Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Easel for Avery available on Amazon

An Easel for Avery is now available on Amazon for a whopping $0.99. I wrote this short story, featuring my characters from Don't Wait For Me, because so many people have asked for more holiday tales from Mr. Z's Toys. I waited so long because I wanted to make sure I treated Mary and Edwin with the respect they deserved.

I am working on an official follow up to Don't Wait For Me (shhh, don't tell anyone), but in the meantime, I hope people will enjoy this update from Mary and Edwin in An Easel for Avery.

The Kindle version of this short story includes a two chapter preview of You Only Get So Much

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Free Preview of 'You Only Get So Much'

Check out the first chapter of You Only Get So Much, available exclusively on your Amazon Kindle. 

Chapter 1

Spokane, Washington

I lean against the front bumper of my 1974 Ford pickup in the small parking lot of the funeral home, ignoring the mud and bugs collected on the bumper and how they might soil my only pair of suit pants. Three days earlier I hadn't remembered I actually still had suit pants. I'd assumed that the suffocating corporate uniform of my past had not followed me in my isolation, but in the back of the cedar-lined closet of my drafty lake cabin I had found a charcoal gray Hilfiger suit with a herringbone weave. The box it was kept in had been packed by someone else. Thus had I not gone looking for it; it may have been left undiscovered for years to come. I don't have much cause to wear such things.

I tug on the uncomfortable pants and feel them wiggle and slip down. My frame has leaned out considerably since I last had to wear the suit, ironically at another funeral more than 12 years prior. Today I'm also wearing a new black belt that I purchased two days ago at a small hardware store in White Fish, Montana, the closest city to my current home in the mountains. I'd gotten the usual stares from the townspeople as I walked through town in my jeans and boots, my long brown beard hanging over my flannel shirt. I blended in, sure, but they knew me. Billy Redmond, the author. The guy who used to be a big deal. The guy who certainly wasn't anymore.

Montana had its fair share of hermits even before my time there. Best known, of course was Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who, beyond being a murderous bastard, gave Montana isolationists like me a bad name. It's not like we had a club or secret handshake or anything. We didn't chat on the phone. That would defeat the purpose. I just wanted to be alone and for the last 12 years I'd managed that feat without much trouble. When "that Billy guy" came to town, people stayed away. Maybe it was out of fear. People in the woods of Montana were bound to be packing heat or concealing an oversized hunting knife, right? No question about that. So it was smart to keep your distance from me or people who looked like me, they thought. But I'm harmless. I just want to be alone.

Or maybe these people stayed away because I wasn't all that interesting anyhow. I was no one special, at least not anymore. There was a time when I was on top of the world. Private jets. Meetings in Hollywood. Long lunches with important people. Magazine covers. Well, one magazine cover. A movie deal for my novel. I was "the man" for a short time.

Until I wasn't. And I certainly wasn't anymore.

I did find it troubling over the years when strangers, looking for a handout, would ignore the "No Trespassing" signs, the locked gate, and hike in more than a mile just to knock on my door. The cabin wasn't exactly hidden—in that sense I wasn't Kaczynski. I built the place so I could write alone. Write something. Anything good, but apparently lightning really doesn't strike twice because I don't have anything to show for it. At least nothing that you'll ever see.

I'd be polite to the intruders who would knock on my door, but I wouldn't cut them a check. I didn't have anything for them. It was gone—all of it. The payday for Isolated Highway—my first and only novel—and the failed movie deal was no more. But they still thought I had it squirreled away somewhere. I once had enough cash for two lifetimes, but today I barely had enough for one. My nest egg was non-existent. I'd even started searching for a job, but not very hard. What was I qualified for anyway?

When the intruders would come, it wasn't the reminder of my failures that bothered me. I didn't need help in that department. It was the intrusion that I disliked, the human interaction that I desperately wanted to avoid.  Why can't I just be left alone?

So, today leaning against the dirty bumper of my old rusty pickup truck at the funeral home parking lot in my hometown of Spokane, Washington, I'm fighting off the painful urge to climb back into the cab and drive straight back to my little cabin in the mountains, two states away, never to be seen again. Unless somebody knocks on my door. Assuming I'd answer it.

No one expects me to be at this funeral anyway. My family hadn't called me. They'd given up trying to reach me years ago. And I was glad for that because you can't hurt people who can't find you. Or at least I once thought this was true, but you'll have to stick with me a bit longer to learn more about that.
* * *
Bass and Dodge Funeral Home has a white and tan exterior. If you didn't see the cheesy sign in the parking lot, it's a fair assumption that the place is a church. The stained-glass windows are overkill. But I was probably the only one looking at the windows. The building sat immediately outside the gates of Fairwood Cemetery, a convenient location if there ever was one. I imagined the conversation between loved ones trying to bury their dead grandpa or uncle. Let's make sure we don't have to drive too far between the service and the grave, they'd say. God forbid they might have to spend a few extra minutes remembering someone's life. It made me sick.

To the north of the building is a huge dirt parking lot. Not for the hordes of mourners that were expected to flood the funeral home, but for the local football stadium that looms in the distance. I can visualize the cars streaming in and out of the parking lot on Friday nights. The lights from the stadium blazing into the front windows of nearby homes. The teens with their painted chests, sipping from flasks in their parents' borrowed cars before cheering on their classmates and barfing up the booze on the aluminum benches. They wouldn't be looking at the windows of the funeral home either. They wouldn't be wondering who lay stiff inside a bargain-priced coffin. They wouldn't weep for the dead. 

Was I any better? Would I weep? I should. After all, it's my brother and sister-in-law laying side-by-side in matching cherry-wood caskets inside the funeral home. But I hadn't seen them or even heard from them in 12 years. There were no Facebook status updates to keep me abreast of their comings and goings. No Christmas cards or emails to keep me informed of what the late Trevor and Jennifer Redmond or their two very much alive daughters were up to these days. This was my doing of course, not theirs. They would have just as soon had weekly dinners or whatever normal people do with family. Do people even have dinner with family anymore? Or is that out of style? These things are a bit lost on me.

Three days ago when my emergency cell phone rang—yes, even hermits can have cell phones—I didn't expect news of my little brother's death. I'd left the number at the retirement home where my parents were living. Only the home's director had the number. I had left it with the man just in case there was some emergency news I might need. But in truth the only call I expected was one telling me that one of my parents had died. My parents didn't want to see me anyway. And this was one way I could ensure that I was at least available at the end. But my brother Trevor dying wasn't the end I expected.

Trevor and Jennifer Redmond had been staying in Fort Lauderdale waiting to board a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary. They'd wandered into the wrong neighborhood and were mugged. What exactly ensued wasn't entirely clear, but their bodies were found in an alley. Stabbed. Wallet, purse and jewelry gone. A surprising and sad end to two beautiful people. There was too much of that going around. Things like that don't just happen on TV or in books. It happens in real life too, but you don't notice it until it hits you—or someone you care about.

The retirement home's director apologized for the call, but felt someone needed to tell me that my brother was gone and that a funeral was planned in Spokane in a few days. I barely spoke a word, in part because I had a bit of trouble finding my voice after months of inactivity, but also because I was devastated by the news.

More family dying. It was happening again. Just like 12 years ago. It's not the same as the day I learned my wife and daughter died. That was, well, different.

My little brother Trevor was the pride and joy of the Redmond family. No one doubted it. He was the top of his class at Santa Clara. Went to med school at the University of Washington, and became a highly sought-after plastic surgeon who volunteered his vacation time in third-world countries helping kids with cleft palates and other ailments. He was a Neighborhood Watch captain. Drove a Volvo station wagon. He baked. He was a goddamned American hero. 

Jennifer wasn't far behind his greatness. Undergrad and law degree from Gonzaga University. Former Lilac Princess and Miss Spokane. President of the PTO. She left her law practice behind to raise their daughters at home. Little Gracie was now 6 and Kendall was 16 or was it 17? I can't recall. This power couple of goodness left a wide wake behind them and two kids.

This sad tale would seem to make the case for me to lift my ass off the bumper of the truck and walk inside the funeral home to pay my respects. But that isn't the case. They'd all see me. See what I'd become in my 41 years on this earth and wonder why Trevor was gone, but Billy was still kicking around. Why was he spared when "the good one" was dead? they would ask. This was a tragedy that I had no connection to. I didn't need the grief I was sure to get, because I'd been through it before. I'd lost the goodness in my life too, but I couldn't think about them now. My wife and daughter. It's been so long—12 years—but the memory is still as new and raw as the day I lost them. When everything changed and I had to go away.

I tried to shake the memory loose in my brain. I was sweaty and frayed. The tie around my neck seemed to tighten like a noose. I yank it off and unbutton my top shirt button, finally able to breathe again. I didn't use to be this way. Anxious. Frozen in place by my fears. But I recognize they exist. That's got to mean something.

The noxious feeling passes, but here I remain on the truck's bumper, holding my crumpled necktie, afraid of what I might find inside the funeral home. Who I might see or who might see me. Family and old friends. What they will think and say behind my back. I was a coward, but at least I can admit it. I am a coward in a dated suit and crumpled necktie.

My attention shifts to a couple emerging from behind the funeral home. A young girl, maybe in her late teens and a boy of a similar age. She leans against the side of the building as he presses his body and mouth toward hers. She has a very pale face and dark eye makeup. Is Goth the right word? The young lovers seem unaware of the bearded guy in the parking lot watching them. Lost in their own youthful kisses and lust. I watch, if only because it was one more thing to postpone my long walk into the funeral home. A walk I don't want to take in the first place.

Only when the boy lets the girl come up for air do I see the resemblance. My teenage niece, Kendall Redmond, sure looks like her mom Jennifer.
* * *
"Hey, buddy!" the boy yells, suddenly stomping across the lot toward me. "What are you looking at?"

The boy holds Kendall's hand, pulling her along with him, the adolescent fury reddening his face. How dare someone watch him going at it with his girlfriend in broad daylight in a parking lot?

The boy marches right up to me and stands inches from my chest. Kendall stands behind him, seemingly disinterested in the confrontation. Her hair is dyed black, with only the faint blonde roots giving her away. She is tall with long legs covered in black fishnet stockings, knee-high boots and a short black leather skirt. Her face is painted pale white, while her eyes are encircled with black. Her mom was a gorgeous woman. And sure, she looks like her mom, if her mom worshipped the devil and was a streetwalker.

The boy is now in my face. Maybe this bravado is the boy's way of protecting her. Maybe he is like every other person on the planet who doesn't know how to deal with death and mourning. 

Maybe he is hurting. Or maybe he's just an asshole.

"You got a problem pal?" the boy asks.

I stand my ground. What do I have to fear from this kid? At 6 feet, three inches tall, I actually tower over the boy. His head doesn't even reach as high as my beard. 

The boy starts to roll up his sleeves. He looks like a bull dancing before charging the matador and his red cloth.

"Hey, lumberjack—are you eyeing my girlfriend? Is that your deal, perv?" he asks.

With that, Kendall meets my eyes for the first time. She looks away, and then quickly back again. She was around 6 years old when I left. Does she remember her uncle?  She probably remembers me as the guy who brought her gifts on birthdays and Christmas, the guy who let her steer my convertible Mustang when her parents weren't watching. She doesn't seem like the same person, but then again, neither do I.

"Ethan, back off him," she says. "That's my long-lost Uncle Billy."

The way she said it made me feel like I am two feet tall.

"Kendall," is all I say, feeling quite long-lost.

"What are you doing here?" she asks.

I clear my throat, again. I'm not used to speaking.

"The funeral," I manage to get out.

"No shit. Why are you outside?" she asks.

"Why are you outside?" I reply. Knowing full well how annoying it is to answer a question with a question.

"I don't know anyone in there," she says. "They don't know me either."

Like two peas in a pod.

"I get that," I say and then after a moment add, "You really grew up."

"And you got old," she says.

And I feel old too. Kendall is old enough to drive, make out with boys—I shuttered to think that making out probably isn't the only thing she's doing with this Ethan punk. My stomach twists and I feel sweaty again.

Kendall is a beautiful young girl sullied only by her attire, makeup and the sour expression on her face. No doubt, the funeral of your parents isn't a positive emotional highlight, but I get the sense that this is Kendall's everyday face. Discontent in black and white.

"You should pay your respects to your parents," I say.

"I don't see you going in there."

"I was just about to go in," I lie.

"It's almost over."

"All the better then," I say.  

"Let's go. You can be my cover story," Kendall puts her arm through mine and leads me away by the elbow.

"Hey, what about me?" Ethan says, clearly disappointed.

Over her shoulder, she calls back to him, "I'll text you later. My uncle has to go to a funeral."


Enjoyed the preview? 

An Easel for Avery (short story) Cover Reveal

An Easel For Avery (available in fall 2014)

All Derek Conway wanted to do was buy an easel for his little sister Avery. But after visiting Mr. Z's Toys, and meeting Mary and Edwin Klein, he finds out that sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't ask for.  

This holiday short story of just 8,000 words takes place before the events of Dan Kolbet's bestseller, Don't Wait For Me.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cover reveal: You Only Get So Much

Cover reveal, "You Only Get So Much." Available now for pre-order. 

Book Description
When Billy Redmond returns to his hometown to attend his brother's funeral, he's hoping for a quick trip. No reason to stay for more than a few hours. He's been in self-imposed exile from his family since a tragedy 12 years ago. It's better this way. He can’t harm people he never sees.

Billy soon finds out that his family isn’t better off without him, in fact he's the only one who can help them. Billy is forced to fight through his tormented past to make a better future for those he loves.

For Billy, it’s more than a second chance; it's his last chance to get it right.