Saturday, November 1, 2014

Without Remorse


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Animated Book Cover?!!

These have been around for a while. I just figured out how to do them for my own covers. Now it's time for Amazon et al to accommodate these animated GIFs for ebooks on their sites.


Friday, October 10, 2014

A Short Monologue on Writing Dialog



Oh, yes indeed we do!
I worked with a really great editor at Wag's Revue several years ago while prepping my short story, “Mourning Jimmy Crooks,” for publication there. We had a lengthy discussion about dialog in which he told me that sometimes it is useful to write dialog as if the parties to the conversation are not talking to one another. In other words, no one is responding to what the others are saying. He seemed to think that this was a good way to end up with realistic dialog, even if the process seemed somewhat counter-intuitive.

At first I thought this quite odd. Logical flow, give and take, is the whole point of dialog after all, and the best practitioners of written dialog in my experience, Elmore Leonard in virtually everything he wrote and George V. Higgins in TheFriends of Eddie Coyle, didn't write like that. Then I got to thinking about many actual conversations I have had in my 65 years on the planet. Yeah, I know. You too, right?

What the editor had suggested is in fact an excellent way to portray realism. It is the way people actually talk to one another. In any event, it is the way that people talk to me. I've always thought of it as a problem, but maybe, just maybe, it's not my problem alone.

One of the reasons I took up writing was so that I would be able to express a complete thought before someone hijacked the exchange to take it in a different direction. When I talk, hardly anyone pays any attention to what I have to say. What they do instead, while I am weaving conversational brilliance all around them, is to work out what they want to say next. When they have got it firmly in their minds, they just jump in wherever I may be to tell me what they think about whatever it is that they just thought. I don't really need to be there except for people to be able to say things later like, “I had a really great talk with Jonah the other day. He seems really smart . . . and nice too. Don't remember what he said, but I told him . . .”

Here is an example of what I'm talking about from a recent dinner party at our house. Feel free to jump in anytime.

Me: I watched Gotham on TV the other night. I thought it was pretty good, but it's been getting panned all over the Web.

Wife: There sure are a lot of shows based on comic books lately.

Adult Son's GF: My favorite is Iron Man. I just love Robert Downey, Jr.

Granddaughter: I'm getting a new tattoo to fill in this empty space on my side. I'm thinking Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones because, you know, she's got dragons! No, wait . . . dragons. That's it. I'm gonna get a dragon. I'll be that other girl with the dragon tattoo.

Sister1: I found these shoes on sale at Steinmart last week. Aren't they cute?

Granddaughter: Maybe a direwolf would be better than a dragon. I don't know. It's so hard to decide. The girl with the direwolf tattoo?

Wife: This mango key lime pie is wonderful, isn't it?

Adult Son: Speaking of Iron Man, can you all get the ESPN coverage of the Honolulu Triathalon?

Adult Son's GF: I'm trying to find a good recipe for flan.

Bean (my greyhound): Rrr. Rrrr. Mmmh? [translation—is it time to feed the dog yet?]

Me: I just don't think Gotham is that bad. I think it's the best Batman derivative . . .

Brother: I think everyone's interested in comic book style entertainment because Obama has screwed the country up so bad it's gonna take a modern day superhero to fix things. People just wanna get back to good old fashioned good versus evil because, you know, Obama is evil and we need to believe there's some good out there.

Bean: Rrr. Rrrr. Wooo. [Some dinner would be good.]

Sister2: Did you all see where somebody hacked naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence off of the iCloud? What a nightmare for that poor girl. She had to tell her dad about it and everything.

Sister1: She's so cute. I wonder where she gets her shoes.

Me: . . . that ever made it onto TV. Sure, it's not . . .

Brother: I blame Obama for that too.

Adult Son: Wait . . . what?

Bean: Rrr. Rrrr. Argh? [Hey, did you guys know it's Talk Like a Pirate Day?]


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

10 Surefire Ways to Carve Time out of Your Busy Life to Write

Note: results may differ depending on placement in the election cycle.



It's hard to find time in a busy life to write. If you've got a job and children and a spouse who doesn't pull their own weight, the odds of you cracking the best seller lists are slim to none - unless of course you know some tricks and life hacks to carve out the time you need to practice your craft. Here are ten that work for me. Please note: I don't have a job or children at home or a spouse who doesn't pull her weight, so I probably don't have to find as much time as those of you who do. Still, I'm occasionally challenged by my schedule and have difficulty making my planned daily word count. So, admittedly, these may be more tailored to my lifestyle than yours, but my guess is that they apply to more of us than they ought. If you recognize yourself, take heart. You are not alone.

  1. Write every day. Pick a time to write and a word count goal. Make a schedule and stick to it.
  2. Get off of Facebook.
  3. If you have trouble staying off of Facebook, turn off you computer and write with a pen and paper until you reach your goal.
  4. Seriously, get the hell off of Facebook.
  5. Tweeting about getting off of Facebook does not count. If you think it does, you need to get off of Twitter as well.
  6. If your pen runs out of ink, refill it. If your pencil gets dull, sharpen it. Do not Tweet or update your Facebook status about your ink and pencil lead deficits. What you have is an attention deficit and you need to get right off of Facebook.
  7. No one on LinkedIn cares that you are not feeding your Facebook or Twitter Jones. If you think they are, get off of LinkedIn. Stay off of Facebook and Twitter. Honestly. I can't stress this enough.
  8. Ditto Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. If my use of the word 'ditto' just made you nostalgic for Ronald Reagan or furious about Barack Obama, then you need to quit listening to Rush Limbaugh too. Turn off the radio. Get off of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+. Do it now.
  9. Did I mention that you need to get off of Facebook? You really do. I think this is crucial.
  10. Of course none of this will be very effective unless you actually get off of Facebook. Of all the advice I could give you about finding time to write, I think that one is probably the most important.

If you want to know more tricks, hacks, and secrets to a productive writing life, you should friend me on Facebook and like my page. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Cover Blues

I submitted the cover of Speedster to the cover contest at Joel Friedlander's website, The Book Designer, last month. I thought I would get some useful feedback, maybe some praise, and possibly some free publicity that would result in a few more sales. Judging by Joel's comments (below) my cover was not nearly so good as I imagined. That got me to thinking that the cover might be part of my problem. It's a well established fact by now that, in spite of the old saw that you can't, readers judge a book by its cover—especially the readers of ebooks. If that cover is confusing, inscrutable, and illegible, as Joel says mine is, it doesn't have much hope of attracting attention.

Jonah Gibson submitted Speedster designed by Jonah Gibson. “I had this photo of an Auburn Boattail Speedster that I took at a car show several years ago. I’d already excised the car and created a poster. When I finished the book, it seemed only natural to use the poster as a cover. It all just kind of fell into place.”


JF: An odd background choice, a car that appears to be flying, and typography that’s inscrutable and in some cases illegible




Legible, scrutable,
grounded, and red.
Is this enough? IDK!


Taking that thought to heart I have redesigned the cover for Speedster. Here is the new one.




I think it's better, at least insofar as it addresses Joel's misgivings about the old one. On the other hand, I clearly don't know a good cover from a mediocre one since I was pretty jazzed about my first effort. Maybe you can tell me how I did by leaving a comment. Or maybe this whole subject just bores you to tears, in which case I apologize for taking up your time and your bandwidth. Either way, if you got this far, thanks for listening.




Monday, September 15, 2014

Buy This Pen




   
I watched The Wolf of Wall Street last night. I thought it was pretty entertaining, and I was thinking, “I sure am glad people like Jordan Belfort are completely bereft of any moral fiber so I can sit in the comfort of my living room and watch them consume huge quantities of drugs, float (and sink) huge boats, and cavort with naked bimbos.” It is satisfying somehow to participate vicariously in their decadence and spiritual bankruptcy without having to endure any consequences myself. The only troubling thing about Belfort's deal is that he didn't have to suffer any consequences either—not real ones at any rate.
If you listen to Belfort lament his life today you will hear him say that he lost everything, that he spent time in prison, that he is reformed to the extent that he is not committing any actual crimes anymore, and that he now gives as much as he receives. Really?
His brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont, is said to have bilked investors out of $200 Million. Even though Belfort claims that 90% of what they did was legal, and likely it was, there is little doubt that their sales tactics were sleazy and reprehensible. Whatever he thinks he 'lost' was never really his in the first place. He took it from someone else. Just because the people he took it from should have been better informed or exercised more care in their investment strategies does not mean that Belfort earned or deserved the wealth he accumulated before he lost it.
He spent seven or eight years snorting cocaine, popping quaaludes, drinking to excess, and chasing strippers, hookers, and loose women of every ilk. He committed multiple financial crimes and tried to cover it up. He hid his money overseas. He accumulated something north of $100 Million, and yet was sentenced to only 4 years in jail of which he only served 22 months. So time in prison? Negligible and certainly not commensurate with his offenses. Of course Jordan Belfort was rich and white and married to a model when he got caught, so he got a pass. He ratted out his co-conspirators for a reduced sentence. If he'd been a person of color, he would probably still be rotting in a cell, and no one would have made a movie celebrating his immense good fortune.
Reformed? The extent of his rehabilitation is measured by the fact that he is still trading on his notoriety. He made another $100 Million last year teaching people his proven sales techniques—ostensibly the same ones he used to bilk his investors except now he claims that they are ethical. So there's nothing wrong in his mind with the techniques. His only problem was using the techniques to sell stuff that had no value. Now he's using his sales techniques to sell sales techniques. I would argue that these too have no value. Here's why.
In a couple of places in the film we see Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Belfort, hand someone a pen and tell them to sell it to him. “Sell me this pen,” he says, and they sputter and hem and haw until he takes the pen away and gives it to someone else. “Sell me this pen.”
I kept wondering what I would do if he handed me a pen to sell him. I'm not a natural sales person. I'm not a big talker. I'm not glib or persuasive. In fact I'm uncomfortable with the notion of talking someone into buying something that I know they don't need. I don't think sales people add value.
Order takers do. Order takers enable the flow of commerce. They provide a necessary link between makers and users, creation and desire, supply and demand. Sales people on the other hand try to create demand where there is none. They try to inflame desire when there is no real satisfaction. Because I believe this, I suck at sales. But . . . even though I suck at sales, I know how to sell you a pen. I know exactly what to say to Jordan Belfort if he ever hands me a pen and tells me to sell it to him.
I would say this: “I know what you're thinking. Not just that. I know what you think you're thinking as well as what you're really thinking. What you think you're thinking is this—you don't need this pen. This pen is too fancy. It costs too much. This beautiful pen has no more utility than a 19 cent Bic, but it costs 500 times as much. This pen—this particular beautiful, luxurious, expensive fine writing instrument—is a waste of money, and even if you were to buy it, you would probably just lose it.
“But, like I said, that's only what you think you're thinking. None of that has anything to do with the actual pen. All that stuff you think you're thinking has to do with you. What you're really thinking—the thing that really bothers you about buying this pen—is that you don't think you deserve it. You think this pen's too good for you. No, that's not it either, not exactly. You think that you're not good enough for this pen. The emphasis is on you.
“You need to change that way of thinking. You need to embrace the fact that you deserve this pen. You need to believe that you're good enough for it, and you know why? Because it's true. That's why. You are good enough. The only thing preventing you from buying this pen is you. Get out of your own way. Believe in yourself. Liberate your own potential. Be everything you can be. A good place to start would be to buy this pen. You know you want to. Come on. Just do it. Just be you. Just buy this pen.”

Now, I'm pretty sure that that little spiel would get Jordan Belfort's attention. It certainly beats the pants off false starts and hemming and hawing. What I don't know—the pudding where the proof is—would that spiel induce anyone to buy an expensive pen, or is it just a clever thing to say in a room full of people who think they want to excel at sales so they can drive Lamborghinis and sleep with models? You see, even knowing what to say doesn't mean you're not going to suck at sales. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Living the Calamitous Life




We all rely on personal anecdotal evidence, probably more than is good for us, to develop and fine-tune our respective world views. I am no exception in this. For instance, I have learned, over many years and many events, that whenever I accumulate a little extra money something bad is about to happen. Some essential device is going to break. Someone is going to get sick. Some force of nature is going to wreak havoc with my life or that of someone close to me, and almost always this cataclysmic event is going to end up costing me all the money that I have accumulated.

I am forced to conclude then that all of my problems have their root in too much money because almost all of my problems are solved by parting with the amount of money that would otherwise have been considered surplus. Even more amazing perhaps is that the amount of money that constitutes 'too much' at a given time has diminished over time. When in years gone by I might have had to accumulate several thousand dollars of surplus before some untoward event befell me or my family, now I can look forward to a minor catastrophe if I find an extra $20 under some scraps of paper on my desk.

In fact the powers of the universe are so finely attuned to my fortunes that calamities have begun to queue up in advance of my actually having any spare cash. Currently I have two cars in need of repair, one so that I can sell it for some ready cash and to save money on car insurance. When this happens I can be pretty sure that the other car will require all of that new currency to stay on the road. In addition I have a dog with a dodgy eye and chronic stomach troubles, a home air conditioner that seems to be on its last legs, a computer that takes several hours to reboot, a yard full of fire ant mounds, and a life insurance premium due that I can't afford to pay. That last is a mixed blessing as when the coverage finally lapses I will, for the first time in a decade, be worth more alive than I am dead—or maybe it should be worth even less dead than I am alive.

I am hopeful, given the way things have worked out until now, that all these mishaps waiting to happen will be somehow avoided. My guess is that I will get an infusion of capital that is just sufficient to cover the expenses, but no more. Notwithstanding it will all be gone shortly after it arrives, it's still kind of comforting to know that a massive funding is headed my way. I tell you though, living like this is not for the faint of heart nor those of little faith. Even so, who wouldn't wish it were otherwise? I for one could use a little breathing room.


Friday, August 29, 2014

How Marriage is Like a Pizza


Go out of your way to get the best!
I just read a Facebook post from an old friend of mine about her upcoming 45th wedding anniversary. In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention here that by 'old friend' I mean we dated and she was not one of the legions of women who ever stood me up. What was most notable about the post to me was that many of her friends and acquaintances (who are also friends and acquaintances of mine) mentioned in the comments that they were approaching or had just passed similar milestones. It seems that the people I grew up with have a remarkable capacity for staying married—testament, I believe, to the values and moral sensibilities that are part and parcel of life in small, homogeneous communities.
I myself have only been married for 31 years. The comparative shortfall is due primarily to the fact that it took me a good 15 years longer than the rest of my friends to outgrow the personality defects and social shortcomings that prevented the opposite sex from finding me as fascinating as I thought they should. I'm pretty sure in retrospect that I was an insufferable lout until I learned around age 27 to suppress my ignorance and base inclinations in favor of actually listening to what people had to say.
It's probably a good thing it took me that long to get a clue. In the end I pretty much lucked out in the marriage department—as has been pointed out to me numerous times—and I have my early romantic incompetence to thank for this. In business it's location, location, location, but I think in love it's rather timing, timing, timing . . . and maybe a little hard work.
A friend of mine from my days in public accounting practice used to say, “You marry the person you're dating when you decide it's time to get married.” He was a comedic philosopher, so I don't know if there's any actual merit to his pronouncement. It is probably true for a lot of people.
I'm thinking here of the great mass of unhappy spouses living in misery and regret and not the people I grew up with who seem to be almost universally happy with their choices and their circumstances. It was almost certainly true in my philosopher friend's case. After all he's the one who said it. Shortly after he said it, he got the short end of one of the most acrimonious divorces I've ever witnessed.

If you insist on delivery, it just
might blow up in your face.
I shouldn't have been surprised. He also once said, “The worst pizza in the world delivered to your door is better than the best pizza in the world you have to go out for.” Obviously he hated to go out, and he was willing to suffer and to subject his family to some truly appalling pizza not to go out. That's just the kind of attitude, over time, that gets you into divorce court. In the end I think staying married means doing the best you can by the people you love, even if that means you have to go out for pizza when you'd rather sit at home sipping martinis.
It's the little things that add up, eventually, to 45 years of good living. All the best to those who are willing to try. Like Red Green used to say, “We're all in this together. I'm pulling for you.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stood Up! Shot Down!


Prospective Book Cover
I've been stood up more than my fair share of times. By that I mean that I'm often left wondering what happened to people with whom I've made a social contract when it comes time for them to deliver according to the intentions they've expressed. It happens almost as frequently as getting interrupted in conversation, about which I have written here. It happened again this week, not in the usual sense of the term 'stood up' of course because I no longer arrange dates with women I meet. My wife frowns on the practice.

This all started when I was in high school more than half a century ago. I arranged a date with a cute little slip of a blond from the neighboring village of St. Henry, Ohio. I had in common with the girl, whose name is long lost to history, that we were both Catholic and we both played saxophone in our respective high-school marching bands. It was my first bona-fide date in the sense that I'd manned up through my own force of will, asked her out in a straightforward manner without the usual teenage machinations and guile, and she had accepted in spite of already knowing what I looked like, an obvious fact to me since I was standing in front of her when she said yes. It was a pretty satisfying experience for me up to this point.

Imagine my surprise then, when I showed up on her doorstep two evenings later only to be informed by her dad that she was “out on a date.” Apparently she had got a better offer in the interim. I was a little cheesed, but I didn't have a lot of experience against which to weigh and evaluate the outcome so I just moved on. One of the great attributes of the teen years is resilience in the face of truly devastating emotional setbacks.

Some time later I met Dee Phister. We worked together at a motor hotel in Columbus, Ohio. She was another blond slip of a thing with a pixie haircut and an engaging sense of humor. I liked her a lot, but I waited a good long time before I asked her out. I wanted to know her well enough, and she me, that there wouldn't be any surprises. I still remember her name because she surprised me . . . twice. The first time (shame on her) I got the news from her dad. Was a pattern emerging? “Out on a date,” he said . . . so yes, I imagine so. The second time (shame on me) the news came from a roommate at her new apartment near the university campus. The explanation was in two parts: “Out on a date,” and “Got back together with her old boyfriend.” Oh well.

About this time I quit asking women out on dates. It didn't seem to me that there was any future in it . . . at least not for me. Whenever a woman agreed to go out with me, she would use the occasion to leverage herself into a better situation with someone else. Or so it seemed. I mean this kind of thing happened a lot. I'm just hitting the high points here.

When I quit asking women out on dates they found new ways to frustrate my romantic sensibilities. I remember one in particular, yet another blond slip of a thing. She ran in some of the same circles as I in Tampa, Florida. I didn't know her so much as know of her. I saw her frequently at our local watering hole, TGI Fridays. I don't remember her name either, but she was originally from Powderville, South Carolina, and she had a voice as thick and sweet as magnolia sap on a late Spring morning. She also had a reputation for being elusive quarry. Many brave young men had attempted to woo her, but she wasn't having any. She never went out with anyone I knew at the time. Then one night she confided in a friend of mine (a friend who eventually became my wife I should point out) that she thought I just might be the balm in her breeze.

Armed with this superior intelligence, I approached her a few days later. All I had to say was, “hello.” She turned away abruptly without so much as a nod to my presence. The balm in her breeze had apparently turned into the bitter in her lemon.
So much for confidence born of secret admissions. So much for the logical progression of time. I'm sure in retrospect that I'm better off things went the way they did, but at the time it was a curious turn of events that left me wondering if there was ever any sense to be made of my universe. I did the only thing I think made any sense in the circumstances. I quit pursuing blonds altogether. I don't know if hair color was the crux of my problem, but I do know that for me at least, brunettes have been much more likely to act as I think they ought.


So now, decades later, even though I don't date or hang with women with an eye to romantic involvement, the universe still doesn't make much sense to me. A fellow I don't know contacted a friend of mine on Facebook to ask if she would be interested in doing the artwork for a cover for his new book. She wasn't, but she suggested that he contact me. He did. He friended me on Facebook and sent me a direct message. He said he had just finished the novel and “needed a cover badly.” He described what he was looking for in some detail, and I decided that I could do it. I thought we were on our way to a fine artistic partnership. I was excited about the prospect of starting a portfolio of book covers and marketing myself as a cover artist/designer, something I have thought that I might be good at. (I offer my cover for Speedster as evidence.)

But now the fellow has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. I have thus far sent him three Facebook direct messages, posted on his timeline once, and sent him an email. He left me a phone number, which I would gladly call, but it has too many digits and I don't know which one to leave out. He has failed to respond to any of my missives. I would just chalk this up to another flake in the crusty pie shell of my world, but I've already made his book cover. You can see it in first draft form at the top of this post. I think it's really pretty good. I think he'll think so too, but I don't have any idea what happened to him. Probably, in the interim, he thinks he got a better offer. I wonder if he's blond.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Chops - a little more character poetry

This guy was blowing his sax at a tree in Indian River State Park. The tree didn't seem to care. The guy had come south to escape the cold and the mean streets that inspired his improvised jazz - venting  blues into spongy nature to no apparent purpose. I gathered that he would return to the city to reload, refuel, however he chooses to name it. Meanwhile I was glad for the concert and glad for the inspiration it provided for my own improvised venting.

You can buy a print in a variety of sizes and media, from paper to canvas to metal. Just click HERE.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

STREET CRED - a little poetry

STREET CRED


Latin funk and hip hop
Shape your rhythm on the street,
Flow around your progress
Against the stream.

Two hundred dollar loafers
Heel clack and sole slap
In your wake like
Gloved fists in soft flesh.

Bright boy shines in the store windows,
Looking good too,
Against the bumper-to-bumper
Fish in a tank looking back.

Fresh baked bread loads the air.
Carmine in a white paper hat
Scowls at the back side
Of your reflection,

But he doesn't have this
One thing to do before tonight
When the girls come out
In their little dresses and big shoes.

Turn the corner
Keeping the beat.
There he is, Manny,
frozen in your high beams.

A bug-eyed frog
Fat and ripe for gigging.
He knows his fortune.
And yours too.

You grab his arm,
Steer him into a doorway arch,
Push him against the wrought iron gate,
And smile your thanks for an easy day.

Latin funk and hip hop
Shape the beat down beat.
Won't he be glad as you
To have this done?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Little Unfinished Business - Chapter 2: Gauntlet


Corkle woke up on the sofa. The dog was licking his face. He had no idea what time it was. A skinny young man stood in the middle of the room regarding him with a quizzical smile.
“You must be Kevin,” the boy said.
A slice of Corkle's life had somehow slipped into oblivion. He wasn't sure that he wanted to retrieve it. He studied the boy's face, hoping that he wouldn't find any sign of malice. He didn't.
“And you are?” he asked.
“Stang.” The boy did not offer his hand. “Cheryl said I should stay with you until you woke up. She and Janice went to skating practice.”
“Oh yeah,” Corkle said. “She mentioned roller derby last night. What's that all about?”
“Just something they do. I'm not sure I get it, but they all seem to like doing it—even when they take a beating on the track. I'm heading over there now. You want to come?”
“Probably not,” Corkle said.
“C'mon, Kevin. Maybe you'll make some sense of it. Then you can explain it to me.”
Corkle drove. They stopped for breakfast along the way. Corkle was hungry, but Stang—ravenous. He put away a three egg omelet with sausage links and biscuits and gravy—for all of which he was happy to let Corkle pay.
The Pipe Dreams practiced and held their bouts in a rented warehouse building just north of the I-244 corridor on the east edge of town near Catoosa. With Stang riding shotgun and burping up clouds of spicy sausage, Corkle pulled into the parking lot. The first thing he noticed was the remains of a school bus perched in a large oak tree adjacent to the seedy looking warehouse structure—left over, as Stang explained, from a string of tornadoes that had ripped down the interstate in '93. Limbs of the tree had encircled and pierced the bus over the years so that it was now permanently impaled and forever established as part of the landscape. Stang pointed out Janice's wreck of a car, and Corkle parked next to it.
Inside the warehouse, whether foreshadowed by or in homage to the treed bus, chaos reigned. Women on skates milled about like so many ants from a scattered mound. Fans, family, and hangers-on stood conversing with one another, shouting encouragement to the skaters, and generally impeding anything like an orderly flow of traffic. Cheryl and Janice were circling the central track with some speed, apparently racing one another although to what end, Corkle had no clue.
“They're both jammers,” Stang explained, “the skaters who actually score points by passing players on the opposing team. They're the ones who most need speed and agility.”
The Pipe Dreams got their name from several convergent phenomena. First, roller derby teams and their fans seem to be enthralled with bad puns and double entendre. Second, most of the women on the team enjoyed at least an occasional session with a bong or a pipe, although the use of the term 'laying pipe' as a euphemism for sex figured as well. And third, to give the organization at least a vestige of respectability, Tulsa is a town built with and beholden to oil money and its peripheral enterprises including pipelines—not that there is anything particularly respectable about that.
“They have rules?” Corkle asked. “Seems like barely organized bedlam to me.”
“It's actually pretty simple,” Stang said. “For the spectators anyway. How much do you want to know?”
Sports had never held much fascination for Corkle. He was sure he didn't want to learn much about a new one. “As little as possible,” he said.
“So just the basics, then,” Stang said.
“If you insist.”
“Jeez, Kev. I'm just trying to pass the time here.”
“Yeah. Sorry. Okay, just the basics.”
“Each team has a jammer and four blockers on the track. Bouts are organized into time periods and jams. When a jam starts, the jammers try to work their way through the blockers while the blockers try to keep them in the back of the pack. If a jammer breaks free, she laps the pack and scores a point for every blocker she passes from the opposing team. If she passes them all with time to spare, she can do it again. The jam times out in two minutes or whenever the lead jammer calls it off.”
“Sounds simple enough,” Corkle remarked.
“True, but like they say, the devil's in the details.”
“Meaning?”
“There's a fine line between blocking and assault.”
Stang spread his hands, palms up, and shrugged as if that ambiguous gesture made his meaning clear. Corkle was still trying to figure out what he was even doing there.
Corkle had seen a food truck near the entrance. He walked out to see if he could score a cup of coffee. While he was stirring sweetener and something that claimed to be half and half into his cup, Cheryl skated up next to him and gave him a hip bump. In skates she was somewhat taller than he. She looked like she was glad to see him.
“I didn't think you'd come,” she said.
“Your boyfriend was very persuasive. I only had to buy him breakfast.”
“Sorry.”
Corkle shrugged. “It's okay really. It was my idea.”
“So . . . what do you think?” Cheryl gestured toward the building.
“Not really my kind of thing.”
“I know that, silly. Doesn't mean you can't have a thought about it.”
“You want me to say I think it's stupid, maybe a little barbarous?”
“If that's what you think. You have a hard time speaking you mind, don't you?”
“I'm just wondering why you wanted me to come out here,” Corkle said, “why you'd be interested in spending any time with me at all.”
She reached for his coffee, took a sip, handed it back, and stared at him for a long minute.
“I'm making a project out of you,” she said finally.
“Excuse me?”
“A project. I think you're broken. I thought it last night when I saw your act. You're just drifting around without any sense of purpose.”
Corkle looked into his cup, swirled the coffee around a bit, and then stared at Cheryl. Her face was earnest and open, although comical, he thought, given the neon hair and garish make-up. He wanted to be pissed. Couldn't manage.
“Really?” he said. “You figured all that out from watching me tell jokes? What are you going to do? Fix me?”
“Why not?”
“I have to go now.”
“You kept saying that last night, but I notice you're still here.”
“It's been interesting. I'll give you that, but I really need to leave. Enjoy your life, Cheryl. I hope it all works out for you.”

* * *

Corkle headed east and took Highway 69 south towards Lake Eufala. He was in no hurry. He had no place to go, nowhere to be. This was his usual method of decompression—in his car, alone with his own counsel. He used to call it the Rand McNally approach to self discovery until calling that seemed to make more of a joke of it than it actually was. He'd been doing it for years, whenever he felt forsaken by circumstances or the people who were supposed to love him. He could do it anywhere. Locale wasn't nearly so important as moving.
He never turned on the radio. Music was all about someone else's angst or joy, not his. He liked quiet. When he got to the lake, he'd poke around the lonesome one-lane county roads that twisted and dipped around the promontories and coves.
Even as a young man he'd come here periodically searching for something to connect him to past iterations of himself that had grown unfamiliar, strange even, over time. There had been a girl once. All she'd done was smile, but that had been enough to fix her in his mind, a vision he could always dredge up when it suited him. He would come up to the lake looking for her, hoping against all reasonable expectation that he would see her again. He never did. He probably never would, but that had never stopped him looking. Even now he would keep a eye peeled for her, not because there was even a remote possibility that he would see her, or recognize her even if he did. Because rather the search reminded him what had once mattered to him in a simpler time, when things had made more sense.
The confusion of the past couple days weighed on him. First there was the whole stand-up thing. He didn't know what he'd been thinking—certainly not that it would be easy, but that perhaps it would suit him somehow. He'd dreamed of doing comedy when he was a kid. Not seriously, but fancifully.
His friends had admired rock stars and athletes. He'd always thought the guys who made people laugh were somehow more important in the grand scheme of things. He'd watched Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Dennis Leary, Bill Hicks, and a host of others on comedy specials and on the Carson Show when he was growing up.
He liked their apparent ease with the kinds of social exchange that had always made him feel awkward. He was transported by their use of language and inflection to get a laugh, make a point, show a more enlightened path.
It wasn't that he thought at the time that he could do it. That unhappy notion hadn't occurred to him until just a few weeks ago. What he thought instead was that what the comics managed to do in the midst of the laughter was something worth doing, something that mattered. He still thought that, but there was no way, after the numbing futility he had felt the previous evening, he was going to try again. Of that much he was absolutely certain.
The other thing on his mind, Cheryl, was an enigma to him. Certain as she may be of her own presence and path, she elicited no certainty at all in Corkle. He ought to have no interest in her life or her notions about his, and yet he was strangely drawn to her. He couldn't explain it, not even to himself. It made no sense. He didn't find her attractive. She was pretty enough, he supposed, especially when she smiled, but nothing about her demeanor held any fascination for him. Her attitude, insisting always that he do things he was not interested in doing, was as annoying as it was compelling. Her pursuits—clubbing, garish dress, drugs, and roller derby for God's sake—were all things he'd rather avoid.
So why did he feel so badly that he had walked out on her practice? Left in the middle of a conversation? Why did he wish he had left an avenue open so that he could see her again? There was nothing to gain by it, and yet the impossibility of it that he had crafted for himself left him with an abiding sense of loss.
Corkle shook his head to dispel that disturbing thought. He checked his speed—exactly 60, five miles an hour below the limit, his preferred pace. Everything came together in his car at sixty, the hum of the tires, the thrum of the engine, the roar of the wind, to produce a low E on the musical scale. He'd actually checked it with a pitch pipe once, the kind of thing he would occasionally do to satisfy his curiosity. That's what he told himself anyway. Usually what he was really doing was avoiding something he should have been doing—something like writing for instance. Low E was Corkle's resonant pitch. In his car it was a mechanical 'Om' that soothed his soul. He thought it kept the demons at bay. He'd never seen demons, so he thought it must be working.
Corkle gave himself over to this restful mental state. Somewhere in the depths of his mind a pleasant thought took shape, broke loose, and drifted in the currents of his memory. Maybe he would see her. Maybe he would see the girl who had smiled at him all those years ago. She wouldn't be a girl anymore, but maybe, just maybe, the years had not dimmed her light. Maybe she could still smile that smile, and if she could, he would know her.
A dark SUV, traveling well over the limit, passed him on the left. Too close for comfort. It jolted him out of his reverie. He watched it speed away, Cheryl's face pressed against the back window on the right side, a pleading look splashed across her face. Janice's car came a short distance behind. Corkle recognized it from the parking lot. Stang was gesturing wildly from the passenger seat. Apparently they expected Corkle to follow. He didn't want to follow. He didn't want to involve himself in whatever fresh hell this would turn out to be. He did though. He pressed down on the accelerator pedal, and his restful low E scaled up to G-sharp, a pitch that always set Corkle's teeth ajangle.

* * *

After just a few miles, the SUV pulled into a truck stop. The place was vacant except for a couple of trucks parked in parallel at the far end. Janice pulled up behind the SUV, blocking it from backing out of its parking space. Janice and Stang jumped out of her car. The driver of the SUV exited his car and closed the door. Corkle couldn't tell if anyone was in it besides Cheryl.
Corkle didn't like the guy's looks. He was built like a block of granite with close cropped hair and close set eyes. He was wearing a black suit, white shirt, and a thin black tie. The back of the SUV was festooned with someone's narrow view politics. Corkle could only assume that the sentiments belonged to the driver. Second amendment rights seemed to be of paramount importance along with keeping Christ in Christmas, putting prayer back in the schools, and impeaching Barak Hussein Obama, apparently for his middle name, which was printed in bold caps and styled to look Arabic.
Corkle checked the guy again. He was sure he saw the bulge of a shoulder holster under his left arm. Oklahoma was an open carry state, and concealed carry permits were available with few questions and almost no fact checking. Corkle had a concealed carry permit himself, although he no longer owned a gun. He wasn't wishing for one now as he could envision the emerging confrontation devolving into a you-show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine kind of exchange that could only end in tragedy.
Janice was yelling at the block of granite. Stang was keeping Janice's car between himself and the possibility of getting crushed. Corkle got out of his car. He knew he had to do something. He just wasn't sure what.
“Kidnapping is a federal offense, asshole.” Janice yelled.
“There's no call for that kind of language, little missy,” Granite said.
“Little missy? Who are you? John Fucking Wayne?”
“There's no kidnapping here, missy, no reason to get yourself all in an uproar.”
“Bullshit! You took Cheryl by force. I saw you do it.”
“She was just surprised to see me is all,” Granite explained. “Once she figured out who I was, she settled right down.”
By this time Corkle had moved up to stand beside Janice. Granite gave him a once over, and seemed undecided about his next move. Corkle spoke up.
“Maybe you should let her out of the car, then,” he said, “so we can make sure she's all right.”
“I don't think so.”
“Why not?” Corkle asked, spreading his hands in a gesture of reasonableness. “If everything's as you say, you can be on your way. We won't trouble you any further.”
Stang had managed to find something like courage now that Corkle had entered the conversation. He moved up to the passenger side of the SUV, near the window where Corkle had seen Cheryl's face. The front door sprang open and another guy, bigger than the first, emerged. Except that he was also dressed in a black suit and tie, the way he exited the too small opening of the SUV reminded Corkle of prepared dough popping out of a cardboard tube of biscuits. The Doughboy was also wearing a shoulder holster, but he had already drawn his weapon, which he now leveled at Stang's head.
“Jesus!” Stang yelled, and jumped back.
“Jesus is not going to help you, boy,” Granite said.
Janice threw her hands up in desperation. “You douche bags don't actually think you can shoot unarmed people in a parking lot and get away with it, do you?”
“Right now I don't see anything to prevent it,” Granite said.
Corkle put a hand on Janice's shoulder, held the other one up toward Granite like a cop stopping traffic. “Everybody just calm down,” he said. “There's no need for violence of any kind here. We're just concerned about our friend.”
He was about to suggest again that they be allowed to speak to Cheryl when three more cars poured into the lot and surrounded them. Women piled out of the cars, spread themselves in a loose circle around the SUV, and adopted menacing poses. A few of them looked large enough to give Granite and Doughboy trouble in a fair fight. Several of them were still wearing skates and elbow and knee pads from practice. Corkle wondered how the 'fine line' between blocking and assault might shift when the opposition had firearms. He'd heard the phrase, “never bring a knife to a gunfight.” What he didn't know was where a roller derby team ranked in the spectrum of armaments.
Janice was apparently emboldened by the sudden shift in odds. “You bozos don't have enough bullets to take us all out,” she said.
Corkle squeezed her shoulder. “Come on, Janice,” he said. “Try not to antagonize them.”
“Are you serious right now, Kev?” Janice asked. “They kidnapped my best friend, called me 'little missy,' and now they're pointing a gun at us. You don't want me to antagonize them? How about they don't antagonize me? How about John Wayne and his fat side-kick let Cheryl out of their car and then drive off into the sunset singing 'yipee-yi-yay-ki-o?' Doesn't that make more sense?”
Doughboy had cocked his elbows so that the gun was now pointing skyward. He kept shifting his gaze from Stang to Janice to Corkle to the nearest woman on skates and back again. Granite seemed to be at a loss for words. He was chewing on his lower lip like he couldn't decide what to say or to whom. Corkle decided that neither Granite nor Doughboy had much experience being threatened by women.
Janice pressed her apparent advantage. “Stang,” she said, “get Cheryl out of that car.”
Stang looked at Corkle as if for confirmation. Corkle shrugged. Doughboy lowered the pistol again, cupping the grip in both hands and pointing it at Stang's head. Two of the women on skates glided between Stang and the gun, pushing Doughboy back against the door. One of them grabbed the gun and forced Doughboy's hands into the air. The other gave him a vicious knee to the crotch. Doughboy crumpled where he stood, and the first woman came away with his pistol.
Stang opened the rear door to the SUV. He had to lean in and unbuckle Cheryl's seat belt. When she came out of the car, Corkle saw that her hands were duct-taped behind her back. So much for Granite's protestations of innocence, Corkle thought.
“You ready to explain yourself,” he said to Granite.
“It's okay, Corkle,” Cheryl said. “He's a deacon in Granddad's church.”
“Okay?” Corkle asked, more confused than ever. “Deacons carry guns, now? Deacons tie you up and haul you away against your will? That some kind of new conversion technique?”
“They weren't going to hurt me. They were just going to take me home.”