“California (Scary) Dreamin’ ” Chapter 6, Excerpt 15, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

DANNY LARGEST ORIG PHOTOWhen I got home, I could see my breath in the apartment, it was so cold, so I jumped into bed and huddled under the blankets. I kept my new sketch pad, pencil, and fishing pole close beside me. Michael’s alarm clock on the dresser said a quarter to twelve. My birthday was almost over. So much had happened that day to write about in my diary, but I didn’t dare. In fact, I wondered if I’d ever continue the one I had, or if I should get rid of it. Al had said Linda saw me as competition, which seemed weird; and this diary thing would just make that worse.

I heard the kitchen door open and the familiar rhythm of Michael’s footsteps. Then the bedroom door opened.

“Hey, kid, how you doin’?” he said.

“Okay,” I lied.

“I’m glad you’re still up,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Well, because there’s something I gotta tell you,” he said.

This didn’t sound good.

He sat on the edge of the bed we shared, smoking his cigarette, took off his brown plaid flannel shirt, and tossed it on the bed, leaving the inevitable white tee-shirt underneath.

“I didn’t go to work today,” he said.

“Oh, really? How come?” though I knew I didn’t want to know.

“I was at Linda’s.”

“Linda’s?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought you were at work.”

“Well, I was over there, and we were talking,” he said, “or, I should say, yelling. Or I should say, her father was yelling.”

“Linda’s father was yelling? At you?”

“Well, yeah, kiddo, he was,” he said. “That’s the thing.”

“The thing?” I said. “What thing?”

“The thing I’m trying to tell you.” He looked down at his hands, each grasping the other. “The thing he was yelling at me about.”

“What was that?” Did my diary have something to do with this “thing”?

“Um, Linda’s pregnant,” he said. “She’s going to have a baby. And, uh, I guess it’s mine.”

Huh?

“Her father wants me and her to move to California.” He took a deep drag off his Camel.

I couldn’t be hearing him right.

“It’s true, Shorty,” he said. “We have to get married. Linda’s Uncle Joey, Grenelli’s brother, lives out there. He’s got a car repair shop like Grenelli’s. He’s gonna hire me. We’re gonna stay with him and Linda’s aunt, until we can get our own place.”

Michael’s words swam around in my head.

Baby? Married? Move? California? Faster and faster the words spun. But he kept on.

“I have no choice, Danny. Grenelli’s not happy. He threatened me. Said he’d have me killed if I didn’t go to California and marry Linda. He’s got connections, Danny. He’s not somebody to mess around with.”

My teeth dug into my bottom lip. I tasted the blood. The pulsing pain under my lip squelched the gathering scream inside me.

“You should have seen him, kid. He went nuts,” Michael was saying. “Said I disgraced Linda and the whole freaking family. He said I was lucky he didn’t take out his gun and shoot me right there in the freaking living room.”

I bit down harder on my lip, sucking the blood as the cut deepened.

I’m sorry, Danny. I can’t see any way out of this one. It’s gonna be okay, though, I promise.”

Okay? I looked at my fishing pole. My throat closed as my stomach tried to escape up through it.

“I’ll write to you and call sometimes, when I can afford to. And maybe you can come and live with us. I’ll talk to Linda.”

Tears filled my eyes, blurring my drawing pad and fishing pole.

“I’m sorry, kiddo. I really am,” he said.

A tear spilled over onto my cheek, clearing my vision.

Michael looked down at the floor as he spoke. “Maybe after we move out of her uncle’s place you could come live with us. Danny, you okay?”

“What?”

“Look, I know this is sudden. You’re not the only one who’s in shock. I mean, California. What the hell do I know about freaking California?” He dragged hard on the cigarette, then smashed it out in the small metal ashtray on the nightstand.

How could he be so stupid? How could he let that happen? Especially with someone like her? Did he really love her? It was hard to believe, and harder to believe she loved anyone but herself. Wasn’t California on the other side of the world? With nothing but oranges and highways like in the pictures in my geography book? My head pounded, throbbed. I felt beads of sweat beading up on my face. I climbed out of our bed, passed Michael, and scrambled to the bathroom.

“Hey, Shorty, where you goin’?” I heard him say.

I ran and hugged the toilet, my whole body heaving forward, but nothing came. I realized I hadn’t eaten. I sat back onto the tiled bathroom floor, the second time that day wrapped around the toilet. I thought about Teresa’s old threats that Michael would leave if he ever learned the truth about the doctor visits, but even though the so-called “doctor treatments” had stopped several years earlier now Michael was leaving anyway, and he didn’t seem to know anything about all of that. None of this was supposed to be happening.

“Hey, Danny, you okay?” I heard Michael call to me.

I sat on the bathroom floor of my birthday, and even though I knew she was a nice lady, I hated Al’s grandmother for getting sick in the Catskills.

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach       ebook 99 cents (258 pages)

 

“Funeral for a Stooge”, Chapter. 5b, Excerpt 13, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

ARCH SELZ COVER FRONTI followed her out the back door. The sun was lower in the sky, the backyard had grown more still, and the frostiness icier.

“Isn’t the dirt too frozen to dig through, Al?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Grab the key from the hook on the wall there.”

I did, and Al opened the garage door and emerged a few seconds later with the—implements of death—a small, pointed hand-shovel and a pick. She carried the mini coffin to the rose-less rosebush, its branches stiff as Larry. On the ground were two large, round rocks sunk into the frosty dirt neatly aligned next to the garage’s outer wall. Andy’s perpendicular influence, I imagined.

She knelt down and, with Larry’s coffin in one hand, began stabbing at the hard dirt with the pick with the other. She hacked away at the frozen ground, then started chopping at it with the shovel, silent tears streaming down her face.

“Want me to help, Al?”

“Yes,” she said, stabbing and digging away with one hand. “Hold Larry.”

“Hold Larry?”

“Daniel, will you please just take him?”

I stuck out my hand and Al placed leathery Larry’s matchbox casket into my freezing hand.

“Okay, Daniel,” she said a few minutes later and about four inches down. “Let me have him.”

I handed her the matchbox. She looked up at me with puffy eyelids.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just get the feeling something’s not right with you.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded.

“Well, maybe that’s because it’s the worst birthday of my life,” I finally blurted out.

“What?”

Her eyes got big and she almost dropped Larry into his grave.

“Oh, no! What are you saying, Daniel? Why didn’t you tell me?” Then she smiled.

I was glad to be able to cheer her up with my news of a nightmarish birthday.

“It’s not important,” I said. “There’s just something I have to tell you about.”

“Daniel, what could be more important than your birthday?” She dropped Larry’s casket into his cold grave and stood up a few inches from my nose and faced me.

“Danny, what is it?”

“Well, it’s a long story, Al.”

“What kind of story?”

“Why don’t you finish burying Larry first? Then I’ll tell you.”

“No, tell me now,” she said. “It sounds important.”

“It is important,” I said. “But finish burying Larry. I can wait another few minutes, Alison.”

“Darn it, Daniel.” She turned back to her gruesome task. “Okay. I’ll finish, then tell me.”

“Well, that is why I came over.”

“Oh, sorry, Danny. Guess I sidetracked you. Why didn’t you say something?” Her gloomy mood seemed to lighten as she began to cover poor, stiff Larry in his little sliding-door coffin with frozen, gravelly dirt. When she was satisfied that he was in deep enough to rest in peace, she stood up, brushing the knees of her jeans.

“He needs a headstone,” she said. “To add to Moe’s and Curly’s.”

I was speechless.

“I’ll run and find a rock for him, then we’ll go back to my room, and you can tell me.”

“Right.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you had something to tell me?” she called back from the side of the house.

“You were too sad about Larry.”

“Oh,” she said, back now.

“And then you got sadder and sadder, and crying and everything,” I said.

“Oh, that.”

“I got the feeling you were thinking about your mother, Al.”

“How’d you know?” she asked.

“Because I was, too,” I said.

On her knees, Al finished arranging Larry’s rock with the other Stooges’ tombstones.

“Good-bye, Larry,” she said. “Your friends Moe and Curly are waiting to welcome you to Frog Heaven. And, don’t worry, Chow Mein will, in time, learn to live without you. It won’t be easy for him. Or for me. We’ll miss you.”

I felt like crying, but had already done enough that day.

Al put her hands on my shoulders, her dark eyes still damp.

“Okay, Sweetie,” she said. “Come on and tell me what happened.” She pulled me toward the back door, inside, and back up to her room, where she pushed me down onto her bed and sat next to me, close. I was happy to see she was feeling better.

“Okay, Sweetie, what’s going on?”

Al’s room was cold. Outside her bedroom window, I could see the backyard covered in the sun’s shadow. The warmth of Al’s body next to mine on her soft bed comforted me. I thought about Larry in his matchbox alone in the frozen ground. I thought about my father Frank whom I never knew. I thought about Al’s mother. Al’s tenderness touched me and the tears did start up again. Her face so close to mine, still cool from the outside air, blurred, until the tears spilled over my cheeks and down my chin. I felt like an idiot.

“What’s the matter, Angel,” she asked, and kissed me lightly on my lips, now wet with the tears that had settled in the corners of my mouth. I told her what Frances had done and described the whole mess up to the point when I had to pass the three of them in the kitchen to make my final escape.

“Poor Sweetie,” she said. “That’s terrible.” She squeezed my hands and kissed me again on the cheek.

“Yeah, I was a real mess,” I said, enjoying her softness and sympathy, a side of Al most people never saw. Despite everything, I felt fortunate in that moment.

“Well, Linda never liked you to begin with,” Al said, “and as long as Michael’s not mad at you, that’s all that matters, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. It was true.

“I mean you didn’t really say anything bad, just a bit embarrassing?”

“Yeah,” I said, praying Al would never know she was in my diary, too.

“Well, are you feeling better now?” she asked.

“Just being with you makes me feel better, Al.”

“I have a present for you,” she said.

She smiled. “Here, open it,” she said, and handed me a flat, rectangle gift wrapped in blue, white, and green paper covered in sailboats and seagulls. I tore off the paper. A sketch pad.

“I hope it’s okay,” she said. “Is it the right size?”

I nodded.

“I wasn’t sure if you would like the big one or the small one,” she went on. “I thought a small one would be good because you can take it wherever you go. There’s a pencil in there, too, Daniel, with a special eraser.”

“It’s perfect,” I said.

“Happy birthday, Sweetie,” she said.

“Thanks, Al.”

We sat on the bed for a few minutes, me fingering my art pad and fancy crystal blue pencil, and Al gazing into the tank with its now solo inhabitant, Chow Mein.

Then, Al said, “Oh, Daniel? I would have told you this sooner, but we got sidetracked with Larry, and your story about that sister of yours, and your birthday present.”

“What?” I knew I didn’t want to hear this.

“Well, it’s just that I’m going away tonight, with my father. Upstate. The Catskills? My grandparent’s house. I’m sorry, Daniel. I know it’s your birthday and everything….”

“Oh.”

“Grandma’s not doing well, and Andy decided to go up there, a last minute idea. He’s not sure how long we’ll be staying. He’s worried about Grandma, and even Grandpa, now that my uncle is dead and isn’t there to help out anymore.”

“Right, sure,” I said.

“We’re heading out as soon as Andy gets home from work,” she said. “I’ll call you as soon as we get back, okay?”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Any idea when that will be?”

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “It’ll depend on how Grandma and Grandpa are doing. I’m sorry, Daniel.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. Up there in the Catskills, Al wouldn’t be just a walk or even a phone call away.

I left Al’s, clutching my new drawing pad under one arm, feeling better than when I had left my apartment, but uneasy about her leaving. I pushed open the wooden gate from Al’s backyard to the sidewalk on 115th Street and stood at the corner, looking both ways. It was late afternoon but already starting to get dark. I was in no hurry to go home.

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach       ebook 99 cents (258 pages)

Get Over Yourself (Please): Letter from a Writing Teacher

Dear Class,

Thank you for the last ten weeks. You have all worked hard writing and rewriting and editing your own work and your fellow writers’ works, all the while growing in knowledge and experience, which was evidenced in your writing, which has been better and better every week.

I look forward to publishing our Let’s Write! class anthology, our collection of this class’s unique and original memoirs of which I am very proud.

Since I’ve already extensively shared with you my gratitude and appreciation for your patience with me for the duration of our longer-than-usual class due to my inopportune accident, let me jump right in here with what’s rambling through my mind.

Sometimes I think people take themselves a little too seriously (or a lot). “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (from the Holy Bible, Galatians 4:16)

Yes. If you want to clear a room or empty your life, tell the truth. And you could say this is the story of my life, both personal and professional. People say, “Val, you’re so real,” but then when I am “real” (in other words, honest), they hate me for it and call me names and run away.

But here’s the thing of which I’m really guilty. I’m going to really clear the room, now, maybe empty myself of all students/clients, present and prospective, “because I tell you the truth.” Here goes: It’s not my clients/students for whom I work (they just pay the bill), it’s their writing.

My concern is not for the poet, it’s for her poetry and its effect on those for whom it’s meant. And therein lies the problem. God gives us a gift with which He expects to use us to reach others, whether that gift be music, public speaking, sewing, writing, carpentry, or any other number of specialties.

So when all the while, a writer is concerned more about him- or herself than the writing, all I’m thinking about is will anyone ever read this out there somewhere? Paperback? eBook? blog post?  Will any of those ever happen so the memoirs, stories, essays, poetry so full of wisdom and experience ever be allowed to live? I try.

Writers Who Got Over Themselves for the Sake of the Writing:

I practically begged student Gayle Peebles to write a book because the potential from an essay she’d tentatively started in class was overwhelming. She fortunately took the bait, and I got to help her give life to the story wanting to be told and appreciated by all who read it. The result, Best Friends Worlds Apart is a real classic book, receiving high accolades from the judges at Writers Digest in 2017 when Gayle entered it in an eBook contest, and enjoyed by many here in the United States and in Russia.

I cajoled Lily Allyson Liu, a lovely Taiwanese-American lady who was afraid her English wasn’t good enough (It was, with a bit of editing.) into writing her memoir about falling in love with a man involved at the time in a regrettable gay relationship. The result, a touching little 60-page paperback and eBook Lily called A Rhythmic and Melodious Friendship: A Memoir because one thing they had in common was a strong love and knowledge of classical music. It was a true story being written even as it was being lived by her (and him). 

It wasn’t easy, but I coerced Shirley Ann Moore into writing the family story of her mother, a Wiyot Indian, after she had submitted a three-page essay about herself growing up with her mom. Then I convinced Shirley into including a brief history of the Wiyot tribe, complete with a map of the tribe’s home of northern California. Shirley named the memoir A Lick and A Promise: Remembering Mom, Descendant of a Wiyot Tribe. The title came from Shirley’s mom’s favorite line about how she’d clean the kitchen when in a hurry, with “a lick and a promise”. Shirley included a family recipe at the end of each chapter of her book, a delightful aspect readers appreciated.

Like Gayle, Shirley, after the classes ended, began to come weekly to my studio for private sessions with me. Also like Gayle, Shirley would bring family photographs she’d collected which we painstakingly labeled and scanned into my computer to be part of the history her characters were unraveling for her, little by little, in the book Shirley never believed could happen.

Shirley’s favorite line was, “Do you really think I have a book here?” (Gayle had asked the same question early on.) “Of course, you do,” I’d say. “How can you not see it?” I’m truly shocked and often frustrated when students seem blind and deaf to their own stories trying to be told.

Alix had already written about three hundred poems and had posted them online to a poetry website when he saw a Let’s Write! ad in a local paper. He asked if I could help him put his poems together into a book, editing if and when necessary. It took time collecting, reading, and editing, and it’s a book of which I’m very proud and honored to have been a part of getting into publication. Alix called the collection Transcendental Highway after the title of one of the poems contained therein. As we put it together, we would both cry as we read through some of the 150 poems he’d chosen to include in this volume. Then he cried when the book was finished and the published paperback (with a beautiful photo of his son on the cover) was in his hand.

These are everyday people who show up in my classes and private sessions and are open to their own writing (and my suggestions), and with some egging on and a lot of encouragement, come to realize their story has to be shared, has to see light, and that it is very doable. The stories want to be told. These authors come to realize they don’t own their words. They have to be put together and allowed to express the life they already have, for the sake of others.

It’s That One.

Will it be a best seller read by millions? Probably not, but then it’s well known that many best sellers are such because their rich authors purchase copies of their own books in the thousands and millions thereby pushing their book into best-seller status based on the number of books sold. There are all kinds of tricks in this trade.

But that’s not the point. Maybe ten people will read the story, poem, essay. Maybe fifty, maybe a hundred. But it’s just that one in whom I’m interested. It’s that one who is really touched by what they read, what you wrote, that story that brought them to tears or made them laugh out loud. It’s for that one potential reader that the writing had to see daylight. It’s what writing is for, to be read, the way art has to be seen.

Parents, Let Your Children Go!

Dear Writer, Let your children (writings) go free so they can be read by others. If not a book, learn how to do a blog. Sometimes you will get feedback of readers’ appreciation of your writing. But lots of time you won’t, but that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t read it and it was just what he or she needed just when it showed up.

Don’t be a helicopter parent. Like our real children, we don’t own our works of art or creations of craft; we just bring them into the world. As they mature and become complete (ready for publication) we can’t hold on to them but must send them out into the world so to affect those they touch. That’s what writing is for.

I always pray that those who’ve been given a gift by God, will not only use it, but let others benefit by it as well. The writer’s gift of writing is what I work for. The writer is just the venue (and the one paying the bill). The writer is the vehicle through which the writing (story, memoir, poem—in other words, the message) is passed on to those who read it. That’s why writers need to put their fragile egos aside so others can read what God has given them to say, to write.

And if I can help you write, edit, publish it, I’m thrilled and honored. That’s what I do. I help give life to stories that need to be shared. We do it together. And how delighted I am when one of you decides it’s worth the work, and you’re all in, for working on your writing so it can be at its best (the way we clean and dress up our children before we present them to others), with the goal of letting them go out into the world to be appreciated for their gifts by others.

As I’ve said, but can’t say enough, it’s frustrating when people of true talent lock away their art and craft (manuscripts, artwork, whatever they create) and stubbornly fight this kind of encouragement, even seem to resent it.

So There You Have It.

Here’s the point: I’m delighted with students invested in their writing wholeheartedly (like the no-fear, non-ego writers listed above did) because that makes my job of helping clients bring their writing to professional publication standard so much easier and more enjoyable. It can get old to constantly try to convince writers their stories, memoirs, essays, poems are worth publishing, whether as a book or blog posts (or both) when I know from years of professional experience and education that it’s true.

When writers don’t want to do the work and prefer, instead, to argue in defense of their egos (fears) constantly (though they don’t seem to realize that that’s what they’re doing), these fears and unteachable egos get in the way. Then I get the extra job of wasting time and energy (and Writer’s money) placating Writer, so Writing can continue in its best direction in order to come alive on the page. Therefore, the essence of my message to you today, Dear Writer, is as follows:

Dear Writers,

  • Get out of your writing’s way!
  • Stop placating your egos (fears) and feelings.
  • Go ahead and cry if you have to.
  • Stop trying to own the story/poem/essay/memoir; stop trying to keep it locked away, in a drawer, digital file, or inside yourself—What are you afraid of?
  • Realize the writing has a life of its own.
  • It doesn’t belong to you.
  • Its life is not your life.
  • Let it live its own life.
  • Let it go free.
  • Don’t be a helicopter parent to your writing.
  • It will do just fine out there.
  • Trust God.
  • He’s the one who gave you the gift in the first place, for the purpose of your giving it away.
  • Give your gift away.

Thank you for listening. Warm wishes for your writing life ahead.

Your caring teacher,

Valerie Serrano

“The Queen of Ugly”, Ch. 4a, Excerpt 10, Archangel

Seven years passed. Teresa had recently turned thirty-five. Frances and Linda were both in high school and still supposedly “best friends”. Michael had graduated and still worked at Grenelli Collision, and, strangely, Linda had become Michael’s girlfriend while he was still in high school.

Eventually, as I’d gotten older—and stronger in Alison’s friendship, though I’d never told Alison of the so-called “doctor” visits—I gained the ability to tell Teresa No more!  Whatever illness I’m supposed to have I’ll live with. I may have even had the courage, at some point, to tell Teresa I was going to ask the school nurse about the treatments. I was surprised but thankful when the “doctors” miraculously stopped coming to the apartment.

I hated sixth grade, and all the other grades, as much as I had hated Sister Razor Blade’s kindergarten class, except for Alison (who now went by Al), of course. And it got worse when Al zoomed past me in school. Her father Andy had made her take a test which proved her to be a genius, though she didn’t like that label. She preferred the word advanced. The schools called her gifted. Andy had hired a slue of private tutors for her. It was some new thing they were doing with what they called whiz kids, and Al graduated high school while I still fought the battle that was grammar school. I had always known Al was smart but never realized it was that serious. When she told me she couldn’t go to school with me anymore, school became a real hell.

It was a cold Saturday afternoon in March as I sat alone on my bed, with Teresa passed out on her bed in her room. Nobody else was home. I dug in between the mattress and box spring for the black and white composition book I used for a diary. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I opened my diary and reached over for my new Bic ballpoint pen in the nightstand drawer. Today’s my birthday, I wrote. I’m twelve. I know Michael’s the only one who will remember. I love him so much. I hope we can always live together, far away from Teresa and The Thing. We would never have to be separated. Ever.

I stopped writing. Someone was in the room. I looked up. Frances. She stood there, watching me, then, in a fast moment that moved in slow motion, she pounced on me and snatched my diary right out of my hands.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. “Give me that!” But she was already gone. “Give it back to me!” I yelled and ran after her. She raced toward the bathroom. I darted across the living room and jumped on her from behind. She pushed me hard, and I fell back against the living room wall. She ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. I heard the lock catch. I threw myself at the door and pounded my fists on it. I pulled on the doorknob, shaking the wooden door on its hinges.

“Open the door!” I screamed over and over. “Open it! I hate you!”

A few minutes later, the latch clicked, the doorknob turned, and the door flew open with a force that sent me back against the wall. Before I could move, Frances pushed past me, through the kitchen, and out the apartment door, laughing her high-pitched cackle and yelling, “Linda’s gonna love this!”

Linda? What is she doing? I clung to the wall, frozen. There was no way to stop her. She was fat, but fast, and she already had too much of a head start. She was going to show my diary to Linda. I slid down the wall onto the floor.

Just then, Teresa’s bedroom door opened. I pulled myself up, still leaning. Teresa appeared, in a bright pink bathrobe with a cigarette hanging from one side of her mouth. Her voice scraped my entire body like fingernails on a blackboard.

“What’s going on out here?” she said, squinting through the smoke. “What’s all the lousy noise about?”

I kept my eyes on the open bathroom door.

“What are you doing? What’s the matter with you?”

“Leave me alone,” I said. “Please go back to bed.”

“Don’t tell me to go back to bed! Don’t you ever tell me what to do! You hear me?”

“Yes, I hear you.” I’ve heard you from the day I was born, I thought but didn’t say. I kept staring into the bathroom until she gave up and disappeared back into her cave, then I slid down to the living room floor again and stayed there a long time, until I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I jumped back up. Frances was back already?

“Hey, Shorty. How ya doin’?” Michael, in his work clothes, Yankees cap, the faint scent of his English Leather cologne still with him since he’d gone to work that morning, and, of course, the ever-present cigarette between his fingers.

“What are you doing? You okay?” He sounded like his usual cheerful self, except for the pulsating veins on either side of his forehead, usually a sign of trouble.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said.

“You sure, Goofy? You look kinda funny.”

I didn’t want to know what he meant by that. “No, I’m fine,” I said. “Um, did you see Frances outside?”

“No, thank God. Why?” He bounced over to the couch and sat down. By now, Teresa had reappeared and was staring at Michael with her usual begrudging look. He ignored her.

“Um, she just left here a little while ago,” I told him. “I thought maybe you saw her.” I stayed propped up against the wall, trying not to slide down again.

“Nope,” he said. “Why? Does it matter?” Even though he was sitting, he kept moving as if restless.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” I said. I realized Michael would have been driving up the block with Frances running in the opposite direction. The wind outside blew right through the walls and into my bones. I didn’t know if I had stopped hugging myself, or rocking or shaking. No wonder Michael had said I looked funny.

“Oh, here,” he said, and jumped back up and into the kitchen. Teresa took the opportunity to steal his place on the couch. He returned to the living room with a package about two feet long and wrapped in red paper.

“Here’s your birthday present.” He poked my stomach with it, though his smile turned down when he glanced over at Teresa.

“Here,” he said. “Take it, will ya? You want your birthday present, don’t you, ya little goofball?” He smiled again.

“Yeah, I want it,” I said. Boy, did I want it. But the image of Frances and Linda shuffling through the pages of my diary flashed inside my head, and turned around in my stomach.

“Aren’t you going to open it, Shorty?” he asked. “You don’t look too excited.”

“Oh, I’m excited. I’m very excited.” I knew my smile was crooked because I could feel my face all twisted up. I tore open the thick red paper and stared at the cardboard box for a minute, confused. Then through the cellophane I saw what it was—a fishing pole, in two pieces in the box, and just like Michael’s but brand new with a shiny, dark green chrome reel. I wished we could run right then with it to Hamilton Beach.

“You like it?” he asked with a big smile. He put out his cigarette in Teresa’s ashtray and took out another one from the crumpled Camels pack in his shirt pocket and lit it.

I nodded. I wanted to say thank you, but couldn’t make any sounds.

“Hey, kid, what’s wrong? Are you crying? Don’t you like it?”

“I love it,” I blubbered out. “It’s the best fishing pole in the world.” I sounded as if I had just turned two, not twelve.

END OF EXCERPT 10 FROM CH. 4, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

“Escape to Hamilton Beach”, Ch. 2a, Excerpt 6, Archangel

[AUTHOR’S WARNING:  This chapter depicts an unfortunate scene of abuse of little Danny by a Catholic priest disguised as a doctor. While the scene is not graphic, it is disturbing, but the only scene of its kind in the entire book. If you prefer, you can skip from the top of page 36, after “He’s in there” to the top of page 40 (“Here, Goofy,” ….” as Danny slips into the secret world in his mind, where he’s fishing with Michael).

[The above caution is verbatim from my novel.]

 

2. Escape to Hamilton Beach

When Michael disappeared from my view, I sat down and ate part of the sandwich he’d made for me and drank some of the milk. The kitchen smelled like cigarettes. The garbage in the pail leaned against the wall and trailed up it. Some flies buzzed around. I wondered if they thought the yellow daisies in the faded wallpaper were real. I also wondered where Teresa—my mother—was, probably asleep in her bedroom, or drunk, or both.

I tiptoed through the living room and into my bedroom. She must be in bed, I thought. I always hated to wake her up. I went to the closet to get Michael’s flannel shirt that I had hidden there that morning, the shirt he always wore when he took me fishing at Hamilton Beach. I picked it up and held it, taking in my brother’s smell. I took some paper and a pencil from the drawer of the nightstand and sat on the bed. I drew a big boy, then a little boy. They were smiling. Then a stick and a string in each of the boys’ hands. They were going fishing at Hamilton Beach.

“Daniel?”

Teresa was up.

“You here?”

“Yes, Ma. I’m here. Guess what? There’s a girl named Alison at school who has dark eyes. And Sister Razor Blade, I mean Sister Basil is ugly and mean.”

I moved slowly into the living room. She was standing there in her black bathrobe, pouring scotch into a glass with one hand and clicking the remote control box with the other. She sat down on the couch. With her full lips, dainty nose, and long, thick eyelashes, Teresa’s habits seemed to have no effect on how pretty she was. Too bad it was only on the outside.

“I hate this television,” she mumbled as The Edge of Night, one of her regular soap operas came on, with its weird organ music.

“Take the sheets from my room down to the basement and wash them,” she said. “Leave the sheets on your bed, though. The doctor will be here in a little while.”

I froze. I had hoped the doctors wouldn’t have to come anymore. I had prayed to God to take away whatever Teresa said was wrong with me. I had even prayed to Mary. But they weren’t listening. I started to wonder if God and all the saints felt the same way about me as Teresa did, that I was no good.

“Get moving,” she said, “before the doctor gets here.”

Stepping into Teresa’s room always had the same effect on me. It smelled like liquor and cigarette smoke, and the pink-flowered wallpaper closed me in. The white plastic crucifix on the wall over the bed and the blue and gold statue of Mary standing on the dresser both seemed to be watching me, even though their heads were down and eyes closed, as I pulled the sheets from the bed.

I opened the closet door. On the floor, under Teresa’s red nightgown something black bulged out. I bent down to see what it was, though I didn’t want to know. I touched the housecoat and lifted it up slowly. A black leather bag. The doctor’s. What’s that doing here? I thought. Next to it on the floor was what looked like the doctor’s white coat. There was a brown stain on it near the pocket.

“Hey, you,” Teresa yelled from the living room. “What’s taking you so long? Get down to those washing machines, now before one of the idiots in this hateful building beats you to it!”

I moved the housecoat back over the black bag, and gathered up the load of clothes and sheets. From the top of the dresser, the Virgin Mary, in her blue and gold robes, reached out to me with both arms. I ran out of the room, dragging the laundry past Teresa on the couch, through the kitchen door, and down the hallway steps, then down more steep, narrow steps behind the staircase.

The basement was dark and cold. Quiet. Peaceful. I dragged the sheets to the washing machine under the window and watched a spider weave its web on the crumbly wooden sill over my head. I stood on the dusty wooden stool caked on top with powdered detergent that looked like snow, and scraped my foot across it, so the flakes fell like more snow to the cement floor. I loaded the heavy sheets into the open round door of the washing machine. I struggled to turn the big knob until it clicked.

I looked up. Outside the window, one by one, nickel-sized drops of rain had begun to drop down onto the ground and onto the dusty window over the washing machine, then came a rumble of thunder which made me jump. If Michael ever found out about the doctors, he would go away forever—that was what Teresa had told me. Good thing the doctors always left before Michael got home, though it didn’t seem to matter if Frances was there. The thunder cracked, sounding as if God were splitting the Empire State Building right down the middle. I jumped again and yelled, and ran up all the stairs back to the apartment. I thought of Alison and was glad she couldn’t see how scared I was.

Teresa was still watching The Edge of Night. A woman in a hospital bed was saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” to a man standing next to her bed, looking out her hospital room window. Teresa emptied the bottle of scotch into her glass.

“Now,” she said. “Go in your room and wait. The doctor should be here any minute. You can get back to the laundry when he’s done with you.”

I moved into my room and then stood, looking up at Saint Michael the Archangel with his armor and shield and huge white wings, standing on top of the snake’s head.

[End of Excerpt 6]

$2.99 on Amazon  The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

“The Razor Blades of Queens”, Ch. 1e, Excerpt 5, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach (formerly Two Shores), a novel

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, formerly Two Shores, Excerpt 5, Chapter 1

Blueprint for Memoir or Fiction (and even some Poetry)

  1. What was the status quo?
  2. What happened to change, or destroy that?
  3. How did your main character (you, in a memoir) attempt to resolve it?
  4. How did his or her trials turn out?
  5. What do you hope the reader will walk away with?

In a book-length work, the same blueprint should also be the backbone of each chapter, which begins with a new status quo, a new problem for the character (you in a memoir) to get through, and a new ending—a cliffhanger to take the reader to the next chapter.

Even some poetry can fit into this blueprint.

Don’t see it as a template or outline, because it’s not.  But if you can’t answer the above questions, either before or after you’ve written the piece, something’s missing.  (Unless it’s “stream of consciousness”, which is just journal writing and not what I’m addressing here).

Beginning, middle, and end.  It’s the first lesson in the most basic writing class.  Even the story of how your day went today would be told as beginning, middle, and how it all ended. Hopefully, with your having gifted the world with one of your stories!