Fiction: The Morning After Pill

Thankful Crenshaw wakes to find her position at Fort Grant changed.

Thankful had just finished buttoning up the smallest child for a walk out in the morning air when Miss Peckham, wrapped in one of Thankful’s favorite robes, descended the stairs from the bedroom. Miss Peckham motioned for one of the children to give up his seat and pointed to the door. The child left politely.

“Oh, I’ve such a head this morning! Late nights can be such a bother,” Miss Peckham lamented. “And such busy bees you are; banging around all morning.”

“Have you been crying?” Thankful asked.

Miss Peckham gave her a barely tolerant look. “No, of course not. Why?”

“Your eyes are horribly puffed and your poor complexion is so ruddy.”

Mrs. Markham scolded Thankful with her eyes. “Miss Peckham, are you hungry?”

“Positively famished,” Miss Peckham said while adjusting Thankful’s flower arrangement on the dining table.

“Too bad you missed breakfast,” Thankful said, scooping up a toddler.

Miss Peckham smiled. “My, Miss Crenshaw, with that child in your arms you look like a dear old matron.”

Thankful opened her mouth to speak, but Mrs. Markham again stepped in. “Thankful, please go to the kitchen and fetch our guest coffee and toast.”

“Have you got eggs?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No, I’m sorry . . . but Thankful will go next-door to Mrs. Tremble, and see if she’s got an egg to spare.”

Thankful deposited the messy toddler onto Miss Peckham’s lap and stormed off to Mrs. Tremble’s quarters. She knocked until the hired-on Mexican girl Anita answered, peeved at the racket. Thankful pushed past the servant. It annoyed Anita that Thankful held her nose so high when she was still just hired help until she married Lieutenant Fahy.

Mrs. Tremble spent hours upon hours doing needlework and studying the occult. She claimed to talk to dead soldiers though living ones did their best to avoid her and her weird husband who’d lost one of his eyes to a bear (though some said it was a bar brawl in St. Joseph). He never bothered with a patch.

Mrs. Tremble’s eyes were serpentine green and her dark old teeth gave Thankful shivers. But who cared about her feelings now that Miss Peckham was here? Thankful sniffled.

“Miss Crenshaw, how nice to see you.”

“I-I need an egg, please.”

“Excuse me?” Mrs. Tremble said over her glasses as she pulled a red thread through her needlework.

Thankful burst into tears. “An egg. May I borrow one?”

Mrs. Tremble dropped her work and went to Thankful. “My dear, what in heaven’s name is wrong? Of course you may have an egg. Take two even . . .”

“No, no, it’s not the egg,” Thankful sobbed, wiping her eyes on her apron. “Oh, I don’t know what it is exactly.”

“Have you and the lieutenant quarreled? Do tell!”

“No, never mind. I’ve just behaved childishly, but Miss Peckham is so awful!”

“Miss Peckham? The lady on the horse?” Mrs. Tremble asked.

“Yes, and I think that she’ll take advantage of William.”

“I’ve never seen your friend William smile so much as he did last night at the dance.”

“I don’t care!” Thankful cried. “And we’ve had breakfast already, and she has the nerve to ask for an egg after she was offered toast! Miss Peckham is forward and ugly—don’t you agree?”

“Now Thankful, I’ve never heard you be so mean before. It’s unattractive.”

“Have you got any spells maybe?” Thankful eyed the mantle full of skulls and glass balls.

“Spells?” Mrs. Tremble giggled. “I’m afraid not, but here’s some advice—there’s no protecting others in love.”

“Love? Who said anything about that? William was drunk, and that’s why he behaved so foolishly. He’ll realize it today, I bet.”

“Or not. Bill didn’t look so foolish to me,” Mrs. Tremble said. “He’s a handsome young man. Miss Peckham seems to have done him a world of good. He was never meant for you, young lady.”

“No. You’re wrong,” Thankful said blushing. “I mean about Miss Peckham. May I have the egg, please?”

Mrs. Tremble returned to her chair and rocked. “Anita will give you one. Cheer up; your friend will be fine. You’ll see, dear.”

“I think that I know my friend best, Mrs. Tremble, but thanks all the same.”

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.”

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Fiction: Pillow Talk

“It’s too bad you suffered a headache,” Miss Peckham said as she slipped beneath the covers. “What do you suppose it was from, Thankful?”

“I guess with all the excitement today …”

Miss Peckham giggled. “You call today exciting? You really haven’t lived much have you?” Her back itched from the wool and she shifted around uncomfortably.

Thankful turned on her side. “It was foolish of you to force William to dance so much—he’ll be the laughingstock and be in pain when he sobers up.”

Miss Peckham laughed. “Is there a time when Mr. Weldon is sober? He chose for himself to dance.”

“To impress you. He doesn’t seem to have much luck with girls.”

“Well, if he kept his head out of the bottle and his, um, body out of whores, he’d present a better picture, but it’s his life. It’s not my problem,” Miss Peckham stated. “He’s a child.”

“That’s a very nice attitude.”

“Men are either children or brutes. Mr. Weldon has a few connections that will be helpful in my research. It’s in my best interest to remain on good terms with him—and truth be told, he’s not bad company for a drunk.”

“He’s more than that! Must I remind you he saved your life?” Thankful asked.

“Oh, I’m tired of hearing about that already. I gave him a thrill tonight on the dance floor so I say we’re even,” Miss Peckham replied and climbed out of bed again. “It’s so damned hot.” She pulled off the last of her clothes, the moonlight illuminating her. Thankful shut her eyes tight. “Miss Thankful, it’s curious how army women play a game of adopting all the men in camp. I don’t understand it yet, but it’s intriguing.”

“Everything you say seems so dirty and cynical,” Thankful grumbled.

“Well, Miss Thankful, I see through the false modesty and virtues of society. You just don’t enjoy feeling exposed.”

“No, I feel sorry that people like you exist,” Thankful said, turning away from her.

“The feeling is mutual,” Miss Peckham replied with a laugh.

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.”

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Fiction: Thankful Crenshaw Misses a Step

“William, I’m so ashamed of myself—truly—you must forgive me. I’m just so annoyed over Miss Peckham.”

“Why? Because you need to be the center of the universe at all times? Come to your senses,” William said as he pulled a bottle of whiskey from under the tablecloth and filled a large glass to the rim. “You’re a pretty girl, but not the prettiest or smartest or anything. And no, I don’t have to forgive you—and I don’t. Look, the dance is over; better be off to your fiancé before you’re upstaged by Miss Peckham.”

“I hate you, William.”

“It’s Bill,” he muttered, gulped back his drink and poured another.

Miss Peckham raced up, yanked the bottle from his hand and said, “Mr. Weldon, I need you for a dance.”

“I don’t dance.”

Miss Peckham grabbed his hands. “Come on! I know you’d like to. I can see it in your eyes!”

“That’s the drink, I’m afraid,” William joked.

“Don’t be afraid, Mr. Weldon. . . .”

“I’m not!”

“Mr. Weldon, aside from Lieutenant Fahy and me, there’s no talented dancers. It’s just following steps.”

William laughed. Miss Peckham pulled him out, even as he protested, to a circle of dancers with a spot reserved for them by Lieutenant Fahy. The officer had a smug look on his face. William knew he had been set up—yet again—for humiliation. Thankful saw what Fahy was up to and stood stiff and angry with both men. Mrs. Markham and the aged quartermaster sergeant made the third pair and two other second lieutenants rounded out the circle.

“Mr. Weldon, by gosh, take a breath—I’ll get you through this with flying colors!” Miss Peckham whispered.

William nodded staring at his feet, and the music began.

“Three steps forward and back—and again, Mr. Weldon,” Miss Peckham coached.

William concentrated on his teacher. He found that he could follow and not too awkwardly. Turning the opposite partner went all right, but the small sashay got sticky.

Miss Peckham dragged him along as if she were made for the job. When the final twirl of the opposite partner came up, William found himself left hanging in the center, but it was Fahy and Thankful who had missed a step and Thankful belatedly trotted out. “Sorry, my mistake,” she said icily to William.

“So, Mr. Weldon, you seemed to enjoy yourself,” Miss Peckham said as they drank punch between dances.

He laughed. “Thanks.”

“No need to thank me, sir. You could have done it all by yourself.”

“But I wouldn’t have,” William said.

Miss Peckham shook her head. “Well, that’s a sad state of affairs–to wait for others before doing for yourself.”

William took a long drink and said nothing.

The hops lasted until the last dancers went to bed and tonight Miss Peckham and William were amongst the group that kept the musicians awake. Thankful went home early with a headache. Fahy grew tired of watching Bill Weldon make a fool of himself. When Miss Peckham stopped at the front gate of the Markham quarters to say good night to William, Thankful hid by the window to listen. “Call me Gertie, Bill; all of my best chums do,” Miss Peckham whispered.

Thankful’s blood boiled, but she got into bed. Mrs. Markham had put down cool cotton bedding and a nice feather pillow on a cot next to Thankful’s bed, but Thankful pulled an itchy wool blanket out and spread it over the cot after hiding the cotton under her pillow and tucking the feather pillow beneath her bed. She listened as Miss Peckham entered the dark room with a sigh and got into bed. “I hope you’re comfortable, Miss Peckham.”

“Oh, Miss Crenshaw, you’re awake. Thank you for asking. Truth is I could sleep on broken glass and it wouldn’t bother me. I’m so bone tired.”

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.”

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Fiction: Wine With Supper

“Why is it you think women would improve politics?” Thankful asked. “I’d hate for a woman like you to speak for me—nothing personal, of course, Miss Peckham. I’m fond of men. I wouldn’t want them to change.”

“Miss Crenshaw, (you seem such a smart girl), was it God who planned slavery?”

“Well, no, I guess it was men, but . . .”

“Just like it’s men who keep women from the vote. I don’t for a minute expect women to be better voters. Most women are too stupid to realize how enslaved they are and would probably waste their votes on a handsome yet stupid candidate. But if the Negro, only up from complete and utter ignorance, should vote then why not a woman? Many slaves loved their masters—or at least the security they were given. They had a home and food and a place in the order of things—just like women. They all need to see the real way of things. I consider myself an educator. . .” Miss Peckham proclaimed.

“My father never offered my mother security, and she’s devoted just the same,” William said, never missing an opportunity to snipe at his father. There was an embarrassed silence. The trumpeter called for stable duty.

“My goodness, how do you all put up with that infernal racket?” Miss Peckham complained.

“I love it,” Thankful said with her arms folded in front of her.

“Me too,” William said with a small smile at Thankful.

She offered no such response, but said quietly, “It was low of you, William, to speak so unkindly of your father in front of a stranger and old military acquaintances.”

“Bill gets a scolding. How nice,” Miss Peckham laughed.

William fumed. “Miss Crenshaw, you have no right to judge me at all!”

“I’m your friend.”

“Really?” William asked.

“Why, yes! How can you question that?” Thankful replied on the verge of tears. “Why do you want to hurt me?”

Hurt you?” William was taken aback.

Mrs. Markham spoke uneasily, “Of course we’re all friends—Bill, don’t be so silly—we ALL miss you at the post. Now, I’ll set up a nice meal for us, and we’ll get along—as we must—till morning.”

William looked at Thankful with soft eyes before turning his attention to Miss Peckham. He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Markham always has nice meals.”

“It will be an excellent chance at research,” Miss Peckham said.

“You’re not visiting a foreign land,” Mrs. Markham said, with an annoyed laugh. “Our food is of the most ordinary sort.”

“I’ll be the judge of that!” Miss Peckham laughed too.

The matron glanced at the telegraph line as she set off for home, with the small party traipsing behind.

Thankful and William understood how frugal an army wife—even an officer’s wife–must be if she had any ideas for her children’s education, or a trip east for a wardrobe change every few years. What the captain’s wife offered that evening was more than she could afford.

William ate reluctantly, figuring the little ones seated in the kitchen might be going with less, but didn’t turn down the wine. Thankful ate like a bird—an unusual trait for a Crenshaw. Miss Peckham pushed the ordinary and bland food on her plate with her fork, unimpressed.

“Maybe someone might offer to take me to a real live Indian meal,” she said as she moved her plate away.

William whispered, slurring his words, “What were you expecting soldiers to eat—Indian testicles?”

Miss Peckham let out a big guffaw as Thankful and Mrs. Markham cleared the table for coffee and tea. Thankful, standing with a few stacked plates, watched William cling to his glass, pour another and get closer to Miss Peckham.  Mrs. Markham pulled Thankful’s sleeve.

“Some are just bent on their own ruin, poor boy.”

“He’s not poor in the least; just blind,” Thankful said, storming off with the dishes.

Miss Peckham teased and flirted with William. He couldn’t think of a way to quiet her, so he drank and enjoyed it, noting the annoyed glances of Thankful.

“Miss Peckham, you’re probably too worn out to come dancing,” Mrs. Markham said.

“My goodness, of course I’m not tired a lick—your strong army coffee is quite a restorative!”

“I would think that dancing might be against your beliefs since the men lead,” Thankful said with a triumphant grin.

The captain’s wife laughed, too.

Miss Peckham ignored Thankful. “Mr. Weldon, you’ll escort me, won’t you?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m no dancer and unwelcome anyhow,” William replied.

“Bill Weldon, that’s a great fiction you’ve invented,” Mrs. Markham said. “You’ll come as my guest.”

“Well, I’ll come to watch, maybe,” William said, pouring out the last of the wine.

“It’s a shame that dances aren’t held on horseback—then you wouldn’t be so awkward, Mr. Weldon,” Miss Peckham said.

The women did not appreciate it. William excused himself for a smoke on the porch.

“Miss Peckham, you are very insensitive!” Thankful scolded.

“Mr. Weldon is still bitter over the accident that kept him from a place at West Point,” Mrs. Markham added.

Thankful had related many of William’s trials and accomplishments to the garrison. The stories were so enmeshed with her own.

“How is it that Mr. Weldon is so well-known here?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Why Miss Crenshaw and Mr. Weldon are from the same town in New Jersey—their parents are friends, and Bill’s father served in the military years ago under General Crook,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Oh, General Crook, I’ve heard he has kind feelings toward the Indians. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all well-meaning. Bill seems to be a pet to you, but a man should never be overly pampered,” Miss Peckham stated. “My remark was said in jest—Bill is a good horseman.”

“William suffered awful torment and abuse at school, and pain, too. If you had been aware of that . . .” Thankful started.

“I’m aware that he’s crippled physically, but he’s fine company, and I’m sure has many other talents—I didn’t think he needed any coddling.”

There was a new voice on the porch. Thankful ran to the stairs. “Land sakes, Lieutenant Fahy is here, and I’m not ready!”

“Miss Peckham, you may freshen up . . .”

“I need no improvement, Mrs. Markham—besides, I don’t have any of my clothes.”

The captain’s wife sensed a small chink in the young lady’s confident demeanor. “Miss Peckham, you may look through my things, though I know they’re not as modern as you may be used to. We are about the same size.”

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: 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.”

The Real (Fake) Lives of Authors

I’m a big fan of those feature stories that circulate on writer blogs and The Huffington Post about what famous authors wore. Or the ones about where they lived. Or the ones about the superstitions they had. All the while, as I gaze at the artfully photographed author posing as if in mid-thought, I’m aware of a small jealousy.  I know these things are fabricated for mass consumption. I really know it, and yet I still feel, because they had a better desk or cooler shoes, they had a leg up on the ladder of success.

The ones I remember most are the photos of great-looking authors who later went on to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to  studying the demise of celebrity authors–so tragic, so mesmerizing.

I think the real problem is photography. It captures just a moment–a perfect moment. The unreal moment when an author becomes famous. Even for the biggest writers the moments are only small things that happen for a few hours now and again.

It’s why reading about what authors do when not writing is so interesting. Are they really human? Are they witty all the time? Are they jerks to family? I know the answers but still need reassurance.

This weekend THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD about a dysfunctional family in the post-Civil War era received this review:

“*****I started this book without bothering to check the length. Had I done that, I may have changed my mind. So many of those books are full of pages that say nothing – or the same thing.

This is not one of those books. This is a piece of art – a story that flows from one page to the next, one year to the next, with absolute beauty. It was painful at times, full of raw emotion, but so beautifully, wonderfully written.

Well done!”

I was elated and grateful, of course.

But then we had to shoot one of our goats.

Yes, my favorite milking doe Kate who loved peanuts and affection has spent the last year barely hanging on. The vet hinted last year that she should be culled as a weak link in our herd, but I adored her and spent the winter injecting her with all sorts of remedies that didn’t work. In the thick of blizzards I was in the dark barn running my fingers over Kate’s rib cage looking for some fat to stick a needle in twice day.

When spring came on we thought we saw some hope, but then there was none. We researched the most painless, least stress inducing way to put her down: gun to the back of the head while she ate. I milked her one last time (we needed the milk for other goat kids) and brushed her–she liked that–and then I brought her into the big fenced in area to graze until my husband came home from work.

I did what everyone does in the movies–I took that one long look back at her and she at me. A little while later I heard the gunshot and that was it.

The next day my husband and I got into a two day fight about hummus–the stuff you put on crackers. When we spoke to each other again it was about the fact that one of our registered bucks turned out not to be a purebred Nubian. We had foolishly assumed he was and paid a purebred price a few years back but he was just an American Nubian (a step down in breeding circles). A customer of ours knew the breeder and pointed out our mistake  after I had advertised and sold a few babies as purebreds! I had to call everyone to apologize and offer to take back the babies or keep them for the $50 deposits they had given me. Luckily everyone was fine with getting great animals for a great price, but still I was mortified.

One of the babies was born with entroption (when eyelids turn under). I spoke with the vet and she assured me it was an easy fix and I could come by the next day and she’d walk me through the procedure. Instead I sat on her porch with a knocked-out baby goat on my lap as the vet with a tiny scalpel sliced off skin. The eyelid was HUGE like the vet had never seen. BTW, both of us humans were in a weird mix of farm clothes and pajamas since we thought we would only be injecting the lid with a tiny bit of penicillin.

I could also go on about our Golden Retriever whose face blew up after having eaten a bee this week, but the goat stories and last week’s post on the trials and tribulations of adoption are enough.

It’s raining again today. I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as weather manipulation. Photos of famous authors (and not so famous ones) are manipulated. The perfect turtleneck sweater, the relaxed sitting on the porch look, the deep in thought at typewriter pose . . . all fabricated, idealized versions of lives. Lives where writing is the obsession maybe but lives with a lot of mess. My life is no messier than others–it’s actually quite good despite goat shootings and bee stings.

I think for today I’ll luxuriate in a good review, knowing that for a brief few moments I took someone’s mind to another place.

MORE FUN LINKS:

WHAT WRITERS WEAR

WHAT WRITERS WEAR WHEN THEY WRITE AT HOME

THE CLOTHES BEHIND THE BOOKS

Fiction: The Stairway Down

“A man accepts his weaknesses and then rises above them.”

“Oh, and you do that, Papa?” William asked with a disgruntled laugh.

“Yes, yes, I’m trying very hard. I always have. I’m not a quitter,” John replied.

“Except when you quit on Mother and me and Eliza or when you quit and let me run off or when you quit your respectable job at the feed store to do gardening and write your idiotic little soldier stories. It’s a good thing none of your readers get to see the real man behind them.”

“The feed store?” Weldon asked in confusion. “I volunteered to help out Mr. Adriance after his son died. I never worked there.”

“Well . . .” William faltered, “well . . .”

“Writing those stories puts food on the table and paid for your doctors.”

“And none of that would have been necessary if you hadn’t let yourself become an opium eater! I remember you on parade—it was disgusting to see you struggle in the end. If you’d been any good, you would have kept us together and had plenty of money, and I’d be at West Point,” William said.

“W-Willy, you never had the temperament for West P-Point.”

“You say that now to avoid feeling bad. You avoid everything and hide everything behind all this new happiness—it’s sickening. I’m glad to be away from you. You always played the fool in town—laughing at your falls and being so gentle all of a sudden—it makes you look so horrible. It would have been better if you died in some Indian fight. That I could be proud of! I don’t know how Mother takes it! It’s probably why she wants me home so she can throw you off on to me again!”

“She threw me off on to you because she wanted you to care for me again, but it didn’t work. I tried everything . . .” Weldon said, inching toward the door.

William got on his elbows. The cowlick at the back of his head made his hair stand funny. “So give up, like you always do—it’d be a relief. All you ever do is make me sorry and miserable. Leave me alone, and you can go back to the little safe spot you have on Tenafly Road.”

The older Weldon’s voice shook. “Yes, I’ve finally allowed myself a safe spot and some happiness. I made mistakes—a thousand of them—and I’ve paid for them and continue to pay. I never had family to guide me. I was on my own—and I lied to your mother and you for years because I thought it was the only way of keeping you both.”

“Well, you were wrong. I’m so tired of hearing about your devotion to Mother and me. You constantly brag about you and Mother! Mother was a fool and weak to stay with you! She deserved better like Doctor Crenshaw!” William replied.

“Don’t ever talk with such disrespect about your mother who has devoted her life to you!” Weldon’s cane shook in his hand.

William hacked and spit phlegm to the floor from the side of his bed. “That’s funny! She devotes her sad little life to you and you alone! I come a distant second! If she wasn’t so God-awful pathetic and stupid she would have kept you away!”

Weldon ran over and pulled William from the bed with force. “You ungrateful little bastard! Your mother and I lived with nothing—gladly—to see that you recovered enough to have a life—a good life! And you sit here—drunk—making excuses for not taking responsibility!”

“You and Mother ignored me then suffocated me. You prepared me for nothing! I have nothing! I am nothing! You did everything wrong, and you get to be happy! It’s unfair, and I hate everything about you! I pretended to care for you in Englewood because I was trying to be so damned good. Where was my reward? I’ll never go back there!” William pulled away and wrapped the dirty blankets around himself like a filthy cocoon. “I am who I am, and I won’t hide it or hurt others.”

“But . . . you hurt Thankful.”

“She hurt herself—she was stupid to leave her money.”

“Why do you have her watch?” Weldon asked.

“It’s broken. She didn’t want it anymore. I’m gonna get it fixed. It’s expensive.” He pointed to the maker’s imprint. “Remember the Christmas watch, Papa?”

Weldon said nothing.

“You do remember, don’t you? The watch you promised me? I bragged about it a lot before Christmas to all the soldiers the year I came back with you. I was so excited and proud to be getting a grown up thing . . . you fooled me those first months. You were brilliant then to me. You were better than a god. You were everything. Do you remember what it felt like to pawn it for morphine or opium or whatever it was?” William looked his father over like a specimen in a freak show. “So now you shake and have tremors, but it’s all an act. I don’t feel sorry for you. Maybe you even limp and fall for attention. I don’t trust a single thing you do or say.”

“William, I’m so sorry for everything.”

“Sorry means shit to me, Papa.  This is my life now; it’s a relief in a way. There’s no pretending, no optimistic little plans for me to make you and Mother feel less guilty that you were rotten parents. For once I’m doing what I want!”

“What you want? Drinking?”

“I have friends. We do things.”

“What about your drawings?” Weldon asked.

“They’re not that damned good! You want to latch onto something—anything to make me at least a little special, or better than I am. I’m not! Stop this awful pretending.”

“Willy—you are special. Look. If you weren’t then how would someone like Doctor Crenshaw think so highly of you?”

“Papa, sometimes you’re so blind. Doctor Crenshaw loves Mother. He always has.”

Weldon laughed, waving away William’s words.

“Mother has always had a thing for doctors,” William said. “Before you came back east Doctor Crenshaw visited every day. He and Mother spent hours together on the porch talking. Mrs. Crenshaw was always too busy to come.”

“He came to help you, William,” Weldon said.

“Maybe for the first ten minutes,” William said, delighting in the sight of his father unsure and angry. “You remember Doctor Dudley, don’t you, Papa?”

Weldon clenched his cane with white knuckles. William searched his troubled eyes with glee.

“Yes, well I remember him, too. When you left with Crook on a scout, I guess, Dudley kissed Mother, and she didn’t stop him. Eliza and I saw.”

“Stop lying, William! You’re angry.”

“I don’t lie, Papa. You know that. I told you I’m a different man to you! Dudley was madly in love with Mother so that’s why he left. I wished that he hadn’t. He was bound for success.”

“William . . . I . . .”

“Papa, I can’t take the stammering! I can’t! And I can’t stand this game you play with mother . . .”

“There are no games between us, William.”

“Mother sees you like another child, not a real man at all.”

Weldon stood motionless, his breathing labored.

“Your caring is the worst kind, Papa. You suck the blood from people. Now please leave!”

“Y-your mother wants you home . . .”

“You’re well practiced in disappointing her. Don’t worry, she’s used to it.”

The old soldier limped out the door. William listened as his heavy leg hit each rickety step on the weather-beaten staircase.

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: A Man to Man Talk

William sat at the back of The Buckskin and read over the letter he’d received from Thankful at Fort Grant.

 

Dear William,

I am to be married to Lieutenant Fahy as soon as my parents come out. I would have wanted you to be here for my wedding, but I know you would hate being around the Crenshaws. I miss the old times terribly much. I hate being grown up, and I am sorry that we are not friends anymore.

I would love to invite you to the grand socials we will have and talk about Delacroix and Raphael and maybe about the music we both liked so very much. I wish I had your mother who let you paint and draw and loved you.

Do take care of yourself. It is so lonely thinking that you are only miles away and we no longer talk. I forgive you about the money. You will always be William to me, not Bill and I will always love you like a brother and friend.

Kindest regards,

Thankful Crenshaw

 

 

Why did Thankful make a point of telling him of her engagement? They had hardly spoken in the months since William left her at the post. William slipped the letter into his pocket and threw back a shot. The saloon door creaked open and, though the glare of the sun obscured the man, William’s heart quaked.

“I’m looking for my son, William W-Weldon . . .” John Weldon said, clearing his throat.

William hated the weakness in his father’s voice.

“Bill Weldon? Well, you’ve come to the right place,” the barman laughed and pointed back to where William sat, adjusting his sweat-stained collar.

The men in the place turned to watch John Weldon, with his walking stick, head toward the other cripple in the room.

“Papa.”

John Weldon rushed up, flush from the desert heat. He didn’t touch his son. No embrace; no handshake. “Oh, no, Willy . . . what’s become of you?” he asked, his voice hardened. “I wanted you to escape it.” He couldn’t meet his son’s hateful stare. “William, Mother has missed you. I’ve come to take you home.”

“What? I’m not going anywhere.” William crossed his arms, moving himself as far back against the wall in his seat as he could get. He looked around embarrassed.

John glanced around too and, whispering this time, said, “You’re wanted at home, son. Now don’t fight me on it.”

“Are you trying to be a strong father suddenly?” William asked, slurring his words.

John Weldon grabbed William by his suspenders–jerking him from his high chair and dragging him to the door before throwing him into the light. William stumbled to the sidewalk. Passersby took about the same notice they would a fly on a window sill.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Willy—give me your hand.”

William pulled himself to his feet and teetered till he caught hold of the building’s porch rail. “Papa, give yourself a rest.”

“We’re going to sober you up, son, and take the train back.”

“No! I’m not going back. You’ve come to humiliate me. Haven’t you done that enough?” William’s stomach roiled. He had no idea how long he’d been drinking—since yesterday? William wanted to crawl into bed and be left alone. He stumbled around the corner and up to his room with his father trailing. The sound of his father’s Grand Army of the Republic walking stick against the wooden path and then on the slippery sand grated on him.

William opened his door and took to bed. His head spun as his father, looking older than he had a few months ago, explored the tiny room, knocking things around with his stick as if afraid of coming up close. His arm trembled. William knew every muscle of those long arms. How many times had he seen his father clean a gun or pull a horse’s girth tighter in the old days? Strange things William remembered. “Papa, I’m sorry,” he began, but his old anger resurfaced. Why was he apologizing?

“W-William, I thought you’d be different from me. Why are you doing this to your mother?” Weldon asked.

“Papa, we’re nothing alike.”

“You’re a drunk, William. How will I tell Mother?”

“Do what you always do, Papa. Keep it a secret. Lie. I don’t care what you do.”

John Weldon scratched behind his ear. “William, Thankful told her father you spent all her money.”

“And you believe it, of course.”

“I don’t know . . . I used to do things . . . when the morphine . . .” John said.

“I don’t want to hear about that! I don’t take things! I have my own money!”

“Have you been getting the money I send?” his father asked.

“Yes, and I’ve bought a lovely ranch with it,” William replied.

“I know it isn’t much,” John Weldon said, “but with Grandmother nearly burning the house and with Lucy always needing new spectacles and . . .”

“Well, if you never work then . . .” William interrupted.

The old soldier stared at his bleached out son. “Willy, do you mean me or you?”

William tried sitting up but groaned and fell back on to his bed. “You take away every chance I have and think a lousy box of paints and five dollars now and again makes up for it all.”

“Is that all I’ve done for you over the years?” Weldon asked. “How is it you stand and walk today? It was me who helped you. You gave up with Mother and Doctor Crenshaw when they tried to help you.”

“You sat on a chair bleary-eyed as Mother did everything!” William said. “You made me sick.”

“No. I sat in the chair teaching you your lessons when Mother ran low on patience. I stayed home to help you. You begged me to,” Weldon replied. “I know I’ve made big mistakes.”

Mistakes? You were afraid to leave the house. You go out of your way to set me up for failure, and I stupidly go along,” William said. He swallowed hard, pulled himself up and opened the shuttered window to vomit. Someone below, who got the worst of it shouted up abuse. He turned back to his father wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

John Weldon’s once impressive posture now bent into a defeated curvature of the spine.

“Papa, why did you tell Thankful where I was? That was the worst thing you could have done.”

“I-I never thought she’d come to see you. I hoped you’d be flattered that a girl was asking after you. I saw the way you admired her back home . . . I hoped . . . remember that time when I got you the paints, and she helped me when I fell?”

“How could I forget?” William replied—though he’d forgotten a lot. “You set up these ridiculous hopes for me!  Thankful wanted to use me as an escape from her parents,” he said climbing back into bed. “If you’d have left things alone maybe I would have had a chance with Thankful . . . someday.”

“Someday?” Weldon laughed dismissively. “It looked like she wanted to be a part of your life now. D-did she give you that watch, son?” Weldon pointed to the exquisite little article opened on his side table.

“What? Do you think I stole it from her?”

“No.” Weldon said with a hint of doubt.

“I didn’t spend her money either. I know I wouldn’t,” William said, shielding his eyes from a shaft of light through the dirty window. “Oh, Papa, I don’t know what went wrong. I’m just so stupid. The money—Thankful came, and I was ashamed. I didn’t fit in the army and . . . I always lose my money. I told Thankful that, but she still trusted me. I don’t remember taking it.”

“B-but your drawings–they’re real good,” Weldon said.

“Who cares?” William cried. “I’m all by myself. How could a girl like Thankful, who’s smart, ever feel more than pity for me?”

His father looked at the dark walls and dirty windows in the charmless room so unlike William’s attic room back in Englewood with its sketches and small collections full of boyhood dreams and innocence. “You’re right, William, she couldn’t have feelings for you the way things stand now.” He picked up the broken little timepiece. “A man accepts his weaknesses and then rises above them.”

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.”

How to Write Believable Female Protagonists (and why we have such a hard time liking them)

Can we be honest? About 1/2 of the reading public has just moved on at the phrase “female protagonist.”  Since “women continue to read circles around men, especially in fiction and literature: 64 percent of ladies read at least one book in 2012 (and 56 percent read at least one literary book), compared to only 45 percent of men (only 37 percent read at least one literary book) why do we shy away from reading about women  when most of us fiction readers are WOMEN? SEE STUDY

We tend to see men as doing and women as feeling, yet in the study sited above even when names were switched and men  were  feeling and women  doing, readers felt they related to whomever was named Jack, not Jill.

As a novelist who writes about men and women who do AND feel I wonder why even I feel more ambivalent about female protagonists in my writing. Despite the study above my gut says there’s 5 things going on here as illustrated through my characters:

WEAKNESS: Katherine Weldon  and her husband both carry with them burdens of childhood trauma, yet John Weldon’s weakness (morphine addiction) takes center stage. Katherine is blamed for somehow standing out and being subjected to a violent sexual encounter. I don’t believe we live in a rape culture, but I do believe that rape is so horrifying to most moral beings that until very recently people would rather read about a trip on a raft down a river (as a small aside: statistically, more men than women are raped each year–mostly in prison).  In our modern age we don’t like butting up against a biological truth that, in general, women are weaker physically and at times more emotional. Sue me, but the ladies in SEX IN THE CITY and GIRLS are someone’s fantasy.  If you want to write about women realistically you have to accept the fact that it’s probably going to get pretty messy.

LOVE DRIVE: Keep in mind that I blog what I ponder, fully aware that I don’t have all the answers here. Mostly just more questions: Why do women want to be men?

Thankful Crenshaw does not have a man’s sex drive. She has a love drive. She is driven by an overactive desire for deep love. I know women like this (I may be a woman like this). A woman like this is not flippant about sexual encounters. I knew one young woman who was flippant until her boyfriend deserted her at the abortion clinic.

Real women can compete with men on many levels, but unlike men, they have a harder time compartmentalizing. A sex drive fits easily into a box. A love drive spills all over the place.

Women carrying heavy machine guns, kick boxing in tight spandex and yukking it up at the bar later (wearing lipstick) just don’t sit well with me. Men doing the same thing minus the spandex and lipstick entertain me greatly.

JEALOUSY: Men seem to use jealousy to drive themselves forward. Women tend …to … destroy each other. Thankful is beautiful. She’s used her beauty as power and sadly misused it as well. Miss Peckham arrives with her modern ideas and her contempt for women like Thankful and feathers fly. It’s not a pretty picture. This is not men cock-fighting. This is women and pecking orders. This is blood and guts in a way we don’t want to see it.  I wonder also if we as  women readers don’t really want to see a  successful woman to make us feel bad about ourselves. We want men with machine guns again or women pretending to be men.

IRRATIONAL FEARS: This does not mean women shouldn’t have their hands anywhere near the nuclear bomb button. What it means is that women unleash deep irrational fears in both men and women. The ability of women to have children is kind of weird. Even cavemen were awed. Awe is scary. Women access emotions and splatter them about when least expected. Men scatter. Other women sometimes scatter, too.

Men do a better job hiding the messy stuff behind action. Or maybe those compartments they have come in real handy. Be prepared as a writer to be shocked by your female characters. Wow, suddenly Katherine uses food as an outlet for freedom? Who would have guessed it.

RELATIONSHIP VS ACTION: A female character who isn’t concerned with relationships over action seems really alien to me. As a wife, mother, sister and friend I find it hard to imagine not sacrificing the limelight to another. In real life most women I know struggle at times with this. When writing about Lucy McCullough I walked a fine line. Somehow she managed to not only be strong and quietly heroic, but also generous and self-sacrificing. It’s probably why I have a love/hate relationship with her.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do we love men more or are we afraid of women?

WHY DO WOMEN READ MORE NOVELS?

THE HARRY POTTER EFFECT

29 AWESOME BOOKS WITH FEMALE PROTAGONISTS

THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

 

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.”