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The Sweet Spot

What’s Good about Bad Guys

I’m ticking off the main characters of The Sweet Spot one at a time. You’ve met an old coot, an impertinent woman, and the stranger next door. Now meet Walker St. Claire, the bad guy in my soon-to-be-released hilltown novel.

Walker is the younger and only brother of Gil St. Claire, who died in Vietnam. For the past couple of years, he’s been having an affair with Gil’s widow, Edie, one of the novel’s main characters. Oh, yeah, Walker is unhappily married to a beast of a woman and the father of twin boys.

It’s a miracle they have hidden the affair in the nosy hilltown of Conwell. But that doesn’t last.

Here’s a little bit about Walker: he’s a successful building contractor in the hilltowns. He hangs out at the Do-Si-Do bar. Yes, he’s a bit of a drinker. Although he’s not much of a family man, he does teach his boys everything he knows about baseball.

He’s good looking in a country kind of way.

Walker’s also cocky although that’s tempered a bit because his parents clearly favored his brother. That hurts. He’s also married to a woman he doesn’t love. They got hitched after she got pregnant.

And then, there’s Walker’s love for Edie. Their relationship helps Edie ease the grief of losing her husband. But it means much more for Walker. He gets quite possessive of Edie, which ultimately leads to a tragic turn of events.

My former agent hated Walker. He said the man had no redeeming qualities.

I disagree.

I understand why Walker acts that way. Although he is my creation like all of the novel’s people, I’ve met men like Walker who let their emotions override good sense. They make bad decisions. Certainly, he does.

He’s a necessary part of this novel’s story. I’m not one to write about sweetness and light. Certainly, there are bad guys in my other hilltown novels. Walker is the first you will meet and actually the nicest of the bunch.

Here is a scene from early in The Sweet Spot, set for a release in January. Walker meets up with Edie for a romp in the empty apartment above his parents’ general store.

Now she slipped her hand from Walker as she tried to get up, but his fingers cuffed her wrist to keep her from leaving.

“Where’re you going?” he asked.

“To the bathroom.”

“Stay here.”

Edie rolled onto her side to face him.

“How’s the new job?” she asked.

He frowned.

“Damn New Yorkers. You know who I mean, the couple that bought the old Franklin place on the south end of town. They can’t make up their fuckin’ minds.”

“Uh-huh.”

“The woman wants wainscoting in the dining room. The man wants a chair rail. I joked they might have to flip a coin cause one of ’em didn’t want what the other one did. Maybe they’ll do both. You know how New Yorkers are.”

“Uh-huh.”

“First, they asked for exposed beams in the kitchen. Now they’re not sure it’s what they want. They’re gonna get back to me on that one.”

“Uh-huh.”

“On top of that, one of my framers quit mid-week. Couldn’t hack the work. Remember I told you about Tom? I had my doubts he’d last anyway, but I thought I was doin’ his family a favor. Dumb fuck can’t hold down a job for long. I feel sorry for his wife and kids.”

“Uh-huh.”

“To top if off, the lumberyard messed up my material order. It set me back today. I hate that shit.”

“You’ll fix it, Walker,” she said. “You always do.”

Walker sighed. The air came from deep inside him.

“Yeah, Edie, I will. Hey, I see you got a new neighbor. You meet him yet?”

Edie shook her head.

“I heard about him though. I think he’s the one who was at Gil’s ceremony on Memorial Day.”

“I saw him that day, too. Seems like he was in an accident or something.”

“I need to go over. Pop and Aunt Leona already have. They say he’s really nice.”

“You do that. At least, I won’t have to worry about him.”

“Why do you say that?” Edie asked.

“You haven’t seen him up close. He’s one ugly son of a bitch. I can’t see a woman wanting to be with him for free.”

“Walker, you’re not being very nice. Suppose he was in Vietnam like Gil?”

“Then I feel real sorry for him.” He gazed around the room. “We’ll have to do this again.”

Edie shifted.

“Not so fast.” His hand closed tighter. “What’s with you and Lonny?”

“Him? We’re just having some laughs,” Edie said.

“I heard you both left at the same time the other night. You sleep with him?”

“We left at the same time? So what. Walker, you’re hurting my wrist.”

His lips opened and shut, but he didn’t speak. He loosened his grip.

“Tell me more,” he said.

“I was having fun, just like you and me are having fun.”

“Fun. Is that what this is?”

“What else can it be, Walker?”

“I’m hoping for more.”

“More?”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: We got a bit of snow yesterday. I took this photo on the back porch. That’s my office window and a bit of snow-covered flower garden.

 

 

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characters, Writing

Crusty Old Coots

I like characters who are crusty old coots. My next novel, The Sweet Spot, has good one. His name is Alban Sweet.

The Sweet Spot is the first of my hilltown books to be launched, this one in January. As I’ve explained before, they are set in a rural stretch of Western Massachusetts, where my family and I once lived. I also reported on it for a local daily.

The town of Conwell and the characters in my book are fabricated although, heaven knows, those little towns (population 1,200 and fewer) are full of characters. Alban Sweet, who is known as Benny to most everyone except his late wife, his sister, and a few of the old-timers, would feel at home.

He’s Pop to Edie, his daughter and the novel’s main character. His granddaughter calls him Poppy.

Alban is a rascal of a guy who has run the town dump for about 35 years. (The novel is set in 1978.) He brings home the stuff people toss out that he feels still has some value. The outbuildings behind the home he shares with Edie is full of the junk. Yeah, he’s a bit of a drinker.

And he has a notorious feud with the town’s road boss because he keeps borrowing stuff from the highway department without asking. In keeping with a good feud, the road boss makes sure his dirt road is plowed and graded last.

Alban loves his daughter and granddaughter, Amber. (His other two daughters won’t have anything to do with him.) He would do anything for them. His love is true.

By the way, Alban is made up and not based on anyone real although I will admit I have met more than my share of crusty old coots. And, yes, my other hilltown novels have them.

Here’s a scene from early in the novel. Edie and Amber have just returned from a Memorial Day party at her in-laws. Earlier that day, the town has a ceremony to honor the soldiers who died in war, including Edie’s husband who was killed in Vietnam. Alban wasn’t invited to the in-laws’  because he got stinking drunk one year and insulted one of the guests. So, Edie and her daughter brought Pop a plate of chicken and the fixings from the party. By the way, the character, Harlan Doyle, has a significant role as the book moves along.

Edie watched her father eat. His thick white hair fell in front of his eyes. She needed to cut it again.

“What’d you do today?” she asked.

Pop ran a hand over his whiskers. He grunted.

“I straightened up the place,” he said.

“That so?”

Edie laughed because the room was filled tightly with junk. The kitchen sink was stacked high with dirty dishes. She and Amber would have to wash them tomorrow.

“When I got sick of that, I got the mower started and tried to cut the grass, but it’s gotten so goddamned high. I’ll have to use the weed whacker from the highway garage.”

Pop cut two short rows in the grass before he left the mower next to the old doghouse filled with gas cans. Edie wasn’t surprised. The closest distance between two points for her father was usually a crooked line.

Edie planted a hand on her hip.

“I saw how far you got. It couldn’t have taken very long,” she said.

Pop ignored her.

“I tried to take a nap on the porch, but there was too much hammering next door. Bang, bang, bang, that’s all I could hear.”

“At Aunt Leona’s?”

“Nah, the other side. Doyle’s.”

The Doyle place was located at the bottom of their dead-end road, closed up after the last Doyle, Elmira, died, and the family who lived elsewhere couldn’t decide what to do with the property. It must have been three years ago, and Pop got a few bucks keeping an eye on the place.

“Somebody moved in? Elmira’s house has gotten really rundown.”

Pop glanced up from his plate.

“I went over to see what’s what and met the fella. Damnedest face I ever seen. Scars up and down like somethin’ clawed him. He walked with an awful bad limp.”

“What clawed him?” Amber asked.

“Didn’t bring it up. It’s not polite, honey. I’ll let your Aunt Leona do it.” Pop grinned at his crack. “Friendly guy though. Name’s Harlan Doyle. His father, Aldrich, grew up next door. Elmira’s boy. He went to Japan in the war, and when he came back, he married a woman and moved south to be with her people. They used to visit the old folks here once in a while. Says he remembers me.”

“I saw a man at the ceremony today,” Edie said. “He wore sunglasses, but they didn’t cover the bad scars on his face. He’s tall, but his body was crooked like somethin’ wasn’t holding him up.”

“That’s him.”

“He says he’s gonna fix up the place?” Edie asked. “Is he really planning to live there?”

“That’s what he says. Maybe I’ll get me some work out of it.”

Pop made smacking noises with his mouth. He pointed toward the hutch.

“I almost forgot. I got a present for you, Amber. Go see over there.”

Amber went to the hutch. She held a wooden box when she twirled around.

“This it?” she asked.

“Yup, darlin’, bring it here.”

Pop’s eyes grew bigger as he told Amber to twist the crank on the box’s bottom, and after she did, the workings produced a tiny, tinny tune. Edie shifted in her chair to give her daughter room. Amber opened and shut the lid. She smiled at the gift and at Pop.

“Thanks, Poppy.”

Edie hoped her daughter would never be ashamed of her grandfather. Even though Ma got mad at Pop, she always defended him for working hard for his family. “Somebody has to take care of the dump,” her mother said when her sisters complained how horrible their father smelled.

When Ma got sick and after she died, Pop took Edie to the dump when Leona was not available to babysit. She stayed close to her father, or if the weather was bad, she waited in his attendant’s shack when he went outside to help a customer. Some people stared, wondering why Benny Sweet brought his youngest to such a place. Afterward, Pop told her about a treasure he salvaged from their load of trash. “People don’t realize what great stuff they throw away” was his motto. Or he’d reveal an observation, say “how the widow living near the store was dumping a lot of vodka bottles lately.”

Pop chuckled.

“Do you like the box?” he asked Amber, and after she said yes, he pulled himself upright. “By the way, next time you see Marie, you can tell her for me the chicken was a little dry this year. I’m gonna need a coupla beers to wash it down.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, it is late November and I still have kale — and chard — growing in my garden despite very cold nights. Being a good Portagee, I have to grow kale. I make kale soup once a week, enough to last three days.

FINAL NOTE: Here is the link to my first novel Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon. If you live in Taos, you can find it at the local book stores.

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