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Posts Tagged ‘novels’

The only thing I do with the kind of commitment and zeal I have for writing is home projects. That ranges from repainting all my kitchen cabinets to single-handedly sistering in six sixteen-foot ceiling joists. As with writing, some of my home projects are crazier than others, and some turn out better than others.

Then there are those projects that are borne out of love. Like the ramp I just built for my dog, Josey. About two years ago, Josey had to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in her left knee. I was prepared for the likelihood that she’d need the same surgery on her other knee eventually, and that day has come. The last time she had surgery, which involves four months of restricted activity, including no stairs or jumping, I built a big ramp to surmount my front porch steps. Inside the house, I did something I’d been dreaming of since my divorce: I got rid of the bed that I hated. For the duration of her rehabilitation, we slept on a mattress on the floor, like a pack of dirty hippy dogs.

Now that I have a new bed, though, I knew I’d need a ramp inside the house. Writing is like this. Sometimes you just *have* to write. Sometimes there’s some unseen force compelling you, and sometimes there’s a clearer motivation. Like the desire to sell a book or be published or make a point. Or somebody giving you sad puppy eyes. Not that my agent gave me sad puppy eyes, but she did send an email inquiring about how the next book was coming.

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If, as a writer, you like to make plans, perhaps you start with an outline. Or a fancy spreadsheet. To build a dog ramp, I started with a few sheets of graph paper, and the measurements that delineated the space I had available for a dog ramp at the foot of my bed.

Graph paper! It's practically engineering.

Graph paper! It’s practically engineering.

Now, the truth is: I’m a pantser. In all things. I can draw as many plans as I like on graph paper. I can make as many outlines as I want when I start a writing project. In the end, though, they will all come to naught. I cannot plan a dog ramp any more than I can plan a novel. They just happen.

My first stop for the dog ramp was the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat myself here: if you’re remodeling a house, ReStore will have everything you need. On a long enough timeline. You may have to show up every Saturday morning for a year to get 42 matching sets of antique copper kitchen cabinet hinges, but eventually, you will. Writing is like this, too. On a long enough timeline, you will figure everything out. Eventually, all your research and your work will pay off, but you have to keep showing up and putting in the effort.

When I went to ReStore on Saturday, with my roughly sketched plans, the playing field changed as soon as I saw this:

Game changing chair

Game changing chair

That is one of about ten solid oak, mid-century reception chairs from either a doctor’s office or the local university. This one had some damage to its back, that’s why I chose him to be sacrificed. More importantly, he was basically identical to the original sketch of what I imagined I’d need as a platform for my dog ramp. Sometimes, but not as often as I’d like, this happens with novels. In the midst of struggling with plot or character, you stumble across something that fits perfectly and requires almost no alterations to work. Maybe you’ve got an old short story with the perfect plot twist or a character that ended up being cut from a different project. Note I didn’t say no alteration, but almost.

Chop and chop, and voila! The damaged back is removed and the ramp platform is complete. It shaved about 3 hours of work off my project. After that, I returned to my sketches and ferreted out the basic math needed to cut and attach my ramp struts. And then I had to revise my math. A few times. And I had to change a few other things. And I had to sleep on it–not the ramp, but my understanding of how it was going to go together. My novel drafts work like this. I find myself rearranging parts, rethinking how characters interact, changing dynamics, settings, and doing an awful lot of just wandering around, thinking.

You’ll notice that the two intermediary legs of my ramp don’t look the same. It’s because a.) I tried out two different methods for attaching the supports, and b.) I had two different kinds of hardware available to me. (That’s what happens with home projects made out of scraps–which most of mine are–and novels, which are almost entirely made of brain scraps.)

In true form for me, I also made the ramp (novel) a lot sturdier than it had to be. It has to hold up under a 60-lb. boxer. I made it strong enough to hold me at more than three times that weight. My first drafts are always way too bulky, because I’d rather include redundancies and details that I don’t really need. It’s easier for me to cut stuff later than to try to add things.

Even in a first draft, even knowing that you’ll have to come back a hundred times to reconsider, rewrite, reassess, you want the first draft to look respectable. After all, it has to be functional, and you want it to look as good as you can get it before you send it to your beta/crit partner/agent/editor. For me, that often means making sure my chapter headings are all squared away. (Oh this hot mess here, where it’s not totally clear whose POV it’s in? Don’t worry about that. I’ll fix that. But see how my chapters are neatly labeled and organized?)

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In the case of the dog ramp, well, the parts don’t exactly match. You’ve got the chair base and the raw 2x4s and the random scraps and the mismatched legs, and the ramp itself built out of discarded kitchen cabinet doors with the hinges still attached, but look! It’s covered in fancy (and on clearance) area rugs!

Luckily for me, I don’t think I’ll need to do a second (or third or fourth or …) draft of the dog ramp. The first draft of the novel, though, that’s just the beginning of the work. I’ve been known to churn out a first draft in a very short time, but after that … It took me three weeks to write the first draft of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, but nearly two years to finish revisions.

Speaking of, there’s another giveaway going on at Goodreads.

 

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Kansas NutcrackerI went to see the Bleeding Kansas Nutcracker over the holidays, featuring John Brown and Quantrill’s Raiders, plus Tchaikovsky’s music performed by the Free State Liberation Orchestra, (a recreation of the original 19th Century Lawrence City Band, right down to the mandolin trio.) While waiting for the performance, the orchestra warmed up, as orchestras are wont to do. The flautist kept running over and over the trilling riff from the Danse Chinoise, obviously anxious about getting it right when it mattered. Sadly, it meant that I heard the riff so many times, I was no longer giggly pleased by it when the time came in the actual performance. My joy was a bit deflated.

First chapters are like that. It’s why you so often find yourself deleting the first chapter when you start the hard work of revising a novel. Sometimes, you delete the first three chapters, because you don’t need them, and they’re dragging down the rest of your novel. Once, I deleted the entire first half of a novel. 40,000 words that turned out to be nothing but a warmup exercise. Like I was a nervous flautist in the orchestra pit, trying to work myself up to the actual performance.

Hearing today that Harper Lee is set to publish another novel, I am put in mind of that process of discovering that you’ve started your story in the wrong place. Go Set a Watchman was Lee’s first novel, the one she first tried to sell to publishers. An editor felt the more compelling story was of Scout’s youth, and so the story was revised to become To Kill a Mockingbird, that classic scourge of high school English classes (and a treasure to those not forced to dissect it for a grade.)

Go Set a Watchman is technically a sequel, in that chronologically it takes place years after Mockingbird, when Scout is an adult. I can’t help but wonder, however, if it isn’t merely 304 pages of warm up. Not merely a first chapter deleted, but an entire book. Will the book astound us the way Mockingbird did? Or will we read it only for peripheral insight into its more famous sibling?

Lee apparently believed the manuscript lost until it was located among archived materials, fastened to a publisher’s typescript of Mockingbird. Such were the vagaries of a writer’s life back in the Fifties. Each manuscript was produced as a unique item, which could so easily be lost or destroyed, so that only the final, printed copy of a book was a sure thing to be reproduced and retained in collections. As we move increasingly into an era when writers’ earliest drafts and minor variations are archived in so many ways, are we also entering the realm of “director’s cuts” for books? A few authors have already done that, with mixed results. I look back at the book of mine whose first half was cut away so mercilessly, long before it was published, and I doubt I’d want anyone to witness my warm up exercises.

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This blog post has been a long time coming, not on the small scale, as I’ve only been waiting to post my news for a few weeks. It’s been a long time coming in the sense that I’ve been seriously writing and trying to get published for two decades. In those years, I’ve had a variety of small successes (short story sales and a graduate fiction prize that paid Real Money™!) and medium successes (two novels sold to a small press.) The news contained in this post is success on a higher order.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while may remember a novel that went by the working title of Thirteen. I started writing it in the fall of 2009, and a mere five years later, it has sold. I’d put it all down to persistence, but as you’ll see from the story, my doggedness can’t take credit for everything. First the official announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

Bryn Greenwood’s What Belongs to You*, a love story between two unlikely people–a strong-willed girl of ethereal beauty and a tattooed motorcycle riding ex con with a heart of gold–and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives, to Laurie Chittenden at Thomas Dunne Books, at auction, by Jessica Regel at Foundry Literary + Media (NA).

It's not real until it shows up in Publishers Marketplace

It’s not real until it shows up in Publishers Marketplace

(*Due to the vagaries of publishing, after the sale, my book was retitled All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.)

So, what happened in those five years between when I started the book and when I finally sold it? A lot-a lot, as we say in my family, the exponential superlative of “a lot.”

When I started writing the book that would become All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, I had an agent, and a novel out on sub. (You’ll find teasers for that novel, if you follow the tag Axyl Witt is a bad motherfucker.) Despite my agent’s valiant efforts, however, the book didn’t sell. Not long after that disappointment, my agent called to let me know that he was leaving the business of literary agenting. Just like that, I no longer had an agent.

Although publishing is changing, a writer’s odds for that elusive book sale are still dramatically better with an agent. To get a new agent, I needed a new book to query. I put in heavy hours revising, and at the end of 2011, I started querying. I queried, and I queried, and I queried. Like many writers, I have a series of Excel spreadsheets that document my writing career in the form of rejections. My handy query spreadsheet reveals that between January 2011 and February 2014, I sent 122 agent queries for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Now, I wasn’t sitting around doing nothing while my queries zinged around the ether (or languished in agents’ email.) I kept writing. I kept participating in writing communities. Through those communities, I met the publisher of a small press, who asked to see some of my work. I sent him the first novel I ever queried, Last Will. (Spreadsheet says: 8 queries sent, 2 form rejections received, 5 personal rejections of a warm and encouraging nature, 1 non-response. It does not record exactly why I gave up querying that novel after 8 attempts.)

The small press publisher liked my novel and offered to buy it. I accepted. In April 2012, Last Will was published. It did well for a quiet novel from an unknown writer at a small press. I suppose it did well, as in 2013, the publisher offered to publish my next book, Lie Lay Lain. (Spreadsheet says I sent 0 queries, but on the upside, got 0 rejections!) My second novel came out this April, with perhaps even less fanfare than the first.

As for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, I had been querying it all along. I received quite a few requests for the full manuscript. (Spreadsheet says: 14% request rate.) I received 3 requests to revise and resubmit. I undertook two of those requests, but in the end, none of those 122 queries led to representation. Looking at that spreadsheet, at that avalanche of no, I started to consider the possibility that the book I’d been so sure was my “breakout” novel was dead in the water.

I’ve sometimes joked that selling a book to a Big 5 publisher is the equivalent of a white wedding, while small presses were more like Justice of the Peace ceremonies. With two small press books out and no prospective bridegroom, I started to think there wasn’t going to be any wedding for this book, unless I did it myself. I began researching self publishing, the Vegas wedding of publishing–no less true for its informality. I investigated cover artists, editors, distribution.

Then, in May, an agent contacted me. She’d read part of Lie Lay Lain and liked what she saw. Did I have representation? she asked. If not, would I send my current project? Why not? At that point, I had nothing to lose. I sent her the manuscript and thought nothing more of it. (Spreadsheet reveals that I had queried Jess with one of the projects that came in between Last Will and Axyl Witt, but it wasn’t a good fit for her. Based on my rejection numbers, it wasn’t a good fit for anyone.)

A few weeks after that initial email contact, we spoke on the phone and she offered to represent me. She was willing to take a chance on the book that nobody else would touch. Three months after that, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things sold at auction to a Big 5 publisher.

What’s the takeaway from all of this? Is it just that my book is like the Lana Turner of novels? Sitting there in a malt shop, minding its own business when it was discovered? You hear these stories, about writers who get an agent or publisher quite by chance, but I don’t know anyone for whom a thing like that happened. Or I didn’t until it happened to me. I am urban legend, come to life!

My conclusion, and you’re welcome to come to your own, is that you never know. This business is random, chaotic, and a little cruel. The only thing you control is how much effort you put into your writing, and how hard you work at connecting with people. The rest of it is a lot like a lottery. Once your book is as good as you can make it, you have to somehow stumble upon the perfect combination of opportunity: right agent, right editor, right moment.

What would have happened if I’d sent more than 8 queries for my first novel? I’ll never know, because I gave up. If you really want this, you can’t give up. You have to whack the publishing piñata until the candy falls out.

 

***

For the very curious among you, my query spreadsheet is like a geological history of the last few years of publishing. It reveals agencies that have opened and closed, and the careers of agents, new and old, including their entrance into the industry as interns, their moves to other agencies, and the death and retirement of other agents. It also shows the steady shift from snail mail queries to email queries, and the increasing prevalence of the non-response response.

The full stats from my spreadsheet:

In 13 years, I’ve queried 7 novels to 216 agents, for a grand total of 453 queries. In response to those queries, I received 61 requests for more material, 5 revise & resubmit requests, 452 rejections, including 197 non-responses.

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Someone brought this story up on another post and I realized that I’ve never done a Teaser of it. It’s a segment out of the middle of a finished novel called Other People’s Dead Relatives. The first chapter of the book was published as a short story by Vagabondage Press and a smaller segment of it was pubbed by The American Drivel Review.

***

Dena had finally settled herself, begun to calm her irritations of the day, when her bedroom door opened. She sat up and said, “What?”

“Nothin’.” Geddy crossed the room and went down on his knees next to the bed. Slipping his arms around her waist, he leaned in to kiss her. First, she resisted. Second, she succumbed. Third, she pushed him away.

“Not tonight,” she whispered.

“Why not?” he said in a normal voice.

She put her finger to lips to hush him. “Because I don’t want to.”

He kissed her again, and she let him, let him unbutton the top three buttons on her nightgown. When he tugged her closer, tried to put her legs around him, however, the bed groaned. She pushed him back again, frowning

“He’s right there.” Dena jerked her thumb toward the wall behind her bed. The sofa where her nephew slept was on the other side.

“So come into my room,” Geddy said.

“I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

For an instant, they were still, glaring at each other, she in annoyance, he in frustration. Against her leg, she felt how hard he was, but still she put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him away. With an exasperated snort, he went back to his own room, and a few minutes later she heard the now familiar box springs symphony. It drove her nearly to madness and, kicking the covers off, she stormed through the bathroom and opened Geddy’s door.

“Am I keepin’ you awake, ma’am?” he said. Even in the dark she knew he was smiling.

Honeymoon Suite

Dena snatched the sheet off him and said, “Get up.”  When he was up, with his pants on, she took him by the arm, led him through the kitchen, and up the stairs to the third floor. The honeymoon suite was palatial and sumptuous in the moonlight. Dena had never slept in the bed, and even though it would require her to change the bedding again in the morning, she pulled back the coverlet and pushed Geddy down on the silk sheets.

They went at each other with a rabidity that Dena couldn’t remember having experienced before. It was the sort of wildness she thought she should have felt at all those orgies and never had. When all of the hollering and humping was done, Geddy rolled off her, panting, and laughed.

“Well, alright,” he said.

“Now, that’s what a honeymoon suite is for.”

“I’ll tell you what.” Geddy rolled onto his side, kissed her shoulder, but instead of going to sleep, he said, “You was married. Did you have a good honeymoon?”

“Oh, gag. Let’s not talk about that.”

“I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. I was just curious.”

“Mediocre wedding night. Mediocre marriage.”

“That’s a real shame.”

“Not for you. I definitely would not be fucking you if I were happily married.”

“You better watch that dirty mouth of yours.” He tugged at a piece of her hair.

“Or what?  You’ll wash my mouth out?”

“Might. I know a thing or two about it.”  Dena thought there was an innuendo in there, but then Geddy said, “You know, I can’t hardly believe how you let Cole talk to you.”

“Oh….” Dena had been about to say, “He’s just a kid,” but he wasn’t. She didn’t have an answer for why she put up with Cole’s rudeness. She settled for a lie. “I don’t really care.”

“I ever talked like that to my Aunt Claire, she woulda took a belt to me.”

Wanting to get back to that silly, half-drunk feeling, Dena ran her hand down Geddy’s belly. The sheets were already dirty.

The second time, he had the decency to fall asleep immediately after. Dena lay in her floating bubble of happiness. The one that Cole always popped. Usually, she got her bubble if she went walking in the evening and saw something lovely: a perfect sunset, a budding flower, two romancing lizards, a happy squirrel. She never let herself think about how unlikely it was that the squirrel would survive the summer without getting run over.

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This little excerpt is from a bit further into The Hornbeam Door, after Oona has a nervous breakdown, courtesy of the voices in her head.  Rumor has it that she really had a bad acid trip, and on her first day back at school, she discovers that none of her friends are talking to her.  In this scene, she’s sitting down to lunch by herself, aware of the other kids staring at her.

***

Goth how-to

Goth how-to

When I was almost finished with my sandwich, Jessica Walker sat down across from me. She was in my Spanish class freshman year, but I didn’t know her enough to say hello if I saw her on the street. Since then I’d changed from a nerd to a half-way normal person to a crazy person. Jessica had changed from a half-way normal person to a Goth sophomore year. She had her hair dyed black and her fingernails painted black, and all her clothes were black.

“Hi!” she said.

“Hi, Jessica.”

“Actually, I go by Raven now. So how are you doing? You know, the first day back and all?”

“I’m fine.”

“So, what was it like?”

I guess that’s what it feels like to be in a car wreck and have people drive by staring, while you sit on the curb and bleed. I opened my bag of chips and didn’t answer her.

“I heard that you were, like hearing voices. Was that pretty freaky, hearing voices?”

She wouldn’t give up. She sat there with her elbows on the table, leaning toward me, staring at me. Like she thought I was honestly going to tell her.

“Did you really try to kill yourself? I think about it sometimes, like what it would be like to cut my wrists or something.” She pushed her black sleeve up and showed me these little red scratches on her wrist. The kind of scratches you’d get from a kitten.

Probably I was supposed to be shocked or concerned. Maybe I was supposed to be impressed. I wanted to say, “You need to use a sharper knife,” but I went on eating my potato chips. It wasn’t that I hated her or wanted her to kill herself. I just didn’t care. No matter how much she wanted to be in a car wreck, I didn’t want to be the car wreck she was staring at.

“So, what kinds of things were the voices saying to you? Like were they telling you to do stuff?”

I didn’t say what I wanted to say: “They were telling me to kill girls with black fingernail polish.” I didn’t say it, but I should have.  That would have been better than what I did say. Just like with my parents, I opened my mouth and started repeating what the voice was saying right then.

“And when the Interloper rent them from their souls, they were as toys in his hands. Dumb as beasts in the field and docile. They no longer looked back to the Doors with longing, but neither did they look to the river. He ate up their souls, as tender as the flesh of children, and turned them away from the easing waters. He had no need for whip or halter then, for the hooks in their spiritual bodies bound them to him fast.”

That was all new stuff, stuff I’d been trying to ignore, but it came out of me just as easily as any of the Doors would have. Like I already knew it, because the voice was inside me. It was part of me, whether I understood it or not. Whether I liked it or not.

“Any more questions, Raven?”

Jessica blinked and after a minute, she closed her mouth and sat back in her chair. I crumpled up my chip bag, picked up my tray, and walked away.

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Today’s teaser is from a young adult book I’m working on called The Hornbeam Door.  It feels a little weird to write something intended for teenagers, but I’m clearly tapping into the desolate weirdness of my own adolescence.

***

As soon as Mom got home from work, I said, “Reese asked me to the movie tonight.”

I thought she’d be excited. That she’d want to be there when Katelyn came over to help me get ready. I thought maybe she’d loan me some of her jewelry. She always did that when Lola had a special date. Ironed stuff for her, bought her new lipstick or nail polish.

“It’s awfully short notice,” Mom said.

Tea

Tea

That wasn’t like the third or fourth thing she said after: “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” Because she didn’t say any of those things. The first thing she said was, “It’s awfully short notice.” She didn’t even look at me when she said it. She was fishing the tea bag out of her mug.

“The movie doesn’t start until 9:00. I know curfew is midnight, but I can be home by then.”

“That doesn’t seem a little rude to you?”

“What?” I said.

“That he only asked you today to go to the movie tonight?”

“Katelyn and I make last minute plans all the time.”

“She’s your best friend. I think if a boy wants to ask you out, he should give you more notice.”

“Mom–.”

“More importantly, I think you should consider what kind of message it sends that you’re willing to let him ask you out like that. Do you want to be the kind of girl he can treat very casually?”

“It’s not like that anymore.”

“It’s not like what? Men don’t need to respect women? Has that all changed?” Mom said. I hated it when she got like that. Like every little thing in life was part of some big picture. Some universal injustice or nationwide discrimination.

“Mom, it’s not like it was when you were dating. People don’t plan that far ahead. He only asked today because that’s when he decided to go.”

“It was like that last year when Lola was dating. She expected to be treated with more consideration.” Mom didn’t move. Didn’t do anything except blow on her tea and look at her recipe book.

“Well, how nice for Lola that she’s so wonderful she can plan her social calendar months in advance.”

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Mom said.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you content to be an after-thought? To be something he just decided to do at the last minute?”

“Dad!”

I hated playing that game, but sometimes it was the only way to get through to Mom. The worst part was I knew it was over. By getting Dad involved, Mom was never going to be part of my dating life. She was never going to care about it the way she did about Lola dating. Maybe she wouldn’t have anyway, but it was over once I yelled for Dad.

When he came in, I said, “Can I go to the movies with Reese tonight?”

“Is this the boy you like? From your chemistry class?”

“Yes.”

“That’s great, honey. I hope you have fun. Do you need some money?”

Mom closed her recipe book and left the room while Dad was getting out his wallet. It wasn’t that she didn’t mean well. She did. She just always meant well in the shittiest way possible.

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For those of you left wondering, “What happened with the paramedic?” after last Tuesday’s teaser, this is simply … a further tease.  What can I say?  It takes more than a few chapters for this particular incident to unfold.

***

Olivia was the kind of girl who never managed to break the ice, even at parties where she knew everyone. The paramedic, on the other hand, leaned out of the ambulance window every day for weeks and said, “Morning.” Or sometimes, “Hey there.”

Down by the river

Down by the river

Startled out of her pre-dawn reverie each time, Olivia nodded, half-smiled, and kept walking. She walked every morning for an hour, looping around the river park trail before the sun made it up over the tree line. The ambulance parked at the edge of the river, its driver leaning back in the seat, arm propped on the window. He had been parking there as long as Olivia’s resolution to lose weight had been in effect and for all she knew, before that. She supposed he was on his break.

Olivia had finally accepted the exchange of greetings as an unavoidable annoyance. Then one morning, as she stepped off the curb to cross the street and start her walk, he opened the ambulance door, got out of the cab and walked toward her. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, he seemed to be waiting for her to cross the street and reach him. Or perhaps he hadn’t noticed that he was standing directly in her path. Except that he was looking at her.

“Good morning,” he said.

Olivia dropped her gaze, giving her half-smile and trying to step to the side, between the trash can and him. He side-stepped to match her and then there was no place to go. She flushed. She hated games like that, where someone was made to feel stupid and embarrassed. Resigned, she muttered, “Morning.”

“Nice and hot, huh?” he said.

“Global warming. That’s what they say.” She hesitated, her foot seeking the curb, trying to gauge if there was enough room to squeeze past without touching him.

“Yeah, you right.”

Olivia wondered if maybe he were a little “off.” Touched, as her grandmother said. He had the hint of an accent, something exotic to Tampa. When he said hot it sounded like hawt. New Jersey, maybe? Belatedly she felt nervous. There it was, still practically dark, and she was alone.

“You new to Tampa? Dis neighborhood?” he asked. He rocked back on his heels like he was enjoying himself. Daring a quick glance at him, she guessed at a nice tan and hazel eyes, maybe? Hard to tell in the pre-dawn. Sort of swarthy–Italian?  His hair was cropped short, military style, too short to really have a color. Dark blond or brown, she guessed. Embroidered on the right side of his uniform shirt was his name: James.

“Neither. I’ve lived here my whole life.” Just the sort of personal information you shouldn’t offer to crazy strangers.

“Really? I only been seeing you for a few months. Not before that.” He should have been embarrassed or uneasy–she was trying to make it difficult for him–but he didn’t look it.

Olivia stepped up on the sidewalk and, bracing herself for it, pushed past him, her shoulder brushing against his.

“Excuse me, James, I need to go for my walk.” That at least startled him. He looked down at his chest and laughed.

Behind her, he said, “James is my last name. I’m a paramedic, not a quick-lube guy.”

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