Tag Archives: Fiction

Watch RWISA Write: John W. Howell

August is Watch RWISA Write month. Today, we celebrate author John W. Howell!

Last Night by John W. Howell © 2017

So, with nothing better to do, I figure I’ll stop at Jerry’s place and grab a couple of drinks and a burger. Usually, I don’t go there on Saturday night since there’s a crapload of amateurs taking up what would be considered prime space. I figure since this is a Friday and close to Saturday, it may be packed, but not as crazy as Saturday. It’s the kind of place where everyone minds their business. They’re there for a good time and will likely not notice me. Even so, I go through the door, stop, and have a look around, trying not to make eye contact. I hope that the ball cap and large coat will keep me from getting noticed.  The bar holds a weekday crowd, hanging on each other like they never had a date before. I tighten my eyelids against the smoke and make out four guys near the pool table, and what looks like a couple of girls fetching drinks. I search for a seat beyond the table in the back, but it seems like they’re all taken.

A guy bumps into me as I stand here. I say excuse me, and he looks me in the face. “Hey, don’t I know you?” he says.

“I don’t think so.” I make to turn away.

“Yeah, you’re the sports hero who lost all his money. I saw you on TV.”

“Naw, people always say stuff like that. I’m not him, buddy; trust me.”

He gives me a puzzled look but doesn’t want to push it, in case he has it wrong. I turn away and continue to look for a seat.

Straight ahead lies the bar, and it has a place right in the middle. I move in the direction of the empty place and look over to the other side of the room. The tables look full of happy drunks. Buckets of empties line the bar top, and the barmaid’s trying to sell more. She doesn’t have much luck since most of these people just spent their last five bucks on this outing. Upon making it to the stool, I hoist myself up and lean on the bar.

“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. “Whadda you have?”

“Evening, Jerry. I’ll have a Gin on the rocks with a water back.”

“Comin’ up.”

I like Jerry’s no-nonsense way of handling things. He doesn’t like small talk and gets right to business. My eyes smart from the smoke, and I wonder how Jerry gets away with letting people kill themselves, when clearly, it’s not supposed to be allowed in this kind of establishment.

“Here you go. Want me to run a tab?”

“Yeah, I would appreciate that. I intend to have another drink and then a burger.”

The guy who thinks he knows me grabs my shoulder from behind. I almost fall off the stool.

“You’re Greg Petros, the big fund manager. I knew I’d seen you on TV. You took a beautiful career in football and ran it into the ground.”

Jerry leans over the bar and lays his hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Move on, my friend. You made a mistake. This guy is nobody. Go sit down and let me buy you a drink.”

“You sure? You called him Greg.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Go get a table, and I’ll send someone over.”

The guy looks at me one more time but does as Jerry suggests. He believes Jerry’s wrong, but the idea of a free drink lets him get away without losing face.

“Thanks. I didn’t mean for you to have to jump in.”

“No problem. Gimme the high sign when you’re ready for another drink.”

“Will do. Thanks.”

“For you buddy, anything.”

I should mention that Jerry and I go back aways. When I fell on hard times, he became the only one that seemed to give a shit. I take a sip of my drink and wait for the burn in my throat, which signals the good stuff. Here it comes. I take a swig of the water and almost believe life is good. The Gin needs to get to the brain before making any honest judgment.

While I wait for the warmth to go from my stomach to my head, I check out the folks seated on either side of me. They both have their backs turned to me and sit engrossed in some discussion with their neighbor. I figure it’s just as well since I don’t want to go through that old “don’t I know you?” bullshit again. Also, I don’t figure on staying the night, so no use in getting into any long discussions about life.

I look down at my drink and wonder what will happen tomorrow. My daughter Constance wants to come and visit. She lives in New York, and before all hell broke loose, we didn’t see each other often. I missed her so much, and it seemed I had to beg her even to talk on the phone. Now, it’s like she wants to be here every weekend. It’s only an hour’s flight by the shuttle or three by train, so she can come when she wants. I just can’t figure out why she got so clingy. I have my troubles, but it doesn’t have anything to do with her. No use in asking her husband, either. Though a nice enough guy, I always wonder if he has someplace important to go when I visit. He never sits still, and stays busy on the phone or at the computer. He makes a good living, but it seems a person could take an hour to sit and talk. I’d looked forward to some kind of relationship when he and Constance got married. It’ll never happen with him.

When I take another pull at my drink, I notice the burn feels less. It happens every time. First sip initiation, I call it. It’s like the first puff of a cigarette, hits hard then, after, nothing. I decide to let Constance pretty much have the agenda tomorrow. She and I have not had a chance to talk about anything deep for a while. It could just be that she blames me for her mother running off with that guy with the house on the Hudson. He has a title, and the old gal couldn’t resist, but, I think the daughter always felt I should have done something. Her mother’s sleeping with another guy and what the hell can I do about that?

I’ll just go with the flow. If she wants to go out, we will. If she wants to stay in, we can do that, too. I better think about getting some food in the house. Of course, we can always order take out. I need to move on to my drink and let this go. Tomorrow will be what it is. I remember the day she was born. I looked down at her in my arms and promised I would do anything for her. I love her more than life itself, and I hope we can somehow get to the root of whatever’s wrong. She sounded strange on the phone this morning, and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I hope she opens up when she gets here.

For some reason, I feel tired. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and finish my drink. Maybe I’ll just go home and forget the burger. First, though, I’ll just shut my eyes for a minute. My hands feel good when I put my head down.

“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. I barely hear him. “What’s the matter? You taking a nap? Greg?” I can feel him shake me, but I have no interest in waking up. His voice gets further away, and I think he says, “Oh my God, Sophie, call 911, quick.” Now the room goes silent.

 

END

 

John W. Howell, RWISA Author Page

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A New Release From S. Rose

I would like to share a brand new book release from indie author S. Rose. Sparrow In The Wind is now available through Amazon and other book retailer sites.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ms. Rose’s work since first discovering her debut novel, Bridge Ices Before Road, a few years ago. I can honestly say this is truly one of my favorite novels–indie or traditionally published. If you’re a fan of complex characters, strong plot, and skillful writing, I invite you to become acquainted with the works of S. Rose.

Sparrow In The Wind

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Buy: Sparrow In The Wind

Book Blurb:

Funny how memories work, the things you remember, the things forgotten, the things that change you. Back in the summer of 1962, ten year-old Cassandra Parsons has her life all figured out. She lives with her father and mother in the upstairs flat of a well-appointed two family house in a pleasant neighborhood of Racine, Wisconsin. Her maternal aunt and grandfather live right downstairs and her best friend Kitty has always lived two doors down.

Cassandra’s well-ordered world comes undone when her father decides to move his nuclear family to the backwoods of Northern Wisconsin, to renovate and manage his father’s hunting lodge. Isolated and friendless, she is suddenly left to her own devices as her parents plunge themselves into their new business endeavor. Loneliness and self-pity gradually give way to growth as Cassandra learns to appreciate the beauty of nature and the peace of quietude. Soon she meets a half-Ojibwa girl named Sparrow. The girls become fast friends and have a final fling with childhood, spending their last carefree days fishing in the river and roaming the woods, pretending to be ancient Ojibwa. But their sweet Indian summer comes to an abrupt end as tragedy strikes both girls’ families. Cassandra and Sparrow’s friendship is tested as they try to forge a mature, enduring relationship that hopefully will see them through even these darkest of times.

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Bridge Ices Before Road

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Buy:    Bridge Ices Before Road

Book Blurb:

The year is 1970. In a blue-collar suburb of Boston, two eleven year-old Catholic girls struggle to come of age in a culture still very much dominated by men. They watch in dismay as their fathers and priests determine the lives of the women around them. Loyalty to family and church is paramount; women and children suffer in silence rather than expose the men who do them harm.

Frances Orillio is an adopted, only child; she is self-critical, anxious, and vulnerable. Maddy Malone is one of six children, and grew up in a rough housing project scrapping with the boys. Although they are strikingly different in temperament, they forge an enduring friendship on the path to becoming strong, independent women. Together they battle the tangled jungle of ignorance, racism, and homophobia that goes hand in hand with the culturally entrenched discrimination against women. Like the treacherous roads in a New England winter, the way is fraught with hidden dangers. Family secrets and lies are like the invisible black ice on a bridge: if you don’t watch out for the signs, it can be deadly.

When Does It End? (And Other Writing Matters!)

Writing entertaining stories and articles takes skill and know-how. But there’s more to writing than simply constructing sentences, scenes, and characters—though these are worthy and necessary talents to possess.

Outlining helps keep the plot in place. An outline is merely a road map meant to guide the author from the beginning of the journey to its ultimate climax many chapters later. An outline allows for travelers (both writer and reader) to exit the highway and visit attractions found in that area between start and finish.

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Creating characters that are compelling and alive will ensure the reader retains interest throughout the story. This is perhaps the most important aspect of telling a great story: If your characters are dull and lifeless, than so too will be your story. The only good dead characters are zombies and vampires.

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Okay, so you’ve outlined your story. You’ve developed believable characters that you can actually hear inside your head. They have personality and charm; they can even make your readers laugh or cry or feel anger. You sit at your desk (or wherever it is you feel most comfortable) and you begin your story. This is actually the easy part. The scenes unfold with ease as your fertile imagination gives birth to word combinations that nobody else has considered. Time ceases its existence. Days blur into weeks, weeks run together forming months. Before you know it, the journey is almost over.

Next on the itinerary is the ending. That perfect place to bring the characters, the plot, and the months of your hard work to its ultimate close.

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But how and when and under what circumstances will this story end? The ending can make or break a story. A misplaced ending will sink even the best stories. So how do we decide on the finish line? That is something the author should always have figured out before putting the very first sentence onto the page. You should know exactly where you are going before you load the kids, the dog, and suitcases in the car and jump onto the highway. The getting there, those spaces in between start and finish, are open to changes and tinkering along the way. The ending is something that must stand out. It is the very last moments of your creation. It’s what remains with readers in their immediate memories. An ending that lingers and comes back to a reader without invitation is usually the best sort of finish.

Road ends

There really is no stock answer for a proper ending. Some authors prefer to tie up all loose ends, leaving little to ponder—Jimmy and Thelma eloped and ran off to Fiji, where they grew old together and lived happily ever after. However, some authors choose to leave endings loose and open to interpretation—Jimmy and Thelma ran away together, but did they marry? Did they ever get to Fiji? Or did they decide on Hawaii, because Jimmy had gone there as a child and had always dreamed of returning?

By tying up loose ends, the author signals closure to this particular journey. By leaving ends dangling in the breeze, this invites readers to become part of the journey. We get to decide what has happened to these characters that we’ve invested time into getting acquainted. Neither way is wrong.

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When do we end our story and prep it for that first rewrite? Only the author will truly know that answer. Have your characters and plot line arrived at that point you imagined before beginning? Is Disney World in sight? Check the map; make sure your destination isn’t supposed to be the Eiffel Tower. If everything feels right, go back to the beginning and start that rewrite! Most importantly, have fun.

 

A Lost Treasure

I am a garage sale junkie. I spend many summer mornings going through the stuff other people no longer want cluttering up their homes. I search primarily for music CDs. With the advent of digital downloads, MP3 players, and the like, CDs can be had for a dollar each–or less!

I also find books I’ve been meaning to read. Best sellers in near-perfect condition often go for a couple of dollars–compared to fifteen or twenty dollars the booksellers demand.

Every so often I’ll find a gem that maybe didn’t quite make anybody’s best seller list. You know the ones: interesting cover, intriguing blurb on the back, a young author showing promise. This is how I came across a collection of short stories by a writer of whom I’d never heard. I found this book lying in a box with other books designated for sale to benefit a high school girl’s senior trip to a place I no longer recall.

I picked the book from the box, thumbed through its pages, got a feel for style and content. But it was the author’s short bio on the back cover that sealed the deal for me.

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The book is called Downriver, and it’s written by Jeanne M. Leiby. Not a household name, sure, but Miss Leiby grew up in my home state of Michigan. I have a soft spot for Michiganders, be they writers, actors, or musicians. I feel the need to at least give them a chance to show me they’re worth supporting.

After purchasing the short story collection mid-summer 2013, I added it to the growing pile of books sitting in my closet. There it sat for several months, just waiting its turn to dazzle me. That turn finally arrived in early November.

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To say Jeanne M. Leiby’s work pulled me in is an understatement. She writes the way people talk. She adds little quirks to her characters that you would swear you’ve seen in people you’ve personally met. There is a realism in Leiby’s work that makes readers appreciate her efforts.

I instantly became a fan. That she’s a Michigander only made this discovery that much sweeter. I had to know more about this amazing author. Does she have other published works? Has she written any novels? Info in her bio on the reverse of Downriver indicates she graduated from the University of Michigan (a hated school in my part of Michigan). She also received degrees from The Bread Loaf School of English/Middlebury College and the University of Alabama. Her short stories have appeared in publications such as Fiction, New Orleans Review, The Greensboro Review, and Indiana Review, among others.

I went online and dug deeper, learning Jeanne Leiby became a teacher, sharing her talents with students at the University of Central Florida. She won the 2000 Poets and Writers Writer Exchange. She served as fiction editor of Black Warrior Review and Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Review. In 2008, Jeanne took over as editor of The Southern Review at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Oh, and if that’s not impressive enough, while working as an intern at a publishing house, Jeanne Leiby became responsible for finding and publishing White Oleander by Janet Fitch–which just so happens to be one of my all-time favorite novels.

But then I saw it, there at the tail end of her Wikipedia page. On April 19, 2011, Jeanne M. Leiby was killed in an auto accident in Louisiana. According to police, Miss Leiby was driving a 2007 Saturn convertible with the top down. She was not wearing a seatbelt when she lost control of the vehicle, hitting a guardrail, before being ejected from the car. Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced her dead on arrival.

That news kicked me in the stomach. I felt cheated. Here is this amazing talent from right down the road, and she’s gone before I get the chance to discover her work. But I also feel cheated by Jeanne M. Leiby herself. Had she exercised a little common sense and worn her seatbelt, she just might still be here today, writing some brilliant prose that would make the rest of us writers jealous.

An amazing talent is gone from our midst, but her work remains with us. Do yourself a favor and invest in a copy of Downriver and see how good a short story can be.