Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kirby Bob Understands Heaven

Kirby Bob Understands Heaven


Charles Harvey



            “’Father, I stretch my hands to thee,’ George Louse said before he gave up the ghost.  Now he was a bad man—had chopped off people’s heads and disemboweled their insides.  He bashed in a few baby’s skulls.  But in that ‘lectric chair—him the rankest sinner knew how to call on Jesus.  Now you tellin’ me, Kirby Bob, little five year old Kirby Bob, who’s just startin’ out sinnin’-- little tiny sinnin’ of pullin’ his sister’s hair and throwin’ her doll in the mud, and climbin’ over the fence when I’ve told him not to-- you tellin’ me this little boy won’t say the prayer his poor tired Mother taught him so he can get into heaven and walk with Jesus? Is you an imp that’s growin’ a tail, Kirby Bob?”
             Kirby Bob had the thought to touch his backside to see if he was indeed growing a long hairy cat’s tail back there. But he saw something in Gretta’s wide legged hand on hips stance that made him think she would think he was being sassy. He shifted his bunny slippers and said, “No’m.”

            “Well why won’t you say your prayers, son?”

            “I’m scared to go to heaven, Mama.”

            “Scared to go to heaven? What you scared to go to heaven for, boy?”

            “Cause you always say that bad man, Meany George is going to be there.”

            “So? What that got to do with anything? “

             The wheels in Gretta’s head turned as she tried to understand the notion that was turning in Kirby Bob’s head.  Her son had a strange way of processing the world, Gretta thought.  This was a boy who arranged rocks, painted them, and pretended they were planets--who said he was just like his big sister Grace, just turned inside out. This was a boy who had stayed inside her womb all day Sunday and didn’t come out until the moon was full on Sunday night almost five years ago to the day.  It was Kirby Bob who survived unscathed except for a purple patch on his left cheek, after eating a handful of oleander petals.

            “What’s Mean George to heaven got to do with you?”

            “Mama I just don’t feel like getting my head chopped off.”

            “Do Jesus, boy, he ain’t going to be choppin no heads off in heaven. He prayed to the lord to forgive him before they ‘lectrocuted him and the lord done forgave him his sin and made him an angel.  Heaven is a good place to go.”

            “Heaven is too far away, Mama. It’s just too far away.”

            “Well Kirby Bob it is for some of us.” She cocked her head slightly and thought of her husband in Miss Mandy’s yard way across town raking up the leaves that fell off her chinaberry tree and singing. Gretta’s sister had called and pulled her coat. The leaves, dead branches, and sharp dried berries from Gretta’s chinaberry tree just blew all over the yard and stuck in Kirby Bob’s and Grace’s feet.  But did Herbert care about his son and daughter, Gretta asked herself?  Hell no. Kirby Bob’s and Grace’s life and soul was left up to her.

            “You better get on your knees right now, young man and start to prayin’ ‘else somebody’s birthday cake for tomorrow in my stove is goin’ to be burnt to a crisp.” Gretta said in a sweet way more to soothe herself.

            Kirby Bob prayed and scooted into bed. He laid there, eyes wide as little glass jars. He listened to the water running in the bathroom and afterward heard Gretta ease into her squeaky bed. Kirby Bob sneaked out into the night through the window next to his bed.  He looked at the full moon and raised his right hand above his head as if he was measuring the distance above him. He jumped up and down trying to lift himself off the leafy ground.  His favorite tree shimmied and a leaf fell at his feet. A notion came over Kirby Bob to climb up the tree and put the leaf back. He sneaked very quietly into his window and walked down the hall past Gretta’s room, and past Grace’s into the kitchen.  He tucked a roll of scotch tape under his pajama coat, walked past his cake looking like a large hat cooling in the center of the kitchen table, and went back outside.  He grabbed a low branch and swung himself up.  He climbed and climbed and climbed until he reached almost the top of the tree.  He taped the leaf to a branch that he thought had the fewest leaves.  He stayed there a moment looking up at the sky  thinking of heaven. He thought of the silky glowing angels in Gretta’s big white bible. He closed his eyes and saw them flitting around lambs, lions, and people rising up through the clouds toward a golden fence.  The angels had wings just like birds’.  He thought to himself, why climb down?  He had never seen an angel or a bird climb anywhere. He spread his arms.


            The next morning as the sun and the moon sat in the same neon blue sky, Gretta was in her kitchen making coffee for herself.  She looked out the window and fussed for a moment at the pile of rags lying at the base of the chinaberry tree. She knew Herbert wouldn’t do a thing about it. Would just move his head side to side like a snake’s as he made up a lie to get down to that woman’s house. As she strained her eyes a little more at the pile, something jumped in her heart and made her legs tremble.

          “Herbert, come here,” she called softly just before her blue linoleum floor like a big piece of heaven rose up to meet her.

Charles Harvey

Christmas in The Bottoms
Amazon   Nook  iTunes  Smashwords


Saturday, November 17, 2012

How Long to Write a Book

From a Recent Kindle Forum Post

How about 20 years? lol No It hsn't taken me that long to wriite The Road to Astroworld. What has taken a long time is getting to this stage of almost ready to send to a prof Editor. The book was written by hand in 1989 or so. I dealt with my Mother's illness from 1990 until 1992. In around '93 or '94 I went to a writer's conference in Austin and met an Agent who worked for Jean Naggar. She loved the novel and some of my other short stories. She shopped them around. She had modet success with the stories getting them into anthologies. She shopped Astroworld until she dropped (hence the term shop 'til you drop--no not really) But She did shop it around for four years until she exhausted all of her avenues. In the meantime I wasn't putting anything out saleable, so I lost her services. I put it away for while. I didn't know how to read the clues in the rejection letters. The clues didn't say the writing was horrible or mention grammar and spelling errors. The overriding theme was "we don't know how we can sell this, or it's not right for us." Let me also say that it made it to an Editor at a major house, but she couldn't convince "the committee." In the meantime liffe goes on. I get a huge case of writer's block. I don't want to go through the daunting process of getting another agent or shopping the novel around, So i forget it for spells. I take it out and decide it needs some major rewrites. I spend some time trying to make it all first person--bad idea. Forget it some more. So here we are in 2012. I've grown somewhat in my skill and see that the novel does need some major tweaking, but not a rewrite. Thanks to this new publishing era, I expect The Road to Astroworld to make it's debut in early 2013--if the Mayans are wrong.

Now thanks to NANOWRIMO one can write a novel in a month's time during the month of November. However unless you are a literary genius, what you will produce at best is a gibberishy 50,000 word outline that should take you a couple of months (at the very least) to polish into a decent novel. I've written two books using this intense method. Are they ready for prime time? Not one bit. But it focuses you to the task and you can say you wrote a novel.

Free Excerpt from Road to Astroworld

Free Excerpt from The Butterfly Killer (Written during NANOWRIMO 2011)

NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month)
Of course it's too late to start now unless you drink coffee by the gallons

Harvey on Amazon
Christmas in The Bottoms
Smashwords Profile

Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Interview with Madd and Dog2020

Christmas in Linken Park Chicago

We interviewed the Dozen’s Players Madd and Dog2020 better known as Maddog 2020 aka MD2020 to learn more about this unique version of the classic Dickens A Christmas Carol.  We found them in a quiet cafe in the Bottoms on Rome Avenue away from the hustle and bustle of 125th Street and Obama Avenue.

We: It’s so nice to meet you two colorful characters.

MD2020: It would have been nicer to meet you if you had been Oprah. Our Agent said we was going to be on Oprah!

We: Well she couldn’t make it.

MD2020:  That’s all right. You got an Oprah sized check in your pocket?

We: I’m paying for dinner.

MD2020: In this greasy spoon dinner ain’t but five bucks all you can eat. Look a here, this chicken wing still got the feathers on it.

We: (Laughs) So tell our readers why The Bottoms is such a unique Christmas tale.

MD2020: Well it’s got us, the finest yo Mama smack talkin’ dozens players in the country.

We: That’s very unique indeed.  I don’t think the original story had any dozens players.

MD2020: But it also got the traditional Scrooge like character and a Bob Crutchet and them dreams. Them dreams are something else. Numbers Runners love them dreams.

We: I understand you two tell a story of almost getting lynched in a place called Mud Turtle Mississippi. Can you elaborate more on that? How does that fit into a Christmas story?

MD2020: It fits into a Black Folks Christmas story very nicely. Your stingy butt readers need to buy a copy.

We: Thank you so much Madd and Dog2020. This concludes our interview.

MD2020: Sure does. My drumstick just jumped off my plate is trying to start a fight with a catfish fillet.

Christmas In The Bottoms is coming soon. In the meantime check out these other stories for your Kindle, Nook, or Ipad.


This favorite has been updated and made even funnier than ever...if that was possible

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Christmas In The Bottoms 
(An Excerpt--Dickens'  A Christmas Carol with a Little Soul)

The Bottoms was so poor, they couldn’t even afford a Santa Claus. Once a year a mysterious man descended into the depths of the bottoms and hollered “Ho! Ho!” He was so ugly he frightened the possums to death. They really died. None of that playing dead like they liked to do in stew pots and then jumping out at your ass on the stove. Folk called the mysterious man Creature Claus. Some believed he was either connected with the Nutcracker or connected with Ebenezer’s Pawn shop. His pawn shop was another business Ebenezer ran out of the garage of Glad Wrappings. Folks in the Bottoms tried to pawn anything they could to make ends meet. One diabetic pawned his amputated leg. Ebenezer gave him a nickel a pound for the blackened limb. The next day the restaurant side of Glad Wrappings ran a blue plate special called blackened Lamb Bone Hocks and Sweet Chittlins. How the chitlins got sweet? Well the old Cook got the salt and sugar mixed up and poured a cup of sugar in them steaming funky things. Of course Ebenezer being ever so thrifty, ordered the cook to throw in some stale biscuits and called the dish Chitlin Cobbler. That dish went to the old folks home three days later and killed five seniors. And guess who got the bodies?
As the Christmas Eve day danced merrily around Glad Wrappings Funeral Home and Barbecue Shack, three men not too wise, from the Bottoms Charity and Welfare Committee came to see Ebenezer about a donation to help buy turkey necks and yams for the widows and orphans.
“What they been eatin before Christmas,” Ebenezer asked peering up at the men as he pried the gold out of some dentures.
“Grits and grease,” the men replied in unison.
“What they going to eat after Christmas?”
“Grease and grits.”
“Well for Christmas, they should have a second helping of grease and be quite satisfied. Now get your ass out of my shop, before I slather you in barbecue sauce and  throw you in that crematory.” The men rushed out in a huff. “You the fat one can stay if you like,” Ebenezer called after the one with the rhinoceros butt.

Coming soon to your favorite eReader

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another Installment from my upcoming novel THE ROAD TO ASTROWORLD
Click HERE for Video Link

Chapter 3

 Goose Steps

“Where you going, goose?”
Promise stopped.  She had run through the gates of Paradise Gardens and was walking briskly down Lyons Avenue with her head outstretched. Her Uncle Bobo and other men loitered on the porch of a shotgun shack. The porch sagged like the inside of a boat. Two columns that held up the porch’s roof leaned together. Her uncle rested on his elbows between the posts stroking his chin with one hand as he eyed Promise. He held a Styrofoam cup in his other hand. His pals in frumpy church clothes gathered around him grinning at her. One fellow wore a bus driver’s black coat. His silver badge gleamed like a razor blade.  A bright green bottle sat on the banister shining under the sun’s rays like a jade offering. The men had filled their cups from the bottle. Their eyes were bright and lustful. Promise put her foot on the bottom step. The air was scented with rain, sweat, and the ripe fruity aroma that drifted out of the bottle. She looked at the grinning men and felt big inside. She put her hands on her hips and looked her uncle straight in his reddish eyes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Road to Astroworld (an excerpt)

Click HERE for Video Link
The following is an excerpt from my novel in progress THE ROAD TO ASTROWORLD. In this letter, the main character Promise is recalling the time when she and her childhood girlfriend played husband and wife in the kitchen on a rainy day. The rain has always played a role, good or bad, in Promise's life.

The Road To Astroworld....

Dear LaKeisha Ann:

Do you remember that rainy day, when the rain trapped you in my house, (when the rain was to me like Christmas tinsel and not razor blades), and we played husband and wife?  Do you remember that day?  My Big Mama dozed in front of the TV as Another World flickered in front of her closed eyes. Eric snoozed on his sickbed. The sheets formed a tent from his erection. We watched that tent rise and fall in time with his breathing. You wanted to touch it, but I wouldn’t let you. I didn't know then, but now I know why we all of a sudden wanted to play husband and wife. The rain fills people with romantic notions.  That's why I can forgive a certain bus driver.
We argued over who was going to be the husband coming home from working hard on the job. You won when you said the husband had to be a boy. Why I thought a girl could be a husband, I don't know. I knew I didn’t want to be no boy.

The Butterfly Killer (Short Story Version)

This short story serves as the introduction to the novel Butterfly Killer

Elliot Cross is the Butterfly Killer. He targets anyone with dreams and aspirations. In this short story we are introduced to his cunning ways. He stops at nothing to gain his victim's confidence. If you have a dream,he's ready to make sure you don't live to achieve it. It doesn't matter how simple or elaborate. As you see in this introductory short subtitled The Driving Lesson, the dream can be as simple as a teen boy anticipating passing his driver's test. It can be as large and complex as a Mother about to give birth to a baby after many failed attempts. Whatever your hope or ambition, Elliot waits until you're at the threshold and snuffs the dream. 
He invokes God as the justification for his crime. In his mind, he says he is doing the work of the Lord. God is jealous because the victims care more about their aspirations than they care about him. God is using him enforce his first commandment: "Thou shall have no other Gods before me" to show his power and how little he cares about people's "foolish follies."
Included is an excerpt from a scene further into the novel. For now relax and enjoy this free short if you can indeed relax. 

The Driving Lesson (The Butterfly Killer)
Timmy thought it was odd that Carrie’s Father didn’t want anyone to know about the Sunday driving lesson. He churned it over and over in his head, Mister. Cross’s reasoning for the secrecy.
“Your friends will be as mad as wet hens if they fail to pass and they find out you passed because you had an extra lesson. I can just hear my Carrie, ‘But Dad, you gave Timmy private lessons, but not your own Daughter?’ Whoo! That gal can be jealous. But you know her. You and her are tight like a drum aren’t you?”
That explanation sounded reasonable to Timmy. Kids at South High tended to act like crabs in a barrel. If half of Mister Smith’s Trig Class was failing, they all had to fail. Shining stars weren’t tolerated. And Mister Cross was right about his daughter Carrie. Most kids shied away from Carrie, partly because of him and his crazy love for chasing butterflies all over the neighborhood. But she also had a jealous streak that was about as green as her hair. Girls didn’t stay friends with her very long. Even other lesbian girls fell victim to her rants and arm twisting because she had caught them talking to boys or other girls. But Mr. Cross had put his hand on his shoulder in a most fatherly way. Or was that creepy, Timmy wondered?  The hand lingered a moment longer than it should and squeezed harder than it should have, as if it was a massage.
If only he could see better, Timmy thought to himself as he looked deep into his blue eyes while he brushed his teeth. He knew he needed glasses. That’s why he squinted and held books far from his face as he read. He heard his Mother cough. He listened as she hacked and gasped for air. Then there was silence. Timmy’s toothbrush rested against his left molar. He was about to yank the brush out of his mouth and run to his Mother’s room, but she cleared her throat. He continued brushing. “Another false alarm,” he said to himself. He didn’t want to bother her about his eyes. Lord knows she had had enough problems of her own with a breathing disorder so bad it had placed her in a scooter. Money was tight. He had to pass his driving test. She had scrimped and saved the one hundred and seventy-five dollars in a pickle jar for him to take Driver’s Education. He had to do all he could to keep from failing. But as much as he wanted to be a man at that moment, he also knew his Mother insisted on knowing his goings and comings. Even at sixteen, she warned him as if he was six, about getting into stranger’s cars. But Mister Elliot Cross was no stranger and he wasn’t like Mister Slaughter who lived in the pinkish house two doors down from him. Carrie’s dad chased butterflies, not boys.
“Maybe I should tell Mom,” Timmy thought, as he stood in front of her closed door. He had his hand on the knob when he heard her begging his Aunt Peggy for a ride to the grocery store. Timmy turned, grabbed his jacket and cellphone, and headed out the door to meet Mister Cross.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Thing

Sample from THE THING

The Cardinal arrived at the base arrayed in a fine peacock headdress. His robes shimmered as if they were a golden heat mirage one might see in the desert. His black leather pumps outshined any General’s polished hooves. He leaned on a staff of gleaming emeralds. At the crown of his staff was a four headed python. Inscribed in Latin on this pole were the words, “The Eyes of Man.” A young boy in white robes carried a cross and walked in front of the cardinal. The Cardinal stopped and kneeled next to the granite typewriter-shaped monument dedicated to “POETS WHO SPEAK AS INSTRUCTED.” He touched the ground with his forehead and the boy marked the spot with his cross. The priest led the commanders and their men in prayer.
“Oh God, strike dead our eyeless enemy. Rent them from your earth. Confuse their sexuality. Make their men lust after their own sons and their Mothers eat her daughters. Pour bitter sugar down their throats and make their gears grind to a halt. Scud their missiles and make them blow up in their homes. They are dogs! Yes, yes, yes, strike dead our eyeless carrion eaters. May their head Mullah pop his cork. This is our prayer. Your humble servant, your peace loving vicar of the Godful people of this land. Amen.”
After this prayer was uttered and the Cardinal sprinkled the crowd with holy tomato juice, the events that followed made the biblical Day of Pentecost seem like a meeting of stamp collectors.

Charles Harvey on the Web
The Thing Free on Smashwords
Amazon Author Page
Bedroom Tales on Amazon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Tip 9 The Value of Editing

I'm not an Editor nor do I play on on TV. However, as a writer I  see the tremendous value in editing. I highly recommend people hire and develop a close relationship with an Editor. They can do so much to help shape your book and your writing. In my opinion, a good Editor doesn't rewrite your book. They help YOU write it better. Your unique dialog, characters, plot, settings, voice, and narrative are what you are bringing to the table. An Editor helps by getting rid of the "clunkiness" that plops up in all of our writing. You should be catching most spelling errors and some grammar errors with your word processor's spell check and grammar check. An Editor shouldn't have to waste time correcting spelling and grammar errors--at least not the easy to catch things. Of course these tools aren't perfect and another set of eyes are helpful to catch words like "united" that get written as "untied." I made such a boo boo once in a fund raising letter I had written for an organization. I didn't catch it until weeks later after dozens of letters had gone out. Software has its limitations.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Black Queen

Excerpt from Black Queen

You try the spa again. Mr. Sims is dead.  (You wiped your ass with his obituary.) You wrap yourself in your “Angelic White“ Martha Stewart Home bath towel and float next to the jism sticky walls. Eyes disturbed by the lines in your face, drop to the floor. But you strike gold--you think. A Spanish accent invites you to his cubby hole for “cake and cream.” Just when the “nicca” was opening the door, two college age boys black as sable cats, slim as gazelles, and hung like colts, walk by leading a parade of tented towels and tongues hanging from mouths. Your “nicca” with the Spanish accent joins the parade.

You had you a man briefly. Well it was for eight years--millennium for gay lovers. He had a job when you met him. You both dreamed of picket fence domesticity.  You yoked yourself to a thirty-year mortgage. At the  housewarming you caught him patting the ass of somebody’s friend. A week later, you caught him dining on that ass on top of the new Calvin Klein bed ensemble, the day after he declared he was a man and would never eat your ass and nobody else’s ass. You closed your eyes to all his enigmas and psychosises. His dick was so big it blinded you. He lost his job and became a “househusband.” You worked, he whored.  The bedroom was his kitchen.  When he wasn’t drunk, he battered more cakes than Betty Crocker. You came home to cold pots and a hot bed reeking of sex funk.  You quietly stopped paying the mortgage. The sheriff  hauled him clad in his polka dotted drawers and all the furniture to impoundment storage. Whiskey and coke wouldn’t let him get out of bed. Today, you imagine him still locked away in the storage shed--his teeth  the color of shit and the polka dot drawers hanging on his bleached bones.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing Tips 8 -- Memoir or Catharsis

Harvey on Smashwords

Is it Memoir or Cathartic or Both

I ran across someone’s blog recently, where they were writing about some painful childhood experiences. I didn’t read deep into it, because, well for one it just wasn’t that interesting to me. I asked him what his goal was for the project? He said, “Heck at this point just to remember as much as possible and get it down. Suggestions?”

My response was, “I know the memories mean a lot to you. And it's very personal. But I'm not sure a stranger would understand. Augusten Burroughs had a not so great childhood, but he makes his stories so lively and engaging. Sometimes you have to look for the humor in the bad situation and hit us with a sort of irony.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Othello Jones

He's all mouth and all braggart, but there's an interesting twist at the end.



“Othello Jones! Othello Jones, is that you?”
“It’s me and my twin brother.”
“Your twin brother?”
“Must be. You called my name twice.”
“You don’t have to be so rude. Especially the kid I taught eleventh grade English, and the kid I took to the clinic to clear up a bad case of clap.”
“I don’t hug men. It ain’t been no hundred years since I seen you last. And besides, I wuz born rude. My Mama said I gave my middle finger to the Doctor who slapped my ass to life.”
“You sure are full of yourself.”
“If I ain’t full of me, who’s goin’ to be?”
“But don’t you think humility has its place?”
“Yeah, under the bottom of my two hundred dollar alligator blue-skinned patent leather shoes!”
“Is you humble?”
“Well yes. I’m not boastful at all.”
“You just told a contradiction.”
“Life is full of . . .”
“If a bastard is humble on the outside of hisself, he raging with hatred on the inside of hisself.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Don’t you want to dig my grave and fill it full of me?”
“Wouldn’t you like to kill me, man?”
“Liar! You’re itching to end my existence on the planet.
“No. You’re my ex-pupil. Why would I want to kill you?”
“Yeah you would. I see it in your sideways glance at me. You don’t like my shoes, my gold watch, my four hundred dollar Brooks Brothers European cut blue silk suit that shimmers like the blue sea in front of your pale gray eyes, my white John Henry shirt with real pearl buttons, my Oscar de la Renta tie. And to top it all off you would severely despise my red Calvin Klein silk lowrise drawers if you could see them! And I know you hate this clean cut Mister Joe masterfully put on my head. It makes your own stuff look like a wet mop. You white, but you not nearly as pretty as I am.”

Othello Jones

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February is Black History Month...But all our history didn't happen in February

                                                A majority of Emmett Till's family members said Thursday that they object to plans by the Justice Department to exhume his body in order to find clues to solve his brutal murder 50 years ago. . . . Till was 14-years-old when he left his home on Chicago's South Side to visit relatives in Mississippi on Aug. 21, 1955. His mother advised him about how to behave when interacting with white people because race relations there were a lot different than in Chicago. On August 24, Till and his cousin, Curtis Jones, went into the small town of Money, and stopped at Bryant's Grocery store to buy some candy. Some local boys dared Till to speak to Carolyn Bryant, the white store clerk. He allegedly whistled at the woman when he left the store. Four days later, Till's body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River, weighted down by a cotton gin fan tied around Till's neck with barbed wire. Two men, storeowner Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, were charged and acquitted of the murder. They bragged about the crime three months later in a Look magazine article.
-- Karen E. Pride, Chicago Defender May 6, 2005

 The Fan

What y’all aim to find by
digging up his old bones?
Old old bones, old and innocent bones
Why y’all want to disturb him?
He ain’t with his bones.
He down here in the muck with me
and ain’t nobody trying to dig my rusty ass up.
His Mama, bless her heart, she got the bones
and that head that looked like a bad cabbage.
Thousands seen it in Chicago. Millions through Jet.
Where was my picture? I suffered.
I used to gleam prissy and howl
now mud bugs nest in my teeth.

I kept the good stuff off that boy—his spirit, his soul, his spleen
caressed it out of his naked body
The real Emmett sometimes he runs up the road to Money
gooses that white gal between her legs—boy still gots
that spunk in him.
Then he runs back to me for shelter.
Carolyn wakes up, rubs her thigh
goes back to sleep.  1955 was a long time ago
She wants to rest. I want to rest, and even Emmett.
You got the pictures.  You won’t forget
Every now and agin some black boy still gets
drugged behind a car, still gets strung up in a tree
or the roof rafters of a county jail
They still make fans like me
heavy enough to drown boyish devilment.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Red Underwear ... a Sample

Originally Published in Story Magazine Spring 1998

I ran this ad, you see, because I was tired of being a lonely guy.  For the last couple of years, since my wife ran away with her dance teacher, I've regretted the days because they catch me in their desolate clutches.  I know I don't exist by myself on some vast island, but I am alone.  Sure there is the mailman who drops envelopes through the slot in my door; there is the upstairs neighbor's dog who whines every night at the wind; and there are the boys on my job at Zippy Delivery who aren't too deep.  I asked one of them, “What is life?”  He said that life was pussy.  That's all he could think of.  So despite all of that stimulation along with the animal sounds of the city and   the man and woman next door who beat on and love on each other until dawn, I was still lonely.
I went to the bars.  But bar people try too hard to be cool and sultry, as if they're owners of the universe and their silk clothes and gold neck chains are vestments of royalty.  I found myself silently berating them.
“Hi. My name is Henry,” I'd say to some sleepy-eyed woman. I'd get a blank stare as if I was the smoke that they had just blown from their cigarette.  “Probably just a Hospital shit toter,” I'd say to myself.  But those negative thoughts only made me more bitter.
No, bars aren't good places to meet people if you are down to earth and sincere.  Besides they sound like garbage can factories--”CRASH BAM BAM BOOM!”  I don't have a loud voice so I had to get real close to talk.  I worried about my breath, so I always suffered from anxiety when I approached a chick.  You see, I'm not too handsome either and the girls get righteously indignant if an ugly guy comes too close.  I'm 5'4”, skinny and bowlegged--I look like a wishbone when I'm naked. These glasses make me look owlish.  If I were a Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington, women would have welcomed me to run my tongue over their eyelids.  But for a guy like me, bars do more harm than good.
So I ran an ad in a local magazine.  It said:


Yes, I placed this ad.  I meant to put a comma between nice and brown.  I kind of worried about that.  I didn't want to confuse anyone as to whether I was saying I was nice or had nice brown eyes.  There is a difference.  Lots of guys have nice brown eyes but will put their fist in a woman's mouth before she can say “I do.”  Me, I am nice with brown eyes.  And that phone number, I thought it was clever.  Now the money deal may have been a bit of a come-on, but I really hoped that when the dough ran out, I'd be left with a nice girl, kind of by default.
I'm a great believer in default.  We are alive by default.  We are the eggs that didn't die and wash out in our Mother's blood.  We are the ones who survived the pill or leaked out of a busted condom.  And even if our parents planned us, we weren't the ones they wanted.  We are what they got.  So there's lot of validity in the principle of default.  That's why I was applying it in my quest for a nice girl.
Lots of girls called 881-LOVE.  Even a few guys--the husky voice: “Hello, I'm Tiger. I give heavenly massages . . . “Of course I hung up on them.  But Like I said, a lot of girls called. A few were only interested in my American Express number. One lady said she was a Pentecostal Minister, had six children, was trying to start her own church, and the Lord put it in her heart to call my number.  I told her that the person I wanted had already answered my ad.  The lady broke out in heaves of sobs.   She swore, when she caught her breath, to wring the devil's neck for putting rocks in her path of righteousness. The woman cried until I promised to send her a donation.   She kept calling me and asking had I given God his share.  I sent her a hundred dollars and never heard from her again.
Let me say this--It's strange the feelings you get when you run a personal ad.  You're giddy with power and confidence.  You dream of luscious women who are going to call, cry into the telephone, and say “I've been waiting to meet you all of my life!”  All of that is what you imagine.  You don't feel your own desperation until you see your ad surrounded by boxes of SWF's, SBF's, SBM's, and SWM's--all of those initials seeking love, and your own ad sticks out like a gout infested toe.  You get mad because you had to resort to this.  You had to beg for love and friendship.  But you try to have hope.  You make yourself believe you've done the normal thing and you will meet the right person.  Or so you think.

End of Sample

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Cheeseburger Sample

Selected by Joyce Carol Oates for the 1987 PEN/Discovery Prize
Also Published in the Ontario Review (Winter Fall 1988)

I mean, I know Cheeseburger and Polo Mack, they some bad boys. Cause that’s what my Mama say they is. She call them “Northern Rats” ‘cause they hang around here in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on the corner of 30th Avenue and Jefferson Street, where I live. “Come down here to thaw out in the sun,” Mama say. They draw ugly things on my Mama ‘s white picket fence. They and some more boys call themself the “Folks.” They draw moons and stars and pitchforks all over her fence. She don’t say nothin’ to them. She just give them her hot eyes as she slaps fresh paint over their drawins on her fence. But she yells at me ever’ time they come around.
“They ain’t never said nothin’ to me, Mama. And I ain’t never said nothin’ to them,” I plead with her.
“They hang around here ‘cause you a gal,” my Mama say.
  Even when I walk quickly by them with my head down in my shoulders like a broke-neck chicken, my Mama don’t be no happier. She says if I was a son instead of a daughter, I would run them wild nigguhs away from her picket fence.
But there is somethin’ else too. I don’t know if Mama knows it or not, but I am in love with Cheeseburger. He is tall and skinny and the color of Mama’s mahogany dinin’ room table. He’s got a long thin neck that I want to hug. His eyes make me cry ‘cause they so sad and dreamy lookin’ . I want him to be dreamin’ about me. My Cheeseburger’s got a short square haircut like my boy cousin who’s in the army. Cheeseburger wears a small diamond earring. He reminds me of my best girlfriend, Thelma, who’s willowy like a black weed. Sometimes I don’t know why I love Cheeseburger. One day I love his eyes. Next week it’s his chest. Then later, the sight of his thighs sends me to heaven. I wonder if my Mama knows how much I love Cheeseburger. Wish she would say, “That boy make you a good husband, Della.” But then I probably wouldn’t want him no more.
Here’s what I really wish. I wish he wouldn’t hang around with that dude called “Polo Mack.” That dude is sloppy and ugly. He wears an old goofy red cap that he sets way back on his head. He got a big ugly nose like a dog. And he’s black as burnt toast. Polo Mack grabs girls by their arms and calls them bitches. He grabbed me by my arm. My Cheeseburger looked the other way. I was mad at Cheeseburger for a whole week ‘cause he didn’t take up for me. Then I saw Cheeseburger in some new red shorts and a half of a blue Mickey Mouse sweatshirt that showed off his stomach, and I fell in love with him all over.
The week that I wasn’t in love with Cheeseburger ‘ called him and them other boys dogs, and Mama seemed happy with me. We talked about what a shame it was them thugs from up north were comin’ down south, bringin’ that dope with ‘em, and breakin’ into people’s houses. Everybody on the block was gettin’ burglar bars and bad dogs. Hattiesburg was hirin’ more police. It was just a shame, me and Mama agreed.
Then I saw Cheeseburger’s navel and fell back in love with him. And Mama started fussin’ at me ‘cause I was a girl and not a boy. She said I was drawin’ them nigguhs to her fence like shit draws flies. My Mama said that to me. And no matter how much I looked like I was ignorin’ those boys (I really was ignorin’ ol’ Polo Mack), she fussed more. Even when they didn’t paint the moon and stars on her fence, she fussed.
So I say to myself, if my Mama don’t love me, I know Cheeseburger do. Cheeseburger, who never look in my direction, even when I wear tight jeans, purple jelly sandals, and my own Mickey Mouse T-shirt cut off at the navel, even when I wear this outfit with my hair swept back from my face, back to my shoulders--Cheeseburger never say nothin’ to me. But I still imagine he love me. I dream about him kissin’ me. I dream he touched my titties, like those so-called “good boys” Mama was always tryin’ to get me hooked on. But Cheeseburger touch me so much better, like he know what he’s doin’. Like he know I ain’t gonna slap his hand away.
I ain’t never did it with nobody. My skinny girlfriend Thelma have. She say it hurt. I tell her my Cheeseburger don’t hurt me. She say all boys hurt you. I say not Cheeseburger. She say Cheeseburger is ugly and he’s a punk. I tell her Cheeseburger ain’t no punk. I tell her this lie: I tell her I was out one night in the backyard throwin’ away some garbage. It was real dark. I heard somebody leap over the fence and whisper my name.
“Della. Della, baby.” The voice was like a soft wind lickin’ my neck. I wasn’t scared ‘cause I knew it was Cheeseburger.
Thelma interrupts my lie. “How you know it was Cheeseburger? You ain’t never heard his voice. It might have been ol’ Polo Mack.”
“You think I’m a fool, Girl,” I say. “I know it was Cheeseburger ‘cause I heard him talkin’ to some other boys one day. He talked real cool, like a northern boy, like that Leroy boy on Fame. And besides that, I found out it really was Cheeseburger ‘cause he kissed me.”
Thelma goes back to swoonin’ over Prince’s picture on the cover of People. Thelma thinks Prince is her little angel. Any light-skinned boy is Thelma’s angel. One tine Thelma tol’ me she liked me ‘cause I look like Prince. She said she wish I was a boy. She said she just love yellow people. I tol’ her, I said, “Woman, you crazy.”
There must be somethin’ to being light-skinned. Mama said I could be like Vanessa Williams. That was before them pictures came out in that magazine. Now Mama just shakes her head whenever anybody talks about Vanessa. Me, I like brown people. Especially brown boys. I like the way the sun makes them glow. My Cheeseburger glows.
Anyway, I go back to tellin’ Thelma my lie about me and Cheeseburger. I tell her about how he carried me behind Mama’s big ol’ palmetto plant, how he kissed me, and how he pulled off my bra and played with me. We both stood behind that plant in the dark with our clothes off, and he put his hands on my behind, and I had my hands on him, and we did it three times, and now I’m goin’ to have Cheeseburger’s baby.
 “Stop lyin’!” Thelma yelled. “Boys don’t do it but once!
I tell her again, my Cheeseburger did it three times. Thelma calls me a liar again. I call her a bitch, and tell her to get out of my house, and leave my magazine. Thelma turns around on the porch and tells me, she says, “If you gonna have a baby, I’ll bet it’s Polo Mack’s.” I slam the door. Open it and slam it again. I slam it until the wood frame cracks.
End of Sample

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Writing Tips 7 and Happy New Year!

To The $.99 Book Buyers and Readers

I thank you for trying me out. You’ve stepped up and put your 99 cents out on a limb. I desire to be a good investment of your money and time. I may be a short read, but I desire to be the best that I can be. But here is what you can do to make our relationship better.

1.  Do not buy me in bulk
2.  Read my product description
3.  Review me fairly

I think the reason why you’re disappointed is because you didn’t choose carefully. My product description and cover gives a good indication of what my book is about. It also clues you in on my writing skills. You also most likely will have an excerpt in the description. That will give you a sample of the type of story you’re going to encounter. If you were just clicking on all of the $.99  books and free books, it means you bought me in bulk like someone buying a bushel of apples. Some will be rotten, misshapen, and bruised. However do you castigate all apples from here on? Of course not. You just choose more carefully.

If you’ve chosen carefully and you’re still disappointed, and you desire to write a review of your experience with me, please be balanced and tell why I didn’t work for you. If it’s “not your taste” or “not your kind of book,” why did you buy me? To say I’m “boring” doesn’t help either. A Shakespeare play probably “bores” the heck out of seventy percent of the population in the U.S. But the other thirty percent are on the edge of their seats eating up every word. Express how you found the book unappealing. That will help me grow as a writer and give you a richer experience as a reader even if I do remain cheap.