Apr 262017
 

One of the reasons that I haven’t written much here lately – even though I made a commitment to myself to post something once a week at least – has been that I’m in the middle of doing Camp NaNoWriMo yet again. I had wanted to write the first draft of the third in the current trilogy, and so I thought that would be a good thing so that I could write that faster. I’m not quite sure why but NaNo works for me every time.

Of course right now I’m at that stage where I am completely convinced that the whole story is crap, that nobody ever would want to read it – me included – and that stopping it and starting something else would be a fabulous idea.

And of course there is only one thing one can do in a situation like this: finish writing it.

Because it’s always the same. I am a little more than halfway through the story right now, and that is always when I lose interest. Writing middles is hard for me, and now that I know where this is going, and what will happen it’s not all that exciting anymore. And I’ve been sitting down to write every day for three weeks now, okay, most days, and it’s starting to get old.

I also stopped revision on the second novel so that I could take advantage of Camp NaNoWriMo for the third one. I’m still not sure if that was a good thing but that’s what I did, and now I’m stuck with it.

I am hoping that I’ll be able to pick that revision up again at the beginning of May, and that my notes and my memory of what happened, and what I want this book to be are good enough that I can sit down and actually make the cut. And that I then will be disciplined enough to sit down and revise novel number three.

Discipline is kickking my ass, by the way. I still get up at five, and the benefits are big enough that I want to continue doing that but I’m still not going to bed early enough, and so my whole world consists of tiredness right now. It is somewhat alright in the mornings which is why I can write at all but as the day goes on ot becomes harder and harder. Until I lack the willpower to turn off the lights at night.

And this weekend things will be extra-interesting because we have rehearsal, and even a kind of dress rehearsal for the thing we’re going to play at the beginning of May, and that means not only will I have to be coherent and with people until my bedtime and beyond, I will also have to sing and play and focus on what I’m doing at a time where I usually just slump around reading.

And before that I will have to get beds ready for the musicians who stay overnight, and help my husband make food for them, and do dishes like crazy, and go to the grocery store, and help set up for rehearsal.

In fact, it’s not quite seven yet, and I feel like crawling back into bed already.

Still, I will have to find a way to write my 2,500 words today, and do everything I need to do, and be nice and polite and professional.

So yeah, that is why I haven’t posted here this week. I did write lots and lots of words, though, so I hope that’s alright with you.

Oct 102015
 

I was sorely tempted. I love NaNoWriMo. I love the challenge, and the exhilaration of doing something almost impossible but not quite. I love the rush when I have fallen behind and then I sit down and hammer out 5,000 words in a day.I do not love how I feel after that, though.

I will forever be grateful for NaNoWriMo because without it I probably would never have gotten beyond the very first words of any story. I wouldn’t have met the writers that formed the group that met every month for five years. And I wouldn’t have the almost-finished novel sitting as a stack of paper on my desk.

But.

While I usually finish and „win“ NaNoWriMo I also usually stop writing for about two months afterwards. After pressing out all those words I just sit back and don’t write at all. Even if I want to. And getting back into a daily writing habit actually becomes harder after having written almost 2,000 words every day.

And I want to become a real writer some day, someone who writes novel after novel, not someone who writes half a novel once a year and then never finishes it. In order to do that I need a habit of writing something between 500 and 1,000 words a day. I also need the very new habit of revising, finishing, and publishing things but first of all I need to write.

You can’t publish what you haven’t written.

500 words a day used to be pretty sustainable. Especially when I managed to start writing at about 8 am. I’d clean the breakfast table off, get the laptop out (no wifi!), and start writing. Half an hour later I’d usually have my 500 words and life was good.

Then my husband started getting up earlier. Instead of 9.15 he’d be up and about at 8.30, and if I had dawdled a bit over tea I had a problem. Mind you, my husband is all for creativity so if I told him that I desperately need that time to write he’d stay in the annex until 9.15.

But this time over breakfast is the only time we spend together all day. And it’s a bit cruel to have someone postpone his breakfast for an hour after waking up hungry.

So what I need in my life is a flexible habit of writing about 500 to 1,000 words a day. One that I can move around a bit if need be. Not a mad dash to „winning“ an arbitrary competition. A small daily thing.

And I think I may have found a solution. First I need to bring my laptop into the kitchen again so that I have it in the morning when I want to write. And second my schedule just changed, and I’m having more breaks in the afternoon again. And I really hope that on days when I don’t manage to write in the morning I can use those breaks.

So instead of big, mad, crazy, fun challenge I’m choosing slow and steady this year. I hope it works.

Wish me luck.

Nov 042012
 

It’s November already, the last resort of near-normalness before the madness that is Christmas season, and this year unlike last year I’m doing it again, NaNoWriMo. I’m attempting to write a novel (or rather most of a novel, 50,000 words) until the end of the month.

It’s already driving me crazy a bit, and it’s only the fourth day. This time I planned to plot ahead, to plan, to be sensible, and write my 2,000 words a day in the mornings, and yet  – I haven’t I did some plotting, and even got me another book on how to plot, Holly Lisle’s “Create a Plot Clinic”, the first ever book on plot that I’ve found really useful.

I think the chapter on “how to plot while writing” will get a lot of use this year.

Unlike other years the writing is already feeling slow and painful, right from the beginning, no starting euphoria for me this year. But that’s not a problem, I’ll just slog on, until I don’t, and then I’ll think about giving in and not finishing, and then I’ll get really cranky, and then I’ll buckle down, and write several thousand words in a day, and then again, and then again, and then I’ll probably finish early.

If this year is anything like the years before.

Everybody is asking me what I’m writing about, and I find it rather hard to say but I know that I’m attempting Urban Fantasy, only up until now it’s neither Urban nor Fantasy but then I’m only 5,000 words in, and there will be things happening soon. Or so I hope. And unlike other years I already have an idea of what will be happening. Which is kind of exciting.

My main character is a 30yo jazz pianist. I know where she lives because it’s my husband’s ex’s house. Fortunately for both of them my main character, Miriam (or maybe Sarah, I have a character sheet saying ‘Sarah’ as the title, and under name it says ‘Miriam’; maybe that’s my problem), is fictional so my husband’s ex won’t be disturbed by her living in the same space. Or by the grand piano that I plopped down in her living room.

So, I have this jazz pianist, a witch, vampires, and the odd musician. The witch is in danger, the pianist has to help her, she will find out something surprising about herself, and that’s all I know so far.

But. November is the month of arbitrary deadlines not only for novel writers but also for knitters! And so I am once again also attempting to knit a whole adult sweater in November. This year I’m making something for my husband. I’m using the cable from one sweater, and the pattern from another, and it’s teal, and it looks rather nice so far. I’m only a bit afraid that it will come out a little too small because that’s what it looks like right now on the needle. But I washed my swatch, and it grew enormously so for now I’ll trust the swatch and knit on.

And since I don’t have a picture of the sweater I’ll leave you with the beginning of my story:

Usually I feel bad when I come back home and the sun us already up, but this time it actually felt kind of nice. The evening before I had played the semi-regular at the jazz club, and since I could use the piano there I had left my car sitting in the driveway and had taken the bike to work. So to speak.

It’s much easier not to have to find a parking spot in the city center, and I can have a beer because the police never checks on bikers anyway.

I opened the gate and pushed the bike through into the garden. I’m lucky to have a house all to myself in one of the nicer parts of town set back in a huge garden. Of course it’s more a shed than a house, and it and the garden around it belongs to my landlords but still. It used to be a pottery up until the day the potter fell in love with a woman who wasn’t his wife, and packed his belongings complete with kiln up and left. His former wife, his three children, and his mother-in-law still live in the big house that sits nearer to the street, but they didn’t have any use for the pottery any more. A friend of a friend told me about it, and I asked if I could move in.

 

It’s always hard to find a place to live in this city but it’s extra hard when you are a jazz musician. A jazz musician with a grand piano, and not much else. There aren’t all that many people who want to live next to someone who plays the piano for hours, and hours every day. And there aren’t all that many landlords who want to rent out to someone who never quite knows where the next gig will come from.

But the old lady has a weak spot for artists. Which is how she ended up with a potter. Who was the one who built the house and the shed on land that belonged to his family. And later he had an apprentice because none of his children wanted to become a potter, and the apprentice fell in love with his youngest daughter, and so when he became to sick to work his apprentice took over the business. Until he moved out.

 

My home is basically just one big room. There is a smaller room in the back that used to have the kiln in it, and I walled off another part for a bathroom but there are no rooms as such. I unlocked the wooden door, wheeled my bike inside, and put it on the hooks I have screwed into the wall. 

Oct 312011
 

This story was written at the beginning of October. The monthly topic had been “sex” but I didn’t really want to write about that. I’m thinking about writing a bit more about this character – what do you think?


I was really fed up with all that flirting, and the cat calls, so I decided to get fat.

Just the night before I had been out, and there had been several guys touching my behind in the club, a co-worker had made googly eyes at me, and on my way home there had been the usual cluster of Turkish teenagers on the street who had called out to me.

I really had enough.

I don’t mind sex, not at all, it’s just that I prefer not to think about it while it’s not happening, and I would like to be able to have a good time without having to fend off all these guys.

Getting fat wouldn’t happen over night, I knew that, so I needed some additional help. How to become uninteresting to men? Or better yet how to become unattractive?

I had the whole weekend before me to think about it. First I went shopping of course. I needed fattening foods. And beer. And soda. I hadn’t bought that much junk food in years.

Next I thought about clothes. That was easy. No heels, no mini-skirts, no cleavage. No make-up. Though I have to say that in my experience most guys can’t even tell if you’re wearing make-up until you go for the very red lipstick. That’s something they all react to.

Fortunately I did have a couple of outfits that would work. Baggy pants, sweatpants, an over-sized hoodie that I love to wear on weekends, a couple of old t-shirts, sneakers, the Birkenstocks that I wear around the house – all set.

So I laid back on the couch for a weekend marathon of watching TV and eating junk.

It was a good idea that I hadn’t started on the beer yet when the phone rang. It was my mother. Of course it was my mother, it was Saturday so she demanded her weekly phone call.

„Hi mom.“

„Darling, why haven’t you called me, is something wrong?“

„Mom, it’s only early afternoon, nothing is wrong.“

„You sound weird. Are you eating?“

„Yes I’m eating mom, it’s lunch time after all.“

„You are eating properly, aren’t you?“

„Of course mom.“

„Are you eating something warm?“

„Of course mom.“

„What are you having?“

„Potatoes, hamburgers and green beans.“

„You should have made meatloaf. That doesn’t have as much fat.“

„Yes mom.“ I looked at the half-eaten bag of potato chips on the couch table.

„And how’s it going with that nice co-worker of yours? Has he asked you out?“

„We were out with a bunch of others yesterday, mom.“

„That’s not a date. But it’s a start. How did it go?“

„It was okay. I don’t know.“

„You really should try a little harder. It’s not healthy being all alone.“

„Mom, I like being alone.“

„Nonsense, nobody likes being alone.“

Then she went on about what her doctor had said, and that my aunt was mad at me for not sending her a birthday card, and then half an hour later I finally got off the phone.

I grabbed the remote to start the film again when the phone rang again. This time it was Laura. I had met her through work, and we went out together a lot.

„Hi Laura.“

„Hi. Look, I need you to go shopping with me this afternoon.“

„Why?“

„Because I need something to wear to the party tonight.“

„Which party?“

„Are you crazy? The party. Zach’s party.“

„Sorry, I forgot.“

„You really are crazy. So I thought we could meet in an hour at Starbucks. Maybe we’ll even find something for you too.“

„Um. Okay?“

„See you.“

Damn phone. Why did I always answer it? I was perfectly happy sitting here, eating chips, drinking soda and watching a movie, and then those people barged in calling me in the middle of the day.

I didn’t want to go shopping. And I didn’t want to discuss my eating habits or love life with my mother.

Still I got ready to meet Laura at Starbucks. First I thought about just going as I were but then I decided against the sweatpants, and changed into some jeans. No make-up, the hoodie, and sneakers. I didn’t know what to do about my hair. After trying a ponytail (too uncomfortable), letting it hang down (too attractive), a braid in the back (didn’t work with the hood), I did two pigtails. Not attractive at all but for some reason they made me smile. Pippi Longstocking in a hoodie. Since I wasn’t wearing any make-up I didn’t need to carry a purse so I just put my wallet, phone, and keys into my jeans pockets.

When I got to Starbucks of course Laura wasn’t there. I should have known it before she was never on time. I got myself a hot chocolate with cream even though I already felt quite full after all the chips and sweets before but I had to keep on with the fattening.

From what I saw my plan did work. Not one of the men I had passed on my way there had looked at me twice. I probably didn’t even register as female. Great. No smiles, now whistling, no one talking to me on the train, it was simply perfect.

I pulled out my smartphone and started reading a novel. Good thing I had that with me. Half an hour later Laura entered the shop. One couldn’t miss her. She went and ordered coffee without even looking for me first. She just assumed I would come to find her. Which I did. Even though I would have preferred to read my book. But that was no way to behave. I grabbed the rest of my hot chocolate and went over to her.

„There you are.“ she said looking me up and down, „What’s wrong with you?“

„Hi, nice to see you too.“ I said.

„No, really, what’s wrong? You don’t even wear makeup. Nice jeans, though, but the hoodie is really horrible. Looks like a tent on you.“

„Well,“ I looked down at my shoes, „well,“ I wanted to say there was nothing wrong but then it hit me, „Well, I guess I’m just not feeling that well. Maybe I should have stayed home.“ I looked up into her eyes, „but I didn’t want to let you down.“

„That’s really sweet of you.“ she said automatically, „are you sick or something?“

„I’m not sure,“ I said, „I’m probably coming down with something.“ I snuffled a bit.

„Don’t touch me,“ she said, „don’t touch me, I can’t afford to get sick now. You know what, you just go home and get better, I think I can manage on my own. See you.“ And with that she swept out of the door leaving me standing there on my own.

I waited for the bad feeling of rejection to come but instead I felt rather good. Giddy almost. I didn’t have to go shopping. I could just get back home, and do whatever I wanted. And I didn’t even have to look good while doing it.

I threw the rest of my hot chocolate away, and got out the door too. On my way to the subway I realized how good it felt to walk. Especially in these shoes. For years now I had always worn heels because they are so much more flattering. Of course you’re not expected to walk anywhere in those. And if you do you start hurting. But walking in sneakers was that much better. The hoodie felt like I had brought a blanket with me. Nice and comfy and warm. I pulled up the hood against the wind that had started to blow.

Walking like this was great. I could even walk all the way home. And that’s just what I did. And on the way no one even looked at me. I was just some person in the street, some uninteresting person in the street that no on wanted anything from.

And later there would be pizza for dinner. And beer. And ice cream.

Jul 262011
 

It has been a while since I last did a story of the month, I know. Not because I didn’t write any, mostly because there was something or other I wanted to fix on each of these stories before posting it. Sometimes because only half the story is on the computer, the other half I wrote into a notebook. And then there’s this one story that might turn into a novel – 18,000 words into it it has barely begun.

This one I wrote not for the monthly meeting of our writer’s group but for something called an Anti-Slam. I was quite nervous beforehand. We had a time limit, not more than 10 minutes of reading, I didn’t quite know who would be there, and how they would respond to my stuff. And then there’s always the strangeness of being a German who writes stories in English. That made me insecure as well. I was the last to read that evening. I usually like to go first. So there’s nothing to compare me to, and I get it over with. But not this time.

Kissing Edith

I met her in a class on the peoples and cultures of Nigeria. It was one of those classes that are always full to the brim at the beginning of the semester, with only three students left at the end. I don’t really know if she stayed. She was sitting next to a friend, tall, dressed in khaki pants and a tight tee, her skin tanned and smooth, and her hair – dark blonde and very short. She seemed calm, and strong, and competent – all things that I longed to become. One day.

I did meet her again, at university big band. Me, sitting in the back with half a dozen other singers while the band played one instrumental after the other, and her, standing in line with the other saxophone players, most of them male. She wasn’t bad, not bad at all, a woman who managed to look elegant and graceful in wide pants and sneakers.

So we met twice a week for half a year at least, maybe longer. I don’t recall for how long exactly, this was back in the days when I was young and naive, only a few years out of school. She had a nice smile but she didn’t talk much – unlike me – and she had this sparkle in her eyes.

Back then, I was living from drama to drama, a budding jazz singer drifting from boyfriend to boyfriend. There was always the love of my life, just out of reach.

Though we talked here and there, we never had coffee. I would have liked to know her better but she was always with a friend, and always on her way to somewhere else.

The class on Nigeria went on. The following semester she wasn’t there anymore. Asked about it she said that she didn’t study cultural anthropology anymore. She still came to band rehearsals. Then she didn’t. My life changed, and it didn’t, always drama, always upheaval, always the elusive boyfriend, and always singing jazz.

I met her again, one night, at the jazz club. That jazz club, you know. Apparently she was working there at that time. She sat at the entrance, selling tickets, and we talked a bit. There wasn’t time, much, because of the other people behind us.

I don’t remember who went with me that night. Or which band played. It might have been that one time that weird New York hard bop band was playing. Or not.

Later that night she served drinks. Once she had a little break she sat down at our table. We talked. She was looking as stunning as ever. „I’m going to Linz to study jazz.“ she said. I asked her about the earring she was wearing on the left. „That’s Hekate’s double axe.“ she said, „It’s a feminist symbol.“ And she smiled, that charming smile of hers. Looking at me with a kind of sparkle in her eyes.

„Oh, feminist. I like that.“ I said.

I didn’t get it at that time. In fact it took me years. You know, that double axe is not really a feminist symbol alone.

I was young and naive. That’s my excuse.

These days that I’m neither. I wonder.


Nov 092010
 

Interestingly this year I’m more behind on my NaNoWriMo word count than I have ever been. As far as I remember, at least. As every year I had wanted to do something about 2,500 words a day for the first week because it was fall break, and I thought I might be able to. True to me, though, what I did was barely meet the official 1,667 words a day goal for three days in a row, and then (bad move) skip a day because I was so tired, and there was so much going on. During a day where I didn’t have to teach, mind you. But then that was the day we took pictures for my husband’s new band, and we have been continuing the cleaning frenzy. At least my husband has, and I have helped him. On the bright side my son’s room is now both tidy and clean, all his stuffed animals have been washed, and the floor is completely empty. As in “just go in there and vacuum”-empty. We’re very pleased.

On Friday I got some news about a person I like very much that left me not much in the mood for anything. Since brooding doesn’t really help with anything, and there’s nothing I can do, I went out and met a few friends in the evening as planned but I only wrote 545 words. Saturday was about the same amount as crazy for the same reason but I did some writing. On Sunday I did meet my quota, well, daily quota despite spending the afternoon going to the pool with my son. So that was quite alright.

But then I found that going to the pool had been a very bad idea, especially with the sore throat I already had Sunday morning because then I got sick, and since yesterday I’ve been having a nasty cold. Nasty enough that I would stay home sick if I weren’t self-employed. My life being what it is I shuffle through the day barely able to think through all the snot. At least today is a light teaching day, and I intend to spend as much of it in bed as I can.

So, instead of having written 15,003 words so far as I should, or even more as I usually do, I have a meager 10,515 words so far. I’m also – nothing unusual about that – not happy with my story at all. I know from experience that only time can tell if it’s really that awful or not. I can worry about that later, once I have written it.

Since I’m feeling really bad, and am falling almost 5,000 words short, of course I thought about quitting. Nothing unusual about that as well, usually it happens somewhere in week two or three, and most often repeatedly thinking about giving up leads me to throw in a few monster writing sessions and finish early. But this year, of course again, I am so far behind, surely there will be no way to finish this without superhuman powers. Right?

Well, I just put my current number of words into my NaNoWriMo profile, and there’s a stats page telling me that if I manage to write 1,818 words a day until the end of November I will be able to finish anyway. 1,818! I know that’s a lot of words but that’s only about 150 more words per day than I would have to write if I weren’t behind.

You know what that means? That means, the thing that seems so overwhelming right now, that feels like I could never do it because I fell behind, that thing is no way near as big as I thought. Silly me.

And what do we learn from all this?

Do the math before succumbing to drama. Also, don’t throw the towel when you still have two thirds of the time before you.

Now I’m back to the keyboard for real writing. The day isn’t over yet.

Oct 192010
 

Yup, I’m doing it again this year. I will be attempting to write a novel in 30 days. Be assured that it’s only a small novel and one week of that month is fall break. And we all know that I have all the time in the world when I don’t have to teach. Right? – Right?

So this morning found me actually preparing for it. After overcoming the initial shock I thought that might be a good idea. Now before you get all crazy ideas, I’m not outlining or making character sheets or anything for the novel, that would just be weird, and neither am I cooking a month’s worth of meal in advance. I did in 2006 but it didn’t really work out the way I planned. In fact that month I spent more time cooking lunch than I usually do despite all the planning and freezing and assembling. Especially now that my husband cooks lunch eight times out of ten. (Okay, I’ll tell the truth: nine times out of ten, and that tenth time is usually Chinese takeout or something equally challenging to make). So here’s what I did to prepare:

  1. Had a talk with my husband to tell him that I want to. Again. Now, my husband has never been happy about NaNoWriMo ever. I can’t blame him. At best it’s as if I’m never quite there, at the worst I’m totally stressed out about getting my word count done while being cranky and sleep-deprived, and totally neglecting my family and housework. I didn’t actually manage to have this talk gracefully in any way but I’m happy to tell that this time (unless last year) I managed to tell him first without telling anybody on my blog. He still isn’t happy about it but there isn’t much he can do. I also might have promised to do all the housework by myself until Christmas or something. (Which works really well, which is why I’m sitting here typing instead of hanging up laundry like I should right now.
  2. Told my writing group that I want to do NaNo again. Sadly there’s only one other writer joining me. Everybody else is being sensible on me.
  3. I unearthed last year’s manuscript because right after I thought, “I want to do NaNo again!” I thought that it would be cool to write a second part to my fantasy novel of last year. I thought it might be a good idea to read that before I start writing the next part if only to get my main characters name right. (It wasn’t Selina as I had thought, no, it’s actually Serena. I think. Maybe I should get a start on those character sheets, ahem.)
  4. I started importing last year’s novel into my writing software (it’s Scrivener, by the way). Importing is easy but it might actually help to break the thing down into chapters and scenes so that’s what I’m working on right now. Also I’m making a list of characters. Just their names and who they are. I have quite a few of them by now and I’m starting to confuse them sometimes.
  5. Made a plan. Now I’m well aware that time doesn’t grow on trees and so I know that for me to write roughly 2,000 words a day something else will have to go. My plan is to skip writing morning pages and spend that time (6.15 until 6.45 in the morning) working on my novel. Then, after sending my son off to school and my husband’s breakfast I’ll write another 30 to 45 minutes. If I do that it will bring me well ahead, about 1,000 words. Then I need another writing session, maybe after breakfast instead of checking e-mail, and another one in the evening instead of watching DVDs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And still leaves me with enough time to sleep, eat, work, spend time with my family and exercise. (Wish me luck, please.)
  6. Got into the habit of writing every day again. I had been doing so well with my “500 words a day” until mid-July but since then I’ve been struggling. But now that I’ve given myself a mighty push and a stern talking to I’ve started to work on my current story again, and I find that I enjoy that very much. The plan is to set that aside for November and start again either in December or maybe only past Christmas. We’ll see how wiped out I’ll be feeling come Advent.

Is any of you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Why not?

May 272010
 

(One of the writers I’m meeting with every month has written a murder mystery, and so her topic of choice for our last meeting was “murder”. I didn’t quite know what to write for that at first. I had a vague notion of doing something with cute talking animals like the white rabbit but then I found that I wanted to do something totally different:)

“I couldn’t harm a fly! What do you want from me?”

I was looking at her through the observation window, the window that was a mirror on the other side.

Her husband had been found by a neighbor coming over to borrow the dethatcher for his garden. The neighbor came in through the back, and found him sprawled on the kitchen floor. Nothing had been looking out of the ordinary, just a guy laying on the floor. There had been groceries sitting on the counter in a bag. He probably was about to put them away.

I was called to the house just before lunch break. There were police cars already there, and Gonzales my partner was already talking to the neighbor. A nice neighborhood, small houses, each with a lawn in front and a garage attached to it, neat mailboxes standing next to the sidewalk. A lot of people were standing in the street. They weren’t used to see police cars here.

Everything in the house was tidy and neat and clean. Just as you would expect in the house of a middle aged couple. There were only the two of them living there. No children apparently which was a bit unusual. Otherwise everything looked normal.

Somebody had knocked the deceased on the head. Just one blow, and that was it. There was no sign of struggle, no fingerprints, no nothing. Just a man on the floor. He looked as if he had just keeled over.

When the wife came home later she was shocked by the presence of police cars. When they told her about her husband she couldn’t believe it at first. Then she went numb. Of course we had to bring her in and question her. She was the person who could help us best with this, she would be the one knowing her husband. And of course she was also a suspect. They always were in cases like this.

Until now it had been Gonzales talking to her but we all thought it might be time for a little woman on woman chat. People assume that you’re nice and sympathetic because you’re female. Of course that’s bullshit. Gonzales is much nicer than me. Women working in the police don’t stay nice even if they start out that way. You either get hard or you quit. And if you quit you can have a nice little life in a nice little suburb with your nice little kids, just like that woman sitting there on a chair in a police station. Of course her life wasn’t that nice now, with her husband killed.

In TV series there’s often this moment when they tell somebody about the death of a person they love. There’s a very brief pause, and then there’s the wailing. It doesn’t really happen this way in real life. Usually people take much longer to understand what’s happened. Most people stay numb for quite some time. They act as if nothing had happened, they keep on doing the things they always do, and only later, quite a bit later does it hit them. And even that is not the time when the wailing starts. That comes later.

Except when someone is guilty. When somebody already knew that the person was dead. Then they often act as in TV. They don’t know better. That’s often a giveaway, people wailing like that. You want to watch out for that.

I go into the interrogation room, and sit down on a chair opposite her.

“Hello, Mrs. Harris.” I say, “I’m sorry to keep you but you’re the one who can help us to find your husband’s murderer.”

“So it was murder? But that’s ridiculous. Who would want him dead, he is perfectly harmless. And it’s Ms. Harris, not Mrs.” Then she remembered. “Was, I mean.” She played with the wedding band on her left hand, turning it round and round on her finger. “Your partner there, Mr. Gonzales, I think that he thinks that I did it.” Suddenly she sat up straight, looking me directly in the eye. “That’s ridiculous, I love him, and I never would have wished him harm.”

That made me smile a bit. “Never, eh? Not even when he didn’t screw the top of the toothpaste back on? Not even when he forgot your birthday? Never?”

“He didn’t do that. He’d never forget my birthday.” She paused, “Of course he never did any housework.” Twisting her ring, “Or picked up his clothes. I have told him over and over again, day in and day out to please put his clothes in the hamper but no, he always threw them on the floor. Every single day. And every day a clean shirt. Every single day, even on weekends. And I had to iron them. Pick them up from the floor, empty his pockets, put everything in the laundry, wash it, hang it up, iron it, fold it, put it away. Every single day. Oh, and his shoes. He never polished them, ever. But he needed a clean and polished pair every single day. Do you know how many pairs of black shoes this man owns?”

I tried to look sympathetic.

“Ten pairs. Ten pairs! Of black dress shoes. For work. And guess who has to polish them?”

“That would be you.”

“You’re right. And he never puts anything away, ever. Not even his tools. You know he has this workshop in the basement with all his tools. And every time he uses something he puts it on top of the workbench. He never puts anything away. The pile on that workbench just gets higher and higher. The other day I wanted some pliers to unscrew the faucet, and I couldn’t find anything in there. He does have this set of drawers for his tools, everything has a place, it could be beautiful, and easy to find everything but I had to dig through that pile on the workbench to find a measly pair of pliers. Mind you, when I straightened them all up he was mad at me.”

“Did you have a fight about that?”

“We don’t exactly fight. We’re always nice and polite to each other.” Twisting her ring again. “Though I think sometimes I’m nagging him a bit.”

I just leaned back and let her talk.

“I know, he is working much more than me. I should be able to do all the housework but it does seem a bit unfair that he never lifts a finger.”

“Mmh.”

“He could just, I don’t know, sometimes he could just put away the groceries or go shopping once in a while, or just pick up his damn socks from the floor.” Her voice had gotten louder and quite tense by now.

“Wait a minute. There are groceries in your kitchen right now.”

“Oh yes, I forgot all about them. I should have put them away.”

“Did you go grocery shopping earlier?”

“Yes, of course, I always do. I left them on the counter, and asked him to put them away for once because I had to get back to fetch some potatoes. – He doesn’t like pasta or rice so I always have to cook him potatoes. And I hadn’t gotten enough, and so I asked him to please at least put the milk in the fridge.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said I could do it. But I had to go back to the store before they were closing.”

“And then?”

“I said he could either put the groceries away or go to the store to get more potatoes.”

“And then?”

“And then he said that I could do both, and that it was my fault because I had forgotten the potatoes, and how muddle-headed I always was, and that it wasn’t his job to always help me out, and that made me really mad.” She looked down on her hands playing with her ring. “I got so mad at him, I could have killed him.”

May 052010
 

(Yet another writing group story. One of the other writers came up with the idea of writing about houses, and since we were meeting at my house that month I thought it would be appropriate to write about the house I’m living in. It isn’t really a story but you might like it nonetheless.)

This is an old house, a small house with creaking floorboards and a shingled roof. From afar it looks like a house a child might draw, pale yellow, the door in the middle, windows in rows of two above. The door is rounded at the top and made from oak. It has a round window set in the middle. The garden is huge by modern standards, and all around there’s a tall green hedge.

We moved into this house shortly after my father-in-law had died. First we had thought that my mother-in-law wanted to sell the house, get rid of that tiny old thing but then we found out that she only didn’t want to stay here alone. We were in love and wanted to move in together, and that’s what we did, move together into the suburbs.

When my husband’s paternal grandmother bought this house, back in 1938, this wasn’t a suburb. This was a very small town, and in this very street were three houses like this one, a nursery, and not much else. My husband tells tales of climbing the big pines in the garden, the ones that are no longer there, the ones that fell on a neighbor’s roof during a storm one day. He sat there, high in the tree and looked over the greenhouses, the rows of plants, and the few gardens that made the neighborhood.

When his grandmother bought the house – and that’s the right way to tell this story, it’s never ‘his grandparents bought the house’, it’s always his grandmother – back in 1938 it was brand-new. It was built by the man living next door in a house very similar but with only one apartment instead of two. There seems to be something weird about his house, he hanged himself in the cellar there, then there lived an old woman with a dog who was quite peculiar, and next the neighbor I met, somebody really strange who never ceased to change things at his house. He built, and tore down, and altered, and deepened the cellar, and changed the roof, and built an annex, and changed the garden, and changed the garage, and sawed part of our garage off because it was on his property. We didn’t know. They just built the new garage where the old one had been, in the seventies. Now we know that part of our garage is on our neighbor’s property, and part of our other neighbor’s garden is on ours.

You can still feel the war here in the house. Every time you want to hang up a picture you are reminded that this house was built at a time when building materials where scarce because of the war. You drill a tiny little hole, and your drill will either go in like butter without any resistance at all, or it will hit a pebble, and then you’re stuck. When you pull your drill out you will find that the hole has became large enough to swallow half your fist. So in this house pictures stay where they already are, and if you buy a new one you take care to use a hook that’s already there.

The cellar isn’t insulated at all. It’s damp and dark and moldy. When you put something organic on the floor there, like your winter shoes or potatoes, it will get moldy during the summer.

There are two apartments in this house. Each one has two rooms, a kitchen, and a tiny bathroom. Back when my husband’s family moved in that was considered to be enough for a family of four. His father was four when they moved here, his brother not yet born, and every day their father took the train to Munich to go to work. He was very proud of his work, and later, much later, after the war, he got a certificate because he had spent 50 years working in that same place. Of course, when his second son was born he wasn’t home much. He was in the war.

The town they lived in was a target at that time because out here in the woods there’s a facility where they kept fuel in big tanks for the military. Up to this day there’s a part of the wood where you can’t go, a part with barbed wire and signs to keep you out.

So there were bombs. Out here there were no shelters. My husband’s uncle tells tales of mattresses in the cellar, the cellar that’s moldy and damp, and how the Western side of the house was cracked because of a bomb. It didn’t fall down, that wall, it just had a crack from top to bottom.

My husband’s grandparents were living on the first floor with their two children, and at first his grandmother’s sister with her family lived upstairs. But that grandmother must have been a fierce and unpleasant woman, and soon enough she had one too many fight with her sister who moved out never to speak to her again. It was my husband’s father who later found her again. If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t know anyone from that side of the family.

Some time later, a few years after the war, a family of Silesian fugitives came to live in that apartment upstairs. A couple with their two teenage daughters. My husband’s grandmother looked down upon them, a family who had lost everything, forced to flee by the Russian army.

That family was my mother-in-law’s family. She, her parents, and her younger sister had finally found a new home here in this house. They too had only two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. There were oil heaters in there, the rooms small and square, and two big chimneys going through the house.

When they all got a little older, the oldest son from downstairs and the oldest daughter from upstairs wanted to get married to each other. My mother-in-law never had another boyfriend but the one she met in the house she lived in.

She didn’t want to move ever again, and she persuaded her parents to look for a new apartment so she and her husband could stay in this house. The small apartment on the second floor became their home. Just on top of his parents who were fighting all the time. A few years later they had a son, my husband, and when he started school they had another one. The house was crowded at that time. The grandparents on the first floor, fighting and playing the violin, and listening to music, and the family with two small children on the second floor. And up under the roof there was a room that wasn’t even meant to be a room, and that’s where my husband’s uncle lived at that time. He is my husband’s godfather. Both of them tell stories of singing Christmas carols together up there under the roof.

Some time later that uncle moved away. He married and started working as a teacher, and so the family on the second floor could spread out upwards. In the late sixities two rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom suddenly didn’t seem big enough for a family of four anymore. My father-in-law must have spent many a weekend turning that attic into two rooms for his sons, and some years later he even added a tiny bathroom. That must have been quite some time later because my husband still tells tales of having to resort to the garden when he had to use the toilet in the night because his father would lock the apartment door, and there wasn’t a bathroom accessible.

This house seems to grab at people, my mother-in-law never wants to move out again, and my husband came back to live here several times, the last one being when I moved here with him.

His grandfather has died of cancer here in this house, in our bedroom. We still don’t have a doorbell on our apartment door because my father-in-law deactivated it when his mother went cuckoo and started ringing it for no reason day and night. They had to send her to a nursing home eventually because they couldn’t keep an eye on her all the time.

Shortly after she died her son became ill as well. I only met him twice, and already he was only a shadow of the man he used to be. We didn’t get along at all. He resented that I’m not Bavarian, and he preferred the girlfriend my husband had had before me. He died the year I met my husband, in this house, in his bed on the second floor right above the spot where his father had died.

Three months later we moved in. It was a weird feeling for me, moving in with all that history. This is my husband’s grandmother’s kitchen sink, and the tiles she chose, and her bathroom. This is where they had to renew the floors because my mother-in-laws dishwasher broke and there was water all over. That is why the tiles in the bathroom, and the horrible floor in the kitchen don’t really match anything else. His grandparents are the reason we still have aluminum wiring in our apartment (but nowhere else).

We have her sink, and her kitchen cabinet. We have her old big table in the basement where they used to do the washing. I have her sewing basket and I use it often. We also have been living here for sixteen years now so we have made memories of our own. The kitchen bench we got for our wedding. The table that my brother-in-law gave us because it was too small for his growing family. The bed and closet that we bought from the money my mother-in-law’s father gave us. The shelves that my husband’s ex-girlfriend built, the other shelves I brought with me when I moved in, and finally the annex we had built so we could work from home.

It’s getting less crowded in this small house even though we have a child now. Shortly after he was born, all of a sudden I had the feeling there was somebody in the house. I couldn’t see anybody, it was eerie. I’d go down the hall and there’d be this presence. At first I thought it might be my husband’s grandmother, maybe she was unhappy with what we had done to the house. Her son had cut down all her fruit trees, and changed the garden into lawn and flowers. We had renovated the whole house, new windows, new paint, the annex, and finally a new roof (but that was later). But it wasn’t her. It was very strange.

I had the feeling there was somebody, and that somebody was related to us, and was attracted by the baby in the house. As if that somebody wanted to drink our life in, watch us, watch the baby. Then I knew it. It wasn’t my husband’s paternal grandmother, it was mine. Which was double strange since she was supposed to be still alive if quite muddled in the head. I told her to go away. I told her that we loved her, and that all was well with her great-grandchild but that she should leave us alone because she didn’t belong here.

Only a couple of months later my mother said, “And after your grandmother’s death…” and I said, “What? She died? Why haven’t you told me?” And my mother, “Haven’t I?” and it turned out that she had died just before I had felt her here, in this house.