Secret Chapters of The Blood Zodiac

Secret Chapters: Priced at FREE.99

As if there aren’t enough twists and turns in The Blood Zodiac. The Ram starts the mayhem, myth and violence. The Bull, releasing June 22nd, continues it. But I always knew there was more to the story than the travails of Peach and Riley. I adore writing Peach and Riley chapters. They’re my darlings. But what I’ve been getting a real kick out of is writing the secret chapters of each book.

Say wha? Oh yeah. See, there are many intriguing characters in The Blood Zodiac series. To give readers another perspective into the happenings of this unfolding tale, I chose two other people to follow: Tate Marchesi and The Man (I know, I know, but it’ll make sense down the road…). I’m in love with their POVs. But these chapters don’t belong in the novels. They have their own flow and arcs, which nestle into the wide plot of all twelve novels, but deserve to have their own day in the sun outside the novels.

So how do you get to see these secret chapters? Easy enough. Sign up here or follow the link on my homepage. Every time I release a book, I’ll update the secret chapters. That’s an extra twenty-four chapters of behind-the-scenes, revealing story that will put a entirely new spin on the myth of Peach and Riley. Best of all, the secret chapters are FREE. My gift to you.

Cycle 2 of The Blood Zodiac charges in very soon; The Bull is waiting in the wings. So tuck into the secret chapters of The Ram and then get on with the next volume in the series. We have a long way to go together. Let’s make the journey full of turns, thrills, and some secret, yet important, perspectives.

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The Blood Zodiac Photo Shoot: Aries

aries photo, the ram, astrology photos, blood zodiac

The Aries Ram

I knew halfway through writing The Blood Zodiac that I wanted plenty of visuals to promote the series. If you’ve seen the cover for The Ram, you know how bizarre and engaging it is. I thought it would be creative and fun to use Boiseans as models for each of the zodiac signs and do artistic photo shoots for the astrological mascots.

The results have been phenomenal. Working with a talented production and photography team, I couldn’t be more happy to reveal the epitome of Aries.

Set against Boise, Idaho backdrops that have relevance to the series, the models for the entire shoot capture the dark, disturbing nature of the books. The Ram shoot is a perfect introduction to the series of twelve sessions to be unveiled with each book release. Bold, brash, and a little seedy, the ram has never looked so good.

Birthday: March 27th

Mascot: The Ram – headphones and sheepskin combine with fire elements to represent the sign of Aries

Photography: Jonathan Collins and Mazal Simantov

Image Post Processing: Mazal Simantov

Production Team: Erica Crockett, Jonathan Collins, Mazal Simantov and Kristine Nunes

Book Synopsis:

The days of Aries have arrived.

The first message is a belated birthday card. Riley Wanner ignores the strange missive from an unknown sender, instead focusing on his unraveling life. An accident has him questioning his work, relationships with women, and sordid addictions. He obsesses over a stripper to escape his miserable circumstances. But the unsettling notes keep coming. 

Fate plays out in the stars overhead.

Peach Barrow yearns to lead a life of ritual and spirit. Stunted by self-doubt and her past, she struggles to create a new personality. An intriguing woman invades her thoughts, inspiring Peach to take daring action to change her life. However, her transformation will be anything but easy.

Hidden connections simmer under lifetimes of lies.

The woman they crave is one and the same. As they vie for her attention, their hometown erupts with bizarre events, strange signs and spontaneous mayhem. There is no telling who will win when the game is just beginning.

Some must die in order for others to thrive.

Buy The Ram here!

Learn more about The Ram, Cycle 1 of The Blood Zodiac

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The Haunted House: Woolf Meets ECro

Virginia Woolf, the haunted house

No short story out of copyright is safe from ECro. Not even The Haunted House by Virginia Woolf.

Woolfsie, as she was known to all her peers, was an English novelist with a decided slant toward the uppers and downers of life. The cocaines and the opiums. Bipolar disorder might have earmarked her for writing, because as some would have you believe, mental illness and writers are intimate companions. I doesn’t explain my predilection for the wordy words. That honor has been bestowed upon me by Fat Squirrel, the surly mouse who lives in my lingerie drawer. Yes, it’s weird he’s a mouse with the name Fat Squirrel. But no weirder than the pirate hat he wears on his head. And oh! shut the hell up for a moment. The voices are speaking and hate interruption…

Ahem. Speaking of voices, or voices speaking, whatever, Woolfsie heard those as well. She was a character that one, which is a nice way of saying she had issues.

Virginia Woolf, the haunted house

Virginia Woolf is on the left. Yes, really. Copyright James Lafayette – National Portrait Gallery.

She was keen on writing biographies, was on Hitler’s hit list of Brits he wanted dead, and she was even down with racist antics and cultural appropriation. Such a character! But it was 1910! Everyone was into racism back then. Seriously, go ask your great grandpa about it? Can’t because he’s dead? Might have been his racist heart couldn’t take all this P.C. modernity. Or the fact that he’d be like 127 by now.

I’m about to make Woolfsie’s short story, The Haunted House, a little seedier, as ECro do. If she hadn’t loaded her pockets full of rocks and drowned herself in the River Ouse in 1941, she would have after reading this. Wait, that’s a ludicrious thing to say. She’d never read this at the age of 134 because her eyesight would be really poor, just like my SEO ranking for this blog post. Also, Fat Squirrel would never let her near this page, knowing her history of depression and desire for acceptance from readers and writers alike. Fat Squirrel knows ALL. Yeah, even about that. Don’t try to pretend you don’t know what he’s talking about when he asks you about Des Moines back in aught eight. For shame.

The Haunted House

By Virginia Woolf (and ECro)


Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure–a ghostly couple. “Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered. “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.” (I know what “it” is. Just let this play out a bit more because the suspense needs to build. It’s part of my art.)

But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,’ one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps its upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass. (*bites tongue, punches own thigh with fist*)

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The windowpanes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling–what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room . . .” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure? (Oh man. Wait for it…)

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burned behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us, coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. ‘The Treasure yours.”

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy. (Oh yeah they do…)

“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning–” “Silver between the trees–” “Upstairs–” ‘In the garden–” “When summer came–” ‘In winter snowtime–” “The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken, we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.” (It’s coming!!!)

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy. (One more paragraph…)

“Safe, safe, safe,” the heart of the house beats proudly. “Long years–” he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure–” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.” (No, it’s not light in the heart, Virginia. It’s semen. Now read the story again. You’re welcome.)

The End


Your life is infinitely better for reading that. You better have read it again, once you knew what “it” was. Because funny. And because Fat Squirrel demands it.

Want more bad annotations on classic stories? Keep your finger on the funny pulse.

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Book Review: Once in a Blue Year by Michael D. Durkota

michael durkota, book review

I haven’t dipped my toe in the reviewing waters yet. But I thought it was high time to do so once I read Once in a Blue Year by Michael D. Durkota.

Like complex, dynamic characters? How about dramatic tension? A little mystery in the workings of love? Me, too! Hence the need to review and the need to praise.

Once in a Blue Year sticks close to three submariners who are friends but often times unfriendly toward one another. Nathan, checked out from his wife and infant son, loves going under that big drink where he can find solace in his own little world. Dan is tormented by a desire to love someone off limits, but tormented more by his inability to move away from a life that no longer suits him. Trevor, all muscle and stunted emotion, balances his morals against the outside world’s insistent battering at his limitations.

These guys dance around one another, on submarine and on dry land, influencing life paths, choices in love and choices in michael durkota, book reviewviolence. Durkota takes these men through a literary swell of befuddled relationships, sprinkling in a moody, mysterious ambiance throughout the pages. The sentences making up Once in a Blue Year are crisp and tight, punctuated by evocative metaphors and punchy dialogue. One of my favorite images in the book was this one, where Dan reminisces about his time in his father’s basement: “Sawdust would stick to his arms and legs, and he would wipe it away with a swipe of his hand, as if he were wiping away the stars in the sky.” In a lovemaking scene in the book, a moment of guilt-laced passion, he writes, “In mathematics, the product of two negatives is positive. He wasn’t sure if that applied.” I’ve never read a more apt description of an adulterous act than this one.

One of my favorite characters is Jags, a off-kilter submariner looking for ways to get discharged from the Navy. He provides comic relief, Durkota using his nutty voice to break up the seriousness of the story and call into question the reality taking center stage in the narration. Jags has loads of great lines, often playing off the other men. This exchange, between Jags and Trevor, made me laugh out loud:

“When did they let you out?”

“Last night. They said I’m perfectly sane.”

“Did you ask for a second opinion?”

“The thought hadn’t occurred to me.” Jags limped along with the use of one crutch. “What happened to your eye?”

“I must have popped a blood vessel.”

“You look like Satan.”

“Fuck you.”

“Not now. We’ll be late for work.”

I’m a stickler for a strong plot. That doesn’t mean the stories I read need to be formulaic, but they do have to put characters in positions where they are forced to weigh their options and make choices. They must move in a direction, instead of being put upon by outside forces. I like when characters are in the flow of cause and effect and do their best to affect the current. Once in a Blue Year is quiet in ways, a focused vignette on choices made in life and in relationships. Though the scope of the plot is on events we all face in life, it doesn’t mean Durkota’s plot is small. Not at all. It’s rich and complex, detailing a story of love and loss from the perspective of some very real characters.

Durkota writes about Dan’s preferences when reading a book, saying, “He felt safe in the distance. Detached. A voyeur. He spied on the lives of people he didn’t know. He envied the invisible narrator that has no blame, feels no pain. He thought he would choose his own ending.” To me, Dan and Durkota are one in the same here, and the words parallel the psychological suspense of the novel. Except Michael D. Durkota didn’t detach himself from this tale; it’s all in for this author and the reader feels it in spades. The author is present in this tale in a good way. There is no heavy-handed moralistic or personal veneer to wade through. Durkota serves his story and his characters as they wish him to, and that’s no small feat for a writer.

Once in a Blue Year is a nuanced tale of men haunted by life and by their weaknesses and loves. Highly recommended. Can’t wait for Durkota’s next work. Hopefully it won’t be another fifteen years in the making. I don’t want to wait that long!

Connect with Michael D. Durkota on Twitter (@durk13) and on his website (

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Aries the Ram

aries the ram, the blood zodiac, the ram

The zodiac procession begins with Aries. Fiery, impetuous, and willing to lead, Aries folk make their own blood and the blood of others boil. But what of the mascot attributed to Aries? What of Aries the ram?

aries the ram, the ram, the blood zodiacThe story most accepted with ties to the Aries the ram constellation and sign is the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece.  But before Aries the ram was reduced to a fleece, it was a plucky savior of children. See, there once was a king named Athamus of Boetia and he wasn’t content with monogamy. He dipped his toe into polygamy with the acquisition of a troublemaker wife named Ino. Ino wasn’t into sharing; she set out to rid herself of Athamus’s heirs. Nephele, wife numero uno, wasn’t down with that shit. Ino did her best to convince Athamus to sacrifice his son, Phrixus, to Zeus (man, what is it with father/son/ram sacrifice combos? Was all the rage in the B.C.) but Phrixus and his sister Helle were swept off to safety on the back of Aries the ram sent by Zeus. This ram could fly, and as they fled, Helle didn’t have her seat belt on and fell into the drink separating Europe and Asia. Her body has been flavoring Turkish Delight in Istanbul ever since. Phrixus, in jubilation over being spared sacrifice, looked at the ram and thought, I suppose I should kill you for your kindness. Then he skinned the poor bastard and gave the fleece to King Aeetes of Crete. That dude kept the wool of Aries in a copse of trees, guarded by a snake. When Jason decided he would look good in gold, he stole into the woods with the king’s daughter, and she put the snake under a sleeping spell. The lovers got the fleece and literally sailed off into the sunset on the Argo.

Thus ends the tale of Aries the ram.

Like all cycles of the zodiac, there are myths linked to the mascot of each sign. While doing research in preparation for the first book in my series, I decided that this mythological tale would inform the plot of The Ram, cycle 1 of The Blood Zodiac. In fact, all the books in the series incorporate either one or more myths associated with each of the astrological signs. aries the ram, the blood zodiac, the ram

I’ve been working away, rather silently, on my next series for nearly three years now. With the occasional blog post about The Blood Zodiac books here and there, I’ve hinted at my work. Initially I set out to write twelve book in twelve months. The task turned out to be more laborious and taxing and I had to give myself more time (duh, you may be thinking, but when I’m productive, I’m like the brood mother in Aliens productive). So one year became three, and though I wrote Aries in March and April of 2013, it’s back to a keen freshness in my mind.

The Ram, cycle 1 in The Blood Zodiac, will be released in a matter of months. March 21st, 2016. If one reads the coming novel with a background of astrological knowledge, the story is accessible at variable depths. At least part of the story behind Aries the ram mythology plays out in The Ram. Which part and to what extent is for you to find out.

Want a chance to read The Ram before it’s released to the public? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll tell you how you can get a digital copy for yourself ASAP. Get a jump on The Blood Zodiac. It might just save your life…or at the very least, entertain you!

Learn how to get The Ram before the masses by giving me your email.

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What Will The Pharmageddon Look Like?

pharmaggedon, apocalypse, Chemicals

I like a good old fashioned Armageddon like any good malcontent. But the type that really freaks me out? Pharmageddon.

pharmaggedon, apocalypse, ChemicalsI’ve written about stockpiling drugs in other blog posts. I’ve mused over the feasibility of our government having enough prescription drugs to sustain us in the event of catastrophe. But these projections of social collapse usually mirror previous disasters. The powers in charge are planning for tornadoes, acts of God, biological warfare, viral reckonings, invading forces. There doesn’t seem to be a well-detailed plan for a pharmageddon.

What’s a pharmageddon, you ask? It’s apocalypse via the destruction of our chemical supply chains, resources, and production plans. It’s what happens to Aberdeen Childress and all the souls surrounding her in my debut novel, Chemicals. Pills are a precious commodity, people who aren’t successful at going cold turkey off medications once supplies run out are in serious trouble, and our culture is forced to face our dependence on happiness, stability and health straight outta the laboratory.

While businesses catering to survivalists flourish, selling everything from barrels of wheat to molds for creating homemade bullets, there is less of a focus on mitigating disaster from the disappearance of our drugs. Scared raiders might get you? Marauding cannibals? Well, if you didn’t get your tranquilizer script filled before the zombies hit the streets, you could be having life-threatening seizures within a day of detoxing off that drug. Good luck with that.

I haven’t become a nutter about prescription stockpiling, even after I felt compelled to write Chemicals. But I do find myself refilling my most important medications more regularly. A voice within always says, “Erica, they’d get things up and running again eventually. The stockpiles are large enough to last for the short stint of chaos.” But then I tell that voice it’s naive and overly optimistic. Things might not rally and drugs might not last.

Which leads me to very important questions for you, dear reader. As I round the corner and eye the finish line on my upcoming series, The Blood Zodiac, I turn my thoughts back to Aberdeen, Hurt and Louis. Those plagued and harried souls of Chemicals have more story to tell, and book two is simmering within. I have a strong notion of where the story will go and what will happen, but I need your help with the backdrop. Thus, the questions I pose to you are these: America has gone without the fortification of prescription drugs for about a year. How does America look? How are people surviving? What’s the scariest thing about this landscape?

I really would appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Tell me if people have found new ways to cope, and what that might look like. Have certain jobs changed in response to the crisis? Are people manufacturing their own cures? While I have my own ideas, I value the creative imaginings of others. Who knows? Your suggestion might end up in the next book, when Aberdeen and her ragtag group returns.

Feel free to comment here or email me at with your thoughts!

And want to read a nonfiction book about pharmageddon, entitled Pharmageddon? It’s currently on my to-read shelf and looks riveting.

Want to be one of the first to know when the sequel to Chemicals is ready? Sign up for my email updates!


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The Gift of the Magi: O. Henry Meets ECro

the gift of the magi, o. henry, ecro

Merry Yule! On this darkest day of the year, have a heartwarming story to banish the doldrums. The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry.

But wait. There’s something you should know. I couldn’t just give you this tale of plucky determination in the Xmas season without a little…flavor. Sure, you can read the Project Gutenberg text on numerous sites around the web. But you can’t read this version anywhere but here. Deal is this: the story is in its entirety, but the words in parentheses, in a seasonal hue of evergreen, are ECro’s.

What does ECro think of the poverty-stricken couple taxed with finding the perfect gift for one another on a very literal dime? How about the sexism of 1905 fiction? The on-the-nose spots? The O. Henry wink of “wait for it…wait for it?”

Well, I don’t want to spoil your holiday present. Read on!

The Gift of the Magi

By O. Henry (and ECro)

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. (Now I want a taco. That could pay for a taco.) That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man (He’s made of broccoli rabe and the white parts of romaine lettuce.) and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. (Um, so this is sex act, right? I think I’d have to make more than a few pennies in order to “bulldoze” my vegetable man.) Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas. (The day she would discover the burning in her cheeks was syphilis.)

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. (We’re all going to die.)

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. (I didn’t know women had stages. Shit, which stage am I in?) A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad. (This narrator is a bit of a judgmental poop. I envision him saying this with pipe in mouth, brandy in hand, and a maid’s head bobbing between his legs. Dick.)

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto (A fine example of O. Henry diction masturbation.) was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. (They made more than me in 2015 back in 1905.) Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. (They still made more than me.) But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good. (Jim ain’t gonna like this syphilis development.)

Della finished her cry (Because it gets the sad out. But not venereal disease.) and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. (Effectively turning her into a chalky-skinned clown. Which was the look back in the day.) She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. (Also, the window was gray because of the soot of industrialization, along with her lungs. And her soul.) Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. (Get him the carnitas. No, picadillo. He’s def a picadillo man.) She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim. (Does it have to be good enough to be inside Jim? Because, seriously, that taco.)

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. (It’s a mirror. Appertaining thereunto pier-glass.)  Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. (I have not, sir. But I have seen a mirror that costs $8. The coke on it was significantly more expensive.) A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy. (Whoa, trigger. We get it. Special hair, special watch.)

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. (I don’t ever look at brown water and think, that’s some nice looking water. Now I just think of her with shit hair. Della “Shit Hair” Dillingham Young.) It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. (It’s her Sunday best.) And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet. (Della doesn’t cry everyday, but when she does, it’s approximately seven thousand times in twenty-four hours.)

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. (Both had been subjected to the brown waters.) With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white (racist), chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

the gift of the magi, o. henry, ecro

Brunette Combing Her Hair by James Carroll Beckwith. Public Domain image.

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade. (Egads, the brown waters end in a brown waterfall.)

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della. (That’s what she said. No really. As evidenced by the quotations. See, in modern writing, the quotations signify a direct, spoken set of words from a character. Thus, that’s what she said.)

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. (That was the acid she took.) Forget the hashed metaphor. (Where’s your highfalutin vocab now, O. Henry?) She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. (Tacos are for everyone.) There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. (Jim was also metallic and destined to be chained to something which needed constant attention and winding.) Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. (Girl, we could have had so many tacos. If you go discount taco, we might be able to get one in his belly. Is it a Tuesday in this story? Taco Tuesday somewhere in the hood?) With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task. (A woolly elephantine task.)

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. (So Jim is into little boys. Does all his money go toward Cracker Jacks divvied out by the backstop?) She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?” (And if Jim kills you, can I have that 87 cents? It’s Tuesday where I am.)

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. (His periods were every 28 days.) Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. (With his interest in boys, I’d think he’d prefer the backdoor.) Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. (But not too white, thankfully.) She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.” (And God spake thus: Hooker, please.)

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! (Oh shit. Della went out and forgot about the baby again. Oh well. Let’s hose down the crib and start on another one.) He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. (His nose was very keen, unfazed by the odor of brown waters.) His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. (It’s the expression of murder. Taco, here I come.) It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him. (With the hot pan. It was self-defense, copper. He woulda kilt me. I didn’t look young and boyish enough.)

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor. (I told you he was made of metal.)

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?” (No. Now you are Sapphic Della. Jim isn’t into women. I need you to understand this, Della. We talked about it over chops last Thursday.)

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy. (Ha. Almost.)

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. (And then unhinged his metallic jaw and swallowed her whole. Digestion takes two to four weeks so Jim will be slow for awhile. Don’t ask him to participate in any sack races.) For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. (What’s happening, O. Henry? Look where? Behind me? I’m scared.) Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? ($999,992.) A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. (I’m in the wit category. Math is hard.) The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on. (Why are you telling me this? Let me be surprised. Do you have to take everything from me, narrator? First it was my childhood pet, Scrappers. Then my maid. And my pipe and brandy. And we haven’t discussed the tacos yet. Dick.)

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table. (*splat*)

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White (once again, not too white…) fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat. (Della cry number 5,689 for the day. But, she is a woman. The lord of the flat, however, is an emotionless, metallic snake. Cry on him, Della, and rust the chinks in his whip-like body. Be free. Pick me up a taco while you’re out.)

For there lay The Combs (Much like The Watch and The Brown Waters and The Air of Idiocy.)–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!” (Della means the hair around her nipples. That’s why she presses them to her chest.)

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!” (5,690.)

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit. (She’s seeing his hand glint. Because it’s metal. You should all know this by now.)

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? (Or is it Jim Dandy? Bah dum.) I hunted all over town to find it. (There aren’t as many feral cats on the street anymore, Jim darling.) You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled. (Women can’t give commands. Especially to Jim the Metallic One.)

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

(Cue Della crying enough times to hit that seven thousand mark.)

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. (What the fuck is happening? What happened to Jim and Della? Where are we? Are we supposed to be looking behind us again?) They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related (You said it, not me.) to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. (Ha, their love is dumb.) But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. (They are Jim the Metallic One and Della the Syphilitic Taco Tease.)

The End

Want to read the original without my ideas marring this fine and wholesome tale? Then get thee to Project Gutenberg’s website.

May the holidays treat you well. I hope you don’t cut off all your hair or sell a family heirloom. But at least there will be chops. And Maggi, which is a brand of condiments popular outside the states. Happy Darkest Day. Merry Christmas. May all your gifts involve sacrifice from another person.

Good tidings of ECro. No comfort. No joy. I’m humming right now.

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Writing Prompt #15 – Colorful Pens!

Because things aren’t always black and white.

Sure, we like our black and blue pens. Used to be the only option for scribes. There wasn’t an ink pot filled with hot pink potential. But my, how the times have changed. Write in cerulean or chartreuse? Sure thing.

I’m personally obsessed with my colorful pens. I find that I reach for certain colors when I’m in certain moods. And the prospect of only having a color or two to choose from? Horrible. With so many bright options, why not express yourself with the color most to your liking?

Writing Prompt #15 – Colorful Pens! pens

This prompt is easy enough, if you have selection of pens at your disposal. Gather them up. Go on, I’ll wait. Now, take out a crisp piece of lined paper or be wild and go for a blank, white sheet. Look at your color options. We’re going to choose our favorite color and use this as impetus for our writing. Red your thing? Start writing, in red, and tell me why you chose it in writing.

Now we’re going to switch it up a bit. I want you to tap into your feelings. You know, those things you repress all the time. I want you to finish your initial thoughts about the first color and now I want you to pick another color of pen and let your words be influenced by the emotions that color engages within you. Yellow makes you feel happy? I want some joyful thoughts and descriptions. Green makes you feel all cozy and safe? Tell me a story of feeling at home in nature. Switch to a different color of pen when the emotion feels all “written out,” and start on something new.

Hopefully you’ll have a page of rainbow-colored words when you’re tapped out. Better yet, several pages of color to add to your stack of successful writing prompts!

Like me telling you what to write? Then stay in contact!

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6×6:Momentum Release Party Drops September 25th

6×6:Momentum was a team effort, bringing together those in the Boise community interested in creating comics, and the resulting product is 32 pages of entertaining success.

comic cover

Amber Nicole Jones’s fabulous cover art.

The cool kids at Mystery House Comics and my own imprint, Corvid Tear Media, got together nigh on two years ago and concocted an idea. Why not pair artists and writers interested in making comics or even veterans wanting more contact with folks just getting started in the industry and set them to task creating five-page short comics along a central theme? Good idea, right? Thus, 6×6 was born. Our first volume had creators setting stories to the theme of “feral.” This latest volume tasked them with following the theme of “momentum” and the creators rose to the occasion.

To celebrate the latest volume of 6×6 and celebrate the creatives involved in the process, Mystery House Comics and Corvid Tear Media are hosting a release party on September 25th from 6-9pm at Spitshade Tattoo in downtown Boise, Idaho. Those supportive of our local comic community and desirous to get their hands on their own copy of 6×6:Momentum can come down, chat up the creators, get their comics signed and feel good about being a cheerleader for Idaho’s indie comic scene!

Let me give you a taste of what resides in the pages of 6×6:Momentum.

Out of this world art by Mike Dreher!

Out of this world art by Mike Dreher!

“Supersonic Free-Falling in Love” was written by Ken Henningsen and illustrated by Mike Dreher. Tackling the emotions that make us human juxtaposed with the power of gravity, these guys crafted a comic both transcendent and familiar. With Mike’s crisp, eye-catching art and Ken’s sparse, carefully chosen words, “Supersonic” rides well on its own momentum.

comic, private investigator, noir

This lovely lady was inked by Jacob Bear.

“La Belle Rouge” was written by Elysium Jacks and illustrated by Jacob Bear. Elysium is new to comics while Jacob is a pro and the pairing produced a fantastical story of noir, shape shifting, and sexual tension. The dialogue is well crafted, the art rich and dramatic, and the constant “tick tock” of passing time moves the reader through five pages of robust plot.

Physics and physicality drawn out by Adrianne Presnell.

Physics and physicality drawn out by Adrianne Presnell.

“A Body at Rest” was written by Randall Kirby and illustrated by Adrianne Presnell. Randall makes sure readers know laws of physics can be used to describe more than staid examples in a Physics 101 course. Adrianne’s warm, unique illustration style shows what happens when two lovers are subject to physical laws and unspoken emotions. Physics nerds can keep pace with formulas dotted throughout the comic, but no knowledge of hard science is necessary to enjoy this tale.

This wild ride was illustrated by Jay O'Leary.

This wild ride was illustrated by Jay O’Leary.

“The Life and Times of Ballistic Man” was written by Flexo Bender and illustrated by Jay O’Leary. Light on words, Flexo let his story play out in the intricate and wild art attributed to Jay. A man’s life flies by in five pages and readers are there for every moment of it.

Delicate penmanship and sweets by Sarah Ragan Olson.

Delicate penmanship and sweets by Sarah Ragan Olson.

“Requiem for the Gingerbread Man” was written by Heidi Coon and illustrated by Sarah Ragan Olson. Heidi puts a new spin on an old fairy tale and crafts a different past for a man made of dough. Sarah displays the tale with a crafty, light-hued art style. A classic story gets reworked and comes out dirtier.

Dark, rich panels by John "J.T." Millstead.

Dark, rich panels by John “J.T.” Millstead.

“Tomorrow” was written by Jared Dawson and illustrated by John “J.T.” Millstead. The protagonist struggles with something most of us do: procrastination. But Jared encourages us not to put off our dreams for another day while J.T. demonstrates the dangers of waiting and the hope in moving forward in his dark and detailed panels.

Come nab your own copy of 6×6:Momentum on September 25th and meet the fine, Idaho-based creators behind all these stories. For more info on the event, RSVP on Facebook here and please share with friends and family who dig sequential, visual storytelling.

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Weeds Are Bawdy, Morose, and Violent

weed, Thistle, humor

They’re also silly, nostalgic, and crass. And when the final version of What Weeds Are Thinking rolls out this autumn, people will get to read the imagined thoughts of common weeds.

I was lucky enough to get to debut a sample copy of this humorous, adult picture book last week at the Boise Public Library Comic Con. A black and white chapbook with thirteen weedy vignettes and mad ramblings found their way to print. When folks stopped by my table, I took the opportunity to share the book with them. A few people displayed zero mirth, but the vast majority of people would thumb open the booklet and smile or laugh or smile while laughing. Then they’d sign up for Corvid Tear Media’s newsletter and I’d send the preview copy home with them.

Bolstered by a delighted populace, Sarah Ragan Olson and I have decided to postpone the final version of the book while we put together an additional six art/text combos of wily weeds. What Weeds Are Thinking will have twenty forays into the imagined minds of herbaceous lives.

Back in March, I approached Sarah with a few ideas for adult picture books. She bit when I said I wanted to play with the idea of delving into the minds of things that, well, don’t have minds. Weeds were first. But other objects and non-sentient lives are on the docket for future projects. Expect What Weeds Are Thinking to be the first of it’s kind in a continuing series.

Our streams of consciousness, our inner workings are frequently shocking and private for good reason. I wanted to write a series of pops, of snippets into the thoughts of weeds most gardeners and those attached to nature already intimately know. The first weed finished was the ubiquitous, recognizable dandelion. And I imagined the plant angry, vehemently against humanity, so the thought I attributed to the yellow-bloomed weed is all vim and vitriol. Others, like cheatgrass, have more sexual ideas, and some, like chickweed, think of puns or misconceptions due to their given names.

With luck, the full-color, professionally bound version of What Weeds Are Thinking will be ready for the masses come October. November at the dire latest. Until then, and if you didn’t make it out to chat with me at the fantastic Boise Public Library Comic Con, enjoy these three weeds and their curious thoughts:

weed, Thistle, humor

Thistle: “Look, there is a very easy way to remember the proper usage of the words homely and comely. When one is homely, one is so strikingly ugly they are better suited to life spent in the home, you see, away from windows. A shut-in, if you’d like. Where as one who is comely is super tight (if a body is had) and lickable (if a tongue is had) and darn pretty, so much so, one like this has the tendency to come a lot (if come is had). Comely, accounting for the staggering amounts of orgasms they have while sexing other comely creatures. I hope this clears up any confusion. Oh, now I’ve stymied you over the origins of my book learning, have I? I tire of you. Put your fingers on my spiny, purple bits and squeeze.”

weed, purslane, humor

Purslane: “I never wanted this thug life. It chose me. I’ve got the gray ash of tobacco leaves strewn at my base, Mountain Dew bottle caps keeping me company, a Powdered Donette wrapper as my only holmes. In better circumstances, I could have ended up in someone’s Greek salad, powering the souls attending a vegan potluck. Been a flower child who also happened to be a flower child.
But this compacted soil made me hard. I belong to the asphalt jungle. Mind helping me tip this 40 at my side? I’m feeling morose.”

weed, cheatgrass, humor

Cheatgrass: “Baby, here’s the thing. I lay seed in any crack I can find. And sure, I care for you but I can’t have you losing your sheath every time I split a daisy cluster or pop sedum. Yeah, sedum are typically slutty but it ain’t like you’re keeping it in the bromus tectorum family. This country was founded on principles of freedom, girl. We might be invasive, choking out the rights of the natives but hell, I got to ramble. Anywhere I can get it and give it, baby. It’s why I got a taproot.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed the musings of weeds. If you’d like to stay updated on when What Weeds Are Thinking is out in digital and hardcover, leave your email!

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