What I Learned Writing “Taming August”

The third entry in this series about the experiences of newly published authors is from Pam Olinto, whose amazing history has given her a host of life experiences — good and not so good. She has chosen to use what she’s learned in a series of books for our youngest generation. While her protagonist is a most contemporary youngster, her attitude and adventures recall a time when our lives and those of our children weren’t driven by cell phones and gadgetry. It’s refreshing to know kids can still be kids. Here’s what Pam has to say about her journey into the land of writing and publishing:

Taming August, the first in three books about the Girl Power Detectives, is a chapter book for middle school students. It began as an experiment to see if I could follow the whole writing process from the beginning to fruition–a novel to hold in my hand.

Non-fiction writers often ask how a fiction writer finds material. As with any work, an author draws on incidents from his or her own past. I wove my story around my experiences with teaching mildly delayed children, my knowledge about frequent moves and how they affect a family, and the redeeming quality of friendships at any age. Most importantly, I needed the story to be told with a sense of humor, usually in the form of three-year-old Auggie’s antics. And, of course, I had to include animals, which are my passion and the source of many laughs in my household.

As much as my descriptions of the settings, the talent shows, and the mystery are fiction, I soon realized I had based twelve-year-old Maddy’s reactions on both my knowledge of middle school students and on me as a young person. Growing up in the Army and moving so often I learned early on not to get too close to friends because we would soon part. And many of three-year-old Auggie’s capers I owe to my four-years-younger brother who survived his childhood to retire as a full colonel in the Air Force.

Solving the mystery of a stolen necklace and describing the characters who lend their help allowed me to stretch my creativity. But again, I recognized my own personality creeping into the story when Maddy’s determination to find the answers overrides her parents’ rules and her own sense of caution. At some point, Maddy, Auggie, and the other characters took over and told their own stories. All I had to do was be present to take notes. The same applies to my pending second book where my years spent in Sweden learning about its culture give Maddy a new friend from another country whose overpowering personality leads her into more adventures.

Taming August is available now from Amazon.com. You can get your copy right here!

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What I Learned Writing “The Music of Her Life”

This is the second post in a series about the writing experience — first-hand accounts of the hardships and joys of the creative process. Judy McManus, a gifted writer, client, and former student penned an outstanding first work, and she’s already working on another. Here’s what she has to say about the experience:

The Music of Her Life is my debut novel. This story is one I’ve kept inside for years and is very close to my heart. It is a story about my family and is loosely based on my mother’s life. It was an emotionally difficult book to write.

Writing about ones so close to me and knowing the hardships of their generation helped me understand the struggles they endured. My book was written for The Greatest Generation. Their lives, their music, and their sacrifices shall never be forgotten.

Writing about the tremendous loss and scrutiny my mother went through during WWII, the late 1940s, and early 1950s, caused me to second guess myself and wonder if anybody cared about her struggle. On the other hand, writing this helped me realize how cruel society was to women during that time. My single mother put up with sexual harassment in the workplace, and she was called awful names because she was divorced. That scrutiny filtered down to her children. No one cared about her feelings or circumstances.

Was it hard to write such a personal story? Yes, it was. Did I want to give up? Yes, a few times. I struggled with the entire writing process. I suffered writer’s block at times. Not about the subject matter but how to deliver it in a professional way while throwing a little humor into such serious subjects. As my mother did in the book, I turned on the songs of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw and got a fresh perspective. I was determined to press on and finish the story that has been the ongoing subject of conversation between my sister and myself for years. We were the ones who were scrutinized along with our mother, and bringing that into the open was difficult.

It was almost sad when I submitted my “final” (really?) manuscript to be formatted and proofed. I was finished, or so I thought. When I received my proof copy of the book, I didn’t cry. All I could do was look at that 460-page tome full of MY words, created from MY brain, and smile. After saying, “I can’t believe it,” no less than 100 times, the tears began to fall.

Then came the hard part. Being a perfectionist, a disease not to be wished on anyone, I thought my book should look a certain way, be formatted a certain way, and last but not least, not have one typo. Finally, after hearing from excellent readers, I realized even major authors backed by big-time publishers usually have typos and a few mistakes. After driving everyone involved crazy, I was told in a most tactful way, “Stick a fork in it. It’s done.” I did, and to me, my book is something to be proud of.

With that said, I feel I succeeded in delivering the story, my way. I wanted the narrator to sound as if I was telling the story to a friend, and it moved them to tears. I was told once, while writing the book, “If it makes you cry, it will make your reader cry.” Since the book was published, my readers have told me how it touched them greatly and brought them to tears. Mission accomplished.

My new book is in the works and after learning so much while writing the first one, the writing experience is much more gratifying, and the words seem to flow in a new way. The pace, the points of view, and the format seem so much easier. I have one person to thank for that and it is my editor who taught this newbie the way to make my story flow and make sense.  So many individuals helped me through the extended duration of a dream accomplished. I’m excited about my new novel and look forward to the idea of writing as I go. I know it will flow smoothly since I wrote the hardest one first.

~ Judy McManus

The Music of Her Life is available from Amazon. You can find it by clicking HERE. And you can catch up with Judy at her blog: https://judithmmcmanus.org/

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What I learned writing “The Queen of Everything”

I’ve asked several of my writer friends to share some of the issues they faced and overcame in the process of writing their books. Sonya Braverman dared to go first. Her story is not only compelling and well-told, it’s true. Click HERE to visit Sonya’s webpage. Her book is available on Amazon right HERE.

The Days of My Life Did Not Fall Gently

Josh Langston recently asked me to write a guest blog about the issues I faced–and mastered–in the process of writing The Queen of Everything:  A Memoir. It didn’t take long for me to admit that the single most troubling subject for me was telling the truth. Yep. Honesty. But I don’t mean telling the truth vs. lying. Rather, sharing the hideous secrets of my backstory in all their unvarnished glory with, well, everyone.

Telling the truth, the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth, rested heavily on my shoulders for the majority of time I spent writing this book. Could I be truthful about my experiences with my readers? But a more difficult question was:  could I be honest with myself? That was a hard one. After all, it was I who created the life I lived; it wasn’t forced on me from outside influences.

And that question led me to yet another problem:  Fear.  If I told the truth, did I fear what other people would think of me, or what I myself would think of me once I saw my words on paper?

Many conversations about the truth with well-meaning friends and colleagues often included the same questions:

“You’re a good writer with some provocative experiences. But why in the devil would you want people to know about them?”

“And your children and grandchildren, what will they think when they read those ugly secrets about you?”

“What purpose could be served by airing your dirty laundry in public?”

“Why would you want to write such unflattering things about yourself and share them with the world?”

Was I doing it for attention? Notoriety? To explain and defend my behavior during the worst of my days? Or because I thought my experiences were unique?

“It’s your story and it should stay locked inside of you,” a member of my writing group commanded, “so it doesn’t upset or embarrass anyone you know.”

The comments of another group member went something like this:  “Why should she care about hanging out her dirty laundry? Especially if it’s a good story. Books about perfect people don’t sell. And they’re boring. There may be some people in her life who would disappear or change their opinion about her. But, after all, it’s who she is today that truly matters, isn’t it?”

“The true test of family and friendship will be in whether the people who read her memoir can accept the person who’s emerged from her past experiences.”

“Sonya has a compelling story, with a timely and gripping subject. If she’s decided to write a memoir about that part of her life, then she has to be true to herself and honest with her readers. If people decide they no longer want her around after they know the truth, perhaps they weren’t worth having in the first place.”

Another group member spoke up then. “With all due respect to those members who believe that she shouldn’t tell the whole truth:  if the people closest to her don’t know her story by now, then perhaps they should. They’re all well into adulthood, including her children. Maybe it’s time for them to take the blinders off. And, if they don’t want to take the blinders off, then this book isn’t going to change anything, is it?”

In the early days of my writing, I shrouded my experiences in flamboyant words and elegant turns of phrases. I wanted to distance myself from the reality and pain of my experiences as if they belonged to someone else. Her. Over there. And make her experiences more palatable than they actually were. But more palatable for whom?

I found that it wasn’t my audience who demanded my life experiences be cloaked in a tidy package with sparkly paper and a lovely bow. It was I who wanted my writing to be easy to digest. For me. Coming face to face with all that, oh, suffering, was just too hard.

I realized that what I feared most about telling the truth was not what other people thought of me or my experiences, but what they thought of me now. And what I thought of me. After all that fetid water has passed under the bridge. Who I am, not who I was.

I was determined to stop dancing pretty circles around the dark days of my life and own who I was and how I’d lived. As much as I wanted to pretend that the days of my life fell gently, they didn’t. They landed with an atomic explosion. I didn’t want to see those words in print. But in order to write an authentic memoir, I had to stop obsessing over what other people might think about the woman who was a drunk, a piss-poor parent, and a jailbird.

And what I’ve discovered is that coming face-to-face with yourself is actually much less exhausting than running away. Rather than tying me up in knots, writing has enabled me to unravel the mysteries of my life and understand the turmoil. But, most of all, writing has helped me heal.

 In fact, the act of placing honest words on paper has been more liberating than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. Happy or not, pleasant and unpleasant, my experiences and memories are part of who I am.

Telling the truth about myself for the world to read has set me free. I no longer have to pretend that I had a different life. It’s my life and my story and I’m okay with the way it’s unfolded. 

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Hooks, lines, and stinkers

Okay, I admit I’m cheating, on a couple things. First, I’m recycling some material from my class on writing short fiction. Second, I cheated on the title. I’m only going to talk about lines here, specifically: opening lines.

“Why not start an article about great opening lines by quoting the best ones of all time?” I asked myself and quickly followed that with a verbal back-pat. “What a great idea!”

The bonus is that this concept has already been dealt with countless times, and the internet is replete with such lists. All I needed to do was plunder them and produce a number of lines for my students who would immediately think me astonishingly well-read. And erudite. And, uh, whatever.

Then I started digging into the lists. It seems there is a disturbing lack of agreement when it comes to choosing the ten “best” opening lines from several centuries worth of novel-writing. Who knew?

So, with apologies to no one, I’ve culled some lines from these various lists, and because I’m hopelessly in need of validation, I snuck in one of my own. Perhaps the class will vote on The Best. With that thought in mind, I withheld the author’s names until the end of this post. You don’t have to peek unless you want to.

dark and stormy

Alas, this opening line didn’t make anyone’s “Best” list.

1) The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. 

2) In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.

3) It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.

4) Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.

5) Sainthood required more than a massive headstone and a dozen village idiots.

6) Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

7) It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

8) The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

9) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

10) He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

That’s enough for this installment. Hope we’ve all learned something rare and valuable. Or if nothing else, non-fattening.

–Josh

Please note: In case you missed it, today is the last day to download a free copy of Greeley for Amazon Kindle. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079S25V9Z

_________________________________________

1)   The Gunslinger by Stephen King

2)   A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

3)   Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4)   Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

5)   Under Saint Owain’s Rock by Josh Langston and B.J. Galler-Smith

6)   One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

7)   1984 by George Orwell

8)   Neuromancer by William Gibson

9)   The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

10) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

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Resurrection Blues

We’re traveling once again, which has made it difficult to work on anything new, including posts for this blog. So, instead, I’m going to post the first chapter of my very first solo novel, Resurrection BluesYou can find the book here, and if you hurry, you can get a copy for FREE. I’m serious about moving quickly; the offer ends at midnight tonight. After that, you’ll have to pony up the full ebook price of $3.99.

I did a trailer for this book a few years back, before it became an Amazon exclusive. The trailer is available on YouTube. And, because I know it’s a hassle to look these things up, here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDqXXjcVu_0

Resurrection Blues

Chapter 1

“One good fire is the equivalent of three good moves.” –Wayne A. Langston

Trey opened his door to the first line of a joke: An Indian, a dwarf, and a biker walk into a bar… Except he didn’t own a bar, and this clearly wasn’t a joke.

“We’re lookin’ for Trey Bowman,” the Indian said.

“As in A. A. Bowman, the third,” added the biker.

Trey looked down at the dwarf, expecting her to add something. She didn’t. Instead, she stunned him with the sexiest smile he’d ever seen. He dragged his gaze from her face and quickly inspected the other two visitors. They appeared calm, and unarmed. Always a good sign. Still….

“He’s dead,” Trey said.

“Then, who the hell’re you?” asked the Indian, “And why are you in his house?”

“Who the hell are you, and why do you want to know?”

The biker looked less likeable than he had before, the morphing process moving him from possible miscreant to probable felon. “It’s important we find Trey Bowman. He’s not in any trouble. Leastwise, not with us, but if he’s dead we’ll need to see proof.”

“Like a grave?” Trey asked.

“More like a body,” said the Indian. “But a death certificate would probably do.”

The dwarf continued to smile, but the effect ceased to be sexy. It now seemed morbidly curious–the sort of smile reserved for really bad traffic accidents, or public executions.

“You didn’t answer my questions,” Trey said, shifting his foot slightly in order to get more of it wedged at the bottom of the door. “So, again: who are you, and why are you looking for Trey Bowman?”

“Augie sent us,” the tiny female said, her voice a delicious tinkling of fine crystal.

“Augie who?”

“Augie Bowman.”

He’s still alive?

“Yeah, but not for long. Doc says he’s only got a few days left.” The Indian looked down at a photo in his hand, then held it up to eye level and glanced back and forth between Trey’s face and the picture. “He sent us to find you.”

Trey squinted at him. “Okay, I’m Augustus Bowman.”

“The third,” said the biker by way of confirmation. “Your grampaw said you go by ‘Trey.’”

“I do, but he barely even knows me,” Trey said, twisting to see if he recognized himself in the photo. He hadn’t seen his grandfather in at least twenty years.

“Why don’t you call yourself ‘Augustus’ or ‘Augie’?” the biker asked. “Don’t you like your name?”

“I like Trey.”

“I expected someone more… I dunno, interesting,” said the Indian to the biker. “This guy’s a geek.”

“I am not a geek! I– I hate computers.”

“Relax, sweetie,” said the diminutive femme. “He’s not talkin’ about the kinda geek you’re thinkin’ of.” She looked up at her companions. “I think it’s him, but we’d better check his ID just to be sure.”

My ID? This is my house, for cryin’ out loud. I don’t have to produce an ID. You should be showing me yours.”

“I’m Warren Lightfoot,” said the Indian, pushing his arm between the door and the jamb. “You can call me Bud.” He gripped Trey’s hand firmly, shook it once, then let go.

“Bud. Right.” Trey looked at the biker.

“I’m Dago,” he said, keeping his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“Of course you are,” Trey said, utterly clueless. He looked down. “And you must be….”

“The Virgin Mary,” she said with an absolutely straight face.

He tried to roll with it. “Would it be okay if I just called you ‘Mary’?”

“Sure,” she said, relighting her ten-thousand-watt smile. “I’m not really a virgin.”

“Good,” he said. “I mean, about your name. Not the, you know–”

“Time to go,” said Dago.

Oddly, Trey felt no threat from the bizarre trio. Something about them had the ring of truth, and he felt compelled to go with them. Besides, he’d already made a complete mess of his life, and he clearly had nothing better to do.

“You got a car?” Bud asked. “We’ve got a truck, but somebody’d have to ride in the back.”

“Not me!” Mary said. She pushed through the door and grabbed Trey’s hand. “You wouldn’t make a lady sit in the back of a truck, would ya?” She snuggled up to his thigh, and batted what he suddenly realized were absurdly long eyelashes.

“I’ve got a car,” he said. “I can follow you.”

Bud smiled for the first time. “Good, then let’s get movin.’”

“Waitaminute!” Trey said. “First things first. How long am I gonna be gone? Do I need to pack some clothes? Leave a forwarding address? Who’s gonna feed my parakeet?”

“Good Lord, he’s got a tweety,” said the Indian. “I told you he was a geek.”

“Bring the bird,” Mary said. “And throw some clothes in a bag. If you need more later, I’m sure we can find the hole and come back.”

‘Find the hole?’ What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

The biker stared at Mary as if he was contemplating dwarficide.

“It’s just an expression,” Bud said. “We’ll explain later.”

Trey looked down at Mary. “I don’t really have a parakeet.”

“I can get you one.”

“No. That’s cool. I don’t–”

“You like blue or yellow? Green, maybe? I think that’s all the colors they come in. But I can check it out.” She pulled him after her. “Where’s your bedroom?”

Trey hit the brakes. Mary may have been short, but she had full grown curves. “My bedroom?”

“Yeah. Unless you keep your clothes somewhere else.”

“Oh. Right. I thought–”

“You have a dirty mind, Trey.” She laughed, and somewhere a shelf full of exquisitely fragile glass toppled onto the floor. “Where’s your suitcase?”

He retrieved it from his closet, then paused long enough to look for Mary’s companions. “Where are–”

“Outside.”

“While we’re–”

“In here. Packing.” On her tiptoes, she groped blindly in the top drawer of his dresser and withdrew a handful of briefs. “I figured you for boxers.” She threw them on the unmade bed, then continued foraging in his other drawers. T-shirts and socks followed the underwear and landed in a pile.

Trey stuffed his clothes into the travel bag as quickly as Mary launched them in his direction. “Jeans and sweatshirts are in the closet,” he said, but she had already discovered them. “Will I need a jacket?”

She paused to look at him, curiosity coloring her classic features. “I doubt it. Unless we’ve slipped into another dimension, this is still summer in Atlanta, isn’t it?”

“But I don’t know where we’re going!”

“West and north, but not far either way.”

“That’s comforting.”

“These are nice,” she said, throwing a pair of loafers at him. “Bring ’em.”

“Those are my formal sorta shoes. They’re a little tight.”

“Wear ’em for me, then.”

“Okay,” he said. “Listen, I’ll get the rest of that.”

“No, you won’t. We’re done. You got that stuff packed yet?”

Very little space remained in the valise. “Uh–”

“Don’t forget your hairdryer, razor, and toothbrush.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before?”

“I’ve got six brothers,” she said. “Most of ’em are younger than me, but none of ’em know how to pack. It’s just not a guy-thing, y’know?”

He nodded. She was right. She was also leaving.

He zippered the case and hauled it out of the room as Mary walked out the front door. With none of his visitors in sight, Trey slipped into the little pantry in his kitchen and reached into the flour container where he kept his emergency fund–a roll of twenties he’d received in exchange for a motorcycle he couldn’t afford to keep running. The money was gone.

Trey looked up at a chuckle from just outside the pantry.

Bud held up his cash, still wrapped in a plastic bag. “Lookin’ for this?”

“How’d–”

“You’d be surprised how many people hide their money like that,” he said, tossing it to him. “You oughta find a safer spot.”

“Like the freezer?”

“Nah. I’d have found it there, too.”

Trey felt violated. “Where, then?”

“I like banks,” he said. “You ready to go?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really.”

They left.

~*~

Willard Calcraft had more attaboys and fewer friends than anyone else in the Internal Revenue’s regional office in Atlanta. Nicknamed “The Executioner” by some wag who discovered a similarly named 19th century English hangman, Will hadn’t actually killed anyone, though it was generally believed his unrelenting zeal for collecting back taxes had caused several clients to come after him.

His wife, Marjorie, had other reasons for wanting him dead. Foremost among them was a tax evader named Anastasia Jones whose profession required the strategic removal of her costume while dancing. Will had racked up some serious overtime on that case.

He had no idea Marjorie was contemplating his demise, but then few of her ideas had ever successfully garnered his attention. His inability to recognize problems of the domestic variety left him free to concentrate on his professional duties, such as the file in his hand.

A single sheet of paper occupied the folder. The name on the neatly typed file tab read: Bowman, Augustus A. The document contained the first clues in the kind of trail Willard Calcraft had followed often. He smiled in anticipation.

There was a “Bowman, Augustus A.” listed as the President of the Resurrection Holding Company, the address a rural route somewhere in Alabama. There was also a “Bowman, Augustus A.” listed as the pastor of the Resurrection Free Will Unitarian Universalist Mission. It bore the exact same rural route address as the Resurrection Holding Company. He loved it when tax cheats tried to hide behind religion and considered himself duly constituted to collect that which was due unto Caesar, but not necessarily because he had a thing for Caesar. A final entry showed the results of a search for a personal income tax return for the head of the two organizations: all blanks.

Will swiveled his chair around to face a wall map of his region, Alabama, and quickly browsed through a listing of all the municipalities therein. A couple of town names came close, but Resurrection was not to be found. He obtained the zip code for the rural route, located the area in the hilly terrain of the state’s rugged northern reaches and hunted for something that may have lent its name to both a trading company and a church. After twenty minutes of close scrutiny, he abandoned the map search without learning anything new. His curiosity growing, Will typed the vaguely Indian-sounding word “Resurrection” into his favorite internet search engine and aside from religious entries, came up empty once again.

Rather than antagonize his contacts so late in the day, Will decided to leave the mystery of Resurrection until the next morning. That would give him plenty of time to pay Anastasia a visit before he drove home. He cleared off his desk, made sure he had an ample supply of dollar bills in his pocket, and left.

~*~

Mary rode with Trey as they angled northwest away from Atlanta. She made herself comfortable on top of his travel bag. Trey tried not to stare at the harness strap of her seat belt which neatly bisected her breasts.

“They don’t make these damn things for little people,” she said. “Driving anything bigger than a bumper car is a real pain in the ass.”

“I’d be more sympathetic if I knew where we were going.”

“Resurrection, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed. He remembered the name, usually spoken under his mother’s breath and always referenced in the negative. According to her, Hell was a kinder, gentler alternative. “My mother told me some interesting stories about Resurrection. She wasn’t a big fan.”

“It’s not a place for everyone,” Mary said, “but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Have you lived anyplace else?”

She glanced at him with a slightly pained expression. “I’ve vacationed elsewhere. Or tried to. Vacation is over-rated. Frankly, I prefer stayin’ at home.” She pointed at Bud’s truck some distance ahead. “Don’t lose sight of them.”

He increased his speed. “What’s so special about Resurrection?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“I’ve got nothin’ but time.”

“It’s something you have to experience. The town isn’t much to look at. It’s more like your favorite jeans rather than your church clothes.”

“I’m not much of a church-goer,” Trey said. “None of my family was.”

“That’s not true. Augie lives next to the church. He’s a minister.”

Trey felt his eyebrows scrunch together. “Augie Bowman, a preacher? Maybe I’m not your guy after all. My grandfather was–”

Is. He’s not dead, yet.”

“–is a con artist. According to my mother. As I recall, she also called him a snake oil salesman and a carnival barker. There were some others, too, but those are the ones that stand out.”

Mary squinted at him. “Your Mom told you that?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure doesn’t sound like Augie. She must not have known him very well. Either that, or he’s changed. Drastically. The Boss is… The Boss! He’s probably one of the smartest men in the world.” Mary tried to cross her arms, but the combination of breasts and harness made it tricky. “I don’t mean ‘smart’ like brain surgeon smart. He’s smart in practical ways. He makes things work. He’s not only a minister–”

“What church would have him?”

“Unitarian.”

“Figures.”

“He’s also the banker.”

The banker?” Trey asked. “You make it sound like there’s only one.”

“That’s all we need.”

“A con artist owns the town’s only bank?” He chuckled. These people were deranged. His mother couldn’t have been that wrong about his grandfather, even if she did tend to be a tad over-reactive. “What a set up. He doesn’t even have to drive his little lambs to the shed. They line up to be fleeced all by themselves.”

“Are you this cynical about everything?”

He shook his head. “Only about cons, and I’ve gotta tell ya, that’s exactly what this feels like.”

She looked puzzled. “We’re not tryin’ to trick you.”

“Right,” he said, reaching into the glove box to extract a map. He tossed it in her lap. “Why don’t you show me where Resurrection is on that?”

She leaned forward and put the map back. “’Cause I can’t.”

“You can’t read a map?”

“I can’t show you where Resurrection is, ’cause it’s not on that map. It’s not on any map.”

“Because it doesn’t exist. It’s a scam.” He slowed the car and looked for a place to turn around.

“What are you doing?”

“Goin’ back,” he said. “I’ve got more important things to do than waste my time with lunatics.”

“Okay. But what about me? I don’t want to go to Atlanta. I wanna go home.”

“Fine,” he said, flashing his lights as he pulled off the road. The tires crunched in the red clay and gravel of the narrow shoulder. Well ahead of him, the pickup truck slowed, then did a U-turn and sped back toward them. “You can ride back with Dago and Crazy Horse,” he said.

“Warren Lightfoot. Bud.”

“Whatever.”

She frowned at him. “You’re a real asshole, you know that? I thought you might be a decent guy, like your grandfather, but I was wrong.”

“I am a decent guy,” he said. “I just don’t like being jerked around, and that’s all you’ve been doing.”

The pickup pulled off the road opposite Trey’s car. Bud rolled the window down. “What’s the problem?”

Mary leaned across Trey and called back, “He wants to go home. He thinks we’re tryin’ to pull something over on him.”

Bud jammed the shift lever into park and killed his engine. His door squealed as he opened it and again when he pushed it shut. He jogged across the road and leaned down to look through Trey’s window. “So, you don’t want to see your grandfather. He’s on his deathbed. It’s his last wish, on Earth. But you’re too busy to see the old guy off?”

“I think you’re trying to pull some kind of scam.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. I’m not the con artist; my grandfather is. And, I suspect, y’all are, too.”

Bud pursed his lips and went silent for a long moment. “Why would we bother to scam someone who’s broke?”

“Who said I was broke?”

“The Boss.”

“I’m not broke!”

“Really? That’s odd, ’cause according to Augie, you’ve been unemployed for almost a year. Your last three checks bounced like Texas Leaguers, and your credit report shows more red ink than black. A lot more. Your bank’s going to take your house at the end of the month.”

Trey squeaked, “You ran a credit check on me?”

“I didn’t. The Boss did. He said he had to wait until you were ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“A change,” said Mary. “Or would you rather go back to the same old, same old? At least until someone comes along to take it away.”

“Now wait just a damn minute–”

“Not us,” Mary said, “the bank.”

“But–”

“Don’t get us wrong,” Bud said. “We aren’t above trying to pull a fast one on some fat-cat outsider. You’re more like family.”

“How comforting.”

“Don’t get drippy on us,” Bud said. “Can we go now? I wanna get home before dark.”

“Yeah, sure, but I’m not promising I’ll stay.”

Bud didn’t respond. He walked back to his truck, fired it up and gunned the engine through the turn which took him back the way he’d come. Trey pulled out after him.

“No one has to stay in Resurrection,” Mary said. “It’s not a prison. The people who live there like it there. Give it a chance; you might like it, too. If not, we’ll show you the way out.”

“I doubt you’ll have to show me,” he said.

Mary only smiled.

~*~

Marjorie Calcraft propped her chin on her knuckles and blew a strand of limp, blonde hair straight up off her forehead. Her closest friend, Alyson Spencer, topped off her cosmo, then carefully emptied the shaker into her own glass. “Drink up. The kids’ll be home from practice soon.”

Marjorie nodded despondently. “It’s Tuesday, right? Excitement night.”

“You goin’ out for dinner?”

“We never go out anymore. Will says it’s not cost effective.”

“He actually says that?”

Marjorie shrugged. “No, but that’s the way he acts. I’m tellin’ ya, Aly, I can’t take much more.”

“Then divorce him. You’re still a good-looking woman. You could find someone else, someone who’d appreciate you for who you are.”

“Oh, right. I’m sure there are loads of handsome, single, well-to-do guys looking for fortyish blondes in size 12 slacks.”

“You’re a 12?” Alyson asked, the skepticism in her voice barely contained.

Marjorie’s lips twisted to the side. “Sometimes. Depends on the label.”

“You could settle for less than perfect. Single and well-to-do sounds pretty good. It’d help if they like kids.”

“You’re the one with kids, not me,” Marjorie said. “You make it sound so… mercenary.” She swirled the pink beverage in her glass and just barely managed to keep it from sloshing over the edge. She preferred wine glasses, the big, trendy bubble style. The way Alyson made cosmos–half vodka, half cranberry juice, a splash of Cointreau–it only took one to relax her. Two usually put her in a mild state of euphoria. Two, in the bubble glasses, would put her in a coma. That evening, however, she felt nothing but depression. “I think maybe I’ll just shoot him.”

Alyson grinned. Marjorie knew she liked nothing better than a good conspiracy, especially if nothing ever came of it.

“Could be messy,” Alyson said. “Noisy, too. You got a gun?”

“Will does. Somewhere.”

“Know how to use it?”

“What’s to know? They do it all the time on TV.” Marjorie took another sip of her drink. “I could do it. I could lock him outta the house, and when he tried to break in, I could blow his cheatin’ little weenie off.”

Alyson took a sharp breath. “You think he’s cheating? Really? With who? Anyone I know? Wait! I’ll bet I know.” She gave her head a sympathetic shake. “It’s that busty brunette in the house with the pool. What’s her name? Sheila something. I’ve heard she sunbathes in the nude. Can you believe it?”

“It’s not Sheila Sonderberg,” Marjorie said. “She’s at least ten years older than I am. She gives kids piano lessons, fergodsake.”

“Well, then, who is it? Anyone I know?”

“Not unless you frequent strip clubs.”

Alyson’s previous sharp intake of breath failed to compete with her latest. “Are you sure? How do you know?”

“I followed him one night. He’s been acting strange lately. Even more than usual, if you can believe it. He gave me some ridiculous story about having to go to the office, but I knew better.”

“And he went to a strip club?

Marjorie nodded, tears welling in both eyes. “It took me fifteen minutes to get there, and I waited for almost an hour. He walked right past me when he came out. Didn’t even recognize my car! Never looked in my direction.”

“Maybe it was work-related.”

Marjorie gave her a look she usually reserved for only the most deserving dumb asses.

~*~

Trey and Mary had driven for about two hours when the pickup in front of them slowed to a stop on the side of the road. Dago hopped out and walked back to Trey’s car with the setting sun at his back, framed by a pair of non-descript Appalachian foothills.

“I’ll drive from here,” he said.

“No thanks,” said Trey. “I’m not tired.”

“He’s not worried about your safety,” Mary said. “It’s a security thing.” She looked into the back seat. “You can stretch out back there.”

Trey shook his head. “I’m not stretching out anywhere but right here, behind the wheel. Listen, I promise not to tell anyone where your goofy little town is, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“We’re not worried,” Dago said, pressing something cold and hard against Trey’s neck.

When he woke, he found himself curled up on the back seat, the sole occupant of the vehicle. He sat up and looked around, expecting some sort of unpleasant side effect from the tranquilizer Dago must have used on him. Instead, he felt surprisingly clear-headed, as if he’d had a good night’s sleep.

He felt as though he owed it to himself to be angry at his captors, but he wasn’t. Whatever had knocked him out left him feeling awfully good, though he doubted he’d been asleep very long. The sun sat low in the sky, but it was far from dusk. He vowed to settle things with Dago the next time he saw him. And Mary, too. She could have warned him he was about to take a nap.

He exited the car which was parked behind a single, large house, and stretched. The dwelling was no different than a thousand others he’d seen in small towns throughout the South. Someone was in the process of painting the place, but it wasn’t a rehabilitation effort. The house had obviously been well kept. A huge dog of indeterminate breed filled the top of the stairs leading to the back door. Trey hoped it was on a chain, though it didn’t appear interested in him. It yawned, exposing saurian teeth and a long pink tongue. Trey decided not to venture too far from his car. The thought made him spin around and look at the ignition for his keys. They weren’t in sight.

“Trey!” said a gravelly voice from the porch. “How in the hell are you, boy?”

An old man leaned against the porch rail, a smile on his pale face. A great mane of white hair and a full, matching beard gave the man a distinctly Clausian look, although his body would never pass for a jolly old elf.

Gramp?”

“C’mon up here, boy,” said the old man. “Lemme get a look at you.”

Trey ambled to the bottom of the stairs but stopped when the gigantic canine lifted its head and stared at him.

The old man waved his arm impatiently. “C’mon up. Tiny won’t hurt ya. He’s got about as much energy as me, and that ain’t sayin’ much.”

Tiny lowered his great head as Trey climbed the stairs and stepped over him. The dog never even blinked.

The old man grabbed Trey’s proffered hand and pulled him into a hug. “God, how I’ve missed you! I was sorry to hear about your Mom. I wanted to attend the funeral, but the doctor wouldn’t let me out of bed.”

Pressed to arm’s length, Trey examined his grandfather. Though thin and pale, he certainly didn’t look as though he’d just crawled from his death bed. “They told me you were, uhm, pretty sick.”

“I am. Gonna die soon, they say.” He gave Trey a toothy smile.

“You don’t sound very upset about it.”

He shrugged. “We all have to go sooner or later. No sense worryin’ about it.” He clapped Trey on the shoulder. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m not eager to leave the midway. I’ll ride this carousel for a few more turns, but when it’s time to climb on the next ride, I’ll be ready.”

“You think death is just another carnival ride?”

“Isn’t it?”

“No! Death is… death. It means everything’s over. Done. Endless nothing.”

“I like the carnival ride theory better. It’s hard to get excited about ‘endless nothing.'”

Trey felt suddenly foolish. He slapped his forehead. “I– I get carried away sometimes and forget when to keep my big mouth shut. I’m sorry.”

The old man smiled. “Don’t be. You’re entitled to your opinion.” He motioned toward an open door. “It’s cooler inside. You hungry?”

“Actually, I was thinking of maybe drivin’ back tonight.”

“Then you’ll need these,” the elder Bowman said, handing him his car keys. “But surely you can stay for dinner.”

“You’re not going to drug me again, are you?” He still wanted to give Dago a piece of his mind, but the aroma of fried chicken and fresh bread all but overpowered him.

The old man laughed. “I can’t promise you won’t get sleepy after you eat a big meal, but if you’re determined to leave, no one’s going to stop you. I’ll see to it someone helps you get to the main road.”

Trey followed his grandfather through the house toward the kitchen. All along the way the smells of cooking food grew stronger, and Trey’s appetite grew as well. A young woman met them at the kitchen door, then led the old man to a chair at a built-in table. “Have a seat, Boss. Everything’s ready.”

“Kate, this is my grandson, Trey. The one I’ve been telling you about.”

She smiled and extended a hand. Trey accepted it while examining her face. “You look so familiar.”

Kate chuckled. “I understand you spent the afternoon with my big sister. Folks say we look alike.”

Mary’s your ‘big’ sister?”

“Yeah. ‘Cept her name’s not Mary.”

A wave of confusion crested over Trey. It must’ve shown on his face.

“Her real name’s Ethyl. She likes to use a variety of names. Can’t say I blame her.”

“Ethyl?”

“Yeah, like at the gas station, ethyl or regular.”

Trey still didn’t understand. He looked to his grandfather for help. He responded while piling chicken on a plate and passing it to Trey by way of Kate. “Ethyl teaches history,” he explained. “She was having trouble getting through to some of her students and decided to try something a little unconventional to get their attention.”

“This was a couple years ago, and she was getting desperate,” Kate said. “There aren’t that many folks willing to pay for history lessons to begin with. She couldn’t afford to lose any students.”

Trey tried to concentrate on what they were saying, but the smell of fried chicken made it difficult. Kate put a fist-sized helping of mashed potatoes on his plate and puddled gravy in the middle. A trickle of the thick, fragrant liquid dripped down one crisp edge of the chicken.

“What’d she do that was so different?” Trey asked.

“They were studying ancient Egypt at the time,” Trey’s grandfather said. “She came to school dressed like Cleopatra.”

“What a shock that must’ve been,” Kate said. “She found a costume from the old show days–harem pants, a skimpy top, lots of jewelry and make-up–then she waltzed into class and introduced herself as the Queen of the Nile. Wouldn’t say anything more until the students addressed her properly. Pretty soon they were asking questions and she was giving answers. I daresay those kids learned a lot. Then, when word got out about her skimpy costume–”

“Which took about ten minutes,” the old man interjected.

“–a whole bunch of boys signed up for her class. She wouldn’t let ’em in unless they agreed to stay the whole year, and paid in advance. She chose one new character a week after that, and just played the roles. I know–I helped her with a lot of the costumes. She got so good at it, and had so much fun doing it, that she let it slide over into her non-school life. She even wears the costumes when she’s working at the café. Customers love it.”

“I thought you said she was a teacher.”

“She is. She’s also a business owner. Co-owner, actually. She and a friend run a pastry shop in town.”

Trey nodded. “Do you know who she is this week?”

“Wait, don’t tell me,” said the old man, his food untouched. He clenched his eyes shut in concentration. They all sat in silence until he shook his head in defeat.

“Think Christmas,” Trey said.

Mary! Of course,” Kate giggled. “Bet that took you by surprise. ‘Course, she’s hardly a virgin.”

Feeling his role as a southern gentleman had been compromised somehow, Trey said, “I wish y’all wouldn’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Tell me you’re not virgins.”

“Who said anything about me?” Kate asked, as she coolly met his gaze.

Trey chomped down on a fleshy drumstick and chewed to cover his discomfort. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d tasted anything so flavorful.

~*~

Thus ends Chapter One. And there’s a LOT more to come. You can get it all here, for FREE, but you’ll have to hurry. Like I said earlier, the offer ends tonight at midnight.

–Josh

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Blogging for visibility

You’ve written a book. Maybe it’s your first. You slaved over it, making sure every word carried its weight; you nuked every unnecessary adverb and consigned every cliché to the septic tank cemetery. You shed angst like dog hair from a wolfhound as you tweaked and tightened, fiddled and formatted your opus for the grand debut. Decisions about the cover kept you awake nights and/or tainted your dreams with bizarre fonts, taglines that seemed perfect (but weren’t), and illustrations that vacillated from scandalous to soporific.

Somehow, you got through it all. The book’s done. It’s out in the world, waiting to be discovered by an adoring public. Only, the public is busy doing something else. What other conclusions can one draw? You’d understand if what you’ve done amounted to dross, whale dreck, or drivel. But it’s not. It’s good stuff. Maybe even damned good stuff.

So, how does one attract the public’s attention? Short of stalking Oprah and holding her press agent hostage in exchange for an endorsement, what’s a newbie to do? Here are some options often cited as solutions (in no particular order):

  • Send press releases to every newspaper, magazine, blog, and online presence you can think of.
  • Use the expertise you developed while writing your book as the basis for teaching a class.
  • Spend significant sums of money on Amazon ads.
  • Spend even larger sums on Facebook ads.
  • Spend still larger sums on Google ads.
  • Spend your retirement money and your children’s inheritance on a Madison Avenue marketing concern to spread the word for you.
  • Do public speaking, at churches, civic and social clubs, scout meetings, union halls, libraries, prisons — anywhere you can find an audience.
  • Spend another fortune on books, memberships, and associations which purport to have most, if not all the answers to fame, fortune, and/or a full head of hair.
  • Write a blog.

Wait. Whut? Write a blog? That’s a sensational idea, you think. “I’ll just pour out my heart online, and people will recognize my brilliance, my truth, my mot juste.*

Ah, but there’s a catch. You have to be continually brilliant. Writing a blog is an active definition of “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” If you aren’t blogging something new every single week, your chances of building a readership are slim to non-existent. If you aren’t creating compelling copy on a regular basis, your followers will number in the single digits, and remain there.

So, before you decide to jump into blogging, ask yourself a few questions. If you answer “No” to any of these, you’re likely setting yourself up to dodge angry bees for as long as it takes you to give up. To wit:

  • Are you willing to spend the time and energy, every damned week, to produce something worth reading?
  • Can you consistently write material that’s good enough to attract new readers?
  • Do you have the expertise to actually be believed? (Phonies die off quickly.)
  • Can you supplement your opinion content with humor, anecdotes, real-life examples, or something else to keep your material fresh?

Truth be told, sometimes it’s better to just spend the money.

–Josh

*Mot juste — Precision in word and sentence.

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You Think Halloween Is Scary? Ha!

I’ll tell you what’s really scary. I’ll share a secret that’s seen little exposure over countless millennia, and for good reason: it’s frightening in the extreme. You probably think you know what I’m talking about, but you don’t. You can’t know unless you’re a member of… the club–the fellowship of fiction writers. The people who think up the strange and unusual, the calculated and cunning, who dwell in a particular intellectual realm where conjuring something bizarre and making it seem somehow normal is perfectly acceptable. Ah yes, now you understand; I’m talking about what goes on inside a fiction writer’s brain. <cue scary music>

Now, before you go into pooh-pooh mode, consider what follows. My bride and I just returned from a trip to northern Arizona. While there we made many of the usual tourist stops and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. (It must be true; I have photos of us smiling.) Having known the woman who willingly shares my name for nearly a half-century, I also know it is unwise to share with her the more “creative” thoughts which often blitz through my noggin like rabid, Walmart bargain hunters on Black Friday. <shudder>

We’re looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon, centerpiece of a 1,900 square mile national park. And while most folks are oohing and ahhing over the undeniably magnificent terrain, I’m thinking of ways to send some of my more deserving characters over the edge. How do I lure them closer to their doom? How do I obscure the designs of my killers? How do I provide for their escape? Could they ride the same bus my wife and I rode in on? Why not? And why couldn’t they dispatch any number of other people while they’re at it?

I’m certainly not oblivious to the needs of the victims. Far from it. I’m wondering what goes through their minds during the one-mile drop to the bottom of the canyon. Can they ride the air currents? Perhaps glide a bit and thereby make it to a non-lethal landing in the Colorado River? What injuries will they sustain, assuming they survive the splash? Who fishes them out? Or do they float downstream only to go over another edge, a waterfall, and meet their end on the jagged rocks below?

Fun stuff! We also toured the red rock bluffs and canyons in and around Sedona. They’re beautiful, wild, rugged, and largely untraveled. Consider that last bit for a moment: largely untraveled. To me, that says there could be almost anything lurking in the deepest backwater. So, what if someone went hiking back there? Maybe they get lost. Maybe they finally find a stream and go skinny dipping. Wouldn’t that be the perfect time to discover there are some seriously strange creatures living there? Like for example–oh, I dunno–a giant lizard of some kind? I can see it now. And you can, too!

I’ll save my thoughts about the high deserts, mountains, and lava fields near Flagstaff for another time. The same goes for the gigantic meteor crater near Winslow, the volcanic mountains which burst from the ground and spewed molten earth across the land, and the ghostly remains of the cliff dwellers’ homes. They all triggered ideas about potential stories or sequels to tales already done.

Welcome to my worlds.

–Josh

Music materials provided by MusicNoteWorld
URL: http://en.music-note.jp/

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