I Just Had To Get This Out of My System

Remember I told you I had this idea to write a book called Surprise Lily? I don’t have time for this, I have many books to finish already, but she started talking in my head so I wrote it down to get it out of there so it wouldn’t get tangled up with Nita. This will never be a book, but I need a blog post, so . . .

Lily looked at Dr. Ferris with what she hoped was patience but probably looked like contempt and tried to explain the situation again.

“In Ireland somewhere in the 800s, I think, I was walking along a cliff face near the Abbey when I saw the Viking ships. I was thirty-three and therefore a crone, but Vikings are surprisingly unpicky when it comes to rape and murder; it’s always closing time and mead-goggles for them. I picked up Pangur, Brother Sedulius’s cat, to run back to the Abbey, and saw this big blond guy coming at me on the path, pretty clearly a Viking come ashore early to scope the place out. This has turned out to be a pattern in my life. For some reason, I always get the early Viking. Anyway, I turned to run, and the path was rough, and I tripped and fell over the cliff edge onto the rocks below, taking Pangur with me, although he doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge.” She thought of Pangur, waiting at home, expecting a treat in exchange for her betrayal of leaving him for three hours. Tuna maybe. “Anyway, we must have gone head first because we died pretty much instantly on the rocks, so aside from the fact that I was dead, it wasn’t too bad.” Lily looked at the therapist. “That was the first time.”

Dr. Ferris nodded, her plastic smile as firmly in place as every hair on her clearly dyed head. “And how often have you had this dream?”

Lily thought about throwing something at her. The woman had been annoying from the moment Lily had arrived—“Lily, I’m so glad you’re here”—and every instinct she had was telling her to go for the door, but she was on her fourth therapist and if she ditched another one, people might start thinking the problem was her.

“Lily?” Dr. Ferris said with heavily sympathetic faux-patience.

Lily tried again. “It’s not a dream. It happened. And then I died and was reborn in the 900s and then I died and was reborn in 1000s and then–”

“Let’s go back to the first . . . memory,” Dr. Ferris said, nodding and smiling, obviously refraining from putting finger quotes around “memory” with great effort.

I wonder if there’s a Dr. Ferris bobble head doll. There was definitely a Dolores Umbridge bobble doll. She could paint the hair black and add a big smile like the clown in It and that would pretty much nail–

“Lily.” Dr. Ferris leaned forward, oozing sincerity in every pore. It smelled like flop sweat. “Do you think this might possibly be a buried fantasy, something you long for and can’t express?”

Lily looked at her with contempt. “Anybody who thinks Vikings are a fantasy hasn’t met a real one.” She stopped to think about the guy on the path. Her First Viking. Big. Blond. Smelled awful. Caused her death. And her cat’s death. Well, Brother Sedulius’s cat, but after twelve reincarnations, pretty much her cat–


“Vikings are not a fantasy.”

Dr. Ferris blinked. “Actually, they are for many people.”

“Those are fantasy Vikings, not the real thing. Do you know what they smelled like? And I have it on good authority that their foreplay involved an ax. ‘Brace yourself, Bridget’ is not a joke.” Dr. Ferris looked confused and Lily gave up. “Look, this isn’t going to work as long as you think I’m crazy.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy–”

“You think I have difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality.”

Dr. Ferris smiled a healing smile. “Who amongst us doesn’t?”

“Me. I have enough reality for thirteen people, and I need help dealing with it. That will clearly not be coming from you.” Lily stood up. “I’m sorry Dr. Ferris, but just no.”

Wait.” Dr. Ferris stood up, showing real emotion for the first time since Lily had arrived.

“You’ve already decided that I’m delusional and your job is to help me see the truth. But I just told you the truth, so we’re never going to get anywhere. I need somebody who can think outside the therapy box, not somebody who will be the box. I have enough boxes in my life.” Lily hoisted her bag onto her shoulder. “I wish you the best. Stop dying your hair, it makes you look older.”

“Ah,” Dr. Ferris said, smiling again. “Anger. That can be very productive. I really think–”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “I’ve been angry for thirty-three years and thirteen lifetimes, some of them tragically short. Hasn’t produced a thing except this line between my eyebrows. See it? Looks like it was made by a very small ax, doesn’t it? Vikings. Hate ‘em. Starting to hate you, and one day you will again tell me my past lives are all dreams, and I will pick up your stapler and thwap you with it. I’m saving us both a lot of time and trouble by ending this because this is not good for either of us. Or your stapler.”

Dr. Ferris stopped smiling. “Fine.” She took a deep angry breath. “You want outside the box? Come with me.”

She opened the door and went out into the white plastic maze that held the offices of Crispin Therapy (a division of Atlantic Health), and Lily followed her, curious more than anything.

Two turns later, Dr. Ferris stopped in front of another white door and knocked.

How does she tell all these white doors apart? Lily thought, and then the door opened, and Dr. Ferris said, “Nadia?” and Lily looked past her and saw a tall black woman with a streak of blue in her hair wearing a T-shirt that said, “Do I look like a fucking people person?”

“What now, Carolyn?” the woman said. “Did I park outside the lines again?”

“This is Lily,” Dr. Ferris said, her smile gone along with the lilt in her voice. “She needs a therapist who thinks . . .” She made finger quotes. “‘Outside the box.’”

Nadia looked at her with exaggerated patience. “I am—” She made finger quotes, too. “‘Not Working Today.’ Hence this t-shirt.” She looked past Ferris at Lily. “Nothing personal.”

“Completely understandable,” Lily said. “So I’ll just go–”

“Lily thinks she’s been reincarnated thirteen times,” Ferris said, contempt dripping from her voice.

Nadia sighed. “Maybe she has been reincarnated thirteen times.”

“So I brought her to you,” Ferris went on. “You are definitely outside the box. I don’t think you’d know a box if you saw one.”

“I know boxes, I just avoid them,” Nadia said, with an undercurrent that said, I’m going to slam this door in your face now.

“That’s how I feel about Vikings,” Lily said. “They’re always there, but you don’t have to make them part of your life.”

Nadia raised her eyebrows. “Lotta Vikings in your life?”

“Not always. I died in childbirth—my birth, not giving birth—four times, and then there was the Plague, and don’t ever let anybody tell you a ship is unsinkable, but Vikings show up often enough that they’re a definite theme in my lives. Show me a tall, drunk, blond guy who spends a lot of time flexing, and sooner or later, he’s gonna kill me, probably with an ax.”

Nadia blinked. “Hello, Lily. Come on in.”

“I like your t-shirt,” Lily said, and went in.

95 thoughts on “I Just Had To Get This Out of My System

  1. You had me at hello, again

    You might not have time for this book, but it wants to be written. As one of your fans I want you to write it. Now that Nita’s almost finished, maybe Surprise Lily could be your fun book

  2. PLEASE, PLEASE write this book. (Says the woman who believes she has been reincarnated a bunch of times and once, I kid you not, killed by Vikings. Killed by Vikings is bad.)

  3. This was funny and wonderful – what a pleasure to read. I hope you write it. Lily doesn’t sound to me like she’s going to sit down and shut up…

  4. I like Dr. Ferris(wheel) for stretching outside her box to introduce Lily to Nadia. I know that she is doing it because she considers both Lily and Nadia freaks. Yet she is wrong, and she is opening up all sorts of possibilities. Lily and Nadia have great times ahead. I hope Lily surprises you with a lot more story after you get Nita off to a publisher. (Typing that, I imagine that there’s a lot more work after you find a publisher.)

  5. I love this! I would definitely read this if (runs and ducks for cover) you decided to continue on with it!

  6. “This will never be a book….” – J.Crusie

    Where have we heard this before? And let’s hope you’re wrong again.

    1. Well, I do know that the love interest would be descended from Vikings.

      But you all already knew that.

        1. A fair share of Minnesotans are also descended from vikings. Or sturdy Scandinavian peasant stock. Ooh, please make the hero from Minnesota. It’s February and cold.

          1. Can’t. I was only in Minnesota twice, so I don’t know enough about it.
            Also, not writing this book.

          2. I fully volunteer to host you in WI on the border of MN. From reading your blog for years I know we could sit for hours and not talk to one another while you research.

          3. You needn’t set the story in Minnesnowta – people move all over. Besides, you need only remember two details to properly lampshade the Modern Viking Persona – lutefisk and the polka. (Why do I get the chilling sensation I will never be invited into the RWA?)

  7. Damn! Now I’m going to spend the next thirty-three years, and possibly several shorter incarnations, wishing you’d write the rest of this.
    Thanks for the snippet, though. Made my whole Monday. 🙂

  8. Thank you! I needed this today. Lily, Nadia, and I are going to go find ourselves some Vikings now.

  9. If that’s the junk that comes from the girls in the basement, my are slacking big time. 🙂

    I would totally buy a book that just has random scenes from the mind of J. Crusie. Totally.

    1. You’re right! Unfinished Crusies (!) could be great fun. Not as great as finished Crusies, but almost. And better or as good as unfinished Austens 🙂

      I can see Nadia and Lily sharing lots of laughs, cocoa maybe, soup maybe, and time travels. More, please.

  10. Thank you. I just finished getting my taxes together (and last year’s income was horrible), so this was a much needed mini-vacation.

    I’m on board with the snippets book. Great idea, Brenda.

  11. Are you SURE you don’t want to write this book? I’d love to read it. Funny and smart and intriguing.

    “Do you know what they smelled like? And I have it on good authority that their foreplay involved an ax. ‘Brace yourself, Bridget’ is not a joke.”

    I love this so much.

  12. The vikings didn’t really smell bad. There’s a quote somewhere from a Saxon or scottish or something lord complaining about how all the women are interested in their viking neighbors because they bathe and have pretty hair and such.

    1. What were the chances that a bunch of guys on a long ship sailing a long way stopped to bathe and freshen up before they plundered? Sure if they were living next door, but right off the boat and ready to rumble? I sincerely doubt it.

      Of course I may have been influenced by all the teams I had to share a bus with when I was a cheerleader adviser. Generally, sweaty athletic men in crowded transportation are not daisy-fresh.

      Needless to say, were I to write this, there would be a lot of research in Vikings, but since I am not going to write this, we’re just going with common sense.

      1. I’d wish you good luck in not writing it, but I don’t really want you to succeed in your endeavor. 😛

      2. “(The Danes) …caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many frivolous devices. In this matter they laid siege to the virtue of the married woman, and persuaded the daughters even of the noble to be their concubines”. -John of Wallingford.


      3. I’m picturing the Vikings on board the boat, anchor down, shoving at one another to get to the one tiny hand mirror. Braiding their beards, combing their hair, polishing the buckles and weaponry.

        1. We’re told that’s how the Spartan army spent the night before the battle of Thermopolis: “singing, and combing out their long hair before battle”.

          A costume historian who worked on a Vikings pop movie wrote that she had the perfect, perfect outfit, built around very accurate and glamorous-to-Viking-contemporaries pants: full, bloused at the ankle, and made of silk in wide stripes of white and bright orange. And ever since then statues of Ronald McDonald have given me a bit of a turn.

  13. Should you decide to write it, I will buy and read it. If, instead, you find a publisher for Nita, I will buy and read it.

    Write. I honestly believe you have no choice. Writing is one of the things you do. If all you write about is how you write, or eating bok choi, or cooking brownies – I’ll read that, too. You are special.

  14. From the wonderful Susie Dent, lexicologist, via Twitter:

    “A reminder that, in the past, we could be kempt, couth, full of ruth, ruly, wieldy, ept, flappable, mayed, and gormful.

    This week’s podcast will hopefully leave you feeling ‘gruntled’, first used by P.G. Wodehouse.”

    This reminded of Gwen going for a date with Mason because he got get clue – it was a word like that, but I don’t remember what it was. It’ll come to me.

    1. It came to me, the second I hit post. Peccable. (I think, is that right?).

      I’m back into running training and listening to Faking It (again). It’s so so wonderful, and the audio narrator is the best. I don’t listen to that many audiobooks, but she is the gold standard others often fail to meet, for me.

  15. Well, why was she seeing a therapist? Inquiring minds want to know. Reincarnation in and of itself shouldn’t be a problem. Lots of people believe they were reincarnated and those of us who don’t think we were, continue to love them anyway without sending them to a therapist for their beliefs. And she’s on her fourth therapist so it is impacting her life. Something significant is happening that she needs to deal with. What?

    Loved this by the way.

    1. I had only the vaguest idea. I think she was walking down the street and an ax almost fell on her, but it knocked a piece of stone loose which hit on her the head and when she woke up, she remembered her past lives. But now there’s some concern about brain damage and an inability to deal with the real world, and since she’s a teacher, her school put her on medical leave so she’s working in a diner for the summer. This is the kind of thing that would change radically if I wrote the book. It’s the spackle approach to plotting. WTF did this happen? Oh, aliens. How would she meet a Viking. Everybody comes into this diner. Etc.

      Short Answer: She’s trying to get her life back. The present one.

  16. Yesterday I saw the movie Rocketman based on bits of Elton John’s life. In it, we learn that his process for writing music for songs is more of a gift –he reads through the lyrics once, sits at the piano, and the melody just comes to him. He doesn’t appear to bother questioning the gift. It just is and he goes with it.

    This Lily story of yours reminds me of that. Just a gift of words that maybe you should just go with and keep letting come together in a story. None of that pesky writing process needed. Just let the words flow and later you can polish those words. That’s it. Just polish.

    While it may be argued that some people may still call that “writing,” you can call it anything you want. You know, potato, potato. Use air quotes if you must. But this is good. Be a pity not to see where it may take you if you let it flow. Just my two cents;)

    1. Mostly right now it’s just Lily and Nadia talking, and Lily and the Unnamed Viking talking in the diner. It’s not going anywhere that I need to write it down.

      Nita, on the other hand, is on her way to Hell and needs me.

      1. I suggest you call the unnamed Viking Leif. Like Leif Eriksson who supposedly sailed west until he reached America. I like the idea of Lily and Leif.

        Sorry, it’s still your story. Never mind.

  17. This is so effing DELIGHTFUL. I love everyone (okay, maybe not Dr. Ferris) and would pay real cash money to spend more time with them. While I totally get that this is not a book you can write right at the moment, Lily and Nadia and Pangur (is that a Pangur and Grim reference??!) and the similarly reincarnated Viking I sense lurking around the edges seem fascinating.

    DELIGHTFUL. Absolutely, completely, DELIGHTFUL. And just what I needed as my brain was leaking out of my ears this afternoon. Thank you for sharing!

        1. It’s always lumped in with the “Early British” or “Anglo Saxon” literary period, says the adjunct who used to teach a Brit Lit survey course.

          1. Well, definitely British Isles, and of course the Vikings raided and settled in Ireland (Dublin’s a Viking settlement). My degree was purely English language and literature, though, so Anglo-Saxon, and you could do Lowland Scots or even Old Norse as an option, but no Celtic languages. Which is rather absurd, since I’m pretty sure all us Brits have a large helping of Ancient Briton in our ancestry.

          2. Please don’t tell the Irish that their poetry is dropped into category ‘British’ . argh! ;p

      1. The Monk and His Cat from Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs, based on texts of Irish monks, written in the margins for the most part, of whatever they were copying at the time.

        adapted by W. H. Auden from an 8th or 9th century anonymous Irish text

        Pangur, white Pangur,
        How happy we are
        Alone together, Scholar and cat.
        Each has his own work to do daily;
        For you it is hunting, for me, study.
        Your shining eye watches the wall;
        My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
        You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse;
        I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
        Pleased with his own art
        Neither hinders the other;
        Thus we live ever
        Without tedium and envy.
        Pangur, white Pangur,
        How happy we are,
        Alone together, Scholar and cat.

        Here’s Leontyne Price singing it…

  18. Perhaps you might collect short stories or novellas of the things like this that you really can’t deal with as novels, except there are now these voices and characters that may not care where Nita is going but are asking to be written? I read this at work and also wanted a T-shirt, but that isn’t the image a librarian wants to project! Thank you for writing it down–please feel free to keep going any time you need a blog post.

  19. And it’s “never going to be a book” why?! It’s great! Maybe it could be a novella or novelette if you are down on starting another book. Nita won’t need you forever.

    1. Because of Nita.
      And Alice and Nadine.
      And Zo and Cat.
      And Liz.
      And Zelda.

      All of whom have large amounts of their stories done and are waiting patiently for closure.

      I may have missed somebody in there, I have a lot of WiPs, but Lily is definitely at the end of the line because she has no real story. The rest of the girls do.

  20. I am another vote for the snippets book. Then you could write about whatever floated up without any pressure to finish/make it track/spend more time, etc.

    In the meantime “Short Answer: She’s trying to get her life back. The present one.” struck a chord. Yep, or at least my hair and waistline.

    “Also, not writing this book.” I notice this came second. We would know what to think if a heroine in a romance said this……..

  21. It may not be a book , but it really made my day. The State of Illinois website is driving me crazy(and they won’t process my application unless I apply online AND send them a paper application) and your post may just have saved my what little is left of my sanity.
    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. I think I’d like to read this book. (No pressure. I know you’re crazy busy, etc. and it’ll probably never happen. However, I thought I’d just go ahead and throw this out there into your universe.)

  23. I always thought “On A Clear Day You Could See Forever” had a good idea but needed improvements…

    Too bad you’re married to Nita, this one would have been fun.

    Never dating a Viking, not that I know any!

  24. I noticed (and I bet a lot of others did, too) that Nadia is black and a whole character right away.

    I mention that because you were uncertain at one point about creating black characters. You have her, no problem.

    1. For a beat I thought Nadia was the love interest (but not once we know she’s the therapist).
      Because a Viking would totally wear that t-shirt.

  25. I am so glad you shared this – and if the muse strikes you (pushes, influences or threatens), I would totally buy and read this. What a great bit – thank you so much for posting it!

  26. Stop making me laugh while I’m supposedly writing about HVAC systems!

    Good luck with Nita…and Alice…and Nadine…

  27. Okay, since I pop in here Weds and Thurses only, I’m late to the party.

    Unlike Dr. Ferris, I believe you. It’s never gonna be a book. We’ll ignore the parts about “… the love interest would be descended from Vikings…” “…were I to write this…”

    Not gonna be a book.

    However….”…when I was a cheerleader adviser…” Do tell! Another story waiting not to be written?

    So, how about a long short story?

  28. OK I have 1 gazillion posts to catch up on, but I just HAVE TO say:

    I want to read this book. I want to read this book. I want to read this book very very very much.

    I hope Lily can be patient and bother you sometime when you have time for her. I really want to read this book. (And all your other upcoming or not-yet-written books, of course.)

    In case I didn’t mention: I really want to read this book. 😉 <3

  29. I try to resist pushing you to write things you don’t want to write. That said if you wrote this I would read it. Fascinating!

  30. For me, best Nadia line: “What now, Carolyn?” the woman said. “Did I park outside the lines again?”

    I clutch my heart, that line so works.

  31. I’ve been in a Cruise drought for so long, reading other authors who can’t suck me in like this post! I would LOVE to read the rest of Lily’s story!

  32. You know this is already flash fiction, right? Get your gal pals together and publish an anthology. Betcha SEP & JAK & Anne Stuart & etc would all have pieces to contribute.

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