony or Terry Pratchett or Garth Nix or…I gotta stop now or we’ll be here forever) that have been favs forever and then others that I used to absolutely adore that I now am more picky about (R.A. Heinlein; I still enjoy a lot of his books but there are some like The Number of the Beast that I find really hard to appreciate now even though I loved it SO much when I was a teen. Seriously, I don’t know what I was thinking.) And then there’s Douglas Adams, who I adore, but haven’t actually read in some time (hmm, maybe I need to get on that).

But. Ok. I’ll pick one.

The Princess Bride. Because it’s both an awesome movie and a book (William Goldman wrote both the book and screenplay). There. Don’t tell the other books.