Fiction: No Such Thing as Progress

The ladies of Fort Grant get their feathers ruffled.

“Duty calls. I’ll come by later for the hop, girls,” Lieutenant Fahy said. “Good luck, Bill. I’ll have my boys dispose of the horse.”

Mrs. Markham eyed Miss Peckham steadily and waited for introduction.

William spoke. “Mrs. Markham, this is Miss Peckham from Philadelphia.”

“Peckham?”

“Yes, my uncle is a great friend of Captain Markham’s so I’m told.”

Mrs. Markham thought but came up blank. “Miss Peckham, I’m sorry to say that Captain Markham is on detached duty.”

“That sounds interesting. Is he off killing Indians?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No, court martial duty.”

“Oh. Well, I was wondering—hoping really that I might stay on a few days. I’m an authoress and I’m studying women—women of the West.”

Mrs. Markham laughed. “And what is there to study? Women are women.”

“So may I stay?”

Mrs. Markham blushed.

William began to strip the dead horse lying nearby of its tack.

“Mr. Weldon, I’m sorry about your pony,” Mrs. Markham said.

“That’s all right, ma’am. I rode her too hard. It’s my own fault.”

Thankful huffed.

Mrs. Markham rubbed William’s back as he stood up. “I have no room for you, Bill, I’m afraid, but we’ll set you up a nice tent for the night out back or maybe you’d like to find space with the infantry . . .”

“No, that’s too much trouble. I can, well, I can just go . . .” William craved a drink.

“You have no choice, young man. You deserve at least a hero’s supper, the way you saved your girl,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Mr. Weldon did not save me, and we’re just acquaintances,” Miss Peckham stated.

Mrs. Markham glanced at Miss Peckham. “Yes, well, I suppose you may stay on, miss. But Bill’s a hero to us. Thankful will share her room. It’s small but she’s done it up so sweet.”

Thankful blanched.

Miss Peckham brightened. “Good! Mr. Weldon, I’ll pay you again tomorrow if you go fetch my trunk and things from town and bring them back by stage—I left them with that Ginny girl—you do think she’s honest don’t you, Mr. Weldon—as you know her much better than I do?”

“Thankful’s room is small for a lot of things, Miss Peckham,” Mrs. Markham said.

Miss Peckham ignored the matron. “It’s no trouble for you, is it, Mr. Weldon?”

“No, I guess not.”

“How much do you want?” Miss Peckham asked, opening her purse again.

“Please, Miss Peckham, I won’t take a cent from you,” William replied, glancing around in humiliation. “There’s no need to negotiate a thing.”

“Ginny tells me you have no problem negotiating with her,” Miss Peckham joked.

William wiped his face. “Ginny is a friend, mostly. . . ”

Miss Peckham chuckled. “That girl is a beast and as dumb as stone.”

“You said earlier looks don’t matter and these two ladies don’t care what I get up to in town,” William said, turning to Mrs. Markham. “I’m not worthy of your company, and I never would have made the trip if I thought we’d be standing here discussing anything that goes on in town.”

“That’s the trouble with men,” Miss Peckham addressed the women as intimates. “They underestimate our tolerance for things. Women don’t faint at the thought of a whore or sex. Women have urges and feelings . . .”

Thankful blushed and took a step away from the others.

“It’s a matter of manners and breeding, Miss Peckham,” Mrs. Markham said, “that we prefer to avoid topics that may put a friend in an uncomfortable spot.”

“Pardon me,” Miss Peckham said. “I hadn’t imagined the army to be so quaint in manner when in action, from what I hear, they employ the most modern techniques of extermination.”

“Miss Peckham, stories in eastern magazines are not always accurate sources of information on the army,” William said.

“My Captain Markham is just now risking his life for the likes of you,” Mrs. Markham said, her voice deepening, “so you may travel around prattling on about a world you don’t understand and feeling superior!”

“Oh, please, ma’am, I meant no offense to you personally,” Miss Peckham said, taking the matron’s hand in her own. “My uncle has spoken quite highly of the captain. I’m sure there are exceptions.”

“Captain Markham is no exception!” Mrs. Markham replied. “Every officer in his regiment is as honorable as he is, and I’m proud of the whole lot of them. They’ve always shown themselves to be as fair-minded and as considerate as possible. There are bad soldiers somewhere, I’m sure, but I’ve never met one yet, and I’ve been with the army since the war.”

“That’s sweet, but does the army pay you?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Is everything about money to you? I gladly go without to spend time with the captain . . .”

“Some women, I know, are impressed by a uniform,” Miss Peckham laughed.

“It’s the man wearing it, Miss Peckham!” Mrs. Markham exclaimed.

“I always wondered. Do military men insist that their wives call them by their titles?” Miss Peckham asked.

“It’s a show of respect, miss,” William said.

“And endearment,” Mrs. Markham added with reddened face.

“Oh, Mrs. Markham, I’m sure you’re satisfied with the captain,” Miss Peckham said, patting the older lady’s arm, “but I for one have never been good at taking orders.”

“Captain Markham doesn’t order me!” Mrs. Markham cried.

“But it’s implied.” Miss Peckham noted. She straightened her pantaloons.

William moaned.

“Miss Peckham, Mrs. Markham is doing a nice thing in letting you stay, but maybe you might find town more to your liking,” William suggested.

“Mrs. Markham, I’m sure you understand my talk is of a political nature and not intended to make judgment on you personally. We’re all creatures of our environment,” Miss Peckham explained.

Thankful turned to her. “There is good reason for women to stay clear of politics. Bringing women’s minds into the gutter, where some men keep theirs already, is not my idea of progress.” She gave William a sharp look.

“And what do you believe is progress, Miss Crenshaw?” Miss Peckham asked.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

#Friday Fictioneers

I discovered this old writing prompt on ROCHELLE WISOFF-FIELDS’ site and thought it would be fun to write a condensed version (100 words or less) of an event from Buck Crenshaw and William Weldon’s  boyhood:

gateway-jhardy-ff-24th-march
PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

LIFE BEHIND THE FENCE

Fred pissed in Buck’s boots.

They walked down Chestnut Street with its grand homes. Everyone envied Buck and Fred.

Lemonade waited, but friends were never invited in.

William understood the fence between us and them. Mrs. Crenshaw lounged. Fred trotted to her. Buck hung back.

Mrs. Crenshaw struggled to her feet.

“You soiled your shoes?”

Buck backed up, upsetting a glass.

“I curse the day I had you! Take off the shoes.”

Buck tore the shoe off and flung it at the fence. William lingered long enough to see the belt cracking the soles of Buck’s feet.

 

 If you’d like to join in Friday Fictioneers or read other posts check Rochelle’s Blog for rules and prompts.

adrienne-morris Have a great weekend everyone! I’ll be bleaching a barn.

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Fiction: Rough Riding

After getting nowhere with his prostitute friend, William agrees to escort Miss Peckham, the women’s rights crusader, to Fort Grant.

Evening call rang out and the musicians at the bandstand halted their concert as they did each day with a melancholy little tune to send the children, their caretakers and the soldiers to their quarters. After a day’s work in the heat, repairing roofs, training horses and cleaning the grounds the men looked forward to their evening meal, smoking and a game of bluff.

Thankful, pushing Mrs. Markham’s youngest two children in their stroller, made her way up the straight even path along officers’ row in a hurry, excited for the midweek hop tonight. Fahy had the evening off after many nights on the guard. Thankful knew he envied the small detachment of soldiers sent to investigate a government supply depot robbed—most likely by roughs fired from the rail company. It was a waste of the army’s time and resources as the thieves would be long since gone and the settlers never told their whereabouts. Most hated the government’s enforcers as much as they disliked the Indians and horse thieves, but Fahy longed for action.

“Evening, Miss Crenshaw!” a soldier said.

“Evening back, boys,” she replied with a grin to Lieutenants Olney and Davenport, smoking in their front yard.

“Won’t you stay for a small chat, miss? You’ve been neglecting us of late,” Davenport teased.

“She’s got wedding plans more important than old friends, I’m afraid,” Olney added, rambling up to the fence with treats for the children.

“No sweets for them, sir,” Thankful warned. “Mrs. Markham’ll be sore.”

“She shouldn’t have hired you then, Miss Crenshaw.”

“Oh, go on. You’re such a flirt, lieutenant.” Thankful laughed and lingered a second at the gate as Olney handed the toddlers the forbidden candy. Thankful shook her head and glanced up the parade grounds, hoping to catch sight of Fahy.

“Miss Crenshaw, he won’t be back yet—there was a small riot between a few of the privates cleaning the sinks. Fahy was still finishing his reports at the guardhouse—sit with us,” Davenport said.

Thankful giggled. “I never know if you lie or not, but tonight I’m in a big hurry—I’ll see you both at the hop, won’t I?”

“Course you will—though you had better not be so rude to dance only with your fiancé. It’s bad form. Mrs. Markham would have told you that by now, I think.”

Thankful blushed. “I’ve been warned—again and again—and I do have a bully time with you—but, well, Mr. Fahy—there’s no one so darned perfect as him.”

“Well, now you’ve gone and hurt our feelings, Miss Crenshaw,” Davenport laughed. “There’s never enough girls here and you hold out on us—that’s heartless and you know it!”

“I’ve never felt so in demand. I’m afraid you spoil me too much. I promise I’ll be better to you boys tonight,” she said pushing the stroller.

A crazed horse flew in past the guards. Thankful quickened her pace to the safety of the Markham house, but kept her eye on the action. She gasped as William shot his pony over the gate too. Thankful ran onto the parade grounds, leaving the children deserted under a cottonwood.

Fahy, with hands on hips, appeared from the guardhouse at the sound of alarm and watched as the crazed horse Miss Peckham flew in on raced by on the parade.

William dug his spurs into his poor little horse pushing it up on the sleeker, taller animal carrying Miss Peckham. He leaned hard into his stirrup, grabbed his horse’s mane with his left hand and took the bridle of the mad horse, distracting it just enough to slow it slightly.

The new cavalrymen learning the ropes shook their heads in admiration, yet despaired at ever riding like that. William, so clumsy on his feet, fleetly lunged at Miss Peckham’s horse, leaving Sophie in the dust. Miss Peckham clung to the horn of her saddle until William’s weight, at the animal’s neck, pulled it into submission with a sudden jerk which threw Miss Peckham off balance and to the ground. William gave one good hard pull on the reins, and slid off the foaming, wild-eyed horse, as the entire garrison watched.

The sunbaked children of the place cheered and rushed up around William, red faced and angry at having entered the fort in such an undignified way. Miss Peckham, on her feet and unhurt, dusted herself off as Fahy, Davenport and Olney, among others, ran up to her. Thankful hung back after taking hold of William’s horse.

“What’s the meaning of this, Weldon?” Fahy demanded. “You could have been shot. With the Apache back on the loose we’re expecting anything.”

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” William began out of breath. He glanced at Thankful and wiped the sweat and dust from his face with his sleeve.

“What was your intention then, Bill? You could have killed the children on the parade playing,” Fahy lectured.

Miss Peckham came forward, took Fahy’s hand and shook it. The officer was taken aback. “Sir, I accept some responsibility. Everyone is over-reacting—but I’ve heard that about the army. I admit I was showing off on the road. Mr. Weldon thought I’d lost control and foolishly—though I appreciate the gesture—tried to slow my horse, only to send him faster over the gate. If let alone, I wouldn’t have made such an entrance.”

William’s face burned. Miss Peckham’s horse had endured a hard ride full of mixed signals and vexing shouts. William had tried his best to convince his new acquaintance of the horse’s strained patience, but she assured him she knew how to ride and did not appreciate his superior attitude.

A small, waterless streambed with shiny stone was all the excuse necessary for the horse to bolt. As the notes from the final melody of the army band floated out, the horse doubled and trebled its speed, much to William’s horror.

William understood the danger and disrespect shown to the guards when he ignored their calls and threats, but his mind had been on Miss Peckham’s life. And here she was, in front of the entire garrison and Thankful, showing him up.

“Hey, if that isn’t Misty,” Davenport said as he stepped forward to investigate the now quiet horse. “Yes, there’s the army brand—a bad job of disfiguring it someone’s done.”

“Does this animal belong to you, sir?” Miss Peckham demanded to know.

Davenport laughed.

“Miss, this critter belongs to the captain’s wife. The government says we needn’t post guards over the wives’ horses and see what happens? She was stolen some months back—maybe we should take you to the guardhouse.”

Fahy spoke with authority. “And where did you get this horse? Did Mr. Weldon, here, find it for you?”

“I found it for myself—we women can do those things, you know.”

“I see riding is another matter . . .” Fahy said under his breath.

Thankful came over now with William’s horse. “Here, William. That was a brave thing you did—whether your friend likes to say so or not.”

The entire garrison knew that William wore the feather for Thankful Crenshaw and that Lieutenant Fahy resented this childhood friend of his fiancée’s.

Miss Peckham, crossing her arms, looked around with a slightly veiled sneer and sighed, her eyes landing on Lieutenant Fahy. “I don’t know who you are . . .”

“Fahy, Lieutenant Fahy, miss.”

“Yes, well I’ve come to see my uncle’s friend—a Captain Markham—do you know him?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Of course I know him,” Fahy stated.

The enlisted men gawked at her as she lit a cigarette.

“I’m Miss Gertrude Peckham. I may as well introduce myself as I see manners west of the Mississippi are sadly lacking.”

“Pardon me, Miss Peckham. The excitement of your unusual entrance set things off wrong. This is my fiancée Miss Thankful Crenshaw,” Fahy said.

“Thankful? What a positively interesting name!”

Thankful with raised brows replied coolly, “And yours—I’ll say a prayer that you’ll be married soon.”

Miss Peckham smiled, with an indifferent nod. “I don’t believe in prayers or marriage, Miss Thankful Crenshaw.”

The gliding form of Mrs. Markham, coming to rescue her toddlers from wet diapers and too much sun, distracted Thankful. “Now my fish are fried,” she said, waving meekly to her employer.

Fahy sent Thankful a silent look of reproach over the abandoned babies and the unladylike comments directed at Miss Peckham. Thankful stuck out her tongue, and he softened.

William looked toward the gate—the only break in the pink desert landscape. He jumped on his horse and was about to say a last word when the poor old mare stumbled and collapsed beneath him. The small but pleasant pony had depended upon his kind and good judgment. William missed the hat he’d lost somewhere on the trip out.

Fahy sighed. “Sorry, old fellow. What would you have us do with her?”

William cleared his throat. “I don’t care.”

“How will you get back to town now, Willy?” Thankful asked.

“I’ll walk,” he said. Only a week ago two miners were killed on the road at dark not five miles away. William remembered his gun—left in his room. The day had started out with only the idea of a visit to Ginny.

“Weldon, don’t be a fool. You can’t walk it with that leg of yours,” Fahy said.

Miss Peckham pulled her jacket straight. “Oh, Mr. Weldon, you can take the coach, can’t you? If it’s about the money . . .”

“No, Miss Peckham.” William had forgotten their deal.

“We never did settle on a price, Mr. Weldon—how much do I owe you?”

William squirmed.  “No, I really don’t want any money, miss.”

“I insist. You said you were broke, and I said I’d pay you. A deal is a deal.”

William glanced at Thankful. “No, miss, there was no deal . . .”

“You offered to bring me out for a price—so what will you charge?”

Fahy laughed in disgust. “A new line of work for you, Bill?”

“Not quite, Fahy. It was foolish banter—not meant to be taken seriously,” William lied. He needed the money now more than ever to put toward a new horse.

Miss Peckham took coins from her bag. “Go on now, take your pay. This is as much as the coach would have charged, I suspect.” Everybody noted that she held out less than the going rate. “I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to leave such a showman as you behind,” she teased.

“Willy saved your life, Miss Peckham—for all the garrison to see!” Thankful said. “You’re a terrible rider!”

“Thankful, this is no way to behave,” Fahy lectured. “Bill Weldon is capable of defending himself if need be. The problem is how to send him off. The coach won’t chance a ride out after dark these days.”

Mrs. Markham walked up full of curiosity. “Good day to you. Lieutenant Fahy, off early from guard duty?” While the captain was away she took an active motherly interest in his men.

Fahy touched his hat. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’m just here about this stolen animal—does he look familiar?”

Mrs. Markham had been more interested in the strange lady than the animal. “My! That’s Misty! Poor thing!” She touched the horse, and it whinnied and nuzzled her.

“He is a very impulsive animal, ma’am,” Miss Peckham noted.

“Really? I’ve never had anything but the quietest rides with him,” Mrs. Markham replied.

“But, Mrs. Markham, you’re an excellent rider,” Thankful said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

***Image courtesy Columbia.edu

 

Fiction: Love and Marriage

William had three drawings published in an obscure magazine back east and even one sketch put into the Army Navy Journal. He sent that one to his father. As long as he avoided Thankful, Lieutenant Fahy and thoughts of home, his days were bearable. The Apaches rampaged as the garrison troops polished their guns, awaiting orders. None of it mattered to William. He’d burnt that bridge.

Slipping out of his room he made his way towards the edge of town for horizontal refreshment. In funds again, however briefly, William whistled a tune.

Ginny always waited on the rickety, bone-dry porch for him. Sun-bleached as the wood planks, she had the prettiest blonde hair William had ever seen. Today another form sat beside her. He strode up, not bothering to tip his hat. The strange lady glared at him. This woman was cutting into his time. William stood waiting, hands shoved in pockets. Ginny looked caught.

“Say, Billy; this is Miss Peckham from Philadelphy.”

William nodded.

Ginny played with a long strand of hair that had fallen from her bun. “Yes, Miss Peckham is studyin’ the West and all us—ain’t that so, Miss Peckham?”

“Please, Virginia, you must call me Gertrude—we’re all equals, you know,” Miss Peckham instructed.

“Please, Miss Peckham, I mean Gertrude, I ain’t never been called Virginia. It’s always Ginny, please.”

“You must embrace your rightful name; lord knows how men try to define us otherwise.” Miss Peckham glared at William for a second, but worked a small charming dimple into a condescending smile.

“But, scuse me, Miss Peck—Gert—it’s my dead mother that named me Ginny so I’d like to keep it just the same,” Ginny said, her pock-marked face turning purple in consternation.

“Ginny, what’s the time?” William asked, jangling the coins in his pocket.

“Why, I have the time, sir,” Miss Peckham said. She stood and reached into the pocket of her mannish bloomers.

William gave Ginny an appalled look.

Miss Peckham opened her man’s watch and snapped it shut again. “Mister, you’re too late. Ginny will no longer be used by men like you.”

“Oh, and what will you do, Ginny, go east for a job in the White House?” William joked.

The women didn’t laugh.

“Ginny, what’s this all about?” William asked.

“It’s about women bein’ made all captured by men and such,” Ginny said. “I don’t mind you, Billy, but . . .”

Miss Peckham pushed her arm through Ginny’s supportively. “Ginny, when I asked, did you not say that this man was your worst customer?” she quizzed like an attorney.

“Well, no and then yes. He owes me, but . . . it’s different.” Ginny blushed.

“Didn’t you say he treated you like any other whore?”

“Say! There’s no need to call her that!” William said, expecting approval for his defense of Ginny.

“But it’s fine to ride her and use memory loss as an excuse for non-payment?” Miss Peckham asked.

“I pay when my money comes through—you know that, Gin,” William explained, pulling his hat low over his eyes.

Miss Peckham surveyed him, her free hand resting on her hip. “This world is run on men’s terms. That’s why things are such a mess.”

William laughed. “I doubt you and Ginny could do any better . . .”

“Women have run societies—Indian and aboriginal and . . .” Miss Peckham said as she fingered her fashionable bangs.

“And where are they now if they were so superior?” William asked.

“White men and their brutal ways destroyed all that was good and . . .”

“So these female societies never properly defended their people . . . hmm,” William responded, turning to Ginny. “Want to get in out of the sun?”

But Miss Peckham continued. “What men don’t understand they destroy or ignore!”

“I understand you perfectly. I just disagree. In a perfect world there would be no need for Ginny—I mean her profession . . .” William replied, taking Ginny’s hand even as Miss Peckham grabbed her at the opposite elbow.

“I’d like ta get married one day,” Ginny confessed, looking up at William with adoring eyes.

“Marriage is a death sentence for women!” Miss Peckham said. “They lose their names and their personalities, and I for one shall never marry. I have a greater love for all of humanity. Romantic love is a trap, made up to yoke women into slavery.”

“A trap, maybe, but one that women happily get caught in,” William said.

“Well, if they understood; I feel sorry for most women . . .” Miss Peckham stated. “Is dying in childbirth a good thing, sir?”

“Is dying in war, miss?” William asked. “You should take your men’s clothes and crazy notions back where you came from.”

“Why on earth would I take a suggestion from a man so lacking in manners?”

“This is how I speak to all men—we’re equals, right?” William said, pulling Ginny, but Ginny stood still.

“I ain’t too sure I agree with Miss Peckham about nothin’ cept gettin’ paid. Sorry Billy.”

William jangled his coins again more emphatically, but a stubborn look came upon Ginny’s usually compliant face.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Fiction: The Parting Glass

Parting is sorrow for William and his father . . .

William slid out of bed and rummaged around for a bottle. All were empty, but his father left a few coins amounting to less than five dollars on the bureau—probably all he had to spare. “Damn him, making me the guilty one. How does he do it?” William mumbled, scooped up the change and was about to walk out when Jay Haviland arrived.

“Say, Bill, I saw your ghost on the street an hour ago—Robinson tells me it’s your old man—you’re the spitting image, cut from the same cloth . . .”

“Yes, he’s gone now. Why are you here?”

“Well, that’s a nice way to talk to your closest friend and confidante.” Haviland looked around the room haughtily.

“Why is it I’ve never in all these months seen or heard about your family if they’re such big bugs?” William asked.

“I told you, but you must have forgotten, Bill, that they’re touring Europe, Tibet and all,” Haviland said, eyeing Thankful’s watch.

William snapped it shut and put it in his pocket. “I thought you said Asia or Siberia?”

Haviland huffed as if offended, but smiled then. “Here, I’ve brought us some spirits—thought maybe to share with your fine father . . . anyway, my family will be just across Panama and off first to the South Seas and THEN Europe—I told you already.”

William had a talent for map making but knew almost nothing of the world. He figured his parents didn’t think he’d go very far anyway. “Give me some of that, Haviland. I feel like a celebration,” he said with great sarcasm.

“You? I thought you’d be all cut up over Miss Crenshaw and that ass Fahy.”

William slicked his hair, wiped the oil on his trousers and took a drink from Haviland’s bottle. “He’s not an ass really. He’s right for Thankful,” William said.

“Well, I saw the two the other day at the agency, and they were so close if Fahy farted Thankful could smell what he had taken for supper. I knew somethin’ was up.”

William took another drink.

“Watch it, bub, you’ll be washed out and passed out before we have a night. Did Father Weldon put you in funds? I’d have expected a more dashing and distinguished look for an old lieutenant, but he’s nothing better than a down-and-out rail worker,” Haviland laughed.

“I’ll not have you insult my father!”

Haviland searched William’s face with friendly condescension. “Your secrets are out William Weldon. You don’t come from eastern royalty after all so no need to talk all high falootin!”

“I’ve never said anything about royalty.”

“No need to get all heated in the desert, Bill. Let’s go to the barroom. The air ain’t so close there.”

“Fine.”

Haviland held the door and William stumbled out, already greatly influenced by Haviland’s “Tarantula Juice.” At the saloon, Haviland looked disappointed with the small change William pulled from his trousers, but said nothing. Two days of hard drinking with only the brief respite of his father’s visit made getting back to blind drunk easier for William. He held his glass unsteadily and toasted. “To my father. I hope he rots in Hell.”

Haviland touched the glass with his own disinterestedly. William’s head fell into his dirty hands.

“For the love of Christ, Bill, this is some celebration. You’ve gone plumb loco and I’m not happy with it. You’re bad company these days.”

William lifted his head long enough to order yet another drink. He gulped it down, but the image of his father sending him off at the train station a year ago would not allow for clear thinking. He had expected his mother to take his parting hard, but she’d been stoic. She kissed him, her eyes full of pain and pride, and she wished him luck. Weldon shook his son’s hand.

At the time William received it with cold formality; again his father came up short with no words of wisdom, no parting words at all. William found a window seat and looked up to the houses on the hill before craning his neck to see their own hill rising on the opposite side, the shabbier side. He slid out of his seat and into the other facing the depot and spotted his parents sitting on an out-of-the-way bench. His father’s walking stick—his one nice thing—was on the ground next to his mother’s faded parasol still open.

They didn’t scan the windows of the train for a last wave good bye. Their son was gone. And William stared at them in surprise at their emotion. Katherine looked empty, but his father hid his face as his shoulders shook. At the time William turned away repulsed at yet another sign of his father’s weakness.

William tried another drink, but couldn’t finish it. He stood to go. “I have to go home and tell my father . . .”

“Your father is long since gone, Bill. I saw him myself,” another drinker said to him. “He was coming from the apothecary shop then took the train.”

“Apothecary? The druggist?” William pushed his stool away and felt his way out. “Just forget it all; forget him. He’s worthless. . . .” William’s gut pained him, and he slouched under the staircase up to his room. It smelled of urine and was the only damp place in the whole town. He couldn’t take the heat or the steps. It was too hard. Everything was.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY of RUNNING

PHOTO courtesy Library of Congress

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

How to Handle Criticism

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
Benjamin Franklin

The other day my husband and I were discussing who we were going to hire to put in an asphalt driveway after two different companies sent their men with estimates.

One of the men who came by wasn’t a very good speller but had been laying asphalt for 20 years. The other came with his wife and laptop, fancy postcards and a brand new truck. My husband was undecided since the estimates came in almost the same. He took to his own laptop and started reading local reviews. The bad speller’s company had a perfect 5 star rating. The fancier guy’s company had one bad review.

The wife of fancy guy responded to the bad review. Not good. She passive aggressively pushed the blame for the customer complaints onto the customer. She then described the death of a family member and various other personal issues that may have prevented her in 2014 from returning the disappointed customer’s phone calls. She pointed out that her company was a family run business and one bad review could really hurt its reputation.

At church the other day an artsy acquaintance and I were talking about swapping my book for her music CD. “What if we hate each other’s work?” she asked, jokingly.

Critics have been around since Satan grumbled about his place in heaven, yet pondering the asphalt situation (my husband chose the bad speller) left me thinking that maybe being a critic wasn’t the best way to pursue a happy life. There is a savage thrill in expressing a heavy-handed opinion with a superior toss of the head during a movie about super heroes. But is it really fun for those people around you?

On the rare occasion when I actually leave the house to go to a movie I ask my husband what the reviews are for the film. He usually responds, “Who cares? I want to make up my own mind.”

My husband takes a bad movie in stride. He’ll admit to a movie being less than he hoped but does not get worked up about it. He also never sits down to write bad reviews. I never do either. I may rant about something for a few days, or complain to my husband about a dumb book that’s really popular, but I have no desire to put pen to paper if in my mind the book or film or asphalt company deserves less than 4 stars.

Some people seem to think they’re doing the world a great service warning a buyer against a book, movie or driveway but sometimes silence is just as appropriate as words. A book with no reviews leaves just enough doubt in a reader’s mind without having the author’s reputation tarnished forever (or until an EMP STRIKE takes down all electronics). Only once did I check out a reviewer’s other reviews when she left a bizarrely personal and vicious attack/review. It was very eye-opening. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to live in her world of miserable negativity. I’m not sure I believe in karma exactly but wonder if in this age of YELP and Amazon we are not turning into the crows I see on my property who peck baby birds to death for fun.

the-noon-recess-winslow-homerWhen I used to teach 5th graders, the rule was that the kids had to think of three nice things to say about a fledgling writer’s efforts before the pecking began. My eleven-year-old students very easily learned this skill and the young writers flourished. Adults sometimes seem to think it would take too much time for such civility.

Critical thinking and perceptive critiques certainly have their place and it is almost never worth it to respond to criticism with whining or defensiveness, but I wonder if my mother’s advice, “if you have nothing good to say . . .” isn’t something we all should consider now and again. Maybe we should even consider what our true motives are at times. I can usually tell when I’m just in the mood to be a bitch (so can everyone else).

Once someone close to me said, “Well, it’s not like you’re the best writer who ever lived.”

REALLY? Who knew?  The person is someone I know loves me and her words came out wrong (or did they?) but they still annoy me . . . a little.

In the old myths the gods pecked at and destroyed each other in battles of ego, jealousy or stupidity. What kid didn’t love reading about such battles? But none of us are gods. We play them in critique groups or in dark movie theaters and basically just annoy and rob joy from others (again, I do realize that sometimes criticism is good and appropriate).

There may be some people who produce junk on purpose, but most artists and asphalt layers are just trying to do their best in life. Silence is golden in many (most cases).

My singer acquaintance at church and I decided that if we didn’t like each other’s work we’d say nothing. That way we could each pretend that maybe the other person hadn’t yet found time to read or listen to the works that bared our souls.

What about you? What’s your favorite example of toxic criticism? What has been someone’s most helpful criticism in your life?

PS~How great are the looks on the critics’ faces in the above painting?

HOW TO SPOT TOXIC FEEDBACK

I REWROTE MY NOVEL THROUGH A CRITIQUE GROUP AND LOST MY WAY

HOW TO HANDLE CRITICISM: THE TOP  TIPS FROM THE LAST 2500 YEARS

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Fiction: Sex and the Single Girl

All the way to his quarters Fahy fretted over Thankful’s lie about enjoying sex and was disappointed.

Maybe Thankful couldn’t be trusted. Fahy considered his own lame attempt at making the night special. He had hoped that she would enjoy the element of risk and find the woodpile area endearing, but had known as he brought her there that he had failed.

Fahy did want to please Thankful, but she was so stiff and restrained. Being with her forever suddenly felt like a frightening burden even as he loved Thankful very much. Now Fahy wished he hadn’t pressured her. Before, Thankful seemed to enjoy touching, but he’d been impatient and may have spoiled it all. Fahy took a slug of whiskey. He didn’t even like it. Why had he assumed Thankful might? Ugh. The night had been a disaster. Fahy turned around and went back to the Markhams’ home now.

“May I speak for a moment with Miss Crenshaw, Captain Markham?” he asked the sleepy older man.

Markham called up to Thankful, and she came to the door in her wrapper with her hair loose now. The oil lamps made her face glow. Markham left for the kitchen.

“Thankful, I’ve been a brute. I never should have asked you to do what you’ve done.”

“Well, it’s too late now,” said Thankful. “Are you here to break our engagement?”

Fahy laughed nervously. “No, why?”

“I just thought . . . well, you tried so hard tonight.”

“Thankful, you’re wrong. I didn’t try at all. I’m the selfish one. Forgive me. I want you to wear my ring.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Thankful whispered. “You seemed terribly disappointed in me.”

“No, it wasn’t you. With practice, you’ll be fine. It’s just that I ruined it for the wedding—you were right about that.”

“Lieutenant Fahy, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” She pointed to the kitchen where Captain Markham rattled pans. “I’m just happy that you aren’t angry at me.” Thankful peered up at him and ran her small hand over his. “I must go to sleep now—but would you mind if from now on I call you Pierce?”

“No, call me whatever you like,” Fahy replied, but seemed uncomfortable with the idea.

It troubled Thankful when Fahy moved his hand away from hers. “Maybe I’ll stick with Lieutenant Fahy,” she said, trying to make light of it. “That’s what I’m used to.”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Fahy asked, glancing behind him at the empty parade grounds.

Thankful pulled her wrapper tight. “Nothing. It’s not important. Good night.”

“Yes, good night. I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You suppose?”

“Thankful, please, stop trying to catch me in my words.”

“I didn’t mean to . . .”

“I know. Damn. I’m just knackered. Things will seem better in the morning,” the lieutenant said.

“Why do things suddenly seem so bad?” Thankful asked.

Fahy shook his head. “Good night, miss.” He kissed her hand and left again.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY of RUNNING

***Featured image “Sadness” by Julia Margaret Cameron

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Top 5 Reasons Not to Write a Fiction Series (or get married)

IMG_4177Ah, the first heady, rose-tinted days of marrying yourself to . . . a series. Commitment-phobic writers have already run to greener fields and there you are left with a few scribbled notes, a racing heart and a hazy idea that all will be well in . . . ten years.

Maybe you race through writing and can get more out of life and characters in ten minutes on your lunch break than the rest of us do in years. Maybe flings are your thing or serial monogamy, but for me long-term commitment is crucial, scary,  time consuming, but how I’m hard-wired to write.

Today I’ll confess the pitfalls of my seemingly happy marriage to The House on Tenafly Road Series which started as an idea for a novella fling about destroying Native American culture but quickly turned into a 19th century love story between a morphine-addicted soldier and a fragile girl-next-door type which then morphed into a lifetime commitment to the Crenshaw and Weldon families.

Many writers struggle with what to do after happily-ever-after stories. I live in the less than blissful world often hidden behind wedding rings, cute kids and a nice house.  The Weldons and Crenshaws have a ton of skeletons, passions and flaws. Basically they keep me getting up each morning.

So here are my reasons for not doing what I live to do:

IMG_4078Loyalty: the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.

This is where the trouble begins. You think you want the fling, but you can’t get your mind off the what ifs. What if this character gets married? What if this character hides their addiction? What if Buck Crenshaw was secretly abused by his mother as a child? What do survivors look like? How does Thankful Crenshaw let her own beauty bewitch and punish her?

It’s dreadfully like adopting a kid with reactive attachment disorder who has decided she loves living with you. You can’t send her back, can you?

There are times when the horrifying thought pops into your head: What if only I love Buck and Thankful Crenshaw? When marrying don’t we sometimes wonder if other people think our mate handsome? We want immediate reassurances that don’t often come.

I have one 80-year-old lady at church who begs for the next installments of my series and has written that Buck Crenshaw is her favorite dysfunctional character despite the scene where he watched his brother brutalize a prostitute and did nothing about it.  I cherish this woman and hope she doesn’t die anytime soon (although she says she’s ready for heaven).

Loss: the amount by which the cost of a business exceeds its revenue  OR: the experience of losing a loved one.

Both. You must make peace with both, and the sooner the better. The cost as a writer is in lost time with family, years and years of silence before your book is in print, cynical or condescending questions about your “career” as a writer (isn’t she really just a stay-at -home mother? Bet she didn’t even go to college). I did–and why do I care what the insurance salesman thinks, anyway?

And then there’s the COLOSSAL loss. The unexpected twist in the series that leads to the death of one of your favorite characters to write about. As in life, those you spend the most time with leave the biggest holes in your heart when they are called home (I like to believe I will meet them on the other side some day).

typewriterEvery time you go over your books for editing you must experience the grief yet again. Each time is sadder because the person seems that much further away from you. Every fiber of you misses them for weeks and it clouds your real-life encounters even on sunny spring days. Where’s the grief counselor on such days?

Length(y): diffuse, long, prolix, tedious, verbose, wordy

I ain’t gonna read a book that heavy, some say. The series writer must listen to his own muse. People who don’t like long books or marriages aren’t your problem–unless you’re a first time novelist looking to be traditionally published. I have a few kind notes from editors and agents who warned me of the danger in writing long books. I tried to please them at my own expense but discovered I preferred to write the books I wanted to read instead and have never looked back (and yes, I still thoroughly enjoy reading my own books :)).

Long shot: A venture that offers a great reward if successful but has very little chance of success.

Seriously. Life is a long shot. There are so many things that can go wrong every day. Focusing on this will make you crazy. I have experience here. Trust me. My family is slightly off-put when I tell them I pray that I may live until I finish writing my series. Sometimes I wonder about that advice thrown around that says something like: “You won’t be thinking about _________ on your deathbed.

I bet I will be thinking about my series as the lights go out (unless I’ve finished writing the series and then I’ll be thinking about how I could have marketed the series better).

Admittedly I am at peace with the family members I love in “real” life so if I died tomorrow I’d have no regrets about them.

Love:

1. A strong feeling of affection and concern toward another person, as that arising from kinship or close friendship.
2. A strong feeling of affection and concern for another person accompanied by sexual attraction.
The danger here is that real life pales so greatly before the world you’ve created and spent years in. You’ve watched that willow tree planted in your prequel fill out and reach maturity. You’ve saved a visually impaired baby from Indians, married her off and then . . . you have to scrub the floor because you forgot to feed the dog and she has an upset empty stomach.
That addict in your first book is so much more attractive than the one in your living room. The shadows of imagination cast real darkness on less than stellar mates.
If you’ve managed to stick with the series for years and have wiped the tears from many a character’s eye after a good cry you must one day reckon with leaving this family behind, closing the series, possibly finding a new family when you thought this family was forever.
There is nothing pleasant about finishing writing a series when you’ve grown up with your characters. When you’ve found life and love and laughter with them. Nothing good about it at all.
SEE THE SERIES HERE: ADRIENNEMORRIS.COM
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