Underlanders: When the world ends …

When the world ends, I’ll be sitting on my back porch with a bottle of scotch, toasting the zombies on their way to eat me. I don’t see myself as much of an apocalyptic fighter. (I mean, how do you expect me to live without Netflix?) However, some people are fighters: namely, the people in my new short story, “Underlanders,” featured in Arizona State’s literary magazine Canyon Voices. Here’s a teaser …

“Underlanders:” An Excerpt
By Sara Dobie Bauer
Published in Canyon Voices

Marie found her boys in the library, where they rested in all manner of recline. Tiny sat in the large, leather desk chair, with a book in his hands. The other boys sat on couch cushions and cafeteria seats. Some were on the ground—others stood in corners—but they all listened as Tiny stuttered through the rhyme of “The Raven.”

Marie listened to the words, but she also listened to the sounds of the abandoned hospital at night. She knew what sounds were welcome—the settling of the building, rain against windows, boys shuffling to the restroom. She knew sounds that were not: heavy, adult footsteps; the slamming of doors; inhuman growls. She heard none of these noises, nothing at all, and yet, the stranger suddenly arrived at her side.

He said, “I’ve always loved Poe.”

The boys turned. Shippy was the first to stand up, squint, and point. “Did you hear him talk? He is James Bond!”

Voices surrounded the stranger as he walked to the stacks of books, arranged in messy piles on heavy, metal bookcases that covered the windows and walls. She noticed he walked with no sound.

Yellow stood behind Shippy and shouted, “Can he stay? Will he stay, Mother?” His blond head shined silver.

Marie was too busy watching the stranger to respond. She could see his eyes change. From cold, dark blue, his eyes began to shine. He reached out long, pale fingers and took hold of a battered volume of William Shakespeare. She thought she saw his hand shake, and his eyes watered.

“Where did you get all these?” He put the book under his nose and sniffed.

“People left them behind.”

Then, Shippy ran to the stranger’s side—out of character for a boy taught to trust no one. “Are you really James Bond? You are, aren’t you?”

The stranger ran his thumbs over the picture of Shakespeare’s face. He glanced at Marie before looking down at the boy who needed glasses. “Yes, I am.”

“I knew it!”

The sad hospital library erupted in sound, but Marie hushed them until the room was silent.

“Would you read to us?”

“Tiny, the man needs to rest,” she said.

“No, I …” The stranger rubbed his eyes. “I would love to.”

“Can he, Mother? Please?”

Marie nodded.

“Do we call you Mr. Bond or double-oh-seven or—”

“James is fine.” He put his hand on Shippy’s head as he walked past the boy. Tiny vacated the desk chair and gestured with dusty hands. The other boys returned to their states of recline, but their eyes were bright. Unaccustomed to a new voice, they waited. They were the most patient group of children in the history of Earth, and they remained that way, frozen.

(Read the whole story at ASU’s Canyon Voices HERE. I promise nothing bad happens …)

 

 

Vivian’s Boots: A Bite Somebody Short

Originally featured as part of Literary Escapism‘s “Hidden Treasures” series, here’s a quick note from host Jackie …

My longtime readers should know by now that I love the mini-fiction events; a glimpse into the world, a story by a beloved side character, or an introduction to never before seen action.

I’m hosting Rust City Book Convention here in the Metro Detroit area, and to help spotlight the authors attending, I’ve come up with a fabulous new feature series – Hidden Treasures. I’ve asked the #RustCity authors to write a story, featuring any or all of their characters as they discover a new bit of treasure.

With that in mind, let’s see what hidden treasures Sara Dobie Bauer’s characters from Bite Somebody have discovered.


Vivian’s Boots: A Bite Somebody Short

Ian was on his usual morning bike ride—or more like race. Not literal, of course, as that morning he only raced against himself, but he had to prepare. He had an actual race that weekend, against hundreds of other people, that stretched all the way from one end of Admiral Key to the other, and he was going to win if only to impress Celia.

With the Florida sun beating on his forehead, his brain felt sort of melted and too warm, which got him thinking about how his body felt whenever Celia was around. They were a couple, officially, but he still sometimes caught her looking at him, staring really, as if she couldn’t believe a guy like Ian would love a girl like her.

Or, more accurately, a vampire like her.

She really didn’t get it. She seriously didn’t understand how sexy she looked in those yoga pants of hers or how her bright red hair made his pants feel much too tight. It was embarrassing really. What was he, fifteen? He was a full grown man, and yet, his vampire girlfriend really got his blood pumping.

He wondered if she noticed. Could vampires, like, hear heartbeats? Could they see the flow of blood beneath skin? He’d have to ask when he saw her that night.

Since it was Saturday, a lot of front yards on Admiral Key were full of junk. It was spring, so prime time for garage sales, before the humidity got too crazy along the Gulf. Ian usually ignored those sorts of things; he wasn’t much for clutter. Still, he stopped short when he passed a squat blue house by the side of the road. He stopped so quickly, his brakes squealed and he almost tumbled into a hibiscus bush.

The middle-aged lady handling the cash gave him a suspicious glare until she got a look at him. Then, she smiled. Even Ian could admit that being handsome had its perks.

“Hello,” she said, puffing away on a cigarette. Her skin looked like a baseball mitt from 1954.

Ian was too busy moving to stop and chat. His sneakers skidded to a halt in front of a table of shoes. On the very top were boots but not just any boots: thigh-high black pleather boots with a three-inch heel. “Whoa,” he whispered, picking one up.

The lady with the cigarette stepped up to his side, looked him up and down, and said, “It takes all sorts.”

The boots were practically identical to the ones Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman, Celia’s favorite movie. Hell, Ian thought they might be the actual boots, the resemblance was that strong. He didn’t know Celia’s shoe size. They’d only been making out for a week. He didn’t know if she’d even wear the things, but he had to buy them for her if only to let her know how beautiful he thought she was—how much like Vivian from the movie.

A beautiful woman with a heart of gold.

Ian brushed his sweaty black curls back from his forehead. “How much?”

“Honey, if you have the guts to wear ‘em, you can have those puppies for free.” The older lady elbowed him and wafted a cloud of smoke that made his blue eyes water. “There might even be some cocaine in the lining somewhere. Oh, the eighties.” She crossed herself and waddled to a worn out chair.

Ian took the Pretty Woman boots and hung them around his neck before climbing back on his bike and riding home to the Sleeping Gull Apartments. He couldn’t wait to make Celia smile. He loved when she smiled.


If you haven’t read Bite Somebody already, what the hell? Read it, dude, because Bite Somebody Else comes out June 20th, and you don’t want to be the only person who doesn’t understand the inside jokes. (Ralph.) Buy both books NOW at the World Weaver Press website.

I needed help being a sexy mom

When I saw the Cwtch Press anthology call for stories featuring erotic moms, I thought, “I should write something!” I have no idea why.

Let’s face it: I’m not a mom. I don’t have children. Yes, I have dogs, but I have no idea how to be an actual mother. I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant or give birth. I respect women who are moms, but I could never do it. I’d be a horrible parent, because I would realistically have to say things like, “What do you mean, I can’t tase my kid?”

And yet, I did write a story about a lonely mom who’s just given birth to her first baby and happens to develop an obsessive crush on her UPS man.

“I Need Your Package” is fun, sort of silly, and sexy … but the first draft was wrong. As I said, I don’t know what a woman’s body feels like post-pregnancy. I needed experts.

I owe so much to my first readers all the time but for this story in particular. I had a couple real life moms who read “I Need Your Package,” told me everything that was wrong with it, and told me how to fix it. I won’t name you gals here because you might not wanna be associated with my smutty self, but you know who you are, and I ADORE YOU. You are the super heroes. You’re selfless and loving and much stronger than I will ever be.

In homage to Mother’s Day, here’s a teaser from my short story, featured in the If Mom’s Happy anthology from Cwtch Press. Buy your copy HERE today. A mom in your life will thank you!

Excerpt from “I Need Your Package”
By Sara Dobie Bauer
Featured in If Mom’s Happy (Cwtch Press)

Hannah once saw her deliveryman carry a big screen television under one arm. Another time, it was a dining room table from IKEA. You’d never guess, looking at the guy. He was tall and slim but not bulging. His long appendages probably helped, as did his sense of balance. He could stand on one foot like a yogi in tree pose—big box leaned on top of his thigh, scanner in the other. Like a ballet dancer, he jumped off porches and back into his big, brown truck. Hannah could hear that truck coming from three blocks away.

Dayton usually stopped at Hannah’s house around 11 AM. At 10:30, she successfully coaxed the baby into a nap. She made sure her blonde hair was in a respectable ponytail. Changing out of her robe, she put on a sweater that flared at the waist and jeans that didn’t look too “Mommy.”

If only she were so in tune with her own child.

Baby Neely had been mostly her husband’s idea. They’d discussed having children early in their marriage, but their careers got in the way. Hannah reviewed books for a mainstream women’s website; her husband worked early hours, often on the road. Then, at the age of thirty-six, it just sort of happened. Neely happened.

Hannah heard the rumble of Dayton’s truck and felt the way the sound vibrated in her chest. She scampered to the door and pulled it open, its old hinges squeaking just enough to wake Neely, who started wailing upstairs.

“Shit,” she whispered but pasted on a smile when Dayton jumped gracefully onto her porch with three separate yellow envelopes under his arm.

“Good morning, Hannah.” He winked one of his hazel eyes.

“Morning.” She gawked up at him and hoped her irises weren’t in the shape of hearts.

The scanner beeped as he ran it over the label of each individually wrapped book from publishers who desperately wanted her opinion. “Did you want me to f*** you on the porch next time?”

Her hand flew to her chest. “I’m sorry?”

“Did you want me to leave these on the porch next time? I don’t want to wake the baby.” The late autumn sun reflected off his short, auburn hair. His presence mimicked the fallen leaves in her front yard: those green-gold eyes, hair almost red, and slim fitting brown uniform.

“No, it’s fine. She just needs to be fed.”

“Oh, right.”

Did he glance down at her chest? Hannah had the urge to grab the back of his head and shove his face against her breasts. Then again, how sexy was a padded nursing bra?

“Well.” He handed her the packages. “See you later.” His smile was crooked and went up much higher on the right than left.

Hannah watched him go. Well, she watched his ass go until he hopped into the front seat of his truck and turned the ignition …


To read the rest (and learn more about Dayton … meow), buy your copy of If Mom’s Happy today and celebrate Mother’s Day with some sexy stories. Click HERE to purchase, and much love to all the hard-working moms out there!

The Bite Somebody Else Pilgrimage

I spent last week with my crazy family down in Longboat Key, Florida—the real life setting for my Bite Somebody series. This pilgrimage has been going on in the Dobie-Schwind clan since I was a little kid, although I’ve only partaken in the trip (usually alone with my Aunt Susie) for the past five years.

It is a week filled with decadent drinking and eating, silly stories about sex, tumbles in the waves, and shameless flirting with strange beach boys. For Susie and me, it’s a time to laugh and grow closer. It is a time to unwind and leave worries behind for a bit.

(You can read about my first year on Longboat with Susie HERE. It’s funny to think I had no idea that trip would change my career and my life.)

Something about being in Longboat inspired Bite Somebody years ago. I don’t remember the exact moment of conception, but I assume I was laying on the beach, making up stories in my head (like I always do), and awkward vampires in Florida just sort of happened—along with a cute, black-haired surfer boy named Ian. And Imogene, of course. Imogene, who I closely resemble during the annual visit to Longboat Key.

This year, I spent time on the beach reading over my review copy of Bite Somebody Else, the second and final book in the series. It is Imogene’s love story, although Ian and Celia are obviously still big parts of her story. She couldn’t survive without them, after all.

When not reading, I walked the beach. I wandered past the Little Gull Cottages, the real life basis for the Sleeping Gull Apartments in my books. Each night, I put on a tiny dress and high heels and wandered familiar locales from the Bite Somebody series, like St. Armand’s Circle, the Daiquiri Deck, Café L’Europe, and (perhaps most famously) the Drift Inn.

When I visit these places, I often tell the owners “I wrote a book about Longboat.” At Café L’Europe, the handsome maître d’ offered to buy me a drink. At Drift Inn, I asked about Angry Santa (David) and was saddened to hear he was in the hospital with pneumonia. I miraculously sold three copies of Bite Somebody to people who went on their phones and ordered a copy on the spot.

And yet there was something a bit melancholy hidden along the edges of my alcohol-fueled, sun-spattered euphoria.

For my aunt and my mom, Longboat Key always makes them cry a little because it reminds them of my grandparents, now gone. Susie even once saw something like a ghost on the beach at sunset—my Grandpa Schwind in his big hat, waving at her. When we scattered my grandma’s ashes, a green flash lit the beach as the sun went down and a bagpipe player played “Amazing Grace.”

Susie and me at The Drift Inn.

Although Longboat doesn’t remind me as much of my grandparents, it does remind me of Celia, Ian, Imogene, and now, Nicholas. It reminds me of their adventures and their love. It reminds me of writing two ridiculous, wonderful books about Longboat Key—books that encompass the perpetual joy and hilarity of my trips down south. However, this year, I was also reminded that … the series is over.

As of June 20, 2017, Imogene’s story will be released. Bite Somebody Else will leap into the world, fangs bared, and there won’t be another. This makes me take pause. Makes me want to do it all over, really, start from the beginning, write these characters and fall in love with them again. Go back to the Longboat Key of my vampire pals!

I call my yearly trip to Florida the Bite Somebody Pilgrimage, and I think I always will. Whereas my mom and aunt harbor memories of their parents, I will always walk the beach with memories of my fictional friends and a dream come true: the publication of my first novel, my first series.

In Bite Somebody, Imogene explains love to Celia through the lyrics of a song:

“It was about this guy who was looking for love and then he met this girl—this one girl. And the chorus was something about ‘I never knew it could be this easy.’” She shrugged. “I think that’s what happens when people are supposed to be together.”

It has been so easy (and fun) being the marionette behind the Bite Somebody series. As I move toward promotion and June launch parties for Bite Somebody Else, I realize how lucky I am to have found Celia and Imogene, to have found my editor Trysh and publisher Sarena at World Weaver Press, and how easy it is to lose myself in Longboat Key.

Even though this series might be coming to a close, nothing else is. I’ll keep writing and having fun. Next April, I’ll be in Longboat again, and I’ll drink rum punches with the same panache. I’ll remember my first book and all my colorful characters, because the imagination lives on and great memories stay with us forever.

Pre-order your copy of Bite Somebody Else HERE.

Burnout: When you just need to freaking STOP

In her book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson writes about something called The Spoon Theory. She says that each day, we’re given a certain number of spoons. Each spoon represents something you have to do, whether that’s shower or work or eat. Every time you accomplish something, you give away a spoon.

Well, I have run out of spoons, no matter what my dishwasher says.

I began to notice the spoon shortage last week as I prepared for my trip to Tucson where I would be the Mental Health Awareness Week featured speaker at University of Arizona. I didn’t have that much to do really, and yet, everything felt HUGE.

For instance, when I realized my swanky dress I’d bought for the event still had the “you stole this” thingy attached, I lost my mind. Actually going to the store to have the evil magnet removed felt like climbing a mountain. In heels. With an elephant on my back. An extra fat elephant. An extra fat elephant eating chicken wings. You get the idea.

I still had a few spoons left, true, but they were relegated to:
Drink beer
Sleep
Watch the BBC
Cuddle Jake

Every other task? No spoons for you!

The spoon shortage included my writing. I quit working on my new novel because I realized my brain was too fried to plot or develop or care. Every bit of creativity I have right now is going toward prepping and promoting Bite Somebody Else. Even sending We Still Live to new agents is on hold. Okay, yeah, I wrote some Sherlock fan fiction yesterday, so assign a spoon to Smut. (I always apparently have a spoon for Smut. I think one is actually labeled “Smut.”)

At first, I battled with my lack of spoons, but if my mental health speech in Tucson last week taught me anything, it taught me that it’s okay to crash, especially if you’ve been working hard. Too hard, in fact.

In the weeks leading up to Tucson, I would wake in the middle of the night sweating and in the midst of a panic attack. My neck and jaw pain was so bad I started making weird stretchy faces in public to try to lessen the pain. (Picture Jim Carrey in … anything.) My brain was fuzzy to the point of forgetting things, all sorts of things.

The word we’re looking for? Burnout, baby.

Author burnout is bad. You awkwardly apply alliteration in all assignments. Your paragraphs closely resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. You accidentally use the phrase “heaving bosom” and don’t even blink. Which is when you just need to STOP. Not forever, but for a little while.

I think this applies to life, too, not just work. (Nobody wants to start literally looking like a Jackson Pollock painting.) Sometimes, you need to step back. Make a vague excuse about “spoons,” and no one will want to ask any questions. Have a martini. Stand on your head. Stare at pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch laughing. Whatever it takes to slow down the ever-churning engine that is your mind and just stop for a little while.

Perhaps collect additional spoons.

Saturday, I leave for the famed Bite Somebody Pilgrimage to Longboat Key, Florida, and I’m not working a lick. My spoons will be labeled:
Get a tan
Drink rum punch
Laugh your ass off
Swim in the moonlight
Read some smut (See, there’s always a spoon for Smut.)

When I get home, I won’t be quite so burnt out anymore. Maybe I’ll even do a little tinkering on We Still Live or the as-yet-untitled Witch Project. Or maybe I’ll coast on a Bite Somebody Else wave for a while. Who knows? It’s hard to plan my spoons that far in advance.

For now, I’m on a break. I deserve a break. Do you?

(Extremely fitting photo of me by Paul Andrew Portraits.)

Bite Somebody Else Cover Reveal

The much anticipated book two in the Bite Somebody series is Imogene’s story, so of course, Imogene had to be on the cover. It’s been generally acknowledged that Imogene looks a lot like me, so when the cover artist asked for a description of my lovable (albeit twisted) female lead, I sent her this, from a photo shoot I did with photographer Chris Loomis:

Add some animation magic and the artistic acumen of Amanda C. Davis, and you get the Bite Somebody Else cover, revealed … in a moment. First, here’s a little bit about the book.

Imogene helped her newbie vampire friend Celia hook up with an adorable human, but now Celia has dropped an atomic bomb of surprise: she has a possibly blood-sucking baby on the way. Imogene is not pleased, especially when a mysterious, ancient, and annoyingly gorgeous vampire historian shows up to monitor Celia’s unprecedented pregnancy.
 
Lord Nicholas Christopher Cuthbert III is everything Imogene hates: posh, mannerly, and totally uninterested in her. Plus, she thinks he’s hiding something. So what if he smells like a fresh garden and looks like a rich boarding school kid just begging to be debauched? Imogene has self-control. Or something.
 
As Celia’s pregnancy progresses at a freakishly fast pace, Imogene and Nicholas play an ever-escalating game of will they or won’t they, until his sexy maker shows up on Admiral Key, forcing Nicholas to reveal his true intentions toward Celia’s soon-to-arrive infant.

Have I teased you enough? Okay, fine!!!!!!! Drum roll …

THERE SHE IS!! IMOGENE!!!! She’s perfect!!!!

For a little something extra, there’s a brand new Bite Somebody Else excerpt on the World Weaver Press website. Read more about Imogene and Nicholas HERE.  And while you’re there, you  might as well pre-order your paperback copy of Bite Somebody Else today!!

The book doesn’t hit shelves until June 20th, but I’m already thrilled to unleash Imogene on the world again (as well as Celia and Ian, of course). I’m also thrilled for you to meet Nicholas. Happy Hump Day! And don’t forget, #Imogene4Life.

KINKED contributors: What makes a great sex scene?

Ben glanced at his college friends, and finally, finally, took her hand and pulled her around the corner of a women’s clothing store.

Mr. Manners was pleasantly un-mannerly in private. He pushed her back against the wall and dove for her lips. She was ready, open-mouthed and hungry. She pulled hard on his hair and wrapped one leg around to the back of his, which gave her better leverage to stick her tongue in his mouth. His hands cupped the bottom of her ass, and she moaned when pelvis found pelvis. They separated momentarily, both panting.

“I live two blocks from here,” Angie said.

He leaned down and sucked at her painted shoulder, which made her head fall back and hit the building.

“Jesus, your mouth.” She pulled his lips back up to hers. “I love your mouth. Come home with me, Ben.”

He moved back enough to still be touching her but to be able to look at her, too, and again, those blue eyes found her tats as he licked his bottom lip.

“What?” she said.

“Can I confess something?”

Angie shrugged.

“I have a little fetish for tattoos.”

She chuckled, dark and deep. “Mr. Manners likes a bit of ink?”

“Ben, let’s go!” someone shouted from the street, and he looked in the direction of his friends.

“Uh-uh,” she said, latching onto the back of his head. “No. You’re coming home with me.”

“Can’t. Don’t even know you. Could be a serial killer.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You wouldn’t believe how many court cases start like this. Two people, drunk, making bad decisions.”

“This is a good decision.”

She really enjoyed the view of his furrowed brow, teeth chewing at his bottom lip. Then, his eyes popped open. “Be my date to the wedding.”

“You want to bring an inked-up sex shop girl to a Yale lacrosse wedding?”

“Yeah. Definitely.” He nodded, grinning.

***

There it is: a taste of my new short story, “Painted Red,” featured in Pen and Kink Publishing’s KINKED anthology. Every tattoo tells a story, as evidenced by the characters and relationships explored in KINKED. Many of those ink-based stories are sexy, so I asked a few of my fellow contributors: What makes a great sex scene? Here’s what they said …

“As a reader, it’s definitely the ability to put my imaginary self in the scene. If I’m analyzing what worked after the fact, it’s usually pacing, word-choice, and generalizations that leave room for my imagination to slot me into the scene. Especially if it’s one comprised of elements I’ve never personally experienced (for example, M/M). I like a certain level of specificity and frank language, but too much specific detail can bounce me out of a sex scene faster than anything. If I’m thinking about mechanics, you’ve lost me. Therefore, as a writer, I look for that sweet spot of details and generalizations and I depend on my beta readers to tell me where I’ve gone off the rails.”  Renee Dominick, author of “Through Glass A Stranger”

“For me, a good sex scene is organic. When it doesn’t follow a natural progression for the characters, when it was obviously the entire point of the story, that seems to be when it is more ‘smut’ than ‘quality sex’ for me. The scenes that resonate with me, that linger in my mind and tease the edges of my memory long after I close the book, are the ones that feel inevitable by the time you get to them. The heat between two characters has built and smoldered over the course of the story and when it finally bursts into flame for those characters, you have been smoldering along with them.” – Danielle Davis, author of “The Courier”

“I need to know how they wound up in bed together, which is a fancy way of saying I need character development. Show me the magnetism, the sexual frustration, perhaps the conflict between two characters that leads to great sex. I’m here for the ride, so give me one (pun intended, of course). Without understanding why characters want to hook up with each other, it’s like walking in on people getting down; it’s abrupt and devoid of context or invitation. Isn’t it so much sexier when you’re invited in instead and you know the players?” Tiffany Michelle Brown, author of ”Begin Again”

“What makes a great sex scene? In a word: details. If you’re going to write an actual sex scene rather than fading to black (which is perfectly legitimate and far preferable to a bad sex scene), don’t leave things to the imagination. … Paint a clear picture. Put me in the head and body of one of the characters. Make me feel what they’re feeling. If your sex scene can’t do that, re-write or ditch the effort in favor of a fade-to-black. There will be far less eye-rolling and pent up frustration.”  – Nicole Blackwood, author of “Sae-ri”

***

Want to see what these lovely ladies have come up with for their sexy stories? Pick up your copy of KINKED today. Every tattoo tells a story … and those stories should be read.

BUY KINKED AND READ “PAINTED RED:”

Angie and Ben … quite literally, in fact 😉

Zombie Walk

The worst thing about being dead, in Don’s opinion, was the critters. His coffin was damn comfortable—better have been, what with all the cash he left behind after that car accident on the I-10. It was nice and cushy, top of the line soft velvet interior with solid bronze to keep him warm. Despite all this, there were the critters, the little beetles and centipedes and God knew what else that crawled up his nose when he slept. He spent most mornings huffing them out like snot rockets.

The best thing about being dead was the Zombie Walk, and according to his gold Rolex—still working, thank you—it was that time of year again.

October was the month for zombie walks, but Don had one in particular he frequented, along with a few of his dead pals. They met in the same place every year, going on three now, down at Tempe Town Lake. It was amazing what mortuary guys could do, pumping corpses full of chemicals to keep ‘em in good shape. They’d even used string to tie Don’s right arm back on after the accident, but the string was long gone. He carried his limp appendage around nowadays like a briefcase, force of habit.

Carl was already waiting when he arrived.

“Carrrrrl!” Don gargled.

“Donnnnn,” Carl moaned.

“How the hell—” He spat out a cockroach. “How are you?”

“My baaaack.”

“That wife of yours really shoulda gone the extra mile with the coffin cushion,” Don said. “I’m telling ya, I don’t feel a day over six months dead.”

“Gaaahhh …” Sometimes Carl didn’t make much sense.

“Where’s the rest of the gang?” Don did a slow visual sweep of the black, nighttime water, nearby white lights of the bridge quivering in the reflection like fried eggs.

“Dunno.” Carl itched his head, and his ear fell off.

“Here, I’ll get that.” Don picked up the fallen lobe with his one working arm and handed it to his bloody bud.

Carl ate it.

Carl had been dead for twenty years—heart attack. He wore a tattered gray suit that was green and black with mold. He still had a couple white hairs on his head, but he was mostly just a skeleton with skin on top. He had a tendency to lose things, not because he was absent-minded but because shit just fell off. That’s what happened to three of his fingers the year before. At least that’s what Carl claimed. Don had a sneaking suspicion he’d slammed his fingers in his casket on his way back to bed.

“We can’t wait much longer,” Don said. He pointed his amputated arm in the direction of Mill Avenue. “Don’t want to be late.”

“Here,” said a rough female voice.

“Carissa!”

She limped up to them, the only gal who still thought the Tempe Zombie Walk was sort of funny. She’d been dead a long time, and Don thought she must have been kind of crazy, being buried in her wedding dress and all. He noticed something on her face.

“Is that blood on your—”

“Ate a cat,” she said loudly. She shook her head. “Timmy!”

No, the cat wasn’t named Timmy. Timmy was their fourth, but based on the squeaky quiver of Carissa’s head, he wasn’t coming. When she moved, she reminded Don of Oz’s Tin Man. He made a joke one year about bringing an oilcan, but Carissa wasn’t good with jokes.

“Oh, shucks.” With some finesse, Don folded his detached arm over his chest. “What’s the matter with Timmy?”

“Ate him.”

“You ate Timmy?”

Carl said, “Fruuuu.”

Carissa nodded and pointed to Mill Avenue.

Don sighed. “Well, he was dead already. Let’s go, team!” He lifted his detached arm like a baton, and off they walked … or rather, stumbled, up the loose rock path of Tempe Town Lake and toward the lively, glittering streets of the city.

As expected, people were decked out. Those kids really looked dead. Everywhere Don looked, college students were covered in fake blood. Their healthy, glowing skin was painted in mottled shades of gray, green, and purple. It did his dead heart good to see the youth of his country standing up united for a cause.

Carl started up his usual routine. He walked around on the tips of his toes, arms extended in front of him. He growled and clicked his teeth together. Carissa chewed on one of her own fingers until it broke off. She swallowed it.

Don was no slouch either. He loved swinging his arm around, shaking it in kid’s faces. They loved it! They laughed, applauded, until Don took a bow. He needed Carl’s help to stand up straight when one of his vertebrae cracked. Maybe he was showing his dead age more than he thought, but hell, rotting flesh just ain’t that malleable.

He stepped in when a tall guy in a torn football uniform started talking up Carissa and she tried to bite his arm.

“No,” Don said.

Carissa lolled back and forth on her heels, glassy eyes forever open.

“No,” he said again, but the football guy didn’t seem offended. He even tucked Carissa’s would-be snack around her shoulders.

“You guys look amazing,” the kid said. “Love the zombie bride thing. Let me buy you,” he pointed at Don, “a beer.”

“Well, son, that is mighty kind of you, but—” He choked when he felt a tickle in the back of his throat. He hacked until he got the beetle up and spat on the sidewalk. “Jesus, them critters.” He wiped his mouth, using his disembodied hand like a handkerchief.

Carl wandered up from behind and hit him soundly on the back until one of Don’s eyes popped out.

“Shit, Carl,” he said. He knelt down to search the pavement, and by the time he’d popped the thing back in, Carissa was covered in the football kid’s blood. Don shouted and dragged her off his throat. “Damn it! You guys don’t know how to have fun anymore.”

Carissa kept fighting to get back to the kid’s mangled body, but Don held her until her head popped off in his hand, which didn’t deter her body from its continued motion—although, without a mouth, munching was a futile endeavor. He shook her head in his hand and pointed at her with the other, which wasn’t so much a point as a limp wave of his dead-arm wrist.

“We’re going home,” he said. “Carl!”

“Nung?”

“Yes, home.” He dragged Carissa’s body up by the back of her once-white wedding gown and shoved her head against her neck. She lifted her bloody hands to hold it in place and frowned at him. “This is not my fault,” he told her. “If you can’t behave like a civilized dead person, we won’t be having any fun. Now, let’s go, both of you.”

Carl and Carissa followed Don back to the lake’s edge like pecking chickens, occasionally breaking from the path to grab at chipmunks and birds, although the birds usually got away.

At the edge of the lake, Don pointed at his so-called friends. “You’re not invited next year.”

Carl gesticulated as if to say, “What did I do?” Another of his fingers fell off and landed in the nearby black water with a quiet plop.

“Nope.” Don shook his head. “I won’t have this sort of behavior. We can’t go around eating people, just perpetuating a stereotype. No, sirs, I won’t stand for it. Y’all just stay underground next October, you hear me? I’ll make some new friends, damn it.”

Carl at least had the presence of mind to look forlorn—maybe. It was hard to tell with his papery skin, but his shoulders did sag some. Carissa, though, lifted her bloody head from her neck and shook it in Don’s face before moaning and wandering off under the bridge.

Don sighed. “I’m sorry, Carl.”

“Donnnnnn.”

“All right, you can come back next year, but no eating people.”

Carl nodded.

Don tapped his amputated arm against his thigh. “You know what? We should hit some fraternity parties. Would you like that, Carl?”

Carl said, clearly, “Yes.” See, he had his moments.

“Let’s do it!” Don trundled ahead, knowing Carl followed due to the stomp-drag sound that was his familiar walking cadence. Together, they explored the night, wowing party people and making pretty girls squeal. Don knew he was a bit old for the late night college scene, but he figured, why not? He would sleep when he was deader.

(Winner of The Traveler Fiction Contest, 2nd Place.)

I’m the featured speaker at Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week

For the past month, I’ve been weaning off my anxiety meds—little blue pills that have been my crutch for six years. Meanwhile, University of Arizona called and asked me to fly to Tucson to be their featured speaker at Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the reasons I started taking anxiety pills was due to my fear of being in public. The irony is not lost on me.

So why on Earth did I agree to speak in front of God knows how many complete strangers in the Arizona desert? Honestly, I was pleased as punch with the theme. My contact at the university informed me that they want my speech to be funny, happy, and cheerful. Instead of bemoaning my depression and PTSD, they want me to talk about not just surviving mental illness but thriving despite it.

treeApparently, I’m the poster child for this thriving thing, which is surprising to me as I currently battle drug withdrawal, insomnia, and depression. I don’t feel like I’m thriving right now. I feel like I’m drowning. Despite my head being underwater this week, however, I sort of see what Arizona means.

Despite my social anxiety, I attend book conferences and speak on panels. (People actually consider me charming and funny at these things. I find this shocking.)

Despite my depression, I continue to write and work. I go to the gym and beat up weight machines. I cook dinner for my husband even when my appetite is gone, and I laugh at ridiculous things even when my heart hurts.

Despite my PTSD triggers (never walk up behind me when I’m sitting at my desk), I create. One of my friends recently called me the most prolific writer she’s ever seen—probably because I write to combat my mental illness.

I now have a speech to write. I need to talk about what it feels like to have a mental illness. I need to discuss treatments and techniques to manage. I need to put a positive spin on all the bad stuff, and even though it’s hard to be positive when you’re not sleeping, it’s possible. Anything’s possible.

On March 30, I will stand at the high tide of University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week, completely terrified to be the center of attention. I will share my story, though, which is something I’ve never been scared of. I’ve always been open about my illnesses, because demystifying a taboo steals its power. I will be funny, I hope. I will be honest. I’ll also be free of anxiety pills for the first time in several years.

Part of thriving is acknowledging our problems. We can’t hide behind mental illness. We can admit to it and move on. As I told a friend recently, “Slay the day.” Even if you’re terribly sad. Even if you’re scared to leave the house (or fly to Tucson, for that matter). Even if you’re just too tired. Don’t just survive … but thrive.

(Photo of me by Bill Thornhill Photography.)

The Wrong Christians

love

I’ve heard the phrase “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Usually, this is in regards to teenagers hanging out with kids who drink, smoke, and cuss. Usually, this refers to people who are a bad influence. It wasn’t until recently that I realized there’s such a thing as “hanging out with the wrong Christians.”

As a practicing Christian, I realize I’m not the poster child of morality. I drink, smoke, and cuss, for instance. I also write gay and straight erotica. I have a terrible temper, and I do not “Let the little children come to me,” like Jesus said. (No. Really. Keep the children away from me.)

As an educated Christian, I realize we don’t all hold to the same doctrine. We differ in our beliefs due to Biblical interpretation and denominational guidelines. I understand this, but I did think we all had one thing in common: LOVE.

I don’t know about your god, but mine is loving. For example, Psalm 36:7 says, “How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of Your wings.”

I attended a Bible study recently (not at my own church, praise the Lord) that made me feel anything but loved. Instead, I felt sick.

Some gems from said Bible study included:
Homosexuals can’t be Christians.
Women shouldn’t be pastors.
Although unrelated, Halloween and meditation are both quite evil.

As a gay rights supporter, woman, and Halloween enthusiast, you can understand my distress. I sat through said Bible study silently because I understood these teachers were not “my Christians.” These were people with differing opinions than my own, and we will never agree.

Their teaching almost made me decide to quit my current ministry efforts because I didn’t want to work with these “wrong Christians” (not that they’re wrong in their beliefs, because who am I to judge? Their beliefs are just wrong for me. Very, very wrong).

However, when I got home yesterday after Bible study, I explained my concerns to Jake. Brilliant man that he is, he pointed out that I have to continue my ministry so that I can preach my God—a God of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

My husband really is a smart guy. Saturday night, he had a dream that the apocalypse came and God chose a select group of humans to basically restart civilization. The conversation Sunday morning went something like this …

Sara: Well, I’m pretty sure God would never choose someone as messed up as me to restart civilization.

Jake: Actually, He would pick people exactly like you. Look at how messed up all the heroes were in the Bible.

Sara: Oh. Right. Huh.

God doesn’t only care about perfect people. He doesn’t only care about people who follow all His rules or people who point fingers at sinners. He doesn’t only care about the non-drinkers, non-smokers, non-cussers. He cares about everyone, and He cares forever.

Christian author Jim Burns said, “God loves you not for what you do but for who you are. You never need to earn God’s love. He loves you because you are His special creation. Because of God’s unconditional love, you are free to blossom into all He wants you to be. His love has no strings attached.”

Now, that’s a Bible study I can get behind! As we enter a new week—a new dreaded Monday—I think it’s time we remembered to love. Love each other. Love God. Love life, even when it’s ugly and messed up. Even when we’re ugly and messed up.

My mom quoted the Book of Matthew to me this morning: “Live as the light that you are.” My light might be tinted purple and flicker sometimes, but yeah, I plan to live brightly, surrounded by people who “get me” and love me, despite all my mistakes, imperfections, and f-bombs.