The Delicate Art Of Deciding

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

What To Keep?

In this chapter, we have a lot of information – but what do we need?


Chapter 29 “FINAL”

 

Tyree yawned and slid the pot under his coffee maker. The foldout couch in the corner would be his bed and his office would be his home for a few days—if his prospective client was worth the effort. Doug Kenner seemed like a guy in need, but lots of people were in need. Tyree liked to prioritize his efforts, and needed to see where the Kenner family placed in the lineup.

He dropped into the chair in front of his computer. Sleep would wait.

A quick search showed Doug as a freelancer for The Tampa Tribute. A few clicks brought up a contribution that had run several weeks ago. The other articles were older, with four weeks or more between them, but there were a lot.

Tyree leaned forward and rubbed his chin. Doug wasn’t an employee at the Trib. Was that his choice or theirs? He browsed some of his private subscription data bases. The family appeared pretty normal.

Scrolling through to an essay in the Tribute’s Lifestyles section, Tyree took a big drink of coffee and glanced at Doug’s published work. One was called “I Caught Your Kiss,” another was entitled “Pretend Sisters And My Daughter’s Other Imaginary Friends.” A third was “A Tomato Grabbed Our Car.”

As the coffee pot gurgled, Tyree rubbed his eyes and settled in. “Let’s see what you’re all about, Mr. Doug.”

I Caught Your Kiss by Doug Kenner, Tribute contributor

On Thursdays, I drop my daughter Sophie off at her grandmother’s house. That’s been the routine ever since Sophie started swim classes. It makes for an easier day for me, and Grandma Judy gets to play with her granddaughter all day once a week. If you love your grandma the way Sophie loves Grandma Judy, that’s a big time treat. I’m not sure my daughter has ever eaten a vegetable over there. Certainly not on a Thursday.

Tyree smiled. This definitely sounded like the man he’d just met.

Her latest thing, when it’s time to say goodbye, is to blow kisses at you and ask you to catch them. This requires you to make a move like you are catching a baseball with both hands, and then clasp them to your heart. Then she will expect you to blow kisses back at her, and she will clasp her hands to her heart, shouting, “I caught your kiss!”

The essay went on—long enough for a second cup of coffee. The lack of sleep never got to the essay’s current reader.

So my wife roars on down the driveway and gets ready to pull into the street, with my daughter waving frantically at her. ‘Goodbye! Goodbye!” Tears were welling up in her eyes. “Why isn’t she waving goodbye to me?”

“She—she has to keep her hands on the steering wheel, sweetie. Safety first, you know?” That wasn’t going to cut it. Then, a brainstorm. “Mommy will flash the car’s red tail lights, to wave to you. She’ll do that to let you know that she saw you waving. Watch.” It was the best I could think of on short notice. Then I held my breath.

As my wife slowed down to pull from our driveway into the street, she applied the brakes and the tail lights lit up.

“There you go!” I announced in triumphant relief. “See? Mommy saw you and waved with the tail lights!”

My daughter smiled up at me, blinking back tears. “She saw me!”

“Of course she saw you! She turned on the red lights, didn’t she?”

Tyree wiped his eye.

 

Because I realized I have to set an example for our daughter, okay? But also because it’s worth it. People don’t last forever, and you never know when the last time you hug or kiss somebody goodbye is going to be the last time that you ever hug or kiss them goodbye. So you have to keep that in mind.

And it’s kind of the same thing with this “I caught your kiss” thing. Don’t worry about stopping too soon, because it’s going to stop one day, and on that day, I may wish that I had this day back. That day may be six months from now, or six years from now, or that day may never come. But I have a feeling that, like most things with my daughter, the day something stops always comes a little sooner than I want it to.

-Doug Kenner is a freelance writer and independent contractor for a local wine distributor

Setting down his coffee, Tyree rubbed his eyes and sniffled.

“Yeah,” he said to the office walls. “I have to help this family.”

He stood up and took one last sip of coffee before collapsing onto the foldout couch.


 

Original Chapter 29, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

Tyree drove to his Tampa office from the donut shop. He needed sleep, but he wanted to do some research on his potential customer first. Dan seemed like a guy in need, but lots of people are in need. Tyree liked to prioritize his efforts, and needed to see where Dan and his family placed in the lineup.

He made more coffee while the computer booted up. In the corner was a foldout couch. That would be his bed and the office would be home for a few days if this guy was worth the effort.

A quick search showed Dan doing some freelance work for the main newspaper in town, The Tampa Tribute. A click brought up a recent contribution from a few weeks ago. Some of his other work with the Tribute was dated older; about six weeks or more in between articles, but there were a lot of them.

He wasn’t an employee at the Trib, Tyree thought. Was that his choice or theirs? Then he checked some of his subscription data bases. The family seemed pretty normal.

He scrolled through to an article, an essay, in the Lifestyles section, and took a big drink of coffee. It had been a long night. There were several articles by Dan in the Trib. All essays. One was called “I Caught Your Kiss”; another was entitled “Pretend Sisters And My Daughter’s Other Imaginary Friends.” A third was “A Tomato Grabbed Our Car.”

“Let’s see what you’re all about, Mr Dan,” Tyree thought as he began reading.

 

“I Caught Your Kiss” by Dan Alatorre, Tribute contributor

On Thursdays, I drop my daughter Savvy off at her grandmother’s house. That’s been the routine ever since Savvy started swim classes. It makes for an easier day for me, and Grandma Judy gets to play with her granddaughter all day once a week. If you love your grandma the way Savvy loves Grandma Judy, that’s a big time treat. I’m not sure my daughter has ever eaten a vegetable over there. Certainly not on a Thursday.

Of course, while she’s there, Savvy gets to feed the cows with Aunt Pam, and maybe go for a ride on the tractor with Grandpa. You never know what’s in store for you at Grandma’s house, so it’s a fun adventure every time.

Today, it’s raining a little, so Savvy insists on using her princess umbrella to walk the five feet from our car to grandma’s door. Aunt Pam was waiting in the garage with an umbrella, but I waved her off. Once inside, it was the usual round of Thursday morning merriment, with Savvy greeting everyone with big hugs and kisses.

Her latest thing, when it’s time to say goodbye, is to blow kisses at you and ask you to catch them. This requires you to make a move like you are catching a baseball with both hands, and then clasp them to your heart. Then she will expect you to blow kisses back at her, and she will catch them, cheering “Got ‘em!” and clasp her hands to her heart as well.

Then, sometimes – often, really – she blows you more kisses that you must catch. And of course you have to blow more kisses back. I think. I’m not 100% sure of the formalities. I think she and my wife Michele invented it. But Grandma Judy eagerly joined the club, and I guess by then we were all drafted. So it takes a few moments to say goodbye these days.

Now, it’s not a big deal to do the kiss catch thing wrong; that’s going to happen sometimes when you are participating in a ritual created by a two year old. Well, two going on three. But I never really got the rules down, and they seem to change each week anyway. When this all started a few months ago, Savvy could be in another room playing and I could call out “Goodbye!” and she’d call back “’Bye Dad,” without looking up from her Barbie. Prior to that, Judy used to have to distract her so I could sneak out and not start Savvy on a crying fit. So the goodbyes have evolved, shall we say.

Now we’re up to this blow kisses thing, and when that started I could blow a kiss and she’d blow a kiss and that was about it. No catching and clasping.

Now it’s all discombobulated, and I’m the only one who’s not up on the rules – as I found out the hard way a few weeks ago. Michele and Savvy hopped into the car to go to dance class, and I helped buckle Savvy into the car seat. Which means I was in the garage with them before the car ever started to back away. Which means there was ample opportunity to say goodbye to me while I was buckling the kid into the seat. But without regard to that, they backed up and I waved, and started to go into the house.

Big mistake.

Michele taps the car horn. When she put the window down, I hear our daughter crying. “You have to wave goodbye!” my wife informs me.

I’m confused. “I did,” I protest.

“You have to catch her kisses, too.”

Oh.

I lean over so my daughter can see me again from her car seat, and wait for some sort of kiss-blowing motion. This abates the crying. When I think I see the kisses getting blown to me, I catch them and clutch them to my chest with a big smile. My daughter happily now says something to me that I cannot hear over the engine noise, since I am standing almost in front of the car.

“What” I mouth to my wife.

“You have to blow more kisses to her!”

Oh.

I blow some kisses. I think I see Savvy catch and clasp. Good to go.

Nope.

“Catch more, Dad!”

I do. Then I see the urge in my wife’s eyes, requesting another set of return air kisses to my daughter. I oblige, wondering how many time this goes back and forth.

“You guys are gonna be late for class,” I tease.

A semi-frown is Michele’s reply, and they drive off.

Now, what bugs me about this is twofold. First, my daughter used to be able to smash head first into a wall at full speed and she wouldn’t make a peep. Now she’s almost three years old and she cries if you mess up the third round of air kisses. That’s a problem. Second, somebody needs to let me know what the rules are.

And not just me. Michele was heading off to an appointment the other day, and Savvy wanted to wave goodbye to her. Depending on the weather, it may be too cold for Savvy to go out to the garage, especially if it’s a morning appointment in winter and Savvy’s still in her pajamas. So we wave goodbye from the workout room. It has big glass doors that look out onto the driveway. Michele backs up, stops, waves; Savvy waves back. Good to go.

Nope.

Now we have to do the air kiss thing a few times, which is fine, but then after Michele backed up the car, Savvy ran over to the front window. I figured she wanted to watch Mommy’s car drive down the driveway. And she did.

But she also wanted another air kiss or wave goodbye. None of the rest of us knew that. We had no plan.

So my wife roars on down the driveway and gets ready to pull into the street, with my daughter waving frantically at her. ‘Goodbye! Goodbye!” Tears were welling up in her eyes.

“Why isn’t she waving goodbye to me?” my daughter choked out.

“She – she has to keep her hands on the steering wheel, sweetie. Safety first, you know?” that wasn’t going to cut it. Then, a brainstorm. “Mommy will flash the car’s red tail lights, to wave to you. She’ll do that to let you know that she saw you waving. Watch.” It was the best I could think of on short notice. Then I held my breath.

As my wife slowed down to pull from our driveway into the street, she applied the brakes and the tail lights lit up.

“There you go!” I announced in triumphant relief. “See? Mommy saw you and waved with the tail lights!”

My daughter smiled up at me, blinking back tears. “She saw me!”

“Of course she saw you! She turned on the red lights, didn’t she?”

Satisfied, Savvy returned to her oatmeal. Later, I gave Michele a call and let her know about the new goodbye protocol.

And the next time she had an early appointment, my smart cookie of a wife did even better.

After Savvy waved goodbye from the workout room doors and sprinted up to the front windows, Michele pulled around and stopped, lowered the passenger side window, and waved again.

Savvy was ecstatic. She blew a few air kisses, Mommy caught them, blew a few back, and –

And that’s where all the trouble started, I think.

I think that very day, the three-round goodbye air-kiss ritual was created. I was right there and I didn’t even notice, but I had unwittingly helped create a formality that would send our daughter reeling if we didn’t carry it out properly. And I’m not talking a temper tantrum, or a fit; I’m talking depressed sobbing, “Mommy didn’t wave goodbye to me,” which is way worse. Oatmeal takes a lot longer to eat in those circumstances.

This whole thing has gotten me off balance. When it’s my turn to say goodbye, I never know when I’m actually allowed to exit the room. The goodbye thing might go two rounds or five, you never know. Grandma always plays for extra innings, too.

I’m doing my best, though.

Well, that’s really not true. I was not trying my best, and now I’m trying a little harder. And I realized that, which is lame and made me feel bad, so now I’m going to really try my best. It’s a small thing. It probably won’t last.

She hasn’t been doing this big goodbye thing for very long and she’s not going to keep doing it for very long. Probably. I don’t see her being 25 years old and still blowing air kisses for 20 minutes.

At least I hope not. If she takes after her mother, who takes an hour to say goodbye to everybody after Thanksgiving dinner, who knows? You go and eat dinner at 6pm, you’re done by 8, and it’s 10 o’clock and she’s still saying goodbye to people. They’re talking like they didn’t just do that for two hours. For a while there, I used to make an excuse to drive over separately just so I could go ahead on home and catch the end of the football game while she was still hugging people.

For a while I did that. I don’t do that anymore. I did it like, twice. A few years ago. Before Savvy was born. Stop looking at me.

Because I realized I have to set an example for our daughter, okay? But also because it’s worth it. People don’t last forever, and you never know when the last time you hug or kiss somebody goodbye is going to be the last time that you ever hug or kiss them goodbye. So you have to keep that in mind.

And it’s kind of the same thing with this “let me catch your kiss – I caught it” business. At worst, realistically, if I ran a stopwatch on it, it’s probably between 10 and 60 seconds long. That’s not a lot of time. You only run into trouble if you stop too soon, so give it 60 seconds. Don’t worry about stopping too soon, because one day it’s going to stop.

It will stop one day.

And you know what I’m going to say next.

This whole “catch my kiss – caught it” thing will stop one day, and on that day, I may wish that I had this day back. That day may be six months from now, or six years from now, or that day may never come. But I have a feeling that, like most things with my daughter, the day something stops always comes a little sooner than I want it to.

Friday morning, I headed off in the car. Savvy and Michele waved at me from the workout room. As I pulled around to drive down the driveway, I made an unusually wide turn so I could pull up in front of the windows. That’s not my routine, not my ritual.

There they both were, waving madly at me. I blew some kisses and caught some, and headed on my way, with a warm feeling that lasted longer than oatmeal ever did.

Dan Alatorre is a freelance writer and independent contractor for a local wine distributor

 

Tyree set down his coffee and rubbed his eyes.

“Yeah, I have to help this guy and his family,” he said to the office walls. Then he walked over and collapsed onto the foldout couch.


ANALYSIS

This one might still be too long after the trimming. Do we need to read the essay? Any of it?

Probably not.

What would best serve the story? Letting Tyree sit down, spend some time reading – without us seeing the essay – and have him smile and chuckle and shed a tear, then decree he will help this family, and go to bed.

Short and sweet.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

3 Word Choice Errors That Are Ruining Your Manuscript

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Why Word Choice Matters

Don’t be silly. Of course our words matter. If you said, “Look at that dog jumping over the fence” when you meant, “Look at that old lady jumping over the fence,”-  well, it carries a whole different meaning. Nobody would understand you.

No, I mean the process of carefully selecting your words to paint in the details you want, or to help set the scene.

That’s error #1. New writers know what they mean, but they don’t put it on the page in such a way that a disinterested 3rd party knows what the writer means.

Compare this:

(A) I walked over to the breakfast nook. Mallory was reading the newspaper, with Sophie perched happily on her lap. The cereal bowls were empty, with just a few flakes floating in the residual milk. I quietly placed a box of donuts on the counter.

To this:

(B) I slipped into the house and eased the door shut behind me, peering around the corner at the breakfast nook. Mallory sat reading the newspaper with Sophie perched on her lap. Empty cereal bowls rested on the table, just a few bits of floating in the residual milk. I stepped into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

You get the same basic information in both, but one paints a vastly different image than the other.

Here are some of the differences:

In (A) he walks to the breakfast nook. In (B) he slipped into the house. Walk versus slipped in. One is casual, the other implies stealth. Stealth, in one’s own home, raises curiosity. Why does he need to be stealthy?

Then we add these details, that further paint the scene:

eased the door shut versus shut the door. Again, stealth is implied.

peering around the corner as opposed to walking in

Obviously, the character is wary about walking in. He should be. He’s been out all night.

We don’t know why he’s being stealthy, but he is, and we know that. We see it.

Take a word out or add one in, he still gets to the table. It’s how he does it that matters here, and one word more or one word less won’t ruin the mental image being painted in the reader’s mind. Or will it?

I stepped into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

Or

I crept into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

I’m not sure we need that last one, it may be too much. But all in all, he’s afraid his wife is mad at him. He’s acting that way. (Maybe he should tiptoe.)

And we are showing it, in the character’s actions and in the writer’s word choices.

That’s error #2. New writers tend to tell us instead of showing us – and proper word choices will do a better job of storytelling anyway. But this is more than a “show, don’t tell” rule. It’s a dive deep with the right words rule.

Again, this has been happening in each chapter. It would be worth it to look back over some where you saw changes happening and note where different words were inserted to help paint the desired image. I don’t do it every paragraph but I definitely try to maximize it in dramatic scenes or action scenes, or other key scenes – and hopefully your story has lots of key scenes.


Chapter 28 “FINAL”

 

I slipped into the house and eased the door shut behind me, peering around the corner at the breakfast nook. Mallory sat reading the newspaper with Sophie perched on her lap. Empty cereal bowls rested on the table, just a few bits of floating in the residual milk. I crept into the room and slid the box of donuts on the counter.

“Daddy!” Sophie jumped up and sprinted to me, wrapping her arms around thighs.

As she lowered the newspaper, a smile crept over Mallory’s face. She let out a sigh, like she’d been holding her breath since last night.

Sophie peeled herself off me and ran back to the table. “Look, this is what we want you to make for us.” She held up a section of the paper. “Chocolate bread!”

The title under the image of marbled bread read Babka. It looked like a big, twisted pretzel.

“Chocolate bread?” I made an exaggerated frown. “Yuck. I don’t want to eat chocolate bread.”

Mallory set aside the section she had been reading and folded her arms, resting her elbows on the table. “It’s not for you to eat. It’s for us to eat.”

“I don’t want to make chocolate bread if I’m not going to eat chocolate bread.”

We want to eat chocolate bread.”

I don’t want to eat chocolate bread. So I’m not making chocolate bread.”

Mallory frowned at Sophie. “Daddy says ‘no’.”

Sophie frowned.

I was dead tired and hadn’t figured out if I was in trouble for being out all night. I hadn’t been partying, and Mallory knew that, I probably looked like I had.

“I can make chocolate cake.” I put my hands on my knees and turned to Sophie. “Would you like cupcakes?”

Sophie’s eyes lit up. “I would like cupcakes.”

“I can make chocolate cupcakes,” I told her.

Mallory grumbled. “I want chocolate bread.”

I shrugged my shoulders at our daughter in an exaggerated manner, and frowned. “Mommy says ‘no’.”

Sophie frowned.

I got a glass out of the cupboard and pulled out a jug of tea out of the fridge. Tyree and I had talked all night. Mallory was probably pissed. Maybe I should make the chocolate bread to smooth things over. I poured a tall glass as Sophie scampered over to the TV to watch cartoons.

“How did everything go last night?”

If Mallory was angry, she was masking it well. That was nice in front of our daughter.

“Good.” I rubbed my eyes. “Really good. We may have found our man.”

She laid down the paper. “Really?”

I leaned on the counter and gulped my tea. “I got lucky. This guy is smart. He knows the Church and their limitations and he seems to know the law. He was a good find.”

“Did you guys talk all night?”

“Pretty much.”

Mallory could be patient when the time called for it. She was exerting that strength now, probably wanting to leap out of her chair and ask for all the details, but holding back so as not to worry our daughter. As curious as my wife might be, though, I knew she was still afraid of hearing truthful answers to the questions that frightened her.

“I think you’ll be happy with what I learned last night,” I said. “I think you’ll feel better after you hear it.”

“Good.”

“In fact, I should probably have him come over here and talk to both of us. He can meet you and Sophie. That might be helpful to him.”

“Have him come here?” Mallory bit her lip. “Do you trust him?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I do.”

“Why?”

I drained my glass. “A couple of reasons.” I stepped to the table and sat down next to her, closing my eyes and laying my head on her shoulder. “I’ll go over all that with you, I promise. But not now.  I need some sleep.” I made a loud, cartoonish snoring noise.

“Daddy!” Sophie giggled, bouncing up and down on the couch.

Mallory smiled, shoving my head off her shoulder. She wanted more, but she would wait. Opening the newspaper with a rustle, she held it high in front of her face.

I pushed it down and kissed her. “Thanks, darling.” With a grunt, I put both hands on the table and forced myself to a standing position, then headed to the stairs to go to bed.

“When should we have him meet with us?”

“Soon.”

“Tonight?”

I stopped and turned. “I have another appointment tonight. Another late meeting.” I left it ambiguous on purpose. I didn’t know how many meetings I would need.

“Another?” Mallory covered her mouth with her hand and swallowed hard, turning her eyes to our beautiful bouncing girl.

 


Original Chapter 28, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I walked over to the breakfast nook. Michele was reading the newspaper, with Savvy perched happily on her lap. The cereal bowls were empty, with just a few flakes floating in the residual  milk. I quietly placed a box of donuts on the counter.

“Daddy!” Savvy shouted upon seeing me.

Michele held up a section of the paper displaying a large brown and white photo.

“Look, this is what we want you to make for us,” she said, smiling. “Chocolate bread!”

Savvy looked at the photo and smiled.

The title under the marbled bread said “Babka.” It looked like big twisted pretzel.

“Chocolate bread?” I said, making a face. “Yuck. I don’t want to eat chocolate bread.”

Michelle said, “It’s not for you to eat. It’s for us to eat.”

“I don’t want to make chocolate bread if I’m not going to eat chocolate bread.”

“We want to eat chocolate bread.”

“I don’t want to eat chocolate bread. So I’m not making chocolate bread.”

Michele frowned at Savvy. “Daddy says ‘no’.”

Savvy frowned.

I was dead tired and hadn’t figured out if I was in trouble for being out all night. I hadn’t been out drinking and partying, and Michele knew that, but I probably looked almost like I had been. Still, I wanted to be a good guy and make peace if it was necessary. There was enough stress in this house at the moment.

I pondered the photo. Why would you want to go to all the trouble to make bread that’s supposed to taste like chocolate? Newspaper recipes rarely turned out any good, but they were almost always a lot of work. Why not just make something that tastes like chocolate, that you know tastes good?

“I can make chocolate cake,” I offered. I had an awesome chocolate cake recipe that we all loved. I turned to Savvy and smiled. “Would you like cupcakes?”

Savvy smiled. “I would like cupcakes.”

“I can make chocolate cupcakes” I told her.

“I want chocolate bread,” Michele interjected.

I shrugged my shoulders at our daughter in an exaggerated manner, and frowned.

“Mommy says ‘no’,” I said.

Savvy frowned.

I got a glass out of the cupboard, walked over to the fridge and pulled out a jug of tea. Tyree and I had talked all night. Michele was probably pissed. Maybe I should make the chocolate bread to smooth things over. I poured a tall glass of tea and watched as Savvy scampered over to the TV to watch a cartoon.

“How did everything go last night?” Michele finally asked. If she was angry, she was masking it well. That was nice in front of our daughter.

“Good,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “Really good. I think we’ve found our man.”

She laid down the paper. “Really?”

I nodded and sipped the tea. “I got lucky. This is a smart guy. He knows the Church and their limitations and he seems to know the law. He was a good find.”

“Did you guys talk all night?”

“Pretty much.”

Michele could be patient when the time called for it. She was exerting that strength now, wanting to leap out of her chair and ask for all the details, but holding back so as not to scare our daughter. She had her suspicions as to where all this might lead, and as curious as she was, she was afraid of hearing answers that would frighten her.

“I think you’ll be happy with what I learned last night,” I said. “I think you’ll feel better after you hear it.”

“Good,” she said.

“I should probably have him come over here and talk to both of us. He can meet you and Savvy. That would probably be helpful to him.”

Michele worried about that; Tyree was still a stranger to her. “Have him come here?” the home was her domain. That was a risk. “Do you trust him?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I do.”

“Why?”

I drained my glass. “A couple of reasons.” I walked over to the table and sat down next to her. I closed his eyes and laid my head on her shoulder. “I’ll go over all that with you, don’t worry. Right now I need some sleep.” Then I made a loud, cartoonish snoring noise.

“Daddy!” Savvy laughed.

Michele smiled, bouncing my head off her shoulder. She wanted more, but she would wait.

I kissed her. “Thanks,” I said as I pushed off the table top and rose to go upstairs to bed.

“When should we have him meet with us?” She asked.

“Soon” I said. “I have another appointment tonight…”

I left it ambiguous on purpose.


ANALYSIS

The third error new writers tend to do is finish the chapter with all the questions answered. If we end with a question, it adds tension and makes a reader want to turn the page. Books like that are called page turners. But also, in the conversation and the descriptions, don’t spoon feed everything to the reader; put it there for the reader to discover, to make conclusions about.

We see Mallory’s expression at the end. Do we need to say “the fear had returned”? Probably not.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Writing Great Dun Dun DUNNN Moments

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Dun Dun DUNNN: The Big Reveal

I don’t want to say much about his one before you read it, but as you do, consider if we need it at all.

Wait, you title a post Dun Dun DUNNN and then ask if we need it?

Yeah.


Chapter 27 “FINAL”

 

“Okay, okay, slow down.” Tyree had touched a nerve, and he knew it. “Calm down. Back up.”

The heat drained out of my cheeks

“Set that conversation aside for a moment and let’s talk about something else. Let’s shift gears. Okay?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep talking at all. “Okay.”

“You ever play a game when you were a kid, and somebody got hurt?”

I grumbled. “Sure.”

“Tell me about it. Tell me a time when you played and somebody got hurt—and you felt bad about it.”

“Just, what? Anything?”

“Tell me about the first thing that comes to your mind.”

“Okay . . . First thing. I wasn’t even a kid. I was wrestling with the neighbor’s kid.” I didn’t know where we were going with all this. Maybe it was his method of figuring out which of his customers were crazy and which ones weren’t.

I decided to go along. He had earned my trust back at the parking lot, but he was on thin ice.

“What happened with that?”

“He was probably about 10 years old. My wife’s best friend’s kid. Calle me Uncle Doug, and all. I was chasing him around the house, and he slipped on the tile in the foyer and I caught him. I decided to tickle him instead of wrestle him. But when I did, he twisted to get away from me and I grabbed his hand, dislocating his finger and snapping a tendon. It ruined his chance to play basketball that season. He couldn’t shoot.”

Tyree nodded. “Now, you said it was an accident, but you felt bad afterwards. Why?”

“He was just a kid.” I shrugged. “It was my fault. You know those old guys who can’t straighten out their fingers because of a farm accident or something? He could have ended up like that at age 10. I felt pretty bad about that.”

“How did things end up?”

“Uh, he was okay,” I said. “It only messed up part of his season and his finger healed fully. He played the next year.”

“He was able to straighten out his finger?”

“Yeah, thank God.”

Tyree say back in his chair, cradling his giant coffee mug in his lap. “Okay, so you could have mentioned anything, any example from your whole life. Why did you pick that one?”

I huffed. “Gee, Doctor Freud, you said to take the first thing that came to mind. I guess it was the most recent.”

“Really? You never played a game with your daughter that turned out wrong? Not even when she was a baby?”

“Oh, sure, I guess so.” I pulled my soda a little closer but didn’t take a drink. “But nothing comes to mind. I mean, we had other things happen that we felt guilty about, like when she fell off the couch and hit her head . . .”

“You didn’t feel bad about that?”

“Sure I did. But it was an accident.”

“The thing with your nephew wasn’t an accident?”

“It was! But it was different. I felt bad because I caused it.” I thought for a moment. “And because I should have known better. He was just a poor innocent kid who got hurt by an adult who was acting like an idiot. From somebody who should have been watching out for him.”

Tyree nodded again. “You didn’t feel bad about your daughter falling off the couch and hitting her head? What’s more innocent than a baby?”

My cheeks grew hot. I looked down. “I felt terrible about that, but it was different.”

“How so?”

“It was an accident, but I didn’t cause it.”

“You make that distinction?” Tyree asked. “Between causing it and letting it happen?”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. It sounded accusatory.

“I didn’t let it happen.” I shifted on my seat. “She was sitting near me, then she rolled back and just rolled off the couch. Nobody expected that. It was an accident, but it was different . . .”

“Okay. I agree.” His tone was flat, his posture upright and rigid. In command. “Now, back to your nephew. You said that you felt bad afterwards because you should have known better . . .”

“Right. I felt guilty.”

“Okay, right. Guilty.” He narrowed his eyes. “What if you hadn’t felt guilty?” If you couldn’t feel guilt. What would you have felt?”

Nothing came to mind. It was the opposite of when somebody says, ‘Don’t think of an elephant’—an elephant is what leaps to mind. Here, the question vacated my reasoning ability. “I don’t know.”

“Anger?”

“Anger? No.” I thought about it. “Embarrassed.”

Tyree dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Embarrassment is part of feeling guilty. What if you couldn’t feel guilty? If you could not feel guilt, what would you have felt?”

“I don’t know. Maybe empathy.”

“That’s still part of guilt.”

“Well, if I couldn’t feel guilt—if I couldn’t feel guilt at all—then I guess I don’t have an answer.” I was confused. “I wouldn’t feel anything about what happened.”

“Not the way we understand feelings, anyway,” Tyree said. “Who would not feel guilty over hurting an innocent person?”

“Nobody . . .” I began. “I mean, you know, a psychopath maybe. But not a human being with normal feelings.”

Tyree raised an eyebrow. “Or maybe just not a human being.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you even heard the saying about angels and innocents?”

“I don’t know.” I raised my shoulders and turned the Coke cup again. “Maybe. Sounds familiar.”

“C’mon!” Tyree snorted. “You know this. You went to catholic school for ten years.”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve years!” Tyree sat back and clapped his hands to his knees. “You remember what they said in a stupid personal security training seminar for work, and you don’t remember this?”

“The one about the angels playing?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” He nodded. “I knew you knew it, don’t BS me.” He leaned forward in his chair, nearly spilling his coffee. “You know it. Tell it to me.”

“Playing angels, angels at play . . .” I paused. “I don’t know. I don’t remember how it goes.”

“Think. It’ll come to you.”

Those stupid nuns taught us a million things in school. I couldn’t be expected to remember them all. But Tyree was right. It was coming back to me in bits. I gave it some thought.

“When angels play . . .” I squinted at the ceiling, reaching back to Sister Helen in seventh grade. “ ‘When angels play, innocents suffer.’ Is that it?”

“Almost. That’s close.”

“Well, it was a long time ago. Close is pretty good.” I picked up my Coke, lifting it to my lips. “Besides, you’re the clergyman. Help me out.”

“Are you forgetting it on purpose?”

“What? No. I—”

He stared at me.

I stopped, my soda frozen in mid air. “What?”

“It’s not angels,” he said. “It’s dark angels.”

“It is? Are you sure?”

Tyree smiled, raising his eyebrows. “Oh, I’m sure. And it makes all the difference.”

I recited it now, recalling it fully. “When dark angels play, innocents suffer.”

A twinge of fear shot through me. My mouth hanging open, the soda drifted away from my lips.

And who’s more innocent than a baby?


Original Chapter 27, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

Tyree had sent me off into a rage at the donut shop, a near panic. It was a horrible moment of recognition and realization.

And fear.

But I might have gotten it wrong, or maybe he was letting me off the hook, because he tried to bring things back under control immediately.

“Okay, okay, slow down,” he said. “Calm down. Back up.” Tyree watched as the red worked its way out of my face. He had touched a nerve, and he knew it.

“Set that conversation aside for a moment and let’s talk about something else. Let’s shift gears. Okay?”

“Okay,” I tensely replied.

“You ever play a game when you were a kid, and somebody got hurt?”

I grumbled. “Sure.”

“Tell me about it. Tell me a time when you played and somebody got hurt. Where you felt bad about it.”

“Just, what? Anything?” I asked.

“Tell me about the first thing that comes to your mind.”

“Okay… First thing. I wasn’t even a kid. I was wrestling with my nephew…” I didn’t know where we were going with all this; maybe it was his method of figuring out which of his customers were crazy and which ones weren’t.

I decided to go along. He had earned my trust back at the parking lot, but he was on thin ice.

“What happened with your nephew?” Tyree asked.

“He was probably about 10 years old. My brother had bought my dad’s old house and they lived there now, so I was chasing my nephew around like we used to when we were kids. You could run in a big circle from the kitchen to the dining room, then into the living room and into the foyer. Then it came back to the kitchen again. I was chasing him, and he slipped on the tile in the foyer and I caught him. He was only 10, so I decided to tickle him instead of wrestle him. But when I did, he twisted to get away from me and I grabbed his hand, dislocating his finger and snapping a tendon.”

I summed it up: “It ruined his chance to play basketball that season. He couldn’t shoot.”

Tyree nodded. “Now, you said it was an accident, but you felt bad afterwards. Why?”

“He was just a kid,” I said. “I hurt him from my stupidity; it was my fault. I should have known better. I shouldn’t have chased him. My dad was a doctor, so he looked at it right away and said he could put it in a splint but he wanted to check the tendon. You know those old guys who can’t straighten out their fingers because of a farm accident or an injury in the war. He could have ended up like that – at age 10. I felt pretty bad about that.”

“How did things end up?”

“Uh, he was okay,” I said. “It only messed up part of his season and his finger healed fully. He played the next year.”

“He was able to straighten out his finger?”

“Yeah, thank God.”

Tyree say back in his chair, cradling his giant coffee mug in his lap. “Okay, so you could have mentioned anything, any example from your whole life. Why did you pick that one?”

“Gee, Doctor Freud, you said to take the first thing that came to mind. I guess it was the most recent.”

“Really? You never played a game with your daughter that turned out wrong? Not even when she was a baby?”

“Oh, sure; I guess so,” I said. “But nothing comes to mind. I mean, we had other things happen that we felt guilty about, like when she fell off the couch and hit her head…”

“You didn’t feel bad about that?” he asked.

“Sure I did. But it was an accident.”

“The thing with your nephew wasn’t an accident?”

“It was! But it was different. I felt bad because I caused it.” I thought for a moment. “And because I should have known better. He was just a poor innocent kid who got hurt by his idiot uncle. From my screw up. From somebody who should have been watching out for him.”

Tyree nodded again. “You didn’t feel bad about your daughter falling off the couch and hitting her head? What’s more innocent than a baby?”

“I felt terrible about that, but it was different.”

“How so?”

“It was an accident, but I didn’t cause it.”

“You make that distinction?” Tyree asked. Between causing it and letting it happen?” I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. It sounded accusatory.

“I didn’t let it happen,” I said, defensively. “She was right near me. Then she rolled back and just rolled off the couch. Nobody expected that. It was an accident but it was different…”

“Okay. I agree,” Tyree said flatly. “Now, back to your nephew. You said that you felt bad afterwards because you should have known better…”

“Right. I felt guilty.”

“Okay, right. Guilty.”

“Right…”

He turned to me. “What if you hadn’t felt guilty?”

“About hurting my nephew?” I asked. “If I hadn’t felt guilty?”

“If you didn’t feel guilty. If you couldn’t feel guilt. What would you have felt?”

“I don’t know…”

“Anger?”

“Anger? No.” I thought about it. “Embarrassed.”

Tyree dismissed it. “Embarrassment is part of feeling guilty,” he said. “What if you couldn’t feel guilty? If you could not feel guilt, what would you have felt?”

“I don’t know. Maybe empathy…”

“That’s still part of guilt.”

“Well, if I couldn’t feel guilt, if I couldn’t feel guilt at all, then I guess I don’t have an answer.” I was confused. “I wouldn’t feel anything about what happened.”

“Not the way we understand feelings, anyway,” Tyree said. “Who would not feel guilty over hurting an innocent person?”

“Nobody…” I began. “I mean, you know, a psychopath maybe. But not a human being with normal feelings…”

“Or maybe just not a human being.” Tyree offered.

“What do you mean?”

“Have you even heard the saying about when innocents suffer?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. Sounds familiar.”

“C’mon!” Tyree laughed. He thought I was dodging him. “You know this. You went to catholic school for ten years.”

“Twelve,” I corrected.

“Twelve years!” Tyree was incredulous. “You remember what they said in a stupid personal security training seminar for work, about holding your car keys in your hand at Christmas and knowing your surroundings, and you don’t remember this?”

“The one about the angels?”

He slapped his knee. “Yeah, that’s it! I knew you knew it, don’t bullshit me.” He leaned forward in his chair, nearly spilling his coffee. “You know it. Tell it to me.”

“For innocents to suffer… angels have to…” I paused. “I don’t know. I don’t remember how it goes.”

“Think,” he said. “You know. It’ll come to you.”

There were a million things those damned nuns taught us in school; I couldn’t be expected to remember them all! But Tyree was right. It was coming back to me in bits. I gave it some thought.

“When angels play…” I started. “When angels play, innocents suffer. That’s it.”

“Almost. That’s close.”

“Well, it was a long time ago,” I protested. “Close is pretty good. Besides, you’re the clergyman. Help me out. What did I get wrong? Where are we going with this?”

He stared at me. “Are you forgetting it on purpose?”

“What?” I asked.

“Dark.”

“What?”

“It’s not angels,” he explained. “It’s dark angels.”

“It is?” I asked. “Dark angels? Are you sure.”

Tyree smiled. “Oh, I’m sure. And it makes all the difference.”

I recited it now, recalling it fully. “When dark angels play, innocents suffer.”

And who’s more innocent than a baby?


ANALYSIS

The reworked scene is 1200 words. You have to ask, do we need this?

Do we need 1200 words leading up to the moment Doug has to consider… whatever he’s now considering?

Maybe it should be trimmed down and added onto something else?

You can have 1200 word chapters. That’s not against the laws. But having words and scenes that aren’t vital, that is a crime.

So maybe this stays. But each chapter and scene and paragraph of the whole story has to be viewed in that cold light: For me to tell an amazing, gripping story, does this have to stay?

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

 

Why I Love Mark Twain

In an essay ripping Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer, Twain wrote a long list of writerly do’s and don’t’s (“offenses against literary art”). Here are a few, abbreviated.

Some are helpful, some are just funny.

Take note, all.

 

The Rules of Writing (or the “Rules Governing Literary Art”) require

  • That the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
  • They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
  • They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  • They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
  • They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a… minstrel in the end of it.
  • They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
  • They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the “Deerslayer” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
  • They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

 

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

  • Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  • Use the right word, not its second cousin.

When To Dive Deep In Your Story

cover

Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

Diving Deep

When is the right time in a story to go on a deep detailed dive about a seemingly unrelated topic?

Never. It’s all related or it’s not in there. But when you do go into a deep dive, readers instinctively know it’s for a reason.

Be careful not to be boring, even in the deep stuff, but tie it in – or hint to readers that it ties in.

That’ll be enough to get their radar up. 

Doug is a sensitive guy, not macho like Tyree and not bold like his childhood friend Jimmy. Maybe it’s not important why, but a side bar can go a long way toward letting us string together stuff the author – me – had spread out.

It’s like a game. Where’s this headed?

If it pays off, everyone loves the writer and it’s a work of genius.

If it doesn’t, it’s a piece of CRAP.

High stakes.

Be bold and roll the dice. Gamble on yourself. It’s enough that one person gets it.

I told you: great writing isn’t safe.


Chapter 26, “FINAL”

 

I stared at the dead body. “Can I touch him?”

I had never seen a dead person before and I was a little afraid. We stood near the casket, my Uncle Glen and I, staring at a small old man laid out in a dark gray suit.

“You can touch him.” My godfather put his hand on my shoulder. “He was your great-grandfather and he loved you.”

I was eight years old, trying to be brave. My uncle held my hand as we stood in line, waiting our turn to pay our respects. The room was large and nearly full to capacity, but it was very quiet.

Glen spoke softly. “I think he would like it if you touched him on the hand to say goodbye.”

I lifted my left hand and reached into the coffin, extending a finger, easing it past the edge of the wood coffin.

The only place that seemed touchable was his hand. The rest of my great-grandfather was covered in his dark gray suit, except for his face. I did not want to touch his face. Even at the age of eight I knew that would be disrespectful.

As if in slow motion, I stretched out my arm and touched a fingertip to the back of his pale hand.

It was soft. And it wasn’t cold; it was room temperature, like an expensive, soft leather glove. As a kid, I had seen so many monster movies with Dracula and Frankenstein, I was nearly out of my mind with curiosity, thinking about actually touching a dead person. But that was at home. As I reached out toward the hand of my deceased great-grandfather, the moment was different. None of the drama of movies happened.

He didn’t feel much like a person should. I had anticipated that his hand would not feel warm—in movies they always talk about a dead body being cold. But more than that, I had expected it to be firm. But there was no living muscle behind it anymore to make it firm. And he didn’t flinch or twitch as you would expect a sleeping person to do.

He just lay there motionless.

As I watched, his chest didn’t rise and fall like my dad’s did during an afternoon nap. He didn’t brush my finger away like you might if you thought it was a fly crawling on your hand.

He didn’t jump up and scream, like in scary movies. He didn’t groan and slowly rise up from the coffin, sending everyone screaming out of the room.

He didn’t move at all.

It was just the hand of a man who had moved on from this life and this body. A nice little man who always smelled like cherry pipe tobacco when we visited him. He would put out dry roasted peanuts and show us the battery operated toy monkey that would dance and bang cymbals.

He was none of the things the movies had shown me that dead people were. And I felt ashamed for thinking such things while I looked at him.

My uncle suggested that we kneel and say a prayer. I silently pretended to say the Hail Mary—one of the few prayers I knew—watching my dead great-grandfather’s body remain so still, so unmoving.

That is how I knew he was dead.

It was the first dead body I had ever seen.

“Finished?” My uncle gently asked.

I nodded.

I didn’t even want to be in that church, much less be touching anything, but I thought it would be neat to tell my friends at school I had touched a real dead body. Enough of my friends watched Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons so this would be a big story on Monday.

Rising, I caught my mother’s eye. I felt my cheeks burn as she smiled at me leaving the coffin. She thought I was paying my respects. She didn’t know I simply had a childish and morbid curiosity about touching a corpse and bragging to my friends about it. I looked down in shame that she would have assumed was reverence.

I remember asking mom what we were supposed to do at the visitation. She said to be respectful and quiet, and to be sure to go up to great-grandma and tell her we were sorry for her loss. A stream of her great grandchildren coming up one after the other saying, “Sorry, grandma,” in an assembly line.

When my turn came, I had remembered to tell her that I was sorry. She had lost her husband and lifelong companion. My grandmother, at her side, had lost her father. But in saying the words, it didn’t feel like I was sorry in the way those words usually meant. I had done nothing to be sorry for.

I decided not to bring any of it up at school.

The service began, and eventually my mind went on to other things. But after the next funeral I went to, I never wanted to attend another funeral again.

It was only a few months later. A childhood friend had died in an unfortunate car accident. The hood of a car had flown off and smashed into the car he was riding in, hitting him in the forehead. They boys in the other car had been working on the engine, and neglected to properly secure the hood before taking it out for a test drive. It cost my friend his life.

I couldn’t stand the way Kevin looked in his coffin. Swelling and surgeries had changed him. The mortician’s artistry had not been enough to re-make him as he was. He was a kid who had been one of my closest friends, and now he was unrecognizable to me. As an adult, when I think of him now, I first see the stark, glum stranger’s face in the coffin before I can force myself to remember the true, actual smiling face of my young friend.

I could not bear to have my mother’s face and memory ruined for me that way. I would not let it happen. I knew what was waiting for me at her visitation. I purposely arrived late so I could not attend. It was selfish, but eternity is a long time.

I would remember the smiling face and bright eyes of my loving mother in my own way, not the mock up by a funeral director. It was my parting gift to her, and to myself. I didn’t explain my absence to anyone. The only person who knew I could have made the visitation—but didn’t—was my wife. She silently disapproved, but likely had decided that I needed to grieve in my own way, and in my own time.

Kevin was supposed to look like on TV. There, when people die, their face just relaxes and they look the same as they did a moment before. But in reality, a face may have gone through trauma from an accident, or swelling. Maybe they had to cut the person’s hair to dress the wounds. Maybe the easy smile that always graced his young face just couldn’t be made to appear, and the haunting, glum face and expressionless mouth would forever be burned into the memories of those who knew him—a cruel thing to do to his friend. Maybe after the gash in his head and days in the hospital, the swollen face with no smile was the best they could do.

But he didn’t look like my friend anymore, and I was not about trade a lifetime of my mother’s smiles for some stupid protocol.

I knew her dimples wouldn’t be there. Each of her sixty-five year old cheeks would maintain a small crease instead. The makeup would be wrong, the hair . . . I couldn’t bear to carry with me for the rest of my life a vision of some undertaker’s poor good efforts. The best that he could do—the best that anybody could ever do—would still be a far cry from the face I had known and loved my entire life. It would instead be a faded painting of a once vibrant woman full of energy and love and life.

I couldn’t take the image of her lifeless face looking . . . wrong.

I’d prefer to remember her as she was a few years ago, when I took her picture at the kitchen table at Christmas. Smiling and happy, not the face where she was losing her fight to her illnesses. We laughed and joked, trying to get a good picture out of a bad camera—a losing battle, especially with a poor photographer behind the lens.

Then, when she thought we had finished, she made a face. She stuck out her tongue and I clicked the shutter. She was shocked that I caught her, and burst out in a glorious natural smile.

I quickly snapped another shot—the best picture I have ever taken.

And the one where I always thought she looked her best. She had a round face with bright eyes and dimples. She was cheerful and energetic and alive.

I remember the last thing I ever said to my mother before she died. My dad called to tell us that she didn’t have much longer, so we drove up to say goodbye. She lay on her hospital bed, weak, her eyes closed. I leaned in and held her hand, and teased her the way I always would.

“I saw the new kitchen wallpaper, Mom.” I whispered in her ear. “It looks . . . terrible.”

Even though her eyes were closed, she smiled. She couldn’t open them. She was too near the end.

“It doesn’t go with the chairs at all,” I said quietly. “When I come back up in a couple of weeks, I’ll help you re-do the wallpaper. When you’re feeling better.”

She smiled again.

That was the last conversation we ever had.

Some people might have found it disrespectful. I disagree.

There’s a smile people get on their face at the end of a long day. When they’ve worked hard, and they come home and they sit down, and just relax, leaning their head back in their favorite chair. And they could just fall right to sleep, satisfied, with a smile, taking a rest that has been well earned.

That was the smile my mom gave me that day. The smile that comes at the end of a long struggle, that’s looking forward to a rest that has also been well earned.

An oncoming rest that God would agree was well deserved. Her eyes were closed, and there was a small smile on her lips. She was ready.

I didn’t think it would be disrespectful to talk to my mother that way. I thought it would be disrespectful to talk to her any other way.

I think when you’re at the end of your time, people owe it to you to be themselves. The masks, the show, the facades, are all done now. They owe it to you to just to be who they had always been to you their whole life.

So I stood before my mother, holding her hand, leaning over her as she lay on what would be her death bed, and I acted the way I had always acted my whole life. I wanted to be funny and sarcastic for her. At that time, I thought she’d like to see her son the way she always knew him. Not acting some other way in her time of finality.

I think it was a smile of appreciation, but it was certainly a smile of somebody who worked hard, who was tired, and who was ready to rest.

I made her smile. That was my farewell gift to her.

She was too weak to open her bright eyes, but I got to see the round face and the dimples. That smiling face, and the one in the photo years before, are the ones I would be able to carry forward with me for the rest of my days.

That was her farewell gift to me.


Original Chapter 26, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

I stared at the dead body.

Then I whispered, “Can I touch him?”

I had never seen a dead person before and I was a little afraid. We stood near the casket, my Uncle Gerald and I, and I saw my great grandfather laid out in a dark suit. I asked if I could touch him.

Gerald said, “You can touch him. He was your great grandfather and he loved you.”

I was 8 years old, trying to be brave. My uncle held my hand as we stood in line, waiting our turn to pay our respects to a nice old man. The room was large and nearly full to capacity, but it was very quiet.

“He would like it if you touched him on the hand to say goodbye.”

I slowly raised my left hand and reached into the coffin. I nervously extended a finger.

The only place that seemed touchable was his hand. The rest of my great grandfather was covered in his dark gray suit, except for his face. I did not want to touch his face. Even at the age of eight I knew that would be disrespectful.

As if in slow motion, I stretched out my hand, and extended a finger to the back of his pale hand.

It was soft. And it wasn’t cold; it was room temperature, like an expensive, soft leather glove. As a kid, I had seen so many monster movies with Dracula and Frankenstein, I was nearly out of my mind with curiosity, thinking about actually touching a dead person. But that was at home. As I reached out toward the hand of my deceased great grandfather, the moment was different. None of the drama of movies happened.

He didn’t feel much like a person should. I had anticipated that his hand would not feel warm; in movies they always talk about a dead body being cold. But more than that, I had expected it to be firm. But there was no living muscle behind it anymore to make it firm. And he didn’t flinch or twitch as you would expect a sleeping person to do.

He just lay there motionless.

As I watched, his chest didn’t rise and fall like my dad’s did during an afternoon nap. He didn’t brush my finger away like you might if you thought it was a fly crawling on your hand.

He didn’t jump up and scream, like in scary movies; he didn’t groan and slowly rise up from the coffin. He didn’t chase everyone out of the room.

He didn’t move at all.

It was just the hand of a man who had moved on from this life and this body. A nice little man who always smelled like pipe tobacco when we visited him. He would put out dry roasted peanuts and show us the battery operated toy monkey that would dance and bang cymbals.

He was none of the things the movies had shown me that dead people were. And I felt ashamed for thinking such things while I looked at him.

My Uncle suggested that we kneel and say a prayer. I silently pretended to say the Hail Mary – one of the few prayers I knew – as I watched my dead great grandfather’s body remain so still, so unmoving.

That is how I knew he was dead.

It was the first dead body I had ever seen.

“Finished?” my Uncle gently asked. I nodded.

I didn’t even want to be in that church, much less be touching a dead body. But I thought it would be neat to tell my friends at school that I had touched a real dead body. Enough of my friends watched Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons so this would be a big story on Monday.

Rising, I caught my mother’s eye. I felt my cheeks burn as she smiled at me leaving the coffin. She thought I was paying my respects. She didn’t know I simply had a childish and morbid curiosity about touching a real dead body and bragging to my friends about it. I looked down in shame that she would have assumed was reverence.

I remember asking mom what we were supposed to do at the visitation. She said to be respectful and quiet, and to be sure to go up to great grandma and tell her we were sorry for her loss. A stream of her great grandchildren coming up one after the other saying, “Sorry, grandma,” in an assembly line.

When my turn came, I had remembered to tell her that I was sorry. She had lost her husband and lifelong companion. My grandmother, at her side, had lost her father. But in saying the words, it didn’t feel like I was sorry in the way those words usually meant. I had done nothing to be sorry for.

I decided not to bring any of it up at school. Then the service began, and eventually my mind went on to other things.

But after the next funeral I went to, I never wanted to attend another funeral again.

It was only a few months later. A childhood friend had died in an unfortunate car accident. The hood of a car had flown off and smashed into the car he was riding in, hitting him in the forehead. They boys in the other car had been working on the engine, and neglected to properly secure the hood before taking it out for a test drive. It cost my friend his life.

I couldn’t stand the way Chris looked in his coffin. Swelling and surgeries had changed him; the mortician’s artistry had not been enough to re-make him as he was. He was a kid who had been one of my closest friends, and now he was unrecognizable to me. As an adult, when I think of him now, I first see the stark, glum stranger’s face in the coffin before I can force myself to remember the true, actual smiling face of my young friend.

I could not bear to have my mother’s face and memory ruined for me that way. I would not let it happen. I knew what was waiting for me at her visitation, so I purposely arrived late so I could not attend. It was selfish, but eternity is a long time.

I would remember the smiling face and bright eyes of my loving mother in my own way, not the mock up by a funeral director. It was my parting gift to her, and to myself. I didn’t explain my absence to anyone. The only person who knew that I could have made the visitation but didn’t, was my wife. She silently disapproved, but likely had decided that I needed to grieve in my own way, and in my own time.

On TV, when people die, their face just relaxes and they look the same as they did a moment before. But in reality, a face may have gone through trauma from an accident, or there may have been swelling. Maybe they had to cut the persons hair to dress the wounds. Maybe the smile that he always had as a kid wouldn’t come, and the haunting glum face and expressionless mouth would forever appear to you first when you thought of him – a cruel thing to do to his friend. Maybe after the gash in his head and days in the hospital, the swollen face with no smile was the best they could do.

But it didn’t look like my friend anymore, and I was not about trade a lifetime of my mother’s smiles just for some stupid protocol.

I knew her dimples wouldn’t be there. Each of her 60+ year-old cheeks would just maintain a small crease instead. The makeup would be wrong, the hair… I couldn’t bear to carry with me for the rest of my life a vision of some undertaker’s poor good efforts. The best that he could do – the best that anybody could ever do – would still be a far cry from the face I had known and loved my entire life. It would instead be a faded painting of a once vibrant woman full of energy and love and life.

I couldn’t take the image of her lifeless face looking… wrong.

I’d prefer to remember her as she was a few years ago, when I took her picture at the kitchen table at Christmas. Smiling and happy, not the face where she was losing her fight to her illnesses. We laughed and joked, trying to get a good picture out of a bad camera – a losing battle, especially with a poor photographer behind the lens.

Then, when she thought we had finished, she made a face, she stuck out her tongue and I clicked the shutter. She was shocked that I caught her, and burst out in a glorious natural smile.

I quickly snapped another shot – the best picture I have ever taken.

And the one that I always thought she looked her best. She had a round face with bright eyes and dimples. She was cheerful and energetic and alive.

I remember the last thing I ever said to my mother before she died. My dad called to tell us that she didn’t have much longer, so we drove up to say goodbye. She lay on her hospital bed, weak, her eyes closed. I leaned in and held her hand, and teased her the way I always would.

“I saw the new kitchen wallpaper, mom,” I whispered in her ear. “It looks… terrible.”

Even though her eyes were closed, she smiled. She couldn’t open them. She was too near the end.

“It doesn’t go with the chairs at all,” I said quietly. “When I come back up in a couple of weeks, I’ll help you re-do the wallpaper. When you’re feeling better.”

She smiled again.

That was the last conversation we ever had.

Some people might have found it disrespectful. I disagree.

There’s a smile people get on their face at the end of a long day. When they’ve worked hard, and they come home and they sit down, and just relax, leaning their head back in their favorite chair… And they could just fall right to sleep, satisfied, with a smile, taking a rest that has been well earned.

That was the smile my mom gave me that day. The smile that comes at the end of a long struggle, that’s looking forward to a rest that has also been well earned.

An oncoming rest that God would agree was well deserved. Her eyes were closed, and there was a small smile on her lips. She was ready.

I didn’t think it would be disrespectful to talk to my mother that way. I thought it would be disrespectful to talk to her any other way.

I think when you’re at the end of your time, people owe it to you to be themselves. The masks, the show, the facades, are all done now. They owe it to you to just to be who they had always been to you their whole life.

So I stood before my mother, holding her hand, leaning over her as she lay on what would be her death bed, and I acted the way I had always acted my whole life. I wanted to be funny and sarcastic for her. At that time, I thought she’d like to see her son the way she always knew him. Not acting some other way in her time of finality.

I think it was a smile of appreciation, but it was certainly a smile of somebody who worked hard, who was tired, and who was ready to rest.

I made her smile. That was my farewell gift to her.

She was too weak to open her bright eyes, but I got to see the round face and the dimples. That smiling face, and the one in the photo years before, are the ones I would be able to carry forward with me for the rest of my days.

That was her farewell gift to me.


ANALYSIS

A touching, poignant piece of the puzzle that is Dougie, or a “darling” that is extranneous and needs to be cut?

You make the call.

I think this deep dive tells us stuff we wouldn’t get from the story’s main line.

Between this and the other Jimmy scenes, we seem to be slowly stringing together an old mystery…

I think the payoff will be good. So do you.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book versions, too!

 

I Watched As Filters Messed Up My Story

coverYeah, we’ve all done it. You’re writing a story and the words are flowing and when you look up… it’s full of filters.

What?

What are filters? Glad you asked.

.

Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

.

I watched as

– That’s a filter.

What comes next is your story. Cutting the filter makes for a cleaner, smoother, more engaging story.

I watched as the dog bit the man.

Cut “I watched as”

Yeah, but I was there and I was watching

RIGHT! You were THERE! So just say the dog bit the man. Because as soon as you start the scene, we readers will figure out whose POV we are in, whose head, and if it’s you, we see what you are seeing. Therefore, it’s like saying “with my eyes I saw” – of course you saw with your eyes. Like you could see with you feet? And since it’s your POV, you don’t need to tell us you watched. We know. So it just happens.

The dog bit the man.

Ah, filterless bliss.


Chapter 25 “FINAL”

 

“Start at the beginning.” He reached across the table and pushed a chair out for me. “And call me Tyree.”

“Tyree.” I nodded, sitting down. “You got it.”

I thought I got lucky when Father Frank didn’t laugh me right out of the Our Lady Of Mercy. Hopefully this Tyree guy wouldn’t laugh me out of the donut shop.

“Your name is unusual sounding.” I was stalling. “Like it’s made up.”

He took a sip of his Coke and smiled. “Well, it’s a nickname, really.”

I was sure Tyree had been in plenty of meetings like this before, and knew some small talk was usually necessary to get people to loosen up. I’d heard cops did that. Maybe he used to be one.

Sitting back in his chair, his khaki pants looked freshly ironed after his three hour drive. So did his shirt. I bet he could’ve beat up everybody in that parking lot and he’d still look that way.

“The name Tyree is an acronym and a double entendre, all in one.”

“Doesn’t sound like a typical nickname, like calling a tall guy shorty, you know?”

That seemed to surprise him a little, and he laughed, choking on his soda. “That’s funny.” He coughed, clearing his throat. “No, that’s right, it wasn’t a typical nickname. John Tyler Reed was the name they called when they took attendance in school. So the kids called me all sorts of stuff. Ty-Rod, Ty-Ree . . . but when I got into my vocation, it took on another meaning for me.”

Vocation?

“I came up with an acronym. T-Y-R-E-E. Trust Your Religion for Everything.”

Not an ex-cop. An ex-priest?

I guessed I had some kind of nutty bible thumper with me now, but the conversation here wasn’t jiving with the guy in the parking lot who was ready to mix it up.

I thought about his explanation for the nickname. “That doesn’t really work. It spells tyre. Like ‘tire.’”

He took another drink of his Coke. “Would you want the nickname of ‘Tire’? That’s why had the extra ‘E’ on the end. It stands for ‘every day.’”

I’d give him five minutes, and if he was batty then I’d wrap it up and head for the door. “Yeah, well . . . I guess you’re entitled to your own nickname.”

“Thank you. Let’s get down to business.” He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table. “What happened for you to call me?”

I took a deep breath, trying to decide just how ridiculous I wanted to sound.

“Why am I here?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “It wasn’t just to bail you out of a fight in that parking lot. What’s going on? Is the wolf at the door?”

“No, no. Not like that.” I rubbed my eyes. “Not quite, anyway. It’s—it’s not easy to explain. I’m not sure I even understand it myself.”

“If you understood it, you wouldn’t need me.” Tyree stood up. “This sounds like it might take some time. “You drink coffee?”

“No.”

“Well, I do. By the pot. And this sounds like a two pot story. So let me get some java, and then you just start wherever you feel most comfortable starting. I have time.” He strode off to the cashier.

I sat there, alone with my soda, wondering what I should tell and what I should keep. Deep inside I knew I had to tell somebody, even if was just to get this insanity off my chest. And talking had always been helpful for me, in a therapeutic sense. It forced me to organize and articulate my thoughts. If I ever had a problem that needed organizing, this one did.

You gotta start trusting somebody sometime, Doug.

Tyree had already earned my trust back in the parking lot. What more did I want?

He returned with a gigantic plastic coffee mug. “You ready?”

“Sure.” I nodded. “It’s gonna sound pretty bizarre.”

“I’m sure it will. If it didn’t…”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have called you.”

Tyree sat, holding his coffee in both hands. “You mentioned three stories on the phone. Tell me the three stories.”

“Okay,” I said. “Brace yourself, here comes the crazy.”

Leaning back, Tyree took a sip from the big mug. “Bring it.”

I started with the winery episode. By now, Mallory and I had talked about it so many times, it had its own name: The Winery Wreck. If either one of us used those words, the other instantly knew what they were talking about.

From there, I told him about the car fire on the bridge, and discovering the heart condition in our daughter. Again, you could call it bad luck—poor thing, having a rare heart condition—or you could call it good luck: Hey, you found out about a potentially fatal heart condition and were able to take steps to avoid an untimely death. You were lucky.

But the fact that these events happened around the same time of year, really pretty much always during the same week of the year, that was a worrisome fact. That put it out of the realm of good or bad luck.

Tyree agreed.

By the time I told him all three stories, more than two hours had passed. I rambled on; Tyree quietly sipped his giant plastic mug of coffee.

“Why can’t it be both?”

“What?” I said. “Why can’t what be both?”

“These things that keep happening to you and your family. Why does it have to be decisively good luck or bad luck? Why can’t it be both?”

I didn’t know how to answer.

“Look.” Tyree scooted his chair forward and rested his arms on the table. “What does a situation look like when something good and bad are happening? When they happen simultaneously?” He let that sit in the air for a moment. “I think it looks a lot like what you’re describing.”

I rubbed my chin. “I’m not sure I follow, but let’s say you’re right. What does that mean to me?”

He took another long gulp of coffee. “I don’t know.”

I glared at him. “Well, that’s helpful.”

“No, no . . . I understand. It’s not.” He stared at the paper napkin on the table top. “Not yet anyway. But it’s a step. Let’s come back to that. Let’s talk about something else. Give your mind a chance to rest from all this tragedy stuff for a moment.” He stood up. “I’m getting more coffee. You need anything?”

I shook my head.

His massive mug was empty, so he went for more. I rubbed my eyes, thinking about updating Mallory. So far, I didn’t have anything to really tell her. Hey, honey, I almost got beat up in a dark parking lot. I’m now sitting in a donut shop telling a stranger our crazy stories. If she were asleep, she wouldn’t want to wake up for that, and if she were awake, it would only upset her.

I texted. Everything is okay. Still talking. Will be home soon.

Tyree came back to the table with his refill. “You probably have some questions for me. What are they?”

That caught me off guard. He was a straight shooter, though, so he would probably be prepared for whatever I asked. I thought for a moment. “Are you a priest?”

“Nope. I studied Divinity, though. I was looking into becoming a priest.”

“What happened?”

“I kind of had a problem with the whole celibacy thing.”

That made us both laugh.

I ran my finger along the side of my soda, causing beads of water drip off the end. “Tell me about Help For The Hopeful. How did that get started?”

“I was gonna have Help For The Hopeful put on my license plate.” He blew on his coffee to cool it. “You know, ‘HFTH.’ People thought it meant ‘have faith,’ and that was nice, too.”

“What about a vow of poverty? Is there any money in doing what you do?”

“Can be.” He avoided saying more by taking a long drink from his mug.

I shrugged. “Seems like it could take a lot of money to run ads and meet with crazy people, maintain phones and an office.”

“I said I wouldn’t ask you for any money. We have had a few grateful benefactors who were happy with our services. They have given us some gifts, from time to time.”

I wasn’t grasping it. Tyree put out a hand. “You do a big favor for a wealthy industrialist.” He put out his other hand. “You get to call in little favors for a long time. And they are happy to help because they benefitted.”

I gave him a half frown. “Does the Church know about all this?”

“Well, kind of.” He gazed out the window at the empty parking lot. “C’mon, it’s off track betting, a white lie.”

“It’s a little different from a white lie.”

“That’s right. It is.” He folded his hands and looked me in the eye, assuming a flat, no-nonsense tone. “It’s a gray lie, maybe even something with a little more color that that. So be it. I know that what I do is worthwhile. People benefit, and I get help from people who know people. It all works out. Besides.” His voice softened. “I have a bit of an inside track with The Almighty. A friend does my confessions at a half price.”

“He’d have to.” I shook my head. “I bet you’re a volume customer.”

Tyree smiled again. I was relaxing, and that’s what was needed. A tense mind doesn’t operate well.

“The Church doesn’t directly know about me, usually. In places that are uncomfortable, or places where the Church feels folks are less hospitable, they outsource. Subcontractors, so to speak, so they can keep their hands clean.”

He watched my face. His story sounded as bizarre as mine. “So, you’re like the Church’s CIA?”

Glancing around, he lowered his voice. “Hey, be careful. They have that.”

We both laughed.

“You’re quite the radical, Tyree.”

“Yeah, that radical stuff was all the rage in the 1970’s. Then it kinda went out of style; everybody got into making money. Even us. Damned shame. You got a cigarette?”

I shook my head.

“No?” He seemed disappointed. “Of course you don’t. Figures. I quit anyway.”

That struck me as an odd statement. “When did you quit?”

“This time? This morning.” He folded his hands behind his head and lack in the chair, stretching. “When I was talking to miss Margarita at the bar where I misplaced my keys. She said she couldn’t kiss a man who tasted like an ashtray.”

“Margarita? Was that her name or was she a beauty pageant winner?”

“Ah, well . . . Now that you mention it, that’s a good question.” He dropped his hands to his belly. “How do you think your three stories connect?”

“I don’t know that they do. My wife’s friend originally something about six months ago, that we were jinxes.”

“Nice friend.”

“Well, she was pointing out the bad stuff happens around us, not to us.”

“Not yet, anyway.”

I glared at him. “Thanks for that. Anyway, she said she didn’t want to catch the next disaster when it missed us. Or near-missed us.”

“The bullet would miss you guys and hit her, that sort of thing?”

“Right.”

Tyree took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his eyes fixed on his folded hands. “I think she may be closer than you think.”

My somewhat uplifting feeling vanished. “How’s that?”

“Well, how do you feel about all this? Lucky?”

“Not lucky, that’s for sure.” I shook my head. “No way.”

“Okay, but.” He raised his eyes to meet mine. “Do you feel unlucky, though?”

I thought about that. I really didn’t. “It’s hard to feel unlucky when we’d never been hurt, so no. We’ve just been close by when things happened.”

“That’s your training talking.” Tyree scoffed. “Years of social upbringing and societal norms. You have to move past that. This stuff always happens around the same time of year?”

“Seems like it.” I tugged at my collar.

“Maybe you don’t want to see what’s in front of you.” The words were heavy, like bricks stacking up on my conscience. “That’s understandable. Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to?”

He had tricked me, knowing I’d have to answer. Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to? I swallowed. “Anybody. Anybody with something to protect.”

He raised his eyebrows, nodded slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on mine. “And what do you protect, Doug?”

“Well, my wife, my daughter . . . my, uh, house . . . ”

“Did you always have these problems? I mean, the whole time you were married?”

 “No…”

“When did this all start? As far as you and your wife? Have ever thought about it?”

His words pierced me, ringing in my ears. I pushed my hand through my hair. “I—I don’t know.”

Tyree’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, you do, Doug.”

I could barely speak. “That can’t be the answer.”

Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to.

“It can’t be . . .”

“Why not?” Tyree asked. “Why are you afraid to see what’s in front of you?”

“What are you trying to say?” I winced, turning my head away from him. “It can’t be her. She can’t be the cause of all this!”

The room closed in on me. The air grew stale and stuffy.

“When did it all start?” He drove his finger into the table top.

He wanted me to say it out loud.

Things were falling into place in ways I didn’t want them to, squeezing the air out of my lungs. Sweat broke out on my forehead. “She’s innocent.”

“Who?” He shook his head. “When did it start? Say it.”

I glared at him and forced myself to speak, the answer in front of me like a white hot light. “It started when my daughter was born.” It was barely a whisper, but it rang in my ears like a cannon shot. I slid down in my chair, dazed at how it sounded out loud.

“I think that’s significant, don’t you?” Tyree said.

I was a traitor. A turncoat.

Worthless.

She can’t be the cause of all this. She can’t be.

“She’s just a little kid!” I gasped, looking up at him. I was nearing my limit. “She can’t be why this is happening.”

Tyree just stared at me. After a long moment, he asked, “Why not?”

The words just hung in the air, echoing around in my head without an answer.

Why not?


Original Chapter 25, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

“Start at the beginning,” he offered. “And call me Tyree.”

“Tyree,” I echoed, sitting down. “You got it.”

I wasn’t ready to spill my guts yet, so I stalled for time while I worked up my nerve. This was an awkward thing for me to lay out in front of another human being, especially a stranger. At least at the church I kind of knew them a little; how they operated and what I might expect. These theories that my wife and I had come up with, they didn’t necessarily make sense or add up. But if there was really something to it, I knew I needed help. That meant telling my story – however ridiculous it sounded – to several people.

I thought I got lucky when Father Frank didn’t laugh me right out of the Our Lady Of Mercy. Hopefully this Tyree guy wouldn’t laugh me out of the donut shop.

“The name ‘Tyree’ is unusual sounding,” I said. I was stalling. “Like it’s made up.”

“Well, it’s a nickname, really,” he took a sip of his Coke and smiled. He’d had meetings like this before so he knew some small talk was necessary first, to get people loose so they’d talk. I heard that cops do that. Maybe he used to be one. But he didn’t look big enough to be a cop. “The name Tyree is an acronym and a double entendre, all in one.”

He probably thought I needed to ratchet down after the parking lot confrontation. I didn’t. I needed to ratchet up to start talking about my problem without sounding crazy.

“The name ‘Tyree’ sure doesn’t sound like a typical nickname. Like they guy they call Shorty because he was six feet tall in third grade. You know?”

That surprised him a little, and he laughed, sending some soda down the wrong pipe. “That’s funny,” he managed. Then he cleared his throat. “No, that’s right, it wasn’t a typical nickname.”

He went on. “They just called me Tyree because John Tyler Reed was the name they called when they took attendance in school. So most kids were announced by just their first names, but I had three, and they called me all sorts of stuff. Ty-Rod, Ty-Ree… but when I got into my vocation, it took on another meaning for me.”

I waited. Vocation?

“I came up with an acronym. T-Y-R-E-E. Trust Your Religion for Everything.”

Not ex cop. Ex priest?

“Really? Hmm.” I thought about it for moment. “Did you come up with that yourself? Because it doesn’t really work…”

He furrowed his brow.

“That doesn’t spell Tyree; it spells tyre. Like ‘tire.’”

He smiled, taking the moment to let my attempt at humor get rid of the remaining tension. “Would you want the nickname of ‘Tire’?” He asked. Before I could answer, he added “that’s why had the extra ‘E’ on the end. It stands for ‘every day.’”

Okay… I guess I have some kind of nutty bible thumper here. This conversation isn’t jiving with the guy in the parking lot who was ready to mix it up.

“Fair enough,” I said, as noncommittal as possible. “I guess you’re entitled to your own nickname.”

Give him five minutes. If he’s batty, then  wrap it up quick and head for the door.

“Thank you. Let’s get down to business.” He leaned back in his chair. “What happened for you to call me?”

I took a deep breath and blinked, trying to decide just how ridiculous I wanted to sound.

Tyree leaned in. “Why am I here? It wasn’t just to bail you out of a fight in that parking lot. What’s going on?” He lowered his voice. “Is a wolf at the door?” he asked quietly. I shook my head.

“Not like that.” I stayed tentative. “Not quite, anyway. It’s not easy to explain.” I sighed. “I’m not sure I even understand it myself.”

Tyree nodded. “If you understood it, you wouldn’t need me.” Then he stood up. “This sounds like it might take some time,” he proclaimed. “You drink coffee?”

“No.”

“Well I do. By the pot. And this sounds like a two pot story. So let me get some joe, and then you just start wherever you feel most comfortable starting. I have time.” Then he strode off to the cashier.

And I sat there, alone with my soda, wondering what I should tell and what I should keep. Deep inside I knew I had to tell somebody, even if was just to get this insanity off my chest. And talking had always been helpful for me, in a therapeutic sense. It forced me to organize and articulate my thoughts. If I ever had a problem that needed organizing, this one did.

You gotta start trusting somebody sometime, Dan.

Tyree had already earned my trust back in the parking lot. What more did I want?

Tyree returned with a gigantic plastic coffee mug. “You ready?” he asked.

“Sure,” I nodded. “It’s gonna sound crazy.”

“I’m sure it will. If it didn’t…”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have called you.”

I guess I needed to trust somebody with the crazy stuff. Why not this guy? I already told a priest; he didn’t think it was so strange… 

“You mentioned three stories on the phone,” Tyree said. “Tell me the three stories.”

“Okay,” I said. “You asked for it. Brace yourself; here comes the crazy.”

“Okay,” Tyree said, leaning back and sipping his coffee. “Bring it.”

I started with the winery tragedy. By now, Michele and I had talked about it so many times, it had its own name. The Winery Wreck. If either one of us used those words, the other instantly knew what they were talking about: our near death experience while vacationing, where Michele thought that Savvy and I had been run over by the deranged winery owner in his pickup truck.

It still didn’t sit well with us. Crossing parking lots was a much more dangerous thing to do now. Even if somebody saw you, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t drive right into you. That’s what the winery guy did.

From there, I told him about the car fire. The day Savvy and I were supposed to drive over to my brother’s, but got stuck on the bridge while our car burned. Again, anyone could chalk it up to bad luck, or even good luck if you were that sort of person, seeing the silver lining. But the fact that these types of things always seemed to happen around the same time of year, really pretty much always during the same week of the year, that was a worrisome fact. Tyree agreed.

Then there was the whole birth event, where the doctor miraculously discovered the heart condition in our daughter. Again, you could call it bad luck – poor thing, having a rare heart condition. Or you could call it good luck. Hey, you found out about a potentially fatal heart condition and were able to take steps to avoid a tragedy. You were lucky.

Each year, around the same time of year, another big… issue. A tragedy; a near-tragedy. Good luck or bad luck, depending on how you want to force the equation…

By the time I had told him all three stories, more than two hours had passed. I rambled on; Tyree quietly sipped his giant plastic mug of coffee.

“Why can’t it be both?” Tyree interrupted.

“What?” I said. “Why can’t what be both?”

“These things that keep happening to you, to your family,” Tyree said. “Why does it have to be decisively good luck or bad luck? Why can’t it be both?”

I didn’t know how to answer.

He went on. “Look, what does a situation look like when something good and bad are happening, or when something good and bad happen at the same time?”

He let that sit in the air for a moment before he added, “I think it looks a lot like what you’re describing.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” I said, “but let’s say you’re right. What does that mean to me?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He took another long gulp of coffee.

I glared at him. “Well, that’s helpful.”

“No, no… I understand. It’s not,” He admitted. “Not yet anyway. But it’s a step.”

He brightened. “Let’s file that way for a moment. We’ll come back to it. Let’s talk about something else; give your mind a chance to rest from all this tragedy stuff for a moment.”

He stood up. “I’m getting more coffee. You need anything?”

I shook my head.

His massive mug was empty, so he went for more. I thought about updating Michele. So far, I didn’t have anything to really tell her. Hey, honey, I almost got beat up in a dark parking lot. I’m now sitting in a donut shop telling a stranger our crazy stories… If she were asleep, she wouldn’t want to wake up for that, and if she were awake, it would only upset her.

I texted. “Everything okay w me. Still talking to Tyree. Will be home soon.”

I sent it and watched Tyree walk back to the table with his refill.

“You probably have some questions for me,” he said, sitting down. “What are they?”

That caught me off guard. He was a straight shooter, though, so he would probably be prepared for whatever I asked. I thought for a moment.

“Are you a priest?” I asked.

“Nope,” he replied flatly. “I studied Divinity, though. I was looking into becoming a priest.”

“What happened?”

“I kind of had a problem with the whole celibacy thing,” he said, smiling.

“Hah. Okay. Tell me about Help For The Hopeful,” I said. “How did that get started?” It was starting to sound like a group run by a former priest who isn’t a former anything; he’s just operating outside the strict rules of the Church. That might be okay, really…

“Don’t ask questions that you don’t really want the answers to,” Tyree cautioned.

“Don’t talk in platitudes,” I replied.

He gave me a curious smile. “Why not? You do.”

“How would you know that?” I asked.

“You’re a dad, aren’t you?”

Fair enough.

“I was gonna have Help For The Hopeful put on my license plate.” He blew on his coffee to cool it. “You know, ‘HFTH’. People thought it meant ‘have faith,’ and that was nice, too.”

“What about a vow of poverty?” I asked. “Is there any money in doing what you do?”

“Can be,” he said coyly, taking another sip.

“How does it work? You said you wouldn’t ask for money. Seems like it could take a lot of money to run ads and meet with crazy people, maintain phones and an office…”

“I said I wouldn’t ask you for any money,” Tyree corrected. “We have had a few grateful benefactors who were happy with our services. They have given us some gifts, from time to time.”

He could see I wasn’t grasping it.

“You do a big favor for a wealthy industrialist, you get to call in little favors for a long time. And they are happy to help because they benefitted.”

“Does the Church know about all this?” I asked.

“Well, kind of,” he said. Then he smiled. “C’mon, it’s off track betting, a white lie.”

“It’s a little different from a white lie,” I said.

“That’s right. It is,” he admitted. “It’s a gray lie, maybe even something with a little more color that that. So be it. I know that what I do is worthwhile. People benefit, and I get help from people who… know people. It all works out. Besides, I have a bit of an inside track with The Almighty; a friend does my confessions at a half price”

“He’d have to,” I said, shaking my head. “You sound like a volume customer.”

He smiled. He could see I was relaxing, and that’s what was needed. A tense mind doesn’t operate well.

“So the Church knows about you?”

“Not directly, usually. In places that are uncomfortable, or places where the Church feels folks are less hospitable, they outsource. Subcontractors, so to speak, so they can keep their hands clean.”

He paused.

“So you’re like the Church’s CIA?” I asked.

“Hey, be careful. They have that.”

We both laughed.

“You’re quite the radical, Tyree.”

“Yeah, that radical stuff was all the rage in the 1970’s. Then it kinda went out of style; everybody got into making money. Even us. Damned shame. You got a cigarette?”

I shook my head. “No? Of course you don’t. Figures.” Then he added, “I quit anyway.”

That sounded odd. “When did you quit?”

“This time? This morning,” he said. “When I was talking to miss Margarita at the bar where I misplaced my keys. She said she couldn’t kiss a man who tasted like an ashtray.”

“Margarita? Was that her name or a drink she was trying to sell you?”

“Ah, well… Now that you mention it, that’s a good question.” Then he changed gears abruptly. “How do you think your three stories connect?”

“I don’t know that they do,” I said. “I just have a feeling. My wife and I just stumbled into it during a conversation. An accident.”

An accident. Interesting choice of words to describe what’s happened.

“My wife’s friend originally said it, about six months ago,” I went on. “They were talking about vacation plans for our anniversary, and Michele mentioned the trip through wine country. It was between that and a cruise. Her friend said to drive through wine country because bad stuff had happened the last few years during our anniversary trips. She said she wouldn’t take a cruise because the ship would sink or something.”

“Nice friend.”

“She did point out though, that she couldn’t tell if we were lucky or unlucky.”

“How’s that?” Tyree asked.

“Well, you can say we’re unlucky because these things keep happening, or you can say that we’re lucky because we aren’t ever hurt. The bad stuff happens around us, not to us.”

“Not yet, anyway.”

I glared at him. “Thanks for that. Anyway, she said she didn’t want to catch the next disaster when it missed us. Or near-missed us.”

“The bullet would miss you guys and hit her, that sort of thing?”

“Right.”

“I think she may be closer than you think.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well, how do you feel about it? Lucky?”

“Not lucky,” I said, “that’s for sure.”

“Do you feel… unlucky?”

I thought about that. “It’s hard to feel unlucky when we have never been hurt. We’ve just been close by when things happened and other people got hurt.”

“That’s your training talking,” Tyree said. “Years of social upbringing and societal norm. You have to move past that. This stuff always around the same time of year?”

“Seems like it,” I said.

“Then I think maybe you don’t want to see what’s in front of you. That’s understandable. Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to?”

He had tricked me, knowing I’d have to answer.  Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to. Anybody. Anybody with something to protect.

“What do you protect?” he asked.

“Well, my wife, my daughter… my… my house, job, dog…”

“Did you always have these problems? I mean, the whole time you were married?”

Don’t go down that alley.

“No…”

“When did this all start? As far as you and your wife have ever thought about it?”

“I don’t… That can’t be the answer.”

Who would want to see a threat if they didn’t have to.

“It can’t be…”

“Why not? Why are you afraid to see what is in front of you?” Tyree asked.

“What are you trying to say?”I demanded. “It can’t be her! She can’t be the cause of all this!”

She can’t be!

“When did it all start?” He asked again. He just wanted me to say it out loud.

I felt things falling into place in ways I didn’t want them to. “It started when my daughter was born,” I whispered. I was dazed at how it sounded.

“I think that’s significant, don’t you?” he said.

She can’t be the cause of all this! She can’t be!

“She’s just a little kid!” I said, nearing my limit. “She can NOT be why this is happening.”

Tyree just stared at me. After a long moment, he asked, “Why not?”

The words just hung in the air, echoing around in my head without an answer.

Why not?

 


ANALYSIS

We cut a few filters here, and there were a lot of filters we trimmed in prior chapters, but one lesson at a time. We also corrected some dialogue issues (the speeches went on too long) and added a tad of tension (some emotional stuff for Doug at the end). 

Here’s a list of filtery stuff:

  • I watched
  • I saw
  • I decided (these can be he saw, he decided, too.)
  • I heard
  • I looked
  • etc

The trick is to replace them with better phrases when needed, which is a lot of the time but not always. So

I watched as themoon rose over the mountains

becomes

The moon rose over the mountains.

And

I heard my wife crying.

becomes

Through the door, the sound of sobbing came to me.

See?

We cut dialogue tags and added beats, added descriptions, added depth and inner monologues in this chapter, too. That stuff, you learned in a different chapter/lesson.

But I have a lot of filter words in some of these chapters. Yeah. Sometimes you want to portray some distance, for effect, or folksiness. But use with caution. I’ll be removing a fair number of them.

We’ve been doing a lot of stuff in every chapter we fix, and sometimes it makes for a loooooong editing process. But doing it makes you oh so aware every time you start to write I saw or a crutch word, or was (this story’s full of was’s. Oh, well.)

If you had back the time you spent editing out that horrible stuff out, you could write another book.

And it’d be just as bad. So take the lesson and learn the rule.

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Writing A Tension Filled Standoff

coverUsing my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

A Standoff

Okay, time for a showdown. Who does what, and how do you portray it?

 


Chapter 24, “FINAL”

I immediately regretted my decision.

I pulled up to the beer house, but the weather guy had been right. No rain. Barely even any wind. That drew the bar patrons out in force, and the street side parking was all taken. The side lot was full, too. I knew there would be plenty of open spaces in back, so I pulled around and parked.

Big mistake.

That part of highway 54 was all new construction, so the bar was surrounded by a restaurant and some offices, none of which had been there two years ago. The rear lot had a few overhead lights, and an open view across an undeveloped patch of ground that would be a bank of drycleaner. Beyond that stood a Hilton that was fairly busy, but overall the back lot was a dark middle ground.

I got out to stretch my legs while I waited for Tyree.

Sometimes, a thing will just look out of place. The self defense lectures taught by off duty cops will tell you to pay attention to those things. Be aware of your surroundings. Things like that.

But I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t a tough guy. I was just a regular guy who was already out of his comfort zone by being in a dark parking lot late at night.

But I paid attention when we took those security awareness training classes at work. Enough light reached me from the distant street pole to barely make out a couple of guys in the shadows standing next to a blue Mustang. It was a warm night, but one guy was in a long sleeve flannel shirt and a stocking cap. The other wore jeans and a white muscle T-shirt that showed off his thick arms. There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark.

Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine.

The guys in the Mustang looked at me.

So I looked back at them.

This ain’t South Central Los Angeles, it’s Land O Lakes, Florida, for Pete’s sake. Five hours ago those guys were probably hanging out at the food court in the mall. But then again, dangerous things do happen, usually when people should have known better. I have a wife and a little kid, I reminded myself, so I shouldn’t do something stupid like get shot by a couple of paranoid marijuana dealers in a dark parking lot behind a bar. Not when I can easily avoid it. I should have moved, but I had a meeting scheduled there.

A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. If they were selling pot or something, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down.

They kept staring at me. If they were trying to intimidate me, it was working.

I could have left and just called Tyree and found another place to meet. Why didn’t I? As I pretended to be busy texting on my phone, I could make out a muted conversation coming from the Mustang guys.

With a blast, the Mustang’s engine roared to life. I jumped. This pleased the muscle t-shirt guy, who laughed extra loud in my direction. He wanted me to know he knew I was there. They loudly revved the engine a few times, then cut it off. A signal? My stomach tensed.

The two guys walked back and forth from the driver’s door to the open hood of the car again. What part of the engine could they be checking in the dark?

After a few minutes, the second car drove off the way it came, crawling along until it was a few hundred feet away before turning its headlights on.

That had to be a drug deal move, so I couldn’t make out the license plate.

I shouldn’t have watched the second car so long. When I glanced back at the Mustang, one of the guys was walking towards me. Not muscle T, but somebody else. I peered over my shoulder to see if maybe there was somebody behind be that he could be walking toward. There was no one else in sight.

“What are you doing back here?”

My stomach leaped. I’d been leaning on my car with my arms folded, and I still had my cell phone in my hand. That would be helpful if I needed to call 911 when this guy decided to tear my arms off. He was big enough, and he was confronting me in a dark, empty parking lot at night. After a drug deal. Behind a freaking bar. How stupid am I? I quickly punched a 9 and a 1 and another 1, and held the phone in the crook of my arm, ready to press “send.”

I took a short breath and tried to steady myself. “I’m waiting for someone.” I was impressed with how calm I actually sounded. Inside, my stomach tightened up.

“Who?” He barked, still coming toward me. My thumb hovered above to the button on my phone that would call the cops.

“That’s none of your business.” I said it slowly, staring right at him, eye to eye, doing my best to not let on that my heart was pounding a hundred miles an hour.

If there was going to be a confrontation, it would be now. I had already screwed up by not leaving, but if there was a chance to get him to back down, this was the way. Try to show no fear, even if you are scared. Looking him in the eye would signal that I didn’t intend to run, and that I might fight back.

I kept my eyes on him, not breathing. My thumb was ready to press the green send button.

He stopped and looked me up and down, sneering

“I manage that bar right there.” He pointed at the bar’s open back door. “So I have a right to know what’s going on in my parking lot.” He took a step toward me.

“Then go manage your bar.” I stopped leaning on the car and stood upright, hoping a little bit of motion in his direction would stop him. It did.

A bar manager selling drugs part time. Terrific.

I was silently thankful my act was working, but inside my pulse was racing.

He narrowed his eyes. “I think you should leave.”

I wasn’t reacting the way he expected. “I told you, I’m meeting somebody. I’m not going anywhere.”

He didn’t like that. It seemed to confuse him. I wondered if it would work and he’d leave, or if it would just piss him off.

“This is my bar!” He had been drinking. “I need to know what’s going on in my parking lot! What are you doing here?

He was getting louder and angrier. Adrenaline pulsed through my mouth. Some of the guys got out of the Mustang and glared at me, ready to join in like a pack of dogs. I was seriously outnumbered. Intimidation was becoming something else. Things were getting out of control.

I had no other options. I had to ride out my tough guy ploy. “Does your boss know you drink on the job?”

He hesitated, but I thought I could see his hands curling up into fists.

“Does your boss know you’re drunk right now, out in the parking lot instead of managing his business?”

It was a desperate move. I figured this guy might have something to lose—a good job, a house—so I tried to remind him of that. He manages a nice bar and probably makes decent money. A fight might cost him that.

In that split moment where he hesitated, I no longer thought he’d hit me. He’d have done it already.

I glanced at his friends in the Mustang. They might change his mind.

I swallowed hard. Maybe I miscalculated.

It didn’t matter. I was almost panting, I’d been holding my breath so long. Fear gripped my stomach and adrenaline pounded through my veins. I had to stand my ground now, maybe give a little verbal push back while I figured out how to get them to go away. A way to show them it was better to walk away. I had no choice.

It was a bad calculation. Muscle T and his guys headed my way. The drunk bar manager was going to defend his territory and they were going to help.

Do I press send?

He gave me one last chance as the Mustang boys closed in. “How about I call the cops right now, and you can explain what you’re doing to them?”

That was my opening. “Call the cops.” I said. “I’m not doing anything illegal back here.”

It was like the arguments I had with my older brother when I was a kid. By getting them to talk, I could lure them into an argument and away from a fight. More thinking, less fist throwing.

Usually.

The Mustang guys didn’t see it that way. They weren’t talking at all, and didn’t seem like they were going to. Halfway towards me now, they moving with threatening determination. I glanced at my phone, tucked in my arm, my thumb on the send button. I didn’t know if I should press it or not. The police would never have arrived before Muscle T beat me to a bloody pulp.

This isn’t what I came here for. The bar manager was ranting. Maybe he was wavering about fighting, but the Mustang guys weren’t.

Another guy appeared from the other direction, shoulders squared and hands at his side like a boxer striding to the center of the ring to start the first round.

They were going to surround me like a pack of dogs, and as soon as one attacked, they all would. I had no chance.

The breath went out of me. The police would never get here in time to save me.

The boxer’s appearance surprised the Mustang guys. They slowed down for a minute. The dynamic was changing so they needed to reassess things.

The stranger came up behind the manager and then made his presence known.

The stranger didn’t do anything. He didn’t have to. When I turned my head to look past the manager’s shoulder, the shadow from the parking lot lights let the manager know someone else was behind him. When he turned to see who it was, it wasn’t who he expected.

This had to be Tyree. He wasn’t as big as I expected, maybe even an inch shorter than me, but he was big enough. And his attitude said he didn’t mess around.

He looked at me. “You must be Doug.” Then he growled at the manager. “Who are you?”

“That’s my bar right there . . .”

I glanced at the Mustang guys. They hadn’t moved an inch since spotting the newcomer.

“I’m here to meet this man.” The stranger’s voice was calm but firm, loud enough to be heard by everyone present, but not shouting. “And our meeting doesn’t include you.”

The stranger’s height and stature were deceptive because his voice and attitude created all the authority one man needed. It made him seem bigger than he was.

The manager started again. “What are you guys doing back here?” He seemed slightly less angry now. More confused.

“It has nothing to do with you.” The stranger leaned slightly in the manager’s direction as he spoke. Then he turned to me, almost turning his back to the manager, but not quite. In movies, such moves are dramatic. In real life, they are not. They are subtle, but critical. This was dismissing to the manager.

I swallowed hard and eyed the man, trying to maintain an even tone. “I don’t think we should have our meeting here. Too noisy.”

He turned back to the manager. “I think we’ll have our meeting anywhere we please.”

The stranger’s arms stayed at his sides, in a white shirt starched to a stiffness that cardboard would be jealous of, and long sleeves that looked like they never got rolled up no matter how hot it got.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said.

The stranger didn’t flinch. “You do that.”

The manager, still drunk, glanced back and forth between me and the stranger. The Mustang guys held their ground. The stranger held his.

I held my cell phone.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said again. This time it sounded less like a threat and more like “I’m telling mom.” He backed up a step, then turned and walked back to his bar.

I took a well deserved breath.

The stranger motioned his head toward the Mustang. “What’s the story over there?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

He turned back to me and smiled. “Then let’s go before they figure things out.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m John Tyler Reed. Folks call me Tyree.”

The fear drained out of me. I shook his hand. “I’m Doug. Nice to meet you.”

He was older than me. Stockier, too, in a way that said back in the day he worked out a lot, either as a military guy or a law man. He spoke with a Texas style accent, but not a thick one, and his manner was an even split of confidence and fact. What he said, you believed.

He was the real deal. He was John Freaking Wayne. The Marines. The Cavalry.

And he saved my ass.

The drunk bar manager watched us from the back door, probably trying to decide what he wanted to do about whatever he thought we were up to. The idiot must have thought we were plotting to rob him or something.

“You handled that guy pretty well.” Tyree sat rigid in the passenger seat of my car, like he maintained good posture all the time.

“Did I? He didn’t leave.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t give him any information and you didn’t back down. That’s good enough in a dark parking lot.”

Information? That was an odd comment. But I liked that he thought I didn’t back down from a possible fight. Regular guys don’t often get a chance to hear that. And that’s nice, because we aren’t sure we’re any good at fighting. Because we aren’t.

I shook my head, waving at the bar. “I never thought about this being anything but a safe meeting spot until tonight. That manager’s probably calling the police right now, thinking we’re doing a drug deal.”

The guys with the Mustang revved its engine again.

Tyree glared at them. “Well, they might be, but either way we need a place to talk and this isn’t it now. My car’s out front.”

More revving.

“How about I drive you over to it and we can go someplace else?”

“Sounds good.” Tyree walked to the passenger side of my car.

As I circled around to the front of the bar and let Tyree out, the drunk bar manager noticed us and pulled out his cell phone to take pictures of our cars and license plates. I bristled, but realized if the camera was as steady as he was, anything in the pictures would be unrecognizable.

There was a 24 hour donut place about five minutes away. Tyree followed me as I headed to it. Our original meeting place had been picked because it was easy to find, not because it was close to anything else.

I felt like I should have been jittery from the adrenaline leaving my system. After all, I had nearly gotten into a big fight with a bunch of guys in a dark parking lot, and I surely would have lost. I expected my hands to be shaking, but they weren’t. Instead, I kept focusing on the uneasiness I felt about telling my bizarre story to a stranger.

But I sensed trustworthiness in Tyree. His reassurance, you handled that guy pretty well, it had a calming effect. Like most people, I thought I was a good judge of character, so for some reason I thought I should trust this stranger. But this particular problem was not one to be wrong about. Not now.

Still, he had helped me diffuse a bad situation without even knowing for sure that he had the right guy. That was worth something.

When we arrived, I went in first and purchased two cokes. Tyree sat down at a table farthest from the cashier. The place was empty, but the TV in the corner would help drown out our conversation from any nosy employees. More updates about the storm getting worse.

I picked up the sodas and walked over to the table. It was time to spill my guts.

“So, John, where should I start?”


 

Original Chapter 24, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

As I drove over to meet Tyree, I kept having second thoughts. I guess I needed to trust somebody with my crazy theories, but half of me thought, man, what the hell am I doing?

I guess I had to try. We were getting in too far over our heads not to.

I pulled up to the beer house. The weather guy was right; no rain. Barely even any wind. That drew the bar patrons out in force. The street parking was all taken, and the side lot was full. I knew there would be plenty of open spaces in back, so I drove around and parked.

But I immediately regretted my decision.

This is all new construction: a restaurant, a bar, some offices. None of it had been here two years ago. The rear lot had overhead lights, and it was an open view over to a Hilton Hotel that was fairly busy, but overall it was still poorly lit. In between the bar and the hotel was a large grassy area that one day would hold shops or a bank. Meanwhile, it was just a dark middle ground. I got out to stretch my legs while I waited for Tyree.

Sometimes, a thing will just look out of place. The self defense lectures taught by off duty cops will tell you to pay attention to those things. Keep your keys in your hand while you walk to your car at night, especially after doing your Christmas shopping. Be aware of your surroundings. Things like that.

But I’m no cop. I’m no tough guy. I’m just a regular guy with a wife and a kid and bills and a job. I’m already out of my comfort zone just being in a dark parking lot this late at night. But I paid attention when we took those security awareness training classes at work.

So I happened to notice a couple of guys standing around a blue Mustang parked in a dark spot behind the bar. It was a warm night, and it had stopped raining for a change, but one guy was in a long sleeve flannel shirt and a stocking cap; the other wore jeans and a white muscle T shirt to show off his arms. There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark.

Who does that?

Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine.

The guys in the Mustang looked at me.

So I looked back at them.

This ain’t South Central Los Angeles; it’s Land O Lakes, Florida, for Pete’s sake. Five hours ago those guys were probably hanging out at the food court in the mall. It’s not exactly scary out here. But dangerous things do happen, usually when people should have known better. I have a wife and a little kid, I reminded myself, so I can’t do something stupid like get shot by a couple of paranoid marijuana dealers in a dark parking lot behind a bar. Not when I can easily avoid it. Hell, it sounded stupid just saying it. I should move. But I have a meeting scheduled here.

A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. This, I reasoned, I shouldn’t let them see me watch. If they really are selling pot or something like that, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down.

They kept looking over at me. If they were trying to intimidate me, it was working.

I could have left and just called Tyree and found another place to meet. Why didn’t I? As I pretended to be busy texting on my phone, I could make out a muted conversation coming from the Mustang guys.

Suddenly, with a blast, the Mustang’s engine roared to life. I jumped. This pleased the muscle t-shirt guy, who laughed extra loud in my direction. He wanted me to know he knew I was there. They loudly revved the engine a few times, then cut it off. A signal? I started getting nervous.

The two guys again walked back and forth from the driver’s door to the open hood. What’s that all, about? What part of the engine are they checking in the dark? Finally, after a few minutes, the second car drove off, back the way it came. It crawled along slowly until it was a few hundred feet away from the Mustang, then its headlights came on. That’s gotta be a drug deal move, so I can’t make out the license plate.

I shouldn’t have watched the second car so long. When I looked back at the Mustang again, one of them was walking towards me. Not muscle T, but somebody else. I looked over my shoulder to see if maybe there was somebody behind be that he could be walking to. There was no one else in sight.

“What are you doing back here?” he demanded.

I was leaning back on my car with my arms folded, and I still had my cell phone in my hand. That would be helpful if I needed to call 911 when this guy decided to tear my arms off. He was big enough, and he was confronting me in a dark, empty parking lot at night. After a drug deal. Behind a freaking bar. How stupid am I? I quickly punched a 9 and a 1 and another 1, and held the phone in the crook of my arm, ready to press “send”.

“I’m waiting for someone,” I said. I was impressed with how calm I actually sounded. Inside, I was starting to feel my stomach tighten up.

“Who?” He barked, still coming toward me. My thumb hovered above to the button on my phone that would call the cops.

“That’s none of your business.” I said slowly. I stared right at him, eye to eye. What’s with this guy? If there was going to be a confrontation, I thought, it would be now. I had already screwed up by not leaving. But if there was a chance to get him to back down, this was the way. Try to show no fear. Even if you are scared. Looking him in the eye would signal that you don’t intend to run, and that you might fight back.

I stared right at him, not breathing. My thumb was ready to press the green send button.

He stopped, and visually sized me up.

Why won’t he leave?

“I manage that bar right there,” he said angrily, pointing at the bar’s open back door. “So I have a right to know what’s going on in my parking lot.” He took a step toward me.

“Then go manage your bar,” I said. I stopped leaning on the car and stood upright. I was hoping that little bit of motion in his direction would stop him, and it did.

A bar manager selling drugs part time. Terrific.

I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

“I think you should leave,” he said flatly. I wondered what he was going to do. I’m not reacting the way he expected.

“I told you; I’m meeting somebody. I’m not going anywhere.”

He didn’t like that. I’m confusing him.

Will that work? Or will it just piss him off?

“This is my bar!” he shouted. He had been drinking. “I need to know what’s going on in my parking lot! What are you doing here?”

He was getting louder, and angrier. I could taste adrenaline starting to pulse through my mouth. Some of the guys got out of the Mustang and glared at me, ready to join in like a pack of dogs. I was seriously outnumbered. Intimidation was becoming something else.

This is getting out of control.

“Does your boss know you drink on the job?” I spat out. That surprised him a little. He hesitated, but I thought I could see his hands curling up into fists.

“Does your boss know you’re drunk right now, out in the parking lot instead of managing his business?”

It was a desperate move. I figured this guy has something to lose, so I tried to remind him of that. He manages a nice bar and probably makes decent money. A fight might cost him that.

So, screw him, I thought. He isn’t going to hit me.

His friends in the Mustang might, though. Maybe I miscalculated.

I’ll stand my ground. Maybe push back a little. No choice now.

It was a bad calculation. Muscle T and his guys were already headed my way. The drunk bar manager was going to defend his territory and they were going to help.

Do I press send?

He gave me one last chance as the Mustang boys closed in. “How about I call the cops right now, and you can explain what you’re doing to them?”

“Call the cops,” I said. “I’m not doing anything illegal back here.”

It was like the arguments I had with my older brother when I was a kid. By getting them to talk, I could lure them into an argument and away from a fight. More thinking, less fist throwing.

Usually.

The Mustang guys didn’t see it that way. They were halfway towards me now, moving with determination. I didn’t know if I should hit 911 or not. This isn’t what I came here for. The bar manager was ranting. Maybe he was wavering about fighting, but the Mustang guys weren’t.

I just hadn’t figured that out yet.

 

Then I saw another guy coming from the other direction.

Shit.

He walked with a purpose, right towards me. But his appearance surprised the Mustang guys. They slowed down for a minute. The dynamic was changing so they needed to reassess things.

The stranger came up behind the manager and then made his presence known.

The stranger didn’t do anything. He didn’t have to. When I turned my head to look past the manager’s shoulder, the shadow from the parking lot lights let the manager know someone else was behind him. When he turned to see who it was, it wasn’t who he expected.

This had to be Tyree. He wasn’t as big as I expected. But he was big enough.

“You must be Dan,” He said sternly, looking at me. Then he growled at the manager. “Who are you?”

“That’s my bar right there,” he started. I looked around. The Mustang guys hadn’t moved.

The stranger cut him off. “I’m here to meet this man,” he said, nodding at me. “And our meeting doesn’t include you.”

“What are you guys doing back here?” the manager started again. He was slightly less angry now. More confused.

“It has nothing to do with you,” the stranger said. Then he turned to me, almost turning his back to the manager. But not quite. In movies, such moves are dramatic. In real life, they are not. They are subtle, but critical. This was dismissing to the manager.

“I don’t think we should have our meeting here,” I said. “Too noisy.”

He turned to the manager, taunting him. “I think we’ll have our meeting anywhere we please.”

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said.

“You do that,” the stranger replied.

There was a long moment. The manager, still drunk, considered his options. The Mustang guys held their ground. The stranger held his.

I held my cell phone.

“I’m calling the cops,” the manager said again. This time it sounded less like a threat and more like “I’m telling mom.” He backed up a step, then turned and walked back to his bar.

I took a well deserved breath.

The stranger motioned his head toward the Mustang. “What’s the story over there?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

He turned back to me and smiled. “Then let’s go before they figure things out.”

He stuck out his hand. “I’m John Tyler Reed. Folks call me Tyree.”

I shook his hand. “I’m Dan. Nice to meet you.”

The drunk bar manager looked out the back door again, trying to decide what he wanted to do about whatever he thought I was up to. Idiot. He must have been convinced we were plotting to rob him or something.

“You handled that guy pretty well,” Tyree offered.

“Did I? He didn’t leave.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t give him any information and you didn’t back down. That’s good enough in a dark parking lot.”

Information? I wondered. That was an odd comment. But I liked that he thought I didn’t back down from a possible fight. Regular guys don’t often get a chance to hear that. And that’s nice, because we aren’t sure we’re any good at fighting. Because we aren’t.

“I never thought about this being anything but a safe meeting spot until tonight.” I said. The guys with the Mustang revved its engine again. “That manager’s probably calling the police right now, thinking we’re doing a drug deal.”

Tyree looked over at the Mustang. “Well, they might be, but either way we need a place to talk and this isn’t it now. My car’s out front.”

More revving.

“How about I drive you over to it and we can go someplace else?”

“Sounds good,” Tyree said, walking around to the passenger side of my car.

As I drove around to the front of the bar and let Tyree out, the drunk bar manager noticed him and quickly pulled out his cell phone to take pictures of our cars and license plates. For what? Now he was just pissing me off, but if the camera was as steady as he was, anything in the pictures would be unrecognizable.

There was a 24 hour donut place about five minutes away. Tyree followed me to it. Our original meeting place had been picked because it was easy to find, not because it was close to anything else.

Driving to the donut shop, I felt like I should have been jittery from the adrenaline leaving my system. After all, I had nearly gotten into a big fight with a bunch of guys in a dark parking lot, and I surely would have lost. I expected my hands to be shaking, but they weren’t. Instead, I kept focusing on the uneasiness I felt about telling my bizarre story to a stranger. But I sensed trustworthiness in Tyree. His reassurance, you handled that guy pretty well, had a calming effect. Like most people, I thought I was a good judge of character, so for some reason I thought I should trust this stranger. But this particular problem was not one to be wrong about. Not now.

Still, he had helped me diffuse a bad situation without even knowing for sure that he had the right guy. That was worth something.

When we arrived, I went in first and purchased two cokes. Tyree sat down at a table farthest from the cashier. The place was empty, and there was a TV on that would help drown out our conversation from any nosy employees. More updates about the storm getting worse.

I walked over to the table. It was time to spill my guts.

“So, John, where should I start?”


ANALYSIS

I may go back and add in some additional emotions for Doug to show. He does a good job of being scared while trying not to outwardly act scared, so he is limiting himself from doing too much – which can limit me as a writer.

Might have to have more inner thoughts from him to fully round this out, but I see places to add emotional reactions. Every time one of the “bad guys” does something directed at Doug, he should react, because that’s what makes the action intimidating.

  • There may have been somebody in the back seat. They had the hood up on the car, and they kept walking back and forth to look at the motor. In the dark… Back and forth, from the driver’s seat to the engine… The guys in the Mustang looked at me. – The hairs should stand up on the back of Doug’s neck. We need a physical demonstration of his uneasiness.
  • A car rolled up to the Mustang and turned off its lights. If they were selling pot or something, they wouldn’t think kindly of me observing their drug deal going down. – Here, Doug should feel his uneasiness rising. Holding his breath, or tension gripping his shoulders, maybe biting his nails. Then we know he’s bothered by all this – and so are we as readers.
  • When Doug looks back to the Mustang and the guy is walking toward him, Doug should react. Flinch, fear grip his stomach, a wave of fear spreading through him, that sort of thing.

See? Letting it rest after I scheduled it to post allowed me to see even more places I can “paint in” a little more tension! (More on that in a second.)

Often, the “confrontation” characters have is in a story more in words, less in actions.

Having fists fly is good entertainment, but having the element of tension first, where everybody is getting nervous and wondering what’s going to happen, that’s important, too.

Here, Tyree saved Doug, so there wasn’t a fight – but was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Doug would lose? That tells you something about him.

And yet, he did his best, scared as he was, to stand his ground. That tells you something about him, too.

I’ll leave you to conclude for your self as to what it tells you.

When I have to do an standoff scene, I like to think about stuff I’ve seen in movies that I liked – to see how it can be done – but real life is usually better for actual emotion mining. Everyone has been challenged in school by a bully, or gotten scared in a parking lot. Use that. Draw on that feeling you had when it happened. You remember.

JP It Up – If You Can

Then, think about the scene in the movie  Jurassic Park where the car breaks down in front of the Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit, and it’s raining and dark and the kids are in the car alone.

jp-2

That is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. Why? Not because the T Rex eats the children. (He does not.)

Because for a very, very, verrrrry long moment, we worry that he will eat them. We think he might. He looks, he sniffs, he growls – and during all that, we are glued to our seats. We dread what might happen, and we can’t look away.

In this case, this scene in Angel is pretty much exactly what happened to me in real life. (With no T-Rex.)

But

Emulate that example in JP. WHY is the scene scary? The monster, yes, but the reactions to the monster. And the vulnerability of the characters involved. We don’t worry about Sam Neil and Jeff Goldblum getting eaten. But we worry like crazy that the children will.

Kids are more vulnerable than scientists. In fact, the scientists aren’t even scared.

But look at the elements at play:

  • The monster has to be menacing,
  • the victims have to act scared as hell, and
  • the scene has to be filled with tension for as loooong as you can drag it out.

T Rex doesn’t come out and chomp them up. He walks around, he roars, he sniffs the car, he gets a light shined in his eyes, he growls. He drags out the scene, that prima donna!

Who is my monster? The bar manager? He’s one, but the Muscle T guy and the others are worse. Who is my victim? Doug, a nice guy with a budding history of avoiding confrontation. How long can I drag out the scene?  Not long. A few thousand words, if that. What’s my equivalent of shining a light in the T-Rex’s eye? Maybe having the Mustang engine roar?

You get the idea.

Now, my monster has to be menacing. I’m not sure I got there, but it’s a bar manager and a drug dealer, not a T-Rex. My victim has to be scared, which Doug is, but however scared Doug gets is the max amount of scared the reader will get. I may have to make Doug more fearful to get readers properly concerned here. And the length of the scene is about as long as it can reasonably be.

What you want to consider:

  • What are ways to make the monster scarier?
  • What are ways to make the victim more vulnerable and show their fear, or, like Doug, show it while trying to hide it?
  • When you review your MS, find the scariest words to insert.

Also

What happened before the monster scene in JP? A happy car ride. What happened before the confrontation scene in my story? A ride to a bar. Both serve as a contrast to the confrontation that occurs afterward. That’s the roller coaster. To make the hill higher, have a valley before it. The calm before the storm.

Please don’t take this as my way of saying my chapter is as scary as the scene in Jurassic Park. I’m not. They are different types of scenes.

But learn from examples, and employ the process, the theory, of what drives these type of scenes.

Finally:

At some point, ya gotta stop polishing and publish. I will probably make the changes I mentioned about Doug’s emotional reactions early in the scene, because I feel the scene lacks tension in places. It can be better.

Tweak this, adjust that – but at some point you aren’t making the story better, you’re just making it different.

This scene can go to print right now. Tweaking will help, and since it has to go to beta readers, I’ll make those tweaks. Otherwise, this sucker is probably publishing in March 2017. No more polishing. You have to let go.

Now:

head shot

Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!