Tag Archives: Writing

Novel Bites: CJ from Running Away

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. This is a scene from Running Away, told from a different perspective.Durare RunningAway 300dpi2Tall

CJ

“You didn’t come home last night.”

Uncle Joe’s  not angry and he’s not specifically asking where I spent the night. After all, I’m eighteen. But it’s clear he’d like to know. He figured out I smoke weed long ago – the smell clings to you – but I don’t do that much and never before work, and he doesn’t bug me about it. So I don’t mind answering him now.

“I drove a friend to the grocery store and by the time we got done, you would already have been in bed. I didn’t want to wake you up with a text.”

“Don’t worry about that. I turn off the sound at night, but we’d have seen it in the morning. Your aunt was worried. Send her one now.”

I nod and pull out my phone to do it right away.

My dad died when I was ten and when my mother married six years later, Uncle Joe and Aunt Maria said they’d be happy to have me come live with them to finish high school. They knew I’d never liked the guy. And I’d already been spending my summers with them anyway, helping in the restaurant. It reminded me of when Dad was alive. I was so mad when Mom sold his place. It was supposed to be mine when I grew up.

Now I realize maybe she felt like she’d always been in competition with Dad’s restaurant. She certainly hadn’t ever loved it the way he did, even though she was right there by his side working with him. Selling it was the right thing for Mom. She was happier working for someone else instead of struggling to make a profit every month.

Aunt Maria texts me back right away, so I know she was waiting to hear from me. Next time I’ll make sure to let them know ahead of time.

Maybe I should plan on staying at Charlie’s again tonight. I already used my extra work clothes today, but I could run home on my dinner break to get more.

It’s not safe for Maggie at that house. And it was nice waking up next to her. But we might end up having sex if I come back tonight, and she’s not ready for that. I don’t want to be that guy. She’s messed up enough by what her step-father did to her. Not to mention she’s jail bait, though she doesn’t seem that much younger than me.

She’ll probably be okay. Charlie’s got Crystal, he won’t hit on Maggie.

Besides, I’m really pissed with Charlie about last night. Uncle Joe would give me the boot for that, even if I was just the driver and didn’t shoplift anything myself.

No, I don’t need to go back to that house.

***

It’s been busy all day, easy not to think about Maggie or worry about her being alone in Charlie’s house. She’s just a kid, fifteen today, all alone because her mother married the wrong guy. At least my step-father wasn’t like that.

Then I see her standing outside, looking at the stained glass hangings I did for Uncle Joe.

Before she can leave, I step outside. “Maggie, how’d you find me?”

“I was just looking for someplace to eat.”

But she looks stressed out and she has that huge backpack with all her stuff.  I nod at it. “You find another place to stay?” I hope Charlie didn’t try anything.

She looks past me, over to the side, avoiding my eyes. “I’m going to check out some other parts of the country.”

Shit, he must have done something. If she stays, maybe she’ll talk to me. I’ll kill him. At least beat the crap out of him. But I’ve got to sound cool so I don’t scare her off. “So I might not see you again. Come on in. I’ll buy you dinner.”

She smiles, so I lead her inside. It’s packed, but there’s a table in the corner open. She’ll be more comfortable there. I help her take the pack off and set it against the wall.

“This is Aji’s section. He’ll be right with you. Order anything on the menu.”

I know this will be okay with Uncle Joe. He helps out people all the time. He has me in charge of the coffeehouse side of the place, while he manages the restaurant. It’s the same kitchen and same menu of Greek food, but the ambiance on my side’s less formal.

Once I assure her that I’m paying for her dinner, Maggie relaxes some. I make her promise to talk to me before she leaves, then get back to work. But I keep an eye on her. She wolfs down the lemon-flavored soup that’s one of our specialties, but when Aji takes her a lemonade and gyro, she just looks at it. I stop by the table to ask if everything’s okay.

“Great. I probably won’t be able to finish it all.”

“Good.” I was going to sit down and see if she’d talk more, but there’s a customer up front waiting to pay. As I start to leave, she calls me back.

“This is weird, but I’ve gotta ask, is your uncle’s name Joe?”

I told her all about the restaurant and living with my aunt and uncle last night. But I want to know how she guessed his name.

“I think my mom met him a long time ago. When she was my age.”

So that’s why she came to Harrisburg – her mother must have been here. We get runaways, but winters are cold and rainy. It’s not a great place to be on the street.

And Joe’s always helped people. So I say I’ll go get him. She backs off, saying he probably wouldn’t remember her mom, but I figure he might, and besides, the longer Maggie’s here, the longer she’s safe. Maybe Uncle Joe will have a way to help her.

When I’ve cashed out the customer on my side, I go over to the restaurant and ask Uncle Joe to talk with me a moment in the office, a tiny room off the kitchen where we do the bookkeeping.  He goes with me right away.

“Is it about last night?” he asks.

“Kind of. There’s a girl. She’s run away because her step-father raped her, but she probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that. I stayed with her last night. It’s not a good place for an innocent kid. I’ve been trying to figure out how to help her all day, then she showed up and I bought her dinner. She says she’s going to move on, but anyplace she finds . . . ”

“How can I help?”

“She thinks you may have helped her mother, way back. Maybe . . . I don’t know.”

He says he’ll come over to meet Maggie as soon as he’s taken care of a few people ready to pay and leave. I take her a piece of baklava with a single birthday candle on top. Her smile warms me to the core.

“Thanks,” she says, “and thanks for not singing.”

I tell her Uncle Joe wants to meet her and ask what she did for her birthday. Her face tenses a moment, then she claims she just spent the day reading her mother’s journal, the one that told her about Joe and Harrisburg.

There’s something else though. I know something bad has happened.

Then Aji brings her a refill on her lemonade and she passes him her dirty dishes. She drops a fork on the floor and bends down to get it. As she sits up, she turns so she’s facing me and hands the fork to Aji without looking at him. Her eyes are glazed in terror.

Once he’s gone, she squeaks out, “How well do you know Aji?”

Aji’s worked for us for about six months and has always seemed like a good guy. He’s the one who introduced me to Charlie. But her question has me ready to pound him for hurting her, if that’s what he did. But it’s not. Not exactly.

“He robbed Charlie today.” I can barely hear her as she explains how two of them came in with guns, wearing ski masks, and stole Charlie’s stash of drugs and weapons.

She recognized Aji’s shoes. When Joe told him our wait staff all wear black shoes, Aji painted his Nikes black and swapped to skinny dress laces for them. Charlie recognized them, too, and he’s looking for Aji. What’s worse is Matt is with him. I met that guy once and he scared the shit out of me, and we were just sharing a joint. Matt was there to sell her ID. When she left the house, they were going to hunt the robbers down. If they know Aji works here. . .

Suddenly Uncle Joe’s at the table, pulling over a chair and asking Maggie about her mother, how she knew him.

“You just gave her a motorcycle ride one afternoon.”

My mind’s spinning, trying to think how to avoid having a shootout here while they chat back and forth. He remembers her mother, though. It was the year of Agnes, the storm everything’s still measured by here. He was on his way to see my dad up in Canada. Grandpa never really forgave my dad for dodging the draft.

Joe says Maggie has her mother’s eyes. Her mother must have been important somehow, because he and Maria looked for her when they were coming to visit us. So he didn’t know her here, didn’t know Maggie’s mom ever came to Harrisburg.

Joe gets up to leave and shakes Maggie’s hand. “Good luck, and give your mother our best. Tell her to stop in if she’s ever in town. Maria will be sorry she missed you, but she’s in Greece a few more days, visiting family. Nice meeting you, Maggie.”

Once he’s gone, she asks me what I’m going to do about Aji.

“I’ll tell him Charlie’s after him. If you’re right, Aji will leave right away and we won’t see him again.” I hope that’ll work. I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to say when Charlie shows up.

I wrap up her baklava and walk her out.

She’s right to be leaving town. Charlie’d probably be chill with her having been there when he was robbed, but Matt is one scary dude. I try to talk Maggie into calling her mom. If her mom ran away, too, she’d probably understand. But the creep of a step-father has Maggie convinced her mother will blame her for everything and hate her.

I give her a quick hug, hoping she’ll be okay.

Aji takes off like I figured he would and when Charlie shows up with Matt, I pretend I’m ticked at the guy for leaving us short-handed with no notice.

I finish with, “He didn’t even wait for his last check.”

The look Matt sends Charlie chills my blood. I shouldn’t have said that.

I hope Aji doesn’t come back for his money now.

I hope Maggie’s ride already has her clear of this town.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

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www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: Mortal

I’m a salesman—spend half my life driving from one pitch to the next. It gives me time to think. That night I was driving through the redwoods, well past midnight.

When I was a kid, I read a spooky tale about a girl named Lavender who haunted a back road. They said she was dressed up for a party. It was a good story and I probably read it a few times, as I did when I was a kid and had all the time in the world, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw her. Not Lavender, the girl walking barefoot along the narrow road lined with giant trees, wearing what I took to be a prom dress, a flimsy bit of pink gauzy stuff and lace.

I was well past the last tourist trap when I saw her.

She wasn’t carrying shoes, as you might expect with the fragile, uncomfortable sort of thing girls wear to a prom. She was walking along the road at midnight with feet accustomed to the gravel of the shoulder, not picking her way like someone with tender soles. There had to be a destination in her mind, so sure was her stride. While she reminded me of Lavender, I didn’t doubt that this girl was of solid flesh.

She turned and waved her arms. My headlights flashed briefly on her terrified face, then it was gone in the night. I didn’t stop.

Offering a young girl a ride on a dark stretch of road in the middle of the night could have had disastrous results, were she of a mind and talent to claim misuse convincingly. I drove past the girl and on a good mile before my conscience got the better of me. There were so many ways she could come to no good end, walking alone that way along the road in the dark under the giant trees. And she had looked frightened.

She was probably a nice girl, a good girl who would not make up lies. I should help her. So I watched for a wide spot in the road and turned around. By then several minutes had passed. There was a good chance she’d have arrived at her destination and I’d find no one walking along the road.

It wouldn’t mean she’d been a figment of my imagination.

There was no sign of her. I went back well past the spot I’d seen her, to the little store with the carved bear, and I turned around once again and drove slowly, to make sure I didn’t miss her. By then I was worried. She had looked terrified. I admitted this to myself as I searched in vain. There were no houses on that stretch of road, no driveway to a home where a young girl in a prom dress would have gone, no side roads, nothing until the spot where I’d turned around the first time.

Well, I suppose you’re thinking she was a ghost, like Lavender, and I was thinking maybe I’d imagined her, too. But she was real. A man riding his bicycle along that bit of road the very next day spotted a splash of pink in a hollow beside the road. They say it was her head hitting a rock that did her in, but the force of impact indicates a speeding car clipped her, throwing her from the road.

Of course I know better. Mine was the only car on the road that night.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. As Halloween approaches, I’m including a few less admirable characters. If you’d like reading more about this villain or his victim, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: Benny’s Last Dollar

Benny swallowed the end of his drink and looked at his last chip, a dollar.

It was all set up to favor the house. Benny knew that. He’d known it from the first time he went to a casino, but still, he couldn’t stop until his pocket was empty. There was a slot machine near the exit just waiting for this chip.

Even the time he hit the big jackpot, big enough to buy a new truck, maybe even one of those new little houses on the edge of town that his girl always talked about, he’d kept on playing until his stake was completely gone. That’s what he called it—his stake. That made him feel like one of the pros, the serious poker players in the big money games held privately in the back room. But Benny never took more than one day’s pay. However much he was earning, that was his limit.

Of course, he’d made that rule when he had a good full time job. This week, he’d only worked two days, helping an old lady fix a bunch of stuff on her house so she could sell it. He and George had really dragged their heels to make the job last. She was only paying them minimum. They used to make four, five times that with overtime.

Not anymore.

One day’s pay had gone for new socks, thrift store shoes and shirts, and groceries they never had at the food bank. He’d come to the casino with the rest, and he’d managed to make it last a good while – building it up, then losing some, building it up again. Until he ended up with nothing but this dollar chip. Since then he’d been watching other people play while he finished his drink.

Back in the day, he could say the free drinks paid for anything he lost. But he didn’t drink much anymore. He wasn’t AA or born-again; he hadn’t even tried to quit. It had come on him gradually, until one night last July he’d headed home and realized he’d nursed one whiskey the whole evening. Even when the company folded and his girl dumped him, all in one week, he didn’t crawl into a bottle like some of his buddies.

Benny scanned the casino, all the people absorbed by machines or tensed over tables. The drink girl came up and offered him a refill.

“No,” he said. He paused and stared at her as if she were an alien life form. “No, I’m done. Thank you.”

She moved on to the next customer.

Benny cashed in his chip and tucked his dollar into his pocket.

He straightened his shoulders, smiled a half smile to himself, and gave the pocket with his dollar in it a pat. Satisfied, he took one last look around before leaving.

He wouldn’t be back.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Benny, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: The Novice Traveler

Carolyn lumbered through the airport, a backpack slung over her left shoulder, her right arm stretched by the weight of her carry-on.

Big Brother’s voice reminded her, “Unattended bags will be confiscated.”

She stopped to catch her breath, put the suitcase on the floor close to her feet, and moved the backpack to her right shoulder. The pack had been the agent’s idea, so she could make sure everything made the plane change with her. It held more and had better pockets than a traditional purse, but she felt silly carrying it.

She picked up the suitcase and trudged onward. It had taken her forever to get to the departure gate and then they announced a change. Why did it have to be at the opposite end of the airport?

The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled her as she instinctively inhaled deeply. That would have to do. The bakery line was long, her new gate was still a good hike away, and the flight would be boarding soon.

She looked longingly at all the people effortlessly pulling bags on wheels. Why hadn’t the agent suggested that? If her father’s old bag hadn’t been the right size for carry-on she would have shopped for one. Maybe they all had wheels now.

Finally she got to the new right gate.

Carolyn lifted her eyes skyward. “Please don’t let them change it again.”

“You got that right,” said a Gothic person of indeterminate sex.

Carolyn started. She hadn’t meant to talk out loud.

Big Brother repeated his warnings. The Gothic person sniffed, drawing Carolyn’s attention to a nose ring. There was one through the left eyebrow, too. Why would someone do that? It had to hurt.

“You going to Maui, too?” the Goth person asked.

Carolyn paused, but saw no way to keep her destination a secret. She nodded and turned away. There were only two seats left open. The Goth person plopped down next to her.

“I love the islands… you been before?” it said.

Carolyn shook her head and pulled out the novel she’d brought for the plane. She opened it and put her head down, but that didn’t work.

“Kauai’s the best, but Maui’s nice if you stay away from the tourist traps.”

Carolyn stared at the first page.

“I’m Becca.” The girl shoved her ring-laden hand over Carolyn’s book.

Carolyn raised her head and made cautious contact with her fingertips.

The girl’s black lips couldn’t hide her dimples or the openness of her smile. It was just all the black leather and spiky hair and dramatic, ghoulish make-up that made her seem threatening. Well, that and the piercings. Carolyn returned the smile tentatively.

“You’ve been to Hawaii before?” she asked.

“Oh yeah. I love it there. Costa Rica’s nice, too, but Hawaii’s my favorite.”

“Really?” Carolyn thought of all the vacations she’d spent caring for her parents and working on their house – her house now. “You travel a lot?”

“Yup. I’ll stay until my money runs out, then go crash with my folks, get a job, and save up for the next trip. They cut me a deal on rent, to get me to come home sometimes, but eventually I’m going to work my way around the world.”

“How long did it take you to save up for this trip?”

“Three months. Maui’s really cheap if you know how to do it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“About fifty dollars a day. And the plane ticket.” The girl pulled a small electronic device from her pack and stuck pieces of black foam into her ears.

“Fifty dollars a day?” Carolyn sighed. Her hotel alone was three times that.

The girl didn’t hear. She was nodding to a dissonant sound audible despite the ear buds. So Carolyn didn’t talk about the Jeep the agent had insisted she add to the reservation, so she wouldn’t get stuck off-trail or on a beach. Carolyn was too timid to ever leave the road, and too timid to argue with the man. At least he hadn’t made reservations at restaurants for her, though he’d given her a list of places that served delicious fresh sea food – probably all expensive.

Carolyn touched Becca tentatively on the forearm. “Where do you eat?”

The girl emptied the ear closest to Carolyn, but still nodded to the music as she answered. “Mostly from grocery stores, then fix it in the kitchen or barbeque out back at the hostel. Groceries are expensive, but it’s cheaper than eating out.”

“They let you use the kitchen?”

“It’s a hostel. Like a hotel, but with community bathrooms and kitchen.”

“You share the bathroom with strangers?”

“And I’ll be sharing a room with three other people. You can get a private room, but it costs more. I’ve only done that when my gram came along.”

“Your grandmother?”

“Yep. She travels the same way. Hey, let me give you her email.”

As the girl handed Carolyn the slip of paper, a disembodied voice called for the first passengers to board. Carolyn stood up. The agent had said a first class ticket was essential for such a long flight. She knew Becca would be flying tourist.

“Are you sure your grandmother won’t mind you giving this to a stranger?”

“That’s the beauty of being a traveler,” Becca smiled. “There’s no such thing as a stranger.”

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Carolyn’s journey – or Becca’s – leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signaturewww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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So how’d you like it?

I put The Incident up over the summer because I was going to be on the road while my home was for sale. 8400 miles later, I’m home again, except my place has been sold so I’m staying with friends while I figure out what’s next.

Serendipity, as always, is playing a role. At the beginning of July, my plans to visit family on the East Coast were bumped a week due to circumstances beyond my control. Denver was kind of on the way, so I decided to attend the RWA conference  and see if romance writing would be a good fit for me. (2018 workshops are still listed at that link, but if they’ve been removed when you read this, check RWA events.)

Well, it was an amazing conference, loaded with so many sessions you could only attend a fraction of them, with thousands of people attending. After listening to an editor and agent address a sub-group of people who write Romantic Women’s Fiction (where the woman’s journey is the core of the story and the romance is secondary), I decided to give traditional publishing another try. So I spent a day pitching and had a really good response. Still waiting while requested materials are reviewed by several people.

I also got to talk with Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark about getting my back list onto Ingram as well as Amazon. That work’s on the list for the next few weeks. Now that CreateSpace is closing, I want to make sure I’ve got everything with Ingram for distribution beyond Amazon. (In case you didn’t realize, CreateSpace was also a division of Amazon – they’re consolidating services to KDP, but no longer doing Expanded Distribution.)

Last week, I gave a Basics of Self-Publishing class through Community Education at Sierra Community College and realized how much I enjoy helping people figure out this process – at the same time I’m hoping to land a traditional contract for Peg’s Story, One Woman’s Journey. Each route has its benefits and drawbacks.

However, with either road to publishing, building a readership is key.

That’s where you come in – while The Incident trickled out over 13 episodes, my followers increased. However, you’re not commenting! Tough to know what you want that way.

Please take a minute to comment. I’d really like to know:

  1. Did you like having a story come in pieces over two months? Would a few weeks be better? Or a short-short that’s all in one blog? Or a whole novel over months?
  2. Do you want the fiction to keep coming or would you rather I go back to writing about writing? Or do you want both?
  3. I keep hearing that a newsletter’s better than a blog because you address people who want to hear from you, as individuals. Would you want to be on a mailing list that alerted you when I post new stories and/or gave you other updates and/or writing tips?
  4. Do you care what time of day the blog arrives? (If so, when’s better?)

Let me know soon, so I can have a story or article ready for you next week!

Sheri McGuinn Photo SignatureI write books about people you could know, people who show resilience as they go through rough times to realistic resolutions.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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THE INCIDENT – CHAPTER 8

When Mom caught me walking home alone one day, I assured her it was fine, that Angelica and Natalie had to stay after for talking in one of their classes, but that I was being alert and felt comfortable walking home alone. Even outside the gate, it was a decent neighborhood.

So the fall went okay. I even got invited to a Halloween party one of the kids in my art classes was having. My Dad checked out the address and nixed my going there at night, but at least I was asked.

After that invitation, my parents started investigating private schools for me and Rose. We’d been in public school in our small town, where everyone knew everyone, regardless of family income or which side of the tracks you lived. I’d never really thought about it, how it was only kids my parents approved of that I’d spent time with back home. There was this one girl in my Scout troop who wore the same clothes every day and we didn’t make fun of her because we knew she didn’t have any others and that the nurse washed them regularly while the girl wore a donated gym suit. But I don’t know anyone who ever went to that girl’s house.

So the city was different in a lot of ways—and regardless of my Inparents’ belief it was a small town, we were part of the metropolis. I didn’t notice anyone wearing exactly the same clothes every day, but some of the boys would when they’d been out all night partying. They talked about it right in front of the teachers, so I guess no one cared.

Of course, I was in classes with throw-away kids.

It seemed like Angelica and Natalie asked me to go to the mall with them at least once a week. That should have rung some alarm bells, but it didn’t. I knew I could miss half my classes and still ace them. Maybe the IB program wasn’t all that hard, either, or maybe they were smarter than I thought.

I was so stupid. It never occurred to me that they weren’t going without me, that they didn’t shoplift on a regular basis.

They asked about the boy I’d used as an excuse and I told them it was all over. He’d kissed another girl, made me cry, got me in trouble, and that was the end of it for me. In reality, I did have a crush on a boy in my art class, but I wasn’t about to tell anyone about that.

Joey was such a good artist, and he had the longest, thickest eyelashes. I’d never seen him with a girl, but I was sure I wasn’t the only one who liked him. We had the same two art classes, back to back, in the same room, so we could keep working on a project for both periods. He didn’t talk a lot with anyone, he’d get so involved in his art, but when we had to critique each other’s work, he always found something nice to say about mine. Actually, he did the same thing with anyone, but it felt special at the time. Then the first week in December, in art class, I heard him ask another girl to go to the Christmas dance with him. I knew no one would ask me. No one else even talked to me much.

So the next day, when Angelica and Natalie tried to get me to go to the mall with them, I jumped on the chance to avoid art. They seemed surprised, almost reluctant to have me go along, even though they’d been asking me for weeks.

They were both going to the Christmas dance, so we spent all morning looking at dresses. I tried some on, too, so they wouldn’t know I wasn’t going. Out of habit, I kept checking price tags and shying away from the expensive dresses. They made fun of that, as if price was never an object for them.

During lunch, they barely spoke to me. In fact, they’d talked mostly between themselves all day. After we ate, they wanted to go to an electronics store. There was some gadget Natalie’s boyfriend wanted for Christmas. We must have looked at everything in the store before we found it, and it was crazy expensive.

“You’re not going to try and walk out of here with that, are you?” I asked.

I should have kept my mouth shut. Natalie took it as a challenge.

“If you and Angelica watch that no one’s coming.”

We went to opposite ends of the aisle and gave her a thumb’s up when no one was coming. She slipped it into her bag and we headed for the door. We started giggling about ten feet outside the store.

Right before the security guard stopped us.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

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The Incident – Chapter 1

A mountain lion could be out here, ready to pounce. They say you never know what hit you. But I’ve been out here plenty of starry nights and that never happened. It’s not likely to happen tonight, either. I won’t get off that easy.

My feet dangle over the edge, far above the tree tops. The stone is chilling my insides from the butt up. A wave of wind flows through the pines below and then above me as well. I sniff the pine, half disappointed there’s no salt in the air when it sounds so much like surf.

I wonder if he ever saw the ocean.

I saw it once, a year ago, but that was another life, before the incident. My parents were so disappointed in me for that. There’s no way I can ever tell them the rest, what happened after. They must never know. They won’t, of course. No one’s saying a word about what we did, and I don’t see my family enough to get stupid and tell them. If it weren’t for the incident, I’d never have been there.

I wouldn’t be wishing for that mountain lion to end it all. I can’t commit suicide. That would hurt my family even more than I already have. An accident, though. That would be tragic, but they’d be able to accept that and move on, instead of driving themselves crazy wondering what they did wrong. So it can’t be an accident like driving drunk into a tree, either, because they’d think it was their fault I was drunk. It has to be something where they can’t blame themselves for anything.

I think I used to be happy, but I can’t feel it anymore.

Chapter 1—Secrets

“Your mother will be here to pick you up in half an hour, Montina.”

Mary’s mother is the only person in our little Colorado town who calls me by the name on my birth certificate. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Tina, even my parents, and they do. A lot of kids don’t even know my real name is Montina. Mountain. Can you imagine if I’d been a fat kid? My parents didn’t think of that, though. It probably never occurred to them that they could have anything but an athletic child.

They started doing Colorado’s fourteeners when they were in high school. Fourteeners are mountains that are fourteen-thousand-something feet high. There are like fifty-four of them in Colorado. Some of the easy ones they did with Dad carrying me in a pack when I was a baby. The last few years they’ve slowed down some because a lot of weekends they’re driving us to soccer matches all over the state. My kid sister and I both play, and sometimes our games are in different directions. They named her Parry Primrose, for the pretty purple flowers that grow mainly above ten thousand feet. It’s a lot better than Montina, but she goes by Rose anyway. She’s only eight, but not too much of a pain. She’s been staying at one of her friend’s houses the last two weeks, while I’ve been staying with Mary. We’re both fifteen.

“Come on, Tina,” says Mary. “Let’s get your stuff.”

It only takes a minute to grab my bathroom things and throw them into my school bag. Mary’s mom insisted on washing all my stuff last night, so it’s already folded up in the pack I used for a suitcase. The only place I’ve ever gone this long before is camping with my family. That’s why I don’t have a proper suitcase. We don’t take that kind of vacation. My parents even had to buy luggage for their trip. They were very secretive about where they were going. When I asked Dad if it was an overdue honeymoon, he looked over my head and said it might be something like that, partially, anyway.

“My mom looks like she knows a secret,” Mary says.

“Yeah, I noticed,” I say, as I look around to make sure I’ve got all my stuff.

Our parents were all friends in school, so Mary and I have known each other forever. There are even photos of us together in a playpen, though our parents say neither of us could be contained in one for long. So whenever my folks wanted to climb a mountain, I stayed with Mary for the weekend. Her parents were still pretty outdoorsy, and we’d all gone camping together a lot of times, but they didn’t do the mountain climbing stuff anymore. Sometimes they’d go into Denver for the weekend, though, and Mary would stay with us.

“So what do you think the big secret is?” asked Mary. “It’s got to be something your mom said to her.”

“Beats me,” I say.

It bothers me a lot that my parents are suddenly having secrets. They’ve always been honest with us, and insisted we be honest with them. I even confessed when I was twelve and tried a puff of a cigarette. They didn’t get mad, either. They were just majorly relieved that I didn’t like it. Their having some big secret now feels like a betrayal, especially if they’re sharing it with Mary’s mom before me or Rose. Mary picks up on my feelings. It’s like that when you’ve known somebody your whole life.

“You’ll probably find out tonight,” she says.

“Yeah, I guess. It’s so weird, though. I mean, they went to Chicago. Hawaii, Mexico, even a city like San Francisco or New York, any of those would make sense if it was like a honeymoon. Why would they go to Chicago, though?”
When my parents got married, they spent their first week together climbing in the San Juan Mountain Range in southeast Colorado. That included Mount Wilson, which is one of the most difficult, dangerous climbs. That’s why I thought this trip might be a second honeymoon, or honeymoon never taken.

“They didn’t actually say it was a honeymoon,” Mary reminds me, “and Chicago does have a lot of art galleries and stuff and it’s not as far as New York.”

“San Francisco would be closer. Besides, their timing sucked.”

“I know,” said Mary.

My parents took this sudden trip right at the end of the school year. It was supposed to be just a few days. Mom and I had just gotten back from Grand Junction with my first formal dress, for the Freshman Spring Fling. Tim Withers actually asked me! The next morning, they told us they had to go to Chicago for a few days, but they’d be back by Friday. But they weren’t. Tim’s parents had to pick me up at Mary’s house. Then they ended up staying away all the next week, so they missed the high school awards ceremony, too. I got three—for soccer, Spanish, and good citizenship.

They were gone almost two full weeks.

They’d never been away for more than three days. Rose called me the first couple nights, kind of homesick, but then I guess she settled in at her friend’s house. It’s not that they disappeared. Mom called and asked me all about the dance, then again about awards night, but it wasn’t the same. She was excited about something that had nothing to do with me, and it was there even when she was trying to be sympathetic and sound sorry for missing my first real date and my first high school awards. The worst part was that she didn’t tell me what she was so happy about.

Mary is looking out her window.

“They’re here,” she said. “Call me as soon as you know what they’ve been doing!”

“I will.”

Mom comes to the door to say thank you to Mary’s mom. They exchange big smiles and a hug with lots of eye-widening and more smiles.

“We’ll be here by eight tomorrow morning,” says my mom.

“Great,” says Mary’s mom. “Oh, and I just emailed you photos from the dance and graduation.”

“Thank you so much,” says Mom.

Mary and I look at them, then each other.

“Call me tonight,” says Mary.

I nod.

On the way to the car, I ask Mom why we’re going to Mary’s the next morning.

“You’ll see,” she says. “We’ll tell you at dinner.”

Rose is in the car with Dad. It makes sense that they’d pick her up first. Her friend lives on the east side of town. Coming from Denver, their house comes first. Mom and Dad flew out of Denver to Chicago.

Mom starts quizzing me about awards night and the dance.

“I told you all that on the phone,” I remind her.

“It’s not the same,” she says.

“Yeah, I know,” I grumble.

Dad speaks up to defend her. “It’s not your mother’s fault we couldn’t get back in time for all that.”

“So whose fault is it?” I ask, trying not to sound like a total snot.

“Nobody’s,” he says. “We’ll explain more at dinner.”

I guess Rose already told them all her stuff before they picked me up, because no one asks her anything. Fortunately it’s a short trip home and almost time to eat.

“Put your stuff away, then we’ll go to Jack’s for pizza,” says Dad.

He doesn’t like Jack’s, but it’s a favorite of mine, so I know he means to make me feel better. I try to lighten up.

“Okay,” I say. “It’ll only take a couple minutes.”

“Take our suitcase to the laundry room,” Mom tells him. “I want to start a load before we leave for dinner. Do you girls have any dirty clothes?”

“Nope,” I say. “Mary’s mom insisted on washing everything last night.”

“Laurie’s mom, too,” says Rose.

“Great!” says Mom. “That’ll help a bunch.”

I start to ask what it will help, but she’s already on her way to the laundry. I go to my room and put my clean clothes away. Dad stops by my door.

“Mom said you don’t need to bother hanging everything up,” he says. “If it’s folded nicely, just leave it on your bed for now.”

That definitely doesn’t sound like Mom.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

 

 

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Oatmeal Brain: Writer’s Post-Race Blues

It’s possible I’ll be asked to do a few more tweaks, but the screenplay I contracted to complete has gone through two major revisions and they seem to be happy with it at this point. It was fun developing someone else’s idea. I really liked my first draft. It had this third wheel character that offered some comic relief in a tense TV movie. But they wanted him combined with the romantic lead, so I had to toss him.

Once I put aside my attachment to the character and looked at it as a challenge, I figured out a way to move a bit of the humor to the romantic lead. Of course, the script will change again once it goes into production, but that’s the way screenwriting works. I just read a lengthy interview with Terry Rossio that addresses that reality.

At the end of this major project, my brain’s functioning like oatmeal – nutritional, good content, but thick and sticky. Ideas pour slowly in globs.

Oatmeal brain: the writer’s version of post-race blues. It’s time to reboot.

To start, I took a look at my 2018 Goals and the steps I planned to meet them. If you’ve been following this blog, you realize I write all this stuff out at the beginning of the year and post it where it’s easy to access. My writing goal for 2018 is to make at least $10,000 writing. I came up with three objectives to help me meet this goal. The activities for my first objective revolve around getting Peg’s Story: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Herself polished, promoted, and published. The second objective’s about continuing to create new material and the third is about doing workshops on self-publishing.

Well, the screenplay wasn’t on my radar and, as long as they produce it this summer as planned, I’ll have met my goal without completing any of the written objectives.

I also have an author client I’m helping in multiple areas, which is adding to my income. And I’m doing volunteer work on promo for Who Will Remember. None of that was written into the plan either. I’ll keep devoting a few hours a week to these activities.

However, going back to the plan, I want to get that book out, I want to continue creating new material because that’s energizing, and I have three workshops scheduled – the first one at the end of June! My class is listed on page 6 of the catalog.

Fortunately, much of the preparation for the workshops overlaps with research I need to do to launch the book, so that research is the next primary focus. Writing new material will be my fun time.

I was surprised to see my personal (non-writing) goals are doing okay. I’ve completed activities under almost every objective. That’s pretty amazing. It felt like I was getting completely absorbed by my writing activities, until I looked at things in black and white. In reality, I’ve done a lot with family this year already, including some short trips.

Life is good.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

 

 

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Information Overload

Before computers, the difficult part of research was finding materials. As a kid, I had to ride a bus a half hour downtown to the big county library when I needed to do serious research for school.

Thanks to the internet, I can look up anything that pops into my mind immediately, I can search any question. I can not only pull up a map of a place I want my character to go, I can see the satellite view of it and, most places, pull the little guy onto the map and see what my character would see driving down a road, turning to look side to side.

It’s beyond awesome. I love it.

However, the old dilemma of when to stop researching happens more quickly and is compounded by the necessity of sorting through to discard information of questionable value. Libraries used to do that for us.

Now, even when you’ve narrowed it to solid sources, it’s likely you have an overwhelming amount of information to review. Personally, I procrastinate at this point. I let it all sit, hoping it will somehow sift itself into some kind of logical order.

That doesn’t really work, though. I eventually start sorting through everything, shoving it into physical or computer files labeled by categories of information. Then I attack one category at a time.

This is an imperfect process. For example, I have a four-inch stack of notes on my table about marketing right now, and folders within folders and files that overlap folders floating around in the main folder unfiled. There are a lot of resources that fit more than one part of marketing.

My method to deal with this information overload?

I start with the best resource – the best NEW resource if there are several.

For my marketing project, I’m starting by reading Carla King‘s Self-Publishing Bootcamp Guide, 4th edition. I’ll take notes specific to my project and make an outline or timeline. Then I’ll quickly review old books I’ve read before, scanning for anything to add. If I hit a better outline, I’ll combine the two.

With that solid base, those other piles of pages will read quickly, because most of it will be review. I’ll be skimming through, looking for unique information. That makes the prospect less daunting. And the details will be plopped into the right place on the outline as I find them.

Yeah. It’s not so bad. I’m ready to get to it!

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Celebrate Your Success!

Last week I talked about the importance of celebrating others’ successes. It’s part of building a supportive community of writers.

That means you have to let people know when you have a success, too.

After years of trying to sell my screenplay to a major company, imagining it produced with major stars and being released in theaters, making me rich and famous, my first sale went directly to television, with some known actors. It did not make me rich or famous. I looked at it as another step closer to paying all the bills through my writing.

“Your movie went to television. You may never meet another writer who can say that.”

Reality check from another screenwriter, who’s produced his own films. It wasn’t as flashy as I’d always imagined, but it was still a success – a pretty big one.

The same holds true when you’ve been targeting the major markets with your stories or essays for years and a university press publishes one of your stories and you’re paid in copies. It’s still recognition, validation of your skill as a writer. It’s success.

Celebrate with your fellow writers.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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