Cadillac Payback Crew: Joshua

Business is slow at the restaurant. Today is the top of the week, two hours to close, and I’m standing behind a bar shaded by neon blue lights. It’s Jack’s first night open since Noah got jumped, and whether it’s because it’s Monday, or the rumors of the shooting, the place is dead.

I haven’t had to do much other than pop the tops off a couple beers, and make change a few times. That may be a good thing, since I don’t know dick about bartending. Right now, it takes everything I have not to fidget. I’m not used to being confined to a small space, surrounded by glass bottles that more or less look the same. The blue light is still nice, even from this side of the bar, but this wasn’t what I had in mind in assuming the role of the diplomat.

It took me halfway through this day to realize that when Maria said Jack might need help, that I could literally help him keep his books. She sent me, the son of a banker, the one who had followed in his father’s footsteps until his arrest.

I know numbers, know the right columns and decimals. Without ever having to ask, I know that Noah is the math kid, and Jack is the creative kid. I’ve always known that Maria is smart, but still I’m impressed with her directive – as much as I hate it.

I hate it, because I hate numbers. I hate it because it made my dad a cold, greedy bastard. 

I hate it because she’s so far from me, with only Izzy to protect her, and maybe I hate it that she was right. 

I’ve never had a real job, just a lot of school. Somehow this is not what I imagined.

I’m staring at two men boxing on the TV screen, when movement in front of me catches my attention. It takes me a moment to swim out of my introspection, and to register the blonde female who has just sat down. She makes an easy smile that knocks my thoughts off-kilter.

“Hi,” she says when I don’t.

“Uh, hi.”

She laughs, and my brain finally tells me what a dipshit I’m being. Time to flip the switch before I completely burn. I let her laughter ring out for a moment before I crack a half smile, that innocent grin that always gets the first hit. I shove my hands in my pockets, and shrug.

Her smile softens, and she says, “I’m Eva.”

Nailed it.

She’s wearing a low-cut black tank top that begs me to look, a nice curve, green eyes, dark red lips. I don’t make it past those eyes. When I don’t answer, she continues. “I wanted to introduce myself earlier, but you seemed scared.”

Scared? Some choice words race from my brain to my mouth, but I shut it down. Now is not the time. I’m just a friend of Jack’s, helping him out. Cute and dumb will do.

“Earlier?” I say.

She giggles, and there go her eyes, softening to me just a little more. I learned at a young age that girls will pity a stupid boy, take him under their wings, and fuss over him.

She says, “I work here. I just got cut.”

I widen my eyes, glance away. Even I am surprised at the shame I can fake. I say, “Wow, I’m so sorry. You look…I didn’t recognize you.”

Her smile shortens. “That’s what they all say.”

Shit, change of direction. I lost that round. Not too much too fast. Stupid, basic. “I’m Joshua.”

Her eyes flick back to me, warming a shade. I learned it from Maria, to own my name. I could be Josh – any idiot douche bag on any university campus. But to be Joshua, well, that carries a little more weight. I figured it out the first time she didn’t shorten it, because when she says my name it’s like a command.

Meanwhile, Eva gives me a smirk, amusement at my seeming ineptness. So I give her a real smile, full-fledged, dimples and teeth, and say, “What can I get you?”

Oh, Joshua. I went back and forth about which excerpt to share of him from the first book. I finally decided on this one. Josh definitely takes the most shit from the other guys in the group. Charlie aside, everyone else completely underestimates him – including Maria. I chose the above glimpse of him because I think it’s a perfect representation of the way he can flip the switch between acting like he’s a bit stupid when it’s beneficial, and engaging his criminal mind.

Josh isn’t stupid, not in the least, but he has perfected his act to the point where he fools even those closest to him. When the story starts he has been around for about a year. He hasn’t had the chance to harden off like the others have, who have lived the crime life for much longer. However, he rises to each new challenge and he wants nothing more than to belong.

His transition between books is, perhaps, the most predictable. He’s emotionally harder, bordering on bitter, and he doesn’t exactly take shit from anyone anymore. I think one of my favorite dynamics in the sequel is the tentative and unlikely friendship that has developed between Joshua and Frederick. As far as character evolution goes, I think Josh gives the best look into how and why he has changed. I will say this, he’s definitely not afraid to stand up to Maria anymore, and his sex appeal is super amped. You’ll have to read Rising Tide to get the full gist of what I mean.

Meanwhile, an excerpt from Cadillac Payback: Rising Tide:

The Challenger growls as I wait for the light to change. It’s dark, but I can still see the woman in the car next to me staring. I ignore her. The sound of the engine is haunted by the last thing Freddy said to me before he started his bike.

You should probably check on her. She’s a mess by now.

I’ve never heard that tone from him. It was . . . sad. All this time, I guessed he would have stepped up and been her man. Now I think I was wrong. What a dick, seriously, to have such an unchallenged piece of her heart, and to leave it wanting. For him to turn over so easy, to give me his place without a fight, it doesn’t sit right. Maybe that’s why I’m driving toward her place instead of mine.

The light changes. I punch the gas and shift her up.

I’m moderately buzzed from the beer and the second joint, but it doesn’t calm me much. If Freddy’s right, I’m on my own. It’s Maria, a ledge, and me. I have no idea what I’m doing.

I shift the Challenger into the lot, and the sight of the Caddy in its spot is a bloom of relief. At least she’s safe if she’s home.

I pull into the space beside the ’73 Calais, white paint covered in a coat of dirt. She’s no good at keeping it washed. Charlie would shit a brick of weed worthy of the garbage we’ve managed – miraculously – to move lately.

Goddammit. Once upon a time, he told me to stay away from her. We partied together. He knew I never invested in a woman for the long term, knew me for the smooth operator that I was. I always thought that was the reason he said that shit. I never was sure of his reasoning, but I can damn well guess that he didn’t imagine I’d be the one to show up when no one else will. 

I kill the engine, and for a long time I just sit there. What the fuck am I doing? Is this smart, or really stupid?

My gaze tugs toward the Caddy again. Too many memories ride in those seats. Too many ghosts. One memory in particular plays like a dream that won’t let go. A roadside moment, a desperate Hail Mary, and my very first experience with a Molotov cocktail. It’s the only time I’ve seen something blow like that, a thought that threatens to turn bitter.

I slip my phone from my pocket, bring it to life, and hit her name. My thumb hovers over the call icon. Freddy’s intuition is damn near infallible. I’d be doing him a wrong by ignoring his advice.

The phone rings long enough that I’m sure the voice mail will pick up. It doesn’t. All she says is, “No more bus’ness today, Joshua.”

“Are you OK?”

She laughs, but it’s not an amused sound. She says, “Soy la reina de Mexico.”

Freddy was right. This is bad. Her words are slurred, but her Spanish is second nature. I wonder if she thinks I don’t know what she just said.

I say, “Are you drunk?”

She doesn’t say anything for a stretch. I can hear music in the background, punk, so I know she didn’t hang up. 

Finally she says, “No. It’s all gone.”

And something large shatters.

Josh’s songs on the Rising Tide Playlist:

Blue on Black by Kenny Wayne Shepherd

It Ain’t Right by the Red Stick Ramblers

Howling At Nothing by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats

View full playlist here:

Cadillac Payback Crew: Maria

**Cadillac Payback Second Edition available March 18, 2021**

**Cadillac Payback: Rising Tide coming April 15, 2021**

Charlie, if your spirit lingers, guide my hand, and bless the bullet. If it flies, it does to honor you. 

I make a slow sigh as I cross myself, a dramatic play, I admit, as my guests and my boys are frozen to their roots, as I make them all wait. I’ve never been much for my family’s Catholic heritage, but if any prayer has ever mattered, it’s this one. 

Expectancy shuttles between me and my untimely interruption. My guests are to my left as I face the door, all of them seated in a line behind eclectic, retro tables. Joshua, Isaiah, and Jack are to my right, also seated. I had just taken the floor to speak, when Noah crept inside. Now Noah has resumed his guard post, with his barrel trained on the driver outside, and Frederick stands rigid with his beautiful piece of a gun held steadily on his only mortal enemy. Oh, how quickly momentum can change. 

Charlie, if you have moved on, from your place in heaven, please look away. My actions are only mine. 

I drop my eyes to the door, to Derrik, the Jester as he’s known in dirtier circles. There is sweat on my skin, but my gaze is cold. I hook my fingers on Charlie’s gun without looking at it, and it drags on the table as I pick it up. The sound creates turbulence in the suspense. Its weight becomes more familiar every time I hold it, and I wonder if I’d feel anything if I put a slug in the Jester’s gut right now. I point the chrome .40 at him, just to see if my nerves stir. All eyes on me. Still nothing. 

So I say, “You are not welcome here. You know that.”

My brother used to say that the secret to owning the moment was to find the right vibes and surf them. I don’t know if “right” is a good adjective, but it feels like some higher power guides my movements just now. I take slow steps closer, and Derrik’s hands inch a little farther in the air. The automatic toothy smile on his lips falters as he finds himself staring down my barrel. I wonder if he recognizes Charlie’s gun.

He says, “I heard there was some sort of bus’ness meetin’.” 

I’m certain the confidence he means to portray doesn’t come as strongly as he’d like.

His expression plays like a morbid comedy as he tries to maintain a cool and collected front, but I can see the wariness swimming in his eyes as I lift the steel just a little, so that it’s trained on the middle of his face. Perhaps he thought he knew us, knew me, from past encounters. Perhaps he thought he had adequately gauged this situation from afar. And maybe, now, he’s realizing that he was sorely wrong. He doesn’t know this girl at all. 

I can almost feel his desire to back away from me. He has to know that if I pull the trigger, even if this big ol’ gun kicks, the space behind his eyes will be gone. All the muscles along my arm pull against one another, beg for me to do it without ever hearing another word from his vile lips, but it’d be wrong of me not to give Freddy first dibs. 

I cock my head to the right the slightest bit and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, this is obviously just a gathering of friends.”

His eyes flick almost imperceptibly at Freddy, who hasn’t moved since he came in, who also has his sleek silencer aimed at his former mentor. My beautiful and deadly Frederick. I know, just as the Jester must know, that true rage manifests in Frederick like the slow tip of an icicle as water drips down, freezes. When he’s aggravated, he’ll fight anyone. But once he is past violence he is extremely dangerous. I wonder if he’s even breathing, and I can only imagine what filth has already spewed from Derrik’s mouth. 

I wait for the Jester’s eyes to reconnect with mine, just so he knows I am absolutely serious, and say, “So it seems you’re being a party crasher, and nobody likes a party crasher.”

So, Maria. What do I say about her? First of all, she’s not a likable character, not in Cadillac Payback, though I think she redeems herself some in the sequel. If I’m completely honest, I don’t even like her. I spent a good deal of time when writing the first book despising my own character. She’s just…well…such a selfish bitch.

She is, however, the central focus and the driving force of the first book, and her growth from Caddy to Tide is probably the most remarkable of the four main characters. By the time she accepts the ways in which she was wrong, it’s almost too late for her to salvage any pieces left from her life before her brother died.

There’s actually a review from the initial release of Cadillac Payback that just tore Maria apart. I remember at the time my author feelings stung a little, but now, thinking back, it’s all true. Not all characters are meant to be loved, and in Maria’s case, she gets more love than she really deserves in the first book. Does she prove herself worthy of it in Rising Tide? You’ll have to be the judge.

An excerpt from Rising Tide:

My voice is quiet, hoarse from disuse when I say, “Offer still stands.”

He glances at me, shoulders tense, and he says, “What?”

I’m so goddamned tired of fighting. I wake up with my fists in the air, I walk with a perpetual shield on my arm. I’ve lost everyone who ever mattered because of it.

“Smoke?” I say.

He hesitates, and that stings almost as much as Frederick’s silent retreat. Maybe he thinks I’ll bring up the trap incident. I won’t. Frederick said he’d handle it, and I trust him to it. 

Finally he says, “Sure. That dinner was stuffy as hell.”

“No shit,” I say, and it’s so almost a sigh of relief.

The tension shifts, eases its pressure as the night weighs down on us. We don’t speak as we enter the building. The hallway smells like garlic from a nearby neighbor, and the aroma is oddly comforting. 

This is what I call home these days, something that is only mine. I don’t have visitors, don’t have time for that shit. My stuff is here, I sleep here, and have a few plants that I forget to water. It’s strange to invite him in, but it’s something I should do.

He follows me quietly, as he’s used to doing, but it feels less guarded. Less like work. I point him to a table for four where I eat my meals alone, and he sits obediently. I kick off the heels under the table, and amble into the kitchen.

I keep my personal stash in a cigar box in the cabinet, next to a bunch of spices and no food. I snag it, and when I close the cabinet door, I realize Josh is watching me. It’s a different sort of hunger in his eyes than those pigs at the party. I need to change. Now.

I pretend not to notice anything at all as I set the box down in front of him and say, “I think a blunt is in order.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he says.

I see the corner of his lips hook upward as I pull away, as my hair brushes across his arm. I didn’t mean to, I swear I didn’t. And the smile disappears. I’m already padding down the hallway by the time he starts moving to break up a blunt.

In the relative safety of my room, I shimmy out of the dress without a second thought. I catch my reflection out of the corner of my eye, and stop to look. No bra and a black thong, and no one will ever know but me. It’s better that way.

I lost weight after Izzy left and I no longer had revenge as a motivation and distraction. I haven’t been able to gain it back. My gaze lingers over the ridges of my ribs and my shoulders, too pronounced. Even my tits are smaller. I give myself a disgusted look and turn my back. 

I move to my dresser and dig through three drawers before I find what I want. It’s a big faded black t-shirt bearing a cracked Rancid logo. Charlie gave this to me years ago, after my very first punk show, attended under his supervision, of course. At some point, I cut the neck out of it, and it hangs over one shoulder. I slip into the shirt and pull on a pair of gray shorts. Already I feel better.

By the time I return to the dining room, Josh is about halfway through his rolling process. He doesn’t look up when he says, “It’s been a while since I rolled anything. This could suck.”

He doesn’t look up, so he doesn’t see me stop and stare. His tie has been discarded on the table, the first few buttons on his shirt are undone, and his sleeves are rolled up. The suspenders are in place. He’s like a goddamned biological weapon. He’s a man of style where once there was a boy who wanted to be . . . something. Anything.

My brother created a monster. No, not quite. My brother molded a damn fine protegé. I made him the monster.

Maria’s songs on the Rising Tide Playlist:

4 & 20 Blues by Redbird

The Truth by Handsome Boy Modeling School

Graveyard by The Devil Makes Three

The Lonesome Road by The Heavy

View the whole playlist here:

Cadillac Payback Crew: Isaiah

**Cadillac Payback Second Edition will be available through Amazon on March 18, 2021.**

**Cadillac Payback: Rising Tide will be available through Amazon on April 15, 2021**

I make the joint’s finale as hard and consuming as possible, with the hope that if it blasts me well enough, I can fade from this conversation. Maybe if I never exhale, I’ll float away and be higher than emotion, and I’ll forget everyone and everything. 

It ain’t me. It ain’t me! Dammit, C.C.R.

My chest feels like a compactor. Pressure builds in my forehead until, bitterly, I lose the battle against my body and blow away my breath. Escape plan failed. Deliberately, I reach into her space to drop the roach into the bottle, watch her gaze travel along my forearm, then retreat. 

“What now?” I ask, staring forward so hard I can’t actually see anything. “Do we find out why they shot him?”

“No,” she answers, a little too quickly, in the same unsettling tone she used upon finding Charlie dead. 

She exercises the ceded control, brings my eyes to hers with a single word. She establishes a firm connection and manly rise in my gut. She’s too damn young to be so damn persuasive. I’d love to act like she’s a naïve child, but I know she’s a quick learner, a latent observer. 

She says, “I don’t care why they did it. I’m going to destroy them, that’s why I told you all that I understand if you want out.”

I scoff at the ground. I can’t keep my reaction in check like I told myself I should. She’s playing such a dangerous game, toying with those closest to her.

“You know none us wants out. You knew it before you ever said those words,” I answer, my frustration making my voice climb in volume, bringing her eyes to light on me like some blessing, sweltering and irresistible.

Her lids are weighted, like maybe the thoughts that cross her mind are not of vengeance, but of sex. I know her well enough to know that it’s a turn-on for her when men stand up to her, something Josh fails to do. Yet she still wants him.

“How would I know what any of you wants?” she asks softly. Her words could be innocent if it were anyone else saying them. She has to know at least one thing we all want from her.

I look away from her, for anything that might be a distraction, and scoot just a little closer to the edge of the hood, in case I need to make a quick escape. I can’t pretend the heat she lays on me doesn’t make my testosterone surge. I let her see my rare reaction to her, something she recognizes and, I believe, relishes. 

I say, “Just be careful with the forces you’re fucking around with, don’t turn your allies against one another.” 

My tone is harder than she’s used to from me. She’s high. I can tell she is, because she lies back against the hood of the car she has inherited and takes a long breath. She props her arms behind her head, resting it in her palms, and I can almost see her mind wander away to a less tense moment. I wonder – inevitably – if she’s thinking of me. 

Sometimes, I write a character who presents himself with hardly any provocation, who defines his personality within a few sentences. Isaiah isn’t that guy. He was as difficult for me as he is for the other characters in Cadillac Payback, and he was so stingy with the details of his past that I didn’t know much about him until the second book. That’s part of what makes me love him so much.

Izzy is the old gun of the group when the story begins, and he acts every bit of it. He makes avoidance an art, always squirming just out of arm’s reach, yet not afraid to stand up to Maria. He is wise beyond his years, but he’s not the type to share the depths of that wisdom with the younger members of the crew.

I feel like being an author is kind of like being a parent. You shouldn’t play favorites with your characters. Maybe. You still do. Izzy’s transition between books is probably my favorite out the four, and the amount of personality that came out in Rising Tide blew me away. I remember finishing his chapters and staring at the words I just wrote, wondering where they came from and who was this guy I thought I knew.

I present an excerpt from Cadillac Payback: Rising Tide:

I’m stoned. I’m so baked that I think if a fish did bite the line of the fishing pole in the sand beside me, I’d probably let it win. I have plenty of poles. Though that is my favorite reel.

I push the brim of my brush hat out of my eyes, lazily scanning my rig, following the line out into the surf. I hear a giggle to my left, and glance that way to see two girls, mid-twenties – maybe – in tiny bikinis. They’re checking me out. I give them a little smirk, pull my brush hat over my eyes, and relax against the thatch of my discount store lawn chair.

Sure, it’s nice to know I’ve still got it, but anything beyond distant appreciation is a hassle. The last thing I need are the complications that come with women. What to wear, where to eat, who to kill? Trouble, every single one.

It’s hot, but the ocean breeze keeps the heat at a steady roll. It’s about 10:30, judging by the sun’s slant. By noon, the beach will be drenched in unforgiving oppression, but just now I’m enjoying the burn. 

It’s my day off, and I’m almost out of beer. I am out of weed. Already there are two errands to be achieved today. With luck, that’s all I’ll fucking do.

The hardest part about transitioning to life lived mostly on my own has been having to buy weed. OK, maybe it’s not the hardest, but it’s been the most annoying. Running out is the worst kind of bullshit.

Paying street prices is an insult. Having rookie assholes trying to haggle me while I silently hand them a lesson in trade, it’s demeaning. But what can I say to them? In my last life, you would have been so far beneath me that you never would have met me. No, of course I can’t say that. So I grit my teeth through it, pay too much, and retreat to my little beachside apartment.

I don’t go out, don’t drink in bars, don’t want friends. I don’t own a TV. I spend long hours doing hard labor on a fishing trawler, where all the guys think my name’s Jonathan, and call me Doc – like Doc Holliday, because of the time I shot a flare down the throat of a shark we accidentally hauled up.

I saved Dave from losing an arm. The guys thought it was awesome. I never did address how naturally it came to me to point and shoot. We just dumped that shark overboard and didn’t talk about it. Unless, of course, we were tossing back tall boys at the bait house after a long day and too many beers.

I enjoy the work. It keeps me busy. My time at sea has whittled my physique into something harder than it was when I was into “produce” distribution, and bar hopping with Charlie. I like the ocean. There are a lot less assholes out there. It’s my day off, and I’m still fishing.

Izzy’s Rising Tide playlist songs:

House of the Rising Sun by The Animals

Off the Road by the Record Company

Them Shoes by Patrick Sweany

View full playlist here:

Home for Wayward Writers, Sun and Moon

There’s something strange in the air this week at the Home for Wayward Writers. I’d be lying if I said strange wasn’t the norm for this little niche of the internet, but this is…intriguing. Chills sprawl along my skin though it’s not cold. Not at all. The air is hot.

The sky outside the tall windows is a dark, churning gray. The clouds are thick and indeterminate. It’s impossible to tell what time it is. It could be midday or it could be an everlasting dusk.

The fire roars on its hearth, but I don’t believe that’s the source of the heat. Sitting atop one of the heavy, wooden tables is the Genie. He’s straight-backed, his legs crossed so that I couldn’t tell he has no feet if I didn’t already know. He’s watching me with a close-lipped smile that holds all the warmth of his composition. The light in his amber eyes flickers and shifts.

A few steps closer I realize he’s not alone. The midnight Muse sits silently in a high-backed chair near the fireplace. His silver-green eyes glow with a pale illumination as he stares into the blaze. Shadows swirl to and around him, holding him as close as his black robe does so he’s almost concealed from view. His alabaster skin gives him away, his slender face framed by night-colored curls, the long fingers of one hand absently drumming on the chair arm. A cool mist snakes along the floor at his feet despite the temperature and the light.

My steps drag to a stop beside the Genie, my sidelong gaze sweeping across his bare, broad shoulders and the well-sculpted abs that beg my attention to go farther down. It doesn’t. When I look him in the eyes there are glowing embers ready to ignite.

“What strange company you two make,” I tell them, glancing at the Muse, who still hasn’t moved.

“If it pleases you, Master,” says the Genie in a low growl undertoned by his sly smile. He holds up a hand and a single flame dances from one fingertip to the next.

“I can’t say that it doesn’t please me, Genie, but it does conjure a certain curiosity. You are a creature of golden sun on shifting desert dunes. You, Muse, are moonlight on a night-dark field. Yet here both of you are where there is neither sun nor moon. What is the meaning of this?”

A beat of silence answers as loud as any voice could. Then the Muse says, “You didn’t come to us last week,” without shifting his focus away from the fireplace. His tone is flat and it reminds me of clouds rolling across a starlit sky.

“He broods as I burn,” the Genie says. “Have you forgotten us already? Did we displease you so?”

A smirk plays across my lips and my head cocks to the side a little. I say, “I did not forget you nor did I want to neglect you. My absence was not displeasure although it was unavoidable. Do you have so little faith in our writers?”

The flame in the Genie’s hand grows so that it wreaths around the black bracer on his forearm. His smile lengthens and thins until his expression lingers between mischief and menace. He answers, “Why do you think we wait so patiently? Do you think it’s because we lose faith? Perhaps we are eager to get back to our purpose.”

I notice the mist reaching toward me in tendrils, like fingers beckoning me closer to the Muse. I slowly bridge the space to the chair, and when my hand gently grasps his chin, his eyebrows lift. I’ve never seen surprise on this timeless visage. The result is as intoxicating as everything else about him. His skin is cool against the warmth of the room. He allows me to turn his face toward me, and he stands fluidly as I summon him from the chair with nothing more than my touch.

I don’t need to look to know that the Genie has quit the tabletop to come to my other side. I can feel him burning like a star, and maybe a little jealous of my attention.

The Muse’s gaze is intense as he looks down at me. His eyes don’t quite follow my hand as it slides away from his face and reaches into the folds of his robe. He doesn’t move, but his body goes rigid. 

Without breaking eye contact I hold out my free hand toward the Genie, palm up. I feel his fire twine around my wrist then coalesce into a sphere in my hand. Moments later I pull the crystal ball from the Muse’s dark robe. A subdued curve possesses his lips.

I hold both hands before me, in one a tiny moon, in the other the sun. I look from one to the other and say, “Then by all means, let us see to your purpose. What task do you have this week?”

“Duality,” then say as one.

“Writers, this week we bid you explore both sides of the coin,” the Muse says, his bass tone vibrating in my core.

“This could be two aspects of one character or conflicting themes of one subject,” adds the Genie, his voice like a chord struck on a string instrument.

“Maybe you would rather study two characters who represent opposite ideals. You could do this through dialogue or by showing their different reactions to the same stimulus,” adds the Muse.

They’re talking to you, writers, but they are looking at me. They make a devastating team.

“Whatever method you choose, the point should be rooted in the difference of the same. Two roads that lead away from each other, or two beings whose backs are touching as one watches the dawn and one sees the coming night,” the Genie purrs.

“The sun and the moon,” says the Muse.

“Whatever you choose…” I whisper.

“Happy writing,” they finish.

Home for Wayward Writers, the Den

It’s not exactly nerves simmering in my stomach this week when I enter the Home for Wayward Writers. Anticipation is a better way to put it. What will greet me on the other side of the door? I step inside.

The first thing I notice is the rain pelting the tall windows in driving waves. The room is loud with the sound of the storm outside. I am mesmerized by the mottled shadows cast by the water on the glass. They ebb and flow along the surfaces of the tables.

My eyes catch on an object lying on one of those tabletops. As I get closer, I see that it’s a notebook. It’s lying open and words are written across the pages. Someone has been here, I think with a smile.

Lightning brightens the room. Thunder shakes the sky and the window glass. For a flash I feel like someone is watching me. When I look around there’s no one. I do notice that we seem to have acquired another door. This one is in the right wall. It’s open.

As I approach, I see a hallway beyond. Of course I take it. The lighting here is soft, inviting in a way that pulls my steps forward until I come to a door done in deep red. Gold letters form the words ‘The Den.’ It opens for me without a sound. I enter.

Inside I find the space draped in sheer fabrics, accents in the same red as the door, fringed in gold. Large cushions lie around a low table, begging for someone to sit in sensuality, to explore the finger points of writing sexy. The air smells of spicy incense. In the center of the room is a black pedestal, atop which rests a red cushion. There sits an old, black lamp.

I pick up the lamp with reverence. For a moment, I just hold it as fond memories play of the first time we created this room. I’m smiling again when I rub the dark metal.

In an ethereal stream of smoke he appears, ever in his white linen pants that fade away where there should be feet. The brown skin of his upper body radiates like a long, desert sunset. His glowing amber eyes flash when he sees me. The long waves of his hair glint red in the low light from a source I don’t see. His black metal bracers catch a dull gleam.

“It’s gorgeous, Genie. Are you happy now that you have your room back?” I say, an amused curve possessing my lips.

He says, “I have been waiting for you to visit me. I’m beginning to think you like the Muse more than me.”

A mock pout sits on his full mouth and he crosses muscled arms across his smooth chest.

“You should know better, Genie,” I answer with a lifted eyebrow and a tsk. “You are both my beautiful creations. I presume this week you will be returning to your roots?”

I let my gaze drag downward in blatant appreciation. When my eyes return to his, the pout has become a steamy smile.

“Indeed, Master is always astute. Writers, this week I have for you a word, one of my favorite words,” he says, uncrossing his arms. As he does the room goes hot, and the air heavy.

“Just a word? The Genie is a tease,” I say.

“Just a word, but Master is correct. Your word is sultry. You may choose to explore the weather definition, or you may choose the passionate nature of a person. I hope you choose the second. As always you may use existing characters or create some. Though my preferences always tend toward more sexual writing – that is why I was created, after all – it is not a requirement. There are plenty of ways to play with this particular word without writing about sex or romance. You may even choose to practice writing environment. You could write a poem, a character description, a conversation. You might just run with whatever comes to mind when you hear me say sultry. Have fun and be creative. Whatever you choose, happy writing.”

“Well done, Genie. Perhaps I will have to find a proper reward for your performance,” I tell him, running a finger along the spout of the lamp.

His eyes flash and he says, “Be careful, Master will make me blush.”

“Can you blush when you are composed of fire?” I ask, again arching an eyebrow.

“Would you like to find out?” he says, his tone sliding downward in pitch. I swear the room gets even hotter.

“Easy, Genie. Maybe next week if you are well-behaved.”

“As you wish,” he whispers as he disappears into a cloud of smoke.

Home for Wayward Writers, the Observatory

My nerves flutter as I pull open the door. Anticipation for what this week will bring feels like butterfly wings against my composure. Even so I smile as I enter.

The room is empty and the windows are dark. The fireplace gives the only light, a soft orange that dances intimately across endless book spines and titles. The stone floor is cold beneath my bare feet.

Bare feet? I look down and see that I’m wearing a black dress with no sleeves, and no shoes. The hem whispers against my ankles. A low fog floats in gentle currents close to the floor. I track the movement with my eyes.

There’s a door in the left wall that wasn’t there last week. It stands open to the night beyond. The ghost of a smile that rests on my lips gets deeper. Someone has been busy.

I move toward the door without a second thought. The fog swallows any sound of my steps and beckons me forward. The hush is bigger than that, though. It envelopes the whole space like a spell.

On the other side of the door is a huge expanse of grass, shadowy green and dewey against my skin. Before me a tower reaches high into the night sky. Stars glitter in the vastness above, in the absence of artificial light. A crescent moon hangs close to the horizon, only a few nights past new.

I gravitate toward the tower, which I believe is the point. An arched door waits silently, the word “Observatory” shining in silver letters despite the lack of a light source. I brush a reverent touch over the letters. I have not seen this place in a long time.

I let my gaze scan upward over moss-covered stone. From this angle it’s impossible to say how tall the tower is. Hinges creak as the door slowly opens beneath my touch. I press forward.

Inside it’s warm. There’s just enough light to see the staircase that spirals upward along the wall. I look down and see that the fog has trailed me.

I push up the stairs, gathering my skirt in my hands so I don’t trip on it. The air here is thick, tangible like velvet, and moving only when I cut through it. My hair hangs heavy around my shoulders. The curls come alive in the humidity.

At the top of the stairs the space opens to one large room. A balcony wraps the outside, accessible by open archways. A breeze tousles my hair and tickles my face. In the center of the room waits a silver basin on a stand. When I was here before the scene was different, brighter and alive with a collective energy of writers who had found a common place. Now it is inky and unlit.

I stare at the water in the bowl, as black as the night is. I dip my finger in and a gold luminescence ripples across the surface. I walk to the wall and trace the word “Capricorn” in cursive with my fingertip. A pale glow marks the track of my touch. It starts as a dull hint of light that gets brighter, then flashes when I finish the word.

“You remember,” a voice like the darkness says. I can feel the words rumble in my core and my exposed skin thrills.

“It was the first prompt you ever gave me, the first time your words were written. It’s fitting to write it now, don’t you think?” I say without turning to him.

I hear a rustle and he steps up beside me to study the word. He stretches out his arm, his hand open, palm facing the wall. The letters’ light gets brighter.

“It’s perfect,” he answers. I can hear the smirk in his tone and I don’t miss the echo of my words to him last week.

My gaze maps a course from his hand up his arm, over his robe, to his face. His silver-green eyes shine as brightly as the letters on the wall and, I see now, the water in the basin. His lips are hooked up at one corner. His dark curls fall in tight coils that beg me to bury both hands in them. He doesn’t return my attention.

“What do you say, Muse? Do you have a word of inspiration for our writers?” I ask.

“More than a word,” he says.

He turns away from the wall still without looking at me. He sweeps over to the scrying basin and holds his open hand above the surface of the water. He steadily lifts that hand, pulling up an image of the same crescent moon that graces the sky outside.

“Writers, this week my task for you is to write a scene that occurs by the light of the moon. You may choose existing characters or create some for this exercise. Regardless of the action you choose to drive the scene, the lighting should be a main factor. Focus on your environment. I want you to pay close attention to how the light affects your characters – what they see, what they might miss, where the shadows play. You may choose to write a fight scene, or something quite the opposite.”

Now he cuts his eyes to me with a wicked smile.

“You could write a simple conversation, or an introspective moment for a single character. Whatever you choose should be outside at night. You may even decide what phase the moon is in.”

He moves his hand from above the image of the moon to below it, so that it seems to sit upon his palm. The room gets suddenly bright. For a moment the walls are covered in shining, scrawling script. Just as quickly the words are gone, save the one I wrote.

When I look back to the basin, I expect him to be gone. He’s not. He’s watching me over the gleam of his crystal ball, which casts shadows that don’t quite hide that naughty smile. He says, “Happy writing.”

Home for Wayward Writers Grand Opening

I draw in a long breath in attempt to squash the nerves that are fluttering around in my stomach. No use in doubting myself now, I’ve already bought the place. I look down at the curling skeleton key in my right hand then back to the big, wooden door in front of me. First things first.

I reach my left hand forward and gently press my fingertips against the door’s surface. The wood ripples and writhes beneath my touch, then distorts. I watch lines come into focus and connect. I feel ridges rise, other areas sinking simultaneously, until it all comes together into a carving of an open book. Golden script etches itself above the book’s pages.

“Home for Wayward Writers.”

Can I really do this? Can I create a nook in the universe for others like me? Can I carry the banner for a while?

The key goes hot in my hand. The lock on the door flashes. My fingers release the key and it floats into the keyhole on its own. It turns with a resounding clunk. The door swings open. I step inside.

My feet drag to a halt just on the other side of the threshold, my breath catching in my throat. Huge windows let in long rays slanting across the large space. Every wall is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Two ornate staircases on either end of the room lead to a second floor where more bookshelves silently wait for curious eyes. Throughout the bottom floor are tables for writing and overstuffed armchairs for reading. There’s a fireplace on the back wall, mysteriously already lit.

“What did you expect when you accepted so much?”

The voice is a silky bass and suddenly right beside me.

“It’s perfect,” I answer, my voice barely more than a whisper.

I slide my attention left to him. He is a tall and slender muse with ebony curls that fall around his shoulders. He has an olive complexion and a timeless face. I can’t see his eyes but I know they are pale green and silver. He wears a black wizard robe that absorbs the light that touches it. Somewhere in those folds is a crystal ball. He’s a character who has been with me for a long time.

“I did, at least, expect you. You’re going to help me,” I say.

The corner of his lips hook upward. His curls shiver. Finally he looks at me.

“I have been waiting a long time for you to write me again,” he says.

The words send chills across my skin.

“It has been a long time for us both. Maybe you should give the first prompt, then,” I say, lifting an eyebrow.

He slowly shakes his head and his smirk turns into something more impish. He says, “The day is not my domain.”

Ah, yes. How could I forget? His crystal ball glows with the moon’s light.

“Of course, you’re right. Not everyone is here,” I say.

I lift my right hand, palm facing up. An old metal oil lamp appears there, its surface black and its spout long. I rub the side of it.

Smoke rolls from the end of the lamp to coalesce at my right side. I watch it take form, wavy hair that glints red, eyes that burn with amber light, smooth brown skin of a bare upper body. White linen pants hang dangerously low. He wears black metal bracers.

He looks around for a moment. Then his gaze goes to the muse then to me. He smiles like a late-summer sunset.

“It needs a bedroom, but it will do,” he says.

It’s my turn to smile. I say, “All in time. I imagine there will be quite a few additions. For now why don’t you get us started.”

“My pleasure,” he says like a wolf. “Writers, for your first task I bid thee consider what home means to you. This could be a chance to explore a character’s history. How has this character’s background shaped his or her definition of home? You could also use this prompt more personally. What is that makes somewhere home for you? Is there a person who influenced how you feel now? Has this concept changed for you? Respond in whatever format you’d like, story, memoir, poetry. Anything goes. Good luck and happy writing.”

“Well done, Genie,” I say with a smile.

“It’s good to be back in action,” he says, his lips forming a sly smirk.

“Indeed. Welcome home, boys,”

Rainy Day Thoughts

As a writer it’s easy to get discouraged. Too often I think about how it took me twelve years to complete what I thought was the end of my Order of Crows series, and finally be working on publishing the sequel to Cadillac Payback. It’s all a matter of perspective. Rather than thinking about how it took so long to accomplish what seems like a small thing when weighed against mainstream authors who somehow crank out a book every year, what about the fact that in twelve years I have written five books. Just because four of those books aren’t published yet doesn’t downplay that I did it.

If you have a dream, I urge you to keep doing it. Don’t give up because you think it’s taking too long. Genius takes time. Talent is built and honed, not something that comes naturally. Don’t rush your process because mainstream media say you have to produce on a schedule. Don’t give up. One day you may be wondering why it’s taken so long to get where you are. The next day maybe you’ll realize what you have already accomplished is no easy task. Be proud of yourself, and keep looking forward.

Now, did you catch the hint up there in that first paragraph? “What I thought was the end of the Order of Crows series.” It’s not.

Carry on.

Cadillac Payback Playlist

Do you ever wonder if an author was listening to music when he or she was writing? If a book became a movie, do you think about what might be on the soundtrack? I do. For me, music is an integral part of writing. Certain songs just fit the mood perfectly, or maybe the lyrics hit close to home for some characters. Today I’ve decided to share a playlist of songs that influenced the writing process for Cadillac Payback.

  1. Long Snake Moan – PJ Harvey
  2. Dirtywhirl – TV on the Radio
  3. Come With Me Now – Kongos
  4. Fortunate Son – Creedance Clearwater Revival
  5. Four Rusted Horses – Marilyn Manson
  6. When the Saints Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong
  7. Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughn
  8. Blackwater – JJ Grey and Mofro
  9. Go Back Home – Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
  10. Poison Trees – The Devil Makes Three
  11. Down to Rest – O Death
  12. Magic Blood – Man Man
  13. The Good Times are Killing Me – Modest Mouse

Listen here:

Hello, World

Eventually, the roads converge.

When I was young, I wanted to write. I moved through my world with that always as an end goal. I wanted to write, and I did. I always had a project or two that I was working on, quietly, of course. Sharing my words was a terrifying prospect.

I remember back in school, when they told us we had to choose a career path and figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up. I cycled through ideas and dreams, thought about physical therapy or being a translator. In college I switched majors from international affairs to journalism. I thought I would go into event coordinating and promotion. All the while, I was writing.

Somewhere in young adulthood, I found an online writing community. For the first time, I was not only writing, but other people were reading my words. It was that fateful turn of events that made me realize that there is another goal, a step farther than just creating worlds and characters. What point is there in creating if nobody ever sees it? In all my years of searching for what I would be when I grew up, I never considered it would be what I’ve always been: a writer.

So here I am, world. I’m a writer. And I’m here to share my worlds, my heroes and villains, my words. About five years ago, I self-published one of the first legitimate novels I started (some twelve or so years ago). Admittedly, I didn’t work much toward promotion and networking, and all the other hard parts of being an independent author. It’s time.

My debut novel “Cadillac Payback” is currently getting a little rejuvenation, and a second edition will soon be available. I am most excited to announce that the Caddy crew also gave me a sequel. I am extremely proud of this book, and I can hardly wait to share it with the world.

I think I should take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has walked this road with me. I’ve had an incredible roster of helping hands and encouragement along the way. I can only hope that eventually I’ll make you all proud of me, too.

This time, I’m doing the damn thing.