How I Made my Gorgon Headpiece

1. I started with armature mesh. It can be found in most craft stores with the polymer clay supplies. I molded the mesh onto my head, shaping it to cover my scalp.

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Mesh step

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2. I used fiberfill to add contour and shape to the mesh.

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3. I took plaster-impregnated gauze strips (also available in the poly clay aisle) and covered both the mesh and fiberfill, and let that dry for 48 hrs.

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4. After experimenting with various materials, I found some 3/8″ mesh tubing. I used 3 packs (60 yds), and I cut the tubing into 12″ – 18″ lengths.

5. I fed a black pipe cleaner (chenille stem) into each tube and bent and twisted into a serpentine shape.

 6. I used a bamboo skewer to poke a hole in the plaster, inserted about ½” of the stem into the headpiece, and hot-glued it down.

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7. I glued a ½” pompom in the open end of each tube.

 8. I glued 2 size 8 beads on each pompom for eyes.

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9. I painted the plaster black and applied three coats of varnish.

10. I glued felt to the inside to make it more comfortable, and keep plaster crumbs out of my hair.

 

Dragon Killer Trailer

Belinda Tate is at it again. As The Devil’s Advocate (the third installment of the Marti Keller Mysteries) opens, she is planning to launch the second book in her Dragonfire series (under her pen name, Coda Sterling) during the Space City Sizzlin’ Summer Literary Conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Dragon Killer picks up right where Dragon by Knight left off.  Tristan and Lisabeth are on the deliciously tropical Island of the Dragon Council, preparing to return to Galveston. When a meeting with Tristan’s adolescent son goes bad, things quickly spiral out of control, fueled by treachery and political infighting, and leaving Lisabeth wondering if she and Tristan will live long enough to make it to the alter.

And it’s a good thing Belinda likes mystery and suspense, because she herself finds a target painted squarely on her back during the convention. She’s counting on Marti to solve the mystery before Belinda’s number is up.

Brain’s Vacation

When my daughter was a toddler, she used to like to jump on the tile steps to the living room. I would tell her, “Don’t jump on the steps – if you fall, you’ll crack your head open and your brain will fall out.” She would say, “And then what would happen?” So I made up a story for her, and called it “Brain’s Vacation.”

I started playing around with the artwork for the story this past fall, and I decided I liked the plump little brain I came up with. So here it is – my first picture book. It’s currently available only as an ebook, but I’m looking at some book app software, and if I can get the artwork together for another couple of short stories I have, I will do a print anthology.

 

Sobek and Friends

The Space City Scribes are putting out an anthology in November called  “Space City Six”, and we each contributed a story. My piece, “Fever,” includes historical encounters with various mysterious creatures in Houston’s not so misty past. Because Houston was born on Buffalo Bayou, of course there  had to be alligators. And not just any old gators, but strange hominid gators, not unlike the lizard men sometimes reported in swampy areas.

But the alligator people, as a race, needed a name. So I did a little research. As it turns out, the Egyptians had a crocodile headed god named Sobek.  Excellent! I could spin it so that Sobek wasn’t a god so much as a species, which had spread around the globe and evolved similarly to crocodiles and alligators. I created my artwork and loaded it into the book trailer video.

Then I started listening to episode 12.09 of Mysterious Universe, where they interviewed Linda Godfrey about her latest book, American Monsters. She described an incident describing a creature that so closely represented my artwork that I was sure the Twilight Zone theme was playing in my house.

 

 

Goodbye, ‘Lope

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Penny and Fabi

In May of 2000, my soon-to-be husband and I stood in front of the statue “The Rape of Persephone” in the gardens of Versailles.  I called her PER-sef-a-nee, and he called her per-sa-FONE. We went back and forth about the pronunciation, and the discussion ended with me asking, “And how many people named pen-a-LOPE have you ever heard of?” Fast forward to September, when he had gone out to the barn with me, and I was putting away my horse. A tiny white kitten wandered out of the bushes and began rubbing on the horse’s legs. He scooped her up so she wouldn’t be stepped on, and she curled up in his arms, purring as loudly as I’ve ever heard a cat purr. The obvious name for her was pen-a-LOPE. When she got back to our townhouse and laid eyes on Fabio (my large grey and white tomcat), she was quite the smitten kitten.

She used to love to chase the clear plastic lids from bottled water with the squirt top, and one time my husband threw one for her, but she returned with a large tree roach, which she happily dropped in his hand. When she was happy, she was the Purr-a-Lope; when she got sooty from exploring the fireplace, she was the Grub-a-Lope, and so on. And one time, of all the odd things for a cat to eat, she swallowed a needle and thread. We had to take her to the emergency clinic for a $1,000 needle-ectomy. We still have the x-rays.

Even though she was spayed and never had kittens, she was the Mother Cat. She always had a lick for everybody, and she could usually be found curled up with the love of her life. When we had a minor fire in our house, and Fabio got trapped in the wall, she rescued him. She was a crotchety, no-nonsense cat who didn’t like to be held, but would deign to sit in your lap if she was in the mood. I think her dislike of being cuddled was rooted in the fact that when we found her, she had ear mites, fungal infections, and bacterial infections in her ears, and we had to put several kinds of medicine in them for weeks to get everything cleared up.

And there was no sleeping in if Penny decided it was time to get up. She would stand on my chest and lick my eyebrows. If that didn’t work, she’d start slapping my face and licking my mouth. She was nothing, if not determined.

I wrote a story about Penelope the Rescuer for a children’s magazine, but it wasn’t published. It follows below:

Penelope the Rescuer

No one was home when smoke started to fill the house. No one except the three cats. Angelique waited by the door for the family to come home. Fabio, her brother, found a place to hide, far from the fire. Penelope hid with him.

It wasn’t long before the family came home. Angelique meowed and MEEEOWWWed at the door when they came in. They took her outside to safety. They looked for Fabio and Penelope while they waited on fire trucks to come. The cats could not be found.

The fire trucks arrived with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Fire fighters with helmets and masks and hoses streamed into the house. One by one, they all came out again. They set up a large fan to suck the smoke out of the house. Finally they left.

Hours later, after everything had gotten quiet, Fabio and Penelope came creeping out. Grey and white Fabio only had a smudge of black on his white nose. Poor Penelope was smeared from nose to tail with soot. Instead of a sparkling white cat, she was now a dingy grey.

A few days later, workmen came to fix the damage from the fire. They tore out the burned wall and left. The next day, they came back and replaced it. By now, Penelope was almost clean again.

When the family came in the evening to feed the cats, they saw Angelique and Penelope. They couldn’t find Fabio anywhere. They could hear a distant mewing. Where could he be?

He had crawled through the hole in the wall. He was trapped underneath the house!

The daddy made a hole in the floor where the air conditioner pulls in the air. The mommy called, “Fabio! Here, kittty kitty!”

But Fabio was too scared to come out. They got some food, but he wouldn’t come. There was no way to go in and get him. How would they get him out?

Just then, Penelope jumped down into the hole.

“Oh, no. Now we have two cats stuck under the house!” said the daddy.

Fabio stopped mewing. Soon, Penelope and Fabio came to the hole in the floor. The mommy picked up Fabio and pulled him up. Penelope jumped up herself. She was all dirty again. Cobwebs hung off her ear. The mommy and the little girl hugged her ‑ she was Penelope the Rescuer! What a brave cat to go down into the dark to find her friend. That night, she got a special treat. She enjoyed the can of tuna, but she was really happy to have her best friend back safe and sound.

Ghostly Dreams

Veranda06/01/2014

This seemed to be Part 2 of a dream that I’d dreamed the night before, but couldn’t recall. I was on a road trip that may or may not have been a TV show. It was allegedly around the UK, but we were just driving down FM 359. I was the driver. The car had an all-electronic display, with a map of where you were underlying all of the –ometers. I changed the readout from MPH to KPH and it took it a minute or two to recalibrate everything. The dashboard was just a spinning circle, kind of like when you’re waiting for Windows to do something, only it had road signs and traffic lights spinning in a vortex. My husband was in the passenger seat, Rebecca, from my writing group, and my brother-in-law, Matt were in the back. Sometimes Helen, my sister-in-law, was there, and sometimes she wasn’t. The dash-map started showing hilly terrain as we entered Pattison, and I thought “This thing is horribly inaccurate!” However, there was a road construction project on 359, and there were huge piles of sand and gravel just off the roadway. Matt said we should stop and walk the bens, but I assumed he was joking, so I kept driving.

We took the FM 1458 fork at Dead Man’s Curve. IRL, there was a little gas station/market just around the bend in the road when I was growing up, because I used to ride my horse there from time to time to buy a Coke and a Moon Pie or a Chick-O-Stick. In the dream, this place was an antebellum house that had been converted into a hotel. I had the double wrap-around verandahs on the ground and second floors, and New Orleans-style wrought iron railings. The clapboard house was painted white, and the trim and shutters were a very dark, nearly black, blue. The place was very dusty – no one had lived there for a very long time.

My friend Naomi, whom I can imagine seeing on a BBC program,  met us at the front door and let us in. She was some official historian, but I’m not sure if it was county, state, or national level. She told us that prior to the Civil War, there was a family living in the house, and they had four sons. They raised cattle and cotton, and were not wealthy, but far from poor. When the war broke out, two of the sons fought for the Union, and two for the Confederacy. After Lee’s surrender, the patriarch committed suicide in the house, and the mother and two crippled Confederate veterans were forced to leave their home. No one knew what had happened to the Union veterans, but it was assumed they’d been killed in the war.

A man from Massachusetts had bought the property and converted it into a hotel, but he died of a heart attack before the renovations were completed. Some of his relatives, one of whom was a school teacher, took over the property. The teacher was killed in a horse and buggy accident, and small fires plagued the construction project. The hotel finally opened, but many guests fled in the middle of the night, claiming that they saw the face of a bearded man with wild eyes in the mirrors, or that the blankets were pulled off of them while they slept. The unsuccessful hotel had a string of owners, but had stood empty for the last 50 years.

I went to the bathroom. The facilities had been modernized, with indoor plumbing, but the antique claw-footed tub was an original. When I first walked in, it appeared to be full of water. I looked into the tub, and there was a man at the bottom of it, brown eyes open, and blood swirling out into the water from a gash on his head. When I looked again, the tub was dry and empty. The lights flickered, and thunder rumbled in the distance. When I went back into the kitchen, I could hear the sound of rain, so I looked out the window. Floodwaters swirled around the house, and corpse of a man, wet black hair plastered against his head, bright blue eyes staring right at me, floated by. When I blinked and looked again, the water was gone. I asked Naomi if the two men who had drowned were cousins. She seemed surprised I knew about them. She said they were unrelated. One man, the uncle of the four brothers, had slipped in the bathtub, hit his head and drowned before the Civil war. The other man was one of the hotel owners in the early 1900s who had been trying to secure his livestock during a flood and been swept away himself.

Naomi left, and we decided to go get something to eat. There was a little Cajun restaurant in town, so we went there. The only thing they had that I could eat was beignets and strawberries.

We came back and started getting settled for the night. I think that part of the reason for the hotel’s spectacular failure was that instead of rooms, it had early hospital style wards. Rebecca and I chose one and Andrew and Matt took the other. Helen wasn’t there for the night, but she had gone to dinner with us. We had brought sleeping bags, which we rolled out on the least dusty beds, and we settled in to try and get some sleep. It rained during the night, and thunder shook the house, but nothing worse happened.

When we got up, I had bought a multi-pack of head scarves, and I was trying to put one on, turban style, but I couldn’t find the directions. I could find instructions on how to tie 2 scarves together to make an apron with pockets. It seemed that the pack of scarves was a very important artifact from the previous day’s trip, but I don’t know if I just can’t recall that dream, or if the previous day was only referenced in the current dream, and I hadn’t actually dreamed it at all.

 

Post Spring Break Contest

The first person who correctly identify the beach I was sitting on when I wrote this short story wins a signed copy of their choice of one of the following: Earthbound, Cheval Bayard, Confessions of a Troll, Dragon by Knight, The Hanged Man’s Wife, or The Magician’s Children. Reply in the comments.

Spring break was almost over, and the clouds were rolling in. The fog was so thick that even the midday sun hadn’t been able to burn through it. The wind had churned the waves to nearly the color of chocolate milk, and the mist that shrunk visibility to only a few dozen meters was only a few shades lighter.
“Should we start packing?” Carmela asked, pulling her hoodie down around her neck.
“We still have one more night in the campsite,” Madison replied.
“Supposed to rain,” Carmela said, disappointed.
She was not a fan of the ghostly white crabs that scuttled on the beach when they’d walked down to skinny dip in the wee morning hours. Last night, even the tiny sliver of moon had been obscured by clouds. The fog seemed to make the roaring waves sound louder and the crabs bolder. There were more of them last night than ever.
Today, the beach was mostly deserted. A frustrated kyaker and a family with two toddlers were the only other people around. Even the seagulls hadn’t bothered coming out. The other four girls, Carmela and Madison’s school friends, had left this morning. Carmela wished she had joined them.
A sand piper paused in its race down the wet strand of beach and dipped its long bill hopefully in the sand.
“You want to go up the seawall to Ben and Jerry’s?” Carmela asked.
They were down to their least desirable provisions, and there didn’t seem to be much point in just sitting on a chilly, empty beach with Madison.
Ka-lunk.
It sounded like someone had thrown a large rock into the water.
“What was that?” Carmela asked.
Madison rolled her eyes and sighed. “I’m sure it was just a fish jumping. They do that, you know.”
They do that because something’s chasing them. But Carmela didn’t say it out loud.
“Fine. Let’s go get lunch,” Madison said.

After pizza and ice cream, Madison used her mother’s credit card to rent a pedal car, and the girls spent a few hours riding up and down the seawall. The spring break crowd had thinned considerably.
“You sure you don’t want to head home back early?” Carmela asked.
“Yes.”
The girls picked up some sandwiches and headed back to their tent. The fog had turned to drizzle, and Carmela couldn’t think of many things she’d rather do less than be stuck in a tent with Madison and nothing to do for the next twelve hours. Maybe she could catch up on some much-needed sleep.
“I need to call Caleb,” Madison announced when they got back to their camp.
“Okay,” Carmela replied.
“I need some privacy.”
Carmela frowned. “It’s raining outside.”
“It’s not raining that hard. Besides, you can take my umbrella.” Madison held out a pink, heart-spattered collapsible brolly to Carmela.
“Seriously?”
Madison nodded toward the tent flap. “Yes.”
Carmela should have put her foot down, should have stood up to Madison. But that was the funny thing. Nobody ever stood up to Madison, no matter how much they ought to have. Carmela snatched the umbrella and crawled out into the rain.
All the other campers had had the good sense to pack up and go home. Madison’s green and white tent was the only one left in the entire campground. At least that meant that she’d most likely be able to use one of the flush toilets instead of one of the portables. She climbed the ramp and opened the first door.
The fluorescent light flickered and hummed. Just don’t go out while I’m in here. As bathrooms go, this one was quite large, with built-in benches lining the corner facing her. There were no windows, of course, but Carmela did consider dragging her sleeping bag into it, despite the signs forbidding just that. It would be nice if her cell battery wasn’t dead. She could at least text Emily while she was waiting on Madison to finish her oh-so-important private call with her boyfriend. But, lacking anything better to do, she went out to the beach.
It wasn’t quite dark, so she wasn’t too worried about the crabs being out just yet. She hadn’t walked very far down the beach when she noticed strange tracks in the sand – a large body, pulled along by flippers. Could it be a turtle? There were “Report Nesting Turtles” signs everywhere. Although, Carmela hadn’t thought they were that large.
Ka-plunk.
Carmela whirled around, but saw nothing. That was it. Phone call or no phone call, she was going back to the tent.
She headed over the boardwalk towards the campsite. She was surprised to see Madison coming towards her.
“Bathroom,” she told Carmela.
“I want to show you something when you get out,” Carmela replied.
Madison nodded. While Carmela waited, she looked over the edge of the dunes to the wild sea. A vee of pelicans glided silently above the beach.
Something wet and cold flopped onto her shoulder. She yelled as her elbow flew back and struck its target.
“Ow!” complained Madison, rubbing her jaw. “What did you do that for?”
“Why were you sneaking up on me? How was I supposed to know you weren’t some perv?”
“Whatever. What is it you wanted to show me?”
“This way. I think there may be turtles on the beach.”
“Cool!”
The tide was going out, and the tracks on the beach were still intact.
“I think that’s more than one turtle. Look how wide it is. Should we call the park rangers or something?” Madison asked.
“Probably. But my phone’s out of batteries.”
“Go get mine. It’s under my pillow.”
Carmela shook her head as she trudged through the deep sand to the boardwalk. Madison was wading into the water. What she saw in that cold water, Carmela would never understand. Besides, the strange tracks and odd noises made her uneasy. She’d get the phone and try to talk Madison out of the sea while they were waiting on the ranger.

Phone in hand, Carmela paused in front of the sign at the end of the boardwalk to dial the turtle hotline. She reported the location of the track as she walked back toward the ocean, then hung up.
Madison, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Madison! Where are you? This isn’t funny,” Carmela shouted, her voice lost in the wind. She walked perhaps a hundred yards in either direction, but there was no sign of her.
“Madison!”
There was no reply.
Carmela decided to check the bathrooms and the tent, but Madison wasn’t there, either. Fear seeped into the corners of her mind. She ran back to the water, but she was alone on the beach. Completely alone.
Madison’s phone dinged, and Carmela looked at the screen. “Battery Critically Low! Plug into Charger.”
Not even a pale, spidery crab had emerged in the thickening dusk. Carmela spun and ran back to the bathrooms, slamming the door behind her and locking it. She slid down the wall and plopped onto the bench in the farthest corner from the door. The light bulb lit up, although it still sputtered. Her hands were shaking so hard she could barely turn on Madison’s phone.
The screen lit up, then went black. “Goodbye!” the message read before the phone fell completely dark.
“No!” Carmela yelled at it, before throwing the useless thing onto the floor.
She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them against her. She sat there in the flickering light, heart pounding.
Carmela was sure she heard a grunting noise outside, as if there was a giant pig rooting around at the base of the bathroom structure. She held
her breath. Maybe it was just the wind.
It felt like at least an hour had passed, maybe more. It was quiet outside now. Had she just imagined the strange snuffling? Or maybe the wind had blown something up against the bathrooms? She let her breath out slowly.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Something pounded on the door.
Carmela was sure her heart stopped. She hugged herself even tighter.
“Hello?” called a voice from outside.
“Who’s there?” Carmela said, her voice too loud, too nervous.
“I’m from Parks and Wildlife. Someone called about nesting turtles, but I can’t find anybody.”
Carmela flew across the room and threw open the door. She’d never been happier to see someone in uniform in her life.
“That was me! My friend and I saw the tracks. I went back to get her phone to call, and now I can’t find her.”
“Let’s go make sure she’s not waiting for you on the beach. If not, we’ll call the Coast Guard for a search and rescue.”
Madison had still not turned up. Neither had the crabs. The turtle track was forgotten as Carmela and the park ranger called for her. At least Madison might be able to hear, now that the wind had started to die down.
Something bright green was caught in the beam of his flashlight.
Carmela felt ice in the pit of her stomach. Madison had been wearing a bright green shirt.
“Over there,” she said, suddenly hoarse.
They approached the object gingerly. It was a scrap of fabric. There was a tiny piece of a black printed mustache at one jagged edge.
“That looks like the shirt she was wearing,” Carmela said. “What could have done that?”
“You don’t know it’s her shirt. Every shop on the seawall has those.”
There was an odd sound behind them, like something heavy being dragged over sand. As Carmela turned to look, she heard the same grunting she heard earlier.
There was something large pulling itself across the sand towards them. Carmela cried out, and the ranger swung around, catching the thing in the bright glow of the flashlight.
At first, Carmela thought it was an alligator. A fifteen foot alligator. But she saw that it had flippers, rather than legs and feet. it was black and smooth, and glistened in the beam.
Carmela was sure she’d seen a picture of one of those before, if she could only think of where. She was also sure that the scrap of green fabric caught in its recurved teeth was from Madison’s shirt.
“Run!” yelled the ranger.
Carmela was rooted to the spot, so he grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her along. The beast wasn’t fast on land, and they easily outran it. The ranger radioed for help, but by the time the Coast Guard choppers arrived, the monster was gone. Carmela didn’t dare to be alone, so she stayed with the ranger. He followed the drag marks along the beach until they disappeared into the surf. Just at the water line, he bent over to pick something up.
He held it under the flashlight and examined it. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff wash up on the beach before. I’ve even hunted for fossils in South Dakota. And If I didn’t know better, I would swear this was a mosasaur tooth. Only it isn’t fossilized.”

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