Saturday, January 28, 2012
I have nothing much to add beyond the title of this blog posting and the videos presented below. Watch and enjoy if you're as grateful for the existence of books and the wonderful stories to be found within them as I am. Then as soon as you're done, hop offline and grab a great book to read.
Sneak peek at PATCHES OF GREY courtesy of Indies Unlimited
Great books I've pinned on Pinterest. Immodestly I threw in my own novel.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
This is one of the first short stories I ever wrote. I'm posting it here for nostalgia as much as anything. Nostalgia about myself both as a young man and a young writer with much to learn. There's still much to learn about both writing and life. That's part of what makes the journeys so wonderful. Hope you enjoy The Pact, particularly those who vividly recall young love.
By Roy L. Pickering Jr.
After three glorious months, it was over. He and Cheryl were history.
She had been perfect for him. If only they didn't argue so often. If only she didn't have such a short temper. They would still be together if she could just consider his point of view on occasion. Other than that, perfect.
Who needed her anyway? Why should he waste his time on a girl who couldn't accept an apology? And to make an apology was a concept unheard of by her. That would mean acknowledging that she was capable of being wrong.
He was better off without her. So what if she was beautiful beyond comparison? What did it matter how great she made him feel? Who cared that he had fallen in love for the first time in his life, and had sincerely believed it would last forever?
If she didn't realize what she was throwing away, she deserved to lose him. Eventually the folly of her choice would sink in. But by then it would be too late. There was no way he would go back to her, even if she begged.
As for the incredible aching in his heart, that would go away in time. He gave it an hour. In the meantime, he would hang out with his buddies in the student lounge.
There they were sitting in their usual spot, Ron's best friends in the world, met during freshman orientation but they may as well have been friends from childhood, so fast and tight was their bond. He would lay bare his soul to Mark, Ira and Denis. They would understand.
"You look like your dog just died," said Ira.
"Cheryl and I just broke up."
"That's too bad," said Mark.
"Sorry to hear it," Denis said.
"Hey, at least your dog is all right," said Ira, who believed humor was the remedy for all ailments.
"What happened?" asked Mark, after giving Ira a whack to the back of his head.
"I don't want to talk about it," Ron answered, which was a cue to start a forum on the matter.
"Were you the dumper or the dumpee?" asked Denis.
"The dumpee, I guess."
"Man that sucks," Mark said.
"She catch you with another girl or something?" asked Ira.
"Nah, nothing like that. I hardly know what happened. One minute we're arguing about the environment, the next minute I'm being offered my walking papers."
"Ain't that always the way," Ira said.
"What do you mean by that?" Mark asked. "How many girls have broken up with you because you didn't recycle?"
"I'm just saying that women come up with the weakest excuses to end a relationship for."
"I'll give you that one," said Denis.
"No doubt about it," agreed Ron.
"Amen", said Mark. "Take me and Cathleen for example. Everything was cool with us. Then one day out of the blue - BAM! She dumps me. She said we were getting too serious. What she didn't say, but didn't need to, was that she broke up with me because she was afraid to tell her parents she was dating a black guy."
"Well you are black," said Ron.
"No kidding. So are you, fool."
"No, what I am is brown. I'm caramel colored. You on the other hand, have a tan and a half."
"Haaaaa haaa haaaa!" came the high nasal sound that emanated from Ira's throat. Mark, Ron and Denis could not help but join in the laughter. Ira's laugh was extremely infectious, indescribable by words.
"You sound like a hyena with a flag pole stuck up its ass," said Mark.
Perhaps it could be described.
"You never said that was why you two broke up," said Denis.
"I didn't want to talk about it. It really hurt that she wasn’t willing to fight for me. I would have fought an army for her."
"Girls are messed up," professed Ira.
"Don’t I know it," Denis said. “Maria really threw me for a loop.”
"I thought you dumped her for Casey,” Ron said.
"Not exactly. You see, Maria and I had this ongoing argument. I wanted to have sex and she refused."
"No way," said Mark incredulously. "You weren't hitting that? I guess I didn’t have to be nearly as jealous as I was. That girl sure is fine."
"She's also one serious Catholic”, Denis said. “I tried my best to convince her that it would be worth the Hail Mary’s, but she wasn’t having it. She said she would feel too guilty to enjoy it. Guess it wasn’t important enough to her that I would have enjoyed it a whole helluva lot. We did just about everything else we could think up. But no sex. I tell you, it was driving me crazy. Every night I ended up standing under a cold shower. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. So I say to her if she really loved me like she said, she would show me. Otherwise, I didn't need to waste any more time."
"This story is a real heart breaker," said Ira with trademark sarcasm.
"I was just bluffing. I figured she was too crazy about me to let it end over something she was going to get around to eventually. But I was wrong."
"Somebody hand me a Kleenex. You pretty boys sure do have it rough."
Denis continued to ignore Ira. "Two weeks after we break up, she starts seeing a friend of mine. He even asked me if it was okay. I said sure. I know the guy pretty well. I figured he wouldn't put up with her Virgin Mary routine nearly as long as I did. But a couple months later they're still together. So I ask him how he can stand her Catholic virtue for so long, and he tells me that he didn't have to because they'd been doing it for awhile."
"No way," said Ron.
"Maybe he was lying," Mark offered.
"I know bull when I hear it. He was telling the truth."
"Ain't that always the way," said Ira. "Remember Sheri? I treated her like a goddess. Everything she wanted, I gave her. I made that girl the center of my universe. Every day I bought her a new gift. Flowers, candy, teddy bears, jewelry, you name it."
"Let me guess the end of this," said Ron. "Your credit card reached its limit and she said bye-bye."
"You got the bye-bye part right. She said she didn't want to see me anymore, but it had nothing to do with me. She said she needed space. She needed to find herself. Will somebody please tell me what that means? Where do women come up with this stuff? Have any of you ever had to go looking for yourself?"
"A girl gave me that need for space crap once," said Mark. "It's their way of saying they're through with you. When a girl asks you for space, she intends to take the whole galaxy."
"If Sheri wanted to split, she should have said so in plain English. She’ll never find another guy who will treat her half as good as I did. It was her loss."
"They wait for you to fall head over heels, then walk all over you,” Ron said. “And like fools we keep coming back for more.”
"You got that right."
"But what choice do we have?" asked Denis. "They have what we want, what we can’t live without.”
"Maybe not indefinitely,” said Ron. “But we could, for how about, let's say a month."
"A month of what?" asked Mark.
"Of no sex?" asked Ira.
"How much sex did you have last month, Ira?” asked Denis. “Yeah, that's what I thought."
"But you never know what next month might bring?"
"Maybe Ron is onto something," said Mark. I could definitely handle a month of not having to deal with their nonsense. I’ve got five fingers to get me through the rough patches."
"It would be pretty rough going a whole month with no dates”, Denis admitted. “I wouldn’t mind saving the cash, though. And with all the free time I’ll have, I could learn how to play guitar or something."
"I’m not just talking about going on dates”, said Ron, his idea taking shape in his mind, now ready to be unveiled. "A total boycott. We don't talk to them, except when absolutely necessary. And absolutely necessary doesn’t mean what it usually means, like to get a phone number. We ignore them completely. We focus on our needs and desires that come from north of the belt. For one month, women won't exist to us. And I’m betting we become better men because of it."
"How so?" asked Ira.
"The second we were born with something between our legs to grab hold of when bored, we became destined to do stupid things over women. But I say it’s possible, and more than that, imperative that we experience one brief period, simply one month when we’re fully in control of our destinies. One month of nobody nagging us into doing things we don’t want to do. Nobody controlling us with the threat of withholding sex. Nobody leading us blindly into ruin because we allow our senses to overwhelm our brains. Instead of selling our souls and pride for a pretty smile and a nice body, we'll hold on as misers do to money. Like priests and monks, we’ll aspire to something greater than ourselves. In order to do that, we need to keep ourselves pure. Remove what is most distracting to us, and maybe we’ll be able to see the universe clearly, the way God intended. Not a lifetime. Not a year. We know our weaknesses and limitations, and there’s no point in trying to deny them, because they make us who we are. They make us men. But for just one month, maybe we can be something better than men. What do you guys think?"
There was no doubt that Ron was a great persuader. He had demonstrated this ability numerous times over the time they had been friends, nearly always able to talk them into what he wanted to do. But this was as passionate a plea as he had ever made due to the magnitude of the sacrifice he was asking for.
For a moment there was silence. Ron had set his bait and now waited to see if he would get a bite.
"What can it hurt?"
"What the hell. Chicks get turned on when you ignore them."
"All right!" Ron exclaimed. The war against the fairer sex was on.
"The Knicks are looking pretty good so far," said Mark, bringing about an ardent discussion on sports. The four friends traded opinions and light hearted insults with the ease that only young men can. As college students less than halfway through the collegiate journey they had received tastes of independence, yet their lives were still basically free of responsibility. They were at a point where everything was before them, the glass always half full, their grandest dreams still possibilities. Each other's companionship was all they needed at the moment. Their solidarity was impenetrable. Past and future heartbreaks were a million miles away.
"Hi guys." The sweet sound floated through the air and drifted into the four comrade's ears. A group of curvy coeds were seated across the room. They had room at their table and desire for company.
Ron, Mark, Denis, and Ira looked over at the girls. Then they looked at each other. The words of the pact so recently made hung heavy in the air between them. The pact had united them in a single cause. They believed in what they had agreed to. They knew it would not be easy, that temptation would be waiting at every turn. They also realized that the first turn would be the trickiest to maneuver.
"Sorry, fellas", said Denis as he got up and headed over to the other table. He was trailed directly by Mark and Ira. Beauty has devastating effects on the most powerful of bonds.
Only Ron stood his ground. He was a man of principle, a man of his word, especially when the promise was one made to himself. He felt strongly that he would end up a better person if he stuck to his vow, refused to stumble as easily as his impetuous friends.
Ron rose to his feet and walked out of the lounge. He was on his own now, a solitary traveler on a long and winding road.
He knew better than to turn around. His resolve needed time to cement. The thing to do was keep walking as if the siren song had not been heard. If he looked back into those eyes of hers, he was doomed.
Then again, only by facing Cheryl would he learn if he was strong enough to resist her, to go on without her. So he turned.
"I'm sorry", they said simultaneously.
No more words were needed. They sealed their apologies with a ravenous kiss. Amnesia of the past hour set instantly in Ron’s brain. The only thing that mattered was now.
After all, the flesh is weak, and boys will always be boys.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Follow this link for reviews of the following books: Play Like You Mean It (Rex Ryan); Freedom (Jonathan Franzen), Silver Sparrow (Tayari Jones); The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Walter Mosley); Hunting in Harlem (Mat Johnson)
Follow this link for reviews of the following books: Sag Harbor (Colson Whitehead), The Picture of Dorian Grey(Oscar Wilde); The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson); Middle Passage (Charles Johnson)
For reviews of my final two book reads of 2011, The Templar Salvation and John Henry Days, see below.
John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead - John Henry Days is written in an interesting narrative style. It shows us events through the lens of multiple characters, some repeatedly visited, others glimpsed just once or twice. A man named J. Sutter is the one most frequently observed, so I suppose he is technically the main character. But the true MC is a particular weekend in a particular town where an event possibly took place many years earlier, featuring a person who possibly existed. The event was a man defeating a machine at the feat of drilling a tunnel through mountain to allow the continuation of train tracks. The man of course, is John Henry. He is the stuff of legend regardless of whether he was ever one of flesh and blood, so a stamp has been created to commemorate him and a festival is taking place to mark the occasion. Colson Whitehead approaches this weekend from a wide variety of angles. Among the people involved in the build-up is a man researching the origins of a song written about John Henry, a man who collects railroad stamps, a woman who owns a hotel in the town where the festival is taking place, a man so obsessed with John Henry that he turned his home into a museum dedicated to him, that man's daughter, a journalist covering the events of the weekend, and John Henry himself. Hints are given throughout the book that just as the famous race ended in foretold tragedy, so will the commemoration. Whitehead has a beautiful way with words. If you're looking for a character driven novel where you'll deeply identify with and care for the protagonist, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a traditional beginning, middle, end style story rather than one which jumps back and forth in time and place, go find another book. But if you're interested in a distinctive approach to examination of a symbolic event, one that will be timely so long as people either resist, embrace, take advantage of, or become victims to the changes brought about by the march of progress, then I point you in the direction of John Henry Days. John took a last stand for human determination before it was replaced by mindless but more efficient machinery. Win or lose, his effort was in vain. He may as well have been battling death. We can postpone arrival of the Grim Reaper, but inevitably his date of arrival will be reached.
The Templar Salvation by Raymond Khoury - I love Knights Templar related historical fiction and enjoyed Raymond Khoury's prequel to this book. The Templar Salvation was entertaining as well, but I can't quite give it a ringing endorsement. It reads fast enough as the narrative is essentially one long chase scene. Technically it's two long chase scene, one taking place in the present and the other in the distant past. The smaller portion of this novel that takes place hundreds and hundreds of years ago is the "hide" portion of the plot. The more substantial modern portion is the "seek". What's being sought? Something biblical/mythical that will shatter the Christian faith and thus humanity, of course. I'm pretty sure that's what was being sought in the first book as well, not to mention some Dan Brown novels. Brown is the superior writer, or so I recall. Much of the prose in The Templar Salvation is borderline amateurish. Forget about exploration of emotions and character development, not that Khoury leaves this entirely out, but it's certainly not his strength. No, his strengths are deluging readers with ancient information in easily digestible fashion and writing action scenes with good guys pitted against bad guys in a deadly struggle, no less than the fate of the world riding on the outcome. I rounded down rather than up from 2-1/2 stars because perhaps I've read one too many novels in this genre. Or maybe I simply craved a better one.