Thursday, August 17, 2017

Amanda Smith 2

In the last blog, you met Amanda Smith. In this one, you will see how she reacted to her daughter's abduction. On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her friend, Joey, someone killed Joey and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it will give me an idea of is happening in the background. Next week, you'll meet Jeanne.

Amanda Smith
August 12, 1980

Amanda usually staffed the desk near the entrance to the Helping Hands Nursing Home when she wasn't working with the residents. The home was a plantation-style building, which housed the elderly and the infirmed. A former member of the Louisiana Society of Helping Hands had willed the building and the two hundred plus acres surrounding it to the charitable organization with the stipulation that it be turned into a low-cost nursing home. Kristin Ivers, a nurse and her supervisor, was passing on some instructions to Amanda when two Ellisonville Police Department officers walked in. For some reason, she could not explain, she shivered at the sight of the two men.
When the overweight red-faced man walked to the desk and asked for Amanda Smith, she knew it would not be good news, but when he told her that Jeanne was missing, and Joey had been shot, it was the worst possible news she could have imagined. She took a deep breath, held it in for a few seconds and then exhaled. She had to be calm—find out what it all meant.
"What do you mean 'missing'?" she asked in an even and controlled voice.
The red-faced officer turned to his partner, who nodded.
"We think…That is, the state police believe she was kidnapped."
When she heard the word, kidnapped, she blinked.
"Who would do such a thing?"
"We don't know yet, ma'am."
"I see." Amanda took another deep breath. She felt as if she were losing control, but she had to find out what happened.
"Are you all right, Mandy?" Kristin asked.
Amanda shook her off with a wave of her arm. She had to concentrate.
"You say Joey was shot. Is he dead?"
Again, the red-faced officer looked at his partner, and he nodded again.
"Yes, ma'am."
"Oh, my God," Kristin exclaimed and placed a hand on Amanda's shoulder.
"How was he shot?" Amanda asked.
"Ma'am, we're not allowed to give out any more information than that."
She nodded.
"Was my daughter shot, also?" She resisted the urge to cross her fingers, something she did as a child when faced with bad news.
"We don't think so."
"Ma'am." The other police officer, a tall dark man with a buzz cut, stepped forward. He had been standing back until then, watching her reaction closely. "We need some pictures of your daughter for identification purposes and maybe a couple of articles of clothing for the dogs."
"Dogs?"
"Bloodhounds."
"Of course." Amanda took a step forward, but her legs would not work. She could not support herself, and she fell, seated on the wood floor. Then the grief and despair overwhelmed her, and she let out a howl that reverberated from wall to wall in the old building. Then she sobbed, a series of convulsive explosion that emptied her lungs of air, and she knew she was going to die.
She was going to die without ever knowing if her daughter was alive or dead.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Amanda Smith

On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her boyfriend, Joey, a stranger killed him and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it did give me an idea why Amanda is so determined to find her daughter. I don't always write scenes for my secondary characters, but occasionally, I find it important enough to do so. Enjoy.

Amanda Smith
1960

Amanda Smith's life was not an easy one. The daughter of a sharecropper, a sweet potato farmer for Alcide Rozas, she suffered the taunts of the other kids who did not want for new clothes, food, and a house with electricity and running water. She swore that if she ever had children, they would not want for any of those things.
At sixteen, she did not go to the Junior/Senior Prom Night at Serpentville High School because she had nothing to wear, and even if she could have somehow afforded something decent, she had no date. No boy would ask her to a prom. She was not ugly. She was plain. Plain-colored hair. Plain face. Plain body. Plain intelligence. Plain clothes. Everything about her was plain. In fact, the photographer taking the Junior pictures for the yearbook grimaced when she sat for him.
At seventeen, when prom time at EHS rolled around, she figured there was no hope that anyone would ask her, but someone did. Shaking from nervousness, Johnny Smith snuck up on her in the library and asked if she would go with him. Johnny was nerdy, a math whiz. He had an oversized Adam's apple, wore thick black-rimmed glasses, khaki pants, and a checkered shirt over a soft, flabby body. Several zits stood out prominently on his face, and his oily black hair was combed back from his forehead. He was not handsome by any stretch of the imagination, and no girl would consider accompanying him to the prom, but Amanda was no stranger to logic. She figured out his reasoning immediately. Since no girl would go out with him, and no boy would go with her, they were a perfect match.
She was so startled by Johnny's invitation that she stuttered.
"I…don't…know."
"Oh," Johnny said, lowering his head and shoulders and walking away.
"Wait," she called out after him. "I didn't mean I wouldn't go with you. I just meant I don't know if I can."
He turned and sat down at the library table, across from her.
"When will you know?"
"Tomorrow. I'll know tomorrow."
Amanda's father's shack was just off the Isaacton gravel road, about three miles north of Ellisonville. The school bus route ran four miles west, going over a network of graveled and paved country roads. The driver turned the bus around at an abandoned farm house, doubled back for about a half mile, then turned northeast again traveling through another maze of country roads. The scenery was always the same, changing only with the seasons. The farms were mostly cotton with soybean and sweet potato fields sandwiched between them. In the spring, the cotton plants were babies. In early summer, they flowered, and in late summer the cotton bolls popped open. In the fall, there were only dead stalks left in the fields. In the winter, there was nothing except empty rows, bare and brown.
When the bus finally arrived at the dirt lane leading to her father's shack, Amanda ran home, an armload of books in her arms. She wasn't sure what to think about Johnny asking her for a date to the prom. On the one hand, he wasn't exactly the dream date. On the other, at least, he was a date. She decided that if she could convince her parents to buy her a dress, she would go with him.
She asked her mother, but when she realized that the prom dream would cost over twenty dollars, she balked.
"Your daddy is not going to go for that, honey. We just can't afford it. Twenty dollars would buy a lot of food."
When Amanda approached her father, he said basically the same thing her mother said, but he did have an idea.
"Let me talk to Arlene." Miss Arlene was Mr. Alcide's wife. "Maybe there are some odd jobs you can do for her to earn the money. Mind you, you'll still have to do your chores here."
Miss Arlene and Mr. Alcide Rozas were a childless couple, and Amanda had sat at her feet many times, listening to her tell stories of the "old days," while she sewed or knitted. They were not rich, but they owned their own home and enough land to sharecrop out. They lived comfortably enough compared to her family.
Miss Arlene sent word through her father for her to come by. She had a few chores for her to do. As payment, she would buy her a dress and fix it up.
Amanda was going to the prom.
***
The decorations committee had built a large papier-mâché replica of two opened hands side by side. Seated on stools in the palms of the hands were the king and queen elected by the student body.
Amanda met Johnny at the entrance to the gymnasium. Her father drove her in his old Chevrolet pickup and dropped her off in the parking lot. Johnny, dressed in a powder blue tuxedo, waited for her at the entrance. When he saw her, his eyes widened, and he let out a small gasp of surprise.
"You look beautiful."
Amanda had never felt beautiful before, but on this night, she felt like a queen. She wore a white full-length dress. The bodice was powder blue, matching Johnny's tux, and dipped down emphasizing her shoulders and just enough of her breasts to be exciting. A powder blue band encircled her waist and tied into a bow whose ends dangled the length of the white skirt. Her long dark hair hung straight, just above her shoulders. Her mother had ironed the hair to insure straightness and cut her bangs evenly across so that they dangled just above her eyes—a very mod coiffure that Mrs. Manuel discovered in a copy of Vogue.
Johnny gave her his arm and escorted her into the gymnasium. They received several surprised stares, but neither had eyes for anyone except each other.
For Amanda, the prom had been a dream come true. It was everything she could have imagined—romantic, exciting, and entertaining. She and Johnny danced until her legs ached. When it was over, he offered to take her home. She agreed and toe to toe on her front porch, he kissed her—a wonderful kiss that lingered long after he'd left.
They became a couple after that. Dowdy Amanda had a boyfriend. Insipid Johnny had a girlfriend. They did things together. He loved jazz. He took her to the Jazz Festival in New Orleans. They walked from stage to stage. They danced, kicking up dust that covered their legs like a fine mist. Amanda loved hiking, so he took her to Kisatchie National forest where they hiked and explored for an entire day until they were too tired to go on.
After they graduated from school, Amanda secured a job at the local Walgreens pharmacy. Johnny attended Louisiana State University under a scholarship. He wanted a degree in accounting. During his junior year, when he came home for spring break, Amanda had some news for him. She was pregnant.
He did not hesitate. He married her, and she moved to Baton Rouge to be with her husband. He lived in a rundown apartment—really, a room in a house. He shared a kitchen and a bathroom with three other students. She found a job clerking at a nearby quick stop store while he attended school and worked at a student aid job.
They found a tiny garage apartment within walking distance of the college. Jeanne arrived on November 24, 1963, a beautiful perfectly healthy girl. Amanda quit her job to take care of the baby. She quickly became the focus of their lives.
Johnny graduated six months later and immediately enrolled in a master's program, which he finished in two years. He applied for a job with Magnolia Financial Group in Ellisonville and was hired. He loved his job and climbed the executive ladder so fast that by the time he died in a car crash in 1975, he was one of the top administrators at Magnolia. As one member of the financial group said at his funeral, "Johnny Smith's future with the company was nothing short of stellar. He will be missed."
Amanda was devastated, but she did not mourn for long. She had Jeanne to think of—all that was left of her life.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stress: The Great Motivator


The deadline is tomorrow. You have known about this cutoff date for weeks, but you were so busy with other matters, so you put it off. The venue is perfect. It pays well, and the guidelines speak directly to you. You have a half-finished story that you know would work.
Now what?
If you are anything like me, this has happened often, and you know there is only one thing to do. Pull up the story and start on it, but until it is on its way, you will stress. You will ask yourself stupid questions like, "Why am I doing this to myself? Why didn't I start on this earlier? Is it worth it?"
Of course, it is worth it. It is what you love to do. Therefore, you forge on, one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, until you see the end, and the stress pours from your shoulders like sweat.
I teach at a small college. I earn enough doing that to support my family and myself, so after a long day in the classroom and in the office taking care of all the detritus that comes with the job, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of another computer and string words together. However, I do because stress in the form of guilt forces me to. Let's face it, I have heard repeatedly during my college days: If you want to be a writer, you must sit down and write. It's a truism, and I know it, so I sit and write. Not doing so would mean that I have given up and that is simply not in my DNA.
I'm a writing teacher and that means papers to grade—not just papers, but mostly badly written papers. I will do anything to avoid grading them—mow the lawn, wash dishes, surf social media, and work on stories or novels, of course. Some of my best work comes from avoiding grading papers. I constantly admonish my students for putting off starting their papers, and here I am, putting off grading those same papers. Eventually, I will grade them, of course, but at three in the morning because I promised to have them to the students by eight. Bleary-eyed, I walk into the classroom and hand my students their marked-up essays.
One of the great benefits of being a college teacher is that I can take the summers off if I want, and believe me, I want. This summer I set a goal of no less than five pages a day. Not an especially high bar, I admit, but I know my limits. Still, that's approximately three hundred and fifty pages. There were days when I simply didn't want to sit and write—days when the spirit deserted me—but the stress of not meeting my goal encouraged me to place butt to chair and fingers to keyboard. I wrote every day, and often exceeded my five-page goal. In fact, this summer break, I wrote and edited one novel, wrote another, nearly completed a novelette, and cranked out two short stories. I owe it all to stress. To quote one of my ex-students, "I do my best work under stress." Ah, there is truth to that.
Here how it works for me. I know I need to get the goal done, but the process of sitting in the chair and writing is difficult. There are too many distractions, so I stress and create scenarios in my mind. I imagine that I'm writing the words down and soon, the excitement and the fear that I might forget all that "brilliant" stuff I thought up builds, and I must put the words down in the computer. Once I start typing, the words string together like magic. Not all them are keepers, of course, but I'll come back and clean it up in the editing stages. The main point is to move the story forward, steadily moving toward the conclusion.
Like I said earlier, I know me. I'm a procrastinator. There is always something I'd rather be doing than what I should be doing, but stress motivates me. Guilt too, I suppose. So, I wait and wait and at the last moment, I complete the task. This blog should have been completed two days ago; however, I waited until this morning to get it done. Now, I should go back and clean it up, but I think I'll wait until this afternoon. The Fred Charlie Cajun Show is on, and I'd rather listen to some good Cajun music.
The blog can wait.

Amanda Smith 2

In the last blog, you met Amanda Smith. In this one, you will see how she reacted to her daughter's abduction. On August 12, 1980, whil...