Excerpt: Into the Caldera

The following is a dream sequence from my latest novel-in-progress, Into the Caldera. Warning: explicit language.

Scott opened his eyes slowly. His head felt like it was in a vise and pounded with each heartbeat, so he stayed stock still hoping to get through the pain. He stared up through the dome of his tent into the slight hue of light creeping into the darkness. The rain canopy blocked his view, but he could feel a slight, cool breeze lapping through the upper vent. He measured a gradual exhale of breath and winced as his head throbbed until he realized there was movement next to him. He slowly turned his head to his right as if each degree of rotation pained him.

In the darkness, whether she could see him or she didn’t care, he didn’t know, but Jenn sat up on top of Marc on the other side of the tent. She wore his long-sleeved shirt, but it was unbuttoned and the edges flapped to her side. Her breasts hung loose over Marc as he ran his hands up her stomach and onto the bottoms of her breasts. He kneaded them as he thrust his hips into her. His sleeping bag was unzipped and the top lay over her hips, but Scott could clearly see that she was naked and that they were having sex right next to him. He started to say something, but his voice didn’t work. He thought getting out of his sleeping bag, but his hands wouldn’t move. He felt like a heavy boulder sat on him.

He just watched. His mouth felt parched as he strained to see them in the darkness, his tongue like sticky paste plastered on his teeth. Jenn looked like she moaned, but he heard nothing. She started moving faster, grinding her hips across Marc’s lap. He thrust harder, pinched her nipples, and ran his hands along her hips. Her hair flailed in the space around her from all the motion until she clutched her hips tight around him and fell on top of him breathing heavily. Despite all the motion, they were remarkably quiet as if the sound had been turned off on some poorly-lit porno.

Scott felt aroused. His own penis pressed against his sleeping bag. In that moment he realized he too was naked, but he couldn’t be concerned with that now. In spite of the fact that his best friend was fucking his girlfriend, he enjoyed watching it. Jenn was as beautiful naked as she was clothed. Her breasts, despite their diminutive appearance, were surprisingly full and firm. He looked over at her laying naked on top of Marc with her head turned away from him. Her breathing seemed muted, but he could clearly see the rise and fall of her excited exhalations. He could see the faint tones of the outline of her body in the pre-dawn light. He wanted to reach out and touch her, to let her know he had seen what she had done, but his head ached like it had never ached before. All he could do was look at them.

He couldn’t be sure because the pain radiated from his skull and made coherent thoughts wilt, but he thought Jenn turned her head while she lay on top of Marc and looked at him in the darkness. The faint glow that permeated the tent cast ominous shadows across her face. He could see her lips, but her eyes were spooky pockets of darkness. She smiled at him, not a friendly smile, but a sinister one, almost a snarl. He wanted to move closer to her to see it. He wanted to ask her what the hell she was doing with his best friend. Another pain sparked through his skull.

Anger displaced his arousal. A burning jealousy rose from the pit in his stomach and set his chest on fire. It competed with his aching skull for attention. The swirl of pain and emotion overwhelmed him. He looked away, his head lolled toward the other side of the tent. His eyelids grew heavy and a fitful sleep found him once more.

Excerpt: Into the Caldera

Here’s a scene from my latest novel, Into the Caldera. It’s a psychological thriller (my first in this genre).

As she walked through the young stand of trees that hugged the eastern side of the mountain, the fog slowly receded. The pines, muted in the blanketing fog, emerged more distinct and pristine. Jenn saw the life in them, the green needles on their branches were brighter, sparkled even.

Above her the pale gray grew brighter until the clouds began to break up and the sun began to poke through in the spots between them. At one point a bright beam of light shined through the branches and warmed her covered shoulders as she paced along the trail. A new life emerged from within her. She could feel it. She welcomed it. The tragedy of the past few months had diminished in her eyes, she had put the fear and anger to rest. She could feel her face smiling in the sudden sunlight.

By the time she emerged from the trees onto the scramble of lava rocks that dotted the southeastern side of the mountain, she felt elated, free. For the first time since the early summer, she had a positive feeling about the future. She felt empowered for having removed the two biggest threats to her sanity. She didn’t regret what she had done. She embraced it. She was ready to move on.

She stood for a moment on the first big rock and looked over the endless field of dark, scraggly rocks that made the path forward difficult. She didn’t dread the exhausting ups and downs that awaited her. She welcomed the challenge. She’d move forward in her life gladly accepting any challenge thrown her way because she had overcome one of the greatest ones any person could face – meeting her tormentors head on and getting justice for the wrong they had done to her.

She reached for her water bottle, which was disappointingly light, and took the last few swallows of water she had. The warming air made her thirsty, and the sun threatened to stay out the rest of the day as the clouds scattered and disappeared above her. She twisted the cap onto the empty bottle and pushed it back into the pocket on her pack without taking her eye off the rock field before her. She still felt thirsty.

She tensed her body to climb onto the next rock when she heard something – a snap of a twig in the forest behind her as if someone had come upon her on the trail. Her head swiveled back toward the path from which she had emerged minutes ago. Even in the sunlight, shadows shrouded the trail. She strained her eyes to peer into the dim light.

Her heartbeat quickened. She could feel it in her throat.

“Hello!” She regretted yelling aloud the moment the word left her mouth. The echo of her voice haunted her. She stepped down from the first rock and re-entered the path heading heading back the way from which she had come. She stopped as her eyes adjusted and looked in every direction. She could see nothing but the trees and rocks she had traversed just a moment ago. No one was around. She held her breath and listened intently. Nothing.

Satisfied that her mind was playing tricks on her, she bounded out of the trail and back up onto the rock. She looked back at the trail through the forest one more time before she bounced to the next rock and another. At first, she maintained a swift pace, jumping from rock to rock and quickly scrambling up larger rocks, but after just a few minutes, her thighs throbbed and her breathing became labored. She paused and looked back. She hadn’t gone that far despite the exhaustion she felt. She looked ahead and became dispirited at the sight of the endless rock field. She started again and stopped, a pattern that continued for what seemed like an eternity.

When she neared the end of the rock field and could see another stand of trees before her, she stopped and braced herself atop one of the larger rocks wedged into the side of the mountain. She wiped the sweat from her brow and shrugged the heat from the sun off of her shoulders. Her heavy breathing slowly settled as she stood still. She reached for her water bottle but withdrew her hand once she remembered that it was empty. Her parched throat begged for water. She scanned the area for any natural water sources – a stream like the one they had drunk from earlier, but the dry, barren rock bed seemed to repel life.

A panic rose in her chest. She needed water. The logical side of her brain reasoned that she would soon be back at the Sno-Park, but the irrational child within her screamed in fear. She tamped down the dueling emotions and focused on the path before her. She looked up and surveyed her position relative to the mountain. She could no longer see Mt. St. Helens from her vantage point, but she sensed that she was clearly on the southern side of it. The forest before her, the same one they had entered when they began the hike yesterday suggested that she only had a few miles to go at most.

She felt woozy as if she were teetering on an unsteady rock, but she knew the rock beneath her had been firmly wedged into the earth when Mt. St. Helens erupted long ago. She stutter-stepped backward a little bit and decided to sit down to catch her breath and regain her balance. Sweat still dribbled down her back and across her forehead. A drop of sweat slid into her eyebrow and fell onto her leg. She closed her eyes and leaned forward trying to ward off the dizziness. Yellow spots danced in the darkness of her closed eyelids. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes again. The optimism and determination she had felt earlier had all but faded. She felt troubled and insecure again like something else bad had happened.

A dark shape, something indistinguishable, moved in front of her. She focused her eyes on the trees near the edge of the rocks and tried to discern what it was. Her heartbeat throbbed in her head. She couldn’t see anything other than rocks and then thick, impenetrable trees. She sat stock still and eyed the trees waiting for it to move again. The shadows of the tall trees cast an eerie pall near her. She could smell a creepy dampness like that of a graveyard awaiting her.

A dread overcome her. She had to walk through the forest to get back to the Sno-Park. She felt isolated and alone, and the irrational fears that had once plagued her as a little girl returned. She wanted to stay on the rock in the open air and sun as far away from the darkened forest as she could, but she knew she had to keep going. It was midday, but soon it would be evening and then night and darkness would swallow everything and she would be alone.

She stood up defiantly and pointed her chin toward trees as if she were challenging them to come after her. She gathered herself, put her little-girl fears in the farthest reaches of her mind, and jumped to the next rock and the next until she stepped down onto the soft earthen path leading through the forest. She could do this. She had to do it. She had come this far.

At the mouth of the forest path, she stopped. She looked in every direction among the trees trying to detect any motion that would warn her of danger, but nothing moved, not even the trees. The air refused to fan her as if Loowit somehow disapproved of her actions.

She licked her dry lips and swallowed in spite of her parched throat before she took a tentative step into the forest path. The sunlight dimmed quickly as she made her way through the trees. An occasional beam of sunlight would greet her at a gap in the path, and she’d pause to let it warm her, reassure her.

She moved carefully, purposeful, and kept an eye on the woods that swallowed her whole. She’d hear twigs snap and feel the rush of shadows around her. Her breathing became irregular, rushed, and restrained at the same time. Her heart thrummed in her chest and popped into her ears when the tension became too much. She saw Scott and Marc lingering among the trees with menacing looks on their faces. She’d look away and pick up her pace, but when she looked back, the apparitions were gone, another trick that her subconscious mind played on her. She cursed herself. She cursed Scott and Marc and her tortured path through the judgmental trees.

In a moment of confusion, she thought she was lost. The steady, obvious path beaten by many feet before her became muddled and blended in with the rest of the forest floor. She couldn’t see it as clearly as she had when she had entered the forest earlier. She swiveled around among the trees looking for clear signs of which way to go, but nothing offered her any clues. She panicked. All of the trees looked the same. She felt she had just spent the last hour going in circles. It felt like she had returned to the point she had been earlier. A grave fear washed over her. She braced herself against a tree at her side and closed her eyes to recapture her composure.

Another snapping noise popped behind her. A body brushed against the outreaching limbs. She wheeled around to see what was coming at her, but she could see nothing. She felt like she was being charged from all directions in the dark because, in spite of the sounds, she couldn’t lay her eyes on anything or anyone. She backed against a tree and waited.

Nothing came.

The tension became too much and she cried out in anger and fear. Then, real tears came. She didn’t know why she was crying, but she wailed into the great silence. Her cries pierced the solitude of the forest. She covered her eyes with her hands and slid down the tree at her back until she was sitting on the ground leaning into her angled knees. Her shoulders heaved in spite of the weight of her pack that was wedged against the tree behind her. She could feel the damp, cool earth beneath here, but it didn’t make her feel any better.

She didn’t know how long she sat there crying aloud among the trees. She peeked out from behind her hands. The same still, dim light greeted her, but nothing had charged her or had come near her. She felt foolish, scared by her own overactive imagination. She’d had the same problem as a little girl, but she thought she had outgrown that. Maybe not.

More thoughts about Scott and Marc crept into her mind, but she shooed them away. She didn’t want to think about them anymore. When she got back to the Sno-Park, she would drive to the nearest police station and report what had happened, and then, she was not going to think of them anymore. She would put them out of her mind forever, close the book on this awful chapter of her life and burn it.

She bent over and placed her hands on the damp ground and pushed herself up to a standing position. Her pack threatened to topple her over, but she widened her stance and regained her balance. The path that had been hidden just moments before became clear again, and she took a determined step forward. She wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand. She felt oddly relieved in spite of her momentary breakdown.

The trail widened and took a sharp turn left. The trees were taller here and the spaces between them were wider. She sensed that she was truly familiar with this part of the trail, and hope surged within her. Was it familiar because she had remembered it from the beginning of their hike? She couldn’t be sure, but she was very hopeful. This nightmare was finally coming to an end.

Her pace quickened. Every turn brought her closer to the parking lot. Every turn gave her hope that she’d finally get out of this god-forsaken forest. She’d never come back here. Never. Despite the good memories she had hiking the trail with her father as a little girl, Scott and Marc had forever ruined it for her. They had ruined a lot of things, but they had definitely killed the luring beauty and wonder of Mt. St. Helens. To come here again would be like trying to cheat fate or taunting the spirit of Loowit.

She hurried along the trail hugging the twists and turns as if she were racing back to the parking lot. She heard something again like someone running to catch up with her. Her heart jumped into her throat, and her breath hitched. She broke into a run. The loose dirt and rocks beneath her feet skittered from her pounding boots. She almost lost her footing at one sharp turn, but when she regained traction, she sped up. Whatever was coming for her would have to catch her and claw her to the ground. Her pulse thumped through her body – she could feel it in her head, her chest, and her hands as if her body could barely contain it.

The trail winded through the forest haphazardly turning left and right without any rhyme or reason. She fretted in her mind that whoever had created the trail had been either drunk or a joker. The noises behind her receded and surged again but her frantic pace remained the same. Sweat dribbled down her back and dampened her armpits. The weight of her pack slammed against her shoulders at each hairpin turn.

A long straightaway appeared before her. It felt like the homestretch, the last length of the trail before she entered the parking lot. She picked up speed and covered the length of the board-straight path quickly. Just as she turned right at the end of the straights section, she ran head on into something or someone. She stumbled back and the weight of her pack forced her to the ground. Her rear end hit the earth hard. She yelped in pain, her vision momentarily blurred by sweat and the stunning realization that she had run into someone.

Commiserate

Life as a writer is a lonely one. Oftentimes, it’s just me and my computer screen staring at each other for an hour or so in the wee hours of the morning. Okay, I’m usually typing, but it’s still lonely. In the six months or longer that it takes to write a novel or in the weeks of endless editing, there’s very little interaction with anyone else. Quite frankly, anyone who isn’t a writer is hard-pressed to understand why you would do it, especially if you’re unpublished and get nothing from your writing other than the simple joy of creating stories and seeing them as a finished product (or at least as finished as you can get them). That’s why it helps to have writer friends you can talk to about your stories, struggles, and the general annoyances of being a writer.

Being a writer tests your mettle and determination more than most other career choices. With most other career paths, you feel like you’re on a team and when you don’t do as well as you hoped, others are there to pull you up and make you better in the process. Being a writer is like being stranded in the middle of the vast ocean with a single, deflating life preserver. You better start paddling frantically or hope a rescue boat comes along. Soon.

To make matters more difficult, getting better as a writer is often like trying to solve a vexing riddle. Once you get past the usual technical details of being a good writer, it becomes a matter of taste. My wife and I are both voracious readers, yet it’s rare that we agree on a single book as good. Her tastes are different than mine. As much as we have in common and as much as we enjoy spending time together, you’d think our reading tastes would align, but they don’t. That’s the crux of the issue with writing. One person may think what you write is the best thing ever, while another could find it insufferable and wish you ill on Goodreads.

That’s why it helps to talk to other writers and to have friends who are writers. Only then, do I feel like I’m in the company of those who understand. My day job doesn’t involve writing, so most of the people I interact with on a daily basis have no interest my next “great” idea or the internal debates about plot points or the struggle through the sagging middle of a novel. In fact, most people do not know I’m a writer because, let’s face it, unless you’re published and actually selling books, you’re just some weirdo up in the wee hours of the morning pounding on the laptop keyboard. And that, my loyal reader(s), is why you need writer friends with whom to commiserate.

Concept: Something Lovely

Levon Page knew something was different about Trisha Lovely from the moment he met her. She didn’t seem prepossessed with the typical things that possessed women his age. Levon wasn’t many things, but he was a man who wanted someone to love him unconditionally, someone who wasn’t fixated on physical ideals or wealth. The world owed him that at least. He’d done his best with what he had, and he didn’t complain. What he wanted was very simple.

Short and somewhat pudgy, Levon didn’t fit the physical stereotype that most women expected of African-American men. He wasn’t lean and athletic, nor did he play any sports. He’d never enjoyed them when he was in school and only felt compelled to participate as part of the physical education requirements. He preferred to read and he loved bookstores like Powell’s in downtown Portland. He could spend hours browsing the shelves there, and he never left without a new book that he would usually devour inside a week.

But most women didn’t understand that, at least the women he met and took on dates. Once they realized he wasn’t interested in going to a Portland Trailblazers game and that he preferred the intellectual over the physical, their eyes started to drift until eventually they fell by the wayside and moved on. Levon had grown to expect this, sadly, but he still longed to connect with someone who could appreciate his intelligence and look past his apparent physical flaws.

He thought of this every day when he walked from his condo in downtown Portland to the lab where he worked just west of the Willamette River. He enjoyed the half mile walk no matter the weather. He had lived and worked in downtown for five years and had walked the beaten path to his office in all kinds of conditions, but regardless of whether it was raining during the late fall and winter or sunny and chilly in the spring or early summer or hot in the middle of the summer, he felt a rush of gratefulness every time the revolving door of his complex deposited him on the chipped, gray sidewalk. He felt grateful because he saw the worst that life had to offer in his lab, and no matter how lonely he felt or how desperate for love he became, he still had a good, healthy life.

As a senior research scientist at a local biotech company focused on finding a cure for cancer, he often encountered people struggling to survive, and many times, he only met the remains of their lives after they had passed and the biopsies of their cancers were reviewed, discussed, and probed like they were an abstract academic subject. He didn’t have to deal with the people much because his job primarily focused on the science of cells and uncontrolled growth. Powerful microscopes and computers were his audience along with his fellow research scientists who worked for him. Nevertheless, he could not quite escape the human element of the disease, and it gave him an ingrained gratitude for his own health.

While his work satisfied his thirst for intellectual challenges in spite of its dour nature, his love of bookstores provided an outlet to escape the threat of cancer and what it could do to a person’s life. He worked long hours, but he always made time for Powell’s. Even at the end of a long day, he’d hail an Uber and take the short ride over to the bookstore. Once there, he’d browse the endless shelves looking for anything that piqued his interest. He loved literary novels, the likes of Khaled Hosseini and Wally Lamb, novels that captured the essence of life in beautiful words strung together in a captivating narrative. He often imagined his own life as a literary novel, a man searching for that one connection in his life in a sea of unrealistic expectations.

He felt alone, disconnected, as if he had fallen overboard and was slowly drifting out into the ocean without a life preserver, paddling frantically to stay afloat. He had a small group of friends with whom he hung out on occasion, but his work kept him busy, and his interests did not involve sports or concerts. None of his current group of friends really found books as fascinating as he did. Some of them didn’t even read now that they weren’t forced to do so by university coursework, but he joined them for dinners and some outings, if only to have some companionship outside of his coworkers.

During one late-night trek to Powell’s, he stood alone in one of the deep aisles of the old part of the bookstore eyeing the spines of an endless row of books when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced down the aisle and that’s the first time he saw Trisha. She, too, stood alone studying the book spines. At first, she didn’t notice him, but after a few moments, she looked at him and gave him a faint smile before she returned to her search.

Something about her smile and the way she slightly moved her lips as she read the spines of the books made Levan curious, hopeful even. As she glided along the row of books, she moved closer and Levan stayed put. Finally, she was right upon him.

She almost bumped into him, but she stopped just before her shoulder touched his. She seemed startled that he didn’t move, but she smiled when she looked at him. “Hi,” she said. A glimmer of hope surfaced within him.

She stood slightly taller than him, at least in the heels that she wore. Even in the harsh overhead light, her caramel-brown skin glowed. Levan took in the whole of her. She wore a nicely-tailored, pale green dress that fell just below her knees and hugged her slender hips. The dress had a high neckline with sleeves that hung just past her shoulders. Her arms were smooth and muscular. She moved oddly for a woman, less gliding and more ambling, but what she lacked in grace, she made up for with beauty. She had a nice lean face that glowed with youthful exuberance. She wore a lot of makeup, something that Levan normally did not like, but it looked good on her. She had a smaller nose than he had expected and gorgeous full lips that shined a bright red with her lipstick.

“Is there something I can help you find?”

“Do you work here?”

Levan laughed. Normally, he’d be offended by a question he heard too frequently, but not this time in this situation. “No, but I come here a lot.”

She seemed a bit perplexed by his offer to help, but then she smiled again and said, “I’m looking for this book called ‘The Cancer Diet’ by Dr. Richard Myers.”

That word, the one he tried to escape outside the office, ricocheted through his mind. He stumbled a moment. “Oh…I’m sorry. Do you have cancer?” he asked. It seemed like an intensely personal question, but it popped out of his mouth before he had a chance to reconsider it. He had to know if this beautiful woman lived under the threat of this terrible disease.

She stopped eyeing the bookshelf and really looked at him with an expression close to pity. She shook her head. “No, my mom does.”

“I’m sorry.”

“She’ll be fine. She’s beat it before; she can beat it again.”

“She’s been in remission?”

“Yes. She has breast cancer. The last time she had a mastectomy and they got it all, but now it’s back.”

“Is she getting chemo?”

“Yes, but it’s killing her this time. She’s ten years older. She’s not eating well or much at all really.” She turned her attention away from Levan and looked at the bottom of the shelf in front of them.

“Have you tried the diet section?”

“It’s not just a diet book. It’s a self-help book. Dr. Myers believes that diet is one way to fight cancer and keep you healthy when you’re going through cancer treatments. I read a review of his book online. I think it will help her.”

She moved to the shelf to his right and scanned the top. He watched her as she moved along the top shelf and down to the second one, her lips continuing to move as she read the spines.

“Here it is!” She reached to the third shelf in front of her and pulled a book from the crowded shelf. She cradled it in her hand and cracked it open to read the inside flap of the dust jacket. A picture of a smiling white man in a suit took up most of the flap.

Levan smiled as he watched her read in silence, subtly moving her lips. “I hope it helps.”

“It can’t hurt,” she replied, still focused on the book.

He waited a moment for her to read the short blurb on the dust jacket and then introduced himself when she briefly looked up. “I’m Levan.” He prepared to extend his hand but she seemingly ignored him.

She flipped to the first page of the book and then stopped as if she just had heard what he said. She closed the book and put it under her arm before she extended her hand. “Sorry, I wanted to make sure it was the right book. I’m Trisha. It’s nice to meet you, Levan.” He held her hand for a moment longer engrossed by the soft, warmth of her palm and fingers.

She smiled back at Levan giving a big toothy grin that revealed perfectly straight, bright white teeth behind her full red lips.

“Do you come here often?”

“Are you trying to pick me up?” She laughed when she said this but Levan blushed. He felt nervous all of a sudden as if he were out of his element, but he was in his element.

He gave a hesitant laugh. “Maybe.” He didn’t say it with confidence and in his mind he kicked himself for being so weak in front of a woman that clearly interested him. His thoughts felt naked.

Trisha was still laughing, but she didn’t seem to be laughing at him as much as with him. She seemed nervous too, shy even.

“I come here a lot. I love this place,” she said as if she needed to explain why she was there.

Those words were music to Levan’s ears. “I do, too. I’m surprised I’ve never seen you. I normally recognize regulars.”

She smiled. “I’m usually here during my lunch break.”

“You work nearby?”

“Just down the street. I’m a paralegal for one of the law firms.”

“Nice. I work downtown near the Hawthorne Bridge. I do research.” Levan kicked himself for being so vague and uninteresting. Normally, he could drone on endlessly about his work making it sound so much better than it probably was, but as he looked at the beautiful woman before him, he lost himself in her eyes, her brilliant smile, and coherent words eluded him.

“What kind of research?”

“Scientific.”

“Okay…any particular area?”

“Oh, yes, sorry…I do cancer research…” He kept chastising himself for being so spacey, but she perked up and eyed him suspiciously.

“Seriously?”

He scrambled around in his head as if he had actually lied because the truth seemed so coincidental given what she had told him about her mom. “Yes, I work for Biologics. It’s a small biotech start-up that’s working on cures for specific types of cancer.”

“Really? What types?”

“Pancreatic, prostate, breast, and lung cancer…those are our primary focus areas.”

“What do you do for them?”

“I’m one of the head research scientists for their lab here. We have labs all over the country, but this lab is the biggest in the company since it’s based here.”

She seemed excited but in a state of disbelief as if his response were an elaborate pick-up line, but he’d never been good at pick-up lines and he wanted to tell her that to help her understand, but he stopped himself. He let it sink in.

“This is almost surreal. I’m here looking for a book to help my mom deal with breast cancer and I meet someone who’s trying to cure it. Wow.” She mouthed the last word in an exaggerated fashion that almost seemed mocking to Levan, but he just smiled at her.

“Are you close to any treatments that can be used on people?”

The air rushed out of his chest as he sunk into himself. “No. We’ve made some progress, but we are years away from any trials.”

He could feel the hope drain from her as if she were a balloon that had just been untied. He struggled with what to say to keep her talking to him. She fingered the book under her arm and finally pulled it to her side like she was prepared to walk away.

“That’s too bad. My mom could really use something right now.” She seemed despondent and disappointed like many of the women who floated into and out of his life.

“Well, I should get going. My mom will be worried if I’m out too late, and I should check on her anyway. It was nice meeting you, Levan.” She extended her hand again and he took it gratefully, still enamored by how soft it was. He didn’t want her to walk away.

“You never know though. Things happen all the time in the lab,” he said. He immediately wanted to kick himself for blurting out such nonsense. The work in the lab was slow and tested the patience and intensity of even the best scientists. Progress could be years away. He usually told everyone this, but he grasped at anything he could say to stay in the presence of this woman aptly named Trisha Lovely.

“We can always hope.” She smiled weakly at him and turned to walk away.

He frantically thought of other things to say. “It was nice meeting you. I hope your mom gets better. I really do.”

She looked back at him, her radiant smile brightening the entire aisle. “Thank you. See you around.”

She turned her back to him and walked down the aisle disappearing around the corner in an instant and it felt like she had not been there, that she was an apparition. Levan stood in his spot still searching for something to say that would bring her back, but he was at a complete loss. He wavered in his spot as if her absence would knock him down. He closed his eyes a moment and replayed their short conversation in his head.

He thought of grabbing a book and following her to the checkout so that he could continue talking to her, but he feared looking like a fool, and that fear held him back. It always had with women, but more so with Trisha. Her stunning beauty and infectious smile paralyzed him. Why would she ever want to go out with him?

Minutes ticked by audibly in his head until he outlasted his fear and rushed to the front of the bookstore. He had to talk to her for a moment longer and at least get her to consider going out with him. The path to the checkout seemed longer than he remembered as he darted among the browsers rehearsing what he would say. He took one final turn around the last aisle and rushed to the front. The checkout line was empty. A cashier looked at him and saw that he had nothing to buy and turned his attention to the other cashier nearby. Levan felt deflated. He had let Trisha slip away.

He rushed through the doors onto the street whipping his head each way hoping to catch a glimpse of her walking away, but the crowd, although relatively sparse, seemed to block any view of a woman in a lovely green dress. He dropped his chin toward his chest and sighed. He’d never find someone to love.

Elements of Reality

I’m late posting this week because I’ve been busy writing my latest story concept, which I hope to post next week. I’ve been pulling idle ideas out of my writer’s notebook and bringing them to life on the page for the first time to see if the stories have legs. I have far more ideas than I currently have time to write. I’m averaging about 1-2 novels per year at the rate I’m going (I only have about an hour to write each day).

My latest story concept has captivated my imagination the way all my novels do in the beginning. It’s fun bringing long-dormant characters to life for readers. I love the creation process and how it produces seemingly real people from nothing. These characters become real to me over the course of writing a novel, and I love stepping into their shoes and experiencing the world from their point of view. It’s both refreshing and eye-opening, but none of my characters can escape the reality that’s around me while I write.

All of my stories have some real-life elements in them, some are as contemporaneous as how I feel at the moment I’m writing. One morning, when I was writing my latest novel, I gave one of the characters a pounding headache because I had just recovered from one the night before. My love of coffee is sprinkled throughout many of my novels, and in some scenes characters react how I had reacted to a similar situation in my life. Last week’s concept, My Father’s Daughter, liberally used many of the feelings that I felt when I went to visit my father at the hospital before he died.

Writing a novel is an intensely personal experience. I don’t know many professions that isolate you and put you in a position to determine how all the players in the room experience the world you’ve created. It’s inevitable that elements from your real world will seep into the fictional one you’re creating. I find it entertaining like the Easter eggs you see in movies – relics from the creators that are a nod to something real or imagined.

Some stories lend themselves to the parallels in the real world. My novel, All Things Certain, begins in a bar as the main character watches the fantastic and unbelievable ending to a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks a few years ago, in which the Seahawks stole the game on a controversial touchdown. I had watched the game and used it as the starting point for the novel I begun shortly thereafter because nothing captures macho bravado (in the U.S. at least) more than men watching a football game, and I needed something that set the tone for the story.

While it’s true that fiction writers live in a make-believe world, we often bring in bits and pieces of the real world both out of necessity and habit. We can’t help but be affected by what’s happening around us and if there is something to be gained by bringing in elements of the real world, then why not do it. It’s all part of the craft and makes for interesting stories in their own right, so the next time you’re reading a story on these web pages, see if you can find these artifacts. Heck, make it a drinking game if you wish (or maybe not).