Monday, December 31, 2012

HONORING GIFTS


Like most, I’m eager to welcome in the new year and challenge myself with projects put off far too long.  Through my elation, I’m also aware of those who’ve fallen by the wayside too soon.  I think about celebrities like Whitney Houston, the children from Newtown, and the stifled creative souls of those giving up as I type these words.

I must admit, years earlier, my resolutions reflected a gamut of endeavors such as combatting procrastination, exercising and reading more books.  Now, I find ways to honor my writing.  I eavesdrop on conversations in the waiting room at the dentist office, hoping for a nugget to make inclusive in my next literary work.

Oftentimes, I’m awakened in the middle of the night by a dream, then, I begin to jot down ideas. This is something I welcome with opened arms! I’m obsessed with writing.  Every movie I see and book I read, affords me the opportunity to get my juices going.

I’m aware that writing is a gift that I will not be sidetracked from. I delve into projects with the same dynamism as any other profession that impacts the world.

Words can make a difference; they can change the mindset of many and move a nation toward democracy. It’s my duty as an author, to honor my love for writing. I think about all those who’ve shared their gifts and left an imprint on the world, and I think to myself: I'll do it too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

HOW TO HANDLE YOUR FIRST BOOK SIGNING


There is much debate about the usefulness of book signings. Many authors feel their efforts far outweigh their returns when they’ve sold only six books. While this may seem dismal, book signings are great for newbie authors.

 
Be professional.

Book signings represent a fractional element to your brand.  How you look and speak makes a statement. Another way to polish your image is to have business cards.
 
 Send out letters.

Let nearby libraries and bookstores know about your book.  Don’t be afraid to mention that you live in the community. Contact local TV and radio stations, as well.  Writers should use these mediums to their advantage.

 Handout promotional items and treats.

Place a small jar of treats on your desk. When you hand out treats, bookmarks, business cards, and other give-a-ways, this allows the public to see you as first-rate. They will assume your book is as well.

 Make it fun.

You’ve worked too long on your book to act shy now! Stand, if possible, while chatting with your audience, and create fun facts involving the subject of your book.

 Giving them a reason to want your book.

Let the crowd know why they need your book.  If it’s on world travel, convince them of the advantages traveling to Europe provides, opposed to a “staycation.”  When your work is well done, it sells itself.  It’s your job to let people know why they’re better off with your book in their hands.

 Thank you notes.

Common courtesy can go a long way. Send out "thank you" cards after your book signings.  It puts the spotlight on your professionalism and allows businesses to observe you as a step ahead of the rest.

What creative ideas do you have pertaining to book signings?

 

Monday, December 3, 2012

WRITING TRUTHS AUTHORS MAY NOT SHARE


 

Authors are oftentimes more than willing to share the plight of their latest novels.  They may run through the timeline and history of events, and give details of how difficult, unsafe even, their efforts came to be.

Nonetheless, writers, impressive as they may appear, have run into road blocks at one point or another.

 

Publishing Houses.

More often than not, writers go through a long list of publishing houses, only to receive sterile rejection notices stating “thanks, but no thanks.” This doesn’t mean the manuscript lacked quality. Then again, maybe the manuscript wasn’t up to par.

 

Putting in the time.

There are plenty of clichés that surrender to the truth behind “not having enough time in one day.”  Still, it is the writer’s responsibility to invest in his/her craft.

 

Check it again.

Research and accurate information is vital to any written work.  Once a statistic or fact comes up weak, the author loses credibility.

 

Knowing the writing rules.

The best authors have cringed at some of their earlier publications. Develop a proof-reading regimen that covers: grammar, (adverbs, adjectives, qualifiers) punctuation, (commas, semi colon, and colons) and writing style.

Revisions are a must.

There is no set number to revising one’s work.  For some, it may be five times, while others will repeat the process fifty.

 

What writing secrets have you kept to yourself?

Monday, November 19, 2012

7 STRATEGIES FOR CONTROLLING YOUR SUSPENSE STORY


There are many layers to creating a suspense story where the intensity is so thick you can taste it, and your protagonist defeats the antagonist against insurmountable odds.  But, giving away too much too soon can be a spoiler, just as letting the protagonist off easy.  So, how do you strike the right chord?  Suspense writing, like any other genre, requires discipline.  

 
1.      Your protagonist has to stay vigilant with objectives.  This is not the time for tip-toe-through-the-tulip moments. One way to do this is to create limits on when he/she can achieve a specific goal, making time a factor.

2.      Keep it moving, don’t stall.  Avoid overloading your suspense scenes with narrative and colorful passages.

3.      Make your protagonist tough even when he/she may start fragile. If there is such a transformation, the character must be believable to win over the reader.

4.      Make matters worse.  Give your protagonist multiple problems to solve at once.

5.      Get into the bad guy’s head.  Everyone loves to hate a good villain. 

6.      A happy ending won’t let down your readers. The reader should feel relieved and pleased at the outcome of your story.

7.      Create a likable protagonist in spite of character flaws. You want the reader to root for him/her.
 

 Other sites to check out:


“How To Write Suspense Stories And Mystery Novels,” (http://www.bristolservicesintl.com/suspense_stories.html.)

“How To Write A Mystery Story,” (http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Mystery-Story.)

 Have you written a suspense story?

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

GETTING PAID FOR YOUR PAIN


It’s been said that writers usually recycle their personal stories through their work. This doesn’t suggest stagnation or the inability to move forward on the authors’ part.  It does, however, provide a convenient outlet to disentangle from past pains!

While most would agree that to have something interesting to write about, one should have witnessed or experienced something extraordinary. So how do you know if what you are penning is significant?

Author and Creative Writing Instructor, Annabelle McIlnay, frequently advised students at the Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, “Write what you know.”  She encouraged essayists and novelists to tell their own stories for publication by delving into their past.  The truth is most people don’t cling to the fuzzy and warm feelings of their youth.  Painful encounters that seep out at unexpected stretches in their adult lives are what stick out in their minds.

An article in Enzine titled “Writing Memoirs” suggests, “Apart from being good writing practice, they [memoirs] help you train your critical thinking and introspection abilities. . .” The article adds, “. . . Rather than merely relay what's happening, you turn them over to see if they offer any answers to life's many questions.”

Telling one’s personal story is not for the faint-of-heart.  It takes courage to expose personal endeavors and disappointments. Yet, it can be gratifying for both the author and the reader.  Here are some pointers on writing about your past experiences:

     1)      Your memoir should include elements of purpose or conflict just as a fictional story would.

2)      If you share a painful memory, avoid using euphemisms.  State the event straight on.  To do otherwise puts the spotlight on your ineffectiveness.

3)      Be mindful of the people you speak of in your memoir and consider changing names for legal purposes.

4)      Research your history against documents and older family members.  Oftentimes the writer’s recollection-of-dates are skewed.

5)      The conclusion of your book should disclose some resolve or higher level of divine illumination.

 Have you considered publishing your personal story?

Monday, October 1, 2012

PLANTED SEEDS


“What did your parents do?” questioned an English professor, standing in admiration of the fact I’d been published in a major magazine and had just returned from New York after guest-appearing on a TV talk show. Yet, her pointed inquiry stumped me.

Usually I’d smile with pendulum-moving eyes, while I ran through a litany of events and writers I’d met along the way. (The late Dwayne McDuffie had been the first.)  Never had I considered planted seeds as a contributing factor in my literary endeavors.

As a child, my dad and I fell into a rhythm:  He told me made-up stories and songs about furry critters and I’d listen with anticipation. My youthful mind would delight in the happy endings of each character and I’d feel sad when misfortune hit them.

Not only did the stories stick with me well into adulthood, but they framed my relationship with my father.  After all, isn’t that what writing is about?  Relationships?

My dad’s easy-going spirit oftentimes pressed me to say to him, “I wish I could be more like you!” He usually laughed, but I knew I had a wavering disposition whenever life’s challenges slapped me in the face. I’d question everything, even my love for writing.

“Tssst, tsst, you’re using too many passive sentences,” or “your main character lacks depth.” I’d hear the words and roll them over and over in my head, measuring them against my writing capabilities and shaking my fists to the walls. “Why does this have to be so darn hard?” 

I’ve since nestled comfortably in my love for writing.  I no longer question that fact. My declaration to devote a lifetime to perfecting it is what I focus on.

It’s just “life” really, when I have to regroup and adjust through the difficulties of this crazy writing business.  However, I’m steady in my quest because long ago, planted seeds became deep-rooted in my life and a big harvest is coming  . . . I can feel it.

Did someone plant seeds in your life? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TAKING STEPS TOWARD BOOK MARKETING


You’ve finally accepted the fact you’re an introvert, oftentimes writing in confined spaces.  Even with your laptop set up at Barnes & Noble, you are still alone, creating boundless characters that leap off the pages and into the readers’ next water cooler conversation. 

So, how does a quiet, “chilled out” person suddenly become a gregarious salesman when it comes to marketing his/her book?

 
Start a blog.

This allows your potential readers to sample your writing style.  Showcase a chapter from your manuscript. Give an estimated release date.  If it’s already in print, give the website with the purchasing information.

 
Write a press release.

Let local newspapers know about your presence through your newly released book.


 

Create a “like” page on Facebook.

Showcase your published work on this page with excerpts, calendar-of-events and testimonials.


Forward your book to book club members.

The buzz about your work will give you a jumpstart when reviews are written.  Just make sure they don’t giveaway the plot or ending!

 
Sign up for book fairs and festivals.

It’s a win-win situation when you surround yourself with other authors and book lovers.


Setup book events/signings.

This undertaking usually gets you mentioned in the local newspapers, especially if it’s at a community center or library. Use it to your advantage. Make your book events engaging by being creative.  For example, you can give a quiz on relationships, or handout interesting fun-facts on the topic.


Enlist fellow writers to help support your book.

Staying connected with well-established writers will catapult your book sales just from a plug. Use social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn, online writers’ groups) to join up with others.

 
Take advantage of the media.

Reach out to acquaintances in the news, radio, (blog radio) and local TV stations.  What better way to showcase your work and increase your readership.

 
Advertise your book through freebies.

Give potential customers bookmarks or magnets that briefly tell what your book is about and offer a website.

 
All of these tools are useless if the product is less than stellar.  Put out a great book and let potential buyers know why they need to read it.  Will it help them become more empathetic concerning their fellow man?  Make them more romantic lovers? Shape their ideas about organic foods and home cooked meals? Whatever topic you choose to write about, your pitch should convince buyers why they need your book in their lives.

What marketing strategies do you use?

 

 

 

 

Monday, September 3, 2012

5 WAYS TO RESEARCH CAREERS FOR YOUR CHARACTERS


Trying to find the right career for your character can be as challenging as finding the right plot.  Is the career choice right for your character? Is this career something you are familiar with, or will research be necessary?  Here are a few pointers:

       1.      Talk to someone you know.

This is simple research.  If the person is ecstatic about what he or she does, great!  If they moan through the teeth every other word, even better!  You want to hear the ins and outs of their daily 9-to-5.  Specific situations are advantageous because they provide you with scenarios in support of your own story.

2.       Call the company and set up interviews.

 
If you’re writing about a Meteorologist, you’ll need to know basic information about the career in order to ask pertinent questions.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Understanding what to ask helps.


3.       Surf the Net.

There are various websites, including Occupational Outlook Handbook, Indeed, Monster and Wikipedia, which charts in detail, information regarding specific careers.  These sites will likely give the salary/salary range, job functions and qualifications necessary for the position.

4.       Chatrooms/forums

This is the next-best-thing to talking with someone in person.  Participants in chatrooms and forums provide the day-to-day routine and questions, they themselves, may have. You get the true grit-of-emotions from those who choose to vent or boast about what it is they do.


5.       Books on Careers for Characters. 

Careers for your Characters, by Raymond Obstfeld and Franz Neumann, is an ideal book which lists examples of careers and necessary educational experience needed for each job.

Just the smallest details involving what your characters do can add depth and believability to your story!

 How do you research career paths for your characters?

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 20, 2012

HOW TO KEEP UP WITH YOUR CHARACTERS


Ask any love-sick, starry-eyed teen how she keeps up with her boyfriend, and she may take the time to tell you; that is, if she’s not busy texting him or racing to the nearest mall to purchase that cute, got-to-have-it mini skirt, perfect for their next movie-date and a jaw-dropping reaction.

The where-a-bouts, habits and detailed personality traits of characters are equally crucial for an author.  Any inconsistencies will likely discredit the writer.  So how should you, the writer, keep it all together?

Do the leg-work before you start your book.

This isn’t the most exciting part of novel-writing, but, it is necessary.  You should know the basic outline to your book and its plot.  A general grasp of the ending should be apparent as well. 

Another way to achieve a cohesive storyline is through mind mapping.  Additionally, some authors keep a summary log of important details involving their characters. This allows for a quick reference opposed to searching haphazardly through the entire manuscript. (This is oftentimes in addition to the synopsis.)

 Know your characters like they’re your best frenemy.

Does the main character tend to cower in sticky situations because he was abused as a child, but becomes an extravert once placed in a leadership role?  What outstanding features does the character have?  Again, as I’ve stated in other articles, zodiac signs are excellent sources for developing personality traits.

Your characters’ actions should be consistent.

Many times, in the intensity of the moment, a writer visualizes a great scene as it filters out through his or her fingers.  However, the author may, inadvertently, have a character stand and leave a room in which the character never entered in the first place.  If your character’s favorite cigarette is Marlboro Lights, then the following two or three chapters shouldn’t show her smoking Virginia Slims, unless there’s a reason for the change-of-heart.

 Does Morris Day and the Time really know what time it is?

It’s important to let the reader know where the characters are in the story.  Is it day or night?  Monday or Friday?  Are pumpkins outside because Halloween is coming up?  Are the trees budding because it’s springtime?  Is the story present-time or from the 1930s?

Making note of the smallest detail can make all the difference in plot development or the outcome of your book.  Readers will delight in the recall of a seemingly insignificant event or item mentioned early on, and later discovering it has greater meaning.

How do you keep up with your characters?

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TownsPamela


Monday, July 16, 2012

HOW TO CRAFT AN EYE-CATCHING QUERY LETTER


Great!  You’ve completed your novel!  It took several months to hammer out the plot and continuous problems for your protagonist while streaming in scenery and ingenious dialogue.  The first part of the book is explosive, the middle is sag-free and the ending triumphs!  Now for the pitch: the query letter.

While the query letter may be one of the most toiled phases of writing, it is necessary.  Both agents and publishers view query letters to determine if your book is right for their clients.  They also want to get a sense of your novel’s marketability, and, let’s face it, whether it can deliver high-end dividends.  (See Fiction Writer’s Connection on: Query Letters, http://www.fictionwriters.com/tips-query-letters.html.)
The first paragraph of your query letter should grab ‘em right off the bat:
This paragraph is imperative because it represents the “first impression” of your book.  It should be no more than 50 words.  Usually query letters have three paragraphs, and are limited to one page.  You are not telling the reader how wonderful your book is, but rather, giving an overview as to what your book is about, roughly, in a sentence.  It should be “well-thought-out,” suggests Moira Allen, from the article: How to Write a Successful Query, http://www.writing-world.com/basics/query.shtml.
What your second paragraph should include:
This paragraph will have a broader view of your novel, which specifies the word count; the genre, whether it is mainstream, science fiction, erotica or historical; the main character’s name and the essence of their dilemma, (the purpose for telling the story), and lastly, give details pertaining to the make-up of your novel.  The words in this paragraph will run approximately 120-155 words.
Talk about you:
The last paragraph of your query letter should wow them as well.  This is your time to list your important writing accomplishments.  If you have not been published, don’t mention it.  Play up your completed projects.  List your affiliations with writing organizations, and any conferences/seminars you’ve attended.  Bring up your connections with other well-known writers. (LinkedIn and Facebook are excellent social Medias for this).  This is important because you want to show you can assist in marketing your book, that you know how to get your name out there.  If you have your bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field, mention that.  If you’ve done radio or television work, state that as well.
Other important tips on composing your query letter:
Ø Make sure the spelling is correct.
Ø Keep a copy of your query letter.
Ø For traditional mailings, include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE), only if you want a response back.
Ø Keep track of your submitted query letters.
Here are sample query letters:

Lesson: Summarize your latest book or article in one sentence. 
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TownsPamela






Monday, June 18, 2012

SNEAK PEEK INTO THE NOVEL: TWELVE YEARS




Sage Jackson finally escapes her abusive father, only to land into the arms of a smooth-talking college-senior.  But when the relationship leaves her broken, she fails to take seriously the advances of, Brian Woosley, a handsome young man who is willing to love her completely.  While he is everything she needs, Sage can’t see beyond the fact she used to babysit him as a child.




Chapter One

October 1977

Sage Jackson’s head snapped around to the sound of the car door slamming.  “Um, okay, then, Mrs. Woosley.  Will do.   I-I’ll be over in just a few minutes.”  She ended her phone conversation, talking fast into the receiver.  Sage nearly dropped the phone in her haste to hang it up and leave her room and the house.   At the last minute, the Woosleys wanted her to babysit. 

Now, her focus shifted.   The car door slammed.   It meant her father was in a funky mood.  What happened this time?  Someone at the post office didn’t speak?  Did her mother go over the food budget?  Sage could only guess what repercussions her mother would endure, whether she’d been at fault or not.  Like a dump truck, her father would unload all of his garbage and anger of the day onto her mother. 

She usually didn’t see it coming, sucker punched yet again.  She’d vacuum up his occasional kind gestures.  The week of her last birthday, he made her coffee because she’d been so tired from standing all day.   She puckered her lips at the first sip then raced to the sink to spit.  She wiped her mouth hard and said, “Oooh, Jason.  This coffee tastes funny!”    He responded by saying, “Yeah, ‘cause I peed in it.”  His laughter saturated the room.  Looking at his wife’s unsmiling face, he added, “Fool, you know I’m just playing with you.  Can’t you take a joke?”   There was always some lesson he claimed needed teaching.   Lessons with cruel actions attached to them.  An addendum.    He gladly took credit for any mishap her mother endured, reminding her it happened because of something she did, or didn’t do enough of, for him.  Then he’d blurt out, “See, that’s why. . .”

Her mother usually turned away in defeat, obviously, understanding very little of the intended lesson.  But, the coffee did taste bitter, she thought.  When Mrs. Jackson did feel up to confronting him, the battle of words would last well into the night, and then for a rematch the following morning.  But their words turned into objects taking flight and landing against walls, missing its intended target.  Then there was the occasional wrist-grabbing, and cry of, “Ouch, Jason!  You’re hurting me!”

Sage’s mouth took on an unpleasant form.   She sprinted down the stairs and scooped up her geometry notebook from the writing desk in the kitchen.  When she heard the key turn in the front door, she stood still until the sound of her father’s footsteps ascended the stairs.  She quietly eased out the front door, relieved to escape, if only for a few hours.

 Sage locked the door and stuffed her key in the front pocket of her Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.  She turned to face a half moon that welcomed silhouettes of trees and lamp posts.  Sparsely scattered leaves crumbled beneath her feet as she walked one house over. The neighborhood seemed quiet.  Still.  Lights inside the windows of homes were the only evidence of life.   She lifted her smooth caramel skin to the night air before walking up the steps and knocking on Mrs. Woosley’s door.

After three knocks, Mrs. Woosley opened the door wide. “Hello, Sage!”  Linda gestured for her to come inside.  They stood in the vestibule. 

“Tonight’s your anniversary, isn’t it?”  Sage said.

            “Yes,” Linda answered, somewhat surprised.  “How did you know?”

            “Well, it wasn’t hard to guess because the last time I babysat Brian said that you and Mr. Woosley were going out next month because the family was still married.”

            Linda nodded her head.  “That sounds like something Brian would say! You think that’s something, earlier today I went downstairs to chastise Gabie for stuffing too much toilet paper in the toilet, right?   Well, wouldn’t you know it, I caught her sticking . . .” then she lowered her voice,   “. . .  Kotex Lightdays all over the living room window for the entire world to see!  I couldn’t believe it.  All my pads on the front window!”  Mrs. Woosley said, now laughing richly.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her!”

  Sage chuckled, her head slightly tilted back.  She loved hearing stories about the twins.  Gabrielle and Brian were actually well-behaved children.  Gabrielle with her love for pretending and stories, and Brian with his urge to hug and kiss her every chance he got.  She knew that deep down, Mrs. Woosley found delight in talking about the children, even if they’d done something contrary to what she wanted them to do. 

“Again, sweetie, I’m sorry for asking you to babysit at the last minute.  We really appreciate this,” Mrs. Woosley said fervently, guiding Sage into the living room.

             Mrs. Woosley stood no more than five-feet tall.  She had a pleasantly pale, round face.  Mr. Woosley was tall and dark with thin hair that swirled around the sides and back of his head.  The top shined like a new penny.  It was obvious to Sage the love the Woosley’s had for each other.  It reflected in their home as well.  The furniture, wall décor, and rugs all said that the Woosley house was indeed a home.   Sage scanned family pictures with delight.  Every room had family portraits; in one Mrs. Woosley held the twins in each arm shortly after they were born.  A few portraits graced the mantle over the fireplace in the living room. 

            Sage lowered her small frame onto the sofa, her eyes fixed on the pictures.   She imagined the Woosley's eating together at the dinner table, each member chattering about the events of their day.  Little Gabie mentioning her craft project in art class, Brian, some cool game he discovered, and Mr. and Mrs. Woosley listening intently, commenting when necessary.  Sage’s thoughts were interrupted when she heard footsteps from the stairwell and looked up to see Brian creeping down the stairs holding his Operation game.

            “Hey, Brian, what’s up, guy?”  Sage smiled easily and knew that she was expected to play the game with him.  Sage connected well with the children, partly because they were well-mannered kids, and they were so darn cute. 

            “Where’s Gabie?” Sage inquired, watching Brian finger a thick rubber band around his thumb and pinky.   It was the rubber band he pulled off his Operation game to keep the dilapidated top over the game board and parts.

            “Unno,” Brian hunched his shoulders, and then began taking off the top to his game. 

            “I’ll check on Gabrielle,” Mrs. Woosley interjected. “Make sure she hasn’t gotten into my makeup or anything.”   She walked away swiftly and climbed the stairs.           Brian sat next to Sage, staring up at her, smiling from ear to ear, minus his top front tooth.  “Can I give you a hug?”

            “Sure,” Sage said, thinking how adorable he was.

            He put both arms around her neck and pulled her down to where her cheek was level to his lips. Then he kissed her.  Sage inhaled Ivory soap and oddly enough, peanut butter.

            “Oooh, a bonus!” Brian was quite the charmer.  He and Gabrielle were what some folks in the south would refer to as “high yellow.” The twins were closer to their mother’s complexion, but looked more like their dad around the eyes and nose.  They had doe eyes and irresistible cuteness. Their noses were medium in width but the nostrils were visible as the end of their noses turned up a bit, Gabrielle’s more so than Brian’s.  Brian’s mom kept his hair cut short, although the ends still turned up into curls.  Gabrielle’s hair seemed to have several destinations, the sides going east and west no matter how many times the strands were combed into an attempt to have them succumb to uniformity.

            “Will you be happy to graduate first grade?”

            “Umm, yes, I guess. But I won’t have anything to do when school is out.”  Brian sucked his bottom lip.

            “Well, aren’t you going to summer camp?”

            “I dunno.”  Brian looked away, then down at his sneakers.   “Are you going to summer camp?”

            “Oh, no.  I’m graduating high school this year.”

            “What high school do you go to?”

            “Hayman.  Maybe you’ll go there when you’re bigger.”  Sage patted his head.

            Linda’s return interrupted their conversation.  She was holding Gabrielle’s hand.               “Yes, I knew it.  She was in my Mary Kay eye shadow.”  Gabrielle still had a residual of sparkles, both blue and purple over her eyes and above her eyebrows. 

            “Hey, Gabie, you were playing dress up with Mommy’s makeup?”  Sage said.

Gabrielle freed her hand from her mother’s and reached for Sage.  Sage scooted to the edge of the sofa to give her a hug. “Say, which one of you is the oldest?”

            “I am!”  Both Gabrielle and Brian spoke in unison.   It was evident the kids dressed themselves.  Gabrielle wore a green blouse with dark blue and lime green vertical stripes with brown shorts.  Brian wore tennis shoes with a pair of dress slacks that revealed skin from the top of his white socks to the edge of his cuffed pants.

            Linda clarified. “Well, it was Brian actually.”  She chuckled lightly with the recollection.   “Brian is the oldest.”

            By now, Gabrielle had sat on the floor next to Sage and folded her legs Indian-style.  Linda remained standing to avoid wrinkling her black pant suit.  Linda reminded Sage where the list of emergency contacts were and the bedtime rules.  She walked to the edge of the stairs and called up to her husband.  He swiftly appeared at the top of the stairs, apparently struggling with his ill-fitting tie.  Like a child needing assistance, he made his way down the stairs and waited for his wife to instinctively help. It was like breathing, Sage observed. 

            “Howdy,” Mr. Woosley said, in his southern twang. “How’s your dad making out with those clubs I gave him?”

            “Oh, hi, Mr. Woosley.   He’s enjoying them!” Sage lied.  She didn’t have the heart to tell him her father couldn’t care less about playing golf, nor could she tell him her father said that Mr. Woosley could take the clubs and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine. 

            Daniel Woosley looked pleased.  “Good, good,” he said.  “I’ll have to introduce him to Jim. He’s right up the street here.  Jim plays golf as well.”

            “He’d like that.” Sage’s gaze shifted to the floor.

            “Good, good,” Daniel repeated. “Soon y’all will know all the neighbors.  I think the next block club meet is next Tuesday.  It takes time to get acclimated to a new neighborhood, let alone a new state.  Y’all from Ohio, right?”

            “No, Michigan.  My dad’s job transferred him to Georgia and that’s why we moved.”  Sage found herself pulling at her ponytail as she spoke.

            “All right, that’s a good thing.”

            Linda pulled at Daniel’s sleeve.

            “Oh, I know, I know.  Okay, you know where everything is, right?”

            Sage started to answer, and realized it was a rhetorical question.  She nodded and waved them off, and closed the front door behind them.  She headed up the stairs with Gabrielle pulling on her shirt and Brian with one arm wrapped around her thigh with his other hand still clinching his Operation game.  Once at the top, Gabrielle grabbed Sage’s hand and led her to her room and showed off her Barbie doll house, pink and lime green rooms with floral and striped patterns on the wooden walls.  Each room had miniature furniture: a pink plastic bath tub in the bathroom, table and chairs in the kitchen.  Gabrielle grabbed Barbie and handed Sage her Ken doll. 

            “You wanna play with me, Sage?”

            “She doesn’t wanna play with those dumb ol’ dolls-- stupid girl stuff.” Brian mocked.

            “Brian, I’m a girl.”  Sage waited for his response.

            “But why would you wanna play with boring dolls when we can play with my game?”

            Sage rubbed Brian’s shoulder.  “Tell you what, how ‘bout I play a little with Gabie and then I’ll play your game with you?  Deal?”

            Brian didn’t answer, he waited impatiently as the eleven and a half-inch antagonist robbed him of game-time while they were being dressed by his sister and babysitter.   Sage could see Brian rolling his eyes periodically as Gabrielle rearranged the furniture in just about every room of the doll house.  Gabrielle responded by sticking her tongue out at him.  Brian sighed protractedly and leaned back against Gabrielle’s bed as he sat on the floor with both legs bent to his right-side.  His head would pivot from the window to the door and then back at the doll house.  He’d look down at his game and suck his teeth.  This went on for the entire twenty minutes Sage and Gabrielle played.

            Sage smiled easily at Gabrielle.  “Okay, Gabie.  Whataya think, should we play Brian’s game before he passes out?” 

            Gabrielle quick-wittedly said, “No, he can pass out.”  She held her grip to Barbie’s waist, flicking the doll left, then right, in a bouncy cadence that  humans could not possibly master.

            “Gabie?”  Sage called.  “Don’t you feel the least bit bad for your brother?  I mean look at him.  He looks like he’s going to have a conniption.”

            “Huh?”  Gabrielle’s nose turned up and her lips bunched upward.

            “Never mind, how about we put the dolls up and play with Brian’s game a bit, okay?”

            Gabrielle demonstrated a more accommodating spirit than her brother.  She put all of the dolls in the living room of their home and folded the front of the house closed to its back.  Once done, she nodded in compliance.

            “Let’s play in my room,” Brian grabbed Sage’s hand.  His room was decked out with one wall royal blue, the others, a paler version.  The solar system spanned across the ceiling, his bedding mimicking the same theme. Brian had one built-in bookshelf that exposed his interest in dinosaurs, comic book heroes and the solar system.   Sage supposed it was typical for a boy of six.  Brian’s bedroom, just as Gabrielle’s, looked as if it were decorated by a professional, aside from the clothes Brian had piled in a corner.   Brian eagerly set up his game.   He appointed himself to go first, giggling after each attempt to remove a bone from the oversized cardboard patient.  The nose of the patient lit up red, warning the participating doctor that the bone had not been extracted successfully.  Sage and Gabrielle did not escape the nose turning red on their attempts either.  Laughter filled the room like installation filling a space to create warmth.  

            Without warning, Brian rounded his fingers and squeezed Sage’s left breast and said, “What’s that called?”

            Sage was surprised but not embarrassed.  “Hey, leave my boobies alone, mister.”

            “Na-uh, they aren’t boobies, they’re breasts.”

            “Well, leave them alone.  Both of them.  Thought you didn’t know what they were called?”

            Gabrielle shot in, “I’m telling Mom you’re picking on Sage’s breasts!”

Sage shifted her weight from one hip to the other as they all huddled around the game on the carpeted floor, having disputes over her body.

            Brian snapped back, “So what! You’re gonna get ‘em too so shut . . .”

            Sage held her arms out with her palms lifted to the two opposite walls.  “All right.  Calm down you two.   Okay, I think we’ve had enough of this game.”  Sage began putting the pieces of the game inside the dilapidated box, covering it.  “It’s almost ten o’clock.  I’ll tell you two a story, a made up story about twin dragons . . . a boy and a girl.”

            Sage had since ended her studies and began getting sleepy while the TV watched her, when the Woosleys came back just past midnight.  They appeared to have had a good time, Sage gathered from their jovial demeanors.   She imagined The Woosleys toasting their champagne glasses in a dimly lit restaurant with candles on the table, and soft music playing in the background.   Mr. Woosley seemed a little tipsy because he kept hugging up behind his wife and she’d slap at his hand, though lovingly. Sage took in the moment, thinking it to be the biggest, almost strangest oxymoron, slapping someone for play.

            Sage graciously accepted her money and headed back home.  But it was like fizzle settling in a drink after two tablets of Alka-Seltzer had been plopped in it. Sage’s mood sank as soon as she walked back into her house.  The voices from her parents’ room were elevated.  Were they arguing all this time? she wondered.  Their words seeped through the cracks under her bedroom door like smoke.  “I don’t know, stupid . . . you tell me!” she heard her father yell. “You make me sick with the name-calling!” her mother retorted.   Sage thought of the movie The Fog.  She cut on the lamp by her bed then slowly took off her clothes, slipping into polka-dotted pajama pants with a sleeveless T-shirt.  She lay in bed on her back.  Her eyes turned downward like shutters to a window treatment. 

            Sage went back to her image of the Woosley family at the dinner table having polite and effortless conversation.  Like cutting out faces of a magazine, she replaced theirs with her own family.  Conversations crisscrossing over a bowl of mashed potatoes and green beans, and laughter directing itself at the person that last spewed a remark of playful criticism.   She was happy, loved and knew that when the time came for her to start her own family, it would be like this.  Laughter, love, food, and family, filled up the warm space.  Somehow the magical pin burst her cheery thought, images vanishing in an instant. Shrills and the sound of broken glass brought her back to reality.  Sage’s eyes popped open and her heart rate accelerated.   She could never get used to their fighting.  It all stemmed from her father.  He was plain old mean.  No matter how kind her mother tried to be, he’d twist it into something ugly.  His nasty words weren’t enough.  He had to push her occasionally to remind her who was boss.  Sage didn’t understand why her mother took it.  Her father was just a little over five feet tall.  Her mother was slightly taller.  She could have knocked him upside his head and demand he sit down somewhere, but she never did.  She just took whatever he dished out. 

            Usually Sage managed to ignore his rude comments directed at her.  “I sure hope yo’ ass don’t get big like yo’ mama’s.” Even when he dished out a compliment, Sage had to think twice because it didn’t always feel like one.  “Oh, girl, you know I’m playing with you!” he’d sometimes say.  Like saying something mean and admitting it to be a joke made it okay.  “I grew up with my daddy treating me the same way—I turned out all right,” he often justified.  He truly thought he was all right and everyone else had something wrong with them.

“Ooouch!  That hurts, Jason!”

Sage jerked when she heard her mother cry out.  She reached for the black knob on her lamp and turned it until there was only darkness.  She gathered the covers up to her neck.  Sage couldn’t help but wonder if the fog from her parents had seeped beyond her bedroom walls, past the bricks, into the night air and through the structure of the Woosleys’ home, and allowed them to know the truth that could no longer be contained.

 
***

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick-read into my soon-to-be-released contemporary novel.  Thanks!