Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Again with the sex...

Can a writer create a hero that isn't good in the sack?

I was just thinking about all the flaws a character can have to make them more accessible, but could our FBI agent who always gets the girl have erectile dysfunction and still win over the reader? Can the hard-boiled detective be a "quick draw" and still inspire passion?

Certainly James Bond could never be written like that, but his entire persona could be considered unrealistic in terms of his accomplishments. Some people like to read about the gratuitous sex between a book's main characters while others prefer to hint at it and let the imagination run wild. I'm willing to bet that imagination never includes clumsy sex with no foreplay.

I would love to see an amazing character that has the world on a platter, can solve every mystery and be handsome, witty and charming and then fail in the bedroom and then have the couple deal with like any normal people would; whether is be by ignoring it, talking about it, or trying again until they get it right. Would the plot come to a screeching halt? Would one spy tell the other, "its alright, it happens to a lot of guys"? Would that ultimately take the reader out of the fantasy?

Women are always sexy and sensual, too. What if you didn't get off that easy (no pun intended) in a book? What if the heroine couldn't dance and their bedroom moves were awkward or they slip off the bed or just do something REAL. I can't speak for the female reader, but I would assume a guy reader wouldn't care as much about how it went in bed as long as they ended up there.

So, can we be left with two extraordinary characters that live in a world of intense intrigue, action, and conflict, who fall in love on the beaches of Frances, meeting by circumstance, each working for separate faction, trying to topple governments and have them fall short of bedroom fireworks? Could Jason Bourne mix up a cyanide pill with a Viagra?

Um, I don't think so.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Take On Penn State

So, I'm a fiction writer. I write thrillers with sinister characters that do really evil deeds. My imagination has to create senarios that are implausibly plausible if that makes sense. One storyline I attempted a long time ago dealt with child pornography and even skirting around the issue, I found it difficult. I couldn't do it and ended up changing it to human trafficking where I take great satisfaction in who gets saved and how the villain gets it in the end (yet to be published).

So, this thing with Penn State comes to light. I'm a big LSU Tiger's fan, which means I'm a fan of all college football and it makes me sick to think football is the reason this was kept quiet. But, I'm not going to make commentary on what's been rehashed in the news hourly for the past week, but there is one thing I keep coming back to.

This Mcqueary is a good sized man. He was a football player. He had a chance to be this kid's hero. He walked into an opportunity that gave him free reign to bust this guy up. If I wrote him as a character, I would really have to develop either a detachment, a cold persona, or some childhood tragedy of his own to make it believable. Is it self preservation? Is it the mighty hand of Penn State football? It's crazy. Get in front of it, practice the HONOR that you preach, take the dent to the program and move forward, knowing you upheld your ideals. What the F????

How do you walk away from what Mcqueary described? I put myself in his place and after I get over how sureal the scene must have been, I run in there, pull the kid away from Sandusky (who will hopefully be in the prison's general population) and proceed to beat the crap out of him. Maybe he gets the better of me, maybe he doesn't. Either way, I kick and punch for every child that has ever been taken advantage of. Do I see myself leaving, distraught, telling my boss and then wiping my hands of it? No, I don't see that.

At least pull out your phone and call the police...at least! The only good that will come from this is that bringing to the public's attention what SHOULD have happened. The next person in this situation may think about handling it differently.

You should have been that boy's hero, Mcqueary. How many chances do we get at that?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Real Ghost Story

They say many New Orleans residences and buildings are haunted, but its a great place to create spine tingling stories that may or may not be true, but are somehow more believable in that locale. Well, I have my own ghost story (or at least a story that has yet to be explained) and whether people think I've made it up or not, I know it to be true and it still gives me the creeps.

When I was eighteen, I moved into a friend's house after his mother died. We also worked together at a Winn Dixie supermarket, so the arrangement was perfect. His brother lived out of state and he had this small two bedroom to himself, so why not? I ended up having his mother's old room, which not believing in haunted houses, I didn't care.

Things started out great. We were young, partied, and had lots of fun, but through those first few months, the normal "ghostly" things started happening; missing keys, doors being closed or opened, wierd sounds at night. Again, I didn't pay much attention to it; explaining it away.

Then, it happened. My friend left for work at 9 a.m. I was due in at Noon. Before I left, I got the mail and brought it to my room. I remember this like it happened yesterday. I had five envelopes and put them in a stack on the dresser. I got dressed, locked up, and went to work. My friend had a double shift. He did not leave work at all. When my shift was done and he was still there at work, I arrived back and went to my room not expecting to see the five envelopes spread several inches apart in a perfect semi-circle on the bed. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

His brother was out of state and he had no other family. None of our friends had a key and I know he didn't go back home. There is no other way to explain it. Plus, I knew my friend and knew his reactions. So, was the house haunted? I personally believe so.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thoughts on Typewriters

Typewriters may as well go up there with the old time cash registers. I'm old enough to have used a typewriter when I first started banging out short stories in high school where I took a class to learn to type. I'm proud to say I was at 60 words a minute.

I was thinking about all the paper I used to waste and the bottles of White Out I had smeared across mistakes. Putting together a good page that didn't need edits was an accomplishment. For me, having an immaculate ream of a finished manuscript was impossible.

Soon words processors took over and that lead to computers. Today we can keystroke carefree, knowing the delete button is a mere pinky away. That leads me to believe that before computers, a writer had to take care in the words they chose; in their sentence structure. Paper cost money and editing was extremely time consuming.

So does that mean we would be better writers if forced to use a typewriter? Let's say you were given an exercise where you have the first draft of a manuscript and you had to retype any page that had edits - the entire page. I don't mean from scratch. Just make a copy and retype it word for word. Would you be more careful with your grammar? Would you examine each sentence closely?

Of course, I'm speaking for myself when I say that I can blast through a bunch of pages, knowing I will go back and make sweat-free editing. I don't mean to accuse any writer out there of not trying to write their best. I just wonder if those young writers who have never used a typewriter would benefit from a little manual labor.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Feeling a little inferior?

Those of us that are aspiring writers have probably read someone else's work and sat in awe, wondering if we could ever write that well. I'd say most people have felt that way about something in their lives, whether it's acting, music, art, etc.

It would be natural to try to emulate the people who inspire you, but I don't know if that's a good idea. Do you really want to be the "next" somebody? Do you really want fans to say you could never be the "next" somebody?

Thrillers come in all shapes and sizes. Too much description, too little description. Not enough action or too much time between the action. There are words you don't know and don't feel like stopping to look up (unless you have an ereader), making you either feel...less educated...or make you feel like you're really missing out on a good read. Plot driven, character driven. Believable or even plausible. Boring, stiff, fluid, fast, suspensful, interesting and best of all...thrilling.

I don't know all the big words and I'm not much on the smaller details that many like and some don't. When I write, I wonder how I'm going to fill up a 80,000 word novel with the story I've created. It's difficult and takes a lot of time and I can see how others do it. They detail the hell out of things, which I do enjoy reading. I've read pages on characters that really don't affect the story. However, it really sets the scene and environment. And for a while that made me feel inferior. My vocabulary might not be conducive to the details. I feel like I'm boring the reader because I don't know the words that make people go to the dictionary.

But, as people have read my manuscripts, I've learned they liked my style. They like blazing through a story that doesn't let up. I've heard many times how it was hard to put down and they were 100 pages in before they knew it.

Aspiring writers should stick with their style and not try to "copy" someone else's. Sure, they can influence and there can be comparisons, but let it happen naturally. It took some time to accept that, but I can see how my style might one day be one of those styles that another author might aspire to.

That would be awesome.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seven things I've learned so far.

I'm taking this idea from a blog by Chuck Sambuchino, an editor who posts other blogs by agents and writers, which have been very useful and inspiring to me as a writer. I'm trying not to use the obvious lessons, because its all been said over and over. Hopefully, I have a couple of useful tidbits here.

1) You're always improving...Unless you're one of the lucky few whose English and grammar skills are beyond reproach. The editing process will only be finished once it has been published. Don't just re-read and think it sounds good. Examine each sentence, the tense, the point of view, word conservation, eliminate cliches, don't repeat, show don't tell, don't repeat words...oh, so many tweaks to be had.

2)Don't write when you're not feeling it. Some advice would be to write on a schedule or write when you're having a block and that might work for some, but for me, I find it counterproductive. Find ways to be inspired to write. For me, it usually happens when I finish reading a good novel. That pumps me up to sit a pound out a story.

3)There is no instant success. This is a long process; at least for fiction. Even if you write a story in two months and get a publisher a month after that (good luck). It's going to be at least another year before your book comes out. For most of us, it takes years just to get to this point...if ever.

4)You friends and family don't know what it takes to get an agent or published. It might be nice to hear praise from those around you, but that is not going to advance your knowledge of the industry. You need a real editor or other writers to critique your work, which is usually a sobering experience. Once you're over the shock of your writing being torn apart, then you'll be that much better the next time around. Find writing groups or workshops put your thick-skin on.

5)Step back from your work. Yes, once your finish, you want to get your queries out there, dreaming of your first royalty check. No. Put down the manuscript for a few months, then come back and program yourself to read it as if you didn't write it. This will allow you to see where the flow is awkward or the sentences are redundant or the point of view is wrong. Its a shitty feeling to know you sent something out that will turn an agent off.

6)Networking. This won't happen overnight, either. In my years of putting myself out there and attending conferences and querying and contacting other writers, I've met many in the industry and find that I can return to these contacts for advice or support. Slowly, but surely, names start to become familair. Plus, building these relationships lets people know you are serious about your craft.

7)Research your options. Oh, man. There are so many ways to get your book out. Do you get an agent? A traditional publisher? An ebook publisher? POD? Do I self-publish? Small press? Independant press? Publish through Amazon? Barnes and Noble? Kinkos? How can I market my novel without help? It might be very enticing to get your book out by any means available, but choose wisely grasshopper. You might regret letting your best-selling first novel fall into the depths of obscurity because word just isn't getting out. THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY. What works for some will not work for others. If there is a number 8 here, its to develop your filter; use the advice you can and discard the rest.

There are so many more things I've learned, but I've already named the piece, so we're stuck with seven.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How I got my agent

I guess it's okay to put this out there with no risk of a jinx (I shiver as I write this).

I have finally, after years of searching, signed with agents Al Longden and Cynthia Manson, who will share in my representation. It was a long, angst-ridden path, as many aspiring writers are aware.

It started when I saw the profile of an author on the International Thriller Writers website. He listed Cynthia Manson as his agent, so I did quite a bit research to find her email because she does not have a website or advertise. She responded to my email favorably, but was interested in how I found her. I hadn't run across an agent like this before, one that didn't have a big internet presence, which I thought was fantastic.

My contacting her must have been a timing issue. As luck would have it, she was interested in the full manuscript. I waited patiently until she sent an email regretfully turning down the project, but actually wanted to talk about it over the phone! This in itself was an amazing opportunity. We spoke for twenty minutes about why she didn't want to take on the manuscript even though she liked it. Through this we collaborated on a story that would take place during Hurricane Katrina.

Against the advice of others, I took on this task and within six months had a manuscript prepared; not just because I had an agent's attention, but because this novel was labor of love. It was amazing to write and I enjoyed every minute of it. I eagerly sent it off to Ms. Manson, who then unexpectedly rejected it (insert dissappointing cartoon music). But, I couldn't blame her if I didn't write the book she was looking for.

I knew this novel was going to be the one. I felt it in my bones. She graciously suggested that I sent it to her collegue Al Longden, which I did. She suggested if he liked it, they could possibly share the duties in representation.

Mr. Longden loved it.

I spoke to each of them again in that highly coveted call regarding representation; glad that they couldn't see my happy dance - the type seen after one scores a touchdown. Now, the leg of my journey begins...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing is certainly the fun part.

Once your novel is about to be published, there is so much more you need to do.; especially if its your first. Social networking is obviously the big thing. I just got on Twitter. I just need followers.

I had business cards made up to pass out to anyone interested. I’ll be setting up GoogleAds and pay per click ads on Facebook. Medallion will be fronting some money for ad space on a few websites, so that’s good.

I got my website and this here blog, which I don’t post as much as I should. It seems useless at times, seeing as I don’t have a fan base, but if one happens to show up at my doorstep, I’ll have this online presence, otherwise it would be difficult to put one together at a moments notice.

The one thing I romanticized about isn’t going to happen. I’m being published as an ebook, so there won’t be any book signings. Maybe if UNHINGED sells enough, they might want to print it, but otherwise, I’ll have to wait for my second book to come out.

So, no one’s knocking down my door for an interview and I’m not making any bookstore appearances. In the middle of all this self-promotion, real job, and balancing my personal life, I need to find time to write because that’s the enjoyable part of the entire process.

I have to admit, the marketing portion has been a great experience so far; fun in a way. I have to hope for a favorable response and word of mouth. That’s what its all about, isn’t it? A good product will be recommended to friends.

So, fellow aspiring novelists, prepare thyselves for uncharted territory. Your job has yet to begin.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My First Review

I will not use this forum to advertise my reviews (at least not individually), but I recently got my first on UNHINGED from www.singletitles.com. I figured reviews to be part of the normal publishing process and expected to get them at some point, but it's more exciting that I imagined (because it was a great review, obviously).

The person who gave me 4.5 stars out of 5 is named Candy and that's all I know about her. Someone who wasn't my friend or family or part of Medallion Publishing actually read it and liked it. It's affirmation that I really didn't think I needed, but appreciate nonetheless. I can proudly point it out to everyone on Facebook and send the link to my family. This website I've never heard of before has made this real for me, almost like a slap to my face.

Sure, this "first" will be one of many in the process. There will be my first interview, my first reading, the first novel purchased, etc. If this is any indication of things to come, I know I'll value every aspect of the journey. That's the reason I'm keeping this blog after all. One day I might have fans, some aspiring writers, that find this blog and think its cool to look back to the beginnings when I was struggling to have my work read. As insignificant as all this is in relationship to well-established, proven authors, the first good review they ever got probably brings a smile to their faces also.

If interested, check it out. Again, www.singletitles.com and search for Unhinged.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fish or cut bait?

I just received a very flattering rejection from an agent that had been exclusively looking at a new manuscript. I was sure she would take me on. Of course, I was disappointed, but also energized, as now I have an awesome manuscript to shop around, while I go back to edit previous novels.

I'm sure many writers are at a point where they have to consider the timing of things. How long do you let that finished novel sit, waiting for an agent or publisher to pick it up. Die hard writers, like myself, are probably thinking each book is like a bullet in thier gun. If the fourth or fifth book gets published, then they can fire off the others.

But, having success with one book might not convince an publisher that the previous books will be saluable. So, as a writer, do I decide to publish it myself as an ebook? Maybe there's a chance I could build up a following if I do all the marketing and advertising myself. If I don't, then my books may never see the light of day. Oye!

The ebook craze is still in its early stages. Things are in flux. Agents are scrambling. Publishers are leary. Non-fiction is exclipsing fiction. What the hell?

Settle down. Breathe.

For any inspiring writers that read this, if your writing is at a point where other writers (not readers) are complimenting your work, then stick with trying to go the traditional route. If your writing is not there yet and you are being (honestly if not roughly) critiqued by your writing peers, then you need to listen to them and not be stubborn or hurt, but understand the why.

As I write this, I'm thinking blah, blah, blah. What am I saying? Boiling it down, if you do this for pleasure, then ebook, by all means. If you want a career as an author; get an agent.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To explain or not to explain

A gave my manuscript to a friend in Chicago to edit because he’s pretty good at the details. The novel is a historical thriller that takes place during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. If anyone reads this blog, they know I’m from the Crescent City and all of my novels take place there.

So, I try to incorporate the customs and character that makes New Orleans special to me, like sno-balls, crawfish boils, coffee and chicory or saying hi to strangers you make eye contact with. And for the most part they are well received, but my friend pointed out something in my manuscript that he didn’t think was believable.

Simply put, I have a sixteen-year-old female character who kisses a twenty-something year old family friend on the cheek – several times - since they end up linked together during the storm. He wrote down ‘I’m not buying it’ and ‘not believable.’

I told him that kissing good friends on the cheek hello and goodbye is perfectly normal in New Orleans and nothing is thought of it. He understood and told me I should write a few sentences explaining that and he is right. I'm assuming that the average America knows these things.

This gives me pause as to how much I should explain and if that would bog down the story. Like if I write ‘neutral ground,’ should I explain it’s the median between the streets or actually give its origin?

I think I’ll leave those questions hanging in the air until an editor tells me they don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

P.S. New Orleans natives don’t call their city The Big Easy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How do you get your ideas?

…Is a question many people ask, writers or not. Plus, I'm sure every writer worth their blog has posted something along these lines, but if this helps anyone out there, then its worth it to me.

I was drinking (a lot) the other night with a writer friend and he was curious about my process because he is only half way into his first book, whereas I have a couple collecting dust.

Getting the idea is pretty easy because everyone can come up with a cool storyline. I told my friend that what works for me is after you know what your story is about you need to create characters that you believe to be real.

And then it’s as simple as this; the world gets created as your character does what they need to do. Ex: he needs to borrow money from a loan shark, then you create that loan shark and his environment. There’s a chapter.

The world gets bigger and more complicated and before you know it, these characters are deciding things for themselves and taking the story in a direction you would have never known. If your characters are well developed and deep, then how can they be predictable?

As long as you don’t lose sight of your final goal, you can stay on track. Imagine a line that represents your story from start to finish. Don’t let your tangents run too far off of the line. Always work your way back to that line and you won’t get lost.

The alcohol probably didn’t help me explain it, but this is what works for me and I’m sure every writer has their own process. Good luck to millions of writers who read this.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Email Correspondence with Anne Rice

One of my all-time favorite books is Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. When I read it, I wasn’t a big into books, reading maybe one every few months. But this book grabbed me and pulled me in enough to where I read Taltos and Lasher, the two follow-ups to The Witching Hour. I didn’t feel they were as good, but sometimes you just need closure.

I have never read Interview with a Vampire, but I saw the movie. I am not a big vampire or religious fan, so I never continued to buy her books.

I love that Anne Rice is about New Orleans. I’m not up to date on her present status, but last I heard she was living in Metairie, which is basically a suburb of New Orleans. Since I have a book coming out, I was naive enough to think that she might want to throw a quote at me, being that we were both from New Orleans. You don't know if you don't ask, right?

I emailed her, wondering what assistant would read it and then get back with me months later. I was surprised to see a response the same day, graciously declining the quote, of course, but very kindly. I emailed back thanking her, but joking ‘if it really was her’ writing me back.

Big mistake.

Anne Rice practically yelled at me through the email that she answers all of her email personally and goes to great lengths to be available to her readers. I was very embarrassed. I wrote back telling her it was a joke and that I believed it was her and was telling my wife and friends that I had corresponded with Anne Rice. It was a misunderstanding.

She calmed down and apologized for getting worked up and we had a little laugh over that. After a few more emails back and forth, I signed off telling her that I would be seeing her in similar circles and that we’d laugh again about it.

I can’t wait for that day, but let me tell you; you do not want to make an enemy of Anne Rice.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The cover of UNHINGED

Medallion Press just posted the cover they created for Unhinged, my detective thriller ebook coming out in May. I think it's pretty sweet.

Now the clock is really ticking. I'm trying to get all of my marketing ducks in a row; advertising, Facebook, the website, business cards and anything else that goes along with it.

I'm still trying to land an agent and kind of tapered off on going straight to publishers, so for all I know, this could be my one and only shot. If this thing gets going and word of mouth spreads, I think it will easier to convince an agent to take my work seriously.

I still have the Katrina project going and is coming out fantastic. I will surely blog on what my potential agent has to say about it.

In the meantime, I've got lots of creative marketing to do!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Crawfish in a Hurricane

This is the first chapter in a book that I don't believe will ever be published. BUT! If after reading this chapter, anyone posts that they would like to see more, then I will continue to add chapter after chapter until the entire book is posted. Just one reader...

Chapter 1

The cremation casket was a Shaker. It was plain, ash brown with an ivory crepe interior and the least expensive Milt could find before taking his last breath. Carol Benoit could not deny her dying husband’s last cheapskate wish. Milt refused to pay over a grand for something they were going to incinerate. None of the mourners would ever see the inside anyway because Milt had requested that his coffin remained closed until they burned him into ash and his bones crushed to dust. Only his immediate family could take a morbid peek if they so chose. He had expressed that his granddaughter Phoenix just might.

There would be no tomb above ground as the more affluent New Orleans deceased were usually laid to rest. Being buried in this city wasn’t an option, either, as seeing loved ones eventually rise from the saturated ground wasn’t very appealing. To Milt, there was no closure in remaining above the ground. Katrina had been a testament to that as he saw dead bodies floating away from their tombs on the news.

His son Jason had chosen a suitable picture from Milt’s youth to blow up and display on an easel. It was hard to uncover a snapshot where he actually wore a smile, but Jason settled on a photo taken when Milt was 55 years old and had made a hole in one on a par-three at City Park. He still had hair, thin as it was, and blonde as the day he was born. No one had noticed the transition to baldness, or at least they never spoke of it.

Jason and Beth had four children; Vail was the oldest at twenty-five, London was twenty-three, their only daughter Phoenix was eighteen and Rome was sixteen. Each of them could not be more different.

Phoenix had isolated herself, sitting on a metal foldout chair, away from consolers. The cool steel felt good against her calves. Her idea of dressing appropriately fell into the realm of less Goth make-up and a paisley sundress that she hated having to buy for the occasion. She felt uncomfortable and a bit sexy at the same time.

Every moment between Phoenix’s thoughts came a staggering, slow motion encore of the pillow she had placed over Milt’s face as he lay dying of prostate cancer in the hospital room. Her muscles tensed as if she was still pushing it, applying the pressure, taking Milt’s last breath in payment for all he took from her. The veins in his hands had bulged with struggle within the bed’s restraining straps. She let herself breathe and relaxed on the chilly metal chair, wondering who was watching her. Someone was always watching her.

The room itself made Phoenix uneasy. It appeared as if it had been decorated for a movie set. Cheap oil paintings of old men hung between windows with curtains of questionable flowered patterns. Pedestals of Wal-Mart vases held plastic flowers with linen petals. Standing in small huddles were a few mourners with suits or nice dresses and she knew they were the relatives with the good jobs. For the most part, for funerals and weddings, their people wore collared shirts, jeans and their dressy gym shoes, or at best slacks and button down dress shirts.

She tried to follow London with her eyes, as he looked to be avoiding everyone. Perhaps if he could stay on the move, he wouldn’t have to speak. She knew the interaction was killing him. She was reminded of London’s hidden handsomeness, as he was dressed in a pressed Polo shirt with his favorite blue silk tie.

London’s new cop-chick attempted to hang on his arm from time to time. “Jesus, let him go. You’re not on a date,” she whispered. She was pretty, though, but all wrong. No one was ever right for him, but isolation was his choice. London seemed to want to drive them away, one by one. Phoenix knew that her brother’s problem stemmed from witnessing his first girlfriend Nicole’s mysterious and blood-riddled death when he was thirteen years old. It had destroyed his teen years and now in turn, was spilling into his adulthood. No one ever got close to London again during those years; no one except Phoenix.

Eve the cop was a strong woman, it seemed to Phoenix. Eve looked like she knew what she wanted and London would let her be in command for a little while, but it would end the same. For one, she was too old. London was twenty-three and she had to be thirty, at least. Eve clung to him unnaturally, sizing people up as they approached as if she was a bouncer. Could they have had sex already? No, she would have sensed the change.

There was something odd about Eve and Phoenix knew odd. She was married to odd. Phoenix watched Eve and London whisper in each other’s ear and then they agreed to something. After that, the cop-chick left the premises. She must have realized that he couldn’t give her his undivided attention.

Over the next ten minutes, London had glanced at Phoenix once and a while, as if he was going to eventually come over to keep her company, but for some reason he kept circling. She thought he looked guilty, apologizing to the distant relatives who stopped to give him a quick hug or handshake. And her disdain deepened for those relatives not spending much time with her, although she couldn't condemn them, as she had always been the scariest freak in the bloodline.
You make your own environment, then bitch when you have to live in it, right?

The youngest sibling, Rome, wasn’t in attendance. He was sixteen and mildly retarded, yet had movie star good looks. Most teenage girls found themselves attracted to him at first – until they spoke to him. There had been a discussion with Elaine, Rome’s therapist and teacher on whether he could handle his Paw Paw’s funeral. Phoenix guessed they had decided not. She pictured Rome sitting next to pint-sized Elaine on the new two thousand dollar sectional couch as she tried to explain death with her Ken doll.

Poor Rome, Phoenix thought, amazed she was entertaining the foreign concept of sympathy. At least he would be able to say hi to his relatives as they woofed down food back at the house after the service. The long-lost aunts, uncles and cousins will be able to see how a family can remain stagnant their whole lives even while their surroundings constantly changed. They’ll get to see how old, used furniture bought after Katrina can look next to brand new luxurious purchases because Mommy can’t handle money. Oh, but Daddy could replace his boat at the Lakefront Marina, complete with wheelchair accommodations.

Still bored, Phoenix picked Mom and Dad out of the crowd. Beth and Jason Benoit have been married for twenty-seven years and they couldn’t look more like strangers. Her Dad was the picture perfect mourner; sad and attentive, giving his I’ll be okay smile when appropriate. Being paralyzed and wheelchair bound since Katrina, he spent most of his moments with his close friend Detective Shanahan or his mother, Carol, just like a good son should.

Phoenix made slits with her eyes, peering though her lashes as if they were bushes in a jungle and she was stalking her prey. She began a little game of predicting her mother’s movements around the room. Beth fixed her hair when Phoenix thought she would. She showed off her only pair of diamond earrings to some blue-hairs that should be shopping for coffins themselves - another true physic prediction. Okay, Phoenix thought, lift up your bra when no one’s looking, then go chat with the gross funeral director Mr. Nolan, who had been giving her special attention all day. Done and done.

A commotion caught Phoenix’s attention from across the way as a group near the entrance suddenly parted. Like Venus in a clamshell, Christine Peralta, Milt’s nurse of the past three months, had just made an appearance, wearing her dress scrubs no less, and making a direct path to her father, Jason.

She was a striking woman, having a face that could appear in a Noxzema commercial. How does anyone get skin so perfect? Phoenix could see most of the males trying to get a discreet peek past their wives at Miss Voluptuous and once again, she felt for Rome not being here to see the woman with whom breasts he had fallen in love.

But, why would she show up? Maybe she went to all her patient’s funerals. She could be the grim reaper in disguise. Death might be that beautiful. Instead of wearing a dark robe with a sickle in hand, it’s a set of scrubs and surgical gloves, gliding in as if on a conveyor belt to take her place behind the coffin.

Still, it was nice of her to hug her Dad. She just may be a terribly compassionate person. The kind of woman her dad wished his daughter was. Phoenix hated her, wanted to be her and wanted to kiss her all at the same time. She closed her eyes. Stop, she thought. Just stop it. You got what you wanted, didn’t you?

Phoenix scanned for London once again, but spotted the oldest brother, Vail, instead. His perspiration was thick as he crept up to her. “How are you doing, ‘Nix? You’re not going to be sick?” Vail questioned. The buttons on his dark striped shirt looked as though they were going to pop off under the strain of his fat. It was time for him to add another “X” onto the size of his wardrobe.

“I’m alright.” She didn’t believe big brother was actually concerned. The last time they had any meaningful exchange was when he had asked Phoenix to convince her best friend Angie to be in his homemade porno. Ever since he had strong-armed himself into owning an adult bookstore, his next logical step was to create a movie company and become a porn star. She had ranted about what a pervert he was and then stopped speaking to him altogether other than random small talk in front of her family.

Vail nodded, then looked around and spied Christine by their Dad. “Okay, let me know if I can do anything for you. Say hi to Angie for me, okay? Say hi to Angie.”

She parted the bangs away from her eyes with her middle finger as Vail waddled into the mix. What was it about death that made people marshmallows? Under any other circumstances, Vail the smut peddler wouldn’t have even said hi. Was it the fact that she had witnessed death? Did that make her more interesting or popular? Maybe Vail knew what she had done. Her stomach rumbled, not having eaten all day, but that was a constant. She knew there was a big difference in being a thin rebel and a fat rebel. The latter was just pathetic.

“Hey, ‘Nix.” London rubbed her shoulder and finally sat down beside her. “You okay?”

Her face didn’t flinch, but inside she was ecstatic that London had showed. “I’m anticipating nightmares that I’ll wake up screaming from every night for the rest of my life.”

He let that statement settle as he looked around at the milling waistbands, plump and skinny, shuffling back and forth, sitting and standing, trying to keep busy until they could get to the food buffet at their house.

“Eve wanted to come by the house later, but I convinced her that I was going to be busy with family.”

“Eve’s hanging in there, eh?”

“It’s hard to say no to her.”

“How does she like the periods of long silence?”

“Oh, she does most of the talking, which is perfect. I just have to say yes now and then.”

“It’ll be harder to say yes when you’re resenting her for it.”

“Get out of my head.”

“I wish I could get out of mine.”

“At least you fought the urge to kill him,” London proclaimed seriously. “I’m sorry you had to be the only one in the room when he died, but, honestly, we all know he was evil.”

“I guess.” Phoenix was close to tears and that pissed her off.

“You look good. I’m glad you didn’t wear your black lipstick although here, it might be appropriate.”

Phoenix giggled, then sniffed when she felt a drop coming from her nostril. She quickly wiped it away, “I want to know you’re okay, London. This isn’t anything like that day at the canal with Nicole. I don’t want this to bring back those feelings you had at her funeral. You know what I mean.”

“This funeral is a breeze compared to confusion I went through with Nicole’s. I dream about her sometimes. Everything’s always washed in her blood and I can’t make out who killed her…if I killed her.”

“I know it drives you crazy that you can’t remember that fucked up week, but I don’t know if you should remember. What if it’s that knowledge that sends you over the edge?”

“All I know is one day we’re riding our bikes and the next day, I’m at her funeral. I have a dream where Nicole’s alive and we’re playing in the lot. Then she rides off alone and I’m stuck in a ditch so I can’t follow her and she leaves with saying goodbye. Then, I turn into a crawfish and there’s crawfish all around my feet, except y'all are the crawfish.”

“Even Vail?”

“Yeah, he’s a fat crawfish. And y'all are shooting into your little crawfish holes because you know a hurricane’s coming. Then a hurricane does come and I’m immobile. I want to curl my crawfish tail and shoot into the mud hole with you guys, but I can’t. I don’t know what to make of it.”

“Weird. Now I'm hungry for crawfish." She smiled with sincerity. "Look, something horrible happened to Nicole. People do terrible things and your brain is wired to protect itself. The electrical impulses up there are being rerouted around the memory of Nicole’s death. You’re not ready to remember that evil. We see other evils every day. Take Vail, well, he’s just sinister. Paw Paw was practically the devil. And seeing Paw Paw actually die, I’m going to be having my own bad dreams for a while.”

“I know Dad wants you to talk to Elaine about that, but even though I don’t have your genius IQ, you can talk to me about it - anytime.”

She put her hand in his as she leaned on his shoulder. She didn’t want to talk anymore, but she didn’t want him to leave, either.

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