An Excerpt from my Untitled Work-in-Progress.

My current work-in-progress has no title. I was hoping by the midpoint mark something would have come to me, but I’m close to the end of this labor of love and my mind is still blank on a title.

This is a revision of a story I had written almost 17 years ago. It was my first novel, and it was horrible. The precis was good enough to grab the attention of a publisher, but the manuscript wasn’t strong enough to carry its own weight. A big rejection letter soon appeared in my mailbox.

After blowing the dust off this story, it was easy to see why it didn’t make the cut. The story was badly written. The characters weren’t developed enough, and the dialogue sounded like something out of Degrassi Junior High.  The story was labeled a romance, but ended with the love interest dying in a plane crash. Pretty much sums up my view on love. :p

After six months worth of revisions, I’m almost finished. I think I got most of the ugly out. I just have to write the ending…and no, no one’s dying in a plane crash. Actually, the book hardly resembles the original at all. I realized I had started the story at the wrong place. I needed to go back. I needed to show, rather than tell, more of what I wanted the reader to know.

The book revolves around the friendship of two women. The way I had written the story the first time was to tell the reader about the friendship, rather than show it. One of the women betrays the other, and it is pivotal to the story that the reader understands the depth of their friendship to really feel the deception.

Here is an unedited excerpt from my untitled work-in-progress:

Taylor’s bedroom door opened and rock music poured loudly down the hallway and into the living room where Carolyn was sitting alone on the couch, her face crammed in a book. She eyed Taylor walking toward her.

Although she knew Taylor would have turned the music down if asked, Carolyn didn’t say anything because she preferred listening to the loud raucous tunes than to the sounds of her roommate having sex.

The woman in Taylor’s bedroom wasn’t Alicia. Taylor waited for no woman. 

“Where’s Jeff?” Taylor asked.

 Carolyn peered over her book to catch Taylor lean into the fridge and pull out a bottle of beer. Taylor’s gray and white camouflage cargo shorts hung just above her knee. Carolyn counted the six small sweat stains on Taylor’s white tank top. Her ruffled dark black hair hung at her chin. A shorter layer fell just below her eyes, and often Taylor had to brush it away with a flick of her head, or a wave of her hand.

“He left,” Carolyn answered.

Taylor twisted the bottle’s cap and pitched it into the sink. She took a deep swig. “Everything okay?”

“Sure. Can you think of any reason why everything wouldn’t be okay?”

“Whoa, I know that tone.” Taylor dropped next to her on the couch. “What’s goin’ on with you?”

Carolyn closed the textbook over her lap. “You know I have finals coming up, right?”

Taylor closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “Fuck me! I’m sorry. I completely forgot. I’ll turn that shit off. You need quiet.” Taylor moved to get up, but Carolyn stopped her. “Jeff and I broke up.”

Taylor fell back into the couch. “No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Just now?” Taylor asked.

“Just now.”

“Wow… I’m sorry.”

Carolyn eyed her friend closely. “No, you’re not. You hated him.”

“I’m not sorry for me. I’m ecstatic for me. I’m sorry for you. You really liked him. Never understood why, but you did. What’d he do? Do I have to kick his ass?”

Carolyn shook her head. “It was my decision. He’s a jerk.”

Taylor draped an arm around Carolyn’s shoulders. “Yeah, well, glad you figured it out now before it was too late. You gonna be okay? Need me to do anything?”

Carolyn smirked at her friend’s seriousness because it wasn’t like her.

Taylor pulled back. “What’s that look for? I’m being sincere. I really wanna know if you’re gonna make it?”

“I’ll make it just fine. In fact, I’m surprised at how little I feel about it. When he walked out the door, I was actually relieved. Kinda scares me that I saw myself marrying him. How could I miss what an asshole he was?” Carolyn groaned and rubbed her hands over her face.

“You were blinded by love. I hear it happens a lot.”

Carolyn studied her friend. “You’ve never been in love? Never felt that emotion?”

Taylor crossed an ankle over her knee. “Nope.”

“How about the woman in your bed right now? How do you feel about her, or about Alicia? You were screaming at her on the phone earlier and now there’s another woman in your bed. Why don’t you just let her go?”

“I don’t have feelings for the woman in my bed right now, but I think I could have stronger feelings for Alicia when the time’s right. I know that’s hard for you to understand, but that’s just the way it is.”

“You’ve never loved a woman?”

“Nope.”

“Not even a crush?”

Taylor seemed to think about it. “I liked my Kindergarten teacher…a lot. Does that count?”

“In Kindergarten? You had a crush on a woman in Kindergarten?”

“She was so fucking hot.”

 “You knew way back then?”

“Hell yes! Are you kidding me? I was noticing girls for as long as I could remember, especially the older ones. They had boobs.”

Carolyn rubbed her forehead. “That is crazy. You realize I’m studying to be a teacher, right?”

“Then consider this your warning. If you see little Sally staring at your chest, she’s not admiring your necklace.”

 “Great. Something to look forward to.” Carolyn leaned her head back and sighed. “As much as I would love to sit and talk with you about meaningless crap all night, I have to study so that someday I could teach meaningless crap to children who will not respect me, make faces behind my back, and apparently, stare at my boobs.” She picked her book off her lap and stood up. “Have fun.”

Taylor tipped her bottle towards her. “You betcha. And Carolyn? I was never gonna let you marry that asshole. He didn’t deserve you.”

Carolyn smiled. “It’s good to know I have someone watching my back. Thanks, Taylor. Now turn that crap off because it’s giving me a headache.”

 

 

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Second Chance Stories

A few years back, I enrolled in a writing course at my local community college. I’d been away from writing for many years at that point and knew I needed to brush up on my skills. We were instructed to bring in five pages of a piece we were working on to each class.

I chose a short story I’d written in college, eighteen years ago. In the weeks leading up to the class, I did a lot of revising. In fact, I was horrified after my first read through of this piece I’d written so long ago. The story was utter crap filled with the most cookie-cutter, senseless dialogue that would have been rejected by The Brady Bunch for being too hokey. Not sure how I passed that class. Maybe you just had to show up.

That story, originally titled The Attic but changed to Annabel, was actually well-liked by the class at my community college. Of course, this came after heavy revisions. After my first read-through, I was surprised that I’d held onto a story as lacking as this one was. Most of the stories written during my early college years were horrible, but I was only starting out. Surely, a masterpiece couldn’t have been expected.

Hanging onto a binder from a Creative Writing class stuffed with forgettable and badly-written stories for almost eighteen years? Who does that?

I imagine tossing out anything I had written, even the crap, seemed unfathomable to me. So I kept my old stories. For eighteen years. And good thing I did because after a third, fourth, and fifth reread I found that maybe I was on to a little something, all those years ago.

I recently signed a contract for a different short story I had written while I was a student in that small class of about eight classmates almost two decades ago. We’d huddle around one large table and share with each other our creative works.

I don’t think at twenty-two years old I envisioned my future forty-year old self someday revising the stories I was writing and getting them published. But I did and I am. I have more stories to dig up from my past, and though they’ll be far from masterpieces, I’m sure I will find something in those stories worth breathing new life into.

Most people deserve a second chance. Shouldn’t old, tucked-away, not-so-great, stories get one, too?

In the writing course I took at my community college, a woman let it be known that she throws away old work. The class reacted as though she confessed to storing human heads in her refrigerator.

Apparently, I’m not the only writer who believes imperfect, old stories should be kept and given a second chance.

Even if it’s eighteen-years later.

 

 

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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

A Penny on the Tracks

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I’m close to finishing my latest novel, A Penny on the Tracks, a coming of age story about  friendship, family, love and loss. The story centers around two eleven-year old girls who discover a place hidden in a remote area not far from where they live. They call this place their “Hideout”. Believing the secret spot is known only to them, and the high school boy they meet there named Derek, the girls spend the summer of ’86 sneaking off to their hidden hang out and experience a reality of life that would haunt them forever.

Melancholy at times, A Penny on the Tracktests the resilience of friendships during the threat of betrayal, explores the tumultuous relations of a dysfunctional family shattered to pieces, and shows the desperate limits life can impose on a person struggling for a reason to live.

But through all the heartache portrayed in this story, the book ends with the hopeful sentiment that even in death, a loved one never completely leaves us.

Below is an excerpt of A Penny on the Tracks:

I wasn’t sure who else knew about our Hideout. Aside from Abbey and me, Derek was the only other person I’d ever seen there. But anyone with an interest in exploring deep into the field, behind the big Nabisco building that sat across the street from the park, would have no trouble finding the spot near the railroad tracks we loved so much.

 About a hundred yards beyond the brush lay the tracks and an area covered in gravel, which Abbey and I had declared our spot. It was the place we’d first met Derek, sitting on his rock, smoking his cigarette and, seemingly, deep in thought. But when he looked up and nodded his head nonchalantly at us, and asked, “How’s it going?” I knew he was gonna be cool.

There was a wooded area just east of the tracks, thick with trees and a small creek. Abbey avoided going there as much as she could, but when she did venture into the woods, she never delved as deeply as I did. She preferred staying out in the open field.

Abbey and I didn’t consciously go searching for a place just for us. We were hanging out at the park across from the Nabisco building, and heard the faint sound of a train’s whistle.

We’d been goofing around in the tennis courts, competing against each other over who could hit the ball the farthest over the fence. I had always won, even though I’d let Abbey have the better of the old, worn rackets—the one with the tighter strings.

 She still could barely hit the ball over the fence.

But every time I smacked the ball, it shot off my racket, like a rocket, over the fence. And I’d give my best Tom Hanks impression from the Bachelor Party, imitating his “tennis homeruns” by tossing my racket in the air and cupping my hands around my mouth, producing sounds of exhilarating crowd noises.

Abbey’s lack of ability to hit the ball very far was always the racket’s fault.

“These rackets are old and broken,” she’d say. “Hardly anyone would be able to hit with these rackets.”

“I can,” I’d shoot back with a tight smirk.

She’d tell me to be quiet, and I’d tell her that losers have to fetch the balls.

But Abbey was right. The rackets were in horrible shape. I had found them shoved behind a dusty cabinet one day in my garage. They must have come with the house because my mother didn’t remember buying them.

I’d often wondered how far I could lift a ball through the air if I’d had a real tennis racket, one with all the strings attached. But tennis rackets weren’t in our budget, and I wouldn’t ask my mom for one because I knew it made her feel bad whenever she couldn’t give me something I wanted.  

Even though Abbeys parents could afford new rackets, we both knew her mother would never approve of such a purchase. Her mother didn’t believe girls should play any sports. It was too rough and un-ladylike. At first, I thought she was worried Abbey would get hurt because of her slight stature, but when her complaints about girls playing sports were even extended toward me, with my huskier build, I knew safety wasn’t the reason.

I had skinned my knee pretty badly once playing basketball in my driveway with a couple neighborhood boys, and Abbey’s mom gave me an earful when she saw the cut.

“This is why girls shouldn’t play sports,” she’d said.

“Ah, it’s fine. It doesn’t hurt me any more than it would hurt a boy,” I’d said.

She’d given me a stern glare. “But look at your knee. What boy is going to want to take out a girl with cuts all over her legs? You two better stop playing so rough. Boys don’t like that.”

As much as we hated our rackets, I was sure Abbey knew, like I did, that they were the best we were going to get.

But from the moment we heard the train, and ventured far beyond the Nabisco building and discovered our train, we no longer cared about old, worn tennis rackets.

We had found our Hideout.

 

Thanks for reading!

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

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=alicia+joseph

 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net