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Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s Volume 2

Available from Dream Chasers Media Group

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Sample Chapter

Life Goes On

They stood there in the middle of St. Arbuck’s—a woman of sixty-plus years and a young boy of ten or eleven—holding their drinks and scanning the area for available seating.

Sad eyes in broken-down faces…a reflection of stone cold heartache if I’ve ever seen it.

Their movements were tentative and uncertain as if unfamiliar with the St. Arbuck’s experience.

As it turned out the only available seating was right by me and it seemed that the effort required to slide into their respective chairs was almost too much.

“Talk to me,” pleaded the woman, who I had pegged as the boy’s grandmother.

With his gaze riveted on the cup of hot chocolate in front of him he replied without looking up, “About what?”

The grandmother sighed deeply. “We have to talk about this sometime, Bucko, and I’d rather do it now and just get it over with.”

The boy started shaking his head slowly from side to side as a single tear escaped from the corner of one eye, running down his smooth cheek leaving a glistening trail in its wake.

“How could she do it?” he asked softly. “How could she just leave me?”

The grandmother started to answer, but seemed to think better of it and just shook her head in unison with his.

“I thought mothers are supposed to love their kids,” he continued. “Why didn’t she love me?”

“She loved you.”

His head snapped up, hurt and anger struggling for dominance on his face.

The anger won.

“No she didn’t! No…she…didn’t! The only thing she ever loved was herself and those stupid drugs! It was always the stupid drugs.”

Grandma turned to stare out the window as if searching for an appropriate response. “I wish I had an answer for you, but I don’t. I mean I’m sure I could make something up that might make you feel better, but I promised you I’d always tell you the truth, even if it hurt you to hear it. Remember that?”

The boy nodded his head slowly, almost reluctantly in answer.

He was a compellingly pathetic figure, this brave child, fighting to hold a flood of tears in check…and losing.

He whispered, “I wish my dad was still alive.”

“I wish he was too, honey, but for now anyway, it’s just you and me.”

Wiping his eyes with the backs of his sleeves the boy said, “I used to think it was cool to be the only kid…but now…”

“We’ll be all right, kiddo. Grandma won’t ever leave you,” she promised, giving his hand a tight squeeze. “Oh, we may have some tough times, but you and me, we’ll get through it.”

“I love you, grandma.” His voice was barely audible above the in-store sound system.

“Oh, I love you too, sweetie,” she replied, choking back tears of her own.

They both sat in silence for a few moments, drinking their beverages and gazing absently around the room.

Suddenly the grandma said, “Where did you get that shirt?”

“What shirt?”

“That one that’s hanging off those skinny shoulders of yours.”

He pulled a bit of the shirt away from his body, “This one?”

“Yes, that one.”

He smiled sheepishly. “Well, I kind of got it out of the dirty clothes.”

The grandmother rolled her eyes dramatically. “How many times do I have to tell you…you can’t take things out of the dirty clothes.”

“But, I love this shirt.”

They argued about the shirt for a while longer; about what video games were appropriate and the ones that were not; discussed what to have for dinner as well as having a friend stay overnight.

And suddenly…right there before my eyes, life went on as it almost always does.


 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in writing

 

The Beach House

The inescapable fact of the mater is that the deeper I get into my current conundrum the more I love the taste of alcohol. Clear liquor, brown liquor, it don’t matter much to me. I love it all.

Time was when I believed it loved me back.

I know better now.

Oh, yes, I most surely do know better now.

Although I must admit that out here alone in the beach house I formerly shared with my beauty—my one and only true love—there are nights when it makes a quite suitable companion.

The crane was back this morning…out there on the edge of the estuary behind the spit of land some fool chose as the location for his dream house.

That fool would be me.

A gust of salt-scented air momentarily lifts the hair out of my eyes only to redeposit it in an even more comical arrangement. I haven’t washed my hair for days. Haven’t washed much of anything for that matter. I just can’t seem to find the will to do much else but sit, stare and drink.

A man chases a small boy along the water line, pretending, much to the boy’s delight, that he can’t catch him. Cute, but it’d be better if the kid learns early on that sooner or later you will get caught.

Life will catch up to you.

Your past will catch up to you.

It’s just a matter of time.

You sweep things under the rug, thinking that it’s all over and done with, but eventually someone comes along, lifts up a corner and peers underneath.

And that’s a bad day.

A really, really bad day.

I suppose if I’d had the sense God gave a squirrel I would’ve told her about it. Now? Well, she found out on her own, and now she’s gone. Gone as gone can be.

Raising the glass toward my lips I sense that it is curiously light. A cursory examination reveals a tragic lack of liquid contents, which I seek to remedy forthwith.

The bottle falls from my grasp, splattering its potent contents all over the weathered deck.

There on the sand walking slowly, yet purposefully toward me…I’d know that shape anywhere.

I am suddenly and alarmingly aware of my wretched appearance, that and the fact that her return doesn’t necessarily portend good news. She could just as easily kick me out as take me back.

I am counting on the latter.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Flash Fiction, writing

 

Window On The World

I am frequently asked about the process of coming up with the stories filling the pages of my Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s book series.

And since I have not the barest scrap of creativity at present I figured this might be a good time to address the question.

I will attempt with all due diligence to be brief, but be it known to one and all that I am a bloviator of the highest order, so I cannot promise brevity.

Nor can I promise brilliance.

But I will endeavor to be inspirational.

It all started quite by chance on one balmy San Diego afternoon when I found myself ensconced in the corner of a beachside St. Arbuck’s slaving unproductively over a chapter in my first novel (A novel that has since been consigned to the bone yard, if anyone is interested…vile beast that it was).

A young couple sat down at the table next to me and began to talk about plans for their upcoming wedding.

And I sort of listened in.

It wasn’t eavesdropping in the classic sense for such was the proximity I couldn’t have ignored their conversation if I had wanted to.

The more I listened the more engrossed I became.

Her parents hated the groom and vowed not only to withhold financial support but to boycott the wedding as well.

His parents were quite impoverished and couldn’t help, but loved them both fiercely.

They tossed around several options for dealing with the problem and finally settled on getting married on Mission Beach and having the reception at McDonald’s with a dance to follow in the park vis-à-vis a boombox.

It seemed that the groom’s brother was a minister so even that expense was covered.

Their positive optimism was absolutely compelling.

There were no long faces or carping about what should’ve or could’ve been.

They just grabbed the problem and pummeled it into submission.

So impressive was this display that after they left I opened a new Word Document and jotted down a few impressions and saved it in a file I labeled “Story Ideas.”

And there it sat in a form of literary solitary confinement until one day I opened it up and got the idea for Snapshots at St. Arbuck’s.

So what’s the point?

Just this…

Wherever you are, you have a window on the world: in your car; at the office; in school; at the mall; (stay away from St. Arbuck’s…it’s mine!!!); even at home with your kids.

There are stories all around you in a never-ending human drama.

All kinds of stories, IF you’ll just open your eyes and think like a writer.

In fact, think about this…

Take your laptop to a public place and linger until you spot a compelling individual (or group, couple, whatever).

Then begin to describe what you see in your best writer’s voice.

Think creatively and dramatically.

Yeah, I said “dramatically.”

I mean are we writers or not???

My bet is that you will be amazed at what you can produce.

It’s no big secret, folks.

My St. Arbuck’s is no more interesting than yours.

The secret is that YOU have to be interested in the people.

But I’ll warn you…once you start, there’s no turning back.

You’ll be hooked.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2010 in writing

 

Things A Mother Never Wants To Hear At 7:30 AM

Our intentions were pure.

No, really.

They were.

We left the house at 7:00 AM having mutually agreed that a trip to our gym would be appropriate.

At least I think it’s still “our” gym, as we haven’t been there for, oh, three months or so.

Why?

I don’t know.

Anyway…

Roughly halfway there, I realized that we had neglected to bring workout towels.

Not sure how your gym operates, but at ours towel-less members are denied access.

More’s the pity.

We didn’t really feel like driving the four miles back to our house to retrieve the missing towels, so my wife suggested we go to St. Arbuck’s instead.

A capitol idea if ever there was one.

So, fighting our way through more people than I’d previously seen at St. Arbuck’s, we somehow managed to find an empty table, sat down and had our attention immediately captured by a young father and his two year-old son.

That the fellow was a Brit was unmistakable by his thick Liverpool accent.

That the little boy was a handful was unmistakable by the father’s constant wrangling.

“Oy, matey…put the mug down…down…no, no, no…don’t take the man’s newspa…stop…put the trash back in the…oy…come sit over here by you’re da…come back inside…inside…don’t hold the door open…put that back…put it…put the creamer back on the…”

The guy was fighting a losing battle with the energetic little tyke, who wore a gleeful expression the entire time as one adventure turned into the next, and into the next…

Something had to happen.

And quickly.

The father did what any man would have done in that situation.

The child was bribed!

Blatantly, unquestionably bribed.

“If I gave you some cake, would you sit down?”

The child’s eyes lit up instantaneously as he nodded an energetic affirmation.

Like a magician revealing a quite baffling trick, the dad produced a paper bag seemingly out of thin air.

Then, with dramatic flair he slowly opened said bag and withdrew a tantalizingly moist slice of frosted lemon cake.

The child could barely contain himself so great was his joy.

Planting his tiny bottom on a chair next to his dad, he consumed the cake piece by delectable piece.

“You like that, Sport?”

The father’s cell phone vibrated and he looked at the caller ID.

“It’s your ma.”

He said hello, made a bit of small talk and then asked if she wanted to speak to the boy.

She apparently did for he handed the Blackberry to the child who immediately announced, “Mommy, I’m eating cake!”

While I couldn’t hear her end of the conversation, my imagination is pretty good.

MOM: Cake? Really? At 7:30 AM?

CHILD: Yeah. Daddy gave it to me.

I suddenly felt like we were in the middle of an old Bill Cosby routine!

MOM: He did, huh? Well, honey, can you give the phone back to your dad? He and I have something important to discuss.

The father had a rather smug and satisfied smile on his face as the boy handed the phone to him…a smile that ran away faster than a politician from a campaign promise!

His pathetic attempts at justification failed epically as witnessed by his wife’s verbal flogging, snatches of which could be heard from where we sat six feet away.

For his part, he took it like a man–meaning that he blamed everyone but George W. Bush for the offense.

After suggesting he bring home a Grande Cinnamon Dolce as a peace offering, she seemed to calm down.

I assume that was the case, as we could no longer hear her.

He said something on the order of, “Alright, then, luv. See you in a bit.”

Returning the phone to his pocket, he smiled conspiratorially at the boy.

“Want some more?”

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2010 in writing

 

Breathing Life Into Fictional Characters

 

Characters will never “breathe” if the writer persists in viewing them as “fictional.” Yes, yes, I know, in truth they actually are, but hear me out. For something to “breathe,” it must have life, and that which is fictional is, by nature, lifeless. It then follows that if one begins from the point of view that the character they are creating is fictional, by the time it reaches the page it will have no more life than a stone.

Fictional characters, being as they are devoid of life, have no issues. Pristine, unspoiled, and unblemished they traipse through the netherworld of creative writing exuding fantastic, idealized qualities rarely, if ever, seen in the real world. By contrast, the character in the following paragraph has some issues. She is flawed, perhaps even fatally so. And yet she is compelling because the fabric of her world, like that of our own, is a bit wrinkled:

“He was the only man she had ever loved. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, as honesty compelled her to admit that she had loved many men. Perhaps it was better to say that of all the men she’d loved in her relatively short life he was, well, one of them. Hedging. She did that a lot. She’d set her sights on a man, declare him to be just the’ one’ for her only to have her vision drawn to someone else as soon as the boredom set in, something that seemed to be happening with alarming frequency these days.”

Too often we tidy up our characters, and the landscape on which they trod, leaving our readers to deal with an unreality that would challenge even the most dedicated escapist. The truth of the matter is in fiction, as in real life, our characters do not always make the right choices, and quite often those wrong choices produce tragic consequences. If you want to breathe life into your characters, start by letting them suffer the consequences of those choices for it is the suffering that builds strength of character.

While we are all begotten in pleasure, we are born in pain and pain tends to follow us down the days of our lives. It is the one defining and unifying element of the human experience. We would do well to remember that, as we craft and shape our characters.

Most successful writers I have met all confess to having intimate relationships with their characters. Like old friends, they know them well. Some authors have been known to weep upon completing a manuscript knowing that with the completion they have to say goodbye to people who have become close friends. It is this very intimacy, perhaps more than any other single factor that will produce characters whose life force literally leaps from the page.

Next, I want to address the question of dialogue. Wooden dialogue will squeeze the life out of even the most robust character. Here’s something that has served me well over the years: sit in a public place, say a Starbucks for example, and just listen to conversations for an hour. It is educational on several levels not the least of which is the fact that most people have horrible grammar, even those who appear to be well educated. Unless you are writing for a literary publishing house, unchain your character’s tongues! Let them speak in sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and non-sequiturs. Rejoice in interruptions and for heaven’s sake, allow them to truncate to their heart’s delight.

One final thought. First century middle-easterners who had to travel at night would often strap small clay lamps to their sandals. The light, while being quite feeble, nevertheless provided sufficient illumination to see just enough of the road ahead to take the next step. In this manner, they could travel five feet or fifty, one mile or ten. The point being that when you start you do not have to know every step your character is going to take on their journey through your story.

You just have to know the next step.

Every character has the capacity to vibrate with life if you as the writer will allow it.

Breathe that life into them.

They deserve it…and so do your readers.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2010 in writing

 

Red

“You sure you have everything you need?”

It was a question I had asked repeatedly since early that morning when my wife started packing for the long-awaited road trip with two of her high school friends.

And of course her frustrated, yet bemused reply was, “Why don’t you get busy on that list of chores I wrote out for you and quit worrying about me?”

“But someone has to worry about you.” I paused, letting the statement hang before taunting, “Let’s see now, was it three or four return trips we made after starting out on our last vacation?”

Standing up with hands on hips, blowing a wisp of blonde hair from her eyes she pouted, sticking her lower lip out dramatically, “You promised you wouldn’t bring that up again.”

She knew I couldn’t resist that look, so we bantered back and forth for another fifteen minutes until her friends roared up in a 5.0-liter Mustang Convertible, honking the horn and screeching like good-natured banshees out for a good haunting.

“Have a good time,” I hollered as they burned rubber backing out of our driveway and drove off singing, “Girls Just Wanna’ Have Fun” at the top of their lungs.

Back inside the house, being the obedient and helpful husband that I am, I consulted her list and checked off the first two items simply because I didn’t want to do them. One involved crawling around on my knees under a counter with the possibility of getting soaking wet, and the other had to do with broken glass.

But the third item, ah yes, the third item had about it the sense of adventure.

3. Clean the garage.

I hadn’t cleaned the garage since boxing up all of Madison’s clothes and stacking them up in a far, dark corner.

Had it really been two years since her death? It wasn’t something either of us brought up for discussion. The truth is, the way we act you’d never know that we were once the proud parents of a beautiful little six year-old girl with golden tresses that fell in natural ringlets and framed a face full of freckles. And when she smiled, it made her blue eyes dance.

The doctors told us it was the most aggressive case of childhood leukemia they’d ever seen.

It didn’t make us feel better.

Not one bit.

I decided on the spot that I’d clean the garage, but I wouldn’t clean that corner.

Wouldn’t go anywhere near it, actually.

I set about accomplishing my task as quickly as possible, for suddenly, the adventure had flown, caught in the downdraft of my falling heart.

Living in a seventy-five year-old house has some disadvantages, among them a garage that was originally a carriage house. It was big and drafty, more like a barn than anything else.

Organization was the main difficulty, something at which I excelled so I started moving things around and lining them up according to shape and size. I realized early on that there was no way I could accomplish my task without rearranging Madison’s boxes—they were just in the way, it was as simple as that.

I steeled myself against the emotional onslaught I knew I would have to face and started moving them aside as carefully as if they contained something fine and precious, which they did…it was the memory of my baby girl.

Reaching down for the very last box, I spotted a smallish object shoved way back in a dark corner, wedged in behind an old piece of plywood someone had carelessly nailed to the timeworn studs that had now come loose.

I eyeballed it for a few moments, pondering whether it was worth getting down on my hands and knees to retrieve it. I had to do it, otherwise I would always wonder what was in it.

I reached for the object, which turned out to be a shoebox—a very heavy shoebox—and gave it a sharp tug. It came free with an unexpected suddenness sending me head-over-heels in a clumsy backward somersault to lie in an ungainly heap like some sad marionette whose strings had been unceremoniously cut.

Once I came to my senses I noticed that the box was bound up with twine, so I walked over to the workbench and cut the twine with an ancient pair of scissors that hadn’t been sharpened since the invention of toothpaste. So when I say, “cut” what I really mean is I mashed the twine in two.

When I removed the lid, what I saw took my breath away.

Cash.

Lots, and lots of cash—all denominations, some folded, some wadded, a few stacks of hundreds held together by rubber bands. I dumped it out into a big pile on the newly cleaned surface of the workbench and began counting.

Twenty minutes later I totaled up the columns I had hastily scribbled on a brown paper bag and actually felt my mouth drop open when I arrived at the sum.

Forty thousand dollars!

Exactly!

I looked at the end of the box. The faded label read, “Buster Brown official Boy Scout Shoes.” I remembered my dad telling me about a Buster Brown TV show he used to watch back in the fifties, which made me wonder just how long that box had been up there.

I picked up a few of the bills and squinted to see the date of issue and found that not only did they range from the thirties to the late fifties, but that most of the currency was in silver certificates. Dad had tried his hand at collecting rare coins and bills for a while, so I knew that silver certificates were worth more than Federal Reserve Notes, because the government had to match the certificate to the same amount of value in silver.

Most of those bills looked practically new, as if they’d never been used. But where did the money come from? Who did it belong to? Me? I mean the age alone would seem to indicate that whoever had once been its rightful owner, was now long gone and forgotten.

I picked up the lid to see if there was anything I had missed and spotted a nearly illegible scrawl snaking its way along the inside rim.

It read, “This is my life savings. If you’ve found it, most likely it’s cuz I’m dead and buried and my big plans have come to nothing, just like my life. Think of it as an inheritance.”

And the message was signed, “Red.”

I stood there looking from the lid to the money, back and forth, back and forth trying to decide what it all meant when suddenly, I could swear I heard a scratchy voice say, “It means yer one lucky sumbitch, that’s what it means!”

I smiled, I mean I was spooked, but I couldn’t help but smile. I said in reply, “Thank-you, Red. Your life did NOT come to nothing. You’ll be remembered, I promise you that.”

Because of the silver certificates, and the fact that many were rare and uncirculated, when all was said and done, that forty thousand wound up being worth a little over one hundred thousand.

That is how Children’s Hospital got a great start on their new children’s oncology wing.

It’s also how that shiny new Porsche Boxter came to be out there in my garage.

Red, of course.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2010 in writing

 

First Time For Everything

Sleepy, silky streams of twilight caressed my face as the first day of summer drew to a close. Given my proximity to Jeremy Freeman—sitting as we were side-by-side on the dock behind my parent’s lakefront cabin—I found it entirely fitting that this was the longest day of the year.

Truthfully, I didn’t want it to end. Ever!

Oh, it wasn’t just that I had a raging crush on the boy, although I most certainly did, it was more about the day and the magical, mystical changing of the season. I mean, really, it was just another day on the calendar; just another twenty-four hour period marked by the arc of the sun burning its way across a sky almost too blue to behold.

“What are you thinking, Randi?” Jeremy said, his voice cracking comically on my name, a common annoyance for many fourteen year-old boys, even ones as gorgeous as he.

I breathed in a lungful of warm, mossy-scented air and said, “Oh, just this and that.”

“I was wondering whether you took what stupid old Cathy Edwards said seriously.”

“What, that I was a ‘brazen hussy for stealing you away from her?’” I said, mimicking her whiny, nasal-toned voice.

He laughed, his brown eyes sparkling mischievously. “That’s really good.”

“What?”

“You know,” he said, “the way you do that—imitate people.”

I stared at him for a few seconds. He was small for his age, not even as tall as me, but he had the best face. I don’t really know how else to describe it except to say that it was completely and totally open, as if he wanted you to know what he was thinking.

I said, “Anyone can do it if you’re willing to take the time.”

“Naw,” he said, drawing the word out. “It’s more than that, Randi. You have a real, I don’t know, gift, I guess. I mean, I try to do it and can’t even come close.”

We sat in comfortable silence for a while, dangling our feet in the bottle green water and tossing pebbles at the tadpoles flitting around our toes.

Finally he said, “Do me a favor and remind me again why I should spend all summer hanging out with you.”

“Because I’m cute, funny and smarter than any other girl you know?” I queried.

“Nope,” he said with a sharp shake of his head. “But all of that is true about you.”

“Umm, because I dress well and have fine manners?”

He smiled and shook his head, “No.”

I snapped my fingers and said, “I know…because we’re the only people our age on this side of the lake.”

“That’s it,” he said with a laugh.

I heard my mother’s voice calling and said, “Race you to the porch.”

“You know you can’t win.”

We stood; I pushed him into the water and took off hollering, “First time for everything,” over my shoulder.

I had a feeling I would remember this summer for a long, long time.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2010 in writing

 
 
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