Category Archives: Novels

It’s Saturday Again? Where’d My Week Go?

All she wants is to hide her scarred face.
all he wants is to take the perfect portrait.

Sometimes the deepest secrets are hidden behind the thinnest veils.

 

The first five chapters of Light Always Changes are up now. If you’re getting impatient, you can buy the book here.

introduction
chapter one
chapter two
chapter three
chapter four
chapter five

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It’s Saturday Again! New Chapter up for “Light Always Changes”

Just a quick note to say I’ve posted this week’s chapter.

The first four chapters of Light Always Changes are up now. If you’re getting impatient, you can buy the book here.

introduction
chapter one
chapter two
chapter three
chapter four

Announcing the Serialization of “Light Always Changes”

I am serializing my short novel, Light Always Changes

This novel will be posted one chapter per week, but the book is finished and available to be ordered in print.

Click to order LIGHT ALWAYS CHANGES

all she wants is to hide her scarred face
all he wants is to take the perfect portrait

    There’s one desk left in the far right row, second desk from the back. She hangs her bag on the seatback, sits down, swings her hair over her cheek. She begins to doodle, tiny flowers and leaves along the very edge of the cover of her spiral notebook.

    “Hi! Lydia, right?” She raises her head, but doesn’t look away from her flowers.

    “You probably didn’t notice me, but I was in your last class. That’s how I know your name.” In her peripheral vision, she can see his hand come up toward her. She reaches up and hooks her hair behind her ear. Turns to face him.

    “Hello,” she says, her voice as stretched and tight as the skin of her cheek.

   “I’m Tanner,” he says, his smile unchanged.

sometimes the deepest secrets
are hidden behind the thinnest veils

Somebody Shove Me

I always hit this place.

UPDATE: Ignore this first part. I did, in fact, finish the novel, and it will be available soon. In the meantime, skip down to the new, updated chapter one.

I get thirty or forty thousand words into a new project, and I start going Yeah? Who cares? Cardboard people, made-up situations, who cares? Nobody cares. Throw this trash away and go get a job driving a truck. You’re not a writer.

My beta readers (widely read and astute) all tell me otherwise, but sometimes I need a new perspective. So please leave me a comment here and tell me whether you care about Lydia and Tanner, ok? Please?

With no further ado, then, the first chapter of Light Always Changes, currently sitting, stalled, at about 35,000 words:

chapter one

 

     She’s moved so many times that any fear or discomfort she may ever have felt at being in an unknown place is now completely overshadowed by the sadistic glee she takes in being the unknown person. She has no doubt at all that the grapevine is already on fire, but at least until the rumors spread, she can find the old satisfaction in watching them discover her.
    
If they approach her from the right, then they’ve already seen, and she sees all the same things she’s gotten so used to seeing in people’s faces. The pity, the pain, the oh-how-awful. All too often, the scorn, the disgust at being in the presence of one who is so far beneath them on the scale of humanity. Sometimes, and this has always perplexed her, the fear; the fear that perhaps it’s contagious, that simply being near her can cause your own face to shrivel and pucker, that you might wake up ugly tomorrow.
     When they approach from the left, when they haven’t seen her yet, then she sees the other half of the classification going on. The lust in the faces of the boys, the cold sizing up of a threat in the girls. She can see them saying Tall, thinnish. Lithe, I guess they call that. Look at that hair, that body and then she turns toward them, turns the right side of her face toward them, turns the scar toward them, and watches it all get realigned.
    
Uh, next? the boys’ faces say, looking away, looking around.
    
Oh, sorry, no threat at all, say the faces of the girls. I’d still kill for that body.
    
She sits on the far right side of the room, hoping there won’t be assigned seating, hoping if there is that she won’t have to sit on the left. It’s so much easier this way. It’s bad enough that there aren’t actual desks, just seats at ancient wooden tables, two seats each. At least the seats are only on one side, so there’s no one sitting there staring right at her.
    
She checks her class schedule again. The first check was just to get a room number, just to get her here. One thing at a time. History, it says. World history. There’s a stack of brand-shiny-new books on a table at the front of the room, and most of the kids in the class have already gone and claimed one. She gets up, walks quickly down the side of the room to the front, picks up a book. Turning away, back to her seat, she flips her head around a little too quickly, the well-practiced move swinging her hair across the side of her face. Her eyes on the floor, the book hugged against her, she moves swiftly back to her place and sits down.
    
The teacher’s as shiny and new as his fat textbooks, and since all the rest of the students are just as new to him, there’s no special attention paid to her. She hides herself once again in the rigid habits of her life, listening, reading, taking notes. Learning. No book yet has ever turned up its nose in scorn or fear, and she strokes her fingers across the sleek new pages. Settling. She’s settling in. The entertainment value of being the new kid is fading away, and now there’s only the same comfortable rut she’s known at so many schools.
    
She makes her way to second period, her head tilted to drape her hair across her cheek, her eyes on the floor. Twice, someone approaches to greet her. She raises her head a bit, she looks sideways at them until they’ve said their part and gotten to her turn, she looks full at them and watches their face change. She goes her way, undisturbed. Second period. Earth sciences. Who cares?
    
There’s one desk left in the far right row, second desk from the back. And they are desks this time. Perfect. She hangs her bag on the seatback, sits down, swings her hair over her cheek. She begins to doodle, tiny flowers and leaves along the very edge of the cover of her spiral notebook.
    
“Hi! Lydia, right?” She raises her head, but doesn’t look away from her flowers.
    
“You probably didn’t notice me, but I was in your last class. That’s how I know your name.” In her peripheral vision, she can see his hand come up toward her. She reaches up and hooks her hair behind her ear. Turns to face him.
    
“Hello,” she says, her voice as stretched and tight as the skin of her cheek.
    
“I’m Tanner,” he says, his smile unchanged. She hesitates, looks down at his hand, looks back to his eyes. His eyes are doing what people’s eyes do when they look at normal people, at real people. They shift from eye to eye, to her lips, to her hair, her cheekbones and ears, back to her eyes. His smile is unchanged. His hand is still stretched toward her, and in a moment of pure spite, she reaches out her own. When all else fails, present the Claw.
    
He takes her hand, shakes it a time or two, lets it slide from his grip, his fingertips grazing her horrid palm as normally as they would anyone else’s. He nods toward the front of the room and begins a list of the teacher’s main weirdnesses. Lydia’s not listening. She feels an odd urge to feel her cheek, to see if the scar’s still there. She looks back at his eyes, with some vague notion of checking to see if perhaps he’s blind, but even as she realizes how thoroughly he studied her face she sees that he’s still looking at her, still smiling.
    
“So where are you from, and what brings you to Backwater, USA?” he asks, and it’s so funny she feels an urge to smile. She looks back down at her paper, the urge safely resisted.
    
LA,” she says, beginning another flower. “My dad I don’t know, I guess he just got tired of the rush. Retired. That’s what he says, anyway.” Her dad’s terminally blasé, though, so it’s a little hard for her to believe. If the couch he was sprawled on caught fire, she’s pretty sure he’d finish his joint before he got up.
    
“What’s your dad do?” Tanner asks.
    
Um, something in music studios. Mixing things? I don’t really know. He’s a little different,” she tells the tip of her pencil. Why is this happening? Why is he still bugging her? She reaches up and hooks her hair behind her ear again, twists in her seat toward him, turning a little past him so he can’t possibly miss the scar. She’ll say something about the weather, or the trees outside the window, or something completely off the non-topic they’re on, to tell him that she’s not really listening to him, and she’ll let him see the full glory of her face, and he’ll leave her alone, but the bell rings before she can begin to speak and the teacher raps his desk as though he’s been waiting for it.
    
She turns to face the front again, pulling her hair from behind her ear, leaning forward.
    
Hiding.

******

     Sidling through the lunch line, her hair carefully forward and her face closed up tight, she gets a turkey sub and milk. No chips, no pretzels, no mayonnaise or mustard. Salad with no dressing. Among the things that people will attack her with in the coming weeks, after they’ve moved beyond the shock of her face, will be the accusations of bulimia and anorexia, of compulsive dieting. The total lack of any symptoms to support these claims won’t stop them. She’s not dieting, she just doesn’t eat much. And she’s healthy, so shut up.
    
She makes her way to a table at the far end of the room. It’s mostly empty, and there’s a seat where she’ll have her right side to the wall, nothing there but a narrow aisle leading nowhere. She eats slowly, staring at nothing. Too early in the year to have any homework to do. Usually, by the end of lunchtime, she’ll have all the assignments from her morning classes finished, but right now there aren’t any.
    
“Lydia, hi! Mind if I sit here?” but he’s already sitting down across from her. Too late to tell him yes, she minds. Too late to tell him she can’t even remember his name. In one ear and out the other. Like she’d ever need to know it anyway. She stares past him down the long room to where heavy purple drapes hint at the presence of a stage. He’s talking about something in his last class, something he thought was funny. Maybe you had to be there. If she ignores him, maybe he’ll go away.
    
“So, history class,” he says, looking at her. “What did you think about the study-group thing?” He takes a prodigious bite of pizza. There’s an enormous black camera on the table beside his tray, a lens as big as a soup can, fifty little switches and knobs and dials. What did she think of the study-group thing? Stupid, that’s what. She shrugs, says nothing. Takes a tiny bite of her sandwich and a sip of milk. Window, where’s a window when you need one?
    
Another teacher did the same thing last year,” says Tanner, his mouth still not quite empty. ‘Pick your own study groups,’ like there’s any way at all that can be fair. All the ‘in’ crowd together, all the geeks together, all the thisses and thats, they just match up in these so-called study groups the same way they match up in everyth–”
     “What is this?” she asks him. He stops, looking confused. She hooks her hair behind her ear.
    
“What is what?” he asks.
     “This. This whole thing. What is this? Is this some locker-room bet? ‘I bet I can unfreeze the bookworm! Look at me! Look what a stud I am!’ Is it some sort of pity crush? You think because of my face I’ll never get a date, so you’re going to come sweeping in to save me, to keep me from killing myself in despair? Maybe you’re just so totally lacking in confidence that you’ve been waiting for a really ugly one to come along so you’d have no competition,” she says, beginning to gather her things together.
     “Well, guess what? I don’t need your pity, I don’t want to help you overcome your own inadequacies, and I’ve already seen the let’s-thaw-the-bookworm movie. You turn on your studly charm, and she lets her hair down, and there’s this lusty sexpot underneath it all. Wrong. This is me. What you see is what you don’t get, acid-scarred face and bookworm life and all.” She stands up.
     “I don’t need you, Tanner. Leave me alone.” She turns and strides away, her hair behind her ear and her head high.
     Tanner sits stunned, watching her walk away, an angry cat stalking through the narrow space along the wall. Her bones and flesh and steps and movements all are so nearly perfect that his eyes hurt suddenly, and he picks up his Nikon, but he only cradles it like a lover, down near his lap, his palms and fingertips falling into place by perfect habit. He’s as certain he could never explain why he was taking pictures of her walking away from him as he is that he’d never be able to look away from her till she’s gone, and he tries neither, just watching her walk with the same pressure behind his eyes that he feels watching gulls fly and waves break and the shivery orange sun crumble to pieces in the hazy air above the edge of the ocean.
     He wasn’t hitting on her. He certainly wasn’t feeling any pity for her. Was he hitting on her? The scar’s just a part of her, no more pitiful than his own dark mole, or the crookedness of a face, or the way someone’s eyebrow cocks up different than the other. He may have been hitting on her.
     He’s forgotten again. It’s so easy to do. He sees things so differently than anyone else. He looks at each person as though they’re the only one, as though there is nothing and no one in the universe except that one face, that one chance, that one snap of God’s fingers between the passage of instants. He looked at her, and he saw her, and the scar was just part of it, just another truth to be told in the portrait he was already framing and lighting in that moment. He wasn’t hitting on her.
     But she was so still, so stable, so unmoving within her self. He saw none of the pretenses and fictions people put in their eyes, in the set of their lips, in the movements of their skin. She was so starkly herself, and there was so much beauty in that starkness. Was he hitting on her?
    
On sheer autopilot, he runs through the settings on the camera, checking the ISO, the white balance, the aperture, but he changes nothing. It’s just habit, just being ready. He checks these things by instinct, every few minutes. Light always changes. He slings the camera on his shoulder. Gathers his things together. Stands up.
     He may have been hitting on her.

******

 

A Place to Die – An Excerpt From my Latest Novel

One or the other of you may be wondering what happened to the last novel I excerpted here, Blood Bonds. It’s on the back burner, that’s what happened to it. There are some thorny issues going on in the realms of character motivation and development, and I shoved it to the back to simmer for a while.

While it was simmering, I wrote this. A Place to Die is not a warm, cuddly book. It is the first book I’ve written that I intended to be specifically “Christian fiction,” although I may not have made the grade. It may be too dark and edgy. Read it and decide, but be warned: the message of this book is aggressively Christian.

 

A Place to Die

Who are you, that you should forget the Lord your maker, who has stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the Earth?

 

one

All day long the thought of death has taunted him. It was there in the morning, fleeing swiftly from his muggy dreams to squat malignantly in the shrill sound of his alarm. It followed him to the bathroom, staring from the mirror as he stood motionless, waiting for his toothbrush and comb to wake him up. In the kitchen, at the bus stop, on the sidewalk, all day long in the unending toil of his mindless job, it hovered there next to his ear, whispering its evil little mantras and chants. The time has come. Today’s the day. There’s no point. Give it up. She’s gone forever. There’s nothing left. This is it. This is all. There’s nothing more. Forever and ever and ever.

In the silent apartment, he nukes a tray of something he couldn’t name if you put a gun to his head. Lets it cool completely in the microwave while he watches nothing on the wall. Throws it away. Turns the TV on and cycles through all the channels he has, his eyes wandering the screen like an alien’s might. There’s a razor blade in the medicine cabinet. He turns the TV off. There’s drain cleaner under the sink. There’s a cliff down by the water. There’s a tide coming in to get him every few hours. He could go stand on the sand and wait.

Turns on the shower and watches it run. Turns it off.

Death. So easy. Why not? Why? There is no reason one way or the other.

There are no reasons at all anymore.

The phone rings. He watches the wall and waits.

“Matt? … Matt, it’s your mother. Pick up, ok? … Ok, listen, Matt, I know this is tough, but come on, you can’t just drop off the face of the Earth, ok? You know she wouldn’t want that. Matt, pick up… Ok, I’m coming over. I know you’re there. I’m coming over. Just wait for me, ok? Matt? … Wait for me, ok?”

He watches the wall and waits.

He’s no longer sure exactly what he’s waiting for. He spent so long waiting for her, and then he found her, and now she’s gone, and now he’ll wait again. There’s a razor blade in the medicine cabinet. There’s drain cleaner under the sink. This is it. This is all. There’s nothing more. Forever and ever and ever.

When the knock comes, he’s standing in the bathroom, turning the razor blade over and over in his hands. She rattles the knob, knocks again, calls out his name. He stands and waits for nothing.

Long after she’s gone quiet, he slips back down the short hall to the dark living room, the blade gone, somewhere, somehow. He can see her car sitting on the street below his window. For no reason he can think of, he tiptoes to the door, lays his ear against it. Oh, no. Not again. Not still.

“Oh, Lord God,” she’s whispering, “please help my son. He’s so lost and alone,” and now his tears come. He can see quite clearly, through the wooden door, that she’s standing with her forehead pressed against the other side, between her hands. He places his hands over hers, through the door, two inches away, a million miles away. He stands with his hands against hers, his head bowed over hers, and cries silently until he realizes she’s gone.

There’s a razor blade in the medicine cabinet. There’s drain cleaner under the sink. This is it. This is all. There’s nothing more. Forever and ever and ever.

two

“Jobs don’t matter,” she says, her eyes damp in the light of the candles. “Honey, jobs are just jobs. You’ll get another. Don’t let it ruin things.” Her hands cross the table as though they’re on their own, seeking his.

I’m fired?

Not fired, Simpson. It just isn’t

“Allison,” he says, reaching for her across the table, through the drifting tendrils. “I’ll always love you!” he shouts, struggling now, fighting the seaweed and the seat belt and the sheets and sitting bolt upright in dark screaming silence.

After a long time, he throws the blankets off and sits on the edge of the bed. This is pointless. There’s a razor blade in the bathroom. This can’t go on. His mother prays against his front door and his dead fiancée haunts his nights and his own death stalks his days and he surges to his feet and into the bathroom and slams open the cabinet door and stands stonestill.

Now!

No.

Why not?

Because.

That’s no reason.

Shut up, but he closes the cabinet door and slides slowly down the wall to huddle on the floor.

His entire reason for life, his reason for living, his goal and his goad, his other half, finally found and lost so quickly. Five years to find her, five months to know her, five seconds to lose her. Five weeks now to miss her. Five weeks down, eternity to go.

One day. One day took both his job and his life, and now he only waits for the strength to give up and lie down. He watches nothing on the wall as the gloom slowly lightens around him. His alarm goes off, alone, down the hall, and he ignores it until it gives up.

Mid-morning, late, too late to keep the drudge job that was what he could find, he rises. The mirror mocks him, and he opens the door to silence it. He stares a long time at the waiting blade. There’s drain cleaner under the sink in the kitchen. There’s a tide, coming in to find him, circling now around his ankles and pulling, pulling hard. Back in his bedroom, he dresses slowly and packs quickly. One last look around the living room.

He leaves the door unlocked. There’s nothing there. Nothing to come back to. No intent to come back.

The “new” car’s a wreck, but it runs. With everything gone to pay for the ring she wore for an hour, he had nothing left. The ring’s gone, too. By the time they could get her out of the car, it was gone.

One duffel bag in the seat next to him and no backward glance and he drives away.

Some unknown time later, some passage of miles that he can’t remember at all, low on gas, he stops. While the pump works, he stares mindlessly at nothing, thinking nothing. There’s a small plastic cross on the car in front of his, and he turns away. You had your chance, God. You could have saved her. You could have kept us out of the river. You could have kept me from gazing at her when I should have been–

You had your chance. Now leave me alone. He turns his back. Dim thoughts from childhood. Nineveh. Something about Nineveh. Something about running, and asses, and talking, but he turns his back. Absalom and his talking donkey, on the way to Nineveh.

His cell phone rings, and he turns it off without looking at it. Tank filled, junk food bought, he parks the car at the edge of the lot and starts up the ragged gravel slope behind the building. Five minutes up the slope, he stops and looks around. Phone still turned off, he smashes it carefully and buries the pieces, starts back down.

Not Absalom. Balaam. Balaam and his donkey. Not Nineveh, either, that was someone else. Not that it matters. Not that he gives a flying fig. God had his chance, and if that car’s still there, he’ll rip that plastic cross sticker off the back and smash that, too, bury it by his phone, but it’s gone, and he heads east into the desert.

His first night out, confused and lonely, he spends in huddled misery, the only car parked at an isolated rest area. The desert, so hot and angry all day, inverts itself at night. The heat becomes cold, seeping in through the inadequate seals of the car doors. The shadows become highlights, the harsh light of the full moon giving them mass, stretching out toward him, grasping toward him. When he gets too cold to sleep, he runs the car engine, but the noise keeps him awake. When he’s warmed up, he turns it off, but the echoing silence returns to claim him, and he can’t sleep. When he sleeps, evil stalks him, shaking him awake.

The fifth or fiftieth time he he shambles and gasps toward waking, there’s a dim purple light in the sky ahead, and he gives up completely on the hope of rest, pulling back onto the road. He drives toward the sunrise, his mind a blank. A cipher, that teacher his junior year in high school would have said. A cipher. He turns an aborted reach for his phone into a vigorous scratching of his head. He needs a shower.

No phone, no internet. No definitions. He’s a cipher.

As he drives, his mind reaches constantly for things to do, for things to think, for some respite from the idle drone of driving, and every single thing it finds is pain. He hates the desert, seeing it only as something to be gotten across, but she would have been stopping at every high point to try to capture all the images she claimed she saw in what was, to him, only rock and sand. When he drives those thoughts away, when he turns his mind inward away from the dull moonscape, he finds her haunting his left-over dreams from the ragged night. Seaweed seems to have become their theme, although there was no seaweed in the river. No, not the river, either. Something else. Traffic.

He’ll think about traffic. He’ll play that license plate game, the one where you have to get the whole alphabet, but there’s not enough traffic and no competition, and all he can think of is her frightening agility at finding the letters she needed when they played it with signs, driving up the coast toward Oregon. He turns on the radio.

Stopping near noon for gas, he sees a hitchhiker seated patiently on a guard rail by the ramp back up to the freeway, beyond the intersection. He’ll pick him up. If he’s still there when he gets back on the road, he’ll pick him up. He fills the tank, hits the ATM for all it will give him in one day, goes into the store. Picking junk food and drinks, he thinks of his passenger and tries to get a wider selection than he normally would. He clears the seat, tossing trash into the back. He should clean the car out, but he’s in a hurry so the guy will still be there.

Too far back to make the turn, he sits trapped by a red light, watching the hitchhiker. Clean, young, well-shaven, well-scrubbed. A cardboard sign that says “Grandma’s.” Army-green duffel bag, a big one.

The light changes. Matt carefully drives past the hitchhiker, not looking, accelerating, turning his head away to check traffic as he merges.

Not Balaam and his donkey, and not the Nineveh guy, either. Those guys were running from something.

Three days. Iowa, some nameless town in Iowa. He fills the tank, checks his balance at the ATM. Thirty-two something, plus seventeen dollars in cash. He spends a careful hour in a grocery store, adding things up, and when he checks out, it comes to $33.79. He empties his account, pays the rest in cash. In the parking lot, he bends his bank card in half, folding back and forth till it finally tears most of the way across. There’s a dumpster by the side of the building.

He sits in his car and slowly eats pepperoni and string cheese and drinks a Red Bull, staring across the street at the peeling white paint of a tiny Baptist church. He can still feel his mother, still leaning against his door, still praying, his father at home, pacing up and down the hall with that half-prayer, half-mumble that he has. The can follows the bank card, and he goes next door to the coin-op laundry.

His back against the washer, he drifts again into that last dinner. So carefully planned for so long, every dollar he had, almost. The ring, the food, the white wine the manager had assured him was “nice, but not expensive.” He’d had to take his word for it. He’d planned that night for weeks. For months. For all of the nearly three months it took him to pay for the ring, in fact. He’d known the moment he saw her. He’d rented a tux. The manager had told him the table would be near the back, but quiet. Then, that afternoon, hours to go…

I’m fired?

Not fired, Simpson, it just isn’t working out for us.

He hadn’t wanted to ask her after all, after that, but the place… the tux… the wine… She needed an explanation, and in the end, he broke down and told her. He nearly broke down, telling her.

“Jobs don’t matter,” she said. “You’ll find another. Don’t let that wreck things. Don’t let that wreck this. Matt, I love you. It doesn’t matter.”

He just stared into the dark alcove beside them. Nothing so movie-cliché as a steel door with a small round window, just a discreet little alcove where waiters and waitresses and busboys appear and disappear like magic.

“Give it to me,” she says. He shakes his head, not looking at her.

“Matt.”

“I can’t. Ok? I can’t. It isn’t right.”

“Why not?” she asks, her face beginning to draw together in that dangerous way she has, her voice edging toward stubborn. “Was it right this morning? Were we right for each other this afternoon? Did something happen that changes anything?”

When he tries to answer, she cuts him off. “Give it to me. Don’t wreck this. I only get this night once, Matt. Don’t wreck this.” Unable to meet her eyes, he watches her lips move, watches her brows go straight and hard, watches her ear begin to jump a little, and then somehow, he’s trapped in her eyes again and just like that, she’s right. Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s different. He brings the tiny white box out of his pocket and slides the ring through his tears and onto her finger. It’s too big. He had to guess her size, and it’s a little too big, and they laugh as though they’re laughing at that. They’re only laughing to center themselves, to regain themselves.

In the car, driving home, by the river, the lights along the river, looming and flashing and fading, looming and flashing and fading, seem to hypnotize her, and she holds her hand up, the ring flashing like a tiny rainbow echo, and she giggles. Too much wine for her, he knows, and she giggles, and he’s watching her, and trying not to giggle, and she giggles, and he’s watching her…

The washer behind him has gone silent. The clock on the wall ticks. The paint peels on the church across the street. Somewhere, seaweed waves in a silent river.

***

 

 

You can download the rest of this book, as well as read significantly more of it, at Smashwords.