This post is taken from novelist’s Ang. MacDonald’s Blog. It’s her take on our quirky writer’s group. For the writers in the audience, it’s my feeling one would do your craft well if you could find such an eclectic circle to join.
This post could very easily be an addition to The Barroom Chronicles, except that this is a fictional story, even though the Humming
Bartender may or may not be inspired by someone who is destined to receive his own episode of the nonfiction series. The voice is James Morrison, the narrator of Cemetery Street. Montana Rural is the continuation of his story. Enjoy this sneak preview of my work in progress, Montana Rural.
By the time we reached the bed and breakfast all I wanted was sleep, but my father insisted on buying me a beer. The three of us trudged down the street and slipped inside the semi-crowded bar. We plopped ourselves around a small table and within moments we were accosted by a humming bartender with an alien tattooed on his neck. “Hmmmm… Welcohmmmm to Boyd and Chadwick’s, where the beer’s warm and glasses are dirty, tonight’s special is if you don’t like it you can shut the fuck up! Hmmmm… What can I get you? Hmmmm?” he asked.
Diane and my father looked at each other and I tried not to laugh. I had firsthand knowledge of Reginald’s antics and until I noticed him when we walked in I never thought of subjecting my guests to his whims. When we hesitated, he said in a fairly good English accent: “Come on now mate, hurry the fuck up, I ‘ave other inmates to attend to.”
Dad and I ordered two beers and Diane ordered a Cosmopolitan.
“Hmmmm, I’ll be right back… Hmmm,” he hummed and shuffled away.
“That was rude,” she commented and then added: “He’s kind of a strange bird.”
“You can’t imagine,” I told her. “He’s name’s Reginald and he’s a local legend. People come from miles around.” What had me interested was what kind of drink he would whip up for Diane. I was fairly certain he had never made a Cosmopolitan before and he wouldn’t waste his time looking it up; he was known for throwing concoctions together and demanding that you finish it.
A few minutes later he returned with our round. “Hmmmm Two Beers and a Cosmo – politan.” He somehow managed to switch accents from gay to English between syllables.
Diane looked from her drink, which almost glowed neon green, back to the bartender. “Ummm, this isn’t a Cosmopolitan.”
“Hmmmm… What do you mean? It’s good enough to be on the cover of any magazine. If you don’t like it, take it to the compliant department.” He pointed to the front door where a Compliant Department sign hung over the doorway. “Now if you’ll be kind enough to pay me eight dollars I won’t complain. Hmmmm”
My father handed him a ten and told him to keep the change.
“Hmmmm… Blessed plenty,” Reginald said in a southern accent before humming and shuffling off.
“Wow,” Diane said watching Reginald again switch gears attending to someone else.
“The best part is that he believes he was abducted,” I said.
“By?” My father asked.
“Wow,” Diane repeated before turning her attention to her cocktail. “I’m afraid to drink it.”
“And you thought there wasn’t any culture in the sticks. You wouldn’t find someone like that in a city,” I said.
The both of us watched as Diane sipped her drink. “It’s not bad.” She couldn’t contain her fascination with the bartender as he bounced about. It wasn’t long before he came back to the table to check on us: “Hmmmm… ’ow’s your drink m’lady?”
“Good, what’s in it?” Diane asked.
“You like it? Hmmmm.”
“That’s good, because it’s Alien Piss with a pinch of Spanish Fly… Someone will be busy tonight. Now if you’ll excuse me… Hmmm” He clapped twice, pirouetted one-hundred eighty degrees and shuffled off.
“He’s unreal,” Diane said half-amused, half-insulted.
When we turned in for the night, I couldn’t help burry my head under the pillows. Just in case Reginald wasn’t lying and he did spike her drink, I wasn’t sure how thick the walls were and I didn’t want to hear the results.
A while back I was interviewed for the inaugural issue of the online magazine Write Mag. During the interview, Anthony Vernon asked if I could write a good flash fiction story that could make Mike Tyson eating a carrot seem interesting: Here’s the result. For the rest of the interview of more info on Write Mag, click here. Enjoy!
Q- If I forced you to write a story about Mike Tyson eating a carrot do you think it would be a good story?
A- Why don’t I write one and you be the judge? This is off the top of my head, so let’s hope it makes sense.
“Eh, is that Mike Tyson walking down the street?” Yellowfeather, asked.
“Where?” Tom Hawk asked.
“Are you blind? Right there,” Yellowfeather said pointing with his chin across the street. And he’s munching on a carrot.”
“Nah, you’re crazy. That ain’t Mike Tyson. And that’s no carrot, now, is it? It’s George Foreman and he’s smoking a cigar.
“Caw, you can’t smoke a carrot.”
“You can’t eat a cigar,” Tom Hawk insisted.
“He’s getting away! HEY MIKE! MIKE TYSON! WHERE YA GOING?” Yellowfeather shouted.
The man across the street kept walking, either not hearing or ignoring the voice calling after him.
“You fool, I told you that wasn’t Mike Tyson, it’s George Foreman. Watch and learn.” Cupping his hands about his mouth, Tom Hawk bellowed: “MR. FOREMAN, HEY MR. FOREMAN. I LOVE YOUR GRILL. MY MOM COOKS ON IT ALL THE TIME.”
The man seemed to not hear Tom Hawk’s cries and slipped inside a bar. Being too young to drink, even too young to go inside, they sat outside the bar and waited. Every time the door open the two friends jumped up only to be disappointed. Soon the sun dropped lower in the sky, and a chill settled over the town.
“Hey,” Yellowfeather asked a drunk stumbling out of the bar. “Is Mike Tyson in there?”
“Huh? Oh yeah, sure kid. And he’s belting ‘em down.”
“See, I told you,” Yellowfeather told his friend.
“Naw, you gonna believe a drunk? Let’s ask the next guy. I still say it’s the grill guy,” Tom Hawk insisted. Just then, the front door swung open. “Hey mister, is George Foreman inside?”
The drunk laughed. “Yeah, he’s in the kitchen flipping burgers like a champ.”
The boys bantered back and forth until the sun sunk beneath the hills and the chill turned cold. Soon their teeth were clacking louder than their voices. Yellowfeather spoke up: “Hey listen, I’m getting cold. I don’t really care if it was Tyson or Foreman, I want to go home, how about it, eh?”
“But what about finding out?” Tom Hawk asked.
“Let’s flip on it.” Yellowfeather said.
“Heads it was Tyson, tails it was Foreman.”
“But was it a carrot or a cigar?” Tom Hawk asked.
“We’ll flip on that, too?”
“You have a quarter?”
“Nope. How about you?”
“Nah, don’t have one.”
“Man, now we’ll never know,” Yellowfeather complained.
“What do you mean, I’m telling you, it was George Foreman,” Tom Hawk insisted as the boy’s shadows slipped from the streetlight’s glow.
My toes always curl when my wife says this to me. It so reeks of the other foot falling. And like a beaten dog, I instinctively curl up and show my fangs. In my warped sense of perception, the said foot is always bigger, so the bad news will always outweigh the good news. I know it’s hard to believe a person with such a happy smile and a generally positive outlook sees the glass as half-empty.
What do you prefer hearing first? Me? I rather hear the bad news first – weird I know, I’m ever optimistic, and unlike the beaten dog, I hope that the good news will make me forget the bad news. That being said I have good news and I have bad news, actually, I have a bunch of it.
The Bad News: I haven’t been blogging lately, and when I try, I find myself distracted. Yeah I know, I’m a million miles behind on The Barroom Chronicles, I have some material for Haunted Town and there’s some free agent stories floating about.
The Good News: I’m in a creative boon and I’m ripping it up on Montana Rural. While the muse is hanging around, I’m going to enjoy her company. Yep, unlike with Nightwatching in which the muse was male, it’s female for the sequel to Cemetery Street.
The Bad News: My titles will no longer be available in e-formats at BN.Com and Smashwords. My apologies to my Nook owning readers.
The Good News: They’re available at Amazon. Yes, I made the deal with the devil and decided to go with Kindle Select. The results have been staggering and in the short term, I’m sold on the process. The eight hundred pound gorilla is doing some heavy lifting.
The Bad News: Winter is coming and I don’t have all my firewood in yet.
The Good News: I get to play in the woods with my chainsaw.
The Good News: If you’re looking to cop one of my titles, like each one’s Facebook page and you’ll get notice when they’ll be available for free on Amazon.
The Bad News: There isn’t any.
As you may have noticed that I haven’t posted much in July, that’s because I’ve been busier than a shithouse rat scoping out a port-a-potty convention. Between planning two gunfights for Railroad day, Railroad day itself, writing a wedding ceremony, performing a wedding ceremony and taking two long hikes – one planned and the other the result of a vehicular breakdown, I’ve been to pooped to pop when it comes to blogging.
That’s the bad news, the good news is that I have plenty of new material. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting about the crazy events of July, including a new barroom chronicle of a practical joke that a bunch of humorless people didn’t find funny and despite the news from Colorado, I still find myself laughing at. Those kind of stunts make me glad I live where I live.
Thanks for being patient and I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed July as much as I have.
When I Grow Up
In the opening chapters of the book, she finds herself starting a new life with nothing to her name – even the clothes on her back have been swiped from a stranger’s clothesline. When she settles into a sleepy Arkansas town, her only other possession besides those ill-fitting clothes is a pocket knife, which she’s used for everything from cutting her hair to digging up roots to eat.
Neena isn’t the kind of person to worry about what she doesn’t have; she simply does a mental inventory of the situation and what’s around and then turns it into something useful or positive — Kind of like a female MacGyver. A scrappy, Native American MacGyver, anyway.
Neena’s resourcefulness is something I aspire to in my own life, although my attempts seldom work out as well as hers. My chicken coop is a working example of how reality differs from fantasy – it’s made from recycled parts and, while functional, it looks more like modern art than a working coop. I’d include a picture, but I’m getting ready to dismantle the entire thing so I can rebuild it into something that’s both functional and aesthetic. I’m sure the chickens are hoping I succeed; I have my doubts.
Maybe I’ll never reach my character’s level of resourcefulness, but I can still aspire to be just like Neena when I grow up.
Heather was born and spent her early childhood in Florida, but now calls the beautiful state of Missouri home. Her greatest joy, aside from writing, is to hit the road with her three boys for adventure unknown.
Heather is the author of Throwaway, Ties that Bind, Jailbird, Ring of Fire, Suddenly a Spy, Tumbleweed and Devil in Disguise. You can find out more about her writing and charitable work on www.heatherhuffman.net.
Tonight I’m stepping aside to make room for Author Jason Derr, who has graciously agreed to give it a go with you, my dear followers. Please be nice and give him your attention and don’t throw any vegetables in my blog. Thanks to Jason, I can take the evening and work on my chess game, write another chapter and consume copious amounts of popcorn.
Take it away Jason:
I want to woo you, Gentle Reader, with tales of my own wit and creativity. Seduction, really, is the game. I must seduce you into wanting to read my book. But, alas, I am out of perfume and I, male that I am, never perfected feminine wiles.
But, before I leave you to your own devices, I will instead talk to you person to person. After all, I have your attention, so why should we talk.
I want to talk to you about the craft of writing and of my own book The Boston 395.
Tom Hanks once said that his job as an actor was to hit your mark and tell the truth. Telling the truth, as an actor, though involves lying. It involves taking on another persona, telling a story that is not your own to people you will never meet.
So it is with writing. Our job is to fill the page and speak the truth. We speak the truth by telling lies.
For instance – I know of no trains that bend the rules of space and time, whose every stop exits into a broken life. If such a train does exist please, would someone point me towards it? I would like to ride such a thing and find out if my description of it were accurate.
So, my train is a lie.
But I hope it tells some sort of truth – about being broken and being
transformed. About healing and wholeness.
So it is Gentle Reader that I will leave you with those thoughts. More of a sketch really, some words to invite you into thinking and, I hope, reading.
Fill the page of your life, tell the truth
Thanks again Jason. I have to say, when I’m done my current fascination with Updike, Boston 385 is next on my kindle.
Good luck and please stop by again in the future!
Our memories are its gatekeepers…
So begins a poem that appears in Cemetery Street. Shannie (pronounced Shane-ie) wrote it in James’ birthday card, and like so many things about Shannie, its significance haunts the narrator. So much that he recites the poem before her headstone. Was Shannie inferring that memories are the sentinels of our souls?
Your guess is as good as mine. I claim lack of expertise in the science of memory, but I have written a novel about romancing a memory, so that qualifies me to pontificate about memory’s potential sappy nature.
I have a feeling James isn’t unique and am willing to bet that everyone who reads this post is haunted by memories – good or bad, funny or sad. Double or nothing that you may have even obsessed over one or two. Heck, I may even be guilty of such an offense.
I hear the romantics shouting: “How can you not be guilty?”
Maybe the answer is directly related to how much time one spends in the memory universe and how much energy is expended recalling them. There’s no denying their power, heck, memories define our identity. Isn’t that what Shannie was saying? If it was, in lies their danger.
– Your father cursed and threw things when he cranked on a wrench, so you have an aversion to auto mechanics.
– You failed 7th grade English class and believed you could never write.
Suddenly, we’re in danger of being memory’s prisoner. James may be guilty as charged. On the other hand, maybe he’s a victim of circumstance and his obsession is a way not to relive the horror of a lost identity. (Plot hint… Plot hint… Plot hint…)
Here’s what James writes about regaining his memory:
“As I pen these words, I deal with the effects of what happened in the early fall of 1994. I forget things – I’ve learned that a short pencil is better than a long memory – and only come to cherished memories with the help of pictures or scents. Although playing with aromas is playing with fire. Certain smells trigger avalanches of uncontrollable memories: the smell of steak releases an onslaught of memories of my family; brewing coffee frees Shannie; burning leaves remind me of Count; cigar smoke evokes Russell and Main Street; burnt rubber takes me back to Atlantic City. The force of such memories paralyzes me. It’s as if my memories have me. It makes for a distracted lifestyle. Pictures are much safer, they aren’t the frayed edge of an unpredictable memory strand.”
I’m by no means a memory expert, but as you’ve read, I have written about them. In a sense, Cemetery Street is a memoir, but it’s the memoir of a fictional character, with fictional memories. So maybe that makes me an expert in fictional memories.
John, that’s all well and good, but you can’t tell me that Cemetery Street isn’t your memoir.
Well, yes I can. If it was, I would be on serious anti-depressants. I’m not saying there isn’t a memory or two woven into the story’s fabric. But I’m a prankster at heart and like to keep people guessing what is real and what is made up.
If you haven’t read Cemetery Street you can take a chance on winning a signed paperback copy.
Before I forget, this is what Shannie wrote in James’ Birthday card:
If our eyes are the gateway to the soul
Our memories are its gatekeepers
Out of memory comes meaning
Out of meaning – warmth
Out of warmth – Love
Out of Love – Us
Beyond anyone – I remember you.
Sometimes I look up from what I’m doing and notice it’s dark, other times I notice it’s dawn, recently I realized the larch were turning – anytime now they’ll be glimmering gold. Such is the life of a perpetually absorbed mind.
Doctor, can you help?
The prognosis came back: Sucker, you better learn to come up for air.
Not funny, considering my ‘indie’ schedule over the next six or so weeks. First off, if you haven’t heard (I’m told this is 99.9999999999999% of the reading world hasn’t) my second eBook Shangri-La Trailer Park is being released on Halloween. Hopefully, it sinks its fangs upon and tears the heart out of the literary world. Grand notions for a book that doesn’t contain zombies or vampires, but it does have some frightening characters – don’t all trailer parks?
Along with the release comes the promotion – “Oh joy,” I can hear you. Believe me, I’ve learned that in the fine print of the universal writers covenant, it says if you want to be noticed, one must be three-part huckster, two-part snake oil salesman and one part used wagon jockey – show’s you how old my personal covenant is, I’ve since realized that can be updated to state: “Used Car Salesman.”
Personally, I think the term is harsh – I don’t even consider myself a Used Word Salesman. As far as I know, the words in my novels, while well used, have never, ever, been arranged in the exact way they have up till now, so I reason at least I’m not a Used Word Salesman. Thank you for allowing me my dignity.
In November I’m also participating in adopt an Indie month: http://adoptanindie.bookbagsandcatnaps.com/ Please check it out. I’m cute, cuddly, housebroken, and I don’t bite. Come on, wouldn’t you enjoy having an indie author lay around on your living room floor? It’s only for a month, then you can send me back to my wife. During the proceedings, I’ll be doing a blog about Indies entitled The Baptism of Fire:Indie Publishing. If you’re an Indie wonk, don’t miss it. If you just enjoy good writing, you may find it fascinating to see the pains some very good writers go through to get their work to you.
Did I mention that I’m getting Cemetery Street ready for paperback? Or that I’m recording excerpts of Cemetery Street and Shangri-La Trailer Park for eventual audiobook releases. Once my web guy updates my website, the excerpts will be up at www.johnzunski.com
Wow, I’m getting good, I coolly slipped in two plugs without missing a beat. My Used-Word Sales Professor would be proud!
Urgency is in the air, it lingers like a Shylock on payday; I think it has to do with shorter days, cooler nights and half-full firewood racks. In other words, fall has arrived in the mountains, the time that procrastinators hate – now it doesn’t suffice to talk about getting off one’s ass and getting firewood, it’s time to do it.
New chains: Check
Bar oil: Check
Getting firewood reminds me of the last month before releasing a book. The fun thoughts are replaced by endless details. The release date looms like winter in the mountains of Montana.
Is the cover really okay? Did I catch that typo? How did the editor miss this one? Have to read the story one more time! Something’s missing, I know it. One starts worrying about superfluous semicolons. Am I doing enough promotion? Am I doing too much? Do I sound like a shameless huckster?
What did I do with my felling wedges? The saw won’t start, damn it, I need new spark plugs. Where’s my splitting maul?
I interrupt this rant to jump out a window.
That being said, Indian Summer is my favorite time of year. The afternoon sun burns with fleeting intensity, its warmth belied by an embedded chill, the nights brisk and starlit. Next to a crackling fire, it’s a perfect time to curl up with a cup of warm apple cider, a favorite book and rest up for the next truckload of firewood.
Until then, enjoy this trailer for my soon to be released book, Shangri-La Trailer Park.