A Penny on the Tracks

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It is a program that challenges writers to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month — 50,000 words in 30 days.  If it sounds insane, that’s because it is, but I’m sure I saw a quote somewhere from Stephen King stating that a writer should be able to finish a first draft in 30 days.

I have never finished a first draft in 30 days — not even a first draft of a 15,000 word short story I recently wrote. That tale took me two months to complete.

 

For four straight years, I have promised myself I’d take part in this challenge, and for the fourth November in a row, I backed out before I even began.  I’m not against pushing myself as a writer. I think this is a great motivator for people to actually finish writing a book because so many books are left unwritten because, well, writing is hard.

So, if this gets writers to stay in their seats and write, great. But I don’t approach writing with a word count. I really hate getting caught up in counting words, which is probably why I have not been motivated to take a shot at this challenge. I shut the word count feature off on my computer so that I can’t see the number as I write.

When I sit down to write, I tell myself, “Alicia, write one good, solid scene.” My hope is that I come up with a page or two of dialogue or prose that either advances the plot or develops the characters, basically anything that moves the story along.

I’m currently writing a book about a teenage girl in the 1950’s called, Annabel. Even if I wanted to compete in this NaNo challenge, I’m too far along in this story (about 250 pages, don’t ask me the word count, because I don’t know) to even attempt to write a thousand-plus words a day. I’m mostly in the “fill-in-the-blanks” part of the writing process.

My YA book, A Penny on the Tracks, will be released tomorrow. It is a 75,000 word novel that took me about a year to complete. I couldn’t tell you how long I had been working on the book before I finally had a first draft completed, but I can tell you there were a ton of revisions. An absolute ton.

But in the end, I came up with a story that I’m very proud of and was totally worth the many frustrating late nights I spent writing it.

Here is an excerpt from my coming-of-age book about life, love, and friendship:

I was making our favorite sandwich—bologna, lettuce, and cheese smeared with mustard and mayo on white bread—when Abbey called for me from the living room.
“Lyssa! Hurry up! Poison’s on!”

The sandwiches lay on the counter amid a mess of open condiment jars and scattered pieces of lettuce and lunch meat. I quickly smashed the top slices of bread onto both sandwiches against the piled-stack of a sloppy mess I had created and hurried into the next room, dropping bits of food as I ran.

Abbey was standing on the couch, shouting out the lyrics we both knew by heart as Brett Michaels’ voice filled the room. I handed her a sandwich, jumped on the couch, and screamed out the chorus to “Talk Dirty to Me.”  I took bites of my sandwich during the guitar solo, and Abbey held her sandwich high in her left hand, as though it were the end of a guitar, and strummed her right hand against the front of her shirt. We banged our heads in unison, hair (and food) flying everywhere.

Abbey’s house had a bigger TV and better food options than bologna and cheese sandwiches, but we never could have done what we were doing right then if we were at her house. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” came on next, and we both lost our minds.

We dropped what was left of our food onto the table and yelled out the lyrics to our favorite song. Abbey sang the song with more conviction, as though she had a lot more that she didn’t want to take anymore.

The video ended, and we both collapsed onto the couch and finished our lunch. After, I went into the kitchen and grabbed a couple cans of pop from the fridge. Hanging on a magnet, on the side of the refrigerator, was a note from my mom reminding me she was working late that night and that there were frozen dinners in the freezer. At the end of the note she promised a home-cooked meal soon.

Abbey was often envious of the lack of parental supervision at my place, especially when it came to dinner. She was jealous I got to eat whatever I wanted. Even if my mom left dinner for me in the fridge, if I wanted to eat S’mores for supper, I ate S’mores.

“You eat dinner on the couch while watching TV?” Abbey had asked me one day.

“If I feel like it,” I answered.

“You’re so lucky. My mom makes me eat with her at the table, even if my dad isn’t home yet. And I can’t even put my elbows on the table.” 

I ate on the couch while watching TV because my friend didn’t know the loneliness that crept inside a person while eating dinner among empty chairs.

But I had forced a smile. “Yep. I am lucky.”

I walked back into the living room and handed one of the cans to Abbey. Abbey didn’t take it.

“My mom said I drink too much pop.”

“Your mom’s not fucking here.”

Abbey smiled and grabbed the can from my hand. About eight videos later and a sore neck from head banging, Abbey had to go home.

I walked her to the door. “Let’s ride our bikes tomorrow.”

“Where to?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere far.”

“Last time we did that we were almost too tired to ride back,” she reminded me.

“That was because of the wind,” I explained. “It was blowing against us on our way back.”

Abbey considered this. “Okay. If it’s not very windy tomorrow, we’ll ride our bikes far.

 

APennyontheTracks-web
A Penny on the Tracks

 

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Coming Out All Over Again

I came out as a lesbian twenty-one years ago. I was nineteen years old. I told the people closest to me, one at a time. It was a positive experience, for the most part. There were lots of questions, of course. I was surprised at how surprised some of my loved ones were. I was a tomboy growing up, playing sports, wearing dirty clothes with holes in them. I hated dresses as a child. Still did as a nineteen year old, when I declared myself a lesbian.

So why some of my loved ones were surprised by my revelation, is astounding. Denial is fierce.

Last night, something happened that made me feel nineteen all over again. No, I didn’t try to buy beer with someone else’s ID who looked kinda, sorta, like me.

I came out to a loved one.

It started out as a typical Friday night. I was on my recliner, watching the Sox game. My sister’s kids were over. My seven-year old nephew was laid out on the couch next to me, my niece in college was working on her studies at the kitchen table behind me, and my other niece, twelve-years old, slid onto the recliner with me.

“Do you like girls?” she asked.

It was a casual question. There was no tone. Just a straight-forward, no-nonsense question. I was caught off-guard. This niece, as do all of nieces and nephews, has known for years  that I write lesbian novels, and that I have a gay friend with whom I go to gay bars. But they’ve never asked if I was a lesbian.

Until now.

I knew the question would come up soon. They’ve asked me other questions bordering the, “Do you like girls”, “Are you a lesbian, Auntie?” question.

“Auntie, why do you write lesbian stories?”

“Lesbians need to read, too, right?”

“Auntie, so you go to gay bars and watch boys kiss?”

“Yes, I do. And that’s okay.”

“Auntie, aren’t you afraid someone’s going to think you’re gay?”

“No, because being gay is okay.”

Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t just come out and tell my curious nieces and nephews that I was gay. They were young – nine, ten, eleven years old. I didn’t think they were ready to know. Or maybe I wasn’t ready for them to know. Whatever the case, I didn’t volunteer the information, but I swore I would answer honestly if they ever directly asked if I was gay.

“Do you like girls?” my niece asked.

I tossed my head back. “Why would you ask me that? No, I don’t like girls.”

“It’s okay if you do. I respect gay people,” my niece responded.

I went back to watching the game, not believing that I had just lied to my niece. I did exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t do. I was not expecting that question at that moment. I was unprepared. In that moment, I wasn’t ready to tell her the truth.

When she got off the chair with me, I replayed in my mind what had just happened, and I knew I couldn’t keep things as they were.

Later, we were practicing our dance routine to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and I pulled her into another room.

“I’m sorry for lying to you,” I said.

“When?” she asked.

“When I told you I didn’t like girls.”

“You like girls?” she asked.

I nodded.

She smiled and jumped in my arms. She squeezed her arms tight around my neck. “I’m so proud of you! I love you so much.”

It was a beautiful moment. My twelve-year old niece is proud of me. I have to laugh at that. When we left the room, and joined the others, we went right back to where we left off. She didn’t treat me any differently. Being gay is really no big deal to her.

Later that night, we were watching the movie Signs, and she jumped onto the recliner to snuggle with me at the scary parts, like she always does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal for “Loving Again”

My second lesbian romance novella, Loving Again, will release next month. Thank you to Affinity eBook Press for acquiring my book.

Here is the cover, and a glimpse of the story. I will post an excerpt soon. Thanks for stopping by!

loving again cover

Dana Perkins lost her longtime partner in a tragic accident. Although she still struggles with the loss, her profound loneliness is evidence that it is time to move on. She knows her deceased lover, Casey, wouldn’t want her living this way. Dana begins her slow process of letting go, removing reminders of Casey from her house, and dating again. The women she meets leave Dana uninspired and missing her deceased partner even more. Just as she is about to resign herself to the belief that she will never love again, Dana meets Emily Daniels, a married woman who is deeply conflicted over her attraction to women.

Soon, the two women form a friendship that leads to deeper emotions. They discover that one moment in their past had brought them together in a way neither woman could have ever imagined.

Is that one moment in time enough to let both women follow their hearts, or will they let their past continue to rule their future?

“Books and Internet Love.”

The year was 1998. Amazon was three years old – a puppy not yet showing any semblance of the big dog it’d become that would be the bane of every brick and mortar company’s existence.

In 1998, the “bad guys” were Borders, Barnes and Noble, and any other big corporate giant that moved in and put friendly, independent neighborhood bookstores out of business. Those same corporate giants are now shutting their doors thanks, mostly, to Amazon, but back then, you couldn’t mess with them. This “bullying” of small bookstores didn’t sit well with me because I’d envisioned a nice quiet life managing my own bookstore where I’d serve coffee and chat with customers I knew by name. It could have been a nice life, but with a Borders across the street and a Starbucks right next to it, it would have been short-lived.

Years before Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian, she had a TV show called, Ellen, where she played a character who owned a bookstore. I was a teenager at the time, fantasizing that I was watching my future life play out in front of me. I believed it could be like that. Just…like…that. The perfect business. The perfect friends. The perfectly-timed jokes. I was naive enough to think a TV show could resemble real life.

Then came the movie You’ve Got Mail. It still makes me smile when I watch it. It touches on two things I know well. Books and Internet dating. You didn’t boast loudly back in ’98 about having a profile on the Internet searching for love. You whispered it into a trusted friend’s ear, if you said anything at all. But You’ve Got Mail made Internet dating sweet and charming, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.

Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, owner of The Shop Around the Corner (friendly neighborhood bookstore) and Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, owner of Fox Books (evil corporate bully). Fox puts Kelly out of business all the while romancing her over the Internet, unbeknownst to her that it his him.

Only “always the good-guy” Tom Hanks can pull something like this off and come out looking as wholesome as Jimmy Stewart in an “ah shucks” kind of a way. “Ah shucks, Ms. Kelly. I’m really sorry I put you out of business, taking away your livelihood, as well as conversing with you online and not telling you who I really was. But I’d really love to take you to dinner sometime.” You’ve Got Mail segued into a sweet love story with a happy ending, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.

It was 1996 when I corresponded romantically with someone on the Internet for the first time. Meg Ryan nails it perfectly when her character says, “I wonder. I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”

Yes, Meg, I know the feeling well.

In ’96 we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or texting. If you had something to say to someone, you called them on the phone. If you weren’t ready to give out your number because you were, after all, talking to someone from the Internet, which could be ANYBODY, you used email. That was it.

I eventually met the woman that had sent me rushing to my room as soon as I entered my house, locking the door, and holding my breath until I saw her name in my email box. Big smile. She was the first woman I called my girlfriend. The woman who would help me come out to my family and friends. I remember the exchange with my mother when I told her. She sat on the living room couch. Me on the other. I told her I needed to tell her something. And then I lit a cigarette – signifying this was serious. She sat up. “Mom,” I said. “I met someone online. This person’s name is Chris. But not Chris as in Christopher. Chris as in Christine. I’m a lesbian. She lives in Jersey. I’ll be leaving to see her next month.”

Maybe that wasn’t an entirely fair way to put it to my mom. “I’m gay, but no time to talk. Got a flight to catch! Bye!!!!!”  I was nineteen. What stupid things were you doing when you were nineteen? I flew to Jersey. Met the girl. Sparks didn’t fly.

Though it didn’t end “Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan” style. I don’t regret doing it because I took a chance. I wish one day I’d open my email and see her name again because I’d like to know how she’s doing – nineteen years later.

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Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net