It’s truth time. At the beginning of the year, I considered no longer writing. I don’t want to say I considered quitting, but I did. This consideration has happened more and more over the last couple of years, which is alarming. I love writing. I love creating characters and putting them in tough situations. I love hearing from the readers. I love the experience of writing and events and panels and podcasts and speaking engagements. So, to have these thoughts as often as I have had them completely bothered me.
I contacted my editor, Larissa, and for a couple of hours we chatted through PMs until we got to the root cause of everything. I won’t go into all the details here, but it has a lot to do with why I write. I write because I love the process, and I had fallen out of love with it. That is the bottom line. Yes, there is a LOT more to it, but that is what it boils down to. My marriage with words was on the rocks and I had to figure out a way to fix it, and if I couldn’t, then it would be over.
So, Larissa and I came up with this idea. I told her about a story concept I had that was completely out of my comfort zone. She said, “You should write it.”
I didn’t want to. I made a few excuses as to why I shouldn’t write it. When I say it is out of my comfort zone, I mean it is waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. However, it was the reasoning behind writing the story that made me finally break down and say, “okay, I’ll give it a shot.” What was that reasoning: Write a story I have no intentions of getting published. Write it because I want to. Write it in hopes of rekindling that flame.
I started writing it on January 29th of this year. It was slow going at first, but then it started to build up steam and I began looking forward to getting back to the story of Charlie Massingale and Dani Overton. It currently sits at a little over thirty-two thousand words with plenty of story left to go.
So, today, I thought I would give you, my faithful readers, a little peek at the first couple of pages of the story that kept me from no longer writing. It is called Human Touch, and boy, is it outside of my comfort zone. I hope you enjoy. If you do, please consider liking and commenting on this post, and sharing it. Oh, and this is completely unedited, so I am aware there are probably some mistakes in here.
Here we go:
The coffee shop was quiet. The few people talking did so in whispers as if they were in a library and the librarian was an ancient old bitty with blue hair, triangle lensed glasses and a mallet behind her back. Talk too loudly and get a smack to the head that you might not wake up from. Charlie liked it that way.
It wasn’t like the Starbucks down the street that garnered most of the coffee drinking public who were willing to spend their money on their favorite caffeinated drink. No, this was a little mom and pop place, not owned by a mom or a pop, but a woman in her mid-thirties who married, divorced, and had no children that he was aware of. She spent her mornings and most afternoons behind the counter of the Coffee Dee-Light serving the regulars, like Charlie, with a smile and a bottom line price that should have competed with Starbucks, but somehow didn’t.
“Hey, William,” she said as she wiped her hands on a green apron tied around her waist. On her blue shirt were words in a dull yellow cursive script that read, But First Coffee. Her blonde hair was pulled away from her face and held in place by a rubber band. It’s not that she had a lot of hair—she always kept it shoulder length or shorter—it’s just she wanted the hair out of her face and didn’t want any loose strands ending up in the coffees she made. “What’ll you have today?”
“Oh, I guess I’ll have the usual, Dee.”
“A large black coffee with two creams on the side coming right up.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said, set a five on the counter and scoped the shop for a place to sit. He was in luck. His usual spot in the corner under a fake sconce that lit that area in an off white glow sat empty. The table beside the flower cushioned chair was just large enough for his coffee and a book. He walked over and set the pack on his shoulder in the seat, the universal sign the seat was now occupied, then returned to the counter where his coffee and two cream packets awaited him, along with just under three dollars in change. Charlie picked up the coffee and creams, but left the change.
He glanced back once as he walked back to his seat. Dee shook her head, then scooped up the change and placed it in the cash register. Charlie nodded, but a smile fell just short of appearing beneath his thick beard. He removed his bag, set it by the chair, then sat. The coffee went onto the little table, along with the two creams. One by one, he poured the cream into the coffee, let the black turn a dark brown, but didn’t bother with stirring it in. He took a sip, smacked his lips and nodded.
“I get your seal of approval today?” Dee yelled from the counter.
Charlie pulled a book from his pack, an obscure thing most people probably hadn’t heard of. He put a finger where the bookmark was and then opened it to the page he stopped on the night before. He began reading about the capers of a boy whose father had left him and his mom in the middle of the night, like a thief, taking all they had, and the struggles they went through. So far, he liked the book. He liked it quite a lot. He wondered, not for the first time, why the author of that particular story couldn’t manage to get noticed by one of the bigger presses.
He was ten pages further along and half a cup of coffee gone when the person walked up and stopped directly in front of him. He didn’t have to look up to see it was a young woman. The green dress and bit of legs he could see while not looking away from the book told him as much.
“Excuse me, sir,” the woman said. She sounded tentative, unsure of herself, as if she might be trying to talk herself out of doing something stupid, but possibly exhilarating.
Charlie looked up. The woman who stood before him wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either, maybe six inches shy of six feet. Long brown hair fell down her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled as if she were in awe of something magnificent. Though her smile was tentative, Charlie had a feeling that when she felt confident, it was probably radiant.
“Can I help you?” Charlie asked, lowered the book, but held it open. It was his way of saying I’ll humor you for a couple of seconds, but after that it’s back to reading.
“Are you …” she hesitated. Yeah, she thought herself silly for being there. Charlie could see this easy enough in the way her lips pinched together and the way she shuffled from foot to foot as if she needed to pee. “Are you Charlie Massingale?”
He shook his head. “I’m not familiar with the name.”
“Really? You’ve never heard of Charlie Massingale?”
Oh, he had heard of him, all right. As a matter of fact, he knew him quite well. “Is that a bad thing?”
“Well, if you like good stories and great writing, yes.”
“So, he’s an author?”
“Yes, Sir,” the young woman said.
“I’m no author,” Charlie said and started to lift the book. He didn’t know if she would get the hint, but he hoped she would. These days being anonymous and unknown is how he liked it. Having someone recognize him came as a surprise. Since growing the beard out, no one recognized him, not even an old friend, who he had walked by one afternoon when he went home for a weekend—completely unintentional. Though he did a double take after he passed her, she hadn’t flinched or gave any clue that she recognized him. He had smiled then. He wasn’t smiling behind his beard now.
Her shoulders slumped, “I guess not,” she said. “I just … I could have sworn you were him.”
“What would give you the impression that I’m this Charlie whatever his name is?”
“Massingale,” she said and slid a purple book bag from her shoulder. She unzipped the middle pouch, reached inside and pulled a book from it, then slipped the bag back onto her shoulder. She opened the book to the back cover dust jacket. Beneath the author’s name and bio was a picture of a man with brilliant blue eyes and short, dark hair. He was holding a book in his hands and sitting in what looked to be a comfortable cushioned high back chair, much like the one Charlie sat in right then. His right leg was crossed over his left and instead of looking at the book, he looked directly into the camera. The photographer took the picture, even though the man wasn’t smiling.
Charlie remembered the day it was taken. It was a promo picture for Diane’s Story, his seventh novel. He had been twenty-eight when that picture was taken and he had already released the seven novels (with another one on the way) and half a dozen short story collections.
“Everything about this picture screams you,” she said, closed the book and held it to her chest with both arms wrapped around it.