Found a Story – Lying Still

Found this story on a Web site from quite a few years ago.  Though the story is fiction, it was based on a real incident.  I was hitch-hiking back from work at Marineland and Terry gave me a ride home. I was too embarrassed to admit to him that I had totaled my mother’s car the first week I moved back to St. Augustine and had no way to get around. Or that I could barely afford my $80 a month apartment under the lighthouse at 38 White Street. Sometimes at night, I could hear the alligators croaking across the road at the Alligator Farm  So I wrote this story, making up details, when I should have written about how difficult it was to see him, how much I loved him, how much I wanted to be back with him, and how much I pretended I didn’t care about him at all.  Idiot.

Oh well, got a story out of it anyway (I always do):

Lying Still

by Wendy Thornton

“A final comfort that is small, but not cold: The heart is the only broken instrument that works.”

T. E. Kalem

It was late afternoon and the sun was beginning to drop lower on the horizon when Rachael walked to the highway and put out her thumb. She still wore her waitress uniform, the little white dress and black apron, but she’d taken off the clunky white saddle shoes that looked old fashioned but were comfortable. She stood on the side of the road in flip-flops, watching cars flash by. It usually didn’t take long to get a ride. She was young, petite and blonde.  Even in the ugly waitress outfit, she attracted attention.

The week she moved back to town, she’d pulled out in front of a telephone truck.  The angry driver told her, in no uncertain terms, that she was lucky to be alive.  Sometimes she wasn’t so sure.

She had no money, no place to live and no way to get around.  So she’d taken a waitress job at a seaside restaurant until she could find something better. Working constantly, she’d finally saved enough for a deposit on a crummy little apartment on the edge of the bay, and though it wasn’t much, it was still a lot better than the motel room she’d been living in since the wreck.

Of course, better days were coming.  She’d been accepted to art school. Being an artist was never going to make her rich, but she didn’t care. At work, customers and staff loved her drawings.  She drew little caricatures of people on restaurant napkins. Everyone laughed when she drew a picture of the manager, Michael, in his cowboy boots and the Stetson he always wore because he was too cool for school. Now all she had to do was wait for fall semester, and she’d feel like she had a reason for being on earth. Right now, she felt extraneous, like an extra toe.

Within minutes of sticking out her thumb, a blue Honda Civic slowed and pulled alongside her. “You want a ride?” someone asked.  Maybe she ignored the flutter the voice gave her.

“Sure,” she answered, getting in the front seat without looking at the driver.  Only after she’d buckled the seatbelt and turned towards him did she confirm that the man who’d stopped for her was the man who dumped her, her old boyfriend, Dennis.

“Hello, Dennis,” she said.  Dennis Raymond Boyd.  She used to write the name in her textbooks.  Mrs. Dennis Raymond Boyd.  Mrs. Rachael Boyd.

“What are you doing out here, yeah? You shouldn’t be hitchhiking.  It’s dangerous.”  So many voices – his soft, sexy voice, his angry voice, his disappointed voice.  But she’d forgotten the self-righteous one.

She laughed.  “This is how I get around.”  No details.  She wasn’t about to explain how she’d totaled her car.

“But what happens if someone picks you up who is, you know, dangerous?”

“Not really your problem, is it?”

“I can still worry about you as a friend.”

“Is that what we are?”

“You know what I mean,” he said.  But no, she thought, I don’t know.  “I didn’t realize you moved back to town.”

“I missed it here,” she said. “This is my home now.”  She wondered if he would object.  He always complained about outsiders moving to his beautiful beach town.  “I tried to move back with my parents but I hate Raleigh. Every day I was gone I missed this place. All I could think of was, when can I get back?”

‘You know I’m dating someone else, yeah?”

She looked startled, then said quickly, “I do. I’m very happy for you.”

“And I’m glad you’re here.  I want you to meet her.”

Magnanimous of you, she thought.

As they approached town she chatted about the restaurant where she worked. “I’m dating the manager,” she lied.  “You’d like him, a nice guy named Michael.”  Michael’s boyfriend, Jason, wouldn’t appreciate her usurping his lover.  But whatever.

The news seemed to please Dennis, though.  “I’m glad you found somebody new. I was  worried about you. For a while there you seemed so, well –” she could feel it coming “so sad.”

“I was,” she agreed. “But I got over it. I’m very happy now.”

“This is where I turn off.” Dennis pulled over to the side of the road at an intersection.  “I bought a little house out of the country.”

Her heart set like a stone. They’d always talked about buying a house in the country. “Did you get some land?”

“We’ve got 20 acres.” Rachael noted that we. “My girlfriend has a couple of horses. I’m not really into horses,” he added.

Dogs either, she thought. She had to give hers up when they lived together. If she had it to do all over again, she’d give up Dennis and keep the dogs.  But hindsight is always 2020.

“Well,” she said, pushing the door open, “Good to see you again.”

She started to get out, but Dennis suddenly said, “Wait a minute. Let me give you a ride all the way to your house. I’d love to see where you live.”

Noooo, she shrieked internally.  How bad was the apartment?  She hadn’t done the dishes, she remembered that.  And the bed was unmade.  What else?  What else?

Still, it would be nice to get a ride home all the way home and maybe, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that he knew where she lived. Maybe someday he would come and visit voluntarily.

“Okay.”  She closed the car door again.  “I live just off Orange Street.”

“That’s a nice area.”

When they turned onto the road where her apartment building was, he slowed. “It’s this old house up there,” she said, pointing. He pulled up in front of the two story wooden house and looked at silently.  While there were nice houses in the area, this one had seen better days. The wooden house had been split into multiple apartments, and badly needed painting. The shutters listed sideways, the screens were split and patched. The front porch was up a set of five sagging steps. Her neighbor had put a wicker chair outside her apartment, but Rachael’s side of the porch was bare.  “Thank you for the ride,” she said. Then on an impulse she could never explain she added, “Would you like to come in and have a cup of coffee?”

He hesitated a moment, then said, “Sure, I’d love to. Why not? I’d love to.” He parked the car and she led him up the steps to the apartment. She’d never noticed before how small it seemed, how empty. The kitchen opened into the living room, separated by a counter. She directed him to one of the barstools in front of the counter and went into the kitchen to plug in her second hand coffee pot. Sitting on the stool next to him, she leaned forward her elbows on the counter.  “So,” she said, “How have you been?”

He looked around curiously, “Nice apartment,” he said, and she knew he was lying.  The living room contained a small couch, a television and no other furniture. There was nothing on the walls. From where they were sitting, they had a direct view into the bedroom. He could see the unmade bed that took up most of the space, the open, chaotic closet.  Well, she was busy.  Working all the time.  Trying to buy a car.  And she hadn’t expected visitors, damnit.

Off the living room was a claustrophobic bathroom. She hoped he didn’t go have to use it. She hadn’t had time to clean it yet. The landlord had given her a discount on the promise that she’d clean the place up. But working so many hours, she hadn’t been able to do all she promised when she first moved in.

“This is interesting,” he said. “Good use of space.” She almost laughed at that. “So how have you been?”

She thought about telling him the truth.  I have no life.  I have no money.  I have no friends.  I wrecked my car and now I hitchhike back and forth to my crappy waitress job, but hey, other than that, everything is peachy.

But no, she wasn’t going to let him feel sorry for her.  She’d made her decision.  She was going to live here.  She was going to get it together and make this her home.  “I stay busy,” she said, as she poured him a cup of strong coffee.  “My boyfriend and I like to go on camping trips. He owns a Winnebago.” She almost laughed at the thought of Michael in a Winnebago, Michael whose idea of roughing it was, “the Sheraton without the pool.”

She and Dennis had once talked about visiting Yellowstone National Park, camping out in the mountains.

As she expected, “That’s great,” Dennis responded. “Been to Yellowstone yet?”

“No, but we’re going next month. I’m so excited I can hardly wait.”  She imagined herself leaping into the air, making little squeaking noises of delight.  But that might be a bit much.

“Sounds wonderful.”  Dennis sipped his coffee.  She thought she heard a bit of wistfulness.  He added, “Charlotte and I are supposed to go soon. I’m not sure when. She has a hard time getting off work.”

“Oh really. What does she do?”

“She’s a lawyer,” Dennis said.  He blew on his coffee, avoiding her eyes.

Of course she is.  Rachael remembered him berating her – when are you going to bring in more money?  Why do I always have to pay for everything?  Don’t you have any ambition?

“It’s not what you think,” Dennis added hurriedly. “She does whatever it’s called – not corporate law but the other – where she helps people.”

“Oh Dennis,’ Rachael said, “I knew you would never get together with a corporate lawyer.”

He laughed.  “Yeah, I guess you know my type. Well.” He put the cup down. “I hate to drink and run but Charlotte is expecting me. We’ll have to get together sometime.  Maybe you and – Michael, is it?  You and Michael, can come to dinner sometime.”

“We’d like that,” she answered. She walked him to the door, all two steps, then stood on the porch, smiling as he drove away. As soon as the car was out of sight, she ran back into her apartment, ripped off the uniform and jumped in the shower.  She hoped the neighbors couldn’t hear her shrieks. She stepped out of the mildewed stall, stood in front of the fogged-up mirror. She started to wipe it clean, hesitated.

In the steam she drew an ornate heart.  Then her initials.  And below that a question mark.  She stared at the image for a long time, wiped it clean with a towel.  She slipped into jeans and a t-shirt, then stretched out on the lumpy couch in the living room, and stared out the window where his car had been.  It felt good to be lying still, to be motionless. Soon she would whirl like a dervish, keeping thoughts at bay.  But for one minute, the setting sun streamed through the window, warming her.  She glanced at the barren walls on either side of the window. She imagined a mural on the wall, the sun illuminating a small, ivy-covered house somewhere out in the country.  Maybe a mountain rising beside the glass.  Time to buy some art supplies.  Get the place spruced up.

Wendy Thornton has been published in Epiphany, Riverteeth, Confluence, The MacGuffin, and many more.  She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been chosen many times as an editor’s pick on salon.com.  She never gets tired of writing but does wish some of her stranger characters would leave her alone.

© 2012, Wendy Thornton

 

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Preparing to Speak

Library presentation picture.jpeg

I have an upcoming talk at our local library, and of course, I’m a nervous wreck.  In my opinion, writers shouldn’t have to speak in public. If they wanted to be sociable, they wouldn’t be writers – they’d be musicians :). Back in the old days, I hear you would sell your book to an agent, the agent would sell the book to a publisher, the publisher would do all the advertising for you, and the money would roll in.  That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.

Nowadays, millions of people are trying to get books published. Half the time, agents don’t even respond to your request for representation.  No news is bad news.  You didn’t hear from the agent? You lose. They don’t want your book.

I didn’t even bother with that part of the process. I didn’t even try to get an agent. When I decided to self-publish my first book, I actually had some good feedback from agents, but I decided I didn’t want to wait for them to make a decision, and then for the months, maybe years it would take to sell the book to a publisher. And then maybe the months, maybe years it would take to actually get the book into print. Self-publishing seemed like a nice option. I would have a book completed. It would be published. I could sell a few, give away a bunch, and have some street cred as a writer.

My first book, Dear Oprah: How I Survived Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV, was about my cancer experience. At the time I wrote it, I thought I would only be alive a maximum of 2 years.  That was fourteen years ago. If I’d known I was going to be here for so long, I might have considered going through the hassles of trying to get representation. Still, the book has been helpful. My doctor liked it :). Some of my friends found it very comforting when they themselves became sick. My mother liked it – although, being a long-term English teacher, she did manage to find a bunch of mistakes. Oh, well.

Now I am putting out another non-fiction self-published book, Sounding the Depths.  It’s okay, though. I know it’s not going to become a best-seller. I know I’m going to have to promote it myself. That’s okay. It was fun to write, and I have plenty of publications in major literary magazines and anthologies. It’s not like I need to be formally published  to have bragging rights – I already have that. Now I just need to figure out how to stop being such a frickin’ chicken and learn to promote my own work.

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Fire

Sometimes it seems you spend months and months trying to get things published and nothing happens. Then all at once everything seems to hit. I was fortunate to get not one but two poems published recently, and just had an essay accepted. Here are the poems in The Wild Word (http://thewildword.com/poetry-wendy-thornton/)

Never Underestimate the Ring of Fire

Never underestimate the Ring of Fire
for if we become so complacent that it matters not
where the next earthquake, the next volcano
the long breadth of fault spreads darkly
through city streets nowhere near
if we forget to care and lose all fear,
if Japan’s problem is theirs alone and after all
Ecuador is really far away from here
so when they beg for help we don’t answer the call
then the finger that wears that seismic ring
points in a different direction and here’s the thing
we have no control over the fire down below
we can’t anticipate where the dragon will go
as the karmic tectonics of memory slides
past all those villages where the innocents hide.

Fire Tower

The man on the fire tower is a little black blob
from a children’s book, pressed against the evening sun
waiting for his replacement to come.
He searches the horizon for white puffs of smoke
moving faster than the fluffy clouds
speaking like the Indians spoke
in old movies,

only now the message is bleak and dire,
no rain, severe drought, fire!
But that one flash of movement
when he raises his face to the sun
enjoying the warmth
like a puppy on the front porch
stretching his neck towards the fading light
imagining the chances of sunward flight
away from fire before his evening run.

Looking up, and then off to the horizon
where the smoke speaks
as flames move towards the metal column,
a tree with no leaves,
born of desperation
born of a foundation of drought
born of climate change doubt

and the voice is a demon
whispering, you can’t stop me,
silly young boy with no plan.
But this kid with his head in the clouds,
has seen the future in the sun
in the moon and the faraway stars.
And he knows he is one.
So he yells to the skyline, “sure I can.”

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Crickets

This was originally published in Blue Heron Review
Blue Heron Review Issue 3 Winter/2015

Crickets

Shhh. Let’s turn the lights down, turn the sound off,
Listen to the crickets sing in the dark. A spark of life
Still remains even in the night, even with the sound
Of silence broken only by crickets. We’re running
All day long and the siren song of getting and spending
Wears us flat out, but when the lights go out
We fill the night with music, canned laughter, drown out
The peacefulness of crickets, as if, left to our own devices
Our own thoughts, we would think the worst of ourselves,
Sunday school sermons, you did – yes and then – and worst of all
Do you remember when – boy howdy, bad times,
But now, now we work, we’re good, we do what we should,
We shut the crickets out, noisy little reminders
Of night’s power, keeping us awake, ignoring the fact
That morning will come too soon, that we should say, who cares,
Let’s rub our legs together and howl at the moon.

Wendy Thornton has been published in Riverteeth, Epiphany, MacGuffin and other literary journals and books. Her memoir, Dear Oprah Or How I Beat Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV, was published in July 2013. She has won many awards for her work. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has been Editor’s Pick on Salon.com multiple times. Her work is published in England, Scotland, Australia and India.

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The Queen Victoria Syndrome

http://www.diversevoicesquarterly.com/the-queen-victoria-syndrome/

 

 

So sorry to hear this journal is going out of business.  The Editor says, “I’ve spent all year prolonging this inevitable moment, and it makes me so sad and heartbroken to tell you that I don’t think I can do this anymore.”  It’s a tough business!.  Thank you to this great editor for publishing my work.

Volume V, Issue 7

The Queen Victoria Syndrome

by Wendy Thornton

Years ago, while working on a master’s degree in cultural studies, I learned to see the world through the eyes of the “Other,” via courses in Jewish, African-American, and Southern literature. I studied Italian and French literature, the magical realism of South America, the sorrowful literature of Africa. Of all the courses I took, the one where I felt hopelessly out of place was my lesbian lit class. This surprised me. After all, I assumed that, even though I wasn’t gay, I’d have a lot in common with the women in the class.

Besides me, four women and three men took the course. I was the only heterosexual and the only married individual. All I had to do was say “my husband…,” and my classmates would groan and roll their eyes. I was tempted to say “my partner,” but that seemed hypocritical. I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t married. I was always late to class. Ken and I were raising two kids, going to school full-time, working full-time, and our marriage wasn’t exactly blossoming under the pressure. Still, the book of cartoons about a lesbian super-heroine who hacked off penises with an ax left me feeling a bit queasy. In this, I had something in common with the men in my class.

I was surprised to find the gay men and lesbian women didn’t get along. Somehow I had this idea that there was an über-gay culture that included men and women who preferred same sex partners, sort of a “We are the World” of gaydom. When I expressed this idea one night, “Oh, honey,” one of my fellow students scoffed, “you just don’t get it. We boys don’t like girls, and those girls don’t like boys. There is no rapport.”

So I accepted that everything the guys said would be greeted by hoots of derision by the women; the comments of the women would be pooh-poohed by the men; and anything I said would be mocked by all and sundry. That was okay though. Getting involved in an intellectual argument was much more stimulating than creating soapbox derby cars with my Cub scouts or figuring out where to store thousands of Girl Scout cookies or addressing the insubordination of my irate secretary.

One of the big disagreements I had with the class was over the book Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg. The story is of two friendships, one contemporary, the other set during the Depression. In our lesbian literature class, we delved into the friendship between the two young girls growing up in the Depression era south. Idgie and Ruth run a café together in the fictitious town of Whistle Stop, Alabama. I maintained the book wasn’t a story about two lesbian women. These girls were friends. They had a deep and abiding respect for each other. There was nothing sexual about it. Naturally, I was ridiculed for my naïveté.

I took the book with me the next time I had dinner with Marilyn, my friend since high school. A psychologist, Marilyn is my sounding board for all things, both cultural and personal. We meet once a month for dinner, always at the same restaurant, always at the same time, and she, at least, always eats the same food. As I sat down in a booth, I pulled the paperback out of my briefcase. “Oh,” said Marilyn, “that’s one of my favorite books.”

“Really? We’re studying it in my lesbian literature class.”

“What? You’re kidding! That’s not a book about lesbians.” She sipped furiously at her cherry Coke. “Every time you turn around, people are usurping perfectly good stories and turning them into manifestoes. Why can’t a book about friendship just be about friendship?”

I remembered this curious exchange when I watched the movie Brokeback Mountain a few years later with two young female friends. Brokeback Mountain is definitely about a gay relationship. But the two women surprised me—they thought the movie was silly, that the men acted like “lovesick teenage girls.” I admit, I was shocked by their reaction. Having been a lovesick teenage girl myself, having been madly in love with someone who looked remarkably like the dear, departed Heath Ledger, one of the stars of Brokeback Mountain, I found the movie touching and tragic. I didn’t see it as a “gay” movie; I saw it as a movie about two people tragically in love. But then again, I didn’t grow up in a gay era.

Homosexuality was not something we talked about in suburbia in the sixties. I’m sure there were gay people around, but we didn’t know. We couldn’t identify them because we didn’t have the words for their situation, for their experience. I learned from my lesbian literature course that this inability to name what was obviously there is known as the “Queen Victoria Syndrome.” During Queen Victoria’s time, the British Parliament made homosexuality illegal. Supposedly someone asked the Queen, “Shall we extend the same laws to women?” And Victoria responded, “Don’t be silly. Women don’t have sex with women.”

So I grew up a victim of the Queen Victoria syndrome. Once, when I was thirteen, a friend invited me to spend the night at her house. She was very popular, in the upper echelon of my junior high school, and I couldn’t imagine why she wanted anything to do with me. I was a geek, a bookworm. I didn’t have fancy clothes, didn’t hang with the cool kids. So I was surprised and flattered to be invited to her home.

That night, Pam and I shared a bed. Her bedroom was almost the size of my whole house and decorated like something out of a teen magazine. She insisted we go to bed way earlier than I wanted. I was afraid she’d laugh at my threadbare pajamas, but she didn’t seem to notice. She snuggled up close and soon seemed to be sleeping. A night owl, I lay awake staring at the ceiling. Pam flung an arm across my chest and then, though I didn’t have the words to describe what happened next, she fondled me. I had slept with my two sisters when we were younger, and this was nothing like that. I moved away from her. She moved closer. Again, her hand went to my breast. Again, I wriggled away. Her hands wandered lower. I didn’t know what to do. I could feel her measured breathing in my ear. The next time she leaned against me, I rolled right off the bed. Curling up on the rug, I spent the rest of the night on the floor.

Pam and I never spoke about what happened that night. We remained casual friends. It would be years before I slept with a woman again, and that woman was Marilyn.

Marilyn and I became friends because we were both on the newspaper in high school. She was not the type of person I would normally have befriended. She was beautiful, blond, perky, best friends with the prom queen. At first, I thought she didn’t have a brain in her head, but I began to notice that whenever our journalism advisor gave one of her inspirational speeches, Marilyn would make sarcastic comments under her breath. “In journalism, truth is paramount,” Mrs. L intoned. “But fiction is more fun,” Marilyn hissed, and people around her laughed. I appreciated her sense of humor.

We began to hang around. We brought out the craziness in each other. Remember that boyfriend who looked like Heath Ledger? The day I turned sixteen, I got my driver’s license, and Marilyn and I took off across the state of Florida, to the small town of St. Augustine, to visit him. For years she was a willing accomplice as I followed him around in a futile attempt to get his attention.

And I accompanied her on her windmill tilting. Because she had a crush on a baseball player, I went with her to every high school game. One night after a ballgame, we were late for curfew and drove furiously across town trying to get home before midnight. Marilyn pointed at a field of reeds. “We could save time if we cross that field.” Heck, she’d lived in Sarasota all her life. If she said it was a shortcut, who was I to question? I turned off the road into the reeds, and suddenly my little Corvair splashed into water. The reeds looked like a field, but in reality, they covered a good-size lake. We screamed as the car sank. Swimming out of the front seat, we hiked to a nearby house and called a tow truck. After the tow truck driver pulled my car out of the muck, he asked, “Where do you want me to take it?”

“Take it?”

“What gas station? Where do you want it fixed?”

“Uh,” Marilyn and I looked at each other, confused. “We’re going to drive it home,” I said. The tow truck driver laughed. “Not tonight you ain’t,” he drawled. I got in, cranked the car, which started right up, and we drove home, water pouring out the doors.

By morning the car was dry. No one would have known about the lake incident if it hadn’t been for the tow charge slip from the gas station I forgot about. Dad didn’t care how I pleaded for mercy. He confiscated my keys.

Months later he trusted me enough to let me drive again but only because he needed a favor. Dad owned a car lot and needed someone to switch out a new Olds Cutlass SX hardtop for an Olds Cutlass SX convertible. Excited, I volunteered. Such a cool car! I was to drive from Sarasota to Daytona Beach, switch out the hardtop, and deliver the convertible to my father’s client in Sarasota. Marilyn was allowed to go. We would spend the night in a hotel in Daytona, courtesy of the car lot. For a sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girl, this was the equivalent of getting a ride in a pumpkin complete with Fairy Godmother.

But I was obsessed with the boy-who-filled-my-dreams-but-didn’t-remember-my-name. We drove to Daytona, picked up the brand-new convertible, and detoured immediately to St. Augustine. We drove up and down the beach, looking for my own true love. We attracted a lot of attention, two tall teenage blondes in a flashy new convertible.

As God is my witness, I do not know how that car got stuck in the sand with the tide coming in. I was a good driver, and I knew better than to stop on soft sand. Perhaps I thought I saw my surfer boy. Who knows? All I know is we were suddenly stuck up to the wheel wells in a car that rocked because waves broke over it. I had visions of my father’s face exploding as I described what had happened to his brand-new, expensive car. I had visions of jail cells.

Fortunately, our hysteria produced a lot of attention. While eager young surfer boys rushed to dig us out of the sand, I saw my own true love, the Heath Ledger look-alike drive by, stare, and shake his head. Totally humiliated, I cried on her shoulder and Marilyn comforted me. It wasn’t until about three in the morning, when the surfers picked up the car and moved it up the beach, that we realized we had run up over two hundred extra miles on this brand-new car. Even Marilyn cried too.

Now, I know it’s illegal to turn back an odometer, and, frankly, I was surprised that the guy at the gas station offered to do it for free. But after all, what do you do with two hysterical girls at three in the morning?

Marilyn and I remained friends through high school and into college. During our first year at the University of Florida, we decided we weren’t going home for the summer. The dorms were closed and neither of us had a place to live, so we borrowed a friend’s apartment. The apartment complex was pretty sleazy—in fact, the apartments were known as the Green Latrines. But the price was right: free.

These wooden duplexes, built off the ground, were painted a sickly forest green. Located in the blocks across from campus known as the Student Ghetto, the apartments were square, boxy, and consisted of a kitchen-living room box and a bedroom-bathroom box. The floorboards creaked. The apartment didn’t have air-conditioning; the doors could not be locked; windows didn’t close securely. There were no phones. The Green Latrines were popular with male graduate students. Women typically didn’t live there.

Marilyn and I actually loved spending the summer there. We came from very staid, middle class families. We were not scholarship students. Our parents paid for our educations. Each month during the school year, we received a small allowance and spent it before the first week was out.

But the summer was different. Being on the voluntary poverty level was exciting. We had no money, but we knew all we had to do was make it through a couple of months and then we’d be back in the dorms with our parents sending a regular income. For those two months, we rated our boyfriends by where they took us for dinner. Fast food was a two, one step up from being invited to share an apple in a grocery store parking lot. Steak dinner was an eight. But the sine qua non was a buffet, where we could help ourselves to all the food we could eat and stuff our purses with ill-gotten goods for our starving roommate.

It was after we each had such a date that Marilyn and I heard our intruder. We each returned from a buffet dinner date, put our napkin-wrapped packages of food in the refrigerator, and fell into bed, exhausted. There was only one bed in the apartment and we shared it chastely. About two in the morning, we heard footsteps creaking along the floorboards. We lay motionless in bed, terrified, as the thief made his way through the house. He made no attempt to be quiet, breathing heavily as he rifled through our things.

When he came into the bedroom, we pretended to be asleep. We heard him moving around the room, opening dresser drawers, rifling through the closet. Finally, after taking all our little packages of food from the fridge, the thief climbed out the way he’d come in, through the window. He could just as easily have come in through the front door that didn’t lock. But he never bothered to check the door.

The next day I said, “Marilyn, did you hear—?”

“Oh, don’t say it,” she hissed. “We didn’t hear anything. Understand? We were sleeping. Nothing happened.”

Her theory was that if we didn’t acknowledge the thief had been in the house, then the incident didn’t happen. I realized later he was probably looking for drugs. He had to know that the residents of those ugly green apartments had no money. I think the reason he didn’t rape us was because he thought we were a couple. In those days, men and women had hair the same length. He saw two people sleeping together and decided we must be a boy and girl. He never imagined two women lying there, helpless. The Queen Victoria Syndrome.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I were confused by everything but our sexuality. We wanted to make money, but we wanted to be free spirits. We wanted good jobs but didn’t want to be corporate drones. We wanted to fall in love but didn’t want to be tied down. We wanted to be brilliant but didn’t want to think about anything serious. You name it; we had an inconsistency for every mood.

The only area I can safely say we had no ambiguity about was in the area of friendships. Our friendships were sacrosanct. I would have trusted Marilyn with my life, and did on a number of occasions. Never once did we think of taking our relationship to a sexual level. It was already so much more. And besides, I knew the minute I met the Heath Ledger look-alike that my destiny was heterosexual.

Once a friendship is sexualized, the very nature of the friendship changes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But one of the lessons I learned in my class on lesbian literature, one of the discoveries I made outside my readings, from attending a class full of gay men and gay women, was that people who are gay know it early and without ambiguity. They don’t fall into the lifestyle—they are the lifestyle.

I have been madly, passionately in love. I have felt like Heath Ledger, listening to Jake Gyllenhaal mumbling in Brokeback Mountain, “I wish I knew how to quit you,” and thinking, I know that feeling. Marilyn was the person I poured my heart out to. If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know how I would have survived. We’ve been friends long enough to be honest with each other. While others may sympathize with a love-struck sixteen-year-old girl, your true friend will tell you to quit whining and do something about it. If that means you end up sitting on a sandy beach while your father’s expensive new car threatens to float out to sea, well, that’s just another memory for the scrapbook.

Sure, you need lovers, because love is the essence of life. But then again, you need your friends to sympathize with you when you’re ready to die of sadness, to go with you to the edges of the ocean, to remind you that you can survive anything.

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Is Self-Publishing Right for You? 10 Things to Consider

Computer and notebook photoWriters often have big dreams. They imagine that their work will be published and will take off, go viral, make them rich and famous, or at least famous. But can this miracle happen with self-published works?

Well, sometimes. It is true that formally published works, run through an agent, accepted by a publisher, and printed and marketed by the publisher, generally have a better chance of making it big. This is because the publishers generally have more resources to promote your book.

But realistically, publishing has changed so dramatically that those who believe they can become a best-selling author just by getting accepted at a major publishing house are dreaming.

Let’s consider the reality.

First you must find an agent. Bear in mind that, as a new writer, you’re going to have a hard time coming up with an agent to represent you. This process could take weeks or months, even years.

Next, the agent will submit your book to various publishers. This process also can go from weeks to years. Even if a publisher expresses interest, they may take months to come up with a legitimate offer, finalize a contract and begin the process of preparing to publish. Bear in mind that your book must be completely finished before you get to this point. Though some publishers will accept non-fiction book proposals, most will only look at completed manuscripts, unless you are an expert in your field.

Once the publisher accepts the book and begins creating the final version, another few months may pass. As literary agent Barbara Doyen explains, “The publisher has more work to do, such as: laying out the book text, arranging for the indexing, designing the covers, writing jacket blurbs and catalog copy, scheduling the print run, taking pre-pub book orders, consulting the PR department, shipping the printed books and more, taking additional weeks or months.” Ultimately, from the moment you finish your book to the moment your work appears as a complete product in the bookstores can take years.

Books with niche audiences are a tough sell. Suppose your book has a very small, very specific audience. You are writing a book about salsa dancing, or you are writing about how to start a wildlife refuge. Do you really want to wait years to publish a book about a topic that may actually have a very small target market? Why not self-publish and market it yourself to those very specific organizations that might have interest in your work?

The wait might not be worth it. How about a book that you’ve been working on for years? Maybe you’re just tired of trying to get attention for a manuscript that has been edited over and over for decades. Maybe it’s just time to get done with it. Go ahead and self-publish. It can’t hurt anything. There are stories of writers self-publishing and their books taking off, then being picked up by a major publisher. Did you know that the book, The Martian, was self-published? Yes, the one that just became a major motion picture!

Marketing the book is crucial. What does a traditional publisher do for you as opposed to self-publishing? Theoretically, they do the marketing, which is the most difficult part of selling your book. But many publishers these days still expect the authors to step up and assist with extensive marketing. Still, they do provide a lot of services. According to Writers Digest, “In traditional publishing, the publisher handles the marketing, distribution, and warehousing for your book.” If you choose to self-publish, you will have to do all the marketing yourself. You’ll want to create an author’s platform, including a Web page, Facebook page, and other social media. You’ll want to find local markets to sell your work. You might even want to see if you can set up a low-cost book tour. Sometimes your willingness to market your work can mean the difference between success and failure. John Grisham became so frustrated with his lack of success in getting a publisher for his book A Time to Kill that he self-published, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Children’s books are often a tough sell. They are expensive to create and hard to market. Did you know that Beatrix Potter’s story, The Tales of Peter Rabbit, was originally self-published? It is now part of one of the best-selling children’s series of all time. If you can see yourself doing readings in libraries surrounded by a gang of little ones, find yourself a good illustrator and go for it. You have nothing to lose.

What if you just want to write a book for your family? Many people want to tell the story of their lives. Perhaps you have an unusual background or you became an entrepreneur and got rich. You just want to let your kids and grandkids know about your success. Self-publishing is a great option. While this type of publishing used to be referred to as “vanity press publishing,” nowadays it can be done for a nominal fee and you can use print on demand, ordering exactly the number of copies that you want for your family. This is a great way to tell your story and surprisingly, the younger generation – you know, that group that thinks hard cover books are sooooo “retro” – seems to be most interested in what their ancestors did years before.

When should you consider being published the old-fashioned way, by finding an agent and a publishing house?

Maybe you know you are writing the “next big thing!” Well, if you have an idea for a book that will touch a nerve, start out by trying to find an agent. Then try independent publishers. You can always self-publish later if you don’t connect with the traditional publishers.
Suppose you are famous in your field, say as a professor of digital services or as a detective who worked with a major police station during a particularly brutal crime. You might have a book that would interest publishers. Maybe you are an expert on international relations, or a former astronaut who went to the moon. You will probably be able to get a publisher easily enough – just write the book or write a great marketing plan and give it a shot.

If you’re a poet, forget it (says the blog author, a well-published poet). Enter contests, submit to literary magazines, self-publish your book if you’d like. Same for short story writing. There are very few, very limited markets for books of poetry and short stories.

But you never know – the hottest new books being published now are adult coloring books. Who could ever have predicted that?

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My Author Page

 

wendy-business

I am a well-published writer and editor, author of the Memoir, Dear Oprah: How I Beat Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV, and the forthcoming, Bear-Trapped: In a Trashy Hollywood Novel.  Yes, I love titles :).  Take a look at my curriculum vitae page to see more information about the many journals and books I’ve been published in.

Here are some links to my books and to my Amazon Author’s page:

https://www.amazon.com/Dear-Oprah-Cancer-Learned-Daytime/dp/1490564047

Dear Oprah: How I Beat Cancer and Learned to Love Daytime TV is the tale of a battle with an unusual cancer. Told with snarky humor and pathos, this is the story of an interrupted life and the struggle back.

Bear Trapped: In a Trashy Hollywood Novel – A mystery set in contemporary Hollywood, this book describes the murder of the infamous manager, Fletcher Calhoun, who has taken over the life of a young film star, Tabitha Sharp. Detective Bear Huff is assigned to the case, even though he doesn’t particularly like the famous people he has to investigate. Bear is not what you would call a people person. In contrast, his partner, Elena Cassatt, is thrilled to be assigned to such a high-profile case. The two detectives soon discover that many people had reason to want Calhoun out of the picture.

And if you’re looking for something light (and cheap) check out my ninety-nice cent e-book, Animal Crackers, a series of humorous essays about living with kids and pets and how to keep from going nuts.

Animal Crackers by [Thornton, Wendy]

My Amazon author page is here:

https://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Thornton/e/B0055PQND8/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

 

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