Archive for the ‘ Novels ’ Category

After the War: Sample Chapter

I probably shouldn’t even pretend I’m ever going to get around to anything else for this blog besides orphan short stories and poetry.

I know there aren’t going to be any movie reviews on here anytime soon.

All kinds of wild promises have been made, mostly to myself (it just happens to be that I also write and share them with people, because I’m fucking stupid like that), and none of them have been realized.

That’s okay. Writing random pieces about social or political events, random anecdotes picked up and fleshed out from the day to day madness of everyday life, these are fairly small promises in the long run. The only person who really cares about them in the end is me.

I guess it’s not so bad. I disappoint myself all the time, and I seem to handle those punches just fine. There’s no reason in the world to believe I’ll never get around to writing some of the things I’d like to write for this blog. Drunk Monkeys, as I’m sure I’ve said before, gets a lot of that original material now. I’m okay with that. It’s one of the best websites or literary journals I’ve ever worked for, and I’m grateful to have an Editor who is game for just about weird, potentially stupid idea that pops into my head.

There really isn’t a reason to even have this blog anymore. I started it as an excuse to write more non-fiction, and as an excuse to write about movies again. I work for a few sites now that handle both of those things pretty well. I still have ideas and pieces I’ve love to write for this blog, stuff that I don’t think would work anywhere but here, but I still have to get through the work I do as a freelance writer (and it’s rich, fulfilling stuff, I swear to God), poetry, short stories, my third novel (which is repeatedly reminding me that I should have chosen calculus over Percocet in high school), work for Drunk Monkeys or The Modest Proposal, or work I can find just about anywhere else.

I get through all of that, and I’m just fucking tired.

And I don’t have things like acting work to strike a good, healthy creative balance, so I tend to get bored or tired after four or five thousand words worth of work in a given day.

I didn’t want to do a short story this time (I have several ready to go, but my heart really is more on selling them somewhere). I didn’t want to do poetry. That doesn’t leave me with a ton of material that isn’t either somewhere else, in my mind head, or so goddamn wretched an exercise in attempted creativity that keeping it around almost qualifies as self-injury.

It leaves me with the second novel I’m still trying to sell.

I’m not going to run the whole thing here. I’d still like to see it travel the world, find a few people who dig it, and bring me back a few dollars when it’s all over. What I don’t think is any great crime is running the first chapter here. I don’t believe I’ve shown it to anyone. People have seen the first novel, but no one seemed to care for it, so I don’t image it’s ever going to go anywhere.

The second novel, After the War?

I like it. I like it a lot. And I sincerely hope that other people like it, too.

Trying to get the book published is rapidly reaching the point where I may have to go the self-publishing route. I hope I don’t have to, but I will if the times call for it. There are a couple of other places I’m hoping will consider the manuscript, such as Tarpaulin Sky (they want a 20$ reading fee that I don’t have at this moment), before I finally start looking at things like Kickstarter and all the self-publishing options that are available to me.

Not much of a set-up is needed here. It’s about a dumb kid, and what he does when he finally gets a sense of what’s out there in the world. I spent close to a year and a half writing and editing it three times. More could probably be done with it, but I don’t know what that might entail. For now, until further notice, it’s as perfect as it’s ever going to be.

Selling this book is a considerably larger, more important dream than writing something specifically for this blog.

It’s a dream right up there with being somewhere like Central Park on a cool, steady fall day like this.

It’s even up there with getting out of Virginia, and seeing some of the people I don’t get to see as much as I would like to.

I need to make that happen pretty soon, obstacles such as living in the middle of nowhere, and not being able to drive, be dammed.

I live for being in constant motion, and I think I would probably feel a lot better than I have been these past several months. There have been a few trips, but nothing substantial, and that’s what sucks so much about being addicted to something like travel.

It’s rarely enough. It hasn’t been enough in years.

But I need to make it happen soon. I need things to move past me so quickly that I can barely keep up with them. I need to see some of those people I miss. Some of whom I miss more than I can ever describe in writing. Or whatever I think sounds very worldly and compelling after another shot of paint-thinner at four-thirty in the morning.

Because I’m not a clever man. I just think I play one when I think someone’s paying attention.

December 28th, 1997

“Missouri.” Warren said the name again and waited to see if it might develop real meaning. He still wasn’t having much luck with that, so he gave up and hoped his mom would step in.

“Yeah,” Barbara said. Her entire body was turned away from the computer. Her small hands were in her lap, and her attention was entirely on the conversation at hand. That was kind of impressive these days.  “Missouri.” She smiled and pushed some of her long auburn hair back behind her ear. She looked weirdly pleased with herself.

Warren kept going back to the historical implications of this all this. In twelve years, they had gone on exactly one vacation. That had been to Alberta to see family followed by a brief stop into the extraordinary powerhouse of activity and day-to-day life that had been and still was Vancouver.  That had been six years ago. It had also been about that long since even the discussion of going somewhere of interest had come up. Warren had never thought about it much. Some families saw the world, took a thousand pictures and then put them away in a closet for fifty years. Some families didn’t go anywhere more emotionally taxing than McDonalds on a busy Saturday afternoon. His family was in the second category, and he had never really seen a problem with that.

This didn’t include his mom’s recent trip to Vancouver to visit one of her childhood friends. That had been a purely solo, two-day venture.

“I was thinking,” she went on, smiling, “That we might even try to work in a trip to New York, depending on time and money.” She shrugged. “We’ll be in the states for about a week.”

He nodded, not listening to her as closely as he wanted. Missouri. America. That wasn’t just a sudden family vacation to somewhere like Victoria. That was kicking the third dimension in the balls and flying down the road with the fourth and fifth in tow at a couple thousand miles per hour. It was the kind of thing that worked its way into a TV cliffhanger.  Make the announcement, and then back off to let the several dozen possibilities jostle for position.

It was staggering, entirely too confusing for the middle of the afternoon. The more he tried to process it, dumb everything down to a couple of easy sentences, the more it kept crashing and burning in the middle of what was becoming the ugliest traffic of thought disaster in recent history. “When would we be leaving?” he asked.

“New Year’s Eve,” she said. “We’d have to drive down to Victoria, and then take the ferry to Seattle.”

“And why are we doing this?”

She shrugged. For just a moment, she looked like she didn’t know what she was going to say. “Well, some of my friends from the Pet Talk Forum are getting together in Missouri, and I just thought it’d be nice to go and even make a family trip out of it.” She shrugged again, reaching for her cigarettes. “We haven’t had one in years, after all.”

Warren nodded and tried not to make a face when she fired up on of her smokes. There was something in the way she was being so casual about this. Relaxed was not something Barbara was known for by the few people who had managed to work their way into her life. Everything revolved around the concept that the world only had about fifteen minutes of life left in the tank. It was everything or nothing and nothing less than that. She was also obsessively dedicated to making sure every possibility could be seen from a thousand miles away. Anything outside of the routine was to be shot down on sight.

He looked at her. The one great contradiction to all of that were her children. Even at twelve years old, he could see that. Five minutes for a microwave dinner would have her tapping the kitchen counter in mild frustration. But when it came to him or any of the kids, she could stand still for hours and put up with just about anything. Now, she would wait as long as it was going to take for him to answer.

She was remarkable, infuriating and extraordinary. Usually, all at once.

“Who’s going?”

She took a drag from her cigarette, absent-mindedly brushing aside a bit of ash when it fell on the knee of her pants. “You, me, Daniel, Morgan and Kelci.”

He raised his eyes. “Dad’s not going?”

The cigarette took to resting in the ashtray. It would probably burn down to the filter. She turned back to him, shaking her head and smiling. “He doesn’t want to go,” she said. “He’d rather stay behind and try to catch up on work.”

Well, that was just one more thing to wonder about. The idea of Dad not going along for something like this struck him as weird.

“So,” she said, “Count you in?”

He needed to put this conversation to bed. He needed to get outside where things stood to remain perfectly still long enough for some form to come together in all this. Everything really needed to slow the hell down and start making even a little sense. “Sure,” he said. “I mean, I can’t imagine just me and Dad here for a week or whatever.” He tried to smile but couldn’t get everything behind that gesture to come together. “We’d probably murder each other and burn the house down.”

“Probably,” she agreed. And right on cue, she was reaching for another cigarette.

“I’m going to go outside for a bit,” Warren said, seeing the chance to get away and going after it with arms open. “I guess we can talk about this some more later?”

“Of course,” she said, “But try not to change your mind at the last minute.”

He smirked without meaning to. “When have I ever done that?” He was close to the front door now. He was almost out.

“Never,” she said, smiling as well. The last cigarette was dead. The new one was lit. “Forgive either my stupidity or insanity.”

“A little bit of both, I’d suspect.”

She smiled, and let a long moment of silence suddenly appear and build up into something conscious. “I think this is going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “Really exciting.”

“I know.” And he meant that. When there was another long moment of silence between them, this one feeling even stranger than the last, he took the opportunity to open the door and finally make it outside. That same awkward silence disappeared the moment the shockingly kind, cool air smacked him in the face. It had to be at least fifty, which was just extraordinary for a Vancouver Island winter. It was quiet outside, too, but it was a different kind of silence. The stillness out here seemed to move with everything from the trees to the occasional car to the distant sounds of someone yelling from the beach. Warren sighed, took a few steps into his backyard and then stopped. He didn’t feel any smarter for being out here. The sudden and honestly quite brutal changes that were suddenly in place didn’t magically dumb themselves down to a sitcom solution.

All the same, it was already a lot easier to think. He didn’t have to look at anyone, and there was more room to move around. Everything here was familiar. Every direction could be anticipated. Every moment was right in front of him. He started up the long drive way to get to the street. Familiar was good. This was one of those times when familiar was absolutely necessary.

He made it to the street in one piece. There were several directions he could take from here. Enough possibilities existed that he stopped again just a few steps away from the front of his driveway and looked across the street at the house in front of him. The lights were on in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and he could see a figure moving around. The ocean was off to the left, just down the street, past the house where the Vietnam draft dodger lived and often went mad on an almost daily basis, past the house with that horrible dog that was very likely going to kill someone someday. He would have to walk past all of those houses and then through a small trail that would take him to a part of the beach where a lot of the aging surfers and unending line of tourists liked to visit. Warren had never been sure why. He hated the tourists and had never been able to understand the appeal of standing on a piece of cardboard and trying to make the ocean listen to reason.

It was beautiful though. Sometimes.

But he didn’t want the ocean just then. The moment seemed to be calling for a long street that would end eventually and offer no other choice but to turn around go back in the other direction. The ocean would be there if he wanted it. This was a night for wandering around, staring at silent houses and glancing in the windows of the occasional car going by.  Nothing was really going to be solved between now and whenever he managed to go to bed, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying.

He finally settled on turning left at his driveway, putting some automatic distance between himself and the ocean. It was a walk like this that always made him briefly understand the whole thing behind smoking. It sure as hell would give him something to do with his hands. He stuffed them in his pockets and wondered if anyone was out and about this evening. It wasn’t uncommon for everyone in the neighborhood to get together and kill as many hours as possible with whatever was possible. But it was winter, and no one really liked to go outside unless there was a chance of snow.

And it didn’t really snow in Ucluelet. Not often enough to look forward to it, anyway.

The biggest problem he had with a family vacation was the idea that Dad wasn’t going. Not that he wanted him there, but he knew his father enough to know that he wasn’t one to just let his family disappear into a different country for a couple of weeks. He wanted to ask Dad about it, but his work schedule made that fairly impossible. Besides Christmas Eve and Morning he could count on one hand the number of hours he had seen him.

He wanted to talk to him about it a little, but that just wasn’t going to be in the cards.

Oh well, he thought, kicking at nothing but the air. It wouldn’t really solve. He could see where all of this was going, and he couldn’t see himself doing anything but just going with the goddamn flow. That was usually the case. All of this thinking, walking around and watching the world hit replay and start the brief away message all over again was just a lot in the way of distraction. He knew what was going to happen. He knew what he was going to do.

He took the next left and could see a car coming down the road. The actual town of Ucluelet was actually a good five or more miles away. This was just a collection of houses, weird portions of forest and a couple of school bus stops. They called it Millstream, which never really made sense to him. If you didn’t go out onto the main road, down the freeway towards town, you could probably spend the rest of your life assuming that the world had finally come to a complete and comfortable stop.

The car went by quickly. Disappearing around the corner he had just passed. He purposely missed a chance to look in the window and see who it might be. He wasn’t up for that tonight.  Whoever it was, they were probably going somewhere more a hell of a lot more interesting than Millstream.

Another left or right option came at him. He went with right, even though it was a short street and would have him turning back soon. His mind went to the Pet Talk Forum and how it had come from seemingly out of nowhere to stand as the bulk of his mom’s social calendar. Not that she had ever gone out a whole lot anyway, but most of her internet time was spent kicking around that one particular corner. She talked about the members all the time, especially that snake guy. His name was Leonard. There was also Harold, the old man in Denver, Colorado who raised pit bulls and wondered if his daughter would ever call him again. Then there was Ted and Kara, that couple in Missouri. He imagined their house would be the site of this completely random get-together.  Those four were the ones she talked about the most. At different points over the last few months, she had even shown him various pictures of them. Anyone else was mentioned only occasionally. He wondered which of them would be at this thing.

He could definitely imagine writing a story or two about this. He didn’t write very often, but it was one of the few things in his childhood that seemed to get a positive reaction out of other people, so he turned to it when everything else was looking dire. Walking slowly, he felt desperate to stretch things out and take his time. He put aside small thoughts like what would happen when they got there. He tried to focus again on some of the larger ideas. When that didn’t work he just let everything swirl around until he looked up from the ground to see the short road already coming to an end.