books, hippies, Writing

So Darn Close

Yup, the launch of my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What is imminent, likely this week. And, yes, you will be among the first to know.

Michelle is tweaking the draft’s design. Perfectionist that she is, she isn’t happy about the big first letter at the start of each chapter. I did take a look at the draft online and found a couple of small things to change: two chapter headlines that weren’t in the right format, a line from a poem (quoted by the nervous nut Joey, one of the characters) that wasn’t in italics. Nothing big really, but important to me because they would be a distraction to readers.

I did panic when I accidently hit “save” on the pricing page, which apparently means publish. There is no one to talk with in person, but an email to support stopped the process and put me at ease. Peace, Love, and You Know What is in draft form again, unless we click otherwise. (I did send a nice note to support that they might want to add “and publish” to that button. I am certain I am not the only author to do that by mistake.)

I’ve filled out the necessary publishing info and created my author page.

I am excited and nervous about the next step in this grand experiment.

So in the meantime, here is an excerpt from early in the book. The chapter is called The Hard Truth. Four of the main characters are in it: roommates Tim, Manny, and Mack, who have just taken a geology final after pulling yet another all-nighter. Of course, it helped that Mack had managed to get a copy of last year’s exam. And then there is the entrance of Lenora, a key person in their lives.

Heads down, Tim and Manny staggered through the campus of Westbridge State College. They were semi-sure they’d get a decent grade on their geology final, thanks to Mack. But this being their third all-nighter in a row, and with another ahead, they were out of it.

“I think you’re right. It was quartzite. I put that down, too,” Tim said.

“How about five? Pre-Cambrian shield?”

“Think so.”

Manny gave him a scared smile.

“Shit, maybe we did okay.”

The two bumped shoulders, drunk with fatigue, swapping answers, as they jaywalked the quadrangle’s grassy square toward the administration building. They ducked through the auditorium door, propped open because the weather was warm, and hit a left to the newspaper office. The office, if it could be called one, used to be the ticket booth for the auditorium. It was all the college spared for The Hard Truth.

Mack, the editor-in-chief, was already there, moving and stacking bundles of newspapers printed specially for graduation. He was the second person to finish the geology final, and he had a smug smile when he handed the bluebook to the professor, telling him, “Thanks, I got a lot outta your class,” which made the man nod and grunt. Then Mack gave Tim and Manny two thumbs up before he split.

Mack tossed copies of the newspaper to Tim and Manny. The headline across the top of the front page said: “Hello cruel world!” It was Tim’s idea. He was one of the paper’s reporters, actually assistant editor, but as usual, Mack took his idea and ran with it. The paper was chock full of anti-war, anti-Nixon, and anti-establishment stories.

Lenora wrote her farewell column, called “Who the heck is that?” Her last was about the janitor who’s been cleaning up after students for over twenty years, watching as one class leaves and another takes its place. Tim murmured. He recognized the guy. He had a profound limp because of a clubfoot, and Lenora wrote he took off his shoe so she could see it. She got him right as she did the other people she wrote about, like the retarded guy who rode his bike around campus. Then there was the cook behind the counter of Jimmy’s Coffee Shop. His name wasn’t Jimmy, it was Ralph, and he named the joint for his older brother, who got killed in Korea.

Manny opened his copy to the centerfold where the names of the Class of 1972 were printed. His fingertip pressed the paper.

“Tim, your name’s here. See? Timothy Patrick Devlin. It’s above Lenora’s name. It says you’re graduating Sunday.”

Tim peered over Manny’s shoulder.

“My mother will like that a lot.”

“Huh? I thought you needed two more courses to graduate,” Manny said.

Tim grunted as he fell onto a chair beside the wooden table they lifted from a classroom. Manny sat beside him.

“You’re right. I don’t have enough credits, but I can’t tell my mother that. You met her. I’m supposed to be outta here and getting a job. She works the nightshift at the bread plant back home. You think she’d understand the five-year plan?”

Air came out of Manny’s mouth in one big “ha.”

“Tim, right now I can’t think of a damn thing.”

“That makes two of us.”

Tim’s elbow was on the table as he pushed his jaw into his hand. He shut his eyes and felt himself slip away until a girl’s laughter jerked him awake. He blinked. Lenora came through the door, wearing one of her costumes, a black skirt hanging to her sandals and a gauzy top with strands of beads. Hair so brown it could be black fell halfway down her back. She swirled around with her hands in the air and stomped her sandals.

“Alleluia, I’m done. Can you believe it? No more papers. No more finals. I finished my last shift at the dining hall.” She spun again. “Guys, I’m a free woman.”

Mack came toward her with his arms out.

“Jesus, Lenora, I’m gonna miss you.”

Mack hugged Lenora tightly and tried to nail her with a kiss. He thought it was cool to stick his tongue in the mouth of any girl he met. But Lenora told Manny and Tim he wasn’t very good at it. Too much spit. And his breath smelled like cooked meat.

She held her hand against Mack’s chest.

“Knock it off, Mack. I don’t want a kiss from you.”

Mack moved against her hand. His face came closer.

“Aw, Lenora, you don’t mean it.”

“Yes, I do. I’m not your girlfriend, and I don’t want to be. I don’t mind you giving me a hug, but keep your tongue to yourself. Or next time I’ll bite it off.”

Mack stepped back.

“Whoa, I guess she told me off good.”

Manny glanced up from the open newspaper.

“You mean well, don’t you Mack?”

“Shut up, Manny. I don’t need a fuckin’ grammar lesson, especially from a history major.”

“Hey, don’t insult me. You’re the one who’s supposed to be the English major.”

Mack shuffled to his desk, muttering, but Tim was positive he’d get over it. Lenora was too important to all of them. The girl had been with them during good trips and bad trips, protests and parties. Once, she talked a cop out of giving Mack a ticket after he got caught driving through a stop sign. The way she worked the pig was pure magic. By time they drove off, the man had lost his blank cop face and started smiling.

Tim couldn’t forget how she held his hand as they watched the draft lottery on TV, and then cried when he pulled an eight, which meant he was heading to Vietnam for sure. Lenora found a friendly doctor to write a note that Tim had a chronic skin rash, so he wouldn’t have to go. She went with Tim to the induction physical, and when he came outside, she hugged him and said, “They’re not taking you from me.”

Why did she have to leave?

Lenora sat on the table.

“How’d you guys do on your geology final?”

Tim glanced at Manny.

“We made out okay. I mean the answers came to me almost like magic.” Tim paused. “Hey, Lenora, what are you doing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?”

Her legs swung beneath her long skirt.

“Except for graduating? I’ll be packing. Why? What’d you have in mind?

Tim eyed Mack, who had his back to him.

“See, we’re having a little party at the house, and we wanted you to come.”

“Three days? A little party? You’re putting me on.”

“No, I’m not. Right, Manny?”

“It’s true, Lenora. So, are you coming?”

“Of course, I will. It’s my last weekend in Westbridge.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s me in San Francisco.