MFA Writing and Publishing: week one

Reading lists. Essays. Critical responses. Creative responses. Research. More essays. More readings. Editing. Writing.

Well, yes, it’s began folks and I thought you might like an inside view as to our first week at VCFA, the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The campus dates back to the 1800s, huge imposing brick buildings with columns, ten foot windows, a lawn with a fountain, and steep roads leading into Montpelier, with trees, more trees and a ring of low lying soft hills and mountains. Tis idyllic.

The class is held in a basement though, overlooking the parking lot outback and I feel gypped! Why in here? When there are such great classrooms upstairs, unused with these inspiring beautiful views? We sit, all eighteen of us, around a collection of tables back to back, creating that family mealtime, all facing each other with our books and laptops spread out. First class.
Julianna Baggott is here. Our faculty director and teacher, an inspiration herself, a powerhouse of words and action. Tuesdays we have five hours with Julianna, a focused five hours with a dynamic writer of all genres, she is forward facing, industry facing, with a desire to bring us into the craft of writing wherever we each are as individuals as well as help us find our places and careers as writers. Just what I need. I’ve done as much as I can on my own, in the vacuum of a small mountain village in New Mexico, with a determined pushing and presenting my work as often as possible to the larger world, to the community out there, here. Yes, I’m here. In graduate school and it hits me this week. I’ve not felt this fully myself before. I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I can do this. I will do this.

  • 3 x33: a short fiction collection that is 1200 pages long. And yes, I’ve read it.
  • The Subversive Copy Editor
  • Story by Neugeboren
  • Forgotten Places by Johnson
  •  Three poems to be reviewed.
  • Five essays to read over for a journal I work for.
  • Owls by Norden
  • Tra Bong by O’Brien
  • My Man Bovanne by Bambara
  • Masked/ Unmasked by Hunger Mountain
  • Upstreet #13

And for my own pleasure and research for a new book idea:

  • Columbus Was Right! by Barbara Toy
  • Descansos by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
  • Solo, a collection of travel essays
  • Susan Sontag
  • Grace Perry

Forms Class with Julianna gave us three short stories to read with critical essays to write, three creative responses as essays, one on our own muse and process, a free associative writing exercise, and another on six random words and how it provokes memory.

Professional Development class gave me a smaller assignment of writing a cover letter and to research small presses, their submission processes.

Publishing Class gave me the three poems and six essays to read and review, one to copy-edit, and a mere 36 pages of a copy-editing book to read. Was there something else? Oh, I hope not.

First week. That’s all. Just a few things to take care of. So what did we all do, us students, after class on Friday? Yep, pub. We went to the pub.
And bumped into Tom. Thomas Christopher Greene that is, the President of the college.

It was all in all a good week. Now I’ve got some reading to do, forgive me. I’ve got to go.

 

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The Importance of Book Reviews

After about ten reviews, Amazon starts including books in their suggestions “also bought” and “you might like” lists.

After more reviews, Amazon is more likely to spotlight the book. This creates a massive increase in visibility and sales. We all want that, right?

Reviews and sales go hand in hand.
The problem for my own books is that most are sold by word of mouth, at events and the such. Then emails and FB posts/ messages tell me how much they enjoyed the book. Then that’s it. Which is wonderful to hear. Please though, can you take a moment and go on Amazon and click on Van Life or any of my books and leave a review. It only takes a moment. I need your help to find the recognition that is beyond winning best fiction with NM/AZ Book Awards in 2012 and 2016, plus being a finalist in 2014 for another. Great Northwest Book Contest awarded Van Life Grand Winner for best nonfiction.
Until I have some reviews though, Amazon ignores these books, which will stay under the radar and only appear if readers are actively searching for my name. The awards don’t help except reassure me that I didn’t waste my time putting it out there.
Seriously, I’d like to find more readers. Whether you liked the book or not, a review will get it noticed. After ten reviews then the sales hikes, the promotion by Amazon, it grows tremendously. But only after review start coming in.
So, yes, please take a moment and leave a customer review. It will make a difference.

Thank you. Thank you.

Yes, thank you.

Living The Dream: 16

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: ONWARDS

Money was flying out faster than I’d hoped or expected what with those nights in motels, a week in Albuquerque, eating out. I worked on my budget while sitting outside on the porch. Angie was at school, one last project that she’s working on in the library. Jonnie was expected to show up later today. Nelson relaxed, fully at home on his blanket, soaking up the sun. I made a decision, a small one, but it was time to move on.

 

“I’m heading south in the morning,” I told them over dinner.

We’d made pizza together, chatting and listening to a local radio station. Their home was toasty and welcoming. I didn’t really want to leave but my restlessness kicked in, and kicked me out. Nothing too comfortable for me, not yet. The ongoing distractions of exploring a new city on foot had revitalized me yet kept me from my purpose: Deciding what was next. What to do about Mark. And the others.

“You’re more than welcome to stay,” Angie offered. “It’s so easy to have you and Nelson around, no trouble at all. In fact, you could stay here for the holidays on your own if you like. I’m going back home for a couple of weeks and it’d be good to know the place wasn’t empty.” She drank some water and offered Nelson a taste of ham from her pizza. “Well, think about it, no pressure.”
“Where are you thinking of going to? Not north I hope. More snow is expected this week, and they say it’s going to be a warm and wet winter.”
“Whatever that means.” I jokingly finished for him. “I don’t know but I like the idea of going across to Arizona, see Jerome and Sedona and that area. It’s probably only a day or two’s drive for us, we stop every hour or so. Anyway, I’d like to keep exploring, camping, daydreaming…”
“ – and deciding?”
“Yes, there is that. I miss the bus as well.”
“But you’re not ready to go back yet?”
Jonnie passed me a glass of wine and we all followed him onto the porch, our nightly routine. “I can understand that. Have you heard from Mark?”
I sipped the malbec and leaned back in an armchair. “Yep, he’s in L.A. having a blast, he said. He even got to play bass for some band one night. They’d had a car accident on the way to the gig and, well, he was in the right place at the right time. It’s a dream come true for him, so I can’t blame him, not really.”

Jonnie brought out the rest of the pizza and picked at a slice as we chatted away companionably. Nelson yawned. Angie petted his head, playing with the long soft ears.

“Well, you have to stay in touch with us, okay? I’ll miss you both. You’re always welcome back. And if you move back to Oliver, we want to come visit, right?”

“Right, I’ll let you know where I end up, we end up, that is. To new beginnings.” I raised my glass to them both with a smile.

“To new friends.”

“To pizza!”

Glasses clinked and Nelson sat up, hoping for food, that’s my happy boy.

 

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER: SHOW ME THE WAY

 

 

“What the hell? You’re joking right?”

Five DEA agents surrounded Mark. They demanded that he hand over his plants. Mark stood there in his shorts and boots, bare-chested and indignant. A couple of black SUVs blocked our Subaru in the driveway. Helicopters, four of them hovered overhead, passing back and forth as they had all morning. I stood on the porch, holding onto Frida who wouldn’t stop barking and growling when anyone came close.

“Your ID please, sir.” An officer stood in all-black clothes and dark sunglasses and he had a gun. He held out his hand to for the license.

Mark laughed, “Where do you think that might be? I’m practically naked here.” he turned and started walking over to me, when the officer stopped him forcefully.
“No sir, you can wait with me and your wife can fetch both your IDs.” He nodded in my direction.

“Girlfriend,” muttered Mark. He put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “They’re tomatoes,” he muttered under his breath once again.

Two officers followed me to my car and I pulled out our wallets and handed over the documents. One stood next to me silently and the other read them before handing them to his partner. Mark asked why they’d come to harass us.

“We were told your wife –“

“Girlfriend.”

“- had been talking about her pot plants at the coffee shop.”
“Her potted plants.” Mark said, and he looked over at our home. The patio was covered in hanging plants of all kinds. Mint. Toms. Lettuce. Onions. Creeping vines. Geraniums. Wildflowers. You name it, I’d planted it.

The man with my ID passed it back and headed for his boss without a word to me. He had a potbelly big enough to hold a drink if he’d leaned back just another inch or two. I tried not to think about it. I coughed under my breath.
“It’s who we thought.”
Mark smoked in silence. Frida whined. I shook. I wish I had my boots on, I felt vulnerable in flip-flops.

“I’m Detective Anders. Would you take us to your pot plants please Mark.”

The man had cropped gray hair and a belt full of his important toys and symbols. And a gun. He lifted his sunglasses briefly to make meaningful eye contact with Mark, who set off in the direction of the bus. I joined him on the porch. I quickly grabbed my boots and sat down. Mark stood next to our pots.

The officer didn’t move. “Well?”

Mark pointed out two tomato plants at the front door. “That’s all we have.”
The officer didn’t smile one bit but reiterated his request. The take-me-to-your-leader kind of an order. “We spotted some twenty pot plants near by and your home is the closest. I suggest, sir, that you comply with my requests. Take me to your plants.”
Mark sighed in exasperation. “We don’t have any. I don’t even know what you’re talking about, as if we’d grow pot plants on our property. That makes no sense. Neither of us smokes anything but this stuff.” He pulled out the cigarettes from his back pocket and held them out.

Another SUV showed up and drove past the other vehicles across my front yard. He pulled up next to us.

“Is there a problem here, Anders?”
“No sir, we were just taking them to the site. Would you like to come with us?”
“Not at all, I’m staying in the air conditioning. Speed it up though. We have another sighting a mile away.” He closed the window and backed out. Tire tracks everywhere. I’d have to rake this later.

“Come along. You can let your dog loose, Ma’am. My officers aren’t afraid of a little runt like that.”

He strode off without a glance at Frida snapping around his boots. I grabbed my hat and caught up with Mark. We followed them down the arroyo on the right, through the hundred-foot bed of coal dust, and past the burnt-out pinion, the result of a lightening strike was my guess. The midday sun wore me out but I kept up with everyone, all ten or us. Although I hated to admit it, taking that hike was easier than digging in fence posts for the chicken run. I spotted some orange paintbrush-like wildflowers on the southern slope. The ridge took us up and over into a neighboring meadow of cacti and silvery stunted shrubs. We walked over the scrubby grasses, along the riverbed and past trees dead and dying. The entourage stopped next to a clump of junipers. Mark and I looked around us.

“Where are we?” he whispered.

“Please, sir, if you have something to say, say it to the group.”
Were we in high school again? Mark said nothing. I coughed. He snickered. Frida found something and ran off. I heard her digging furiously.

“Stop that dog. She’s tampering with evidence.” They ran after her and someone pulled her out from under a tree by her tail. The poor girl yelped and raced over to Mark, jumping into his arms. She buried her head in his armpit.

“What had you found, girl?” he talked softly to her. She looked up briefly, saw Anders walking over, and whimpered.

“This way please, Ma’am, Sir.”
We looked at each other and followed him into a clearing. A bunch of tall bulky and bright green pot plants lay on the dirt. Pulled out by the roots. Each one was at least four or five feet tall, I’d guess, thick and furry.

“Wow. Those are huge.”
The agents watched us closely. I stepped up to poke one with my foot. “Are there more?”
“Why?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” I practically laughed in fascination. I bent down and picked at one. It stank. I picked off a piece and put it to my nose before someone yanked me back.

“That’s enough. Where are the rest?”
“Huh?” I stood up and brushed myself off. “You tell me. You brought us here. This isn’t even our land.”
“Nope, never been out here before, have we Jen? I like it. Is this on our property?” He asked Anders who had a bundle of Xeroxed maps in his hand. Mark went to look and unthinkingly took the top copy. It was of a map of our forty acres and both properties on either side. The road cut through ours in a pretty diagonal, across the two arroyos.

“Isn’t that us?” He held it out to me and I looked over his shoulder, or rather under his shoulder. My finger followed the road, the paths we usually took and found our campsite and the bus, somewhere in the middle. We’d placed it well, apparently. I nodded and handed it back to him. Mark passed it to Anders.

“That’s our place, right? Here’s the road, the bus, our gardens and the boundary where we walk the dog. See?” Mark in his innocence started to walk back the way we’d come.
Two of the officers blocked his path. They kept their hands on their hips.

“Unfortunately, sir, that might be true, but you two live right next to this large collection of illegal plants. We don’t believe you, to be blunt. Now, where are the rest? Someone who grows this many usually has at least another ten or more hidden nearby.”
“Couldn’t your helicopters see any?” I piped up.
Anders stared at me. “No, they didn’t.”
I shrugged and sat in the shade on a huge rock the size of a VW Beetle. Frida tried to join me but she kept slipping off the rocks. She sat at Mark’s feet instead. Anders watched us both carefully.

“Show us the path you use to bring the water out here,” he asked after a while.

“No, you show me.” Mark was getting braver and braver as time went on. I was quite proud of him. “Because there isn’t one and you know it. You know that this isn’t our doing. We’re too effing naïve, aren’t we? Oh, and to add to the equation, we haven’t lived here long enough. You might want to check your records before you try to pin anything on us. I only moved to Oliver, what, two months ago at most.”
Anders looked between Mark and I. He looked down at his paperwork.

“Is that right?”
We both bobbed our heads in agreement. He started to sweat.

“Damn. Who owns this bit? I’m going to get in such deep trouble for messing this up.”

His officers hung back, slowly melting into the trees around us. Frida headed for the freshly dog holes and stuck her face back in them, sighing loudly. I almost felt sorry for Anders. I came to look at the map he held. I recognized the driveway he pointed out as being the nearest. I said nothing.

He folded up his papers and looked around for his men. They’d gone back without him.

“How do we get back from here?”

He turned in a circle, desperately looking for someone to lead the way back. The clearing stood empty but for five dying plants and the rear end of a digging dog.

“We follow the little runt,” said my boyfriend with a sweet smile. “Frida, let’s go home.”

 

“Another pint, Jenny?”
“Hell yeah.”

We stood at the bar surrounded by locals, Dieselhead Danny being one of them. He’d been telling everyone about watching us with the cops and how suddenly they’d all just left, driven off, no charges, and no further searches. Or finds.

“They didn’t get the others,” he announced proudly. He kept buying us drinks. The tavern was pretty empty but it was a Wednesday afternoon. The tourists took over town on the weekends. After we’d found out that little detail, we had adjusted our drinking times suitably, still trying to fit in. Anyway, Danny kept slapping Mark on the back, thanking him for not mentioning the water hauling or anything like that.

“Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that. I just hated the way he called my dog a runt. He pissed me off.” Mark leaned against the stool I was sitting in and gave me a quick kiss on the ear. That third beer was doing wonders for his mood.

We’d got back to the bus with Anders in tow and had made ourselves a cold drink. All three of us sat on the deck and watched as Frida found a rawhide and fell asleep with it under her front paws. One SUV waited for him as he finished his lemonade and apologized in a roundabout way. Finally we were alone again. I got up and raked out the tire tracks. Mark took a sponge bath. Frida napped.

Half an hour later we drove to the tavern, under the watchful eyes of two helicopters. Mark gave them the finger. Frida panted. For once, I drove.

 

Danny wandered outside for a smoke and Mark joined him. I sat there alone for a while, I was glad the day was over. The bartender came over and handed me a pint of cold water.

“You’re looking a little rosy,” he said politely.

I snorted. “I know. It seems to be my New Mexico color, I’m okay, just a little flushed after this morning.”
He laughed out loud and grinned with me, and had no teeth missing. The job must pay better than most.

“Yeah, I heard. That was a close call, you realize that, don’t you?”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I need to forget how close a call. Does that happen a lot around here? It was crazy. Do you think the cops even know whose stuff it was? Is?”
“Probably, but I’d forget all about that if you can. At least now, you’ve made a friend for life with Danny. He’ll look out for you for as long as you live near by. He’s as loyal as a puppy if he likes you.”
Once a year apparently the cops come around, hoping to find fields of green. Instead they bust two or three people for having a handful of pot plants. After seeing the five ‘copters and twenty or so ground personnel, SUVs, even a couple of all terrain vehicles, I have to wonder how much that all cost?

As usual, Mark interrupted my deep thoughts.

“There’s a BBQ out on Alaska road on the weekend, and we’ve been invited. Want to go?”
“Sure. Whose?”
Mark grinned. “I don’t remember but here’s the address for us. Dusk onwards, and he said bring beer, instruments, and dogs, not bad eh? Frida’s first party.”
More importantly – it was going to be our first party in Oliver. We’d finally arrived.

 

 

Before Coffee: the comic book

Well, you asked for it. Here we are. The first volume in the ongoing series of comics. Available in all the usual spaces…and for now, get it at https://www.createspace.com/7125650.

Before_Coffee_Cover_for_Kindle

Thanks everyone for the incredible support.

Living The Dream: 13

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

 

JULY: WET DOG

“Frogs? Do I hear frogs?” I murmured in my dreams.

Mark woke up with a startle. “Frogs. What the hell?” He jumped out of bed, almost knocking Frida to the floor. She yelped and sat on my lap as I tried to work out what was happening. Outside the sky was a dark grey with the sun only just lightening everything up enough to make out the basic blackened shapes and silhouettes. He pulled on his jeans and boots.

“Come on. It’s raining.”

It was true: That thundering sound wasn’t an imaginary waterfall, rain was slamming down upon a metal roof. I stood up excitedly. At last. Monsoons. Mark called out to Frida and they charged out the front door. He was laughing out loud and running around, with our pup barking and howling along. I got dressed and stood on the steps. It was pouring. Torrential rain, they’d not been kidding when describing the monsoons. The driveway was flooded, the trash bags floated under the trees. I ran down the steps and stood arms spread out and head turned up to catch the raindrops in my mouth. Within minutes I was soaked through. I took my shirt off and stripped to my skin. What was the point of wearing anything? This was a shower like none before. Mark laughed and copied me and we ran around in only our boots, thoroughly naked we skipped through the storm.

“Let’s try to find the frogs.” He stood and turned slowly, listening intently. “That way, I think.” He pointed to the west and I followed, holding his hand as we slipped. Frida kept stepping in front of me, asking to go back. I sent her out from under my feet. I ran with rain pouring off me. A stream, or a waterfall gushed in the distance; I couldn’t make out where. Mark jogged ahead, stopping occasionally, and then changing direction slightly. He stopped next to the arroyo. That dry sandy beach of ours now had a river running full speed down the embankment, taking branches, rats’ nests, and who knows what else with it. The rushing water was so loud he had to shout. I still didn’t catch what he said so he pointed.

On the banks I spotted the frogs. Tons of them, all echoing each other to some internal rhythm, one moment deafening, and the next a silent pause before they started up the chorus again. These were the voices that had woken us both up. I stared at them, absolutely thrilled and fascinated by their shapes and sizes. Where did they come from? Did they live in the dirt all year, waiting for this? The rain slammed into us continuously, I was drenched, my hair stuck to my head, and water ran into my eyes. I blinked.

“Want a bath?” Mark stuck his mouth next to my ear. He nodded down stream at our beach.
I grinned, “we might as well, we’re already wet.” I followed him down the rocks and he found a spot that curved up and past three huge rocks, making a pond. We curled up against each other and shouted sweet nothings.

 

“Where’s the tent?”
I walked next to Mark as we headed home to warm up and make breakfast.

“I don’t see it. Do you?”
The sandy campsite was now a sodden mess of twigs, our trash bags, and a couple of cardboard boxes that had lodged themselves in the bushes. No tent. We looked at each other and then downstream. Mark nodded once and set off into the mud. He searched down the arroyo for some ten minutes before he came back with a piece of fabric in hand. Emerald green, wet, and muddy.

“Was this it?” He held it out to me to inspect.
“It could be. But what about our clothes? Did they wash away too?”

“I don’t know. What else did we have in there? Oh, my ties and nice shirts were in a sports bag, a box of photos and letters, some books, oh and that box of vinyl too, damn. Could it really wash away something that heavy? Come on let’s go, it’s your stuff too, you know?” He paced impatiently, scratching his beard.
I waited a moment and offered, “We’ll look for everything when it stops raining, okay? I’ll help.”
Mark looked around helplessly once more and shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He held my hand though as we paddled through the streaming rain. The door stood open, as we’d left it. Mark went in first as I took off my boots and hung them out to dry. The sun peaked out from behind dwindling cloud cover.

“What the hell?”
The bus was wrecked. Furniture overturned. Fridge open. Books scattered and at least one was half-eaten. A pile of puppy shit sat in the middle of the hallway.

“That dog of yours.” He looked around furiously. We couldn’t see her. I called and called but Frida didn’t come out. I stepped back into the bedroom. The covers were shaking.

“Mark? Come here, will you?”
“What is it now?”
I pointed at our bed.

“Oh baby,” was all he said. He sat on the edge and started talking to her soft and low, calling her name, talking to her as I had that first day. She stopped shaking and the lump under the sheet slowly wriggled towards his voice. Her head stuck out and she stared up at us both dolefully. Her big amber eyes blinked. Her ears were flat to her skull. Her terrier brush-like fur was soaked and droopy. She shook as I folded back the sheet and reached for her.

The rain slammed against the roof of the bus suddenly, one last attempt before the sunshine returned, and she flinched but came out finally and sat between us, leaning into the warmth of our bodies and craving our touch. I looked at Mark over her head. He shrugged.

“Now what?” I echoed.
“We clean up, one of us does, and the other can stay with her. I guess we don’t leave her alone in storms any more.”
I stood up. “I’ll make us some coffee then, you stay here. Here’s a towel for you both, catch.”

 

We spent the morning enjoying the rain, the dog, and finally, remembering to enjoy each other. Mark made us a fire in the woodstove, as I still didn’t do a good job with that. Coffee in bed, we chatted about the solar and what we should do. Mark decided that we could work it out ourselves. What’s so hard about it, right? A panel, an inverter, and some batteries. Yep, we could do that for ourselves. Frida had finally left us alone to curl up on her own bed but one eye kept watch at all times.

The driveway was a muddy river. The porch had held up, and the bench had stayed dry enough for us to sit outside and we listened to the buckets overflowing, drip-by-drip, all from off the one little tin roof. We now had ten five-gallon buckets of our own water – it was a pretty satisfying for a start in self-sufficiency. The rains finally stopped but the clouds hung around. The mountains hid from sight in a lingering dense fog.
Mark went back inside, putting away mugs and coffee pot, and generally cleaning up after me. Frida came outside and joined me on the bench. Mark listened to the radio, only to come tell me that another big storm was on its way.

“This afternoon,” he said as he sat next to us, looking around the mud pit we called home.

“Is it time for a motel?” I offered with a grin, tying on my boots, hoping he’d agree.
“You want to bail on us? Go back to your townie ways?” He teased.

I nodded. “Yep, no shame in that as far as I’m concerned. It’s just for a night, it’s not like I’m giving up and moving back to the city, you know. You’ll quit before me.”
There was an uncomfortable pause before he laughed me off and stood up. “All right then, let’s go.”

“Now?”
“Yep, why not? It’s stopped raining. I’ve drunk three cups of Joe and I’m raring to go. So let’s go, right?”
I grabbed my backpack and cowboy hat as I closed the door behind us. Frida followed me closely, still scared.

“You drive.” I threw him the keys with a grin.
“No, you drive. I’m tired of driving all the time, it’s your turn.” Mark whined as he picked up a guitar and followed us.
I raced to the car, jumping over some puddles, splashing through others, and claimed the passenger seat. Frida ran after me and climbed into the back seat. Mark stood there, staring at us all warm and dry, and climbed in with a shrug and then a brief smile. He nodded to himself.

“Okay, okay, girls. I’ll drive. You wouldn’t know how anyway.”

 

“Hey, do you need a ride?”
Mark pulled up next to this figure stumbling along Harold’s Way in the mud. He turned. I tried not to gag. His eyes were both swollen shut, his mouth dripped a fine trail of blood and his face was a mass of eggplant bruises. He held his right arm close to his torso. I looked at Mark, shaking my head frantically. Too late, the man was coming up to my window. He leaned down. Frida growled from her back seat.

“That would be great. I’m trying to get to the clinic in town.”
“Okay.”
Neither of us knew what to say exactly. We drove slowly through the mud, occasionally slipping off to one side or the other. Thank God for four wheel drive. Finally I had to ask,

“Hmm, are you okay?”

The man turned to face me. I wish he hadn’t. Frida leaned next to me, none to happy with sharing the car. She grumbled deep and low.
“It looks worse than it is. Are you two the ones out by Dieselhead?”
Mark nodded as he drove. “Yeah, why?”
“Well, don’t tell him that you picked me up.”
“You mean, he did this to you?”
“No, but he arranged for me to leave town. He wants me gone.” The man shook his head and mud flew everywhere. Luckily he’d stopped bleeding. His jacket was soaked through and his jeans were caked in layers of clay and sand. He smiled at me and I saw beyond the yikes-factor. He had a friendly open grin, with only one tooth was missing.

“Thanks for picking me up. I don’t know that I’d have made it out of there on my own. Most people drive past me.”
I had to wonder why but I didn’t ask. Not directly. “Really?”
He turned back to watch where we were going as he started to talk about living in Oliver. He’d been in town for some eight or so years from what I could gather, and never as a popular man. “To start with, they thought I was a Narc. Now they think I’m going to steal whatever’s lying around.”
“Are you?” Mark sounded quite firm, most manly for a second.

“No, I’m not. And you just helped me out more than you can imagine. I’d not do anything to you, or your place, honest.”
I believed in his messed up logic. I think we’d just paid our insurance dues. He told me about the trailer he’d rented being burnt down in an accident in March, and since then he’d been couch surfing around the area.

“But I think I’ve run out of places to stay. Did you say you have a space? Extra studio or something? I could trade you.”
Mark said that no, we’d lost our tent on the floods, had our own place, but thanks for offering. It was all quite polite of him considering the situation. The car started sliding to the right as we crested the one small hill. I clutched Frida a little too tightly and she yelped. We drove down an embankment and into a riverbed. A creek rushed past my door. Great. The car stalled out. It started to rain again. Great. Mark gave me a look of frustration and stepped outside to see what we could do. Not much by his helplessness of his shrug. I opened the door, stepped shin deep into cold water, and joined him. Reluctantly. Our wandering hitchhiker sat inside and stared at us through the glass. I turned my back on him. I whispered to Mark. He went back over and asked the guy to get out and help us.

After checking it out from all angles, Mark had a plan. The three of us searched the road for loose rocks and stacked them around the tires and made a ramp back onto the road. It kept on raining. Frida started to whimper again so I put her in Mark’s seat with a scarf of mine to suck on. She watched me through the window.

The ramp was built. Mark got in. He started it up. The car didn’t move. I fell in the mud. Like I said, it was great.
We all sat in the car not knowing what to do.

A Dodge truck drew up beside us and stopped in the middle of the road, and the Hitchhiker flinched but said nothing. A young couple – did I really just say that? They were in their twenties at least, but anyway they both climbed down and introduced themselves, telling us how they lived a few miles past us, way out at the end, and rarely came out. They were pretty friendly, nice, you know? Three young kids peered out the truck windows. Frank and Debbie were homesteading, home schooling, and basically staying home. We were lucky; it was their regular trip to Santa Fe, bad weather or not, they always drove to town once a month. He pulled his cowboy hat back on and shrugged on a denim jacket. With leather gloves, Frank took out a ten-foot chain and tied our car to his bumper. The Hitchhiker hung back, being very low key for a man with a smashed in face; you’d almost not notice him. Debbie climbed into their truck and with only a second glance she pulled us out. Mark whooped it up in glee and Frida barked in distress. I let her out and she ran over to Mark to make sure nothing was wrong with him. He petted her as he took out his wallet to pay our saviors.

“What? No chance. We’re neighbors, that’s what we do. Help each other out.”
“Well, can we invite you all over sometime?” Mark offered.

Frank held out his hand, “We’d be honored to do just that. We’ll stop on by some afternoon with the kids. Do you both have kids?”
“Not yet,” said Mark.
“No plans,” I said.

Frank smiled at us both a little uncertainly. He unhooked his chain. “Well, okay then, you can follow us out to the highway if you like. And you’ll see us again. Pleased to meet you both.” He shook our hands. Debbie pulled on her sunglasses and gave us a wave as she waited for Frank to climb into the Dodge. She slowly drove off and waited for us to catch up.
I looked around. “Where is he?”
“Who? Oh, right, yeah, where is he?”
I looked over at the car and Frida had jumped back in through a window. I walked closer to check on her. She was alone. Our hitchhiker had disappeared. So had my wallet.

Living The Dream: 11

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

DECEMBER: BACON

The bedroom was cozy, with windows facing a small neighborhood park, empty at that time of night. Nelson had his own bed next to mine and he slept soundly. I didn’t. How had I ended up at this home in Albuquerque? It must be the beer. This isn’t like me, to go home with strangers, but I felt safe and relaxed. Unusual to say the least.

When we’d walked back to my truck, they’d offered me a place to stay for a few nights, a chance to unwind after weeks on the road. I followed them and drove up to a small but well lit home nearby. The front yard held a teardrop trailer and an SUV. I pulled in on the left, out of their way hopefully, and let the boy out. The winter sky sparkled above, cold and distant. The lights in Angie’s home drew me in. Jonnie was in the kitchen already, putting on water for tea.

“The room is back there, the one at the end of the hallway. Make yourself at home, Jenny. We usually make tea and hang out on the porch, catching up on the week’s news. You can join us if you like?”
I shook my head and shuffled back to the bedroom. I was settling in my boy when Angie popped her head around the door.

“Your bath is ready. Come on, it’s in here.”
The bath overflowed with bubbles, the windows steamed, and candles flickered on the countertop.

“I thought you’d like a little pampering. Anyway, I’m going to be outside with Jonnie, to see what he’s been up to without me. It’s hard not living together right now, but I need to finish my master’s degree here before I go back south. Oh, blah blah, you don’t need to hear this. Go relax. See you later or not. Coffee’s usually ready early so help yourself. And Nelson can hang out in the back yard, it’s fenced. Good night.”

She closed the door behind her and Nelson’s footsteps followed her down the hallway. The backdoor closed behind the three of them. The house grew quiet.

“We’re off to the Farmer’s Market. Do you want to come with us?” Jonnie finished his second cup of coffee. “It’s pretty amazing at this time of year, what with all the winter treats like raw honey and candy, all wrapped ready for Christmas presents, as well as wreaths made from the local trees. It’s fun. I’ll even buy you a hot cider.” Jonnie stood up from the kitchen table as Angie appeared, pulling on a winter coat and a woolen hat.

“Sure, it’s okay with Nelson though? The one in Santa Fe won’t let him come in.”
Angie nodded and handed me the leash. “No worries, he’ll be fine. I know the manager. You can be my visiting niece and she won’t ask for more than an assurance that he won’t mark everything. Okay Nelson, you’ll behave?”

Nelson fetched his leash, waiting for the slow coach humans at the front door.
Clouds had followed from the North East corner of the state and threatened a snowstorm. I huddled deeper into my jacket. Nelson looked as happy as a raven with a dead mouse. Comfortable and content with the world, he trotted alongside as we walked and talked. Angie led the way through the park and onto more back roads. The sun peeked out occasionally but not often enough to melt the frost on the grass. Nelson sniffed, marked, and sniffed some more. He was a happy boy.

“We thought of buying land down south, near the Gila National Forest but the idea of living without power or baths put us off. I like my comforts,” said Angie with a laugh. “We own a home down by Elephant Butte Reservoir, not that there’s much water these days, but it’s nice to be near a lake, live quietly and still live in a real home, you know. Don’t you miss living in town?”
“We’re only four or so miles outside of Oliver, so it’s not bad. And it’s worth it to me, to live where no one cares what we do or how we do it. I don’t really know how to build to code, or really what that even means, but Mark and I, well, we got to play and make shelters and gardens and all of it without anyone judging us. That can’t be beat.”
Jonnie slowed down to ask about the water and electricity.

“Not that I understand that stuff, I work in the museum down there, cataloguing acquisitions and talking to all the school kids. I like the job, I get to leave at the end of the day and not worry about anyone or anything. Perfect. I go home, make some food, pet the cat, and watch movies. At least, when Angie’s up here.”

She slapped him playfully and linked her arm with his. They chatted away as we walked.

“I don’t know that I could go back to teaching, not yet anyway. You’re right; it’s easier when you don’t have to worry about anyone. The café has been perfect for me, a way to meet the locals, network, and get involved in the community. Mark has had a harder time of meeting people but he’s made some friends, some closer than others. I don’t know if they’re aware why he’s left. I’ll have to tell them I guess, when I go home.”
Angie and Jonnie glanced at each other. “Do you still think of it as home then?”

I nodded, surprised at myself. “Yes. Yes, I guess I do. It’s good to talk about the place, the people. I hadn’t realized how much it suits me there. Or how proud I am of how we learned how to do things for ourselves. It’s kind of amazing really, we used to just accept what we’d been told, you know, by the supposed experts. But then we started to question them and we’d look into things ourselves. I learned a lot.”
The lights changed and we crossed another side road, and found our way through the mass of cars and bicycles parked haphazardly in front of the market.

“If you lose us, Jenny, there’s a café just there, see it? We’ll find you there at noon, okay? Come on; let’s face the mayhem. There’s this family who make the best burritos. You’ve got to try one. And for you, Nelson, bacon?”

He trotted happily, tail high and proud.

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LA for an award? Sure, I’ll go.

It must be an elaborate hoax, right? That my latest book won an award? That I’m being flown to LA tomorrow for a dinner downtown?

I’m packed, I figure even if it is a hoax, I might as well spend the weekend in LA. I haven’t been there in over 25 years, oh shit, that makes me old. Well, is there a big difference between that innocent yet brave kid and my current self? In some ways – no. I write, she wrote, we’re both restless and curious, not satisfied by the mundane but needing to find out other people’s stories and experiences. I’m excited to land in LA early in the morning and have the time to wander around, take the bus to the beach, wander up to Santa Monica to eat fish and chips at the British Pub that I remember.

The first time in LA, I was 22 years old with a backpack, a handful of dollars and one address in Venice Beach. I walked, talked, explored and stayed with a friend I’d met in Germany a year or two before. We’d gone to Freiburg University together, she was a good student, me not so much.

This time, I have a flight, a credit card, a small daypack, and no addresses. I’ll be staying at an Airbnb place near LA Live where we’re having the Awards Dinner. I can walk there and back easily and take the metro in the morning back to the beach before my flight Sunday night. Short and sweet a visit.

Is is hoax? What do I wear? What do I say at the ceremony?
What do I want from the experience? To network and talk to agents and publishers. To find a larger readership. To know that I am a writer after all these years. It’s real. It’s not a hoax.

From the website:

GREAT NORTHWEST BOOK FESTIVAL NAMES “VAN LIFE” FOR TOP HONORS

A woman who decides to hit the road with a van, three animals and her adventurous spirit is the grand prize winner of the 2017 Great Northwest Book Festival, which honors the best books of the late winter/spring.

Author Sarah Leamy’s “Van Life” (CreateSpace)  is the story of a writer who decides that there’s more to living than working retail and yearning for adventure. So it is that she takes two dogs and a cat on a rollicking trip through the back roads of the Northwest, stumbling across rural villages and a microbrewery or three. Her stories of the locals, the scenery and her family of animals are funny, poignant and ultimately a satisfying read for any armchair adventurer who dreams of doing something similar. Leamy and others in the competition will be honored in a private ceremony later this month.