Hurricane Lamps

Note: I wrote this story for a challenge in a writer’s group. We were given three words to incorporate into a short story. The words? Martian, Hurricane, and Gorgeous.

Hurricane Lamps

He sat and waited, looking at his ticket. One-oh-seven: he was next.

“These chairs aren’t good for my back,” the old man next to him said. “What number are you? I’m one-twenty.”

He held his ticket up for the old man to view. “It didn’t take too long.”

“Bah. I got a metal ball in my hip. You know. From the war?” He shifted his hip and patted his buttock for effect. “Right there. Every time I go to the airport, they get me. Swarm all over me with their damn electric rods like Martians, beeping and clicking and probing. Pain in the rump.”

The younger man leaned back, and the old man leaned toward him as if pulled by string, breathing heavily. The breath wafted across number one-oh-seven, and he pressed his lips together. “Mm-hmm,” he said, nodding. Nodding and looking for an escape. But there was none. Just the horrible, stiff chairs and the waiting that came with them.

“So, filing a claim? Did you get robbed? I got robbed. Last week. Bastards took my Mother’s antique goldware set.” The old man waved some papers. “They broke three windows. Three! Why in hell did they have to break three of my windows?”

The young man shook his head. “That’s too bad.”

“They broke my hurricane lamps, too. We got those as a wedding gift.” The old man frowned and patted his thighs. “My Mazie’s been dead for ten years, God bless her.”

“Wow, yeah. Hurricane lamps. They must have been pretty.”

“Ha. Pretty.” The old man nodded some, and chewed his lip.

In the background, an intercom called number one-oh-seven. As the young man stood to go, the older one grabbed his arm.

“They weren’t pretty, son. They were gorgeous.”


I don’t have friends. Not friends that you can put your hand on, not real ones. Not “meat” friends. I have my friends online, in the ether, where they are at a safe distance. They can’t hurt me so much that way. I can run faster than they can, right?

So making a flesh-and-blood friend is a pretty rare event for me. So rare I can count on my fingers the number of times it’s happened…ever. Ever, as in not just this week or this month, not just “oh I haven’t made a friend in a while” or “gee, I only made five friends since I left school” but ever, as in “I haven’t trusted ten people in my entire fucking life.”

People I ask over for dinner and I actually look forward to it, people I really want to see. People I trust. Everyone has some, you know. Some people have more than others. I guess it’s just a way of life for some people, to welcome new friends with open arms. But I’m socially phobic, and so riddled with anxiety it’s pretty hard for me to even look people in the eye. (If I ever looked you calmly in the eye, congratulations. You may be one of seven or eight people I ever trusted.)

Yesterday someone I trusted stole my medication. From my medicine cabinet. Where it was tucked away behind the baby powder. I know it was yesterday, because I only filled the prescription the day before that. And I have a pretty good idea who it was, because – not trusting many people to visit – I had only one set of visitors in the house since I filled the prescription.

It was a prescription my dentist gave me to ease the anxiety of an upcoming dental visit. I don’t lie to my doctor to get extra meds; I ask for what I need because I really need it. There were four pills. Now there are two.

In addition to that, half of my husband’s medication is missing from the kitchen. And, as is the case with me, he doesn’t take it for fun.

I don’t have friends.

Now I remember why.



Customer Service Failures: How To Make A Bad Hotel Review Much Worse

2015-07-11 06

The Balcony

Years ago, I was bad with customers. I didn’t “get” it. I thought when a customer complained, it was a fight you had to win – not a truth you had to accept. I couldn’t open my eyes to see the truth of the customer’s complaint, because I took it too personally. I argued back. I argued when I was right, and I argued when I was wrong. And I made the company I worked for some life-long enemies before I figured it out. Before I finally internalized the goal of the company, which should be the goal of every company: to make the customer glad they came to you. Once I saw the light, I embraced it. Customer service is a game, and it’s easy when you know the rules. When you know the rules, you come out a champ every time. The rules are all simple, and the simplest one is the one that’s easiest to break. Rule number one: don’t argue with the customers. Really. Just don’t do it. Here is what happens when you do.

Outside Our Room

Outside Our Room

Today I’m going to talk about an idiot who doesn’t understand customer service, and also apparently doesn’t know much about the hospitality business, either. I’m going to talk about the Indian Hills Inn in Taos, which was where I spent a yucky couple of nights.

Now, for those who don’t know Taos, it’s… well, it’s Taos. It’s full of rich people being artists and rich artists being people. It’s full of movie stars. It’s beautiful, Taos. It’s like Santa Fe but better. Smaller, richer, cooler. I can’t say enough nice things about Taos. So we went up there for a mini-vacation. Just to spend a weekend not here in Albuquerque, and ride some horses, and walk around the plaza. You know.


Beautiful Decay

We got to our hotel and I could tell immediately from the looks of the place we were in for a rough stay. The front of the place looks really adorable and quaint. The back, however, looks like something from a war zone. It’s absolutely falling apart at the seams. And the stairs were scary, like something in a horror movie right before some toothless maniac grabs you and turns you into a piece of artwork.

There was no remote control for the television, and when we went to call the front desk about that, the phone didn’t work. (It was unplugged, and the cord was rolled up and stuck behind the bed.)

I'm Not Kidding

I’m Not Kidding

Ok. Fine, these things happen. No biggie. We found it and got it plugged in and called about the missing remote. Front desk says sure thing, be right up, and maybe fifteen minutes later, there she is. With a remote that she’s taped batteries into because the battery cover is gone. Ah… alright, whatever. The television works. I don’t whine too much about things like that generally.

Shortly, I found other things to whine about. The chairs, for example. They were covered in black stains. Just covered in them. I didn’t want to put my things on them, but I didn’t want to put things on the floor either, as it was also covered in

One of the Chairs

One of our Chairs

stains. I piled all my things on my suitcase. I took a shower. In the bathroom, there was a plunger with toilet paper stuck to it from a previous use. Also a huge gloppy wad of mystery stuff that apparently was used to fill a hole in the floor. But at least the shower was nice and hot. (Hey, I give credit where it’s due.)

The Glop

The Glop

The sheets weren’t white – they were this odd brown speckly pattern. Looking closer, I decided this was intended to hide stains. It didn’t work; there were tons of stains. Which was disgusting. The sheets were also full of holes. (I counted four holes before I quit looking.)

Ah, but wait. There’s more! The light fixture in the bathroom was missing a bulb, and it had a good eighth of an inch of dust on top of it. And the counter looked pretty clean, but on closer

Hot Mess On Light

Blow It Off?

inspection, the sides were dirty; all along the edge where the sink meets the wall was sticky and covered in dust. There were black stains all over the carpet in the bathroom area, and in the hallway area, and by the bed. And on the wall.

Oh, well… it’s cleaner than my bathroom probably. I mean, I paid this place to be a hotel and all. I sort of expect it to be really clean.

But fine, I’ll live. It’s my vacation, just blow it off, right?

Filth From Mirror

Filth From Mirror

But then I couldn’t sleep. The sheets I was trying to ignore didn’t feel clean. They felt gritty. I got out of bed six times to check for bedbugs, too. You know how it is, you feel the place is dirty (because it is) and then your skin keeps crawling and you keep jumping… well. I finally got to sleep. There was no alarm clock.

No clock at all. No hairdryer. No vent in the bathroom. The A/C unit looks like someone took a hammer to it. Amenities galore, yeah?


Sticky Sink

I got up in the morning and took another shower. We went out for several hours. When we got back the room had not been cleaned, and the tip we had left for the housekeeper was untouched. We went out again. Still no service. A little after 4pm, we called the front desk to ask when the housekeepers would come with clean sheets and towels. The woman said we were listed as having especially requested no service.

Well, that’s not true, obviously. Mixup. Ok, fine. Fine. They will send someone “right up.” 45 minutes later, they still hadn’t come. So, unshowered (no dry towels, remember), we went out for dinner, and we stopped at the front desk to tell them we were going out and it would be a good time for housekeeping.

Lovely Paint Job

Lovely Paint Job

We waited patiently for almost ten minutes for our turn at the desk. The lady said “Oh, our housekeeper had an emergency and had to leave early, that’s why your room wasn’t cleaned. I’ll try to send someone in a little bit.”

Dirty Plunger!

Dirty Plunger!


We Can See How Nice It Is From Here

This made us angry, because it was obvious bullshit. My husband said the room was disgusting and he wished we had stayed somewhere else. That prompted the other woman at the counter to say, “Well, it IS the older building!” As though they get a free pass for dirty sheets and broken remotes because the building is old. As though we asked for extra filth with our ancient building experience. Then the first lady said if we weren’t happy we could just go stay somewhere else. The other one said it was a perfectly nice room and we were complaining for no good reason. (“You didn’t get a bad room,” she said, and glared at me. “It’s nice.”)

So my husband told the first woman there were big stains on the chairs. When she blew that off he told her there were stains on the floor and the place was filthy and we were just asking for normal service and with this attitude she was copping, did she actually WANT us to go stay somewhere else?

One of Many Stains

One of Many

Then the woman said, “Well, which is it? You said there were stains on the chairs, but now you’re saying it’s the floor.”

I blew up. At the top of my voice (if you know me, you know how strident I can be) I announced: “There are stains on the floor AND the chairs. And the wall. There are holes in the chairs, there are holes in the carpet, there are stains on the wall and stains on the sheets and the sheets are also full of holes and the place is filthy!” I drew breath to continue but they cut me off with, “Fine, fine we will send housekeeping.”

Here's Another

Here’s Another

So they sent someone while we were at dinner. (I didn’t want to go; I was afraid to leave them alone with my luggage at this point, but we were really hungry, so we went.) “Housekeeping” changed the sheets. They took the dirty towels. They did not leave new towels. They did not leave shampoo packets. I use the term “housekeeping” because I think it was just this guy that they had sitting out front all the time. The guy probably spit on my underwear. That’s how much faith I have in him as a housekeeper. When we called down for towels, this is the guy who showed up with them and handed them to me with a grunt. Yep. That was our housekeeper. Grunt guy didn’t bring shampoo this time either, and I didn’t want to wash my hair badly enough to call again. (Now I know why they hide the phone cord.)


I Can Do This All Day (aka: Look At That Patch Job!)

The curtains were all jacked up and wouldn’t close, and there was no screen, so flies and bees flew in and out, and people saw me naked. And even after “housekeeping” came, there was still old toilet paper stuck to the plunger. None of the dirt ever went away. I only know they changed the sheets because the stains on them (and holes in them) changed positions. For all I know they might just have moved them from one bed to the other. I’m glad I didn’t have a blacklight available to see anything else. God, I can only imagine.

So before we checked out, we took some pictures. You know, if the staff hadn’t been such

Drippy Wall Stains

Drippy Wall Stains

assholes about it, we wouldn’t have bothered. But we did, we took pictures all over. Allllll over. And when we got home, Paul reviewed the place on every site he could find, including the Facebook page for this crap hotel.

And then the owner proved it’s not just his employees who are idiots – he’s the biggest idiot around.

Fine Furniture

Fine Furniture


He posted some bullshit in return about how we were only unhappy because they hadn’t “allowed” us to check out early.

We never asked to check out early. We asked only for our sheets and towels to be clean. It’s just that we had to ask about this so many times, apparently the girl assumed we’d have been happy to leave. (We would have been. I’d have slept better in my car. I know my car doesn’t have bedbugs.)

Who Needs Housekeeping?

Who Needs Housekeeping?

Then the hotel posted a whole post about how they got a bad review and it was all lies, how we had “bulled” our way in front of all the nice guests just so we could make a big stink for no reason, and how people are always asking for this room in particular because it’s so nice. And when we replied with the actual truth, they deleted our posts and blocked us from the page.

Behind the Bed. (Pills!)

Behind the Bed. (Pills!)

So now I’m blogging about it, telling people all over the world about this shitbox hotel they should avoid if they ever get to Taos.


Hoses as Landscaping

You should get to Taos. It’s very nice. Just don’t stay at this place. There are dozens of hotels in Taos and I doubt there are any worse than this one.

For the idiot hotel owners of the world, here’s a tip: Don’t argue with customers in public. It only makes you look like the idiots you are. Especially when we have pictures of your shitbox to show everyone we know – and a ton of people we don’t know – all around the world. You can delete me from your page, but you can’t delete me from mine. And you won’t so easily scrub away the reviews we left on Orbitz, Yelp, Trip Advisor, and every other place we could find. Replete with pictures such as you see here, and more.


Outside The (Dirty) Window

All you had to do was say, “Sorry, we will take care of the room as soon as possible,” without rolling your eyes. All you had to do was listen to our complaint. (For fuck’s sake, idiots, go look at the room. No way in hell people are special-ordering that craphole. Quit deluding yourself.) All you had to do was accept our complaint and move forward. But instead you are trying to pretend we just made it all up and your hotel is gorgeous.


Well, it’s not gorgeous. And here are the pictures to prove it.

Can I Request The Room With The Broken AC Unit?

Can I Request The Room
With The Broken AC Unit?


The City Different

The City Different. So Very Different.

I recently held a book signing event in Santa Fe, and it was…horrible. I wasn’t expecting to sell a zillion books, or even a dozen… but it would have been nice to sell a couple. I mean… I sold three in Ruidoso for God’s sake, without any advertising at all! Right? So surely if I make up posters and advertise it in advance, surely I can do better than that in Santa Fe! I can sell four books, maybe even five. Ha, so I thought. I was a fool.

Paul went up there three weeks ahead of time to take them books and beautiful color posters and bookmarks and postcards (all customized for the bookstore) advertising the book signing. The woman was very encouraging, said it was a shame he’d only brought 22 books with him because she thought they could use more, had him sign a consignment sheet, said she’d advertise the event on her website, and Paul left feeling quite pleased about the whole thing. Sure, it was a long drive, but it was worth it!

Well, they advertised it on their website as a book discussion, not a signing. And they got the name of the book wrong, which seemed pretty stupid of them, considering they had 22 of them right there and all and it’s a pretty simple title. Watch, right? How can you get that wrong? (They had it as Match.) But whatever, I was excited. I’d had all those beautiful books there on consignment and with the review in the Alibi and the interview in the magazine plus my appearance in the Literary Review, I figured at least people would have been showing some interest. Maybe even bought one or two.

When I walked in for the signing, I saw a woman arranging clearance-priced books in a box by the door and chatting with a customer who was browsing. He had a little dog, which I petted while I waited a turn to speak with the woman and ask where I was meant to sit. She looked at me with my hands full of more posters and postcards, smiled… and walked away.

I decided perhaps she wasn’t the one to ask, and I went further inside. They have two counters, and I approached the young man behind the one in front. Oh, yes, he says. We’ve been expecting you! Come with me. He leads me to the first woman and tells her I am there. She says oh, great! I will show you where we have set up for you.

…And then she walks past me and starts talking to the dog. Good little doggie. Yes, you are so cute. What a cute little doggie. And then she turns her back and starts talking to the man with the doggie. And forgets all about me, apparently.

The young man stood with me and sort of hemmed and hawed and eventually said he would take me himself, and leads me to an area with three low-slung reading chairs (in which are slung some readers) and says this is the place. Or I can stand behind the counter and speak. Well, I say, I don’t have much to speak about – I am just here to sign books, so I’d probably just sit by the display of books. At this, he says: Oh, yes. Those are over here… and reaches underneath the counter to pull out the box of books I’ve had there all month on consignment – along with all the posters, postcards and bookmarks advertising the event. They never put any of them up. They didn’t display anything.

Then he drags a little table over by the low chairs (the readers left) and tell me to have at it.

And that was it. Paul says ok, well this sucks, see you later and he takes off and I sit in this chair that pitches you back in a relaxed reading position, and people ignore me completely because they assume I am just there to relax – it doesn’t look like an event at all. I’m about four feet away from the books, for one thing. Behind me, forgotten and flapping in the breeze, several handmade posters advertising book signing events from weeks gone by.

The impression that I was just a customer who was resting my feet for a while was compounded when an aunt I haven’t seen in 30 years came in to show support and sat low with me and chatted. Now it looked really, really like I was in no way connected to the funny little display of books on the low table. In the dark corner. Of this dusty and weird little bookstore. Eventually my aunt decides she should buy one of the books.

Remember watching little girls take turns at jump rope back when you were a kid? How the girl whose turn it is has to bob and sway for a few swings to get the rhythm of the rope in her head before she jumps in? She holds her hands up and swings them in circles to get the timing right? That’s what it was like, watching my aunt try to buy this book. She approached the counter and the woman walked away. The woman came back, but turned away the minute my aunt held up the book. My aunt gave me a confused look and then followed the woman all over the store, trying desperately to get her attention, but she evaded every attempt. Finally Aunt Patient returned to the seat next to mine, there to sit and chat for a while and await a better chance.

While we sat and chatted I discovered this aunt used to do this for a living and has contacts at the competition and I should have held my signing there because it’s a much more popular bookstore, much more fashionable, very very Santa Fe, etc… but of course it is now too late, too late: they won’t even allow me in the same room once they know I came to this store instead. I explain that I did try that store but they made me fill out a two page application and never returned our calls, and Aunt says oh yes, they are very very, you know, so very. But I could have gotten you in, if I’d known, she says, and returns to the front to try again to buy a book, does the bobbing and swaying again; Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella… aha, finally, she jumps in!

And the woman says… Oh, Jesus, she says: No, no…just give the author cash, I don’t want to run it through the register. I don’t want a percentage. I don’t have to do any paperwork that way. That’s how we prefer to do it. Well, I think, no wonder the books were under the counter. She didn’t want to sell them. She literally didn’t want to do the paperwork involved in taking the money.

So it goes, and my aunt returns to me, and digs through her purse, gives me the last of her cash, and heads off to the competition, the other bookstore, the only other bookstore in town, the popular one, the good one, the one that promotes your work, saying she’s headed there to see, you know… her friends, the owners, and talk about some other event she went to last week. Oh yes she’s over there every week visiting and it’s really such a shame I came here first…

I sit alone in my low chair and weep invisibly. Paul returns to collect me. I pack up the books. Paul tries several times to get the attention of Airhead Bookstore Owner to see if she would like to keep a few of the books on consignment but he isn’t too good at the jumprope thing and eventually I tell him fuck it because they won’t display them anyway, and we leave.

And that was how that book signing went.

Lord, how I hate Santa Fe.




An Interview With Evan Guilford-Blake

evanEvan is one of the other authors under my publisher’s imprint and I really enjoyed his work, so I asked if I could interview him. Here is what he had to say:


So, your book, American Blues, was recently published by Holland House books, is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit about how that came to be?

Pure serendipity. I saw one of the publisher’s, Robert Peett, posts on Facebook, contacted him — somewhat tentatively, since what he said interested him literarily — jazz in particular — didn’t include short stories. But I sort-of pitched him, he asked for a sample and liked what I sent. And we went on from there. It took about 18 months but, at long last, it has happened!


I take it you’re an American? Were you surprised to be picked up by a publishing house in the UK?

I am indeed an American. And I was indeed stunned, both when Robert asked to see the book and when he accepted it. I never imagined a non-US house would be interested in what is a very American-themed book.american blues


You seem to focus mostly on short stories. American Blues, for example, is a series of short stories, isn’t that right?

Yes. Several of the stories are connected via locale and/or references to places. I like the short story as a form, though to be frank, I kind of feel like Kafka’s statement: “I consist of literature and am unable to be anything else.” What I write matters less than that I write.
Continue reading

Getting Along

coupleThis is me with my husband. We’ve been married twenty three years. We get along really well; I don’t know what I’d do without him.

Still, about twice a month I end up in an argument with him; I am talking and he is answering and neither of us are getting a thing out of it.

I ramble on about my day, how my boss said this or that, how it made me upset or confused, how I solved an issue, how I need to figure out a problem, talky talky talk, talky talk, chitty chitty, blah blah… and my husband, when he’s on his game, just says “aw” or “oh” or “wow” and then I wind myself down and I feel better. Continue reading

An Interview with Lela Markham

LelaMeet Lela Markham, a writer I know from Authonomy, who will be publishing her fantasy novel soon. I interviewed her about this, and here is what she told me:


Your book, The Willow Branch – Book One of the Daermad Cycle, is coming out in October. This is the first in a series, obviously. How many other books will there be?

Epic fantasy series authors tend toward long-arc storytelling. The Willow Branch started as one really long book that I decided to break into a trilogy, but I ended up with five books drafted and already written material for about half of each.

So, the squishy answer is four books, but probably the series will get longer as I flesh out the later books because I’ve discovered that Daermad (the world where the Willow Branch takes place) is a lot larger than I originally thought. Continue reading

Some People Inherit The Strangest Things

My second book, Watch, is now available on Amazon. Soon, there will be a link here on the sidebar to it, but for now, you can locate it here:


Watch is not a vampire book. I always feel like I need to clarify that in advance because it certainly seems to be about vampires at first. Vampires are all the guy talks aboutWatch - Poster Full… yet that is because Watch is a book about a man who is obsessed with vampires, and the reason for that obsession – and the effect it has had on his family.

So, if you’re looking for a vampire like Dracula or Lestat, you’re out of luck. And if you’re after some sparkly teen idol, you won’t find that here either. What you will find are some real, fucked-up people. That’s the scariest thing about Watch: it could all be true.

Real people are scarier than monsters any day of the week.

Innocence Lost

These are Mung beans. You know… what you make bean sprouts out of.

It took me a while to find them: they don’t sell these just anymungwhere. And then I had to modify a jar to sprout them in.

I put them in and wet them down and they sprouted perfectly! I was so proud of them.

And then I discovered something.

When you’re into plants – I mean, really into plants, like I am, you know: you talk to them, they talk back, that kind of thing – when you’re into plants like that…

It’s damn near impossible to eat them.

How can I take little ittybitty sprouted seedlings, tiny newborn babies, and throw them into a stir fry? Babies I watered lovingly that morning, when – for all they knew – they had their whole lives ahead of them? They were my plants and I, their god. Then suddenly: Wham! Sizzling oil! Roasted flesh! Watching them wilt. Seeing them suffer. Surely that can’t feel good.

And raw on salad? Well… that’s just eating them alive.

I can’t do it. I just…. can’t.

An Interview With W.D. Frank

I recently interviewed writer (and self-professed lunatic) W.D. Frank. Here is what he had to say:

Some have described your work as dark and frightening. How would you yourself  describe it?

That is an excellent question to start off with. It is also a difficult one to answer.

I agree that my work can be dark…and maybe some of it is scary. I know that I write a lot of characters that my readers know would toss them aside like empty banana peels without hesitation. It is probably wise to be frightened by them. Although, fear has never been a consistently present partner of mine. Maybe it is simply whispering to me instead of shouting most of the time, but sometimes I am not sure exactly which emotion is speaking. Is that odd? I suppose it is. Continue reading