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In honor of the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Day of Silence on April 14, I’m uploading the middle chapters of my book Steadfast, which cover Chris’s return to Spokane and his ordeal with AIDS.

I was originally inspired to write this when I learned that while AIDS is no longer a death sentence, it is still an unpleasant disease.  And the fastest-growing segment of new patients are young gay men.  These young men missed the whole AIDS awareness campaign (remember the red ribbons?) and don’t perceive the disease as dangerous.  They haven’t heard–as we oldsters did–the call for safe sex.  (Or they learned about it in Health class, where teachers share all sorts of ideas about smoking, nutrition, adequate sleep, avoiding drugs, and other things kids tend to tune out.)

I was somewhat frightened about writing this.  My knowledge of gay men is limited to the sweet boyfriends who broke up with me for no apparent reason.  That’s why the story is told in first-person from the perspective of the girl who loves him.

So I’m concerned I’ve gotten any number of details wrong.  Details about young gay men, details about the Catholic Church, details about death and dying.  My research included reading And the Band Played On, one reporter’s chronology of the crisis, the memoir Borrowed Time, and endless amounts of Googling.  Obviously, that’s not scholarly research.   I know that many of you will give me feedback about how to fix my errors.

To end this on a positive note, I was astonished and pleased a few weeks ago by a remark our pastor made in church.  In the years since we’ve attended this church, he’s made very few remarks about homosexuality, and the few he made were anti-gay.  But on this night, he said–quite energetically–that we Christians were wrong in the Eighties.  We were wrong for not immediately stepping in to care for AIDS patients.  I think he’s right about that.

You can learn more about the Day of Silence at http://www.dayofsilence.org/

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Steadfast is up!

Time to visit Authonomy.com and show your support for my second book, Steadfast.  This one is about what happens when one of the Monahan boys returns from college suffering with AIDS.

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I joined Authonomy in August of 2011 because I wanted to get some feedback on my writing from other authors.  I understood that the top 5 books received reviews from a Harper Collins editor each month, but never really thought I’d reach those lofty heights.  I’m not being modest here.  I just didn’t think that a book about two Christian kids who don’t have sex would appeal to my fellow writers.

So I set to work reviewing the work of other writers and analyzing the feedback other writers left for me.  Every so often, I’d post an updated version of my book.  And you know what happened?  It kept rising in the ranks.  Oh, other books came along and blew right by me, well-written books by talented authors who had the sense to write in a genre that sells well.  Sometimes it discouraged me, this ability others seemed to have to skate right to the top, but whenever it did I’d remind myself that I just wanted to improve my book.

Well, at the start of January my book hit #5.  A few days later, it skipped up to #4.  Now that we are twenty days into January, I know I’ll be giving a copy of my manuscript to an editor in the next eleven days.

My plan is to incorporate their feedback (which varies tremendously in quality and usefulness–I sincerely hope I get one of the useful ones!), make a decision about hiring an editor (do I or don’t I?), and then publish Forgiveness Fits on Kindle.  I’ll also post my next book, Steadfast, on Authonomy to see how it does.  And there’s a third book…lather, rinse, repeat.

So the big question now is…will my book sell?  Will it sell enough to pay the cable bill or the mortgage, or just enough to cover the tiny amount of dark chocolate I consume each month?  I don’t know.  But if it sells at all, I think I’ll be pretty happy.

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It’s been my turn to be reviewed on the Authonomy Young Adult Forum, so a number of other YA writers have been sending detailed and thoughtful crits my way.  They’ve been enormously helpful in helping me correct some ongoing issues–people just weren’t all that fond of me Caroline.  These recent reviewers have pointed out specific passages that made her seem whiny or judgmental, and I’ve taken what I hope are the right actions to fix it.

I’ve uploaded fresh versions of Chapters 1–22.

This would be the perfect time to have a look.  I’m ranked at #26 and could use your support.

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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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