Category Archives: Whatsits

White Privilege, Human Decency, and the Blackout at Rockefeller Center

Yesterday I was at work when the power went out everywhere from 72 and 42, knocking out Broadway, Times Square, and of course Rockefeller Center where I give tours. I was on break between the tours and for a moment, my normally boisterous colleagues all fell silent. I knew we were all sharing the same thought, “Is the building going to fall on us?” I imagine a lot of people who live in New York had that same thought or some version of it.

When the silence broke, the first thing that was said wasn’t an expression of fear or a reassurance. It was a call to action. “We’ve got to get people out of the underground.”

As a tour guide, I know the concourse of Rock Center better than anyone (it connects everything from 5th Ave to 6th Ave under Rockefeller Center across four blocks), so I went down into complete darkness with my phone flashlight along with everyone else who was on break. At that moment, we didn’t know a fire in a manhole had overheated a transformer and knocked out the grid; we just knew that there was thousands of people in pitch darkness who didn’t know the way out.

After the concourse was eerily empty (you could hear the tap of security’s footsteps echoing across 22 acres of underground), I went out to the street level to try to keep the area outside of Top of the Rock entrance cleared. We had people stuck on top and in elevators between the 2nd and 66th floor and lots more trying to figure out what was going to happen with their tickets to the top. It was amazing to me 1) how money-minded people can be (“I know there’s a firetruck coming and you want the street clear, but you say you’ll honor my ticket tomorrow or give me a refund? Why don’t I get to go to the top for free?” is literally something I heard) and 2) how good people are at hiding inner turmoil.

The majority of my co-workers are POC and ‘black-out’ has a whole other level of meaning to their community that I was a white rural person was not familiar with. There’s a history of riot and race violence associated with power-outages in the summer in big cities and I saw the undercurrent of distrust from many tourists (the majority of whom were white). I didn’t understand why so many people approached me, though the only thing that marked me as an employee was a branded baseball cap and a dangling ID card (not a proper starched black shirt or red vest uniform). Not until I went back inside where my co-workers were dealing with the tension in their own way; making nervous jokes about riots, looting, and “black outs” (as in “oh, the blacks are out! Get indoors”). Suddenly, I understood the question ‘where are we safe?’ and their side-long glances at my co-workers.

These were the same co-workers whose immediate response to a power outage is “get the people underground out of the building, even if the building might be falling down.” The same co-workers who were calling parents, spouses, and children to leave “if this is my last moment” voice messages to loved ones. Many of them were in the city on September 11th and we didn’t know what caused the power outage (exactly 42 years after a major black-out in 1977 which seems almost too close to be coincidental), but they still returned to the street to smile and reassure customers their tickets would be honored at a later date.

When the elevators and all three decks were cleared (less than an hour after the outage!), we were all briefed about the extent of the outage and let go early. On the way to Port Authority, I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Times Square which was dark for the first time in decades. Broadway was far from silent since most shows had closed, but the performers came into the streets to present unaccompanied opening numbers or improv riffs with the audiences. It was an inspiring and energizing experience in good-will and I’m glad I got to see that.

I started the walk with a big crowd of my co-workers and I got to see more of those distrusting side-long glances, occasionally from armed police officers. One of my friends, a tiny woman of mixed Puerto Rican and Haitian dissent, teasingly said she’d protect me when the looting started. I’m about twice her size and keenly aware that I was not the one in danger.

I’ve never been more aware of the strength of every-day people or of the incredible privilege of my skin color.

Needle and Knife: Excerpt

This is a very disturbing story. Seriously, it involves baby mutilation. Not my usual romance.

But the full story won honorable mention in the horror category of the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

In Emilia’s dream, someone in a tower holds a baby. A brand new white baby. Painfully blue eyes look up with complete trust. He knows he will not fall. He’s weak, new, and undoubtedly male, but he’s safe and so pale.

The hands, which look so dark and brown against that new white flesh, tickle the baby’s ankle. The baby laughs. The big hand wraps around a tiny fat ankle and bends the chubby pink leg behind the baby’s back. He fusses. Blue eyes squint. He whines tiny and cute. The hand twists, folding the fat unformed bulb that will become the baby’s knee. Twists too far. The baby arches, curls, tries to pull his foot away from his back. He blurts annoyed squalls. Farther still. The baby cries.

Farther. New bone cracks.

The baby screams.

A knife glints against the baby’s breast and a bright bubble of blood appears over the new heart.

Emilia wakes, startled but soundless. She’s in the backseat of her grandfather’s car, head tipped back on the rich leather. It’s a North American car imported to Chile by a cargo freighter as Grandfather would remind her proudly. Her heart thuds in her ears and she looks around. Her father dozes beside her, her mother stares forward in the front seat, looking at the darkness of the Chilean countryside. Grandfather drives, she can see his soft brown hands on the wheel. Everyone in the car ought to hear the pulsing of her heart, but no one does.

She wants to tell her nightmare, to hear comforting words, but even at nearly nine she will not allow herself that weakness. Her right hand still makes a tight fist, thinking it holds a knife. Her left arm still curls as if cradling a new baby – her cousin, Vicente, she knows when she’s awake.

To shake the dream, Emilia stretches her arms and leans forward to thrust her head between her grandfather and her mother. She smells strong coffee and catches the glow of her mother’s Blackberry in her pocket.

Mother puts her hand on Emilia’s head and strokes her braided hair. Says nothing.

Grandfather whispers without taking his hands from the wheel. “Is that my curious little snake?”

Emilia smiles and hisses at him.

“Go to sleep, Lia.” Mother glances over her shoulder at Emilia’s father. There’s no judgment, merely observation. Around Grandfather, Mother always looks at Papi the way a woman might watch over a bird with a broken wing in a household of cats. “Lean on Papi.”

Emilia shakes her head and looks out the window. “I’m awake. Is this the place of gulls, yet?”

“No.” Grandfather points to the window on his left. “We have to go into those mountains for that.”

Emilia presses her face to the car window and stares out into the darkness.

The Chilean countryside is vastly different than her city home in Santiago. There is an eerie absence of life. No noise and no people. Nothing living that does not understand the dark and hiding. No light except the stars and the moon and in the distance the dark mass of mountains and snow rolling along the sky. She always thought the sky was black, the blackest black, but now she knows the only true darkness in the world is those mountains.

“Is that where the copper mines are, grandfather?”

Her mother speaks without patience. “Yes, and you know that. Be still and—”

“It is. The oldest and greatest of the Vidal family mines.” Grandfather interrupts his daughter. “The one you’ll inherit.”

Mother says nothing, watching Grandfather. The look of a sparrow watching an old hawk, waiting for him to dive and eat her young.

Grandfather doesn’t notice or, rather, he notices but is not bothered enough to let it interrupt him. “You’ll see it tomorrow. My grandfather burrowed into the earth and found the richest deposit of ore in all of Chile. He never mined half of it, because he was clever.”

“Copper dries up.” Emilia nods. “But people always want a bigger better roof over their heads.”

“Good girl.” Grandfather and Mother both say. All three of them smile but do not laugh.

The road jostles the American car and Papi snorts and groggily blinks awake. Mother turns and smiles, but Emilia frowns. It’s better when he’s asleep. She regrets thinking this because it’s unkind and Papi is nothing but kindness.

Papi gives her a goofy smile and tugs her hair, as if she is not nearly nine. His voice is large and laughing, “Hey, pretty girl. Still awake?”

There had been something special when it was only Grandfather, Mother, and herself in the stillness and the dark. Papi could not tolerate the stillness.

“No, Papi, I’m dreaming.” She points out the window. “I’m a snake swimming in the mountains.”

Grandfather, Mother, and Papi all laugh at this. Not because it’s funny, Emilia knows. Papi laughs because his daughter has said something silly in her serious way. Grandfather and Mother laugh so that Papi is not alone in his amusement.

Then Papi tickles her and Emilia is the one laughing alone, joyful. The darkness of the mountains, the knife in her dreams vanish into the warmth of her father’s big brown fingers.

Images from the Past: Research into Prussian Fashion

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t like to research. I have a terrible head for dates and years and things.

For example, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned that Scribbling Windhund isn’t based off the Victorian era… or even the Regency.  Prussia was a nation-state in the 1700s.  So when I write the story of a fashion critic in a Steampunk version of Prussia this is the height of fashion:

Frederick the Great and Voltaire
Friedrich the Great and Voltaire in Sanssouci (If you want to spread salacious rumors about 300 year old men, these two were totally banging.)

Since I have such a terrible memory (or such a penchant for anachronism), I have to keep really good notes.  Normally, since that takes time away from actually writing the thing I want to write, I tend to be rather sloppy about it and let actual fact be damned. But Otto Lang is obsessed with fashion so, for once I couldn’t cut corners. So I actually tried to do this correctly… for you.

From what I can gather (and it’s mostly from Wikipedia) the idea was to look at tall and narrow as possible, to wear pale but bright colors, and to have curly white hair. I think, the 1700’s was the last time when men were as vulnerable as women to the whims and trends of fashion since they were peacocking it up as much as the ladies.

Men in court, at balls, and on the job would wear a three piece ensemble. Breaches (the tight shorts that stop at the knee) a waistcoat (the fancy vest) and a justaucorps (which is the really long jacket). The actual shirt and stockings were considered like underwear and probably only had to be changed when they got dirty.

The cravat, which I mention a lot in The Scribbling Windhund, is basically the forerunner to the necktie only a lot fancier. I read on one of the fashion blogs that it was, like much men’s fashion, originally based on military clothing. Apparently, wearing thick fabric around your neck protected you from spears, bayonets, and daggers.  Maybe it was psychological.

For those philosophy buffs watching at home, that last image is of Voltaire. He came up a lot when I googled Fashion and 1700s.

My favorite images, by far, are the Prussian army. Keep in mind, these fellas were one of the fiercest fighting forces in history. Lead by the junkers (the nobles who were trained from birth to lead the army) and comprised of mostly peasants who could expect to become middle-class if they survived the battles and the discipline of army life, one of Fredrich the Greats ministers quipped that, “Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country.”

The final bit of research I suffered through was basically to find out what these fuckers wore at home when they were relaxing. I’m so glad I did, because I was rewarded with these sexy, sexy gems:

 

 

Apparently, formal dress was too restrictive for intellectuals and it was very common for studious men (like Sir Issac Newton on the left) to have their paintings done in their libraries wearing banyans.

Here’s the kicker for me. He’s still wearing breeches, stockings, a waist-coat and cravat. Basically, when you went home to relax you took off one jacket and replaced it with another, less tight, jacket.

Oh, and you also took off your wig.

My take away from all research is a loud and joyful, “Thank God for jeans and sneakers!” Though, if I were asked to be more profound:

Sassy never goes out of style.

498EL MONTE-  71.

 


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Images from the Past: Completely Inaccurate Images from the 1800s

So, I said before the Victorians had some interesting ideas about what the future would bring.  Here’s some of the ones that really missed the mark:

15-future

So not only were we supposed to have hover-boards by 2000, we were supposed to be walking on water with the aid of balloons, weird shoes, and… a unicycle.

800px-France_in_XXI_Century._Air_cab

Seconds before a futuristic collision. Still less wait time than the Path.

800px-France_in_XXI_Century._Air_postman

Here’s another flying machine. That apparently hovers while the exceptionally well-dressed rural person greets his mailman.

1024px-France_in_XXI_Century._Race_in_Pacific

I love this image, because conquering the depths is not complete until we can gamble underwater.

800px-France_in_XXI_Century._Fishing

I love this image because … I have no idea what they are doing.

 


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Images from the Past: Weirdly Accurate Images from the 1800s

I love it when Science Fiction manages to predict the future. The seashells in your ears from Bradbury’s  Fahrenheit 451.  Assimov’s Robotic laws forming the basis to real life robot training. Religious Zealots taking over the country like in The Handmaidens Tale…okay I don’t like that one so much.

Anyways, the Victorians had some interesting ideas about what the future would bring that make it easier to add flavor to a Steampunk world.  Here’s some of the ones that came true

original

I know it’s not technically a roomba, but it does the same thing.  It’s very telling that even with a machine to do the work, the Victorians still assumed we’d have household servants.

Skype imagined over 100 years ago

In my filthy, little mind, this is a sex hotline. She’s about to show some ankle and the operator is just like, “oh, not this foot fantasy again…”

18-future

I want benches on the moving sidewalks in airports.  I mean, I also want a suave mustache and a fancy half-cape, but  this is such an improvement on the modern design!

20-future

Their are few things more modern than going out for drinks with a friend and then ignoring that friend to look at pictures of babies and male models. I also love that the woman is red is smoking a blunt and there’s some kind of weird space car in the background.  The predicted cars and legalization, folks!

cycling-vr-1896--dyn--fullviewsize

The only thing unrealistic about a machine that combines stationary bicycling and virtual reality goggles is that the owner is actually using it for exercise and not as a clothes rack.


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Images from the Past: The Future from the 1800s

 

These three images directly inspired some aspects of my world.

The first two are moving houses. The black and white one is actually the cover of an early speculative fiction novel.  The other is a post card of an entire town being moved someplace. I’m not sure if its meant to be unloaded or just in constant motion, but the idea of taking a city apart building by building and moving it elsewhere, probably without the unwanted parts of the city, really got my gears turning.

 

This bad boy has been on my computer since the early days of the internet.

17-future

One of the hallmarks of my sectoral universe is the environmental domes. They feature briefly in Evasive Love and are central to The Scribbling Windhund. Partly it comes from my fear of natural disaster and my non-scientific mind trying to imagine how actual scientists will save us from the coming environmental apocalypse. The idea of a city encased in a glass box (complete with artificial sunlight!) has long intrigued me.

 


The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Images from the Past: Women of the Future

There are from a set of postcards designed by Albert Bergeret in 1902. He was French and apparently these were a little risque.  Personally, I think they fit very neatly into what we would now call a Steampunk aesthetic.  Especially, the Lady General.

 

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The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.

And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!

cropped-The-Fantasist-Logo-192x192
Support these guys. They have good stories for free.

Support the Arts

If you like post-apocalyptic stories, want to save the environment, and are looking for meaningful work of art to support, please support our kickstarter running to Dec. 15th.

The Promised Lane is an original work, that premiered at Stockton University in 2015, first as a reading in the spring and then a full production that fall. It is about the world after climate change has rendered society apart. It takes the structure of the Farmer, his wife, daughter and traveling salesman, uses a scientific foundation, with religious language set around a life or death drama.

We have done everything in our power to make this piece a success. We are now at the point though where we are attempting to raise funds to make this happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing and we are so close to reaching our goal:

Click here for the project!

Don’t fear, we’re doing this PBS style, and I would never, ever, do this kind of pledge drive without offering a PBS style gift (there is such a thing as a tradition after all). The Tiers are below. There are so many good causes out there, especially now, to choose from.

Tier One: Up to 60 dollars. Contributor receives a personalized thank you card. Also, you are given access to our registration week, a week that allows them time to buy a ticket before it is open to the public.

Tier Two: 60-119 dollars One free ticket. Access to the registration week. And a signed playbill. If you are unable to make the show, you will receive one of five professional illustrations.

Tier Three: 120-180 One free ticket. Access to the registration week and one of five professional Illustrations. If you are unable to make the show, you will receive a working script.
Tier Four: 181-240 Your name announced the day of your arrival in the house managers speech. A working copy of the script. A signed meet/greet photo with the cast and crew.

Tier Five: 241-300: Your name with a thank you is put into the Program. Abraham sends you a novelty judgment card. You are also put into a limited pool of our internet auction where you can bid on props, set and costume pieces from the show.
Tier Six: 301-500 One of three options
1: “Patrons Night” (This requires a minimum of 10 to go and a maximum of 40). A limited engagement performance is put on. This finishes with a talkback, including an expert in climate sciences and a small celebration with cast and crew.
2: “Scrap-book” A detailed leather-bound photo and hand-drawn guide that shows how the production went from concept to execution. Will include changed pages from earlier drafts of the script, a few rehearsal logs (especially when something funny happens), notes from the actors and designers, finalizing in the professional photos taken during the show nights.
3: “Abbey Program” A program that includes not only the director’s notes, actors, and their name but also a complete professional quality copy of the script. Inscribed with a personal thank you from the director and cast. All three of these also include a DVD of the production.

The Promised Land: Make it a Reality.

No, I’m not having a come-to-Jesus moment. The Promised Land is a post-apocalyptic play about climate change, terrifying family dynamics, and dictator/farmers.

This play, written and directed by my husband, is Dunvegan Production’s first show and we’re trying to bring it to audiences in New York City. If we raise enough money on Kickstarter, we’ll be able to perform the play in an Off-Broadway theatre. We have a script (which is a gift if you donate), we have a cast (which you can’t have even if you donate), and big plans for The Promised Land.

Here’s the pitch!

 

If you can help us out with a dollar or with a share, we’d appreciate it.

For cast interviews, photos, and other suchness, Like Dunvegans’ facebook.

To learn more about the kickstarter and to donate, Click here.