Fiction: Provoking Talk

“Be on alert now, boys,” cautioned the teamster. “This is where the bandits cut my friend down not two weeks ago.”

“Be on alert,” Buck remembered. “Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.”  He took a deep breath. He must try to have faith. The huge, dark sky terrified him. If there was no God then what did he have? He couldn’t go back to his old life. Maybe everything was just luck and happenstance or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe everything came down to behavior, or it didn’t.

Buck’s life felt different since accepting Jesus—but how could he be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking? Maybe the stories were fake. Maybe there were no real men named Paul, John, or Peter … but Paul—how could he write so passionately, so compellingly about a fake savior? And all of those centuries after, filled with lives changed and artwork created and, yes, the very hope and peace that came to Buck, a nobody, traveling in the gloomy Arizona desert. Without God, he’d fall into despair. All else seemed shallow and worthless compared to the promises he was just now reading about and beginning to understand. Forgetting himself, he whispered, “I am so thankful, God, that you made them all write it down.”

“What are you saying, Buck?” Fred asked.

“Do you believe in God at all?”

“What? Well, sure, I guess. Whatever you say,” Fred said, the whites of his eyes narrowing as if to prevent an annoying light from entering.

“The things we did together in the past … we’re forgiven.”

“Great. Now what’s the name of the infamous watering hole in town?”

“The Buckskin. We should go back and spend time with the family,” Buck suggested.

“Are you joking? I rode all the way out here with them fools. I need a damned break and a good lay.”

“Oh, Fred, come on. You said I’d be home early.”

“My God, it’s like you’re an old lady. Listen, I do want to hear about your God thing. I admit I don’t understand it. I don’t mean to be aggressive with you, but it’s been a long journey and the last few months of school were very hard on me, having to get everyone sorted out so you could have a chance at success in life. One night out will make all the difference. I need to make some changes too, and maybe, just maybe you’re the one to help.” Fred took a sip of whiskey. “It just occurred to me that this whole conversion thing … well it could be that God is working through you to get to me!”

“I don’t think so.” Buck grit his teeth. What if the one and only purpose for Buck’s conversion was to influence Fred? God was his sanctuary. Buck worried that Fred, if converted, would be a better Christian than he was.

“Buck, are you all right?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh, hell, you do too much of that. Let life play out a little on its own. You’d be surprised at how much fun it can be.”

The teamster laughed. “Yer brother’s right there. Life only gets worse as you get old like me. I got three marriages to awful jezebels behind me—very unaccepting women, schemers in their thinkin’—so I came west and I had me some very nice times.”

“See, Buck, listen to the old saw.”

The man snapped his reins. “Yep. Well, I can’t get it up no more.”

Buck glanced at Fred with a smug smile.

george elbert burr“Yep, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was dead tomorra. I piss blood. Have done for a while now. Old age ain’t no picnic, so live it up while you can.”

“How old are you?” Buck asked.

“Thirty-eight.”

Buck took a deep breath. “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”

Fred punched Buck’s arm hard.

The man chuckled. “‘Course. Many times, but it ain’t done nothin’ fer me. I’m fine on my own.”

Buck cleared his throat. “Well, you need to make peace if you’re going to die.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know if I’m dyin.’ I was just makin’ talk. I ain’t wantin’ any preachin’.”

“It’s just that God will forgive your adulterous ways if you believe!” Buck said.

Fred punched him again.

Buck shoved him back, explaining, “But in Ezekiel it says if I don’t speak out to the wicked they’ll die for their sin, and I’ll be held accountable for their blood.”

“I don’t have to take this no more. Get out of my wagon! The both of you!” the teamster cursed them.

“But, sir!” Fred begged.

“No, get out with your ugly friend,” the teamster ranted. “You promised me no trouble!”

“Jesus isn’t trouble at all,” Buck said, but Fred dragged him from the wagon.

The teamster dashed off toward town, leaving the two in the dark.

“God damn it, Buck. You’re plumb loco! Now we’re in the goddamned middle of nowhere!”

“You shouldn’t keep using God’s name in vain …” Buck said.

“What? You’re crazy!” Fred went to slap Buck’s face, but Buck blocked him and took hold of his arm.

“I will never allow you to touch me again,” Buck said.

“Oh, what will you do about it?” Fred asked pulling his arm from Buck with a confident sneer.

“I’ll stop being your brother. I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need you!” Buck followed the moonlit trail to town. It was too late to turn back. A friend at the stables might let Buck sleep there.

Fred trotted beside him. “Come on, don’t be so hard. Of course we’ll always be brothers. And I guess you did us a favor. The teamster didn’t take his fare so there’s more money for us.”

Buck marched on.

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THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

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Do You Have Theme Songs For Your Life?

Today feels like a day to listen more than to talk. I’ve noticed when writing novels that random music will stop me in my tracks —  as if the characters in the books are begging me to listen to another layer of who they are. I write about BROKEN HEARTS so I don’t think it will surprise you that the music that acts as the soundtrack to my novels has a certain poignancy.

Do you have a soundtrack? How does beauty play a role in your life? in your creative endeavors? I’d love to know what piece of music most matches who you are or what you create. Let me know in the comments.

 THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD is a book of broken hearts for sure, but Aaron Copland’s beautiful Saturday Night Waltz captures the fledgling love between John Weldon and Katherine McCullough:

Buck Crenshaw spends a lot of time in the books being an aloof and mixed-up mess, but when he meets the girl who becomes his wife in FORGET ME NOT, a new side of him appears:

This is the song I played every time before writing about the troubled William Weldon in WEARY OF RUNNING and his big time crush on Thankful Crenshaw:

LINKS:

WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST?

WHAT IS THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE?

MUSIC TO WRITE BY

Fiction: Choices

“Do you really believe that you had any control over your parents?”

“Yes, they depended on me! I went wild when they needed me to be calm. I poisoned a teacher and Mother lost a replacement for Eliza, and then my father took me and I tried to please him but still he did the morphine.”

“You were a child.”

“Yes, but now, now it’s so much worse because I know it’s true,” William said, his fingers trembling a little as he flicked the ashes from his cigarette.

“The dream?”

“No! I know my father loved the morphine more than me.”

“Don’t be silly …”

“Mr. Kenyon, I’m not silly or a kid. I love to drink. I do love it more than my family. I love it more than anything, and now that I know how it feels—I feel more … sad or angry or something … about my father—and mother. She’ll always come second.”

“But … your father chose you and your mother, didn’t he?”

William put out his cigarette against the adobe wall. “I never trusted it would last. And it hasn’t.”

“So you waited all of these years to see what your father would do?”

“Yes, we all did. If my papa went anywhere on his own, we worried. Would he fall or stop at the druggist’s or leave for good.”

“Well, that’s a very sad story. It must have been hard for your father knowing you had no faith in him.”

“Yes, poor Papa. We all felt so sorry when he was the bastard to let us down.”

“You’ve let me down once or twice. How should I feel?” Kenyon asked.

“You can fire me—no hard feelings,” William offered.

“Yes, I suppose I could give up on you because you’re problematic, but I won’t. I’ll leave that decision up to you.”

“I thought I only had this one chance.”

Kenyon laughed. “Did I say that? I told you what my expectations were, but to be honest, I never imagined you’d be perfect. I recall promising not to desert you.”

“What do the others say?”

“They think I’m crazy, but I want your drawings,” Kenyon replied. “So what will you decide, Mr. Weldon?”

“I’d better not stay. After what happened the other night, I can’t make any promises. I don’t want to, and right now I’d love a drink,” William said.

“Very well. It’s your life—what’s left of it,” Kenyon said. He stood and patted William on the shoulder with a weak, disappointed smile and left.

William sighed in momentary relief. No more demands. No more cigarettes. Damn. He’d put himself at loose ends again with little money. Even the art supplies were not his own. Papa had been so proud of the cheap little set of paints he’d given him. Kenyon and his men would have laughed at such junk. But … his father had tried his best.

No! He would not pity his father. Yet William’s heart ached listening to Thankful talk to Buck out under the porch. He missed his mother—the way she laughed at ruined meals and the way she took off his boots and rubbed his sore leg as if it were some kind of honor. He shouldn’t have spoken ill of her to Kenyon.

William sighed staring up at the ceiling as a spider mended its web. He had to get out of here!

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FEATURED IMAGE: Edvard Munch Self Portrait

Fiction: Parched

After standing around for most of the morning as the missionaries and soldiers packed their wagons, William got bored and wandered to the sutler shop at the edge of the fort to make a trade. He convinced himself he was getting candy for the Markham children.

Soldiers on leave played checkers in the corner as William stepped toward the counter and opened a finely crafted box full of squirrel and horsehair brushes. “What would you give me for of these?”

The sutler ran his wrinkled fingers over the box. “Hmm, nice case—I’ve no need for brushes, Bill. You still owe me, but I’d take the case and give you this bottle as an even exchange.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a real mind bender, from what I hear. An old man makes it just across the border.”

“Guess, I’ll give it a try,” William said, but then remembered. “Oh, I don’t suppose you’d take a brush for a little of that candy for Markham’s kids.”

“Bill, keep your brushes. Take some candy to them,” the sutler said, stuffing a brown bag full of cream candy and French kisses. “The young one’s not long for this life, I hear. What’s it malaria with her?”

“I don’t know, but this is a shit place to raise children.” William tucked the candy in his pocket. “Thanks,” he said and grabbed the loose brushes and the bottle, but as William turned around there stood Thankful. The commissary store was out of baking soda so she came to the sutler.

“Oh, Thankful. I . . .” William sputtered, but the look on Thankful’s face stopped him. “Are you all right?”

Thankful burst into tears and pulled the bottle from William. “You’d trade away your mother for this wouldn’t you?”

“No, not my mother, Thankful, I . . .”

“I can’t believe I ever cared for you! How dare you say a word about your father’s behavior!”

“I haven’t said a thing! Thankful! Please calm down. You’re making a scene.” William clutched her arm and pulled her outside.

“I don’t care what people think, William Weldon! Why are you ruining your life? Why?” Thankful sobbed.

“I’m not . . .” William began, but sighed and began again. “Look at you, Thankful. You fit in wherever you go. Everyone loves you from the start. Sakes alive, you met the love of your life on the first day out here. I’m not like you. I, I don’t know how to be with people. This,” he pointed to the bottle, “this helps me.”

“Willy, you’ve become a drunk. That’s it. You can’t really think I’m so stupid to listen to your poor excuse. You have a fine personality—at least you did at one time! How pitiful that you trade away such nice brushes—where did you get them?”

William’s shoulders slumped, but his eyes flashed defiance. “The missionaries. The brushes belonged to their beloved dead friend—he was killed or something—maybe I’ll meet the same fate!”

“No, not you, Bill. You’ll just disappoint them and ruin their trip. You’re too addicted to your self-pity to part with it.”

“Thankful, at one time I’d have taken your self-righteousness to heart. I would have even respected you for it, but now I know the truth about you—to think that you’d let Fahy poke you—it’s disgraceful!”

Thankful made to slap him but William blocked her and stole the bottle back.

Thankful hit him. “I can’t believe you’d be so cruel to someone from home!”

“When will you ever realize, I hated everything about home!” William shouted. “If I ever treated you well it had nothing to do with you being from Englewood! That was a stain against you!”

“You’ve always gone against me!” Thankful cried. “I can see that now! It was your way of getting back at my brothers—for all of their cruel pranks! I just thought you might not judge me with them!”

“What?” William’s temper had gotten the best of him and now he almost couldn’t remember what they were fighting over. He cursed to himself as she ran off. Behind a tool shed William emptied most of the new bottle of spirits into his flask and swallowed what remained in one jolting gulp, chucking the bottle behind some brush.

Kenyon was making a last arrangement with the soldier Joyce when William swayed up.

The missionary’s smile froze until the lieutenant walked off. “William Weldon, what do you want from me?”

“What do you mean? I don’t want anything and you can’t tell me what to do,” William replied.

“No one’s telling you what to do,” Kenyon said, the smile disappeared now. “You can drink all you like—but not with us. So please, it seems you’ve made your choice. Stay in Willcox, but not before returning our things.”

“Fine. Here are your lousy brushes.”

Kenyon took the brushes. “Where’s the box?”

“I don’t know. Who gives a damn? I don’t—piece of junk anyway.”

“That box was important to Ignatius. His nephew made it,” Kenyon informed him.

William rolled his eyes. “So why in damnation did you give me the box?”

“I imagined you’d like something nice of your own.”

“I’m not materialistic,” William said with his arms folded. “And you’re not my uncle and I’m coming for the money.”

Kenyon shook his head. “You contradict yourself. Seems you’d make a poor prospector.”

“What?”

“You don’t recognize gold when you see it,” Kenyon said.

“I don’t care about gold, sir.”

“William Weldon, you have a decision and you have about five minutes to make it. If you want to come along and do wonderful drawings then please hand over your flask and canteen.”

“No. You can’t force . . .”

“Then please get out of my sight,” the missionary said.

William didn’t move. Kenyon waved him off and returned to his work by the wagon.

“Sir,” William called and caught up with him. “Sometime I’ll see you again and get you the box back.”

“Son, don’t you see? Isn’t your life worth more than a box or bottle?” Kenyon asked.

“I never get what I want!” William said, licking his chapped lips as if the act might retrieve his humiliating words.

“And what do you want?”

William glanced toward the Markhams’ porch where Thankful stood embracing Fahy. “I don’t know.”

Kenyon hid his smile.

William spoke from inside. The alcohol made it easier. “Mr. Kenyon, I don’t think I can, you know, give it up. I don’t know if I can give you . . . I mean—I didn’t want this to happen. I kept losing things—I keep losing things. I’ve lost it all and I lose more and now . . . I don’t even want things anymore. And I’m afraid on my own—life is so damned unsteady.” He pointed to the barracks where a small group of men were smoking and laughing. “Look at the soldiers—I can never get so straight as them.”

“Where did you get the idea that life was a straight path for anyone, William? I won’t allow you to get lost if you come along with me, but it has to be your choice. I trust that you can do without the bottle and I believe you’re as steady as any of those soldiers if you’d only give yourself a fighting chance. You must quit the drinking.”

“What will you do if I fail?” William asked, looking at him sideways.

“What any friend would do—help you up again.”

“I’ve never had friends like that,” William said.

“Well, you do now.” Kenyon waited.

***Featured Image by Timothy O’Sullivan

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Family Histories: It isn’t even past

Welcome to another installment of Family Histories. Today my featured guest is KEVIN BRENNAN, an accomplished novelist and editor. Kevin discusses how other people’s family stories have influenced his writing–particularly a family he knew growing up in the 1970’s during the Watergate hearings.  (The featured image is of my father and me during that same period–possibly watching the hearings)

I appreciate Adrienne’s invitation to write something for her Family History series, following a little discussion we had about phoniness and internet authenticity a while back. She mentioned her faith and I mentioned my atheism, and we both liked each other’s frankness on what can be a touchy subject online.

I’ve been thinking a lot about family history lately because I’m seeking an agent for my new novel about a unique family, the Heartneys. Their moment of crisis takes place in 1973, during the period of the Senate Watergate hearings, but the source of their pain occurred ten years before, when they lost a newborn child, then promptly buried their grief in order to function and survive. We learn through the course of the book that family history plays an even greater role than that in the story – always the gift that keeps on giving.

We all know that burying our feelings is no way to carry on, yet so much that surrounds family history concerns the well-meaning errors that we make in reacting to extraordinary circumstances. And the errors made long ago by an earlier generation can reverberate for decades. In my book, the parents of Mrs. Heartney – Arlene – protected her from her mother’s terminal illness, so that the sudden loss of her was a shock that Arlene couldn’t get over. It hardened her stance on life in a way that would come to affect her own family as the years went by, including the way she thought about her husband, a much more open man who could have helped her cope had she accepted his support.

The funny thing is, I knew a family like the Heartneys when I was a teenager, and though this isn’t their real story I took their dynamics and made up a story that seemed to fit them. And in that way they have become part of my own family history – someone who really existed and had a far-reaching effect on my life. I’ve never really stopped thinking about them.

I suppose that my family – hit with a difficult divorce when I was twelve and a pretty significant level of poverty that went with it – left an impression on others who were around at the time, wondering what our backstory was and how things got that way.

There’s always a timeline, a sequence of events. Family history is always a daisy chain of choices made along the way, and the consequences – good and bad – are what gets written down or photographed or just remembered in oral-history fashion. It can be inspiring, it can be cautionary, and it can be a source of pride, but it’s never just something that happened. It was created.

(And in the spirit of oral history, I use a hybrid point of view in this novel, with one of Arlene’s daughter’s telling the overarching story in first person but giving herself permission to tell us in third person about moments she wasn’t present for. It’s like leafing through a photo album but the pictures turn into YouTube clips before your eyes. We’ll see if it works for readers.)

The models for the Heartneys were the kind of people who, I could just tell, were going to have a hard time in life. I’ve tried to locate them over the years unsuccessfully, Googling the names I remember, but I was surprised one year when I went back to St. Louis, where they and I are from, to find that their house had been razed at some point and there was nothing there. No artifacts, no foundation. It was an empty lot. To look at it, you’d never know that a family had once lived there. Nothing about their history and their choices that had put them in that spot remained. Their choices might also have caused the loss of the house.

Who’s to say? That story will have to be a different novel.

KEVIN’S BLOG

KEVIN’S BOOKS

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.”

forget me not promo

Fiction: Why William Weldon Fell

Thankful jumped the final step in a hurry to greet her lieutenant. Her large and expensive engagement ring glittered on her gloved hand, and she giggled her way closer to Fahy who stood like a proud peacock. William shifted in his boots—determined to sneak off after the first dance and join the rough privates at drinking behind the barracks. The men continued to smoke. Thankful brushed ash from William’s cigar off of Fahy’s coat sleeve.

“Damned sorry about your pony, Weldon,” Fahy tried.

“Yes, well . . .” was all William could muster.

“Any news yet on your wedding dress, my sweet?” Fahy asked Thankful.

“Mama is being difficult, as always,” Thankful replied with a red face.

Mrs. Markham, who had been giving the private final instructions at the back door, came out now into the cool night air. “Good evening, Mr. Fahy. You look well.”

The lieutenant tipped his hat with a smile but noted a sadness in her eyes. “Mrs. Markham, are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s been a Jonah day, is all.”

William said, “Again, I’m terribly sorry to have brought Miss Peckham. She’s not very nice, is she?”

“You need to ask, Willy?” Thankful sneered.

“Oh, Bill, it’s not about the horrible girl. The captain said he’d send word by now. I miss him—you know how I love a dance with him,” she choked out.

William coughed.  “I admire you, ma’am. I remember my mother waiting all alone—like you. You’ve got it hardest in a way because you can’t know all that might happen, but you’re brave. The few weeks I was with you, the captain always seemed so proud of you. I’m sure he’s proud still.”

“Thank you, Bill. I sometimes forget you were one of us.”

William took a lonely breath and glanced at the sky.

Miss Peckham pushed her way through now.

“Is this the same girl, who wore trousers a few hours ago and created such a ruckus?” Fahy asked. “You clean up nicely, Miss Peckham.”

“My proper clothes are still in town, sir. This outfit is positively idiotic on me, I’m sure,” Miss Peckham responded, but it was obvious to all that Miss Peckham was pleased with her looks and the attention the lieutenant gave her.

William enjoyed seeing Thankful with a pout of jealousy—everything should not always go her way.

Thankful spoke. “It’s a shame you’re so long-legged or else that dress might really fit you.”

“Oh, dear, Miss Crenshaw, I’ve hiked the skirt up on purpose. I’m not ashamed of my ankles like thicker legged girls might be and besides, Mr. Weldon will have an easier time without fussy skirts at his feet.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” William said with a grin, “but I don’t intend to dance. You have nice ankles though.”

“William!” Thankful scolded, but Fahy gawked at Miss Peckham’s ankles, causing Thankful to pout once more.

Miss Peckham put her arm through William’s. “Shall we be off?”

The group arrived under the soft light of the lanterns. The lieutenant, by far the best and most popular dancer in his fine dress uniform, led in the first German. It was tradition in the regiment for a guest to be given the same honor, and Miss Peckham put herself forward with enthusiasm. Mrs. Markham sought to commiserate with some women from the regiment who also awaited news of their men.

Thankful fumed at the attention Miss Peckham got in her borrowed things. “She’s not even in the remotest way pretty,” she pointed out to William, who stood beside her. “Look there, she missed a step!”

“Golly, Thankful, I’d hate to be under your critical eye if I ever danced.” William puffed his cigar.

Thankful touched his arm and said, “I felt so sorry when she joked about your . . . infirmity.”

“Why? I’m an invalid. There’s no hiding it.”

“It was an insensitive remark. I would never–”

“What? Accept facts? That’s what my parents do, too. Don’t you think I always knew what you thought of me even if you never said it?” William said his pleasant drunkenness taking a switch.

Thankful’s heart leapt. “Excuse me?”

“I like Miss Peckham because she’s honest. Everyone pretends, for my sake, not to notice my limitations—it’s maddening. She laughed about it but also complimented my riding—and she’s right. I’m a good rider if nothing else.”

“If you were so good, you wouldn’t have fallen long ago!” Thankful said.

“You say you’re a friend, but for the life of me I don’t see it,” William said and threw his finished cigar out the window.

“I’m terribly sorry!” Thankful said. “I don’t know what made me say that!”

William let the anger and shame of a secret memory spill from his gold eyes. “I don’t care. I was ten and drunk that night.”

“What are you talking about, Willy?” Thankful asked.

“At the brothel—the women tried to get me drunk enough to go with a man. So yeah, I was pretty unsteady on the horse I tried to escape on. So that’s why I fell.” He’d never spoken about that night.

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.”

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.”