FICTION: Mixed (Up) Motives

“Buck, sometimes, I believe you’re too like a girl. Streeter doesn’t deserve any sympathy. How many times must I say it? Trust me; you’ll regain your self-respect if you stick with me,” Fred assured him. “Now, just pretend to be friends again with Streeter so we can have some fun with him.”

November came on with biting winds blasting over the Plain and sending the last bits of summer weed and debris across the paths at West Point. Buck found his opportunity to reconcile with Streeter one grey afternoon. Buck liked the winter, but this year the chill gnawed into the slow-to-heal gash at his head. Wearing a hat only aggravated the wound more. Buck shivered feeling hungry and out of sorts, but here came Streeter. They could pass each other without a word as they had done for the past few weeks, but then Buck would have to suffer another day with Fred on his back.

“Mr. Streeter . . .” Buck called over the wind in his deep and strong voice.

Streeter, taken aback, stopped in his tracks, his eyes hungry for reconciliation. “Yes, sir?”

Buck pulled his shoulders up close and tightened his collar before speaking. “Um, Streeter, I . . .”

“Sir, permission to interrupt?”

Buck sighed in annoyance. “What?”

“Sir, I’ve had so much time to consider things—the way I was with you on the first day back in the barracks—you were right. I was a coward. I never should have left you at the stables and I was a complete ass to speak to you the way I did in your room. If a fellow can’t stand on his own then he doesn’t deserve to be a cadet.”

Buck had imagined a different type of encounter. “Streeter, I . . .”

“Sir, I just want to say that if one day I could be half as brave as you, I’d be satisfied. To stand alone for another—well, I guess when push came to shove I failed. When I came to you I was angry that you didn’t forgive me, but you were right not to.”

Buck swallowed hard. He coughed, fighting a cold. “Streeter, I, I suppose I can forgive you.”

“Sir, I sincerely hope you will—though I don’t deserve it.”

“Yes, well, we all make mistakes in judgment,” Buck said.

“Sir, I intend to pay you back—all I owe you,” Streeter replied, “but it will take some time. I’ve sent word to my father to sell off my horses—but they’re not worth $400.”

“Will you pay back the money you took from Fred, Streeter?”

Streeter’s face turned grim. “I don’t know what you mean. I owe him nothing!”

Buck’s features tightened and his violet eyes averted. “No matter. It’s all in the past.”

Streeter gave him an odd look. “Sir, you’re such an inspiration. I’ve never met anyone who so valiantly disregards popular opinion to march to his own beat. One day I think you will be some sort of a hero.”

“No, only an officer in the army. Streeter, I’ve got to go now. I’m chilled to the bone and have the catarrh.” He coughed and walked off.

Streeter called after him, “I don’t know how I’ll make it the winter if it gets any colder than this.”

Buck’s stomach turned.

Back at the barracks, Buck climbed the stairs to his room. The dim light of autumn filtered between the regulation curtains. The friendly smell of coals in the stove comforted him not a bit. Carter dressed and gathered his text books.

“Buck, are you sure you won’t come and practice recitations with the fellows? We miss your wit.”

“Is that so? Well, I feel dull today—so I’ll give it a miss this time,” Buck replied as he leaned back onto his unmade bed.

“Blast it, Buck. I thought by now you would have forgiven us.”

“I have,” Buck lied. “I just don’t want to study. I know the work.”

“Buck, you haven’t studied in weeks and it begins to show. You’ll be written up for sure over the state of your bed and all.”

“I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.” Buck propped up his pillow with a rough punch and lay back hand behind his head.

Carter came to his bedside. “I didn’t say I was worried. I only feel sorry for you—to watch you turn away from friends and throw away all that’s good in life—it’s sad.”

“I’ve only turned away from what bores me,” Buck said. “Carter, you’re an unremarkable cadet. As a friend though, I thought you had the admirable traits of loyalty and decency. I confess I even tried to model myself after you, but I was naïve.”

“Buck, what do you want from me? I made a mistake. But you were with Streeter quite a lot.”

“Listen, I don’t give a damn anymore what happened this summer. Streeter will be made to pay for what he did, but don’t for a second think I trust you. Fred was right all along. No one is to be trusted but family.”

“Well, I’m glad to see that Streeter will get his, but Fred is just dangerous,” Carter said.

Buck waved him off. “Then I guess it’s good to be on his side.”

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

Who Owns Time? The Writer Does.

One moment then gone.

One moment then gone.

Writers own time–temporarily. People own time temporarily and if you don’t believe in an after life then it makes perfect sense to speed on the highway and flip out after getting behind an old lady at the grocery store who only fishes for her checkbook at the very last minute.

My parents made lists to segment their time. My mother wrote in her perfect, artful script fantastically long and detailed lists. My father sat at the kitchen table talking his lists out, “First I have to finish breakfast, then I’ll read the paper, and then I have to go do the lawn and then a nap and maybe I’ll go to Dunkin’ Donuts to bring Kenny some coffee later (his brother who worked nights cleaning the school).

Song of the Lark as fleeting as the clouds.

Song of the Lark as fleeting as the clouds.

We were ALWAYS given new watches for Christmas–I even got a silver finger watch with a blue face one year but it got in the way of my quest for my mother’s perfect penmanship while making my own lists. No matter how many clocks went off each hour in our house–the Birds of North America clock, the cuckoo clock from my father’s stay in Germany during the Cold War, the mantle clock with the sad chime that reminded my mother of her grandfather and the annoying clock radio set between stations  all going off at about but not exactly the same moment– time slipped by anyway –the very time we were accounting for.

The thousands of old photographs framed on the dining room wall were mourning triggers. The clocks and watches were constant reminders that these happy times at the table vying for who might get the last piece of fried chicken would be over one day and even today would be gone in only a few hours. My father watched the clock for the last ten years of his life waiting for the game to be over–the game of knowing the hours, but not  knowing the time when there would be no more time.

Just alone--with time.

Just alone–with time.

And so it is with my writing. Graham Crenshaw gives watches to his children–in place of spending time with them. He gives Buck the special watch that belonged to his brother who died of dysentery during the war–the saintly brother who nursed the other men until there was no one left to nurse him in a crappy field hospital run by a disreputable doctor. Graham stays busy with projects and studies and doctoring–hoping to stop time. Stop the onslaught of death. To be a doctor and to hate death, to give timepieces that always come back to haunt him–this is Graham’s quiet torture. To take part in his children’s life means he’d have to mourn their passing from childhood into messy adulthood and maybe death, certainly death at some point.

As a writer I control death. I control time, that is, until my time comes.

A moment savored, but will it be remembered?

A moment savored, but will it be remembered?

http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/the-last-great-american-watchmaker-20121101

For more about The Tenafly Road series:

THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

QUOTE: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

“I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.” Oscar Wilde

When you write historical fiction people ask these types of questions: Did the Apache men really cut the noses off of women suspected of cheating? Did some people really get addicted to morphine after the Civil War? Did some people really have wounds that wouldn’t heal? Did people really know about homosexuality?

The other day I mentioned stuff I didn’t feel like writing about. I have strong opinions, but like a quiet life. A few years back when I started writing Weary of Running about straight- as- an- arrow West Point Cadet Buck Crenshaw I had no idea that the US would be embroiled in sexual politics on such a grand scale so when a celibate, gay-leaning missionary wrote himself into my story I found it mildly curious. How would Buck and the other characters deal with him?  As anyone who’s read my first book knows, I pride myself on creating flawed characters. I wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone else.

Now before someone gets all excited when I say the gay character is flawed, let me ask: is he human? Let me answer: yes, he’s human so he’s flawed. I hate witch-hunts against gay people. I hate witch-hunts against Christians. I hate false narratives that keep us at each others’ throats. I don’t want a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist, a feminist or a gay activist forcing anything upon me. Having said that I’ve lived a pretty cosmopolitan life and have friends who would define themselves as at least one of the things I just listed. We all agree to disagree on certain points.

Once I mentioned this celibate gay character to an artsy straight woman who thought she knew everything about gay people because she worked in the theater. I wasn’t going to get into a gay trivia contest with her, but it alerted me to the fact that I better start researching how 19th century people handled gay-ness. We all love to go on about prudish Victorians, but even when researching straight sexuality back then you’re immediately struck by the sexually transmitted diseases, divorce and prostitution. Flaws, flaws, flaws.

So here’s what I discovered:

Washington Roebling, one of my very favorite engineers (built the Brooklyn Bridge) felt awful when a classmate of his fell in love with him (and who wouldn’t fall in love with Washy?). The love-sick student killed himself when Washy explained to him that he preferred women. The whole thing was handled discreetly. Washy didn’t express the least bit of hatred toward his friend–just a sad sympathy.

Homosexual behavior was alive and well in the 19th century. Walt Whitman had no trouble finding young, working class men to carry on affairs with. No one ran him out of town either–but then he handled things discreetly.

In England in one town they considered closing the parks at night so gay men wouldn’t have sex there, yet in general anti-sodomy laws were hardly ever enforced.

Why would that be? I think last night I discovered the answer in a stodgy academic journal: Victorians were about discretion. Is this just another word for hypocrisy? I’m not sure but I get it. Here’s their reasoning: Sodomy goes against God’s laws (as does adultery, theft, lying etc). We all struggle with sin, but to expose it (sodomy) gives it a force, a power to contaminate young people and weak-minded women (same goes for dime-store trash novels and modern video games?). Best to ignore it, unless someone makes us deal with it.

Enter Oscar Wilde. Everyone KNEW he was not heterosexual (even when he married). He dressed and behaved in what the Victorians believed was a very stereotypically gay way. Victorians weren’t stupid. They knew what Oscar got up to. They whispered about and laughed. They may have judged him, but they loved his wit. He knew all the best people and everyone wanted him at a party.

Enter disgruntled aristocratic father of one of the young men Oscar slept with. This man wasn’t happy. He warned his son to stay away from Oscar. He warned Oscar.

Back in the day, a male prostitute’s word was seen as suspect. No court would convict a man of sodomy based on a prostitute’s words. In fact a court would prefer not to mention the word sodomy. Oscar thought to nip the whole thing in the bud. Bad move.

The Victorians could handle his “deviant” behavior as background noise, but once the papers turned it into a scandal the nails were hammered. The sin was the contamination. the widespread, open discussion of Oscar’s sexual encounters–and the off-the-cuff, defiant way in which Oscar made fun of social norms in court. The tide turned against him then.

In my upcoming novel there is no grand call for gay rights. There is no gay-bashing either. The character’s sexuality is background noise. He is more than his desires. He is more than a stereotype used to illicit some political agenda–left or right. He’s a struggling human who trusts God more than I do and that’s why I find him interesting.

For more about societal norms and Oscar Wilde:

SCANDAL< VICTORIANS AND THE FALL OF OSCAR WILDE

BEING GAY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA

Where the Cadets Go for Kissing

Kissing in the woods . . .

Kissing in the woods . . .

Once a military trail, now a lovers’ lane, Flirtation Walk or Flirtie Walk was opened to West Point Military Academy Cadets and their guests in the 1840’s as one of the few places they could flirt and kiss in private. Part of the path is smooth sailing on firm ground, but there’s bumpy parts, too–perfect for falling into your guy’s arms.

In my upcoming novel, Buck Crenshaw’s romantic dreams are thwarted on one balmy evening along Flirtation Walk as the military band practices in the open air. We all know Rose Turner’s no good for Buck, but he doesn’t. A much better girl waits right under his nose, but you know young cadets. They’re silly.

Do people sneak off into the woods to make out anymore? In our town we had  “The Pond” and “The Woods.”  Is everyone afraid of ticks? Where did you go for secret romance?

Many a heart went pitter-patter under the arches of glorious trees . . .

Many a heart went pitter-patter under the arches of glorious trees . . .

Think while listening to Dick Powell sing about Flirtation Walk.

Finding Your Fictional Characters in the Real World

Smile for the camera, Buck.

Smile for the camera, Buck.

Here’s my muse Buck Crenshaw minus his evil twin Fred. Not sure why his overbearing mother allowed a photo of Buck on his own. It would have been better for everyone if she had separated the twins more often. Together they tortured chickens, shook down weaker school mates for cash and taught William Weldon how to spell every word wrong for the town spelling bee.

Yes, Buck’s no angel. Note the sneer on his well-fed and handsome young face. He’s worse than his brother for being a follower of badness instead of being the leader, but can you blame him? His father is distant and his mother neglects him–allowing him to wander into the ocean as soon as he can toddle towards the waves. Fred takes guardianship of his twin with a mix of superiority and resentment in return for his brother’s willing accompaniment in all schemes and mischief.

I already knew what Buck would look like as a young adult, but I found this gem recently. How is it that the universe delivers the photographs of my fictional characters whenever I need them? God works in weird ways indeed–even out of the back of someone’s pick-up truck at a rummage sale.

When People Get Nice On You

I was just popping in for a few minutes at the library when one of my new favorite librarians hailed me over to see what she’d found at a garage sale?!

Cover ideas for book five bursting forth as we speak!

Cover ideas for book five bursting forth as we speak!

I come from a long line of people who want to trust others, but just don’t. It’s an affliction we wear with humor and secrecy. I’m not a rock or an island. I’m a small time farmer/writer so I don’t get out much, but when I do I’m always surprised at how well I’m treated, especially at the Saratoga Library.

When on an ordinary day you suddenly have all of your questions answered about a little piece of the world you’re creating for your characters handed to you in a single brilliant bit of happenstance you have to wonder about the hidden workings of the universe (or as we old-fashioned Christians might say–God). I believe God hands out talents, but that’s for another day.

This librarian stacked five crumbling out-of-print books on my table before remembering that she’d purchased this hotel booklet. Buck Crenshaw has an eventful stay there in the summer of 1889. I’d been gathering bits and pieces but what great delight I felt when the librarian who hardly knows me said I could borrow from her personal collection this perfect book! (she also gave me the email for the contact person holding a rare house tour at Yaddo  who is looking for volunteers–who will get in for free–and the email for a lady who volunteers her time doing FREE proofreading for local authors!). What a day!

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I think God may be telling me to act nicer to others . . .

I Found Buck and Fred In A Painting By Cucuel

I Found Buck and Fred In A Painting By Cucuel

Sometimes the images come first when writing a novel and sometimes they appear as a gift after your characters are fully formed. This is EXACTLY how I imagined Fred and Buck Crenshaw (since they’re twins) and then I found this lovely painting by Edward Cucuel. In my mind it’s at Buck’s wedding and Fred is having a chat with his sister Thankful. Oh, writing can be such fun!

Edward Cucuel, the son of a San Francisco newspaper man, had big talent at the age of 14. Eventually he went to France where he exhibited his paintings of mostly impressionistic, beautiful women and handsome men in social settings. Tell me the guy in this painting doesn’t look great smoking. Cucuel made Germany his home until World War II when he came back to San Francisco to live the rest of his life in seclusion. Did a beauty break his heart?