Monday, August 11, 2014

Serial Novel: Burning Kansas - Chapter 8

It's 1863 on the volatile border between Kansas and Missouri. Creighton Blaylock and Caroline Cassett  are facing two parents' greatest fear, their children are missing and it looks like they've run off to Lawrence, the heart of the turmoil of war torn Bleeding Kansas.

Miss a chapter? Click on the "Burning Kansas" link in the sidebar.

Burning Kansas – Chapter 8

Creighton Blaylock reined his horse at the red and white striped pole. Grabbing a bundle from his saddlebag, he said, "Zeus, This may take a while and you may not recognize me when I get out. Wish me luck."

He laughed at the horse's snuffle and headed inside. His smile faded when the conversation fell silent and hard eyes measured him.

"What can I do for you?"

Blaylock forced a light tone. "I've been on a hard trail up from Texas and thought I'd scrape off some road so my woman doesn't greet me with a shotgun. I'm looking for a shave, haircut, and a bath if you've got it." The lie came easy when he put the image of Caroline in his mind.

The men in the shop relaxed and the barber gestured him to an empty chair. "Welcome stranger, I'll be right with you."

"Thank you. Be nice to have a seat that's not moving." Blaylock hung his battered hat on a hook and sat down. The two men sitting in the sunny window went back to their newspapers. Headlines were split between the bombardment of Charleston and collapse of the Union prison building in Lawrence. Blaylock tensed at the second. He'd served with men who had womenfolk penned up in that hellhole. He wondered if any of them were among the injured or killed.

Damn it. Why did the kids have to head to Lawrence? I hope Caroline is wrong.

"So, what took you to Texas," the barber, his voice thick with the professional tone of a man who knew how to get a good tip, asked as he brushed off his current customer's neck.

"What? Oh, my brother has a spread down there. Thinking of taking my family down there to live, so I went to check it out," said Blaylock, coming back to the present.

The barber pulled off the dingy drape and shook it clean. A teen boy appeared out of the back room with a broom and quickly cleaned up the floor.

"I can't offer you a full bath, but we can rustle you up some soap and hot water for a small fee."

Blaylock settled in the chair and said, "I would like that just fine."


"I heard you Pa, I'll get it ready," came the reply from the back room.

Blaylock had to laugh. "That's a good boy you've got there."

"He's a little hellion, but he and his friends finally got caught. He knows if he doesn't work good and hard here, he'll be looking at a mule's ass behind a plow at his grandfather's place."

"I got me a boy who's a handful myself. Good for you," said Blaylock.

The barber brandished scissors and comb and said, "So, what can I do for you? A trim?"

Blaylock took a deep breath and stroked his beard. He'd always kept it neat, even when it spilled over his collar and down his shirt front. It had been part of his rank. His signature. He also heard Caroline's pleading voice asking him to look less like what he was. A quick glance at the war torn headlines and he was as sick of it as she. This situation with Jacob changed things.  

"Take it all off, right down to the hide."

The barber's expression belied his thoughts.

"I know it'll cost extra and there's a good tip in it if you don't slice me to ribbons."

"Yes sir!"

Blaylock closed his eyes and let the snipping sounds lull him. A steaming towel was followed by the warm lather and scraping of the razor. In a shorter time than he expected, the barber wiped his face and said, 

"Now that was a job."

Blaylock ran his hand over his cheeks, the smoothness felt strange.

"You got a mirror?"

The barber responded by handing him a surprisingly dainty silver-framed hand mirror. When Blaylock didn't say anything, the barber fidgeted and asked, "Is everything all right?"

Blaylock laughed and said, "Just a surprise. She still might pull that shotgun on me. Now, how about a quick trim on my hair and that hot water you promised me?"

The breeze felt odd on Blaylock's bare cheeks when he closed the barbershop door behind him. He stuffed his dirty shirt back in his saddlebag and looked up and down the street hoping to see Caroline and hear her news.

Just like a woman, hurry up and wait.

Blaylock jumped aside when a farmer carrying two large bundles pushed past him. "No use standing here like an idiot. Might as well go check out the general store. Zeus, you keep an eye out." He swatted his horse on the rump and crossed the busy street.

Blaylock breathed deep, taking in the smells of coffee, tobacco, and spices while he mentally ticked off the supplies they would need for the ride. Two women glanced at him sidelong under tip-tilted eyes and one blushed when he returned her smile.

"Hello, good day and can I help you?" The shopkeeper, in an apron so white and starched that he had to have a maid washing and ironing half the day, sprang forward.

"Maybe in a minute. I'm waiting for someone."

"As you wish. Please feel free to look around."

Would you would have been so polite an hour ago? Caroline's right, gussied-up is good camouflage.

The bright colors of the dry goods and ladies' finery caught his eye and Blaylock wandered over. His rough fingers caught on the satiny surface of a wide green ribbon. Lucinda had loved such fripperies, but he wasn't thinking of her when he took the reel to the counter and rang the bell.

"Excellent choice, sir. How much would you like?"

Blaylock hadn't considered that. The younger woman shopper edged closer.

"How about a nice length for a hair bow? A little present for," he turned toward the girl who was practically pressing against him, "my intended."

A snapped fan, laughter from the older woman shopper, and the tinkling of the store's doorbell announced that Blaylock had been correct in his assessment.

The shopkeeper's lip twitched, but he didn't say anything as he cut the ribbon and wrapped it in tissue.  "This is sure to please her. It's from Paris and fit for a lady as beautiful as," he glanced at the plate glass window, "as beautiful as she is."

Blaylock followed his gaze. Caroline stood on the other side of the glass looking up and down the street.

"Indeed it is," said Blaylock.

"That's Michael Cassett's widow. Sure you've heard of him. He's a hero in these parts. Shame to leave a woman like that alone."

Blaylock hesitated, wondering if the grocer would still be smiling and scraping if he told him exactly how he know Michael Cassett and his widow. Instead, all he said was, "Indeed it is," as he walked out the door.

Aware of the eyes on them, Blaylock put his hand on the small of Caroline's back and said, "Act like I'm your beau. I'll tell you later."

When she started, he said, "Caroline, it's me, Creighton."

To be continued . . . 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The People of the Package . . . The You Know You Want It Edition

Greetings from the archives of The People of the Package. Their job was to convince you to buy.

You know you want it . . . #packagepeople

Writer Fuel Sunday . . . The Comfort Edition

Felt pretty funky all week. No big surprise considering the air here in Kansas is 1/3 mold, 1/3 oatmeal, 1/6 some unidentified goop, and 1/6 the good stuff. So, I pretty much stayed inside with the A/C cranked, my Kindle charged, and a bottomless pot of #writerfuel on tap.

But I did pass a major milestone. My manuscript is off to the editor for him to do his worst in preparation for self-pubbing. I went through the manuscript that has been sitting on my computer since March (when it went on the query-go-round) like a talisman. I took a few hours and went through my book, cleaning out some tics (discussion on the use and misuse of "however" to come.) But when I was done, it felt like art again instead of a commodity.

So, in celebration of writing and the need for a really big mug when you don't feel well:

Always remember and never forget . . . #writerfuel

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Writer Fuel and the Divine and Delightful Jenny Milchman

On Saturday, August 2nd, I had a triple delight. I got to meet a Facebook friend and former blogmate for the first time. Janna Qualman and I shredded a 3-hour lunch geeking out about writing and life. I hope it was only the first of many such lunches.

The reason we were in Kansas City on Saturday was to attend the monthly Sisters-In-Crime chapter meeting at the Mysteryscape bookstore on 80th Street, just off of Metcalf. The speaker was Jenny Milchman in her 20,000-mile insane family book tour talking about her two books, Cover of Snow and Ruin Falls. 

If you ever have a chance to see Jenny speak, take it. Her warmth and enthusiasm as she tells tales of the ups and downs of her road to publication are the whipped cream and sprinkles on top of getting your sticky little hands on one of her books from the shelves of your friendly neighborhood bookstore. (Well, in my case, the neighborhood is 80 miles from home, but its Kansas, we're used to 100-mile commutes.)

After the talk and lunch, I also stopped into my fav thrift shop in Overland Park and threw elbows with the locals at a 50% off sale. That foray yielded today's #writerfuel teacup. Independence Ironstone by Interpace in the Millbrook pattern. Interpace, short for International Pipe and Ceramics, a company that is heir to Haviland, Shenango, and Franciscan. This pattern dates between 1962 and 1979.

So, some fresh tea and Cover of Snow to delve into the question of what makes a good man do bad things.

"Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide."


Sunday, August 3, 2014

And The Manuscript is Off to the Editor

I have the best family ever and belong to the best community of writers ever. Through a combination of amazing generosity, my Kickstarter project to help fund the final costs of bringing Devil's Deal to life was successful.

I believe in crowd-funding. I've contributed to at least a half-dozen (ranging from Chuck Wendig to Reading Rainbow) and liked watching the projects come to fruition. If you ever give it a try, the one thing I guarantee is that you will be surprised where your support does (and doesn't) come from.

Depending on my awesome editor's schedule and how badly he beats me over the head and shoulders on the rest of the edits, my first indie novel is on about a 6-week glide path to publication.

Thank you everyone. I hope you like it.