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Archive for the ‘Excerpt’ Category

Every now and then I have to remind myself that the purpose of this blog is to promote my writing.  I want to get myself a little supplemental income, pay off some nasty debts, and maybe go to Palm Desert more often.

With that in mind, I’ve been revising the first third of Forgiveness Fits.  Too many reviewers thought Caroline was whiny and annoying and several–men, especially–didn’t like reading a first person story about this whiny girl.  Reviews that identify problems are great, but the ones that suggest solutions are pure gold.  One reviewer suggested switching to third person, and I agree it solves many problems.

Below, you’ll find the new beginning.  The rest, as always, can be found at http://www.authonomy.com/books/36529/forgiveness-fits/

-1-

Caroline MacDougall eased the Monahan’s Suburban into a parking space near the Ferris High School gym and put it in park.  “Got everything?” she asked the eager football camper at her side.

“Duh, Caroline.  You sound like Mom when you do that.”

Caroline smiled.  John hated thinking of her as the family’s nanny.  He’d much rather think of Caroline as something else.

“I’ll be back at four,” she said, as she noticed the player coming toward the car from John’s side.

Caroline’s smile disappeared.  “You better go.”

John looked toward the player and made a disgusted noise.  “Chase Gillespie.  I forgot he’d be here.”  But he opened the door and hopped out.

While the door was open, Chase shouted.  “Monahan!  That your babysitter?”

John slammed the door.

Caroline contemplated Chase from behind her sunglasses, grateful for the tinted windows and air conditioning, as John jogged to the back of the Suburban and jerked out his equipment bag.  Tall and slender, Chase appeared better suited for basketball than football, but she knew him enough to know he probably liked the contact.  That, and trash talking his opponents.  John turned and waved as he trotted past Chase without another look.  Atta boy, thought Caroline.

She pulled in to the lot again just before four, and waited along with the moms there to retrieve their sons.  Michael gurgled in his safety seat and Aiden escaped from his seat to stand at the window, watching for John.  Just as she’d expected, they erupted with joy at the sight of their oldest brother, filthy from sweating all day on the football field in the sun.  Michael kicked his fat legs and Aiden jumped up and down on his seat, pudgy hands pressed on the window.

“How was it?” she asked, as she handed him a cold bottle of Gatorade.

“Good.”  He tilted his head back and swallowed half the bottle in one gulp.  “Thanks.”

“Chase give you a hard time?”

John shot her a curious look.  “You know him?”

“I know of him.  I know he’s not very nice.”  Caroline knew more than that, but wasn’t about to unload her sob stories on an eighth-grader.

“Well, then, you know him.”  John shrugged.  “He’s a creep.”

Caroline smiled to herself.  She’d been worried John would spend a day with the football players and come home indoctrinated with their beliefs about Caroline MacDougall.  She should have known better.  John adored her.

A loud “ga” from the back seat drew John’s attention.  “Hey, Mikey.”  He reached back to grab Michael’s toes.  “Didja go for a ride with Caroline?”

He smiled and repeated his catch-phrase.  “Ga!”

Aiden still stood on the seat next to Michael, sucking his thumb.  He opened his mouth enough to say, “Ca-ine said.”

“I know Caroline invited you,” John reassured him.  “Hey!” he added.  “When you come to this camp, you’ll have Matt and Mark as coaches!”  Matt and Mark were the seven-year-old twins.  “You’re so lucky.”

“ManMark!” agreed Aiden, nodding.  “ManMark,” he said once more before returning his attention to his thumb.

When they arrived back at the Monahan’s house, just across the street from Caroline’s, John carried Michael in and deposited him in his playpen before returning to the car for his bag.  He disappeared down the hall to shower while Caroline added Aidan to the playpen and helped Barb get ready for dinner.

While Caroline extracted loaves of French bread from the oven, she watched in wonder as the kids tended to their assigned chores.  Frankie, age nine, sprayed the picnic table with cleaner and wiped it down before his siblings prepared it for the meal.  Next, Reagan, the only girl, set out the eight placemats and pointed out any the spots Frankie had missed.  The twins were allowed to set out the silverware and napkins, though seldom did Barb allow them to touch the knives.  John and the next oldest brother, Chris, brought out the glasses, filled with ice and homebrewed iced tea.  John and Chris then carried the two high chairs outside, one for Michael and one for Aidan, setting them both across from the chair Caroline would perch on while feeding them.  Once everyone was served and seated, Bill said grace and when he finished, asked John about camp.

John sat up straighter when his father addressed him.  “I liked it.  They worked us hard.”

“I hope so,” mused Bill.  “What did you learn today?”

“We did some handoffs and agility drills.  We ran a lot.  They timed us.  I’m faster than some of the sophomores.”  John waited for his dad’s reply.

“Don’t brag, son.”  Bill peered over his glasses at John.  “Did you talk with the coach?”

“No, sir.  He sort of had the Varsity players doing everything.”

“Hmpf,” said Bill.

John’s face signaled his disappointment.  Then he brightened.  “Paul Corbin was there.”

“Was he?” asked Barb, suddenly interested in the conversation.

John nodded, glad to have said something at least one of his parents liked.  “He said to tell you hello.”

“We’ll have to have them over,” Barb said to Bill.  She leaned closer to Caroline in her seat at the end of the table.  “Have you met our friends Greg and Nancy?”  As Caroline shook her head, Barb continued.  “You’ll love Paul.  Everyone loves Paul.”

Caroline wanted to answer but knew her remarks would sound like self-pity.  She liked many of her classmates.  But they didn’t much like her.

After she’d spooned the entire jar of baby spaghetti and half a jar of apricots into Michael’s mouth, Caroline excused herself to take him inside and clean him up.  Wiping his face and hands, she repeated her mantra about starting school in three weeks.

Smile, she instructed herself.  Say hello more often.  Reach out in kindness and friendship.  No sarcasm, no matter how funny you think you are.  You’re good at this, Caroline MacDougall.  You can do it.

Caroline knew life in the military.  She knew a dozen schools, people of all races and backgrounds, and cities across the country.  She recognized change, disruption, and friendships based on little more than a momentary need.  Hey, let’s go play on the swings!  Because they giggled together as they pumped their legs and swung high enough for the chains to go slack, they became inseparable.  Wanna come over and watch television?  They stayed up until after midnight watching an old movie and quoted the lines the following week at school, best friends.  You!  Over there!  We need someone to play outfield.  Caroline missed every ball hit in her direction but made five new friends that one afternoon.

And then her dad retired from the Air Force, and the family moved to Spokane to be near her mom’s sister.  Caroline recognized nothing.

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That’s what this blog is meant to promote: my writing.  It’s just so darn tempting to write about the blogs other people write, and to contribute to things like National Migraine Awareness month.  But not today.  Today, it’s all about ME.

Here are the current opening paragraphs of Forgiveness Fits:

We tend to love what we know.  It’s the familiarity, the perceived degree of comfort, that attracts us, reels us in like a powerful angler catching the perfect rainbow trout.  Me, I knew life in the military.  I knew a dozen schools, people of all races and backgrounds, and cities all across the country.  I recognized change, disruption, and forming friendships based on little more than a momentary need.  Hey, let’s go play on the swings!  Because we giggled together as we pumped our legs and swung high enough for the chains to go lax, we became inseparable.  Wanna come over and watch television?  We stayed up until after midnight watching an old movie and quoted the lines the following week at school, best friends.  You!  Over there!  We need someone to play outfield.  I missed every ball hit in my direction but made five new friends that one afternoon.

And then my dad retired, and we moved to Spokane to be near my mom’s sister.  I recognized nothing.

Want more?  Forgiveness Fits

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The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism. Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. They carried the standard fatigue jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried jungle boots – 2.1 pounds – and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder as a precaution against trench foot.

Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet. Necessity dictated. Because the land was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry steel-centered, nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds, but which on hot days seemed much heavier. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compress bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access. Because the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green plastic poncho that could be used as a raincoat or groundsheet or makeshift tent. With its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost 2 pounds, but it was worth every ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him into the chopper that took him away.

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Lilacs

This week I noticed a lilac blooming on the grounds of the school where I work.  They bloom here a bit earlier than they do in Spokane, which holds an annual festival in honor of these perfumed beauties.  So prominent are they in the city, that I had to include them in my book, Steadfast.

*********************

Thinking of Trevor’s family caused me endless amounts of pain.  I asked Chris about it as often as I dared and he always insisted it was better they not have any details.  I wanted to respect his judgment, after all, he knew Trevor and I didn’t, but as the weeks went by I became more aware of what it was like to lose a loved one.  I wanted to know what Chris was thinking and feeling every moment of the day.  I wanted to watch the lawns green up through his memories of springtimes past.  Did he notice it?  Did it make him dread having to mow the lawn?  Did it bring back the sounds and smells of baseball practice?  I wanted to see the first sprigs of forsythia bloom, notice the tulips show up in the grocery store, smell the lilacs bloom through his senses.  The Monahans had a huge lilac hedge in the back yard.  What memories came to life when he smelled that hedge blooming?  I wanted him to tell me how his body responded to the warmer temperatures of summer, the trip we took to the lake, the walk along the river.  I couldn’t get enough.  And Trevor’s family got nothing.

The lilacs finally did it.  The common lilac, syringa vulgaris, proliferates in the sun and soil of Spokane.  For about two weeks each May–usually a good week after the festival held in their honor–the smell of lilacs permeates the city and the county.  Every activity becomes more regal, more gracious when accompanied by the fragrance of the lilac.  Eating leftovers outside on the picnic table becomes dining al fresco when the lilacs bloom.  Children walking to school feel smarter, students in college find their classmates more attractive, and married couples conceive more babies ushered by the aroma of the incomparable lilacs.

I had brought in a bouquet of branches snipped from Omi’s yard.  She lent me a vase, and the three branches it held filled the tiny apartment with a fragrance so strong I had to put them in the hallway at night.  Chris began telling stories without any prompting from me.  He spoke of Mother’s Day barbecues held in the shade of that lilac hedge, where Barb received macaroni necklaces and handmade cards.  One year Michael’s card said, “I love you better than pancakes.”  They had given their mother herbs for her garden, plants for the kitchen, box after box of thick, creamy stationery, and hundreds of pounds of See’s Chocolates.  She received each gift with the same delight, hugged each child with the same affection, and even though Chris fell asleep breathing in the flavor of the lilacs believing he was her favorite, he also knew that she loved all the others just as much.

“Don’t you see?” I told him, “Can’t you understand how grateful she’ll be when I tell her this story?  I’ll be able to pull this out when she’s feeling low and give her a bright, happy memory of her loving son.”

“Well, sure,” he said, not seeing where I was headed.

“Don’t you want to give this to Trevor’s family?  Don’t you have something to share with them that can ease their suffering?”

“Heather, you don’t understand.”

“If they didn’t know he was gay, you can tell them you were his friend.  You make a wonderful friend.”

“He never talked to them.”

“Chris, if he was wonderful enough for you to love, then they loved him, too.  What about his brothers and sisters?  What about his friends?  What if you had died down there alone?  Wouldn’t you want Trevor to talk to Reagan, or Frankie, or Michael?”  I closed my eyes to hide my fear.  “Wouldn’t you have wanted him to talk to me?”

“I would have never kept you in the dark.”

“But think about your family.  Once they had the time they needed, they stepped up.  It took them a while, but now we can’t get rid of them.  The place is crawling with them.  They love you.”

“He did talk about his sister.”

“Maybe we could try to find her.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I’ll remind you.”

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Spring Break

So this is what happens when you create a blog.  You add excerpts from your books.  You post notices letting your friends know you’ve started blogging.  You comb through your PC for previously written gems you can fob off as new posts.

And then you realize, horrified, that you have little else to say.

I’d hoped to blog about the books I read, particularly the YA books read by my students.  But because I spend so much time on Authonomy reading parts of unpublished books, my appetite for completed novels is sated.  Besides, on Authonomy I can also visit with the author.

Sigh.

This past week was our Spring Break from school, so here’s a Spring Break excerpt from “Steadfast:”

Chris began to laugh at the loud voices and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or arm myself with a frying pan and a knife.  I pulled on my shirt and opened the door to prevent the neighbors from calling the police.

At the sight of me in the doorway, they dropped the swagger and adopted the look of chastened schoolboys.  They headed straight for me, mumbling “Sorry about the noise,” and “Nice to see you,” as they entered the apartment.

Once inside they hesitated a second as they saw the state of their once powerful older brother.  But to their credit, it was a quick second, and then they were climbing into the bed, stealing his cookies and lemonade and firing questions at him.

“Dude, is she….”  started Matt.

“Always here?  finished Mark.

“Is it true you did it…” started Mark

“With just one guy?” finished Matt.

“Do you have more…” started Matt

“Of these awesome cookies?” finished Mark.

“Are you going to come…” started Mark

“To our baseball games?” finished Matt.

“Why is it…” started Matt

“So effing hot in here?” finished Mark.

I took them more cookies and lemonade.  They ignored me, of course, and I stood by the French doors, watching them.  The blue fire returned to Chris’s eyes as he answered their questions.

“Did you thank Heather for the awesome cookies?”

They turned to me, as if seeing me for the first time.  Their invisible twin communication system crackled, and they bounced off the bed in tandem to embrace me in a terrifying twin bear hug.  “Thanks for the cookies!” cried one, a little too loudly.  “We love you, Heather,” cried the other, also too loudly.  I tried to worm my way out of their moist and smelly embrace.  Mark picked up on my disinclination and turned back toward the bed.

Before he could bounce like Tigger on his beloved Poo, Chris said, “Why don’t you sit in this leather wing chair?” and pointed at one of the lawn chairs.  Mark took the hint.

Meanwhile, Matt didn’t let me go.  In fact, he hugged me right around the edge of the wall into the other room, and whispered “Thank you,” as he looked into my face.  He put a hand on either side of my head.  “I feel so much better knowing you’re here.”  He kissed my forehead and practically sprinted back to the other room to drop into the other lawn chair as loudly as possible.

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