The Contract

He caught up with her after lunch, outside the restaurant where they’d had their first date. He’d scraped together a little cash–enough for a drink or two–but he was relieved when he didn’t have to spend it. His last job had been a while.

“Well?” he asked.

Kathy shifted her weight. “Well, what?” she said.

“Well, I heard…” He tried not to look at her, not to give her that prying, downward glance that he associated with gossip and old women. “Are you pregnant?”

“About three months.”

“Congratulations.”

He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and maybe that was the right thing. Maybe it wasn’t. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm in it. And in other circumstances–in the olden days–people might be congratulating him.

Kathy looped her arm through his, and smiled a little. Cautious. “I’m going to ask Will and Patrick to be the fathers,” she said, as if giving the contract to someone else were nothing. “They’re good with kids.”

“Do you  think they’ll do it?” he asked.

“Probably.” From the tone of her voice, he suspected the thing was done, that the contract was signed, and that Will and Patrick already were the fathers. “They’ve been together for five years. Their careers are going well. Their mothers want grandchildren.”

Responsible and stable. Reliable. A good choice, by any standard. They didn’t smoke, and Patrick didn’t even drink.

He absorbed the information with all the dignity he’d practiced. “What about me?”

Kathy tensed. “You’re not father material.”

“Yeah. I know. But…” He wished he had a cigarette, or maybe something stronger. “It’s my kid.”

“No.” She dug in. “It’s my kid. I’m the one who’s knocked up. I’m making the choices.”

“I know that.”

“I’m not offering you a contract. That was never on the table.” She pulled her hand back, and folded her arms across her stomach. “You’re not going to be a father.”

The way she said it pissed him off, even though he already knew. Maybe she would have told him, before, if she’d had a chance. He’d stood her up twice in the last month. The first time, he was hung over, and the second… he was playing drums in a dive bar for cash under the table. A contract? No.

He didn’t have any qualifications.

And the houseplant she’d given him had been dead for months.

“I like babies,” he said.

“Everyone likes babies.”

“And kids.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ll get a job,” he said.

Kathy nodded, but he could tell she didn’t believe him anymore.

“Will and Patrick are a great choice,” he said, after there wasn’t anything left to say.  They kept walking, and eventually, they got back to her office building.

“I’ll need your medical history.”

“Fine.”

Kathy looked at her watch. “I have to go back,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “You should stop by, sometime. Maybe take the kid to a carnival, or something. Throw some balls. You’d be a pretty good fun uncle.”

He nodded. “I’ll do that.”

He didn’t know when, but he would. It sounded like fun, and maybe the kid would look like him.

The Really Long Conference Post

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Random Assortment of Mountains, As Seen From Gas Station on the Way out of Town. Look: It snowed!

So, Pike’s Peak…

Let me be honest. I did not feel good the entire time I was in Colorado Springs. Thin air, altitude, kreb’s cycle… maybe I even caught actual germs… whatever it was, I was at less than my conference-going best.

I spent a couple of hours in classes really more intended for thriller writers, both of which were taught by the really fun–if somewhat morbid–forensic anthropologist and writer, M.R. Rutter. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the information, but since my own anthropology professor was a parasitologist, (think tapeworms and fossilized people poop) I figure the field as a whole owes me a few murders. These were absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

I also took a few craft classes, which–for the most part–seemed to be live recitations of things I (mostly) already knew, but which were said in a much more authoritative voice than the ones in my head.

I think–in general–I would do more of the information-sessions and fewer of the how-to sessions, if I had it to do over again. I’m not saying the craft sessions weren’t good, but in terms of bang for your buck, I think you could get a lot of the information out of books while sitting at home in your pajamas.

I like pajamas.

Well… I like the comfy clothes I sleep in. I may have been eight the last time I owned pajamas.

I am not social when I don’t feel good, and I think my outcome was probably affected by that. I met a few people from Holly’s website, and a few others, and did my best to be social, but… it did not result in stacks of business cards, or even more than a few people I feel like I know better than I did going in. Of course, that also means that no one gets to curse me as the person who gave them bubonic altitude sickness, or remember me as the queen bitch of the universe, either.

So, I met a few agents. Probably more than a few, if you count the ones who don’t represent anything close to what I write. Sat in on a questions and answers session with them (in which most of the attendees had the same deer-in-the-headlights look I did, and the moderator asked most of the questions.) Had lunch at the same table with one. (I may have infected them with bubonic altitude sickness.) I did not throw up on any of them, and in all honesty, I didn’t do anything memorable enough that I believe any of them will have any faint idea who I am in a week or two.

So, success!

There were, of course, pitch sessions (I picked up a non-industry type stalker at pitch-a-palooza once), and pitch appointments, and pitch-themed barf bags in the back of the chairs. So, if that’s your thing, Pike’s Peak would definitely be a good conference for you. It is also–the director notes, loudly–one of the few conferences where the faculty is required to actually eat with the attendees, so there are more casual opportunities to get to talk to them.

We could talk about the food… but the truth is, it wasn’t good. I was expecting more, and about half the time, I might have been better off with a drive-through cheeseburger. By the end of the conference, the lime-vinaigrette that kept appearing, meal after meal was a little tedious. Apparently, about half the conference cost is food, and they need to hit a certain food-sales benchmark to get the hotel space.

No comment, there.

The acoustics in the dining room were not great. Actually, they were can’t hear the person next to you awful. (Plus or minus the fact that my ears were a little clogged, it was still noisy.)

So, the big question would have to be, would I go back?

Yeah. I’d actually like to do this again, sometime when I’m feeling better, and when I have the time and money to do it right. (And preferably when I have someone else I know with me.) I’d like to see some of the upcoming profiling seminars. I also really appreciate the fact that the publishing glitterati are being forced to eat with me. Or… well, whatever the hell sounds diplomatic there.

I’ll point out here that–generally–my vacations do not repeat. I’m not someone who goes to the same place and eats the same food year after year. (Actually, lately… my vacations do not happen. This was the first one in a few years.)

D is for Doubt

2016DYou know that “artist”? The one who sings, or paints, or writes, or… dances? Whatever. The one who makes everyone cringe, because everybody in the room—except the artist–knows how awful, and untalented she is?

No one ever says anything, because “the artist” is so enthusiastic, and so earnest, and so committed. No one wants to break her heart. You know the one.

Yeah. I think that might be me.

After a while, you learn to question the good things people say. We’ve all been in writers’ groups where people dig and dig to find the one nice thing about a story that just isn’t good. Poetry readings where people applaud the writer’s courage, or their effort. Nobody ever looks at that optimistic writer and says, “Wow, you’ve got good penmanship.”

I do okay, most of the time. But there are moments of doubt. Where I don’t just think my stuff is crap, I’m absolutely certain of it. And it’s probably the crappiest crap since Adam’s very first crap after getting crapped out of Eden.

Part of this is taste. I’m comparing myself to giants, to classics, to the best stuff I can find, not to the latest trend or the guy down the street. And I have to. Because looking at things that are genuinely, objectively better than I am is how I learn.

And part of it is pure hubris. I keep trying to catch up. I believe–on a good day–that someday, if I work hard enough and long enough, I can be as good as those lofty role models of mine.

On a bad day, though… when I’m finding mistakes and suffering my own clunky metaphors, I wonder if I shouldn’t be aiming a little lower. I could write the future fish wrappers the world so desperately needs. No one likes naked fish. I could write fortune cookies, or children’s books. (You know. The kind with no words. And pictures. Drawn by somebody else.) Or very special special interest books. (High Tech Robotics for Your Rumspringa Rebellion) The market’s small, but at least there’s no competition.

So, what about you? How do you face down the doubts?