Wednesday, February 10, 2021

BANEWIND by M.B. Chapman

Author: M.B. Chapman
Publisher: Light Messages / Torchflame Books
Pages: 268
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Fiction

Almost two weeks ago I was just a normal girl getting ready to start my senior year of high school, deciding where I wanted my life to go. And now?

I’ve kissed a boy. I’ve been to another world. I’ve seen death.

And I don’t know what my life’s become.

Banewind tells the spellbinding story of 18-year-old Genevieve DeWinter, a typical high school girl who finds herself entangled in the throes of adventure, romance, and survival after discovering the existence of a group of magical beings known as Formulists and their co-existing world, Banewind.

With the arrival of several mages in her hometown of Parma, Ohio, Genevieve soon learns that these extraordinary secrets are rooted deep within her family’s history when it is revealed her deceased mother was a heroic warrior in a long lineage of female protectors called the Holy Guardian. Now, a vengeful group of Formulists known as the Voidweavers have returned and set their sights on Genevieve, believing she might be the next Holy Guardian and the key to awakening their fallen leader, the Void King, who had been destroyed by Genevieve’s mother when she sacrificed herself a decade earlier to save Banewind and all of humanity from an unthinkable evil.

With the help of new allies, Genevieve must fight to stay alive as she unravels the mystery and danger that have shattered the stability of the life she once knew before the Voidweavers succeed in shadowing the world in chaos and darkness once again.


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“Are you ready, Blaine?” A man stands in the middle of a darkened lab, staring at a metal platform rising from the concrete ground. With dark, beady eyes he looks to the woman who just spoke, before averting his gaze back to the contraption welded to the floor. “Are you ready?” she repeats. The large bird skull adorning her head obscures her face. “Perhaps he’s having second thoughts,” another woman sneers, from the lab stool she sits on. Her silver curls cascade past her face, barely allowing her emerald eyes to sparkle through. “What’s wrong, Blaine?” she says. “Is the mighty Magician afraid?” “If you’re more confident in this working, Valkryn, then why don’t you volunteer to do it yourself?” Blaine continues gazing at the platform, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his orange trench coat. “Of the few occasions I have constructed makeshift portals without connecting to a specific endpoint, the results have been…less than desirable.” “You sent the orphan through without issue last time.” Valkryn’s black amethyst latex suit squeaks as she crosses her legs. “How do you account for that?” “Dumb luck.” He pulls at his black goatee, the gears in his mind churning. “Perhaps there’s a better way.” “I don’t have time for any more foolishness,” says the woman with the bird skull. “The boy has already informed us that Sadie Hawthorne and Jensen Saint Clair are in town, ready to protect the girl. With every moment we waste, there is less of a chance we can capture her.” She points to the platform. “Get on there now, or the only thing going through that portal will be your lifeless body.” Blaine grunts, adjusting the orange, pointed hat atop his head, before stepping onto the metal. His black boots clang, echoing through the room. “I’m ready,” he says. The woman with the bird skull nods and picks up an octahedral-shaped crystal from the lab bench nearby. “Do not fail me.” She moves forward as her purple cloak glides against the floor. “The girl is the only key we have to breaking the spell.” “If she’s even what you say she is,” Blaine says. The woman turns the crystal in her hand, and he vanishes. “You really think this will work?” Valkryn looks at where Blaine stood just moments before. “Addisyn DeWinter never told us about the existence of her daughter,” says the woman with the bird skull. “The Holy Guardian’s bloodline has always been passed on through the female lineage. The next paladin would have to be her.” “But she’s not from this world.” Valkryn frowns. “She was born outside of Banewind.” “That makes no difference.” The woman with the bird skull turns toward the lab’s exit. “You cannot escape destiny, Valkryn.” She pauses at the door. “I have learned that all too well.” She leaves Valkryn alone, in silence, as she disappears into the darkened corridor.

The evening sky above the forest is splotched with stars, reawakening to blanket the world in their beauty once again. The faint breeze in the midsummer night’s air carries with it the woodland’s melody—a cacophony of chirping crickets and singing nighthawks. In the trees’ hollows, the majestic owls arise from their slumber, ready to cast their watchful gaze over the land. And there, in the center of the forest, stands Blaine. Alive. Relief washes over his mind. He looks around at the trees and shrubbery, taking a hesitant step as if testing the muddy ground. When he seems content with his surroundings, he steps through the foliage, pushing the branches and twigs out of his way. Within minutes, he has broken through the forest’s edge and finds himself at the top of a hill. From there, he sees the quaint cityscape that lies below, dotted with specks of light from the streetlamps and car headlights that speed through the dark. Blaine treks down the hill and continues toward the city’s outskirts. He finds himself outside of an abandoned church. As he approaches the wooden doors, he sees a plaque adorning the nineteenth-century brick wall, the remnants of its founding date having rusted away with time. A thick metal chain is wrapped around the handles, preventing him from entering. He clears his throat and grips the padlock in his calloused hands. An orange glow radiates from his fingertips, evolving into flames that dance until they are chewing through the metal lock. The fire reflects off his face, illuminating his worn, pock-marked skin. Soon the metal glows molten red as it melts into a mound of gelatinous goo, dripping through the cracks between his fingers. Hisssssssssssssss! Snap! The chain unravels through the handles as it clangs to the ground. He forces open the doors, shielding his face as a thick cloud of dust billows out into the night air. His footsteps echo through the church’s vaulted ceilings as he treads across the marble floor with his black boots. He pauses at the altar, slowly turning in a circle to take in his surroundings. He removes his orange, pointed hat and clutches at its brim, rubbing it between his fingers while grunting. “Hmm. This could work.” He taps his foot against the marble floor. “Yes, this could work.” As he stands there thinking about the project ahead of him, his memory stirs back to the first time he ever created a portal. “You’re never going to amount to anything, Blaine,” his father had jeered, taking a hammer to the metal structure he’d worked so hard on. “The opportunity to study at the Academy, and you waste it on meaningless projects like this? You’re no engineer. I’m disappointed to even call you my son.” Blaine shakes the image from his head. If he could only see me now. A sardonic grin spreads across his face. The feared Magician, chief tinkerer to the Voidweavers’ army. He pulls out a cell phone and dials a number. “Hello?” a young man answers. “I’m here, Scythe. Do you have the girl?” Outside, a murder of crows soar into the night sky, startled awake by the church bell’s thunderous roar resonating from the belfry tower.

Friday, November 6, 2020

First Chapter Reveal: 'River Aria' by Joan Schweighardt

Genre: Historical fiction

Author: Joan Schweighardt


Publisher: Five Directions Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

River Aria is narrated by Estela Hopper, who, as a ten-year-old girl living in the impoverished fishing village of Manaus, Brazil in the early 20th century, is offered a twist-of-fate opportunity to study opera with an esteemed voice instructor. During her years of instruction, Estela, who is talented, passionate and dramatic by nature, dreams of leaving Brazil to perform in New York. But as her beloved instructor is not able to convince the managers of the great Metropolitan Opera that they should bring on a mixed-race immigrant who grew up on the banks of the Amazon River to become an elite performer, Estela accepts what they do offer, a position in the sewing room, and leaves Brazil on a ship with her cousin JoJo in the year 1928.

The challenges that befall Estela and JoJo in New York are plentiful. Estela’s father, an Irish American who came to her village nearly twenty years earlier (at which time she was conceived), has a plan for what her life should look like once she is settled. Her relationship with JoJo changes drastically when he learns he was lied to about his own parentage, and again when he takes a dangerous job working for the owner of a speakeasy. And of course her personal challenges of finding some modicum of success in a place like New York are not only enormous but crushing to her once robust sense of self.



December 1928

When Tia Adriana’s tearful outbursts first began, JoJo thought it was because she would miss him so much. And surely that was part of it. But the bigger part was that she had lied to him, long ago when he was a little boy. And as there didn’t seem to be any harm in her deception at that time, as it made JoJo happy in fact to hear her build on it, Tia Adriana had done just that. She’d embellished her lie; like clay, she kneaded it and stretched it, working it until it was as high and as stalwart as the tall ships that sometimes came out of the night to rest in our harbor, until it was as vast and mysterious as the river itself. She even made it official, hauling it up the hill to The Superior Tribunal of Justice building to be recorded and made public for anyone who cared to see.

Many times in the weeks before JoJo and I left for New York, Tia Adriana tried to tell him the truth. But every time she opened her mouth, her effort turned to sobbing. Dropping her head into her hands, she would cry with abandon. And when JoJo crossed the room to lay his callused palm upon her heaving back, she would only cry harder.

She wept so much that not two weeks before our departure JoJo said he wouldn’t be coming with me after all, that he would rather stay in Manaus and live the life he had than break his mother’s heart. He made a joke of it; he said if his mother kept crying, the flooding that year would be twice as bad and everyone in the city would drown, and it would be on him, and he would be forever cursed and become a corpo-Seco when his days were up, a dry corpse, because the devil would return his soul and Earth would reject his flesh. He was joking, yes, but he was also toying with the idea of changing his mind.

It was then that the other two got involved, my mother, whose name was Bruna, and Tia Louisa, who were sisters—in heart if not in blood—to Tia Adriana, and to each other as well. “Is that what you want for your son?” Tia Louisa scolded when JoJo was not around. “You want your only child should grow up here, fishing for a living in a ghost town? Dwelling in a shack up on stilts and likely to flood anyway? Every day a sunrise and a sunset and barely anything worth noticing in between?” My mother would chirp in then, adding in her quiet way, her coarse fingers extending to cover Tia Adriana’s trembling wet hands, “Adriana, wasn’t it because you wanted more for him that you lied in the first place?”

The three of them would become philosophers once my mother and Tia Louisa had calmed Tia Adriana sufficiently that she could think past her grief. They weighed JoJo’s future, how it would unfold if he stayed in Manaus, and how it might unfold if he left. Would and might: they might as well have been weighing mud and air. Could he be happy, they asked themselves, eking out a living on the docks for the rest of his life? Blood and fish guts up to his elbows? Endless squabbles up on the hill trying to get the best price for his labors? Drawing his pictures on driftwood—because between us all we couldn’t keep him in good paper—or on the shells of eggs, or even our shabby furniture? 

Was that what was best for our beloved JoJo? Or was it the alternative that promised more? America! America! O my America! My new-found-land! In America he would be attending an art school—the grandest art school in the grandest city in that country—not because he, our JoJo, who had grown up ragged and shoeless, had ever even considered that he might travel to New York, but because a man by the name of Felix Black, the protégé of a famous American artist and a former teacher of art himself, had come to Manaus to study our decaying architecture some months ago. And as The Fates would have it, he wandered into Tia Louisa’s restaurant and saw JoJo sitting in the back booth with some paints he had paid for with money he’d made scrubbing decks on one of the locals’ boats, painting the young woman sitting across from him (me, as it happens) on a canvas so scruffy it could only have come from someone’s rubbish pile. Senhor Black watched for a long while and then bent over JoJo and whispered in his ear—startling our dearest JoJo because, except for his eye and his breath and the fingers holding his brush, he was barely there in his own body when he painted—to say that he was a benefactor at an art school far away in New York, and if JoJo were to come, he would help him to realize his full potential—a message I quickly translated as JoJo did not speak much English at that time. 

Mud or air? Foot-sucking muck from the bottom of the river or the breath of the heavens, sweet and suffused with bird song? Stinking dead fish or full potential?

We knew what was best for JoJo all right; and we knew that JoJo, who was fearless—though he could barely read or write—would never get an opportunity like this again. And as I would be traveling to New York too, what could be better than sending us off together, one to watch over the other? But the fact remained that Tia Adriana could not bring herself to tell him about her deception, and he could not be permitted to arrive in New York without knowing about it.

I didn’t know the lie was a lie myself until the week before our scheduled departure. Being more than a year younger than JoJo (and loose-lipped, if my mother and as tias could be believed), no one had been foolish enough to trust me to keep a secret of such consequence. I had even participated in the lie—albeit unwittingly—which was nearly as exciting to me as it was to JoJo. 

And so it was that when my aunts and Mamãe first began to look for ways to throw light on the truth, they didn’t include me in their conversations. But when they failed to find even a single solution, they called me into Tia Adriana’s shack and sat me down at the table and told me the whole long story from beginning to end. 

While they spoke, interrupting one another with details as was their way, I slouched in my chair and leaned back, until I was looking up at the ceiling. Our images were up there: Me and Tia Adriana and my dearest Mamãe, and Tia Louisa and Tia-Avó Nilza, who was Tia Adriana’s mother (and JoJo’s grandmother). Three years earlier, JoJo had painted all of us on a large rectangular ipe wood table top that Tia Louisa was throwing out from the restaurant because rain from the roof had leaked on it a time too many and it had begun to blister and crack. When JoJo claimed the piece of wood for himself, Tia Louisa scolded that his mother’s house was far too small to hang a thing that size. But then an out-of-towner who’d been listening to their conversation over a bowl of fish stew told JoJo about The Sistine Chapel, which JoJo had never heard of. And so impressed was JoJo with the stranger’s story of how the famous artist (Michelangelo, whom JoJo hadn’t heard of either) had come to paint on the ceiling of the Pope’s chapel, that JoJo decided he would nail his painting up on his mother’s ceiling, where no one could say it was in the way. And there it remained. But instead of scenes from the Bible depicting man’s fall from grace, JoJo had painted us floating through our labors, all smiling as if we were saints already—me and Tia Louisa at the restaurant, serving rowdy wage earners, and my mother and the others sitting shoulder to shoulder all in a row on the wooden bench outside Tia Adriana’s shack, repairing fishing nets and singing their favorite fados with strong voices and extravagant gestures.

Usually when I looked at the painting it was to marvel at how young I was back then, how much I’d changed. But now I was thinking that with the exception of myself, JoJo had unintentionally painted the very women who knew about the lie from the beginning, who had most probably helped to shape it, knowing them. I felt my face grow hot, with anger first and then with embarrassment and then with despair. And then Tia Louisa, who was just hoisting the story into the present, changed her tone and snapped, “Estela, are you listening to what we’re saying?”

I straightened at once.

“This is important, young lady, so please pay attention,” she said in Portuguese. She knew a little English, but we always spoke in our native tongue when we were all together. “Once you’re safe on the ship on your way to America, you need to tell JoJo about the lie—”

“And the truth it was meant to hide,” Tia Adriana broke in, nodding excitedly.

“And the truth it was meant to hide, yes.” Tia Louisa closed her eyes and sat in silence for a moment, perhaps in prayer. Then she went on. “You’ll be almost four weeks traveling, the two of you sharing a cabin. He’ll have nowhere to escape to! When you arrive in New York, we’ll want your full report, your letter saying he knows and has accepted…”

“And that he loves me…us…in spite of…,” Tia Adriana cried, her eyes filling with fresh tears.

I looked at their faces. Only my mother was leaning forward, waiting anxiously for me to respond. The other two trusted me better, especially Tia Louisa, who was sitting back now with her arms folded under her ample breasts.

I let them wait. I looked beyond them, at the cast iron skillets hanging from hooks over the wood stove, the clay dishes out on shelves, the cot in the corner where Tia Adriana slept, the old tin washtub in the opposite corner, the curtain—worn to gauze from years of handling—that separated the kitchen from the back room where Tia-Avó Nilza and Avô Davi (who was Nilza’s husband and JoJo’s grandfather) and JoJo slept. 

“Yes, of course,” I mumbled. 

They chuckled, all of them, with relief, and in that moment it occurred to me that I would have to lie to them, mamãe and as tias, in the event that JoJo was unforgiving. 

About the Author:

Joan Schweighardt is the author of River Aria, which is both a standalone novel and the third book in a trilogy, as well as other novels, nonfiction titles, and children’s books. She is also a freelance writer and ghostwriter.

Find out more about Joan!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

MAGNOLIA by James S. Kelly

Author: James S. Kelly
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Pages: 432
Genre: Historical Fiction/Civil War Love Story


Two young men grow up in the south, become great friends and love the same woman. One moves north as the civil war nears and becomes Administrative Asst to Abraham Lincoln The one who remained in the south vacates his office of US Senator to become the south’s chief spy. Both men are pitted against each other during the war. As the war ends, they try to renew their friendship but will the presence of the one they both love be an impediment.


            The Bureau of Indian Affairs under the US Department of Interior had its main office in the nation’s capitol.  Cameron Harris worked as an agent for them over the past ten years. Prior to obtaining this position, he served as an Army Scout for ten years in the far west, leaving the service with a military rank of Lt. Colonel. There were twelve agents in the entire directorate that were responsible for all the Indian Reservations in the United States, including about two hundred and fifty million acres of land. Cameron’s territory was the mid Atlantic States to include the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey; he was responsible for twenty five reservations.
This week he was in South Carolina to witness the treaty signing between that state and the Catawba Nation or what was left of it. The Catawba had lived in the South Carolina Region for over five thousand years and at one time were a great Indian Nation. But the incursion of immigrants continually squeezed the nation into smaller and confined areas. There were continuous claims made by the Catawba with very little resolution. Eventually, the federal government awarded the Catawba about fifteen square miles of land in York and Lancaster Districts to resolve their claims. As late as the American Revolutionary war, there were between four and five thousand Catawba; in 1820 their number had dwindled to less than one hundred.
There were many reasons for their decline, including the numerous viruses brought by the Europeans. But the primary one was that they fought on the side of the colonists during the war for independence and the English retaliated. For siding with the Americans, the British destroyed their major villages, which had a huge economic impact on their future. It was the British vindictiveness that devastated their nation. It forced them to turn to the plantation owners for their livelihood. They were now dependent on cotton and tobacco for work and subsistence.
But the signing of this treaty wasn’t the only reason that Cameron Harris left his office in the nation’s capital to be in South Caroline today. He was going home to Charleston to be with his wife, who was expecting their first child. They already had the name picked out. He was to be named after his great grandfather, James Stephen Harris, that is, if it was a boy.
The old chief of the Catawba Nation, Running Deer, had known Cameron for ten years and wanted to celebrate the treaty signing with his friend on this auspicious day. Members of the tribe had dressed in their finest and several state officials remained behind after the ceremony to give support to the Catawba. There wasn’t supposed to be any spirits at the ceremony, but it didn’t take long for a bottle to be passed around. “I’ve got to go, chief. My wife is going to have a baby.”
“Women have baby all the time. Don’t need help. We drink to treaty.”
“You’re not supposed to drink in the court house.” Cameron pleaded.
“No one care; you have drink.”
Cameron smiled. “I’ll come back next week and we can have a party. I’ll bring a deer, but I’m leaving now. I can be home in three hours.”
“You our friend. You have one drink and dance with my people, then you go.”
He shook hands with several state officials, staggered to his horse and made his way home after he had four drinks and did a five minute dance with Running Deer and five other members of the tribe. His wife was living in Charleston with her parents until the baby came. He had a three hour ride to be with her; it started to rain.
He’d come to Charleston two years ago to meet with South Carolina officials to discuss how to supply food to the reservation in their area when there was an emergency, which happened far too frequently. After the meeting, his contact within the State’s Indian Section, Charles Morgan, asked him to join him and another state official at the Beef and Rye Restaurant, downtown. Since he was by himself, he readily accepted. By eighteen hundred standards, the restaurant was average but the food and service were excellent. Cameron had a busy day and was tired; besides he needed to return to Washington the next morning; he wanted to turn in early. But Morgan insisted he meet a friend of his, who was an expert on Indian Affairs.  Rather than be difficult, he allowed Morgan to walk him over to another table in the restaurant and be introduced to Frederick Hendricks, a Professor of American History at the University of South Carolina.
It seems that Hendricks wasn’t the only one at the table. Cameron met Hendricks’ wife Hilda and his daughter Amy, an attractive and perky daughter of twenty one. After the introductions, Cameron went back to his table with Morgan but kept looking back at the Hendricks’ table. His two companions so became engaged in a spirited argument dealing with slavery, but he didn’t hear a word they were saying. He had his eyes glued on Amy Hendricks. When their eyes met, she smiled. As soon as he got up enough courage, he went back to the Hendricks’s table and apologized for the interruption. “Sir, I wonder if I could have a word with your daughter?”
The father nodded and Cameron turned to the young woman. “I hope that I’m not too presumptuous, but would you care to have lunch with me tomorrow at the inn in the town center?”
Amy answered immediately. “I’ll expect that you’ll call at my home tomorrow at noon. If that’s acceptable, here’s my address.” She handed him a small piece of paper with her address printed on it.
He stammered a yes and went back to join Morgan; Hendricks and his wife smiled at each other.
There’s was a white two story, two bedroom home with blue trim around the windows sitting in the middle of the block on First Street. He arrived thirty minutes early and talked to her father while Amy was getting ready. The two men found that they had a lot in common and were engrossed in a discussion when Amy came down the stairs. Cameron got up and complimented her on her light green dress she wore with a matching shawl.
He shook hands with her father and promised that they wouldn’t be gone long.  As they walked to the inn, he was astonished at how small she was. Barely five feet tall with a slender frame; yet she walked with the grace of a dancer. Cameron was no giant. He stood five feet ten inches tall on a one hundred sixty five pound frame. His black hair and brown eyes were in stark contrast to her red hair and blue eyes. This was the start of a one year courtship from Washington to Charleston.  Initially his visits were once a month but gradually increased to twice a month. His main transportation from the nation’s capitol was by a boat that resupplied Forts Sumter and Moultrie, lying on an island in the Charleston harbor. He made this commute for a year before he asked her father for Amy’s hand in marriage.
When her father gave his permission, he stammered a proposal. The only thing she said before he kissed her was, “what took you so long? A girl could get tired of waiting.”
The ride to see Amy took longer than the three hours he estimated, primarily because of the heavy down pour that drenched him to the skin. His father-in-law met him at the door with a glass of wine and a wide smile on his face. “It won’t be long now. She’s in labor and the mid wife and my wife are with her. I think you can go up, but they’ll throw you out when it’s time. I suggest you change into something dry first. Use the kitchen; no one’s there. I’ll put your horse in the paddock out back and give it some oats.”
Cameron only had time to kiss his Amy before her mother said he’d have to leave. Ten minutes later he and Hendricks heard the cry of a new born. Soon, her mother yelled down the stairs, “It’s a boy.”
Within the same time frame, on a plantation ten miles outside the city’s limits, Francois Beauregard, a West Point Graduate, was waiting with his father, Ambrose for the birth of his first child. Similar to Cameron, he hoped and prayed for a boy to carry on his tradition. He wasn’t to be disappointed.
The Beauregard family had lived in the Charleston area since the late seventeen hundreds. They left Haiti in midst of a revolution and arrived at Charleston Harbor with forty of their slaves. Ambrose bought six hundred acres and planted cotton; they named their plantation, Rosebud. Subsequently, they grew so large that they had to employ three white overseers to manage seventy five slaves, who planted and picked cotton; tobacco was a secondary product. Ambrose was a firm but tolerant master and his overseers took his lead in dealing with the blacks. What made his operation work so smoothly was the fact that he worked in the fields alongside the slaves.  He personally operated the cotton gin and baled the product. To date there’d been no runaways that plaqued other plantations in the area. He felt grateful for his good fortune in coming to this country and tried to make life on the plantation as tolerable as possible for everyone, including the slaves.
Cameron owned a modest three bedroom home on the Potomac a few miles from the Capitol; he planned to move his young family there as soon as his wife was able to travel. But he hadn’t counted on his wife’s depression that persisted after the baby was born. His mother in law told him that it was normal for a woman to feel tired and emotional after giving birth. “You must have patience. It may take a little longer than normal, but she’ll come around She’s a tiny woman and it may be weeks before she can build up her strength. I’m going to have Doctor Watson keep an eye on her. Maybe he can recommend a tonic that’ll help.”
“I’ve stayed longer than I anticipated. I must get back to my office or I won’t have a job. Do you think I can leave Amy and the child here for a couple of more weeks and then I’ll come back and take them with me?”
“Cameron, my husband and I want to do as much as we can to help you and our daughter. The boy will be fine with Frederick and me until you come back.”
With a heavy heart he took the ship back to Washington. His boss, the Under Secretary for Indian Affairs wasn’t happy with all the time he’d been taking to handle his personal business. “Look Harris, you either get your personal life squared away or get yourself another job. I’m sorry to be so tough on you but that’s the way it is.” With that he dismissed Cameron.
When he returned to Charleston two weeks later, Amy’s symptoms were the same and the prognosis unsure, but this time there was a different doctor attending to her. When Cameron went into her bedroom, he kissed her on the forehead but she barely acknowledged his presence. He stayed by her bed for over thirty minutes holding her hand and finally stepped out of the room. He walked down the stairs and joined Doctor Allen, who’d recently taken over Amy’s care and was talking to both parents at the kitchen table. “She doesn’t look any better than when I was here the last time.” Cameron interrupted.
Allen turned around to talk to Cameron. “I gave her a sedative to relax. She hasn’t been attending to the baby and she’s not sleeping. I think I’ve done all I can at this time. Perhaps a psychiatrist might be better suited to treat her symptoms.”
“You mean she’s crazy?” Cameron blurted out as he sat down.
“No. I didn’t say that, but she’s troubled. I’ve tried everything I know, but it’s not working.”
“Doctor, I don’t know what to do. My supervisor has threatened to fire me if I don’t spend more time in my office. I’m just a simple man, what can I do? She seemed to be so full of life during her pregnancy. Tell me that this will go away.”
“I’m not sure. This is the worst case of post pregnancy depression that I’ve ever seen. I’m out of my element. There is nothing physically wrong with Amy, but she’s depressed. I’ll contact a colleague of mine, who’s a psychologist; he may have better results with her than I. Since you were coming down this weekend, I took the liberty of asking him to come by and meet with you. His name is Doctor Herman Rosen.”
When Doctor Allen left, Cameron and Amy’s parents sat without saying anything for a few moments. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t take Amy and the child with me. I’m gone three out of five weeks to Indian reservations and some military installations. She seems to need constant care. I don’t know what the cost will be for that.”
“She can stay with us as long as it’s needed. We’re her parents and we love her very much. We also think you’re a fine man and we’re glad that you’re our son-in-law.” Mrs. Hendricks said.
“But the child needs attention. You heard the doctor say that she’s not taking care of young Jimmy. This seems like too much of a burden for you, since your husband is in Columbia during the week.”
“If it gets too much for me, I’ll let you know.”
Cameron stayed long enough to meet Doctor Rosen. “It will take me at least two to three weeks to evaluate your wife and then a week to determine if there is a cure for her depression. Your in-laws told me of your predicament. How often can you visit?”
“I can be back in three weeks.”
“Make it four and I’ll be able to give you a professional analysis.”
Although sad at the turn of events, he went about his duties as before. But all the joy he had in his marriage and the birth of his son was lost; he was lonely and he didn’t know what to do. He travelled extensively before returning four weeks later. He was anxious to hear what Doctor Rosen’s evaluation. They talked for over an hour and although Dr. Rosen was encouraging, Amy didn’t respond to any of his methods or medicine.
”To be honest with you Mr. Harris, I’ve exhausted everything I know. I don’t seem to be able to help her and I don’t know who can. It may be just a matter of time and then again she may never recover.. I’m sorry.” Rosen said.
During the same period of time, her father retired from teaching at University of South Carolina and devoted himself full time to the care of Amy and young Jimmy. With the Hendricks in one of the bedrooms and Amy and Jimmy in the second, .Cameron would sleep on the couch in the living room when he visited. In spite of the trauma with his wife, he and her father became close friends and discussed the mood of secession that was griping the south, and especially in South Carolina.
“How can the south survive? They seemed to be so dependent on cotton and tobacco. What if they have a poor crop one or two years after they secede? Where will the money come from to allow them to survive?” Cameron asked his father in law.
“They’re optimistic that France and England will buy their produce, because those European Countries are heavily dependent upon cotton. In addition, there are many who think both nations will interfere on the southern side if there is an armed conflict. Great Britain has cities that are so dependent upon cotton, that there may be massive unemployment, if the flow is stopped.””
“I don’t know what the southern states will do, but if they do secede, then a naval blockade would seem to be one strategy that could be used to bring then back into the union.” What do you think about the slavery question?” Cameron asked.
“I believe it’s morally wrong, but those who own the plantations are also the drivers behind the secession movement. They don’t think they can survive without the slaves; therefore, they’re not going to give them up. The power of the plantation owners is immense. Although they represent only four percent of the population, they control the majority of the wealth and therefore the legislature. You may not realize this, but the majority of the people in the Charleston area are black. With the law prohibiting the importation of slaves since 1808, they become an even more valuable commodity; those that control them become richer and therefore they increase their power.”
Weeks turned into months and then years. He’d visit every two weeks for the first year, but with no change in Amy’s conditions, his trips were becoming further apart. All during this time, Amy would sit in her room and stare into space; she hardly recognized Cameron when he visited. The Hendricks, were acting as Jimmy’s parents, though at no time did they intentionally ignore Cameron’s rights to his child. He couldn’t have asked for a more cooperative and sensitive in- laws.
After five years, he and her parents came to an accommodation. The boy and his mother would live with his in-laws in Charleston and Cameron would reside at his home in the nation’s capitol. He’d be able to visit his son anytime during the school year and would take Jim with him when school was out.
In the summer, Jimmy would live in Washington with his father or accompany him on his many trips to the Indian Reservations and military installations. Even though the grandparents said it wasn’t necessary, Cameron sent money each month to help defray Amy’s doctor bills. When he returned Jimmy at the start the school year, he’d hold Amy in his arms, kiss her on the cheek, but she didn’t appear to know who he was.
Young Jimmy Harris’ first exposure to any Indian was at The Catawba Reservation, lying along the Catawba River in the Western Carolinas. The Indians had cleared space for over two hundred tents but only seventy were visible. James could see about thirty people in the village doing various chores as they rode up. It was Chief Running Bear, who greeted them and took young Jim under his wing almost immediately. The young man idolized the chief and followed him around as though he was a lost puppy dog. Jim delighted in dressing as an Indian Brave and wearing the old man’s headdress. It was large, filled with yellow and red feathers and dragged on the ground as he walked behind the chief.  One of the braves taught Jimmy how to use a bow and arrow and throw a spear. Each summer he’d stay at the village for at least a month: this was the highlight of the young man’s year. On one of his first trips with Cameron, they visited the Creek and Cherokee villages in South Carolina. Jimmy was exposed for the first time to the plight of the Reservation Indian. He didn’t understand it yet, but he knew what he didn’t like and asked his father why the people in the village didn’t have any energy.
“They’ve been squeezed into smaller and smaller plots of land that can barely sustain life. They’re suffering from malnutrition and now lack hope; they seem to accept their station in life.”
. Most of Cameron duties were to ensure that food supplies were being delivered on a timely basis and occasionally mediate a dispute between tribal nations. On most trips to his list of reservations, he had to find out why the food supplies seemed to be late or not delivered at all; this wasn’t lost on a six year old. He couldn’t put his feelings into words; he just knew something was wrong.
Before the first summer was over, Cameron and his son went fishing on the Pee Dee River making their way through the cotton plantations which were so important to the south until after the civil war, when the dependency on slaves was lost. It was a three day trip to introduce his son to outdoor camping. They stopped at one of the landings along the river and fished from the bank. They didn’t save the young man’s first catch, because Cameron cooked it over a fire and they ate it. Jimmy would have plenty to tell his maternal grandparents when they returned to Charleston.
It was September when Cameron brought Jim back to Charleston. His wife Amy, was sitting in the parlor and welcomed her son; she seemed to have regained some color in her cheeks. The meeting between husband and wife was cordial and even friendly, but not warm.  Cameron had resolved that his wife would never be the same and he started seeing other women in the DC area. He spent most of his time with Abigail Stanton, the widow of Miles Stanton, a British Diplomat, assigned to the consulate in Washington. Left with a small fortune, Abigail felt more comfortable in Washington Society where she lived for the past eight years prior to her husband’s death, rather than return to her home in England. Cameron didn’t feel guilty about his affair; he felt it was the way it was.
As the years passed, the visits to Charleston during the school years were becoming less frequent. When he came to pick up the boy in the summertime in the seventh year of their marriage, Amy seemed to have improved but not enough for Cameron to spend any time with her. He didn’t blame her for the affliction; he just lost interest. The love they had when she was twenty one wasn’t what they had now. The parents were getting older and her father confessed to Cameron one day, that he wasn’t sure what would happen to his daughter after he was gone. Her mother was becoming impatient with her and devoted very little time to her well being. Sooner than later, a decision had to be made about Amy.  Cameron didn’t know what to do.
Eleven years had passed when he received a telegram from Frederick Hendricks to come home immediately. It took him two days but he was too late; his wife had passed away. He tried to remember how it was during their first year of marriage, but too much had happened; all he could remember was how she seemed so distant for the remainder of her life. James Stephen was a fine young man and although he spent some time helping his mother, it was his grandparents who he related to. They filled the role as parents. The question now was what was best for the boy. With the grandparents, he had a home and love; with his father he had love and adventure.
The grandmother seemed to be her old happy self again. The burden of the daughter had been lifted from her shoulders; she wanted Jimmy to live with them. “I know this is your decision, Cameron, but I believe my husband and I can handle his raising; he’s such a wonderful child and he keeps us young.  Frederick thinks the world of the boy. He doesn’t want to replace you as a father; he just wants to be part of James’ life.”
“Why don’t we leave it the way it’s been and see how that goes. I want your word that when the time comes for him to be entirely with me, you won’t stand in my way. You’ll work with me and do what’s best for my son. It’s a couple of months until the end of the school term.  I’ll take him with me for the summer and then bring him back for the school year.” Both grandparents agreed.


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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Slow Down by Lee Matthew Goldberg

Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg
Publisher: All Due Respect
Pages: 270
Genre: Thriller/Noir

How far would you go to make your dreams come true? For budding writer and filmmaker Noah Spaeth, being a Production Assistant in director Dominick's Bambach's new avant-garde film isn't enough. Neither is watching Dominick have an affair with the lead actress, the gorgeous but troubled Nevie Wyeth. For Noah's dream is to get both the film and Nevie in the end, whatever the cost. And this obsession may soon become a reality once Dominick's spurned wife Isadora reveals her femme fatale nature with a seductive plot to get rid of her husband for good. 
Slow Down, a cross between the noir styling of James M. Cain and the dark satire of Bret Easton Ellis, is a thrilling page-turner that holds a mirror up to a media-saturated society that is constantly searching for the fastest way to get ahead, regardless of consequences.


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Here’s what readers are saying about Slow Down!

"Slow Down is a frenetic first novel...full of unedifying characters scrambling for the elusive, perhaps imaginary, brass ring."
--Publishers Weekly

"Lee Matthew Goldberg writes like a young Bret Easton Ellis doing a line of uncut Denis Johnson off the back of a public urinal. Memorable in the best possible way, also mostly illegal, Goldberg's Slow Down is a mad man's tour of
Manhattan's vices, follies, and ultimate betrayals."
--Urban Waite, author of The Terror of Living and Sometimes the Wolf

"What would happen if one of Raymond Chandler's 1940's femme fatales were to join forces with one of Jay McInerney's enfant terribles? Lee Matthew Goldberg wrings every delectable trope imaginable out of this mashup while still managing a fresh spin. A writer to watch out for."
--David Kukoff, author of Children of the Canyon

"Slow Down starts fast and gets faster quick, gunning through yellow streetlights on its way to a full collision with your shattered soul. Lee Matthew Goldberg takes on the American Zeitgeist in this stunning debut."
--Stephen Jay Schwartz, LA Times bestselling author of Boulevard and Beat

"Slow Down is a brilliant rush of a work charting the rise and fall of Noah and other pretentious losers. Savor this book."
--Foreword Reviews

"Dark and hard-boiled writing that grabs you by the throat. Slow Down is one of those rare novels that's so good you want it to go on forever!"
--Nick Pengelley, author of Ryder: An Ayesha Ryder Novel

"The plot takes off...there's no denying it's fun to watch rich snots destroy themselves."

"Goldberg's portrayal of the New York demimonde is one of the book's strengths and brings to mind Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. He also succeeds in marshalling a complicated plot."


THE STEPS THAT LEAD ME TO MY CATACLYSMIC ENCOUNTER WITH DOMINICK BAMBACH WERE PUT IN MOTION TWO DAYS EARLIER WHEN I GOT THE NEWS ABOUT BEING DOUBLE-FIRED FROM MY SOULSUCKING JOB. Ah, Classic Screw-Up Noah. I’d come home a little buzzed from a Yankees game to hear my parents’ cook, Consuela, shouting from room to room trying to find me. Since my parents’ place was big enough to get legitimately lost in, I had no clue where she was, but I did run into my brother Dex ripping bong hits on our wraparound terrace.

“That mad Guatemalan woman has been huffing and puffing around the apartment for over half an hour,” Dex said.

“Is she okay?”

“Importante!” Dex mimicked, rather poorly, sounding more stereotypically Asian than stereotypically Spanish. “Más importante, señor Noah. Su jefe llamando! Your boss called!”

I caught up with Consuela in what my parents dubbed their “Conservatory,” named with pretension like we all lived inside the game of Clue. Actually, it was a shoebox of a room that had wedged in a piano, a piano bench, and a rather spectacular view of Central Park. I found Consuela perched on the window seat, hands folded in her apron like she was praying, breaths heavy and sad. She was a whale and I had made her sweat.

“Señor Noah. Oh, señor Noah,” Consuela heaved, the life drained out of her, ready for her deathbed. “Message for you.”

She had written the message in Spanglish on a post-it stuck Slow Down

to her large left breast. She displayed it to me like it was a medal of honor. It also had a blob of her famous Diablo sauce and basically said that my jefe sounded muy angry and would call my cell at nine tomorrow morning.

My father had adopted Consuela fifteen years ago, a rotund woman who fancied spiced rum and sour looks. My parents had met her during one of their “slumming vacations”—meaning a stay anywhere in the Third World, even if they shelled out for five-star hotels. This time it had been in Guatemala, where she was an overworked cook who made delectable tamales at the breakfast buffet. After one bite of her tasty creations, they whisked her back to the States as their latest charity case. But my father, all red nosed and with a jarring demeanor, had stated the real reason one night at a dinner party:

“You should see some of these people, just ghastly…” my father, a swirling glass of port in his hand, spouted to an audience of wondering blinks. I couldn’t stop looking at his blinding white teeth, which made him look demented. “That is where Consuela would still be if Janet and I hadn’t opened up our home to her. But my God, can that good woman make a tamale!”

I had passed out from a couple of late-night bong hits and woke up the next morning thinking about the note Consuela had given me. The sheets had been pulled up to my neck, the open window letting in cool hums of early spring air. I ran one cold big toe over the other as some morbid indie band played from my iPod alarm, soft and sweet as if they were singing me back to sleep. I had to download some new songs soon.

It was odd that my boss Irene had called, since the company only had few days left before it shut down completely. So calling me on a Sunday night, a time better spent basking in her wonderful glow, meant that something huge had gone down.

I’d been recently fired. No big deal, most of the company had been “downsized” or “let go,” or any other nice way of describing permanent termination. An economy in the toilet meant a whole lot of trouble for an independent media production company with only one client. Recently, all my co-workers had been summoned one-by-one into her office situated away from the rest of the peons.

The day I got the ax, I’d been ignoring the red light blinking on my office phone, which always meant that the Queen wanted something. E-mail this, call so-and-so, walk my dog while I get my hair done for an upcoming interview on CNN (that would probably never air). I finally picked up the receiver.

“Noah, come into my office.”


I wanted to be “let go.” Really I was aching to do nothing but come up with an idea for a novel and then adapt it into a film, my guaranteed tickets to fame. Back in college, a story I wrote for a fellowship won me five-hundred bucks and a trip to a Writer’s Colony in Wyoming, so I knew I had chops, but since then I’d written zilch. I had only one year left before I turned twenty-three and became older than F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote his timeless classic, This Side of Paradise. And, if I wanted to direct an adaptation of this yet-to-be-written novel, I had to hurry up before I turned twenty-five and became older than Orson Wells when he directed Citizen Kane. I longed to give an interview that would bring up both these bits of trivia and anoint me into the history books, but time was running out fast.

So this bullshit job where I booked authors for an interview series that aired on a Big Bookselling Chain’s website was really just holding me back. I pitched the project to the author’s publicists, set it all up, and sent them an embarrassing questionnaire that my boss created with questions like:

If someone described you as an animal, what animal would you resemble on the outside, and what animal would you identify with on the inside?

Unfortunately, this whole venture was happening right around the time that Big Bookselling Chain was going bankrupt. Anyone who didn’t anticipate a downsizing was in serious denial or too stupid to breathe.

When I stepped inside the Queen’s office that afternoon, it felt like walking smack into Calcutta. She had cranked up the heat on a day that didn’t require it. Her panting dog greeted me by doing an interpretive dance on the rug. The thing was about a hundred and sixty-five in dog years and begging to be put down.

“Have a seat, Noah.”

She gave me a smile that was completely devoid of any emotion. I could tell that it had taken so much out of her to produce, and it still managed to only be the smile of a stroke victim, one end being pulled up by a puppeteer’s string and the other end long forgotten.

“How are things?” she said, grimacing.

“Super.” I nodded.

Her half-smile had already vanished.

“I’m sure you know that the Big Bookselling Chain is in dire straits right now.”

Yes, I did already know this. I had figured it out one month ago when all of the authors the company filmed were mysteriously pulled from the B.B.C’s website without any explanation, and then The New York Times reported that one third of the B.B.C’s staff had been terminated.

“So, Noah, along with that, I don’t think that we can keep you on any longer as a Talent Booker,” she said, with a sigh to show how traumatized she was by having to fire me, a sigh to convey her plight. Forget the fact that she had just closed on a two-million dollar property in the Village a couple of weeks ago.

“As of today?”

“No, I am giving you two weeks notice. Any interviews you want to go on are fine by me, but this is the way it has to be.”

Her little rhyme made her sound like an Alice and Wonderland character, the caterpillar atop the mushroom blowing plumes of smoke in my face. I choked on a fake cough to keep from laughing since I’d been waiting for a day like this for the last few months. At least now I wouldn’t have to quit and go through the process of telling her off, something I honestly did to people in power too often and was a trait I needed to rectify.

My cell rang at exactly 9:00 am. The moody music had lulled me back to sleep for the past hour, but the phone was relentless. I found it under a pair of balled-up khakis and a Fight Club poster that had floated down from my wall.

“Hello,” I said, out of breath.

“Can I speak with Noah Spaeth?”

The voice was curt and cold. This couldn’t be good.

I am Noah’s complete lack of surprise, I thought, as I pictured Edward Norton’s sad-sack character from Fight Club.

“This is Irene, your boss. I don’t want you coming in today or any of your last days.”

“Uh, why…?”

“Well, Noah, over the weekend I decided to go through some of the e-mails that you wrote on your office account…”

She said it as if it was the most normal thing to do, as if he should be proud of her shadiness.

“Since I was allowing you to use me as a reference, I needed to make sure you had been spending your days here productively, but I realized with some of the things you wrote about me and the company itself that you never took this job seriously and that you’re just some immature twenty-two-year-old child. This means that you’re fired.”

“I was already fired.”

“No, you were let go; now you are fired.”

“I’m not understanding the difference.”

“Meaning you will not be able to use me as a reference anymore, so good luck finding other employment.”

I blew a raspberry into the receiver.

“Excuse me? Is that all you have to say?” I blew another raspberry.

“You little shit.”


I stayed on the line, the dial tone pulsating in my ear. I had trashed her as a person and a boss, e-mailing to friends that she was a trust fund baby who got the company as a type of hush money from parents who just wanted to get rid of her, but worst of all (well maybe not worst of all because, at least, it was making me laugh at the time), I had e-mailed to a friend about her big ass, how it was über long and flat in the white mini skirts she’d always wedge herself into and made her look like a pulled tooth when she bent over due to that sizable rear and bowling pin legs. All of this had now been read and dissected by her; she probably fled to the bathroom afterwards and planted herself in front of a long mirror that only proved those accusations right. Her frequent mentions of a personal trainer weren’t fooling anyone.

My cell rang again to the sound of breathing at the other end.

“Hello,” I said, ready for her. Her breathing sounded winded, as if she was trying to blow up a balloon from across the room.

“I…” she began, but I was too fast.

“Have a big ass. I know.”

I threw my cell to the floor without hanging up and could hear her muffled shouts, but I was laughing so hard that I could care less. I held my stomach and rocked in a fit, wanting her to hear.

My laughter echoed down the hallway as my teenage sister Cassie passed by, yakking on the phone. She was dressed in the skimpiest amount of clothing that the Baron School for Girls allowed. Just a few years ago she was wearing leotards and tumbling through the house with her hair in pigtails.

“No, Maddy, we’re totally gonna make her cry at school tomorrow…I know, I’m so psyched. All the Untouchables deserve to cry.”

I stepped out of my room in front of her so she couldn’t get past. She twisted a finger around her bra strap and let it snap against her skin. Her expression looked as if someone was using her face to juice a lemon.

“Move out of my way, Noah.”

“Why does everything you say need to have its own lingo?” I made a grab for her cell. “What the hell is an Untouchable?”

I could hear cackling coming from her cell. Cassie rolled her eyes as if I wasn’t worthy of sharing her air.

“It’s someone at Baron that’s poor. Just like you’ll be one day.”

She snapped her gum and continued past me with her middle finger in the air. The finger had become yellow from her new smoking habit; the nail caked with white powder. As if her bloodshot eyes weren’t enough evidence that she’d snorted her breakfast.

When she was born, I thought she’d been stolen from another family in the hospital because her hair was so blonde. My parents had let me hold her, and I whispered “my baby” into the tiniest ear I’d ever seen.

That seemed like many lifetimes ago.

Heading to Consuela’s kitchen for breakfast was always the best part of my day. I could already smell her Hollandaise sauce, which meant that I’d be eating Eggs Benedict soon. A perfect cure for my newly fired self. Good ol’ Consuela, with a work ethic like an Alaskan race dog in the Yukon, knew what I needed. The fact that it was Monday and her “Noie” (as she sometimes called me) wasn’t already at work had indicated that something was up. A wise shaman had once told her during a trip to the jungles of El Petén that “food cured all,” so she lived with that mantra and preached it unabashedly.

But as my nose followed the Hollandaise aroma through the hallways, I began to feel unsettled. Five minutes ago the whole boss-reading-my-e-mails thing had been ridiculously funny, but now reality was starting to sink in. My girlfriend at the time, Margaret, was bound to dump me because she had a firm plan of a career path and life for us both. Being attached to an unemployed artiste and wasting her glory twenties, as she called it (which always made it sound perverse) was not part of The Plan. So if I wanted to keep her around, I knew I’d have to scour the job sites, go on interviews, and pretend to be interested in whatever lame experience some company offered.

I entered the kitchen to find Dex and Consuela whispering to one another.

“Why aren’t you at work already?” Dex asked, studying me through his thick glasses without any lenses. His hair was a brown ball of chaos, and he wore a lopsided sweater over pajama bottoms that he’d probably live in for the rest of the day.

“Why aren’t you in school?” I shot back, knowing Dex had dropped out of Franklin & Marshall College last spring because he couldn’t take the Amish people in the town anymore, obviously an excuse that sounded better than his likely suspension.

“Touché, brother. Consuela, chop-chop with the Eggs Bene. I’m about as hungry as an Ethiopian at a Smorgasbord, or a newly-fired boy desperate for another job.”

He gave me a condescending squint while pushing the bangs out of his eyes only to have them fall into place again. I knew that he kept those bangs to give his fingers something to do: at parties, talking to girls, it was his thing. He could hide behind his hair if he wasn’t interested, or flip it away, show you his eyes, and pretend to care.

“Maybe you wouldn’t be so hungry, Dex, if you didn’t have two joints for breakfast already.”

“Haha, double touché, brother Noah.”

For the past year, Cassie, Dex and I lived in our childhood apartment parent-free with Consuela as the only authoritative figure; primarily there to make sure we ate. Our parents occasionally traipsed back home with stories of the South of France, or the wonders of Vanuatu before clearing out the gin and Scotch and slipping under the cracks in the door to board any type of transportation away from us all. Our grandfather, Hubert, my mother’s father, had finally choked on his own vomit in his sleep from an overdose of morphine medication that a hired specialist insisted was necessary for his emphysema. Hubert had paid for our pre-war, Classic Eight masterpiece on 79 th and Central Park West, but mostly kept his “little princess Janet on a tight leash” (his phlegmy words) with a monthly allowance that included weekly spa indulges and daily lunches at Le Cirque and the like. He let my dad foster his career as an art dealer and insisted on private schooling and a maid for his three grandchildren whose names he always mixed up.

Since I could remember, my parents had been planning their ultimate kids-free journey once the old geezer stopped breathing, complaining about a “youth idolized” New York. So when Hubert upchucked his last breath, they packed up their suitcases and vowed to live out of them. After air-kissing us, they left some vague numbers in case they needed to be reached (but only for an emergency!), along with some martini-soaked advice about the real world before slamming the front door and returning mostly through postcards.

I always imagined what I’d say to them and the rest of my family if I ever made it big:

“Mom and Dad, I’m a famous author-slash-filmmaker and you two did nothing for that. Cassie, you’ve become a hideous lost cause, but Dex, you can stick around. You may not be a good friend, but you’ll always be my brother. I know you’ll keep circling back into my life each time your antics stop being amusing to everyone else, and I will be all you have left.”

An overpowering smell of weed pummeled my nostrils as I opened Dex’s door to find him inhaling a massive hit and drumming on his knees in a lotus position. Dex held out a smoking bong as an offering.

“So what happened with your job, bitch?”

I shook my head and gazed around Dex’s room, a study in dementia. Retro Playboy magazines created a non-existent carpet, a mob of tits and eyes scrutinizing me. Chynna, the mannish wrestler from back in the day, seemed to be the most inquisitive, spreading her legs and giving me a “yeah, why’d you get canned?” glare.

“My boss read some nasty e-mails I wrote about her.”

“Haha, you fucked up big time.”

“I was already let go, it just means I can’t use her as a reference. It doesn’t really matter–”

“Tell that to the judge, or rather, tell it to Margaret and see if she’ll ever let your irresponsible ass touch her coot again.”

I’d been dating Margaret for almost a year. We met as seniors at Connecticut College, a tiny enough school where we knew everything about each other before ever really having a conversation. The first time we actually spoke, I was bombed out of my mind and found myself in some ethical debate with her, which sounded life changing at the time. We left some party, the Connecticut sky pure and smelling of the surrounding woods, dizzy with one another. Throughout the rest of the year, she became more of a convenience than anything. The type of girl who joined every amnesty-animal-feminist rights organization to compensate for her bland personality and championed her pre-law studies as being more important than whatever anyone else was doing. I kept her around because a few months before I met her I had tried to kiss Nevie, who then cut me out of her life for good.

“You should come to a party tonight,” Dex said.

“I should write tonight.”

I thought of Nina, the only character I’d created so far. I pictured her at a bar, twisting away on a stool, smiling wide from all the drugs she’d consumed. People would be naturally crowding around her because she had that magnetic effect. She longed to be in movies, using her skinny, but still rocking body, to work her way into chic clubs and get close to anyone with connections, but she wound up vomiting a cocktail of pills by dawn. She had peaked too early and knew her biggest accomplishment was bound to be a tragic headline. She’d need the hero of the novel, a guy just like me, to remind her of the Nina that she used to be, someone who’d stop her from rushing toward an early death and let her find solace in his arms. I could be that hero.

“Dude, come to the party. You can even bring…Margaret.”

“No, I should stay home and get serious about my writing.”

“You are such a pretentious loser. You’ll lock yourself in your room and write some dumb story with me as this screw-up who’s going nowhere and you’ll be the protagonist who gets him to go back to school or some shit like that. Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Are you done?”

“I heard your whacko girlfriend going off on me the other day. Evidently, I gave her some look that she misinterpreted when she was here with her nose on the ceiling.”

“Yeah, she can’t stand you, what’s your point?”

“My point is that you can still bring her to this party because I can see you need a night of fucking fun after getting canned. You can always write tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after. In case you didn’t realize it, we’re basically living a charmed life here without any expenses and can do whatever the hell we want to do.”

“You’re right, man,” I said, shoving Dex and making sure, as always, to play the role of Older Brother. “You are so right. Why should I agonize over getting another job and dealing with another possible Queen? And Margaret can kiss my ass if she has anything to say. I’m about to create something that’ll blow people away and no one can stop me.”

I imagined my character Nina again, home from college at her country house in South Hampton, deliriously stoned after a round of golf at her parents’ club. I envisioned myself beside her as we danced around a bonfire on her private beach.

But I knew she wasn’t actually a creation, just a substitution. That night on the beach in South Hampton was based on one of the last times I saw Nevie. I can remember she was leaning in too close to the fire while high on something, and that I caught her before she burned herself.

“Are you okay?” I had asked.

“My hero,” I longed for her to say, but she only wriggled out of my arms, staring at the fire as if she wanted to fall in.

“I’m never okay,” she said, and stumbled up toward her house where she locked her bedroom door and didn’t even come out to wish me good-bye in the morning before I had to board my train.

That weekend had also been one of the last times I was able to write anything.

I told myself not to stress about that now. Tonight I’d be Nevie free. And maybe if I’d be able to keep forgetting about her, a bevy of dazzling ideas would flow once again.

“The Spaeth boys will be out for blood tonight,” Dex cheered, taking a final bong hit. “Brother Noah, I think I know how to get you started on the fast track to living.”

A cloud of smoke obscured Dex’s face as he continued preaching.

“Zoom. Zoom. Zooooooooom!”