Category Archives: Fiction & Essays

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Last Day to Get Just the Three of Us for $0.99

Today is the last day to get my funny sexy romance Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged for just $0.99 for Kindle. As always, the book is FREE with Kindle Unlimited and is also available in audiobook on both Amazon and ITunes.

 

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Last Day to Get “Waiting: A Story of Apocalypse” FREE for Kindle

Today is the last day to download Waiting: A Story of Apocalypse by Craig Reinhardt for FREE for Kindle.

This long short story was originally inspired by the History Channel program Life After People. The premise of the show is not to examine the potential causes of the end of humanity, but rather “what happens to the world we leave behind.”

It’s a fascinating program. It details the fates of our roads, our cities, our buildings, even our family pets and other creatures who depend upon us for a living. It quite often comes to the rather disturbing conclusion that in a pretty short space of planetary time – mere hundreds of years, not thousands – we will be completely forgotten by an Earth that may fare better without us. While in this story I ultimately chose not to focus on the mechanics of the destruction of the trappings of humanity, but rather on what it does to the main character, I think the former offers a world of interesting possibilities for post-apocalyptic literature and I look forward to returning to this subject in the near future.

“Waiting” tells the story of a middle-aged misanthrope who witnesses this degeneration, who lives long enough to see how quickly humanity can fail, how insufficient its infrastructure is in the case of a massive disaster. But what place is there for a person in a world without people?

waiting

Waiting: A Story of Apocalypse FREE for Kindle from 12/26 through 12/30

Waiting: A Story of Apocalypse by Craig Reinhardt will be FREE for Kindle from Monday, 12/26 through Friday, 12/30.

***

This long short story was originally inspired by the History Channel program Life After People. The premise of the show is not to examine the potential causes of the end of humanity, but rather “what happens to the world we leave behind.”

It’s a fascinating program. It details the fates of our roads, our cities, our buildings, even our family pets and other creatures who depend upon us for a living. It quite often comes to the rather disturbing conclusion that in a pretty short space of planetary time – mere hundreds of years, not thousands – we will be completely forgotten by an Earth that may fare better without us. While in this story I ultimately chose not to focus on the mechanics of the destruction of the trappings of humanity, but rather on what it does to the main character, I think the former offers a world of interesting possibilities for post-apocalyptic literature and I look forward to returning to this subject in the near future.

“Waiting” tells the story of a middle-aged misanthrope who witnesses this degeneration, who lives long enough to see how quickly humanity can fail, how insufficient its infrastructure is in the case of a massive disaster. But what place is there for a person in a world without people?

waiting

rudolph-2015

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Critical Analysis

Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its pretty, colorful blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition – 1970s Christmas specials!

Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by singing carols, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at eight pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today. How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.

Yes, because there’s more to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.

 

1. The authority figures are jerks. There’s the nasty coach, who, after Rudolph’s secret is revealed, informs the other children snidely: “From now on, we won’t let Rudolph play in any more reindeer games, right? Right.” Look at Rudolph’s dad, Donner, who forces him to wear a fake nose, which is not only uncomfortable, but wholly undermines Rudolph’s budding self-esteem. “You’ll like it and wear it!” he commands. “There are more important things than comfort. Self-respect!” Consider Clarice’s father, who reaffirms Rudolph’s worthlessness by rejecting Rudolph on sight: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a… with a red-nosed reindeer!” And how about the mean elf-boss, who yells at Hermey and then (illegally) refuses to give him his break until he finishes his work?

And then there’s the big man himself, Santa Claus. Not content with merely trashing the new elf song his pint-sized slaves have spent weeks writing and rehearsing, he quickly turns his temper to the subject of Rudolph. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he tells Donner. For what, we wonder? For siring a red-nosed son? “What a pity – he had a nice take-off, too.” In other words, Santa is so closed-minded that he can’t even consider the possibility of putting someone who’s a little different on his team, no matter how good he is or how much potential he has. It’s the attitude of guys like him that gave rise to the idea of Equal Opportunity Employment.

The message is as clear as a bright red bulb on a foggy winter night. Don’t trust anyone over thirty!

2. The one authority figure who isn’t a jerk is King Moonracer, that good-looking lion. Although he speaks smoothly and with conviction, he is unfortunately an idiot. Every evening he circles the entire earth, collecting toys that no little girl or boy loves, and bringing them to his Island of Misfit Toys. Yet practically the first thing he says to Rudolph on meeting him is, “When one day you return to Christmastown, would you tell Santa about our misfit toys? I’m sure he could find children who would be happy with them.”

Okay, Your Highness, you may seem majestic with your wings and your crown and your cool castle and all, but you need better advisers. You’re telling me that you circle the entire earth every night seeking abandoned toys, but you never once thought to stop off at the North Pole and talk to Santa yourself? Heck, I mean, it’s not even that far – no farther than one can travel by ice floe, at any rate. The misfits may be all right, but the ruler of the misfits… Well, he obviously isn’t roaring with a full mane.

I’m not quite certain about the intended lesson here, though. Is it merely a dig at autocratic rule, or are we being taught that monarchy consists largely of pointless exercises in futility? In either case, it’s none too flattering to the man in charge – and in the end, it’s the brash young upstart who actually solves the problem of the misfit toys.

3. There’s a hint of underlying feminism. When Rudolph goes missing, Donner naturally decides to go out looking for him. “Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, too,” narrator Burl Ives assures us. “No! This is man’s work!” Donner blusters in response. But the days of mindless obedience to one’s husband are passing. “No sooner did the man of the house leave than Mrs. Donner and Clarice decided to go out on their own…” It’s also interesting that all of them – male and females alike – wind up in the cave of the Abominable Snow Monster. The buck, it seems, really was no better equipped to take care of himself than the ladies.

Notice, too, that the women aren’t jerks like the men are, perhaps because they have no actual authority. Why, that Clarice is downright sweet. She doesn’t laugh along with the others; rather, she compels Rudolph to keep his promise to walk her home. She sings to the unfortunate misfit to ease his dejection and pain. She even defends his “deformity,” declaring, “I think it’s a handsome nose! Much better than that silly false one you were wearing.” She’s kind of a forward gal, too. The way she whispers “I think you’re cute!” into Rudolph’s ear just before takeoff practice, the way she nuzzles noses with him on their first date – this is not a doe who is suffering from sexual repression.

Strong, independent, free-thinking females – you can practically see women’s lib being born right in front of your eyes.

4. It’s about coming-of-age. Because there’s no need for Rudolph to actually get rid of his red nose. He just needs to learn to control it. Am I right? The young Rudolph’s “blinkin’ beak” goes off at random, shocking nearby observers with both the shining light and the horrible high-pitched whine that accompanies it. Indeed, his secret is discovered during one such unexpected episode – and worse, he and his friends are almost caught by The Abominable during another. But by the end, Rudolph is flicking that thing on and off on command, and that’s the point at which it becomes useful – even desirable – to Santa and the others.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” Yoda scolds Luke Skywalker, another youngster with unique and special powers. And what about Harry Potter? There’s a story that’s all about learning self-control. Misfit or no, Rudolph, too, must gain mastery over his body and his emotions before he can become a productive member of society.

And that, of course, is the quintessence of growing up.

5. It’s about the growing acceptance of babies born out of wedlock. Surprising, but quite possibly true. Have you ever noticed that Hermey has rounded ears? Strange, isn’t it? Not only is he the only elf who doesn’t like to make toys, he’s also the only one with round ears. Indeed, except for his stature and classy powder-blue attire, he might not be an elf at all. He might even be – gasp – a human!

Of course, among elves, the outcast would naturally be human; the anti-Vulcan, if you will. But why did Rankin and Bass decide not to give Hermey pointy ears? Why did they decide to make him a misfit not just by personality, but also by physical characteristic?

The answer seems obvious. Hermey is – as such children used to be called – illegitimate. Because if Santa and the Missus are the only humans in Christmastown, then where did Hermey get those rounded ears? Hmm, maybe Santa’s a jerk in more ways than we thought; taking advantage of an employee – oh, no, wait. There’s also Yukon Cornelius. Maybe he popped into town one day and decided to pop in on some cute girl-elf’s cottage. Oh, wow. What if Hermey was, in fact, Yukon Cornelius’ son? Think about it – they reunite, escape death, hang out, solve problems together… I may have to compose my very first piece of fan fiction.

There’s no question that the ranks of single mothers grew in the sixties – all that free love was bound to have consequences, after all – and perhaps, in a time in which the term “bastard” still prevailed, Rudolph gently reminded us not to judge the child by the actions of its parents. It’s a lesson that we’ve evidently learned, because look at us today – even our most respected celebrities are having babies without ever getting married, and without having to apologize for it, either. And their children, too, are no longer scorned or held down by society because of their birth; they are quite as likely to succeed in life, perhaps to become celebrities in their own right, or even, if they’re very lucky and study hard, dentists.

 

Programs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are arguably the reason why children of my generation grew up the way we did. Consider the lessons it teaches. Question authority, especially when authority is wrong. Make your own decisions. Judge people by their actions, not by their appearance or their circumstances. Respect those who are different from you. It’s liberal thinking in its broadest, least political sense, and it was born in an era of idealism, in which people really thought it was possible to change the world; in which they truly believed that one person could make a difference.

Rudolph lights the way.

***

Want to share the story of Rudolph? This essay is also available as an eBook on the following sites:

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Beach House

My romantic flash fiction story “Beach House” has been published in Romance Flash:

http://www.romanceflash.com/home-mainmenu-1

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a pretty sad story for a romance, but compared to the first version I wrote, this one’s all flowers and rainbows!

I originally wrote this piece in response to a contest prompt. Stories for the contest were supposed to feature a weathered beach house and a woman placing a key in an envelope. I confess I had quite a bit of trouble coming up with a storyline, and when I finally did, it was a doozy. The basis of the story was essentially the same as in the second version you read above, except that Susan actually is expecting Derek to arrive. However, in order to incorporate the element of the key and the suggested wording, I had to take drastic measures. This was the original (now the alternate) ending:

“The storm had passed when at last she arose; vanished into the house and emerged many minutes later wearing a clean, dry sundress and carrying a light backpack; a weary traveler yearning for rest. Struggling her way over to her favorite spot on the porch, she sat; took two pills from an orange bottle clenched in her fist and swallowed them whole. She tucked the bottle into her bag and then fumbled through its contents until she retrieved a pen and a crisp envelope creased neatly in half. Awkwardly she unfolded it; opened the flap and dropped a shining silver key inside it; the key to the oceanside home that they had once so happily shared. With trembling fingers, she inscribed the stiff white paper with six simple words and left them there for him to read; for him to try to understand.

Sometimes it does hurt to hope.

Hoisting her bag upon frail, fallen shoulders, she tripped clumsily away from the weathered beach house and across the weather-beaten sand, no longer having a point or a destination. No longer having a companion, to walk with her across the beach until the end.”

Now that is a sad story.

Besides being incredibly depressing, that version somehow never felt right to me, but I couldn’t figure out a way to fix it. Finally I had the bright idea of giving it a happy(ish) ending, and voila – my third story in Romance Flash.

Beach House

Rest Stop

Rest StopTwitter

It was hot; Texas-hot, hot like she’d never known. It relieved her to gush forth from the car, to leave the non-air-conditioned enclosure for the open heat, heat that seemed more natural, less oppressive and confining somehow. She looked ruefully down at her body: tank top soaked with great splashes of sweat, denim cutoffs sticking rudely to her skinny thighs. Embarrassing.

Her windshield stood splattered, smashed with insects, unfamiliar enough in their unwrecked form and unrecognizable at all now, their gooey guts of green and yellow speckled and crushed all over everything, everywhere. Resisting the full force of her forearm and the gas-station window-washer, they clung tight to the tempered glass, insistent stowaways for the remainder of her journey.

“Where you headed?” a voice called out.

She glanced up and saw him, an affable-looking man in his late thirties, perhaps early forties, bearing a bit of an accent but no cowboy hat; maybe a local, and maybe not one. There were only two of them there; he had to be speaking to her. She supposed there was no harm in answering.

“California,” she said, bending her elbow again to the window.

“That’s a long way off,” he replied, whistling softly.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed.

He approached her, thumbs tucked into the pockets of his own full-length dungarees, evidently immune to the heat.

“Say, that’s an expensive trip,” he observed. “You, uh — you got enough money to get there?”

Instantly she was on her guard. She circled casually around to the other side of the car, in the direction of the shop and its sleepy attendant. Was he going to rob her? Find out if she had any cash and then knock her down and take it? Instinctively she felt for it with the muscles of her behind, the wallet tucked tightly into her back pocket, crammed into a space too small for its contents, and plastered there now with sweat and fear.

“I think I’ve got enough,” she equivocated, ears burning with the lie.

“You sure?” he prodded encouragingly, penetrating her with moist periwinkle-blue eyes. “Because I, uh, know where you could make some — you know — some extra money. If you needed it.”

So he wasn’t going to rob her; he was offering her a job. The windshield was nearly clean now but she continued scrubbing, pondering the proposal. She wondered what kind of work it would be. Day labor, no doubt. But didn’t people usually want young men for that kind of thing?

He stood smiling kindly, warmly down at her, almost fatherly in aspect. She really could use the money. It had already been two days since she’d eaten. Was saving the rest of it for fuel.

“Thanks,” she said finally, deciding. “But I’m in a hurry; better get going.”

“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” he replied, a hint of pleading in his voice.

“No,” she asserted. “But thank you for the offer.”

What a nice fellow, she thought as she headed back towards the highway. People sure were friendly down here in Texas. They sure were friendly.

* * *

“Rest Stop” is the true story of something that happened to me when I was seventeen. I had run away from my home in Massachusetts shortly after graduation, and now found myself baking in the scorching heat of July in rural Texas. I was supposed to start school at U.C. Berkeley that fall, but since I was still underage and therefore subject to recall if caught, I was understandably anxious about conserving the little money I had, as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be for a kid with no parents, no home, and no local references to find a job. Being mathematically minded, I quite naturally spent the long miles driving in calculating a fairly precise budget, which, once I’d paid for necessities like gas and oil, had little room in it for luxuries like food. And then I stopped at this gas station and here was this wonderful man asking me earnestly if I had enough money to get where I was going or whether I wanted to earn a little extra to tide me over until I arrived safely at my intended destination.

I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was just as naive as the girl in the story. I spent a lot of time traveling alone in the years that followed, and was propositioned numerous times by other equally friendly fellows seeking the company of a young woman for an afternoon or an hour. But this was the first such occasion, and I was so utterly confounded by this man’s incomprehensible behavior that I spent many miles pondering it in my head. Why had this stranger been so inexplicably nice? Who offers money to a girl he doesn’t even know, in exchange for services he isn’t sure she’s qualified to perform? I’d probably driven a good half hour before comprehension finally came roaring into my addled teenaged brain and I understood that I’d come unbelievably close to becoming an unwitting body for hire. At length amusement over the incident replaced my horror, and at least the next time it happened, I was prepared with a polite, “No, thank you, sir.”

* * *

“Rest Stop” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past. You can learn more about it by visiting the book’s webpage or by clicking the image below to be taken to the Amazon details page:

Past and Present

“It was lucky I forgot my keys,” her mother was saying, rubbing the raised scar between her daughter’s thumb and forefinger. “I came back and found you lying in a pool of blood.”

“I don’t remember that,” Gloria answered, astonished that such a noteworthy event had slipped from her mental grasp.

“Well, it was several years ago. You were only five then.”

“How did it happen?” the child inquired curiously, still struggling to picture herself prone in that gruesome pool.

“I don’t know exactly. I think you were playing with scissors. They were those rounded ones they let you use in kindergarten, but somehow you got them in there good.”

An image burst into her mind. The scissors in her right fist, attempting a difficult cut, snapping suddenly towards the web in the crook of her left hand. And then darkness.

“I found them afterwards on the floor. Your sister, of course, was nowhere to be found,” her mother continued bitterly.

Of course not. Her sister, eight years older, was often stuck babysitting her while their mom was at work, and was never very enthusiastic about the job. Gloria had numerous scars from lacerations that had probably needed stitches that her sister had merely slapped a band-aid over.

“An artery runs through there,” her mom was explaining. “That’s why it bled so much.”

She remembered now, what she had been doing. It was the homemade wrapping-paper. She’d taken some of her white lined school paper and drawn pictures on it. Pictures of what? She thought hard. What had the present been for?

Seasonal pictures, that was it. Pictures of Christmas, of fat gift-boxes and skinny stick-figure Santas and reindeer with glowing noses and Christmas trees rife with ornaments that glowed even brighter, crayon yellow and red and orange. Sloppily drawn but carefully colored, and then cut to fit, cut to fit the present itself.

“What was the present?” she asked abruptly.

“What present?” her mom replied, bewildered.

“I was making wrapping-paper. For a present. I think it was for you. I remember now.”

Her mother shook her head. “I don’t know, dear. I don’t remember seeing a package anywhere.”

What had the present been? Something childish, no doubt. A ceramic ashtray, maybe a milk carton with dirt and a single flower growing in it. Funny how she remembered the wrapping-paper but not the present. As if the paper were the more impressive part of the gift. Perhaps it had been.

What had happened to it? There must have been blood all over it. After she’d worked so hard to make it pretty, to make it nice, for it to get all bloody and then disappear without a trace. It was a darned shame.

“I really wish I knew what happened to it,” she said aloud.

“You nearly died, Gloria,” her mother said emphatically, as if her daughter was missing the point of the story.

“But I didn’t,” Gloria answered, equally certain that her mother was missing the point as well.

***

This story is based almost word for word on one of my own childhood memories. I discovered a strange scar between my thumb and forefinger when I was about eight and my mom told me how I had severed an artery with a pair of kindergarten scissors and nearly died. And at that point I realized that I did sort of remember that — that is, I remembered up until the moment of the cut. I was handmaking wrapping paper for a Christmas present — drawings on lined school paper — and somehow sliced my hand open. My mom had already left for work, but she’d forgotten something and came back upstairs to find me “lying in a pool of blood.” That mental image has really stuck with me all these years.

I tried in this piece to put a more positive spin on the memory. As an adult, I understand now that all a parent would see was the blood; the sight of your daughter dying in the kitchen. To the child, however, it was all about the present.

***

“Past and Present” originally appeared in The Avalon Literary Review in August 2013 as the 3rd place winner of their quarterly contest. It is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past, now available in eBook ($2.99) and paperback ($6.99) at retailers worldwide. For more information, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.