For all who haven't had the life-transforming experience of reading Cate in Flux, which will be re-released tomorrow in great anticipation of the book 2 in the Cate series, here's an excerpt to get you all excited! I'll post links and other information as I get it. Meanwhile, enjoy a taste of Cate.
If I had known the mannequins were inflatable, I would never have bought them in the first place, and my life today would be wonderfully dull.
The day I went to pick them up was a typical fall day; breezy, sunny, and cool. The peacocks that blocked the driveway when I drove up to receive the mannequins should have tipped me off. They darted manically, plumage wafting, back and forth, heads bobbing. Alarmed, I almost turned around. But Amelia needed her dress, and I needed the mannequins to make it, so I beeped the horn. The peacocks scattered, leaving me room to wind my way through the driveway to the cottage at the end.
I was surprised when an Asian woman opened the door. I assumed from the transaction e-mails through Craigslist that Simon would be a man, possibly a British one. But dressed in a short, red kimono with stiletto-heeled boots Simon threw me for a moment. Nails done, hair high on the head like a Jersey girl from the 80s, I wasn‘t quite sure what to make of this person holding a door open wide for me, gesturing that I should come forth. One diamond earring glinted in his right ear.
“Come in.” The voice was all cross-dresser.
“I’m Cate Jakubiak,” I said, shaking his hand. “Simon?”
“Yes. Simon Pham. The mannequins are this way.”
I followed Simon through the house, marveling at his balance as his hips sashayed in front of me. Each room had a theme. Dungeon, Care Bears, Disco. The voice in my head said to run away fast, but I needed the mannequins. Finally, we reached the sewing room.
“Here they are, Dolly and Sally,” Simon offered, gesturing to two torsos with heads, on which he’d drawn clownish faces. “I hope they’re to your liking.”
“Um, sure,” I said. Even though I was disappointed they were inflatable instead of solid, they would have to do.
“What are you making?” he asked.
“A dress for a friend, and maybe some Halloween costumes,” I answered. “Is that acceptable?”
Simon picked up a length of gold lame fabric from the table where Dolly and Sally were sitting. “Do you want this fabric? I was going to make some pants out of them, but I won’t have time,” he said, winking.
“Sure,” I told him. You never know when some gold lame will come in handy.
“All right then. I’ll help you carry these girls to your car.”
We stuffed Dolly and Sally into the back of my Scion.
“It looks like a clown car full of clowns,” Simon laughed, waving his hands around. “Oh my.”
“Right,” I said. “Here’s your check.” I handed the paper over quickly. I wanted to get out of there.
Simon leaned in and kissed me on the lips. Not just a peck, but a lingering kiss. His lips were remarkably soft, and I felt it in my gut, which was shocking. “I’ll be seeing you soon, Cate,” he whispered softly before going back into the house. “Don’t let the peacocks bother you on your way out.”
The kiss had rooted me to ground and it was a few minutes before I recovered sufficiently to move. Crap. Even though he was clearly creepy, I felt immediately attracted. I looked at the ground and was simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by a dead giant slug, its entrails blooming out of its bloated body.
I am a boring person. I like the status quo. I enjoy working, cooking, exercising every day precisely at five o’clock. I prefer men, strong men who want to take care of me. Okay, so some of them have been on the edge of crazy, but that’s not their fault. Well, maybe more than on the edge, really, if my friends are to be believed. Okay, the crazies follow me around like zombies on The Walking Dead. I have no idea why. Anyway, I also read bestsellers, love sewing and have a nice apartment in a quiet suburb. Simon the Asian Cross-Dresser was not a person I was prepared to find thrust into my life, and if I could change just one moment, I would’ve driven away at the first sight of the peacocks.
I received a message a couple of months ago that my publisher, Rebel Ink Press, was closing its doors. After I cried a little - I figured I'd never find anyone else who'd want to publish my little stories - I sent my Cate in Flux manuscript around, as well as the long-anticipated sequel, Cate in the Middle, and the pitch for the third and final Cate book, not really expecting that the Cate empire could continue unless I delved into self- publishing. Lo and behold, I've signed contracts to re-print Cate in Flux, and to publish Cate in the Middle, the manuscript of which is now in the editing stages with the publisher. I'd like to send out a HUGE thank you to Pen-It Publications for promoting independent authors and for giving my dreams a shot!
Cate in Flux reboot should happen on FRIDAY, with a new cover and some slight improvements. For those of you who weren't treated to this darkly funny story - which received many 5-Star Reviews on Amazon - the first time around, look for updated purchase links. Cate in the Middle should be out with not too long of a wait - I'm sure everyone is waiting with bated breath to find out what she'll get up to next! I'll post a juicy excerpt this week to get you in the mood for some Cate.
Here's a sneak peek of the new cover - and please support small-time authors as well as the big names we all love!
I generally adore Christmas. The music, the gentle scent of gingerbread wafting wherever I go, the bustle of shoppers, the movies. This year, however, I cannot get into the Christmas spirit and I don't know why. In order to force myself to be non-Scroogey, I have tried the following:
But it has all been for naught. As I sit here on this Christmas Eve, a fire blazing and snow drifting from an unforgiving steel sky - the frozen tears of despair, I have a heavy heart and a blasé attitude (I don't even care enough to make sure the accent on blasé is facing the right direction). Is this a function of getting old? I am on the downward slope to 50 and then toward inevitable death. Perhaps I've reached the "is this all there is" phase of life and it's not pretty. Maybe I just irrationally feel sorry for myself. Or, could it be that I find Blake Shelton being named People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive issue anathema (were the Russians involved in that vote as well?).
I did an informal poll of those around me to see if my gloom was just contained to myself or if it were a global emotion. My results showed a mixed bag. Some blamed Trump, the loss of net-neutrality, an overall ennui with life, and the death of loved ones as reasons for their bah-humbugness. Others cited the stress of the season. The giddy ones included those of perpetual good cheer, moms of new babies, and travelers to far-flung, exotic locales.
I will move forward, cook the Christmas Eve feast, spend the holiday with dear family members (though my mom's absence is felt more each year rather than less) and try to understand what's off. Teacher Perks means I have two weeks off to do just that.
I wish you all a superb Christmas holiday (and to those who don't celebrate - I wish you a tremendous National Holiday Off Work)! Be well and merry, and take another gulp of "adult" egg nog for me.
Because I don't have enough to do as a teacher, mother, and novelist (LOOK FOR MY WORK COMING SOON THROUGH A NEW PUBLISHER! MORE ON THAT LATER), I decided to audition for a role in a Christmas production, the It's a Wonderful Life Radio Show, a delightful presentation of the classic as a 1940s radio program in which I would portray a voice actress doing several characters. When people asked the real reason why I wanted to be in the play, the answer came to me - I love being somewhere in which I am simply Courtney, not so-and-so's mom or so-and-so's wife or so-and-so's teacher. Also, theater is the one place I don't have to pretend to be anyone but myself. Except on stage, of course. I also feel I'm on the cusp of being a minor local celebrity, and want to ride that wave as long as possible.
And, as president-elect of an Indianapolis social theater club, The Players (which is decidedly NOT a swingers club, despite the name), I figured I should get on the stage from time to time myself, if only to remind myself of the sheer vulnerability and risk of major embarrassment and shunning, should one not perform up to standard in front of a live, paying audience.
At the auditions, I earnestly presented my very best accents and projected my effervescence, winning myself several different voices in the show, including a dense but sweet secretary with a Boston accent; snobby east-coast wife; shrill and angry mother; and loud Italian pub owner. But I did not garner the coveted main female part. Though I long ago realized that I am "quirky, supporting actress" in both the theater and in real life, just once I'd love the spotlight...but I digress. I effusively accepted the role, and gamely threw myself into rehearsals and my role.
First, I had to develop my radio actress character. I decided she should be Violet McBride, an Irish immigrant who was once quite the looker, but is aging and now has the body/face for radio (again, a nod to real life). Being one of 16 children, Violet decided to remain single and throw herself into her career, not thinking about how aging is the death knell for women. After a few weeks of rehearsals, work, and juggling the kids/spouse, I wished I had tossed "narcoleptic" into my character's description, so I could take cat naps on the stage between my characters. This led me to the idea for my next novel, The Narcoleptic Actress, since it's hilarious to imagine a worse career choice for someone with this condition. Perhaps she'll be provided with an electric collar to jolt her awake? Or maybe my fatigue is causing me to once again find things funny that aren't.
Community theater (theatre? I'm never sure) people are the absolute best. They, like fellow writers, are my tribe. Creative, fun, weird, intense people who crave something more than, well, I can't really quantify it. But they all understand. It's a strange symbiotic relationship. We all need each other to make the play work, and it's like losing a friend when the run of the show ends.
The play opened a couple of nights ago to rave reviews. I felt electric as the work we put in buzzed through my sad, middle-aged body. The audience reactions brought me out of my stupor and made me want to entertain them even more. Is it sheer narcissism to love it? Or to thing people want to read what I write? I shall ponder these things, but not stop because they bring me joy.
SHAMELESS PLUG: If you live in the Indy area, you can some and see this terrific show, whose cast members include some of the most talented people I've ever performed with. We are at the CAT Theater in Carmel, IN, for the next few weekends! It's great for the whole family, and supports the local arts. Click HERE for ticket information.
While scrolling through Facebook earlier, I saw a dire warning - the Polar Vortex supposedly will be upon us come Thanksgiving. I loathe the cold like a fattie loathes a three-way mirror under florescent bulbs. Both, to me, bring on spasms of regret and despair. Being of delicate constitution, any temperatures under about 65 degrees are anathema to me. I cannot abide discomfort of any type.
Since I moved back to elementary school, I have recess duty, which requires being out of doors for at least 20 minutes each afternoon, supervising what can only be described as a scene from the Lord of the Flies. On cold days, it's Lord of the Flies begging to go inside where it's warm. Wimps. If I have to be out there, so do they. However, I don't really own a warm coat, as I simply avoid going outside in the arctic tundra. After the first frigid day of 55 degrees, I hightailed it to the local Goodwill to see what kind of coats they may have, since I refused to spend hundreds on some coat that acknowledges that cold weather is okay. I found a great long purple coat for $9, and snatched it up. It makes me look like Violet Beauregard after she gets to the blueberry pie portion of the meal-in-a-piece-of-gum she greedily slurped down. But it was cheap and it keeps the deep freeze at bay.
On those cold days, I reminisce back a month ago when I took a solo trip to the wine country for my cousin's wedding. Forest fires aside, it was a wonderful boondoggle. The best part? It was warm. California warm. Warm all year warm. Out there, the only Polar Vortex was the extended metaphor for my life, which unfurled over several days.
I found myself surrounded by Fabulous People. My new cousin-in-law (is there such a thing?) is a Master of Wine, meaning that she can, by what can only be described as olfactory sorcery, sniff and taste pretty much any wine in the world and tell you the vintage, grape, and region of the wine, among other things. My cousin is a wine expert, and he does all kinds of things I don't really understand in the world of wine. At their Napa wedding, I sat at a table with an opera singer, an orchestra conductor, more Master of Wine candidates, and other bright and interesting people. For the first time in a long time, I discussed books and music and drank really, really good wine, not the crap on sale in the grocery aisle that I'm kind of embarrassed to buy, but don't know any better. But the whole time my insides froze and vortexed. I felt like a fraud. I worried that any minute they'd realize I'm just a bumpkin elementary school teacher from Indiana, and I had no idea why these people accepted me as one of their own. Maybe it's because I'm hilarious and outgoing, and marginally inappropriate. I felt like I fit in with them in a way I don't fit in here in the heartland. It felt like my beloved Boston (where, for some reason, the cold is okay because there's an ocean - don't question my logic), full of kindred spirits.
The vortex grew only greater as I returned to my life. Don't get me wrong. I have a superb and kind husband, and the three best kids on the planet are my very own. I teach a group of inquisitive whirlwinds who teach me as much as I teach them, and let me joke around and give them ridiculous nicknames. But my breath caught as I drove through bland cornfields and past all the fast food restaurants. I missed the warmth of the wine country and the people there. I missed the feeling of belonging. I missed the top shelf wine that I couldn't ever afford because of said career as a teacher. I even missed the very quirky AirBnb house I stayed in that had a terrifying picture with eyes that followed me all around. I missed the life I thought I'd have, but that I don't. The thought that I'm 47 and it's getting too late to do all the things I believed I had forever to accomplish when I was 27. The Polar Vortex spins its ugliness in my heart and I push and swim to get out. Every morning, I've started focusing on the very real and wonderful aspects of my life (listed above) and ways I can get back to myself. And every morning I leave before dawn to go to my non-glamourous job that fills my soul with joy, and I think of the stories I want to tell the world as I navigate my Ford Flex through the streets.
The meteorologists are telling me that this winter will be colder than normal. I'll want to run away to the wine country and the warmth and the interesting and fabulous people there, and I'll have to remind myself of everything I have right here. I'll get into my purple grape coat and carry on.
Let me begin by stating that here in the heartland, it's about 80 degrees today. There's a healthy wind, and my main reason for braving Target on a harrowing and rare Saturday run with everyone else in our town was to find a kite for my eager boys, who were imagining hours of carefree running about with a great plastic bird (or similar) soaring high aloft our neighborhood among the cornfields. As we navigated the too-narrow aisled and dodged abandoned-in-the-middle-of-the-store carts (do people actually not realize that leaving your cart in the middle of a row is not good etiquette?) in our fruitless quest for a kite, we were shocked to find Santa and snow globes and Rudolph next to the decorative gourds and mass-produced, flame-retardant costumes, just rows away from the discounted pool toys. Clowns to the left of me, snowmen to the right. I found my head whipping back and forth between the two, trying to reconcile the state of the world in which we live.
It all started this year with Pumpkin Spice offerings in August. Actually, it started before that, when I got my back-to-school summons with the date of JULY 31 ON IT. School should not start before Labor Day; Pumpkin Spice lattes should not exist before October; and Christmas should not be strewn all over Target before Thanksgiving. And kites should always, ALWAYS, be in stock.
Thanks to global warming, I'm in a constant state of confusion as to what time of year it is. Seasonal decorations in the wrong seasons just add to my state of cognitive dissonance. When I was a wee lass back in the blissful days of yore, when parents let kids run wild and holidays stayed where they belonged, summers were long and Christmas didn't start until the day after Thanksgiving. I never had to peel back the layers of my feeble mind to determine which holiday I needed to prepare for. I just put out my acorns and colored leaves garland, bowl of lumpy decorative gourds and impossibly small pumpkins, and tall and fall-smelling pillar candle. But Target has moved headlong and wantonly toward December 25, brazenly displaying a creche next to a Grim Reaper.
After loading my cart with paper towels, dryer sheets, a shirt for a homemade Halloween costume, death liquid (aka Diet Coke) for the husband, and some socks - everything except the kite we came for - we trundled to the parking after finessing the checkout line to get to the secret one that no one but us seems to see, thus avoiding the dreaded long wait at the cash registers, I felt a little sad that everything is such a rush. I looked at my three teens, loping along in that teen way, and wondered why we need to push through our years so quickly? With all the horror in the world - Trump as our president, crazies who murder strangers, schools so stressful kids are on meds in droves - can't we just have a little anticipation for Christmas magic? Life is confusing enough without Frosty among the pumpkins.
So, my oldest child now has a driver's license and a car. It's my old car, my trusty Mazda 5, which I hated for many reasons and wasn't all that sad to pass on to the next generation. I replaced it with a Ford Flex, which I love more than any girl has a right to love a car because I feel like I'm driving a cool surf wagon and the seat AUTOMATICALLY ADJUSTS TO WHERE I WANT IT WHEN I GET INSIDE, but that's another story...
The real story here is one of letting go, something my generation inexplicably has difficulty with. My daughter and I were slogging through the Saturday crowd at the BMV the very first moment she was eligible to receive her small, plastic ticket to freedom (for me as much as her). As we waited, we watched dejected people swear under their collective breath because they'd been denied something by a BMV hag. We amused ourselves by coming up with the answers to interview questions one must have in order to be hired there. Some examples:
Q: Is customer satisfaction important to you? A: No.
Q: Is being efficient important to you? A: No.
Q: Do you like to take breaks at the busiest time of the day? A: Yes.
After we tired of that game, my daughter shared with me that she was surprised I was "letting" her get her license already, and that many of her friends' parents were too nervous to let them drive. Then, she revealed that many of her FRIENDS were too nervous to drive. Flummoxed, I remembered back to 1987 when I got my license. None of us could wait until we could drive. It meant absolute freedom and awesomeness. Why would anyone want to deny his or her child this autonomy and responsibility?
So after we got home after only two rounds and three hours at the BMV - I had not brought some obscure paper that we showed the lady on our phone screen, but we needed a paper copy - my dear girl drove off by herself as I took obligatory "driving away for the first time" photos for social media sharing, I did a little informal survey of people I know with 16 year olds. I was shocked to hear them say things like, "I'm not ready for (insert snowflake's name here) to drive. It's too scary," or, "(Insert name here) has anxiety," or "I don't mind driving (name) a little longer." It was the last one that really got to me - I couldn't wait to have my own snowflake driving herself to the dance studio and school and to her myriad social engagements! What has happened that we can't let kids grow up and be free? I don't want mine around living in the basement, so I'm sure as heck letting them hit milestones on time.
The best part of having another driver in the house came yesterday, when I was able to go out for cocktails and appetizers with coworkers after school. See, last week I wouldn't have been able to go because I would've needed to pick up one son at football practice. Yesterday, I texted the daughter, and made her go get the son. I got to be "not mom" for a whole hour until guilt prodded me home to fix food for everyone (why do they want to eat dinner EVERY DAY?).
My daughter and I both got more freedom that day at the BMV. Her head is a little higher as she knows I trust her, and she trusts herself. Do I worry a little every time I hear her fire up the fierce and mighty Mazda 5? Maybe. But I wouldn't trade that freedom for the world.
Confession: every year, I think about leaving teaching, usually right after retuning after Spring break when the whiff of despair that there are STILL SIX WEEKS left before the sweet release of summer permeates the building. I spend time updating my resume and spinning my teaching experience into something resembling professional marketing/writing/editing/whatever skills. It never works, and by the end of the year I have to slog through the diplomatically worded rejection e-mails telling me that "while your skill set is impressive, we've gone with another candidate at this time."
Then the last day comes. The 6-page research papers are graded. The yearbook is pretty much done and edited. The students rebound from their own despair. The sun blazes and we can conduct class in the park with suspect "educational purpose." Joie de vivre replaces ennui, and I realize I don't want to leave teaching after all, especially when people with "real" jobs have to wake up the day after school gets out and go to some dreadful office as I sleep in - sometimes until 8:00.
The first day of summer vacation is sublime. Ten weeks to loll about and the potential for a tan (though who are we kidding - this pasty skin hasn't seen a tan ever, only lobster-like searing). Stacks of books wait to be read poolside. Quality time with my children. Time reflecting on how I can be a better teacher next school year. I wonder why I ever thought about leaving teaching.
One week into break this year, and I know why I'm tempted to cut and run every year. It's not the kids. It's not the teaching. It's the constant message from administrators and politicians that I'm not doing a good job. That teachers are the bottom-dwellers of the professional world. That no matter how hard I work - how many hours outside the school day, on weekends, and over that precious summer break - I'll be seen as someone who can't "do," therefore I teach.
To boost my own morale, I created a list of #teacherperks to combat the dominant paradigm in this country which says that teachers are lazy union hacks who only work 9 months of the year:
1. The KIDS - I get to spend my days with the future of our country, helping them find out who they are and who they will become.
2. The TEACHING - Being a huge nerd, I love planning and executing lessons that engage kids and make them see how their 13 years of compulsory schooling are relevant.
3. The OTHER TEACHERS - Contrary to popular opinion, the teachers I've had the privilege of knowing are some of the hardest working, creative, kind, hilarious, inappropriate (when off-duty, of course), divergent thinkers I've met. They sharpen me, and I hope I sharpen them.
4. The SUMMER - Although I'll spend many hours each week and many days in professional development meetings getting ready for my first day (July 31 this year - egads!), it is a huge #teacherperk to have this time to refresh, reflect, and refine my teaching practice. Also, I get to spend time with my three wonderful kids, who are now teenagers and planning their own futures, which involve leaving home. This is exciting and devastating at the same time. I catch up with friends who I don't see during the school year. I purge my stuff and soak up Vitamin D.
5. The AMNESIA - By the time break is over, the sun will have baked all my negative thoughts away. I'll have forgotten the administrators and politicians who make teachers feel less than (to be clear - not ALL admins and politicians are like this, but enough that I've been soured somewhat). And I'll start the year with all the feels as I look out over the shining faces of the kids who also benefit from some time apart, optimistic that the year will be the most marvelous of them all.
I just returned from what will likely be the last band concert I will ever attend, as my boys have decided to pursue more athletic activities. I arrived 25 minutes early, and found myself relegated to suffer the hideous indignity of sitting on a bleacher bench. I do not have a core solid enough to withstand holding myself upright, so I slouched like a hunchback and settled in for the long haul. My mind filled with dread when the band director, a perky blonde, announced the concert would be "lengthy."
My boys are not in the "good" band, so their part was over in the first twenty minutes or so. I clapped dutifully and belted out the chorus of "Sweet Caroline" in unison with the crowd. As the better bands played, I started to lose interest and made good use of my time watching the kids and the spectators as I grew hotter and hotter, sweat making rivulets down my back. Of course, a man came late and sat right next to me with a spirited sprite of a girl who proceeded to jump and flail her little arms about until I had to give her the "mom" glare. She finally backed down and sat, trembling, against her father. Victory!
I watched a trumpet player consume a three-course meal of detritus from his nose. Boys snickered and girls giggled. As we headed into hour two of this thing, I started to wonder if it was ever going to end. Would my crooked and weary back give out? Would I get a blood clot from sitting too long? Why does that lady over there keep staring at me with her RBF? Is that nose-picker ever going to run out of his endless supply of snacks?
Mind you, there are four school days left. I have ten days' worth of grading to finish. Being an English teacher, my math skills are rusty, but I can extrapolate from those statistics that some things may end up recycled rather than graded. Certainly nothing productive was getting done as I listened to "YMCA" and performed the appropriate hand motions. I thought back to just last week, when I had to write the comment, "Don't use the word 'weenie' in a formal paper," and wondered if a nice, long hospital stay with a morphine drip could possibly be in the cards for me soon. Is that my appendix hurting? PLEASE? Let it be my appendix so I can leave...
Suddenly, the stream of consciousness writing I've been teaching made perfect sense. William Faulkner must have written his great works while trapped at the mercy of an unholy band director and her minions, keeping us captive through middle school renditions of The Beach Boys and Michael Jackson. One's mind must wander in order to keep sane.
Finally, after what was admittedly an awesome drum line act, it was time to go. After three knee creaks and a lower back pop, I was upright and hobbling down the steps, hoping feeling would return to my cankles soon. Caught up in the swoop of parents frantically trying to reach their spawn, I felt a hint of nostalgia and a whiff of sadness that my band days are over. As I found my long-haired boys - easy to spot in the sea of their crew-cutted friends - I loved them a little bit more for letting me have a glimpse into the music world. Maybe these concerts aren't so bad after all.
While slogging through the interwebs trying to determine what is "alternative fact" and what is real, I came across several articles outlining the preparation of world leaders for an upcoming apocalypse. This very same topic was eerily shared with me on Twitter, so it must be true. As during any good and final tragedy - think of the violinists playing as The Titanic sank, leaving poor Rose nearly frozen to death on a wood plank but with a song in her heart - I've been thinking of a good playlist as the world turns into a mushroom cloud in a final showdown between Trump and the nameless, faceless gaggle of enemies he's already accrued. I'm thinking it'll be a short list, say 10 songs or so, to get us through the final moments of napalm burning our lungs. Feel free to steal and add your own in comments.
1. Disco Inferno - The Trammps, for obvious reasons
2. I Just Haven't Met You Yet - Michael Buble, for some irony
3. American Idiot - Green Day, because someone - and not a smart someone - got us into this mess
4. Fat Bottomed Girls - Queen, because it's my theme song/anthem
5. Toxic - Britney Spears, because the air will be toxic and because Brittney RULES
6. All I Do Is Win - DJ Khaled feat. Ludacris, because I'd want one more time to do the "Ludacris" part flawlessly
7. Notorious - Duran Duran, because I'd want to think about Kevin Kelly one last time
8. Don't Dream it's Over - Crowded House, for denial
9. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler, because of the likely eclipse of the sun from ash and debris
10. Relax - Frankie Goes to Hollywood, because that's really all you can do when the world goes down
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and elementary high-ability teacher. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.