New Inkshares Project

I’ve queried and pitched and pitched and queried. So, I’m trying something new.

I actually love this novel I’ve written, and I think you will too. Check out the summary and partial first chapter. If you like what you read, and you’d like to read more (and preferably the whole thing), please follow and pre-order. It can happen if I get enough support from those of you who like me and/or what I write. And, if it’s not your bag, baby, that’s cool too.

Here’s the link: SOUL SEARCHING

Thanks,

Beth

One Percent Other: The Duke of Hazards

From the first time someone paid Brazen to jump off the roof of the elementary school, he knew he wanted to be a stunt man.  He had no sense of self-preservation.  Anyone who hung out with him could attest to it.

In a school that was 49% white, 50% black, and 1% other, Brazen was one of the few in the “other” category.  He was unusual to look at, having inherited his Iranian father’s skin tone and coarse black hair as well as his ginger mother’s summer blue eyes.  His mid-teen growth spurt left him with awkward long legs and arms.  When he wasn’t in school or up to no good, he was running, knees and elbows pumping, and a foot-long braided rattail flailing behind him.

Brazen loved to do stuff no one else would dare, and he would do almost anything for almost nothing.  His toady and his best friend watched him eat twenty cockroaches, the big kind, for fifty bucks.  Any given weekday, he could be found taking money from other kids in exchange for an exhibition better suited to a sideshow than lunchroom entertainment. He always gave his audience what they wanted, and he craved the attention, which made him perfect for Ms. Cornell’s drama class.

When he wasn’t running lines or painting sets, Brazen passed the time walking across the auditorium on his hands, trying to see how many folding chairs he could jump, or just sitting in a circle of mostly girls and telling stories of the many and varied ways he’d broken bones.

They sat rapt, and he told the story well, despite the inevitable cracks that come with a boy’s changing voice.  “So three summers ago, my mom was dropping me off at the skate park every morning, at like nine, before she took my sister to band camp.  G-Man’s dad has a pick-up, so he brought the ramp.  P-Dawg has a friggin’ six foot half-pipe at his house, but my mom won’t let me go over there anymore since we got caught smoking, so we were at the damned park everyday.”

“Brazen, don’t cuss at school,” Ms. Cornell called.

“Sorry,” he sang back and looked at Toady.   Dropping his voice, he said, “You know she’s pregnant?”  The kids in the circle turned to look as Ms. Cornell, a tight-bodied, smoking hot redhead, as she gave stage directions.  The other kids whispered that they heard she got knocked up by a twenty-two year old, and she would be thirty in a few months.  “Yeah, well, if it’s true, then she’s a MILF for sure.”

“Ew,” Rasia, a pretty, light-skinned black girl who Brazen hoped to get to second base with, said.  “Tell us about the skateboard.”

Brazen looked at her, cocked his head, and gave her his best pirate smile.  “If it pleases m’lady.”  He batted his eyelashes at her.  “Yeah, so we did tricks all day, and we got bored real quick, but it was like an hour before my mom was supposed to get me.  So, we set the ramp up near some cars in the parking lot, and I hung out by the red light.”  Brazen paused to let the suspense build.  “So, this guy in a truck drives by, and I grabbed his bumper, staying low so he wouldn’t see me in his mirrors.  When I got near the ramp, G-Man yelled at me to let go, and I like swerved over,” his hand shot out toward the girl next to him, “so I could hit the ramp.”

“Man, it was wicked,” Toady said.

Brazen grinned at him.  “I hit the ramp solid.”  The fingers of his right hand swooped across the palm of his left.  “I caught some serious air.  I even made it over the car, but when I landed, I shattered both tibias.  My fucking knee caps—”

“Brazen!”

“Sorry, sorry!”  Brazen bumped the edges of his palms against the middles of his shins.  “My knee caps were down here.  G-Man had his cell phone.  I thought my mom would kill me.”

Eyes wide with sympathy, Rasia said, “I can’t believe you can still walk.”

After soaking up as much attention as he could, Brazen ran through his lines, which he’d already memorized, and then counted down the seconds until the bell rang.  He visited his locker, and then visited Rasia’s locker where he was rewarded with a kiss for his heroic feat and recovery and a hand slap for trying to cop a feel.

When Brazen walked out the front doors of the building, he felt as though his day had been fairly productive.  Then, he saw Ms. Cornell cranking her car.  Tossing his books aside, he ran and leapt onto the hood just as she backed out of her spot.  When she realized she had a fourteen-year-old boy clinging to her car, she slammed on the brakes, which sent him slamming into her windshield.

“Get the fuck off my car you crazy child,” Ms. Cornell shouted through the glass.

Brazen just smiled.  “You shouldn’t cuss at school, Ms. Cornell.  Give me a ride home?”

Ms. Cornell rolled down her window.  “No.  Your mom is probably already here, so go on and get off.”

“Okay, I’ll get off,” he said as he scooted over to the driver’s side of the car and stuck one foot on the ground.  “I get off to you all the time.”

Ms. Cornell frowned.  “That is just,” she shook her head, “go on.”

After blowing her a kiss, Brazen did just that.  On his way to his mother’s van, he accepted a congratulatory high five from a boy two years older than him and decided that his day turned out far better than he could’ve hoped.

I Learned A Lot About Myself From A Dead Guy

As I teacher, I try to learn from my experiences.  At times, the lessons are so blatant that I take immediate pause and think, “This is a teaching moment.  What have I learned here?”

For example, when you’re fourteen and walking down The Strip in Panama City Beach, you don’t hitchhike, no matter how sore your feet are, especially when the offer is from a carload of forty-something, mostly toothless men in a rusted-out Ford Crown Vic.  You absolutely do not trust your brother when he tells you to stick the end of the radio adapter plug to your tongue right after he’s plugged it in the wall, and you don’t let yourself be alone in the same room with a man that you know beats his girlfriend (because you might do something rash like stab him with your pocket bottle opener).

However, other times, the lesson is more subtle, something you come to hours, days, or years after the event.  With that in mind…

Several years ago, I lived in an upstairs apartment of a large complex. On a Sunday, around three in the afternoon, and as per my weekly routine, Fluffy and I were writing our grocery list to head out for our weekly run. He grabbed our bags; I grabbed my purse.  When I opened the door, I heard: “Oh God.  Oh, dear sweet Jesus.  Oh, somebody help me.  Jesus help me.  I think he’s dead.  He’s dead!”

I’m a moderately friendly neighbor.  I don’t always know names, but I know faces.  I wave or speak, pet dogs, and gripe about the weather, so I knew this voice.  It was my redheaded diagonally downstairs neighbor.  She was outside going into hysterics.  I sighed and looked out around the complex.  No one, and I mean no one was outside on this beautiful sunny Sunday.  No kids, no adults, no college kids.  No one.

To Fluffy, I said, “No one else is going to help her.”  He shrugged, and we went downstairs.

When she saw us, she grabbed my arm and begged us for help.  “I’ve already called my brother. I’m on the phone with 911.”  When Red gave me her cell phone, the operator asked me to go inside and check the body of her boyfriend.

That is when I saw my first dead person who wasn’t all prettied up in a casket.

He was face-down on the carpet in the nebulous “no-room” space between the kitchen, dining area, and living area.  His arm was outstretched with a piece of hard candy, a pink Jolly Rancher, just beyond his fingertips.  Their golden retriever mix was going ape shit, racing around the room, barking at us, at her, at the dead boyfriend.  The operator told me to have her put the dog in another room and then roll him over for further assessment.

When Red grabbed his arm, she squealed and began hyperventilating.  Fluffy, cool and calm as always, bent down and helped her heave her boyfriend – a heavyset man – onto his back.  He was purple, swollen, bloated, and leaky.  Red squealed again and jumped back.

To the operator, I said, “Ma’am, he’s purple.  It looks like he’s been dead a while.”

She said, “I can talk you through CPR.”

My automatic response was, “No!”  The guy was purple.  His lips were blue and swollen.  All of him was swollen.

Fluffy knows CPR, but when I asked if he would do it, he shook his head at me.  “I’m sorry, but this guy is dead dead.  I’m not doing CPR on him.”

At this point, Red launched into full panic mode.  She was too upset to try, not that I think she would’ve.  I walked back outside, still on her phone, and I heard the sirens of the ambulance.  Moments before it arrived, her brother did.  I gladly handed him the phone, got myself and Fluffy into my car, and drove to the grocery store.  In the parking lot of Publix, the adrenaline wore off.  I had the shakes for a solid half hour.

Later, we returned to the complex to find it crawling with police, paramedics, and gawkers.  People were actually sitting outside their apartments in lawn chairs watching all the goings-on.  “Where were they when she was screaming for help?” I asked.  “No one to be seen for miles until all the lights and sirens come.”  I was as sick and disgusted by the living as I was by the dead guy.

Red was out on her porch with her mother and brother, and she got up to thank us for trying to help and trying to calm her down.  “They said he died while I was at work, probably not long after I left.  We were going to get married this summer.”  I gave her a hug.

While unloading groceries, I said to Fluffy, “Just so you know, I’m going to be clingy for the next few days.”

The next morning, as I was getting ready for work, the lesson came to me: when someone is screaming for help, I will try to help…to an extent.  I could never give CPR to a complete stranger.  I just don’t have it in me to do something like that for the corpse of someone I don’t love.  I feel a little bad about that, but now I know.

Editorial Aid: My List of Overused and Abused Words

Why I need my list: One thing I have been told repeatedly is to edit the hell out of everything before trying to get it published. This stands to reason, as a manuscript full of typos and incorrect word usage is a turn-off for agents, editors, and publishers. Great, but no one has ever told me how to edit the hell out of something. I figured that grammar and spell checks factored in, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure, and those checks don’t catch everything. Thus, I developed a system for myself, and this list of words is a big part of that.

How I started my list: After I sent my mother the first novel I ever wrote, she called me and said, “I am sick and tired of Mr. Chuckles.” I had used that word over 50 times in 300 pages. No one chuckles that much. Because of that, I did some searching <ctrl+f> and came up with a list of words that I abuse. I always search these when editing. For the overused words, I don’t remove all of them, just enough to spread it out so you don’t notice it. (The book I am currently reading has “diffidently” 20 times in 400 pages. That is too much for an adverb!) The others are words that are abused – used incorrectly or typed in error.

My List:

  • cliches and colloquialisms (grammar check catches most of these, for American English)
  • then/than
  • farther/further
  • hear/here
  • your/you’re (a mortifying mistake for an author, but it happens)
  • there/their/they’re (another mortifying mistake)
  • form/from
  • fro/for
  • words that end with -wards should be -ward (toward not towards)
  • piece of [my, his, her] mind/peace of mind
  • you outside of a quotation
  • had/passive voice (you can’t get rid of them all; you can’t and shouldn’t, but you should try to keep your writing active!)
  • is/was (you can’t get rid of them all, and you shouldn’t)
  • fuck/shit/piss/hell/damn (no one should curse all the time)
  • my own (replace with “mine” or just “my” whenever possible)
  • grumble
  • growl
  • chuckle
  • snicker/snigger usage (I don’t think anyone really uses snigger anymore)
  • flop (my characters flop onto furniture a lot)
  • hum (related to sex scenes)
  • hiss (dialogue must have have words with S’s for characters to hiss)
  • wiggle
  • smirk
  • like (when I should use “as if,” “as,” or “as though”)
  • could, would, and should
  • words in place of “said” (don’t over-do it)
  • seem
  • appear

Those last two are often used incorrectly, so it’s best to avoid them if you can. If you have more suggestions, please share!

Cumberland

It’s a stretch of highway between rolling hills of grazing cows where you will find the thawing carcass of a yeti that tried to go south for the winter, where old wooden ships are playhouses for children, where the crane operated box of chainsaws chews foliage away from traffic, where the cleaved open mountain looms over the lanes, where you may drive through fog or deer or falling rock, where you will stare ahead blankly wishing for the road to end and when it does, you know you are almost home.

Waiting…a different time.

During the hours that I sat in the waiting room for Oncology, I studied dream interpretation. I bought several books on the subject, and while the doctors radiated my mother, I read about symbolism. The waiting room was large, so large that I could sit alone and never worry that anyone would need to sit next to me. I always sat in the section away from the TV and close to the refreshment center. I kept to myself and spoke to no one. I just read until the nurse called me to go out and pull the car around for my mother.

One Thursday, a woman sat next to me, which forced me stop reading and acknowledge her. She smiled and pointed to my book.  “Dream interpretation,” she said. “Sounds neat.”

“It can be,” I said.

We introduced ourselves and began a lengthy conversation on the symbolism of colors and numbers.

After talking for about ten minutes, she told me that she moved her father in with her family so she could take care of him, her husband, and her three kids. Bone cancer. Even now, I still wince at the thought of it. Not as bad as pancreatic, liver, or colon cancers but bad, very hard to treat, usually fatal. He was to the point where he had to wear a neck brace all the time. It was the first time that I was ever thankful for the type of cancer my mother had.

For the next week, she brought her father at the same time I brought my mother, and we talked about dreams and cancer. I feel a bit ashamed that I can’t remember her name, especially since I remember her dreams. They were normal dreams about every day sorts of things with the exception that she was always dragging a heavy black garbage bag. About the time he reached the point where he could no longer care for himself, her father began throwing all his trash down the ravine behind his house. The hillside was strewn with black garbage bags of trash, and this woman and her husband had to clean it all up before they could sell the house. She was angry and burdened, and those feelings made her feel guilty. After talking about it, she felt better and joked that I ought to charge her for my time.

Near the end of that week, her father’s white count was too low for him to receive more treatments. After that, I never saw her again, but one of the nurses, who overheard our conversations, commented to me that I was a sweet girl for talking to her.  Her father’s prognosis was poor, and I had likely eased her guilt about the situation.

Of the meeting, my mother said, “God works in mysterious ways.”

I replied, “Of course He does. If He didn’t, we would all understand everything, and there would be no cancer.”

“You know I believe that everything happens for a reason,” she said.

“Yeah, well, why do you think you got cancer?”

She shrugged. “Maybe to bring you and your father closer together.”

“That’s fucked up,” I said, to which she snapped at me for cursing. “I think you got cancer because you grew up in a city before there was any regulation on what toxins industries to pump into the air, and you went to college in a town where the morning air was so filled with chemicals it was yellow.”

“And I didn’t wear sunscreen like I should,” she added. “Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes things just break.”

So I thought, Even God answers his children’s questions with, “Because.” It’s not an answer at all, so why bother asking?

Predator

He considered himself no different from any other animal that finds joy in toying with its prey before delivering it unto Death. He used only the weapons nature gave him, and he didn’t always eat what he killed. He considered most of it practice, a honing of skills and body.

He watched an episode of Blue Planet that showed a pod of killer whales stalking a blue whale and its pup, taunting the mother, nipping at the babe. When the pup was exhausted, they toyed with the mother until she could no longer defend her offspring. The orcas circled and jabbed, like a pack of boxers, and when they finally separated mother and child, they killed the pup but ate only its cheek meat – the choicest cut, so to speak. After the orcas left, the mother whale swam around the pup for hours, nudging it.

The unspoken questions were obvious. Were the orcas evil? Did the blue whale love her pup?  He knew that such questions had no meaning in nature. He wondered where humans got off thinking they were evil or just or loving. Just because they believed they had souls, because they thought themselves civilized with advanced language skills, they were somehow better and accountable to someone’s notion of moral standards. Ants were civilized, and they sure as hell didn’t have ethics. Mounds often went to war with one another. Yes, he knew it was bullshit.

When he killed, it was because it was in his nature because he was of nature and not bound by a fabricated sense of right and wrong. When he killed his own kind, it was no different than the male dolphin, orangutan, or lion that slaughtered his competitors’ offspring and mated with as many females as possible to increase the odds of leaving a significant genetic footprint amongst the species.  What he did was normal, and those who said differently were kidding themselves.