On Susan Amos

There was a mother bear in the language department at my university.

I don’t know what I expected from Weird Things Agriculture and Mayhem University (though judging by the name, they at least had their priorities straight). I can tell you it was not a fierce woodland creature teaching me how to pronounce “oso.” When I looked around at the rest of the class, I saw they weren’t even fazed, just copying down verb conjugations because they were going to be on the test. Duh, pay attention, Vera.

She was a mother bear not only because she had two sons for whom she would level armies with a single swipe of her mighty paw. It was also because she protected her students from the other wild things that roamed the halls. It turned out that to get around in the Business Department, you had only to keep up a steady stream of Spanish numbers in order to pass through safely, but they couldn’t be the same numbers twice. I learned this when she accompanied our class the first time, down the stairs past the Business floor. The entire time, she growled melodic accounting figures as some kind of patchy shadow thing skirted around us, hissing and spitting because it could get no closer.

I worked to commit the foreign words to memory. Someday, they might save my life. More importantly, though, they could get me that A. My bear teacher was more than willing to award good grades to those who survived the semester.

And her tests.

On Jenette Baker

When I was still a small creature, she steadied me on the back of a horse, like a solid anchor at my back, one that could never be unseated. The day I held the reins for the first time, she placed her hand over mine to help me guide our mount. If I fell off, she picked me back up, dusting me off and checking for injuries.

She had a healing way about her hands. All the neighborhood kids would bring little injured animals to her, asking her to save them. Half the time she knew it was too late, “but I will try,” she would say. She’d cup the baby bunnies and mice in her warm palms and feed them every couple of hours. All day, all night. When they didn’t make it, she shed tears for them. When they did, she joyfully released them back into the wild.

I learned how to dig small graves in a corner of the property, but it wasn’t a very big graveyard. She saved most of her patients.

Hands wrapping wire around a t-post. Hands digging holes to plant flowers. Hands playing with puppies, petting horses, clasped in my dad’s hands. Wrapped around me in a hug. These are my memories of her and of her strong, capable hands. With them, she could do anything.

On Acacia Munn

If my sister was a tree, then this woman was the wild wind in her branches.

How she soared. Like an oil-slick Camaro down an empty, lamp-lit highway, all contenders eating her exhaust fumes. She had cool factor in spades, from her black eyeliner to her skinny jeans to her mouthy attitude. You might tell her how to live, but she wouldn’t listen. She had her own way to go.

A woman like that, raising a couple of kids… I know someday, she and her family will be hell on wheels, burning rubber on their way to global domination along the world’s fastest racetrack.

Writing Update: I’m Getting Published

Here’s a thing to add to my future autobiography: last weekend I was on a trip with some friends in Tulsa and early on Sunday morning, after a night of precious little sleep, I drowsily checked my phone. There I found an email from one of the editors of Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, which is an anthology of regional horror. I’d sent a submission to them a couple months before after hearing about Road Kill from Madison and Mattie because I’d just written a regional horror story myself.

The email was this:

We like your story, but it needs work. Please call.

I wasn’t sleeping anymore after that.

I waited until we came back from Tulsa and until I got home from work on Monday to call. Which is to say, I freaked out about it for two days straight. But I didn’t have a chance to call any sooner. On the phone, E. R. Bills told me that we needed to do some revisions, but that they were going to include my story in the anthology.

I’m getting published.

In many interviews, I’ve read about famous writers getting asked some variation of the question, “What did you do when you heard the news?” Their answers always involve celebrating, usually with a fancy dinner or with drinks or whatever. They have to, because success in this difficult craft deserves reward. For my part, after the call ended, I paced back and forth across my apartment a couple of times, then I called my parents, who took me out to eat at Furr’s. Such an innocuous restaurant choice as that is also going straight into my autobiography.

Here’s a funny for you. Mr. Bills asked me to send an author bio to include with my story. Even though I doubt they’ll accept it, I sent this to them today:

In those ‘describe me in one word’ social media posts, Summer Baker always gets the word weird. She grew up in Texas panhandle country just outside of Amarillo and, as an adult, still lives there with her ancient toothless dog because the city won’t let them leave. It’s gained sentience and no one can escape. Send help.

While she and the Wonder Dog cower in her apartment, Summer spends her final days writing fantasy and horror, playing videogames, reading, and playing tabletop RPGs with her friends.

Let me tell you, though, this whole thing is hard to process. I’ve gotten so used to no that I’m not sure how to react to yes. I did spend all of this morning tweaking the revisions they sent to me, so it feels like I’m back to doing the work I always do. Just with more people involved. I keep plugging along and in the time since I first submitted ‘Thirsty Ground,’ I’ve trashed one story and completed another. After this post, I’ll move on to drafting the next one. Business as usual.

Still. Kind of screaming inside.

P.S. I’ll update with more details on Road Kill Vol. 2’s release date and where you can snag a copy in a future post. With or without my story’s inclusion, I have a feeling it’s going to be a deliciously thrilling read.

On Sara Fuller

At first she was a friendly face, existing in a liminal time, just outside of everyone else’s clock. I’m not sure when she arrived, but it was sudden, with a splatter of toner ink on my purse and profuse apologies. (Personally, I thought it made the thing look cool and grungy.) Once she did show up, however, it was as if she had always been around, a half hour’s conversation I could sometimes look forward to at the end of the day.

She was a peaceful warrior, ready to improve the world with patience and understanding, no matter how small an action it took. She shared what she had with a smile and an open hand of giving to those in need. Hers were bright eyes, full of nebulae and galaxies and planets. The greatest gift she gave to me was the chance to look through a powerful telescope at the distant cosmos, the home of her heart. To her, I think, there under an overturned bowl of stars, it wasn’t a gift at all. Just an understanding that of course she would share this beauty with me.

Of course.

On Bob Baker

The steady hum of the ballgame on TV in the other room, or the distant banging of a hammer against a nail, always let me know where he was. Sometimes, on summer evenings, his song rang out over the open countryside, his fingers strumming an accompanying rhythm on his guitar strings. When I walked in the door, he greeted me with a booming hello. When I had to leave, he never said goodbye, just “see you later.” Because of course he would see me later.

He taught me how to sing and he taught me how to swear. He taught me how to use my voice to stand up for what moves me. He lived loud and allowed me space enough to yell.

He was the sound of home.

On Michael Sanders II

He was a point of stillness in a maelstrom. To find him in a whirling, busy crowd, you had only to look for the one anchored to the earth like a steadfast pillar. When he smiled, and stretched out his hand, it was to the quiet ones, the displaced ones, the rejected ones. He helped us up and brought us into his place of peace.

We conversed for hours, me and him and others, well into the night. Puns, jokes, silly things. Measuring out minutes with his warm voice, so that it felt like no time passed at all. He made us feel welcomed, accepted. Capable of facing the storm again when we stepped back out into the world. His wave and murmured “good luck” were enough to get us by for a while, until someday when it would be time to come back.

On Destiny Perez

She was a tall tree, strong as an oak, with wisdom flowing through her branches and a sense of home stretching into the earth alongside her roots. Her trunk was hollowed out by adversity and time, a comfortable space for the passing weary traveler to rest, a place to forget your troubles for a while.

Her leaves sighed and whispered in the breeze like a telephone conversation in the middle of the night. Or they pattered and chattered as she told those seated at her feet stories she’d heard on the wind. Her protective canopy provided equal parts shade from the sun and cover from storms.

I found when I felt lost in my journey, my steps often turned toward her. When I needed comfort, that hollow space would squeeze my shoulders just enough to be a hug. I wasn’t the only one, either. Many others bided their time with me, with her. She was our tree. We knew she would always be there for us.

On Jay Gurley

Between the silvered trunks of a mighty, alien forest, I came upon a wounded man. He sat next to a small campfire, one he had built himself. Pensiveness filled his eyes. A heavy, lead-lined cloak dragged at his shoulders, the red and gold hem crusted with mud. He had one hand pressed to his side and a puddle of crimson surrounded him, too much for him to still live.

When I gasped, he looked up at me. “I’m fine,” he said, flashing me a cocky grin.

“You’re not,” I retorted.

But when he pulled his hand away from his side, there was no blood. He showed his clean palm to me. “See? Nothing wrong.”

More blood seeped up from the ground, the puddle growing larger until it lapped at my bare toes. I went away from that place, feeling that I had let the world down somehow. I think he must have been a magician. A tricksy one, who pulled a blindfold down over my eyes.

On Joshua Edwards

His was a voice that often followed mine. I could drop a snappy comment and he would snatch it up, shift the trick sideways, and lob it back at me. You had to be quick on your toes around him, because you found that you didn’t want to disappoint him by dropping the ball.

Conversely, if he believed in you, you could do anything.

In his words was the wistfulness of a dreamer. He gave much and asked for little in return. But if you watched closely enough, you could see how, when he believed no one was looking, his gaze would drift toward the stars, the ache in his heart for something more becoming the ache in your own. I think he thought himself unnoticeable, invisible, and if you’re shifty enough, you can be. But I saw him. He’s real. If you’re quick enough to catch him, cup him gently in your palm, because starlight cannot be imprisoned.