Saturday, June 22, 2019

Rainbow Snippet June 22, 2019

I haven't done one of these in a LONG time. It's great to be back The Snippet I am sharing today comes from my newly released book Tripping Over the Edge of Night.

Derrick tried as he added pepper, salt, paprika and cayenne pepper to the flour and stirred them together with a fork. “I still don’t get it.”
The only response from Mason was a laugh as he set about washing the two large red potatoes Derrick had purchased.
“I tell you what, after dinner I’ll show you what I mean.”
Derrick cocked an eyebrow at him, huffed and shook his head, before putting the bowl aside and moving to get out the wings. “Not sure I wanna know.”
“That’s up to you.”
The steady thunk, thunk, thunk of Mason cutting up the potatoes filled the room, as Derrick patted the wings dry and dumped them in the flour, turning them over and over to get them coated in the seasoning mix. Recipe said to set them aside in the fridge for twenty-minutes to and hour, so he shoved them in and went about lining two baking sheets with foil and preheating the oven.
“Seriously?” Mason remarked without even looking over. “What did you do to yourself now.”
“Nothing. Just can’t stop thinking about the damned zip ties now, thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome,” Mason remarked, snickering as he continued to chop.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Motivation Monday Feb 4, 2019

Trying something new this month, as a way of building up to the March 24th release of Gypsy’s Rogue. Today’s topic is motivation and in this case, what inspired Gypsy’s Rogue. Gypsy first popped into my head almost four years ago, on a road trip along the back roads of rural Iowa and up into rural Minnesota. In fact, in the opening scene of Gypsy’s Rogue as Gypsy and Fester, their dog, were bouncing along the gravel road with the radio turned up on their way back to the farm Gypsy grew up in,  the songs that are referenced in that scene are the same songs that were playing on the radio in my truck when Gypsy first spoke up, and through the breed of dog is different, Fester was inspired by one of my own beloved pets.

So many times, when I’m out there on the back roads, I have a notebook, pens, a camera, even some old comforters and pillows for laying out in the bed of the truck when I want to cloud watch. Those are the kind of lazy days I love and usually the kind that have inspired stories, characters, poetry and even drawings. 

So much of my life in rural Iowa is reflected in Gypsy’s Rogue, from the cat tails beside the pond where I fish, to the swap meets where Gypsy and Rogue go to stock up their farms, to the overall feel and description of farm country, the people, Main Street of the nearest town, and the way people come together to help one another when they’re in need. 

There were moments though, when writing the story got extremely difficult. Their views on religion, for one, and the things they had experienced in their dealings with pastors or preachers or even over zealous church folks were a direct reflection on my own experiences growing up and into adulthood. Gyspy identifies as gender fluid, as I myself do, though I have not adapted the They/Them pronouns that Gypsy prefers. Instead, to many people, I am ‘Blue’ and ‘Blue’ doesn’t identify as he or she, just ‘Blue,’ and yes, some days like Gypsy I prefer to dress masculine and my view of myself in my mind’s eye is very different from looking in the mirror, which can be startling at times. Sometimes, when I see the female body I live in, I have this jarring moment of ‘oh,’ and a feeling of disappointment because my mind and the mirror don’t match. Of course, there are other days when I enjoy pulling on the dresses and the heels, dolling up my hair, putting on a little makeup and wanting to feel pretty and confident in my own skin. When I was younger, I shunned that half, buried it under thick layers and baggy tops, thinking I had to be one or the other, but the one great thing about getting older is learning that I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself.  Writing Gypsy’s Rogue has allowed me to verbalize some of those feelings for the first time in my life and more freely express that part of myself. 

In addition, Rogue’s pansexuality is also another reflection of me and not being hung up on gender when it comes to love and relationships. Like Rogue says in the book ‘I like who I like,’ bottom line, and as he spills out on the page, it is very clear to see that he refuses to conform or change to fit anyone else, loves passionately, and is as loyal as the day is long to people who have earned his love, trust and loyalty, much like me. 

The downtown Chattanooga scene, meeting the band and their dog, Ultra Plague Dog 2000, wandering the city with them that first night in town, that was my experience of my first night in Chatt, exploring downtown and meeting those three and their dog who’d just hopped off a train from New Mexico. I’d just hopped off a bus from Massachusetts, and wandering around, sharing experiences and stories of our adventures, made the whole experience a lot less terrifying. 

I have to admit, there were moments when I was afraid I wouldn’t finish their story. For about nine months they silently sat in the three seasons porch scene, content to enjoy each other’s presence and completely ignore me. My own fault, really, for trying to storyboard out the ending to something that was already flowing naturally. Once the storyboard went in the fire pit, they broke out the fudge stripped cookies and marshmallows (my favorite way to make S’mores, by the way) and came alive again.
It’s my hope that when Gypsy’s Rogue is released, their struggle, their pain, their laughter, their triumphs, and their belief and understanding of who and what family is, all come through as clearly for the ones who read it as it did for me. For now, I’ll say happy Monday, and please enjoy the little taste of the story below.

Once the introductions had been made, they stood around awkwardly silent for just a moment, before Gypsy asked, “What kind of music do you play?”
“A little bit of everything.” Kiowa said. “Folk, rock, blues, you name it. We’ve played in Texas, Arizona, anywhere the train tracks go. We just hop on and see where it takes us.”
They couldn’t help but smile at that, a reminder of the carnival and the anticipation of each new town. “That sounds divine, and kind of terrifying. Aren’t you afraid of slipping and getting sucked under the wheels or something?”
“Naaa,” Kiowa replied. “We only hop on when it’s just getting started. That way we can boost Plague dog on first and scramble up beside him. We don’t jump off unless it’s real slow either, can’t risk bustin’ a leg when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah, that happened once and it wasn’t pleasant,” Pete said. “Most times, we just stare out the car and watch the scenery go past. If a town looks big enough, or interesting enough, we’ll climb off and check it out. Food sucks though.”
Even as he was saying that, he was settling down at a nearby table, rummaging through his bag to pull out a can of sardines and some Popeye spinach. Gypsy fought to suppress the shudder that went through them as they watched him eat them cold, finally having to turn away and pet Plague Dog and Fester who’d been nudging at their leg.
“So is Ziggy’s where you’re going to play?” They asked as they lavished attention on the dogs.
“We hope. A friend hooked us up with the name of the owner and said we should check it out, that he’s always looking for new bands. If it doesn’t work out we’ll play downtown as long as the cops are cool about not running people off.”
“Why would they run people off?”
“They don’t like panhandling,” Lydia supplied. “Well, some don’t, others are cool about it and a few have even tipped us after listening to us play. It just depends on the city really. In some cities there are musicians every other block and no one cares because they love the music and they see the art in what we do.”
“Wow,” Gypsy said, eying them. “I’d love to hear you play.”
“Hear that Plague Dog, looks like we’re gonna do a mini show,” Kiowa said, and in a flash he had his guitar out and Lydia pulled out her fiddle. Gypsy sat, enraptured as they played and Pete sung, keeping time with drumsticks he used to tap out a beat on the table. A few people wandered by, lingered, listened, tossed some money in the guitar case and swayed along to the beat. Gypsy found themselves swaying too, eyes closed; letting the music wash their troubles away.
By the time they were done playing they’d made twenty-three bucks and a bunch of compliments. At one point, Gypsy’s thoughts flashed to Rogue and they found wondered if he ever did this when he took his guitar into the city or if he just stuck to playing at the occasional club.
Pete’s voice was good, strong and consistent, but they couldn’t help comparing it to the smoky richness of Rogue’s singing and the way he had of peering into your soul in the middle of a song. They’d found that out the hard way, one night when he’d put the Tequila away and was downing whiskeys in between songs, all dark, broody melodies about the world going away and everything being broken. They recalled the lone tear that had slid from his eye as he finished the final cord, the aching plea in his voice to find the thing he’d never had before. They’d wondered what it was and if he’d tell them if they asked. In the end, they hadn’t. That would have been getting too personal and there always seemed to be a wall he tried to keep between them; an invisible barrier he put up whenever Gypsy inched too close.
“You guys are really good,” Gypsy praised as they put their instruments away.
Pete licked his lips. “Sure hope Ziggy thinks so. Guess we’d better keep trying to find the place.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tripping Over the Edge of Night

So, when last I posted, in December, it was with the hopes of finishing Gypsy's Rogue in time for the end of the year. Not only was I able to accomplish that task, but four days ago, I finished yet another manuscript, this one looks like it will be titled Tripping Over the Edge of Night. It's a bit of a coming home story and a bit of a second chance story, filled with angst and laughs and family and community and discovering what's important in life. I wanted to share a bit of an outtake from it here, and also leave some notes on changes to the blog in the upcoming week. When I kicked things off it was with the intention of updating more often and indeed, I did so for the first year, but last year I got very lax in my updates and I plan to change that, so I have a posting schedule set up for myself and plan to have excerpts and notes and silly bits a couple times a week, and as always if there is anything you're like to see from me, then please feel free to drop me a message in the comments section.

Mama’s gone. Gone. Gone.

Cold tears slithered down his cheeks, but he lacked the strength to wipe them away. Did this mean he was an orphan now or was that just for kids? Why hadn’t she told him she was sick in any of the letters she’d sent? They were all about the knitting club and the new restaurant in town that used farm to table practices and had become a favored meeting place for her and all her friends. In her letters, she’d keep him appraised of what books her book group was reading, and sometimes, he’d head down to the local library and see if they had a copy, if only because spending a rainy-day reading had been their favorite way of spending time together.

He remembered climbing into her lap when he was small, cuddling against her shoulder and listening, fascinated at the worlds that spilled forth from the pages. From a young age he’d fallen in love with the magic, mystery, thrill and drama of those literary worlds, devouring books once he could read them on his own, challenging himself to read above his grade level and always reading more than the recommended number of words per quarter. Hell, sometime he’d finished the annual requirements before winter break, and still kept going, earning an outstanding reader award every year, which his mother proudly stuck to the refrigerator.

Not that books had been his only love. He’d excelled on the football field too, those Friday nights in rain and snow made a little easier by his parents’ faces in the crowd and the thermos of hot coco his mama always supplied him. She’d been his biggest cheerleader, and when he’d announced that the girls who tried to drape themselves all over him held no appeal, she’d hugged him and told him it didn’t matter who he loved as long as that person loved and cherished him.

Love. The tears flowed faster the moment it dawned on him that the last person in the world who loved him was gone. There would be no more letters, no more lumpy woolen sweaters hand knitted with love, no more Thanksgiving dinners to pop in on, no more warm, welcoming presence to great him on those rare occasions when he finally made it back home. No more home.

That last part was like a knife to the ribs. With fumbling fingers he grasped at the backpack, hugged it and the four sweaters it contained like they were a lifeline, buried his face against the ragged cloth and wept until there were no more no more tears left to give. There was no way to know how long he sat there, minutes, hours, but eventually, his back protested the hunched position and his aching ass reminded him that the worn carpet didn’t provide much in the way of padding.

Unfurling himself from that position took time and a coordinated effort between his mind and body that he wasn’t sure he would be able to manage. With slow, deliberate movements he grabbed the edge of the couch and struggled to haul himself to his feet, the strength in his arms failing him twice before he could manage it. The answering machine still flashed, but there was no reason to hit repeat, every word was burned into his soul.

Mama’s gone.

In a daze he shambled to the door, fumbled with the locks, patted his pockets, frantic for a moment, until he remembered dropping the key. His eyes landed on the answering machine when he went back to retrieve it, little red light mocking him Why hadn’t Ray called sooner? Why hadn’t he hit the road as soon as he’d received the message, instead of taking the time to shower and put on clean clothes?

Cause it wouldn’t have mattered, the voice in his head screamed. She’d have been gone before you even reached the highway. Dejected, he picked up the key and trudged back to the door, leaving the latest in a string of cheap apartments and rooming houses behind.

The air outside smelled of snow, a welcome change from the marijuana and onion stench inside. Drawing in a deep breath, he fought to center himself, get the backpack strapped securely to the back of the bike and his helmet on, wishing he had chaps, but as bulky as they were, they’d have taken up all the space in his saddlebags.

At least the cold would keep him awake. The roar of the machine, usually so soothing, did nothing to calm him down. Over a thousand miles stood between him and the place he’d grown up. The beautiful Smoky Mountains would still be alive with summer blooms right about now, and yet, there would be nothing joyful about this homecoming.

He pointed the bike south, shivering the moment the winds started piercing through his clothes. The jacket was some help, though he paused after less than a mile to zip it. There was nothing he could do for his lower half, so he gritted his teeth and gutted it out, watching the miles inch past as he rolled through the night.

Twenty-seven hours later, he pulled up in front of the house he’d been raised in, the light burning in the kitchen a bit of a shock to him, but then, he hadn’t been sure what to expect. The whole way down had been a blur, questions flashing quicker than he could latch onto answers. What happened next? The funeral, or was that something he and Ray would have to plan? He tried to recall what they’d done for his father, another death that had happened so abruptly, it had taken him months of wandering before it fully kicked in.

Dusty, road weary, and exhausted, he trudged up the steps, backpack over his shoulder, hesitating with the key halfway to the lock, wondering what he’d find inside. Had she fallen? Had she lain in the house for hours, or even days before someone had found her? Would the remanence of her fate be awaiting him on the other side of the door? It was enough to make him wish he could hop back on the bike and disappear somewhere. It wasn’t as if there was anyone left who’d be itching to track him down.

After the funeral, he told himself as he slipped the key in the lock and let himself in, stepping into a foyer that had changed little since the last time he’d been home. When had that been, anyway, he mused to himself as he removed his boots and set them off to the side, adhering to that rule despite the fact that his mother would never again pop around the corner and chastise him for forgetting.

That pain in his chest returned, not that it had ever left completely, but somewhere around southern Iowa it had eased up enough that he could draw a full breath. Now, he leaned against the wall, eyes on the floor, terrified to take another step, the silence reminding him of the emptiness of the place.

No more mama singing while she cooked, barefoot in the kitchen dancing to whatever song had popped in her head. No more warm aromas of baked goods permeating every room, the sugary goodness tantalizing his senses, drawing him into that hub of laughter and conversation. No more holiday decorations, the elves perched on every shelf in the house. No more snowmen grinning from every corner and crevice. It was the end of everything. What the hell had made him think there would be time to come back and enjoy everything he missed once he’d accomplished what he’d set out to do?

Every muscle quivered as he made his up the hall, intent on a glass of lemonade and giving Ray a call. Then sleep, ‘cause he’d been up for almost forty hours and every cell in his body screamed that it was exhausted and on the verge of giving out completely. Those last few miles had been accomplished on sheer force of will and grim determination.

On trembling legs, he stumbled into the kitchen, blinking at the sight before him. Ray, a bottle of whiskey by his left hand, an empty bottle by his right, staring glassy eyed at him from his seat at the table.

“’Bout time you showed up,” Ray slurred, the undercurrent of anger and frustration that always seemed to be there whenever they spoke was even more prominent tonight.

“What are you doing here?” He asked, placing his backpack beside the microwave stand before dropping into the seat across from his brother, lemonade momentary forgotten.

“Waiting for you. Took you long enough. Thought you were only twenty hours away.”

“That’s without taking a break, unless you wanted to get a phone call telling you I was smeared all over the highway.”

“Don’t you think there’s been enough death in this family to last us awhile?”

He punctuated his words with a guzzle straight from the bottle, and Derrick cringed, imaging the burn and wondering how his brother could chug it like that.  

“You should have been here,” Ray muttered as he set the bottle down. “She asked for you. She wanted to know where you were. If you were okay. She made me promise to bring you home and tell you she loved you, not that it’s ever mattered to you.”

Growling, Derrick felt his exhaustion give way to a hot burst of anger as he smacked his hands down on the table, causing the whiskey bottles to rattle.

“Why didn’t you call and tell me she was sick!” Derrick growled. “I started packing the moment I got your first message on the answering machine. I’d have been here if you’d let me know something was going on.”

Face flushing red, Ray came half out of his seat, firsts clenched. Derrick waited for him to throw a punch, throw a bottle, but all he did was snarl whiskey breath in Derrick’s face.

“You should have been here regardless!” Ray snapped. “I hope whatever you were out there doing was worth all the worry and heartache you put mama through. She needed us here, especially after pops died, but you couldn’t be bothered to stick around for even a week!”

Sighing, Derrick scrubbed a hand over his face. He was too tired for this shit, nerves too frayed and he kept having to remind himself that this was his brother and they were in their dead mama’s kitchen and no way could he disrespect her memory by cracking his brother in the face no matter how much he was itching to.

“You want me to tell you I couldn’t handle it? Fine, I couldn’t handle it,” Derrick admitted wearily. “I hit the road and I wandered the country until I could wrap my head around the fact that we’d lost him.”

“And you think I could handle it?” Ray ranted. “You think mama could handle it? You never think about anyone but yourself. It’s always about what Derrick wants, what Derrick needs, though in a way, I blame mom and dad for that ‘cause they spoiled you rotten and you never learned to appreciate a damn thing, did you?”

Derricks fingers dug into the wood, a mantra going through his head, reminding him not to choke the hell out of his brother.

“I appreciated plenty,” he grumbled between grit teeth, body tense, shaking with a bust of adrenaline, endorphins and fury that was making his head ache. “You don’t know shit about me, never have, and I doubt you ever will. You want to think the worst of me, fine, go ahead, it’s not like I’m going to be around long anyway. After the funeral, you’ll never have to lay eyes on me again, I can promise you that.”

Snorting, Ray lowered himself back in the seat and finished off the bottle. “Should have figured you wouldn’t stick around. It’s the same old shit with you. When is it going to end?”

Derrick threw his hands up, frustrated and tired as hell of trying to figure out his brother’s double speak. “You know what, talking to you while you’re drunk is making me want to drink.”

“Fine, here,” Ray replied, reaching down beside him and lifting a bottle of tequila from a brown bag on the floor. “Go ahead, we can toast to whatever the hell has been going on in your life for the past few years, may it always be a poor substitute to the family you kicked to the curb.”

“Fuck you,” Derrick snapped, even as he snatched the bottle from his brother’s hands and made short work of getting it open. God that shit burned, but he kept on swallowing, hopping for blessed oblivion, or better still, to wake up and discover that every moment from the time he’d stepped foot in his old apartment to now, had been nothing but a horrible nightmare.

“Maybe one day, you’ll be honest and tell me what we did to make you hate us all so much,” Ray muttered as he lay his head on the worn wood of that old table.

Tipping the bottle up further, Derrick chased the numbness he knew it would bring as soon as the alcohol hit. Shouldn’t be long, considering there was little in his system as it was. Food simply hadn’t appealed, not the smell or the taste. That last burger he’d eaten had left him vomiting in a trash can, vowing not to bother until he could settle the twisted knot in his gut and the burning anxiety that roared through him. God, if mom could see them now, she’d be so disappointed in them on so many levels, he thought as he set the bottle down, half empty. In her last few letters she’d urged him to reach out to Ray to finally lay to rest the animosity between the two. Only problem was, the animosity had always come from Ray, all Derrick had ever tried to do was stay out of his way and do as little as possible to be a burden or a source of frustration.

Laying his head on the table, Derrick closed his eyes, his brother’s soft, drunken snores lulling him to sleep. His last thought, before the alcohol swirled with the exhaustion in his brain, was that it was a hell of a thing to bond over, easing their grief over their mother’s death by getting pickled with booze. Damn but she deserved more than that from them.