I'm on vacation in the ever-wonderful US of A, enjoying Christmas and soon New Year's Eve here, too. At the moment, I'm exploring Washington DC and I've come across a phenomenon that I wish wish WISH we also had in Germany: The Second Hand Bookstore. I used to picture these fantastical places - I honestly have never come across one in Germany - as tiny, dark and dinky, filled with ancient books, so old in fact that they are falling apart or written in hieroglyphs or plain boring.
But, ho, I couldn't have been more wrong.
I stumbled across this one SHB called Idle Wild Books and was at first reluctant to go inside. But, me being me, I couldn't just walk right by it, either. So I went in and came out barely fifteen minutes later, proudly carrying a paper bag - because nobody uses plastic here, how cool is that?! - with four new books, books that had been released only this year, books I'd been contemplating on downloading onto my kindle and which I now got for half-price.
What I especially loved about this SHB was that it was a little like unpacking a Christmas present, or maybe Forrest Gump's infamous box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get. Idle Wild Books had a LOT of books, but of course not the whole selection you'd find in any of the big shops or even an indie store. But they had lots of books I have at home myself and that alone tells me that SHBs indeed aren't the stuffy, dinky places I always imagined them to be.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
We had friends from South Africa visiting us the other day, who told us a pretty amazing / gruesome / yike-sy story they heard from a doctor-friend of theirs. It sounds like something you make up for your regular's table, so I thought I'd share it. They swear it's true...
A patient is brought into the hospital with a knife stuck in his eye after a fight. With him is another man who is also bloodied and anxiously hovers around the stretcher, getting in the way of the nurses and doctor. The wounded man is taken in for emergency surgery and his companion follows him all the way into the operating room, where the doctor tries to throw him out, this being a sterile environment and all. The man won't budge, until finally a nurse asks him what the problem is, they will be able to operate better if he isn't in the room with them and maybe save his friend. To which he says: 'I'm not worried about him - I want my knife back!'
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Ilona Andrews are so good to their fans! They have a novella, Magic Gifts, up on their blog to be downloaded for free. Considering Ilona Andrews are at the top of the urban-fantasy author list - as well as my all-time favorite and auto-buy list - this is an amazing offer. One that is only open for two weeks, starting today, December 24th.
So go-go-gadgets get!
I'm off to read it now. Merry Christmas and thank you, Ilona and Gordon!! You rock!!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
So yeah, it's been a while. I've mutated to the blogger who doesn't post diddly-squat; when I get home from work I'm just too tired. But now I have three weeks of holiday and being lazy ahead of me, so I'm hoping I'll be back to my spry old self in the new year.
I've still been writing a little, for example a Christmas short story for my parents to gift their customers with. It's about a little boy, his impossible wish and the elf who tries to grant it. Hope you enjoy it:
A Wish Named Snow
by Pia Newman
Cory hastens from his mother's bedroom to the kitchen, trying hard not to spill the water in the bowl he is holding. He doesn't have time to sop up any puddles. His mother is feverish again and he needs fresh water to cool her face with.
He dumps the water in the kitchen sink and rinses out the cloth. While he does so, he looks outside the window before him, at the garden. In spring, the flowers bloomed beautifully and the lawn was as green as a golf-course. But now, in the heat of summer, the colour has gone out of grass and leaves and petals. Everything is yellow and brown and dead.
Usually, his mother would never let this happen. Last year, the garden was a riot of colour all summer long, well tended, watered every morning and evening to withstand the South African summer heat. Cory would 'help' her, by digging through the earth with his little red shovel and redistributing it in his yellow bucket. This year, mom hasn't stepped foot in the garden and Cory hasn't touched his shovel or bucket in two months. He hasn't even thought about them, nor about the Lego-set his father gave him four months ago for being such a good sport about dad never being there anymore.
The way it looks, mom won't be out of bed this Christmas. She won't bake cookies, won't make eggnog, won't hang the stockings up on the banister for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve. At least dad managed to buy a Christmas tree as he promised. He just hasn't had time to put it up yet. It's still lying in the garage, all packed in the net and far too heavy for Cory to drag inside and stand up by himself.
Christmas Eve is tomorrow.
Last year, when Cory was so homesick after the recent relocation, at least they had a proper Christmas, like they did at home in Manchester. The only thing that wasn't like home was the heat and the missing snow.
This year he would be happy to have just one christmassy thing. But the way things are going, he might as well wish for snow. Snow during the South African Christmas seems more realistic right now than a decorated Christmas tree, cookies, eggnog and stockings.
It's a wish, fleeting but incredibly strong: Snow. Cory wants snow this Christmas. Something, anything, to remind him of the good times, before dad's work relocation, before mom's sickness. Snow seems like the least Santa could do, if he isn't able to heal his mom or make his dad not have to work so much to earn the money for the expensive doctors. Snow is just icy water. Can't be too hard, right?
Cory fills the pail with fresh, cool water and carries it back to his mother's room. By the time he turns his back on the window, he has forgotten his fervent wish.
The wish named Snow races through time and space. It is strong and sure, leaving other wishes far behind in its race to reach its destination in time.
No wish ever disappears once set free, though they can get lost or be forgotten if they are vague and weak. Snow is neither vague nor weak. Snow is as bright and brilliant as its namesake. Snow will never get lost.
Faye’s shift is almost over and she’s looking forward to a hot bath and her cosy bed when Santa steps into her office. He is very tall and has to duck to get through the door, which was made for short little elves like Faye. He is holding a stack of golden-edged papers. Faye knows what the papers mean and feels like crying. She knows she won’t get her bath tonight. But she smiles at Santa. He is her employer after all and jobs have become hard to find for elves because people don’t believe in them anymore.
Santa takes the piece of paper from the top of the stack and lays it down on the desk in front of Faye. He taps it lightly with a finger as thick as Faye’s wrist and looks at her expectantly, as if she should be delirious with joy.
At the top of the page, in the same gold that surrounds the edges, it says: A Most Deserving Child, and beneath this stands a name, Cory Sean Trent, and, beneath that, a deceptively simple wish: Snow.
‘What’s so difficult about making it snow?’ Faye asks, knowing there has to be a catch. It is winter, after all, and she has a good relationship with Saint Peter, the guy responsible for the weather. Jeez, Santa himself could ask good old Pete for that favour. The fact that Santa came to her with this Most-Deserving-Child wish means it isn’t as easy as all that.
‘Think Southern hemisphere,’ Santa says.
By the time Faye finds her voice again, he has left with an apologetic little shrug.
She doesn’t bother asking for St. Peter’s help. Pete is very proud with the structure he has created in the weather and its seasons. He might bend his own rules every now and then - a hurricane here, a heat wave there - but no way will he agree to make it snow in South Africa at this time of the year. If he were that easy to persuade, Santa would have done it himself.
Faye decides to visit Cory Sean Trent and check out his situation. Maybe that will give her some ideas - why does Cory wish for snow so badly that he makes it to the top of The Most Deserving?
She takes Banner, one of Santa’s backup-reindeers, and heads South. Far South. But Banner is fast and knows his way around the world like a taxi driver around New York. He has her in South Africa in a very short time, landing softly on the roof of Cory’s house.
Faye pats Banner’s neck and straightens out her hair that got blown about during the flight. She dismounts and asks Banner to wait for her before slithering down the roof and peering over the edge.
She is looking out over the garden. It is the middle of the night and the only light comes from the street lamp behind the hedge at the back of the yard. It has potential, this little spot of land. Faye can tell with a practiced eye. In the old days, elves helped humans tend their gardens and Faye was the instigator of many a grand Garden-Warming, to which elves from the whole neighbourhood would come and plant a new garden.
This garden is a grey ghost of its former self. Every plant in it is dead. Even the weeds that overgrew the flowerbeds in spring have withered before the summer heat. Faye is sweating, even though this must be the coolest time of the day. How on Earth is she supposed to make it snow here?
Faye clambers quietly around the building, looking for Cory’s room. When she finds it, the first thing she sees is the Union Jack hanging in front of his window. She pulls the wish-paper with Cory’s name and basic facts out of her pocket and sees that, yes, Cory and his parents moved here from England only seventeen months ago. He probably misses snow at Christmas, like Faye would, too. But she knows the wish alone isn’t enough to make Cory a Most Deserving Child. Many kids have Christmas wishes, even make up extensive lists, but they don’t automatically qualify to end up on Santa’s list. There are so many children in the world these days, children who already get or have everything they could ever want and need, whose parents make sure their wish is granted, whether they were good during the year or not. So Santa has refocused on the wishes of children who were good and helpful, who deserve their wishes to come true, even or especially the impossible ones, the powerful ones. Wishes that are completely out of their grasp - like making it snow in summer.
Of course, some of these wishes are just as impossible for Santa and his Little Helpers to grant. Santa has his connections and his elves have a little magic, but it’s not the ‘abra-kadabra’-appears-the-candelabra kind. Elves are linked to nature. Their magic comes from all living things like plants, animals and the elements. They are nurturers. They can make things grow and thrive, heal and mend. They can make a flower bloom from seed to blossom in one night.
Quietly, Faye climbs down the drainpipe and shimmies over to the windowsill of Cory’s Union-Jack window until she can see inside beneath the giant flag. She can make out a wardrobe and an empty bed. The place is so tidy that she would never think it a child’s room except for the Care-Bear stickers plastered all over the wardrobe doors and the Thomas-the-Tank-Engine bed spread. Since the gilded piece of paper mentions nothing of siblings, this has to be Cory’s room. If the kid is this tidy, no wonder he is a Most Deserving Child.
Faye wonders where Cory is, this long past his bedtime. Everything inside the house is dark. Either the whole family is out or they are all in bed - Cory not in his own.
Faye climbs to the next window and finds her answer in the bedroom beyond it. Both the room and the bed are larger than Cory’s. At first glance the two sleeping figures lying in the bed look peaceful. Looking closer, Faye can make out that the smaller figure, a blonde little angel, has fallen asleep kneeling beside the bed, his upper body supported by the bed, his head on his arms, his arms on the mattress. Beside him on the floor lies a bowl upside-down, a wet patch spread beneath it and down the side of the bed. A washcloth is still clutched in the boy’s hand, hanging over the side of the mattress and dripping onto his legs.
The other figure is lying in bed properly, covered with several layers of blankets. This person’s pale face gleams with sweat in the darkness and the bald head shines like the moon in the light of the streetlamp falling into the room. Despite the lack of hair, the delicate features and sharp chin tell Faye that this is a woman. She assumes it is Cory’s mother. One hand and part of the arm are showing beneath the blankets, stretched out towards Cory but not quite reaching. The hand and arm are skin and bones and as white as the face. This woman is sick. Very sick.
Faye understands why this little boy has the status of Most Deserving Child. And, more to the point, she understands his wish for snow. For one thing that is normal again in his life. This life in which it is hot during Christmas, in which the garden is dead, in which his mother is wasting away and his carefree childhood is replaced by the responsibilities of an adult. Responsibilities he obviously takes very seriously.
Faye understands all too well. Not too long ago, elves were numerous and respected by every creature, great and small. Then the magic began to leek out of this world in which nobody believed in it anymore and everything was explained away with science and reason. Now the elves have dwindled and are reduced to helping Santa distribute his presents to children like Cory.
Faye accepts it - what else can she do? But she wishes that once, just once, something, anything, that used to be right and true in the old times, would be again, if just for one night.
Just like Cory’s wish for snow.
Suddenly, Faye knows how to grant his wish. And her own.
After returning to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole, Faye springs into action. She sends out invitations to her elf friends, asking them to meet her at Cory’s house as soon as they have finished their tasks on Christmas Eve. She visits Merlin the wizard and cashes in an old favour for an invisibility spell. She packs a sleigh full of food and drinks, tools and seeds. She almost forgets to tell Santa of her plan and ask for his approval. He doesn’t object to her suggestion, because he knows Faye’s idea is the closest they’ll ever get to granting Cory’s wish.
Faye returns to Cory’s house late in the night of Christmas Eve. She parks the sleigh on the roof and throws Merlin’s invisibility spell over the back yard. Now anybody who goes into the yard can neither be seen nor heard from the outside. Then she begins to unpack. By the time the sleigh is empty and everything in the garden is prepared for a Garden-Warming, the first elves arrive.
Their eyes light up as they behold the feast Faye has prepared for them – a feast not just for their tummies, but for their hearts and souls as well; sacks of fresh earth are piled high in one corner; bags of seeds rest against them; pots of all shapes and sizes are strewn over the dead lawn; shovels, scoops, axes, rakes and buckets are waiting to be grabbed and used.
The garden is a blank canvas and they are VanGogh, Monet, da Vinci, eager and ready to leave their personal mark on this expanse of death. They sing and laugh as they distribute the soil and the seeds, casting their nurturing magic over the whole garden. When no more seeds, earth or pots are left, they continue to sing and laugh and now they also dance and feast and drink. Their joy and life nurtures the growing plants. Green roots shoot up beneath dancing feet, caressed by a hundred lovely voices. Even the most reluctant seed gives up its secret to such loving care.
When the first rays of the sun light up the sky, they help Faye pack everything back into the sleigh before leaving, most of them with tears of joy and gratitude in their eyes. Faye knows she isn’t the only one who misses the old ways and she is happy that she was able to make this a Christmas for elves as well as humans.
She is the last to leave. From the sleigh on top of the roof, she looks down on the garden and smiles.
If she squints her eyes just a little, it really does look like snow.
Cory wakes up on Christmas Morning with a hollow feeling in his stomach. His mother is still sick. They are still in South Africa. It is still hot, the sky a bright blue, the bugs buzzing against the fluffy white screen in front of his wide open window, looking for an escape. At least his dad made it home last night, even if it was late. Cory remembers being carried to his own room by strong arms, the tender kiss on his forehead...
Wait. Why is the screen fluffy white? Grey and shiny, yes. Riddled with holes, yes. Bombarded by big black bugs, yes. But fluffy white?
Cory sits up in bed and stares at the fly-screen framed by his window. Indeed, it is covered in white... something. It almost looks as if tufts of clouds have caught themselves in the tiny mesh holes. Or fur, maybe. Fur makes more sense. Sort of.
A flurry of white is carried past his window by the morning breeze, some of it catching in the screen, adding to the little white mounds already stuck there. It looks almost like... snow? Snow!
Cory jumps out of bed to take a closer look. His brain is telling him that snow isn't possible, not when it is already so hot outside that he sweats just lying in bed. But his heart is almost painfully full of hope and desire. Snow?
Tiny dark spots hang in the fluffy whiteness. Dandelion seeds, hanging by their little umbrellas, Cory realizes. His disappointment is so great it makes his knees weak - until he looks down at the garden.
It is covered in white. Not snow - the dandelion makes him see through that illusion immediately. But the yard is completely white and it is just as much a miracle as snow would have been. Yesterday every single plant in that garden was dead. Even the weeds. Now it is so full of blooming white flowers that Cory can't make out the ground or the grass or the green stems that surely hold up this blanket of white petals. There are white blossoms in every shape and size, from round to slim, large to tiny, straight to curly, high to low. All of them are white. When Cory squints a little, it looks like snow. Especially when another flurry of dandelion seeds dances across the yard like snow flakes.
Cory runs out of his room with a yell of joy. He has no clue how this miracle came about, but he doesn't care. It isn't snow, exactly, but he doesn't care. This is so much better, because mum will be able to enjoy it, too. He'll have his white wonderland and she will have her garden back. Maybe this won't be a lost Christmas after all.
Faye hears the joyful squeal of delight from the top of the roof and smiles. She is tired and she didn’t get her bath, but she has made many people happy this Christmas.