Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Haz Spoken...

Wanna know what I sound like?



Wanna... ummm... Well, anyways, I did my first audio book interview ever! With Bill at The Bookcast! And it's now up for your listening pleasure! And wow, so many freakin' exclamation points because I am that excited!!!

We talked about No One Knows You're Here and my upcoming release A Girl is Like a Shadow and all things writing-related and fa-la-la.

Please visit The Bookcast and then share with the world. Please?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chapter 6 - Red Sky in the Morning

Mom and I reunited in the empty waiting room. How small she looked. Seemed as though the chemicals that streamed through her bloodstream had shrunk her to be the size of a sixteen year-old, only weaker, frailer. Her fawn-colored skin had paled, and blended with the beige scarf on her head.

She scrutinized me with eyes set deep in their sockets. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Ready?”

“You’ve been crying.” She smoothed my hair. “I’m sick but I’m not blind.”

“I’m fine.” I faked a smile. “Let’s get you home.”

She smirked. “So I can throw up in private, right?”

We laughed even though her sickness was far from funny. It took the length of our commute from Westwood to Long Beach—thirty-two miles—for her body to rebel against Taxol. As soon as we’d get home, Mom would hop out of the car, and nearly kick down the front door.

She’d race to the upstairs bathroom and sink to the tile floor. She’d grasp the sides of the toilet and drop her head over the bowl. Her body would convulse, then, as it tried to rid itself of the drugs that would make it better.


Downstairs, in the hospital’s lobby, patients, doctors, and staff rushed from exam room to pharmacy to lab. Someone tapped the keys of the baby grand near the front entrance. The well-worn linoleum was slick with puddles and mud.

“Neve!” A woman’s voice had cut through the noise. “Neve!”

Both Mom and I turned to see a small woman wearing a puffy Raiders parka rush over to where we stood. A cloud of wet-smelling cigarette smoke followed her. “I thought that was you!”

Mom squinted as she tried to remember the gap in the woman’s front teeth, her bloodshot hazel eyes, and the crucifix tattoo on her neck.

“Girl, it’s Aretha,” the woman said with a broad smile.

Mom squinted more.

The woman put her hand on her hip. “Aretha. Remember? Girl, I know you remember me.”

Mom’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Aretha from the Broadway?”

The short woman nodded. “Yeah!” Her golden hair weave rustled against the nylon jacket.

Mom turned to me. “Remember Aretha, Cat? She used to work in Girls.”

“This is Cat?” Aretha screeched. “Honey, I remember when you was nothing but a baby. Remember me?”

Guarded, I said, “Yes. How are you?” In truth, I barely remembered Aretha from Girls. And I barely remembered that Mom had worked as a department store salesclerk.

“So, what you here for?” Aretha asked my mother.

I tugged at Mom’s coat. “We should go. Traffic...”

“That sure is a beautiful head wrap.” Aretha turned to me and said, “Your mama always had taste. Just like Diana Ross. That’s what we called her at the store.”

Mom touched her head. “Actually, I’m losing my hair.”

“Already?” Aretha coughed—three packs a day, it sounded. “You what, forty-something? Cat giving you the blues?”

“No,” Mom said. “I have breast cancer.”

And it happened, like it always happened when Mom told someone that she had cancer. The Eye Dance:







“But you look so healthy,” Aretha said, unconvinced. “Remember this: the Lord will never give you more than you can handle.”

I cringed at these words. They were shaped like little burs that stuck to your socks.

“Well, looks can be deceiving.” Mom had never used that cliché before she had been diagnosed.

Aretha’s eyes now shifted between the exit and the floor. “So y’all still living in the Jungle?”

Mom shook her head. “No. My husband and I—”

“Husband? You ain’t talking about Paul, are you?” Aretha grinned, narrowed her eyes.

Mom tugged at her coat. Fidgeted with the strap to her purse.

“You really should get home and rest,” I said.

Mom nodded. “Aretha, it’s good seeing you again.”

Aretha said, “Yeah,” relieved that her brush with death and disease was almost over, but ticked off that she didn’t find out more about Mom’s private life.

My mother and I watched her shuffle to the elevator bank and wriggle into a full car. She didn’t look back. Looking back would change her into a pillar of salt, I guess.

Mom took my arm. We left the hospital that afternoon and braved the rain together.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rules for Writing

In the New York Times, Colson Whitehead shares with us his rules for writing. My favorite is this one:

Rule No. 6: What isn’t said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories, the real action occurs in the silences. Try to keep all the good stuff off the page. Some “real world” practice might help. The next time your partner comes home, ignore his or her existence for 30 minutes, and then blurt out “That’s it!” and drive the car onto the neighbor’s lawn...

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chapter 5 - Red Sky in the Morning

After three hours of chemotherapy, Synthia unhooked my mother from the Taxol drip. The skin on Mom’s forearm had already bruised into a dirty yellow. It would be the color of seaweed by tomorrow morning. Synthia checked Mom’s blood pressure a final time, then said, “You did great today, Neve.”

Weak, Mom could only smile.

“You okay?” I asked my mother once the nurse left the room.

She nodded, then asked me to pray with her. “You don’t mind, do you?”

We held hands as she asked God for a successful recovery. I peeked: her face tilted up to the cork board ceiling, as though healing would shower down like rain. Mom thanked God for Synthia and Doctor Pearson, the pharmaceutical company, cancer researchers, me. The tremor in her voice betrayed the calm on her face. I squeezed her hands to remind her that I was still there.

After she finished praying, I whispered, “I’ll be outside,” then stumbled back through the corridors to the waiting room, now empty. I took a deep breath and leaned against the back of a chair. Even though we were finished, we weren’t finished.

My cell-phone chirped and interrupted any thoughts about the next several hours. I grabbed the phone from my bag. The caller I.D. display flashed Sam Chappelle’s phone number. We met five years ago. Ran into the back of him—literally—in my old Hyundai. He was a star reporter for the Times. I was a starting photographer on my first day. He had eyes the color of cognac, a strong chin covered in barely-there whiskers, and a lithe, tennis player’s body.

The phone continued to chirp. Didn’t know whether to smile or be annoyed. Wondered if I should answer or...

“Hey,” I said.

“Happy birthday.”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks.”

“Where are you?” he asked.

“At the hospital with my mother.”

A pause. “Oh.” More silence. “Is she okay?”

I wandered over to the smoked glass windows. Raindrops still slashed across the thick panes, and down below, people rushed from the hospital to the parking lot across the street. “Hard to tell.”

“So are you celebrating tonight?” Sam asked. “It’s the big 3-0.”

I could hear his fingers flying over the laptop keyboard. For the past week, he had been writing a story on toxic sludge discovered beneath a proposed school site.

“Really don’t feel like it,” I said. “With everything going on.”

He was probably sitting at his desk, surrounded by empty root beer cans and Doritos bags. He had muted the sound of Judge Judy or Oprah, listening instead to Tupac or Biggie Smalls on the stereo.

“I’d really like to spend more time with you,” he said. “You’ve been pretty busy lately.”
I sighed. Heard this all the time from any poor sucker I dated. This time, I could blame my mother for my distraction.

“Cat, you there?” Sam asked.

Outside, gusts of wind forced palm trees to lean back like long-legged limbo dancers. I closed my eyes and pictured the freeway: cars, rain, brilliant pink flares thrown on the asphalt, forcing three chaotic lanes into one. There would be Highway Patrol squad cars on the side of the road with officers calming frightened accident victims and concerned truckers.


“I’m sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

Sam stopped typing. “You have nothing to apologize for.” His voice sounded tight, cautious. “So when will I see you again?”

I closed my eyes. “Soon.”


“Next week?” But next week was... was... I’m sure next week was something.

Sam said, “I’ll call for reservations at Dan Tana’s.”

I placed my hand against the window. “That sounds great.”

Sam said, “If you don’t want us to go out anymore, you can say that. I’m 34 years old. I can handle it.”

I didn’t speak. Just watched the rain hit the pane. Just listened to my heart thump in my chest.

“Am I talking to myself?” he said.

“I like you, Sam,” I said, “but I have to think of my mother first. Know what I mean?”
He said, “Yes. I didn’t mean to push.”

I gripped the phone tight.

“I’ll still make reservations,” he said, “and if you can’t make it, you can’t make it. How’s that?”

Relieved, I nodded. Whispered, “Okay.”

I knew that I would cancel last minute. And I knew that Sam knew, too. I also knew that he wouldn’t tolerate me much longer. He’d leave. That’s what men do. They fall in love. Fall out of love. Then, they leave.