Category Archives: literary

She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb: a review

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Note to FTC: In exchange for reviewing this book I received the pleasure of reading the book, nothing more.

One of the best books I’ve ever read, She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb, published in 1992, lands 5+ stars. It was an Oprah’s Book Club choice. Twice. I don’t know what took me so long to discover the book, and the author, but I’m glad I finally did.

As a writer I tend to study the story I’m reading, sometimes unconsciously, (which can make for an unenjoyable experience if I’m not careful to stop studying long enough to just read). The first thing I usually notice, or look for, is foreshadowing. Often I guess correctly where this foreshadowing is and what’s going to happen next because of that event. This is when I know I have an “okay” book in hand, rather than a “knock-em-dead” book. I want to be surprised, shocked even, by the twists and turns in a story, I don’t want to feel so certain I know what the ending will read like.

But with She’s Come Undone the foreshadowing, was not the first thing I noticed, (though I did find it and guessed correctly in a couple of instances but not most). No, the first thing I noticed, as a writer, is that Wally Lamb offers very little in the way of description, and yet we inherently know not only what the characters look like but who they are – they’re 3-D people, they feel real. “How did he do that?” we writers want to know. The good news is it’s easy to discover that he shows us what’s happening by – guess – telling us exactly that: what’s happening, not what color the kitchen counter Dolores throws a towel on is but what she knocks over with that towel. Voilà: there is the picture in our mind, he need go no further with that description, he can simply go on telling us her next action. And the dialogue? You just can’t get any better than this. So, as a writer, I highly recommend reading and studying She’s Come Undone.

I also highly recommend She’s Come Undone as a reader. The story, about a girl/woman, Dolores Price, dealing with depression and repressed feelings, is so eerily like my own (early) life it scared me. (Dolores’s greatest fear, which I won’t tell you so as not to spoil the story), is my greatest fear, and for the very same reason, though it takes her years to recognize the fear (it did me too). The grip Mr. Lamb has on the human psyche is amazing but what astounded me more was the fact that, despite being a man, he got the feelings of this depressed girl/woman down-pat! And I’ve never before paid attention to whether the main character is a man written by a woman or vice-versa, it’s simply either a good story or it isn’t. But with this one I couldn’t help it because…..well, you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn about “other things” that happened in the 60s and 70s, things aside from the moon landing and Kennedy’s death. So much news is woven into this story that it could easily be a terrific history book for teenagers.

I don’t want to digress – I believe the main point of She’s Come Undone is to show us the damage that judging others can do, how it can hurt people well beyond the day they were assaulted, verbally or otherwise, by their peers, and even by so-called responsible adults – it can take hold, grow and last for years and years, making everything in the victim’s life a nightmare of fear. It’s sad, yes, very sad, but the book isn’t a depressing one, it’s thoughtful and it’s hopeful, it really made me think about all the kids, and adults, in this world who are constantly picked on, bullied, and how they make it through life without a breakdown. Many of them don’t.

She’s Come Undone also has several gut-busting belly laugh moments sprinkled throughout which greatly helped ease the seriousness of the subject enough to help us, the reader, read on, knowing we weren’t being led to a “bucket-full-of-tears” slaughter.

Run out and get She’s Come Undone today. You’re going to love Dolores, I promise. Click here to go to my bookshelf and read short reviews of other books I’ve read this year.

What book stands out as one of your greatest discoveries? What made it so great?

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The Lonely #fridayflash #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

The Lonely is from the “way back” archives. It’s based on my all-time favorite song, Thunder Road, by Bruce Springsteenwhich, to me, defines freedom.

The Lonely is rated PG-13, based on my standards.

The Lonely, by Deanna Schrayer

Mary jumped when the screen door slammed behind her. The family left three days ago and the quiet was enough to make every noise deafening. She tuned the radio propped on the window sill to a scratchy AM station, the only one that still played her favorite music. Now Roy Orbison was crooning for the lonely, as if he could read her mind. 

She would not feel lonely.

She sauntered to the porch swing, and adjusted the pillows, squirming like a cat, her battered dress slipping up her thighs.   

The jar flies stopped singing just before a boom of thunder rocked the porch, sending Mary bolt upright. She saw the downpour coming, and sucked in the humid air. Oh how she loved a good thunderstorm!

The wind picked up and Mary rushed to go inside. But she stopped cold when she saw him. Frankie stood at the edge of the porch steps. 

“Are you ready?” he smiled, that same demure smile that unraveled her like a ripe peach so many years ago. Now.

“I, uh,” Mary stumbled, “How did you get here?”

“Never mind that,” he said, risking a boot on the first step, “just come with me.”

“Come with you where exactly?”

“Mary, don’t turn me away again. You know why I’m here, let’s go.”

 “Frankie, I can’t.” She felt her voice crack, her heart rise to her temples. She refused to let him see her cry, to let him make her cry. She turned to run inside.

Faster than the lightning that bounced around his feet, he was against her. She could feel the heat vibrating off his chest. Her legs trembled. But she didn’t try to run as he pulled her auburn curls from her collarbone where they’d melted, nor as he placed his hot lips on her shoulder. Mary wondered how she could be frozen and melting at once. This is what he’d always done to her.

“Mary,” he whispered as he brushed her cheek, “I know you’re scared, but you can’t run anymore. You can’t hide from me, you know that. I will not leave without you.” 

 “Frankie, I….I can’t.” She pushed off him and fled straight into the rain, now hammering the earth with a vengeance. 

As the mud splashed her bare feet Mary gulped down the cries. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?  Twenty years he’d been gone, then all of a sudden he was here, demanding she leave the life she’d grown accustomed to, just to be with him.

She glimpsed the dilapidated covered bridge through the haze. A faint light shining through the overgrowth halted her. There sat the Camaro, the same brilliant cherry red it was the last time she’d been in it. And there was Frankie, leaning against the grille, strumming his guitar. 

That night replayed itself with vivid clarity. 

Prom night. Frankie had asked Mary to be his wife in front of the whole class, just after they were crowned king and queen. How could she say no in front of all those people? She let him slip the ring on her shaking finger as she nodded her head yes. 

But she couldn’t let him think she meant it. 

There was no question she loved him. Still, she didn’t want to be the reason his dream of becoming a rock star faded to nothing.  He was driving her home when she asked him to pull over. Of course he obliged – he’d thought she wanted to show him just how much she loved him. 

Frankie pulled Mary to him and kissed her for a long time. “God, Mary, I love you so much.” He freed her long curls from the silver barrette and smothered her neck with kisses as his fingers loosened the spaghetti strap of her emerald gown. 

“Frankie…” With effort, Mary pulled away from him, “I need to talk to you.” She hung her head, couldn’t look in his eyes. 

“What is it? Are you okay?” Mary felt his eyes move to her stomach and knew he was afraid she was pregnant.

She pulled the ring from her finger and held it out to him, “We can’t get married Frankie. I want you to chase your dreams, to play your music.” Her breath came in quick, heavy gasps, but she’d said it, she’d told him the truth as she’d promised herself she would.

The ring sat in her hand between them like a hot potato.

 “Mary, I love you. You are my dream.” He slammed his fists on the steering wheel and held tight to it, his arms stretched taut. He didn’t look at her, just sat staring through the windshield. “My music means nothing if you aren’t there to share it,” he said.

“I love you too Frankie, I love you with all my heart. I just can’t marry you. It…it doesn’t feel right.” Mary leaned towards him as if trying to get him to look at her.

Without a word Frankie jerked the car into gear and spun the tires through the mud as he pulled into the pounding rain.

The ring bounced out of Mary’s hand and hit the dashboard, landing on the console with a raucous ping!

“Frankie! Slow down! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She held onto the door handle, and grabbed the dashboard with her other hand.

He was up to fourth gear already, the engine screaming.

“Slow down!” She was sobbing now. “Frankie, you’re going too fast! I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry!”

His eyes did not meet hers. They didn’t seem to meet anything. 

*

Now Mary stood staring at Frankie leaning against the car, playing his guitar. Smiling. And she remembered.

All these years she’d been running to that bridge when he showed up, running away from him, and she never saw it. She couldn’t get past the point where she’d looked over and saw Frankie’s forehead cracked open, fresh blood streaming down his nose, his eyes fixed open.

That’s as far as her memory had taken her.

But now she saw it all.

She’d tried to open her door, but it was no use. She was stuck. She caught a glimpse of her face in the cracked rear view mirror that had twisted toward the passenger side. In one jagged piece of glass she saw her own head bleeding, in another, her own eyes open.

She knew now, and she flew to Frankie’s open arms where, once again, he took her breath away.

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The Journals: A Life #fridayflash #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry #amwriting

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In celebration of National Poetry Month, my Friday Flash this week is not a flash at all, but a poem (though if you consider it prose instead I suppose it could be called a flash). Be sure to check out Robert Lee Brewer’s  PAD challenge on Writer’s Digest and have a go at poetry yourself, whether you normally pen poems or, (like me), do not.

The Journals: A Life, was inspired by last year’s PAD challenge prompt, to write a poem about “new arrivals”. Though I quickly threw a poem together that day it was quite unorganized and so I’ve messed with it several times over the past year. I hope you enjoy!

the journals

The Journals: A Life, by Deanna Schrayer

Battered dun Samsonite filled near to                                    

flowing over, bought sixteen years hence,                    

from a stranger’s yard one Saturday.                                     

She knows there’s more room – the letters need          

only be rearranged. “You can’t take                                       

it with you,” friends mock… yet again.                        

 

Thin yellows move aside grudgingly.                            

Worn creams scoot over, more accepting,                    

(they are young yet, they know no better).                   

There are those that were once aflame with                            

neon glow, dim now beyond color                                

itself. Dull nothingness, remains.                                  

 

Tattered scraps dance with joy. Only these                            

are thrilled with the company, welcome                                                   

her new words with a potent hunger,                                     

leap into the dusty air, flutter                                       

about, embracing one another,                                               

glide like feathers to the bottom.                                   

 

She sits on the lid, blocking daylight                                      

altogether, clasps the lock, wonders,

once again, how many years will have

passed before her eyes feel the need to

touch those words flowed from ink-stained, aching

fingers. What those words will mean, then.

********

Go here to read a couple of my favorite poems. Who are your favorite poets? Do you have a particular favorite poem?

Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

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The Beginning #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

The Beginning is rated PG-13 by my standards.

The Beginning

The Beginning, by Deanna Schrayer

This is not the beginning of the story. The beginning starts at the end. But as Austin waits on the front porch for Shannon to arrive he is oblivious of that forthcoming end. He’s eighteen-years-old after all, with all his life ahead of him. He has no thought of an end, any end.

Austin’s girlfriend is coming over to have dinner with him and his parents before they go out for the night. As he pushes himself back and forth on the porch swing, chewing on a straw and squinting towards the pine trees lining the long drive, Austin imagines where he can take Shannon this evening.

She loves to be where the action is – carnivals, ball games, concerts, anywhere she can listen to the roar of a crowd as she holds Austin’s sweaty hand and pulls him onward to whatever’s next. Austin doesn’t mind, he simply takes her proffered hand and waits to be moved. He walks slightly behind her, allowing her to lead while he watches her thick brunette hair bounce on her shoulders, occasionally tripping over his feet because he isn’t truly there, he’s in the back seat of his Jeep, Shannon’s hair tickling his nose, her mouth on his neck.

“Hey, you!” Shannon laughs and pulls Austin into her arms, whispers in his ear, “Watch where you’re going,” laughs again, kisses his cheek.

The crunch of tires on gravel startles Austin out of the daydream and he jumps up out of the swing, ready to run to her, to wrap his arms around her waist and swing her around as he pours kisses on her neck. (He hasn’t seen her for a whole week, she’d been on vacation with her family). But it’s only Skip coming up the drive, his dad’s friend who is here to help Darryl fix the tractor. Of course it wouldn’t be Shannon, Austin thinks, she’s never on time, so nutty-professor like, or maybe just always in a rush; she often has to search high and low for her keys, her phone, her purse. She’ll be a while, he’s sure of it.

Austin heads to the garage where he takes out his dirt bike and rolls it to the edge of the hills beyond the back yard. It’s a cloudy day, still sticky from the storm that passed through last night. The ground is soft, squishy, and Austin wonders if he should just put the bike away, if maybe he shouldn’t chance covering his whole self in mud as he knows will happen. But then he figures he’ll have plenty of time to get cleaned up before Shannon gets there. He jumps high in the air and lands perfectly on the seat, ignites the cycle and revs it a few times before gunning it, fishtailing the back tire, spewing grass and mud in his wake as he climbs the hill.

Austin still has no idea what’s coming. For now he thinks only of Shannon while the bike vibrates his entire body, like he’s descending the world’s fastest roller coaster, his girl by his side, screaming. 

*

Shannon wants to speed, to get to Austin as fast as she can, but she takes the curvy mountain road in her Datsun slow and easy. The roads are still wet up here, the full oak and pine trees casting too much shadow to allow any sunlight through to dry the asphalt.

She barely sees the deer fly through the air in front of her. Shannon slams on the brakes and skids off the shoulder of the road. She sits trembling in the car, just catching sight of the puffy white tail disappearing down the mountain. She wonders where the fawns are; she has always seen at least two babies wherever a doe is. But after watching a couple of minutes as the car idles, no more deer appear.

Her limbs begin to relax and Shannon feels her foot still pressing the brake and she lets up on it slowly, shifting the car into park. She reaches for her phone in the passenger seat with the intention of texting Austin. But her phone isn’t there. Shannon leans over and rakes her hand around on the passenger floorboard but it isn’t there either. She’s left it at home again. Sighing, she straightens up and readjusts the rearview mirror, squirms around until she’s back in driving position. She’ll have to turn around and go back home to retrieve her phone.

*

Austin’s dad throws the wrench down and turns towards the back field. “Damn it Austin, slow down!” he screams. He’s not been watching but Darryl Camfield knows the sound of that motorcycle as well as he knows the recklessness of his son riding it. He can’t concentrate on what Skip is trying to show him for the awful whining racket of that bike engine.

Austin rides on, oblivious, hitting the bumps in the ground as hard as he can in order to send the bike soaring through the air.

“Damn boy’s gonna kill hisself,” Daryl mutters as he turns back to the tractor. Skip stands by the open hood, beefy arms across his chest, grinning and shaking his head as if he’s seen this, heard this very reaction from his friend more than once.

“Austin!”

He hadn’t heard his dad’s aggravated shout a few minutes ago but he brakes now. One yell from his mother’s commanding voice and he knows: stop. Austin’s happy to see she’s up and around today at least. He stands with the bike beneath him, relaxing his hands to slow the revving. He looks to the back porch where his mother stands patiently, nods his head to tell her he’s listening.

“Shannon’s going to be a little late,” she hollers, “she forgot her phone and had to go back to get it.”

Austin gives his mom a thumbs-up, then jumps and once again the Honda engine booms to life, taking the young man on a fast ride. He catches a glimpse of his dad and Skip looking towards him, both of them shaking their heads, Skip smiling wide as always and Darryl almost smiling but quickly wiping his mouth as if to mime a frown. Austin takes his hand off the bar long enough to wave at them and laughs as he picks up speed, heading for the next makeshift ramp.

*

The back yard is fully shaded now; Austin’s been riding longer than he thought. He gets off the motorcycle and turns it towards the house, walking it down the hill. He’s hot, his muddy jeans and tee shirt sticking to his drenched skin, the sweat dripping from the ends of his hair onto his face when he takes the stifling helmet off. He blinks sweat out of his eyes, looks towards the driveway, and tries to focus.

Shannon is standing in the driveway, wearing a gauzy-looking white sundress that shivers in the slight breeze. She holds her hands out as if in supplication, but he can’t see the look on her face, she’s too far away.

And that’s when it happens.

Austin loses his balance and loses his grip on the motorcycle. He feels himself going down, feels his ankle twist grotesquely as he falls and falls and falls as if from the top of a mountain, he feels the motorcycle following his tumble down the hill with ever-increasing momentum and there’s a raucous crack as the heavy bike hits….

It’s over. It is dark and quiet and Austin doesn’t know where he is. He feels stupid as he remembers Shannon was watching, she had seen him stumble and tumble down the hill like an idiot. He sits up gingerly and is surprised to find he’s facing the back fields. He turns his torso, carefully, and wipes the sweat from his eyes with his sleeve, smearing mud on his face.

 Shannon is nowhere that Austin can see.

He pulls himself up off the ground and is relieved to find he isn’t hurt, maybe a bruise or two, his ankle throbs a little. The bike is at the bottom of the hill, resting against the back porch steps as if its owner had gotten disgusted with it and threw it down.

His dad is walking towards him, slowly, removing his greasy cap and slumping forward as with a great weight on his shoulders. The frown on Darryl’s face is not the same one he wore when he yelled at his son a while ago; it’s a look Austin has never seen before. Austin’s dad stands before him and stares, unmoving.

“Dad?” Austin says.

Darryl glances away and runs his hand through his hair, several times.

Something is wrong. What’s wrong?

“Mom? Is it Mom?” Austin starts to run towards the house.

His dad grabs hold of Austin’s arm and stops him. He shakes his head – no, not Mom.

He takes hold of the boy’s shoulders. “Austin,” he says and hangs his head. He looks back up at his son, grips his arms tighter. And he tells him, “There’s been an accident…..it’s Shannon.”

And this is it, this is the beginning, the beginning of the end for Austin Camfield.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

First of all, I’m sorry to all of you who like happy endings! But stories have a mind of their own….

I don’t normally “cheat” where Friday Flash is concerned but this short, (around 1500 words), simply did not work well broken into two parts. It is also rare that I write in present tense but I hope you can see why this one called for it. Thanks so much for reading!

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On a Rainy Tuesday Afternoon #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

On a Rainy Tuesday Afternoon is more of a character sketch, (or two-character sketch I should say), than anything.  It’s an excerpt of a short story I jotted down ages ago and have recently picked back up. I’d like to know how interested you are in learning more about these two. On a Rainy Tuesday Afternoon is rated PG-13, according to my standards. Enjoy!

Original photo courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery
Original photo courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery

On a Rainy Tuesday Afternoon, by Deanna Schrayer

The young woman nearly fell into Johnny’s restaurant, soaked by the torrential storm slapping the converted brick bungalow like a toy sailboat, her red-gold curls stuck to her face and streaks of mascara pouring from her cat-green oval eyes. She stood panting inside the doorway, bent at the waist and holding on to her knees, gasping for breath.

It was mid-afternoon, only one customer at the bar – Harry the Hobo he was called – and Johnny was polishing glasses behind the bar.

“You all right?” Johnny said, looking at her as if she might be a mirage.

“I’m….I need….” She struggled to find that elusive breath. Johnny stepped out from behind the bar and walked towards her, slowly. He had the illogical feeling if he approached her too quickly she may lash out and belt him a good one. He stopped a couple feet from her and asked again, “Are you okay?”

She looked up at him, straightened, and drew in her lips. She frowned and stared at Johnny as if trying to decide whether or not to trust him. “I…I just had to get out of the wind, it was blowing me all over the place.” She laughed as if the thought delighted her, but it sounded forced. He could easily imagine the wind tossing her about though as she wasn’t as big as one leaf of a willow tree. But something about her demeanor told him she could withstand many storms, that she had already withstood many storms.

Johnny nodded to the drenched girl, “Sit down over here, I’ll get you a drink.” He motioned her towards the only red vinyl bar stool that wasn’t torn.

“Oh, no, thank you but I…I think I’ll just stand here a few minutes, until the storm blows over. Thanks though.” She turned and gazed out the window as if looking for someone, biting her fingernails.

“Naw, now, you get on over here and sit down,” Johnny said, returning to his place behind the bar. She turned and took a tentative step and he sat a full glass of dark liquid on the bar and said, “Drink’s on the house.”

She carried a well-used backpack and wore a thick velvet peasant’s shirt the color of ripe grapes, the soaked material clinging to her slight frame and riding up her torso to reveal a flat belly, and jeans that sported several holes horizontally slashed down the thighs. Johnny couldn’t decide whether the denim was artfully torn or if she’d recently crossed a mad cat. She looked, to Johnny, like a princess who had carelessly stepped away from the palace to follow a rabbit down a hole and couldn’t find her way back home.

She walked slow but steady to the bar and sat down. “Thank you,” she said as she tipped the glass back and greedily sucked down the drink. She sat the glass down hard on the bar and sputtered, “What is this stuff?” she said, shivering.

“Brandy,” Johnny told her, “It’ll warm you up right good.” His broad smile revealed crow’s feet that, along with the silver tufts of downy hair framing his ears, told her he was old enough to be her father.

“Whew, I’d say!” She picked the glass back up and laughed the most infectious laugh he’d ever heard.

Johnny offered his hand and introduced himself. “Johnny Diamanté,” he said, and nodded towards the end of the bar, “That there’s Harry.” The hobo glanced her way and nodded his head, a camo baseball cap concealing his eyes. He raised his own mug of beer in salute.

Johnny detected a hint of fear in her eyes. She was slow to take his hand. When she did he was surprised at how warm her hand was. “I’m Stormy,” she said, and smiled, “Stormy Lassiter.” He wondered if she’d plucked the name from the rain that had ushered her inside.

Since that night Stormy was at the bar every evening. She didn’t drink much and she rarely ate, but Johnny didn’t mind as the simple fact of her presence seemed to pick up business. She soon became sort of a mascot of Diamanté’s Bar and Grill, floating around and socializing with the customers, men and women alike. Stormy would often leave with a couple or a group of girls, but never with men alone, which Johnny was grateful for; (he certainly didn’t want the place getting a reputation for that kind of business).

Stormy may return that evening or she may not, but she was always there the next evening, alert and ready to do it all over again. It was like having a free hostess. Often Johnny would nearly force Stormy to eat something in order to mask the guilt he felt for not offering her a paying job. He’d have the cook make up a plate of appetizers, and Johnny would set it down in front of her and say, “Eat.” When she tried to protest, pushing the plate away, saying she wasn’t hungry, Johnny persisted, holding her eyes hostage, pushing the plate back towards her and giving his head one sharp nod, “Eat.” She’d let the food sit while she talked to the patrons, giving it a cursory glance now and then, and finally Johnny would see her sneaking bites here and there, as if she was afraid of being caught.

It would be several years before Johnny recalled that look in her eyes, the shock of catching it a second time reeling him into a past he wasn’t sure if he was glad had happened or not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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