Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Father's Child, Chapter 1 #samplesunday

In the spirit of SampleSunday (i.e., sharing free writing samples), I'm posting the first chapter of my acclaimed suspense/thriller, The Father's Child. Grab your favorite beverage, relax, and enjoy...

Gazing out the second story window, I searched through the maze of treetops and roofs. Within seconds I had located the hundred-foot spire topping the Physical Sciences building at Bradbury College. Anxiety, tension, stress - life in general - all produce the same reaction: my eyes involuntarily drift up, seeking the tallest point in the vicinity. Something to do with escaping the craziness of this world…a place where the air flows…where I can breathe.

Tonight we would host our mid-term party, and the crisp, Midwestern, October evening fit hand-in-glove with our plans. A light snow had begun to fall, providing the perfect covering for our activities. This was our sixth bash, well seventh, if you count the last minute get-together our freshman year that turned out to have more uninvited guests than invited ones. At this point in our “career” we – Paul Eastman, George Karwell, and I, John Truman, collectively and colloquially known as the Beatles - had quite the rep for putting together the ultimate celebrations. Anticipated by the entire campus, they highlighted many a college experience. Every year the population grew by adding new, carefully selected, individuals or couples to our list. Even the majority of those who had graduated made special arrangements to return, a family reunion of sorts.

In addition to managing the technology, my primary duty was to name the event. I liked to think that my Latin monikers helped create a sense of mystery and other-worldliness. In reality, I think Paul and George gave me the duty because it’s not that easy to engage a hyper-sensitive introvert in something that involves hundreds of people shedding their inhibitions. It may have been an honorary thing, but as with everything else in life I took it quite seriously.

I smiled as I remembered that even now my inspired title - Carpe Noctis - adorned the forty by seven foot black banner hanging on the outside of our Victorian dwelling. The residence belonged to my uncle. Living in London most of the time, he offered this place to me for my college home. Elite college and elite home made quite the attractive package.

We finished with the final preparations about an hour ago. Looking at the street below I noticed that our “friends” had begun to arrive. I decided to sneak over to the top of the stairs where I could catch a glimpse, without being detected, of our first guests.

Stationed near the front door, Paul stood ready to greet everyone with his trademark isn’t-life-a-blast smile and the offer of a drink. Never let it be said that our hallowed halls were ever graced by a smoother operator than Paul. Even though I had seen him work his magic countless times before, each new performance reminded me of what an amazing artist he was. Seemingly without effort he could make you feel like you were his one and only friend, especially if you happened to be of the female persuasion.

“Hi, Susan. You look wonderful tonight, as usual.” He followed his greeting with a small kiss on her fair-skinned cheek.

“Thank you, Paul,” she replied. Pushing the strawberry-blonde tresses away from her eyes, she moved up on her toes and returned the kiss.

Don’t get me started on Susan - my first friend, my first crush, and the best person I’ve ever known. She may not be perfect, but after years of being around her, I have never found a flaw, at least nothing that would compare with my many shortcomings. My photogenic memory probably paints a more perfect picture of Susan than reality records - intelligent, beautiful, spiritual, down-to-earth, compassionate, funny, and sexy in a way that isn’t contrived or phony. However, I do believe the word “privilege” best describes my time with her. She made everything better, she even made me better.

“How are you?” she asked.

”Isn’t it obvious?” he retorted with a smirk, nodding his curly blonde head.

She studied him as if analyzing an interesting and yet disturbing painting, and then responded, “Yes, I guess it is.”

Other guests drove up and I could tell Paul appreciated the redirection. Susan made her way into the living room. She wore jeans, a yellow tank top, and black flip flops - she looked good. Paul turned around with her coat in hand and headed towards the closet. I overheard him complaining to himself, “Man, that chick is so damn weird. Why the hell does John have to invite her? I think she’s an alien. She gives me the creeps.”

Jerk. Paul can be a real asshole sometimes, but I have learned over the years to take his unedited tirades with a grain of salt. At least he knows how to express himself. How freeing and simple it must be to say what you feel. I feel things strongly; I process them thoroughly. If I have time to organize my thoughts I can communicate them pretty well, but to just come out and say what’s on my mind, much less my heart? My quiver must have been absent the day they passed out that arrow.

Paul recovered his suave and charming demeanor just in time to greet the next arrivals. The stream of partiers now backed up fifteen deep on the sidewalk and overflowed onto Wellington Avenue. Laughter and energy filled the night air as most of the conversations centered on what happened to whom and how it was no surprise considering…

Still upstairs, I strolled across the wooden hallway and around the corner. On this end, the stairway provided an even better voyeuristic experience. I situated myself right above the landing that connected the upper stairs to the lower stairs. From there I could see George, his long black hair rubber-banded into a pony tail as usual. He stood in the center of the game room already surrounded by a handful of people, mostly men.

Among several valuable Indian antiques, the d├ęcor included a solid mahogany pool table, three high-end gaming computers, an ornate, antique sofa, shelves filled with books including hundreds with aging bindings, a wall full of TVs all coordinated together to provide one huge picture, and a stocked refrigerator in the guise of an old Coke machine. It was my favorite room.

The group seated on the sofa and overflowing onto the floor hung on each word, entranced by his dark grey eyes. The adventurer began to describe his latest escapade, “There I was in Smith’s Pub, downstairs by the back door in the corner, finishing off a cold pint of Guinness. I was waiting to see if the meet would happen, you know the one between the two guys who had numbers instead of names? And that sexy brunette waitress with the strange piercings and the nice…uh…personality…what’s her name? Right, Genevieve…she comes up and asks me if I want another pint. I answer ‘yes’ even before I have any idea what she asked me. I mean, how could I say anything but ‘yes’ to her?”

George smiled and gazed up toward the ceiling, lost in a delicious daydream. He loved to tell the story. Moments like these overshadowed any risks associated with his spy games - this was the payoff. I think that all of us envied George’s abandonment of safety and his adventurous spirit. I probably experienced more nervousness as he retold his escapades than he did in living through the actual experience. On many occasions I cautioned him and tried to rein him in, and he always responded with a confident “Trust me, Johnny.”

The crowd quickly grew to a dozen or so listeners as he continued. “Somebody should write a song about Genevieve.” Several of the men in the group smiled and nodded emphatically in agreement; one of the guys received a swift slap to the back of the head and a reprimanding look from the brunette sitting next to him.
George smirked. “Anyway, she shows up with my second pint and I’m thinking ‘hey, I don’t remember ordering that.’ And then I see this black guy that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before. It’s dark in there and he’s wearing a golf cap that shades most of his face.

“So I’m watching him and it seems likes he’s scoping the place out, maybe looking for someone. I remember saying to myself, ‘man, I bet this is one of the guys’ and I’m starting to get excited. Then I see Genevieve walking toward the bar, that perfect little derriere of hers swaying from side to side, and I’m getting even more excited. My thoughts are racing back and forth between, ‘if she comes back to my table it must be a sign that she wants me…needs me’ and ‘that other guy that just came in must be the other half of the meet’ and ‘man, she must be Aphrodite in the flesh’ and ‘life doesn’t get any better than this’ and …”

I retreated to the safety of my room. I would join the party later, but for now I used my latest software project as an excuse to delay the inevitable. Taking a break from my work, I quickly tossed down two Jack-and-Cokes, more Jack than coke, trying to muster up the courage to make my entrance.

The silver plasma TV hanging on the wall caught my attention when the headline running at the bottom of the screen stated, “As we reported last week, the Federal Reserve Board chairman was found dead from a heart attack in his D.C. condominium. The President, with the consent of Congress, has moved swiftly to appoint and announce his relatively unknown replacement, Jack Timothy. The President pointed out that Mr. Timothy’s experience, Federal Reserve Board of Governors for the last twelve years, along with his impressive Oxford background were primary factors in coming to his decision. Mr. Timothy’s comments were brief, stating simply, ‘Our world is on the brink of an economic new dawn. I look forward to my role as chairman. I want to say thank you to the President for the confidence he has placed in me.’”

If I timed it just right, a few drinks interspersed with a toke here and there could drown out my inhibitions as well as stave off the nagging daymares that forced their way into my mind. Unfortunately, in all the nervous anticipation I had missed that tiny window of opportunity. Sitting there with drink number two in hand, I could sense my thoughts scrambling, deteriorating. Oh shit. I hate this. My mental grip slipped as I once again lost the struggle to resist the latest onset of the recurring vision:

Four men, one whom I thought I should know but couldn’t remember, gathered around a small table in a dark corner of a small room. Their voices soft, almost hypnotic, spoke Latin with English or possibly Scottish accents. They discussed economic systems, political structures, social causes, theological constructs, and people groups as if they were simply pawns on a chess board. At some point in the complex, and occasionally inaudible, conversation the words Necessitas non habet legem would rise above the others, triggering a morbid and sickening reaction in me – I wanted to throw up. I would try to look away, but the more I resisted, the stronger those words held me in their grasp and the further into the room they drew me. Finally, they would look up at me, vacant, zombie-like expressions in their eyes, point to the empty chair, and say, ‘Welcome.’”

The vision ended and, as usual, my transition to unpleasant physical manifestations began. First the cold sweats followed almost immediately by piercing pain that seemed to dance around in my skull – base of my cranium, behind my eyes, top of my head, nasal cavity, inside my ears, and then start all over again. Like every other time, the experience culminated in a single drop of dark red blood falling from my nose.

Man, this really sucks.

Ten minutes later the physical manifestations completely subsided. These episodes started when I reached puberty. After an embarrassing eighth grade incident involving my presentation on the roots of Latin and the drop of blood spilling onto the white, tile floor, I learned to detect the early symptoms and avoid further public humiliation.

A few minutes more and the joint began to have the promised effect. A nice relaxing buzz filled my head as I made my way back across the hallway and positioned myself, once again, at the top of the stairs overlooking the front room. The party proceeded according to script. Everything necessary for the perfect evening planned and in place - cool people, cool band, cool drugs, all gathered together in a cool place. I was even beginning to feel cool…sort of.

I can do this. I inhaled a slow, deep breath, and exhaled with force and a new determination to join the fun. I had won the battle and I willed my right foot, attired in blue Converse, to take the first step – shaky, but so far, so good. Now, the left one, the right one, the left one…oh shit, I need to sit down.

(Thanks for reading. If you would like more, you can visit me at my website, twitter, or facebook. Also, The Father's Child is available for a special price of only 99c on the following platforms: Kindle-US, Kindle-UK, Nook, & Smashwords - Sony, Palm, Stanza, etc.).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

It's All About Me...hmmm

Agent after agent, publisher after publisher, writer after writer, they all tell the same story. The glory days of hiding out on a small island in the Caribbean, sipping on rum, cranking out the occasional novel, and picking up the generous quarterly royalty check have officially come to an end, never to return. In this new world a writer, regardless of publishing route (traditional or indie), must promote, promote, and then promote some more.

Now, my parents raised me to help others - love your neighbor and all that. They taught me that it’s more important to give than to receive. They lived a life of never drawing attention to their many self-sacrificial deeds. When I first headed down the self-promo path it felt awkward to say the least…maybe even a little wrong. Figuring out creative ways to tell people they should buy my book seemed to prostitute creativity itself.

To put it another way, after a couple hours of promoting, I feel like a good long bath is in order. Or like I’ve been impersonating a three-year-old - jumping up and down yelling “look at me” trying to get his parent’s attention. I know some of you are thinking this guy’s an American from California, that’s ALL they know how to do! Point taken. However, I’ll just come out and say it: I’m not a huge fan of self-promoting, at least not the impersonal attention-grabbing headlines version of it.

Just to be clear, it’s not that I don’t believe my writing worth a read, because I DO, very much so. I believe my suspense/thriller to be entertaining, thought-provoking, emotionally powerful, and on a very basic level beneficial for anyone who takes the journey. And others have confirmed that. The main character, John Truman, struggles with pretty much everything, but in the deep places of his heart he yearns to know one thing: who is he and why is he. I truly think you should read it. Not because it’s the greatest novel of all time (that’s purely subjective anyway) but because underneath the suspenseful and thrilling ride it gives the reader permission to look inside and ask questions about fundamental issues in our lives…questions that need to be asked, explored, and answered.

Over the past few months I have managed to justify my self-promoting behavior by making the argument that reading my novel is an intrinsically worthwhile exercise (which is true). I also tell myself that I’m not in this just to make a buck (and that’s also quite true), so I can strike mercenary in its most technical definition from my list of motivating factors. Furthermore, I believe in each and every person following their dreams and doing what they most love, including me. So writing, for me, makes the world a better place.

On a related note, I do, very much, want to help others and see them succeed. I’m a community guy regardless of whether the community is down the street or down the e-street (shout out to my UK writer mates). I strongly believe that when one downtrodden, marginalized, oppressed soul finds freedom and love (i.e., succeeds) that we ALL gain, each and every one of us. So I’m quite comfortable pulling out my machete to assist other writers in carving out a path through their getting-noticed jungle. Besides, when I do become uber-successful I want to live in that nice place with other battle worn soldiers, sharing one another’s joy and stories…and reaching out to help the next one take that step up the ladder.

So I’m finding, or trying to find, the balance in this self-promotion-based paradigm. I believe in my calling, if you will, to write...and that what I’ve created will more than return the time-money anyone invests in it. I believe in helping others and I believe their creations to be worth the investment as well. That’s where the light goes on and everything comes together for me.

This Sunday, Superbowl Sunday, a group of fine writers from across the globe will be working hand-in-hand to promote one another. We will be tweeting/retweeting #samplesunday, highlighting fine (and free) writing samples from talented writers. And I will smile as I watch the It’s-all-about-me paradigm exit stage left to make room at center stage for the more powerful, worthwhile, and fulfilling It’s-all-about-us.

Happy Sunday! Cheers.