Sunday, May 29, 2011

#SampleSunday We Interrupt This Date

Charleston's Folly Beach
Here's an excerpt from Chapter Six of We Interrupt This Date. Main character Susan tells Mama she's going to operate a ghost tour business.

Excerpt: Mama considered herself a gracious southern lady, a member of the club made up of women with accents that sounded as if the words were dipped in honey and stretched out into extra syllables. Like all of them, Mama was tough as old leather. She was a strong woman who’d survived widowhood—my father. And desertion—my sister’s father. She’d managed a career as an accountant’s secretary, raised two girls, and retired comfortably with her dignity intact.
I’d win the argument, though. Of course, me winning meant that Mama would finally throw up her hands in defeat and blink her eyes at warp speed, leading me to believe she wanted to frown, but didn’t dare risk the wrinkles. Then she’d say in that low, melodious voice of hers, “You mark my words, Susan Nicole Caraway, you are making a large mistake, bless your heart. A very large mistake.”
She’d gather the Chihuahuas and dump them into the straw basket—woven by a Gullah woman—that she called her purse. Then she’d stagger out to her Cadillac leaning sideways from the weight of the little dogs.
I thought of this now as I changed from business casual into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt sporting the logo from some metal band Christian pretends to like. Mama never really gets angry, doesn’t raise her voice. Voice-raising isn’t ladylike. Even when she reminds me she said to mark her words—such as when the minivan I’d bought against her advice developed a problem with the radio—she is always ready to pitch in and help pick up the pieces. Mama is fond of saying, “There is no love greater than a mother’s love for her offspring.”
I’ve given up trying to get her to say children instead of offspring. Offspring always makes me think of a science experiment involving genetics and multiple generations of albino lab rats that specialize in running mazes.
I ran my fingers through my hair and padded barefoot down the hall into the kitchen. I discovered that Mama had already fixed salad and garlic bread to go with the vegetarian lasagna she’d baked earlier.
The table was set and Mama had brought white carnations for a centerpiece. She’d arranged them in a bowl so they sat low between the salad and a pitcher of iced tea, all the better for her to see me from the opposite end of the table. A gracious lady always has flowers in the house, I’ve been told a million times, and plastic flowers don’t count.
Somehow I’ve never managed to become a gracious lady. Mama has to keep reminding me I’ve fallen short and my sister hasn’t even made the effort, and Mama doesn’t know why she keeps trying with two daughters who are simply doing their best to torment her into an early grave.
I waited until she locked the Chihuahuas on the back porch with a bowl of tiny kibble, a food recommended by Mama’s best friend, Lydia Freeman. Lydia is a Chihuahua breeder active with the local dog rescue organization. She has a Cadillac identical to Mama’s, except for a bumper sticker that reads, “If you don’t rescue, don’t breed.” Before I knew she raised dogs, I had no clue what the bumper sticker meant—I thought Lydia was simply anti-sex.
Mama carried the food to the table. We ate, chatting about the new gift shop near Calhoun Street, and how Ruthie Ames’ daughter Cindy, who was as flaky as her Aunt Lou’s pie crust, had dropped out of the College of Charleston to “go find herself in Idaho.”
“Can you imagine?” Mama said, dabbing her lips with her cloth napkin. “If she can’t figure out where she is right here in the city where she was born and raised, then there is no hope in Idaho where all the people are roughnecks. No hope at all.”
I knew Mama was thinking of my younger sister DeLorean as much as she was thinking about Cindy Ames. DeLorean had gone to LA a couple of years ago, not to find herself, but to let LA find her. So far, all she’d managed to do was move in with a stuck up movie producer and have a baby. There seemed slim chance of her ever being discovered, if that’s what she really expected. I doubted if even DeLorean knew what she wanted out of life.
But then, I was one to talk. Married for nineteen years, divorced for one and I was finally getting around to figuring out I didn’t want to be stuck in a loan office answering phones and soothing the feelings of entitlement-minded customers. I wasn’t sure that running ghost tours was what I wanted to do either, but I’d been forced into the situation and maybe that was what Patty’s Universe had had in store for me all along.
“Mama?” I got up and started filling the dishwasher. “I hope you’re not still upset about my phone call last night.”
“Your phone call?” She made phone into two-syllables. “You mean that nonsense about selling the house to live in a bed and breakfast and going off to hunt for ghosts like some common street person with pagan beliefs? I’ve raised you better, the good Lord knows I have, and by now you’ve surely to God realized you simply can’t do such a thing. I mean, people will think you’ve been mentally unhinged by the divorce, positively gone around the bend and that you need help before you ruin your life entirely. Though no one could blame you after T. Chandler dumped you for that gold digging home wrecker with the huge bosoms. I’m sure they were fake; pure silicon—or is it carbon they’re made of? What was her name?”
“Crystal,” I said. “Crystal Rose.” I gritted my teeth and hunted under the sink for the dishwashing powder. A year later and Mama still brought up the incident like it had happened an hour ago and, of course, it was my own fault and she wasn’t going to let me forget.
“Whatever. Sounds like a made up name to me, like she’s one of those low women who take off their clothes in bars and fit themselves into all kinds of suggestive positions around metal poles. But didn’t I say to mark my words? I said, I don’t know how many times, I said, ‘Susan, when a man claims a best friend who’s a woman, and that woman isn’t his wife, then there’s trouble brewing.’ As sure as peach blossoms turn into peaches you can expect trouble.” 
“Yeah, Mama, you did all but spell it out. I still walked around oblivious, cooking and cleaning and taking care of my home while T. Chandler worked himself into a lather over a pair of size 40D faux breasts and an enhanced butt. Dumb me. No surprise when I eventually found myself in divorce court.” I made my voice deep and ominous when I said “divorce court” as if I were talking about the deepest pit of hell.
I should have been able to figure things out for myself without Mama’s warning—which I’d ignored. What forty-two-year-old man has a bubble-brained flirt for a best pal? To be fair, though, my sin was apathy more than cluelessness.
“Don’t be flippant, dear. The point is, I believe, we were going to discuss this horrible plan of yours so I could advise you.”
I sighed. I was positive I hadn’t asked for either a discussion or her advice. And equally positive that no force on earth could prevent her from butting in.
“There’s nothing to discuss. I’ve already told Veronica I’ll do it.” I would not tell her Odell had fired me and Veronica’s offer was the only one on the table.
“I must say, I am shocked.” Mama pulled a lavender spray bottle out of her purse and spritzed the air around her for about a three-foot radius. She sniffed delicately and sat back in her chair. I knew she was counting on the lavender aromatherapy to help her get over her shock while she thought up ways to influence me. Naturally she wanted me to continue to sit around and grow bitter, yet remain a true southern lady who holds her chin up and keeps a prominent display of her best wedding photos—with the lying skunk cut out of them—on the mantle.
“It’s a done deal and I am not changing my mind.”
“I hope she hasn’t spent any money yet. Because it’s just a matter of a few days before you realize what a fatal mistake you’ll be making.” Mama shivered. I half expected her to reach for the lavender again, but a yelp from the direction of the porch caused her to swivel to face the door. “That Tiny, he thinks he’s a Great Dane. Always beating up poor Sweetpea.” Sighing, she started to rise.
I waved her back down. “I’ll get them.” I marched out to the porch where a growling Tiny, his dark marble eyes bulging from his skull with the effort, stood over the cowering Sweetpea. He’d placed one nickel-sized paw on Sweetpea’s black and tan chest.
“Stop that right now, you little beast,” I snarled. “If the Dog Whisperer didn’t live clear across the country, I’d haul you in for rehab.”
When my warning did no good, I squatted and cupped my hands around Tiny’s body. He sank his needle teeth into my wrist, but they hardly made a dent. I carried him back into the kitchen and dumped him on Mama’s lap, leaving the other dog on the porch.
“Mama, I’ve made up my mind about the new job. I mean, look at me. For the first time in I don’t know how long—at least a year—I actually feel enthusiastic about something.” Sort of true. “I’m looking forward to living at the Seaside View. It’s beautiful, it’s close to the harbor. I’ll be able to walk all over the historic district enjoying the sights and the fresh air of one of the most beautiful cities in the country. I won’t have this huge house to work me to death. It’s a new beginning.”
“Four bedrooms isn’t exactly huge.” Mama sniffed and looked around as if she could peer through walls and see the rest of the house, mentally measuring the dimensions. “And you don’t look anywhere near death.”
“That isn’t the point,” I ground out. “I’m ready to do something for me. Maybe I’ll like conducting ghost tours and maybe I won’t, but at least I’ll know I tried. I can always look for something else if it doesn’t work out.”
“Yes, but you’ll be without a home, and you know you love this place and you love working in your garden. And you’ll have no job. Lack of a paycheck is the first step toward winding up in the streets.”
“I promise I’ll stay out of the streets. And I wouldn’t quit the ghost tours until I found something else.”
“Yes, no doubt you’ll end up at the reins of one of those poor horses that pull those overloaded carts—carts simply full to bursting with sightseers.” She grabbed Tiny’s rhinestone encrusted collar and pulled him back into her lap before he could climb on the table.
“The carts aren’t that full,” I said in clipped tones.
“And you’d have to empty those horse diaper things. I can just imagine the condition of your poor fingernails. I can almost smell the manure.”
So could I. I rolled my eyes. The phone rang and I started to say I’d let the machine answer, but Mama threw up her hands in her patented “I give up” gesture that really meant “I’ll keep hounding you until you admit I was right, because you are going to land on your face.”
“You will crash and burn, Susan. Mark my words, you will wish you never lowered yourself to being a ghost walker.”
“Ghost tour operator.”
“Call it what you will. I won’t be able to hold my head up in church when my friends spot you parading around Charleston leading tourists looking for wisps of fog.” She sucked in air like she was taking her last breath, dropped Tiny into the purse, and went out on the porch to gather the other dog. I spared a moment of pity for Sweetpea who’d be forced to ride home in a confined space with the ferocious Tiny.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Witness Wore Blood Bay

Excerpt from a random chapter. Doug Reilly is moving into Leigh's guesthouse. As Leigh is helping Doug unload his car, Doug's ex girlfriend drives by. 

            “Dang. What’s that woman doing out this way?”
            “What woman?” I hefted a trash bag and decided it was light enough for me to carry to the guesthouse.
            “Rebecca. That was her car. I hope she ain’t following me.”
            I silently agreed with him. For some reason I really would rather she didn’t know Doug had moved out to my place, but I’d seen the driver turn and look directly at us, though I hadn’t been able to make out her features from that distance.            
            “I’m sure she wasn’t stalking you or anything, Doug. I was at Brenda’s earlier and she said Rebecca was coming by to get a puppy she was giving away, so that has to be why she’s out here. Except I got the puppy for myself.”
            “Yeah?” He frowned. “Hope Rebecca don’t hold it against you.”
            “Good lord, Doug, you sure are scared of her. For heavens sake, what could she possibly do?”
            “Anything.” He shot me a dark look and slung one of the trash bags over his shoulder.
            “You might be right.” I shivered. Rebecca was younger and stronger than I was and fully capable of inflicting plenty of damage if she wanted to. I’d seen that when she went after Doug, who had probably deserved a little roughing up given his track record with women--date ‘em and dump ‘em. But of course, Rebecca wouldn’t hurt me. Sane people don’t go around hurting other people simply because they lost out on a puppy. Or because that person tricked their way her parents’ house.
            Doug and I finished carrying bags to the guesthouse and came back to the car to wrestle a donated TV out of the trunk. I hoped he knew that cable didn’t come with the rent.
            “Got it?” I asked. From the way he was staring over my head, I figured he’d zoned out and was in danger of dropping the set on my feet. I took two steps back before I turned to follow the direction of his gaze. Damn. Rebecca was passing the house again, and this time her car was crawling along under the limit. When she got even with my driveway, she braked hard and flipped a bird at us before accelerating and disappearing around a curve in the road. 
            “Guess she ain’t too happy about you getting that puppy.” Doug hitched the TV higher and took a tighter grip.
            “Guess not.” I wished I hadn’t seen her drive by.
            About ten minutes later, Brenda stopped to drop off Lorne--I still hadn’t thought of a better name--right after Adam pulled up behind Doug’s car. I didn’t like owing Brenda. On the other hand, I really did want to protect the puppy from a woman with a violent temper.
            “Here you go.” She pushed the puppy into my arms and, seeing that Adam had walked up beside me, she handed him a sample bag of puppy food. “Francine has his health record, so you’ll have to pick it up from her. Thanks. ‘Bye.”
            She zoomed off as if she were afraid I’d not only change my mind, but I’d load the back of her pickup with more animals for her to feed. Poor Brenda. She was struggling to sell off excess animals and not having all that much luck.
            Adam held the dog food out in front of him and shook the bag, pretending to be shocked. “Another stray?”
            “Sort of. Brenda couldn’t keep him and I didn’t want Rebecca to get her hands on him. She’s evil.”
            “Evil? You’re starting to sound like Sammi. Who’s Rebecca?”
            “Doug’s ex girlfriend. Not Tina--the latest ex.”
            “Doug’s girlfriend situation is way too complicated for me.” He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go fix dinner. I brought steaks. Uhmm, you don’t have to feed Doug, do you?”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

#Sample Sunday We Interrupt This Date

Downtown Charleston

Sample from Chapter Two of We Interrupt This Date. Susan is having lunch with her friend Veronica. Veronica is dismayed to learn that Susan is going on a blind date arranged by her flaky friend, Patty. 

My casual shoulder shrug and my sudden interest in watching a couple of restaurant patrons stroll by were admission enough. Veronica knew I hadn’t been anywhere lately except to yoga. It wasn’t like I was going to arrange a date with a stranger I crashed my cart into at the Publix grocery.
“Wait, don’t tell me. That New Age person you work with is the one who’s hooking you up. That can’t be good. I imagine her taste in men runs to long-haired, ascetic types with dark, soulful eyes. They all read tarot and teach meditation classes, go to Nepal on vacation, and wear necklaces made of healing crystals.” Veronica sighed from the bottom of her soul. “Susan, Susan, Susan.”
“It’s true that Patty got me the date with her boyfriend’s cousin,” I said reluctantly, “but he’s not a meditation teacher, he’s an insurance salesman.”
Patty and Veronica had only crossed paths once, months ago, when Veronica stopped by my office to leave off an invitation to her niece’s baby shower. Patty was wearing gold hoop earrings and was dressed in her usual style--floor-length crepe, rainbow-colored skirt and matching blouse. Her jet-black hair hung to her waist in ropy coils, so she looked like one of those carnival fortunetellers. She’d made the mistake of offering Veronica a half-priced tarot reading because she looked like she was “having man problems.”
“I suppose she consulted the pagan gods first. I’ve never had a blind date in my life and I certainly wouldn’t let someone like Patty arrange one for me.”
She’d told me once that needing to have someone fix you up was an admission of failure and God knew I didn’t need something else to make me feel like a loser. I love Veronica dearly, but even she admits she tends to view the world in black and white and she can be less than tolerant of viewpoints that differ from her own. Not for the first time I pondered the whimsy of fate that had brought me a best friend who had so much in common with my mother.
No, I’d chosen Veronica and fate had nothing to do with it. The answer to the question of why I’d made that choice drifted out of my grasp.
Veronica put her cup down and signaled the waiter. “You know you’re wasting your time going on a blind date when you’ve already found someone on your own.”
Mama couldn’t have put it better herself. But if Jack Maxwell were sitting here, he’d have said, “Go for it. You can’t win if you don’t enter the race.”
I shook my head. I knew I was thinking about Jack only because Mama had tried to fix me up with a man this morning. There’s something about coming out of a year long fog that causes a lot of random thoughts and buried memories to pop up when you least expect or want them to.
“You never know how things will work out, Veronica. Besides, like you said, I need a starter date to get me off and running.”
We parted at the door. I wished she hadn’t been so negative about my date, so willing to believe it would be a waste of time.
I allowed my imagination to wander. Patty’s boyfriend’s cousin might turn out to be my soul mate, even though I hadn’t really wanted to go out and only agreed to shut Patty up. And because Everybody Loves Raymond reruns had lost their appeal. And because—just because I was tired of being predictable, soft touch Susan, who wasn’t special to anyone.