Mickey vs Maria: Clash of the Screamers

Guest Post by Maria Zannini

There are two things all writers must possess. Nerves of steel and thick skin.

Having been an artist most of my adult life, thick skin is a job requirement, but now, gentle reader, I have proof positive that I also have nerves of steel.

Twenty miles from where I live there’s a five mile long bridge that spans both land and water. Once you get on there’s no place for you to stop. If there’s an accident on the bridge, you can kiss your appointments goodbye because everything grinds to a halt.

Recently, I was on my leg home from a long road trip and traffic was a mess by the time I reached the bridge.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of movement. I glanced over to the passenger seat but nothing seemed amiss. Traffic was getting rough now. Lots of brake lights and angry horns. Big rigs are jockeying for position as we lose one more lane of asphalt. The bridge is so thick with cars, I decide to move to the far right lane so I won’t miss my exit two miles ahead.

Again something moved at the periphery of my vision. This time I saw what it was.

A little gray mouse was scampering between the seats and up the stick shift in the center of the console.

I think I swallowed my tongue at that point. I kept glancing down at the mouse and then back at traffic. Mouse. Traffic. Mouse. Traffic. There was absolutely no place for me to pull over.

Even if there was, what was I going to do? Order the mouse to vacate my car? He had claws and teeth, and I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like there was an agent contract in his little paws. I had to ride it out.

My hands clenched around the steering wheel until my DNA imprinted on the leather cover. Mickey eyeballed me with those black button eyes. The mouse then leapt from the stick shift to the dashboard, bumping and grinding to the music blaring from the speaker. That mouse had cojones the size of Gibraltar, but I was not to be outdone.

I still had two miles to go before I could get off and traffic was SLOWING down. I glared at Mickey. “Okay, mouse. You don’t come any closer and I don’t drive us off the bridge.” I was bluffing of course, but he didn’t know that.

When my exit came up I hit the accelerator like Mario Andretti. Police usually patrol that part of the feeder road, but I didn’t care. If they were going to arrest me, I’d insist they put that mouse in handcuffs too.

I jumped out of the car as soon as I reached the first parking lot. Doors flew open and I banged on the seats with the flat of my hand, yelling at the mouse to scram. A smart person would have put me on YouTube. I was a crazy woman yelling at an invisible mouse.

Two men from the nearby Home Depot walked toward me, but I wasn’t about to wait around and explain that I was trying to pawn off a rodent on their property.

I jumped back in my car and took off. I still had another twenty miles before I reached home, me all the while checking the floorboards and listening for any telltale mousey sounds.

Once home, I almost dismantled the car piece by piece, cursing at the mouse in three different languages—one of which I made up.

Mickey was gone. And I am alive to tell you this tale. Hallelujah!

So how are your nerves? Would you scream if a mouse scampered up your car’s radio—or would you just change the station?

***

Maria Zannini’s latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS.

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she’s stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

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Tips for Avoiding Total Disaster as a Novelist

By Kris Saknussemm

The problem with “should” advice is that it’s either something you already know, i.e., your diet should include more fruit and vegetables than cheeseburgers and martinis—or it’s something really difficult (like consuming more fruit and vegetables than cheeseburgers and martinis). Based on my own stumbling, fumbling experience, I offer the following list of things I would strongly advise aspiring and despairing writers not to do. I doubt that simply by avoiding these pitfalls you will be guaranteed international fame and fortune, but I’m confident that you will at least escape many unnecessary frustrations and defeats, so that you can be fresh for the really poignant failures and setbacks that will either make or break you—and with any luck will do a bit of both.

Tip #1. Do not spend years gathering interesting material—odd quotations, overheard remarks, colorful phrases, bits of trivia, weird statistics, and obscure facts in the hope that you will one day find a story to contain them. I ended up with a figurative warehouse of such stuff and I can tell you now with considerable confidence that the larvae of the human botfly bore into the skin and gorge themselves, emerging as centimeter-long maggots, while a Joshua Hendy nine-thousand horsepower steam turbine delivers a cruising speed of 16 knots at 78 rpm. There is nothing wrong in knowing that if left underwater for years brass gives off a bright verdigris stain or that the first birds of paradise shipped back to Europe had their legs chopped off to facilitate packing, but the collection of details is like any acquisitive habit—potentially obsessive. You can end up with a novel that reads like the Gospel according to St. Matthew translated into the Duke of York Island language and a response from the publishing industry reminiscent of a deserted poolroom on the shore of Sheepshead Bay. Put bluntly, burn your notebooks and clear your head.

Tip #2. Do not spend years experimenting with different forms of writing and various intellectual follies such as cut-ups and verbal collages, intricate multiple person narratives, dream stories, recipe books, anatomies, imaginary academic theses, and the like. Yes, it’s true that some of the world’s most interesting literature has elements of these forms—but that was then and this is different. If you are serious about getting a work of fiction published today you need quick, sharp answers to the following questions: In what section of a bookstore or retailer’s website will your book be found? Which authors can your work be likened to? What’s your novel about in three sentences or less?

Tip #3. The Puritans believed in covering the body for modesty’s sake. Yet they developed a sexualized fascination for the ears of women and the noses of men. My point? (See Tip #1) In apparent restriction there is unexpected release. Dickens created over 800 individual characters and laid down some of the most intense cultural satire in English—but his writing really came into focus when Wilkie Collins hipped him to the detective story. I struggled for years trying to find a form for my writing, flitting around like a Ulysses butterfly. The moment I gave myself permission to write an action/adventure story, things started falling into place. Modern art has provided artists with unparalleled and some might argue paralyzing freedom. Don’t waste time trying to create a new form. It’s given to very few people in any medium to do that—and many of their achievements end up looking like legless birds of paradise later. A seemingly simple repetitive musical style like the blues has proven capable of expressing the full spectrum of human experience and has inspired countless variations and mutations. Give yourself over to an established structure and follow its guidelines, and suddenly interesting points will emerge to surprise you.

Tip #4. Read your work aloud, ideally to some willing victim, but at least to yourself. Storytelling began as an oral form and the ear (however erotically appealing) has a trueness to it that will reveal what’s working and what’s not in a more immediate and decisive way than simply scanning the page. This discipline will also slow you down psychologically and bring you into more intimate contact with your story. In the end, it will take no more time than reading back a page silently.

Tip #5. Ignore all reasonable sounding advice like “write about what you know,” “read as much as you can,” or “try to write every day.” If you need to hear this advice you are in the wrong game. But more important, reasonableness won’t get the job done. One day in an ice-stricken back alley in Boston, I saw a fat little Irishman beat the daylights out of four larger, stronger assailants. When it was over, and it was over astonishingly quickly, he brushed himself off and said simply, “I had to get unreasonable with ’em.”

Unless you are willing to face the unreasonable in yourself—unless you are willing to entertain some strange notions (and deal with them when they stick around)—unless you are willing to get lost, confused, and even terrified—then what you’re doing won’t have any meaning. The famous device of conflict upon which all stories are supposed to hinge starts within the writer. You are all the characters in your dreams and so too with a novel. You can’t put your creations into jeopardy or into embarrassing or miraculous situations without going there yourself, and that is not a sensible ambition for a grown person to have. As a writer who has made more mistakes than most, my goal above all else is to be very, very unreasonable.

Cover of Kris Saknussemm's novel Private MidnightKris Saknussemm grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but has for a long time lived abroad, in the Pacific Islands and Australia.  A painter and sculptor as well as a writer, his fiction and poetry have appeared in such publications as The Hudson Review, The Boston Review, The Antioch Review, New Letters and ZYZZYA. You can find  Kris Saknussemm on the Web at krissaknussemm.comKris Saknussem has  an Amazon author page