Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Short Fiction

Read my new piece featured on Utah Children's Writers.

Mucho and the Robot Baby
by Alicia VanNoy Call
















One day, as a young man was leaving school, his child development
teacher clasped an unbreakable ID bracelet around his wrist and handed
him a robot baby. The young man was a mere fifteen years old, and an
only child, so he didn't have much experience with babies. He toted
the ten pound assignment home in the provided carrier. It made not a
sound the entire afternoon.

At dinnertime, the robot baby began to cry. The young man, whose name
was Mucho, got up from the table with a grumble. Remembering that the
robot baby was programmed to record his presence, Mucho scanned the
bracelet across the robot baby's back and changed its diaper. The
crying stopped. The rest of the evening, every time the robot baby
cried, Mucho would scan the bracelet and record his attentive parental
behavior in a small blue journal. He changed, fed, burped, and rocked
the robot baby for five hours until it finally seemed to sleep.
Exhausted, Mucho crawled into bed and fell into a deep slumber.

That night, the world ended.

Mucho awoke to the electronic whimper of the robot baby. He looked at
the clock, confused by the disparity between the hour and the relative
darkness outside. He scanned, fed, and changed the robot baby. He put
away his pajamas, attempted to check his email – the internet was out
– and opened his bedroom door.

His parents were sitting at the kitchen table, eating canned peaches.

“Good morning, dear,” said his mother.

Mucho looked around at the fortified windows, the furniture pushed
against the door, the emergency candles burned down to stubs.

“What's going on?” he said

“Armageddon,” said his mother. “But you were up half the night with
the baby, so I didn't want to wake you.”

Mucho peered through two boards out into the ash-drifted street. He
could see distant fires, the sun blotted out by smoke, and an
overturned police car.

“I can't believe Armageddon snuck in under my nose.”

“You've always been a deep sleeper,” said his father.

“Does this mean playoffs are canceled?” Mucho wondered. He was a big
basketball fan.

“Hard to say,” said his mother.

From the other room, the robot baby started to wail.

+

Later that week, Mucho's parents became ill. His father said it was
airborne contagion. (Mucho felt fine.) His mother said it was that flu
that had been going around. They laid themselves down in bed and after
that, declined rather quickly. Mucho paced the room with the robot
baby while his parents bestowed their parting advice.

“You take care of that baby,” said his mother. “You don't know when
all this silliness will end. If school starts back up tomorrow, you'll
want a good grade.”

“Don't forget to brush your teeth,” said his father.

Mucho half expected his parents to rise from their death bed and
attempt to eat his brain. He had watched a lot of cable television
after all. But they moldered away peacefully, and in the course of
time Mucho forgot about them.

But he did not forget about the robot baby.

Day after day, he cared for the robot baby. He became familiar with
its cries. The short, clipped cries for a diaper change. The
lingering, lusty howls for a bottle. The hiccuping whine for a
burping. The fussy complaining sound of the robot baby when it wanted
to be held – that was Mucho's favorite. He held the robot baby to his
shoulder, sang to it, and rubbed its back. After while, the robot baby
would signal its contentment with a gurgling laugh. Mucho learned to
love that sound.

He learned that that robot baby didn't like being left face down. It
didn't like being dangled by one foot. And it didn't like being left
alone. He grew very fond of the robot baby, and carried it around the
house in a sling made from an old bed sheet.

At first, Mucho would look out between the boards every few days, but
after a couple of months, he gave up the practice. He found it
depressing to see no variation in the view -- the same deserted street
and the same burned out houses.

Mucho lived for a year on canned food and bottled water. He grew very
thin and very grateful for his mother's couponing hoard and his
father's camping gear. And every night, after walking the floor for
hours, after feeding, changing, and burping it, he faithfully recorded
his treatment of the robot baby.

+

One morning, Mucho awoke to an eerie stillness. In the first few
moments, he couldn't identify the reason for his apprehension. Then he
realized that he hadn't been roused by crying. He peered at the robot
baby. He listened at its chest. The robot baby was silent. He dangled
it by one foot. Nothing.

In the same moment that panic began to swell in his chest, Mucho heard
a distant voice. Holding the robot baby close, he tiptoed into the
living room. He squinted out between the boards, shocked to see two
men walking down the middle of the street. They were dressed in puffy
suits of yellow plastic. They carried instruments with antennas and
wires. One spoke again, raising his voice in order to be heard by the
other. The voice sounded faraway and muffled, but Mucho heard it
distinctly.

The voice said, “Did you catch that bit on SNL last night?”

Mucho jumped to move the sofa out of his way. He fumbled with the
stiff locks and threw open the door. He stepped out onto the porch and
yelled at the backs of the passing men.

“Hello!” His voice was hoarse from disuse.

The two men turned. They stared.

Mucho waved.

The men came toward him, holding their instruments out at arm's length.

“I thought you said it was clear,” said one of them to the other.

“They told me it was,” said the other.

Mucho stood, a grin plastered on his face. “Hello,” he said again.

The men looked at Mucho. They looked at the dials on their instruments.

“I'm sorry,” said Mucho. “I am just a little surprised. We haven't
seen anyone for such a long time.”

“Who else is with you?” said one of the men.

“Just the baby,” said Mucho.

“You have a baby in there?” said the other man.

“He's right here,” said Mucho. He held out the robot baby. “But to be
honest, I'm a little worried about him. He hasn't cried in nearly –,”
Mucho pulled the small, blue journal out of his pocket. “ – six
hours.”

The two men looked at the robot baby. Then they looked at him.

“What's your name?” one of them said.

“Mucho,” said Mucho.

One of them reached for his arm. “C'mon, Mucho. Let's get you cleaned
up. Are you hungry?”

Mucho wouldn't leave until he had gathered the robot baby's
belongings. “We'll need them,” he told the men. They led Mucho down
the desolate street to their vehicle, gave him a bottle of water and
two chocolate bars, and helped him climb into the back seat.

As they drove away from Mucho's neighborhood, he stretched out on the
soft fabric upholstery.

He closed his eyes, the robot baby cradled in his arms, and dreamt of
high school. Wide, well-lit hallways. Pretty girls with long, straight
hair. And good grades of which his parents would be proud.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Just Be Nice

You know those people you have to deal with in life.
The ones who make you sick. Physically sick. Toxic people.
The ones who make you wish you could just be this dapper, smiling dude who doesn't care:


The ones to whom you wish you could say, "Just be nice." And they WOULD.
How awesome would that be?

Don't let those people ruin you.
Don't let them take your faith.
Or your power.
Or your confidence.
They can't make you feel small.

Don't let them dictate who you are, those toxic people.
Tell them, and the world, that you won't stand for it.

Have you always wanted to be different than you are? 
Use today to start to become who you want to be.


Just remember: karma is real. You'll get as good as you give. Eventually, everyone will.
Even them.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Reviews - March 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

When 12-year-old Willow Chase, a highly gifted girl, is orphaned a second time following a car accident, she is adrift in a world that doesn't understand her. Willow is taken in by a Vietnamese family that can barely provide for themselves and misses her parents, her organized space, her sanctuary garden, and her routine. She learns to reach out to those around her and creates a new family for herself, drawing unlikely people together in unexpected ways.

This is a lovely book about, as the cover so eloquently illustrates, swimming against the current. Written in sensitive multiple POVs, Counting by 7s is a story that embeds itself deeply in the heart. Willow and the family she makes, stay with you long after you close the book. My eleven-year-old recommended that I read it. I cried. Good recommendation, Calista!

Appropriate for all middle-grade readers and up.

Very highly recommended.


The Haven by Carol Lynch Williams

You all know I'm a big fan of dystopian. I'm one of those annoying people who would start discussions with, "Well, I liked ________ before it became popular," if I said things like that aloud anymore, which I don't. But I think it all the time. I loved the dystopian genre as a kid (The Giver, Brave New World) and I still love it. I don't tire of it, and I don't know that I ever will. So when I heard that Carol was writing a dystopian, I was very very happy. It was years ago that I first starting hearing about it, because I follow Carol's blog, and I waited with much anticipation for it to FINALLY be available.

Shiloh lives at The Haven, a care-center for Terminals, kids who are dying slowly from an unexplained Disease. As the Disease progresses, it leaves the teen residents of The Haven with only pieces of themselves, until in the end, they don't return from the treatment wing. The Disease is always fatal. The Terminals spend their lives in complete isolation, never glimpsing the world outside the wall.

The thing I love about Carol's writing is that she puts us in the body of the narrator. Through Carol's spare and efficient prose, we get to feel everything Shiloh does. This narrator spends a lot of time feeling disoriented, and so the reader experiences some of that as we follow her story, but in my opinion, this only contributes to the general creepiness of the book. Shiloh reads a bit younger than her years, but it works, considering her rigidly controlled environment and lack of certain stimuli to aid in emotional and psychological development. It also sparks an interesting ethical discussions for young and old readers alike. Some reviewers were frustrated with what they considered vague world-building, but that aspect of the story didn't bother me. I felt that the narrator was in a daze much of the time, and seeing  through her eyes made any lack of clarity regarding the specifics of the world very plausible to me.

Warnings on: General creepiness. There is nothing objectionable. I would actually recommend this book to my eleven-year-old, because she is mature enough to handle the creep-factor, and the prose is very accessible. If you are planning on purchasing this book for a young reader, but not planning on reading it yourself, you can message me and I can give you the lowdown on exactly what kind of creepiness we're talking about here.

Highly recommended.


The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

So I adore this author's prose. It's so incredibly delicious. Taste this:

“I marvel at how good I was before I met him, how I lived molded to the smallest space possible, my days the size of little beads that passed without passion through my fingers. So few people know what they're capable of. At forty-two I'd never done anything that took my own breath away, and I suppose now that was part of the problem - my chronic inability to astonish myself. I promise you, no one judges me more harshly than I do myself; I caused a brilliant wreckage. Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall – I dove.” ” 

Yeah. I know. Seriously.

I actually came to Sue Monk Kidd through her nonfiction, which is lush and gorgeous. Then I read The Secret Life of Bees, which is stunning. So I knew I would love The Mermaid Chair for the prose alone. The story is actually quite interesting, about a woman who begins to feel stifled in her safe and routine marriage. When she travels back to her hometown to care for her ailing mother, she breaks out of the mold into which she'd pressed herself, and begins the exploration to discover truths about her past and her future. A lovely and poignant and empowering book, plumbing the depths of devotion, self-examination, religious conviction, and relationships. One more quote, because I really can't do justice to Kidd's epiphanic writing:

“The mermaids came to me finally, in the pink hours of my life. They are my consolation. For them I dove with arms outstretched, my life streaming out behind me, a leap against all proprieties and expectations, but a leap that was somehow saving and necessary. How can I ever explain or account for that? I dove, and a pair of invisible arms simply appeared, unstinting arms, like the musculature of grace suddenly revealing itself. They caught me after I hit the water, bearing me not to the surface but to the bottom, and only then pulling me up.” 

Warnings on: sexual situations, language. Not appropriate for young readers.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Forsooth, I find that I'm in need of readers!


I was going to write this whole entry in iambic pentameter, but I lost my momentum after the third line, so you'll have to enjoy that another time. Or, if you're really wanting something new in iambic pentameter, read the mad genius of Ian Doescher's Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily A New Hope, or The Empire Striketh Back. Seriously. My brother and I held a partial reading of the first and a full reading of the second and THEY. ARE. BRILLIANT. We cried. Literally. If you are a true Star Wars geek and have Star Wars memorized, they'll be way more enjoyable. If not, you'll still get a kick out of them. They're endlessly clever and totally delightful. Cyndal and Calista read for Han and Leia, and we had a fit of the giggles when Calista's Luke saw Ben in the first scenes on Hoth. ("BEN???") We are interested to see who will end up producing them for the stage. Because someone HAS to. Right? Please? We eagerly await The Jedi Doth Return.

Art by Nicolas Delort

That being said, I need advance readers for my novel. I am finishing up the last chapters and I need people to read it and give initial reactions while I get ready for the first round of edits.

Email me at treadingwords@gmail.com for the working manuscript and subsequent chapters.

And here are book trailers for Shakespeare Star Wars:
Verily, A New Hope 
The Empire Striketh Back