The Stupidly Sentimental Loss of a Car

 If I were a car person, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a shock when my reliable Chevy Prizm died. Not died in the sense of “needs a jump,” but died in the sense of “funereal bouquets and little catered sandwiches.” A car is a tool, in the broad sense of the word, and since I live in the country, it’s a necessity. A means to an end. It’s a mass-produced machine, not a work of art, and many identical cars are still on the road.

And yet, the moment that large, expensive machine stops working evokes all kinds of weirdly sentimental feelings. Even for someone like me.

The Chevy Prizm was in truth a Toyota Corolla sold under the Chevy name. My car had a couple Chevy logos slapped on the outside, but like a contrived TV show situation with a masquerade ball and mistaken identities, it wasn’t fooling anyone. Are we supposed to believe that the characters legitimately can’t recognize each other because they’re wearing slim, sequined carnival masks (I’m looking at you, Gossip Girl)? As if they don’t have recognizable chins, noses, body types, or that black trim running along their doors? “LOOK, I HAVE A GREAT DISGUISE. NO ONE WILL KNOW I’M A COROLLA, HAHA.” My first Prizm even said “Toyota” on the cassette player.

The characteristics of a car map conveniently to one’s own personality. Our stuff forms our identities more than people would like to admit. More than I would like, anyway. My Toyota Corolla definitely a Chevy Prizm was the car of a practical person who doesn’t give a shit about brand names, and sat in the same category as my cell phone and my old laptop: things I always said I would keep until they broke (which I did), rather than getting new ones just for the hell of it. In my car, you could see my personality and my socio-economic status.

You could also see a large dent in the side where I accidentally threw a log at my car because there was a snake one time.

Over many, many hours of life, my view of the world was literally framed by the shape of my car’s windshield. I’m not going to go into depth on that, because that’s verging into post-modern territory, and Here be Dragons and Opening a Can of Worms*. Still, there’s some subtle effect.

The nine years with my Prizm feel like eleven; my first car was also a Prizm, and met it’s fate after some awesome teenagers (So full of life! So awful at making left turns onto a busy road!) barrelled into me. The insurance money allowed me to upgrade to a second, slightly better Chevy Prizm (CD player! 4-speed transmission!). As long as I’d had a car, I’d had a Chevy Prizm.

Nearly every adventure my partner and I went on over the course of eleven years started the same way: fresh cups of iced coffee, a new mix CD or tape, and time spent packing everything into the Prizm. We went places in the Prizm that car advertising will tell you are reserved for owners of Subarus and SUVs.

The Prizm saw me through different phases of my life, from

The creepy writing is appropriate because I was married on Halloween.

commuting to school to working second shift and living in my first apartment. I drove it to Boston’s green line twice a week to take a copyediting class at Emerson College, which was probably the first active decision I have made in my life. I spent the first few car rides trying to breathe and listening to music while my anxiety and dread over the claustrophobic subway tunnels revved inside me.

I’ve eaten meals (and “meals”) in my car and taken naps. I’ve driven to dreaded doctors appointments and job interviews, and spent extra minutes in the car “just to finish this song,” even though I had it on CD. I’ve screamed angry depression screams in the car as I drove so no one else would hear me.

Mechanics always told me, “That car’ll rust out from under you before the engine dies!”

Well, the engine died.

When the mechanic told me, I made one last mix CD to play in my Prizm, which I had been told might last a few more weeks, or might die on the way home.

Like someone watching a story of their life, I actually did cry on that last ride, with that last mix CD, as I told myself in a self-consciously narrative sort of voice that I knew my old, reliable Prizm would get me home one last time.

I wasn’t wrong.

For two-and-a-half years now, I’ve driven a green Corolla. It’s practically the same car, only cleaner**. Once again, it’s easy to forget that I ever had another car. My grieving process for my old car only lasted so long; I may have been attached to the Prizm, but not install-human-brain-in-the-engine-so-it-will-keep-on-living attached.

Sometimes I see the Prizm in pictures from long ago adventures, or from my wedding, or am reminded of it when a friend loses a long-term car. And because this is all more emotional than losing a mass-produced vehicle which I owned solely for practical purposes should ever be, it’s like seeing pictures of a fun cousin that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.


*And the dragons would just fry the worms into crispy fried-onion-like topping, probably. Green bean casserole? Hell yeah.
**While my Prizm was famously a huge mess, my Corolla won a bet for its cleanliness:

Goblins don’t buy groceries

When you cut a deal to get out of goblin jail, sometimes you end up on a secret pumpkin-snatching mission for the manipulative goblin wizard who busted you out. And it can an awkward situation when you’re with a squad of professional pumpkin-snatching goblins, and you’re just sort of… a kid.

This is the third preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. The clip here is read not by me, but by my spouse (and number two fan*).

A part of this scene stemmed from writing anxiety. There was a self-flagellating voice in my head saying something like: “This story is really stupid. Why can’t you think of stories that aren’t stupid? Why would goblins snatch pumpkins from people’s doorsteps when they could just go to the store and buy a bunch of pumpkins?

Then a more helpful voice said: “Grocery stores don’t accept goblin money.”

And another helpful voice, one that sounded a bit more like a goblin, answered: “Also, we don’t have goblin money.”

I believe in brainstorming rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. When it does hit, it’s almost never out of nowhere. It happens because I’ve been thinking and asking questions, even if sometimes those questions are kind of whiny.

Here’s the transcript:

Korkor turned to Amber. “You’ll be doing my job. Keep the trick-or-treaters away while we take the pumpkins back in several trips.”
“How do I do that?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a bat-nexus grenade followed by a smoke shroud? Or a nice Spook’s Gambit followed by a Kirlik Maneuver?” He made an excited gesture of a swooping owl and handfuls of explosions. ”Do you have your own array of creeper-cell batteries and magic boosters, or do you need to borrow one?”
Amber said nothing in response.
“Here.” Korkor dumped a pile of pocket junk in Amber’s arms.
Torlik made an exasperated noise. “She doesn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and you know it’s not enough for a crowd.”
Amber wanted to help, though she really didn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and she hadn’t understood most of what Korkor had said. “I don’t get why you can’t just grow pumpkins yourselves. Or buy them.”
“Grow them?”
“Now?”
“Takes too long,” said the three goblins in overlapping bites of speech.
“Fine, buy them,” said Amber, suspecting that, somehow, this wouldn’t do either.
“Buy them?” With a dramatic arm thrown across his forehead, Torlik pretended to faint. “From a store?”
But Korkor’s eyes lit like jack-o-lanterns. “A store with aisles and aisles of pumpkins?”
“And a pot of stew?” Falkit added hopefully.
Amber shrugged “A grocery store.”
“Grocery stories don’t accept goblin money,” said Korkor
“Also, we don’t have goblin money,” added Torlik, turning out his pockets.
“Also, goblin money doesn’t exist.” Korkor turned to Torlik, and they nodded rapidly in unison.
There was a pause.
“Could you explain coupons?” asked Falkit.

I had been aiming to publish this on October 15, and I think it will be pushed back by just a few days. When it’s out, I’ll announce it on both this blog and my newsletter.

By the way, I just saw an in-progress version of the cover illustration as the color is being added. It’s going to look cool, and I’m excited to post it sometime next week!


*I may not have a lot of fans, but they are the most organized fans in the world: they numbered themselves.

A recipe for goblin candy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goblins, it’s that they eat most of the same food as chickens: fruit, bugs, and various forageables. At least, the goblins in Pumpkin Goblins do. Even though I have chickens, this is actually a weird coincidence. I did the earliest work on Pumpkin Goblins almost two years before the chickens came on the scene. Since Pumpkin Goblins is coming out later this month, it’s occupying a lot of my mental space. So much, in fact, that it has seeped into my snacks. Thus, here is the story of how I ended up making goblin candy.

Every time I needed a goblin to mention some kind of food, my first thought was: Worms? Or graveworms? Goblins eating bugs was an easy option, kind of a default idea, and I usually like to challenge those and do my own thing. Since the goblins snatch pumpkins rather than growing them, I figured they weren’t big on agriculture. Their village is in the middle of the woods, so it didn’t seem like a great place for any sort of farmland. They weren’t going to be raising pigs and cows, or eating bacon cheeseburgers. But I could imagine them growing little gardens, or picking fruit from the woods. The bugs still fit the image I had in mind, and every time I mentioned goblin food, it was mostly bugs and fruit:

“A conspiracy as vast as an ocean of soup, as intricate as a puzzle box or a lattice-weave pie crust. As dangerous as undercooked cricket brulee with the crunchy top.”

A goblin from the front row stepped forward and handed Hobkit a lumpy biscuit.

“Thank you, yes. Bat-darnit, I was hungry.”

and

The smell of burnt applesauce hit him as soon as he started down the ladder. Applesauce with mothwings and nutmeg, an Ebleween favorite. The familiar scent tugged at Torlik’s memory.

The idea of goblin candy came from a very quick bit of dialogue in Pumpkin Goblins:

Amber shared a bit of her Halloween candy with Falkit, who in all her years as a driver, had never tried it. Spitting it out, the goblin dramatically pretended to throw up. “It doesn’t have any apples,” she complained.

“It’s a chocolate caramel, not a caramel apple.”

“No apples, no worms. Nothing juicy-good like goblin candy.” She spat again. “Sticky.”

Even though this is a very minor bit of the story, I have a vivid image of what goblin candy is like: dark and fruity, gooey in texture, with a hint of spices.

Goblin candy: not known for its looks. In fact, it inspired someone to tell me a story about a prank in which chocolate was presented as bear poop.

My recipe for goblin candy is based on a recipe for No-Bake Pecan Chocolates from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve made the original recipe many times, and at this point, I kind of make it my own way. Since it’s a deliciously sticky mass of chocolate and nuts, I thought it would be a good starting point for goblin candy. Btw, I highly recommend Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, vegan or not. And I’m not; it’s just a collection of awesome, unique cookie recipes. Their gluten-free flour mixture alone is worth the cost of the book.

Goblin Candy

1 cup chocolate bits
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup dried cherries and currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
A pinch each of allspice and cloves

Directions:
Melt the chocolate on the stove, over the lowest heat possible. Stir in the brown rice syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir in everything else. Form into candy blobs, preferably on parchment or waxed paper. Dip hands and utensils into water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Refrigerate until firm.

Bugs are an optional ingredient. I do know people who eat bugs. If there’s a bug out there that complements fruit and chocolate, and you eat that bug, why not add it?

Aiming for a caramel vibe, Vegan Cookies calls for brown rice syrup. But the book is for vegans, and if you’re not, you could probably go straight for the caramel. Point is: sweet and very sticky.

Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if you use almond meal (which is my own addition, anyway). Point is: ground nuts of some variety. Cornmeal would probably be a terrible substitute (I don’t know why that even popped into my head.) I’m sure you could swap out the pecans too. In fact, I’m not sure how much goblins really like recipes, so if you want to ignore the whole thing and smash ingredients against the walls of a haunted house, that might work too.

Pumpkin Goblins: just like elves stealing toys

When an elite squad of pumpkin-snatching goblins shows up at your house, they usually make off with your pumpkins before you realize it. That way, you can blame teenagers and don’t have to consider the fact that goblins exist.

This is the second preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins. And the scene I read here is one of my absolute favorites. In it, Amber finds herself face-to-face with the three goblins who tried to steal her pumpkin. One of the first pieces of this story I wrote was the bit of dialogue in which the goblins think she’s named Ember (like fires), rather than Amber (like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago). There’s a story behind that.

Originally, Amber’s name was Ember. I think I had Elfquest on the brain, but it also seemed like a cool name, one that went with jack-o-lanterns and spooky forests.

The problem with cool names?

They set off Mary Sue alerts in my head. And since Amber is definitely not a Mary Sue, I thought it would be better to give her a “normal” name. Changing one letter was an incredibly time-efficient way to do this. But it works on another level too: my best friend growing up was named Amber. We usually played outdoors and sometimes went on adventures, so I think Amber is a fitting namesake*.

Here’s the transcript:

The goblin leader took one long step so that he was directly in front of her, close enough to grab the pumpkin and run. He locked eyes with Amber, and she felt aware, in a way that she never had before, of being human. Of having fat and muscle flesh out the gaps of her skeleton where the goblin had knees and elbows and all kinds of joints poking out of his wiry frame. Of having soft human skin with peach-fuzz hair where the goblin was the almost-smooth gray-brown of a birch tree. He flashed her a wicked little grin, his teeth neatly pointed. “What’s your name?”

“Amber.”

“Ember?”

“We like embers,” said the other two, bouncing their words off each other. “Because we like fires.”

“No, Amber, like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”

“Oh.”

“Amber.”

“Like dead bugs.”

“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”

The goblin leader turned around to the other two and announced to them, “I don’t think she’s going to help us. She obviously doesn’t care about Halloween.”

“I care. I care more than you! You’re trying to ruin my Halloween.”

“If we don’t get enough pumpkins, everyone’s Halloween will be ruined.”

The other two jumped in. “Ruined.”

“Ruined and wrecked.”

“Wrecked and wretched.”

Amber glared at the goblins.

“Look,” said the lead goblin. “This is all aboveboard and legitimate business, and we would be glad to show you identification, if we had anything like that.”

The tall goblin with the trench coat piped in, “We’re just like elves stealing toys, only for us it’s pumpkins.”

“Elves make toys, not steal them.”

“That’s what you think. Ever lose your favorite toy at the mall, and you swear you never let it out of your hand?”

“Well, yeah, but I think I just left it at the shoe store.”

“Oh, elves and shoes, elves and shoes,” muttered the lead goblin. “You said you’re having a bad Halloween?”

Amber glanced into the lit living room window, where her brother was playing video games with Sybil. “It’s the worst Halloween ever.”

The tall one leaned into her face ominously. “And it’s going to get worse still. Not just for you. For everyone. Summer-warm air. Half-hearted tricks. Reluctantly-given treats.”

Suddenly, the third goblin, the one with the sunglasses and fingerless gloves, the one who had spoken least, jumped up off the small garden rock she had been squatting on and waved the other two goblins into a huddle. They talked rapidly for a moment in language that was both higher and lovelier than Amber had expected, then turned again to face her.
“We have decided. You may come with us to the Goblin Oak and place the pumpkin there yourself,” announced the leader.

We’re a little over two weeks from the aimed-for release of Pumpkin Goblins. In between frantic editing and formatting, having a job, and enjoying fall, I’m planning to put out at least one more of these preview scenes, and also a recipe for goblin candy.


*Apparently, “namesake” can refer to both the person one is named after, and the one who received the name. No wonder that always confused me.

That awkward moment when you’re stuck in goblin jail

You should figure that if a group of sneaky Halloween goblins gives you a map to anywhere, there’s going to be something tricky about it.

This is the first preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. It’s a Halloween adventure story. In the scene I read here, my main character, Amber, finds herself in goblin jail after an incident with a goblin map.  I’ve seen other authors post audio of themselves reading their work, and I enjoyed it. This is despite the fact that I’m not patient enough to listen to an entire audio book.

Shoving aside my introverted tendencies and my Massachusetts accent*, I decided to do the same.

Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I’m Kris Bowser, the author of Pumpkin Goblins. My main character, Amber, is having the worst Halloween ever. This scene is the predicament she finds herself in after some trouble with a magic goblin map.

Amber sat in a jail cell that had been carved from an enormous pumpkin, and smelled like it. She knew she should be afraid, but couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to mark out a face on a would-be jack-o-lantern, and that toasted pumpkin seeds would be coming out of the oven soon. The cell had bars that looked like twisted, ropy wood, but held firm like iron. Maybe she should be scared of never getting free, but pumpkin jail was at least not so boring as spending the evening watching Dean and Sybil play video games.

A soft, quick noise came from the tiny window high on the cell’s outer wall. Clinging to the window bars, forearms tight to hold himself up, was the leader of the three goblins who had come to her house. Finally, some answers.

“You!” Amber exclaimed. The goblin was the closest thing to something familiar and friendly in what felt like days, and she had a lot of questions for him. “Are you getting me out of jail?”

“Confess to nothing. Don’t mention me.”

“I don’t know your—”

“Do you have it still? Right pocket. No, other one.”

Amber fumbled around her pockets. “Halloween candy?”

She heard the thunk sound of a goblin kicking the outside of pumpkin jail in frustration.

“Where is it? Where?” His head darted frantically. “Confiscated!”

The two goblin fists released the bars, and he dropped out of sight.

Amber leapt to the window. “Wait!”

Somehow, he had already made it ten feet away. He turned back. “Don’t worry. Don’t worry, don’t tell, for Halloween’s sake. We’ll get you out.”
Then he ran off.

I also have some line art for the cover to show off. The illustrator, Justin Motta, wanted me to make sure that you know the art is still in the early stages. Because this was clearly important to him, I’ll say it again, in larger letters:

The cover art is still in the early stages.

pumpkin-goblins-lineart

Can you image how awesome and Halloweeny this is going to look when there are colors?

And larger still:

The cover art is still in the early stages.

Stay tuned for more preview scenes from Pumpkin Goblins! Halloween is coming.

 


*Honestly, my accent isn’t heavy anyway, and I’d rather have a Massachusetts accent than vocal fry, which I learned about while googling things like elocution and audio recording software. I actually tried speaking with a vocal fry after watching the videos. It’s uncomfortable.

One small, square box of revenge

To me, blackout poetry represents an opportunity to make mischief out of boring things like financial columns and interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger. You excise the dull parts with swaths of ink or paint. It’s like a secret code created with gleeful defacement.

talk to strangers, surprising men, a paper friend wrote that morning

You can see how I made a “rough draft” in pencil, but then couldn’t erase it because that would’ve effectively murdered the newsprint.

Poetry, in general, isn’t something I write. But I can never resist mischief (or trickery, or sneakiness*), and apparently I created a lot of blackout poetry a few years ago. I posted another blackout poem over a year ago. I found these few poems while looking through an old art journal, and had one of those “Oh, cool!” moments that come around sometimes when looking through old things you’ve forgotten about.

Or even things that aren’t so old. If you write enough, there’s a point when your brain can’t hold it all in, and blog posts from maybe two months ago read like new.

Call someone who you think they're an enemy.

If I twist my brain hard enough, I can justify this as being actual advice. Of some sort.

I thought I’d share these, because out of all the blackout poetry I found, these were the ones that came out surprising well. Or at least the ones that didn’t make me think, “Holy crap, how can anyone over seventeen compose something so depressively emo?”)

one small square box of revenge

I imagine it’s wrapped in elegant paper the color of titanium.

And the idea of a small, square box of revenge, whatever that is, amused me.


*Despite the fine distinctions between trickery, sneakiness, and mischief, I have tags for both sneakiness and trickery, and most of the posts overlap. Speaking of sneakiness, I just learned I’m the top Google result for “Kris Bowser sneaking food into movie.” For reasons..