Monday, September 5, 2016

Life Reimagined - The Beginning

I’m dying. OK we all are (or so “they” tell us). In my case the problem is that although my pre-checkup body feels just fine I’ve been thinking about the end a lot. Note: I’m not revealing a desire; I’m sharing a mood that’s encompassed me for the last four or five years.

Hitting my sixties … awaiting my first check … recent job hunting activities in which my age was an obvious negative … losing a few friend who hadn’t reached my age … and I’ve been handling it by preparing for the inevitable while doing what I can to stretch things out a bit:

Life Insurance – I’m more financially valuable to Lisa dead than alive. Woo Hoo.

Better Body Maintenance – Lost lots of weight, quit using tobacco, attempting to improving my consumption habits and working on the mental side of this whole issue.

 The Positive:

I’m alive.

I feel healthy (sorta kinda).

I walk approx. seven miles a day.

I try to eat right (sorta kinda).

I’m not alone and I feel loved (I think this is a major plus).

 I don’t feel old. I don’t think about retirement. OK, I can’t financially, but I don’t think I’d want to if I could afford it. Sitting on a beach and drinking a lot of alcohol while getting older and fatter is just not appealing. I also don’t have a bucket list or what I call “the death list”.

I’m dying, folks, but I’m also living and I’ve decided to focus on the latter. For the record, Allens tend to hang around a while. I might have another 20 to 30 years to go. I can accept aging, but I will not get old. The key is to concentrate on those things I can control – the physical and more so those things I can do to make myself better inside.

Life Reimagined makes a lot of sense.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Just a Bitch, Folks

Feeling: Unloved

My two newest releases are put out by Crossroad Press. The proof is on the Amazon pages for Gifted Trust and PretzelLogic: Tales of Love and Horror (digital edition). Just scroll down to Product Details and look at Publisher. There it is - Crossroad Press. They released Pretzel Logic on March 31st of 2016. Gifted Trust hit the net May 19th. It was also released on all the major online markets all over the world. I'm sure this took a lot of work. So what's the problem?

The Problem: When a writer (especially a semi-complete unknown writer) gets involved with a publisher ... a publisher who the writer is told will bring in sales ... the writer believes he/she is part of something - let's say sort of a family. They promote me and I promote not only my books, but I have been known to promote other books put out by my publisher. "One hand washes..." OK they can't spend a lot of time on me. I'm not one of their bigger names, but is it too much to at least mention me among their books on their website (or mention me as one of their authors)?

You might ask: John have you brought this to their attention before sharing with your social media friends?

Yes - after bitching to one or two friends privately I did email them.

Me: Why are my books (nor I) mentioned on the Crossroad Press website?

Them: I checked with (name withheld) and he said there's no particular reason, other than no one ever buys anything but Stargate titles directly from the Crossroad site.  If it's not a Stargate title, people won't buy from the site, but instead go buy it at Amazon or B&N or other major site, so that's why concentration is put on those sites.

WELL ... this is sort of not true. They list many books (and writers) who are not part of the Stargate group. I believe I am not mentioned, because I'm not a money maker.

What Crossroads Press Doesn’t Understand

At least in the small publisher world, there is a two-way relationship between the writer and the publisher. It goes beyond putting my books on Amazon and B&N. Besides putting my work out there (something I could have done myself with the same results) it is important to add the writer to your website, because when asked who my books are published by and I name them some people actually go to the publisher’s site to find me (and look at other writers the publisher works with). When they don’t see me mentioned anywhere they question the connection and it makes me look bad.
I didn’t ask for active promoting. It became obvious quickly that this is not what they do for writers of my level. I only wanted my books listed, because if I sell any books they will make money.
If Someone from Crossroad Press Reads This

We have to assume they’d read it, which would slightly surprise me and the results could mean my two books being dropped. That’s probably what I’d do. I don’t expect them to correct the problem the way I think they should. If they do (release me) it’ll take a couple hours to put both my works back on the Amazon Publishing.

Feeling: Glad I got this out.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Six Week Update

Surprise I’m back. Yes, I know it’s been over a month and the tens of tens of you are wondering when the heck I was going to post again. Well, the last six weeks was a bit busy, but I’m able to share details. For those of you who are friends with me on facebook, most of this won’t come as a surprise.

The Big News

On April 17th Lisa and I got married. I wanted to share the news beforehand, but we decided to be quiet about the event until after the fact. We’ve both been married before (several times), which led to our decision not to make things legal until we were sure. It took a while … nine years before we felt comfortable doing it.

As mentioned, it was done in secret. No one knew while we planned the event until nearing the ceremony. We had it at Lisa’s sister’s and brother-in-law’s home (next door) and her two sons were invited to attend (unknowing what was happening). Six attended including one of my new stepson’s girlfriends and the person who performed the legal stuff. Three days after we went on our honeymoon. Woo Hoo!

Three weeks later and I’m extremely happy with my love of the last decade (ok nine years) and bride of three weeks. Some have asked why we waited so long – there are advantages. We know pretty much everything about each other (there are always surprises) and we know we want to be together. I’m not trying to sound “corny”, but for me this is my last time for several reasons. For most my age plays a part. I’ll be sixty-two in two months and I want to be with my wife for as many years as possible. If and when it ends (even the best relationships eventually do) I will not do this again. There are other parts of life I will want to concentrate on and Lisa will be the last love of my life.

The Honeymoon

We spent seven days at The Pyramid at the Oasis resort in Cancun, Mexico. The beach was beautiful. The hotel was in many cases a nightmare. We did not get the room we paid for, the shower didn’t work until the second day, the minibar never worked and some furniture was not part of our room until the third day. After several complaints I took it upon myself to hop the patio wall and take what was needed from an unrented room. Again we loved the area and want to return again, although we will stay elsewhere when we do.

Anyway – that’s it for now. No writing news, although I’m tempted to share I think it can wait. Hope those who actually read this are having a good week.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Crossroad Press Releases...

Crossroad Press released my collection, Pretzel Logic:Tales of Love & Horror yesterday. This is the first of two works they will be publishing for me and this is my first experience with new support after leaving my previous publisher. The same collection was released as an independent work in Jan 2016, but I felt the backing of a respected publisher was needed.
This is a collection of most of my stories over the past 13 years. Two are not here. Gifted Trust will be released by Crossroad soon and the final story is part of an anthology with another publisher. Hey, you’ve got most of it here.
If you get a chance take a look… download it… read it… and tell me what you think. I have a habit of saying that my stuff isn’t for everyone, but I’d like to think there’s something for everyone here. I can hope.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why So Many of My Friends Didn't Like Insomnia by Stephen King

Years ago while driving somewhere around Charleston, SC I was listening to a local sport talk program on the radio. The subject for the afternoon was sport movies – good, bad and why. Callers phoned in and shared their opinions as did the show’s hosts. Pretty much every film one might mention was: Rocky (all of them up to that day), Hoosiers, Slap Shot – you name it. Then someone called in and named Field of Dreams. The caller hated the movie as did one of the hosts. The other one didn’t really give an opinion. That’s when I pulled over to find a phone booth, so I could chime in. Note: This was pre-cell days.

I made the call and after being placed on hold (listening to the program while I waited) I finally got my chance to voice my opinion and in doing so I told all who were listening (paraphrased):

“Those who didn’t like the movie, Field of Dreams, don’t understand it. Although centered around the game of baseball, it is not a sport movie. It is not about the game. It is about relationships.”

I went on to explain (attempt) how both the movie and book, Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella (Kevin Costner’s character in the film is Ray Kinsella) is about the main character’s relationship with his father and suggested that people with unresolved parental issues probably related to the story different than those who saw ghost ballplayers walking into a cornfield. After hanging up I was happy to hear two other call in and agree with me.

Of course this is my personal belief. I’ve never discussed the story with Mr. Kinsella (although I did meet him in Halifax years ago), but I’ll bet I’m at least partly right. A lot of people didn’t like the film, because they just didn’t get it and that brings us to Stephen King’s Insomnia.

I’m listening to the audio version of King’s story now. I love audiobooks, because I can strap on my fitbit, plug in the earbuds and listen while I walk. I did read the book about 15 years ago. It was my first taste of King, because I’m a late bloomer in horror. I never read it, until I started writing it. Anyway, for some reason when I mention the book on social media I always get at least one response from a friend who shares that he/she didn’t like it. I’m always amazed, because I must have loved it the first time (I read my second King book, It, immediately after finishing Insomnia). Still I’m once again forced to try to figure out reasons why so many didn’t like it.

Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t really know the reason(s). This is simply a guess. Also I’m not criticizing those who didn’t like it – we all have our tastes. Still I have to suggest a couple of reasons:

1.    Much of the story deals with the Pro Life/Pro Choice debate and some members of the first group are shown in less than approving light. Two of them are pretty damn nuts. To be fair, the other side of the argument is presented, but not as much.

2.    Most character(s) are older than we’re used to reading about in most books. The main character, Ralph, is 70 years old and others are near his age. I believe it’s difficult for some readers to relate to elderly protagonists. This I also understand. Most people under age 60 don’t have a clue what it is like to be senior citizen. It’s not something they really want to know about, because the next level beyond it is death.

Anyway – just something I was thinking about. We all have opinions and mine is that Field of Dreams is a damn good movie and the book (Shoeless Joe) is one of my favorites. Also Insomnia is pretty damn good as well. Of course even bad King is better than most everyone else. I’m probably partial, because I’m freakin’ old.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Using Your Kindle to Edit

Did you know that you can use your Kindle to help you in your writing? I’ve been sending Word documents from my laptop to my device for years and it’s a great way to save paper see how your story looks on your reader. All you need is your Kindle email address – every reader has one. Just do the following:

Go to the Amazon website and put your cursor on Your Account (top right) then go down to Manage Your Content and Devices and click. Next click the Settings tab and when that opens scroll down to Personal Document Settings. That’s where you will see your email address.

Once you have the address you can send any Word document to your Kindle. This is a great way to see how it looks the way readers will see it. Also I find it an excellent tool for editing. I’ll write or edit a story, send it to my Kindle, grab a cup of coffee (or whatever) and go onto the porch to read it. If I see something I want to change, I’ll make a mental note and go back to the original document to make the edits. I then delete the document from my Kindle and send the new version to it when I’m ready.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Story Ideas

It’s All Material…

What’s the number one question a writer is asked? Can I have a free book. That’s usually followed by how much do you make? Once we get past those eventually we’re going to hear, where do you get your ideas? My answer has always been the same: It’s all material. Story ideas are floating around everywhere. You just have to look at the situation and grab it. Most times it takes some twisting, but that’s what we do – take normal moments and make them more interesting. That said, I’m going to share the inspirations for my stories. Perhaps this will show you how easy it is to come up with stuff.

Gifted Trust: I’ve already covered this in my post Anatomy of a Novel: 1 – short version… it was inspired by the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh, son of John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted).

Weeping Mary: Inspired by an event and a person. Years before I got into this writing gig I was driving from Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL and I passed a bus with the words Church of the Weeping Mary written on the side of it. I thought it would make a great title for a story. Years later, while living near Houston I met a young lady who happened to be the girlfriend of my stepson. She told us about events she went through in the foster care system. She was the inspiration for the main character.

Hello Neighbor: Again two events helped me come up with this one. First – one Sunday morning a neighbor and his wife knocked on our door and told us that they thought they ran over our cat. We quickly learned they ran over someone else’s cat (ours was in our backyard at the time). They didn’t believe us and got mad, because they thought we weren’t going to take care of our pet. Second – the setting was inspired by the area near Atlanta where my publisher at the time lived.

House Guest: While living near Houston we rented a room to a guy who told me that he previously lived in his girlfriend’s bedroom in her parents’ home, without their knowledge. When she went off to college he had to find a new place to live.

Pit Stop at Hoo Hoo Hollow: The idea of a couple came from my publisher, but the characters are inspired by two people I knew once who conned me out of some money.

Prader-Willie: Again I was inspired by two ideas. The first, while married to my second wife she worked with mentally challenged adults. One of them suffered from prader-willie. The second event deals with childhood torture of a turtle I witnessed when I was a kid.

Little Miss: This one has a little Honey Boo Boo and JonBenét Ramsey in it. Also while still married to the same second wife we knew a woman who forced her daughter to take part in pageants.

Runs Like Rabbit: While with my third wife we vacationed at Angel Fire, New Mexico and visited the Native American village in nearby Taos. I was inspired by that.

Monkey Love: This started as a joke. After writing Gifted Trust people would ask me what I was working on next and if I had a couple beers in me I’d tell them I was working on a story where a woman’s husband dies and returns as a gorilla. I never planned on writing it, until my publisher told me he wanted it.

Marquee: This one is a bit different, because when it was first written I was inspired by my job at a Hampton Inn in Humble, Texas. The ending didn’t work so I put it away for about four years – until after the death of my 3rd wife. I changed the ending of the story and the last section was inspired by that relationship.

That’s it – nothing really too off the wall here, but that’s the point. Any event, if we put a little thought to it, can feed a story idea. All you have to do is look at a situation and add a what if to the moment. Do that and you’ll come up with some interesting ideas.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Novel: 2

A Conversation:
A Friend: What are you working on?
Me: I’m rewriting Gifted Trust.
Friend: You can’t do that. It’s already published.
Me: It’s fiction and I wrote it. I can do any damn thing I want with it.

And Changes Were Made…
I did not invent the concept of changing a novel after it had already been released. FTR: Stephen King has done it several times. There are reasons and in the case of Gifted Trust – it needed it … all three times. As I progressed so did the story.

2002: 1st Book Library - Most who have read Gifted Trust don’t remember this one. The original version of GT was self-published and done so during a time when “real writers” didn’t do such things. Today doing so is looked upon in a different light, but back then I paid for what was considered a mistake. I would take copies to local bookstores and told that they wouldn’t put it on shelves with “real books”. I was made fun of and called names by “real writers”. My favorite was the label Mud Dweller by someone I won’t name now, because he apologized for it a few years later. Truth is – I deserved much of the negative output. I put out a good story that was terribly edited – some would say not edited at all. As much thought went into the writing as did the original cover (see below), which when one looks at it will get absolutely no clue what the story is about. This is one of the negatives of using a vanity press that offers covers designed by people who didn’t read the book.

2003: Biting Dog Publications – As bad as the above edition was, it drew a lot of attention including the eye of Dave Dinsmore of Biting Dog Press. At the time BDP specialized in beautifully designed handcrafted limited edition books by more popular writers. After he read GT he contacted me about releasing it with the request that I add a new ending. A few months prior to the request I wrote extended chapters, which I printed out and titled The Cat. This I gave away at a book signing at a Barnes and Noble in Pasadena, Texas. I easily adapted this as the new ending to the novel. Also it received some editing and a new cover by Alan M. Clark. Of all the GT covers, this was my favorite.

2014: Gifted Trust-Revised – People have asked if I’m planning on writing a sequel to GT and well… I wrote one. Problem is that it wasn’t very good. OK, it had some good stuff in it, but overall it sucked and Biting Dog didn’t like it. Still I didn’t want to let what they liked to go to waste. Back in 2010 I told Dave Dinsmore that I wanted to edit GT again and improve on it. He agreed, because he knew I would do it anyway. My reason – I was a different (hopefully better) writer. I cut over 10K words and added just as many with an entire new beginning and many changes in already written chapters. It was released as digital book and the tag Revised was added to the title as well as a new cover.

2016: Near the end of 2015 Biting Dog ended its ebook writers from the fold and I was free to release all my work again as an independent writer. Gifted Trust was once again edited and offered as an ebook both as a solo novel with the below cover I threw together in five minutes…

And it is also part of my collection Pretzel Logic: Tales of Love & Horror, which contains all of my work while with BDP.

So far that’s it – all the versions and covers that have bounced around (a couple still bouncing). Is that it? Well… probably not. I’m negotiating with another publisher to release GT and if it happens of course there will be one more cover to share.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Something for the Masses

I thought I’d give you a little taste of something from my collection, Pretzel Logic: Tales of Love and Horror. Below is one of my stories, Prader-Willie. The story was inspired by a couple of events in my life. First… something that might not have happened. I believe it did, but the other person involved doesn’t remember. It has to do with a box turtle and his untimely death. The second… while married to wife #2 who worked with mentally challenged adults I was introduced to a young woman with prader-willie syndrome. In layman terms, they will attempt to consume anything. Most don’t make it to their adult years. The two just went together. For those who read enjoy.



Superior intelligence does no disjoin us from what we are – a lesser species.

-       Herman Goring, Berlin, 1941

Students of Jean Petre DeMonte suggest a divergence between homo sapiens and other life forms, but in his writings not once is superiority granted to mankind. “Of all creatures, humans are truly the most savage,” he states in his Precept of Being, “for man is the god of cruelty. His lack of understanding nature’s need for balance will lead to his destruction.”

-       Beverly Cooper, Dissertation to the Department of Education, University of Tennessee – Understanding Origins of Thought, 1998

September 1989

     On the morning of Nikki’s birth, Molly Cauflin did not stop believing in God. She stopped believing in a loving god.

June 2005

     “She’s a fuckin’ retard,” Christian said, twisting the cap off his Coke. “Why the hell did you promise your aunt you’d watch her?”

     “Brownie points,” Mike Pratt answered while looking out the back window into the yard. “All she does is wobble around and drool. I don’t have to clean her up or anything. Anyway, she’s really kind of entertaining.”

“Gross,” Christian said, “you fuckin’ pervert.”

     “Naw, don’t go there,” Mike said. “I mean she’s got this thing. It’s one of those syndromes or something. It’s the reason she wears the helmet.”

     “What are you talking about?” Richie looked through the screen as Nikki walked toward the back of the yard to the wooden fence governing freedom.

     “It’s called Prayin’ Willie or something. My aunt can tell you,” Mike said. “She’ll eat anything she can put in her mouth. She’s got to wear the head gear even when she sleeps, because she’ll eat her sheets.”

     “She’d eat my shorts?” Christian smiled.

     “Hell, no one could be that bad off,” Richie, the younger of the Wyandotte brothers said. “You should see his racing stripes. Mom calls him Dale Earnhardt.”

     “Yeah, well everyone calls you Noah ‘cause you flood your bed,” Christian said. “So what time’s your aunt getting home?”

     “We’ve got a couple hours. She does her grocery shopping on Tuesdays and said something about getting her hair done. I can’t go anywhere until she gets back.”

     Topic of interest – Nikki Cauflin, whose birth proved the cruelty of her creator. Mentally challenged and diagnosed with Prader-Willi, a condition allowing her no chance at a purposeful life. Symptoms of the syndrome, dwarfism and extremely deficient mental capacity, were made complete with the inability to control consumption. Most cases concluded with early death unless monitored excessively.

     They were quiet as Christian chewed bits of ice and studied the cover of a Texas Highway magazine. Richie watched Nikki move along the fence, pressing her protected head against the boards. Mike shared the view from the window above the sink. It was hard to believe that his cousin was older than him by two years. Her growth had halted at nine years, and at fifteen she was the size of an average third grader. This was his first summer away from home and though excited about visiting his aunt, he knew the invitation had been made so his parents could spend the same period working out details of a divorce. They never used the word, but he watched the change between them. They did their best to keep problems from him, but the closeness dissipated over the past few months, and he witnessed the same scenario between parents of friends.

     Tom and Laurie Pratt rarely showed affection, and though they never argued in front of Mike the air was different. He believed before August they would make the hour’s drive from Conroe, sit with him, and explain his new living arrangements – based at Mom’s two weekends a month and every other holiday with Dad. They kept their secret, because he allowed it. He knew it would be hard for them to break the news, so when his mother suggested the trip he agreed and hoped their time alone might conjure a miracle. Two days later they drove him the distance, ate lunch with Aunt Molly and departed quickly. The following afternoon he met the Wyandotte brothers and the three became inseparable.

     Molly Cauflin returned to the workforce after her boyfriend, fondly known as “the Asshole” rejoined his wife and kids prior to Nikki’s birth. Due to complications an amniocentesis was performed and when he became aware that the child might be born deficient, he suggested she terminate it. She hoped he’d accept the fate given to their daughter, but knew he desired perfection. A child with less than acceptable qualities suggested flaws in his own nature and this he could never face.

     Molly acquired a nice monthly check and supplemented her substitute teacher income freelancing for travel magazines, which amazed Mike since she rarely went anywhere. Most of the locations she wrote about she had never visited and when questioned by those who knew she’d respond, “That’s the beauty of the net. I can go anywhere I want.” She rarely dated, or at least didn’t talk about men when her nephew was around and Mike often heard his mother say she wished her sister would meet someone. He was glad that she hadn’t, though he’d never admit it. As long as he could remember, his aunt seemed to enjoy spending time with him and he thought that might change if she found a man. This summer he’d have no competition for her attention.

     “So what will she eat?” Christian asked, walking to the door and stopping next to Richie.

     “You name it,” Mike answered.

     “Nails?” Christian said.

     “Anything,” Mike said.

     “Bugs?” Richie asked.

     “Anything,” Mike said, showing slight irritation.

     “My shit?” Christian grinned.

     “This I’ve got to see,” Richie said, opening the screen door as he headed into the backyard.

     “Wait.” Mike moved behind Richie, followed by Christian. “Where are you going?”

     They stopped before reaching Nikki, who was seated on the grass next to the fence. Richie and Christian looked at each other and then at Mike. “You said she was entertaining,” he said. “I wanna see.”

     “Hell no, my aunt might come home,” Mike said.

     “Mmmmm… mmmmmm… mmmmmmmmmm.” A low monotone hum came from beneath the helmet.

     “Jeez, what the hell is she doing?” Richie asked.

     “She hums,” Mike answered. “It doesn’t mean anything, but it gets louder if she’s frightened.”

     “So we won’t scare her, but you said we have a couple hours. I just want to see her eat something,” Richie said.

     “Yeah, you were the one who mentioned it in the first place,” Christian said.

     “Okay, but not here,” Mike said, scanning the surrounding yards. “We gotta take her inside.”

     Christian and Richie looked around as well, waiting for Mike’s next move.

     Reaching for Nikki’s hand, he continued. “We can’t give her anything that’s going to make her sick.”

     “Okay, we don’t feed her nails,” Christian said.

     “Come on, Nikki, we’re going inside the house,” Mike said, guiding her off the grass. “That’s it, let’s go.”

     Nikki responded to Mike’s touch and began moving slowly through the center of the yard toward the back porch. He knew to be gentle with her and though she couldn’t communicate with words, he knew she was nervous by the volume of her humming.     

     Every two or three steps Mike stopped and readjust his grip. As he did he felt the fear that encompassed a being whose purpose seemed less understandable than the most worthless creature. Even the grubs found beneath the rocks bordering Aunt Molly’s water garden were connected to the ecosystem. They had more of a reason for life than this thing. If she was a dog she’d be injected and given back to God with a sense that humanity had been served. Instead, Nikki would be allowed to continue to be Aunt Molly’s albatross.

     As they reached the porch, Mike led Nikki up the steps and into the house, followed by Christian. Looking back, he saw Richie shut the door and turn the lock.

     “No, unlock it,” Mike said. “If my aunt comes home she’ll wonder why I locked it.” He waited and watched to make sure the door remained open before continuing. “Now let’s go to my room.”

     “What if she comes back early?” Richie asked. “We won’t hear.”

     “That’s okay,” Mike said. “We can tell her we were looking at comics and I wanted to keep an eye on Nikki. If we hear her coming up the stairs we can get her helmet on before she opens the door. Now let’s get it off.”

     Richie remained with his back against the door listening as he watched Christian lower to the floor next to Mike, who fumbled with the straps of Nikki’s head gear. The girl’s back was against the wall, lodged between the bed and a small dresser. The helmet was secured with three straps, two beneath her chin and one running along the back of her neck that connected to a snap her mother placed on all clothing she wore.

     “Uh mmmm,” Nikki uttered.

     “What she say?” Christian asked. “Why’d her voice change?”

     “She didn’t say anything,” Mike said. “She’s just a little nervous, that’s all. Come on, Nikki, you like it when we play.” Unsnapping the straps, he carefully pulled the helmet up away from her head, exposing her to the other two for the first time.

     “Eeew, talk about a skag,” Christian said. “Doesn’t she ever wash her hair? She’s all sweaty.”

     “You’d look like that too if you had to wear a helmet all the time,” Richie said, moving closer. “She’s kind of cute for a retard.”

     “Cute,” Mike said, “what the hell are you talking about? Oh and watch it with the retard stuff. My aunt will blow a gasket if she hears you talking like that. Nikki’s mentally challenged.”

     “Sorry,” Richie said, “but she is cute. Too bad she’s like this.”

     “Oh my god, Richie’s got a hard on for a retard… sorry, for a mentally challenged freak,” Christian said.

     “Fuck you,” Richie said. “She can’t help it if she’s…”

     “Cork it,” Mike said. “Let’s just do this, okay?”

     Mike reached beneath the dresser and pulled out two cloth strips, each about six feet long. Dropping one next to him on the floor he wrapped the other end around Nikki’s right arm, pressing together two straps of Velcro. He repeated the process with her left arm and secured the free ends of the strips to the nearest leg of the bed and the bottom of the dresser.

     “You gotta tie her up?” Christian asked.

     “They aren’t that tight. You don’t want her grabbing for your hair or anything,” Mike said. He stood, moved to the closet and returned with a cigar box. Sitting again he opened it and presented a collection of pens, pencils and crayons. On top was a plastic ruler broken just past the ten-inch line. “I found this last week… utensils.”

     “You’re gonna feed her with that?” Richie asked, looking at the ruler. “It’s all jagged at the end.”

     “She bit it off the last time,” Mike said. “Chewed it up like bubblegum. She’s a freakin’ eating machine. Now watch what she’ll do with this.” He took a broken red crayon out of the box. Placing it on the end of the ruler he moved it closer to Nikki’s mouth. The girl’s humming ceased as the tip of her tongue flicked over her bottom row of teeth. They watched it slide beneath the ruler and curl before she brought her mouth completely around the upper area and snapped her mouth shut.

     “Jeez, did you hear that? She bit right through it,” Christian said. They watched as Nikki chewed briefly and swallowed.

     “See, I told you she’d eat anything,” Mike smiled, sticking the remaining eight inches of the ruler back into the box.

     “Big deal, Richie used to eat crayons,” Christian said. “Let’s give her something else.”

     “We can’t give her anything that’ll hurt her. I’d be in a world of shit if she gets sick.”

     “What about these?” Richie asked, staring at the window sill. They stood and looked at a collection of dead flies gathered on the ledge.

     “No way,” Mike said. “We can’t…”

     “Yeah, come on. Just a couple,” Christian said. “Give me that stick.” He reached for the box and took the piece of plastic.

     “Just one,” Mike said, watching Christian scoop three flies onto the ruler. “Okay, but that’s it. Give it to me. I have to do it.”

     “Come on,” Christian said, holding the ruler away from Mike, “like it takes brains to feed an idiot.” He slowly knelt in front of Nikki and moved toward her mouth. “Here Nikki, have some nice chewy flies. Be a good… Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”

     As Christian’s hand moved closer to Nikki’s mouth the boys watched her eyes widen and her head shoot forward. He lost his grip of the ruler as the girl’s teeth clamped down on the opposite end.

     “Oh my god, that was freakin’ cool,” Richie said, watching Christian jump back. “She pulled the damn thing out of your hand.”

     Mike snatched the remaining six inches of the ruler from the floor between Nikki’s legs and tossed it into the box. “Yeah, she’s not the only one who gets hurt doing this. Let’s untie her.”

     “Wait, I want a turn,” Richie said. “Let me find something.”

     “No, we gotta stop,” Mike said. “Let’s get her out of here.”

     “Come on, just one more thing and then we’re done,” Richie said. He looked around the room and toward the door. “Be right back.”

     Richie ran out of the room and down the stairs. As they waited, Nikki’s lips puckered together. Her tongue moved across each allowing them to maintain a sticky wetness. The pitch of her humming shifted from low to high as the constant glaze of her eyes evaporated. Mike believed she was looking at him, drawing his mind toward hers. He shook his head when he heard heavy bouncing onto the back steps and the screen door opened. Hearing footsteps ascend the stairs, Mike opened the bedroom door.

     “I got it,” Richie said holding his cupped hands out. “This will be so cool.” He revealed his treasure, quickly latched the thumb and index finger of his right hand onto the back leg of a small turtle.

     “You got that from my aunt’s water garden,” Mike said. “Put it back.”

     “She won’t miss it,” Richie said. “She’s got a shitload of them down there.”

     “No, we’re not doing it,” Mike said, reaching toward Richie.

     Before he could take the turtle, Christian grabbed his arm and held him back. “Hey, it’s just a turtle. You saw what she did to that ruler,” he said. “She’ll half it in one bite.”

     “Give me the stick,” Richie said, lowering to the floor.

     Christian grabbed the last bit of ruler from the box and handed it to Richie, who balanced the turtle on it. He knelt and moved his hand closer to Nikki’s mouth when her eyes opened.

     “No,” Mike shouted as Nikki moved forward. He knocked the ruler from Richie’s grip as the girl’s teeth found his wrist. Mike screamed, trying to pull free.

     Mike felt Nikki biting into his flesh, grinding deep and drawing him toward her tethered body. As the burn accelerated he twisted, attempting to break free, only to feel the jagged teeth ripping through his tendons. As a trout learns that fighting a hook will deepen the grip, he realized pulling would be answered the same. The crescendo of his scream fell to silence as the pain climaxed and then as it subsided her stare captured him. Mmmmmmmm… mmmmmmm… Mmmmmikemmmm… we are one, he heard her saying to him.

     “Fuck,” Christian said, wrapping his hand around Mike’s free arm and pulling him away from Nikki. The girl would not release. “She won’t let go. Give me that pillow.” He grabbed it off Mike’s bed before Richie could move and shoved it against the girl’s face. “Let go, damn it.” He pushed hard against her face, hoping she’d release for air. “Let go… let go.” He felt her jaw unlock and he jumped away, pulling Mike out of her reach.

     “Christ, she bit it half off,” Richie said, looking at Mike’s wrist.

     Mike collapsed to the floor, unable to unlock his eyes from Nikki’s. Christian took off his tee shirt and wrapped it around the mangled arm. They watched as she chewed and swallowed, taking nourishment from him.

     “We got to get her out of here,” Christian said. “Untie her and get that helmet back on.”

     “I’m not touching her,” Richie said.

     “Asshole, we’re in a world of shit if they find us here with her and Mike bleeding,” Christian said. “We got to get her outside, call 911 and come up with a story. We can’t say she did this or everyone will figure out we were fucking with her.”

     Christian looked at Mike and told him to hold on to the tee shirt as he stood and moved toward Nikki. He strapped the helmet back on to her head and untied both bindings holding her arms. “You stay with Mike,” he said to Richie as he took the girl’s hands and pulled her to her feet.

     “That’s it freak. Just keep walking,” Christian said. He led her down the stairs, through the kitchen and out into the yard where he placed her on the grass just off the porch. He rushed back into the house where he found Mike standing with Richie’s help. Once outside he told them to sit on the porch and he ran back into the kitchen, grabbing the phone off the cradle. Minutes later he returned outside to go over the alibi. “We’re gonna be all right. I got it figured out. It was a dog.”

     “She’s not a fuckin’ dog,” Mike said, looking briefly at his wrist and back toward Nikki. Pity… no, that’s not it, he thought, shame… maybe, but there’s more. Then he noticed it, through the plastic bars used to prevent feeding, the corners of her mouth were turned up into a smile. You wouldn’t have done this to them. You wanted me to understand, didn’t you?

     “We can’t tell them the truth, ‘cause we’ll be in more shit than we are now,” Christian said. “You’ll never be able to explain this to your aunt. We say we opened the gate to bring our bikes back here while we were watching Nikki. A big fuckin’ dog came in and started running toward her. When you blocked its way it grabbed you and did this. Hell, you’ll be a fuckin’ hero.”

     Mike agreed to go along with the story, though it shamed him to draw Nikki into their lie. Christian and Richie saw little difference between a canine and the girl. In time they would confess to friends, naming her as the attacker. They would say it took place in the backyard after they’d removed her helmet, an act of kindness paid back as only a beast might do. He tried to shake away the guilt as dizziness falling upon him. If I faint, at least I won’t have to be the first to lie, he thought as he kept his eyes locked on her until blackness took him.

September 2005

     Laurie Pratt was pleased when Mike suggested they invite Molly and Nikki to visit at Easter. “You’re such a sweetheart for suggesting it,” she told him after making the call. “You know most of your relatives would never do that. They feel uneasy around your cousin.”

     “I was the same way before what happened,” Mike said. “I couldn’t do much the rest of the summer so I got to spend more time around Nikki. You know she really does have a great personality, if you look for it.”

     “Well, I still think it’s nice of you, and so does your Aunt Molly,” she said. “You’ve grown up a lot since the attack and I can see what a wonderful big brother you’re going to be to your sister.”

     Sister… yes, my sister, Mike thought, smiling as he watched his mother leave the kitchen. The previous summer had changed him. After leaving the hospital he spent time with the Wyandotte brothers and more with Nikki, at first because he knew if he avoided her someone might think it odd. Eventually he discovered he enjoyed being with her and when she roamed the far end of the yard he’d join her as she moved against the fence, rubbing her helmet along the slats. He’d take her hands in his and gently guide her onto the grass where they would sit together.

     When summer ended Mike was a little unhappy about returning to Conroe, but glad to learn his prediction about his parents had been wrong. There was a problem, but not the kind that led to divorce. They’d needed time alone to rekindle things and that they did. The outcome arrived the following March in the form of Carol Ann and the moment she entered the world he understood more.

     One evening, after Laurie Pratt put the baby to bed and before joining her husband in the living room, she watched Mike go into the nursery where he sat on the floor by Carol Ann’s crib.

     “He’s so sweet,” Laurie said, snuggling against Tom as she placed her feet across his on the coffee table.

     “Yeah, kind of like me,” he said. “Hope he appreciates having a little sister who’ll idolize him.”

     “I’m sure he will,” Laurie said. “You know what he was doing when I walked by her room?”

     “Haven’t a clue.”

     “He was singing to her,” she said.

     “Singing?” Tom repeated.

     “Well, it was more of a hum,” Laurie said. “He was holding Carol Ann’s hand, nibbling on her fingers and humming.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anatomy of a Novel: 1

Something different… at least it is for me. I’m going to attempt a serious of blog posts about my novel, Gifted Trust – originally released in 2002 as a self-published novel and was picked up by Biting Dog Publications in 2003. The purpose – to share some of the inside info… all the little secrets behind how it came to be. Hopefully you’ll find this interesting.

In the beginning… the last thing on my mind was to write a novel. Hell, I wasn’t even a writer. It was in the mid-eighties and I was a journalist student at Central Michigan University. I was also a single dad, living with my three-year-old son in family housing on campus. While there I took an elective course: Creative Writing: Poetry, because it seemed like an easy A – very little studying needed.

OK – I wrote poems (one a week) and made the instructor happy enough to give me several A’s. Do I remember any of them? No… except one. Then night before our final assignment, while my son slept on the couch in our apartment I watched a made-for-tv movie called Adam. It was the true story about the son of Adam Walsh (America’s Most Wanted fame), who was kidnapped and murdered. When the movie finished I sat at my typewriter and typed:

Gifted Trust

The best time for me

is just before he screaming stopped

and their voices hit that pitch.

Twisted little limbs bending

back and forth

back and forth

and all the blood

and the blue lips

and the begging

for me to stop.

I love little children

so very very much.

Creepy? Yes, but he loved it and after getting the grade I forgot about it for years.

Humble, TX 2001… different school and class – this time it was Creative Writing: Fiction and I still wasn’t a writer. It was the third assignment for a Monday night course and I drove to the school about two hours before the story was due. I sat at a blank computer screen for almost an hour and decided to take a break, hoping a walk down to the student lounge would lead to inspiration. Right place and time – on the television was America’s Most Wanted and I recalled the poem. I hurried back to the computer room, sat and in less than an hour wrote a short story about a guy who picked up children at elementary schools – again creepy… again called it, Gifted Trust. I printed it out, ran to class, read it to the class and they loved it.

The title… Gifted Trust referred to the character in the poem and story. He has a gift to get kids to trust him.

After class… I went home and woke up my wife so I could read my story to her. She said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d suggest therapy” and went back to sleep. Next I got on the net and sent it to several writers (didn’t ask – just sent it) thinking they were writers and had plenty of time to read it. One actually wrote back and convinced me to expand it into a longer piece.

For the record… I’ve shared the above before with people in the old version of this blog. Sorry for the rerun, but I thought it was needed. As I continue sharing the Gifted Trust posts I’ll be adding new exciting (no really) material.