Saturday, September 19, 2015

A moment of geography

According to Wikipedia, there are 54 countries in Africa. Or, 54 fully recognized states that are members of the UN.

I'm interested in testing my knowledge, so I opened an Excel spreadsheet and started typing a list of every African country I could think of. In the couple minutes I gave myself to list them, I came up with 33. I forgot a few totally obvious ones like Kenya, and missed a few that I wasn't actually aware of before like Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Next, I did a quick google search for "African countries map quiz" and got this quiz. It tells you the name of a country and gives you three tries to click on that country on the map before it clues you in by flashing the country red. I got 46%.

These are not good scores. But then, I don't think I ever had a geography unit on Africa in school, or at least not that I recall. In all my years of school, I think I learned a little about South Africa and Zimbabwe when I studied Doris Lessing, a little about Liberia in American history class, a little about Algeria in French class, and a little about Egypt (particularly the pyramids and the ancient Israelites).

I wish I had taken more geography in school. I have some big holes in my mental map of the world.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Timing is everything

The new baby is six weeks old. He's a sweet little thing, and taking well to the lessons on how to sleep in a way that doesn't turn his parents into total zombies.

Up until now, we've been doing a schedule that had my husband and I dividing the nights up so we were each guaranteed at least a bare minimum of uninterrupted sleep. He took the early shift (7.30 or 8ish until around midnight) while I slept, and I took the late shift (from around midnight --or whenever my body woke me up to nurse the baby-- until morning). Generally the early shift was the harder of the two, as it was the baby's fussiest time of day, and seemed to include a fair amount of inconsolable crying. The late shift, I mostly just spent about an hour and a half nursing and rocking and then put him to bed, and then got up again in three or four hours to repeat.

Last night we switched it up. I stayed up and held and rocked and nursed the baby while we watched the Survivor finale together. I put the baby down to sleep around ten. We finished the show around eleven and went to bed. I had a hard time sleeping with my schedule changed like that, even though I was exhausted. At three the baby woke up and I fed and rocked him for a couple hours and put him back to bed just before five.

He woke up again at seven. This was an unusually short sleep for him, and I woke up in that state of mid-sleep-cycle-grogginess that meant I lay there for several minutes before I could really move. Meanwhile, my husband's alarm went off. So I poked him in the arm (once I was starting to be able to move) and asked him to go get the baby up, change his diaper, and bring him to me in the family room, giving me a couple minutes to drag myself out of bed and get set up in front of the TV.

Bathroom, slippers, glass of water, cough drop, kleenex, remote control, lazyboy chair, boppy pillow, burp cloth... I was all ready, and still he didn't bring the baby out. I was starting to worry that he'd misheard my request to bring him in to me.

But no. A couple minutes later he brings the baby in, and the baby's wearing a new outfit. It was a blow-out diaper. The extra time was for clean-up. I tried not to grin too wide as he handed over the baby. Thanks, kid, your timing was perfect.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New book available - Have an excerpt of STORAGE WORLD

Just in time for your holiday shopping, my shared universe-science fiction-fantasy-horror anthology is out in paperback! You can find it at CreateSpaceAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

What's it about?

Most storage units hold furniture, books, clothes, and all manner of junk, old and new. The Braxton family’s Storage World provides all that plus storage for … a different kind of goods. Behind the doors of Storage World one can find things magical, mythical, fantastic, and terrifying.

In this collection of stories by Albuquerque’s Cyberscribes writers group, the dark emanations from the weird things stored behind Storage World’s carefully guarded doors reach out into the ordinary world, tempting and ensnaring mortals, and even bringing on the end of the world.

Some doors shouldn’t be opened. Will you look inside the mysterious vaults of Storage World?

Includes stories by Truemy Brewer, Hans De Leo, Gail Gottlieb, Mark Harris, Linda Mason, Julia Perkins, Asha D. Pollem, Beth Bernier Pratt, Christopher Wertman, and C.M. Wilkins.

And here's an excerpt, my own story that started it all, the eponymous Storage World.

Storage World
by Beth Bernier Pratt

Clayton Weber sat back in his oversized executive chair, purchased to cut egotistical clients down to size as they sat in the diminutive but extremely plush visitors chairs. He watched his client settle into his seat. Clayton had last heard from Vinny Braxton several years prior, when he helped Vinny successfully sue his brother Joe for full ownership and control of Storage World. Then, Vinny had looked like a man on top of the world, with flashy suits, an expensive haircut, and an all-new plastic surgery-enhanced body for his longtime girlfriend. Now he looked different. If the day's appointment book hadn't said Vinny Braxton and if his assistant hadn't announced Vinny by name, Clayton would hardly have believed this was the same man.
He had gone from muscular if slightly overfed to gaunt. His hair had grown out into a wild tangle of curls that stood out in every direction, and his face was fuzzed with a mangy-looking beard. His clothes looked to be one of those flashy suits after several trips through an alligator-infested swamp. It didn't bear mentioning how he smelled, but Clayton found himself considering the merits of air fresheners versus incense. Most striking was his change in demeanor. Where the Vinny of old had walked into every room like he owned it, this Vinny perched on the chair as if ready to flee, jumping at every sound and compulsively checking over his shoulder.
"Mr. Braxton, welcome back," Clayton said, "And what can I do for you today?"
"You gotta help me. I can't take it anymore."
"More trouble with your brother? Something with the business?"
"Both! Remember what you did for me? You gotta undo it. I told Joe he could buy the place offa me and he just laughed. Then I said he could have it, no charge, and he told me he'd take it over my dead body."
"I'm not sure I follow. Over his dead body?"
"No! Not his dead body. Mine. He knows what's in there and, oh god you have to help me. Don't let it get me!"
Clayton steepled his fingers and looked at his former client in silence. His expression had prompted many a guilty conscience to unburden itself.
"Are you drunk, Mr. Braxton?"
"Drunk? This is way worse than drunk. With drunk you sober up again. With this, well. Did you ever come out to Storage World?"
"I believe we primarily met in my office or in court."
"Never? I thought I took you out there one time. Get some papers from the safe, something like that."
"That may be so. Your case was a number of years ago." Clayton wasn't in the habit of lying, but in this case it seemed prudent. He did remember his visit to Storage World. Something about the place had felt wrong, like none of the corners were quite square. He'd gone out drinking that night, drank til he was blackout drunk and could write off his anxiety to his divorce proceedings, which were pending at the time.
"No, you were there. You were there. You knew something was wrong. You even asked if I was sure I wanted to go on with the lawsuit. I shoulda listened to you! I shoulda listened. But no, I had to stick it to my big brother."
Vinny jumped out of his chair and paced around the room checking behind decorative tables and lamps. He shoved his chair back up against a wall and sat on it, drawing his legs up under him. Clayton stared for a moment.
"I fear, Mr. Braxton, that this doesn't sound like a legal matter. You may require the services of another professional. I'm sure I could recommend several excellent psychiatrists. It's not unusual for the aftermath of a lawsuit to be quite stressful."
"You think I need a shrink?" Vinny laughed. "I ain't crazy, no matter how I look. I need a lawyer. A good one. I know you can help me."
Clayton sighed, wishing Vinny had bitten at the notion of therapy. "What can I help you with, Mr. Braxton?"
"You can make him take it back. Joe. You can make Joe take it. It was supposed to be his inheritance anyway. I never shoulda took it. Firstborn son gets the protection. But I didn't know."
"Protection from what, Mr. Braxton?"
"The doors."
"The Doors? Jim Morrison?" Before he could stop himself, Clayton hummed a bar from 'People Are Strange'.
"My family has been in the storage business a long time. Storage World doesn't hold old Christmas decorations and out of style clothes like your neighborhood U-Stor-It. Most of our clients are different. They want secure, private storage for their... things."
"Old things. Nameless things. Secret, horrible things. I never shoulda took Joe's inheritance. And I really never shoulda opened any of those doors. But I couldn't help myself. Please, make him take it back. Withdraw the lawsuit. Find a loophole. Anything!"
"I'm afraid, Mr. Braxton, that it's simply not possible. Anything I filed at this date would simply waste your money. I'll show you out." Clayton stood. He wanted Vinny out of his office.
"I can pay! The money's no object. I can pay anything you ask. Please."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Braxton. You're going to have to go now."
"No! Please!" Vinny leaped from the chair and grabbed Clayton's arm, clutching it with desperate strength. "Once they've seen you, they never forget."
Clayton wrenched his arm away and called security. They quickly hauled Vinny out, leaving Clayton alone in his opulent office.
He took out a silk handkerchief and dusted off his sleeve where Vinny had touched it. It didn't help. He took off his suit jacket. Perhaps if he burned it. He looked at the wall and knew he would go out drinking again tonight. The corners didn't quite look square. Damn that Vinny Braxton.

Get your copy here or here or here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

To Cuss Like Chuck Wendig

True story. CreateSpace, while it's a lovely tool, and Word, while also a lovely tool, work together like the spawn of the devil himself to mess with your formatting. The good news is, I think I finally worked it out.

In a little over a week, I'll either be cussing a whole lot more, or I'll be happily announcing the publication of a new book. My writers group and I are publishing an anthology of stories set in a shared universe. It's called Storage World, and it's absolutely been worth all the cussing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Flaming Out of NaNoWriMo

I write this in the throes of terrible embarrassment. I am in the middle of a total NaNoWriMo breakdown. I was chugging along, making my daily word count. Then yesterday I didn't write in the morning.
"Oh, I'll do it in the afternoon," I said. Then I didn't write in the afternoon.
"Oh, I'll do it this evening before I leave for writers group," I said. Then I wrote about 150 words before I had to leave.
"Oh, I'll finish when I get home," I said. Then I got home and was tired and went to bed.
"Oh, I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night with insomnia, I can just go write then." But I went back to sleep in the middle of the night.
"Oh, I'll just write yesterday's words this morning, and then go on to today's words in the afternoon and evening." But no. Nope.
Now I'm three thousand and some-odd words behind the word count and I just can't make myself do it. It's like trying to make a toddler do something. Have you ever tried to stuff a 2-year-old's feet into shoes when they don't feel like wearing shoes? It's a bit like that. My keep wriggling away and curling its toes and kicking unexpectedly.
And, like with a recalcitrant toddler, I don't know why the refusal is happening, just that it is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Another November, another NaNoWriMo

Until Sunday, I was convinced I would not be doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I spent the last couple months barely writing at all, for Reasons. And then Sunday I was moping around the house feeling irritable, like everything was boring and wrong. Then I remembered that I've felt that way before, and it usually means I need to write. I went to a cafe with my notebook (spiral-bound paper, not electronic) and had a vanilla milkshake and wrote up a premise and some characters. Now I'm feeling nervous and excited.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fiction: Cupid Season

Cupid Season
Beth Bernier Pratt

Savannah didn't feel like cooking. The pantry was stocked, and the fridge full of fresh ingredients, but the idea of slicing and chopping and sautéing and broiling made her want to hide under the bed. She went so far as to look under the bed, but the green flash of Baxter's eyes made her nix that idea. Meanest cat in three counties, he was not afraid to protect his territory with fangs and claws.
Back in the living room, she flopped on the sofa and flipped on the television. A cooking show came on and Savannah groaned and changed the channel. Weather report, with a wacky weatherman illustrating the wind patterns with big body movements. "... season coming early this year with strong winds from the ... " She flipped through a couple reruns of sitcoms that weren't funny the first time and switched it off again.
Dragging her feet, she went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator and stared at all the unprepared food on its shelves. Nothing magically sorted itself into a meal, so she shut the door and had a flash of inspiration. Pizza!
She took out her phone and tapped the pizza app and tapped again to select toppings and crust. At checkout, she noticed a new surcharge, labeled "Seasonal", and frowned, but ordered anyway.
Pacing around the living room waiting for the doorbell to ring, Savannah felt something brush her leg. She jumped out of the way as Baxter came into the room. He meowed at her and sauntered to the front door, where he meowed again.
"Oh, all right." She opened the door and the cat went out.
A sudden blast of wind tore the screen door out of her hand and flung it wide. Her hair blew across her eyes and she pulled it away to see a frightening sight. A flock of Cupids swooped through the air, tiny quivers on their backs and bows in their hands. She went inside slamming the door behind her and turned on the TV, switching it back to the news.
The wacky weatherman was gone, replaced by a helmet-haired anchor, intoning solemnly about precautions for the early Cupid season. Savannah put her head in her hands. This early? Usually they had another month before they had to take precautions. Those little winged menaces. Every spring they wreaked havoc on marriages, business partnerships, every kind of relationship.
The doorbell rang and she looked wildly around for anything to use as a makeshift shield. Nothing. It was all still packed away in the attic. The doorbell rang again. With a weary sigh she opened the door.
The pizza boy looked at her with the giant puppydog eyes of the smitten. "Your pizza, my angel," he said, holding out the box.
"I'm so sorry about this," she said, giving him a twenty and waving away the change, "I wouldn't have ordered if I'd realized it was Cupid season already."
He attempted a flowery speech but she cut him off. "Just go."
He trudged back to his car, clearly lovelorn. Savannah started to shut the door when a "meow" stopped her.
"Come on, Baxter, in you go."
The cat rubbed against her as he went in, his purr like the roar of a jet engine. Savannah came inside and sat down with her pizza. The cat jumped in her lap and rubbed his entire body across her face, nuzzling and purring.
"Oh Baxter, not you too."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fiction: Down to the Lake

Down to the Lake
Beth Bernier Pratt

The vampire struggled against the ropes and the hard hands of her captors. The hands gripped her tighter in response, one of them clearly squeezing as hard as he could, trying to hurt her more than hold her. Legends aside, it did hurt. Her supernatural strength and toughness was about that of two strong young men, not the godlike power most legends exaggerated it to be. And just now, hungry and exhausted as she was from the chase, Annabelle felt considerably weaker than that.
It had been weeks since she'd fed properly, staying ever on the move to evade the Dread Society Against Vampires. Rats, mice, and birds, so quickly sucked dry of their drab, unsatisfying blood, even a cat would have been a tasty treat. But missing pets call attention, so Annabelle had fasted.
Now she was caught anyway. Annabelle wished she had gorged herself on every schoolboy, every farmer's wife, every befuddled shopkeeper in her path. It was hope that blinded her, hope for some golden getaway, a permanent escape from the DSAV's relentless hunters. Everywhere she went, their agents were already there, making every safe haven a trap.
The phalanx of DSAV men marched her through the woods on a path marked occasionally with a mossy upright stone. They were headed northeast, Annabelle could tell from the faint silvery glimmer that kept drawing her eyes to the right. It was still too early for human vision to see the onrushing dawn, but to a vampire it appeared like a train's headlight to one standing on the tracks.
She put her fangs to use, sawing through the gag and spitting out the pieces of dirty handkerchief.
"Where are you taking me? What are you going to do with me?"
"She chewed through her gag. Want me to find a new one?"
"Don't bother."
"What if she screams?"
"There's no one but us to hear it. What do you chaps think? Afraid a little banshee wail might weaken your resolve?"
The others chuckled and murmured, and left Annabelle's mouth free. She addressed herself to the apparent captain.
"You didn't answer my question, sir. What is to become of me?"
"Nothing," he said.
"Nothing?" She felt a small hope kindle in her chest, "You've caught me for sport and will let me go?"
Several of the men laughed in an ugly way.
"Or do you intend to let your men have their brutish fun with me first?"
"That type of mixing between humans and monsters is an abomination," the captain said.
The men around her grumbled agreement.
The captain seemed moved to speech. "After tonight, you will be consigned to the demonic darkness from which you came, and mankind will at last be free of the scourge of Vampirism."
In a flash, Annabelle understood why it had been so long since she had met another of her kind. "You mean... I am the last?"
"Yes! You are the last vile monster to roam the night. After you are gone, the Dread Society Against Vampires will have fulfilled its vow."
Annabelle's knees buckled under her. Even if they were monsters to the humans, they were family to her. Rough hands forced her up again and kept her marching. The path sloped down and underneath the smells of pine sap and unwashed armpits, Annabelle detected the musty, fishy smell of a lake. So that was their plan. It was one of the crueler ways to kill a vampire. Instead of a quick burst of fire at the sun's dawning rays, she would be chained below the water's surface to feel the sun's deadly power annihilate her layer by minute layer. With the water there to quench the flames' spread, she had heard it could take days.
"If I am the last, then the future will hold you fools," she said, working to keep the desperation out of her voice, "They will call you madmen and murderers. Your grandchildren will be ashamed of your convictions and call them ignorance. With every trace of evidence of vampires gone, your grand crusade will look a farce."
This time she heard hesitation in the muttering of the men holding her. The lake smell grew stronger and she felt her last chance slipping away. The path dipped sharply and she looked down to see it end at a narrow set of broken stone stairs, slick with moss, leading to the lake. One of her captors stumbled on the uneven ground, and Annabelle used all her strength to wrench free of their grasp. She threw herself down the stairs, the tumbling fall breaking at least one bone in her arm, but leaving her legs blessedly intact. Heedless of the pain, when she hit the sand she bolted left, running along the dark shore looking for a way back into the woods.
"She's getting away! After her! Go! Go!"
As she ran, she formulated her plan. Tonight she would run and hide, but tomorrow she would attack. She would turn every human she encountered, leaving a rising tide of hungry vampire fledglings in her path. A lone vampire they could hunt, but soon she and her new family would be the hunters once more.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Time Travel

I hate that song so very much. It's on the radio all the time. And I'm such a dope that I get fooled by the good piano music at the start, and then the chorus hits and it's just game over. I'm going to be hearing that stupid whiny crap going through my head on a constant loop for hours or days.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Feeling Thirsty?

Sure, I could turn on the light and check the glass before I take a sip, but wouldn't that be cheating?