Posted by Dell 12-23-2016
It is a beautiful day here in New York. Yes, rain, on and off. It looks like the perfect set-up for an ice storm. I hope that doesn’t happen. It is supposed to cool off through the day, but then warm again tomorrow, so we will have to see how it plays out.
I once moved to the great state of Alabama and lived there for ten years. I stayed so long because where I lived the weather turned to what would amount to very early fall here, 65 to 75 degrees, about mid September to early October and stayed that way until the middle of March. About 5 months of beautiful weather. Native Alabamians thought I was crazy walking around in a pocket T-Shirt while they were in jackets and coats. I stayed because that weather was so perfectly suited to me. Here in northern New York I get a few days a year that are like that. Maybe ten total. It isn’t enough.
I suppose other people might think that is odd liking cooler weather. I also like the mountains and rainy days too. I think a lot of it is set in our early memories and that is it. From then on, sometimes for reasons we don’t even remember, we like certain things. I can remember three very clear rainy day memories from my early life and those are probably what make up my attraction to rainy days. The first is a small aluminum travel trailer my father parked behind our house. One of those shiny, silver Airstream numbers you could tow behind your car or truck. He ran an extension cord to it so it had power. I can remember standing inside the doorway watching the rain fall just outside that doorway. Listening to the rain pound on that curved aluminum roof. I was safe and dry.
My second memory is a camp I went to as a slightly older child. Lying on the top bunk reading Robinson Crusoe as rain drummed against the corrugated steel roof, the other kids spread around playing board games, writing letters. The rain the reason for the time to be able to read, play, otherwise we would have been doing other camp things I suppose.
The third time was only a few years later, but life had changed a great deal for me in those few years between eleven or twelve to thirteen and fourteen. I was standing in a doorway, rain falling hard, watching the traffic pass me by. Cars shooting up sheets of water as they went by, none able to reach me where I was hidden in the shadows of that doorway. That should be a bad memory, after all I was alone, homeless, a runaway living on those streets, and I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I listened to the pounding rain and it made things all right. Made me decide to be alive when my thoughts were dancing on the head of a pin, back and forth… Quit, live, quit, live.
I began to write an account of my life not long ago because someone asked me about it. It is funny when you start to write something how much more you remember than you thought you did. Some things I was happy to remember, others not so much. I’m not going down that road right now, but I will eventually, I suppose. For now I will illustrate how you can take those parts of your life and make them work for you as a writer. Take that emotion and write it out of you.
A quick word about what you write: Write what you know. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because it has been pointed out by every writer I have ever read, that when it comes to writing write what you know. I have done that in every book I have written. The First Earths Survivors book. Candace is someone I know. Mike is a better copy of me. Bob is the Native American man I wish I could be. And it goes on. Ronnie is the part of me that has African American blood. I write what I know. I only get into trouble when I step outside of that. Billy Jingo is a story about a a dirt poor kid who lives in a little dead end town and has nothing. Been there and done that. That book is set in the town I grew up in, and blended with people and places I have known and understand. All things I know. The Dreamer’s Worlds Book is really a book about Native American traditions and beliefs. I studied and read for months to be able to understand Native American religion only to find that there are many versions of it just as there are many versions of Christianity or the Muslim faith, or Buddhism. I studied to find the things that are in my blood that my father would not tell me about, not to write a book, but when I began the book I wrote from that knowledge I had leaned and internalized by going to traditional Longhouse services for those years. I took that and the things my Chief gave me and I wrote what I knew. And as I wrote it I added emotion.
Writing is emotion in my opinion. So is artwork, film, storytelling. Some of the best storytellers in ancient history probably learned how to channel emotion into their writing. Jean Auel writes more than a few scenes that illustrate that passing on of stories and the emotion that went into it. I also learned that the Native Americans passed down all of their history that way. If you think about it, they had no written history. They had fantastic storytellers though.
Some of the best writers I have read, talked to, known, are able to write their emotion into a storyline and make you feel it. Sometimes I write a piece and re-read it and I can’t get the depth or feelings from the characters. I can play with it until I feel something, or I can set it aside for another day. Usually it is best to set it aside for another day. Maybe it will make sense to me, evoke an emotion, maybe not. But forcing it to be or mean something that it doesn’t, or to pull out some emotion that isn’t there, won’t work for me. If the second go around doesn’t do it either, then it’s usually over for whatever that piece I was writing was about.
What I am saying is there is a time to set a piece aside and go on to the next thing. When I say set it aside I don’t mean to throw it away. I rarely do that, in fact I can’t think of a time that I ever did. What I mean is to leave what is there, words on a scrap of paper, an incomplete document in your word processor: Title it whatever you thought it might be, file it, and move on. I have a real file cabinet because sometimes I write stuff down on real paper that comes to me at 3:00 AM. In it goes. I have a virtual file cabinet on my machine too. All the other stuff goes there. The point is that it has been set aside, but to me set aside is like the Windows Trash Can, it just moves it to an unused part of the hard drive. Occasionally I will go fishing there and see what there is to see. Sometimes it is clear to me why I moved a piece there, other times it isn’t. But that is usually rainy day stuff.
One of my points today is that you can and must move pass those blockages in your writing that cause you to fail, stop, or do anything else that disrupts that flow of words. And the easiest way to move on is to move that piece that just won’t come together right into the virtual file basket. Start something else, jump into it, if that doesn’t work move it out too. It works for me. But whatever you do don’t actually toss it away. Save it someplace and revisit it. You never know what might make sense in a year or even ten years from now.
In 2010 I wrote this on a scrap of paper… “War has taken my country.” I looked at it. The imagery had come from something that had popped into my head the way those things do with most of us. Emotion tied into it. A little boy watching war erupt around him. Those sorts of things don’t really happen very often in this country, but those things do happen in other countries all of the time. The world can be sane, safe like that rain falling on a tin roof, and then it can erupt into violence, and in the space of a few seconds everything can change permanently.
Vietnam was like that for me. I went into the service at the end of Vietnam, never went to Vietnam. In fact never went anywhere at all. But I grew up those last few years with the imagery that was on the TV. Reporters following soldiers into war. I notice that doesn’t happen anymore. Not like it was then. I can remember being a kid, watching dead bodies pop up on the TV, men shot down and dying, it was crazy, and I can see why they don’t cover war like that anymore. They need the nice, clean, sanitized version for TV. But what I saw then stayed with me, shaped my thoughts, probably shaped me and thousands of other kids who saw those things. That is where those words came from. That little vision of that little boy who was not an American, standing in his village and watching his world change forever. Emotion.
I wrote the note and it went nowhere at all. It was very compelling. It begged me to complete it, but it went nowhere. I filed it in my paper file since I had scratched those letters onto a piece of paper, and I went on to the next thing which was to write several stories in a row. I enjoyed that. Westerns, space travel, cave people (None of it published). All the stuff that interested me that I had not written. Then I began writing a long project, the Earth’s survivors series.
A year later, a rainy day in fact, I happened to pull out all of those notes, a small folder of them, from the last year. Just to take a look at them and see what I had been thinking about, trying to write. I found that scrap of paper and immediately the whole story jumped into my head. I wrote this…
Lyrics Copyright © Wendell G. Sweet 2011 ♪ ♫ ♪ Date Written; 04-28-2011
Song Title: War At Home Style: Alternative
War has taken my country… Brother fighting his brother… It will be what it will be… See how we kill each other…
War it ain’t no way to live… It ain’t no way to die… Takes all that you can give… Takes every tear you cry…
Instrumental————-Steel drum rhythm with short lead transition———–
War along the borders… Kills the father and the mother… Soldiers acting on their orders… Little Sister… Who will take care of your Brother…?
Their blood is crying from the ground… Who will reap the seed they’ve sown…? as you turn to run… pray that God will take them home…
let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
See the hills light up with fire… Young men running to their graves… Bad news coming down the wire… But you tell me Jesus saves…
Children sleeping in the gutters… Bodies lying in the street… Machine gun stutters… Pray… Your soul to keep…
Generals send their orders down… From their bunkers underground…
Freedom fighters honor bound… March to death without a sound…
Death is falling from the sky… Did you march today to die…?
Why is no one asking why…? too sad to cry…
See it on your television… It all seems so far away… Think it’s real think it isn’t… Anyway… Don’t affect you today…
Take off your silver glasses… Take a good look around… As your time passes… may be you… that is lying on the ground…
let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
Instrumental———————————————-Long Lead———-Steel Drum—————
Justify your means… It is not you who has to die… Tell me it isn’t as it seems… Still… You can not answer why…
When judgment comes upon our heads… We will stand as we must… His words can raise us from the dead… or… return us to the dust…
Instrumental——————————-Short Steel Drum Rhythm——————————–
I got to get away from here… This life is taking a toll… Always living in fear… I am… Less than whole…
Blood is welling up in fountains… Shooting up into the sky… I’m going home to my mountains… There is where I’ll die…
Hook / W Xtro
let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
Why don’t you take yourself home… Leave us to our war at home… Take yourself home… Leave this man alone… Leave me too… My war at home… … … …
Why I Wrote It:
When I was a kid Vietnam was all consuming. The hippies hated it (I wasn’t quite old enough to be a Hippie but I liked the drug, rock and Roll, sex culture), society was torn. Young men kept dying. The T.V. Was full of news stories. They followed the soldiers into firefights. It was very graphic and there were kids all over the place that sat in front of televisions and watched that violence.
I saw dead men, children. Children crying, burned, separated from loved ones. The song came from that, although, really, war is war. It could be just as applicable to what’s going on now in the middle east… … … …
All of the above was written at that single time, in one shot. Maybe it took me a half hour, changing this little thing or that little thing, but not much more than that. The emotion I connected to was strong. The story had had to wait a year but it had finally come to me. The little boy is there, and the man I grew into is also there as you read the words. And of course my emotion is there too.
At the time I was in a creative writing class. It was offered so I took it. I didn’t expect much because I had found that most creative writing classes were run by people who didn’t seem to have a lot of creativity, and were populated by people who needed to fill a hole in their schedule. More often than not I would go to those classes and find half the class asleep. There was no interaction, no back and forth discussions. So I nearly skipped this class and at the last minute changed my mind and took it because, well, I needed to fill a hole and decided to fill it with something that at least might offer good written materiel to me. Ironic, I know.
The woman who ran the class actually liked to write. She devised exercises that were interesting and set it up so that we would read the things we had written in class and get feed back on them. Incredible. I had been toying around with this book I wanted to write about a young woman, a drug addict, who was straightening out her life and she stumbles into something she doesn’t understand, dream travel. She discovers it in her sleep. Again this came from a note I had written to myself about this young girl trapped in a stone. What I wrote from that seed was The Dreamer’s Worlds. I had been coming to class and reading the book as I wrote it, an amazing way to write, especially with that book which is such a left field concept that most people would probably never read it. Add to that that I tried very hard to write the dream sequences as real dreams would be. Disjointed, jumbled and out of sequence to one another, the same way dreams can really be. The feedback was invaluable because it told me whether I was succeeding in still getting the story across or not. But I decided to take a break and read what had come from the note instead. They got it, they understood it. Something that would not have happened had I not written it down after the first failed attempt, and then waited for the time to come without even knowing if it would ever come around. I went on to write music for that and turn it into lyrics as opposed to a poem of sorts. And I put the piece of paper back into the folder and put it away. Saved it again.
So a few months back I am moving into my new office space (Read that as an unused room in the house), and I am moving files and I come across a mountain of paperwork that has to be sorted and put away. So I came across that folder again and the note. I remembered it inspired me to write those lyrics. I remembered also how those lyrics had started as words on paper and I had nearly left them as poetry or verse instead of lyrics. The next thing I knew I had a pen in my hand. I wrote this…
Tanks On A Blue Sky Day
What if you were standing in your own yard and the world was the same. Great. Safe. Comfortable. And you were standing there in your yard. Just a kid, a man, a woman, the day right there before you. Feeling like the world would always be the same.
And this safety was all that you had known, ever. And the sun was shining in the sky. And then the tanks rolled in. And the soldiers with their guns. The noise incredible. The soldiers glancing at you as they walk past you. Like they know your name.
And everything changed. Your yard was not your yard anymore. Just a piece of dirt and grass with tank tracks running across it. But the sun is still shining… How can that be? And the soldiers are soldiering, they don’t speak. It’s like they don’t even care.
And you turn away but it is the same all around you. Your friends in their yards. Looking at the same blue sky, the same bright sun. The same tanks. The same soldiers with the same guns. They don’t speak either, but the same questions are on the air.
And you feel like the black clouds should move in and blot out the sun. The bright day should not exist in this world that your eyes see. You blink but it doesn’t go away, refuses to change. Your whole world has changed and a minute has not expired.
The tanks, clank, clank, clank. On their way to where, you wonder. And the soldiers step, step, step. One foot follows the other never questioning where. The children begin to cry. You think to wipe your own tears from your eyes, but find you are too tired.
The tanks, the soldiers, the sun in the blue sky. The day that started as your own…
The noise, the fear. Time is moving, but you don’t know where it’s going…
Not really poetry, more like verse. Not much of a title, but there is emotion in it just like War at Home. Two pieces from the same note. I stuck the note back into that folder and who knows what it might evoke the next time I pull it out? Sort of like my own Magic Lamp I suppose. But the point again is that I wrote it. It came from emotion because emotion matters. When you connect your writing to emotion it clarifies many things immediately for you. You have hooked it into your own well of experience, whatever pain, hatred, love, confusion or anything else that is in that well is now able to lend itself to that story. For that scrap of paper, for that idea, is was only waiting for the right day to make that connection.
This is shorter: How to connect to the emotion. I have explained what I wrote from emotion, but not how I tapped into that emotion. That is simpler still, and if it isn’t you should not consider writing.
Writers, every writer I know, have spoken to, spent time with, is messed up. Something is not quite right with that person, me included. Maybe it is a big problem, many problems, or maybe it is many small problems. But if you truly examine that statement, is anybody quite right? Any one at all? I don’t think so. We are all flawed. We have all used and been used, bullied and been bullied, loved, hated, been lonely, bored, happy, ecstatic, depressed and the list goes on and on. It is why we can all relate to one another on the most basic levels.
No, I have not lost my mother so I can not know for a fact how it feels to lose your mother. My friend has though, and she has talked about it and helped me to understand the parts I didn’t know. Even so, I don’t know how it will affect me completely, and that is sort of like writing. If I had to write a story about a man or a woman losing their mother I would first relate it to things I do understand that are similar, losing my father, my uncle, aunt, yes even when my dog died. That is an emotional place. Once I am there my mood is going to change drastically. I am going to remember holding my uncles hand as he lapsed into a coma at nearly 4:00 AM. He died about 12 hours later. I am going to remember that my father died with things unresolved between us and how it hurts to feel that that can never be fixed. And I will remember that that same uncle whose hand I held as he passed away was like a father to me. He came and picked me up when my time on the streets was done. He loved me. And then I will think about the fear of losing my mother, the last parent. The person who has always loved me. Then I will remember the things my friend said to me. How she misses her mother all of the time. How it never really goes a way.
After that I am in that place where I am connected to that emotion, I only need to write it out. And to be honest, I would not want to take myself to a painful place like that and not write it out, express it. When I begin to write it may not be pretty. It may only be a note that I write that will be expressed fully years later, but it may be the story whole and complete coming right then. And whatever way it does end up it is connected directly to that emotion, and so every time that I read it I am instantly re-connected to that emotional well that it came from.
Have you never watched a movie and become emotional? Watched a favorite scene that took you someplace? Read a book that made you cry, love, feel? That is because that writer has connected that emotion to themselves and then conveyed it to you via their writing, imagery, pictures, artwork.
The thing about writers is connecting with that place, channeling it into the story and then letting it go. Not always easy but always necessary to really write. The reason to write it out should be obvious, if you don’t it can infect you, depress you, ruin your life. That is why so many writers are living on the edge of what they consider the real world. Can’t step into it, can’t live without it. Depression, alcohol, drugs. Good mental health means connecting and then walking away after the story is written. Let it go, get it out in that story, verse, lyric. That is what writing from emotion is all about. It makes a strong story and hopefully it makes a strong writer too.
I am not saying that the only strong emotion is sadness, or fear based. There are many happy wells you can go to also. Don’t think so? Actually think about it. There may not be dozens and dozens right there on the surface, but they are there. As humans who like to think a lot we tend to, at times, only look at the negative things. I know I do, but if you look you can find those good moments. You just have to let them be what they are. In other words, a moment of complete joy and happiness for me was watching my son born. An amazing thing for a dumb young guy who hadn’t thought past more than his tiny little world, and circle of knowledge. I could not imagine a stronger moment of happiness. But I could continue to follow that thought and remember that my wife and I split up not long after that. I could follow that thought to another negative thought and on and on. And that is what we sometimes do. I am saying get that one good thought and stay with that. Play it in your mind, over and over if need be until you are sure of it. Now go find another good thought. The first time a girl kissed you, or a boy. The first time it was summer and school was over for the next few months, and the world was yours. Or maybe the first car you bought: First home; the first time you did twenty miles on a bike. My point is that those good things are there too, and you can tap into them as easily as you can tap into the bad stuff.
Have you loved? Drank to excess? Lost someone you thought you couldn’t live without? Drugged? Gone to prison? Fell into or out of love? Left your home? Lost your home? Husband? Wife? Watched your children grow up? Those are the places you need to go to to get the emotion you need. Don’t live there, but know it. And the fact is that you know it anyway. To be honest anyone who has ever been hurt or helped by anything has learned from it. Now I am telling you to learn to write from it. It may not be pretty at first, but as you do it you will get better at it.
Here is a short story from that same well. This story was written years ago and published on the first writers site I ever owned back in 1985 or so. It is the same well of emotion that I went to to get War at Home and Tanks On A Blue Sky Day.
By: Wendell Sweet
Copyright © 1984 – 2013 by Wendell Sweet All Rights Reserved
“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Johnson!” Beeker yelled. Beeker could see that Johnson probably wouldn’t be hanging around for long. He didn’t have the sort of balls that Simpson had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up up with all the ass-holes any way? They had been pinned down in this particular position a sandy beachhead for fourteen days. Sand and water in front of them, Jungle behind them. The gooks were on the other side of the river, and if the man upstairs the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings, Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see fifteen.
The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. But the man upstairs, now that was something to consider. What was it with him, anyway? Vacation? A little mental constipation? Just how long was long enough, for Christ sakes. Johnson crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times. Like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.
“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe ought a return fire, sir?”
“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lay low, we lay low. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”
Johnson went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? he asked himself. There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been safe, and he had been sound, he could remember that much. He could also remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either, and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.
“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire… …They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire from the North Vietnamese regulars. It had finally fallen off somewhat. It was time to make a move, and Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out. They’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing any more. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Johnson and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Johnson. It was a slow go, belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree. Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of gooks, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them… Morning found them…
… “Oh, man,” Ronson complained. “Fucker dropped the ball again,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.
Johnson didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon a small village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty, save a couple of dozen scattered bodies, busy gathering flies. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Johnson.
“Sure as fuck did, he always does towards the end though,” Phillips agreed. “Gotta work it out… Make it just right. Set it up for the next one.”
“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Johnson was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too. “Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Johnson, “he don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Johnson saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.
“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem is it, Johnson, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your white ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.
“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Johnson answered.
“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.
“Is it?” Johnson ventured in a near whisper.
“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s gonna get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”
“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”
“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Johnson, do I have it?”
He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Johnson, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”
Johnson’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I havta die though, not necessarily.”
“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.
Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Johnson,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the man upstairs gone the last time? Fourteen days, am I right?”
“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly.
“And where are we now?” “Seventeen?” Phillips asked.
“Uh uh,” Ronson corrected, “eighteen, man, remember? Seventeen was when Simpson bought it, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”
“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Johnson. Eighteen’s too far, we’ll be done at twenty, he never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen. Depends on how long the man upstairs gives you, see?”
“No,” Johnson said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? he wondered.
Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”
“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.
“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Johnson asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.
“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.
“I told you, I don’t…”
“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”
Johnson fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.
“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.
“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Johnson said.
“And when was it that you were sleeping, Johnson? For that matter, when were any of us?”
Johnson thought about it. Had they been awake for fourteen days? Not possible, he told himself. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.
“None of us have. None of us have to, unless he makes us… Don’t you get it yet, Johnson?”
“Yeah, don’t you get the feeling someone’s putting words in your mouth?” Ronson snickered. He began to laugh once more.
“Can’t be,” Johnson mumbled.
“It is, and hey, it’s a bitch, ain’t it? But think of it this way. Us three have done this… Five now?” he asked to no one in particular.
“This’ll be six,” Phillips replied.
“Jesus, has it really been six?”
“This one makes it,” Ronson agreed as he stopped laughing once again. He leaned back against a nearby tree and fired up a smoke. His eyes twinkling as they locked on Johnson and Beeker.
“Okay, it’s six. You’re an extra, Johnson, you got wrote in to replace Simpson. You see the man upstairs figures it like this. You gotta kill somebody every once in awhile, right? Otherwise he’ll lose the readers attention. So he writes in disposable’s. Yeah, man, it’s a bitch, but it’s you. It sure as hell isn’t gonna be any of us. You don’t kill off the main guys, it don’t happen,” he softened his voice. “Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He kept him with us for better than ten chapters, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude.”
Johnson swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.
So,” Beeker finished quietly, ” you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…
There you have three expressions from that same well of thought and emotion. They were written over the space of 30 years. It seems impossible to me that that could be true but I can remember writing them out, the story, Firefight, the lyrics, War At Home, and the verse Tanks On A Blue Sky Day, like it was thirty minutes ago.
I will just remind you: Believe it or not some people hate my writing. Amazing, right? All joking aside, that happens to be as true for me as it is for anyone else. The thing is there are people that hate what I write. Go read some of my reviews and you will see that. But you will also find reviews written by people who like what I write. It will be the same with you. I have a friend that I am constantly reminding that she is good. I mean so very talented, but it doesn’t matter what I say if she doesn’t believe it inside of herself. That is where you need to go with what you write. I do not mean to close yourself off from criticism or feedback, you need that. How else will you know when you provoke someone strongly? What I do mean is that you must know in your heart that once you get past the writing errors and mistakes that we all make (Read some history about any writer at all or check this) you are good. You are writing something that is worth reading and interesting.
The Dreamer’s Worlds book was like that. Here I am writing a book that is not written in a traditional way at all. I published it and no one bought it. But I knew enough then to know that if you don’t have zombies or an in somewhere in publishing, you are not going to get people to flock to what you write (Zombies now, Vampires back in the 80’s). It is going to be harder. All you can do is have that faith that it is good. Continue to plug away and build your self confidence. It doesn’t matter whether you ever sell a single copy of your books at all, it only matters that you believe in yourself. Maybe that book was not the book that will do it for you, maybe the book that will do it for you is the next book in the magazine, and if you do not have faith in yourself you will stop and that book, that one that is the one that makes it, will not get written.
Another problem that is not a problem for me, is a man writing a female character, or a woman writing a male character. At first it was. Somehow I convinced myself that men and women are completely different and therefore I could never write like a woman because I am a man. And that might be true in as far as it goes. A story that is written by a woman might contain things I could not match because I could not understand them. But I know women, and I am no longer shy, I will ask about what I don’t know. And I will understand it, but as a man, I still might not capture what the woman wrote. But that doesn’t matter in almost all the important cases, because I want to write a female character. I don’t want to become a female, I don’t want to be let into the secret society of women, and by the way, if there is a secret society for men I have never been invited in. Either because I am unacceptable of because it doesn’t exist. I don’t want to do anything other than write a female character that seems like something a woman might write. A female character that seems real, believable. It isn’t a big deal to do that.
First of all, as a man or a woman, you know far more about the opposite sex than you think you do. It is like I started out saying, you remember more than you think you do. All those little remarks, mannerisms, ways of talking, handling problems, you remember those things and you do understand them. You don’t have to jump to the stereotypical male or female either. Have you, as a woman, ever seen a man cry? Never mind the old school thought that men aren’t supposed to cry, men cry all of the time in public now, and as a man I can tell you they cried before too, in private maybe, but they cried. The differences between a man crying and a woman crying are not that different. It sometimes may seem as though the man is a little more emotional. But if you think that through you will see that that makes perfect sense. Men are not used to dealing with strong emotions in that manner. Sure, we live in the politically correct world where men are not physical or aggressive. Bull. Men are still raised in almost all societies to be aggressive. To hide emotion, and so when a man cries it might seem to you to be more intense, but in reality it probably isn’t. It is a man expressing the same emotion, maybe in a slightly different way, but they are expressing it. The man is the same as the woman then, right? No. Of course not. The part you remember is all of the men, you as a woman, or all the women, I as a man have known. Are they all the same? No. Pick one and use it the next time you write about a man or woman. Or pick more than one. Let me give you an example. This is Candace from the First Earth’s survivors book:
The traffic leaving the parking lot had slowed to a trickle, the lot nearly empty. The live shows were over, the bands packed up and gone, the dancers gone before or at the same time. The club was empty except Jimmy, the club boss, Don, the main door security, and me.
“Why are you still here, Candy,” Jimmy asked as he came up to the bar. He was on his way back from the parking lot. It was a short trip across the parking lot to the bank night deposit on the lot next door.
“I had an idea that Harry would be by tonight. He wanted to talk to me,” I shrugged. Harry was a Bookie, at least on the surface. Off the surface, or maybe it would be truer to say under the surface, Harry controlled most of the organized crime north of Syracuse. Jimmy… Jimmy managed the club, among other things, but the best description for Jimmy was to say Jimmy solved problems for Harry.
“Wants to talk you into staying here. That’s about all,” Jimmy said.
I turned away and pretended to check my face in the mirrored wall behind the bar. I wanted to Dance. I had suggested to Harry, through Jimmy, that maybe it was time for me to move on if there wasn’t any hope of me dancing. “Anyway, I ended up tending bar. So…”
“So it’s not dancing.” He dug one hand into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. He peeled two hundreds from the roll and pushed them into my hand, folding his hand over my own and closing it when I started to protest.
“But,” I started.
“But nothing. We did a lot in bar sales. You and I both know it was because of you.” He smiled, let go of my hand and stepped back. “It was me, not Harry,” he said.
I fixed my eyes on him. I knew what he might be about to say, but I wanted to be sure.
He sighed. “It was me that put the stop to your dancing. You’re too goddamn good for dancing, Candy. And once you start?” He barked a short, derisive laugh. “The law thing? Right out the window. What’s a cop make anyway in this town? Maybe thirty or forty a year?” He settled onto one of the stools that lined the bar, tossed his hat onto the bar top and patted the stool next to him. He continued talking.
“So, thirty, maybe forty, and what’s a dancer make? I can tell you there are dancers here who make better than one fifty a year. And that’s what I pay them. That’s not the side stuff or tips.” He moved one large hand, fished around behind the bar and came up with a bottle of chilled Vodka from the rack that held it just below eye level. He squinted at the label. “Cherry Surprise,” he questioned in a voice low enough to maybe be just for himself. “This shit any good, Candy?”
“It’s not bad,” I told him. I leaned over the bar and snagged two clean glasses when he asked me, setting them on the bar top. He poured us both about three shots worth. “Jesus, Jimmy.”
He laughed. “Which is why I don’t make drinks. It’d break me.” He sipped at his glass, made a face, but sipped again. I took a small sip of my own drink and settled back onto the bar stool.
“So, I said to myself, smart, beautiful, talented, and you have that something about you that makes men look the second time. You know?” He took another small sip. “Man sees a woman walking down the street or across a crowded dance floor, beautiful or not he looks. That look might be short or it might be long. Depends on the woman. Then he looks away. Does he look back? Not usually. But with you he does. There are women men look at that second time for whatever reason, and you’re one of them. I looked a second time, and then I really looked, for a third time. And I’ve seen a lot. That tattoo makes men and women look again.” His eyes fell on the tattoo that started on the back of my left hand, ran up my arm, across my breasts and then snaked back down over my belly and beyond. I knew it was provocative. That was the rebellious part of me. I had no better explanation for why I had sat, lain, through five months of weekly ink work to get it done.
Jimmy rubbed one huge open palm across the stubble of his cheeks. “Jesus do I need a shave.” He took a large drink from his glass. “It wasn’t the tattoo. It caught my eye, but that wasn’t what made me look that third time.”
“Candy, I took a third look because I saw a young woman that doesn’t need to have anything to do with this world. You’re too goddamn smart, talented, for this. So I said no. I let you dance a few times, but I didn’t want you to fall into it. I made the decision that you should tend bar instead of dance.” He tossed off the glass.
“I see that,” I told him. Although I didn’t completely see it. He was reading a lot about what he thought, what he saw, into who I really was.
“Yeah? I don’t think so, Candy. And that’s a reason right there. Candy… like a treat. When did it become okay for anyone to call you that? Because I remember a few months back when you started hanging around. It was Candace, and pity the dumb bastard who didn’t understand that. Now it’s Candy to any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along.” He saw the hurt look in my eyes, reached below the bar, snagged the bottle and topped off his glass. I shook my head, covered the top of my glass with my hand and smiled. He put the bottle back and continued.
“I’m not trying to hurt you, only keep you on track. I’m giving you the keys. You drive. All I’m saying is set your ground rules. Make them rigid. Don’t let anyone – me, Harry, these boys that work here, customers – Don’t let anyone cross those lines. You see, Candy?”
“Yeah? Then why not call me on calling you Candy? I’ve done it since we sat down. Why not start there?”
“Well… I mean, you’re the boss, Jimmy.”
“Which is why you start there. I don’t allow anyone to talk anyway to anyone that doesn’t want that. Let me explain that. You got girls that work the streets. You don’t see it so much here. It’s a small city, but it happens. I spent a few years on the streets in Rochester, bigger place, as a kid. Happens all the time there.” He sipped at his drink. I took a sip of my own drink and raised my brows at what he had said.
“Yeah? Don’t believe it? It’s true. I fought my way up. I have respect because I earned it.” He waved one hand. “Don’t let me get off track.” He smiled and took another sip from his glass. “So, I’ve seen girls on the streets… Whores… It is what it is. Would you hear me say that to them? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t. If a woman sees herself as a whore, if that’s all it is, what it is, then who am I to say different? Do you see? It’s a living, or it’s a life… There is a difference. Now back to you. You want to dance. Some of these girls,” he waved one meaty hand at the empty stage area, “work the other side. Some of them do that for me, some do it on their own. Some don’t,” he sighed. “Either way you would not see me treat them any other way than what they want to be treated. I mean that. If you believe you are a whore and that is what you see, then that is what you show the world, and that is how the world sees you… treats you,” he settled his eyes on me.
I nodded. I didn’t trust my voice. I had been down this road on my own. What did it say about me? That it only mattered that I made it? That money mattered more than anything else? Would I be swayed by the money? Was I even being honest with myself about my motivations? I really didn’t know. I knew what I told myself on a daily basis… that I wanted to follow my Father into law enforcement, but was it whimsical like so many other things in my life that I never followed through on?
“You are not just a dancer. There is a part of you that is, a part of you that likes the way a man looks at you, likes the money. But there is another part that is the private you, the real you. You need to keep those distinctions.” He rubbed at his eyes, tossed off the rest of his drink and rose from the bar stool. “Let me drop you home, Candy,” he asked.
I stood, leaving my mostly full drink sitting on the bar top. “I have my car,” I told him.
“It’s late. Creeps around maybe.”
“Jimmy, every creep in my neighborhood knows I work here… for you. Guys stopped talking to me, let alone the creeps.” I laughed, but it wasn’t really all that funny. It had scared me when I realized who Jimmy was, who Jimmy worked for. In effect, who I worked for. Another questionable thing? Probably.
Jimmy nodded. “Smart creeps. The southern Tier’s a big place. Easy to lose yourself, with or without a little help.” He looked at his watch and then fixed his eyes on me once more. “So you keep your perspective, set your limits, draw your lines,” he spoke as he shrugged into his coat, retrieved his hat from the bar top and planted it on his head, “Don’t let nobody cross those lines. You start next week, let’s say the eleventh?”
“Take the balance of the time off. By the time the eleventh comes around you should be ready for a whole new world. A whole new life.” He stood looking down at me for a second. “The big talk I guess. For what it’s worth, I don’t say those things often, Candy.”
I nodded. “I believe that. And, Jimmy?”
He looked down at me. He knew what was coming. He expected it, and that was the only reason I was going to say it. I knew better than to correct Jimmy V. There were a lot of woods up here. They did go on forever and they probably did hold a lot of lost people. I may be slow but I’m far from stupid.
“Please don’t call me Candy,” I told him.
He smiled. “Don’t be so goddamn nice about it. Don’t call me Candy,” he rasped, a dangerous edge to his voice. “Look ’em right in the eye. Don’t call me Candy. Put a little attitude in your look. A little I can fuckin’ snap at any minute attitude. Let me see that.”
I Put my best street face on. The one I had used growing up on the streets in Syracuse. I knew that I can snap at any minute look. I’d used it many times. “Don’t call me Candy,” I told him in a voice that was not my own. My street voice, “Just don’t do it.”
“Goddamn right, Doll,” Jimmy told me. “Goddamn right. Scared me a little there. That’s that street wise part of you.” He took my head in both massive hands, bent and kissed the top of my head. “I will see you on the eleventh,” he told me.
I nodded. I let the Doll remark go.
I followed Jimmy out the back door past Don who nodded at me and winked. Don was an asshole. Always hitting on us when Jimmy wasn’t around. But Jimmy was his uncle. I was employing my best selective perception when I smiled at him. I wondered if I would ever get used to him. Probably not, I decided, but maybe that would be a good thing. Of course, it didn’t matter. I never saw Don again. Or Jimmy. Or anyone else from that life.
I said goodbye to Jimmy V., crossed the parking lot for the last
time and drove myself home. I parked my rusted out Toyota behind my Grandparents house, and twenty four hours later my world, everybody’s world, was completely changed.
Candace ~ March 2nd
This is not a diary. I have never kept a diary. They say never say never, but I doubt I will. I have never been this scared. The whole world is messed up. Is it ending? I don’t know, but it seems like it’s ending here. Earthquakes, explosions. I’ve seen no Police, Fire or emergency people all day. It’s nearly night. I think that’s a bad sign. I have the Nine Millimeter that used to be my Father’s. I’ve got extra ammo too. I’m staying inside.
Candace ~ March 3rd
I lost this yesterday; my little notebook. I left it by the window so I could see to write, but I swear it wasn’t there when I went to get it; then I found it again later on by the window right where I left it. Maybe I’m losing it.
There are no Police, no Firemen, phones, electric. The real world is falling apart. Two days and nothing that I thought I knew is still here. Do you see? The whole world has changed.
I got my guitar out and played it today. I played for almost three hours. I played my stuff. I played some blues. Usually blues will bring me out of blues, but it didn’t work. It sounded so loud, so out of place, so… I don’t know. I just stopped and put it away.
Candace ~ March 4th
I’m going out. I have to see. If I don’t come back. Well… What good is writing this?
Candace ~ March 5th
The whole city has fallen apart. I spent most of yesterday trying to see how bad this is. I finally realized it’s bad beyond my being able to fix it. It’s bad as in there is no authority. It’s bad as in there is no Jimmy V. I hear gunshots at night, all night. And screams. There are still tremors. If I had to guess, I would say it’s the end of the civilized world. Unless things are better somewhere else. I have to believe that. Power, structure, it’s all gone. I mean it’s really all gone. This city is torn up. There are huge areas that are ruined. Gulleys, ravines, missing streets, damaged bridges. The damage costs have to be in the billions… And that’s just here. There’s me and my little notebook I’m writing in, and my nine millimeter. I’ve got nothing else for company right now.
I’ve got water, some peanuts and crackers. How long can this go on? What then?
Candace ~ March 6th
I’ve decided to leave. I can’t stay here. There was a tremor last night, and not one of the really bad ones, but even so I was sure the house would come down on me. It didn’t. Maybe though, that is a sign, I told myself. And scared or not, I have to go. I have to. I can’t stay here. Maybe tomorrow.
Candace ~ March 7th
The streets are a mess. I’ve spent too much of the last week hiding inside my apartment. Most of my friends, and that’s a joke, I didn’t have anyone I could actually call a friend; So I guess I would say most of my acquaintances believed my grandparents were alive and that I lived here with them. They weren’t. I didn’t. I kind of let that belief grow, fostered it, I guess.
I planted the seed by saying it was my Nana Pans’ apartment. You can see the Asian in me, so it made sense to them that she was my Nana. But I look more like I’m a Native American than African American and Japanese. It’s just the way the blood mixed, as my father used to say. But Native American or Asian, they could see it in my face. And this neighborhood is predominantly Asian. Mostly older people. There were two older Asian women that lived in the building. They probably believed one of those women was my Nana, and I didn’t correct them.
I can’t tell you why I did that. I guess I wanted that separation. I didn’t want them, anyone, to get to know me well. My plan had been to dance, earn enough money for school – Criminal Justice – and go back to Syracuse. Pretend none of this part of my life had ever happened. Some plan. It seemed workable. I wondered over what Jimmy V. had said to me. Did he see something in me that I didn’t, or was he just generalizing? It doesn’t matter now I suppose.
My Grandmother passed away two years ago. The apartment she had lived in was just a part of the building that she owned. Nana Pan, my mother’s mother, had rented the rest of the building out. The man who had lived with her was not my Grandfather – he had died before I was born – but her brother who had come ten years before from Japan. They spoke little English. People outside of the neighborhood often thought they were man and wife. She didn’t bother correcting them, my mother had told me. Nana Pan thought that most Americans were superficial and really didn’t care, so what was the use in explaining anything to them? Maybe that’s where I got my deceptiveness from.
I had left the house as it was. Collected rents through an agency. For all anyone knew, I was just another tenant. Of course Jimmy V. had known. He had mentioned it to me. But Jimmy knew everything there was to know about everyone. That was part of his business. It probably kept him alive.
So I stayed and waited. I believed someone would show up and tell me what to do. But no one did. I saw a few people wander by yesterday, probably looking for other people, but I stayed inside. I don’t know why, what all my reasons were. A lot of fear, I think.
There have been earthquakes. The house is damaged. I went outside today and really looked at it. It is off the foundation and leaning. I should have gotten out of it the other night when I knew it was bad. It’s just dumb luck it hasn’t fallen in on me and killed me.
It doesn’t matter now though. I met a few others today, and I’m leaving with them. I don’t know if I’ll stay with them. I really don’t know what to expect from life anymore.
I’m taking this and my gun with me. Writing this made me feel alive. I don’t know how better to say it.
I’ll write more here I think. I just don’t know when, or where I’ll be…
That is a female character written by me, a man. It works because I went with what I knew. I didn’t go for a stereotypical woman, but a woman who is a composite of a few women I have known in my life. She is loosely based on four women. The first and most obvious was a woman whom I met in the early eighties, when I drove a cab for a living. She was a dancer at a little club whom I picked up every early morning and drove back to her hotel room…
The Last Ride is Copyright © 2013 Wendell G. Sweet All rights reserved
THE LAST RIDE
It was early in my shift. I owned my own taxi so I could pretty much pick which 12 hour shift I wanted to drive. I drove nights so that I could be home with my son during the day while my wife worked. I’d told myself for most of the last year that I should stop driving taxi, settle down to a real job and be more responsible. And then a Conrail contract came along and then the opportunity to work with another driver who handled the Airport contract, and suddenly I was making more money than I could have reasonably expected from what I would have considered a straight job.
The hours were long, but there was something that attracted me to the night work. Always had been. Like my internal clock was Set to PM. It just seemed to work and after a few failed attempts to work day shift work, I gave it up and went to work full time nights.
I was never bored. The nights kept me awake and interested. They supplied their own entertainment. Conrail crews, regulars that called only for me, the assorted funny drunks late at night when the bars were closing. Soldiers on their way back to the nearby base, and a dancer at a small club just off downtown that had been calling for me personally for the last few weeks. Using my cab as a dressing room on the way back to her hotel. It was always something different.
Days, the few times I’d driven days, couldn’t compare. Sure, there was violence too but it rarely came my way and never turned into a big deal when it did.
It was Friday night, one of my big money nights, about 7:00 P.M. and my favorite dispatcher, Smitty, had just come on. He sent me on a call out State street that would terminate downtown. Once I was downtown, I could easily pick up a GI heading back to the base for a nice fat fare and usually a pretty good tip. My mind was on that. My mind was also on that dancer who would be calling sometime after two AM, and who had made it clear that I was more than welcome to come up to her room. It was tempting, I’ll admit it, and each time she called she tempted me more. I figured it was just a matter of time before I went with her.
I really didn’t see the lady when she got into my car, but when it took her three times to get out the name of the bar downtown that she wanted to go to, I paid attention. Drunk. It was early too. Sometimes drunks were OK, but most times they werent. This one kept slumping over, slurring her words, nearly dropping her cigarette. I owed the bank a pile of money on the car and didn’t need burn holes in my back seat.
I dropped the flag on the meter, pulled away from the curbing and eased into traffic. Traffic was heavy at that time and I pissed off more than a few other drivers as I forced my way into the traffic flow. I had just settled into the traffic flow when a glance into the rear view mirror told me my passenger had fallen over. I couldn’t see the cigarette but I could still smell it. I made the same drivers even angrier as I swept out of the traffic flow and angled up onto the sidewalk at the edge of the street. I got as far out of the traffic flow as I could get so I could get out to see what was up with the woman in the back seat.
I was thinking drunk at the time, but the thought that it could be something more serious crept into my head as I made the curb, bumped over it, set my four way flashers and climbed out and went around to the back door.
She was slumped over into the wheel well, the cigarette smoldering next to her pooled, black hair. In her hair I realized as the smell of burning hair came to me. I snatched the cigarette and threw it out then shook her shoulder to try and bring her around. But it was obvious to me, just that fast, that the whole situation had changed. She wasn’t breathing.
I reached in, caught her under the arms, and then suddenly someone else was there with me.
He was a short, thin man wearing a worried look up on his face. Dark eyes sat deeply in their sockets. His hair hung limply across his forehead. He squeezed past me and looked down at the woman. He pushed her eyelids up quickly, one by one, and then held his fingers to her lips. He frowned deeply and flipped the hair away from his forehead.
“Paramedic”, he told me as he took her other arm and helped me pull her from the back seat.
We laid her out on the sloping front lawn of the insurance company I had stopped in front of and he put his head to her chest.
He lifted his head, shaking it as he did. “Call an ambulance,” he said tersely.
I could feel the shift in his demeanor. He wasn’t letting me know he could handle the situation, like when he told me he was a paramedic, he was handling it. I got on the radio and made the call.
The ambulance got there pretty fast. I stood back out of the way and let them work on her, raising my eyes to the backed up traffic on occasion. The paramedic had torn open her shirt. Her nudity seemed so out of place on the city sidewalk. Watching the traffic took the unreal quality of it away from me. I watched the ambulance pull away, eased my car down off the curb and back into the sluggish traffic and went back to work.
I got the story on her about midnight once things slowed down and I stopped into the cab stand to talk to the dispatcher for a short while. His daughter knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone at the hospital. The woman had taken an overdose. Some kind of pills. It was going to be touch and go. He also had a friend in the police department too. She did it because of a boyfriend who had cheated on her. It seemed so out of proportion to me. I went back to work but I asked him to let me know when he heard more.
The night had passed me by. The business of the evening hours catching me up for a time and taking me away from the earlier events. I was sitting downtown in my cab watching the traffic roll by me. It was a beautifully warm early morning for Northern New York. I had my window down letting the smell of the city soak into me, when I got the call to pick up my dancer with the club gig.
“And, Joe,” Smitty told me over the staticy radio, ” your lady friend didn’t make it.”
It was just a few blocks to the club. I left the window down enjoying the feeling of the air flowing past my face. The radio played Steely Dan’s Do It Again and I kind of half heard it as I checked out the back seat to see if the ghost from the woman earlier might suddenly pop up there.
The dancer got in and smiled at me. I smiled back but I was thinking about the other woman, the woman who was now dead, sitting in that same place a few hours before. The dancer began to change clothes as I drove to her hotel.
“You know,” she said, catching my eyes in the mirror. “I should charge you a cover. You’re seeing more than those GI’S in the club.” She shifted slightly, her breasts rising and falling in the rear view mirror. We both laughed. It was a game that was not a game. She said it to me every time. But, my laugh was hollow. Despite her beauty I was still hung up on someone being alive in my back seat just a few hours before and dead now. Probably being wheeled down to the morgue were my friend Pete worked. I made myself look away and concentrate on the driving. She finished dressing as I stopped at her hotel’s front entrance.
“You could come up… If you wanted to,” she said. She said it lightly, but her eyes held serious promise.
“I’d like to… But I better not,” I said.
She smiled but I could tell I had hurt her feelings. It was a real offer, but I couldn’t really explain how I felt. Why I couldn’t. Not just because I was married, that was already troubled, but because of something that happened earlier.
I drove slowly away after she got out of the cab and wound up back downtown for the next few hours sitting in an abandoned buildings parking lot thinking… ” I was only concerned about her cigarette burning the seats.”
I smoked while I sat, dropping my own cigarettes out the window and onto the pavement. A short while later Smitty called me with a Conrail trip. I started the cab and drove out to Massey yard to pick up my crew. The dancer never called me again…
The dancer is not the complete focus of that story. Two different women take the focus, the one that dies and the dancer. The dancer was where I went for my first look at Candace. For the purposes of the story I didn’t go into a lot of detail about the dancer, but you could assume that I had been picking her up every night for quite some time and that we probably had conversations and you would be right. What I got was the sense of a woman who did what she had the ability to do. Not because she was a whore, or a slut, or a loose woman, but because she wanted to live. Yes, she offered more than conversation and I turned her down, on another night I wouldn’t have turned her down most likely. That fact doesn’t make her or me either saints or sinners, just human beings. She seemed honest, unapologetic for the life she lived, I loved that. She was not pretentious, she was simply alive and living. She was great as my initial Base for Candace.
My second mold was my mother who has worked hard all of her life. She has been afraid in situations I am sure, but she always did what she had to to get by or survive and take care of myself and my siblings. That is real, not a composite, and I wanted Candace to have strength like that. I have met other women with that strength too. It is something I admire, something I think is sometimes lacking in female characters, so I wanted my Candace character to have it.
My third mold was my first girlfriend. Maybe in my head, we never actually made it official, but she was a funny person. Bold. Unafraid of life. She went for the things she saw that she wanted in life. She kept a positive outlook. She didn’t let the fact that she was a woman slow her down. I remember falling in love with her about three minutes after I met her. She was just an awesome person and she happened to be a woman too. One of the first women in my life that made me stop looking at women in a stereotypical way. I wanted Candace to have that strength.
My last mold was a buddies wife. I got to know her a little, and one night when we were drinking she told me a story about her life…
Lyrics Copyright © Wendell G. Sweet 2011 ♪ ♫ ♪ Date Written;01-24-2011
Song Title: Vegas Style: Alt
It’s snowing in Watertown… Kat’s packing the car with Jo Jo… They’re leaving for the promise of a better life… Someplace…
Instrumental ———————————— Small Lead transition into song tempo —————-
They left the small town for Las Vegas… Kat she wants to see new places… Run the bases… And Jo Jo’s born to be told, you can tell… He takes her west where the snow never fell
But there ain’t no easy life in Vegas, it’s just a little brighter than some of the other places… Times are tough… You can see it in the faces… When’s enough enough? And who decides? It’s tough…
Instrumental ——————————————Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights will make you blind… to the things you got to do. So you put them out of mind…
Someday, you know, you got to get wise… Time keeps slippin’ by… You fall through the cracks if you don’t compromise…
Time goes by and they find themselves sleeping in the car. Kat, she finds a job dancing at a bar, and Jo Jo fills in pouring drinks most nights… But he… Hates the dancing. Hates the men.. Hates the life…
And some days Kat’s thoughts are so black, all she can think about is going back… Promises… You know they don’t amount to jack when life ends up like this… When it… moves past promises…
Instrumental—————————— Long Lead ———————————————————-
Jo Jo ain’t got much to say… Feels like he… Pissed his life away… Wakes up to do the Jo Jo show… Believes that’s just the way that life goes…
He’s just trying to make his way through it all… Waiting for the curtain to fall… But maybe it fell and he’s just waitin’ on last call… Hard to tell.. Maybe it’s just as well…
Instrumental —————————————–Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights don’t seem so bright when you’re working through the long night to the gray daylight…
And sometimes all you want to do is pack it in… But life here beats you down so hard… Don’t know where to start…
Instrumental—————————– Short lead transition ———————————————–
Kat, she sleeps through the day… Gets up for work and dances the night away… Walk this way… Slide down the pole… Some days it’s like it’s all she knows…
Just smiling her way through it all… Listening… Waiting on the curtain call… Sometimes she wonders is it her last curtain call? It’s all numbers… Still she wonders…
Instrumental —————————————Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights will make you blind… to the things you got to do. So you put them out of mind…
Someday, you know, you got to get wise… Time keeps slippin’ by… You fall through the cracks if you don’t compromise…
Instrumental—————–Transition to end –slower —————————————————
And it’s raining… In Vegas… As they make their way home… Still looking for the promise of a better life…. Someday….
Why I Wrote It:
(Note: Additional work 05-15-11 / 05-16-11 There is music for this written in C)
I knew a girl who lived that life. She left Watertown and ended up working in a bar. One night, over thirty years ago, she told me about it. I remembered that conversation and wrote the song about it.
Jo Jo is modeled after me. The aimless life I used to live. I put the two things together and wrote the song…
That was my last piece for Candace. I made those connections in the blink of an eye. I didn’t have to explain them or show you the work that lead me to them, but it will be the same for you when you get there I am sure. The thing is to delve into your life. What was your mother/father/aunt/uncle/ex-wife/husband/minister/boyfriend like? Write it. Remember, characters that are non typical are more realistic in the long run. They are also more interesting to the reader, I think, and as you personalize them you base them on your own history and so they take on the characteristics that women or men you have known possessed, and they also become much easier to write because you know them.
Another problem is we sometimes let a friend or family member read our work and we don’t get the response we hoped to get from that friend or family member.
I gave a copy of my first book to every family member that I could find. A month later I wrote and said, “Excuse me, but have you had time to read my book yet? I put a lot into it and I think it’s good and I would really, really like to have your opinion.” I waited but not a single person wrote back. Huh, I thought. I must really suck very badly. I reminded them a month or so later “Hey! Me again. Just wondering if you read my book yet. Let me know!” Nothing.
Well I’ll be damned, I thought. I knew I wasn’t the greatest of writers, but I have read published stuff far worse than what I write, and besides, I poured my heart and soul into it.
I realized then that you have to find your audience. And your audience is there. They don’t know you yet, and you don’t know them yet, but they are there. They are there sitting patiently and waiting for you to publish that book so they can fall right into it.
Did you notice that I went to my humor well and injected a little humor into my re-telling of passing books out to my entire family and not one reading it or commenting? As you can imagine I was crushed. But I learned from it. I realized that my family didn’t write the book. They had no emotional attachment to it, so I went ahead and published it and not long after I got some of the real feedback I needed. I found people that liked it. Still do like it, and identify with the characters. Of course I found people that hate it, hate the style of writing, and that is to be expected also. My point is I based my faith in my ability on me, no one else. Yes, it was good to get feedback, and I took some it and rejected other parts of it, but the main thing was to get it into my head that I had to like it first. If I didn’t like it, believe in it, have faith in it, then it was dead already. Might as well bury it.
Again, we are not on impossible ground, we just have to know where we are. No body gets to go through life without being smacked around a little. Either life does it to you or other people do it to you. Sometimes it can destroy you if you allow it to, other times it hurts, makes you cry, but you pick yourself up and get your ass back in gear and go. You learn from it. That lesson is usually like this: “Wait a second, goddammit. Did I do anything to deserve getting used like that? No!” or “Does he/she really hate me? Why? What did I do?” And that might go on a little but you will come to the realization that you didn’t do anything at all. You were just you and some people like you and some people don’t. Before you know it you meet a woman/man that does like you as you are, does accept you. Maybe that takes some time, but as long as you don’t stop looking you find out how to be you and be liked. It is that simple. And you know what? It might not be five thousand people that like you. It might be five million, it might be less. But when you learn that, you now have a well to draw from. That is the same well you should go to for the basis of your confidence in yourself as a writer.
The reasoning is clear. You may live, as I do, in a small town/village. Things in a small place are small, small post office. Smaller roads, smaller school. But in another way that is all dead. With the advent of the internet that has all opened up. The world, literally, is right there at your fingertips. And how many people, do you suppose, are similar to you in your likes and dislikes? Millions? Thousands? A million? A million people out of the entire world is a small number. I would say it is safe to assume that there are a million people out there that would like your writing if you can get it to them. That is your strength. You have been down that road, all the way down that road, you know there are people who do like you, now apply it world wide and you can see what you have. Another well of strength to draw from.
Now that doesn’t mean all of those people are ever going to know about you. They might not, but if you never publish your work they will never have that opportunity and that would be a loss for you and for them. So go to that well where you have that emotion stored from that time you were rejected, put down, passed over, and then go to that other well of strength you used to get past that. Maybe the Bible, Quran, prayer, friendship, something inside that you can’t even explain. Whatever it is go to it. Tell your self that you personally have that faith in yourself. Believe it.
Last words: Family. Family is what we have to turn to for our strength usually, right? Not always. We turn there but it doesn’t always help, in fact sometimes it hurts. They seem to be more hypercritical of us that anyone else, or, they never read that book you sent them. Jesus went back to Nazareth to preach and was rejected there among his own people. They said, paraphrased, “What is this? This guy is a carpenters son, he’s not a prophet or a God or a messiah.” They rejected what he had to say. How many writers have you read that said their families encouraged them and read their work? Not many. Not many because it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean they hate you, or your work. If it was someone else who published it and they read it they might even like it, but it wasn’t someone else it was you. And you are Mary’s/Bob’s/John’s kid. “Yeah, I went to school with you., You aren’t a writer, you work down at the Walmart, right?” And there you go.
So don’t look for what isn’t there. If you get that support great, but it isn’t a given and you shouldn’t let it impact you negatively if you don’t find it. Go to that well of strength and get what you need, and then publish your work.
Works and People mentioned here:
The Dreamer’s Worlds Book
The First Earths Survivors book
True Stories From A Small Town #1 (Last Ride Excerpt)
I hope you enjoyed and learned from this. Please check out my sponsors and I will be back soon… Dell.