Category Archives: Writing

You’ve got to enter to win.

You’ve got to enter to win – and Suzanne Blaney’s Impressionism: Inspiration & Evolution got runner up in San Francisco Book Festival Awards. I’ve helped a few authors with their books, but so far as I know, Suzanne Blaney is the first to enter her book into a contest. (Thank you, Suzanne.) This is an especially big deal because this contest was open to all publishers – not just indies.

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After Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926), The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection 1963.10.48

I edited, designed the interior and cover, and coached Suzanne through the self-publishing process. She had worked on this book for years and I pushed her to do more to make it better. We were happy with the final result when we got the paperback from Amazon, but getting this award is really nice validation.

Of course you won’t always win, but if you don’t enter you definitely won’t.

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Fried Computer Sequel

So, the computer fried Monday, April 15. On that Friday I got a SATA cord and was happy to find my data still on the hard drive – since I foolishly had not backed up regularly. I also joined Sam’s Club and ordered a new laptop.
 
That evening I went to a village event where they gave away a bunch of raffle tickets to deposit with various merchants. Monday I got a phone call that I’d won a laptop. At first that seemed ironic, but it’s refurbished and, while it is better than what I was using, it’s not what I need for work. One of my sons will end up with it. At least it felt less like the tech gods were angry at me.
 
However, it took another week to get all my data downloaded from the salvaged hard drive to another external drive. You see, I’d had two external drives that I was supposed to be using for weekly backups. I got everything copied onto one and took it to the safety deposit box. Then I started copying files onto the second. It wouldn’t take a file with files within files as a whole – I had to go in and copy them one layer at a time. And when I went back, there were files I thought I’d copied that weren’t, so maybe I was thinking of putting them on the drive at the bank. I thought I was losing my mind when I seemed to be uploading the same files a third or fourth time… until I realized it was the drive, not me. Maybe there’s one tech god still playing with me?
 
Two weeks out, I had the data copied onto one external drive and my new computer arrived. It took another week with lots of time with Microsoft and Adobe techs to get my software onto the new machine and updates downloaded and adjustments made to the computer software by Microsoft. (There may be a few more of those coming – still having some issues with File Explorer.) I actually started working again Friday, May 3.
 
I’m limiting how much I actually keep on the computer now. Some will go to the cloud, though I’m trying to keep that limited for privacy reasons. Folders with things I’m actively working on will be saved to a thumb drive and that will be rotated each week. All the background stuff is on the hard drive in the safety deposit box and on the hard drive from the fried computer. I’m getting a case for that and keeping it at home.
 
Did I mention I also dropped my cell phone in the toilet that first week and had to adjust to a different phone and service? My daughter called me today – only her name didn’t pop up and I wondered who was calling me who sounded like my daughter. She was relieved it was a new phone and not the onset of senility. Me too.
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Alice Episode 3: Settling In

20130324AliceFrontCoverWebSizeThis is the third episode of an abridged version of my novella Alice. You can read the whole thing here over the next weeks or buy a copy and binge. Or you can do both and compare the two – writers may learn from the differences. As always, you are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to use the material elsewhere. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where it’s being heard.
Thank you.

We only had one television; Mom was weird about that. She thought it was almost all a waste of time. I even had to promise not to watch programs online. At least I had my own computer. It was her old desktop, but I’d put in some new components to speed it up, so it worked great. No, I wasn’t really a computer geek. They had a workshop at school on how to build a computer.

Anyway, the television was in the den, where I helped Jack set up temporary living quarters. I figured I wouldn’t be watching TV much while he stayed with us.

“Does this thing pull out into a bed?” he asked.

“No, sorry, but it’s comfy to sleep on,” I said. “I’ve zonked out on it plenty of times when I was watching movies late. Or we have those really thick air mattresses that we use for camping, if you’d rather have one of them.”

“No, the couch is fine. How often do you go camping?”

“At least half of the summer, usually.” Talking with him while we put sheets on the couch seemed like the most natural thing in the world. “We’ve been to most of the national parks east of the Mississippi. And we were going to hike the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail this year, except Mom’s got to job hunt now instead. We were going to do part of it each year and finish right after I graduate from high school.”

“Don’t teachers get tenure in New York?”

“Doesn’t matter when they cut the program. If she’d been qualified to teach something else they would have transferred her. But she can only teach French.”
Jack laughed so hard his shoulders shook and his eyes teared.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Your mother started speaking French when she was about your age,” he said. “We were living with this woman in Quebec. That only lasted a few tense months, but your mother caught onto the language easy as pie.”

“You lived in Quebec?”

“Just while I was with. . .Genevieve, that was her name.”

“Mom never told me she lived in Canada. She never talks about anything before I was born.”

“She had a whole lifetime before that, Darlin’.”

I whispered again, “She used to skinny dip?”

He whispered back, “When she was a little tyke, she hardly ever wore clothes and no one wore them for swimming.”

“What are you whispering about?” Mom was in the doorway and she didn’t look happy.

“We’re just talking about how much you liked swimming when you were little, Baby Girl.” He sounded completely innocent. “Thought you were unloading your car.”

“It was almost done. Nina, don’t listen to his stories. This man is the biggest liar you’ll ever meet. And you, don’t you infect her with your nonsense.”

“What do you mean?” He looked bewildered, but I could tell he knew exactly what she meant.

“And no pot in my house,” she continued to lecture. “Nothing illegal, or you’ll get a ride straight to the police station, you understand?”

“Sure thing, Baby Girl. I don’t want to cause any problems. I’ll just sleep here a few days until I figure out where I’m going. I won’t be any bother at all.”

“Yeah, right. Nina, take him to your room and do a search for this Jimmy Parks person in Arizona.”

“Okay, Mom.”

“And leave the door open. I’ll be checking on you. No stories.”
Jack had never had a computer or a cell phone.

“Seriously?” I asked.
Jack sat on the bed behind me. “Played with one at the coffee shop a few times, looking around on it, but most of the news was about people I’d never heard of. Seemed like most of them hadn’t done anything worthwhile for people to care about, either.”

“Yeah, but you get the news fast.” As I waited for the internet to load, it didn’t feel fast.

“How much confidence can you have in the truth of it? They’ve always tweaked history, but they can do it way too fast with the internet.” He sounded so much more serious now. “I’d rather read something on paper, where they know what they said is going to be around for people to take a second look at it. That’s harder to change.”

“You can get news from around the world, though, and get their perspective on things. Our Social Studies teacher had us checking the BBC last year.”

“Really? Well, that might be a good thing,” he said. “So you think you can find Jimmy Parks?”

“I can try.”

It turned out that there were dozens of Jimmy and James Parks in Arizona, but we didn’t find the one Jack knew.

“I should have had them check while I was at the hospital.” He sighed and shook his head.

“Should always have a backup plan.”

“He was in the military with you?”

“We were in ‘Nam together.”

“When’s the last time you talked to him?”

“Ten, fifteen years ago. Maybe.”

“He could be anywhere,” I said.

I was thinking he could be dead, and Jack looked like he was thinking the same thing. I figured that was why he hadn’t asked at the hospital – that and he’d expected Mom to be happy to see him. Sadness poured out of him the same way happiness did. I wanted him happy.

“How did you meet Mom’s mom?” I asked.

“Got out in June of ‘67. Headed straight for San Francisco.”

“That’s what they called the Summer of Love, wasn’t it?” I was proud of my knowledge. “We had a sub in Social Studies when we were studying the sixties, and he told us about that and Agent Orange and a whole bunch of other stuff that wasn’t in the books.”

“History changes according to who has power.” Jack spoke in what I already considered his lecture voice.

“That’s exactly what Mom said when I told her the teacher was upset his plans hadn’t been followed! Word for word the same.” And she’d sounded like Jack, too.

“Well, she heard me say it often enough, and she was there for the protests. She was a tiny thing, she may not remember much of it, but she was there.”

He dug in his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a plastic sleeve. I caught a glimpse of a young woman with flowers braided into her hair before he turned it over and pulled out a yellowed piece of newspaper. He unfolded it carefully and smoothed it out on my desk where I could look at it. It was starting to rip on the folds.

“That’s your mother,” he said proudly.

It was a peace rally. The toddler he pointed to had tangled hair down to her waist and she was wearing shorts and nothing else. She was helping a much younger Jack hold a sign: Make Love, Not War!

“Did she do protests when she got older?” I asked.

“Nah, the movement cooled off once they finally pulled out. There was still stuff going on, but the fire had died. At least for me it had.”

He looked sad again so I got the hospital’s number from Mom and called to ask about Jimmy Parks. Jack’s social worker connected us with an officer who connected us with another officer, until we finally got someone who could help us. Jack had enough information for them to track down Jimmy Parks.

Unfortunately, Jimmy was residing in a cemetery in Phoenix.

You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to use the material elsewhere. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where it’s being heard.
Thank you.
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Fried Computer

Due to technical difficulties, this is the only blog this week. If you really want me to continue Alice, please leave a comment to that effect. I have not been getting emails from my new website. On Monday, I realized they were not being forwarded and I had no way to access them otherwise.

As I started to deal with that, my laptop screen went black. The base was hot to touch and when I got it to a tech and opened it up, it had obviously overheated and done major damage. Two tech visits and $175 later, I still don’t have my files from the hard drive. I do have an old baby laptop fixed up good enough to do email slowly, and my even older VISTA machine that I can use for Word (the baby can’t handle book size files, just short docs). The VISTA machine cannot be hooked up to the internet & therefore cannot print to my new printer. I downloaded Word onto the baby so I can move files there for printing via thumb drives. The first tech said to go buy a new computer; the second said that even though I need a significant number of parts, if I rebuild I’ll end up with a better computer for less. I have to decide tomorrow when they give me an estimate with final specs and compare that to what’s ready to go. My local options are limited.

But what really has me stressed is not having accessed my data files yet. First tech charged me for “copying” nothing into an empty file on my external drive; that night we tried putting the drive from the damaged computer into my son’s desktop and we could see the folders but it wouldn’t give us permission to open anything. The second tech is just setting up shop and didn’t have the SATT cord necessary to connect the drive to a USB port. So I have a cord being delivered tomorrow and am hoping the baby or the VISTA will be able to let me into those files.

It could be worse. I do have two external hard drives that I normally copy to whenever I’ve done a significant amount of work. I rotate them so one is at home and one in a safety deposit box (because I lived in fire country). However, with my work space continually changing, I lost track and hadn’t backed up in a few weeks. Fortunately, one client’s files have all been uploaded to KDP and Ingram; another KDP paperback’s ready to go and I have older versions and the paperback proof copy in which I did final edits with highlighters and pens. Worst case scenario, I rebuild those files on my own time. The new client emailed his files and I hadn’t had a chance to work on them yet, so nothing is lost.

My own records and writing will be the hardest to replace if I don’t get into those files tomorrow. Please send positive thoughts on that.

When I woke up at three in the morning stressing, I stayed up and organized things better so there won’t be a repeat once I have a working computer again. The lesson is learned: I will back up new work each day – either using those external drives religiously and/or getting over my resistance to using the cloud.

Meanwhile, now I have internet again, I’ll deal with the email issue while I wait for that cord. It looks like I’ll be working with my make-do tech for at least a week, so instead of driving myself crazy with it, I’ll do the minimum and focus on settling my environment instead. I still have several days of painting, setup, and unpacking to have both my living and work space settled. I packed up last July and still have 39 boxes of books. Only twelve are for the office – I sorted them tonight while I looked for my Word disc for the baby computer. It was in box 39.

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NEWS for writers & readers

My revised website is now up and running. Go there to get more information about my writing and services. There is also a blog page there, where I will be posting new blogs, including one about my article in Funds for Writers 4/5/19.

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Alice – Episode 1

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This is an abridged version of my novella Alice. You can read it in weekly doses, buy the complete book, or do both and compare the two – a useful exercise if you’re a writer. The plan is to make an audio version, so I’m tweaking the writing to make that work better.

As always, you are welcome to share this link, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish or use the material. Even if you’re making it into a school skit, I’d like to know where my story has traveled. Thank you.

Alice – Episode 1

This is the story of my mother, Alice McKenna. You know her as the Rosa Parks of the Taxpayers Civil Rights Movement. When she refused to give up her seat on that bus, Rosa Parks moved working people to stand up for their rights to end discrimination. That day in 2012 when my mom sat down in the middle of the bank and said “No,” she became the same kind of symbol for taxpayers.

If you’d known her a few months earlier, you’d never have believed it was the same person. I guess it started back in March, when she got pink-slipped. The school board decided football was more important than French. Frankly, my first reaction was relief that she wouldn’t be teaching at my high school when I hit ninth grade in the fall. I figured she’d commute to another town. But it was June, school was out, and Mom didn’t have a job yet. I helped her pack up her classroom.

We were unloading the car, stacking boxes in the garage, when an orange taxi pulled up in front of our house. The back door opened and out came a long-haired, scruffy old man in a faded tie-dyed shirt with a dirty army surplus duffle bag. He turned to look at us.

Maybe I should back up a minute.

You’ve got to understand, my mom was perfect. She always followed all the rules. The only wild and crazy thing she’d ever done was go to a sperm bank for my other half. No one knew about that except us. We never met the guy. People assumed she was divorced and I had a deadbeat dad I never saw. Aside from that, she’d always been very proper. If she ever had sex, it was before I was born and I don’t think that ever happened. And she never ever swore or used what she called “ugly” words.

But when my mother saw this scruffy old hippie standing by the taxi in front of our house? She dropped the box she was holding and said, “Shit.” She said it with a sigh, as if she used that word all the time. Then she set down the box she was holding. She put her hand up for me to stay put and she started for the guy, shaking her head and saying, “No, no, no, no, no! No, you are not here. You never came here. Get back in that cab.” He opened his arms as if she was happy to see him but she dodged the hug and said, “No. Leave.”

“Could you pay the taxi driver?” he drawled. “I used up all the cash they gave me on food. That bus trip took days.”

“Who they?” she demanded.

“The social worker who found you on her computer. Just like Orwell’s 1984.

“1984,” she repeated. “That’s the year I got the hell away from you, Jack.”

Jack! My grandfather. My only other relative and all I knew about him was his name and that Mom had left home at sixteen and never looked back… I’d never seen her so angry and flustered, and the more upset she got, the calmer he got.

“Now, Baby Girl…”

She shouted over him. “Don’t Baby Girl me! What are you doing here?”

The taxi driver interrupted to let her know the meter was still running. “You gonna pay me, lady?”

“Can’t you just take him back to the bus station?” she asked.

“Double the fare,” he said.

“I’d have to walk all the way back here, Baby Girl,” Jack reasoned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Mom glared at Jack and paid driver. He burned rubber pulling away.

“You can’t stay,” Mom said. “Why are you here?”

“Well, the hospital social worker insisted I needed to be with family. You’re it, Baby Girl.”

“Why were you in the hospital?” she asked.

“It wasn’t a heart attack,” he said.

“What was it?”

“Well, they weren’t really sure, but all the tests showed that there was no damage to the heart, so it wasn’t a heart attack.”

Mom took a deep breath and blew it out hard. “Were you having chest pains?”

“Well, I got so upset when the cops came,” he said, as if it was perfectly normal.

She interrupted. “You were being arrested again?”

She’d obviously forgotten that I was right there in the garage where I could hear every word they said.

“I’d been renting the same place for, I don’t know, probably ten years,” he said. “The owner decided to take it back!”

“You? In the same place for ten years?” Mom scoffed.

He kept trying to sweet-talk her. “Well, Baby Girl, I’m getting up there, you know. Moving around gets harder as you get older.”

“It’s tough when you’re a kid, too,” she said.

At that point, he started rubbing his chest. “You’re not being fair, Baby Girl. I did the best I could.”

“Don’t bother pretending to have a heart attack with me. I’m not a wet-behind-the-ears cop. I know you, Jack.”

He squatted down by his bag on the sidewalk and pulled out a little brown bottle of pills.

“Quit faking,” Mom said.

He ignored her and stuck one under his tongue. He closed his eyes and kept rubbing his chest.

“You’re not fooling me,” Mom said, but she sounded a little worried.

“Just call a cab,” he said. “Get me to a truck stop. I’ll hitch myself a ride and leave you alone.”

“Fine,” she said, “I’ll do that.” She pulled out her cell and started to search for a cab company. We didn’t do rideshares.

That grundgy old man was my only relative, aside from Mom. I walked out to the sidewalk and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Nina, your granddaughter. Are you okay now?”

His full smile was like a light going on. “Granddaughter. Wow. Half-grown, too. How old are you?”

I found myself smiling right back. “I’ll be fourteen in August.”

“Almost as old as your mother was when she decided to be on her own.”

“Jack,” Mom warned, “don’t you start on her.”

“I understand, you don’t want me around here causing problems between you and your husband.”

“She’s not married,” I said. “My father was a sperm donor.”

Jack grinned. “Really?”

“From a sperm bank!” Mom crossed her arms and glared at him. “Having a man in our lives would only complicate things.”

“Well now you know what it’s like being a single parent,” said Jack.

“I was always the parent,” said Mom. “Nina’s never had to take care of me.”

“I did when you had the flu,” I reminded her. “I even made chicken soup from scratch.”

“You cook?” he asked.

“I can.”

“Man, I’m hungry,” he said. “Think we could convince your mother to let me stay for some lunch, at least?”

“Fine,” Mom said. “Lunch. Then you leave.”

Of course that’s not what happened.

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Copyright for Short Online Literary Works

Written 3/27/2019

I was going to post the first installment of a piece of fiction this week, but I got a tweet this morning from @hopeclark NEW! Group Registration for Unpublished Works. One copyright fee for multiple works sounded like an important diversion. I’d been wondering about copyright if I serialize and post an entire novel on my blog. That link says “unpublished” – would they be considered “published” on the blog?

First of all, in case you didn’t know it, everything you write is copyrighted as soon as you put it into a “tangible form,” but for better legal protection you “register” your copyright through the Copyright Office. The fee is going up later this year, but it’s relatively cheap insurance against abusive copyright infringement or bogus claims against you.

That tweet from Hope Clark linked to a description and date the rule allegedly went into effect at a seemingly reliable source, the Copyright Alliance. However, whenever possible, I like to get my information from the primary source. The primary source for anything is the base, where it originates, which in this case would be the law or regulation coming out of the Copyright Office.

Searching through the Copyright Office website, all I could find was the proposed change as written back in December. If you open the Copyright Office link, scroll down to “Rulemaking” and, as of today, you’ll see Group Registration for Short Online Literary Works. There you’ll find another link to the proposed change: December 21, 2018 – Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Well, rules don’t always go through as proposed, so I looked around the Copyright Office website for the actual rule allegedly put into force more than a week ago, to no avail. Finally, I called them. I was on hold less than five minutes and got a very pleasant person who explained where to find the new rule when it is postedBelow that “Rulemaking” bar on their homepage is a gray bar More Rulemakings which brings up a page where Open Rulemakings are listed at the top (with that same December notice link) and, as you scroll down, Closed Rulemakings. That is where the actual rule will be linked so you can verify whatever other sources tell you.

My competent Copyright Office person (sorry I didn’t think to get your name) verified that this particular rule has been approved and the final version will be posted in Closed Rulemakings. She could not say whether or not it was approved as proposed in December, however I had some specific questions she was able to address. In particular, I wanted to know if I could copyright the novella I meant to start posting this week. She advised me to not use the word “chapter” because this new rule is not designed for books. We will be able to copyright (in one application with one fee) up to fifty blog posts made within three calendar months. Each post has word limitations.

Running the numbers led to looking for online serializations and that led to wondering where I want to post the fiction – here? On the blog that will be part of my new website? Would I lose my WordPress readers and be harder for readers to discover?

Whatever I decide, the next fiction blog will be next week, in April, so I’ll have the option of copyrighting three month’s worth of blogs under one title with subtitles for each blog. Meantime, it feels good to have popped back to writing for writers this week.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
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You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the material elsewhere.

Thank you.

 

 

 

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Warped Tales: The Development

Warped Tales – be warned. As a child I read piles of books filled with short stories – the complete works of Poe, stories from the Twilight Zone, collections from Hitchcock, etc. This is that kind of story. The original version first appeared in The Maverick Magazine several years ago – I’ve revamped it a bit.

The Development

It was Clyde’s last day working on the farm. The truck would pick up the last of the cows after lunch; the wrecking crew would be there the next day. Streets and skeletal houses already filled the lower meadow.

God, that stinks. Clyde was staring at the brown stream of unprocessed manure in the trough behind the cows as he thought this.

You think yours smells sweet? A female voice reverberated in his brain.

Clyde swung his head around, looking for the source of the words, but he was alone. The only other life in the barn was the last three cows and Bootsie, his cat. Clyde had been on edge for the last two days, now he was imagining things. Bootsie rubbed against his leg and he picked her up. As he rubbed her behind the ears he sighed, remembering how he’d had to kill the other cats.

Ralph shouldn’t have made you do that.

“Who is that?” he shouted. He moved toward the door, expecting to find a prankster lurking outside. He swung his head back and forth, but there was no one in sight, only the work crews half a mile away.

The voice came again. Why did he care about the cats, anyway?

It was inside his head, but somehow seemed to be sourced behind him, in the barn. How could that be?

Yes, I’m right here, Clyde.

Where? This time Clyde just thought the question.

Right over here, dummy. The cow he called Betsy turned to face him and flicked her tail, but she didn’t make a sound.

Why am I hearing you? he asked. Am I going crazy?

I don’t know. I’ve always been able to hear you.

Clyde panicked a moment, trying to remember everything he’d ever thought about in the barn. Then he relaxed. What does it matter what a cow knows? Do the other cows hear me, too?

Don’t think so. I can’t even communicate with them. They’re just dumb animals. Betsy quit looking at him and flicked her tail again. We’re going to be picked up this afternoon?

“Yep. You’re going to another dairy farm,” he said as he walked between cows to face Betsy, rather than talk to her rear end.

Can you please repeat that without the sound? She blinked her eyes at him, as if to confirm it was her thoughts he was hearing. When you talk out loud like that, I can’t understand you. It gets all garbled.

Clyde obliged. That dairy farmer who came by last week is picking you up this afternoon.

Good. The rats are terrible with the cats gone.

“That’s what I tried to tell Ralph.” Clyde forgot and spoke the words out loud. He went back to thinking. The rats will move into those new houses, too. I told him. But the realtors said the barn cats were a health hazard … You can’t understand me when I talk out loud?

No, something gets garbled in the process. It makes about as much sense as the sound of a metal box being dragged across the floor.

Clyde stopped breathing. She knows.

Of course I know. I was here. Betsy raised her tail.

It was an accident! Clyde’s response was automatic.

Right. You picked up that iron bar and bashed in Ralph’s skull by accident. Betsy’s bowels emptied, gushing into the trough behind her.

Clyde started babbling out loud so the cow couldn’t hear him. “What am I going to do now? The police have already been to the house looking for him. What if she can talk with someone else like this? I killed him with a witness!”

I can’t understand you when you do that. Betsy complained. Think clearly, please.

“I didn’t mean to do it!” Clyde shouted. Then he went back to thinking. I was mad from having to kill the cats. Then, when I told him I was going to take Bootsie with me, he grabbed for her. He would’ve wrung her neck. I couldn’t let him do that.

I know. You were just looking out for Bootsie. You should have done it long ago.

You think it was the right thing to do? You could tell them he came at me first, that it was self-defense.

I’m a cow, dummy. They’re not going to interview me. Besides, Clyde, think about it. What happened after you hit him?

He fell.

Where did he fall, Clyde? Betsy blinked and looked over her shoulder.

Right behind you, in that muck. You kicked him.

Exactly. I kicked him right in the head. Massive trauma. Very unlikely they’d notice he got hit by a bar first. I did it on purpose, to cover for you. You’re the one who always looked after us.

Clyde stiffened and stared at the cow. He swallowed. But I put the body in the box and dragged it out to the truck.

Well, that’s not my fault. I was trying to tell you to leave him where he was, but you weren’t hearing me yet.

Clyde pictured the place he’d dumped the box.

Betsy snorted and shook her head. So they’re going to find his body in a metal box at the bottom of the river by a bridge. She chided him for his stupidity. Good luck convincing anyone he got there accidentally.

Clyde carried Bootsie out to the truck, leaving the voice behind. He’d move back to Texas. No one would track him down there, even if they did find Ralph. He settled Bootsie into the cab and got his rifle off the rack.

Just to be safe, he went back to take care of Betsy.

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Defining Moments: Where Ponderosa Pines Stand Guard

coverimagespbcBefore the story, I have a brief announcement:

Carla King’s 4th Edition of Self-Publishing Boot Camp, Guide for Independent Authors is available tomorrow (2/1/19). Check it out here. Disclosure: as an Amazon affiliate, I get a few cents if you buy anything after going there from here. But whether you do that or look later, this is my primary resource as a book coach and when publishing my own work. The best part? She stays on top of all the changes in the industry and provides free updates.

Now, the story: “Defining Moments: Where Ponderosa Pines Stand Guard”

Karen was the last to leave. She pulled on her fleece-lined jacket, hat, and gloves. As she said goodbye, she yawned.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay over until morning?” Mary offered.

“I have a lot to do tomorrow.”

“It may be April, but you could still run into snow up on the rez.”

“There was a little on my way over this afternoon, but the sun was melting it off as it landed.”

The road passed through the edge of the Apache reservation. For thirty-some miles there would be no house in sight, just high plains on either side, broken by stretches of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen groves. In the summer, driving across it in a thunderstorm was humbling and exalting at the same time. Tonight it would be dark and peaceful; a good ending to a full day.

Mary was skeptical. “Well, watch for elk; they’re always on that stretch.”

“I will. I haven’t hit an animal in thirty years.” Karen gave her friend a hug. “I’ll see you next weekend.”

Mary watched her walk to her car. “Call me when you get home.”

“No, I won’t. It’s an hour drive and you’ll be asleep by then.”

Karen started her car. As she drove out of town, the bank’s marquee flashed the time and temperature – twelve o’clock, twenty-seven degrees. She had to turn down the heater, though. The car might be old, but everything worked except the air conditioning, which she didn’t really need living up here in the mountains.

She continuously scanned ahead to the edges of her headlights’ beams. It was habit, ever since she’d killed two deer six months apart, long ago, before she moved to Arizona. Elk were much larger than deer, and harder to see from her little car because when they were close, their eyes were above the range of her headlights, and their dark coats blended in with the night shades of shoulder and roadside brush.

She spotted a group of large dark shadows off to the left and automatically slowed in case one should suddenly decide to cross the road. They were far enough away that her headlights flashed off a pair of eyes; the other animals continued feeding. She decided to stay well below the speed limit, to be on the safe side.

She passed only one car, going the other direction. There would be no sign of civilization until she reached McNary, a little town on the reservation. While her eyes continued watching for elk as she drove, Karen slipped into a meditative sense of peace. Clouds blocked whatever light the sky might have offered as she drove the deserted miles on top of the world, but she knew when the road dipped she was moving from the vast open fields into a stretch of forest.

Suddenly, anxiety hit, jerking her out of her reverie.

There was no good reason for it. She turned off the radio; maybe the car was making a noise that disturbed her subconsciously. But the car was okay, knocking a little, but that was normal at this altitude.

A cold shawl of prickles dragged up and across her shoulders and her breathing became so shallow she was almost holding it. She forced herself to inhale deeply. She lived alone; she didn’t jump at shadows. She tried to chide away the unwelcome sensation of fear.

But the chill was palpable inside her winter jacket. She cranked up the heat and still felt icy. Goosebumps were lifting her shirt off her arms.

She hadn’t checked the back seat when she got into the car; hadn’t done that since she moved up here out of the city. She resisted the urge to look back or even in the mirror, as if not knowing would make it not real. And if she didn’t see anything, she still wouldn’t be sure.

The pines rose high on either side of the road.

Suddenly, something dark poured into her and constricted her breath. A triangle of lights off to the right came and went so quickly she wasn’t sure she’d really seen it. Silently she recited the 23rd Psalm, as well as she could remember it.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters, He restoreth my soul.” There was something else she wasn’t remembering, then “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”

Death and evil, that’s what she felt pouring at her from the forest. It wasn’t someone in the car. It was something out there. She drove a little faster, but not so fast she wouldn’t be able to stop for an elk. She definitely didn’t want to have an accident here, not tonight.

At last she saw the sign announcing the edge of McNary. The feeling eased away from her as she drove through the little town. She passed someone walking along the other side of the road in dark clothes. She was almost home.

By the time she got to her cabin, she no longer felt the presence of evil, in fact she felt a little silly about it. She fixed herself some warm milk. Once it was gone, she was barely awake enough to slip under the covers of her bed.

Karen’s life went on. She forgot all about that unpleasant feeling and there was nothing to remind her. The Apache girl’s disappearance never made the newspaper Karen read.

The first assumption was that the teen had taken off with her boyfriend, but then he came back from visiting relatives out of state and asked for her. He’d been in Oregon when she last left her mother’s house, and he could prove it. In Karen’s world this was still not newsworthy.

It was fall when a hiker’s dog happened upon the girl’s shallow grave – not far from the road, where the Ponderosa Pines stand guard.

Defining Moments is a series of character studies and defining moments – short sketches to whet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about one of these characters, leave a comment.
Thanks.

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Defining Moments: Remorse

Okay – we’re back to fiction. This one’s a stand-alone story from my dark side.

“Your girlfriend’s here.”

Miguel grinned over the counter as he passed Frank two lunch specials. Frank turned his head and saw Angie slide into her booth in the back corner of Oak Street Diner.

“She’s not my girlfriend, Miguel.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Keep it up and I’ll start letting people know you’re the owner.”

“You’re not that crazy,” Miguel quipped.

Miguel liked cooking. The first thing he did when he bought the place was hire Frank to run the front end of the restaurant. People assumed Frank was the new owner and they valued his personal attention. Miguel knew that service was as important as good food to build a solid customer base, so he gave Frank a percentage of the net on top of his salary and tips.

Miguel went back to the grill and Frank carried the specials to the lawyers at table five. They were embroiled in a discussion that didn’t stop as each in turn leaned back to let Frank put a plate in front of them. He could have mixed up the order and they wouldn’t have noticed. It wasn’t always about talking to people; sometimes it was about knowing how to serve without interrupting.

He picked up a menu out of habit as he walked back to Angie, but he knew she always ordered tea and a toasted cheese sandwich—the cheapest items they offered.

“How are you, Angie?” Frank asked as he handed her the plastic folder.

“It’s gone to the jury,” she replied tensely. “They’ll find him guilty, won’t they?”

Angie needed someone to listen to her. She’d appeared the first day of the trial and had eaten lunch at the diner every court day since.

He smiled. “You’re the expert, the one watching the proceedings.”

“Oh, no. I just hear them talking when they come out.” Her hushed tone was apologetic for the misunderstanding.

“I thought you said you were doing research for a writing class. Shouldn’t you be in the courtroom?”

“I can’t. That man is evil.” She seemed to shrink as she said it.

Frank had read the headline stories when it happened, before Angie ever set foot in the restaurant. Neighbors had called 911 because they heard the young mother screaming. The police response was slow. When they arrived the victim was alone in the house; she’d been bludgeoned to death. Her infant was nowhere to be found.

It was that missing baby that made a common fatality of domestic abuse become the focus of news for months. It was also what left some doubt in Frank’s mind about the boyfriend’s guilt.

“They still haven’t found the kid, have they?” he asked.

“No.” Angie was blinking back tears. “He killed that baby, too.”

“I’ll bet her ex- killed her and took off with his kid.” Frank knew from the papers that the defense was offering that explanation.

“You can’t believe that!” Angie glared at him in shock.

Frank held back his response – did she prefer believing the child was dead?  That was worse than her obsession with this drama that had nothing to do with her. Well, if the jury was out, this was probably her last day in the restaurant. He continued pleasantly professional.

“You having the usual?”

Angie nodded and politely handed him the unopened menu.

“I’ll go get your order started.”

Miguel already had the sandwich and tea ready.

“What if she’d chosen something different today?” Frank asked.

“You know she wouldn’t. I put extra cheese into it. I swear she’s skinnier than she was when we first saw her. You like a woman with some curves, don’t you?”

“She’s just a customer.”

“Why do you always talk with her so much, then?”

“That’s what she’s here for, not the food… It’s a good thing you like your kitchen. This place would fold in a month if you were out front.”

“You should show more respect for the man who signs your check.” Miguel grinned and shoved the plate and metal teapot across the counter.

Frank took them back to Angie.

“Here you go.”

He turned her cup right side up and poured some tea while she adjusted her plate in front of her.

“He is guilty,” she whispered. “It’s not the first time.”

“I didn’t know that,” Frank apologized. “With that kind of testimony, of course they’ll find him guilty.”

He saw a brief flash of terror cross her face before she looked down at her plate and mumbled a thank you. His skin prickled; he wondered if she had mental problems. There was probably a clinical term for getting so wrapped up in someone else’s tragedy, something more specific than obsession.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked.

She shook her head without looking up. He thought about sitting down for a few minutes, starting a chat about something innocuous to distract her, but the door chimed the presence of a new customer. Hopefully she wouldn’t have a major breakdown during the lunch rush.

Frank didn’t have a chance to talk to Angie again until he took her the check. She had cash ready.

“Here,” she said. “Keep the change. I need to get back in case they come in with a verdict quickly.”

“We’ll miss you.”

It was important to be polite to every customer, even one you’d gratefully never see again.

Angie headed to the restroom and Frank deposited the cash. His next customer was at the table by the door. Mike McCarthy, who covered the courthouse beat, had his computer out, ready to use their Wi-Fi. He waved away the menu Frank offered.

“What’s today’s soup?” he asked.

“Broccoli cheese.”

“I’ll have a bowl. No, make that a cup.”

“No sandwich?”

“Not today.” McCarthy grimaced. “My appetite’s off. The jury came in, not guilty.”

“You think they were wrong?” asked Frank.

“I interviewed the neighbors. There was another girlfriend with a baby before this one. That girl told them he got so angry when the baby cried that it scared her. They said she made it sound like it was her fault for letting the baby disturb him – typical abused spouse crap.”

“What did she tell the cops?”

“They couldn’t find her. A year before he killed this one, she disappeared with her kid and no one’s seen her since. So all they had was hearsay from the neighbors.”

Frank saw Angie coming from the restroom. He owed her an apology.

“Angie, this is Mike McCarthy, a reporter. He says you were probably right, that the guy’s previous girlfriend disappeared with her kid.”

“All the publicity this got, she’d have come forward, if she could,” McCarthy added. “Until someone else is lucky enough to get away from him alive, that prick’s free to go do it again.”

They both turned at Angie’s primal wail. “No! He got off?”

The men nodded. Tears flooded her terrified face as she sucked in a breath painfully.

“Did you know…” McCarthy started as Angie ran out the door.

McCarthy closed his computer and started after her. Frank was going to follow them, but a touch at his sleeve stopped him.

“Excuse me,” said the customer. “I need my check. I have a meeting…”

“Come back to the register and I’ll ring that up for you,” Frank said automatically.

He was reaching for the ticket when tires squealed, there was a heavy thud, then the blare of a horn stuck on.

The regular closest to the window stood with his cell phone in hand, shouting, “An ambulance! Send an ambulance! In front of the courthouse! Someone got hit by a car!”

His stomach in a knot, Frank took care of the customer’s ticket.

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