for the Creatives

Studying the Greats: Who do you wanna be?

Who do you wanna be when you grow up? Not “grow up” as a person, but grow as an artist. Deciding that is a starting point. Then studying them, that’s one of the greatest keys to growth. If you can’t envision where you’re headed, it’s a little more difficult to get there.

You don’t have to personally know them. There are four super simple steps I’m posting for patrons on how to learn from the greats. Come join that discussion!

And tell me by commenting below: Who are you aspiring to be? Which creative souls are out there doing some piece of what you are wanting to do? and most importantly, what are you learning from them?

for the Creatives

The obligation of an artist

I’ve been pondering the role of an artist, what our responsibility is and what can depend on our brand. What qualifies as our role and what is “out of our lane”. I don’t have that all figured out, and it may be more subjective than all this, but here’s where I’m at right now:


“Shut up and sing,” they say. “Stay in your lane. Leave politics to the politicians. Your education, your skillset is merely the creation of an aesthetic piece.”

But you know. You know your education is more than the word on the page, the brush on the canvas, the graceful movement or theatrical quip, more than the combination of melody and harmony.

Your skillset is in the human condition, the myriad of stories and moments and emotions and experiences and struggles that make a life. It bleeds into your art, your life, your politics, your values. There is no separation. And as an expert on the human condition, your voice matters.

  • We have an obligation to speak from where we’ve come, where we are, where we’re going.
  • We have an obligation to listen.
  • We have an obligation to represent the diversity and the variety of the world around us.
  • We have an obligation to amplify marginalized voices.
  • We have an obligation to speak for justice, for life, for humanity. To speak for the vulnerable and overlooked. To represent without exploiting their story for our own gain.
  • We have an obligation to challenge. To guide, to push, to disturb the status quo.
  • We have an obligation to truth, in both fiction and nonfiction.

I’m still learning. I’m still learning what this looks like for artists in general and for me specifically. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What is the role of an artist? Where do they fit in society beyond entertainment?

for the Creatives

Marie Kondoing your time

First question: Which of the things you spend your time on spark joy? That’s the easy part. This is where all my creative aspirations go.

But there’s a next part. Because I knowwww that you spend time doing the dishes and it *never* sparks joy.

When Marie Kondo went into the kitchen or the bathroom closet, she often switched her question. My whisk or my washcloths don’t exactly spark joy, but I’m certainly not throwing them away; they’re kinda necessary. “Do you see yourself taking this into your future?” or “Do you see this as part of your ideal lifestyle?” That was the type of question she would ask (I don’t remember her exact wording, forgive me for botching). Then maybe the washcloth doesn’t spark joy, but I appreciate its place in my apartment because I see how it contributes to the life I want to lead.

From my (admittedly limited) understanding, the KonMari method is more than just about objects that spark joy, but about building a life that sparks joy. It’s not about minimalism or cleaning or decluttering, though those all can be part of the process. It’s about appreciating and loving what we have and the things we surround ourselves with.

So, second question to KonMari your time: Which of the things you spend time on do you see taking you into your future? And, related but different, which of the things you spend time on do you see as part of your ideal lifestyle?

Often the second question encompasses items you have to do but don’t want to, which brings a whole new level of appreciation and gratitude. (Me right now: “Hmm, yeah, I guess my ideal future does not involve a pigsty of dirty dish piles, so until I hire a housekeeper, I’m washing dishes!”)

Third question: What other things do you spend your time on that the above questions don’t cover? Hint: Ditch those things and fill that time with joy sparking! Oh wait…KonMari method…. Thank those things for what they brought to your life, thennnnnn trash them.

(Sidenote: There may be items on the third list you legitimately can’t ditch. I get it. No harm, no foul. I am moreso meaning the things that you can.)

Big old caveat here: I am not a consultant or an expert. I’m just someone who watched the Netflix show. For expert advice, that’d be Marie Kondo.

Exclusive Content, for the Writers

The costs of self-publishing a book

This post is top secret content for my most raving fans. There are two ways to get in on the fun:

  1. An abridged version of any new post is sent to those who receive my posts by email. You can sign up for free at the very bottom of my webpage. 
  2. The all-access pass for the archives and any future exclusive posts is available to paying patrons for just $2/mo. You can sign up through the below link to Patreon.com/AmyLSauder
The only question is, which will you choose? 
This content is available exclusively to Patreon members at the time this content was posted. Become a patron to get exclusive content like this in the future.
Central IL, Showcasing other Creatives

A comfy kind of kooky: King’s Pen writers group

Today is the 8 year anniversary of King’s Pen writers group. To celebrate, we had a collaborative project of writing this piece of creative nonfiction about our experience with King’s Pen over the years. Enjoy.

8 years later, here we are

by Yasmeen Hudson, Kim Kouski, Paul Maitland, Amy L. Sauder, and Jennifer Esther Wieland

Riverside church was asking people to start smallgroups. Kim started King’s Pen because Jesus told her to. She always wanted a group of Christian writers. She wanted it to be a smallgroup, not a writers group. A group to talk about God.

Kim was terrified beyond belief. She didn’t think she could do it. The first meeting was at Berean bookstore on Thursday, March 3, 2011. Kim was glad that her good friend Kim Z. was there, so she mostly talked to her.

Some people helped start it, and others stayed. Some are part of the Facebook community even though they can’t attend in person. Then there were the few who would visit, but would read the writing book the whole time instead. Maybe they thought it would be creative writing class where Kim would teach. Or maybe they didn’t like us because we’re all kooky. So many people have come and gone and been a part of the process, like a quilt, leaving their mark, and that’s what makes the group what it is.

We’re the longest surviving Riverside smallgroup, and we also have the longest meeting times. Hours of hangout.

There’s something dependable about the group. Everyone’s journey mixing together, and a part of that is weaving our lives together, making the bond stronger. We get to watch people open up and bloom as we live our lives in this community. It’s fellowship: attending each other’s launch parties, graduations, anniversary parties, baby showers, and celebrations. Supporting one another in life, cheering each other in writing, and connecting as believers.

There’s freedom here too. Acceptance. We trust each other enough that we don’t have to put up our defenses. We can be ourselves. And in turn, we’re each others’ biggest fans.

We have something routine. It allows us to build writing disciplines, and it brings us back to what’s really important with devotions every week. We have finished books, published blogs, published books, and started seriously writing. We have accountability. We keep writing because we need something to read for group. If we hadn’t been here, who knows if we would have quit.

Kim has been dedicated and consistent. Even during the seasons of just 3 people attending, Kim would faithfully show up and keep it going. That’s also true to writing. You have to stick with it in the dry seasons when we wonder “Am I even making a difference?”

I think we’d be fun watching, like a wildlife show. Paul offers his steady devotions, then we get a laugh at the Kim Kouski translation of the Bible, about sheeps in trees or about snarky Jesus. We have an obsession with geekdom like comic-con and sword seminars and MST3K movie nights and renaissance faires and cosplay. Paul puts up with it all. He doesn’t run away. Kim is our fairy godmother, transforming our wardrobe with her magic spells. Jenn sings Frozen with reckless abandon with 3 year olds. We have group writing days where we don’t write a thing. We have lots of food. We throw birthday parties for everyone, which basically means we celebrate every meeting. We’re a comfy kind of kooky.

And 8 years later, here we are.


If you’re in central IL and interested in attending King’s Pen, get in touch for more info.

If you’d like me to facilitate a workshop for your church, business, smallgroup, conference, town, friend group, or family where you make your own collaborative creative nonfiction piece about your story, get in touch to discuss details and pricing.

for the Creatives

How to do ALL THE THINGS as a multi-creative

I write stories and blogposts, and I teach, and I have dayjob and family and friends and I should probably try to live healthy like go to the gym and prep veggies, oh and Marie Kondoing my life is pretty important right now, plus I travel a lot to see my Wisconsin Guy (I mean, my only guy, but he’s also my Wisconsin Guy), plus there’s church and there’s serving my community, and let’s not forget Netflix. Phew, I’m wiped! Oh, and I need sleep! Yes, sleep. ZZZzzzZZZzzzZZZzzzz.

In maintaining my writerly entrepreneurial life, I have book writing, blogging, social media updates, email newsletter, patron updates, book signings and events, writers groups, teaching classes, #DelilahTales updates about my mannequin’s life because why not, artistic fashion resale, directing the literary arts section of a Christian creative arts conference, and of course a dayjob to make this all possible.

And, in case ya didn’t notice from above, I’m not even the most multi-creative human out there. Some of y’all out there write and dance and paint and act and and all the things. Some of y’all have kids. Some of y’all have 3 jobs. Let’s be real: Some of y’all are busier than me.

But in juggling all the things, I’ve learned a few tips I thought I’d pass along. If you feel like you’re bombing your resolutions, it’s okay. Let’s reset. Let’s take another month to figure it out, and I won’t tell anybody. 

In a previous post I gave a micro-step about picking which ball you’ll keep in the air, but there’s a whole process to go deeper into re-evaluating each piece of your life and getting a few steps closer to doing the things that you’re actually wanting to do with the time you have.

Here’s my step by step process to prioritizing. I did it back when I got serious about my writing, and routinely I’ve re-evaluated and adjusted from there. It might help you.

When I began to make a regular writing routine, but didn’t have time for it, I did the following:

  1. Made a list of priorities, which included all the things I want to be the focus of my life for the time. This can include activities and abstract concepts: community, faith, writing, blogging, etc.
  2. Made a separate list of obligations, the things I don’t want to be the focus of my life but I have to give some time to. This also includes activities and abstract concepts: health (nutrition and gym), rest days, dayjob, sleep, etc.
  3. Goal of the above: diminish as much time as possible for obligations – for instance from my life, don’t work overtime if possible, don’t set some ridiculous gym goal, choose quicker healthy foods rather than hours of meal prep, have one rest day a week but not lounging for weeks on end, etc.  – and add the priorities to calendar wherever possible, organize life around those things.
  4. Made a separate list that detailed every single thing I spend my time doing currently. Included sleep, gym, meal prep, movie watching, reading, writers group, church small group, church services, work, writing, watching tv shows with a couple friends, babysitting, etc.
  5. Removed everything from my calendar that was part of that last list but not on the other lists. I noticed one small group I attended was not a community to me, but the other was, so I dropped the one that did not factor into my priority of “community”. I stopped babysitting. Cut the TV show watching with friends mostly, and prioritized writerly relationship meetings that help achieve my writing priority.
  6. Anything that came up to add to my calendar, I weighed on this scale: Is this in line with my priorities? Yes, then add it. Is this more under obligation? Okay, I’ll add it if I need to allot time to this still. Is this neither? Nope, can’t do it, I’m busy.

Notes:

  • This will fluctuate with time. Going through this process isn’t thinking “For the rest of my life, where does this fall?” It’s “Right now, where does this fall? For this season, what do I want my life to look like?” Maybe decluttering is priority because Marie Kondo and spring cleaning vibes. But then, you declutter, congratulations by the way, and suddenly you want music and sleep to be your top priority instead. This isn’t set in stone for all time. So ask yourself, for the next year or 6 months or 3 months, what you want it to look like.
  • The “obligation” category isn’t a bad section. You can even enjoy obligations very much (three cheers for sleep!). Obligations are still very much important and given regular time, just not extra. It’s important I go to the gym, spend time with family, sleep, attend my church, serve my community, work, write…but it’s all a question of which things I will allot time and not give extra time to (obligation), and which ones I need to fill my calendar as full as I can with because they’re my focus (priority).
  • For you: Which creative pursuits are an obligation? Which creative pursuits are a priority? Either way is fine. What about family? friends? health? cleaning your house? netflix? reading? gaming? travel? What about all your other activities? It’s all up to you. There’s no wrong list, it’s just personal to your life goals, aspirations, desires, etc.

Final step, I promise:

With the list of priorities and what gets what time, you want those priorities in order. What’s your top priority if you had to lose everything but one? What’s your second priority? And so on down the list. Once you do that, fit them each into your calendar on a regular basis in accordance with your prioritization, but you always know what drops first if you can’t hit it and you always know what gets any extra time you carve out.

So is your top priority theater? Novel? Blogging? Give your top priority the most of your focus/time/energy. Give a little time to the others. Maybe some will be every day, some every week, and some only every month. Who knows. But don’t focus so much on juggling all your lower priorities that you don’t give the time to your top priority.

It’s okay to want a lot of things, and you’ll figure out what works for you balance-wise with time.

You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS. At least not all at once. Choose a couple for now. Add some in when you have room, take some off when you don’t. Most importantly, cut down as much “obligation” time as you can and throw it all at your “priorities” list. Something beautiful will come of it.

New top secret content for you!

If you like my detailed analytical posts like this one, it’s becoming a new perk for my most raving fans. From now on, these will be top secret content you can receive one of two ways:

  1. An abridged version of any new post is sent to those who receive my posts by email. You can sign up for free at the very bottom of my webpage. 
  2. The all-access pass for the archives and any future exclusive posts is available to paying patrons for just $2/mo. You can sign up at Patreon.com/AmyLSauder

The only question is, which will you choose?

Central IL, Showcasing other Creatives

A bookworm’s invite to tea with the Queen

Her Majesty’s English Tearoom in Central IL is an enchanting place to visit, for tea or for books or for browsing. Here is a sneak-peek from local authors of a few of the fun finds along the way (ahem, you just might find a certain Amy L. Sauder in here somewhere)

Her Majesty’s English Tearoom: Come have tea with the Queen!
I Know You Like a Murder at the Tearoom
Make Me Over at the Tearoom
Zombie Turkeys at the Tearoom
Hidden Secrets at the Tearoom

Plus, a couple events in a far far away (or not so far away) kingdom…

Murder Mystery at the Grand Hotel
Books & Breakfast at Little Traveler

Thanks to Kim Kouski for her her videography, Paul Maitland for directing (you’ll be seeing his books on shelves soon, so remember that name!), and Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild for hosting in her lovely tearoom.

P.S. My friends and I had so much fun making these videos. Check out the blooper reel for more writerly mayhem:

Bloopers at Tea

for the Creatives

Juggling & blogging [& yes I’m back, I’m still alive I think]

Jugglers: It’s more fun to drop the ball, right? right???

Okay, fine, that’s wishful thinking because all I can do is drop the ball. Anyone else able to only juggle one ball tops? I’m lucky to toss a ball from one hand to the other instead of across the room. Hand-eye coordination is lost on me.

And that’s how I came to drop this ball – this blog – here.

Four years. I’ve stuck to my once a week blogpost (minus vacations) for four years. That was my main ball to juggle. Sure, I’d post on social media, I’d teach a class here and there, I’d work on my story…But this blog was the one thing I was focusing on keeping in the air.

Then a few months ago, I published a book. And I couldn’t keep two things in the air, so that became my thing. Figuring the publishing world out is no small chore, even for someone who’s been in the loop on the writing world for years on end.

Now that’s over, and my main goal for the new year is to find some semblance of balance again. Or someone somewhere recently said they look for “harmony” instead of “balance”. I like that idea. So here I am, reintroducing myself to this ball I’ve dropped, and I’m ready to give it a toss again. I have great things to post about publishing, creating, achieving goals, and so much more.

One important thing I’ve learned that helps me make things happen and achieve my goals: Figure out the one ball that I’m gonna keep in the air when others fall away. Figure out my main focus for right now, and I can always switch it later.

I’ve missed this blog a lot – I’ve missed you a lot – but I remind myself that it’s okay I went away for a time to focus on my new goal, my new creation. Now here I am, reintroducing myself to this ball I’ve dropped, and I’m ready to give it a toss again. I have great post ideas about publishing, creating, achieving goals, and so much more. I’m ready to juggle *this one* again.

The gist: Really, most people can’t juggle for long. Something is gonna crash, and that’s okay.

Now it’s your turn. Catch!

Stories

A dystopian mermaid Christmas story for you

The Cost of Holiday Cheer

by Amy L. Sauder & by Jaclyn (proprietor of Amica Mea)

 

“Santa didn’t like me.”

“Madlyn, eat…” her father Greg frowned.

An awkward Fischer dinner was to be expected, the weekly pad thai a miniscule pretense of normalcy. Greg would look with pleading eyes at his wife, Lilith. Lilith would force a sad smile for their daughter, Madlyn. And Madlyn would make pretend that all was right in her 4-year-old world.

“My lil’ pet,” Lilith comforted. “Why would Santa not like you? You’ve been such a champ. I’m sure Santa is eager to bring your gift.”

“No, Santa frowned. He shuffled me off.” Madlyn had emptied her box of noodles long ago, but opened and closed the paper flaps as if more pad thai might magically appear.

“Honey, what’s she talking about?” Lilith patted Greg’s hand, but he quickly reached for his water. His hands would be clammy from the cold glass rather than the conversation.

“Salty food…” Greg said. “Should complain, get a coupon.”

Lilith turned her attention back to Madlyn. “Santa is sorry, pet. He had an off day.” Lilith poked Madlyn’s nose. “Your Christmas will have everything you’ve ever asked for. Promise.”

Greg sputtered and coughed. “I wouldn’t get too excited…”

But it was too late. Madlyn clapped with glee. “Anything?”

Lilith laughed. “If you asked for a Zoo Unicorn, you might have some trouble convincing daddy to clean the poo, but maybe you’ll get a GlowFish. Why, Santa might even leave a Pocket Panda under the tree.”

Lilith was beaming, not the false smile she’d grown accustomed to. “We may need to get a Pocket Panda, Greg. What did she ask for? a Zoo Unicorn? or did she ask you to design a docile T-Rex?”

Greg stuffed his arms with empty takeout boxes and hurried toward the kitchen. “All this clutter…”

Lilith wheeled out from the table and followed. “Greg, what’s with you?”

Greg dumped the boxes on the counter and drooped. “Lilith, she told Santa she wants you here for Christmas.”

Lilith’s smile froze. “But she knows…”

“What she knows,” Greg said, “is that magical Santa will give her whatever she wants, now thanks to you.”

“This isn’t my fault,” Lilith spat. “I didn’t choose any of this.”

Greg drummed his fingers on the countertop. “I’d do anything…”

Lilith rolled her wheelchair to his side and rested her head on his hip. “You can only do so much. We’ll be fine.” She nodded and smiled desperately.

Greg pushed away and tromped to his makeshift lab. “There’s got to be some way…”

 

~~~

 

The double doors to Barry’s office were shut tight like the gates to Oz, and Greg marched straight through the cavernous foyer to knock, stack of papers tucked firmly under his elbow.

“Mr. Fischer!” hissed Barry’s assistant Felicia, her canary blouse rippling as she waved her arm for attention. “Mr. Fischer! He’s already on the call. You’re late!”

Greg jerked to a stop in front of Felicia’s desk, mere feet from the doors, and let out a breath, barely keeping the papers wedged between his elbow and side. He deflated and rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t care that Felicia was curt; he just needed to talk to Barry and hoped he wasn’t too late.

“I can wait.” But Felicia had already gone back to work. They let silence fall between them, and it filled the gleaming, cold room.

Felicia typed vigorously on a slim laptop, eyes flicking to the upper right corner of the screen, where Greg assumed her phone application was docked. You never knew whether these meetings would run long or short, not with Barry.

Greg rubbed his face and sat in the lounge to review his calendar. The meeting with Barry had been scheduled for nearly two hours ago, but he’d been too occupied. The meeting between Barry and TecGenToy shareholders was not supposed to have happened without Barry and Greg’s meeting first. Greg rubbed his neck again, but he didn’t sweat.

Felicia stopped typing. “Look, Greg. I’m sorry to be abrupt. It’s just been so crazy around here.”

Greg didn’t smile, but nodded in a sort of bow. “No harm done, Felicia. We’re all going a little crazy with all this.”

She smiled and went on typing. “I think they’re wrapping up. One of the shareholders hung up.” She looked up at him again. “You’re next in five.”

Greg nodded again, though less to Felicia and more to himself.

“Thanks, Felicia.” He coughed with a rasp into his elbow and flipped through his papers one last time, but it was like reading cooking directions for toaster strudels. Too familiar.

Next thing he knew, he was walking towards a low leather chair facing the desk of Barry Weismont. An aquarium lined the wall behind Barry’s desk. The fish scurried through the water, eyes bulging.

Barry stood behind his desk, slowly pacing. The blue glare of the office light cast Barry’s face in partial shadow, so that Greg couldn’t tell if Barry was pleased or angry.

Barry slapped his desk. “Greg! So glad you could come in. You were supposed to meet with me before the shareholder call, but this works just as well. Except, of course, the shareholders expected an answer. Especially Boscoe. That guy is trying to balance his checkbook and wants to know whether he can get that second sub.”

Even with the theatrics, Greg could never read him. Barry never smiled with his teeth showing, not even now, as he tugged on the cuff of his sport jacket. He only ever seemed to smile flatly, “just like the Mona Lisa,” Lilith always said.

Greg coughed roughly again. “Do you have any word from the Pocket Panda team?”

Barry leaned back and cocked his head. “What does the Pocket Panda team have to do with you delivering on the exceptional, groundbreaking product you promised? You and the team are the brightest and the best and more than capable of cranking out our record-breaker. You—”

“You didn’t give us enough time. You wanted a fast turnaround. I asked for help. Without the Pocket Panda team it’s not possible to execute…properly…” he said in a low voice.

“Not possible to execute, is it? Are you saying we don’t have a product when I just spent the last 45 minutes apparently wasting my time assuring our shareholders of your unmatched character, work ethic, and reliability? That they had nothing to fear? That Boscoe is getting his sub in time for the Reef? That—”

“Sir, what I’m saying is that I’m asking for the Pocket Panda team. If we had them for 24 hours…”

“It’s not possible.”

“Excuse me?”

“Greg, I know that you’ve been a scientist longer than I’ve had a driver’s license. You’re a scientific genius, a laboratory legend! But what you lack is what I bring, which is business know-how. I know you’d like to continue working on your cool little science projects, and you’d like to continue to take home that paycheck to your wife and daughter. To do that, you have to focus on the science and the lab, and I give you full freedom to do that. I know you know that! See—“

“Sir, I’m sorry, no.” Greg winced and rubbed his neck. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Barry leaned on his desk with both hands. “We can’t ask for help from the Pocket Panda team, or they’ll have claim on a piece of our success Your job is to make sure we sell this year’s number one fantasy pet, better than Pocket Pandas, Zoo Unicorns, and all this year’s pets combined.”

Greg looked as if he was holding back bile. Barry continued.

“I’m more than happy for your hard work in the lab to benefit your family, especially when it does so much good for this company and its shareholders. I just worry that all this chat and debate is taking away from you and your team finishing in time.” Barry smiled.

Greg blinked hard against the shimmer in his eyes and stood. “I’ll get it done.”

Barry gave a clap and a smile-less laugh. “That’s my mad scientist! Have it in production by midnight, and go ahead and use the expense card to help yourself to a nice dinner at Fagioli’s tonight.” But Greg was already out the slowly swinging doors, heading for the stairs.

 

~~~

 

“Ho ho ho, merry Christmas!” Greg’s boisterous façade masked the tremor in his voice. His arms gripped the gift like his life depended on it.

“I’ve been good, I’ve been good, I’ve been goooooood.” Madlyn bounded to his side and hugged his leg. “Is Mommy back? Is she here? Did I get my magic Santa present?”

Greg swallowed. He hadn’t rehearsed the words. Of course he hadn’t – he was always a man of action, not words. He could never articulate to Madlyn what was happening. It was always Lilith who explained she was dying. Lilith had said her next steps would be out of the wheelchair and into a new world where all things are possible, even life after death. Mere fairy tales.

Greg had never told Madlyn that he was trying to save her mother. He didn’t know how to say that he couldn’t raise Madlyn alone. Now, it was Christmas morning, and he still did not know how to tell Madlyn what had happened. What he’d done.

Madlyn peeped her head up. “Is Mommy here yet?”

“Let me sit down.” Greg forced a laugh.

Madlyn raced to the couch, and Greg followed reluctantly. He plopped next to the antsy girl and set her gift tenderly on the end table. Madlyn tugged at her jumper pocket. “Look how big it is! If that’s a Pocket Panda, I’m all ready – even if it’s huuuge.”

Greg gave a tight smile. “About your mom….”

“Is she running late?” Madlyn pouted her lips.

“No, no,” Greg reassured. “She’s always punctual. You know that.”

Madlyn squirmed. “Oh.”

“Well,” Greg stumbled for words. “Well here, why don’t you open your gift? We’ll talk after.”

Madlyn didn’t need to be told twice. She tugged the green ribbon off the cherry-red wrapping, then lifted the box lid.

“What’s inside?” Madlyn asked.

Greg pulled out a small aquarium. “Is it a GlowFish?” Madlyn asked, already forgetting her Pocket Panda excitement.

“No,” Greg said. “Not this one.”

Madlyn peered into the glass and saw a creature swimming. Shimmering purple scales and billowing pink hair flashed between the green plantlife. The creature creeped out, curious, questioning.

“A Micro-Mermaid!” Madlyn exclaimed. “All the kids asked Santa for one.”

Greg smiled, and it almost reached his eyes. A twinkle of hope.

Madlyn plastered her nose to the glass. The mermaid splashed to the surface, reaching for Madlyn’s finger. “Lil’ pet,” the mercreature said, its voice a gurgling squeak.

“It’s okay now,” Greg whispered. He rested his hand on Madlyn’s shoulder. “I fixed it.”

Madlyn shivered. “Mom?”

 

~~~

 

The lab was a flurry of white coats and black tablets, a normal pace for a Tuesday. Greg sat at his desk, alone in the lab lead’s office.

Gulping coffee from a red and green Snoopy mug, he scrolled through his inbox full of after-holiday sales, end-of-year giving, and stem cell mini-brain kits.

He clicked on an Urgent calendar invite:

Shareholder Celebration Dinner!!!!

We’ve broken our sales records and DESTROYED the competition. Our shareholders are flying in for dinner tonight. We’ll be feasting at Fagioli’s and strategizing how to further annihilate Pocket Pandas and Zoo Unicorns!!

BE THERE!!!!!! J

Greg swallowed too much, too hot coffee, and started dialing his phone. He’d planned for situations like this, but he hadn’t predicted it’d come up so soon.

“Hi Mom… Yes, I had breakfast… ”

Greg tossed the toaster strudel wrapper in the wastebasket.

“I’d love to chat, but I’m actually at work. I just need to ask if you would pick up Madlyn from school today… You don’t need to bring her home. That is sweet, but Lilith is very drained from treatments and can’t have visitors. Would it be too much trouble if Madlyn stayed the night with you? I will pick her up in the morning to take her to school… Ok, great, thank you Mom. I have to work now… Love you… Yes, you too. Bye.”

Greg tapped the hang up button. He stared at the notes on his desk: specs for Micro-Mermaids v1.0, notes for v2.0, and drafts of a Koala Kubs prototype. They leaned in sloppy stacks. They wouldn’t get filed until the college interns returned from break.

Of all the lead scientists, Greg was the only one still using paper. Tablets and floor-to-ceiling touchscreens made paper obsolete. In fact, in the lab proper, fire regulations prohibited paper notes or charts. But Greg thought all those screens muddled his mind. It was a strange thought, since he had no evidence to support it. And as he stared at the slouching hills of paper, he wondered how he got to this point, having acted on two scientifically unsubstantiated ideas.

“Hey Greg!” It was a bright, round man in a white coat with teal piping.

Greg coughed. “Hi Bob. How is your team today?”

“They drank too much and came back fat and happier than me, but they seem ready to get at it again. Did you see the call center report? All positive comments!” He patted Greg’s shoulder. “We really made something special. This could put us in the books.”

“Yup.”

“All right! Well get that blue jacket and come on!” Bob had already started turning toward the lab, when he caught sight of Greg’s coffee mug, and his face fell. “I’m sorry, Greg. I get too excited. How’s Lilith doing?”

Greg coughed again. “She is doing well. Resting at home from her last treatment.”

But Bob’s round face had already begun to pucker with tears. “I’m sorry, Greg. I just noticed that you’re using the same Christmas mug from last year. Lilith always gets you a new mug for Christmas.” Bob gasped with the effort of crying and trying not to cry, which sounded like a cough and a honking goose. “I just can’t imagine what you’re going through. Oh Greg, can I give you a hug?”

“Sure,” said Greg, frozen, as Bob was already embracing him and wetting his shoulder. With a few firm pats on the back, Bob released him and sighed as if he’d finished a marathon.

“Thank you, Bob,” said Greg. “I appreciate it. Lilith really is doing…. She actually ordered a mug online on one of her better days. It hasn’t arrived yet.”

Bob beamed, wiping his shining face with his lab coat sleeve. “Oh Greg, that’s wonderful. I don’t know how you do it. If my Hannah was sick, I’d be a wreck.” Greg was adding an alert to his phone out of Bob’s sight: Xmas sale, new mug.

“Ha… You would do great.” Greg glanced at his watch. “We better get to work.”

Greg grabbed his coat off the hook and pulled it on while walking toward the lab. He overheard Bob sighing to himself, “Poor guy… going through so much.”

 

~~~

 

Greg worked many a late night, no longer to save Lilith, but to keep his end of the bargain. There are always consequences for cheating death. The gods of scientific breakthrough and holiday commercialism demanded sacrifice.

His white labcoat would redden as hours waned. Lilith would know how to get the stains out.

It began with a butcher knife. If he was quick enough, the shock would ward off pain, for a time. Then came the melding and morphing, the redhot sizzle that rendered the creature unconscious. But it would always wake in time for the scissors.

No one could know the cost of holiday cheer. The creatures were meant to have a childlike glow and bring joy to the world. There would be no merry Christmas if they were to share their tale of torture and modification, and so the ability for speech must be eliminated.

“Stop squirming!” Greg insisted. “This won’t hurt much longer.” The scissors slipped through her mouth with precision. It was used to slicing the tongues of the wicked. A fit punishment for the likes of smooth-talking criminals, he assured himself, but a tear fell from his face to the beating heart of the Micro-Mermaid he created.

Stories

Chapter 1 of I Know You Like a Murder

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