A Penny on the Tracks

Last November, I published my book, A Penny on the Tracks. It is a YA book based loosely on my childhood friendship with my best friend. I wrote this story in college. At the time, it was written as a short story and was titled The Hideout. The finished product hardly resembles anything of the original.

In fact, the college version of A Penny on the Tracks was so bad that when I reread it nearly fifteen years ago, my first instinct was to throw it away, but the writer in me remembered the agonizing hours I put into the piece, so I stuffed it in an overfilled drawer of mostly unfinished old works and left it there.

About three years ago, for whatever reason, I searched that overfilled drawer for that story and this time when I reread the piece I didn’t want to toss it into a fire. This time I saw potential. Although I ended up rewriting almost the entire thing, the core of the story has stayed the same — two friends sharing their childhood together while dealing with personal tragedy.

The importance of friendship is prevalent in this story, and I’m proud of the way A Penny on the Tracks has turned out. I’m proud that I not only finished the story, but a publisher liked it enough to contract it. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with the story I am currently writing tentatively called Annabel. 

This is another awfully-written college short story and was titled The Attic. This piece was also stuffed in that same overfilled drawer and for some reason I also fished this story out and decided to salvage it with a rewrite. I’m over two hundred pages in and am still unsure about an ending, but I have some ideas. With A Penny I always knew how the story was going to end, and of course knowing the direction you’re writing to makes writing a story so much easier, but I do have a knack of making life harder for myself. Why should writing be any different?

The story of A Penny on the Tracks deals with friendship, coming out, and tragedy.  A girl names Lyssa and her best friend Abbey discover a hideout near the train tracks and spend the summer before sixth grade hanging out and finding freedom from issues at home. Their childhood innocence shatters when the hideout becomes the scene of a tragic death.

Here is an excerpt from A Penny on the Tracks:

I JERKED FROM my sleep while the phone was still buzzing its first high-piercing ring. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 4:17 a.m. I knew something was wrong.

The second ring was abruptly broken up, and my mother’s muffled voice carried into my room. I was already sitting upright in my bed when my bedroom door squeaked open, and my mother’s slight figure appeared as a shadow near my door.

“Lyssa? You up?” she asked.

“What’s wrong?” My voice was no louder than a whisper.

My mother made her way into the dark room. I couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but her movement was stiff and hesitant. 

She turned on the lamp and sat down beside me. Her face was pale and she let out short, shallow breaths. It seemed difficult for her to look me in the eyes.

“What is it?” I asked. “What’s happened?”

My mother looked at me with pain in her eyes. “Lyssa . . .” She smoothed her hand gently across my arm. “Abbey’s dead.”

I took in her words without an ounce of denial. The reality of what my mother had told me was instant.

My best friend was dead.

 

 

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A Penny on the Tracks

 

 

 

 

Getting the Title Right

My new publisher and I are in the beginning stages of creating a cover for my new book, A Penny on the Tracks. The expected release date is October of this year. A Penny breaks away from the romance-themed kind of story my first two books were categorized. A Penny on the Tracks is a Young Adult book  that revolves around the friendship of two eleven-year-old girls and into their teenage years.

A Penny started out as a short story I had written in a Creative Writing course in college almost nineteen years ago.  The story then was called The Hideout, and until about the halfway point of revising this short story into a 75,000 word novel, that title remained. I was writing a scene of one of the young girls, Lyssa, placing pennies on a set of railway tracks they hang out at all the time, and the title just popped out at me.

It was so obvious I’m not sure why I had ever considered another title because placing pennies on the tracks becomes a symbolic part of the story. I am sure I had originally selected The Hideout as the title of my then short story because the place where the tracks lay is a spot Lyssa and Abbey spend a lot of time at and refer to it as their “Hideout” because aside from a high school boy they befriend there, they’ve never seen anyone else at their secret place.

So this space does feel like their very own hideout, but the scene is so much more than that. Those grounds will be the place two characters of the book will choose to end their lives. I’ve only felt this good about the choice of my book title once before; when I felt the title really matched the story.

I’m not sure how much other authors struggle with titles, but I usually have a hard time deciding on one. So I am delighted when a title pops out at me, especially  while in the middle of writing a scene.

Although my publisher and I have yet to go through the editing process, here is an (unedited) excerpt from my upcoming book, A Penny on Tracks:

I balanced the weight of my body on my back foot and dug the heel of my high-top sneakers deep into the thick gravel. I wound my arm like a major league pitcher, and with all my strength, I launched a rock, almost the size of my head, at a passing train. The rock landed against the moving steel, and the cargo it carried, with a loud thud.

“Damn it!” I slapped my hand against my thigh. “I wanted to smash the glass.”

I quickly turned to search the brush for a rock as good as the one I’d just wasted a terrible throw on and noticed Abbey was still holding her own rocks tightly in her hands.

 “How come you didn’t throw yours yet? Throw em’ before the train’s gone.” I moved to continue my hunt, but then looked back at her and added, “And aim for the windshield!”

“I can’t,” Abbey said.

“Then aim for whatever you want.”

“No, I mean I can’t throw it.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No I can’t,” she insisted.

“Just do it!” I yelled.

“But I don’t want to!”

I peeked down the tracks, checking if the train was near the end. It wasn’t. We still had time, but not much. “Hurry up and throw it!”

I watched Abbey hesitate while gripping two medium-sized rocks in each hand. She moved a couple steps closer to the passing train, and chucked the rocks, one at time, at the cars mounted onto the train.

I cheered loudly after one of the rocks hit its target with a loud crash. “Did you hear that?” I yelled.

I looked down the track again, but this time, I could see the caboose. The train was coming to an end. “Come on! Let’s hide in the woods so no one sees us.”

We squatted near the edge of the grass, just inside the woods, behind a thick tree trunk.

“That was a bad idea,” Abbey said. “We shouldn’t have done that.”

I laughed and told her to shut up. “It was fun.”

Once the train passed, we popped out of the woods and watched as it disappeared down the tracks.

“How come you always make us hide at the end?” Abbey asked me.

“In case someone’s in the caboose and…”

“Unloads a salt gun on your asses,” a voice behind us finished.

I turned around and saw Derek standing near the brush, a cigarette dangling loosely from his lips. His faded blue jeans were torn at the knees and a black Led Zeppelin T-shirt, underneath a worn jean jacket, tugged against his lean waist.

“Don’t even get her started,” I warned him. “No one’s gonna unload a salt gun on our asses. They don’t even have a salt gun.”

“Then why do we run?” Abbey asked.

“Like I was saying before I was interrupted,” I paused and gave Derek a hard look. “In case someone’s in the caboose and gets a good look at us.”

“A good enough look to shoot your asses full of salt, you mean.” Derek smirked at me.

“See!” Abbey threw her arms in the air. “It’s true! That guy really does have a salt gun, doesn’t he, Derek?”

Derek pushed a strand of his long tangled brown hair away from his eyes and sat atop a large rock. He leaned his elbows against his knees, his skinny body crouching forward. “It’s what I heard,” he said. “But keep it up and soon you’ll know for yourself.”

“Shut your trap, Derek.” I pointed my finger at him.

Abbey shook her head. “I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Don’t listen to him. Does he look like he knows anything?” I argued.

“Then don’t listen to me.” Derek took a long drag off his cigarette and let out a deep exhale of smoke. Off to the side, near his feet, a dirty black and white bandanna lay in a twisted mess across the gravel. I recognized it as one that Derek used to wear. The old bandana must have slipped from his back pocket one day and he never bothered to pick it up. “Get hit with rock salt,” he continued, “and feel the burn when that shit tears into your flesh.”

“Shut up!” I rushed at him, but he dodged my efforts to grab him.

“That’s it,” Abbey said, determined. “We are definitely not doing this again.”

I watched Derek flick his cigarette in the direction of the tracks.

“Are you happy now, Asshole?” I asked him.

“Nice little girls aren’t supposed to talk like that, or throw rocks at trains,” he said.

 I sat down on one of the rails of the track. “I’m not nice.”

“No, you aren’t.” Derek laughed.

“And I’m not little,” Abbey said, even though she was.

 

Thanks for reading.  Please check out my books, Her Name and Loving Again, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

 

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Alicia+joseph

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Every Lesbian Needs a Gay Man in her Life.

Not all lesbians are fashionably challenged, but many are, and I’m no exception. We wear clothes as a necessary comfort, not to make a statement, except to say, “Yes, I threw on the first thing I saw in my closet without much consideration.” I wear clothes because it’s illegal to mosey around naked, and also because I don’t have the body that wears “naked” very well.

I can’t understand how anyone who knew me as a child (mom, siblings) were as surprised as they seemed to be when I came out. Since I was a little girl I hated wearing dresses. I have distinct memories of standing in the middle of my kitchen, begging my mother to let me wear my holey jeans.

“They have holes in them. And they’re dirty!” she’d scream.

Dirty, holey jeans were my preference of attire (and this was before they were trendy and stores didn’t sell pre-torn jeans). In the mid-eighties, ripped jeans were for burnouts with long hair, who smoked and listened to loud guitar-thrashing hard rock music.

I loved my holey jeans.

While I had no qualms with being messy, my brother (my twin) would change his outfit if one drop of anything – including innocuous water – touched a single thread of anything he wore. Pants, shirts, and shorts popped up all over the house. On the kitchen floor, across the stairwell, behind bathroom doors, or tucked between the couch cushions.

“Joey!” mom would scream. “Did you change your clothes again!”

Yep, mom. He sure did.

Though she never admitted it, I’m positive having a daughter eager to wear the same worn clothes over and over was a welcomed relief to the scavenger hunt of missing trousers my brother had tirelessly put her through each day, but one thing is clear. There was a mix-up somewhere in the womb because my other half (literally) got the girl genes and to me, befell the genes that to this day make me recoil at the sight of department store make-up counters, and to the perky saleswomen with their overly painted-on faces standing under those bright, shiny lights.

Thank Christ grunge was all the rage when I was a teenager. Flannel shirts, baggy jeans, sandals with socks – it was fashionable in 1993 to dress like a lesbian – and I loved every second of it.

I was twenty-years old when I crept into my first Gay and Lesbian support group where I met my friend Tony. My fashion disaster ways were still prevalent and every lesbian needs a fashionably sensitive gay man in her life to tell her it’s time to tweeze those eyebrows.

“Eyebrows are supposed to have an arch, Alicia,” he’d say. “And there’s supposed to be two of ’em.”

Goodbye uni-brow. Hello shapely new, separated eyebrows!

But it did’t stop there. He also gently persuaded me to dump my white leather fringe jacket and ditch the blue eyeliner and bright-red blush.

Farewell rosy cheeks, it was time for a more subdued look because the year was 1996, not ’86.

Eighteen years later, Tony is still my fashion confidant, but he’s also a dear friend – a friend who listens without judgement and has the uncanny way of knowing exactly what I need to hear during my most vulnerable moments. A friend who constantly reminded me I was a writer, even when I didn’t feel like one. His support helped me to never give up on my dream. When my first book was published, he was as happy for me as if his own dream had come true.

He helped me pass bookmarks out in a predominately lesbian neighborhood to promote my book. Over lunch he gushed about how talented a writer I am and then told me to burn the jeans I was wearing as soon as I get home.

Honest friends aren’t always good for your ego, but thank God for them because I shudder to think what I’d look like if Tony wasn’t in my life.

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Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net