Chapter 34: Avalon, S.C.

The forecast for Monday was warmer—high in the low 60s, low in the mid 40s—and dry.  Seemed like a perfect night to check “spend the night on the island” off my list.  I already had a sleeping bag and air mattress; George’s garage furnished a military surplus-type folding shovel, hatchet, and a ground tarp.  A trip to Hanson’s added a hefty lantern/flashlight combination with an extra battery, a multi-purpose field mess kit (i.e., you could cook in it and eat out of it), groceries, and ice.  I’m not really the camping sort, but a couple of years in the Boy Scouts as a kid had given me enough basic know-how to survive in the field.

I knew Sabrina would be disappointed if I didn’t show up Tuesday morning after our hour together on Sunday, so I wrote her a note and dropped it by Peckerwoods’ on the way to the boat ramp.

Dear Sabrina,

If I’m not there for breakfast this morning, I’ve successfully spent the night on the island.  Wish you were here.

Fondly, Rick

I had worked it over on my PC for fifteen minutes before writing it out by hand.  Seemed excessive for a two-line note, but it needed to sound warm enough without being too warm.  The toughest part was coming up with the closing.  “Luv ya” sounded too much like a teenager, while “Sincerely” wasn’t.  In the end I settled on “Fondly” and hoped for the best.

I delayed going until after lunch, so it was mid-afternoon by the time I’d hauled my gear up the hill and set up camp, if you can call blowing up an air mattress and unrolling your sleeping bag on a tarp setting up camp.  Spent another hour gathering firewood.  There was plenty of loose stuff around, giving even more credence to the theory that nobody had built a real fire here recently.

Then I did what I’d been eager to try since even before Sabrina mentioned it: I walked the wheel while holding the golden-haired woman in my mind.   Or at least I tried to, except Sabrina keep stealing into my thoughts.

Sabrina?  Hey, wait a minute.  Sabrina is an unavailable woman friend who you enjoy flirting with.  Chai is who I would have expected to disrupt my reverie.  After all, I was walking over the same ground where she and I had spent Saturday engaged in some—what’s the spiritual word for heavy-duty fucking?—merging our bodily essence and our soul energies into a spiritual and passion-filled whole (that would be a great pun if spoken instead of written).  But no, it was Sabrina who kept intruding.  Not being pushy or anything, just there.

OK, Sabrina.  Have it your way.  I went back to the center, cleared my thoughts as best a rookie meditator could, and started over, holding the feisty waitress in my mind.  She came so easily and willingly, after I’d finished we did it again.

Here’s what my hour of clarity revealed: I was a lot more emotionally involved with Sabrina than with Chai Fox.  I liked Chai a lot, don’t get me wrong.  We were good together, in bed (in the broader sense of the word) and out, enjoyed each other’s company, didn’t seem to have any places where we caused irritation.  So what the hell did that all mean?

But out there on my island, I didn’t fret over it or even try to figure it out.  Avalon, S.C. was a place to get out of your head and let your subconscious, creative mind do its thing.  So I just let it be.

By that time it was starting to get dark, so I started the fire.  As it had the last time, the flames tugged at me, trying to draw me deeply into their embrace.  But I resisted.  There would be plenty of time for that later; for now, I had to cook dinner.

Yes, I know, I could have brought sandwiches and pre-made potato salad and the like.  But I wanted to cook over the fire.  Specifically, I wanted to cook meat.  There is something primeval about cooking meat over a campfire, something that connects you with your ancestors 50,000 and 250,000 and maybe even a million years ago.

There was time for a little reverie while the fire turned wood into coals.  I fueled my musings with a double martini, savoring the bitter sting of the gin against my tongue, the chill of the mug against my hands, the warmth of the fire against my face.  Feeling rather than thinking.  Then I raked a couple of shovelfuls of glowing embers out of the fire, threaded chunks of steak on a stick I’d sharpened for the purpose, nestled it in the crotch of a forked branch stuck in the ground so I could hold it the proper distance from the coals, and cooked meat.

That’s when I had my first real vision: a group of four men who looked pretty much like I did only not as clean-shaven and dressed a little more rudely, sitting around a fire roasting meat on sticks.  After a while vision and reality merged, so I was sitting in the circle with them.  Occasionally one of them muttered something unintelligible in a language with a lot of consonants, but mostly they sat quietly, just as I did.

I warmed a can of beans in my mess kit while the steak cooked and added a chunk of relatively fresh bread from Hanson’s.  The meat was charred a little on the outside, just like steak cooked over an open fire should be.  Dessert was an apple, which I could have roasted but didn’t bother.  As far as I can remember, it was the best meal I’d ever eaten.  Sharing the brisk November air with my silent companions on a magical evening on a magical island.  When their dinner was done they faded away, back to their place and time I suppose.  I raised my hand to them as they left, but they didn’t respond.  OK, that would have been totally cool, in a hair-raising kind of way.  But it was plenty powerful enough as it was.

After I was done eating I just sat there, staring at the flames, and let my mind wander as freely as it would.  Pondering everything I’d learned about George and his strange collection of hobbies and interests, or at least strange considering the person he’d appeared to be before moving to White Sands.  And the island, both the physical and spiritual reality of the place and as it appeared in his sketches and paintings.  The women who were travelling with me on this wild adventure: Adeline, Sabrina, Chai, Lacey, and the golden-haired woman.   The brooch and the rune.  I added wood to the fire three or four times, then just let it go.  When it finally burned down to embers I banked them with dirt, crawled into my sleeping bag, and without much ado (surprisingly) went to sleep.

Sometime in the night she came to me.

I was having one of those maddening dreams where Chai and I were trying to make love there inside the stone circle—the real stone circle, with the standing stones erect—but shit kept getting in the way.  Stones poking up from the ground so you had to shift around and start over.  An abrupt gust of wind that covered us with leaves and dirt.  A small dog appearing out of nowhere and trying to steal my pants, while a raven perched on the altar scolded him in a manner faintly reminiscent of words.  Typical dream frustration.

I somehow managed to achieve penetration—finally!  And then suddenly the woman was there.  Standing behind the altar, watching us with unconcealed amuse­ment.  She motioned for me to rise and so I did, naked from the waist down, standing proudly in more ways than one.  For some reason it wasn’t particularly embarrassing.  The golden-haired woman pursed her lips as she looked me over, then spoke to the robed figure beside her, who scurried over and draped a cloak over my shoulders.  Outside of the circle, in exactly the same spot I’d built my fire, a bonfire blazed away.   Chai had disappeared, in the manner of dreams.

“Who are you?” I asked when I was covered up.

“Ah, Rick Whittaker.  You have everything that a high-powered investigative journalist needs to figure that out.  Although I admit that the accounts are somewhat . . . shall we say, muddy?”

“Is George with you?”

The woman just shrugged, in that maddening manner of women throughout history, I suppose.  And with that she raised her hands in a vee over her head and the trappings disappeared, leaving me standing on the island as it exists today: no altar, no stones, no robed figures, no fire.

I stood there waiting to see if more would happen until I got cold, and then I woke up.  And no wonder.  In my sleep I’d gotten out of my sleeping bag, walked over into the circle, and was standing in exactly the same spot where I’d been in my dreams.  Wearing a tee shirt, boxers, and socks.  And a puzzled expression, had there been anyone to see it.


What Do Readers Really Want?

My companion blogger, Melissa Ohnoutka, started a new interview series today called, What Do Readers Really Want?  These are interview with Readers who are NOT also Writers.  I think this is a great idea, and I’m eager to see the ongoing results.

I’m tentatively expecting the answer to be: Readers want different things.  That’s certainly been my experience with my first-round readers.  Continue reading

Chapter 33: Avalon, S.C.

When I got to Peckerwoods’, not too long after noon on Sunday, the party was already in full swing.  They’d decorated the walls with jerseys, posters, whatever paraphernalia they could find.  Crepe paper streamers added color and festivity.  There were four TV’s, none the huge big screens that were featured in the sports bars in town, but a real coup for some hole in the wall in White Sands, S.C.  Every table was filled except one right in the middle which had a sign on it, “Reserved for the Yankee from Charleston.”

When I walked in everybody stood up and applauded.  I hadn’t felt like such a celebrity since that fatal night three months ago when I’d drank too much gin, ended up next to Missy Pierson’s delectable ass, torpedoed my reporting career, and begun the journey that had ended up here.

I’d brought three beers and a little flask with a couple of premixed martinis.  Sabrina hauled over a bucket of ice to keep my drinks cold.  Looking around, I noticed one on about half the tables; I guessed the rest were still the Sunday dinner crowd.  Surely there weren’t that many non-drinkers in White Sands.  “We had to scrounge all over town to get enough ice buckets,” Sabrina told me.  “Fortunately, Hanson’s let us borrow whatever they had that would hold ice.”

“If the crowds hold up, looks like you’re going to want to invest in something more permanent.”

“Yeah, Wanda’s ecstatic.  She didn’t know how much stuff to buy and fix, so we’ll probably run out before the game is over.  But if we do, she’ll turn a nice profit.  All thanks to you.”  She snuck me a quick kiss on the cheek, handed me a menu, and headed over to a table demanding her attention.

I was still trying to decide between the stuffed potato skins and the Cheesehead Chili—we were playing the Packers—when Lucas and Ellie walked in.  As they studied the crowd, trying to decide if one of the tables might free up or if they were too late, I stood up and motioned them over to join me.

“We’d have been here sooner if Ellie hadn’t taken so long to get all painted up,” Lucas remarked dryly after we’d shaken hands and sat down.  Indeed, Ellie was a thing of beauty.  Somewhat out-of-date Michael Vick Jersey, Falcons scarf worn as a headband, face painted solid red on one side with an eagle logo on the cheek (she hadn’t painted the black side of her face, as I would have been forced to do).  Carrying a Falcons bag with a pair of pennants on sticks poking out.  Lucas was clad in his regular khakis, with a black t-shirt the only possible concession to the occasion.  It may have been coincidence, but knowing Lucas, I was betting against it.  He just seemed too aware of life for coincidences to have much of a chance.  He’d also brought his own small cooler, not taking a chance on the availability of ice.

I ended up ordering the potato skins, sharing them with Lucas and Ellie, eating some of their wings, and then ordering the chili at halftime.  By then some of the dinner crowd had thinned out but more fans had replaced them.  Chairs were pulled up at friends’ tables, and a few diehards leaned up against the wall.  Sabrina kept stopping by the table to check on us, but she was pretty much on the run the entire time.

At halftime Lucas told me that he’d shared with Ellie what I’d told him about the island, hoped that was OK.  “I have no secrets from Ellie,” I assured him.  “She’s seen me at my landlubber worst, so we’re fully bonded.”  That elicited a smile from him and a laugh from her.

“What I really haven’t attempted to describe is how the place feels.  It has a kind of power, and you’re aware of it the entire time you’re there.  Like being out in a big lightning storm where you can sense the energy.  Except this doesn’t feel dangerous.  It’s like I’m more powerful somehow while I’m out there.”  I didn’t bother to mention that more powerful included sexual stamina.

“I’ve asked Lucas to show the place to me, but for some reason he’s real reluctant to do that.”

“For some reason?  I told you why, woman.  You might fall in love with the place just like Rick has.  And then what?  You’d badger me to keep taking you there when it’s clearly told me that it doesn’t want any part of me.”

I decided against taking sides in this argument and didn’t offer to take Ellie out with me.  Besides, she could drive a boat far better than I could; if she wanted to go bad enough, she’d do it herself.  Most likely it was just a gentle way to gig Lucas.

The game got downright tense in the 4th quarter.  Green Bay was up by four and with three minutes left was driving to make it a two score advantage and pretty much ice the game.  That’s when a little-used third string cornerback stepped in front of an Aaron Rogers pass, tipped it up, caught it himself, and ran it back 54 yards for a pick six and a three point lead.  Of course, three minutes was plenty for Rogers to bring the Pack back, and he was doing exactly that, eating up the clock so the Falcons would have no time left.  Then a holding penalty stalled the drive and they had to try a 49 yard field goal, which had the distance but not the accuracy.

Peckerwoods’ erupted with joy.  After the place finally calmed down, Sabrina rang an old fashioned dinner bell and announced last call for the kitchen, we could drink up for another half hour if we wanted to.  I was long since out of booze but Lucas shared one of his last Budweisers with me.

I got up to leave when the Carters did, but Sabrina quietly asked me to stay for a bit so I said my goodbyes and sat back down.  Lots of people stopped by on their way out, thanking me for throwing such a fun party and promising to be back the next week.  I graciously accepted all accolades, which included a fresh beer, even though all I’d contributed was the idea.

Once the tables were all cleared and wiped down, Sabrina took off her apron and draped it over one of the chairs at my table.  “OK, mister.  You’ve got my curiosity all aroused.  And look!  I’ve got a free hour.  Let’s take a walk.”

“Really?”  My normal suave line of bullshit appeared to have taken a vacation.  “J.D. won’t mind?”  I kicked myself as soon as those words were out of my mouth, but Sabrina just shrugged.

So we headed toward the river in the opposite direction of the boat ramp and down a little path along the waterline.  Without speaking, curiously enough.  The tide was near dead low, exposing vast stretches of marsh and mud.  The big birds were out in force, three great blue herons and a handful of snowy egrets, not to mention seagulls diving into the water further away from the shore.  Totally peaceful.

At least outside.  Inside my stomach was fluttering more than the booze and the chili could account for.  Jeez, Rick.  You’re acting like a teenager.  It’s just a conversation with a woman you like to talk to.  Not a date.

Around a little bend, out of sight and hearing of Peckerwoods’, we found a little grassy rise, tested it to make sure it was dry enough, and sat.  “OK, let’s hear it.  I love mysteries.  Hope you weren’t just handing me a line to get in my britches before the honeymoon.”

So I pretty much told it all, omitting only my marathon sessions with Chai.  Trying to keep it orderly, but only partially succeeding.  Sabrina was back to her sassy self, asking questions when I jumbled things up or commenting whatever caught her fancy.

“So the golden-haired woman just showed up in his sketchbook one day?    And you haven’t discovered anything about who she is or where she came from?  Doesn’t sound like the same hot-shot reporter that wrote those articles in the paper under your byline.”

“You’ve read those?”

“Well, duh.  Of course I’ve read them.  You don’t think I’d marry some hack who can’t string two cohesive sentences together.”

“Sabrina, you continue to surprise me.  And I’ll bet that’ll still be true thirty years from now.  But no, I can’t find out anything about her at all.  I’ve shown the picture around but nobody recognizes her.  Been through every inch of George’s cottage, through every computer file, everything I can think of.  Not a trace.  Lacey wondered if she was just somebody he imagined.”

“Maybe she’s an old girlfriend from high school or college that he met back up with through Facebook.  That’s supposed to happen a lot, although I don’t know anybody personally who’s done it.”

“Excellent idea.  It’s hard to imagine that George was a Facebook sort of guy, but I confess I haven’t dug much in that direction.  I could probably get copies of his high school and college yearbooks too.  But now that I think about it some more, there’s a problem with that.  She’s a lot younger than George is, at least fifteen years.”

“Oh, well.  There goes my one good idea.  Guess after we’re married I’ll have to clean house to earn my keep.  And whatnot,” she added with a wink.

We were quiet for a bit before she asked, “You said that you thought about her while you were walking that wheel thing George built in his back yard but didn’t get any insights.  Have you tried that on the wheel you built out on the island?”

“Well, actually, I haven’t even walked the wheel out on the island yet.”

“Really?  Boy, if I’d gone to all that work hauling those rocks up the hill and all, I’d at least have tried it once.  You and that Voodoo lady must have found something really fascinating to keep you busy.”

Totally unprepared, I blushed.  I don’t think I’ve blushed since I was a teenager, but I could feel my face getting hot.  And the blood rushing to my face must have all come from my brain because it stopped working at the same time.  I mean, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.  In retrospect, there probably wasn’t anything to say.  Keeping my damned mouth shut, while not the path I would have chosen on my own, was likely the wisest course.

Sabrina just let me stew a minute, and then added, “Look, there’s one of those sea eagles fishing out there.  My grandmother used to say it was good luck if they caught something on their first dive.  Watch—there he goes.  Nah, no fish for you, mister bird.  And no good luck for me.”

She turned at looked me in the eyes.  “She also said, ‘You should make your own damned luck, so don’t count on no rabbit’s foot.’  Boy, that’s the truth.  First time you asked me out I should have said, ‘Screw it, let’s go.’”

“How about tomorrow.  It’s your day off, right?”

Tears just exploded in her eyes.  She looked away, then impatiently wiped her eyes on her sleeve and shook her head.

“I guess I still can’t.  No good luck for me.”

“What is it with you and this guy?”  I was right on the ragged edge of where it was none of my business, maybe even across it.  And way past Lucas’ advice about staying out of it.  But I asked anyway.

“Just plain stupid, that’s what it is.  He’s the worst thing ever happened to me, and that’s God’s truth.  Way worse than getting divorced and being a single mom and all the other dumb mistakes I’ve made.  I’m so fucked up over him, excuse my French, that some shrink would have a field day with me if I could afford one.”

“You deserve better, Sabrina.  Whatever demons you have down in there,” I tapped her gently on the forehead, “you deserve better.”

“Yeah, well, the demons don’t always listen.”  She wiped her eyes again, although the tears appeared to be gone.  “And anyway, you don’t want anything to do with J.D.  You’re a nice guy, and he’s not.”

I didn’t answer that because, truth be told, I didn’t want anything to do with J.D.  I wasn’t the type to take Lucas’ advice and plug him in the back with an untraceable pistol, and I didn’t have any alternative plan to his, “Either that or stay the hell out of it.”  And I didn’t seem to be doing too well at that one, either.

Sabrina looked down at her watch and abruptly stood up.  “Hour’s up, gotta go.”  She brushed herself off and started back down the path.  Then she turned back and took my hands in hers.

“Sorry, I was being rude.  Rick, I love your mystery.  Can’t wait to hear how it turns out.  Thanks so much for sharing it with me.  And for keeping after me until I made time to listen.”  She looked down at our hands for a minute.  “And I’d love to go out to your island sometimes.”

Mr. Lust immediately started to visualize what that might be like.  But she interrupted his little fantasy by kissing me under my left eye, right on that place where the cheekbone juts out.  A quick kiss, but nothing impersonal about it.  Then she turned and started walking back toward Peckerwoods’.  I started to go after her but she shook her head so I just waited there until she was out of sight, watching her walk away.

Chapter 32: Return from Avalon

NB: What, you thought a little thing like getting a book published was going to keep me from my appointed rounds?

“So, out too early for breakfast with your fiancé, but not fishing.  What are you up to, Rick Whittaker?”

By this time I was used to there being no secrets in White Sands.  Lucas didn’t seem the sort to run to Peckerwoods’ with fresh gossip.  There had been some light traffic around when I came in late that afternoon, but they wouldn’t have known what time I went out.  Or maybe Sabrina just put it all together herself.

“Sabrina, I have so many secrets they’re beginning to ooze out of my ears every time I have a swallow of coffee.”

“You keep your secrets in the same place where your coffee goes when you drink it?  You must have some serious indigestion issues, mister.”

“Serious indiscretion issues indeed.  Oh, sorry, I misspoke.  I meant serious insurrection issues.”

“Insubordination issues, more like it.  Hope somebody gives me a big stick for a wedding present.”

“The only cure I know for excess secret syndrome is to share with somebody special.  But you can’t have a crowd around when you share secrets, or they won’t be secrets anymore and so you don’t get the healthful benefits of sharing them.”

Sabrina tightened her lips despite our clowning.  “Yeah, I know.  In the end it’s always the woman’s fault.”

“Hey, I didn’t say that.”

“Of course you didn’t, sweetie.”  She did the hair-ruffling thing.  “Maybe pretty soon we’ll get that chance.  Hey, I almost forgot.  I’ve got something for you.”  She pulled a flyer out of her apron pockets and presented it with a flourish.

Tired of watching the Falcons at home by yourself?

At the special request of

“The Yankee from Charleston”

Peckerwoods proudly announces the first weekly

(if y’all come, that is)

NFL Sunday Spectacular

Sunday November 24th

1:00 pm sharp

Special Menu Available (Wanda’s making wings!)

BYOSP (set-ups available)

“Wow.  You actually made it happen!  Never thought Wanda would go for it.”

“And you thought I never listened to you.”

“I never thought any such thing.”

* * *

Chai was delighted to be invited to help construct the sacred wheel.  She showed up Saturday morning on time and thoughtfully dressed for the occasion: long skirt with no panties, sweater with no bra.  The careful placement of the stones was deep, spiritual foreplay, with plenty of short, intense breaks to reenact the rites of Beltane (although it was still November, last time I looked).  It became a carefully orchestrated ballet: just so many steps, meticulously measuring out the intervals for the stones until the sexual tension became too great to ignore.  I would be hard as a rock, my erection too obtrusive to ignore, and when I looked over at Chai she would smile that maddening, mysterious smile and then kneel or lie back and pull her dress up.  She was soaking wet, and when I entered her, so hot that the first time I drew back in shock.  Chai’s unrestrained vocalizations lifted to the heavens, a sacred song offered to the goddess.

I have never experienced such a thing in my life.

I’d never been in love before—not that I was in love with Chai, nothing of the sort—but I’d often been in serious like that I frequently mistook for love.  But no matter how deep the emotions and how delicious the sex, there always comes a point at which the very idea of doing it again becomes almost repulsive.  Maybe repulsive is too strong a word.  But it’s like eating pizza: no matter how good it is, you eventually get full.  Or in the case of sex, perhaps empty is a better word.  When overindulgence reaches that point, I don’t even want to be there anymore.  I’m sure I planted the seeds for the end of many relationships by getting up and going home rather than staying the rest of the night.

But out on Avalon, building the wheel and screwing with Chai Fox, it’s like you could take the edge off of your sexual hunger but you couldn’t make it go away.  Perhaps there is no better example of the power of that little piece of real estate than that afternoon.

Screwing seems like such a crass term, but it’s far more accurate than making love.  There was no teasing, no gentleness, no indulgence in such niceties as oral sex.  We shamelessly used each other.  Although the last time, lying totally spent in the northeast quadrant of the completed circle, our bruised lips remembered gentleness, and we indulged a bit.

We looked like castaways as we climbed back in the boat for the trip home.  Our clothes were filthy, bodies bruised and bitten, eyes a little reminiscent of what battle survivors call the ‘thousand yard stare.’  Chai didn’t even try to repair the damage to her hair, merely wrapped her head in a scarf and called it good.  At the boat ramp, she didn’t wait for me to invite her back to the cottage.  “Rick, I’m going home.  I’m absolutely no good to anyone for anything other than a long soak in a hot tub and crawling into bed alone.”

I merely nodded my agreement.

“But I know one thing for certain.  No matter what happens for the rest of my life, I will never forget this day.”  She brushed her lips lightly across mine and gingerly walked to her car.

I stood under a scalding shower until the hot water ran out, then mixed a martini and took it out on the porch.  Considered firing up the chiminea, but it seemed like way too much work.  So I dragged a blanket out instead and just sat there, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

Before I began this assignment, I had never experienced anything that couldn’t be rationally explained by the laws of science.  I’d been to church revival services when I was a teenager where people were supposedly touched by the power of the Holy Spirit and their lives were changed forever.  But it had all seemed like play acting to me, people wanting something so bad they just fooled themselves.  I’d spend the night in a haunted house without seeing any rocking chair moving on its own volition; attended a séance where no spirits spoke; read a book about the scientific evidence for UFO’s without finding anything that qualified as credible, much less scientific; participated in an ESP experiment where my results were disappointingly statistically predictable.  So it’s not like I had closed my mind to the possibility of something metaphysical, I’d just reached the point where I simply didn’t believe it.

That was no longer true.

George’s disappearance, the remarkable paintings of the golden-haired woman, even the brass brooch could have rational explanations.  The holes for the stones in the circles, my wild, relentless dreams, and the divining rune?  Admittedly, more difficult to explain away, but still possible.

But the fire?  I could not come up with a single rational explanation, no matter how far-fetched, for a bonfire that burned on the island every Samhain but left no ashes.  And my sexual obsession that afternoon?  Sorry.  I’d experienced that personally, unlike the Holy Spirit in those long-ago revival meetings, and I knew there was no way I could rationally account for it.

A totally irreverent thought intruded into my weighty musings.  (What?  Rick Whittaker having irreverent thoughts?).  If I could find who owned the island and purchase it, I could built a shelter out there and make a fortune selling overnight trips guaranteed to be the sexual adventure of a lifetime.  Give a few away; the testimonials on the internet would go viral.  No way in hell I was sharing my island, but the thought broke through some of the seriousness and restored my perspective a bit.

I considered meditating but settled instead for a can of chunky clam chowder and another martini.

Return from Avalon (and Points West)

It’s Up!  I’m officially a published author!


Once you’ve danced a bit and shared in my euphoria, I’m sure the first question you thought about is, “What can I do to help?”  Well I’m glad you asked.

1.  Buy a copy.  Early sales are very important to a book getting some attention.  At $2.99, it’s not a serious investment.

2.  Tell your friends.  There are a lot of ways to advertise, but none are as effective as people telling other people about a book that they liked.  Of course, you’re going to have to read it to be able to say that truthfully.  On the other hand, you can tell them that you like other books that the author has written, and you can’t wait to read this one.

3.  Write a review.  Favorable reviews in Amazon are also critical to the reception of a book.

4.  Enjoy the moment.   Share it with me.



Tom commented on Chapter 30:

“Interesting dream there. Wonder what that portends. And, why was there not more commentary on it by Rick? Seems a little strange to me that he would have this dream about sacrificing Lacey and then not really be bothered by it.”

I never realized just how large a part dreams play in my novels until I was doing the serious editing pass on Return from Avalon (and Points West).  In that book, Arnie dreams almost every night.  Whoever or whatever (can’t tell you, because that would spoil the book for you when it comes out any day now) is driving his life uses dreams to communicate.  He dreams constantly about his spirit Continue reading

Chapter 31: Avalon, S.C.

Tuesday evening I read up on “how to meditate.”  Skimmed a bunch of stuff that was not useful to me in the slightest.  A lot of New Age speak, which I might be gaining proficiency in despite my best efforts not to, but still way over my head.  Mostly about the spiritual benefits of the attainment of a higher level of consciousness and the like.  But in between all that, I did learn about breathing, how to do it and how to use it.  Then I held my nose and jumped in.

Continue reading

It Takes a Village

Bruce asked:  “So what exactly is the role of a writing partner and how does one go about finding one? How did you happen on SusanH?”

Throughout my writing career, I’ve had my support group/critique group/fan club to keep me generally headed in some direction (not always the right direction).  The make-up and importance of each of those pieces have changed as I’ve matured as a writer, but they’re all still out there.

FIRST DRAFT READERS:  In the beginning, my first draft readers had a fairly easy job, from a critique perspective.  I didn’t ask a lot in the way of hard writing criticism, particularly of the “this book sucks” variety.  What I wanted back from them was about what you’d get from your mother or best friend.

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT:  You’re a great writer, keep going!
  2. SOMEONE TO HOLD ME ACCOUNTABLE TO MY WRITING DISCIPLINE:  So how come I haven’t gotten another chapter lately?
  3. TELL ME IN GENERAL WHEN I’M GETTING OFF TRACK: I’m not so fond of the hero.  In fact, he pretty much pisses me off.
  4. THIS CHAPTER IS RELEASED (this is from my end, not theirs).  Once a chapter goes to the first draft readers, I don’t edit it any more until I’ve finished the entire first draft.  So hitting “send” marks a clear ending.  No more futzing around–let it go (for now).

Of course, I always welcome any and all feedback, and over the years my first draft readers have given me plenty.  Particularly Kate, who annotates her copy and gives it back as a starting place for the next draft.  I also use them to bounce ideas off:  “What should I name the accounting milquetoast hero?”

As I’ve matured as a writer, I don’t need nearly as much in the encouragement department.  But still.

WRITERS GROUPS/CRITIQUE GROUPS:  These are the people who supposedly know more about writing than your friends do, and aren’t afraid to tell you the hard truth.  I am in two writing groups, which meet 2 and 3 times a month.  I generally read something at every meeting–here’s a resource, why not use it?  Sometimes a bit of feedback is absolutely ridiculous, but I thank them and file it away (file 13).  But usually they have insights and perspectives that I don’t.

BLOG READERS:   This was a new part of the village, starting with Novel #3.  I post 3 chapters a week after the first edit, and at our best get a lot of feedback.  I got hundreds of comments on Strange Bedfellows, and made direct use of at least half of them.  *** HEY!  That’s you!  I use your feedback, so don’t be afraid to post comments!

CLOSE READERS:  I am a horrible proofreader, and my final polished draft is still so full of errors that I’d be embarrassed to send it to a publisher.  So I always look for 1 or 2 people who are heavy with the red pencil.

So . . . where does the writing partner come in?

I started working with a writing partner, SusanH, about 10 chapters into Avalon, S.C.  She is a member of one of my writers’ groups, and our feedback seemed to be particularly useful to each other.  She actually suggested trying out this arrangement, and it’s been really good for both of us.

Our needs are not the same, by any means.  I write 2 to 3 chapters a week (and as many as 5 when I’m on a roll), don’t need encouragement to write or deadlines to get it out, and don’t dither excessively (in my opinion) over polishing at the first draft stage.  What I need is perspective.  When you spend that much time reading the works of one author, particularly when it’s yourself, you lose perspective pretty easily.  Susan reads every word and sends me back a marked up chapter.  We get together once/week to discuss.

What Susan needs most falls in the category of what we lovingly refer to as “motivational bullying.”  About once a week she convinces herself that she’s a bad writer and should just give it up.  She might rework a chapter for six months if the deadline to send it to me before our next meeting didn’t loom.  She’s writing a steamy romance novel, so occasionally I also provide feedback from the guy’s perspective (“No man would ever say that under any circumstances”).  I’m not sure how useful that piece is.  Since steamy romance novels are read by women, they don’t really care all that much if the guys are realistic–in fact, it’s probably a drawback.  But I dutifully mark up those parts as well, and she accepts my feedback graciously.

So what is a writing partner?  A customized, full-service critique group.  Someone who will read every word you write and provide timely feedback.  In exchange, all you have to do is to reciprocate.

A lot of writers use a small critique group to perform the same function.  Three to as many as five writers who read every word that each other writes.  More perspectives is betters, but the time commitment grows.  So choose wisely, depending on your circumstances.

Where do you find a writing partner?  The best place should be your writers’ group.  Someone in your group who writes at around your level, perhaps even in your genre, who wants to partner to become a better writer.  If there aren’t any of those, maybe cast your net wider.  Visit other groups.  There are ways to look on-line.

AllThingsWords hopes to provide the service of hooking up potential writing partners at some point.  Perhaps Stella can comment at more length.


Chapter 29: Avalon, S.C.

The Long Beach Gallery was pretty crowded when we got there around seven.  Half of the eclectic “horde of adoring followers,” well-to-do or doing a good job of pretending to be, formed groups of four or six around the middle of the room.  Bored middle-aged or older men in dark, tailored wool suits, white shirts, conservative silk ties.  Most accompanied by chatting matrons in cocktail dresses and jewels and furs, calling each other darling and distributing air kisses.  A smattering of trophy wives, plunging necklines showing off perfect tans, smiles revealing dazzling white teeth behind scarlet lipstick.  The other half of the clientele, in jeans and pullovers, stood around the walls, focusing on the paintings rather than each other.

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