Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

a step further

My last blog was about my feeling a recent book hadn't done well as I looked for reasons. Turns out most of what I was considering probably had little to do with it. Choosing a time to bring out the book right before spring break-- which maybe could be equally an issue with other holiday breaks-- probably was the major influence.

Yesterday, as Ranch Boss looked at the records, my book sales had gone down on the Friday before the break... and continued low the whole week. It returned to normal with Sunday evening. 

Rather than the things I debated, it likely was mostly the 'when' of it. The new book also got sales-- although the timing of bringing it out continued to hurt its rankings, which authors care about as a way to get their books seen.

So you writers, debating when to bring out a new book, pay attention to what else is happening at least when possible-- and with this book, it had been possible. 

Bound for the Hills also has gotten two wonderful reviews. I should ask some of these readers to write my blurbs.
Willy and Cole's story grabbed my interest from the start and didn't let go! I felt like I was part of the story. I loved the detailed characters and the setting at the lake. I felt like I was right there in the beauty of the wilderness. I still feel like I in it even after I have finished it.
I like how the writer brought in a dog to the story. That made it feel so real with emotions you only have for a pet.
The mystery the fear, the growing romance, the story line all were so intense that I couldn't put it down.
Well written and highly recommended. Look forward to read all of this authors books.  
And
My oh my! What a wonderful gift of writing! Rain Trueax, you have given us another wonderful book in the Arizona Historicals! Filled with all the romance, suspense and mystery, that I have come to expect from you, kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime. Loaded with interesting new characters, good and bad, kept the story moving right along. Add the ones from past books that I have come to love, just added to my enjoyment.
I loved Willy! Strong and determined and very brave, I admired her and thought she was very brave for renting a cabin in the Mazatzals, away from everyone. I loved the theme of this book, the heroine as a writer of dime novels, to put herself through college, not realizing how true the last one she wrote, the Last Taggert, would turn out to be. Cole Taggert, was our hero and what a wonderful hero he was. A tough exterior, but with a soft heart for those he loved, proved even though he may be the Last Taggert, he was not the bad guy the book portrayed.
This book took me from San Francisco to the Mazatzals to Tucson and back with multiple characters but was so easy to follow. Along the way, the scenery was described beautifully and I could picture each scene.
I might add, I love the character of Nate and maybe we'll get to see more of him someday. The dogs and the character of Lars, just added the humor needed in the book.
I tried to hang on to this book as long as I could, but I finally came to the end, sad it was over but happy with the perfect ending!
I have enjoyed reading each book in this series and getting to know the women that know what they want and will not settle for less than the men that have stolen their hearts. Mild sexual situations
So now, here I am editing again. Instead of beginning the next books, I am making sure all seven of the Arizona historicals show up well. The one I am on first is Arizona Sunset, the one that began it all. I still love this book, its characters. Mostly what I am changing  involves point of view. I may write more about that in the future as it's a kind of techie thing for authors but readers have preferences regarding it too. 



Saturday, March 26, 2016

On the other side of the door

 Trying to decide how much whining is fair here! lol Prepare for a little moaning.


It would be nice to say I don't mind when a new book does a nosedive, as my latest did. I put a lot of work into each book. I believe in them all. In the case of the latest book, I love a lot of its features, how it entwines literature with the western, a heroine who is insecure about herself and her work. It has adventure, Arizona, a love story, and a strong, interesting but essentially sacrificial hero, a man with enough self-education to see himself as a paladin.

When a book like that fails to connect, it is painful and even teary. If you write, you know, it's not about the money. It's about acceptance. It has helped in this case where some of the readers have contacted me to tell me they love it. That they did get who this hero and heroine were and loved them. Still, there is no denying that sales matter if the writer hopes for the kind of rankings that keep the book visible. There are probably assorted reasons why it hasn't had the needed sales. I've thought of a few.

When some writers bring out a book, they expect it to do well. They have a sizable fan base and a street team to help promote. This can be true of major writers in large corporate publishing houses but also for some indie writers. Because of this kind of support, those writers also get a lot of reviews right away. It's not as though this all happens by accident. It takes linking up with readers who want what the writer creates. It also takes putting time into building groups.  Although I do have some friends, a mailing list, an author page at Facebook, even at Pinterest, I haven't really developed a group or street team. That might be the problem or... 
 
It could be the cover simply didn't connect with readers; but I feel this cover speaks to the book, and it's not like it can be substantially changed. The hero and heroine are depicted with their doubts and the challenges they both face. The background suits the high country of Arizona where much of the story takes place.
 
For a reason I can't explain, the Arizona historicals have never done as well as the Oregon ones. To me, all my books offer the same qualities. If someone likes one, they would probably like another (including the contemporaries). Except, it hasn't worked out that way. Some locations are more popular than others, but I have to write mine where I know and love. Arizona is one of those places.

I did minimal promoting for Bound for the Hills, no ads-- yet anyway, and maybe it suffered for it-- maybe nothing would have helped. Truthfully, I haven't quite known where to promote it if I wanted to do so. I belong to several historical groups where people promote books, but this one isn't a good fit for any of them. In one, what is beloved are mail order brides. In another, it's straight westerns, and another more historic novels than historic romance novels. 

Then again, it could be its historical period. I can't even come up with a word to define 1905 in America. It was a time of transition. The Indian wars were behind Americans. The Old West was still there but changing fast. Railroads, telegraphs, telephones, the age of technology was just slowly getting a toehold. Can we call a time period transitional? Guess we could, but nobody would know what it meant. 

Recently I asked in one of the writer groups if they had a name for the early 1900s. Nobody really did. The Victorian era, which officially ended with Queen Victoria's death, worked for the United States because of what it depicted in terms of dress, behavior, cultural expectations. After 1901, supposedly came the Edwardian era. That would mean nothing to most Americans-- including the characters in my book. Some say early 1900s was the Gilded Age (might work for a book set in a big city but the backwoods of Arizona? not so much!). Anyway I came up with no tag that suited it.

It might just have been a bad time to bring out a book near to Easter, spring break at least up here, or maybe a blockbuster came out the same time. Maybe just a lot of books. Bound for the Hills is a particularly long novel, and that might work against it with some readers... 

You can probably tell that I have no idea. This though is one reason I recommend new writers (or any writers) not put a lot of money into getting their book out (unless maybe they do have that street team and a fan base eager for each book). It's a lot easier to have one not do well if the writer doesn't also have thousands of dollars into it. Believe me, even with all that money, if a book doesn't hit the current zeitgeist, reader expectations, it's going down.

I could ignore the negative parts of my writing experience, not tell readers here that some books just don't do well, and it's sometimes very depressing for the author when they put a lot of work into a book and that happens. The truth is the rose does have a thorn. When you bring books out, there is a possible downside.
 

However, upward and onward is my attitude. For those of you who do not write, it might surprise you that even before bringing out any of my books, my mind will have gone beyond into planning the next. I think this happens because the last steps, with a book, are always about editing-- the physical work of anal word-for-word edits, but the eye to the sky is transitioning to new characters and their problems. Editing is mental and physical. Creating is emotional and spiritual.

I think the life of an artist, which I consider most writing to be (if it doesn't follow formulas) is always... 'Yeah, I just finished that but what is on the other side of that door!' That's particularly beneficial when a book doesn't do well.

More on this with the next blog--

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

what makes it great

Last week I went into one of the Facebook author/reader rooms, and the question had been posed-- "What 5 books would be at the top if your required reading list for students say by high school graduation?" There were many lists offered. Some surprised me but some are on typical lists such as this one that I found another place.


Because my most recent book had a heroine who was a professor teaching literature and English in 1905, it had a lot in it about what makes a book considered great. The heroine had written a lot of bestselling books-- dime novels, for which she herself had little respect and yet readers loved them. We have some of that today where some forms of literature (don't choke) are not given respect while others are considered so important that everyone should have read them.

You know, I consider myself a novelist who writes romance. I don't think of my books as only about romance even though the male/female sexual relationship is at their core. Although I like the idea of selling a lot of books, most important to me is that my books tell a story that I believe matters. They aren't just about falling in love but character and the consequences of our actions. 

If I wanted to make a lot of money at writing, I would look at what does make money and try to duplicate it, putting my own touch to the stories. It's not my main goal (though money is nice *s*). My underlying goal is to write books that will be around fifty years and still have value. 

When I got into being an indie writer, I knew what I wrote was not the norm out there. I thought (and still do) that someday it would be. That's my goal-- to get a story out there that lasts, with values that don't get old-- stories that will be there when people get past niche reading and go for stories without fear of what they are labeled.

The request for a list of five such classic books got me to thinking about a list that tell at least a part of the American story. Of course, we know they would not be agreed upon but still, it's kind of a challenging idea. What books help us see ourselves for who we are as a society? They would have to be about Americans and most likely written by those living in America who understand the American story.

I found it pretty easy when it was looking at ones that I grew up reading, well written books that revealed an important part of the American psyche (think anything by John Steinbeck). I had a harder time when I began to consider books written in the last twenty years. 

Anyway I came up with my own list. I'd love it if readers here would give some thought to what would be their list. If you come from another country, think about it for your nation. What would be the classic books that define who you are as a people? 

You know the irony of this is sometimes those books aren't truthful to what is reality but have created a mythology that becomes more powerful than historic truth. That can be good or bad.

My list isn't all best sellers or necessarily those that a critic would put on a list. They are books I have considered important to my understanding the lives of more than myself. I left off one of the most important to many people, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, because I think the book is a simplistic view of a time and life where the story was a lot more complicated. It might be how we'd like to think, but the book most recently published, Go Set a Watchman (the one she actually wrote first but the publishers knew what would be more popular), probably is more true to how heroes are and how what we see at one point in our life doesn't end up what is true.

My list is not in order and might change tomorrow as frankly I had to leave off a lot (The River Why or A Yellow Raft in Blue Water for instance) that I personally believe are important books.

1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain





 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Bringing out a new book


Basically, a book series generally comes from three possible sources-- a family, a community (i.e. town or region), or a large, underlying problem where it takes more than one book to resolve. Of course, a series can have all three elements but often with one emphasized.

At least where it comes to romances, the series with an underlying problem has each book wind up its own story, find a satisfactory stopping point, but the overall situation is not resolved until the last in the series. I wrote such a book in Diablo Canyon where each of the three novellas revealed more of what was really going on. Each story had its own romance and stood alone, but if the reader wanted to follow what it was all about in the end, it took going to the end. An author I like, Patricia Veryan, used this in her Regency novels where an underlying English conspiracy was being tracked through each of the individual romances. She also had families, friends, and a common locale-- England.

If the romance writer uses a community, they can make it fictional (convenient as nobody can come along and say that wasn't that way) or a real locale, whether today or in the past. The author visualizes it, may create a street map, figures out who will populate it, and then brings it to life, making readers want to spend time there. Within this community will be many secondary characters and always a hero and heroine, who may shift from story to story or be the same as they face new adventures

Amazon latched onto this idea of a community by giving authors (of any genre) an opportunity to create an Amazon World, where new writers may set their own stories, using some of the original author's characters. Leave it to Amazon to find ways to get readers buying books. Don't underestimate the draw of the community for those who would love to live somewhere, even if only in their imaginations.

My books do have an important locale, but at their core is the family and that might be of kin or adoption. I find family relationships fascinating to explore, both the negative and positive sides. I like how we adopt into our adult families those who aren't by kin but are by soul. Some believe we reincarnate in soul pods, which fits with how someone comes along who just seems to belong to us. 


My new book, Bound for the Hills, is the seventh of the Arizona historicals, with common locales and continuing characters with the other books. It is set in a real place which required real research. It also is set into a time period that impacts the story and the family-- 1905. 

Some times in history have more change and can have those living then feeling as though nothing stays the same. The dawning of the 1900s was that way for the United States. The day of the outlaws, the way of the Old West was being displaced by new ways and people-- progress dontchaknow. Recently I watched a documentary, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Netflix, and felt good about how well my research held up. Territories were becoming states or struggling to be. Civilization pushed some out for others to take over. Technology was about to change even more as the horse gave way to the automobile. One of the themes of Bound for the Hills is change for the characters on a personal and community level.

For locale, the book travels between the Mazatzals (Central Arizona) and Tucson. It follows the love story of the third Taggert brother and his unlikely romance. It is about friendship, family, and ethics. This one was fun, having the heroine an author, which led to some tasty bits about the literature of its time.

I love the book. Of course, I do, as if I didn't love writing a book, I'd be deleting it from my hard-drive. For me writing is about doing something for which I have a passion. I always hope readers will find the same thing.


Blurb for Bound for the Hills:

Needing new inspiration, answers to a mystery, and healing from the death of her father, English professor, Wilhelmina Butler heads for the high country of Arizona and a log cabin. In the Mazatzals, Willy hopes to write the great American novel, something she can be proud of, unlike the very successful dime novels she has been publishing under a pseudonym. The lake cabin will give her all she could dream and a lot more.


Asked by his worried sister-in-law, Holly, to check on her college friend, Cole Taggert assumes her friend is a naive idiot to head into the wilderness with little idea how to survive its dangers. Then he sees her swimming in the lake, and Willy’s life isn’t the only one about to get redirected.


Bound for the Hills travels from the Mazatzals to Tucson and explores not only the land but the human heart. It brings together the Taggert brothers as they face a deadly enemy, and their women work to build the kind of life where their children can grow up safer than their fathers did. 


Spicy with some violence and strong language, Bound for the Hills is the seventh Arizona historical, a love story for the 'Last' Taggert.



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

new beginnings

Editing is finished, which means Bound for the Hills, seventh Arizona historical romance, should be out March 21, 2016, depending on D2D and Amazon. It will be on all the usual sites as well as paperback. 

This novel is a love story with an emphasis on a part of Arizona I always enjoy spending time, Central Arizona. Although I have a second home in Tucson, I don't get nearly as much time in Central Arizona as I would like (one advantage of being a writer is you can feel you are living somewhere when you write a book set there).  

Beginning with the first of January (not counting all plotting time in my head and the timeline work), this ended up a long book. It has required long days and hours. It is worth it though as when I finished the last edit, I felt the characters had been fully fleshed out and their story fairly told. I want the readers to feel that they are there, experiencing what the characters do as that's the goal for all my books.

Lambs are not in Bound for the Hills, but I thought readers here might enjoy this little video of the lamb gangs, which I've talked about. It doesn't take long after they are born before they get to playing. Sometimes, the ewes join in, but we didn't catch that with this little video. There are 37 lambs this year. Maybe these are the popular kids ;).

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

dipping a toe in the water


As an introvert, it's been great being a writer. I would guess a lot of writers are introverts. They are the ones who enjoy time alone, can take the months or even years of working on a project before they come up for air. Extroverts, who need more time with people, may be better as publicists.

The thing is though, writers eventually want their books to be seen by... yep, people, which means they either have to be publicists or hire one. Since I began bringing my books out as an indie writer, the issue of how to get the books seen has been an ongoing one requiring people contact. 

Gradually I've added some online groups to my internet time. Those are great for introverts as they don't demand much and can be gone into or out of without pressure. In the groups, I've learned a lot about groups, events and conferences, some where writers and readers can come together. 

From what I can tell, the conferences are pretty much year round, and if a writer wanted to do it, they could be going to one somewhere every month or so. Some writers seem to be on a plane constantly and enjoying themselves. Which means they are either extroverts or introverts who have found a way to go and still find quiet times to restore their energy between planned events.

I see the appeal of going to seminars at these events where you might learn new ideas. I also see the value of networking with other writers. I often wish I had more friends who wrote, where we could share a cup of coffee or a lunch and discuss our frustrations and successes. I've never met a writer, in my daily life, who writes what I do. I have though met some online, with whom I can imagine spending time and getting to know each other better.

In the online groups, when I hear writers talk of the events, share their photos, I think about whether any would be good for me. I am definitely not the sort to dress up in pioneer garb or put on an evening gown for a party. I also wouldn't enjoy the ones where the hot models come to mingle-- unless the models were there to discuss their own problems with getting seen and how they create their brand.


At conferences, authors bring along books, swag (the stuff they give away with their names on it) and banners or posters. The question was asked recently in one of the online groups as to whether it's better to create banners for the books or the brand. 

Brand is another of those things anyone wanting to sell something does need to consider. What the heck is my brand? Do I have one where I can get it across in a banner that is maybe five feet long (I'm guessing, as all I've seen are photos of them) and printed on vinyl so it can be rolled up to bring to an event. Some go in front of a table, others have stands behind the table. Possibly this is determined by the venue's rules. The posters here wouldn't work for a banner and I am still not sure of my brand. Does a brand encompass me or just what I write???

Well, I am taking baby steps where it comes to this and not planning a conference... yet. Since the '90s, I have belonged to Romance Writers of America, a group for authors seriously pursuing being a writer. It has a big conference every year to which I have never gone. To be honest, I have done nothing more with it than pay my yearly dues, fill out a profile, and read the magazines-- when I have time (lots of interesting articles in that monthly magazine). 

Now I am expanding that and to join one of their local chapters-- Saguaro Romance Writers which is in Tucson. That will make it easy to go to monthly meetings when I am there. They have interesting speakers and a lunch each time.

I also sent in a application to join Women Writing the West. I wasn't sure if they would accept me since I write romance and a lot of their writers are either nonfiction or historic novelists. But I was accepted. They have a yearly contest for books (you don't have to be a member to enter that) and a yearly conference. Their next one will be in New Mexico and has tours out to Georgia O'Keeffe country. The problem is we weren't planning on being in the Southwest at that time. This year we hoped to have Thanksgiving with our kids; so this one won't work but maybe I'll be more emotionally ready by 2017.

Finally I will be joining Central Oregon Writer's Guild, another monthly meeting with speakers. The advantage of it is to connect with Oregon writers and my own Oregon series has three of the books set in Eastern Oregon.

So I am dipping my introvert toe in the water. As to how far I'll go in, that's still up for debate. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Introverts and Extroverts

Most likely I have mentioned this more than once. I am an introvert. For those unfamiliar with the term, introverts are not necessarily shy. Even extroverts can be shy. Shy means being reserved and having or showing nervousness and timidity in the company of other people. I am not sure if shyness is taught by experience or part of an inherent nature. An extrovert, who is shy, has more problems than an introvert who is. The terms only relate to from where we get our energy. 

Extroverts get their energy from people. They need to be around people and feel energized in groups.

Introverts get their energy from being alone. They need to recharge after time in groups.
I got those a few years ago and think they're illustrative of at least part of being an introvert or extrovert. I would guess it is possible to not be all one or the other. Perhaps some go through stages with each. I don't know, but I've always been an introvert.

As to why someone is an introvert or extrovert, who knows. It is what it is.  To me, the big thing is figuring out who we are, how we recharge and not apologizing for it. But, you know in life, sometimes we have to step out of a comfort zone and move into regions that are not so comfortable. There can be many reasons for the shift; but when we know ourselves, we will take time as quickly as we can to get to where we can build back up our energy.

In America, it is believed that most people are extroverts, but studies say it's pretty much 50-50. So how do we end up with 75% being considered extroverts?
"What may seem surprising for some since Americans are thought to be very extroverted, but truth is that the culture simply values extroversion over introversion. However, the value of extroversion over introversion doesn't make extroversion more prevalent. It just pressures people who fall on the introversion side of the spectrum to act more extroverted, while true extroverts get positive reinforcement from the culture that their temperament is the default." Chloe Shani Malveaux 
In a culture that makes you feel guilty or less successful, when you need a lot of alone time, it can be hard to live true to what you know you need. People force themselves into activities because that is praised-- often leading to stress and even health problems. 

"To thine own self be true," wrote Shakespeare. It should be accompanied by know yourself-- even if it's not popular.

I believe it's important to not only accept our own needs, as to from where our energy comes but also respect the way others are. One isn't right and the other wrong. They just are. If an introvert is married to an extrovert, that can create some problems although when two introverts get together, they may never come out of their cave.

Saturday, more coming on introverts and writing.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

it's all good-- or not

For a writer, everything can be used. Negative or positive, it's what we draw upon when needed for a character or a scene. It's, in short, a good thing to have had all sorts of experiences. For us as humans, we have to take the negative experiences, get through them, but then not let them stalk us with expectations that hurt our present.

For most of us, we have those things, that never in a zillion years would we want to repeat (unless reincarnation is true and we end up having to go through them again in some future lifetime because we didn't learn what we needed). We have learned (hopefully) something from each experience, and it can both color our future in ways that make it better-- or not so much.

Many examples of those things that I'd not want to go through again come from the life on this little ranch with the livestock. If I think back at all, even to write this, there are moments that are very depressing to recall. The ranch has given us great joys, and the knowledge of dreams fulfilled. It also though has forced us to face what most don't have to, as anyone who raises livestock knows. The word unpredictable comes to my mind about so many of the negative experiences. The who would have thought! kind of moments.

I won't repeat them here, as that would be negative for me and not help readers as so often when we hear of someone else's tragedy, we take on their grief. Usually we have enough of our own that it's not good to hang onto that of others.

Still for the writer, those moments are there to use when the setting requires an emotional connection that feels real between the writer and the characters, which hopefully someday leads to the same thing between the characters and a future reader.

In terms of day to day living though, I go with what Eckhart Tolle has said in his book The Power of the Now and other places.
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.

Life is the dancer and you are the dance.

What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.
As a woman, I try to live in the here and now. As a writer, I pull from all my life experiences, the blessings and the times that felt like curses. Everything is used in the search for the right words, but then has to be left behind again in my daily living. As a human, learning to really let go, to live in the moment, can be one of our toughest lessons. As a writer, nothing is released forever ;).



   

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Randomness

I woke up the other morning thinking about how the world seems on dual trajectories. On the one path, it's beautiful, safe, and full of love. On the other, it's dangerous, ugly and full of hate.  Some want to think it's one or the other, but it's not. It's both, and randomness often decides to which we may be exposed. We want to think we have control, but how much do we, when so much is by chance.

One evening last week a stranger walked up to our house. Over six foot tall, she said she was out of gas and had heard we might have fuel, because of the tractors and all. Ranch Boss went out with her to the shop to get a gas can. I watched from the house because I wasn't sure about her intentions. When he went to her vehicle, which was in front of our driveway, stopped by the gate, I saw a man get out.  That's when I opened the door to listen to the tone of the conversation. It sounded all right, but I wasn't actually at ease until Ranch Boss returned. 

He said she had bought a vehicle but didn't realize until she was out here that it was almost out of gas. He told her that when he put in the gas that someone had pried open the flap. So maybe her gas had been siphoned out. 

She said her boyfriend, the man I saw, wanted to go to the house; but she said out in our area, a man coming to a house when it's dark is apt to get shot. That's not actually true as we have had a lot of stranded drivers (been there myself more than once) as this is a long way from gasoline or car repairs. Still, when it's dark, you really don't know what to think with any stranger, who comes to your door. This is both a very safe and a very dangerous time.

How do we live with that? It's distressing to know that one time we might help someone and they will be grateful. The next person might attack us. It's even worse for the police, who get accused of being too quick to shoot. But when they don't, they can end up dead. How do they live with something that is so much worse for them than the rest of us-- as when we run away, they run in. 

Years ago, I wrote a contemporary romance, Evening Star, where the hero was a police officer. There is a scene in the book that I think suits how we have to live with what our society is going through (for instance, where a man taking his son to buy his first car ends up with both senselessly shot to death by a stranger). We have to live with the randomness of this world and somehow find peace with it. The following is from Evening Star.

****************


You know," he said as they climbed the stairs, "there are times I understand why Jack wants to quit."

She looked up at him with shock. "I can't believe you said that. I thought you were the little boy who grew up wanting to be a cop."

He smiled faintly as he opened the front door with the key she'd had made for him. "I have my good and bad days. I want to think I'm out there--protecting the public, but half the time I'm coming in after everything's over, and the people I'm trying to help see me as the bad guy." He gave a bitter laugh. "Sometimes they aren't far wrong."

They put their still wet coats over the hall tree, and she took his hand, leading him to the sofa. "You're tired," she said. "It makes everything seem gloomier." She pushed him down, then settling onto her knees, began to massage the tense muscles of his back.
"I know I'm feeling sorry for myself," he said, grunting with pleasure as she found a particularly tight muscle and began working it until it began to loosen. "Sometimes the hardest part is I feel like I'm part of two different worlds. When I'm in one, the other doesn't exist."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm here where it's warm and peaceful. The tape deck's got Bach on. Mitzi's playing with a string. There's a fire's in the fireplace, maybe candles, a woman's soft voice asking what I want to eat. I walk out that door, and I'm on the street with some guy yelling--so strung out on acid he doesn't know night from day. I hear a kid gurgle his last breath before he ODs. I stop at a Mom and Pop store and see an old man who was beaten and robbed of his last buck. You tell me which is real?"
She kept up her strong, massaging motions, rotating the shoulder muscle, then working the taut neck tendons. "The awful thing is they both are," she said.
"Like Monday..." He stopped and seemed to reconsider.
"Don't you dare stop. I want to hear whatever it is. You've shared so little of your work, and I'm beginning to think it's been deliberate."
He sighed. "I thought you didn’t want to hear."
"It isn't going to make me less afraid to be ignorant." She hoped that was so.
"All right... Monday, Jerry and I walked into what was supposed to be a barroom brawl, but in the middle of the room there's a guy waving a knife like a machete and yelling how he's had all he's going to take. At that moment, the world narrowed down to him. I could feel the adrenaline rush when our eyes met. I knew all I had to do was draw my revolver--the guy's dead. It might even be it’s what he wanted.”
“What do you mean?”
“Suicide by cop isn’t unheard of.”
She had known about that but hadn’t thought what it meant to the cop pushed into that situation. Randy went on. “I could have shot him and justified it, but I had another choice. I could try to disarm him. I couldn't think about you then. If I had, my judgment would have gone to hell."
"What did you do?"
"I edged up to him while Jerry circled him. I lunged for his arm, came close to breaking it. Jerry knocked him over the head, and he collapsed long enough for us to get him cuffed. Nobody died, but you know there are always questions-- like why didn’t we use a taser? The reason was they don’t always work as you hope. Questions are always raised of police brutality in any case like that one."
"You could have been stabbed," she said, coming off her knees and taking the chair opposite him. "You didn't say a word when you came home. All week, you've said nothing. Why not?"
"Do you like it better now that you know?" he asked. She didn't answer. "I didn't tell you because when I got home, I could hardly believe it happened. You had a jazz CD playing. You'd waited up. Remember?"
She did; she remembered taking him in her arms, fixing him a light snack, making love in front of the fireplace and going to sleep wrapped in each other's arms. She'd had no clue that he'd faced death before he faced her.
"I needed it to be like that when I got home. Can you understand?"
She shook her head, sure she didn't understand any of what he was telling her. In the real world, people didn't face death, and yet she talked to people everyday who had, victims who had barely survived brutal attacks. The so-called real world had many sides.
"You're my grounding, Marla," Randy said. He didn't make a move toward her, sitting back on the sofa, the expression in his eyes doing his only asking. "I need you to have music playing, to be thinking about one of your briefs, to kiss me, to be the way you are. Can you understand that?"
"I suppose so, but I don't like knowing something dangerous happened, and you felt you had to spare me."
"What if I’m sparing myself?” She glowered. He grinned. “So maybe we compromise. Sometimes... I'll tell you, but sometimes I need you to just smile at me, look at me like I've just come home from a day at the office."
She smiled as she rose from the chair. They met in the center of the room. She held him tightly against her, knowing all they really had was that moment. It was all anybody had.