Tag Archives: nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo is coming

There’s one month left before the most hectic month of the year!

No, I don’t mean the Holidays and the present-purchasing shopping sprees. (I just don’t buy things for people. Pro-tip: that makes December really easy, as well as your social life year-round.)

I mean National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo.

NaNo is all about writing your story and sharing it with the world. It’s a commitment in the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel, and it’s a community of fellow writers or would-be wordsmiths to cheer you on when you’re staring at the screen wondering what the heck you signed up for.

It’s a writer’s version of a marathon, a challenge to yourself to put your butt in the seat and crank out an average of 1,667 words a day for the whole month in order to take your story from the spark of an idea to a (very) rough draft.

Have you ever thought about a story you knew would make a great book? NaNo is your chance to commit to yourself and the world that you’ll take that huge first step.

Do you have writer friends, to whom you’ve said, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book…”? What’s stopping you, other than life, responsibilities, college, Netflix, video games, Pinterest, and maybe a lack of willpower? Pssh! That’s nothing! You can beat all those obstacles down! NaNo is the perfect opportunity to dive in and get it done.

NaNo is also a non-profit organization that works with schools and libraries to encourage young writers to put pen to paper or, more likely, fingers to keyboard in order to build their creativity and focus.

Between now and November 1st, they’ll be posting all sorts of discussions and resources on their site to help writers new and seasoned navigate the rocky course from concept to completion. During November, they send encouraging messages and interviews with successful authors sharing insights on how to keep going. On top of that, you’ll get information from your regional Municipal Liaison on meet-ups and write-ins that are taking place near you.

It’s a wild, albeit difficult, ride, and worth the effort. Want to know more? Check out the NaNo site or hit me up with a question in the comments.

The clock is ticking, counting down to your explosion of creativity. What’s your novel going to be about?

Putting NaNo to Bed

Another November passes, and another National Novel Writing Month comes to a close.

You win a self-inflicted nervous breakdown! Also your manuscript needs infinity revisions.

I’m proud to have put over 50,000 words into my project, but I’m most excited about connecting and re-connecting with writers in my area. Not only did all four regular members of our base writing group dive into the challenge this year, but a WriMo participant from a few years ago jumped in (and won!). On top of that, I met four writers I didn’t know prior to the NaNoWriMo events.

Not everything went perfectly.

I had the privilege once again of serving as a Municipal Liaison for Japan–specifically Okinawa.

We have three stellar individuals on the mainland who managed the bulk of the nation’s participants. On island, our group had a rough start that forced me to develop some guidelines and contingency plans for future NaNo events–stuff you hope you never have to enforce, but you realize should be in place “just in case.” Yay for opportunities to grow and practice interpersonal skills!

The librarian on Kadena is passionate about writing groups–participating and supporting–so we enjoyed an array of Keurig coffee cups and a constant influx of writing resources. (Anyone need a journal? Here’s a stack. Need a book about researching how bodies decompose? I know a great one we might even have here… Stuck in your manuscript? Try playing around with some poetry magnets or story dice.) Who said libraries aren’t cool?

Great participants and a supportive location made my job easy and enjoyable!

My writing felt like a mess more than usual.

In the past, I approached NaNo like a plotter, laying out the overall course of the story with key milestones I knew I needed to hit as well as rough scene ideas documenting who needed to say or do what and for what purpose. That usually works for me, like following a recipe of cake mix. I have a little bit of freedom to substitute ingredients, and I can change plans in the middle if I really want to do so. “I think I’ll turn this into cupcakes instead of using a standard 9 by 13 cake pan. I’ll switch out the oil with applesauce for a healthier option.”

Some people are “pantsers” who sit down with a blank document and go to town, allowing the muse and the characters they’ve created in their minds to develop on paper in whatever way the story unfolds. More power to all of you who can manage that.

This year, I think I fell in the middle of the two–what some NaNo types call “plantser.” I had much less to go on than my last three NaNo drafts. The rough bones of a story arc bounced around in my mind, and I jotted down certain key points at the bottom of my manuscript Word document, but I had nowhere near the detail or preparation of previous efforts. It showed, as I left myself a lot more notes with questions to follow-up on, gaps or plot holes I could see while writing, even basic details like “insert her mom’s name here.”

On the one hand, “plantsing” gave me enough freedom to do as I pleased, changing up the events in the story as I wrote, to fit new ideas and revelations. It also gave me enough signposts as reminders to keep me moving in my intended direction. “Not saying you have to take the left lane onto I-80, but Chicago is far down the interstate in this direction, so you do you.”

I kept distractions to a (relative) minimum.

My favorite author Brandon Sanderson released the next novel in his massive epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archives. Those books are so good, my non-fantasy-reading wife even loves them. That has been sitting on my iPad for the last three weeks, taunting me, beckoning with one finger crooked. “Just one chapter… that’s all… won’t take long… come on…”

The Netflix Punisher series came out mid-November, and I am a sucker for Jon Bernthal’s amazing combination of brooding / unhinged. Dude is like the stacks of unstable dynamite from my favorite 80s post-apocalyptic games. Sure, you might gain something by searching this, but you probably ought to back out of the fallout shelter slowly and forget what you saw here. (Fans of Wasteland might know what I’m talking about. The rest of you can take pleasure knowing I suck at analogies.)

I watched one episode the night it came out, then forced myself to close the app.

Thor: Ragnarok was a must-see, so I used that as my reward for getting ahead of schedule early. Justice League was going to be a mid-month reward, but I started falling behind and never found a good time to see it. In 20/20 hindsight, given the reviews and images, maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.

My pained smile when someone asks how NaNoWriMo is coming this year. “Yeah… I’m writing words or something…”

The addiction to video games kept its hooks deep in my flesh-husk. While I pulled away from WoW, and only played a couple hours of the intro of Horizon: Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds (omg such a great game), the mindless entertainment bug bit hard about three weeks in. For inexplicable reasons, as I looked at the Blizzard launcher on my PC, I realized that I own Diablo III, and I never played through the fifth act expansion, nor have I tried the necromancer class they added long after the game’s release. Easy fix! A few minutes of monster-grinding and loot-grabbing wouldn’t affect my writing too much, right?

In the course of a week, I played through the whole story and raised my overpowered goddess of death to just shy of max level. “Just one more level… just one more quest… just need to kill this one boss…”

Really, with an army of skeletons fighting for me, it just seems unfair.

I’ve put 75,000 words on various projects this month.

I started this year with a goal of writing a thousand words a day. Like many New Year’s resolutions, that lost steam after the first month or two. By about April I recalculated my goal. (500 words wouldn’t be too bad, right?)

In September, I realized if I cracked down and wrote like NaNoWriMo every month until the end of the year, I would make it. That didn’t pan out, though I exceeded my 1K/day goal. After the last month of grinding, I’m sitting at about 320K, with a few different projects clamoring for my attention. (I’ll post about one of them soon, because it has been both fun and valuable to me.)

Not saying those words are great words… but they’re something I can edit, revise, or cut, which is better than a blank page on screen and a bunch of imagined plot lines in my head.

All of that to say, I’m sort of sorry I was gone for the last month (plus), I’m not too worried because I can see how many or how few views come through, but I’m grateful for those of you who care enough to read this and/or support me, even if it’s just asking, “How’s that writing coming?”

Cue the wild-eyed Superman pain-rictus. “Pretty good,” I say through clenched teeth, choking down my self-loathing. “Everything is fine.”

Going Camping

This year I set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day. Ideally, that means writing every single day, but the sad fact is, real life happens and it’s rarely on friendly terms with our goals.

I stayed just ahead of January and February, but the first week of March beat me down. I want to pretend I tried hard, but I succumbed all too easily to a combination of upper respiratory congestion, heavy duty medication, and—worst of all—a really exceptional new PS4 game. (Read about the culprit here.)

One of the keys to carrying out the goals we set is accountability of some sort. Telling a friend or declaring a new effort on social media is one way of improving our chances. Our commitment is out there for others to challenge. Are we going to follow through on what we said?

Today was one of those days someone asked about Book Two, and I found myself equal parts embarrassed and grateful—glad for someone who asks the question since that’s encouraging, but disappointed by my failure to make progress.

So with all that in mind, I go to my inbox and find reminders for Camp NaNoWriMo which starts in April. 

If you’re not familiar, National Novel Writing Month is an event every November where writers crank out new fiction novels of 50,000 words or more, and I’ve participated three years now.

After November, the organization doesn’t just take the rest of the year off; they run less formal events in April and July. Unlike November’s event, Camp NaNoWriMo participants can write whatever style of material they want – musicals, plays, scripts, novels, non-fiction, poetry, whatever. And instead of a hard goal of 50K words, participants set their own goals based on whatever commitment they can make.

The site has incorporated new trackers and resources: you can log word count, or pages, or hours spent if you prefer. Their writing resources page covers a surprising variety of topics from planning to revising and everything in between.

Here’s my commitment: I am going to participate this year, and I’m going to pour my effort into the sequel to Diffraction. NaNoWriMo’s 50K is a bit much. However, if I’m keeping up my normal effort, then I should be writing 30K words throughout April no matter what (including any side projects, blog posts, and personal journal writing). So my happy medium is going to be 40K words put into the draft of Book 2.

There it is, out in the public eye.

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

Victory of a Sort

I made it. 

50,000 words of a brand new novel, all written in the month of November. I crossed that finish line today during the All-Japan Virtual Write-In. Good thing too, since my next three days at work are wall-to-wall busy.

Update: I added up my efforts today and realized I also crossed 200K words for the year… which may sound impressive, but consider that a full quarter of that happened in the last four weeks. Such grand plans I had… But I digress.

Of course, the blog suffered as a result of NaNoWriMo efforts. #sorrynotsorry and all that.

This is my third NaNo and third victory, so I’m quite pleased. It’s a wonderful chance to play around with something different from your normal writing style or genre. This year I went with 1st person present tense urban fantasy, something I’ve never tried prior to the preparation for this novel.

On top of that, I found an awesome site that spurred me toward that ever-increasing word count: 4thewords

They’re a NaNoWriMo sponsor, so I wanted to help them out. The site is a writing system that incorporates game elements like an RPG. You create a character and go on quests against monsters that have word count goals instead of health points. The gear you find and equip gives you bonuses to attack (counts additional words written), defense (gives you additional time to fight the monster), and luck (increased chance of finding better items).

While the short burst style of writing in sprints of 250 – 1500 words has its drawbacks in the form of continuity problems, poorly thought-out ideas, and plot holes, I would have those in a first draft no matter what I do. What matters to me is, does it get me writing more? I could be wrong, but I definitely feel like the game elements encouraged me to write more than I might have if I was depending on internal motivation alone.

I still have a good chunk to finish on the first draft before I can type “the end.” It’ll be a long while before this one hits the streets, and it might be with a pen name. Also it’s a partnership with a friend in the States, so there’ll be more back-and-forth in the refining process than if I was just going to self-publish.

Meanwhile, Blog Battles have taken a hiatus, so there also won’t be any Grant & Teagan popping up until next year.

That said, I have some plans for December that I’ll call attention to here, and I hope to continue using 4thewords to see if it will keep me moving forward on Diffusion (fantasy book 2) and God’s Shooter, an Old West project involving a gambler prophet. The latter will probably start popping up in scenes on WattPad and WordPress before the end of the year.

And of course, I’ll post the occasional rant or update on my life, because hey, it’s my blog and I add those into my overall word count. Plus I need something to distract me from politics on Facebook. 

Hope your holidays thus far have been restful and productive.

NaNo Number Three

Friends and readers, it’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo, a.k.a National Novel Writing Month. All over the world, lunatics dedicated writers are setting off on a one-month journey toward a 50,000 word novel. 

My first year out, I wrote and completed my first novel, Not to the Swift. Prior to that, I had written over 100,000 words on a single fantasy book, but I never quite reached the point of typing “The End.” NaNoWriMo helped me complete a novel from start to finish, which in some strange way felt liberating when it came to my pet projects. I was able to finish and release Diffraction a few months later.

My second year, I had the thrill of serving as a Municipal Liaison. Basically, that’s a person committed to facilitating meetings, handing out swag, posting encouraging notes, and representing NaNoWriMo in the local area. I plowed through 50,000 words of a sci-fi military novel very loosely based on my job experience… Which eventually led to a required review of the draft to make sure I didn’t say something or release information I shouldn’t. So that year’s project is on hold for an unknown length of time. 

In between, I’ve put some effort into the sequel to Diffraction, and completed a novella on WattPad called Echoes. I’ve started a few projects I hope to turn into books or novellas down the line, and I’ve had a blast writing BlogBattle entries using a recurring duo of characters. 

But all that goes out the window for a month, in the hopes of cracking 50K once more. 

Got a story to tell? It’s not too late to jump in and catch up.

Calm Before the (self-inflicted) Storm

I regret not participating in BlogBattles or posting, but I am enjoying a week off of work and a relaxing vacation to Okuma, the beach resort at the north end of Okinawa.

Here’s the view from the cabin porch. It’s ok, I guess…

Also my mother-in-law is here. At least that’s not a bad thing like the stereotypical joke might imply.

After this week, I jump back into a flying schedule with double the standard workload and none of the additional support to make it work. So work is going to be crazy for a good while. And I still have an office to run when we’re not in the air doing the mission.

On top of that, I go to my PT test next week knowing I’m doomed to fail based on gaining too much weight and too much waist over the last several months. I don’t have any excuses; I know that if I log everything I eat, hold roughly to the suggested caloric intake, and get a decent amount of exercise, I can pass the test. The diet is the biggest part of achieving success, and it’s tiring to live like that for months on end. So my next few months will be not just flying but incorporating more exercise while watching and logging every calorie.

On a more positive note, prep for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, and I’ll be participating in that again this year. During November, people around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and 30th. That works out to 1,667 words a day, assuming life never gets in the way. I’ve been planning a story and a setting with a friend, and I’m ready to dive in. I’m also the Okinawa Municipal Liaison, one of four for all of Japan, which means setting up meetings, posting messages to all of the participants in the region, and trying to help the whole event go smoothly. I love doing this but it’s a workload.

More important than all of the above, I have a wife and four kids that deserve attention. I can’t just write and workout when I’m not flying. (But I can write while getting some light exercise on a bike or a walk on a treadmill, so that’s one way to kill two birds with one stone.)

So we’re making the most of this down-time. We built a fire at sunset and roasted marshmallows, after I grilled some dogs, burgers, and corn. Last night, my wife and I enjoyed some quiet time just chatting on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze.

We’ll build a fire tonight if the rain stays away. Swimming one more time is on the menu, as is cycling around the resort. If the rain gets bad, we have some card games to play — we might get to those anyway, since my middle son is begging for them.

And maybe I’ll get some writing done. My NaNoWriMo project isn’t going to prep itself.

April Update

So I wrote over 21,000 words this month. 

On the one hand, that’s more than any of the previous months since I’ve started tracking my effort. 

On the other hand, it feels like so little progress being made on any of the various projects outlined in my head or my OneDrive files. Plus I totally failed at my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of 30K on a particular project. (I think I got about 9K done on that draft.)


I thoroughly enjoy the little games we play to get ourselves writing. My NaNo writers’ group tried doing word sprints a few times this month, and I enjoyed the camaraderie. The weekly (now bi-weekly) Blog Battle is another such activity, especially since the misadventures of Grant and Teagan is like a brief vacation for my writing brain. 

Great interpersonal interaction helped out this month. I had the privilege of meeting a Japan NaNoWriMo member who lives on the northern part of the nation–she came down to Okinawa for a vacation and was able to attend a write-in. I caught up with an old friend who happens to be in town–a guy who read my fantasy novel back when it was a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in story form. We chatted about character arcs and came up with some better ideas for where all the threads are headed and how they interact with each other. Then I sold a couple books and created a personalized art version of a signed copy.

And it looks like we might get a local critique group going finally.


I left my WattPad novella Echoes pretty much dead all month. I’ve got the last third of it outlined, just need to sit down and write it. I also have the last bits of PERDITION outlined (my NaNo sci-fi project about psychic reconnaissance). Same thing, I need to sit down and write. And I haven’t touched Diffusion (the fantasy sequel to Diffraction), since this month was supposed to be all about finishing off the NaNo draft.

Lots of ups and downs, “coulda, woulda, shoulda” moments, and a general sense of I could have done more.

But April is over and done, no changing that word count. I guess I have to go with my Mom’s old suggestion of “Why don’t you make this activity into a game? See how many (fill in the blank) you can do in an hour, then try to beat it!”

Alright, May. I raise my tasty Jack and Coke Zero to greet you. Challenge accepted. Out of sheer fairness, May, since you have an extra day, I wrote nothing on the 1st of the month. 30 days to do better than 21K. Let’s do this!

What’s your goal this month? Do you have one? If not, why not? Let me know in a comment.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 2

This is the second preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.


“Emmanuel’s on Faulkner, that’s great, thanks. Faulkner Drive or Faulkner Court?”

Herbert George Washington—George to everyone but his wife and mother—pounded the steering wheel of his rusty Eighty-Eight Cadillac and wove through curving suburban streets. A sign caught his eye and he slowed. “When did this road turn into Faulkner Lane? What the hell!”

To George’s building frustration, Emmanuel Hospital lay in plain sight beyond the curving roads and man-made hills of Sandalwood Heights, a wealthy and ever-expanding suburb on the south side of Stapleton. Yellow and red flowers mocked him, spelling out “Emmanuel” in an emerald background on one of the slopes ahead.

What happened to square-grid streets and simple city planning? All the curves, the gardening… Gotta pretty everything up for the rich folk, make sure they know they live somewhere better.

He pushed his round-rim glasses back up his nose, and they promptly slid back down. Even with the windows down and air rushing past, his face beaded with sweat.

The Indian Summer stole the cool breezes of autumn and replaced them with eighty-five degrees of heat and stifling humidity. The Cadillac’s air conditioning always made grinding noises after two minutes of use, so it was no help.

Another thing to get fixed someday, George thought. Maybe if this Emmanuel job goes well, I can get a recommendation for work at Westside.

Faulkner Lane wound around another bend and revealed the gate of the hospital staff parking area. Shoulda just followed the signs to the damn E.R. and found my way in from there.

George stopped at the gate and held his temporary Emmanuel Staff badge up to the scanner. The yellow arm lifted, permitting him entry.

He found a spot, grabbed his personal satchel of tools, and exited the car. Two young men in clean white coats stood near their sports cars, giving either George or his old beater furtive glances. One shook his head and muttered something George couldn’t make out.

George paused and leveled a direct glare their way. Yeah, boys, this is what happens when no one on your staff knows how to fix your dinosaur patient alarm system. You gotta call in the poor folk from downtown. But you bet I’ll take your money.

The small tuft of hair atop his head caught a light breeze, but he felt withered in the sunlight. His thick blue maintenance coveralls trapped in the afternoon heat. He clipped the badge to his chest pocket and hustled toward the staff entrance.



“Seven East? All right. I’ll send him up.” The fat white security guard put down the phone. “You’re the contractor for the Rawlins system?”

“Yessir. Like I said.” George tapped his foot and pursed his lips.

“Staff elevator’s down the hall.”

“I know where the damn elevator is, son.” He held up his badge. “How do you think I got this in the first place?”

He shared the elevator ride with two doctors, both male, one black. George leaned against the back corner and watched the lights mark each floor’s passing. He ignored the look of disdain the doctors gave him, as though he might stain the pristine walls by his mere presence.

The doctors got off on the fifth floor, and the doors lingered open long enough for George to catch their conversation. “Couldn’t they find someone more… local?”

A few expletives came to mind, but George kept his thoughts to himself. Always better that way. Let ’em think you’re a nobody, just some brother from the ‘hood, maybe a little smarter than the rest of “your kind.”

Acting that way, some people—even other African-Americans—would look down on him. But since he posed no threat, they would tolerate him too. Go along with the black jokes and the cracks about fried chicken, everybody laughs, and I keep gettin’ paid. Laugh along when they talk about gangs and drugs and what goes down in the Twenties, and no one minds me bein’ there—even though I have to drive home to that hellhole at night.

A biomedical technician with no college education, George had little hope of landing a permanent job in the troubled economy. Advancing technology and the rising intricacy of computerized components made most top-quality medical equipment incomprehensible to George. But his broad experience and photographic memory of electronic schematics helped him solve crises and malfunctions many on-staff BioMed techs declared hopeless. Over the years, he made a name for himself and earned frequent calls from the area hospitals whenever their guys couldn’t hack a job.

George became Emmanuel Hospital’s go-to guy for all the aging equipment they didn’t want to replace. None of the higher-ups wanted to spend the money to update decades-old systems installed when the hospital was built. It cost far less to bring George in than to tear out circuits in the walls and ceilings of every floor.

Stinginess kept him working in the suburbs, and lack of funds kept him working downtown. Three days a week, he walked a mile and a half from home to Our Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Twenties. They had no money to spend on glamorous new equipment, so George earned his check by keeping their current inventory functional—all the models he grew up fixing and tearing apart, the so-called junk that places like Emmanuel would unload on the cheap whenever they bought the newest thing.

It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t permanent, and it was painful driving all over Stapleton and its suburbs. But between George’s freelance work and the meager checks LaTasha brought home from admin work in the school district, the Washingtons were getting by.

Food on the table every night, clothes on my kids’ backs, and a roof that don’t leak on their heads when it rains. With these things, we shall be content.

He thought of the rusty Cadillac threatening to fall apart in the parking lot. Okay, with most of these things, at least.

The elevator opened to a flurry of nurses going room to room checking on patients. A white redhead doctor saw George and waved. “G-Dub! Come on, man, we need your help.”

George chuckled at the familiar address. The kids he ran with grew up into the friends who came over for poker night, and that was their name for him. Not some white guy from the Heights. But John McGarrin was a nice enough man, George figured, at least so long as the status quo held out.

The wealthy whites and affluent blacks of Sandalwood Heights were happy to welcome someone like George into their midst, so long as two things were clear:

First, the visit was for a specific temporary purpose. Can’t have too many blacks driving through the town, swarming the stores, or God forbid, moving into the neighborhood. One guy coming down from the Twenties to fix some old junk—that was fine.

Second, he had to know he would never truly fit in. As long as he went along with the mocking and ignored the whispers behind the back, as long as he understood he’d never really be “one of them” then they’d act like he was.

He brushed off the thought, flashed a grin, and entered the fray. “What up, Irish?”

“The whole thing blew up,” John said. “Lights and colors, bells and whistles, every single one went off. You should’ve seen the panic. An entire floor of patients in recovery from surgery all Code Blue at the same time. I think several doctors had to go change their pants once we figured out it was a malfunction.”

George gave the expected laugh. He looked at the system panels beside each door as they headed for the main nurse’s station. Every possible warning light burned bright.

John continued. “We cut the sound of the alarms. You can imagine that was a pain. Turns out when they put this system in, they didn’t want medical staff to ignore the warnings when patients started dying. So we might have made some extra work on severed circuits.”

“Great. You know I get extra pay for call-ins after four.”

“Whatever man, if you can fix this, you deserve it. We’ve brought in nurses from other floors to make rounds every five minutes, keeping watch on patients’ vitals and ensuring their condition isn’t worsening. Almost had a woman slip through the cracks and Code Blue before we got that started. Jeez, could you imagine the lawsuit?”

George moved behind the counter and set down his tools. “It’s probably just a blown transistor,” he said, removing a wall panel near the ground to access the alarm system. “There’s a motherboard that governs power routing to all the other circuits in here. I’ve seen this happen once before. That transistor blows, power goes through all the circuits, and every light in the place goes up like a Christmas tree.”

Nurses rushed by, disheveled and exhausted. John watched them pass then turned back to George. “Sure, electronics and crap. Whatever. You can fix it?”

George nodded. “I can fix it.”

John pointed at him and backed away. “You’re the man, G-Dub!”

“Yes I am. That’s why you keep callin’.”



“Whatcha readin’, boo?”

LaTasha Washington leaned on the doorframe watching eleven-year-old René, who lay on her stomach on the bed, her dirty-sock feet in the air, swaying back and forth.

“To Kill a Mockingbird. Gotta write a book report in a couple weeks for Miss Pearson. I don’t know if I like the name ‘Boo’ anymore, Mama.”

LaTasha laughed and sat down on the bed by her daughter’s softly kicking feet. She patted René’s back and cocked her head, contemplating the thoughts the classic might inspire within her innocent daughter’s mind.

“How do you like Miss Pearson?”

“I dunno,” René said, distracted. “Sometimes I think she’s trying too hard.”

LaTasha nodded, her concerns confirmed. Troops to Teachers is great and all, but how are they going to send some rich white girl down here to teach inner city kids? What does she know that my baby needs to learn? How is she supposed to relate to these children?

“She’s pretty cool though,” René continued. “Did you know she has the same name as me? Says it’s the bestest name of all. She spells it with two ‘e’s at the end, though.” René looked up at her mom. “Miss Pearson told me at the end of the year she’ll say why she likes our name so much.”

LaTasha looked over her daughter’s homework. “That’s nice, boo.”

“One time she told us about Afghanistan.”

What? “Really?”

“Yeah, we were talkin’ about drive-bys and gang fights, and someone said how scared they got when guns popped off nearby. She told us how one time their convoy got hit by an RGP or somethin’ like that.”

Jesus, have mercy. What is this woman teachin’ my baby? LaTasha sighed. “I’ll talk to her, boo. Make sure she’s teaching age-appropriate content to her class.”

“Nah, Mama, you don’t gotta. She cool. I think some of the guys that didn’t like her before gave her props.”

She’s cool. Don’t sound like a thug. And I’m going to talk to her, it’s okay.”

“Mom, no, it’s not.” René put a finger in the book and rolled over to glare at LaTasha. Child, you better watch the tone of that look before I smack it off your face.

“You always yell at our teachers about everything, just ’cause you work at the school.”

“I do no such thing.”

“The kids call you PTA—you’re the parent in charge of teacher administration.”

Oh, that’s clever. Little brats. “Parent-Teacher Association,” LaTasha corrected.

René pleaded. “They make fun of us, Mom. Chris gets picked on at Pulaski too, he just don’t say anything to you about it. The girls in class say I’m an Oreo.”

“They can say that all they want, right up until they’re living off welfare, popping out babies. You’re going places with your life, and that means having a certain level of education.”

René rolled her eyes. She’d heard it all before. Well, I’m gonna keep saying it, child, until I see you spread your wings and fly higher than your Daddy and me.

“All right, I didn’t mean to distract you. You keep reading.” She patted René’s back once more and left to check on Chris.

She found him curled up on the bed, pencil in hand, erasing answers in an Algebra workbook. LaTasha smiled as she watched. He always sticks the tip of his tongue out on his upper lip when he’s trying to figure something out. There it is again.

“How’s it going, Little Man?”

Chris sighed without looking up. “Mom, I’m as tall as you now.”

“With a voice almost as deep as Dad’s. I know, but you’ll always be my Little Man.”

“Quadratic equations suck. When will I ever need to know this?”

“When you’re trying to get a high school diploma, with grades good enough for a scholarship to Southern Illinois, or some other college, so you can get your degree and make a living to support your family.”

“I’m gonna open a comic book shop. Don’t need quadratic equations to sell comics.”

A superhero posed on the other side of the page Chris worked on. She knew without checking that his books were full of similar drawings—aliens fighting giant robots, muscle-bound men and fake-chested supermodel women in capes and tights punching each other between math problems. It had been that way since fourth grade. Still on that dream.

“You need math to see if you’re making money or losing. You need skills to keep your employees paid and decide how much inventory to purchase.”

Chris narrowed his eyes at her and mumbled, “Yes, ma’am,” before returning to his work. “When’s Dad getting home?”

“I haven’t heard from him. He told me he got called to the south side for some big crisis, so I bet he’ll be home late. Don’t forget, you got laundry to do tonight or tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He penciled in an answer and turned the page.

Now for the real question. “By the way, why’d you get detention today?”

She suppressed a smile at his wide eyes and open mouth. That’s right, I’m a superhero too, the All-Seeing, All-Knowing Mama. And don’t you forget it.

“I, uh…” Chris stammered. “I mouthed off to Mister Jackson. I apologized, but he made me clean the chalkboards and whiteboards as part of my discipline.”

“Good. Watch that mouth, Little Man.”

A distant sound like a pack of firecrackers broke the night’s silence. LaTasha flinched at the noise even though she knew the gunfire must be a few blocks away. Chris looked toward the window too, curiosity and trepidation playing across his face. Sporadic shots followed, then a siren wailed afar off.

“Ambulance on the way. At least it’s not in our building this time,” Chris offered.

“Thank the Lord for that.” LaTasha managed a smile for her son’s benefit. It struck her as sad that he knew the difference between the warbling police siren and the wail of an emergency vehicle. “You keep hitting that math homework. Get done so you can enjoy your weekend. I’m gonna go wait for Dad to get home, maybe give him a call to see how long it’ll be.”

“Sure thing, Mom.”

LaTasha walked toward the front of the family apartment, one large room with a cracking tile surface covering the quarter that served as the kitchen. They had a rickety dining room table with five chairs across from the kitchen stove. At the front of the apartment, two aged padded recliners faced the television and flanked the couch that had been their wedding gift from LaTasha’s parents. The lime green wallpaper peeled in several places.

She flipped on the television—some laugh-track sitcom she didn’t recognize—then sat in one of the recliners. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began her vigil. “Lord, bless Herbert wherever he is. If he’s still fixing things, bless the work of his hands. If he’s headed home, be a hedge of protection about him. Bring him home safe to me, Jesus.”

The peace Bishop Simms preached about took a long time in coming that night.

Not to the Swift Preview Chapter 1

This is the first preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.


“Okay, Chris, soon as the bell rings and Mister Jax blows the whistle, make a break for the alley.” Jamal grinned, the light in his eyes a warning that trouble was brewing.

Over a hundred teens milled about in the open yard of Pulaski High, separated into clusters by cliques based on race, gang affiliation, or social status. The two freshmen stood near the schoolyard fence.

On the other side of Lincoln Street, three men stood in the alley, puffs of smoke wafting around their faces. One of them beckoned Jamal with a wave.

Chris looked back toward the double doors of the school. Already some of the nerds gathered, working on homework, waiting to get back to class. When Jamal wasn’t around, Chris would join them and get a head start on the next day’s projects. But Jamal always had something else in mind if he wasn’t busy with his connections or getting high in some dark corner of the school.

“Yo, you with me or not?” Jamal rocked on his feet, eager to escape the afternoon’s classes. His thick arms and chest made him look big and slow, but he could sprint like a jackrabbit. Once again, Chris shoved down disappointment at his own awkward, lanky frame.

“Yeah, man,” Chris said. “I’m with you.”

“Then wake up, bruh, this is serious. These guys promised me a set to work, Eighteenth South, from Madison to Nelson. And I’m bringin’ you in with me. We play this right, we can make serious bank.”

“If we don’t get caught ditching.”

“Man, screw that,” Jamal said with a soft shove at Chris’s shoulder. “Wastin’ time in a stuffy room, solving for x or talkin’ about white dudes hundreds of years ago. That ain’t gettin’ you nowhere fast. My boy Lamar got stacks-a-cash for us—if we get out there and move his product. This is big time, bruh.”

Chris scoffed.

“Okay, okay, true enough. This is a step to the big time. Lamar see us doin’ good work, he’ll maybe hook you up with your own set next to mine. Then we makin’ double what we get at the start.” Jamal looked across the yard at the school doors and Mister Jackson, called “Jax” by the students. The teacher was well out of earshot. “How’s that for some math in real life, Jax? Hundred percent increase in profits.”

Jamal checked his cellphone. “Almost time. Hope you run faster than I remember.”

Chris nodded, swallowing fear. He tried to ignore the pounding in his chest. Mom will kill me if I get caught doing this. She will absolutely murder me if she ever finds out I had anything to do with drugs.

He looked up at the school’s third floor, searching for the admin offices. Mom might be in there… what if she comes to the window? Once again, he decided it sucked having your mother work for your school district.

“Better not punk out on me, man,” Jamal said. “We gotta make a good impression. Show ’em we can get it done.”

A long, clanging bell announced the end of lunch break, and Mister Jackson—a former Marine—loosed a whistle blast that echoed through the yard. The scattered groups of teens plodded toward the doorway while Jax yelled for them to hustle and line up.

“Go!” Jamal took off in a dash, trusting the crowd at the door to serve as distraction.

Chris froze. He tried to pick up his foot and run off after Jamal, but terror held him in check. His eyes watched the office windows. No sign of her. It’s safe. Go!

But something inside balked at the thought of Jamal’s plan. Taking this step felt like getting on the metro. Once the door closed behind you, you went wherever the train was headed, no chance to get off.

Jamal looked back as he ran across the street. His brow furrowed, then he sneered. He said something that looked like an insult, and disappeared into the alley.

Last chance, man. Chris tried to push past his fear. You want to make money? This is real, this is right now, this is your golden opportunity. Whatchu waitin’ for?

He lurched toward the fence and reached the edge of the schoolyard.

“Mister Washington!” Jax’s voice.

Chris froze, hand on the chainlink fence. He winced and turned to face the teacher.

Polo shirt stretched across a wide chest, with the same high-and-tight he’d have worn in the Corps, Jax marched toward Chris. “Where you think you’re headed, son? It’s time for class.”

Chris sighed and moved toward the school.

Jax looked at the alley and frowned. “Washington, I don’t know exactly what you had in mind, but do you realize you were about to make a huge mistake?”

Chris glared at him and kept walking.

Jax laid a firm hand on Chris’s shoulder, halting his progress. “Look, son, I’m not your enemy. But I’m not your friend either. And I’m not stupid. You’ve got hope. You’ve got a future, and you’re going to find it in here.” He pointed to the school doors. “Nothing good for you on that side of the street, you hear me?”


“Excuse me, son?”

“Yes, sir.

Jax put his fists on his hips. “Boy, I could walk upstairs, pull your mother aside, and have a nice chat about what her son’s up to. You want that?”

“No, sir.” This time the respectful tone was genuine.

“I thought not. Here’s my deal with you. I won’t talk to anyone about this, but you promise me you’re not getting into something you’ll regret. And you’re coming to see me for detention after school’s out today. Now let’s move.”

Chris’s shoulders sagged. “Yes, sir.” He followed Jax to the double doors and took his place at the end of the line.

But he glanced back at the alley, just in time to see Jamal and his friends stroll down Lincoln toward Jamal’s set. Jamal’s words echoed in his mind. Better not punk out.

He hoped his ears played a trick on him when he thought he heard Jamal’s laughter on the breeze.



Sergeant Christopher Mason straightened his crisply ironed uniform shirt and adjusted his cap as he stood outside the Precinct 112 police station. First day. Remember this moment. He smiled, took a deep breath—and immediately regretted it.

Precinct 112’s jurisdiction included the industrial district of Stapleton, Illinois. The smokestacks of the massive car part manufacturing plants pumped God only knew what into his lungs and everyone else’s.

Chris coughed and strode up the stairs to report for duty. Showing up for half a day and a Friday… not a bad plan. The drive from L.A. in a U-Haul truck with a wife and toddler following behind in the family car took two days longer than expected.

He stepped through a packed waiting area and showed his ID to the clerk, a blonde twenty-something with an easy smile once she realized he wasn’t another civilian with a complaint or report. She buzzed him in to the operations floor.

The detectives got the nice desks with computers. Other than a long table in the break room at the back of the station, patrol officers were left to fend for themselves. A female sergeant rushed past with a stuffed folder and an evidence bag.

Chris reached for her. “Sergeant, can you tell me—”

She turned aside and brought her burden to one of the detectives, paying him no heed.

Another officer ignored Chris’s second plea with an abrupt “I’m off duty.”

Welcome to Stapleton. Chris meandered through the ops floor, taking in bits of conversation and noting details. He looked over an enormous street map of the precinct that covered the north wall. Precinct 112 sat divided into eight color-coded regions. Magnets with dry-erase names showed which officers were scheduled for patrol in each zone that week.

He looked for Mason and found his name in a large rectangle at the precinct’s center, slightly east of downtown, running north to south. Kazsinski. Can’t wait to meet him… or her.

Another officer stopped beside him, a studious black woman with a tight bun and a pretty face. She adjusted names on magnets for the residential area on the east side of the precinct.

Chris glanced at her nametag. “Afternoon, Sergeant Bristow. You post the patrol schedule?” His academy instructor’s voice echoed in his mind. Always pays to know the scheduler. Never disappoint your Captain, never screw over your scheduler, and you’ll be fine.

She gave a silent nod, then spared him a second glance. “Mason… right. New guy.” She extended a hand and gave a firm shake. “Welcome to Stapleton. Your first patrol’s next week, good luck in the Twenties.”

“Uh, sure, thanks,” he answered. “Can’t wait to hit the street. But can you point me to the Captain’s office first?”

She laughed. “My bad. Captain’s office is down the hall around the next corner. Good timing, I think your new partner’s in there now.”

“Perfect.” Chris nodded his thanks and hurried to report in. His shining dress shoes clicked on the tile floor with military precision. But a sudden voice swallowed up the sound.

“Come on, I had the last one! You gave me Jarvis, and that guy was a moron. Do me a solid here, give him to someone else.”

A soft voice replied behind the tinted door and windows ahead, but Chris couldn’t make it out. He slowed as he neared the door. Stenciled letters read ‘Michael McCullough, Captain of Police, Precinct 112.’

“Look at the record. This kid’s so fresh outta academy, he’s probably still wearin’ T-shirts with the logo on the chest.”

Chris blushed and stood at parade rest outside the Captain’s door.

“Kazsinski,” the other voice growled. “You know why I give you the new guys? ‘Cause you get results. If half my force hit the beat like you, the Mayor would finally be off my—as a matter of fact, look who we got here. Come in!”

Chris turned the knob and entered. “Sergeant Mason reporting for duty, sir.”

Kazsinski snickered. He looked like a caricature of a bodybuilder, with an oversized chest stuffed into a too-tight uniform shirt, tucked into a pair of creased trousers over thin chicken legs. His blonde spiked hair looked frozen in plastic, and his abnormal jaw muscles bulged. He probably does reps clenching his teeth with all his “bros” just for that effect.

The Captain seemed the opposite of everything Kazsinski represented, with thinning grey hair, some chubbiness under his chin, and a decent beer-belly stretching his waistband.

“Have a seat, son, and relax. Meet your new partner, he’s gonna show you the ropes.”

Kazsinski huffed and spun toward the door. “I got tickets to file. See you tomorrow morning, six forty-five, ready to ride, scrublet.” He stormed out and let the door slam behind him.



Chris Washington rubbed his palms together, trying in vain to get the dry-erase marker powder and chalk out of his skin. Backpack slung over one shoulder, earbuds buzzing with distorted bass, he walked out of the school and checked the time on his cracked phone screen.

The display read quarter past four. René is gonna walk home on her own any minute now, and I’m gonna catch it from Mom. Better to take the beating now than to wait for later.

He paused the music and dialed his mother’s number. Before he hit call, strong hands grabbed his shoulders. Chris jumped and spun with a yelp.

Jamal laughed. “Yo man, I knew you’d punk out.”

Chris bristled and kept walking. “Screw you, man, I wasn’t gonna get busted for cuttin’ class to hang with the Kings. My mom would kill me.”

“How long you gonna be a Momma’s boy, dog? Carryin’ all your books home, doin’ homework on lunch break.” Jamal pointed back at the school. “Man, just ’cause your mom work at Pulaski don’t mean all this gonna do you any good.”

“Education will do me good,” Chris countered. “It’ll get me the hell out of the Twenties.”

“Yeah, whateva. Keep talkin’ white if that works for you.” Jamal put his hands in his pockets and followed Chris for a moment, then spoke with a warmer tone. “You know what does me good? My buddies Ben and Grant.” He flashed two large bills. “Not bad for an afternoon. How much cash you make today, cleanin’ the classroom boards?”

“Jax gave me detention instead of tellin’ my mom what he almost caught me doin’. You should be glad I didn’t turn you in too.”

“Nobody like a squealer, Chris. Don’t even think about it. The Kings be on you in no time. Besides—” He clapped Chris on the back. “I put in a good word for you.”

“Say what?”

“Please. They saw you choke. They ain’t gonna give you product to push. But I told ’em to give you another chance. Maybe when the heat dies down an’ Jax has other kids to worry about, you can come with me. I’ll hook you up.”

Chris ignored the queasy feeling building up. “Hang on man, I gotta call my mom to pick up René.” He dialed and held the phone up before Jamal could object.

“Hey Mom. Yeah. Yes, ma’am. I’m on my way home now.”

Jamal cracked an imaginary whip. Chris glared at him then turned away. “I got held after class to work for Jax—sorry. Mister Jackson. No, ma’am, I didn’t. I’m with Jamal, we’re headed home. No, really.” Jamal gave Chris a mischievous smirk.

“He’s not like that, Mom. Yes ma’am… Uh, can you pick up René? She always leaves if I’m later than four thirty. Thanks, Mom. Bye.”

Jamal cracked up when Chris lowered the phone. “Yes ma’am, no ma’am, whatever you say, ma’am.”

“You met my mother, bruh?” Chris slapped the back of Jamal’s head. “Talk about punkin’ out. I bet you say ‘yes ma’am’ real quick if you come by our place. Or she put you in your place.”

Jamal chuckled, but nodded. “Yeah, true dat.”



Sergeant Mason’s head swam with information from briefings. Equipment hung in his locker, an issued weapon sat on an armory shelf, and a file folder stuffed with signed documents joined the others in the records room. The afternoon whirlwind of activity drew to a close. But now he was ready for duty.

Chris noted the long shadows and amber sunset hues in the windows of the ops floor. He checked his watch and gathered his things.

His cell buzzed and a text message from Laura flashed on the screen. “I’m in the parking lot. The Bee is with me. How was first day?”

With a smile and a joyful step, Chris made for the exit to see his wife and daughter.

“Mason!” The captain’s voice rang in the hallway to his office. “Got a sec?”

Of course I do. Even if I don’t. Chris walked with a brisk clip, fired off a text to let Laura know he needed a few minutes, and entered the open office without knocking.

The captain grunted a greeting without looking up from his computer screen, fingers tapping keys. “I know you’re on your way home, Mason, but there’s something you should know. Close the door, son.”

Chris did so, then stood at parade rest. “What’s wrong, sir?”

Captain McCullough paused his work and looked up to meet Chris’s gaze. “The stuff I told you about Kaz? Forget all that. He gets to babysit rookies—sorry for the term, but that’s what it is—because he’s hopeless. None of the vets will work with him. He’s certainly not the best I got. But he’s the open patrol slot where I could put your name.”

“Okay, Captain, understood.”

“I’ve got some special training lined up for next week that might help him sort himself out. Might help get you on the right path from the start, too. But listen, a new guy like you can still learn some things from him. Kaz knows the precinct well, and can teach you what to look for. He does a decent job while he pisses everyone else off, so figure out the stuff he does right, and throw away whatever else he tells you. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

The captain nodded and returned to his work.

“Sir? I have a question, if you don’t mind.”

“Hmm?” He kept his eyes on the screen, and kept typing.

“I keep hearing about the Twenties. That’s where Kaz and I are scheduled to patrol starting Monday.”

“Yeah, the Twenties…” The captain chuckled and sat back, hands behind his head. “Most of our trouble starts there, with the Southern Kings and the Mercy Disciples shooting each other up. Same way no one wants to ride with Kaz, no one wants to ride in the Twenties. That’s behind enemy lines to us, Mason.”

Great. Chris swallowed hard.

“I send rookies there first,” Captain McCullough said. “Trial by fire. You learn to deal with that place, everywhere else in the precinct is cake.” He noticed Chris’s reaction and softened his tone. “Don’t worry. Kaz may be a brick some days, but he can handle a rough situation. Pretty soon, this’ll all be old hat to you. Anything else?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Dismissed. Leave the door open, please. And Mason? Get a good night’s sleep.”

“Thanks, sir. I’ll try.” He left the office.

Chris stepped outside to his wife’s smiling face and his daughter’s delighted squeals, and his mood brightened. Their hugs gave him comfort—one around his neck, one around his right leg. But he couldn’t shake the dread that latched onto him like a heavy backpack slung over his shoulder.