Church of the Palomino

So here it is.  I apologize to those of you who read both of my blogs, but today is the day.  The Church of the Palomino…the short story I worked to build on this blog…has gone “live” on Amazon as a Kindle single.  Here is the cover:
church of the palomino cover
 
I am nearly peeing my pants with excitement!  After all that time and effort, I have finally put my writing out to the world for everyone to see.  And while it is exciting, it is also nerve-wracking and sort of scary.  Just a wee bit.
 
So, here is the brief description:
 
“A widower finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is an exotic dancer. Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”
 
And it even includes three endings and an homage to Flannery O’Connor.  For just $1.29, how can you resist?  You can’t!
 
I hope you give it a read and share it with your friends. By the way, you do not need a Kindle to read Kindle downloads.  You can read on your iPhone, iPad, or PC.  Convenient AND paperless!
 
Now, though, it is time to work on the next story…a writer’s job  is never done.

WHEW! NaNoWriMo is Over…Bring on the next deadline!

I am not going to pretend or try to fool you, dear reader, that NaNoWriMo was a successful undertaking for me this year.  Alas, it was a dismal failure!  Again, circumstances beyond my control intervened in my completion of this noble task.

So, I am going to do what I do every year.

Go back to doing what I was doing before.  An obvious choice, perhaps, but one that suits me well.

And for the short term, there is a local short story contest upon which I have honed my focus.  It’s just a week from the due date, so I need to focus in on that somehow, with my one local story that is “almost” done being the thing that needs the fixerating.  It probably needs some major editing, what with a 2500 word limit, but I will, again accept the challenge with hopefulness in my heart and willingness in my hands.

Let’s see if I can complete *this* one, dear readers.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Good luck in your own pursuits!  Now, where did I leave that second cup of coffee….?

+++This message brought to you by a stress-addled mind+++

Keep calm and spike your coffee with rum!

“Ending” Exercise Outcome: Still Flabby!

Let me just start by saying that I have been remiss.  I will own up to that.  And…er…well, it’s obvious, considering my recent lack of posts. 

I apologize.  So…here is where I left off.

I was going to brainstorm new endings.  And I did. 

And then I thought maybe there wasn’t anything at all wrong with the ending I had and I marked through all my brainstormings with a big red X.  

And then I went ahead and picked my three favorites and wrote them.

This is my list:

1.  Max turns himself into the police.  Or Shannon talks him out of that.

2.  End it at the lake?  Max swims away?

3.  Bigfoot appears a la Flannery O’Connor!

4.  What else could he give her?  Less money.  The quilt (which has no value to her).  A ring (which also has little value to her, although he might intend it for her to sell). 

5.  Going back to “church?”

6.  Stopping by the cemetary? 

So, after considering this list, I decided I only really liked 2, 3, or 4.  And I made myself write, while hunched over a folding table at my local laundromat, through all of them, with the premise that I might actually include each ending as an option for my readers. 

HOWEVER, I then began a debate in my head.  If I conclude this story with four different endings, what am I conveying to my readers?   Would I be making my own statement about how I couldn’t decide what I wanted for these characters?  Maybe I don’t want my readers to think that four endings come from lazy writing.   If I give them options, perhaps that is more like a “gift” to my readers so that they will, hopefully, find in one of the endings, something that they find gratifying. 

Who am I kidding?  I have always had a hard time ending a story without some sort of gimmick.  I often circle back to the beginning of the story.  I don’t think that is going to work this time.  I want a happy ending, for once (since short stories often have terribly miserable endings).  I don’t know how to do that without it seeming schmaltzily cheese-topped and sugar-coated.  I used to have this rule that if the ending made  me cry as I wrote it, then I was there.  In my older age, I must be growing even more sentimental, because the cheesy ending got me.  One friend liked the cheeseball ending, but the other (a fellow writer), said it was much too much like a brick of cheddar.

I really just don’t want the ending to suck.  I think I will blend my “different” endings into one and hope that it works as a unified thing.  As NaNoWriMo approaches, I need to be done with this story and these characters.  I WILL keep you posted when I ge to that ending.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…if you want to keep up with a different writing project of mine, check out writeunderyournose.com.  This is another blog that I hope to someday turn into something more than a blog.  I will be posting more and different writing exercises there, as well (I’m keeping this blog, too, as a venue for more personal writing ponderings).  Hope to see you there!

Figuring out Shannon

Way back when I was in grad school, I decided for myself that it was important for my characters to have a recognizable and unique voice for the story to be “successful.”   True, some of my characters obviously sounded like me in diction and dialect, but many did not.  I did manage to fool one of my classes (we had anonymous story reviews, in which the author was unknown to the group at large) into thinking a man had written a story about Vietnam based upon nothing more than the strength and quality of the voice I had crafted.   It is my forte, I guess…or, rather, I like to think.

The unfortunate side-effect of this truth is the fact that I often present my stories in first person p.o.v.  It is a challenge for me to pull off 3rd person successfully, in my opinion, and this pet project, Church of the Palomino, is my own exercise in trying that more omniscient perspective.  A problem I am having, though (as is evident by my failure to continue posting regularly here), is getting my character, Shannon, right. 

So, I did do the exercise I last left off with, but I wasn’t really happy with it.  I feel like I am doing too much “showing” and not enough “telling.”  But now I’ve decided to give myself permission to just write and write about her in the hopes that I will somehow figure her out, or at least get a better, more realistic take on her.  And since I am trying to get her more solid, I am now thinking that Max needs to be balanced somehow by her.  Not to analyze my own work too much…

And I will put the disclaim on these to say that, necessarily, much of this work is not useful for a finished product except to help me build a character in my own mind. 

Anyway.  Here is what I have written about Shannon so far:

Shannon was realistic in one way.  She knew her appearance and the way her body, face, and hair looked were something she happened to have by the fortune of youth and luck of the draw.  She could afford to eat a cheeseburger now and then, because she danced it off every night.  If, for some reason, she stopped dancing, she knew she’d turn into her mother or grandmother with dimpled thighs, heavy arms and breasts, jowls, and a wide hump of a back.  Her hair would become thin, even if a brilliant silver would be something of a consolation.  She was not going to accept this fate without giving it a good kick in the face by dancing her ass literally off.

(Or, conversely…)

She took up smoking to help her not eat.  Being skinny was the name of the game.  She thought about her lungs every other month or so, quit for a week, maybe two, then something would happen and she’d want another puff.  Sometimes, though, when she woke up feeling like shit…too many shots with a bachelor party or something…a hangover coupled with ashtray breath, she’d swear them off forever.  Again.

Last time she bought a pack, she’d found Jeremy (her 15 year-old brother) with pot, her Mom had called asking for money, and one of the girls at work had been fired for no apparent reason other than Steve had been in a bad mood that day.  Some shit about how he thought she was laughing at him…talk about little man disorder…fuck!  Anyone would take up smoking AND drinking on a day like that.  It was just too much.

“Too fucking much,” she sighed, exhaling the smoke in a long stream that curled around and hung in the air. 

(And in the morning, which is her night time)

When she got home after work, it was usually between 4 – 8 a.m. depending on if it was a slow weekday or a busy weekend.  First thing she did was turn off the television, try not to wake up Jeremy (who was usually asleep on the couch), and take a shower.  She loofahed her whole body until she was pink.  Washed her hair with coconut shampoo, conditioned it with some secret hoodoo conditioner Brandy’s grandmother made from plants and tea and shit…she didn’t know what it was, but it worked like a miracle on her tangly curls.  Before drying off, like all good strippers know to do, she slathered her we body with baby oil.  She’d finally found one that smelled like lavender, not the sickening sweetness of a baby.  The lavender put her in the mood for sleeping.  She dried off in front of the steamy mirror,  twisting her hair up into a towel turban.  Then she removed her makeup and applied a thick night cream to her face and neck.  She brushed her teeth, took down her hair, and combed it out with a wide-toothed comb.  She applied extra ltion to her hands and feet, then threw on a huge, fluffy, chenille robe that hung on a hook on the back of the door.

She checked the answering machine.  Fixed herself a mugh of hot water with lemon, grabbed the newspaper from the kitchen table, and crawled into bed.  First, she read the want ads, then the comics, then, she worked the crossword puzzle.  In pen.  She lived on the edge.

(and then, a different take on the “piece of trash” exercise)

I can’t believe a grown man has so little sense, so little self-respect that he actually prefers to look at women he can’t have, paying with the cost of food and drinks and cover charges and lap dances and other wasteful ways.  When I realized men would do this, I was all of 18 years old, and of course had no qualms about taking that money they waved at me, threw at me, or tucked into my g-string.  It was about at this same time in my life that I began to realize that most adults I had met, if they weren’t trying very hard to behave otherwise, basically only worried about themselves, and therefore continued to act like small children.  The clever ones who were intentionally choosing a life of selfishness were still like small children, only they had mastered the power of manipulation. 

This, for example, was my mother’s perferred method of operating.  Out of selfishness (because what other possible reason could there be?), my mother threw out our father for getting fired, and has followed up with man after man who used her, got her drunk or gave her drugs so they could control her in their own selfish game of “do what I say so I can feel important.”  One or two of mom’s men did seem halfway decent.  Joey P. and “Uncle” Robbie, as I had been told to call them, had at least wanted to be a father to me and Jeremy.  They had treated us like valuable human beings–even mom–trying to get her sobered up, but ultimately each left for the same reason:  Mom is a bitch.  And a liar.  Sometimes a thief.  But mostly, an addict.  When she isn’t using, she is none of those terrible things.  But, like a child who must break the rules just for the mere fact that they are rules, my mom always returns to the sauce or the pills or both.

Not Shannon.  Never Shannon.  I have too much planned for my life to let a genetic disposition for alcohol and daddy issues turn me into the same fragile, selfish, and (now) incarcerated woman that my mother has become.

Stones in the moonlight…

Shannon shifted the car into reverse, looked at Max, and said, “Hang on.”

The little blue Honda squealed out of the parking lot, fishtailing as it ran through the gravel patch before hitting the highway.  Shannon knocked it up to about 80 and drove toward “anywhere but here.”  Her phone rang.  It was Steve. 

What Max heard was garbled barking coming from the telephone and Shannon saying: “HE attacked ME!…No, I didn’t lay him out…yeah, some old guy, never saw him before…” she looked at Max and shrugged.

“Don’t lie on my account,” he said, shaking his head, and looking away toward the dark fields reaching toward the horizon.  He couldn’t shake the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach after seeing that kid’s tongue going in and out of his mouth, like he was some bad kind of broken.

Shannon continued talking to Steve, “Ambulance, really?  That fucker was threatening ME, Steve.  Said he was gonna ride me like a Mexican donkey. I kept pressing the emergency button, but no one came!  I’d probably be stuffed in his trunk by now if hadn’t been for the old guy.  That asshole deserved it.”

Max blinked at her words.  Cussing like a sailor, like the kid he just laid out.  Patsy wasn’t a puritanical woman, for sure, but being that she was one of those good-mood-all-the-time people, he’d never heard her say anything more severe than “hell” or “damn.”

“Fine.  I quit, anyway, jerk!”  She threw the phone in the backseat, knuckled down on the steering wheel and drove faster.

Max obliged the girl her drive, assuming that he, as the person who had just assaulted a stranger, ought to be thankful he had a get away driver.  He looked down at his left hand and realized he might have broken a bone or something, the way it was swelling up.  He’d worry about it when morning came.  Then he realized, Shannon was crying.

“It’s just a job,” he said.  “You can get another one.”

She nodded.  “I know.  I should.  It’s just good money.  Easy, you know?”  The tears shone on her cheeks in the light of the dashboard.

“Easy come, easy go,” he said.

She smiled then. “That’s what I always say.”

“You ought not to be working in a place like that.  A place like…” His voice trailed off.  He tried to explain how guilty he felt in the morning times when he was waiting for Patsy’s ghost to make him coffee.  Like he had swallowed a stone and it was stuck in his throat. 

“A place that’s going to use you up and spit you out the minute you cause any “trouble?” Like a dog.  Worse than a dog…”

“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you working at a place like that?” Max went back to looking at the fields, swallowing down a watery mouth that usually preceded vomiting. 

“That’s a good question,” she said.  She began to slow down as they came to a fork in the road.  A wooden sign pointed toward Lake Sanborn to the right.  “Want to go to the lake?”

“Sure,” he nodded, thinking back vaguely of that first time he saw her.  The time he remembered Patsy in the lake. 

In the light of the headlights, the water looked black and glassy.  But when Shannon turned the lights off, the moon shining on the water became visible, and everything looked like it was glowing.  She got out of the car and walked toward the shore, unafraid.  Max followed after her, more slowly, watching for holes and snakes.  She kicked off her flip flops and waded into the water to her knees.  Max found a seat at a picnic table, leaning his forearms on his knees.  The little beach was made of pea gravel, each little pebble shining like a pearl in the moonlight. 

“I mean, what did I ever do to deserve this?” Shannon asked out to the still water. 

Max wondered the same.  He sometimes thought about why he hung around at all.  But as a man of faith, he wasn’t going to cut his own time short.  That was for the Lord to decide.  How he found himself here, at edge of a lake in the middle of the night with a stripper after he just did serious injury to a young man, however justified the action was…How the hell had this happened? 

He thought he was probably going to leave.  Figured he was going to throw it all in the van and head west and not come back to this town.  At least not to live.  He’d make a point to come visit Patsy’s grave on her birthday, June 2nd.  On their anniversary, October 25th.  On Christmas.  Seemed like Flagstaff might be nice.  Maybe Buena Vista up in Colorado.  Maybe he’d just bounce around.  He tried to swallow down that stone in his throat.

“Did you hear me?” Shannon interrupted his thoughts. 

“No, ma’am, sorry, I did not.”  he said.

Trash Can Savior

The results of my “write on a piece of trash” exercise…

{Here is some background.  Max is in love with a stripper.  The stripper’s name is Shannon.  Shannon’s stage name is Lexi.  Rodney is another “regular” at the strip club.  He has anger managment issues and the misconception that giving a stripper a lot of money means she owes him sexual favors.} 

“I can’t believe this!” Rodney screamed.  “You can’t fucking be serious!  Choosing him over ME?” He took a long swig from his Lonestar, then chunked the bottle into the side of the building.  The smell of beer filled the air.  “Not like you even have a choice, sweetheart.”  The way Rodney said “sweetheart” made it sound like the worst insult a man could call a woman.

“I believe the lady can choose whatever she likes,” Max said, plunking his hat back on his head, pushing it down hard, so it would stay on if he had to run.  Part of him wanted to punch this asshole dead in the teeth, but he knew it was smarter to evade a fight with a kid big enough to be a linebacker and young enough to be his grandson.  He was going to bank on the fact that he was still pretty spry for 63 and the fact that he, himself, was not inebriated, unlike this fool.

Shannon was pushing the panic button on the pager over and over, backing away from Rodney and fumbling in her purse for her phone.  She hadn’t meant to rope sweet, old Max into this.

“Hey, old man, I ain’t ashamed to put your face in the dirt.  Lexi’s my woman.  At least for tonight.  I AM gonna get what I paid for,” Rodney said, taking up a squared off stance with his chest puffed out and fists clenched near his hips.  “I bought her—means I get to take her home and fuck her all night if I fucking feel like it.”  He turned toward Shannon, now.  The same fisted stance, now with with a leering, slithery smile on his face.  “I am gonna ride you like a Mexican donkey.”

Shannon’s face registered loathing and fear.  Max saw her face turn into Patsy’s face.  Frightened, worried, and angry, all rolled into one terrible expression.  Max’s sense of self-preservation evaporated.  Normally, he wasn’t a man to haul off and hit a guy when he wasn’t looking, but in this moment, he absolutely was.  He took a step closer, reared back with his whole torso, his shoulder wound up like a spring, his fist like a club.  He landed the blow near the bastard’s right ear.  His wedding ring cut the kid’s cheekbone, which the kid reached to feel as he fell to the parking lot.  The look on Rodney’s face was a cross between “about to cry” and utter disbelief, working his tongue in and out of his mouth in a way that made Max want to throw up.

“Run!” Shannon screamed.  She had also been surprised by Max’s punch and how Rodney fell…like in slow motion…like a scene from a movie slow motion.  And instead of running back into the dressing room, she grabbed the old man’s hand and pulled him toward her car.

“I just live in those apartments, there,” Max breathed as they ran, pointing to the converted motel he called home. 

“You are coming with me,” she said, clicking open the doors of her Honda, and pushing him toward the passenger’s side.

From “color” exercise: Husky Red

Was it ever so easy as walking down South Congress with interlaced fingers, sunglasses, cheap flip-flops that perfectly matched my dress, and pink toenails that you had graciously painted as a two-month anniversary present? The wind blowing our hair around. Ducking into that funky antique store and finding smoke gray cat-eye glasses you swore your grandmother had worn and those vintage cowboy boots, “a husky shade of red,” you said, even though you meant dusky. “Husky red” became the color of everything remotely red that day. Apples. Lipstick. Naugahyde seats in the booth where we ate enchiladas drenched with salsa rojo de husque (we debated the spelling for at least ten minutes). Dessert was topped with a husky red cherry, which you fed to me from a spoon. The sunset painted a husky red sky “for us,” you said. And we kissed in the grass of a Zilker Park soccer field, our lips a husky red.

When you had to leave for Oklahoma to run a combine for the wheat harvest with your father and brother, you offered to take me. Said we could share a cabin on your family’s land. Said I could paint all day and go to sleep in the crook of your shoulder every night. Said I could ride in the combine with you, go north with you all to Kansas. I wanted to go, wanted to wake up skin to skin every morning, but I was afraid. Of your family. Of a cabin in a field. Of playing house only two months after falling in love. I had no faith. In myself, mostly. In love, too, I suppose. It didn’t work for my parents, and I felt compelled to sneak up on the life of my dreams (my happily ever after?) like sneaking up on a rare and fragile butterfly. After I had the perfect the net, the perfect cage, the perfect everything in place. And I had nothing in place for that delicious pursuit with you.

The night before you drove away in that husky red El Camino of yours, I made love to you like I was casting a voodoo spell. I drank your kisses, memorized your silhouette, touched every line of your palms, and wished into your heart a sliver of my soul…the foundation of the perfect net. And as beautiful and languorous as our love-making had been in the night, it was frantic and feverish in the dim blue light of dawn. As I called out your name, tears ran down my face. This was you taking that sliver of soul, and the cost of it scared me, but I hoped it would necessarily bring you back to me.