New excerpt on The Book page

There’s a new excerpt from the book up  – click here or go to The Book page link in the top right corner to read it. It introduces Gil, who plays an important role in the battle to save or destroy the world. Here’s the beginning of it.

In his natural form, Gil would remind you of nothing so much as a hunk of desert sandstone. You’d have to watch a long time to see him move, but move he did, slowly, steadily, purposefully, always purposefully, which contrasted with his behavior in human form. It was at first the liberation he felt being in a body that could move so much faster, the way its soft but strong muscles responded to his thoughts so immediately, so gracefully, he sought out all kinds of physical experiences; even pain was a joy in some ways, he learned quickly, having moved into the body of a football player who’d been knocked out on the field in a “friendly” game, only it hadn’t been so friendly. Apparently the guy had been kind of a prick, made a few enemies, one or two or three on the other team, and when they tackled him a bit on the rough side, and he’d not expected it, one caught his head at a bad angle and triggered the hematoma that’d been waiting there since the guy was a little kid, it could’ve been any blow that might’ve done it, but it happened in the “friendly”game, and if Gil hadn’t been there, watching and waiting, those guys would’ve experienced what it is like to be responsible for the death of their “friend,” and even though he was a prick , they wouldn’t have felt he deserved that, so it was lucky they were spared. Read more…

Last month’s piece from the book takes place on a flight from Seattle to Europe, and Louie, Our Heroine, finds herself in the middle of an evil alien plot to take over the world. Reluctantly, she tries to help save humankind, mostly as a side effect of trying to save herself.

On the long flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, listening to B.B. King’s Live from the Cook County Jail pour into her ears, Louie remembered the first live concert she attended. She‘d read in the paper that B.B. was coming to Seattle, and decided to buy tickets she couldn’t really afford. She used the excuse of giving them to her then-boyfriend for his birthday, but although he knew who B.B. King was, it was obvious to them both that the gift was really for Louie. Back then she was working at the writing and math tutoring center at one of the local community colleges, making barely above minimum wage, and still dating the wrong kind of guy.

The night of the concert Louie had a crappy day at work. Her boss at the tutoring center was a terminally chipper middle-aged woman named, improbably, Zinnia. Zinnia was always on Louie to improve her manner with the students she tutored. Many of the students who came to the tutoring center were international students who needed help with writing mechanics; Louie liked working with them a lot. But there were always a few American students who just didn’t want to do their own homework, and they treated all the tutors as their personal servants. Louie dreaded seeing one in her queue. Their entitled attitudes put her on edge, and she inevitably wound up snapping at them. Zinnia had an uncanny ability to walk by her little cubicle at the moment some privileged entitled kid would finally push Louie into making a smart ass remark. As a result, Zinnia was always lecturing Louie about her “attitude.” “You collect more flies with honey than vinegar,” Zinnia would say in her sing-song ex-hippie voice. Right, thought Louie, and who wants to excel at collecting flies, anyway? But she bit her lip, because the tutoring gig was all that stood between her and sleeping in her car.

On this day, Zinnia had,with her usual sense of timing, walked by just as Louie let loose on a particularly annoying student. This one, a pretty young blonde, had been rolling her eyes and sighing at every suggestion Louie had for improving her case study on a young coffee company that had just opened its first store in Seattle. “Now in this paragraph, what’s your topic sentence?” Louie had asked. The blonde had replied, “I don’t know, why don’t you just rewrite it for me?”

“Because that would be cheating, not tutoring, and because even if I did, it wouldn’t change the fact that you are as dumb as a bag of hammers,” said Louie just as Zinnia walked by.

“Louie, please come to my office,” chirped Zinnia with a frown.

Crap, thought Louie, I’m in for another lecture. But she followed Zinnia down the hall and stepped into her office. “Close the door, and sit down.” Louie did both.

“Louie, I heard you insult that student.”

“Did you also hear her ask me to write her paper for her?”

“No, but even if she did, that is no excuse for being rude.”

“Even if she did? Don’t you believe me?”

“What I’m saying, Louie, is that it does not matter what she said to you. What matters is that every student who comes to the tutoring center should leave with a smile on their face.”

“His or her face.”

“What?” Zinnia’s chirped a bit less brightly.

Louie sighed. “Every student is singular, so you can’t use ‘their,’ you have to say ‘his or her.’ And face is singular too. You could say ‘all students who come to the tutoring center should leave with smiles on their faces.’ But you can’t say ‘every student’ and ‘their face.'” She paused, but couldn’t help adding the last bit. “It’s wrong.”

Zinnia made a small, tense coughing sound. She leaned forward in her chair.

“Louie, I think you should take the rest of the day off – please reflect it as vacation hours on your time sheet – so that you can come back tomorrow with a better attitude.”

Louie looked at the cat-shaped clock on Zinnia’s wall. It was already four pm, time to go home anyway. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, thought Louie as she left Zinnia’s office.

Traffic had been terrible, and when she finally got home, Louie’s boyfriend hadn’t even changed out of his work clothes.

“Hey, why aren’t you ready?” she asked irritably.

“Ready for what?”

“For the concert – tonight’s B.B. King at the Paramount. For your birthday. Remember?”

“Louie, we have plenty of time.”

“Wrong, the opening act starts in an hour and a half, and you know how hard it is to find parking –”

“No one cares about being there in time for the opening act. Do you even know the name of the band?”

“That’s not the point.” Louie hastened to think of a point. “The point is, if we left now, we could get there in plenty of time and be relaxed for the start of the show. Instead, we’re going to feel rushed, and tense, and –”

“You’re no fun to be around when you’re like this, you know.”

“Like what?”

“When you’re tired, or nervous, you try to control everyone around you.”

“I don’t!”

“You do. You tell me what to wear, when to get dressed, what route to take to the theater – you know you will, when we get in the car. If you had a bad day suck it up and don’t take it out on me.”

And the evening had gone on like that, with Louie picking on her boyfriend, and developing a pounding migraine, until by the time they got to the theatre she thought her head would explode. She knew it wasn’t his fault, and she even wondered if Zinnia had a point. Maybe she had a bad attitude. Maybe she was too judgmental, too controlling, too hard to be around.

When they finally found a place to park, Louie walked from the car to the theater in that kind of stony silence she sank into when she knew she should apologize, but felt too bad about herself to do it. “Okay, all right, we’re here already,” her boyfriend snapped as they headed toward the theatre. She couldn’t respond. “Fine. Don’t say anything. Happy birthday to me, I guess.”

After rushing to get there in time for the opening act, Louie was annoyed to find it was terrible – just a lot of exceptionally loud guitar playing by some young skinny kid who let his hair hang around his face and didn’t say a word to the crowd. In return, the audience mostly talked through his set. Louie settled into a pit of self-loathing. At the intermission she thought about leaving, going home, catching a cab, whatever it would take to get out of there. But she knew she couldn’t, this was her birthday gift to her boyfriend, and she had to stick it out.

Then B.B.’s band took the stage and started to play. Louie didn’t know if the house had adjusted the sound level but suddenly it wasn’t too loud at all, it was perfect. And the band was in a groove, and the leader began whipping up some enthusiasm in the crowd.

Are you ready to have a good time?

Yeah!

I said, are you ready to have a good time?

Yeah!

I can’t hear you, Seattle!

YEAH!

I can’t hear you, Seattle!

YEAH!!

I CAN’T HEAR YOU, SEATTLE!!

And the crowd roared, as the King himself walked out with Lucille, and as he played, Louie’s headache literally melted away, and by the time he got to How Blue Can You Get, Louie thought the world was a fine, fine place, and by the time he started his second set with The Thrill is Gone, she loved everyone in that world again, and with Rock Me Baby, she believed even she could be forgiven.

It was something about how Lucille became a second voice for him – and he said, I don’t play and sing at the same time, I never learned how – but she is him singing, and she is the voice of his soul. And that voice is beautiful. If humans can make beauty like that, maybe they are worth saving, after all.

And thinking about that, remembering that night a long time ago when she first realized she could be forgiven, Louie let Blues Boy and Lucille rock her into a fitful airplane version of sleep.

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