Friday, May 28, 2010



I was just interviewed by Dorothy Dreyer for her blog - We Do Write. I enjoyed answering her insightful questions and am looking forward to getting some reader responses either there or here at A Line A Day. Happy reading, happy Memorial Day with much debt and respect owed to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and happy unofficial start of Summer!

Welcome, Roy! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I was born on the idyllic island of St. Thomas and now reside in a quaint New Jersey town where the residents are taxed far too heavily. In between I grew up in the Bronx, NY which is the setting of my debut novel - Patches of Grey. I began working on it while a student at NYU. This doesn’t mean it’s autobiographical, although I have received *side-eyes* regarding a few passages from my siblings (I’m the eldest of 5) who felt they recognized some snatches from our reality. I truthfully plead coincidence. Patches is only autobiographical in the sense that some of the issues it tackles are ones of personal interest to me, ones I’m rather opinionated about. Yet my goal and hopefully achievement was not to write a preachy book that lays out my world view and dictates to readers how they should feel, but rather, to tell an engaging story with issues of social relevance significant to the narrative. When not writing or spending time with my family, helping my daughter grow up into the most amazing person in the world, I’m a big sports fan. The Knicks are my basketball love and the Jets are my football love, so much so that this Caribbean born scribe is willing to endure cold winter days in the Meadowlands watching the latter play. Tennis is my other sports obsession, although I’d rather be out on the court than watching. My game has a long way to go, but that’s okay because I’m a patient and determined man. These are pretty necessary traits for a writer to have, along with enjoying the sight of my own words, which explains why I’ve become quite enamored with blogging and Twitter.

Let's talk about your books. What are the names and genres?

I suppose the label of literary fiction applies to my writing, though I basically consider myself to be a writer of stories that don’t neatly fall into any particular genre. Since the majority of major characters in Patches of Grey are teens, technically it covers territory one might consider Young Adult. But the language is a bit rougher than what you’d find in most YA novels, and the tone more intense. I suppose one could say it’s an urban novel since that aptly describes the setting, but my goals are a bit loftier than glorifying so called street life. Essentially Patches is a story of family, of how it shapes us, how we try to break free of the nest with varying degrees of success, and no matter how far away we may venture a part of us will always remain behind. It’s also a story of race, how it defines us, how we use it to figure out ourselves and others, and how it doesn’t really define anything at all because the shared color of our blood trumps the degree of melanin in our skins. If African American/Black is considered to be a writing genre then I suppose one would toss Patches in there as well, being that I’m black and so are most of characters in it. But would it be black fiction if I wrote it but the majority of characters were white (which is the case in a fair amount of my shorter fiction, not to mention cases where I make no mention of characters’ race at all)? How about if the story remained the same but I happened to be white? Are you stumped? Exactly, who the heck knows, which is why I’m not too concerned with literary labels. Individual readers can decide for themselves what they wish to consider my writing, just as I leave it up to them to decide its merits. In addition to my novel and short stories I’ve also had a novella published as an ebook by SynergEbooks. Feeding the Squirrels is even more genre-less than Patches of Grey. It’s more or less about sex yet isn’t nearly graphic enough to be considered erotica, nor romantic enough to be called Romance. Anti-romance is more like it, or so it may seem for much of the story. It has absolutely nothing to do with race, but I’m still black so is it black fiction? LOL. Perhaps my goal is never to be pinned down, whether on page on in life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Crossing Paths

RIP Aiyana Jones - Heaven receives some angels far too soon

The facts have not all been sorted through and made public, but one thing was perfectly clear right from the start. No 7-year old girl should die from a bullet, stray or otherwise. Any situation that may set up such an awful result should never be. Who is to blame and for what reason was a little girl shot while she lay asleep during a police raid on her apartment? Cameras don't usually lie and they happened to be present (friggin' reality TV shows), some say their presence instigated over-agression by Detroit police, so perhaps light will soon be shed upon the cause in this particular case. We already know the effect. A beautiful little girl will not make it to her 8th birthday. Her family is devastated. The officer holding the gun that discharged, regardless of his degree of fault and negligence, will have to live with Aiyana's blood on his hands and conscience for the remainder of his days.

Excellent summation of a tragedy

Petition to retry Officer Joseph Weekley for murder

Weekley's retrial began in September 2014. On October 3, the judge dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge against Weekley, leaving him on trial for only one charge: recklessly discharging a firearm.
On October 10, the second trial ended in another mistrial.
On January 28, 2015, a prosecutor cleared Weekley of the last remaining charge against him, ensuring there would not be a third trial.

Crossing Paths is a tale of perfectly awful timing by several participants resulting in multiple tragedies. Unlike the sad story of Aiyana Jones, it is only fiction. If only all tragedies were the stuff of imagination.

Crossing Paths
By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

If he had known in advance where the events of this evening were destined to lead, Richard most certainly would have stayed home. Granted, there was nothing to do but stare absently at the television while brooding about Cheryl. It had been exactly one week since her declaration of independence. One week for her to reconsider the error she had made. But when Richard phoned to see if Cheryl's weekend of solitude had shaken her resolve, he was informed that she was out. Some people weren't meant to spend Saturday night alone. And though not cruel, a girl as beautiful as her who was so accustomed to being adored simply could not be overly concerned about the hearts she laid to waste. The assistance of a guardian angel must have enabled Richard to win her affection. That had been the consensus of his friends. As for how he lost it, Cheryl had reserved her womanly right to be mysterious on the subject.

When Richard's buddies appeared at his door and welcomed him back into the fold, how could he refuse? A night out with the boys downing six packs, talking sports, and ogling members of the opposite sex was just what he needed. Three months had passed since he last participated in this ritual. Not coincidentally, this was the duration of his relationship with Cheryl. His friends would help him, if not forget, at least to numb the pain. Richard was willing to give the universe a chance to exist without Cheryl at its center.

Maybe it was due to his long absence from these bonding sessions, or perhaps because of the splendor of what had temporarily replaced them. Whatever the reason, Richard found the evening's entertainment value to be lower than expected. His boredom soon proved contagious. Something different was needed, something special. The hours were dragging, their minds seemingly impervious to the alcohol consumed. There are times when despite all hope, nothing of note takes place. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be one of those times.

The guy ran past them like he wanted to be chased. It was as if he was a figment of their darkest imaginings, and being a creation of their minds, could bring about no real consequences. Fun having eluded their grasp, they had silently but unanimously opted to look for trouble. As it turned out, they didn't have to look very far. The color of the sprinter's skin and clothing suggested that he was made of the night, a night that was theirs for the taking.

They cornered him against the wall of a supermarket. The look in his eyes put Richard in mind of a deer he had once encountered, seconds before running it over. There had been no time to avoid that accident, but tonight was no mistake and time was in abundance. After briefly hesitating to see if a weapon of some kind would be produced, the group turned mob moved in as one.

Richard had never done anything like this before. His dad raged against black people frequently, ever since one of them received the promotion he had been expecting. Craig Stafford, his friend since grade school and one of the attackers, had also been ranting about blacks of late. This was mainly because his sister was currently dating a black guy. As for Richard, he didn't bother to give matters of race much thought one way or the other, not even tonight. With every punch and kick, his thoughts were on Cheryl and the anonymous arms that now held her. Maybe he could bear her leaving him, but he couldn't deal with not knowing why and needed to take out his frustration on something.

How far they would have taken it, Richard would never know. A siren announced the arrival of the police, causing them to disperse. Sometimes things get out of hand and actions are performed which are entirely out of character. Richard was no criminal, hoodlum, or racist thug. He was drunkenly, aimlessly running with a pack as a remedy for his broken heart and wounded pride. If only he could make it home and forget this night had ever happened. This thought kept his legs churning.

* * *

Mike Sherman knew that if he had gone in another direction with any of his major life decisions, he would not have ended up here. He could have gone to college, but sitting for another second in a classroom seemed intolerable at the time. So he spent a couple of years in the Army, which helped him determine that he didn't want to be there either. An ambivalent mindset and extensive knowledge of firearms tends to lead a man towards one of the following career paths. He either breaks the law or upholds it.

His childhood friends never voiced disapproval, but made their joint opinion clear enough. Cops had never been anything to them but objects of derision. The fact that one of their own was now amongst this group was not well accepted. They gradually drifted away, and Mike had to adjust to the loss of his companions. When he met Amy, their romance was accelerated by his solitude. Within a few months Mike was married and had a kid on the way. The city was no place for a child to grow up, according to Amy. A move to the suburbs was in order. What else could he do but agree?

Mike felt uncomfortable in his new neighborhood from the start. So few faces resembled his own. He was the only African-American officer in the precinct. But Amy seemed happier than ever, and he wouldn't dare disturb the harmony of the woman soon to bear his kid. If he gave the place a fair chance, surely his feelings of alienation would go away. Eventually he would cease to notice the looks of distaste on his neighbors' faces that his wife swore were products of an overactive imagination.

Tonight had been a slow one, as most of them were, particularly when compared to his outings as a big city cop. As with his stint in the military during peacetime, everything he did here seemed merely a drill, undertaken for show purposes only. He longed for some action. An abundance of free time gave Mike ample opportunity to ponder his uncertainty that Mike Jr. would benefit from being raised in such a place.

Mike and his partner Bob were near the end of their shift when they noticed a commotion in the parking lot of Pathmark. Adrenalin surged through Mike's body as he gave chase, grateful to finally encounter a crime more serious than illegal parking. The perpetrators took off in various directions. Mike pursued the one with the smallest lead on him. Every teenager he had encountered since moving to this neighborhood seemed the same. They were spoiled rotten by Mom and Dad’s money. The natural arrogance of youth had overgrown because of undisciplined upbringings by parents less concerned about them than about golf scores, the stock market, and pedigree pets. The opportunity to bust one of these kids, perhaps screw up his shot at getting into Harvard or Yale, gave Mike a perverse rush.

The boy didn't notice that the fence he was trying to climb had barbed wire on top until it was too late. He dropped back down with blood dripping from his left hand. Mike realized that brandishing his weapon was probably unnecessary, but it was the first cop-like thing he had done in months. If the boy cried or wet his pants in reaction, so much the better. Mike had been looked down upon one time too many since arriving here. He relished experiencing the authority his badge was supposed to imbue.

Richard did neither of the things Mike wished for, though his fear was indeed overwhelming. Instead of shedding liquid, what it made him do was speak without giving much consideration to his choice of words.

"Just back off me, man, or else. Or else I'll get you fired. My dad knows the mayor. You hear me, nigger? Back off."

An explosion filled Mike's ears and the kid lurched back suddenly. There was no taking it back. The first bullet ever released by Mike in the line of duty would be the last. It wasn't remorse that he felt. Only regret encompassed him. His wife and unborn son would pay the price for his lapse of judgment and control. In one instant his life had been thrown away, solely for the sake of having the definitive last word. Mike tossed his warm revolver to the ground, fought back the vomit threatening to emerge, and began to pace in a maddening circle.

* * *

Russell had been close to losing consciousness, convinced he was about to die at the hands of rabid marauders, when they surprisingly ended the attack. He didn't have much time to be grateful. When his path of view became clear, the first thing he saw was a glint of light off the badge headed his way. Badges tended to be attached to cops, so Russell defied his bumps and bruises and took off.

After travelling a few blocks, he realized he wasn't being followed. He slowed to a walk and reflected upon this most bizarre night as the inevitable pain began to register. Russell did not often act on whims. His profession had plenty of built in dangers, but with careful precision timing they could usually be avoided. He had been very unprofessional tonight, letting emotions rule over rationality. Things started going downhill from there.

Russell's career as a burglar had been progressing smoothly up until tonight due to a single fact. About twenty percent of the homes in this county used the same recognizable security system, one that he was adept at dismantling. He moved from town to town picking out the marked homes, then waited for a night when one was empty. Russell went about his business quickly and efficiently, snatching any portable and undoubtedly insured valuables he could locate. No pain, plenty of gain.

At around ten o'clock that night, an attractive middle aged couple dolled up in their country club finest left their home an all-you-can-steal banquet before Russell's eyes. He waited his standard twenty minutes, in case they had forgotten something and made a surprise return. Russell almost paid the price for moving in too quickly early in his career, and never forgot a lesson learned. He spent the time watching for movement, any sign that the house was not completely vacated. Then, if all signals were go, he went about doing what he did best.

When Russell came upon the beautiful young girl quietly sobbing on her bed in the unlighted room, he found himself more touched than startled or concerned. He was also curious. She obviously came from money, was clearly one of the most exquisite creatures on God's green Earth. The world should have been at her fingertips. What could such a girl possibly have to cry about?

He was drawn to her in a way that was new and strange. The purpose of his intrusion was forgotten. Russell longed to comfort the forlorn beauty before him. Her tears made her seem a kindred spirit, for Russell too was no stranger to despair. The mask he wore for work purposes concealed not only his identity, but also the hideous visage he looked out at the world from behind. His mother's drug addiction was responsible for his deformity. A face only a mother could love, if only she wasn't too high, and then too dead to pay him much notice. As for the rest of the world's inhabitants, they looked at him and then quickly away with no pity, compassion, or affection of any kind. Loneliness made Russell think often about dying, but living had become a habit he was unable to kick. Money became a surrogate for the compassion mankind withheld from him.

To possess a girl like the one before him was a stubbornly persistent fantasy that had plagued Russell since puberty. He longed to win the heart and body of one so lovely, not by paying for the pleasure, but granted it freely. Fully aware that this would never be, he accepted the fact as he did all unalterable things. But when he moved towards the girl, her expression seemed if not inviting, at least resigned. His dream was not exactly about to come true, but if he was willing to settle for what was available, he had found a close enough facsimile. Life had made Russell an expert at settling. It may not have been consensual love making, but somehow seemed less than rape, at least at the time it was happening, at least to him. The girl's attitude remained unchanged throughout. She cried before, during and after. It was the closest thing to love Russell had ever attained, which was why he removed his mask before the act, and afterwards, left the house empty handed.

The gang of whitebread rednecks who assaulted him shortly after his hasty exit could not have been exacting revenge. They didn't see him as a burglar, or rapist, or hideous beast defiling their landscape. What he was to them was a nigger on the run, an antidote to their state of inebriated restlessness. Russell barely put up a fight. He was ashamed of his actions and the weakness that brought them about. The punishment he endured was deserved, though administered for unjust cause. When it prematurely ended, he was neither disappointed nor relieved.

To stumble across one's first sighting of a dead person is an unsettling event, particularly so soon after one's first rape. Russell stared at the body with mild curiosity, but had more interest in the discarded murder weapon lying a few feet away. This was another first, for he had never held a gun before. Russell was not by nature a violent man, though if the situation called for it, his nature was willing to make necessary adjustments. He couldn't be convicted for armed robbery if without arms, couldn't be shot back at if he didn't shoot in the first place. But tonight was clearly not a typical night, and Russell wanted to feel as protected as possible.

Then he noticed a glint of light off badge for the second time that night. The odd layout of streets in this town had led him in almost a complete circle, causing him to run over a mile in distance yet mange to get only a few blocks from where he started from. Instinct took over, just as it had done in the bedroom of a beautiful, despondent girl. Without hardly a glance at his defenseless target, Russell sent a bullet through the blue uniform and troubled heart of Officer Mike Sherman.

* * *

It seemed her tears would never end, but apparently their supply was not infinite, for eventually they did. Cheryl's body was sore from the sexual abuse it had undergone. Yet neither the pain nor its cause made it to the top of her list of concerns. She had been handed a heavy cross to bear, one she had been dragging about for a little over a week. To handle more was not an option, so Cheryl maintained sanity throughout the rape, composure even, by simply putting her brain on auto-pilot.

Confiding might have eased Cheryl's burdens somewhat by at least awarding her the sympathy of others. But first she had to come to terms with it in her own mind. In order to do this, it became necessary to tune out the worried queries of her parents. She avoided contact with her friends and completely shunned her boyfriend. Her situation made love a painful thing to accept.

The doctor had been remarkably frank with his diagnosis. Cheryl would have considered his demeanor callous, except that she could think of no more pleasant way for it to be stated. His delivery matched the severity of the subject matter. She had contracted the AIDS virus. Richard always used protection during sex, so his health was hopefully secure. And up until tonight, no one else had been granted the opportunity to become infected by her curse. So Cheryl mourned for and by herself.

She thought back to the fateful night it must have happened, to her one foolish indiscretion for which she had received the maximum punishment. She had not planned to go to the party, but changed her mind on the spur of the moment. Nor did she intend to drink, but was unaware that the supposedly virgin punch had been spiked. The guy she met would not have been there alone if his girlfriend had not broken up with him earlier that day, or so he claimed. Sex with a virtual stranger was not a habit or inclination of Cheryl's, but this one exception had apparently been necessary to prove the rule.

Cheryl stared out of her bedroom window and marveled at the cruelty of fate. She reflected on the circumstances of her life prior to the doctor's revelation, and how she had taken it all for granted. Financial security, beauty, popularity, adoration, youth and health were allotted to her, and it had seemed these things would always be. She knew different now. She understood with the clarity of the damned that she had been no more deserving of her abundant riches than she was now of her excessive misery.

Cheryl reached beneath her pillow and withdrew the gun deposited there. With her parents out of the house, tonight was as good a night to take her life as any. Cheryl would not allow her death to be a shameful affair. The stigma of AIDS must be prevented from tainting her good name. Better to steal some prose from Sylvia Plath for a top notch suicide note and proceed to end her existence when and how she saw fit.

One of the prerequisites of her fade to black was privacy. For this reason she had not fired on the masked intruder who momentarily interrupted her plans. Cheryl refused to share the scene of her death. So she let him go about his business. He would be getting his due soon enough, not realizing that in taking her by force, he was also unknowingly stealing the poison within her.
Cheryl gazed at the instrument that was to bring about her demise. She moved her fingertip along its grooves and crevices as she had done numerous times before. The gun belonged to her father, along with the lone bullet in the chamber. He could retrieve his weapon when she was done with it, but the bullet she intended to keep.

Cheryl was no novice at suicidal thoughts. Self-annihilation had been her central preoccupation ever since she grew bored with the drudgery of bulimia. But up until a week ago, she had not possessed substantial motivation to make her dark fantasies come to fruition.

She lived in a fashion most people would envy, if their viewpoint was from the outside. Cheryl did not have a valid excuse for her melancholy, but sadness does not always require a firm reason. For the sake of appearances she pretended to be as happy as others figured she ought to have been. The make believe exacerbated the depression she was running out of ways to camouflage.

In a few moments Cheryl would no longer need to pretend. Nor would she be at the mercy of fate's masochistic whims, tossed from one destiny to the next like a dandelion in a sporadic breeze. She placed the gun barrel in her mouth, bit down on the uncompassionate steel, closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.

As dumb luck would have it, the damn thing jammed.

## THE END ##

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some Book Reviews

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike - It has been several years since I read the previous entries in the Rabbit series, but Updike sketched the character of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom so vividly that I remembered him quite well and was immediately absorbed by his final adventure. What can I say about Updike's writing, particularly in the Rabbit books, that hasn't been said already? Has any other character in the history of literature been brought more fully to life? None to my recollection. This book is a masterpiece unto itself as well as the final piece of a picture that is breathtaking in scope. Readers get to know even if not particularly like Harry to a greater degree than their own children, siblings, friends and parents thanks to the unwavering hand and immaculate skill of John Updike. Rabbit at Rest is what all literary fiction aspires to be.

New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro - This fine debut novel, told in alternating narration, is in short about a married Manhattanite couple that has reached a rocky patch, one they're unwilling or unable to communicate about other than by allowing themselves to grow apart. When Lily inherits a house in upstate New York she uses this as an excuse to move there for the summer while working on her obscure dissertation, never mind that the small town's library is insufficient for her needs. Her husband Duncan is an ad man, balancing his eat or be eaten profession with taking the trip upstate once a week to spend weekends with his wife. So they're separated, but not really; married but no longer intimate in any sense of the word; perhaps still in love with each other but neither certain how to express it. The change of scenery brings various quirky characters into their unsettled lives and immediately puts blood on their hands, that of a not so wild boar which turns out to be the town mascot. Duncan has a jeans campaign that he's in charge of as distraction from the state of his marriage, Lily has an unlikely friendship with the local Peeping Tom willing to show her the ropes as her diversion, and together the couple find a mystery to literally unearth in the form of a scattered skeleton buried in their garden. But the various odd characters and events that populate this tale mainly function as backdrop to the story of a couple trying to determine if they've reached the end of their road, or merely a slippery turning point. Mauro's command of language is strong and her skillful prose moves the reader through the pages of her book swiftly. I look forward to more from her.

Night Fall by Nelson DeMille - It's been a little while since I last read a piece of conspiracy theory driven pop fiction. I took a break after reading Dan Brown's books to focus on my first love of literary fiction, but happened upon this book when ready to take on my next book and decided to give Mr. DeMille a shot. Night Fall begins with a tragic historical event [explosion of TWA Flight 800 shortly after take-off in 1996] and ends with another one that takes place 5 years later. Do the math and I'm sure you'll figure out which one. The narrative follows detective John Corey as he follows leads in a 5-year old case in which the most crucial piece of evidence he seeks was quite possibly covered up. Will he be able to uncover it? If so, what shocking revelation will the cover up lead to? Readers get the answer to the first question but (spoiler alert) not to the second. An enjoyable light and fast paced read. I'll probably leave the world of police procedurals, FBI & CIA operatives, and international intrigue behind and return to lit fiction for my next several reads, but Night Fall was an entertaining time out with the factual components involved lending to its charm.

A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson – I can’t say that I was overwhelmed by it, but the pages of this short noir novel raced by quickly enough. Thompson's prose didn't resonate with me as powerfully as say Raymond Chandler or Walter Mosley or Chester Himes. But he did a fine job putting the reader into the confused mind of a lead character trying to figure out the constantly shifting whirlwind going on around him, and slowly revealing the young man's true character and motivations.

Blind Man with a Pistol by Chester Himes -This novel by Chester Himes is basically an example of existentialism old school Harlem style. It may not be for everybody, certainly not for readers who want a clear cut answer at the end of their whodunnits, but I'm pretty sure Kafka and Camus would have approved of Blind Man with a Pistol. Who killed the pants-less man, why did that woman kill that guy, is any one person or organization behind the marches that quickly escalate into riots and looting? Questions such as these are asked, most are not answered definitively. Why not? Because Himes isn't really interested in providing a mystery to be solved. His goal is to make the point that most violence is like a blind man with a pistol, without aim, without strategy, without a point. Tragedies happen because people keep butting into each other. It's the way of the world. I especially liked the final chapter which stands apart from the rest of the book while also representing all that came before it. Personally I would have liked a little more cohesion to the plot, at least one case solved by deductive reasoning. That's a main reason one chooses to read a detective novel after all. But Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are no ordinary detectives, or at least their situation as representatives of the law but also outsiders to it is unique for a crime novel. One could argue that it's actually a sociological and/or philosophical book masquerading as a cops and robbers tale. Coffin and Grave Digger walk the line between white and black worlds and sometimes you may wonder where their loyalty will lie, but the matter is never truly in doubt. They are honest men whose goal is to do their job as permitted to do it, and to keep alive. Sometimes this allows them to catch some bad guys. Other times the bad guys have too much pull to be troubled much by the lowest guys in the legal totem pole. No matter. There's always another case to work on, another corpse on their beat, another reason why someone has to die, but never a particularly reasonable one. A blind man with a pistol doesn't really aim, he just points and fires and whoever gets hit goes down.