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

 

Are You Emotionally Mature? Here’s How to Get There

“This was where the moment of maturity occurred: the place where they passed across an emotional frontier, the line that separates insecure ambition from likely success.” Making Haste From Babylon by Nick Bunker

As a writer of sagas about flawed people seeking redemption (usually from mistakes made in youth), the idea of emotional maturity has me pondering about emotional frontiers and how characters in books and those people in our real lives react to frontiers.

Some characters blanch as the emotional terrain before them comes into view. They hide along the edges of feeling, stranded in terror. They rationalize, keep secrets or drink self-pity by the pint. If only, if only . . . they seem to say.

Others plunge forward, stumbling, anxious, unthinkingly. A pride drives them. Criticism and praise prod them too quickly one way or the other. They curse the gods and run rough-shod over lessons unlearned in their futile efforts to satiate their immature ambitions.

Pruning lesser branches of the emotional tree produces stronger, mature specimens, but one must find a way to enter the frontier and not be chopped down by it. The frontier is where interesting characters live. Each character matures or dies. Even those who avoid the frontier one day are dismayed to discover the frontier has arrived at their doorstep.

Safe lives bring their own terrors and not of one’s choosing.

I decided to look at a few of my own characters to see where they stand:

JOHN WELDON hides his addiction.

THANKFUL CRENSHAW searches for the meaning of her own beauty in the arms of immature men.

BUCK CRENSHAW demands the world love him for his accomplishments because his mother does not.

Here are the marks of maturity according to Psychology Today:

A mature person is able to keep long-term commitments.

A mature person is unshaken by flattery or criticism.

A mature person possesses a spirit of humility.

A mature person’s decisions are based on character not feelings.

A mature person expresses gratitude consistently.

A mature person knows how to prioritize others before themselves.

A mature person seeks wisdom before acting.

After doing a quick inventory of myself, I have some work to do, but thank God for immature characters. We’d have no one to read or write about without them.

SIX LEVELS OF EMOTIONAL MATURITY

WHO’S IN CHARGE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL MATURITY?

10 HABITS TO ACHIEVE EMOTIONAL MATURITY

Readers and writers, do you have a favorite immature character?

How about an emotionally mature one?

Are you emotionally mature?

How did you get there?

***Painting by Anders Zorn

 

Fiction: Love and Marriage

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

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

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

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

William nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William gave Ginny an appalled look.

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

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

The women didn’t laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

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

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

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Fiction: The 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.”

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.”

Fiction: The End of Innocence

The rest of the day hung like a weight around Thankful’s neck. Poor young Lydia cried and suffered. Captain Markham came home from a few weeks in the field and was informed about Thankful’s surprising inattention to important household duties.

Thankful poured coffee for the couple and it took everything in her not to spill the hot liquid in Mrs. Markham’s lap. The captain listened to his wife with nodding head before turning to Thankful.

“You do know that we have a very sick child and my wife cannot be burdened with menial labor right this moment, Miss Crenshaw. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Nothing, sir. I was dispirited over Mr. Fahy, but it’s no excuse for not having coffee made.” Thankful wanted to rip the captain’s disgusting sideburns from his face and fling him into the fire. Why on earth must they keep such a fire in the desert?

“What’s happened to Fahy?” Markham asked his wife.

“He’s fallen for our Thankful and plans to marry her.”

“Sakes alive! Why didn’t you tell me that straight off? Well, that’s darn good news for you, young lady—and Fahy, too!” Markham scratched his freshly-shaved chin as if pondering the mysteries of the universe. “Don’t worry about this morning’s coffee. I understand it all now, and I’m certain it won’t happen again.”

“No, sir.”

“Why doesn’t she seem at all happy then?” the captain asked his wife.

Thankful wiped her eyes. “May I be excused?”

Mrs. Markham replied, “Right after you wash up those dishes, dear. Will you see the lieutenant this evening?”

“Yes,” Thankful sobbed and ran to the kitchen.

When Lieutenant Fahy came to call, Thankful lingered upstairs. The few things she had to wear were smoky and wilted in the overheated house. Thankful washed and wondered if Fahy would like her body. She poured a liberal dose of flower water over herself and slipped on her best dress. Her hair needed washing, but she hadn’t any time, so she pulled it tight like a school marm, feeling anything but gay.

When Mrs. Markham called to her a third time, Thankful appeared. Fahy looked dashing in his dressier blouse and trousers. He flashed her a big friendly smile. They let the Markhams believe they were going to the dance tonight. Fahy and Thankful skirted the music and a wave of loneliness crashed over Thankful as the band played the fiddler’s waltz. She pulled on Fahy’s arm. “I’m so very frightened.”

Fahy kissed her, a little impatiently. “Don’t worry, miss.”

Thankful imagined that Fahy would bring her someplace special—a hidden spot—so she grew curious when they circled back behind the Markhams’ house and toward the woodpile. A tattered army blanket and a jug of whiskey lay in the shadows.

“You said that you imagined us under the pines—well, here’s some wood, anyway—pine wood—so it smells sort of the same,” Fahy explained.

“But the woodpile?” Thankful asked in astonishment. “I can practically see into Mrs. Markham’s kitchen. I hear the children! And there’s Mrs. Tremble bringing out the trash. My goodness! They’ll see us here!”

Fahy kissed her. “No one will come back here at this hour. There now, let’s sit.” He dragged Thankful down on to the itchy woolen blanket and kissed her again, handing her the jug of whiskey. “Go ahead. Taste it—it’ll make things easier for you. Go on then. It’s not poison!” Fahy laughed as Thankful sipped and choked.

“Oh, it’s awful!” she cried.

Fahy ran his hand over Thankful’s head. “Sweetheart, this is what adults do, I’m afraid. Don’t you like when I touch you?”

“Yes, but behind the woodpile? There are bugs and things and it’s just not what I expected.”

“Look, we have the stars and the cool evening . . . and each other, darling. Isn’t that enough?” Fahy kissed her more passionately and her body responded. “I love you dearly, Miss Thankful. Do you love me?”

“Yes.”

The lieutenant tore Thankful’s shoes and stockings off in a hurry. No fine words, no tickling behind the knees. She had worried all day about her body, but he plunged under her petticoats, pulled himself out of his trousers and pushed his way inside. “How does it feel?” he asked.

“Fine.” It hurt just a little, but then it didn’t. It wasn’t unenjoyable or enjoyable—it was nothing, really, but wrong.

Fahy moaned, kissed her and it was over. He rolled off and gazed at the stars. “So what do you think now, Thankful?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s wrong?” Fahy asked getting up on his elbows, his intense eyes shining in the moonlight. “Didn’t you like it?”

“I think so.” Thankful didn’t want to upset his feelings.

“Think so? You should know!”

“Should I?” Thankful asked.

“You should have had more whiskey,” Fahy said, sitting up. “Damn. So you didn’t enjoy any of it?”

“No. I mean, I did, sort of. Did it make you happy?” Thankful asked.

“Well, yes, but it’s supposed to be for both of us. Want to try again—in a few minutes?”

“No! Someone will come by,” Thankful said, grabbing her stockings and slipping one over her toes.

“No one will come by,” Fahy assured her, taking the stocking off her again. “I’ve got a friend watching out.”

“A friend?” Thankful cried. She tugged the stocking away from him and pulled it on in haste. “How awful! Now everyone will know what we’ve done!”

“No. He’s trustworthy. Thankful, why don’t we marry before your parents come?”

“I want a proper wedding,” Thankful cried. “You’ve already deprived me of a proper wedding night.” She tugged the other stocking on and slipped into her shoes.

“Don’t say that!” Fahy complained. “Our wedding night will be great.”

“Maybe we’ll even get to have a bed,” Thankful said.

“You told me you imagined doing it outdoors. I thought you’d like my idea.” Fahy said, surprised at her emotion.

“I never imagined doing anything behind a bunch of logs in view of Mrs. Tremble’s and the Markhams’ back yard. You said it would be special.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but you need to relax more,” Fahy offered, running his hand along her hot cheek.

“How many girls have you been with?” Thankful asked.

“Oh, Thankful, let’s not talk about this now. Let’s try again, and I promise you in time you’ll grow fonder of it.”

The horses whinnied in the stables and someone, probably the lookout, whistled a melancholy tune.

“I’m so sad, Mr. Fahy. Were you engaged before, too?”

“No, Thankful. Stop it. You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved.”

“But you slept with girls you never loved?”

“Yes, but . . .” Fahy began, shaking his head.

“But what did you tell them?” Thankful asked, her eyes welling with tears in the moonlight.

“I didn’t have to tell them anything,” Fahy said as if Thankful’s questions insulted his honor. “You’re the only girl I’ve ever had to explain myself to. Please, Thankful, I’m still randy—let’s try again.”

Something changed. Fahy didn’t love her anymore. But now Thankful loved him desperately. “Mr. Fahy, I love you.”

“I’m glad. Will we try again?”

Thankful was his now, and she so wanted to love him. Thankful lay back and this time Fahy was more attentive. “Do you feel anything? How’s this? How about now?”

At first Thankful was honest, but after a while it seemed cruel to keep him trying and not getting anywhere—so she lied and said it was good.

Fahy knew she lied and it upset him, but he kept it to himself, wondering if he had satisfied the other girls or were they just more practiced liars. Fahy brought Thankful home and kissed her good-night with forced passion.

Thankful stood at the gate and watched him go.

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.”

Top 5 Reasons to Write a Series

 

desk 2Three minutes into sobbing over the ending of my first very long book, a new curiosity arrived about one minor character who pushed William Weldon from a hayloft in childhood. Now as I edit the final chapters of what has become a four book series (THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD being a prequel to the series) I want to celebrate the joys of writing (and reading) multiple books about your characters.

I set out to write one small novella ten years ago, but life took hold of my muse and carried me along through at least 2,200 pages (and more lost to editing) of a series I never imagined when first dipping my foot in the pond.

I offer no hard and fast rules because my natural tendency is to resist such man-made limitations and trends. When I began it was to entertain myself. Quite early on I realized that the books I adored were often quite different from the ones I admired. Adoration has kept me going all of these years later.

LOVE: When a writer falls in love with a character the love is forever. The sad and lost John Weldon swept me through a thousand pages of addiction and the underlying terror of being found truly worthless. As a loving creator I set Weldon up with everything he needed to see his value, but being lost comes with a blindness to certain realities. I believed at the close of the book that my final gift to him was a glimmer of hope in a marriage he’d worked so hard to destroy, but my muse gave him a good and troubled son with a love interest in Thankful Crenshaw. I had to know what would become of them!

LAYERS: A series allows for unmasking the layers of a character or a whole town of characters. A chance remark on page two of a book sprouts a whole series of future events. In WEARY of RUNNING, the first in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, a young girl stands up for Buck Crenshaw. Born with troubled eyes she hears the truth in Buck’s voice though no one else does. This small act of kindness hints at Lucy’s sudden emergence as the series heroine she will grow into in the last two novels. Life isn’t chocolate and vanilla. Some readers prefer easy answers, but in a series the writer can play with nuance, growth and regression. When Thankful Crenshaw makes her first bad decision with Lieutenant Fahy the reader knows it won’t be her last. There is a risk here for series writers. Will the reader follow lost characters for long? Will they love them enough to stand by and watch (and cringe) at the way these people seek love and redemption? The risk is well worth it if the author is being true to her muse. Critics be damned.

LAUGHTER: Gallows humor is my cup of tea. It’s not for everyone. “Only kidding” is a family mantra when so often outsiders look askance at the way we joke. The House on Tenafly Road can be a tough read for some. Can one really make addiction funny? Sometimes it is. As the characters grew and I grew to love them more I allowed for more fun and faster pacing. The House on Tenafly Road stands alone as historical fiction while The Tenafly Road Series is more an American period drama. We laugh best with people we know really well–and cry all the more bitterly when these people hurt themselves. William, Buck and Thankful carry a whole lot of hurt, but they make me laugh (especially when I forget what I’ve written and come back to something as if for the first time).

LOSS: Loss and love. The stuff of life. There is something so edifying when you kill off a character. Let me explain. To have a well-loved character die with a Victorian sense of dignity feels like doing what’s right by your kin. The author is the ultimate funeral planner, the writer of letters found tucked in the cubicle of a roll-top desk in the study. The laurel wreaths are hung and mirrors covered to prevent lost spirits. Oh, the many ways to explore grief as time passes! What does it say about Buck or William? How does it change Thankful?

LIFE: A day in the life of a character is sometimes all an author needs to make a novel. I’m not that author. I devour whole lives. I want the beginning, middle and end. I want a prologue and an epilogue. I want growth and maturity, death and rebirth. In writing a series, especially an epic family saga, I’ve lived so many lives in the last ten years. When the series is over (though ideas float around about a new direction in writing) I will be satisfied that I’ve lived life well. Before writing a series I couldn’t honestly say that.

 

And now a note for the READER of my books: Realize that life is a slow burn with sudden temporary gusts to enliven the fire. Yes, THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD is a bit heavy and long, but (in my opinion) worth the buildup. And yes, there are terribly many mistakes made by Buck and friends in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES but if we take the blinders off we see so much of ourselves in the house fires and dampened reversals. I do believe that endings can be happy and well worth the wait. In the meantime there’s love, loss and laughter. I hope you enjoy the layers and the lives of the (fictional?) people I adore.

And now for the WRITER a quote by Thomas Merton to hearten you on your journey:

“Many poets never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or artist who is called for by all of the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet. They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems.”

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Fiction: How To Keep a Man Happy (Part Two)

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Thankful makes a decision about Mr. Fahy . . .

When Mrs. Markham awoke to find the fire puttered out, and the coffee not made, she wasn’t pleased.

“Thankful Crenshaw, I love you like a good friend’s daughter, but honestly, crying at this hour and before coffee is just wrong. I don’t pay you to pout. I’m sorry to be so upset, but you know how I am about coffee.” Mrs. Markham watched for reaction from Thankful out of the corner of her eye, but when she did not get it, turned more emphatically in the girl’s direction. “I allow other things to slide, child, but not this. I will have a word with Captain Markham about our arrangement.”

Again Thankful sniveled. Mrs. Markham wanted coffee, but softened. “I’d hate to lose our friendship over such a trifling thing. I’m at wits end, and the captain knows best what to do.” The mantle clock clicked the time slowly. A horse whinnied.

“I’ll pack my things, Mrs. Markham,” Thankful sobbed.

Mrs. Markham rushed to her side. “But you have no place to go, my sweetness, just be more mindful of your chores!”

“Yes. I’m sorry.” Thankful rose to fetch the coffee pot, wiping her eyes on her gingham apron–one Mrs. Markham had a laundress make for her pet.

“Whatever are you fretting about?” Mrs. Markham asked, sitting to write out Thankful’s endless list of chores. “Do you miss home?”

Thankful nodded, but then shook her head.

“Poor girl, you’re all mixed up. That’s what love does. I should know—the captain still keeps me in conflict. But love is love, and you’re lucky to have it. Some never do.”

“Mr. Fahy is demanding,” Thankful hinted.

“That’s men. Would you rather he left you to yourself and found another?” Mrs. Markham asked. “I didn’t think so.”

“But he’s very demanding,” Thankful said, wondering if the captain’s wife was really the friend she needed right now. “I just don’t know. . .”

“I don’t know how to say this.” Mrs. Markham took the pot from Thankful– too theatrically for Thankful’s taste and mood–and filled it herself with a scolding look. “I do love you, but you’re selfish in a way. A man has to be given his way once in a while—he needs to think that you trust his judgment. I’m sure that Mr. Fahy, of all men, wouldn’t lead you astray—he’s a fine gentleman.”

“Mrs. Markham, has he had any girls before me?”

“Many girls have sought him from what I hear, but I’ve never seen him take especial notice. I do believe Lieutenant Fahy is saving himself for you—that’s very sweet, I think. You’re a very lucky girl. Everyone thinks so. Don’t ruin things for yourself by being hard on him. After all, he’s only a man.” She laughed.

Later that day Mrs. Markham went visiting while Thankful took the children out to play. The sun blazed as Thankful’s temper flared. The older children fought, and the younger ones hung off her, wilted and cranky. Thankful could see Lieutenant Fahy smoking on the porch at headquarters, and this infuriated her. Usually he tripped up to see her for a moment around midday.

“Come along, children. It’s time to go indoors for your naps.” The young ones whimpered in protest, and the three eldest ran off, knowing Thankful could not give chase with the little ones clinging to her. “Horrible little wretches,” Thankful muttered as Fahy finally trotted over to her. She pushed past him.

“Thankful, please slow down, would you?”

“Why should I? I’m busy!” she said.

“I wanted to apologize for this morning. I can be a right bastard sometimes.”

“How you curse!” Thankful said, relieved and glad for his apology.

“It’s just that you’re so darn beautiful. I’m not a patient man, and I want you. But if you don’t feel the same way . . .”

“But I do, Mr. Fahy! I’m afraid of it though, and I only want to do what’s honorable and right.”

“But no one has to know and you’re nearly my wife.”

“I would do anything,” Thankful began–she must be honest, however immature it may seem to this man, “but that.”  She saw he was not pleased. “Oh, but let me explain. It’s very horrible really . . . I’ve never told a soul, but my parents conceived before they were married. It’s been a horrible marriage, and I’d hate for us to end so sadly.”

Fahy wiped his brow. The babies were crying, and the toddlers smelled like sewage. The lieutenant sighed. “Thankful, you’re a great girl—too good for me at times. I came over to apologize but also to let you know that I won’t be by this evening.”

“Oh,” Thankful said, a rush of panic and hurt coming over her. Had he even listened to her? “Well . . . why not?”

“Some of the fellows, well, I’ve been neglecting my friendships lately, and I have tonight free.”

“What will you do?” Thankful hated herself for asking.

“Just drink at The Buckskin. Nothing more.”

“Town? You’re going to town?” Thankful cried.

“Yes. Oh, you don’t think—what I said before about the others?” Fahy rolled his eyes and looked truly affronted. “Now I see you really don’t trust me!”

“No, it’s that I don’t know what to think! Before you threaten to use a whore and now. . .”

“I never threatened it!” Fahy said.

“Go ahead with the boys, but don’t expect me to be friendly tomorrow!” Thankful cried.

“So now I can’t have any friends?” Fahy complained. “You’re being unreasonable!”

“You can have as many friends as you like,” she said. “But I have no friends here at all!”

“And how is that my fault? Maybe if you were a little less stuck-up. You girls are always so dramatic!” Fahy fumed.

“You said you loved me!” Thankful sobbed now. “And I’m not stuck-up!”

“I do love you!” Fahy turned her away from passing soldiers. “Bear-up, Thankful. You’re making a fool of yourself, now,” he said irritably but hugged her. “My passion for you is so great that I don’t know how much longer I can wait. I’d never spend another moment with the lads if only I could have you the way we talked earlier.”

“So you would stay home for me?” Thankful asked. “I’m the most important to you?”

“Of course. It’s all I want, but I need to know that you trust me for everything.”

Thankful grabbed his arm. “Mr. Fahy, please come to me tonight, and I’ll be ready.”

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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