Thursday, November 1, 2012

That Scary Time of Year!



I've avoided it for years. It's finally time to take the plunge. Today, November 1, starts NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Budding or experienced authors tighten their seat belts, ready the falling oxygen masks, and pledge themselves to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days time. 
Yikes!
It has to be a new work, no cheating and finishing up something you've already started. I haven't finished "The Bluebottle Tree" yet, so I'm setting it aside and taking on another story in the same series. The book is tentatively named "Dark Roots". This time, Deputy Constable Pen Sadler is embroiled in a renewed family feud from generations past and a series of very new murders.
We'll see what happens.
If you've ever noticed the dark side of family reunions, you've seen the recalcitrant characters, the smouldering resentments, the old grudges that lurk beneath the surface. 
You haven't?
Well, I have. Maybe it's just my family.
Anyway, I just decided to take the plunge last night and signed up. Today has been spent clearing the decks and getting ready, so no real word count today. That means I'm already about 1,667 words behind. Sigh.
Onward!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Brings You To A Screeching Halt?

 http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=I.4595169088045806&pid=15.1




Saw an old handgun advertisement on Bill Crider's excellent blog this morning. It started me thinking, as it often does. The reason will become clear in a bit.

The question is, when you're reading an otherwise good novel, hopefully lost in that world, what sort of things can eject you from that fantasy?

For me, it's firearms info. I do have some expertise in that area. I'm not an expert by any means, but I was fairly into guns for awhile in the past. I even spent a few years as a practicing and licensed Gunsmith. Some of the otherwise better authors out there can make the most basic errors concerning firearms. What are some of those?
     a. Revolvers don't eject shells, at least not automatically.
     b. Revolvers also can't be silenced very effectively.
     c. Handguns come in certain calibers, basically the diameter of the bullet. For the most part, those calibers are different from rifle calibers.
     d. Both revolvers and automatics are still pistols. 
     e. Pistols are not rifles, rifles are not shotguns, and vice versa. All are firearms, but they are not interchangeable. 

There are a lot more, but you get the idea. The most recent mistake I can think of was referring to an obvious shotgun as a 12 gauge rifle. Believe me, I was ejected from that high speed story forceably. It took a fair while to get back into it. Sometimes, I don't make the effort.

Now, I'm fairly certain that every book has the potential to piss off somebody about something. I guess the key is the readers exposure or expertise.

Are these things needlessly picky? You can decide. My personal feeling is that all books should have a truth, at some level they should educate. Sure, the story may be fiction, but when facts are stated they should indeed  be factual. You don't have to be an expert on everything, but if your plot turns on a set of facts, whether it's firearms, bullet trajectory, legalese, military terms, medicine our you name it, you as an author can always have some fact checking done by someone who IS an expert. Cultivate a few of those people, let them have a read of your opus in exchange for some acknowledgement.

The internet is always available for research. Writer's Digest has a wonderful series of books called the "HowDunit Series" each book focused on an aspect like Poisons, or Forensics.

The info is out there, use it! 

What yanks your emergency brake?

And, if you want some firearms expertise, I'm available! Cheers!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Want More of The Bluebottle Tree?


I'd like to invite anyone who hasn't already to peruse the archives of this blog and read the first four chapters of my work in progress "The Indigo Shade of the Bluebottle Tree." It won't take long and I invite comment. 
Thanks!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

For Us, the Living: A Comedy of CustomsFor Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a bit chagrined when I found that my local library only had two Robert A. Heinlein books on the adult shelves. I was happy, though, that one was this one. This is Heinlein's first novel, never before released. It was rejected a couple of times and he moved on to other projects. The book is a bit rough, and overly preachy. He did, in fact, write it to present his ideas on politics, finance, and society in general.
I enjoyed it, however. It was fun to see the seeds of his later "future history" novels. It was stated that perhaps this was why he didn't pursue publishing it further, since he had pretty much developed everything in it in further works.
It makes sense. It was still and enjoyable read for me.
Of course, now it's a bit of a let down to know that I don't have any more Heinlein novels to look forward to, alas.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: The Monkey King

The Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of ChinaThe Monkey King: A Superhero Tale of China by Aaron Shephard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Good read, pretty short. I read another version of the Monkey King story while in Junior High. I found it fascinating. This is a very faithful modern language adaptation. Wish it were longer!


View all my reviews

Book Review - Hoxton Kirby

Hoxton Kirby - Vampire Investigators (Book 1)Hoxton Kirby - Vampire Investigators by Belle Marsh
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


The premise sounded interesting, however, I couldn't make it through the first chapter. Basically unreadable due to basic grammar, punctuation, run on sentences, etc.
Do over!


View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Memoir Quote from Anne Lamott






I came across this on Facebook or somewhere and just had to share it here. Perfect response to those worries about "What will they think if I write about them!"

In other notes. Anybody interested in the next chapter of "The Indigo Shade of the Bluebottle Tree"? I've been having some issues with it. I've about decided that first person is a better approach, especially since I seem to keep dropping into it while writing. I should have it up soon.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 27, 2012

R.I.P. Mrs. Brown

I got an email a couple of days ago from my first wife, Linda. She told me that our teacher, Mrs. Irlene Brown had passed away. Visitation is tonight in Georgetown at 6 p.m. I'm going, since I won't be able to make the funeral tomorrow in Liberty Hill.


The picture above is of Mrs. Brown and myself at my Junior High graduation. She was one of my two favorite teachers in all twelve years of school. She taught me English from grade 5 thru 12. (Liberty Hill had all 12 grades in one building back then.) It was Mrs. Brown who encouraged me to take part in theater and to write.


I admit that I was a mediocre student. I was a bit lazy. I did read a lot, and was able to slide along making C's or so most of the time. I like to tell people I graduated in the top 13. (My graduating class was exactly 13, so perhaps I was even in the top 10 out of that.) Mrs. Brown saw something in me and encouraged me to use the talents I had. She graded my papers with encouragement. She may not have approved of my subject choice at times, it tended toward science fiction, but she always found something positive to say to me. 


We had no drama department or drama classes in our high school. We did, however, do a Junior and a Senior play as well as participating in UIL One Act Play competition. It fell to the English teacher, Mrs. Brown, to ramrod those endeavors. Since our classes were so small, the Junior and Senior plays usually used almost the whole Junior or Senior class, sometimes some of both. She always made me feel that my efforts were appreciated, whatever I did on or back stage.


In later years I had my own plays produced, and I let Mrs. Brown know about it. She seemed proud of the fact that I was writing and acting. I don't think she ever had a chance to see one of my plays, but I enjoyed the knowledge that she knew about them.


Whatever faults you find with my writing now, they are my own faults and are in spite of the excellent teaching of Mrs. Brown. Rest in Peace, lovely lady!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Greyhound Across the Wasteland -Dreaming



I tend to dream epic, multi-part dreams. I dream in both color and black and white. My dreams also tend to be cinematic, like I'm watching a movie, but they also have a literary element. I remember one dream that had a very nice segue from the live-action story to the printed page at the end. I was watching the final scenes, the two main characters (Sherlock  Holmes and Watson) became black silhouettes on the page, then I was reading the last couple of sentences. Then, "The End" and I woke up. Other times the dream switches back and forth, like I'm reading a novel and seeing the scenes acted out. Much like when I read awake, but more actually visual. Of course, I am a constant and omnivorous reader, as well as loving movies and the mechanics of the art. So it all enters in, no doubt.

For a very long time I've marveled at dreams and all they entail. My own curiosity gets the better of me. I've been keeping a dream journal off and on for awhile. Most mornings I get up and barely remember what I dreamed. Some are so interesting that I get up at 2 a.m. or whatever and write them down.


A couple of nights ago I was dreaming a period piece. It was all in black and white, and at one point I even knew the date. April 14, 1943. (I Googled the date later. It means nothing personally to me. It was in the middle of World War II. In history the Allies were about to attack Tunis. That had nothing to do with the dream.) 
Actually, I don't remember the subject matter of the dream, only that date. One other thing struck me, though. I was aware I was dreaming. Even though I drifted out of it now and again, even a restroom break here and there, I still was able to continue the same dream. Much of the time I was aware that I was in bed next to Cat. Still the dream was going on. It was like having an old movie on the t.v. while drifting in and out of sleep. Interesting. All in black and white, period clothing, all that. I've made attempts at lucid dreaming, but this was as close as I've ever gotten.

Another time, after watching a foreign movie in Italian (I think), I found myself dreaming with English subtitles. A bit bizarre, really. 


I've been interested for awhile in the internal structure of dreams. They have their own logic. I observed awhile back that they also often come with their own back story. There are layers there. I dream about a dog, but also it has a history with me. I "remember" buying the dog, house training it, sleepless nights when it was a lonely puppy, and so on. It all makes so much sense in the moment. However, on waking, I realize I never had a dog like this. 


I just realized this morning how the "back story" effect enters into another part of dreaming I often notice. Many times I wake from one of those epic dreams "knowing" that this was only the most recent of a series of dreams on the same subject. At the same time, I realize I previously had no memory or knowledge of this supposed series of dreams. On thinking about this morning's dream I realized that the "series" feeling comes from that very same "back story" nature. Today's dream includes the back story of previous happenings, so it "feels" like it has happened several times. 


The time dilation effect makes it even more interesting. Sleep research has told us that, in real time, our dreams only take a split second before waking. Yet, subjectively, the dream seems to consume hours or even days of time. That is awesome enough, but if you factor in the "back story" effect I was talking about, then it is not only the dream story that is happening in that instant of time, but also all of that "back story". 


I'm sure there is some physical, chemical, or psychological cause for all of this. Perhaps, sometimes, we make several tiny "false starts" at waking.  Each one of these having an element of the dream that replays again the next interval. Spikes of almost wakefulness like the teeth on a hand saw. So, there really was a series of dreams, but all in the same few moments. That's one theory I've come up with anyway.


I've also had flash daydreams at times. What's odd is that I have no memory of what they were about. I blank out for a split second (admittedly when bored at work or something) and go somewhere and experience something. I come back to the present with no memory of where I've been, other than the distinct feeling that I was in a different landscape, in another life that has no relationship to this one. I used to refer to it as having "someone else's deja vu". That literally describes it. 


I've had friends tell me that I was having flash memories of other lifetimes. I can't discount it, but I wish I could remember the experience.


This morning's dream? I've titled it "Greyhound Across the Wasteland". There is no explanation for it. The premise seemed to be that some job I was doing required me to travel by bus to other cities. Invariably each of these trips encountered some sort of "adventure". Something along the lines of zombies, dinosaurs, or crazies. Think of taking a Greyhound across the landscapes of "Mad Max", "Resident Evil',  or Stephen King's "Wasteland". At any rate, each of these trips runs into trouble and I am one of several survivors. I keep needing to take the trips, each time with different people. So, the survivors become an extended family of sorts. 
All of these previous trips made up the aforementioned "back story".


No one, other than the survivors, seems to know that any of this has been happening. In the story of the final dream I am making yet another trip with a bit of foreboding. One of the other male passengers is one of my fellow survivors from a previous trip. We overhear one of the many first time passengers complaining that the trip will probably be boring. I look at my friend and we are both amused by this. As we travel we take a rest stop at some bus stop that is, I suppose, near the border of the wasteland. As we pull up we see other buses parked, some in very poor repair or wrecked. When we go inside, we find other passengers assembled, including a few others of our fellow survivors. One is a woman I had apparently become close to, and hadn't seen in some time. (No, not Alice.) We embrace and stand together watching the entertainment, or whatever else is happening in the room. That is the end of what I remember about the dream.

Where do you go in your dreams?




Friday, April 20, 2012

The Azure Shade of the Bluebottle Tree - Chapter Four



Chapter Four


The Sheriff hadn't liked it a bit that Pen was looking into Charlie's death. He liked it even less that Pen was looking at Dub Holt's murder as well. He tried to say the two weren't connected, but he couldn't even sell that idea to himself. They'd managed to find the bullet that killed Charlie. It had gone straight through, back to front. It had been found in a cedar fence post across the road. Ballistics revealed another .222 caliber slug, no rifling. What had seemed pretty likely now seemed definite. Bits of some sort of plastic had also been found in Charlie's wound.
Red threatened bodily harm if Pen didn't share everything he found out. He then assigned Elena Delgado to be Pen's liason with the department. Pen was surprised. He would have expected to be saddled with someone like Bud. He tried hard not to show his elation. 
Since Pen was part of the investigation now, he could go back and make his "official" survey of the crime scenes with Elena. They walked the Dub Holt scene first. They spiraled out from the bottle tree, foot by foot without finding anything till they reached a point roughly halfway to the stock tank dam. Pen hadn't told Elena what he suspected, but she was the one who found it. She waved him over, and Pen looked down. A white plastic cylinder, opened a bit on one end like a flower. Elena pushed it into an evidence bag with her pen.
"A sabot. Looks like .30 caliber, there's our rifling, the other end looks like it could fit a .222 slug."
"Well, that explains it. How many .30 calibers of different kinds are there around here?"
Elena looked thoughtful. "Probably a bolt action with a clip feed, though. Not a Winchester 30-30, for instance."
"Yeah. it wouldn't feed through a tubular magazine. Definitely a clip."
"30-06 or .308 maybe."
"Maybe. We'll see what the lab says."
Sometimes varmint hunters will use a sabot load to shoot a smaller caliber slug in a larger rifle. It was a way to use one rifle for both large and small game and retain reasonable accuracy. It also meant that, for evidence purposes, there were no rifling marks on the bullet. An added complication for a jury to consider. At least now they had the plastic sabot to help.
Now that the general direction of the shot was established, Pen and Elena continued their search toward the dam.
Closer inspection of the top of the dam revealed two circular depressions where the shooter's elbows may have rested and some scuff marks a short distance away. Pen carefully assumed a prone position near the marks. The shooter would have been close to Pen's height, six feet tall.
There was nothing else at the dam. They drove over to County Road 210.


     Pen pulled over on the shoulder of  210 where he'd parked before. Elena parked behind him. They walked to the spot Charlie's body had been found and stopped. Neither felt a need to break the silence as they stood and looked around.
It was Pen who finally spoke.
"What was he doing here on foot?"
"Nobody seems to know. No driveways anywhere close. His car is still at his house."
They could see the tag a deputy had put on the fence post where the slug was found. They turned and looked in the other direction. The line made by the fence post and the body's position continued to a grove of oak and cedar just over the fence about fifty yards beyond. Elena said, "they found a spot by that oak where the shooter probably stood."
"Pretty good shot in the dark. Low light scope, maybe. No moon last night, clear, starlight."
Elena thought a moment. "And the white road gravel behind Charlie, too. That would help."
Pen looked at his notebook. "Preliminary report from the coroner shows restraint marks on Charlie's wrists. Somebody had him tied up somewhere. A few bruises too. Maybe he was beaten, maybe bruised while escaping."
"Who'd do that to Charlie Adams? And why?"
Pen put his notebook away. "That's what we have to find out. It is no coincidence that two officers of First Fidelity State Bank would be shot by a similar weapon and just a few days apart."
El checked her watch. "The bank is closed by now if it wasn't already."
"Tandy McAlister is the senior vice-president there now. We'll see when we can talk to him. I think we've done all we can today."
When they returned to their units the seats were already blistering hot. They started the engines and waited for the interiors to become bearable again. Elena returned to the sheriff's office and Pen continued to town.


    Pen thought about the bank as he followed County Road 210 through Shin Oak. The streets were quiet, not much activity except for the guys on the spit 'n whittle bench by the domino parlor. He drove on to State Highway 411. First Federal State Bank was located on the north side of the intersection. From the highway he could see the large black wreath fluttering on the door. He drove into the tastefully landscaped parking lot and saw Patricia Belmont's blue Mustang convertible parked next to Morgan Culver's red Porsche. The two women were standing by the cars and finished their conversation as he stepped out of the car.
Patricia had obviously been crying. "This is so awful, Pen. How's Sara Beth holding up?"
"She's  holding up pretty well. I haven't heard from her this afternoon."
Patricia Belmont was a puzzle. She'd been Parr Culver's first wife. She'd been secretary to Principal Ted Stokely at the high school five years ago when they had both been fired from the school district for mishandling funds. She and Parr had gotten divorced about the same time. Patricia had taken back her maiden name and somehow had gotten a responsible position at First Federal.
Morgan Culver was married to Parr's cousin, Bobby Lee. She was a good ten years older than her husband, and the subject of more than her share of talk. Her straightforward attitude had won many supporters, including Pen. He wondered what the two had been talking about. Other than the family connection they didn't seem to have much in common. He let it pass, though, that wasn't why he was here. He turned to Patricia.
"Is Tandy around?"
Patricia looked at the bank, then back to Pen as she wiped her eyes and got into her car. "No, the bank was closed today because of Charlie. I just came in to do some paperwork. Tandy came by for a few minutes earlier, though. You could probably catch him at home."
"Will the bank be open tomorrow?"
"I'm sure it will. I'm sure we'll close for the funeral. Any word when it will be?"
"I haven't heard anything. I'm sure Jo Ellen will put up the notice at the post office when it's set."
Patricia lifted her left hand in goodby as she drove away. Morgan had stood by quietly as they were talking.
"You two never went out, did you?"
"We never really hit it off. Why?"
"I don't know. You're both single, close in age." Morgan laughed. "That seems to matter a lot in Shin Oak."
"Age isn't everything, Morgan. I think I've heard you say that a few times."
She chuckled again. She was a lovely, intelligent woman, and one of Pen's best friends.
"Will we see you at the ritual, Morgan?"
"I wouldn't miss it. Steve coming?"
Since my brother Sam had died twelve years ago I'd been keeping a close relationship with my nephew Steve. He was now sixteen and thinking about driving and girls. He'd always liked coming to the pagan circle and often volunteered to handle some of the supporting functions.
"Sure. He'll be tending fire, if we have one!"
Morgan smiled. "We'll see you then."


     The ritual was a bit subdued. Lammas is one of the eight traditional sabbats but it is sometimes skipped, at least in Central Texas. Seasonally, it was a bit out of place. Back in Celtic times and places, the first of August was indeed a time for harvest of grains and all that, but here in Texas it was just darn hot. Sometimes the festivals that were designed for places with one growing season were an odd fit for a place with two, or sometimes three. It's also a "fire" festival. There was no fire this time, for the sake of the temperature and the county-wide fire ban that was in its sixty-third day.
Pen thought it was wishful thinking to celebrate the "end" of summer when they wouldn't be seeing cooler days for several months. He looked forward to the Fall equinox, Mabon, and then October's Samhain, the witch's new year, and the really kick-ass ritual. That aside, Owl and Lisa Garrison had done a great job on Lammas. Owl was the name Oso's wife Teresa used for magickal work. Some pagans used their own names, as Pen and Lisa Garrison did. Others chose names that suited them or represented a totem animal or interest.
As always the fellowship after the ritual was fun. Sharing bread, fruit, and wine with the others was always a treat. Pen looked around at this, his community of friends, his family of choice. Lisa was there, and Elena. Oso and Owl brought kolaches. Esme had brought pan dulce. Morgan's ice-cold sangria was fruity and refreshing.
It was a good turn out considering the heat. For the past several years the circle had met here on Lisa Garrison's property. She had a perfect oak grove, open in the center, shady with a good breeze even now. A spring fed creek ran nearby with a small pool to cool off in. The circle took turns keeping it neat for meetings. It was one of Pen's favorite places. There were a couple of permanent altars near, one to Diana, another to Green Man.
Even better, there was a view of Cedar Knob. On a moonlit night it was a magical sight. The hill loomed in the distance, the highest feature around, the top flattened as if a mesa had been transplanted from Anasazi country. Something about it made the viewer feel adrift in space and time.
For ritual purposes the sight was almost as mystical as Stonehenge.

As things wound down, everyone hugged, kissed, and made their various ways home. Pen and his nephew Steve helped Owl and Lisa clean up the last few things and they started home themselves. Pen dropped Steve off at the house Steve shared with his mom, Renee. Steve barely remembered his dad. Pen's brother Sam had died when Steve was four. He was now sixteen and growing up fast. Renee had been living with Darnell Culver for several years now. Steve never talked about him. Pen was uncomfortable about Darnell. He really had no good reason for it.
Now Steve took Pen around and showed him Sam's old '55 Chevy BelAir he was restoring. The work was coming along. It even looked as if the car might be finished by the time Steve got his driver's license.
Pen admired the car and left for home. He didn't see Renee or Darnell around.
Steve was a cool kid and it was great sharing the ritual, but Pen felt a bit down going home alone after dropping him off. It would have been good to have someone to come home with. Esme had been in one of her distant moods, friendly, but not encouraging. Pen sorely felt the lack of a loving partner.
Nothing seemed amiss on the back roads from Renee's place. Pen reached his yard, fed Mau and Odin and unloaded the truck. He thought about the ritual and the conversations. No one had much to say about Dub Holt or Charlie. The murders were still too close in time.
The classical radio station was playing Albinoni's Adagio for strings. A favorite, but a bit blue, Pen turned it off and popped "Hondo" into the VHS. Bed claimed him before the credits rolled.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Book Closet

    Has there ever been anyone who fancied himself a writer who wasn't first a fiend for reading? I know it happens. There is always someone around who looks at what writers do and they think "I can do that."
    I'm not talking about those uninformed souls.
    When I moved to my grandparent's house at age 4, they had just finished building it. It was a two-story house with living quarters over the gas station at Seward Junction. The stairwell being more or less central in the house created some interesting closet spaces. There was an understair closet on the ground floor that was used for various camping and other equipment storage. There was also a hidden space behind it I didn't find till much later.
    It is a bit difficult to explain how it was, but the stair had a landing and switchback to the second floor. A small storage closet was built on the second floor where my grandmother kept the ironing supplies and similar things.
    At some point I discovered the best part of that closet. It had bookshelves on both sides! When my father had moved away from his parents years before he had left several of his books behind. There were several mystery novels, a few World War II adventure novels, and a wonderful set of the Book of Knowledge from about 1940. I remember it had the annual update volumes up through the late '40's. There were also other books my grandparents owned, or had been given.
    The floor of the closet was about four feet off of the floor. For a very long time it was much too high for me to get into. Not long after I began reading, I discovered the treasure trove of books within and I hounded my grandmother to let me explore them.
    I made use of a small step-ladder for several years. I moved things to one side so I could crawl up into the narrow closet, nestle myself between the shelves, and stay for hours. We found a small light made for a sewing machine that I could clamp onto a shelf. I would swing the door somewhat closed, so that it wasn't a hazard to passersby, and hibernate with my books. Not unlike Harry Potter under the stairs, I suppose, although this was my voluntary retreat!
    I always loved the smell of old books. I know now that it is the smell of the books decaying and moldering, but to my young nostrils it was fine incense. I would sit there between the shelves for hours on end, flying sorties with Dave Dawson at Guadalcanal and Dunkirk or sailing with Captains Courageous.
    I loved browsing through the Book of Knowledge. The layout was wonderful for browsers. It was quite onerous in later years to try and look anything up directly. It was necessary to utilize the index, and generally pull several volumes until you found what you wanted. However, for random browsing it held my interest very well.
    It was not unlike the news feed today in Yahoo!  or Facebook. You never really knew what you stumble over next, but it was likely to be interesting, and you could take the thread and follow it.
    For a few years that closet was my reader's world.
    In the mid '50's through the mid '60's the school in Liberty Hill had all twelve grades in one old two story brick building. It was built in 1929, the year my grandfather, W.K. Seward graduated, and torn down in 1969, a year after I graduated. For most of those years the school had no central library. Each class-room had a few bookshelves with whatever books had collected there. Many were no doubt donated by the individual teachers.
    I devoured every book possible in all of those classrooms.
    Liberty Hill had no public library. I'm not sure I knew what one was until I visited my mother and step-father in Loving, New Mexico in 1957 and she took us to a library there. I thought it was amazing! You could take books home and read them, bring them back and get more. You could browse to your heart's content, and it was free! I spent all of that visit reading those new found books.
    It wasn't until the mid '60's that I had that experience again. My father was living in Conroe, Texas, and the library was only a couple of blocks away from his house. I visited in the summer for a couple of weeks and re-discovered libraries.
    In my Junior year of High School, the school finally pulled all the books together into one central school library. I finally was able to find a few of those books that I hadn't read before, books that must have been in classrooms I wasn't in.
    I was in the school library a lot. I met my first wife in there. It was a small school, of course, everyone knew everyone, but it was in that library that we actually started talking to each other.
    Liberty Hill lost its school for a few years after I graduated. I went to college, married, moved away. I actually became a card carrying library member in the Austin Public Library, then the Round Rock Public Library. I was even a library volunteer for many years. I also have to number among my libraries the college library at Central Texas College in Killeen and the complex of libraries at University of Texas and Austin Community College. All wonderful.
    Librarians are so cool! I've been in love with one or two!
    Finally, another marriage and much mileage later I returned to Liberty Hill. I was lucky enough to become a founding member, and  then an elected Trustee of the newly formed Liberty Hill Public Library. Awesomeness! I even got to be evening librarian at LHPL for a time.
    I no longer live in Liberty Hill. I use the libraries in Bastrop, Elgin and Giddings.
    My own, much trimmed down library of books now has a home in my office trailer. It is my current version of that small book closet from my childhood. I even still have a few of those old books around me. Old wonderful friends.
    Old friends are the best friends.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tools Update 2012

I've  been working on the next chapter of Bluebottle Tree. It's not quite ready yet. I admit, I'm a self diagnosed A.D.O.L.S. sufferer. 
That would be "Attention Deficit, Oh Look, Shiny!"
I heard it first from a patron out at Sherwood Forest Faire, and it seemed to fit me well!
As does the picture above, no doubt.
At any rate, I thought I would post an update on one of my earliest posts about writing tools. (April 8, 2010).
I'm still regularly using the yWriter5 program I mentioned before. It's a dandy. I'm also enjoying the Tarot procedures for plotting from Tarot for Writers, by Corinne Kenner. Good tools, both. Everything I said about all the tools in that previous post are still valid. Go back and check it out if you wish. 
Another of those, Celtx, has recently updated and it is getting better and better for all sorts of writing. I still use Celtx for writing play scripts, but it has tools for most varieties of writing now.

As you may know, I'm all about "free" tools. One I just found is Zen Writer. If you just want to sit down and write, and not bother with bells and whistles and other distractions, Zen Writer is wonderful. It is a simple, uncluttered, word processor. Zen aptly describes it. The screen is very uncluttered, with a few very restful choices for background image, and a few really soothing musical pieces to accompany. I like it a lot. In fact, I copied the songs over to my music program (Windows Media Player) and included them in my "writing" playlist. I haven't found the exact niche for the program itself in my toolbox, but I will, it's just that good.It can be easily installed to a flash drive, so it's readily available to any machine I use.

One more tool I don't think I ever mentioned is a Meetup Group. 
This one is in Austin, called "Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write!"    Check your own area for Meetups like this. It's very good. 
The premise is simple, as you can see from the link. A group of writers bring their projects and writing tools, show up at a coffee shop or other location at a specified time. They visit for half- hour or so, then at the agreed time they write for an hour solid without interruption. 
It's pretty cool to have this enforced writing time to do the work and be in company of other writers at the same time.  I went to several and enjoyed it. It's a trip into Austin for me, though, so it's not really practical if we're not going into town anyway. Ideally, of course, you can make this sort of writing date with yourself at home. It's always easier to leave home and go somewhere else. Fewer interruptions and distractions. 

Speaking of Meetups, the local Austin Writer's service company Write By Night has opened their facilities to a regular session of a similar nature.  They call the Meetup "Write Here". They offer all the benefits of working in a coffee shop but quieter surroundings and their own writing library.
I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds great! Check it out.

Okay, back to work!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On With The Show!



Background! Action! Reset!
I just got home from another outing as a film extra over at Austin Studios. This time it was for the TV show "The Lying Game" for ABC Family network. Episode 19. It will be shown in a few weeks. I admit to being a bit nonplussed because the casting call was for patients for a nursing home. 
Hey, work is work! And this time it was a paying gig, not to mention getting lunch!
As my readers know I've done this before. The most recent one previously was the movie "Doonby" filmed in Smithville with John Schneider. That is due to be released in a couple of months as well. 
With the vagaries of Television Production, this episode of Lying Game will apparently make it out before that movie does. 


I had also previously done "The Magnificent Dead", a zombie/vampire western directed by Shane Scott a few years back. That one is still not out either. There was also a student film before that, never shown, with a name I don't recall. Perhaps all my work will come out within a few months and I'll be an "overnight" success!


Anyway, today was good fun. It's great to finally be paid. I was led to believe by someone that the "Doonby" gig would be paid as well, but that was bad information, I guess. Now if I can only get more of the same!


There was some costume consternation, since we had been told to come dressed as if for church, but we were mostly too well dressed initially for denizens of a nursing home. We all had to dress down for it. In addition, we were told we mostly looked "too young". I did suggest that we were all aging during the wait, and might possibly be old enough by the time we filmed the scene. That at least got laughs from the other extras, if not the PA's. 


Onward!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Azure Shade of the Bluebottle Tree : Chapter Three




Chapter 3

  County road 210 lay dark in the summer night. The cedar brakes on both sides buzzed with the night song of millions of unseen creatures, mostly insects. An armadillo rustled in the dry grass as a fox scurried across the road and under a fence.
  The man ran down the shoulder, looking for cover, there was none. The roadway was out of the question, the headlights would pin him like a bug on a specimen board. Both sides of the road were lined with ten foot high game fence. The right of way had been mowed fairly recently.  In the light from the stars and Shin Oak in the distance, he could see no culverts, no cover of any kind. He was confined to the roadside in a white t-shirt and blue jeans, and the car would round the corner soon. His skin was at least darker than his t-shirt, he started to yank it off, then he noticed that he was on the inside of a curve. In the dim light only one thing stood out between the dark pavement and the darker weeds, the white  gravel shoulder. He threw himself face down at the roadside, adjusted his position, and hoped. 
   He was barely in time, the dark pickup rounded the curve just as he settled. As it turned, the headlights passed over the outside of the curve, missing him. The truck slowly passed, he could swear he could feel eyes sweeping by him. It seemed to take hours, but was surely only seconds before the pickup passed and continued on.

   He held still for another minute, body aching. He listened for other traffic, or footsteps. None came. He slowly raised his head, looking around, nothing in sight. 
   It was hard to believe it had worked. Forty-odd years before in summer camp he had pulled the same trick during a night game of capture-the-flag. 
   Then as now he was beside a highway, trapped by the opposing team, most of his own team captured. In desperation he had lain down on the roadside, keeping his dark jeans on the grass, his light shirt and skin on the white gravel. They had overlooked him, walked right by. 
   The game was lost, but no one had captured him.  He had lain on the rocks and grass for half an hour, then crept up on the campfire by the old bridge. After lobbing a large rock into the creek to distract them, he’d appeared in the midst of the group, a soda in his hand. No one knew where he came from.

   No fire ants back then, he mused, as he rubbed a couple of stings. He continued to trot along the road, listening for other searchers. Back then the goal was a ragged neckerchief and bragging rights, tonight the stakes were a little higher. 
   He needed a place to hide but a better bet was town, lights, and people. The high bluff over the San Martin river was just ahead, there would be cedars to hide in, and  a good view of the road into town and nearby farms. 
   As he trotted down the shoulder of the road, he didn’t see the shadow detach itself from the tree line behind. Something slammed into his back and he felt himself fall, then blackness.


* * *


   Pen was dreaming about dogs barking. The noise somehow became a ringing phone. Five a.m., Elena was calling.
"Wake up! There's been another shooting." 
   It took a moment for his mouth to work, along with his brain, at least he hoped it was working.
   "Where? Who?"
   "210, West of the river. Out near the old Smiley place. Pen, it's Charlie, Charlie Adams".
   Pen groaned, this was bad. Sara Beth was going to be crushed. Elena was waiting for his response. Instead Pen asked "Has Sarah Beth been called?"
   "I just called her, she told me to get you out here too. I was going to call you anyway."
   "Give me ten minutes!"
   Pen had fallen asleep in his chair, fully dressed. Bast had been sleeping above his head, but he had jumped down when Pen answered the phone.  It only took a moment to splash water on his face, throw on his gunbelt and jump in his truck.
   Sara Beth Adams was Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace. The Precinct 3 Contable and his deputies were, among other things, officers of her court. She was sweet, sharp, and easy to underestimate. The woman was tough, and she had plenty of friends in  the state capitol from her time there. She was also tight with all the Copete County Commissioners. When she chose to do so she had all the influence she needed to get things done her way. She rarely pushed things. Pen had an idea she would decide to push things now.
   Charlie Adams was Sarah Beth's brother-in-law. Her husband, Clyde, was killed in Vietnam. Clyde's two brothers, Gaylord and Charlie, had taken Sarah Beth under their wings ever since. Now Gaylord, or "Chick", was on the Shinoak Ridge City Council, Sarah Beth was JP, and Charlie was loan officer at First Fidelity.
   Sara Beth was going to be all over Sheriff Red Tucker, and everyone else, until Charlie's killer was found.



* * *


   County road 210 hadn't seen this much traffic in ages. Emergency vehicles clustered in one spot like buzzards on fresh road kill. Pen wished he hadn't thought of that comparison. The cars' spot lights were converging on the body on the ground. The flashers lit up the surrounding trees. Volunteer firemen were directing what little traffic there was. It was almost dawn. There was a big turn out from the sheriff's office. Sheriff Tucker himself had shown up. A shaken and tearful Sara Beth was talking to him. Buster saw Pen and tried to keep him away from the scene but Sara Beth's voice cut through the background noise.
   "I want Deputy Constable Sadler over here with me."
Buster and Red both tried to object, but Sara Beth wouldn't have it. She was obviously hurting, but she was determined.
   Buster looked apoplectic. Red tried again.
   "Sara Beth, there's no need. We have plenty of hands on this now. I don't want..."
   Sara Beth raised one hand and Red stopped in mid bluster. "You will keep my office informed and Deputy Sadler will join the investigation."
   Red glared at her, then walked away shaking his head as Pen walked up to Sara Beth.
   "I'm sorry about Charlie, Sara Beth. He was a good guy."
   Sara Beth gripped his arm hard. Pen could see she was close to breaking down. She still might if she met his eyes. She supported herself on his arm for a minute, then cleared her throat.
   "Looks like he was shot in the back, Pen, but I saw some bruises too. I think maybe he was beaten. We'll get the DPS lab to look him over."
   "We're going to get whoever did this, Sara Beth."
   "It was bad enough with Dub Holt getting killed. I want you on this, Pen, now."
   "Red and Buster..."
   "Red and Buster can't find their asses with both hands. They make the Three Stooges look like geniuses. I need you working on this. You know everybody and you know what you're doing. I'm not going to let them keep you out of it."
   Pen looked over at the Sheriff. He was looking sour. Behind him, Elena was giving him a discreet thumbs up. Red almost caught her at it, she scratched her nose and turned away.
   The EMT's were ready to move Charlie. Sara Beth asked them to hold off till Pen took a look around. He didn't push his luck with Red, he looked at positions and angles and told Sara Beth to go ahead. She formally declared Charlie dead, with only a little quaver in her voice, and they took him away. Pen knew he could get everything from Elena and the DPS even if Red tried to shut him out. 
   Pen drove Sara Beth home. She objected but she didn't mean it. Pen could tell she was badly shaken. She and Charlie went way back.
   "Do you want to call someone? A friend? Your pastor?"
   "I will. Oh God! I have to tell Chick his brother's..."
   "I'll do it. But, he probably already knows by now."
   "They were really close, they were the three musketeers growing up."
   They pulled up in the well kept yard Sara Beth's house. It had originally been a mail order Victorian style kit house back in the early nineteen hundreds. It was still in good shape and freshly painted. Pen walked Sara Beth to the door. Her friend, Mae Insall, was already there. Sara Beth held on to Pen for a minute, leaning on his shoulder. Then she straightened and went inside with Mae. Pen had never seen her look so lost.
   He headed back home and took care of Bast and Odin. It was nearly sunrise, so Pen just showered, dressed again, and went to Oso's for breakfast.

   Oso's Hula Hut was on the highway that bypassed old town. Oso is Spanish for Bear. It fit Max Lesak well. Max was an old biker with an appreciation of food and it showed. He wore Hawaiian shirts so he didn't have to tuck them in. Max's wife, Teresa, was a darn good cook who insisted on cooking healthy. The Hula Hut served an odd mix of Czech and Mexican food customized by Teresa to be yummy but low fat. Somehow Max's belly was holding it's own, but he was looking healthier somehow.
   This morning, coffee and gluten-free kolaches sounded like just the thing.
  The morning coffee crowd had already heard about Charlie. Everyone seemed equally shocked by the news. Pen took the time to eat, savoring the food and the familiar talk around him for a bit before he pulled up his belt, paid his tab, and went to the car to report in.







* * *


   The constable offices for Copete County Precinct 3 were located in one end of the precinct equipment barns near Blue Hole, 8 miles from Shin Oak. Karen Toomey was the office manager and dispatcher of sorts. She was pretty broken up at the news of Charlie's murder. Karen worked for Sara Beth also and knew the whole family well.
   "Who'd ever want to hurt Charlie?" she asked around the tissues Pen had handed her. She'd always worn a lot of mascara, but she'd cried it all off.
   "I don't know, but I'll do my best to find out. You've known the whole family a long time. Have you ever heard of any trouble he might have had with anyone?"
"No, nothing. I thought he got along with everyone. I wonder if it had something to do with the bank. I mean after Dub getting killed too..."
   "Sara Beth wants me to work on it, the sheriff isn't going to be happy about it."
   That got him a half smile.
   "Red? Happy about that? He'll be as mad as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! He won't like that one little bit!"
   "Well, he heard it directly from her at the scene this morning."
   "Good for her, she'll make it stick, too! Where will you start?"
   "I need to talk to Stan. Is he around?"
   "Sara Beth called him to come over first thing. He should be back soon."
   "Let me know when he gets here, okay?"
   "Of course, where will you be?"
   Pen looked toward his desk and sighed.
   "Karen, my love, we'll always have paperwork."
   Karen mopped her eyes.
   "Ain't that the truth?"

   Pen stuck his head in Esau Culver's office to say hello. There were four Culver brothers in that generation. Jacob, Joseph, Ben and Esau. The Culver family went way back in this part of the county, Pen wasn't too fond of some of them. However, Esau was a good guy. He'd been Precinct 3 County Commisioner for nearly fifty years. Pen couldn't remember when anyone had even run against him. Esau made sure the roads around the precinct were well maintained, and you often saw him driving the grader. He made sure the road to his ranch was taken care of as well, but only after the rest of them were done. In most precincts it was a common joke that the commissioner's own road was always the best kept in the precinct, not so in Precinct 3.
   Esau was sincere in his regrets about Charlie and Dub. They talked a little about it. Like Karen, he couldn't imagine anyone hurting either of them. He only had one suggestion.
   "Well, after all, they were both bankers. Dub and Charlie were both good guys, pillars of the community and all that. Folks tend to view bankers with suspicion. They have ever since the Great Depression. It all got stirred up again recently with the savings and loan scandals, and now all the foreclosures going on. Maybe that had something to do with it, but I never heard of anything in particular."
   Pen agreed with Esau. The bank was a starting point, that was all.
   The window unit in Esau's office was on the blink. He told Karen to call the repairman again and he left to check on the road crews. Pen couldn't blame him. At least in Esau's car the a/c was working.
   Pen continued on to his desk.

  Pen had worked through at least half of his inbox when Stan returned. Stan Hart was fifty years old, he'd been the constable for Precinct 3 for more than half of his life. Like Esau Culver, Stan had been re-elected every term over the years. He and Pen had become friends when Pen was with the sheriff's department. After Red Tucker had taken over, Stan took Sara Beth's advice and offered Pen the deputy position. The pay wasn't as good, but they both knew it wasn't about that. Pen was still able to do what he liked best, and doing it where he wanted to be.
   Stan came straight over to Pen's desk.
   "I just left Sara Beth."
   "How's she doing?"
   "Still pretty torn up. She told me about Charlie, and that she wanted you to work on it."
   "And?"
   "I agreed with her. You're a better investigator than anyone Red has now. He was an idiot to dump you!"
   "Go ahead, tell me how you really feel!"
   Stan grinned at Pen, clapped his shoulder.
   "Go on, run with it. Who knows, maybe Red will solve it just to get rid of you!"

   Good enough, Pen thought.






Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Azure Shade of the Bluebottle Tree : Chapter Two


Chapter 2

Copete County is in Central Texas on what is called the Balcones Escarpment, about an hour's drive north of Austin. Roughly half the county is rocky brush country, the rest is fairly worn out farm land. The county seat is Cedar City, about twelve miles to the southeast. Roughly four hundred thousand people live in Copete County, about ten percent of those live in Cedar City, the largest town. On the map the county looks a bit like a frog about to jump. Old timers would call it a hop-toad. Cedar City would be around the heart of the toad. The small town of Shin Oak is close to the neck. As deputy constable of Precinct 3, Pen was responsible for patroling the toad's head and shoulders, the limestone and brush country part.
As a resident of Shin Oak, Pen was also the closest law enforcement for the town most of the time.
The town of Shin Oak boasts a population of a thousand or so. It was finally incorporated in the 1980's in a viciously contested election. The town hadn't gotten around to getting their own police yet. The city had a contract with the county to provide law enforcement. Usually that meant Deputy Constable Penrod Sadler, at least until something like Dub's murder got the attention of the sheriff's department.
As a deputy constable Pen serves warrants, chases runaways, performs all the law enforcement tasks related to the Justice of the Peace court for the precinct. A typical day found him driving all over the precinct, other parts of the county, sometimes even outside the county.
Today was fairly typical, travel-wise. Pen almost made it back into town by dark.

[/ScID]
[ScID:4]That night Cindy's Bar was fairly busy. Pen had a beer with Cindy Taylor and Melvin Insall at their usual table by the kitchen. All the talk was about Dub Holt. When Cindy found out that Pen didn't know anything she didn't she changed the subject.
"How are things with Esme?"
"I think we're on a break right now."
 Esmeralda Hernandez was a young widow. Pen liked her a lot, and she liked him, but she was cautious about how a romantic relationship would affect her daughters. Their relationship was on and off. It was a puzzle to Pen and a complete mystery to others, including Cindy.
“How long will you let her use you for a piñata? Let me fix you up, I have some cute friends.”
“Thanks, Cindy, not right now.”
Mel got one of his thoughtful looks, “Hey, that’s a good line, can I use it?”
“Not right now?”
“No, that “use you for a piñata” line! Cindy? That was yours.”
“Go on, be my guest.” 
Mel scribbled it down as he walked away, mumbling. Cindy said, “well, he’s gone for awhile, he shifted to writer mode. I have to be careful what I say around him, except when I want to get him out of my hair for awhile!”
"Knowing that can be a good thing, when you need it."
"You're pretty smart for a deputy constable. You oughta be sheriff!"
"Tell that to the voters!"
"They'll know better next time! Red hasn't made too many friends since he got elected. The ones he did have sure won't vote for him again. Everyone is wiser to his dirty tricks now."
"We'll see, I'm not sure I'd want to run again, though."
"Do it, one term of Red is all anyone can stand!"
"You gonna vote for me?"
"I hadn't been back here long enough last time, but if you run I might just register so I can!"
Two years previously the then county sheriff had self-destructed; too many episodes of public intoxication. Pen had been chief deputy, as well as filling in as captain of criminal investigations. He was appointed acting sheriff till a new sheriff was elected. Pen ran for the position at election time, but Red Tucker had done everything he could to link Pen to the previous sheriff's problems. Red's cronies managed to get him elected. After he won, Red fired Pen from the department and moved Buster up to his spot.
Pen didn't fight it. Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, Sarah Beth Adams, had gotten him hired as a deputy constable soon after that. The constable, Stan Hart, and Pen had been fishing buddies, so it was a good fit.
Cindy had moved back into town about the same time. She was Faye and Elmo Taylor's daughter. She'd gone off to college after high school. Everyone heard she had been in the Army, then they hadn't heard from her for quite awhile. Cindy came home, bought an old gas station and converted it into a bar. No one knew what had happened between her and her parents but they rarely spoke to each other.
Cindy was different temperamentaly.  The Taylor's were always fighting with someone, Cindy was more laid back, but she had a core of steel that earned her respect.


    Pen thanked Cindy for the beer and her concern. After leaving he went by his place and socialized a bit with Mau and Odin. Mau was a blue/gray tom cat who'd moved in and allowed Pen to live with him. He'd been in his share of fights before Pen had had him neutered, and he'd kept the attitude. Odin was a German Shepherd mix, also rendered neutral late in life. Elena Delgado and Pen had found Odin in a meth lab bust a couple of years previously. Somehow Elena had talked Pen into taking the dog. Odin and Mau were good company.
That night Pen talked to both of them, made sure they both had food and water, and headed over to the Godmall for his security gig.
An oil bust followed by a savings and loan scandal had knocked the bottom out of the economy five years ago. The nearly finished shopping mall was closed before it opened. It fell to Realtor Jerry Patton to find a buyer for the huge white elephant. Jerry got the idea to offer the site to the Copete County Council of Churches. Many of the larger churches around the area were suffering growing pains. The mall offered access to plentiful space, three large meeting halls, tasteful surroundings, and shared bills. The center now boasted at least one each of all the major churches, protestant and Catholic.
The sign out front said "Copete County Religious Center". Most of the locals simply called it "The Godmall".
There were a few holdouts, locally known as "non-mall" churches, including some of the smaller and perhaps more fundamentalist sects. Old time religion was still alive and well in Shin Oak.  There were even pagans. Surprisingly they were pretty much ignored. There were enough of them in the open like Pen himself. Some were from the old-line families and they were just considered eccentric.
Nobody talked much about it. 
The Godmall was dark. There were no special events or services tonight, in fact there hadn't been for several days. Convenience aside, the mall was a beast to cool in the middle of the summer.
While most of the larger churches in this end of Copete County were part of the mall, air conditioning the whole thing full time ran way over budget. So did security, but a few bouts of vandalism and break-ins convinced them of the necessity.
Deputy constable doesn't pay so much that a little part-time work doesn't help out the pocket book now and then. The regular security guard wanted to cut back to part-time, the JP, Sarah Beth, suggested Pen to the facility manager, who just happened to be her cousin. Small towns, if you don't work with relatives, you don't work!

 Elena dropped by the mall. She brought a thermos of coffee and some of Oso's kolaches.
"Thanks for pointing out the shot direction. Buster thought that was pretty smart, for a girl!" She rolled her eyes.
Pen grinned at her. "Glad I could help. Anything else turn up?" 
"Not really, no shells on the ground. The wound looked like fairly small caliber, but high velocity. Maybe a .223."
"No hunting going on now, somebody should have heard a shot. Mostly .30 caliber rifles around here, though."
"No one has reported hearing it so far."
Elena didn't have anything else to share. They drank coffee together for a bit, easy together. El and Pen went back a long time. They'd dated now and then,  covertly back when they were co-workers. Somehow they'd stayed friends. They finished the thermos, she gave him a kiss and headed home, it was time for him to punch the time clock again to show he was on the job.



    Pen's duties led him all over precinct 3 the next week.
There was nothing much new on Dub's shooting. The ruling was death by homicide, no surprise. One bullet had been found still in Dub's body. Elena had been close, it was a .222 slug, pretty deformed after hitting the bottles and a couple of ribs but still identifiable. It was a bit odd that the slug had no rifling marks on it. That would make it hard to match to a rifle.
Dub's funeral was held at the old McAlister family cemetery. There was a good turnout. Charlie Adams had driven Dolly from Pilgrim's Rest. Charllie had worked with Dub a long time, and was Sara Beth's brother in law.
Dolly was looking pretty good, considering her reason for being there. Pen went over to speak to Dolly and Charlie after the service. He overheard Faye Taylor speaking to Dolly.
"It's a terrible thing when children to pass before their parents."
Dolly's sharp glance was visible through the dark veil.
"I'm sure you're right. I hope you're not suggesting I should have died sooner!"
"Well, no, of course not" I only meant ..."
"I love Dub, and I hate that he's gone. But, none of us know when we'll pass."
Faye made a hasty retreat, "No, of course Miz Dolly. If there's anything I can do..."
Dolly ignored her and turned to Pen as he approached. She nodded as  he expressed sympathy.
"I hope you'll find whoever did this, Pen Sadler."
"The sheriff is working on it, Miz Holt."
Dolly snorted, "The sheriff! There's a reason I didn't vote for him. Don't thank me, I didn't vote for you either. I remember you stealing peaches from my orchard!"
Pen flushed, "That was a really long time ago, Miz Holt."
"I expect so. Charlie says you've changed. He says if anyone catches that murderer it will be you."
The piercing blue eyes regarded Pen through the veil. Charlie patted her on the shoulder.
Like Faye, Pen knew when he was overmatched.
"I'll guess I'll just have to do that for you then, Miz Holt."
The two dismissed Pen with a nod and turned to accept more good wishes.

It was Friday before Pen made it back to Cindy's.
He walked in and asked Rudy for a soft drink. Mel was in the middle of his set. His songs were usually a mix of standard country and folk-rock. The regulars liked a lot of Merle Haggard and Waylon and Willie, but they didn’t mind if he threw in his own songs now and then as long as the couples could keep moving to it. Mel’s folks were well off, but he had gone native. He preferred to spend time with the Mexican hired hands at the ranch and the lumber yard.
Mel learned to understand Tex-Mex early, and his own taste in music was bilingual. He loved the corridas and could shift gears in an instant, going from “Okie from Muskogee” directly into “Volver” with hardly a pause in between.  The clientele at Cindy’s didn’t care, the dancers could dance cumbias as well as two-steps, and the drinkers could drink in all languages. If anyone was bigoted enough to complain, Cindy was quick to suggest they leave and drink elsewhere.

Mel ended his version of “Night Life”, and took a drink of bottled water. He played a couple of tentative chords to check his tuning, then went into the lead of something different, probably an original, Pen thought.
The guitar chords held a bit of border ballad flavor. Mel's voice seemed to ache as he sang:

You see this heart, upon its string?
It cannot hide from you.
You stepped on up and took your shot
And broke it all in two.

You didn’t have to break it, dear
To reach the love inside
Your love and trust is all it needs
To make it open wide.

This heart was made of potter’s clay
And shaped with sun and rain
It’s filled with love and all my dreams
And fired with joy and pain

Here it lies in pieces now
The shards are scattered wide
The love it held has scattered far
There’s nothing left inside.

There’s nothing left to mend, my dear
Without the missing part
Bring back the love you took away
And mend my broken heart.

Piñatas have no use when they
Are broken all apart
Come back, come back and help me mend
My poor Piñata Heart."


Mel finished the song, the last chord died away to near silence, and the crowd applauded, not wildly, but enough. You could tell they liked it. It was a song that might grow on you. He put the guitar down, “Time for a break,  I’ll be back. Thank you.”. He moved among the tables, speaking to everyone, and sat on the stool next to Pen.
“I hate you,” Pen said, but grinned. “My social life sucks and you get applause for it!”  
Mel took a drink from his Budweiser, “Hey, what are friends for? How are things?” 
“Why? Need a flip side?”
“Only if it’s good!”
“Not so much. A drive-off at the Stop and Save. Stan has me tracking down the owner of the truck.”
“Hey, not bad, I can rhyme truck!”
“Sure, but will Cindy let you sing it?”
“Probably not.”
"Yeah, probably. That one sounded good, though. A keeper."
"Thanks, Pen. Staying awhile?"
"Going home, see you later." A nod to Cindy, and Pen was out the door. He was bemused as he walked out to the truck. Mel had real talent, it felt a bit odd to know Pen had inspired one of his songs, but, on the other hand, it was a good one. Oh well! No security work tonight. No social life. A good night for a carton of ice cream and a good book.



Song “Corazon de Piñata”, (Piñata Heart), copyright 2000 by William C. Seward.