Thursday, April 19, 2018

On Becoming Invisible

dontravis.com blog post #281

Thanks for indulging me last week. That’s all the wallowing in self-pity until next year… I promise.

This week, let’s go back to flash fiction.
*****
Courtesy of Pixabay
ON BECOMING INVISIBLE
For eight years, it was just Mar and Bar, or Mars Bar to some. Blond-headed, green-eyed Barkley was Bar, and black-haired, brown-eyed me was Mario. Thick as thieves, we hung out, backed one another’s plays, made a great horseshoe tossing team, and occasionally got on one another’s nerves.
During one of those latter times, Bar invited Wanda in. She was an all-right girl… so far as girls went. She could bat better than I could, but I was a way better pitcher. Before long, Wanda and I began to grate. Bar was the oil that kept us from flaying one another.
By senior year, she’d managed to wedge her way so firmly between us, I wasn’t even certain if Bar knew I was around any longer. I was flipping invisible to my best friend. We’d be doing something together, and things would be almost like old times when she’d show up and claim his attention. Pow. Just like that, I was invisible, man. Invisible.
A couple of months ago, I figured it had become physical between them. Bar never said as much, but he dropped hints. And Wanda became more defensive. I felt like a fifth-wheel and tried pulling away, but Bar wouldn’t let me. I didn’t understand it any better than Wanda did, but when the best friend I’d ever had wouldn’t let go, no way could I stand on my own two legs and do it myself.
Wanda and Bar enrolled in a local college while I was going out of state, so the summer after graduation was heaven with a lot of torture thrown in. After the break was over, I’d be forcibly parted from my best-buddy-for-life. The thought hurt, but at least the invisibility factor would be ended. I’d be on my own forming new friendships. Midway through the summer break, I realized that same concept had finally struck Bar.
I have no idea if his awakening was a factor or not, but shortly after that, things changed. We went to a baseball game together—without Wanda. She was helping her mother shop. Then a friend’s birthday bash rolled around with Wanda nowhere in sight. Not feeling good, apparently. Then came the Friday night Bar stood outside my window and yelled my name until my father woke me and told me to go shut him up.
He was soused. Broken up like I’d never seen him before. I no sooner settled in the passenger’s seat in his car than he stifled a sob.
“It’s over man. She’s gone.”
“What happened?”
“Richard asked her out. When I called her on it, she said she was free to talk to anybody she wanted.”
For two years now, she hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone but Bar. Hell, she didn’t even talk to me, and I was there practically all the time. Of course, Richard was a good-looking fellow and the captain of the baseball team.
“Did she say yes?”
“She did after I let loose on her. They went on a date tonight.” Bar hickuped. “Why did she have to get in between us. We were just two happy-go-lucky guys until she showed up.”
That was something I did have an opinion on. “As I recall, you—”
I almost bit my tongue when he threw his arms around me and buried his head in my shoulder, sobbing as if he’d just received a death sentence.
My heart raced as I clapped a hand to the back of his head and made shushing noises. Secretly, I was elated. Something went wrong, and he turned to me for consolation. “Hey, man. It’ll be okay. She’ll come crying back tomorrow. You’ll see.”
He lifted his head, and his eyes stabbed me through the darkness. “Maybe… maybe I don’t want her back. Maybe I’d like things to be like they were.”
Hope danced through me, prickling my insides. Did he mean it? Maybe he needed me now more than he needed her. Maybe we’d….
Whoa there, Mario Quincy Jones! Where was this going? A couple of years back I’d have liked to… To what? Get it on with Barkley Jelson? Yeah, I would have. Back then we were a couple of curious kids. That would have been innocent experimentation. But now? Now it would carry more meaning. Maybe more than I wanted. He shifted in the seat, tightening his grip on me.
Oh, Lord! What would I do if he made a move on me? Did I want him to? Yes. No. Maybe. From the way my nerve ends tingled and my mouth went dry, I likely hoped he would. But he must have come to his senses. He released me and leaned back in his own seat.
“What am I?” he demanded. “Some blubbering kid. Take it like a man, Barkley. Won’t be the last time you’ll get dumped.”
He turned in his seat and unleashed a smile that picked up the light from the lamppost in the yard. “But I still got my best bud, don’t I? We’re still Mar and Bar, right? The Mars Bar. For the rest of the summer, it’s just you and me. Okay?”
“The way it was meant to be.”
“Amen, bro.”
After planning a trip to the local swimming pool tomorrow, I got out of the car and stood brimming with happiness at having my best friend back, at no longer being invisible. Then as I watched him pull off down the street, I frowned into the night as something else tugged at me. Could it be regret at not taking advantage of a moment that would never come again?

*****

We all have moments like this in our past, don’t we? Moments we let pass and later regret or feel relieved over. Mario told me later that he heard Bar and Wanda got back together during the next semester. That was okay with him. He was forging new friendships and standing on his own two feet.

Please: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


The next book in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series, The Lovely Pines is scheduled for release on August 28 of this year. Abaddon’s Locusts follows sometime in the first quarter of 2019.

See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Personal Indulgence: My Blue Period Revisited

dontravis.com blog post #280

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Regular readers of this blog know that I proclaim three months of the year as my “Blue Period:” February 12, the date of my wife’s death; March 13, her birthday; and April 8, our wedding anniversary. I have just passed through this time of mourning and remembrance for the ninth time. Each year, I find these three months get a bit easier.

But once in a while, something comes out of the blue and whacks me in the head… usually all out of proportion to the occurrence. My wife executed one oil painting in her lifetime, and I proudly had it framed and hung it on the wall. It is a still-life of a brown teapot, an orange, and two pears on a table done in the primitive style. There is nothing exceptional about it, except that she is the one who painted it.

Yesterday as I walked past the painting, it reached out and caught my eye, demanded attention. I stopped and examined it—really examined it—for the first time in quite a while. For a moment, it was as if I suffered my loss anew after all this time. It became fresh and pressing and depressing all out of proportion to the time. And I mourned her again.

I have no idea why that happened at that particular time for that specific reason, but perhaps the loss of my younger brother to lung cancer in December had something to do with it. He and his wife had a particularly close and loving relationship, so his widow is having a difficult time coping with her loss. I text her regularly to share my walk down this path with her and to try to assure her it becomes more manageable as time goes by. Perhaps that’s why I got pole-axed by a painting from the past.

Thanks for indulging me.
*****
Please: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


The next book in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series, The Lovely Pines is scheduled for release on August 28 of this year.

See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Voxlightner Scandal, the 6th Book in the BJ Vinson Mystery Series

dontravis.com blog post #279

Last week, I told you I have started the sixth book in the BJ Vinson Mystery series. Today, I’d like you to take a look at the Prologue and let me know if it sparks any interest.

*****
Courtesy of Pixabay
THE VOXLIGHTNER SCANDAL
           Prologue

          Relaxing in the den of his comfortable home at 4818 Post Oak Drive NW, Pierce picked up a book from the lamp table beside his recliner and inspected it closely. His latest novel—his third—just delivered from his publisher in this morning’s mail. In a rare moment of brutal honesty, he admitted the most impressive thing on the cover was his name: John Pierce Belhaven. A good name for an author, it rolled off the tongue and lent gravitas to the trite title, Macabre Desserts. Although too egotistical to admit being a hack, in moments such as this, he silently acknowledged he was no James Lee Burke. Whenever he attempted some of the Louisiana writer’s soaring, poetic passages, they always ended up as muddied puddles of worthless ink that contributed nothing to the plot. What was Elmore Leonard’s rule number ten? Leave out the parts that nobody wanted to read.
          His next book would be a game changer. Just as the others, it would be a mystery, but this time he’d solve a real puzzle. One that had plagued Albuquerque for a generation. One involving the theft of millions and the death of a respected attorney. A mystery that only he could solve. He stumbled on the crucial clue years ago in his capacity as a utility company executive but hadn’t understood its significance until he researched his new book. It was a work that would carry him from humdrum to bestseller. And the interview with Wilma Hardesty on KALB-TV that aired that very afternoon had put the world on notice he was reopening the moribund Voxlightner case
          This would set them on their ears down at SouthWest Writers, make them sit up and take notice of him… not as a writer, but as an author. He quelled an urge to rush to his office on the other side of the house to assure himself the growing file of research on his desk was safe.
          A noise from the front of the house brought him out of his chair. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Ten-thirty-four. Who could that be at this time of night? Melanie? He shook his head. His daughter hadn’t indicated she was driving in from Grants where she lived with that odious husband of hers. Harrison wouldn’t deign to show up at his door, probably not even to pick up his inheritance, should Pierce decide to leave his estranged son one.
          He smiled and then faltered. It wasn’t sweet Sarah. She was in Arizona visiting her family. His heartbeat quickened. It must be Spencer, although the lad didn’t usually show up on Wednesdays. Before walking to the garage door, he adjusted the book on the coffee table in such a way that Spence could hardly miss it. As he reached for the brass doorknob, he heard the gas-fired lawn mower roar to life.
          What the hell? John Pierce Bellhaven opened the door and entered the darkened garage.

*****
In the words of my last three posts—the book has been inseminated and is now gestating. Please let me know if you find the prologue interesting.

In the meantime: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Birthing a Book (Part 3)

dontravis.com blog post #278

In the last two posts, we gave birth to our literary baby, began raising it (sometimes a him and sometimes a her, depending upon my whim) in the proper way and found either an agent (a babysitter) or a publisher (a kindergarten). This week, I’d like to expose you to the most exacting and satisfying treatment by a publisher I’ve ever experienced. Dreamspinner Press and its imprint DSP Publications have both published some of my work. I’m so impressed, I want to share their procedure for bringing my books to market. By the way, they are interested in BLGT work only.

*****
Our Baby Book All Grown Up
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Okay, now we've gone through the labor process, given birth to our book, and had her take baby steps by locating a literary agent and/or a publisher. Big sigh of relief, right? It’s over.

No, my friend, it’s just started. As noted earlier, I’ve had four publishers in my career, but none of them approach the professionalism of my present publisher, Dreamspinner Press. I’d like to take you through the way they handle their authors.

Once my work has been accepted by Dreamspinner or it’s imprint, DSPPublications, an online contract is offered. To accept, I execute it electronically, and then the dance begins.

In rapid order, I receive a Production Data Collection (PDC) form, a Cover Specifications Request, a Blurb Composition Questionnaire, and a Bio Request.

The Data Collection form provides the publisher with my legal name, pen name, gives contact information, advises of the Word Processing program I used, informs DSP if I have “fair use” (copyrighted) material in the book, and establishes if this is a part of a series (standalone? Read first to last, etc), is a first edition or a reprint, and determines the book’s genre. It also sets out any optional front matter (acknowledgments, author’s note, dedication, etc.).

The Cover Specifications allows me to give any suggestions for the cover art. In order to do this, I give the artist the primary plot points, describe the lead characters, and picture the cover of my dreams. The publisher sends cover art samples as a PDF to give me a feel for the types of covers available. I pick one or two that appeal to me, and from that, Dreamspinner assigns me an artist to work with. Maria Fanning has done all of my covers, which is a great help. We know one another now, so it doesn’t take much time to settle on an approach. She will give me three suggested covers, from which I can select one with which to work. Then we will email one another and discuss ideas until the final cover emerges.

Dreamspinner’s staff is far more skilled at doing a blurb for the book than I am. The Blurb composition questionnaire lets me summarize the story for the blurb editors, describe the main characters, and set the tone of the book (wistful, sweet, funny, dark, typical plot mystery, etc.). Finally, I take a stab at a sample blurb before they set to work performing their magic.

The bio report asks me to create a micro bio (short, pithy) and an author’s bio for the publication. I put the usual dry history down, and they turn me into a human, not a robot.

Then comes the edit… or more accurately, the edits. My head editor is Anne Regan, who lives in the Dallas area. She selects three different editors for three successive edits of the book, each looking for something different. The first edit is accompanied by Global Notes that gives Anne’s overall view of the book, pointing out faults as well as highlighting strong points. These may or may not be noted on the Track Changes accompanying the first edit. They are for me to address on my own, not by prompts in specific places.

Editor #1 then goes through the manuscript word by word and uses the track changes program to give comments. I address each one, accepting or rejecting as I see fit… giving a reason when I reject. Upon review by the head editor, the reworked manuscript is given to Editor #2, who generally has a different skill set. For my first two books, my second editor was David, a 29-year Phoenix police officer and karate black belt, who kept me straight on police procedures and machismo issues with my hero, BJ Vinson. Sadly, he developed health issues, and I lost his invaluable services. The third edit is generally mostly for style and grammar. Please note, at least one of these three editors will fact-check historical or current event details in the book. If I tie the reader to a particular time-period with music, movies, newspaper reports, etc., they’ll tell me when I get it wrong and why.

After the final edit, I receive a Galley Proof to review. They will only change this one if I find typos, omitted words, and the like.

Once the book is put to bed and a release date settled, DSP contacts some professional literary sites and arranges for me to guest post a blog about the book. There are usually four or five of these, and most will do a review of the book upon its release.

Then it’s up to me to self-promote and try to sell books… something at which I suck!

*****
Well, that’s it. I hope I was able to enlighten you on this birth and maturation process. By the way, I have started the sixth book in the BJ Vinson process. Next week, I hope to give you a sample of The Voxlightner Scandal.

In the meantime: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Birthing a Book (Part 2)

dontravis.com blog post #277

 I hope my analogy of writing a book as being similar to human birthing resonated last week. For this post, we take the next step. The infant becomes a toddler, and you need help. What do we do? We search for an agent or publisher, that's what.

*****
Courtesy of Flickr
As of last week, you—our struggling writer—completed the actual writing of the book. It’s been edited up the gazoo, read by a brother-in-law who doesn’t really like you, and checked through every grammar and style program you can locate. In fact, your progeny has reached the age where many parents temporarily find themselves. You can’t stand the damned kid. It’s time to find a babysitter to provide you some relief. So you set about trying to do just that by locating an agent (who will handle him) or a publisher (who’ll take him off your hands).

There are decisions to be made in order to plan for your child’s future. Do you self-publish or traditional-publish? I started writing when the thing was to be accepted by a professional publisher, and that still infects my thinking. I’ve been asked why I don’t self-publish many times, and I always give an honest answer. I want a professional to tell me my writing’s good enough to be put out there for readers. That’s still my preference. Yours might be different.

But for this post, let’s assume you wish to be published by others. So do you search for a literary agent or for a publisher? An agent likely has contacts you do not have that will increase your odds of being published—provided you can find an agent willing to handle your writing. If you wish to be published by one of the big five publishers, an agent is mandatory. Most (if not all) will not accept “over the transom” (meaning unsolicited) submissions. You must submit to them through an agent.  Agents also will have a better idea of where your work best fits… meaning which houses are looking for what. If you are willing to be published by a small or regional house, you might not need an agent.

I write for niche markets, so I have never had an agent. I’ve dealt directly with four different publishers over my career and made some mistakes along the line. The first went out of business shortly after he bought twelve of my stories (I’m sure one event had nothing to do with the other). A second, the largest in this particular market, lost its steam when the founder died, and a son took over. The third did not really understand the GLBT market, causing us to part company. The final one, Dreamspinner Press, has been a pleasure to work with.

How do you find an agent? A publisher? By a process that is every bit as onerous as writing your book. Research, research, research. aaronline provides names, addresses, and druthers of accredited agents. Writers Beware warns you of some of the crooks in the game (both agents and publishers). There are a number of good resources available on the internet. Writer’s Market annually publishes lists of both agents and publishers together with contact information, the genres they handle, and instructions for submission. Most prefer their queries and submissions by email, rather than snail mail. Let me assure you of one thing: You’re going to submit to a number of them before you receive any positive or encouraging responses. Most will not reply to your query, merely indicate that if you haven’t heard from them within a certain period of time, you can assume they’re not interested. In view of that cavalier treatment, I suggest you ignore any proscriptions against “simultaneous submissions.” Simply do not inform them you are doing so.

Although each agent or publisher has his own requirements for submissions, in general, you’re going to need a query letter (do your research on that little item, as well), a short synopsis of one or two pages (single-spaced), and up to three chapters or fifty pages of your completed, edited, and re-edited manuscript.

That’s a very loose treatment of this difficult process. But as SouthWest Writers is always saying, rejection notices are successes because it means you’re out there pitching. It is also worth noting at this point that organizations like SWW and the University of New Mexico hold workshops periodically, during which they bring in both literary agents and editors for publishers to speak and react with participants. You can generally sign up for a pitch session with one of them for a one-on-one discussion of your work. Such sessions generally last no more than ten or so minutes; therefore, you must be prepared and organized.

Next week, we’ll cover my writing experience with Dreamspinner Press and its imprint, DSP Publications.

*****
Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

dontravis.com blog post #276

Birthing a Book

Thanks again to Mark Wildyr for allowing me to guest post his two-part story, “Antony.” Don’t know what kind of reception he got, but I had a few comments. As usual, they liked Mark’s story.

*****
The fourth book in my BJ Vinson series, The Lovely Pines, is due out on or about August 28, so that manuscript is cast in stone (or in black ink, if you prefer), but we are about to enter an interesting phase on the fifth, Abaddon’s Locusts, which is scheduled for the first quarter of next year. This got me to thinking about what all a writer endures to get a book to publication, at least, as practiced by my publisher, DSP Publications. To many authors, this entire process is akin to giving birth to a child and raising her to a certain age before turning her out into the cold, cruel world. We’ll consider this in three parts:

Courtesy of Wikipedia
          ·       Insemination, gestation, and birth (writing the thing)
          ·       Becoming a debutante (searching for an agent or publisher)
          ·       Coming of Age (the publishing process)

Today, we will look at the first phase, insemination, gestation, and birth.

Insemination is, of course, the germ of an idea that suddenly infects your mind and worries your brain until you know it will one day need to appear as a finished work: a novel, a novelette, a short story, an essay… something. For this posting, we’ll consider it will emerge as a book.

This is followed by gestation, the long and difficult birthing of your baby: the writing of the book. For some of us this takes something like the human gestation period, and for others more like that of an elephant. (If you don’t know the difference, look it up.) Once that’s done (call it Draft #1), you sit down with the infant manuscript and begin the process of raising it. Getting it to take first steps and speak primitive words. This, for me, is more fun than writing the blessed thing, as this is when the story truly comes alive. You recast broken bones (places where you’ve gone off in left field when it should have been right field), clear out clogged veins and arteries (making sure flowers smell and birds twitter, instead of the other way around), and smooth out the wrinkles by choosing better nouns, stronger verbs, eliminating unnecessary “hads” and “thats” and the like, finding and ruthlessly squashing those useless “ly” words (damn! I just used one) infesting your child’s precious flesh.

Then, guess what? You probably do it all over again at least once more. The very same process. Call it Draft #2 (and possibly 3, 4… you get the idea).

Next, you spruce up your baby by running her through the wash. Spelling and Grammar, for sure. Maybe Grammarly, as well. Then you cradle her to your bosom and sing to her. By that, I mean, you read aloud. Every! Single! Word! Of late, I’ve discovered the value of the Read Aloud function on Word. When I read my work, I know what it’s supposed to say and read it that way regardless of what it actually says. Read Aloud repeats what’s on the document, and I find all sorts of mistakes that I’d been blind to.

When all of that is done, find somebody you trust to read the manuscript. Not a mother or father who’ll say, “That’s great! Wonderful job” but some crusty old bastard who’ll say “What the hell were you trying to say when you wrote…?”

Maybe… just maybe you’re now ready to consider sending your child out into the world by submitting her to a publisher or an agent.

Let’s cover that next week.

*****
Remember, folks: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

If you feel like dropping me a line, my personal links follow:

Facebook: Don Travis
Twitter: @dontravis3

Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

dontravis.com blog post #275

Antony (Part 2 of 2 Parts)

Today we conclude Mark Wildyr’s story about Antony. You’ll recall that an artist, Greg, by name, met a handsome powwow dancer named Antony at the Indian Village on the Expo New Mexico grounds in Albuquerque. We left Greg preparing to leave the fairgrounds after promising Tony three sketches Greg had made of him. He intended to take them to his studio for completion and return to the powwow tomorrow. Just to be safe, Greg gave Tony one of his business cards. Now let’s see what comes next.

*****
Courtesy of CCO Creative Commons
ANTONY
By Mark Wildyr

I canceled a Saturday night dinner date with a friend in order to start converting the three pencil sketches Tony had selected—plus one he’d hesitated over before choosing another—into ink drawings on watercolor paper. After adding a few dabs of subtle colored highlights, I signed the pieces before pinning them to the white chalkboard wall in my studio.
The next morning, I intended to sleep late but was drawn into the studio by the need to begin my first oil painting of the appetizing Antony… the view of him standing nearly naked as he spoke to two friends before the powwow started yesterday afternoon. By the time I completed the transfer of the sketch to canvas, the powwow was well underway. Too engrossed in my work to leave, I further delayed my departure. As Tony’s beautiful head and face emerged in layers and layers of paint on that canvas, I was too inspired by my subject to stop painting. Before I realized it, the powwow was history. Fighting a tinge of regret, I kept at my canvas until I noticed my numbed fingers no longer responded precisely to my will. And a perfect model demands a perfect rendition, right?
After a shower, I donned a robe and ate my first meal of the day, a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of turkey bacon, and 2 percent milk. Then I stared at the television as waves of recrimination consumed me. I’d missed the chance to see Tony again, talk with him, interact with him. Be with the most handsome man I’d ever seen. Would I ever encounter him again? Perhaps at another powwow at the Indian Village. Did he live in Albuquerque? In New Mexico? Questions clogged my brain, each one a censure for failing to go to the powwow this afternoon as I promised.


I was considering going to bed—although I knew sleep would come hard—when the front doorbell pulled me out of my recliner. Because of the late hour, I punched a button and asked who was there. My heart fluttered a couple of times when my door answered:
“Tony. Tony Abó”
Still in my robe, I cinched the garment tighter and opened the door to be skewered by those obsidian orbs he used so effectively. Conscious or unconscious? Probably unconscious. Just his way of viewing the world.
I stepped aside and waved him in. “Hi. Surprised to see you.”
“The mountain didn’t come to Mohammad….” he said, humor brightening his handsome features. “Thought you were coming to the powwow this afternoon.”
“I got busy working on those sketches and let time get away from me.”
“Hope it’s not too late for me to show up on your doorstep.”
“No, I was just relaxing in front of the tube before turning in.”
“Intended to come earlier, but I went to the Forty-nine, and time got away from me, too. Forty-nine, that’s—”
“That’s the after-powwow party out on the desert where anything and everything goes.”
“Not just after a powwow. Any excuse is good for a Forty-nine. But yeah, that’s essentially it.”
I took another look at him as he preceded me into the living room. He didn’t appear to be inebriated… which is the usual state and often the intent of such a party. “The sketches are in the studio.” I brushed past him and led the way to the big room on the east side of the house where I did my work.
He momentarily forgot the sketches and walked straight to the easel to examine his image on the canvas. “Hey, man. That’s good. Really good. Do I really look like that?”
I pulled up a comparable photo on my phone and handed it to him. “You tell me.”
He glanced at the photo and compared it to the canvas. After a moment, he turned to me and smiled. “You know, I look at myself in the mirror every morning, but I’m not sure I really see myself.” He waved a hand. “Well, I see myself, but—”
“I know. You see the image, but you don’t really examine the image.”
“Right.”
“You are one handsome man,” I said.
That flustered him. “Thanks. Uh… did you have a chance to finish the sketches?”
“Right over here.” I led him to the pen and ink drawings on the whiteboard wall.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “Those are great! And you signed them.”
“I sign all the work that goes out of here. And I did the fourth one you hesitated over. Thought you might want to give it to your girl.” I felt my brow furrow. “Or your wife.”
He turned and unleashed a smile on me. “No wife.”
“How about a girl?”
Tony pursed his lips. “No girl, either.”
“I don’t believe it. You oughta have them swarming all over you.”
“Oh, they swarm,” he said with no apparent arrogance. “But I don’t always respond.”
“So no girlfriend?”
“Been a few. But not right now.”
My left eyebrow reached for my hairline as I took the plunge. “Boyfriend?”
“Not at the moment.”
I went hyper. My eyesight sharpened; the smell of oil paint and turpentine flooded my nostrils. I heard the grandfather clock ticking in the distant living room. The taste of my now-digested oatmeal lingered on my tongue, the silken robe caressed my thighs. My words managed to squeeze past the lump in my throat. “But there have been some?”
He did that eye-piercing thing before answering. “Two.”
When I lose my head, I tend to babble. “They must be dead. Or crazy. Only way they would have left you.”
He laughed at my frown. “Fortunes of war. No, really. Fortunes of war. One of them was my co-pilot. Flew a few sorties against the bad guys over in the Middle East. Once, we got hit and were losing power. Wasn’t sure we’d make it back to base. All of a sudden, he blurted out he wasn’t afraid to die, but he was sorry he had to do it before he got me.”
“Got you?”
“That’s what I said. Got me? He admitted he’d been thinking about it ever since we teamed up.”
“And what happened?”
“We limped back okay, got us a room in town, and made it so he could die in peace the next time.”
“Was he the first?”
Tony shook his head, sending more of those invisible pheromones my way. Like I needed more. I was about to bust a gut as it was.
“And the first?”
“I was still in high school. We lived on a ranch at the time. This cowhand a couple of years older than me was the town’s stud. Had women all over him all the time. One day, we were working fence lines, and I noted his… condition. He caught me looking and mumbled something about a new girl in town. Without thinking, I told him I could take care of it for him. Didn’t know what I was talking about, just felt moved to say it.”
“And he let you, I take it.”
“Yeah. For the next two years. By the time I figured out he was just using me, not making a buddy out of me—except for his convenience—he’d enrolled in the army. Like I say, fortunes of war.”
I gulped again and said the first thing I could think of to delay him. “Can I offer you a drink?”
“You got a beer?”
“Coors.”
“Okay.
As we started for the den, he paused and looked back. “Greg?”
“Y-yeah.”
“Don’t let me forget those ink drawings when I leave in the morning.”
My knees nearly dumped me on the floor.


*****
Looks as if Greg and Tony got together despite Greg’s risky behavior. I hope you found the story as interesting as I did. I wonder if Mark’s figured out that I’m revealing the conclusion of his story a week before he does. Don’t anyone tell him. Thanks, Mark, for sharing your story with us.

And now my mantra: Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting your work to publishers and agents. You have something to say… so say it.

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See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.